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Thursday 8 March 2012
Letters: It's not cool to demean women
For the generation that grew up celebrating personal freedoms, it's hard not to agree with Christina Patterson about the apparent failure of feminism "Sisters, we've let our teenage daughters down", 7 March). But before we harrumph off into the sunset about the moral failure of modern youth, there is a perspective that needs to be taken.
First of all, sex sells. It always has and always will – and the day it doesn't, the human race is doomed. So unless we are going to advocate introducing the burka, titillation is probably the price we have to pay for sexual freedom. But there's a line between strutting your stuff and having your stuff strutted.
Although baby-boomer parents with comfortable lives may find it difficult to stomach the macho posing of hip-hop lyrics that openly demean women, we also have to ask why this has happened. Could it be because it's one of the few places left for our children that feels cool, edgy and offensive to our liberal values?
If you talk to teenagers about this, it turns out that the girls don't really like it, and the boys pretend that they're not really serious. But it is a serious issue. As a culture, we've had the meeting about that and decided that violence against women, both physical and verbal, is not acceptable.
Well done to Christina Patterson for raising it. In our open society, there's a reluctance to sound prudish when talking about these things, but it needs to be done. If we don't we're failing not only our teenage daughters but also our sons.
Trundling off into the sunset with a free bus pass
Being of an age when the world ceases to take you seriously and there is little to do but go for bus rides, swim in the Hampstead ponds and write letters to newspapers, may I take issue with Steve Richards about that "universal benefit", the "free bus pass" for old codgers and lady pensioners, which he sadly decries in support of Mr Osborne's cheerless workhouse economics ("Not every pensioner needs a free train ticket", 6 March).
The free pass bus is indeed a social and economic necessity for very poor pensioners, of whom there are far too many: the policies of numerous UK governments over many years having priced public transport as a luxury. "Take a free bus ride – you know you're worth it!"
For the others, the not so poor but not rich, the bus pass may be justified on grounds of giving human delight; a small delivery on the Prime Minister's promise of greater human happiness. After a lifetime of tax and fare paying, the free bus pass comes as a very affordable low-cost mark of human fellowship; like one of those Bafta awards for lifetime achievement in films; or those gongs that the Civil Service dish out to themselves on retirement.
If we are all equal in death, if not in life, surely we can be equal for a year or two beforehand on the bus?
Steve Richards' article puts forward familiar arguments for more means-testing. He dismisses the many objections far too easily.
Means-testing requires an understanding of every applicant's financial circumstances. As anyone with any experience of means-tested benefit systems can testify, this makes them a nightmare, because people's financial circumstances change, and, for many people, often. It is not possible to design a system which is both simple and fair.
Steve Richards does not openly advocate the means-testing of retirement pension (which, costing over £70bn this year, is six times the level of spending on child benefit), but, if one follows the logic of his argument that "it is a waste of public money to subsidise those who already have enough cash", then such means-testing must be considered.
However, the welfare state was not designed just to redistribute resources from those with plenty to those in need. It was also designed to redistribute across every individual lifetime. Children (and families) were recipients, then the adult of working age paid taxes and National Insurance, and finally the older person again became a net recipient in the last years of life. The National Insurance system is predicated on this bargain: work, and you build up "rights" to a pension, paid irrespective of any income from pensions and savings. This approach rewards "good" behaviour.
A third major objection is that means-testing is a major attack on social solidarity. Unlike universal provision, it tends to divide society into two classes: the group which pays relatively little in taxes but is the recipient of substantial state support; and the group which pays much more in taxes and which is denied state support. This is a recipe for continual consideration of whether recipients are "deserving" of support.
The iconic free bus pass is not a "universal benefit" since those under 60 are excluded. And far from benefiting the over-60s, it encourages them to think that their time is up, that they are too old and stupid to select their own mode of travel, and that they bear no responsibility for the fact that neither they nor the governments they have elected have planned an adequate retirement pension.
Any self-respecting person would prefer to pay for their own travel out of an adequate income, not flash an offensive pass in the faces of the young, the poor and the migrant workers on whom our future depends.
Trevor Pateman (aged 64)
Steve Richards doesn't appear to understand the funding of public transport. Most public transport provision is subsidised and withdrawal of Freedom Pass travel would require the bus and train franchise operators to be compensated financially for this loss of income stream by increasing the direct subsidy they receive. So no cost savings would result.
The country is another country
It is sad to find how many people have unrealistic and romantic views of "the countryside" (Terence Blacker: "Moving to the countryside can be more punishment than reward", 6 March). It is also very damaging to rural life, given that people with urban dreams and bank balances can buy up rural properties at prices that no one trying to earn a rural-based living can ever hope to afford.
Dreams should stay at home where it is never winter, mud and cow muck on the roads don't exist and the wildlife keeps decent town hours.
I am reminded of a story told me by a farming acquaintance. He was asked by an "incomer" to his tiny village to mow the paddock the incomer had acquired when he bought his lovely home in the country. No payment was offered, but the farmer was welcome to take the resulting hay. The incomer expected the mowing to take place in November.
And if you don't understand the point of that story, you really shouldn't think of moving to the country.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
Having read Terence Blacker on the countryside, no more shall I delight in the roe deer that gambol in the back field at twilight, or the blackbirds that nest in my hedge, the buzzards that wheel above my house or the horses that share the single track lane.
I shall sneer when next the larch copse dances in the wind and pour scorn upon the bluebells at its base. The future is in a flat above a chippy in Fulham– thank you Mr Blacker.
Syria is bad, but Israel is ours
Hugh Hetherington (letter, 6 March) wonders why critics of Israel are so silent about Syria. Both are tyrannies, Syria over its own people, Israel over its captive Palestinians. But there any similarity ends.
The UK is not responsible for Syrian tyranny, but is doing more or less all it can to oppose it, short of open war. But the UK bears an enormous responsibility for the way it helped European settlers dispossess the indigenous Palestinians who were still over 90 per cent of the population in 1920. Israel, unlike Syria, is a creature of the United Nations partition plan of 1947, and all UN members bear a responsibility for the outcome. Finally, Britain and its allies have it in their power to insist on Israel respecting international law, but have consistently refused to exercise this power since 1967.
I was surprised to read Avi Shlaim's forceful criticism of Israel (5 March). He points to Israel's occupation of the West Bank as the source of all problems in the region but he may have forgotten that when Israel captured the territories, in 1967, after having to fight a third war for its survival (and long before there was any occupation), it offered to return them in exchange for peace.
The offer was formulated in the oft-misquoted UN resolution 242, which demands Israeli withdrawal in exchange for an end to Arab belligerence. However, the Arabs refused the offer in 1968. They wanted the territories but not the peace. They do not want a state alongside Israel but one in place of Israel. And to corroborate the point; when Israel withdrew from Gaza, all it got was a daily rocket bombardment.
Enough sacrifice in Afghanistan
At the tragic news of six more service deaths in Afghanistan, the politicians look sombre, wring their hands, restate the "rationale", and talk of sacrifice – of others. And the military speak again of "progress" and "finishing the job".
I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling outrage at what seems to be a ludicrous lack of common sense, virtually no strategic justification, and frankly, cowardice at not daring to admit that enough is enough. Right now, not at the end of 2014, after yet more avoidable deaths and bereaved families.
It is a terrible thing that saving face costs lives, and our politicians are prepared to accept that.
East Molesey, Surrey
'Murder? It's just their culture'
I agree with the feelings expressed by Philip Hensher's article "We turn up our music to cover the screams" (3 March). However, there is a very important point arising from the "witchcraft" murder that many are missing.
The problem should not be whether horrific acts are acceptable within the cultures from which the perpetrators come. The point is, they live in Britain – are these acts within the law of this land? None of us believe that incidents causing screaming and violence are within British law; therefore no one should hesitate before calling the police. Culture is immaterial.
The rights of dolphins
William Roberts's point about dolphins is misdirected (letter, 6 March). If they and other intelligent animals are persons, and unjustified killing of persons is wrong, then what is needed is for humans and not for dolphins to extend the application of the term "murder".
Guardians of morality
Now that politicians, newspaper reporters, policemen and priests are in disgrace (letter, 3 March) perhaps we should turn to second-hand car salesmen for guidance in matters of moral rectitude. At least it could be "on your drive tomorrow, squire".
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