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Tuesday 1 December 2009
Letters: War and public opinion
Why the public lacks faith in the Afghan war
Your front-page lead "Troops fear defeat at home" (30 November), oddly avoids naming and shaming those who most loudly and consistently undermine British efforts in Afghanistan. It is, perversely, the right wing media.
They do so since they are exclusively focused on scoring political points at the expense of the Brown government, totally uncaring of any demotivating effect this may have on troop morale.
Much of the negative right-wing media comment is courtesy of unattributable briefings by the Conservative Party, too fearful to stand up publicly but only too pleased to use and hide behind any number of anti-government newspapers and commentators.
Shopping in Maidenhead yesterday we were surprised to see at least three groups of Coldstream Guards collecting money for their comrades in Afghanistan. We appreciate that they need our moral support, but why do they need our financial support as well? Surely these brave men and women are fully supported by our Government in every way possible, or are we dreaming?
We now have two wrist bands declaring that we support the Coldstream Guards in Afghanistan. Are the members of the Government wearing these too?
I was dismayed to read that "Troops fear defeat at home". Within my own circle of friends and associates, our troops have the respect and admiration of the people: our anger is their treatment by the Government and lack of resources. If politicians had to serve you can bet things would be different.
Solihull, West Midlands
Backers of the Dubai insanity
How depressingly predictable that British banks should be at the forefront in funding that monument to environmental insanity, the great Dubai project.
We are told that bringing in more stringent controls on the wilder excesses of bankers earning seven-figure bonuses would risk losing their unique contribution to the national economy. I believe Dubai has a very good supply of luxury apartments well-suited to their lifestyles going cheap, and if more effective regulation encouraged them to leave our shores I would regard that not as a problem, but as a cause for celebration.
Brompton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire
Just as I was planning my departure from Dubai, I wrote this paragraph in my blog about my time there:
"A good friend asked me, 'Who are they building it all for? Who is going to live there?'
"The scale of the construction taking place or proposed to take place is truly staggering. The infrastructure is being added or altered as an after-thought. I don't understand how it can be sustainable. The power and water requirements for what is already here are staggering.
"It just doesn't ring true. I hope it doesn't all fall down round their ears, but I just sense that the place doesn't have enough backbone, enough foundation. It is all built on sand, after all."
If a lowly quantity surveyor could foresee it, why couldn't the world's bankers, let alone the leaders of the UAE?
Thirsk, North Yorkshire
Exploited workers? Some of the labour camps still need reform, but Johann Hari ("A morally bankrupt dictatorship built by slave labour", 27 november) is evidently unaware of the protective legislation introduced over the past two years. Has he visited the labour camp at Dubai with a cricket pitch and a two-storey pavilion surrounded by decent workers' housing adjacent to the beach?
Two years ago a Pakistani who had worked in our house for 27 years died. He had arrived in Dubai as an airport loader, switched to housework and learned to cook. With his earnings he built two family houses in Pakistan, married off three daughters expensively, divorced one more expensively, educated one to MA level, bought some shops and a few lorries. I know a Philipina maid who is building a house back home and educating two children.
She is one of the hundreds of thousands given opportunities for relative prosperity they could not find at home.
Dubai never had much oil. It has become the fastest growing city in history, by the efforts of its citizens and those they have welcomed.
I read Johann Hari's piece and looked at the front page photograph (27 November) with increased despair for the Dubai I knew in the 1970s. As the supporting engineer (and later, also camera operator), with a survey aircraft, I spent five or six months each year between 1973 and 1978 moving around the Arabian Gulf area.
Of all those countries, Dubai was my favourite, being a very friendly place where I could wander around with a camera slung from my neck and used at intervals. I enjoyed wandering along the creek quay, watching dhows being loaded or unloaded. I usually walked everywhere.
Bright students at London Met
Although Mary Dejevsky doesn't join the lynch mob for London Metropolitan University (Comment, 24 November), her tone is designed to emphasise the negative rather than the positive.
Yes, some of the buildings are worse than King's College, Cambridge, but many are perfectly adequate and some (the Liebeskind Graduate Centre, for example) are outstanding. No, it isn't Oxbridge but in some ways it is much better.
Some of the students may be relatively poorly qualified but they are the most diverse body of people I have ever experienced, young and more mature, with and without experience of life and from every imaginable part of the world. And they are very proud of this diversity. Oxbridge should try it.
I taught there for four years and found the students to be delightful, eager to learn and challenging, turning out good work and a pleasure to interact with. To me, staff seemed committed and professional. It would be a tragedy if the failings of the management discouraged candidates from applying for a place. It could change their life.
Dr Michael Dempsey
Chris Payne's attempt (letter, 24 November) to tarnish every UK university with the criticisms levelled at London Metropolitan shows a disturbing level of naivety.
We should be proud of the "deliverables" from our universities both in teaching and world-class research. It is no surprise that if a department failed to recruit students they would be threatened with closure. To a taxpayer that seems like value for money.
The accusation of "lip service paid to quality" is nonsense given the five-yearly evaluation of research quality by national/ international panels of experts, the annual assessment of teaching quality by four or more external examiners of courses and the open access statistics on university success, including low drop-out rates.
Fortunately, the idea that "promotions [are] never given for teaching effectiveness but to report-writers, committee attenders and student recruiters" does not apply to academics. If you spend your time on committees and writing reports you face a future on a low academic salary.
Promotion in any top department is primarily based on externally earned research income and deliverables, number of PhD students, citations of publications in top journals, and teaching and administrative contribution.
Universities do not "con foreign students to apply to UK universities"; some universities face applications from too many students because of their international reputation.
Professor Martin Menzies
Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey
Swiss minaret vote shames Europe
Propaganda by the far right has given Europe a grave and disturbing result in the Swiss referendum vote to ban minarets.
The issue is not Islamic but rather one of human rights, equality and fairness. A single group of people have now been denied the right to practise a faith equal to others. We have troops fighting and dying for these very principles; and yet our developed, civilised and educated European neighbours have voted in favour of a motion more akin to a developing nation with an illiterate population.
British reporting of Swiss politics is always rather coy. It's as if we are not really supposed to notice that the Swiss regularly vote in single-issue referendums. Last time I was there, it was Sunday shop opening and GM foods.
It's light-years away from the "managed democracy" (to use a Russian concept) which is all that our Establishment is prepared, grudgingly, to offer. The Swiss vote. We have to put up with the State Opening of Parliament.
Truly 'democratic' way to pick MPs
Only one method could ever guarantee appropriate parliamentary representation of the "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community" and all the "women, black and Asian and disabled people" ("Parties face new rules to end 'white men's club'," 26 November). A system is needed that reflects their numerical proportions in society, though allowing for overlap – say 50 per cent female MPs, 15 per cent "ethnic" minorities, 10 per cent "sexual" minorities, etc.
Early last century, intellectuals on both left and right wanted an "industrial" franchise whereby voters would elect members from their own occupations: miners to choose miners, teachers teachers, housewives housewives, etc. The 21st century development must be a "social" franchise, whereby Parliament is chosen according to biological categories, as defined by egalitarian revolutionaries in the 1960s, but in relevant numbers – no more than half the MPs "white men", one tenth MPs differently abled, etc.
This proposal logically replaces Old Etonian-style "competence" and local party "preference", which are elitist and old-fashioned, with the ultimate democratic principle: "From each according to his inability and to each according to his demands."
Memory floods back
The floods in Cumbria are being linked to global warming (letters 23, 27 November). We forget the flooding on the east coast and particularly Canvey Island on 31 January 1953, when 58 people were killed. Would a similar event now be blamed on global warming?
Your article on forensic pathology (Extra, 23 November) mistakenly categorised Christian Scientists among groups that prohibit autopsies. It is true that Christian Scientists generally choose a spiritual approach to healthcare and healing instead of consulting medical professionals. But in the case of an unexpected or unexplained decease of a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist, family or fellow church members are strongly encouraged to seek an autopsy from qualified experts.
Christian Science Committees on Publication, London SW14
So, "Labour to promise high-speed rail link in election manifesto" (report, 23 November). The article states that the line would not be opened until 2025, to examine possible objections from people with property along the proposed line. A wait of 15 years does seem a little excessive. There is a process of speeding applications for nuclear power stations which, although controversial, has environmental considerations well to the fore. Could similar considerations not be applied to a railway? Is there not a case for a "fast-track fast-track"?
On my recent annual trip to the Ypres Salient, up to and through Armistice Day, I was struck by the increasing minority of disrespectful Belgian and British schoolchildren who talk, laugh and joke throughout the "Last Post" ceremony and two minutes' silence, despite the public announcement for silence. It is obvious that some schools send parties to the First World War battlefields solely because head teachers and governors think that it will look good on the prospectus.
CRAWLEY, WEST SUSSEX
Piers Hart's letter describing how Japanese cyclists warn pedestrians of their location (30 November) says a lot about British cyclists. You give way to pedestrians, especially on the pavement. So as a cyclist you should stop or brake to avoid a collision, not create some sound to make pedestrians move out of your way.
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