Letters: Showing respect


Showing respect: the rich are also guilty of antisocial behaviour

Sir: Deborah Orr makes important points regarding New Labour's "respect agenda" (11 January). However, she falls into the New Labour trap in focusing on poverty and antisocial behaviour. This link may well be there but what about the link between wealth and antisocial behaviour? Anyone who has spent any time in prosperous market towns at night will testify to this link as well.

Furthermore, the link between anti-social behaviour and parenting skills is tenuous but again it will be the poor who will be targeted by New Labour's army of "normal" experts. Does this mean that the middle class all possess these skills and consistently turn out well-adjusted children who grow up into non-deviant adults? I doubt it. Some of the worst examples of antisocial behaviour in our society - for example, income-tax evasion - emanate from so-called well-adjusted, two-parent, well-heeled families.

When Blair talks about the impact of graffiti on people's lives, what about the activities of corporations and the use of billboard advertising, with their often sexist images of women, which deface city centres and which are degrading and offensive? When does he ever take a power hose to remove them?

It is important to recognise that the "respect agenda" is targeted at the poor and powerless not the rich and powerful. When the Prime Minister starts talking about the antisocial habits of this latter group, then perhaps we will start to get somewhere.



Sir: Your front page on 11 January says "One in eight children gets sub-standard education". Yet the day before your front page showed a youngster holding two fingers up to the world. Might you be failing to connect somewhere? Or at the very least being unfair to teachers.

I have worked as a teacher in a tough comprehensive, and my wife still does, and 90 per cent of one's time is spent dealing with the 10 per cent of the children who don't want to be there. Maybe the truth is not that "so many children are still being let down by their schools" but rather that so many schools are being paralysed by that 10 per cent of their children. And the ridiculous system that forces them to be there.



Sir: At school, I was told that "respect" means being honest, not starting fights, and taking responsibility for my mistakes. Are we sure that our prime minister is the ideal role model to spread this message?



Scientists who do believe in a God

Sir: I read Professor Dawkins' piece "Is God the root of all evil?" (6 January) with a growing sense of déjà vu. The media turn to him whenever they desire the "scientific" view of life, the universe and everything.

From the perspective of a laboratory scientist and physician who finds no conflict in also believing in a God, it is intensely frustrating to hear Dawkins' views repeatedly portrayed as normative of the scientific community. We are led to believe that all intellectually rigorous individuals with even the tiniest appreciation of reason and the scientific method nail their colours to Dawkins' mast. This is simply not true.

A recent series of philosophical debates at my laboratory institute in Oxford demonstrated that even among the most senior scientists and academics there is considerable divergence in opinion with regards to God, and the contribution that the scientific method has to make to that debate. Many, perhaps even most, would disagree with many of Dawkins' conclusions.



Sir: If only it were as simple as Johann Hari thinks ("Why Richard Dawkins is heroic", 10 January). As an agnostic since the age of 17, and a contributor to science, I regard the scientific belief system as a belief system like any other, with equal dangers. Einstein wrote that "For the scientist there is only 'being', but no wishing, no valuing, no good, no evil; no goal."

The experiments by doctors on the inmates of Dachau were carried out in exactly that spirit. So too was the work of many scientists who devised the atomic bomb: "Don't bother me with your conscientious scruples," said Fermi when he worked on the first atomic pile. "After all, the thing's superb physics."



Galloway's proud record as an MP

Sir: You article "Respect? You're having a laugh" (11 January) contains several distortions. George Galloway has established a proud record of campaigning for his constituents. He has held more public meetings in Bethnal Green and Bow in the first eight months of his incumbency than Oona King did in her eight years.

The "major Parliamentary debate" on the cross-London rail link in the House of Commons on Thursday is on technical motions. George Galloway spoke out against the bill and voted against it on the second reading. He has presented his own petition against the bill and is supporting those of other constituents. These will not be discussed in the select committee until Big Brother is a distant memory.

George's surgery proceeded as normal last Friday as it will this Friday. Local protesters did not parade up and down outside it.

George has travelled the country speaking to thousands of people about the policies that his constituents voted him in on - opposition to war and the continued bloody occupation of Iraq, privatisation, cuts in the NHS and so on. And this has meant he has not attended votes in the House of Commons when the outcome has already been decided by the whips' offices of the two major parties (which is most of them). His decision to go on Big Brother was motivated by the same sentiment - the need to reach a very large and young audience with the political message the majority of his constituents support.



Sir: The people of Bethnal Green and Bow can hardly complain about the behaviour of George Galloway. They voted for a clown and mustn't then be surprised that he has joined a circus.



Research falls victim to vandalism

Sir: Congratulations on your front page of 9 January reporting the plight of scientists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. You highlight some of their notable achievements in wildlife and conservation science, much of which was judged to be world class by a very recent peer review.

However a hugely important aspect of CEH's work is the ability to deliver from their dispersed sites long-term, large-scale, regionally-based comparative research. Examples include the use of ecological indicators of river water quality (CEH's methods are being widely adopted around the world), the periodic survey of the UK countryside to assess a huge range of environmental changes, and - something close to my heart as a former chairman of ACRE, the committee charged with advising government on such matters - the recent nationwide evaluation of the potential environmental impact of herbicide tolerant GM crops.

Such objective, independent studies have been the hallmark of the dispersed institute and are needed to inform government policy on the countryside. To close key centres of biodiversity research at a time when we are expecting the UK's rural landscape to deliver both sustainable agriculture and environmental benefits including enhanced biodiversity and water quality amounts to scientific vandalism.



The great British brewing tradition

Sir: Miles Baynton-Williams (letter, 10 January) is mistaken when he says "continental beers... by law have to use only natural ingredients". Only one nation, Germany, has a law which proscribes the use of anything other than water, hops, malted grain and yeast in beer. Other continental nations, including many who brew great beers such as the Czech Republic and Belgium, can - like Britain - add whatever legal foodstuffs and additives they choose.

And while he is right that some continental beers, especially the ales of Belgium and the traditional bottom-fermented beers of Germany, can taste great he does British beer an enormous disservice suggesting it does not match them. British beers - especially real ales - are acknowledged everywhere as one of the great beer styles of the world; they have no equal. I suggest Miles joins the Campaign for Real Ale and learns a little more about the fabulous brewing tradition of the nation in which he lives and re-educates his palate to enjoy home-grown ales, most of which match his wishes that they be additive free.



Fighting attacks on artistic expression

Sir: On 23 November the Belfast home of Gary Mitchell - whose prize-winning plays As the Beast Sleeps, filmed by the BBC, and The Force of Change have exposed the realities of life in working-class, Protestant Northern Ireland - was attacked by loyalists and the family car petrol-bombed. Since then Mitchell, his wife and their eight-year-old son have been forced into hiding.

To date no comment - still less action - has come from the British Government, despite the widespread belief that the attack was carried out by elements within the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), which is officially on ceasefire.

English PEN and its 1,000 writers call on the Government to condemn an attack which is an attempt to curtail Mitchell's freedom of artistic expression. We urge the Government to act at once to ensure that Mitchell and his family - and the many others exiled by loyalist and republican paramilitaries - can emerge to carry on their lives, and work without fear of intimidation and harassment. Failure to act in this case would be to appease censorship through violence.



Drugs, nuts and a threat to society

Sir: The trap both Deborah Orr (7 January) and the Home Secretary have fallen into is the presumption that legalisation implies endorsement and encouragement. This would be no more true of legalising cannabis than it was of repealing the Suicide Act.

Even if we get proof that cannabis triggers psychotic episodes in those predisposed to them, it is no reason to ban cannabis.

Millions of us enjoy peanut products every day, but for a few with allergies, peanuts can be damaging, even fatal. There has been a massive increase in peanut allergies in recent years and the Government has done nothing, effectively encouraging dangerous peanut use. How dare the government be soft on peanuts?

How dare these people who use peanuts recreationally want them to be freely available and thus allow those with latent allergies to be exposed to the dire consequences? Pubs and supermarkets across the country are pushing deadly peanuts, profiting from the suffering of innocent children. Ban these evil peanuts.



Right to choose?

Sir: Has Patrick McKay (letter, 10 January) considered that, given free choice, women might not choose to abort their half of the species. Maybe in India it's not women doing the choosing.



Population spread

Sir: Your article "Overpopulation is 'main threat to planet'"(7 January) is misleading. If the entire population of the world were transported to the USA and spread evenly, population density there would be not much greater than it is now in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the quantity of the earth's natural resources consumed by the average English child in terms of, say, energy usage, is eight times that of an average child in India or China. The most fundamental problem is not overpopulation, but the unsustainable lifestyles of the affluent West.



Safe routes for cyclists

Sir: The death of several cyclists on an outing in Wales is reported to have been caused by a car skidding on ice. But the more basic reason these people died is that "soft" cyclists and pedestrians are forced to share the same road space as "hard" cars, lorries and buses, travelling at much higher speeds. We badly need a national network of traffic-free routes for cyclists and pedestrians. A small part of the road budget could greatly accelerate the excellent work being done by the Sustrans charity in building that network.



Political pensioners

Sir: B J Fearnley (Letters, 7 January) should keep his fingers crossed and hope that, by the time he retires, our antediluvian electoral system will have disappeared; and the outcome of elections will no longer be decided by a few floating voters in marginal seats. May I suggest that he and other shrewd prospective pensioners could help this change along if they regularly inundated the Government, and Labour MPs, with letters demanding the honouring of the 1997 electoral reform commitments, so cynically reneged on by Labour once they had regained power under first-past-the-post?



Icons of Englishness

Sir: Here are a few English icons that probably won't make the Government's list ("In search of identity: Government decides Englishness needs icons", 9 January ), but are far more representative: Saturday night pools of vomit, lifeless suburbs, identikit high streets, pregnant teenagers, drunken yobs, millions of singletons watching Big Brother, motorway service stations, net curtains, elderly people dying alone. Ours is a nation that has lost its way.



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