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- Arts + Ents
Friday 15 February 2008
Chinese oppressors are not fit to host the Olympic Games
Sir: I welcome the multi-signatory letter condemning China for its failure to exert pressure on the Sudanese regime (14 February). However China's human rights abuses deserve more direct criticism without invoking its vicarious responsibility for atrocities in Darfur.
An undemocratic country which is illegally occupying Tibet and where dissent is gagged is not a worthy venue for the Olympic Games. Executions are carried out on an industrial scale, requiring mobile execution vans which travel between prisons. Therapeutic organ transplantation is sustained by organs harvested from the executed. The list is endless.
From China to Saudi Arabia, hypocritical British governments have courted oppressive regimes when it is in our (usually financial) interest to do so. Rather than issuing thinly veiled threats to our athletes to avoid criticising the hosts of the forthcoming Olympic Games, we should be imploring both prospective participants and spectators to boycott this inappropriate venue.
Dr Laurence Berman
Sir: Tessa Jowell has stated that any boycott of the Olympic Games in China later this year "would serve no purpose". Well, that's all right then. There is no need for any of us to worry about it any more.
I suppose there were similar pronouncements about South Africa and apartheid but I don't remember people kow-towing to the establishment views. Instead, people took whatever action they could and eventually things changed. Sadly, her comment acts as a thermometer of this government's increasingly shameful moral standing.
Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire
Sir: China is quite right; normal democratic debate and sport should be kept separate. Darfur is not normal political debate. It is a fundamental ethical issue. Tyranny is quite the opposite to democratic debate.
R W Standing
East Preston, Sussex
Share great art with young people
Sir: What a depressing view of young people expressed by Philip Hensher ("This phoney vision of cultural renaissance", 14 February). In my 30 years of choreographing with thousands of young people worldwide to Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Adams, Verdi and Monteverdi, I have never seen any evidence of an inability to respond to great music.
I have worked with young men and women in custody who begged for recordings of Cesar Franck or Gorecki to help calm them during the long lonely nights in their prison cells, and with Ethiopian street children who learned to appreciate Stravinsky alongside their traditional music. It is our selfish guardianship of what we see as our exclusive rights as sophisticated adults that prevents us from sharing and passing on our appreciation, knowledge and love of art to our children.
A few years ago I sat in the auditorium of the Berlin Philharmonic with 250 teenagers comprising over 25 nationalities, from some of the most deprived areas of that city. They sat in silence, eyes fixed on Sir Simon Rattle as he conducted the orchestra in a performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. At the conclusion of the piece they burst into spontaneous roars of approval, which a beaming Sir Simon acknowledged.
Those who love art will always want to share their passion. Those in love with the idea of being art-lovers will cling to their imagined status as guardians of the nation's cultural heritage.
I applaud Gordon Brown's initiative, even as I share your writer's concerns about the endless competitive populist talent shows. Of course there are many concerns. Will there be a draining of resources for theatres and vocational training centres to fund the programme? How will quality be ensured and maintained, and how will already overstretched teaching staff cope with the extra demands? Much will depend on the Government's willingness to listen to sympathetic educators and working artists.
Meanwhile I shall continue to be thrilled at the sight of enraptured children attending great performances and sharing, albeit sometimes energetically, my enjoyment of great art.
Sir: Philip Hensher's patronising condescension should not go unanswered. Hoi poloi are capable of much more than he deigns to think.
I was brought up in Preston when it was an industrial cotton town. The Carl Rosa opera passed through regularly, and as teenagers we took our girlfriends and the place was packed. The Halle and Liverpool Philharmonic were regulars too, and state-schoolchildren were prominent in the audiences. The headmaster once had to read a letter to our school assembly which complained of the number of "teenagers" filling the seats at the local professional repertory theatre, where I first saw plays by Sartre, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Ben Travers, and lots of Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare. We went in droves.
If Philip seeks a fair target for attack it should be the media which gives young people a preposterous and patronising idea of what "teenage culture" is and should be. Given the chance they know much better.
British Muslims don't need sharia
Sir: The recent comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding sharia law lack foresight and wisdom. It is not possible to have sharia law in the United Kingdom. Muslims are divided into many sects with their own interpretation of sharia. Which sharia would be followed?
Moreover, Islam teaches Muslims not only to be loyal subjects to the country they reside in, but to follow the laws of the land provided they are not prevented from practising their faith. In this country Muslims are very fortunate that they are allowed to freely practise their faith without any hindrance or impediment. Accordingly, there is no need for sharia law. The same cannot be said of some so- called Muslim countries which do not afford other communities the same rights and protection.
At the same time the press and media have a great responsibility to portray Islam in its true form, without bias or prejudice. At the moment it appears that it is open season to attack Islam and the ideals and values cherished by Muslims. All too often the media is highly critical of Islam without any real justification, and presents Islam's teachings incorrectly. For example, the penalty for adultery, stoning to death, is attributed as an Islamic punishment whereas in fact it derives from the Old Testament. Nowhere in the Holy Book of Islam is such a teaching found.
Irrespective of our differences we need to learn to understand, tolerate and respect each other so that we can all live together in peace and harmony. We need to look at common values which unite us rather than concentrating on issues which divide us.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
UK biofuels really do help the planet
Sir: The article " Biofuels make climate change worse" (8 February) refers to research from the Nature Conservancy, and purports to show that biofuels accelerate climate change. This conclusion is based on the premise that carbon sinks such as peat bogs and lowland rain forest are ploughed up or cut down to grow the crops in question.
That does not arise with biofuels grown in the UK. The crops currently used in biofuels are the same as those cultivated for food, and are subject to strict assurance standards so as to avoid any adverse impact on the environment. Biofuels produced in the UK do offer significant carbon savings of above 50 per cent compared with fossil fuels.
The article also looks at the impact worldwide of biofuel targets encouraging deforestation and other damaging practices. However, under both the UK transport fuels obligation and the proposed European Directive, biofuels will not be able to qualify towards targets set if they are from unsustainable sources. The UK is leading the world in setting the standards on sustainability.
Biofuels are at present the only renewable alternative to mineral oils in the transport fuels that are responsible for 25 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. We should make quite sure that the raw materials for them are produced sustainably and offer true greenhouse gas savings. Biofuels produced in the UK meet both of those criteria.
Director of Communications, National farmers unionStoneleigh, Warwickshire
BT engineers answer the call
Sir: Last Sunday morning our phone line was dead. At about 11am I rang BT from a call box and on the second ring was answered. I explained the situation and the BT man checked the line and found it indeed dead.
He put me through to an engineer. He confirmed the fault was outside my property. An engineer would call. He apologised for the inconvenience. Returning home at 1 pm I found an engineer already at work and by 1.30 my phone was again functioning. So all is not as quite bad as the Claudia Winkleman's article of 6 February suggests.
G B Bamford
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Cruelty to farm animals, and to rats
Sir: Thank you for publishing the information about how animals are being hauled long distances to slaughter (13 February). Because I've witnessed how land animals are treated in factory farms and on the way to and at slaughter, I've chosen to stop eating them.
These animals are giving their lives for us; the least we could do is treat them with respect and kindness prior to killing them. When is the world going to evolve beyond this brutality? Education and awareness through the media is a great first step.
Valley Village, California, USA
Sir: The expose of long-distance live export of animals for slaughter has justifiably shocked the nation, but simply being shocked by abuses in other countries is not especially useful. All readers can help animals at every meal by going vegetarian, as while we continue to buy meat products there will always be issues of cruelty – whether it be over a long distance or on a farm down the road. Animals suffer at the end of a knife however they arrive on our plate.
Southend on Sea, Essex
Sir: There is probably no species more persecuted than the rat ("Year of the rat", 13 February) and finding new ways to kill them is a multi-million pound business.
Rats are intelligent, sociable and clean wild animals who are attracted to areas where people live by the edible waste that is left there. Those who do not wish to share their house or garden with wildlife need to clean up after themselves, rather than lay poisons that cause internal bleeding and environmental damage, or set traps that can maim. Without a food source, rat numbers drop.
But why take this humane, environmentally sound option, when it pays so handsomely to blame wild animals for daring to feed themselves and then make them pay with their lives?
Head of Campaigns, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent
Rudd's apology to Aborigines
Sir: I grew up in the Queensland outback and as a youngster accepted the "logic" of assimilation, which was even taught in our schools ("Australia's stolen generation", 13 February). We were told that this would provide our Aboriginal mates with their opportunity to make something of their lives – like the white fella.
It was just so wrong, and Kevin Rudd is so right to make the significant gesture of saying sorry as the first action of his new parliament. The sad thing is that there's still a large minority of my countrymen and women who still do not concede the importance of this to our indigenous peoples.
Tony Brett Young
Sir: A good thing that Zac Goldsmith was not around in the 19th century. His diatribe against fluoride would, no doubt, have been applied equally to that other very toxic chemical, chlorine. He would have helped kill many more thousands through water-borne diseases in our cities.
Dr J Gwynfor Evans
Not enough debts
Sir: My sister's HSBC credit card has expired. Fearing that the replacement had been lost in the post, she asked HSBC, who also hold her current account, what had happened to it. She was told there would be no replacement because the card didn't do "enough business". She pays off her card each month – used it for new curtains costing more than £3,000 just before Christmas and a holiday costing £2,000 earlier in the year. I'm left wondering what today's banks regard as a viable customer. Loyal? Responsible? Excellent credit rating? It seems not.
Reasons for obesity
Sir: As a doctor, I would have expected Dan Melley (letter, 12 February) to recognise the subtle interactions between the environment and genetic factors. Anyone who wants to "tackle obesity as a health crisis", needs to recognise this in order to help those in need, rather than place the blame squarely on their behaviour. Yes, behaviour plays a part, but we also need to question what prompts that behaviour.
Malton, North Yorkshire
Spain rejects racism
Sir: I read with incredulity your report that in Spain it is "common at football matches for abuse to be directed at black players" ("I am not a racist, says Spanish F1 fan who 'blacked-up' for Hamilton", 8 February). Sadly it has happened, but rarely and by very small numbers, and always it has been condemned by the vast majority of the fans. In a Premier League match in Zaragoza last year the entire stadium booed a very small group that was trying to abuse a black player.
Dr I Vazquez
A toast to science
Sir: Your article on Sir Karl Popper (The Great Philosophers: No 13) observes: "It is hard to imagine scientists getting the champagne out on the discovery of an observation which conflicts with their pet theory." Quite probably true but, bound as they are by human nature, many would certainly raise a glass to celebrate their disproving someone else's pet theory.
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