Middle East during Bush's second term, Drink, violence and the licensing laws and others

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The Independent Online

Middle East hopes and fears for the Bush second term

Sir: In order to evaluate President Bush's threat to Iran regarding its nuclear programme, and whether or not he is bluffing, as Rupert Cornwell suggests ("Why the hawks are circling over Iran", 19 January), two questions must be addressed: first, will it be the smart thing for Iran to submit to American and EU demands by giving up its nuclear program; and if that were to happen, what will the US response most likely be?

The Iranians only have to look at how the US responded to two previous cases of submission, those of Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. The former recognised Israel and made the mother of all concessions by giving up 78 per cent of his people's land, as the US has been demanding for years. He thought he would be rewarded with the remaining 22 per cent. Instead, he was branded a terrorist, irrelevant, an obstacle to peace, and besieged in his headquarters until his mysterious death. Similarly, the latter submitted to America's dictates, following "Desert Storm", by giving up his WMD programmes, and the US reciprocated by invading his country, toppling his regime and killing his sons.

The role of the European diplomatic initiative, as the US sees it, is to prepare Iran for war by making it "doable". One reason why Iraq was invaded in 2003 and not in 1991 is that in 2003, after giving up its weapons programmes, it was too weak to mount an effective resistance. Or, in the words of one senior US administration official, it was "doable".

So President Bush was not bluffing when he threatened military action against Iran. All he has to do is wait until the Europeans persuade Iran to submit to their demands. When Iran does and gives up its deterrence, it will become "doable".

Faculty of Engineering
Cairo University

Sir: I welcome the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as US Secretary of State. She is a strong supporter of freedom and democracy around the world and of Israel as a loyal US ally. In her confirmation hearings she made two important comments related to the Middle East: that PA President Mahmoud Abbas must stop all violence against Israel as a prerequisite for future negotiations with Israel; and that Arab states must stop supporting terrorism "under the counter" while at the same time claiming to want peace.

One way that Secretary Rice could facilitate a settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict would be to stop US payments to UNWRA, the peculiar UN agency that perpetuates the conflict. If the standard UNHCR definition of a refugee is accepted, namely one who has left his country, excluding descendants, then there are in fact very few Palestinian refugees left in the world.

The return of the remaining refugees to Palestine could easily be arranged by the UN. Those of Palestinian origin born in other countries should be settled where they live according to international norms, and this is the precedent established for those born in Jordan who are Jordanian citizens.

I hope that with a commitment to peaceful resolution of conflicts, the second term of President Bush with Secretary Rice by his side will usher in a new era of peace in our region.

Professor JACK S COHEN
Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Drink, violence and the licensing laws

Sir: It is becoming tedious listening to various media and political commentators trot out their facile indictments of the UK's drinking culture ("A nation in need of rehab, not more drink", 17 January). Strange as it my seem, there are still some of us who are capable of getting drunk - please, Ms Alibhai-Brown, will you realise that this is not an evil in itself? - without vomiting on the pavement, attacking street furniture and/or passers-by or jumping into a car and mowing down a few pedestrians while on the way home to beat up the wife and kids. Violence, addiction and anti-social behaviour are symptomatic of a wider malaise than can be treated by the licensing laws.

London E8

Sir: The British Beer & Pubs Association claims that no English pub will open 24 hours after liberalisation of the licensing laws, but most will close at midnight or 2am ("Drinks groups pour cold water on 24-hour claim", 18 January). But doesn't this mean that people will still race to beat last orders, and pubs will still throw large numbers of drunks onto the street at the same time?


Sir: In my local pub one evening we asked if the music could be turned down slightly and were told (in confidence, whoops) that the brewery required the volume to be set at a certain level at particular times. The reason, apparently, was to encourage faster drinking, because when people couldn't talk comfortably they drank more. Maybe it is this attitude in our business culture that is a large part of the binge drinking problem, with tables removed to provide more standing area and fewer flat surfaces for drinks while strong shooters and alcopops are heavily promoted.

The relaxing of the licensing laws may cause more problems for a while, but unless the laws are changed then many more people will grow up drinking against the clock. If the changes are dealt with sensibly and pubs are encouraged (or forced) to serve their customers, rather than the other way round, then maybe our future generations will grow up with a healthier attitude to alcohol.

But perhaps we are looking at this problem from the wrong end. Why do so many feel the need to get so plastered? Would someone living a rich, fulfilled life feel the need to drink themselves to oblivion twice a week? If modern life seems only to offer a succession of insecure, badly paid jobs, or a life of stress and self denial then its no surprise some of us choose to hit the bottle(s) instead.

Letchworth, Hertfordshire

Sir: Stephan Hannigan (letter, 17 January) appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet as the drinks industry. They also like to promote the idea that the "minority" spoil it for the vast majority of "responsible drinkers". The industry seeks to marginalise what in reality is a national disease of epidemic proportions.

It's as well to remember that drinking is drug-taking in the fullest sense of the word, but there doesn't seem to be the collective will to face that reality. If we could summon the courage to admit that to ourselves, we might even start telling our children. Now, that would be progress.

Llandybie, Carmarthenshire

Sir: How I hope Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article "A nation in need of re-hab, not more drink" goads into action everyone who agrees with what she writes. A young friend (grandma speaking) is messing up his life by too much drinking. I've looked in the library and the major bookshops in the town, and cannot find a single piece of reading which lays out the detail of what excessive drinking can do.

There are shelves of self-help books on virtually everything else. We are surrounded by "Five fruit/veg a day, and these are the benefits", "10,000 steps a day", etc, etc. So why the taboo of murderous silence about drinking: nothing there for those who want to help themselves or those dear to them?

Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Sir: So flexible drinking hours will make us behave more like civilised Europeans and less like drunken yobs. Yeah, like we do when we holiday on the Costas or visit European cities for football matches.


Hospital cleaners

Sir: When a hospital puts out a tender for cleaning services, it has the full power to specify the standard of service it requires (Steve Richards, 13 January). It can reject bids that do not meet this standard. However, an incompetent team can fail to set the standards properly, or choose a bid that is cheap but does not deliver high standards. You cannot blame cleaners for doing what they are asked and paid to do, and only that.

A competent hospital could focus on the operational processes that it will expect the cleaner to execute. This can include a specified response mechanism and performance level for MRSA or other emergencies. If the hospital fails to specify the process, that is poor management by the hospital.

If a new hospital, or government, is unhappy with an existing contract because the contractor is not meeting the standards, the contractor can be held in breach. If the buyer wants to improve the service set out in the specification, they will find contractors delighted to re-negotiate for a higher level of service, which will obviously tend to cost more.

Government contracting out continues to fail because the lessons of failures to set proper service requirements, redesign key processes, vet would-be contractors on past performance and produce rigorous cost-benefits analyses are never learned; they are merely repeated.

Carshalton, Surrey

Greyhound welfare

Sir: As Chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, I read the article by Jonathan Brown (17 January) with a combination of approval and frustration. The approval is in the feelings expressed for "Rusty" and any other animal treated in this way. Animal welfare is not the sole province of animal rights activists; it is shared by all decent people engaged with animals in sport or otherwise.

The frustration is born from the fact that once again, the greyhound racing industry is tarnished by actions of independent, or "flapping", tracks, which fall outside the control of the sport's governing body and the rules of racing. The National Greyhound Racing Club has 31 licensed tracks around the country where it is responsible for policing the rules of racing. Great strides have been made improving animal welfare at these tracks. In 2005 alone, £2.63m has been budgeted for animal welfare in the industry and a major project for homing retired greyhounds costing £1.3m, has commenced. However, the BGRB cannot legislate for activities outside the industry's recognised body. We are therefore extremely supportive of the Animal Welfare Bill, which we hope will legislate standards required at all tracks.

It is not the sport that is a problem, but individuals who fail to meet their responsibility. This was a theme picked up by your excellent columnist Terence Blacker in the following issue (18 January). However, I must take umbrage with one comment, namely that greyhounds trained to race are "difficult to place as pets".

Until last summer I was proud to share my home with an ex-racing greyhound called Zak. In 2004 some 3,000 greyhounds were happily homed by the Retired Greyhound Trust. Many more were rehomed by other canine charities or simply went home with their owners after their racing careers were over.

Greyhounds are a much-maligned breed and are in fact sweet-natured coach-potatoes. I would urge anyone considering a new pet dog to find out more about greyhounds.

London SW16

Telephone crime

Sir: Peter DeVilliez wilfully misses the point about BT's complicity in "telephone crime", asking whether a train company should be responsible if you have your pocket picked just because you purchased a ticket (letter, 19 January). Well no, unless the train company is known to be aware of the operation of pickpockets on its trains, and yet far from doing anything to try to stop them, actually aids them in retrieving cash from your wallet.

Of course, the analogy is false anyway. The difficulty in protecting one's wallet on a train is in no way comparable to the technical know-how required to protect your computer from malicious dialler programs, and once again BT, as a major provider of broadband connectivity, provides little or no help to their customers in protecting against malware.

Bishops Cleeve, Gloucestershire

Exam success

Sir: Have you considered giving your headlines a more upbeat edge? "Efforts to end class divide at universities are failing" (20 January) could be reframed as "Efforts by the most well resourced classes to dominate entry to university continue to reap success".


Blair's excuse

Sir. The Prime Minister claims the distinction between democracies and tyrannies to be that although bad things can happen in either, it is only in the former that those responsible are held to account. Such fine words are somewhat undermined by the lack of resignations from a government that took military action in Iraq on a flawed premise, and presented a selective and disingenuous case for its actions to both Parliament and public. The soldiers facing court martial must surely wonder whether they will be granted the excuse of "acting in good faith".


Versatile WD-40

Sir: Following your piece about WD-40 (20 January) I can add a further use, from my work as a practice nurse. A middle-aged lady paused on her way out of my consulting room to ask why there was a can of the spray on my desk. I replied that I had used it earlier to unstick a drawer. "I only ask," she said, "because my aunt swears by it for her rheumatism and seeing it here I wondered if it was recommended." Whether she drank it or sprayed it I never discovered.

Hildenborough, Kent

Medieval railways

Sir: Brian Viner reports having his ticket checked by "Simon De Montfort" on First Great Western (Country Life, 19 January). On Southwest Trains into London Waterloo, I've seen one or two dubious name badges on inspectors, none more so than "Wat Tyler".

London E14