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Friday 6 February 2009
Letters: The free-market
The free-market thieves must be held to account
Jeremy Warner's "manifesto to save the free market" (5 February) is excellent advice. Capitalism works when capitalists limit their take. Unscrupulous traders created wealth out of thin air without producing a single tangible good. People everywhere are fuming about their dismal futures at the hands of unregulated markets and firms run by chief executive officers who even now seem to be shining their shoes with £50 notes (look at the salaries and bonuses of the failed banks' CEOs).
Financial markets are the mirror of mankind, revealing every hour of every working day the way we value ourselves and the resources of the world around us. It is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty. For the market economy to triumph again and allow for genuine progress, thieves must be held accountable, not hailed as innovators.
Hope for a quick recovery hinges on how soon governments can shift the focus to employment creation and not throwing money in black holes of still unregulated banking sectors.
Dr Kailash Chand
Jeremy Warner's article suggests 10 ways in which the free market can be saved. Analysis of his manifesto seems to suggest that the only way to save the free market is to go against the very principles of one. Banks need to be nationalised to regulate themselves properly; debt needs to be "socialised" on a grand scale and government should allow subsidy and soft loans to their key industries. The free market is broken and apparently the only way to fix it is to temporarily suspend all of the ideals it is based on and reinstate them at a later date.
The question now is, will people actually want it back? If a system must be saved by doing the exact opposite of it, then it seems that it never really worked in the first place.
For some months now I have anticipated an attempt to link the current economic crisis and climate change. I even speculated that it would be by the BBC or The Independent. I didn't expect it to be Jeremy Warner, a journalist more noted for sober and reflective comment. Is climate change now the Theory of Everything?
Anyone who argues that we must have multi-million-pound salaries otherwise these bank executives will go and work abroad is missing the point. We'd be very happy if they went abroad. We do not want them here.
Their attitude to greed, as manifested in their salary demands, is what has brought this country to near-bankruptcy. A society where one man's annual salary is another man's once-in-a-lifetime lottery jackpot is a sick society indeed.
Why we fail to cope with snow
I am confident that we handled snow better 20 or 30 years ago – partly because we used to get it in these sorts of quantities more frequently, and therefore got more practice; but there are other reasons.
Not least that in those days most councils maintained a much larger network of well-manned local depots; made generous provision for small numbers of overnight duty crews in the winter months, and larger numbers of men on-call; laid in additional grit, bins, shovels and so on at year end; and finally employed their own "corporation works" staff who were generally the best paid and trained of all manual and craft workers, and very often the most loyal to the towns and cities where they worked. In consequence when the snow came they gritted, ploughed and shovelled as we slept – and in the morning the buses ran, the schools opened and life continued pretty much as usual, albeit with more snowballs.
Then the ideologues, the accountants and the efficiency experts came. The local depots were closed and sold. Sensible precautions such as paid overnight duty and turn-out allowances "just in case" were described as "Spanish practices" and became an abomination, and were reduced to the bare minimum. Supply scales were moved to a "just in time" basis. The Corporation Works were defined as "overmanned", "over-paid" and "feather-bedded", and pared down and in many cases privatised. However, taxes fell, the City boomed, the "loadsamoney" culture took hold . . . and nobody much cared if pride in local service and the urban infrastructure gradually decayed.
None of which, in retrospect, looks like such a great plan.
A friend who has moved to Bavaria woke to find that several feet of snow had fallen overnight around his mountain chalet. On opening his back door he found it blocked by a drift reaching to eye-level.
It was bin day, so he dug his way through and started to clear his path. Being British he thought, "This is a stupid waste of time, but now I've started I might as well finish the job." After a monumental effort he managed to get the bin to the gate. The dustmen were precisely one hour late.
Far from moaning (Letters, 5 February) , most of us seem to have been enjoying a spontaneous outbreak of snow-generated fun. It has been good to see the British at play this week: all those snow-sculptures, for example. I have loved seeing such talent released.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Could we have British salt for British roads?
Defying dictators? How very rude
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ("Those who seek justice do so in vain", 2 February) talked of the rage and frustration of the young in particular. I doubt if she expected so prompt an example as that of the Cambridge student who showed his contempt for the repressive Wen Jibao in the Al-Zaidi shoe-throwing manner (report, 3 February).
The fatuous soul reported to have said, "You're being extremely rude" cannot have listened to the student's initial complaint: "How can the University prostitute itself with this dictator?"
Wen Jibao clearly finds it despicable that anyone should be able to be honest to his face, as has become more and more the case with Bush, Blair, Brown and Cameron as they handpick "the public" to which they will expose themselves. Tight security for such venerable persons must now be extended to removal of the shoes of the audience. Or why not insist we all approach them on our knees? The kowtow was the required approach to past emperors after all.
Universities like the diploma
I am writing in response to your leading article "The diploma that could fail" (Education &Careers, 29 January) on the National Foundation for Educational Research survey indicating that only a quarter of teachers think the diploma is an appropriate qualification for academically able children and only a fifth believe it is suitable for those who aspire to go on to university.
It is vital we recognise that this survey is based simply on teacher perceptions. In fact, the diploma has the strong backing of universities, colleges and employers, who have provided direct input into this important new qualification. The vast majority of higher education providers have now said they accept the advanced diploma (equivalent to three and a half A-levels) as a route on to their undergraduate courses, including all the Russell Group and 1994 Group. In November, Oxford and Cambridge recognised the rigorous nature of the diploma in engineering course and will be accepting the qualification alongside traditional A-levels; this follows the earlier and similar declaration from Imperial College.
The diploma is robust in terms of course content and assessment. The advanced diploma, for example, can include traditional A-level study, and a key part of the qualification is the extended project, which gives students the research, critical thinking and evaluation skills universities particularly value.
We are still in the very early stages of rolling out the diploma, and we will continue to learn things along the way. However, the survey does emphasise the need for all of us to work harder to provide high-quality information and training to all those who are in turn seeking to give the right advice and guidance to our 14- to 16-year-olds
Vice-Chancellor, London Southbank University
Man's dominion over the earth
Following David Attenborough's excellent programme, I have been puzzled by the nit-picking as to whether the Bible means the "stewardship" of man over the earth or "dominion". Does it make any difference? Life on earth flourished very well without man's intervention for over 600 million years.
It is difficult to think of any improvement man's "stewardship" has made to plant or animal life since his relatively recent arrival on the planet. For the plants and animals, his "stewardship" has often meant disaster. For them (and for us), the day cannot arrive too soon when man finally gives up his infantile biblically-inspired arrogance of either "stewardship" or "domination" and returns to the co-existence with nature practised by his own ancient pre-biblical ancestors, and, thankfully, by an increasing number of his modern kind.
The great poets who wrote Genesis ascribe dominion over the earth to us human beings. The environmentalists of today should not be repining over that but remarking that it is even more true than was at first supposed. Who could have imagined that we could heat up the whole planet? Dominion, to be exercised amid anxiety of mind and sweat of brow, should not be exaggerated into omnipotence nor sentimentalised into mere stewardship.
There is a common belief that theologians are in a better position than scientists to establish the existence, or otherwise, of God. Witness Philip Whitehead (Letter, 3 February). The belief, though, is mistaken. Theologians have fascinating things to say about religions – scriptures, traditions and clashes; prophets, rituals and changes of mind. None of these, though, could determine whether God or gods exist.
British Humanist Association
The bickering in your columns about whether Sir David Attenborough has misinterpreted the scriptures is only the most recent of many such disputes.
What we need is properly authenticated documentation of the domicile, occupation and lineage of the various deities; we need corroboration from independent witnesses if divine dictation of sacred texts is claimed; we need forensic investigation of any miracles, manifestations, virgin births, smitings etc.
In short, we need evidence-based religion.
A partial resolution to the problem of who can qualify for a Supporting Role gong in the various film awards (Arts & Books, 30 January) would be to stipulate that no one with their name above the title is eligible.
Isn't it encouraging that the US, having sunk so low as to use torture, at least still feels ashamed about it ("US accused of blackmail over terror trial evidence", 5 February)?
Paul Wheeler is quite right to be concerned about the apostrophe in the name Earl's Court, and lack of same in Barons Court (letter, 5 February). These spellings are the ones that have always been used, but why the little village, named after the Court of the Earls of Warwick and Holland, should get an apostrophe, and why the made-up name for a new estate of houses built by Sir William Palliser in the 19th century should not, is a mystery.
On 30 January, I was bemused to see not only a whole page under "News", but also an article by Ellie Levenson devoted to the earth-shaking debate as to whether a film actress had worn her dress back-to-front. Is this really news worthy of mention in a time of such serious global troubles?
Add another point to the 10-point guide ("Parenthood – the real deal", 5 February): reward and punish your kids at random so as to prepare them for adult life.
David Cameron vows to slash benefits cap to £23,000 and remove housing benefits for under 21s within first week of general election win
New York snow: Winter Storm Juno downgraded as 'one of the largest snowstorms in history' fails to show
If I were Prime Minister...I would be like a free-market version of Natalie Bennett
Holocaust Memorial Day: Vladimir Putin not joining world leaders at Auschwitz amid tensions
Cameron demands another change to pre-election TV debates before he agrees to take part
Al Murray: 'Ed Miliband's a twonk'
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