Letters: State revenge

Judicial revenge a sign of failure
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I thought Howard Jacobson’s paean to state revenge (Comment, 24 July) was disgraceful. He criticises expressing forgiveness for wrongs done to others and at the same time encourages vengeance from people equally distanced.

Judicial revenge fails on every level and disastrously so. While removing offenders permanently from society would seem to be a guaranteed route to a safer society, on a purely statistical level that has not shown to be the case. But there is a far more compelling reason to be repelled by the idea of revenge as part of the justice system.

One does not need any religious guidance to realise that desire for revenge is one of the most destructive human emotions for both its subject and object, and when the justice system panders to that emotion the whole of society is taken down a very dark path.

Our ancestors have spent nigh on 1,000 years developing a more enlightened society with both the sword and pen, of which we are the current custodians.

They were not alone; the rest of Western Europe went down a similar path. Is it a coincidence that these societies appear to be like beacons of privilege to aworld of failed and failing states for which revenge is a cornerstone of criminal justice?

Howard Jacobson should be careful what he wishes for.

Silas Sutclife,

London NW3

Big Oil, the US and hypocrisy

I read Johann Hari’s piece “Oil, blood money, and Blair’s last scandal” (Comment, 23 July) on the links between Libya, Iraq and Tony Blair’s flirtation with “Big Oil” (BP) and could only nod with approval. We all knew that it (Iraq and Libya) was about oil so it is good to have this so obviously confirmed.

Of course, the big hypocrisy in the present al-Megrahi disagreement between the UK and the US is that the US has absolutely no qualms about mixing politics, indulgence, invasion and torture with various “oil grabs”.

The best example of this is Saddam Hussein himself, a big chum of the West (even while he was gassing his own population), who was given a “slap on the wrist” after his invasion of Kuwait and was finally transformed into an ogre as it became clear that the slap on the wrist had not brought him to heel or brought down his regime.

But there is one big gap in Johann’s article, the issue of Afghanistan. This conflict, as with Libya and Iraq, is really an oil war. Indeed, I entered the words “BP” and “Turkmenistan” into a search engine and the first item returned was an article by Reuters from 2007 telling us that “Oil major BP is willing to invest into ‘unique’ oil and gas resources of the former Soviet Union’s Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan”.

Here, if you want to exploit drilling rights in Central Asia (the ex-Soviet Republics), then you need to secure the main transit route to deepwater ports which passes through Afghanistan and Pakistan. So it would be great if Johann could give us a second instalment covering Afghanistan including the issue of oil. Indeed, the biggest scandal here is that Nato is conveniently doing the “dirty work” for Big Oil.

Alan Mitcham,

Cologne, Germany

The notion that Tony Blair wanted to release al-Megrahi in exchange for access to Libyan oil reserves is indeed plausible, but Johann Hari’s attempt to tie this to the invasion of Iraq by suggesting that Tony Blair backed the invasion because in reality he desired access to Iraq’s oil supplies is not.

One could also ask why Blair did not simply cut a deal with Saddam Hussein by lifting the sanctions against his regime on “humanitarian grounds” in return for allowing BP to tap oil reserves.

After all, that would have been much cheaper and easier than removing the regime by military intervention, and Saddam was desperate to have the sanctions that crippled Iraq lifted.

Aymenn Jawad,

Cardiff, South Glamorgan

Never-ending war on litter

Robin Kevan rightly says that once you really notice litter you are never quite the same again (letters, 21 July). My long-suffering husband will attest to that, having to endure my comments on litter wherever we go.

I am equally upset by litter in our towns and by litter strewn everywhere cars can travel. On a trip to the beautiful Gower, a whole secluded beach area was strewn with plastic from our polluted waters. Like Robin, I try to clean up where I can and take heart from knowing others do the same. Thank goodness for such individual action and for many conscientious street-cleaners who seldom get any thanks for the job they do.

But the twofold problem of rubbish – the sheer volume our society generates and the littering habits of many – continue to frustrate me and I long for a change in societal and personal habits.

Ann Peterken,

Twickenham, Middlesex

A thin grip on history all round

David Cameron’s statement that we were “a junior partner” to the US in 1940 (report, 22 July) was not a minor slip but a major blunder for which he should publicly apologise. It was not until Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 that the US entered the war.

Up till then, after war had been declared and Hitler had quickly overrun Europe, we stood alone under the leadership of Winston Churchill, who rallied the country with an appeal to national pride, saying that we should so behave that future generations, even if we were to survive “for a thousand years”, would always say that “this was their finest hour”.

Despite Hitler’s blitzkrieg we did and it was. Cameron, a Churchill successor as Prime Minister, has no right to take all that away from us, and his ignorance of that crucial moment in our recent history casts doubt not only on the way history is taught at Eton, but on his suitability to hold the post of Prime Minister.

Professor David Wilde,

Bathgate, West Lothian

Richard Ingrams castigates David Cameron for being historically ill-informed about the USA during the early years of the Second World War (Comment, 24 July) then promptly inserts his foot in his mouth by stating that the Americans declared war on Germany after Pearl Harbor.

What actually happened was that Hitler, carried away by the excitement of events and his hatred of Roosevelt, declared war on the USA on 10 December 1941, conclusively demonstrating that he had lost his marbles, and sealing his doom. Italy also declared war on America.

I A Carmichael,

Petts Wood, Kent

53,000 families to lose homes

Your report that Britons reduced their outstanding mortgage debt during the first quarter of this year (“Mortgage debt drops £3.2bn”, 16 July) further indicates that where people can retrench their debts they are doing so.

But we also know that Shelter, with which we are working closely to help minimise the impact of these challenging times, found that in 2009 more than one million people used a credit card to pay their rent or mortgage, andwhile arrears and repossessions are lower than some forecasts, the Council of Mortgage lenders is still predicting that 53,000 families will lose their homes this year because of repossessions.

Apart from the human tragedies, it costs the Exchequer £16,000 when a vulnerable family is repossessed (Shelter report Outcomes of advice for struggling homeowners, June 2010). With the threat of rising unemployment and higher interest rates on the horizon it remains vital that lenders, government and advice agencies work together to keep as many people in their homes as possible.

Joanna Elson OBE, Chief Executive, Money Advice Trust,


Ore mountain an old secret

Kathy Marks (report, 11 June) described how a prospector “spied the Pilbara’s potential in the 1950s when stormy weather forced his light plane to fly low over its rust-red gorges”, and, “Herealised the walls were made of solid iron ore”.

Some 30 years ago, I remember a journalist described the find as having been made by a prospector who had spent years in the outback with only two mules for company. I wonder whether either of these gentlemen discovered this mineral wonder before it was detected by the all-Australia aerial mineral survey in 1951-52.

I was a member of the crew of an RAF Hastings which “night-stopped” in Darwin in 1952 after a long flight from Singapore, and we looked for relaxation in the NCO’s mess bar. Finding it empty, we expressed to the barman our disappointment with our opposite numbers in the RAAF, and ordered pints all round. His reply was, “Sorry mate, there isn’t a drop of alcohol in the place”. He said Darwin had run out of beer and spirits due to the supply ship having been unable to dock because of heavy seas.

Soon after that, another three thirsty, and soon to be also disappointed, customers, arrived. They were the civilian crew of a Dakota fitted with a gaussing ring as used by aircraft in the Second World War to detect submerged submarines. They had been flying this aircraft at 300ft on a mineral survey of Australia for more than a year. They told us that they had detected many mineral deposits of a remarkable size, but the one which had amazed them most was a mountain which, literally, was made of iron ore.

Bob Fairman,

Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

The plight of the offliners

The business bias against “offliners” (letters, 16 July) is but one aspect of a worrying trend across all sectors. Increasingly, we’re urged, and indeed required, to go online for information and advice about anything and everything. What Martha Lane Fox and others like her don’t seem to grasp is that most people over 60, and certainly those over 70, had little or no contact with computer technology. The knowledge that’s basic to younger generations simply isn’t there and acquiring it isn’t a simple matter. Often it’s impossible.

A further consideration is cost. People of all ages living on very small incomes can’t afford the costs of equipping and running internet connections. Many older people thus face an ever-increasing double barrier of exclusion.

In the recent heatwave, for instance, I listened with mounting anger to TV announcements about the particular dangers to older people and others at risk followed by reference to the NHS website for advice. Who on earth thought that was of any use to the majority of older people most at risk?

This is but one example of a complete failure to recognise the needs of people who aren’t “stubborn” but are progressively excluded from both the opportunities and services that they need and are entitled to.

Paula Jones,

London SW20

Policy benefits only the well-off

So, I can now decide not to put my pension savings into an annuity (report, 16 July). But I thought that the reason for giving me tax relief (over the past 40 years) on the earnings I put towards my pension was because it was a good idea for me to save to provide an income for myself after retirement, not for me to get tax relief on investments which I could pass on to my children.

Doing the former seems a good idea for society: doing the latter increases the unearned assets of the next generation and the gap between the rich and the poor.

As a keen Lib Dem supporter of the coalition, I’m dismayed we’ve agreed to this policy, which seems to have no reason except to satisfy some rich people who want to misuse tax breaks. Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismayed; if the rich live longer (as we are told) then getting them out of the annuity pool may benefit the poorer people.

But if the coalition really wants everyone to share the pain of the nation’s situation “because we are all in this together” then they should be avoiding any policy which benefits the well-off, increases inequality and has no benefits for anyone else.

Stewart Edge,

Farnham, Surrey

Let’s hear it for old Hollywood

Elisa Bray’s article (21 July) discusses the reluctance of most moviegoers to see subtitled films. Personally, I find subtitles helpful for most modern Hollywood films, which makes the advent of the DVD so useful. With modern naturalistic styles of acting, much of the dialogue can be incomprehensible for those unused to the accents and the “Oh my Gahd” way of speaking.

This was never the case with the older Hollywood films,where every word was crystal clear. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell argued at breakneck speed in His Girl Friday, but nobody could miss a single syllable. Would that modern actors could follow their example.

Alan Pavelin,

Chislehurst, Kent

Guess who wins

William Scott (letters, 24 July) is incorrect when he claims that “cuts in government expenditure mean that money remains in the pockets of taxpayers”. Cuts in taxation means more money remains in the pockets of taxpayers, cuts in government expenditure means more money remains in the pockets of the Treasury.

Thomas Wiggins,

Wokingham, Berkshire

Damselfly puzzle

Michael McCarthy’s article “Damselflies in distress” (22 July), really puzzled me, because over the past 40 years or so I have regularly observed blue and sometimes red varieties of the species in both Shropshire (by the river Severn), and in West Lothian (by the river Avon). What could be the explanation?

Alan Gilford,

West Lothian

Perspectives on young drivers

Insurers need to know more

A recent check of a price comparison website shows that young drivers have at least 100 different car insurance policies to choose from.

This is surely a competitive market so we can assume that the price of insurance is a fair reflection of the risks and the costs associated with the average young driver (“Insurance for young people is sky high”, 19 July). The problem, as ever in insurance markets, is that of assymetric information, where the insurer is unable to distinguish between two types of young driver, the careful driver and the reckless driver.

The solution must involve sharing more information about driving behaviour with the insurer so that reckless drivers are priced out of the market. This could involve technology similar to that proposed for roadpricing, using a satnav “black box” system, sharing information about driving behaviour, such as speed, with an insurer.

It would ensure that drivers who impose the highest costs on others, whether in road traffic collisions, or congestion, pay thehighest price. This is a voluntary system which does not involve the Government but would reduce insurance costs for everyone and encourage safer driving. Other proposed solutions, such as subsidising the insurance costs of young drivers, would be costly and encourage more reckless driving.

Adam Martin,

Ely, Cambridgeshire

Driving your car is a privilege

I cannot be the only person who was perturbed by the substance of the argument put forward and the gaping holes in the associated analysis; the issue is far, far more convoluted than your articles suggested.

Surely the “swingeing insurance premiums” are not a “blunt or ineffective” instrument because they are purely a measure of the risk associated with the proposed driver, their lifestyle, location and vehicle?

I was perplexed at not only the suggestion that premiums should somehow take into account the affluence of the driver but also the statement that they do not, when they clearly do, distinguish between city-dwellers (likely to have higher risk) and rural drivers (likely to live in areas of lower crime). Sweeping generalisations linked to your comments about the apparent young-driver “victims”, who are “compelled to pay insurance bills of £1,000 a year” being “counterproductive” seemed to ignore additional significant factors.

They tend to drive low value vehicles, often with only third-party cover, so are more likely to be cavalier in their driving because they have little to lose and hence pose a greater risk.

Your “Case Study” proved that point wonderfully, yet it (quite amazingly) finished by claiming the “solution” was to get cover under the policy of a parent, which implied the driver would still not be insured because the parent will have broken the law by insuring in their name a vehicle which is actually the main vehicle of another driver.

Owning and driving a vehicle is not a right but, like so many other things in life, a privilege which has to paid for; if it cannot be afforded then one should go without.

Laurence Williams,

Thetford, Norfolk


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