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- Arts + Ents
Monday 2 January 2012
Letters: New Year Honours
Why are there no Lottery winners in the New Year Honours list? For over a decade these ordinary people have selflessly sacrificed their lifestyles at short notice to take on the oppressive burden of great wealth without protest or rancour.
Some have boldly breached repressive religious taboos against gambling. Others have given up lucrative criminal careers to become model citizens. They are inspirational icons of normality in a celebrity-crazed world.
Many generously eschew opportunities to be splashed across the pages of the tabloid press which mere celebrities can only dream of, preferring instead the anonymity of the numbered Swiss bank account.
They are our role models, our heroes, whom millions of us seek to emulate several times a week.
Without them we would have no Olympic events for our politicians to attend when London shuts down this summer, there would be empty seats at the Royal Opera House, and the BBC TV schedulers would have to provide some real family entertainment on Saturday evenings.
Their influence extends far beyond our shores: our Lottery winners are the envy of all Europe, having scooped some of the biggest jackpots there. Like the directors of our banks, they are world-class performers on an international stage and deserve world-class rewards yet year after year they go unnoticed. So please let us honour these people who have done so much to make Britain what it is today.
John A W Lock
Richard Taylor is wrong to state that Chris Preddie should be denied recognition for his community work, simply for being the cousin of the murderers of Damilola Taylor (New year Honours report, 31 December).
Mr Preddie's cousins are independent people who acted independently of Mr Preddie. Indeed, Mr Preddie states that he has had little, or no, contact with them throughout his life. There's nothing to suggest that he condones their act in any way – especially given the nature of the community work he is being honoured for. It is wrong to deny just reward to someone because they have undesirable relatives.
What happened to the Taylor family was a shocking and terrible crime – for which the perpetrators are being punished. It does not, however, mean that Mr Taylor's views should be given special credence on any matter tenuously related to his son's murder. Sadly, emotionally driven arguments (such as Mr Taylor's), which fly in the face of simple reason, are too often given an airing they do not deserve.
In the 31 days of December The Independent published 71 obituaries, of which none was for an engineer and only one each for a scientist and a medic. Of 839 recorded birthdays, two were engineers, 10 scientists and nine medics. In the account of the New Year Honours on 31 December you do not mention a single scientist, engineer or medic, although there were 10 knighthoods for them.
Such disparities in treatment seem to be contrary to The Independent's often expressed opinion that the status in this country of scientists and especially engineers requires enhancement. Please remember that it is not only the media people who merit obits, have birthdays, or receive honours: it is essential for the wellbeing of this country that a right balance is maintained.
Brasenose College, Oxford
Free to choose a bad school meal
At the secondary school where I teach, children on free school meals get their money for food and get to spend it on what they want ("Canteens to start price war to keep pupils out of the takeaway", 29 December). This could be three cookies, for instance, as I witnessed on one occasion.
I cannot believe that our taxpayers' money is going towards this and that there is no control over what students on free school meals eat. This money ought to be spent to ensure that disadvantaged children get a good meal, surely. With loads of butter and sugar, their behaviour is not surprisingly sometimes poor in the afternoon.
If the Coalition is serious about trying to improve teaching and learning at our state schools, this is a simple issue to tackle.
The response that I had from Sarah Teather MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, shows no sign of sorting this problem, saying that "choice" for 11- to 16-year-olds is paramount.
The report on the new measures to be introduced to encourage school pupils to eat school meals shows once again how out of touch politicians are with the realities.
They ignore the major factor in pupils' choices – parents. Go to any supermarket before school starts, at lunchtime and again after school, and it is clear parents are giving their children money every day to spend as they wish – and this is often on fizzy drinks and all manner of junk food.
I have a lot of sympathy with Mark Steel's views about atheists (29 December). While presenting themselves as the great purveyors of rationality, so many of them come across as arrogant, smug and intolerant, which makes them just about as appealing as the self-righteous but equally smug and intolerant religious fundamentalists.
I remember being struck by the uncanny similarity of Richard Dawkins and Ian Paisley on television on consecutive nights during the Pope's visit. Both of them frothing at the mouth: check out the tapes.
I was moved closer towards a position of atheism during the genocidal killing in Rwanda in 1994. There had been a lull in the killing (in late May if I recall correctly) and our local church gave thanks for the end of the violence, and prayed for the peace to be permanent.
Unfortunately, if God heard the prayer, it was not high on his list of priorities, for within days the killing had started again, and a further couple of hundred thousand people of all ages, male and female, were hacked to death. I came to the conclusion then that God, if he did exist, must be thoroughly unpleasant, and I find it easier to imagine that no such being exists. That "God moves in mysterious ways" is simply not a good enough answer.
Very few Christians believe in the literal truth of the Bible: only a few fundamentalists do. We should remember Yeats's lines, "A man awaits his end/ Dreading and hoping all." Does anyone really believe that more than a tiny minority of even the most devout Christians are absolutely certain that death is the gateway to immortality, let alone to a system of rewards and punishments?
Atheists and theists should respect each other's beliefs and conduct controversies in a spirit of goodwill.
I've read with interest the letters that atheists and Christians have written to the paper, showing various degrees of tolerance and intolerance to each other's beliefs. And yet, at this time of year, both groups seem to enjoy Christmas.
Does removing the supposed religious basis for the festival mean that atheists are happy to celebrate it, maybe even singing a few carols with their CofE chums? Or should they be firmer in their godlessness and avoid Christmassy stuff?
Already helping 'problem families'
David Cameron wants extra resources and staff to help "problem families"? He'll no doubt be aware, then, that there is already a network of excellent Children's Centres across the country, where family support workers are trying to tackle precisely the problems he mentions.
At a starting salary of about £18,000, they are cheaper to employ than social workers but are equally dedicated and enthusiastic about offering support to troubled families, particularly those with young children.
He'll be interested to learn that in some areas these hard-working staff have been made redundant and forced to apply for other jobs in the area, and have had their management handed over from the local authorities to charities such as Barnardo's and Action for Children.
This means that they are no longer answerable to elected local authorities, but are now working in accordance with the values and policies of the charities. Now these may be perfectly compatible with those that the Government has in mind, but in some cases the charities will have different priorities.
If Mr Cameron is serious about supporting young families and wants a coherent strategy to tackle their problems, he should look at the system he is currently dismantling before creating a new one.
Happy new year? Try France
In your leading article "A year when the pageantry might not hide the unease" (31 December), you refer to a "French electorate shrouded in domestic gloom". I am in France and can assure you that everyone I know is very chipper, thank you very much.
Unfortunately I must return to the doom-laden UK in the New Year, with its diet of media-led fear, suspicion and chaos.
Apparently, the Sydney harbour New Year firework display cost around A$6m. With similar amounts wasted in capital cities worldwide, it would appear that we all have so much money to spare that we can literally burn it. Crisis? What crisis?
Lib Dems stand up for fairness
I am sorry that John Manley is so pessimistic about the Liberal Democrats' efforts (letter, 31 December). This Liberal Democrat is glad that our commitment to fairness has remained – a fairer tax system, a fairer deal on state pensions, fairer treatment for disadvantaged children, a fairer criminal justice system and a fairer voting system.
Some progress has been made on the first three objectives. We must always remember that Conservatives "don't do" fairness unless put under pressure. We must keep up the pressure and seek support from fair-minded people in other parties.
Figure it out
It looks as though the arts graduates who edit your paper are struggling with basic sums again. On 24 December, in an article headlined, "Only a quarter of 999 calls are emergencies", we were told, "In Suffolk, just 3,227 of the 20,391 were genuine emergencies – less than 1 in 10". No, it isn't less than 1 in 10. It's hard to find an analogy for such a simple error. Attributing Macbeth to Charles Dickens, perhaps.
Though Lord Howe denies that he recommended that Liverpool be left to "managed decline", from my observations during several visits to the place a couple of years ago, that's exactly what happened. Well, maybe not "managed".
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