12 February 2014 Treatment
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Mrs Povey wants sone DIY done Priceless.
Tiake Maqry to the hospital for her first treatment, a long long day but back home eventually.
Shirley Temple, who has died aged 85, was the screen’s most popular child star of the 1930s, receiving at the age of eight 135,000 birthday gifts from fans the world over.
Throughout the Depression years, her sunny disposition helped audiences forget their woes and a special Oscar was presented to her for “bringing more happiness to millions of children and millions of grown-ups than any other child of her years in the history of the world”. It might have turned many a tiny tot’s head, but Shirley had her mother constantly at her side to ensure she was kept on an even keel.
Gertrude Temple was the architect of Shirley’s career, masterminding every aspect, every contract, what she ate, when she slept. Before each take, she would coach her, ignoring the director, and give her last-minute instructions. “Sparkle, Shirley,” she would say. A shrewd businesswoman, she knew instinctively how to manipulate the studios and their publicity machines to her daughter’s advantage. For good or ill, she turned little Shirley into a phenomenon. Everything she did was news. In October 1936, the world gasped as a bulletin flashed over the Reuters wire: “Shirley Temple has been sent to bed with a slight fever resulting from a cold.”
She was acting in pictures from the age of four and rapidly captivated filmgoers with her blonde ringlets and dimpled charm. Dolls, books and games were named after her in a merchandising campaign matched only by Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Yet her talent was modest. She sang off-key and cynics dismissed her dancing as “mere jigging up and down”. She liked to do impersonations but her acting was generally regarded as cute rather than compelling.
She had the child star’s built-in self-destruct mechanism — what had seemed peachy in a moppet became arch in adolescence. Attempts to extend her career into young womanhood were unsuccessful and she made her last film in 1949 — washed up in Hollywood at 21.
Yet that was not the end of the Shirley Temple story. Against all sceptics’ expectations, the little girl who had never had a normal childhood matured into a distinguished politician and diplomat. She stood (unsuccessfully) for Congress before representing America at the United Nations and serving as US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia under her married name of Shirley Temple Black.
She was born on April 23 1928 in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of a bank teller. Like many a proud mother, Gertrude Temple enrolled her child in dancing classes at the age of three and promoted her vigorously. A talent scout from Educational Pictures, a small company specialising in shorts, spotted Shirley and invited her for a screen test, which led to her appearance in 1932-33 in a string of film spoofs known as Baby Burlesks. Among them were The Incomparable More Legs Sweetrick (as Marlene Dietrich), The Pie-Covered Wagon and Polly-Tix in Washington.
She alternated these performances with small parts in now forgotten feature movies such as The Red-Haired Alibi (1932) and To the Last Man (1933), opposite Randolph Scott. While filming a second series of shorts for Educational under the title Frolics of Youth, she and her mother were approached by the much bigger Fox Film Corporation (later Twentieth Century-Fox) with a view to Shirley featuring in the film Stand Up and Cheer (1934). She passed the audition and was signed up for $150 a week. When the film opened, she stole the show with the song and dance routine Baby Take a Bow.
Recognising her star potential, Fox swung its publicity department into action. But it did not have her under exclusive contract. Earlier in the year, the astute Mrs Temple had forged a two-picture deal with Paramount and it was that studio that initially reaped the benefit of her sudden fame. It rushed her into two pictures in 1934 to fulfil the contract — Little Miss Marker, based on a Damon Runyon story, and Now and Forever, in which she was the go-between who reunites an estranged couple played by Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard.
On the strength of these pictures, Shirley’s Fox contract was renegotiated to $1,250 a week. She was cast in Bright Eyes, where she sang one of the songs indelibly associated with her, On the Good Ship Lollipop, and from then on vehicles were written especially for her. By the end of 1934, aged six, she was the eighth biggest draw in America.
A year later, she was number one and held that position four years in a row, attracting more fan mail than Greta Garbo and being photographed more often than the President himself. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” she volunteered brightly.
She churned out pictures at a tremendous lick — sometimes five a year through the late-1930s — and the public clamoured for more. Features included, in 1935, The Little Colonel, Curly Top, a remake of Daddy Long Legs, and The Littlest Rebel, in which she told Abraham Lincoln that he was almost nice enough to be a Confederate. The 1936 clutch had Captain January, Dimples and Poor Little Rich Girl, while in 1937, the title role in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkie was changed from boy to girl especially to accommodate her.
Her work in this film led to a notorious libel suit involving the future novelist Graham Greene, then employed as a film critic by the magazine Night and Day. At a cocktail party, after what he later described as “a dangerous third Martini” Greene dreamt up the idea of deflating the Temple balloon, but he peppered his review of her performance in Wee Willie Winkie with such litigious terms as “dubious coquetry”, “dimpled depravity” and “mature suggestiveness”.
Shirley and Twentieth Century-Fox sued. In court in March, 1938, Sir Patrick Hastings, counsel for the plaintiffs, was too mortified to bring himself to utter Greene’s words. “In my view”, he said, “it is one of the most horrible libels that one can imagine about a child. I shall not read it — it is better I should not — but a glance at the statement of claim … is sufficient to show the nature of the libel. This beastly publication appeared but it is right to say that every respectable news distributor in London refused to be party to its sale.”
The plaintiffs won; $5,250 punitive damages were awarded to Fox, $7,000 to the actress and Night and Day folded. But as a postscript to the episode, the mature Shirley Temple bore the novelist no grudge. In 1989, she sent him an inscribed copy of her autobiography, Child Star, and invited him to tea.
The year 1938 marked the high-water mark of her popularity. She appeared in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (without ringlets for the first time), in Little Miss Broadway and Just around the Corner at a fee of $100,000 a picture, which made her Hollywood’s highest-paid earner after Louis B Mayer. By 1939 he fee had jumped to $300,000, but public taste was changing. Susannah and the Mounties was disappointing and The Blue Bird was, by common consent, a “turkey”.
MGM had wanted to borrow her for The Wizard of Oz, but Fox refused, casting her instead in what it hoped would be a rival children’s attraction . But Maeterlinck’s arty symbolism in The Blue Bird found no favour with the public. It opened in selected cinemas a few days before Christmas 1939, but proved such a dud that it had to be withdrawn after only a few days and replaced by a Sonja Henie ice-skating musical. When generally released in 1940, The Blue Bird met with no warmer response, becoming Shirley’s first unmitigated flop.
Gertrude Temple blamed Fox and offered to buy out the remainder of Shirley’s contract. Fox raised no objections and, at the age of 11, she took a “sabbatical” from the cinema, ostensibly to repair gaps in her patchy education. Though her vocabulary was officially said to be 750 words, “all of which she can write”, she had trouble with numbers over 50. According to her teacher, she still thought 47 cents was more than 55 cents.
In fact, Shirley’s absence from the screen was an opportunity for her mother to negotiate a fresh contract with another studio. She picked MGM, but it was not a happy choice. The studio was grooming its own child prodigy in Judy Garland and found only one vehicle for Shirley, the lacklustre Kathleen (1941). Roger Edens, who was Garland’s coach, let it be known that Shirley would have to put in a lot of singing and dancing practice if she hoped to be worthy of the studio. Mrs Temple took umbrage and took off.
After a remake of a Mary Pickford picture, Miss Annie Rooney (1942) at United Artists, Shirley gravitated to David O Selznick, who signed her to a seven-year contract, but as a teenager she could no longer command lead roles. Selznick cast her only in supporting parts in Since You Went Away (1944) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1945). In that year, aged 17, she also completed her interrupted education by graduating from Westlake High School for Girls in Los Angeles. She then published her first autobiography, My Young Life, and was married to army sergeant-turned actor John Agar.
The last four years of her screen career were an anticlimax. Her infant precocity gave way to mere pertness (of which there is no shortage in Hollywood) in such films as The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947), That Hagen Girl (1947), with Ronald Reagan, and A Kiss for Corliss (1949), her screen swansong, opposite David Niven. This period also included the first film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, Fort Apache (1948), in which she co-starred, aged 20, with her husband.
When the marriage failed, she wed again in 1950 – her new husband was a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Charles Black. She largely retired from acting to concentrate on social work, though from 1957 to 1959 she narrated and appeared in a television series entitled Shirley Temple’s Storybook. This was followed in 1960 by Shirley Temple Presents Young America, a programme about the problems of high-school dropouts.
From 1960 she played a leading role in developing the San Francisco film festival, resigning in 1966 only over the decision to screen the Swedish film Night Games, which she denounced as “pornography for profit”. In 1967 she ran for Congress to fill a dead man’s shoes (Republican J Arthur Younger). Though her recording of On the Good Ship Lollipop was used as a theme song at rallies, she insisted that “Little Shirley Temple is not running. If someone insists on pinning me with a label, let it read Shirley Temple Black, Republican independent.” But in the era of Lyndon Johnson, her conservative stance on taxes, law and order and drug addiction lost her the seat.
After her election defeat, she continued to work for the Republican party, raising funds and urging Americans overseas to back Richard Nixon in the forthcoming presidential campaign. When elected, Nixon named her one of the five-member American delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In this capacity she served in 1969 on the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee. Her subsequent diplomatic career included US ambassador to Ghana (1974-76), sparking a trend for Ghanaian children to be named Shirley (including boys), and to the former Czechoslovakia, to which she was appointed by President Bush in 1989.
Shirley Temple married first, John Agar, with whom she had a daughter. The marriage was dissolved. She married second, Charles Black (who predeceased her in 2005), with whom she had two more children.
Shirley Temple, born April 23 1928, died February 11 2014
Ed Miliband shouldn’t denigrate the “old-fashioned top-down model” (Power must be accountable, whether public or private, 10 February). Particularly with regard to complex services, the government needs to elicit expert advice and issue implementation guidance. How otherwise to avoid a postcode lottery of provision of service arising from disparate public views about the business and equipping of a service? Also, of those shouting the loudest getting their way. What counts is the difference between good and bad government policy. Thus the top-down implementation, against opposition from certain groups, of the National Health Service Act of 1946 is widely regarded as having inaugurated a significant advance for our society, in decisive contrast to the Health and Social Care Act of 2012. “People-powered public services” is itself a top-down policy and has welcome potential to do good.
• The shift towards people power that is happening in the wider economy through innovations like crowd-funding has yet to be fully grasped by our politicians. Collaboration among citizens acting as customers, commissioners and producers is the way to tackle public service problems. But it is also key to tackling major business and economic challenges: housing shortages; the energy crisis; transport failures; care for elderly people; banks and lending stagnation; youth unemployment and the need to develop sustainable local economies.
Energy co-operatives like Brixton Energy, mutually owned retirement facilities like Woodchester Valley, community-owned water companies like Welsh Water, fan-owned football teams like AFC Wimbledon, and a growing number of community-owned health and social care providers are enjoying great success. It will take a braver, bolder vision than any of the parties has yet outlined to get us there, but the party that fully embraces people power will set the agenda for the next decade and beyond.
Director, Social Economy Alliance
• If “the massive fiscal challenges facing the next government … make it all the more necessary to get every pound of value out of services”, when will Miliband announce that a Labour government would locate Britain’s Rail services in the public sector (like the East Coast mainline, which returns substantial income to the Treasury) rather than in the private sector (like the West Coast operation, which uses public money to subsidise private shareholders)? All the polls show that an early announcement to this effect would be as politically popular as it is economically imperative.
• How disappointing that Ed Miliband looks set to jump on the school-bashing bandwagon (Labour to give parents power to oust heads, 10 February). He should be encouraging parents and communities to work in partnership with schools. A genuine dialogue about the purposes of education and how parents might support children’s learning, involving teachers, parents and young people, would go a long way towards strengthening schools against the dead hand of governments that seem intent on undermining the profession. As things stand, most parents do not have sufficient understanding about the challenges involved in running a school to be able to determine whether a head is good or not. The very best heads are not driven solely by raw exam scores but take account of the all-round needs and wellbeing of their students – and yet they are invariably judged on headline figures. Maybe a parent council in every school (as is encouraged in Scotland) would open up this debate.
Parent Councils UK
• Ed Miliband’s vision of power devolved to communities and individuals is admirable – as far as it goes. The problem is that, in the public sector as elsewhere, money is power. As long as public services are funded largely from national taxation, central government will be responsible for its distribution and hence accountable for any failures (Aneurin Bevan’s bedpan). It is no good telling parents “they don’t have to wait for Ofsted if they believe things need to change in their school”, if the money is not there to pay for (say) longer school hours, or if what they want is ruled out by national policy as unacceptable or wasteful. To carry through its ambition to devolve power, Labour needs to tackle local government funding – a fairer, more effective council tax to make rich property-owners pay their share, and achieve real local accountability.
• Granting power to the people may have its attractions to politicians in the eternal if elusive search for bright new ideas. However, treating amorphous groups such as state school parents and NHS patients as private consumers in the free marketplace, as opposed to the users of publicly provided services, would allow them to take decisions without accountability and with neither power nor responsibility for the necessary policy, revenue raising and budgetary decisions. Ed Miliband is not the first politician to face this conundrum and probably will not be the last.
Nigel de Gruchy
I read with interest Deborah Orr’s article (Ballet could and should be much, much bigger. Come on let’s dance, 8 February). I liked the way she took a programme such as Big Ballet and instead of ridiculing those taking part, as could have been the case, made the link to the way participating in dance is so often undervalued in our society and education.
Orr is quite right that dance remains “peripheral” to physical exercise in school. It is just a very small part of the PE national curriculum. She is also right that dance could be a “conduit to a lifetime of fitness and exercise”.
But instead of saying ballet should be much, much bigger in our society, I would rather say dance should be. Then we may see it receive better attention in schools to the benefit of all young people, who would have access to not only physical exercise but also an engaging and creative art form.
National Dance Teachers Association, London
Your editorial and Jonathan Freedland’s column (If I were a Scot …, both 8 February) – as well as the bulk of comment from the London media – don’t begin to grasp the consequences of Scottish independence for the rest of the UK.
These other countries (and their regions) will see their familiar neighbour run differently: with a written constitution, a proportional voting system, a single chamber in its parliament, a rational system of referendums, a reformed judiciary, local government with real strength, and a radically tempered monarchy that has none of the fuzzy but real power of the “crown in parliament”. (The likely basis for all this can be read in documents published by the Constitutional Commission: www.constitutionalcommission.org.)
In the light of this Scottish beacon, the rest of us will follow. It’s the reason for any democrat to support a yes in Scotland on 18 September.
• You peddle the myth that Labour would not be able to win Commons majorities without its Scottish MPs. Of the nine postwar elections after which Labour formed a government (1945, 1950, 1964, 1966, February and October 1974, 1997, 2001 and 2005), the party would without its Scottish MPs have had Commons majorities in all but the 1964 and the two 1974 elections.
Emeritus, Aberdeen University
• You divide the arguments over Scottish independence into “emotional” and those involving numbers, which “matter more”. Is it emotional or rational to ask if the Scots and English cannot live under a common polity, what hope is there for Flemish and Walloon, Hutu and Tutsi, Dinka and Nuer, Catholic and Protestant, Sunni and Shia? Mr Salmond’s is a counsel not of hope but of despair.
High Peak, Derbyshire
• Scotland is not a brand (Cameron plea to save buccaneering Britain, 8 February). I am writing as a Briton born and raised in the north of England and currently domiciled in Scotland where I have lived happily for 32 years.
To me (and I suspect many) a brand is an image used to promote a product which on its merits would otherwise fail. It helps to create artificiality through the creation of a facade; is based on a projection of the glossy but is both artificial and unreal.
That the prime minister should use this language in an attempt to bolster weakening support for the maintenance of the union is no surprise. It is what he knows. It will, however, serve to harden the commitment of many to vote for independence on 18 September.
• David Cameron launches his “emotional patriotic” campaign to keep Scotland in the UK from the heart of London and tells us “I love this country. I love the UK and all it stands for.”
Fired up by his fervour, I open Saturday’s edition of the Guardian and read: “Bank of England ‘knew about’ currency fixing“; “Need a batcave? No (legal) request is too rich for this company of fixers“; “Foreign interest in London property rises” as capital flees from Bric and Mint countries. Is this the UK that Cameron loves? Just asking.
The Office for National Statistics has announced that, unless “alternative solutions” can be found, it will stop collecting and publishing information on strikes from the end of March this year. The UK has a consistent and continuous set of strike figures dating back to 1893, longer than any other country. This has helped to inform public debate about the state of industrial relations since that time. The government’s act of statistical vandalism shows that, for industrial relations, it has turned its back on evidence-based policies.
Dr Dave Lyddon
Centre for Industrial Relations, Keele University
• I don’t relish tabloidese in the Guardian. Teachers will not go in to school and then “walk out” (Report, 8 February).They just won’t go to work.
• I see Hollywood is about to trash yet another piece of our native culture (Boys who have not grown up wanted for film, 11 February). Is no one at Warner aware that Peter Pan is traditionally played by a girl?
• I guess it must have been a different David Cameron who, only a few days ago, was blaming Labour for the floods (PM: stop flooding blame game, 11 February).
• According to the internet, cobras have sharp fangs or teeth. However, David Cameron’s Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms committee keeps meeting without actually doing anything. It really is toothless.
• My own favourite bullshit alert (Letters, 10 February) is “let’s be clear” or any variation involving “clear”. Whatever clarity follows is invariably distinguished by its irrelevance.
• It’s things like the puns about eggs (Letters, 11 February) that make it worth shelling out for the Guardian each day.
In her feature on Palestinian children, Harriet Sherwood writes at length about protests in Nabi Saleh (Weekend, 8 February). She mentions that at least 140 people from the village “have been detained or arrested as a result of protest activity”, neglecting to mention terrorists, such as Ahlam Tamimi, who led a suicide bomber to a restaurant where he murdered 16 people, commenting later that she had hoped for a “larger toll”. When she was released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal, there were celebrations in Nabi Saleh.
Sherwood concedes that Palestinian stone-throwing causes Israelis to die, and then claims that Nabi Saleh’s protest leader Bassem Tamimi “neither advocates nor condemns it”. Yet he is on record in boasting that “we see stones as our message” and “our sign is the stone”. He was not arrested simply for “protesting”; he was accused of attempting to lead soldiers into an ambush, to be pelted with stones.
It would be our wish that no minor would ever find themselves in Israeli custody, yet approximately 75% of all offences committed by minors in the West Bank are violent crimes, with minors being incited to violence by official Palestinian textbooks approved for use in schools.
Finally, Hebron’s Jewish population is not protected by “4,000 soldiers” but by a few hundred, who are there due to terror attacks against a community that had coexisted peacefully with their Arab neighbours in the city for hundreds of years until the massacre of the city’s Jewish population in 1929.
Spokesperson, Embassy of Israel, London
• “The tiny village of Jinba” Harriet Sherwood describes is in fact a temporary encampment used seasonally by Bedouin shepherds. Such sites exist throughout the Middle East, including the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. The difference is that this particular site has been transformed into an anti-Israel exhibition, by displaying the inevitable hardship of a nomadic way of life as Israel’s wrongdoing.
If French campaigners’ incredulity at Britain’s failure to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM) is unfounded, this government should either provide the evidence it is, or agree that it is not doing enough to protect young females. The UK should at least be doing what the French are (Zero-tolerance by French authorities, 10 February). Perhaps Labour can say what it would do if in government.
• I still recall the day when, as a 10-year-old boy in Sudan, I returned home to find my sisters cut and their lives blighted. The memory of their pain, compounded by my own sense of helplessness, shame and guilt at not being able to protect or comfort them, has remained with me ever since. As a doctor, I would come to recognise the suffering that women endured at every stage of their lives because of what is referred to as circumcision. (My sisters and I never spoke about their trauma, but recently I have been able to use it as a backdrop for my novel, The Baobab’s Covenant with Rain.) To bring this barbaric practice to an end it is imperative that we target the men on whose behalf it is carried out. FGM is hidden because in these societies the women themselves are hidden. But the men are not and cannot pretend that they have nothing to do with it.
• To call FGM cutting, or even mutilation, does not convey the full horror. The clitoris, which is the main female organ of sexual feeling, is nearly always cut off. In other words, if one were to try to find a male equivalent, it would be comparable to castration. So, please help people to recognise what FGM is really all about, a brutal attack on women’s sexuality.
Neither the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, nor the head of Arts Council England, Alan Davey, seem to have come to terms with how to defend arts in a time of austerity (Letters, 8 February). The fact is, the art export regime that was effective 10 years ago – when we saved the majority, by value, of the objects independently deemed to be part of our national heritage – is now failing, and we lose the majority. This is why we need to look at other solutions, such as lengthening the time for export stops as our European colleagues do.
Furthermore, for Arts Council England to trumpet spending “only” 40% of its grant-in-aid and 30% of its Lottery money in London will not wash with deprived local authorities such as Liverpool, facing 27% reductions in spending power, while Surrey sees a 1% increase. Having failed to persuade the secretary of state for communities and local government of the need to take account of the value of the arts, the minister should persuade the Arts Council to take radical steps to reverse this trend. People across the entire country are entitled to a cultural life.
Helen Goodman MP
Shadow minister for culture
As an Australian, I took huge offence at Jeff Sparrow’s comment article on our refugee policy (31 January). As one from the “lucky country”, he should appreciate the success of our multiculturalism and work to protect what we have, rather than go crying to the rest of the world. To generalise Australians as “xenophobic” belies the amazing freedoms and opportunities enjoyed across this great country.
The global refugee crisis is a symptom of an overpopulated planet and there is no sustainable solution because the planet is finite. Australia took in over 210,000 immigrants last year – not bad for a country of just 24 million with near-term forecasts of a shrinking economy and rising unemployment.
Weak messages on refugee policy from the previous government led to a significant increase in illegal immigration, with all the trappings of death at sea, organised people-trafficking and local corruption every step of the way. Current policies are intentionally extreme to send a clear message to prospective clients of the people smugglers that the door has closed. Stopping their departure is more humane than locking up survivors of a miserable journey.
A country with planned population growth should not be criticised for trying to cap its population at a sustainable level.
Swanbourne, Western Australia
A piece of propaganda
Along with a well-balanced report on the Geneva II talks (No handshakes as Syrian enemies meet, 31 January), the same issue contained a sycophantic propaganda piece for one of the rebel factions, the Syrian National Coalition (Geneva talks play into Assad’s hands). The author of the latter, Rime Allaf, identified only as “a Syrian writer and researcher”, restates the rebels’ rejection of compromise, which in practice is an appeal to foreign intervention, since by now it is abundantly clear that no rebel faction can win the civil war.
He denounces the “abusive and obnoxious speech” of the Syrian foreign minister, and praises lavishly the “rational and constructive” contribution by leader of the national coalition, Ahmad Jarba. Is this the same man who is characterised in the other article as “the Saudi-backed tribal leader” who “repeats at every opportunity that Assad must go”?
I trust that Guardian Weekly, to keep a critical balance, will soon commission a propaganda piece by the Syrian government. Or perhaps I have misunderstood the whole thing, and “Rime Allaf” is the name of a public-relations firm, and the article an advertisement? If so, we should know who paid for it.
Abolish the peace prize
I would be wrong to smear Edward Snowden with the award of a Nobel peace prize (7 February). This might suggest to some that he is on the same moral level as terrorists and war criminals like Menahem Begin, Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama.
I am astonished that the peace prize still exists after the Obama fiasco. Selected solely on the grounds that he would not be a torturer and kidnapper like his predecessor, Obama proceeded to absolve the torturers and kidnappers in the US government and to build his own reputation as a serial drone killer.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as of July 2013, Obama has slaughtered at least 168 children as collateral damage in his drone strikes on al-Qaida (or, in the case of “signature strikes”, on people who might be construed by the military as al-Qaida because they had beards and carried guns).
As soon as it became clear that, morally, Obama is not significantly different from George W Bush, the peace prize committee members could only have preserved their integrity by abolishing the peace prize.
Growth is a smokescreen
Larry Elliott’s report on discussions at Davos (31 January) gets to the nub of the problem: economic growth is only possible at the cost of environmental destruction, ever-increasing debt levels and growing inequality. So why do we still think that economic growth is a good thing?
Let’s try something different: no economic growth, living within our means, a healthy environment and a more egalitarian society. It sounds good – so why not?
The concept of “economic growth” has become little more than an ideological smokescreen used to hide the systematic pillaging of global wealth by the super-rich – by those, for example, who are hoarding the up to $4 trillion of assets that have “gone missing” from China since 2000 (31 January).
By expropriating the rich, cutting back on unnecessary, debt-fuelled consumption by middle classes in the west, and making wise use of existing productive resources we could rescue billions from global poverty, lead better lives, and set humanity on a course towards equitable and sustainable development.
Gove should resign
If Michael Gove feels it is “good corporate practice” to regularly refresh the leadership of such organisations, in order to justify not keeping Sally Morgan in her post at Ofsted, perhaps he might like to take up his own advice and step down after nearly four years as education secretary, especially considering how busy he has been (7 February). And while he is thinking about such good practice, maybe he should consider the most effective way to appoint the best people to important posts such as chairperson of Ofsted would be through a competitive application and interview process rather than using his patronage to appoint candidates whose background is in funding the Conservative party and supporting his ideology, as opposed to having had a distinguished career in education.
Let’s respect non-drinkers
It is remarkable how some people when they hear you say, “I don’t drink,” find that to be some sort of commentary on their drinking or a threat to their fun (You’re giving up drinking? For a whole year? 31 January). I gave up drinking for a year, and now it is 26 years ago.
People can turn down anchovies in the Greek salad, opt for fresh fruit juice rather than a Coke, and this list goes on without all the drama of choosing sparkling water over wine with a meal. The low cost of a unit of alcohol is a big part of the problem.
I went into my local liquor store this morning and said to the clerk, “I am doing research for a British paper and what is the lowest priced beer that you have?” A six pack for $3.99, about 67 cents per can. No matter the currency, still cheaper than a can of Coke.
And then there was the story of the British motorway pub (Shortcuts, 31 January) being a “real concern”. I’d love to know the logic behind that decision.
Alcohol is still treated like a soft drug on both sides of the pond, when indeed it causes more problems than all other drugs combined.
There are many people out there who choose not to drink alcohol and that choice should be respected and treated with the same aplomb as, “Hold the anchovies, please.”
Pownal, Vermont, US
• Your report Cameron to rip up green rules (31 January) says that tearing up 80,000 pages of environmental protection and building guidelines will save builders about £500 ($825) for each new home. Is that all? Will buyers notice any difference? What will be the extra cost to the owner each year in fuel and maintenance bills? I am no fan of over-regulation, but how can they complain when removing it saves so little?
• I’m nonplussed at the strength of my fellow readers’ feeling against the King William’s Quiz (Reply, 17 and 31 January). As with Araucaria, the challenge of the quiz lies not so much in finding the information that constitutes an answer as in working out what is being asked in the first place – especially, what theme binds each of the different groups of questions.
My first Araucaria answer relied on knowing the nickname of an English football team. My equally hard-won inaugural answer to a KWQ clue came from an author whom I first encountered in (where else?) a Guardian Weekly review. No classical education needed for either: prick your brain to activity, not anger.
• How nice to learn that France is peering over the borders with Germany (31 January) as well as with the UK, the latter sentiment penned impeccably by Anne Hidalgo, the deputy mayor of Paris. As one would aptly put it over here: “Ouf!”
L’Isle Jourdain, France
• Your piece on Tryfan (31 January) reminds me of my National Service in Shropshire in 1952. A 48-hour weekend pass allowed me and Andy, my Scottish friend, to cycle to Snowdonia via the A5. I remember Andy saying that Tryfan is the only mountain in Britain that cannot be climbed without using one’s hands. It was also on this trip that I saw my first corpse, a climber who had not made it.
I see from Wikipedia that the YHA hostel where we stayed is called Idwal Cottage. But I don’t think we essayed the step between Adam and Eve.
Buderim, Queensland, Australia
If blame is to be apportioned for the misery affecting water-stricken homes, it should be laid at the door of five decades of politicians: those who looked only as far as the next elections and did not have the courage to take necessary but costly measures to mitigate climate change – and adapt to the inevitable consequences – because they would not show immediate political benefits.
Back in the 1970s, ecologists were already warning about climate change. In those days they called it “global warming”, until it became clear that heating the atmosphere would disrupt the climate everywhere, causing “extreme weather events”.
This month, along with the floods in the UK, there has been a drought in California. These are two countries which, for decades, have been blocking strong international action on climate change. The US sabotages any global initiatives and the UK, which follows its “master”, does the same at European level.
Since the US is so keen on class actions, why don’t the washed-out residents of Somerset and Surrey follow their lead and seek compensation for decades of ineffectual government?
Dave Skinner, Tervuren, Belgium
Another day, another Cobra meeting. I wonder how many voters on the Somerset Levels voted to keep first-past-the-post in the PR referendum? Had voters in the West Country (or indeed nationwide) voted for a change they might find politicians take more notice.
Voters in this region are cursed with a lack of marginal seats. Those who troop faithfully to support the Tory status quo do themselves no favours. There are no incentives to listen to voters, as safe seat after safe seat swells the green benches and those they elect don’t have to work too hard fighting for their constituents. There’s a lot of sound and fury, of course, and some feisty quango-bashing, but very little success in prising money away from the South-east.
The same applies to safe Labour seats in their heartlands, where they too don’t have to work too hard to keep these seats and similarly take their electorate for granted.
If there was a chance of every vote counting it would be easier to get rid of many of these time-servers, many of whom barely darken the doors of their constituency offices except once every five years or so, being far too occupied in the City, at the Inns of Court, or running their own businesses in constituents’ time.
Paul Jenkins, Abbotskerswell, Devon
A government that promotes austerity measures and claims that Big Society volunteers and the private sector will pick up what the public service can no longer do was always likely to end in a bad place, and now it has.
While people in a number of areas are suffering from flooding, it is clear that cuts to the Environment Agency’s budget and staffing have made a difficult situation worse.
No doubt some volunteers are helping in flood work, but there are limits. Dredging rivers and saving life and limb are jobs for professionals, and they are to be found in the public sector. After weeks of flooding in Somerset, there has been no evidence of volunteer or private sector dredging operations. Rather, it is the Army who are called into help.
It is probably too much to hope that the ideologues of the present government will take the point, but one suspects that voters will.
Keith Flett, London N17
Why is so much annoyance and frustration being directed towards the Government and the Environment Agency about the reaction to homes being flooded?
The first response to the appalling situation is the responsibility of local authorities, in the shape of their general workforce, the police and Fire and Rescue. If sandbags are not being provided, road closures are not being properly managed, or people are not being helped to deal with flooding or evacuate their property, it is their local authority which is at “fault”.
As demonstrated several weeks ago in Somerset, when the local authority (and in particular the so-called “gold commander”) can see that the situation under their management is likely to be so serious that they require externally provided assistance, they can declare a “major incident” and central government resources (such as those of HM Forces) can be called on.
If residents and those marvellous volunteers in affected local areas feel that they are not being properly served then they really should direct their grievances elsewhere. Sometimes the easy route of blaming government for everything is just plain wrong.
Laurence Williams, South Cockerington, Lincolnshire
If you need something done about flooding, or, indeed, anything else of importance, it would appear that you have a choice of two routes. One, ask the Prince of Wales to visit you, or, two, threaten the Home Counties.
Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Nothing democratic about EU election
Even Nick Clegg (Comment, 11 November), the most committed of Europhiles, puts forward no reason to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the European elections except to reduce Ukip’s share of the vote.
He presumably knows that were we to elect 73 Lib Dem MEPs or 73 Ukip or Conservative or Labour MEPs, it would not make any difference to the laws that are passed in Europe and the regulations that affect us. This is the reason some of us have doubts about the European project.
It isn’t, as Nick Clegg suggests, that we are turning our back on the world. It is that Nick, by his call for supporters of the EU to vote for his party, confirms that Euro elections are nothing more than a grand opinion poll of the small number of people who bother to vote in them. This lack of democracy is more important than his carefully worded scaremongering about putting jobs and investment in Britain “at risk”.
Julian Gall, Godalming, Surrey
The best ways to give up smoking
The article “New tools to break nicotine addiction” (Addiction special report, 5 February) implies that electronic cigarettes are supported by guidance from NICE. For the time being, they are not.
Such products for replacing nicotine need to be licensed by the medicines safety body, the MHRA, before we can recommend them. It’s likely that e-cigarettes may be less harmful than smoking; but if people need support to quit they should use patches, gum, spray or any of the other approved therapies which we know are safe, effective and quality-assured.
Professor Michael P Kelly, Director of the NICE Centre for Public Health, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, London SW1
No cold showers at Gordonstoun
Amusing as it was to see the school being used as a political football, it is clear that Tristram Hunt has not visited Gordonstoun in recent years (“Children ‘need lessons in how to concentrate’ ”, 10 February).
We urge him to do so. He will realise that Gordonstoun abandoned cold showers decades ago, and he would be met by students who would no doubt impress him with the very characteristics he wishes to develop.
In emphasising the importance of “the teaching of resilience and self-control and character to improve life chances” he is getting to the heart of exactly what Gordonstoun is about.
We would welcome Mr Hunt to the school to witness a very different educational experience from the one he imagines.
Simon Reid, Principal, Gordonstoun School, Elgin, Moray
In 1956, I attended a newly built grammar school. It had cricket, football and rugby pitches, four tennis courts and a grade-one running track. The whole site was sold off by the Thatcher government and is now a housing estate. This school was not alone, as many state schools found their grounds sold off; the ethos was that sporty types could join a club, they did not need schools.
So when the Education Secretary stands up and says he wants state schools to offer the same facilities and be as good as independent schools we know it is simply hot air. John McLorinan (letter, 7 February) is quite right – Mr Gove has no credibility.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
Sad fate of Marius the giraffe
While it is very sad that a healthy young giraffe was killed, the more shocking revelation was that it was dissected in front of a group of schoolchildren. Following recent revelation that Danish slaughterhouses organise visits by school parties, one starts to reassess Denmark and its views on the care of young people.
Gyles Cooper, London N10
It’s funny that we condemn the death of Marius the giraffe while daily inflicting violence and death on chickens, pigs, cows, sheep and fish.
Mark Richards, Brighton
It is time to separate the functions and have a second body dealing with floods, droughts and infrastructure maintenance and development
Sir, You say that the Environment Agency is “very possibly” unfit for purpose. On what evidence? The floods, the result of unprecedented rainfall, have certainly shown that the flood prevention strategy is now inadequate and must be revised. The EA works within government policies and funding. The expert advice it takes suggests that dredging, for example, would not have prevented the flooding. We need a new strategy not sacrificial lambs. And it will be expensive to implement — far more expensive than the current piecemeal plans.
Sir, Is it time to restructure the Environment Agency (EA)? The old National Rivers Authority (NRA) managed all aspects of the river system. It was run largely by civil engineers who understood the issues involved. The wider brief of the EA has diminished the engineers’ role considerably, and there are too many non-engineers, with little knowledge of open channel hydraulics, discharging the functions of professional engineers.
Lord Smith of Finsbury, chairman of the Environment Agency, has acknowledged that many European countries operate a system not very different to that of the old NRA. It is time to separate the functions and have a second body dealing with floods, droughts and infrastructure maintenance and development — the elver and the anthropoid are not equal “stakeholders” in this game.
Fellow, Institution of Civil Engineers
Saffron Walden, Essex
Sir, Lord Smith is not wrong to apportion some blame those who choose to live in flood-prone areas, but the real culprits are the planners who let developers to build houses on flood plains simply to increase council tax revenues.
Sir, We have no desire to see the Levels devoid of people and farms (“We can’t allow Somerset to sink into a swamp”, Feb 5). The floods are as bad for wildlife as they are for people. We envisage a landscape rich in wildlife, where people enjoy a thriving economy based on the region’s special qualities and where farmers rear quality livestock cheek by jowl with wildlife. By managing flood risks and controlling levels, we trust the community will once again enjoy its wetland landscapes.
This bold vision requires political leadership, courage and investment. The reward will be a flourishing region, proud of its natural assets and heritage.
RSPB, Sandy, Beds
Sir, There can be few, if any, lowland rivers in the country so good at clearing excess flow as the Thames: it can carry many times its summer flow without breaking its banks.
I can recall the difficulty in persuading oarsmen from the Severn that a foot above normal could be dangerous when they declared ten feet held no fears for them at home. Unfortunately, the extreme floods experienced this year are indicators only of the massive and protracted rainfall in its enormous catchment.
Sir, With severe flooding at Wraysbury, Staines, Datchet and Colnbrook, Heathrow Ltd’s plans to concrete over a vast area in these localities in order to build a third runway must surely be “dead in the water”.
West Drayton, Middx
Sir, I am concerned about the impact of monitoring and relentless assessment on the well-being of children. The pressure on them to “reach their potential” academically is so acute that many are suffering as a result.
I am a year ten tutor; that is to say children, and they are still children, of 14/15. Every two weeks I meet the students individually or in groups and talk to them about their schooling.
This year all I have dealt with is academic (grade) related stress including regular insomnia and feeling sick all the time. Quite severe would you not agree?
I have been a teacher for 16 years in three schools (including a grammar), been a head of year and a pastoral manager for ten of these ,and I have not seen this before.
I am very concerned we look after our young people and educate them to successfully and confidently take their place in the world. Education is about building self-esteem, and stressed students are lowering their self-esteem.
Even just to look at this from an entirely cold economic point of view the country may well be storing up a massive future healthcare and lost-work-day costs as people suffering from stress in teenage years are more likely to continue to do so into adulthood.
Head of Design and Technology
The Marlborough C of E School
Sir, Contrary to her intention, Clare Gerada (“Share your data with the NHS. It’s safe and beneficial”, Feb 8) reveals precisely why so many oppose the release of patients’ confidential information to the central Health and Social Information Centre without their permission. The risks of breach of confidentiality, centrally and after sale to commercial interests, are clear from the recent examples of leakage, careless loss of memory sticks, and theft of similar “confidential” personalised data sets in non-health related areas. The loss of customers’ personal data by Barclays Bank this weekend is a good example. The larger the data set the greater the risk.
Dr Gerada implies that the arrangements are not different from the existing release of hospital information — but they are: hospital information is much less detailed and personal.
The proposals may well enhance the research interests of medical academics, but there is no evidence that they will lead to improved safety and efficacy of the NHS or our understanding of disease.
It is naive to suggest that the adverse effects of thalidomide would have been picked up earlier had the proposed system been in operation. Times are different and now thalidomide would not have reached the market at all because the occurrence of birth defects and neuropathies would have become identified before marketing through clinical trials and there would not have been GP held data to analyse.
Surely it is of significance that so many GPs and other doctors oppose this abuse of the confidential relationship between patient and GP, inevitably interfering with patient care.
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, St Bartholomews and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry
Sir, I did not know until I read the article by Chris Smyth (Feb 8) that “anonymous data from hospitals is already made public…”. Is it just a coincidence, that a few weeks after I was referred to the stroke clinic of my local hospital with severe headaches, I received raffle tickets from the Stroke Society?
Sir, The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme is still the gold standard in my opinion (“True grit and character: MPs call for extra subjects on school curriculum”, Feb 11). I have seen many young people, often disadvantaged in some way, develop inner strength, resourcefulness and confidence through participation in all four sections of the award. It does require commitment and time on the part of participants and leaders but it isn’t costly and ultimately is valued by employers.
Sir, Please stop calling Jenny Jones, the Olympic snowboarder, a chalet maid (Feb 10). We always were, and are, chalet girls.
Hope Mansell, Herefordshire
Sir, In your splendid coverage of Jenny Jones’ triumph in Sochi she is referred to as a “chalet girl” or “chalet maid”. This is not a gender-specific job — the correct term is chalet host.
My youngest son is in the Alps as a “seasonaire”, cooking, cleaning and hosting for 12 guests every week. His motive for this hard work is to be able to out-ski his older brother when they next meet on the slopes.
SIR – Your leading article raises concern that three out of five children don’t know the trials of Jonah and the rest of the Bible stories.
May I recommend Open the Book, which is a version of the Bible for primary schools. The children at our village school loved hearing about Jonah the Moaner and acting out his time stuck in the slimy insides of a whale, in our case an old sleeping bag.
SIR – Bible stories are enriching and have an important place in literature and history. There are, of course, many challenging parts of the Bible that should prompt debate in any classroom. Because religious fanatics can interpret the text for their own immoral purposes, our children must be given the skills to combat fanaticism intelligently.
Rabbi Neil Janes
The Liberal Jewish Synagogue
SIR – If the horrific tales of genocide, slaughter, rape and pillage, and the stoning to death of disobedient children, non-virgins on their wedding night and Sabbath breakers in Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Joshua were put in children’s books, they would be banned.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
SIR – By defending his staff, Lord Smith of Finsbury, chairman of the Environment Agency, continues to dodge the issue – criticism is not aimed at the agency’s employees on the ground but at himself and at those senior members of the organisation who determine policy.
Nor should we be impressed by the agency’s insistence on the number of properties that have not been affected thanks to its efforts. Any military commander who sought to defend a bad action, on the grounds of the number of men who were not killed, would probably not get a Field Marshal’s baton.
SIR – Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, suggests that foreign aid spent in a sustainable way will help alleviate extreme weather in Britain. Where is the evidence for this?
With the massive greenhouse gas emissions of China, India and America, anything we spend will hardly register. A reduction of ocean levels is as unlikely to be achieved as a reduction in adverse weather.
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire
SIR – Has everybody involved in the flood defences forgotten how to fill a sandbag? Sand should be loosely packed so that as the bag is dropped into position the sand inside moulds itself to the contours of the bag below. Any holes left are filled as the sand flows when the water level rises.
The sandbags being so industriously placed in position by the emergency services are overfilled, so that the sand inside cannot move. Any wall built with them will leak like a sieve.
SIR – It seems ludicrous to penalise people who take edible food out of the likes of Iceland’s bins. The problem is that the supermarkets have so much waste in the first place.
When I lived in Bordeaux, I worked with a charity known as Les Restaurants du Coeur – an organisation set up by Coluche, the actor and comedian, to help feed the homeless. They use empty restaurant premises and cook and serve meals to the homeless, using perfectly edible food from supermarkets that would otherwise have been thrown away because it was a couple of days before the sell-by date. The supermarket got free publicity (since it would otherwise have thrown away the food) and the homeless got fed. This was a win-win situation.
There are now almost 2,500 similar restaurants throughout France, and others have been set up in Belgium and Germany.
Perhaps we should set up a similar institution instead of prosecuting people for “stealing” food that should never have been dumped in the first place.
Long live the dress
SIR – I had the train cut off my wedding dress and made into a baby’s christening gown for my children to wear when they were christened. It is now wrapped in tissue paper and kept in a special box in the hope that one day it will be worn by my grandchildren.
The remainder of my wedding dress is now the perfect length for a cocktail dress, but, alas, I am no longer the perfect shape or size to squeeze into it.
SIR – We are told that a Yes vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum will have dire consequences for the rest of the Union. So far I have not seen any details as to what these will be.
Nor has there been any indication of what will happen if the vote goes the other way. Can the current relationship be allowed to continue, with 59 MPs at Westminster purporting to represent Scottish constituents but unable to debate or vote on purely Scottish matters?
Must the rest of the Union also continue to pay the Scots more than is paid to other British subjects?
T D Thompson
SIR – In your leading article on David Cameron’s speech at the Olympic Park, you say that Britishness is something we “would miss when it was gone”. Really? I have no strong feelings either way. It is down entirely to the Scots to decide on their future. But if they go it alone, the idea of Englishness coming into play has considerable appeal.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
MPs’ cleaning expenses
SIR – Further to your report, it is worth clarifying that no MPs have received expenses to cover the cost of someone cleaning their flat since the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was created in 2010.
We overhauled the system of MPs’ costs and expenses and that was one of the types of expense we banned. Since 2010, the changes we made have saved the taxpayer more than £35 million.
Sir Ian Kennedy
SIR – My cutlery drawer is full of various openers with rotating cutting wheels that performed brilliantly for a few weeks — then lost the power to open tins. Is it a design fault? Where can I buy one of those openers that you speared into the can and worked your way round the rim? The edge was lethal, but they never lost their power.
I am writing on behalf of my cat, who does not appreciate the long wait and the bad language before getting his tea.
Dr Bob Turvey
Stoke Bishop, Gloucestershire
In knots over the meaning of the Prince’s tie
SIR – The Prince of Wales was wearing the country tie of the Royal Thames Yacht Club.
In 1974, he succeeded Lord Mountbatten as Commodore, a post now held by the Duke of York.
SIR – The tie worn by the Prince of Wales is very similar to the one I bought from Tesco’s just after Christmas. It has vague similarities to the regimental tie of the Royal Army Pay Corps, in which I was proud to serve many years ago.
Dr John Black
SIR – The Royal Air Force? The University of Wales? The Queen’s Dragoon Guards? It would seem that the tie is not infallible in conveying a person’s club, military or academic affiliations.
J P G Bolton
Bishops Lydeard, Somerset
SIR – When appearing as an advocate in magistrates’ courts many years ago, I often wore a tie with a distinctive stripe.
When asked once, by the chairman of the bench, which regiment it represented, I could only reply that it was the 5th Marks & Spencer Light Cavalry.
Hampsthwaite, North Yorkshire
SIR – If it is to be a crime to smoke in a car with children present, surely it should also be illegal for a woman to drink more than a certain amount of alcohol while pregnant?
How far should the state go in putting into law what most people regard as common sense?
SIR – The appeal to ban smoking in cars carrying children is wholly justified.
Tests carried out by the laboratory of the Government Chemist showed that the level of the most potent of cigarette carcinogens was eight times higher in exhaled smoke than that inhaled by the smoker.
This is why smoking in passenger-carrying cars should be banned, as it is now in some public spaces. That was the one sensible action undertaken by Gordon Brown’s government.
Bourne End, Buckinghamshire
SIR – While I support those readers in favour of banning smoking in cars carrying children, in the interest of road safety it should be an offence to smoke while driving at any time.
A close friend of mine, a university professor, was knocked off his bike by a driver whose lighted cigarette had dropped into his lap. This caused the driver to take both his hands off the steering wheel to retrieve the cigarette. The result was that my friend was badly injured, with fractures to his skull, ribs, pelvis and legs. He spent many weeks in hospital. At the time he was chairman of an international committee in America on space exploration, from which he had to retire, as his injuries prevented him from travelling.
The driver of the car cooperated fully with the police, and my friend has made a full recovery. But I know of other crashes that have resulted in the permanent injury or death of the victim.
SIR – The proposed ban on smoking in family cars may be well-intentioned. It will, of course, be as effective as the ban on using mobile phones in cars.
SIR – For children brought up in a family of smokers, banning in-car smoking is not the solution. Their exposure to second-hand smoke is higher, and for longer, at home.
SIR – My parents puffed away on untipped cigarettes on every car journey. The benefit is that I was put off smoking for life.
SIR – If a ban on smoking in cars with children on board is introduced, will convertibles be excluded?
Lumut, Perak, Malaysia
Sir, – With almost no sense of self-examination or irony, people are joining the pack-like and personalised vilification of people like Breda O’Brien and David Quinn across virtually every media outlet. The case for same-sex marriage is being presented as irrefutable dogma. The reputations of people who question this, irrespective of their reasoning, are being treated as if they were worth no more than “pig’s spit”, to quote a contributor to the online comment forum of this newspaper.
As someone, who like Jerry Buttimer, knows first hand the humiliation of being systematically spat at, intimidated and beaten (in my case because of my small size, my rural upbringing and my faith commitment) I abhor bullying in all its guises. Knowing that I will face the ostracisation that has been called for on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday morning, I want to say publicly that I intend to vote No to same sex marriage in the forthcoming referendum, not for any religious reasons, but because I believe there is a profound inequality at the heart of the proposal.
If two lesbian women or two gay men wish to bring a new life into the world they cannot do so without the intervention of at least one other adult. Two gay men will require the assistance of a surrogate mother and possibly an egg from a fourth adult. Two lesbian women will require the donation of sperm from a man (who may be anonymous). In each case it will require the “commissioning” of a child (to use the language of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s Children & Family Relationships Bill) who will be sundered from either his or her mother or father, not because of tragic circumstances or the break-up of a relationship, but by an act of adult choice.
Our genetic heritage is as intrinsic a part of who we are as our sexuality. To decide to sunder a child from that inheritance before she is even born is treating her in a radically unequal way. I believe that there is no right for an adult, straight or gay, to do that.
If we are to equate same-sex marriage with heterosexual marriage in our Constitution then we will have to pretend that we will not be treating some children in a profoundly different and unjust way. If pointing this out is what now constitutes homophobia then Humpty Dumpty is our King. – Yours, etc,
Windy Arbour, Dublin 14.
Sir, – Allowing your letters page to be used to accuse people with a different view on a matter of public debate of being “simply ill” and “suffering from a mental or emotional disorder” and, as a consequence, having no “good name” to lose is highly questionable (Declan Kelly, February 11th).
All citizens of this republic are entitled to express opinions whatever the rest of us think of them.
One of the characteristics of totalitarian regimes, however, is to lock up people who challenge their authority and label them insane. We should not be promoting that mindset in this democracy. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I must congratulate The Irish Times for allowing regular, and paid, space to the esteemed commentators, John Waters and Breda O’Brien, who are opposed to marriage equality. It is a very broadminded policy. But am I allowed to say that MrWaters and Ms O’Brien are hostile to same-sex marriage and I personally feel that hostility? I feel it deeply. I certainly do not wish to upset or annoy these experts on gay matters in any way, or leave myself open to litigation as I don’t have €85,000 in the bank at present. Anyway, what would a 65-year-old gay man, who has been beaten up, discriminated against and abused, know about gay matters? What indeed. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – There is an ironic inevitability that a debate about the meaning of a particular word, “homophobia”, results in a completely wrong meaning of another word, “schizophrenic”, as used by one of your letter writers on the subject. Be aware that schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder, regardless of how much modern culture thinks otherwise.
Indeed, in my opinion this error is the modern equivalent of believing the world is flat and the question is how long will it be before that is commonly recognised? I certainly hope that between us we can do our bit to help correct the error, your readership being as good a group as any to start with. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In light of calls for calm and rational debate about matters of public controversy, perhaps we should discuss what guidelines might contribute to such an outcome. I would like to suggest three.
Many years ago, a respected colleague and mentor of mine in Trinity College advised that you should always avoid argument directed at your opponent’s motivation for the simple reason that we can never know with certainty what motivates another person.
Instead you should engage with your opponent’s arguments at face value.
From an American colleague, I learnt you should always engage with the strongest argument advanced by your opponent against your position.
Finally, I remember being struck by a statement made by Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison to the effect that you should always ensure that your opponent withdraws from any engagement with their respect and dignity intact. – Yours, etc,
Law School, Trinity College
Dublin, Dublin 2.
Sir, – Of all the cocked up translations of logainmneacha from Irish to English, Cork must surely be the worst. The southern capital is not Corky – it does not float. No, it’s Corcaigh – marshy. And it is a saucer. A 2.8 metre surge and Pana gets flooded.
So the consultants say a sea barrier at €300-400 million is too expensive (Home News, February 10th). Compared to what? And where is the imagination? Would a war footing not be more appropriate? Cork is too important to be let swing by the beancounters. Could the Government not waive VAT on the job? Throw in a big dose of Dúthracht and get the bill down to €250 million. Give the city back its municipal bond raising powers to issue long-term bonds paying 6 per cent to raise €300 million. Pension funds are screaming for yield. €18 million a year interest – couldn’t Apple and the rest of the double Irish crowd throw in a few bob?
Get the sporting legends on board: JBM, Billy Morgan, ROG, Roy Keane. Doing this properly for Cork is way more important than that match in Saipan. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Regarding your Editorial (February 11th) calling for “An independent investigation” into this matter; I’m surprised that neither you, nor the range of commentators addressing the “bugging” of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) and the office’s relationships with the Minister and the Garda Síochána, has asked how the story was somehow “leaked” to a British newspaper in the first place. If public confidence is to be served, perhaps an investigation should address internal leaks as well as external bugging. – Yours, etc,
Monkstown, Co Dublin.
Sir, – On the matter of the surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, I was very disquieted to see the Taoiseach said, “Most importantly, Section 80 subsection 5 of the Garda Síochána Act requires that GSOC would report unusual matters or matters of exceptional importance to the Minister for Justice and that’s a fundamental issue that GSOC needs to explain to the Minister for Justice.”
In fact, Section 80 subsection 5 of the Garda Síochána Act says: “The Ombudsman Commission may make any other reports that it considers appropriate for drawing to the Minister’s attention matters that have come to its notice and that, in its opinion, should, because of their gravity or other exceptional circumstances, be the subject of a special report to the Minister.”
There is no such requirement as the Taoiseach is reported to have claimed. So, why would the Taoiseach make such a claim so forcefully to the public? – Yours, etc,
St Anne’s Drive,
Sir, – Why did Garda Ombudsman apologise to Alan Shatter?
The Taoiseach was incorrect about the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission having to inform the Minister. The Commission is not obliged under law to inform the Minister. That it didn’t speaks volumes.
The question that needs to be asked now is did the State sanction the bugging of the offices of the Garda Ombudsman Commission? – Yours, etc,
Rath Chairn, Co na Mí.
Sir, – Even Inspector Clouseau knows you start an investigation by identifying those who would have a motive. So why, as a former inspector, is Commissioner Callinan getting upset that Garda involvement in surveillance was considered?
The shortlist of those who would have both the motive and resources to eavesdrop on the Ombudsman’s office is small. Coupled with the Commissioner’s distaste for scrutiny shown at the PAC, it does not inspire confidence. – Yours, etc,
Bantry, Co Cork.
Sir, – Charlie Talbot (February 11th) need have no fear about who is watching the watchers on this 30th anniversary of 1984 . Who needs big brother when the little brothers of the social media rabblement are there to issue FOIs, look up IP addresses and search the WHOIS section of domain name registration websites to ferret out the unpolitically correct.
The Government and the Garda Ombudsman do not know the half of it when it comes to surveillance. – Yours, etc,
ULTAN Ó BROIN,
Half Moon Bay,
Sir, – The attitude displayed by the chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission on RTÉ news, made one wonder about the commission’s impartiality.
In his statement, he concluded by saying, “We found no evidence of Garda misconduct and we shut down the investigation”.
Considering that statement one can only conclude that the Commission was of the opinion that its office was bugged by the Garda Síochána and when they discovered that was not the case, they lost interest in discovering the authors of the alleged bugging. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Am I right in thinking that the GSOC is being taken to task for not whistleblowing on what may have been suspected misconduct by members of An Garda Síochána? Did I miss something recently? if not the irony is almost hilarious. – Is mise,
Sir, – How can the GSOC exonerate Garda involvement unless it has identified the perpetrator of the alleged infiltration? Was it blind-sided by journalistic revelations? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Garda Ombudsman’s office deals, almost exclusively, with complaints against the Garda Síochána. The identity of groups, allegedly, making attempts to hack into its IT must, by definition be very limited. Head of that list though must be the Garda Síochána.
Why, then, is the Commissioner so surprised that this is the general perception of events? Instead of going on TV to express his hurt/ astonishment/ disbelief, will he not simply prove to us, the citizenry, that we are mistaken? – Yours, etc,
MAIRIN de BURCA ,
Upper Fairview Avenue,
Sir, – Trade missions are designed to develop trade not to attempt to change the behaviour of the host country. Such attempts could not only frustrate the objective of the trade visit but provide an opportunity for the hosts to underline the flaws in our own society, the clear evidence of which we see daily in the media.
But why stop at human rights? Why not criticise the daily reading of the Koran, the five times a day prayers, polygamous marriages, the prohibition of alcohol and their failure to consume large quantities of Guinness?
There are dangers in conflating trade with politics and human rights. Trade has been used too often as a weapon, mainly with harmful results. There are forums where human rights should be discussed, but a trade mission is not one.
The development of Ireland’s exports is difficult and complex enough without trying to embrace the additional role of morality policeman. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The disingenuousness of Tom Stack’s letter, in which he extols the benefits of Catholic schools in the US (February 8th), cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
He must know that because of the “establishment clause” in the American constitution no public money can be used to fund a school that supports the tenets of any religion. Therefore, unlike here, Catholic schools only exist because of the application of private finance.
That would not be an issue here. The problem in our version of a republic is the use of taxpayers’ money for the furtherance of religious indoctrination. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In response to Dr Kevin T Ryan (February 10th), I feel that Joe Humphreys was spot on, and I would add that reining in transnationals, for example, would only be a short-term solution.
In my view, the bigger picture is that the developed countries want for nothing and we have reached saturation point. Our material needs are being met. Further inevitable automation will put people out of work, and we persist in hoping that something new will somehow give rise to full employment.
Full employment is gone; it is a thing of the past. As far as I can see, the only “growth” areas for future jobs is in the social areas, eg caring, community projects, job-sharing, shorter working weeks. We need to start sharing out work, for example.
Such a policy might lead to claims that the ambitious will be stifled, for instance. However, one idea I have is that everybody be given a basic number of hours, and those who wish to work more can seek more. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Disappointed clients of St Valentine (Weekend Review, February 8th) might consider invoking a saint of Irish origin, echoing the old German prayer: “ Heilige sankt Koloman, schenk’ mir auch ein Mann (aber nicht ein’ Rote) ”: “Holy St Koloman, send me a husband (but, please, not one with red hair)”. Coloman is also patron saint of Austria, however, so he is a busy man. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – One of the criteria you use to choose your top 50 list of Who Runs Ireland (Weekend Review, February 8th) is the ability to make big decisions that affect our lives. Why, then, did you not pick Ross O’Carroll-Kelly? – Yours, etc,
Enniscrone, Co Sligo.
Sir , – “The Garda Commissioner is to seek legal advice . . .” – Yours, etc,
Sir, – “We will publish no more letters on this topic” is a phrase we could live with. – Yours, etc,
Meadow Copse, Dublin 15.
* Morality is universal: right and wrong are not location specific. The law is supposed to run on similar lines. What is deemed to be fair and proper should not vary just because one crosses a border or travels from one place to another.
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The trouble is, that while we accept the existence of good and evil as the watermark of our civilisations, we do not embrace them as the gold standards of behaviour. It is perfectly alright for people to buy clothes made in sweatshops and sold in the high street – made by underage workers who are paid a pittance – these items can be deemed high fashion, and may be admired in glossy magazines.
No awkward questions need be asked, appearance is all. Face value is sufficient. It is just business, and when it is just business, we don’t need to grapple with moral responsibility.
Take the proposals to sell on mortgages that are in trouble to hedge funds. It is understood that should this happen, the mortgages may no longer be subjected to regulation. Hence should the new owners wish to maximise profits, as they surely will, there will be nothing to stop them jacking up interest rates.
On the other hand, if one had an interest in a bank that had engaged in highly irresponsible lending, one would not be thrown to the tender mercies of the wolves of Wall Street. One would instead be recompensed in full, and the little guy would take the hit.
It seems that there is no margin for right or wrong, good or bad, on a modern balance sheet.
There is only the bottom line, and this has become the bedrock of financial “ethics”. This bottom line imperative, without a prism of moral responsibility, has the potential for more misery then all the planet’s weapons of mass destruction.
D O’BRIEN DALKEY
POOR BOX FOR VICTIMS
* While I believe the proposal to place the ‘poor box’ on a statutory footing is a welcome development, I am somewhat surprised at the lack of coverage and debate surrounding the decision to cease using the money to fund charitable causes.
The Bill says money raised will be used for “compensation, reparation and assistance for the victims of crime”, which the explanatory note states includes the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
This scheme (and victims’ services generally) has been chronically underfunded for many years with applicants suffering from long delays in receiving compensation. If the money is to be re-assigned it should be included in the budget for this scheme.
While there is a temptation to save money at every turn, it would be a true shame if the minister was simply to switch the source of funding for victims’ services, rather than increasing it accordingly.
SHEEP’S HEAD TRAGEDY
* One fact, hitherto unmentioned in the media, is that the tragedy which has unfolded on Co Cork’s Sheep’s Head peninsula is uncannily similar to another drowning which occurred almost 35 years ago at precisely the same, remote location.
In fact, a plaque marks the spot at the inlet known locally as ‘the cove’, just below the house of the men who lost their lives last weekend, where the British-born, Booker Prize-winning author JG Farrell fell in to the sea while fishing from rocks during a storm in 1979.
His body was also recovered days later.
Having read last year of Farrell’s untimely demise, I visited this wild, beautiful stretch of West Cork coastline while holidaying there in the summer.
So sad to see it again in such similarly tragic circumstances.
BLACKROCK, CO DUBLIN
* Obviously, the writer of the letter (Irish Independent, February 11) supporting a call for immediate legislation rather than a referendum to decide whether unconventional marriage is allowed here, fears it might not be passed.
Generally speaking,the nation is not very interested in the “who deserves an apology” issue.
People are more involved in attempting to survive in a country where economic betrayal is the new norm.
The letter writer informs us that members of his/her own family did not attend his civil union because they did not approve of homosexuality – so why should our Constitution be sidelined when the matter ultimately needs a change in the law to come about?
Ask your own nearest and dearest first and measure from the response the thinking which may be out there.
Perhaps the majority, without the approval of their families, will indeed pass the referendum – but it must not be considered ‘homophobic’ if many vote against it and win the day.
The language coming from the homosexual community needs to be toned down, because the citizen has every right to have an opinion on the issue and name-calling won’t win many votes.
BANTRY CO CORK
WE CAN’T TALK
* There has been a huge outcry against the killing of a giraffe at Copenhagen zoo and the feeding of its carcass to lions while people looked on.
I share the revulsion as I cannot see any justification for the act. If inbreeding was an issue the animal could have been sterilised.
But forgive my cynical reaction when a caller to an Irish radio programme here said this wouldn’t happen in Ireland.
In fact the Danes overall treat animals far better than we do.
They don’t, for example, allow live hare coursing where animals are set up as live bait to be terrorised by salivating dogs.
Marius the giraffe, though I wish the poor animal was still alive, at least died instantly and without pain.
Hares are snatched from the verdant Irish countryside, held in unnatural captivity, and then forced to run from greyhounds in the confines of a wire-enclosed field.
They can be mauled, pinned down, or tossed about like rag dolls.
The public was free to witness or film the feeding of Marius to the lions.
If you try to film an Irish coursing event you’ll soon find yourself being circled by the guardians of this “sport” and promptly ejected from the venue.
There is no justification for hare coursing apart from the need some people feel to inflict pain and terror on a dumb animal.
I do think Ireland should be brought into line with all the countries, including Denmark, that have banned this cruel and cowardly blood sport.
CAMPAIGN FOR THE ABOLITION OF CRUEL SPORTS