29 September 2013 Books books books
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are to provide transport for the Todd-Hunters Browns but can Leslie sail up the Thames without hitting anything? Priceless.
I put my books on Amazon
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today I win and get under 400. perhaps Mary might win tomorrow.
David Hubel, who has died aged 87, shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with his colleague Torsten Wiesel and with Roger Sperry, for insights into how visual systems process information, solving a puzzle that had baffled scientists for centuries.
David Hubel Photo: CORBIS
6:08PM BST 25 Sep 2013
When Hubel and Wiesel began experiments on vision and the brain in the late 1950s, neuroscientists thought that images from the retina were transmitted to visual centres in the brain, and projected onto the cerebral cortex in the same way as a photograph on to film. But the two scientists discovered that the messages reaching the brain from the eyes are not simply transmitted, but transformed and analysed by a complex system of nerve cells known as neurons.
For more than two decades, first at Johns Hopkins University and later at Harvard Medical School, the pair probed electrodes into the primary visual cortex’s of anaesthetised cats and monkeys. By flashing lines on a screen in front of the animals’ eyes and recording signals from individual nerve cells, they mapped exactly which neurons are involved in processing an image.
They demonstrated that the visual cortex contains columns of cells, each able to recognise specific details — for example stationary horizontal lines, or corners, or colours or vertical lines moving in a specific direction. The columns build up a complete image, which is then sent to higher brain centres, where the visual impression is formed and the memory of the image is stored.
More importantly, Hubel and Wiesel showed the importance of the brain receiving visual stimuli early in life. When a newborn kitten had one eye sewn up for a few weeks, they found that when unstitched, though the eye itself was normal, the kitten was rendered blind in that eye for life because the vital connections in the visual cortex had not been made during the crucial early developmental period.
This insight led to pioneering treatments for conditions in newborn babies — such as cataracts and strabismus (squint) — that otherwise could lead to blindness or impaired vision. Before their discovery physicians often used to wait until a child was three to five years old before treating such conditions, by which time their vision was usually permanently impaired.
David Hunter Hubel was born on February 27 1926 in Windsor, Ontario, to American parents, and took a degree in Mathematics and Physics at McGill University, Montreal. Though he was accepted to do graduate work in Physics he decided on a whim to apply to the university’s medical school. “To my horror I was accepted there, too,” he recalled.
After graduation and a period of military service in the US Army, Hubel took up a research post at Johns Hopkins, where he began his partnership with Wiesel, a young scientist from Sweden. In 1959 the pair moved to Harvard Medical School where, over the next few decades, they played a central role in developing its new neurobiology department.
In their jointly-written memoir Brain and Visual Perception: The Story of a 25-Year Collaboration (2004) the pair recalled that their early experiments measuring visual cortex activity in cats had been so frustrating that they had sometimes taken to dancing wildly in front the animals — even showing them alluring images of beautiful women — to try and elicit a response. It was only when one of the pair happened to move across the screen on to which they were projecting visual stimuli, casting a shadow, that electrodes in the animals’ brains registered a response.
A man of wide-ranging interests, Hubel became a leading advocate of the need for scientists to make scientific concepts accessible to the general public, arguing that the best training for a would-be scientific genius is to “learn to write English really well”. Not surprisingly he was a leading voice in putting the case for animal research.
In 1953 David Hubel married Ruth Izzard, who died in February. Their three sons survive him.
David Hubel, born February 27 1926, died September 22 2013
In the face of 95% of scientific evidence informing us that “human activities are driving climate change”, a recent survey shows that the number of people who do not believe this has now risen from 5% in 2005 to 19% to date (“Scientists give their starkest warning yet on climate change”, News).
Unfortunately, what these climate change sceptics, deniers and liars are expecting is that someone will soon come up with “the technological fix” that will solve what is a multifaceted problem. What is not being realised or accepted is that the technology already exists – in the form of renewable energies – and that what is missing is the global social and political will and framework to employ them. So, in truth, what is really being hoped for is divine intervention, but we should remember that “God helps those who help themselves”.
There is one curious aspect of the debate on climate change that commentators never remark on (“To fight climate change, we must trust scientific truth and collective action”, Will Hutton, Comment). Those who deny that climate change is happening are generally on the right, while those who argue that climate change is a reality are generally on the left. However, when it comes to putting these beliefs to the test, leftwing people are just as likely to use temperature-raising air travel as rightwing people.
What concerns me most about climate change sceptics is that many measures essential to address climate change, if mainstream scientific views are correct, would make sense anyway.
Improved food security, habitat conservation, less pollution, alternatives to fossil fuels and reduced waste would all still be sensible if climate change were totally natural, a damp squib or even took an unexpected turn. A major volcanic eruption (eg Tambora in 1815) could cause temporary global cooling and hence major disruption of food supplies.
Sadly, the predictable attempts to prove a position will distract from measures that could yield massive benefits regardless. I occasionally despair of the seemingly unavoidable human urge to prove oneself right instead of doing something useful and effective.
The authors of all the articles on climate change in last week’s Observer conflate global warming with its cause. That the world has got warmer is a fact; that man’s production of greenhouse gases is the cause is an untestable hypothesis. Support for the hypothesis comes only from models. If we are to accept model projections, at least the estimates of past global mean annual temperature should be close to estimates from observations, but whether they are I cannot tell. The latter are available on the web, but the former are not. I have made repeated requests for the “hindcasts” of the latest Hadley Centre model finally invoking the Freedom of Information Act, but so far without success.
Will Hutton is right about fighting the deniers of manmade global warming. The battle is both difficult and urgent. But does he realise how much ammunition is provided by examples of extreme weather this year?
Like 63,000 people missing after unprecedented floods hit northern India (19 June), a curtain-raiser to reports of “worst ever” flooding from Alberta (22 June), Puerto Rico (2 Aug), Manila (21 Aug) and Colorado (13 Sept).
We also had the Danube at an all-time high (June 6); Canada’s worst wildfire in Quebec province (July 15); Mexico’s “worst weather crisis since 1958” stranding 40,000 tourists (18 Sept); and hospitals struggling in Namibia to cope with children malnourished from the “worst drought in 30 years” (21 Sept).
As someone who began teaching in 1948, I have long believed that making children aware of their place in the order of performance is not the best way to ensure progress for all. As was found by Murphy and Weinhardt in their study, parental influence, confidence, perseverance and resilience have large effects on achievement (“Confidence ‘is key to doing well at school'”, News). There is, however, another issue that is at least as important as these. Children need to be interested in what they are learning to do and to be able to apply that learning both in school and in their wider lives. It is not enough to expect them to learn simply because the teacher – or even the education secretary – decides they should. More and more, we need a national curriculum that recognises the vital importance of motivation within the children. They need to find learning useful and not simply to answer questions in tests.
Professor Norman Thomas
St Albans, Herts
Council cramping cafe society
Long-term residents of Notting Hill will recognise Ed Vulliamy’s description of its loss of character and community spirit since the arrival of the super-rich (“Development hell: how the upmarket vandals ruined my childhood streets”, In Focus). Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council also seems determined to stamp out whatever lively atmosphere is created by our independent coffee bars and restaurants with the heavy-handed approach of licensing officers towards businesses that try to accommodate locals and the thousands of visitors who pour down Portobello Road, especially at weekends.
This summer, the Portobello Cafe Campaign staged protests outside the coffee bar Kitchen & Pantry following the council’s decision to remove half its tables and chairs, depriving patrons of outside seating all summer and seriously affecting the income of the cafe. More than a thousand signatures and many letters to the council had no effect: it is not interested in local views.
Portobello Cafe Campaign
No cover-up at Yarl’s Wood
In your articles of 15 and 22 September, you refer to allegations of inappropriate behaviour by staff at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in the six years that it has been run by Serco.
Sexual contact between residents and staff is always completely unacceptable. As Serco’s director for Yarl’s Wood, I wish to make clear that this behaviour is not widespread or endemic. Most importantly, it is not in any way tolerated. Serco views this type of behaviour extremely seriously and wherever there is evidence of misbehaviour, we take prompt disciplinary action and report it to the police as appropriate. This has resulted in dismissals on the few occasions on which it has been uncovered in the past six years. I have reviewed complaints in the past year and the deeply regrettable incident you reported is the only complaint of this nature to have been made in that time.
The articles allude to a “cover-up” by Serco, which is absolutely not the case. Complaints at Yarl’s Wood are made securely by posting them into a locked post box. Only the Home Office or the Independent Monitoring Board can access these post boxes and the complaints; Serco has no access to them.
Complaints are processed by the Home Office or IMB and passed to Serco’s senior management when appropriate. Serco and Yarl’s Wood staff would not be able to cover up complaints, nor would we want to.
Director, Yarl’s Wood IRC, Beds
Scotland’s thrilling prospects
Catherine Bennett’s sympathy for Scotland’s right to rule herself would be better informed by a visit to Scotland
(“Yes to Scottish independence. No to nationalism”, Comment. At the independence rally last weekend, thousands of people proclaimed their hopes for a fairer, more prosperous and independent Scotland.
In every speech, our egalitarian cause shone through, particularly in two internationalist anthems, Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come-All-Ye and Robert Burns’s A Man’s a Man For A’ That sung by the TradYES group. There was not a shred of chauvinism and every sense of the thrilling prospect of making our own way in the world in the sisterhood and brotherhood of nations.
Rob Gibson MSP
Smoking and violence in jail
Barbara Ellen wrote last week that it would be sadistic to ban smoking in prisons and that if it is to be banned indoors, there should be smoking areas in the grounds. However, this would be the cruellest solution of all. Smokers suffer whenever they have to spend more than an hour or two awake without a smoke, and the nature of prison life is such that this would be happening every day. This repeated deprivation will potentially lead to aggression and violence.
Bach best? Think again
Bach “is arguably the greatest of all composers” (“Revealed: the beer-soaked, brutal world of young JS Bach”, News). Really? As the conductor Karl Böhm once remarked, in answer to this implied question: “You mean, apart from Mozart?”
In the summer of 2002, my husband and I toured the Outer Hebrides in a camper van with our children, Rosie, then seven, and William, four. We had a magical two weeks on the islands after catching the ferry to Barra, then driving up to Stornoway. Evenings were spent parked by deserted beaches, enjoying the fabulous scenery and this photograph is still on our kitchen wall as a reminder. The gaps in Rosie’s teeth depict a specific time in her childhood and William’s expression sums up the novelty for him of having a one pound note for his Scottish holiday pocket money.
However, not everything went according to plan. We had hired the van in March and were assured that the ancient model on show was purely to give us an indication of size – a more up-to-date version would be available later on in the year. This was not the case and as the van stood outside our house on the evening before our departure, many neighbours expressed grave doubts that we would make it to the border, let alone get further north.
On the first night, once the children had been lifted up into their sleeping platform, we prepared our own bed and my husband discovered he was unable to stretch out fully. One morning, he said that he must be getting used to lying curled up as he’d enjoyed a great night’s sleep – then we noticed the door had slid open during the night and his feet were poking outside. Another morning we awoke to something bashing the side of the van, which was a little disconcerting – it was a ram making it very clear that we were on his territory!
I believe the reason we, as a nation, are being so polite regarding the niqab, in answer to Joan Smith (22 September), is obvious. The British are famously polite. Is not polite debate preferable to absolute chaos?
I must say to call something “ridiculous”, though Joan’s perfect right, is rather harsh, and not at all in the tradition of politeness! I agree that the niqab should not be banned, except in specific situations that would incur difficulties for practical reasons.
However, I would like to point out that the “modesty” argument does not have to wash with Joan, or anyone else for that matter; it is meant, as I understand it, purely for God, and I cannot see how it is up to any of us to dispute somebody else’s personal relationship with their God. If they believe it creates a closer relationship with more piety, and thus modesty, then it is subjectively so.
Whether it is, in reality, more modest or not is irrelevant to a dispute that should surely be centred on more practical reasonings? We cannot alter belief or opinion just proffer our own. It certainly wouldn’t be very polite to try in any case.
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Joan Smith says it is OK for a woman to wear the niqab on the 94 bus. Does that bus have CCTV? Allowing people to hide their face makes it ineffective. The only equitable answer is a ban on all headcovering in public which is designed to hide the appearance and which would also include young men wearing hoodies.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
I wonder if the Which? survey into food prices took account of how much food is discarded, partly because of strict adherence to “best before” and “use by” dates, and also because of a reluctance to use left-overs (“One in three struggling to feed themselves”, 22 September).
You have reported in the past that as much as one third of food is jettisoned in some households, and it’s not rocket science to think that the two may be related. Janet Street-Porter in the same edition espouses cookery lessons in school, which would make the young more aware of what can be achieved by judicious use of “raw materials”. Providing free school meals will not help with this, though there are more practical reasons for supporting such a proposal.
Dave & Carol Fossard
Those of us who are opponents of independent education should nevertheless welcome as a temporary ally the new chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (“School boss tells Michael Gove: The system isn’t broken”, 22 September). As Tim Hands implies, state schools under Michael Gove have no incentive to innovate, only a perverse incentive to conform to an increasingly dirigiste, test/examination-dominated regime. I would urge all state primary and secondary schools to follow Tim’s example and devote at least an eighth of their curriculum to non-examination learning – “Independent Studies” .
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
I disagree with the Department for Work and Pensions spokesman that “sanctions are only used as a last resort” (“Homeless jobseekers hit hard by benefit cuts”, 22 September). I know of someone who lost money simply by being late for an interview, while others have been penalised for not applying for enough vacancies.
In a place like Grimsby there isn’t much work and the unemployed are forced to go for jobs they know they won’t get simply to meet job-centre targets.
I read the article “Move over organic – the new big business in food is halal” with dismay (22 September). This is a cruel method of killing animals. This country brought in laws to stun animals before slaughtering and then allows certain groups to ignore them.
Another worry is that we could be buying and eating halal meat which is not labelled as such. We have the backing of scientists that animals should be stunned before slaughter.
Fight to save England’s beauty
IN THE two months since the launch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE’s) charter to save our countryside, we have seen new research showing that more than half a million houses are planned for open countryside, with a further 150,000 in the green belt.
The scale of this projected development is unprecedented. This needless sacrifice of our green spaces should not be tolerated when England currently has suitable brownfield land for 1.5m new homes that could help regenerate our towns and cities.
As artists and writers who have been inspired by the matchless beauty of England, we urge the government to support the three basic principles set out in the CPRE’s charter to save our countryside.
First, build on suitable brownfield land first, rather than unnecessarily sacrificing the countryside. Second, real localism: give people a proper say in shaping the places they love. Finally, we must build more houses — not executive houses on green fields, as is too often the case now, but well-designed, affordable homes in the right places.
We urge your readers to support the CPRE’s charter at saveourcountryside.org.uk.
Sir Andrew Motion (President, Campaign to Protect Rural England), Simon Armitage, Julian Barnes Sir Quentin Blake, Lord Bragg, Bill Bryson, Jane Gardam Maggi Hambling, Alan Hollinghurst Ken Howard, John le Carré Marina Lewycka, Dame Penelope Lively David Lodge, Robert Macfarlane Alice Oswald, Cornelia Parker Philip Pullman, Rose Tremain Jeanette Winterson, Benjamin Zephaniah
Niqab fear exposes our thinly veiled prejudices
I AM one of the “let anyone wear what they like except for reasons of security and job effectiveness” brigade (“The other side of the veil”, News Review, last week). What I am absolutely certain about is that our interpretation of the niqab is no basis for a ban in Britain. Some of the opposition is based on prejudice and Islamophobia.
Jaime Green, London E14
Rosie Kinchen got a hostile reception with her niqab but imagine someone (be it a man or a woman) on the Tube, or in any public place, wearing a balaclava — I think all of us would feel uncomfortable and threatened. It has nothing to do with religion or tolerance.
Irith B Sassoon, By email
The wearing of niqabs is promoted by Saudi Arabia, which pours money into the creation of ultra-conservative mosques here. Muslim friends from other parts of the world tell me that they feel bullied and intimidated by Wahhabi Muslims. Surely politicians must be aware of the power of Saudi influence.
Josephine Smith, London
What an excellent article by Maajid Nawaz (“Behind that veil, Britain is losing its spine”, Comment, September 15). The veil is an insult to decent men who do not see women as sex objects, not to mention the fact that wearing it is also an unhealthy practice.
Dr Salim Ghori, Preston, Lancashire
Ex-military personnel are assets to society
MYTHOLOGY surrounds not just post-traumatic stress disorder but also other indicators of a poor transition to civilian life after military service, such as homelessness, imprisonment and general mental wellbeing (“Shooting down myths of post-traumatic stress”, Letters, September 15).
In each category the incidence is no greater — and is often less — than that of the equivalent general population. Which isn’t to say that each case is any less tragic — or any less deserving of the nation’s support — but it can lead to a dangerous misperception that all those who leave the service bring with them such baggage. They don’t. Most make the transition extremely successfully, and go on to become significant contributors to society.
Of course, we in the third sector must assist those who struggle in every way we can but we should also recognise the evidence — such as that in our recently published reports on transition and mental health — that the quality of the ex-servicemen and women remains extraordinarily high, and that employers should be fighting to sign them up.
Air Vice-Marshal Ray Lock (retired), Chief Executive, Forces in Mind Trust
Lawyers keep the antibiotics pumping
I BELONG to a profession that is the worst perpetrator in over-prescribing antibiotics (“The drugs don’t work”, News Review, September 15). I recently saw a patient whose dentist prescribed them for a loose screw in an implant-supported crown. I routinely carry out minor oral surgery for which I am informed by peer review that I must prescribe both pre- and post-operative antibiotics, which I strenuously avoid.
Research now suggests the preventive prescription of antibiotics has no place in a clean operating environment. I am aware I invite litigation in the event of implant failure, in which case the first question I would be asked by my indemnity provider — quickly followed by the lawyers — is: “Why didn’t you prescribe antibiotics in order to stay in line with current adopted practice?”
As a way to approach this massive public health challenge, I feel we first need to tackle an increasingly aggressive culture of litigation.
Steve Garner, Specialist in Oral Surgery
Warnings about inappropriate consumption of antimicrobial drugs are invariably based on the idea that if we take these powerful substances for trivial infections, and/or fail to complete a course, we are likely to increase the pool of resistant bacteria circulating in the population.
But the same thing can happen in an individual patient. There is a small but significant risk that resistance heightened by the indiscriminate use of such drugs today will trigger the emergence of an antibiotic- insensitive bacterium that can cause a serious, possibly life-threatening, infection in that same person at a later date. It would be prudent for health education messages to highlight this danger, rather than simply appeal to people’s altruistic instincts at a community level.
Dr Bernard Dixon, Ruislip, London
Standard advice includes completing the course of antibiotics and not wasting them on viral infections. Would it were that simple. How in general practice is it known that there is not an accompanying bacterial infection?
More important, resistant strains are favoured by exposure to antibiotics, whether used wisely or not, so there is an urgent need for research to determine the shortest effective course of treatment. Finally, considering the ever-widening range of adult body weights, is it not time that dose was adjusted accordingly — as is normal practice for animals — to avoid under-dosage or wastage at the extremes?
Professor A R Michell, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
Costly school uniforms don’t add up
IT IS not David Laws, the schools minister, but the headmistress Jo Heywood who totally misses the point on uniforms (“The ties that bind”, News Review, last week). Her school obviously has parents who are able and prepared to pay the often inflated prices demanded by monopoly suppliers; the vast majority of schools do not. If uniforms are important — and I believe they are — they should be made available from different sources. Heywood suggests the quality of supermarket merchandise is suspect; has she tried and tested them all? I suspect not. Furthermore, spending an inordinate amount on uniforms sends a mixed message to children when their parents may have been forced to buy at charity shops to finance their education.
Judy Reid, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
As a libertarian Conservative I could no more support school uniforms than I could the closed shop, censorship or identity cards. It’s a simple question of freedom of choice. At the very least there should be no rules about the length of skirts, or with regard to shirts, trousers and hairstyles — they can hardly be worn differently outside school.
Mark Taha, London SE26
I was intrigued by the BBC’s defence that its executive salaries are discounted by an average 73% against the commercial sector (“More £200,000 chiefs enter BBC revolving door”, News, last week). On that basis there appears to be a finance director earning about £1.4m, a director of news on £1.25m, a director of strategy being paid £1.1m and a general counsel making almost £800,000 — all in companies with 22,000 employees or fewer. I wonder who they are and where they work?
David Elstein, London SW15
Eamon O’Sullivan (“Corporation tax”, Letters, last week) suggests that the BBC could have commercials between shows. It already does. Unfortunately, they don’t bring in money but cost the corporation in fees to advertising agencies and leave viewers fed up with the never-ending self-promotion.
Patrick Cunningham, Winsford, Cheshire
I recently went to a talk given by the chaplain to London Wasps rugby club in which he said there were two dangers affecting young professional sportsmen: porn and gambling (“Porn is making addicts of our sons”, News Review, and “Brain scans find porn addiction”, News, last week). Since the arrival of laptops for professional players to analyse DVDs of their performances, there has been a rush to view porn and gambling sites. These pros have ample time to indulge themselves, and many become addicted.
Paul Churchouse, Flackwell Heath, Buckinghamshire
Former Tony Blair adviser Patrick Diamond (“Labour’s idle talk on raising living standards”, Comment, last week) suggests that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls “should exploit voters’ instinct that the Tory leadership doesn’t understand what life is like
for millions of families struggling to make ends meet”. A private education for Balls, a comprehensive in Hampstead for Miliband, and then Oxford and a parachute into the junior ranks of the Labour hierarchy for both hardly qualifies them to understand the struggle “to make ends meet”.
Greg Sheen, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire
No time to lose
Anyone considering alternative therapies should bear in mind the timescale for their particular form of cancer (“My choice”, Style, last week). While patients are trawling the internet or seeking out “wizard” healers who experiment with cannabinoid tinctures blessed in the light of the full moon, they could pass the point when conventional treatment has any chance of being effective. Chemotherapy saves many lives. It did mine.
Jennifer Rees, Cardiff
Beyond the law
The dentist Omar Sheikh Mohamed Addow (“Dentist struck off for offering female mutilation”, News, September 8) is now back in Somalia when he should at the very least have faced trial in Britain. In May 2012 I was with French anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) campaigners just after news of your paper’s “sting” broke. My hosts refused to believe me when I said Addow would escape prosecution. France has an interest in the UK’s failure so far to prosecute: it is believed we have become a magnet for FGM tourism.
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
The wages of spin
Damian McBride has regrets about his actions as a Labour spin doctor (“Forgive me my spins”, Focus, last week). After one nasty episode, he is said to have thought of himself as a “cruel, vindictive, thoughtless bastard”, apparently asking himself what kind of person he had become. The timing of the publication of his book in the week of the Labour conference must add to his guilt; will he refuse to benefit from the profits of his “spins” and donate the income to charity?
Michael Saffell, Bath, Avon
Gizzi Erskine’s recipe for chocolate mousse (Magazine, last week) says it serves six but ends with “Fill 4 glasses with the mousse”. Is it that the four glasses should be shared between six in these straitened times, or an acceptance that most cooks are chocoholics?
Maureen Symons, Cambridge
Corrections and clarifications
Last week’s Sunday Times Good University Guide wrongly reported a degree dropout rate of 81.9% for Birmingham City University. The correct dropout rate was 14.3%. The completion rate was 81.9%. We apologise for the error.
Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian prime minister, 77; Chris Broad, cricketer, 56; Lord Coe, athlete, 57; Mackenzie Crook, actor, 42; Colin Dexter, crime writer, 83; Anita Ekberg, actress, 82; Patricia Hodge, actress, 67; Jerry Lee Lewis, singer, 78; Ian McShane, actor, 71; Mike Post, composer, 69; Lech Walesa, co-founder of Poland’s Solidarity movement, 70; Amy Williams, Olympic skeleton champion, 31
1571 birth of Caravaggio, painter; 1758 Horatio Nelson is born; 1810 birth of Elizabeth Gaskell, author; 1829 Metropolitan police carry out first patrols; 1938 Germany, Britain, France and Italy forge Munich Agreement, allowing Germany to annex Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia; 1979 John Paul II becomes first pope to visit Ireland, and calls for an end to violence between Protestants and Catholics
SIR – Matt Wrack, the Fire Brigade Union’s general secretary, has said that “It is ludicrous to expect firefighters to fight fires and rescue families in their late-50s; the lives of the general public and firefighters themselves will be endangered” (report, September 23).
Half the fire brigade appear to be engaged in knocking on doors and offering to check your smoke alarms and exit routes, as I have experienced recently. If the bright-eyed young officers who called on me were to change places with their more elderly colleagues, there would be no need for them to be attempting to “rescue families in their late-50s”. It is better for them to be advising us while their younger colleagues do the fire-fighting.
SIR – Fraser Nelson’s analysis of Ed Miliband’s ambition (Comment, September 27) is both true and scary.
There is no doubt that Mr Miliband has struck a chord with the public about the ever-increasing cost of energy. His promise to freeze prices will be very popular.
Unfortunately, the quick response of the energy companies has only added weight to his argument. The chairman of Centrica, for instance, has stated that if wholesale gas prices rise there is no alternative to increasing domestic prices, if bankruptcy or under-investment are to be avoided. This is known as a cost-plus solution, which in theory any business could apply – if your costs increase, you pass them on to your customers.
The solution to rising energy prices is increased efficiency and competition. The energy regulator could and should enforce this, and David Cameron should champion such an approach.
Bourne End, Buckinghamshire
Let young firemen fight fires, not knock on doors
28 Sep 2013
SIR – Has no one pointed out to Mr Miliband that it is already possible to freeze one’s energy prices for up to four years in return for a small price increase covering the whole period?
I would prefer him to have promised to remove the “green” taxes added to our bills that provide profits to the operators of the useless windmills covering some of the most attractive parts of rural Britain.
SIR – With the likelihood of real energy-price reductions following the development of fracking, how can it make sense for the Labour Party to discourage investment in energy industries for the next seven years?
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
SIR – The cart has been put before the horse. Hard-pressed, low-paid people and British industry need cheaper energy. The solution is more supply.
This means a massive expansion of energy infrastructure, based upon nuclear and coal. And this is where the Government has a strategic role to play in underwriting investment with a crown guarantee and forcing through the planning process.
That’s how you get long-term, cheaper and more reliable energy.
Pulborough, West Sussex
SIR – To return to the socialism of the Sixties and Seventies is a horrific thought for those who remember In Place of Strife, strikes, inflation, power-cuts, the three-day week and months of uncollected rubbish.
If in a year’s time there seems any chance of Ed Miliband becoming the next prime minister, we can only pray that the Scots save us by voting for independence, so minimising Labour’s chance of ever forming a Westminster government again.
SIR – In view of recent criminal cases, it is regrettable that the old form of committal proceedings has been abolished. Formerly, the prosecution case could be tested before the magistrates’ court (professional or lay) to assess its strength. Often the case would be dismissed at that stage and not be sent to the Crown Court if the evidence was not there or was not satisfactory against the defendant. It was a procedure that could save much Crown Court time and expense.
The case of Michael Le Vell is an example where there appeared to be no proper evidence to convict. He could have been spared years of anguish and expense by the possible disposal of the case in the lower court. Similarly, all the recent cases where allegations are made years after the events could be tested in the lower court.
Former District Judge
SIR – I am sure that my household is not alone in wishing FM radio to continue (report, September 26).
I can understand digital radio manufacturers lobbying the Government for FM to be switched off to boost their sales, but with digital reception in most areas being no better than FM, why should listeners be forced to spend hundreds of pounds on replacing existing sets, many of which include additional features?
SIR – Julian Barrow’s prank of openly carrying through Trafalgar Square a copy of Goya’s Duke of Wellington, which had been stolen from the National Gallery (Obituaries, September 18), was not the only time that the painting inspired humour.
Sean Connery as James Bond spotted the stolen picture on an easel in Dr No’s headquarters in the 1962 film. With Wildean symmetry, the original was found in the lost luggage office of New Street Station, Birmingham, in 1965.
SIR – How wonderful it was to see Britain’s finest, Sir Ben Ainslie, assisting Team USA in winning the America’s Cup.
Perhaps Roy Hodgson should ask Lionel Messi if he might be willing to help out in our attempt to qualify for and win next year’s World Cup?
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
Sir – Is it just me or are job descriptions in public offices getting too complex?
What does a Pastoral Director Year 8 Achievement Co-ordinator and Teacher of Science (innovation zone) do, precisely? He has four Assistant Pastoral Directors, including one who doubles up as a Bullying Champion.
Our City Treasurer’s Office has changed into a Corporate Services Directorate – Finance Division. The Town Clerk has morphed into Corporate Services Directorate – Law and Administration.
I have also received a letter about council tax from the Customer Services department of my local authority. I was under the impression that a “customer” was a person who chooses to make a purchase – council tax is not an option.
British students abroad
SIR – The idea that British students are applying to US universities in droves is not supported by the data (report, September 26). Figures out this week from Ucas, the admissions service, show an increase in acceptances by UK universities compared with last year, climbing back towards their levels before fee rises.
The number of British undergraduates at American universities has remained constant at about 4,300; a tiny percentage (0.3 per cent) of the 1.7 million British undergraduates enrolling at UK universities every year.
Official data show a record 16,335 Americans pursuing full degrees at British universities in 2011-12; five per cent more than the previous year. Ucas figures for courses starting in 2013-14 reveal a 10 per cent increase in applicants from America.
Very high student satisfaction levels make the United Kingdom so attractive to home and international students. The proportion of British students who study abroad is much lower than in countries of similar size, such as France and Germany.
Chief Executive, Universities UK
Christians in Pakistan
SIR – Peter Stanford (Features, September 27) correctly identifies the extent of the persecution of Christians worldwide.
He underestimates, however, the number of Christians in Pakistan. As their tormentors well know, one way to make a community insignificant is officially to depress its numbers. This is widespread in the Middle East and beyond.
Some claim that Christians in Pakistan number around 6 per cent of the population. My experience suggests that the BBC World Service estimate of 4 per cent is nearer the mark. There may be many who are simply invisible and have not been counted.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
A tomb with a view
SIR – The problem with burying Richard III in Westminster Abbey (Letters, September 25) is space. Pitt’s monument was put over the west door, and the monument to Spencer Perceval, another prime minister, had to be put on a window ledge. Whether the choice is Leicester or York, at least put the king somewhere where the tomb can be seen.
HS2 will free up lines for local commuters
SIR – There is more to the capacity of a railway route than just how far apart successive trains can run (Letters, September 27).
The theoretical capacity of the current network is destroyed by mixing fast and slow trains on the same lines. For instance, on the “fast” lines out of Euston, stopping a through-train at a station, or running even the fastest suburban train, wipes out the next through-path, if not the next two.
Hence, after recent upgrades for through-trains, stops at Watford have all but disappeared. The European Rail Traffic Management System will not change that.
As a new route for through-trains only, however, HS2 can work to its full theoretical capacity while leaving the current route free to deliver a better local and commuter service. That is in addition to cutting journey times by 35 minutes to Birmingham and an hour to Manchester.
SIR – Sir David Higgins was reported as saying that he only took the role of chairman of HS2 because the Government assured him it was committed to seeing the project through. It would have been sensible for him also to seek an assurance that the business case remained valid in the face of factors that may have been wrongly weighted, changed, or not yet taken into account (Letters, September 27).
SIR – I regularly travel on the Virgin Pendolino service from Stockport to Euston (Letters, September 23) and can say that the trains are extremely comfortable for the sub two-hour journey, with plenty of windows to see the countryside. The trains do not slow down to 19th-century speeds. My 1960 timetable shows average journey time then was in excess of three hours.
Sir, – As a former member of the staff of the City of Dublin Skin & Cancer Hospital on Hume Street, Dublin, and as the author of the history of the hospital, A Century of Serviceit saddens me to see the destruction of the six formerly well-maintained Georgian houses that comprised the hospital.
Until recently the property was the responsibility of Nama, which neglected to maintain the buildings.
How is it that Dublin City Council can enter into protracted legal proceedings to prevent the installation of a dumb-waiter in a listed building on Merrion Square yet apparently turn a blind eye to the wholesale destruction of a block of listed buildings on Hume Street? – Yours, etc,
Monkstown, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I wish to take issue with the academics who wrote a letter in relation to the Seanad referendum (September 27th).
In very eloquent language they argue for “tackling major issues affecting our society” by “more executive accountability”, strengthening “the level of vocational expertise”, intensifying “political participation by citizens in deliberative democratic processes”, etc.
All of these grandiose objectives are to be achieved by “giving all citizens the right to elect our senators”.
Far from “bringing new expertise into the parliamentary system” as argued by these learned academics, all that is doing is electing another Dáil.
That would do one of two things. It would reinforce the present power structure, making for less executive accountability. Or it would set up another power structure with the capacity to gridlock decision-making and cause even further frustration to citizens already annoyed with the inability of the democratic processes to deal with everyday problems.
I, therefore, do not think that the proposals by the learned academics will do anything to tackle the major issues affecting our society in a bankrupt country. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I agree with your Editorial “A church more open to all” (September 21st) where you highlight his attitude to church governance: “I do not want token consultations, but real consultations.” So when his “outsider” advisory group meets next month Pope Francis should consider expanding this group of eight cardinals to 16 by adding eight women.
Or are women to continue to be excluded from all church governance until a “theology of women” has been developed? I can think of numerous well qualified women who would be a breath of fresh air in the Vatican! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As a member of the ASTI, I am proud of the stand taken by the members of our union. We have given more than our share in the current crisis, while large corporations pay derisory amounts of tax. Enough is enough. The cutbacks have had profound effects on schools.
In my own school we have 1,200 students. Having lost many of our posts of responsibility, we operate a large science department with no subject co-ordinator. We share out the work between the teachers. I would like to thank the Minister for Education for encouraging subject departments to be run as socialist collectives. – Yours, etc,
Croydon Park Avenue,
Marino, Dublin 3.
* I believe that every secondary school student should have tablets or ebooks. I am aware that since schools came back after the summer there has been a lot of debate in the media on this issue and I feel very strongly that schools need to embrace this change.
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Every day, I have to walk home with a heavy schoolbag on my back. It doesn’t help that our school is at the top of a steep hill and students are wrecked and in pain by the time they reach the school doors.
It is time for schools to face up to the fact that technology is the future. Look around you. Everyone is using a smartphone, an iPad, all of those gadgets.
The internet is a huge part of our lives. Everyone relies on it, whether for work or for leisure. Some people might argue that having internet access on an iPad used in a school will lead to students surfing the web, rather than concentrating in class. Maybe an ebook would do and there is no need for the iPad. The school could block internet access except in a computer lab.
Think of all the trees that are used to make textbooks. If we buy tablets we help the environment.
As I said I feel very strongly about this issue. I enjoyed debating the issue with my classmates, some of who opposed my views.
I remain convinced, however, that tablets are the way forward for Irish students.
Ballinagh, Co Cavan
WE KNOW WHO TO BLAME
* The need for an inquiry into the banking crisis, as supported by your editorial of September 25, is anything but as clear as the Irish Independent seems to think. It can be argued that we do not need an inquiry into how this country was bankrupted, since we know the answer already.
National bankruptcy was the result of decisions by a small number of our most powerful citizens at the head of government and financial institutions during the Celtic Tiger period.
The motivating force behind these grandees was arrogance. Recent tapes only confirm this. They used the media to reflect their own self-importance and the rightness of what they were doing.
Blaming foreigners for what happened in relation to the bank guarantee, as your editorial does, is hypocritical. As the harm was already done, all of us were going to suffer, whatever was decided at that time.
Setting up a proverbial show trial now is a distraction from the job of getting this country back on its feet.
Sutton, Dublin 13
* There is something timid, some might say cute, at the permanent caught-in-the-headlights face of Professor Honohan, our beloved head of the Central Bank.
But when push comes to shove, he has no problem when bankers say they are picking his (our) cash out their arses, so he obviously is on the side of the likely lads who mocked him and us and who are continuing to live the lives they feel entitled to.
There is nothing illegal in helping to destroy the country, apparently.
Isn’t it lovely for them, all the same? Could we have been wrong about them all along, now that their naughtiness has again been endorsed by the lamb-like Patrick Honohan?
Perhaps it is indeed the case that the phrase “we’re all in this together” only applies when those in the banking sector are looking out for each other.
The rest of us know the true meaning of that phrase when we try to pay our way with aspirations, rather than real money. Nothing is going to change in this rotten State.
Do something, Prof Honohan. Show us that you have our best interests at heart for a change.
Bantry, Co Cork
* If Professor Honohan, as governor of the Central Bank, can act so indifferently to the ‘Punch and Judy’ Anglo Tapes and on how the banks conduct their business, is it any wonder that ordinary people under stress are angry and perplexed in dealing with them?
The various banks promised to put forward their plans to solve mortgage debt over the past three years, then came up with useless plastic-surgery ideas that did little other than prolong the agony of the 100,000 Irish families in mortgage arrears. Each bank, apparently, had different approaches, none of them simple.
As head of the Central Bank, it should be Prof Honohan’s job to guide, devise and put in place a common workable plan that would deliver a sustainable solution to those unfortunate mortgage debtors and to ensure that all lenders act on his advice immediately. Eviction should be a last resort.
Thurles, Co Tipperary
THE WORD IS ‘ABORTION’
* It is interesting that the Mater Hospital in its statement confirming that it would abide by the law of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act does not use the word ‘abortion’.
Pregnancy is a state that has a termination; it does not go on forever. Sometimes in late pregnancy, complications may occur which, in a Catholic hospital are dealt with by terminating the pregnancy but not by intentionally destroying the life of the unborn child.
Abortion (the direct and intentional destruction of a human life) usually occurs in circumstances where no one suggests that continuation of the pregnancy represents any particular threat to the woman. Rather, it is the survival of the child that must be prevented.
Catholic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with the 17 Irish martyrs (beatified in September 1992) in their graves.
Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
* I fully support the appeal being heard by An Bord Pleanala against what I believe to be a flawed decision by Dublin City Council to grant permission to build a memorial to victims of institutional abuse in the Garden of Remembrance.
No one doubts the necessity for this memorial. Many of the victims of institutional abuse are either elderly or have passed away.
There are two reasons I support the appeal. Firstly, the Garden of Remembrance was purposely built to remember those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. Secondly, these victims deserve a standalone memorial in a conspicuous location in the city – lest we forget these victims.
Dunleer, Co Louth
MISUSE OF LANGUAGE
* In common with Irish agencies Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the GRETA report (‘Ireland Criticised For Failing To Prosecute Pimps’) liberally uses the emotive term ‘trafficked’ to back its agenda.
Given that this term is now conflated so casually with the despicable practice of sexual exploitation, it’s important to remember that both groups categorise all foreign nationals merely advertising as escorts as a priori having been trafficked. This absurd misuse of language is a disservice to public debate, distorts the true picture and is an affront to those who have truly been exploited.
North Circular Road, Dublin 1
RECORD OF KOREAN WAR
* I am currently compiling a list of the Irish fatalities and those taken prisoner during the Korean war. Some of your readers might be able to help with this worthy project. Please send details, photographs and documents to the address below. All material will be treated with the utmost care and returned.
Naas, Co Kildare
* I don’t see what all the fuss is about the large amount of money found at Tom McFeely’s house. I am sure there is a very reasonable explanation, such as that he won it on a horse!
Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim