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Monday 19 May 2008
Letters: Women's rights
Women's rights in a world becoming overcrowded
Sir: It was gratifying that Johann Hari (Opinion, 15 May) stressed women's access to human rights and reproductive health care as part of any solution to questions of population and the environment. He also mentioned that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) calculates that 350 million of the world's poorest women lack access to family planning.
For six years the Bush administration has shamed our country by not supporting this UN agency. He withheld $34m in 2002, when we started 34 Million Friends, asking 34 million Americans to take a stand with at least $1. Any honest person, I think, would say that human beings are stretching the limits of the planet to support the 6.6 billion of us now. Nine billion of us by 2050 is not going to be funny.
Redlands, California, USA
Sir: I commend Johann Hari for voicing deep concern about overpopulation. However, his suggestions seem misguided: if one British child's carbon footprint is equal to that of 262 Cambodian children, surely it is not those women in developing countries that need to be empowered to control their birth rates. Rather, it is we who need to curb our own reproduction, and/or quickly find an alternative to the capitalist model of mass consumption.
Sir: Good for Johann Hari for at last recognising both halves of the global environmental crisis, which has always been "Too many people consuming too much stuff".
The basic facts are pretty obvious: that all population growth makes every environmental problem harder (and ultimately impossible) to solve, simply because the total human impact on the planet equals the average impact per person multiplied by the number of people; and that no habitat, such as a finite planet, can sustain indefinite growth in the numbers of any species. So growth will definitely stop at some point, either by fewer births (contraception) or more deaths (nature's way – famine, disease, war).
But why the angst? It is hardly controversial to agree with the unanimous conclusions of the last two all-party parliamentary panels: the first, that the UK would be better off with a stable than a growing population; and the second (last year), that rapid population growth prevents the poorest countries from reaching their millennium goals.
Sir: Johann Hari suggests feminism as a non-coercive, if indirect, means of population control. Would more widespread tolerance towards homosexuality serve this purpose too?
On the front line in Manchester battle
Sir: As the night manager of the Britannia Hotel on Portland Street, Manchester, I was shocked and disgusted, as were the hotel staff and many of the hotel guests, both Russia and Rangers fans, to watch the battles taking place right outside our hotel on Wednesday night between the police and the Rangers football hooligans.
Our reception area became an emergency area for the many injured by the hooligans; wounded people were being carried in left, right and centre. The hooligans were attacking anyone on the street who came into contact with them, from young teenagers with blood pouring from their heads, to elderly fans with knife wounds and bottle injuries. Luckily, thanks to our security staff, we were able to pull young children with their parents off the street and into the hotel reception away from the trouble. This is clearly something you would never have expected to see in our city centre.
Contrary to what the Rangers fans have been stating in both local and the national press, senior officers at Greater Manchester Police should be proud of the many officers who were deployed to bring law and order to the Portland Street battle zone. The Police used reasonable force to maintain order under extreme pressure put on them by the football hooligans. Many of the officers were pelted with all types of missiles. Luckily, the police were able to control the situation thanks to the police dogs, which did a superb job in controlling the hooligans.
Finally the management and staff would like to praise the two young paramedic stewards who came into the hotel carrying an elderly male who had a serious slashed artery to his right wrist.
It's a shame that a small minority of hooligans ruined what would have been a fantastic football event in Manchester.
Night Manager, Britannia Hotel, Manchester
Sir: Matthew Sephton is right (letter, 16 May). What happened in Manchester on Wednesday on the occasion of the Uefa Cup should not have happened and should certainly not happen again. As the residents' representative on the Manchester City Centre Crime and Disorder Partnership, I have been trying to find the facts behind these events. I have also asked for details of the costs involved to the public purse. (Some costs are met by Uefa.) I have asked for an investigation by Manchester City Council's scrutiny committee, with appropriate recommendations for action.
Although the events of last Wednesday are very serious, the city successfully plays host to a wide range of mass events, including twice-weekly Premier League football matches, outdoor concerts and a very successful Gay Pride. It is host to 100,000 students. Perhaps 100,000 people come in each weekend to clubs and bars in the the city centre. There are maybe two million shoppers each week. It has a vibrant cultural life and 9,000 people like Mr Sephton have chosen to live in the city centre, a compact area of about four square kilometres.
Much remains to be done, as in most cities and towns, to make it a safe place to enjoy the benefits of living in a great European City. I am sure we will not let a one-day riot get in our way.
Israel and the heritage of 1948
Sir: Dr Jacob Amir is being disingenuous when he says that the Zionist movement accepted the UN's plan to partition Palestine (letter, 15 May). David Ben Gurion told his supporters to accept publicly what they truly found to be unacceptable so that Israel could build an "outstanding army" and conquer the rest of Palestine "within 20 years". This is too well documented to deny.
There is no evidence to suggest that if the Arab states had accepted the partition plan, events would have unfolded any differently from how they did. On the contrary, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist forces began as soon as the partition plan was announced and there were already 300,000 Arab refugees from Palestine by the time the Arab states mobilised.
Sir: Sadly, Israel's apologists cannot face the moral truth of what took place in 1948. Even if they cannot swallow the findings of Israel's own leading expert, Professor Benny Morris, who, having trawled Israel's relevant archives more extensively than anyone else, has described the 1948 war as one of ethnic cleansing, they might at least acknowledge the moral force of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Regardless of whether Palestinian villagers fled or were expelled, they have a humanitarian right of return. Israel's adamant refusal to allow them back after the guns fell silent amounts to ethnic cleansing.
At the heart of the whole tragedy lies the simple fact that the project of a Jewish Home in Palestine could never be realised except at the expense of the indigenous population. From Herzl in 1895 onwards, Zionist leaders repeatedly spoke of the need to remove the indigenous population, and in 1948 they achieved Round One. What Palestinians, including those inside Israel, fear is that one day a much bigger Round Two will occur.
They have good grounds for such fears. "Transfer" is openly discussed. An opinion poll (Ha'aretz, 9 May 2006) indicated that over two thirds of Israel's Jewish citizens favoured further transfer of Arabs to prevent adverse demographic change. We are right to remember what happened in 1948 and to warn.
Songs for nation's children to sing
Sir: Terence Blacker (13 May) refers to Sing Up, the national song bank and the controversy that surrounds it. There has, in fact, been no such controversy and far from being "in trouble", the campaign has already reached 10,000 schools through resources at www.singup.org, has trained thousands of people in leading singing, and feedback from schools and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.
The programme, which includes a website, a magazine, training for teachers and project funding, was set up from within music education to provide support and resources for primary schools to develop their singing, and was never intended to simply be a 30-song national song-book. It is constantly updated by music leaders and children and there has never been any controversy surrounding the choice of music in the song bank that has been created.
In fact, the only requirement for the inclusion of songs is that they are suitable for children and fun to sing and that the selection is diverse enough to enrich rather than divide our musical culture. The song bank is not compulsory or over-prescriptive, containing 114 traditional and contemporary songs. Also, as Terence Blacker suggests, it already contains popular songs such as "I Can See Clearly Now"' by Johnny Nash and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"' by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
National Singing Ambassador, Sing Up, London SE1
Guys who fell horses with a single punch
Sir: I am reading that excellent guy James Lawton's interview with American sportswriter George Kimball (12 May), in which Kimball confirms as kosher boxer Roberto Duran's achievement of felling a horse with a single punch behind its ear, when I am reminded of a similar incident recounted by that chronicler of New York city life, Damon Runyon.
In his story "Blood Pressure", Runyon tells how Rusty Charley, a hard guy indeed who thinks nothing of knocking people down and stepping on their kissers, becomes worried that his punch is losing power. "The last copper I hit got up twice on me," muses Rusty Charley, who then sees standing in front of a store an ice wagon with a couple of horses hitched to it.
So he steps up to one of the horses and biffs it between the eyes with a right-hand smack that travels no more than four inches. And down goes the horse, looking very much surprised indeed.
Unfortunately, as Runyon's description of Rusty Charley's exploit takes place in the 1930s, plus the fact that while possessing a punch as potent as Jack Dempsey's, Rusty Charley is a fictional guy, it is not possible for him to meet with Roberto Duran for a friendly discussion about who punches the hardest.
This is sad news indeed for fight fans, but very good news for horses.
Editor, British Journalism Review, LONDON W4
A painter shunned by the art world
Sir: Your art critic, Tom Lubbock, was scathing about the achievements of Robert Lenkiewicz (Arts and Books Review, 16 May) .
The painter used his prolific and flamboyant skills to prick the pomposity of bureaucrats, celebrate his idea of femininity and also, and most importantly, to draw our gaze to members of society who are often over-looked. His portrait of a mother in a yellow dress, her disabled son sprawled across her knee, is an image I'll never forget.
As his work is assessed, it will show that he had far more to say than many of his "avant-garde" contemporaries whose offerings are seen as more fashionable.
Sir: "His technique is just a means to an end, efficiently and repetitively delivering certain effects, with no creative life" (Tom Lubbock on the late Robert Lenkiewicz). I should have thought this could apply to much of Picasso's later work, but then the art establishment would scream heresy at the expression of such views.
Sir: In your 16 May edition, Andrew Grice quotes Gordon Brown as having said, during the previous day's press conference, "We will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to take the British economy through difficult times." He seems determined, doesn't he?
Holiday in the fields
Sir: Scots think they have a monopoly of "tattie-picking" school breaks (letter, 17 May), but my mother, living in Essex just before and during the First World War, also had these, and, moreover, the much more arduous spring break for stone picking, removing the flints that relentlessly rose through the rich clay soil at every ploughing. They were used in making and repairing roads.
Candidates for invasion
Sir: Can anyone explain to me why our government and others considered it justified to enter Iraq with the consequent loss of thousands of innocent civilian lives, while it hesitates to do so in Burma in order to save thousands of innocent civilian lives?
Sir: Hermione Eyre (16 May) expresses confusion about the title of the film Synecdoche, New York. To a New Yorker, the title immediately suggests a reference to the city of Schenectady, New York, a one-time industrial city located, perhaps confusingly for Europeans, near Rome, Amsterdam and Troy (New York, that is), and whose name carries the stress, like synecdoche, on the second syllable. Mystery solved.
Sir: It may not be in much doubt, but the meagre intellectual capacity of those who vandalised a Jewish cemetery in east London was further betrayed by your photograph of the desecration (17 May). It is a particularly poor neo-Nazi who can't scrawl a swastika the right way around.
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