28 August 2013 Jill

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble again with Heather forcing Leslie to get engaged . He hires Golstein’s Uncle to investigate then he decides he like being engaged to Heather priceless
We are both tired go and see Joan an pay June Jill come round to see Mary
Scrabble today I win and gets just 400. perhaps Mary might win tomorrow.


Lise Sinclair
Lise Sinclair, who has died aged 42, was a poet, musician and cultural ambassador for Fair Isle, the most remote inhabited island in Britain.

Lise Sinclair Photo: DAVID GARDNER
11:30AM BST 27 Aug 2013
Once described by Robert Louis Stevenson as an “unhomely, rugged turret-top of submarine sierras”, Fair Isle lies roughly midway between Shetland and Orkney, bounded by sheer cliffs that rise to more than 600ft on the west coast. The tiny airstrip is frequently a nesting place for Great and Arctic skuas, and approach by plane or ferry is often threatened by the fast-changing weather conditions.
Though the human population totalled around 400 at the dawn of the 20th century (the community surviving through fishing, knitting and crofting), numbers fell into decline with the rise of industrial fishing. Today its 70-odd inhabitants reside mostly in traditional crofts built on the more fertile southern third of the island, the whole of which is just three miles long by one-and-a-half miles wide.
As such, Frideray, Lise Sinclair’s harmony group comprised of family members, made up one-tenth of the island’s population. Taking their name from an old Norse word for “Fair Isle”, the band performed locally and in Scotland, with national appearances at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival. Their debut album, Across the Waters (2003), was mostly performed a cappella, Lise’s uncle Stewart accompanying her on the accordion while she took to the piano for the final solo track, Day Dawn.
Much of Lise Sinclair’s own work was performed in her native Shetland dialect, itself closely influenced by the rugged tones of the Scandinavian languages. The poignancy of her voice, described by one reviewer as “both earthy and ethereal”, soon won her admirers beyond the Shetlands, and two years after the release of Across the Waters she began a working association with the Icelandic writer and songwriter Aoalsteinn Asberg Sigurdsson.
With the jazz musician Ástvaldur Traustason, Scottish mouth-organ player Gerry Cambridge, and Lithuanian bass guitarist Gintaras Grajauskas, they formed a poetry and music group called The Berserkers, recording an album, Under the Evening Sky, in Reykjavik in 2008.
Translations of Lise Sinclair’s solo lyrics have appeared in Estonian, Latvian, Icelandic and Norwegian, and in 2009 her song Empty Ocean, a lament for the dwindling fishing community of Fair Isle, was the basis for a broadcast on BBC Radio.
Born in Shetland on March 4 1971, Lise Sinclair attended Fair Isle’s primary school — where the pupil headcount seldom reaches double figures — before leaving home for hostel accommodation and secondary school in Lerwick, the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands.
After studying at the Glasgow College of Art she returned to Fair Isle and with a fellow islander set up a business making felt and producing waistcoats. She was the school’s music teacher and worked on the local newspaper, the Fair Isle Times, written in part by the school pupils and sold through the community’s shop.
Her poetry pamphlet Here was published in 2006, and the following year she released her solo album Ivver Entrancin Wis, a collection of poems set to music, including cello, harp, viola and voice.
In 2012 she and Sigurdsson assembled a band of musicians from the Northern Isles and Ireland to perform A Time to Keep, inspired by the work of the Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown. Blending vocal harmonies with traditional Scottish instruments — fiddle, mandolin and accordion — and incorporating elements of Icelandic jazz, A Time to Keep had its debut performance in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, the site of Mackay Brown’s funeral service 16 years previously.
Lise Sinclair died in a Glasgow hospital, where she had been receiving treatment for a brain tumour.
She married, in 1991, Ian Best, a traditional boat builder: he survives her with their four children.
Lise Sinclair, born March 4 1971, died August 4 2013


Your editorial (August 26) regarding the failure of the retiring chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, to address issues of diversity within the Jewish community highlights the challenge faced by any leader seeking to represent the diversity of views, religious or otherwise, in our increasingly fragmented society. It also points to a breach of one of the most fundamental teachings of the tradition that Lord Sacks claims to have represented for more than two decades. At the heart of the Torah is the oft-(mis-)quoted 2,500-year-old obligation to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The difficulty of fulfilling that commandment was recognised half a millennium later by Rabbi Hillel, one of Judaism’s most compassionate teachers and leaders. He turned it around, suggesting that Judaism’s key teaching could be summarised as “What is hateful to you, do not do to another.”
That is a guiding principle that would do well to be placed at the top of the manifesto of any would-be leader, whomever or whatever they purport to represent. Its absence from the language, attitude and behaviour of so many who claim to speak on behalf of the many diverse interests and groups in our world, Jewish or otherwise, bodes ill for the future of the human race that, in so many areas of its precarious existence, cries out for compassionate and visionary leadership.
Rabbi Pete Tobias
The Liberal Synagogue Elstree
•  Lord Sacks has a lot more to explain than “why the dignity of difference does not also mean the dignity of diversity”. On Sunday he told the BBC that society is “losing the plot” as it becomes more secular. And in a 15 June Spectator article he wrote: “Unless we rediscover religion, our civilisation is in peril.” But which religion? Remarkably, given that he has “no desire to convert others to [his] religious beliefs”, it appears any is preferable to secularism, even though adherence to Christianity or Islam implies ipso facto that all preceding faiths are no longer The Way. He must also explain why it is only since the Enlightenment that we have seen the abolition of slavery and child labour, the establishment of universal education, healthcare and social security, and the drafting of anti-discrimination legislation – none of which were present as recently as 500 years ago when the only secularists around were either in the closet or being burnt at the stake.
Simon Platman
•  Anyone in the same job for over 20 years will make mistakes, how much more so in a role as closely scrutinised as chief rabbi. Sacks has acknowledged remorse for the Gryn affairs of 1996. His appeal is to Jews beyond his home constituency of the Orthodox United Synagogue, across the religious spectrum. Many Jews, whether they go to an Orthodox, Reform or other synagogue, have been lifted by his pronouncements on the public stage, such as Thought for the Day on the BBC. Beyond the Jewish community, he has been a powerful voice in inter-faith relations, some would say the leading figure. He became the first chief rabbi to address the Lambeth conference, in 2008, and has also become a brilliant exponent of faith on the national and international stage. His intellectual open-mindedness has attracted a very diverse following. Your negative editorial did not reflect all his fantastic accomplishments over 22 years.
Maurice Ostro
In Martin Luther King’s great “I have a dream” speech there is a less well-known challenge to the authorities: “America has given the Negro people a bad cheque which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” That is applicable today in the UK. Our poorest fellow citizens of every ethnic origin, colour or creed have heard the false claim of insufficient funds from all governments since the chaotic financial deregulation of the 1980s started the flow of income and wealth to a grasping minority. There is an e-petition calling on parliament to debate Martin Luther King’s speech and to take steps to ensure that the rise in inequality of income and wealth in the UK is reversed: epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/53579.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• I have a dream that we all decide to celebrate Martin Luther King’s speech by launching the first International “I Have a Dream” Month, where people from all countries are invited to share their dreams of a better world, and that a news organisation like the Guardian provides a platform for them. I have already collected over 200, a selection of which can be seen on http://www.dreamthefuture.org.uk. Surely there are many Guardian readers who will dare to dream?
Marion McCartney
Whatstandwell, Derbyshire

Once again we read about “historical sex offences” (Davidson faces no further action on alleged offences, says CPS, 22 August). This muddies the waters and serves to make the crime sound less serious; I have yet to read about a “historic murder charge”. When does an offence become historic and who decides? Sexual offences are sexual offences whenever they were committed (just ask the victims) and the passage of time is irrelevant.
Edwina Rowling
Ditchling, East Sussex
•  While the majority of coverage of the Notting Hill carnival focuses on issues of criminality, I was disappointed to see that the Guardian had jumped on the same float and devoted an entire page of its Saturday edition (Report, 24 August) to the use of specially trained face recognition officers at the carnival.
Kerrie Devanney
•  A Skegness Tory councillor, no doubt meaning well, says: “We’ve got all the big shops, Morrisons, Tesco, McDonald’s. Burger King’s just moved in. So you think to yourself, if they are coming, we can’t be doing too bad. Then this hits you straight between the eyes” (Seaside towns feel the chill wind of deprivation, 22 August). Where to begin?
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany
•  ”Man guns down dozens in another US school shooting” would doubtless have made headlines around the world. “Woman diverts killer from school shooting by talking” is obviously less newsworthy (An act of heroism shows us what’s missing from politics, 26 August).
Gill Beckett
Skipton, North Yorkshire
• Are we to be subjected yet again this year to a media overload on another anachronistic birth (Panda pause: Zoo prepares for possible birth, 27 August)?
Jenny Fleet
Bridport, Dorset
•  Ed Miliband stood up to and took on the mighty Rupert Murdoch – not the action of a weak leader. I suggest Michael Gove looks to the weakness in his own leader who is being pushed further and further to the right by his own backbenchers (Miliband worse Labour leader than Kinnock, says Gove, 27 August).
Janet Roberts
Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

With the Proms in their 119th year, I suggest it is time that recognition be given to Sir Edgar Speyer, the American-born philanthropist who more than a century ago saved the Proms from extinction.
While the BBC credits Robert Newman with launching the Proms, it omits to mention that when Newman went bankrupt in 1902, Speyer immediately came to the rescue. He reconstituted the Queen’s Hall Orchestra as a limited company under himself as chairman and subsidised the Proms from his own pocket to the annual tune of £2,000 – at least £200,000 in today’s values – offering season tickets at an average price of fourpence a night. He also professionalised the orchestra, recruiting new members and broadening and modernising the repertoire. His proteges included Elgar, Debussy and Richard Strauss, whose works were premiered at the Proms.
Speyer, a naturalised British subject who also bankrolled the London underground and Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic, personified one of the minor tragedies of the war through his German background and connections. In 1921, after a controversial judicial inquiry found him guilty of disloyalty, he was stripped of his British citizenship and membership of the privy council. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC has said that in the Speyer case the legal system “not merely failed one prominent citizen but blotted its own copybook”.
In August 1914, William Boosey, who owned the head lease on the Queen’s Hall, had given Speyer notice to quit, denounced him in the national press as a “highly placed spy” and unleashed a prolonged and unscrupulous campaign against him, in consequence of which Speyer took refuge in the US in May 1915.
Elgar acknowledged to Speyer “the indebtedness of the English people to you”. Plainly put, without Speyer no Proms. When the promenaders join in Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory or Parry’s Jerusalem on the last night of the Proms, and rightly garland the bust of Sir Henry Wood, it would be fitting that belated homage also be paid to the memory of Sir Edgar Speyer. Perhaps the 1914 centenary would be an appropriate occasion.
A Lentin

According to your report (Kerry: US will act against Assad, 27 August), “the UK and US have both signalled that they are prepared to act [against Syria] without a UN mandate. International law experts say intervention could be legally justified without a security council resolution under the UN’s ‘responsibility to protect'”. According to another report, Douglas Alexander, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, “did not rule out Labour giving its backing to military intervention without a UN resolution”.
But the 2005 World Summit outcome document in which the heads of state unanimously approved the new international norm of the “responsibility to protect”, subsequently approved by UN security council resolution 1674, states that:
“The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with chapters VI and VIII of the charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the security council, in accordance with the charter … on a case-by-case basis…” [my italics].
Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former US presidential special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson, who co-chaired a working group on the responsibility to protect (R2P), stressed in the group’s report that “R2P’s implementation is to be done in accordance with the UN charter, which means that the central decision-making authority is the UN security council”. 
I wonder who are these “international law experts” who advise, absolutely wrongly, that military action against a sovereign state (other than in self-defence) without the authority of the security council can be justified under R2P? According to another report, “Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, warned that any attack on Syria without security council sanction would be ‘a crude violation of international law’. He compared the situation to the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003”. Lavrov was right on both counts.
Attorney-general Dominic Grieve should act immediately and above all publicly to nip in the bud this dangerous misconception that R2P allows any country to evade the plain requirements of international law as laid down in chapters VI and VII of the UN charter, before its constant repetition is wrongly assumed to legitimise another US-UK act of aggression like that committed against Iraq in 2003.
Brian Barder
• I am aghast that, just as the UN inspectors are visiting the sites of the alleged chemical weapons assault, the US, UK and France have already decided that such weapons were indeed used, and are readying to take unilateral military action. There are three reasons for my concern. The first one is that, coming 10 years after the invasion of Iraq despite the lack of evidence of the existence of WMDs, the west’s current position will likely lead to future requests for access by weapons inspectors to be denied, since they will be deemed a ploy for subsequent military action regardless of their findings.
If an inspection carried out five days after a chemical attack is considered “too late”, it is hard to imagine a situation where it could be launched more quickly, because but for the coincidental presence of the inspectors in Damascus, it would have taken a minimum of a week for them to be assembled in New York or Geneva.
Second, the doctrine of responsibilty to protect does not necessarily involve the use of armed force, which at any rate requires the security council’s approval.
Finally, if, after the report of the inspection team was examined, western countries were still to conclude that Assad was responsible, and the security council were to be paralysed by the use of the veto by one or more of its permanent members, the legal course would be to invoke the 1950 Uniting for Peace resolution in the course of the Korean war which authorises meeting in special session to make recommendations by a two-thirds majority to member states for collective measures, including “the use of armed force to maintain or restore international peace and security”. This resolution was invoked on several occasions during the cold war, including to demand the withdrawal of British, French and Israeli forces from Suez in 1956 and following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979-80. It has rarely been invoked of late, perhaps because of US concern that it could be used whenever it casts its veto on resolutions regarding Israeli actions in Palestine.
Francesc Vendrell
Former UN assistant secretary-general
•  It is predictable that if we bombard Syria there will be casualties that will cause anger among Muslims worldwide. The result will be an increase in hostility to Britain and a consequent increase in the risk of terrorist attacks in this country. It is conceivable that there might be benefits in Syria that would justify this risk, but none has been adduced. Barack Obama made a foolish promise to do something if chemicals were used. To join him in trying to save his face by bombarding Syria is not in Britain’s national interest.
Robert Neild
• Despite the past catastrophic costly interventions in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, William Hague has repeatedly indicated that military intervention could be on the cards in Syria, which would no doubt be welcome news for the British arms industry. But let’s not forget that foreign complicity in supplying arms to Syria has allowed Assad to inflict the current unspeakable inhumane barbarity on the Syrian people.
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire
• You report John Kerry as saying that chemical weapons are “the world’s most heinous weapon”. I don’t wish to minimise the dreadfulness of what has been done in Syria, but we should never lose sight of the fact that the world’s most heinous weapons are nuclear weapons, and that the US government remains prepared to use them if necessary.
Richard Norman
Canterbury, Kent
• The use of chemical weapons is deplorable. But the US has a long and dishonourable history of deploying such weapons. Between 1962 and 1971 the US used 12.1m gallons of Agent Orange and around 20 million gallons of other herbicides during the Vietnam war. The US has also used depleted uranium (DU) in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. A report published by a Dutch peace group earlier this year notes that there are still 300 sites in Iraq contaminated by DU, which will cost $30m to clean up. DU contamination has resulted in an increase in cancers and birth defects in the local population. So how credible is the US’s reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons?
Sasha Simic
• Why is money always found for wars abroad and not enough found to care for our own people? How can we ever think of gathering resources for another little-understood conflict, when so many Britons are hungry, our healthcare is threatened and our education system is being trashed? Please let’s stop parading on the world stage like wound-up tin soldiers who don’t know when or how to stop.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

Barack Obama is disingenuous to say he would have reviewed the practices of telephony surveillance had Edward Snowden not blown the whistle (NSA review promised, 16 August). Our protectors have demonstrated time and time again that they will cynically exploit legal loopholes to achieve extreme goals not originally envisaged by lawmakers. This has been the case in the questionable legality of the Prism programme and it is entirely appropriate for it to be scrutinised as carefully as it is now. While many people might not be concerned, the telephony metadata are themselves so private that it should be a citizen’s right to know by which authority they have been collected.
In the case of America’s Guantánamo tortured detainees or Australia’s spurned asylum seekers, both governments have cynically tried to convince us that the victims cannot appeal to basic legal rights because they are marooned on excised territories. Doublethink aside, we are told to accept that the ends justify the means.
But we must be allowed to know what those means are before casting judgment. The government should not be an authority we tolerate or quietly evade, but something that represents our values, and can be relied upon to treat us by agreed-upon rules. Snowden and Bradley Manning both knowingly broke their country’s laws and will suffer predictable consequences. They might not be patriots in Obama’s dictionary, but they truly have martyred themselves for the rights of citizens to keep their state accountable.
Mic Cavazzini
Sydney, Australia
The teaching of history
Colm Tóibín writes a spirited defence of the necessity of teaching history, and in particular the competing-narrative view of history, in schools (No more grand historical narratives, 16 August). I was interested and impressed, but he suddenly lost all my sympathy when he declared that such study was more important to students “than algebra, say, or adding two and two”.
As a scientist and a published historian, I feel entitled to object. Even in a place where history is present as much as Ireland, making sound economic transactions requires more than adding one and one.
When the consumer is faced with figures about the efficacies of medical treatments, the ability to do basic algebra and to understand statistics enables far better decisions to be made. Likewise for voters to assess claims about immigration or foreign aid.
These elementary mathematical skills should not to be compared with the ability to “think sceptically and creatively about the past” in the context of the Easter rebellion. Rather, they should be compared with having the basic historical knowledge without which students would not know that the 1916 rebellion took place in the middle of the first world war. That is, assuming that they can add two and two.
Howard Wiseman
Brisbane, Australia
• In discussing “history”, Colm Tóibín questions recent topics in education. My “history” courses from 1940 to 1947 progressively taught from prehistoric times through European conquests to 18th-century European quarrels. Of diminishing interest, this subject ceased, thankfully, to be a requirement for matriculation.
In school, “history” was (still is?) subject to the machinations of politicians. Thanks to good libraries, I discovered the achievements of Watt, Brunel and other giants who determined our civilisation.
Why were these not taught as “history”? It is not just that Henry Ford declaimed “History is bunk”, but rather that its teachers were technologically ignorant.
Get real, you teachers: teach how Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain made the world in which we live.
Jack Palmer
Watson, ACT, Australia
The fight for gay rights
Stand your ground, young Russians (Gay Russian teens live in fear, 16 August). In 1988 Hobart city council (HCC) banned a market stall set up by the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group to gather signatures petitioning for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Over the next seven weeks, 130 people were arrested and charged with trespass for crossing the infamous “yellow line” around the stall. HCC then ordered the arrest of anyone found in the Salamanca Market precinct who was a known homosexual, or who was in possession of a copy of the petition. Protests and arrests proliferated. The ban was reversed later that year.
Homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Tasmania in 1997. In 2008 HCC made a public apology and commissioned Justy Phillips to create a commemorative artwork near the site of the original stall. It simply reads: “Forgive me for not holding you in my arms.”
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Island is much too crowded
After decades of agreeing with almost every word that Polly Toynbee has written, I find myself in utter disagreement (Britain’s booming birthrate, 16 August). Just how many is too many on such a tiny island?
This argument about the need for young workers to support the increasing numbers of the old must come from people who have not set foot in a manufacturing plant, refinery etc for decades. It takes a fraction of the number of employees necessary even 25 years ago.
Has Toynbee not seen the unemployment figures for youth across Europe? The jobs are not there and they are not coming back – are they all going to work in retail or healthcare? Certainly you could fit a few million more in the UK as long as you remove the few remaining trees, build on the last of the open spaces, kill off the last of the wild animals and push up the greenhouse gases a bit more. But is that a life or the life of a battery hen?
Tony Taylor
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• In Britain’s booming birthrate, Polly Toynbee wrote “All this looks almost unequivocally good news for the future … if the country makes the right choices” and “if we seize the opportunity to plan well”. So Dr Pangloss has joined the camp of the progressive-minded?
Is she aware of the inconvenient truth that the UK’s 2012 balance of payments deficit was a mere $92bn? Is she aware that of this the deficit on the import and export of goods alone was $168bn? The only thing we appear to be self-sufficient in, in Britain, is taking in each other’s washing.
Every new mouth in Britain requires imports, regardless of whether the mouth belongs to someone making something for export or working in ever-improving social services. Most adult new mouths will want a car, housing, water, electricity, food. Where will we put the cars and the new houses? Where will the water come from, the fuel to generate the electricity? Where will the money for food imports come from? How many of the adult new mouths will want to send their wages back to the countries they come from? How many people emigrating to avoid greater and greater overcrowding in Britain will choose to remove their capital from the UK, and draw their UK pensions overseas?
Choices, choices, choices. But of course, if you’re progressive-minded it’s easy to make the right choices, to plan your way out of any minor difficulties like this.
Don Montague
Sainte-Innocence, France
We need more Marxism
John Simpson, in New leader Xi Jinping opens door to reform in China, 16 August, writes of Marxism-Leninism in a disparaging way that I find unacceptable. Marx and Lenin cared about the poor, they cared about injustice and they would care about the way that capitalism is destroying the world: they do not deserve such perfidious treatment. It is true that the tone in which he writes is very much in tune with what is to be found in the media, but let us remind ourselves that the media are owned by the very class that Marx and Lenin would have liked to remove from power.
We need more, not less, Marxism-Leninism. Climate change provides evidence that we need it yesterday.
Ken Ranney
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Prince is not just any baby
As a big fan of Steve Bell’s work, I feel David Stieber (Reply, 16 August) has misunderstood the intent of the Prince George cartoon. It’s not about this individual baby, or whether he will be a nice or nasty person when he grows up; it’s about the institution he is born to represent.
The same issue includes a report on his grandfather’s probable lobbying of government (Prince’s veto on laws to be examined by parliament): a man whose estate is not subject to inheritance tax. His great-grandmother’s estates have greatly increased in value in the past financial year, while his parents’ palace home has nevertheless been recently refurbished at taxpayers’ expense. All these privileged circumstances are more than sufficient justification for Bell’s cartoons. Thank goodness for at least a drop of critical intent!
Orlaith Kelly
Cordoba, Spain
What it’s like to die
Professor Anil Seth wonders what it is like to die (23 August). While there have been numerous reports of what people claim to have experienced, my preference is for Paul Simon’s version, as expressed in American Tune:
And I dreamed I was dying / I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly /And looking back down at me / Smiling reassuringly / I dreamed I was flying.
Can there be a more blissful way to leave this world?
Shmaiel Nona
Burradoo, NSW, Australia
• I never knew. When a campsite is shut because of the plague, it is “shuttered” (9 August).
Simon Rice
Randwick, NSW, Australia
• If the CIA is itching for another pretext for warring (16 August) to play “the mighty Wurlitzer” and test out their muscles and gizmos, may I suggest invading the Duchy of Grand Fenwick or Freedonia (Duck Soup) to punish them for their impudence and mirth. Or maybe the Lilliputians are getting uppity again.
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US


We have been persuaded by our politicians that the wars in the Middle East are in defence of “freedom” and “democracy”. They are not. They are sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shias, a conflict that has been going on for about 1,300 years. We should know about sectarian wars from the Catholic against Protestant wars – they tend be the most vicious, in which no holds are barred.
This should be obvious from the support given by the most authoritarian regime, Saudi Arabia, to the Syrian rebels supposedly fighting for “democracy”.  Wrong – they get the support because they are Sunnis, fighting the hated Syrian Shias, who are supported by none other than  Shia Iran.
This is not our quarrel – we should step aside and stay out, giving only humanitarian help to both sides. Furthermore supporting one side against the other will only encourage terrorist attacks against us. Did we learn nothing from Iraq?
John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire
If the UN inspectors’ results confirm evidence of a chemical attack, and if the footage of children cowering in fear and dying from gas last week is verified and not proved a cruel hoax, then war on Syria will be justified beyond reproach. 
Let those arguing the opposite case go and live in the suburbs of Damascus already reduced to rubble and under daily threat of sarin poisoning. What Cameron, Obama, Kerry and their western partners are doing is wholly right.   
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
There is no moral dilemma attached to dealing with Assad in Syria. A brutal regime is committing despicable acts against it’s own infant children, and should be stopped. Furthermore, those actions are contributing to an arc of instability from the Pillars of Hercules to the Sea of Marmara that will ultimately threaten the southern frontiers of Europe.
The real dilemma is that years of disarmament have left even Britain and France all but helpless in the face of these horrors – and having finally got the kind of US President the liberal elite of Europe have always dreamed of, that President is now largely indifferent to our futile whingeing.
We are beginning to reap what we have sown, and it will certainly get much worse unless we start to take serious responsibility for our own defence.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Why does not the massacre of a thousand Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the Egyptian military not merit the “humanitarian intervention” compassionately espoused by William Hague in Syria?
Both atrocities targeted innocent civilians and the number of victims was approximately equal. Syria is embroiled in a brutal civil war while Egypt could be on the cusp of one.   
Perhaps the key lies in Egypt’s usefulness as a strategic Western ally, which must politically justify the continuation of military aid to the generals, in spite of the fact that their recent actions clearly constituted a coup. Assad is not a Western ally and clearly does not support Western interests in the region.
Unfortunately, while the West uses such selective criteria to deal with human rights abuses in the Middle East, it should not be surprising that its good faith and motives are constantly in question.
Anna Romano, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
The common denominator in every atrocity is that individuals acted with impunity. To stop atrocities you have to stop individuals believing that they will never be accountable.
Bombing infrastructure associated with regimes that such individuals are part of will not stop atrocities. The UN declaring that there will be no safe haven and investing in capturing and bringing all such individuals to justice might. It is better to fragment a regime by capturing, alive, the perpetrators, than consolidate it by targeting the regime as a whole.
Jon Hawksley, London EC1
I find the political outpourings of outrage over possible chemical weapons attacks in Syria just nauseating. It is also a shameless disregard for the many more casualties of conventional weaponry. What difference is there between being gassed and being shot or bombarded to obliteration?
We must above all not take sides in this dispute. The proper humanitarian response would be to channel all available funds into countries hosting the tragic refugees from the madness. Adding to the killing will not help them.
Robert Dow, Tranent, East Lothian
John Kerry is correct, the death of 500 by chemical attack is of course morally obscene. However, does he think 500,000 dead by US conventional weapons moral? After Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq the world being lectured by the US on morals is obscene.
Gary Cheshire, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
Overwork, then and now
Your report (21 August) about the death of a bank intern who was found dead after allegedly working for 72 hours without sleep reminded me of the days I worked as a local government social worker in the 1960s.
Part of my contract was that I was on 24-hour call with a telephone at home provided by the department. I paid for my private calls. My telephone number one year was in the local telephone book in four places, including emergency welfare inquiries, mental health, and social services emergency after-hours number. We had no clerical back-up staff and carried out additional duties nowadays dealt with by other departments and organizations.
I remember, for instance, working three days and two nights without sleep to deal with day-to-day work and out-of-hours emergencies. Even if one was out all night on casework emergencies – seeing relatives of suicide victims, sectioning, child care, homeless families, burials and cremations of destitute people – one still had to sign on for work at 8.30 that morning or one would be on the carpet with the Director of Social Services or his deputy.
Even when I was out all night – perhaps because of families being made homeless by a fire, or sectioning someone and taking the children into care – one still was paid no overtime or time off in lieu. 
I can remember once I decided to claim for two lots of medication I had to buy from the chemist to disinfest myself because of scabies I had caught from a down-and-out elderly homeless client I had helped. I was told I could not claim because it was “an occupational hazard”. Those were the days!
Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff
A new ally for Gibraltar
Would it not make sense for Gibraltar and Cornwall to form a political union within the UK?
Gibraltar is already part of the Cornish European constituency. We have similar economic issues, both over-reliant on tourism. Also both share a cultural legacy. West Cornwall was invaded by Spain.
A light-hearted letter but a serious suggestion for both under-recognised regions. We are both not English but British Europeans. 
Cornwall should also seek greater ties with our cousins in Galicia and Brittany, as a bridge between the “little Englander” attitude of our big neighbour and a true European identity of the Celtic regions, which Madrid should find less confrontational.
Tim James, Penzance
Losing the religious plot
Rabbi Sachs joins up all the wrong dots in his advocacy of religious over secular (“Lack of faith means Britain is ‘losing the plot’ says Lord Sacks”, 26 August). In a tangle of logical and historical non-sequiturs, he conflates secular society with individualism and religious faith with mutual trust and good faith generally.
You might think there had never been religious war and persecution, or co-operation and community based on overlapping interests and common sense.
Greg Wilkinson, Swansea
According to the outgoing Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, society is “losing the plot” as it becomes more secular and less trusting. Lord Sacks should choose his words more carefully, as atheists have long held that the basis of all religion is nothing more than a plot to control humankind. That is a plot worth losing, sir.
Henry Page, Newhaven, East Sussex
Brunel’s worries
Recent exchanges about Brunel’s attempts to produce a railway driven by atmospheric pressure have, as on all such occasions, mistaken the problem he was trying to solve. People cannot remember or cannot imagine the effect on clothing of soot-flakes that could enter carriages from steam-engines. (I remember hearing of a bride’s going-away outfit soiled beyond wearing by them.) In this case, as in the case of the 7ft gauge, Brunel’s main interest was the comfort and convenience of passengers.
Tony Pointon, Portsmouth
Mystic hunt
“Setting off with a rifle to kill a deer is an intense communion with nature and landscape,” writes Bruce Anderson (27 August), seeing “mysticism” in the process, for good measure. What self-deluding claptrap! “I get a kick out of killing living things with firearms,” is presumably the sentiment he was trying to get across.
Peter Griggs, London SW16
Reliable energy
Bill Smith (letter, 26 August) writes: “The problem with renewable energy is that we cannot control the supply.”  Yes, that pesky sun and those unreliable tides – much better to rely on something like gas that will never run out and is available on demand.
Edward Collier, Cheltenham


Middle East politics is complex and dysfunctional. We must expect cool thinking, diplomacy and political decisions designed to maintain stability
Sir, The Damascus chemical attacks are deplorable but form no sound basis for the development of a credible foreign policy in Syria and the Middle East. The current threatened intervention feels emotive, lacks real statesmanship and carries high risk.
British foreign policy has been, yes, ponderous and often ruthless, but always in our national interest, and it has of course included at least tacit support for “evil dictators”, including Saddam Hussein and the Syrian regime. Our failure to achieve real stability in Iraq is a warning against quasi-moralistic interventions on the international stage. And do we really want to turn over the governance of Syria to the current “opposition”, some factions of which are already conducting systematic persecution of the Christian minority?
Middle East politics is already complex and dysfunctional, with an overall gravitation towards Islamism, a situation for which the European powers and the US are largely responsible. David Cameron’s hasty “de-recognition” of the established Syrian head of state, however immoral, was ill advised, and leaves us vulnerable to charges of double standards. We have a right now to expect cool thinking, real diplomacy, and political decisions designed to maintain stability in the medium and long term.
Dr Philip Barber
Didsbury, Manchester
Sir, The apparent rush by Britain and the US to respond militarily, without the backing of the Security Council, to the shocking events in Syria, will deeply concern those who believe that Western intervention in Iraq caused far more misery than existed before. There is nothing to suggest that a bombing campaign will stop the fighting or help to bring about a political settlement — quite the reverse. Recent experience shows that intervention in Islamic countries by non-Muslim forces only makes matters worse — there is huge potential for the situation in Syria to deterioriate. The most justifiable use of military power is in the defence of one’s homeland; everything else is fraught with danger and usually a mistake.
Stephen Porter
London NW6
Sir, If we do use cruise missiles to attack Syria, does Mr Cameron know how many people they will kill? Can he be sure they all deserve to be killed? None of our citizens has been killed by the Syrian government. Can he be sure that these missiles will not disperse chemical agents? Does he know how Assad or his allies will respond? Does self-righteousness constitute the right motive for British foreign policy? Why don’t the premiers of Canada and Australia feel obliged to attack Syria? There are many questions for the Prime Minister to answer before he acts.
Professor Alan Sked
Sir, No one will benefit from military action over Syria. The West will alienate all sides, besides making it more difficult for the Christians in the battle zones now and leaving ourselves the target of retaliation. Better to bring charges against President Assad and, where there is evidence, his opponents for war crimes and put a price on their heads.
We cannot interfere in a civil and religious war, but in the name of humanity and with the yardstick of Christian values acceptable worldwide we can eventually bring the perpetrators of massacres to justice.
The Rev Toddy Hoare
Holton, Oxon

Campaigners urge the Government to help disabled and older people to use Crossrail with the same freedom and independence as everyone else
Sir, It is a year since the start of the Paralympic Games — an event which, the Government pledged, would have a lasting legacy for disabled people.
However, Crossrail, due to open in 2019 and London’s biggest engineering project, costing £14.5 billion of public money, will not be fully accessible to disabled people. Seven stations along the line — Hanwell, Seven Kings, Manor Park, Maryland, Iver, Taplow and Langley — will not be step free.
Transport is crucial to disabled and older people’s ability to work and to participate fully in public life.
Leonard Cheshire Disability found that 23 per cent of disabled people had turned down a job because of inaccessible transport, and a further 27 per cent turned down an interview.
The Mayor of London and the Government have said merely that they are “looking into additional opportunities” to improve access to Crossrail. Transport for All estimates that making Crossrail accessible to everyone would cost only 0.2 per cent of its budget.
This is a huge opportunity to create a truly public transport system that the UK can be proud of, and transport campaigners will gather at Crossrail offices tomorrow morning to urge the Government to seize this chance to help disabled and older people to use Crossrail with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.
Faryal Velmi (Transport for All); Kirsten Hearn (Inclusion London); Linda Burnip & Debbie Jolly (Disabled People Against Cuts); Stephen Joseph (Campaign for Better Transport); Sam Mauger (Age UK London); Emily Holzhausen (Carers UK); Sue Bott (Disability Rights UK); Fazilet Hadi (RNIB); Patricia Gordon (MS Society); Val Fone (Action and Rights of Disabled People in Newham)

Compared with the costs of maintaining existing lines, HS2 is good value for money, but should we be setting our sights somewhat higher?
Sir, Alistair Darling quoted the latest inflated figure for the cost of HS2 (Aug 23) and compared it with the amount spent on all transport capital projects of £9 billion per year. This is comparing an obviously large sum with a smaller amount and not comparing the periods to which they relate.
HS2 is a 20-year project. Inevitably actual expenditure rises with inflation over such a period, but more than twice the worst estimate of the cost of HS2 is already being spent on the conventional railway, to counter those who say the money should be spent on existing lines. The projected expenditure on railway projects other than HS2 for 2014-19 is £37 billion. This can hardly be described as starving the existing network of investment.
The best alternative suggestion I have seen is that HS2 should be for freight rather than a high-speed passenger line.
John Wylde
Integrated Transport Study Group
Sir, My problem with HS2 is the lack of ambition. Would it not have more support — and be less subject to cost escalation — on a more challenging timescale? When US entrepreneurs are planning a two-person Mars flyby mission for launch on January 5, 2018, and human settlement on Mars starting in 2023, is getting HS2 to Leeds by 2030 really the best the nation of Brunel can aspire to?
Ken Pounds
Professor of Space Physics
University of Leicester

The style nowadays is far preferable to the time when the only way to get one’s jeans done up was to lie down and use a coat hanger for the zip
Sir, The relaxed “boyfriend fit” of jeans is to be celebrated (letter, Aug 26). When I was a teenager the skinny jean fit was the only style to wear. It meant starving yourself into a pair so tight that you had to lie on the floor and use the hook of a coat hanger to do up the zip. This led to thousands of girls becoming obsessed by dieting, with distorted posture and breathing due to the immobility of their pelvises and lumbar vertebrae. Thank heaven for the individualistic dressing of our children and the invention of Lycra.
J. Messenger
Knotty Green, Bucks

From improper fractions, via A-level history, to the use of vowels in English, these readers share their memories of the lessons that stayed
Sir, My clearest recollection of long-ago maths lessons is my teacher explaining that arithmetic is largely the proper use of improper fractions and that simultaneous equations are a matter of trial and error, there being one more trial than the number of errors.
Aline Templeton
Sir, Joan Olivier’s A-level history teacher peddled a pervasive Gladstonian legend as fact (letter, Aug 26). In its most common form the tale of the Grand Old Man’s hot-water bottle provided him not with early morning tea but with soup at 2am. This arose from a chance remark of Gladstone’s, cherished and embellished by his admirers, that soup retained heat longer than water.
Lord Lexden
London SW1
Sir, Some 60 years ago my English master, making some point about the need for vowels in words, wrote a long sequence of random consonants on the blackboard. He said that none of us would remember those letters the following week. Being an awkward child I vowed to do so. They now prove immensely useful as the basis for various computer passwords.
Andy Alsop
Saint Ola, Orkney
Sir, After A levels in 1958, and no doubt preparing us for life after school, the headmaster gave us a lesson on how to read The Times. I am reminded of it every morning.
David Orr
Chilfrome, Dorset


SIR – Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (Notebook, August 23) is trying to make us believe that it is impossible for any baker outside France to produce a baguette of equal quality to those produced in France. As she says herself “all baguettes differ depending on the baker”. That applies to England just as much as it does to France.
She should spend a little more time in central London, or even in Reigate, where I live. With a little exploration, she would find freshly baked baguettes of at least equal quality to any she buys in Paris.
Anne–Elisabeth Moutet is not expecting an American or British baker to win the Best Baguette in Paris competition any time soon. She is probably also in denial that English sparkling wine has recently beaten all the major French Champagne houses in blind-tasting competitions, and more Michelin stars have been awarded to restaurants in London than in Paris.
Phillip Plumb
Reigate, Surrey

SIR – The case for additional rail capacity is well made (Comment, August 26); that it must be high-speed rail only is not clear.
If the Government is so insistent that the economic case bears scrutiny, then it should let HS2 proceed in the same way that it insists that aviation infrastructure is funded: that industry has to pay its own way and bear all the main infrastructure costs itself without Treasury funding.
So, if the rail passenger forecast demand is so high, and people are willing to pay a 30 per cent premium on the standard fares, the rail industry should have no problem in obtaining the investment funds it needs from external sources, and Treasury spending would be reduced by £80 billion.
Mike Carrivick
Wokingham, Berkshire
Related Articles
It’s not just the French who can bake great bread
27 Aug 2013
SIR – While billions of pounds have been spent on the rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel, and even more money on Crossrail, without a murmur of protest, as soon as the Government wants to improve rail links to the North a riot of objections breaks out.
Donald A Wroe
Ulverston, Cumbria
SIR – Before track is laid, underground pipework to carry surplus water from the North to southern reservoirs should be installed. Many years ago, Thames Water proposed that each motorway should carry a water main under the central reservation but, alas, this suggestion was rejected.
Tony Newport
Ashford, Kent
SIR – To fund HS2, money will be taken from the pockets of people in Wales and the West Country, and to what advantage?
I would like to see a map of Britain shaded into areas of maximum advantage and no advantage, so that decisions about the viability of this project could be reached by the entire taxpaying population.
Clive Gunter
Wellesbourne, Warwickshire
SIR – What businesses, such as my own, now require is not high-speed rail but fast broadband and telecommunications. My colleague, who frequently travels to and from the North West to our London office, cannot work properly or even complete a telephone call during her rail journey.
By spending the equivalent costs of HS2 on reliable telecommunications and improving existing railway infrastructure, the Government would be doing more to help every voter, including businesses that would supposedly benefit from HS2.
Mark Westaby
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
SIR – As a professor of space physics, my concern with HS2 is the lack of ambition.
When American entrepreneurs are planning a two-person Mars fly-by mission for launch in 2018 and a permanent human settlement starting in 2023, is getting HS2 to Leeds by 2032 really the best we can do?
Ken Pounds
UN Syrian intervention
SIR – Can we really be contemplating an act of aggression on Syria when our military is struggling after being reduced to a barely viable force?
The Syrian situation is dire but the United Nations is supposed to be the agency for international intervention. I have yet to read a suggestion of “blue berets” being deployed in a peacekeeping role to enable a political solution to emerge without appalling bloodshed.
Either the UN is the right agency, and so let us put our energy into making it work, or we are yet again taking on the questionable mantle of global policeman, in which case we need a military capable of fulfilling that role.
Lt Col Charles Holden (Rtd)
Lymington, Hampshire
SIR – Why are William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and President Obama trying to drag us into another war that we cannot afford? It is up to the Arab nations to take the lead in sorting it out. Let’s be European for a change and sit on the fence.
Chris Barmby
Tonbridge, Kent
Soldier’s brave example
SIR – Warrant Officer Class 1 Andy Peat, who has been awarded Denmark’s Anders Lassen Award for “extraordinary courage and determined actions” while in Afghanistan, has given the accompanying £3,000 to the widow of the Danish sergeant he tried to protect (report, August 24).
I wonder if his selflessness will inspire politicians, charity bosses and the BBC hierarchy? Somehow, I doubt it.
Anthony English
Carcassonne, Aude, France
View from the car
SIR – One of the delights of driving to the West Country along the A303 is seeing Stonehenge (Letters, August 26). Every time I pass, it reminds me of when I visited the “stones” with my grandmother.
Burying the road in a tunnel would remove a view of one of the wonders of England from those who drive past it.
Julian Coster
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Charity begins at home
SIR – Like Hilary Aitken (Letters, August 21), I find the idea of sponsoring someone’s “adventure” holiday in the name of charity rather dubious.
My reply is that I will sponsor them if they do not do it, but they donate the costs that would have been involved to their charity. My offer has never been taken up.
Keith Dixon
Aldwick, West Sussex
SIR – Last year, a friend and I did The Rickshaw Run across India and raised over £17,000 for Frank Water. We self-funded the whole trip, so all the money went to putting water filters into remote Indian villages.
I am about to do it again, this time in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK. Once again, we will pay for all expenses, and at the moment we have raised £12,000. Friends are giving a donation to Alzheimer’s Research UK, and are not sponsoring me.
Fiona Millais
Haltwhistle, Northumberland
Slugging it out
SIR – It’s been raining; an army of slugs has been out in force. How do I remove slug (or snail) slime? I have tried various products, without success.
Lorimer Burn
Guildford, Surrey
Time for OAP jurors
SIR – I have lived in the same house for 38 years, but I have never been called upon for jury service (Letters, August 23).
When I was at work, jury service would have been very inconvenient, but when I was forced to take early retirement at the age of 62, I would have been delighted to take part as a juror, especially on a long, complicated case.
We should make more use of pensioners in long trials.
Alan Hughes
Minster-on-Sea, Kent
SIR – As a long-serving magistrate, I beg to differ with Trevor Grove (Letters, August 21), who supports the concept that Justices of the Peace should not retire at 70.
He is correct that most retire with sadness and the knowledge that they are still very competent. But that is exactly how it should be; to soldier on until passing the “sell by date” demonstrates neither wisdom nor sound judgment, both of which are desirable qualities when sitting on the bench.
Jane Sedgman
Kingweston, Somerset
Cycling to music
SIR – Like Jan Manson (Letters, August 26), I witness cycling transgressions daily.
However, I also see that perhaps half of those transgressing are listening to their iPods. I don’t think that any helmet will save them from being crushed by a lorry that they do not hear coming.
Mark Redhead
SIR – It’s not what cyclists wear on their heads that will stop accidents, but what is in their heads. The compulsory wearing of a helmet can lull a cyclist into a false sense of safety.
Leslie Watson
Cheaper festive stamps
SIR – As a consequence of the substantial price increase of second-class stamps, many old and lonely people, for the first time, did not receive Christmas cards last year from long-standing friends and distant relatives.
To help these people, Royal Mail should introduce half-price second-class Christmas stamps for sale. These would be expendable only in the first three weeks of December.
J B Shrive
Holt, Norfolk
Raising money, while simplifying stamp duty
SIR – The case for reform (or abolition) of stamp duty is compelling (Comment, August 24). Unfortunately, the Treasury fears the loss of some or all of the £7 billion that the tax raises. There is a simple answer: George Osborne increased capital gains tax from 18 per cent to 28 per cent in 2010, and the income from it fell by nearly £5 billion. Reversal of that move should help plug any gap resulting from the simplification of stamp duty.
These changes would liberate the property market without a penny being spent in taxpayer-funded sweeteners for housebuyers.
Geoff Dees
Alford, Lincolnshire
SIR – Surely, stamp duty should be made a seller’s obligation and not a buyer’s? This would remove the obligation from first-time buyers and help stimulate the property market. People usually have at least a little bit more money when they sell – unless they are in negative equity, for which some allowance could be made.
Most people make some money on the resale of their property, and, if it is their main residence, they are exempted from capital gains on the profit. The number of taxable transactions would remain roughly the same for tax purposes. Additionally, the bands for taxation should be more graduated than the present limits.
Arthur Stuttard
Burnley, Lancashire
SIR – The worst aspect of the current stamp duty system is not necessarily the rates of duty themselves but the fact that, when one passes from one duty band to the next, duty is levied at the higher rate on the whole amount, and not merely on the excess.
David Smith
Muir of Ord, Ross-shire

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, said on RTÉ radio that he did not believe the country was full of cavemen (people who don’t watch television). Therefore, everyone should make a contribution to funding it.
The best thing that could happen in this country would be if the television service went on the blink, preferably permanently.
People might be forced to think, rather than accept spoon-fed dollops of predigested pap. Heaven forbid, they might actually read.
How very inconvenient that would be for the cavemen (of all genders) who run this country. – Yours, etc,
Ceannt Fort,
Mount Brown,
Dublin 8.
Sir, – What kind of quiescent permissive bunch does Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte think we are? He says there are no “cavemen” in Ireland any more, therefore everyone should pay the new broadcasting charge (Breaking News, August 27th). Without offering any explanation, he implies that someone who owns a television and someone who has an iPhone, iPad, or whatever, owes an analogous debt to the State and its broadcasters.
He chooses to ignore that people viewing only on the internet, such as myself, have only a portion of RTÉ available compared to digital subscribers. He also tactfully ignores that RTÉ TV is not freely available to TV owners any more due to digitalisation. Yes, they can pay more for a Saorview-enabled TV. However, internet users do not have this option.
If there was a State programme to provide free broadband everywhere, it would lead to much-enhanced commercial capabilities, increased flow of more accessible information, and more Irish start-up online businesses. I would happily pay a broadcasting charge to support such a plan.
However Mr Rabbitte has thusfar followed the old patterns of pandering to the needs of big business by “caving” in to their lobbying and refusing this option. Instead he looks to further bleed an already pale taxpayer. Between cavemen and outmoded austerity practices, it seems he is watching too much of the History Channel. – Yours, etc,
St Augustine Street,
Sir, – I heard our public servant, Pat Rabbitte, refer to us, non-TV-watching people, as “cavemen”. This is with reference to the broadcasting charge. I object to the insults thrown at me for not watching television on any media. I listen to the radio and subscribe to a weekly newspaper.
If the TD wants me to subsidise other people’s TV, that’s okay. If he wants me to pay the fee for just listening to the radio, that’s also okay. But Mr Rabbitte, please don’t call me a liar or a caveman. – Yours, etc,
Boghall Road,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Bill O’Herlihy and Mary O’Rourke were born about 15 years after the slaying of Michael Collins and the ravages of the brutal Civil War, both of which must inevitably influence their perception of the political landscape, ambition and sense of idealism.
But their advocacy that a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would lead to unprecedented reform and unimpeded progress because the tussle for power between these parties had been removed is delusionary, naive and ignores the profound lessons of recent history. Their scenario would breed political complacency, ignore the need for the country to be internationally competitive and expose us to the devastating consequences of weak and fragmented opposition, as well as weak government, deprived of discipline and rigour. Nothing would be challenged except the incumbency of the leadership in each party by ambitious careerists. Risk would be ignored and ideals based on the highest common factor would quickly be eclipsed by those represented by the lowest expedient common denominator. Standards of accountability would be disregarded and the potential for parish-pump priming and personal aggrandisement would become rife and counterproductive.
The most important lesson of recent history is that our downfall to chronic dependency on the goodwill of strangers has been a derivative of a culture of political complacency whereby there was no effective challenge, no timely expert insights, no alternative options or detailed analysis of the practices, regulation and policies that ruined our country over the preceding decade.
History can potentially inspire political reform and progress. But the historical references that are now most relevant concern the rehabilitation of the country from the demise of the excesses of the Celtic tiger, not the war of almost a century ago and the associated sentiment from which the current generation of voters seem quite emotionally and intellectually detached. – Yours, etc,
Bellevue Avenue,

Sir, – In a very Western style, your Editorial (August 24th) credits the 1925 Geneva convention on chemical weapons for preventing the use of such weapons, in general, since the first World War. You then cite two Arabic countries, Iraq and Syria, as having broken this agreement.
However, I would imagine the millions of Jews, disabled, gypsies, etc, murdered by Zyklon-B during the second World War, might see their own deaths as a “chemical event”. So too might the victims of RAF incendiary bombs, nuclear bombs or Napalm suggest they were no longer in existence due to chemistry.
Morally, the West has managed to differentiate between methods of inflicting death upon civilians. The child victims of drone strikes would have been impressed. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Stephen Collins’s article (Opinion, August 24th) appears to represent one of a growing number of recent attempts to de-legitimise Ireland’s War of Independence. His bold description of the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries as “counter-terror” organisations makes this position even clearer. Without offering any evidence, your correspondent also argues that the “vast majority” of RIC victims in that war were “ordinary Catholics and Protestants”.
Historically, the RIC as a body was involved in the carrying out of Britain’s policy of reprisals against the civilian population from about June 1920, following the arrival of divisional commissioner Lieut Col GBF Smyth from England. And it was the RIC who murdered the democratically-elected lord mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain. Your Editorial (August 26th) on Bloody Sunday 1913, describes the DMP and RIC as a “brutal, partisan police force”.
Another troubling aspect of Stephen Collins’s argument lies in its logically implied dismissal of the sacrifices of the police mutineers of Listowel Barracks in 1920. These policemen resigned their commissions rather than, in their own words “commit murder”. They were followed by an estimated 1,100 of their colleagues who, likewise, sacrificed their livelihoods by resigning in solidarity, over the course of the following few weeks as the news of Smyth’s murderous speech spread through the country.
The emphatic endorsement of the 1918 election results and the now universally-recognised right to live free from colonisation, do not seem to feature in the neo-con thinking articulated by your correspondent. Once again, it seems we are being told that only empires, with their juggernaut killing machines, have an incontestable right to physical force. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Dan O’Brien’s article (Business Opinion, August 23rd) on minimum unit pricing of alcohol ignores the fact that minimum unit pricing strategy targets problem drinkers and adolescents/young adults. These two groups are more likely to drink cheap alcohol. Furthermore, hazardous alcohol consumption among young people is strongly related to disposable income. International scientific research and opinion strongly supports price alterations as a powerful instrument to reduce alcohol health harm.
Minimum pricing would have little or no impact on the vast majority of alcohol consumers in Ireland who drink alcohol in moderation. It would not change the price of a drink in bars and restaurants. It would affect the price paid by the consumer in retail outlets where very cheap alcohol is sold, for example in supermarkets and off-licences.
Any discussion on revenue needs to also take into account the high cost of alcohol harm. The total cost of alcohol harm in Ireland in 2007 was estimated at €3.7 billion. This includes health system costs, crime costs related to alcohol, costs of road traffic accidents and loss of economic output due to absenteeism. Minimum pricing is one of a number of measures which could be introduced to tackle this problem. Price increases have been successful in other jurisdictions. For example, in British Columbia, Canada, an immediate reduction in alcohol-related deaths was noted after price increases came into effect.
As a practising gastroenterologist, I see firsthand the harmful effects of the consumption of cheap alcohol. My colleagues and I increasingly see patients who drink heavily at home after purchasing at a supermarket or off-licence. There is no single solution to the problem of abusive alcohol consumption. However, increasing cost is one important, practical measure to reduce alcohol intake and alcohol health harm. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I recently renewed any elderly relation’s health insurance cover with the State-owned health insurer. A widow of 89, thankfully she continues to be in good health for her age and circumstances.
Imagine my utter amazement, however, on seeing that her policy includes mandatory maternity insurance cover in public and private hospitals, caesarean delivery and home birth cover. Against the background of a proposed 11 per cent increase in premium, I asked the very helpful staff member in VHI to have the maternity cover removed from the policy to save costs, but was advised this is not possible. My relation must continue to pay for maternity cover and, if she were male, the cover would also be required notwithstanding, what would seem to my mind, to be a biologically impossible basis for claiming under the insurance.
I wonder are any of your readers aware of 89-year-old widows or any men giving birth, to justify the costs of what by any standards would be miraculous conceptions. – Yours, etc,
Pottery Road,

Sir, – I noted, with some disquiet, that the Electric Picnic is permitting concert-goers to bring “48 cans per person or less” into the camp-site for the festival weekend. For a three-day event, the full personal allowance equates to 16 cans per day or roughly one per waking hour for the entire weekend – excluding any alcohol bought within the event arena.
Does permitting this level of alcohol consumption accord with sensible drinking practice or promote a pleasant and safe public environment? No, it simply encourages people to drink themselves stupid in the campsites before and/or after drinking in the arena, putting themselves and the rest of us at risk. Following the Swedish House Mafia incident in 2012, alcohol has been banned from Phoenix Park and some other venues for 2013 concerts (outside the arena at least), yet Electric Picnic organisers/promoters seem to think excessive drinking is just part of the fun.
I find it hard to believe the licensing authorities or An Garda Síochána can approve of this . . . and it’s unlikely I’ll be using the campsites. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I don’t know who is responsible for the English version of the text on the revolutionary poster that accompanied Orlando Figes’s review of Mikhail Bulgakov’s diaries and letters (“Manuscripts don’t burn”, August 24th).
However, unless advancing years have severely depleted my once-fluent Russian, the text actually means “A book is nothing other than a person speaking publicly”. It says nothing about the relative significance of books and those who talk about them, as your caption indicates (“Books are nothing, but men who talk about them are everything”) . – Yours, etc,
(Fellow Emeritus, Trinity
College, Dublin),
Dartmouth Square, Dublin 6.
Sir, – Your translation of the Soviet poster used as an illustration for the review of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Diaries and Selected Letters (Weekend Review, August 24th) was linguistically inaccurate and therefore historically misleading. Your translation read: “Books are nothing, but men who talk about them are everything”. An accurate translation would be: “A book is nothing other than a person speaking in public”, or, more colloquially, “A book is just someone speaking in public”. This may indeed imply an oversimplified aesthetic, but the poster is trying to demystify books and open them up to a wider readership, not to say that they don’t matter. A little further research reveals that this was probably not your translation, since the same mistake is found in at least one of your sources (Getty Images). A salutary reminder that apparently reliable sources can be wrong. – Yours, etc,
Gartan Avenue,
Glasnevin, Dublin 9.

Sir, – Fr Con McGillicuddy (August 26th) wrote, with tongue in cheek, that he had a conversation with God regarding the recent survey concerning a poll of students that suggested 37.5 per cent of them did not believe in God. According to a report in The Irish Times last week the former Pope Benedict XVI also had a conversation with God when he was advised to apply for his P45. All very interesting, if a little strange. I do, however, wonder why, when he was serving as cardinal, Prefect of of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and pope over two decades, the same God did not tap him on the shoulder and suggest to him that he should treat the problem of clerical abuse of children as a criminal matter. Perhaps I’m missing something. – Yours, etc,
Braemor Road, Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

* Occasionally I get to teach a group of trainee trainers who are experts in their field and would like to impart their expertise to others. Each time I engage this topic I must cross my fingers and toes, for I am espousing a theory incongruent with my own theories of classroom management and teaching.
Also in this section
We count for nothing in big banking picture
Child more than a digit
Tackle teen alcohol abuse
Let me explain by using an excerpt from the book ‘Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die’ by C and D Heath.
Every move a US soldier makes is preceded by a staggering amount of planning, which can be traced to an original order from the President of the United States. The president orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to accomplish an objective. Then the orders and plans begin to cascade downward, from generals to colonels to captains.
“The trite expression we always use is ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy’,” says Colonel Tom Kolditz, the head of the behavioural sciences division at West Point military academy.
“You may start off trying to fight your plan, but the enemy gets a vote.”
The army’s challenge is akin to writing instructions for a friend to play chess on your behalf, Colonel Kolditz says. He believes that plans are useful, in the sense that they are proof that planning has taken place. The planning process forces people to think through the right issues. But as for the plans themselves, Kolditz says: “They just don’t work on the battlefield.” So, in the 1980s the army adapted its planning process, inventing a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI).
CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end state of an operation. My apologies for using a military example, but I thought the above vignette might elaborate my point. No plan survives the enemy.
The same can be said of inflexible and top-down prescribed curriculums. Good teachers know that no curriculum survives first contact with the students. That is why a curriculum should be focused less on a “bunch o’ facts” and more on teaching the cognitive, thinking and collaborative skills that students will need.
Like the Commander’s Intent that the US army created, we might be better off creating a Teacher’s Intent that keeps the primary objective of school focused on one very clear primary objective – that all people would have the desire to go on learning.
Pat Wallace
* I am not a regular reader of your paper, but while on holiday in London I took a free copy (August 23) from my hotel lobby. What a pleasant surprise!
The brilliant article by Helen Moorhouse on ‘Coronation Street’ struck so many chords. She certainly hit the nail on the head regarding how sleazy it has become.
And David Quinn’s article on persecuted Christians was brave and insightful. If only more journalists in the UK were as aware and not afraid of speaking the truth about an issue that has been largely ignored by all media. It is time to start defending Christianity around the world. I hope David’s article will begin that process.
Well done on producing a really interesting and enlightening newspaper. I shall be reading it again.
Michael Low
Address with Editor
* Eamon Gilmore has been very active and very visible in promoting the right to protest and to fair treatment of Irish citizens in Egypt.
While I have no reason to criticise this, I can’t help comparing the severity of what has been happening in Egypt to the extreme suffering of Syrian anti-government protesters that has been going on for several years.
I’m sure there are Irish Syrians who have been victims of the Assad regime, or whose families are enduring violence and extreme hardship in Syria.
I know that the political situation in Syria is very complicated, as is that in Egypt, but this is no excuse for the EU and the UN not to intervene in the Syrian conflict to protect civilians.
One excuse I’ve heard for not intervening is that Islamic terror groups are involved on the anti-government side. We should know from our own history that the longer you ignore injustice, the more young people will be driven into the arms of terrorist groups.
I am calling on Eamon Gilmore and the rest of the Government to do all they can in the EU and the international community to promote the removal of the Assad regime and a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria.
Mary Chance
Milltown, Dublin
* Reading John Kenny’s list of achievements attributed to Michael McDowell, I thought I was back in Charlie Haughey’s time when the great man’s achievements were paraded daily by his spindoctors (Letters, August 23).
Why do we have to read florid tributes about famous people who were merely doing what they were paid to do?
Anthony Leavy
* All this hullabaloo about Fianna Fail and Fine Gael uniting must be like the Promised Land for Labour.
Languishing in the polls and serving as Fine Gael’s mudguard by its membership of the Coalition, Labour would like nothing better than a distraction from its woes. Is there a better distraction, not to mention an extremely attractive future development, than the two right-wing parties becoming one?
In the unlikely event of that happening in the short-term, the field would be left open for a left-wing party to fill the position of opposition. In pole position for that honour would be Ireland’s main version of a left-wing party – Labour. Ireland’s first apparent left-wing government might be comprised of Labour and – big cheer or guffaw now – Sinn Fein.
An unlikely scenario, but does anyone remember Fianna Fail jettisoning its core value of single-party government and arch-enemies Charlie Haughey and Dessie O’Malley going into government together? After all, politics is the art of the possible.
Liam Cooke
* I have read many books and articles on the death of Michael Collins at Beal na mBlath in August 1922 and not one of them has attempted to explain Collins’ reckless behaviour at the ambush site on that fateful day.
It’s generally accepted that Collins countermanded the order of General Emmet Dalton to the driver of the car that both he and Collins were travelling in to “drive like hell”, and as a result it came to a stop in the middle of the road and a shootout ensued. In the early stages of the ambush, Collins took cover at the side of an armoured car, but then he ran into the middle of the open road and began firing his rifle into the hills at an enemy he couldn’t see.
A civilian with no military experience would describe such actions as reckless, and an open invitation to the attackers to shoot him, and that is what happened.
Did his mind “flip” in the heat of battle and from the enormous pressure he must have felt under? Or did he decide to sacrifice himself to the enemy in the hope that his death would satisfy the republicans and bring the Civil War to an end?
We all have our heroes from history, but it has to be accepted that myths are built around what are essentially just human beings, all of whom will ultimately have a breaking point.
Frank O’Connor
Inniscarra, Co Cork
Irish Independent


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