Cold

5 December 2013 Cold

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark.

Our heroes are in trouble they are suffering from rivalry Heather is making up Lt Murray. Priceless.

Potter about and do tis and that, it started getting cold.

ScrabbleMary wins well under 400 perhaps it will be my turn tomorrow.

Obituary:

Norman Geras, who has died aged 70, was a Marxist academic, cricket enthusiast and political blogger who broke with Left-wing orthodoxy to support the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Geras, a former Professor of Government at Manchester University, set up his website, Normblog, in July 2003, out of a feeling of alienation “from people I perceived as being in my neck of the woods” — academic colleagues, friends and sundry Guardian writers who saw the 9/11 attacks as a response to American foreign policy (notably its support of Israel), and opposed the invasion of Iraq.

“The next day [after 9/11], or the day after, I open the newspaper and see — within hours — people talking about ‘blowback’, ‘comeuppance’,” he recalled. “They didn’t even have the sense of horror, of shock, to wait. I was just appalled. I thought, ‘That’s it’.” His first post read: “In the immortal words of Sam Peckinpah. Let’s go.”

From then on he blogged almost every day, and his website became essential reading – not only for the tiny ranks of the pro-war Left, but also for the Neocon Right. For, despite his Leftist credentials, Geras praised President George W Bush and argued that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to oust the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. His daily jottings earned him the nickname “Stormin’ Norm”. The Wall Street Journal reprinted one of his articles and his words were often cited by American pundits.

One of Normblog’s constant targets was the selectivity in the way people invoke “root cause”explanations for terrorist atrocities. In the wake of the 7/7 attacks in London, which many pundits on the Left attributed to Muslim anger over Western intervention in Iraq, he observed that while such arguments purport to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements or actions for which their proponent wants to win sympathy.

“A hypothetical example illustrates the point,” he said. “Suppose that, on account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this and express their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame this act of violence on the government’s decision or urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn’t happen.”

Geras’s measured and tightly-reasoned critiques of fashionable Leftist nostrums were not universally popular, and he found himself denounced as an “imperialist skunk” and a “turncoat”. In one posting, following the Iraqi elections of 2005, he imagined awakening from a nightmare to see Ken Livingstone, Harold Pinter, George Galloway, John Pilger and other opponents of the war advancing upon him — only to raise a finger stained with the purple dye of an Iraqi voter. “Everybody and his brother has had a go at me,” he said. “But I started the blog because I was fed up with the prevailing left and liberal consensus that the war in Iraq was wrong.”

In 2006 he launched a more wide-ranging assault in what became known as the “Euston Manifesto”, a proposal for a renewal of progressive politics, which he put together with others in a Euston pub. The document called on the Left to support universal human rights; to abandon anti-American prejudice; to see all forms of totalitarianism as being essentially the same; to be willing to support military intervention against oppressive regimes; and to promote democracy, equal rights and free speech.

The manifesto was billed as an attempt to reclaim such principles for the Left, but it served only to highlight the gulf between the socialist democratic tradition represented by Geras and the anti-democratic, neo-isolationist and reflexively anti-American tendencies of the contemporary Left.

“I have been flattered by an invitation to sign the manifesto,” wrote another renegade Leftist, Christopher Hitchens, “and I probably will, but if I agree, it will be the most conservative document I have ever initialled. Even the obvious has become revolutionary.”

Norman Geras was born to Jewish parents in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, on August 25 1943, and studied PPE at Pembroke College, Oxford. After graduating with a First, he took up a post at Manchester University, where he remained until his retirement in 2003 as Professor of Government.

Responding to his critics on the Left, Geras was always keen to prove his radical credentials: “I am part of the 1960s generation. I was no Tariq Ali but I took part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War… I was at an academic conference in Italy the day the Left-wing Allende regime was overthrown by a coup in Chile in 1973. I left the conference to join a march in the streets.”

Geras wrote some eight books, ranging from rather obscure works of political theory (Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind; The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty) to books about cricket (for some reason he supported Australia).

In The Contract of Mutual Indifference (1998), perhaps his most important work, he sought to remedy the inadequacy of response to the Holocaust in political philosophy. Focusing on the so-called bystander phenomenon — the inaction of ordinary Germans, Poles and others while the Jews went to their deaths — he identified a “contract of mutual indifference”, a sort of inversion of the you-scratch-my-back code.

This ethos, he argued, is morally indefensible, yet it still prevails today, reflected in widespread indifference to torture, hunger and other varieties of suffering across the world. Any political philosophy which neglects the primacy of the human duty to help others, he concluded, is short-sighted and shameful.

It was from this perspective that he supported the invasion of Iraq.

After retiring from Manchester, Norman Geras and his wife Adèle, an award-winning children’s writer, moved to Cambridge.

She survives him with two daughters, one of whom is the poet and crime fiction writer Sophie Hannah.

Norman Geras, born August 25 1943, died October 18 2013

Guardian:

Could I add a few words to your excellent reports from Ukraine (2 December)? I was in Independence Square on Friday night. The temperature had fallen to below zero but nevertheless there were several thousand people in the square. As you walked through, you were impressed by the overwhelming good humour of the crowd. The flags were flying for both Ukraine and the EU, but at 10pm there was not the hint of violence. The violence came in the early hours of Saturday when, completely unnecessarily, the police moved in. Their action was inexcusable and led on Saturday night to a vastly bigger demonstration. It is very much to be hoped that British ministers will take note of what has happened in Kiev and give all possible help to these brave people.
Norman Fowler
House of Lords

• So we and our daughters are to take Katniss, heroine of The Hunger Games, as our feminist model (Suzanne Moore, G2, 28 November)? I don’t see it. If a woman is the best whore in the business – if she’s the greatest gangster-mama since Joan Crawford in A Woman’s Face – does that make her a good role model? Is it admirable to be the best at something bad? Katniss is the best at killing fellow teenagers from her own side of the revolutionary divide. Is this something we want our young women to admire? Personally I think the whole premise of The Hunger Games is depraved.
Lynne Reid Banks
Shepperton, Surrey

• On your front page on 2 December our prime minister grovels to the Chinese government, praising its recent achievements. On page 22 of the same edition you report that Chinese labour camps are to stay open but under a new guise. Perhaps this is the future our government envisages for the citizens of this country.
David Watson
Nutley, East Sussex

• Is Cameron’s trade delegation to China so large that it can be seen from space?
Carlton Andrews
Paddock Wood, Kent

• Marjory Lewis (Letters, 4 December) tells us she keeps her cereals in a plastic box and asks what that makes her. The Queen, I should think.
Gwen Mathews
Bulwick, Northamptonshire

Had we been told on the home affairs committee that your editor was not particularly keen, for understandable reasons, to give oral evidence to us (Report, 4 December), I would have opposed his being asked to come along; if necessary, the issue would no doubt have been put to a vote, whatever the outcome might have been.

As it happened, despite deeply hostile questions from one member in particular, Alan Rusbridger put the case very well indeed for what the Guardian has done, in common with the New York Times and other papers, in publishing some, and only some, of Edward Snowden’s revelations.

He certainly made the valid point that the sheer amount of extensive intelligence and surveillance carried out, the extent of which was not known before, has led to an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of the existing parliamentary oversights of the security agencies.

The point put to the editor whether he loves his country was somewhat inappropriate, to say the least, and I was heard to respond: “How do you reply to such a question?” Though it was obviously far removed from my Labour colleague’s mind, that sort of question does remind one of the post-1945 US congressional inquiries into alleged internal subversion and treachery.

It would, I think, be generally agreed that the home affairs committee has over a period of time produced excellent and informative reports, written by highly professional staff, and largely based on evidence given to us.

However, there is a danger, and not limited to this particular committee, that the quest for evidence and information on various topics may also be seen as an opportunity for regular media publicity. If that was to become the impression, and I hope not, it would certainly diminish the reputation of select committees.
David Winnick MP
Labour, Walsall North

Tomorrow, 5 December 2013, the Kazakh human rights lawyer Vadim Kuramshin, will be awarded the prestigious 18th annual Ludovic-Trarieux human rights prize. The first was awarded to Nelson Mandela in 1985. At present, Vadim would not be able to collect this in person because he is currently being held in one of Kazakhstan‘s most notorious prisons on false charges.

Vadim has worked for many years to expose the ill-treatment of prisoners in Kazakhstan, including in the notorious prison EC 164/4 where he is currently being detained. He has faced torture and abuse for exposing the atrocious conditions and appalling treatment of detainees, including by leaking footage of police brutality.

In a trial without jury, which has been condemned as breaching Kazakhstan’s own court procedures, Vadim was pronounced guilty of the extortion of a government official on 7 December 2012 and sent to prison for 12 years. The charges are widely perceived to be false, an attempt to discredit his reputation and silence his opposition.

Defending human rights is not an offence – we call on the Kazakh authorities to release Vadim and allow him to attend the formal awarding of his well-deserved prize in Paris on 5 December 2013.
Dave Nellist Chair, Campaign Kazakhstan, Liz Davies Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Sara Chandler Chair of the Law Society human rights committee, Professor Bill Bowring President, ELDH European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & Human Rights, Michael Mansfield QC, Anthony Gifford QC, John Hendy QC, Patrick O’Connor QC, Geoffrey Bindman QC, Phil Shiner Solicitor, Public Interest Lawyers, Louise Christian Solicitor, Imran Khan & Partners, Imran Khan Solicitor, Imran Khan & Partners, Paul Heron Solicitor, Public Interest Lawyers, Russell Fraser Secretary, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Rheian Davies Solicitor, DH Law, Angus King Solicitor, Cambridge House Law Centre, Michael Seifert Solicitor, Robert Atkins Solicitor, Tess Gill Barrister, Old Square chambers, Catrin Lewis Barrister, Garden Court chambers, Kate Markus Barrister, Doughty Street chambers

I don’t wish to claim that the UK is the best in the world at turning science into innovative products, but Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (4 December) about the country’s efforts in exploiting graphene – the ultra-thin “wonder material” made from carbon – was unnecessarily gloomy.

First, in describing the work by Nobel laureates Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov at Manchester University, where they discovered graphene in 2004, Chakrabortty fails to mention that the construction of the new, state-of-the-art £61m National Graphene Institute at the university has been specifically designed to encourage innovation.

Second, he cites AstraZeneca’s closure of its research centre at Alderley Park in Cheshire as an example of Britain’s lack of innovative nous. Yes, the centre closed this year, but it has been relocated to Cambridge. Of course, that raises separate questions over the north-south divide, but not to mention the centre’s move seems a strange oversight.
Matin Durrani
Editor, Physics World

•  Aditya Chakrabortty is right that government should be looking to science and innovation to improve our prospects for growth. Despite talk of continued austerity – which will no doubt be a feature of the autumn statement – there’s scope to treble the science budget in four years’ time.

On the latest official figures, the government is planning to go further than just balancing the books in the next parliament. In fact, it is targeting a surplus of £15bn in the structural budget by 2017-18. Instead of putting this cash aside for a rainy day, it could support the innovations Chakrabortty describes.

Building a more innovative economy will help raise our long-run productivity, growth in which is just 0.5%. If we keep going like this, forecasts by the Office of Budget Responsibility suggest that the pressures created by an ageing population will mean public sector debt rises above 100% of GDP, making recent public spending challenges pale by comparison.
Emran Mian

Your correspondents (Letters, 2 December) have missed the fundamental problem with Boris Johnson‘s thesis: IQ is not an objective scale like temperature; it is a relative one. IQ scores are intended to have an average of 100 and are normalised against a standard deviation curve. This means that Johnson’s statement that 16% of people have a score of 85 or less while 2% have a score of 130 or more is just a restatement of the probability distributions of the standard deviation curve which tells us nothing about the actual spread of human talent. In other words, even if the entire population had the same level of “general intelligence” there would still be 16% of the population with a score of 85 or less (assuming that there is any such thing as general intelligence, that it can be meaningfully reduced to a single scalar quantity and that IQ tests provide a reliable measure of it – none of which is universally accepted, to put it mildly), in this case based entirely on how well they performed on the day of the test. I’m afraid in drawing conclusions from IQ figures which they, by their nature, cannot support, Johnson demonstrates that he does not understand what he is talking about. Quelle surprise.
Peter Wright
Polegate, East Sussex

• Why do Guardian readers lead the world in knee-jerking? If they were to read Boris Johnson’s speech, rather than sound off on what they assume he would say, they would realise that his views on competition and ability are beyond controversy, even banal. We do no one a favour by pretending otherwise.
David Brancher
Abergavenny

•  The letters heaping justifiable opprobrium on Boris Johnson do not cover every aspect of his nastiness; there are more worrying tendencies. I am probably not alone in seeing Johnson’s attitudes as being only one step removed from the eugenics practised by the Nazis. If society can be judged by how it treats its weakest, then we are not so much reverting to a Victorian morass as sliding towards a reprise of crypto-fascist leanings. Vigilance is needed, lest we forget the lessons of history.
David Dellagana
York

•  I have an IQ of 139 and two first-class degrees; I also have had the double misfortune to develop a disability that leaves me in chronic pain and limited in mobility and work options, and to be born to working-class parents who didn’t bequeath me the safety net of inherited wealth or extravagant accommodation. Because of Tory party cuts I am now subsisting below the breadline, a situation that exacerbates my health problems. Where does that place me on the Johnsonian species spectrum?
Claire Higgins
Ballymena, Co Antrim

•  Perhaps Boris Johnson has been swotting up on quotations and proverbs. Ecclesiastes comes to mind: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Tim Bornett
Old Buckenham, Norfolk

• Surely the final word in the IQ debate should go to the erudite Christopher Hitchens, who pronounced that “There is, and always has been, an unusually high and consistent correlation between the stupidity of a given person and that person’s propensity to be impressed by the measurement of IQ.” Enough said!
Dr James Ryan
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Jackie Ashley (The reforms the NHS needs won’t help to win an election, 2 December) is right to point out that the NHS and social care system is facing an unprecedented challenge of dealing with an older population.

We are already closing the traditional divide between the NHS and social care. We know people prefer to be supported to stay at home longer. It is also important for patients to be discharged quickly, rather than stuck in hospital.

That is why in this year’s spending round we announced a £3.8bn better care fund to get local health and care services working together in the interests of the people they serve. Fourteen pioneering areas are showing the way to joined-up services so they better meet the needs of patients in the 21st century. They are leading a movement of change which is gathering momentum.

This will help the elderly woman live independently in her family home for longer by using healthcare technology. Or reduce the number of avoidable trips to A&E because a man with diabetes has the home support he needs to stop him ending up in hospital with complications.

Our plans will make this more than just an ambition. Local services know they need to act now because money will be released from the fund only once we are satisfied people are getting better care. This approach will protect our NHS and deliver the future of health and social care.
Norman Lamb MP
Care and support minister
Brandon Lewis MP
Local government minister

• Jackie Ashley praises Andy Burnham‘s commitment to whole-person care. She describes the process for achieving this as “horrendously complicated” and not an election-winning strategy. However, what Labour needs to articulate clearly is relatively simple and goes with the grain of public opinion, namely a plan for reversing the trend towards health service privatisation, which has accelerated since the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

Above all, a commitment is required not simply to the repeal of the act, but to the maintenance of healthcare as a public service rather than a tradeable commodity. To this end, Labour must state its opposition to the outsourcing of commissioning support scheduled for 2016, which potentially hands control of £65bn for commissioning secondary and community healthcare to the for-profit sector; seek exemption of the NHS from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and most importantly, initiate a process to ensure that its policy proposals for replacing the act are drawn up in agreement with stakeholders, particularly health professionals who were sidelined by the coalition. With less than 18 months to the general election, the need for action is urgent.
Dr Anthony Isaacs
London

•  I agree with the report, quoted by Jackie Ashley, that patients must own their own medical records. The best way to achieve this would be to create an electronic summary care record for every patient. This would also solve the lack of availability of patients’ clinical details at any time in emergency departments across the country.

A model for this could be the private lifetime record created by Canada Health Infoway Inc. On a single computer screen are listed a patient’s details, healthcare providers, medical history, allergies and other alerts, current and past treatment, laboratory and X-ray results and other useful details that would be vital in emergencies when no other records are available.
Dr Richard Taylor
Co-leader, National Health Action Party

•  Does Andy Burnham really want to sweep away patients’ confidentiality safeguards completely? Hippocrates didn’t establish them under oath to prevent the co-ordination of medical care – he put them there to protect patients and prospective patients from being embarrassed by their conditions or even from being cast out from society. Just consider going along for a job interview today and being forced to admit openly to a history of depression or substance misuse or an adverse genetic susceptibility or whatever. I hope he thinks again about this one.
Dr Richard Turner
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

In May 2013 the reputable polling company ComRes asked a representative sample of the British public the following question: “How many Iraqis, both combatants and civilians, do you think have died as a consequence of the war that began in Iraq in 2003?”

According to 59% of the respondents, fewer than 10,000 Iraqis died as a result of the war. The results are especially shocking because respondents were not asked to limit their estimates to Iraqi civilians or to deaths caused directly by violence.

The latest scientific estimate of the death toll from the war is almost 500,000. This was published in PLOS Medicine. Two previous studies, also published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, suggest the death toll may possibly have been closer to a million. Only 6% of the respondents in the ComRes poll estimated more than 500,000 Iraqi deaths. Only 0.3% said they didn’t know or declined to give an estimate.

The ComRes poll is powerful evidence that the media misled the public about the consequences of the war. The evidence is bolstered by the way the poll was ignored by the British media. Using Lexis-Nexis, the only prominent piece we could find about the poll in the British press was an op-ed by Ian Sinclair in the Morning Star, a small leftwing newspaper.

Anyone tempted to support military intervention anywhere in the world should know how effectively the most catastrophic human costs of war can be hidden from the public.
Joe Emersberger, Keane Bhatt, Noam Chomsky, David Cromwell, David Edwards, Peter Hallward, Jeb Sprague, Daniel Thornton

Independent:

Why do we agonise about our results in Pisa when we take no interest in the tests? Different countries place a different emphasis on this programme and get results that accord with that emphasis.

The OECD requires a minimum of 5,000 candidates per country. That is less than 1 per cent of the relevant cohort in the UK (Pisa does not publish a breakdown within the UK) and I have no idea how they are selected.

Do you know anyone who has ever taken these tests?  Do you know the syllabus?  Is it any wonder the UK is outperformed by countries that factor Pisa participation into their curriculum?

Our education system has many failings, but if we rely on Pisa to justify changes when we don’t prepare for the assessment then we are in danger of heading in entirely the wrong direction.

Peter English, Rhewl, Denbighshire

The purpose of education is to enrich students’ lives through personal and professional fulfilment. It is not to advance schools or countries up league tables.

If students can see no clear career path in science or mathematics, perhaps because the best jobs have been exported to China, then no amount of bullying of teachers or of students is going to enhance their performance.

Incidentally, who are the scientists and mathematicians in the Government? Do any of them know what they’re talking about?

Gavin P Vinson, London N10

Michael Gove promises reforms to improve the position of English pupils in the OECD league tables. China and Korea have better ways of counting as a feature of their languages. The Pinyin romanisation of Chinese is an excellent system and the Hangul orthography used for Korean is as good as it can be. In Europe, the spelling of Finnish is so good that Finns do not need dictionaries to tell them how words are spelled.

Mr Gove should consider reforms of the English language and its spelling to raise standards of numeracy and literacy in England’s schools.

Robert Craig, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

How strange that the UK has been gradually falling down the international education league tables since 1990. Was that not the time when the National Curriculum was introduced and the Ofsted inspection system created? Is this a mere coincidence or cause and effect?

Ann Coles, Fareham, Hampshire

In spite of Britain’s low Pisa scores, its children are happier than those in China. Does that mean that ignorance is bliss?

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

Cameron’s Faustian bargain with China

David Cameron’s calculation that sacrificing Tibet is in Britain’s interests is as unwise as it is unprincipled. Just 7 per cent of British people questioned in an ICM poll for Free Tibet consider trade with China more important than human rights in Tibet.

Beyond these shores, raising human rights in Sri Lanka and burying them in China sends an unmistakeable signal that there is an inverse relationship between the wealth of a country and the UK’s willingness to defend those it oppresses. Britain cannot expect such double standards to go unnoticed, or our standing in the world not to suffer as a result.

As an occupied country whose people face severe oppression precisely because they seek freedom and self-determination, Tibet is a test case for principle and statesmanship. Mr Cameron has failed that test and his Faustian bargain with China will have repercussions far beyond Tibet.

Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, Director, Free Tibet,  London N1

Leveson and  a free press

Andreas Whittam Smith (“How the Leveson Report stopped the press in its tracks”, 29 November) deserves praise for revisiting the Leveson Report on its anniversary and for reminding us of the appalling behaviour by some national newspapers that made that inquiry necessary. He is quite wrong, however, in suggesting that the Royal Charter offers potential for state interference in the press, or would in any way inhibit ethical journalism.

The Charter painstakingly seals off press self-regulation from political meddling. The auditing body it establishes must be entirely independent of politicians. And the Charter lays down that no self-regulator can have power “to prevent the publication of any material, by anyone, at any time”.

When Whittam Smith asserts that papers choosing not to join the Charter system could face ruinous exemplary damages in the courts he has, I’m afraid, got the wrong end of the stick. Newspapers have risked exemplary damages for years if they libelled someone outrageously; what is new under the Royal Charter system is that if they join a self-regulator meeting Charter standards they will have immunity. In other words, papers are being offered unprecedented protection from exemplary damages.

The Charter is society’s response to a collapse in corporate governance at some newspapers that has caused untold misery. It is supported by the overwhelming majority of the public. Further, as you report (“Salman Rushdie, Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams call on newspapers to accept Royal Charter”, 29 November), leading figures in the world of free expression, from the arts and broadcasting to the law and human rights activism, are backing it.

The proprietors of the big newspaper groups stand alone, deaf and in denial. In the interests of all those who risk suffering the effects of unethical practices in the future, it is time they listened.

Brian Cathcart, Executive Director, Hacked Off, London SW1

Your report of Alan Rusbridger’s grilling by the Home Affairs Select Committee (4 December) reveals that, to some Conservative MPs, the placing of information of great public interest in the public domain is tantamount to treason.

This amounts to a threat to fundamental freedoms, not the least of them that of the press. As the Murdoch papers and the remainder of our predominantly right-wing sheets have been eloquent in their opposition to the implementation of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on precisely the grounds that they represented such a threat, we must hope that they will be as united in their defence of The Guardian.

Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire

Keith Vaz MP may question Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s patriotism over the Snowden leaks, but so long as you observe the laws of this country, you can love or loathe this country as you choose. Public patriotism should never be a requirement of being a good citizen.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

No satire in royal family portrait

I am afraid that some misunderstandings have arisen in your 26 November article about my group portrait of the Danish royal family.

In the phone interview with your writer, in my imperfect English, I tried to explain that rather than providing a realistic depiction of the royal family, my objective was to provide a rendering of the royals as symbols of the Danish state. But then the article goes on to quote me as saying: “This is satire.”

From my angle, there is no satirical intent whatsoever. If such an intent had indeed been present, it is unlikely that Her Majesty the Queen would have given her approval. What others may  read into the portrait, such as all the horror nonsense,  I have of course no way of controlling.

The article also says that my depiction of the eight-year-old future crown prince Christian is like “that of a toy figure”. The toy figure I was referring to was the little toy horse with King Gorm the Old in the very bottom of the painting, meant to symbolise the thousand-year-old Danish monarchy.

But it is entirely correct that I have placed young prince Christian in the very front of the painting as the person that the viewer expects will bring the kingdom into the future, and that I wanted to show “the weight on his shoulders”.

Hope this clears it up.

Thomas Kluge, Korsør,  Denmark

 

Some people  like Europe

Hey Ukip, Eurosceptics. In Ukraine the people are on the streets demanding to get closer to the EU. Do you think you are missing something?

It is surely time the British woke up, committed to Europe and made it work.

Peter Downey, Bath

Misguided  missiles

Given Amazon’s plans to start using drones for deliveries, is anyone taking bets on how long it will be until the day six innocent people are killed at a wedding party in Droitwich at the same time as the head of al-Qa’ida in Islamabad finds a Dr Who box set on his doorstep?

Steve Rudd, Huddersfield

Times:

Precision, speed, accuracy under pressure and stamina are needed in skilled workers now and in the future

Sir, In 1990 I visited Japan, Korea and Singapore on behalf of the Department of Employment to find out what effect the information and communications technology revolution was having on working practices and education systems (report and leading article, Dec 2 & letters, Dec 3 and 4). What kind of education would be needed to equip people for this new kind of global, instant, real-time economy?

I came back convinced that we had got it wrong in the UK. We had too little emphasis on knowledge, precision, attention to detail, rigorous methodology and delivery on time. Japan, Korea and Singapore had a growing number of young people who were well educated, computer literate and highly skilled, thus providing more skilled workers, who were relatively cheap to employ. To maintain our leading edge, we needed to think and act fast. And we certainly could not afford to waste the talent underdeveloped in our workforce. The writing was on the wall. Action was urgent.

Since then, the UK has expanded the university sector, prepared young people for work, developed skills of enterprise, innovation and creativity, and improved exam results. What we have not done is drill students of any age in the kinds of test now being used in the Programme for International Student Assessment. In general, UK teachers resist this kind of test, but the skills tested are needed in our worldwide economy. Precision, speed, accuracy under pressure and stamina are needed in skilled workers now and in the future.

Professor Anne Jones

Henley-on-Thames, Oxon

Sir, I have taught English for many years to Chinese pupils coming to this country in their mid-teens. They have all had initial difficulties with the concepts of questioning and debate as this is discouraged in most East Asian countries.

After getting over the culture shock, one very intelligent boy remarked to me that he thought the Chinese system was better at the primary level because you learnt the basics by rote, but the English system was better at higher levels because you were taught to think for yourself. We are not robots to be programmed, but people with independent minds.

Kathryn Dobson

Liverpool

Sir, Inspiring and dedicated teachers remain the key to a good education, whether in the UK or in Shanghai. The current status and poor early-year salaries remain a significant impediment to attracting more top graduates into teaching.

The starting salary for a first-class science graduate and fully qualified teacher, at £21,000, is some 25 per cent below the average across all new graduate positions. I frequently meet outstanding undergraduates who would love to teach. But that enthusiasm can be quickly tested by the overwhelmingly negative media coverage of the profession and a pay structure that seems unlikely to clear a student debt any time soon.

Ken Pounds

Professor of Space Physics,

University of Leicester

Sir, It is not at all edifying to watch politicians of the two major parties bickering over who is responsible for Britain’s unimpressive showing in education league tables. Where education is concerned, politicians of whatever party have, by definition, only limited knowledge and expertise. They have little professional understanding of how children learn, what they should learn, and how they should be taught and motivated. This kind of expertise is held by members of what the politicians and commentariat like to call “the educational establishment” whose views politicians of recent generations have found it convenient to denigrate or ignore.

We get, in consequence, the education system we deserve.

Martin Blocksidge

London SE7

‘We expect to help 1.2 million homes with energy efficiency measures under the ECO programme, that’s 100,000 more than under the old scheme’

Sir, The changes to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) proposed by the Government mean there will be more help for Britain’s homes, not less (“British Gas fought help for coldest homes”, Dec 3). There will also be a wider range of energy efficiency measures, reaching more homes in a more affordable way.

The changes include a new minimum commitment by the industry to deliver 100,000 solid wall insulation measures, providing certainty for this market over a longer period. At British Gas we have already signed several multimillion-pound contracts with local partners and our ECO commitments this year alone total more than £400 million.

Loft and easy-to-treat cavity wall insulation, which are among the most cost effective measures, will now be far more widely taken up. And all vulnerable and low income households will benefit from the overall reduction in bills, in the case of British Gas worth an average of £53 next year.

We expect to help 1.2 million homes with energy efficiency measures under the ECO programme, that’s 100,000 more than under the old scheme. We believe the ECO programme has been strengthened, not weakened, and we fully support it.

Chris Weston

Managing Director, British Gas

Was there an ulterior motive behind Uruguay’s decision to bring in swingeing curbs on smoking in public places?

Sir, Perhaps Uruguay initiated measures to reduce tobacco smoking (letter, Dec 3) so as to get the benefit from legalising cannabis this year?

Steve Riley
Pinxton, Derbyshire

For the British Government to try to make a profit from the court system would contravene the Magna Carta

Sir, The Ministry of Justice proposal that the British Government shall for the first time make a profit out of the nation’s courts (report, Dec 4) is barbaric. It is also illegal as it would contravene Magna Carta, which promises on behalf of the Sovereign: “We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man, either Justice or Right”.

Francis Bennion

Budleigh Salterton, Devon

There are other, more successful, countries that might have served better as a financial model than North Korea

Sir, I enjoyed Daniel Finkelstein’s forceful and well-written defence of capitalism (Opinion, Dec 4). However, to demonstrate the genius of capitalism by comparing it to the economic model adopted by North Korea seems to me to be the economic equivalent of saluting the genius of Leyton Orient on the basis that it has thrashed a drunken pub team.

North Korea is clearly an extreme example of how not to do things, but there do exist other, more successful, economic models which might serve as fairer comparisons.
Peter Korn
London NW4

Telegraph:

SIR – Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, observes that thousands of youngsters have never heard of Beethoven or Mozart (report, November 25), meaning that centuries of great works could be lost to future generations.

Every year I run a course in Venice, which in part exposes gap-year students to the joys of classical music. When they are captured in a room for an hour, smartphones off, the emotional power of music takes over, from sonorous Gregorian chants to the towering final moments of Götterdämmerung or the layers of social comment, passion, wit and style of The Marriage of Figaro.

As Clemency Burton-Hill, the new presenter of Radio 3’s breakfast show, says, classical music is a “great big sonic party” to which everyone should be invited.

John Hall
San Ginesio, Marche, Italy

SIR – Despite the millions that successive governments have thrown at education, standards continue to fall. Why?

In the early Sixties, when I was training as a teacher, the rot had just begun to set in with the new theories of mixed-ability classes, look-and-say methods of reading, and children put at tables and chairs, some with their backs to the teacher, rather than at desks facing the front. Teaching ceased being serious. Who decided that lessons had to be interesting? Study is about learning, not enjoyment; playtime and weekends are for that.

We need parents supporting discipline in school, rather than criticising the teachers for telling off their unruly offspring. There should be penalties for homework that is not finished. Extend the school day to accommodate enough sport, art, crafts and music to complement the academic work, and our schools’ standards might improve.

Valerie Thompson
West Horsley, Surrey

SIR – The OECD report on the attainment of children in Britain compared with those in other countries is certainly a cause for huge concern. It evidently calls into question the National Curriculum and, moreover, the level of party political interference in education.

There are, of course, many talented and skilled teachers in our schools, but it is increasingly difficult for them to be innovative and responsive to the individual learning styles of children, the key to good learning. Teachers are endeavouring to teach effectively in the straitjacket of the National Curriculum, Ofsted inspections and demands from a Department for Education obsessed with the collection of data on pupil outcomes.

Children don’t learn by being measured.

Lydia Keyte
Sunninghill, Berkshire

SIR – Politicians come and go. Teachers can only do so much within the school day if the family background of the children does not encourage learning. The main responsibility for our children’s education lies with us, the parents. Whether because of pressures of time, work, or broken relationships, it is the children who suffer when we rush around and put our own needs ahead of theirs.

Simon Pole
London SW19

SIR – One wonders how many teachers in China and South Korea are confronted by students who do not speak the national language – a situation that pertains in a good many schools here. This may have contributed to the decline of education in this country.

Judith Keeling
Denmead, Hampshire

SIR – This must be the first time in our nation’s history that the bulk of its children are less educated than their parents.

Michael Nicholson
Grayswood, Surrey

Sometimes only the collective wit of Telegraph readers can put a finger on unfairly neglected aspects of life. Take birthday presents, 21st birthday presents in particular. Had Richard Blake of Blairgowrie not written in to say how useful after 40 years his set of half-inch maps still were, we should not have heard about the socket spanners invaluable for 50 years’ tinkering with classic cars or the Viking Husqvarna sewing machine whirring over clothes and curtains since 1963. It doesn’t always work out. Six decades have not proved enough to perfect a rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring from a birthday gift of sheet-music. And today Trevor Farrer writes to say that though his birthday hairbrushes have performed on 22,280 mornings, he must admit his hair has not stood the test of time so well. But like the handiest presents, Telegraph letter-writers keep on giving.

Irish Times:

   

Sir, – The conclusion of the Smithwick Tribunal that Garda officers colluded in the murder of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan is deeply disturbing. If it is true that one or more members of An Garda Síochána (the guardians of the peace) colluded with the IRA in the murders of Supts Breen and Buchanan then not only are they guilty of murder but they let down an entire police force.

Unfortunately there are now unionist politicians who remained silent or indeed excused compelling evidence of collusion in the North over the years but are delighted to rush to the media to smear the entire Garda Síochána and that is not only unjustified but it must not be allowed to happen.

Garda officers, many of them now retired, were stationed in the Border areas during the best part of their lives to protect life and limb. Is history now to be rewritten, as it often is, to misrepresent those officers as villains involved in collusion leading to the murder of police officers in the North? I should think not!

During the period from the 1970s to the 1990s the Republic of Ireland, with very limited resources, spent more per head of population on security than the British did, much of it in the Border areas. Often Garda stations on the southern side of the Border had more manpower than their counterparts on the Northern side and they worked for a fraction of the salary their RUC counterparts but they did it not for money but to protect the lives of people. They were noble officers who were not influenced by the IRA or any other illegal organisation. Is this now to be dismissed because there may have been one or perhaps more rotten apples in the barrel?

Like police forces all over the world the Garda have had their problems and the need for reform, but they do not deserve the kind of abuse which is now emanating from the usual suspects who ignored, dismissed or excused widespread collusion in the North but now want to present themselves as the voice of perfection ignoring the fact that Garda officers made a massive contribution to limiting the number of people who may otherwise have died in those days of total madness. – Yours, etc,

JOHN DALLAT,

SDLP MLA East Derry,

Northern Ireland Assembly

Stormont, Belfast.

Sir, – I can’t understand why Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is apologising on behalf of the people of Ireland for failings regarding these murders (Breaking News, December 4th). While I am very sorry about the murders of these two fine police officers Buchanan and Breen, I would like to point out that I’m one of the “people of Ireland”, but I certainly had nothing to do with any of this.

Let the blame fall where it should – with successive governments, with Garda mismanagement and with those named and unnamed who may have further questions to answer – but certainly not the people of Ireland! – Yours, etc,

JAMES NEILL,

North Circular Road,

Limerick.

Sir, – The day after the Smithwick report is published, the Sinn Féin leader weighs in with his size 15 jackboots (Breaking News, December 4th). According to Gerry Adams, the two RUC officers who were murdered by the IRA in 1989 were essentially asking for it. They were, it seems, swanning about South Armagh with scant regard for their own safety. They might as well have painted crosshairs on the car. The insinuation is they got what they deserved. I find Mr Adams’s comments beyond belief. He should be utterly ashamed. – Yours, etc,

DAVID WILKINS,

Vevay Road,

Bray,  Co Wicklow.

Sir, – It is highly questionable whether the sensational media headlines of Garda collusion in the murders of Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan are justified. Several key points need to be borne in mind.

1. A tribunal of inquiry, even when chaired by a judge, is not a court of law. It is not a criminal trial leading to a verdict that someone is or is not guilty of collusion. It is merely an inquiry into the facts surrounding an incident or event.

2. A tribunal is not bound by the tried and tested rules on the admissibility of evidence applicable in a criminal trial.

3. A tribunal reaches conclusions on the facts by applying the 51/49 standard of whether something was more likely than not, rather than the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Its findings, therefore, cannot always be relied upon as a definitive statement of what actually happened.

4. The Smithwick Tribunal adopted a broad interpretation of what amounts to collusion, and proceeded on the dangerous assumption that silence was indicative of having something to hide.

Despite all these factors, the tribunal was not able to conclude that any identifiable member of the Garda actually colluded with the IRA in the murders. When placed in that context the sensationalist headlines lose their punch. – Yours, etc,

Prof DERMOT WALSH,

Kent Law School,

University of Kent,

Canterbury, England.

Sir, – I write in response to the Smithwick report, key parts of which I have perused with great interest as a specialist in forensic linguistics and legal language.

I believe there may be some controversy regarding Judge Peter Smithwick’s definition of collusion, and a criticism that he has perhaps drawn its frame of reference too widely. However, the law is a living thing, embodied in the lives of the people whom it affects, not a dry academic textbook where definitions must always be cast in concrete. Therefore, to adapt the term “collusion” to the peculiar circumstances then in existence in the island of Ireland, is both judicially creative and administratively necessary. Defining collusion, as the learned judge has, as “action or inaction by an individual or the police [or some other arm of the state]” is thus, in my view, absolutely appropriate. Moreover, it sits well in all legal frameworks, whether civil or common, where an act of omission is as justiciable as an act of commission.

I know this inquiry has been criticised because of its great cost and length, but the depth of detail and the immense rigour with which it has been conducted has surely made it worthwhile. Furthermore, the judge is to be complimented on what is effectively a masterclass in judicial independence. He has shown neither fear nor favour, whether dealing with powerful state organs or private individuals. All great judges, whether in Ireland or elsewhere, share this characteristic of fierce independence and for this reason Judge Smithwick deserves the highest recognition. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN OLSSON,

School of Linguistics,

Bangor University,

College Road,

Bangor, Wales.

Sir, – I note in your report (December 4th) that the Smithwick Tribunal will cost €15 million. That is the salaries of 100 circuit court judges for a full year. Have we learnt nothing from the past? – Yours, etc,

JONATHON ROTH (Dr)

Clancys Strand,

Limerick.

Sir, – Contrary to what was stated by Gerard Burns (December 3rd), I wish to confirm that the Armagh Parish Bulletin of December 1st did carry a notice inviting the views of the faithful for the next Synod of Bishops in October 2014. The heading was “Pope Francis has asked for your views on the family”. The Armagh Parish Bulletin is made available to congregations at all Masses every weekend in the parish of Armagh. – Yours, etc,

MARTIN LONG,

Catholic Communications

Office,

Irish Catholic Bishops’

Conference,

Columba Centre,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – While the recent successful Garda operation against suspected deer poachers is to be welcomed, there is another practice that involves the infliction of even greater suffering and distress on these timid creatures. I refer to carted stag hunting. This was banned in 2010 but is still being carried on illegally in some parts of Ireland, principally south Meath and north Co Dublin.

A deer when shot is at least out of its misery, provided the shooter is a skilled marksman. But a stag hunted with hounds has to endure a long obstacle-strewn cross-country chase. In the course of this terrifying ordeal, the animal sustains painful injuries as it passes through brambles or becomes entangled in barbed wire. The hunt ends only the stag drops from exhaustion, bleeding from head to foot from cuts, its tongue hanging out and steam rising from its quivering pain-wracked body.

It is truly a heartrending sight: to see this animal that once occupied pride of place on our pound coin brought so low. And for what? The hunt serves no pest control or conservationist purpose, the sole aim being to make animals suffer for “sport”.

Carted stag hunting is a serious criminal offence punishable by heavy fines. Anyone who witnesses the practice, or has any knowledge of upcoming hunts, should immediately contact the gardaí or National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The noble stag is part of our precious wildlife heritage. It does not deserve to be treated like this. – Yours, etc,

JOHN FITZGERALD,

(Campaign for the Abolition

of Cruel Sports)

Sir, – While Colm Keaveney’s defection to Fianna Fáil is bizarre, it is not the strangest candidate recruitment of recent years. That must surely go to Labour’s own recruitment of the former Progresstive Democrat TD, Mae Sexton, to stand for the party in 2011.

The Irish idea that a politician is someone who can speak for any number of contradictory points of view, depending on policy decided by the leadership of their current party, is not something that would be acceptable to the voters in most democracies. It reduces politicians to the level of lawyers, on hire to argue any case. There is no place for conviction in our system. Since the basic premise of democracy is the best approximation of truth emerges from the open conflict of different convictions, it is arguable that we have a very flawed non-functioning democracy.

Far from recognising this flaw, our politicians and commentators continually praise the consensual non-confrontational nature of our politics. They should reflect that it is our political system which led us into the morass of the bailout, while those countries in Europe with rational, conviction-driven, deep right-left divisions seem to have devised economic policies that kept them afloat. – Yours, etc,

TIM O’HALLORAN,

Ferndale Road,

Finglas, Dublin 11.

Sir, – It is interesting to see reports of Colm Keaveney’s tweet which includes the words “Audentis Fortuna iuvat” or “Fortune favours the brave” following his defection to Fianna Fáil (Breaking News, December 3rd). I wonder what fortune says about the opportunistic? – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Chris Andrews leaves Fianna Fáil to join Sinn Féin, Colm Keaveney leaves Labour to join Fianna Fáil. Does this prove there is no difference between any of the politicial parties in Ireland? – Yours, etc,

DEREK NILAND,

Upper Abbeygate Street,

Galway.

A chara, – The article by Deirdre McQuillan on Colombian coffee production (“The journey from bean to cup”, Magazine, November 16th) would appear to have been written from only one point of view. Nestlé, the company that invited Ms McQuillan to Colombia, is a large multinational whose human rights record in that country has been questioned on many occasions.

Ms McQuillan mentions in passing a “violent, uneasy past”, however, in reality violence is experienced on a daily basis by farmers and workers in Colombia today. It is extremely upsetting that she paints such rosy picture, when the harsh reality of the Colombian countryside, particularly 600,000 families of coffee producers who cannot cover the costs of production due to prices being set so low by global markets, is such a different and more compelling story.

While she does mention agrarian “unrest” in coffee producing areas, she fails to give a picture of what happened in March: one person was killed and over 100 injured by the riot police, many of them severely and seriously injured. This violence was replicated in August during the national agrarian strike with 15 people murdered and hundreds injured.

The Colombian government, while it is good with big producers and multinationals, has in fact failed to honour any of the promised increases in subsidies mentioned in the article and much of the current level of subsidy has failed to reach the majority of small farmers.

What is worse: the Colombian government’s relentless push for a free trade agreement with the EU threatens to make matters worse; even after the agrarian crisis and terrible disruption to the rural economy, following the US-Colombia FTA, have already been clearly demonstrated in a number of independent reports. This is the reason a new strike is being planned for early next year. We, the undersigned, hope that then, the Irish media will listen to the voice of farmers in Colombia. – Is mise,

JOSÉ ANTONIO

GUTIÉRREZ D, Latin

American Solidarity Centre;

JOHN O’BRIEN, Justice for

Colombia Ireland; ALIRIO

GARCÍA, National

Federation of Rural Workers

of Colombia & JOSÉ

ORLANDO GÓMEZ ARIAS, Association of Rural

Workers of Cauca Valley,

C/o Merrion Row,

Dublin 2.

A chara, – Stephen Collins says we have it wrong when it comes to who gets most from the welfare budget (Front page, November 30th). The people think its the unemployed, but his figures show that it is pensioners. The problem here, I imagine, is that most don’t think of pensions as welfare, but as something that we have earned. Perhaps what’s really wrong here is treating pensions as welfare in the first place. – Is mise,

Revd Fr PATRICK G

BURKE,

Sir, –   Your Editorial (December 4th) suggests the Law Society should find a way of compensating the victims of Thomas Byrne’s crimes for the consequential loss they suffered; citing that a surgeon’s insurance would probably have to cough up to cover the total life-time loss of earnings of a patient whose wrong leg he or she cut off.

Neither former solicitor Thomas Byrne nor the Law Society have any control over the operation of the property market, which might equally well have improved rather than fallen during the period in which the victims were stuck in legal limbo, as your editorial puts it.

What if the value of the properties had increased? Would one have expected his clients to refund the increase in value to the Law Society in partial compensation of the €8.3 million which it paid out? I think not.

One has every sympathy for Thomas Byrne’s victims, but while there is a direct connection between the wrong amputation and the consequent reduction in ability of the patient to earn, there is no such direct connection between Thomas Byrne’s activities and the behaviour of the property market, and the consequent loss sustained by his unfortunate clients.

Having said that, I agree with your Editorial that it would be compassionate and appropriate if the Law Society could find a way, in spite of its statutory mandate, of making ex gratia payments to Thomas Byrne’s victims. – Yours, etc,

JOHN SHEEDY,

Pine Valley Park,

Rathfarnham,

Sir, – In light of the criticism by Justice Mary Irvine, the HSE should consider a practice adopted by the University of Michigan Health System whereby the university acknowledges wrongdoing before medical malpractice litigation commences if the university agrees that a medical error occurred. (Home News, December 4th) .

Earlier this year, the university reported that medical malpractice actions against it have dropped from 2.13 actions per 100,000 patients to approximately 0.75 since it adopted the practice.

Not only does a timely acknowledgment of negligence begin the emotional healing for the patient, it also relieves the responsible doctor of the emotional burden of defending the indefensible. – Yours, etc,

DOMHNALL Ó’CATHÁIN,

Knickerbocker Road,

Sir, – No need to wait for the troika to switch out the lights (Willie Dillon, December 4th) when we have our very own home-grown organisation, the ESB, to do it for us! – Yours, etc,

SHEELAGH MOONEY,

Hazelmere,

Naas,

Co Kildare.

Irish Independent:

* On December 1 every year, there would be another trimming added to the rosary.

Also in this section

Letters: Leadership is doing the right thing

Letters: Truth emerges in the strangest of places

Letters: Pope’s great efforts

We waited, my three sisters and I, to see if mother would forget, but no: as we knelt on the cement kitchen floor, and when all the other trimmings were said, she would begin: “Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary at midnight in the stable in Bethlehem in piercing cold. At that same hour, vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayers and grant my petitions. Amen.”

We loved that little prayer, which became known as the “Hail and Blessed” novena. If any one of us had occasion to stay away from home overnight in the 24 days preceding Christmas, we were immediately asked on our return if we had remember to say our “Hail and Blesseds”.

We lived on a farm in the west of Ireland and had a house exactly like that of the local schoolmaster, who lived just down the road, with one exception, though.

His house had crimson holland blinds on his front five windows, while ours had the ordinary (to us) cream-coloured ones.

Every Christmas Eve, my chore as the youngest of the family was to put a lighted candle in every window to greet the Holy Family or any other traveller.

Mother would come to inspect the lighted candles and pull down the blinds, after which my sisters and I donned warm coats and scarves to go to the bottom of the driveway to admire the windows, then proceed down the road to see the Master’s house with its lights shining through the crimson blinds.

We were always a little bit envious on seeing those glowing lights, and on our return voiced our opinion that the Holy Family would surely choose the Master’s house in which to rest.

We did not always have midnight Mass, but we sat up until midnight to see if our ‘petitions’ had been granted, in the form of the small but useful gifts our parents had given us. We were glad to get a good book, a pair of hornpipe shoes, a jigsaw puzzle, a mouth organ.

We were united, we were happy, we drank cocoa and ate treacle and raisin bread and went to bed in the unspoken assurance that ours was a warm and contented world. Every year we asked mother (dear dad was not interested in these girlish frivolities) what her petitions had been, and the answer was always the same: health, a contented home, the gift of laughter, and the grace to accept with fortitude any troubles that came her way.

My mother died quietly in her sleep at the age of 102 years and seven months.

As for the little Hail and Blessed novena, sometimes over the years I remembered to say it; sometimes I have started it and forgotten to finish it; most times I have just forgotten.

Perhaps this year in this vast and beautiful land, so far removed from the rain and the wind and the gentle green fields of the land of my birth, I’ll put a candle in the window and remember.

(This piece was written by Kay van der Sandt (nee Doherty) who grew up in Co Roscommon, but lived in South Africa until she died a few years ago.)

Jill Collins

South Mall Cork

GIVING AND TAKING

* Regarding top-ups, the decent, generous Irish people deserve better from all these institutions. It seems management, in most cases, is well aware of where funds end up, yet persists in this practice. The wise Cicero, 2,100 years ago, said: “Any man can make mistakes but only an idiot persists in his error.” So, who are the fools here, us givers or the takers?

Sean Kelly

Newtown Hill, Tramore, Waterford

HEARTS AND MINDS

* It is sometimes said, within Ireland, that we do not have the players to really compete with the best in the world. Last Sunday week proved that Irish rugby players have the natural ability to best any rugby nation, including the formidable New Zealanders, and under a coach of Joe Schmidt’s calibre (and drive) their development in terms of skill and self-confidence will be exciting.

However, the key reason why we failed to take the victory that we should have executed against the All Blacks is a big lesson that we can learn from New Zealand rugby: mental toughness. It was a telling statistic, from an Irish point of view, that we failed to build on our impressive first-half scores in the all-important second half of the match.

A clearly sympathetic (insofar as an All Black coach can be) Steve Hansen sought to inform the Irish of our most consequential weakness: “They (the Irish) don’t believe that they are as tough as they are.”

It is clear that the New Zealanders have a higher opinion of the threat that we can pose on the rugby pitch than we Irish do, and they prepare accordingly. Mr Hansen also sought to inform us that Ireland’s players were guilty of not backing themselves at crucial times during the match.

All Black rugby puts a special emphasis on developing the skills associated with mental strength, and these acquired skills have seen the All Blacks escape from some very sticky situations, as well as helping them to maintain their consistency.

It would be profitable for Irish rugby to learn from how the All Blacks develop and employ the acquired skills of mental strength.

Finally, it is important to point out that it will only be by playing the All Blacks, regularly, will we eventually beat them. We must find the will to arrange Tests against the All Blacks on a more frequent, predictable basis.

John B Reid

Monkstown, Co Dublin

NORTH POLE CALLING

* Warm greetings from the North Pole! Santa would like to remind all the boys and girls to post their Christmas letters to him as soon as possible.

All the elves are busy in the workshop making and packing toys and gifts. Mrs Claus is checking lists of names on her computer and planning the route for Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve!

Santa loves reading the letters from children in Ireland, particularly when they have taken the time to write the letter themselves. All they need do is:

* Put their letter in an envelope.

* Write their own name and address (in very clear writing) on the top left-hand corner of the front of the envelope.

* Stick a 60c stamp on the top right-hand corner.

* Post it in a green post box to: Santa Claus, The North Pole.

Once again this year, many helpers in An Post are helping Santa to reply to as many letters as possible before Christmas. I hope you have a very magical Christmas!

Chief Elf

C/o Santa Claus, The North Pole

EUROPEAN ‘THREATS’

* I thought it astonishing that, in this day and age, one European country can still threaten another, insidiously or otherwise, as did happen when Ukraine abandoned signing the EU integration pact. There is little doubt that Russia’s control over Ukraine’s gas supply had a major influence on President Yanukovich’s decision.

But my memory was short. I thought back to autumn 2010; had we not also been threatened, that time by a European institution, when the ECB insisted upon us paying unsecured bondholders?

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

STILL ‘LITTLE’ AT 81

* Little Richard is 81 tomorrow. Good golly, will he ever grow up?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, D9

Irish Independent

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