Still hospital

26 June 2013 Still Hospital

Off around the park listening to the Navy Lark, Mrs Povey is on the warpath she wants promotion for Henry. He may not be much but he’s hers. Priceless.
Mary still in hospital for a blood transfusion, I hope all will be well.
I watch The Auton invasion its not bad
No Scrabble no Mary


Professor Mick Aston
Professor Mick Aston, who has died aged 66, was one of Britain’s best-known archaeologists and a charismatic presenter of the popular Channel 4 series Time Team.

Professor Mick Aston (left) and Sir Tony Robinson preparing to excavate the gardens at Buckingham Palace in 2006 Photo: REX
6:31PM BST 25 Jun 2013
Wild-haired, with a thick Black Country twang, and invariably clad in a rainbow-striped sweater, Aston was an academic who believed in dragging archaeology out of the academic shadows and making it appealing to a mass audience. “We’re never sure what we’re going to discover, if anything, on our digs,” he once explained. “We’re not in the Tutankhamen business, but we’ve uncovered everything from a Palaeolithic site from 200,000 BC to a Flying Fortress bomber.”
He appeared as the senior archaeologist in 16 series of Time Team, in which specialists carry out a dig in the space of 72 hours. It was Aston who first convinced the programme’s producers that such a tight time-frame was feasible . Not that he was particularly one for getting down and dirty. As a landscape archaeologist, he was more concerned with analysing the historic record and aerial photography. “I rarely get down into the trench,” he noted. “ I’m interested in the overall picture.”
When Time Team was launched in 1994 the programme encountered what its presenter Sir Tony Robinson called “a wave of hostility from academics”. As the show’s resident archaeologist, Aston was particularly wounded . But, as Robinson reflected, university departments “tended to back off when the number of kids applying for archaeology courses went up five or tenfold, with most of them citing Time Team as the reason”.
Aston left the show abruptly in 2011, later explaining his decision by saying that the show had been “dumbed down”: “ I was the archaeological consultant but they decided to get rid of half the archaeological team, without consulting me.”
As well as appearing on Time Team, Aston worked for 10 years on a major research project investigating the origins of the village of Shapwick in Somerset, turning up more than 250,000 finds dating back to 8,000 BC; he also researched monastic and landscape archaeology throughout Europe.
Michael Antony Aston was born on July 1 1946 at Oldbury, West Midlands, into a working-class family. His love of archaeology emerged when he was a boy, despite what he recalled as Oldbury Grammar School’s best endeavours to dissuade him. At Birmingham University he read Geography with a subsidiary in Archaeology, graduating in 1967.
He worked as a field officer with Oxford City and County Museums for four years , before being appointed Somerset county council’s first archaeologist in 1974, overseeing numerous sites uncovered by the construction of the M5 motorway. Four years later he returned to academia, as a tutor with the External Studies Department at Oxford University.
In 1979 Aston became a tutor in Archaeology at the University of Bristol , where he remained, latterly as Emeritus Professor, until 2004. He was then an honorary professor at Durham University and an honorary visiting professor at the University of Exeter.
His books included Archaeology is Rubbish (2002, with Tony Robinson); and The Shapwick Project, Somerset: a rural landscape explored (2007, with Christopher Gerrard).
An enthusiastic walker who enjoyed pottery, painting, and classical music , Aston was also a vegetarian and lifelong naturist. He lived in a “rather grotty 1960s bungalow” in Somerset where he could lie naked in his back garden.
He suffered from aspergillosis, a farmers’ lung condition, for 30 years, and had a brain haemorrhage in 2003.
Mick Aston was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1976 and of the Royal Geographical Society in 2010. In July 2012 he received a lifetime achievement award at the British Archaeological Awards.
He is survived by a son and stepdaughter, the children of his former partner, Carinne Allison, from whom he separated in 1998.
Professor Mick Aston, born July 1 1946, died June 24 2013


You reported last week (20 June) that the schools budget was likely to receive a flat-rate settlement in real terms. You also reported (22 June) that admissions to primary schools increased by nearly 100,000 on the year, with the National Audit Office forecasting that admissions would rise by another 240,000 in September this year. With an increase in the numbers of children coming in to primary schools and the raising of the participation age to 17, shouldn’t the education budget be increasing to take account of this? Any flat-rate settlement surely constitutes a significant budget cut in real terms?
Lesley Classick
Iver, Buckinghamshire
• Today, George Osborne is expected to announce funding for several big new road projects, including the £1.5bn A14 bypass (Report, 24 June). However, with government, big business and local councils pushing over 200 other road schemes, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Last weekend we travelled 250 miles from Hastings – site of the £100m Bexhill-Hastings link road – to the Peak District, and built a 50m “dual carriageway” on Mr Osborne’s doorstep to raise the alarm. Affecting four national parks, seven areas of outstanding natural beauty, 39 sites of special scientific interest, 64 ancient woods and 234 local wildlife sites, these roads represent a major assault on our countryside. Building new roads is bad for jobs, for our countryside and for our warming climate. It will be met with sustained peaceful resistance.
Denise Berry, Chris Bluemel, Anthony Bradnum, Gabriel Carlyle, Agatha Coffey, Sarah Evans, Karl Horton, Maria Gallastegui, Simon Medhurst, Rosamond Palmer, Rebecca Snotflower

Today is the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The British government should urgently be called to account for failing to protect this vulnerable group. The Home Office routinely holds torture survivors in immigration detention in breach of its own rules. Rule 35 should prevent this in all but exceptional cases, but a report by the charity Medical Justice – The Second Torture – found that this rule was flouted in 49 out of 50 cases. Two detainees were deported and tortured again in their countries. They managed to escape back to the UK but were detained again. Medical Justice doctors documented fresh torture scars alongside older ones. Last month the high court found that a group of torture survivors had been detained unlawfully and that rule 35 had failed them. But alarmingly, the Home Office has restricted rule 35 so that it only applies if the torture was “inflicted by a person or a public official acting in an official capacity, or with their consent or acquiescence”. So for the purposes of Rule 35, if you were tortured by the Taliban, that wouldn’t count.
Lord Avebury
Dr Jonathan Fluxman Medical Justice

Your editorial describing Catherine Foster’s success in the Bayreuth festival (In praise of… British Brünnhildes, 25 June), says “Wagnerian opera was once a Teutonic monopoly. But these days British singers … would seem to be running rings around the competition.” Let’s not forget that the Teutonic monopoly was broken by Winifred Wagner, née Williams, born in Hastings of a Welsh father, who had considerable influence on the Bayreuth festival, and Hitler, during the Nazi years.
Wyn Thomas
•  The Badger Trust’s Jeff Hayden doesn’t know much about badgers if he thinks Michael Eavis’s comment about badgers eating hedgehogs is “ludicrous” (Glastonbury founder backs badger cull, 22 June). One evening some years ago, we heard a piercing scream coming from the garden. Looking out of the window, we saw a badger holding down and devouring a hedgehog, underside first. Or is it just the vast number of badgers in Somerset that eat hedgehogs?
Wendy and Rodger Neve
Over Stratton, Somerset
• As a Brighton resident I find it tragic that the views of our Green MP (Letter: We now have three parties of austerity, 25 June) aren’t shared by our Green council. Its savage cuts in the pay and conditions of its lowest-paid workers suggest that there are, in fact, four parties of austerity.
Barry Walker
• I have been married to my English teacher for 55 years. No complaints so far (Let me be the judge of whether my affair with a teacher was abuse, 25 June).
Valerie Hooley
• Three five-star reviews on one day (24 June)? Grade inflation. In my day, they’d have been lucky to get two.
Ken Manktelow
• I’ve just read that the BMA have passed a motion on Jeremy Hunt (Online report, 24 June). Hardly a pat on the back.
Stuart Hannay
Westsandwick, Yell, Shetland
• Aren’t your subs following the cliche correspondence (Nadal crashes out of Wimbledon, 25 June)?
Ceri Smith

The inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering was yesterday awarded to five engineers who helped to create the internet and the world wide web. The work of these engineers was substantially based on pioneering research and development by a team of British engineers and scientists at the National Physical Laboratory, a government R&D establishment, under its leader Donald Davies. We do not wish in any way to denigrate the work of the engineers selected, yet not one of the NPL team has been included.
The communications technology that underpins the internet is packet switching. This was independently invented, and named as such, by Davies in 1965, and has been widely acknowledged. The idea was developed into a proposal for a wide area network, similar in many ways to the internet, by a small team of engineers, including ourselves. It was also conveyed in 1967 to a US team planning the Arpanet, the network that was the principal forerunner to the internet.
Davies’s British team was limited to building a local area network within the NPL campus, which it successfully completed in 1971. This was the first digital local network in the world to use packet switching and high-speed links. The NPL team undertook a wide range of internationally recognised research in the field of computer networks, as well as collaborating with the Arpanet and broader international community. Most importantly from the point of view of this award, members participated in an international working group whose job was to define the function of inter-network gateways and the development of the Internetwork Protocol that led directly to the creation of the internet, co-authoring one of the seminal publications on this subject. This was one of the areas singled out for its significance by the Royal Academy of Engineering judges.
But it appears that the work of the pioneering British team that introduced packet switching has been airbrushed from history by the RAE judges. Davies’s contribution (he died in 2000) to the development of packet switching was recognised by the US IEEE institution, among others. When Arpanet reached its 25th anniversary, the NPL team were hailed in the US as “the packet-switching pioneers”. It is galling that while US institutions are willing to recognise the significance of NPL’s work, the UK establishment appears incapable of doing so.
Roger Scantlebury
Peter Wilkinson
Former NPL engineers

Douwe Korff (Comment, 24 June) is right to stress the importance of EU action to shield European citizens from snooping by intelligence services. MEPs have pushed Brussels for safeguards against intrusive intelligence powers for years. EU privacy legislation is under discussion. As a negotiator on the reforms, I’m demanding that it include a provision to ban a company complying with a foreign surveillance order unless a treaty between that country and the EU guarantees legal rights of appeal and redress for Europeans. The European commission caved in to US pressure and dropped such a clause before the draft legislation was published. It is disappointing that even now EU commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible for data protection, is only promising to “not object” when MEPs push to reinstate it.
Of course the threat is homegrown as well as transatlantic and international. We need leadership not only from EU institutions, but also from the 28 national parliaments, to seek restraints and accountability on the surveillance powers of each EU state. In the new EU data protection law we aim to achieve strong guarantees for individuals in relation to those who originally collect and process their personal data. But the value of these will be fatally undermined if the security establishment is allowed to snoop at will, shielded from scrutiny and legal restrictions by compliant executives.
Sarah Ludford MEP
Lib Dem, London
• Edward Snowden has revealed that GCHQ secretly accessed huge amounts of internet and communications data (Report, 22 June). It would appear that in the last 30 years not much has changed, apart from the technology. In 1980, while on the Sunday Times, I worked with Duncan Campbell of the New Statesman on a story about the interception of civilian communications. After months of work and for reasons hard to fathom, the Sunday Times did not publish our story, but the New Statesman did.
This is what we wrote about the Menwith Hill base on the Yorkshire moors: “Its business for more than 15 years has been sifting the communications of private citizens, corporations and governments for information of political or economic value to the US intelligence community, and since the early 1960s its close partner has been the British Post Office. The Post Office has built Menwith Hill into the heart of Britain’s national communications system – and Britain, of course, occupies a nodal position in the communications of the world, especially those of Western Europe.”
We wrote that Menwith Hill was the largest and most secret civilian listening post maintained by the NSA outside the United States. It appeared to be the biggest tapping centre in the world. We called it the “billion-dollar phone tap”.
Linda Melvern
• The letter from the chair of the GCHQ trade union group (24 June) is a delicious irony, as it wasn’t so long ago that unions were banned at GCHQ by Margaret Thatcher because they would potentially interfere with the spying activity of the US on the rest of the world. That the local trade union should now be supporting surveillance of nearly all UK citizens is quite amazing. I haven’t read any denigration of the thousands who work at GCHQ, other than of the senior officers and politicians who have been happy to authorise the collection of private data by way of all-encompassing intercepts. The legality of such intercepts has yet to be determined in court. Quite rightly, this is now in the public domain and there should be a debate on what is an appropriate intercept and who authorises it.
Tony Jarvis

How much more do we have to learn about the misconduct of police officers before we have a full royal commission to examine what has been happening and to set out rules for the future policing of our society? Changing evidence at Hillsborough, employment as a private army against the miners (and inventing evidence), using the identities of dead children, shooting an innocent man on the underground, trying to undermine peaceful protests, knocking a bystander to the ground (leading to his death), allowing undercover officers to go beyond acceptable bounds, and now (Editorial, 25 June) attempting to smear the Lawrence family and their supporters – and all the time with senior officers pretending that they knew nothing about what was going on. Surely, we have seen and heard enough to realise that the police, far from protecting a democratic society, are all too often acting like a law unto themselves? We need a police force we can trust. There is no indication at present that either the government or senior police officers understand the extent to which they are losing that trust.
David Howard
Church Stretton, Shropshire
• As organisations that have provided advice and support to the families of people who have died in police custody for many years, we are alarmed by the Guardian’s report that campaigns run by bereaved families that we have assisted may have been targeted for covert police surveillance (Yard spied on critics of police corruption, 25 June).
Coming on top of allegations against special demonstration squad undercover officers of serious sexual misconduct, the stealing of the identities of dead children, the targeting of the Stephen Lawrence family, the suggestion that grieving relatives seeking the truth about the deaths of their loved ones may have been spied on, apparently to gather information to smear them in order to deflect attention away from police conduct, means the case for a judicial public inquiry into all of these revelations of police malpractice is now overwhelming.
Any information gathered and the way it was used must be subject to robust public scrutiny, and the Metropolitan police and their political masters must be held to account for the actions of officers.
Deborah Coles and Helen Shaw Inquest, Estelle du Boulay Newham Monitoring Project Marcia Rigg and Samantha Rigg-David United Families & Friends Campaign
• The police are continually asking for public support and help to reduce crime and bring criminals to justice. But in order to obtain that support the police must have the public trust. The public trust is difficult to lose where law enforcement is concerned, but once lost it is even more difficult to regain. In countries where the law enforcement arms of the state are untrustworthy, organised crime thrives and black-market economies flourish. The police, and the Met in particular, are in grave danger of losing that trust. And then we may find that the largest factor contributing to crime involves the police undermining themselves.
Dr Todd Huffman
• CCTV follows us everywhere, licence-plate recognition technology follows our cars, GCHQ reads our email and listens to our phone conversations, police spies monitor our attempts at protest, police “kettle” and photograph us when we nevertheless protest (How can we invest our trust in a state that spies on us?, 25 June). By what definition of a police state are we not already living in a police state? The fact that I hesitate to write my name under this email for fear of reprisal only confirms that self-censorship, the sign of living in fear under a totalitarian regime, is already starting to make itself felt.
Colin Hall
• I would like to have a letter published in the Guardian registering my outrage at state interception of internet traffic and the creeping criminalisation of protest. While I still can. And assuming you receive this.
John Cranston
• Chris Elliott, the readers’ editor (Open door, 24 June), refers to the time after the first edition has been printed “when our email is not monitored”. Not in Kings Place, perhaps, but very likely in Cheltenham or Fort Meade (NSA headquarters).
Joseph Cocker
Leominster, Herefordshire

Suzanne Moore’s digital economy piece (14 June) is interesting, but her comparison between Kodak and Instagram betrays a lack of understanding of how these digital economy companies work.
Instagram had only 13 employees at the time of Jaron Lanier’s book, Who Owns the Future?, because Instagram does not do very much itself. The startup economy is a recent development made possible only because of huge advancements in hosted services.
Instagram only needs a tiny engineering team, but the service Instagram provides needs far more. There is a large middle class associated with services provided by Instagram, and I’m a part of it: the engineers who maintain services and software that these startups rely on.
I agree with Moore that societies should place a fair value on work, and understand the importance of a financially secure middle class. But this is a challenge of political and social will, and it is a mistake to segue into the Luddite tendency.
There will always be new technologies that render old occupations obsolete; history has shown that this results not in a Luddite dystopia of poverty and starvation, nor the futurist utopia of a permanently leisured human class served by its machines, but simply in human ingenuity inventing new forms of occupation. The challenge is to ensure that our polities are structured such that these new forms of occupation do not increase inequality.
The nature of technological change is unimportant; the challenge of the digital economy is just the same as the challenge of the Industrial Revolution and no doubt will be the same as whatever the next big wave of technological change turns out to be – AI journalism, perhaps?
Adam Williamson
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The EU is good for Britons
When reading John Harris’s article on Ukip on the March (14 June), I thought that so many people who constantly express pride in all things British seem to assume that all British people feel the same way. This could not be further from the truth.
I looked at the statistics for 2009-10: 567,000 people arrived in the UK and 371,000 moved overseas. These are modest figures compared with the 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians who might, if Ukip are right, come to the UK under the auspices of the EU. A headline figure, maybe, but one only to scare people.
I married a person from the former German Democratic Republic in 1994-95 and we decided that it was more appropriate for me to join my new family in Saxony, Germany, than for them to move to the UK. One additional factor was my total discontent with Thatcherism and its later John Major version, which had so influenced the way in which I did my work in one of the caring professions. I have no homesickness and have never regretted the decision I took almost 20 years ago. As a citizen of the UK and the EU, I benefit enormously from the provisions that relate to those like me living in an EU country other than their own, and would be harmed if Britain departed from the EU.
If Ukip ever comes to power, I’m sure I will feel even happier that I left Britain’s shores.
Michael Booth
Kassel, Germany
Vested interests doom Syria
I agree with Charles Glass that the Syrian conflict is unlikely to be resolved, except through tough negotiations (Pity the unfortunate citizens of Syria, 14 June).
Sadly, though, the involvement of the two major players, Russia and the US, is less to do with halting the massacre and more to do with serving their own interests.
The same approach was taken in Afghanistan a quarter of a century ago, when the US armed the Afghan mujahideen to see off the Russian army, only to land itself in a deeper quagmire, full of the Taliban.
It does make one very cynical when the superpowers turn a conflict into a tug of war, instead of applying wisdom and generosity of spirit to rescue a desperate population.
Shmaiel Nona
Burradoo, NSW, Australia
How to thwart the snoopers
I have a very simple solution to the unthinkable intrusion by the US National Security Agency into people’s private lives (14 June). AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, YouTube and Yahoo, not to mention Prism and Boundless Informant? Forget them all and bring together four simple items that fortunately are not yet obsolete – pen, paper, envelope and stamp – and do what I do. Commit your most nefarious plotting and planning, the details of your deepest and darkest secret weapons of mass destruction, your schemes to annihilate the world, on to paper and then seal them safely inside the envelope and post them off. Safe as houses.
Or does the NSA have some kind of MRI system that can scrutinise the content of a sealed envelope? If this is the case, we’ll have to resort to telepathy.
Annie Didcott
Chifley, ACT, Australia
• I am amazed that no one has pointed out the irony that Edward Snowden has sought the protection of a country where, if he had revealed such “state secrets”, the authorities would have locked him up and thrown away the key.
R Coates
Hong Kong
• The question is not whether someone is intercepting my emails. The only question is, who? When I am conspiring against the government, I use my employer’s email system; when I am conspiring against my employer, I switch to Gmail.
David Josephy
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
It’s all about politics
Bravo for José Rodrigues dos Santos’s article, Can Agatha Christie be political? (7 June). It makes one think outside the tiny box into which most newspapers, TV pundits and social scientists put politics. That box contains government, politicians, political parties, lobbyists and the like. It doesn’t have religions, corporations, universities, non-government organisations, families and so on. Those entities are supposedly not political, unless they or people in them do malicious, unseemly or self-serving things – then they’re “political”. Here comes another strength of Dos Santos’s article: it links politics to ideas, concepts and behaviour that can be good, moral and beneficial.
Politics is about controlling, allocating, producing and using resources, and the values and ideas underlying those activities. We all do these things; we’re all political. Better to be conscious of that than to think what we do isn’t political.
Ben Kerkvliet
Honolulu, Hawaii, US
Nasa finally sees the light
It is reassuring that Nasa has concerns for radiation exposure in space (Dispatches, 14 June). Not always so.
Starting in 1958 Project Orion (now declassified) sought a round-trip to Mars in 124 days with a crew of 150. What may seem gonzo now was a deadly serious endeavour: a 16-storey vessel would have been catapulted up through the atmosphere by detonating an array of nuclear blasts underneath it; space propulsion would have been achieved via 2,000 sequential “small-sized” bombs bumping it along. This boondoggle of Darpa (of star-wars defence fame) would have launched from the ever-secret Nevada Test Site, even then a hopelessly radioactive wasteland. Believed feasible for a decade, the engineering was later orphaned to the Air Force and reconfigured as an orbiting battleship to “go toe-to-toe with the Russkies” in space. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 put it into limbo.
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
It’s just too damned long
Your feature on Bandwurmwörter (14 June) brought back a story, no doubt apocryphal, told by my German teacher. It appears that the original German word for a tank may have been Schuetzengrabenvernichtungskraftwagen, a mere 37 letters, or 36 with the umlaut. The literal translation is: motor vehicle for the annihilation of protective ditches.
Rommel’s failure to capture Tobruk in 1941 was in part due to the inevitable delay in sending the following plea for reinforcements, in Morse Code: Siebzigtausend Schuetzengrabenvernichtungskraftwagen dringend erforderlich bei Tobruk bitte. Immediately after this debacle, an edict from Adolf Hitler decreed that henceforth the word in German would be der Tank.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
• Am I missing something? Eighty-six prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have been cleared for release, and have been for some considerable time (7 June). So, what is the problem with giving them a travel voucher to their chosen destination, a reasonable sum of subsistence cash and a lift to the travel starting point? I mean, just do it, for goodness’ sake. Innocents should not be incarcerated further, once declared innocent. Or is there something simple I have overlooked?
Ian M Cameron
Auckland, New Zealand
• One of the many things I appreciate about Guardian Weekly is its frank attitude when it comes to the more colourful side of the English language. I refer, in this case, to Sam Leith’s book review of Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr (14 June). In the unlikelihood of this article being published in, say, the Daily Mail, it would be so full of asterisks as to render it bl***y, f***ing unreadable.
Kim van Hoorn
Tarn, France
• Rarely have I ever read anything more sane and wonderful: Jay Griffiths has said out loud about parenting what most women know deep down in their hearts (31 May). Thanks for publishing this piece of wisdom; it will hopefully start parents thinking before inflicting years of damage that starts with controlled crying and is followed by controlled everything else.
Ailsa Cuthbert
Gisborne, New Zealand



The US’s pursuit of whistleblower Edward Snowden is shameful in the extreme. Government departments exist to assist and protect a nation’s citizens, but what we are witnessing from the US is a governing state acting as though it ruled the lives of those whom it ought to be seeking to represent, actually granting itself oversight of the minutiae of its people’s lives in a chilling mirror of Orwell’s dystopian vision.
And no wonder Snowden fears capture; Bradley Manning, the courageous young soldier who supplied Julian Assange with the WikiLeaks information regarding abuses conducted by the occupying troops in Iraq, has been treated in ways which no prisoner of war would endure under the Geneva Conventions: held in solitary confinement, forced to sleep naked and deprived of his prescription spectacles, leaving him practically blind.
These are dark days for democracy and freedom, as our fellow men are vilified, prosecuted and imprisoned merely for trying to alert us to acts being committed in our name.
Extradition treaty be damned, the UK ought to be standing up to the bullying US and offering political asylum. All around the world, we are seeing populations resisting the old political order; these are interesting times and history will judge harshly those who stand in the way of actual, not just perceived, freedom.
Julian Self
Milton Keynes
It is paradoxical that social democrats and socialists complain about the state snooping on our communication activity but believe the Government needs to control more of the economy, whereas more authoritarian-minded conservatives believe the state should be small in respect of economic activity but be able to snoop on us in the name of “security”.
James Paton
Billericay, Essex
Police check on Stephen Lawrence family
With all due respect to Stephen Lawrence and his family, perhaps the public should not overreact to claims that an undercover officer in the Metropolitan Police was asked to look for information that might discredit the Lawrences.
Unfortunately in one sense it is absolutely legitimate for the family to be screened. The public would have a right to know if, for example, Stephen Lawrence was actually an outspoken ruffian from a criminal family rather than a totally innocent victim from a good home. We’d have a right to know, not least because securing justice for this young man and those who loved him has already cost the state many millions over the last 20 years.
But there is an important distinction here, in that the officer concerned was asked to unearth information and not, thankfully, to concoct it.
Paul Dunwell
Alton, Hampshire
The idea that the police monitoring of the Lawrence family or checks on campaigners on police wrongdoing is some kind of aberration that took place only in the 1990s is historically ill-informed.
In fact the police have a history of spying on radical organisations and the left dating back to before Peterloo in 1819. There were police spies in the Chartists in the 1840s; the Communist Party, CND and others were watched in the 20th century. Little if any evidence of illegal activity was found, except of course that of the police spies themselves.
Keith Flett
London N17
The power to curb rubbish
We read that Monmouthshire County Council intends to impose tighter limits on domestic refuse collections. This well-meaning initiative will no doubt be followed by other authorities. 
The associated impact will be most strongly felt by householders who are largely powerless to influence the amount of seemingly useless packaging that accompanies practically everything they buy. An example is the box, 25cm square by 10cm deep containing a wrist watch, presented to me recently as a long-service award. Shrink-wrapped swedes are a less obvious, but just as ridiculous, waste of packaging.
The pain needs to be transferred to manufacturers and distributors, through tariffs and shaming publicity, if sensible persuasion fails. They have the real power to reduce the huge volumes of wasteful and expensive packaging littering our world.
Roger Blassberg
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Research fraud in drug tests
Your article “Exposed: the doctor whose faked drug test results proved fatal” (18 June) contains a number of serious inaccuracies.
In 2006 we published the results of a clinical trial in asthmatic patients with infliximab: a monoclonal antibody (mAB) from Centocor (now Janssen). The study involved 38 moderately severe asthmatics in a single centre, and there were no treatment-related adverse events. The clinical results of this study were processed in a double-blind manner by an independent statistician, and we have no evidence for manipulation of these data.
On the contrary, evidence for research fraud by Dr Edward Erin was only found in the handling of laboratory levels of sputum markers of inflammation, which had no bearing on the clinical conclusions of the study.
In parallel with our study, there was a larger international study. Your article states that “faked research partly contributed to the [Erin drug] trial being extended internationally”. However we can confirm that the international Wenzel study had started recruiting patients in 2004, before any results of the Erin study had become available. Hence, the conduct of the large international study was not influenced by the results of the smaller single-centre study.
Another untrue statement was that “Dr Edward Erin’s fabrications were not detected until he was arrested and jailed for six years”. In January 2008 Dr Trevor Hansel had serious concerns over some data presented by Dr Erin, and requested that another member of the research team should independently go back to Dr Erin’s data, prepare new graphs and repeat the statistical analysis.
In the meantime, Dr Erin was arrested on 14 February 2008, the research fraud was reported to Dr Hansel on 16 February, and the matter was immediately referred to appropriate authorities. Following detailed examination of all Dr Erin’s publications, appropriate retractions were then made.
Dr Trevor T Hansel
Professor Peter J Barnes
Dr Onn Min Kon
Imperial Clinical Respiratory Research Unit, London W2
Marvell, the  bard of Hull
In identifying the “stars” of the four cities shortlisted for the UK’s next City of Culture, you name few outstanding cultural figures who can be associated with Leicester, Swansea or Dundee (“Dylan Thomas takes on Philip Larkin in a battle of high culture”, 20 June).
In Hull’s case, you cite the poets Philip Larkin and Sir Andrew Motion, who are a very strong combination, but you omit to mention the greatest poet to be linked with that city, Andrew Marvell, who went to school there and served as its MP during some of the most turbulent times in our history.
None of the other contenders for the City of Culture title can match the star quality of the man who penned the lines “But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”. Andrew Marvell, who is generously commemorated in Hull, tips the balance significantly in Hull’s favour.
Professor David Head
Director of Innovative Partnerships, Vice Chancellor’s Office, University of Lincoln
Dilemma in the middle lane
Some of the correspondence about middle-lane drivers seems to be misunderstanding the main complaint, which is about drivers who drive at 50 or 60mph in the middle lane while the left-hand lane is empty, thus effectively turning a three-lane motorway into a two-lane motorway.
If one is driving in the left-hand lane at 60mph and there is a driver in the middle lane going at 50mph, is it illegal to “undertake” by continuing at 60mph in the left-hand lane, or should one pull out into the right-hand lane to overtake? The latter seems absurd.
Peter Calviou
Amersham, Buckinghamshire
A riot of vacuous Tory proposals
The “alternative Queen’s Speech” put forward by right-wing Tories (25 June) is just 40 pieces of displacement activity.
Vacuous MPs, who have no idea how to manage an economy, are creating a smoke screen of irrelevant activity to obscure the reality that the nation they were elected to govern is disintegrating around them. Much like rioters in the street, an increasing number of MPs waving their arms and shouting didn’t properly learn maths at school.
Martin London
Henllan, Denbighshire
Figure it out
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says (24 June): “The chances of a passenger dying in an airplane accident is one in 10 million; in our hospitals it is one in 300.” Is the aircraft figure per flight? Per year? Per lifetime? Does the hospital figure take account of the fact that many of us will ultimately succumb to a terminal illness in hospital through no fault of the NHS?
Bev Littlewood
Professor of Software Engineering, City University, London EC1
Misplaced love
While I do not in any way condone Jeremy Forrest’s behaviour – he betrayed the trust we all place in teachers on behalf of our children – it does seem to have been a loving relationship, though severely misplaced. How does his prison sentence equate with that given to Stuart Hall where there would appear to have been no affection, only his needs and much manipulation to meet them?
Marian Gooding
Petersfield, Hampshire
You have disappointed me. I love your newspaper and have bought it regularly since it was launched. However, in today’s edition you deemed it necessary to point out that Constance Briscoe is black (“Judge faces court over Huhne statements”, 25 June). Why? Is it relevant to the story? You didn’t make a point of stating that Chris Huhne was a white MP.
Trish Scott
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
I see you
I hear that the powers that be have got so safety-conscious (Tom Peck, 22 June) that staff at Hogwarts are making Harry Potter wear a high-visibility vest over his Cloak of Invisibility.
John O’Dwyer
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire


‘Developers are sitting on planning permissions for hundreds of thousands of new homes, but are choosing not to build’
Sir, Tim Montgomerie blames Nimbyism for our economic and social ills (“Build homes. Give hope to the next generation”, June 24). In the same breath he claims the moral high ground for the pro-development lobby.
What he fails to discuss is that developers are sitting on planning permissions for hundreds of thousands of new homes, but are choosing not to build. They bought much of this land at high prices, intending to sell homes at even higher prices. But the market stalled so they are now choosing not to build until prices recover — and an effective tactic to increase prices is to deliberately create a shortage.
In other words, it is the developers’ greedy business model that deliberately fuelled house price inflation, and the same thing is contributing to a shortage of new houses.
The developers are abetted by the banks and building societies which relaxed their lending criteria, thus removing a natural brake on rising prices — the buyers’ ability to pay. Greed was their chief motivator.
Montgomerie wants us to “embrace housebuilding — for moral reasons”, but is this wise when the business of housebuilding is actually immoral?
Rachael Webb
Dunton, Bucks
Sir, Tim Montgomerie’s idea of building a large number of new homes to bring down the cost of housing will work only if there is a simple supply and demand relationship. But with houses there are too many other issues — notably planning control — for this simplistic relationship to apply.
It would be more realistic to consider other ideas; eg, taxation of all land including development land and capital gains tax on property just like any other asset. And perhaps new houses should be tied to local employment. And maybe no VAT on refurbishment projects. Or a high tax rate on income from rental properties. Or planning refusal for any proposed building work that makes a property more expensive.
Dick Bushell
Llanddaniel, Anglesey
Sir, Tim Montgomerie is right to say that we need more houses, and that our countryside is a “beautiful thing”. But I cannot support his statement that Nick Boles, our planning Minister, “gets it” — especially not when it comes to solutions.
On a number of occasions Nick Boles has said that we should be prepared to sacrifice our countryside to meet the national need for housing. Those who do not accept this assertion are simply labelled Nimbys in an attempt to discredit often legitimate concerns.
The Government has argued that its planning reforms would put local communities in control and allow them to shape the future of where they live. The Campaign to Protect Rural England recognises that we need more housing in many areas, but it should be for local authorities, working with the community, to decide how much is needed and where. Rather than trying to ignore the views of concerned local people the Minister should work with them to come up with solutions.
The Minister is speaking at CPRE’s AGM on Thursday of this week. I look forward to welcoming him to that meeting but I hope that, as well as talking to our members, he is prepared to listen and address their concerns about how the planning reforms are working on the ground.
Peter Waine
Chairman, CPRE

To be given a lump sum immediately after bereavement rather than continuous support is to misunderstand the nature of the problem
Sir, Having been widowed young I experienced just how the Widowed Parent’s Allowance made our difficult circumstances a little easier, helping me to raise my children until they finished their education, I am horrified to hear from the Minister of Pensions (letter, June 22) regarding the loss of this contribution-based benefit.
To save money, bereaved families are instead to be given a lump sum immediately after bereavement (which goes against any advice about the emotional state of families in the early stages of a bereavement), followed by support for one year regardless of the age of the children.
Under the existing benefit more than 70 per cent of bereaved families do manage to juggle work and childcare, because a sole parent often finds it impossible to earn enough to cover the costs of raising a family, including childcare.
The Government is now saying that when these families find themselves unable to cope, as they will, they can refer to non-contribution based benefits such as housing benefit — so the Government is basically prepared to wait for the families to suffer even more. And what MPs also fail to grasp is the positive image that a pension gives to a child regarding the work ethic and love of their late parent.
A third of absent fathers communicate with their children several times a week; I cannot put into words the sadness I have felt knowing that my children would never have another conversation with their father.
Karen Tyler
Bradford on Avon, Wilts

Radio 3 used to be the channel for the serious classical music buff, but recently things have taken a turn for the populist and trivial
Sir, Introducing music by Fauré, the Radio 3 presenter said: “Another weepie coming up”. Mon Dieu! Can nothing staunch this nauseous tide of trivialisation? The BBC is in real crisis.
Robert Gower
Egleton, Rutland

Contrary to what Libby Purves writes, we should be wary of giving too much pity to those who have abused their positions of power
Sir, I found Libby Purves’s piece (June 24) about the poor mother of the girl abused by Jeremy Forrest cruel, judgmental and distasteful.
As a parent you should know when a child is in a good or bad relationship. I know exactly what that lady meant when she said she lost her daughter. I lost my son to a paedophile and he committed suicide. It was only after the event that I discovered the truth.
Forrest emerges in this account with just what he wanted — a clean bill of health and pity. That’s what all the dangerous ones want. Why do you think he got five years — because the court had proof that he was an abuser not a poor, lost teacher in love.
Julian Nettlefold
London W14

‘Apart from a few oil-rich states, no country has got itself out of poverty without first stablising its population’
Sir, Mark Littlewood (“Triple the population — we’ll all be better off”, June 24) takes to task those of us who call for stabilisation of the world’s population levels, maintaining that we will be richer, happier and healthier if we let the levels go from the present 7 billion to 20 billion. He is correct that we can feed everyone today and have enough fuel to run their cars. But apart from a few oil-rich states no country has got itself out of poverty without first stabilising its population.
Water shortages in the rapidly expanding ten countries of the Nile Basin, which prompted Egypt to threaten military action against Ethiopia for building a dam on the Nile, illustrates the problem. The population of the Nile basin is set to double by 2050.
In my opinion we would be poorer and more miserable if our population were three times the present level.
Richard Ottaway, MP
Vice-chairman, All Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health


SIR – Where have all the gooseberries gone? Here in the Garden of England, I can’t find a shop or supermarket that sells them. I see plenty of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries on the shelves, but no gooseberries, which are so delicious in pies and fools.
Black, white or redcurrants also seem to be unobtainable. Obviously the next step is to grow our own.
Geraldine Paine
Faversham, Kent

SIR – Dysfunctional is a good word for the Care Quality Commission (CQC), along with ineffective and costly (Letters, June 24). The whole registration process for dental practices was a shambolic affair, and has led to dentistry being regulated by non-dentists both at the CQC and at the General Dental Council (GDC), which now consists almost entirely of non-dentist appointees. One would have thought that a level of clinical expertise was necessary to regulate a profession properly.
The cost of CQC regulation, at £800 a year for every practice (on top of fees to the GDC), seems excessive, when it only covers a visit from a non-specialist inspector, perhaps once every four years.
Quentin Skinner
Tisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – In light of the many scandals in the regulation of public institutions, particularly the CQC, would any of these regulatory quangos be necessary if competent people were appointed to run the hospitals and schools in the first place? Politics has been put above ability in selection for the heads of some of these disastrous organisations.
And how about a campaign to rescind all the gagging orders, imposed to prevent whistleblowers speaking out, and the staggeringly high remunerations to failed chief executives in all administrative fields? Does anyone still have confidence in any “leader” these days?
Related Articles
Gooseberries have disappeared from the shelves
25 Jun 2013
Betty Stringer
Gargrave, North Yorkshire
SIR – People wonder how the NHS has spawned a layer of incompetent and immoral managers on £100,000-plus salaries when nursing assistants, welfare workers, cleaners and porters work as hard every day for a tenth of that income. Some of the blame may lie with the introduction of targets.
Targets were supposed to focus people on improving the service to meet the target, but the focus shifted from improving the service, to meeting the target by any means.
This frequently involves cancelling appointments, inconveniencing patients and covering up mistakes.
David Brown
Preston, Lancashire
SIR – Jeremy Hunt, the Heath Secretary, says that the name of the doctor responsible for the patient should be placed above the hospital bed (report, June 21). In the days of matrons and ward sisters, patients’ records with doctors’ names were clipped to bed frames.
Jean Wheeler
Aldborough, Norfolk
SIR – Dr Dan Poulter, who is a Conservative minister, still works part-time in NHS hospitals (report, June 24).
Surely the position of health minister warrants his full-time attention?
John Maddison
Harmful snooping
SIR – I am grateful to Edward Snowden, the fugitive whistleblower, for his well-intentioned actions in letting us know that the Americans are snooping on us (report, June 24). American officials reading other peoples’ emails and texts might have an impact on world trade by acquiring valuable commercial information. America is a foreign country; they look after themselves. We are not the 51st state.
No wonder the Chinese are angry. They have just had their worst suspicions confirmed. We should be angry too, and more importantly we should do something about it before there is lasting harm to the economy of this country.
Nigel F Boddy
Darlington, Co Durham
State hand-outs
SIR – Jeff Randall’s article (“It Can’t Be Done, George”, Comment, June 24) highlights the huge elephant in the room: the undeserving receipt of what is now called social protection.
It is difficult to make a moral or practical case for giving state financial aid to a household earning more than £40,000, for example in the form of child benefit. Such assistance is just a transfer of tax from the working community to those who already have enough with which to live an acceptable life and raise a child.
My own income is about £28,000; I fail to see why my taxes should benefit those who are earning considerably more.
Richard Hartley
Manningtree, Essex
Kate’s ancestry
SIR – Gordon Rayner’s report (June 22) on the Duchess of Cambridge’s royal connections alleged that both she and Prince William are descended from Sir Thomas Fairfax (d. 1671), a general during the Civil War.
However, Prince William is descended through his mother from Thomas, 1st Viscount Fairfax of Emmeley (d. 1636) who was the general’s fifth cousin once removed. Kate is descended from John Fairfax (d. 1614), parchment maker of Norwich who was almost certainly a grandson of the 1st Viscount’s grandfather Sir Thomas Fairfax of Gilling, Yorkshire, but that connection cannot be proved.
But Christopher Challoner Child, an American genealogist, proved recently that the Duchess has royal antecedents. Through her mother Carole’s Harrison ancestors from Co Durham, she is descended from Elizabeth Lumley, an illegitimate child of Richard III’s brother Edward IV.
Anthony Adolph
Author, Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors
London SE20
Peeler preservation
SIR – Andrew Gould (Letters, June 22) asks how to keep tabs on kitchen peelers.
After several of ours ended up in the compost, I fixed a strap to the peeler (long enough to allow its use) and secured the other end inside the cupboard door under the sink. When not in use it hangs inside the cupboard.
Steve Hutchinson
Birthday hat-trick
SIR – Two brothers and their sister of my acquaintance have birthdays on June 23 (1938), June 24 (1940) and June 25 (1952) (Letters, June 24). What are the odds on that?
John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
Sham marriages
SIR – Your report (June 24) that the Government may be considering extending the power to perform marriage ceremonies legally should horrify us all. It is already far easier to marry in this country than almost anywhere else in Europe; hence the upsurge in sham marriages.
Many of the fundamentals of our marriage law are steeped in history and unsuited to a modern, mobile, global society. They themselves were introduced in an attempt to halt clandestine marriages – but in the 18th century, when people moved around relatively little.
By extending the right to perform such marriages to other groups that reflect a whole variety of beliefs and lifestyles, you weaken still further a lax system.
The answer is straightforward – introduce universal civil marriage. Every couple would be obliged to give notice to and be married before a fully trained registrar. Following this civil marriage, which would produce the only legal documentation, the couple would be free if they wished to have a further ceremony without the restrictions that now apply to marriage ceremonies.
This system would be self-financing for the public purse because registrars would continue to charge fees to cover the cost of providing their marriage services. All religions and beliefs would be treated in the same manner, and the widespread abuse that we see today would be hugely reduced.
John Ribbins
Deputy Registrar General for England and Wales 1983-1994
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Sporting rivals
SIR – How sad to read about animosity on the tennis court (Leading article, June 24). True sportsmanship calls for maximum competition on the playing field and friendship at other times.
Denis Compton versus Keith Miller – two great cricketers – was a classic example of the correct, gracious approach.
Michael Brotherton
Chippenham, Wiltshire
Gone with the wind
SIR – I am an artist, not a scientist, but it is a strange thing that since we have had to endure all the land and sea wind turbines across Britain and Europe, our weather has deteriorated considerably.
Daphne MacOwan
Maughold, Isle of Man
How to persuade the public to purchase GM food
SIR – When genetically modified food was first marketed (Comment, June 19), it was tomato purée that was clearly labelled. It was placed next to non-GM tomato purée. Everyone was happy, but it did not sell. So the non-GM tomato purée was withdrawn, and there was uproar.
For most people it is not about science, corporate power or anti-Americanism, but about having the choice to eat what you want. Sell GM food as an alternative, not as a substitute, and you’ll find the public will accept it more.
Ken Sampson
Camborne, Cornwall
SIR – The Government seems very relaxed on this issue, as long as products are not used in their restaurants (“GM foods kept off the menu at Westminster”, report, June 22). May I suggest the electorate should be given the same choice?
Deirdre Lay
Guildford, Surrey
SIR – Maybe ministers and scientists could explain the net benefit to humanity of having a herbicide-resistant crop.
GM crops result in the vastly increased use of herbicide, and herbicide residue in our food, environment and water. They also result in the creation of resistant weeds.
Lucy Flint
Liss, Hampshire
SIR – In theory, the use of GM crops should mean less need for pesticides. However, in practice, it has often meant the opposite as either the technology has not worked as expected or the companies have chosen to promote pesticide-resistant crops.
It may be that farmers in the Americas and Asia who grow GM would not do so if they were not happy with it; or it could mean they have no choice as they are totally beholden to the GM companies. My view is that the problem is not so much GM technology itself as the companies that are controlling it.
GM has the technological potential to feed the world and even to bring environmental benefits, through the use of drought-resistant and disease-resistant crops. However, it also has the potential to cause long-lasting environmental havoc.
William Cook
Blandford, Dorset

Irish Times:

Sir, – It is time to stop pussyfooting around what has gone on with the banks. We don’t need another inquiry, we need action. Call in the law and let it take it’s course. What are we, the people, doing? We have listened to politicians’ platitudes for far too long; we have watched our towns and villages die; we have watched our friends and neighbours go bankrupt, we have watched our young emigrate; and worse still we have watched many of our people die by their own hand when they reached the depths of despair.
Is it not time to stand up and be counted or are we going to let them trample all over us whenever they like? – Yours, etc,
Co Kerry.
Sir – I spent some time listening to radio broadcasts of several extracts from the Anglo Irish Bank telephone recordings. Consequently, I feel I have a better understanding of what those in the banking and financial fraternity mean when they speak of the need to continue paying massive salaries in order to attract the best “talent” to run our financial institutions.
Ingenuity comedy, mimicry, trickery, wit (?) – it’s all there. Such a wide and varied rage of “talent” doesn’t come cheaply, as we suckers should know by now. – Yours, etc,
Straffan Wood,
Co Kildare.
Sir, – Reading about Anglo Irish Bank and its dealings with the Central Bank – then reading about the Central Bank and its new guidelines for dealing with borrowers: if Shakespeare were alive today he would have to change the ending of The Merchant of Venice, as Antonio would have lost. – Yours, etc,
Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.
Sir, – Recent “revelations” remind me of a quote from Groucho Marx, along the following lines. “For years the mayor and other officials have squandered the citizens’ hard-earned cash, now at last it is my turn”. Many a true word, etc ?
Elm Mount,
Beaumont, Dublin 9.
Sir, – After five long years of overwhelming misery, pitiless despair and the devastation of never-ending austerity, only now do we hear over the airwaves, the malevolent construction of the deceit which has ruined the people of Ireland for many years to come.
Years have passed but no one has been brought to justice, no one is responsible. We can only glean the truth from the press and the airwaves, never from those who promised, and we elected, to clean house. Is it too much to ask that just once, just once finally, some real and tangible action might take place if for no other reason than to take the place of the missing bread and circuses? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I disagree with Donal Donovan and Antoin Murphy (“Blinkered thinking at heart of Irish economic crash”, Opinion, June 24th) that the “blame” for our current woes lie uniquely in failures of Irish governance arising from fatal group-think among policy elites.
Almost identical errors of governance could be identified as the “explanation” for the crisis in any number of countries, from Spain to Portugal, Italy to Greece. Even much larger economies, such as the UK, the US and France, suffered banking failure, explosion of sovereign debt and economic contraction of a systemic quality different to Ireland’s only in relative scale. “Governance failure” was not a uniquely Irish phenomenon.
In their great book, Manias, Panics and Crashes, Kindleberger and Aliber showed how all financial crises in western history had been caused by sudden expansions in the credit system combined with technical innovation in its form. The decade following the collapse of communism saw a euphoria in the west that globalisation had abolished the cycle of boom and bust, an attitude summed up in the title of the book by Reinhart and Rogoff, This Time is Different – Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.
The explosion of world credit from 2000, combined with the “technical innovation” of electronic transfer and newly invented debt-trading “instruments”, overwhelmed the world with “unsound” money against which institutional defences nearly everywhere proved inadequate. As Avellaneda and Hardiman put it in 2010 in relation to the EU: “The under-institutionalisation of the normal policy restraints at European level imposed the need for heroic levels of self-constraint on the part of the peripheral economies.”
The only economies left standing as the tsunami of the global credit crisis passed were the manufacturing economies of northern Europe which had long resisted the blandishments of Keynesian financial expansionism. The actual instrument in Ireland’s case for protecting against the anarchy of international credit lies in speedy consolidation of the euro zone and acceptance of its monetary and banking disciplines. As Brendan Halligan recently told the Institute of International and European Affairs, Ireland must align itself unequivocally with the countries driving this process, and this can allow for no special pleading such as in relation to the IFSC. – Yours, etc,

A chara, – With all that ails our system of education, what attracts the ire of a committee set up by the Oireachtas? Uniforms and workbooks (Home News, June 22nd). What’s next from our our esteemed TDs; a suggestion that our economic woes will be solved by the banks handing our free pens? – Is mise,
Sir, – Under our Constitution the most basic and fundamental right contributing to the common good is the right to life itself. In practice in Ireland this gets priority over all other rights. Indeed, failure to secure the right to life would make the granting of all other rights impossible. Changing the priority of rights would be disastrous. Imagine if property rights were deemed more important than the right to life – the death penalty could then be justified for stealing.
The argument for abortion, even in difficult circumstances where freedom to choose seems somewhat restricted, would reverse the priority of rights, giving the right to freedom of choice precedence over the right to life. Surely this would fatally undermine our Constitution, jeopardising its protection of the lives of many groups of people including unborn children, the elderly, disabled or terminally ill – as already happens in some other EU countries.
The unavoidable death of an unborn child during necessary medical treatment of her/his mother to save her life does not undermine the Constitution.
Perhaps the Attorney General should look at this aspect of the proposed abortion Bill. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I commend The Irish Times for an excellent series on cycling. How wonderful to see this activity given the prominence it deserves. What is not so admirable is the lack of basic safety advice contained in the series, notably a recommendation to wear a helmet at all times.
Undoubtedly for any piece of advice given to cyclists to wear a helmet there is will be some contrarian out there ready to quote an article from the British Medical Journal “proving” helmets make no difference in the event of an accident.
While I empathise with cyclists being lectured by journalists to wear helmets, especially journalists who last threw their leg over a bike when they were 10 years of age; having been in bike accidents I have lived to continue to write letters to The Irish Times thanks to the helmet worn at the time.
Helmets are not mandatory for cyclists in California if they are over the age of 18; they are for younger riders. But wearing at helmet is a best practice – it should not require a law to remind people to do so.
It amazes me that the Dublin Bikes scheme does not use bike stations that can utilise the latest in mobile app and geolocation technology to direct customers to the nearest place to buy or rent a helmet to use with their rented bike. This approach is used elsewhere in the world. I’ve seen it in Melbourne, on the bike stations of an equivalent system. Whatever about safety, surely a business opportunity beckons for such a feature in Dublin? – Yours , etc,

Sir, – Paul Williams (June 20th), states that the appellation of the label “neo-liberal” to any government policy of privatisation is a “simplistic knee-jerk reaction that stunts public discourse”.
Mr Williams’s call for “a mature discussion” of government policy is rather undermined by his claim that the neoliberal tag is typically thrown around by the “loony left and fellow travellers”. I would suggest that his usage of such terms to dismiss any dissenting voices is equally unhelpful in the creation of a mature discussion. Clear-minded input, rather than a back and forth trading of generalisations, is needed from all sides of public discourse. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:
* What struck me in the recent debates about abortion is the sometimes intellectual bankruptcy of the attendant moral discourse.
Also in this section
Little people paying for bigwigs’ greed
Disgraced once again
Reform not part of Kenny’s ‘MO’
* What struck me in the recent debates about abortion is the sometimes intellectual bankruptcy of the attendant moral discourse.
Discussions have been seething with contradictory “certainties”. Most of what I read from the different sides of the argument was aggressive, accusative and insensitive to the notion of respect for persons that lies at the heart of what is at stake. It brought into sharp relief the age-old question, “What would Christ have said?”
There is a feeble acknowledgement that all thoughtful moral choices are characterised by ambiguity and uncertainty. The great failure of modern secularism, and fundamentalist forms of religion, as guides to our lives, is that they do the opposite of what they say on the tin – they do not liberate or open our minds but strangle the spirit with bogus certainty and arbitrary limitations on what counts as rational thought.
An extraordinary paradox lies in the fact that people who hold religious beliefs are also people of doubt whilst incorrigible doubters such as modern secularists and atheists demonstrate an unshakeable adherence to what they believe.
Moral choice does not bring certainty.
It is not a simple matter of following rules or of obedience to authority, even the authority of God. Any fool can do that. The essence of moral action is more challenging. It is that of thoughtfully reflecting on our lives together, seeing their demands, imposing these demands on ourselves and accepting responsibility for our decisions.
The moral discourse of the church in Ireland has been generally badly led by the bishops. Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin stands out as the sole voice of calm, dignity and intelligence.
The priests and religious of Ireland, now unjustly vilified by a raucous minority, remain the real moral leaders of the church. They are close to the day-to-day lives of people. Of course, there were a few who fell far short of the very high standards expected of them but the vast majority remain examples of selfless commitment and dedication.
I have always been inspired and supported by the priests and religious I have known through my life and regularly return to them to nurture my precarious beliefs. To whom else should we turn? Politicians, perhaps?
Philip O’Neill
Oxford, England
* I – a citizen in a “democracy” guided by unelected government advisers, a financial sub-committee unanswerable within a Cabinet that through use of party whips and guillotined debates, stifles discussion or dissent among shamelessly supine TDs – have been revived by a single question that has been put to my tormentors.
Eamonn Barnes, retired DPP, asked a question which, if not answered, will scupper the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.
He asked how, if Article 40 of the Constitution equally guards the life of mother and unborn, protection offered in this Act can be equal if in certain circumstances the life of the unborn can be terminated to save the life of the mother but there are not stated equal circumstances in which the life of the mother can be terminated to save the life of the unborn?
I do not support either option.
An answer, please, from either the Taoiseach or Justice Minister.
A response that Mr Barnes would be better keeping his opinions to himself is not an answer, and won’t cut any ice with the Supreme Court when it is asked the same question, and mother and unborn die while it deliberates the Act’s constitutionality.
John Cronin
Terenure, Dublin 6
* “I picked it out of my arse.”
This was the rationale in an internal Anglo discussion explained to be the reasoning behind its first bailout request of €7bn. Seven. Billion. Euro.
Later, the strategy is further explained as being one of ensnarement, whereby after one bailout, the State would be in too deep to be able to stop paying – an ingeniously dastardly plan. And all this on Page 1 of your report into the Anglo recordings (Irish Independent, June 24).
Based on these revelations, I believe that if ever there was a collection of people in this country who were more deserving of a diet of porridge and bread, or even of a re-opened Spike Island (so as to de-pollute the general population), it is them. They spit and stamp on the Irish people, and show no remorse for it.
If anything, by virtue of their pensions, gold watches and fleeing abroad, they show even greater contempt.
Killian Foley-Walsh
Kilkenny city
* In response to David Freeley’s letter (Irish Independent, June 20), I would like to point out that there is a museum here in Ireland dedicated solely to the Famine. The Irish National Famine Museum is in Strokestown Park, Co Roscommon, and was first opened to the public in 1994.
Since then, nearly 750,000 visitors from home and abroad have passed through the doors of the museum and have learned of the devastation and hardship caused by the Famine. During the past six months, much work has gone on in redesigning and upgrading the museum. President Michael D Higgins is patron of the museum, and officially opened the upgrade to the public this week.
Patrick D Kenny,
Strokestown, Co Roscommon
* There are towns in some of the most developed countries in the world that are methodically being left to the elements. It seems slow at first. A shop closes here or an iconic bakery closes there. When an entire street goes the same way is the point when someone really notices at all.
In Northern Ireland, creative though desperate councils have painted very realistic, fake shopfronts in an attempt to hide the economic hardships being felt in the towns and villages.
One local unemployed man there summed up neatly the reality behind the fakery: “The shopfronts are cosmetic surgery for serious wounds. They are looking after the banks instead of saving good businesses.”
The ‘it could never happen here’ response is a deluded form of optimism, because the reality is that it has already happened.
Barry Clifford
Oughterard, Co Galway
* Please tell me I was seeing things. There I was perusing my daily Irish Independent (June 22) – with the usual morning Americano – when I read a report on one of the Leaving Cert exams: Religious Knowledge!
Christ Almighty, surely there aren’t teaching resources being put into teaching this nonsense now? Especially when the employers are crying out for computer graduates, and this is not even on the syllabus?
One of the questions in the exam was to explain “how a connection between the sacred and the profane may be found in two of the following features of primal religion: Mana, Shaman, Tabu and Totem”?
I’ve never heard of any of them but I do know that this is one question you won’t get asked about in a job interview!
Paul O’Sullivan
Donegal town
Irish Independent


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