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Monday 26 September 2011
Letters: Construction and the economy
Building a way out of the slump
Your leading article "Imaginative solutions that can halt the economic slump" (15 September) reminds one of the steps taken after the Second World War by Germany.
Vast destruction of buildings, widespread unemployment and few funds were eased by trade unions (re-founded after the Nazi period) which paid for building of destroyed public ones, such as hospitals, thus providing employment for their members.
Features of such a scheme, with many possible variations, could be adapted to the situation in the UK, where a desperate shortage of housing, unemployment and lack of funds combine to depress the economy.
"Safe" investment of savings has meant low income from interest on deposits and bonds: pension funds, local government income (remember the deposits in Icelandic banks?) and other sources would be available if interest rates were slightly higher yet safe.
A national building fund could be set up to provide a safe haven for investment in housing, controlled and directed by an independent trust on which local government, housing associations, architects, builders etc. would be represented.
It would be obliged to initiate and finance all kinds of solar-panel dwellings – individual houses, terraces, blocks of flats – on brownfield sites throughout the country, wherever there is a shortage.
Builders from small to large, but preferably local ones, would be employed. These housing developments should be of mixed types and styles: for sale or rent to local governments (including social housing), housing associations or private ownership.
Near large villages or small towns – away from the South-east and with good public transport already available or easily developed – they would provide employment during building, while also attracting long-term jobs, as such sites attract shops and businesses. Combined with apprenticeships and job experience (day release and other further education facilities) they would have an important influence on the provision of skills.
No doubt there would be objections, difficulties and opposition, but would it not be worth considering?
If we are to encourage a nuclear family (Daniel Emlyn-Jones, 17 September), thought should be given to some fiscal incentive.
At present, there are considerable disadvantages in multiple occupancy of homes. Many pensioners would lose most or all their pension if they "lived with someone as a husband and wife" in the official language. Council tax rebate disappears very promptly.
Many single parents are better off living alone. Capital gains tax can apply if part of a home is partitioned. The public service providers make life difficult, citing data protection if asked to deal with more than one person.
There are probably more usable spare rooms than brownfield sites, but what encouragement is there to use them? A culture of nuclear families would also ease the housing shortage.
New Malden, Surrey
We hear frequently these days about towns and villages succumbing to an inevitable invasion by large globalised retailers, especially Tesco, and losing their identity in the process. But things need not be like this.
Here in Keyworth (a large semi-rural village south of Nottingham), we have just defeated a determined attempt by Tesco to muscle into our community, which would kill our local shops.
This victory was achieved by a community effort in which residents, campaigners, council officers and councillors all worked closely together to ensure the best possible case was presented at the planning inquiry.
We were well-organised, we were committed, and we were determined to achieve what most of our people wanted, which was to preserve our lively, vibrant community and not let it be turned into a one-shop town. It can be done and it will be done again by other communities who really want to preserve their identity against the uniformity of the all-powerful invader.
Palestine means threat of terror
I was astounded by the recent account by the ex-head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, of her discussion with colleagues in the immediate aftermath of the tragic September 11 attacks. They agreed that perhaps the peace process should be revived, "to re-address the open sore in the Middle East that could well have contributed to these events".
This demonstrates to me that they had misread the situation, because the plight of the Palestinians is the primary reason for the birth of al-Qa'ida. Talk of attacks on Islam and Islamic world domination are used tactically by both sides, al-Qa'ida to enable them to recruit from a wider base, and the US to hide a difficult truth and possibly to further other aims.
To manage the threat of terrorism one needs to understand it, and her further comment that the attacks were a crime does not give me confidence that those in a position to protect us have this crucial understanding.
But my real concern is that our security chiefs will give poor advice to politicians on this subject, because unless we support the Palestinian request for statehood at the UN, an essential step in the peace process, then we will suffer the effects of unnecessary terrorist activities for decades.
On the front page of last week's Jewish Chronicle, its editor, Stephen Pollard, says: "It is understood that the Prime Minister [David Cameron] is particularly concerned that the recognition [of Palestinian statehood] might mean that Palestine could apply to have Israelis tried at the International Criminal Court, and that this represented a red line for the UK."
This is interpreted as a clear implication that there is a case for Israel to answer to charges of war crimes, and that the British government is determined to play a part in a political ploy to ensure the evasion of any such eventuality.
That would appear to fly in the face of justice, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Is it time for time travel?
I am at a loss to understand why the "alleged" discovery of neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light (report, 23 September) should be regarded as a harbinger of time travel, as some are now saying.
Yes, it would mean that the neutrinos arrived at their destination before the light from the same spot, but not before they had left, which is surely the requirement for time travel.
We now take for granted the phenomenon by which we see a cannon being fired before we hear it. Surely this is similar, albeit in a fraction of the time scale.
A collision occurs, and from a distance the neutrinos arrive, followed in an infinitesimal time-span by the photons of light. For time travel to be a possibility, the sequence would have to be; arrival of neutrinos, event, light.
There are so many paradoxes involved in time travel, in either direction. Through the past, any slight interaction would change the passage of time itself, probably in an outwardly rippling and ever-increasing sequence, just as in the flutter of a butterfly's wings which cause a tropical storm. Or has that already happened?
As for travelling into the future, is it even there yet? I'm quite happily stuck in the 21st century.
Most people will react to the faster-than-light particle with one word: impossible. On second thoughts, light travels at the speed it does because it has no mass. According to Einstein, no other particle can do this. It would develop an infinite mass.
Suppose, though, that the problem particle has a minus mass. This might explain its speed. It might also explain why so far no one has traced the Higgs Boson (predicted in an attempt to explain mass).
So it seems that neutrinos may travel faster than light. If so, we may have to accept that the foundation of modern physics is built on sand. And any day now economists may have to acknowledge that unrestrained capitalism doesn't work.
Even if the economists doggedly continue to ignore the nearby elephant and even if the Cern physicists turn out to have been mistaken, there must have been some rattling of the cages of the fundamentalists in both fields, mustn't there? What a wonderful week this has been for those of us who rejoice in uncertainty.
I haven't the time to work it out, but might the anomalous Cern findings have something to do with the curvature of the earth (measuring the apparent distance) and the non-curvature (straight line from the "gun" to the target)?
They are dealing with tiny variations, and this could just be the loophole. Any other big questions, just ask.
I am reminded of a classic clerihew: For the Discerning: Albert Einstein/Said "Puns are fine/ But this faster than light stuff that we learn,/It's a big concern".
Hawaii not cruel to the homeless
Let me bring clarity to your report, "America's homeless crisis washes up in Obama's birthplace" (19 November).
It is unfair to extrapolate a small programme to send homeless persons home – if they express a desire to go home – into a headline which describes what is a very compassionate community as a cold and uncaring one.
As the writer says, "Once you are stuck on the islands with no cash, it's almost impossible to leave". Sending people home, which you characterise as exporting the state's "extreme poor", was created out of the desire of some of the mainland-born homeless to go home.
There is enough shelter for the homeless in Hawaii. There is a continuing census of shelter spaces and homeless persons. Many homeless cannot act for themselves because of mental illness.
They, the drug-addicted, and others who just enjoy living outdoors or would rather avoid being in the costly "system", are difficult to supply services to. Those who are homeless through bad luck can, and do, move through Hawaii's transitional housing projects.
As well as Hawaii residents and US mainland residents who are homeless, there is a massive presence of Pacific Islanders in Hawaii, from Micronesia mainly, who have the right to live in the United States. The state of Hawaii has primary care of these people, who enjoy the similarity Hawaii has to their homeland. Hawaii taxpayers do not begrudge the Micronesians this assistance.
That there are homeless, in Hawaii or London or anywhere else, is not news. No doubt, as the Olympics draw near, there will be complaints about politicians or governments "sweeping" London's homeless from view.
Rugby writer's silly season
Your rugby correspondent (World Cup Diary, 21 September) maintains there was more rain during the 1970s Lions tours of New Zealand compared to conditions at present.
The probable reason why New Zealand is enjoying better weather than that endured at the 1977 Lions vs Junior All Blacks match (you used the famous picture of Fran Cotton looking like a mud monster) and the All Blacks vs Scotland test in Auckland, 1975, is that those games were played during the antipodean winter.
The rugby World Cup is held in springtime. Nothing to do with the greenhouse effect and more to do with an inability to read the sporting calendar.
We need war on salt to continue
Your article, "The silent war on salt" (22 September), rightly pointed to the success of the salt reduction campaign led by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). But the million-dollar question is, "Will we see similar success in the future?"
Although the FSA set regular targets for the food industry to work towards, the work on salt reduction is now being led by the Department of Health who have yet to set out anything that goes beyond where the FSA left off.
It's vital that we have new targets published beyond 2012 to help us keep our hearts healthy. Otherwise it won't be the seasoning in our food that leaves us with a bitter taste in the mouth.
British Heart Foundation, London NW1
Goering steps in to U-boat tales
I feel that Dr Meic Stephens (letter, 23 September) is treating the letters concerning U-boats in Wales with undue scepticism and hilarity. Not only did the U-boat crews land to replenish supplies but they also bought Welsh antique furniture from various coastal locations.
This was shipped back to Germany and was much prized by the Nazi leadership and Goering, an avid collector of other people's treasures, including Welsh dressers. Alas, all was destroyed in the Berlin bunker in 1945.
Incidentally, a relative was told by a farmer of a meeting with a U-boat commander who had an uncanny resemblance to the actor who played the U-boat captain in a famous episode of Dad's Army. All this I was told in my youth.
Use your head
People who talk of banning the Islamic headscarf worn by women are usually accused of showing disrespect for the Islamic faith. Where does that leave the thousands of women seen packing a Turkish football stadium in Thursday's centre spread (22 September)?
Encore , maestro
On Monday (19 September) you announced in the Gazette that it was conductor Kurt Sanderling's 99th birthday. On Wednesday you announced that he had died on the previous Saturday. I imagine that on Tuesday he was turning in his grave or, at least, waving his arms about.
Thames Ditton, Surrey
Perspectives on Britain's wildlife
Tackling government to preserve our environment
Peter Marren's call for a "new focus on wildlife" ("Our wildlife needs a voice", 14 September) raises a question about whether conservation groups are hamstrung in standing up for wildlife by also working with government. The answer is an emphatic "No".
More than ever, the powerful, independent and collective voice of Wildlife and Countryside Link is needed. Every day, our members, including those criticised by Peter, speak out about the collapse of nature in England and overseas and act to avoid or repair the damage.
To blame environment groups for the crisis in nature is like blaming cancer charities for not stopping cancer. In 2010, we warned about cuts to the Environment Department's budget and the emasculation of wildlife watchdogs.
At present, our members are being dismissed as "vested interests" by Chancellor George Osborne for raising legitimate concerns that his government's planning "reforms", cloaked in the language of sustainability, will make it harder for wildlife to recover.
A transformation in how government works for nature is central to whether wildlife starts being restored now or has to wait until the economy recovers. The role of the Environment Department in Whitehall is critical in this; the Treasury and other departments carry on as though their policies are coincidental to the crisis in nature rather than at its heart.
Government has adopted the right language but using the right words in the wrong order produces nonsense. That is why business-as-usual approaches to the economy and our environment will not restore nature and why Link and our members are at the forefront of saying this.
Paul de Zylva
Chair, Wildlife and Countryside Link,
League works to protect animals and their habitat
Your article "Wildlife groups 'are failing to protect nature'" (14 September) demonstrates a gross lack of understanding of the present landscape on these issues. The League Against Cruel Sports is among many committed organisations working hard on behalf of the country's wildlife and the natural environment.
The League has been at the forefront of many successful campaigns in recent years, including being pivotal in the controversial u-turn on the forest sell-off, despite claims by Peter Marren to the contrary.
To say that wildlife groups are no longer putting up a fight is not only misleading but completely removed from the truth. The League is a politically neutral and self-funding charity that has a long history of putting its head above the parapet to push for fair and just legislation to protect wildlife and make the countryside a better place.
It is fair to say the present climate does not make our job easy, but it is not accurate to claim that organisations such as ours have given up the fight.
Professor John Cooper QC
Chairman, League Against Cruel Sports,
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