20 November 2013 More Leaves
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark.
Our heroes are in trouble they are to have to patrol some fishing waters off Batawanaland. But there is a relative of Pertwees fishing away. Priceless.
Quiet sweep leaves Peter does conservatory
Scrabble Mary wins but get just less than 400 perhaps it will be my turn tomorrow.
Professor Anne Barton – Obituary
Professor Anne Barton was an American academic who illuminated Oxford and Cambridge with her studies of English drama
Anne Barton Photo: RAMSEY AND MUSGRAVE
5:34PM GMT 19 Nov 2013
Professor Anne Barton, who has died aged 80, was a leading authority on Shakespeare and English comedy and had a considerable impact not only on literary scholarship but also on theatrical productions — not least those of her husband, the theatre director John Barton, co-founder with Sir Peter Hall of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
A Professor of English at Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College, Anne Barton was best-known for her first book, Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (published in 1962 under her previous name Anne Righter), in which she examined the context and significance of Shakespeare’s frequent references to plays and players, his use of such devices as the “play within a play”, and his fascination with the relationship between actors and their audience.
The book described how, in the centuries before Shakespeare, the relationship between actors and audience had undergone a gradual but dramatic shift. The “mystery” plays of the old medieval guilds had developed somewhere between ritual and art: “The people who crowded about the pageant on the feast of Corpus Christi formed an audience, certainly, but an audience actively involved in the performance of a community rite,” she wrote.
With the emergence of “morality plays” in the 15th and 16th centuries, however, this began to change. Reality was now the audience and illusion — in the form of a play with a central “Everyman” protagonist and supporting characters personifying good or evil — was on the stage.
But the relationship between actors and audience remained ambiguous. Anne Barton recounted a fascinating experiment in 16th-century Rome in which two groups were invited to see a play, each entering a large hall divided by a closed curtain — from opposite ends. When the curtain was drawn back, both groups thought the other was on stage and waited for the performance to begin. It was only after about 15 minutes that the joke dawned.
17 Oct 2005
07 Oct 2003
Professor Anthony Nuttall
03 Feb 2007
So by the Elizabethan period, drama had reached a precarious equilibrium whereby the “play world” excluded the audience at the same time as recognising its presence. Shakespeare, Anne Barton argued, exploited such ambiguities in order to explore the relationship between art and life, actor and audience, pretence and reality, reminding us that “elements of illusion are present in ordinary life and that between the world and the stage there exists a complicated interplay of resemblance that is part of the perfection and nobility of the drama itself as a form”.
Such insights had a huge influence on stagings of Shakespeare’s works. For many years RSC productions were informed by Anne Barton’s erudite programme essays; she also contributed introductions to new editions of Shakespeare’s works — most notably to the comedies in the extremely influential Riverside edition, aimed at, and still heavily used by, students in Britain and America.
In her introduction to the 1980 New Penguin edition of Hamlet she noted that the play was “unique in the density and pervasiveness of its theatrical self-reference”. In the same year an RSC production, directed by her husband and starring Michael Pennington as the Dane, featured benches around the side of the stage upon which actors would sit to watch the performance as it took place, while rows of props and costumes were visible at the back of the stage.
In fact, though, in academic circles Anne Barton was equally respected for her work on English comedy — the theme of a festschrift dedicated to her in 1994. Describing herself as “very much an Odyssey person, not an Iliad person”, she had an influence on critical thinking about comedy across a wide range of texts, and was the author of Ben Jonson, Dramatist (1982), The Names of Comedy (1990) and Byron: Don Juan (1992).
In her younger days Anne Barton cut a strikingly elegant and glamorous figure. As a young lecturer at Cambridge in the 1960s and at Oxford (where she became the first woman Fellow of New College) in the 1970s, her penchant for miniskirts and thigh-length leather boots left a lasting impression on generations of male undergraduates.
But, just as she was never neutral about literature, Anne Barton was never neutral about people, and was given to intense likes and dislikes — not always rational. Intimidating to undergraduates who failed to get their essays in on time, she applied a coruscating wit to scholars with whom she disagreed and could be a difficult colleague. But those whom she liked and who responded to great literature were treated to great learning, great eloquence and boundless generosity. She gave loyalty and inspired loyalty. She observed the highest standards in her work and expected no less of others.
Anne Barton, in a portrait by James Lloyd (COURTESY OF THE WARDEN AND FELLOWS OF NEW COLLEGE, OXFORD/BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY)
An only child of wealthy parents, she was born Bobbyann Roesen on May 9 1933 in New York and attended Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, moving to Britain after graduation to do a PhD under Muriel Bradbrook at Girton College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate she had won a prize for an essay entitled Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play. At Cambridge she developed it into a thesis about the legacy of medieval theatre in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama — and later into her best-known book.
After taking her doctorate Anne Barton became a lecturer, a Fellow of Girton College and director of studies in English, before moving to the University of London, where she spent two years as Hildred Carlile Professor of English and head of department at Bedford College. In 1974 she moved to New College, Oxford, where she spent 10 years before returning to Cambridge to take up a post as Professor of English.
During her years at Oxford she and her husband John Barton lived in some style in an Elizabethan manor outside Stratford-upon-Avon, restored by Michael Reardon, the architect of the Swan Theatre and a close friend. After returning to Cambridge, she bought a Jacobean manor house near Wisbech, while her elegant rooms in Trinity, overlooking Nevile’s Court, were furnished with an exquisite collection of art and antiques.
A superb cook, she entertained on a lavish scale, hosting house parties where favoured academic colleagues, struggling through piles of undergraduate exam papers, could relieve the tedium with excellent food, wine and company.
Anne Barton served on several academic editorial boards and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1991. Her last book, Essays, Mainly Shakespearean, was published in 1994.
Anne Barton is survived by her husband, whom she married in 1969 after her previous marriage to William Righter was dissolved. She is also survived by her two cats, the last in a long series, which arrived from the cattery answering to the names Robin and Batman and were promptly, and very typically, renamed Damon and Pythias.
Professor Anne Barton, born May 9 1933, died November 11 2013
It can hardly be a surprise that private colleges have rushed to expand their student numbers on the back of state-funded fee loans (College course subsidy spirals out of control, 19 November). This open goal has arisen from the government’s decision to incentivise the higher education market by preferential treatment of private providers. While universities have limits on student numbers and are required to sign up to a national quality assurance system and an independent student appeals process, private providers have been allowed to operate and expand without such restraints and protections for students. The real tragedy is that students at private colleges may be prevented from finishing their courses. Meanwhile universities and colleges are likely to face further reductions in their already depleted teaching grant and access to HE course funding as ministers try to claw back the overspend.
Chief executive, million+
• How we can have “over-recruitment” in an area that has no limit on recruitment is unclear, but, that aside, the problem is not with the private providers. Private providers, both not-for-profit and profit-making, are a positive introduction to the higher education sector. They provide quality alternative, and often innovative, provision and choice for students.
The government has actively pursued a competitive market place for higher education in Britain but this is now coming at the expense of social mobility and financial support for working-class students. This was predicted by the sector years ago.
The reductions in spending on higher education fall disproportionally on the funds for teaching and student opportunity, which are key to both the prime minister’s and deputy prime minister’s goals of a fairer society. What would make a difference is for the government to alter its course to ensure the parts of society who will lose out most in the current reforms are protected.
Vice-chancellor, University of Wolverhampton
• As universities minister, David Willetts has persistently advocated competition from allcomers on the grounds that this would sharpen the oldcomers. The colleges of further education, where most HNC and HND courses are delivered, are now for funding purposes private and so, in effect, business corporations, touting for business wherever it can be found. EU nationals who have lived in the UK continuously for three years by the September of the beginning of their HND/HNC courses are indeed entitled to apply to Student Finance England (soon to be privatised). So competition is running riot…
• As a graduate from a poor working-class background David Cameron’s words about the poor working-class of Britain having “low” aspirations make my blood boil (Report, 15 November). Over the past 20 years hundreds of thousands of “poor” people went to university on the advice of politicians to secure a future in what politicians called the knowledge-based economy. What about 90% of them actually got were huge loan debts but no proper graduate job.
The poor of Britain have always had mountains of aspirations and hopes for a better future. And many have worked hard for that future only to find more poverty at the end of the road to social immobility. We are also acutely aware of the high aspirations that greedy politicians have clawed for themselves out of Britain’s crumbling economy. It is no coincidence that at recent general elections about 17 million did not vote.
• Today On Wednesday 20 Novemberwe are taking action against the government’s plan to sell off the student loan book before the next general election. As a secret report for the government has made clear (Money, 14 June), in order to make student loans more profitable for private companies, privatisation of student debt will be accompanied by an increase in the burden of debt placed upon graduates. This amounts to a retrospective hike in tuition fees.
We are building a movement on campuses across the country to stop this grossly unfair and unjust policy. Today’s national day of action co-ordinated by the Student Assembly Against Austerity is just the start.
Aaron Kiely NUS Black Students’ Officer
Shelly Asquith President, University of the Arts London Students’ Union
Sam Dathi Student Assembly Against Austerity
Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chair, campaigns and citizenship officer, Manchester University Students’ Union
Matt Stanley NUS National Executive and President, Midkent College Students’ Union
Amy Gilligan NUS National Executive
Adnan Pavel Deputy president, London Met University Students’ Union
Fiona Edwards Student Broad Left and Student Assembly Against Austerity
Marienna Pope-Weidemann Counterfire
Kelly McBride President, Sussex University Students’ Union
Charlotte Bennett Women’s officer, Midkent College Students’ Union
Barbara Ntumy NUS Black Students’ Committee
Tom Richards President, Norwich University of the Arts Students’ Union
William Pinkney-Baird President, Durham University Green Party Society
Mostafa Culture and diversity, University of the Arts London Students’ Union
Rosie Black Activities and Volunteering, University of the Arts London Students’ Union
Hannah Roberts University of the Arts London Students’ Union
Tom Barker Socialist Worker Student Society at Durham University
Miguel Costa Matos Undergraduate social sciences faculty representative, Warwick University
John Beckingham Student academic representative, University of Chester
Kate Hurford Black students’ officer, Goldsmiths Students’ Union
Ben Hayes Goldsmiths College Student Assembly Against Austerity
Lily Waring Gloucestershire Students Against the Student Debt Selloff
Emily McDonagh Charity and fundraising officer, Essex University Students’ Union
George Venizelos Participation and involvement officer, Essex University Students’ Union
Harriet Pugh Humanities representative, University of Manchester
Josiah Mortimer Young Greens National Committee
Jasmin Lukasz Green Party Society events coordinator, University of Sussex
Nick Devlin Chair, Green party, University of York
Duncan Davis President Young Greens, Nottingham University
Richard Mashiter Activities officer, Sussex University Students’ Union
Sophie van der Ham Welfare officer, Sussex University Students’ Union
Imogen Adie Communications officer, Sussex University Students’ Union
Juliette Cule Education officer, Sussex University Students’ Union
Emily Holliday Operations officer, Sussex University Students’ Union
Megan De Meo Counterfire Society, Liverpool University
Hannah Ellen Clare Co-convenor, Young Greens North
James Elliott Oxford University
Ally Rooms, Tom Costerton and Ruairi Paton SOAS Student Assembly Against Austerity
Tabetha Bhatti SOAS Stop the War Society
An experiment in times of austerity-sponsored need. I work for a charity supporting adults with mental ill health and facing or experiencing homelessness. I like my job and earn 16K a year, resulting in a scrape to stay afloat. My employers are also constantly having to economise to stay alive. All housing-related county council contracts are being cancelled in March 2014, and a retendering process is under way. April 2014 will see a 60% cutback in housing support, despite screaming out for extra funding to respond to the increasingly desperate circumstances of so many people’s lives. I could be qualifying for such a service myself in a few months, if any exist to apply to. So is there any person or organisation wishing to donate to myself, my employer or both? As part of the experiment, you can suggest or decide how the money gets spent. We’re all jumble-saled, coffee-morninged, skittle-eveninged, fun-runned and quizzed out. We’re all knackered.
Tristram Hunt (Interview, 16 November) said he opposed a “crazed, burned-out investment banker model of teaching”. Has he been reading Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed? High time we looked again at Friere on the “banking concept” of education, which, he suggests, has the “capability to minimise or annul the student’s creative power and … serves the interests of the oppressors” by inhibiting critical thinking.
There are not many jokes in the “dismal” science of economics (Report, Letters, 19 November) but consider the plight of three academics adrift in a boat, with no scarcity of tinned food but no tin-opener. The engineer tries levers etc, the physicist heat and pressure. The economist’s solution: “I would assume we had a tin-opener.”
Earlier this year, I saw Rupert Everett in The Judas Kiss at the Hampstead Theatre. The first act opened with both male and female nudity and the second consisted of little else but male nudity (Unthinkable: Get ’em back on, 16 November). There was much swearing and drinking of alcohol. For those of a sensitive nature, there was a notice warning that smoking would take place during the performance.
Dr Peter B Baker
Over 40 years ago, Savormix (Ian Jack, 16 November), along with Nuttolene and Sausalatas, helped me survive university; students were compelled to buy tickets for meals “in hall”, but vegetarians were not catered for, and so I needed to supplement the poor diet that was provided. I, too, regret the passing of the former, but thankfully, after a brief disappearance from the shelves the latter two have returned.
Whether or not George Osborne wears hard hats because he wants to be in the Village People (Letters, 19 November), it is shameful that no cabinet minister has grown a November moustache. A Zapata might be the one thing that could save the image of Iain Duncan Smith.
Your writers (Letters, 18 November) raise important issues in relation to the government’s proposal to introduce a criminal offence of wilful neglect in the NHS. However, they miss the main point. We know from the aviation industry that true safety cultures rest on true no-blame cultures. The government has used a highly selective focus in choosing one of many recommendations from the Berwick report. What is genuinely interesting is what they have chosen to ignore. That is, Berwick’s firmly held belief that patient safety can only be improved by a true no-blame culture in which each mistake and each compliment is treated as an opportunity to learn and so improve clinical care. The likelihood that our current secretary of state will adopt these truly progressive concepts seems close to zero. And more is the shame. We will have missed an historic opportunity to change the culture of the NHS radically, and it is only patients who will suffer.
Drs Peter Hindley and Anna Pilkington
• So, five years for wilful neglect of patients. How long one wonders for wilful neglect (or is that destruction) of an entire health service? On the assumption that our elitely educated government cannot possibly be simply incompetent, there must be a reason for the continuing assault on the NHS. All I can come up with is that by the next election they will, in all honesty, be able to say that the NHS is no longer worth saving.
Clinical director, renal medicine, James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough
• Simon Wessely’s fears on scrapping GP practice boundaries are correct (Will your GP choose you?, 19 November). This is another inevitable step in the progressive marketisation and privatisaton of the NHS. The concern for many GPs is how this puts a commercial value on patients, creating a competition for high-value, healthy patients who rarely attend, while complex patients, who bring in the same capitation fee, will be shunned. The consequence of this little-discussed change, along with the market environment introduced by the Health and Social Care Act, will be to open the door to large private health corporations hoovering up the healthy, leaving the “frequent fliers” to the unviable traditional family practices, paradoxically favoured by Hunt.
Dr Brian Green
• Polly Toynbee has indeed exposed the scandal of the “infection of the NHS with competition law” as a consequence of the 2012 Health Care Act. As an NHS foundation trust governor, I have been dismayed to discover what can happen when services are put out to tender. The clinical commissioning group awards the contract to a body – private or public or a mixture of the two. That body can then subcontract elements of the service to another provider, who can then subcontract elements to a further provider. The consequence of this is a plethora of legal contracts, invoicing and accounting and employment of non-clinical administrators, all at the expense of money that should be spent on patient care. As an NHS finance director remarked to me: “Yes, it is crazy but at least it keeps the accountants busy.”
The 50th birthday of the National Theatre has provoked much celebration, programmes, books, the parade of successive male artistic directors, anecdotes from star performers, a lot of mutual back-slapping and, in some cases, back-stabbing.
Simon Callow had high praise for Michael Blakemore’s book Stage Blood (Review, 16 November), which raises the curtain on some nastier aspects of theatre life. However, Blakemore is too preoccupied fighting the bigger boys for the limelight to notice that there are no women’s parts in his drama. Jocelyn Herbert has a bit part and Gillian Diamond a walk on. When it comes to two outstanding dames, he deals with them briefly, describing a farewell party at the Old Vic: “Peggy Ashcroft impersonated Lilian Baylis … it was a complete surprise to see her being so funny, sketching with a sure hand Miss Baylis’ cockney accent and physical peculiarities”.
Baylis ran the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells. She engaged Ninette de Valois and thereby was responsible for the founding of the National Theatre and the Royal Ballet. I believe it was her legacy that was being fought over and which Olivier had inherited. She launched the careers of Olivier, Richardson, Gielguid, Ashcroft, Redgrave, Thorndyke, Edith Evans, Guinness and many more. She died in 1937, aged 63. There is no memorial at her grave and none at the National Theatre, other than a terrace named after her, and there has been no programme about her as part of the celebrations. It is time this remarkable woman was awarded the tribute due to her. A word from Blakemore or Callow might have helped.
Why is it bank chief executives do not need banking qualifications (Co-op Group plans overhaul after allegations about chairman, 19 November)? I seem to remember that Royal Bank of Scotland’s board – including Fred Goodwin – had not sat a banking examination between them. Yet we are to believe they are uniquely qualified – which justifies their uniquely generous remuneration packages. Now Euan Sutherland, new head of the Co-operative Bank, has been “appointed from B&Q”. So he supposedly knows all about the nuts and bolts of banking.
• So the Co-op Bank got into a mess because it had an unqualified and inexperienced chairman. So were all those other bank chairmen equally unsuited for their jobs, too?
Halifax, West Yorkshire
• Presumably, had Paul Flowers had the necessary senior banking experience, the failure at the Co-op Bank would have been spectacular enough for a taxpayer bailout.
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire
• Never mind the chairman of the Co-op Bank, is the chancellor of the exchequer suitably qualified for his job? After graduating in 1992, Osborne did a few part-time jobs, including as a data entry clerk, typing the details of recently deceased into a NHS computer database. He also briefly worked for a week at Selfridges, mainly re-folding towels. In 1993, Osborne originally intended to pursue a career in journalism. He was shortlisted for, but failed to gain, a place on the Times trainee scheme, and instead did freelance work on the Peterborough diary column of the Daily Telegraph. Some time later, an Oxford friend of his, journalist George Bridges, alerted him to a research vacancy at Conservative central office.
• Hopefully the cocaine Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers is alleged to have bought was Fair Trade.
You cite California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein’s “spectacular about-turn” after her history of supporting the Iraq war and blanket surveillance of US and world citizens presumably as a way to pressure Britain’s politicians (Leader comment, 8 November). She has done no such thing, according to other sources, since the “reform” she proposes would codify and pretty much legitimise the current practice – her way of appearing to change and control what she doesn’t wish to.
Meanwhile, on page one of the same issue, Suspicion fragments the web, which is “leading to the breakup of the internet as countries scramble to protect private emails and phone records from UK and US security services”. Now aren’t over 90% of the servers based in the US – and in California? Perhaps if the Guardian explored the economic consequences to these servers and Google, Facebook, Amazon and to the tax-collecting consequences of this potential breakup, the California senator might take notice. (Another potential story is the economic tie-in between the US and contracts with private companies, such as the one Snowden worked for, and difficult-to-get information on the campaign contributions of those secret firms).
It is depressing but expected that some world leaders sit up and take notice when they are spied on, but are at peace with the massive spying on their citizens: such distrust democracies have of their citizens erodes democracy itself, which doesn’t exactly bother actual terrorists.
• If the US (or Britain, for that matter) said they would reduce surveillance of their citizens and others around the globe, who in their right mind would believe them? Their reviews and protests are not credible. Thank you, Guardian, for continuing this story.
Nature’s shock absorbers
The havoc wreaked by typhoon Haiyan has been brutal and heartbreaking (Typhoon Haiyan’s aftermath, 15 November). But we have been warned to expect such severe weather events to occur with greater frequency as the impacts of climate change become ever more difficult to deny. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere are causing sea temperatures and levels to rise and the acidity of their waters to increase. The roots of the alarming rise in atmospheric pollution with GHGs are largely anthropogenic, but so too is the destruction of the natural barriers that reduce the severity of impact of savage weather events.
Natural wetlands absorb wave and storm-surge energy and protect inland areas; mangrove swamps and coral reefs do the same. But what do we find? Wilful destruction of wetlands by drainage and canal construction for shipping; the disappearance of mangroves for fuel wood and coastal development, and the demise of coral reefs through ocean acidification, physical damage and overfishing.
Protecting and enhancing these natural shock absorbers will go a long way to reducing the destructive impact of the ever more ferocious storms that we can expect in the future. Meanwhile we must, of course, continue to emphasise the pressing urgency of reducing levels of GHG pollution. There are lessons here for tropical coastal countries and also for the UK government, which seems curiously reluctant to promote the creation of marine reserves around our coasts. This is all the more bewildering as we begin to fully understand the vital importance of a healthy marine environment to our very survival.
Orwellian ideal in Spain
What most strikes me about Dan Hancox’s excellent account of the idealistic Spanish communist village, Marinaleda in Andalusia (8 November), is that it exemplifies the ideal for which George Orwell quite literally risked his neck in the late 1930s. Tragically, that ideal was defeated in Spain – and the world – by both the right, and hardline left, in the civil war of those years.
Marinaleda resembles the kind of liberated socialism that flowered briefly in Catalonia before it was suppressed by Republican Stalinist hardliners in 1937.
In Orwellian terms, the story of Marinaleda is important now because it is a reminder of the need to protect the essential true spirit of socialism from neoliberal conservatives on the one hand, and doctrinaire hardliners of the left on the other.
While so much of the broader left is bogged down in futile theorising, and remains generally paralysed by inaction, the villagers in Marinaleda are actually doing something to make bottom-up socialism a reality.
As Hancox indicates, we need lots of Marinaledas around the world if the flame of true socialism is to be held aloft in the face of the current economic ascendancy.
And we need fair and balanced reporting of it when it happens – reporting of the fine calibre that characterises the Guardian Weekly today, and which, as Orwell himself pointed out in 1938, characterised the contemporary reportage of the Spanish civil war by the Manchester Guardian.
Adelaide, South Australia
Russian hypocrisy is clear
Hypocrisy is evident in the statement of Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev “that he could not support acts that endangered the environment or human life” (Greenpeace’s Arctic 30 moved to St Petersburg, 8 November). It is the Russians who are doing both. The Greenpeace team had no weapons: it was the Russians who came down from a helicopter carrying guns.
The purpose of the Greenpeace team was to protect the Arctic and global environments from destruction. Russia plans to drill for oil, which could not only cause severe pollution that could not be cleaned up in the case of an oil spill, but any oil extracted would contribute to global warming, which has already brought about the melting of the Arctic sea ice that now permits access to the Arctic oil fields. This vicious circle must be stopped, and the Arctic 30 were peacefully trying to do just that.
Documentaries can help
Issue documentaries do good box-office business but do they change anything, Steve Rose asks (8 November), to which the answer is obviously, no.
But they do, of course, serve a purpose. They draw public attention to serious anomalies that exist within our current primitive system and prepare hearts and minds for its radical transformation.
So, nothing wrong with that. But surely mainstream media, including this newspaper, could then also start looking at the alternative evolutionary ideas of change for a more advanced society that are now emerging, especially from the new spirituality movement. Or, is there some obstacle standing in the way of such investigations?
The mind boggles at nefarious applications of Professor John Rogers’ new water-soluble silicon/silk substrate for tiny electronics – funded under the aegis of the Darpa Pentagon consortium (Discovery, 8 November). Introduced into the body, eg subcutaneously, a microchip could serve to torture or assassinate by slowly disrupting the biochemistry of endocrinology or neural networks, thus mimicking natural pathology. It could lie dormant until triggered remotely or its materials dissolve – latent and “cleaner” than the polonium-210 that allegedly finished Yasser Arafat or the ricin particle jabbed into Georgi Markov’s leg via umbrella tip. Just supposin’, mind you.
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
• I read your article on converts to Islam (8 November) with interest, especially for the reasons given. Quite a number of Muslims convert to Christianity, but I appreciate that you could not print anything about them because popular Islam pronounces a death sentence on those who convert away. It is good that we live in a society where we are free to worship or not as we choose.
• Suzanne Moore’s question (1 November) “Can you name me one inter-generational space you visit regularly?” may have been rhetorical, but I want to answer it anyway.
Yes, the local Methodist church, and – I suspect – a great many, maybe a majority, of congregations in this country. I can’t speak for other faiths, but I think they escape the problem by their social/cultural patterns.
Prince Risborough, UK
• There is a strange pairing of statistics in the article Japan’s flight from intimacy (1 November): “61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship”. Are we to conclude that some of the women are married but, nevertheless, not in a romantic relationship?
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
• In view of the various belligerents who have been awarded the Nobel prize as champions of peace (Reply, 8 November), perhaps other more worthy and realistic nominations would include Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
• I assume the Guardian was being deliberately silly in preceding an article on the dangers of inflated expectations (25 October) with the claim that “This column will change your life.”
I note with amusement that, when asked to comment on the study showing that climate change has not, as previously thought, slowed over the past 15 years (“Sceptics on back foot after climate change revelation”, 19 November), the arch climate change sceptic Lord Lawson of Blaby replied that “it needs to be reviewed by other scientists”.
With this newfound confidence in the opinion of the scientific community, can we look forward to his acceptance of the 97 per cent scientific consensus on climate change?
Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire
Given the recent Overseas Development Institute report on the extent of government subsidy to fossil fuels (six times the subsidy to alternative energy), together with the devastating reports of the crushing of lives and livelihoods in the Philippines – due to climate change caused by fossil fuels – why are we not out on the streets?
Why is there not a mass uprising against the use of our taxes to subsidise the destruction of our future? Where is the mass support needed to effect some genuine movement in the climate talks taking place in Warsaw – where the Filipino delegate himself has undertaken a hunger strike to draw attention to the desperate need for this?
Judy Hindley, Marlborough, Wiltshire
The devastation brought by Haiyan is going to become the new norm due to conditions brought about by climate change.
There is a link between climate change and increasing storm intensity: as the planet and particularly the oceans heat, simple physics indicates that the energy stored is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of devastating storms such as Haiyan, at great cost to coastal communities.
Alan Hinnrichs, Dundee
Nigel Farage does not explicitly declare himself a climate change denier, though as he blames green taxes as the cause of energy bills and rails against the “green lobby”, he makes it clear enough.
The question you ponder when someone carries on like this is: why does he suppose all these ghastly greens exist and have the influence he deplores, even on conservative politicians?
Does he really believe climate change is a set of lies got up by an international conspiracy for some undeclared, though obviously left-wing, purpose? And since it is so omnipresent and nefarious, why hasn’t it silenced the few brave crusaders for truth like him?
Green taxes are one contribution to energy bills, there’s no denying it. But believe it or not (and some won’t, even as water rises above their knees), there is a reason why we have to pay them.
Roger Schafir, London N21
Nigel Farage bases his arguments solely on price, which is hardly surprising given his background in commodities trading.
He doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that fossil fuels, once used, cannot be replaced. As they get scarcer, they will be more expensive and eventually will be uneconomic as fuel for the masses.
Therefore, it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce our reliance on them as quickly as possible, and to develop alternatives that are not going to run out.
Obviously, the cost of these alternatives is high now but will tend to stabilise and even decrease as we develop technology to harness wind, solar, hydro, waves and other power sources more efficiently, and to reduce, or at least control, demand by reducing waste. Bringing the EU into this debate as a sort of all-purpose bête noire does nothing for the quality of the discussion.
Geoff S Harris, Warwick
Thanks to the ever-brilliant Dave Brown and his cartoon (19 November) for making me realise who Nigel Farage reminds me of; Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows.
Peter Henderson, Worthing, West Sussex
Households in Britain are being ripped off by the profiteering energy industry. Energy prices have soared by 152 per cent in the past 10 years and many people are now being forced into fuel poverty because of the avarice of a parasitic oligopoly which knows that everybody needs energy to live.
How can six firms delivering energy to 90 per cent of households be considered “competitive”? The Big Six bosses rushed to blame higher prices on green taxes but their profits still haven’t been dented
Meanwhile, it’s been widely reported that Centrica CEO Sam Laidlaw said he would be turning down a £1.7m bonus – but he trousers a £950,000 basic payment on top of his shares, and only last year was handed a £5m remuneration package.
Daniel Pitt, Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf
Bedroom tax – help and support available
While I can’t discuss individual cases, I must take issue with Stephen Pound’s claim (“Forced to pay the bedroom tax – even if the room is used for a kidney dialysis machine”, 19 November) that there is “no wriggle room” or “any local ability to look at this humanely”.
The Borough of Kensington and Chelsea contacted everyone affected by the new housing benefits rules to explain what help and support is available, including discretionary housing payments. There was nothing perfunctory about this: we spoke to many people and made special efforts in cases where the impact was likely to be greatest.
On the face of it, anyone in the circumstances described in your piece would be highly likely to qualify for a discretionary housing payment, and we would urge Mr Pound to get in contact so that we can discuss his case.
Councillor Nick Paget-Brown, Leader, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Higher prescription charges a false saving
We are against the proposal from Reform (“Extending NHS charges ‘could raise £3bn’”, 19 November) which would make it harder for a wide range of people to afford life-saving medicines.
Evidence shows that one in three people in England already doesn’t collect all their medicines because of the cost. If people don’t get the medicines they need, they become more unwell – which leads to greater Government spending in the long term.
Increasing prescription charges runs counter to initiatives to improve the health of people with long-term conditions and reduce health inequalities. Higher charges would place additional pressure on the NHS, as people become ill because they aren’t able to afford all their medicines.
We do support the need for prescription charges to be looked at again, but we need a solution that enables people with long-term conditions to get their medicines without having to make decisions about whether to heat their homes, eat or treat their condition.
The debate the Government in England needs to have with the public is whether prescription charges are fair. Prescription charges are effectively a tax on hard-working people unfortunate enough to get a lifelong condition that can’t be cured.
We would like to see greater exemptions from the charge for people with long-term conditions, creating more equal access to better health.
Howard Duff, Director for England, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, London SE1
The old and grumpy are always with us
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is
foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.”
Who wrote that? Could it be The Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (18 November)? No. It has been attributed to a sermon by the medieval saint Peter the Hermit.
I am 57 and fortunate to know lots of admirable people below the age of 25. They give me great hope for the future. There is nothing wrong with “young people today”. There probably never has been. There have been problems of ignorance, poverty, greed, inequality, discrimination, and injustice since time began – evils largely perpetrated by those with wealth and power (usually over 30). And there has always been the problem of growing old and getting grumpy and taking it out on the “youth of today”.
Stuart Tunstall, Windsor
The accent is on discrimination
The Cumbrian teacher who was told to speak “more southern” must be furious (“School ‘told teacher to sound less northern’”, 19 November). Has teacher-bashing escalated into ethnic cleansing? Should all diverse-accented teachers head to the border or else risk dragging their schools into special measures?
Ian McKenzie , Lincoln
Thank you for the latest contribution to my “northern-bashing” file – which is rapidly expanding. As an unwilling (born and bred northerner) resident of Kent, I am subjected to this sort of diatribe on a daily basis. All my qualifications (degree, MSc, PGCE etc) count for nothing against my “uneducated” northern accent. Of course, it is entirely my fault, as I refuse to erase my flat vowels. I hope this teacher’s union puts this up for a long overdue debate – in which all accents are welcome.
Susan Whitworth, Herne Bay, Kent
Obvious solution to badger problem
Maybe the Government will consider taking all the West Country’s badgers and putting them on bicycles in London?
Mike Shearing, Southall, London
Talk about the old generation
Roger Daltrey’s reported reactionary comments on immigration prove some people should die before they get old.
Sasha Simic, London N16
Turn off and tune out…
The 10 best meditation apps (18 November)? The first step is to turn off your phone.
Yours in prayerful meditation.
Sister Catherine CHN, Peterborough
While special advisers may fill gaps in Civil Service expertise, an influx of more political appointees would not be in the public interest
Sir, I was surprised to see the suggestion that the “top tiers of Whitehall” would resist the Government’s Civil Service reform programme, designed to ensure our priorities are delivered effectively (report, Nov 19).
Our plans to allow ministers to establish extended offices were agreed by the leadership of the Civil Service. The Civil Service Commission has put in place new rules on appointments into these offices and to protect Civil Service impartiality. Any new appointments, other than special advisers, will be subject to the same rigorous requirements for political impartiality as other civil servants.
Far from being a move towards a Washington-style administration, the creation of extended offices is a partial move towards the kind of support that ministers in Canada and Australia take for granted. This year’s report by the centre-left think-tank IPPR found that British ministers are woefully under-supported by comparison with those in Westminster-derived systems.
The sources sniping anonymously at agreed government policy are themselves endangering the very reputation for impartiality that they claim to be so concerned to protect.
Minister for the Cabinet Office
Sir, While there is a case for special advisers to fill gaps in Civil Service expertise, an influx of more political appointees would not be in the public interest.
It is not difficult to be a good Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour supporter. What is difficult is to provide dispassionate advice based on objective evidence. When that is not available, public money is likely to be wasted on the pet projects of ministers, since the snags will not be pointed out until too late.
Effective ministers do not blame their officials or accuse them of obstruction, because they know what they want to achieve and by and large succeed. It is only the insecure who seek to be bolstered by a horde of political advisers.
During the war Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was accused of being too rough with Churchill, and of hating the Prime Minister. Brooke denied the charge, but said: “The first time I tell him that I agree with him when I don’t will be the time to get rid of me, for then I can be of no more use to him.”
That is the relationship that ministers should seek to cultivate with officials.
Professor of Government, Centre for Contemporary British History
King’s College London
Sir, The news that central government is seeking to expand its staffing with “cronies” is staggering. The pressure on central and local government to reduce its expenditure and its staffing has been considerable, but by all accounts central government has just not done its share of the cutback.Local government has been forced to economise because its annual grant from the Treasury has been steadily reduced and legislation has prevented it from raising its income in council tax. My own local authority is so strapped for cash that it has had to reduce its staffing by nearly 2,000. Schools and libraries have been closed, land sold off, services to the elderly and disabled cut and the involvement of the public and councillors in planning and licensing all reduced.
Alan B. Shrank
National Organisation of Residents Associations, Shrewsbury
‘What distinguishes a non-culpable complication from an adverse outcome due to negligence is often unclear’
Sir, Nobody doubts the justification for damages awarded to patients who have been genuinely harmed by substandard medical care (letter, Nov 15). However, the public, which must ultimately foot the bill, should understand that the process by which a claim for negligence is settled can be unsatisfactory.
No medical treatment can be administered without risk and what distinguishes a non-culpable complication from an adverse outcome due to negligence is often unclear. In law it is determined whether “on the balance of probability” the management by the clinician under investigation would have been acceptable, or otherwise, to a body of competent and reasonable practitioners. The lawyers acting for the defence on behalf of the National Health Service Litigation Authority (NHSLA), and for the claimant, are guided by individual “experts” who should represent and define standard practice. However, their expertise and accountability are rarely scrutinised. Less than 5 per cent of medico-legal claims are tested in open court, and many settled beforehand are on a basis of no-fault compensation. Agreement is often achieved after an arbitrary assessment of the evidence that the probability of success in the litigation will not reach 51 per cent.
The presiding judge will rarely have had experience of the medical speciality, and the rules of legal procedure can be counterproductive to the court reaching a balanced assessment of the medical evidence as opposed to the statements of fact. So the NHSLA is reluctant to allow a case to be subject to the uncertainties and costs of advocacy and judgment in court except when the likelihood of success is assured. Settlement in favour of the claimant rarely equates with genuinely poor practice.
M. C. Bishop
Howletts Loke, Norfolk
Protecting children from online exploitation and abuse is best addressed by parents, who must use the advice available from experts
Sir, The moves by internet search engines to make it harder to find child abuse images online do not go far enough to solve the problem (report, Nov 18).
The measures will help to protect young children from accessing such material, but they will do little to hinder the people sharing these images, which is being done through private peer-to-peer networks.
Every illegal image is a crime scene but law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to identify, locate and protect every victim, nor to identify and charge every abuser. More resources must be provided. That is the top priority.
Protecting children from online exploitation and abuse is best addressed by parents following the excellent advice provided by GetSafeOnline and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency CEOP, and teaching their children to do the same.
Universal blocking of websites, search terms and content is a blunt and ineffective tool and can easily be circumvented.
The serious offenders are already using encryption and other technical means to hide their activities, which blocking by internet service providers will not affect.
The internet was designed to withstand serious damage and it treats censorship as damage and provides routes around it. There is no quick technical fix that will protect victims — it needs education, responsible parenting and more resources for enforcing the laws that already exist.
Dr Martyn Thomas
Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2
The good the Commonwealth does in improving the lot of ordinary people rarely hits the headlines
Sir, “The Commonwealth has evolved into a disparate collection of nations, and sometimes seems perilously close to an anachronism.” Thus begins the last paragraph of your fiery but muddled leading article (Nov 18).
It is precisely because it has evolved that the Commonwealth is not, nor will be, an anachronism. The difficulties it cannot but encounter in proclaiming and pursuing high standards of government behaviour all too often speak for themselves. The good it does in improving the lot of ordinary people, especially of women and the young, and in the smaller and more vulnerable member states, rarely hits the headlines.
Sir Peter Marshall,
Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General 1983-88
The Government should encourage older people to move abroad, rather than stopping their pensions if they do
Sir, I could never understand why the Government chose to discourage pensioners from moving to certain countries by freezing their state pension. Once abroad, these old people would cease to block hospital beds or take a disproportionate share of GP time and of prescription medicines. They would not need bus passes, would not take up the fast diminishing space in graveyards, and, best of all, would free up housing for the younger generations. It would be so financially advantageous to the Exchequer that I am surprised the government does not offer to buy our visas for us.
Middle Aston, Oxon
SIR – The correspondence on new GP contracts frequently mentions the difficulty for patients in obtaining an appointment with their local practice.
In the ward that I represent, some 161 homes are under construction. Many local people were concerned about the impact this would have on access to doctors. Prior to planning permission being granted, the local authority wrote to the two GPs’ practices closest to the proposed estate and asked for their comments. One said it could “happily accommodate” the new patients and the other said it did not have a finite number to reach before closing its lists. It would appear that the doctors themselves do not perceive there to be a problem.
Cllr Eithne Webster
SIR – I fail to see how the new government contract to bring back “proper family doctors” will work in my local practice. There are four doctors, all of whom are part-time within the practice and are clearly unavailable for several days a week.
Ukip’s destructive urges are irresponsible, given the threat from Labour
19 Nov 2013
Beware the curse of uniformity in garden cities
19 Nov 2013
Hunt: NHS needs to adopt ‘culture of learning’
19 Nov 2013
How can these doctors be held personally responsible for ensuring care for their elderly patients round the clock?
A R Mills
Cause of the typhoon
SIR – David Cameron has stated that he believes that Typhoon Haiyan was probably caused by man-made climate change.
May I suggest that Mr Cameron remembers the wise advice that on any subject of which one has little or no knowledge it is far better to keep quiet and let others think that you are an idiot than to speak and remove all doubt.
Hawkesbury Upton, Gloucestershire
SIR – Am I alone in thinking that members of the Disasters Emergency Committee should not be making comments on global warming? Its job is to collect and distribute aid to disaster areas, not make statements as to the causes.
Stockton on Tees, Co Durham
SIR – Regarding translation services for migrants who don’t understand English, perhaps we should take the stance of the Spanish health authorities on this matter.
In Tenerife, I noted on visiting a typical local health clinic in an area where many English people reside, a notice at the reception, which read: “We do not speak English. If you do not understand Spanish then you must bring an interpreter with you.” This is strictly enforced. The local health service clinic in Benidorm has a similar policy. On a television documentary a patient at the private hospital said: “I tried the health service hospital and no one would speak English.”
I think we have something to learn from our European neighbours.
Shanklin, Isle of Wight
SIR – My Chinese wife recently completed a UK visa application, and paid the fee. She received an email confirming the payment, which included, in large, bold type: “Thank you for shopping with UK Border Agency.”
We fully expect to be notified from time to time of offers and promotions.
Horrors of Bacon’s art
SIR – I was fascinated to read Mark Hudson’s article about Francis Bacon’s portrait of Lucian Freud fetching nearly £90 million.
That I would burn this painting rather than be forced to look at it every day is not the point. The alarming thing to me is that the art world values this hideous work so much more highly than the kind of sublime paintings by the great masters that most of us appreciate. Artistic beauty and the ability to move us spiritually is second now to a hideous “cosmic bleakness and existential despair”.
Perhaps this is a vision of what some would call hell, and is worshipped by the rich as being more desirable than the alternative. In other words, no redemption is accepted as the norm, and its loss is preferred to the more hopeful future that many of us believe in, however foolishly.
SIR – I have recently been informed by my favourite coffee shop that they will no longer permit me to use my electronic cigarette on their premises. These devices emit a vapour that is odourless as well as harmless, and even the British Medical Association has declined to recommend government restrictions on their use.
What legitimate objection can there be to their use in an environment where the enjoyment of nicotine and coffee was once inextricably linked?
Shock at JFK’s death
SIR – The assassination of John F Kennedy occurred on my eighth birthday. That evening, my parents had taken me to see a double bill at the cinema that ran from 5.30pm until 9pm, during which time the assassination took place.
When we came out of the cinema, we went to a local fete, where I saw a friend and proudly showed him the toy gun I’d received for my birthday. “That’s just like the one that killed President Kennedy”, he said. I repeated the words to my parents, who looked horrified, and immediately announced that we had to leave.
At home, they turned on the television and stood watching the news. These memories are very vivid, not because of the effect the assassination had on me, but due to the shock it evinced in my parents.
Too many cushions do not attract paying guests
SIR – I agree with Alan Baker that cushions in a hotel bedroom serve no purpose, and get in the way. I look at a hotel website and if the beds are laden with cushions, I do not book there.
I stayed in a hotel in Devon which had nine cushions on the bed, and nine on the sofa. Before long the floor was covered in cushions.
SIR – When I was stationed in Hong Kong, the commanding officer’s wife decided that my battalion’s officers’ mess would benefit from cushions decorating the sofas.
The cushions ended up providing a new sport: after dinner they were thrown into the air so that one of the ceiling fan blades would catch them and propel them along the ante room. The winner was the person who achieved the longest range.
Sonning Common, Oxfordshire
SIR – Ukip is playing one of two games: acting as a pressure group and forcing the Conservative Party to adopt a referendum before 2015, before winding down its electoral presence; or being incredibly sadistic, and wanting to destroy the Tories’ hopes of winning against a revived Labour Party because of past betrayals on Europe.
Standing by the railway track playing chicken isn’t very responsible when there is a genuine socialist threat on our doorstep.
James A Paton
SIR – By bankrolling Ukip, Paul Sykes will be helping to bring in a Left-wing Labour government, which will definitely remain in the EU and probably not even offer a referendum. Those voters tempted to follow him should look at France before deciding where to place their crosses.
SIR – If Mr Sykes can highlight those things that fall within the competence of the European Commission, and over which our government has no say, such as the influx from Eastern Europe, he will be doing the British public a great service.
Felpham, West Sussex
SIR – There would be no Ukip if David Cameron and his party had adopted firm Tory policies and kept their promises. It is futile now to blame Mr Sykes and Ukip for upsetting the three-party system.
SIR – As neither Labour nor the Lib Dems will offer a referendum on the EU, David Cameron should effectively turn the 2015 election into an in/out referendum by pledging to serve notice to quit the EU immediately if he wins.
SIR – Ukip supporters are wrong to believe that new contracts with Arab nations, India and China can immediately replace our current trade within the EU and the trade that results from foreign investment due to our EU membership. Of course we need to revise our relationship with the EU and restore control of many areas of government to our own Parliament. But robbing the Tories of votes in 2015 will only let Labour in by the back door.
Ukip will eliminate the chance of an EU referendum by fouling the nest. Perhaps that is really what Nigel Farage does best.
SIR – Isn’t it ironic that democracy gives us a rich man who uses the people’s money to do what we don’t want to do (stay in the EU) and another rich man who uses his own money to help us to do what we do want to do (leave the EU)?
Sir, – I would like to thank Frank McDonald (Home News, November 16th) for emphasising in his article on EirGrid’s plans to install several hundred pylons in the southeast, that the Comeragh mountains are an EU-designated Special Area of Conservation.
This special attention has been given due to the unique beauty of this area and it is therefore patently obvious to all, those living in the area and the thousands of tourists that visit each year, that hundreds of alien-looking, massive pylons strung across this beautiful countryside would be detrimental to and a denial of this special designation given by the EU.
Ireland is known for its stunning, green and, at times, dramatic countryside. Except for a couple of towns and cities, tourists visit Ireland because of its wild and beautiful countryside. The countryside is Ireland’s major asset without any doubt and this brutal proposal to place these pylons over such a beautiful country is madness and will surely have a permanent and adverse effect on people’s health and future tourism.
If it costs more to place these electric cables underground then so be it. It will cost us but it will be worth the extra cost to preserve something that is so vital to Ireland, namely its beautiful countryside. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Nothing has and nothing will destroy this beautiful island of Ireland more than EirGrid’s preposterous pylon plan
All the work and funds over the years dedicated by the National Parks and Wildlife service to establishing Ireland’s ecological biodiversity will be eradicated by this plan.
The proposed 45 to 60 metre pylons would not only be an unimaginable eyesore on our naturally beautiful land, but would also wipe out hundreds of fauna and flora. The one major attraction for visitors and tourists – our naturally beautiful country – would be destroyed completely and forever.
Great motorways built through Ireland have made travel from city to city, and town to town more convenient, but the cost to natural heritage was huge. If we allow this decimation of kilometre upon kilometre through our rural areas, we will pay a price of destruction which can never be reversed. Once the rural natural heritage is gone, it’s gone.
Hundreds of families whose homes and livelihood lie in the pathway of the route of these proposed monstrous pylons, are already burdened due to our economic downturn. However, they will now have what little they have managed to survive on destroyed.
Studies by Oxford University have proven that children living nearer to overhead high voltage electrical cables, have a substantial increase in the incidence of the life-threatening, terminal disease of leukemia. Several other serious illness are also linked to electric pylons and overhead electricity of this high voltage. Do we really need to add to our health burden? Do we not care about the future health of our children and their children?
If the powers that be do not stop this destruction in its tracks, Ireland will be facing a very bleak future. How can we be so shortsighted as to even contemplate a project that will have so many diverse and catastrophic consequences? – Yours, etc,
Kinsale, Co Cork.
A chara, – Why are we talking about putting our high voltage main connectors on pylons or underground when we could be putting them offshore with no disruption to the countryside or its residents?
We are a small island and all our main cities in both the North and the Republic are also ports.
The technology for laying cables at sea is well established.
We could put a cable all around Ireland with links to the land at Waterford, Wexford, Dublin, Drogheda, Belfast, Derry, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Tralee and Cork and as these cities are already connected to the national grid, the connection could be both ways. Connections from these cities to the power generation stations already exist as does the local distribution network.
Any existing and future development of wind and wave energy generation could be linked directly into an offshore system.
I would like to see this alternative discussed and any reasons for dismissing it aired. – Yours, etc,
RÓNÁN de PAOR,
Sir, – I refer to Frank McDonald’s article (Home News, November 16th). The proposed EirGrid plans to build pylons in the Comeragh Mountains and beside Sliabh na mBan defy any common sense and Minister Pat Rabbitte’s approach to the issue is out of touch with public opinion. Can you imagine the reaction there would be nationally if a series of pylons were routed through Killarney’s National Park? The Comeragh Mountains and Sliabh na mBan are of similar value to the nation. If this project is allowed to go ahead with pylons supporting overhead cables it will be an act of vandalism and a national disgrace. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your Editorial (November 18th) on Europe’s far-right parties refers to “Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (VB)”. It would be more correct to refer to it as belonging to Flanders. Outside of Flanders, there is no support for this party whatsoever. The rest of Belgium is distinctly left-wing. Flanders also has another extremely right-wing party named NVA, which deserved a mention in your article. Many communes (local administrative areas) in Flanders do not allow their staff to speak French, although they have no problem with English being used, a policy which NVA promotes and supports.
It is Flanders that has a problem with bigotry and racism, not Belgium as a whole. – Yours, etc,
Avenue du Geai,
Sir, – Your report (Home News, November 19th) that so many publicly-funded healthcare institutions are flagrantly breaching public pay policy, with impunity, by making secret top-level remuneration payments in a manner that is not decipherable to taxpayers, conveys an impression that these institutions are operating at the behest of feudal aristocrats who are accountable to nobody.
These practices also provide an insight into the prevailing standard of corporate governance where these practices prevail and will prompt grave public concern that, if secret deals can be made with respect to top-level pay, what other corners are being cut, perhaps with devastating consequences for patient care, welfare and the cost-efficient treatment of patients.
Advocates have strongly recommended that tax evaders living overseas might be granted longer periods of residency in Ireland without incurring any Irish taxation liability, or penalty, if they provided substantial philanthropic donations to unspecified charities. The public now has some insight into how such donations might be spent and the opaque standard of accounting and oversight associated with them. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In response to Myles McSwiney’s call for an antidote to the New Zealand haka (Letters, November 16th), may I suggest we send out six Lambeg drums onto the pitch. In the interests of preserving the neutrality of the team’s composition, three to be drummed by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and three by the Orange Order. As a further incentive to inspire our team, could we also make Phil Coulter take up a position close to the drumming action as an act of penance for the dreadful dirge which I see causing every head to drop at present. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I thought that the New Zealand haka was their response to Ireland’s Call! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – While the All Blacks can choose to greet opponents as they wish on their own territory, they have no right to express their contempt, as they so obviously do, in performing the haka on visiting other countries.
As long as this inappropriate charade continues to be accepted by the IRFU and other host unions, Alexis Neeson’s suggestion that it be ignored is valid (November 19th) but does not answer the provocation. An appropriate response by Irish supporters would be to sing Amhrán na bhFiann and drown out the haka.
All other European rugby nations have similarly patriotic anthems which could be effectively employed, even if they have been “officially” sung moments before. – Yours, etc,
Shankill, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The late esteemed educator James J Carey would assuredly have expressed displeasure that the classroom profile of Socrates (Education, November 19th), offers students the off-key pronunciation “Sock-rah-tays”. In his scholarly and refined way he drew deviant O’Connell Schools’ pupils to the proper style in a short rhyming verse that ended “. . . and all of these”. So for next print-off, just as in Herculees, it’s Socratees, if you please. – Yours, etc,
Sir, –Niall Gillespie’s criticism of an Garda Síochána for doing their job (November 18th) is unwarranted. The issue of begging, drug abuse and alcohol consumption in the public domain is a problem pedestrians have to face at all hours in Dublin city centre. Many of them are intimidated, particularly at ATMs.
While this is not unique to our wonderful capital, I have just returned from short visits to Melbourne and Sydney, Australia where I enjoyed the cafe culture, spotless streets and boardwalks. The contrast between this and O’Connell Street and the Liffey boardwalks could not be starker.
The answer to the problem lies with politicians who need to provide the legislation to allow the Garda to get tough with this antisocial behaviour and manage this growing problem. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – The revelation by Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes (Home News, November 13th) that Loyaltybuild stored customer information in unencrypted form beggars belief.
While recognising that encrypting and decrypting data has an associated cost, the retention of any personal data, including credit card details, in unencrypted form seems to be highly irresponsible and runs the risk of discouraging consumers from participating in any form of e-commerce. – Is mise,
Technical Team Lead,
CGA Software Ltd,
Sir, – A proposal to construct Traveller accommodation in salubrious south Dublin is counterbalanced with the planned demolition of 40 partially-built housing estates (Home News, November 18th). Does this take irony to a new level? – Yours, etc,
Terenure, Dublin 6W.
Sir, – I really enjoyed Eileen Battersby’s very warm and personal tribute to the late Doris Lessing (News Agenda, November 18th). My favourite Lessing anecdote is how she rejected John Major’s invitation to the appellation of “Dame”. Replying to Major’s private secretary, she wrote, “Dame, Dame of what?” adding that when young she had done her best to undo that bit of the British empire she found herself in, old Southern Rhodesia. She wrote, “Surely there is something unlikeable about a person, when old, accepting honours from an institution she attacked when young?” A true lady of principle. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – On St Patrick’s Day, 2012 the front page of The Irish Times reported the publication of an academic article I wrote about St Patrick’s Romano-British identity. The article argued, among several other things, that Patrick might have been a Roman official who traded in slaves. This provocative hypothesis caused quite a stir, and was covered by written and electronic media worldwide, from CNN to TV New Zealand. Not everyone agreed with me, and this is fine. I was, and still am, happy to debate with those who offer informed and constructive criticism, academics and members of the public alike.
But some people find it more difficult to cope with criticism. Recently, when my colleague Dr Elva Johnston (Letters, October 31st) criticised Rev Marcus Losack’s Rediscovering Saint Patrick (Columba Press, 2013) for drawing on flimsy evidence in claiming that St Patrick originated from Brittany, Rev Losack responded (Letters, November 18th) with an uncalled-for personal retort. According to him, “the extremist position she takes in refusing to countenance any alternative theory reflects a certain academic arrogance and authoritarianism”. Rev Losack got one thing right: Dr Johnston is an academic historian. But to argue that a historian’s legitimate criticism of Rev Losack’s use of evidence “reflects a certain academic arrogance and authoritarianism”, is a bit like denouncing an astronomer for rejecting Immanuel Velikovsky’s hypothesis that the Book of Exodus preserves the vestigial record of great natural disasters wrought by a close encounter with Venus. The millions who bought Worlds in Collision (Macmillan, Doubleday, 1950) believed he was right, but I would prefer to trust an expert.
Rev Losack chooses to end his rebuttal with an aphorism by a modern-day sage, Dan Brown, whose popularity, it appears, is not confined to the ever-widening circles of anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists. “The translation or mistranslation of one single word”, Brown says, “can re-write history”. If this is so, then my advice to Rev Losack would be to read St Patrick’s own words carefully before he translates them. Oh, and he would also do well to read more recent (academic) scholarship on St Patrick before criticising academics for not taking him seriously. – Yours, etc,
Dr ROY FLECHNER,
School of History
and Archives UCD,
Sir, – There are hosts of sparrows in our garden in Darndale (Liam Cronin, November 18th). – Yours, etc,
Darndale, Dublin 17.
Sir, – A friend of mine has at least 30 sparrows eating from her feeders at Sarto Lawn, Sutton, as well as a pair of coal tits, and a pair of blackbirds feeding from apple and pear cores. There is also a robin. There is very good cover in the garden and the surrounding area; but maybe the northside weather is better. – Yours, etc,
Bayside Square East,
Sutton, Dublin 13.
Sir, – For the months of January and February this year, I was targeted with a penalty charge for “low usage” of electric wattage on my holiday home. A VAT charge was applied on top of the penalty amount. The charge was specific to the two months in question and apparently cannot be credited with excess usage in the following months. But irony of irony, included in my Electric Ireland bill, I receive literature urging me to fit low voltage light bulbs and insulate the attic in order to conserve energy! – Yours, etc,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Since our Minister for Communications is already jettisoning our excess of cumbersome place names in favour of postal codes, it seems a bit retrograde to be highlighting dual language place-name signs. After all, who needs Cnoc na gCaiseal/Knocknagashel where we could have the perfect mathematical solution K25 T6KG! – Yours, etc,
TARLACH DE BLÁCAM,
Inis Meáin, Árainn,
Cuan na Gaillimhe.
* I have noticed in responses to the letters section a growing antipathy towards any contribution that is indicative of religious belief. This would seem to be based on the assumption that Ireland could be a free-thinking paradise of clear-headed citizens if unencumbered by the alleged infantile utterances of religious believers. I, for one, see no rational ground for repressing the view that there is more to life than meets the eye or mind.
There is a crass assumption that believers are essentially dim-witted, despite the fact that intelligence shows itself among believers and non-believers in equal measure.
One of the sources of disdain has been some ill-conceived religious education that unwittingly eliminated critical engagement with what is on offer, undermining rather than illuminating the faith of many.
For example, the notion of original sin when badly presented implied that God had wilfully made us defective; thus flying in the face of the fact that we have emerged from millions of years of evolution.
We are beings in the making; we all have a stake in what we become and have a voice in determining it. The creation of the world is in our hands.
A recent bout of anti-religious sentiment followed the sex abuse scandal. There was fully justified outrage but it seemed to be irrationally and unjustly directed towards all priests and religious.
Religious understanding provides part of the debate about how we can conceive of a way of life that works equally to the advantage of all. There are numerous attempts to keep religious commitment in a subjective world of preference, rather than in the public realm of rational negotiation and debate where it belongs.
Edith Road, Oxford
PROSTITUTION AND RAPE
* We can talk about sex trafficking but the only people who can really protect these women are the men who live in Ireland, whether they are born here or not.
They say prostitution is the oldest profession, that we should not criminalise those who use it. But to be non-criminal, you need to behave in a non-criminal manner.
If you have sex with a woman who does not provide consent, even if she is a prostitute, it is criminal behaviour. It is rape.
Your payment does not nullify your responsibility to gain consent or your responsibility to ensure the person is willing to have sex with you for monetary gain.
If this woman is there unwillingly, you, not the trafficker, are the rapist.
Wolli Creek, NSW, Australia
MODERN MARSHALL PLAN
* Given the time that’s in it, perhaps the next time Enda Kenny jets off cap in hand for his customary pat of approval from Angela Merkel, would it not be opportune to remind her that over 60,000 Irish citizens were slain in the killing fields of Flanders, the Somme, Ypres and the many other locations at the hands of the German military in the two world wars?
At the same time, he could remind her of the extraordinary generosity and vision demonstrated by the American people through the Marshall plan which, while also protecting against the advance of Communism, pumped $130bn in today’s values into Europe and Germany, resulting in a remarkable resurgence of the German economy in a few short years.
It is probably equally significant that the expansionary and far-sighted Marshall plan afforded Germany the gift of hope and confidence to successfully emerge from its most savage and destructive epoch.
When extending the begging bowl for some generosity of spirit in the retrospective capitalisation of Irish banks, Enda would do well to demand a similar gesture for today’s hapless Irish citizens, who, apart from a coterie of politicians, the rich and the elite, are again being brutalised and humiliated by the inhumane and destructive austerity policies, mainly driven by and insisted on by Germany and German unyielding fiscal ideology.
Wilton Road, Cork
HIGH STANDARDS IN AID
* Watching the unfolding disaster in the Philippines, let’s hope that the arrival of aid and assistance is based on the same high standards of evidence that we now expect for health care in more routine circumstances.
The concept of evidence-based health care is widely accepted in routine care and should apply in disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. People need to know what works, doesn’t work and is unproven.
Good intentions are not enough. Evidence on the likely effects is required and it needs to influence decision and choices. In that way the response, whether at the level of communities or individuals, is likely to do more good than harm.
Founder and director, Evidence Aid,
Queen’s University Belfast
TIME FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
* As of now, like many of my fellow citizens we are still awaiting the beginning of the long-overdue banking inquiry. I say this after reading the article in your paper that, the British Treasury did receive prior knowledge of the inclusion of Anglo Irish under the blanket guarantee bailouts.
Even more astonishing is the fact that democratically elected members of the Cabinet were left completely unaware what was about to unfold.
Moreover, the holding to account of public representatives is now a priority for this Government.
I find it incredible that the late Brian Lenihan, RIP, and Brian Cowen were the only two public-elected representatives present during the time when one of the most important decisions in this entire country’s history was being decided on.
Killucan, Co Westmeath
THE POPE’S A HEANEY FAN
* The best news and picture of recent days has come to us from Rome. The Pope has become somewhat of a hero. Whether one agrees with organised religion or not, this man, and he is that first and foremost, has displayed hints of character that does the message his religion is founded upon great service.
Firstly, it seems the Cosa Nostra, or the Mafia, is thought to have Pope Francis in their sights. It would appear that the Pope is being a most annoying cat among the pigeons of the Vatican Bank. His work is causing a highly secretive financial institution’s customers to become worried. Well done, Mr Pope!
Secondly, there is a picture of the Pope going through Rome in a vehicle that is not hemmed in by bullet-proof glass. In a move that contrasts with the visit of Mr Obama behind glass in Dublin; the Pope has, it would seem, found the courage of his faith. It would seem that Pope Francis is prepared to face his enemies without fear. He has nothing to hide or fear.
Thirdly, the Pope mentioned that Jesus indicated that sinners should be tied to a rock and thrown into the sea. What the reportage in some areas has failed to mention was that this was a reference to a certain type of sinner committing a certain type of sin. The sin that Fr Brendan Smyth was guilty of and a certain type of sin that the previous incumbent of the title of Pope had, according to some, a hand in covering up. One wonders if Pope Benedict is perusing the fashion houses of Italy for a designer life-jacket?
“Don’t be afraid” are the reported last words of our poet Seamus Heaney – perhaps the Pope is a fan!
Athenry, Co Galway