Out and about

19 July 2013 Out and about

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark nice to hear Pertwee again. Its the birthday of Admiral Troutbridge of whom Troutbridge was named. He was born in 1786 but when and how did he die? Priceless
Warmer today pay paper bill see Joan Debbie from next door might do the garden
We watch Dr Who Pyramids of Mars
Scrabble today I win but under 400 perhaps Mary will get her revenge tomorrow?

Obituary:

Elaine Morgan
Elaine Morgan, who has died aged 92, rose from a poverty-stricken upbringing in the Welsh valleys to become an award-winning television writer and, more controversially, a proponent of a feminist theory of evolution.

Elaine Morgan Photo: DAVID SILLITOE
6:11PM BST 18 Jul 2013
As a television writer Elaine Morgan wrote dozens of drama series for the BBC, winning two Baftas and two Writers’ Guild awards. Her script for a Horizon documentary about Joey Deacon, the disabled fundraiser, won her the Prix Italia in 1975; and in 1979 her serialisation of Vera Brittain’s wartime memoir, Testament of Youth, won her the Royal Television Society’s writer of the year award.
Before that, however, in 1972, she had scored an unexpected success with The Descent of Woman, which became, almost by accident, a bestseller and an important text of the Women’s Liberation movement.
An avid reader of popular science books, Elaine Morgan had found herself growing increasingly irritated by theories, propounded by writers such as Robert Ardrey and Desmond Morris, which painted a picture of human evolution based around the needs of males chasing game on the savannah.
“The theme… was that people are different from apes because apes’ ancestors stayed in the trees and our own ancestors went out onto the plain and became hunters,” she recalled. “They stood up on two legs to run faster, they became naked because the running overheated them. Females were regarded chiefly as one of the scarce resources for the males to fight over. If they differed from the males in any way, that was to make themselves more sexually attractive.”
Why, Elaine Morgan wondered, did human females alone have to evolve special features to coax the males to desire them, when “in every other species… the males take what they are offered in the way of pulchritude, and they like it”. And if males lost their body hair to allow them to cool down, why did the females become even more hairless when they would have needed to keep warm looking after the children during the chilly tropical nights?
Though her own scientific studies had not progressed beyond O-level, Elaine Morgan decided to take on the scientific consensus after reading a 1960 article by the marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy, propounding an “Aquatic Ape Hypothesis” for human evolution.
Hardy argued that our ancestors’ physiology changed dramatically when a population of woodland apes became isolated on a large island around what is now Ethiopia and were forced to adapt to a marine environment: they lost the bulk of their body hair, the remaining strands helping to streamline their bodies as they swam; they developed a more upright posture, supported by the water; their fingertips grew more sensitive as they felt around for food; they grew a layer of subcutaneous fat – found only in other aquatic mammals – to keep themselves insulated. Their remains were swept out to sea, explaining the lack of fossils.
While it initially raised a few eyebrows, Hardy’s hypothesis had been largely forgotten when it re-emerged in Elaine Morgan’s The Descent of Woman. She added a few touches of her own, including the claim that women had grown larger breasts than their ape sisters to give their offspring something to cling on to.
Coming hot on the heels of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, The Descent of Woman chimed perfectly with the feminist narrative of the time. Human ancestors were referred to as “she” and the book dwelt in detail on such conundrums as the female orgasm and why a man’s penis is bigger than a gorilla’s.
But it was luck, more than anything, that made the book a bestseller. Elaine Morgan’s American publishers did not have high expectations for a work by a woman they billed as a “52-year old Welsh housewife”, though they had arranged a few interviews in New York. Just as she was setting out to the United States however, the US Book of the Month Club selectors found themselves in a quandary. They had opted for Clifford Irving’s biography of Howard Hughes, but at the last minute it emerged that Irving had invented the whole thing. At short notice the selectors instead decided to fall back on a book by a Welsh woman they had never heard of. As a result the few interviews expanded into a 10-day coast-to-coast tour, with the result that she became something of a celebrity.
She was born Elaine Floyd at Hopkinstown, near Pontypridd, on November 7 1920. Her mother was the daughter of immigrants from the West Country who had arrived in Wales hoping to make their fortune from coal but had sunk into poverty and alcoholism. Her father worked the pumps at the local colliery until he was made redundant in 1929. He would die when his daughter was a teenager.
Determined that her bookish only child should free herself from a life of grinding poverty, Elaine’s mother gave her every encouragement. She passed her 11-plus and won an Exhibition to read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she became secretary, then chairman, of the university’s Labour Club. After graduation she taught for three years with the Workers’ Educational Association.
Back in Wales she went out one evening to attend a “Beds for Stalingrad” rally in Pontypridd, at which the star speaker was Morien Morgan, a French teacher from Ynysybwl who had fought in Spain with the International Brigade. They married in 1945, had two children and adopted a third.
Elaine Morgan began writing for television in the early 1950s to help make ends meet, and sold three plays before the family could even afford a television set of their own. As well as Testament of Youth, her television credits included an adaptation of How Green Was My Valley (1975), The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981) and episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook.
Elaine Morgan was not surprised when The Descent of Woman was rubbished by scientists, admitting that “The impulse to write was purely politically motivated”. But the positive response from feminists persuaded her to attempt to give the theory a more scientific gloss, and she went on to publish several more books on evolutionary theory, including The Aquatic Ape (1982); The Scars of Evolution (1990); The Descent of the Child (1994); The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (1997) and The Naked Darwinist (2008).
On the title page of the last of these she featured a quotation from the philosopher Daniel Dennett: “During the last few years, when I have found myself in the company of distinguished biologists, evolutionary theorists, palaeoanthropologists and other experts, I have often asked them just to tell me, please, exactly why Elaine Morgan must be wrong about the aquatic theory. I haven’t yet had a reply worth mentioning.”
Indeed, the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis has acquired some scientific currency in recent years following the discovery of fossils which suggest that humans became bipedal before the savannah developed. Sir David Attenborough used his presidency of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1991-92 to organise the first full-day discussion of Elaine Morgan’s “engaging” theory, and even Desmond Morris has said that he believes an aquatic phase of human development is “highly likely”.
But most scientists remain sceptical, pointing out that despite the fact that aquatic margins provide almost perfect conditions for fossil formation, there is no fossil evidence to support the theory.
In 2003 Elaine Morgan began to write a weekly column for the Western Mail, and in 2011 was awarded Columnist of the Year in the Society of Editors’ Regional Press Awards.
She was appointed OBE in 2009 and the same year was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Her husband died in 1997 and a son died in 2001. She is survived by two sons.
Elaine Morgan, born November 7 1920, died July 12 2013

Guardian:

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Yes, it’s a shame that most of us can’t watch the Ashes (Letters, 17 July). As a toddler, my son avidly watched cricket on BBC and has loved the game and played it regularly ever since. Indeed, I went into labour with his younger brother while bowling to him just after his third birthday. My grandson is now three but has never seen a match on TV and shows no interest in the game. Where is the next generation of cricketers and fans to come from?
Clare Addison
Oxford
• A scale of 10 can be divided into halves or fifths (Letters, 16 July). A scale of 12 can be divided into halves, thirds, quarters and sixths. Much more useful when designing buildings, as I think most new architecture has shown.
John Rae
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• I understand that the Queen will shortly be on holiday. (Queen impatient for royal baby, 18 July). How can she tell?
Neil Denby
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
• Charles Napier never actually sent the famous “Peccavi” telegram (Letters, 18 July). It was invented for a Punch cartoon and only later assumed to be real.
John Batts
Banbury, Oxfordshire
• My favourite telegram, ascribed to an archetypal Jewish mother, was one that read: “Start worrying … details to follow.”
Jenny Swann
Nottingham
• I seem to recall there was yet another musical Robert Johnson – a pretty-boy American rocker of the 70s/80s (Letters, 17 July). And let us not forget Robb Johnson, widely rated as one of the best contemporary singer-songwriters in the UK, though his refusal to compromise has so far denied him the mass acclaim enjoyed by Billy Bragg and his ilk.
Graham Larkbey
London
• And what about the Robert (Bob) Johnson who played guitar (and sang) with the folk-rock band Steeleye Span from 1972–77 and again from 1980–2001. He was also a qualified psychologist.
Dudley Turner
Westerham, Kent

Nick Clegg’s plan to introduce tests for five-year-olds (Nick Clegg denies schools will be ‘exam sausage factories’, 17 July) may be well intentioned but is misguided on two counts: five is too late and tests are too blunt an instrument.
The gap in cognitive development between children from advantaged and disadvantaged homes is observable long before they reach primary as anyone working in the nursery (pre-five) sector will testifyschool. Tests are no substitute for the in-depth knowledge nursery staff have of children in their charge. Parents know this and so when Michael Forsyth tried to introduce national testing in Scotland in the early 1990s, it was a revolt by parents, advantaged and disadvantaged alike, that caused him to revise his plans
So let’s invest, heavily, in early years education. Let’s use it to identify children already falling behind their peers and let’s intervene with programmes that emphasise play, reading for pleasure, socialisation and empathy.
Brian Boyd
Emeritus professor of education, University of Strathclyde
• It is impossible to see what contribution comparing pupils will make to raising standards. Standards only have meaning in relation to what children actually achieve. What children can do, understand and know is assessed in terms of criteria. Ideally, these would be criteria that are intrinsic to the material being learned. When children achieve these criteria it might be feasible to say they have reached a particular standard. But to know that a child has achieved more or less than the next person gives no such information at all.
Sue Cox
School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia
• We are concerned about plans to place all pupils in a league table ranked according to ability. Rather than a philosophy of “every child matters”, this would be a world where only the person at the top counts. Any child struggling to pass tests due to a special educational need would be automatically labelled a failure.
Last month a conference brought together teachers, parents, governors and teacher educators to launch the primary charter and produce a “manifesto” for primary schools, outlining a model for how pupils learn best. This includes trusting the judgment of teachers, allowing children to learn at their own pace and through play, while taking account of their own experiences. It involves giving pupils an opportunity to develop a love of learning and nurturing their ability to interact with others.
We have already seen the damage done to children in this country through over-testing. Research has shown that our children are more worried about tests than in any other developed country. Crucially, there is no evidence to show that testing and ranking children improves their learning, but plenty that demonstrates the effect being labelled a failure has on self-esteem.
We prefer to look to the model of education in Finland, where there are no inspections, no punitive lesson observations and minimal testing, yet we see consistently high standards, huge levels of teacher satisfaction, minimal social selection and an education sector that is lauded throughout the world.
Instead, this government wants to test children earlier and force a more formal education, where learning by rote and parroting facts will be driven right down into the early years. We suspect this is part of a move to hand publicly owned education over to the private sector though an increase in the number of schools forced to become academies.
Christine Blower NUT, Kevin Courtney NUT, Max Hyde NUT, Malorie Blackman Children’s laureate, Michael Rosen, Alan Gibbons, Andy Seed, John Coe National Association Primary Education, Dr Terry Wrigley Leeds Met University, Dr Clare Kelly Goldsmiths University, Sara Tomlinson Lambeth NUT, Jess Edwards Primary charter co-ordinator, Dr John Yandell Institute of Education, Alex Kenny NUT Inner London, Sarah Williams Downhills campaign, Debra Kidd AST for Teaching and Learning
• Having recently returned from Singapore after 18 years of working within its education system (unlike ours, it is a system), I find what is going on in England’s education policy-making truly horrific. The Singapore system takes place in a sort of Chinese 1984 where the meanings of words are changed, if not on a daily basis, then at least seasonally. Peter Wilby (Primary school tests follow the Piccadilly Circus rule, 18 July) mentions the use of cliches, such as wanting schools to be “world-class”. “Excellence” is one of Singapore’s favourites. Yet many of the truly excellent Singaporean educators are frightened of a lack of creativity in their schools to the extent that that government has listened and tried to do something about this.
But my intention is not to criticise their system, but rather to point out the catastrophic effects the current UK government’s tragic misconception of education will have and is having. Education by audit is contrary to the natural gift which is education. Once you try to audit a developmental process you kill what you wish to encourage. As in Singapore, the terminology with which we used to be able to discuss the true pedagogical issues has been dismantled by those in power with the result that proper educational discourse is well-nigh impossible. But of course, this is exactly what the government wants.
Professor John Matthews
London
• Of course, Tory backbenchers will be “salivating at the prospect”, as Peter Wilby is absolutely correct to suggest, that this consultation document will see the return of the 11-plus, selection and grammar schools. The irony is that the document was issued by Nick Clegg, the very man who objected to Michael Gove’s attempts to bring back O-levels because they would lead to a two-tier system of education.
Bernie Evans
Liverpool
• I wish people would stop mocking the secretary of state for education; he only wants every pupil in the country to achieve above-average grades in all their studies.
Jim Pearson
Liverpool

Javier Corrales, an American academic based in Massachusetts, apparently considers himself an expert on the Cuban economy and is recognised as such by the Guardian (Report, 18 July). He says the great problem for the Cuban government is that “whenever they try to imagine a better Cuba, they can only remember the past”. He should look closer to home and ask himself if it is his own government that is stuck in the past. For over 50 years, since it nationalised the property of US corporations and citizens, Cuba has suffered a crippling embargo imposed by the US. In spite of that Cuba has a far better record, including its role in world affairs, than the US, especially given its comparatively small resources. All right-thinking people should be calling for an end to this economic war against Cuba. The greater the power and influence they have the greater their moral obligation to do so, and this includes intellectuals at US elite academic institutions and, very much, the government of our own country.
Brendan O’Brien
London

While you are right to welcome this appointment to the Today programme (In praise of… Mishal Husain, 17 July), is it not time you reconsidered your policy of using religion as a basis for placating ethnic minorities? Such policy reinforces communalism. Communalism is a belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion, they have, as a result, common political and economic interests; and that in Britain Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims form different and distinct communities, and that religion alone forms the basis of their political identity.
While communalism may be presented as the problem of the defence of minorities, its impact on social cohesion cannot be underestimated. Husain has a wide array of available identities – British Asian, working class, leftist, liberal, Punjabi etc – that makes her Muslim identity secondary at best. Any attempt to flag her religious identity is tantamount to aiding and abetting communalism.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• Ignoring the old guard of John Humphrys and James Naughtie, half of the new Today team are products of the top-three rated universities – Cambridge (Husain), Oxford (Evan Davis) and LSE (Justin Webb). Sarah Montague could “only” manage to graduate from Bristol (15 in the current rankings). It strikes me that where you went to university may be rather more significant than which set of genitals you happen to be born with.
Jo Lynch
Liskeard, Cornwall
• Have you referred to male presenters of Today as “smart and poised”? Or am I being too sensitive about words?
Peter Jones
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
• Even better, replace either Evan Davis or Justin Webb with Zeinab Badawi or Ritula Shah. Then we’d have three talented female presenters (two of minority ethnicity – crikey!) and a token bloke.
Bryan Ratcliff
Birmingham

Your editorial (Gearing up for Airstrip One, 18 July) says it is hard to imagine how the UK will cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 if it is building a third runway at Heathrow. Here is how it can be done. New fuel-efficient aircraft, the use of sustainable alternative fuels and more efficient flight routings mean air traffic could double without increasing emissions. If international carbon trading is added to these factors then emissions would reduce, achieving the global aviation industry’s commitment to halve emissions by 2050. The independent Committee on Climate Change has advised the government that if the UK is to meet its climate change targets then passenger numbers should not increase by more than 60% by 2050. A third runway at Heathrow would deliver only around one-third of this amount.
Also, constraining capacity at the UK’s only hub airport is a bad way to tackle emissions. Not only does it lead to wasteful emissions from aircraft circling London waiting to land, it means passengers who want to travel from the UK to China are forced to fly via a European or Middle Eastern hub instead, taking two flights instead of one and flying further for longer. The journey from Newcastle to Beijing, for example, is 1,800 miles longer via Dubai than via Heathrow. From a carbon point of view, the most efficient place for airport capacity is next to the greatest centre of population. For Europe, that is London and the south-east.
Britain’s carbon targets are important and we are committed to playing our part in delivering them. But they will be mere window-dressing if they are delivered at the cost of increasing global emissions. It is time for a more sophisticated approach.
Colin Matthews
Chief executive, Heathrow
• Britain is a trading nation and requires a globally competitive hub airport. Heathrow cannot be that airport. An expanded Heathrow would have horrendous implications for noise and air quality. We must stop trying to fit a quart into a pint pot and look east. On Monday the mayor and Transport for London laid out three options for building a new four-runway hub airport. There are advantages to each of the three schemes but, whether the Davies commission chooses an expanded Stansted, an airport on the Isle of Grain or an island airport in the Thames estuary, those who oppose Heathrow expansion should unite in favour of a viable alternative or they play into Heathrow’s hands.
Richard Tracey
GLA Conservatives transport spokesman
• Boris Johnson would turn Heathrow into housing, which would give him happy voters in those areas relieved of noise and pollution. Then he’d build new capacity, and rip up even more land to build the new transport links that would be needed to get people from airport to London. By some amazing stroke of luck, none of those blighted by these proposals vote in London elections. Either he really does have a giant intellect and is stunningly cynical, even for a politician or… Perhaps others can supply those suggestions.
Christopher Airey
Good Easter, Essex
• There is already a fully operational third runway just six miles north of Heathrow with most of the buildings necessary to handle passengers. It is called Northolt. It could be connected to Heathrow by a relatively low-cost transport system and become a satellite for domestic and short-haul flights. In 1952, Northolt handled some 50,000 aircraft movements, making it the busiest airport in Europe. Is there any reason why it cannot repeat the exercise and save a lot of money and destruction of homes?
Martyn Day
Twickenham, Middlesex

The benefit cap is a cynical attack on the poorest families (Editorial, 17 July), particularly those in London who face rents twice as high as the rest of the UK. It is misleading for Iain Duncan Smith to suggest there is plenty of cheap accommodation available for families with children. The cap was implemented in four London boroughs in April and using freedom of information requests, I have found that in the first two months of this trial Enfield council used hardship funds to move 15 families with 46 children out of greater London.
The mayor of London has repeatedly promised that this wouldn’t happen. But in a city where rents are rising fast, where pay for many is flat, and where jobs that come close to covering living costs are few and far between, it is inevitable that more children will have to leave their schools, and that families will be forced to move away from their networks of support. Under this cap, if you lose your job or are working fewer than 16 hours, you risk losing your home.
Instead of imposing cuts in the social security net, the government should be regulating to stabilise private sector rents and to ensure secure tenancies as well as investing properly in new social housing. Such policies would benefit every tenant in every corner of the UK.
Darren Johnson
Green party, London Assembly
• Phillip Inman is right in that we need much more housebuilding to bring down prices so that more people can buy their own homes (Lack of housing, not credit, is root of property problem, 15 July). Another problem is the growth of the buy-to-let industry. We need some private rental properties, but the balance has gone too far in that direction, as landlords are able to outbid potential first-time buyers, and then rent the properties to the people they outbid. In effect, they are able to create their own demand.
Building societies should take a clear moral position on this and refuse to issue any more buy-to-let mortgages, and the government should stop treating mortgage interest as an expense to reduce landlords’ tax bills. The extra tax revenue from this could perhaps be given to housing associations to build more social housing.
Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent
• I read Nick Herbert’s article (This wink to developers won’t fix the housing crisis, 11 July) and was surprisingly impressed by his analysis even though it was written by a Conservative MP from a southern perspective. However, on the same day Phillip Inman’s article highlighted how the lack of social housing is pushing up rents and house prices and the only solution to our domestic property crisis is to build more public housing on publicly owned land.
Can we find some way of getting this valid point over to our decision-makers before we become a nation shackled to higher rents and huge mortgages that adversely affect the quality of life of a huge proportion of our population?
Alan Briers
York
• Phillip Inman may well be right about the fear of a house price bubble but, being cynical, I suspect George Osborne has in the back of his mind the creation of a feel-good factor in time for the 2015 general election.
Alistair Gregory
Carnforth, Lancashire

The Movement for Colonial Freedom was set up in 1954 on the initiative of leftwing Labour MP Fenner Brockway and was supported by Barbara Castle, Harold Wilson, and Tony Benn, and the composer Benjamin Britten. The organisation played a key role in anti-racist campaigns and in giving support and publicity to liberation and independence movements throughout the British colonies as well as colonies of other countries. The Communist party had a west African branch and West Indies Committee that played a key role in anti-colonial and anti-racist work. Communist Claudia Jones was one of the founders of the Notting Hill Carnival and the Barbadian poet and communist Peter Blackman was an early pioneer of black British poetry, to mention just two key figures recognised and admired on the left. Graham Taylor and Jack Dromey celebrated the contribution of Asian workers in their book, Grunwick: the Workers’ Story.
Of course, Chen is right to ensure this contribution is not “whitewashed” out of our history books, but she needs to address her remarks to Michael Gove perhaps rather than the left.
John Green
London
• Anna Chen is right to point to the strong anti-racist record of the British working class in the post-45 era, from anti-apartheid to Grunwick. She is right too to argue that the working class has been, since at least the late 18th century, when black seamen were a significant part of the British navy, black and white and much else. While ridiculed at the time and largely ignored by history until recently, the leader of London Chartism in 1848, William Cuffay, was the son of a former slave and local woman from the Medway towns. That history is worth celebrating, and a blue plaque to show where Cuffay lived on the Strand in London should hopefully be in place before too long.
Keith Flett
London

Independent:

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Over the past week, the Government has dealt a double blow to attempts to relieve the current burden on the NHS and improve the health of the nation.
Doctors have been united in their desire to see a minimum unit price for alcohol and the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes – both of which have been proved to be effective measures. Smoking is the largest cause of preventable illness in the UK, and rates of smoking are twice as high among people with mental illness. Excessive consumption of alcohol is also associated with higher levels of depression, schizophrenia and personality disorders.
At a time of increased pressure on the NHS, those intoxicated through alcohol – and the victims of alcohol-related violence – constitute a major part of the workload of not only A&E services, but also of acute wards, orthopaedic wards, intensive care, and liver and psychiatric units.
We hear repeatedly that the Government wants to reduce avoidable early deaths. But for the NHS to do this, we need the right tools to do the job. We urge the Government not to sit back and wait, but to implement minimum unit pricing and plain packaging as a matter of urgency.
Professor Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, London SW1
 
Are we seriously expected to believe the Health Minister when he says that the reason for not proceeding with promised plain-packaging plans for cigarettes is the prospect of legal challenge? When tens of millions of pounds are regularly spent on legal action for much less important issues?
The pampered tobacco industry should be grateful it is still allowed to peddle its toxic product in any packaging.
Andrew McLauchlin, Stratford upon Avon
 
NHS hospital standards neglected
In support of Jeremy Laurance’s analysis (“Mediocrity isn’t the problem – it’s the failure to address it”, 17 July), I can relate with considerable sadness my own realisation that the NHS that I had served for 30 years had developed an ethos to which I could not subscribe.
It was when a medically qualified manager directed that, in the context of patient safety in his department, there was henceforth to be no reference to “standards of practice”, but only to “styles of practice”. Need I say more?
Dr Jonathan Punt, Consultant paediatric neurosurgeon (retired), Wysall, Nottinghamshire
 
Healthcare, properly delivered, is not and never can be a consumer product. This is the central fact from which the UK has been beguiled by rampant market idolatry. Keogh does not touch on these basics. (“Trapped in mediocrity”, 17 July.)
Professional public service is an honourable vocation that has been denigrated and debauched by successive governments. The deficiencies of the NHS were “plumbed in” from the start. With the benefit of hindsight we can do much, much better.
The first requirement is to define the purpose and limits of the service. Alleviating the fear of illness, injury, suffering and death is a purpose unlikely to change for generations. This is not the same as providing all services, for all people, all of the time and everywhere.
The NHS should provide immediate formal assessment and advice 24/7 everywhere – this is a sine qua non. Vast swathes of minor and symptomatic treatments must be the patient’s personal responsibility. The bulk of non-urgent cold surgery and many other treatments, being predictable in volume and costs, can be farmed out to the private sector with either direct payment, payment via insurance or via the benefit system.
Significant illness and injury must be quarantined from the fatal contamination of market forces – in an area as complex as modern medicine there are no properly informed consumers able to judge reliably between treatment options (and only a few more professionals!). Public-health measures likewise.
All providers must employ a single universal electronic record, contribute to training, undertake directed audit and publish results openly, and adhere to uniform set standards.
Steve Ford, Ex-GP,  Haydon Bridge,  Northumberland
 
I attended an outpatients clinic at Kettering general hospital on Monday. The staff advised patients that the waiting room was quite hot and if they wanted to, they could wait in the slightly cooler corridor.
During my wait, I found that central heating was running full blast, radiators too hot to touch! You report that hospitals have been put on alert because of the current heatwave; I don’t suppose the instruction “turn off the central heating” was included in the actions to be taken.
I did draw someone’s attention to the blazing hot radiator, only to be told that quite a lot of the radiators were also pumping out heat and nobody seemed to know what to do about it. That a huge building can be so poorly managed is truly shocking. What else is being neglected?
Dan Kantorowich, Kettering,  Northamptonshire
 
Targets of the snoopers
Stevie Gowan (letter, 6 July) expresses the view that possible government surveillance of his “innocuous and legal personal messages” is to be preferred to the possibility of terrorist plots going undetected because of insufficient vigilance by the security agencies. While I am no keener than anyone else to be blown up by terrorists, I would suggest that his relaxed attitude to government surveillance is misplaced.
The view that only those who are up to no good have anything to worry about from state snooping is wrong, and there are actually a variety of ways in which perfectly innocent people may be harmed by it.
Political opponents of the government of the day, activists and journalists are all potential victims of such snooping. The recent allegations concerning attempts by the Metropolitan Police to smear the Lawrence family illustrate all too clearly that it is not paranoid to consider the possibility that the efforts of the security forces will not always be unambiguously focused on protecting law-abiding citizens.
Of course we should take precautions in the face of the risk posed by terrorism but, just as they are in the face of other, greater, risks such as being killed in a car accident, we should ensure that these precautions are proportionate and appropriate.
Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne
 
I must most heartily commend and congratulate David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, on his words: “Terrorism… provides the ideal reason – or excuse – for the introduction of repressive laws. It makes the careers of politicians, police officers, civil servants, academics, analysts, lawyers and demagogues.”
It is thanks to the beliefs of men and women like Mr Anderson that we have the free society that certain of the aforementioned spuriously claim to be defending.
Nicky Samengo-Turnet, Hundon, Suffolk
 
Micropoetry on Twitter
Your article about Twitter poetry (17 July) focused largely on established poets who write primarily for print and for whom tweeting micropoetry is a secondary activity, and told only half the story.
In February, I published an anthology called time lines. The book was a collection of writings by poets for whom Twitter is their main outlet, none of whom have publishing deals.
George Szirtes reviewed the book on his blog, which led to interesting conversations on Twitter between him, me and other Twitter poets about Twitterature, its characteristics, limitations and possibilities. An author might tweet material and then receive replies from followers: augmentations, questions, suggestions, variations.
The most exciting thing about Twitterature is that it has offered poetry a lifeline. I know people who would never have sought poetry as their reading material, but who have discovered micropoetry on Twitter and read it avidly.
James Knight , Wells, Somerset
 
Dinosaurs of the golf course
Close on the heels of your report of 17 July that the remains of a new species of dinosaur (Nasutoceratops Titusi) had been discovered in Utah, subsequent articles on 18 July suggest its descendants may continue to thrive in the east of Scotland.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson’s feeble attempts to defend discrimination against women at Muirfield on the basis that it is a private club were risible. A major national sporting event such as the Open should embrace the values of the nation.
The honour of hosting any international competition, with all the resulting sponsorship benefits,  should entail basic levels of acceptable behaviour. The closing of gaps in anti-discriminatory legislation is overdue.
Graham Bog, Forest Row, East Sussex
 
Crime obsession
Racism was not the only factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. An obsession with crime and “security” also played a part. The killer lived in a gated community, the kind of place where paranoiacs feed off each other’s fears. He was co-ordinator of the neighbourhood watch. Such schemes pander to the prurient and encourage vigilantism.
Keith Sharp, Torquay
 
MPs’ pay
The role of an MP is to try and improve the lot of those they govern. Rather than self-interested parties deciding pay rates, maybe their income should rise and fall with changes in average salaries or GDP. We might then get policies designed for all our benefit, not just the few.
Andrew Whyte, Shrewsbury
 
Weather warning
Do we really need advice on how to survive a heatwave (News, 18 July)? Isn’t it obvious that we should stay out of the sun and drink plenty of fluids? Even a dog knows this. How did our ancestors cope before all this amazing advice was invented?
Stan Labovitch, Windsor
 
Now, hear this
Having regularly attended performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company over the past 15-20 years, the latest only last month, I feel Dr Doherty’s criticisms are unfounded (Letters, 17 July). Perhaps he needs to see his doctor for a hearing test.
Richard MacAndrew, Arkengarthdale, North Yorkshire

Times:

‘We should continue to expose the NHS’s shortcomings and seek to improve its performance and that of its alarmingly toothless watchdogs’
Sir, Rachel Sylvester’s prescient article (“Using NHS as a football will be a Tory own goal”, July 16) should serve as a warning to David Cameron but also to Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, as the 2015 general election temperature builds up.
As she pointed out: “The voters will not take kindly to any sense that one party is trying to score points over another from the tragic deaths of hospital patients. To play politics with the NHS is to play with fire.”
The grim Keogh report on “failing” hospital trusts and the rabid Commons row are unlikely to change that perception, or the recent British Social Attitudes Survey finding that 61 per cent of us are “satisfied” with the NHS. However, we should continue to expose the NHS’s shortcomings and seek to improve its performance and that of its alarmingly toothless watchdogs.
It was surely right, as Rachel Sylvester said, when David Cameron followed the Francis report line into the Mid-Staffs tragedy and refused to blame Labour for the NHS’s problems and pledged to create “an NHS safe for everyone”.
All this makes the Tories’ sudden switch to political attack-dog mode all the more regrettable and dangerous, especially with voters cynical about how the NHS can be made safer amid staff cuts and tough economic decisions.
Paul Connew
St Albans, Herts
Sir, In focusing on failing hospital trusts we miss the NHS big picture. Every Western society faces the problems of an ageing population and the need to maximise resources. The most objective way to judge the NHS is to compare it with other Western countries in terms of “input” (what a nation spends on health) and “outcome” (reducing deaths).
In 1980-2006 the NHS was one of the most efficient systems in the world in reducing deaths with one of the lowest GDP expenditures. Up to 2010 the NHS was fourth most effective in reducing total mortality out of 21 countries and top in reducing cancer deaths. However, in the period 1980-2010 the UK had the joint lowest average spend. Currently it is third lowest, and only in 2001-07 did we match the EU average.
So, despite achieving more with proportionately less, the NHS is chronically under-funded, as was finally admitted by its outgoing boss Sir David Nicholson.
Professor Colin Pritchard
Bournemouth University
Sir, It appears that ignorance of the fundamental importance of statistics reaches almost to the top of the political ladder. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt used crude mortality statistics to justify an attack on 14 NHS Trusts, and on the Opposition (“When the alarm bells ring, look at the notes”, July 17).
Apart from the reprehensible conversion of a (possibly) serious problem in some parts of the NHS into a party political football, it is a mistake to take inappropriate statistics at face value. Standardised mortality ratios cannot distinguish between avoidable and unavoidable deaths with sufficient accuracy, and this is the statistic needed in this situation. To classify a death as avoidable or unavoidable, the death needs to be examined as soon as possible after it occurs, taking into account written, electronic and spoken evidence. And even then some deaths will not fall neatly into either category.
Andrew B. Leach
Consultant anaesthetist (retired)
Sandhurst, Kent

Compared with the 1960s, a decade of real architectural ambition and achievement, what followed seemed reactionary and retrograde
Sir, The listing of Alexander Fleming House (letters, July 12) highlights broader cultural aspects of British architecture from the 1960s.
In that decade British architects were at the forefront of new forms for social housing, school design and a plethora of distinguished buildings for the new universities following the 1962 Robbins report on higher education.
“Stars” such as Stirling, Foster and Rogers emerged and, with prominent colleagues from the public sector, elevated “mainstream” British architecture to the international arena.
Distinguished architects from the US and Scandinavia undertook prestigious commissions, further enhancing our 1960s building stock, and architects (such as Goldfinger) who came to the UK during the interwar years from continental Europe, practised their progressive architecture at a significant scale. The parallel profession of “building scientist” emerged so that architectural output could be tested against norms for thermal, acoustic and lighting performance.
Compared with the 1960s, a decade of real architectural ambition and achievement, what followed seemed reactionary and retrograde; so-called post-modernism, historicism and vernacular revivalism emerged as banal and unworthy successors.
Professor Emeritus A. Peter Fawcett
Sheffield

Sir, From someone imported by him 48 years ago, here is another Ernö Goldfinger gem: “Listen everybody! There are only two good architects in this country; I don’t know the other one.”
Gabriel Sassower
London NW6

Telegraph:

SIR – Having served at the Faslane submarine base, I can assure readers that had the Royal Navy found some way to maintain a deterrent by using only three boats, it would have done so years ago.
In a narrow sense, you do only need two boats to keep one on patrol. But they must both be fully operational all the time, with no downtime, maintenance or training. (Short cuts in maintaining the nuclear power plant would be foolhardy.) To carry out any of those requirements you will need an extra boat on standby.
After some years (assuming that you keep boats operating for 25 or 30 years), say by the time the third has entered service, you will need to programme a refit for the first that was built. This means a fourth boat, since the one in refit will need to be decommissioned.
Had those producing the Lib Dem paper (report, July 16) taken the trouble to visit Faslane, they would have come to the same conclusion.
Commander Derek Beesley RN
Llandudno, Conwy
Related Articles
The political blame game won’t help to solve the problems of the NHS
18 Jul 2013
SIR – The five former defence secretaries and two ex-defence chiefs (Letters, July 16) who lend their weight to the case for a like-for-like replacement of Trident argue that the Government should “not take risks with our security”. They should know, as the Ministry of Defence informed me just a few years ago that our doctrine of nuclear deterrence, based on “first use”, was vital, since “we seek to create uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the response to aggression”.
By continuing with nuclear weapon modernisation, the Government can only undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And if we retain nuclear weapons as a matter of status, to remain a global power, others will follow our example.
Better to commit ourselves to a global nuclear abolition treaty now and begin decommissioning Trident. If not, we may be looking again at our security in 2020 in a world of many more nuclear powers.
Dr Jenny Clegg
National Council Member
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Manchester
SIR – Whether a nuclear deterrent has protected us from attack in the past 50 years is questionable.
Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council, whose members all have a nuclear weapon. To give up our bomb would be to recognise our decline as a power, adding to the pressure to give up our Security Council membership.
A nuclear deterrent is as much about politics as deterring a would-be aggressor.
William Rusbridge
Tregony, Cornwall
SIR – There is now a petition to the Government to keep Britain’s nuclear deterrent: see petition.co.uk.
F E Sharpe
Plymouth, Devon
SIR – The blame game has started between Labour and the Coalition over failings in standards of care in the NHS. The danger is that it will distract from what is being done to rectify the situation. Leaving aside the anodyne statements from the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, what exactly is Sir David Nicholson proposing to remedy the glaring management deficiencies?
It seems that Jesse Norman’s article on what corporate responsibility really means (Comment, July 17) is very relevant to the business aspects of running the NHS.
Angus McPherson
Findon, West Sussex
SIR – Why are people surprised when hospitals run and overseen by bureaucrats with no medical training suffer high death rates due to poor standards of care?
When I worked in the NHS, clinicians decided policy on clinical grounds, and the administration staff were expected to expedite that policy, with inspections being carried out by the Royal Colleges. Since the 1974 reorganisation of the NHS reversed this procedure, the journey has been progressively downhill with regard to patient care, a situation worsened by the idiotic working time directive, and nurses being trained in classrooms.
Related Articles
The need for four nuclear-armed submarines
18 Jul 2013
S M Daniell
London N10
SIR – The NHS will not change until politicians accept that more than 60 years of socialised health care has failed.
It is interesting to note how dental and optical services are treated so differently. Dare I suggest that the element of consumerism within supplementary private practice provision is responsible for higher standards of patient care?
Dr Nigel J Knott
Farleigh Wick, Wiltshire
SIR – Jeremy Hunt might have mentioned Labour’s abolition of the Community Health Councils, in a one-sentence insertion hidden in an unrelated document. At a stroke, this removed the independent inspections which would have highlighted the present fiasco, and the route by which the public could make complaints. A really worthwhile organisation, exposing the truth behind Labour’s custody of a “national treasure”, was far too effective to survive.
J D Mortimer
Great Harwood, Lancashire
SIR – Is it significant that no minister, despite claiming to be in charge, has ever resigned as a consequence of failure in the NHS?
Brian Edwards
Baslow, Derbyshire
SIR – Browsing the internet I came across a BBC report entitled “Failing hospitals to be ‘named and shamed’”. It was dated August 2000. I have not dared to check if any on the list are still failing 13 years later.
Brian Foster
Shrivenham, Oxfordshire
New London airports
SIR – I note with interest that Boris Johnson has used my 1995 work on multi-airport systems in support of his latest submission to the Airports Commission. Unfortunately, the Mayor has failed to understand the work cited and in that respect misinterprets the future prospects for a four-runway hub airport in London. Any assumption that Heathrow would soon close and that its traffic would automatically move to a single airport elsewhere is unrealistic.
My current work with London Gatwick shows that a major hub airport in London is likely to be an expensive mistake that fails to take into account airline behaviour, the spread of passenger traffic among London’s current airports (or to the Continent) and the competitive nature of the market.
Consequently, the concept of a four-runway hub, reliant on a passenger transfer market that is unlikely to be there, would be a major over-investment.
Professor Richard de Neufville
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts
SIR – It may not matter to Boris Johnson, or other Londoners, whether their hub airport is to the west or east of London, but it does matter to the rest of us. Heathrow, on the English side of London, is far easier to reach from elsewhere in Britain than some new airport on the French side.
Barry Cragg
Rogerstone, Monmouthshire
Faulty tower
SIR – I was amused by the article on the English Heritage listing of Alexander Fleming House (Comment, July 11).
I shared an office on the top (16th) floor in the early Eighties when it was part of the Department of Health HQ. We were supplied with four buckets to catch water that came through the ceiling when it rained. Winter could be a challenge – the room temperature rarely reached 50F (10C) – but as my colleague had been brought up in the Outer Hebrides and my working wardrobe included two thermal vests, we managed.
Hopefully, improvements have been made since then.
Paula Arthur
Rushlake Green, East Sussex
Double-decker derailed
SIR – It has been suggested that existing lines be improved to carry double-decker trains as an alternative to HS2 (Letters, July 16). This is not feasible in Britain.
Although the standard track gauge is effectively the same as on the Continent, the loading gauge, the space around each train, is less. To accommodate double-deckers, every bridge and tunnel would need to be rebuilt. This would cost more than the proposed new lines and would cause massive disruption while the work was done.
Keith Ferris
Coxheath, Kent
Skirting off to war
SIR – The boys attending Gowerton school, Swansea, wearing skirts because of the heat (report, July 16), are to be commended for upholding the eccentric spirit of Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.
In 1915-16, he led the Royal Navy’s remarkable expedition against German East Africa’s superior naval forces on Lake Tanganyika, where he startled his comrades by wearing a skirt, declaring: “I designed it myself and my wife makes ’em for me. Very practical for the hot weather.”
Roger Croston
Christleton, Cheshire
Poor television sound
SIR – The difficulty in hearing noisy television programmes (report, July 16 and Comment, July 17) may have less to do with hearing in later years and more to do with the way programmes are dubbed.
When I began my career as a television producer in the Seventies, I learnt a valuable lesson from an experienced dubbing editor on my first programme.
Once we had dubbed the film using powerful professional speakers, he insisted we listen back to it through small standard domestic speakers, which he had removed from an old television set.
This, he pointed out, was how most of the audience would hear it. On powerful speakers, the separation between voice and music was fine, but through the small television speakers it was often hard to hear the commentary.
We went back and adjusted the levels.
Richard Mervyn
Isleworth, Middlesex
SIR – All the programme producers need to do is record the music not in stereo, as at present, but on one channel only. That way viewers may adjust the balance between the speakers, and therefore the volume of music, as desired.
J D Morgan
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
SIR – The difficulty in hearing speech on television is not caused by regional accents, but by slovenly pronunciation.
Prudence Seddon
Stourton Caundle, Dorset
Soldier heat deaths
SIR – It is surprising that no commentator has mentioned the loss of salt in sweat as a possible factor in the Brecon Beacons soldiers’ training deaths.
Prof J D R Thomas
Gresford, Denbighshire
Elastic withdrawal
SIR – I was intrigued to read Derek Freeman’s letter about Royal Mail and its elastic band practices (Letters, July 13).
Although we live in the same county as Mr Freeman, our posties no longer seem to drop red elastic bands on our drive; but instead we have regular deposits of cigarette ends.
Is this a form of displacement therapy by Royal Mail – providing cigarettes to take their staff’s minds off the departed elastic bands – or am I reading too much into this?
James Harris
Winchester, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Vincent Browne (“Cynical Seanad abolition stunt must not be rewarded”, Opinion, July 17th) argues that “a reformed Seanad could resolve the central crisis of our political structure”, but omits an explanation of how this feat could be achieved.
His threadbare fantasy that stocking the Seanad with opposition members and giving it “the same powers as the Dáil” will somehow give us a better government is plainly naive. Rather than promoting reform, the multitude of constitutional articles that currently define the Seanad’s role effectively lock out large parts of our political structure from change.
It would be extremely difficult to achieve political consensus on the details of how the Seanad should be reformed, and all but futile to try to persuade a jaded electorate to choose between multiple complex reform options, each with unknown consequences. The first step on the most effective route to a reformed political structure must be to do away with the Seanad altogether. This would leave the Dáil, the real source of our political problems, centre stage in the next phase of changes.
Mr Browne condescendingly describes as a “stunt” the Taoiseach’s change of mind, from a view that reforming the Seanad into something worthwhile is possible, to a view that it is better to let it go and start again. The Taoiseach’s true motives will remain forever unknowable, but the transition from wishful idealism to real-world pragmatism is a reasonable one that Mr Browne should open his mind to. – Yours, etc,
JOHN THOMPSON,
Sir, – As highlighted by the UN high commissioner for refugees (World News, July 18th), the Syrian refugee crisis is escalating at a rapid pace. More than 1.8 million Syrian refugees are being hosted in camps or makeshift settlements across the region. This is a critical humanitarian catastrophe.
The figure quoted above does not include the estimated 6.8 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance who remain trapped by the conflict inside Syria.
Nor does it include the tens of thousands of people who have fled from Syria but have yet to be officially registered as refugees with the UNHCR. Without registration papers, they are ineligible for most aid.
Official aid is dwindling in Lebanon and Jordan and the last remaining border crossing into Iraq is now closed. Donor countries not only need to honour their existing commitments, they need to significantly increase them to keep pace with the escalating needs.
The conflict in Syria shows no sign of abating, and the needs of the Syrian people are increasing daily. There is no excuse for our continued humanitarian failure. We must act now. – Yours, etc,
JANE-ANN McKENNA,
Médecins Sans Frontières
(MSF) Ireland,
9-11 Upper Baggot Street.
Sir, – The ancient quarrel of Northern Ireland may have transferred from the streets to the chamber of the Assembly but its flesh, guts and sinews live on.
Following the Church of Ireland synod in Armagh during May, Bishop Harold Miller of Down and Dromore identified what lies at the troubled heart of that quarrel’s persistence as a problem of leadership. The two main parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin, derive a great deal of their support from single-identity communities and it is in the parties’ interest to continue to do so. In the absence of a coherent political vision for a shared future, Dr Miller believes that herein may lie a role for the churches – all the churches. He said that the churches have been part of Northern Ireland’s problem but that current relations between them have never been better. He found himself surrounded by an enthusiastic Roman Catholic congregation following his 2008 homily at a novena in Belfast’s Clonard monastery. However, he said, if the churches are to join forces in seeking a prophetic vision, it must be one that all the people of Northern Ireland, whatever their persuasion, can buy into.
Meanwhile there is no real vision for a shared future; only a vague notion wherein a future is shared out. – Yours, etc,
PAUL LOUGHLIN,

Sir, – I refer to recent letters (July 15th) in relation to the building of a city centre bridge and streetscape in Kilkenny as part of the Central Access Scheme.
Local authorities in Kilkenny have over the last 40 years carefully managed the historic fabric of the city, balancing necessary renewal and development with preserving Kilkenny’s important heritage.
Kilkenny is an important tourist and business hub and from time to time new infrastructure is necessary.
Just as the Normans and Victorians needed bridges over the river Nore, the current generation needs a new one too to allow the regeneration of empty sites in the heart of the city, whilst conserving the city’s historic core.
This new bridge is essential for the vitality, consolidation and growth of the city centre of Kilkenny and the existing two bridges are inadequate for current needs, particularly the historic Greens Bridge.
The proposed Central Access Scheme will pass through former livestock yards, across the river Nore with a new bridge, across industrial lands at Smithwick’s brewery and rejoin the existing street network at Vicar Street.
We understand the concerns expressed about the houses on Vicar Street and that is why we had them rigorously surveyed from an architectural and archaeological perspective, finding only very local aspects of interest.
Appropriate processes with An Bord Pleanála and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht have been and are being followed. – Yours, etc,
Cllr MARTIN BRETT,

Sir, – I’m sure Miriam Lord is well paid to provide colour in her sketches of Oireachtas exchanges.  Why then does she find it “chilling” and “disgusting” when Senator Jim Walsh sketches some real facts of abortion with just a modicum of colour (Seanad Sketch, July 17th) – even if Minister of State Kathleen Lynch expects the ceiling to collapse and Ivana Bacik escapes before it comes down?
Euphemism is no foundation on which to build utopia. – Yours, etc,    
EDDIE FINNEGAN,    
Wightman Road,    
London.
Sir, – The contributions of Senators to the Seanad debate on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill were, on the whole, measured and appropriate.
However, the spectacle of a man lingering on the graphic details of an intimate gynaecological examination and procedure was profoundly unedifying and revealed much about Senator Jim Walsh’s attitude to women.
His intervention reflected badly on the Oireachtas and made no rational contribution to either side of the issue. – Yours, etc,
MARY BUCKLEY,
Springfield Park,
Foxrock,
Dublin 18.
Sir, – The positive tone and content of Pope Francis’s message for next October’s Day of Life (World News, July 17th) is so very different from the negative and condemnatory attitudes of so many Catholic Church people over the course of the abortion debate here in Ireland. The Pope speaks about the inestimable value of all human life and quotes St Iraneus, an early Christian father, that the glory of God is seen in the human person who is fully alive. He emphasises in very inclusive language that all human life is to be valued “from the weak, and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor”.
This is a very welcome contribution to the debate and represents a full Catholic position on the inestimable value of all human life. – Yours, etc,
BRENDAN BUTLER ,
The Moorings,
Malahide, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Regarding the letter (July 8th) by James M Carr, MPSI, St Vincent’s Private Hospital wishes it to be known that Mr Carr was writing in a private capacity only and not on behalf of the hospital. – Yours, etc,
MICHAEL REDMOND,
Chief Executive Officer,

   
Sir, – The debate around a free water allowance with the imminent introduction of metered water charges reminds me of an example that I grew up with in South Africa, where water charges are part of everyday life.
One of the largest bulk water utilities in the world, Rand Water, supplies more than 11 million people with some of the cleanest, safest and healthiest water in the world.
Its customers include Johannesburg, which, incidentally, is the largest city in the world not located near a large water source. The city council of Johannesburg allocates each household a free water allowance of 6,000 litres per household per month, after which each kilolitre attracts a charge of between €0.60 and €1.80 (or between 6 cent and 18 cent per additional 100 litres), depending on total volumes used in the month.
To contextualise, 6,000 litres is equal to about 100 five-minute power showers. Households can also apply for an indigent rating according to the city’s poverty index, which would result in additional free water allowances per month.
I hope Irish Water will reflect on best practice in other world-class cities before finalising its pricing and metering structure for households. – Yours, etc,
VINCENT HIBBERT,

Sir, – Harry McGee (News Analysis, July 17th) points out that Dáil reform has, to date, fallen well short of the ambition expressed in the 2011 programme for government. However, it is only fair to point out that the Government has spent much of the first two years of its term dealing with the disastrous national financial situation while simultaneously attempting to navigate safely through a series of international economic events beyond its span of control.
There is a slightly vulgar expression in business that describes the usual impact of crisis management on the maintenance of strategic direction: “When you’re up to your arse in alligators, it’s easy to forget your objective is to drain the swamp”.
I hope those promised Dáil reforms will receive the requisite attention in the latter half of this Government’s term of office. – Yours, etc,
PETER MOLLOY,

Sir, – Robin Miller (July 16th) wonders about the absence of houseflies, bluebottles, wasps, horseflies, dragonflies, midges, etc, during this very warm spell. Maybe they’re all watching the cricket. – Yours, etc,
JOHN O’BYRNE ,
Mount Argus Court,
Harold’s Cross,
Dublin 6w.
Sir, – I can confirm that horseflies and midges abound in the Dún Laoghaire area, as my exposed legs have been ensuring their continued nourishment throughout the warm weather. – Yours, etc,
SIMON STROUGHAIR,
Carriglea Downs,
Dún Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – The bluebottles appear to be holding a Gathering in Carlow! – Yours, etc,
AOIFE HOLDEN,
Moorefield House,

Sir, – Michael Dervan (“The dark side of the concert hall”, Arts & Ideas, July 17th) asks readers to name a composer who described his own music as “horrid”.
Verdi declared his early, Voltaire-inspired opera Alzira to be “really ugly”, yet his operas are performed more often than those of any other composer.
Alzira is plainly not among the worst of them but is, perhaps, an illustration of the principle of natural justice: Nemo iudex in sua causa (no-one should be a judge in his own case). – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN DOHERTY,

Irish Independent:
* Once the curtain falls on the sideshows of the abortion bill and the abolition of the Seanad (insert your own epilogue here), political and public attention will circle back to the main agenda: the economy.
Also in this section
Seanad still has a lot to offer our democracy
Give multi-millionaire tax exiles a break
Seanad now has a chance to prove its worth
Ireland is officially back in recession and exports, often touted as a beacon of hope, are down. The Budget is fast approaching as it has been fast-forwarded to October.
Not only does this serve to coordinate with wider EU budgeting but it also means the Budget will have full input from the troika given that it is to be the last before we begin to stand on our own two feet.
Given that troika sources have indicated that there is no low hanging fruit left and that the IMF have a history of insisting on the harshest cuts in the final stages of “consolidation”, the upcoming Budget will probably be quite severe.
However, it is abundantly clear to every man, woman and child that austerity is not working. You only have to walk down the main street of any town in Ireland to see the ‘to let’ signs on empty buildings that were once vibrant and thriving shops and enterprises. Everybody knows somebody who has gone to Australia or Canada in search of employment. If those people remained, how bleak would the employment statistics look then.
Irish people do not need, nor can they endure, further austerity. Austerity is a formula that does not work. What is needed now is an economic stimulus package. There should be wriggle room now with the restructuring of our debts. Ireland Inc needs investment in its infrastructure and in its people. That would yield much-needed economic and social dividends.
Perhaps the Labour Party might wake from its slumber in Government and insist on this in the pre-Budget discussions. Ireland and its people deserve no less.
Killian Brennan
Malahide Road, Dublin 17
CONSTITUTIONAL VANDALS
* In one respect at least the Government are being altogether too modest about the potential knock-on savings that would arise from abolition of the Seanad.
As I know, a significant part of the duties of ministers of state is to take Seanad debates, and to assist in steering legislation through the second House.
If the Seanad were to be abolished after the next General Election, this would reduce the need for 15 ministers of state and their offices. If their number were reduced to 12, this would represent an additional saving on a conservative estimate of about €1.5m. One would need to be very credulous to believe that reformed Dail procedures would take up anything approaching an equivalent amount of their time.
Perhaps if FG director of elections Richard Bruton were to make a commitment to take a knife to the executive as well as the legislature, he would inspire more of his colleagues in his parliamentary ranks to show a conviction in the forthcoming referendum debate that would merit their consideration for future inclusion in depleted ministerial ranks!
However, to be clear, I am not in favour of abolition of the Seanad, as it will mean less scrutiny of legislation underpinned by guillotine, bearing in mind that it is almost entirely drawn up by civil servants, even if presented by ministers relying heavily on their brief.
What ministers call political reform, I consider constitutional vandalism.
Martin Mansergh
Friarsfield House, Tipperary
MAGDALENE DISGRACE
* I cannot believe the Government can do nothing about the refusal of religious orders to contribute to the victims of these dreadful Magdalene Laundries.
I was so delighted when the Taoiseach made the formal apology to these wonderful ladies who suffered so much.
So the Government should not roll back on its good work; it should find a way to insist these religious orders pay their share.
Believe me, I know what I am talking about first hand, as my brother and I made our First Communion in a fee-paying private boarding school in Dublin run by ruthless and frustrated nuns who made our life hell – and we were only children at the time.
So I am in no doubt as to how these women were treated.
The Government should continue to fight their case and find a way to force these religious orders to make a contribution, so we can all move on and leave this shameful history behind us.
Brian McDevitt
Glenties, Co Donegal
* At this stage, it should be clear even to our legislators, that most, if not all, charities are being run on a purely commercial basis.
This applies even more so to religious orders who have done so from their inception.
After all, you couldn’t possibly pay chief executives over €100,000 if you are operating on a charitable basis, could you?
It’s time to either change the laws, or send in the Revenue.
Liam Power
Srahanarry, Bangor Erris, Ballina, Co Mayo
ABORTION BILL FALLOUT
* The eminent Irish philosopher/politician, Edmund Burke, stated that “society is a contract between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.
In this context, the recent passing of abortion legislation is the ultimate breach of the social contract. The bullying of the weak by the powerful, in its most brutal form, enacted in legislation.
From a pro-life perspective, one stands in awe at the moral bravery of those politicians who sacrificed their careers by voting no to the legislation.
They also bear witness to Burke’s other memorable adage – “all that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing”.
Eric Conway
Balreask Village, Navan, Co Meath
* A professor in a college ethics class presented his students with a problem. He said: “A man has syphilis and his wife has tuberculosis. They have had four children; one has died, the other three have what is considered to be a terminal illness. The mother is pregnant and suicidal. What do you recommend?”
After spirited discussion, the majority of the class voted that she should abort the child.
“Fine,” said the professor. “You’ve just killed Beethoven!”
Colm Faughnan
Woodlands, Letterkenny, Co Donegal
TERMINATION OF DEBT
* Shane Filan reveals how debt can lead to such depression and desperation that suicide may appear the only means of escape.
There is substantial evidence that many suicides have already occurred because of an inability to endure the nightmare of such debt.
It is surely time to bring a test case to court to establish the possibility of suicide being adequate reason for having the debt terminated or at least reduced to manageable levels.
A precedent has been set of threat of suicide being adequate justification for serious intervention. Surely the thousands who suffer similar danger of suicide because of debt should be given parity of entitlement.
Padraic Neary
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
GREY AREA
* The feature on grey hair (Irish Independent, July 17) reminds me of the time my son said: “Dad, there’s a man at the door with grey hair.”
“Tell him I already have some,” I replied.
Tom Gilsenan
Beaumont, Dublin 9
Irish Independent

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