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Wednesday 25 June 2008
Family dilemma? Of course it must be all the man's fault
Sir: I have to express my alarm at the advice dispensed by Virginia Ironside and five female readers in relation to the man deceived by his partner into unwillingly fathering a second child (Dilemmas, 23 June). Once again the sisterhood rises in unquestioning support of one of their own, and in contempt for the man concerned.
I can imagine what would happen if similar advice were given by six men to a woman deceived into getting pregnant by a partner lying about having a vasectomy. "Get over it, woman." "Oh, do stop complaining." "He was just acting on instinct." The men would quite rightly be condemned as heartless, sexist pigs.
I am astonished that Virginia at least did not have more compassion for the deceived partner here. Would she really have been so condemnatory if it was a woman who had been betrayed? And where was the acknowledgement of the destructive power of deceit?
You think you have a trusting relationship, and in just about the worst possible way your partner deliberately goes against your wishes and betrays you. How can you ever trust that person again? How can you spend a moment in their company knowing that you can't trust them? And the grief and pain you must feel at the loss of your relationship. Aren't you worth a little understanding and compassion? No, apparently it's all your fault, if you're a man.
I really am disappointed to find that the new sexism – overt female prejudice against men – is being proudly promoted in The Independent. I regard feminism and female equality as two of the best things that could have happened to men in our society. What a shame that it seems they have to be accompanied by the promotion of female chauvinism.
Sir: I was sickened to read Virginia Ironside's response to the man who walked out after being tricked into fathering a child. The stereotyping, the ignorant condemnation was what we feminists were fighting in the 1970s – only it is now used against men. The final evidence of travel back to an unjust past was given with Ms Ironside's "I'm almost starting to wonder whether your son isn't, actually, on the verge of a nervous breakdown" because he was angry with being tricked into fatherhood – an attitude men used to display towards pregnant women.
Brother-in-arms will not touch Mugabe
Sir: Is it any wonder Morgan Tsvangirai seeks sanctuary with the Dutch? What African nation dare he trust with his life? All have betrayed the Zimbabwean people he leads, and none more contemptibly than South Africa.
It is clear there is no limit to the number of defenceless Zimbabweans who can be butchered, raped, and crippled just so long as Thabo Mbeki is spared the humiliation of ousting Mugabe and his gang of criminal psychopaths by the one means they truly understand – force.
Difficult? No. The whole Zanu-PF house of cards would come crashing down the moment South Africa's tanks rolled across Beit Bridge. But it won't happen, will it? Where would that leave the brothers in arms of the historic "Liberation Struggle"? Where would that leave the African Revolution in all its glory? Where would that leave the hallowed totem of Black Power? Nowhere Mbeki could ever stomach. Not for Mbeki the principled bravery of Tanzania's Julius Nyerere in dispatching Idi Amin.
We in Britain? Oh, we're still addicted to the Rainbow Nation fantasy. We play pop music and celebrate Saint Nelson Mandela, again. It really is pathetic.
Sir: In the chorus of voices expressing despair over Zimbabwe many have hope that Mandela can "do something". This ignores the sense of brotherhood which exists among those who struggled against colonialism. It's like asking Battle of Britain pilots to rubbish the men who landed on the Normandy beaches. Brotherhoods exist everywhere.
Maybe the answer is to ask Mandela to visit the first session of the Zimbabwe National Assembly, where the opposition won most seats. His huge reputation would give authority to the new voices in that troubled land, and make it much harder for Mugabe to ignore them, or kill them. This avoids a direct clash between members of the same brotherhood.
African problems require African solutions.
Sir: Shortly after Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, I was looking around Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey when in he swept, flanked by his minders in dark glasses and sharp suits. There were about 15 of them, so I stood back to let them go by. As he passed me, Mugabe smiled and said, "I beg your pardon."
I should like to think he will be prepared to beg his people's pardon in due course, though it's now rather more than a matter of good manners.
Dr Meic Stephens
Sir: Couldn't someone produce a dossier showing that Zimbabwe has weapons of mass destruction?
Cost of calls hits prisoners' children
Sir: Action for Prisoners' Families welcomes the National Consumer Council's enlightened decision to push for the investigation of the cost of prisoners' telephone calls (report, 24 June).
Having spent several years campaigning on this issue, we know at first hand the misery that isolation causes to families coping when a parent is serving a sentence. The telephone is often the only contact that the prisoner has with their family – but families cannot ring into the prison themselves.
Many prisoners are parents, and the prohibitive cost of outgoing calls means that a prisoner is often faced with a choice of which of their children they speak to before their money runs out.
Director, Action for Prisoners' Families, London SW15
What future now for European Union?
Sir: The reaction of politicians to the result of the Irish referendum is exactly why so many people are Eurosceptics. The EU acts like a dictatorship. They will have their way come what may, and take no notice of the people.
We are now seeing the repercussions of trying to make this leviathan of 27 countries work. How can so many countries of different character, different economies, different ways of life, possibly agree on how to run an organisation made up of all these differences? And even the financial running of Brussels is conveniently swept under the carpet with the continual failure of the EU accounts to be audited.
Perhaps it is time for Britain to think about leaving the European Union. They need us far more than we need them.
Sir: Until recently there has been only one economic superpower in the world, a power with whom we in the UK have enjoyed a fairly benign relationship. Now, however, we also have China, soon India (and let us not forget Russia and Japan) all joining the US in economic competition.
In this market place, a fully united Europe including the UK could just about keep its head above water, although even then with a bit of a struggle. For this reason, it is absolutely vital that a few thousand Irishmen cannot be allowed to imperil the future of 470 million, even if it means buying them off.
Sir: According to the rules, the Irish "No" vote scuppered the Lisbon Treaty. That other European nations are refusing to bow to the authority of those rules sends a very interesting message. How can we expect the Europe the Lisbon Treaty will create to respond, for example, to those democratically arrived-at decisions that it finds inconvenient?
Sir: So we didn't like the constitution and now we don't like the treaty. I wonder what the next title of this boomerang-like document will be?
The European Agreement? No, that's still too ambitious. How about the European We're-Going-to-Push-This-Down-Your-Throats-Whether-You-Like-It-or-Not Document?
Help yourself to a drink
Sir: Colin Bower's letter (23 June) about self-serve bars reminded me that about 30 years ago I was in a small country pub in New Zealand. At about 9 o'clock the publican announced, "I'm going to bed. Leave the money on the bar and lock up when you leave, will you?"
When I questioned him the next day, he told me that he seemed to make more money when he was not there than when he was, largely because his patrons would round up the price of their drinks. Mind you, I am not sure that I would like to try it in the inner city.
Uphill struggle to reform planning law
Sir: It's brave of the Government to attempt to reform Britain's tortuous planning system ("Not in our backyard", 24 June). It faces strident opposition from self-serving lobbyists and opportunistic political opponents in this most conservative of countries.
The main beneficiaries of the current system are the lawyers and expert witnesses who make a living out of the public inquiries into major projects which, as you report, last "sometimes for years". The losers are the rest of us, as our infrastructure becomes overstretched and our housing stock overcrowded.
France provides an interesting contrast. Its planning system has helped to create high-speed rail and motorway systems and a low-carbon electricity network, based on hydro and nuclear generation with some wind thrown in. To achieve the same in Britain under current planning laws would take decades of wrangling.
But as recent local elections illustrate, ministers face an uphill struggle. To judge by the result in Cheltenham, where Lib Dems won control largely by promising to allow even fewer new homes to be built than the Tories, the British electorate doesn't think much of change, especially when it's on its own doorstep.
Sir: I wonder if any of your readers can enlighten me as to the difference between "infrastructure improvements" as applied to road-building and "subsidy", which is generally reserved for investment in our rail system. In the long term, I wonder which will be judged investment and which subsidy?
C M Ireland-Jones
South Petherton, Somerset
Effects of GM crops on wildlife
Sir: Michael McCarthy claims erroneously that what I and colleagues reported in the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops was that wildlife was damaged more by the GM process than by conventional methods (report, 19 June). This was true for sugar beet and rape, but the reverse was the case for GM fodder maize, which would provide a net benefit for the environment.
Furthermore, for crops such as GM sugar beet, leaving one row in every 50 unsprayed would be an effective mitigation technique to maintain the weed seeds on which farmland birds such as the skylark depend. This could be done at minimal cost to yield. While it is true that herbicide-tolerance is a potentially powerful system, it is also flexible, and several proposals have been devised for this agricultural system that can meet the needs of both production and the arable ecosystem.
Professor Joe N Perry
Sir: Members of the public standing on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square will be symbolic of New Labour – talentless, self-serving and of no use to the country.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Sir: It is hard to understand the criticism implied in Mike Battman's letter (21 June) about your booklets on the great religions. Over recent months there have been inserts on science, poetry and philosophy, and a series on religion seems to be a valuable addition. It is of interest to believers and non-believers alike to learn some of the ideas that have inspired Handel's "Messiah", Angkor Wat and the Blue Mosque, and, on the other hand, have led to atrocities such as 9/11 and the witch-hunts of Salem.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: R T Parker thinks that having 18 descendants makes one an authority on child discipline (letter, 22 June). Surely it only makes one an authority on how not to use contraception. Smacking is bullying and teaches children that violence is the way to solve problems. Other forms of discipline may be more time-consuming but are better at teaching a child right from wrong. If parents are not prepared to put the time and effort in to bringing up their children with respect, perhaps it is better not to have so many.
Sir: Upon arising this morning at 6.30 I discovered that the post had arrived. On returning from work in the evening I found that the post had arrived again. It is a very long time since such events occurred before, and a very long time indeed since they occurred in the same day. I am now in a high state of anxiety and praying that the Royal Mail will resume normal service, for if such miracles occur again I will have no alternative but to interpret them as signs of the Apocalypse.
Remote rustic charm
Sir: Reaching our home by public transport from London involves a two- to three-hour train journey from Paddington to Taunton, followed by one bus journey to Minehead (infrequent service) of more than one hour and a second bus trip of around 25 minutes, followed by a 15-minute walk. I hope it's not vain of me to agree with Jonathan Atkinson (letter, 24 June) that difficulty of access is part of Whitby's charm.
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