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Tuesday 28 August 2012
Letters: Quiet rural roads safe for cyclists
One of your letters (17 August) claims that rural cycling is very dangerous. I beg to differ. I cycle thousands of miles in rural areas every year. Nearly all of this is on "yellow" roads, ones open to all traffic but not graded as "B" or "A".
I have also covered hundreds of miles in many beautiful areas of the country, the Black Mountains, mid-Wales, the Cotswolds, the Malverns, the Chilterns, the Lake District, the North Downs and large parts of Surrey, Sussex and Kent.
These roads are amazingly quiet. In the North Downs, within a mile of the M25 or A21, you can cycle for hours on quiet roads with barely a car passing.
In general, the motorists who use these roads are reasonably considerate of cyclists; in fact many of them are too considerate, content to dawdle along at 12 mph when a little "toot" would remind us cyclists to let them pass.
Mostly, I choose a route then cycle it alone or in a small group. But perhaps your correspondent might like to try one of the many organised middle-distance runs such as the Fred Whitton ride in which about 1,700 people cycle every May around the Lake District, sharing the roads with the few motorists.
Cycling is healthy and good for the environment ,so why do we continually get at cyclists? In terms of speed and vulnerability, cyclists are much closer to pedestrians than they are to motorists and a cyclist has no chance against a bus or a lorry, with or without training, or a helmet.
Last year, I hired a bike and spent a happy day riding around Munich. Hardly ever did I feel threatened by the traffic. A road, a cycle path and a pavement, all separated by kerbs, seemed to be the norm.
At crossings, we waited and crossed beside pedestrians and there were little green bicycles, like the green men, to tell us when to go.
In Germany, Sweden and Holland cycling is a normal means of transport (witness the huge ranks of cycle racks at railway stations). Here, Sustrans does a great job but, until we are all prepared to change our attitude and spend money adapting our infrastructure to accommodate cyclists safely, they will continue to be killed on our roads.
I do not cycle in this country. I am not just frightened, I am terrified.
Dinosaurs who redefine rape are despicable
I found Laurie Penny's article on rape very moving (25 August). Events of the past few days had been making me focus on the subject quite a lot due to the cowardly behaviour of Assange and the positively offensive pronouncements of those two great philosophers of our time, George Galloway and Todd Akin.
I tried to think this might be a generational thing and that dinosaurs such as they might well soon become extinct but find their attitudes seem to be firmly fixed centuries ago.
But, reading Laurie Penny's piece made me realise that such appalling ignorance and prejudice is alive and well and busy spreading its despicable nonsense among the younger generation, a thought that gives one not a lot of hope for the future.
How is it that in a world (in the West) that provides so much opportunity for education and enlightenment we still have these men wandering around who are simply, to use a well-worn phrase, not fit for purpose?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I have great sympathy with women who have been raped by men they know and do not want the crime to be called by any other name. But the unpalatable fact is that there are many men who do see some forms of rape as normal behaviour.
I don't suggest that rape can be other than deliberate, but an analogy can be drawn with unlawful killing, in that the mindset of the perpetrator can be taken into account and the verdict given a different name from murder. Giving it a different title does not equate with condoning or minimising the crime.
Viewing the scenario of a man with a knife in a dark alley as different from the rape committed by a "nice" man of her acquaintance does not have to diminish the damage done to the victim. And, most importantly, making allowance for that difference in law might actually make it easier for women to make themselves heard when they have a case to make, and might result in higher rates of prosecution and conviction.
Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire
Laurie Penny's piece sends the wrong message to women. They should be told that taking their clothes off and getting into a strange man's bed is not rational behaviour, unless they want sex. If she felt ill she should have got a taxi home.
Fundamentally, I don't agree
Why does the Rev David Robertson (letters, 25 August) think Richard Dawkins must debate with every religious person, fundamentalist or otherwise, who demands to share a platform with him?
A perfect example of the futility of such debates comes from Reverend Robertson's own lengthy fundamentalist rant, namely his book The Dawkins Letters, in which Robertson claims to blow apart a series of alleged atheist "myths" because "they are beliefs that are widely held without necessarily having been thought through or evidenced". Oh, the irony.
Robertson also labels the last century "the Failed Atheist 20th Century" and uses Christianity's familiar bucket of whitewash to present Hitler as an atheist, when he was a Christian, who famously wrote in his book, Mein Kampf, that he believed he was "doing the Lord's work" in denouncing the Jews.
I will be debating against David Robertson myself next month. By then I hope he will be able to tell me what exactly a "hardline atheist fundamentalist" is. Perhaps it's someone like me, who doesn't believe in any supernatural beings or phenomena. If that makes me a fundie a-fairyist and a-goblinist as well, so be it.
National Secular Society, Edinburgh
Ruling rich could pay off UK debt
John Rentoul is wrong to suggest that prices could not be lowered without some pain for ordinary folk (letters, 27 August). Britain is now governed by a tiny cabal of multi-millionaires who represent the small percentage of the mega-rich who own most of the nation's wealth.
This small elite could easily pay off the national deficit without significant difference to their lifestyles. The financial mess the country is in was caused by the greed of bankers and it is a shame that each successive breed of cabinet politicians dances to their tune, rather than look at radical alternative economic solutions.
And I would consider overcrowding on trains as a small price to pay for low fares and increased geographical mobility. No doubt with the extra revenue created by the increase in demand, extra carriages could be added too. Cheap train fares are essential if, as Rentoul correctly suggests, fuel has to be taxed heavily for the sake of the environment.
His suggestion that house prices should not be cheap because it would encourage fraud is the most illogical of his arguments. Giving more people access to home ownership is good and we should not presume everyone to have criminal tendencies.
The Government claims that the nation's budget is just like a household budget. Of course, households have to live within their means. But when a country has high unemployment, this simple rule does not apply to the national budget.
This is because an increase in spending can add to production by creating jobs that will be filled by people who would otherwise be unemployed. A single household, by spending more than it earns, cannot change the economy, but a national government can.
Rail fare rises go to shareholders
I agree with Philip Hensher that train fares continuing to rise way above inflation is a disgrace (17 August), particularly when services are overcrowded. But fare increases are mostly funding profits for shareholders. Removing shareholders from the equation would clearly help reduce fares. Instead, Mr Hensher blames the inefficiency on overstaffing.
After a recent trip on a rowdy Friday night train, I do not think the railway can afford to lose any of its staff. The staff themselves need all the support and training they can get.
The railways don't need to make a profit. No one minds paying reasonable taxes and fares when they know they will have a pleasant and stress-free journey. Everyone minds being ripped off for a miserable journey when they know a big slice of the fare rise is just profit for people who do not stand on their feet eight hours a day working in a station.
A hard-nosed team certainly needs to look at the way the railways are run, but they ought to start by cutting out the middlemen who are doing nothing for the railways other than holding fare-payers to ransom.
GP charge for appointment
When looking at so-called rip-off charges (report, 18 August), ministers may care to inspect their own patches first. Near here is a GP who has 0844 numbers, so patients have to pay a premium rate for an appointment. And we have a county council which bans sending mail first-class, no matter how urgent. You might think there is sense in that until you find that the council customer service centre has an 0844 phone number. I think they think we're stupid.
R P Wallen
Beg to differ
Your report on street fundraising (21 August) suggests that PFRA's new rules will "effectively bar" fundraisers from high streets. We would not have introduced rules that would leave charities being unable to use this most successful and cost-effective fundraising method. All the rules, including the prohibition on being within three metres of a shop doorway, are in the fundraising agreements we have with our 49 council partners. Street collections will continue.
Sally de la Bedoyere
Chief executive, Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, London SE1
Reports that British Olympians are being considered for the British Empire Medal highlights the snobbery which makes the system unfit for modern times. The BEM was for those not of the "officer or professional" grade in military or civilian life. Let's honour our Olympians by funding the sporting opportunities of the next generation instead of giving them a second-class imperial trinket.
Cost-cut MPs too
Michael Gove has made changes to the teachers' pensions before any changes to far more generous MP pensions. Now he is said to be considering imposing regional pay for teachers. Perhaps he could start with his colleagues' own conditions of service, and trial regional pay for MPs?
I was surprised to read that G4S are having problems finding places to put the asylum-seekers (report, 25 August), given their unwavering success in prison places for Palestinians incarcerated without trial by Israel.
West Kirby, Wirral
Syria crisis: Britain may not be able to join military action in Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour leader
Georgia vs Scotland, Euro 2016 qualifier: Strachan defiant but more Georgia pain for Scotland
Israel lobby's power waning after Aipac failure to block Iran deal
Syria crisis: Government to make case for military action with vote as soon as next week
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