More sabre-rattling from leaders with no experience of war
Sir: The French foreign secretary is talking up a war with Iran. Why is a nuclear Iran a greater threat than Mao's China was when she developed nuclear weapons? There was no talk of sanctions and no threat of war then. Or do Sarkozy and Bush think a 70 million-strong Iran is easy pickings compared with a billion-strong China?
Is Sarkozy the new poodle of the USA? Do our leaders never learn? They will bitterly regret a war with Iran if they go ahead with it. It would make Iraq look like a picnic. Sarkozy is another Western leader who has no experience of war.
Are they going to bring back conscription? For that is what it would take. Iran has the same size population as Nazi Germany. She has one of the largest armies in the world. Are the Western young prepared for general mobilisation? Where are the Churchills and FDRs?
Sir: War on Iran would create dangers far greater than allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran's government is not run by suicidal maniacs. Ahmadinejad as President in the Iranian system has no real power and no control of the military. The two most powerful people are Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and Ayatollah Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani chairs the influential Expediency and Guardian Councils and was recently elected head of the Assembly of Experts, which oversees and can even replace the Supreme Leader. He has said he intends to rein in both Ahmadinejad and Khameini and is allied to the reformist Khatami.
Rafsanjani and Khameini are among those who in 1988 persuaded the Ayatollah Khomeini to negotiate an end to the Iran-Iraq war. None of these three men is the type to commit national suicide in a nuclear Armageddon against Israel. Nor are they likely to commit suicide by proxy by providing nuclear weapons to Hezbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad. This is apart from the fact that Iran doesn't actually possess any nuclear weapons and the IAEA and US and UK intelligence estimate it's five to ten years from being able to make any.
War with Iran would give al-Qa'ida another boost; create chaos, civil war and extremism in Iran, possibly letting terrorists get access to nuclear materials; and might lead to the same in Pakistan, which already has nuclear missiles. The wisest course would be to stop threatening Iranians so the alliance between the pragmatic Rafsanjani and the reformist Khatami can prevail. The desire of some Iranians for a nuclear deterrent is connected to constant threats of war against them by the US government and the US invasion of neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan.
Carluke, South Lanarkshire
Bank customers envy Northern Rock
Sir: Northern Rock has been fortunate in receiving the individual attention and support promised by most banks, but rarely delivered.Many perfectly viable account-holders suffering a short-term cash-flow problem are told by their banks to take a hike and are left to suffer the quite unnecessary consequences.
The only common denominator is the protracted havering which precedes any decision – in this instance by the Treasury and the Bank of England – a period in which irreparable damage can be done to business credibility and credit ratings, thereby swelling the ranks of the sub-prime.
It is usually at this point that a personalised service kicks in, with assiduous daily phone calls and threats of legal action, which can be hugely distressing, and have in some cases led to suicide.
When will banks learn that rapid support is a lot more successful and cost-effective than the predictable consequence of bad debt when help is withheld?
Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Sir: Hamish McRae (19 September) claims that the run on Northern Rock may end the borrowing binge, but the Chancellor's reaction means that it will certainly return.
His promise to guarantee bank accounts erodes the free-market principle that private businesses are responsible for their own risks. Banks undertake a particularly high-risk enterprise, as it depends on the perpetual good will of customers. They do so as it enables them to create the credit that has fuelled housing booms and private equity takeovers. The profits from these are measured in billions, yet in the long term they could rise, as allowing banks to create credit without risk is virtually a licence to print money.
Clara Vale, Tyne and Wear
Sir: If Northern Rock was a preventable crisis (Douglas McWilliams, 18 September) so was the Equitable Life debacle previously. Both events flowed from failures of the regulatory authorities.
I trust that at last the Chancellor will show equity between different types of savers by recompensing those of us who are actually suffering loss on our pensions and other frozen savings with the mutual Equitable, as well as guaranteeing potential losses of investors in the demutualised building societies.
Sir: "The life and times of Handel", which accompanied today's (18 September) paper, suggests a strategy that may not have occurred to beleaguered managers at Northern Rock. In 1745 "London panicked. Business came to a standstill; shops shut. There was a run on the Bank of England, which, to gain precious time, paid out in sixpences deliberately heated to such a pitch as to be too hot to handle."
Skipton, North Yorkshire
Sir: I believe that the Swallow Bank, Walmington-on-Sea, (manager: Captain George Mainwaring) might be the safest, and most staid, haven for my savings.
Lives diminished by railway graffiti
Sir: The protests over the jailing of two vandals for defacing trains with spray paints (report, 19 September) highlight the dramatic decline over the last four decades of the quality of rail travel. As a construction professional, I have to deal regularly with the trashing of the environment by these people, but I also, perhaps against my better judgement, experience the vision of hell meted out to rail travellers.
Forty years ago, British Rail, as it then was, ceased to maintain the trackside effectively, virtually inviting in rubbish tippers, graffitist and other vandals and thieves. The alleged privatisation of the railways has not changed things a jot. The result is that most rail travellers have their lives diminished daily by images that would disgrace a third-world slum.
Perhaps it is time we made the railways an asset to be proud of, instead of sending just a small part of the problem to prison.
Poems from the young Auden
Sir: Three schoolboy poems which might have been written by W H Auden recently attracted five of your pages (report, 5 September; letters, 7, 11 September).
Between the ages of 15 and 22, Auden wrote over 200 poems which are unarguably his. Together they demonstrate his rapid, remarkable, self-directed technical development and reveal much about his imaginative and psychological makeup and about the creative process generally. No similar body of work exists by a great English poet.
Perhaps Faber and Faber will now publish the paperback edition of Auden's Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928 (1994), which appeared in the USA in 2003, expanded to include 12 new poems discovered by the writer Adam Sisman in 1996. This book, and the 12 new poems written while Auden was a student at Gresham's School, may be unfamiliar to English readers, including your reporter.
A victory for faith? Don't believe it
Sir: I would like to correct two misapprehensions that seem to be prevalent among newspaper letter-writers, if not in the wider population. (1) That science is a belief system analogous to a religion. It is not; it is merely the application of logic to what can be observed, so that guesswork is reduced to a minimum. (2) That scoring a debating point against Richard Dawkins proves the existence of God.
Sir: A little leprechaun told me recently that his difficulty with Richard Dawkins (letters, 17 September) is the idea that the millions of "facts" in the world, plus the millions of connections between them, exist because of nothing. He found this far-fetched.
A player wasted on rugby union
Sir: It was nice of James Lawton to break his habit of not mentioning rugby league ("Farrell ordeal the result of England's failure to prepare", 18 September). However, he makes mistaken assumptions about Andy Farrell's failure to prosper in rugby union. Age and injury have indeed taken their toll on Farrell, but the key reason why lies within the way rugby union is played.
In rugby league Farrell was a ball-playing forward, opening up gaps in the line and presenting supporting forwards with the ball through the half-gaps he created on either shoulder. There is simply no such position in rugby union, where forwards run virtually hunched over, with no intention of passing, their aim only to recycle the ball in the ruck. This is clear in the way in which Farrell plays, standing upright in the tackle and looking for the short pass which he'll never be able to give because his union forward colleagues are not used to running onto the ball.
There was a classic case in point about five minutes from the end of England's game with South Africa. Farrell made headway towards the opposition line on the left. The defence all went right to cover him and the players outside him, bunching up rather than covering the inside. Consequently there was a gap in the defence on Farrell's right. Farrell turned his body inside and offered the pass but there was nobody there, even though the try-line was wide open. In his league days at Wigan there would have been a forward, or a supporting halfback right there on his shoulder.
Yet he was criticised for this superb defence-opening move by the TV commentary team because in the end the ball was lost. But in league it would have been his colleagues who were criticised for not having backed up the obvious break.
Lib Dems win the battle of ideas
Sir: Why is dear old Simon Carr whittering on about the lack of a core philosophy in the Lib Dems (19 September)?
The Labour Party has deliberately got rid of the philosophy it used to have and now seems to subsist on mission statements and advertising material. The Tories, it is true, probably do have something like a philosophy behind their opportunistic grabs for attention, but it isn't anything you could actually say out loud in public. Something along the lines of "You can't trust anyone else with government but Chaps Like Us."
Compared with that the Lib Dems are the heirs of Aristotle
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Sir: To order without foreign language (letter, 18 September) is not rocket science for those with fingers. First point to the desired, then raise the required number of fingers. All this with a huge smile – never fails.
Driver in a burka
Sir: Driving in a burka (letter, 19 September) must be akin to driving in a bee-keeper's or welder's headgear. It is clearly likely to impair vision and in the interests of common sense and public safety should be outlawed. If Muslim women object, let them get their vehicle windows tinted.
Israel and the UN
Sir: Lyn Julius (letter, 19 September) talks about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as if it is some kind of board game. The 1948 United Nations Assembly resolution 194 states clearly that Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their homes to live in peace with their neighbours should be allowed to do so. Israel was admitted to the United Nations on the condition that this resolution was adhered to. However, these refugees and their descendants have never been allowed to return, or compensated for their losses.
Spivs in politics
Sir: In condemning the Prime Minister's spin in inviting Lady Thatcher to No 10, Bruce Anderson (17 September) likens Mr Brown to a "spivvy antiques dealer who oils his way into some old dear's house and dupes her into selling a lifetime's treasures for a fraction of their worth". Mr Anderson's choice of metaphor reminds me of the Conservatives' central problem: that the spivvy antiques dealer would almost certainly have been a Tory voter.
Sir: David Lister (A Week in Arts, 15 September).points out that the Chinese Terracotta Army has been in London before. I have the guide to the 1987 exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Victoria. The exhibits included some seven or eight figures, one of the horses, a model of one of the chariots and a large number of other artefacts. The exhibition aimed to replicate the layout of part of the emperor's tomb and was fascinating and impressive. I still have one of the souvenir warriors sitting on my mantelpiece.
Kate aan de Wiel
London SE 21
Dialogue for one
Sir: When it comes to complaining about the threat of English to your native language it must be very frustrating to be the last surviving speaker of Siletz Dee-ni in Oregon ("The language of extinction", 19 September). The poor man must feel as if he is speaking to himself.
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