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Saturday 26 July 2008
Letters: Palestinian fighters
Palestinian fighters turn their own civilian areas into combat zones
In response to Arthur Goodman (letters, 24 July), many Palestinians listed on the Israeli human-rights organisation B'Tselem's website as "Did not participate in hostilities when killed" died in circumstances which nonetheless severely mitigate responsibility of the Israel Defence Force (or any modern army) and should not be taken to represent a "culture of impunity in the IDF" and certainly not a "culture of deliberate, intimidatory violence up to, and including, murder" that the letter-writer alleges.
Take, for example, the tragic case of Majd Ziad Muhammad 'Okal, whose death is described as follows: "Killed when he approached a rocket launcher a few minutes after armed men had fired it at Israel". In other words, he walked into a combat zone.
Other deaths were in areas "in which there were exchanges of gunfire between armed men and soldiers", ie in combat zones. There is no defence for unlawful maltreatment of civilians or combatants, but this principle should apply both to Israel's army and to those Palestinian factions who fight in densely populated civilian areas knowing this places thousands of people in mortal and avoidable danger.
When signing the visitors' book at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial (report, 24 July), Barack Obama wrote, "... we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world". His pen must have run out of ink before he could add, "in someone else's country and at their expense".
But, since the US is built on the genocide of the Native Americans, perhaps it is to be expected that yet another potential resident of the White House puts political expediency (money, votes) before honesty and justice.
Community costs of post office closures
At a time when people are realising that many children lack the opportunities to develop an independence, our village – Stanley, near Crook, Co Durham – is fairly unusual in that children still go alone to the village shop for their sweets, or for errands for their parents. They are safe; recognised and known.
All this may change, for the village shop also houses a post office, and that is on the list of closures. Without the post office, the shop will have to pay full commercial rates, lose the passing trade the post office brings and, in all probability, become unviable and close. Children will no longer be able to debate with the shopkeeper how best to spend their money, or help in shopping for the family.
There will be a loss to the village primary school too, which brings children down to visit and learn about the post office, and uses the post office for banking. Buses are one an hour, and there is a low rate of car ownership in the village.
Will parents then allow their children to go to the nearest shop/post office? No, because, although it is only half a mile away, that is down an exceedingly steep hill. In winter, a slight fall of snow makes the hill hazardous: buses and long vehicles skid and block the road.
The owners of the village shop try to stock up with milk, eggs, bread, sandwiches, ice-cream and fudge which are all sourced locally, so Lawrence Cross's point regarding the ecological impact of the closures (letters, 17 July) applies even more forcefully here.
Crook, Co Durham
One reason given for the decline of local post offices is the rise of internet shopping. This is curious, since internet shopping depends on an efficient postal system. There was a time when parcels could be delivered early enough to catch at home even people who work.
Now there are no early deliveries; most people go out to work and, bizarrely, the Royal Mail delivery system is divorced from the post office network. The worst of it, is that, like most of the Royal Mail management, none of it makes commercial sense.
There has never been a greater need for a turn-up-and-collect parcel service, from a local outlet. Any commercial business, finding it owned both the post office and the Royal Mail would integrate them to achieve "synergies" (such as free pick-up of your own post), and efficiency gains.
And no sane business would close busy local branches when it means shifting the work-load to central branches that have little or no spare capacity.
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire
Labour's disaster in Glasgow East
Interesting. New Labour's latest election catastrophe occurs the same week it announces further cuts to the welfare provision that took real Labour supporters generations to achieve. What is clear is that in the heartlands, core supporters no longer believe the Labour Party actually exists and are not about to vote for a poor substitute.
For the past 11 years, the New Labour clique has attacked poor and middle-income voters, via welfare cuts, cuts to student educational funding and cuts to subsidies of public transport. It had the option of increasing top-rate and corporation tax – to west European levels, or pursuing policies that would eventually catastrophically impact on its own voter base, which is what it has done.
This single-minded determination to work, via the tax system, almost exclusively for an economic elite, has been the most sinister part of the New Labour tenure.
It is not the credit crunch nor oil prices that caused the demise of the Labour Party in Glasgow East. There is an old Scottish joke about a parent's pride in her pipe-band member son, "They are all out of step except for oor Gordie".
Ten years of stealth-tax increases by PM Gordon Brown, lack of spending in the community leading to an increase in family poverty are to blame. On top of that, we have a Government made up of inexperienced, lightweight ministers who change their policies as a chameleon changes its colours. Bring back heavyweight old heads with experience of finance, industry, education and health services.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Scotland is rejecting the Labour Party left, right and centre. It is intolerable that while they are able to elect a completely separate Scottish government, we in England are expected to remain silent while an unwanted, unelected Scottish MP rules over us with the co-operation of what must now be regarded as England's very own Vichy goverment.
Driffield, East Yorkshire
Sir: It can't have helped the Labour Party in Glasgow East, with its high unemployment rate, to have announced vicious measures against the unemployed in the week before the election. How nice that this Government's malevolence is matched by its stupidity.
No coercion in family planning
In "The hypocrisy of the population zealots" (15 July), Dominic Lawson misrepresents my position and that of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). Far from supporting coercive measures in family planning, I have written, "Compulsion in reproductive health is wrong-headed, has usually proved counter-productive, and need not be contemplated when so many societies are not yet adequately taking the voluntary measures". In countries as varied as Costa Rica, Iran, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Taiwan, the total fertility rate declined towards replacement levels about as quickly as in China, through meeting the unmet needs and choices of women.
I arranged my medical training within the specialty of contraception for both genders (including vasectomy and "male pill" research) because I foresaw that unremitting human-population growth would seriously threaten the planet's environmental sustainability. Now that science has established climate change as a reality, this is hardly a "fashionable political concern": it is, sadly, an example of what I and others predicted.
Available data demonstrate that women anywhere, given the choice through accessible family planning, choose, on average, replacement or sub-replacement fertility. If every 10 families produce 17 children, a country with the UK's age structure will halve its population over about six generations. So the two-child guideline OPT recommends on environmental grounds can be somewhat flexible: one or two three-child families within each group of 10 are acceptable, being balanced by people who choose to have one or none.
I therefore encourage "one child less" (than initially desired) as a variant of the above guideline and, for Mr Lawson's interest, it truly was on environmental grounds that our own desired family size came down to three. However today, 29 years on, the planet is in a much more parlous state: and I believe my wife and I would now choose simple self-replacement, meaning two offspring.
Emeritus Professor of Family Planning & Reproductive Health, University College, London WC1
Funds needed for research on ME
Not all of us on benefits are malingerers. I am a qualified and experienced teacher yet would be so very happy to be able to return to work, however menial. I have had the neurological illness myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) for 21 years; in that time the Government has not spent a penny on biomedical research or treatment of ME. All the millions of government funding has gone to psychiatrists, and the only treatments available to ME sufferers on the NHS are psychiatric, graded exercise and cognitive behaviour "therapies" that have been proven to make ME symptoms worse.
This is not the situation with other neurological illnesses, such as MS or Parkinson's. Researchers wanting to develop a simple blood test and look at the genetics of the illness have been repeatedly refused funding by the Medical Research Council.
If we thousands of ME sufferers could have proper targeted biomedical treatment, eg antivirals, we could again be the useful members of society we wish to be.
How will history view 'Swindle'?
In 100 years, when our descendents look back over the great sweep of history, its moments of greatest forward optimism and vision or its most insular one-eyed short-termism, one day they may view Channel 4's decision to air a "cloaked" propaganda vehicle like Martin Durkin's Great Global Warming Swindle with a knowing smile (report, 21 July).
Perhaps they will say: "My, how our ancestors had to contend with stupidity and ignorance in the media. At least they finally woke up; at least now our conveyors of information are held again in esteem, with dignity and honour." Let us hope so.
I was interested to read in your Extra supplement (24 July) that "one million people eat salmon every day". Don't they ever get bored and fancy a change of diet, say, a nice steak?
One of Gordon Brown's U-turns as Chancellor is surely coming to haunt him as the housing market goes into melt-down (Outlook, 24 July). In December 2005, Brown cancelled plans to allow private pension schemes to invest in domestic property (as they already could in commercial properties). Billions of pounds of individual pension-holders' available money is just the kind of injection the whole market, especially the buy-to-let side, needs to prevent the catastrophe towards which our politicians and bankers are leading us. What is a double U-turn called?
In tune with Bach
Paul Simon's "American Tune" is not the only melody to have been lifted from Bach (Terence Blacker, 25 July). Note the similarity between Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and Bach's "Air on the G String".
Ben Whishaw, in common with many actors, prefers not to cloud his interpretation of a role by watching somebody else's ("Alarm as Ben refuses to revisit classic Brideshead", Pandora, 24 July). What is alarming about that? I have been certain of his great talent since watching his Hamlet at Bancroft Players Youth Theatre in Hitchin and, more recently, his spellbinding performance in Criminal Justice.
Nicholas Carr ("The Brain Drain", 18 July), in saying the internet is weakening our capacity for deep reading, fails to distinguish between correlation and causation. An alternative theory could be that our work and cultural emphasis on productivity and efficiency is causing us to turn to "power-browse" instead of reading. The same work/cultural emphasis may be causing us to be extremely stressed and therefore unable to concentrate enough to do deep reading. Perhaps Mr Carr is so stressed that he cannot think about a range of causes and hypotheses.
Dumb move, David
David Cameron chains his bike to a 2ft-high bollard. Can the innocence (a polite alternative to "stupidity") of the man who hopes to run this country improve Labour's chances in the next election?
Salt and vinegar extra
The credit crunch has reached the West Midlands: my local branch of Sainsbury's has devoted shelf space to "Single Crisps".
Kingswinford, West Midlands
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