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Monday 6 June 2011
Letters: The War On Drugs
Take law out of use of drugs
The "war on drugs" is not made any simpler by conflating individual and public harm, as the previous administration did with its coercive and quasi-coercive "treatment" regimes which brought all drug use into a criminal justice context (Front page, 3 June).
Forcing into "treatment" a person who does not believe that he or she is ill is a waste of scarce treatment facilities, money and individual motivation.
From a person-based rather than societal viewpoint, I believe that any civilised society should do all it can to minimise the use of mind-altering substances, and that ideally has more to do with attitudes and support than with uniforms coming through the door at six o'clock in the morning.
Here is a paradox: there have been worldwide shortages of diamorphine, made from the opium poppy and used medicinally. Our soldiers are dying while trying to restrict supply, and we are even experimenting with licensed growing of poppies here.
Here is an opportunity to help the farmers with distribution, cut off a funding stream to insurgents and deliver on prescription-free, high-grade diamorphine to heroin users in this country (and possibly elsewhere).
That it will savagely reduce the profits in the illicit international trade is almost incidental as a benefit.
Though powerfully written, Mary Ann Seighart's argument in The Independent for legalisation (Opinion, 30 May) is mistaken. A public relations campaign does not add up to a case for policy change, however effective its momentum.
I wonder how many of the "names" co-opted in decriminalisation's cause are aware of how few people in the UK are imprisoned for supply, let alone for possession, of even Class A drugs?
I wonder how many of them have any knowledge of the extent of failure and the cost of the UK's "public-health, non-criminalising" policy approach of the past 12 years?
Concern with decriminalising drugs centres on how we would cope with protecting children, a question its proponents rarely address, or if they do, one they assign to luckless headteachers and the "education" holdall.
How too would we meet the increased addiction and treatment needs (and associated social and economic costs) as drug use moved from a minority to a mainstream habit, as sanctions fell away?
Research Fellow, The Centre for Policy Studies,
Decriminalising possession of cannabis, which is not a harmless drug, might make some sense if it were not the initial step towards legalising the supply of almost all "recreational" substances, and then their commercial mass-marketing, leaving families, employers, health-providers and taxpayers to bear the incremental costs of any social and medical damage.
To remove gangsters effectively from the situation it would be necessary for business enterprises and/or government outlets to beat them on price and accessibility.
Since these consumer goods are habit-forming (therefore especially profitable) brain-poisons, the long-term consequences for targeted populations would eventually outweigh the present problems of interdiction and regulation.
What do big-business "reformers" such as George Schultz and George Soros really think about this prospect?
I despair. Once again the idea of legalising canabis rears its ugly head. Why? Because the law is apparently unenforceable. Answer me this. Do the negatives of cannabis and ectasy outweigh the positives? I think they do. End of argument, I feel.
As for prosecuting the law against these drugs, the answer is not to be inflexible, but to be creative, to be "cleverer". The damage these drugs can do is fearful. To legalise because we can't stop their use is nothing short of both cowardice and a betrayal of our children and generations to come.
Wrexham, North Wales
Too many people, not enough food
Again Thomas Malthus has been criticised, this time by Sean O'Grady as an "impractical thinker" for suggesting that population growth would lead to disaster (letters, 2 June). Of course he did not foresee the "explosion in productivity that has kept pace with population growth until our time" but Malthus does make plain common sense.
Of course productivity has improved but in the 19th century, when there was a mass movement of population in Europe into the cities, life expectancy was very short. Those who had the energy and the courage could emigrate to a better life, in the USA, Canada, Australia, Africa or even South America.
Britain exported its population problem, at the expense of the indigenous people who were removed from their lands by force. The impact of the 1914-18 war and the subsequent flu epidemic should not be ignored.
The movement into the cities is now being replicated in the developing world but the inhabitants of the Kibera slum in Nairobi do not have the option of a cheap ticket to a better life.
The population of Ethiopia has doubled in 25 years since the Band-Aid initiative. In 1987, the population of Kenya was 25 million, up from eight million in 1948, and rising by a million a year.
The major difference in population growth in Europe after the 1939-45 war appears to be linked to the emancipation and education of women.
It seems likely that African (and Asian) women would also wish to have smaller families if they were empowered, yet the efforts to bring about such empowerment have been fragmented and ineffective, compared to the determined provision of food. In the longer term, food without education postpones the problem and makes it bigger.
Haw is a focus for conscience
So it looks like a pedestrian crossing will spell the end for Brian Haw and his peace camp (report, 3 June)?
This is a great shame because, even for those not directly associated with his cause, the camp provides a important (and colourful) focus for our consciences in stark contrast to all-pervasive advertising which dominates the rest of London aggressively encouraging us to indulge in "the latest gadgets, cheap flights and various forms of fast food".
In my view, we could do well to have a little more "conscience" and a lot less "stuff". Indeed, Councillor Colin Barrow mentions, "We of course support the right to protest and will continue to do so [...]". If this is the case, why not lift the ban on protests within a half-mile radius of Parliament Square?
When I first visited London after moving back here from America, I was delighted by the sight of Brian Haw's protest camp in Parliament Square. What a lesson, for tourists from China or even America, in the tolerance that ornaments a free society.
How disillusioning to learn that our society, too, has set over itself humourless and narrow-minded repressors such as the Mayor of London and the Westminster council ("Pedestrian crossing may spell the end for Westminster peace camp", 3 June).
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Olympic ticket sale was fair
Having read the Olympics letters (4 June), I felt some perspective was required. The laws of probability dicate that the more tickets you bid for, the more likely you were to get tickets. So those willing to potentially spend £10,000 would have far more chance of success, no matter how limited, than those like me who bid for two £50 tickets (I'm resigned to the fact that I won't be watching the men's 5,000m final).
Not everyone is going to be able to watch the Olympics live. The sheer numbers of people applying for tickets was proof of this. No one "deserves" tickets more than anyone else, and just because you are rich, it doesn't make you any less of a true athletics afficionado.
Having taken part in past ticketing free-for-all debacles, (eg the 2008 World Cup in Germany) where you couldn't even get on to the ticketing site to begin with, the lottery in my opinion was the fairest way of giving everyone a chance to buy tickets for the Olympics.
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps a ceiling could have been put on the total value of tickets you could bid for, but otherwise, I have no complaints. On the plus side, I now have £100 spare to spend on new running shoes.
It is marvellous news that the people of this country are seriously wealthy enough to be able to afford tickets up to £450 each in the middle of an economic recession and yet not to be able to secure a place in the Olympics, even at a more moderate price level ("Olympic athletes among 250,000 who lost out on 2012 tickets", 2 June).
Or are they ? May be the "wealthy" label applies to the "successful" corporate sponsors, bankers, multinational companies and other corporations which, apart from the economic divide, have now contributed to the social exclusion of ordinary people from a major event meant to be for the "public", let alone athletes and other genuine sports enthusiasts.
The blatant commercial nature is overwhelming and perhaps the modern Games should have never be called " Olympic Games".
Emmanuel K Stavrianakis
David Hewitt and John Dunn can rest assured that some ordinary grassroots people did indeed get an allocation of Olympic tickets. I put in for a variety of events at either the lowest or second-lowest price tier at a total of about £850.
I note that at an amount of £206 has gone on my credit card. But I am in the rather unusual position of not knowing what my money has gone on. I cannot work out what the winning permutation of tickets is, so I wait to hear. Who knows when that will be divulged to us?
I add my voice of disenchantment to the Olympic ticketing fiasco. It seems that a crude postcode lottery of sorts has taken place. Nobody, like myself, who lives in reasonable proximity to London has secured tickets in the ballot yet anybody I know who has applied from overseas has been successful.
There are no flights, hotel rooms nor meals to be had from us hence our support is seemingly not required. I echo calls therefore for Locog to demonstrate full transparency regarding ticket allocation to convince me otherwise.
Southbourne, West Sussex
With reference to John Dunn's letter (4 June) I am one of the £500- to £1,000-band applicants who has secured some Olympic tickets. I suspect that selecting morning heats rather than finals or medal ceremonies, has had a significant bearing on that success. My family and I may not witness a home victory but at least we'll be able to say, "We were there". After all, in sport, it's the taking part that counts.
Lucy Porter Goff
Those who failed to get any tickets in the Olympic lottery should go to their local supermarket to see which companies have "Win Olympic tickets" promotions. I personally think that any of these companies should be boycotted.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
How house prices will come down
Michael Brooke's letter predicting a downward trend in house prices (3 June) hints at what must inevitably happen, given the present state of home ownership. Most houses are owner-occupied, and many are fully paid for.
There is now a vast amount of equity in the hands of older people (mainly the baby-boomer generation who bought their homes in more favourable times), and these people are increasingly retired and have paid off their mortgages.
Over the next 10 to 20 years or so, as these home-owners start to pass away, a large number of homes will either come on to the open market (thereby depressing their prices) or will be passed on to descendants thereby reducing the demand for buying homes and so depressing prices generally).
Either way, the present inflated prices of houses are a temporary bubble which cannot persist. This is good news for potential buyers but likely to be bad news for developers, landlords and sellers at the end of the chain.
I enjoyed John Walsh's Notebook (2 June) but remain suspicious of over-zealous cruelty to split infinitives (Errors & Omissions, 4 June). The British Empire saw itself as a successor to the Roman and, attempting to enlarge upon its accomplishments, set about disciplining the English language accordingly. Split infinitives were frowned on; Latin didn't use them, but that was because in Latin, unlike English, no matter how hard you try, you just can't split an infinitive.
I was sorry to read about Philip Hensher's problem with the carpet-munching brown house moth Hoffmannophila pseudospretella (Opinion, 4 June). But I am intrigued by the name; who is the Hoffmann they are all in love with. Does anybody know? I couldn't find anything in Google.
Perspectives on cuts in services
Britain is no model democracy
Christina Patterson rightly criticises Alan Bennett's over-the-top language about library cuts (Opinion, 28 May). But she leaps from fair criticism of shallow arguments to all-out support for the government's cuts agenda.
While attacking certain artists' simplistic viewpoints, she upholds the equally simplistic position of accepting the government's assurances about the necessity of deep and rapid cuts to public services and the welfare state.
Christina writes that we "live in a society where we get what we're prepared to pay for, run by the government we vote for, according to the choices we ask it to make". She presents Alan Bennett as naive, but it's Christina who seems to think that we live in a model democracy.
We do not get "what we're prepared to pay for", because some people have considerably more money to pay for things than others.
Those with the most money are reluctant to part with it, and it is because of them that we cannot "afford" libraries, bus services and the Disability Living Allowance.
None of the establishment parties will stand up to the very wealthy, and expenditure backed by big business continues apace. Arms dealers rake in the money after the paltry cuts to "defence" spending.
Ministers insist that cuts to libraries and bus services are unavoidable, but don't consider the economic situation to be desperate enough to introduce VAT on private education or private health care.
When push comes to shove, most politicians remain reluctant to do anything that would anger Rupert Murdoch, the banks or other multinational corporations. That's why the rest of us must have the courage to stand up to them.
We're not being treated fairly
We all know that cuts are necessary in today's financial climate, but nobody wants it to be them. As a teacher, I never expected to be rich, but when I see the vast sums paid to people in the money-driven world of advertising, and the amounts spent on making glamorous images to persuade people like me to buy more products, it makes me seethe. Especially as the government seems to think I can afford to take cuts, not them.
Teachers' pensions are under threat, with a proposal that we not only pay more in contributions but that we work longer and get less when we retire. How can this be fair?
In addition, teaching assistants in my area will soon be required to sign new contracts, agreeing to new working conditions including a reduction in sick pay and the abolition of the outer London allowance. I thought contracts were binding.
I am not a radical person and have never yet been tempted to strike, but, like many others in education, I do not feel I am being heard. I do not feel I am being treated fairly. How are we to get those in power to listen?
Why is this government taking so much from those who already have little to spare, and who are doing their best to help form the society of the future?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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