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Monday 23 March 2009
Letters: Town and country
The country idyll: not all it's cracked up to be?
As a lifelong city dweller, but country lover, I was envious when Brian Viner moved his family from London to rural Herefordshire. But in reading of his continuing exploits, I'm not sure that away from the city his family life necessarily is better, or less stressful.
In his column of 10 March, he describes how he has to rely on the car for the daily ritual of getting his children the five miles to the station to catch their southbound train to school. And they, presumably, then have to negotiate the last bit between station and school. With all of this being reversed at day's end.
Then you add the isolation/distance difficulties in the children maintaining a social life as well as Brian and Mrs V... and don't forget to feed the chickens and look after the paying guests.
By comparison, my children were able to walk to both primary and secondary schools and now catch a bus from outside our home to college in the city centre. They and we have an easily controlled social life with access via walking, car, taxi, bus or train, with choices ranging from bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, galleries, museums and concert hall/arenas. Fifteen minutes' walk from home and I'm in my office. Twenty minutes' drive from home and I can be walking on the Worcestershire Clent Hills.
Perhaps there is a time to live in the country; but I'm not sure it's while you have teenage children or need to work.
Israel once again demonised
Quelle surprise: Donald Macintyre and Johann Hari ("Israel's dirty secrets in Gaza", 20 March) jumping on the Haaretz report about supposed IDF atrocities in Gaza.
Of course they do not tell us that Danny Zamir – the head of the Rabin pre-military academy whom they quote – has a long history of conscientious objection in a country where military service has been existentially necessary throughout the 60 years of its existence.
Of course they do not tell us that the old woman was approaching the soldiers after being warned not to. She was probably innocent, but could have been a suicide bomber. Moreover it is not clear that she was shot; it may simply have been the case that there was an argument over whether to shoot someone who was approaching soldiers in a suspicious way.
Of course in the context of the woman and two children who were reportedly shot by a sniper after soldiers ordered them from their house, they do not tell us that civilians have been frequently used as suicide bombers.
And of course they do not tell us that further investigation by Israeli media suggests both incidents may not even have happened: the soldier who reported both alleged events did not even witness them – he heard them as a rumour.
How far are you prepared to lower your editorial standards, in the interests of demonising Israel?
Co-Vice Chair, Zionist Federation,
Shocking though they undoubtedly are, the accounts from Israeli soldiers themselves of atrocities committed during the conflict in Gaza are sadly unsurprising.
Amnesty researchers have visited numerous Palestinian homes trashed by Israeli forces, many daubed with graffiti like "We came to annihilate you". We also investigated dozens of reports of Palestinian men, women and children killed apparently for no other reason than they had appeared in an Israeli soldier's sights.
Instead of issuing apologia for "the most moral army in the world", Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak should allow an independent investigation into alleged war crimes from all parties to Gaza's brutal conflict.
Tim Hancock, Campaigns director, Amnesty International UK,
Your headline "Israel's dirty secrets revealed" is at least balanced by your leading article, which acknowledges that Israel's Defence Forces have a core value of "scrupulous morality". It's a pity that you choose to shout the negative on the front page and only whisper the positive on page 32, but then again your paper has never had the reputation for balance or fairness in covering Israel.
Would you at least please bring to your readers' attention that your source for the "dirty secrets", the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has subsequently interviewed the soldier who originated the story of the shooting of the old Palestinian lady; the soldier confirms that the story is hearsay, not a personal experience. The IDF is already investigating the reports: no doubt your readers will give the IDF report a fair hearing.
The situation in Gaza is part of a historical tragedy recently uncovered in Professor David Cesarani's Major Farran's Hat, in which frustrated military personnel sought to counter Jewish terrorism in the late 1940s by "extra-judicial killing". This was a failure to deal with a series of politically stupid short-term acts, beginning with the Balfour Declaration. Israelis learnt that the way to deal with terrorists is to ignore the law. They learnt this from the British, who continued to use these methods from Malaya to Ireland.
We need to learn that politicians must stop making short-term promises and to look for long-term solutions. We ought also to recognise the UK as a militaristic state which has a history of deception and murder; and we need to change this.
The Revd Stephen Griffith MBE
I refer to regular reporting in your newspaper of destruction and killings in Israel, based on hate and "trigger-happy" militants. How helpful it would be to hear about the peace movements there, where young people of every faith are meeting together, talking, socialising and finding a camaraderie that their elders desperately need to adopt.
It is irresponsible to highlight all the negative events based on hate and revenge. Peace and respect comes from "jaw not war". In the meantime, the peacemakers wait on the sidelines to be heard and supported by the negligent media.
True believers in the market
Jeremy Warner remarks: "The prevailing philosophy of the last 30 years that the market is always right has been well and truly exploded by the current crisis. Actually, it is quite hard to understand where this philosophy came from in the first place, for even a cursory understanding of history shows that capitalism is prone to repeated crises, many of them by the standards of their time just as serious as this one." (Outlook, 19 March).
It is easier to understand when one considers that market fundamentalism is not a science but a religion. One might just as well point a Creationist in the direction of the fossil record as try to confuse a neoliberal with economic history. As a "philosophy" it succeeded only inasmuch as it served the interests of those with economic power by telling them what they wanted to hear – in short, that their own greed was justified by increased growth (irrespective of how the proceeds were distributed), that taxation is theft, and that markets will look after themselves, in spite of the evidence.
The Government doesn't need to commission a report to tell us that there is risk of civil unrest. Instead of dithering, why doesn't it follow the example of the US and pass a new tax law that slaps a special windfall tax of 90 per cent on all the bonuses, earnings and pensions of the bankers and traders in the banks that received public funding? It is so simple, and the quickest way to get our money back.
It would demonstrate to the hard-working taxpayer that the Government is really on their side and not in the hands of the City barons. So forget the report and act now.
An earlier start to Daylight Saving
This is the time of year when I have the greatest difficulty with our Daylight Saving arrangements. We are enjoying a warm early spring and yet BST does not start until the end of March. Our clocks revert to GMT on the last Sunday in October, roughly two months before winter solstice on 21 December. But instead of moving back to BST two months later, on the last Sunday in Februar, as logic would dictate, the switch is delayed puzzlingly for a further month until the last Sunday in March.
Why do GMT and BST operate as they do? The Americans appear to have it right; their Daylight Saving starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.
Virginia Water, Surrey
Hair tests would rout sports cheats
With the level of drugs in sport being revealed by hair tests (report, 19 March), should we not be deploying this technique to send a clear anti-doping message to any budding Olympic athlete?
Steroids are only detectable in urine for a few days after exposure, whereas a hair sample gives a complete history over months, foiling any attempts to dodge random urine tests. From a practical point of view, hair is much easier to process than urine as it does not need to be stored under any special conditions. It also avoids the embarrassment of official chaperones observing urine collection. Plus, if a urine sample is in any doubt, it is always possible to take a fresh, identical hair sample and eliminate any false positives or false negatives.
Resurgence of the Spirit of the Blitz
I now realise that I must have been half-expecting for some time a letter such as the one from Dr Tim Lawson in leafy Cheam (21 March) welcoming the new austerity represented by cancellation of next year's "glitzy extravaganza" commonly known as the Motor Show.
We British have always rather enjoyed our "sackcloth and ashes" moments of puritanism in times of adversity. Can it be long before people ask to be allowed to sleep in London's Tube stations while listening to recordings of Dame Vera Lynn? Perhaps your newspaper could also give us some clippings of Sir Stafford Cripps to sustain the mood.
Milton under Wychwood, Oxon
The terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex in the O2 exhibition (report, 19 March) "even breathes out a colourless, odourless gas". Well, we all do that, don't we?
Pope and condoms
Paul Vallely generously refers to the Pope's assertion that condoms "increase the problem" of Aids in Africa merely as being "manifestly absurd". It is much more serious than that. It is genocidally ignorant and stupid. As Thabo Mbeki's Aids denialism will have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Africans, so the Pope's deadly doctrine on condoms is contributing to the deaths of tens of millions of people throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Professor D A Maughan Brown
US relations with Iran
US President Barack Obama, tells Iran that "..for nearly three decades, relations between our nations have been strained".
He has clearly forgotten that the US-backed coup in 1953 left Iranians with a 26-year-long dictatorship whose secret police were trained by the CIA. Until the US can acknowledge its own role in the breakdown of the relationship, Iran will remain suspicious of US motives.
Dave Massey (letters, 21 March) complains that the Jobcentre offers no useful courses for older people; but there are no useful courses for the young either. The "youth" courses he mentions are designed for those with few or no qualifications and are of no benefit to graduates like myself who wish to gain some skills that employers value. The Jobcentre is not geared towards the young, but the uneducated.
Lorraine Frances (letters, 21 March) misses the point of Patrick Powell's letter. I very rarely require new plastic bags from supermarkets, but I object to supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer endlessly lecturing us on "green" matters – this from a company which relentlessly over-packages food and helps to undermine our economy by using Belgian instead of British chocolate in its products.
You report that protesters "will try to bring London to a standstill" during next month's G20 summit (report, 21 March). Maybe they should just pray for a centimetre of snow – that'll do the trick.
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Greece referendum: Germany hits back at Greek 'terrorism' claims as voting draws to a close
Only Muslim survivor of 7/7 bombings says Britain must make stand against Islamophobia
BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
Motorists taunt suicidal woman on bridge and tell her to 'get on with it'
Jason Manford criticises David Cameron for 'changing the definition of child poverty'
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