14 February 2014 Hospital
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to find a ghost ship Priceless.
Awful day Mary not well at all Doctor, Doctor on Monday, Treatment Tuesday, Blood Transfusion Thursday
Scrabble today I win but under 400, perhaps Mary will win tomorrow
Sir Michael Neubert, who has died aged 80, was a government whip and junior defence minister under Margaret Thatcher, whose politics he shared and to whom he was unfailingly loyal even after she sacked him in 1990, shortly before her own removal from power.
Conservative MP for Romford for 23 years, the tall, balding, bespectacled and agreeable Neubert held Mrs Thatcher’s esteem despite lampooning her — and everyone else in the party — in the “Blue Revue” performed each autumn at the party conference.
While the Revue’s star turn was his wife Sally, Neubert — in his own right a professional-standard oboist — directed the show and wrote many of the songs, in a style midway between Noël Coward and Tom Lehrer. The prime minister — fortunately — did not get all of the jokes, but left one year’s performance declaring the show “absolutely fab”.
Despite being left blind and without most of his hearing by a decade of illness, Neubert insisted last April on travelling from his home at Stow-on-the-Wold to pay his respects at Mrs Thatcher’s fu)
Michael Jon Neubert was born at Blackheath on September 3 1933 . He was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet; Bromley Grammar School; the Royal College of Music; and Downing College, Cambridge, where he read Modern and Medieval Languages before going into business as a travel and industrial consultant.
Neubert joined the Young Conservatives in Bromley at 19, and in 1960 was elected a borough councillor. From 1967 to 1970 he was leader of the council, and in 1972-73 he was mayor.
He fought Hammersmith North in 1966, then was selected for Romford. At the 1970 election he fell short by 2,760 votes, but in February 1974 — after a solidly Labour overspill estate was removed from the constituency — he took the seat comfortably. By the mid-1980s his majority would be well into five figures.
From the moment in 1975 when Mrs Thatcher ousted Edward Heath, Neubert was a firm if seldom demonstrative supporter. He was not given a job when she came to power, but from 1980 was PPS in turn to three middle-ranking ministers — Reg Prentice, Adam Butler and Michael Alison — before being taken on in 1982 by the Trade Secretary Lord Cockfield.
After her re-election by a landslide in 1983, Mrs Thatcher appointed Neubert a junior whip. He proved himself a sound performer as he stayed for five years in the whips’ office, twice earning promotion. He underlined his loyalty by attending in 1984 one of the formative meetings of the Thatcherite 92 Group of Conservative MPs.
In 1988 he moved to the MoD, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Armed Forces. A year later, as cracks were appearing in the Iron Curtain, Neubert was switched to the defence procurement portfolio. However the move brought little change to his duties; he resisted pressure to increase pensions for pre-1973 service widows, and in April 1990 bravely visited Gruinard Island off the north-west coast of Scotland to declare it finally safe after World War II anthrax experiments.
Though Neubert did not put a foot wrong, there were complaints that he lacked flair. When in July 1990 Mrs Thatcher decided to freshen her government, she sacked him — months later consoling him with a knighthood in her resignation honours.
John Major did not bring Neubert back, and after the 1992 election he was elected to the 1922 Committee executive; he also chaired the Conservative backbench employment committee and then, from 1995, the education committee. At the 1997 election, in one of the biggest upsets on a night of surprises, Neubert lost his seat to Labour’s Eileen Gordon by 649 votes .
Out of Parliament, he became rector’s warden of St Margaret’s, Westminster ; he also chaired the Isle of Man international oboe competition until 2002.
Michael Neubert married Sally Bilger in 1959; she survives him with their son.
Michael Neubert, born September 3 1933, died January 3 2014
So George Clooney et al think the UK should return the Parthenon marbles to Greece (Report, 12 February). And maybe the US government should return to the Native American people the land that has been appropriated from them over the years.
Newcastle upon Tyne
• Switzerland’s access to the European single market appears to be a one-way relationship (Report, 10 February). I recently sent printed publications of no commercial value to a human rights NGO in Geneva and was charged both VAT and import duty by Swiss customs.
• Alex Andreou (Comment, 11 February) writes that Mark Harper claimed £22 for four hours per week for his cleaner and follows this with a claim from the home secretary that he did nothing illegal. Is Mrs May aware of the rate of the national minimum wage?
• I have Shirley Temple to thank for enjoying 45 years of choral singing, five at secondary school and 40 as an adult (Obituary, 11 February). From the age of four, in 1937, until I was seven, my twin sisters, who were seven years older, dressed me and made me up as Shirley Temple and I would stand on the table singing “On the Good Ship”, “Animal Crackers” etc.
• My 22-year-old son told me that one of his friends, when “neknominated”, chose to donate a pint of blood and then challenged others to do the same (Comment, 12 February). It is encouraging to see that some of the younger generation are imaginative enough to create something positive out of this latest mindless craze.
• Never mind eggs (Letters, 12 February), Easter or otherwise. I’ve just been invited to book my 2014 Christmas party at Sandy Park, home of the Exeter Chiefs. Book before 31 March to have last year’s prices. Can’t afford not to…
Your editorial and report (both 13 February) show the state we are in. Mr Carney’s belief that current UK economic growth is unbalanced and unsustainable must be clear to all. Our economic activity has now recovered roughly to what it was before the financial and economic collapse of 2007-08. Yet manufacturing is 7% down on that year’s figure while construction, a key indicator of a healthy capitalist economy, has fallen 11%. The need to build more affordable new homes for sale and for rent, which did so much to stimulate Britain’s economic growth in the 50s and 60s, seems to be barely understood by the people who run our political economy. Yet it must become a major infrastructure project for the next government. Meanwhile, household debt is higher than in 2007 and banking is in such serious disarray that this week Barclays paid itself record bonuses after its investment business made a record loss. I’m glad Mr Carney is forecasting 3% growth and that more people are in work than at any time in our history. Yet this cannot hide the fact that the underlying economic situation is as dangerous as it was seven years ago.
• Every time I read a gung-ho contribution such as Fiona Woolf’s (Letters, 13 February), I remind myself that, to all intents and purposes, the Square Mile, of which she is so proud, went bust in 2008. It was only rescued from the consequences of its own greed and arrogance by a huge subvention from taxpayers; otherwise it would rightly have gone down the pan but taken the rest of us with it. We, and especially our young people, will be paying for this for a whole generation. The Square Mile must be put on a par with the rest of business, stop paying telephone number salaries, rediscover the concept of service, start behaving in an ethical way, stop making feeble excuses for its misdeeds, and accept that, if its house is not in order, it must expect to go under. As of now, thereis precious little sign of that happening.
On Friday 14 February, British resident Shaker Aamer will have been unlawfully imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay for 12 long cruel years. He is held in solitary confinement in a cold steel cell, facing no charge or trial. In 2007 and 2010, Shaker was cleared to leave Guantánamo by the unanimous decision of six US security agencies including the CIA and the State and Defense Departments. Last year, David Cameron wrote to President Obama to request Shaker’s release as a “matter of urgency”. Why then is Shaker still in Guantánamo? The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign has called a protest vigil for Friday 14 February opposite MI6 from 1pm to 3pm to ask if our UK security services are blocking Shaker’s return. Are they briefing against his release to silence public awareness of the part played by the UK in his torture and rendition to Guantánamo? Is MI6 acting against the will of parliament and without parliamentary scrutiny? We need answers and, most of all, Shaker needs an urgent end to his terrible ordeal. While one person’s human rights are abused, everyone remains at risk.
Worthing, West Sussex
The present flooding has sunk one of the major ideological concepts of the Conservatives (Report, 13 February): that the state is unnecessary and costs too much. Better to roll back “the red tide of socialism” as Thatcher proclaimed and allow private enterprise to take control (and the profits). Now people are up to their waists in floodwater as a result of cuts in environmental resources, firefighters, police, the army etc. Even the Tory mantra of “leave it to the voluntary sector” has collapsed. Exhausted by the storms, ordinary people have been crying out for help. Time to sweep away the dead dogma of Tory/Lib Dem politics and bring the basic necessities of life under state control.
• Well knock me down with a feather! The credit card is not maxed out after all (PM’s high-stakes flood pledge, 12 February). After cruelly removing benefits from the poor, the sick and the disabled and destroying essential local services by starving them of resources, David Cameron has the gall to state that “money is no object” and that “we are a wealthy country”. However, ministers are already rowing back and the probability is that “unlimited funds for flood relief” is another of Dave’s smooth headline-grabbing fibs to dupe the electorate.
Dr Robin Richmond
• So, David Cameron has said “money is no object in this relief effort”. Good, but I couldn’t help noticing that this followed the flooding in the predominantly Tory-voting home counties. I wonder what the response would have been if all those in flooded areas were benefit claimants? No doubt we’d be told that the best way of helping them was to reduce the support available, thus encouraging them to help themselves.
• Tony Jones (Letters, 11 February) writes that the areas affected by recent flooding voted Tory or Lib Dem at the last election, and so “actively voted for cuts in public spending”. No they didn’t. What Nick Clegg would dearly like people to forget is that the Lib Dems fought the 2010 election on a position of opposing austerity and reckless spending cuts. Those of us who voted for them haven’t forgotten, and that’s why his party is 10% in the latest ICM poll and has lost more than half its support since the last election.
Richmond Upon Thames, Surrey
• Here in Staines we had the requisite visit from the PM, but we have yet to receive any help – not even a single sandbag from the council. I guess Staines isn’t as important as Windsor and Datchet – can’t think why. It is ironic that Cameron talks about money being no object in helping us, when only this month the Tories in Surrey county council voted to halve our fire and rescue services here in the borough of Spelthorne. So we have a situation where existing services are stretched beyond coping point, knowing that once the cuts have gone through, our safety can’t possibly be guaranteed. Where does that fit with Cameron’s pledge?
• The current disastrous flooding in the south is the result of centuries of complacency and neglect. I grew up in the Netherlands, in a polder (area with managed water levels) now two metres below sea level, which dates from about 1440. Formal organisation of regional water management boards started around 1200. These levy their own tax, which means that funding for water defences never has to compete with other urgent items in the local budget. The cost of the cleanup after this latest bout of flooding will almost certainly be far more than the expense of well-planned defences would have been in the first place.
Anna Alberda Ellis
• At last, Lord Stern’s prophetic predictions (Letters, 11 February) are being addressed. We need a prime minister who is prepared to fight on both a national and international level to cut our carbon emissions which are warming the oceans. My reaction is to redouble my efforts to cut my own emissions by doubling insulation, getting on my bike more and continuing my no-flying pledge that I started seven years ago when I first learned of the predicted human misery as a result of catastrophic flooding.
LCON (Low Carbon Oxford North Group)
• Damian Carrington correctly identifies Owen Paterson’s scepticism on climate change as part of the problem (Comment, 10 February). However, it is merely the tip of the particular iceberg of scientific illiteracy, which is widespread in society, but endemic in the government. By knowing little or nothing about basic physics, chemistry or biology, ministers are wide open to lobbying by big oil/pharma/energy/tobacco/food etc. Thus nuclear power, fracking and, most damaging of all, climate change denial, go virtually unchallenged. This leads to the dismal and panicked Elastoplast-style emergency responses we have seen over the past weeks, but no sign of a long-term, informed and understood strategic plan that has the reality of climate change embedded at its core. This is why Labour needs to build in what might be termed “renewable thinking” into all its policies. Cameron’s “green crap” mindset will guarantee a degraded, depleted and devastated environment which our children will not thank us for.
• Cameron is just trying to appeal to the floating voter.
• Further to your article “Not saving but drowning”, we are farmers near Milton Keynes. All farmers pay “drainage rates” allowing the rain to run off from the fields into the drainage system, hence into the main waterways. In our area there are two drainage boards, the river Ousel and the river Ivel boards, one covering part of Buckinghamshire, the other part of Bedfordshire. The purpose of these boards, was to keep the smaller ditches and the larger main drainage and rivers dredged, on average every 15 to 25 years according to the level of silt or debris. They still collect the rates and are now awash with unspent money. Each board had four dredging machines and hedge-cutting equipment, together with the necessary manpower. Unfortunately, eight years ago it was decided to scrap six dredgers and hedge cutting equipment, only cleaning out very few waterways. Therefore, very limited work is now carried out, as Milton Keynes is still growing, so the amount of rainwater running into the waterways has increased considerably. Fortunately, we do not flood, but downstream from Newport Pagnell to Bedford it can and does. The decision to forgo 80% of the clearing of waterways has been going on throughout the UK. The Environment Agency’s more recent decision to stop most main drainage has meant all water courses, from small ditches to large rivers have been silting up. This has not helped in the inevitable flooding, caused by the very heavy rain, but exasperated by the silting up of waterways.
Paul and Mary Colburn
• Helen Keating (Letters, 13 February) may be amazed that nobody has imported the Venetian door barrier to Britain to prevent homes being flooded but she is wrong to assume that people have been complacent. There are countless devices available in the UK and thousands have been fitted. The reason that so many people are using sandbags is that they never dreamed they were in danger. No doubt they will be sold such devices in the future by an army of salesmen taking advantage of government grants, but beware of the quick fix. It takes a lot more than a door barrier to stop water seeping through masonry and coming up through the floor and the loo and unfortunately it takes a flood to search out the weak points. The Venetians have had centuries to fine tune their systems.
• With all the flooding, I inquire as to where all those new homes that Labour claims it will build, if elected, are going to be placed? Many developers will not touch any land that is likely to flood knowing full well that the re-sales will prove difficult. Lenders are now much more cautious. Insurance will be harder to find. I predict a massive slowing down in the property market again and prices will drop – apart from existing homes on high ground well away from rivers and cliff tops. In the meantime, I can see more estate agencies closing down, as the property market will be badly hit where they have offices in areas near to, or including flooded areas. I also wonder how many Conservative-led government loan guarantee mortgages up to £600,000 were granted on properties now flooded.
Retired estate agent, Burley, Hampshire
• In response to a growing campaign started by the Daily Mail to slash aid to poorer countries to pay for flood damage in the UK (Daily Mail and Ukip lambasted for ‘disgraceful’ attack on overseas aid, 14 February), it is time to call on the UK and other governments to redirect the massive amount of money they spend on fossil fuel subsidies towards climate adaptation in the UK and elsewhere, including better flood defences and emergency relief measures. The bill for international aid will only increase as richer countries have to support the victims of climate change in poorer countries, so we need to address the causes of the problem rather than further punish those that have contributed to it least, but are suffering its worst effects. If you agree please sign the 38degrees.org.uk petition on this.
Professor Peter Newell
• Due to the serious flooding and repeated storms in the UK, is it not time to consider re-establishing a civil defence network, to help during these natural disasters? Trained volunteers, properly equipped, could provide much-needed support to the professional firefighters, police and ambulance crews during emergencies.
• In light of the serious flooding now affecting the lower Thames area in the vicinity of Heathrow, there can surely now be no question of proceeding with runway expansion there. In truth it should never really have been considered. It has been well established – at least since the floods of 2003 – that the “concretisation” of large parts of west London, and indeed the suburbs, has contributed greatly to what was already a chronic flood risk. We now have proof positive of just how bad the situation is. Construction work at the airport would merely exacerbate the flooding problem. While there may indeed by an argument for increasing airport capacity in the south of England surely it cannot be here.
Staines upon Thames
• The Met chief scientist says climate change almost certainly lies behind this winter’s torrential rains and violent storms” and your editorial (10 February) notes that “more investment in fossil fuel energy seems to promise ever-greater problems”. So, leave the carbon underground, seal off the oil and gas wells, stop fracking. Invest in renewable technologies, more wind power, more solar panels on roofs, develop self-support communities and explain – explain to all – how vital action today is. And wear warmer clothes in winter! Britain led the industrial revolution, now we should lead Europe and then the rest of the world in the ecological revolution of survival for a sustainable life. Yes, it will be hard. But a government that believes that fossil fuel-propelled growth is the answer to present economic problems, that ignores the scientific evidence for manmade global warming (with some ministers even daft enough to deny it), that fails to invest enough in our future, is in gross dereliction of its people and increasingly so to the next generation? Time to dismiss them.
Professor Michael Bassey
For more than two decades, the international community has viewed the political landscape in Bosnia-Herzegovina through an ethnic lens – despite careful academic scholarship, which consistently warned against such over-simplification and dangerous pandering to local ethno-nationalist elites. The war, and the peace that has ensued, both overseen by international observers, have only emboldened the local ethno-nationalist partitocracy in BH, which – shielded by fears of new wars and new violence – proceeded to enrich itself in the country with the official youth unemployment rate of 57%. Not surprisingly, the wave of recent protests throughout Bosnia, which started in Tuzla, a working-class city, is focusing on job opportunities, pensions, health benefits, confiscation of illegally obtained property and formation of non-ethnic or technocratic governments. No demands are made based on ethnicity, religion, or any divisions that characterise BH in the stubborn international stereotype of it.
As academics and scholars of the region, we call upon the international community to recognise alternative modes of political organising emerging in Bosnia, acknowledging at last that they are not all based on ethnicity. After repeatedly calling on Bosnians to take the fate of their country into their own hands, the international community should now extend their support to protesters and seriously consider their demands. In spring 1992, Bosnian citizens staged in Sarajevo the largest demonstrations ever against all nationalist parties. They were silenced by snipers, and their voices, from that point on, ignored by the international community. This time, the world should listen.
Aida A Hozić University of Florida, United States, Florian Bieber University of Graz, Austria, Eric Gordy University College London, Chip Gagnon Ithaca College, United States, Eldar Sarajlić Central European University, Hungary, Tanja Petrović Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Slovenia, Ana Dević Fatih University, Turkey, András Bozóki Central European University, Hungary, Jo Shaw Edinburgh University, Scotland Jasmin Mujanović York University, Canada, Valerie Bunce Cornell University, United States, Konstantin Kilibarda York University, Canada, Aleksandra Miličević University of North Florida, United States, Emel Akcali Central European University, Hungary, Olimpija Hristova Zaevska Balkan Institute for Faith and Culture, Macedonia, Jana Baćević Aarhus University, Denmark Jelena Vasiljević University of Belgrade, Serbia, Michael Bernhard University of Florida, United States, Tea Temim NASA/University of Maryland, United States Jasmina Opardija-Susnjar University of Fribourg, Germany, Julianne Funk Centre for Research on Peace and Development, KU Leuven, Belgium Hanns Schneider Former researcher at University of Jena, Germany, William Risch Georgia College, United States, Kiril Avramov New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria, Tom Junes German Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland, Tibor T Meszmann Working Group on Public Sociology ‘Helyzet’ Budapest, Hungary, Béla Greskovits Central European University, Hungary, Hilde Katrine Haug University of Oslo, Norway and Harriman Institute, Columbia University, Armina Galijaš University of Graz, Austria Zoltan Dujisin Columbia University, United States Heleen Touquet University of Leuven, Belgium, Amila Buturović York University, Canada, Margareta Kern Artist, London, United Kingdom Valerie Bunce Cornell University, United States, Catherine Baker University of Hull, United Kingdom, Adriana Zaharijević University of Belgrade, Maja Lovrenović VU Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands Marko Prelec Balkans Policy Research Group, Pristina, Kosovo, Claudiu Tufiș University of Bucharest, Romania, Gal Kirn Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany, Keziah Conrad University of California, Los Angeles, United States Jarrett Blaustein Aberystwyth University, United Kingdom Igor Štiks University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom Rossen Djagalov Koç University, Turkey, Paul Stubbs Institute for Economics, Zagreb, Croatia, Davor Marko University of Belgrade, Serbia, Ljubica Spaskovska University of Exeter, United Kingdom, Christian Axboe Nielsen Aarhus University Andrej Grubačić California Institute of Integral Studies, United States, Wendy Bracewell University College London, United Kingdom, Zhidas Daskalovski University of Bitola, Macedonia, Nicole Lindstrom University of York, United Kingdom, Hristina Cipusheva South East European University, Republic of Macedonia, Marina Antić University of Pittsburgh, United States Alen Kristić University of Graz, Austria, Julija Sardelić University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, Lara J Nettelfield Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom, Ivana Krstanović Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo, Danijela Majstorović University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zoran Vučkovac University of Alberta, Canada, Elissa Helms Central European University, Hungary, Igor Cvejić Institut za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju Beograd, Serbia Slavoj Žižek Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, United Kingdom, Nataša Bek Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek, Croatia, Sladjana Lazić Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway, Katarina Peović Vuković Faculty of Philosophy, Rijeka, Croatia, Artan Sadiku Institute of social sciences and humanities – Skopje, Macedonia, Peter Vermeersch University of Leuven, Belgium, Roland Schmidt Central European University, Hungary, Spyros A Sofos CMES, Lund University, Sweden, Vedran Horvat Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Croatia, Franjo Ninic University of Muenster, Germany, Adam Fagan Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom, Soeren Keil Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom, Esad Boskailo University of Arizona, United States, Biljana Đorđević Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade, Amra Pandžo Udruženje MALI KORACI Sarajevo, Malte Frye University of Muenster, Germany Vanja Lastro Rice University Houston, United States, Srđan Dvornik Independent analyst and consultant, Zagreb, Croatia, Goran Ilik University of Bitola, Macedonia, Nikola G Petrovski University of Bitola, Macedonia, Nicholas J Kiersey Ohio University, United States, Roska Vrgova UG ‘Zasto ne’, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kiril Nestorovski Habitat for Humanity, Macedonia, James Robertson History, New York University, United States, Ellen Elias-Bursać Literary translator and independent scholar, United States, Antje Postema University of Chicago, United States, Ronelle Alexander University of California, Berkeley, United States, Zdenko Mandusić University of Chicago, United States, Grace E Fielder University of Arizona, United States, Jennifer H Zoble New York University, United States, Wayles Browne Cornell University, United States Holly Case Cornell University, United States, Cynthia Simmons Boston College, United States, Panagiotis Sotiris University of the Aegean Anna Selmeczi, University of the Western Cape, South Africa, Gezim Krasniqi University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, Azra Hromadžić Syracuse University, United States, Lejla Sokolović Indjić University of Bergen, Norway, Marko Attila Hoare Kingston University, United Kingdom, Anton Markoč Central European University, Hungary, Boštjan Videmšek Journalist, DELO, Slovenia, Karla Koutkova Central European University, Hungary, Luca J Uberti University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand András Riedlmayer Harvard University, United States, Jeffrey B Spurr Independent scholar and member of editorial board of CultureShutdown, Suzana Vuljević History, Columbia University, United States, Michael D Kennedy Brown University, United States Jennifer Dickinson University of Vermont, United States, Mary N Taylor Graduate Centre of the City University of New York, United States, Mariya Ivancheva Independent scholar and member of the editorial board of LeftEast, Bulgaria, Volodymyr Ishchenko Centre for Society Research, Ukraine
• We express our full support for the legitimate demands and justified outrage of the citizens of BH. Their cry for a decent life, true democracy, solidarity that knows no borders – be they ethnic, national or religious – resonates throughout the world. In a similar fashion to the citizens of Tahrir, Taksim or Syntagma, the Bosnian protesters showed a courage to go beyond institutional obstacles and all limitations that governments around the world impose on their citizens and reclaimed their streets. The people of BH are standing against the system of exploitation, injustice and inequality that has been serving only a tiny political, economic and financial elite. A century after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, when imperialist European leaders pushed their nations into mutual destruction, Bosnia is sending a wake-up call to everyone. The world we live in is a world of divisions, expanding fascism, growing political and social apartheid, unrelenting capitalist destruction of both nature and common wealth of all. The citizens of BH have been experiencing all of that on an everyday level for 20 years. After the nationalist war between 1992 and 1995, in which 100,000 people lost their lives, the institutional peace settlement restored the capitalist system, destroyed the working and middle classes, and entrenched not only ethnic but also social divisions that have been successfully exploited by political elites. They said “enough” and we say “enough” with them. We voice our support for their legitimate efforts to create a just and equal society in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We call upon all progressive political and social forces to stand with the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina in this decisive struggle for a better future of us all.
Tariq Ali Writer and social activist, UK Gil Anidjar Scholar, University of Columbia, USA, Vladimir Arsenijevi Writer, Serbia, Etienne Balibar Professor emeritus, University Paris Ouest, France, Franco Berardi Bifo Philosopher, Italy, Alida Bremer Writer, Germany, Wendy Brown Political theorist, UC BUSA, Boris Buden Univeristy of Weimar, Germany, Noam Chomsky Linguist and social activist, MIT, USA, Goran Fejic Writer, France, Karl-Markus Gauss Writer, Austria, Costas Douzinas Philosopher, Birkbeck, University of London, UK, Daa Drndi Writer, Croatia, Michael Hardt Philosopher, Duke University, USA, David Harvey Geographer, CUNY, USA, Aleksandar Hemon Writer, USA, Sreko Horvat Philosopher, Croatia, Saa Ili Writer, Serbia, Rada Ivekovic Philosopher, University St Etienne, France, Mate Kapovi Linguist, University of Zagreb, Croatia, Naomi Klein Author and social activist, USA, Maurizio Lazzarato Philosopher, France, Christian Marazzi Economist, Switzerland, Antonio Negri Philosopher, Italy/France, Andrej Nikolaidis Writer, Bosnia and Herzegovina/Montenegro, Nigel Osborne Professor emeritus, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, Costas Lapavitsas Economist, SOAS, UK, Renata Salecl Philosopher, Slovenia, Elke Schmitter Writer, Germany, Ingo Schulze Writer, Germany, Igor Tiks University of Edinburgh, Bosnia and Herzegovina/Scotland/UK, Eric Toussaint Economist, CADTM, Belgium, Yanis Varoufakis Economist, University of Texas, USA, Jasmila Bani Film director, Bosnia and Herzegovina
I am the communications director at Akilah Institute for Women, a college with campuses in Rwanda and Burundi that prepares young women for professional careers in the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. I was delighted to see the recent article on Rwanda’s next education challenge. It’s very gratifying to read that people outside east Africa understand what is happening economically in this region and the unique educational challenges of rapid growth.
Take Rwanda as an example: a country with a burgeoning economy – the result of political stability, an influx of foreign direct investment, and the growth of information technology and tourism – but a population utterly unequipped to take advantage of the new job growth. Employers frequently complain to Akilah that they can’t find and hire qualified candidates fast enough. Your article quotes Rwanda’s education minister Vincent Biruta: “Students may be able to answer exam questions but they need to be able to have the skills to go out and find a job. Critical thinking is key. They need analytical skills, to be able to come up with solutions.”
The irony is bitter: the vast majority of Rwandans are underemployed while the vast majority of businesses are understaffed. While the education sector is making strides to rethink a historically inadequate learning model of lectures and rote memorisation, most colleges and universities are still focused on churning out large numbers of graduates that are not qualified for the workplace. Indeed, the expansion of educational access often comes at the expense of quality.
What we do differently at Akilah is simple. Our graduates earn a two-year career-focused diploma instead of a four-year bachelor’s degree, which minimises their financial burden and gets them onto the job market as quickly as possible. The entire programme spans three years. The first year is an intensive foundation course that precedes the two-year diploma, helping young east African women make the transition from a shaky secondary school education to advanced, market-relevant college coursework. Most high school graduates have been taught by teachers with very limited English-language skills, so this boot camp style training in English communication, math, information technology, and leadership is essential for advanced-level coursework. No other institutions of higher education in Rwanda or Burundi do this, but practical learning is the only way to go if you’re actually committed to ending youth unemployment, not just expanding access to education.
After the first-year foundation course, Akilah students select one of three majors: entrepreneurship, hospitality management, or information systems – the three highest-growth industries in east Africa today. The curriculum immerses students in hands-on, team-based learning with an emphasis on leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking skills, a minimum number of lectures, and a mandatory internship component. Our model may not be so revolutionary in the western context, but in countries working overtime on finding their place in the modern global economy, a practical approach to education is indispensable. Our results prove the value of our model: a 92% job placement rate upon graduation.
Anastasia Uglova is the communications director at Akilah Institute for Women. Follow @AkilahInstitute on Twitter
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As global warming continues, catastrophic weather will become more frequent, more violent, and more destructive. James Lovelock predicted all this decades ago, as vividly described in, for example, Gaia – the practical science of planetary medicine (1991). But no one listened.
So, if you are in Moorland or Wraysbury, sitting upstairs in a house whose ground floor is flooded, and you want to understand what’s going on, read it. And if you are sitting on the still-dry (but for how long?) ground floor in Downing Street or the White House, don’t just read it – act on it.
Dennis Sherwood, Exton, Rutland
I remember the 1947 floods, brought about by a similar succession of depressions from the south-west coming on top of thawing snow. It started in Somerset and spread so that 700,000 acres were flooded in England and tens of thousands of people were driven from their homes.
Now in my eighties, I have lived through many extreme weather conditions. I remember the winters of ’45, ’47 and ’63, the coastal floods of ’53, a number of severe droughts, especially in 1976, and the hurricanes in the 1990s. There have always been periods of extreme weather.
Ron Watts, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Why are ministers willing to take the advice of experts regarding, say, medicine but not flood defence?
There were many hysterical voices wanting the MMR vaccine banned, but ministers rightly went with the science. There are now many slightly hysterical voices on the Somerset Levels demanding a dredging programme which appears to be basically pointless, but ministers seem deaf to expert voices. What a Pickle we are in!
Jim Bowman, South Harrow, Middlesex
The residents of the Thames Valley area voted solidly for our governing parties to pursue policies to cut back spending on many aspects of public provision and safety; the Environment Agency is just one of our institutions to be reduced in size and effectiveness.
We now can see the result of this penny-wise, pound-foolish pursuit, which has left an inadequate response to the current flooding. Austerity of provision has not been matched by austerity of rainfall.
Maybe these residents might now become floating voters.
Peter Cunningham, Bath
We must be about due for a hosepipe ban, followed by a by a drought warning?
Nicky Samengo-Turner, Hundon, Suffolk
Take wildlife crime seriously
When the UK is hosting an international summit on the illegal wildlife trade, involving two future kings of our country and world leaders from 50 nations, all invited by the Prime Minister, why does the Metropolitan Police have a team of only five people to fight an illegal trade estimated to be worth $19bn a year?
London is a major hub for wildlife crime, a global economic crime with links to trafficking of drugs and people, and even to terrorism, not to mention threatening some animals with extinction. Isn’t it time the Met and the Mayor took it seriously and provided the necessary resources to put a stop to this trade?
Jenny Jones AM, Green Party Group, London Assembly
Days of irresponsible union power
Be careful what you wish for, Owen Jones (13 February). I lived through the time when unions had a lot more power and their leaders did not always use it wisely.
Think of the over-manning and restrictive practices in the print industry and their refusal to accept new technology. Inter-union rivalries led to demarcation disputes in shipyards that did nothing but ensure that ships could be built cheaper abroad. Strikes organised in the motor industry by a show of hands had very little to do with democracy. Arthur Scargill’s refusal of a proper strike ballot played into Thatcher’s hands; he was her ideal opponent.
I do not find it easy to say, but her introduction of secret ballots and outlawing of secondary picketing was necessary, and Tony Blair’s refusal to repeal it was the right thing to do.
However as a member of a union I believe we must not allow the pendulum of restriction to go too far and I would fight for the right of public workers to strike.
Brian Dalton, Sheffield
Holding the NHS to account
As representatives of the 97 patient-related members of the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA), we write to make some observations about your article on the engagement process used by NHS England for its specialised services strategy, claiming that it is evidence of manipulation by the pharmaceuticals industry (11 February).
The Alliance has grown steadily over the last 11 years, because of the scope of expertise it brings impartially to this complex field. As funding comes exclusively from pharmaceutical companies, the Alliance focuses solely on overarching policies and structures, not treatments.
As such, it has been a force for good in the development of policy, with, for example, the advent of national service specifications making it much clearer what patients and their families can expect across the whole of England, in contrast to the postcode lottery of old. The SHCA’s work to scrutinise and hold to account plans for delivering specialised services for rare and complex conditions has had an enormous positive impact for the patient population that it represents. We are confident that the SHCA represents its members in a balanced, transparent and appropriate manner.
NHS England is a powerful organisation that should do more to ensure that patient voice is embedded in everything it does. The sort of transparent engagement the Alliance has promoted at the request of its members is a force for good in giving a voice to organisations large and small in helping to hold NHS England to account.
Ed Owen, Cystic Fibrosis Trust
Rosanna Preston, Cleft Lip and Palate Association
Anne Keatley-Clark, Children’s Heart Federation
Jagtar Dhanda, Macmillan Cancer Support
Paul Lenihan, Action Duchenne
Susan Ringwood, Beat
A snapshot of antisemitism today
Your article about Scarlett Johansson (“Rankin and a new take on why Scarlett quit Oxfam”, 13 February) and the supposed “power of a far right pro-lsrael lobby within the US” was redolent of openly antisemitic smears about Jews running Hollywood and the media.
Worse, the article relied upon quotes by the photographer Rankin that actually made no mention of “pro-Israel”. Instead, you quoted him saying “the Jewish zealots are so powerful” and “the main problem for me in all this is that kind of extreme Judaism”.
Rankin is as “a humanitarian”, so is no antisemite, but he seems to repeat antisemitic conspiracy theory. What a fitting snapshot of antisemitism today.
Mark Gardner, Director of Communications, Community Security Trust, London NW4
A glamorous image of smoking
Please stop glorifying smoking. On the very day after Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ban smoking in cars carrying children (11 February), you showed a half-page photograph of two actors smoking above the headline “The man behind Bond”.
What can we doctors do to persuade you to take your responsibility for public health seriously?
Dr Fred Schon, Consultant Neurologist, Croydon University Hospital and St George’s Hospital, London
Has it not occurred to anyone that smoking while driving is dangerous anyway? One hand on the wheel, the other with a fag. What happens if the burning bit falls on one’s thigh just as the lights turn green, or the motorway exit comes up? Oops.
David Halley, Hampton Hill, Middlesex
Cameron and the fight for Scotland
Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, is absolutely right not to get involved with the matter of Scottish independence, as he doesn’t have a vote and this is clearly an important matter for the Scottish voter only.
If he had battled head-on in debate with Alex Salmond, we would have heard squeals of protest from our First Minister accusing him of using his Westminster power and status to influence the referendum.
Dennis Grattan, Aberdeen
They could have let Marius live
The one question I have not seen asked is why Marius the giraffe – and, for that matter, other animals bred in captivity whose genetics do not fit in with the gene pool – could not have been castrated or neutered (as we do with domestic animals) and allowed to live out his life.
T E Walsh, Eastbourne
The flooding in the Thames region is not due to the river ‘bursting its banks’. The issues are far more complex than that
Sir, Your vivid front page aerial image of the Thames flooding (“Water world”, Feb 11) shows the severity of the situation and the consequences of recent weather. However, to say that “the Thames bursts its banks” is not correct. Rivers do occasionally burst through embankments but in British rivers, when there is too much water for the channel to contain, the channel is overtopped and water spills on to the floodplain.
This is not just semantics but rather, as geomorphologists know, it is key to understanding what solutions to the problem will eventually be needed, because dredging cannot provide channels large enough to contain the amount of water being rained upon us.
Ken Gregory, Heather Viles, David Sear, Steve Darby
& Tom Spencer
British Society for Geomorphology
Sir, You tell us that the Thames broke its bank on Feb 11. Wrong. It was on my lawn on February 1 and on next door’s before that. Further, although it was impossible to take avoiding action once we got to early evening on Feb 1, we had no flood warning till Feb 6.
It is not reasonable to take alleviating measure upstream, such as the Jubilee river, without first taking adequate measures to protect those downstream who will receive the water much faster and sooner and probably deeper than they would have done before.
If rivers are not dredged, eventually they will change their course. Dredging would not have prevented this Thames flood, but in the long term it would prevent the Thames from changing its path.
Sir, In the 1980s Cotswold district council gave permission for more than a thousand second homes to be built on the Thames flood plain. Our small amenity group spent six months at a public enquiry arguing that the development site was totally unsuitable and was essential to prevent flooding further down the river. Our case rests.
Cotswold Water Park Society
Sir, Sandy Pratt (letters, Feb 12) is right to highlight the planning policy granted by some councils; especially, I suspect, in the South East. Ashford is a fast-expanding town and no doubt housing is needed. However, one has to question the wisdom of some of the building at the moment: one site is on Bath Meadow and the other on Flood Lane. The clue, I suspect, lies in the name.
Sir, It is all very well for Ed Miliband to criticise the Government’s reaction to the floods but how did Labour help in the 2007 floods when 3in of rain fell in 14 hours leading to widespread devastation?
The stoical people of Tewkesbury were left very much to their own devices. Apart from the brilliant help of the Emergency Services they had to rely on helping one another while their house and business insurances paid out to put right the damage. Those who were not insured had an extremely difficult time and had no financial help from the state. Some businesses did not survive, and some people lived in caravans for up to 18 months while their homes were being refurbished. By then the media had moved on.
I have found the recent media circus distasteful: news presenters thrusting microphones in the faces of distraught flood victims and who they think is to blame for all this, in order to foment a political storm.
Sir, I was a survivor of the “Great Swallow”, having been a board member of the National Rivers Authority Southern and chairman of the Hampshire area environment group of the Environment Agency when the NRA, was digested by the EA which was then sugared, if you can call it that, by the inclusion of waste disposal and air quality. The NRA when led by Lord Crickhowell from 1989 without this unnecessary load was able to concentrate on water. The EA has been increasingly unable to bear the strain of its multiple duties and even in the early days many useful services went down the drain, driven by accountants. Fisheries and flood defence suffered. The worst of it was the loss of water-orientated expertise and bureaucratic unwillingness to take account of local knowledge as used so inexpensively and effectively by the NRA. Let’s not set up yet another quango, simply re-activate the NRA.
Sir, As thousands suffer flooding in this run of wet weather much focus has been placed on ineffective response from our government agencies. Beyond this real and present problem the government and local councils are also busy extending this problem in many communities by encouraging the building of new homes (through the new homes bonus, which creates monetary bonus for councils approving planning permission) in areas at flood risk. Indeed during a recent conversation with my own planning office it became abundantly clear that policies within the national planning framework were being watered down and permissions were being granted in areas of known flood risk.
If nothing else, the current flooding should remind us all of the potential for climate change and extreme weather events, but our councils and government seem oblivious to this and determined to create misery for future generations.
There should be an immediate suspension of new approvals until the risk of flooding in the UK is re-assessed.
North Somercotes, Lincoln
Sir, Given current concerns over the causes and management of flooding in the Thames Valley and elsewhere is the prime minister in danger of losing the battle for the next general election on the paddy fields of Eton?
Professor John Hilbourne
Next year marks the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden and should be an appropriate time to acknowledge that city’s suffering
Sir, 14th February 1945 may have been Valentine’s Day but it was also Ash Wednesday. Aptly so for Dresden: overnight it had been reduced to dust and ashes by two devastating air raids by over 700 British bombers. At 12.00 noon an American raid inflicted more damage. Between 25,000 and 40,000 died as a result and “a serious query” was raised in the mind of Churchill about ‘the conduct of Allied bombing’ (his words).
However, debates about the military effectiveness and moral efficacy of the area bombing are not my concern in this letter. Rather, writing from Coventry, a city bound to Dresden in solidarity of suffering and common commitment to peace, my point is simply to ask whether next year’s 70th Anniversary of Dresden’s bombing will mark an appropriate occasion for our Government to acknowledge the suffering of the city then and to express sympathy with those who still bear its scars now.
Europe twice descended into hell in the last century. A word of kindness to the city of Dresden in this century would display to the world both that friendship is better than enmity and that healing the past requires generous gestures in the present.
The Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth
Bishop of Coventry
‘Surely measuring a child’s potential and helping them achieve that at a steady pace is the most important educational goal’
Sir, As a parent, I believe children do need monitoring and relentless assessment, but the child need not be concerned by it as it should happen behind the scenes (letters, Feb 12).
Why can’t teachers record their assessments and apply the results without causing stress to the child and labelling them genius or idiot. Surely measuring a child’s potential and helping them achieve that at a steady pace is the most important educational goal. Exciting, engaging and encouraging every child is the best way to help them gain their full potential, especially in primary school . It is too late if a child falls under the radar and enters secondary school not able to confidently read or write or without basic numeracy skills. That is when education becomes “boring” for them and becomes almost impossible for them to engage.
Any community will have a mixture of quick thinkers and slower learners, but no child should be demeaned, by being told they are the bottom of the pile or not reaching the benchmark. But, it must be identified and addressed with extra input by teachers and parents.
Sir, As I have experienced in a wide variety of schools, all the qualities mentioned as desirable for pupils (“MPs want true grit on the school curriculum”, Feb 11) can be achieved by learning to play a musical instrument to a good standard and by taking part in ensembles.
(retired peripatetic cello teacher)
Patients should be fully aware of all the potential side-effects before starting on statins — they might change their minds
Sir, I write as one of the “one in 10,000” who have experienced serious side-effects from taking statins. I took this drug for many months and suffered such pain in my hip that I found it very difficult to get out of a car and to walk. This pain vanished after stopping the medication and I was soon able to hill walk and trek in the Himalayas again.
I would like to see the one in 10,000 study; I have met many medical personnel who have found serious side-effects attributed to statins.
Sir, The millions who will now be offered cholesterol-lowering drugs should be aware that their chance of being alive after five years without treatment is 89.9 per cent: if they take a statin every day it will increase to just 90.7 per cent.
Dr John Doherty
Stratford upon Avon, Warks
Sir, Apropos statins, drug companies might address the side effects of muscle wastage and tendonitis. It is one thing to consult the doctor but another to be crippled by the remedy.
The Rev Toddy Hoare
Published at 12:01AM, February 14 2014
While these readers may not have learnt things by heart as a punishment, it has certainly proved a useful skill
Sir, To read Natural Sciences at Cambridge in the 1950s one needed at least a Credit in School Certificate Latin. Fearful that my shaky Latin grammar might let me down I learnt by heart several hundred lines of Virgil’s Aeneid and Caesar’s Gallic Wars. The 3-hour Latin literature exam took me just 20 minutes.
Discussing this recently with an old schoolfriend and fellow alumnus I discovered that he did exactly the same. I will not reveal his identity as he is a Fellow of the Royal Society.
S. I. Redstone
Sir, We too had to learn long poems by heart — I can still repeat The Pied Piper of Hamlin (letter, Feb 10). We were told that this was so that we could recite them to ourselves when trying to sleep during our National Service. When I reached 18 National Service had just been abolished.
Dr James Burton
SIR – Since I have grown a full beard, my family and friends have told me that I have become a more pleasant person.
This made me think about our perception of people with beards. How would some historical figures look without their collection of facial hair? Would Henry VIII, Charles Dickens, Sigmund Freud and Edward VII have been attractive personalities without their beards? If our current politicians had beards, would we think differently towards them?
e week the Prime Minister is “lovebombing” the Scots, the next his Chancellor is ruling out a formal currency union in the event of Scottish independence.
As the polls narrow, such acts of desperation are to be expected, but it is a dangerous game the Government is playing as it would leave Westminster having to pick up the entirety of British debt. A currency union makes economic sense for both parties. The British balance of trade deficit is £35 billion a year. Scottish oil and gas exports amount to £30 billion, with Scotland being the second-biggest export market for the rest of Britain after America. For Scotland not to continue to use sterling would double the sterling zone trade imbalance and have a massive negative impact on the currency, costing businesses in the rest of Britain hundreds of millions of pounds and destroying jobs.
For the rest of Britain to try to prevent Scotland from using sterling would be tantamount to economic suicide.
SIR – Benedict Brogan’s great-uncles (I was overawed by one of them as a Cambridge undergraduate in the Sixties) would not have described themselves as Conservatives and Unionists, but simply as Unionists (Comment, February 11). Under this banner, the party encompassed a good deal of what has now been absorbed by the Scottish National Party. Scottish Unionism asserted the country’s full equality with England. The Conservative brand, arrogantly imposed by Ted Heath in 1965, demoted Scottish national pride.
The Conservative Party today should turn the challenge of Scottish separation into an opportunity to recreate a Unionism that fulfils Scottish patriotism once again and inspires the entire United Kingdom with a sense of common purpose. A new constitutional settlement is needed that embraces all parts of the country fairly and equally, possibly on a federal basis. It is at this point, not after the Scottish referendum, that debate about a positive alternative to separation should begin.
Ring around the city
SIR – The horror of ring roads bulldozing through beautiful cities is nowhere more apparent than in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Who knows what possessed the town planning thugs of the Seventies to allow a dual carriageway to plough through medieval, Georgian and Victorian houses inside the city so that cars heading towards south coast destinations could get there faster. It will forever be a blight on one of the most stunning medieval cities in Europe, and the tragedy is, no one seems to have learnt from their mistakes.
SIR – Bernard Powell asks what women wear to show their connection with the Armed Forces.
I served in the RAF and wear a pair of wings brooch, which was given to me by my godmother, who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
SIR – I am amazed at the encyclopaedic knowledge expressed by your correspondents on the minute details of tie design. Never again will I shy away from discussing my stamp collection at parties.
William T Nuttall
SIR – Eleven-month-old Ava-Jayne Corless was not the first child to be mauled to death by a pet dog.
How many more children will die before the Government takes decisive action? If it can find time to deal with smoking in cars, it can find time to discuss dangerous dogs.
SIR – The tobacco control measures introduced to the Children and Families Bill shows that the parliamentary process can and does work. The Bill initially contained no measures to protect children from tobacco smoking. Now, after sustained Parliamentary pressure, it includes powers to introduce standardised packaging of cigarettes and prevent smoking in cars with children present.
These measures were introduced by a cross-party group of backbench MPs and peers. Tobacco control is no longer a party political matter. It concerns everyone who cares about the health of young people. Parliamentarians working co-operatively backed by public support, underpinned by the evidence, can promote the public good.
Those who are cynical about Parliament should remember that it is an essential and central institution in improving our society.
Paul Burstow MP (Lib Dem)
Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health
Bob Blackman MP (Con)
Kevin Barron MP (Lab)
Alex Cunningham MP (Lab)
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Crossbench)
Baroness Tyler of Enfield (Lib Dem)
Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con)
Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
Lord Ribeiro (Con)
SIR – Dr Bob Turvey can have one of my “service issue” tin openers, which came with all ration packs when I served with the Territorial Army in the Eighties. They open most things, including awkwardly shaped sardine cans.
Michael R Field
SIR – No modern tin-opener can get into a tin of French confit of duck. It is made of thick metal and has a very deep rim. Some years ago, I bought a vintage opener for “bully-beef” tins in the shape of a bull with a spike in the head to pierce the lid.
Perhaps one of these would help with opening cat-food tins?
Giving away the bride’s dress to a buttercup fairy
SIR – My mother had an unusual wedding dress of pale yellow georgette patterned with yellow satin lining. When, aged nine, in wartime, I was a buttercup fairy in a school concert, she cut up her wedding dress to make me a buttercup flower dress. I begged her not too, but I did turn out to be a pretty fairy.
SIR – Years ago, my children rushed into the house, saying: “Come and see what we have made for you.” In the middle of the vegetable patch there was a scarecrow dressed in my wedding dress, all lace and tulle, and a little muddy.
SIR – My wife added sequins to her wedding dress and wore it as an evening gown. I used the train to make a set of vestments. It’s not many men who can wear their wife’s wedding dress in public and not raise an eyebrow.
Rev Martin Fredriksen
Corfe Mullen, Dorset
SIR – For my trousseau in 1945, I had a nightdress made out of parachute silk, trimmed with lace from my mother’s wedding veil.
SIR – In 1956, I hired my silk brocade wedding dress from Moss Bros. It cost £14.
SIR – The Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent online archive of wedding dresses shown in photographs submitted by members of the public.
SIR – I knew a woman in the Auxiliary Territorial Service who was married in a gown donated for use by girls in the Services by Eleanor Roosevelt. As Mrs Roosevelt was very tall, the gown must have been tucked and pinned many times over by its grateful wearers.
SIR – Will David Cameron show real leadership in the flooding crisis and introduce measures to enable the Environment Agency to override local planning permission for houses to be built on flood plains?
Findon, West Sussex
SIR – Thirty-five years ago, I nearly did not go to look at the house that we subsequently lived in happily, in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, because I thought that it was only 10ft above the river.
My wife pointed out that the contour intervals were in metres, and not feet, so the probability of being flooded was not very high.
I always envied people with riverside houses, with their views and access to the river, but I did not envy their risk of flooding. I have some sympathy with those that have been flooded, but not a lot.
SIR – In future, all homes planned on land likely to flood should be built with a sacrificial ground floor housing, for example, only a garage. There should be a concrete staircase, leading to the first floor.
All services and metering need to be connected to this upper floor, giving the homeowners three metres of protection.
Houses constructed recently in Sandwich, Kent, near the river Stour, are built as such to protect them from flooding.
SIR – Perhaps it is time for the Army to take overall control, rather than leaving it to the gold–silver–bronze command structure used by the emergency services to deal with major disasters. We saw during the foot and mouth outbreak that little happened until the Army moved in. Given the scale of the problem, this would surely be a better option.
SIR – On the news, I have seen: the fire service rescuing people; the Army wielding sandbags; the Environment Agency advising the public on the flooding; but where are they police? They must be doing something.
SIR – I am perplexed by Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob’s letter (February 12).
He suggests it is the sins of man that have produced the floods, and that God wiped out every living creature except those in Noah’s Ark. God promised never to use the flood again, but said that in future he would use fire.
SIR – I wondered how long it would be before George Alagiah went and stood in a puddle to present the BBC news.
Sir, – Brendan Conroy’s letter (February 12th) raises some interesting questions. For example, it would seem to discourage certain circumstances of adoption where a parent or parents are alive, as it too is an adult choice that breaks a child’s link to their “genetic inheritance”.
It also leaves the uncomfortable suggestion that children may be better off not being brought into the world than being born in the ways Mr Conroy warns against. That it would be better for infertile couples, gay or straight, to choose not to bring children into the world? For those lives to go unlived?
If that is not Mr Conroy’s suggestion, if these children are to exist, then it leaves open the question of how to best serve these children. A loving set of lesbian parents, for example, is in my view probably a better parental unit for a child than one woman and one disinterested, anonymous donor – however strong the “genetic inheritance” gifted from the latter to the child. Presumably it is better for the child if those parents are also in a State-supported long-term relationship, with legal rights between the child and both parents – such as marriage.
Mr Conroy may have an opinion of what the ideal circumstances of conception and family are. However, practically speaking there are very many families in circumstances that he might describe as less than ideal, and there will continue to be. The State must ask itself what is best for all its children, who do and who will exist however it sets the law. It should not ignore these children in the false belief that it can nanny people into “the right kind of family”. – Yours, etc,
Castleknock, Dublin 15.
Sir, – I couldn’t agree more with your correspondent Brendan Conroy (February 12th). What we are experiencing now on this subject is “reverse bullying”.
The two generally accepted purposes of marriage are mainly, though not exclusively, the procreation of children, and the mutual emotional and spiritual development of the couple.
While a same-sex couple can certainly fulfil the second part of that purpose, biologically they cannot fulfil the first part. Calling the campaign an “equality” campaign is totally, and subtlety, misleading. This brings me back to the “reverse bullying”. The immediate reaction to this reasoned argument is to be labelled homophobic, repeated loudly and often enough in an effort to silence the silent majority. Stand up and be counted – now. – Yours, etc,
Cedarwood Road, Dublin 11.
Sir, – Seamus O’Callaghan’s analysis of the “jigsaw of marriage” (Letters, February 11th) illustrates that this simple image of interlocking pieces in a rigid formation does little to describe the messy coagulation of complexity that characterises all varieties of long-term human relationships.
To picture marriage as a jigsaw leads to over-simplification and idealisation of marriage. Mr O’Callaghan writes, for example, that a same-sex union is “trying to put two pieces together that have the same shape and psychology”, whereas a mixed sex union is the “fitting together of two equal, opposite, physically, biologically and emotionally compatible pieces of the marriage jigsaw”.
Surely a same-sex union can be described as a fitting together of two equal, opposite, physically, biologically and emotionally compatible pieces of the marriage jigsaw – if we were to accept that rosy definition of what is often a much more pragmatic contract based on mutual self-interest rather than perfect fit.
Furthermore, since when has it been established that both parties in a same-sex union have the same psychology? Are there now only two psychologies: male and female? – Yours, etc,
Lecturer in Communication,
A chara, – But it does me no injury for my neighbour to marry a man or a woman. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg – with apologies to Thomas Jefferson. – Is mise,
Sir, – I wish to support the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) and others in pleading to conserve the retired Aran Islands ferry the Naomh Éanna (Home News, February 10th).
The Naomh Éanna is an important and wonderful piece of the social history of life on the Aran Islands. It carried everything needed to build and sustain life on the islands. I remember as a small child travelling out and being lowered into currachs off Inisheer, alongside cattle and pigs, lengths of timber, concrete blocks, cylinders of gas, crates of beer. As the pier draught was too shallow, everything and everybody had to be transferred from ship’s hold into bobbing currachs and rowed ashore. That in itself was a skilled business, as the sea was often stormy. For the islanders, life was the Naomh Éanna . Its arrival was eagerly awaited twice a week, with family members and guests arriving and departing, along with post, food, building materials and livestock.
My father, Gordon Clark, as public relations manager of Bord Fáilte in the 1960s, was responsible for getting grants to the island houses to install flush toilets and bathrooms to cater for visitors. This injected a new and welcome income stream to the islanders, and brought people from all over the world to experience island life. As children we spent happy summer holidays on Inisheer, and the trips out and back from Galway on the Naomh Éanna were always exciting and hugely educational, witnessing how island society coped with offshore life. (I vividly remember the squealing pig fights in the hold!). Could the now retired Naomh Éanna become a museum, recording and documenting all that happened on board and how it sustained viable life on the Aran Islands? There must be much archival material, photos, and records to keep these memories alive. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Surely the best argument for putting the new electricity network underground is the vulnerability of overhead pylons to the ravages of our “new” weather patterns. – Yours, etc,
SEAN O DIOMASAIGH,
Dunsany, Co Meath.
Sir, – The February 12th storm conditions provide ample justification for putting all electrical power and telecommunication lines underground. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Louise O’Keeffe judgment could begin the end of State-supported religious discrimination in Irish schools. The European Court of Human Rights has told the State it was responsible for protecting Louise O’Keeffe’s human rights while she was in school, regardless of whether it runs the schools directly. And that ruling has implications for all of the human rights that are breached by religiously-run schools in Ireland.
Ireland has a unique education system. The State does not run Irish schools directly. Instead it appoints patron bodies (almost all of them churches) to run the schools on the basis of their own religious ethos. This “ethos” rule enables religiously-run national schools, despite being funded by the State, to discriminate on the ground of religion.
For example, they can give preference to members of their own religion in admission, and they can integrate their religious ethos throughout the entire curriculum. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has told Ireland this breaches the human rights of secular parents and their children, and has asked Ireland to provide nondenominational education widely throughout the State.
But the State has actively protected this discriminatory “ethos” rule, by giving religious schools exemptions within the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act. And when the State passed the European Convention on Human Rights Act, the new Act applied only to breaches of human rights by “organs of the state”, which did not include schools.
The European Court has now told Ireland that the State is responsible for protecting the human rights of children while in national schools, regardless of whether or not the State directly runs the schools. And the court has also told Ireland that it must provide an effective remedy for people whose human rights have been breached.
Ireland cannot claim we have an effective remedy while it excludes schools from the European Convention Act. If it includes schools within that Act, it will have to remove the “ethos” exemptions from the Equality Acts. And if it doesn’t include schools within the Convention Act, then parents can go directly to the European Court and explain that they have no effective remedy in Ireland.
The issue may become even more complicated. It may be that the Constitution protects the right of religiously-run national schools to behave in this way. If that is the case, then we will have to either amend the Constitution or else accept that our Constitution is not compatible with international human rights law.
The State can respond to this challenge in two ways. It can circle the wagons around the “religious ethos” argument, and continue to discriminate against its own citizens until it is forced to stop, or it can lead the way to a fair and democratic society where all citizens are treated equally before the law. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The tone of Rosita Boland’s article and the range of her analysis (Weekend Review, February 8th) do not actually inform the public about this affiliation of artists. Nonetheless it’s a welcome piece because many people are rightly curious and interested and want to know just what Aosdána “does”.
First, it is an affiliation of peer-elected artists. Its purpose was not to provide what some refer to as a “pension” (only half the members receive the cnuas), but to provide State recognition of the role of the artist in our society. To that end, the best people have largely been gathered together, ie elected, since its inception in the early 1980s. It is not designed to assist people starting out. It is not a beginners club that provides a financial lift-off to artists trying to make their mark. Instead, those who are members have already achieved a significant body of work. Some members would, however, be supported by social welfare if they were not receiving the cnuas. People have no problem contributing taxes to social welfare, yet there is an apparent cause of concern if those same taxes are diverted via the Arts Council and contribute to the cnuas.
Aosdána is not a cabal that excludes journalists and the public from its considerations. Does it go out and share its practice with others, for very low and sometimes no pay? Sometimes. Some other artists choose not to share their practice, believing their role is to work for themselves and their art, all the time. And perhaps that is a subject for another debate. But artists work, usually all the time, just like other working members of society.
The difference is that some of what we work with – words, paint, musical notation, choreography – is difficult to measure in terms that satisfy the debit and credit method of accountability with which many in Ireland are understandably preoccupied now.
If a society truly believes in the value of art, it is in a society’s interest to invest in its best artists by recognising their role as honourable ones, which can make a difference to how we perceive ourselves and how we may move forward in the unmeasurable collective meditation of who we are and what we want.
If everything is measured according to Rosita Boland’s “accountability’ gauge, then I fear we really do live in a place where everybody knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. – Yours, etc,
Member of Aosdána,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Frank McDonald (“Smithwick site offers massive potential for city”, Home News, February 10th), refers to St Francis’s Abbey being retained as part of the development plans for the site as though this were a matter of choice.
St Francis’s Abbey, the medieval Franciscan friary of Kilkenny, has been a national monument in State care (No 72) since 1880. Prior to that, this society, originally founded as the Kilkenny Archaeological Society in 1849, carried out conservation works on the building in 1869-70.
The standing remains of the friary, comprising the chancel/choir and bell tower of the church, preserve rare sculptures and are particularly significant because one of the medieval friars here, John Clyn, uniquely documented their construction by citizens of Kilkenny as the town lay in the shadow of the Black Death.
The standing remains are, of course, only part of the monument, and archaeological excavation in the 1960s uncovered the lower courses of the walls of the nave and of the large north transept. This society welcomes the acquisition of the brewery site by Kilkenny Corporation and hopes that St Francis’s Abbey will be publicly accessible again and enhanced by having more of its fabric revealed and displayed.
The friary was a pivotal building in medieval Kilkenny and its history and archaeology should be central to any proposals to develop this site.
Unfortunately, the masterplan already produced pays scant attention to this important national monument. In the 1960s a concrete yard was laid over the nave and transept; current proposals will see the erection of new buildings over these parts of the medieval church known to still survive underground. – Yours, etc,
Dr RACHEL MOSS,
Royal Society of Antiquaries
Sir, – Ned Monaghan from Connecticut puzzles: “Why would anybody want the State to teach religion to their children?”
Living in New Canaan, with “in God we trust” on every dollar bill, perhaps a little religious education might help their children understand their surroundings? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Margaretta D’Arcy complained that the library at Limerick Prison is poor and appealed for donations (Keith Duggan, Weekend Review, February 1st). In response, the Russell Foundation is sending a copy of Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy , written by Bertrand Russell while imprisoned in Brixton in 1918 for having suggested that US soldiers may be used to break strikes in Britain, as they were accustomed to do at home.
We’re also sending a copy of Russell’s Ju stice in War-Time , published earlier in the first World War. Here, Russell records how, in September 1916, he was forbidden to enter any prohibited area without permission in writing from the competent military authority. When he pointed out that this would prevent him from lecturing in certain locations and so earning his living, he was informed that he must submit the lectures to the War Office censorship. When he replied that his lectures would be spoken, not read, the military authorities requested that he give an “honourable undertaking” as regards his lectures that he would not “use them as a vehicle for propaganda”. Russell was unable to do this, pointing out that:
“If I enter into a bargain by which I secure certain advantages in return for a promise, I am precluded from further protest against their tyranny. Now it is just as imperative a duty to me to fight against tyranny at home as it is to others to fight against the Germans abroad. I will not, on any consideration, surrender one particle of spiritual liberty.”
Some 40 years later, Russell expressed some relief on his return to Brixton Prison in 1961 (for sitting down in Whitehall in protest at Britain’s hydrogen bombs) that the surroundings were familiar.
We urge others also to respond positively to Margaretta D’Arcy’s constructive appeal for good books to be sent to the library in Limerick Prison. – Yours, etc,
Editor, The Spokesman,
Journal of The Bertrand
Russell Peace Foundation,
Sir, – Martin Murphy is incorrect to say that St Koloman is the patron saint of Austria ( February 12th). Austria as such does not have a patron saint – a result of its historical development. Instead, each of the nine federal states has its own patron saint – some share a saint. Koloman (Coloman, Colman) was the patron saint of the states of Upper and Lower Austria until 1663, when St Leopold was given the responsibility.
According to legend, Koloman, when travelling from Ireland to the Holy Land, had the misfortune to be passing through Austria when it was in conflict with Bohemia. He was suspected of being a spy and killed in 1012. – Yours, etc,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
* The recent start of a debate about tax cuts is so depressing, as it shows that, despite the complete implosion of the Irish economy and the failure of its systems of governance, no lessons have been learned.
Also in this section
Letters: ‘Union’ by name, but EU doesn’t care about us
Letters: No moral scruples on the balance sheet
Letters: No representation without cuts to taxation
The Taoiseach hints at tax cuts, as is the wont of an old-style politician enticing people with their own money. Then the employers’ lobby group IBEC – or Fine Gael at work – repeats the mantra that Irish labour costs are too high, which, translated, means too much of its members’ profits are being used to pay wages , so of course less pay must be the answer, and ‘income taxes are out of line and are a disincentive to work, consumption and job creation’. Both miss the point.
If we had learned anything from the last five years, the question these people should be asking is: why are Irish living costs so high? And why is it that despite a high tax take, the Irish State is incapable of providing an equivalent level of service?
Also, a large elephant in the room is: why shouldn’t more of the profits of a business be returned to the workers who actually created it, instead of senior staff? It is a remarkable fact that most Irish companies have maintained their profit levels during this crisis, at the expense of letting staff go and reducing other costs – but the percentile of profit that goes to management has remained steady. So much for ‘we’re all in this together’.
Are tax cuts going to do anything to reduce the cost of childcare, travel, utility bills, or mortgages? Would tax cuts mean the banks facing up to the reality that the taxpayer has already paid to write off massive lending, which the banks need to continue to pass onto customers? Of course not, because in a country run with Ireland’s economic model, tax cuts are swallowed up by higher private-sector costs for services, which are required because the public sector is incapable of filling that service requirement gap.
If we want the sort of top-quality, functioning and cost-effective public services that we claim to want, then we have to pay for them. The other side of that coin is to address the flaws in the public sector that prevent it providing the services people’s taxes have paid for.
CANARY WHARF, LONDON
VERDICT EU: MOSTLY GOOD
* One hundred years ago, the imperial countries of Europe, the crowned heads of many of which were related, went to war. Seventy-five years ago, the same countries, many with totalitarian dictators as their heads, were laying waste to Europe in another devastating war. Twenty-five years ago, one of the totalitarian regimes which survived the war collapsed.
Between the end of World War II and today, nearly 30 European countries, with democratically elected governments, have signed treaties to cooperate in matters of mutual interest in what is now the EU.
Like all human institutions there are conflicts of interest, but the EU of the present day is a far better place for ordinary citizens than the situations in the past.
Ireland has benefited hugely on a net economic basis from its membership of the EU. Our present problems were caused by the decisions of our own most powerful citizens during the boom.
Yet we have Mr Fullam (Letters, February 13) comparing present-day conditions to the “soup kitchens during the Famine” and blaming the EU for homelessness in Dublin.
On the same letters page, Simon O’Connor accuses what he calls Eurocrats of “wanting to ram countries together”.
There are many things to criticise in the EU, but the devastations of the past have been replaced by relative prosperity and democratic rule.
SUTTON, DUBLIN 13
LOVE IS FREE, ROSES EXTRA
* Valentine’s Day brings a joke from Groucho Marx to mind. . . “Send her a dozen red roses, and write ‘I love you’ on the bill.”
BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9
NO TO CHILD EUTHANASIA
* Belgium’s rushing through – and likely passing – of a child euthanasia law beggars belief.
If children haven’t got the legal capacity to so much as agree to buy digital money in video games, how on Earth can they have the capacity to consent to their own deaths?
STRENGTH TO FIGHT BACK
* Ireland has a long history of strength, courage and stamina. The international media continually applaud our government for these character traits – and anyone applying for Disability Allowance must have them too, as the application form is a wolf in granny’s clothing.
In December 2012, I was sick for a year with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). My doctor predicted I would be sick for at least another year and my illness was severe enough to render me unfit to work. My GP detailed my limitations, all I was now unable to do, the fact that I was living within the confines of my home, and that a visitor left me recovering for days. I was and am a limited battery.
The completed form was placed in the post in December 2012 along with requested copies of bank statements and my husband’s wage slips. In February 2013 I received a letter stating I did not fall into the criteria for eligibility. According to the department’s medics I would not be sick for another year and my illness did not restrict me from working. Which was ironic, as my Illness Benefit payment was proof of my inability to work. The end of the form acknowledged my right to appeal and that is exactly what I did.
In June 2013 I received a second letter, telling me again I did not qualify. By now I was dipping beyond my limited energy store and couldn’t understand why I was being refused. Contacting my local TD I reiterated my anger and confusion and we both requested an oral hearing.
Finally, on October 31, 2013, I sat in front of an appeals officer and shared every detail of my illness and listened to my husband say “she is a different person to the person I married”.
Within six weeks a letter arrived advising the ruling had been overturned. A few weeks ago I received my first payment, a weekly payment to the value of €125.30.
I don’t understand why my first application was refused when it presented the same information I presented during my oral hearing. However, I was lucky: there are patients who miss out on their entitlement to appeal because they are waiting longer than 21 days for consultants’ letters, or because they simply don’t have the health to fight.
We really do live in a country that demands strength, courage and stamina from its citizens.
MARIE HANNA CURRAN
COLMANSTOWN, CO GALWAY
IRISH VETS OF US CIVIL WAR
* I, and many other historians, received correspondence today indicating that the 2015 Programme of Special and Commemorative Stamps will not include a postage stamp dedicated to the 180,000 Irish-born men and women who participated in the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865.
As America continues to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this iconic conflict, how disappointing it is that Ireland still awaits any initiative by its government to formally honour the sacrifice these thousands of Irish people, most of them Famine refugees, were willing to pay. It appears that even the dedication of a small piece of sticky paper has been deemed unworthy.
How fitting it would have been if Irish letters to America carried recognition of the common bond both countries had in that struggle.
THE CURRAGH, CO KILDARE