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Thursday 28 December 2006
Letters: Race relations
Blair has created worst climate for race relations here in 30 years
Sir: Our involvement with the US in Iraq is the worst foreign policy and military disaster this country has experienced in the past 60 years, far worse than Suez, and of much greater and more far-reaching significance than the Falklands war.
The Iraq Study Group Report doesn't talk about the coalition or the United States and its allies: it is focused on what is good for the US. We are there until the US tells us we are no longer needed.
Over three years, the British government has thrown away all credibility we had with Arab governments. If Tony Blair now has talks with the governments of Iraq or Syria he has no separate hand to play; they will simply want to know what America intends, what America wants, and what America may have to offer.
In the UK, the decision by some Muslim women to wear the veil is a religious one, but it is also political, a protest at what we and our troops are doing in Islamic countries. The 7 July bombers blamed Britain's involvement in Iraq for their attacks.
How strange. By accident, Blair, a liberal, has created the worst climate for race relations here for at least 30 years. And he has helped bring the world into a new, much more dangerous and unpredictable era.
Blair's government was not confronted with overwhelming evidence about the aggressive intent of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, there are widespread suggestions that the Attorney General had considerable difficulty in justifying the legality of a war.
That war has led to death, destruction and misery for the people of Iraq. Responsibility for the death of one child must be a dreadful burden. At night, do the faces of the children of Fallujah, Haditha and Basra, children murdered, dismembered or burnt to death, rise up before Blair and ask, "How can you justify what has happened to me?"
Nuclear power is choice for future
Sir: Apart from the relatively small amounts of energy available from the motion of the moon and planets, the only primary source of energy available on Earth has, until recently, been the sun.
Over the past few centuries, we have squandered the fossil deposits produced by millions of years of solar radiation. Most of the energy from the sun has been used for growing food, but will it be enough for the future ("A look into the future", 21 December)?
It is perhaps optimistic to suppose that the relatively inefficient means of converting it into a useful form will be adequate to meet all our expanding needs for centuries.
That leaves the only long-term alternative source, the conversion of relatively small amounts of matter into useful energy. Nuclear waste is a problem but is it beyond the abilities of our scientists and engineers to cope with the few cubic metres of high-level waste produced by our nuclear reactors?
We have been left with the detritus of our atomic weapons programme but modern techniques have reduced considerably the amount of waste produced by modern reactors.
And our nuclear industry has been run down, so the few people in Britain with the necessary expertise are being recruited into the development of a replacement for Trident.
If only the international effort could be marshalled into the development of nuclear fusion reactors such as Iter, there could be some hope.
PROFESSOR C J HUGHES
French patients keep medical data on card
Sir: In an ideal world, in which governments were capable of implementing safe and effective large-scale information technology, we would all welcome the introduction of a world-beating system designed to manage personal medical data on a national scale.
But the track record of this government and its predecessors in such affairs, such as CSA, Customs & Excise and military procurement, is so unimpressive that we are all justified in being extremely sceptical about the ultimate destination of personal data surrendered into the maw of the NHS data spine.
Can we really trust the reassurances of those who have been involved in these earlier, flawed systems that information until now considered clinically confidential will not drift into the hands of other government departments, of multinational commercial health providers, of drug companies and so on?
Why can governments not learn from each other, rather than trying to compete and exceed? The French, with their pay-and-reclaim system of health service funding (expensive but much appreciated by the voting public), have introduced their Carte Vitale smart card "bottom up" with virtually universal approval and confidence.
Initially, it was limited, simply designed to streamline the accounting of the system, but gradually it has been expanded in extent and capacity so that now a large chunk of a patient's medical record is carried in his own pocket at a fraction of the £20bn price of the projected NHS system.
DR ANGUS MACDONALD FRCP
MAYFIELD, EAST SUSSEX
Khamenei may hold key to deal with Iran
Sir: While agreeing there are positive features in the recent Security Council resolution on Iran's nuclear energy programme, I notice you fail to take the Ayatollah Khamenei factor into account ("A small step towards international unity", 26 December).
The Ayatollah, Supreme Leader of the republic, has repeatedly declared that nuclear weapons are unislamic, and therefore unacceptable. Iran does not need them, cannot afford them, and must not have them.
It is true that many Iranians believe that, like the UK and others, their country needs nuclear weapons as a deterrent. But it is obvious that they will have to put up with the status quo while Mr Khamenei is around.
The worrying thing is that Mr Khamenei is said to be seriously ill, and may die in 2007. Will his successor be equally committed to his anti-nuclear weapon conviction?
I hope the shift in US attitudes that you rightly welcome will engender an atmosphere in which the Supreme Leader can continue to talk like a fully-paid-up member of CND.
Are they really 'Great Brits'?
Sir: Perhaps the irony of including St Columba and Oliver Cromwell amongst those who have made Britain "great" has escaped the young Tory evangelists who created their recent list of historical figures (article, 27 December). Columba was a Gaelic-speaking Irish monk who was banished to Britain, and having created a monastic settlement on the island of Iona eventually helped establish the Christian faith in Scotland.
Roughly 1,000 years later, Oliver Cromwell with ruthless brutality did his utmost to stamp out the same Christian tradition throughout Ireland, alongside the native Gaelic language, and was highly instrumental in fostering the antagonism between Protestant and Catholic which continues to this day.
Although it could be argued that the stated but isolated deeds of the two figures merit their inclusion, it is equally ironic that the list which is supposed to encourage the study of history betrays in its authors a singular lack of historical knowledge and perspective.
This Wii player has no woes
Sir: As the happy owner of a Wii, I was annoyed by the article on the "Woes of Wii" (22 December), describing two "hazards" which have emerged. It's fully detailed in the user manual that a bright light source could interfere with the motion sensor, and the solution is simply to move either the sensor or the light. Hardly cause for a "health warning".
The second hazard does involve a genuine risk of injury, but only through people flinging the Wii controllers around with force far in excess of what the instructions advise.
The US lawsuit is a sadly predictable exercise in ambulance-chasing, and not indicative of any defect of the Wii, merely of a handful of defective players who cannot tell the difference between a 12oz controller and a 14lb bowling ball.
As the article notes, for anyone still worried, Nintendo has offered to exchange the standard wrist-straps for reinforced versions free.
The Wii is a great little toy which has brought countless hours of enjoyment to my home., In a games market ordinarily fixated on processing-power, Nintendo has delivered a breath of fresh air at a sensible price.
Proper probation care can work
Sir: Bruce Anderson is right that what delinquents, and their parents, need is love ("The real causes of crime lie in the family circumstances, not in poverty or deprivation", 26 December). They don't need hate, which they receive under Home Office regulations by way of suspicious, negative "risk assessment", and authoritarian control orders.
The Probation Service used to provide this much-needed love of offenders, constructive, purposeful, continuous, consistent, unsentimental yet caring, professional love of offenders, which enabled them to throw off their offending behaviour like clothes they had grown out of.
But the Probation Service is no more: the hateful National Offender Management Service (Noms) is to take its place, but we may be able to stop it, and even get back a Probation Service. The National Offender Management Bill is in the Commons now, and if we can throw that Bill out, we may make the Home Office think again.
We probation officers really can help, but we must be allowed to make our caring, involved, professional, personal relationship with our offenders.
I have been trying to give constructive love to offenders in Ealing magistrates' court for the past year. The London Probation Board has told me to stop, and to become a hateful offender manager. I have refused, so had no course but to resign.
I am still in my heart and soul a probation officer, which means I believe in people and know they can change for the better.
How come Tony Blair doesn't bring his Christian love into his politics? As Mr Anderson remarks, there is hope that David Cameron will do so. Mr Cameron has but to follow his instincts, and take notice of the words of experienced probation officers.
Zero-carbon flights more of a fancy
Sir: In championing "the feasibility of hydrogen-fuelled civil aviation" Bob J Walsh (Letters, 23 December) is less than reassuring in saying "Hydrogen can be produced from natural gas ..."
He concludes with a strange surmise: "The prospect of a zero-carbon-emissions airliner when the oil does run out may not appeal to those opposed to aviation". How many people are opposed to aviation per se? It is the resultant pollution, encouraged and facilitated by tax-free fuel, that people are opposed to.
A truly zero-carbon-emissions airliner, were it to materialise (what zero-carbon process would be used to produce the hydrogen?), would appeal to virtually everyone, not just "pragmatic environmentalists".
BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK
Wait for priority
Sir: I have an as-yet undiagnosed neurological problem that causes me constant pain ("Obese may be denied priority NHS care", 26 December). It took more than two months to get an appointment to see a specialist who recommended an MRI scan. I was told that the waiting list for scans is four to five months. As I am neither obese nor a smoker, I count myself lucky I am not being denied priority treatment.
Sir: I wish two guarantees from Tony Blair. First, as a smoker being denied medical treatment, I want none of the exorbitant tax I pay on cigarettes to help fund the National Health Service. Second, I want with me at the back of the queue any people with injuries or illnesses resulting from rock-climbing, extreme sports, drinking, drugs, poor vegetarian diets, careless, drunk or dangerous driving, bungled DIY attempts, motorcycling or generally being careless.
BEDALE, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Sir: The late Gerald R Ford was truly a world statesman, equal to Ronald Reagan, and, by far, surpassing his corrupt predecessor. Courage in the face of assassination attempts, and pardoning Richard Nixon, marked him out as worthy and honourable president.
Fight our own wars
Sir: I hope I am not alone in thinking Luke Magee's solution (Letters, 26 December) to raising Army recruitment from "poorer Commonwealth countries" is mercenary and morally distasteful. If we cannot raise our own troops, to do our own fighting, that's a pretty clear signal not to be so eager to jump into dubious wars. Has British honour been so discarded, that our ideals can only be upheld by paying other "poorer" peoples to do our fighting, as well as clean our toilets?
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
Sir: With the recent tragic events in Suffolk, one hears the women who have lost their lives referred to as street walkers, hookers, ladies of the night and sex workers, among others. But one thing has always baffled me: why is prostitution referred to as "the oldest profession"? If indeed it was the first, how did anyone make a living to pay for these ladies' services to begin with?
It's a revenge killing
Sir: I cannot see how the execution of Saddam Hussein is a "milestone for justice" in Iraq. If their government, encouraged by Washington, commits a premeditated revenge killing on a grand stage, what response do they expect from the people? If the leaders of Iraq aspire to values of peace and non-violent resolution of conflict for their country, surely they must demonstrate these values themselves?
DR NEIL PHILLIPSON
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