Mary in hospital

25 March 2014 Mary
No Scrabble today Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Jack Belliveau, who has died due to complications of a gastrointestinal disorder aged 55, was a scientist who managed to capture the first images of our brains’ thought processes in action, so engaging public imagination and laying the foundations for a whole new field of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience.
Before Belliveau began his research, radiologists gathering data on a patient’s cerebral function used an technique called PET (position emission tomography), but the images it produced did not have the clarity and resolution that allowed physicians to examine brain anatomy with any degree of accuracy. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), too, had been developed, allowing scientists to take high resolution images of the brain. But these were static, not dynamic, and could not track the brain’s response to stimulae.
It had long been known, however, that when neurons in the brain become active, local blood flow to those brain regions increases over four to six seconds before falling back, a phenomenon which can be detected by magnetic resonance which responds to the blood’s own magnetism. In the late 1980s Belliveau and colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital worked with industry to develop a technique – called dynamic susceptibility contrast imaging – to look at blood flowing in the brain. This involved the use of an MRI scanner that took pictures 20,000 times faster than conventional imagers.
Dynamic susceptibility contrast imaging became a standard technique for assessing the movement of blood in brain capillaries (“perfusion”) in stroke patients, but Belliveau wondered if the technique could also be used to view activity in the brain while it processes information. By focusing on blood flow and subtracting images of the brain at rest from those at work, he thought, areas involved in cognitive processing would be revealed.
Belliveau visited a discotheque equipment supplier and bought a strobe light to stimulate a response in the brains of a group of volunteers. He then took images of their brains while they watched the flashing light and compared them with images taken when the strobe was switched off. But there was no difference. He tried again, this time with his guinea-pigs wearing goggles that displayed a chequerboard pattern. The primary visual cortex that responded to the strobe showed up perfectly.
In 1991 he and colleagues published a paper in the journal Science which marked the beginning of an explosion of MRI research by behavioural scientists and, more importantly, by neuroscientists, helping to shed light on the brain’s neural networks.
This culminated in the announcement last year by President Barack Obama of a new £100 million initiative (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — or BRAIN) to map the brain and provide insight into diseases such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy as well as psychological conditions like schizophrenia and autism.
Meanwhile in Europe around 80 European research institutions and some from outside the EU are involved in a Human Brain Project, which will use supercomputer-based models and simulations to reconstruct a virtual human brain to develop new treatments for neurological conditions.
John William Belliveau was born in San Mateo, California, on January 25 1959 and studied Biology and Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. After graduating in 1981 he spent a year in Britain at the University of Cambridge on a Winston Churchill scholarship, then took a PhD in biophysics at Harvard, where he made his breakthrough.
He remained at Harvard’s Martinos Centre until the end of his life, working on refinements to radiological imaging techniques and serving as first president of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping.
He married, in 2001, Brigitte Poncelet, who survives him with a daughter.
Jack Belliveau, born January 25 1959, died February 14 2014
Letting the over-55s raid their pension pots whenever and however they want means that some, at least, will squander their assets and eventually fall back on the state, increasing the burden on the young (Analysis, 20 March).
Since the baby boomers as a generation have written themselves unaffordable promises, racked up massive national debts and cornered the supply of housing, their financial judgment must be in question, so maybe trusting them further with money is unwise.
On average, people underestimate their life expectancy by almost five years, which suggests that individuals are not as well positioned as a third party to decide how much to keep aside for their old age.
The new freedom to withdraw pension assets means it will now be easy to avoid inheritance tax, which represents a large loss of tax to the Treasury, increasing the burden of national debt for future generations.
Many baby boomers may withdraw pension savings to invest in buy-to-let properties which could well push up prices for first-time buyers and force more of them into renting for their whole lives. These young people, saving for a deposit, won’t have access to the “pensioner bonds” which Osborne is subsidising for the over-65s.
Angus Hanton
Intergenerational Foundation,
• Chris Huhne is absolutely right to warn that changes to pension rules are likely to lead to “another rip-roaring house price boom” (Osborne’s ‘brilliant’ budget could turn out to be a dud, 24 March). The shame is that all three main parties now seem to want above-inflation increases in house prices.
A booming housing market is lucrative for the Treasury but has dire long term social and economic consequences. If housing is the best investment opportunity available, money will pour into bricks and mortar rather than finding more productive outlets. And the impact of increasingly unaffordable housing on social justice and intergenerational equity should be clear.
Property bubbles also result in building splurges and pressure on the countryside, as recently seen in Ireland and Spain, while doing little for those in need because houses are built for investment on the assumption that prices will continue to rise.
We do need to build many more houses. But we should plan them well and locate them sensitively. A building frenzy fuelled by hopes of making a quick buck should be the last thing anyone wants. Which is why it is so disappointing that no party will commit to house price stability as a policy aim.
Shaun Spiers
Chief executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England
• If retirees could invest in bonds that went to fund local infrastructure, including social housing, rather than buy-to-let schemes, then we could have a win-win-win situation. Pensioners would have a secure source of income in retirement, significant sums of capital would be invested in socially and economically useful local projects instead of financial institutions, and the costs of housing – and housing benefit – would not be further forced up. Local economic investment, devolution to communities as well as to individuals, addressing the shortage of housing and underinvestment in infrastructure, all in one policy. That’s a real radical alternative to the coalition.
Alex Hollingsworth
• Now that one will not have to take out an annuity (too late for me, but anyway), it turns out that private pension schemes were just a way of investing money and obtaining tax relief. The more you saved, the more relief, and the higher your earnings, the higher the rate of relief. The poorer subsidise the richer, as usual. If private pensions are to become merely investment vehicles, why should they receive tax relief?
Dan Usiskin
• Let them blow their pensions on a Lamborghini (21 March). What irresponsible nonsense, especially from a minister in a government that claimed to have green credentials. For Steve Webb’s information, Lamborghinis have a fuel consumption of 20 mpg, and more like 12 mpg when driving in towns and cities. The minister might also like to know that they emit 400-500 g/km carbon dioxide. If ministers want to suggest how recent retirees should spend their money, more responsible advice would be for car users to buy small hybrids (or electric cars, or even bicycles), and for home owners urgently to improve the insulation of their houses.
Barry Mellor
• Not a Lamborghini, stupid … it will be private hip replacements, early cataract treatment and heart-bypass if the pension pot is big enough. Where else is the cash to come from to keep the private providers in business?
Joyce Brand
• According to Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, her party “supports” the principle of the pension reforms announced by George Osborne (Report, 24 March). Can I ask was this decision made at a shadow cabinet meeting or a meeting of the parliamentary party, or was it just by a small clique of individuals?
Irving Nicol
Milton Keynes
• What is the Guardian doing presenting a very well-off family as being in straitened circumstances (Money, 22 March)? With a joint gross annual income of nearly £60,000, the family you featured are not in the middle of the income spectrum but in the top 28% – the average income for a family with two young children is around £30,000. Neither can they be financially squeezed with a monthly income of approximately £3,600. Even after deducting costs for mortgage and childcare, their monthly income must be over £2,000. How can a family of four reasonably find it difficult to live on this sum?
Jane Duffield-Bish
• Are public employees, such as teachers, also to be trusted to make their own choices about retirement finance?
Will they also have the option of taking a pot of money, or are the contributions made throughout their careers not regarded as their money?
Averil Lewin


Your correspondent (Letters, 24 March) does not need HS2 to be built with a link to HS1 to get a through train from Crewe to Paris. Thanks to lobbying from the north-west, HS1 built a connecting track to the West Coast mainline to enable through trains. What this needs now are the trains and an operator prepared to take on immigration, security and the high Channel tunnel charges.
Tony Berkeley
House of Lords
• When the Channel tunnel was mooted, the votes of northern MPs were bought by the promise of a direct rail link to the continent. For a few heady months it was possible to board a train in York and step off in Paris, by trundling via Clapham Junction. New Thameslink tunnels were then built to take those trains under, instead of round central London. Someone in the capital soon put a stop to that.
Roger Osborne
Snainton, Scarborough
• The first phase of HS2 was always intended to reach Lichfield Junction, if not Crewe. Conventional trains would then be able to use it, just like Javelin services on HS1, and so cut journey times for through trains, even from Glasgow. At a stroke this would relieve congestion on the West Coast mainline: upgrading the existing lines out of London would still cost tens of billions, with years of disruption to existing services.
High-speed lines are built to higher and wider continental loading gauges. However, when the line from the Channel tunnel was built, no thought was given to proper connections with a future line to the north. In contrast, from the outset SNCF planned for successive phases of construction, leaving room for future growth, although we could learn from its mistakes with little-used intermediate stations: TGV Picardie was deliberately sited not to connect with the provincial network which crossed its route only a few kilometres away at Puzeaux.
David Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
• When it was announced in July 2013 that Hitachi had won the East Coast train replacement order, my reaction was that while it might benefit employment in Newton Aycliffe, the Department for Transport had gifted Hitachi an opening into the European market. Where does Vince Cable think the profits will go? “March of the makers”, indeed.
Robert As


In stating in the House Magazine that, for the personal independence payment and universal credit, he has a passionate belief that “what I am doing is the right thing”, Iain Duncan Smith echoes that other infamous politician, Tony Blair. I am sure we all recall his unflinching belief in the presence and threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and, when these failed to materialise, he said – without a hint of irony – “Look, I only know what I believe.”
Dan Tanzey
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire
• Your correspondent (Letters, 24 March) is right to point out that I don’t (unlike the BBC) pretend to be impartial. But he is wrong to link me with Tories who attack the licence fee. I have repeatedly defended it. I just think the BBC should try harder to deserve it.
Peter Hitchens
• While it is a good idea to suggest Martin Amis read the writings of Stuart Hall (Letters, 20 March), it is obvious that Amis knows Foucault.
Phil Rhoden
Kidderminster, Worcestershire
• Spotted in a cookshop in ever-so-desirable San Rafael, North California, a recipe book: Fifty Shades of Kale (In Praise of … Kale, 21 March 2014).
David Collison
Richmond, Surrey
•  Having graduated 55 years ago and been a Guardian reader for even longer, I regard myself as well educated and well read. However, I needed to look up two words in the letter to Pamela Stephenson Connolly (24 March). Her answer involving “tops” and “bottoms” is still incomprehensible. I wonder how the plushophilists fared when I was young, what with clothing coupons and bald teddybears.
Ann Pugh
• Wow! 10 best chickpea recipes in Saturday’s Cook supplement (22 March). How about 10 best mushy pea recipes for all those north of Watford?
R Moulds
Ludford, Lincolnshire
• I have never been to Valhalla, but I have sometimes been in Chãos, Portugal (Letters, 22 March).
Michael Miller
The chancellor has stated that we are to exploit the invention of graphene in this country. In this regard it may be worth contrasting the numbers of patents held by Manchester University, where it was discovered (0), and Samsung (a lot).
While I agree that graphene probably is the best thing since sliced bread, it is hard to see how it can be commercially exploited in the absence of something to exploit. It is also my understanding that Sir Andre Geim, one of two emigre Russian scientists at Manchester who made the discovery, is not patent friendly, taking a similar line to the Manchester Manifesto published by John Sulston through the university, which is probably the simple most meretricious document relating to patents ever issued.
Before making further investments in graphene, the chancellor might well be advised to review the due diligence carried out by Manchester to ensure that graphene is actually its to exploit.
Philip Atkinson
Solicitor and former head of intellectual property at Eversheds


It matters not a jot for those of us who were against the imposition of student fees to say “we told you so” now that there needs to be a change to the system of repayments (Government got maths wrong over tuition fees, 22 March).
Given that it is too late to go back to where we started from, a rethink is due. If you were to take as a broad proposition that education is for life, perhaps a lifetime repayment scheme would be possible? A graduate could choose when to repay. This could be, as now, drip-feeding the loans back annually, or in later life after children have left home / downsizing property / inheritance / windfall and so on, with the amount needed repaying keeping place with inflation. Repayment from untaxed income would also help and encourage settlement of debt.
Nothing can overcome the injustice of a coalition most of whom benefited from free college education imposing a large financial handicap on younger generations through student debt. They cannot have thought through all the implications and life-changing decisions that debt has caused graduates. For instance, whether bringing up children is affordable and where they may well be denied a mortgage because student repayments have priority at the £21,000 earnings threshold.
Deb Nicholson
• It has taken the government three years to admit its tuition fees system is not sustainable (Report, 23 March). It will take years to correct the enormous strain it has already put on our universities and students.
The system was always wrong in principle: saddling young people with a lifetime of debt, while starving universities of adequate funding. Now we hear the maths was wrong and there is a looming funding gap. We have been warning minsters that the overwhelming majority of postgraduate teachers will not be able to pay back their loans and will owe more than £100,000 after 30 years – twice as much as they borrowed. And if young people are unemployed or in low-paid jobs, go abroad or simply drop out of official statistics, the debt to the public purse will be much greater. Cutting fees would provide only a short-term solution. The spectre of raising fees still further is sheer madness.
Dr Mary Bousted
General secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
•  The report that the government’s system for funding a university education may end up costing more than the system it replaced is not that surprising. Critics of the reforms have long argued that the trebling of tuition fees and provision of up-front loans was an accounting trick designed not to make the system more efficient but to further implant a competitive market into higher education. Perhaps the government should cut its losses and go back to providing a free education to all those who want a degree. Can UK plc afford it? Well, it depends whether you see higher education as a drain or an investment in the future. After all, Germany is set to scrap tuition fees and its economy does not appear to be collapsing.
Professor Des Freedman
Goldsmiths, University of London
•  If there is one thing we can learn from the student tuition fee loan debacle, it is the idiocy of applying the logic of neoliberalism to a sector in which it is clearly ill suited. This massive economic category error is not restricted to higher education. Neoliberalism, and its ideological adjutant, managerialism, has contaminated primary and secondary education, health and social care, and the voluntary sector. Tragically, there appears to be no end in sight for this discredited experiment in philistinism.
William Hutson
Needing an anecdote or two for a paper I was due to deliver on the occasion of the director Peter Glenville’s birth centenary in 2013, I rang up Ossie Morris (obituary, 20 March) late last year. He recalled, still with astonishing clarity, working with Glenville on Term of Trial (1962), a small black-and-white British film.
Interestingly, he hadn’t bothered to give the credit even a mention beyond its title in his riveting 2006 autobiography, despite the fact it co-starred Laurence Olivier, Simone Signoret, Terence Stamp and the newcomer Sarah Miles. Ossie’s fabulous memoir, devoting considerable space instead to his long collaboration with the Hollywood film-maker John Huston, was, rather fittingly and wittily, entitled Huston, We Have a Problem.



I find it extremely difficult to reconcile your newspaper’s stance on climate change with your support for fracking. (Editorial, “Fracking is right and necessary. So publish more evidence”, 21 March.)
The only environmental advantage offered by fracking is that burning gas emits considerably less CO2 per unit of energy than coal, but this only benefits climate change if fugitive emissions of methane released by fracking are kept below 2 per cent. In the US there has been no proper monitoring but releases as high as 9 per cent have been recorded. Furthermore there is no evidence that shale gas will replace coal. Instead the US is exporting cheap coal and power stations elsewhere in the world are now converting back from natural gas to coal with disastrous consequences for climate change.
Finally the Chancellor’s policy is to support shale gas at the expense of renewables which explains why UK investment in green technologies has halved over the past  three years.
Opposition to fracking is therefore rational and scientifically based. It does The Independent no credit to pretend otherwise.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

I was very disappointed by your editorial of 21 March. You acknowledge the kind of concerns raised by protesters, but imply that they are misinformed and that there is abundant evidence that fracking is “safe and clean”, and that this will see off the “increasingly politicised” anti-fracking movement.
But on the contrary, experience from the US and elsewhere, backed by European Commission and American independent research, has identified significant pollution risks and actual damage from leaking wells, including permanent contamination of aquifers and drinking water by methane, heavy metals, radioactive elements and carcinogenic chemicals.
Local communities also suffer greatly from air pollution, noise from drilling and heavy truck movements, and water shortages. And significant release of methane from underground further accelerates climate change.
No doubt the corporate interests that stand to benefit financially (backed by a compliant government) can mount an impressive PR exercise aimed at getting public opinion on-side, but only by skewing the truth.
You claim that fracking will reduce energy prices and increase security of supply. But energy prices are set in an international market, so any gas extracted by UK fracking is unlikely to have much effect on our bills.
And rather than subsidising oil and gas giants trying to squeeze out the last drop of fossil fuels with what is a highly invasive and resource-intensive process, a better way to strengthen energy security is increased research and investment in a range of genuinely clean, renewable technologies, coupled with improved insulation and more efficient heating systems.
Dr Christine Marsh, Dawlish, Devon

The fracking lobby is wrong to suggest that public opinion remains “the last piece of the puzzle” (“Lobbying drive for fracking launched”, 20 March). There are other gaping holes in the industry’s game-plan too.
Experts have warned that shale gas won’t cut UK fuel bills, and the industry has completely failed to show how a shale-gas boom is compatible with tackling climate change.
On top of this there remains real concern about the damaging impact of fracking on local communities and their environment, particularly given recent cuts to the main regulator, the Environment Agency.
The real solution to our energy challenges are energy efficiency and developing the UK’s substantial renewable potential. This will not only be good for our environment – it will boost our long-term economic prospects too.
Tony Bosworth, Energy Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, London SW6

Only force will  stop Putin
Your correspondent Nick Megoran (20 March), a lecturer in political geography, wants to see Nato wound up in the interests of preserving good relations with an expansionist Russia.
This sort of reductionist claptrap has no credibility. If Mr Megoran consulted the freedom-loving peoples of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as other countries which have borders with Russia, he would find massive support for their continuing membership  of Nato.
Why? They know that as long as they remain members any attempt by Putin to invade them would, in terms of mutual treaty obligations, require Nato to intervene militarily. Secondly, its membership of Nato gives the US massive traction, and moral collateral.
Force and the threat of force spearheaded by Nato are the only factors likely to impact on Putin’s thinking and restrain him from further adventurism.
Michael Batchelor, Swansea

It is really exasperating to see our government pressing the EU to “punish” Russia with economic sanctions. There can only be three consequences: (i) everyone, on both sides, is worse off; (ii) nothing will change as regards Crimea; (iii) in a couple of years,  we will all move on and  the sanctions will be lifted. An exercise which, if it has any purpose at all, is to make the political leaders feel less impotent than they actually are.
And anyway: why is it legitimate for the Falklanders to vote to be part of Britain rather than Argentina, the Gibraltarians to vote to be part of Britain rather than Spain, and the Northern Irish to vote to be part of Britain rather than Ireland, but not for the people of Crimea to vote to be part of Russia and rather than Ukraine?
Malachy Cornwell-Kelly, Sevenoaks, Kent

Your correspondents who adhere to the notion that “free elections” took place in Crimea should read Anne Applebaum’s book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe to understand Russian-style elections. Where were (or are) the opposition parties in the Putin/Medvedev elections and reign? And, for all this talk about Crimea being so Russian, it was Catherine the Great who expanded Imperial Russia’s influence and seized Crimea.
Also, if the ethnicity of the people determines the fate of part of a country maybe the people of Bradford would like to vote to become part of Pakistan?
Zofia Pacula, Windsor

The ‘studentification’ of the city of Durham
As a resident of the City of Durham from 1984 to 2000, I am not surprised that there are protests about the loss of local housing to student accommodation (“Gown town: Durham locals fear losing their city to ‘studentification’ ” 17 March).
I lived in a two-bed terrace house in one of the streets near the viaduct and got used to the “thundering trains of the east-coast main line”, and enjoyed living there. I walked to my teaching job in the city, as did my daughter to her school, and I did most of my shopping in the city; there was a good selection of quality shops then.
The street’s inhabitants were a mixed bunch – professional people, retired, young singles and couples, and long-term residents. The street got a “City in Bloom” award for its tubs and hanging baskets.
Then developers bought up some of the houses, and one next to mine was turned into a four-bed student house. Gradually the area changed its character and was no longer desirable for couples or families. I represented our street on a local Police-University-Residents’ Liaison Committee to look at problems related to students living in the community, but the university was, to my mind, arrogant, and dismissive of residents’ complaints.
However, the university doesn’t need to fear disruption to residents from the latest development of student accommodation on the former county hospital site (a stone’s throw from the viaduct and Crossgate areas) – there will only be a handful left and they won’t matter.
Janet Slootweg, Crook,  Co Durham

Resistance movement at the checkout
Congratulations to Brendan Sharp on winning the Wyn Harness prize for young journalists (“Self serving”, 18 March). He makes many valid points about how the self-service tills in supermarkets can alienate customers.
However, I challenge his description of “old age pensioners” and what he assumes to be “their stark sense of inferiority” in relation to technology. Many of us have used computers for years and quite a few of us actually have smart phones.
Far from avoiding such tills because of being “subtly humiliated” some of us are engaged in active resistance. Our answer to the hard-pressed assistants who implore us to use the self-service machines is “No thanks. I don’t want to work for Tesco” or whoever. Another effective response is “No thank  you – I’m trying to save your job!”
So again, well done Brendan but please give older people a break and don’t make assumptions about an entire generation.
Barbara Sheppard, Cambridge


Sir, Many children were acquainted with the First World War poets well before Britten’s War Requiem in 1962 (letter, Mar 19). One set book for the London School Certificate exam in 1949 was An Anthology of Modern Verse (43rd edition), with poems by Brooke, Grenfell, Owen and Sassoon among others. The editor warned: “Some teachers may think a few of the pieces unsuitable to the youthful mind.” They actually seemed no worse to us than the other set text — Macbeth .
Professor A. J. Meadows
Seagrave, Leics
Sir, Kipling was “a better poet than all of them,” says Professor Karlin (letter, Mar 19) of the poets of the First World War. Field Marshal Earl Wavell would have agreed. Kipling appears more than any other poet in Wavell’s 1944 anthology Other Men’s Flowers. (Sassoon appears once, Owen and Edward Thomas not at all.) Wavell’s own poignant Sonnet for the Madonna of the Cherries (“a little wayside dandelion,” he says, modestly) should be considered for any Second World War anthology.
Barry Ferguson
Shaftesbury, Dorset
Sir, And not just Kipling. A. E. Housman also understood that honour comes in a soldier’s pack: “Here dead we lie/ Because we did not choose/ To live and shame the land/ From which we sprung.”
George Pownall
London SW4
Sir, Ian Cherry believes that Horace was extolling “the virtues of heroic gallantry”. Yet nowhere else in Latin poetry is found the concept that death is sweet. Either Horace was being deeply ironic (which puts a double irony into Owen’s poem) or, as has been argued by Horatian scholars, the text should be amended to read “dulci decorum est pro patria mori” – “it is fitting to die for one’s sweet country”.
Margaret Stephen
Westcott Surrey
Sir, Wilfred Owen’s collected poems were not published until 1963. His poetry was not well known during or after the First World War, but it may be that the poems struck a chord with the atrocities inflicted during the war in Vietnam.
His Dulce et Decorum is a graphic description of the horror of war that civilians and the returning soldiers may well not have been ready for just after the armistice.
Perhaps this poem crossed Mr Blair’s mind when troops were sent to the second Iraq war.
Ralph Bates
Aller, Somerset
Sir, Apropos Dr Harvey’s letter, the anthologies of English poetry tend not to include work in another language by, for example, Verlaine or Machado. This does not mean that poets from other cultures are not acknowledged. A poem in another language would not be readily understood by many people but once it is translated, it really becomes a different poem. In translation much of the beauty of the original language, eloquence and emotional appeal would be lost.
The war poets recounted their experience of death and yearning for home in terms that resonated with their families and their tragic generation. In the same way, Stramm, Ungaretti and Apollinaire recounted their experience, from their own perspective, within the context of their own culture, but to put poetry in another language alongside poetry in English in the same anthology would reduce the power of both poetic languages to move and inspire.
My father, who was a pilot in the Great War, was an avid reader, but whatever book he had in his hand, the work of Siegfried Sassoon was at his elbow.

Sir, My neighbour is involved in the care of a man who was discharged after ten weeks in hospital for treatment of a stroke (“One in three patients dies within a year of discharge from hospital”, Mar 19). His post-discharge care from the local authority stopped once he was deemed able to live alone in a bed-sit — although unable to go shopping because of mobility problems. My neighbour was told that voluntary organisations would take over some of his care but that further help would have to be paid for — not an option in his case. When she went to see him this week his only food was two ready-meals, ten days out of date. His flat needed cleaning but no one from the voluntary organisations is supposed to help domestically and no one is insured to take him out, so he just stares at the four walls.
Many patients are not sent out of hospital with the expectation that they are terminal, but the level of care is so abysmal that death becomes inevitable. In my experience as a hospital consultant, we didn’t operate on elderly patients with the aim that they would be dead within a few months. Lack of care in the community may well be a huge contributory factor.
Jane Stanford
London SW13
Sir, Your article) reinforces the fact that despite most of us wanting to die at home, busy hospital wards will continue to be the place where many of us will die.
It is therefore imperative that hospital staff provide high quality, compassionate care for their dying patients. The recent Neuberger Report emphasised that the ethical framework underpinning the guidance within the Liverpool Care Pathway was sound and in accord with the guidance from the General Medical Council. There are still misunderstandings and criticisms of anticipatory prescribing, clinically assisted hydration and the use of medication to relieve anxiety and distress for the dying.
To move forward decisively in improving care for the dying, NHS England must provide clear explanations of these difficult ethical issues while putting in place measures to improve the organisational governance within which care is provided.
Dr Gerard Corcoran
Formby, Merseyside

How many pensioners will raid their savings to buy a Lamborghini? And would it matter if they did?
Sir, Two aspects to the proposed reforms to pensions struck me.
First, someone with substantial other income can pass his or her pension savings to a spouse or civil partner with an overall reduction in the amount of tax the couple will pay.
Second, most pensioners (at least the ones who don’t buy Lamborghinis) will have more capital to leave to their heirs on their deaths, making many people better off and no one but insurance companies and their investors worse off.
Susan Kelly
London W5
Sir, It is being suggested that as a consequence of the Chancellor’s proposed pension reforms, some people would be tempted to cash in their pension pots and buy a Lamborghini.
This would not be a profligate purchase, providing the Lambo was old enough. Classic cars are reported to have shown an average capital appreciation rate of 28 per cent last year, and an astonishing 430 per cent over the past ten years. Furthermore, capital gains on classic cars are still tax-free.
Anthony H. Ratcliffe
London W1
The man who put the glam in Georgian England had some high-powered enemies, among them William Hogarth
Sir, Richard Morrison’s fascinating article on William Kent (“The carpenter’s son who put the glam in Georgian England”, Mar 22) does not quite tell the whole story about Kent’s enemies. William Hogarth was not just a “fellow artist” of Sir James Thornhill, he was his son-in-law. Thornhill’s star was on the wane by the 1730s and, to his credit, I think, Hogarth waded in to support the old boy whenever he could. This was partly out of love for Jane Thornhill/ Hogarth, but also because both Hogarth and Sir James detested the Palladian influence in art, of which Kent was champion and figurehead.
Michael Dean
Colchester, Essex
A reader outraged by Melanie Reid’s cancelled operation shares her experiences of NHS bureaucratic chaos
Sir, I read Melanie Reid’s Spinal Column (Mar 22) about her cancelled NHS operation with real empathy and increasing outrage.
Like Mrs Reid I too have had planned NHS surgery cancelled, not just once but on three occasions. Worse still, I had been told after first diagnosis that my operation would take place within four weeks due to the uncertain nature of the cervical polyp I had. Can one even begin to imagine the mental anguish I suffered during 13 weeks and after three “in situ” cancellations?
Ultimately I had the surgery in the private sector, performed by a wonderful gynaecologist who was totally bemused at the failings of the NHS in my lamentable treatment. Like Mrs Reid I too have suffered huge “mental and physical cruelty” at the mercy of an inhumane administrative system which treats its patients with the utmost contempt.
My concern is that cancelled elective operations are occurring all too frequently as failing hospital trusts try to meet unrealistic waiting list targets by overbooking theatre slots. The suffering caused by this is abhorrent, and this issue must be addressed at a national level. Indeed I would encourage all readers who have had elective surgery cancelled on one or more occasions to tell their MP and request that this issue is debated as a matter of urgency at Westminster.
Sandra Ward
Bridgnorth, Shropshire


SIR – Your report recognised that William Kent’s greatest artistic achievement was landscape design, and rightly criticised the Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition about Kent for underplaying this. Curators have not worked out how to exhibit landscape design, and so ignore an art in which the British have led Europe since Kent’s time.
While working at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, William Kent must have influenced the great Capability Brown, who was, at that time, the young head gardener there. Rousham House in Oxfordshire set another precedent in landscape design. Our beautiful countryside was to become part of the landscape designer’s palette.
Hal Moggridge
Lechlade, Gloucestershire
Peter Johnson
Great Gransden, Cambrideshire

SIR – You report that Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is in favour of a mansion tax.
This tax would be a fundamental invasion of individual property rights, currently protected under English law. In this respect, it must not be confused with a tax on earnings, savings or transactions, which is the state’s prerogative.
A mansion tax creates a precedent for other wealth taxes, allowing the state to exercise a claim on the property of anyone it chooses. This point is unlikely to be lost on those with property, and is a deterrent to further investment and the creation of wealth upon which we all depend.
Alasdair Macleod
Sidmouth, Devon
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24 Mar 2014
SIR – As a member of the public, I strongly refute Danny Alexander’s claim that I am part of “a general consensus in favour of a mansion tax”. Although it will be a while, even in the current property price bubble, before my house reaches the likely threshold for a such a tax, I see it as an arbitrary confiscation of wealth which is grossly unfair, illogical and immoral.
Roger Earp
Bexhill, East Sussex
SIR – Given the Government’s appetite for our hard-earned money, should we start planning to block up our windows?
John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey
Flood horror continues
SIR – Having recently travelled to Taunton, Somerset on the main road – which reopened only a week ago after nearly three months under water – before and after photos showing life returning to normal on the Somerset Levels are misleading.
Homes, farm buildings and business premises that were flooded still need months of repair work, at significant expense, to return them to anything approaching normal. Hundreds of acres of pasture also remain under water; those fields slowly emerging from the water are generally a filthy brown colour. The stench of polluted mud is in the air, and litter is heaped on what were the high-tide marks of the flooding.
Agony for the residents continues.
John Chillington
Wells, Somerset
Time for two watches
SIR – I wear my watch on my right wrist, not because I am left-handed, but because I broke my left wrist, aged 13, which was encased in plaster for six weeks. That was 51 years ago.
Since then, I have only worn a watch on my left wrist when flying across the Atlantic, when I find that one watch set at each of the departure and destination time zones helps with jet lag.
Philip Barry
Dover, Kent
The perfect match
SIR – I was much amused by the three questions needed to find the right partner suggested by four mathematicians from Harvard. These were: do you like horror movies; have you ever travelled around another country alone; and wouldn’t it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a boat?
Women assessing a possible partner want to know if he would make a good father, and is basically kind-hearted. I suggest the question: “When did you last see your grandmother?”
Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent
African bloodbath
SIR – Your leading article (March 21) draws attention to the massive human suffering in the Central African Republic, where militias are brutally targeting both Muslims and Christians.
As a leading donor country and member of the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom has a vital role to play in preventing this crisis from spiralling further out of control. The Government must take action to protect civilians by providing further support to the African Union-led mission on the ground. It must also vote for a strong United Nations–led peacekeeping operation, with a clear mandate to protect civilians and support the re-establishment of state institutions across the country.
The Government should also appoint a special envoy to ensure the crisis remains on the international agenda, and open an embassy in Bangui. Twenty years ago, after the Rwandan genocide, the international community vowed never again to ignore mass atrocities. The Government must use its influence to prevent more human suffering.
Mark Goldring
Chief Executive, Oxfam
Matthew Frost
Chief Executive, Tearfund
Justin Forsyth
Chief Executive, Save The Children
Bathroom etiquette
SIR – Stephen O’Loughlin describes being allowed a bath only once a week at university.
At my boarding school we were allowed two baths a week, but a line had been painted above the plug hole allowing about four inches of water.
Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – In the Seventies, I stayed for one night in a small hotel in Newcastle and asked to be provided with a bath towel.
The proprietor looked puzzled and said:
“But you are a one-nighter, and we don’t expect them to have a bath.” I was then begrudgingly issued with a bath towel for an additional charge of 50p, and told not to take all the hot water.
Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – When I was a teenager, I used to go on a two–week camp with the Scouts, for which my mother provided me with a new bar of soap. She complained that on my return, I hadn’t even washed the name off.
Peter Franklin
Woking, Surrey
Police should not be able to use water cannon
SIR – As a retired police superintendent with over 32 years’ service, I share your correspondents’ concern regarding police using water cannon on the streets of London.
Major public disorder is increasingly being organised through instant communication, which makes the rioters much more mobile than in previous years. That, in itself, renders the use of an asset such as water cannon ineffective.
Do we wish to use an offensive weapon on our streets that has the potential to cause serious injury or even death? The answer has to be no. I hope that the Home Secretary reaches the same conclusion.
Graham S Scott
Batley, West Yorkshire
SIR – The argument that “the introduction of water cannon would take us down a dark path” implies that the trust between the police and the public would be endangered. That trust has been severely tested by cases of police misconduct, some going back to the Seventies, when the then commissioner purged almost 500 corrupt officers from the Metropolitan Police.
Sadly, high-profile revelations since then have had an even more corrosive effect on that trust. If the police wish to retain what is left of the trust it has, it should welcome the cold water being poured on the idea.
Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – The “do-gooders” opposing water cannon ought to put themselves in the shoes of those who were at the receiving end of rioting, such as the shop workers. These people have the right to work free from fear, and the prime duty of government is the protection of its citizens.
Society needs more instruments in protecting life, limb and property. Hence the case for water cannon.
John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex
SIR – Many commentators seem to think that people who have responsibly saved into a pension fund are incapable of managing their own funds. This is an unfair assumption.
Benefit claimants are not only deemed capable but are encouraged to manage their own financial affairs. Rent is now paid direct to the claimant, not to the landlord as in the past, to promote financial independence.
Why should pensioners accessing their own money be treated differently to benefit claimants who are accessing money from the taxpayer?
Lynne Marsh
Prestwich, Lancashire
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SIR – While the Budget has offered tax breaks for businesses, there is a bigger issue that would benefit companies far more: a mandatory payment time.
The National Specialist Contractors Council informed me that the Government has confirmed on numerous occasions that it will not legislate for 30–day payment terms. Why not? It would go a long way to lessen the need for expensive overdrafts, reduce insolvency, and promote growth and workforce security.
Derek Winter
Ashford, Kent
SIR – I would be able to overpay my mortgage payments from my earnings and, having cleared it four years before retirement, divert money to my pension fund. The problem is that, like many others, I cannot afford to do so without incurring a big penalty from my building society.
If such penalty clauses were removed, many would use the extra freedom to do what they wish with their own money. This would include both clearing debt and preparing for the future.
Kevin Wright
Harlow, Essex
SIR – In the euphoria surrounding George Osborne’s liberation of pension pots, has the pension mis-selling scandal been forgotten?
When Margaret Thatcher removed the requirement to belong to company pension schemes in 1988, many sharks fell upon the vulnerable, who were lured out of excellent company pension schemes.
Those sharks and their descendants must now be scenting blood at the prospect of a new feeding frenzy.
Mike Post
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
SIR – George Osborne might have overlooked an important safeguard in giving the elderly the freedom to blow their pension as they wish, rather than having to buy an annuity.
Pressure might be applied to a family member’s valuable pension pot. “Come on, Dad, I need a new car”, can no longer be rebutted with: “Sorry, I’m obliged to put it into an annuity”.
John Drewry
Beckenham, Kent
Irish Times:

Sir, – By any standards, the decision of the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeal to order Boston College to hand over recordings of taped interviews with dozens of former IRA and UVF members, which were conducted on the basis of confidentiality, is bizarre.
This decision, which has culminated in the bringing of charges against a person in Northern Ireland who made himself available to Boston College interviewers, poses a threat to the safety of those involved and has significant implications for future academic and journalistic research.
These interviews were recorded and collated for Boston College’s Belfast Project and participants were assured that they would not be published while they were alive. British prosecutors, in collaboration with the US Justice Department, want access to the tapes to aid their efforts to investigate past crimes in Northern Ireland.
The British government might display practical and moral leadership on this issue and lead by example.
In 1984, following a string of allegations about a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland carried out by the RUC and British army, the British government set up the Stalker/Sampson Inquiry. Families of those killed as a result of this alleged shoot-to-kill policy are still awaiting justice.
Despite a four-year investigation into the allegations, the final report has never been published. Then, in 1989, the Stevens Inquiry was established by the British government to investigate claims of collusion between the RUC, M15, British Intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland’s “dirty war”. Following a six-year inquiry by the commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Service, Sir John Stevens, culminating in three separate reports, only 19 pages of the 3,000-page final report were made public.
Furthermore, there have been three Joint Oireachtas Committee reports into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Since then the democratic pursuit of justice for the 33 innocent people killed in the biggest mass murder in Irish history has led to dead ends and cul-de-sacs.
Requests from Mr Justice Henry Barron in the final report of the commission of investigation into these bombings for documentation which was in the possession of the British government, and which would have been vital in establishing the identity of those responsible, were refused. Even recent requests from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to David Cameron to release files relevant to the cases were refused.
If the British government wishes to be seen to be consistent, fair and open in its application of standards of justice, why does it not apply equally the judicial principles it demands from Boston to Belfast and London? – Yours, etc,
Templeville Road,

Sir, – I was interested, and delighted, to read Simon Carswell’s piece (“Tea Party used Kenny visit to raise funds”, March 22nd) regarding Enda Kenny’s attendance at a fundraiser for conservative Republican congressman Mick Mulvaney.
Before his St Patrick’s Day trip to the US, the Taoiseach made it clear that he would advocate strongly for the approximately 50,000 undocumented Irish people living in the shadows in America. His attendance at the fundraiser is proof positive that he did just that.
The reality is that a few dozen Republican congressmen and women, many of whom have Tea Party ties, are standing in the way of immigration reform legislation that would benefit the undocumented Irish. The other reality is that the Taoiseach, as a white European male, can play a unique role in engaging the hard right in the US on this issue that affects so many Irish people — especially on St Patrick’s Day.
Many Irish people abhor the Tea Party movement. As a Democrat, I’m no fan myself. But winning over even a few of their hearts and minds would go a long way toward immigration reform.
In this light, the Taoiseach, whom I have been critical of on a number of other fronts, was absolutely right to attend Mulvaney’s fundraiser. – Yours, etc,
School of Law,
NUI Galway
A chara, – I am a citizen of the United States living and working in Ireland. Thus, when the Taoiseach helps to raise funds for a Tea Party candidate in Washington, my Irish taxes are supporting his efforts.
In other words, I find myself indirectly supporting a political party whose far-right politics I abhor. A Government spokesman is quoted as saying that “the fundraising question is not an issue for the Taoiseach”. It is an issue for me if a head of state on a foreign diplomatic trip becomes part of a campaign for one political party in another nation. Yours, etc,
HARPER, Parteen,
Co Clare

Sir, – If Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance (March 21st) has any hard evidence that any intercountry adoption registered in Ireland, was obtained through “child trafficking, abduction or the deception of birth parents”, she should immediately report it to the Garda.
The fact that no such complaint exists from the Children’s Rights Alliance confirms the fact that our pre-Hague adoptions are thorough and lawful. These internationally adopted children have not been denied the right to grow up with “parents and families”. They have been adopted from orphanages and baby homes because for so many reasons their birth families were unable to rear them.
I would be shocked to think that the Children’s Rights Alliance believed an orphanage in a birth country was a better place to grow up in than a family unit in an adopted country. The orphanages haven’t magically emptied because Hague exists. Hague hasn’t meant that there are fewerchildren needing families. It means that the families available to to those children are unable to reach them. – Yours, etc
Garnett Hall,
Co Meath
Sir, – In an ideal world, every child would be born into an ideal situation. In the imperfect world we live in, there will always be some who aren’t.
Adoption and fostering are as old as humankind. My own children are internationally adopted, and, far from this being under “a system of light-touch regulation” (Letters, March 21st) both adoptions required rigorous process in both countries.
We have since made contact with the original families of our children, as have many adoptive parents, and I have yet to hear of a case where there was anything misleading or untruthful in the paperwork.
The Hague Convention is very welcome as a further step to absolutely ensure that all adoptions are ethical. The convention’s full title is actually “The 1993 Hague convention on the protection of children and co-operation in respect of intercountry adoption”.
I would like to ask the Adoption Authority what active steps it is taking, and with which countries, to further the stated aims of the convention and to co-operate in respect of intercountry adoption? – Yours, etc,
Co Galway
The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána was badgered by politicians to give his opinions and comments before an open session of a Dáil committee and this he did in good faith. He is now being badgered to apologise for the same for the sake of political appearances and pointscoring. Disgusting indeed. Yours, etc,
Co Tipperary

Sir , – The appointment of Marie Collins by Pope Francis to the recently established Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is a most welcome development (“Pope shows political nous in naming council for protecting minors”, March 24th).
Ms Collins has been a tireless campaigner for justice for the survivors of clerical sex abuse while working to ensure that those bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes who failed in their Christian duty to defend the “little ones” be brought to justice and held for accountable for their crimes of omission.
While she is one of eight members, four of whom are women, I am confident she will continue to be a forceful voice for those who have suffered from clerical sex abuse.
An equally challenging task for Marie and this new commission will be to bring about a radical change of heart and robust procedures for the protection of minors in all dioceses of the Catholic world . – Yours, etc,
The Moorings,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – Brian Ó Broin (Letters, March 22nd) suggests that the target of 250,000 Irish speakers by 2030 is an achievable one, but only “if non-Gaeltacht Irish speakers begin to shoulder the burden that Gaeltacht people have been predominantly carrying since the foundation of the State – using the language at home”.
How strange to think that speaking to one’s family in what is considered to be one’s native tongue should be termed a burden. Communicating in either one’s first or second language at home should be (largely) a pleasure, not a burden; and I would imagine that for the vast majority of Irish-speakers it is.
If indeed the Irish language is such a heavy load to carry, then it should be ditched without delay. A language that is a burden is worthless.
Yours, etc,
Co Tipperary
Sir, – An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, does not advance his cause by using the slur “linguistic Darwinists” (Opinion & Analysis, March 24th). The survival of the 2,000-year-old Irish language is a tribute to its evolution, not a refutation of it.
Yours, etc,
Cnoc an Stollaire,
Gaoth Dobhair,
Co Donegal

Sir, – How reassuring it is to know that the Vatican is putting its full might into Italy’s battle against organised crime. One can only imagine the profound effect that Pope Francis’s threat of hell has had on the hearts and minds of these hardened criminals.
The Italian government should now take the opportunity to turn the screw even further by reminding these Mafia killers that Santa Claus is always watching and perhaps we can move another step closer to ending the senseless violence that has scarred the beautiful Italian landscape for centuries.
Yours, etc,
Sir, – I recall that my father, a member of the initial draft into the Garda Siochána, emphasised that the role of the Garda was to attempt to ensure that law-abiding citizens could pursue their lives peacefully, safe from the wrongdoing of others.
In my view, it is obvious that confidence in such a force can only be ensured where the standards of behavior by gardaí are of the highest order. Surely it follows that, regardless of whether forcing legislation does or does not exist, it is the duty of every member to enthusiastically support any member who draws attention to improper behaviour. While sympathising with the difficulty imposed by collegial loyalty in such cases, not to do so is surely a neglect of duty, any culpability being higher where rank is higher.
Yours, etc,
Redford Court,
Co Wicklow

Sir, – Una Mullally (Opinion & Analysis, March 24th) tells us that “women should be raging” that there are so few of them in the decision-making forum of what is supposed to be a representative democracy.
In the next election, if the quota regime has an effect, there will be an increased number of female candidates. There is considerable opposition to this development. The message from the objectors is that the women on the ballot paper are “token” and have no ability. This mantra will be repeated ad nauseam by insiders and incumbents from now till the general election and beyond.
The objectors have the weight of history behind them. In this state we are told that a mere 5 per cent of TDs have been women since independence. The Dáil is still between 80 and 90 per cent male.
Now, when there is a chance that the more than 50 per cent of the electorate that are women might get more of their kind onto the ballot paper we can expect the insiders and incumbents to fight tooth and nail to undermine the campaign.
Women may, as Una Mullally says, be raging, or they may not. What the electorate as a whole thinks will be known only when the votes are counted after the next election.
Shielmartin Drive,
Dublin 13
Sir, – Has Una Mullally, or any of the other quotaistas , considered the fact that the reason there are fewer women than men in politics is that women don’t want to go into politics as much as men?
Doing a head count of the number of women in the Oireachtas and on the basis of this count declaring there is discrimination is like saying that men are discriminated against in the primary teaching profession because they are in a minority there. Ms Mullally’s sneering reference to a “parallel universe” shows that she, like many feminists, will not listen to any argument other then the one they are proposing themselves. – Yours, etc,
Circular Road,
Sir, – Michael Barry (Letters, March 24th), makes a number of points regarding dedicated busways versus a light tram system. On the issue of pollution, electrically driven trams are only non-polluting if their electricity source is generated from renewable resources.
Vienna runs virtually all of its buses on bio-methane extracted from the city’s sewerage system. This both reduces greenhouse gas emissions and can create sustainable jobs. If Vienna can do it, why not Dublin?
In an ideal world, where money was no object, of course it might be better to have a light tram system. But borrowed money is expensive. Better to borrow less and provide a service which may not be quite as fancy but will supply virtually the same result.
Another advantage of buses over trams is their flexibility. A bus can reroute around an accident. A tram cannot.
What is actually most important about public transportation services is that they are reliable and punctual. There is nothing worse than waiting for public transport, be it a bus or a tram, and not have it arrive.
Yours, etc,
Sir, Dorcha Lee (Opinion & Analysis, March 22nd) admits that the chances of foreign military intervention in Ireland “lie somewhere between zero and nil”. This is a telling own goal from a militarist hawk.
Why do we feel it necessary to ape our neighbours with a conventional standing army? Which of the European powers could we repel in the unlikely event of a military invasion? We would be better served by substantially reducing the defence budget and redirecting funds into a counterterrorist armed division of the police force. Realistically, we need to confront threats posed by our armed criminal gangs, paramilitary groups or zealots of the al-Qaeda hue. Our navy’s role in fishery protection does, however, justify a serious allocation of resources. – Yours, etc,
Co Kerry


Irish Independent:

* Differing faces of the Catholic Church were revealed in your newspaper recently.
Also in this section
Whistleblower row descends into ‘pantomime’
No new politics on offer
Quotas contrary to equal opportunity
On the one hand, we read reports of the Pope’s compassionate, non-judgmental response to questions about gay priests and gay marriage. On the other hand, we read that Fr Flannery had been silenced and banned from saying Mass, albeit by the machinations that the Pope himself seeks to reform.
The Fr Flannery case implies that outside the Vatican faith-police there is no salvation.
The idea that there is only one way to God, fenced in by various statements about what we ought to think and do is clearly at odds with the more inclusive example of Christ.
This demeans the whole Gospel tradition, reflected in the work of Pope Francis, who reaches out to the world rather than retreating into a cocoon of doctrine.
Of course, to claim to be a Christian, as I do, must distinguish me from those who claim not to be so inclined.
Yet, I often fail to see the difference.
Many of my atheist friends seem more forgiving and more compassionate, and hence more Christian, than I am.
I see my commitment as a direction I take, rather than as adherence to a set of clear-cut conclusions.
Indeed, I sometimes seem to weave my way in and out of a clear sense of purpose, feeling increasingly at home with the ambiguity that this engenders. My life slips in and out of sense.
It seems counterproductive to repress honest misgivings expressed by the ministers or laity of any church.
The repressive inculcation of orthodoxy and resignation reveals a fear of releasing our God-given intelligence, as if there was something sinister to hide.
A world of certainty and inner assurance has its advantages but tends to cultivate a superficial glow of self-satisfaction, often leading to a rush to judgment of those whose lives are more precarious and less assured.
The faith of our fathers is not the faith of our sons.
I took some comfort from my five-year-old granddaughter’s recent declaration that she felt she was half-Christian and half-normal.
* Well done, Leo. Well done indeed!
Against all adversity, you took the lead.
While Enda and Alan merely looked on,
You stood up and lauded Maurice and John.
So now, Mr Callinan, all eyes are on you,
Apologise, and mean it, and the FORCE may just be with you!
* In the wider world today, you have the tragedy of Flight MH370, the re-emergence of the Cold War over Ukraine/Crimea and the 59 deaths from the Ebola virus in Guinea.
And when you also consider what disasters this country has endured and weathered over the past few years, it is shocking to think that – in this state – one word, “disgusting”, has mature and so-called reasonable adults at each others’ throats and the possible destabilisation of a coalition government in the offing.
Enough said.
* I have a question for the parents and employers of Ireland.
Has anybody, anywhere, seen any benefits arising from the Project Maths curriculum?
No, I am not a teacher. I am a former IT manager and the parent of a Junior Cert student. I find the changes to the curriculum incomprehensible in their intent. It’s as if an arts faculty was unwillingly landed with responsibility for engineering and science.
The results that I see ( in my small world) are that the kids who enjoyed maths through national school are struggling with the verbosity of Project Maths, whilst those who were good at English alone are now doing better at Project Maths.
The student has to negotiate through a short story (worthy of an English comprehension paper) and figure out what has been asked. This introduces needless ambiguity.
For instance, a technically minded student would ponder whether the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s height is the vertical drop or the distance from base to top. The imprecision of the question will bug them throughout as they try to work out the solution.
Having worked in technology, I would prefer technical staff to ask questions and eliminate ambiguity rather than make assumptions.
Google or Microsoft would be nuts to invest in developing a database or algorithm where the core specifics are not nailed down.
We don’t want our mathematicians to be comfortable with ambiguity. To my mind, that is the opposite of maths. Does the Department of Education figure that we will import this skill in the future from the capable Indian or Chinese graduates or will the department require Irish students to complete a doctorate before they have acquired it?
My guess is that the changes to the curriculum are a heavy-handed attempt to encourage ‘problem-solving’ skills that the Irish have been valued for in the past.
Instead, it has introduced ‘puzzle-solving’. We, as a society, have developed a helplessness in our kids by managing every moment of their day and essentially doing too much for them.
In IT we developed problem-solving skills by dropping somebody in the middle of a problem, giving them responsibility and observing but not assisting unless a good attempt was made or a major disaster was imminent. The cost to the employer is the time it takes to observe and supervise. Generally, it’s a good investment.
Adapting maths to develop problem solving is misguided and lazy. Transition Year offers far more opportunities to develop these skills.
Realistically, as parents, we have to invest the time, too. So, I’m going to let them brush the floor (though it will give me a headache to watch – “two hands on the hurl, put down the phone, look at what you are doing” my mind will clamour silently). But I will only ask the questions: ‘Did you solve the problem? Is the floor clean?’
NASA awaits. . .
However, my question remains: ‘cui bono?’ in the murder of maths?
* I’m writing in reference to the article in your newspaper ‘Rotunda defends paying top-ups due to private income from Gate Theatre’ (Irish Independent, March 24).
Obstetricians uncertain whether to accept additional largesse from the private income the Rotunda Hospital derives from the Gate Theatre might be helped if George Bernard Shaw’s perceptive play ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’ was revived at the historic theatre.


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