Letters: Dads and parenting

When blaming the 'feckless father' can harm the children


Sir: Joan Smith's article (Opinion, 30 November) on fathers fighting for their children is unbalanced. She clearly equates Fathers4Justice to no more than a selfish demand for paternal "rights". All parents are aware of the statistical evidence that children do better with both parents or at least good access to both parents. All separated parents also know that, however good the intentions, access arrangements for the benefit of the children are difficult to achieve and need flexibility. In the aftermath of a failed relationship, each is always going to believe that they're giving and you're taking. Children experience an emotional roller-coaster before, during and after moves to and from separate parental households, which leads easily to the conclusion that they'd be better off without the disruption.

For the parent "in possession", the emotional stress of making these arrangements is easily avoided by limiting children's access to the other parent and, in the process, by controlling the definition of "what's best for the children". The absent parent may have many motivations in fighting for access, but a central one for many is knowing that what's best for the children includes good access to both parents. That they may also be seeking to address self-interestedly their own deep loss, or, as in the case of those fathers highlighted by Joan Smith's one-sided analysis, to assert their perceived patriarchal rights, should not obscure the core of the Fathers4Justice case. This is that good paternal access is good for children, but today's courts and social services allow a stereotype of the feckless father to be employed by mothers who want to control for their own convenience the definition of "what's good for the children".



A cruel fate for refugees with HIV

Sir: After 25 years of HIV, a virus that has changed the world for ever, I would have hoped that our commitment to tackling HIV extended to those who come to the UK in an attempt to obtain medication not available in their home country ("Britain accused of sending HIV refugees to die", 1 December).

Yet again, however, we are faced with evidence that confirms the Government's attitude to asylum seekers - that they are numbers and not people with human rights who are suffering from a devastating disease.

In Africa, the situation is desperate, with more than four million people suffering from the disease, but only 500,000 receiving care. The number of children being orphaned by Aids in Africa continues to rise because drugs are simply not getting to those suffering. We need to build an efficient infrastructure for a health service in Africa to ensure that the medicines are administered effectively. Until then, the Government simply cannot send asylum seekers back to a bleak and uncertain future.

International World Aids Day gives us all the opportunity to show our support for those living with Aids. I hope that the Government echoes this support, recognises that many of those facing deportation have been doing invaluable work raising awareness of HIV/Aids in their own community here in the UK and changes its cruel approach to refugees with HIV.



Sir: I congratulate you on your comprehensive coverage of the HIV epidemic on World Aids Day. You gave HIV the profile it deserves. The only query that I have is the language you use to refer to children orphaned by or people living with HIV.

As a person who is living with HIV myself, I do not want to be referred to as a victim or a sufferer. These terms do not particularly inspire confidence in those who still think life ends after an HIV diagnosis. As for children who have lost parents to HIV, referring to them as Aids orphans is stigmatising them twice over.

It is really important to get the language correct to help reduce stigma, which is now seen as one of the biggest challenges in addressing HIV.



Musical memories of a Sixties bedsit

Sir: Guy Adams's article "Fabulous 208" (29 November) gave an excellent account of the rise and fall of Radio Luxembourg, as I am sure may other children of the Sixties will agree.

However, he does not specifically mention that whereas BBC stations would all be well and truly closed down by midnight, 208 continued to transmit well into the night, usually until about 2am, when they would finish by playing the hymn "My Prayer for the End of the Day". On the numerous all-night working sessions I endured as an architectural student in the 1960s, the hymn signalled an unwelcome end to the companionship of live entertainment, restored only some two hours later by the Liverpool birds chirping in with their dawn chorus.

Adams's comments regarding 208's variable reception are quite correct, but quality could be improved dramatically by connecting your radio aerial socket to a large metal object, which in my case was a cast-iron bed frame. Simple, but very effective if you happened to live, work and sleep in a bedsit.



Europe can take the lead on climate

Sir: David Miliband (Opinion, 30 November) is quite right to say that "at a time when the Second World War is no longer a memory for most citizens but an important piece of history, the EU must find a new raison d'être based on future threats and not past achievements". And he is spot on in suggesting that climate change must become the defining EU goal.

Over the past 50 years, the EU has succeeded in promoting the rule of law and multinational democratic institutions. Today, its most urgent task is to exercise leadership, within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, by creating a Climate Union with countries, from both the global north and south, committed to reducing their carbon emissions further and faster than their Kyoto obligations.

The EU, with the support of the world's largest democracy, India, could take the initiative in creating a global climate community that would be committed to setting carbon-reduction targets based on globally accepted scientific imperatives, extending the European Emissions Trading Scheme, transforming the Clean Development Mechanism into a multilateral programme aimed at confronting fundamental developmental targets as well as reducing emissions, and developing institutions to ensure that all the procedures are effective and accountable under the rule of law.

The idea of such a community, which has been gathering support on both continents, would open a new and vast market for renewable energy technologies that would be of tremendous benefit to both northern and southern partners and would enable key development targets to be met without threatening the future of the planet. Naturally, it would be open to all countries willing to accept its rules and could welcome as associates those who might need time to adjust to the pace.



Sir: It is surprising that nobody has commented on the potential link between global warming and Trident. If, as has been suggested, climatic change leads to the suppression of the Asian monsoons, the populations of the two largest nuclear nations may demand that their governments secure additional food supplies. Then we might find we need Tridents.



Sir: Dateline 1 December. Across the road from my house in northern Gloucestershire is a tree with blossom on. Is this a record?



House price crash could be worst yet

Sir: In "How to survive a market crash" (Property, 29 November), Stephen Pritchard only gave half an answer. He might have referred intending purchasers to the FSA, which recently advised lenders to stress test their balance sheets for the possibility of a 40 per cent fall in property values. Borrowers should do the same.

I do not know how the FSA arrived at 40 per cent, but perhaps it was because in most of the property cycles of the 20th century, 40 per cent was, broadly, the fall in real terms from peak to trough. A similar fall now would arguably be more damaging. In the second half of the 20th century, the true extent of the fall was masked by strong inflation. A £100,000 house whose value fell to £60,000, quickly inflated back towards the original £100,000. The mortgage was fixed in "old" money, and negative equity was minimised. Next time round, inflation is likely to be lower, and the £500,000 house that falls to £300,000 might stay there for a long time.

Surely the correct answer to the question "How might I survive a market crash?" is "Do not borrow more than 60 per cent of the present market value of the house."



There's no sense in saying sorry now

Sir: Nick Gill (letter, 30 November) is asking for the impossible. He cannot expect Tony Blair or any living person to offer an apology for the slavery of past generations. No doubt Mr Blair, like most of us, thinks it a regrettable episode in our history. However, an apology is not, as is sometimes thought, a more sincere or intense way of expressing regret. It is, by definition, an acknowledgement of fault.



Sir: If a 200-year interval makes it meaningless to feel shame at the slave trade, then exactly the same interval of time makes it concomitantly meaningless to take pride in the abolitionists' achievement. After all, it was too long ago to judge by today's standards, wasn't it?



Sir: It was commonly said by Holocaust survivors that they could not offer forgiveness to remorseful perpetrators: the only ones who might have forgiven them were the dead. The logic of this position is that there is no point in offering apologies for historic wrongs, because there is no one left who is qualified to accept them.



Sir: We are rapidly approaching the 1,000th anniversary of the rape, pillage, murder and general laying waste of the north of England by a marauding army led by the king of Denmark, Sweyn Forkbeard, and his son Cnut. I therefore demand an immediate, unequivocal apology from the current Danish prime minister for this outrage.



Crucifixes: a hazard in the workplace

Sir: The debate about the BA check-in worker being banned from wearing her crucifix at work has criticism ranging from over-bureaucracy to political correctness gone mad. They're all missing the point.

I design corporate uniforms for airport workers and I would strongly advise against displaying any religious symbol around the neck because a necklace is a serious safety hazard.

Recently delays, cancellations and rigorous hand-luggage rules have resulted in check-in staff being threatened and assaulted. For this reason, I not only recommend that necklaces should not be worn, but also ensure that all ties and neckscarves have a Velcro fastening at the back so that they come off easily if pulled. This is a straightforward practical issue and does not justify such an extreme reaction.



Religion vs science

Sir: I would like to congratulate Dr Alun Moon (Letters, 30 November). To the disappointment of the absolutists of both schools of thought, religion and science are addressing different questions. Religion is trying to find the why and science the how. I believe in God and I accept the scientific findings until they're proved wrong.



Time-wasting hunters

Sir: Simon Hart's assertion (29 November) that the Hunting Act took more parliamentary time than Iraq needs some response. Let us not forget that it was the hunters, mostly Conservatives and Lib Dems, who deliberately dragged the time out, and all for their right to chase and disembowel animals for fun. The Hunting Act was never about stopping people from dressing up and riding out with hounds; it was only about removing the cruelty.



One for the road

Sir: The proposal to charge motorists for driving on the roads is an excellent initiative. A simple way of ensuring compliance would be to issue vehicle owners with some kind of "tax disc", which they could, for instance, display on their windscreens to prove that they had paid. Some critics express fears that the Government might divert the revenue to other projects, such as invading foreign countries, so that they would still not have enough money for road building. But that hardly seems likely.



Cheaper for the English

Sir: Your letter from Terence Hollingworth (30 November) brought back a memory of when I was in Kenya in the 1980s. As I bartered with local traders, they would frequently ask me if I was German. One said we all looked alike and they couldn't tell us apart. When I said I was English, they said, "Ah!", and would always reduce the price of the article by several shillings. Which was nice, even though it made me feel like the poor relation. Does this still happen there?



Metric for measure

Sir: Further to Ron Watts' letter (30 November) about the wrongly quoted mass of the Sun, I suspect this is due to your mixing of metric and imperial units in the recent posters about astronomy. The "vital statistics" were replete with miles, metres, pounds and kilograms. Please remember that science uses metric units throughout.



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