Remember the futility of war
The Poppy Appeal is once again subverting Armistice Day. A day that should be about peace and remembrance is turned into a month-long drum roll of support for current wars. This year's campaign has been launched with showbiz hype. The true horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored.
The public are being urged to wear a poppy in support of "Our Heroes". There is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle. There is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about fighting in an unnecessary conflict.
Remembrance should be marked with the sentiment "Never again".
(Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq)
(Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq)
(Northern Ireland, Falklands)
(Northern Ireland, Falklands)
(Dhofar, Northern Ireland)
I agree totally with your leading article (25 October) questioning whether the extended poppy-wearing season devalues the cause it promotes. But I would go further.
While I support wholeheartedly the work of the Royal British Legion, even if I consider it a form of governmental neglect that their work is necessary, the wearing of poppies, ribbons, wristbands, badges etc as a result of charitable giving serves only to promote the generosity of the wearers, not the causes they support.
These icons tell the world what a lovely person the giver is. They are a form of self promotion with which I have always been very uncomfortable. There has always been a tradition of discreet charitable giving in this country, and sadly we seem to be moving to a more American model of shouting about it.
That is what devalues the causes. People should give frequently, generously and discreetly to charities or not at all.
Not only are poppies landing early this year, but on Friday's Newsnight, two of the three male reviewers wore poppies on their left lapels (green leaves arcing artfully skywards), while the three female participants grew them on their right chests. It seems that the Beeb's stylists have found a new sense of fashion.
So, make sure you wear your poppy on the BBC-approved side, unless, like the third male panellist, you choose not to wear one.
Play safe and ban everything
One man was caught with a bomb in his shoe while trying to board a flight. The result was that now a large majority of the world's flying public have to take their shoes off and have them inspected at airports. Last weekend a bomb was discovered in a printer cartridge and Theresa May has made the bold decision that printer toner cartridges weighing over 500g will be banned from hand luggage on all UK flights.
Rather than always act after the event, why don't we today ban wigs, handbags, cameras, snorkels, false legs, padded shoulders and anything else that could conceivably host a bomb? We have to pre-empt these attacks and do some forward thinking.
Cannabis really is dangerous
Mary Ann Sieghart falls into a trap by downplaying the health risks of cannabis. (Opinion, 1 November).
It is not just the small minority who have a predisposition to schizophrenia that are affected; it is the tens of thousands of young men who are damaged by the more subtle effects of cannabis – the blunting of ambition, motivation and drive. I have witnessed these effects during my 30 years of working with people with mental health problems, the homeless and substance users. I have also personally witnessed the subtle damage that cannabis has done to the sons of close friends as well as the disastrous effects it has had on my own son.
I have no doubt that cannabis will be legalised at some stage, but before we go down this road more research needs to be done to expose the subtle effects cannabis has on the brain's wiring. We need more accurate figures on the numbers of people affected long-term by its use and we need a long and sustained health-education programme informing young people that regular use of cannabis can and does cause serious brain damage.
Netley Abbey, Hampshire
Thanks to Mary Ann Sieghart for her illuminating column highlighting the folly of the US war on drugs. It made me think: the Netherlands bans guns and has liberal drugs legislation, the US permits guns and bans all drugs. There are far lower rates of drug addiction, drug-related deaths, gun crime and murder in the Netherlands. Aren't those the desired results?
Save the forests and sell them off
The recent decision by the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Nagoya is a welcome step towards the recognition of our interdependence with all life on earth, and our responsibility to protect and nurture.
But I cannot reconcile the statement of Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary, that this agreement is an essential step in achieving aims to protect the worlds forests, with the reported government plans to sell of up to half of our UK forests.
How can we expect developing nations to agree to the CBD's groundbreaking code of protection and realise the huge potential of protecting forests when our government is planning to sell off our very own biodiverse woodlands? In this time of austerity we should take a look at how the UK can link climate change, poverty and biodiversity to protect our forests, and not just take the easy option of a "quick buck".
Haiti: send in the Germans
Well before the catastrophic earthquake last January Haiti was a failed state. Desperately poor, mired in corruption, it tottered on the brink of collapse. Now the cholera outbreak has struck and other disasters such as hurricanes lie in wait.
The international effort to bring adequate relief to the country has manifestly failed. Much of the aid which poured in is, we are told, still unused, whilst 1.5 million people are still living in refugee camps.
There is an approach which could enable the Haitian people to put their deeply troubled past behind them and lay the foundations for a liveable future. One of the major world powers could be designated by the United Nations, with the acquiescence of the Haitian state, to take over the running of government for a finite period, say five years – sufficiently long to bring about the vitally needed restructurings and infrastructure improvements, but not so long as to place Haiti in a colonial regime.
Who should be charged with this task? Not the United States, whose murky relations with Haiti in the past would debar them. Nor France, for similar reasons. The obvious candidate is Germany, among the richest countries in the world, one which has had no colonial role for 100 years and has almost unequalled reserves of skilled manpower – doctors, engineers, agronomists, administrators.
A UN Commissioner for Haiti should be nominated, a German supported by a team composed of experienced specialists. The Haitian president and ministers could remain in office, but only with advisory powers.
It would not be a question of Germany shouldering any greater burden of relief financing than it already carries, and to the question, "Why should Germany assume this burden?" the answer would be that would give an opportunity to many professionals to contribute their skills to the saving of a country, and bring to Germany the respect and gratitude of peoples across the world.
Justice at risk in injury claims
We refer to the Justice Secretary's intention to reform the current no-win-no-fee system for personal injury claims to make it more like the system in the US.
Kenneth Clarke says that the system needs reforming because of the substantial costs paid by defendants, where claimants are successful in pursuing claims. The current system came into being when the previous government abolished legal aid for personal injury claims, other than claims for medical negligence. It was to make possible claims without legal aid.
The system works on the basis that, if a claimant's lawyer does not win the case, he does not get paid. However, if he wins the case then he can claim a success fee, over and above his base costs, which reflects the risks.
We are concerned that if the current system is changed and claimants have to pay their solicitors' costs out of damages awarded, justice will not be achieved. Often very deserving claimants are only entitled to quite modest damages – for example parents of children who died because of negligence. The deduction of the claimant solicitor's costs from a modest award of damages may leave the claimant with very little or no damages.
It is also possible that in more modest cases the defendants' lawyers may put up resistance just to run up the costs and so make the claim uneconomic to pursue. That is not justice.
Partners, Attwaters Solicitors, Loughton, Essex
Pollution report fails the test
The Independent has shown itself to be pre-eminent in its concern for the environment, whether the plight of the bumble bee (great headline) or the ongoing charade of hunting whales for scientific research. So why the light-hearted jauntiness in your report of the pollution of the River Test (25 September)?
Your reporter, tongue welded firmly to cheek, writes about "celebrity anglers getting to the bottom of their whiffy problem". I wasn't aware that celebrity status diluted environmental concern.
The Test is not in the poundstretcher category of trout stream, but much of the river is accessible to even non-celeb public-sector fishermen like me. While £150 per day makes it only a rare treat, it is worth it to be able to spend a day in an idyllic environment which is so rich in the heritage of my sport.
Good on you for reporting the problem – but a bit less sniggering at the back of the class please.
Thirsk, North Yorkshire
Don't make us get up in the dark
There has been much disinformation about the subject of GMT or permanent GMT+1 hour. However, I do not expect this to come from the pages of The Independent. Steve Connor, (Lab Notes, 1 November) apparently has no knowledge of sunrise times or the morning habits of the majority of the population.
For approximately six weeks either side of the winter solstice the sunrise here in north Wiltshire is around 0800GMT or it would be 0900GMT+1. Connor claims that at that time "most of us are still in our beds anyway".
At 8am I expect a lot of people would still be in bed but at 9am most people who work for a living or are of school age would be up and about. If this country is daft enough to get GMT plus one hour in winter they will be cursing the politicians that made them travel to work or school before sunrise.
J W Wright
It is puzzling that some of our safety organisations are backing permanent BST. Fog and frost are both more prevalent in the morning. Do they really wish to add the hazard of an extra hour of darkness at peak commuting time when the motorways may be shrouded in freezing fog? Surely not.
Emir's wife is no Cockney
In Notebook (28 October) John Walsh relates the name of the Emir of Qatar's wife – Sheika Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned – and adds with a self-satisfied chuckle; "It's a shame about the 'bint' isn't it? A touch of Cockney demotic amid the eastern grandeur."
The word bint is of Arabic origin and means "girl" or "daughter". The Emir's wife's name presumably means at the end, "daughter of Nasser Al-Missned".
It was British soldiers serving in Egypt and Mesopotamia who first heard the term and applied it offhandedly to women, and it eventually went into common parlance here.
There was one blinding omission in Johann Hari's otherwise excellent article (29 October) on the efficacy of protests. Namely the biggest protest march in UK history, against the Iraq war in February 2003, which achieved precisely nothing. Could it have anything to do with the fact that he supported this war at the time?
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Perspectives on the cuts, jobs and poverty
Upheaval in jobs market
Incapacity benefit was the great employment smokescreen of the past 10 years, concealing legions of fit, but often wrongly skilled, workers.
The two million people who receive incapacity benefit currently have to reapply for it under the new employment and support allowance programme. Almost 8 in 10 of them are being found fit for work after undergoing the work capability assessment, or are stopping their claim before they complete their medical assessment. This means that an additional 1.5 million people could soon be looking for a job.
This comes on top of the 500,000 public sector employees entering the job market over the next four years – which puts the challenge facing the private sector in terms of new job generation into stark perspective. So why is so much attention being heaped on the public sector, which is a sideshow in the upheaval we're about to see in the jobs market?
Victims of a brutal policy
It is impossible to open a newspaper or switch on a TV and not be blasted by another hail of brutal economic policy news. And so we see the rising numbers of casualties.
I have personally become acquainted with two cases this week. A young woman with a hip disability who walks with the aid of crutches and has a broken hand, has been assessed as available for work. As she has appealed against the judgement her social security income has been stopped. She is now in destitution, no money, no family. When her housing benefit stops she will be on the streets.
A young man living in a tent in Bournemouth is working as best he can but he has no fixed address. He can't get a fixed address as he does not have two months' rent to get started. And no fixed address means it's impossible to get a permanent full-time job. The odds are hugely stacked against him – as also hundreds of thousands of young people without homes and families.
And what is government's management of policies which impact massively on lives like these? A commitment to the most savage dismantling of civil society in ten generations. This government throws us back to the Wild West: everyone for themselves.
Beware the angry poor
Those with access to the facts of history know that when poor people are treated spectacularly badly they are inclined to resist. This can lead to severe problems.
It is bad enough when such endeavours fail, as was the case with the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The consequences can be even more regrettable if such movements succeed. The new regimes tend to be dominated swiftly by appalling dictators, as happened with the French Revolution, Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany and Mao Zedong's China.
Intelligent US citizens are right to be worried about the Tea Party. The amusingly crazy candidates thrown up by that movement could pave the way for more sinister forces.
Here in the UK, the Coalition Government needs to exercise greater care. One should not push the poor too far. Bankers, captains of industry and others who exercise real power in this country need to control the politicians more firmly. While one understands their wish that the rich should get richer, they should recognise that, if the poor get poorer too quickly, popular expressions of resentment are likely to have unfortunate results.
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