Letters: The economy

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High price of an economy that sees compassion as a weakness

Sir: The tectonic plates really are starting to shift when Bruce Anderson is prepared to admit that anything on the European mainland is better than in Britain (Opinion, 20 August). But he did not need to visit the Palio in Siena to discover the greater degree of social cohesion that exists there. A walk around any city in Italy, Spain or France after dark would have done just as well, although even there one can find certain districts that are best avoided.

And in defining social breakdown in the UK as being limited to an underclass and "feral" youngsters, Mr Anderson is surely being too narrow. The "disease" surely affects all sections of society, although it is only in the underclass that this translates into outright criminality.

Most people in this country work in a "business environment", where increasing ruthlessness, competitiveness, selfishness and exploitation are common, and anything goes as long as it is legal. It is inevitable that this attitude becomes translated into private life, so that qualities such as loyalty, compassion and sense of community are seen as weaknesses.

This is surely the result of our over-enthusiastic pursuit of the Anglo-Saxon economic model that Bruce Anderson regards as sacrosanct and all-powerful. It may be, as he seems to believe, that this is "the only show in town," all alternatives having been tried and failed. I am not sure about this, but even accepting that it is true, does it really have to become a sort of religion, none of which can be questioned, in spite of the fact that the malign side-effects are becoming increasingly obvious? Surely, in these circumstances, it is the job of governments to stand up to and control the influence of these corporations. Instead of that, governments seem to do everything they can to help and support them at every turn, the excuse being that "the economy will suffer" if they do not.

No doubt if all men since the beginning of time had been like me, we should have been very wise, but probably still living in mud huts or wigwams, but surely there must be a middle way to escape the present madness.


Whitchurch, Shropshire

We cannot prevent a showdown in Iraq

Sir: A point that Adrian Hamilton didn't discuss (Opinion, 23 August) is that the situation in Iraq today, with all its defects and imbalances, reflects an evolving balance of power.

The power centres in Iraq represent a range of real interests with current and potential power. Unless the US decides it wishes to continue occupying Iraq, they and we will have to hand the country over to existing power groups in Iraq, whatever support they may get from other countries. We are neither all powerful, nor do we have any magic wand that will, overnight, transform Iraq into some Western-imagined democracy which loves the US.

When we leave we will leave a partial power vacuum that will be filled through internal power struggles in Iraq: these may be more or less bloody and conclusive depending on the timing, but will reflect new realities on the ground which will in turn give a more realistic possibility of reaching some sort of peace, if only in the form of a stalemate.

Bush's Vietnam boat-people analogy is scurrilous: he already has them in the form of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan and elsewhere... He only needs to give them visas to emigrate to the US.

Robert Watson

Montpellier, France

Sir: Adrian Hamilton is naive to assume the objective underlying how the US and British withdraw from Iraq is to minimise the suffering of the Iraqi people. It won't be stated, but the real objectives will be twofold: to secure the oil and to try and limit Iran's influence. As and when our boys come home, get ready for the mother of all disasters.

Graham Simmonds

London SW4

Sir: Bush in his speech of 22 August claimed that "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people', 're-education camps' and 'killing fields'."

In fact the killing fields were a genocide committed by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, not by the Vietnamese Communists who, after US forces left Vietnam in 1973, were able to invade Cambodia and overthrow Pol Pot's vile regime, ending the genocide. The US and Chinese governments continued to support the Khmer Rouge as the "legitimate" government of Cambodia.

The boat people were also a legacy of the destruction of the Vietnamese economy by the Japanese, French and American wars of occupation, not to mention the American sanctions from 1975 onwards on Vietnam, which were only eased in the early 1990s. No surprise that Bush's spin doctors don't know their history and have no interest in the truth.

Duncan McFarlane

Carluke, Lanarkshire

Sir: George W Bush, in his address to a veterans' convention, reminds us that the war in Vietnam and its aftermath gave us a new vocabulary: "boat people"; "re-education"; "killing fields".He forgot "draft-dodger".

Keith Smith

Bromley, Kent

Bishop defends innocent lives

Sir: Paul Williams (letter, 22 August) regards Bishop Evans as disqualified from commenting on Amnesty's change of policy on abortion by virtue of his gender and celibacy. On what else is he disqualified from comment? Wife-beating, perhaps? Or the murder of children by their parents? Or is it only when one disagrees that one plays the "male, celibate"card?

As a non-celibate, mother and, like all human beings, a "ball of cells", I welcome and applaud Bishop Evans' stance. The destruction of innocent human life, sentient or not, is never the answer to the problem of rape, in Darfur or elsewhere. Not only is it intrinsically and profoundly morally flawed but it also fails to properly address the long-term needs of the rape victim, which can only be met by a real and lasting commitment to emotional and practical support. Abortion is not the solution for the rape victim so much as for the rest of us. And it is time the victims of rape ceased to be used as a lever for pushing the abortionists' agenda.

Jean Burgess

Chertsey, Surrey

Sir: Your readers should not be left with the impression that all Christians agree with Bishop Evans about abortion ("Catholic bishop quits Amnesty over abortion", 21 August). While the destruction of a future life is deeply sad and can properly be seen as against the will of God as we can see it, there are other issues that Christians and all people of faith need to consider.

Efficient and cheap contraception, along with sex education for all, would reduce most of the need for abortion. Could the Bishop explain why his church continues to oppose this, as do some right-wing evangelicals in the US and this country.

However, many whose commitment to the teaching of Christ is as sincere as the anti-abortion group, feel that Amnesty International is right in its judgment on this matter. The New Testament tells us that Jesus repeatedly broke the religious laws of his day because of his compassion for the actual people whom he was with. I see biblical support for Amnesty's decision, and I will continue to support them as best I can.

The Rev Ainslie Walton


Lurid reaction to a tiny risk of rabies

Sir: Leonard Black (letter, 17 August) calls for the withdrawal of the concession which now permits the importing of pets which have been immunised against rabies. Mr Black is a veterinarian, whose statement that rabies could in theory enter the country by this route will be technically accurate. Nevertheless, some sense of proportion should be applied to offset the near-hysterical reaction provoked by the merest mention of rabies.

In the whole of sub-Saharan Africa rabies is endemic in a more virulent strain than in Europe. In the past, in some African countries, dogs were vaccinated annually by law, but a few always escaped the net, as did all wild animals. During most of the 32 years I spent in Africa I managed large ranching operations in various locations, involving cattle numbering in the thousands and some sheep. Both species were in potential contact with the unvaccinated wildlife, which included predators and scavengers that occasionally attacked and injured or killed my livestock. Not one of my animals ever contracted rabies. I once heard of a human case; that of a man who had been handling a sick animal, not realising that it was rabid.

There seems to be a perception, reinforced by lurid novels, that a rabid animal runs around dementedly attacking everything in sight. In fact, as it rapidly becomes sick, weak and intolerant to light, its instinct is to avoid other creatures and look for a quiet dark corner in which to hide, where it dies. In the rare event of a human suspecting that he or she may have been in contact, precautionary treatment is started immediately.

Was the massive cruelty and inconvenience of quarantine imposed for decades on pets and their owners really justified for so minute a risk? So Britain is rabies-free. For what practical benefit? During all those years Britain was closing the door of a stable which had never really contained a horse, let alone one which might bolt! Is it heresy to suggest that Britain cope with rabies and, for that matter, foot and mouth, the way other countries do?

Peter Kellett

Kinlochewe, Ross-Shire

Lawrence killer is not wanted here

Sir: I was disappointed by the over-liberal stance of your newspaper in the case of Learco Chindamo, who killed the headmaster Philip Lawrence. I was one of the many who campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty but I never imagined that it would be replaced with a prison sentence of just a few years. Murder, it seems, is regarded too lightly and we have lost sight of the concept of punishment as a deterrent to others.

It does not seem right to me, any more than it does to Mrs Lawrence, that Learco Chindamo might be released at the age of 27 to enjoy the rest of his life in the UK. The truth is that we do not want his like here. If he were British we would not want him here but we would have no choice. In his case however, we have the possibility that we might be able to deport him and I hope that the Home Office will try their best to bring that about.

You point out that he was just 15 when he killed Mr Lawrence and describe him as a child as though this can excuse his action. A 15-year-old knows very well that murder is wrong. Views such as yours expressed in the media encourage young people to think that they cannot be held responsible for their actions and the result is sadly plain to see throughout the country.

R Watts

King's Lynn, Norfolk

Sir: Unlike some of your correspondents (23 August), I thought Paul Donovan's letter to be lucid and reasonable – though I would question his use of the term "emotional outburst". Frances Lawrence is clearly a model of tolerance and compassion, but if even she struggles to accept the outcome of an impartial judicial process, does this not call into question the role a victim should play in the justice system?

Cate Gunn

Colne Engaine, essex

Sir: Paul Donovan asks: "In what other country would people be campaigning for the removal of their own human rights?" He should not be surprised: more than 200 years ago Edmund Burke wrote of the people's right to choose their own government: "The people of England utterly disclaim such a right . . . and they will resist the practical assertion of it with their lives and freedoms."

As Tom Paine commented in his Rights of Man, for people to take such action "not to maintain their rights, but to maintain that they have not rights, is an entirely new species of discovery." Such servile thinking may no longer be new, but it remains as abject as ever.

Charles Scanlan

London NW8


Men of science fiction

Sir: I was intrigued by the descriptions given for authors of the modern quotations (23 August). Douglas Adams is a "British Writer", Philip K Dick, a "US science fiction writer" and Robert Heinlein an "American novelist". Yet all three were primarily known for science fiction. And Dick left several non-science fiction works unpublished at his death.

Paul Dormer

Guildford, surrey

'Last leper colony'

Sir: Of the holidaymakers who take their breaks on Spain's Costa Blanca very few are aware of Europe's only "leper colony", at Fontilles. The San Francisco de Borja sanatorium has existed since 1909, and courses for medics have been held since 1947. It is more properly to be designated a research centre than a "colony", but it is still a residential centre set in extensive grounds for sufferers of leprosy. The epithet in the title of your article, "The last leper colony" (20 August), describing Sorok Island, may not therefore be entirely correct.

Dr Michael B Johnson


Early man-of-war

Sir: In the last few days of July, my son-in-law, Michael Gray, found a Portugese man-of-war washed up with the seaweed on Porthgwarra beach in Cornwall (report, 22 August). It had lost most of its tentacles and was positively identified by a local resident with the right reference books. She had never seen one in the 43 years that she has lived in the cove.

Alison Evans

East Grinstead, West Sussex

Nation of tea boys

Sir: Sir Reginald Harland (letter, 21 August) suggests education should prepare the majority as labourers, messengers and tea boys. New Labour has done exactly that. This is a low-skills, low-pay service economy. The majority of the high-skilled are involved in skimming of profits (financial sector, job agencies) or the social control of the poor for the benefit of the rich. Given this lack of respect or pay for people doing useful work no wonder crime is a career option.



One too many

Sir: Robert King (letter, 23 August) insists upon "two gins-and-tonic", rather than "two gin-and-tonics". Is that "two gins with a tonic" or "a gin-and-tonic, twice"?

Brian Fisher