Letters: Christmas excesses

Our Christmas excesses have their roots in tribal rituals
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The Independent Online

Sir: Reports on the environmental impact of the Christmas period (report, 23 December) omit one crucial perspective. Any social anthropologist could tell you that the midwinter orgy of spending has deep symbolic roots, and they could cite you any number of examples from other cultures where apparent "wastefulness" has a vital cultural meaning.

However, our level of ostentatious consumption has, because of our species' technological brilliance, lately gone well beyond the easily sustainable tribal potlatch, and become actively dangerous. But it hampers us if we talk exclusively in terms "waste" and "unsustainability" because no one wants to be thought ungenerous or poor. Environmental action has to be aware of psychological reality.



Sir: You may lament the failure to recycle rubbish (leading article, 23 December) but a more rational question is how the economic benefits compare with the economic costs. Or, since we know more about the costs than the benefits, how large the benefits need to be for the exercise to be worthwhile. There is no evidence that the EU, with its recycling regulations imposed across the continent, has asked this question. Instead the exercise, with its quantity targets, looks like the outcome of a Stalinist mode of thought.

Recycling is not a virtue in itself and a reasonable assessment of the environmental problems the planet faces is that more attention to greenhouse-gas emissions and less focus on recycling would be desirable.



Blair's abject EU 'compromise'

Sir: Despite the "agreement" to review the Common Agricultural Policy there is not a cat in hell's chance of the French agreeing to any changes in the CAP before 2013, when they will doubtless want a costly five- to 10-year transition period. So why does The Independent (leading article, 20 December) believe that the abject surrender by Tony Blair in Brussels was "a reasonable compromise"?

The French "promise" is meaningless. A genuine compromise could have been reached if Mr Blair had had the savvy to not try and cut back spending (thereby alienating the new members of the community who are his natural allies) but instead offered to match every euro transferred from the CAP budget with a reduction in the rebate.



Sir: Compromisers are never likely to excite positive passion and so Tony Blair should not be too worried about the press reaction to the European summit. The important thing was to agree a budget that would secure the rapid development of new markets in the enlarged Europe: and, at the cost of a little, but not much, financial pain, our Prime Minister had done just that.

The Common Agricultural Policy remains an obscenity and a non-binding review is certainly not the outcome the UK would have wished for. But, crucially, this review will take place in 2008 - five years earlier than previously agreed - and it has German backing. Those with long enough memories will recall that it was Gerhard Schröder who helped the French kick further CAP reform into the long grass back in 2002. They will also recall that Britain did not put up much of a fight at the time

And, in truth, we have got ourselves into something of a mess over CAP. "Having a go" wins great headlines in the British press and, indeed, nothing will justify a system that pays people for little more than being landowners whilst contributing to the starvation of too many parts of the developing world. But European politics is about compromise and attempting a hand bagging over this policy just won't work.



Sir: Thank goodness Adrian Hamilton dared to refer to the prevalent "anti-Europeanism" (Opinion, 16 December). Much of the debate in Britain has been falsified by the media's mealy-mouthed use of the term "Eurosceptic". While much of British public opinion undoubtedly falls into this category - and even the supposedly pro-Europeans in Britain would be called sceptics elsewhere in the EU - the oft-quoted political and media mouthpieces are overwhelmingly anti-European in tooth and claw.

So either amend your stylebook and have the courage and honesty to call them anti-Europeans or, start referring to hunt saboteurs as "hunt sceptics", vegans as "meat sceptics" and atheists as "God sceptics".



Sir: I wonder how many people in Germany and France wrote to their MP equivalents in the 1980s onwards, indignant about the money spent on the regeneration of the areas in England destroyed by the too-abrupt cessation of coal-mining in those areas.

Not too many, I suspect, yet as usual we have the shire-folk from Shropshire, Sussex, Hertfordshire, Devon and Dorset up in arms at the cost to us of helping the regeneration of poorer countries in eastern Europe - where, no doubt, the companies who hold the shares of "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" will be vying to grab a part in reconstruction; not to mention the small cost of being part of a safer Europe than the one into which they and their fathers were born.



Sir: It is sad that there has been no response to the antediluvian views of UKIP MEP Nigel Farage (letter, 20 December). However, Tony Blair's retort when addressing the European Parliament was masterly. The EU offers us political and economic synergies essential for survival in the era of relentless globalisation. Both CAP and our retaliatory rebate are anomalies which must and will be corrected.



Sir: Tony Blair once described his vision as being of Britain "at the heart" of Europe. After this disastrous presidency, do we now represent the national equivalent of a blood clot pushing through the European Union's arteries and causing the heart attack that will kill the Union off?



Prescott's personal view on education

Sir: There is more to John Prescott's approach to the Education Bill than Steve Richards thinks (Opinion, 20 December). The key fact here is that Prescott is a former Ruskin College student.

When Prescott discusses education, the personal is the political. The Government's policies for higher education have focused almost exclusively on young people - that is, school students. Adults have been effectively excluded from the debate on university education and their numbers consequently wane. There is little point in organising for "non-traditional" young people to get to university when their parents have no experience themselves. There will be less empathy and support for them at home in their inevitable struggles to get and remain there.

My experience of 30 years organising in adult education confirms John Prescott's carefully presented opposition to Tony Blair's approach. The many not the few. Get more adults into higher education, and their children will follow. In the meantime more parents in higher education are likely to provide effective support for "non-traditional" students in universities.

It's a generational thing. Prescott understands this. Blair and Kelly don't, can't, or won't. Compare their backgrounds. They explain everything.



Simple recipe for a happy baby

Sir: I have read with some disgust your articles on the differing methods of Gina Ford and Sheila Kitzinger (13 December). I am a "first-time mum" of a beautiful, content, sociable, eight-month-old boy and I firmly attribute his development and contentment to Gina Ford's books.

As many of my friends have read her books and achieved stunning results, I am in no doubt that the routines in her books absolutely provide what a baby needs. I was appalled at suggestions that the book advocates leaving your baby to cry or running your house like a bootcamp.

At no time does Gina Ford suggest that a baby should be left in distress. She guides and supports you to provide what your baby needs before it reaches the point of crying or distress. Food and sleep are both structured in such a way that the baby is never hungry and never over-tired. Babies and children need consistency, routine and structure - they can't distinguish between day and night and the routines help you support the baby in this process.

It is no coincidence that my friends' babies all happily fall asleep at 12.30pm for two hours, wake refreshed, enjoy the afternoon activities and happily have a bath and bottle and settle for bed at 7pm. It is a simple recipe for a happy baby and a happy household with a full night's sleep for everyone - why would anyone not want to advocate this?



Sex and symmetry on the dance floor

Sir: As an example of academia's tendency to state the obvious, Professor Manning's research into symmetry, sex and success on the dance floor (report, 22 December) is right up there with "It takes two to tango". The inference that Darren Gough's inherent symmetry accounts for his success ignores the fact that his weekly return was reliant on the asymmetrical votes of viewers. As one who voted for him, I confess I was heavily influenced by the thought of another chance to appreciate the drop-dead symmetry of his other half, Lilia Kopylova.



Sir: In 1589 Thoinot Arbeau published his dance manual, Orchesographie, in which he writes: "You must realise that a mistress is won by the good temper and grace displayed while dancing ... for dancing is practised to reveal whether lovers are in good health and sound of limb, after which they are permitted to kiss their mistresses in order that they may touch and savour one another, thus to ascertain if they are shapely or emit an unpleasant odour as of bad meat." So nothing really new at all then.



Free trade is a luxury we can't afford

Sir: After describing his purchase of some oak kitchen chairs made in China for a "pretty reasonable" £75 each, Hamish McRae goes on to describe the mismatch between achievement and perception at the world trade talks in Hong Kong (Opinion, 14 December).

Far more important is the mismatch between the "real world" scientific facts of climate change which are treated so responsibly by The Independent, the imminent permanent global energy crisis threatened by "Peak Oil", covered on several occasions by Hamish McRae himself and the contradictory importance he places on world trade talks which are utterly incompatible with these facts.

Free trade is great for big traders, but a disaster for small producers, whether it is the banana grower who receives just 5 per cent of the retail price, the UK dairy farmer who receives 9p for a pint of milk only to see it treble in price overnight on the supermarket shelf or the poor unfortunate in China who almost certainly received a highly un-"reasonable" few pence for making Hamish's chairs.

If we are serious about the reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions required to permit the survival of society, drastic moves towards localised economies and food security are vital. In contrast the WTO's globalisation is one of the destructive luxuries we and our planet cannot afford.



Well-versed in crime

Sir: When I finished my five-year stint on the Council of the Royal Society of literature I thought of giving each of my colleagues a copy of my crime novel in verse, Jack the Lady Killer, till I thought the gesture perhaps showed too much self-esteem. Now I regret I hung back: Philip Hensher (Opinion, 21 December) sat beside me.



The legality of war

Sir: I was surprised by the comments you attribute to Mr Justice Collins (report, 21 December), who is quoted as saying that the only purpose of the inquiry sought by Rose Gentle would be to know whether the Iraq invasion contravened international law and then, in the very next sentence, that it would only be trying to make a political point. Does Justice Collins believe that the Nuremburg trials and all subsequent efforts to establish an international legal framework to hold war-makers to account are simply making political points?



Check the cheques

Sir: Your report on cheque-book fraud ( 21 December) makes no mention of the clearing banks, whose practices make these crimes possible. It is their negligence in passing customers' cheques without verifying signatures that enables criminals to operate these scams. Cheques have been machine-read for sorting purposes for years, so why can't the banks design software to verify signatures on cheques? Even if it was only 75 per cent effective, it would stop most of the fraud - and save the banks money.



Spanish time

Sir: The report on Spain's late working hours ("Flagging Spain tries to put paid to the two-hour siesta", 20 December) fails to mention the main reason for the nation's late start and finish, namely that it uses the "wrong" time zone. Almost the whole of Spain lies west of the Greenwich meridian, yet it uses European time based on the 15 degrees east meridian, which runs through Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria. Madrid is approximately 73 minutes behind its meridian time, and the most westerly extremes of the country are about 96 minutes behind.



Ape ancestors

Sir: To prevent the ongoing argument between evolutionary and creationist theories, perhaps everyone could agree a common position: that most of us have evolved from apes, but that believers in intelligent design have apparently not done so.