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Monday 28 November 2005
Letters: street lighting
In the face of planetary disaster, the street lights blaze on
Sir: I am becoming increasingly aware of the double standards of the Government and local authorities on cutting fuel consumption. We are bombarded with warnings of dwindling fuel stocks and the need to cut down personal consumption, but sadly this does not seem to stretch to public misuse of electricity.
I was lucky enough to be at the top of Caradon Hill on Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall, earlier this week when the sun came up - around 7am. I had started walking in decent light at 6.30 and could see for miles by seven. Sadly however the view was marred by inordinate amounts of light pollution. All the surrounding villages were lit up like Christmas trees. Many of our towns and cities will be overwhelmed with lights over the so called festive period (I thought it was December 25 but it seems to start way before that). Apart from the obvious waste of precious resources and addition to global warming, who actually foots the bill for all this excess? Does it come from my council tax?
I do not want my village lit up from dusk till dawn. If I want to go out after dark I am happy to use an electric torch and there are unlikely to be many people strolling the village streets at 3am. Can nothing be done about this needless light pollution?
Sir: Dominic Kirkham despairingly asks the question "Are all species doomed?" (Letters 21 November) in relation to overfishing. In the same issue of The Independent we learn that nuclear is becoming the green answer to power shortages - as we are informed of where some of that power has been used to freeze water in our cities so that we can enjoy ourselves skating.
If the human species can convince itself that this is a sensible construct for a sustainable future, then yes, Dominic, all species are probably doomed to pass through a mass extinction event, driven inexorably by the ability of humans to understand the whole picture and act upon the bit that makes them feel comfortable in the short term.
NORTHALLERTON, NORTH YORKSHIRE
How George Best inspired a generation
Sir; Dr Tim Lawson and others (Letters, 26 November) complain about the attention being given to an "alcoholic ex-footballer" who deprived someone of a new liver.
Many children of this generation will die of cardiovascular disease brought on by obesity, no doubt trying to play football on a computer. My generation had a ball in the park, playing with friends, all of us trying to imitate Georgie Best. He was not "just a footballer", he inspired a whole generation of kids like myself in the Sixties and Seventies, not just to play football. He gave us dreams and long-lasting friendships and showed us the importance of courage.
We had no interest in his private life; it was his ability on a football pitch which made him special. As I went to sleep Friday night, nearly 50, I am playing football again, dribbling past defenders as they hack at me, not a fear in the world, I roll the ball into the net, just like Georgie Best did all those years ago.
DR RICHARD LANIGAN
KINGSTON UPON THAMES, SURREY
Sir: While it is undoubtedly sad that George Best has died I feel that some perspective needs to be put on the situation.
I am 32 and was admitted to hospital with cirrhosis six months before Best. I too turned yellow and was told that if I drank again I would die soon. I was also told that if I drank in the future I would be refused hospital treatment (including a transplant). This I took on board and have not and will not drink again. I will need a liver transplant (as long as other health problems associated with alcohol don't kill me first) in 15 years or so.
Best battled with alcohol all his life and while dealing with fame contributed to his problem this is no excuse. He was given every chance to stop but he carried on even after he received the liver of somebody else.
I have thought of my early death and if I drank again I would deserve all the consequences. Nowadays people live for around 15 years after a transplant and this is rising all the time. Best lasted two. Please reserve some sympathy for those who are on the transplant list now and have the courage to remain alcohol-free.
Remember Best as a very good footballer but ultimately somebody who knew exactly what he was doing when he drank after his transplant.
Sir: I have been very sad to read the constant reports of George Best's alcoholism. It is his achievements that matter, not his drinking.
We have had some very distinguished alcoholics in our history. Pitt the younger died of drink, but saved us from a French invasion; Winston Churchill kept us free on a diet of brandy. We must concentrate on what people achieve, not on what they get out of the bottle.
I do not like football, and go rarely to matches, but watching George Best on the field was something special. He was sheer beauty. Alcoholism is a dreadful disease. We must grieve a great footballer with a wicked and feisty sense of humour.
Sir: I enjoy football. I go to a match most weekends in the season. I saw and was captivated by George Best at the very start of his career (at Middlesbrough in 1963). His later drunken life was the tragedy everyone agrees to. But on Saturday, you filled thirteen and a half pages with the poor man. It was the Diana spasm all over again.
Unlike the futile princess, Best actually had a talent; he could do something outstandingly well. But the talent was only for football, a game, not medicine, not science, not scholarship. Anyone outstanding in those fields will, if very lucky, get a single page of obituarial comment.
You are a very good and serious newspaper; you have been right about most of the important issues. Accordingly, you are read by grown-ups. Why then this perspective-free descent into the dumb demotic?
THORMANBY, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Sir: There was another exceptional footballer in the 1960s who was an alcoholic: Jimmy Greaves. Unlike Best, he had the courage to overcome his alcoholism. One has become a hero given an obscene amount of media coverage on his death; the other is seen as an avuncular C-list celeb. I know which one I admire as a man of true courage.
Sir: George Best may have abused the gift of a new liver, but how can we be sure that any other recipient would not have done the same? Sadly, a liver transplant does not guarantee that an alcoholic will overcome addiction.
Business anger over pensions
Sir: In his ill-tempered interview with Michael Harrison ("Business anger at Blair ...", 25 November), the CBI director general was particularly angry that 60 should remain the "normal" pensionable age for public sector occupational pension schemes. For some reason Sir Digby Jones then failed to mention the linked proposal that 65 should become the norm for new employees.
He went on further to confuse the issue, saying, "How on earth are we going to get private sector employees to work until 67?" As he should very well know, these are two different things: 67 may or may not become the age at which everyone becomes eligible for the (nearly) universal National Insurance pension, applicable to public or private sector workers equally.
Further, the item in the previous day's paper ("Executives are pension hypocrites... ", 24 November) about the substantial pensions enjoyed at an early age by senior directors suggests their employees are already familiar with inequality in pension provision grosser than any example the public sector may afford.
Sir: When it suits them, the good folks at the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs are prepared to use what most people would regard as implausibly low discount rates. Hence, in costing public sector pension liabilities, Neil Record (Outlook, 15 November) wheels out a real discount rate of 1.1 per cent per annum, derived from one particular index-linked bond (conveniently ignoring the premium such a bond carries as a hedge against inflation). On such a calculation, public sector pension liabilities look frighteningly large.
Mr Record's colleagues at the IEA might be even more frightened, however, if his analysis were applied consistently to all public spending. For if spending on schools, hospitals and roads were to be appraised at such a low discount rate, the inevitable conclusion would be that we should be increasing public investment at a rate which would frighten even Mr Gordon Brown.
But how, the IEA might well ask, would we pay for this? Well, again, if one seriously applied Mr Record's discounting formula, the answer would be straightforward. On such low discount rates, the prospect of serious global warming several decades into the future would suddenly loom large in cost-benefit analyses. In fact (contrary to the advice many economic models currently predict) I dare say the optimal policy would be huge taxation now on all fuel use.
So the question Mr Record and the IEA need to answer is this: do they seriously believe in a low discount rate world, or have they simply been playing pick-and-choose with the various rates on offer across the markets?
T HUW EDWARDS
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS, LOUGHBOROUGH UNIVERSITY
Ulster needs truth and reconciliation
Sir: what is particularly disappointing about Peter Hain's support of the Fugitives Bill is that he did not have the courage to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as was adopted by his native South Africa.
Requiring fugitive terrorists to acknowledge their crimes in the presence of their victims in order to avoid incarceration should not have been an obstacle to obtaining the IRA's declaration that the armed struggle was over.
Such a commission would have enabled a large number of victims and fugitives to achieve a more meaningful form of closure than that provided by the proposed judicial rubber stamping exercise and at a cost significantly less than the £150m expended so far on the closure exercise provided by the Saville inquiry.
Iranian case for nuclear weapons
Sir: Tony Blair is worried by Iran's nuclear potential. Let's have a look at things from Iran's perspective.
To their north lies Russia, a nuclear state that has invaded Muslim Chechnya. Militaristic, expansionist, aggressive. In the west Iraq, a country that invaded them in the 1980s and is now occupied by two hostile powers, the UK and US, both nuclear armed. Also in the west Israel - again a nuclear power.
To the south Saudi Arabia. The "homeland" of al-Qa'ida and highly unstable and the location of American and British air bases. In the east, Pakistan and India, both now nuclear powers, and Afghanistan, again the location of "hostile" western military bases.
From Iran's point of view it would be positively irresponsible not to acquire the bomb. They won't survive as an independent nation without it.
Human rights in Saudi Arabia
Sir: Ferej Alowedi from the Saudi embassy claims that the Saudis "are signatories to international human-rights legislation" (letter, 24 November). He fails to mention how the Saudi government has consistently ignored international human rights law. Can women choose not to wear the veil in public or travel out of the country without permission from a male guardian - let alone drive or vote? Can Christians pray freely in churches and celebrate festivals such as Christmas?
No state has a perfect human rights record but in Saudi Arabia these abuses are in large part due to Wahhabism, which is hostile to non-Muslims, Shia Muslims and and moderate Sunni Muslims.
Upholding the law
Sir: Given that for the US to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar would constitute an international criminal act, should those who leaked this information not be recognised for their action rather than charged under the Official Secrets Act?
Cars in the snow
Sir: Fifty years ago I lived in Germany. When there was snow we put snow chains on the tyres of our cars, and drove without problems. A journey which normally took two hours probably took four, but there was no panic. In the part of Germany where we lived, snow was not any more frequent than it is in southern England.
RASJIDAH ST JOHN
Abortion as murder
Sir: In an otherwise engaging article ("The kitchen sink killers", 26 November), Peter Popham describes the alleged backstreet abortionist Zsuzsanna Fazekas as responsible for "murdering babies". Should this pass without comment or qualification? I understood the focus of the article to be the spate of murders of men, rather than the abortion of foetuses. Abortion as "murder" is an issue for wider debate than casual, passing reference.
Comfort and joy
Sir: My family are this Christmas ignoring the usual frenetic hunt for appropriate gifts in order to re-establish some semblance of sanity to this over-hyped commercial fest. We are reciprocally donating money normally spent on gifts to charities of our choice (small grand-kids, great-nieces and nephews are excepted and will receive normal gifts). No doubt commercial interests hope this shocking disregard for their blandishments never catches on, but throw off your chains I say. You have nothing to lose but your aching feet.
Tory sex scandal
Sir: The new Tory leader should be concerned if, as Jemima Lewis suggests ("The indisputable joy of sex toys", 26 November), Boots were to "start selling sexual pleasure to ... the housewives of middle England". Furious ladies with too much time on their hands have provided the bedrock of the Conservative Party for decades.
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