US Election, Gypsies and others

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The Independent Online

Votes for Bush were votes for Middle American culture

Votes for Bush were votes for Middle American culture

Sir: I think your readers are largely ignorant of the land where I live, Missouri, in the central United States. Missouri was among those "red" states that voted for Bush.

In Missouri it isn't uncommon for the nearest city to be an hour's drive from your home, and that "city" to have a population of 10,000. Out in these wide open spaces, Americans have become accustomed to self-sufficiency. They are suspicious of those who come from outside, offering "help". They shy away from government-funded medical care. They worry that its collectivism will spill over into other aspects of their lives. The sort of American who voted for George W Bush doesn't believe in taxing the rich to pay for the poor - because he or she wants to work to be rich in their own right. Here, we believe in supporting charity through voluntary donation.

Let's not underestimate the impact on the election of the opposition party's positions on firearms control, abortion and gay marriage. I believe in legalised abortion. I know many American conservatives who feel the same way. Many who do not, however, voted for Bush out of a feeling that his opponent believes in the erosion of American morality - a decay of lifestyle into the flashy sexuality and cheap glitter of Hollywood. In this way, they are like the French who riot over the presence of a McDonald's restaurant. They fear a loss of their own culture.

Most rural Americans are too busy making a living to worry much about the rest of the world. What they do believe, however, is that America should fight back when it or its friends are attacked. We did this in two World Wars, and again in 1991 to protect Kuwait. Throughout our government's long history, it has made the mistake of dabbling in empire-building only once - in the Philippines in the 1890s. Other than that, to paraphrase US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the only land we have ever asked for is enough room to bury our dead.

Kerry's "sophistication" came off as arrogance in the American West. Out here, he was just another fellow from "back East" who thought he knew better what to do for us than we know what to do for ourselves.

I offer this letter in the spirit of outreach. Americans are not country bumpkins who have been misled by Bush. We are also not a nation of grasping imperialists. We are, rather, a nation with values different from those of Europe.

Buckner, Missouri, USA

Proud Roma face unjust hostility

Sir: As a children and families social worker I have had the privilege of working with Romany/Gypsy families. They are independent and proud people. They are the only clients I have ever met who, politely, refused financial assistance (when one Roma family took in the children of distant relatives due to a bereavement). Their homes were spotless, the children well cared-for and happy, and their parents determined that their children would receive a full education.

What, exactly does this government want? If every travelling family were to apply for council housing the system would be swamped, and these large, and close-knit, families would be separated and forced into bed and breakfast accommodation at great cost to the state.

Many Roma families have bought plots of land, in the understanding that they would be able to live there. However, they are now being driven out due to lack of planning permission ("Gypsies win battle against eviction", 9 November). Where exactly does the Government expect these people to live? It is particularly ironic, considering the number of MPs who have several houses - perhaps they would like to give them to Roma families?

Sandy, Bedfordshire

Sir: The stories of the frightful horrors allegedly perpetrated on the settled community by gypsies and other travelling people become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Travellers are met with almost universal hostility wherever they go, fuelled by stories of their entirely mythical barbarity; the authorities force them to change their lifestyle by settling in one place, and then deny them any opportunity to actually build a home. It is part of the human condition to need to feel respected, and travellers are accorded absolutely no respect whatsoever.

What incentive do they have to respect us, our lifestyle or our property? If I were treated as travellers are, I would feel almost obliged to fight back in any way I could.

If we can start to treat them as having the innate dignity of all human beings, but happening to enjoy a way of life slightly different from most of us, then they will treat us in the same way.

London N13

Sir: My father was a wool stapler and a leather merchant. Once every year an extended family of gypsies brought him a bale of sheep's wool which they had gathered from hedgerows where it had been snagged.

In return he, whose tanning business relied on itinerant workers because the local population was frightened of catching anthrax, offered the gypsies a fortnight's work tanning leather. Unlike tramps, who were also hired as casual labour and who bedded down nightly in one of the outhouses, the gypsies preferred to lodge in their own pristine caravans in the tannery precincts.

Just as the East Enders of London went hop-picking in Kent every year, the gypsies treated their annual spell at our tannery as an annual holiday before moving on. There was no need for them to set up illegal camp sites. They were real gypsies: cunning and roguish, proud and nomadic.


Sir: The number of travellers with no legal place to stop in England has reached 3,500, and so a parliamentary committee feels the Government should reverse its policy and compel authorities to provide sites.

Despite the change of law in 1994, West Sussex County Council continued to provide 10 out of the county's 11 authorised sites. Indeed we felt morally obliged to do so because many families had become settled and accepted by their local communities. In fact 80 per cent of the children who live on sites controlled by West Sussex County Council are in regular school attendance. With the aid of government grants there has been a rolling programme of refurbishment at several sites, and we are currently working with several other councils to identify suitable locations for transit sites.

West Sussex County Council has always been aware of its duties and responsibilities towards the travelling community, and does not need legislation to remind it where humanitarian principles lie.

Cabinet Member, Community Services, West Sussex County Council, Chichester

War on terror in Iraq

Sir: A key connection is missing from Brian Cathcart's excellent piece on the West's long-term sponsorship of state terrorism in developing countries (3 November). Namely, the fact that those machinations have been common knowledge in the developing countries themselves.

Mark Curtis, in the book that Mr Cathcart reviews, has diligently documented the British involvement, and he laments its invisibility to the British mass media and hence to the popular consciousness. If only the man on the Clapham omnibus were as well informed as his counterpart on the al-Mansour omnibus, then the atrocities of the Islamist radicals would no longer seem meaningless acts of insane violence, but instead part of the Islamic "war on terror" - the mirror image of Mr Bush's "war on the terror" - and aimed at combating precisely the state terrorism that Cathcart reports.

This is not to deny that such barbarities as Mr Zarqawi's beheadings are evil. But it is to recognise that the evil is not mindless but part of a rational programme of activity that British news media have willfully and systematically failed to comprehend.

London NW6

Sir: Where did this idea come from that a soldier such as those of the Black Watch serving in Iraq agrees on joining up to give up his or her life (letter: "Military duties", 9 November)? They are not kamikaze pilots who agreed to die for the divine emperor Blair. A compact where one agrees to give up one's life is called a suicide pact.

In a democracy soldiers agree to risk their lives for their state. In return politicians have duty to take risks with the lives of soldiers only in extremis, for example if the country is attacked.

Mr Blair is the most bellicose prime minister we have had for 50 years, and as a man who has never been in uniform has risked the lives of soldiers in three wars, in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, none of which involved an attack on British territory. At least the Argentines attacked the Falklands, giving Mrs Thatcher a casus belli.


Sir: Patrick Cockburn reports that US helicopter pilots told him they are at war with "foreign fighters" and "former regime loyalists" in Iraq (Opinion, 9 November). I was impressed by this update. Last year at Fairford, as the B-52 bombers loaded up to attack Baghdad, we asked a young soldier who emerged with barbed wire to push back the peace camp from Gate 9, who was he protecting us from. He answered, "The Commies."

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Words to the wise

Sir: In his catalogue of "abuses of the English language" John Humphrys (8 November) expresses his dislike of "outwith", and asks "when did we start with this one and what does it mean?". A glance at the Oxford English Dictionary would have told him that it means "outside of", and that we started using it in the early 13th century. Latterly the word survived only in Scots, and it is nice to know that the English are reclaiming this little bit of their linguistic heritage. "Raise up", to which he takes equal exception, first appears about the same time.

As for "enter in", this expression is recorded before Chaucer, and the 1611 Bible includes about 20 examples (30 if you include "enter into"). Oh, and in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare wrote "between you and I".

Hermitage, Berkshire

Sir: If Mr Humphrys knew anything about science or its history he would recognise that a paradigm shift (such as the changes in scientific knowledge brought about by Galileo, Newton and Darwin) is different from a non-paradigm shift, such as the discovery of a previously unknown planet, satellite or species of bird. A step-change is different from a gradual change, because it occurs instantaneously rather than over a period of time.

If I wanted to "meet up" with someone, I'd hope to spend some time with them and have an opportunity to discuss matters with them. If I wanted only to meet them, I'd be quite happy to see them and exchange at most a few words and perhaps shake their hand. I am "currently" the chairman of the Village Hall Committee. I write that because in a few hours time I shall not be the chairman.

Used properly these words and phrases all enable me to express myself with greater clarity, at least when I am speaking to people who understand them.

Crewkerne, Somerset

Sir: While I agree with the general thrust of John Humphrys' argument, some of his examples are not well chosen. "Paradigm shift" is a technical term coined by one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Thomas Kuhn, in his landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962); although, admittedly, it is often misused.

The word "abortion", in medical terminology, has always (or at least during the 45 years since I became a medical student) meant the loss of a foetus before it is capable of independent existence outside the womb, irrespective of whether the event was induced or accidental. The term "termination" is therefore better since it distinguishes between induced and spontaneous abortions.

London SE3

Sir: I was surprised to read that a book is published entitled "Lost for Words: the Mangling and Manipulation of the English Language by John Humphrys". I have always thought his use of English impeccable.

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Islamic dress

Sir: The jilbab is not part of Islam or any faith, only a traditional and customary garment ("Muslim anger at Ramadan dress code", 9 November). All that Islam advises regarding clothes is to be modest; there is no restriction on the type of clothes worn. Wearing a jilbab does not make anyone more religious or pious than someone in a shirt or jacket.


Stuckist art

Sir: I've not been a member of the Stuckist art group since June 2001 (Pandora, 4 November). I have no pictures in the current Stuckist exhibition at the Walker, Liverpool. I did not contribute to the Stuckist book Punk Victorian. It is however true that Tracey Emin did once accidentally admit that I was "one of the greatest influences on her life", but don't blame Dr Frankenstein.

Chatham, Kent

Railway ban

Sir: Like Deborah Orr ("Our shallow grief over public tragedy", 9 November) I too am taken aback by ITV's decision not to screen The Railway Children in the wake of the Berkshire rail crash. My son was also at a loss to comprehend it, having looked forward to it since last week. However I have decided to prepare him for adulthood and the current grief-mongering zeitgeist by banning him from playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine railway set and watching his Ivor the Engine videos for at least a week.

Northwood, Middlesex

Show of accountability

Sir: Steve Richards writes: "Mayors are visible and therefore accountable" (Opinion, 9 November). Hitler and Stalin were highly visible. Were they accountable?

London, SW15