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Saturday 7 August 2010
Letters: The West and Pakistan
How the West can help
Adrian Hamilton's article on "The benighted lot of Pakistan" (5 August) has touched a chord in many Indian and Pakistani hearts who would love to see the two neighbours enjoying good relations, given their shared historical, social and cultural ties dating back centuries.
It is unfortunate that the Kashmir conflict has used up so much energy, resources and goodwill between the two states, and often fostered a regional cold war to achieve military supremacy. The big powers, such as the US and Britain, with their own interest in the region, have too often taken advantage of the tensions and played up local insecurities in order to supply arms to both the countries.
And where the big powers have looked beyond, it has been wholly in the context of the Cold War or the War on Terror to anchor foreign and military policy to the region. Neither approach has offered much to the average citizen of South Asia.
If the big powers were sincere friends of India and Pakistan, and would like to see the region grow politically, economically and socially, they should make a serious attempt to reduce the hostilities between the two neighbours by helping them resolve bilateral issues. Britain is ideally placed for such a role, which it has demonstrated anaemic historical appetite for.
The West should also ensure that aid supports only those projects which help towards the social and economic improvement (such as education and health) of ordinary people; and not the bulging Knightsbridge real estate portfolios and Swiss bank accounts of the Indo-Pakistan elite.
Goodbye to the cheque
I write to reassure readers who have recently written expressing concerns about the possible demise of the cheque.
Cheque use has been declining sharply since 1990, and the pace of decline has speeded up in the past five years, with 10 per cent fewer cheques written year-on-year. This decline is deeply entrenched in the UK, as in many other countries, and there is no realistic prospect of its changing. So the key question is whether we should actively identify and promote alternatives to the cheque and assist people to understand how they can be used; or whether to just let the decline continue.
We have consulted widely with business and consumer representatives – including elderly and other cheque-dependent groups. The vast majority considered that it was better to manage the decline of cheques, rather than to risk letting them fall into disuse, with customers left high and dry or without clear alternatives.
We accordingly set a target date of 2018 – but made it very clear that this date could only be confirmed in 2016, if alternatives to cheques are identified, accessible to users and actually being used. These are rigorous and demanding criteria.
The challenge to the payments industry and to the Payments Council, is to deliver these alternatives. Many already exist; but may need adapting, explaining or making more widely available. By setting 2018 as a target, we have the best chance of steering everyone through what we believe is an inevitable change, smoothly and with as little disruption as possible.
Of course the challenge is significant. This is why the target date is eight years away. There is much to be done and we will go on working with those who use cheques to understand their needs and tailor the possible solutions.
The board of the Council, which is leading this process, includes an independent chair and four independent directors. Collectively they have the power to veto any decisions.
Chief Executive, Payments Council,
Suddenly, war crimes are news
The trial of Charles Taylor for war crimes has gone on for months, with evidence of massacres, limbs hacked off innocent civilians and rape used as a weapon of war. The media have ignored it.
But let a supermodel be involved, even tangentially, and suddenly it is front-page news. Are we getting our priorities just a tiny bit skewed?
The supermodel Naomi Campbell told the war crimes court in The Hague that she wanted to "get on with her life".
She should be aware that the only "gifts" that Charles Taylor left the tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans are amputations, the method of terror that Taylor's militia armies inflicted on civilian populations, brutalised children (now young adults) still coming to terms with the heinous crimes they were forced to commit against family, friends and neighbours, and the girls and women subjected to horrific rapes. They have not been able to get on with their lives.
Search for an ethical computer
Congratulations to your paper and to Johann Hari on the article highlighting the terrible working conditions in the Chinese computer factories (6 August). For the past six years the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development has been running a "clean up your computer" campaign, focusing on Mexico and China, with some success. Maybe this has helped to empower the workers in their strike actions.
It is very good that The Independent has taken up this cause, as it will reach now more people. But, I ask, what can we as consumers do? Is there a logo like the Fair Trade one that can tell us which products are produced ethically?
Agnes T Milne
Unforgettable elephants in peril
Your television reviewer, Alice-Azania Jarvis, rightly recognised "Echo and the Unforgettable Elephants" (BBC2 Natural World) as one of the greatest pieces of wildlife documentary film ever made (review, 6 August).
As someone who had the good fortune to see Echo when she was alive and has worked with and supported (for nearly 20 years) the incredible efforts of Dr Cynthia Moss and her team (through the Born Free Foundation), I can confirm that such recognition is well-deserved.
However, what viewers and your readers may not know is that this "time of austerity" threatens to end prematurely a project that has given us unique insights into the lives of wild African elephants. Without further funds, Cynthia told me only a few weeks ago, the Amboseli Elephant Project may have to close.
We must not forget Echo, nor the other elephants of Amboseli, and we must not forget the research team that has helped bring us their story. If anyone wishes to assist in securing their future then may I invite them to contact me directly?
CEO, Born Free Foundation
Horsham, West Sussex
Cheap theatre seats for some
Clemency Burton-Hill is absolutely right that we should value our free museums and cheaper theatre, as compared with New York ("This is what happens when arts funding is outsourced", 4 August) and indeed I do, but not everything is what it seems.
In the current booking season, even on the first day of online booking, the much-vaunted £10 seats in the Olivier auditorium were unobtainable except for a few at the extreme periphery, where I and several friends know there are audibility problems. Even at higher prices, only the less favoured seats were available. To get a better choice of seats you would have to fork out £60 a year for privileged booking, which means the cheapness is illusory.
No doubt it's not the National Theatre's fault, and I'm sure they need the money, but those posters proclaiming nearly half the seats at £10 are rather galling if you never succeed in getting one.
London SE 7
Price of power for Liberals
I agree with Richard Hardman's diagnosis of the Liberal Democrats' present condition (letter, 4 August).
Liberal politicians have displayed a very long-standing tendency to fret about the purity of their political principles at the expense of the exercise of political power – unlike their Conservative and Labour colleagues. This is not a good characteristic in an age of mass democracy.
Interestingly, the current Liberal Democrat leadership does not appear to exhibit such anxieties. Nor did two great Radical Liberal leaders of the past: Joe Chamberlain and David Lloyd George. Both ended up in coalition with the Conservatives. There is a lesson here somewhere.
Stan Labovitch (letter, 5 August) asked what could be more dramatic than marinated olives at Marks and Spencer. In Norwich this week, a man was prosecuted for "losing control", picking up eggs from the food hall and throwing them at a former work colleague, causing more than £700 of damage to clothes from the store's Indigo range. A spectacular colour combination, worthy of the city's strong theatrical tradition. Now you see why we only narrowly missed out on being voted UK City of Culture.
Matthew Hodgetts' letter on the Ian Tomlinson case (4 August) describes the conflicting post-mortem evidence as a "serious disagreement between distinguished and respectable experts". However, according to the article he was commenting on, only one doctor maintained that Tomlinson died of natural causes, and that doctor had previously been reprimanded by the General Medical Council and is at present being investigated over four post-mortems.
Perspectives on bullfighting
Killjoys attack the corrida
Steve Edwards' letter (3 August) in which he accuses the followers of bullfighting of sadism, cowardice and bloodlust, is evidence of a classic puritan killjoy mentality. This consists of using the moral high ground to dispense with the necessity of citing evidence or providing proof when condemning people of whom they disapprove. His denunciation has the same logic as dismissing ballet as pornography because women and men show semi-naked limbs.
C S Lewis suggested that an effective way of criticism was not to examine a play or poem "in itself" but to concentrate on the quality of appreciation which it stimulates. I defy anyone to find a trace of sadism in the entire literature and culture of "tauromachia" (which is considerable), or among any bullfight audience in Spain, France or Mexico.
Bullfighting is a rich cultural phenomenon hundreds of years old, and anyone – opponent or not – who wishes to find out about it can read Hemingway or Kenneth Tynan, where they will discover there is far more to the subject than can be had from shrieking telly pundits or low-class tabloids.
No one is asking anyone to "convert". Those who oppose bullfighting deserve respect and a fair hearing, but they have a duty to make their case not only with compassion but with education and intelligence.
But what about the death bit?
Ray Leary writes in defence of bullfighting following the recent ban announced by the government of Catalonia (letter, 5 August). He notes that the Spanish "also deal with death through flamenco and art". Er, yes. But it strikes me that neither of these methods involves the unnecessary torture and death of any of the participants.
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