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Friday 9 July 2004
Moore, Schools, Abortion and others
Bush fears Moore because he speaks to the heart of America
Sir: Bruce Anderson is ill-informed about the attitude of midwestern Americans toward Michael Moore. Anderson opines (Opinion, 5 July) that Moore will help John Kerry "pile up huge majorities in Georgetown, Hollywood, and Manhattan" but that Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will evince "a lot of disapproval". Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The day Fahrenheit 9/11 opened, I had the good fortune to attend one of the first screenings of the movie at the venerable and gorgeous old movie palace, the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. The line to get in was over three and a half city blocks long.
People hissed the Bush administration members as though they were villains in a silent film. They laughed, they applauded, they shouted comments, and when Lila Lipscomb read her soldier son's last letter home where he talks of how stupid the war is and what he will do when he gets back to the States, how he hopes Bush will not be re-elected, we cried. Many sobbed aloud.
Midwesterners tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. We are honest, outspoken, fiercely patriotic, and, from the perspective of the coasts and Europe, simple folk. We are the heart and soul of America. And Michael Moore is one of us.
Moore speaks still with a recognisable blue-collar Michigan accent. His bluntness, often simple or silly humour, his open emotionalism and partisanship - those qualities which lead European and Europhile reviewers to call him "boorish" are precisely the qualities which make him an electoral threat to Bush in the midwestern US. The American right hates and fears him not because they think that blue-collar Americans will see his film and be offended by it. No, they understand the impact that the film can have on one of the critical swing constituencies in presidential politics - the "Reagan Democrats". This is the voice Mr Moore speaks with, and this is the constituency which will un-elect acting President Bush in November.
HENRY EDWARD HARDY
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Schools are for children, not parents
Sir: You report (8 July) the Government's plans to offer "more choice for parents". Schools are for children, not parents. Teachers should know better than parents which children are academically inclined, which are dreamers, which are "good with their hands" - and which come from wealthy backgrounds whose parents are certain to shop around and purchase privilege; to find a school which satisfies them, not necessarily their children.
I am an 80-year-old woman whose father and step-mother - both worthy, hard-working Christian people - felt there was no sense in their 11-year-old daughter becoming a financial burden. "You'd be happier in an ordinary school ... We can't afford the proper uniform ... You'd be better getting a job at 14 ... You wouldn't want to do the homework ... The novelty would soon wear off ... You shouldn't get ideas above your station, and anyway, you'll probably get married" - (I did!)
I passed my scholarship. The headteacher of my junior school said: "Try to persuade your parents." I screamed and wept and threw tantrums - and I won. I went to the grammar school. I wish I could say I enjoyed it all, but I was a normal child and became nervous of exams and not good at coping with snobbery. Again, my well-meaning parents didn't help. "You wanted to go ... You knew we wouldn't be able to afford a tennis racquet and hockey pads ... You have to walk home - we can't afford the fare both ways."
I left at 15. We had to pay £10 for breaking the contract, but I'd got a job as an apprentice milliner. I was good with my hands, too, and at 6 shillings [30p] per week we soon paid off that money. But don't tell me that parents should be given the choice, or that "They're not like that nowadays." Please think of the children, not the parents, all you worthy, caring, mainly middle-class politicians. My parents were not meaning to be unkind. They were just human.
Power to the regions
Sir: Anthony Sampson's argument for decentralising government departments to the provinces (Opinion, 3 July) is a compelling one, and one that should not be ignored by government ministers and civil servants.
However, it is another form of decentralisation, regional assemblies, that could really break the mould, give true power to the northern regions and have a significant impact on the regions' economic future.
What the people of the North-east, along with those in the other regions having a referendum, need from central government is a package of powers that will allow the assemblies to have a major say in how their regions are run. Given appropriate powers, I believe that regional assemblies could prove the catalyst that will start to tackle the North-South divide and hand real power to the regions.
Mr Sampson is right. The region deserves a better deal than it currently receives from Westminster.
Professor JOHN TOMANEY
Sir: Professor Daniel Dorling's 2001 census analysis shows the North-South divide getting worse (report, 30 June). This reflects many trends, but most lamentably the Government's regional policy.
Whilst some government regional funding is going to the North, the lion's share is planned for four growth areas in the South-east. There is some logic in the Thames Gateway growth area. But allocating too high a proportion of scarce resources into the other growth areas can only be at the expense of the North and parts of the West.
In Northamptonshire alone, part of the Milton Keynes/South Midlands growth area, the Government plans to build 167,000 houses by 2031, equating to a 50 per cent per cent increase in houses and 63 per cent increase in population. All but a small fraction will be on greenfield land.
The Government claims that the county's towns, which are already prosperous and growing, need to be "regenerated" and have bigger populations to make them "sustainable", and cajoles gullible local councils into thinking government money will make all things better. This is an illusion. The Government's real purpose is simply to ease the housing shortage in the South-East, which its own policies have exacerbated.
In order to make best use of brownfield land, to regenerate where regeneration really is required, to bring all regions a fair share of the nation's wealth, to reverse the continuing drift to London and the South-east, to respect local democracy rather than override it, to preserve the capability of future generations to grow their own food, government policy must change.
I R J DEXTER
Great Brington, Northamptonshire
Sir: J A Russell (letter, 7 July) claims that as a foetus is parasitic it has no rights whatsoever, and can be aborted by its mother at any time and for any reason.
Given that newborns are entirely dependent on their parents for their survival, and the elderly and infirm are reliant on their carers, should we not also allow these "parasites" to have their lives terminated by those upon whom they depend? Most people disagree with infanticide, but is there really any one single clear-cut line (such as ability to feel pain, to survive outside the womb, to have amusing conversations) at which a collection of cells becomes a person, endowed with rights?
Peter Singer agrees with abortion and infanticide under some circumstances, devout Catholics with neither, but both positions are logically coherent, unlike the ethical fudge the majority of society subscribes to today.
Sir: It is suggested that even gently smacking a naughty child should be criminalised. At the same time J A Russell expresses the view that it is a mother's "human right to abort irrespective of the reason".
As a society, we cannot hold both these views at the same time. It cannot both be an infringement of a child's rights and a criminal offence to smack it so as to cause reddening of its skin for being naughty after it has been born, but not an infringement of its rights and acceptable to kill it before it is born.
Sir: Can new legislation against "religious hatred" be enforced coherently and impartially? Would it be a crime, for example, publicly to quote passages from the Koran which explicitly express hostility towards Jews, Christians and pagans and simultaneously a crime to speak against Muslims for owning and distributing such a sacred text?
Sir: I have no hesitation in boasting that I actively encourage hatred of religion, which is dangerous claptrap. Once again David Blunkett seeks to conflate our laudable protections against racism, sexism or homophobia - all hatreds directed against aspects of a person's fundamental humanity - with protecting religious belief. Religion is a matter of voluntary choice; race, gender and sexuality are not.
Those who choose to adhere to the anti-intellectual, anti-reason, medieval, superstitious nonsense that is the theistic religions must not be afforded any legal protection from the rightful opprobrium their nonsense creeds have earned them. The Home Secretary is seeking to legislate against reason.
Sir: Your report on the Estonian government's complicity in the celebrations of that country's wartime SS division (7 July) underlines the folly of the recent mass accession of Eastern European countries to the EU.
Some of those countries have dubious human rights records. Their populations contain sizeable fascist and racist elements whose activities are often condoned by large sections of their political establishments. Before entry into the EU, they should have been subject to a rigorous enforcement of political and social conditions (rather than the cosmetic monitoring that took place) designed to elevate them to the minimum standards of humanity surely required of EU members.
The Commission and the European Parliament should now make an example of Estonia. At a minimum, its government should be instructed to destroy all memorials to the Estonian SS division and forbid the construction of others, publicly disassociate itself from SS veterans' and any other fascist organisations and initiate a programme of anti-fascist public education that counters the myths - and exposes the reality - of the Estonian SS's operations. Failure to act in these ways should result in Estonia's suspension from the EU with the possibility of future expulsion.
Professor of International Economic Sociology
University of Manchester
Men and cars
Sir: If Janet Street-Porter were only to get out into the real world, she might find that not only are there many men who detest motor racing as a "cesspit of chauvinism", but also there are plenty of women who adore it, possibly for this very same reason ("Just what is it about men and cars?", 8 July).
She further attributes the use of four wheel drive vehicles and the building of roads to men. Most 4WDs appear to be driven by mothers on school runs and Margaret Thatcher presided over one of the biggest road building programmes in modern times.
Sir: Janet Street-Porter rightly highlights the sexism, greed and environmental damage associated with Formula One. If someone invented such a so-called sport today - where men were gods who treated women as adornments and who gleefully raped the environment - what reasonable society would countenance the idea?
If we want equality for people and salvation for the environment, we must be rid of this sick homage to testosterone.
Sir: I am surprised at Beverley Turner's need to expose rampant sexism in F1 (Sport, 8 July). I would have thought any activity as pointless, flash and brash as motor racing would have to be male (i.e. little boy) dominated. Boys will be boys and any female aware of her partner's interest in F1 should pat him on the head and say, "Yes dear, whoosh."
Sir: The Polish migrants' disappointment in the reality of work in Britain (report, 8 July) emphasises how dependent our economy, and our agriculture in particular, is on skivvy labour. We don't need to visit the Third World to find dreadful labour conditions; they're right here, helping keep our economy "vibrant".
Finding its own level
Sir: Malvern Water going north, Highland Spring going south (letter, 8 July). It's not madness, just trade. Savages on either side of the border are being (as is tradition) fleeced.
Price of drugs
Sir: You report (7 July) that the fastest-growing epidemic of HIV infection is in Eastern Europe "where it is driven by the use of injectable illicit drugs. There has been a rapid growth of women infected in the region. The age of those infected is also low, with 80 per cent under 30." Surely it is driven by the illicitness, rather than anything else about the drugs. Product liability and civil law seem more likely to constrain the infection rate than criminal law, which protects the criminals from complaints by their customers.
Dr ADRIAN MIDGLEY
Take no notice
Sir: My local newsagent had a placard which read: "No reading of newspapers or magazines before or after purchase". Sometimes I defied them.
STEPHANIE VAUGHAN DAVIES
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