Liverpool: the right-wingers and the right whingers
Sir: I worked in Liverpool for some years and I dare say Boris Johnson has a point when he accuses Liverpudlians of wallowing in "victim status". Not all Liverpudlians do, but a small but vociferous number of scousers are practitioners of what I call "STIG" (Scousers Together In Grief) and the tragic murder of Ken Bigley demonstrated this well.
It is all very well for some Liverpudlians to hold two minutes' silence, to lower their flags to half-mast, to light candles and to cancel events in the city on the passing of one of their sons, but how many flags do the "Stiggies" lower and how many minutes' silence do they hold for the thousands of Iraqi men, women and children killed in the Iraq conflict, or for that matter for British troops killed out there?
Sir: There has been a deafening silence over the recent attack on press freedom by the leader of the Tory Party, Michael Howard.
I refer to the instructions issued to Boris Johnson that he should apologise and visit Liverpool for comments published in The Spectator over the death of Ken Bigley. It would seem that The Spectator must now be subjected to censorship by the Tories. Yet not a word of protest from the national press.
NORMAN T SHEPHERD
Sir: How refreshing to find that Liverpool has such a staunch champion in Bruce Anderson. In his rebuttal of Boris Johnson's specious anti-scouse comments, Mr Anderson reveals his own prejudices and bias (18 October).
Once again we are told that the blame for Liverpool's poverty and deprivation should be laid at the door of the workers themselves. Never mind the succession of Tory governments that tore the industrial heart out of the city, the changing economic circumstances that moved trade to the eastern ports facing Europe, the bile and calumny poured on the city on almost a daily basis by "educated" middle-class columnists and commentators, and the switch from an industrial to a predominantly service-based economy.
I look forward to Mr Anderson's next "supportive" column: "Slavery: they were asking for it!"
Sir: As a Lancastrian, born and bred, and with an Irish grandmother, I can confirm that nobody in the whole world suffers as much as Lancastrians, and those with an Irish tinge (Liverpool) have it worst of all.
One must never say anything is good - "tempting Providence". It all boils down to the landscape and weather. People are like both: in the case of Lancashire, blasted and weather-beaten, wet and foggy. Boris Johnson has only said what most people think.
Terrible choices over abortion
Sir: I read Ellie Levenson's article "The misogyny of the anti-abortion lobby" (18 October) with interest. I am a retired woman doctor. When I started, all abortion was illegal and I saw the misery and injury that resulted. I welcomed the Abortion Act.
However the problem of late abortions then became apparent. These are sometimes necessary to preserve the life of the mother, but they may produce a baby that can breathe and would be viable. This means that positive steps have to be taken to prevent the child from living. In those distant days this was done by neglect, and I saw such a baby gasp its life away in a sluice. I understand that in America such infants may be dismembered during delivery to prevent litigation if the child is viable.
These are terrible choices. In the past adoption was common and there are many couples wanting to adopt. A more positive approach to adoption is better than changing an Abortion Act that on the whole works well.
Sir: Bravo Ellie Levenson. It often seems that the only people who make their voices heard are women who have never been in the situation of having an abortion, or men, who have no part in the debate anyway.
When I had an abortion I was not particularly young, and I was single. My first reaction was that my parents should never know. They were not judgmental types, but I knew it would hurt them. I was totally unfitted to be a mother, and I have never regretted my decision for one minute.
My mother had a cousin who lived her abbreviated life in a wheelchair because her mother "had tried to get rid of her". I never knew how, but she and her husband already had two children and not much money. In later years, a friend of my mother was devastated to discover, as she worked on night duty in the A&E department of our local hospital, her daughter being wheeled in, having had a botched abortion in the hope that her parents wouldn't find out she had become pregnant.
I have no problem with people who are against abortion (or anything else for that matter), but heaven forbid that they should be telling the rest of us how to live.
Sir: Ellie Levenson seems to have encountered an entirely different pro-life lobby from the one I support. Pro-choice commentators almost never engage with the issues that those who oppose abortion really care about. The old saw is rolled out: pro-lifers are "pro foetal life and anti women's lives". This is a cheap shot made possible only by a confused understanding of the nature of life and why it is to be valued.
What Ms Levenson means by "women's lives" seems to be comfortable lives, convenient lives, lives as we expected or planned to live them, perhaps indeed happy lives. What is meant by "foetal life", however, can only mean simply being alive. In terms of basic human rights, the right to life itself is more fundamental than the right to any given quality of life. If our law does not assume that we have the right to remain alive, then we have no legal security whatsoever, even if our rights to all manner of other necessary, helpful or pleasant things are in the statute books.
The key question is not, therefore, how bad the prospect of an unexpected pregnancy is. The question is, is a foetus a human being? If foetuses are human, the horror of legally endorsing their killing is obvious. With regard to abortion law, nothing else is directly relevant. I cannot see any good reason to think that human offspring, even at the earliest stages of development, are anything other than living human beings; and the pro-life case, as far as I am aware, is based entirely on this conviction.
Sir: Thank goodness the Government is giving house sparrows legal protection, although regrettably this will not halt their demise, as the cause of their rapid decline is habitat destruction.
Sparrows were common because their habitat was widespread. Sadly, this has changed. Millions of front gardens and privet hedges have been ripped out for off-street parking. For sparrows, privet hedges are larders of insects, and give protection from the weather and predators. Equally important, they're used for resting, digesting, preening and territorial chirruping, and they have bare earth underneath for dust baths.
By imagining there's some complicated explanation yet to be discovered, society is absolving itself of blame and continues destroying habitat.. The disappearance of house sparrows is a warning - the quality of urban and suburban life is deteriorating.
DONALD E LYVEN
Sir: The article on the possible reasons for the house sparrow's decline (14 October) omitted one possible explanation: lack of nesting sites.
Our previous home was a typical 1950s bungalow, with pine fascias beneath the eaves. The fascias were rotten, partly because of generations of sparrows clawing channels above them to build nests under the eaves. Eventually we followed the trend, investing in UPVC cladding to hide the problem, and the sparrows left.
Our present home, built in the late 1980s, has wonderful overhanging eaves, adored by house martins, with wire mesh above the guttering to deter intruders, and initially few sparrows, although the presence of a bird table is bringing them back.
The pine fascias in the area are now rotting, and gradually being replaced by plastic cladding. How long before the martins are in decline?
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Sir: The story of a teacher helping Prince Harry attracts interest because of the high profile of the recipient. However, whatever the veracity of this story, it touches on an important and highly topical area.
Time and time again, private tutors are being asked by families to "assist" with coursework and it is an area in which abuse is becoming increasingly rife. Tomlinson's proposals have outlined the need for "an extended piece of work". All very fine in principle, but what are the safeguards to ensure that such work has actually been done by the pupils themselves?
Co-ordinator, British Home Tutors
Thoughts of war
Sir: Matthew Crockatt (letter: "Derrida shows us the way to deconstruct the warmongers", 16 October) is wrong to blame the Enlightenment for the horrors of the 20th century. Both Stalin and Hitler set up political structures which echoed Calvin's totalitarian rule in Geneva. Stalin's show trials were close replicas of Calvin's trial of Servetus in 1553, which ended with the latter being burnt to death for disbelieving in the Trinity. No one was ever burnt to death by the Enlightenment. The problem with Stalin and Hitler was that their regimes depended on too much faith, not too little.
The problem over the Iraq war is that issues of reason are never addressed: the reasonableness of planning a post-war settlement, and the reasonableness of a sophisticated population detesting a foreign occupation. These are just two rational issues which have been jettisoned in our leaders' stampede to devout fundamentalism.
Sir: Matthew Crockatt seems to believe that one needs to be a scholar and disciple of Derrida to analyse the Iraq war properly.
But some very old-fashioned, logocentric , techniques will serve well in this situation. The application of the requirement of empirical verification of statements purporting to be fact applied to WMDs and links between global terrorism and Saddam tells us that neither existed. The test of behavioural consistency used to assess the value-judgement that the US and the UK were crusading against human rights abuse in Iraq reveals that is bogus.
Thus, using non-Derridean techniques, one can sum up the claims of the US and UK in this respect in two old-fashioned and non-Derridean words - lies and bullshit.
Sir: Twn Morys (letter, 11 October) claims we English who move to Wales lack the "grace, imagination and canniness" to learn Welsh, when Asian immigrants take the trouble to learn English.
The reason Asian immigrants learn English is because few English people speak Urdu. I spent 12 years in Welsh-speaking North Wales, where I heard the Welsh language spoken daily, and I never bothered to learn it. Why? Because in all those years, during which I met many Welsh people - I ran a catalogue business which required me to visit customers in their homes - I never once met a Welsh person who was other than fluent in English.
Had I moved to Spain, for instance, I would have made it my business to learn Spanish, because most Spaniards speak only a little English and it would have been essential to learn the national language in order to communicate in any normal way. In a country in which everyone speaks English as well as I do I can see little point in learning their language.
Sir: I was wondering if Mark Steel ("Lumpy elbows and other anti-social behaviour", 15 October) lives in an area where Asbos have been used. I do and it has made a huge difference to the whole area, which is now a pleasure to live in.
Internet phone scams
Sir: Mr Cornish (letter: "Beat the phone scam", 13 October) is evidently not a BT customer. We have details of the people who perpetrated our internet phone scam (also Spanish). BT has suggested we contact them to reclaim the money BT has already (it claims) paid them! This despite the fact that they are under investigation by ICSTIS. BT has sold 0909 numbers to criminals who have perpetrated a fraud on us and it now wishes, nay demands, we pay them; surely this makes it an accessory to the crime?
Sir: The kindest interpretation which can be placed on our invasion of Iraq is that the Government was misled by faulty intelligence. The prisoners detained in Belmarsh under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act are held on the basis of intelligence. In effect the Home Secretary is saying "trust me"; why would we do that?
Sir: If David Beckham has managed to scupper London's bid for the Olympic Games (letter, 15 October), perhaps he has indeed more brains than he is usually given credit for.
Dr PAUL LEIGH