4 December 2013 Jill
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark.
Our heroes are in trouble they are get Pertwee’s stores put right. Can Pertwee replace everything before the inspection Priceless.
Potter about and go to the Co Op, Jill come over for coffee.
ScrabbleMary wins well under 400 perhaps it will be my turn tomorrow.
Oralia Dominguez, who has died aged 88, was a Mexican mezzo-soprano who sang opposite Maria Callas in Aïda, appeared in the premiere of Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage at Covent Garden and dominated the role of Mistress Quickly in Falstaff at Glyndebourne.
She was blessed with a naturally powerful voice, described by some as voluptuous, and in the lower registry her tone was imbued with a deep and resonant colour. Among the conductors she recorded with were Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan.
Oralia Dominguez threw herself into difficult roles with boundless energy. If the complex symbolism of The Midsummer Marriage was baffling to those who spoke English (including Joan Sutherland), for Oralia Dominguez – who spoke not a word — it was incomprehensible; she later admitted that she had learnt her words parrot-fashion and concentrated instead on the music.
Meanwhile, at Glyndebourne, where the cast traditionally enjoy some of the best after-show parties in the industry, Oralia Dominguez became well known backstage for her racy Mexican songs and dances.
Oralia Dominguez was born at San Luis Potosí, north of Mexico City, on October 25 1925. Her father wanted her to be a teacher, but one of her own teachers encouraged her to enter singing competitions. She studied at the National Conservatory in the capital and in 1945 made her debut in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.
By 1950 she was appearing with Mexico City Opera, where she sang Amneris in Aïda while Callas took the title role — this was the occasion when the Greek soprano first reached a high E flat, not written by Verdi, at the end of the second act, an achievement that she was later to repeat in Europe and on disc .
The first concert of Oralia Dominguez’s European debut tour — a recital at the Wigmore Hall in January 1953 — drew rapturous reviews. Later that year she appeared in Adriana Lecouvreur at La Scala, with Renata Tebaldi, and recorded the Verdi Requiem under Victor de Sabata.
In Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage, which was premiered at Covent Garden in January 1955 conducted by John Pritchard, Oralia Dominguez sang Sosostris, a clairvoyant based on the character in TS Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. “I can only say that I know my part,” she said of the complex opera. “The music is most interesting but I cannot talk about anything else. I am not even sure why my face is painted blue.”
That summer she sang Mistress Quickly in Glyndebourne’s production of Falstaff at the Edinburgh Festival under Carlo Maria Giulini. It was a role that, in Spike Hughes’s words, “she immediately claimed as her own and rightly monopolised in all subsequent Glyndebourne productions of the opera”.
In 1962 Oralia Dominguez spent a Glyndebourne season under a silly headdress as Arnalta in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, conducted by John Pritchard, which she would revive the following two seasons.
By the mid-1960s she had all but vanished from the British stage, spending most of her time with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. She did, however, return to Covent Garden in 1967 to sing Mistress Quickly in Verdi’s Falstaff, this time opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Sir John .
She appeared with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, while her recording legacy includes Wagner’s Ring Cycle under von Karajan, in which she sings Erda . Her farewell performance was in Verdi’s Requiem in Mexico City in 1982 . In retirement she lived in Milan.
Oralia Dominguez, born October 25 1925, died November 25 2013
The Guardian (Report, 30 November) may regard issues such as the eligible electorate, the timing, rules or the proposed question of any EU referendum as “irrelevant”. Those of us committed to a fair process, parliamentary democracy and proper scrutiny of legislation do not. Nor do many of the more than one million British citizens living elsewhere in the EU, or the EU citizens living and working here who will be disenfranchised by this very bad bill. That is why I put forward a series of amendments, 36 of which were selected for debate by the Speaker. I hope that this inadequate, flawed and partisan Tory bill will now be subjected to detailed scrutiny and significant amendment by the House of Lords.
Mike Gapes MP
Labour and Co-operative, Ilford South
• Well done, Tom Daley, we’re all proud of you (‘I feel ready to talk about my relationship’ – Daley uses video to say he’s dating a man, 3 December). The shame belongs to British sport and the stench of homophobia that still reeks from it, especially in the ghastly world of Premier League football. So, as we celebrate Tom’s happiness, can we please have a moment’s silence for Justin Fashanu?
• Tom Daley is in a same-sex relationship. So what? And by the way, I put my cereals in a plastic box (Letters, 3 December), so what does that make me?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• I first fell asleep during Parsifal sitting in the gallery slips at Covent Garden some time in the 1960s (Wake me up for the final aria, 2 December). Anyone who has sat on those hard, narrow benches will realise that this is some feat. When I go to see the transmission from the Royal Opera House at our local Vue cinema later this month I expect to nod off in conditions of greater comfort.
• In connection with recent discussion on averages (Letters, 2 & 3 December), we may conclude that in one respect Goering was above average (just taking into account the matter of size), Himmler was similar, Hitler was average, while poor old Goebbels was firmly below average.
I can sympathise with David Cameron’s neighbours in the Cotswolds (Stalled grants put PM’s neighbours in digital slow lane, 2 December). Here we have no mobile signal, minimalist copper-wire broadband and a digital radio signal that comes and goes with the weather. We solved this: we formed a community not-for-profit company and with grants from various sources put up our own mast, last week. It should be operating by early next year. But be warned: it took us five years, with tons of paperwork and monolithic bureaucracy from service providers and local and national governments. The final sword cut was when the Welsh government signed a contract with BT to provide rural fibre optic broadband, sometime in the future, and BT demanded that government support be withdrawn from any other signal provider in the selected areas. This meant we lost some funding. But it’s now up there on the horizon. Go for it, Cotswolds.
Strip away the “tongue in cheek”, and Ian Martin’s article (I’m sick of being English. Please, Scotland, vote for independence – and take us northerners with you, 2 December) makes a great deal of sense. Those of us living outside the south-east of England who are trying to get the best deal for our people could easily add our voices to the devolution movement; but not the watered-down version offered to us by John Prescott a few years ago.
Let’s give the Scots what the majority of them really would support, namely “devo max”, and let’s offer the same to Wales and Northern Ireland, and then we can concentrate on devolving real power away from London to the regions of England.
Let’s create a proper federal state on these islands using countries like Germany as our model, with responsibilities such as foreign affairs and defence in the hands of a federal government and most other aspects of daily life in the hands of regional governments and councils. We could even invite the Republic of Ireland to join us; but that’s probably a bridge too far.
The first stage of this transformation in England should be a root and branch restructuring of local government, with the replacement of the remaining county and district councils with unitary authorities, followed by a repatriation of some funds from the Treasury to these local councils. It’s our money, after all. I think we are capable of spending it without being told by Whitehall what they think is best for us.
Cllr John Marriott
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire
• Like Ian Martin, I have been advocating a referendum for northern Britain. However, I see that his boundary takes him no further south than Bradford. As a Sheffielder I’ve assumed that northernness would extend to the boundaries of ancient Northumbria (ie South Yorkshire), but Martin’s piece has made me realise that there might be plenty of folk in, say, Derbyshire hankering for independence – and then what about Plymouth, Brighton, Norwich. So, I propose that on 18 September 2014 the whole of the country we now know as the United Kingdom has a referendum and, ward by ward, decides whether to declare independence. We can decide on the name of the country later or perhaps be ultra-postmodern and call ourselves the Country With No Name. After the referendum I suspect that the Country With No Name will consist of the whole of the island minus a strip running along the Thames from the City through Whitehall to Westminster (and odd enclaves like Eton). This strip can keep the title UK (along with the oligarchs); the rest of us in the Country With No Name will create a social-democratic heaven on earth with no capital city, just a peripatetic parliament, visited on a different town every year.
• Alistair Richardson (Letters, 28 November) is the first person to express what’s holding me back from deciding to vote yes to Scottish independence. Many other parts of the UK experience the same levels of exclusion, exploitation, disdain and disregard from the Westminster government that is driving many Scots towards independence. But like Mr Richardson, I can’t rid myself of the feeling that I’d be a rat leaving a sinking ship, abandoning them simply “because we can”. Yet nowhere have I heard this view shared. The Labour party is trapped in the ridiculous Better Together partnership with the Tories, hamstrung from expressing a radical alternative (if ever it could conceive of one), while the genuinely radical and progressive left is building a strong, intelligent and creative coalition preparing actively for an independent Scotland. This latter is increasingly attractive, and I may end up being the rat I despise. As for the left in the rest of the UK, should I assume they support Scottish independence or that they don’t really care?
Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshir
You are right to sound the alarm (Thousands face bailiffs because of council tax benefit cuts, 2 December), as magistrates courts are enabling local authorities to hit the living costs of the poorest citizens with the enforcement of council tax by issuing thousands of liability orders en bloc in a matter of minutes. All politicians, national or local, when they contemplate cutting or taxing benefits in work or unemployment, should take note of the Joseph Rowntree minimum income standards. And Cameron and Clegg’s £50 a year voluntary reduction in utility bills looks pathetic when measured against the survival needs of benefit claimants to find £50.11 a week for a healthy diet. For example in Haringey the £71.70 unemployment income of over 6,000 single adults is hit by £165-£402 a year council tax. Many will not be able to pay, so the council will apply to the magistrates for a liability order, adding £125 costs to the tax. The total annual tax becomes £290-£527 a year.
The healthy food standard has been created by nutritionists, checked with potential users for acceptability and the public for reasonableness, and then priced in supermarkets. In April 2013 it was £50.11 a week. The council tax therefore takes the cash equivalent of between three and 10 weeks’ food a year out of that £71.70 unemployment income. It is already struggling to cover £50.11 every week for healthy food, let alone for utilities, clothes, transport and other necessities. In some cases the same income is hit, together or singly, by the three caps on housing benefit and the 1% freeze in annual increases, and the bailiffs, further damaging the health and wellbeing of the poorest citizens. Only a Mad Hatter’s tea party could have invented a system that hands out benefits and then taxes them, making decent people both hungry and cold.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• Front cover of Guardian Weekend magazine, 30 November: “All I want for Christmas is food!” Guardian news section, 30 November: “On the breadline: UK launches biggest charity food drive since the war“. Does it need comment?
Peter Wilby is right to challenge the reliability and relevance of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests (Don’t let a dubious test dictate how we educate, 2 December). Likewise when he writes that behind the tests “lies an ideology that accepts economic growth and competiveness as the sole aims of schooling”. No surprise, since Pisa is run by the OECD, which was established in 1960 to achieve “the highest sustainable economic growth”. Since then it is apparent to many that economic growth is a prime driver of global warming and “sustainability” has been lost in economic chaos. As Wilby says, “Might justice, social harmony and a clean environment be just as important for our children’s future as economic prosperity?” It is time that the OECD not only drops the farce of Pisa tests but realigns its aims with the needs of a world that is getting warmer, hungry and angry at injustice.
Professor Michael Bassey
• Why have these tests at all? Most teachers can tell us, very cheaply, how well children are performing, who is doing well, who needs more support, without the complicated, expensive and often invalid rigmarole of formal testing. Nowhere in the workplace are people subject to such regimes. Workers are not sat down in serried ranks and given unseen papers to test how well they do their jobs! Such a procedure would be preposterous – and it is no less preposterous when applied to students.
• The news that British schools have not improved their position in the Pisa league tables will come as no surprise at all to anyone who has read Fiona Millar’s article on the people who advise political parties in their education policies (Who has all the big ideas?, 3 November). As the majority of advisers and members of thinktanks are privately educated with Oxbridge degrees, they are hardly likely to have the knowledge and expertise to come up with ideas to improve the quality of education in our primary and secondary state schools. On the other hand, the Pisa results are surprising in view of the dramatic improvements in teaching, the increased enthusiasm of the teachers and the huge increase in pupil effort I have witnessed in over 40 years of teaching. Perhaps the constant changes to curriculum, “best practice” and the Ofsted criteria for judging schools and teachers might have something to do with it?
• Twenty-five years of the national curriculum, political micromanagement of the syllabus and pedagogy, more than a decade of dismantling the reforms of comprehensive schooling, and years of a punitive Ofsted regime, and what has all this upheaval, stress and coercion actually achieved? Unfortunately, the government response seems to be: “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.
A cheerier way of reading the results, however, may be to view them as a triumph for those teachers, pupils and families who have managed to maintain standards despite the ideological havoc unfolding around them.
Professor Donald Gillies
• I have produced a mini league table for mathematics (dividing actual scores by 5.54 to give Korea 100): Korea 100; Japan 97; Germany 93; France 89; UK 89. I think we did very well and our students enjoy school: they also have a life outside it. Can we please stop beating ourselves up and vilifying our teachers.
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
• Michael Gove claims that England’s “mediocre” ranking is the fault of Labour education policies to which current 15-year-olds were subjected, and Tristram Hunt retorts that the results show that England needs to emulate high-ranking countries such as Singapore (Report, 2 December).
Both interpretations are fallacious. We do not know what characteristics of the English, Singaporean or any other system may be responsible for its performance. Even if one is prepared to assume that these tests are valid, and there is good research evidence to question such an assumption, it is obvious that countries will do better than others for a myriad of possible reasons. These include cultural differences, economic status, emphasis on test techniques, as well as genuine differences in performance. The results of the P tests tell us virtually nothing about the causes of country differences.
The best thing to do with these results would be for policymakers to shrug their shoulders, stop making simplistic comparisons, ignore the hype and work out whether Pisa is value for money.
Professor of social statistics, University of Bristol
• More than 25 years ago the Guardian said “a succession of studies have shown that the UK lags far behind German [sic], Japan and France in mathematical education” (Editorial, 24 February 1988) and that “there is no longer one study but several showing British children lagging behind their German contemporaries. The bottom 40 per cent are now two years behind their German contempories [sic] at 14” (Editorial, 23 March 1988).
I decided, for my dissertation, to investigate the provenance of these claims. I discovered that they were based on extrapolations of doubtful validity on original data that were of questionable value. Leeds University awarded me a distinction for my pains, and offered its facilities to get my “astounding” findings published. Alas, none of the relevant journals would accept my article and even the Guardian failed to publish a summary. A colleague explained that it was difficult to get publication for articles that were not “fashionable” (ie supported rather than criticised British education). So the space you have given to Mr Wilby is a welcome sign of changed times.
• We should not base our education system on a leaning tower.
Money-laundering is a serious and widespread crime. No industry can afford to be complacent. But we take issue with claims made in the Guardian (The gambling machines helping drug dealers turn dirty money clean, 8 November) that bookmakers are at the heart of endemic money-laundering.
Our research shows there is no evidence to support such claims. According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the number of suspicious incidents involving our shops made up less than 0.3% of all the cases reported to them. This is a total of 89 cases compared to some 218,021 recorded in the UK banking industry.
What’s more, UK enforcement agencies suspected wrongdoing in just 250 cases – in other words 0.00001667% of all transactions in the UK (1.5 billion). And only about 10% of these suspected cases ended up being investigated further or prosecuted.
This is not a surprise. Betting shop operators abide to stringent anti-money-laundering regulations in the UK through the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002), the Gambling Act (2005) and the Terrorism Act (2000).
But we believe that it’s hard for any fair-minded person looking at this evidence to come to the conclusion that bookmakers are a hotbed for money-laundering activity.
Association of British Bookmakers
John Burley and David Teather (Reply, 8 and 15 November) seek realistic suggestions to change our society’s trajectory by facing up to the economics of climate change. I would like to draw their attention to a project that has been germinating in the UK for 20 years, to get government to introduce a system of tradeable energy quotas (TEQs).
We are collectively caught in a bind – as we extract and burn the more easily accessible fossil fuels, we are left scraping the barrel – fracking, or mining the Ecuadorian rainforest or the Arctic – for what remains. Not only do prices rise accordingly, but from a wider environmental perspective, unlocking new fossil-fuel reserves is a disaster.
TEQs are a form of equitable rationing of the energy available that puts everyone – multinationals, governments and individuals – in the same boat. This is a major motivating factor in creating acceptance. It is also more effective than taxation or reliance on market forces, which do not necessarily give overall savings. Price mechanisms may force the less well-off out of the market, while the better-off feel, quite reasonably, that as long as they pay for energy they can use as much as they like for whatever they like.
TEQs guarantee every individual’s access to energy while at the same time giving everyone an incentive to keep prices low by using no more than they need. Those with surplus quotas can trade with others who have insufficient for their needs, but no new quotas are created.
The fixed quotas would rationally reflect the finite nature of the resource we are managing and the atmosphere’s recently calculated threshold of tolerance to greenhouse gases. This may have the welcome side-effect of forcing us out of the growth model, to stop competing for dwindling stocks and focus on essentials. This in turn would automatically slow the overexploitation of natural resources.
All we have is provided by nature. And nature doesn’t negotiate. If we want to survive the transition from fossil-fuel dependence, we must draw a line ourselves, before nature draws the line for us.
Zabaleen deserve our praise
Your article on the Zabaleen, Cairo’s informal recyclers, winning waste management contracts was much appreciated – highlighting how an experienced but adaptable sector can provide a 21st-century resource-recovery solution (22 November). In stark contrast I picked up a waste industry journal the same day and read the sweeping statement that Cairo’s waste collection service “used to be provided by its own citizens” and has been outsourced to European private-sector contractors.
I’m a UK recycling manager and very proud of our industry’s progress over the last 20 years, but I am absolutely bowled over by the commitment and professionalism of the Zabaleen and others like them, with whom I’ve been in contact over the last eight years. Laila Iskandar, Ezzat Naem and the thousands of wastepickers/entrepreneurs of Cairo deserve more exposure for developing a modern service industry in the face of huge challenges.
Maybe the pigs and the donkeys will be consigned to history, hopefully the religious/political complications will go the same way, but there is every reason for the Zabaleen’s user-friendly, resource-efficient approach to go mainstream. I don’t expect the Guardian Weekly to keep me informed on municipal waste contract trends, but please keep us updated on this story.
Is Pope Francis sincere?
If Pope Francis is sincere in wishing to preside over “a poor church, for the poor” (22 November), he could start by using the “Vatican wealth accumulated over centuries” to compensate the tens of thousands of poor people worldwide abused by Catholic clerics during recent decades. This would include repaying the Irish government and the Irish taxpayers for the compensation they have paid on behalf of the Catholic Church, especially those women who suffered for so many years in the Magdalene Laundries.
He could reject antinomianism, the concept that repeated crimes can be absolved by the church and that the church is above civil law, and instruct church officials who have covered up cases of criminal abuse perpetrated by clerics to report them to the civil authorities. He could eject Cardinal Bernard Law from his sanctuary in the Vatican and dispatch him to face charges of alleged cover-ups in Boston.
Escondido, California, US
Too many in nuclear club
With Iran’s agreement not to create the necessary basis for nuclear weapons comes a sense of relief, and with it the sense that it is high time the Israeli government demonstrated the same kind of compliance (29 November). The years have shown that a nuclear arsenal does not and could never guarantee peace in the region. Weapons of mass destruction of any kind have no place in today’s precarious world.
And then there are those weapons still in the possession of the other members of the club.
Elora, Ontario, Canada
The racism within
Gary Younge (22 November) is right in defining “I’m not racist but…” as self-absolution prior to an inevitable offence. Actually, it is never even true, for any of us. The biggest challenge for all of us is first to deal with the racism within ourselves.
But the current and future influx of a people who have been marginalised and discriminated against for a millennium does present a big challenge, for new arrivals to integrate and for the host community to adjust. Our small Roma support organisation in Folkestone, in the midst of much struggle and frustration, has witnessed with joy some great examples of self-help initiatives and young people progressing in sport, music and education. So perseverance will bring its rewards.
Music lessons for children
Professor Wang’s study on how early music lessons affect a person’s professional success or failure in adulthood raises some tantalising questions that require further research (22 November). For example, would Einstein, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann and Marlene Dietrich have succeeded in their respective fields if they hadn’t had violin lessons in childhood? Would Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon become presidents of the US without having violin lessons?
Moreover, we have the infamous as well as the famous to consider: dictator Benito Mussolini, Gestapo chief Reinhard Heydrich and terrorist Ulrike Meinhof – all were amateur violinists (I can imagine Il Duce playing second fiddle in an opera orchestra if it hadn’t been for his oratory skill, fascist ideology and ill-fated friendship with Adolf Hitler).
Perhaps, in the course of her intriguing research, Wang will discover that those children who study art, ballet, poetry, chess or any of the fine arts will also develop and improve that area of the brain involved in language skills and “executive function”, or a person’s ability to plan and carry out tasks.
New York City, US
Greek junta remembered
Helena Smith (22 November) states that “at least 24 are believed to have died” during the Greek junta’s assault on the Athens Polytechneion in 1973. This is true, but as so often with such reports, timidly minimises the carnage.
My friend Barbara and I lived in Athens then, and walked past the gates of the Polytechneion a few days later. Pretending to be ignorant tourists, we began idly counting the cards taped on or near the railings by the parents of those murdered. We reached well over 100 (I think around 150), and there were many more to go, until the soldiers shooed us away.
Berkeley, California, US
Many Canadian ski co-ops
Your reporter misses the fact that the large majority of cross-country, or Nordic, ski trails in British Columbia are managed by community groups on public land and have been for many years (22 November). Downhill skiing began this way in the province but the small community run groups were overtaken by the large ski resorts with better skiing conditions and more facilities. Our club, Overlander Ski Club, has about 600 members and operates ski trails under contract with the provincial government. We have 60km of groomed ski trails and 15km of snowshoe trails and we run on a combination of trail fees, small grants and many hours of volunteer time. We had over 14,000 skier visits last year. There are at least 36 other clubs in British Columbia following the same path.
Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
• Tantalisingly glimpsed from the train between Melbourne and Sydney earlier this year, Junee Men’s Shed left me speculating as to what might go on in there. Thanks to Mike Jenn’s article (15 November), all is revealed. Now UK men can do the same as blokes in the wilds of New South Wales.
Only one phrase grated: “especially if you’re a man”. What about the Sheilas? Mightn’t they also achieve great things in “a shed of one’s own”?
St Estèphe, France
• Clearly, George Orwell’s warning that without empire Britain would be reduced to living on potatoes and herrings seems to have ignored the creative nature of the folks around Wigan Pier (22 November). Hence the birth of the Wigan kebab: five pies on a skewer.
Burradoo, NSW, Australia
There is plenty of time – and there are abundant venues – to debate relevant questions about Mr Snowden’s historical role, his legal fate, the morality of his actions, and the meaning of the information he has chosen to disclose.
But your appearance before the Commons today strikes me as something quite different in purpose and dangerously pernicious: an attempt by the highest UK authorities to shift the issue from government policies and excessive government secrecy in the United States and Great Britain to the conduct of the press – which has been quite admirable and responsible in the case of the Guardian, particularly, and the way it has handled information initially provided by Mr Snowden.
Indeed, generally speaking, the record of journalists, in Britain and the United States in handling genuine national security information since World War II, without causing harm to our democracies or giving up genuine secrets to real enemies, is far more responsible than the over-classification, disingenuousness, and (sometimes) outright lying by a series of governments, prime ministers and presidents when it comes to information that rightly ought to be known and debated in a free society. Especially in recent years.
You are being called to testify at a moment when governments in Washington and London seem intent on erecting the most serious (and self-serving) barriers against legitimate news reporting – especially of excessive government secrecy – we have seen in decades.
The stories published by The Guardian, the Washington Post and the New York Times based on Mr Snowden’s information to date hardly seem to represent reckless disclosure of specific national security secrets of value to terrorists or enemy governments or in such a manner as to make possible the identification of undercover agents or operatives whose lives or livelihoods would be endangered by such disclosure. Such information has been carefully redacted by the Guardian and other publications and withheld from stories based on information from Mr Snowden. Certainly terrorists are already aware that they are under extensive surveillance, and did not need Mr Snowden or the Guardian to tell them that.
Rather, the stories published by the Guardian – like those in the Washington Post and the New York Times – describe the scale and scope of electronic information-gathering our governments have been engaged in – most of it hardly surprising in the aggregate, given the state of today’s technology, and a good deal of it previously known and reported and indeed often discussed “on background” with reporters by high government officials from the White House to Downing Street confident that their identities will not be disclosed.
Moreover, the Guardian—like the Times and the Post in the US – has gone to great lengths to consult with Downing Street, the White House and intelligence agencies before publishing certain information, giving time for concerns to be raised, discussed sensibly, and considered.
What is new and most significant about the information originating with Mr Snowden and some of its specificity is how government surveillance has been conducted by intelligence agencies without the proper oversight – especially in the United States – by the legislative and judicial branches of government charged with such oversight, especially as the capabilities of information-gathering have become so pervasive and enveloping and with the potential to undermine the rights of all citizens if not carefully supervised. The “co-operation” of internet and telecommunications companies in some of these activities ought to be of particular concern to legislative bodies like the Commons and the US Congress.
As we have learned following the recent disclosures initiated by Mr Snowden, intelligence agencies – especially the NSA in the United States – have assiduously tried to avoid and get around such oversight, been deliberately unforthcoming and oftentimes disingenuous with even the highest government authorities that are supposed to supervise their activities and prevent abuse.
That is the subject of the rightful and necessary public debate that is now taking place in the US, the UK and elsewhere.
Rather than hauling in journalists for questioning and trying to intimidate them, the Commons would do well to encourage and join that debate over how the vast electronic intelligence-gathering capabilities of the modern security-state can be employed in a manner that gives up little or nothing to real terrorists and real enemies and skilfully uses all our technological capabilities to protect us, while at the same time taking every possible measure to insure that these capabilities are not abused in a way that would abrogate the rights and privacy of law-abiding citizens.
There have always been tensions between such objectives in our democracies, especially in regard to the role of the press. But as we learned in the United States during our experience with the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, it is essential that no prior governmental restraints or intimidation be imposed on a truly free press; otherwise, in such darkness, we encourage the risk of our democracies falling prey to despotism and demagoguery and even criminality by our elected leaders and government officials.
With warmest regards and admiration,
The Pisa results claim to “measure” educational standards across a very wide range of cultural contexts. However there are severe limitations to the programme.These include concerns over the Rasch model Pisa uses as well as major issues over cultural bias, over what constitutes “quality” and “high” performance and over limitations of coverage.
There is an interesting parallel between the media focus on Pisa’s so-called “objective” measure of educational performance and the attention given by academic circles in the 19th century to a similar initiative. Phrenological studies attempted to correlate precise head measurements with the mental faculties of races and peoples in different countries. Despite the accuracy of the measurements (to the nearest millimetre) the findings were later shown to be spurious and the supposed “science” totally discredited.
A hundred and fifty years on, Pisa-type measurement could well be a form of international educational phrenology. Its findings, and in particular its rankings, need to be treated with a considerable degree of scepticism.
Professor Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria
England’s place in the international education table is in the middle and appears to be anchored there. Many years ago, as a trainee teacher, I, along with all others at the time, was indoctrinated to tell children that learning was fun. It was called the Play Way, and our educational system has never recovered from it.
Early learning may indeed be fun, but later on it needs more hard work than the children have been used to, and many give up. Until they are taught that the result of education is the result of the effort put into it, there will be no improvement in our standing.
Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
OECD, Pisa, Timms – it seems that everyone in education is a slave to comparative international testing.
So what can we learn from it? In Finland there is a fully comprehensive system, without streaming or selection. Schools are not inspected with an Ofsted blunt club, national tests are first taken at the age of 16, teachers are respected, and books and writers are revered.
By way of contrast, in Japan children work long hours, rote learning is commonplace, it is highly competitive, child depression and even suicide are high by international standards and there is the phenomenon of “hikkomori” where thousands of teenagers withdraw from all social contact.
USA and the UK bottom of the pile? In their book The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett were able to draw a direct correlation between countries with wide disparities in wealth and low educational achievement. In both countries this is exacerbated by the fact that large numbers of students are privately educated, limiting social mobility.
The other factor is the grim testing regimes. In England children endure a battery of tests; by the age of 18 they will have completed over 100.
So, international tests – you pays your money you takes your choices. Doubtless Gove will be ordering more gruel, more testing, more of the 3 Rs, more blame heaped on teachers. Proponents of blood-letting, when confronted with the deaths of their patients, had the perfect reply: “We should have bled earlier and in greater quantities.”
Richard Knights, Liverpool
Coming out to face press persecution
I wish I could share Owen Jones’s cheery take on Tom Daley’s “coming out” announcement (3 December). I have a less benign view of how Daley will be treated by the homophobic newspapers we all know so well.
I have no doubt that the second Daley made his relationship public the editors of at least two newspapers committed people and funds to a thorough search of the metaphoric dustbins of Daley, his family, friends – anyone – in the hope they will dig up some dirt to besmirch the athlete.
And they will not give up.
Mike Abbott, London W4
Ian Burrell (“How long will it be before we’re looking back to the golden days of the Press Complaints Commission”, 18 November) quite rightly says that “The new [press regulatory] body [Ipso] faces an enormous credibility battle.” But he suggests Ipso might be able to address this if it appoints the right individuals to the Ipso board, and if it can successfully run investigations/sanctions.
Yet, as our report published last month shows, the individuals on Ipso’s board will be highly constrained by the new industry funding body – the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC). The RFC will have wide-ranging powers which go far beyond those normally possessed by a funding body, including over appointments, regulations, investigations, sanctions, arbitration, and the standards code. On this basis it is hard to see how Ipso could ever appear independent in the eyes of the public.
Equally, since under Ipso no newspaper will be obliged to offer low-cost arbitration, there are bound to be cases in future in which people – like Christopher Jefferies – are falsely accused, but can’t gain access to affordable legal redress.
There are other significant areas where Ipso falls down too, such as its complaints process, which further emphasise how hard it will be for this industry regulator to seem credible.
Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust, London WC2
Cut-price cigarettes lure the young
One of the arguments against plain packaging for cigarettes is that the black market for cigarettes will increase. My understanding from talking with young people is that they would never consider buying full-price cigarettes, preferring the cheaper alternatives readily available on the black market.
Is it not time that all cigarettes sold in this country have “UK tax paid” printed on each cigarette. Anyone found smoking an unprinted cigarette would be expected to have a receipt showing where and when they had bought it.
This would reduce the black-market availability of cheap cigarettes, with no adverse impact on tax revenues, and further reduce the appeal of smoking to young people.
Steve Horsfield, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
HS2: Read that big document
I am as fond of a dig at the expense of the Government as anyone, and I am passionately opposed to HS2. But credit should be given where it is due.
It is easy to mock a 50,000-page document (Donald Macintyre, 26 November) but hear this. The most relevant sections for my area were delivered to my local library in hard copy before 11am on the day of publication, and the rest arrived on a memory stick. The part I was particularly interested in was easy to find and readable. It provides the detailed information about numbers of heavy vehicles, access roads and timings that we have been clamouring for. That is no small achievement.
We should be encouraging people to read the parts that concern them and take an active part in the consultation process. It is not over yet.
Jane Penson, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
David Cameron has told the Chinese leadership that he would welcome investment by Beijing in Britain’s HS2 rail link.
How very Tory. They scapegoat foreign workers. They welcome foreign money.
Sasha Simic, London N16
Brunel’s historic train shed
Referring to the article “Brunel’s engine shed now open for business” (3 December), while it is gratifying to read that Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s original Bristol station is to be put to such an enterprising purpose – far better than its one-time use as a car park – it should be pointed out that the structure is more properly called a train shed, not an engine shed. The original engine shed, where locomotives were housed and maintained, was situated just outside the terminus.
Christopher McDermott, Crewe, Cheshire
Baby snatched from the womb
I felt quite sick when I read about the baby snatched from her Italian mother’s womb in this country. I feel ashamed that we could do this. Could we not have provided this woman with complete support for her and her baby until she was well again?
Please extend your campaigning against this secrecy.
Vivienne Cox, London W4
Amazon are clearly late adopters. Santa has been using drone deliveries for years.
How else could he get the job done?
Patrick Walsh, Eastbourne East Sussex
If we are serious about raising standards, then our brightest and most gifted pupils must be fully resourced and successful schools rewarded
Sir, There may be lots of reasons why British schools fall behind their international rivals (report and leading article, Dec 2 & letter, Dec 3 ) and there are some, such as the cultural ones, we may not be able to do much about. However, there are causes which are “home-grown’” and about which much can be done.
Despite talk by the Department for Education about raising academic standards, funding for excellence has virtually disappeared and academic and gifted pupils (and successful schools) are starved of resources. Instead, vast proportions of the education budget are diverted towards “social deprivation”. This is a policy which was initiated by Labour (standards funds) and pushed by the Liberals (pupil premium) and one which is still in operation. Whether this exercise in social engineering actually works is highly debatable, but what is certain is that it has negative educational implications. Successful schools are penalised, academic pupils are denuded of resources and as a result we fall behind in the international league tables.
Apart from the fact that it is grossly unfair to deprive pupils of an opportunity to achieve their potential, this policy lowers standards for everyone. Without the standards set by its brightest and best pupils, whole school standards deteriorate. This means that as government limits resources for academic and gifted pupils it harms not just them but also impairs standards throughout their school.
If we are serious about raising standards, then I suggest the first step is to ensure that our brightest and most gifted pupils are fully resourced and successful schools rewarded. When this happens our schools will achieve a higher rating in the international league tables
Chair, King David Schools, Manchester
Sir, The various analyses of why British schools are falling behind fails to take into account some significant factors. Countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Finland have far fewer students from varying linguistic backgrounds and some — such as Singapore — make no provision at all in the state system for pupils with special needs who have to find private or charitable institutions to take care of them. This affects the results achieved.
While working as an Ofsted inspector, I routinely went into schools where up to 50 languages were spoken and a large proportion of the school budget was spent on support for pupils whose first language wasn’t English. We should not overlook the difficulties that teachers face as a result of immigration when we indulge in our ritual hand-wringing over the perceived lowering of standards.
Sir, Since I retired from education the proportion of education funding reserved for teachers and teaching has steadily declined. The volume of time and paperwork that is purely precautionary has become insane. Schools today churn out mountains of ever more extensive policies for health and safety, risk assessment and child protection. None of these policies will in themselves make the school and its children a jot safer. Still less will they contribute to educational excellence. Their purpose is to demonstrate regulatory compliance.
This is a burden for all schools, but it weighs hardest on some of the schools which the Government seeks to foster.
Academies and “free schools”, lacking the support provided by local authorities, will tend to drift back under their umbrella. Independent schools are even more exposed.
Schools do not thrive because they are measured and monitored.
P atrick Tobin
Principal, the Mary Erskine School and Stewart’s Melville College Edinburgh, 1989-2000
Sir, Yesterday was the closing date for the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) consultation on tightening up consumer credit regulation. We write to urge the FCA to take robust action to prevent payday companies lending irresponsibly to people on low incomes. Payday and other high-cost lenders are creating a tidal wave of misery by lending money to people who cannot afford the repayments, trapping them in a cycle of debt and poverty. At a time when many people are really feeling the pinch, irresponsible lending risks pushing them over the edge, and causing serious and long-term damage to their finances, families and health.
Irresponsible lending practices also risk further undermining the roll-out of exacerbating hardship under Universal Credit — a central plank of the Government’s welfare reform programme — if payday and other irresponsible lenders exploit the move from fortnightly to monthly payment
Repeated calls for greater self-regulation by the high-cost lending industry have fallen on deaf ears.
The high-cost lending industry has proved to be incapable of effective self-regulation – it is now time for Government and regulators to step in and offer consumers the real protection against irresponsible lending practices that they deserve.
We urge the FCA to introduce — and properly enforce — regulations to: Stop payday lenders giving loans to people who can’t realistically afford to pay them back. Stop them rolling over loans and creating spiralling debt. Stop hidden or excessive charges. Stop them raiding borrowers’ bank accounts without their knowledge and leaving them in hardship. Stop irresponsible advertising and instead provide clear and transparent information. And require lenders to promote free and independent debt advice, and ensure they co-operate with other services to help people get out of debt.
Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty; The Right Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds; The Right Rev Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield; Helen O’Brien, Caritas Social Action Network; Matt Barlow, Christians Against Poverty; The Rev Dr Michael Jagessar, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly; The Rev Stephen Keyworth, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Sir, I cannot agree with Andrew Clark’s conclusion about water companies (Business, Dec 2). About two years ago I moved from a house with garden to a property less than half the size and no garden. The water consumption dropped — probably by about half. At the previous property one company supplied the water and dealt with the waste. I had no meter. The cost per annum was about £400. Now I have a meter and two service companies, one for water and the other for waste. The annual cost is almost £800. I now have to pay for each company’s administration costs and profits. The service is a monopoly and I have no means of switching companies. Water companies are as bad as the power suppliers.
Ditchling, E Sussex
Sir, Andrew Clark makes several valid points, but as a member of a Wiltshire council planning committee, I find one thing mystifying: why hasn’t the Government legislated to allow planning authorities to impose conditions on developers to force them to use grey water/rain water harvesting systems in new houses?
It grieves me to see expensively collected and chlorinated water used to flush toilets, water gardens etc and such systems would ease the demand for mains water when we next have drought-like conditions. There is obviously an up-front cost but the benefits would outweigh these in the long term.
Sir, Candida Crewe (times2, Dec 2) is wrong to say that the problem of child-on-parent aggression lacks a national helpline or website. The charity Family Lives runs a free helpline and website that supports parents facing child or adolescent aggression.
While aggressive outbursts are a normal part of a child’s development, many families we are in contact with are dealing with much more serious and entrenched problems. Families who find themselves unable to cope with and manage their child’s aggressive behaviour need a range of advice and support. The stigma attached to abuse can prevent families from seeking help early, preventing the problem from spiralling out of control. We urge all parents and families battling with serious behavioural problems to seek support for the sake of their children and their own wellbeing.
Chief executive, Family Lives
Sir, I note that most of the accidents occurring in London seem to be as a result of cyclists being caught by the nearside of lorries and buses as they turn (Opinion, Dec 2 & letter Dec 3). As a child, growing up in West London in the 1950s and early 1960s, cycling was the main form of transport and recreation for myself and my friends. It was second nature for us never, under any circumstances, to draw up alongside these vehicles on the nearside as we were well aware of the dangers, as a result we all survived. Cycling on the pavement and “shooting” red lights was also unthinkable.
We are at saturation point with cookery programmes; the week before last, I counted 17 (and 24 antiques programmes). How many gardening programmes do we have? Gardeners’ World has just ended, with a new series beginning in the spring, Alan Titchmarsh’s Garden Secrets has also just ended, and Life in a Cottage Garden with Carol Klein is a repeated series.
We are led to believe that gardening is a national obsession, yet we are completely starved of programmes to satisfy those of us who love this hobby.
SIR – English is studied as a foreign language by 94 per cent of upper secondary pupils in the 28 countries of the EU. Thus, our national language is not a barrier for many of those seeking work here as it is for other member states. Britain has the fastest-growing population in Europe.
Taken together, these facts give Britain unique and reasonable grounds for seeking exemption from EU migration rules or flexibility in their application.
Leavening, East Yorkshire
SIR – László Andor, the EU Commissioner for Employment, accuses David Cameron of not telling the “full truth” over immigration, while Viviane Reding, another commissioner, admonishes him for double standards over free movement in the single market.
The mother of all cases concerning free movement is that of British lecturers working in Italy, who, after 30 years and despite six favourable judgments in the European Court of Justice, are still denied equal and fair treatment. We have to sue regularly for arrears in unpaid wages, increments for seniority and pensions on a par with our Italian colleagues. None of us is claiming benefits. Recently, Mr Cameron wrote on this issue to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, who is Viviane Reding. She passed his complaint to Mr Andor, whose responsibility is free movement.
SIR – As David Cameron seems unable to stop immigration after January 1 2014, perhaps he should ask the EU for more money to cover the costs. Brussels is always talking about a level playing field, so it should give extra funding to those countries that have the highest rates of uncontrolled and expensive immigration.
SIR – The Scottish government’s White Paper on independence pledges to provide 30 hours of free child care a week to all one- to five-year-olds. Scotland has approximately 300,000 children in this age group and, assuming an equal split at each year group and using the current required ratio of staff to children, this would require some 57,500 qualified nursery staff, as well as the management, regulatory support and buildings to house them all.
The staffing alone will cost £1.2 billion a year. And where are these 57,500 individuals going to come from?
Hayling Island, Hampshire
SIR – If Scotland were to become independent, what on earth would we do with the Scots Guards?
The power vertical
SIR – Jan Bata, of the shoemaking empire that carries his name, had a unique solution for keeping meetings short. The Bata headquarters, a 17-storey skyscraper in Zlin, Czechoslovakia, was completed in 1938 for thousands of employees, and came with one special feature.
Mr Bata’s office was situated inside a room-sized lift, complete with sink, telephone and air-conditioning. This enabled the forward-thinking boss to move from floor to floor without ever leaving his desk, while his employees could attend meetings without leaving their workplace.
Long Sutton, Somerset
Iran’s human rights
SIR – Whether the deal over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme will help foster long-term security in the region remains to be seen. But the diplomatic self-congratulation over the agreement shouldn’t blind us to Iran’s dreadful human rights record.
Dissidents and minority rights activists live in fear of arbitrary arrest and trial on trumped-up charges. Indeed, many have even faced death sentences after unfair trials, with Iran coming second only to China in its resort to capital punishment.
To take just one case: Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a 28-year-old blogger and prisoner of conscience, is currently serving a 15-year jail term in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for a range of unwarranted charges. He had no legal representation at his unfair trial, and is being denied urgently needed medical care.
The nuclear deal has been hailed a diplomatic breakthrough, but where is the corresponding breakthrough for people like Hossein Ronaghi Maleki?
Amnesty International UK
SIR – The diplomatic bag incident at the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain could have been avoided had a Queen’s Messenger been used instead of a commercial courier.
The pouch would have been strapped to the Queen’s Messenger’s wrist, and so officials would have been prevented from opening it without cutting the strap.
Michael de Lendinez
SIR – If Nevile Gwynne can teach “more Latin in half an hour than the Cambridge Latin Course can manage in 18 months”, then his pupils will have covered nouns and adjectives in the first three declensions, comparatives and superlatives, six pronouns, the present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect tenses indicative active in four conjugations.
They will also have managed present imperatives and infinitives, four irregular verbs, a number of subordinate clauses; read getting on for 2,000 lines of increasingly complex Latin; completed the exercises associated with them, and learnt a great deal of Latin vocabulary, and much about the world in which Latin was used.
Dr Peter Jones
Newcastle upon Tyne
Birthday presents that made a lasting impression
SIR – In 1965, my great aunt gave me a £100 cruise-line voucher for my 21st birthday enabling me to explore the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Turkey.
In those days Beirut was “the Paris of the Middle East”, Damascus was a city of culture, Jerusalem was a divided city (between Jordan and Israel) and a journey across the Bosphorus to Asia was by boat. It is astonishing how much that area has changed in 48 years.
SIR – On my 21st birthday, I received a buff-coloured envelope stamped with On Her Majesty’s Service, which contained an invitation, with further instructions to follow. Failure to accept could have resulted in imprisonment. They were the call-up papers for my national service, memories of which are still fresh today.
Chichester, West Sussex
SIR – More than 42 years ago, I was given a travel alarm clock. I took it with me whenever I travelled at home or abroad. It never failed me, unlike unreliable hotel morning wake-up calls.
Sadly it stopped ticking earlier this year, and, as yet, I have been unable to find anyone to repair it.
SIR – My 21st birthday present, given to me by my parents, was a Vespa scooter and membership of the Vespa Club of Britain.
Little did I know that I would meet my future husband at the club.
Marion P Tremlett
SIR – I was given the sheet music for Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring for my 21st birthday. Sixty years later, I am still trying to play it through without a mistake.
With energy in short supply and retail prices likely to rise, the only way of following the Prime Minister’s advice was to find a fixed-price deal quickly to pre-empt other energy suppliers following British Gas with their own price rises.
Many, like me, will have done just that, only for Mr Cameron to say six weeks later that he will cut some of the Government levies which are part of the retail price and add them to taxation, without making sure that fixed-price deals will be commensurately reduced. Thus, those of us who followed Mr Cameron’s advice will be levied twice.
David G Meacock
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
SIR – The Coalition intends to provide a £1,000 energy efficiency improvement grant to house-purchasers at a time when there are justifiable concerns over house price inflation. As a public health inspector in the Seventies, I can well recall that the availability of improvement grants linked solely to property condition resulted in their value being added to house prices and quoted as such in the sale particulars.
The net result was that the value accrued to the seller who had previously failed to do the works, rather than the purchaser who still had to undertake them.
SIR – If domestic energy consumption really is of strategic national importance, the Government should ditch its complex and ineffective monetarist instruments such as the Green Deal and install energy-saving technology in our houses itself.
SIR – Giving the energy companies longer to insulate the homes of those on low incomes will only increase carbon emissions, as larger amounts of energy are needed to heat poorly insulated homes.
Fairer to taxpayers and better for the environment would be for the Government to implement a one-off windfall tax on the energy companies.
SIR – Utility bills are weighted by the standing charge so that higher usage results in a lower unit cost. It may be standard commercial practice to offer a discount for quantity, but it penalises the poor and also the green user, both of which contradict the stated policies of this Government. The energy minister says that the standing charge is to cover companies’ fixed costs, but every company has fixed costs. We do not pay an entry charge to the supermarket. Why does David Cameron not abolish the standing charge?
Sir, – Colm Keaveney’s defection from being a Labour Party TD and chairperson to left-wing Independent to Fianna Fáil member (Breaking News, December 3rd) must be viewed in the context of his original departure from the Labour Parliamentary Party after Budget 2013. It was his vote against the social welfare budget last December and loss of the Labour Party whip that was hitherto the defining moment for Keaveney in the minds of the Irish people. He was heralded by media commentators, sections of the public, a portion of Labour Party voters and a cohort of Labour Party members as the flag-bearer of true Labour values and principles. He was seen as a brave and honourable voice standing up to a heavy-handed party leadership who had turned their backs on the ordinary people of Ireland.
His move to Fianna Fáil, a party with a medieval tradition on social policy and neo-liberal capitalist perspective on economic policy, proves Keaveney was a false prophet.
I voted for Keaveney to be chairperson of the Labour Party in 2012, not because I wanted him to damage my party or undermine the leadership. I wanted a strong voice for ordinary grassroots members within the party’s organisational structure. This was Keaveney’s one campaign promise to us. For a man who has since made his name on the back of criticising Labour for perceived broken promises, he did not waste time in breaking his one promise to us ordinary members. He turned his back on us when we were at our lowest ebb, when branch meetings and party gatherings were at their most downcast and fractious. He betrayed us.
I have just returned from a positive party conference where the grassroots elected a new chairperson (Loraine Mulligan), we passed progressive motions on economic and social policy and we discussed further how to promote our values and principles in Government. Our principles of equality, fairness and social justice are not for Colm Keaveney to hold claim over, they never were; and now that he has joined the architects of economic destruction and social conservatism, Fianna Fáil, he will have no claim to those values and principles ever again. – Yours, etc,
Labour Party Member,
Swords, Co Dublin.
A chara, – Former Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney tells us: “My views and those of Fianna Fáil have become very similar, not only on the economy but in the areas of social protection and health” (Breaking News, December 3rd). Perhaps, perhaps, oh perhaps it might just be easier to adopt populist opinions when you are in opposition and this is why Fianna Fáil is congenial to Mr Keaveney now. – Is mise,
Donabate, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Colm Keaveney’s Pauline conversion to Fianna Fáil is no surprise. They are eminently suited. After all they each have their principles. And if you don’t like those principles then they have others. Quod erat demonstrandum. – Yours, etc,
PJ Mc DERMOTT,
Westport, Co Mayo.
Sir, – The Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll (Weekend Review, November 30th) omitted to ask the question: what percentage of the total assessed income do the top 10 per cent of individual tax cases earn, according to the Revenue’s 2011 statistics? (Answer: 34 per cent). It is the crucial connecting figure between the two measures used in the poll, without which the discussion of progressiveness is empty. But then perhaps the poll is not about the discussion, but the deliberate shaping, of perceptions? – Yours, etc,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I am left wondering why public perception should be so at odds with the facts (Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll, November 30th). Some years ago, Marshall McLuhan told us that “the medium is the message” and someone else said “perception is reality”.
One obvious conclusion is that the false perceptions have been created by the media. Perhaps, the most striking fact from the poll was that Ireland is regarded as the seventh out of 186 countries in the world as the best place to live, ahead of Sweden no less, which we are told has one of the most desirable living standards in the world. One certainly would not think this about Ireland listening to the persistent moaning, groaning and special pleading that we hear on TV, radio and the print media. In spite of years of Fianna Fáil profligacy and misrule, it appears that, right now, we’re not doing too badly on the world stage.
Can we look forward to some positive reaction in the media to these findings or is it that good news doesn’t really sell newspapers or attract radio and TV audiences? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Like Gerard Burns (December 3rd ), I have attended weekly Masses, in my case in Dublin and Wexford, without hearing any reference whatsoever to the Pope’s survey. The website of the Irish Bishops’ Conference has just a user-unfriendly reference to the Vatican website with the need for further exploration to reach the survey itself.
By contrast, the website of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has prominent and substantial material on this matter, as well as the text of the survey itself. Is it the case that whereas the views of Irish Catholics can be presumed as always to accord with those of the Irish bishops, without the need for consultation, the views of English and Welsh Catholics are by contrast worth an independent canvass? – Yours, etc,
JOHN A KEHOE,
Sir, – Eamon Gilmore is threatening funding cuts to hospitals where they have overpaid an individual (Breaking News, December 1st).
Why not do what other employers do in cases of overpayment; ask for the money back or simply deduct it from future salary payments for that specific individual?
While we’re on the subject of the Government employing people at salaries above the cap, there’s also the matter of advisers’ salaries.
I expect Mr Gilmore will be addressing that issue shortly too. – Yours, etc,
St Begnets Villas,
Sir, – The Institute of Directors, of which I am a member, obviously had an eye to current affairs when it mailed members today “A Guide for the Officers & Directors of Not-For-Profit Organisations”.
I trust the directors of the CRC received their copies! – Yours, etc,
Glin, Co Limerick.
Sir, – All over Co Offaly people are receiving letters from Bord na Móna saying this State body wants to take back parts of bogs in the county. My parents, now pensioners, were among those to have received such a letter. No explanations were given for what the bog will be used. Just a brief text saying this State body wants to take part of a bog that has been in our family for four generations. Personal investigations have revealed that this bog will be used for a wind generator.
In this the age of information, why the secrecy? My parents have no objection to progress and the local employment opportunities these wind farms present but they do object to the underhand way this is being handled and also being taken for gombeens.
Also, it will be said these bogs have little or no financial value. But what about the pleasure of cutting your own bank of turf or going for a walk on the bog and seeing bog cotton or a snipe rise out of the furze or smelling the heather? During the winter months little can lift the spirits as much as lighting a turf fire and sitting in front of the dancing flames. We may not have much in Offaly, but bogs are part of our heritage.
Perhaps Don Quixote tilted at windmills , but Offaly people will not stand transfixed before these wind generators. – Yours, etc,
Rue de Normandie,
Sir, – I wish to clarify points made in your report “Gap between rich and poor is widening”, (Home News, December 2nd). The report stated research produced by Social Justice Ireland claims the top 20 per cent of earners increased their disposable income and actually became better off over the past five years.
What the report states and what the research and data show is that the top 20 per cent have seen their share of disposable income grow significantly in this period. So while all income deciles (including the top 20 per cent) saw a fall in the disposable income available to them over the period, the share of the overall disposable income of the country going to the top 20 per cent increased. – Yours, etc,
Research and Policy Analyst,
Social Justice Ireland,
Sir, – Having had first-hand experience for 30 years of ESB/EirGrid’s obligation to “plan the electricity transmission network in the most safe, secure, economic and reliable way possible”, we take issue with John Lowry’s letter (November 25th). Under this benign stewardship, we somehow find ourselves with a 400,000 volt line running over our garden, 35 metres from our home, with the promise (threat) of another 400,000 volt line being added 10 metres closer to our home, if EirGrid has its way.
Mr Lowry adds that EMF does not cause any adverse health effects “at levels encountered in our everyday environment”. Exactly whose everyday environment is he writing about?
Both my wife and I have been treated for cancer in the past three years. My wife has suffered for the past seven years from nerve pain as a result of Shingles infection, which she believes is related to exposure to high levels of ELF, which causes nerve and muscle stimulation. These levels will increase if EirGrid has its way.
Many papers have been published indicating that EMF exposure reduces melatonin in humans and animals. Having had our melatonin levels measured on three separate occasions, we find that melatonin levels in our bodies are so low as to be unmeasureable.
Mr Lowry also states, “Eirgrid follows best international practice in designing the transmission system”. This is not our experience. The 400,000 volt line that has run over our garden for the past 30 years, was routed away from a straight line which would have carried it over open farmland, and instead followed a “zigzag” course to the Woodland substation, bringing it close to people’s homes and over our back garden. We have never received any credible justification for this diversion from either ESB or EirGrid. Continuing the theme of “best international practice”, we were told, matter-of-factly, by an EirGrid project manager that it could put the new line over our house without infringing the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection standards. We were also told it had abandoned the precautionary principle, because it is not EU law. It doesn’t have to, so it won’t.
Legislation in this area is loaded totally in favour of EirGrid, with no protection in place for ordinary citizens and no effective appeals process.
We’re at a watershed now. It is time for public representatives to look, listen and do what they were elected to do: represent the people. – Yours, etc,
Drumree, Co Meath.
Sir, – The greatest boon of 20th-century civilisation, the greatest contributor, for the majority of the world’s population, to health, safety and quality of life, was and is an almost universally available stable, safe, cheap and reliable electricity supply. Many of your correspondents, on the other hand, seem to regard as agents of some sort of malign conspiracy the organisations that maintain and improve this supply in Ireland.
Self-interested pressure groups which imperil this continuing effort should be resisted. (This applies incidentally to the numerous passengers on the “renewables” bandwagon who are promoting the ludicrous plan to duplicate at enormous cost, and at the expense of consumers, 40 per cent of our electricity generation capacity with subsidised wind power). – Yours, etc,
TOM WEYMES, BE,
Sir, – The trial, conviction and jailing of former solicitor Thomas Byrne serves an important principle: that those who work in the legal trade shall not assume that they are immune from accountability. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Tourism Ireland is promoting The Wild Atlantic Way as “The Drive of a Lifetime” (Business, December 3rd) and it certainly is. In a lifetime of driving, from 1957, I have not encountered a stretch of road in such bad condition as the N67 in Co Galway, from Kilcolgan to Kinvara – an important link in the Atlantic Way. But then, of course, I have never driven in a third-world country. – Yours, etc,
Ballyvaughan, Co Clare.
Sir, – During the last ESB strike I visited an old lady living in a small cottage in Terenure. She suffered very badly from rheumatoid arthritis, being in pain and with limited mobility.
I discovered that due to a power cut, for several hours she had been sitting in darkness, with no heating and no way of even making a cup of tea. A letter from me, telling of her plight was published in this paper at the time.
I have no doubt this sort of situation, or worse, will happen if the threatened strike takes place.
While I have every sympathy with people who fear the loss of their pensions, it seems to be a very callous way of trying to achieve a resolution to the problem. And also unfair to inflict misery, perhaps unemployment and hardship on those who have done nothing to cause the difficulty.
There must be some compromise, on all sides, or the whole country will suffer. Is there any patriotism out there? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – When leaving the country, can the last member of the troika please switch out the lights? – Yours, etc,
Madam – As sure as leaves fall from trees, the disaffected, disturbed and disenfranchised from the inner core of power rattle their sabres. Sometimes the leader re-admits them to the big tent and sometimes their bluff is called.
Also in this section
The front page, (Sunday Independent, November 17, 2013) flew the well-flagged kite that we might like a new political party. In times of chaos, double dealing and downright political lies and chicanery, the idea of a new party might whet the appetite for change.
However, the pertinent question is always the simple one. Are we getting a new party and all that it promises or are we getting old wine transferred into new bottles? Leonard Cohen described it as new skin for an old ceremony. And in this case, I see plenty of old wine and wrinkled skin. As a nation we seem to have bred a select few whom see it as a birthright that they should rule. When not ruling, they then see it as a right that they should try and influence. I sometimes ask how come I was never equipped with that type of brio, confidence and downright arrogance?
A new party we don’t need but we are crying out for new people. We want to hear from the rebellious young, the disenfranchised old, the downtrodden unemployed, the oppressed tax serfs.
We are tired of the bake-off that has thrown up teacher after teacher as they cosy the old day job, whilst making hay at politics. No more sons, daughters, brothers or cousins of sitting politicians. No more dynasties with a main aim of simply keeping it oiled.
Give me real youth, raw and pained youth, youth with angst. Give me the old, the ones who bankrolled the charlatans of the Seventies and Eighties and who now are used like a toilet roll to wipe the mess from the nation and pay off those who backed a horse that lost but want winnings paid out around 40/1.
Give me a representative from the factory floor as opposed to some fat-cat union man.
Give me the nurse from the trolley-infested corridor, the guard with the knowledge of those protected by their betters. Give me public servants that will spill the beans and hang out those who shackled us.
Dunboyne, Co Meath
Madam – I read with great interest the fascinating piece by Jerome Reilly about Temple Bar (Sunday Independent, November 17, 2013). I was, however, sorry to see that once again an essential element was left out. That is the role played by the gay community in the revival of this completely neglected area of Dublin.
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After the dissolution of the Irish Gay Rights Movement and the loss of its disco and premises during a period of difficulty involving personal and political differences between some of the leaders of the movement, I moved into the entirely political sphere of seeking law reform. However, I was approached by a large number of people who wanted to revive the social side of life.
I went on a hunt, and eventually took the lease in 1978 of number 10 Fownes Street Upper. We opened that as a gay community centre, complete with the hottest disco in town, on St Patrick’s Day 1979. Many famous people visited, including Elton John. We used the money generated from the disco to publish information leaflets about safe sex, to provide counselling for parents and families as well as young gay people, and to put on entertainment. We also did discos for other groups such as the Wood Quay people, women’s groups, environmentalists etc, and it was a mixture of all these people who saw the opportunity, took up short-term leases and launched what became known as Dublin‘s Left Bank.
It was quite a number of years before either Charlie Haughey or the Temple Bar Trust, from whom we received not one single ha’penny, got in on the scene. Dublin Corporation committed itself to commemorating this with a blue plaque on the building a couple of years ago but has yet to live up to this promise. I think it important that this little bit of our history should be recovered and acknowledged.
Senator David Norris,
Madam – Your columnist John Drennan suggests that Bertie Ahern is a “scapegoat” for the woes that currently befall the country (Sunday Independent, November 17, 2013). Nothing could be further from the truth.
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The main reason Bertie is held in disdain now is his total disregard for the offices he held. As a finance minister, he is possibly the only holder of such an office in European parliamentary history to accept the proceeds of a begging bowl passed around after a football match – despite being among the best paid finance ministers at the time. His record as Taoiseach was not much better.
After his forced resignation, Bertie’s abysmal behaviour continued apace. We all witnessed his shameful treatment of his secretary, who broke down in tears when her testimony on Sterling lodgements was in direct contradiction to her boss.
Bertie, on the other hand, had no difficulty in telling the tribunal he won some of that Sterling on a horse! The final humiliation of the office was when he appeared in a TV ad for the ultimate rag (even then) – The News of the World.
It has to be said that coming from a party where public disgrace is almost a badge of honour – think of Charlie Haughey, Padraig Flynn, Ray Burke, and many more – Bertie is right up there with the worst of them. The only difference is that we won’t stand for the double standards any longer.
Portmarnock, Co Dublin
MEDIA PROMOTED THE AHERN MYTH
Madam – John Drennan makes a very valid point about ‘Bertie bashing’ (Sunday Independent, November 17, 2013).
But he misses the point entirely when he blames the ‘voters for their role in the Ahern myth’. The Ahern myth, like all myths, was propounded day in, day out in the Irish media during Celtic Tiger times.
The power of media myths, admittedly at their most extreme, can be judged by the reaction of people in totalitarian countries. In Hitler’s Germany and present-day North Korea, there was/is massive support for ‘official’ policy and adulation for the leader.
All of us, including the media, underestimate the power of mass communication.
Sutton, Dublin 13