4 September 2013 Joan

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Pertwee is falsly accussed. But he has fourteen witnesses to prove that whatever happened wherever he was not there at the time Priceless.
Off to bank and Joan and the supermarket
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today Mary wins and get under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.

Professor Ronald Coase
Professor Ronald Coase, who has died aged 102, won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics by injecting a note of reality into the world of market theories; in a 60-year career he wrote only about a dozen significant papers and used little or no mathematics, yet his impact on his discipline was profound.

Professor Ronald Coase 
6:23PM BST 03 Sep 2013
In the 1930s the received wisdom among many Western economists was that in an “efficient” free market individuals should operate as independent contractors, and that centralised economic planning, as practised in the Soviet Union, was doomed. If that was so, Coase wondered, why did huge companies such as the Ford Motor Company exist, with centralised operations, staff employed on long-term contracts and central planning?
The answer, which Coase set out in The Nature of the Firm (1937), is that making things requires collaboration, and organising collaboration carries costs (known as transaction costs) which account for a considerable share of the total use of resources in the economy. Companies emerge when it becomes cheaper to gather people, tools and material under one roof, rather than going out to find the best deal every time labour or materials are required.
The optimum size of any particular firm, Coase suggested, depends on a trade-off between the savings a company can make on transaction costs from producing things internally, and the costs which inevitably arise in a large organisation from overheads and inefficient resource allocations — what Coase called the “decreasing returns to the entrepreneur function”.
Coase’s transaction costs approach has been hugely influential in modern organisational theory, inspiring a whole new discipline devoted to estimating the optimum size of companies.
Coase made his second great contribution to economic theory in The Problem of Social Cost (1961), in which he noted that the harmful effects caused by human action did not show up in the market, and that their presence suggested a failure of the market to organise our affairs. Previously economists had accepted the theory that if, say, a cattle rancher’s cows destroy his neighbour’s crops, the government should intervene to stop the rancher from letting his cattle roam — otherwise the rancher would have no incentive to stop them. Coase pointed out that if the rancher had no legal liability for destroying the farmer’s crops, and if transaction costs were zero, the farmer could come to a mutually beneficial agreement with the rancher under which the farmer paid the rancher to cut back on his herd of cattle. This would happen, argued Coase, if the damage from additional cattle exceeded the rancher’s net returns on these cattle. A mutually beneficial bargain would be struck. Coase’s suggestion was that instead of government intervention, the harmful effects of human actions — or “externalities” — should be treated as commodities that are capable of being bought and sold too.
Coase’s solution has inspired the thinking behind pollution permits and carbon trading as a means to tackle global warming and has given rise to a whole new academic field of law and economics.
The only son of a Post Office telegraphist, Ronald Harry Coase was born on December 29 1910 at Willesden, north London. Both his parents were keen on sport, but Ronald suffered from a weakness in his legs which necessitated the wearing of leg irons, so his main interests were academic.
He won a scholarship to Kilburn Grammar School, then studied under the University of London external programme. His ambition to go on to read History at university was thwarted by the fact that he had not studied Latin, and he dropped his second choice, Chemistry, because he found the mathematics involved not to his taste. Instead he went on to the London School of Economics to study Commerce.
There he attended lectures by the economist Arnold Plant, who introduced the young Coase to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” and, in 1931, arranged for him to be awarded a travelling scholarship to the United States to study the structure of American industries.
Returning to Britain in 1932, Coase set out what would become his theory of the Nature of the Firm in a speech in Dundee.
His delay in publishing was partly due to the fact that he had become engaged in teaching and research on other projects. He held teaching positions at the Dundee School of Economics and Commerce from 1932 to 1934; at the University of Liverpool from 1934 to 1935; and then at the LSE, where he began examining public utilities. During the war he was employed doing statistical work, first at the Forestry Commission and then at the Central Statistical Office, ending as the War Cabinet’s chief statistician.
He returned to the LSE in 1946, with nine months in the United States in 1948 on a Rockefeller Fellowship studying the American broadcasting industry. That resulted in his book British Broadcasting: A Study in Monopoly (1950), in which he challenged the case for monopoly based on the shortage of wavelengths.
In 1951 Coase was appointed Professor of Economics at the University of Buffalo and migrated to the United States. In 1959, after a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, he joined the economics department of the University of Virginia.
Coase’s research in the area of social costs arose from work he had carried out in 1958 on the workings of the American Federal Communications Commission, which awarded radio and television licenses by “beauty contest” — a highly subjective process which, Coase pointed out, was open to corruption and tended to create windfall gains for the winners. The ostensible justification for the system was that there were far more people wanting to use the spectrum than could be accommodated by it, and without some sort of rationing there would be chaos.
In a paper about the FCC, Coase dismissed this argument, pointing out that in other situations where supply is limited, the price mechanism allocates resources without the need for intervention: “Despite all the efforts of art dealers, the number of Rembrandts existing at a given time is limited; yet such paintings are commonly disposed of by auction.” The answer was to create rights to use parts of the spectrum and then to auction them off. Once that had been done, the chaos would cease and the role of government would revert to arbitrating disputes.
Some of Coase’s arguments were considered erroneous by economists at the University of Chicago, including Milton Friedman, and Coase was therefore invited to Chicago to discuss his paper over dinner at the home of Aaron Director, the economist who had founded the Journal of Law and Economics. As one attendee recalled: “Milton Friedman did most of the talking, as usual. He also did much of the thinking, as usual. In the course of two hours of argument the vote went from 20 against and one for Coase to 21 for Coase. What an exhilarating event! I lamented afterward that we had not had the clairvoyance to tape it.” Afterwards the group encouraged Coase to adapt his paper into an article for in the Journal of Law and Economics.
The arguments set out in The Federal Communications Commission, published in 1959, are now widely accepted to the point of being commonplace. In 1995 the FCC raised about $20 billion by auctioning 2,000 mobile licences. In 2000 the British government also used the auction process to distribute mobile phone licences, raising some £22.5 billion for the Treasury.
The idea of creating property rights for intangibles such as radio frequencies led on to Coase’s pioneering work on social costs, and led in 1964 to his moving to the University of Chicago as Professor of Economics and editor of the Journal of Law and Economics.
A mild-mannered, rather absent-minded man, Coase never learned to drive a car; and in his private life he remained somewhat reclusive, seldom inviting people to his home. On economic subjects, however, he was remorseless.
He married, in 1937, Marian Hartung .
Professor Ronald Coase, born December 29 1910, died September 2 2013

Another day, another factoid in the chosen narrative. The extensive coverage of the death of David Frost (suitable for a head of state) has included several mentions of his interview with Tony Blair, specifically the “did you pray together” question (Cameron, Blair and Parkinson lead accolades, 2 September). The clip shows that Blair treated this (politely) as a bizarre question, which it was. His response showed that he hardly knew what Frost was implying. In what sense was he “wrongfooted”?
Margaret Pelling
•  David Frost’s style of interviewing was probably due to years of listening to, and indeed practising, the art of lay preaching in the Methodist church. The aim is to make you feel guilty, unclean, a sinner in the eyes of God, and of course in the withering stare of the preacher. Accompanied by prolonged silences, it makes the recipients go weak at the knees and blurt out bumbling apologies, as we saw with Nixon’s cathartic admission – and then, of course, forgiveness.
Dr Mark Wilcox
New Mill, West Yorkshire
•  I was in the same class as David Frost in the sixth form at Wellingborough grammar school. We always thought his mannerisms were a perfect “takeoff” of our history teacher, Mr Tompkins.
John Mann
Irchester, Northamptonshire
•  I was two years behind David Frost at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He once borrowed 6d for the telephone. I never got it back. I regret his passing.
Giles Youngs
Drinkstone, Suffolk

Giles Fraser (Loose canon, 31 August) draws an intriguing parallel between the Levellers of the 17th century and the Muslim Brotherhood of today. Other observers have noted the Protestant-like fervour of Sunni fundamentalism, notably the late Ernest Gellner. After all, the term “fundamentalism” originated from Protestant Bible-thumpers.
Fraser wonders why we see the Levellers as precursors of liberation and democracy, but many find the MB sinister and authoritarian. The difference is precisely in the centuries which separate the two. The Levellers were part of the wave that initiated political modernity: of organised ideological politics based on popular participation, against the politics of patronage, loyalty and intrigue. The Brotherhood operate in a world in which political modernity has been established, with a diversity of organised movements and opinions, and in that world they confront not royalty, aristocracy and squirearchy but secular liberals and socialists, who have populated the political landscape of the Middle East for over a century, and are now engaged in a struggle for liberty, dignity and livelihood.
It is also a world in which women have had a taste of liberation, however tentative, and are now threatened with an erosion of the few gains they have made. Further, the Brotherhood is at ease with neoliberal capitalism, and many of its leaders are notable businessmen. Egyptian labour organisation did not fare any better under their brief rule than they had with previous regimes.
Sami Zubaida
•  The Levellers, during the debates at Putney church, indeed did not raise their voice for women’s suffrage, but then who before them had? Who before them had shouted for universal male suffrage? Yet the very nature of their faith, which was one of continuous questioning, evolving religious contemplation, had led them to an idea that had had no template for them to work from. That is what is astonishing about Thomas Rainsborough’s words “I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”. To have come up with those words at that time was astounding.
And because of this innate ability to develop radical religious thought – the notion of women being able to speak, feel, quake with their maker was already gaining ground in the Quaker movement – there can be no doubt that women’s suffrage would have followed hot on the heels of universal male suffrage.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, the legacy of colonialism leaves a deep mental scar that cannot be wiped away so easily. From exploitation by an empire that only left 60 years ago, replaced by dictatorship endorsed by the colonialists that only degraded two years ago, any voice, any action, any conceptions of how to govern are going to be woefully inadequate, disabled by the long years of subjugation, neglect and betrayal.
Francis Forde
Walton, Warwickshire
• Giles Fraser describes the Levellers as “neither secular nor liberal”, as “religious puritans” who “thought Christianity was the solution” and states that “no one at Putney dreamed of giving women the vote”. The clearest statement of the Levellers’ position can be found in two documents which were before those present at Putney: The Case of the Army Truly Stated, and An Agreement of the People. Among the proposals in the latter were a biannual parliament, a specification of its powers (way beyond those exercised previously), equality before the law, and that there be no conscription to serve in wars.
The only reference to religion is to propose that “matters of religion” be left to the consciences of individuals ie religious tolerance, no compulsion and no state-sponsored church. This was not part of the Puritan outlook, certainly as then practised. The Leveller proposals for government were both secular and liberal.
Further, as pointed out by Patricia Crawford in the book The Putney Debates of 1647 (edited by Michael Mendle), there were women who did have the right to vote in the 17th century, particularly the “feme sole” propertied single women (eg by inheritance) and the widow. The Case of the Army proposed that “all [my emphasis] the freeborn at the age of 21 years and upwards be the electors”. Crawford comments that the Levellers and, on the other side, Cromwell would have understood what was being proposed.
David Watkinson

Although I thoroughly agree with Shirley Williams (Iran can help us with Syria, 3 September), in common with MPs and ministers over the past weeks she fails to bring up a strategy that would not only help resolve the Syrian situation, but also the Palestinian question and any other crisis where international pressure would be deemed appropriate.
If the security council was not hamstrung by the cold war era vetoes available to the five permanent members, the UN would be in a position to resolve most if not all international crises.
The complaint that the UN does not work that is made by politicians is nearly always the result of the permanent members of the security council being guided by their narrow nationalistic self interests, and the concept that five nations – only three of which could be described as world powers – should have the final say on international matters has not been credible for a long time, especially since the emergence of South American and Asian “super economies”.
Will this situation change? Of course not. In the same manner that we retain Trident, one does not relinquish power and influence. However, it would be nice if politicians recognised that they are the problem with their attachment to the status quo rather than indulging in their sanctimonious hand-wringing.
Jon Neal
Crawley, West Sussex
•  No one with a scintilla of intelligence could disagree with Shirley Williams’ contention that the UK should seek urgently to re-engage diplomatically with Iran. But I must take issue with her use of the phrase “the Muslim world”.
The Syrian conflict has made it clear that there is no such entity. On the contrary, the crisis has made it absolutely obvious that the end of the cold war was proclaimed prematurely. We still live in a bipolar world in which Washington and Moscow (and, to a lesser extent, Beijing) continue to exert neocolonial influence through proxy states and regional spheres of influence.
Iran’s support for the Syrian government is but a counterweight to those nominally or avowedly Muslim states such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia aligned with the United States’ position. Vladimir Putin’s defence of the Assad regime is no different in kind from the backing offered by the US (and the west more generally) to Israel, regardless of its breaches of international law.
It is precisely because the “Muslim world” is divided that Williams’s call for better relations with Iran makes sense. The UK parliament’s vote against British military action in Syria opens the door to such diplomatic moves.
Mark Brown
•  On Syria we should think Bosnia, not Iraq. We hesitated and hesitated and thousands more died. After our bombing – no boots on the ground – the slaughter ended. There was a political solution, not perfect, but the resulting countries are now applying to and even being accepted by the EU. I heard an expert comment that because of 5,000 jihadis we are abandoning 100,000 rebels who are against them. The jihadis are financed and armed from the Gulf, so anything that would reach them because of us would not matter as much as we think. And when we do not help, it makes the position of the jihadis stronger.
Katerina Porter
When it comes to slave-abolition bragging rights, Andy Weir is right to give France precedence over Britain (Letters, 2 September). However, the decision of the French national assembly in 1794 was preceded – and significantly prompted – by massive slave revolts in the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue, now Haiti) during 1791-93, which had produced de facto emancipation, recognised by the French (republican) colonial authorities, de jure, in 1793. The story shows that abolition also stemmed from black Caribbean insurrection rather than white European benevolence.
Alan Knight
Professor of the history of Latin America, St Antony’s College, Oxford
• The real problem about parliamentary sittings (How to end the silly season, 2 September) is the timing of the autumn pantomimes – otherwise known as the party conference season. Now that general elections will always be in May, it makes sense to move the “season” to Easter. That way parliament could go through from September until Christmas, end votes after 6pm and enable MPs to have a half-decent family life.
Derek Wyatt
(Ex-MP), London
• Sophie Heawood (G2, 2 September) reaches the conclusion that the new year ought to be in September. In fact, for Jews all over the world, it does. Does no one at the Guardian know Rosh Hashanah starts at sunset on 4 September? Even so, may you all be inscribed for a sweet new year!
Jean Rogers
• I’d like a Guardian memory stick (Letters, 3 September). But could you retro-style it to look like a 35mm film canister? And pre-load it with some wallcharts?
Patrick Wallace
• My favourite damning film review (Letters, 2 September) is CA LeJeune on Britannia Mews: “She well might.”
E Holmes
Burton-in-Lonsdale, North Yorkshire
• Mark Cocker’s account of grasshoppers involved in a copulation frenzy (Country diary, 2 September) was a welcome antidote to the sordid Syrian saga.
Ivor Yeloff

Your article (30 August) implies that the Health and Safety Executive’s prosecution of Mid Staffordshire NHS foundation trust is a change in its regulatory role in the health service. In fact HSE has previously prosecuted NHS providers, including trusts, in relation to similar incidents. Our regulatory role in the health sector concerns cases in which there is evidence of safety management failings. Where the failings are deemed to be clinical or professional failures, other regulators have been considered better placed to lead.
On legal advice, we waited until the end of the public inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC before making a decision on whether it was appropriate for HSE to investigate the death of Gillian Astbury at Stafford hospital in 2007. As your report says, we have now concluded an investigation and decided there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to bring criminal proceedings in this case. The Department of Health is leading on the recommendations put forward by Francis. We remain in discussions with the DoH and the Care Quality Commission on taking forward the government proposal for a system of referrals to HSE from the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, in cases where there is a potential breach of health and safety requirements.
Kevin Myers
Acting chief executive, Health and Safety Executive
• The NHS complaints data (Report, 30 August) reveals inconsistencies in approaches to handling and reporting on complaints across the NHS; these discrepancies will give a distorted view of the issues as well as the scale of the problem. In my experience, organisations that have implemented a consistent, enterprise–wide approach to capturing complaints have seen a considerable increase in their complaints volumes. It is therefore my belief that these figures, while transparent, do not reflect the true scale of missed expectation in the NHS. The volume could be four or five times higher, if not more, than these figures indicate.
Paul Clark
CEO, Charter UK

Bob Carlos Clarke, whose photographs illustrated Marco Pierre White’s 1987 book White Heat, “made [celebrity chefs] look interesting” (Monochrome magic: Portraits for National Gallery, 14 August); Florence Enid Stoddard RA did the same for the French Master Chefs in the 1930s, now showing at the National Portrait Gallery. Stoddard, a painter of miniatures and my mother’s cousin, gained access to some of London’s greatest kitchens, where she persuaded their busy maitres-chefs to sit for her. Armed not with a meat cleaver as was White but with the expertise they had learned from the great Georges Auguste Escoffier, they were conjuring up banquets for high society at the Ritz, Claridge’s, the Savoy and the Carlton, as was Paul Henri Poupart at Buckingham Palace. We will soon be able to view Carlos Clarke’s celebrity portraits, which have been presented to the NPG. In the meantime the gallery is showing some of their predecessors from the 1920s and 30s.
Christine Hayes
Wokingham, Berkshire

Anyone heard of Suez? What about Vietnam? No one? Let’s try Somalia? Or Iraq – or Libya – or Mali? Surely you must remember them and what they have in common?
No? Well, they’re all countries that needed their regimes changed. To a system that suits the western powers better.
Now it’s Syria’s turn. So the west is on the alert (Kerry: US will act against Assad, 30 August). Even though no one really knows why, or how long it will take once the go button’s been pushed, or what will happen when they stop or leave. And almost everyone is divided or confused or unsure why all this is happening. Or, setting aside any moral issues, whether it’s legal or not. And what the consequences will be.
Anyway, it’s about to happen again, so prepare yourselves for news of the masses of destruction that will be caused by our bombs. Plus details of the several thousand or so civilians who will be killed in the action. Then, when they leave, no one will really know what they’ve achieved, or what will happen once they’re gone.
But not to worry, it should all be over by Christmas. If not, everyone’s on holiday then – even most journalists – so the whole thing will soon be forgotten. Except by the relatives of the thousands who are destined to die. They and their descendants will hate us for ever.
Ah well, let’s forget all this depressing stuff and move on to something else. Anyone got a map of North Korea handy?
Ray Johnstone
Mézin, France
• Unless the general 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 recently when referring to the present situation 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 obviously justifies the continuation of military aid to the generals, in spite of the fact that their recent actions clearly constituted a coup. Bashar al-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 right abuses in the Middle East, it should not be surprising that its motives are constantly in question when armed “humanitarian intervention” is on the agenda.
Anna Romano
Worksop, UK
• Our fractious militarist John McCain tries his hand at shaming Barack Obama, twisting his arm to cut off all aid to Egypt, as if he were “not sticking to our values” (Obama under pressure for US inaction in Middle East, 23 August). To assert that Obama’s caution over wielding “big-stick diplomacy” in Egypt has led the US to lose face in the Middle East is preposterous. That we already have narrowed options to ameliorate the situation there and in Syria is a result of a credibility long-lost by pandering to Israel’s biblical exceptionalism and to Saudi oil; our duplicity and ad hoc expediency in the region will have tarnished whatever we seek to do.
Just what shining values are these over which McCain frets? Parity, respect and compassion? Where was our egalitarianism in shunning Nasser and embracing Sadat and Mubarak with carte blanche for armaments?
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
• How can you control or mediate in Syria’s war when the civilians, the fighters and even the children are used as expendable pawns by the superpowers who manipulate this war from afar? I believe collateral damage is the military term used. They play a cynical chess game from a distance and collateral damage is acceptable for an end result that benefits only the manipulators.
Gillian Hearn
Monemvasia, Greece
Abandon imperialism
Thanks to Simon Jenkins for his perceptive article on Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands (23 August). I have long felt these colonial anachronisms represent rather greedy tails wagging a rather silly dog. The Falklands war was a particularly egregious waste of lives and money.
Why can’t we abandon our imperial pretensions and transfer these territories to their respective claimants? There may be as many as a million Britons who have voluntarily emigrated to Spain. They don’t seem to have any problem accepting Spanish sovereignty and all of us in Spain and the UK are subject to the suzerainty of the EU anyway.
If the Falkland Islanders don’t want to live in Argentina, they can continue to enjoy a similar lifestyle in the UK’s Outer Hebrides. The Argentinian government may even be willing to pay for the move, if only to get their hands on the Malvinas’s prospective oil bounty.
John Wood
Cheltenham, UK
The experience of death
Anil Seth concludes his survey of near-death experiences (Near-death experience: the brain’s last hurrah, 23 August) by asking, “What is it like to die?” There can be no answer to this question from a dying person, as distinct from a neuroscientist studying death “from the outside”. Asking “what it’s like” to do something makes sense only if you can say what it’s like to do it, or recall what it was like to have done it.
But persons approaching death cannot say what it is or was like to die. By the time they’re dead they no longer exist, which removes the very possibility of them saying or thinking anything about anything whatsoever, and that includes the process of them dying.
Relating something about the process of what was assumed to be a prelude to certain death is possible only if death was not in fact the outcome. But in that case it would not be, strictly speaking, a process of dying that the survivor was recalling, but rather a process of “near-dying”.
Alan Gabbey
New York City, US
Insight into human distress
I found Oliver Burkeman’s column on Krishnamurti (23 August) thoroughly enjoyable. Citing Krishnamurti: “Truth is a pathless land. If you’re following someone else, you’ll never find it”, and “You want to know what my secret is? You see, I don’t mind what happens.” Burkeman follows up by saying that “having a problem” and “minding something” are the same thing. He goes on to say that this is a restatement of the Stoics’ insight into human distress: no event can trigger upset without a belief that it’s undesirable.
Buddhist disengagement and Stoic acceptance of reality are in the same spiritual family.
Professor Joseph Campbell, a historian of mythology, places eastern disengagement and western engagement in opposition. In the west we have a lot to learn from Buddhist, Taoist and Stoic acceptance of reality and death. However, this should not lead us to think that disengagement is the same as indifference, as Burkeman also implies.
Fred-Olav Sorensen
Oslo, Norway
Money was wasted on boson
Einstein’s general theory of relativity stimulated research that led to many useful developments in science and technology. However, I fail to see the benefits from finding the Higgs boson and proving the existence of supersymmetry (Year after finding Higgs boson, has physics stalled?, 23 August).
Shouldn’t these resources be more usefully channelled into other areas of science that will improve our understanding of the diversity of living organisms and their complex interactions? Or perhaps even a heroic attempt to gain a better understanding of that out-of-control species, Homo sapiens, and prevent another species extinction?
Nicholas Martin
Auckland, New Zealand
The error of her ways
In your edition of 16 August, Polly Toynbee puts her name to a piece in praise of Britain’s increasing population (Britain’s booming birthrate). On the next page is your leader about the world’s emerging problems in feeding its ever-growing numbers (Feeding the planet). Is it too much to expect that Toynbee, having read your leader, will see the error of her uncritical ways and recant?
Giff Jones
Canberra, Australia
Language teaching in decline
There are often some sad items in the Weekly, but few can be sadder than the article on the demise of university-level language teaching (Crisis for language teaching as universities axe departments, 23 August). I count myself lucky in being within the first intake in the 60s for Applied Languages at Bradford, having scotched my chances at Redbrick for daring to question the utility of literary studies. So a career in France and bits of Spain and Canada. What is happening to our youth? It cannot be egocentrics – we all are – but a culture of empathy to others has always seemed to be part of British outlook. I followed the erosion of language teaching at secondary level, but still fail to comprehend that while the cultural mix has become easier, the ability to slip into the mould elsewhere has eluded us.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France
• Interesting to learn that scientists have created rabbits that glow green in the dark (23 August). An advancement in medicine. Equally important, just in time for Christmas. For the child that has everything. Add this to the list of toys invented by accident: Silly Putty, Play-Doh, Slinky …
Bob Walsh
Wilton, Connecticut, US


It was refreshing to have some common sense on HS2 from Oliver Wright (3 September).
To the list of completed projects that people now view differently from when they were planned, he could have added HS1 (Are we not now proud of London St Pancras International?)
Wright mentions groups such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Institute of Directors who have come out against the project. I ask myself where their members live – somewhere in the London area? Perhaps in the Chilterns? Am I being an ignorant northerner?
Wright also mentions Robert Stephenson’s London & Birmingham Railway, and how people objected to it before it was built. But L T C Rolt (in his book George and Robert Stephenson) writes of Stephenson’s death in 1859: “Seldom has the death of a commoner been more widely mourned or marked by tokens of respect.”
Perhaps one day the engineers who will build HS2 may be appreciated in a similar way, even if not to the same degree.
Ian K Watson, Carlisle
Oliver Wright raises valid points in his defence of HS2 but one vital issue he could have emphasised more is that our motorways are absurdly dominated by lorries.
No other developed western European country has such a scant rail-freight system; the reason for this being the typically short-termist reluctance of British governments to invest in large infrastructure. We desperately need to free up our roads from ecologically and economically disastrous reliance on road-based logistics.
Every trip on the M25 or M1 is a reminder of how backward we are in terms of transport.
Chris Mills, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
I’m sure your opposition to the HS2 project is well intentioned, but some of your arguments are a little bizarre. You say for example that it is not clear how Scotland, Wales or the West Country can expect to benefit from a high-speed line to the Midlands (leading article, 26 August).
Well, I would have thought that the benefit to Scotland was evident to anyone who can read a map. If you cut half an hour off journey times from London to the Midlands, you make the same improvement to journeys going farther north. Save an hour on journeys to Leeds and Manchester, and you save an hour on trips to Scotland as well. Do you really believe that the HS2 project has somehow failed to make this clear?
As for Wales and the West Country, I’m not sure that anyone has claimed that they will benefit directly from HS2. Neither do they benefit from the £2bn new Forth Bridge or the £3bn dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness. Likewise, living in Edinburgh I don’t expect to benefit much from the £16bn London Crossrail scheme or the £5bn Great Western Line upgrade.
But how is this relevant? If every infrastructure project had to demonstrate a benefit to all parts of the country, how would we ever build anything?
John Drake, Edinburgh
Do all those who object to HS2 refuse on principle to use Eurostar in solidarity with the citizens of Kent who as vociferously objected to HS1?
Canon Christopher Hall, Deddington, Oxfordshire
Has gun-slinging US diplomacy had its day?
Maybe the forthcoming vote in the US Congress over intervention in Syria will be a defining moment in history.
The US has always done what it wants and used its military might as it sees fit, regardless of the consequences or what the rest of the world thinks. In the past Americans were largely behind their leaders and went along with the gun-slinging, kick-ass approach because they believed in American exceptionalism and naively thought that the projection of American power was just and right and it benefited the rest of the world.
European countries that did not go along with this US power projection were perceived as weak. Maybe the other countries could see the long-term futility of such insensitive projection of military power.
The British have always sided with the Americans, but as the vote in Parliament has shown, even the British are now questioning the American approach.
When the British, who have never been shy of fighting a war or two, are inclined to desert the Americans, maybe it is time to rethink the strategy. Obama seems to have sensed the turn in history, whatever his bullish rhetoric.
There has to be a better way in the new multi-polar world of reining in errant dictators other than dropping bombs on them. Bombing creates more problems than it solves. Global leaders need to bang their heads together to find another way.
Peter Thomas  de Cruz, London W4
All-year-round Parliament
The Coalition Government’s defeat over Syria in the House of Commons highlights the stupidity of parliamentary recesses (other than in the festive season and for routine maintenance during party conferences).
Recalling Parliament inevitably over-dramatises events, and was particularly unwise and unnecessary when the new session would start only two days later.
In a recess, ministers are out of touch both with each other and with MPs, enabling one or two (such as in this case William Hague) to ratchet up expectations and their own influence. The vacationing Prime Minister clearly had no idea of how attitudes were developing, and allowed himself to be stitched up by Ed Miliband.
It also meant that on such a vital issue, almost 100 MPs did not vote, permitting a hardly overwhelming majority of only 13 against the principle of military action.
 Governments govern 52 weeks per year and require constant scrutiny by Parliament – if necessary on only three days a week – with staggered holidays like normal enterprises.
John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife
Tate switches to a new role
I’m feeling emotional. In a move of amazing philanthropy, the Tate, an institution previously concerned solely with art, has stepped in to buy Martin Creed’s seminal (I think that’s the right word) Work no. 227: The lights going on and off” (“Tate saves Turner Prize winner for the nation – but is it still a turn-off?”, 3 September).
OK, the office where he installed it wasn’t amused, but the Tate saw it for what it was: a cry for help. Yes, it was the Tate that took the time to promote the future of this young would-be tradesman, trying his damnedest to make it against all the odds. 
Let purists carp! Why shouldn’t the effete world of art come down from its plinth once in a while to help someone like Creed pursue his dream of becoming a professional electrician? I applaud this bold, humane act. It gives hope to hundreds of similar youngsters, as well as those not-so-young, with no skills but with a burning dream to succeed. How about it, Mr Saatchi?
Martin Murray, London SW2
Traveller’s tale from South Tyrol
You report on the dispute over biligual place-names between the German and Italian speakers in the Italian region of South Tyrol (27 August). I enjoyed a happy motoring holiday in the South Tyrol, stopped in a beautiful mountain village and went into the local hotel to ask for a room. 
“Buona sera,” I began, then realised everything was in German and continued: “Haben Sie ein Zimmer frei, bitte?”
“Ein Moment.”
Then the maid came back in and reported: “It’s a GB.”
“Ja, wir haben drei.”
I chose a room with a beautiful view.
When I came down, a young Italian couple came in, and asked: “C’è una camera per due, per favore?”
While I was enjoying my dinner, from a German menu, a family from Stuttgart arrived, asked for two rooms and got them straight away.
However, when I had to fill in the official form, it was in Italian!
Brian Ellis, Wigan
Shakespeare travesty
Peter Evans (letter, 3 September) reminds us of the credit: “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”; but Sam Taylor, who directed the film, did not rewrite Shakespeare; neither did Baz Luhrmann, who, despite the change of setting, showed great respect for the text, as did the actors.
Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim created a new work of art out of a Shakespeare play, as did Verdi and Shostakovich.
A film of Shakespeare with the dialogue rewritten is a travesty; what is more, it is completely unnecessary.
John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire
If tax laws fail, pass new ones
“Vodafone’s £84bn tax avoidance bonanza” said your headline (3 September) and then the story went on to expose yet another muddled attempt by the Public Accounts Committee, setting great store about the fact that the company is avoiding tax.
This is piffle. The laws are decided by MPs. Our tax laws and international ones are in place to do a job. If companies find ways around that and they are legal, why the fuss?
Martin Sandaver, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire
State of confusion
Steve Connor’s well-written and fascinating story about tuberculosis (2 September) contains a small but irritating error. The story  quotes Professor David Alland of “Rutgers University in New York”. Rutgers University is the state university of New Jersey, the state across the Hudson River from New York City. New Jerseyans are touchy about such matters. For the record, Professor Alland teaches at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, in Newark, New Jersey.
Ken Branson, Media Relations, Rutgers University
Champions of liberty
Although obviously written with good intentions, the article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown regarding how we will benefit  from losing our special relationship with the US was naive (2 September). I’m no great lover of the US, but whether we like it or not we are heavily dependent on our “cousins across the pond” for our safety from both present day and future despots.
Steve Rodhouse, Northampto


We should certainly not do anything regarding Syria other than try, very difficult though it may be, to alleviate the sufferings of the people
Sir, A decade ago I and 51 other British ex-Ambassadors wrote to Tony Blair to tell him not to invade Iraq. We were widely abused. The Sun desribed us as “members of the Camel Corps with sand up their arses”. Nevertheless, if we weren’t all getting pretty old, we would probably now have written to David Cameron in similar vein.
Fortunately Parliament seems to have learnt caution from 1993, and it now looks as if the UK will avoid getting bounced into precipitate action, at least until the UN Weapons Inspectors have reported. And even then the Security Council will probably remain blocked by a Russian veto. This prompts a thought on how to avoid such an impasse in the future. The remit of the present Inspectors is almost certainly insufficient to shame the Security Council into concerted action. At present it is too easy to limit their powers and obstruct their work.
Could not the UN give their inspection teams real teeth by voting them mandatory rights of free access, inspection and report? The risk, of course is that we might not like that report. But maybe that is a risk worth taking?
Wareham, Dorset
Sir, Pace Mike Davison (letter, Sept 2), I believe that, rather than attempt to isolate Russia, we should try to bring it into constructive international action to establish a stable regime in Syria. In recent years we have helped to destabilise unpleasant and repressive regimes in the Middle East — Iraq in particular — and have just made bad situations worse. We should certainly not do anything regarding Syria other than try, very difficult though it may be, to alleviate the sufferings of the people, including the refugees. One of the bases of the foreign policy of Russia, which wants never to fear invasion again, is the support of a cordon sanitaire of stable neighbours which are unthreatening if not actually friendly.  
  If Russia could be persuaded that common action in the strife-torn countries in the Middle East would contribute to this policy, they might well come onside, to the great
benefit of international action concerning Syria.
Ashtead, Surrey
Sir, Has the result of last Thursday’s note in the House of Commons left Britain “a hugely diminished country”?
I think not.
Both the Commons vote and the seven-hour debate in the Lords laid bare the disturbing weakness of the Government’s case. In fact, last Thursday confirmed the power of our parliamentary system. It halted an ill-considered rush to action. It demonstrated that in our special relationship with the US, this
country can and should exercise its own best judgment. Now it seems that it also persuaded President Obama to call for a full Congressional debate. Not bad for “a hugely diminished country” and its Parliament.
House of Lords
Sir, Should we not spend all or part of the money saved by not showering Syria with missiles on establishing properly run and secure refugee camps and medical facilities in the nearest friendly neighbouring countries.
Surely a better use of our money and our Armed Forces, and a much better example to the world.
Liss, Hants

Farmers, keepers and responsible people would cull to drastically reduce the numbers, thereby saving Government vast expense
Sir, Having read Professor Ian Boyd’s letter (Sept 2), it is time for the Government and Defra to rescind laws on killing badgers and to leave it to those who live in, and manage, the countryside to deal with the problem.
Farmers, keepers and responsible people would cull to drastically reduce the numbers, thereby saving Government vast expense.
The reduced number of badgers would be healthier, and it would reduce cattle infection markedly.
(Retired farmer)
Little Hadham, Herts

A relatively small clinical trial in about 200 patients costs at least £1million, and the study can easily take four years
Sir, The costs of bringing a drug to market (letter, Sept 3) are so high that effective treatments for dementia, strokes and brain injuries are stalled for lack of funds. This is tragic for patients, expensive for the NHS and a sad financial loss for the country.
The £1.2 billion questioned by Mr Dillon includes more than the clinical trials in patients. Years of preclinical testing are required to find the one molecule in hundreds that is fit for the role and then test it in toxicology trials. If the new molecule can be given to human volunteers it is a stage that also consumes about two years of patent time.
A relatively small clinical trial in about 200 patients costs at least £1million, and the study can easily take four years. Larger trials will be required at the final development stage, each costing 20 to even 50 times that. They have to be numerous enough to show that the drug can be declared safe in a wide range of conditions and co-prescribed with other medicines, so a total cost of £1.2 billion is not an unreasonable estimate.
Midhurst, W Sussex

Some ingredients that seasoned campaigners might think of as commonplace appear to be ‘exotic’ to younger people
Sir, You report on the lack of culinary skills (“Beans on toast too complicated ‘for one in ten’”, Sept 2). When I was serving at my fundraising stall at the village “Summer Fun Day” at the weekend, a young mother stopped. She surveyed the homemade preserves. “Lemon curd? What do you do with it?”
She returned later to buy some.
Glenda M. Brewin
Willington, Derby

Sir, You suggest (“US leaves ‘unreliable’ British out in the cold”, Sept 3) that British military personnel embedded in the US Headquarters in Tampa had been excluded from US meetings because the US feels that they cannot be trusted with intelligence material.
The fact is that after Parliament’s decision not to support British military involvement, the Ministry of Defence decided that British personnel should be withdrawn from the process of planning for a US response. Our service personnel embedded at US Central Command remain engaged in other routine military operations as part of our deep and enduring political and military relationship with the US.
Secretary of State for Defence
Sir, You incorrectly characterise the relationship between USCentcom and our British military partners. Our British colleagues are valued members of our team here at USCentcom and any characterisation that UK military personnel are being “ejected” from meetings is inaccurate.
LTC, US Army
Chief of Media, USCentcom Communication Integration Directorate


SIR – Today marks the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights coming into force.
As leaders of civil society organisations, we think six decades of ensuring human rights for 800 million people across 47 countries in Europe is something to be celebrated. For our organisations, and the people we work with across the United Kingdom, the rights and freedoms set out in the convention are fundamental in ensuring all of us can live with dignity, respect and equality, safe in the knowledge that there are checks on government power.
This “other jubilee” is also a time to celebrate 60 years of Britain’s commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights in the convention. Britain played a pivotal role in setting down our hard-won human rights in the convention in the aftermath of the Second World War. As Winston Churchill said, when calling for a human rights charter, there is a need for a set of rights “guarded by freedom and sustained by law”. We call on our political leaders to secure our human rights heritage and stand firm on Britain’s commitment to the convention, and its expression in the Human Rights Act.
Stephen Bowen
Director, British Institute of Human Rights
Rob Taylor
Chief Executive, Age Cymru
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SIR – British people are over-dependent on processed food, ready meals and food with huge “air miles” thanks to the dominance of the supermarkets (“A poor diet is the national disease”, Features, August 28).
Our country would do well to take a leaf out of Paris’s book on urban planning regulations. Supermarkets above a certain “convenience store” size are banned within the city limits. Street markets thrive here, great ingredients are king, and quality produce is available at reasonable prices.
By contrast, my home town of Weston-super-Mare has at least seven large supermarkets and numerous mini Tesco stores. It also has a fading high street – with only a few plucky greengrocers and butchers hanging on, no produce markets, and plenty of takeaway outlets. This is a picture repeated across the whole of Britain, and yet ordinary consumers are blamed for eating badly.
People can only buy that which is available to them.
Catherine Nicholson
Paris, France

SIR – Thank you for highlighting the recipe of Jamie Oliver’s street cleaner friend in Sicily, consisting of spaghetti, mussels and cherry tomatoes (report, August 28).
I bought those ingredients for supper last night with the addition of parsley, and I can confirm the outcome is a rewarding meal of good nutritional value. Incidentally, a glass of good red enhanced the qualities.
John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – Several of our politicians wish to adopt the politics of the EU by asking the British Parliament to keep on voting until they get the answer that they want. David Cameron did the right thing by putting the Syrian conflict to the vote. The vote clearly highlighted the position of the majority of the electorate in not wishing to get our country bogged down in another sectarian war that we have no chance of controlling.
David Blair (Commentary, September 2) says that “The decision by the West to back off could turn out to be a formula for endless war”. On the contrary, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are testament that Western interference in Arab and Muslim conflicts only exacerbates the problem.
I hope that Mr Cameron respects Parliament and the electorate’s wishes, and keeps us out of this conflict.
Stefan Reszczynski
Margate, Kent
SIR – The Prime Minister is to be applauded for his instant response of “I get it” after losing the vote for military intervention in Syria. It would be even more praiseworthy if he could follow it up with a serious review of our foreign policies in the Middle East and beyond.
We won the war in Iraq and lost the peace, and the same happened in Afghanistan; we intervened in Libya and “lost” the weaponry to the extreme Muslim fighters in Mali and brought in the Muslim Brotherhood; we supported the Arab Spring to bring about democracy in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, all of which have failed.
It would be reassuring to know what has gone right, and what has gone wrong, in our fight against al-Qaeda.
Mina Bowater
Blandford Forum, Dorset
SIR – We are constantly reminded to take great care of the “special relationship” between Britain and America.
Is this the special relationship that served us so well during the Falklands crisis when the American government, as opposed to its military, backed the Argentinian position; the one that saw millions of pounds raised in the US to buy weaponry to support the killing of UK citizens in Ulster by the IRA, their betrayal over Suez, their late arrival in the First World War or even later arrival in the Second World War?
Ian Wallace
Whitley Bay, Northumberland
SIR – The term special relationship was coined by Winston Churchill in his “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, 1946, and referred to the wartime collaboration between our nations.
Mr Churchill expressed the hope that this warm relationship would continue into the post-war years but President Truman was lukewarm to the idea and successive presidents have always made it clear that they put American interests first.
Hugh Foster
Farnborough, Hampshire
Literacy failings
SIR – If a pupil has not learnt adequate literacy skills after 12 years of full-time schooling, another year or two of the same is hardly likely to help (report, September 2). Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was closer to the mark in suggesting that we should think about what’s going wrong at the beginning of school. There is overwhelming evidence that pupils who fall behind in the early years seldom catch up.
The evidence for schools using synthetic phonics to teach pupils to read is overwhelming. Alas, the Coalition sent out the wrong message when Nick Gibb, the schools minister, an avid supporter of synthetic phonics, was dismissed without explanation in the last reshuffle.
Although many schools have seen what can be accomplished with this method, there are others that are only too happy to return to the pedagogy responsible for our current GCSE failures.
Prof Tom Burkard
Phoenix Free School of Oldham
The finest Frost
SIR – The BBC will no doubt mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
It would be a fine gesture to broadcast the superb That Was The Week That Was programme, which David Frost and the rest of the brilliant team put together in 24 hours. A copy, I believe, is preserved in the Library of Congress – such was its admiration.
John Birkett
St Andrews, Fife
Tracking swallows
SIR – After a glorious four weeks of endless chatter in the skies, the swallows have recently left. I delighted in watching their activity, especially the youngsters playing tag, and achieving incredibly high speeds.
Their arrival was late; their departure early. What does this augur for the coming winter?
Susan Appleby
Malvern, Worcestershire
Seamus Heaney’s spirit
SIR – Your obituary (August 31) of Seamus Heaney acknowledged the uniquely large audience he attracted for his poetry and his great scholarship, but did not refer to his generous spirit. He gave lavishly of his time to assist a wide range of seats of learning, theatres and individuals.
When the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, of which I was then chairman, and the Arts Council in Dublin decided on a triennial cross-border professorial chair for poets in honour of his Nobel Prize, he opposed the use of his name in the title in case it would deter his peers from accepting the post.
It was with his assistance that Queen’s Belfast, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin agreed to host Ireland’s Professor of Poetry in successive years. He remained an influential trustee of the sponsoring trust until his death.
Donnell Deeny
Oath of allegiance
SIR – I cannot understand the stance of the Girl Guides’ movement, who have demanded that Guide leaders in Harrogate use the new secular promise (“Girl Guide rebels agree to drop God in oath”, report, August 23). When I became a magistrate, I had a choice of either swearing my allegiance to God, Queen and Country, or affirming my allegiance to Queen and Country. I chose the latter .
I was lost to guiding nearly 50 years ago, when, at the age of 18, I realised that after being brought up in the Christian church, I was, in fact, an atheist. I could not be a hypocrite by making a promise to God and attending church parade every month.
Why can’t the Girl Guide movement give people the same choice as the magistracy? If I had been given that choice, I would probably still be in the Guide movement, accepting the fact that others were still making their promise to God.
Janet Wooding
Southport, Lancashire
Bovril loss
SIR – Judith Woods (Comment, August 31) is rightly concerned that the sale of Burton’s Jammie Dodgers may affect supply, but, under our noses, one of the two large supermarkets in Marylebone High Street has stopped stocking Bovril.
No more black goo on toast dripping in butter, no more heart-warming drinks in winter’s cold. A very poor decision.
Tony Parrack
London SW20
Quick rail access to the North, as well as Europe
SIR – Not all Conservative activists wish to kill HS2. As a Northerner, I find attacks by the London-centric media and some Southern MPs very divisive. It seems that these MPs are not interested in improving the overall rail infrastructure of the country north of Watford.
I was pleased to read the excellent article by Pete Waterman (Comment, August 26) showing how HS2 is essential to plans for increasing our rail capacity. It would be ridiculous if, in the future, it was quicker for a Londoner to reach Brussels by train than to reach Leeds.
J Peter Wilson
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
SIR – George Osborne, the Chancellor, cites the Olympics as evidence that a government project can be brought in on a budget. My clear recollection is that when we won the Games the predicted cost was around £3 billion; the Government today admits to £10 billion, with many costs not included.
Charles Pugh
London SW10
SIR – Has the Prime Minister actually met anybody who wants to get to Birmingham in a hurry?
Rev David Johnson

Irish Times:

Sir, – Ade Stack (September 2nd) captures so eloquently why there’s no place like home when it comes to caring for a child like her son Hugh. This brave mum strikes a chord when she explains how “‘we didn’t have to decide which child to hug – we could hug them all together”, a beautiful description of what it means to be at home with your sick child, as a family.
I write from the heart and with too much painful experience, when I say that families with children like Ade’s son Hugh; and my son Jack – beautiful, precious children whose time with us is all too short – crave that “normal life” outside the hospital walls. They too want the normality of having lights switched on and off at will.
Unfortunately, Hugh’s story is repeated across the country with more and more sick children and their parents stuck in hospital, wishing they could get home and (newsflash for the Department of Finance) if successful another hospital bed would be freed up and thousands, no millions, of euro would be saved every year.
When will Minister for Health James Reilly and the HSE have a light-bulb moment when it comes to caring for children with life-limiting conditions at home and acknowledge the real financial as well as medical benefits of making this happen? The man between the rock and the hard place when it comes to the health budget should be ring-fencing a national paediatric home nursing plan to get more children like Hugh home. Right thing to do. Right time. And guaranteed to save money.
Does anybody care? I do. And so should everyone – not just the Minister for Health. – Yours, etc,
Jack & Jill Foundation,
Co Kildare.

Sir, – I read Pat Kenny’s justification for the massive fees paid by RTÉ to presenters (Magazine, August 31st). His analysis is based on two very unsound assumptions.
First he reminds us that “someone like Gay Byrne was earning half a million punts per year in 1988”. This is probably correct but he draws the conclusion “That was the rate for the top man”. Certainly that may have been the fee paid but many believe that the State broadcaster should never have paid anyone that amount in 1988 – a time when the country was living way beyond its means, to quote another beneficiary of the taxpayers’ largesse. If you want to base a current fee on historical precedent then that past fee must itself be justified.
Second, Pat Kenny says such fees “may seem obscene, but the reality is there is a market and that market determines”. The central point is that RTÉ does not operate in a commercial market. Anyone possessing a TV, even if they cannot receive RTÉ, has to pay the TV licence fee, and under the proposed broadcasting tax, it will have to be paid even by those without electricity. These taxes form a substantial part of RTÉ’s income. This is a bizarre definition of the market.
I wish Pat Kenny well in his first commercial post, but I hope his analysis is a lot more rigorous there than in his defence of exorbitant fees for presenters on State media. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I’m delighted to note that some sanity may now be brought into the debate on the future of the Seanad with the news that Kieran Mulvey is the public face of a group supporting the demise of the Upper House. The Coalition’s pre-election promises, probably supported by the vast majority of voters, called for the abolition of the Seanad and a substantial reduction in the number of Dáil deputies. Predictably, once in office, the new Government reduced Dáil numbers by just a handful.
Every important Government decision affecting the taxpayer since the Governmeant was elected, has been qualified by the statement “We have to do this because the Troika insists!” So the Irish Government is in effect a sort of European Union county council, with very little influence over important issues.
Before the bailout we didn’t need a Seanad to oversee the Dáil, so why, oh why, would we want one now? If we voters do a U-turn this time it really will be seen as an Irish “omnishambles”! – Yours, etc,
Hillcourt Road,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – It seems strange that the “One House” group, which favours abolition of the Seanad, should nominate Kieran Mulvey as its main spokesman.
As Chairman of the Labour Relations Commission, Mr Mulvey has a salary of €176,000, which is almost three times the salary of a Senator.
He can hardly be the most convincing person to complain about the Seanad costing us too much. – Yours, etc,
Mount Tallant Avenue,
Harolds Cross, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – We cannot all be great poets but we can all be great people. May Seamus Heaney’s teachings and example guide us to greatness so that together we can re-build this country with care, compassion and community. Then he will truly be able to rest in peace. – Yours, etc,
Chapel Street,
Co Waterford.
Sir, – I would like to thank our national broadcaster for the sympathetic televising of Seamus Heaney’s funeral. As the recorder failed to capture the entire service, RTÉ Player came to the rescue.
I can’t help but think that those who were unable to access it via any medium are the poorer. – Yours, etc,
Clonard Drive,
Dublin 16.
A chara, – Much has been written about the gentle kindness and humanity of Seamus Heaney in the last few days. A number of years ago I crossed paths with him and experienced his renowned kindness.
I was boarding a flight from Edinburgh to Dublin, when I spotted him sitting a few rows in front of me. During the flight I was considering whether or not to ask him for an autograph for two friends of mine – directors of a theatre company in Philadelphia and big fans of his work.
As we walked into the terminal in Dublin Airport, I plucked up the necessary courage. With a twinkle in his eye, Seamus Heaney said, “Young lady, why don’t we take a moment while you tell me about your friends.” He wrote a lovely note for Dan and Quinn and wished me all the best.
My memory of that encounter is of a man who had time for strangers, who had a genuine interest in others and who displayed great thoughtfulness.
May he rest in peace. – Yours, etc,
Woodford Lawn,
Dublin 22.
Sir, – August 30th, which marked the passing of Seamus Heaney, was one of the saddest days I can remember.   His poetry was rooted in the land and rooted in the hands of my grandparents who lived in Ireland.  
Nothing comes close to Heaney’s work in terms of capturing the ineffable beauty and harsh realities of the everyday that my family (and many families) experienced.  In his hands and in his “squat pen” he held an entire country, the history and the future, with all the complex paradoxes, indescribable grief, and astounding music that we, as human beings, carry in our voices.
Although I live in America, my family is originally from Islandmore in Clew Bay.  It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in the world, and I am lucky enough to be able to spend the summers there. Many members of my family, who grew up on the island, remember nights when the high tide swept into the house.  As children, my cousins would wake up to find the ocean at their fingertips.   I believe Heaney’s lines from The Disappearing Island are a poignant reminder of this:   “The island broke beneath us like a wave/ The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm.”

Likewise, there are moments when Clew Bay becomes completely still.   The ocean seems to rest for a minute, unstartled, and the reflection of the sky is indistinguishable from the sea.
Those moments feel as close to the edge of the world as a human being can possibly get.   It reminds me of the last line from the poem, “All I believed that happened there was vision.” To me, that line is the perfect embodiment of that feeling.  And Seamus Heaney was the only one who could so precisely bring that feeling into language.  
I was fortunate enough to hear Seamus Heaney speak eloquently about poetry at a writers’ conference in Boston several months ago.   He said:  “I usually considered myself a noun basically.  But to be transformed into a verb, seems to me, to be the call of poetry.” I want to tell Seamus Heaney, wherever he might be, that he is a verb.  He is a verb to me and to the rest of the world, now and forever. – Yours, etc,
Grove Crabtree Crescent ,

A chara, – I was immeasurably moved by the elegance of the eulogies and beauty of the music at the funeral Mass of Seamus Heaney. If he had the bad luck to have been buried from a church in the Diocese of Meath, would we have heard not a single word or note of this? I think the Bishop should clarify how his recent edict would have affected or “improved” the spiritual nature of the ceremony. Silence, in this case, would have been far from golden. – Is mise,
Sandycove Avenue West,
Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

* It’s ironic, Minister Hogan, that I open my daily newspaper this morning and find a notice pertaining to a public consultation regarding the national library strategy. It reads: “The aim of the draft strategy is to deliver an efficient and effective standard of public library service in Ireland over the next five years and position the library service as a focal point which meets the information, learning and cultural needs of individuals and communities.” It goes on to say that the strategy proposes to facilitate social and economic inclusion.
Also in this section
The people of Ireland cannot take more taxes
Church vs Sinn Fein
A truly remarkable man
Now, minister, I wish to make my first submission . . . if you intend to follow the same path as you have in Ballymote & Tubbercurry Co Sligo by cutting the late night Thursday opening completely and shutting the libraries on Saturday then you certainly don’t facilitate the information, learning or cultural needs of a working family or indeed facilitate the social or economic inclusion of the children of working families.
When exactly do you propose we avail of the services?
Indeed, when do you propose that our children avail of the services?
As Walter Cronkite once said: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Or indeed Andrew Carnegie when he stated that: “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”
Tubbercurry and Ballymote are not deserts – and they deserve a reasonable, user-friendly library service.
Sinead Foley
Co Sligo
* At the risk of triggering a premature explosion of Christmas shopping, I recommend the following books from the Dail gift shop’s autumn range:
Bertie’s Shoes: Beneath persistent declarations of not wishing to be in them lurked a widespread desire to the contrary. Here is a gripping tale of dark intrigue.
Running a Country without Getting Out of Bed: Another Cowen classic.
Dunne Roaming: A new anthology of well-known Irish songs, including the popular ‘Things Are Alright in America’, and ‘Baron of Ballsbridge Over Troubled Water’.
The Last Hurrah: The Seanad Choir’s self-effacing but haunting valedictory album includes their classic hit, ‘Don’t Vote for Us, Argentina, We Are Mostly a Great Waste of Time’.
The Anglo Boyos’ Tapestry: Be amazed at the artists colourful yarns.
The Greenfield Sites of Ireland: A moving tribute to the pop group, Backhanders, whose hits included a powerful rendition of Bing Crosby’s classic, ‘How Can You Buy Killarney?’.
Junkets: A book for all the family. This is the story of how politicians selflessly flew around the world comparing and contrasting junkets in other cultures.
Top of my list has to be the exceptionally brief but imaginative, Charles Haughey – The Honest Years.
All profits will go to the TDs’ Expenses and Pensions Benevolent Fund, and the Brian Cowen Foundation for Sufferers from Inability to See a Financial Crash Coming Syndrome.
Philip O’Neill
* It was 1974 when I started work in RTE as a radio producer. One of my first assignments was a series of half-hour programmes called ‘Personal Choice’ scheduled for Sunday night listening. Guests were invited to choose their personal likes in music, poetry and prose.
One such guest was Seamus Heaney, a young man who had recently come to live in a Wicklow cottage with his wife, Marie, to write in solitude, doubtless unhindered. He had left behind him at Queen’s University Belfast, a secure career. To make a living writing poetry, I wondered!
Needless to say, he performed in studio with hardly a hitch and his personal choice was well received when broadcast that summer. How did I find him? Quiet, unassuming and humble with a wry sense of humour.
At the reception area in the radio centre we shook hands and I wished him good luck. I turned away, wondering would he make it!
Sean Walsh
* We lost Seamus Heaney today to the very earth about which he spoke so eloquently. Unlike his young brother Christopher, whose life’s journey was measured in feet, Seamus’s can be measured in miles, thousands of them.
His earthy words crossed all borders, physical and religious. In my mind’s eye he sits among those literary lions inspired by the bleak northern soil – Yeats, McGahern, Kavanagh and Goldsmith. Strange but interesting bedfellows indeed.
Aidan Hampson
* I wish to correct the mistaken comparison of the one chamber parliaments in Scandinavian countries that Seanad abolition advocates and the Taoiseach have been articulating.
Unlike Ireland the system of local government is highly sophisticated, being divided into regional and municipal governments. Scandinavian countries have a highly decentralised form of government where the majority of matters that affect daily lives are determined at local level.
For example, Denmark is divided into five regions and 98 municipalities, which are independent of each other and provide different functions but all are governed by councils directly elected by the people.
Regional and municipal councils have the power to conduct “advisory referendums” on matters of local concern. There is direct democracy in the Danish local government system, a feature absent in Ireland.
Here, unlike in Scandinavian countries, absolute control over the Dail by Government is exercised through the vicious whip system. The direct effect of Seanad abolition will be that democracy as we know it and free speech will be non-existent.
Caroline Bergin-Cross
Barrister-at-Law, Treasurer of Lawyers for Seanad Reform, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
* Wouldn’t the Education Minister be better served using his time to tackle the cartel cost of school uniforms and books instead of other niche issues like waiting lists and application fees that only affect the well-off who have a choice about whether or not to pay those costs?
Or is tackling issues that affect working-class parents and those on welfare too much like hard work?
Desmond FitzGerald
Canary Wharf, London
* I was mugged on Aungier Street yesterday on my way to Croke Park to watch Kerry v Dublin. A gurrier on a bike charged at me, took my phone and took off. . . hugely shocking and very upsetting but, my God, how misfortune brings out the best in people!
A collection of lovely people from the Vineyard Church came to my aid immediately administering hugs, offering phones to make emergency calls and providing much-needed support and reassurance in the aftermath.
Can I please thank Tara and Bob from Leopardstown for their kindness. It was so greatly appreciated and changed a horrible, frightening experience into one of sincere gratitude for the kindness of strangers.
I also want to thank Mark Walsh who drove me, out of his way, to Kevin Street garda station and then on to Croke Park! How sound!
As a Kerry woman I want to say, the day after a defeat in Croke Park, I love Dublin and Dubliners! This is a great city, full of decent people.
Name and address with editor
Irish Independent


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