Mind games with Wikileaks
I'm not sure it is a good idea for Wikileaks to have released a massive amount of top-secret material. By doing this they are implicitly saying, "There is nothing that should remain secret. Everything should be available to the public".
This is dangerous thinking. It assumes the public have the knowledge, understanding and sense to treat the leaks appropriately. Some things in life need to be kept secret, even in government. A country and its government is like the brain of the society that they represent. The communiqués sent, the emails, electronic and other communications that pass within the confines of that government, are equivalent to the neurons firing, to the brain thinking.
No one likes people accessing their thoughts. Thoughts are your innermost musings that, unless you want them out in the public domain, should remain secret. If I thought that one of my friends had put on weight and her bum really did look big in that, or that the burly bloke at the bar was a bit of a prat for trying to chat up the barmaid, then these are thoughts that should and do remain private, for my own safety, and for the benefit of those involved.
With Wikileaks, the brains of societies are being laid bare. This can certainly be beneficial when human rights are at stake. But it does not follow that all leaks are good leaks. I don't think we do have the right to know everything.
Jonathan M S Pearce
All these emails revealing what goes on between governments just shows what we, the older generation in the UK, have suspected since the Second World War, that the Americans are never to be trusted. They look after only their own.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
The euro does not work
As David Prosser points out in "When will Germany call time on its economic experiment?" (Business, 25 November), the consequences for an individual country dropping out of, or being evicted from, the euro would be disastrous.
But when will Chancellor Merkel and the other euro enthusiasts realise that this currency does not work. European Monetary Union did not work in the 1990s but we still went ahead with the single currency.
Writing from the Country Formerly Known as Ireland (now EU Basket Case No 2), I have to admire the wisdom of the British for remembering the pain when the financial markets forced interest rates to skyrocket in a crazy effort to keep sterling within the EMU's 2.25 per cent exchange bands.
How I wish politicians could come up with an easy way to mothball the euro and let us have currencies that reflect our individual economic cycles.
Dr Jack Downey
Fog shrouds energy tariffs
Ofgem's decision to review the energy pricing policies of the electricity and gas suppliers is welcome, but the level of profits is only part of the problem. The way in which they make those profits through their utterly opaque tariffs is equally deserving of scrutiny and revision.
My own electricity supplier, nPower, offers an astonishing 30 different tariffs to choose from on its website. I can afford to throw my hands up in despair and opt to spend my time on better things than making constant comparisons, but many people cannot. How on earth are those who are not on the internet, possibly not especially numerate, or maybe lacking in confidence or consumer-savvy expected to secure a deal that is both good and long-lasting?
As part of an energy supply company's licensing agreement, it should be a condition that after a customer has built up a year's track record of usage, the company should be required to automatically offer the most cost-effective tariff for that pattern of use, and this review should be reviewed every 12 months to take account of changes in pattern of use.
This would immediately reduce the extent to which consumers are being routinely and deliberately over-charged through their unwitting acceptance of a higher tariff than is necessary. It would prevent companies attracting customers with deals of only short-term duration before they are moved to a more expensive rate. It would go some way towards reducing levels of fuel poverty, and it would make life a lot simpler, fairer and affordable for a great many overcharged customers.
Recent expressions of concern over inflation and, in particular, the implications for savers, appear to underplay reality. A regular assessment of my weekly shop provides clear evidence that, rather than increase prices, many manufacturers are reducing the content of their products.
This week's examples include kitchen roll reduced from 56 sheets to 50, a table condiment from 60ml to 57ml and a confectionary item from 185gr to 150gr. Although such reductions are, in some instances, small, they disguise the real inflationary pressure that Mervyn King is anxious to assure us is only temporary and which a cynical consumer might condemn as dishonest, since such reductions are not advertised and are likely to be overlooked by most shoppers.
It will be interesting to see if, with an easing of the inflation that Mr King seems confident is only temporary, these same manufacturers return quantities to their previous levels and do so just as surreptitiously as when they reduced them.
Dr Claude Hutton
Pros and cons of school sport
I must sympathise with Paul Harper (Letters, 26 November). I attended a minor but grossly self-important "public" school where part of the rugged so-called Christian ethos involved forcing us to play rugby (vicious and loathsome), to endure tedious PE lessons and take part in the pseudo-Army Cadet Force. Like Mr Harper, I thoroughly disliked the experience (it did give me a thoroughly healthy contempt for rugby, religion and the military).
Yet it really is important that young people take regular exercise, or obesity beckons, and school sport doesn't have to follow the traditional model. If the absurd "character-building" and "building self-respect" lies could be set on one side it would leave the possibility of taking part in something that pupils might actually enjoy.
If, for example, I'd had the opportunity to go for long cycle rides instead of being forced to run around a muddy field being assaulted by thuggish fellow-pupils, I would have enjoyed the experience and might even have learnt some respect for our "sports" teachers. There's nothing wrong with encouraging young people to take exercise and everything wrong with making them do something they hate and will stop doing at the first opportunity.
Dr Richard Carter
I question how Paul Harper can support the cutting of school sports. At a time when pupils have a wealth of Olympic athletes to look up to in anticipation of London 2012, surely sport should be treated as a core part of the curriculum? If they are not offered the opportunity to take part in well-taught, properly funded sports at school, what are the chances that they will choose to participate later in life?
The release of endorphins from playing sport is linked to lowering depression levels, and I cannot be the only person who found that school sports gave a chance to excel to classmates who didn't necessarily do so in other subjects.
The city where beer is king
I had to suspend belief when I read the feature on Melbourne in Traveller (27 November). It's the beer-drinking capital of a great, beer-drinking country and yet there was not one mention of the amber nectar. Sophie Lam extolled the splendours of Flinders Street station but failed to point out that opposite the main entrance at 1 Swanston Street is Young & Jackson, one of the greatest pubs on the planet.
This imposing Victorian pile has cool, spacious bars, two restaurants and a good range of craft beers. Australia, in common with Britain and the US, is enjoying a micro-brewing revolution with excellent beers that challenge the hegemony of ice-cold lagers.
Across the road in Fed Square – site of the annual Beer Expo – there are more bars with good beers, including a Greek taverna with a fine range of imported brews. A five-minute walk along Russell Street brings visitors to one of the growing James Squire brew-pubs, with good pub tucker as well as excellent beers brewed on the premises.
Even more startling was the absence in the article of the MCG – Melbourne Cricket Ground – one of the greatest sporting stadiums in the world. There are tours every half-hour and as well as admiring the playing surface – for Rules Football as well as cricket – visitors can see fascinating artefacts and memorabilia of both games.
Would the people who write your travel section try to understand that we are not all hooked on wine and haute cuisine and prefer a good beer and a game of cricket?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
The heavy cost of road casualties
Our casual attitude to car safety (Letters, 23 November) probably grew naturally, initially the car being an aristocrat's toy. People were deferential and aristocrats made the rules. Ever since, the battle for safety has been against a well-established culture, supported by most media motoring correspondents.
In addition, politicians care more about votes than road safety. But the OECD reckons road casualties cost the nation 2 per cent of GDP. One would think this would drive the Treasury into action. Speed enforcement and much better driver training are relatively easy to implement and would bring enormous benefits.
Almost all bus companies and many commercial vehicle companies now train their drivers to Institute of Advanced Motorists Fleet standard, or a similar one. Yet many well-known companies do not, and incur heavier insurance, maintenance and fuel costs as a result. It is frustrating to realise that road casualties could be brought down rapidly by more than 70 per cent through economical and well-understood measures, but the political will is not there.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
Cowardly law on ritual slaughter
Henry Grunwald says (Letters, 23 November) that the last government rejected the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report on ritual killing because of "scientific evidence". The fact is, they bottled it rather than risk inflaming religious sensitivities. I know of no better or more recent studies refuting the FAWC's rigorous study.
UK law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter, based on scientific evidence. Unfortunately, our law then shamefully exempts religious slaughter. Bizarrely, but explicitly, UK law thus says avoidable animal suffering is fine if someone says it pleases their god.
Ritual slaughter has been banned – because of scientific evidence – in Switzerland (for more than a century); Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Iceland, Spain and Holland are close to following suit. Three thousand years ago there were hygienic grounds to demand freshly-killed meat in a hot climate. We now have refrigeration, and can grow up a bit.
Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire
Who fell for this right royal spoof?
I must assume that your correspondents (Letters, 29 December) who took seriously Talbot Church's article on the newly engaged royals were new readers acquired from The Daily Telegraph. If so, we must welcome them to a proper newspaper that delivers real news and impartial, thought-provoking comment while being more than capable of poking fun and mockery where it is so richly deserved.
Could Mr Church perhaps be the alter ego of Mr Simon Carr? I look forward to enjoying a lot more of "Mr Church's" reports as the great day approaches (alas, I might miss the last few because I have booked a short holiday in a remote destination for the end of April).
Religion in arts and politics
It's hard to quarrel with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's right to "delicate ... unspoken, doubt-ridden faith" (22 November). It is also true that much wickedness has been perpetrated by both faith and non-faith groups. A realistic view might be that religious art is a testimony to the success of belief, and religious politics is an indicator of its failure.
Those, such as Ms Alibhai-Brown, who quote Richard Dawkins, should give chapter and verse (22 November). Where exactly does Dawkins denounce the faithful as cretins or villains? Certainly not in The God Delusion.
On the contrary, I have heard him say that many believers are intelligent, good people. Perhaps he had been referring to creationists and fundamentalists, in which case Ms Alibhai-Brown should say.
Take a walk
Why do your journalists have to be so negative? Your Picture of the Day (29 November) showed an Amazon warehouse, and the story talked of staff being "condemned" to walk up to 10 miles a day at work. When they took the job they knew they would be working in a warehouse.Regular walking helps to keep you fit and healthy. They have a job and a wage, which is more than many others these days. Why do you make it sound as if they are being punished?
Cuckfield, West Sussex
Perspectives on the policing of protest
Officers have sown hatred in children
I would like to thank the police from the bottom of my heart: they have managed to radicalise my otherwise law-abiding 19-year-old daughter after denying her her constitutional freedom to demonstrate peacefully by forcing her to spend 10 long hours without food and water and with nowhere to relieve herself in a bitter November cold.
With her, 5,000 young students including kids aged 13 to 16, hungry, thirsty and cold, were caged in by the "forces of order" which moved from incompetence one day to an absolute exaggeration the other. Having followed the demonstration, I suddenly found myself forbidden to leave the corral and saw girls wetting themselves and boys using buildings as the public toilet they desperately needed. I saw a lot of anxiety and bitter anger, and kids crying on their mobile phones to their parents.
The even more scary side of it all is the attitude by part of the media next day, which seemed to indicate that such an illegal and perhaps even criminal action does not deserve any criticism. The police have forgotten that their job is not only to arrest troublemakers but guarantee the immense peaceful majority their right to demonstrate with freedom.
In 10 hateful hours, Her Majesty's police did for thousands of very young kids what no radical left-wing organisation has ever been able to achieve.
The demonstration had barely started when those thousands of young students were kettled by a colossal number of police vans and policemen, leaving them with nowhere to go.
Long live the democratic hypocrisy which gives the public the right to demonstrate, only to deny it as soon as they take to the streets, before any signs of violence.
The initial violence in Whitehall came from the very action of the police. My deep thanks to the forces of law and order for injecting so much resentment in thousands of young minds. Bravo!
What lay behind the official violence
Who poses the threat to schoolchildren on protest marches that Commander Broadhurst (report, 29 November) raises such alarms about? Does he seriously suggest that there's an element who will attack 15-year-olds on their own side just for publicity, and that the Territorial Support Group's Gandhi-style pacifism means it can't protect them?
The danger for children on marches comes from helmeted police with shields and batons who don't discriminate between people who break windows and everybody else. It comes from those uniforms on foot and on horseback who want to intimidate anybody they can out of participating in street politics. Police action is not the result of the police being provoked out of their zen-like calm. It is a conscious policy aimed at minimising the support for future protests.
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