30 August 2013 Gardening

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Pertwee has forgotten to reenlist and is out, or is he? priceless
We are both tired go and get Mary’s medications and next door does the garden
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets just under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.

John Bellany
John Bellany, who has died aged 71, was one of Scotland’s most acclaimed painters, celebrated above all for his weather-beaten portrayals of the East Lothian seascape and the fishing community where he grew up .

John Bellany Photo: WATTIE CHEUNG
6:12PM BST 29 Aug 2013
Bellany established a name early on in his career despite his taste for then unfashionable figurative painting, which he combined with tough expressionism and religious symbolism. Remaining aloof from art world fashions, his style and palette changed only to reflect a career that was tested but unbroken by personal tragedy, heavy drinking and illness. He was finally found dead in his studio clutching his paintbrush, having seen off liver failure in the Eighties; pneumonia; and a major heart attack in the street on the way to his own exhibition in Glasgow in 2005.
His works hang in the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but he considered a major retrospective at the National Galleries of Scotland last year to be the highlight of his career.
Although he lived in London, Cambridge and Barga, Italy, and took inspiration from trips around the world (including to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp), the Scottish seascape was Bellany’s spiritual home. Fisher folk were in his blood on both sides of his family and he once said: “I love to paint. At heart, however, I am a mariner.” Even the futuristic landscape of the Shanghai Bundt, painted on a visit to China in 2003, was drenched in the heavily atmospheric tumbledown chaos of a Scottish fishing village and foregrounded by the familiar black presence of a tugboat.
In the Sixties it was Bellany’s ability to observe the timeless stoicism of life on the seafront without sentimentality that set his paintings of fishermen apart. Gnarled, sea-and-God-fearing fisher folk appear in formidable early works such as the triptych Allegory (1964), which was inspired by a Saturday job gutting fish, and The Star of Bethlehem (1966).
Such narrative scenes were often allegorical, drawing on Bellany’s Calvinist roots. No fewer than 13 churches served Port Seton’s 4,000 inhabitants; at the church which, as a child, he attended three times on a Sunday, the beams were painted with fish, a model boat hung above the congregation, and at harvest festivals a stupendous catch of wet fish was heaped against the Communion table.
He also drew on the local myth and superstition of his closed fishing community. He remembered being ticked off for whistling at sea, for fear of whistling up a storm, and was haunted as a child by the nearby Eyemouth windstorm disaster that killed 200 fishermen, leaving a whole community without men. Death and the deep accompanied Bellany everywhere .
Although his paintings are known to reflect his personal story, Bellany’s monumental painting style was grounded firmly in the European Old Master tradition. This, however, was always given a local or modern twist, notably in works such as Love Song: Homage to Titian (1991), which portrays Venus as a tenacious fishwife and Cupid as a faltering Scottish knight.
John Bellany was born at Port Seton on June 18 1942; both his father and paternal grandfather captained fishing boats. His maternal great-grandfather was the locally renowned skipper “Tarry” Maltman, who was once revived five hours after being pronounced dead from drowning.
John’s upbringing was pre-18th century in its religious fanaticism, and in superstition and awe bred by fear of the sea. His grandparents’ house in Eyemouth overlooked the graveyard and Watchhouse, a squat shelter lined with luridly carved 17th-century gravestones. The stones reinforced a dread of death and subconsciously established a taste for triptych and diptych forms, later stimulated by the paintings of the German expressionist Max Beckmann.
Bellany was always a scrupulously accurate painter of boats and harbours – the rigging, licensed identities and above all the poetic names. He lived to see a dramatic decline in both fish stocks and in Christian belief. His paintings thus memorialise what once appeared an immemorial way of life.
An outstanding student at Edinburgh College of Art from 1960, his horizons were broadened by sitting at the Milne’s Bar table of the great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. MacDiarmid’s call for artists to address the “giantism” of universal subjects, based on self-belief and truth to personal experience, had a profound influence.
Bellany, who likened MacDiarmid’s poetry to the rhythms of Beethoven, clung to his advice. Ambitious, too, the cocky young artist hung his paintings on the railings outside the Royal Scottish Academy. But nobody complained, and he won the Burstain Award to attend the Royal College of Art in London in 1965.
He moved to London with his first wife, fellow Edinburgh student Helen Percy. It was when he separated from her and their three children in the early 1970s that his reputation for drinking started to grow. Friends and family maintained he never became violent, but rather pushed his sense of fun to the limit. “To go out with John meant you were going to lose two days of your life,” his old friend and fellow painter Albert Irvin recalled.
Bellany remarried in 1978 and moved to a house in the middle of Clapham Common. But his second wife, the artist Juliet Lister, spent long periods in hospital suffering from schizophrenia, which only fuelled Bellamy’s drinking. His darkest and best work grew out of a tumultuous and fertile period in the early Eighties when, in contrast to his declining mental and physical health, his artistic standing only rose. He suffered liver failure in 1984; Juliet committed suicide in 1985; and his father died just months later. In 1988 he survived a pioneering liver transplant.
His surgeon was Sir Roy Calne, who was impressed with Bellany’s remarkably speedy recovery – he was the only patient the doctor had known to return to work the day after surgery.
Bellany credited his faith: “I just think that if you have that guiding light, you will survive whatever comes your way, as I have done – a transplant, pneumonia, three heart attacks, two strokes, all these things.”
Bellany later painted Calne for the National Portrait Gallery in London. An admired portraitist, he also turned out a “birthday” self-portrait every year, and his portrait of the great all-round cricketer Sir Ian Botham for the National Portrait Gallery was so admired by Botham’s manager Tim Hudson that he bought every available work at a Bellany show in 1986.
In the same year Bellany remarried his first wife, who nursed him through sickness, including a life-threatening haemorrhage, as well as fits of delirium and delusion. Bellany worked throughout, calling his pencil an analgesic. Though his style softened in later years his volcanic output never slowed, nor lost its focus on emotion.
Among Bellany’s honours are a Major Arts Council Award (1981), Athena International Art Award (1985) and the Royal Academy’s Wollaston Award (1987). He was made a Royal Academician in 1991. He is survived by his wife and their three children.
John Bellany, born June 18 1942, died August 28 2013


The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Bronzefield prison has watched with interest the discussion in the press about the holding of a woman for five years in “isolation” in a “squalid” cell. There has been some inaccuracy about the legality and misrepresentation about the severe risks this woman presents to others in the prison. We are, however, very concerned about the humane and fair treatment of a small number of such women. The discussion so far has been about one woman. This is not an isolated case.
It has also been suggested in the press that the Bronzefield IMB has been remiss in its monitoring, reporting and challenging this unfair situation (Letters, 26 August). This is inaccurate and unjust. I, previous chairs, and members of the IMB have raised our concerns repeatedly about the women held long-term in the segregation unit. This is in direct contravention of National Offender Management Service (Noms) guidance, falls well below what is fair, decent and humane, and discriminates against female prisoners, as the special accommodation available to men is not provided for women. These concerns have been raised strenuously both in writing and at meetings for many years with ministers, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, those leading on the Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture and Noms, and also highlighted repeatedly in our annual reports. These are sent to all those mentioned, and the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison Reform Trust, Nacro, local press etc. The very few responses we’ve had have been depressingly bland.
I’d like to emphasise that the concern is not just about the one woman being talked about today, but the wider issue of the holding of the small number of women who are potentially very violent, difficult and volatile but also vulnerable. Presently there are no dedicated facilities for the holding of these women such as those available in the male prison estate, meaning that they get held in what we consider unsuitable conditions, including being isolated for far too long. This is unfair and discriminatory. It should also be noted that the concern was raised in the previous report of the HM chief inspector of prisons in 2010.
Jan Sambrook
Chair, IMB Bronzefield

Ofgem’s decision to require energy suppliers to include standing charges in their new tariff structures is a disastrous setback for tackling fuel poverty and promoting energy efficiency (Simpler utility bills on way, 28 August).
I certainly welcome the principle of simplifying tariff structures. But standing charges clearly discriminate against small-use or energy-efficient consumers, who will in effect pay a higher overall unit price than bigger users, because any standing charge will form a larger proportion of the overall energy bill. As a consequence, small-use consumers will be subsidising large-use ones.
The measure will also penalise energy-efficient consumers, including those who generate their own renewable power. Furthermore, differing standing charges among energy companies will clearly make overall price comparisons more difficult for consumers to select appropriate tariffs than if they were absent altogether.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Green party challenged Ofgem to justify its proposal to require standing charges. They were unable to do so. And now, Ofgem’s report again makes little attempt to explain its requirement. Ofgem’s decision is a major concern, and will set back the eradication of fuel-poverty and energy-efficiency promotion for decades.
Anne Thomas
Highlands and Islands Green party

Unless the public is unaware of a British/US government sliding scale of brutality, it would not be irrelevant to ask why the massacre of 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the Egyptian military does not merit the “humanitarian intervention” compassionately espoused by William Hague when referring to the present situation in Syria (Report, 26 August). 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 obviously justifies 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 obviously 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 when “armed humanitarian intervention” is on the agenda.
Anna Romano
Worksop, Nottinghamshire
• The indecision (Report, 29 August) over whether to mount attacks on Syria provides a context for a terrible thing. No matter what the truth of this or any other matter, the amoral guardians of their own appalling delusions have ensured that we trust no one, believe nothing, condone listlessly or condemn hopelessly and accept the bullying, lies, brutality and cynical disdain of all our “authorities”, in any sphere, as a kind of stinking normality. We are no more likely, ever again, to believe the UK or US governments and their various apparatuses of power than we are Assad.
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany
• Any strike on Syria’s chemical weapons will involve taking out air-defence systems. Is the unspoken, but underlying, motive, for the US in particular, to “inadvertently” clear the way through Syria for the Israelis to strike at Iran?
Edward Hooper
Poole, Dorset
• Your coverage of the Syrian situation is comprehensive, but I wonder if you have considered also covering the peace camp at MOD Burghfield, where people are campaigning for disarmament. If nothing else, it is a heartening reminder that there are people, many of them young and hopefully leaders of the future, who are thinking in another way.
Valerie Cochrane
• On 16 August 1819, the British Army massacred 15 unarmed citizens at Peterloo, and injured more than 400. Did that give France the right to send its navy to bombard Westminster?
Tim Gresty
Congleton, Cheshire
• As Cameron recalled parliament to debate Syria, can the Guardian recall Steve Bell from holiday to provide us with a much-needed, informative and honest interpretation of events?
John Murphy
Bapchild, Kent
• Someone needs to use chemical weapons on the west – depleted testosterone would by my choice.
Ian Jones
Brecon, Powys

I was interested to read the article about the Transport Research Laboratory highway trials looking at the feasibility of both cycle-specific traffic lights and “bus bypasses” (Report, 27 August). These measures have already been implemented in various UK cities and towns, a good example being those in Brighton, so one might wonder why this is being replicated in the Berkshire countryside to the tune of several million pounds. You can also nip across the north sea to see them in daily use.
I am old enough to remember similar concerns raised when mini roundabouts were first implemented; now they are an everyday part of British roads. When are highway designers going to realise that the current road infrastructure does not lend itself to the movement of people unless they are enclosed in metal boxes with crumple zones and air bags?
Roger Stocker
• Eric Pickles is calling on local authorities to ban speed bumps and parking bollards that put people off travelling to local shops. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is issuing new planning guidance that he hopes will force councils to make high streets more car-friendly. We live in a time of environmental and health meltdown in terms of global warming and obesity respectively. Cars kill more people in the UK every day than were killed in the recent Puma helicopter crash in the North Sea. Our culture grants massive impunity to the damage done by cars to life and society.
Towns and communities thrive when cars are removed. Enlightened street design has proved this throughout the world, notably in New York. Pickles is stuck in the past. We need many more speed humps and other restraints on driving so that local life can emerge from traffic hell.
Norman Armstrong

Your article about Helen Grant (Society, 28 August) was interesting, particularly about her Cumbrian background and her record. However, it was disappointing to read yet again that she went to “a comprehensive”. You are keen enough to tell us the name of an educational establishment when a subject has been to a major private institution. If Ms Grant had been to (say) Roedean, I’m sure we would have been informed. As chair of governors at another Cumbrian comprehensive, I’d expect the school to be afforded the recognition that private schools enjoy in your paper.
Janet Mansfield
Chair of governors, Cockermouth school
• DJ Taylor denigrates Angus Wilson (Review, 24 August), a writer whose No Laughing Matter and As If By Magic were bold, genre-testing novels. How sad to read this account only a month before UEA celebrates its 50th anniversary, when we will be celebrating Wilson as an inspirational teacher and writer.
Professor Maggie Humm
University of East London
• I was delighted, as a 63-year-old avid follower of the All ages fashion page in the Weekend Guardian, to have Hadley Freeman further confirm (G2, 27 August) that “there are no age limits in fashion”. How very liberating to us baby boomers, and especially this one. I do not possess a friendship bracelet, but as I far outreach the years of Generation X, that is not a problem.
Delphine Howarth
Bednall, Staffordshire
• Julie Harris was a fine actor (Obituary, 26 August) and her performance on stage as Sally Bowles a personal triumph in the play, I am a Camera. The play was not, however, universally popular, as succinctly expressed by the theatre critic Walter Kerr: “Me no Leica!”
Peter Negri
• 35mm canisters are perfect for pre-chilling small numbers of seeds that need “winter” before sowing, mixed with damp vermiculite (Letters, 29 August).
Margaret Waddy
• Very useful for filling the bottom-left corner of the Guardian letters page.
Ian Saville

Jamie Oliver’s comments on the lives of people less fortunate than himself (Chips, cheese and giant TVs: Jamie Oliver bemoans poor food choices, 27 August) highlight the continuing habit in this country to prescribe simplistic individual-based solutions for complex social problems. Research shows that in developed countries obesity is more common the poorer you are; but it also shows that more people are obese in more unequal countries. If our government introduced initiatives to tackle our high level of inequality, it could significantly reduce obesity and improve the health of the country for little or no cost. We would also benefit from receiving less advice from celebrity chefs and others who are intent on proffering myriad ineffective nudges towards a healthier lifestyle.
Bill Kerry
Secretary, The Equality Trust
• Jamie Oliver should read Polly Toynbee’s pertinent account of Pember Reeves’ 1903 social study (A book that changed me, 27 August). It’s disappointing to see Oliver join the increasing number of commentators lining up to accuse the poor of not knowing how to budget properly.
Does he really think a single parent trying to hold down two minimum-wage cleaning jobs has time to prepare “something that’s been slow cooked” or extract “amazing texture” from stale bread? Sometimes chips and cheese or burgers may be the logical option: they’re quick and provide a high calorie content per pound spent. If he really wants to improve the eating habits of poorer Britons, Oliver should turn his attention to inadequate pay at the bottom of our economy.
Simon Samuroff
Harrow, Middlesex
• Jamie Oliver claims not to be judgmental in his latest outburst about the diets of the poor. Unfortunately, the language he uses reveals his ill-informed prejudice. The clarion call of punitive, urban poor-bashers is always, “they’ve got large-screen TVs”. If someone has fallen on hard times, it surely makes perfect sense for them to have a decent TV if possible. When connected to a free-to-air receiver, one only has the licence fee to pay to secure round-the-clock entertainment.
In railing at the poor’s lack of dedication to healthy eating, coming as he does from a comfortable middle-class background, Oliver completely ignores the effect joblessness and poverty has on morale. Depression, low self-esteem, and lack of motivation will inevitably be factors that affect those struggling to survive. Indeed, given the requirements jobseekers now have to adhere to in order to avoid sanction and loss of benefits, it is no wonder they don’t always have the opportunity to knock up a supper of tasty prosciutto ham and rocket on bruschetta.
Finally, and squeamish Guardian readers should look away now, there maybe some people who enjoy eating cheesy chips from a Styrofoam container. They may have assessed the health risks and then reached the conclusion they will eat it anyway and that it is nobody else’s business.
Tim Matthews
Luton, Bedfordshire
• Jamie Oliver may be right that immigrant families are more resilient than those existing on benefits. He complains about poor families eating takeaways, but he is missing the point. Immigrant families are aspirational: by moving countries, they have embraced change and expect improvement. It is the relentlessness of benefit poverty that militates against creativity. Thatcher never understood that (“every family should keep a well-stocked store cupboard”) and it is sad to find Oliver equally lacking in insight.
Prue Baker
• Here in Thornton Heath there are a lot of individuals and families in so-called B&Bs provided by the council; across the country there are many thousands. They have no cooking facilities. Given 30 minutes and any number of ingredients, they cannot cook any food at all. How do those people eat healthily?
John Fullman
• It’s not just schools that should be stopped from selling crisps, Snickers bars and Coke (Bad habits that kill, 28 August). Hospitals are full of shops selling chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks. It’s sometimes hard to find anything healthy in them at all, while in the wards languish people with obesity-related diseases.
Carol Ross
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

However the decision may be viewed here in Britain, the U-turn by David Cameron and his government is bound to look to President Assad as weakness. While prudence is important in considering military action, decisions once made are best stuck to.
The likelihood is that the US and possibly France will now go ahead with the long-overdue chastening which the Syrian regime deserves. Britain will be left in a nondescript, neutralist position on the sidelines.
Andrew McLuskey, Staines,  Middlesex
We threaten to intervene in Syria. We intervened unilaterally in Iraq. We have a long history of intervening unilaterally all over the world.
So China, in 25 or 50 years’ time, will follow repeated Western practice, and feel free to intervene where they wish in the world, without working through the United Nations. Is that what we want? 
Do we want China intervening unilaterally in the world’s shipping lanes or in oil-producing countries, or even in the Falklands? Do we want China copying the West, as Japan did in creating its own empire in the 1930s?
It is in the West’s best long-term strategic and security interests to work through the UN.  The UN is the place to resolve this type of problems.
Philip Morgan, Winchester
It is difficult to believe that there are those who refer to the destruction of chemical weapons from the air (i.e. by setting fire to them).
Complete combustion of chemicals requires closely controlled conditions in a purpose-built incinerator, often with the help of a catalyst bed and/or flue gas treatment. A chemical fire produces a toxic mixture of partial combustion products and unburnt gas.Is that what the proponents of aerial bombardment want to release on to the surrounding population?
Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire
We are being told an unlikely story. If the Assad regime had decided to use chemical weapons to destroy their enemies, they would have made large-scale attacks on multiple targets.
It is more probable that they have dispersed their stocks to avoid destruction from air attack and either there was accidental release or some was misused by local forces of either side.
Peter Saundby, Air Commodore RAF (rtd), Llangynidr, Powys
Any strike on Syria’s chemical weapons depots will involve taking out associated air-defence systems. Is the unspoken, but underlying motive  to clear the way through Syria for the Israelis to strike at Iran?
Edward Hooper, Poole
Cameron, Clegg and Miliband say that military action against Syria will conform to international law. It will not. The United Nations forbids armed attack on other states.
The 1970 UN Declaration on Principles of International Law declares: “Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues”.
What part of this do they not understand?
We are told that their action is justified by the “Responsibility to Protect”. Not so. This is not a licence for any bombastic state to attack another. The 2005 World Summit document which approved this responsibility states that ‘The international community, through the United Nations (see UN Security Council resolution 1674), also has the responsibility to….” The responsibility must be exercised through the United Nations Security Council.
Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex
We don’t know whether we want Assad to win his civil war or not. We don’t have a candidate to replace him. We just want to send him to bed with a sore bottom and feel important because we will be acting with the Americans again. We are on the verge of a calculated act of premeditated stupidity.
Robert Edwards, Hornchurch, Essex
The rail project we really need
I wholeheartedly agree with John Rentoul’s conclusion that the best way to help the North is to spend on regional transport projects in preference to HS2 (Voices, 28 August). Fortunately such an opportunity exists – northern local authorities are campaigning to have local control over the next Northern Rail franchise, which starts in 2016, and have prepared bold improvement plans for which the benefits, unlike those of HS2, will be felt all across the region.
This is a great contrast to 2004, when idiotic bureaucrats based in London planned the current Northern Rail franchise for zero growth and zero investment. Is it any wonder that the economy in Northern England lags behind London and the South-east, who benefit from 89 per cent of transport spending?
Despite planning for stagnation, passengers on Northern Rail have grown 40 per cent since 2004, so there is a huge backlog of urgent investment in infrastructure and trains. Recent approval of the “Manchester Hub’” and partial trans-Pennine electrification (using cast-off trains from London) are both welcome, but these schemes are nowhere near ambitious enough.
Control over the rail franchise needs to be devolved to the region. And a substantial budget needs to be provided, if necessary by cannibalising HS2.
Dr Andrew Whitworth, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Before we get too engulfed in despondency about HS2, let’s consider its Cost Benefit Analysis. I remember from using CBA to check viability of road projects; if it is assumed that construction costs are fixed and user benefits are linear variables, the exponential effect of time lost due to congestion will mean that the project will eventually become viable. That is why bypasses are built around bottlenecks.
If the Government dropped the High Speed moniker and stressed the importance of putting in more capacity, it would make the project more palatable.
Paul Coleman, Barkhamsted, Hertfordshire
Get children out of the house
The study from Public Health England (“Television and computer games ‘cause depression in children’ ”, 28 August) confirms the need to reconnect our children with nature and the outdoors.
A sedentary, screen-based childhood is making our children sad and sick. I agree with Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, who two weeks ago argued for a return to an “outdoor childhood” as a way to address poor health. As a filmmaker, I don’t deny the amazing potential of television and the internet to entertain and educate children. But the balance has swung far towards screen time and away from wild time.
Making Project Wild Thing, a documentary about children’s relationship with nature, I strapped a camera to my five-year-old daughter’s head to see how she spent her time. A third is spent in school, over a quarter on screens and just 4 per cent playing outside. Research shows she is not atypical.
How, with indoor entertainment so addictive, do we market nature to children and parents?
David Bond, London SE14
Enough is enough for true Lib Dems
I imagine most honourable Liberal Democrat MPs would like their party to leave the Coalition now, appalled by the changes they are enabling: potential war in the Middle East, privatisation of large parts of the NHS and of Royal Mail, fracking, increasing numbers of people in desperate poverty, even proposals to allow companies such as Serco and G4S to bid to manage services for vulnerable children in England (not just selling off the family silver, but selling off the family).
Decent Lib Dems must shudder at such retrogressive measures, for which they will be blamed together with the Conservatives (“Don’t link us to Osbornomics, say Lib Dem activists”, 28 August).
Lib Dem MPs probably would not dare leave the Coalition individually, but might feel freer to do so simultaneously with others. 
Many former Lib Dem members, workers and voters say that they will not vote Lib Dem again. If these people contacted local Liberal Democrat MPs and constituency and local party offices, by letter, email, phone or in person, to say that they would not vote Lib Dem in future unless the party leaves the Coalition now, many Lib Dem MPs might feel obliged to act, thus preventing even more damage to our country.
Sally Parrott, Cranleigh, Surrey
Hospital food
A simple and, presumably, quite cheap means of monitoring, assessing and improving the standard of hospital meals (leading article, 28 August) would be for all the management and clinicians, while working at each hospital, to eat only the food served to patients. That would be self-regulation at work.
Roger Thomas, Aberlady,  East Lothian
Who is speaking?
Research has shown that two thirds of adults have received unwanted calls from people trying to sell payment protection insurance (report 29 August). I wonder if as many people have received unwanted research calls.
Gary Clark, London EC2
Tory morality
Your headline reports that “Cameron makes “moral case” for attack on Syria’ ”. Would he now like to make a “moral case” for starving the English poor?
Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire

I don’t understand British foreign policy.
Assad is a tyrant who poses a local threat to Syrian people. However, his government provides some protection to religious minorities, women and secularists, and poses little threat to Britain.
The Islamist-dominated forces attacking Assad reject democracy as well as equal rights for religious minorities, women and secularists – and because they support the idea of a caliphate, pose a serious threat to other nations, including Britain.
On this basis, why does our Government support jihadis and risk the lives of Syrian and British innocents?
Jean Calder, Brighton
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein).
When Blair took the country to war in Iraq it resulted in the Labour Party haemorrhaging paid-up members. Given polling results on bombing Syria, has it not occurred to the current hierarchy that if Miliband leads his members into the division lobby shoulder to shoulder with the Con/Dems, the same thing will happen?
Ian Lowery, Watford
Responding to lethal violence with lethal violence doesn’t become morally right just by using a different type of weapon. The victims will be just as dead. But apart from the immediate hypocrisy, and apart from the disastrous ongoing consequences (nothing learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan?), we simply cannot afford it.
We have record numbers of children living in poverty, we can’t provide basic care for our disabled, frail and sick, and we face further huge cuts to public services. The last thing we should be doing is committing money and resources to a Sunni-Shia bloodbath overseas.
Ray Chandler, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
The US and the UK are only now considering an intervention in the Syrian conflict because it seems likely that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons – this after two years of the slaughter of men, women and children by every other means?
The message to the Syrian people and the rest of the world seems to be that we don’t mind if you are killed or maimed by a brutal regime provided it is done in the correct way.
Bob Morgan, Thatcham, West Berkshire
To all those protesting against the proposed military action against Syria: please remember the importance to the British economy of the UK arms industry.
Our weapons manufacturers need wars. The highly sophisticated technology involved in modern armaments cannot be properly trialled nowadays on cardboard cutouts of Second World War German soldiers on Salisbury plain.
There is no substitute for a real live enemy, particularly if they are Muslims or Arabs, to test the effectiveness of our latest military devices.
Just remember what the Falklands war did for Exocet sales for the French arms industry.
Jonathan Smith, London W3
Before we get too steamed up about our boys and their Tomahawks, does anyone know what the Russian Mediterranean squadron is up to?
Frank Donald, Edinburgh
The dilemmas working parents face
Virginia Ironside (20 August) advises that “it would be madness” for a woman to accept a new job just after the arrival of her new baby because “having a baby is a job” and the child’s speech will be impaired if its mother isn’t available to babble “There’s a cow, moo, moo” to it ad infinitum.
This reminded me of my first day back from maternity leave, when the then chairman of the FTSE 250 company for which I work advised me earnestly that if I didn’t get back home forthwith, my baby would inevitably become a drug addict.
Ten years later, I am relieved to report that my son and his younger brother are happy, well-adjusted children who are showing no signs of going off the rails. The company is making steady, purposeful progress into the 21st century, the chairman having long since retired.
I wonder if it isn’t time for Virginia Ironside to follow his example: “advice” which so crassly re-enforces archaic gender stereotypes does a disservice to all your readers.
Kate Gray, Ashtead, Surrey
It does not seem to me that the investment banker’s wife who wrote the article “A break from it all – except the BlackBerry” (27 August) has too hard a time of it.
As it appears unlikely that she has a career of her own, I can only presume that she has enjoyed the sort of lifestyle many dream of at her husband’s expense. The choice was hers.
However, I am very sorry for their children; a disengaged, workaholic father hardly provides a good or stable childhood, and the daughter, who unbelievably was not upset by her father’s half-hearted involvement in her graduation, has already moved away.
Helen Huckvale, Chelmsford, Essex
Propaganda for a mass murderer
Yet again there has been article in The Independent (22 August) about Anders Breivik and the aftermath of his appalling rampage in which 77 innocent people were murdered. As usual there was one of his photographs; this time he is wearing his diving suit and aiming an automatic weapon at the camera.
In the last article there was a picture of him giving his ludicrous self-designed salute. How do the survivors of this event feel about having their pictures and feelings displayed in the same article?
The photographs of Mr Breivik are self-aggrandising propaganda. We all know what he looks like. Using these images is a feed to the ego of an evil man who has never expressed any regret. They are also likely to be seen by his followers, if he has any, as a way of keeping his media presence going.
I am not saying that his action should be forgotten; it needs to be remembered, and we need to ensure that it can never happen again. But depicting Mr Breivik in the media in the manner I have seen so far is no discouragement to people of a like mind.
Alan Ross, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire
Charity, not privatisation
You report on my recent letter to Jeremy Hunt about competition regulations (15 August). Your article suggested that I had lobbied for privatisation.
To be clear, ACEVO does not support “privatisation” of the NHS. We do, however, want more charities to be commissioned by the NHS to deliver better and more citizen-focused services. This requires a fair playing field in competition, which is what the new regulations sought to achieve.
We do not call for private profit-making companies to be commissioned, as charities and social enterprises will often compete with the private sector. Our aim is to support the role of charity delivery, promoting more choice in the NHS, for example by the UK’s 220 hospices taking a bigger role in end-of-life care.
ACEVO has consistently argued this case with both the current and previous governments. Charities are not a mere adjunct to commerce, and greater charity provision does not equal privatisation.
Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO, The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, London N1
Power and money doom our badgers
This Government has commenced the badger cull, against all the scientific information, the independent trials, the Krebs report, internationally recognised scientists and even the many farmers who condemn the cull. This together with the 273,000 of the public who have signed a petition deploying this utterly appalling slaughter.
I sincerely hope that when it comes to the general election people will remember that this government will do whatever it chooses irrespective of the evidence. It just confirms that with power and money you can ride over everyone and anything.
Margaret Barnicle, Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire
I am extremely upset by the Government’s decision to cull badgers to protect dairy herds from TB. Why destroy our beautiful native wildlife in this brutal way?
I can’t stop the Government, but what I can do is to cease my own consumption of dairy products. After all, in drinking milk, I am colluding in the extermination of badgers.
Frances Perkins, Poole
Music triumphs over injury
As a child I met Douglas Fox, a famous organist and pianist whose right arm was blown off in the First World War (“How music cured the blues”, 27 August). He was reportedly depressed about the apparent end of his musical career, until an equally eminent colleague asked him one day to come to Evensong in King’s College chapel, where he was the organist.
Afterwards, Douglas is said to have congratulated him, and was then told that his colleague had played the entire service with his right arm strapped to his waist. That was the turning point, and he went on to continue a brilliant career with his left hand.
L Cornish, Cambridge
Cycle lights
With reference to the letters of John Ramsay (17 August) and Peter Rolfe (20 August) bemoaning the frequency of traffic lights over short lengths of road, with the delays that ensue, I suggest that they ditch the car and get a bicycle. That way the lights will simply evaporate. I’ll leave your readership to try and work out whether this is the sardonic bitterness of a disgruntled motorist or an expression of the joie de vivre of an anarchic cycling lycra-lout.
Philip Stephenson, Cambridg


Short-sighted prudence can prove horrendously expensive in the long run — prompt intervention would signal that the law has teeth
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein (Opinion, Aug 28) is right: the effects of Western inaction in Syria are quite as uncertain as those of action. One thing is certain, however: failure to punish the perpetrator of an atrocious breach of humanitarian law will encourage more of the same.
During the Spanish Civil War Britain and France refused to intervene and maintained an arms embargo, while fascist Germany and Italy poured weapons and troops into the ruthless nationalist assault upon a democratically elected government. The British and French had reason to be shy of both sides, since the defenders of the Republic included Stalinists, who were just as murderous as their fascist enemies. As with Spain then, so with Syria now.
What seemed a prudent policy in 1936 turned out to be foolish a mere three years later. For Hitler had observed the passivity of the liberal democracies, and was emboldened by it. The story is familiar: first he annexed Austria in March 1938, then he invaded Czechoslovakia a year later, and finally he marched into Poland in September 1939 and precipitated five and a half years of catastrophic world war.
Short-sighted prudence can prove horrendously expensive in the long run. Prompt intervention to signal that the law has teeth is not only principled, but tends to be cheaper.
Nigel Biggar
Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology,
University of Oxford
Sir, Peace will only come to Syria when the main antagonists sit down together. The crucial need is to persuade Russia to support this approach and to stop sending arms to Assad. This is surely not an impossible diplomatic objective. Russia knows that its support for Assad is costing it dear elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world, and allowing al-Qaeda to run rampant in Syria does not bode well for peace in the Muslim-dominated areas of southern Russia and its neighbours.
If Russia can be assured that it will play a full role in developing a settlement in Syria, and the West does not allow Russia’s economic interests to be squeezed out by that settlement, then Russia may well put pressure on Assad to negotiate. Bombarding Assad’s military installations is unlikely to persuade Russia to act.
John Bond
Sir, Rabbi Romain thinks that the parable of the Good Samaritan justifies military intervention (report, Aug 29). Jesus, however, taught against being “swept along on a flood tide of emotion” (St Luke, by G. B. Caird). This was in his parable of the Two Kings: “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand” (Luke XIV, 31)?
Jesus is arguing that the careful consideration of hard facts may mean having to seek political and not lethal solutions. That is why “prudence” is a fundamental virtue in traditional “Just War” theory and vitally necessary at the present time.
The Rev David Holloway
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir, Before the Government rushes headlong into yet another conflict in the Middle East, I hope someone will have brought David Cameron’s attention to the words of Jean Elshtain quoted in her obituary in The Times yesterday: “Be certain before you intervene, even in a just cause, that you have a reasonable chance of success. Don’t barge in and make a bad situation worse.”
Nick Winstone-Cooper
Laleston, South Wales

As successive governments have ratcheted up sanctioning, it is unclear what more the system can do to promote the work ethic
Sir, Those advocating social security reform (News and leading article, Aug 27) should base their case on the evidence. The benefits bill is not “out of control”. Indeed an authoritative analysis of spending under Labour by the LSE’s Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion rejects “a picture of spending on cash transfers rising out of control”. Nevertheless, benefits have since been subjected to various caps.
As successive governments have ratcheted up conditionality and sanctioning, it’s unclear what more the system can do to promote the work ethic, which research suggests is in any case thriving among recipients of benefits. Such a policy has been ineffective in boosting public confidence in the system but effective in boosting reliance on food banks.
The restoration of the contributory principle, provided it is interpreted inclusively to include for example unpaid care work as a contribution, would be welcome. The aim should be to strengthen social protection in insecure times, not the reassertion of specious distinctions between the “deserving” and “undeserving”.
Baroness Lister Of Burtersett
House of Lords

The 2001 legislation from which asset-freezing powers derive also applies to security and crime — the Terrorism Act 2000 does not
Sir, In accusing Yvette Cooper of hypocrisy Liam Fox (Aug 28) repeats the canard about the use of “anti-terrorist legislation” when the Treasury froze the UK assets of Iceland’s Landsbanki in 2008.
This misses a crucial point. The 2001 legislation from which these asset-freezing powers derive applies to security and crime as well as to terrorism. The Terrorism Act 2000 under which Mr Miranda was detained does not.
David Smart
Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies

Where the definition of a statutory offence gives rise to uncertainty it is better that guidance be sought from the higher courts
Sir, Contrary to what Charles Urquhart says (letter, Aug 26), the CPS won its appeal to the Court of Appeal against the ruling of the trial judge that the defendant could not be guilty of causing death by driving when uninsured when the defendant’s driving had been faultless. According to your Law Report (Aug 20), it was the defendant who appealed to the Supreme Court.
As a retired crown prosecutor I would say that where the definition of a statutory offence gives rise to uncertainty it is better that guidance be sought from the higher courts rather than leaving the issues to the discretion of the lawyers involved.
In this case involving an enactment which I, and I suspect many other lawyers, think is an unnecessary and unjust way of dealing with uninsured and disqualified driving, it will be of great help to the administration of justice that the Supreme Court has given guidance on what needs to be proved to establish guilt of this offence.
Victor F. J. Jordan
Ballater, Aberdeenshire

A bonus of a badger cull will be an increase in hedgehogs and ground-nesting birds, currently beleaguered by the increase in badgers
Sir, The key issue with the badger cull is how badgers pass TB to cattle. It does not matter how many badgers have or have not got TB unless an infected badger is able to infect a cow. TB is mainly a respiratory disease but gut and renal disease can allow faeces and urine to be infective. However, urine seeps into the ground where cattle cannot access it, and how much badger faeces is a cow likely to eat? Direct contact is also unlikely. Alice Thomson (Opinion, Aug 28) mentions government experts but leaves out Professor Krebs, who led the badger cull trial, who is of the opinion that it should not be done.
More probably it is an issue of bio-security on farms where badgers “break” into cattle areas and urinate on the cattle feed. If so, a better solution is preventing badgers from accessing these areas, but it is cheaper and easier for the farmers to get the Government to shoot badgers.
Every autumn there is an excess of badgers from the season’s breeding so dead badgers will be rapidly replaced, which in itself will mean infected badgers moving around the country, a scenario that will not help. The more badgers shot in an area, the more badgers will come in. Defra talks about hard boundaries, but these are more lines on a map than real boundaries.
I do agree, though, with Alice Thomson on the issues surrounding our two countries, town and country.
Professor Keith Neal
(Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases)
Sir, A bonus of a well-organised badger cull will be an increase in hedgehogs and ground-nesting birds, currently beleaguered by the increase in badgers. Surely this ought to please the nature lovers who advocated control by marksmen as a means of fox control when hunting with dogs was banned. Sadly for the foxes, they are still fair game for anyone with a shotgun.
Alison Bolt
Ulverston, Cumbria


SIR – Paul Harrison (Letters, August 26) referred to brambling and bramble pies, but lives in Essex. This is a subject of great divide in my household. My wife, who is from Suffolk with a Leicester mother, insists on calling the fruit blackberries, and the plants they grow on, brambles. I am from the North East, with a Scottish mother, and call the fruit brambles, which grow on bramble bushes.
According to colleagues, the dividing line between brambles and blackberries appears to be somewhere just to the south of Northallerton.
Angus Wheeler
Darlington, Co Durham
SIR – Yesterday, I picked some enormous luscious blackberries from our lane; they taste wonderful, and freeze superbly. I have been amazed to see people buying the tasteless, commercially grown fruit found in supermarkets, which bear no resemblance to the real thing.
I can well remember, from the past, when a friend and I would go out at this time of year and pick pounds of the fruit. We would come home scratched, with nettle and wasp stings, and our hands and faces sticky with the juice. Pudding would be blackberry and apple pie.
Helen Jones
Ludlow, Shropshire

SIR – Syria is not Serbia or Libya. It is tenacious, well armed and supported by Russia and Iran (“Cameron: We must act now against Syria”, report, August 28).
After it fails to respond positively to punitive missile strikes and we run out of targets (as happened in Serbia) what next? We will then be seen to be ineffectual. The subtlety of saying that this was only a punitive strike against the use of chemical weapons will be lost on both sides. What if the Syrians decide to use more force against the internal opposition or widen the conflict beyond their borders? Are we prepared to put troops on the ground?
Military conflict tends to develop a momentum of its own. What vital national interest is at stake?
Cdre Malcolm Williams RN (retd)
Southsea, Hampshire
Related Articles
Regional divide over blackberries and brambles
29 Aug 2013
SIR – The Syrian crisis recalls the 1994 Sarajevo marketplace bombing. Both cases involve a pariah government oppressing a breakaway faction, UN observers arriving, a massacre of civilians taking place and the press and Western governments rushing to deal out justice. In Sarajevo, the subsequent UN technical investigation indicated it was unlikely that the Serbs carried out the massacre. These and other reports were then suppressed for “political reasons”, and sanctions reinforced.
We should not trust American intelligence. Many believe the Kosovo war of 1998 was instigated on biased reporting from the American head of the observer mission, possibly to distract from President Clinton’s domestic difficulties at home.
Certainly, the extension of the Nato bombing to Montenegro was based on uncorroborated American intelligence that then proved fallacious. What happened with Iraq speaks for itself.
We would be very unwise to commit our depleted Armed Forces to operations based on hearsay evidence, uncorroborated intelligence and without any clear indication of what constitutes success.
Col S C H Ashworth (retd)
UN deputy chief military observer, Yugoslavia 1994-95
Lichfield, Staffordshire
SIR – William Hague’s long and detailed justification for a “punishment” interference in Syria (Comment, August 28) is a smokescreen for the real intention indicated by the Prime Minister early on in the conflict – regime change.
The consequences of such a devastating attack will not only involve a horrendous number of casualties but will result in political chaos within Syria and likely consequences outside its borders.
The Archbishop of Canterbury opines that politicians are not slavering to “unleash the dogs of war” (report, August 28). Listening to some American politicians, one can already hear barking.
David Sherratt
Marlborough, Wiltshire
SIR – International law on the matter of the use of force is not without uncertainty, but the United Nations charter remains clear – the Security Council, with all its paradoxes, retains the prerogative for authorising military force beyond self-defence. The widely discussed notion of responsibility to protect was endorsed by the UN in 2005, and again in 2009, within the parameters of that understanding.
We may dislike vetoes, inaction and the like, but it is not just the Russians that are cautioning against a violation of international law. We have a system of collective authorisation for a reason: to balance one-sided, if however well-meaning, action.
The use of chemical weapons is heinous. But we either have an international system based on law or we don’t.
Duncan French
Professor of International Law
University of Lincoln
SIR – In his article (Comment, August 28) William Hague MP cited reports from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) of estimated numbers of dead and wounded from chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Although our information points to mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent, MSF clearly stated that scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required and therefore an independent investigation is needed to shed light on what would constitute, if confirmed, a massive and unacceptable violation of international humanitarian law. MSF also stated that as a medical humanitarian organisation, we are not in a position to certify the precise origin of the exposure to a neurotoxic agent, nor to attribute responsibility.
Now that an investigation is under way by UN inspectors, MSF repudiates the use of our statement as a substitute for the investigation or as a justification for military action.
Polly Markandya
Médecins Sans Frontières UK
London EC1
SIR – If the Assad regime has actually used chemical weapons, then it is probable that its stocks have been moved from their main storage concentrations to tactical locations to be brought into use quickly. It follows that if a “first strike” is launched against the storage depots, little will be achieved. It is already too late to destroy significant numbers of weapons before they can be made ready. The whole messy business now looks about as sensible as pushing a stick into a hornets’ nest.
Colin Cummings
Yelvertoft, Northamptonshire
SIR – Toppling an unpleasant dictator rarely produces a more pleasant alternative.
Malcolm Saunders
Ash, Surrey
Self-employed carers
SIR – Andrew Marr, the broadcaster, regrets the attitude of employers to carers taking time off (report, August 26), but I bet he still received a salary while he was recovering from his stroke.
My husband, a self-employed illustrator, not only had to stop work for three months to care for me after two operations for colon cancer, but he also had to do all the household chores. He was not offered any help, financial or otherwise, by anyone.
When I tried to apply for some monetary assistance from the state, I was told that carers would only be eligible after six months of looking after someone. I hope to have my colostomy reversed, but the thought of putting my husband through all that again is making me think twice.
Julie Juniper
Bridport, Dorset
Necessary GCSEs
SIR – Philip Britton (Letters, August 24) suggests that the increased participation age for pupils makes GCSEs unnecessary. This shows a bias of concern towards those contemplating tertiary education, and the opposite for those heading into employment or apprenticeships at 16.
Who, taking on an apprentice, would not want an objective assessment of their ability in a variety of subjects? Who, taking on an employee, would be happy to accept the comments of teachers as the sole assessment of achievement?
We need to pay attention to all Year 11 pupils, not just those going to university. We will depend on their hard work in a huge variety of jobs for decades to come, and we should honour their contribution.
Cllr Ken Pollock
Removing slug slime
SIR – Lorimer Burn asks how to remove slug or snail slime from garden paving (Letters, August 27). Vinegar is the answer and its residue discourages their early return.
Bruce Denness
Whitwell, Isle of Wight
Stamping on recovery
SIR – Your leading article (August 24) on stamp duty emphasised the damage it does to the housing market. It is also a burden on the industrial sector.
My company, a successful manufacturer and exporter, needs to move to new premises if growth is to continue. The relocation entails moving heavy equipment, which will be costly, but what is particularly hard to swallow is the £50,000 bill for stamp duty. We are not in the property game; we are acquiring larger premises to stay in business. This is only the start. We will also have to pay VAT of some £250,000 – recoverable, but not for several months. The final straw is the vast increase in business council tax.
The Government sees manufacturing as a milch cow to be taxed without limit. The state should take away the tax millstones from round our necks, and then it would see what British manufacturing can do.
Peter Jackson
Poole, Dorset
Quiet, please
SIR – As a regular rail traveller, mostly during off-peak times, I have welcomed the advent of the “quiet coach”. It is not children who generally ignore this etiquette, but braying adults who should really know better. So how will they ever be able to enforce “quiet” zones on planes (, August 28)? Send offenders to the naughty seat, perhaps?
Lynne M Collins
Hadleigh, Essex
Height of fashion
SIR – I taught my daughters that the best way to learn how to walk in high heels was to wear them to the supermarket and strut around, head held high, using the trolley as support (“Why a pair of Manolos could save you money”, report, August 28).
Having just bought a pair of Louboutins (albeit second-hand), I will do the same thing, but I will be buying cheaper items in the supermarket for the next few months.
Debbie Kenyon
Newark, Nottinghamshire
Elderly couples could downsize to spacious flats
SIR – At least Nick Boles, the planning minister, has recognised that there are people out there who might want to move, but not into a “shoebox” (“Developers told to build more bungalows to entice elderly out of large homes”, report, August 27).
We live in a big house, with a large garden. We would love to move, but have yet to find the right property. Developers should build decent-sized apartments, which are well designed, with plenty of storage, with four to five bedrooms.
There are plenty of beautiful old buildings around in some towns, but just about every single one has been divided into poky little flats, which is a crime.
Rosmarie Hall
Canterbury, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – During the Iraq-Iran war, the United States failed to sanction or even condemn Saddam Hussein for his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops. This is widely cited as one of the main reasons he used such weapons in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds – he believed he would, yet again, escape punishment.
It is vitally important that the West does not repeat history, and takes strong and decisive action against the Syrian government. Failure to do so will send the message, not only to Assad but also to every other tyrant in the region who faces an uprising, that they can use chemical weapons with impunity . This cannot be allowed to happen. This is no longer just about Syria. – Yours, etc,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – When the police investigate a crime, they look for a perpetrator who had the “means”, “motive” and “opportunity”. The Assad regime certainly had the means and opportunity to deliver a chemical attack. Clearly they had no motive. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by such an attack. The Syrian opposition, on the other hand, had every motive. It is in their clear interest to involve outside forces.
The United Nations has accused both sides of using chemical weapons in the past, so the opposition had the means and opportunity also. Whether they did this alone or were aided by American or British special forces, we will never know. It is, however, clear that Assad has been set up. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence would come to this conclusion. We were lied to before the invasion of Iraq. We are being lied to now. – Yours, etc,
Grange Court,
Dublin 16.
Sir, – Unlike most Irish people, I disincline to think that vested in me there is a god-ordained right and duty to lay down the law at length and in unlettered detail to Americans as to how they should be running their own affairs. However, in the light of current talk about intervention in Syria – and keeping in mind Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Afghanistan – perhaps I might advert to men such as Washington, Jefferson, Adams. They advised inter alia that America should not go abroad “seeking monsters to destroy”. The point, the why of it, was underlined a century later by the gentleman in Sils Maria, who counselled “. . who battles with monsters should take heed that he does not himself become thereby a monster”. – Yours, etc,
Monkstown Valley,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – The media speculation on weather the US will bomb Syria must raise serious questions about what moral authority the US has to do so? Consider the role of the US military in its indiscriminate killings of Afghan civilians by unmanned drone aircraft and the barbaric killings of Afghan children and peasant farmers by US soldiers who called themselves the “Kill Team”. On Wednesday in Iraq 66 people were blown up in the continuing cycle of deaths. The US claimed moral authority in invading that country some 10 years ago and we all know what happened.
The people who sent their poison gases to kill innocent civilians in Syria deserve the highest sentence upon them, but in no way does that give the US government any moral authority to intervene in this crisis. – Yours, etc,
Monastery Walk,
Dublin 22.
Sir, – Further to Eugene Tannam’s letter (August 28th) on your Editorial (August 24th). In the course of the Vietnam war, in the period 1961-1972, the toxic defoliant and herbicide Agent Orange was used by US forces. The deliberate destruction of huge areas of forest and crops was bad enough, but it has been estimated that up to a half a million children have been born in these areas with horrific disabling birth defects. This is a continuing effect. White phosphorous and napalm were also in widespread use by the US in Vietnam.
During the invasion of Iraq the city of Fallujah came under intensive attack by US forces. There are continuing claims that many babies are now being born with severe defects due, it is claimed, to the use of depleted uranium in the artillery shelling of the city.
Finally in the course of an excellent article (Opinion, August 28th) Ivor Roberts attributes the 100,000 deaths in Syria so far to “indiscriminate massacres and the prolonged shelling of civilian areas by Assad’s forces”. Is he claiming that the many militia groups, covering a wide spectrum of types, have failed to kill anyone in the course of more than two years of civil war? – Yours, etc,
Bishopscourt Road,
Sir, – Central to the problems in Syria, Egypt, Iran and Iraq is the divided state of Islamism. The daily slaughter of Islamists by fellow-Islamists must be a cause of great emotional hurt to people in the West. Military intervention by the West may seem to promise much, but delivers little. Surely the time has come, as Pope Francis and President Michael D Higgins have advocated, to open up a dialogue with the various conflicting strands within Islamism in order to end the mindless slaughter.
Historically, the western powers have exploited these divisions for political advantage. Such a multi-layered conference, as I propose, should have as its purpose to deconstruct the politicisation of religion, which has given rise to so many of the world’s problems in the past. Surely it is a worthy project to which our leaders in the West might aspire! – Yours, etc,
Cavan Road,
Co Meath.
Sir, – If the situation in Syria is the worst humanitarian crisis since the Cold War, as asserted by António Gutteres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, what does the crisis tell us about the state of the international humanitarian system today? The UN Security Council is hamstrung by the opposing views of its permanent members.
After the Rwandan genocide, everyone said “never again”. The UN set itself the task of delivering on that promise. It tried to reconcile, on the one hand, the sovereignty of member-states with, on the other hand, the protection of populations from mass atrocities inflicted or permitted by those member-states.
To this end, the set of principles known as “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” emerged in 2000. This week the US administration is citing these principles in support of the lawfulness of intervention in the absence of a UN resolution.
In a nutshell, R2P meant sovereignty was a duty rather than a right. And if a member-state failed in its duty to protect its people from mass atrocities, this would engage a process of response from the UN.
If it turns out that R2P is the authority upon which an intervention is justified, it is difficult to understand why it has taken so long for these principles to be mobilised. Surely the conditions for activation of the principles were met a long time ago. If this is the basis for intervention it is likely to be viewed with deep cynicism.
There is something deeply wrong with the inertia that has characterised the response to the Syrian crisis. Each opportunity missed has condemned Syria to more suffering and a more tortuous recovery.
The international community must now demonstrate enough political will to provide for the basic needs of the Syrian population, whatever about the more complex issues around intervention.
GOAL is engaged on its largest ever humanitarian intervention in an effort to meet the needs of the many millions of internally displaced people in northern Syria. The people we meet are at a loss to understand why nothing has been done for the past two and a half years to protect the population. The Syrians we meet are fearful for their country, but hope that the events of the pst seven days might bring their suffering to an end. – Yours, etc,
PO Box 19,
Dún Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – The outcry over the use of chemical weapons in Syria is enormously dishonest. Are we to take it, by inference, that the use of missiles and bullets to kill people is humane? The truth is the war in Iraq, the West’s designs on Middle Eastern oil, and financial speculation in commodities, including basic foodstuffs, have largely created the trouble in Syria.
The posturing over the use of chemical weapons is a mere PR smokescreen, designed to hide this truth, and the West’s greedy, self-interested abuse of the suffering peoples of the Middle East, over a long period, led, as always, by the United States. The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Judging by the quality of the replies to Pat Rabbitte’s ill-judged remarks, the cavemen should be running the country. – Yours, etc,
Passage East,
Co Waterford.
Sir, – Readers should not be too hard on Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte for thinking that we all must be accessing content on our iPads and iPhones.
After all, a few years ago he (and every member of the Oireachtas), was offered a complimentary iPad (paid for by us taxpayers) and he and every TD can upgrade their free mobile phone every three years. He does not even have to pay for usage of the mobile phone, which is for him a tax-free expense. How could he possibly think that that taxpayers who pay for all this for him and fellow TDs have not also their own iPads and iPhones?
Indeed, how could he possibly think that taxpayers who, in addition to the huge burden of taxes and charges imposed by his Government, pay also for his iPad and iPhone, could possibly afford iPads and iPhones for themselves? – Yours, etc,
Roselawn Road,
Castleknock, Dublin 15.
Sir, – To those who eschew the possession of a television set, I say: come out of the jungle and get with the beat. This medium of communication is a bare necessity nowadays! – Yours, etc,
Marley Avenue,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – What a delightful surprise to learn that there are so many articulate, literature-loving, dross-despising “cave-persons” in our midst and we never knew! Perfect material for a TV documentary! – Yours, etc,
Belgrove Lawn,
Dublin 20.
Sir, – I heartily object to Pat Rabbitte’s reference to cavemen. I do not watch television and feel outraged that I am ridiculed by a man I have heretofore admired from his USI days – and then asked to pay for a service that I neither need nor want.
How dare a minister impose a blanket tax on people who do not watch television or access programmes on iPad or smartphone. I stand with Phyllis McGee (Home News, August 28th).
Charleville Road,
Co Offaly.
Sir, – I have a friend in Co Mayo who has a hearing impairment and lives in isolated poverty. He does not own a radio because he cannot hear it, and chooses not to own a TV set. Because there is only a bus once a week, he cannot attend computer classes, so has yet to embrace this technology. Meanwhile, his aged mobile phone is only sufficient to send texts. I know others in similar circumstances.
In calling such people “cavemen” and not believing they exist, Pat Rabbitte clearly demonstrates how out of touch he is with those outside of his own privileged social circle. I find his comments deeply insulting. – Yours, etc,
Co Cork.
Sir, – Your paper is regarded as the crème de la crème and naturally that must go for the readership also? I was gobsmacked to read so many of them stating that they were really cavemen and cavewomen! – Yours, etc,
Co Leitrim.
Sir, – It is typical of the incompetence of the Irish media that the irrelevant and the trivial in political life gets blanket coverage while the important and the vital gets ignored.
The “caveman” remark by a government minister might be stupid, but it will not bankrupt the country.
In the past the appropriateness or otherwise of the colour of a former taoiseach’s trousers got similar blanket coverage. At the same time the fact that the country was heading for bankruptcy got none. – Yours, etc,
Shielmartin Drive,
Sutton, Dublin 13.
Sir, – Should the Minister for Communications have added a caveat to his “caveman” remark? – Yours, etc,
Mount Argus Court,
Harold’s Cross,
Dublin 6W.
Sir, – Will Pat Rabbitte’s “cavemen” comments regarding TV licences, etc, only serve to drive the matter underground? – Yours, etc,
Elm Mount,
Beaumont, Dublin 9.
Sir, – So, there are no “cavemen” in Ireland? There will be soon. – Yours, etc,
Laurel Court,
Co Cork.

Sir, – I grew up in Ennis and I believe – unless age has degraded my memory – that Michael Tierney’s famous cycle shop is across from Knox’s in Church Street (or Abbey Street, as posh people called it). Isn’t Brian O’Connell also from Ennis (Summer Living, August 28th)? I suppose even Homer may nod. – Yours, etc,
Rathgar Avenue,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
Sir, – D’you mean to tell me there was a Plan A (“Cowen says he had no Plan B for the economy”, Home News, August 29th)? – Yours, etc,
Forest Hills,
Knocknacarra, Galway.

Sir, – Many thanks to Paul Gillespie (World View, August 24th) for his timely review of the growth obsession associated with the current economic orthodoxy.
He describes the logical proposition and analysis put forward by Tim Jackson in his book Prosperity without Growth and begs the question why most mainstream economists never seem to broach this alternative view.
It seems that like the protagonists in the The Emperor’s New Clothes, they have become blinded to an obvious truth because current orthodoxy demands upward growth as a sign of success and suggestions on sustainability are signs of weakness among peers. Economics should be applied in a scientific manner to construct a system which provides the strongest long-term sustainability, instead a specific economic philosophy which is short-sighted, growth-obsessed and ultimately inequitable has been implemented globally. More open debate on this matter is welcome in light of current challenges on resources, climate change and poverty. – Yours, etc,
Linden Avenue,

A chara, – Are we now to assume that Iarnród Éireann is in favour of greenways on railway lines as enunciated by Barry Kenny in Frank McDonald’s article (Home News, August 27th)?
Surely it is Iarnród Éireann’s responsibility to protect the railway alignment from incursions, rather than depending on greenways, which are just another form of incursion, to do it for them! – Is mise,
Cloonbrackna Avenue,

Sir, – When you reach a certain age, reminders of the ageing process seem to “ambush” you from time to time. Today’s Irish Times (August 29th) provided one such event for me. From your “Born on this Day” section I discovered that the actor Elliott Gould is most famous not, as persons from my generation would believe, for his portrayal of Captain “Trapper John” McIntyre in the film Mash, but for playing Monica’s dad in Friends.
I suppose I can only be thankful he hasn’t appeared in Emmerdale yet. – Yours, etc,
Seafield Crescent,
Booterstown, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

l An Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s current mantra is that we must “hold the line” on the financial ‘adjustments’ to be presented in the Budget statement on October 15.
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However, he and his colleagues know very well that in the world of real politics that may be impossible to do. A fierce wind is blowing, demanding an end – or at least a significant ‘easing’ – of austerity.
The Opposition is playing that card. Worse, a desperate Eamon Gilmore knows that the trend in the opinion polls points towards, at best, a massive ‘trimming’ of Labour representation in next year’s local and European elections.
Objectively, a significant easing in the ‘adjustment’ figures would be anything but prudent. The real question (which is not and will not be asked in this Cabinet) is: “How can we stick with those figures – but also spread the burden more proportionately?”
A key factor, sedulously hidden or ignored, is that the so-called ‘deal’ on the promissory notes did not provide a windfall of ‘real money’. It was merely an unilateral ‘action’ to kick one of our elephants down the road.
As Mario Draghi said, this “action of the Irish Government” was not negotiated with, but “noted” by the ECB. If we make a mess of this Budget and have to go back for a second bailout after the domestic political game is over, they will tell us that we are a sovereign nation – and must bear the consequences of our messing up our first bailout.
But our little domestic games are taking place in the context not only of an European but a global ‘systems failure’. When the generation of European political leaders, led by the likes of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, began the boring but methodical process within which our EU is a stage, they did so because they had been taught, in the most brutal and incontrovertible way, that the traditional method of managing ‘international’ relationships just did not work.
When it came to setting up a common currency, that late 1940s context of threat had been forgotten – and the lessons already learnt in the federalisation of the US, Germany, Italy, Spain, were brushed aside. So the common currency is definitely not mended. And it is unlikely to be in the near future, even though, objectively, ‘mending’ is nothing less than a necessity.
After 50 years of involvement in grassroots politics, I see huge practical difficulties in a new party. I would prefer to see the Labour Party shake itself up and look at 2013 rather than 1913 – let alone the dreams of 2010.
But if the younger (in heart and soul) elements of the current Labour Party cannot step up to the mark on, or before, Budget night, then a new Irish social democratic party it will have to be.
Maurice O’Connell
Tralee, Co Kerry
* Congratulations to Martina Devlin and her excellent article on the Lockout of 1913 (Irish Independent, August 26). While the pleasures of the newly arrived motor car, yachting cruises around the British Isles and the latest in fashion from London or Paris were the everyday life of the rich, the Dickensian conditions of the inner-city tenements made it a daily struggle for the poor.
In 1913, the population of Dublin was 400,000. Of that number, 87,305 lived in squalid tenements. One tenement typically housed between 70 and 98 people, with just one toilet out in the backyard.
Infant mortality was 142/1000 children, while TB was much higher than in either England or Scotland.
A French newspaper of the time, ‘Le Miroir’, highlighted the plight of the less well-off in Dublin with a photograph of a destitute father and child asleep in a doorway and the caption ‘La Misere á Dublin’.
Working conditions were also Dickensian, with many factory owners and business men “fumbling in a greasy till” as they exploited their staff with poor conditions and measly wages.
Recent attempts have been made to portray William Martin Murphy as some type of early 20th Century Renaissance man. However, as Ms Devlin rightly points out, the influence that Murphy exerted on the Dublin of the first 20 years of the last century was all-powerful.
He was a member of the Bantry Band, a group of Irish MPs from the Bantry area whom the ‘Freemans Journal’ at the time described as “a gang from the remote part of the island whose inordinate grasping and self-serving have already pressed the patience of Irishmen”.
His newspapers provided him with a propaganda vehicle which he used at every opportunity to deride the workers and unions and their efforts to secure decent wages and better working conditions.
As Jim Larkin memorably said: “Better to be in Hell with Dante and Davitt, than in Heaven with Murphy and Carson.”
For further insight into all these issues and more, we invite you to view the exhibition ‘Bare Feet and Bowler Hats: Capturing the Dublin of 1913′ running until September 17 at Carman’s Hall, Dublin 8.
Mark Lawler
Carman’s Hall Dublin 8
* The escalation of the Syrian conflict into the use of chemical weapons is without doubt deplorable.
Should we not be equally outraged by the killing and maiming of citizens by the use of conventional weapons or by the ambiguous legality of white phosphorous bombs and their use in populated areas?
John Bellew
Paughanstown, Dunleer, Co Louth
* Frank O’Connor asks an interesting question about Michael Collins’ behaviour in Beal na Blath.
There are only two answers.
The first one is, he really didn’t believe his own people from his own area would shoot him.
The second one is, he was tired and reckless, bowing to what he felt was the inevitable result of him signing the treaty. I can’t imagine it’s much fun waiting to be shot on some dark night.
Pauline Bleach
Wolli Creek, NSW 2205, Australia
* I refer to Barry Kenny’s response to my letter of August 14. Mr Kenny ignores my central contention. Given that there are only two tracks north of Connolly, a highly intensive service means that all trains will have to travel at the speed of the slowest train.
The new signalling may facilitate greater frequency but means that trains not scheduled to stop at inner- suburban stations will either have to stop outside each of these stations or proceed at an average speed equivalent to the slowest train.
Airport DART services would have to do likewise – simple mathematics allows no other outcome.
Anthony Gray
Drogheda, Co Louth
* I was a bit annoyed at your article yesterday from Colette Browne regarding Jamie Oliver, who has done so much to change people’s mentality towards food and cooking.
Since when is nutritious food dearer than cheap processed food? How much would a meal for four in McDonalds or a chipper cost? Easily €20, if not more.
How many packets of rice, pasta, potatoes, lentils, chickpeas, peas and vegetables could you buy in, say, Lidl or Aldi or even Dunnes or Tesco for €20?
I work full-time and I am also a mother, yet I have time to cook from scratch and so I only spent about €60 a week on food, including meat and fish, for a family of three.
I do not buy rubbish or processed food, I cook everything from scratch and, if I need to, I cook at weekends and freeze my meals for during the week.Instead of moaning at how expensive fresh food is, stop buying packets of crisps, chocolate bars and chicken rolls and get cooking!
Name and address with editor
Irish Independent


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