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- Arts + Ents
Wednesday 30 April 2008
Letters: Climate catastrophe
In the face of climate catastrophe, Boris isn't funny
Sir: We agree with your leading article that the London elections could have wider significance than simply their impact on the capital ("The contest is local, the significance national", 28 April).
No other newspaper can match The Independent's coverage of environmental issues, and thus Independent readers know better than most just how urgent is the need to tackle climate change.
Cities contribute three quarters of world greenhouse gas emissions, so the fight to prevent catastrophic climate change will be won or lost in places like London. With an environmentally committed Mayor and Green Party representation on its Assembly, London has taken a global lead on environ-mental policy over the last eight years.
But that just wouldn't be possible with Boris Johnson as Mayor. Johnson is an opponent of the Kyoto climate treaty, would scrap our plans for a £25 gas-guzzler charge, and says his "big idea" for London is a new climate-wrecking airport in the Thames Gateway. Suddenly he's not so funny.
Unusually, Londoners who care about the environment have two ways to do something about this: use your two votes for Mayor on 1 May either for Ken 1 and Sian 2, or Sian 1 and Ken 2.
Sian Berry, Green Party candidate for Mayor of London
Ken Livingstone, Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London
Sir: Policies for London and the personality of of the candidate should be the decisive factors in making a choice, rather than political party. I am not a traditional Tory voter, but I support Boris Johnson, because I approve his plans for London transport, and think that the capital deserves to be represented by an intelligent, articulate and witty person with a presence, who is his own man and promises to fight for London irrespective of which party is in No 10.
I think that many Londoners voted for Ken the first time because he stood stood as an independent and said that a mayor should not hold office for more than two terms, as power corrupts.
BA racism warning met with abuse
Sir: Your report (26 April) about my description of a canteen culture of racism among BA's pilots has certainly ruffled a few feathers. Minesh Patel writes (letter, 29 April) that he's "a British Airways captain of Indian origin" and has been treated with dignity and respect by all our colleagues. I'm very pleased to hear that.
Perhaps Captain Patel can confirm he's a manager in BA. Perhaps he can also tell Marika Sherwood, another correspondent, the "breakdown of staff by ethnicity and position". I don't have data for other departments, but in Flight Ops there are about 3,500 pilots; they're probably the highest paid group in BA by a substantial margin. About 5 per cent are female. The department told me they don't have data on ethnicity, but my guess is about 1 per cent come from ethnic minorities. I've just counted 30 pilots who are also managers: none is female and, as far as I know, only Captain Patel is of ethnic minority origin.
The criticism in your letters page is mild compared with the abuse I've had from colleagues on my union Balpa's website. Rather more alarming was the call I got at 02.30 on Sunday morning in the crew hotel in Singapore from an anonymous male: "You stupid fucking cunt. It's a good job it's a nine-day trip, because we're coming round your house." BA's duty security manager thought the caller must be a BA employee; I don't know who, other than a fellow pilot, would have access to my roster and know which hotel I was in.
From one point of view, the racist language I've heard in my workplace is trivial; but, if we're not prepared to tackle the trivial aspects of racism, there's not a lot of hope when it comes to the bigger aspects.
Sir: I was dismayed to see pages of your Saturday paper being devoted to yet another unwarranted attack on British Airways.
Captain Maughan is one pilot out of a force of more than 3,000 and to take his personal views as being indicative of systemic racialism in BA is irresponsible.
In my 25 years of BA service, I cannot recall a single occurrence of the sort that Captain Maughan is referring to. BA pilots are multi-national and include men and women from all corners of the world, including Africa.
Racialism is born out of ignorance of other races and cultures. BA pilots are well placed to correct those deficiencies as the route structure is world-wide.
Tony Pugh (Captain, rtd)
Sir: As an outsider I am not qualified to comment on the general level of racism within British Airways, but, in his letter, Captain Fawkes (29 April) is condemned by his own words when he says that the use of the word "coon" was taken out of context. The term "coon" is offensive and unacceptable in any context. It does not constitute "good-humoured banter" in a decent society.
Dunbar, East Lothian
Student debt and teachers' pay
Sir: The "teachers' tales" you used to illustrate your coverage of the NUT strike (25 April) raised an interesting point. All three teachers quoted pointed to their student debts as part of their justification for higher pay.
As a taxpayer, the university deal is that I pay some, the student pays some. I gain by being part of an economy with a well-educated workforce: the student gains from the qualification. But where in the deal does it say if the student goes on to become a teacher, or work anywhere in the public sector, they can invoice the taxpayer for the whole cost of their education?
These teachers seem to be arguing they deserve a better taxpayer-funded pay rise to clear a debt which they incurred because the taxpayer, through the elected government, wanted to split the costs of higher education more evenly. Society no longer wishes to subsidise students as once it did.
We do need well-qualified teachers and I believe it remains a valued profession. But this doesn't mean I should pick up the full tab for their degree just because these graduates chose to enter the classroom.
Sir: The NUT failed to attract support for their 24 April strike from the vast majority of teachers because pay is not an issue which concerns us very deeply. The prodigious workload which prevents teachers from ever feeling that they have done their job properly, the inquisitorial Ofsted inspections, and the deluge of paperwork would all provide me with sufficient motive to go on a protest march, because these have a negative impact on the quality of education I am able to provide for my students.
Most teachers do not have time to think about the rising tide of personal debt which threatens to engulf them, still less to contemplate the "housing ladder", because they are too preoccupied with trying to maintain their own creativity and professional standards in the face of a government which thinks that education is all about target-setting and data-collection.
Dr Giles Watson,
Sir: Dr Kathy Fawcett (Letters, 26 April) complains her pay is insufficient for her "modest mortgage and unextravagant lifestyle".
As she is an assistant head teacher, I have no doubt she earns far more than I do. At £7.50 an hour I have to work equally long hours, often starting at 3am, work most weekends and for a full 48 weeks a year. I would gladly settle for her parsimonious salary, three months' paid holidays, paid sick leave and numerous other benefits.
But I don't think I could stand the staff-room company of whingeing teachers prattling on about how hard done-by they are.
Sir: Deborah Orr's article of 26 April on why teachers quit hits the nail on its head. Mollifying pupils who don't want to be there is a waste of energy and disrupts even the best lessons. Education may be a human right, but everyone involved in it would profit if attending school was once again a privilege rather than a duty. Teenagers who don't want to be schooled should be allowed to work right away and not wait until they are 16, let alone get paid for staying on at school until 18 as in Scotland.
Dr Kathrin Cooper
The alternative to expensive fossil fuel
Sir: Dominic Lawson's attempt to discredit renewable energy is bizarre (Opinion, 22 April). The reason UK households are being stung by energy price rises is their exposure to volatile international fossil-fuel markets, something renewables avoid. The costs of fossil fuels will only increase as international demand increases and supplies diminish. It is ridiculous to argue that those inevitable price rises make a case for not investing in an alternative.
As the International Energy Agency point out, we have resources and technological solutions in abundance. What we don't have left is time.
Renewable Energy Association, London SW1
European pitfalls await Cameron
Sir: "Reducing a succession of EU summits to rubble", in pursuit of "a common market plus political co-operation" with "umpires" to enforce the common rules for the common market (Bruce Anderson's recipe for David Cameron, 28 April) would be met with bemusement by our European partners – because that is, in reality, what we have now.
Britain already opts out of the euro, does not participate in the "Schengen" border-free travel area, has a special protocol on the EU Charter of Rights, can choose to opt out of any legal co-operation measures, gets a rebate on its budget contributions, and has insisted on a veto over tax measures, foreign policy and defence. If, on top of that, Cameron were to demand opt-outs from previously agreed common-market rules, he would get no sympathy from our European partners and would face the choice of accepting the status quo (which is what Mr Anderson describes) or withdrawal. In either case, any Tory administration will be riven by more divisive rows over Europe.
Richard Corbett MEP
(Labour, Yorkshire & Humber) Leeds)
Sir: Bruce Anderson reckons PM Cameron will face four major challenges . The two (Europe and the Union) that have little relevance to anyone other than newspaper columnists get sort of solutions (leave and stay, basically); the two (broken society and public services) that actually affect most people don't get a consideration of how Mr Cameron might address them. If the lack reflects 11 years of Tory thinking, what makes him believe that when Our Dave begins to "take the electorate into his confidence", the results won't be another set of emperor's new clothes.
Zimbabwe on the brink of genocide
Sir: Church leaders from Zimbabwe have given the world an ominous warning that Zimbabwe is teetering on the edge of genocide (report, 23 April). It must be the priority for Britain and the international community to do everything possible to address a situation that is now perilously close to disaster.
Despite the world's 1948 declaration of "never again", the spectre of genocide has haunted the past 50 years. Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia have shown us where racism and discrimination can lead – tragic testimony to what can happen when the world does not react in time, if at all. We must not allow another to be added to this list; the world's response must match the seriousness of the warning we have been given.
Chief Executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, London SE1
Sir: I would like to share this sentence from The Big Question (25 April) which some of your readers may have missed: "During his lifetime, Padre Pio could hardly lift a finger without causing controversy, and the same remains true 40 years after his death." Indeed.
Solace in exile
Sir: I find myself feeling bereft at news of the death of Humphrey Lyttelton. Growing up in Canada in an expat family, I remember our delight whenever Humph and "the boys"' popped up occasionally on CBC radio, a welcome reminder of British wit. My return to the UK meant doses of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue were then available regularly as a surefire antidote for lows in mood or circumstance. I shall miss his presence on the BBC hugely. My condolences to his family and, of course, to the lovely Samantha.
A land fit for toffs
Sir: Under Gordon Brown's New Labour, social mobility has gone into reverse. We may soon be led by David Cameron (Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon Club), George Osborne (St Paul's, Oxford, Bullingdon Club) and Boris Johnson (Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon Club). And let's not forget the two leading Liberal Democrats: Nick Clegg (Westminster, Cambridge) and Chris Huhne (Westminster, Oxford). As a working-class person, I am thrilled to see that the leaders of our country are from such diverse backgrounds and are so committed to stamping out privilege and cronyism.
Newcastle Upon Tyne
All clear now?
Sir: Oliver Duff (Pandora, 28 April) comments upon Ioan Gruffudd's award at the Welsh Baftas. He states that Gruffudd "picked up the Tlws Sian Phillips Award" and requests "pronunciation, anyone?" I feel obliged to assist the poor soul. To an English ear, "Sian" is pronounced as "shan"; "Phillips" (despite the feared double l) is pronounced as "Phillips" and "award" is spoken as "ah-wore-d."The remaining word "tlws" (the Welsh for "award" – heaven forbid the natives wanting to use such a word in their own country) is pronounced as "tloos".
Ten out of ten
Sir: First Cuckoos be damned! You have just printed the first mathematically correct use of the word "decimate", as the equivalent of one tenth (Jaroslaw Nedza's letter, 28 April). Of course recent Polish migrants are still alive, but nevertheless this is a landmark. Other users of the word "decimate" should be reminded that if front-line units at the first day of the Somme had been decimated they would have suffered fewer casualties.
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