Pensions, Blair, WMD and others

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After a lifetime of saving, now we can work till we drop

After a lifetime of saving, now we can work till we drop

Sir: With the calamitous state of thousands of pension plans now clear, we are told it is time to "change the culture that writes us off at 65". We are to be offered choice and the freedom to work beyond the statutory retirement age. The Prime Minister's words add up to possibly the greatest act of spin even this Government has ever embarked upon. Having plundered and destroyed many pension funds at the first opportunity, the Prime Minister is now trying to convince us that he has done it to set us free!

I and many like me are in the pension trap. We have worked all our lives contributing to company schemes that have been closed, thanks to government policy and static stock markets. We are in our mid 50s - too old to make an impact with a new pension and knowing that such annuity as we have remaining will amount to a pittance in 10 or so years' time.

Therefore I have some questions for those who are about to set us free to work on and on: Who will employ us? Who honestly wants a creaky 70-year-old on their payroll? And what sort of job will await the "new boy or girl"? We can't all be greeters at the local supermarket.

Pensions are in a mess and a large part of my generation are the victims. Younger age groups will rightly approach plans for retirement with much more scepticism than their trusting parents. This, however, is the situation in which, through no fault of our own, we find ourselves. So, Prime Minister, please don't add insult to injury by trying to make it sound as if it's the chance we've all been craving. Most of us planned, budgeted and saved to be free to give up work, not to carry on until we drop.


Sir: Our generation has, in its greed and stupidity, bequeathed to its successors a planet whose assets have been ruthlessly stripped: its fossil fuels burned, its climate wrecked, its fisheries destroyed or polluted, its wildlife endangered or extinct.

On top of that, we are too stingy to pay taxes to fund their higher education, as our parents and grandparents did for us. Instead, we pile our money into property as a speculative investment to finance our retirement, forcing up prices so that young people have little chance to afford their own homes.

And after all that, we have the temerity to expect them to fork out of their future taxes to pay for our pensions! A pension for what, exactly?

East Sussex

How can a discredited Blair stay in power?

Sir: Now that the 45-minute threat has been "formally withdrawn" and we know there were never any WMDs in the first place, can we now see the legal advice which gave the basis for going to war and which has been so assiduously kept secret by the Government?

It beggars belief that a democracy apparently as transparent as ours could possibly let Blair, Straw and Hain remain in power. How helpless are we and how wet and feeble are those on the back benches and those others in Cabinet who lack the moral fibre to stand up and be counted.

Bingham, Nottinghamshire

Sir: Tony Blair should apologise for misleading Parliament and the country. He said there was evidence of WMD; that was untrue. He said the non-existent WMD could be launched in 45 minutes; that was untrue. He said he had compelling evidence of the threat; that was untrue. After apologising for lying he should immediately resign.

Kidlington, Oxfordshire

Sir: I'm eyeball to eyeball with a known violent man - let's call him Saddam. An onlooker - let's call him my intelligence man - says to me: "Be careful, he might have a knife hidden in his pocket. He's used one before." So I take no chances and strike him, causing him serious injury.

I then search him and find he had no knife, so now I tell people that I could tell by looking at him and from surrounding circumstances, that he "wished" he had a knife in his pocket, and if I walked away he could have made efforts to acquire one so I struck him in order to prevent him being able to stab me in the future.

Would lawyers such as Tony Blair or Jack Straw prefer to prosecute or defend me in such a case?

North Shields, Tyne & Wear

Sir: Why doesn't the BBC "unreservedly" withdraw its apology to Tony Blair and his government?

Long Melford, Suffolk

MoD truck deal

Sir: I was disappointed by the tone of your article "Anger as MoD hands £1bn truck contract to German supplier" (13 October), which concentrated on the understandable frustration of one of the losing consortiums rather than the clear benefits to the armed forces and to the UK of the winning bid.

Your article gives the impression that this was a deal that was not welcomed by the unions when in fact Tony Woodley, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, said on Tuesday: "The good news from today is that hundreds of manufacturing jobs in this country are either being created or secured with this contract; it is a boost to our manufacturers and we're obviously pleased that a UK procurement means benefits for the UK economy." The article also incorrectly states that the vehicles will be built in Austria and simply assembled in the UK; again this is not a true reflection of the situation.

I'm sure your readers would agree that to choose a company that represented a poorer deal for the UK taxpayer, created fewer jobs for the UK workforce and failed to equip our armed forces with the capability that they require would be not only foolish but downright irresponsible.

Minister for Defence Procurement
Ministry of Defence
London SW1

Defence of Derrida

Sir: It seems to me that Johann Hari's comment on Derrida (Opinion, 13 October) rests too firmly on the assumption that deconstructing something necessarily means destroying it. Whilst Derrida's work may seem to many to be an attack on Western thought, I would suggest it be seen as more of an evaluation. His work prises open the authority of the author and asks it to justify itself. When, invariably, the partiality of an author is exposed, together with the tensions within the text itself, Derrida simply asks us to recognise that what remains might be interesting, but cannot equate to positivist truth.

As for the concluding snipe at deconstruction's contemporary political relevance, I would suggest a further misunderstanding: the method of deconstruction offers a powerful tool for the critique of the modern world. By forcing us to recognise the instability of truth, Derrida may yet save us from the monolithic nature of modern political rhetoric. However, it is almost certainly too late to rescue Iraqis from Bush's unilateral actions.

Trinity College, Cambridge

Sir: Among the many brilliant and rewarding books by the philosopher Jacques Derrida, his collection of essays mourning the deaths of fellow intellectuals ( The Work of Mourning) is a remarkable series of reflections on respect for the dead, however much you might disagree with their work. In England, by contrast, we make crass jokes (letter, 12 October) about a writer few seem to have read. One expects this anti-intellectualism from broadsheets like The Guardian, but hardly from the tabloids.

School of English
Birkbeck College

Sir: One needn't be a master of deconstruction to query why, when Johann Hari claims Derrida wrote "in language so opaque it is impossible to decipher", Hari nonetheless feels qualified to assert that Derrida's ideas are pernicious rubbish which "should be buried with him". This strikes me as vintage Bush talk - "If I can't understand it it should be destroyed."

University of Kent

Sir: Surely Jacques Derrida's thesis can be analysed as follows: if language can mean whatever we want it to mean, those words themselves are meaningless, and therefore his view is nonsensical. Or have I missed something?

Gillingham, Dorset

Bohr vindicated

Sir: Marcus Chown's article "A great leap forward" (6 October) suggested that Shahriar Afshar had overturned key work of Niels Bohr on quantum mechanics. He has not done so: whilst the experiment is valid, the interpretation contains a simple error.

As described in Marcus Chown's article, Afshar sends light through a pair of adjacent slits, leading to an interference pattern, which he can subsequently focus (with a lens) to give back an image of the slits. It is correct that introducing wires along dark lines in the interference pattern will not change the image. However those wires do scatter light, so each bright line in the image no longer corresponds to light which came through a particular slit.

The bottom line is that the experiment does reveal (aspects of) the interference pattern, but it correspondingly loses information about which light went through which slit. This is absolutely in line with Niels Bohr's assertion of complementarity in quantum mechanics: the more we know the wave details in an experiment, the less we know of the particle description.

With thanks to Marcus Chown for bringing the issue to attention,

Professor of Theoretical Physics
University of Warwick

Sir: The work by Shahriar Afshar showing that quantum entities are both particle and wave at the same time is indeed important and interesting, but this is not the first time the dual nature of photons has been observed directly.

In an experiment devised by Dipankar Home, of the Bose Institute in Calcutta and carried out by Yutaka Mizobuchi and Yoshiyuki Ohtake of Hamamatsu Photonics in Hamakita in the early 1990s single photons were "caught" behaving as both wave and particle at the same time.

Astronomy Group
University of Sussex

Disputed election

Sir: In your report on the latest opinion polls (9 October), you comment that the latest "state of the parties" suggests that Labour is well-placed to "win" the next election with a majority in Parliament of around 80 seats. What your analyst didn't mention is that Labour would have this majority with only 36 per cent of votes cast.

How can any electoral system which would allow such a result possibly be called democratic? Would our Government be happy to accept the legitimacy of an unfriendly regime which claimed victory despite only receiving the votes of just over a third of the electorate?

In the rest of Europe, any party receiving such a small mandate would be obliged to seek coalition partners, and indeed this has already happened in the Scottish Parliament. If Blair ever claims to speak for Britain, despite having only secured the support of just 36 per cent of the electorate, who is going to stand up and tell him that he has no moral right to do so?

Broughton, Westray, Orkney


Sea warfare

Sir: In his promise to repatriate the Common Fisheries Policy, Michael Howard has made a major gift to the European cause. It won't just be a question of requiring fish to swim in British territorial waters, as Chris Patten notes (interview, 11 October). It will also need Royal Navy frigates to patrol the UK's maritime boundaries - in memory of the cod wars with Iceland and, earlier, of Ryder Haggard, Lord Fisher and Grand Fleets, exactly the sort of 20th century European rivalries that the European Union has done so much to render ridiculous.

London SW15

It's the economy

Sir: Observers in Britain should not misinterpret the federal election result in Australia as an endorsement of the country's participation in the invasion of Iraq (letter, 12 October). The campaign was fought purely on issues of economic self-interest; the ruling coalition produced policy after policy of financial incentives and the ineffectual Labor Party sought to match them on the same terms. That John Howard's key reason for committing forces to Iraq was discredited 48 hours before the poll proved immaterial; hip-pocket politics prevailed.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Successful satire

Sir: Guy Keleny is over-zealous about condemning "successful" (Errors and Omissions, 9 October). If Owain Glyndwr's revolt led to his being king for five years, it was successful. And Patrick Cockburn's use of indirect speech (he says American generals "announced ... that they had successfully taken over Samarra") makes the point that the take-over was not successful in any but the most short-term view. He added: "They failed to mention that this is the third time they have captured this particular city ... in the past 18 months." This use of "successfully" is satirical - and very effective.

Arundel, West Sussex

Penalty of maturity

Sir: I often find myself having to explain that my mature-onset diabetes (letter, 13 October) is nothing to do with age, but simply a measure of maturity.

Worthing, West Sussex