First female refs, now Mexicans
We appear to be witnessing a collective midlife crisis among a certain group of middle-class, middle-aged media men.
First we witnessed the pathetic misogynist rant of the two Sky football pundits, disguised as male camaraderie, complaining that a woman dared to break into a holy sanctuary of male exclusivity.
Then last weekend we were treated to the very silly, xenophobic views of the three wise monkeys of Top Gear on the people and food of Mexico, calling the Mexican people feckless and their food gloop.
All of these men seem to be stuck in the time-warp of a perceived golden age of the great British Empire when the British male and his superior views lorded it over the world.
Debbie Boote, Nottingham
Sky TV recently jettisoned two of its important long-serving commentators for making sexist remarks on air.
Will the BBC now have the courage to sack the presenters of the TV programme Top Gear for making childish and immature gibes about the Mexican people and their food?
Owen Evans, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire
Britain speaks to the world
Reading about cuts to the BBC World Service reminded me of a trip I made to Morocco a few years ago. Near the hotel was a postcard shop. Whenever I went in I was greeted by the owner with: "English? Ah, BBC World Service, Bush House, London," as he short-changed me. It happened every time.
George L Heath, Harwich, Essex
Given the events at the News of the World, the question for the Government is not whether News Corp should acquire the rest of BSkyB, but whether it is a proper company to own any media outlets in the UK.
Hugh Nicholson, Dumfries
Tread carefully on the Arab road to democracy
On what basis does Roger Goldsmith presume that Algeria would not have been "another Iran" had the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) been elected to power in 1991 (letter, 1 February)?
Ali Belhadj, the man most responsible for rallying support for the FIS, did not disguise his hatred for real democracy. Prior to the elections he affirmed that: "There is no democracy because the only source of power is Allah through the Koran, and not the people. If the people vote against the law of God, this is nothing other than blasphemy. In this case, it is necessary to kill the non-believers for the good reason that they wish to substitute their authority for that of God."
This reflects the central problem over the debate regarding democracy and the Muslim world. Some advocate propping up dictators for the sake of "stability", others believe that elections alone are what matter and that we should not worry about totalitarian Islamist movements attaining power through elections.
Democracy does not just mean holding elections: it also requires guarantees for the protection of human rights, the rule of law and constitutional checks against totalitarian movements using elections as a means to attain power.
To this end, a new gradualist approach to promoting democracy is required, free of unconditional ties to dictators and reckless military adventurism. This would have to include encouraging liberal educational systems, reform within mainstream Islam and truth and reconciliation committees to address the human rights abuses of past regimes, such as we are now seeing in Morocco, where there has been a conspicuous absence of mass protests in the recent uprisings in the Arab world.
Aymenn Jawad, Oxford
Your correspondent Roger Goldsmith is right to remind us that Algeria is not Iran. It is a great deal closer to Western Europe, and in consequence would have been a great deal more dangerous to us had it become an Islamic theocracy which loathed us and everything we stand for.
The world is a dangerous place full of people who hate us – as much because of the Crusades, the Christian retaking of Spain and our final success in containing the Ottoman conquest of central Europe as for anything we did in the last hundred years. Kidding ourselves that this is not so is dangerously naïve, and no basis for a coherent defence and foreign policy along our increasingly vulnerable Mediterranean and Balkan frontiers.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Although the people of Egypt have legitimate grievances (certainly by Western standards), there is an ugly side to the present disturbances.
My company has two people in Port Said helping to start up a chemical plant. On Saturday a mob invaded the site, trashing the offices and looting the computers, and then entered the control room and smashed all the computer equipment used to control the plant. Luckily the plant was in a state where this did not result in a serious incident, but it will be some time before the plant is ready to run again, and possibly never: a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Our people report that there are buildings on fire, random gunfire and tanks in the city centre. They have been trying to get to the airport, but soon there will not be enough fuel available to drive to Cairo.
Who knows what other acts of destruction and sundry criminality are going on in this chaos.
Chris Haines, Warrington, Cheshire
Care homes are a warning for NHS
The connections between Johann Hari's experiences with his grandmother's care homes, detailed in his recent articles, and the current proposals for the NHS have not been pointed out.
When markets were introduced into the community care system, the reasons given were remarkably similar. It was assumed that competition would reduce prices and improve quality. As with health care today, there was a private-sector market but the providers were keen to expand their businesses. Margaret Thatcher was a willing listener, in similar vein to Andrew Lansley today, and markets and quasi-markets were deemed to be the answer. The citizen as powerful consumer was the mantra.
On one level the analysis proved correct. Providers worked hard to reduce costs in order to increase their profits. In the care sector, as in health generally, the major costs are staff costs. Local authorities had to buy care rather than provide their own, but their grants were decreasing and the needs increasing. They negotiated the costs of contracts down.
To maintain profits the costs of staff had to be reduced. Care staff are paid subsistence wages. They are often from countries where wages are even lower. This has not led to higher quality.
The same thing is destined to happen in the NHS, which is also staff-intensive. We have already seen the effects of cutting costs on ancillary services such as cleaning. The private providers are keen to gain a bigger bite of the cherry. The Coalition are handing it to them on a plate.
In a few years Johann Hari will be writing about someone else's grandmother, but this time in a private hospital rather than a care home.
Sandra Walmsley, Weeting, Norfolk
Dame Jo Williams (report, 27 January) is right to warn about how damaging public funding cuts could be for care home providers and the older people they serve. How tragic then that the regulatory body she heads has removed the one measure by which the public could distinguish between homes that meet basic requirements and those which are excellent.
There was little media attention when star ratings were scrapped by the Care Quality Commission last year. Yet these ratings were crucial tools for people having to make hugely important decisions. Scanning newspapers and the web for information is no substitute for proper regulation and inspection by experts. We would be deeply concerned if the cuts which Dame Jo says may tempt providers to cut corners were to result in similar action by the regulator.
In a tough financial climate, the CQC is right to direct its limited resources towards ensuring minimum standards are achieved by all. But surely we owe it to older people, and society, to aspire to more than this.
Jane Ashcroft, Chief Executive, Anchor, London W1
I am disappointed that in researching his thought-provoking article on the care of the elderly ("The plan to solve our care home crisis", 26 January) Johann Hari did not contact the regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
He is entirely wrong about the way we react to concerns from the public. He says: "If you try to contact the CQC ... they tell you to go away." This is not true. Our website makes clear that we want to hear people's views and concerns about care. This information is passed to our inspectors, helps them build a picture of care homes and can act as a trigger for inspections.
He says that homes that were shut down one day reopened the next day. This a very rare occurrence, and it can be a means by which we can take action to secure improvements.
He refers disparagingly to "light-touch regulation". We take a risk-based approach that involves much more than homes simply ticking boxes. He quotes Judy Downey as saying: "Inspections of care homes are basically being abolished"; that is simply not true – inspections remain a fundamental part of our regulatory activity.
We are as concerned as Johann about standards of care. Our purpose is to prevent harm and ensure that people who experience care services are safe and treated with dignity.
Dame Jo Williams, Chair, Care Quality Commission, London EC1
Evolved into an techno-society
Philip Hensher (Opinion, 29 January) misses several points in his argument against personal communication technology.
First, he assumes that the protective shield that these devices provide is a bad thing. If random people in the street were remotely interesting, he might have a point. However, in my experience they are utterly boring. The prospect of my life being so empty that I have to engage with them is terrifying.
Second, he assumes this shield is a new idea – it isn't. Once, if you wanted to talk to someone you had to meet them face to face. Then the telephone was invented. Once, if you wanted to see a film you had to endure the shared experience of the cinema. Then they started putting them on television. The ability to enjoy life without unwanted proximity to others has been developing for decades, and long may it continue.
Thirdly, he assumes Grindr is just a pick-up tool for gay guys. It isn't. It's a way of filtering out those gremlins you don't fancy and wouldn't say hello to in a hundred years. This is a good thing.
Lastly, although there are many "serial friend collectors" on Facebook, using it to fill some yawning chasm in their lives, for real people (those with only a couple of hundred people in their friends list) it is an invaluable way of remaining sociable and up-to-date with real friends and family on a far more frequent basis than a busy life permits. Again, a good thing.
I prefer to think of the development of personal communications technology as an evolutionary step – taking humanity away from the simian requirement for social living and making it optional.
Paul Harper, London E15
How to fight the forest sell-off
We now have the consultation paper "The Future of the Public Forest Estate in England". It is superficial and contradictory, and out of step with the views of the vast majority of the forest communities.
I am reminded of a 19th-century attempt to enclose the Forest of Dean and to abrogate all commoning and freemining. A Bill to this effect was introduced in 1875 following the report of a committee, appointed "to enquire into the laws and rights affecting the Forest of Dean".
The committee witnessed "a remarkable unanimity of evidence that the Crown would meet no opposition in doing away with commoning". Unfortunately the witnesses from whom they deduced this remarkable conclusion "comprised coal-owners, magistrates, verderers and clergymen [all clearly less in touch than their modern equivalents]. Despite what the Committee had been made to believe, it was not the general feeling of the working populace." Commoners and freeminers united to oppose the Bill, "indignation" meetings were held and petitions presented. The Bill was withdrawn.
If the Government remains inflexible in its desire to risk the nation's heritage woodlands to an uncertain future we, the "working populace", must do our damnedest to assign to the forestry section of the Public Bodies Bill the same destiny as befell an earlier forestry Bill, introduced into the House of Commons in the reign of James I, which "upon the first reading thereof in a very full house, without one negative voyce did reject the Bill; and in detestation thereof, ordered and caused the same to be torne in pieces in the open house then sitting in full Parliament".
Alan Robertson, St Briavels, Gloucestershire
Why we fear Islamists
Chris Sanderson (letter, 1 February), arguing against the use of the term "Islamist", points out that no one referred to IRA terrorists in this country as "Catholicists". Wouldn't that have implied that their objective was to undo the Reformation and make Roman Catholicism the state religion of the United Kingdom? That wasn't on the IRA agenda, so far as I know; what they wanted was a united Ireland. I can't think of any "Catholicist terrorists" in this country since Guy Fawkes.
Robin Orton, London SE26
Chris Sanderson passes over a likely explanation for the absence of anti-Catholic prejudice at the time of the Brighton bombing. Catholics walking along the streets of the UK are indistinguishable from the rest of the population and are known to be comfortable, in the main, with western values.
In contrast, a large number of Muslims choose to signal their detachment from the western culture in which they live by their style of dress, a style interpreted by many, often accurately, as indicating a pronounced anti-western and medieval outlook.
Peter Tomlinson, Shipley, West Yorkshire
Stammering: it's all in the brain
Dr Martin Stephen's article (27 January) says that stammering is psychological, not physiological. In my case I have to disagree.
I cured an appalling stammer in my childhood by learning to write left-handed, and have heard of another person who did the same. This suggests, at least in these cases, a physiological cause related to the connection in the brain between the centre for speech and the area connected with writing.
Has anyone else had experience of this or carried out any research on it?
Tony Faulkner, Blakeney, Norfolk
Like Dr Stephen, the Headmaster of St Paul's School, and for the same reason, I also went in trepidation to watch The King's Speech. But the future headmaster's careers adviser was wrong to say that his then handicap would lead to mockery from school children.
In my sixty years of – now much abated – stammering, I have hardly ever been treated unsympathetically by listeners of any age and remain immensely grateful to them for their patience. In turn, stammerers must accept that it is their listeners, and not themselves, who are the real sufferers.
Professor Chris Barton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire
It's a crime
Reference to a street map tells me that the third most crime-ridden street in the UK, as reported in The Independent (1 February), namely Camborne Close, Hillingdon, is in fact within Heathrow Airport's so-called central area, accessible by road from the outside world only by tunnel. The report only serves to confirm my long-held view that Heathrow is a good place to keep away from.
Alan Bunting, Harpenden, Hertfordshire
Torres £50m and Carroll £35m – inclusive of VAT? Does George Osborne want more and bigger football transfers to tax and help reduce the deficit, or is inflation a bigger problem?
David Thatcher, London N14