'Gay' becomes a term of abuse
Philip Hensher's piece about homophobia (11 October) would carry more weight if it were not accompanied by his own display of intolerance and misogyny. He had already taken a dislike to the two girls with whom he shared a train carriage, before he heard them use the word "gay" to disparage some clothes they had been buying. He describes them in sneering terms solely because of their hairstyles and (assumed) lack of education.
As we know from recent correspondence in The Independent, young people use words in ways that shift and change meanings according to fashion. It is decades since "bad" and "wicked" started to mean "good". "Gay" to a man of Hensher's age means "homosexual". To older people it used to mean "cheerful". To some young people it can mean, applied to clothes, cheap and trashy. It is very doubtful that this correlates with any active dislike of homosexuals on the part of the girls on whom he was eavesdropping.
Hensher's narrow-mindedness does not contribute to a tolerant society.
Let's hope the two girls on the train to my hometown of Exmouth read Philip Hensher's piece about them. They would have learned the valuable lesson that it is offensive to use "gay" as a derogatory term when describing clothes.
And since they had so clearly not "troubled the educational system for very long", they would doubtless have lacked the intellectual wherewithal to take offence at being described in turn by metropolitan Mr Hensher as unattractive, tasteless, "thick yokels".
There were ferocious clashes on Sunday provoked by far-right extremists at the first Gay Pride parade in Serbia since 2001 (report, 11 October). On that occasion the parade was abandoned because of fascist violence.
Armed police in the capital, Belgrade, used tear gas against the rioters, who threw petrol bombs and stones and tried to break through the security cordon. The protesters shouted "death to homosexuals" while trying to get close to those on the march.
Even in Europe, it seems, life is dangerous for us gay people. Serbians would do well to reflect on recent history there regarding minorities and how this is viewed by those in the developed world.
Newhaven, East Sussex
Dictatorship at National Trust
The Board of the National Trust is proposing to alter the arrangements for calling extraordinary general meetings, and those alterations will, I believe, remove from the membership the likelihood of being able to call one ever again.
Their proposal sounds reasonable: to increase the proportion of the membership necessary to call the EGM from 0.25 per cent to 1 per cent. However, by their own figures, this is an increase from 9,500 to 38,000, and I cannot think of an issue on which you would be able to mobilise such a huge number. The last EGM was in 1996 and enormously costly, money which would be lost from the restoration budget if they had to do it again. But the point, surely, is not to get into a situation where the members are so at odds with the management that an EGM is necessary.
By the same resolution they also wish to decide what matters should be allowed to be discussed at future general meetings on the basis of whether they have been debated recently, so stifling any ongoing debate. This is barely disguised dictatorship; it is using democracy to defeat democracy.
I urge all members to read the proposals for themselves and to exercise their vote against the resolution on EGMs. After all, if we end up powerless we will have proved the board right, and all we can do then is withdraw from membership of such a disdainful and unrepresentative organisation.
Roger J Gould
Whitby, North Yorkshire
Marr vs pimply cyber-warriors
Andrew Marr is right that blogging is not to be confused with journalism, but for the wrong reason ("Marr slams 'rantings of angry drunk bloggers' ", 12 October).
The fevered rants from a barely literate minority might cause amusement, but are only considered newsworthy within its own low-IQ population. They see themselves as "cyber-warriors" protected by the distance from their target and the anonymity of their logons.
There are exceptions – the Huffington Post springs to mind – but they are as easy to find as an eloquent football supporter.
It is the other side of blogging that irritates me. Read almost any "celebrity" Twitter steam and you will find that most of them see it as an extension of the marketing effort for whatever tat they're peddling this week. Every other posting touts some product or other, relying upon an army of mindlessly sycophantic "followers" to pay up and get out.
So no, blogging is not to be confused with journalism. A more apt comparison would be with an out-of-control classroom in a borstal, full of nutters and spivs, where an occasional spray-down from a cold hose does them good. So well said, Mr Marr.
Angry bloggers may be fair game, but why does Andrew Marr feel the need to mock single men with pimples? Is living with both your parents, or your father, also an insult – or is it just mothers that Marr thinks normal, decent people should not live with?
Attack on the welfare state
The Government's widely reported cutting of universal child benefit has been framed largely in economic terms for those families affected. However it is important that we also look at things in the context of the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition's ideological commitment to undermining our welfare state and the principles which it has historically been based upon.
In a society which is already massively unequal, the Coalition's only answer is yet more means-testing and a return to the concept of the "deserving poor". The simplest solution, which is of course to make the wealthy pay their fair share and to clamp down of those who evade tax, is naturally ignored.
According to a study last month by the University of Glasgow, a one-off 20 per cent tax on the wealth of the top 10 per cent would pay off the national debt instantly and is supported by 77 per cent of those surveyed by YouGov. It is maybe a bit much to expect Cameron and Osborne to embrace such a straightforward proposal, however perhaps Labour can take it on board and show us that they once again stand up for ordinary people, unlike their well-off Tory opponents.
Nobody needs an income of more than £45,000 a year; the Government have told us this by taking away child benefit from those who do earn more, on the grounds that it is "not needed".
All those who have an income of over this amount should pay 90 per cent tax on the excess. This would still leave them more than they "need", and would soon wipe out the deficit.
I wonder how many of those with a salary just over the limit for child benefits will now seek a salary reduction, possibly with a more favourable attitude to expenses from their employer.
The pomp of French
On the subject of the Academie Française, what an intriguing awareness of French literature Julie Burchill (6 October) has for someone who doesn't care about the French language.
And yet I find her argument suspect. May I mention a few writers who, if not her "tasse de thé" (you see how quickly French is evolving) were members: Corneille, Racine, La Fontaine, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Lamartine, Hugo, Dumas, Chateaubriand, Rostand, Claudel, Valéry, Bergson, Cocteau ...
And the point really is that they all wrote in French. And if I agree about the ridiculous pomp and circumstance of the Academie Française, I am afraid we are lagging far behind England in that field: as laughable as they may look, at least our Academiciens don't walk backwards.
Ultimately I cannot imagine that we could ever give up the reciprocal charm and pleasure of the English speaking French and vice-versa.
Yan Pascal Tortelier
Climate gloom doesn't help
Climate change is certainly a real problem, but efforts to deal with it are continually undermined because many of the climate change activists have an agenda, as illustrated by Jim Wright's disavowal of free-market capitalism (letter, 11 October). It is not surprising that this engenders the scepticism about climate change about which he complains.
Capitalism has given us a higher standard of living at lower level of carbon use in proportion to GDP. The profit motive and competition drive energy efficiency. Planned economies use energy with appalling inefficiency.
We could over time replace over 60 per cent of our fossil fuel with nuclear power, but this is opposed by activists because of their agenda to abolish capitalism or force us all back to the land – a move which would incidentally leave no people free to educate us or provide healthcare.
These activists do us no favours, although the situation is not helped by conventional politicians who gullibly subsidise hopelessly uneconomic wind farms which are seen as more glamorous than, for instance, thermal insulation of buildings.
Between the climate change activists and our unimaginative politicians we will probably lose the battle to keep and improve our living standards in a way which would allow a sustainable future. People should realise that there could be a great future for everyone if we used open-minded intelligence.
Shipley, West yorkshire
Language rules are just etiquette
N A Birt (letter, 12 October) wants to arrest changes that "impair" English "unnecessarily". But like most of your correspondents on this subject, he confuses change that genuinely impairs communication with change that violates cultural and political assumptions held by some sections of society. It is these assumptions, not anything inherent in English grammar, that make certain usages "uncouth and degrading", and that make the non-standard usages of his own youth "harmless affectations". Our "duty to correct young people" is a social one more than a linguistic one, even though we may believe that their "sloppy" language, like their fad for tattoos, is uncouth.
Many grammatical superstitions – such as belief that a "split infinitive" or a preposition placed at the end of a sentence is incorrect – have no basis in the grammar of the language and are merely rules of etiquette. Try to give people a mastery of what is now standard English, by all means, but make sure you know why you're doing it. It very rarely has anything to do with preserving "nuanced meaning" or the "structural strength" of the hegemonic dialect of our island nation.
The political motive of N A Birt's complaint is evident in his fear of the submergence of our "collective identity" in an American or global one. According to the well-known aphorism, "a language is a dialect with an army and navy". For this reason, the status of our version of English will always depend on factors beyond the control of teachers and grammarians.
Surely the use of "like" by the young, as with so much of our language (think of "lavatory", "scent", "innit", acronyms), is simply a signal that the speaker belongs to a certain tribe.
Two of our grand-daughters were talking to each other when I interjected, "Isn't it like funny like that when like young like people like talk they like keep like saying like like?" After a pause one said, "When old people use 'like' they always put it in the wrong place."
No need for a private navy
The recent announcement by maritime insurance companies of plans to form a "private navy" in response to ongoing incidents of piracy off the Horn of Africa (report, 28 September) marks a significant development. It is however the wrong response to what is a rather limited threat. This is illustrated by a figure provided to The Independent by the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group: "We look after about 5,000 ships and have had 10 vessels taken in total."
The deployment of a limited number of patrol boats (about 20) with armed personnel on board, even operating under the nominal control of national or multi-national military forces, would hold the potential for increased violence and greater risk of loss of life and damage to shipping.
Furthermore, the strategic implications, and complex legality, of a return to the use of what would essentially be privateers – state-authorised mercenary naval forces – could be highly destabilising in the long term and pose a greater threat to maritime trade than the current piratical challenge.
Associate, The Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies
King's College London
Regarding the tragic death of the aid worker Linda Norgrove, being ex-military I am well versed in the somewhat bizarre language of our American friends. However, for the US military spokesman to refer to the failed rescue operation for Ms Norgrove as having "a negative outcome" really does take the biscuit for being vague and, above all, inappropriate.
If the owners of the Boston Red Sox succeed in taking over Liverpool FC, presumably the club will be renamed as the Liverpool Red Shirz, Shorz and Sox.
Perspectives on the crimson tide
EU rules may need updating
Your leading article on the events in Kolontar, Hungary ("When the Danube turned crimson", 9 October), seems to suggest that hazards such as those that led to this incident are not taken seriously by regulators, and that more should be done to "share information and address them".
Major industrial hazards are strictly regulated under the so-called Seveso Directive, which is implemented in each member state of the European Union and imposes clearly specified duties, including risk assessment and accident prevention, protection and mitigation measures, both on operators of hazardous installations and on the competent authorities. The directive also strongly influences land-use planning near major hazards.
Although the directive is primarily intended to protect human life, its scope encompasses major accidents to the environment – and it has been twice amended as a result of such accidents, latterly following a disastrous dam failure not dissimilar to Kolontar.
However, the Hungarian plant appears not to have been a major hazard installation as defined under Seveso, since it did not store substantial quantities of any of the hazardous substances scheduled in the directive. No doubt the schedule will be modified following the review of the directive currently under way.
Dr Ludovic Lemaignen
Senior Consultant,ASK Health, Safety and Environmental Consultants, Bromley Kent
Cut demand for new aluminium
The hazards of the Danube spillage from the Hungarian aluminium process plant should alert us to the inadequate recovery rate of aluminium cans from UK and many other European domestic waste streams.
At present, recovery depends on voluntary effort, not helped by absent or insufficiently identifiable receptacles in public places. Town streets and country road verges abound in thrown-away cans, but local authorities and contracted street cleaners are unwilling to equip their operatives with the facility of separating them from other waste.
Aluminium is unique in being 100 per cent recyclable at minimum cost.
The Rev Paul A Newman