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Thursday 17 July 2008
Letters: Disappearing Post Offices
Use it or lose it: we are all to blame for disappearing Post Offices
As I walked home from the pub last night a poster on the church notice-board caught my eye; it was titled "Save Our Churches", but I almost read it as "Save Our Post Offices"; I was close but wrong – down to the demon drink, I suspect.
But it did make me think about the changing face of both town and village centres and the role we have all played in changing them.
The supermarkets came and we used them, internet and e-Bay arrived and off we went, online shopping and emailing.
Now you hear the familiar arguments about keeping the Post Offices open applied to the churches: the church is the living heart of the parish and should not be sold off.
But these decisions have been made and we collectively have made them, whether it was by buying stamps from Tesco's or getting our car tax online, it's all done and dusted and we need to live with the consequences of our actions.
It's simple; use it or lose it. And we have, it seems, lost something that was part of our culture and heritage.
On hearing the news of the planned closure of my local sub Post Office I looked at the alternatives should the planned protest against the closure prove to be unsuccessful. I discovered that they were all at some distance; two miles-plus away.
How can the Government's plans to conserve fuel, protect against global warming and reduce transport costs square with policies that force so many of us to make longer journeys, using ever more fossil-fuel transport?
We walk at the moment even though it is one mile away; it brings many benefits – both in terms of fitness and ecology.
Population growth must be tackled
Dominic Lawson ("The hypocrisy of the population zealots", 15 July) suggests that the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) report advocates "brutal measures" to limit population. In fact, it advocates a "voluntary policy" of "gentle nudges" – tax incentives for example. Our laws should unequivocally urge responsible procreation, rather than treat it as some limitless privacy right.
Mr Lawson likens procreation to sexual intercourse. Thanks in part to contraception, sexual intercourse and procreation differ. And while using contraception is a private act of self-determination, procreating is not. When you procreate you determine many things, and for more persons than yourself. If, however, we are told it is a private act, we are less likely to think of how it will affect others. This is the problem. As the OPT report argues, we can build a more defensible right to procreate around the intrinsic value of self-replacement (albeit one limited in scope) rather than building it upon the misperception of privacy – or likening it to sexual pleasure.
Mr Lawson seems to think that humans do not make an ecological footprint. Yes, more land has been designated wilderness as the US population has grown. But that was done to protect what was left of it from that growth. Congress said this in 1964: "In order to assure that an increasing population ... does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States ... it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness."
They defined "wilderness" as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Nothing accounts for loss of species and wilderness more than population growth.
I have no doubt that behind Lawson's express attack on the OPT is an unstated belief, held by many, that reduced fertility threatens a nation's economic competitiveness. Indeed he took a similar tack in November in his article entitled "Fight climate change? Or stay competitive? I'm afraid these two aims are incompatible."
This is a dangerous, archaic and disproven view of economics that, taken to its logical conclusion, would drive countries to destroy what remains of the world's environment in an unending competition for constantly expanding populations and higher rates of economic growth.
Iniquities of the 'service charge'
Two arguments show up the threadbare foundations of the "service charge" in British restaurants. First, an expensive dish requires as much "service" as a cheap one, so any one-fraction-fits-all such as 15 per cent is fraudulent unless restaurant policy is to pamper those purchasing expensive dishes.
Where a service charge exists, it should be per head, as in Italy's pane e coperta charge, or conceivably per course. "Service" is so often 15 per cent because this is the highest discrepancy a restaurant owner can reasonably get away with between the publicly displayed menu price and the less immediately perceptible price billed for each item.
Further, the idea that the price of a meal may be divided into a series of menu items and "service" is arbitrary. Why should clients learn the "service charge" but not the "rental of premises charge", "window-cleaning charge", and so on? Why not provide a complete cost analysis for punters to pore over with their coffee?
I was once asked to correct a guidebook to Paris, whose English author, seeking to forestall all this hassle, had suggested a "customary" tip in French restaurants. I was able to reassure his readers further, by mentioning that French law prohibits any service charge at all. All restaurant receipts and menus bear the reassuring words "service compris". Add up the menu item prices and you get the amount on your bill, every time. One may, or may not, leave a tip, but no restaurant owners may insist on one, nor may they use the existence of such monies as an excuse to underpay – or not to pay – their employees.
Saint Ouen, France
Tipping is left over from the days when the servant classes were paid badly but their employers kept them on-side with judiciously timed tips. Today's waiters should not be seen as servants but as professionals, and the majority of professionals who do a good job don't get paid 10-12 per cent extra, but get promoted or invited back.
Ringmer, East Sussex
Simon Prentis and John Evans (letters, 16 July) are right – tipping should be abolished. "Fairtrade" restaurants (analagous to "Fairtrade" coffee and other commodities) would get my support – a fair wage for the staff and a policy of "no tipping".
With three main courses and two bottles of house red, your illustrative lunchtime restaurant receipt (15 July) tells me you people really know how to live.
Scandal, irony and female celebrities
In "There's more to life than irony" (5 July) Christina Patterson frets over the declining educational and cultural values of a society which "brought up on Chaucer" is now turning to such presumably degraded and degrading figures as Coleen McLoughlin, and expresses amazement that the University of East Anglia recently hosted a conference called: "Going Cheap? Female Celebrity in the Tabloid, Reality and Scandal Genres".
Given that Patterson ends up bemoaning the "brave new world of intellectual freedom ... unsullied by nasty notions of critical judgement", it seems ironic that her comments unwittingly demonstrate precisely why exclusive reliance on traditional ideas about educational and cultural value is indeed potentially "nasty" – or at the very least, structured by insidious gender and class prejudices. After all, in the pitting of the culture of Britney and Kerry, "car-crash popsters... hair extensions and handbags", as well as "Myleene, Jade and Coleen", against the approved cultural reference points of Sir Gawain, Shakespeare and Chaucer and Dickens, gender hierarchies are hardly even a subtext. In other words this "new world" about which Patterson worries, is clearly decidedly female.
Patterson presents her views as an argument against intellectual superficiality, yet she provides in her column an example of just such superficiality and glibness.
Diane Negra, Professor
Su Holmes, Reader
School of Film and Television Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Citizens Advice Bureaux will survive
In response to Peter Croucher's letter "Cash switch threatens advice bureaux with closure" (letters, 8 July), our legal-aid clients and independent researchers tell us that joined-up civil legal aid is the best way to solve people's problems.
Homelessness, domestic abuse and unjust treatment are the types of problems our clients face, and we at the Legal Services Commission (LSC) must put them first when buying quality, integrated services that solve their problems and improve access to justice.
New Community Legal Advice centres offer help on housing, debt, employment, welfare benefits, family law and community care – and all in one place because those problems are so often linked. Centres help people with basic advice through to representation in the highest courts.
But delivering integrated services can only be done if the LSC and Local Authorities jointly buy services. This does not mean that the aspects of centres funded by Local Authorities become focused on legal-aid work or subject to its eligibility rules.
Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) are not being closed, nor is pressure applied to councils to open centres. Three of the four existing CLA centres are actually run, in part, by CABx. Around 250 CABx help deliver legal aid and not for profit agencies are not under threat. Many not for profits are thriving, having received £80m from the LSC last year, and CABx have been one of the main recipients of that money.
Chief Executive, Legal Services Commission, London WC1
Despair over nuclear dangers
So I read that, following a leak at a nuclear-waste processing plant in Bollene, in the Rhone valley, authorities are worried about contamination (report, 10 July). This comes just a few weeks after the emergency at the Slovenian nuclear power station.
I was reflecting on this and on the fact that Germany, which is battling both internal and external opposition to a moritorium on new atomic power-stations, was chided by George Bush and by others at the G8 summit and told that nuclear power has a major rule to play in tackling CO2 and so more plants should be built.
Here all I can do is despair: is cheap electricity and our desire to tumble-dry our clothes and microwave our food so important that we are willing to risk more Chernobyls and the contamination of the planet for many decades or even centuries to come?
Jumpers aim high
Surely every high jumper there ever was and shall be struggles at the most exalted level? (Letters, 15 July)
I must stress that Trees for Life will not be carrying out the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland ("Viva la beaver", 10 July); the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are leading the scheme. However, we do strongly support the project; the beaver was hunted to extinction in the 16th century and to have these creatures living wild in Scotland after an absence of more than 400 years will be an important step towards creating a healthy, balanced forest ecosystem.
Alan Watson Featherstone
Trees for Life, Forres, Moray
B lair's non-trip to Gaza
It was predictable that the Israelis would find a means of stopping Tony Blair visiting Gaza and seeing for himself the devastation their policies have wrought ("Blair calls off trip after warning," 16 July). Equally predictable was the supine response of the man whose gullibility regarding alleged security threats dragged us into the Iraq invasion.
"If the meaning of an expression is clear... does it really matter which words are used in its construction, or how it is punctuated?" asks Julien Evans (letters, 16 July) clearly seeking the answer: "No, of course not!" I disagree.
If we do not practise precise punctuation and the careful choice of words when expressing the straightforward and easily understood, we are likely to find ourselves flummoxed when we try to formulate more complex or esoteric ideas.
It is intolerable that a functionary who refused to carry out the registration of Civil Partnerships should be judged to have been treated unlawfully and handsomely compensated (report, 11 July). Would a registrar who refused to register the marriage of divorced persons or to register the death of a suicide on claimed religious grounds be similarly benefited?
So 68 per cent of Swedish men continue to have sex when over 70, while only 56 per cent of older women make the same claim. But wait a minute! At the end of last year, there were 672,000 Swedish women over 70 but only 482,000 men. That means 376,000 older women were claiming to have sex but only 328,000 men. Perhaps the women were bragging. Or were they finding toy-boys?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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