Spain, whaling and others

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The Independent Online

Arguments about 'cruel' whaling are cheaper than saving fish

Arguments about 'cruel' whaling are cheaper than saving fish

Sir: The anti-whaling argument ("A simple reason to stop whaling: it's cruel", 9 March) is a classic case of drawing attention to the purported mess in another's backyard so as to avoid the need to clear up one's own. Many would argue there is more threat to whales from pollutants, entanglement in fishing nets and disturbance to the ecosystem from overfishing of other stocks such as cod than from the harpoons of Norwegian fishermen, but such observations are a little inconvenient given the fact that we ourselves might do something about such problems at some cost to ourselves.

I spent some months in the Norwegian Lofoten Islands, very much dependent upon whaling. Located north of the arctic circle, in darkness through the winter months and with snow likely even in mid-summer, this is not an area much suited to farming. They have cod as an alternative to whales to be sure, but others including ourselves have seen to it that they have little. Whaling is not some dispensable addition to the livelihood of the Lofoten islanders; it is central to it and there is little that might replace it. Every member of the community I spoke to was directly or indirectly dependent upon it.

Yes, it is true that the Lofoten islanders use explosive harpoons. What your article failed to mention was that this ostensibly gruesome, horrific means of killing whales was actually made mandatory by the International Whaling Commission itself in 1980 to cut down the kill time thus to reduce the suffering of the animals. Cold harpoons resulted in a far more painful and lingering death, and yet somehow explosive harpoons have now entered the mythology of whaling as themselves symptomatic of the cruel intent of the malevolent hunter.

Guilin, Guangxi province, China

We need luggage check-in on trains

Sir: The appalling bomb blasts on the Spanish trains on Thursday highlight a glaring omission in rail safety procedures, both here and elsewhere. This will be the first of many such incidents unless we change our travel procedures radically.

The bombers left (presumably) unattended packages on the trains, and the reason they were able to do so is that trains are actually the only places in modern life where it is permitted to leave unattended packages.

Here at least - and I guess in Spain as well - people leave their luggage in racks at the entrance to the carriage and then go and sit on a seat elsewhere, so it isn't noticeable if someone gets off the train but leaves their luggage behind. If someone were to leave their luggage unattended on the station in this way, the bags would be taken away and destroyed in a controlled explosion.

I wonder how long it will be before we and others wake up and introduce a luggage check-in, X-ray and passenger accountability system on trains (as already on aircraft and, in part, on Eurostar), and ensure that people stay with their luggage and do not leave the train without it.


Sir: Let us shed our tears for the thousands of Spanish lives that have been changed for ever. Let us reserve our forgiveness for the moral relativists who will seek to lay the blame for this on our Western governments and way of life.

Can any Independent journalist or reader feel they have more in common with those who have perpetrated carnage than those that they have had the opportunity to elect and dismiss in an open democratic society?

We have a relative travelling in Spain whom we have as yet been unable to contact. The waiting is not comfortable - and it is even less so with the expectation that there are those who may seek to apportion blame to Aznar, Blair and Bush, who neither planned nor carried out this most shocking deed but because of their "policies" carry guilt by association.

Billingshurst, West Sussex

Sir: Adrian Hamilton (Opinion, 11 March) could not have foreseen the outrage in Madrid, but he is right to think the citizens of this country will give no further thought to the released prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, or to the rights of people suspected of terrorist offences. Why should we?

If he thinks the Government is casting aside "300 years of defining rights" after 11 September in a "casual way" then the atrocity perpetrated against the people of Madrid demands that our government redefine our human rights in terms we have never before as a country contemplated.

Banstead, Surrey

Sir: We are becoming obsessed with fighting evil and the perpetrators of evil. It's a radical proposal, but maybe we should just try to do good.

London N19

Booze culture

Sir: Your readers should be alerted to the problems many local councils could face when the Licensing Bill 2003 comes into being early next year. It could leave many of them out of pocket or see late night drink-related problems in our town centres spiral further out of control.

All the publicity surrounding the new legislation so far seems to have been about 24-hour drinking, but what the public perhaps doesn't realise is that the draft regulations in the Bill would also mean a sizeable increase in council tax bills in coming years.

All licensing will become the responsibility of local authorities, a move which we welcome and one which should reduce confusion over who is responsible for what.

The draft regulations in the Bill state that it will be the Government which sets the licence and renewal fees. According to very conservative estimates, this will cost my council in the region of £60,000 to £80,000 per year at least - equivalent to around a 1.5 per cent increase in our council tax. The strain on the public purse will be even greater in cities and at seaside resorts where the number of licensed premises is much greater.

I and many of my colleagues from local authorities are in full support of this much needed modernisation of licensing but we can't help feeling that in its current form it is a missed opportunity to give councils the chance to make a difference to the problems which can go hand-in-hand with a thriving evening economy, such as litter, alcohol related violence, anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking.

It should be the brewers, the pubs, nightclubs and fast food outlets which should finance this, not the council tax payer. It is this sector which is making huge profits out of Britain's booze culture whilst leaving it to the police and local councils to clean up the mess.

Chairman of Licensing
Mansfield District Council

In the right mood

Sir: The Miles Kington article "Death can be a good career move" (8 March) grossly misrepresented my commentary on the Radio 3 program Jazz Legends, about the wartime Glenn Miller orchestra.

In the broadcast I made it clear that my time with Miller's wartime band was one of the highlights of my long career and had lasting musical value. It was taxing work and very far from being either boring or uninspiring, thanks to the quality of the musicians Miller had assembled and to the arrangements. I mentioned that the only title which I found tedious by countless repetition was "In the Mood". We were very aware of the pleasure our performances gave to our large audiences; this was a reward in itself.

I do not believe that other listeners to the broadcast arrived at the same misinterpretation as Mr Kington.

London NW8

GM labelling

Sir: The Government's announcement on commercial growing of GM maize will have repercussions beyond these shores. Despite Environment Minister Elliot Morley's assertion that the Government will not be an international advocate for GM crops as a cure for world hunger, its actions will speak louder than its words.

To avoid such confusion, the Government should support developing countries' demands for compensation for any untoward environmental, social or economic outcomes resulting from the release of GMOs.

It should also promote zero GM contamination in unlabelled seeds, foods and animal feedstuffs and detailed labelling of any materials or species containing GMOs. Finally, it should help developing countries prepare their own legislation to provide their citizens similar protection from GMOs as UK citizens demand.

International Director, Intermediate Technology Development Group
Bourton-on-Dunsmore, Rugby

Artistic feelings

Sir: I should like to ask Tom Lubbock: who rattled your cage? Who pushed your button monkey? Did I screw your wife? Is it your period? Are you a failed artist yourself?

I read the illuminating piece you wrote after you looked round the show In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Review, 9 March). I cannot believe what a rude fellow you have become.

I don't normally respond to reviews of this nature (I try to be of the Warholian school of thought where you don't read your reviews, you just weigh them.) But in such special circumstances I felt I should make an exception because of the rudeness you directed at me and my friends; I mean we are people you know, we have feelings, we are not too successful to feel hurt, and all joking aside I have a question to ask you: "Generally how do you really feel about the show? Are you sitting on the fence?" I come from a family where I was taught that if you couldn't say anything nice then not to say anything at all. And if your mother is still alive then I will be sending her a letter suggesting that she give you a firm smack on the bottom and send you to bed without supper.

Can I also suggest that if you ever again feel rattled enough to write about another one of my shows and rudely suggest that people don't come (what's going to happen if you write that? Even dimwits know that more people come and see the show, not less), then could you please open your eyes, jackass - my calf has six legs, not five!

London WC1

When oil runs out

Sir: Ruth Brandon (Motoring, 9 March) does well to sound a wake-up call, asking how cars will be powered when the oil runs out.

However oil does not just provide us with petrol, but the "benzine chain" provides the world with a huge range of chemicals, plastics, fertilisers etc. Not only will there not be power for cars, we will not even have the resources to make them! The problem will extend to commercial aircraft, which will certainly never be powered by hydrogen cells, however efficient.

Politicians, as she points out, are not even daring to think about a problem that will soon dominate this century.

Dunnington, York

Popular opera

Sir: Louise Jury's analysis of opera as formerly "the province of the upper classes, a black-tie occasion for the champagne-willing rich" shares a Blairite ignorance of the subject ("A night at the opera", 11 March).

Fifty-five years ago I scraped together five shillings from my scanty pay to queue for Covent Garden or other opera occasions. I was no part of any elite except that of appreciating music, theatre and art galleries. In past years, people educated themselves to enjoy such entertainments, and they were from all strata of society.

Wells, Somerset

Take a stand  

Sir: The Government still refuses to take a clear lead; and instead asks the ECB to decide whether England will tour Zimbabwe. What a pity it didn't adopt the same stance on Iraq, and let the armed forces decide whether or not to go.

Barnet, Hertfordshire

Agreement at last

Sir: I have two friends I have known for almost 50 years. We meet at least once a week for a few drinks. Politically we couldn't be more diverse, and very rarely agree. One is 100 per cent Thatcherite, the other is a Welsh Nationalist and I am committed "old Labour", Clause 4 and all. However, we all wholeheartedly concur with the sentiment scratched by some sage on the side of a table beneath the dispatch box: "Tony Blair is a cunt". I have a feeling that Tony is losing popularity across the political spectrum

Pontyclun, RCT

Insult to hobbits

Sir: While I heartily agree with Johann Hari's scathing assessment of the Oxford and Cambridge Unions (Opinion, 12 March), I take issue with his use of the term "strange hobbit-creatures" to describe Union types. Hobbits are hard-working, inoffensive lower-middle-class beings who have no designs on ruling the world. The creatures who inhabit the Oxbridge Unions are clearly high elves: beautiful, effete, once powerful and now suffering from terminal nostalgia.

Waldbillig, Luxembourg

Laughed till I cried

Sir: Reading Mark Steel's carefully crafted analysis (11 March) of the connection between lithium crystals, Geri Halliwell and round-the-world canoeing I laughed and put my back out. I don't buy newspapers expecting to put my back out and you shouldn't be selling them knowing that can happen. Your cavalier attitude towards your readers is to be deplored.

Hadleigh, Essex