Letters: A close brush with chaos

Precarious society in a close brush with chaos

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:16

What many people appear not to realise, just as Lloyds CEO Eric Daniels appears to have failed to understand when he spoke of unnecessary "over-capitalisation" by the Government, is just how close it has come. No banks, no cashpoint. No credit card. No salary. No cash. No food on supermarket shelves.

Far more worrying than the credit crunch itself is the fact that that so many people don't understand why, after centuries of worrying about national debt, governments around the world have, in the space of a few short hours, gone into hock over their eyeballs to save "banking". It's simple. Without the banking bailout, within a few months London would have resembled Mogadishu.

If anything comes out of this disaster, perhaps the most important benefit might be to throw a bucket of cold water into the faces of those ignorant of the risks inherent in how we have structured our society. There is no redundancy; there is no resilience. We can only live as as we do thanks to an incredibly complex and delicate economic structure, built on the unacknowledged but diminishing subsidy of hydrocarbon fuels, within a biosphere we are blithely destroying.

Unless we all wise up, either we, or our children, will spend our final days scrabbling for bread thrown from the back of an army lorry. Yes, you too, Mr Daniels.

Bill Robinson

London W2

For every share sold there has to be a buyer. And who is cash-rich enough to buy when everyone else is in a panic? Well, that would be China, the Middle-Eastern potentates and possibly Russia, wouldn't it? I suspect that, when all this is over, we may find that the western economies are in effect owned by the East. The economic repercussions may be nothing compared with the political sea-change.

Andrew Bristow

Chorley, Lancashire

Smith's database worthy of the Stasi

Jacqui Smith's proposed "Big Brother" database would no doubt have appealed to the Stasi, but it has no place in our supposedly free and democratic society. We will be assured that only those people with something malign to hide have anything to fear from the database, but it is not difficult to envisage all sorts of ways in which an increasingly controlling government could abuse it. To give but one example, it could be used to uncover the identity of a journalist's confidential sources, thereby perhaps eroding the ability of a free press to investigate stories the Government might prefer to remain untold.

Of course we should take sensible measures to prevent terrorism, but it is time we recognised that, as with other risks we face and accept in daily life, there comes a point at which the cost of further reducing the risk is not worth the additional price to be paid. I would suggest that allowing the Government to store details of all of our calls, internet visits and emails is too high a price to pay for the supposed benefit it may bring in the fight against terrorism.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

Many of your correspondents rightly observe that the introduction of ID cards would neither prevent nor solve crimes, nor would they do any conceivable sort of good. They would, however, represent an expensive burden of inconvenience, subliminal threat and intimidation, thereby suggesting that this must be the whole point: Someone wants us to feel their hand up our backsides, overseeing and manipulating every aspect of our lives.

Among the people I have asked, those who say they see "nothing wrong" with ID cards acknowledge that they would welcome this, cheerfully envisaging no limit to levels of surveillance in the future, because for them the feeling of being "watched over" as they do nothing wrong is a good thing in itself.

For the rest of us, I fear that the limitless powers of surveillance for which the technology is already advancing rapidly, will herald an era of permanent defeat. Its depths seem incomprehensible today, but they will surely be plumbed by successive generations unless we are able to call a halt now.

S Grist

London E13

Government ministers and supporters of the "Big Brother" database may go to all sorts of lengths to assure us that our data is safe, but they all tend to avoid the central issue. That is that since records began, but particularly since the dawn of commonly accessible computer databases, there has been a steady drip-feed of data from public service employees to whoever has the contacts and the money to pay for it.

With the data spread across numerous authorities, held across unrelated databases and accessed by individuals who have no normal contact, as is more often the case currently, then the data that can be sourced on individuals in this way is limited, or at least made much more difficult. Centralised into a common location, and presided over by staff who have legitimate contact, the sourcing of such private data by criminal elements will, in their own parlance, be a "cinch".

Colin Mitchell

Lisburn, Co Antrim

So the Government plans to create a database containing all our "communications data" and we are to trust them? This is despite the huge amount of information about us that they have already left lying all over the country. Forgive me for being slightly apprehensive. I half expect to find conversations with my father up for sale on eBay.

Jacqui Smith says it will help to stop terrorism. I guess I can't really complain if listening to my phone calls will help crack down on terrorism, although I rarely mention my plans for world domination over the phone. This database is an absurd idea that has rightfully been met with criticism from opposition and Labour backbenchers alike. One more step away from democracy? All hail Comrade Brown!

Kevin Anderson

East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire

Though they will not be decisive factors in the discussion, it may be worth considering the incidental effects that would arise from the universal recording of website visits.

The volume of productive work done by those employed to use PCs will rise. The accessing of unsavoury sites in domestic environments will fall. The income of exploitative pay-for-access sites will fall. The mobility of malware and viruses around the web will be impaired. Total web traffic will fall, with improvements in speeds for all.

Steven Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Where a government proposes to give powers to itself or any state department or local authority which threaten our liberty, such legislation should have to pass the Idi Amin test: "Would you have given those powers to Idi Amin?"

Maynard Hall

Wigton, Cumbria

London market for stolen bikes

The streets around Brick Lane were depicted as a hotbed of bike crime going unchecked by the authorities (Cyclo-therapy, 11 October). Bike theft is, unfortunately, an issue across London, but the inference that the work of council market officers and the police in Tower Hamlets is ineffective misses the mark.

Tower Hamlets Council market officers seize bikes from illegal traders on the lane, and every week they provide details to the police of all bikes taken from illegal street traders. They are then checked against police theft records. From the hundreds of bikes seized over the past few years, not one has been reported to the police as stolen.

We have been working closely with the police and although we acknowledge there are illegal traders left, the numbers are nowhere near what they have been, and we will continue to work hard to remove them.

All untraceable bikes seized in evidence by police and market officers are sold back legally on Brick Lane as part of a joint police initiative. This is mainly an educational exercise, where information and advice is also given about how people can keep their bikes secure, and the dangers of buying from unlicensed, illegal traders.

Councillor Abdal Ullah

Tower Hamlets Council, London E14

A child is a child, even in a pub

I agree that parents and carers have a responsibility to control their children's behaviour in pubs (or any public place) so that other people can also enjoy the experience ("Unruly children spoil the perfect pint", 14 November). However, as a parent, I also believe that responsibility comes from both sides.

When my children were small I was sometimes on the receiving end of tutting and unhelpful comments from other diners in response to really very mild and shortlived disturbance. The intervention only served to escalate the situation. This was in stark contrast to experience abroad where, generally, families were made welcome by staff and other diners. It was accepted that children could not be expected to behave like adults. There is a middle ground to be found here.

Caroline Clarke


Where the sea salt comes from

I am afraid your Science Editor was the wrong person to answer the question "Why is there salt in the sea?" (16 October).

If you were to ask a folklorist the answer given would be that two giantesses, Grotti-Fenni and Grotti-Menni, grind a magical quern that produces nothing but salt. Originally the mill was supposed to grind out good things but as the giantesses were enslaved they cursed it to produce salt. They are still enslaved to the quern and still continue to grind it, producing more salt, making the sea saltier.

To the north of the most northerly Orkney Island, there is a whirlpool called the Swelki (from Old Norse svelgr or sea-mill). It is caused by the waters of the sea pouring through the grindstone's centre hole.

A much better answer, I think.

David R Pollard

Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire

Brown's chance to stay in power

Now that Gordon Brown is a man with a plan and lauded worldwide, while David Cam-eron is a man up a creek without a paddle, shouldn't Brown call a snap general election?

The fear of letting in an untested Cameron at this precarious stage would wreck the Tories' chances. This is as good as it's going to get for Brown. If he delays, the election will take place in the midst of a recession.

Brown has had the guts to take bold action economically. Does he have the political nous to see that this is the one and only chance he's going to get to win the next general election?

Mike Hockney

Newcastle upon Tyne


Food in the North

How good to read Janet Street-Porter's praise of Yorkshire food (15 October). It makes such a change from the unending media focus on the South-east. Take the previous day's list of "best pubs"; all, with the exception of one in Wales, situated south of a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash.

Jean Hopkin

Tideswell, Derbyshire

The US matters

In declaring we have a "sycophantic relationship with the USA", Sandra Simkin (Letters, 15 October) is confusing two quite different phenomena: the import of American culture on the one hand, and, on the other, the close interest in American politics based on the understanding that, for better or worse, a key driving force behind the direction in which the international community deals with future conflicts and environmental concerns lies in Washington.

David Tollerton


Last words

Miles Kington's "Famous Last Words" (13 October) prompted me to ask friends if they had witnessed any memorable lines; none had. My mother, on the other hand, would be pleased to know she was in better company. As she fell asleep on her last night she said, "Don't forget there's a chocolate mousse in the fridge." Certainly up there with efforts of Pitt and Goethe – though whether they are still "up there" with her remains to be discovered.

Hugh Janes


Tide of jargon

At a recent meeting on the proposed "eco-town" which threatens to engulf my village, I noted that the plans presented jointly by Uttlesford District Council and the Fairfield partnership contained a "multifunctional biodiverse green space network". Puzzled, I sought clarification. It appears that they mean a field. Despite the turmoil surrounding us at present, bureaucracy still retains the ability to have its evil way with the English language.

David Hill

Elsenham, Hertfordshire

Money in the road

I had an uncle who worked as a road sweeper and he never had a problem of where he should spend the treasure trove he found on pavements: it was used to fund his annual holiday. He wasn't a Scotsman in need of a chiropractor (letter, 15 October) but a Yorkshireman with a low centre of gravity.

Granville Stout

Leigh, Lancashire

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