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Saturday 19 August 2006
Letters: Democratic Cuba
Cuba is far more democratic than America or, indeed, Britain
Sir: The article about Cuba "Beware the advice of exiles" (14 August) is right that it would be a mistake for the Bush regime to listen to the advice of a motley crew of Cuban émigrés. But there are some inaccuracies .
Cuba does not have "only one party, Mr Castro's, that is constitutionally allowed to stand in its elections". The highest executive body is the Council of State, with 31 members. They are elected by Cuba's parliament, consisting of 601 deputies who may or may not be Communist Party members. These deputies are elected at district level from up to eight candidates. Political parties, including the Communist party, are not allowed to participate nor are they allowed to nominate candidates. Those are chosen at meetings of the local population where they live and work. Ones elected to serve on local and municipal councils do so as unpaid volunteers. From this grassroots democracy, Cuba's parliament is elected. Delegates in the National Assembly are farmers, teachers, doctors, students, nurses and pensioners.
The Council of State, unlike our Cabinet, is elected by the National Assembly, which elects the President, First Vice President and five other vice presidents. Fidel Castro has won unanimous election as President since 1976.
The Cuban Communist Party is not an electoral party. "It does not nominate or support candidates for office, nor does it make laws or select the head of state. These roles are played by the National Assembly, which is elected by the people, and for which membership in the Communist Party is not required. Most members of the national, provincial, and municipal assemblies are members of the Communist Party, but many are not, and those delegates and deputies who are party members are not selected by the party but by the people in the electoral process." (Charles McKelvey, professor of sociology, Presbyterian College, South Carolina, 1998)
Cuba's system is far more democratic than that of the US or, indeed, of ours.
High price paid to gain high grades
Sir: Why should universities have to identify the so-called "best" students? I am a physicist; I taught in a university for 15 years, worked in industry for eight and now I am a private tutor.
One of the problems the UK is facing is a shortage of physicists. One cause is that schools prevent students studying physics at A-level because they believe students will get a lower grade than they would for other subjects. They are right. Kenneth Baker introduced double science and as a result, many students I have tutored have not been allowed to study physics as a separate subject at GCSE because their schools do not offer it.
Double science, especially when teamed with intermediate mathematics GCSE, is not a good foundation for A-level physics. I believe this preposterous state of affairs is made worse by league tables. I abhor this trend towards high grades at any cost and would love the GCSE students I meet to be able to study physics at A-level and go on to study science, engineering, technology or medicine. They do not need grade A at A-level to become competent physicists.
Sir: It was to be expected that there are those who would cite this year's A-level results as an excuse to advocate introduction of the international baccalaureate (article, 17 August). This has always been their objective when calling for "reform" of the A-level system, once the envy of the world. With each "reform", pass rates increased and the knowledge and understanding decreased.
Having taught A-levels, I know students had to take three-hour exams and be able to analyse and explain their arguments in detail. Now they take 75-minute exams which are little more than a display of rote learning in a few key areas. The students feel under time pressure but not the knowledge pressure their predecessors felt.
Those advocating the international baccalaureate knew they could not defeat the old A-levels with rational argument and empirical evidence; they had to "reform" them so they become worthless and the ready-made solution could be offered. It is a case of "We have a solution; now let's create the problem". Unfortunately, our children suffer.
KINGS NORTON, BIRMINGHAM
Sir: If exam percentages as well as grades were published this would allow identification of the brightest and failing students regardless of grade inflation. Students could also attempt previous years' papers and settle the perennial arguments regarding falling standards.
Having independently assessed thousands of children who possess alarming deficiencies while achieving the "acceptable level" at ages seven, 11 and 14, I am aware this is a simple reform that would be too revealing for the government and educationalists.
Israel's dilemma at a crossroads
Sir: Robert Fisk writes about the war in Lebanon as a turning point in the Middle East, and Israel certainly seems to have reached a critical crossroads.
Symbolically, its war-hero leader lies dying in a coma as this young democracy faces a dilemma. Does she seek reconciliation with her Arab neighbours and become a mature democracy? Or does Israel continue to tie herself to the US as the frontline in America's war on fundamental Islam, particularly the old enemy Iran, whom Americans have never forgiven for rejecting the Shah for the ayatollahs?
I fear in the short term Israel will choose the US-backed path of war and conquest, but in the long run Israelis will have to accept the rights and justices of the Palestinians and the Lebanese and live amicably with their Arab neighbours. America will not be the dominant superpower for ever and this realpolitik will eventually determine the direction Israel chooses.
British Muslims are no fifth column
Sir: George Hoskin (Letters, 16 August) repeats the neo-conservative mantra that Muslims (en masse, not just the terrorists) are inveterately opposed to "our" way of life and that this is the root cause of terror.
I assume Mr Hoskin does not speak Arabic or know many Muslims. If he did, he would be aware al-Qa'ida (presumably the guiding force behind terror) has clearly stated that its ire is directed at Western (UK and US) foreign interference in the domestic politics of Muslim countries. I paraphrase: "If we were against your way of life, why do we not attack Sweden?"
Most British Muslims are extremely comfortable with the British way of life, admire it, contribute to it and, where necessary, critique it, but as loyal citizens, not as an insidious fifth column. If we weren't so drawn to it, why would be here?
No causal health link to pesticides
Sir: Contrary to the one-sided view expressed in a letter (10 August), the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) study on pesticides did not find evidence of a direct causal link between pesticide exposure and ill-health, but concluded that such a link was "plausible".
Neither did the Government ignore the RCEP's findings. They were considered by three independent scientific committees, two of them on health. Of the 35 recommendations, the Government accepted 25. The "buffer zone" was rejected because the scientific evidence did not support the need for more regulation.
Pesticides are necessary in the production of food in conventional and organic farming. Regulation on pesticides in the UK is as tough as anywhere in the world. The work being done as a result of the RCEP's report will put us even further ahead of our European neighbours in terms of public protection.
MINISTER, DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS
Radical changes in country life
Sir: Claudia Winkleman ("Take it from me", 16 August) seems to misunderstand what "living in the country" means. The countryside is a food factory and, like all factories, it smells and is sometimes noisy.
Many villages no longer house people who work on nearby land. They house commuters or second-home owners. These people shop on their way home so village shops have closed. After privatisation and removal of subsidies, there is little public transport. Why did Ms Winkleman expect paradise in the country?
It is not crap; it is a downright disgrace
Sir: Mr Prescott's comment that the Bush administration was "crap at taking the road-map forward" is mild to what each and every British politician, and the British people, should be saying about not only US policies concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the administration's overall Middle East policy.
George Bush's policy is not only "crap" but downright disgraceful. Yet Britain has a compliant Prime Minister who appears eager and ready to please his master (Bush), and the Labour party members, both in the cabinet, as well as the backbenchers, tend to mildly criticise him.
I am an American living in the UK. When I came here in 1991, I was surprised how knowledgeable and active most British people were in regard to their government and politics in comparison to average Americans (including myself).
Then I was an admirer of Tony Blair, but over the years I learned more about this character and about my own country. Today I no longer have any faith in America (especially in its government - which I regard as totally immoral and corrupted), but I no longer see Mr Blair as the person I thought he was.
Both Tony Blair and George Bush are traitors to their people. I feel it is time, now, that the British people show their true resolve (as I had been told over and over while living here) and not only stand up to Mr Blair, but get rid of him and those who support him. Human lives are more important than a bunch of tinpot politicians.
As for the Americans, they are too ignorant and lazy to do anything substantial to change the course on which Bush is taking America.
Sir: Whether or not George Bush is crap ("Labour agrees: Bush is crap", 18 August) he remains the (possibly democratically) twice-elected president of a super-power. MPs such as Glenda Jackson who say Parliament should be recalled, should remember that they, by contrast, are the democratically elected representatives of a small island off north-west Europe.
However much they may wish to polish their vanities, what they have to say on international topics is of interest to few people other than themselves.
Fifty years ago, the Suez crisis vividly illustrated Britain's lack of influence in the Middle East and elsewhere. Yet many Britons, including journalists and "Stop the War" demonstrators, seem not to have woken up to our post-empire role in the world.
Why should it be any greater, when together we make up less than 1 per cent of the world's population?
Theatre of the absurd
Sir: I shall no longer be buying London theatre programmes. They are an exorbitant price and of no value. They are full of other theatre advertisements and long, boring biographies of the actors. Recently, in the National Theatre I had hoped to find a resume of the (complicated) play and some clues on the setting. There was nothing. Is it unreasonable to hope to read Act 1, Scene 1 etc?
Marcel's the man
Sir: I do so enjoy Miles Kington's amusing essays, but I must take him to task on his elevation of Magritte to the role of "grandfather of conceptual art"(Column, 17 August). That honour belongs to Marcel Duchamp, who managed to convince people that a urinal signed "R Mutt" was a work of art, simply by designating it as such. No small achievement given the society of the time. Also, though lacking the slippery slickness of his fellow Surrealist, Salvador Dali, Magritte really could paint - and well.
News on the radio
Sir: I was surprised to read that Dixons are no longer going to sell analogue radios (article, 17 August). We have been bombarded by alluring adverts about the benefits of digital broadcasting, but in this part of the world, most of these advantages have failed to materialise. Many of us buyers of Freeview and DAB radios have become familiar with "No signal". Anyone thinking of moving to Kent should bring their old TVs and radios with them.
Sir: Like millions of others, my late father worked for 60 years and paid his taxes and national health contributions. I have worked for 50 years and paid my tax and insurance. Now my three children are paying their dues. Yet thousands of immigrants are being allowed into the UK and immediately get health, housing and subsistence benefits without having contributed a penny to our economy. It is not fair.
BRIDLINGTON, EAST YORKSHIRE
Sir: Spring gets earlier each year. Autumn gets later. We seem to have lovely weather in late spring, early summer, and often in September/October. Is summer is now so stretched it splits in the middle to give us a fifth season? From memory, we have had wet, cool, blustery weeks in July/August in each of the past four years.
Where are we at?
Sir: Where has the English-speaking world, including doctors, acquired the adjective "preventative" ("Will Aids ever be eliminated", 15 August)? Since the noun is "prevention", not "preventation", the adjective is "preventive". Do we look forward to "detentative" centres, "interventative" policies, and other neologisms? One could become disorientated.
DR MICHAEL B JOHNSON
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