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- Arts + Ents
Wednesday 10 March 2010
Letters: ID cards dropped?
No, you have fallen for the spin
Your report "Labour's scramble to launch £11bn spree" (8 March) carries a photo captioned: "Home Secretary Alan Johnson with the aborted compulsory national ID card". You have swallowed government spin. The ID scheme has not been "aborted".
The plan for pseudo-voluntary introduction by requiring passport applicants also to be entered, for life, on the National Identity Register has not changed in any significant respect since the details were unveiled by David Blunkett in 2004. Arbitrary powers of direct compulsion were originally to have been available to the Home Secretary, to allow him to round up specific targets and fringe groups who failed to join the scheme under indirect coercion, but they were dropped in 2005. The move to universal compulsion has generally been envisaged in Identity and Passport Service strategies as happening 10 years after the beginning of mass enrolment.
The IPS is continuing to spend about £250,000 a day on developing and marketing the scheme, before the major IT contracts have really begun to bite. It currently plans to "designate" passports, in its jargon, in 2011.
What the Government did in 2009 (three times to my count) is re-announce the existing position, with emphasis carefully chosen so that someone who hasn't been paying close attention (which from the reaction includes most politicians and most of the serious press) might think it was a change of position. You've been had.
General Secretary, NOID, LONDON W1
Business shirks on tuition fees
Your editorial "The case for a rise in tuition fees" (9 March) says that complaints from students and parents about a rise in tuition fees are short-sighted. We would argue that suggesting the burden of paying for universities should fall once again to students or their families is short-sighted and unfair.
In his higher education report of 1997 Lord Dearing said the beneficiaries of higher education should foot the bill. He identified the beneficiaries as the individual, the state and the employer. Since then we have seen university fees, followed by top-up fees, and the state continuing to contribute. Business has paid virtually nothing.
We believe a rise in corporation tax to just the G7 average, with the money ring-fenced for our universities, is the fairest way for business to pay its share. The move would be similar to Boris Johnson's 2p in the pound tax on central London businesses to fund the Crossrail project, which the businesses will benefit from.
For too long business has received the pick of the graduate pool with a negligible contribution. The growing consensus is that the time has come for business to put its hand in its pocket to pay for the benefits it gets from public services. Your editorial concludes that a good education is expensive and those who can afford to pay should do. We, like Lord Dearing, believe that all those who benefit should pay.
General secretary, University and College Union, London NW1
I will find your repeated calls for a rise in tuition fees easier to stomach when they come from a generation such as mine, who staggered from university under a mountain of debt. Baby-boomers hoping for their pension pot to be caringly tended may regret dropping this one on their kids.
ICA mentions the unmentionable
In his column about the ICA's recent troubles (6 March), your arts editor, David Lister, suggests that it might "address some of the rarely discussed issues in culture today - the fear, for example, of staging plays or writing books or making films that offend Islamic fundamentalists. The ICA could become the place for mentioning the unmentionable."
In November 2005, the ICA hosted a discussion with the Dutch critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, together with one of the first screenings outside Holland of her controversial short film Submission. Other talks organised by myself and my colleague Jennifer Thatcher in recent years have included lectures by the social theorist and interpreter of militant Islam Faisal Devji and the Islam scholar Tariq Ramadan, a controversial (and well-publicised) spat between Martin Amis and Chris Morris on Islam and Islamism, a discussion with a senior member of Hamas (via a live satellite link to Beirut) and a debate involving a British representative of the Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in many countries and may shortly be banned here.
It would honestly be very helpful if pundits, before they get around to criticising the ICA's programming, took a gander at the programme.
The writer was Director of Talks at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2004-2009
David Lister's tirade against the ICA indicates that he has not visited the gallery, or he would have waxed lyrical about the current exhibition of Billy Childish paintings and poetry.
Sometimes their stuff can be a bit weird, but so what? I have bought several items in the past that I treasure, and the artists have gone on to prosper.
Its location is ideal: down the steps from Pall Mall, through a discreet entrance with a view of St James's Park. Beautiful surroundings to view some stimulating work. If they have financial problems, why don't they charge for entrance? Most galleries do. Why does everything have to be free these days?
Understanding Philby's betrayal
Dear me, G Hoskin does get "venomous" towards Charlotte Philby (letter, 8 March). I should have thought it was not unusual for a grandchild to admire a grandparent, even wrongly.
Unlike G Hoskin, I do not think the real question is whether Kim Philby's actions were for a good cause, but the fact that he betrayed his country and was responsible for the deaths of fellow British agents. He believed his cause was just, and died still believing so, and, in the times in which he lived, I do not believe that was such a crime. He became a Communist agent long before the persecutions of which G Hoskin complains were known about in this country, and when the USSR was our ally against Hitler.
Personally, I do not think that excuses betraying one's country (and, above all, colleagues), but, in retrospect, it becomes understandable. People who share the views of G Hoskin may like to reflect on what the outcome of the Second World War would have been if the Soviet Union had collapsed.
Just ban peat for gardens
There needs to be more determination in the battle to combat climate change ("Gardeners urged to stop using peat-based compost", 9 March).
When lead in petrol was causing brain damage to children, we didn't ask drivers to stop buying leaded petrol - we banned it. When CFCs were damaging the ozone layer, we didn't ask people to stop buying toiletries with CFCs - we banned them. There are many alternatives to peat compost, and it is making a significant contribution to climate change, so we shouldn't ask gardeners not to use it - we should ban it.
Of course, banning peat compost is only one of many steps that need to be taken to tackle climate change, but many of the others are more complicated or expensive, and so will take more time. This one's easy - let's do it now.
Objections are raised to calling people climate-change deniers.
Those who point out - correctly - that we cannot be 100 per cent certain that human activity is the main cause of climate change can claim the honourable title of "sceptic". We can then proceed to a rational discussion of the balance of probabilities, and the balance of risks.
But those who assume that they know better than the world's leading climate scientists, and that anything less than 100 per cent certainty is equivalent to a disproof, cannot avoid the ignoble title of "denier".
Trade ban would not save tuna
You make the claim in your article on the Atlantic bluefin tuna (6 March) that a Cites trade ban would "save" the fish from vanishing. If only wildlife conservation were that simple.
Such a step would actually undermine efforts to manage bluefin stocks, by spawning exactly the type of black market that undermines elephant conservation in certain parts of Africa. Carefully regulated trade may not sound sexy but it remains the most effective way to conserve wild species.
The EU would be wise to reject quick fixes that would actually make matters worse.
President, IWMC World Conservation Trust (Secretary-General of CITES, 1982-1990)
Tribal reaction to Muslim 'threat'
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown comments: "The same people call upon us [Muslims] to be more 'British' but treat us as lesser citizens. Deal or no deal?" ("British Muslims are running out of friends", 8 March).
While I acknowledge that there may be a bias within the political and judicial institutions of the UK, it is not an unprovoked or a completely irrational one. It is the natural tribal or group nature of a society to act in a defensive manner to a perceived external threat.
Legally British Muslims are no different from any other British citizen. Would it be so unthinkable or unreasonable for more Muslim citizens to take positive actions to further integrate themselves into mainstream "British" society?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Astronomic cost of Army kit
How can it possibly cost £1.3bn to upgrade the Snatch Land Rovers? No one ever seems to query the astronomic figures quoted by the Government.
How many of the things are there? Why does it cost so much to upgrade each one? They only cost £50,000 new. I am sure the Army could fit additional armour. But no; there seems to be an infinite pot of money to dip into. It's just the same when talking about building schools or hospitals. A modest-size school will cost £20m. Why?
If, as the Prime Minister claims, the Army have everything they asked for in Afghanistan, can we find out which idiot in the Army asked for the Snatch Land Rovers?
In your otherwise comprehensive Saturday profile of William Hague (6 March), you omitted his proficiency at judo. Not only does this noble martial art teach respect, resolve and humility, it also comes in pretty handy if you're about to take a fall.
Labels for killings
Should the deaths of Armenians in the 1915 conflict with Turkey be labelled genocide or casualties of war (report, 9 March)? This controversy exposes the real worth of emotive labels. It all comes down to power politics and whoever has the power to force a definition. Is the Armenian lobby in the US stronger than the value of Turkey as an ally? In the end such labels are meaningful only to the naive.
Part of the reason why Tory policies for the coming election have not been made water-tight (Steve Richards, 2 March) may well be a complacent assumption that victory is assured. Perhaps more important is their realisation that it is impossible to reconcile their claimed changed nature with the need to activate policies that will retain the support of the affluent and privileged, essential to their electoral success.
You ask why Britain is so bad at tennis (9 March). Until tennis is made available to all kids, and coaches are working in schools, we have little chance of improving our position in world tennis. It remains elitist and expensive ,unlike football, cricket and some other sports.
No dogs in towns
What to do about dogs? It should be illegal to keep them in residential areas. They are an anti-social nuisance. They produce noise, and foul parks and pavements. And they bite. Occasionally, they kill children. The case for a ban is probably as strong as the case for the smoking ban.
Must do better
Please, its "Dyb-dyb-dyb", not "Dib-dib-dib", as any fule kno (headline 8 March).
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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