Laurels

11 September 2013 Laurels

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Pertwee is head to head with Nunky Pertwee against Pertwee which one will win? Priceless.
Next door come and cuts down the laurels a little too much
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today Mary wins and get under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Leslie Chapman
Leslie Chapman, who has died aged 93, exploded a depth charge under Whitehall in 1978 with his book Your Disobedient Servant. It detailed how he had drastically cut waste as a regional director of the Ministry of Public Building and Works — and how his superiors systematically frustrated ministers’ instructions to secure wider savings.

Leslie Chapman wielding the axe down on his Welsh farm. Photo: THE TELEGRAPH
6:32PM BST 10 Sep 2013
Fed up with their attitude, Chapman took early retirement in 1973, and his book appeared just in time to excite Margaret Thatcher and those around her as they prepared for government. But he presciently forecast that her efficiency drive in Whitehall would go off at half-cock, as the forces ranged against it were powerful and devious.
Nevertheless, Your Disobedient Servant and Chapman’s own campaigning did lead to some economies in central and local government — as well as the dismissal in 1980 of the chairman of London Transport, Ralph Bennett, after Chapman, a part-time board member, had raised the lid on “extravagance” at its headquarters.
Chapman, who refused all payment for his efforts, also had the satisfaction of seeing Sir Robert Cox, his former boss at what was now the Property Services Agency, hauled before the Public Accounts Committee for having misled it.
Both Your Disobedient Servant and its sequel, Waste Away (1981), have continued to have a powerful influence on advocates of privatisation, outsourcing and public sector reform.
Leslie Charles Chapman was born at Windsor on September 14 1919; his father worked at the Admiralty and his grandfather at the Royal Mint. He went into the Ministry of Works after leaving Bishopshalt school, Uxbridge, then, when war broke out, joined the Army.
Invalided out with leg wounds in 1945, he returned to the ministry, rising through the ranks. In 1967 he was appointed its southern regional director, with a £10 million budget for maintaining government and military buildings across five counties.
Suspecting that the job could be done better, more cheaply and by fewer people than his staff of more than 4,000, Chapman asked for a report on the organisation’s effectiveness and was told that “not a penny” was misspent.
Doubting this judgment, he visited ministry depots unannounced — and found staff engaged on unnecessary tasks, doing work below their skills or doing nothing at all. A detailed survey confirmed this. Patches of grass at military depots were being maintained like golf courses; large stocks of expensive equipment were being held for tasks seldom undertaken; and hundreds of stokers were employed to fire boilers that were not needed in summer, or at all.
Working with the unions, Chapman cut staffing by 55 per cent and costs by more than a third. But he found his superiors strangely unenthusiastic, and adamant that only “local circumstances” had enabled the cuts to be made.
Even when he persuaded ministers (Labour and Conservative alike) of the scope for cutting waste nationally, instructions from them were either blocked in Whitehall or watered down. Chapman decided he had had enough, and retired to mid-Wales.
Before Your Disobedient Servant appeared, Whitehall was nervous about what he might say. Unprecedentedly, specialist reporters were briefed in advance by Sir Robert Cox on the PSA’s side of the story.
The book indeed made uncomfortable reading: 12 dockets having to pass through 82 bureaucratic processes before a tap could be mended; the use of ministerial cars by junior staff when taxis would have been cheaper; and welfare officers travelling 200 miles to see staff who did not want to be visited.
But what was dynamite was Chapman’s account of how officials at the top of the PSA had prevented the saving of taxpayers’ money he had achieved from being rolled out nationwide.
Most seriously, Sir Edward du Cann discovered that a sharp drop in spending by Chapman’s region had been the result of concerted economies — and not, as Cox had told the PAC three years before, of a one-off movement of troops from Aldershot. Cox, who had belatedly given the correct reason, was forced to apologise in person.
Mrs Thatcher had long had her suspicions about the Civil Service, and these were not allayed by her spell as Education Secretary. When Chapman’s book appeared, she took inspiration from it, and on taking office she appointed the Marks & Spencer executive Sir Derek Rayner to bring about efficiencies in Whitehall. Chapman lamented that Rayner, as a part-timer, would be no match for full-time obstructionists, adding that the Civil Service would be “most helpful, very cosy and nice, and completely bloody ineffectual”.
Rayner and further exercises during the Thatcher years did achieve some efficiencies, though never on the scale Chapman considered possible. Moreover, Your Disobedient Servant was influential in establishing the Government Accountancy Service in 1982.
Several Tory-controlled councils asked Chapman for advice. Berkshire identified savings of £1 million a year in heating and lighting costs, and located thousands of acres of land plus 192 staff houses that could be sold.
Sir Horace Cutler, the maverick Tory leader of the Greater London Council, installed Chapman on the London Transport Executive with similar intent. Chapman arrived in January 1979 with an axe slung over his shoulder, and that December sent Cutler a memo highlighting “disgraceful” waste and extravagance, with senior officials sharing 26 chauffeur-driven limousines and dining free of charge. In all, he reckoned, £50 million could be saved.
Ralph Bennett denied that there was any waste, and ordered officials not to give Chapman any further information. The GLC, unconvinced, sent in the auditors Deloitte, and on the back of their assessment gave LT two months to come up with savings.
A further report from PA Consulting declared LT’s top management “weak in the skills required to run a large business”. Bennett was dismissed, but early in 1981 Chapman was ousted for refusing to keep silent about continuing extravagance.
In the same year Chapman launched the Campaign to Stop Waste in Public Expenditure. He also returned to the attack with Waste Away, which chronicled further examples of profligacy.
Leslie Chapman married, in 1947, Beryl England; their son predeceased him.
Leslie Chapman, born September 14 1919, died August 25 2013

Guardian:

Many of us pathologists must wonder how NHS England is going to identify “needless deaths” of patients under treatment, if there is not a 100% high-quality autopsy rate on those dying. Medical certificates of cause of death have a serious error rate of 30%, and numerous publications identify significant discrepancies between clinicians’ diagnoses and those found at autopsy. Currently, hospital/consent adult autopsy rates are under 5% of hospital deaths. Medico-legal autopsies for a coroner occur after about 20% of deaths; but, again, these have a 20% diagnosis error rate. So will it again be statistics from wonderland?
Sebastian Lucas
London
• The onslaught of NHS-sponsored sugar sales begins before the inpatient’s encounter with the ward trolley (Report, 7 September). Last week I endured many hours overnight in the stiflingly hot A&E waiting room at Watford general hospital. The only drinking water available cost £1.40 for a 330ml bottle; Coca Cola was £1 from the same vending machine. The large choice of snacks offered to this captive audience was confined to competing brands of chocolate and crisps.
Susan Bailey
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire
• Those who attended the brilliant Freedom festival in Hull at the weekend and read your article (Can Prince of Darkness spread sweetness and light?, 9 September) will be bemused. No mention of this annual event, in which Hull pulls out all the stops to provide an immensely varied cultural festival, and which this year surpassed itself, with 80,000 attending.
Jenny Parsons
Hull
• While we marvel at the wonderful restoration of the Hammersmith Apollo (Report, 7 September), let us not forget the hundreds of cinema theatres long since demolished or derelict, awaiting their fate, some with equally unique and exquisite interiors and exteriors.
Joseph Roberts
Clitheroe, Lancashire
• Whether or not “must” is a synonym for “can” (Letters, 10 September), what is worrying is the Orwellian-sounding term “language engineering” being used to describe an academic discipline.
Peter Ostrowski
Wickford, Essex

Today marks another sad day to remember the victims of 9/11. For the immediate families there will always be the pain of sudden loss. We should also remember the thousands of people who have been the innocent victims of 9/11 in the cruel wars that have followed the attack on the Twin Towers. So many families and children slaughtered, so many homes destroyed. Muslim countries have been the target and centuries of coexistence and respect for cultural diversity have been tossed aside. Revenge for the past breeds reprisals. We need to stop the carnage. We cannot stop the civil war in Syria by killing more children. Today the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will be holding a vigil opposite parliament to call for the release and return of British resident Shaker Aamer to the UK from over 11 years of unlawful imprisonment in Guantánamo. He is also an innocent victim of 9/11, a husband and father of a British Muslim family torn apart by vengeance for the actions of others.
Joy Hurcombe
Worthing, West Sussex

I applaud Fiona Millar’s continuing efforts to highlight the problems that beset education, but her article on cheating (Education, 10 September) barely scratches the surface. Though the actions of individual subject teachers rightly attracts condemnation, it is the culture created by many headteachers which creates a serious problem. I have experience of the methods some headteachers use to inflate the achievement of their school and know of many more from the comments of colleagues in other schools. Everybody in teaching knows that this is rife. Some heads were even knighted for the success that their dubious practices produced. I recall one head asking me as head of year 11 for the worst attenders in my year group; of the 10 names I supplied, seven were removed from the school roll soon after. A few months later the school had its best GCSE results ever and the head was praised for “turning the school round”.
Lee Porter
Bridport, Dorset
• Zoe Williams (This educational underclass is a handy moralisers’ myth, 5 September) is right to decry the use of extreme examples – children starting school in nappies or not knowing their name – and particularly so when they are used to vilify parents. The misuse of extreme cases, however, should not lead us to conclude that there isn’t a problem. Children starting school in socially deprived areas do struggle. Their language is particularly vulnerable and has repeatedly been shown to be below the level of other children, and below their own ability on non-verbal tasks. The schools they attend often face the additional difficulty that many children do not come from English-speaking homes. The article is right to question the disputed role of parenting, however. Chronic stress destroys lives; the stress of poverty destroys homes. The problem will not retreat until we have a society that values all its citizens. 
Professor Tim Pring
City University
• One of the issues of between Mr Gove and the teacher unions is performance-related pay (Editorial, 6 September). Researchers have clearly shown that for workers engaged in routine operations, performance-related pay is a successful strategy for increasing output. But for workers engaged in complex cognitive operations – like teaching – it does not improve their efficiency, but risks disenchanting them. Research funded by the Federal Reserve Bank undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has demonstrated that as long as the tasks being undertaken are purely mechanical, performance-related pay works as expected. However, once rudimentary cognitive skills are required, it actually leads to poorer performance.
Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire
• How modest of Michael Wilshaw to give himself such an outstanding self-assessment of the improvement of education under his aegis (Schools making radical advances, says Ofsted chief, 9 September). No doubt when under the current tick-box system of education every pupil in the country has passed GCSE in mathematics and English we shall have a nation of mathematical geniuses and literary savants, rather a nation addicted to populist pap.
John Densem
Bristol

The role of conscientious objectors in the first world war is an important theme, so it is good that the Peace Pledge Union has received a significant grant to explore this during the centenary (Anti-war activists battle to get their voices heard in events marking WW1 centenary, 9 September).
However, this public funding for pacifist commemoration does suggest that the No Glory campaign is tilting at straw men in critiquing the centenary commemorations as an exercise in jingoistic glorification. The government is taking no official view of the conflict, its causes or its outcomes. Strikingly, it has even declined to state publicly whether it was good that Britain won the war.
There is broad consensus among the public on what they think the central themes of the centenary should be. As research for British Future shows, highlighting the value of peace is their top priority. Other themes with over 80% public support include commemorating the sacrifice of those who died; providing a chance to learn about Britain’s history; and how understanding the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers can help integration today. Arguments challenging the centenary plans as likely to promote nationalism (21%), or indeed for making a “victory” theme central (33%), have a narrower public appeal.
Sunder Katwala
Director, British Future
•  There were actually about 16,000 conscientious objectors (COs), not 6,000 as your article says, and none of them were executed – though some were taken to France and threatened with being shot. Over 70 COs (and the numbers are growing as we at the Peace Pledge Union do more research) did die as a result of their treatment in prison and illnesses they incurred. The PPU is working with other peace groups with connections back to the first world war, to commemorate all those who tried to stop the war at the time and who resisted taking part in it. We hope others around the country will join with us in commemorating the COs and the women in the peace movement on 15 May 2014, when there will be a ceremony in Tavistock Square, London, at the Conscientious Objectors stone. There will also be a silent vigil at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 4 August 2014, the day Britain joined the war, and we hope such vigils will take place all around the country.
Lucy Beck
Member of Peace Pledge Union council
•  It was heartening to read about the alternative events being planned for the first world war anniversary. Unfortunately, here in Folkestone a permanent feature rather than a transient event is being planned to commemorate those soldiers who passed through the town on their way to the western front. Seemingly ignoring the fact that these soldiers are already remembered by the 1922 war memorial and a nearby brick pillar, as well as “The Road of Remembrance”.
Step Short, a charity chaired by Damian Collins MP, has been given permission to build a 14-metre-high stainless steel arch, only yards away from these already existing memorials at a cost of around £500,000, of which £350,000 is coming from local authority and county funds.
Supporting what Roger Lloyd Pack says in your article, is it right in these straitened times to expend this amount of money on an unneeded further war memorial, when it could be more usefully employed in other ways, such as supporting physically injured and mentally traumatised soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? One can only hope that even at this late stage Step Short will think again.
Nick Spurrier
Folkestone
•  In two weeks, on 21 September, the “glorious conflict” narrative of the first world war will be challenged with a conference, organised by several peace and social justice groups, entitled The Peace & Anti-War Movement on the Eve of the First World War – Lessons for Today, in the Manchester Friends’ Meeting House. The conference will be opened by Martin Bell, the former war reporter, independent MP and vice-president of the Movement Against War, followed in the morning by Barry Mills, historian of the Northern Friends’ Peace Board, and June Hannam on Isabella Ford, the peace activist, socialist and suffragist and the opposition of women to the war. In the afternoon, there will be three speakers giving a view on two communities on the eve of the war: Mike Crawford, historian, and Nick Wilding, film-maker and historian, looking at Calderdale in Yorkshire and, bearing in mind the remarks from the German embassy in your article, a German historian, Wolfgang Hombach, is coming to describe what was happening in his community in Germany at the time. Later in the afternoon there will be a panel and audience discussion on the lessons for today. On the Friday evening before there will be a showing of the film Benjamin Britten – Peace and Conflict.
For further information email gmdcnd@gn.apc.org or phone 0161-273 8283.
Rae Street
Littleborough, Lancashire
•  It is right that these groups should have a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and they are right to highlight that there should be no glorification of war. But they should take care not to close down discussion or proper analysis of the cause of wars with simplistic and sweeping generalisations that all the great powers were to blame in 1914 or that war is always avoidable. It might be worth considering the words of Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert (1743-1790): “Those that declaim against war beat the air in vain, for the ambitious, unjust or powerful cannot be restrained by such means.”
Understanding the complexities of the causes of the war might provide the insight necessary to avoid war in the future. Simply highlighting the horrors of war, alas, does not prevent wars, as has been repeatedly demonstrated since 1918.
HJ Carter
Devizes, Wiltshire
•  I was pleased to see that you devoted the whole of page 3 in Monday’s Guardian to the No Glory campaign. But I was dismayed that I could not find a single mention of the demonstration on Sunday against the monstrous biennial London arms fair, which takes place at the Excel Centre all this week.
Activists bravely blockaded the two entrances and took possession of a roundabout to enable a family-friendly demonstration of hundreds of people against what I see as the most cynical trade, selling arms to regimes that abuse human rights like Bahrain, Israel and Turkey, and the Russian arms suppliers to President Assad in Syria. The components for the nerve gas used in Syria may well have originated here. What’s more, our taxes are being used to support this event through the government.
Demonstrations will continue all week, and I hope you’ll report on it. There needs to be a much bigger outcry till the government is forced to stop funding murder, war and repression in other countries. See http://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk.
Morag Carmichael
London

One might almost feel sympathy for poor Chris Huhne (Comment, 9 September). His private life and bad driving habits laid bare for all to see. His political career shredded in public. His reputation tattered. And all of it, apparently, the fault of Murdoch’s murky media machine. Might … but sadly one does not. The self-serving, egotistical, arrogant, blame-shifting attitude of this ex-MP says exactly where we are in the political/media debate. “It ain’t my fault, gov … he did it.” No, Mr Huhne. You and you alone were and are responsible for your actions. A modicum of humility would not come amiss.
Oh, and can we taxpayers have our money back please? The money you wasted by continually asserting your innocence. Public trust corroded by the media? Pot, kettle.
Carol Hedges
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
• Chris Huhne is absolutely correct in stating that Vicky Pryce was groomed; the court transcripts provide the details. Groomed by him to commit the crime of perverting the course of justice.
Gerard Laden
Hull
• Chris Huhne is not the ideal spokesperson, but his case is sound. Politicians are human, no better, no worse than others, but, under much greater pressure, they are expected to operate to higher standards and viciously exposed by the media if they don’t. The public, too, are naive in expecting politicians to tell the whole truth all of the time on major issues, especially when they are often faced with having to choose the lesser of two evils, in difficult circumstances.
Anthony Garrett
Falkland, Fife
• It wasn’t the original offence that turned people against him, nor his cheating on his wife, nor the callous way he dumped her, but the fact that he lied and lied again, once the case was public.
Anne Strachan
Manchester

Harry Schneider writes: Geoffrey Goodman (obituary, 7 September) was a radio producer’s delight. Although a lifelong print journalist, he loved a medium for which his deep resonant voice equipped him well. Not only was he much sought after as a participant in political discussion programmes and as an expert on political, industrial and employment matters, but he was also a trenchant presenter of magazine programmes and documentary features. I had the good fortune of producing some of those on Radio 4 during the 1980s.
I valued his lucid and accessible scripts, his sensitive interviewing technique and his responsive attitude to the technical side of radio production (which distinguished him from some prima donnas who had never worked outside broadcasting). Above all, one could always rely on Geoffrey’s inexhaustible list of contacts, not only in the labour movement and across the political parties but also among influential employers in business and industry.
Kenneth Morgan writes: Geoffrey Good man was the very embodiment of comradeship. He was immensely kind and generous to me when I wrote biographies of Jim Callaghan and Michael Foot. He recalled the past with passionate engagement but without rancour, as in memories of how his flat (like those of many others) had been broken into and burgled, perhaps by MI5, when he worked for Harold Wilson in 1975-76.
Last year, at a conference in Manchester, Geoffrey and I discussed whether Jim Callaghan really recanted his opposition to In Place of Strife in the light of the winter of discontent 10 years later. Geoffrey told me that Callaghan had done so in private conversation years later; I said that my own experience was the complete opposite. We concluded that we were both right and that Jim had said different things to each of us.
Julian Borger’s article is one of many on the debate about whether the US – or the UK or France – should intervene militarily (West reviews legal options for possible Syria strike, 30 August). This is important, but it’s only part of the problem with Syria. I would like the discussion to be broadened in two ways.
First, the spotlight should be directed at those who profit by selling chemical and other weapons for use in Syria. Manufacturers make large profits from selling chemical and other weapons. The funding for their use in Syria comes from Russia and other states, who support their own party in the conflict to further their own “strategic interests”. And so the conflict goes on, fuelled by outsiders. One way of bringing it to an end is to restrict the supply of weapons from outside.
Second, we in the west should consider how best we can support Syria’s refugees and the countries that receive them: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Their leaders are meeting to co-ordinate their requests to the international community and we should listen to them.
Edward Glennie
Swindon, UK
• US secretary of state John Kerry has been quoted as saying, “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standards, it is inexcusable and – despite the equivocations and excuses manufactured – it is undeniable” (Kerry: US will act against Assad, 30 August).
Odd that. If you just leave out the word “chemical”, he could be talking about the US drone attacks.
Ray Ferris
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• I am puzzled by the British parliament’s decision not to have any military involvement in Syria (Miliband blamed as Syria action blocked, 6 September). Parliament supported the decision to invade Iraq on the basis of weapons of mass destruction that in fact did not exist, yet they shun involvement in Syria even if UN inspectors were to conclude that weapons of mass destruction not only exist but have been used on the civilian population. Surely, parliament is not hypocritical, so what could the explanation be?
They must have misunderstood the implications of military action by the west. There is a very real possibility that Iran would get involved in support of their ally. I can only assume that parliament saw this as a threat and not an opportunity. Yet the opportunity was there. Let’s face it, Iran has been asking for a good slapping for the many years that it has snubbed its nose at those telling it to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. So the opportunity was huge: bomb one country – bomb another free!
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain
A sense of togetherness
Nostalgia is all very well, as long as one recognises it as such (All dressed up to relive the original era of austerity, 6 September). The article by Dorian Lynskey shows very clearly the risk of trivialising such recent periods in history. I would like to recommend that, at every festival of the 40s or other re-enactment weekend, the Ken Loach film The Spirit of ’45 be shown, with a DVD on sale for participants to take home and study. I was born in 1936 and have distinct memories of spending the war in London, and a slightly older friend accompanying me to this film came out trembling, such was the emotional impact of reliving these events. The film also shows how the social advances in the postwar period, such as the NHS, came about.
Annette Koreneff
Ferney-Voltaire, France
• Your feature on wartime austerity largely misses the point. What gave rise to all the things to which the article refers, and what was so remarkable, was that out of the despair of the economically disastrous 1930s, out of mass unemployment and out of the abject poverty of millions, could arise a sense of togetherness that, as Hitler was to experience, made Britain virtually unbeatable. The British, at their best, developed a sense of inter-dependence that ensured that you were never alone, that you were always part of something bigger – whether it was sharing your vacuum flask with your neighbour in the air-raid shelter, walking out with your fellow conscripts in the forces or queueing up for your rations. You were always doing things together.
This isn’t just sentimental hogwash. I was there and know that in the 1940s and even the 50s we lived in a country that displayed qualities that can never be replicated.
Eric Bourne
Ashbourne, UK
Gay pride worldwide
Thanks to Annie March for reminding us how much the LGBT community can achieve within a relatively short period of time, and for her words of encouragement for young homosexuals in Russia (Reply, 30 August). It’s fantastic that so many cities in western Europe, the US or in Canada host their own gay pride parade, but let us not forget that we’re the privileged few.
Boys and girls, look over the rim of your champagne glasses! Why not organise an alternative parade for a change, in order to raise awareness for LGBTs living in Iran, Russia or Uganda?
Jan Schwab
Freiburg, Germany
People of faith can inspire
Thanks to Gary Younge for his moving account of the courage of Antoinette Tuff in “talking down” a deranged 20-year-old off his meds who was planning a shooting at the school at which she worked (A woman’s courage shows us the way, 30 August). This article was the first in my years of reading the Guardian Weekly that ended with tears in my eyes.
She shared her own vulnerabilities with the gunman, Michael Hill, and the episode ended with him relinquishing his gun and lying down on the floor to wait for the police. Younge acknowledges that it was her faith that grounded her during this experience, and, an agnostic himself, tellingly asks for more discernment than our culture usually offers between sick religion and healthy religion. His list of exemplars of the latter (Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and others) I was happy to see included the name of Trevor Huddleston, a man who had a permanent and positive effect on my own life. To that list can now be added the name of Antoinette Tuff.
Donald Grayston
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Dangers of big data
Your article on big data left me frustrated (30 August). It was really about big data’s vulnerabilities, not its dangers. That, and I see only one, is something quite different.
The San Francisco Symphony programme notes for Saturday 9 January 1999 observe that, “management theory has now reached the state where everybody’s personality can be profiled in terms of measurements of only four different categories. Not only that, testing questions are so sophisticated that they can detect which is the ‘real’ persona, and which the testee thinks the tester would like to see.”
Now comes big data with its capability to apply this everywhere, and squeeze each of us into its version of our established personality, and treat us accordingly with no longer scope for any undirected change. How dreary to live in a community with no room for free will, where everyone is carved into a square peg and each fit into his or her predetermined square hole.
Michael Goldeen
Palo Alto, California, US
US hypocrisy on freedom
What sad and terrible hypocrisy for an American president, and for former presidents to celebrate the civil rights march on Washington (Thousands relive the dream of King’s DC march, 30 August). While uncharged and mainly innocent men have languished for years in Guantánamo Bay,; drones spy and attack worldwide with impunity, and indiscriminate cyber-spying is practised on citizens and foreigners alike, Martin Luther King Jr’s great dream is still a long march away.
When will the US finally let justice roll?
Peter Scott
Elora, Ontario, Canada
Who knew what and when?
The article War crimes verdicts at risk (23 August) reminds me of Arlo Guthrie’s jibe at Nixon in the song Presidential Rag: “You said you didn’t know / The cats with the bugs were there / That you’d never go along with that stuff, nowhere / But that’s not the point, man, it’s the wrong way to go / If you didn’t know about that one, what else don’t you know?”
The issue of mens rea, or intent, cannot be allowed to supersede the notion of responsibility. If people in power know what happened, they are guilty of complicity; if they didn’t know they are guilty of negligence – and the greater their position, the greater their negligence.
If we are to preserve a semblance of democracy and social justice, international law has to be underpinned by this notion of accountability; otherwise, those with power and sophistry will always interpret events in ways that seek to absolve them of responsibility.
Andrew Lacey
Mold, UK
Downfall of English?
Of course the meanings of words slip and slide and stretch and evolve over the years, and an insistence on their “correct” meaning is curmudgeonly and futile. I do know that (Who ruined English: Brits or Yanks? 30 August). As an English literature professor, I have come to accept that “relatable” is a quick and simple way of saying “easy or possible to relate to”, of a situation or a character in literature. I don’t really like it, and wouldn’t use it myself, but it works and I’ve long since given up correcting it in the margin.
But there are some misuses of words, if I may still say that, which are simply errors based on ignorance. “Mitigate” for “militate”, as in “to mitigate against” – quite common in Canada, in print as well as speech – is simply wrong. As is “intercede” to mean “intervene”. “The police were watching the situation, but decided not to intercede.” If the meaning of “to plead on someone’s behalf” is lost, then that very idea will be more difficult to retain.
Robert Fothergill
Toronto, Canada
Briefly
• The author of your story on the Incas asks “why did the Incas … feel the need to sacrifice their children?” (23 August). It continues: “The answer can be found in a melange of religious beliefs.”
This is a superficial response. The Incas created their own religion; this provision was included in it. Why?
David Cowan
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Independent:

Wednesday marks another sad day to remember the victims of 9/11. For the immediate families there will always be the pain of sudden loss.
We should also remember the thousands of people who have been the innocent victims of 9/11 in the cruel wars that have followed the attack on the Twin Towers.
So many families and children slaughtered, so many homes destroyed.
Revenge for the past breeds reprisals. We need to stop the carnage if the world is to  have a future. We cannot stop the civil war in Syria by killing more children. We have to tell the war-makers to help end this war, not fuel the fires of hatred.
On Wednesday the Save Shaker Aamer campaign will hold a vigil opposite Parliament to call for the release and return of British resident Shaker Aamer to the UK from over 11 years of unlawful imprisonment in Guantanamo. He is also a victim of 9/11.
Joy Hurcombe, Worthing
When Parliament voted against military involvement in Syria, it spoke for a nation sick of idiotic interventions in Middle Eastern civil wars in which we have no interest.
If the choice was between a secular Assad dictatorship and a pluralistic, free democracy, then intervention might be justifiable, but this is not what is on offer.
The early suspicion that sarin gas was used in Syria appears to rest on the knowledge that Britain’s last government provided a series of export licences for its ingredients.
But if such gas does exist, it is not clear if its use was ordered, or if it was simply dispersed to avoid air attack, released accidentally, or misused by local forces of either side.
Before US missiles spread this gas round the rest of Syria, it might be a good idea to find out which explanation is right.
The Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews, Fife
In 2009, many of us were surprised when the recently elected President of the United States was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
So many of us were enthralled, however, by this superb role model and the words he used, and that, at last, a White House incumbent might just be different, that we suspended our concerns.
Since then, we have had the highest incidences of illegal use of drones, with a huge toll of innocent people killed. We have heard, via leaks from Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, that the United States rides roughshod over international law with regard to so-called intelligence-gathering. We learn also from these leaks that the US suppresses appalling things it has done.
I write with deep regret as a one-time huge fan of Barack Obama, but is it not time now that Thorbjorn Jagland, chair of the Nobel Committee, be invited to withdraw the prize from President Obama?
David Fitzpatrick, Cardiff
For major crimes against humanity and breaches of international law, the correct remedy is to indict the culprit in the International Criminal Court.
The court will consider the evidence and determine the punishment. This will deter further violations. Attacking the accused with missiles is illegal and risks reprisals which could start a major war.
Francis J M Farley, Le Bar-sur-Loup, France
There already is an alternative to the Merchant
Rather than attempt to rewrite an Elizabethan drama (“Jacobson takes on ‘anti-Semitism’ in rewrite of The Merchant of Venice”, 9 September), Howard Jacobson might take a look at Robert Wilson’s 1584 play, The Three Ladies of London, which portrays an upright Jew (Gerontus) and a villainous Italian (Mercatore).
The Italian (who trades in London and Turkey) is indebted to the Jew, and the loans are years overdue. The case for late payment comes before a Turkish judge. The Italian announces that he will “turn Turk” (and thus be excused repayment), but the Jew is outraged by this hypocritical prospect and offers to forego the interest. 
Mercatore insists on converting and Gerontus agrees to forego the lot. The judge is unimpressed and censures Mercatore. The contrast is clear between the shameless opportunism of the Christian and the moderation and generosity of the Jew.
Christopher Walker, London W14
For Howard Jacobson to consider rewriting Shakespeare smacks of the criticism he made of those who sought to ban an Israeli theatre company from touring the UK.
He wrote at the time: “Whoever would go to art with a mind already made up, on any subject, misses what art is for. So to censor it in the name of a political or religious conviction, no matter how sincerely held, is to tear out its very heart, For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable; it is an act of self-harm.”
To stem what he sees as a rising tide of anti-Semitism, he would do better to advise Israel to cease its inhumanities. That country is extracting a “pound of flesh” from each and every Palestinian.
Shylock lost everything – his fortune, his daughter. Let the wisdom of Shakespeare be heeded – and unchanged
Ted Clement-Evans, Liverpool
Aren’t our young artists so clever?
What larks Victoriana: The Art of Revival promises (“A riveting return to Victorian values”, 9 September)!
They were such silly billies weren’t they? And haven’t we, by contrast, attained a positive nirvana of self-knowledge and serenity that is particularly evident in our contemporary art?
Yes, in eschewing all that crinoline and facial hair we can surely congratulate ourselves on having banished all the weird stuff that bamboozled those poor Victorian saps.
And what better way to celebrate our shop-soiled surrealism than to set some of our most iconoclastic young artists to subvert the complacent (but secretly repressive!) Victorian graphic world?
And as there is not the slightest danger that we may be forced to question our own values, let us rejoice in the freedom, lack of idealism and general, all-round smart-alecness of the contemporary art world.
And why shouldn’t our artists trumpet their core values? After all, they are at their best when subverting anything that suggests conviction or sentiment, in the same way as they are at their best when they don’t have to produce anything that might be open to the frankly embarrassing charge of sincerity.
Martin Murray, London SW2
Social ownership revolution is here
Owen Jones’ recognition of the need for a new democratic form of social ownership with consumers in charge is encouraging (“Only a new wave of socialism can end the great squeeze on us all”, 9 September). But he fails to acknowledge the rising social enterprise and cooperative movement that is already shifting the economic tides in favour of the 99 per cent.
Necessities for the British public – energy, transport, housing, banking – are evolving to use a type of business that puts profit back into services and the communities they support. Social enterprises and cooperatives are thriving, outstripping mainstream businesses for growth, and their current start-up rates are huge.
A revolution has started but our political leaders and media commentators are lagging behind. Social ownership, led by the people, for the people, can and will rebalance the economy. But only if it is understood and supported by political and opinion leaders.
Celia Richardson, Director, Social Economy Alliance, London SE1
Nothing Owen Jones wrote is wrong, but he failed to address the fundamental issue: Britain has a systemic trade deficit. Every failing in our economy stems from the country’s failure to pay its way in the world.
Unless we organise a solution PDQ, the country will become a province. Provinces don’t have socialists; provinces have insurgents.
Falling standards of living are a symptom not the disease.    
Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire
Bordering on heavy-handed
According to Margaret Hodge (“Custom checks cut to reduce queues”, 4 September), queuing times for entry to Britain should be short. In the light of this and the staff shortages noted by the Border Force in the same article, I wonder why British border police think it necessary to carry out two passport checks.
Taking the Eurostar from Lille, my partner and I, after being checked by French border police, had our passports electronically checked for entry to Britain by British police who also stamped our rail tickets. This took a while, as the electronic checking was accompanied by questions and comments about my age in relation to my photo.
Arriving in Britain, all passengers were then ushered into a long queue for a second passport check from British border police; they also required passengers to show their tickets. Is this heavy-handed approach the new norm? If so, why? 
Anthony Blane, Nottingham
No great escape
Wrexham is my home town, and although I left more than 25 years ago, I’m still disturbed at the thought of a “super-prison” being sited there (“Four jails will close to make way for £250m ‘super-prison’ in Wales”, 5 September).
The BBC reported: “It will be a Category C prison for inmates who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who do not have the resources and will to make a determined escape attempt.” I doubt local residents will be reassured  by the implication that escape attempts will only be half-hearted.
Surely, one would want them to make good their escape – over the border into England at least.
D Williams, Ryde, Isle of Wight
Could the sudden decision to close prisons be due to the realisation of the urgent need to find suitable premises for workhouses?
R A Flower, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Let live, let die
The campaign from Public Health England promises that smokers who give up for the whole of October, could gain seven extra days of life for every tobacco-free month.
Presumably, this doesn’t allow for natural illness, a plane crash or being run over by a bus. In the name of diversity, should there not be a Start Smoking Month – or at least a Live And Let Live Month?
Steve Lustig, London NW2

Times:

‘The proposal for a trust would almost certainly have been rejected in the Lords, but the Royal Charter process means that power rests with ministers’
Sir, The row over BBC redundancy payments (reports, Sept 10) raises questions not just about the future of the BBC Trust but also about how it was created in the first place.
In 2006 I chaired an all-party House of Lords select committee which examined proposals for a new Royal Charter for the BBC. We rejected the proposal for a trust on the ground that it provided divided leadership at the top of the corporation. We were not alone in that criticism; but the government pushed ahead and there was nothing anybody could do about it.
The Royal Charter is not subject to parliamentary vote. The proposal for a trust would almost certainly have been rejected in the Lords, but the Royal Charter process means that power rests with ministers.
Before we embark on a further renewal of the BBC Royal Charter we should ask whether this is the best and most transparent way of making decisons. We might also ask whether the precedent set by the BBC strengthens the case for a Royal Charter for the press.
Lord Fowler
House of Lords

Sir, As a former Governor of the BBC (1991-99), and chairman of its audit committee, I watched with dismay the proceedings of that committee in relation to the Corporation. That dismay was all the more acute in that I know personally, and respect, some of the principal protagonists. What emerged with awful clarity (amid a wider absence of it) was confusion about responsibilities between the Executive Board and the Trust.
Although I judge that the then Board of Governors shot itself in the foot in its mishandling of the Iraq WMD/Hutton controversy, there could, under that constitution, be no confusion about where responsibility lay, because the 12 Governors were the Corporation. Unlike a “stand off” trust the old board was sufficiently close to the work of management to avoid all too obvious pitfalls. Greg Dyke was notoriously dismissive of Governors; for myself, I never served alongside a more talented and intelligent group of people.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield
Holywood, Co Down

Sir, At Monday’s session of the Public Accounts Committee, the chairman, Margaret Hodge, correctly said that the committee’s remit was not to act as a court of law. Is there not a case for such an occasion of an investigating committee which would employ independent counsel to conduct the prime questioning of the witnesses, so as to allow the committee to listen to the evidence and reach its judgment, without having already telegraphed its attitude either by hostile or friendly questioning?
Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, QC
London N1

Sir, In my experience, overpayments do occur in the public sector. On such occasions those in receipt of money to which they are not entitled are asked to repay it. Those who can plead hardship may repay in monthly tranches while others repay the whole sum immediately.
I would hope that recently retired BBC executives would understand their duty to return public money to which they were not entitled so that their consciences, and the licence fee payers, may rest easy.
Robin Broke
London SW1

The recent stories of prisoners-of-war planting a flag on Kenya’s twin peaks of Batian and Nelion may have been slightly amended
Sir, The Italian PoWs weren’t able to climb Mount Kenya’s twin peaks of Batian and Nelion (letter, Sept 10). They planted their flag instead on Point Lenana, the mountain’s third highest peak.
Nicholas Best
(Author of Happy Valley: The Story of the English in Kenya )
Great Shelford, Cambs

Building the second track alongside the current line would deliver the increased capacity and much of the increase in speed
Sir, The arguments for the greater capacity HS2 will deliver are clear, though they have perhaps not been very well articulated to date. There is some attraction in the greater speed which is what proponents focus on. However, in reality these advantages are relatively small and, once one is on a train, the journey time itself is less significant because the time can be usefully spent reading, sleeping, working or relaxing by looking out of the window. The problems are the enormous cost and the damage to the countryside from the new route.
Why not build the second track alongside the current line? This would deliver the increased capacity and much of the increase in speed at less cost and with much less damage to the countryside.
A parallel route would save much of the very large cost of acquiring land and paying compensation and for much of the route would be relatively simple to construct. There would be additional costs for tunnelling under or by-passing towns, but this would almost certainly be much less than the land purchase and compensation costs of the current plan.
No doubt there would be other challenges, but ingenuity can overcome these, and the current plans face many challenges too.
Nick Green
London SW6

Sir, Regarding your report “HS2 ‘unrealistic and rushed’ , warn MPs”, (Sept 9), imagine if Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, were to invest the £50 billion for HS2 in finding a better long-term solution, such as telecommuting. Would we care if our Parliament met online? If it did then maybe we could join in.
Paul Watkinson
Lifton, Devon

Progressive farmers in many countries, including the US, are turning back to nature and biology and are seeing increased yields
Sir, Linking higher farming yields with the possible “wipe out” of wild bees (report, Sept 9) assumes that higher yields can be achieved only by increased use of chemicals. Progressive farmers in many countries, including the US, are turning back to nature and biology, through the development of methods such as cover cropping. These growers are seeing increased yields alongside lower fertiliser and pesticide use, something which to many modern farmers fails to make sense.
Mike Donovan
Editor, Practical Farm Ideas

Sir, The assertion that farmers will use greater quantities of pesticides to increase crop yields presumes that crop yields are being limited by pest damage. There is no evidence to support this. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has done 20 years of research on crop production. It has shown that by mitigating against intensive cropping, by creating habitats that naturally boost beneficial predatory and pollinating insects and other wildlife, as well as implementing good soil management, crop yields can be increased and wildlife protected without resorting to an increased use of costly pesticides.
Dr Alastair Leake
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

ember 11 2013

The House of Commons played its part in President Obama’s decision not to carry out attacks against Syria and this should be recognised
Sir, It is right to recognise the crucial importance of the recent vote in the House of Commons and the role of the Leader of the Opposition in ensuring that the United States did not attack Syria that weekend. The vote was also important in shaping President Obama’s decision to involve Congress and give time for diplomacy to ensure all chemical weapons are destroyed in Syria.
Lord Owen

Telegraph:
SIR – As concern for Britain’s lack of primary school places grows (Features, September 4), it is imperative to remember the value of providing our children with outdoor spaces, before these environments are sacrificed in response to the crisis.
Last week, Sir David Attenborough, the patron of our charity, explained that: “Poorly thought-out expansions could destroy one of the few remaining opportunities for many children to make regular contact with the natural world”.
In order to avoid this, it is vital that effective use of the existing grounds for delivering the curriculum is made. This means innovative lower-cost architectural responses and the use of alternative buildings and spaces – as well as better whole-school timetabling to relieve pressure on overcrowded areas.
Reducing children’s access to high-quality outdoor space has a bad effect on behaviour, emotional and physical wellbeing and ultimately on educational standards. We urge schools and local government to consider other options.
Juno Hollyhock
Executive Director
Learning through Landscapes
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – Assorted financial watchdogs and think tanks may well believe that the flagship high-speed rail project is a “grand folly” (report, September 9), but has anyone really taken into account the full value of the project to the whole of Britain?
Without doubt, the costs reflect a huge amount of money, but many of the benefits cannot be so simply calculated in sterling. That doesn’t mean they are less important.
It is vital for this country’s long-term economic health that the balance of wealth and power is spread more evenly around the country – rather than simply in London. HS2 can realistically deliver the infrastructure for business centres in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester to share the burden of business growth and safeguard our economic future.
Matthew Marriott
Commerical Director, Hellmann Worldwide Logistics
Lichfield, Staffordshire
SIR – HS2 is aimed at getting more people down to London quicker. The place is already overcrowded and our total economy is focused there. We should be trying to revitalise the rest of the country right now, not in 20 years’ time.
Related Articles
Outdoor spaces in schools should be protected
10 Sep 2013
Companies must be encouraged to “do a BBC” and relocate from the capital. Businesses should be offered rates or tax discounts to move out of the South East, say 25 per cent for moving more than 100 miles, 30 per cent for more than 150 miles and so on. This would result in an increase in regional production, and rising employment in the regions would quickly justify the costs involved.
Cash allocated to HS2 should be used to “kick-start” this scheme.
Terry Morrell
Willerby, East Yorkshire
SIR – Instead of an HS2 rail link, why not enable a high-speed air link? There are about 35 airfields between London and Manchester. A government grant of, say, £25 million to each airfield would create a chain of local transport hubs between London and Manchester for less than £1 billion. Private aircraft operators have proved inventive at reducing transport costs. The air link would allow fast luxury jets, economical people carriers and goods transport aircraft to work along the route.
If a demand for transport along this route exists, then private operators will meet it. If the demand is not there, then very little will have been lost.
Dr John Evans
Appleton, Oxfordshire
SIR – There are two different train services that run on HS1 (Letters, September 9).
For trains to the Continent, operated by Eurostar, you do indeed have to check in a minimum of 30 minutes before departure. However, for the high-speed trains between Kent and St Pancras, run by South Eastern, you can arrive shortly before the train leaves, as with any other national rail service.
Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent
Self-funded BBC
SIR – With the ever-increasing levels of disclosure of the waste of taxpayers’ money by the BBC (Comment, September 9), surely the time has come to question why the state feels the necessity for an official media outlet funded by the populace of this country, whether they wish to watch BBC programmes or not.
If the BBC product is so superior to other media offerings they should have no difficulty in thriving in the market, and so relieve us of a millstone round our necks, over which we have no control, or choice.
David Broughton
Woodborough, Wiltshire
SIR – How is it that the BBC should feel obliged to offer employment contracts with such overly generous early termination provisions? It will no doubt argue this is inecessary to do that to get the best people. Really? For the very top job perhaps, but not for directors of marketing and the like.
The problem with the BBC is that it is full of mediocre people agreeing self-serving contracts for each other – using licence-fee-payers’ money in a scandalously extravagant manner. Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, ought to resign for complacency on his watch, and the Executive Board should be supplemented by human resources professionals who know how to construct executive contracts that serve shareholders, not failing executives.
Dr David Cottam
Dormansland, Surrey
Backing bookshops
SIR – Anne Sebba, chairman of the Society of Authors, makes a strong case for books and bookshops (Weekend, September 7). But independent bookshops can rarely offer discounts to match online and e-book traders. Those who value bookshops should avoid these discount outlets as well as the bulk-buying supermarkets. Being ready to pay the full retail price is the cost that bookshop lovers must pay for the delights of browsing the shelves and conversing with staff and visiting authors.
Here, within eight weeks of the closure of the famous Harbour Bookshop, founded by Christopher Robin Milne 60 years earlier, a new bookshop was established as a not-for-profit co-operative, organised by volunteers with one paid employee. We have now traded successfully for nearly two years, plan a modest expansion of our premises, and can usually obtain any title within 24 hours.
Tony Fyson
Chairman, Dartmouth Community Bookshop
Dartmouth, Devon
Cap on party donations
SIR – As it is about to lose some large union donations, Labour is seeking to mitigate the loss by recommending reducing the maximum individual donation to £5,000 (report, September 5), but getting the taxpayer to contribute more to election funding.
Surely this is the opportunity for the party to stop spending such huge sums on electioneering? We are getting too much like America. By all means let’s have a lower cap on donations, if it means that the total amount spent is reduced substantially. Taxpayers already pay enough for government; we should not have to fund prospective governments too.
Tony Ellis
Northwood, Middlesex
Too clichéd for words
SIR – Why are Left-wing campaigners described as activists, while Right-wingers are extremists (Letters, September 9)?
C D Drewe
Chelmsford, Essex
Cost of care homes
SIR – Sue Webb (Letters, September 9) condemns middle-aged “children” who inherit their parents’ homes as greedy, and blames them for bed-blocking in hospitals. But how many hospitals keep patients in for care after they have been cured? Furthermore, many care homes already require the surrender of wealth, including homes, as a precondition of acceptance.
Many of the great houses and their collections of treasures that today form part of Britain’s heritage would not exist if Sue Webb’s suggestion had been followed. Every family would have been forced to return to the state of comparative poverty from which their parents started.
Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire
SIR – One of the reasons why care-home fees are so high is because local authorities have insufficient funds to pay the full charges for their clients. As a consequence, private fees are “loaded” by a large percentage to help pay for the other residents. This ought to be illegal.
Peter Gibbs
Taunton, Somerset
Nicholson’s swan song
SIR – The saddest element of Jack Nicholson’s possible retirement (report, September 5) is that it will leave the mirthless How Do You Know as his final film. This puts him in the same league as Gene Hackman, whose last film was Welcome to Mooseport, and Sean Connery, who retired after The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – a film that was universally panned by the critics.
If an actor wants to bow out with a great swan song, he should look to Henry Fonda or Spencer Tracy, both of whom took their final bows after On Golden Pond and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? respectively. And whatever one thinks of John Wayne, few movie stars rounded off their oeuvre with as elegiac a summation as The Shootist.
Cai Ross
Deganwy, Caernarfonshire
A musician’s posture
SIR – When I learnt to play stringed or woodwind instruments in my youth, we were taught to sit up straight and pay attention to the conductor and the score.
These days musicians sway from side to side like trees in a high wind and point their instruments at the ceiling, rendering them completely unable to see the score or even the conductor. It drives me mad.
Jane Cullinan
Padstow, Cornwall
Vinegar is the correct solution to wasp stings
SIR – Wasp venom is a complex mixture with a pH that tends towards the alkaline side of neutral. Vinegar, therefore, works as an appropriate antidote. Bee venom contains formic acid which gives it a lower pH, on the acid side – thus the sodium bicarbonate in “dolly blue” would be appropriate. This being the case, Carol Laird is correct and P G Wodehouse, I’m afraid, is wrong (Letters, September 6).
Other components in both venoms are responsible for histamine release and in some cases hypersensitivity reactions. Antihistamines are suitable for treating both types of sting, as is epinephrine for the more severe anaphylactic reactions.
My aide memoire for treatment is VW – vinegar: wasp, and DBB – dolly blue: bee.
Nigel McKie
Helston, Cornwall
SIR – The reason wasps are in aggressively large numbers at this time of year is that the nests have reached their population peak, coinciding with the building of large queen-rearing cells and the rearing of the queen brood. Wasp larvae/grubs are fed a diet of insects and carrion while adults only require energy-giving carbohydrates.
Incidentally, adult wasps do not feed the resident queen, she gets her food from the secretions of the grubs. Meanwhile, the new queens are busy building up fat reserves in their bodies for the winter.
Dr Philip Spradbery
Hartland, Devon
SIR – My Australian relatives suggested trying Vics VapoRub on stings and bites.
Pete McClelland
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Richard Bruton is reported as claiming that only 1 per cent of the population elect the Seanad (Michael O’Regan, Home News, September 10th).
He may be right and if he is, the reason for that is the failure of successive governments to legislate for extending the electorate to the wider public. He asks, “How many people know that 90 per cent of Senators are exclusively elected by politicians?” A fair question. However, how many people know it is government legislation, not constitutional restrictions, which is mainly responsible for restricting the franchise for the election of 43 of the 60 Seanadóirí to politicians?
For Mr Bruton and for Enda Kenny the question should be what his Government will do to extend the Seanad’s electorate to all Irish citizens, in the likely event that the people reject the Government proposal for its abolition in the forthcoming referendum. – Yours, etc,
DONNCHA
Ó hÉALLAITHE,
Indreabhán,
Co na Gaillimhe.
Sir, – It takes some effrontery for Sinn Féin to describe an institution as inoffensive as Seanad Éireann as an affront to democracy (Home News, September 3rd).
We are not talking about the British House of Lords circa 1909, throwing out the people’s budget or in the previous decade Home Rule. Even today, when it is a nominated rather than a hereditary body, no one much is pressing for the abolition of the Lords, because the experience and expertise among its members is valued for its input into the legislative and policy-making process. The Seanad’s reluctance to repeat the mistake of its Free State Senate predecessor by engaging in any power struggle with the government elected by the Dáil and relying instead on the power of reason is surely to its credit, and shows its determination not to be an affront to democracy.
In terms of elitism and being an affront to democracy, Seanad Éireann for all its failings is in the penny place compared with the only recently defunct army council of the IRA, which claimed to be the “government of the Irish Republic”, even though to this day the people have not been made privy to the names of its members at different times. Its “lawful” powers included execution without trial, the infliction of grievous bodily harm overriding all human rights norms, and authority for actions designed to destroy quite deliberately the economy of Northern Ireland. But, sure, wasn’t Seanad Éireann one of those “illegal assemblies” denounced in the Green Book, the manual for Volunteers, even though it has from time to time had an invaluable contribution from Northern members among the taoiseach’s nominees?
While Sinn Féin’s commitment to and full participation in democratic life on both sides of the Border as a fruit of the peace process represented a tacit acceptance that the IRA campaign now ceased was seen as an affront to democracy, the legitimacy of that campaign is still stoutly defended by Sinn Féin, including the attempt to blow up more than once the British prime minister and cabinet, and as shown by the recent honouring of the memory of two volunteers who accidentally blew themselves up while carrying a bomb.

   
The record of Seanad Éireann throughout its existence, even when it has not always done itself justice, is positively benign by comparison, and a significant element in the remarkable political stability of independent Ireland in the face of severe stresses at different times.
Fine Gael supporters of abolition are no doubt grateful for the added Sinn Féin support to their cause, even if largely tactical. No doubt, it would also be very unfair to describe this ad hoc alliance as an “axis of collusion”. All the same, defending the institutions of the State no longer seems to be quite the core value it was in Liam Cosgrave’s day. Edmund Burke would not have approved, but then he too was probably an affront to democracy, especially of the lynch mob variety. – Yours, etc,
MARTIN MANSERGH,
Friarsfield House,
Tipperary.
Sir, – I think we all know it’s complete guff when Fine Gael claims there’ll be a financial saving if the Seanad is abolished or that there will be any effort to reform it or the Dáil if it is not.
But is it too much to ask Irish people to try, just for once, to separate two issues. So we want to give Enda Kenny the good kicking he deserves for utterly failing to live up to the mandate of reform he was given and we know the idea to abolish the Seanad was a stunt from when he was in danger of being ousted as Fine Gael leader, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. We can give Fine Gael and Labour a good kicking next year at the local and European elections.
I’d ask those people who want to retain the Seanad two questions. 1. In the full history of the Seanad, out of the hundreds and hundreds of Senators there have been, name 10 who were not a Dáil has-been or wannabe (Mary Robinson and David Norris both tried to become TDs, so they don’t count). 2. Name one time since its creation when the Seanad did anything to prevent the Dáil making one of its many bad laws. – Yours, etc,
DESMOND FitzGERALD,
Commercial Road,
London, England.
Sir, – On my way home, I passed, in quick succession, Fine Gael’s vapid and populistic posters followed by Sinn Féin’s more intellectually rigorous ones.
I got that Fall of Rome Feeling. – Yours, etc,
STEPHEN FITZPATRICK,
Kerrymount Rise,
Foxrock,
Co Dublin.
A chara, – I was disconcerted to see that a revolving billboard in Bachelor’s Walk, announcing the upcoming referendum on abolishing the Seanad, was quickly followed by one for “Grand Theft Auto”. Is this a subliminal message by the Referendum Commission? – Is mise,
MICHAEL NASH,
Carrickmines Green,
Carrickmines,
Dublin 18.
Sir, – I noted with interest the report on faulty prostate cancer testing kits at Mayo General Hospital and the Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown (Home News, September 11th). I am concerned this will serve only to distract from a more important concern regarding the health of men in Ireland and the health service in general.
I was amazed to see that there had been almost 13,000 tests carried out in Mayo over the course of one year. Why? I assume that many, if not the majority of these men were well and had the test done as a “screening test”. We know, however, that screening for prostate cancer does not reduce mortality from prostate cancer. It is not recommended as a routine screening test in the UK and routine screening by PSA has even been withdrawn in the US. There are well-known disadvantages to screening: overdiagnosis, overtreatment and considerable treatment-related harmful effects. The question then must be, who benefits from routine PSA screening? Not the patient, I suggest. – Yours, etc,
Dr JJ KELLIHER,
Prospect Medical Group,

Sir, – I was surprised to read Paddy Gogarty’s claim (September 6th) that VAT returns in the latest Exchequer figures are down 27 per cent against target, and my first instinct was to respond with a letter criticising him for getting the facts wrong. However, after checking the article from which he quoted (Business, September 4th), it turns out that it is in fact your paper which is wrong, and Mr Gogarty can’t be blamed for responding to what he read.
The article states that “VAT (€6.8 billion) was 27.7 per cent behind target at the end of the period”, but the Exchequer’s VAT target for end-August was €7.045 billion, meaning that by end-August VAT was a far less apocalyptic 3.5 per cent behind target, as part of Exchequer figures that show overall receipts, in all categories, to be 3.8 per cent ahead of this time last year, and just 0.2 per cent behind target for this year. – Yours, etc,
JOHN SHEEHAN,
Finnstown Priory,

Sir, – As an emigrant living in London it is usually my delight to read your paper. I am appalled by Donald Clarke’s reference to my home county as “Bloody Donegal” in his article “No offence to George Best, but loyalists need another hero (Opinion, September 7th). For too long Donegal residents and her emigrant sons have listened to poorly timed and placed jokes at our expense.
I am outraged that such a derogatory comment made it to my eyes. – Yours, etc,
MICHAEL Mc LAUGHLIN,
Ducks Walk,
Twickenham,

Sir, – The ongoing debate in relation to the abolition of the Seanad is welcome, not least to ensure a Yes vote on October 4th.
The lack of media attention in relation to a new court of appeal, however, is worrying. Cross-party support alone will not necessarily ensure a Yes vote. I urge all the people of Ireland who wish to ensure speedier access to justice to come out and vote Yes. The delays of up to four years suffered by those embroiled in court disputes are intolerable at best and catastrophic at worst. The Supreme Court must be freed up to deal only with challenging legal and constitutional points of law. Let justice be done and be seen to be done. – Yours, etc,
JOSEPHA MADIGAN,

Sir, – Your unscientific article on fluoride (Opinion, September 9th) failed to answer the basic questions on fluoridation that were raised in Northern Ireland when our councils heard this issue.
Northern Ireland had a three-month consultation period in 1996, with the result that 25 out of 26 councils and the four area health and social services councils all voted against water fluoridation after hearing both sides of the argument. Our councils voted against for the following reasons: 1. It is a breech of your freedom to choose what drug you do or do not take. 2. 98 per cent of Europe had banned or rejected fluoridation. 3. No government representative could explain how it affected teeth only, when it had access to every cell of your body. 4. 99.9 per cent would be lost in underground leaks, waste water and flushing toilets, thereby wasting millions of pounds. 5. The dose could not be controlled as it would be in all food and drink manufactured using the water, as well as dental products, pesticides, etc.
I was elected the PR & information officer for the Councils of Northern Ireland who voted against. Northern Ireland remains fluoride-free, like the 98 per cent of Europe. The author never tackles the reason why most of Europe has banned in law or rejected mass-medication of its populations. Instead he has attacked the people who dare to challenge this failed government policy. He incorrectly states, “Claims that fluoride causes everything from cancer to diabetes are supported by no peer-reviewed evidence whatsoever”. In fact, there is a large and growing number of published peer-reviewed studies linking fluoride consumption to various illnesses. These studies can be viewed online at: http://www.fluoridealert.org.
I was present at a meeting on October 26th, 1998 with Tessa Jowel the British health minister in London.  Also present was Dr AK Susheela, a professor of chemistry, from India, who had 100 published peer-reviewed studies in her own name proving harm to humans from fluoride at similar levels as those used in the Republic’s water supply. Britain has remained only 10 per cent fluoridated. Why didn’t Britain discontinue after so much evidence of harm? For the same reason as your government: it dares not admit it was wrong. Careers depend on that and litigation is sure to follow from those harmed by this mandatory drugging of the water. – Yours, etc,
WALTER GRAHAM,
PR & Information Officer,
Northern Ireland

Sir, – Now that the campaign to have the new bridge across the Liffey named after Rosie Hackett has succeeded, and it is a very welcome decision marking the role of “ordinary” women in the development of the modern labour and independence movements, it is time to set the historical record straight.
One of the worst examples of the historical distortions that marked the campaign was in Mark Lawler’s Irishman’s Diary (August 19th), which traced the roots of the Lockout to a strike at Jacob’s Biscuit Company on August 22nd, 1911. “The person who galvanised these ‘3,000 girls’ was Rosie Hackett, an 18-year-old messenger at Jacobs, and her successful negotiations led to an increase in wages and better working conditions at the factory.”
Unfortunately there is no evidence that Rosie Hackett played any pivotal role in this strike. In her own statement to the Bureau of Military History, Rosie Hackett merely says, “It was as a result of the big strike in 1913 that I first became attached to Liberty Hall. A workroom was opened to assist girls who had lost their employment as a result of the strike”.
The strike action in 1911 originated among bake house operatives where the ITGWU, and later the Irish Women Workers’ Union, were strongest. Rosie Hackett was a teenage messenger not a bake house worker.
It would be one of the first companies to lock out workers in 1913 after male employees who were members of the ITGWU took sympathetic action by refusing to accept “tainted” flour from Shackleton’s Mill in Lucan on August 30th. On September 1st, 1913, 670 of the 1,000 male workers came out in support of their colleagues but only 303 women out of over 2,000 did so. While this was the largest and most vocal group among the 840 women workers involved in the Lockout, Rosie Hackett does not appear in any contemporary accounts.
The extravagant claims made by some champions of Rosie Hackett in order to have the new bridge named after her do no service to rescuing the legacy of the 1913 Lockout. We do not need a matriarchal mythology to replace a patriarchal one. In fact, we do not need myths at all if we are to reclaim the past honestly. Rosie Hackett does not need to be presented as some sort of super-hero to be a worthy representative of her gender and her class. – Yours, etc,
PADRAIG YEATES,
The Links,

   
Sir, – Seamus Long (September 7th) details the favourable assessment of Ireland’s education system in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report for 2013-2014.
According to the WEF report, the three most competitive economies in the world are Switzerland, Singapore and Finland: all small countries notable for low levels of corruption, ethical business and honest politics. – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN DOHERTY,
Cnoc an Stollaire,
Gaoth Dobhair,

Sir, – If a bank sending a letter threatening legal action is considered a solution to a distressed mortgage, the shredding of said letter by the person receiving it should be part of the solution. – Yours, etc,
BRIAN AHERN,
Meadow Copse,
Clonsilla,

Irish Independent:

There appears little doubt that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
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Let’s rise from our knees
The pictorial evidence is heart-wrenching and indicates somebody has inflicted the most savage brutality on innocent human beings. There is, however, some serious doubt concerning the source of the chemical weapons.
Even the most brutal and stupid dictatorial regime must surely realise that use of such horrendous killing technology would discredit it in world opinion and, if proven, would leave it open to justifiable serious retaliatory action and loss of support from its allies.
If significant territorial gain or possible victory over opponents were to be achieved by such barbaric action, the risk might be considered worthwhile.
Yet no such possible victory or territorial gain is even mentioned in the Syrian situation. It appears only the weakest and most vulnerable were targeted by the strike, which, in terms of gaining advantage or depleting the enemy, would be utterly useless.
In such a situation, suspicion must exist that those who desperately need involvement of external military power in the disaster that is the Syrian civil war might have some involvement in the barbarous attacks.
Fortunately, public opinion is restraining those world powers, who are only too willing to believe the worst of the Assad regime, from becoming involved in the struggle.
If the UN is to retain any credibility, it must be able to prove that blame lies with the regime before such action is undertaken.
If it transpires it can prove the source was elsewhere, I wonder if those so anxious to get involved will attack the rebels?
Padraic Neary
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
Idea worth sleeping on
The fruits of intelligent corporate thinking will soon be revealed in the innovative restructuring of their approach to banking by the Anguished Irish Bank Resuscitated (AIBR).
The new thinking has been underpinned by rigorous research. An investigation into different ways of ensuring that your hard-earned money is safe revealed surprising results. For instance, it was discovered that the most reliable way to store your wealth was to place it in a sock and deposit it under your mattress.
To avoid the inconvenience of conducting this operation in your own home, the bank will buy out all sources for the manufacturing of socks and mattresses. These will be hired out to homeowners, and housed in purpose-built vaults at the bank, providing luxury accommodation for the senior members of staff. This will ensure that there will always be somebody sleeping on your money.
A significant benefit of this approach is that if you are unable to pay your mortgage your house will not be repossessed but redeployed as a service to the nation, forming part of a network of bank-mattress facilities. Though, technically, you will lose your house; spiritually, you will become, for the nation, a model of self-giving – a virtue that lies at the heart of the bank’s mission statement.
Customers will be known as ‘sleeping partners’ not ‘mattress morons’, as reported in the press.
A premium service will be provided for an additional fee. This will involve storing your money in a specially designed duvet where a sock will be replaced by a silk-lined pocket.
This innovative project has been the result of staff working as a team with a clear sense of direction and purpose. At no point were they distracted by the thought of the exceptionally generous expenses, bonuses and pensions that would eventually come their way.
It looks as if Ireland will be back on its feet again, albeit without socks; however, I wouldn’t bank on that.
Philip O’Neill
Oxford, England
A right, royal farce
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, in his comments on the 1916 Rising (Irish Independent, September 7), believes that by inviting the British royal family and paying tribute to those Irishmen who died fighting for the British Empire, some kind of ‘reconciliation’ can be engineered, without any mention of the causes people were fighting for.
In the midst of the Great War when only military action counted, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse advocated an Irish alliance with Germany and the Rising was carried out with that country’s support. It laid the basis for the republic that was eventually established.
When the first Dail met in January 1919, after being elected by a great majority of the Irish people specifically on the basis of the 1916 Proclamation, it was brutally suppressed by Britain.
It nevertheless issued its ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ seeking recognition of the Republic. One of the first to respond and recognise it was the then young Republic of Turkey, led by Kemal Ataturk, and itself fighting for survival against British imperialism.
Surely if Mr Gilmore is issuing invitations to anybody for his planned commemorations of the Easter Rising, they should be going to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan of Turkey rather than the British royal family?
Philip O’Connor
Howth, Co Dublin
Inclusive talks needed
In the wake of John Kerry’s visit to London, and the despicable push for military intervention in Syria, there seems to be something missing from this discussion. What if there is a military response to an intervention?
Apart from the fact that there has still been no proof that President Assad committed this chemical attack, we need to bear in mind that Iran and Syria have a military pact.
Iran may well come to Syria’s aid. There is a blind arrogance that the US can bomb Syria and there will be no repercussions. But what if Syria and Iran decide to attack the US fleet, their nearby bases (of which there are many), or possibly Israel? Then what?
All hell will break lose, and it will be impossible to stop the escalation. Peace talks are the only way to stop this, and they must include all neighbouring countries, including Iran, as well as Russia.
I urge your readers – if they have friends or relatives in the US – to ask them to pressurise their elected officials to ensure that our governments don’t potentially put all of our lives at risk.
Colin Crilly
London, England
Bless the Blues
Reading the review of ‘Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John’ (Irish Independent, September 7) brought back many memories when, between 1961 and 1966, as Fr Martin Gordon SCA, I was a frequent visitor to Mill’s Music, where Elton John worked.
I called on Pat Sherlock many times. His job was to persuade radio producers to play Mill’s Music songs on their programmes.
As Catholic Stage Guild chaplain at Sadler’s Wells Opera, I introduced Mr Sherlock to Eamonn Andrews, the Guild chairman, when we met to organise a fundraising football match on behalf of the Guild.
Mr Andrews’s Sports Paraders beat the Top Ten X1 by 5-2. I was goalkeeper for the victors, and there is a splendid photograph in my autobiography ‘No Love Here’ of me cutting out a cross from the on-rushing actor, Brian Blessed.
Finally, the Chelsea players did not just turn up for the Mill’s Music Christmas party. Terry Venables and George Graham were frequent visitors – which is how I eventually came to be enjoying tea and cakes with the Chelsea team after their games at Stamford Bridge. I became known as the ‘football priest’.
Martin Gordon,
Blackrock, Co Cork
Irish Independent

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