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Thursday 3 January 2008
A feudal political system betrays the people of Pakistan
Sir: Benazir Bhutto's murder is a colossal tragedy for Pakistan and its future stability. Political murders and assassinations have been a heinous tradition of power politics in Pakistan since its inception in 1947. The first prime minister of Pakistan was assassinated in the same park where Benazir was slaughtered. Benazir's father, an elected prime minister, was judicially murdered in the same city by a rogue general.
Power has always been a bone of contention between the powerful military generals and the feudal aristocracy, with disastrous consequences for the masses. The people and the religion have always been used by both parties as pawns on the chess board of power politics. Since all politicians have come from the landed aristocracy and the feudal families, Benazir Bhutto was no exception in looking after her own interests and feathering her own little nest. That is why, despite her articulate and well-publicised claims that she was a champion of democracy, there was no democracy in her personal life. Tariq Ali (31 December) is quite right to say she considered the party as her private property and her fiefdom and the party members and supporter as serfs.
It is obscene and outrageous that, in this day and age, there are political party leaders who consider party members as sheep and cattle and as private property that next of kin can inherit.
There is no doubt that she was a charismatic, popular leader and had a mesmerising influence over her people. Her loss would not only be felt by her party but the whole country. The legacy of a leader of this calibre should not have been damaged by appointing a member of the family as the new leader. The people should have been trusted to make such a vital decision. The people have once again been let down and betrayed.
Mushtaque Khan Kayani
Uncaring demands of the health police
Sir I am appalled that Deborah Orr (2 January) can support the mean-spirited idea that decent contributing citizens should be unable to access healthcare because, like virtually all of us, they have some aspects of their life which do not meet the demands of the health police.
She herself commented on the number of nurses who were overweight those who do demanding jobs and raise families often get fat or smoke or drink more than they should. It is notable that in western nations obesity levels are strongly correlated with working hours and with insecurity of employment, with the US and the UK at the top of both these leagues.
Does it help to deny the nurse in her 50s the hip operation she needs, making it less likely she will lose weight, as she is immobile and likely depressed, and also denying the nation her services and her taxes?
At least most people recognise that, if they are not yet affected, they could be the next victim of this uncaring, judgmental attitude and such a policy will ensure Gordon Brown's defeat at the next election. Let us hope he sees sense for the good of a happy, secure and compassionate nation.
Sir: I fear that the author of your editorial "The wrong sort of medicine" (2 January) has been overdoing things with the sherry and mince pies.
You claim that the "vested interests"that "infest" the monolithic health service must be "taken on" and suggests that the Cuban system should be a model a monolithic system if ever there was one. As for vested interest, perhaps you should look at the much-promoted PFI and APMS initiatives that are privately run, for profit systems that deliver care (if it can be called that) at a far greater cost than the "monolithic" health service with which I and countless others have spent a working lifetime.
Dr Peter Glover
Going green does not pay
Sir: Your article on the introduction of mains electricity to the islanders of Eigg highlights an important point. The combined solar/wind/hydro power plant may be environmentally friendly but at what a cost! 1.5m to supply the 87 islanders is over 50,000 a household, taking an average of three persons per house. Of course it had to be backed by EU taxpayers' money.
I have looked at the various government schemes aimed at encouraging domestic homeowners to go green. I would like to do my bit to save the planet. But I am not going to pay 27,000 for a solar panel or ground-sourced heat pump system for my house. I am not going to pay 4,000 for a solar panel to save me 40 a year on my water heating costs (Energy Saving Trust figures). Or two or three thousand pounds for a useless wind turbine, as your writer Donnachadh McCarthy found out in his recent article.
The present so-called incentives to homeowners are totally inadequate to alter the decisions of most people. It is simply not financially viable to "go green"' with domestic heating, hot water and electricity supply.
Giant wind turbines are being built all over our countryside by the big power companies. It is clearly profitable for them to do so. But until the Government gets real about helping homeowners to be environmentally friendly you will not see many homes generating their own power, lowering their carbon footprint, saving the planet etc.
I shall be buying a truckload of insulation and an electric boiler and waiting for the inevitable next generation of nuclear power stations.
Sir: Having been urged to give up flying, to stop driving cars, to reduce the heat in our homes, to buy local produce rather than imported goods (regardless of the disastrous consequences for millions of poor producers in developing countries) and to use efficient bulbs that are just dull, we are now being told by Graham Cliff (Letters, 28 December) that security lighting is unnecessary and thus another evil to be renounced.
The Independent has given too much coverage and support for the miserablists who are only happy when wearing hair shirts, and constantly angry because others are not attired in a similar fashion.
Just because something is unnecessary does not mean that we should move to have it prohibited. Museums, concerts and sport could all be considered unnecessary by one group or another, and so could the ownership of more than three pairs of shoes or two sweaters.
I find this climate of lecturing and moralising more disturbing than any change in the climate. As oil runs out or becomes too expensive, mankind will adapt and find alternative reliable fuels. In the meantime, how many people would be willing to have an operation with machines and lighting dependent on the vagaries of a windmill turning at the correct hour?
Sir: A short calculation will demonstrate the unviability of home-grown wood as a means of satisfying energy requirements (letter, 29 December).
Sustainable use implies harvesting no more than the average annual growth, which typically amounts to 50 tonnes freshweight per hectare (five tonnes carbon equivalent). If burned at 25 per cent efficiency (an overestimate, given all the energy inputs for forestry and distribution as well as the intrinsic inefficiency of the burning and power conversion operation), it would produce under two kilowatts of power, which might just about satisfy the premium fuel needs of a single household; that is, heating and cooking, but not lighting, electrical equipment or transport, let alone the energy needs associated with out-of-house activities.
Scaling this up means that a middling-sized city such as Oxford would require its own forest that would stretch more than 50km across. A major driver behind the Industrial Revolution was the ceiling imposed by the limitations on the physical space available for local woodlands on the supply and hence the demand for charcoal even at the village level.
Given this historical precedent, and in the light of the calculation, even Ann Duncombe's modestly stated "useful but minority option" overstates woodland's contribution. There is no escaping the reality that a modern, reliable baseload requires high power density (number of kilowatts per unit of land area) sources such as fossil fuels or nuclear.
Why our children struggle to spell
Sir: In her latest impassioned plea for English spelling reform, Masha Bell (Letters, 28 December) correctly identifies one of the causes of the problem, but draws the wrong conclusions.
She quotes a recent official report which states that "standards of attainment in reading in English primary schools have been more or less static since the 1950s", in spite of the "huge sums" which have been thrown at the problem. Has it not occurred to her that it may be the educational methods used, rather than the inherent difficulties of the English language, that could be to blame?
Although British by birth, I was educated in continental Europe, where the teaching of English at my school consisted of one hour's tuition per week for four years. However, we were taught in accordance with traditional methods dictation, rote learning and regular grammar drills.
When I came to this country, I found that my spelling and grammatical standards were higher than the vast majority of those reared under the English system of education. Does this not shed some light on at least one cause of the problem?
The way to stamp out football cheating
Sir: James Lawton's piece (1 January) about Cesc Fabregas's disgraceful display of play-acting at Goodison Park last Saturday should be sent to FIFA, the FA and anyone with influence on football's law-makers.
The lead to stamp out cheating should come from managers, but we might as well wait for hell to freeze over. The only way is to change the rules of the game to allow video evidence to be made available to referees during a match and harsher punishment of players (including retrospectively) for cheating.
If we accept that diving and simulation are part of the game, and continue to collude with deceitful players who will never feel shame as long as they have gained an advantage for their team, we might as well give up on the game.
No harmless prostitution
Sir: Terry Sykes (letter, 31 December) asks: "If a man chooses to buy sex from a woman choosing to sell it, what harm is being done?" The answer is, potentially catastrophic harm to the individuals concerned and to networks of relationships of which they are part.
They are undervaluing themselves by treating their capacity for sexual intercourse as a tradeable commodity, rather than a freely-given expression of love. They hurt others around them spouses and children for example who may feel betrayed when their actions are known.
Many societies abhor prostitution because they are aware of this double damage. The wisdom of the centuries says that attempts to prohibit prostitution are a cure worse than the disease, but it is unnecessary to defend prostitution by pretending that it is harmless.
The Revd Paddy Benson
Sir: Sheila Kinsella (letter, 2 January) describes men who use prostitutes as being "overweight" as well as "deficient" and "drunk". Does this include servicemen, who have been using (or abusing) them over the centuries? Many may have been drunken or deficient, but they have at least been physically fit.
Sir: If Sheila Kinsella believes that Sweden's "decent sex education, informed, well-practised sexual equality and a welfare system which addresses social welfare generously and intelligently" is resulting in low levels of prostitution perhaps she should be promote these policies, rather than demanding that prostitution is made illegal.
Economics of apples
Sir: Is it me, or is it them? Somerfield: Gala apples, origin Germany, 1.40; Gala apples, origin Kent, 1.60. Perhaps someone could explain the economics of this. (Yes, I did buy local.)
Talk of recession
Sir: If the country is broke, can someone please tell me, as a retailer, why my trade and forward order books are very healthy indeed, and most of my customers pay by good old-fashioned cheques or debit cards. Headlines may sell newspapers but "Broke Britain" (2 January) is sensationalist. The media is talking us into a recession that would otherwise be a natural cyclical adjustment to house prices and credit debt.
Sir: Oliver Quantrill dismisses "the model" named in a list of bright young talents as her status is merely achieved by an accident of birth (letter, 1 January). Presumably he feels that the accident of birth that permits the actor to spout another's lines, the photographer to snap images not of his making, a comedian to mock others, merits mention. I would suggest that his need to classify and judge another's right to success reflects our society's mean-spirited pseudo-intellectual snobbery, and maybe we should celebrate success in all its forms.
Bin your problems
Sir: Sympathies to John Walsh on his recycling problems (1 January) but all he has to do is collect all his glass, plastic, tins and cardboard in one large bag and his newspapers in a couple of carrier bags. Then, on a visit to the supermarket, you just recycle there. Most places have bins for newspaper, cardboard, aluminium, tins and bottles and you just put your stuff in the appropriate place. Sorted.
Sir: You report today about the decline of British wildlife (1 January). It is my impression that one of our wild animals is substantially increasing. Over the past few years the number of molehills appearing in this neighbourhood is much higher than it used to be. Is this general across the country or just in North Yorkshire?
David M Bishop
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
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