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Thursday 7 August 2008
Letters: Lads' mags
Lads' mags promote the myth of the ever-available woman
Your report "Lads' mags to blame for bad dads, claims Gove" (5 August) reminds me that last summer I had the pleasure of sitting next to a family on a plane. The father had a copy of either Zoo or Nuts and was happily examining the finer points of the naked girls within, seemingly oblivious to either myself or his partner, who might find such behaviour unnerving.
He was, however, more than willing to share these photographs with his son, whom I would put at around eight years old and who appeared to be accustomed to being exposed to such images.
I cannot deny any purported findings of Phil Hilton (Comment, 5 August) that the intended audience of these publications is in the "immature dating phase" and yet maintaining equal relationships with females in their lives. But clearly the actual audience is wider. One only has to have a spare half hour at a railway station newsstand to observe that it is not only spotty 18-year-olds consuming this material.
I would defend freedom of speech, and of the press, to the death. But it is irresponsible to dismiss Michael Gove's accusations. As a young, attractive woman I can bear witness to the fact that there is a generation of young men who do see women as "permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available". I would not claim that such magazines cause such an attitude, but they can, and do, reinforce belief that such ideas are acceptable and correct.
Has Michael Gove not looked at girls' mags recently? For encouragement to follow a promiscuous lifestyle – whether or not one is a mother – they are hard to beat. And the naked models in the lads' mags are doing very nicely, thank you, in terms of what they are paid. Are they victims too, or letting the side down?
A protest against climate disaster
On Thursday I and my four-year-old daughter will be heading to the Camp for Climate Action at Kingsnorth in Kent – proposed site for the first of a new generation of coal-fired power stations. Why?
Last month, James Hansen, head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world's leading experts on climate change, warned: "If we continue to build coal-fired power plants without carbon capture [as would be the case at Kingsnorth] we will leave our children a situation not of their own making but out of control, an impoverished future containing growing climate disasters associated with the passing of climate tipping points."
There is still time to avert such a scenario, he noted, but "a moratorium on new coal" is "the urgent stop-gap essential action to save the planet". Moreover: "If but one country would step forward to lead in this direction, it would be a turning point."
For everyone's sakes, a new generation of coal-fired stations must not be built here in the UK. This is why I will be at Kingsnorth this Saturday to take part in the peaceful mass action to shut down the existing coal-fired power station there. I urge your readers to ignore the police scare stories and join us.
Johann Hari (Opinion, 4 August) is quite right to highlight the likely environmental consequences of building more coal-fuelled power stations. However, he is long on problems and short on solutions.
Unless we stop consuming energy in the quantities required to support modern civilisation (which would lead to equally devastating consequences for human society) we have to find a practical alternative to our oil and gas habit. If not coal, then the only immediately available mid-term solution is nuclear, because wind, wave and solar alternatives will never deliver reliably on an industrial scale. However, there is a cleaner and greener long-term solution which never seems to get mentioned: geothermal energy.
With the oil industry now able to drill to depths of 35,000 feet, it is becoming practical (and increasingly economic) to mine the enormous internal heat of the planet itself, and thus supply all our energy needs for the foreseeable future. A 2006 MIT-led study by the US Department of Energy concluded that with the relatively insignificant investment of a billion dollars, up to 20 per cent of America's energy could be supplied in this way, even with existing technology.
For far less than the £50bn of public money recently dispensed so casually to bail out our morally hazardous banking system, we could lay the foundation for a secure and sustainable energy programme right here in the UK. The answer is under our feet.
Labour needs a spell in opposition
Brown is not the problem and Miliband is not the solution. The real problem is the New Labour created by Blair, Brown and Mandelson.
It has no distinctive character, since it is just the capitalism with a human face espoused by progressive Conservatives. Having abandoned nationalisation, it has failed to champion alternative forms of public ownership by bodies such as mutuals, co-operatives, trusts and local authorities. It has left even natural monopolies such as gas, electricity and water in private hands.
In its enthusiasm for neo-colonialist intervention, the Labour leadership is far to the right of people such as Kenneth Clark and Malcolm Rifkind. Its foreign policy has made us less independent of America than we have ever been.
Its internal party democracy was exposed as non-existent by the "coronation" of Brown. Even what is most needed, electoral reform, promised in 1997, has been denied us.
No wonder people think the party needs a spell in opposition to find a role for itself.
P J Stewart
Steve Richards (31 July) concludes that the Labour Party needs cathartic change in order to drown out the noise of the leadership question.
Gordon Brown wanted to be Prime Minister for many years. He has now achieved his objective. Things are not, however, working out as he would have wished. His personality appears not to have helped, with a media fixated on a politician's appearance and style rather than policies; and global economics haven't helped either.
I don't agree, however, that Labour's way forward is a change of leader. Given the time frame to the next election, it would be difficult, even with a brand new leader, to swing the electoral argument.
We see increasing egocentricity at the top of politics. We saw it in spades with Blair. Brown is not immune from it, and now Miliband is donning the mantle. It is extremely unattractive and a turn-off to most people. Getting to the top of UK politics doesn't make you particularly special; it generally means right time, right place and a face that fits.
It is surely time for the Labour Party to stop muttering into its collective beard and take control of the situation. The party needs to assert itself, so tell Mr Brown what you want him to do, and plan for the next election and the future, whether in a hung parliament or in opposition for a while.
The battle for the soul of the Labour Party grows more and more bizarre ("Brown 'has until end of month to save himself' ", 4 August).
We now have the weird spectacle of John Denham, the universities minister who opposed the Iraq invasion but still defends denying second educational chances to adult learners and savaging respected lifelong-learning institutions, strongly endorsing Gordon Brown, who still defends "Iraq" but has spoken repeatedly in support of "second, third, fourth" chances for adult learners, in direct contradiction of the policies his own education ministers are implementing. I'm confused.
Conflict in an accursed land
I have never been to Afghanistan but I have flown over it many times. On each occasion, I and a number of other passengers join at the back of the aircraft to admire its fierce landscape.
More often than not, one of my fellow passengers will shake his or her head and remark sadly: "And the West believes it can win a war there?" No one disagrees.
I suspect that the leaders (and citizens) of the key Nato partners Paul Burton berates for not doing enough fighting (Letter, 5 August) are more au fait with the history of conflict in that beautiful but accursed land than he.
Please could Paul Burton explain just how a defensive Nato treaty designed to protect America and Europe from a possible attack by Warsaw Pact forces has turned into an aggressive treaty that demands that European forces must act like mercenaries commanded by America and assist America in the invasion of sovereign nations ? No wonder that sensible and law-abiding nations want nothing to do with it.
R C M Watson
Leigh on Sea, Essex
Ill-judged meddling with house prices
State intervention to support housing markets is morally dubious: effectively forcing taxpayers to subsidise the profligate to keep houses out of reach of the prudent, but the Chancellor's mumblings about a possible future suspension of stamp duty are also ill judged ("Rescue plan to save property market", 6 August).
Nigel Lawson's announcement, five months in advance, of plans to abolish double mortgage interest tax relief created the final overinflation of the 80s housing market as people rushed to buy before the allowance disappeared. Conversely, we should now see a further sudden constriction in market activity as people sensibly wait to buy until they (perhaps) no longer have to pay stamp duty.
Let me see if I've got this straight. Inflation is bad, except house price inflation, which is good. Market intervention to prevent house price inflation is both impossible and a bad idea. Market intervention to prevent house price deflation is essential for the future of civilisation.
And, perhaps the most puzzling of all: the best way to help first-time buyers is to prevent a fall in house prices.
Real aim of Tory school vouchers
Permit good (popular?) schools to expand? What if they are good (and popular) precisely because they are small? And what of the impact on neighbouring schools, whose contraction will lead to the loss of teaching posts and narrowing of the curriculum, resulting in declining morale among staff and pupils and further downward pressure on rolls?
The inevitable outcome of allowing some schools to grow is the extinction of others, a lessening of choice and gigantism among the survivors. And since we know that large schools tend to be less effective than small, the whole policy is self-defeating.
The Tories' proposed vouchers are irrelevant. State schools are already funded on the basis of numbers on roll (that is, money follows the child), and it would be perfectly simple to allow them to apply for additional funding for children requiring special support or coming from problem backgrounds.
The Tories have a longer-term aim in putting forward the voucher proposal, namely to subsidise private schools (and Tory supporters?) by allowing vouchers to be used in part-payment of fees.
Dr Morris is wrong to liken Professor Dawkins' support for a DNA database to a belief in papal infallibility (letter, 6 August). In contrast to papal edicts, a DNA database can be challenged, tested, improved upon, or abandoned, if shown not to work fairly.
Uses for hackers
Rather than extradite the resourceful hacker Gary McKinnon to a possible prison sentence in the USA, surely any intelligence agency in the UK should be recruiting him for work in this country. Well done again for highlighting these injustices; is anyone actively working to overturn this unreciprocated extradition arrangement?
"Chris Johnson dislikes my use of the word 'soccer' " (letter, 6 August). Incorrect, like me he hates the use of the word "soccer"; it is an American word and is totally unnecessary in the UK. As one of the obsessed, I know what the word "football" means; there is no ambiguity. If I were talking of rugby, I'd say rugby and, although the words "American football" would never pass my lips, that is what I would say if I ever needed to refer to the game.
Rowing a canoe
While rowers and canoeists are used to hoi polloi not recognising the difference between the sports, we expect better of sports journalists. The picture of four "canoeists" preparing for a paddle in a rowing shell ("Smog over Beijing can't dim the Olympic spirit", 5 August) perhaps explains why our flat-water canoe team has not been as successful as our rowers in recent times. I expect the outriggers get in the way.
Forward to the past
Everybody seems to be "stepping up to the plate" when they are not "going forward". What used we to do?
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