31 July 2013 Sciatica

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark Horrible Horace the nephew of the Sea Lord is to have his sea trials as a Sea Cadet, can the crew of Troutbridge cope with him? Priceless
Go see my Doctor I have Sciatica as Leslie would say “Oh Nasty!”
We watch Yes Minister quite good
Scrabble today Mary wins but gets under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.


A Fellow for more than 30 years of Keble College, Oxford, where he was a tutor in Old and Middle English , Parkes was in 1996 appointed the university’s first Professor of Palaeography. His first book, English Cursive Book Hands 1250-1500, published in 1969, remains the authoritative account of English cursive writing of that 250-year period.
His expertise allowed him, for example, to demonstrate (with Ian Doyle) that a group of manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales and the 14th-century poet John Gower are the work of a small group of scribes at a London workshop.
In 1993 he wrote Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West, which was the first attempt to write a history of punctuation in English; it showed how, in manuscripts, the same passages were punctuated differently at different times, and how this affected their interpretation. His final book, Their Hands Before Our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes (2008), was based on his Lyell Lectures. These were given in Oxford in 1998-99 and addressed the handwriting of scribes from late antiquity to the beginning of the 16th century. Parkes’s scholarship, though always rigorous, was never without humour and an eye for the unexpected — at one point in his lectures he observed: “It is easy to imitate another’s letter-forms; it is much more difficult to imitate their spaces.”
In his Robert F Metzdorf Memorial Lecture in 1987, Parkes had discussed the provision of books for scholars in medieval Oxford and the development of libraries. Books were then considered less the exclusive property of an individual than a valuable resource of the community. In the 13th century, for example, a college Fellow was often expected to leave his books to his college on his death — a practice analogous to one already widespread in some religious orders, where the individual had the possession and use of books but the community claimed the ownership.
Malcolm Beckwith Parkes was born in Charlton, south London, on June 26 1930, and educated at Colfe’s Grammar School, Lewisham. He studied briefly at Strasbourg University before becoming a supply teacher in London, then went up to Hertford College, Oxford, where he read English. It was at this time that he developed an interest in the classification and dating of medieval handwriting.
After graduating Parkes worked for his family’s export business before spending a year, in 1957-58, as archivist at the library in Lambeth Palace. In 1961 he was appointed a lecturer in English Language and Literature at Keble and Mansfield Colleges in Oxford, four years later becoming a fellow and tutor at Keble. As Fellow Librarian at the college between 1965 and 1974 he discovered around 90 manuscripts while he was moving books to make the library more accessible for students. This led to his writing Medieval Manuscripts of Keble College, Oxford: a descriptive catalogue (1979).
A convivial and generous teacher, Parkes was rewarded by his pupils with admiration and affection. He once briefly fell asleep while giving a lecture; on waking, he could not remember what the lecture was about, so he leaned over the shoulder of a student, read the last line of her notes aloud, and seamlessly carried on.
This sangfroid was also evident on the occasion when he inadvertently locked himself out of his Volvo in the centre of a French village. As he tried to break into the vehicle with a wire coat-hanger, a crowd gathered, a few wondering if they should call the police. In a pronounced English accent he declared: “Je suis cambrioleur spécialiste [I am a master burglar].”
Parkes taught as a visiting professor at Konstanz, Minneapolis and Harvard universities. After retiring in 1997 he became a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Medieval Academy of America, and to the Comité international de paléographie latine .
Malcolm Parkes married, in 1954, Ann Dodman, who died in 2009; their two sons survive him. At his funeral, a Keble College Book of Hours which he had catalogued lay open on his coffin.
Professor Malcolm Parkes, born June 26 1930, died May 10 2013


Darian Leader rightly condemns attempts to gloss over injustice in the marketplace as individual failure (Heed the new age of anxiety rather than bemoaning it, 29 July). He is equally justified in seeing the economy as the subtext to human suffering. But if that is so, aren’t the solutions he offers somewhat counterproductive? After all, is not the Freudian preoccupation with the individual psyche a symptom of the pervasive individualisation against which he otherwise inveighs?
And if the economy is as important as he claims, wouldn’t we be better advised to attend to the dynamics of the ideological unconscious, of Marxist extraction, which interlocks with economics and politics, rather than look to the obscure operations of its libidinal counterpart? Social processes are necessarily mediated through the individual, but they are not reducible to questions of individual anxiety, and to imply that they are is to succumb to a self-defeating psychologism.
Professor Malcolm Read
Belper, Derbyshire

Michael Gove (Report, 25 July) believes that people who oppose performance-related pay for teachers are “defensive, leftwing, ideologically committed” and to be ignored. Perhaps they just know more about how schools work than he does. Suppose, on market principles, a school decides to pay an excellent history teacher more than a not quite so good teacher of physics? Suppose the disgruntled physicist then decides to move school. He is the only well-qualified teacher of that subject the school has and well-paid jobs for his kind are widely advertised. Raise his salary to prevent him moving? Let him leave and see physics results tumble? Is the answer, on market principles, to pay both teachers more: one for merit and the other for being scarce? The sensible approach to this problem has always been and remains to leave it to individual schools to decide where to place teachers, for whatever reason, on some nationally agreed pay scale. Tinkering with that helps no one.
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire
• If there is clear, research-basedevidence that performance-related pay for teachers is an effective tool for raising standards, why doesn’t Michael Gove simply publish it, instead of referring to the results of meaningless opinion polls and mounting cheap ad hominem attacks against those who disagree with him? Could it possibly be that such evidence does not exist and that Gove is (or imagines himself to be) in receipt of a form of divine illumination denied to his inferiors? 
Michael Pyke
Campaign for State Education
• Iain Paterson (Letters, 25 July) called to mind my experience, when I was in charge of a small education unit in the 1960s, of the advice, encouragement and help I received from members of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate. I still recall their friendly approach, compared with Ofsted. Which approach, I wonder, best serves the needs of education?
Lionel Burman
West Kirby, Wirral

Iain Duncan Smith describes his welfare reform plans as “the most aggressive … Britain has ever seen”, which betrays his mindset (Benefits: our achievement, 29 July). Such bellicose language ill becomes someone charged with finding equitable solutions to problems rather than attacking the more vulnerable members of society.
Few would disagree, for example, that “nobody should be able to earn more in benefits than the average family earns going out to work”, but the more obvious, less divisive answer would be to increase the amount that work pays.
Duncan Smith’s banking colleagues can explain this to him, although, of course, the colleagues whispering caution in his other ear would be the employers who pay such low wages that seven million of their employees are entitled to working tax credits.
Nick Broadhead
•  Iain Duncan Smith practises a deceitful sleight of hand in differentiating “the people who use [the welfare state] and the taxpayers who pay for it”. All in the UK, whether or not on benefits, are served by the welfare state – and, for that matter, all are taxpayers, if only of VAT. Duncan Smith has imported US language and used it as if comparing like with like. In the UK the payment of benefits and pensions are, or should be, expressions, within the overall concept of the welfare state, of the aspiration that everyone should have financial security.
In the US, such payments comprise virtually the whole of welfare provision. And in not mentioning the distress caused by the bedroom tax, the ever-increasing number of hungry people who have to beg for food or the increasing number of children in poverty, Duncan Smith shows himself to lack any sense of justice.
Rev David Peel
North Shields
•  Iain Duncan Smith may take it as a compliment that this government has destroyed the welfare state in only three years. Disinformation from the Department for Work and Pensions (more in Monday’s Guardian) would have us believe that anyone claiming benefits is either a cheat or lazy, thus turning back the clock more than a century to the definition of poverty as “immorality”. That is his achievement.
Dr Graham Ullathorne
•  It is interesting that Iain Duncan Smith never mentions the underlying purpose of welfare benefits, whether the relief of poverty; the maintenance of an adequate standard of living; or support for contingencies over which individuals have little control, such as unemployment. He talks about saving money and “fairness”, but is overseeing a significant reduction in living standards in what is already a low-wage, low investment economy. Almost 4 million British children went without basic necessities such as a winter coat and properly fitting shoes in 2012, an increase from about 2 million in 1999. It will get only worse with the changes to come.
Janet Lewis
•  Is Iain Duncan Smith claiming that he has cured the shirkers or previously maligned the unemployed when he states “people are using our Universal Jobmatch website for more than 5m job searches a day”?
Roy Grimwood
Market Drayton, Shropshire
•  So Iain Duncan Smith says that Tory reforms will put an end to people being left on sickness benefits year after year. Perhaps he would like to inform the public of the miracle medical cures he has in mind to achieve this claim?
Elayne Kingaby
•  It is good to see Iain Duncan Smith joining the growing numbers reassessing the reputation of Margaret Thatcher. It was her administration that tried to massage the unemployment figures by putting and leaving people on sickness benefits. Now he claims to have slain this Tory dragon, perhaps he could also turn his attention to the current Tory deception of counting people on insecure zero-hour contracts as employed. A further example of Tory untrustworthiness.
Chris Orton

Another organisation that places temporary staff on zero-hours contracts is Buckingham Palace (Sports Direct’s zero-hours terms under fire, 29 July). When at university my daughter applied for a summer job as a sales assistant at the palace and was offered a zero-hours contract which guaranteed her no work and no pay but, among other things, required her to be available at short notice at any time during the contract period and forbade her from taking any other paid work. The palace refused even informal assurances that she would not have to spend the entire summer waiting around and earning no money.
Malcolm Snell
• It was refreshing to read Tanya Gold’s article on internet trolls (Comment, 30 July). Women being told by trolls they wish to rape them is nothing new – it even features in the lyrics of the Thank You Hater song on sale for charity by Isabel Fay. Tanya is right that it is not good for society to criminalise these “online louts”, but unmasking them, as may be possible with the Defamation Act 2013, is most proportionate.
Jonathan Bishop
Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taf
• Any cricket lover knows that using the telephone number 111 would result in disaster (Pullout from NHS helpline, 30 July). Obviously umpire David Shepherd was not on the consultative committee leading to the decision.
Nicky and Gerard Campbell
Macclesfield, Cheshire
• Wanting to win the next election? Hey you’ve got to hide your Gove away (Letters, 30 July).
Jo Tomalin
• Gove hurts (24 July) … Gove scars, Gove wounds and harms.
Peter Wilson
Windermere, Cumbria
• Don’t you want somebody to Gove? Er, no.
Martin Edwards
• Salmon Dave (Letters, 28 July)? When did he split from Chas?
Paul McFarland

Your interview with Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers’ Union (Report, 29 July), raised interesting points on the challenge of feeding a growing population, especially given the threat of climate change.
Kendall rightly points out that we need to be careful in taking land out of production, but one factor currently responsible for taking large amounts of land out of food production was not mentioned. Biofuels, grown from crops such as wheat, are taking food that could be used to feed people. In Europe we burn enough food in our cars as biofuels to feed at least 100 million people. Biofuels are increasing hunger by forcing up food prices as there is less food to eat, and forcing people off their land in developing countries to make way for crops to use as biofuels. Most are just as bad for the climate as the fossil fuels they were introduced to replace.
The European parliament will shortly be debating the reform of European biofuels policy. Considering one in eight people around the world go hungry every day, we urge MEPs to end targets that incentivise turning farmland into land to feed cars rather than people, and vote to stop biofuels creating further hunger by capping the proportion of biofuels made from food.
Lucy Hurn
Biofuels campaign manager, ActionAid
• As the fossil fuel producing corporations do not intend to reduce their output, and as car sales in the growing economies increase, the development of alternative methods of producing electricity has little significance (The case for the Severn barrage, Letters, 26 July). There has to be political control of oil/coal/gas output, after which sustainable energy technologies become relevant.
Ron Houghton

What links Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s lament about Labour’s lack of principles and Iain Duncan Smith’s fantasies about universal benefit (Comment, 29 July) is Labour’s failure to enunciate the fundamental principles on which the social security system has been based since the time of William Beveridge.
The system exists to ensure everyone freedom from the fear of unemployment, sickness, disability or old age causing poverty and homelessness. Freedom is one of the three fundamental principles which the French Revolution expressed in the 18th century and which today still distinguish social democracy, in its real sense, from the other two parties: the Conservatives, who believe in freedom but deny equality or solidarity; and the Lib Dems who may concede equality, but assert individualism against solidarity.
If Labour could show how its policies are based on all these three principles instead of mere electoral expediency, it could offer a real social democratic alternative of the kind that has made the Nordic countries successful for their peoples and economies. If its thinkers don’t know where to start, they should read how the Swedish Social Democratic party links its principles and values to policy programmes. A booklet given to new party members and available in English is on the Nordic Horizons website.
John Veit-Wilson
Newcastle upon Tyne
• Geoffrey Wheatcroft really does encapsulate why Labour is struggling to capitalise on the difficulties that the coalition is still facing.
A party whose creation had a real purpose at the end of the 19th century and was assisted greatly by the willingness of the Liberal party to stand aside in many working-class seats – as happened in Ramsay MacDonald’s Leicester constituency – and also to support the latter’s short-lived government of 1924, has now lost its way.
In our age of political pluralism I wonder whether any party will again achieve levels of popular support enjoyed by the Tory and Labour parties in the early 1950s. In 1997, with a huge majority created by first past the post, Blair could have done whatever he wanted with our so-called constitution to create an electoral system that could effectively reflect this pluralism in terms of representation. He chickened out. Why should anyone trust any of his successors to grasp the nettle?
John Marriott
• Michael Orton (Letters, 24 July) is, I fear, wrong. Labour’s key problem is not the lack of a core message (though that does not help). The key problem is a leader who is simply not credible. I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances throughout the country and not one (regardless of political party) believes that Ed Miliband could be prime minister. As a lifelong Labour supporter, I cringe every time I hear him on radio. It is like Neil Kinnock all over again. When the general election comes, a crucial number of people will say to themselves: “II do not see this man as prime minister.” Unless Labour changes leader before 2015, David Cameron will win – by default – and we shall have to start all over again. A further five years wasted.
Roger Nuttall

Jon Leyne compelled attention whenever he turned up on Today or on BBC News with a story from a hot spot. He also wrote and broadcast with depth and wit on rowing, having rowed throughout his formative years at Winchester, Exeter, Walton Rowing Club, York City RC and Oriel College. He covered the Boat Race, Henley, world championship regattas and the 1992 Olympics.
His emails from Tehran to the British Association of Rowing Journalists always began “Greetings from the Axis of Evil”, which our members instinctively believed to refer to the Amateur Rowing Association (now called British Rowing).
He was as able an interpreter of rowing as he was of political movement and terrorist outrage, peppering his reports with asides while showing that he knew the subject from the inside of a boat. On his visits home from Washington, Tehran or Cairo, he would often pop up by the riverside to catch up on the sport and air his latest idea for programmes on Middle Eastern culture.
Walton RC members will remember his long evening sculling outings, hidden by a shaggy mop that was so different from his later appearance, and the warm welcome at his unbelievably chaotic family home. When a local pub, the Swan, installed a new grand piano, Jon commandeered it. He was addressed as “Rachmaninov” by the landlord ever after.

You reported that the US administration is giving ambassadorships to Obama campaign fundraisers and working with Microsoft to spy indiscriminately on US and foreign nationals (Embassy posts go to Obama’s big donors; NSA ‘works with Microsoft’, 19 July). This is the state that Timothy Garton Ash (Where Dr Pangloss meets Machiavelli) hopes will be successful in bringing the world, including China, to so-called free trade and investment agreements like the TPP and TTIP currently being negotiated. He imagines that this will lead China towards “more openness, pluralism and the rule of law”.
The facts are that these agreements will lead to further concentration of transnational corporate wealth and power and associated political corruption – which means less liberty, equality and solidarity for the rest of us.
Not even the elected representatives of the US have access to these negotiations – let alone the citizens of many countries who will have to live with the consequences of agreements that could see them paying more for medicines, books, films, software, education and many more things.
The only chance the 99% have of seeing a more open, pluralistic and just world through trade will be when there is genuine democratic participation in the agreement negotiation process. Americans, Chinese or New Zealanders – we’re all deprived of that at present, and until we get it, words like “openness” and “pluralism” have a very hollow ring to them.
Christine Dann
Port Levy, New Zealand
Dangerous algorithms
That our lives are increasingly governed by algorithms is scarcely news to many of us (26 July). Here in Australia the political playing field bears a remarkable resemblance to American football. Every move and counter-move is informed, if not dictated, by party analysts who study opinion polls, focus groups and the talk-back radio shock-jocks.
The recent political exhumation of Kevin Rudd, as well as his subsequent leap to the right on key policies such as refugees, is a good example of this disturbing trend in our so-called democracy. The quest for what in my school days was called the lowest common denominator is equally apparent in Britain, the US and other countries where the two-party system is entrenched.
We should be grateful to the Guardian, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden and others of like mind for exposing the reality beneath the emperor’s clothes, although I fear it may be too late to avoid the consequences.
In the broadest possible sense the algorithm is indeed the instrument of the powerful: the extent of data-sharing now revealed between government and social media is just one factor among many.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
Regulate oil transport
Forgotten in the article Pipeline or railroad: which is safer? (19 July), are the 48 mostly young people who died in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Quebec, Canada, and the disruptions and hardships caused when the whole centre of a town was wiped out.
What transport mode spills the most oil is not the question. What kills the most? That is the question. What mode of transport puts people’s lives at risk?
The train that blew up, made up of 72 tanker cars, had already passed though many towns, in some cases close to schools, residential areas and industrial zones on its 4,000km journey from North Dakota. “Get the hell off oil” is good rhetoric; in the meantime strict government regulation (self-regulation by the railways, as now exists is a ludicrous oxymoron) could save lives and the environment.
Tom Edmonds
Cowansville, Quebec, Canada
Snooping and security
In Snooping does not keep us secure (12 July), Suzanne Moore claims that John Locke said, “as soon as men decide all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil they set out to destroy”. I was puzzled to hear this attributed to a man who argued that we may kill a thief who might intend only to steal our goods, as any incursion on property rights is a potential threat to one’s life. Locke also characterised such persons as noxious beasts rather than full human beings.
In fact, the quotation comes from an article by Christopher Dawson. Unfortunately, this false attribution has now run rampant across the internet. While Moore is rightly concerned about ubiquitous surveillance and champions free communication, we also need to be vigilant about the propagation of false or misleading information – an abuse of freedom. Comment is free, but should also be responsible.
Simon Kow
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
• Suzanne Moore’s piece reminds me of a paraphrase of the slogan of the Returned Services League of Australia: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”; the rather more ominous “The price of eternal vigilance is liberty.”
Phillip Mackenzie
Gosnells, Western Australia
Irreconcilable opposites
Can political Islam ever work? (12 July). I very much doubt it. If one casts even a cursory glance over the 1700 or so blood-soaked years of political Christianity (starting from the emperor Constantine), one is unlikely to feel optimistic. And it’s still not over. Contemporary born-again Tea Partiers would turn the US into a theocracy overnight if they could – in a nation that was founded on the 18th-century Enlightenment principle of the complete separation of church and state.
I see no evidence that political Islam has discovered, or is ever likely to discover, a better way than Christian power regimes have historically found to meld an obligatory religious ideology with any socio-political formations that ultimately rest upon some manner, however imperfect, of informed consent. Irreconcilably contradictory aims.
David Bouvier
Gabriola, British Columbia, Canada
A tourist’s view of Tibet
The Letter from China in your 19 July issue is a typical tourist description of Tibet by the Chinese (A bit of heaven mingled with the smell of yak). In fact, Langmusi is far from the idyllic charming Shangri-la that it might appear, as I found out when I visited it last year.
Although incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, this area was totally Tibetan until the Chinese invasion in 1950, as proved in a fascinating book by Robert Ekvall, an American anthropologist-missionary who lived there in the 1930s.
As your writer says, there are now, and were in Ekvall’s days, two Tibetan Buddhist monasteries that have always been rivals. Both these monasteries were ruined in the Cultural Revolution. What has changed recently is that one of these monasteries is now actively supported by the Chinese government.
When I visited this monastery I was amazed at the beautiful gold-gilded temples and stupas being built by non-Tibetans. I found out that this monastery, which is being rebuilt at great cost, is of the recent Shugden Buddhist sect, which is very antagonistic to the Dalai Lama.
In present-day Tibet, all is not as the Chinese authorities would like it to appear. And your readers should not forget that Langmusi is a centre for many recent self-immolations by Tibetans in a desperate protest against Chinese oppression.
Nigel Hungerford
Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
Trident is the problem
May I remind Sir Nick Harvey that the imposition of a nuclear submarine base in 1960 in the heart of Scotland has already soured the relationship (19 July).
No thought was given to Scottish protests that this base could kill more than 2 million Scottish people in the event of an attack or an accident.
We came perilously close to a first-strike attack during the Cuban missile crisis between the USSR and the US.
Instead of throwing around the huge cost of moving this base as a scare campaign, I suggest the MoD tell us which part of England will host the new base.
Perhaps the Bristol Channel will be given the order, as it has a great stretch of water with access to the open seas.
Anna Smith
Coogee, NSW, Australia
A hologram might be better
The techniques of French taxidermy used to preserve the carapace and skin of Kiki, the 146-year-old tortoise, are uncannily close to those performed by the embalmers’ guild in ancient Egypt: “alum salt to tan the hide” (natron for desiccation); “black glass eyeballs” (glass or stone); the thorax hollowed of viscera (ditto, but collected in canopic jars); “extra-dark acrylic paint” and “the shell varnished” (resins, oils and dyes); “[feet] padded out with sterile wood-fibre” (sawdust and leaf detritus) (Creating a likeness to challenge death, 19 July).
The Egyptians dolled up not just humans but cats by the million. Yet the effect for me is as ghoulish as Lenin’s mummy in his glass case or the Madame Tussaud’s stiffs.
If “the aim is for the end result to look as natural as possible”, why not rather generate holographic images of a Kiki living and in action?
RM Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
Where has Merkel been?
Countries who habitually gather data from the electronic media, Germany and the UK among them, are presently displaying an apparently righteous indignation at discovering that the US is also gathering international internet data (Merkel: snooping on friends is unacceptable, 5 July). Where has Angela Merkel been so as not to know how the international information game is played? Is she simply trying to save another election by pretending innocence?
The real issue is not the gathering of data but why officials and other individuals expose themselves so badly in emails and on pseudo-social networking sites. The gatherer is not at fault, it is the distributor of garbage, both opinionated and secret. Merkel should instead be chastising her minions for revealing information: secret or salacious.
A ban on employees posting on Twitter, Facebook and other sites would go a long way to solving Merkel’s problem.
John Graham
Hoogstraten, Belgium
• Congratulations to Hadley Freeman on her insightful 19 July feature on sexism and Wimbledon.
Brian A Wren
Orleans, Massachusetts, US
• Had the royal arrival been a girl, Great-gran’s name Elizabeth would have been favourite, but not Great-gramps’s Philip, since we already had one Bad King Philip, spouse of Mary I, and sender of the Armada against Good Queen Bess (26 July).
C Lendon
Cook, ACT, Australia


SIR – Watching the BBC One programme Who Do You Think You Are? made me wonder if society realises what is being lost with the demise of handwriting.
We saw many archives researched: the census, and birth, marriage, and death certificates; all were recorded in beautiful script and each was a little work of art in its own right. The handwriting bestowed a dignity on all of these things.
In recent years, use of a computer keyboard has led to the loss of this skill. Even in senior schools, rather than spend time teaching pupils to improve their writing they are given the use of computers for taking exams.
Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire

SIR – The battle of Balcombe is indeed of national importance (leading article, July 29). As CEO of Regester Larkin, a reputation management consultancy firm, I am aware that shale gas supporters must learn from the attempted introduction of genetically modified crops 20 years ago.
Monsanto, an agricultural company, and others failed to connect with a sceptical public. Non-governmental organisations steered the debate towards environmental risk and corporate profit. The emotional trumped the rational.
The same will happen with shale gas unless the industry learns the lessons of the past. More must be done to frame the debate positively.
This month, Monsanto pulled GM crops out of Europe, despite David Cameron saying it is “time to look again at the whole issue for GM food”. I hope that, 20 years from now, we will not still be having the shale gas debate. The country needs it now.
Andrew Griffin
London EC1
Related Articles
Loss of handwriting skills should be mourned
30 Jul 2013
SIR – I have been employed as a river keeper in the Test Valley for 26 years.
Licences for exploratory fracking have been issued for sites a few miles from where I work. If shale gas deposits are to be exploited in the south-east of England, it is vital that the source and disposal of water is given the greatest consideration.
Two years ago, after a prolonged dry spell, the river dropped to an alarming level, and there was much talk of a need to become more water wise. We have had rain since, but fracking is a thirsty process, and if the water is drawn from the ground, the river on which I live and work will be affected.
Chris de Cani
Barton Stacey, Hampshire
SIR – One protester in Balcombe, Sussex, where villagers are campaigning against fracking, said: “There is enough shale gas in northern England alone to meet Britain’s gas needs for 40 years” (report, July 26).
This comment smacks of Nimbyism, as well as a disregard for the North and its inhabitants. If fracking is bad for Sussex and Kent, why is it good for the North? Fracking would devastate equally as beautiful countryside and villages in northern England as those that exist in Sussex and Kent, as well as putting our water supply and homes at risk.
We should be united over this issue – fracking is bad.
Christine Washbrook
Clitheroe, Lancashire
SIR – Fracking involves replacing a compressible gas, which is chemically a reducing agent, with non-compressible water containing toxic chemicals.
Water is an oxidising agent. In the short term there will be economic gain. The long-term consequences are unknown, but then that would only be a problem for future generations.
Barrie Skelcher
Leiston, Suffolk
Living with diabetes
SIR – I have been a Type 1 diabetic for 48 years, and it has never affected my work as a dairy farmer, which involves getting up at 5am, and finishing milking at 7pm.
To suggest that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will be unable to do her job now that she has been diagnosed with diabetes, or will be unable to become Prime Minister (report, July 29), is an insult to her and to diabetics who go about their lives without attracting attention or letting anyone down.
Diabetics who look after themselves can lead a full and energetic life; in most cases people would not even know they were diabetics. I am sure that Mrs May will show her true grit and become another Iron Lady.
Derek Woods
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Problem of GP fees
SIR – Restricting the out-of-hours service by doctors has thrown more work on to A&E, causing a crisis. With GPs supporting a system of charging patients per visit (report, July 26), more people will go straight to A&E, thus worsening the crisis.
Furthermore, patients will be put off making appointments. An illness that could be cured cheaply at its early stages by prompt action, could develop into a more serious condition, resulting in very expensive treatment that puts an even greater strain on NHS resources, or even an unnecessary death.
Is this really what the doctors want?
Brian Wallis
SIR – Rather than charge £25 to see one’s GP, it would be much more effective if there was a similar charge for those who failed to turn up for appointments at surgeries and out-patient clinics.
Terry Morrell
Willerby, East Yorkshire
Thin yellow line
SIR – You report moves to allow free parking on double yellow lines in order to help the high street (July 29). This sounds good from the point of view of both motorists and shopkeepers.
But who is to decide what is dangerous parking and who is going to police it, together with the length of time one has been parked? The army of traffic wardens required doesn’t bear thinking about.
I can also imagine the disputes about what is dangerous and what isn’t. It seems that a third yellow line might be needed to differentiate between no parking at all, and short-stay parking.
Nicholas Wright
Coggeshall, Essex
SIR – Double yellow lines are intended to stop parking in places that are hazardous for road users and pedestrians. If a stretch of double yellow is now deemed not to be hazardous then it should be removed, otherwise it should be enforced.
The idea that parking on a double yellow is not hazardous until a period of 15 minutes has elapsed is nonsense.
Stephen Gledhill
Evesham, Worcestershire
All sewn up
SIR – Allison Pearson (Comment, July 25) mentions that Carole Middleton’s children had beautifully sewn-in name tapes, and that she never used marker pen on labels. This is not mere one-upmanship. Woven name tapes do not fade despite being continually washed. And if not properly sewn in, they will fall out.
So why write countless name tags in marker pen that will fade?
Pamela Gilbert
Maidenhead, Berkshire
Translating our common win-win expressions
SIR – Robert Leven’s letter (July 27) about “Yeah no” came to mind yesterday when my eight-year-old grandson told me that we should “touch base” some time.
I informed him that he was “on my radar” and that our meeting could lead to a “win-win situation”. In fact, if he behaves himself, I may buy him an ice cream.
Ian McDougle
Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire
SIR – On leaving a restaurant in Spain, some Spanish friends, who had listened to much of our English conversation, asked us to translate the frequently used word “anyway”.
John Austin
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Politicians talk about a “step change”, usually when referring to policy of some sort. What’s the difference between a “step change” and any other form of change?
Paul Bedelle
Gillingham, Kent
SIR – One of the most nonsensical expressions used by shop assistants and waiters when serving someone is: “There you go”. I am tempted to ask: “Where do I go and what do I do when I get there?”
R E Jones
West Horsley, Surrey
SIR – My late aunt mystified a foreign visitor when she said that, if there was nothing else in the pantry, one could always fall back on eggs.
Kathleen Taylor
SIR – I remember explaining to my French exchange, in my bad schoolboy French, how, in this country, we first “cut a tree down”, before we then “cut it up”.
Richard Longfield
Basingstoke, Hampshire
SIR – How about the ability of people to be “pretty ugly”?
Becky Goldsmith
London SW11

Irish Times:

A chara, – Ivana Bacik (July 30th) characterises Breda O’Brien’s article (Opinion, July 27th) as a “tirade” against “militant pro-choicers”. She then launches her own tirade, describing all who disagree with her as fundamentalist anti-choicers, lacking in compassion, opponents of sensible reform, and hypocrites.
Why the trading in “tirades”? Why, because phase one of the abortion debate is over and the time has come for phase two: the campaign to relax the “restrictions” that our new regime places on “choice” even before the ink is dry on the new law. – Is mise,
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – I have no objection to members of the Seanad giving detailed descriptions of abortion procedures performed by surgeons no matter how vulgar and upsetting they may be. However, in the interest of balance, perhaps they could also provide us with descriptions of illegal back-street abortions as well.
Abortion exists; and it is a very unpleasant but sometimes necessary procedure. Right now we need to decide whether it should be performed by a trained surgeon with proper medical equipment and experience or by an amateur with a wire coat-hanger and a bottle of whisky. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I read with interest that the Government, through Irish Water, is planning to spend €539 million on the installation of water meters (Olivia Kelly, Home News, July 29th).
I live in a rural area in east Galway which has no public water supply and where, during the recent dry spell, my neighbours have struggled to supply water to their households and livestock from inadequate private wells.
A group scheme was designed and ready to go to tender a few years ago when the funding was withdrawn.
It would cost approximately €3 million to supply the 140 or so members, this amounts to about 0.55 per cent of what is to be spent on water meters. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – On his flight back to Rome from Brazil, Pope Francis gave his views to journalists on gay people (World News July 30th).
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I, for charity, to judge him?” he said.
This sounds like a benign statement, even a non-judgmental statement, even a supportive statement, until one looks below the surface.
What if he had said: “If a person is heterosexual and seeks God and has good will, who am I, for charity, to judge him?”
This would sound preposterous. He would rightly be accused of having a deep- seated prejudice against heterosexuals.
Pope Francis would like it both ways; to be seen as a friend of gays, yet doing nothing to support them.
He has made it clear there will be no change in his organisation’s teaching on sexuality. This means his predecessor’s statement that the homosexual orientation “is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” stays on the books.
Pope Francis may seem like a kindly smiling father figure, but he is in fact even more dangerous than his predecessor, who at least had the decency not to smile as he made his horrifically judgmental statements on gay people. – Yours, etc,
Whitechurch Road,

Sir, – It is indeed fitting that we remember Maeve Binchy on her first anniversary (“Remembering Maeve” supplement, July 30th). As a fellow student in UCD in the late 1950s, I was fortunate to be part of a small group who joined her on a daily train journey into Pearse station (Westland Row) followed by a walk to Earlsfort Terrace.
Maeve was always full of life, wit and generous spirit which made the journey a daily tonic. In particular, I recall one incident when she told us a great story of an embarrassing situation which had befallen her the previous day. As she came to the end of the story to her rapt student audience, she concluded with the immortal words “I was mortified!”.
Almost immediately, three small heads appeared over the top of the high-backed bench seat behind Maeve and in perfect unison, they shouted, “She was mortify-ed”.
Maeve reacted typically with a loud happy laugh followed by the amusing apt comment that she had not realised she had such a wide and attentive audience.
I often wondered whether this little incident in some way triggered her life-long interest in listening in to the conversations which formed the basis of so many of her worldwide best sellers.
This wonderful Irish storyteller deserves all the tributes we can pay. Thank you Maeve for such heart-warming memories. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – It is perverse for Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to articulate “A dash for jobs” on behalf of the Government when her own department has over the past 19 months increased the employer cost of redundancy by 250 per cent. Such a policy discourages offers of permanent employment and only serves to increase the casualisation of the labour market.
Would that she and her colleagues study the Agenda 2010 labour market reforms brought in by the German chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2003. The flexibilities introduced have contributed to the unemployment rate in Germany falling from 11.5 per cent then to 5.3 per cent now. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – It was with regret that I read Eamon Gilmore was to swear a religious oath to “Almighty God” despite his own stated doubt regarding the existence of such a deity (Home News, July 27th).
I know there is an easy and lazy argument that the religious oath is inconsequential in the overall context of the work that the Council of State is doing, but I would contend that Ireland badly needs politicians who take their oaths seriously.
As an Irish atheist I find my country alienating on many fronts; from its Constitution to its schools, hospitals, courts, and broadcasters. In fact I can find no positive references to atheism in mainstream Irish society and Mr Gilmore’s decision to duck the religious oaths issue here shows just how far we are from even beginning the consciousness raising needed to change this. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:
* I shall always be indebted to David McWilliams for his definitive demographic on modern Ireland before the bubble burst, ‘The Pope’s Children’. Didn’t I myself meet chastened Irish business people who walked right out of his book and into the pub in Ireland, personally to retell their own well-featured stories!
Also in this section
Keep our troops out of unnecessary danger
Brendan truly blessed
Colonists hated our culture
As an icon of macroeconomics, Mr McWilliams’ advocacy seems to remain unchallenged – for the sake of lasting economic recovery, however, hopefully not.
I refer to ‘Tax breaks for the healthy could change way we live’ (Irish Independent, July 17) and ‘Time to tell Germans: enough of all this austerity nonsense’ (July 24). The former seems to assume that the road to recovery is paved with government incentive (or disincentive) compelling the populace with great gobs of their own confiscated money to behave in the interest of all-wise Government.
I submit that there’s a fly in this economic ointment, misdirecting our attention from the greatest prosperity incentive ever, namely, except for prudent national security and sine qua non local government services such as police, retaining one’s own hard-earned money, freely and wisely to spend, save, invest or donate it.
The latter treatise, crediting, on the mere basis of an expressed natural truism, that renowned devotee of all-wise government, J K Galbraith, is what leaves us forever thinking that sustained economic resurgence such as that of postwar Germany is simply an economic miracle, whereas the unsustained resurgences of conservatives Reagan and Thatcher came as a result of massive monetary easing rather than the actual marginal tax rate reductions, freeing small businesses to expand and, yes, actually increasing tax revenue.
The liberal John Kennedy’s tax cut also demonstrated that once tax rates rise to the level of an economic depressant, any marginal tax rate reduction leads to increased private investment, greater prosperity and more income to be taxed away/ redistributed.
Since 1694 (UK) and 1913 (USA), conventional thinking has also put its trust in the combination of all-wise government and its silent partner, private central banking.
Governments have increasingly presented themselves to be trusted to print currency, only so much as is represented by real savings, and, failing that, to borrow only what can be paid back in a reasonable time, and to collect only essential taxes.
Between 1694 and 1913, masses emigrated for financial freedom – from economies of corrupt, ill-thought central planning to an economy of real independent opportunity and wealth creation that, because of decentralised, competitive, independent and locally regulated banking, was less susceptible to collapse.
My respectful challenge to the learned David is to help us step outside the conventional box by presenting the decentralised view and directing our attention to economists of global stature.
Brian O’Leary
Kentucky, USA
* This country has spent an enormous amount of money on exhaustive tribunals of inquiry that behaved as a tightly closed shop.
Compared to other jurisdictions, our authorities demonstrate little capacity to speedily and successfully prosecute white-collar crime, although special investigations by the Revenue Commissioners have yielded €43.04m in tax payments from 28 cases connected to the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals.
The scale of loss, the impact on public confidence, the practical consequences of fraud and bribery on the lives of ordinary citizens, the effect of fraud, bribery and corruption on the reputation of Ireland as a safe place to conduct business, the underlying complexity and the secrecy that is inherent in corrupt transactions ought to prompt a far more robust and vigorous approach to the investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime.
Should there not be a designated national reporting point for allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption that is available to the public so that the pool of evidence in such cases is enhanced and the public becomes more alert to the incidences of corruption?
Observations by individuals, based on their knowledge, insight and experience that something is not quite adding up, could become valuable information leading to the thorough investigation and successful prosecution of white-collar criminals – irrespective of whether the fraud is happening in the present, took place in the past or is being planned to happen in the future.
But it is up to the authorities to facilitate this by showing clear leadership and educating the public on how to recognise the indicators, how to report fraud, bribery and corruption, and for juries to understand the issues.
The Serious Fraud Office undertakes this role in the UK. The cost of prosecuting fraud cases there last year was equivalent to €0.74 per person in Britain. The cost of the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals are of the order of €366m, equivalent to €80 per person in Ireland, and there has only been a single conviction for planning corruption.
There urgently needs to be zero tolerance of white-collar crime or the fuzzy excuses for not dealing with it effectively and conclusively.
Myles Duffy
Glenageary, Co Dublin
* I propose that the world needs to act at once to prevent another disaster like Syria. Egypt is on the edge of a conflict that could completely destabilise the entire north of Africa, and drag the entire Middle East into the conflict as well.
If that happens, not only will the recent democratic uprisings be overturned, but the casualty count will rapidly enter the millions and then tens of millions. It would be the worst loss of life ever, dwarfing World War I and II combined.
I propose that an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council be convened immediately to vote on intervention. If Russia or China tries to block the motion, then I propose that every available member of the African Union Armed Forces be directed to Egypt at once. This should be supplemented by 200,000 members from the European Union Armed Forces and also 200,000 members from the United States Armed Forces.
If Russia and China agree to lend support, they should each send 100,000 troops.
The mission is simple: enforce peace using all necessary force.
We failed to act in Syria and the death toll now stands at over 100,000.
We cannot make the same mistake in Egypt.
Derek Leeson
* I’m a Dubliner who loves both hurling and football, and, please God, this year we have a realistic chance of winning both the Sam Maguire and the Liam McCarthy cups come September.
That said, it was sad to witness the end of an era as I sat in Semple Stadium on Sunday and watched the great Kilkenny team not only being beaten by a rampant Cork team, but it was also obvious that the end had come to probably the greatest hurling team I’ve seen in the past 50 years.
Kilkenny, whether other hurling counties like it or not, brought the best game in the world to a level that others dreamed of achieving.
Like most things in life, age catches up with even the greatest, and so it was on Sunday afternoon when tired legs and minds were no longer able to reach the heights that had kept them on top for so long.
Thanks for the memories, Kilkenny – you were great!
Fred Molloy
Clonsilla, Dublin 15


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