Water man

Water man 23th April 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
After a refit. Troutbridge has more refits than the rest of the fleet put together, she is sent on sea trials. Oh dear poor Leslie has forgotton ‘left hand down a bit’ and Captain Povey is dancing a hornpipe on the jetty in sheer frustration. Priceless.
We go out and do some shopping more floor cleaner, and let Joan’s water man in.
Upstairs Downstairs: Hudson is ill
Mary wins at Scrabble today and get just over 400, I might get my revenge tomorrow, I hope.


Shakuntala Devi
Shakuntala Devi , who has died aged 83, lacked any formal education but possessed such an extraordinary ability to complete the most complex mathematical calculations in double quick time that she became known as “the human computer”.

Shakuntala Devi  Photo: CORBIS
6:37PM BST 22 Apr 2013
As India’s most remarkable mathematical prodigy, she had astounded friends and family with her numerical prowess since childhood. She once calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in her head in less than a minute, and in June 1980, at Imperial College, London, accurately multiplied two random 13-digit numbers in a few seconds.
The sum, picked at random by the computer department, was 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779. After 28 seconds she correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730, a feat that earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Her ability to solve complicated arithmetical problems with apparent ease and astonishing speed had stunned observers since the 1970s, when her unexplained brain power made even sophisticated digital devices of the day seem inadequate by comparison. Witty and sharp-minded, she possessed exceptional powers of retention and appeared to harness the power of several mnemonic devices in her brain.
In 1988 she visited the United States, where the educational psychologist Professor Arthur Jensen tried to unlock the secret of her abilities. At Stanford University he monitored her performance in several mathematical tasks involving large numbers and subjected her to a series of tests.
When volunteers wrote problems on a blackboard, Shakuntala Devi would turn around, stare at the problem and come up with the right answer, always in less than a minute. According to Jensen, in a research study published in the journal Intelligence in 1990: “Devi solved most of the problems faster than I was able to copy them in my notebook.”
Jensen set her two problems, the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Shakuntala Devi gave the correct answers — 395 and 15 — even before Jensen’s wife could start the stopwatch.
The study explored whether Shakuntala Devi’s feats derived from some innate ability to manipulate large numbers or from practice. Her reaction times on simple cognitive tasks such as picking the odd man out were unexceptional, and contrasted sharply with her speed at arithmetical calculations.
Jensen suggested that she perceived large numbers differently from others. “For a calculating prodigy like Devi, the manipulation of numbers is apparently like a native language, whereas for most of us, arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learnt at school,” he wrote. He believed that some “motivational factor” that drives and sustains “enormous and prolonged interest and practice” might explain her extreme levels of skill.
Shakuntala Devi was born on November 4 1929 in Bangalore into an orthodox Brahmin family. Her father, refusing to follow the family priestly tradition, became a circus performer, excelling in trapeze, tightrope, lion taming and human cannonball acts.
When she was three, Shakuntala began exhibiting precocious skill with numbers, and by the time she was five, could calculate cube roots. A year later she amazed mathematicians at Mysore University with her ability to solve complex mathematical problems in her head. But she had no conventional schooling, mainly on account of her father’s travels with the circus, and even went short of food.
She claimed to have joined a convent at the age of 10, but to have been expelled within three months because her parents were unable to pay the fees.
While growing up in a run-down area of Bangalore, Shakuntala was able to retain large numbers of digits in her memory. This singular talent came to wider attention when she beat one of the world’s fastest computers by 10 seconds in a complicated calculation.
“Numbers have life, they’re not just symbols on paper,” she once said. “I cannot transfer my abilities to anyone, but I can think of quicker ways with which to help people develop numerical aptitude.”
A daughter survives her.
Shakuntala Devi, born November 4 1929, died April 20 2013


The home secretary announced in October that the government was minded to use the right it has under the Lisbon treaty to opt out of measures for cooperation within the EU on police and criminal justice affairs. However, she promised that the decisions would be subject to a vote in both Houses of Parliament and that the government would consult a wide range of committees in both Houses before making this decision final.
The House of Lords has now produced a report after a wide consultation. It is unequivocal in its conclusions. The case for opting out is not convincing and would have adverse effects on the internal security of the UK and on the administration of criminal justice. It also found that the European court of justice presents no danger to our criminal justice system. Its conclusions are based on evidence from the police, the Law Society, the Bar Council, those representing the victims of crime and many others.
The government’s decision should not depend on whether one is a Europhile or Eurosceptic. It should be based on concern with the security and safety of this country and on evidence, not political prejudice. The government should abandon its plans to trigger the opt-out. If, however, for political reasons, Conservatives feel unable to accept the conclusions of the report, then Labour and Liberal Democrats should vote against the opt-out, which will only benefit the terrorists, paedophile rings, people traffickers, drug dealers, money launderers, those who exploit cyber crime and other serious criminals who increasingly operate across borders and who can only be effectively dealt with by a co-ordinated cross-border response. Liberal Democrats pledged in their manifesto to keep Britain part of the international crime fighting measures that are subject to the European Court of Justice. Nothing in the coalition agreement prevents them from keeping this pledge.
Dick Taverne
House of Lords

George Monbiot (16 April) urges readers to join a ban on all advertising aimed at children under 11. TenNine, which he mentions in the article, advertises only in secondary schools and is a market leader in responsible advertising. Monbiot says Nike and Tesco are among its clients, but does not say that the Nike campaign was geared at encouraging teenage girls to participate in active sport and the Tesco campaign was a recruitment drive for its management-training scheme. The campaigns TenNine helps to bring to secondary schools are often for charities, universities or government initiatives. Research showed a 91% increase in awareness of a government website about teenage pregnancy after a poster campaign, and a 14% rise in those confident to take first aid action after a Red Cross advertising campaign. This year we are running hundreds of posters for NSPCC ChildLine free of charge which is only possible through TenNine’s service. TenNine adheres to guidelines on advertising in secondary schools and every campaign is approved beforehand by the schools themselves.
Bob Strawbridge
Managing director, TenNine Ltd 

Steve Mayers (Education needs joined-up thinking, 16 April) could not be more wrong: raising aspiration and achievement for all children, especially the most disadvantaged, is a top priority for this coalition government. Our Dux Awards scheme opens the eyes of young people to life at our best universities, including Cambridge. Last year more than 1,000 year 9 pupils from about 600 secondary schools took part and this year even more are participating. The pupil premium, a flagship coalition policy, will give headteachers across the country £2.5bn a year by 2014-15 to spend on giving disadvantaged children the best start in life.
We want all primary schools to focus on strong performance in English and maths – and are encouraging more secondary schools to offer the key academic subjects that open doors at leading universities. Many schools are already showing what can be achieved when high aspirations are set for all pupils, whatever their background. We want young people to aspire, we want them to reach their potential and we are reforming the education system to make that a reality.
David Laws MP
Schools minister
• I was struck by the comment by the “government source” to your report (Teachers may have to do more clerical work”, 18 April) because it shows the administration has no idea what is happening in schools. “Teachers shouldn’t be forbidden from analysing why their pupils might be struggling” was particularly illuminating. For Mr Gove’s benefit, while teachers do not input data such as student absences and performance, they have access to the figures and are constantly using them in order to implement strategies for improvement. As for the comment that “all teachers who want to improve the reputation of the profession should support sensible reform”: well, we have all been waiting for that for three years from this government.
Paul Redfern
NASUWT rep, Cardinal Newman Catholic school, Hove

You are right to highlight that the east coast mainline rail franchise is the most efficiently run in terms of its reliance on taxpayer funding, but you fail to explain why (Report, 19 April). Crucially, the east coast mainline, between King’s Cross and Scotland, is the only line where the franchise holder, East Coast, has to compete with non-franchised railway companies – known as open access – for passengers.
New research this month from the Centre for Policy Studies shows East Coast passenger journeys increased by 42% at those stations which enjoy rail competition, compared with 27% for those without competition; revenue increased by 57% where competition occurs, compared with 48% for those without; and, perhaps most importantly for the passenger, average fares increased by only 11% on those stations with competition, compared to 17% at those stations without. Those companies that compete with East Coast – Grand Central and First Hull Trains – have also just recorded the highest passenger satisfaction statistics of all UK train companies.
As a result of this competition, more passengers have been attracted to the railway and East Coast has been able to pay a year-on-year increase in its premium to government. But while there is some open access rail competition on the east coast main line, the west coast long-distance rail franchise, operated by Virgin, faces none. More rail competition is in the interests of the passenger, the taxpayer, the government and the regions. Following last year’s rail franchise collapse, the government should now move to support more open access rail competition, alongside franchises, and not support a policy which risks delivering subsidy-hungry “railopolies”, 20 years on since Conservative railway privatisation.
Tony Lodge
Research fellow, Centre for Policy Studies
• Comparing the finances of different rail franchises is a minefield and needs to beware of drawing the wrong conclusions. Each train company operates in a different market and under different franchise agreements, signed at different periods. Levels of investment in infrastructure and rolling stock vary between routes and over time. For example, in recent years the west coast mainline has received massive investment in both rolling stock and infrastructure so that it has the capacity to meet demand in coming years. The east coast mainline, the finances of which have been good for decades, has not received major investment since 1991 and when it does the economics of that line will change. By competing with each other to win franchises, focusing on attracting more passengers and working with industry partners, train companies have delivered the huge change in financial performance from rail operations envisaged by privatisation 20 years ago.
Michael Roberts
Chief executive, Association of Train Operating Companies
• The London-Norwich InterCity rail service is the slowest mainline in the country and operates the oldest electric express trains. Given East Coast’s performance, perhaps this company could be asked to take up the Norwich-London route? For East Anglia, the plan to rush the franchise renewal to embed privatisation seems to include “refurbishing”, once again, our tired old trains.
Peter North
Melton Constable, Norfolk

I was very entertained by the story about the 1975 University Challenge team that opted to answer “Trotsky” or “Marx” to every question (Report, 22 April). If, as a viewer, I want to assure myself of at least one point each week, I answer “Ralph Vaughan Williams” to every question.
Nicholas Royle
•  With St George’s Day almost upon us, surely it is time to make 23 April a national holiday in England, with similar arrangements for the saints’ days elsewhere in the UK. Historians may argue about what is myth and what is reality in St George’s story, but he has been celebrated since the medieval period. Given these austere times the odd feast day surely wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Keith Flett
•  The picture of Seattle’s “Weed day” (22 April) made a welcome contrast to those of Mrs T and pandas. Of particular interest was the creation the smoker on the left was trying to light. It must be related to the celebrated Camberwell Carrot.
Nicholas Jardin
Much Hadham, Hertfordshire 
•  I was on a guided tour of Soviet educational establishments in the late 1960s, which included an evening at the Bolshoi Ballet’s Spartacus. There was a key ice hockey match going on at the same time, and it seemed that every (male?) member of the audience had a transistor radio on, turned up loud to follow the game. The commentary, the cheers, the groans meant that the music was hardly audible (Simon Hoggart’s week, 20 April). No one seemed to mind except for us foreigners
Margaret Sinclair
• Your obituary of Mike Denness (20 April) says he was the first Scot to captain England at cricket. Douglas Jardine, who captained England during the bodyline series of 1932/33, was born in India but to Scottish parents and always considered himself Scottish.
Dave Arnott
Romsey, Hampshire
• Where next for football? First Norman bites yer legs, now Luis bites yer arms (Eats… Shoots… Leaves…, Sport, 22 April).
Mick Beeby

As the chancellor’s “success” criteria – triple A ratings, IMF blessing and Ken Rogoff’s figures (‘Stonewall’ Osborne falls victim to friendly fire, 22 April) – have fallen like dominoes, the ideological nature of his austerity strategy is confirmed. At the time of the 2008 crisis the problem with the UK economy was not public sector (government) debt, which at 52% GDP was less than most other developed countries including Germany. The problem was private sector debt at 328% of GDP, significantly more than all other countries except Japan. Yet the coalition has persisted in cutting the public sector instead of addressing the private financial sector. Even by David Cameron’s criterion of “paying down the debt” his policies are not working. According to the UK Statistics Authority, since he entered office public sector net debt has risen from £811.3bn (55.3% of GDP) in June 2010 to £1.11trn (70.7% of GDP) at the end of 2012. Signs are that it will continue to do so.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey
•  The discovery that the Reinhart- Rogoff thesis (that high national debt restricts economic growth) does not stack up is to be welcomed. To judge by some of the comments in your paper of late, there are still people who believe that the unions needed to be suppressed for causing inflation, although Milton Friedman pronounced in 1971 that “it can only be produced by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output” and the unions were regularly cleared of blame by, of all people, Enoch Powell.
The current economic howler is that government has to spend less so the people can spend more. In fact, when the government spends less, the people also spend less, because of the lack of state help for a pension and care in old age as well as affordable housing for their grown-up children.
DBC Reed
•  The last time I recall such staggering ineptitude was when Sir Alec Douglas-Home illustrated his approach to the economy with matchstick calculations. Can someone please reassure me that our chancellor has the first idea about how modern global economics works?
Ian Bayley
•  Larry Elliott writes about the debunking of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper that pointed to a 90% debt cliff. What is surprising is that no one appears to have noticed that even with the highly publicised spreadsheet errors that resulted in a negative average rate growth for 90% debt ratio, the median growth rate shows no sudden decrease, ie, there is no cliff. Anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics would know this means that half the countries in the data set had growth rates greater than the median 2.2% (greater than our present growth). One very negative growth rate, incorrectly weighted, resulted in the reported anomaly. My conclusion is that economists, journalists and politicians ought to go back to school and familiarise themselves with statistics.
Clarence Matthai
School of physics and astronomy, Cardiff University
• You claim (Leader, 22 April) that “in 1945 Britain had debt of 220% of GDP but no economic disaster struck”. By early 1947 the British economy was in acute crisis, from which it was rescued by the US – at a heavy political price. Moreover the 1945 debt was incurred in a desperate struggle for national survival, not in order that middle and upper Britain could enjoy a standard of living that it had not earned.
Christopher Wrigley
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire
•  In stating that the 1980 Thatcher boom was all down to policies that were pointed out in the LSE growth commission finding, John Horam (Letter, 19 April) misses two issues. First, the LSE commission omits the fact that the Thatcher boom was funded heavily by the peak in production of North Sea oil, which papered over the cracks that would have caused a necessary U-turn in her monetarist agenda. Second, the commission recommends large-scale government investment in education and in transport and energy infrastructure, plus subsidies for R&D through a business bank. Hardly a ringing endorsement of Thatcher’s dream. Why can’t the right be more honest about the Thatcher years?
Tim Bell



‘Like it or not, the Trident missile in British hands is unusable without US support and redundant with it’
Sir, The Prime Minister says that the antics of President Kim Jong Un with nuclear warheads and long-range missiles bear out the UK’s wisdom in maintaining British submarines with Trident nuclear missiles (Apr 4).
This is bizarre. No country is less vulnerable to nuclear blackmail from Pyongyang than ours, protected by distance, the Nato nuclear umbrella and our vaunted special relationship with the US.
If British Trident is the ultimate guarantee of our security, how much stronger must the case for a national system be for frontline states such as Japan, South Korea or — in the case of an Iranian weapon — for Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Yet any such aspiration we resist as dangerously misguided. Nor is there the faintest sign of the US’s protective function in these areas being run down. On the contrary, the US is pivoting resources towards Asia and its resistance to Iran’s nuclear ambitions is guaranteed by its commitment to the security of Israel.
During the next 40 years other rogue states may pose a nuclear threat to the UK, against whom the US shield would carry less conviction. It is not obvious which these might be, but let’s suppose that the UK is threatened by a nuclear weapon state, either to compel the UK to take certain action or to desist from doing so. Let us further assume that the US is not prepared to commit itself in our support — as happened in 1940. What chance is there that the US government would view with equanimity British threats to use Trident missiles supplied by the US in a cause where US interests were not involved and yet US complicity would be impossible to disprove? And if the US did not agree, notwithstanding the technical ability of the British prime minister to fire a nuclear missile, what chance is there that he or she would go ahead regardless? The Anglo-French invasion of Suez in 1956 was stopped in its tracks by US economic and political pressure in two days.
Like it or not, the Trident missile in British hands is unusable without US support and redundant with it. There are signs that the Americans themselves are coming round to this view. The International Herald Tribune recently carried a report from Brussels that said that David Cameron was insisting on keeping a nuclear deterrent on a new generation of submarines even as US officials were urging Britain to consider abandoning the idea. One US official is quoted as saying privately that Britain could not afford Trident, and needed to confront the choice: either to be “a nuclear power and nothing else, or a real military partner”. If this truly reflects the view of the US Administration it abolishes one of the few remaining respectable arguments for Britain to keep Trident, namely that the US wants us to.
Meanwhile, how is the Prime Minister proposing to parlay British Trident into the present Korean imbroglio?
Simply to ask the question is to expose its absurdity.
General (ret’d) Sir Hugh Beach
London SW5

All the million-plus children with health needs should have the support they need to benefit from their time at school
Sir, Many children with long-term health problems, such as Type 1 diabetes, epilepsy, migraine and asthma, receive good care in school, but many others experience avoidable under-achievement, ill health, bullying and stigma. Some also face discrimination and are excluded from extra-curricular activities; unable to participate in normal school life, they cannot reach their full educational potential.
This is unacceptable and goes against the Government’s commitment to improving the opportunities and experiences available to all children. We want all the million-plus children with health needs to have the essential support so that they benefit from their time at school.
The Children and Families Bill, now making its way through Parliament, is an opportunity to end this injustice. We urge MPs and ministers to amend the Bill so that it includes a statutory requirement for schools to provide the support children with health conditions need.
Dr Samantha Walker, Asthma UK; Lynne Regent, Anaphylaxis Campaign; Jo Osmond, Cystic Fibrosis Trust; Baroness Young Of Old Scone, Diabetes UK; Simon Wigglesworth, Epilepsy Action; Karen Addington, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; Hannah Verghese, Migraine Trust; Joanna Hamilton-colclough, Migraine Action; Mary-jane Willows, Association of Young People with ME; Julie Jennings, RNIB; Carol Nwosu, Sickle Cell and Young Stroke Survivors; Josh Coleman, Young Epilepsy

A call to Israel to demonstrate its regard for a right it has subscribed to and remove the restrictions on Mordechai Vanunu
Sir, Mordechai Vanunu was released from prison in Israel nine years ago, after serving 18 years, including more than 11 years in solitary confinement, for blowing the whistle on Israel’s secret nuclear weapons.
During the past nine years he has endured draconian restrictions on his freedom of speech and movement. And he has also been subjected to harassment by the Israeli authorities, including imprisonment for talking to foreigners.
Israel prides itself as a beacon of democracy and civil society in the Middle East. It acceded to the UN 1966 multilateral International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 12 guarantees “freedom of movement including the right of persons to choose their residence and to leave a country”. That right may be restricted only where necessary to protect national security, a restriction which today, 27 years after Vanunu committed his “offence”, it is inconceivable can be justified under international law.
We call on Israel to demonstrate its regard for a right it has subscribed to, remove the restrictions on Mr Vanunu, grant him his passport and permit him at last to leave the country.
Tony Benn; Ben Birnberg; Julie Christie; Jeremy Corbyn, Mp; Kate Hudson; Bruce Kent; Roger Lloyd-Pack; Caroline Lucas, MP

Many people with dementia, particularly rare or early onset types, spend years struggling to find out what is wrong with them
Sir, Dr Chris Fox’s assertion that early dementia diagnosis does more harm than good does not reflect my experience (report, Apr 18). Many people with dementia, particularly rare or early onset types, spend years struggling to find out what is wrong with them, a distressing time for their families and them as their disabilities increase. There is increasing evidence that people with dementia want to be told their diagnosis and indeed, giving a label to their problems allows them and their families to access financial benefits, organise lasting powers of attorney, and be prescribed interventions to slow down symptoms or address the emotional impact of their condition. As one carer said to me, “The point is quality of life, not cure.” I do not see why health professionals should deny dementia sufferers the former, simply because we have not yet found the latter.
Dr Susie Henley
Clinical & Research Psychologist, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London WC1

While a year on the wards learning the basics may be too long, the general idea for reforming nursing training is sound
Sir, Further to your report “Nurses dismiss ‘stupid’ plan to make them go back to basics” (Apr 22), I secured a place to commence my nurse training in 1978. After finishing my A levels, and prior to my start date, I worked full-time as an auxiliary nurse at a geriatric hospital. The job gave me a great insight into nursing care, the principles of which were fundamental to my nurse training and subsequent midwifery training.
The Francis report is not the first report, nor will it be the last, that highlights a profession that has lost its “lamp”. Back to basics could provide the opportunity for the profession to put its house in order. A year on the wards may be too long, but the plan should not be dismissed.
Jan Spencer
Yarm, Stockton on Tees


SIR – May I extend an invitation to readers to shadow me in my job as a primary-school teacher? It might help them to understand how hard teachers work, and how many times they go the extra mile for the children in their care.
Rachel Keen
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
SIR – Mick Richards (Letters, April 20) wants teachers to work for 37 hours a week. How could we get the job done properly in that time? The average now is probably close to 50 hours.
I write this in a short break from marking a pile of mock A-level papers, which will occupy me for most of Saturday. Long holidays are the compensation we receive for this, even though we already have to work for part of them.
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Slugging it out against a plague of garden pests
22 Apr 2013
Peter Price
Orpington, Kent
SIR – My only criticism of Margaret Thatcher was that she failed to take on the teaching unions, and allowed them to dictate the content of what passes for education in state schools.
I strongly support the efforts of Michael Gove, the education secretary, in attempting to correct this disastrous situation, but I fear that he will not get the backing required from the Coalition.
David Miller
Maidenhead, Berkshire
SIR – I agree with Michael Gove that British school students seem less bright than foreign students. But shortening school holidays will not be the answer.
We need to look at extending the school day to at least 4pm. Teachers also need more freedom to discipline children.
Simran Shah (aged 14)
Oswestry, Shropshire
SIR – Finland is top of international education league tables, yet has far longer summer holidays and shorter school days.Children also start school at a later age. However teaching is a higher-status profession in Finland.
Charles Sexton
Eynsford, Kent
SIR – Judith Woods (Features, April 20) writes about a “society that simply doesn’t care about education and has no grasp of its value”. True.
The Left-wing teaching unions and educational establishment of the Sixties onwards were more concerned with creating a militant proletarian army. Instead, society ended up with a self-perpetuating underclass where lack of aspiration is almost genetic.
I was educated at state primary and grammar schools where class sizes were 36 and summer holidays six weeks long, yet a far higher percentage of working-class children went to university than now.
The problem with education in the United Kingdom is quality, not quantity.
Steve Edwards
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
Britain’s research edge
SIR – Britain is a world leader in research, so is well placed to exploit the fruits of knowledge and creativity.
But our research strength must not be taken for granted. International competitors recognise the opportunities presented by research and innovation, and are increasing their investment.
In response to the Chancellor’s promise to do more to back science in the United Kingdom, we, the presidents of the four national academies, call on the Government to enhance its support for research and innovation, with a long-term vision for the knowledge economy.
We recommend that the Government should build a stable 10-year investment framework for research, innovation and skills. This should sit at the heart of its industrial strategy and plans for growth.
It should commit itself to increased investment in research, to keep pace with other leading scientific nations.
It should ring-fence the science budget and increase investment in research capital. It should ensure that research continues to be at the heart of evidence-based policy-making across Whitehall.
It should create a world-class research and innovation environment attractive to talent, collaboration and investment from industry and from overseas.
Sir John Tooke
President, Academy of Medical Sciences
Sir Adam Roberts
President, British Academy
Sir John Parker
President, Royal Academy of Engineering
Sir Paul Nurse
President, Royal Society
Minimal incentive
SIR – You highlight the capping of benefit to the equivalent of a £36,000 annual salary (Leading article, April 16). The new minimum wage is to be £6.31, meaning that, with two weeks’ holiday, someone would have to work for more than 110 hours a week to get the equivalent. Any wonder they might prefer not to work?
Kevin Cottrell
Buckland, Oxfordshire
Lost civilisation
SIR – Visiting the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum, my friend felt faint. A member of staff guided her to a seat and went to fetch some water. She came back empty-handed, saying she was not allowed to provide water in case my friend choked.
Valerie Clubley
Portsmouth, Hampshire
False US security
SIR – A large percentage of Americans had not been lulled by President Barack Obama into a false sense of security (Peter Foster, Commenaray, April 20). Quite the contrary, we have been waiting for some such occurrence as that which took place at last week’s Boston marathon.
Recent admissions in our news media demonstrate that some of them are beginning to realise their folly in failing to question Obama properly.
Our great hope is that the 2014 mid-term elections will change the face of our political landscape in such a way that the President will be unable to advance his programme during the balance of his time in office.
Jerry Sewell
Crittenden, Kentucky
SIR – I have huge sympathy for the people of Boston. However when I visited the city in the past I witnessed at first hand residents filling buckets with dollars to support the IRA in their campaign to kill and maim the citizens of London.
Surely supporting modern terrorism is a crime as awful as the deeds done by the terrorists themselves.
Peter Stevenson
Poole, Dorset
SIR – The organisers of the London marathon managed a 30-second silence in memory of the Boston bombings.
At one time we managed a two-minute silence, then we moved to a one-minute silence, Now, this noisy world of ours can barely shut up for just 30 seconds.
Neil May
Isle of Arran
Measles muddle
SIR – To lay the blame for the measles outbreak on doctors for not offering single vaccinations to infants whose parents have “real fears” (Letters, April 20) about the combined vaccine is wrong.
If parents believed that a vaccine was safe only if I twirled my stethoscope three times before administering the jab, must I then do so?
Even if one subscribed to Andrew Wakefield’s thinking on MMR (and I do not) then it would be necessary to give single jabs against measles, mumps and rubella, separated by gaps of one year. Since each injection has to be given twice it would take six years for each child to become immune.
When single jabs were all the rage 10 years ago, I could never understand the logic of parents giving them a month apart. This is just as “bad” (that is, good) as giving the combined MMR vaccine.
Dr Michael Barrie
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Shoots of recovery
SIR – The U-turn by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, and Nick Boles, the planning minister, who had wanted us to be able extend our homes without permission, has come just in time. With a food shortage on the horizon, David Heath, the agriculture minister, is exhorting us to use those same gardens to grow our own produce. Perhaps the Government’s thinking is joined up, after all.
Fiona Wild
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Poo corner
SIR – Being lucky enough to live in the Ashdown Forest, my dog walks are usually the perfect start. Lately however they have been marred when I encounter growing number of dog-poo bags littering the rides.
What on earth makes people think that it is better to leave nasty synthetic bags rather than just their contents?
Sue Cooper
Upper Hartfield, East Sussex
What to wear on St George’s Day
SIR – Amanda Howard (Letters, April 20) is looking for a replacement emblem to wear for St George’s Day now that the red rose is a symbol of the Labour Party.
My suggestion is that she shouldn’t wear anything. We’re British!
Richard N Underwood
Hove, East Sussex
SIR – We need look no further than the flag of St George itself as an emblem to wear on St George’s Day.
A year ago, the Daily Telegraph reported the danger that this flag might be considered racist (“St George’s flag is a racist symbol says a quarter of the English”, report April 22, 2012), but if enough ordinary folk and institutions were to use this now, it could prove to be not only a fitting emblem but a defeat for those who (like the English Defence League), have attempted to hijack this patriotic symbol.
Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – I too have been nonplussed by the Labour Party’s use of the red rose. When attending a France v England rugby match in Paris, I found out that it is also used by French socialists.
My mother came from Yorkshire, and so I wear a white rose on St George’s Day, which I hope answers the dilemma.
John Dunkin
London W11
SIR – I, for one, will wear a lapel badge with the Cross of St George on it.
In my front garden will be a newly acquired flag bearing the White Dragon of England.
Gordon Court
Uphill, Somerset
SIR – Perhaps a suitable emblem for St George’s Day would be an impaled dragon, coloured blue with yellow stars!
Tim Risdale
Wormington, Worcestershire

SIR – Amanda Craig, plagued by slugs (Comment, April 20) should invest in a pair of ducks. Our garden was slug-infested until our neighbour put ducks on his pond. We love to see them forage in our leafy borders. Result: well-fed ducks, not a slug in sight and two happy gardeners.
Margaret Barnard
Coelbren, Breconshire
SIR – You report that the public are being advised not to feed ducks white bread (April 20).
The reason, I have heard, is that when a duck swallows white bread, it can swell up and give the poor duck a terrible stomach ache.

Irish Times

Sir, – The imminent unwarranted sale of the National Lottery licence is another example of the short-sightedness of our blinkered Government. The argument been put forward by the Government is that it needs the expected €500 million proceeds from its sale in order to construct the long awaited national children’s hospital. It does not have to sell the Lotto licence to achieve this.
Over the past 25 years, since its inception, it has generated more than €4 billion for different causes within communities. As 31 per cent of its turnover currently goes to good causes, on present sales, the €500 million required can be easily realised in just over two years if all the proceeds were directed towards this project.
Since the whole sum would not be needed up front, it could easily be collected over a number of years by setting aside a set amount on a yearly basis without adversely affecting other causes. It could also be decided to dedicate the proceeds from one draw each week to this cause and it may encourage more people to play in the knowledge that their gamble would be going to this specific cause and not towards some political parish pump venture – as has happened in the past.
Like almost everything else in this country, it is highly possible that the proceeds from its sale could be diverted to other wasteful projects: there is no guarantee this would not happen. Since the Lotto has proved to be one of the greatest success stories as a result of the generosity of the Irish people, why should we sell it to a foreign outfit to capitalise on that success? It is not in the interests of the Irish people to do that, as the profits should remain in the hands of the Irish people who are making all the contributions towards that success. It is a gift of the people to the State and it is not within the gift of the government to sell it, as it belongs to the people.
The Government has already socialised the disastrous private banking debts on the backs of the Irish public and now it is prepared to sell off one of our success stories for a pittance: that does not make sense. Since the Lotto delivers a guaranteed weekly windfall for the Government, it is difficult to understand how it cannot see the folly behind this sale. – Yours, etc,
Co Limerick.

Sir, – If you save money (for a rainy day) you are penalised when it comes to retirement time. This State does not want to know if you apply for an uninsured retirement pension.
I am retired since 1991 due to multiple sclerosis. I was a single-handed general practitioner with four children to educate. I had to stop work in 1991 and began to negotiate some form of retirement/disability pension from the State and the General Medical Services.
I was disabled completely, aged 40 years, due to illness. George McNeice was one of the IMO who helped to negotiate a disabled retirement pension of IR£17 per month, which is now €105.54 per month and MS goes on forever. I read that his own pension is substantially more.
Saving in this country and trying to have a few bob for educating a family and retirement is nothing but a “mugs game” for which one is penalised. Nothing in the bank means help from all sides. – Yours, etc,
The Rocky Road,
Co Cork.
Sir, – Conor Pope drew attention to the limited action by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) on drug prices (Home News, March 26th). This article concluded the NCA needed to fight for customers more vigorously.
One of the ways the NCA could assist in information dissemination is to pressurise the HSE to insist that all GMS doctors include the Mimms Ireland price of medications on GMS prescriptions.
The vast majority of GPs use one of three or four software packages, all of which could include the Mimms pricing on prescriptions. If the NCA/HSE were serious about patient information they could include this stipulation in the contract. Most vested interests do not want to be too efficient for fear of becoming obsolete. Perhaps the NCA/HSE hierarchy carry the same fear. – Yours, etc,
Whitworth Medical Centre,
St Brigid’s Road Lower,

Sir, – As a member of the Labour Party I would take issue with those who keep on about broken election promises. The party manifesto was set for a Labour-led government. The citizens decided otherwise, so the party had to trim its sails. One-third Labour would not be allowed to dictate to two-thirds Fine Gael. Of course the party could have refused to enter government, as some members suggested, but that would have left the party open to condemnation of political cowardice.
With the largest contingent of elected TDs in its history, when the scale of the problem was revealed, Labour didn’t have the bottle.
I would agree with those who criticise the mantra “there is no alternative”.
There is an alternative and the party needs to be more in your face with people and spell it out in words of one syllable. At present the Government is borrowing €1 billion per month to help pay their wages, public sector wages, State benefits of which I am a beneficiary, health education, etc. The alternative would be not to borrow and cut State spending by an equivalent amount.
Another criticism being bandied about is that the poor and afflicted are being hardest hit by “the cuts”, which is absolute nonsense. Those least affected by the recession are people living in council accommodation on social benefits, which have hardly been touched.
The economic penny hasn’t yet dropped for many of our citizens, and the Government must bear the blame for that.
A recent example was the ignorant yobbery displayed by the teaching profession. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn missed a golden opportunity to lay it down on the line. Their fat wages plus all add-ons, allowances for this and that are being paid, to a large extent, with borrowed money. – Yours, etc,
Co Wexford.

A chara, – Margaret Thatcher was a virulently  anti-Labour, anti-trade union figure who, if we are to believe Peter Mandelson, had a particular contempt for the Irish.
Given the foregoing, the attendance  at her funeral of an Irish Labour Minister vividly illustrates how  far that party has moved from its roots.
It is ironic that this bizarre act of self-abasement should take place during the centenary year of the Dublin Lockout. – Is mise,    
Canal Street,
Co Down.

Irish Independent

• I noted with dismay the attack on the current Government by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin at his party’s 1916 commemoration.
Also in this section
Will Letters to Editor survive?
Thatcher quoted incorrectly
Iron Lady a real political leader
He castigates our present leaders for allowing a “dangerous vacuum” to develop in their support for political structures in the North.
His concerns would get a better hearing if they were tempered with a degree of reality.
Our present Government has been distracted by the colossal and unprecedented shambles that his own party bequeathed to the nation. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his bungling successor Brian Cowen ruined our economy.
Their policies and lack of oversight left us an economic landscape almost as barren and hopeless as that in the wake of the Rising.
Ireland back then struggled to emerge from under a crippling colonial legacy. Today, we shoulder the staggering weight of austerity, which is causing untold hardship and suffering to far too many, who for the most part bear their anxiety in quiet despair.
I am heartily sick of Mr Martin and his various frontbench spokesmen, who take to the airwaves and glibly chide our current leaders for not cleaning up the mess, which they left, more expeditiously.
A brass neck will take you a long way in politics, especially if the electorate is stone-mad enough to forget the recent past, and take Mr Martin and his cohorts seriously.
He was on surer ground when he trained his sights on Sinn Fein, accusing them of neglecting the wider community.
Addressing the instability in the North, he said: “What we are getting from these parties is what has rightly been termed all politics and no governance.”
“All politics,” and “no governance”. There indeed speaks the voice of experience.
What better way to describe the last days of the previous Fianna Fail administration.
M Gill
Connemara, Co Galway
A flock of ostriches
• In the coming months, a long-overdue Bill will be presented to the Dail regarding the implementation of Supreme Court decision in the X Case over 20 years ago. It will seek to put additional measures into statute to allow doctors and medical staff to increase the protection available to pregnant women in order to prevent tragic deaths like that of Savita Halappanavar.
The three sections of Irish society who were notably absent from the inquest were:
Firstly, the fence-sitting politicians, who refused to bring in the necessary corrective measures to cover the X Case and the other areas where the life and health of pregnant women were at risk.
Secondly, the Irish Medical Council (IMC) the conservative representative body of the medical profession.
Thirdly, the Catholic Church, whose attitude towards sexuality in general and women in particular lies at the heart of the fear of politicians and the IMC to resolve this issue.
If appropriate legislation had been in place, Savita Halappanavar would be alive today. What a medical system! What a legal system! What a flock of political ostriches!
Eamon Reid
Howth, Dublin 13
TDs are whipping boys
• We hear much talk of impending Dail reform but I suggest that one of the most significant reforms of the way our national parliament functions would be an overhauling of the party whip system. The refusal of the main parties to allow free votes on any issue undermines democracy.
I have been campaigning for decades for the abolition of live hare coursing, and I know that a substantial number of TDs support a ban. I have correspondence from them telling me so.
But on every occasion the issue is voted upon they are whipped into taking the opposite stance.
By contrast, hare coursing was abolished on free votes in Britain and Northern Ireland. Would it be so awful if the parties let TDs respect the wishes of those who elected them?
John Fitzgerald
Callan, Co Kilkenny
O’Connell within rules
• I am writing in relation to Vincent Hogan and Tony Ward’s articles (Irish Independent, April 20) concerning Paul O’Connell’s alleged kick to David Kearney in the recent Munster/Leinster match.
At the outset, it should be noted that rugby union is a contact sport where players suffer injuries, largely by accidental collision. I am firmly of the view that O’Connell’s intention was to kick the ball as it was presented on the ground.
O’Connell is not a dirty player and his disciplinary record proves that point. There is no grey area, the ball was in play, regardless of David Kearney’s position in proximity to it.
Ever since rugby was first played, a player is perfectly entitled to kick the ball when presented in open play. Unfortunately, as in this case, people do get injured from time to time.
The bottom line is that a properly appointed Citing Commissioner saw no reason to refer any incident from the Munster/Leinster match and that is where it should have been left by all the parties involved.
Ray Walsh
Killarney, Co Kerry
Naming new bridge
• Why don’t we name the new Liffey bridge after a lot of people who are always forgotten in the inanities of government and posturing but without whom most of the Government and nearly all the posers would have disappeared long ago?
How about calling it The Taxpayers’ Bridge?
Dick Barton
Tinahely, Co Wicklow
No vote is Quinn’s fault
• It seems the Government is trying to figure out why Croke Park II has been rejected, despite the fact that the majority of public servants earn below €65,000, the point at which cuts were to take place.
I can only speak for the education sector but one man is clearly behind our rejection. Ruairi Quinn has over-played his hand by trying to impose too much change too quickly, unleashing a raft of reforms all at once – with some poorly thought out.
He has ignored his own statutory body, the NCCA, in attempting to change the Junior Cert. His department’s record on supporting such change has often been dismal, as recent reports from maths teachers and those schools piloting the new JC will attest.
Thus, the rejection has to do with pay in my opinion but also much to do with poor/non-existent leadership.
Barry Hazel
The Headlands, Bray, Co Wicklow
US should halt drones
• Like everyone else, I was appalled by the Boston bombings. It was an unjustifiable attack on innocent civilians in broad daylight.
In your excellent coverage of the unfolding events, you carried an analysis piece that explained by way of context that so far America has killed 4,700 people in ‘drone attacks’ in a number of countries in recent years.
This figure shocked me, as none of the people killed by the US in these executions ever appear before a judge, let alone a jury.
I abhor terrorism, but I do not think it behoves a country as great as the United States to stand over summary execution on such a scale.
Name and address with editor
The Scattering
• It is not The Gathering we should be celebrating, but The Scattering we should be lamenting. As any lonely parent will attest.
T Bolger
Shannon, Co Clare


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