Letters: Lance Armstrong is a hero to millions

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Sir: In his article about Lance Armstrong (26 July), James Lawton writes: "Certainly he conquered death, but did he fully embrace life?"

Hmmm. Well, here goes. Recovery from testicular cancer which had spread to his lungs and brain, with a 40 per cent chance of survival including brain surgery and chemotherapy. Gets back on a bike and wins seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Three kids (from sperm donated before chemo), one marriage, one rock-star girlfriend, and a huge cancer charity supported by the sale of "live-strong" wristbands.

No, Lance Armstrong does not have a great following with the press. Yes, some people will be glad to see him retired. No, his name will never be totally free from association with drugs despite the testing thrust on him time and time again, all of which proved negative.

However, Lance Armstrong means so much to millions. On the Champs-Elysées on the final day an army of Armstrong fans, not just Yankees but Brits (like me), Spaniards, Germans, Belgians, Norwegians and even French came to cheer him on. He has done a huge amount to help cancer sufferers around the world.

Is it a British disease that we won't recognise greatness? Armstrong is a living legend. It has been a pleasure to watch him. This man has embraced life more than we can know.



Shameful treatment of refugees must halt

Sir: The vast majority of people in Britain of all faiths and nationalities were appalled and deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks that took place in London. However, we are also dismayed at the shameful way that some sections of the press have used the background of the most recent suspects, who arrived in the UK as asylum seekers, to attack the very idea of asylum and to smear refugee communities with accusations of ingratitude. We know from our 24 years of experience that refugees feel a very genuine debt to their host country and passionately want to give something back.

Revelations about the identities of both the perpetrators and the victims have poignantly demonstrated that terrorism crosses divides of nationality, ethnicity, immigration status and religion. The 7 July suicide bombers were British born. By contrast, one of their victims, Ateeque Sharifi, was an Afghan refugee who fled the fundamentalism of the Taliban only to be murdered in the UK by fanatics who justified their actions in the name of his faith.

Indeed, many refugees in the UK have fought against fundamentalism in their home countries, including East Africa and the Middle East. It is only right that, as our politicians call for reform in those countries, we continue to offer a safe haven to those who have the courage to confront tyranny at first hand, often at great personal risk.

Asylum-seeking and refugee communities should not be slandered because of the actions of a tiny minority of fanatics. We must be careful not to fuel prejudice against this already vulnerable group.



Bush, Blair, religion and suicide bombers

Sir: Could Osama bin Laden in his wildest imaginings ever have hoped for the current spin-offs from Bush and Blair's misconceived "war on terror"?

The invasion of Iraq has encouraged a seemingly limitless supply of suicide bombers around the world prepared to blow themselves and anyone around them to pieces in the interests of martyrdom to Bin Laden's cause.

Deadly, and wholly indefensible, reprisals for the invasion have generated a climate of fear in London such that the Metropolitan Police can summarily execute an entirely innocent man and Britain's most senior police officer can issue a bland warning that other innocent people might suffer the same fate.

The hated secular state in Iraq that Bin Laden inveighed against has disintegrated into violent anarchy and, if it ever becomes governable again, will be governed as an (ironically democratic) theocracy whose constitution will severely curtail the rights of women.

Until such time as Blair and Bush move away from their fundamentalist attribution of the cause of the violence in Iraq, and the bombings around the world, to an abstract "evil", stop imagining that they can effectively wage "war" on "terror", and start trying to understand the history both of the Middle East and of Western relations with Islam, they will continue to be Osama bin Laden's most effective lieutenants.



Sir: Viewing a religion per se as the cause and motivation of a suicide bomber may be dangerously to miss the mark. All successful cults exploit a common propensity in the human psyche to see ultimate self-surrender to a cause that offers ultimate exclusivity. Cult leaders know that by creating an environment of "religiosity" the effectiveness of their techniques for psychic control and dominance is vastly enhanced.

If this is true, then by targeting a particular religion we merely add frisson to its exclusiveness which makes it only the more attractive to the potential fanatic. A more effective counter-measure would be to undermine this negative exclusiveness (with its offer of membership to the "chosen" and opportunity for advancement through martyrdom) by demonstrating that a suicide bomber is merely an ordinary, though in a way unusually weak and susceptible, human psyche.



Sir: The Prime Minister's statement "nothing can justify terrorism, not ever," is naïve. War is a two-sided affair without limit to retaliatory techniques. Killing off tens of thousands Iraqis on a demonstrably false invasion premise together with an unknown number of Afghans might seem reason enough to quite a lot of individuals to repay one form of terror with another.



Sir: Perhaps one of your Muslim readers could explain what the Koran says about suicide. I have always believed that a martyr was a person who died at the hands of others for their faith. This is clearly not the case for suicide bombers, who choose to die at their own hands.



The challenges lying in wait for the NHS

Sir: Your article ("Pay rises for NHS staff are driving hospitals into debt", 27 July) blames recent pay rises for consultants, along with pay deals for other NHS staff, for the growing number of hospital trusts facing debts.

NHS staff have been working exceptionally hard to meet the escalating demands of Government and to care for an ever-increasing number of patients. They rightly deserve a fair salary for their work and should not be blamed for failure to properly fund new contracts or poor financial management by an NHS trust.

Today's consultants are doing all they can to bring down waiting times and push forward new innovations in treatment and processes of care. It is in the commissioning process that so many trusts come unstuck; unrealistic targets with too little associated resources. Objectives and resources have to be matched.

NHS trusts are potentially facing a period of even greater financial instability as they get to grips with a feast of new policy initiatives: patient choice, payment by results and the introduction of new providers of care, notably from private firms.

Diverting NHS money into the private sector will deprive NHS hospitals of essential funding. New funding arrangements, where the money follows the patient, will see some hospitals deprived of essential funding if patients choose an alternative provider. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the steep increases in funding that the NHS has recently benefited from will continue beyond 2008. The biggest challenges for the NHS are yet to come.



Levy would protect airline passengers

Sir: Michael Harrison's column (28 July) stated that the CAA's proposal for a passenger protection levy would not have helped EUjet customers as the airline was Irish-registered. This is not so; our proposal would cover all air passengers departing the UK.

He also suggested that credit cards provide customer refunds, but EUjet was a low-cost carrier and if you pay less than £100 by credit card there is no statutory right to a refund. With debit cards there is no statutory protection at all. Nor does travel insurance help: the vast majority of policies do not provide such cover.

Although other airlines have offered special fares to fly stranded holidaymakers home, such voluntary arrangements rely on goodwill, on airlines operating similar routes, on seats being available, and on passengers finding out about the arrangements. Under the Atol scheme, if a tour operator fails, the CAA repatriates holidaymakers with minimum disruption and at no additional cost.

The CAA's proposal is for a simple, efficient and comprehensive passenger-protection system for all. The public do not generally have the ability to predict business failure and we consider a £1 levy to be a positive answer in a sector where there have been more than a dozen airline failures in Europe in the past 12 months.



'The Wild Bunch', in English and Latin

Sir: Mike McCarthy is absolutely right about the need for the use of English when referring to our wild plants ("The Wild Bunch", 23 July), but his article did not mention the invaluable work being done by the Wildlife Trusts (with membership of about half a million) in raising public awareness about all forms of wildlife in their local areas. The Trusts endeavour to make the ordinary extraordinary, and to help people to understand what is special about their particular forms of wildlife.

McCarthy should also perhaps have considered the necessity for the scientific anchor of Latin. Many of our plants were named locally and so, as Geoffrey Grigson's wonderful book The Englishman's Flora makes clear, there may be a panoply of county names for one plant. For example, the Common Spotted Orchid is known in Somerset as Adam and Eve or Adder's flower; in Wiltshire as Dandy Goslings; and in Shetland as Curlie-daddie, so confusion can occur. It is, of course, Dactylorhiza fuchsii.

We do need to use both languages: one to retain the scientific rigour and the other to make the plants themselves more accessible to the widest possible range of people. However, in the end, it's not what we call them which matters but how well we look after them, since they play such a fundamental role in life on earth.



Alzheimer's drugs are good value

Sir: I am shocked to hear that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has rejected the views of thousands of people by failing to reconsider its proposal to withdraw Alzheimer's drug treatments from the NHS. More than 8,000 people wrote to Nice following the publication of draft guidance issued in March. It was an unprecedented response.

But despite being overwhelmed with personal and professional testimonies highlighting the benefits of these drugs, Nice has decided to prolong the uncertainty for people with dementia and their carers whilst it re-examines the facts. The Alzheimer's Society believes there is overwhelming evidence clearly showing that these drugs work, and at just £2.50 a day are good value for money. Why won't Nice listen? Maybe one of them needs to have to watch someone deteriorate and be seemingly powerless to do anything to make this Government body see sense.



Why fly the flag?

Sir: Am I alone in noticing a further creeping usage of US presidential methodology in the use of the Union flag behind Mr Blair at his news conferences? I, personally, whilst proud to be a citizen of the world, Europe and the United Kingdom, in that order, find this use of the flag most distasteful.



What Chamberlain said

Sir: It is ironic that on the day when you publish two more letters about misquotations (27 July), you also publish one from Thomas Lines containing some of the most frequently misquoted words in history. What Chamberlain promised on his return from Munich was "peace for our time" adding also that we should all "go home and get a nice quiet sleep". Wise words for today's troubled times.



Northern Ireland's fate

Sir: Will The Independent now campaign for a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland? Mr Paisley and others will never agree to an internal democratic system, so why not use democracy in a wider sense to determine whether this territory should continue to be governed from Westminster. I cannot be alone in a desire to see this age-old problem resolved in this manner at this time.



Call for a go-slow

Sir: CTC, the UK's national cyclists' organisation, shares The Independent's view that London's Mayor should capitalise on the number of cycling commuters (leading article, 26 July). But dedicated cycle routes are not the only answer in an already crowded streetscape. Let's have a 20mph speed limit in urban areas, properly enforced traffic laws and make cycle training widely available, for safe, confident and responsible cycling.



Virgins in paradise

Sir: If virgins in paradise are the commodity used to reward successful suicide bombers, what does this say about the attitude of their religion towards women?