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Friday 18 June 2010
Letters: Perspectives on gay weddings
Legal forms are not the point
It is unfortunate that Peter Tatchell (Comment, 15 June) considers the distinction between civil partnership and marriage to be both "homophobic" and "heterophobic". It could be seen as only a legislative technique designed to achieve substantive equality between gay and heterosexual relationships while avoiding the fraught backlash on the issue which is currently so disfiguring American public life.
Too much weight can be placed on legal forms. Provided that the legal rights and duties flowing from marriage and civil partnership are identical, as they are, social practice, not the law, is crucial. Civil partners have "weddings", go on "honeymoons" and often refer to themselves, and are referred to, as being "married."
People can, and do, create their own meanings of marriage and civil partnership, and it may be better to encourage development in this way than to try to reflect these meanings in an array of legal forms of "association" (from "covenant" marriage to "registered partnerships" short of marriage or civil partnership), as some countries do. A debate is certainly worth having, but seeing it in terms of "homophobia" and "heterophobia" oversimplifies it.
John Eekelaar, Oxford
Peter Tatchell calls on the coalition Government to get up do date with public opinion regarding same-sex civil partnerships. Mr Tatchell might take a leaf out of his own book and drop his liberal use of the dated and now largely derogatory term "queers" when describing, in his article, the people he is supposed to be supporting.
Mr Tatchell comes from a self-defeating school of thought that favours deliberate provocation rather than the vigorous intellectual championing of a cause. The militants like Tatchell have actually stunted their own initial plan to gain total equality for people who are not exclusively heterosexual with thoughtless outbursts in the national press, annual pantomimic parades where it's hard to join in if you're not wearing or at least cheering on the hot pants and angel wings, and the constant labelling and categorising of people solely because of a private sexual act into fully-fledged identities where you can't just say you're a man or a woman without prefacing it with the word "gay".
Civil partnerships should of course be legal and should be held in exactly the same regard as the marriage of two people of opposite sexes. But I ask you, what young person thinking about "coming out" or indeed having a civil partnership would want to end up being breezily referred to as a "queer" by Tatchell's very own "community"?
Eugene O'Hare, London N8
Cuts unfair on public sector
At our local pre-election hustings, I asked the Conservative candidate – now the MP – how she thought a Conservative government could support the public-sector workers, from whom all governments expect so much, during a recession that they did nothing to cause. Her reply was that we were going to have to "do more for less" and share the pain with her private sector "colleagues".
While we await the predicted public-sector cuts in the forthcoming Budget, perhaps her leaders should remember that high-risk, private-sector greed forced up the cost of living in areas such as the south-east to the extent that public-sector workers struggle to afford even a modest home.
Now we are going to be made to bear the brunt of the consequences, while our financial-sector neighbours continue to receive their "essential" bonuses, sourced from our taxes.
To portray the public services as profligate and inefficient, and ripe for cuts, has to be the ultimate insult at a time when the cause of the current situation is still fresh in people's minds. The sense of vocation that motivates many public-sector workers may be highly robust, but we are still able to tell when we are being taken for mugs. I will certainly be looking very hard indeed at whether I am prepared to do "more for less" at a time when my standard of living is under threat, through no fault of my own.
I J Stock, Coggeshall, Essex
Mary Dejevsky's article on job cuts (17 June) repeated the same old argument about protecting frontline staff rather than backroom management jobs.
While I understand the emotional attachment to nurses and police delivery services, they could not operate without admin and management support. If we axe these jobs then frontline staff will be left to pick up the pieces, drawing them away from the public and leaving organisations exposed as management systems crumble.
Let's not see these cuts resulting in an attack on the very administrators who are best placed to implement efficiency savings. Frontline and backup staff need each other, and its a false choice to pitch one against the other.
Chairman, Institute of Administrative Management
As the country attempts to claw its way out of the depth to which it was dragged by the greed of the banking industry we see more business leaders pocketing enormous bonuses on the back of job cuts.
Labour failed miserably to tackle boardroom greed;, what price the chance of the Cameron/Clegg axis doing any better?
Paul Healy, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
It seems sheer lunacy by the new government to invite emails from the public suggesting cuts in government expenditure.
People are likely to suggest that services that they do not themselves use should be cut back or abolished. Those who do not see themselves ever becoming unemployed will argue for cuts in the help given to the unemployed. People who own their own transport will argue for cuts in subsidies for public transport. People will argue for their own self-interest and against people and groups they do not like.
Peter J Brown, Middlesbrough
Confused by food labels
So the traffic light system of food labelling is "best" to help those of us who want to eat right (leading article, 15 June)? I don't think so. It is far too broad a brush.
The system Tesco uses, the one you call too complicated – showing how much of one's daily allowance is in a reasonable serving of each food sold – is of far more help to those who aren't instantly au fait with what they need to do to improve their health.
The traffic-light system warns that – for instance – butter is a red-light food. So is margarine – even vegetable oil margarine. They are basically all fat. Red light. Oops – mustn't buy that. Likewise, a bag of sugar – red for the sugar content. No way.
I have often seen people worrying about these things over the counters in stores that already use the traffic-light system. In the end they say to each other: "Well, we're not having the bread with no spread so what the hell?" Eventually they ignore the traffic lights altogether – because if you try not to buy any of the foods with red lights you end up not being able to devise a reasonable diet.
And to those inexpert in working these things out, that's a powerful motive to give up on it all. The system also gives people the misguided idea that they should avoid buying any kind of fat altogether, for instance. Not so – we actually need some.
On the other hand, the labels that say, "If you put a teaspoon of this on a slice of bread, you'll have had a tenth of your daily fat allowance" are easy to follow, and I use them constantly. We've recently cut our salt consumption dramatically by reading them thoroughly. It was easy.
I do hope Tesco and the other stores that use their own, far better, system will keep it, even if forced to use the daft traffic lights alongside it.
Elspeth Christie, Kirkhaugh, Northumberland
I find myself irritated by the patronising attitudes of Peter Hollins and others (letter 16 June). They claim that the "kaleidoscope" of food labelling styles confuses shoppers. I am perfectly capable of reading and understanding a variety of food labels without being confused. My only problem as a 61-year-old with presbyopia is the size of print on some of the labels.
S Smith, Lincoln
Don't see autism as a disease
I am writing to express concerns on behalf of the autistic rights and neurodiversity movement about the implications of recent breakthroughs in genetic research into autism, and also much of the journalistic coverage of this research.
While such research could potentially be of benefit to parents and autistic people in planning to ensure their needs are met, much of the discussion centres on the possibilities for treating and eliminating autism. We are again being bombarded by references to autism in terms of disease, disorder and suffering. Worst of all is the raising of the possibility of genetic testing, and perhaps of pre-natal testing. Without in any way prejudicing the rights of women to make their own reproductive choices, the abortion clinic should not be seen by society as the solution for autism, as has happened with Down's Syndrome.
We believe that it is the economic, social and attitudinal barriers in society that are the true disablers of autistic people, and not their condition in itself. The most important thing for autistic people is to remove these barriers, and not to medicalise autistic individuals and see the only option as therapy aimed at normalising the autistic person.
We recognise that for many parents caring for an autistic child can be very difficult, but believe that most of these problems are the result of society's failings. There has been some research, notably by Laurent Mottron and Michelle Dawson in Canada, into mapping out what autism is and what autistic people's needs are; it has come up with surprising results.
They suggest that in many cases autism has advantages as well as disadvantages, and it is our view that such research is much more important than genetic research into autism's causes. The autistic rights movement therefore calls for more funding for work into investigating what could practically improve autistic people's lives, rather than chasing after miracle cures and treatments.
London Autistic Rights Movement, London SW3
I was utterly delighted to find a cover story that has given autism and Asperger's syndrome (AS) the public awareness that they deserve ("The link between autism and genetics", 10 June). I was diagnosed with AS myself at the age of seven, and this is an issue that is very important to me and my family.
However, I was horrified at some of the implications of this article. Autism is not a "developmental illness". This abnormality is not an illness: we are not sick; we are not dysfunctional.
There is no right or wrong; there is only difference and variation. To select one state of mind as the correct one, with all the desirable settings, and to declare that others are wrong (which is inadvertently what this article is doing to autistic people) is an abominable form of psychological discrimination.
Yes, I can understand how for the more severe cases of autism, life can be awfully difficult to live, for which this potential "treatment" could be the answer to their prayers. However, a much better solution is to learn to deal with it.
When I was diagnosed, I didn't have any "treatment"; what I had was a team of skilled therapists and psychologists who guided me in the right direction; and now, I have a much greater emotional intelligence, and a stronger understanding of people. This is what should be done to help best, not "cures" or drugs.
Jake Eady, Bristol
Hydrogen, fuel of the future
Fuel cells are probably the most efficient technology for turning hydrogen fuel into electricity, but fortunately for engineers, not the only one (letter, 15 June). Both internal combustion engines and terrestrial gas turbines, given suitable encouragement, can use hydrogen as a fuel, replacing a range of fossil fuels.
One future scenario for a world with very little remaining fossil fuel would have electricity and hydrogen as vectors to take energy from where it is produced to where it is required. A European electricity grid would be supplied from the north by wind, wave and tidal energy and from south by solar energy. Hydrogen would be produced from these renewable sources, to be used in engines and turbines to fill the gaps in renewables supply.
This concept is being promoted by the Desertec organisation ( www.desertec. org), which has calculated that covering 1.5 per cent of the desert regions of the world in solar power plant would provide the whole of the world's electricity.
At a meeting of the Gulf States Collaborative Co-ordination Committee I attended in 2006, I proposed that the states covered their desert regions with solar plant which they could use to produce hydrogen for export. The infrastructure for liquefying natural gas and shipping it is already in place. Hydrogen is more difficult to handle but the technology is already here. I am pleased to say that one or two of the gulf states are already investing in renewable technology.
For engineers just starting out in the profession there are huge challenges ahead to effect the transition from dependence on fossil fuels to renewables. I wish I was just starting and not just come to the end of my career.
Dr David Pollard, Blaby, Leicestershire
The discipline of live TV drama
Mark Ravenhill very kindly writes about the undervalued legacy of live TV drama and the skills of those who made those productions happen (16 June). I was privileged to be one of them as I directed my first live drama – Emergency Ward 10 – in September 1958, followed by 38 more live episodes every Tuesday and Friday evening.
We all had to be very flexible and carry on whatever happened. I shall never forget the one show when out of my three cameras one caught fire and we had to finish the last seven minutes on two cameras.
There was discipline both in front and behind the cameras: today if something goes wrong people just stop and say "Sorry." You couldn't say sorry to 17 million viewers.
Peter Sasdy, East Molesey, Surrey
Punch and Judy's health and safety
Your question "What has health and safety ever done for us?" (15 June) would be answered by Punch and Judy "professors" with the response "nothing but create paperwork for which no need had been demonstrated".
I am currently in the midst of negotiating with my local council over the arcana of amending their Risk Assessment form to encompass a fellow Punch and Judy performer who will be alternating his show with mine on our local beach – but who fixes his theatre to the ground using a different method. When I protested about Risk Assessment requests from a different local authority a few years back the Health and Safety Executive issued a statement saying that it was a myth that Punch and Judy shows needed them. This statement has made no difference.
On reflection, though, as the appearance of a Health and Safety Inspector puppet in my own show never fails to raise a laugh, perhaps they have done something for me after all.
"Professor" Glyn Edwards
Worthing, West Sussex
Beer ambush at the World Cup
I am angered and dismayed, but not surprised, by Fifa's reaction to the alleged "ambush marketing" by Bavaria beer during the Netherlands-Denmark match. Once again, Fifa have demonstrated their greed and obsession with total control.
In response, I believe that all true fans of the game should support a boycott of all the official sponsors for the Fifa World Cup, to send a message to Fifa that we are appalled by their attitude.
Ryton, Tyne and Wear
I did not watch the Denmark v Netherlands match, although had I done so I would probably not have realised the significance of a small group of spectators wearing orange dresses. Bavaria beer was not a brand familiar to me, but thanks to the heavy-handed reaction of the authorities and its subsequent wide coverage throughout the media, it certainly is now. I think that must make the score, Ambush Marketing 1, Fifa 0.
Tom Mendelsohn blames I Am Kloot's half-empty show at Bush Hall on the band's lack of progression (review, 17 June). I would blame it on the ticket sellers: when I tried to get half-a-dozen tickets on-line I was told the show was sold out. When bands depend on earnings from live performances this is a travesty.
Miles Baynton-Williams, London SW13
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