27 October 2004
The absent and uncaring father is an outdated stereotype
Sir: Nicki Household (letter, 18 October) is very scathing of fathers. Her life bringing up children alone appears to have left her terribly scarred, with the ability to only see the ne'er-do-wells. Did no divorced father in the Eighties support their children? She criticises them for only taking an interest in their children once they are no longer with them. She may be a wonderful mother, but she has absolutely no idea what it is like to be separated from her own children.
The sense of loss of one's children after divorce only increases with increased separation, and there are probably just two ways for a separated father to deal with it: either seek more contact, or turn his back and avoid contact altogether. I also used to stereotype the fathers who emigrated to Australia and never left a forwarding address, but maybe for them that was the only way to reduce the pain.
I now know differently. For every scoundrel there is a loving father who may not have fully realised the extent of his love until he was separated.
Sir: Nicki Household (letter, 18 October) is stuck in a time warp and wonders how equal shared parenting works. I have my three children, all under 12, every week from Thursday evening until I drop them at school on Monday morning. They go to and from school from different homes on different days, their friends visit both homes, they keep favourite things at both homes and whichever parent is looking after them cares for them when they are ill. It makes life more complicated but it works, and the children much prefer seeing each parent equally to any other arrangement.
Rather than concerning themselves with whether or not a child wants their life divided between two homes, the women who constitute 75 per cent of divorce petitioners could better spend their time asking if a child wants their family wrecked at all. Of course, the women who don't feel that shared parenting is workable can always move out into a one-bedroom flat, go to work to pay money to the father and see the children alternate weekends in the park.
PETER THOMAS de CRUZ
Social consequences of excessive gambling
Sir: The suggestion in your leader (20 October) that the liberalisation of the gambling laws in the 1960s did not result in an increase in excessive gambling is incorrect. In a research study at that time (British Journal of Addiction 1970; 64: 419-427), I found a definite association between the increased availability and the onset of pathological gambling. This was in spite of the fact that the gambling facilities were then provided on the basis of unstimulated demand.
What is now proposed is fundamentally different. The Government, lobbied by promoters, has chosen to ignore well-recognised psychological and physiological concomitants of gambling, which affect all of us and result in faulty decision-making, often leading to irrational behaviour.
This is particularly so when the turnover is rapid, as in gaming. The latter is therefore different from other types of commercial transaction. Yet, now it is being proposed that participation will be very actively stimulated, with the provision of both hard and soft gambling under the same roof. Inevitably, gambling will become more impulsive and result in the greater chasing of losses.
This will occur in what the promoters choose to term "socially responsible gambling", involving warnings drawing attention to the dangers of excess and advice to "problem gamblers" to seek "treatment". However, the incentives offered to go on gambling will be greater.
While the creation of a Gambling Commission is desirable, it will inevitably have to operate within the setting of the increased facilities and the promotion permitted by this legislation. Therefore, the implication that this will "not harm others" indicates a disregard of the disastrous social consequences of excessive gambling.
Dr E MORAN
Adviser on gambling,
The Royal College of Psychiatrists
Sir: Hamish McRae (Opinion, 20 October) succinctly spells out why Britain may adopt Las Vegas-style gambling casinos to "help revive run-down city centres, both by attracting more visitors and more explicitly by forcing casino-owners to build other facilities - low-cost housing and the like". Meanwhile, Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, has spelt out the appalling social cost, with the possibility of 700,000 "problem gamblers". This strikes me as being a classic Marxist dialectic wrapped up in market liberalism: the ends justifies the means, and the devil take the naive. American casinos are hardly in business to lose.
Has anyone calculated the hidden costs to the public purse of the "gamblers who have lost millions, stolen money to try to cover their tracks ... and the much larger number of lower-profile stories about wrecked marriages, suicides and attempted suicides, and rising vagrancy", that McRae refers to? Not likely. There are better ways of reviving run-down inner cities: investment in a decent transport infrastructure, for one, which would attract other business investment.
Tony Blair's New Labour has prided itself in its Christian rather than Marxist roots. In this case I much prefer the Methodism that deplores gambling to the neo-Marxist logic or indeed the market capitalism that promotes it.
Initiatives of Change
Sir: On paper, the odds against winning at roulette or blackjack are more favourable to the punter than the lottery. However, gamblers should consider that, if they win with any regularity, the casino will cancel their membership. What's more, their names and photos (taken at the door) will be circulated to all other casinos, until there is nowhere left to play. The welcome mat may be inviting, but win and it will be pulled right from under your feet.
Dumfries & Galloway
Sir: I can agree with much of what Phil J Durden says about modern Ireland (letter: "The joy of travelling in a modern, smoke-free Ireland", 25 October). I admire their courage in banning smoking in public places and I would add that they have also pioneered environment tax with their levy on plastic supermarket bags. As a Europhile, I would also like to go along with him on the euro, except that many of my Irish friends revile it, calling it the "yoyo".
However, when I read his comments on Irish driving, I suspected he was looking through a rose-tinted windscreen. The UK has the best road safety record in the EU. In 2001, according to the World Health Organisation, we had a road death rate of 6.1 per 100,000. Ireland's death rate was 75 per cent higher, at 10.7 per 100,000, and in the corridor between Dublin and Belfast, the rate is 80 per cent above the national level. So maybe Mr Durden should learn to love the "hated speed cameras" and be grateful for the police presence on UK roads.
Sir: Whilst I am delighted that Phil Durden's trip to Ireland was so enjoyable, I must point out that living here is less than utopian, and unbearable as a smoker. Since the introduction of the ban, 30 per cent of the population has had to endure a daily routine of going from home to work to home again before we can enjoy a legal product, more than half of the cost of which goes to the same government that introduced the ban.
However, I would certainly welcome Britain adopting the euro - if for no other reason than to make my smoking holidays to the UK easier.
Sir: As the widow of a former Dubliner may I ask where Phil Durden spent his time in Ireland?
Because the unofficial speed tracks, the graffiti, the intimidating youths hanging round bus stops and bus shelters are all there. As for the euro, all I've heard so far is moan, moan, moan, because the Irish government can no longer decide interest rates on its own. The people are not exactly over the moon about taxes either, especially those of the indirect kind.
And how come he missed all those soulless housing estates or the appalling public transport? With all due respect to Mr Durden, one does feel he has been seeing Ireland through the eyes of the tourist, not those of the people who live there.
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
Sir: The director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper, is right to urge that we seek a wider range of solutions to our energy problems ("Global warming can be averted without nuclear power", 23 October), but some of his information is out-of-date. He tells us that nuclear power pollutes our oceans and atmosphere, and that it offers no financial benefits when compared to other renewable energy. In fact, modern Western nuclear power stations have an excellent pollution record, and a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering places the latest nuclear designs second only to combined-cycle gas-power stations in cost advantage.
Perhaps, as he says, global warming can be averted without nuclear power; but it will be easier (and safer) to try to do so with its help. Sooner or later we must begin an informed public debate about nuclear energy.
Future of Man United
Sir: My breath was taken away by the comments of your columnist, Jeremy Warner, who berates Manchester United's board for rejecting the current plan by Malcolm Glazer to buy the Club (26 October).
There are legal opinions that argue that a company's board has a duty not to limit its activities to the needs of shareholders, but to take a view, as United's board did, about longer-term issues. A football club is not just any other business, where a person chooses from several competing brands. Football clubs elicit great loyalty from their fans and supporters. This ought to be taken into account by any board considering the future of a club.
It cannot be right for a football club, whether Manchester United or any other, to have its future so tied to the fortunes of one person. It makes it far too vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the fate of one individual. This is an issue for all football clubs in this country, not just for United. Even if you hate Manchester United, concern about the health of the game should arouse support for the campaign against Malcolm Glazer.
Sir: Bryan Stevens is astounded at the variation of fare prices for the same rail journey (letter, 23 October). I am afraid it is another facet of rip-off Britain. I recently priced tickets from Shropshire to London and found I could be paying £9 (internet special), £65 or £115 for exactly the same journey. I asked the Virgin Trains telephone representative how many £9 internet special seats were available on each train. Unsurprisingly that information was not available.
The railway industry is heavily subsided by the taxpayer; should other users be subsiding cheap internet fares? Similar journeys taken by rail should have a fair and even pricing system.
Sir: Deborah Orr laments the sorry state of Britain's libraries (26 October). She obviously hasn't visited Chrisp Street in East London, where we now have a spanking new Idea Store, created and managed by the council, which is full of books, music and DVDs and computers. It is open seven days a week, until 9pm on four days. There are three Idea Stores in Tower Hamlets, and more are planned for the future, so it seems there is change afoot, particularly in the areas that need it most.
Sir: How predictable that Bruce Anderson is playing the over-used bogeyman card ("If John Kerry becomes president of the US, Islamic fanatics the world over will celebrate", 25 October) that has characterised the entire Bush campaign. F D Roosevelt once said: "We have nothing to fear except fear itself." Those words are surely truer today than they have ever been. In an election campaign which has become a contest between fear and reason, let us hope that reason will prevail.
Sir: If Kerry wins I suspect that it will be most of the world, and not just the Islamic fanatics, who will be celebrating
Mrs CATHERINE GOSNEY
Sir: I have to take issue with James Harkin's provocative pro-porn essay ("Why can't the British make better pornography?" 25 October). He writes: "At each stage in the development of the worldwide web, pornographers got there first and showed everyone else how to do it." Er, no. The technical innovations that made the web possible were made by clever and dedicated engineers, many working in their own time. Pornographers exploited the new technology much, I would suggest, as they exploit anything else in their path.
Sir: One can only agree with James Harkin (Opinion, October 25) that Pauline Reage's The Story of O was a fantasy, although even more an absolute disappointment. As a devotee of Hornby and Bassett-Lowke I began reading it only to find it had nothing at all to do with model railways.
Wildhern, Andover, Hampshire