Sporting gloom, ethical death and others

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We are not the undisputed champions of sporting gloom

We are not the undisputed champions of sporting gloom

Sir: On the face of it, Terence Blacker ("A losing streak is bad for the soul of a nation", 2 July) paints a plausible picture of Britain's lack of success in the sporting arena. But in so doing, he creates an impression that the rest of the world is way ahead of us.

Are they? Soccer is the only team game to be played on a global scale, and only a handful of countries have won the World Cup. Cricket and rugby are played seriously by a small number of nations whose success is cyclical. Which brings us to athletics where, since the fall of Communism, the Americans and East Africans have dominated the track events and Europe has dominated the field events. Countries that have a lot of snow breed winter sports champions.

There are many countries which have or have had as many or fewer individual champions as Britain and at least 120 which haven't ever won a team sport internationally. Are we to believe then that the souls of all these nations are in a depressed state owing to lack of success in the global sports arena?


Sir: Thirty or so years ago, the late Marty Feldman performed a television sketch as a commentator on an England football match. As England fell further and further behind, his commentary gradually slipped from jovial impartiality to vociferous protest and his description of the referee from the "strict but fair Swiss" to the "jack-booted Nazi".

Finally, Feldman was dragged off in a straitjacket ranting "England! England!" The sketch was highly amusing because, of course, we British never do act in such an unsporting and chauvinistic manner - do we?


Perils of redefining the ethics of death

Sir: You don't have to be religious or an anti-abortionist to be concerned about where Peter Singer's arguments are leading ("Some people are more equal than others", 1 July). Singer argues that it is as acceptable to kill disabled human babies as it is to kill a defective animal.

Disabled people were the first victims of Hitler's extermination policies. A decree of 18 August 1939 instructed that all children under the age of three with disabilities be killed by lethal injection or excessive doses of medication. What began with babies ended up with the murder of teenagers and adults for "defects" as varied as schizophrenia, depression, mental retardation, dwarfism, paralysis, epilepsy, sometimes even delinquency, perversion, alcoholism, and "anti-social behaviour". From such a starting point, the move to exterminate an entire "subhuman" race, as the Nazis viewed the Jews, wasn't such a dramatic leap.

Singer argues that his version of euthanasia is different from that which the Nazis espoused, which he says was driven by notions of racial purity. But Hitler himself justified the killing programme on the grounds that "those suffering from illnesses deemed to be incurable may be granted a mercy death".

Another unfortunate similarity between Singer's philosophy and that of the Nazis is that both exaggerate the similarity between ourselves and animals. Although their attitude to animal rights was inconsistent, Nazi Germany remains the only state in history to have attempted to outlaw experiments on animals. They had no such inhibitions when it came to carrying out experiments on Jews.

Singer is of course no Nazi. His main aim is to demonstrate that human beings are no different from other animals and that therefore animals have the same rights as us. We should all work to minimise the pain and suffering of animals but surely it is when people stop paying special attention to the uniqueness of our own species that we can end up down-playing the value of human life and even end up with abhorrent conclusions such as the ones that led to the death camps.

Senior Research Fellow
Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford

Sir: The importance of Professor Singer's work lies in his appeal to us - most of whom are not practising Christians - to establish rational, clear and humane criteria for judging the value of a human life in circumstances where it seems to be unable to experience anything positive, or where positive experiences are outweighed by perpetual and agonising pain. He poses an alternative to the Judaeo-Christian ethic, which considers every life to be sacred.

One can disagree with his approach to this problem, but such a serious question deserves better than the demonisation and intellectual dishonesty contained in Dr Vaux Halliday's letter (2 July). Dr Vaux Halliday uses the "extension" technique to claim that Professor Singer's views would lead to selective culling of healthy but inconvenient humans. This is like saying that doctors who recommend a glass of red wine a day are supporting alcoholism.

As Professor Singer points out, doctors already terminate lives or do not strive to keep alive those who are going to die anyway and are in terrible pain. All he asks is that we stop pretending that each life is worth as much every other in all circumstances and establish rigorous criteria which might actually reduce the number of terminations rather than open the floodgates to selective slaughter.


Sir: John Stuart Mill rejected much of Jeremy Bentham's utilitatarian philosophy. How Peter Singer's world view could be derived from Mill's vision of liberty is inexplicable. Bentham argued that things should be done to create the greatest good for the greatest number, which could well lead to the dictatorship of the majority. Mill said that all individuals should be free to do whatever they like as long as it does not inflict harm on others. Mill did not believe it was the duty of government to make people happy, simply to provide liberty.

Singer's view, that either society, government or perhaps Peter Singer should decide what happiness is and what we should do to people he considers won't be happy smacks of something nastier than pure Bentham. As an atheistic liberal I am capable of creating my own ethical code that rejects the Judaeo-Christian tradtion. I don't need Singer's help.

London N7

Home credit market

Sir: The reported slide in Provident Financial's home credit business ("Provident hints at decline in borrowing", 30 June), may well be the result of shifting sociological, demographic and other factors, rather than an indicator of competitive pressure.

Datamonitor reports that, after a couple of years of strong growth, the market remained flat in 2003. As the dominant provider, with almost 50 per cent of the market, it is hardly surprising that Provident Financial will bear the brunt of any slowdown in the market as a whole. And, as any economist will confirm, markets shrink or swell for many reasons.

When the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announces what, if any, action it is taking to address National Consumer Council's recent complaint, we'll all be in a better position to judge the extent of competition in the home credit market.

Deputy Director of Policy
National Consumer Council
London SW1

Muslim protest

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ("Muslims must look to their own wrongs", 14 June) charges that British Muslims do not condemn acts of violence enough.

British Muslims condemned the 9/11 atrocities within three hours of the atrocities occurring. No other faith community in this country has condemned or been asked to condemn violence perpetrated by members of its own community in the way the Muslim community has done. The danger of such an agenda is that it switches the entire onus to Muslims, suggesting the discrimination and persecution we face is justified and perhaps even deserved.

Just for the record, The Muslim News has reported on atrocities taking place not only in Darfur but in other parts of the world too.

The Muslim News
Harrow, Middlesex

Police dilemma

Sir: Your leader of 26 June ("A self-serving police chief") argues that the chief constable of Humberside should resign in order not to "delay the reforms which everyone agrees must be implemented immediately".

Is it now intended that any charge of a sexual nature, however improbable, will remain on file? In order to secure their future employment from the wrath of Mr Blunkett, it will be a brave chief constable who now deletes any such charge, however absurd or vindictive. There is never smoke without fire! Teachers, doctors and clergy are at especial risk of spurious charges, as their work often demands contact with potential complainants in unchaperoned situations.

If a charge is considered valid, the individual should be taken to court. If the charge will not stand a formal challenge, it should be dropped and not bandied about for all possible future employers to see. Such a person, whose guilt has never been proven, will be unemployable for the rest of their lives. The unfortunate Mr Westwood, "the self-serving police chief", was on the horns of a dilemma. He has my sympathy, but apparently not yours.

Kings Lynn, Norfolk

Striking change

Sir: The lead-up to Wednesday's tube strike reminded me about a strike held by the Sydney rail workers in Australia. They voted to take industrial action; their strike, however, did not disrupt the commuter and services ran as usual. So what did they "strike" on? They refused to take fares, providing free travel for all.

This meant the commuters were not disrupted and they got the nice surprise of free travel, whilst the government bore the cost of operating a rail network with no income. This brought the government to the negotiation table quickly.

Perhaps the London Underground workers and their unions should think more laterally and creatively about their strike to get their message across and gain the public's understanding and support at the same time.

London WC2

Train security

Sir: Paul Dewhirst (letters, 1 July) states that baggage security checks were introduced on Spanish railways following the Madrid train bombings in March. Not so. My wife and I observed these checks on high-speed services from Madrid Atocha station last summer. I doubted the wisdom of this at the time as it only served to draw attention to the vulnerability of other services on which no checks were made.

The Madrid bombs were placed on local commuter services at small out-stations. The instituting of checks on luggage at major stations would therefore not prevent repeats of the incidents in Madrid.

Kyle of Lochalsh, Highlands

Medical breakthrough  

Sir: I hope you are going to follow up Anna Coote's claim (Opinion, 28 June) that arthritis is avoidable! This will bring untold relief to millions of sufferers and potential sufferers and save the NHS billions of pounds.

North Hayling, Hampshire

Gender of rivers

Sir: It's even more complicated than Bernard Sharp says (letters, 1 July). Le (masculine) Cher is a feminine river ( une rivière), whilst la (feminine) Loire is a masculine one ( un fleuve). Hope that's clear!


Sir: Bernard Sharp's letter confirms two things: firstly, the necessity of enacting legislation to standardise gender classification of rivers within the EU; secondly, that Mr Sharp needs to get out more.

Elland, West Yorkshire

Safest road

Sir: On one continuous 12.5 mile stretch of the A34 between Stoke and Stafford there are 20 speed cameras. This is, of course, a record.

Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Which doctor?

Sir: Although The Independent is far from the only culprit, its tradition for accuracy and reliable research makes me wonder why it refers to both the new series of Doctor Who and its title character as Dr Who ("Eccleston wins libel damages case", 30 June). The show was always called Doctor Who on-screen - all 696 episodes of it. There is, admittedly, more confusion with the character: although called "the Doctor" by the other characters, in credit sequences he was generally "Dr Who" until 1969, "Doctor Who" from 1970 until 1981, and "The Doctor" from 1982 onwards.

London SE13

Take no notice

Sir: Tesco has a slogan, "Every little helps", which appears on most of their advertising material, carrier bags and so on. I was rather surprised to find it extended to all areas: a sign on the lavatory door read "Ladies Toilet - every little helps". I did my best. I hope it was appreciated.