29 January 2014 Success
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Mrs Povey demands  to be flown out to Montenegre to see if her husband is getting up to anything, at the Navy’s expense.  Priceless.
Boxes and Thermabloc arrive
Scrabble today Mary wins   and gets over 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Pete Seeger, who has died aged 94, was the protest singer and political activist variously described as “the Godfather of Folk” and “America’s tuning fork”.
Seeger was the first to concede that he was not the finest of singers, or even a great banjo player. Neither did he consider himself a particularly gifted songwriter; rather, he thought of himself as a facilitator of the tradition of radical songmaking. His great gift was as a communicator, and it was one that he used to maximum effect.
A major influence on Bob Dylan, Seeger was ubiquitous at folk festivals and political gatherings. Playing the five-string banjo, and singing from a vast repertoire of songs, he expounded ideas of justice and freedom in a strong, clear voice. Eventually Seeger’s appearances amounted to a roll-call of the human rights conflicts of the 20th century.
Having begun his performing career at fund-raisers for Depression-era economic migrants, he graduated to the integrated school movement of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. He was central to the civil rights struggle, a passionate anti-Vietnam War protester and, in old age, a committed environmentalist.
He also supported a bewildering variety of less high-profile causes, was a co-founder of People’s Songs (an organisation to “create, promote and distribute songs of labour and the American people”) and helped to establish the Newport Folk Festival.
His political activism did not go unnoticed. In 1955 he was required, alongside Arthur Miller, to appear before the House Committee on un-American Activities to explain his “communist sympathies”. When he dramatically cited the First Amendment, he was jailed for contempt of Congress.
Although he was soon released, Seeger’s songs with folk group The Weavers were banned from the radio and many of his concerts cancelled. But he battled on, recording some of the most important protest ballads of the era, including Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, Turn, Turn, Turn, We Shall Overcome and If I Had A Hammer.
A prolific songwriter who collected and adapted poems, religious texts, passages from literature and traditional ballads, Seeger considered himself no more than “a link in a chain”, extending the oral tradition by travelling the country as a troubadour. His credo was: “If there’s a future, it won’t be because of big organisations, the church or movements, but tens of thousands of little miracles and little efforts.”
Peter Seeger was born in Patterson, New York, on May 3 1919. His parents taught at the Juilliard School of Music, though Pete and his musically-inclined siblings, Mike and Peggy, showed little interest in classical music.
He was educated at Avon Old Farms Boarding School in Connecticut, but his imagination was fired by a trip he made as a teenager to a square dance festival in North Carolina, where he “fell in love with the five-string banjo rippling out a rhythm to one fascinating song after another. I liked the melodies, time tested by generations of singers. Above all I liked the words… they seemed straightforward, honest.”
Nursing a desire to become a political journalist, he went to Harvard, but dropped out in his sophomore year. While working at the American Archive of Folk Song in New York, he taught himself the banjo; and the tall, slim balladeer became a familiar sight at protest rallies, county fairs and street parties.
On March 3 1940 he met Woody Guthrie at a “Grapes of Wrath” Californian migrant workers’ benefit concert. It was a date which, according to the singer Alan Lomax, could be described as “the birth of modern folk music”. Seeger became part of the loose collective called The Almanac Singers which included Guthrie, Lomax and, periodically, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Leadbelly. The Almanacs sang and recorded labour-oriented songs, such as The Talking Union Blues, and travelled the country, immersing themselves in folk traditions, allowing Seeger to learn “a little something from everyone”.
In 1942 he was drafted and “shipped out to the west Pacific and put in charge of hospital entertainment”. He was demobbed as a corporal in 1945.
Back in the United States he formed People’s Songs, a musicians’ union designed to bind folk singers and labour movements. But in the Cold War climate of fear and anti-communist paranoia, the labour unions were unwilling to be linked to radical folk singers. Although Seeger resigned his Communist Party membership in 1950, he observed 50 years later: “I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the church made of it. But if communism had caught up with this country I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail.”
In 1948 he campaigned in the South alongside the Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace, an experience he found deeply depressing. The following year his car was attacked and his wife and child injured by shattered glass in the Peekskill Riot in New York.
Undeterred, Seeger formed The Weavers with Lee Hays (with whom he wrote the optimistic paean to social change If I Had A Hammer), Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert. They enjoyed immediate success, topping the charts with Goodnight Irene and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, and established Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land as part of American culture. Despite traversing the country singing songs of protest, Seeger found time to establish the Newport Folk Festival and sell out Carnegie Hall as a solo performer.
But when Senator McCarthy began his anti-communist “witch hunts”, The Weavers were banned from appearing on radio, television and at countless venues. Still recording (by 1954 Seeger had recorded 29 albums for the Folkways Records label), he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities the following year. Being forced to discuss his views and expose his associates, he claimed, would be a violation of his rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution. When he was sentenced to a year’s jail for contempt of Congress, Seeger expressed his belief in the redemptive power of music and offered to play for the court — an offer that was refused. In the event, he served only four days, but his blacklisting lasted 12 years.
Although kept off the air, Seeger performed at fairs and festivals, in parks, on campuses and street corners — wherever a collection, however small, of like-minded radicals congregated. He also wrote the definitive book How To Play The 5-String Banjo. During the civil rights struggle of the 1960s his performance at the Carnegie Hall of We Shall Overcome — a song he had adapted from a Negro spiritual — not only announced the arrival of the movement in New York but also became its standard.
Having recorded the seminal Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and Turn, Turn, Turn (adapted from Ecclesiastes), Seeger found himself accorded God-like status among young Sixties radicals. The respect was not always returned, however. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when Bob Dylan “went electric”, Seeger was horrified to hear music “so distorted you couldn’t hear the words” — and he shouted at the PA engineers to pull the plug. When they refused, the old radical shouted: “If I had an axe I’d cut the cable!”
But despite his concerns about the electrification of folk music and the generational divisions insisted on by the young, Seeger continued to perform regularly at rallies and demonstrations. A vocal anti-Vietnam War protester, he became a familiar figure alongside performers such as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, who had taught herself the ukulele from one of his records.
When his blacklisting was finally lifted, Seeger celebrated by singing an anti-war song, Waist Deep In Big Muddy — which was promptly censored by the CBS television network. But as a singer with a profound belief in the power of song (“I’d sing for the John Birch Society if they asked, which they haven’t”), Seeger travelled to Vietnam with his banjo to rally the troops’ morale.
As the Sixties drew to a close and optimism waned, Seeger began to devote his energies to the environment. Although he continued to appear at political gatherings, green issues — specifically the contamination of the Hudson River, alongside which he had built a wood cabin — became his primary concern.
In 1966 he had formed the Clearwater Organisation, three years later launching the Dutch sloop Clearwater, a 106ft craft which travelled the river raising funds and awareness. The organisation itself organised festivals, education programmes and sailing instruction.
After decades at the cutting edge of folk music and radical politics, Seeger had become an American institution. Having been awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts and a Kennedy Center Award, in 1996 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the Harvard Arts Medal. The following year he won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, for Pete. In all he recorded more than 100 albums.
In 1990 he described his life to his Harvard classmates as one in which he had “been a travelling, performing singer and songwriter for 50 years, in every state of the union and 35 foreign countries. Fortunate to have a family that stuck by me, even when I travelled too much, or got into political hot water. Life has been easier on me than any lazy person like myself has the right to expect.”
He bore no malice towards his political enemies, making light of his own struggle to get heard during the period when he was blacklisted.
In 2009, at President Obama’s Inauguration concert, Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen in leading the crowd in This Land Is Your Land.
Pete Seeger married, in 1943, Toshi-Aline Ohta. She died in 2013, and he is survived by their son and two daughters.


Teachers will have been given a much-needed lift by your story of Gove’s minions briefing the press against Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, who is “spitting blood” about being undermined by the Tory right (Gove disowns rightwing campaign against Ofsted chief, 27 January). Staffrooms all over Britain will echo to the laughter of teachers recalling Wilshaw’s famous declaration that whenever he hears of low morale among teachers he knows he must be doing something right.
Lawrence Glover
Bootle, Merseyside
• We are all dismayed that targeting resources on disadvantaged pupils is having little effect on educational outcome (Pupil premium fails to close rich-poor performance gap, 28 January); but why are we surprised? This country’s remedial approach to economic and social inequality is fundamentally flawed, and has resulted in decades of expensive failure. Why not take a simpler approach: attack poverty, not its inevitable consequences.
Rob Davies
Pontesbury, Shropshire
• The humane efficiency shown by Preston register office (A day in our lives, Family, 25 January) is in marked contrast to that experienced by my sister some years ago when registering the death of our mother. Having taken the details, the receptionist picked up her phone and said to the registrar: “A death has just walked in off the street. Will you see it now?”
Ian Waller
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• Your report is grim (Malnutrition among Afghan children increases fears for country’s future, 27 January). One starving 19-year-old has just had her third malnourished baby. Is anyone helping with family planning as well as food?
Caroline Woodroffe
• Doc Who! Doc Martens! But who’s responsible for the trousers (BBC unveils Capaldi’s Time Lord costume, 28 January)? Mary Berry would disapprove.
Margaret Waddy
• So it’s claimed that Andy Coulson, over a breakfast of scrambled eggs, tried to poach Dan Evans (Report, 28 January). That’s hard-boiled journalism for you.
Roger Cooper
Sudbourne, Suffolk

Opposition to Labour’s proposal to restore the 50p tax rate says more about the views and values of opponents than the merits of the idea. According to Digby Jones, “the policy … constituted another attempt to ‘kick’ wealth creators” (Balls says 50p tax rate will be temporary, 27 January). Does he think the great majority of us who earn less than £150,000 a year are not wealth creators and make no contribution to the public good?
It would appear so, as he goes on to say that the wealth creators are the energy companies, housebuilders and bankers. Most of these have done more to siphon off money into their own pockets and trigger the worst economic disaster in decades. The combination of parasitic business practices and the super salaries and bonuses enjoyed by a small minority have created a massive imbalance in the economy and undermined real wealth creation. The best way to promote wealth creation in these times of austerity is to rebalance the economy away from an excessive reliance on finance and rising house prices and to create a society and economy in which everyone can hope to gain a fair reward for their work. Labour’s 50p tax rate supports this end. The squeals from the 1% who gain from the current model of wealth sequestration – not wealth creation – make that clear.
Cllr Steve Munby
Labour, Liverpool city council
•  Like Digby Jones, I too “learnt a long time ago not to believe what [people] say but to watch what they do”. I agree “it’s their behaviour that tells you what they really believe. I look at the “wealth creators” he and the other City mouthpieces defend – salaries, bonuses and pensions beyond avarice, tax avoidance, mis-selling, offshoring, zero-hours contracts, customer avoidance and all the other “entrepreneurial” business practices through which wealth is apparently created and accumulated in our society today. In addition to how wealth might be created, the question he and his fellow “wealth creator” apologists have to confront as our society drifts back to the middle ages is wealth creation for whom?
Malcolm Rogan
Nomansland, Wiltshire
•  Lord Myners, a former Labour City minister, says a 50% tax rate would take the party “back to old Labour and the politics of envy”. I’m left wondering about New Labour and the politics of laissez-faire, the Mandelson approach to the rich getting richer. No envy, Lord Myners, just anger at the trillion-plus debt your City/New Labour colleagues left us with. And a national blame game (also New Labour in origin) which hounds the weakest members of our society and traduces the NHS. Whether we reap £100m or more from the 50% rate, it is reasonable to expect that contribution to the national coffers.
Richard Clifford
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
•  Describing Labour’s proposed 50% tax rate on incomes over £150k as “the politics of envy” is one way of looking at it. Another is to regard it as the politics of fairness as against the politics of greed. I suspect the people who depend on Newcastle’s eight food banks and seven “low cost” food centres, or who now have to pay £4 a week in council tax out of a jobseeker’s allowance of £71 a week thanks to the government’s changes in council tax support, would take the latter view.
Cllr Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords and Newcastle city council
• The Labour party and commentators such as Polly Toynbee (A 50p tax won’t kill business but this kleptocracy will, 28 January) would profitably separate “business” into the primarily non-value-adding but very highly paid chaps from Canary Wharf and the rest of us in the private sector who provide the majority of jobs, mostly value-adding. It’s been a difficult few years for us industrialists thanks to the failure of regulators and the antics of financial cowboys. We’re beginning to get back on our feet and many of the jobs that are being added are being created by us. Very few of us enjoy salaries that would attract the 50% rate, and any lucky enough to exceed that threshold wouldn’t begrudge the exchequer a few extra quid.
The banking industry isn’t serving the industrial sector well at present. Politicians should give serious thought to how they can build on the emerging recovery by making it easier for us to invest so that we can expand or create new businesses and new jobs. We also need more engineers and software developers, increased support for innovation, more help to take on apprentices, better partnerships with schools and colleges, improved infrastructure, more affordable housing and devolution to regional organisations to promote these.
Antony David
CEO, Solid State Logic, Oxford
• What seems to been drowned out by all the loud squealing of business leaders about Ed Balls’s modest proposal is that a 50p top rate of tax is still far below what we used to have. Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the 50p rate would be “an unmitigated disaster” for Britain. In 1971 the top rate of income tax on earned income was cut to 75%. In 1974, under Labour, that was partly reversed and the top rate was raised to 83%. Margaret Thatcher, who favoured indirect taxation, reduced personal income tax rates during the 1980s from 83% to 60%. So Balls’s proposal is still 10% less than the rate was under Thatcher. I don’t recall the rich fleeing the country when she was prime minister.
John Green
•  If those earning over £150,000 really think that paying a bit more tax is an unbearable and unfair burden in a country that already is one of the most unequal in the developed world, let them go elsewhere. Elsewhere is not a bottomless pit of job and business opportunities, and I want to live in a country that does not reward avarice and self-interest.
Trevor Rigg
• How good to hear the pips squeaking.
Rev Peter Godfrey
King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire

The UK’s increasingly bottom-heavy economy and jobs market (The great migration south: four out of five private sector jobs now created in London, 27 January) demands policies that will benefit the whole of the country. It was to tackle this growing north-south divide while helping protect the environment that the Green New Deal Group recently published a National Plan for the UK. This calls for a £50bn-a-year green infrastructure programme, funded by a crackdown on tax-dodging and green quantitative easing, to make every building in the country energy-efficient and to build hundreds of thousands of new, affordable, sustainably sited, energy-efficient homes. Such a “jobs in every constituency” approach would create employment, business and investment opportunities in every city, town, village and hamlet in the country.Compare this with David Cameron’s efforts to scrape off so called green barnacles, such as finance for more energy efficient homes and his latest pitch to the Federation of Small Businesses to trash green building standards that allow reduced heating bills through renewable energy. Both are bad for the consumer and bad for small business since they will do nothing to reduce fuel costs, the drift south or generate sustainable jobs across the entire UK.
Colin Hines
Convenor, Green New Deal Group
• The north of England invented the industrial city; now it can lead another revolution by creating a multi-hub metropolis encompassing Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Hull and all points between. Put an international airport at each end, rapid transit systems between centres and common ticketing, all for much less that the cost of HS2. This super-region would give the UK another world city, already blessed with a dozen or more universities, an international broadcasting centre, world-famous sporting venues, and cultural powerhouses from concert halls to theatres to galleries to film-makers.
Roger Osborne
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
• There has been a stream of letters criticising the perceived London bias of your editorial policy and reporting (Open door, 27 January). Given modern technology, there is no reason why the paper could not move back to Manchester, which could support a move to fuller reporting of issues throughout Britain freom other perspectives than London’s.
I have tried to find out, through the internet, what proportion of Guardian journalists are private-school educated, male and have attended Oxford/Cambridge, but have been unsuccessful. The Guardian should publish these figures. Elites hang together and this makes them unwilling to criticise each other. The Guardian has become too London-centric and needs to fundamentally change this. Perhaps you could open up a wider debate.
Bruce Corlett
• Readers’ editor Chris Elliott writes about the Guardian being perceived as London-centric. In G2 (27 January), Hugh Muir quotes Simon Albury as saying that there is a problem in the BBC’s newsroom because the racial balance does not reflect the fact that 40% of the population of London is of black or minority ethnic origin. Perhaps the BBC’s newsroom does reflect the racial balance in the majority of the country, as befits a national media outlet. Approximately one in eight of the UK population live in London, which means that seven times as many don’t.
Peter Chadwick
Cirencester, Gloucestershire
• So your regional correspondent for the West Country covers disasters in the Midlands and flooding in Aberystwyth. Speaks volumes.
Richard Cleaves
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
While we can gladly celebrate the fact that European nations now recognise the importance of peaceful diplomacy, it is historically inaccurate and misleading to put this solely down to the European project (Comment, 28 January). Any historical analysis of postwar Europe must take into account the vital role of Nato, the cold war and the US in preserving peace. We should also note the dismal failure of the EU to prevent conflicts in the Balkans and the civil strife which the Union’s economic policies have created in the Mediterranean. The “criticism of Europe” that Frank-Walter Steinmeier attributes to nationalist rhetoric should not be so casually dismissed. The institutions of the EU remain opaque and unaccountable. Rather than turning their ire on those who complain about the lack of democracy in the EU, European leaders should accept the need for reform as an immediate priority.
Professor David Abulafia Gonville and Caius College Cambridge University, Dr David Starkey, Andrew Roberts, Professor Nigel Saul Royal Holloway, Dr Brian Young Christ Church, Oxford University, Dr Robert Crowcroft, University of Edinburgh, Dr Hannes Kleineke, Professor Robert Tombs St John’s College, Cambridge University, Dr Richard Rex Queens’ College, Cambridge University, Professor Jeremy Black University of Exeter
• What has generally ensured peace in Europe is the post-1945 development across Europe of normal democratic politics in almost every country. Democrats do not want to bash the daylights out of their neighbours. Let us never forget too that the principal aim of trans-Europeanism was to shackle Germany firmly into the community of nations for fear of German nationalism.
Michael Batchelor
• The German foreign minister seems to have forgotten that in more recent wars the EU backed Nato’s attacks on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and that only Britain prevented an EU-Nato attack on Syria.
Will Podmore
When the folk singer Pete Seeger, who has just died (Report, 28 January) was hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in August 1955, he resolutely refused to name individuals who he had associated with (the routine way in which witnesses were encouraged to become informers), but instead offered to sing some of his songs. He said to the chair: “I know many beautiful songs from your home county, Carbon, and Monroe, and I hitchhiked through there and stayed in the homes of miners.” Arthur Miller was another prominent witness who appeared before the committee around the same time, who also refused to name names; he was to become active in supporting the cause of persecuted writers worldwide, and not least in the communist dictatorships. However, as far as I know, none of the witnesses, including those considered to be hostile, was asked the question that was so recently put to the Guardian’s editor, whether they loved their country!
David Winnick MP
Labour, Walsall North

I really appreciated your juxtaposition of the two articles, Tax on meat ‘will cut methane buildup’, and Up to $1bn a year spent fighting action on climate change (3 January). The missing link is the fact that the greenhouse supergas methane is chemically identical to natural gas, which is the fossil-fuel industry’s favourite cure-all for climate change.
It’s possible that 3.6 billion farting livestock are producing more methane than the fossil-fuel industry is releasing by fracking, oil-well blowouts and pipeline leaks, but I’d like to see the numbers. Also I would like to see the percentages of those bovines being raised for meat and as milkers. Finally, the relevance of 9 billion farting human beings and their rotting compost.
In short, this discussion appears to have been launched as a diversionary tactic and I’m curious about where the funding for these “studies” originated. Cutting down on meat-eating is a good idea, but let’s focus on the valid reasons: the health of the consumers and the efficient use of our agricultural resources.
Dave Schmalz
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Importance of apprenticeships
Concerning your article on apprentices in Germany (3 January): I would like to harken back to the years 1957-59 when I was stationed in West Germany with Nato at a place called Iserlohn. I had purchased a Sunbeam Rapier delivered in Dusseldorf so I had to go there for servicing. The car had an elaborate electric gearshift that gave me a lot of trouble. When I would appear at the Rootes dealership I would be received by a master mechanic dressed in an immaculate white coat. He would settle himself down in the depth of the grease pit and summon his two apprentices: a pair of grubby little urchins, who handed him his wrenches etc with the accuracy of an operating room nurse, and if attention was lagging a sharp cuff across the ear would suffice.
The other apprentice experience I had was at the barber shop where the two apprentices there: a boy and a girl, would do the preliminary snipping and then the master would climb up on his little stool and complete the fine work.
Again, attention was demanded in no uncertain terms. No wonder West Germany recovered as quickly as it did.
Gordon Woollard
Emo, Ontario, Canada
Police must regain trust
The outrage resulting from the Mark Duggan trial verdict is entirely understandable and extremely worrying (Duggan family angry at inquest verdict, 17 January). There is a view that the Metropolitan police feels able to consider itself to be above the law and unaccountable to the public that it is paid to serve. We have a disturbing trail of controversial deaths at the hands of the police: some high-profile cases that spring to mind include Blair Peach, Ian Tomlinson and Jean Charles de Menezes. And there are, of course, many others.
The Metropolitan police urgently needs to understand the concern that its cavalier actions provoke and to work hard to understand what it has to do to improve its effectiveness and reputation and to gain the trust of the public. Continuing to deny the problems that its actions and attitudes are causing is not the way forward and will surely lead to ever-increasing strife and mistrust in the future.
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK
Australia’s refugee problem
The harsh and probably unlawful treatment of seaborne refugees by Australia’s Abbott government seems more a laboratory demonstration of rightwing psychopathology than a rational policy (Abbott defiant on asylum-seeker policy, 17 January). The automatic and indefinite detention of all seaborne refugees to Australia in impoverished New Guinea and on Nauru involves both huge expense and international disrepute.
An obsession with appearing “tough” in what they claim is the defence of Australia’s sovereignty against foreign, albeit helpless, invaders has an odd corollary in its unprecedented eagerness to surrender a serious piece of that sovereignty to multinationals in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement currently under negotiation. Power, whatever its source or nature, looks to be the Abbott government’s true love.
John Hayward
Weegena, Tasmania, Australia
Two kinds of boredom
Gaby Hinsliff didn’t really separate the two distinct types of boredom with which we are affected (17 January). Anyone can sympathise with people who struggle with the monotony of tedious and unchallenging work, but that is entirely different to the kind of boredom that average teenagers complain of when they claim to have nothing to do in the world of immediate gratification online through social media.
The skills that have been lost to this generation as a result of the internet age are those of contemplation, and with them, the emotional and sociological advantages to be had by knowing how to be content with having nothing to do. So it is not boredom that has “such a desirable image” according to your columnist, but the healthy mental state of mind that can be induced by use of imagination.
Society is losing sight of the simple tenet that to get something of quality, value and emotional depth requires patience, tolerance and effort. You just cannot Google How not to be bored and share it on Facebook. It’s harder than that.
Gary Laidlaw
Norwich, UK
Councils and fracking
It seems extraordinary that local councils would have a conflict of interest in dealing with the granting of local fracking permits (Fracking in the UK: “We’re going all out for shale”, says Cameron, 17 January). Surely this is an area we would expect local representatives to be extremely cautious about, given the uncertainties surrounding fracking.
But local councils are not what they used to be. The seat of power in local government now appears to rest with the operational staff, and not with councillors who are told their council’s financial viability is their first priority.
My council has become a quasi-corporation run by a CEO whose job is to ensure, no matter what, that the organisation’s accounts end the year in the black, even if this means boosting income or depleting services at the expense of residents.
Gone are the days when local council staff were humble public servants who patiently doffed their caps to residents. Having been constantly harassed as lazy and ineffective in the past, their newfound corporatism finds local officials in a position of power.
And this, unfortunately, is a position that does not always coincide with the interests of the community.
David Catchlove
Newport, NSW, Australia
Questioning beliefs
Thanks to Zoe Williams for her eloquent plea to respect the human rights of atheists (24 January). As an adopted Australian, I was unaware that my inherent right to that belief was protected. As a topic of conversation and potentially antagonistic dispute, my atheism comes second only to my equally strong disbelief in the merits of any known code of football, except perhaps as a necessary outlet for over-energetic teenagers.
Both subjects attract a stronger and more aggressive argument from their supporters than from us, the opposing side. Could this be due to the logical indefensibility of an unquestioning belief in both football and religion, which ensures that their more avid proponents huddle together for protection?
Infidels of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your anonymity. And possibly the Global Grail.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
Too little information
The article in News in Brief (10 January) regarding women in the UK having the 10th-highest rate in the world for cancers linked to a lack of physical activity raised several red flags. Women have been found to work more hours than men generally due to family and household responsibilities, often in addition to working outside the home, but according to this article they should be squeezing in a few more hours to go to the gym or out for a run!
Granted the article was brief, too brief to give significant information such as parameters of data collection, age of population studied, amount of exercise needed for prevention, age when cancer occurred, etc. It is news to me that bowel, breast and womb cancer can be prevented with physical exercise as for some time I have understood that genetic factors, chemical exposure, hormone use, tobacco use etc are more likely to be a causative factor in these cancers. This article leads women diagnosed with cancer to feel that they are responsible for it.
Billie London
St Augustine, Florida, US
• In the UK, Belgium is often seen as a dull, backward country; yet in Belgium euthanasia has been legalised for about 10 years (10 January). It is no longer an issue, though many people consider palliative sedation an even better solution.
Hugo Claus, Belgium’s Nobel prize candidate for literature, feeling that his mind was beginning to flinch, decided that it was time to quit and in 2008 he asked his doctor to put an end to his life. He was admired for his courageous decision.
Some months ago the euthanasia law was even extended to children who suffer from an incurable illness. So who is backward here?
René Weemaels
Beersel, Belgium
• I couldn’t agree more with Charles Watson (Reply, 17 January). I use the King William’s Quiz for lighting the fire, or more pressing business. Surely you could find a more suitable use for the double page allotted to it – how about a proper old-fashioned Christmas Quiz, with questions within the scope of ordinary readers who possess an average amount of general knowledge?
Guy Johnston
Kirchhundem, UK
• May I offer a crumb of comfort to Charles Watson? To complete the King William’s Quiz and other quizzes, you just need access to information. To complete the Guardian and other good cryptic crosswords, you need an active brain.
David Barker
Bunbury, Western Australia


I am no apologist for the Environment Agency, but I believe they are right when they say that the lack of dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels has contributed relatively little to the current flooding problem. As they have pointed out, much of the Levels are at or below sea level, and this and the high tide range on the Severn estuary (the second highest in the world) contribute greatly to the problem.
But probably the most relevant feature of the area has so far has remained unmentioned – that the area of surrounding land draining into the Levels is four times that of the Levels themselves. This means that above-average rainfall in the surrounding areas has a disproportionate effect on flood risk on the Levels, compared to the East Anglian fens, for example, where the ratio is only two to one.
What happens in the surrounding land has as much if not more effect on flooding than activities on the Levels themselves. As elsewhere, the management of the agricultural land in these areas has no doubt intensified in recent years, resulting in reduced water-holding capacity due to increased soil compaction, intensification of grassland management (old pastures can hold up to five times the amount of water as intensively managed ones), and ploughing up of grassland.
Reinstating dredging in rivers such as the Parrett and Tone will no doubt help. But any plan to alleviate flooding must involve measures to increase the water-holding capacity of surrounding areas, including afforestation and measures to reduce soil compaction and surface run-off.
Francis Kirkham
Crediton, Devon
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, is derided both in your Monday editorial and in a feature article by the Environment Editor for directing Defra’s departmental budget for flood control away from adaptation to climate change and towards managing flood risk.
Readers should be aware that this decision is entirely in accord with climate-change orthodoxy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports, as well as its recent SREX report, which focused specifically on extreme events, grant a low level of confidence to there being an impact on flood magnitude and frequency from global warming. This accords with numerous data-based studies both in the UK and globally that fail to find a signal of change.
We should welcome that taxpayers’ money is directed to where there is evidence of threat.
Max Beran
East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire
Tom Bawden, your Environment Editor, should not be surprised that the Somerset villages of Muchelney and Thorney have become islands (“Minister caught in storm of anger from ‘abandoned’ flood victims”, 28 January). That is what the names mean – “Big Island” and “Thorn Island” – and that is what they were when the Anglo-Saxons named them.
Frank Donald
Generate your own energy
What happens next in Britain’s energy story will set the tone for many other areas of our economy, where broken markets and monopolies are making it increasingly difficult for ordinary people to live well in Britain (“Miliband names Roosevelt as his unlikely political hero”, 20 January). Better regulation is part of the solution. But a true market will only be achieved if the next government creates an environment that supports grassroots energy initiatives.
There is a growing community energy industry in the UK, where neighbours are collaborating, creating jobs and growing their social capital as well as economic power. Recent research shows community energy could grow to 89 times its current size if existing barriers were lowered. There is much to learn from the way other countries are developing their own community energy and renewables at a fast pace, while the UK suffers.
The more the argument becomes polarised between government power and big business, the more ordinary people switch off and become further alienated from politics and the workings of the broader economy. There are genuine alternatives, and the party that understands and embraces them has nothing to lose and a great deal to gain.
Ramsay Dunning
Co-operative Energy
Theresa Burton, Buzzbnk
Andrew Croft, CAN
Celia Richardson
Social Economy Alliance
Peter Holbrook
Social Enterprise UK
London SE1
The future of interest rates
It appears that Mark Carney has been taking advantage of the clear mountain air of Davos to do some forward thinking on his “big idea” of forward guidance (“Carney pours cold water on imminent rise in interest rates”, 25 January).
His first attempt at forward guidance – an announced decision not to consider a change in interest rates until unemployment fell below  7 per cent  – passed its sell-buy date rather quicker than he anticipated.
One idea for forward guidance II is to get each member of the MPC to state where they think interest rates will be in two to three years’ time – fairly harmless, fairly costless and probably not much use.
The second is a “state-contingent” rule, in which reconsideration of interest rate decisions will depend on a set of explicit economic indicators – déjà vu and therefore lacking credibility?
The third is “time-contingent” guidance where you state a specific period over which interest rates are expected to remain constant (at ½ per cent) – isn’t this what we currently have?
Surely the latter can continue to be communicated effectively – even Jeremy Paxman was charmed into acquiescence by Carney’s storyline in Davos.
Keith Cuthbertson
Professor of Finance,  Cass Business School, London EC1
Not easy to be mediocre
For too long journalists have allowed mediocrity and sloppy generalisations to form their view of teachers. One sentence in your editorial of 24 January led me to write the above: “For too long, the teaching profession has allowed mediocrity, if not actual incompetence, to flourish unchecked”.
Is this seriously your view? Have you been in a school lately? Have you never heard of Ofsted; compulsory Continued Professional Development; peer review; assessment for Qualified Teacher Status; Maths, English and IT tests for teachers; rigorous vetting and assessment before promotion; Teach First; School Improvement assessments?
Oh, and then there’s comparative data of pupil achievement; learning targets; value added targets; parental consultation (with Parent Portals they can keep a constant, ongoing check on their child’s progress, not just a once-a-year 10-minute meeting); monitoring by heads and governors; and then there’s the most demanding assessment of all, the pupils.
If any “mediocre” and “incompetent” teacher can remain in the profession with all this it would be very surprising. Even Michael Gove himself gave “credit to the professionalism and hard work of teachers”.
John Daintith
Governor, Deputy Head (retired), Chew Magna, Somerset
France’s ‘comic’ anti-Semite
Many thanks for publishing, a first-rate article on Dieudonné (28 January). John Lichfield has got it spot on. I am most impressed that someone in the British press has at last taken the time and trouble to investigate this anti-Semite properly.
Dieudonné’s message  has now spread to the mainstream, as demonstrated at Sunday’s protest against “the system” of almost 20,000 here in Paris. In a YouTube clip, Jews are being told they are not wanted in France, a thing not heard of since 1930s  Germany. It is believed that the largest group of Jews residing in Europe live in France.
Lucille Grant
These shoes are bad for your health
I was pleased to read Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s column on 27 January.  When I was at school I remember being told that high heels cause back pain and bunions, not to mention falling over more easily.
I have been amazed that even hospital managers walk in these obviously unhealthy shoes.
Alexandra Murrell
London SE17
Slow ‘fall’ of the Roman Empire
Steve Connor (“Return of the Black Death”, 28 January) credits the Justinian Plague of the 6th century AD with hastening “the final demise of the Roman Empire”
In fact the western empire had already fallen in the preceding century, and the eastern empire, Justinian’s realm, had another nine hundred years to go.
Cole Davis


Sir, As you say, most collisions between cyclists and pedestrians are caused by pedestrians stepping out in front of cyclists. You do not say how many cyclists are injured, or indeed killed, by pedestrians in this way (“Cyclists create an army of walking wounded”, Jan 27).
My own experience of cycling to work each day in Central London is that certain junctions are so dangerous to cyclists, with dozens of pedestrians clustered at the side of the road, and many of them choosing to cross before their lights turn green, that I now walk my bicycle across these junctions rather than risk injury to myself.
More generally, there has been an increased tone of hostility towards cyclists in recent years, from both pedestrians and motorists, because, I suspect, the former are alarmed by cyclists “appearing out of nowhere” when they haven’t taken the time to look for them before crossing, and the latter because cyclists “block up the road” by travelling at a slower speed than they do. These views seem to stem from an idea that cyclists are less deserving road users than others. The concept that cyclists have an equal right to use the road, and the benefits they bring by reducing pollution, noise, and cost to the NHS by being slimmer and fitter should be more widely appreciated.
Caroline Elliott
London N16
Sir, You do not compare like with like. The distance travelled by drivers includes significant mileage on motorways (cyclists not permitted) and main roads (very few cyclists). These roads have much lower injury and accident rates per billion km driven than town traffic.
The correct comparison would be accident and death rates/billion km travelled for urban travel. The cyclist rate would stay almost exactly the same while the driver rate would shoot up dramatically.
Michael Strelitz
London NW11
Sir, As a cyclist I note an increasing problem of pedestrians who wander into the road, texting away, with headphones attached. Many of them do not even glance at the road before stepping out. While pavement cycling is a problem in places, in 30 years of road riding I have only ever seen one collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian.
I also note with alarm the increase in pedestrians who seem to think that walking in the segregated cycle paths is appropriate. I wonder if any of these people understand that when they get back into their car why the cyclist now avoids the cyclepath? They complain about the rider in the road and angrily gesture towards the “facility”.
Yes, there is more that cyclists can do, but there is also far more that pedestrians and drivers can do to avoid pedestrian conflict.
D. J. Cook
Sir, Last year I and Strider, my horse, travelled over 2,600 miles round England, mostly on roads, including going through the centres of 28 towns and cities. My experience of being passed by many thousands of cyclists is that fewer than one in 500 shows any sign of being aware that they can surprise a horse and thereby create a situation of serious danger to the horse, rider and others close by. The consequences of this ignorance can be deeply tragic for those involved when a horse is spooked.
william reddaway
Cheltenham, Glos

There are times when measures put in to promote ‘health and safety’ actually end up doing precisely the opposite
Sir, This week I arrived at work to find that fire doors had been fitted to nearly every room as a Health and Safety requirement — so they are closed unless wedged (illegally) open.
This feature may be important in the rare occurrence of a fire but, paradoxically, by increasing isolation between staff it adversely affects the health of both the staff and our patients rather than promote it.
Dr Derek Chase, FRCGP
King’s College Health Centre
London WC2

‘The premise that sex education should be compulsory “to teach boys to respect girls” confirms that parental influence has been abandoned’
Sir, The Children and Families Bill (letter, Jan 27) commendably aims to provide a safety net for children. Yet, it is a societal failure that schools are being saddled with the responsibility of providing information on sex and relationships because, unlike parents, they can be legislated and evaluated.
The premise that sex education should be compulsory “to teach boys to respect girls” confirms that parental influence has been abandoned. Parents are crucial to influencing the behaviour of both boys and girls. This includes monitoring access to pornography and having the determination to speak to their children about an uncomfortable subject. Perhaps it is parents that need educating on how to confront this subject with their children.
Denise Reynolds
Wiveliscombe, Somerset

There is very little regulation governing hedgerows, and what exists is there for the protection of the whole countryside
Sir, The Hedgerow Regulations, which you say David Cameron will scrap, are what stop our fields being turned into US-style prairies. The fewer than 20 pages of regulations can hardly be called red tape. If he goes ahead, Cameron’s lasting reputation will be as the prime minister who destroyed the British landscape with prairies and wind farms.
Dr Philip Sullivan
Frolesworth, Leics

Sir, The gagging law which was meant to prevent lobbyists from corrupting politicians has been peverted to gag free speech while doing very little to stop the problem of lobbying.
A huge number of charities including Royal British Legion, Oxfam and the RSPB have been campaigning against the Bill. It is currently going through the Commons and Lords, and despite the campaigning by charities the Bill is almost unchanged. In view of the power of lobbyists and the threat to their vested interests this is perhaps not surprising.
I have been one of many writing to my MP, who has been solidly voting for the bill as drafted. I have never written to my MP on any subject but this attack on freedom cannot be accepted. And how is it democracy of my MP continues to vote for it, despite the views of his constituents?
Cara Jocelyn
London, SW3

SIR – Further to the controversy over apostrophes on street signs, why is that, on the London Underground, King’s Cross and Earl’s Court have apostrophes, but Barons Court does not?
Tony Lawson
Slough, Buckinghamshire
SIR – I support Cambridge City Council’s decision to remove apostrophes from street signs.
As a teacher, I notice that some children cant put them in the proper place. Others dont use them at all. Its my opinion that they shouldnt have been included in the English language in the first place.
Furthermore, punctuation is a hindrance to a childs ability to write. Commas semi colons hyphens speech marks where does it end a childs creativity should be free of the burden of punctuation
speling allso neads too be delt wiv i prepoze that orll speling rools shud be remuved our kids wud hav a briter fucha and it wud put the grate bak into britten.
Richard Townend
Selby, North Yorkshire

SIR – Classic FM’s complaint that Radio 3 is trying to muscle in on its audience by “dumbing down” comes from a station which perfected the art of dumbness from the moment it went on air, 22 years ago.
Radio 3 has changed, and inevitably those who believe classical music can only be enjoyed by listening to each work in its entirety rather than to selected movements probably don’t like it. But the station has become far more accessible without sacrificing standards. Programmes are still presented by people who are either musicians or who are knowledgeable about music rather than by cheery minor celebrities.
One can switch on Radio 3 and almost be guaranteed a new or unfamiliar piece. Switch on Classic FM, and it’s always Carmen.
Chris Rundle
Williton, Somerset
Related Articles
Labour’s spending plans demand more taxes than a 50p rate for the rich
28 Jan 2014
SIR – Over the years, I have witnessed many controllers of Radio 3 trying to increase the audience. None seems to have made a significant difference. It was, and always will be, radio for a minority.
However, the decline in Radio 3’s content seems unrelenting. We now have endless games filling the void, encouraging listeners to participate directly with the presenters, who chatter away pointlessly.
The recent series Sound of Cinema summed up much of the present decline perfectly – it was bland and undemanding musical wallpaper with minimal musical merit. And cribbed from Classic FM.
Denis Waugh
London SW17
SIR – Those, like myself, who are saddened by the BBC’s current dumbing down of Radio 3 to musical fragments and chat, should turn to the internet, and listen to the admirable Klassinen Musiikki from Yle Finnish radio.
Absolutely no knowledge of Finnish is required to enjoy continuous complete performances accompanied by a minimum of talking – although a Haydn symphony purist might find useful the Finnish numbers up to 106.
Dick Grindley
Balerno, Midlothian
Casting out the bishop
SIR – The Church Commissioners have spent £900,000 on a buying a new dwelling for the Bishop of Bath and Wells after deciding not to house the bishop in the medieval palace, as has happened for the past 800 years. Our benefice, Fosse Trinity, and three adjoining benefices are all in interregnum. Perhaps the Wells diocese could use this £900,000 to furnish our parishes with clergy. The commissioners need to put faith first.
Eleanor Yeoman
Little Pennard, Somerset
Fuse Samaritan
SIR – When my neighbour complained that her electricity had failed, she called on me to help her, even though I am 82 years old.
I reset a trip switch on the fuse box and power was restored. Surely, Samantha Cameron could have done the same thing?
Ruth Goldberg
London NW4
Not so full of beans
SIR – Tesco’s panna cotta mix contains Exhausted Vanilla Beans. Have they whipped too much cream?
Penny Wells
Sidcup, Kent
Power to the patients
SIR – After experiencing 40 years of missing, lost, mislaid, inaccurate and incomplete GP and hospital medical records, I recommend that patients ask for a copy of all correspondence and test results at the end of each consultation with any health care professional. Patients are entitled to this free of charge, excepting X-rays and scans, for which there is a small fee.
By this means, ready access can be had to a complete set of records for insurance purposes or when you are on holiday, attend A & E or seek second opinions.
Paul Staniforth FRCS (rtd)
Hove, East Sussex
SIR – In June 2013, Dorset Health Care took over the pain service from Dorset County Hospital (DCH) together with some 2,000 patients. As the patient records could not be relinquished by DCH, Dorset Health Care has had to borrow the patient files, scan and copy each patient record and then return the files to DCH. Six months on, patient records were still being copied. As a result, clinicians have not had access to patients’ notes at the time of consultation.
Recently, my wife had an appointment at a hospital some distance from our home, and on arrival the clinician asked why she was there. She explained that she was already being seen by another clinician with the pain service, and was sent on her way. Neither clinician had access to my wife’s records, so it was a waste of time for everyone. All patient records must be digitised urgently – lives may depend on it.
Peter Watson
Dorchester, Dorset
Salad in danger
SIR – Anthony Burnet asks why freezers don’t have lights. I have another question.
The NHS and the Food Standards Agency both advise: “Store raw meat and poultry in clean, sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so they can’t touch or drip on to other food”. So why is the salad drawer at the bottom of the refrigerator?
Kieran O’Kelly
Andover, Hampshire
SIR – Radio 4’s Farming Today reported yesterday that rabbits are “enjoying a return to our tables”. I am interested to know how they derive this enjoyment?
Andrew Mackenzie
Westminster ignores floods in distant Somerset
SIR – If parts of London had only been accessible by boat for the last three weeks, I’m sure that something would have been done about it by now.
Joanna Stevens
Glastonbury, Somerset
SIR – News of floods in remote parts of the world is, rightly, marked by national appeals for money to ease the sufferers’ burden and help them rebuild their lives.
We have all seen pictures of homes inundated in the West Country. This has made many people’s lives impossible. Yet there has been no national appeal.
Of course, charities such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Fund are doing their best, but much more could be done. Government agencies are, as usual, making excuses for their own ineptitude.
But we, who always give generously to world disasters, should be asked to help our own people. The response would also be generous.
T Graham Glasse
Lavenham, Suffolk
SIR – Areas have flooded largely because of a failure by the Environment Agency to maintain ditches and rivers. It might as well have done nothing. Then think of the savings to the taxpayer, and the wildlife.
Neil Green

SIR – According to Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, should Labour win the 2015 election all its spending (which he calls “investment”) is to be paid for by a proposed income tax increase of 5p on incomes over £150,000. Some plan!
It should be plain to anyone with their eyes open and brain engaged that the only way Labour can possibly pay for all the things it plans is to borrow more and increase taxes. Same old Labour.
Derek Beesley
President, Aberconwy Conservative Association
Llandudno, Conwy
SIR – William Hague and others are exercised about Labour’s proposed “anti-business, anti-job creation” imposition of a 50 per cent tax rate on the highest earners.
Yet the Government currently presides over marginal rates of more than 60 per cent, much further down the income scale. That is the effective rate for those earning just over £100,000 (through withdrawal of personal allowances). The Government has also introduced a similar rate for families with one earner in the £50,000 to £60,000 bracket (by withdrawing child benefit). Both these rates will rise above 70 per cent when the tuition tax works its way through.
Laurence Smith
Brimpton Common, Berkshire
SIR – Boris Johnson ponders the economically illiterate proposal by Labour to put the top rate of tax up to 50 per cent, in the face of incontrovertible evidence that doing so only reduces the amount of tax taken from the target group, leaving less money to spend on socially desirable things such as health, welfare and education, quite apart from increasing the deficit.
Is it, he wonders, pure ignorance, or a cynical appeal to the atavistic desires of the majority, who, ignorant of the Laffer curve, wish only to “stick it to the rich?”
May I suggest a more malicious reason? The recovery is the best chance the Tories have of gaining an absolute majority at the next election. Noting that business is sitting on a cash pile of £700 billion, waiting to see which way the economic wind is blowing, could Labour be deliberately making virulently anti-business noises to prevent that cash-pile being invested in Britain? Perhaps the object is to cause the recovery to stop dead, for which, of course the Coalition can be blamed. Having shot the Tories’ best fox, Labour is that much more likely to win the election.
John Hay-Heddle
Sawley, Derbyshire
SIR – The Government used to produce statistics which would have settled the present controversy over our standard of living. They were known as Real Personal Disposable Income, published quarterly. They charted cash in people’s pockets, after taking tax and inflation into account.
Their publication was stopped when Gordon Brown was chancellor.
Peter Smith
Ingatestone, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – I was deeply shocked at Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn’s suggestion, at the Irish Primary Principals’ Network meeting, that if more time was needed on the curriculum for literacy and numeracy, then the teacher might look at taking that time from religious education.
First, does the Minister think that in learning religious education, children are not learning literacy and numeracy at the same time? Second, is he seriously suggesting that the response to over crowding in the curriculum is for one subject to cannibalise another?
However, more worrying, is that the Minister’s remarks deliberately undermine the place of a curriculum subject.
Irrespective of his own personal desire, the Primary School Curriculum Introduction (1999) states that the curriculum is divided into seven areas, one of these is religious education. It is not an optional subject. The Introduction (a State document) gives a number of reasons for the inclusion. It says that in seeking to develop the full potential of the child, the curriculum takes into account the child’s affective, aesthetic, spiritual, moral and religious needs. It goes on to say: “The spiritual dimension is a fundamental aspect of individual experience, and its religious and cultural expression is an inextricable part of Irish culture and history. Religious education specifically enables the child to develop spiritual and moral values and to come to a knowledge of God” (58). It is up to each patron to write a programme that will best give expression to this aim.
The State requires the teaching of religious education in our schools. It is of serious concern when the Minister of Education advocates the undermining of one subject by another, particularly in an integrated curriculum. Such a suggestion by the Minister raises all sorts of questions as to his motive for the introduction of a new subject/programme (in an already overcrowded curriculum) into primary schools entitled “Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics” (ERB and Ethics).
Is it the case that the Minister’s own opinions are now driving the education agenda, rather than the carefully thought-out policies built on the bedrock of expert professional consensus? – Yours, etc,
Faculty of Education,
Mary Immaculate College,
Sir, – Bill Bailey (January 28th), rightly highlights the systemic lack of integrity and honesty amongst the elite of the country. However, were one to reflect on the education received by the past and current generations of charlatans, one might hold off on recommending a greater influence by the religious orders.
The analysis of the conduct of various orders by Ryan, Murphy and others would show that the schooling in hypocrisy, secrecy and the protection of vested interests has been more than effective.
Or is there a spot of mental reservation afoot? – Yours, etc,
Highland Avenue,
Cabinteely, Dublin 18.

Sir, – The recent assertion by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton that human rights activists “should get real” (Opinion, January 23th) is both insulting and disgusting.
Human rights activists are precisely those who see the world as it really is. They are moral exemplars who cannot and will not ignore murder and rape, torture and exploitation. They feel compelled to expose such atrocities and warn us all of rulers and regimes responsible for same. It is the Minister who needs to get real. Doing business with criminals is ultimately bad business. Collaborating with oppressive regimes is ultimately bad business. Mr Bruton’s version of “realism”, of “realpolitik”, is social Darwinism at its best.
The recent fate of RCSI exemplifies how an Irish multinational institution can fall foul of a brutal regime; profits are up and business is good, but the reputation of the college is tarnished permanently. Irish trained surgeon and RCSI alumni, Ali Alekri remains in jail in Bahrain. Medical facilities in Bahrain are militarised – including the RCSI King Hamad hospital. Another colleague, Ebrahim Demastani who was sentenced to three years for sending an injured man to hospital, has been tortured and denied medical treatment in a Bahrain jail. RCSI recently stated it was not for it to tell the regime how to run its country. Many other graduates and staff of RCSI Bahrain continue to suffer and feel abandoned by their college.
I have been to the UN Human Rights Council and to the International Criminal Court and I have learned that those organisations are not empowered to force change in the real world. Real change comes from a civil society informed by human rights.
Real change comes when people vote to remove from power those responsible for corruption and collaboration with corrupt regimes. In Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton’s corporate world, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. In the real world, addressing the suffering of the many must outweigh the needs of the few. – Yours, etc,
Eccles Street, Dublin 1.

Sir, – Louise O’Keefe’s victory in the European Court of Human Rights is a victory for all institutionally abused children (Breaking News, January 28th). Her bravery and determination deserves the highest commendation.
The judgment drives a coach and horses through the Irish Government’s claim that it is not responsible for abuse in education, welfare and health bodies it regulated in law and/or paid for through the public purse. The excuse that abuse was the responsibility of the church bodies and organisations to whom the State handed over children is shown to be nonsense. For some years successive governments have used exposure of the abuse carried out by clergy and other individuals as a means of escaping responsibility. It was the State that put a sectarian system in place, behind which abuse occurred.
The judgment will give new hope to all of those abandoned by the State in various institutions. This includes misnamed mother and baby homes where so-called “illegitimate” children suffered appalling abuse, including death, under a regulatory regime that knew of but ignored their plight.
The former child residents of the Rathgar-based Bethany Home will welcome this judgment. Hundreds died in the 1930s and 1940s because the then deputy chief medical adviser explained, “illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic [starving]”. He explained also the State’s priority, that Roman Catholic and Protestant children be segregated. Properly functioning sectarian regulation would make welfare concerns and bad publicity go away, he contended. Go away they did while children suffered and died in silence.
Now those concerns are back where they should be, at the door of the Government. The Bethany residents, whose case for restitution was spurned by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in 2013, and others are back knocking on that door. – Yours, etc,
Faculty Head,
Journalism & Media Griffith
South Circular Road,
Dublin 8.

A chara, – Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was not the only Commissioner to appear before an Oireachtas Committee last Thursday. The other commissioner appearing that day (Home News, January 24th) was the outgoing Irish language Ombudsman Seán Ó Cuirreáin who last month had announced his early departure from his post due to lack of Government support for his efforts to improve the provision of state services in Irish to the public. Mr Ó Cuirreáin had been invited before this Oireachtas sub-committee to give his assessment on the Government’s 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language.
The commissioner’s comments on the present sorry state of that strategy made for sad reading. But it was even sadder to note the absence from the hearing of any representative from either of the Government parties. During his 10 years in the job Seán Ó Cuirreáin proved to be a committed and hard-working Coimisinéir Teanga, who won the trust of the Irish language community. Whether deliberate or otherwise, the absence of any Government representative from the meeting on Thursday was, in my view, a gross insult to this dedicated public servant. And it was also a gross insult to the great numbers of Irish citizens who still value the Irish language as an essential part of our cultural heritage. – Is mise,
Hollywood, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I am perplexed by reports that a bank levy may contravene EU state aid rules. The same EU as well as the ECB had no difficulty in compelling the State to aid unsecured bank bondholders a few short years ago. – Yours, etc,

A chara, – Fianna Fáil jobs spokesman Dara Calleary is critical of certain regions not getting their “fair share” of IDA jobs or site visits (Home News, January 20th). He appears to have no understanding of the factors influencing the locations chosen by new foreign firms coming to Ireland.
Back in the 1970s, when most new investment was in low-skill manufacturing, the IDA had little difficulty in spreading this investment around the country, as unskilled labour was ubiquitous. Nowadays, the types of jobs provided by foreign firms are much more highly-skilled, and mainly in services. These firms are attracted to larger urban centres, and especially Dublin, where adequate supplies of skilled workers and support services are available.
The National Spatial Strategy (NSS), launched in 2002, set out to develop a number of regional centres which could provide alternatives to Dublin in terms of availability of skills and service infrastructure. However, the NSS never got off the ground due, in large part, to a lack of effective support from the then Fianna Fáil government.
It was particularly undermined by Charlie McCreevy’s plans for the relocation of the central civil service, a cynical short-term vote-getting exercise which made no strategic or operational sense. Dara Calleary was a member of that government. – Is mise,
Department of Geography,
National University of
Ireland Maynooth,
Sir, – Regarding next year’s same-sex marriage referendum, Sean Cassidy (January 28th) claims, “If this referendum passes it will be a stake in the vampiric heart of homophobia”. His letter comes as a part of a correspondence regarding the legitimacy of the term “homophobia”. I suggest that same-sex marriage will not be a stake in the heart of homophobia, or (to put it more accurately) an end to the accusations of homophobia.
Ever since our political and social discourse has become larded with accusations of various phobias or discriminations – sexism, racism, homophobia, and so forth – it has become obvious that there is no limit to these accusations, and they can proliferate endlessly. There are whole university departments and quangos dedicated to the detection of these various phobias, and when no obvious evidence can be found, they are simply “discovered” at a deeper, sublimated level. Even in everyday life, the never-ending spiral of ever-greater political correctness shows the same process at work. Does anyone seriously believe that the bandying about of the term “homophobia” would end, or would even diminish, if next year’s referendum were to pass?
A serious debate cannot concentrate upon the supposed motives of the participants, as it is the easiest thing in the world to seek to discredit your opponent by speculating upon his or her motives. It must concentrate upon the arguments. The word “homophobia” has no place in this debate. – Yours, etc,
Woodford Drive,
Clondalkin Dublin 22.
A chara, – Patrick Treacy argues that “every civilisation that has gone before us” has used the label marriage “to refer to unions between men and women”(January 28th). As such, he believes marriage equality is an inaccurate use of language when discussing the right for men to marry men and women to marry women. He describes it “truthfully” as a campaign for the re-definition of marriage.
While it may be true that most people assume marriage refers to the union between men and women, this is simply an interpretation established by so-called social norms. Our own Constitution does not describe marriage in these terms but rather uses the term “persons”.
That same Constitution states “all citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law”. Marriage is a legal contract between two people and any loving couple should be able to access it based on the Constitution. So right now, I argue, the law is unconstitutional by discriminating against certain persons when it comes to marriage.
Denying marriage to gay couples sends out a message they are subhuman. Fundamentally, it prevents gay couples from financially protecting each other in the same way straight couples can. Marriage equality will come into effect in the UK from March. People in civil partnerships will have to dissolve their unions to marry, and many will do so because of access to greater rights under marriage. Mundane debates about language serve as unwelcome distractions from the heart of the matter. – Yours, etc,
Woodford New Road,
London, England.

A chara, – I am a tad confused by the Government euphoria at the birth of our newest baby in Quangoland, ie Irish Water . . . 1. Weren’t baby Quangos supposed to become an extinct species under Fine Gael/Labour? 2. Irish Water is clouded in secrecy but will be a shining example of Freedom of Information openness . . . soon. 3. It will be overstaffed by a factor of two, pay a fortune to consultants, have an admin to rival the HSE, but save us billions. 4. It must be the first company worldwide proposing voluntary redundancies before it becomes anywhere close to functional. 5. “The creation of Irish Water will knock 2 per cent of GDP off the national debt” as we hide the debt under the financial carpet. 6. Pat Rabbitte blames the troika, while I thought we celebrated its demise over a month ago. 7. “The economic argument for metering is questionable” but the leaks continue unabated. 8. Guess who’s going to pay for the rearing of this new baby? 9. When is the promised democratic revolution set to begin? Maybe this is it. – Is mise,

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s account of a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square (Weekend Review, January 4th) is at odds with my experience of this wonderful cultural establishment. She paints a picture of a quaint museum out of touch with modern practice. Any visitors who have accompanied me to this museum have had their eyes and minds opened to the wonderful heritage of this city’s many writers. Its curator is a guide of excellent vision and breadth of knowledge concerning our writers. His store of knowledge on his topic is unrivalled and long may he continue in his post. The fee she mentions is worth every cent and compares favourably with museum prices both on the continent and in the Americas. – Yours, etc,
Fontenoy Street,

A chara, – Kudos to Hilary Wakeman (January 23rd) and D Flinter (January 25th) for their commitment to hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism.
However, in this realm, my heart will always stay true to pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis . . . even though it never came up on any of my exams! – Is mise,
Bloomfield Park,
Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Higher water charges. – Yours, etc,
Strand Road, Dublin 4.
Sir, – “I am absolutely passionate about . . .”, as used by artisan foodies and celebrity chefs, IT whizz kids, talent contest hopefuls, sports people and politicians. Leave the passion in the leaba! And who among us does not wish the roller-coaster, that excited contestants find themselves on, would just leave the rails every now and then? – Yours, etc,
Crookstown, Co Cork.
Sir, – Scientifically proven. – Yours, etc,
Stillorgan Wood,

Irish Independent:
The kindest interpretation of the Education Minister’s anti-religious comment at the recent Irish Primary Principals Network Conference is that having a cut at Catholic schools is always good for a few column inches.
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If he really meant what he is reported to have said, then we have reason to be worried. An Education Minister should be a little more conscious of the contribution of theistic faiths to metaphysics, science and culture. He should be aware of just how important a contribution they have made, through schools and universities, in delivering educational access to the poor and disadvantaged in Ireland and in poorer countries – especially in communities where political ideologies count for nothing.
Ruairi Quinn’s comments also demean what teachers – from primary school to third level – know to be the case: namely that all knowledge needs to be encompassed within life values that have to do with putting this knowledge at the service of the wider community. In Catholic schools this means the Gospel-based values of love, social justice and equality. That begins in primary school.
In any event, the notion that teachers can only find time for teaching other subjects at the expense of teaching faith values is, of course, a nonsense. The primary school curriculum is too crowded, the classes too big, the conditions of some buildings too poor and the teachers too pressurised.
Addressing any, or all, of these would make a far greater contribution to effective teaching than ‘crowding out’ faith values that celebrate milestones in young lives and help children make sense of life, relationships and work.
Coincidentally, I read Mr Quinn’s comments after having attended my daughter’s school Mass. Her school motto is ‘Veritas’ (truth) and its mission is ‘Finding truth through the education of the whole person’.
Now that’s education – and I wouldn’t want her or any young person to miss out on an understanding of either of these life-values.
* Many years ago, Bob Dylan had a huge hit with ‘The Times They Are a Changin’, which captured the mood of that era .
Back then, ‘gay-rights’ was the opinion of the ‘Late Late Show’ host; a ‘top-up’ was what a friendly barman gave you at closing time; and ‘Irish Water’ was what you waded through during the summer.
An ‘escort-agency’ was your local Ford garage; a G-string was found on a guitar; ‘boxers’ fought in the Olympics and won bronze medals; and ‘divers’ wore skimpy togs and jumped off a high board.
A ‘whistleblower’ was the ref at the Sunday match; ‘Twitter’ was something your budgie did; an ‘iPad’ was used if they were bloodshot; a ‘disc’ was something that slipped in your back; a ‘tablet’ was what you took for the pain; and ‘ejaculations’ were short prayers the nuns taught you.
‘Mass murder’ was the church choir singing out of tune and the ‘missionary position’ was preaching the bible in Africa.
While ‘The Times’ they are a changin, thankfully ‘The Indo’ still reads the same.
* I was deeply shocked with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s suggestion, at the Irish Primary Principals’ Network meeting that if more time was needed on the curriculum for literacy and numeracy, then teachers might look at taking that time from religious education. Firstly, let me ask, does the minister think that in learning religious education, children are not learning literacy and numeracy at the same time?
Secondly, is he seriously suggesting that the response to over- crowding in the curriculum is for one subject to cannibalise another?
However, more worryingly, the minister’s remarks deliberately undermine the place of a curriculum subject. Irrespective of his own personal desire, the ‘Primary School Curriculum Introduction (1999)’ states that the curriculum is divided into seven areas, one of these is religious education.
It is not an optional subject. ‘The Introduction’ (a state document) gives a number of reasons for the inclusion.
It says that in seeking to develop the full potential of the child, the curriculum takes into account the child’s aesthetic, spiritual, moral and religious needs.
It goes on to say that: “The spiritual dimension is a fundamental aspect of individual experience, and its religious and cultural expression is an inextricable part of Irish culture and history.
Religious education specifically enables the child to develop spiritual and moral values and to come to a knowledge of God.” It is up to each patron to write a programme that will best give expression to this aim.
The State requires the teaching of religious education in our schools.
It is of serious concern when the Education Minister advocates the undermining of one subject by another, particularly in an integrated curriculum.
Such a suggestion by the minister raises all sorts of questions as to his motive for the introduction of a new subject/programme (in an already overcrowded curriculum) into primary schools entitled Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics.
Is it the case that the minister’s own opinions are now driving the education agenda?
* It should have been so straightforward. Hive off existing water departments from their councils, put them into a new, lean legal entity, start charging punters for their water and, once the new entity is trading profitably (how can it fail not to), flog it off to the private sector and pocket the proceeds.
What could possibly go wrong?
After all, clean water was already coming out of (most) people’s taps, the water departments were largely ring-fenced, self-contained units in local authorities, already said to be operating efficiently, Bord Gais would be able to provide the expertise and systems for billing consumers based on meter readings, and nothing significant needed to change to get the new company up and running quickly. And yet . . .
The somewhat hands-off Phil Hogan was given overall responsibility and a new chief executive was recruited with the Poolbeg incinerator fiasco on his CV; they employ consultants who sensed that there was a buck to be made.
The Finance Minister sees an opportunity for some creative accounting that would reduce the country’s debt; and local authorities spot a chance to pull a fast one and offload unnecessary extra staff (and their pension liabilities) onto the new company.
We should not be surprised should this scenario figure as a future case study for business schools around the world on how not to go about things.
* It is utterly disgraceful that the Government is on course to secure another agreement with the public-sector unions that will once more hit the hard-pressed Irish taxpayer.
I refer, of course, to the agreement to transfer thousands of surplus staff from county councils to the latest giant quango, Irish Water.
Why are our political leaders determined to repeat the same mistakes made at the time of the establishment of the HSE?
Irish Independent

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