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Thursday 16 February 2006
Letters: ID cards
ID cards must make the fraudsters rub their hands with glee
Sir: With the passing of the ID Cards Bill (report, 14 February), Britain has lost any claim it may have had to be a free society. The Government now has the power to keep a file on every citizen, the sort of thing they used to do in the former East Germany.
With a scanned image of our faces, and the expanded network of CCTV cameras, the Government will now know our every move. How easy will it be then for such dissidents as elderly pensioners protesting against punitive council tax charges, or those protesting against illegal wars in Iraq, to be rounded up and "dealt with"?
The potential for control of every citizen will be limitless. Punitive penalties such as the denial of the use of public services to "troublemakers" will be easily executable at a key-stroke. Fraudsters must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of being able to steal identities.
This Bill is not in full force yet. We all need to protest against this; the Government should derive its raison d'etre from us, not the other way around.
Sir: With much trepidation, I learn that as a result of Monday's vote, ID cards appear a virtual certainty. Aside from the serious security risk they pose, the loss of civil liberties and the fact that the Government does not even have any idea whether they will work, the real issue is being missed.
Trying to prevent terrorism with a quick fix of ID cards is treating the symptoms and not the cause. Terrorism will not subside until politicians begin to face up to, and take action over, the real reasons why terrorism is happening in the first place.
Sir: If we are compelled to buy ID cards when applying for a passport many of us opposed to the idea will simply not apply for one. This may not be bad news: it will reduce flights, in the same way that an appropriate taxation on aviation fuel would reduce flights. The Prime Minister may save the planet yet.
CANVEY ISLAND, ESSEX
Evidence weak on passive smoking
Sir: I am a non-smoker. I think it is a bizarre and revolting habit, and I dislike it when I come out of a pub with my hair and clothes smelling of cigarette smoke. But just because I do not like cigarette smoke is not sufficient reason to ban millions of people from enjoying a cigarette with their pint. Temporary inconvenience does not amount to material harm.
The evidence on the risks associated with passive smoking is weak, with studies by the World Health Organisation and the BMJ showing an increase in the risk of non-smokers getting lung cancer of between 17 per cent and 24 per cent when exposed to smoke on a continual basis.
In absolute terms, this relates to a increase in the chances of succumbing from about one in 10,000 to only about one in 8,000. And yet we have unthinkingly swallowed the mantra "passive smoking kills" that has been fed to us by the anti-smoking lobby.
It should have been left to consumer demand and the market to decide whether smoking is banned in individual premises on a case-by-case basis. So we have another nail in the coffin of a tolerant society.
Sir: We at the Drug Education Forum are delighted by the vote by MPs to ban smoking in pubs and clubs. This will communicate to young people that society is ready to respond logically and consistently to established knowledge that tobacco can be harmful, and is prepared to take action to protect its citizens from the smoke of others.
The latest research shows most young people don't smoke, most don't visit pubs and clubs often, if at all. Young people say they want honest, factual messages about drugs, and Tuesday's vote will go some way to reinforcing the sound information provided as part of drug education in schools and elsewhere.
CHAIR, DRUG EDUCATION FORUM LONDON EC2
Sir: Peter Dite (Letters, 15 February) points out that with NHS costs of £2bn and tobacco duties of £9.5bn, smokers deliver a profit to the exchequer of £7.5bn a year. While there is a further cost to UK Ltd resulting from sick days off, maybe a further £2bn, there is a huge pension saving.
You report (14 February) that one quarter of adults smoke, and life expectancy for long-term smokers is down by eight to 12 years. With the state pension of £82.05 a week and 10 million adult smokers, this cuts the pension bill by £8.8bn. So smokers save the exchequer £16.3bn a year. If all smokers gave up, the pension gap would jump by £9bn.
Sir: If Philip Hensher (15 February) seriously thinks that simply designating separate smoking and non-smoking areas is a better way of letting non-smokers enjoy a non-smoky atmosphere than a ban, then he should get out more.
Many smokers willfully ignore designations of non-smoking areas and treat with derision attempts to remind them. Countless times I have seen smokers encroaching on the clearly labelled and relatively small non-smoking section of a pub. If they can't voluntarily act politely and with respect for others than they deserve to be forced to do so.
Sir: It's highly commendable that The Independent didn't lead with this nonsense regarding the banning of smoking "inside" public houses and private members clubs. The landlord of my local has already found a way around the law by installing four heaters outside, in the pub garden.
That raises an interesting question. What's worse for us, a bit of passive smoking or tons of additional CO 2 being pumped into the atmosphere every day?
Sir: Do we now face the prospect at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and at the new Wembley, having closed the roofs on rainy days, of attendances being curtailed because of smokers staying away?
NERC's logic falls at the first post
Sir: Reorganising this nation's ecological research studies from established centres of excellence into university departments assumes these are available and that vice-chancellors will keep them for the foreseeable future.
Neither tenet bears close examination. First, the last research assessment exercise (RAE) signally failed to support departments concerned with environmental studies. And there seems little prospect that the forthcoming RAE will do better.
Second, vice-chancellors persistently fail to invest in either disciplines that require "expensive" long-term facilities or in staff whose chosen specialism is not aligned to rapid-fire publication in high citation-rated journals.
Applied biological research (and associated teaching) related to whole organisms and their environmental interactions has declined in the UK for a generation. Consequently, there are fewer centres employing skilled and equipped staff where NERC can commission the "contract-driven research" it wishes to relocate from its own internationally acclaimed centres (leading article, 3 February).
As a result, NERC's logic falls before the first post and this nation loses yet more capacity to understand Britain's natural history, landscape and the impact of changing policies for land use.
PROFESSOR GEOFFREY R DIXON
VICE PRESIDENT (SCIENCE POLICY), INSTITUTE OF BIOLOGY SHERBORNE, DORSET
To cut crime rate, tackle the causes
Sir: Unlike Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 10 February), I believe the most effective way to reduce crime is to tackle the causes, something successive governments have failed to do. Poverty, lack of education, unemployment, social deprivation, these are the common denominators in the lives of many men I see as a prison visitor. These are issues someone such as Dominic Lawson cannot begin to comprehend.
Until these issues are tackled, crime will rise. Prison is no deterrent. It is a sign of society's failure to acknowledge and address the needs of all citizens.
HERNE BAY, KENT
How to win the war on drugs
Sir: The "war on drugs" (leading article, 11 February) is unwinnable for the same reason that other economic sanctions don't work, namely, that the sheer amount of money illegality itself confers on the trade will find its way round any obstacles. The least bad way to win the "war" is to progressively decriminalise all drugs; tax, regulate and quality control, and hypothecate the tax to prevention and treatment.
Are you brave enough to serve?
Sir: I feel obliged to respond to Tony Greenstein's letter "Abuse by troops is not 'the exception' " (14 February). Having spent 17 years in the Army and completed three tours of Northern Ireland, I can understand the frustration and anger of those who serve our country.
Those who have never served will never understand how it feels to be in a foreign land among people full of hatred and suspicion. There are no cosy beds to fall back into after a hard day's slog, no fine restaurants to dine out in, not even the opportunity for a relaxing walk.
Politicians put the troops in harm's way, politicians who have never had to rough it, other than perhaps after a late night over a fine wine with cabinet members. So pause before you make accusations, ask yourself this, "Am I brave enough; could I do what is asked of the brave troops" who serve our political masters so well?
EX-STAFF SERGEANT, COLCHESTER, ESSEX
Sir: Not for the first time the behaviour of our forces in Iraq - as seen on video - has brought disgrace on all of us. The least that Prime Minister Tony Blair can do is to apologise to the Iraqi victims and their families for the brutal actions.
But there are some in our Armed Forces who deserve our full support, those who have refused to serve in Iraq. Such action takes real courage, unlike the thugs seen on video.
On 15 March, Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith will face his court martial for refusing to go to Basra because he believed the war was illegal. He has my full support.
Dropped stitch in the tapestry of love
Sir: Johann Hari has made a magnificently sweeping statement that "Love - as you and I understand it - is a recent invention stitched in the 18th century". (Opinion, 13 February).
May I offer the counter-example of Odysseus and Penelope? Penelope had to unstitch her sewing every night for 10 years while Odysseus took the long way home. Odysseus certainly knew unenduring love so neither he nor Penelope would have needed young Johann to tell them the difference.
Of course Homer, in the eighth century BC, was projecting only his own construct of romantic love back on to second-century Troy.
Homer's critics no doubt objected that ancients like that could hardly be expected to have such a modern view of love.
TUNBRIDGE WELLS, KENT
Joys of being solo
Sir: Maxine Frith asks, "Have I left it too late to have children?" (14 February). She has not; she is 33 and engaged. But spare a thought for those who really have. Then again, they can always enjoy the no-strings sex and all the other joys of being solo which you point out on your Valentine front page.
Sir: The Government, with the revitalised Conservative Party, and the up-coming Liberal Democrats, all agree climate change poses the greatest and most certain threat of all. Why, then, have only 42 MPs signed Colin Challen's Early Day Motion (No 1141: "Contraction and Convergence Approach to Climate Change") which promotes a Bill that would actually go a long way to mitigating the problem? How can MPs expect us to have any confidence in Parliament with such a dismal showing?
The optimistic atheist
Sir: Joseph Palley (Letters, 12 February) asks for more cartoons of "agnostics who can be easily satirised as fence-sitters" and "atheists as nihilists". By all means depict fundamental atheists humorously as nihilists and fundamental agnostics as fence-sitters. But agnostics, by and large, are simply sensible in their scepticism and I, as an atheist, am actually quite optimistic and certainly not nihilistic. These cartoons do not mock religion, they mock fundamentalism, a worthy aim in an open and liberal society.
GONVILLE AND CAIUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
Sir: "Where are the cartoons lampooning atheists?" asks your correspondent. Well, I've seen one which shows atheists fire-bombing a newspaper office because its cartoonist has a pile of blank sheets on his desk. This is a variation on the old joke: "What do you get if you cross an atheist with a Jehovah's Witness?" Answer: "Someone who knocks on doors for no apparent reason."
VICE PRESIDENT THE NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY LONDON WC
Benzene to blame
Sir: If anyone is puzzled at the disappearance of insects from our towns and cities and the synchronicity with the demise of sparrows and the arrival of unleaded (but benzened) petrol in the early to mid 1990s, enter "benzene insects" on your web search engine. Benzene is a key constituent for innumerable insecticides. Roll on benzene-free biofuels.
He was wrong
Sir: If Keith Anderson were a foreigner (Letters, 15 February), he would also have been taught not to write, "If he was a foreigner".
HAILSHAM, EAST SUSSEX
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