Escalation of Iraq war highlights weakness of our democracy
Sir: Iraq has become a delusion spawned by a lie. The delusion is that you can bomb a belief, shoot an idea. The lie, that Saddam Hussein was part of a global conspiracy to threaten us.
Mr Bush intends to escalate the war against the wishes of the majority of Americans, who hold him in lower esteem than any president in history. He is signing the death warrants of a significantly increased number of British soldiers as well as his own countrymen. No one in the US it seems can stop him. And no one in the UK can stop Mr Blair expressing support for an action which the vast majority of British people also oppose.
This highlights the fundamental challenge of Iraq to the democratic process both in the US and the UK. No one can stop either of them. Bush because the constitution vests the power to wage war in the office of President; Blair because he has successfully undermined the power of Parliament through party patronage.
With a toxic mixture of hubris and misplaced religious conviction these two men have unravelled decades of painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East; undermined the fragile respect for institutions of international law; weakened the UN; and turned a fearsomely complex political issue into a simplistic holy war benefiting only extremists. They have elected themselves not the world's policemen but the world's vigilantes.
We should use the only political remedy open to us in each country: both men should be impeached for lies and deception and removed from office. This is the only way we can put an end to their lethal incompetence and prevent more unnecessary deaths.
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
Blair carries on flying as planet heats up
Sir: Tony Blair's refusal to consider modifying his behaviour demonstrates the fundamental problem we face in tackling climate change: that is, our inability to accept that anything is of greater importance than the gratification of our own insatiable "needs". For us, like spoilt children, the concept that we cannot have everything we want is beyond our comprehension. The fact that our behaviour jeopardises the well-being of others, even of our own children and grandchildren, is of secondary importance.
We desperately indulge in all sorts of mental gymnastics to justify our irresponsibility, usually involving some sort of denial of the seriousness of the situation or of the impact of our actions. Until somehow we can break free of this mindset we have little hope of avoiding the global disaster predicted by the overwhelming scientific consensus.
Sir: Ruth Funnell (Letters, 11 January) challenges us all to reduce our carbon footprint. Rather than waiting for the Prime Minister to lead by example, the Clarks have taken their own action over the last few years.
An A-rated condensing boiler and full loft insulation have decreased our gas consumption by 35 per cent. We've replaced the rest of our tungsten light bulbs with energy-efficient ones and stopped leaving electronics on standby, which have decreased our use of electricity by 30 per cent. One of us lift-shares to work, while the other drives a diesel MG ZS saloon (it does 52 mpg on average).
As for recent holidays, we have swapped the wide open beaches of the Western Cape for the wide open beaches of Norfolk, which we are now able to share with family and friends.
Sir: John Stewart and Mike Wright (Letters, 10 January) criticise Tony Blair for failing to give leadership on climate change and for refusing to curtail his own air flights.
Although it's impossible to gainsay by evidence a person's account of his or her own inner motivation, most people I've spoken to seem to assume that he is dilatory in the matter for one reason only: his post-political career, and that of Mrs Blair, will consist mainly of jetting round the world, especially to and within the US, to make speeches to whoever can be persuaded to pay their large fees and expenses.
Americans, potentially, have thirty years of these speeches ahead of them. "Blair mile" could become mid-century slang for needless extravagance in any context.
If you want to secure a happier legacy, Tony, sail to the States, buy an old Chevrolet, and share the driving with Cherie, just as so many of us have done. You might even find yourselves with something genuinely interesting to relate at the end of the trip.
WEST CHILTINGTON, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: No, Tony Blair will not simply go to the US lecture circuit; he will take up residence in America and possibly citizenship. To suggest anything else fails to understand the man.
Sir: I don't begrudge Tony Blair his foreign holidays, but in these days of video conferencing why does he feel the need to strut the world stage just for meetings?
Freedom of trivial information
Sir: Lord Falconer's case for restricting the scope of freedom of information (FoI) requests, has been made for him by Guy Adams ("So, Tony, who was on your Christmas list?", 8 January). Do journalists really expect public money to be spent to provide them with supremely unimportant information which might, in Adams' words, make "a decent space-filler" or could make "a nice diary item"?
The media are subsidised quite heavily enough by press officers, press releases, press conferences and (for the broadcast media) fee-free appearances. This, note, is the same press that is so quick to rule on ministers wasting public money.
FoI has been most useful to genuine historians and researchers. Last month I succeeded in getting a file at the National Archives opened which had been snared in "legal professional privilege" problems. (The sort of privilege which journalists call on to defend anonymous sources and underhand means of gaining information.)
With just nine pages withheld, it was duly opened and contained a letter (28 March 1947) from the Control Office for Germany and Austria's legal adviser suggesting that as hanging convicted Nazis was too expensive and soldiers without war experience could not be relied on for execution by shooting, decapitation "in the German manner" should be introduced. His suggestion was dismissed with the Judge Advocate General pointing out that the trials of Nazi war criminals administered British justice and beheading was unknown to English law.
That might have made a good diary paragraph in relation to the recent appalling execution in Baghdad. Get out there and do some research - don't expect public funds to be used to feed you "juicy items".
Gay rights or religious rights?
Sir: Your headline of 10 January, "Lords defeat attempt to overturn gay rights law", badly misinterprets what is happening. The Sexual Orientation Regulations in question are not championing gay rights but curtailing the rights of others to believe differently.
The issue is glaringly well summed up by Lord Smith: "People have the right to believe that homosexuality is somehow wrong ... but I do not believe they have the right to put their beliefs into action." The new regulations are not a law about gay rights at all, but the suppression of non-gays' right to lawfully express their beliefs.
THE REV ALI McLACHLAN
Sir: I was appalled, but not surprised, to see the objections of fringe Christians to the new law regarding discrimination in the provision of goods and services. For years now, the arguments put forward by Christian organisations have led to laws and vigilante action aimed at furthering the oppression of gay people.
Homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment in mainland Britain for years. In the US, protesters gather outside the funerals of deceased homosexuals. Let's also not forget what was reported as happening in Afghanistan, although a bullet or hand grenade (the current weapons of choice for executions) are hardly an improvement on the old way of collapsing a brick wall on to somebody.
All this, and more besides, finds its roots in religion. I honestly don't know how they can have the gall to stand there and claim that this new law would be oppressive to them, after all the oppression they've brought on us.
STRAWBERRY HILL, MIDDLESEX
When schools fail a dyslexic child
Sir: Like Ruth Kelly, we took our dyslexic son out of state education. His primary school was great, but the "middle" school he was due to move on to just wasn't equipped to give him the help he needed.
We opted for a private prep school with a so-called specialist "dyslexic unit". We had high hopes. He lasted six weeks. It was a big mistake. As we know, dyslexia describes a broad spectrum of difficulties, but this wasn't addressed even by the private "specialist" school.
What option was left for us? Home education. And he has never looked back. The best decision we ever made. Perhaps it would be in everybody's interest if Ruth Kelly gave up her day job to teach her son at home.
Sir: There is no reason at all to feel guilty about taking part in independent education. Independent schools are the great success story of education in this country - and a reason for this is their very independence of the state. The fewer people are dependent on the state for services, the better, surely.
The solution is the voucher, putting power into the hands of the parents and allowing them to top up the amount if necessary. This is the way to shake up the state system and make it more responsive - and independent of local authorities.
RUSSELL A CLARKE
Sir: I am one of the 9 per cent of teachers that can cope with dyslexia ("Teachers say they cannot cope with the needs of dyslexic children", 10 January). I can both diagnose it and help people who have it. However, please don't ask me to do this within an average-sized class of other children in a mainstream comprehensive school.
"Dyslexia" is a term that covers different difficulties in literacy at varying degrees of severity and each individual needs personalised support to overcome his/her difficulties. I would feel confident to help in an individualised way but would be lost trying to cope with a dyslexic pupil in a large class in an average comprehensive school. This would be the case even if he/she were the only child with special needs in that class but, with the Government's inclusion strategy, there could be several children with a variety of needs all needing my attention.
This is quite obvious to most people, and is why parents who can afford it send their special needs children to private school where classes are smaller. It is also why many teachers regard "inclusion" as a government euphemism for saving money.
HASTINGS EAST SUSSEX
Sir: In the light of the Ashes debacle, should not the Prime Minister make a public apology to the nation for the 19th-century policy of transportation of convicts to Australia?. Had this not happened it is possible that a number of the all-conquering Australians might have been available to play for England.
Sir: Yet again Ken Livingstone is trying to justify the huge increases in London transport fares by claiming it's all to do with encouraging people to use an Oyster card ( letter, 6 January) The price of a single daytime bus journey using Oyster has just gone up from 80p to £1. That's an increase of 25 per cent. We have yet to hear his justification for that. Or does he think nobody has noticed?
Sir: In the Cycling Column (9 January), James Daley said that critical mass cycling began some 15 years ago in America. Whilst we didn't think to call it a name, a substantial group of students and university staff riding their push bikes brought the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne to cycling pace in 1971 as part of the many protests against the destruction of Georgian terraces by the city council during their urban motorway madness phase. I therefore claim on behalf of Newcastle University the credit for the first critical-mass cycling event.
Good weather for rats
Sir: The discussion on rat numbers has yet to mention what is probably the single most important factor: no cold winters. When I was working in New Zealand, on rat control over large areas of conservation reserve, we knew that the winter temperature was one of the key factors determining numbers. If the temperature dropped below a certain figure for long enough, the rats could not survive. Although not the only factor it was certainly one of the most important.
Causes of acne
Sir: I'm sorry that a you have peddled the commonly accepted notion that acne can be prevented by avoiding white sugar, chocolates, sweets and processed foods ("The appliance of science", 9 January). I have suffered from acne for over 45 years, have never eaten white sugar etc, but have found that what really works is modern medicine. People whose lives are blighted by acne have enough to put up with, without being made to feel that they are somehow responsible for their affliction because of unhealthy lifestyles.
Sir: On the topic of overworked expressions, what are the chances that after the next catastrophe hits the headlines we will hear that the local people are "coming to terms" with the tragedy. I suppose it's better than saying. "Today, following these terrible events, the local people are watching EastEnders on the telly."
COLCHESTER, ESSEXReuse content