8 November 2013 Books
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Commander Povey has been promoted to Captain and he has plans for Troutbridge, Priceless.
Quiet day post books no show by computer man
No Scrabble today Mary under the weather
Clifford Nass – Obituary
Clifford Nass was a sociologist who argued that digital multitasking makes us less sociable, less efficient and less clever
5:49PM GMT 07 Nov 2013
Clifford Nass, who has died aged 55, was an American academic whose observations on the ways people interact with computers and other digital devices revealed much about modern social and working life.
His findings dealt an old-fashioned hammer-blow to the idea that the proliferation of screens at every turn — be they PCs, laptops, tablets, televisions or even satnavs — is necessarily a “good thing”.
In particular Nass singled out the ubiquitous smartphone, which encourages users to multitask by juggling different “apps” while Tweeting, making or receiving calls, checking emails, monitoring social media, playing games and surfing the internet all at once. “It is not physiologically healthy for you,” he declared, “because [humans] are not built to do a multitude of tasks at one time. Your phone makes you feel like you have to respond, which then increases your stress and harms your cognitive thinking.”
A sociology professor at Stanford University, Nass conducted pioneering research into how humans interact with technology and found that it was robbing us of the ability to concentrate, analyse or even feel empathy. He diagnosed young people of the Twitter era as suffering from “emotion atrophy” as a result of insufficient face-to-face “practice in observing and experiencing true emotions”.
Far from making people sharper, jumping around from emailing to texting to posting on social media can scramble the brain, Nass concluded. “People who multitask all the time show worse thinking abilities in every dimension that we know of.”
In the course of a quarter of a century of studying people’s attempts to keep pace with constantly changing technology, Nass found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
Nor did he find that multitasking made us more efficient. In a study in 2009 Nass and his colleagues tested the notion that people who frequently juggled computer, phone or television screens, displayed some special skill at filtering out irrelevant information, or efficiently switched between tasks .
But he was shocked by the results: “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organised; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.” Curiously, Nass himself was an exception to the rule. A colleague described him as the greatest multitasker in the world. Contrary to his own research, “it only made him smarter”.
Nass’s research confirmed what every parent of a certain age has long suspected: that the modern appetite for more and more screen time can shorten attention spans and impair concentration. Last year, at an event organised by Stanford’s Centre for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences, Nass pointed to research showing that teenage girls who spent endless hours watching videos and multitasking with digital devices tended to be less successful with social and emotional development than their counterparts who spent more time interacting face-to-face with friends, even if they too were also heavy users of media.
“We’ve got to make face-to-face time sacred,” he concluded, “and we have to bring back the saying we used to hear all the time, and now never hear: ‘Look at me when I talk to you’.”
Clifford Ivar Nass was born on April 3 1958 in Teaneck, New Jersey, and graduated in Mathematics at Princeton in 1981 before joining the computer firm Intel, where he worked on the development of the 286 processing chip. He became increasingly interested in sociology, and particularly people’s interaction with technology. In 1986 he joined the staff at Stanford and was later appointed professor of communication.
His early research explored the idea that humans relate to technological devices socially, and treat computers as if they were people. Users, he found, felt flattered when they were praised by computerised voices. As new media proliferated, he noted how addicts preferred to retreat to the comfort of texting rather than deal with potential emotional connection (and conflict) with those in the same room. He was startled when a student explained why she was texting her boyfriend down the hall. “It’s more efficient,” she told him.
Nass founded the university’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, and was co-director of Stanford’s Centre for Automotive Research into communication within and between the cars of the future. His work on the computerised voices of satellite navigation systems demonstrated that most people prefer to take directions from a male synthetic voice. He noted that in the late 1990s BMW had to recall its 5 Series cars in Germany when men complained that the “voice” was female.
In his spare time he was also an accomplished magician.
Clifford Nass, who died of an apparent heart attack on a hiking holiday, was divorced. His partner, Barbara Pugliese, and his son survive him.
Clifford Nass, born April 3 1958, died November 2 2013
UK couples now spend about 150 minutes per day together (Report, 30 October): 50 spent watching TV, 30 eating and 24 on household chores. This suggests there are only around 6.6 minutes where couples are interacting without distractions. So the principle of couples making time for themselves as partners to maintain healthy relationships has never been more important. Relationship breakdown can be devastating for families and individuals, and costs the UK economy £44bn a year. Investing in our relationships at individual and governmental level is crucial. The Relationships Alliance has come together to put good-quality relationships at the heart of our society, demonstrating that the relationships people can take for granted are as central to wellbeing as health and finances. The government should be constantly reviewing ways to remove or reduce barriers to couples and families having time together.
Ruth Sutherland Relate, Mark Molden Marriage Care, Susanna Abse Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, Penny Mansfield One Plus One
As fresh investigations are launched into Barclays’ dubious activities, the sense of a potential new direction for the bank generated by Antony Jenkins’ appointment has all but evaporated (Report, 31 October). Since Jenkins announced in February that Barclays was pulling out of food speculation, the World Development Movement has asked the bank four times to clarify what proportion of its agricultural commodities business has actually been closed down. When it finally came, the answer was, in effect, “we’re not telling you”. So while Barclays has bowed to public outrage by ending its own speculation on food, it continues to enable clients, such as institutional investors, to profit from the practice. Food speculation fuels food price spikes and contributes to the global hunger crisis. Through its continued involvement, Barclays puts its profits above the basic human need for food.
Director, World Development Movement
• The Co-operative Bank picked up customers while other banks were being rescued by taxpayers’ money. It was also named the world’s most environmentally sustainable bank by the FT. Now it has been laid low, with weaknesses that might appear endemic to the banking sector, it’s easy to assume that the ethics will ebb away (Letters, 5 November). This doesn’t have to be the outcome and I suggest we give it time to judge the truth of this.
We of course welcome the plans to preserve co-operative values and ethics within the bank’s constitution, for which the Co-operative Group deserves much credit for during negotiations. If the current proposals work out, there remains a degree of co-operative influence over the bank. Like the new wave of ethical “B corporations” in the US, it plans to have ethics entrenched in its articles. The bank was a pioneer of ethical reporting, independently audited and increasingly sophisticated. If this continues, there will be a measure of public accountability. The end of mutual ownership is not necessarily the end of its ethics.
Secretary general, Co-operatives UK
Malcolm Chalmers writes: “With or without a special defence relationship, an independent Scotland would remain profoundly dependent on its southern neighbour for security, even while absent when vital decisions are being made” (Comment, 6 November). Would that be the “security” provided by the London-centric MoD and experts who failed to predict the end of the cold war or the rise of al-Qaida, failed to respond adequately to the diversification opportunities (especially at the shipyards) that arose from the fall of the Berlin wall, took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq and a misplaced decade-long “war on terror” in Afghanistan, propose to modernise the UK nuclear “deterrent” (while simultaneously encouraging targets in Moscow and Beijing to invest in strategic British infrastructure, including nuclear energy), manage an out-of-control procurement process where major defence platforms arrive late and grossly over-budget and, above all else, would sell their own grannies (or spy on every UK household and European ally) in order to retain the “special relationship” with US interests?
Dr Ian Davis
• The common consensus on the decision to keep Scottish shipyards open at the expense of Portsmouth has been seen as a political trump card played by the Tories. Vote yes to independence and lose the shipbuilding contracts seems to be the message. Once the political fallout has finished, there will be time for contemplation up here in Scotland as to whether or not we as a nation want to be subject to such political skulduggery for our jobs. Independence would remove such a threat.
As for Scottish defence, I am astounded by the political commentators who harp on about Scotland being able to defend itself. Against whom? During the IRA attacks on mainland Britain, not one such incident took place in Scotland. There has been one botched attempt at “terrorism” at Glasgow airport, where the assailants were apprehended by the locals. That apart? Nothing. How would Scotland be able to defend itself therefore becomes less of an issue than the media and politicians make it out to be.
Were there to be a yes vote then Faslane would become the real issue for Scottish defence as the SNP has committed Scotland to rid itself of the nuclear deterrent. Perhaps this could be accommodated at Portsmouth given the closure of the shipbuilding yards there? But surely if Scotland becomes an independent country and the threat is to remove the shipbuilding capability from it, the same would be true in reverse – in that what is left of the UK could not also be without a nuclear deterrent? Interesting times ahead.
• The Scottish secretary says it would be difficult to award work building warships to Scotland if it were to leave the UK (Report, 7 November). Really? A UK minister believes that? In a UK where my bottom rests in a train seat part-owned by SNCF? In a UK which borrows a monstrously expensive nuclear deterrent from the US and pays them to service it? In a UK that proposes getting companies owned by the French and Chinese governments to build nuclear reactors? Is he saying that a rump UK will be so suddenly aware of its economic and strategic integrity that it won’t let people under the same crown, people who had formed part of their polity, build a ship cost-effectively? Apologies, but I am not sure how much of this rot I can cope with until the referendum.
Robert Hunter, the centenary of whose death you rightly mark (In praise of… Sir Robert Hunter, 5 November), would have been appalled by this government’s attack on green spaces. Ministers this year revoked the ancient law whereby communities could register much-loved open land as village or town greens, thus safeguarding them for the public against development. Now the developers have their way. Sir Robert was solicitor to the Commons Preservation Society which, as the Open Spaces Society, continues today to crusade for the cause he founded.
General secretary, the Open Spaces Society
• James Curran cites the 2010 Eurobarometer survey which showed that “the British public was least disposed to trust its press” (Letters, 7 November). Should we conclude from this, therefore, that, of the 27 European countries polled, the British were the least well-informed; or the best?
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
• Yet another photograph of Rebekah Brooks arriving at the Old Bailey (7 November). Why not save them up for a 2014 calendar for aficionados and spare the rest of us over the coming months?
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
• Great and even greater storms (Ian Jack, 2 November) have not been infrequent, but a decade ago I wrote a book about the storm of 26/27 November 1703 which, foolishly perhaps, I called The Greatest Storm. Approximately 8,000 died.
• The current debate about whether or not concussed sports players should be allowed to continue to play (Report, Sport, 5 November) reminds me of the story of the former Partick Thistle manager, John Lambie. When told that his concussed striker didn’t know who he was, Lambie said: “That’s great – tell him he’s Pele and get him back on.”
• We are into the second week of November and I have not seen one Easter egg for sale. What’s gone wrong?
Polly Toynbee fears for the future of arts subjects under the new curriculum and I agree with her (Austen, Orwell and Dickens will die out in Gove’s world, 5 November). The present situation is the logical conclusion of education policy over at least 30 years. “Child-centred education” is derided as insufficiently “rigorous” and the interests of employers and working parents take precedence. Longer hours and shorter holidays will result in children who are more tired and disengaged from education if more lessons are crammed into the day. Pupils who lean towards creative subjects will find that many schools no longer offer drama, art and other “soft” subjects that would better suit them. Education as a broad concept has been lost in favour of training in “the basics”.
Many years ago, as a young teacher, I read an American book called Teaching As a Subversive Activity which had a lasting effect on me. Its main premise was that an important part of a teacher’s job is to help the pupil to develop an inbuilt “crap detector” which would lead them to challenge attempts to influence them unduly by, for example, presenting opinion as fact in newspapers, broadcasting or indeed the classroom.
It would be useful from a political point of view if children were trained to be compliant and passive workers and consumers. This approach removes personal responsibility in favour of obedience and I think anyone with a sense of history will recognise the dangers inherent in it. It is those very “soft” subjects that encourage independent thought and creativity.
Education isn’t all about English and maths. Children are entitled to a wide variety of experiences inside and outside the classroom and their family life should be respected. This includes those children whose parents are teachers. Is it really reasonable to expect teachers to answer mobile phone calls from parents up to 8pm on weekday evenings, as one headteacher suggested, when they may be putting their own children to bed?
• Polly Toynbee is wrong to say that in 1950s grammar schools fact and rote were all that was taught. For O-level English literature, which all pupils took, we read far more widely than is put forward for the new EBacc exam. We were encouraged to produce our own ideas and responses to the plays, poems and novels we studied; cribs were never mentioned and I’m not sure were even available. The teachers were enthusiastic about what they were teaching and encouraged us in wider reading. Multiple choice exams would have been laughed out of court as a ridiculous way of testing English literature. Don’t knock the good things that grammar schools did, though obviously for only a small proportion of the population.
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
• I have forgotten how to do quadratic equations, algebra, trigonometry and all the Latin verbs I had to learn, but I will never forget the words of Shakespeare that a passionate, dedicated English teacher delivered and often acted for us at my 1950s grammar school. Shakespeare’s words and works have shaped my life; the rest is silence. In spite of Mr Gove, Shakespeare will continue to shape people’s lives, long after most of the other subjects have faded.
• Polly Toynbee is spot on in her excoriation of Govian Gradgrindery. The inevitable marginalisation of the supposedly “soft” arts subjects in the state sector is a scandal. Mr Gove should listen not only to the subject specialists but also to the students themselves.
At the beginning of this academic year I asked a group of A-level drama students why they valued the subject. Their replies were instructive: “Teaches teamwork”; “Builds self-confidence”; “Meeting deadlines is a crucial life discipline”; “Opens you up to a wide range of human experience”; “It’s hugely enjoyable in its own right”. But is the secretary of state willing to be instructed?
• Polly Toynbee denounces Michael Gove’s claim in Standpoint to have “rewarded schools that teach traditional subjects, which help all students to get into university”. But he is right. It is a cruel deception to tell pupils from poor backgrounds that a GCSE in drama will help them to get into Oxbridge. English literature, by contrast, will continue to be essential for those who wish to read arts subjects at good universities, and Polly is just wrong to claim that Austen, Dickens and Orwell will “die out”. The new English literature GCSE will include post-1914 British fiction or drama, as well as Shakespeare, romantic poetry and the 19th-century novel.
As for Polly’s lament for the “deep cultural loss” of the Bible in a generation, whose fault is that? It seems rather hard to blame Gove for biblical ignorance: a couple of years ago he was castigated for sending every school a copy of the King James Bible. For decades, Polly has hounded schools with a Christian or Jewish ethos. As St Paul said: “Whatsoever a man [or woman] soweth, that shall he [or she] also reap.”
• Gus John (Mr Gove is running a department for inequality, 6 November) said there is “precious little evidence of Ofsted providing in its inspection reports” the attainment gap of children from different ethnicities. This is simply not true – as a look at our inspection reports will make clear.
The Ofsted inspectors’ handbook states that inspection is mainly about evaluating how well individual pupils benefit from their school. If relevant, inspectors will pay particular attention to the achievement of ethnic minority pupils, as well as other groups of pupils.
Our Unseen Children report found that attainment at GCSE has improved for pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, and for pupils whose first language is not English. Moreover, we found that Bangladeshi pupils now outperform their white British peers while black African pupils attain a similar level.
However, Gus was right when he said there has been an improvement in schooling outcomes for most children. Our figures show that over 600,000 more pupils started the term in September in schools rated good or outstanding than was the case a year ago. Through our tough inspection framework, Ofsted is helping to drive improvements for all pupils, regardless of their ethnic or socio-economic background.
Ofsted director of schools
On 9 and 10 November 1938, Nazi stormtroopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria, which the Nazis had annexed. During these pogroms, 91 Jews were killed, thousands were taken from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and some 7,500 Jewish-owned shops were smashed and looted. The Kristallnacht pogroms presaged attempts to remove Jews from German life completely.
Many Jews left hurriedly to seek refuge in friendly countries, including Britain, but Britain was already in the grip of an “aliens scare”. Newspaper headlines declared: “Alien Jews Pouring In”, and claimed that “Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole”. The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of “over-running the country”. Despite wide public revulsion at the violence of Kristallnacht, powerful elements in British politics and business continued to admire Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees,
As Jewish people mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society, and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.
Benjamin Abeles, rescued by the Kindertransport in 1939
Ruth Appleton, Santé Project
Martha Jean Baker
George Barratt, Councillor, Barking & Dagenham
N G Benjamin
Prof Haim Bresheeth
Prof Andrew Coleman
Prof Barbara Einhorn
Prof Robert Fine
Dr Ben Gidley
Dr Claudia Gould Hertzmann
Prof Colin Green
Prof Susan Himmelweit
Dr Deborah Hirshfield
Dr Hannah Jones
Dr Brian Klug
Prof Francesca Klug
Prof Yosefa Loshitzky
Jane Merkin, Executive Producer, Suitcase 1938
Margaret Owen OBE
Dr Daniel Ozarow
Dr Claudia Prestel
Dr Esti Rimmer
Prof Jacqueline Rose
Prof Jonathan Rosenhead
Jenny Salaman Manson
Prof Andrew Samuels
Prof Joy Schaverien
Karel Schling, child of holocaust survivors
Mike Scott, Trustee, Nottingham and Notts Refugee Forum
Prof Victor Jeleniewski Seidler
Dr Jackie Shimshon
Prof Avi Shlaim
Liz Silver, Notts Disabled People’s Movement
John Speyer, Director, Music in Detention
Catharine Claire Stewart
Eva Turner, child of holocaust survivors
Dr Nadia Valman
Dr Karen Worth
Prof Nira Yuval-Davis, Director, Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging, UEL
I have to congratulate you on the new design of The Independent. The paper is showing its class with the vertical masthead and the new fonts. Fantastic.
Jack Cockin, Gauldry, Fife
Just beautiful – well done! The new masthead, the typography, the airy layout, just gorgeous, and reminiscent of the impact of the original launch. On a detail, less sure about the byline illustrations, but if the owners of the faces are happy . . .
Ian Bartlett, East Molesey, Surrey
This morning I went to read The Independent, as I have done almost every day since it was launched. I picked up this strange new neutral, colourless paper and found that the print was so pale I could not read it at all.
My eyes have not deteriorated overnight. It seems you have not taken into account that contrast is as important as print size for reading. Please give us back the old clear print.
Janice Bardwell, Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Yes, I like it, mostly. The font is a little strange, but I will get used to that. I was so excited to see “Section 2” was going to be there again. At last we can share the paper properly, I thought. But no, it isn’t a bit that can be taken out and still make sense. Is this too difficult to do?
Sue Stennett, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
Nice new design – but why only give one paragraph on page 36 to the latest news on carbon-dioxide levels, the most important factor affecting the future of our planet?
Victor Anderson, London SE23
See, you can do it! At last, a proper grown-up Independent, instead of a mad, hyperactive kid. I’m feeling calmer already. Please keep it up.
Don Thomson, London W13
William Haines, ShrewsburyImmigrants don’t place unjustified demands
We need immigration to help reduce our cost base, both for manufacturing and services. Anything that reduces costs, whether by efficiency or low rates of pay, will improve our competitiveness.
The alternative is to export these manufacturing processes and services to other countries. By retaining or winning business through lower cost competitiveness other UK businesses benefit.
The claim that immigrants place unjustified demands on our infrastructure is unfair. They are supporting that infrastructure, especially in the NHS. Their demands are less and contribution greater because they are younger than the indigenous population. Aside from the economic benefits they are also bringing extra dimensions to our culture, just as previous migrants did.
It is also unfair to say that they are destroying British customs, values and language. When Brits retire or work abroad we either make no attempt or half-hearted ones to learn the language and customs. Immigrants quickly learn English. All right, perhaps immigrants need to learn one of our values – good old British hypocrisy.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
Where is the plan for shipbuilding?
Last year the Royal Navy placed a £452m order with a South Korean firm for four fuel tankers. UK firms bid but were unsuccessful in winning the order. It is inconceivable that the governments of many other countries would have permitted such a thing.
Each time it happens we are told that the winning bid was the most competitive. Never taken into account are the costs to the taxpayer of the unemployment that follows a large-scale shut-down or redundancy programme and the damage to a range of manufacturing industries.
We will always need ships. The depressing news of the end of shipbuilding in Portsmouth will not be the last unless successive governments decide to invest in a long-term plan to keep and improve a shipbuilding capability in the UK.
Instead of bickering about who got our country into this mess, we need a cross-party initiative to plan our way back. Chances with today’s politicians? Close to zero.
Patrick Mill, Ryde, Isle of Wight
Cameron says unemployment in the Portsmouth shipyard is in the national interest. IDS says the unemployed are shirking scroungers. Does anyone in this government really know what they are doing, or why?
Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire
Mercenary and selfish schools
The failure of so many academies to support other schools (report, 6 November) lends credence to those of us who have opposed academisation and its impoverishing, destabilising effects on education.
Very many schools converted to academy status for selfish and mercenary reasons, to protect or even enhance their budgets at a time of financial stringency. They took the Government’s 30 pieces of silver without regard to how their actions would affect their “weaker brethren”. As the Select Committee implies, they need to atone.
Professor Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria
Parents are being encouraged by Ofsted to send children to “school” at two years of age. Presumably this is to enrol them as “performance data points” at the earliest opportunity?
I do not see any evidence that the current government’s education policy is based on nourishing the development of the child as an independent, critical thinking individual – rather, the policy is one of labelling as “success” or “failure” a child and his/her school. Should we not be focusing our professional educators on honing their analytical and supportive skills so that “they make the tiny adjustments which can release the genius in any child” (Albert Einstein)?
Professor Bill Boyle, University of Manchester
Not talking about men
My two daughters set off to school this morning determined to identify the one scene in all the Harry Potter films where two women talk to each other about something other than a man (“X-rated means not enough women”, 7 November).
Thanks for the challenge – don’t publish the result before giving the nation’s children a chance to rise to the challenge.
Duncan Fisher, Crickhowell, Powys
I don’t wish to add to the vocal criticism you have received about the views you expressed in your interview with Jeremy Paxman. Instead I’d like to focus on the positive and so I respectfully offer some well-meaning suggestions on how you could use your position as someone with influence, particularly over younger people, to enhance our democratic system.
1) Form a political party / stand for Parliament or as a councillor.
You seem disillusioned with the current political parties, so utilise the long fought for freedom you enjoy to set up a political party and are free to choose its core values (as long as they do not incite hatred or violence). Stand for election at any level either as a candidate of your new party or as an independent. If your ideas gain traction, you will then exert political influence. My party, the Labour Party, was established because the parties of the late 19th century failed to represent ordinary working people. It is now one of the major parties. As UKIP shows, new parties can rise up and change the political weather.
2) Suggest ways in which our democratic system could be improved.
Our system is deficient in many ways and it is incumbent on people who believe things can be better to suggest improvements. Some favour proportional representation; I have advocated that the House of Lords be comprised of 50% Citizen Senators selected by lot as per jury selection. For progress to occur, people of good conscience must move beyond criticising the status quo to setting out a credible alternative.
3) Donate money to charities which seek to engage people in the democratic process, such as Bite the Ballot and the Electoral Reform Society and volunteer your time to reach out to those who don’t vote, especially young people.
Sadly, many in our society, especially younger voters, do not engage with politics. Most are not apathetic about politics, but too many feel disengaged from a political process which they reject as irrelevant to their lives. You could do much to reverse this trend by supporting, both financially and practically, the important work organisations do to engage particularly young people in the political process and educate them about politics.
4) Shadow an MP for a week.
Little is more relevant to our lives than politics and the decisions politicians make. Far from being an out-of-touch elite, MPs sit at the apex of a system which impacts on all of us. You should find out what they do before writing them off. Having worked for several MPs, I know of fewer people who are better plugged in to the concerns of ordinary people, through holding regular surgeries, spending every weekend in their constituencies meeting community groups, responding to hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls each week and fighting hard for constituents locally and nationally. They don’t go into politics for the money and bar a tiny minority, are completely devoted to improving their constituents’ lives and making Britain a better place. If you shadowed an MP and reported what you experienced, this would go some way to improving the public’s understanding of MPs’ work.
5) Visit a country without universal suffrage, or where democracy is relatively new and report about the attitude of people there to democracy.
In many places in the world people do not enjoy the freedoms we do, being unable to organise themselves into parties, stand for election, or remove a government through peaceful means. They long for and sometimes die for the democratic rights and institutions that so many people in Britain are rejecting or ignoring. It would be illuminating for you to visit these places and report back on your views having considered just what it means to live in the absence of any semblance of democracy.
I respect you for what you do in your various roles as comedian (you are one of the funniest), campaigner (particularly on drugs issues), television presenter (particularly when you charmingly expose bigoted people) and commentator. You have energy, intelligence and a passion for improving society and the human condition. You could channel this to inspire people to take constructive action, not destructive criticism. If you were to do one, or more, of the suggestions above, not only would you silence your increasingly hostile critics, but more importantly, you would help this cause and show younger people in particular that one of the most important tenets of living in a democracy is taking responsibility for using the freedom and democratic structures we enjoy to change society for the better. Freedom that is taken for granted withers and dies.
I chair Pragmatic Radicalism, an organisation run by Labour members in our spare time which holds events using our innovative Top of the Policies format, encouraging ordinary people to pitch policy ideas in 60 seconds, usually chaired by shadow ministers, all in the informal, friendly environment of a pub. We’d be delighted if you’d chair an event on ‘Improving British democracy’. Perhaps the Top Policies could be reported in The Independent?
With best wishes,
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism
Spending money on expensive machinery may save cash in the long term, as they will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and not need holidays
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein is right, “Machines are becoming cheaper than labour” (Opinion, Nov 6). The West should grasp this opportunity with both hands. We are competing with the low labour costs of Far Eastern countries in every area of manufacturing. If we introduce machines that can manufacture goods with almost no labour costs, we will easily be able to make and sell products within Europe and America at competitive prices.
We need to encourage companies to come back to Europe, install these machines and start production again in the West. This would create vast numbers of jobs.
To finance this revolution, instead of purchasing Treasury bonds with the quantitative easing programme, the Government would provide half the money without charge, and the remainder at 0.5 per cent for 20 years. This would also bring inward investment from places such as Japan and South Korea. In addition, EU governments should consider subsidising university places for students taking engineering, design and computing degrees, with the aim of developing a new manufacturing class in Europe. John R. SolomonLiverpool Sir, A computer program may be able to replicate passable pieces of journalism but it cannot create the art of journalism, as Daniel Finkelstein’s article proves. In productive industries electronic machines are increasingly replacing human labour, but in low-skilled and low-wage servicing jobs such as cleaning and refuse collection, workers still have to worry about rising travel and energy bills.
In his seminal work Parliamentary Socialism (1972), the Marxist historian Ralph Miliband wrote about the adoption of a statutory living wage and state-financed family allowances by the Independent Labour Party in 1926. Ramsay MacDonald called the proposals millstones around the neck of the Labour movement.
These are indeed financial encumbrances to the Treasury and inimical to jobs (“It’s a nice idea but the Living Wage would destroy jobs”, John McTernan, Thunderer, Nov 4), but a balance must be struck between living expenses and our resources in order to maintain a basic standard of living.Sam BanikLondon N10
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein is on the mark in saying machines are becoming cheaper than labour. A friend of mine has just bought a new machine for his business at a cost of £75,000. When I said that that seemed a lot, he replied that it would work for him 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and wouldn’t take holidays — much better value than an extra worker.Paul Milner Sheringham, Norfolk
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein’s forecast has already come to pass. Yesterday I visited a local bank to withdraw money. Since my last visit the branch had removed all its counters bar one. In their place were two rows of machines, one for withdrawing cash and the other for multiple transactions such as paying bills. A charming young man showed me how the technology worked and I received my money, albeit not in the denominations I had wanted because the machine had run out of £10 notes.
In one respect, though, low-tech lingers on: the machine could not provide the brown envelopes to put the cash in. These were kept in a pile behind the computer screen, and you had to help yourself.Michael BrownHighbridge, Somerset
Hospitals are full of doctor-managers with various titles such as clinical directors and medical directors — and they are usually a disaster
Sir, The chairman of CQC, David Prior, is at best naive in his belief that doctors as managers will benefit the NHS (report, Nov 5). What the NHS needs is managers who understand the meaning and purpose of management, particularly when it comes to managing the skilled and highly motivated workforce.
Experience tells us that doctors turned managers are a disaster — in fact, the cause of the problem. Hospitals are full of doctor-managers with various titles such as clinical directors and medical directors. Such doctors play no role other than to ensure that the coalface clinicians keep their heads down and carry on delivering a manner of service that may be contradictory to good clinical practice. This can best be seen in my speciality of ophthalmology, where there is a relentless drive to deliver eye care with a one size fits all approach. We want to speak about this but can’t because the medical managers are there to ensure that “. . . you will just do this!”Nikhil Kaushik Consultant Ophthalmic SurgeonWrexham
Weather conditions have far more impact on flight path noise levels than the age of aircraft or which airline operates them
Sir, The “blacklist” published by Heathrow to shame the noisiest airlines was useful in raising the profile of an issue which has blighted Hounslow for decades (report, Nov 6, and letter, Nov 7). Its usefulness beyond that extends no farther than the edge of the north and south runways where our borough starts. It ignores facts well known to people living under the flightpaths, such as how an aircraft is flown by its flightcrew, or how wind and weather conditions (it’s noisier on hot days) have far more impact on noise levels than the age of aircraft or which airline operates them.
While there are aircraft en route to and from Heathrow there will be noise pollution and a blight on the lives of residents, businesses and local schoolchildren. The solution is vastly improved mitigation on the ground for those people affected, not a 25-year wait for new aircraft that might make a marginal improvement in the sky.Colin EllarDeputy Leader, London Borough of Hounslow
‘Many bishops and cardinals who came to the Second Vatican Council were astonished at the changes since their own seminary days’
Sir, The Catholic Church was never tied to an ancient book or ancient decrees, but depended on the Holy Spirit enlightening the Church in each generation (“Vatican survey gives Catholics chance to question their faith”, Nov 6). Cardinal Newman defended the development of doctrine in his day against Anglican charges that it was inventing dogmas with no basis in Scripture.
It was unfortunate that the last two popes were men who could not break out of the medieval cast of their training, unlike their immediate predecessors. Many bishops and cardinals who came to the Second Vatican Council were astonished at the changes since their own seminary days, but being mostly of open mind they sought to bring themselves up to date.
Few cardinals, bishops, priests or lay people would regard masturbation or sodomy as sins. There is no logical reason why artificial contraception cannot be used. Nothing says that Jesus instituted an all-male priesthood. Rather, it can be argued that he left it to the Church to decide.
Hopefully, Pope Francis will allow Pope John XXIII’s interrupted aggiornamento to continue. The signs are hopefulDesmond KeenanWembley, Middx
‘If we had a cold winter, electricity sales went sky high and the excess profit was clawed back by lowering prices the next year’
Sir, In the latter part of the 20th century the Electricity Act required the chairman and members of the Electricity Council to produce a specified return on capital, by taking “one year with the next”. If we had a cold winter, electricity sales went sky high and the excess profit was clawed back by lowering prices the next year. With the present system the companies pocket the excess and are not obliged to (and don’t) put any money into building power stations. Not a single power station worthy of the name has been commissioned since the design and build facility in the Central Electricity Generating Board was disbanded in 1990.
We are now told to shop around for electricity. Surely we should be able to rely on politicians to legislate for a continuous and economic electricity supply — that’s their job. They should stop the exploitation of the population by the electricity companies’ simplistic profit maximisation of a variable energy market, which wiser predecessors recognised could never work without constraints. Jack Taylor(Marketing director, the Electricity Council, 1980-90) Ipswich, Suffolk
SIR – In the past, experienced elderly doctors often covered low-intensity, part-time sessions, and were always ready to help with holidays or sudden sick leave. Now, however, the compulsory “re-validation” of every experienced doctor requires so much official data collection that it would cost me more than £3,500 before being allowed to see a single patient. On my pension, I cannot afford that.
I would be quite happy to continue doing well-supervised sessions in any A & E department, but, as a direct result of current demands, I and many colleagues, will, en masse, be giving up clinical work entirely.
Rupert Fawdry FRCS
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
BAE Systems has been short-sighted in its decision to close the historic dockyard at Portsmouth
07 Nov 2013
SIR – While I agree with the Bishop of Hertford that “real” Christmas cards do add some cheer to a mantelpiece , it is certainly not automatically the case that charities lose out. Last Christmas, amazed by increasing postal charges, we decided to send a festive greeting to our email friends, and donated all the money we saved on postage to charity. We received very positive comments from recipients of the e-card, and an effusive response from the charity.
Given short shrift
SIR – Men wearing shorts should take note of Psalm 147, Verse 10: “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man.”
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – While I am encouraged that there is such strength of feeling around the importance of ensuring children from a disadvantaged background are given the best start in life, I do not believe children should start formal education at the age of two.
Around the country, however, I have seen inspiring examples where primary schools are also delivering high quality nursery provision for their children. I would like to see more of this. We must ensure that children have access to high-quality, pre-school education, of course led by play, but introducing them to a learning environment.
There is a 19-month gap at the age of five between the poorest children and their affluent peers. This is a disgrace, and we have got to do everything we can to try to close that gap.
Chairman of Ofsted
Hats off to the assistant
SIR – Victoria Lambert’s feature about wardrobing – wearing an outfit once before returning it – reminded me of a tale told by my aunt, who worked in a top London store during the Fifties and Sixties.
Well-connected lady customers would select garments and charge them to their account. After wearing them, they would return them for credit with comments about the wrong size or that their husbands didn’t like it, despite the dresses being stained and sweat-marked. If challenged, they would threaten to tell their “circle” that the store had insulted them and so on.
However, when on one occasion a hat was returned, the lady in the store refused the customer credit, on the grounds that “I was at Ascot as well, Madam”.
Public school heroism in the First World War
SIR – Dr Anthony Seldon’s moving article rightly points towards the anguish that family stories of war can unintentionally bequeath to descendants of those who took part in such conflicts. Even where family members have remained stoically silent about their war experiences, the shadow of unrecounted horror can still reach future generations.
Dr Seldon also suggests that Blackadder bears some responsibility for depicting “bumbling public school boys” as running the First World War. While Blackadder certainly targets high-ranking imperial staff officers for satirical attack, when action is called for, the officers at the front – Blackadder, Captain Darling and Lieutenant George, all recognisable products of public school education – notably and courageously lead their men over the top.
Ian Hislop’s recent war drama, The Wipers Times, in showing how trench journalism sustained the morale of the soldiers at the front, has similarly shown the power of tragi-comic humour to portray appositely the horrors of war.
SIR – My father served during the First World War, from the first day till the last, and returned with no physical injuries. He was born and raised in Canning Town. A man of very few words, I remember him mentioning the war only four or five times.
Some years ago, there was a discussion on the television about public school boys becoming military officers. He turned to me, and with admiration in his voice, said: “They were always the first ones over the top, but very few came back.” I think that these young men were something special to be able to gain the respect of men such as my father.
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Regional audiences benefit from live relays
SIR – Sue Spence fears that “live relays” in cinemas of top- class performances from Covent Garden might lead regional theatres to become mere screening facilities. Recently, I went to the relay of Covent Garden’s superb production of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes at a cinema in the centre of Birmingham. There were four other people in the audience, so hardly a great money spinner for the cinema.
However, staged performances this month by the Welsh National Opera, and concert performances next year in Symphony Hall by Opera North, and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, will be sold out. Cinema relays are a benefit for enthusiasts, not something to be deplored.
SIR – My husband and I watched Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes from the Royal Opera House on Monday evening at our local cinema. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance with wonderful close-ups of the cast. We also had a pre-performance talk and interval interviews, and helpful subtitles. To see this performance in London would have involved us paying for overnight accommodation plus travel; instead we caught the bus home.
These events do not put our local theatres at risk. In Cheltenham, we have the luxury of our own Everyman Theatre and there are also theatres at Stratford, Malvern and Bath. The Royal Opera House and its directors should be commended for bringing opera to the people.
SIR – Gordon Brown’s blatant pork-barrel politics of building two giant, unnecessary and unsupportable aircraft carriers on the Clyde to buy support for Labour in Scotland is now being paid for by Portsmouth’s ship builders. With the referendum on Scottish independence less than a year away, surely the decision to close Portsmouth is short-sighted and not in the nation’s strategic interest.
SIR – Both Major General Julian Thompson and Peter Anson are correct. We need carriers, but not the two giants with which we are now stuck.
If you have only two such carriers, one is sunk and the other elsewhere, you have, at a single stroke, lost virtually all your seaborne operational air cover until another carrier arrives. As the Second World War proved, the loss of large, heavily armed ships from attack by suicide bombers is not a remote possibility.
Extensive paperwork stops retired doctors from working
07 Nov 2013
SIR – The Queen Elizabeth class carriers will be operational for about 30 years during which there is no guarantee of “peace in our time”. A generation of Britons will grow up in the knowledge that in a rapidly changing security environment, their government has at least some tools to protect their interests at home and abroad.
Lumut, Perak, Malaysia
SIR – The prime role of a carrier is to be the core of a task force ensuring sea use. More than 90 per cent of Britain’s supplies come by sea and they can easily be threatened, especially at choke points such as the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz. Compared with this, intervening in failed states is a secondary function.
Captain Michael Forrest RN (retd)
SIR – The cost of building HMS Illustrious in 1939 was £3.8 million and her aircraft cost £600,000. On the night of November 11/12, 1940, 21 Swordfish took off in two waves from her flight deck and attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto. In one night, half the Italian capital ships were damaged and taken out of action. This made the Mediterranean safe for allied shipping.
The success of this operation was such that the Japanese navy visited Taranto and it led to them attacking Pearl Harbor by carrier-borne planes.
Derrick G Smith
Chief Radio Electrician (Air) RN (retd)
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
SIR – As the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, has suggested, the launch of HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a pivotal moment in the future of our nation. After decades of decline brought about by politicians obsessed with an inward-looking Europe, Britain will be giving notice to the world that it intends to resume its rightful place at the head of international trading nations.
I implore the Queen to declare the day of the launch a national holiday, and every school in the land should partake in this celebration of our achievement.
Since the end of the Second World War our defence establishment has been dominated by the Army and those who plan for inter-nation land battles. But defence in the 21st century is all about protecting long and vulnerable trade routes through which pass the oil, gas and minerals that ensure our nation’s survival.
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
SIR – Carriers without their carrier groups and aircraft are defenceless. The cost of the carriers is about the same as the cost of each carrier group (two Type 45 destroyers and a submarine), plus the cost of the
on-board aircraft. So, the total cost of an operational carrier is three times the cost of the carrier itself – that’s about £20 billion, three times your figure of £6.2 billion and half the cost of HS2.
SIR – New Labour cut the order for Type 45 destroyers from BAE Systems from 12 to six. The Coalition has spent three years doing nothing to make up the difference.
The Type 45 project went 29 per cent over budget and each ship cost more than £1 billion, but they are some of the best guided-missile destroyers in the world.
Each ship was built in sections – the bow at Govan, the stern at Portsmouth and the midships at Scotstoun. Ordering two more would give the Navy more of the ships it needs and keep three BAE yards in full production.
Sir, – How can the exercising of one’s human rights be a matter for public vote? The Constitution does not need to be changed; it needs to be given full effect. Article 40.1, our guarantee of equality, is currently undermined by statute. The bar to equality in marriage laws is contained within s. 2(2)(e) of the Civil Registration Act 2004, not the Constitution. Equality makes no restrictions on gender, but that statute does.
We know that the right to marry is a human right, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are not created by the Constitution; they are protected by it. It is not for a majority to purport to exercise a power it does not have, by deciding whether some be entitled to, or restricted from, the exercise of a human right.
It is for the legislature to exercise a power it does have and remove that discriminatory statutory provision. In fact, our Constitution, by way of Article 40.1, so demands it. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – I would prefer a referendum, before the end of 2013, asking the electorate if they believe all law-abiding individuals should be treated equally? – Is mise,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
Sir, – At last Ireland has pledged to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage in an attempt to ensure all her citizens are treated as equals regardless of sexual orientation. This is to be welcomed, as is Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s vocal support in favour of the referendum.
Upon hearing that a referendum would be held in 2015 I felt proud to be Irish and a member of a society that was showing signs of increasing respect and compassion for fellow citizens. This feeling did not last long, however, and I was dismayed and disheartened at the statements of the Irish Catholic bishops and their intention to mount a campaign of opposition.
In light of this approach taken by the Catholic Church I will no longer be attending Mass, nor will I remain a practising Catholic. I would call on other Irish people to do the same in an act of solidarity for members of the gay community who have been discriminated against for too long in Irish society.
As a person of faith, I ask myself and I ask Bishop Nulty, “What would Jesus do?”. For if He was among us I do not think he would approve of the church’s campaign of opposition, which promotes intolerance and exclusion. – Is mise,
Navan, Co Meath.
Sir, – Only in the latter years of my work (giving day courses in relationships and sexuality to sixth class primary school children) did the subject of homosexuality arise.
Private sessions were scheduled into the day. In about 1980, in each of four schools, I was approached by one child. The questions of each of these four children were with regard to gay/lesbian parents. The questions would have been phrased much as follows:
1. I have two mammies. I haven’t told any of the other girls. I want a daddy who would be strong and look after us. Then I’d be the same as the others.
2. Why have I two daddies? From what you said about babies I must have a mum somewhere. I’m going to look for her when I’m older.
3. I have no friends in class because I don’t bring anyone home to play or to parties. That’s because I have two dads and no mammy. I can’t explain it.
4. The two of my dads can’t both be my dads because you said there is one sperm. Why have I two fathers and no mum?
Children do not want to be significantly different from their peers. Initially small children may be quite happy if the home is a happy one. But around adolescence questions begin and we have to give true answers. All of us, whether heterosexual, lesbian or gay, must think out the honest answers to such questions before giving a merely sentimental response to the referendum. – Yours, etc,
Lower Kilmacud Road,
A chara, – Dr Rachel Cave expresses bemusement at the Roman Catholic Church’s position on marriage (October 7th). How odd.
One might have expected her to notice that the Catholic Church does not tend to change its teaching on important issues. For example, the stance taken on recent debates in this country on issues such as divorce or abortion would have, I should have thought, given a fairly good indication of this. So the position taken on this matter shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
What is bemusing is that Dr Cave would expect the Catholic Church to hold any other. – Is mise,
Revd Fr PATRICK G
Sir, – Since 2007 the cost of an annual Dart ticket has increased by more than 44 per cent – almost five times the rate of inflation. During the same period the frequency of trains during rush hour has decreased by circa 40 per cent, while the number of carriages on off-peak trains has also been drastically cut back. It’s become a third-world service.
Evidently no one in Irish Rail has studied Junior Cert economics, as the company appears to believe increasing fares will stimulate extra demand. And then we wonder why Ireland is not competitive! – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Knowing what we now know about our politicians, our bankers and our developers, would it not be very prudent of us to request the troika to remain watching over us for another few years? – Is mise,
Sir, – When asked by British people, where is Co Cavan (the part of the country I owe allegiance to), I explain it to them as follows. Co Cavan is in the northern part of the South, it’s one of the counties comprising Ulster, but isn’t part of the North. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Jacky Jones (Second Opinion, Health + Family, November 5th) asserts that the Roma families, so heavily featured in the news recently, received better care than their Irish counterparts and that the possible racism involved in these cases in fact served the Roma families well.
Ms Jones uses infamous past Irish cases of child abuse, child neglect and severe physical traumas to demonstrate her point.
Ms Jones should never have attempted to justify her point by using these cases; it could suggest that these Roma children were in some way neglected, abused or manipulated when no such evidence exists. The comparison serves only to denigrate these Roma families and their community.
Ms Jones states that in the cases of the past, Irish parents constantly lied to the gardaí. These Roma families did not. They said, truthfully, that these children were their own. They gave narrative and paper evidence and were disbelieved. They submitted to DNA testing and were proved truthful. There is simply no comparison.
If Irish parents are less suspicious than Roma families and gardaí neglect to interfere on that basis, this is a failing of the State to both.
Racism serves nobody well and Ms Jones in her article alarmingly expressed trust and faith in a system of institutional racism that serves only to damage and degrade. – Yours, etc,
Pavee Point Traveller and
Sir, – Paul Cullen’s assertion (Opinion, November 6th) that “newborns are transported in a hazardous fashion” to one of Dublin’s children’s hospitals is incorrect.
Newborn transport is at a very sophisticated level in Ireland. The National Neonatal Transport Programme (NNTP) has been in existence for 10 years, well ahead of many other countries in Europe. The programme consists of trained specialised neonatal registrars, neonatal nurses and clinical engineers who operate from the three Dublin maternity hospitals. The day to day operation is supervised by a national nurse transport co-ordinator and by a consultant neonatologist. The transports are undertaken by dedicated neonatal ambulances and ambulance staff.
In the case of urgent or long distance transfers the Army Air Corps can be employed. The helicopters are equipped to take transport incubators. The programme reports to the National Neonatal Transport Programme Committee. The NNTP team retrieve critically ill newborns from all 19 neonatal units across the State.
The programme has to date transported close to 4,000 sick newborns. Currently the programme operates from 9am to 5pm, seven days a week. The programme maintains a daily census of intensive care cots system across all tertiary hospital in place so the sick newborn can be rapidly assigned to an appropriate place. The programme is greatly appreciated by both the families of sick newborn infants and their referring paediatricians. The programme is about to be extended to a 24/7 this month and an additional full-time consultant neonatologist has been appointed to oversee and organise the service. This will further enhance the efficacy of a programme that has been effective and life-saving for many infants.
The achievements of the NNTP will be marked at a symposium on November 15th at the College of Anaesthesia which coincides with World Prematurity Day. The meeting is being opened by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.
The national neonatal transport programme is a jewel in the crown of Irish neonatal care. Many medical groups have come from other countries to observe how our neonatal transport system functions. The HSE has been singularly supportive of this service and has clearly recognised its importance.
At a time of great financial restraints it has done its utmost to provide resources to expand this service and we are extremely grateful for its efforts. We wish to reassure parents of sick newborns that there is an effective, safe transport system in Ireland for sick newborn infants. – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN F MURPHY,
National Clinical Lead in
Neonatology & Dr ANNE
Neonatologist & Director of
the National Neonatal
Department of Neonatology,
National Maternity Hospital,
Sir, – Regarding articles (Business, Octobder 22nd, 23rd & 25th) on the serious problems encountered by SIAC and other Irish road construction companies in Poland: first, I wish to emphasise Poland truly appreciates the presence of Irish companies in the Polish market; not least your construction firms’ valuable experience in building Irish infrastructure, which we consider a model for us to follow.
There is no doubt the road construction process is complex, time-consuming and costly; the disputes that sometimes arise are not unusual in the construction industry, especially when a contract is undertaken abroad.
I have closely monitored the dispute that led to some Irish companies withdrawing from their projects in Poland. Over the past few years I have met regularly with SIAC’s chief executive Finn Lyden and discussed his impressions of conducting business in Poland. His wide experience, comprehensive knowledge and his insights on how to implement infrastructure projects were immensely valuable. As a result his observations and remarks were taken into account in the development and realisation of various investment projects in Poland. Nevertheless, I strongly disagree with Mr Lyden’s statements on the Polish road construction system cited in your paper (Business, October 22nd).
According to the Report on Road Construction in Poland by PwC, due to the development of the country’s road infrastructure in the years 2007–2013 Poland has gained 1,500km of motorways and expressways, representing more than a 150 per cent increase. Poland became the leader among European countries in terms of the growth dynamics of the motorway network. According to the report, currently nearly 75 per cent of expressways and motorways in Poland are completed on time. The remaining 25 per cent of projects are completed with an average delay of slightly over 10 weeks. A report from the European Court of Auditors shows the average delay in construction of express roads in the whole EU is 15 months.
As for the effectiveness with which the funds obtained from the EU are used, to date the Polish Road Construction Authority (GDDKiA) has received 77 per cent reimbursement and nearly 100 per cent of certification, which proves the extra funds granted have indeed been used correctly.
I also take issue with the following statement (Business, October 22nd) : “. . . the European Commission . . . was freezing hundreds of millions of euro in development aid for Poland, because of fears of corruption in road-building”. This sentence could easily be read as implying the EC suspected the Polish state road construction system of being corrupt; this interpretation could not be further from the truth. It was the Polish state that launched a criminal investigation to avoid an attempt of price-fixing involving some of the companies bidding for road-building contracts in Poland; the EC launched its audit and two months later it confirmed there was no malfunction and the Polish government provides sufficient supervision over EU co-funded projects. The fact Poland promptly uncovered the attempt to establish the cartel illustrates the efficiency of the system and the governmental actions.
In my opinion, the nature of SIAC’s difficulties in Poland is based on a different approach and practices in state administration in both countries; the Irish approach being more flexible and able to adapt more easily to new circumstances and the Polish approach being more rigid, cost-orientated and tied to regulations.
It is difficult to say which approach is better; and I would consider it wrong to blame the “other party” for not being flexible enough or being too strict about certain issues. Both approaches are equally valid, legitimate and legal; however, they have clearly proved to be incompatible in this case.
The bottom line is that the dispute which arose between Irish companies and the Polish Road Authority has been conducted in accordance with both Polish and EU law respectively.
I believe it will be quickly resolved and will enable continuation of friendly business relations between Poland and Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Embassy of the Republic o
Sir, – According to Carole Molloy, Messrs O’Neill and Keane are employed by ITV where it is the custom for everyone to wear a poppy in Remembrance Week (November 7th). In fact sporting red poppies on ITV (and on BBC and Sky) usually begins at least three weeks prior to Remembrance Sunday and it is more than a mere “custom”. It takes real bravery not to wear a large red poppy when appearing on UK television during the long Remembrance period. It begs the question: when UTV is up and running in Dublin in 2015, what will be the poppy rules?
For some, the red poppy symbol advocates war and for others it advocates remembrance of the war dead. The solution might lie with the white poppy which unambiguously advocates peace. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Apparently, the rain in Spain is falling as it always has, on the plain, and it tastes just the same as it does in Britain and Northern Ireland. What’s more, it appears the same.
The spin gurus in Ireland will have us believe that climate change is affecting only the rain that falls on Ireland. What the consumer notices is that the product that previously come out of his pipe looking like water, now appears to resemble soda-water or an elixir containing too many spoonfuls of Andrews Liver Salts. He lets the tap run to flush out the bubbles and clouding, and the announcements blare, “You’re using too much water”.
I have a hole in the garden and the water in it looks fine. I wonder could we feed it into the grid for credit? – Yours, etc,
* I was lucky enough to see the two sides of how football should be played. Liam Brady, will-o’-the-wisp class, and Roy Keane, granite personified. Both midfield generals, both among the best Ireland ever produced and both played with top teams. Interesting then that Brady would charge Keane over “his judgment with players” saying “people say he has got great knowledge… why then did he not make it in the managerial sphere?”. Pot calling kettle black there, methinks.
Also in this section
This emptiness is due to a lack of faith in God
We need a lot more parent-teacher meetings
The positive side of secularism
Roy Keane got the same gig that Brady got with Trapattoni, but Brady seems to have forgotten his own managerial tenure at Celtic from 1991-1993. That team failed to reach a final under his leadership.
Whilst Keane took a foot-of-the-table Sunderland from League One to the Premiership and kept them there, his successor at Ipswich, who happens to be his former bete noir, hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees there either. Brady wasn’t a complete failure at Celtic as manager and in his judgment of players. Roy Keane managed at a level Brady didn’t. His was a mixed bag, but a bag that Liam doesn’t possess.
So, if this is his or RTE’s attempt at stirring the pot, or expert analysis, then it’s time to retire those sages Giles, Dunphy and O’Herlihy, who are in that happy little club since 1984. As public servants they would have been entitled to retire on pension for nigh on 30 years’ service.
Go, and let some fresh blood in, instead of the ‘decent skin’ crap we are now dosed with.
LEGISLATE FOR THIS RIGHT
* I ask, how can the exercising of one’s human right be a matter for public vote? The Constitution does not need to be changed; it needs to be given full effect. Article 40.1, our guarantee of equality, is currently undermined by statute.
The bar to equality in marriage laws is contained within section 2(2)(e) of the Civil Registration Act 2004, not the Constitution. Equality makes no restrictions on gender, but that statute does.
We know that the right to marry is a human right, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are not created by the Constitution; they are protected by it.
It is not for a majority to purport to exercise a power it does not have, by deciding whether some be entitled to or restricted from the exercising of a human right.
It is for the legislature to exercise a power it does have and remove that discriminatory statutory provision. In fact, our Constitution, by way of Article 40.1, so demands it.
Castleknock, Dublin 15
MING’S GONE TO POT
* Ming Flanagan’s guerrilla war against the state prohibition on cannabis use took a decidedly dopey turn for the daft when he “threatened” to report TDs who had previously used the drug.
Apart from the fact that he would have a pretty tough time proving his allegations, and avoiding scores of libel cases, he surely realises that any consequences wrought on TDs who did indeed use cannabis (if any) would be equally wrought on himself, as Ireland’s most famous cannabis celebrity?
Celebrity, being the operative, pejorative term, and the likely motivation behind this nonsense.
FASTEN THOSE SEATBELTS
* So, it’s showtime for the FAI on Saturday with the Roy and Martin laugh-in. No Roy, of course, because he’s already off trolling for new talent.
Here’s hoping it won’t end with a curtain call on the ‘Muppets’ a la Statler ‘N’ Waldorf. Whatever happens, we Irish soccer fans are in for a rollercoaster ride and perhaps a few good surprises along the way.
Dungloe, Co Donegal
SHERLOCK ON HOLIDAYS?
* So, the 14-year-old distressed girl found in O’Connell Street turns out to be 25. Where was Sherlock Holmes when he was needed!
* Did you ever spend any of your summer holidays in the Isle of Man during the 1970s, either on vacation or actually working in the holiday industry? If so, do you ever think back to those great summer times?
Do you remember Sunday nights at the Palace Lido watching Slade, Sweet, Mott the Hoople and many others? Do you still remember your summer romances? Did you walk hand-in-hand under the sun along a golden beach to a soundtrack that included the Glitter Band’s ‘Love In the Sun’, Bobby Goldsborough’s ‘Summer The First Time’, The Bay City Rollers’ ‘Summer Love Sensation’, The Rubettes’ ‘Sugar Baby Love’, Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, and many more great records?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, we really want to hear from you! Please email your experiences to email@example.com
Lido Summers Limited
HEALTH CUTS OBSCENE
* Any doubt about the inhumanity of current austerity must be dispelled by correspondence from the manage-ment of four primary hospitals, that lives are at risk due to the savage withdrawal of resources from the most vulnerable in our country to satisfy an outdated ideology of a crazed monetary elite in Europe.
It is little wonder Mr Kenny is frontrunner for top position in the dictatorship.
The 21st Century is not a time of shortage; it is by far the most wealthy, creative period that ever existed. As well as abundance of practically everything, real healing power is available for the first time ever.
The obscenity of withholding such healing from the critically ill to repay debt unjustly foisted on a nation is surely an affront to all.
Generations of Irish people cursed the British for imposing monetarist ideology that destroyed our nation at a time of famine. How will future generations judge our own, for willingly imposing a similar ideology at a time of crisis?
Until there is realisation that policies of the past will not solve problems of the present and future; austerity will only bring greater misery and allow the sick to die.
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
SPIES GIVE GOD A RUN
* “There’s a silent listener to every conversation.”
The above saying has, until recent revelations, been attributed to the power of God. However, we the people of the world, have been treated to a vision from one Edward Snowden that suggests God’s power in this regard has been taken over by the spy agencies of the world.
Nobody likes a spy. Lauri Love is a case in point. He, Mr Love, an alleged computer hacker arrested recently in Britain, has been accused of the most heinous crime – spying on America. He is, we are led to believe, an evil man who accessed sensitive information and could, armed with this, cause untold havoc for America’s spying agencies. It seems spying makes Love bad!
We have England spying on Germany. Tut tut tut! Has Germany been spying on Britain? Who cares?
What do we in Ireland know about spying? We know Gerry Adams had one close to him in the shape of Denis Donaldson, and we had Charlie Haughey spying on Irish journalists.
And what did the Irish do with this despicable chap? Well, Mr Haughey was given a State funeral.
Athenry, Co Galway