Out and about

29April2014Bout and about

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate helping the farmers Priceless

Mary Post two books do some shopping

Scrabbletoday, Mary gets350, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Professor Noel Gale – obituary

Professor Noel Gale was a physicist whose work on isotope fingerprinting gave archaeologists insight into long-lost trading routes

Professor Noel Gale

Professor Noel Gale

7:36PM BST 28 Apr 2014

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Professor Noel Gale, the physicist who has died aged 82, applied the techniques of isotope fingerprinting to determine the origin of metals found at archaeological sites in the Aegean, shedding new light on the development of the ancient world.

In the decades before Gale became involved in the 1970s, chemists had been trying to help archaeologists identify the sources of ore from which Bronze Age peoples extracted metals they used to make tools and ornaments. The chemical compositions of artefacts were compared with those of likely ore deposits, but to little avail because not only are ore deposits far from uniform chemically, but the smelting process often changes their composition. In 1964 one reviewer concluded that “a solution to the problem of the sources of supply for ancient copper and bronze objects in the Mediterranean lands cannot be hoped for through the medium of the laboratory”.

Gale, a physicist at Oxford University, became involved in archaeological research in 1975 when he was invited to collaborate with a group at the Max Planck Institute, in Heidelberg, on studies of the provenance of the silver used to make ancient Greek coins . The researchers hoped to exploit a well-known geophysical fact that metals such as lead – a trace element in many metal artefacts – have a recognisable pattern in their isotopic composition (isotopes are variable forms of an element). For instance, lead from one deposit may have a lot of the lead-207 isotope, while another may be richer in lead-208, and so on. Crucially these proportions are not changed when the ore is smelted, so when the isotopic composition of lead from a metal goblet, say, is examined, it can be matched with the lead-isotope composition of the parent ore deposit.

Working first in the Department of Geology at Oxford, and later at Oxford’s Isotrace Laboratory, which he co-founded with his then wife and collaborator, Zofia Stos-Gale, Gale was instrumental in laying the foundations of modern lead isotope provenance methodology and compiled a large database of analytical results.

Encouraged by the archaeologist Professor Colin Renfrew, in the early 1980s the Gales set about fingerprinting potential sources of Aegean Bronze Age metals. They then analysed the isotopic composition of lead in about 100 lead and silver artefacts from the area and found that many originated from ore in mines at Laurion on mainland Greece. The discovery came as a major surprise to archaeologists who knew of the importance of the Laurion mines to classical Athens, but did not believe that the source had been extensively used 1,000 years earlier. The lead isotope analysis also supported the idea that trade was going on between the Aegean people and Dynastic Egypt between 2,000 and 1,300 BC.

In the late 1980s Gale led a five-year research project, funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, using one of the world’s most advanced mass spectrometers to establish the complex trading routes in copper, on which the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean relied.

This work not only revealed that trading patterns were more complicated than first thought, but also posed tantalising questions about relationships between the Bronze Age states of the Mediterranean and countries in the Middle East. A key part of the research involved the analysis of so-called Oxhide ingots – 66lb copper ingots that were used widely in the region from 1,500 BC to 1,000 BC . Lead isotope analysis of ingots at the Minoan palace of Hagia Triadha found that the metal could not have originated in the Aegean region, but probably came from further east – possibly Iran, Syria, Turkey or Afghanistan, where copper was already in use. The finding has led some archaeologists to conclude that the Minoans, who were great seafarers, made contact with the peoples of the Middle East, from where they returned having learnt the uses of copper, a development which may have helped them to become a regional power.

Noel Harold Gale was born on Christmas Eve 1931 in Valletta, Malta, where his father was serving as a seaman in the Royal Navy. He was educated at Brockenhurst Grammar School, Hampshire, and at Imperial College, London, where he took a degree in Physics. He went on to take a PhD at St Bartholomew’s Hospital on the medical applications of nuclear physics. He would take a further degree, in Pure Physics, at Manchester University.

Gale spent several years at the Harwell Laboratory of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment before joining the Department of Geology at Oxford University in the early 1960s. He was fellow of Nuffield College from 1987 to 1999 and an emeritus fellow from 1999 to this year.

Professor Noel Gale is survived by his former wife, Zofia Stos-Gale, by his third wife, Daphne, and by three sons.

Professor Noel Gale, born December 24 1931, died February 3 2014

Guardian:

As good, enlightened, Guardian-reading parents in the 80s, we had a policy of non-gender-specific toys for our two children (Load of old pony, G2, 23 April). This backfired when we caught our son (aged four) biting a piece of toast into the shape of a handgun, and later building a sword from Duplo bricks. Our daughter, having kicked a ball with me from when she could first walk, came home from her first day at nursery and exclaimed loudly that: “Girls don’t play football!” Good luck to today’s parents of young children.
Patrick Russell
London

• In our family a gentleman was someone who always put the seat back after use (Who are these new rules about being a gentleman actually for?, 26 April). I think it was originally a WC public notice on the train and became family lore. Empirical research suggests there are very few men who still observe this injunction.
Lesley Kant
Norwich

•  At a crossroads east of Lincoln in the 50s a road sign indicating “to Old Bolingbroke and Mavis Enderby” had been augmented with the words “the gift of a son”; the modern signsimply invites the traveller to visit English Heritage’s Bolingbroke Castle – birthplace in 1367 of the future King Henry IV (Letters, 28 April).
Mike Rowe
Offham, Kent

• Despite Southampton winning two-nil against Everton, your match report (Sport, 28 April) managed to avoid mentioning one home team player, yet still gave man of the match to Nathan Clyne, in a footnote. This must be a record.
Ken Emery
Southampton

• Quite amused at William Henwood’s call to Lenny Henry to go live in a black country (Ukip likely to come out ahead in Europe poll, 28 April). As Henry is from Dudley in the Black Country, where else can he go?
Guru Singh
Shepshed, Leicestershire

• I once had a boss (‘Get it done, people’, G2, 28 April) who spotted me reading the Guardian. He told me that had he known I was a Guardian reader, he would not have appointed me.
Ron Jeffries
Aldborough Hatch, Essex

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus, Syria, queueing to receive food supplies in January; UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon had urged the Syrian government to authorise more humanitarian staff to work inside the country. Photograph: UNRWA/AP.

More than three years into the Syrian conflict, 9.3 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance; 3.5 million are in so called “hard to reach” areas. The UN and other humanitarian agencies have long argued that many hundreds of thousands can only be reached effectively from neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Jordan. But the Syrian government continues to refuse consent for “cross-border” operations of this kind despite a clear UN security council demand that it do so. Blatant disregard for the most basic rules of international humanitarian law by the Syrian government and elements of the opposition is causing millions to suffer. But this appalling situation has been compounded by what we deem to be an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law, which has held UN agencies back from delivering humanitarian aid across borders for fear that some member states will find them unlawful.

As a coalition of leading international lawyers and legal experts, we judge that there is no legal barrier to the UN directly undertaking cross-border humanitarian operations and supporting NGOs to undertake them as well. We argue that cross-border operations by the UN would meet three primary conditions for legality.

First, the United Nations clearly meets the first condition for legitimate humanitarian action, which requires it respect the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and non-discrimination in delivering aid.

Second, in many of these areas various opposition groups, not the Syrian government, are in control of the territory. In such cases, the consent of those parties in effective control of the area through which relief will pass is all that is required by law to deliver aid.

Third, under international humanitarian law parties can withhold consent only for valid legal reasons, not for arbitrary reasons. For example, parties might temporarily refuse consent for reasons of “military necessity” where imminent military operations will take place on the proposed route for aid. They cannot, however, lawfully withhold consent to weaken the resistance of the enemy, cause starvation of civilians, or deny medical assistance. Where consent is withheld for these arbitrary reasons, the relief operation is lawful without consent.

The UN has been explicit that the Syrian government has arbitrarily denied consent for a wide range of legitimate humanitarian relief operations. According to the top UN official for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, the “continued withholding of consent to cross-border and cross-line relief operations … is arbitrary and unjustified.”

The stakes for correcting this overly cautious legal interpretation are high – hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. Humanitarian organisations will surely face enormous risk in carrying out cross-border relief operations and may decline to do so. These are not easy calculations to make. But in the case of Syria, UN agencies and other impartial aid agencies that are willing and able to undertake cross-border actions can lawfully deliver life-saving food, water, and medical assistance to desperate women, children and men inside Syria. We urge the UN to apply international humanitarian law so that it enables, rather than prevents, life-saving assistance reaching those in need.
Professor Payam Akhavan Professor of international law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Professor Mashood A Baderin Director, Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, SOAS, University of London
Geoffrey Bindman QC Founder, Bindmans LLP
Professor Laurence Boisson de Chazournes Professor of international law, University of Geneva, Switzerland
Professor Michael Bothe Professor emeritus of public law, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Nicolas Bratza Former president of the European court of human rights
Toby Cadman Barrister, 9 Bedford Row International
Professor Stephen Chan Professor of world politics, SOAS, University of London
Dr Hans Corell Under-secretary-general for legal affairs and the legal counsel of the United Nations, 1994-2004; CSCE war crimes rapporteur in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia; former judge of appeal and chief legal adviser of the Swedish ministry of justice and ministry for foreign affairs
Professor Irwin Cotler Emeritus professor of Law, McGill University; member of the Canadian parliament; former minister of justice & attorney general of Canada
Dr Emily Crawford Lecturer, Sydney law school, University of Sydney
John Dowd QC Former New South Wales attorney general
Professor John Dugard Professor emeritus, universities of Leiden and Witwatersrand; former member of UN International Law Commission
Professor Pierre-Marie Dupuy Professor emeritus, University of Paris (Panthéon-Assas), Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Genèva
Professor Max du Plessis Professor of law, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Elizabeth Evatt Former member of UN human rights committee
Professor Jared Genser Adjunct professor of law, Georgetown University; co-editor, UN Security Council in the Age of Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
Richard Goldstone Former chief prosecutor of the UN international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; former justice, constitutional court of South Africa; chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry regarding Public Violence and Intimidation (Goldstone Commission)
Professor Jan Klabbers Academy professor (Martti Ahtisaari chair), University of Helsinki
Professor Pierre Klein Professor of international law, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Anthony Lester QC Blackstone Chambers
Tawanda Mutasah International law scholar, New York University
Aryeh Neier Distinguished visiting professor at Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po; president emeritus of the Open Society Foundations
Professor Alain Pellet Professor, Université Paris-Ouest, Nanterre-La Défense; former chairperson, International Law Commission, United Nations; member, Institut de Droit international
Professor Javaid Rehman Professor of Islamic and international law, Brunel University, London
Professor Nigel Rodley Chairperson, University of Exeter Human Rights Centre
Professor Leila Nadya Sadat Professor of law and director of the Whitney R Harris World Law Institute, Washington University school of law; special adviser on crimes against humanity to the ICC prosecutor
Professor Philippe Sands QC University College London
Frances Webber Garden Court Chambers
Professor William A Schabas Professor of international law, Middlesex University
Phil Shiner Principal, Public Interest Lawyers
Professor Willem van Genugten Professor of international law, Tilburg University, the Netherlands
Professor Guglielmo Verdirame King’s College London
Professor Mark V Vlasic Senior fellow & adjunct professor of law, Georgetown University; former legal officer, office of the prosecutor, UN international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
Dr Hakeem Yusuf Senior lecturer & director of LLM Programmes in human rights, school of law, University of Strathclyde

In 1895, Henry Wood founded the Proms to make classical music accessible to a variety of people with the option of cheaper tickets and a large window of opportunity in which to attend. Why then do the Proms now include concerts that have nothing to do with classical music (Report, 25 April)? In the early days of the Proms the idea of musical variety was a Wagner night on Mondays and a Beethoven night on Fridays. Now it seems to be a Shostakovich evening on a Wednesday and then a Pet Shop Boys late-night party. Can you imagine a Bach night at Glastonbury? Why do we need popular music to bring us into classical music when you can see Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis conducted by John Eliot Gardiner or Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion by Simon Rattle? The classical music world has brilliant inspirational people from the younger generation of Dudamel, Benedetti and Grosvenor to more experienced people like Barenboim, Rattle and Gergiev. These artists are all in high demand but Proms are supposed to be there to make it easier to see these sorts of people perform. It is tragic that no one takes the traditional approach any more to introducing people to classical music with things like Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or Beethoven’s Fifth.
Gabriel Osborne
Bristol

•  Your article on this year’s Proms fails to mention how little music written before 1800 is to be performed. No Haydn will be heard this year, just as last year; there is little Handel and not much of any composers of the 18th century other than Mozart and JS Bach. In their anniversary year, Gluck and CPE Bach (both born in 1714) appear only briefly.

Music written before 1700 is still worse represented; a little Lully apart, there is hardly any on offer. Why are the Proms programmers so averse to early music?
CDC Armstrong
Belfast

• Last year the Proms offered more than 27 hours of Wagner; this year, nine minutes. Sic transit gloria ambulationis?
Mark Knight
Ightham, Kent

• In line with National Theatre policy (Letters, 21 April), will the War Horse Prom feature only recorded music?
Chris Burn
Ongar, Essex

In a statement issued by Roche and cited in your article (Nice rejects new breast cancer drug as too expensive, 23 April), Professor Paul Ellis attempts to justify the £90,000-per-patient cost of the cancer drug Kadcyla, insisting that it provides patients with valuable extra time with their loved ones – “time that you cannot put a price on”. I agree that you can’t put a price tag on a terminally ill person’s remaining months. But with Kadcyla’s £90,000 price tag, hasn’t Roche done just that?

New drugs can lessen patients’ side effects and prolong their lives. Indeed, considering the toxic regimens that doctors still have to use to treat diseases like cancer and tuberculosis, it’s clear that we need new treatment options. But what use is innovation if people can’t access these new drugs because they are too expensive? This has been a recognised problem in low- and middle-income countries for some time. But increasingly people in countries like the UK are finding they or their health systems can’t afford these prices either.

We’re told that if we don’t allow companies to charge huge sums for medicines, then they can’t fund the research and development (R&D) needed to create more new drugs. But retail prices don’t reflect the cost of production – in fact, the cost of producing a drug will be just a tiny fraction of what it goes for on the market. Retail prices are set according to the maximum amount a market will bear in the absence of price-lowering competition.

Why do we continue to accept a system where, with no transparency on the cost of R&D, companies are allowed to sell new drugs under monopoly conditions and set their own pricing, effectively holding governments and patients to ransom? Ultimately, we need to find a way to pay for the development of new medicines that doesn’t put all the bargaining chips in pharma companies’ hands. It’s possible, but to get there we need our governments to look at alternative business models that reward the development of new drugs without conferring monopolies.

The system is broken and we need to fix it, urgently. Time is passing and, clearly, it comes at a price.
Katy Athersuch
Access campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

A worrying omission from the headline figures in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (Fall in murder and violent crime, but increase in rape, survey finds, 25 April) are those relating to religious and race hate incidents. This category is absent from the survey report and enquirers to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are instead pointed in the direction of the Home Office, whose “overview” of hate crime wraps up together religious, race hate, homophobic and disability hatred and comes to the conclusion that there has been a steady fall over the past five years.

Contrast this with the Metropolitan police crime statistics, which show a slight but continuing upward trend in religious and race hate crime in the capital but with Islamophobic incidents rocketing by 65% in the year to March 2014.

At a time when Ukip’s vile posters are degrading streets throughout the country, certain tabloid newspapers are stepping up their vitriolic and frequently inaccurate attacks on migrants, and public discourse on the subject of immigration is poisoned by politicians of most parties trying to “out-tough” one another on the subject, is it not time that the authorities paused from patting themselves on the back over the fall in crime and gave more attention to this worrying specific increase and its causes?
Phillip Cooper
Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum

•  While the reduction in crime is clearly welcome, it is regrettable that the ONS data is not organised in such a way as to extract percentage changes for both domestic violence and hate crime, since these are incorporated into the more generic crime headings. For the victims of such crimes, their daily experiences of oppression, name-calling, personal violence and attack dominate their lives. Any reduction in overall crime offers no solace at all to them, and until these are recognised as discrete and heinous acts, nothing substantial will be done about them.
Andy Stelman
(Retired assistant chief probation officer), Bishops Castle, Shropshire

• The class-refracted conflicts that John Harris recalls (Britain’s bootboys may be gone, but are we really more at peace?, 25 April) have given way to new patterns of crime reflected in Cardiff University’s latest violence and society research (Report, 23 April). This must surely have some connection to the class realignment if not transformation John alludes to, especially as they are common across “post-industrial” societies.

Indeed, the division of knowledge and labour between the traditionally manual working class and the non-manual middle class has been eroded by the applications of new technology in successive work reorganisations. As a result, the polarising postwar pyramid has gone pear-shaped, with a new middle-working/working-middle class intermediate between the upper or ruling class and a section of the formerly unskilled working class relegated to underclass status. The consolidation of this new Americanised class structure may have been marked in England by the 2011 riots that John also recalls but everyone else has forgotten.
Patrick Ainley
University of Greenwich

•  John Harris’s piece was most perceptive, but I feel he and other commentators have missed a key factor in the decline in violent crime: ecstasy. From the late 80s to mid-90s an entire generation who would have been brawling in pub car parks was getting off its face on E at raves, and instead of scrapping were hugging complete strangers and telling them they loved them. This largely broke the intergenerational transmission of the macho street brawl culture and closed or changed the nature of the places that used to provide the arenas for it; it has never recovered.
Ian Simmons
Monkseaton, Tyne & Wear

•  How interesting that as crime falls, everyone seems reluctant to give any credit to a range of positive, evidence-based policies introduced post-1997, which were designed to create a fairer society and a better future for young people. National drug and alcohol strategies, a brilliant youth justice system, the well-targeted Connexions services for young people, education maintenance allowances to encourage young people to stay in education, the teenage pregnancy strategy, a great “New Deal” for young jobseekers, and many other initiatives were all designed to look holistically at disadvantaged young people and help them become useful pro-social citizens. The Labour party is particularly guilty of not realising how good they were in government, and not making the obvious case for retaining these well-researched, cost-efficient policies.
Sheila Hutchins
Tregony, Cornwall

As musicians, we are concerned to hear that the use of steel-strung guitars is being prohibited in prisons. We believe music has an important role to play in engaging prisoners in the process of rehabilitation. However, this ability will be seriously undermined if inmates are unable to practise between group sessions.

As most guitars owned or used by inmates in our prisons are steel-strung acoustics, this ruling will mean that these instruments are kept under lock and key until time for a supervised session, if the prison in question has provision for musical tuition.

The stipulation that only nylon strings can be used will not alleviate this situation. There are several practical reasons why nylon strings are not suitable for a steel-strung acoustic guitar, not least the differing methods by which nylon and steel strings are attached to the instrument.

We understand that there must be security protocols when steel-strung guitars are used in prisons, but, until this ruling, access has been at the discretion of staff.

There has been a worrying rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in the period since this ruling was introduced. Since October 2013, when only one death was reported, there have been a total of 50 self-inflicted deaths, over double the figure for the same period last year.

We would like to know whether the recent changes to the treatment of prisoners – which includes restrictions on books and steel-strung guitars – could be at the root of this steep increase in fatalities.

We urge the minister for justice, Chris Grayling, to urgently look into the causes of the rise in self-inflicted deaths in prison since the introduction of the recent prison service instruction and to explain why steel-strung guitars have been singled out for exclusion.
Billy Bragg Jail Guitar Doors, Johnny Marr, Speech Debelle, Dave Gilmour, Richard Hawley, Scroobius Pip, Guy Garvey, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, Seasick Steve, The Farm, Sam Duckworth

Ilham Tohti

Ilham Tohti speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing, China, before his arrest. He has been charged with the serious offence of separatism. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

As writers and artists, we join PEN American Center today in protesting the arrest of our colleague, Uighur writer and scholar Ilham Tohti, who is being charged with separatism for the peaceful expression of his views on human rights. Mr Tohti, winner of the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, has been working peacefully to build bridges between Han Chinese and the Uighur people through his writing. His fate, now in the hands of the Chinese government, has profound implications for China‘s future. We urge President Xi Jinping to respect Mr Tohti’s right to free expression by releasing him and dropping all charges against him immediately.

On 15 January 2014 authorities in Beijing arrested Mr Tohti at his home in front of his two young sons, who were forced to watch as dozens of officers raided their home. He was then effectively disappeared for over a month. Only on February 25 2014, did his wife, Guzaili Nu’er, receive formal notification that Mr Tohti was being held in a detention center thousands of miles away in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and was being charged with separatism, a particularly serious offence. He has been refused access to his lawyer. We understand that he could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty if convicted on this baseless charge. We are particularly concerned that authorities are using Mr Tohti’s website, Uighur Online, as a pretence for his persecution. Mr Tohti founded Uighur Online with the express purpose of promoting understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese, and he has never advocated violence or promoted a political agenda. Instead, his website has served as a critically important counterpoint to the aggressive measures that Xi Jinping’s administration has imposed against the Uighur people in the name of stability. Without dialogue, there can be no stability.

Human rights are of concern to all peoples regardless of frontiers, and freedom of expression is a fundamental human right recognised both under international law, and by the Chinese Constitution. Ilham Tohti has done nothing more than exercise the rights guaranteed to him by his country’s own laws.
Indeed, respecting and protecting human rights is not a detriment to any state, but rather a sign of its strength. The Chinese government has stated that creating a harmonious and stable society is its goal. To do so, the country must allow writers, artists, intellectuals, and all its citizens to speak their minds freely and interact with each other and with the world through whatever platform they choose.

Releasing Ilham Tohti and other writers imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, including Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, would show the world that China is a strong world power that accepts dissent as a crucial part of a healthy society. We know the Chinese people are ready to take this step. We hope their government is as well.
André Aciman
Edward Albee
Anthony Appiah
Ken Auletta
Paul Auster
Carl Bernstein
Judy Blundell
Giannina Braschi
Robert Caro
Roz Chast
Ron Chernow
Sergio de la Pava
Don DeLillo
EL Doctorow
Jennifer Egan
Deborah Eisenberg
Neil Gaiman
Peter Godwin
Barbara Goldsmith
Adam Gopnik
Philip Gourevitch
Beth Gutcheon
Molly Haskell
Aleksandar Hemon
Siri Hustvedt
Nicole Krauss
Chang-Rae Lee
Ariel Levy
Valeria Luiselli
Larissa MacFarquhar
Kate Manning
Kati Marton
Tess O’Dwyer
Francine Prose
Victoria Redel
David Remnick
Salman Rushdie
James Salter
Simon Schama
Stacy Schiff
Larry Siems
Andrew Solomon
Deborah Solomon
Judith Thurman
Lily Tuck
John Waters
Jacob Weisberg
Beau Willimon
Brenda Wineapple
Meg Wolitzer

Independent:

It is not true that any free schools are “empty” (“Scandal of the empty free schools”, 24 April). Less than three years after the first opened, 24,000 pupils are attending free schools and most are proving wildly popular with parents.

For this September, free schools are attracting an average of almost three applications per place. It is not unusual for a school to have spare places; only 20 per cent of state schools are entirely full.

The story was deeply wrong to claim that the figures are based on “new research”. In fact they are taken from a National Audit Office report in December last year. That report made clear that free schools fill more places the longer they are open and that seven in 10 free school places are in areas with a shortage.

The story also misinformed your readers by suggesting that free schools have diverted money from areas facing a shortage. The DfE is spending three times as much on addressing the shortage of places across the school system as we are investing in free schools – 28 per cent of the department’s capital budget compared to 8 per cent. Our investment has already led to the creation of 260,000 places where they are needed, with many thousands more in the pipeline.

Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Department for Education, London SW1

Richard Garner is right to highlight “the scandal of the empty free schools” and the cost in terms of much-needed places elsewhere.

Free schools, rather than addressing the need for more parental choice, are often disruptive to local provision and in some cases are little more than vanity projects for interest groups. Ministers have failed to address the lack of suitable premises in catchments where places are needed, the main justification for the programme at inception. Few of those now established will be sustainable as standalone schools and many will merge with academy chains in the absence of local authority support.

While free schools once offered hope for change, ministers and civil servants have become bogged down in the mire of ideology that pervades our education system.

Neil Roskilly, Chief Executive, The Independent Schools Association, Saffron Walden, Essex

Michael Gove’s enthusiasm for free schools seems to have stemmed from what he heard about the Swedish experience. But perhaps he heard selectively.

Stockholm University monitored the experience of introducing such schools in Sweden, and initially reported that the arrival of such a school in an area had a beneficial effect.

Its 2009 report, however, showed that by that time the uplift was no longer apparent.

Swedes are currently greatly concerned to see a decline in their overall educational achievement standards, in contrast to the highly-regarded standards of the past. Numbers of people feel that there is a connection between the lower standards and the growth of the free school movement.

There has also been trouble with bankruptcies in free-school groups, resulting in sudden demands for the state education authorities to pick up the pieces and find room for sometimes large numbers of abandoned pupils.

During a visit earlier this month, I noted the results of a survey showing the extent to which school teachers were properly trained.

In the Stockholm area, the 19 worst schools were all free schools. Seven of those had fewer than 50 per cent of trained teachers, and in one free school little more than a quarter of the teachers were trained.

I hope Mr Gove is tracking all this, and wonder why, other than dogma, he doesn’t take a leaf out of the very successful Finnish book.

John Tippler, Spalding, Lincolnshire

Helping small firms to get bigger

Chris Blackhurst’s column of 23 April makes a timely intervention on the issue of how we finance small companies and help them become large ones. Unfortunately he is wrong to point the finger at private equity and venture capital, which are in fact, a significant part of the solution.

He says that all that’s talked about among venture capitalists is the importance of an “exit”. It is only a shame that he didn’t speak to more BVCA members. They are long-term investors of typically 10 years or more in small, high-risk high-growth companies. What they talk about is the importance of raising enough capital to be able to support these companies, so they don’t have to make an early exit to a US trade buyer and instead can receive many more funding rounds till they are finally ready to list.

What we need to focus on is how we can encourage more institutional investors to commit capital to the venture funds investing in UK SMEs. This is how we can help small companies become large ones. Giving businesses a tax-free savings account might help but it won’t solve the problem Mr Blackhurst has identified.

Tim Hames, Director General, British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA), London WC2

A world of minorities

So the Cornish are now an official minority, whatever that might mean in practice. Where does that leave the Cockneys, the Men of Kent, the Brummies, the Scousers, and the Geordies? Before we know where we are we shall be having referendums for every part of the country, as we can all delve into history and make a case for our individual claim to a specific identity.

Roll on the day when we all learn to live together and realise that we are all human beings.

Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

I don’t wish to be difficult, but what exactly is the “Cornish way of life” which everyone seems so anxious to protect, through the granting of minority status to Cornwall? Don’t Cornish people go to Tesco, walk the dog, watch Take Me Out and play on Xbox like the rest of us?

Are they doing something secretly Cornish that those of us up the road in Dorset, for example, can barely imagine?

Helen Clutton, Dorchester, Dorset

A doctor writes, in Latin

Howard Jacobson (26 April) refers to a friend who presented to his doctor terrified by the presence of white spots on his scrotum and was disappointed that the GP could not produce a diagnosis.

So would I, as a retired GP, have been. The great secret of medicine is that all you have to do is translate the symptoms into either Greek or Latin and the patient immediately goes away satisfied. Thus, the patient complaining of severe pain in the rectum has got proctalgia, the patient with a left sided headache has migraine (hemicrania) and if you have got white spots on your scrotum you have got  acne alba scrotorum. It’s as simple as that.

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire

Blair’s rejection of democracy

It is little surprise that Tony Blair is still incapable of accepting that he has done more to foster Islamic extremism than any other British politician.

However, his support for the Egyptian military in his Bloomberg speech is staggering. They overthrew a freely elected democratic government. What would Blair have thought if the British Army had rebelled against his illegal invasion of Iraq and removed him as Prime Minister, then imprisoning him and murdering his supporters?

Peter Berman, Wiveliscombe, Somerset

Educated for unemployment

Much is being made of the Ukip claim that immigrants are taking low-paid jobs. No one seems to focus on the biggest problem: our education system.

The policy of increasing the number of students going on to university has led to a focus on exam grades and league tables. University study has never been the correct road for all, but we seem to have forgotten about encouraging less academic students to take other paths. We now have a lost generation of young people feeling failures because no one has made enough of their importance in the workplace. Other European countries and beyond have not made this mistake; hence the immigrants queueing up to work in this country.

Valerie Morgan, Leigh on Sea, Essex

Don’t give in to classroom trolls

Martin Murray (letter, 22 April) suggests that teachers should refrain from using social media in order to avoid abuse and harassment from their pupils. So the victims should change their behaviour and lifestyles in order to escape the irresponsibility and nastiness of bullies and delinquents? What signal does that send to the pupils involved?

For goodness sake, get a grip. Punish the pupils (or their couldn’t care-less-what-my-kids-are-doing parents) who are using social media to denigrate and insult their teachers.

Pete Dorey, Bath

Times:

Rex Features

Published at 12:01AM, April 29 2014

Readers take exception to some generalisations about the cultural hstory of Europe

Sir, Despite the erudite arguments of AC Grayling (Opinion, Apr 26), Britain is for many people a Christian country because their moral beliefs are derived from the teachings they learnt at home, in church or chapel and in school as they were growing up. Many of us may not believe in the tenets of religion but our moral compass is “Christian” because the picture of Jesus we were given remains such an admirable example in life. Christianity has given us tyrants and bigots but it has also given us Tyndale, Cranmer, the Wesleys, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Booth who by their sacrifice and heroism put our country on the moral high ground. We are still a Christian country because Christianity’s moral principle set the standards to aim for in our private and public life.

WC Clarke

Newport

Sir, Like AC Grayling, I wondered what Cameron meant. Surely not the “values” of the evangelicals in the US or Uganda, for example, so perhaps he meant “British values” but it fell to political correctness. Sadly, even “British” is tarnished and parochial. Consider Japan now, where people are helpful, generous, diligent, stoic, curious; they clean the streets spontaneously and they drive on the left. This should be Cameron’s goal.

John R Tippetts

Sheffield

Sir, AC Grayling misrepresents the historical relationship between Christianity and science, backed by misleading references to Bruno and Galileo. Of course much done in the name of Christianity in the past has been wrong and inconsistent with the New Testament, but Seneca’s pupil Nero and the stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius were hardly paragons of humanitarian virtues either. The history of atheistic regimes in revolutionary France, Stalinist Russia, and elsewhere, does not inspire confidence. In our society today groups like the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society have media coverage out of proportion to their numbers in the country. The NSS has maybe 10,000 members, while there are 950,000 in the Church of England and 150,000 Baptists.

Paul Marston

Preston, Lancashire

Sir, Christianity owes an intellectual debt to Stoicism, but it does not follow that Christian values are Greek and Roman secular values. It is unthinkable that a society with purely Greco-Roman values would have abolished slavery and celebrated equality before the law, or placed great emphasis on being a “tolerant, generous, kindly nation” (Grayling). Plato and Aristotle would have been horrified.

Jonathan Fowles

Leyland, Lancs

Sir, A C Grayling seems to have misunderstood Christianity, for not once does he mention grace or love. It would not have become the world’s biggest religion on the back of tolerating God and your neighbour. Tolerance seems to me to be passive; love, in Christian terms, is active and all embracing.

Anyone who knows something of the Christian faith acknowledges the bloody past, but such comment is in itself a selective view of history. There is a case to be made that without the Church art, literature, medicine, education and science wouldn’t look as they do today.

The Rev Chris Goble

Ilmington, Warks

Intellectual property legislation in the age of the internet can become a brake on innovation

Sir, The evidence for the need for the Medical Innovation Bill is compelling. Around 18,000 doctors and patients replied to the Department of Health consultation supporting the Bill, many confirming that they have experienced the deterrent effect that an increasingly risk-averse culture is having on responsible medical innovation.

The objections in Mr Poole’s letter (Apr 24) relate to details of the Bill that were not in Lord Saatchi’s original text and will not be in the text that he intends to introduce early in the new session. The Bill team will soon publish a new draft which meets concerns expressed by legal and medical professionals.

Doctors must be given the freedom to innovate responsibly, with the confidence that the law will protect them if their decision is made with the support of a responsible body of medical opinion.

They must not be forced to wait until their decision is tested in expensive and traumatic litigation or disciplinary proceedings. Nobody wants that, except perhaps a small group of lawyers who make their living from the existing litigation-focused system.

The Bill will be an opportunity for all those who are concerned that the legal system is not properly serving patients with rare diseases, whose hope rests entirely on innovation.

Patients want to know that every responsible avenue is being explored in order to help them, and that doing nothing is no longer the easy and safe answer.

Good doctors must be given the protection and encouragement of the law to innovate; and bad doctors must be deterred from innovating without support of their colleagues.

The Bill achieves both aims, and is to be welcomed by lawyers, doctors and patients.

Daniel Greenberg

Parliamentary Counsel to the Medical Innovation Bill team

Heating oil is cheaper than it was a year ago – so why are other forms of energy, like gas, still so expensive?

Sir, I have just re-ordered a new supply of heating oil at a cost of £278.25 for 500 litres. One year ago, in March 2013, the same quantity cost me £350.12. That shows a reduction in comparable prices of 20 per cent. How come the gas and electricity suppliers cannot also reflect fluctuating world prices in their charges?

kevin hart

Pluckley, Kent

Links to the West Country need urgent investment, so not much support for HS2 on the slow road to Land’s End

Sir, The 5,000,000 citizens who live southwest of Bristol are served by a railway which has had no new capital investment in trains or track since 1986, and none is planned for the next decade. In 2023 stock and infrastructure will be 50 years old, with no renewal in sight. Even East Anglian electric services are due for an upgrade before then. Rail spending in southwest: £47 per head; ditto in London and southeast: £294.

Improving the region’s trunk road, the A303, much of it still single lane, has been under discussion for half a century, with work on the ground still apparently a decade away.

The same trend is obvious over all aspects of government spending, from education (Devon 147th of 153 LEAs in amount per head granted by government), health, and even the Arts Council, whose policies have placed theatres in Taunton and Exeter in dire financial straits, so that there is now no regular live commercial performance centre between Bristol and Plymouth.

The regions have a right to be grumpy, and those who live in the rest of the country (east of Bridgwater) will not be surprised if support for HS2 is muted hereabouts.

Richard Giles

Lympstone, Devon

Women are managing to establish a realistic career/family balance, but only in some professions

Sir,I am heartened by Dr Cornish’s call (letter, Apr 26) for a more flexible approach to working hours in the City. Talented young women are to be encouraged to pursue their careers but in some professions they still have to choose between starting a family or continuing their career. As a headmistress I tell young women leaving school that they really can pursue a career in any field and that a healthy balance of work and family time is expected and encouraged.

Samantha Price

Headmistress, Benenden School, Kent

Sir, Fiona Cornish recognises the important role of women in the modern medical workforce, and mentions that four of the medical royal colleges will soon have women presidents. I take up my post as president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists next month, so soon there will be five.

Professor Caroline MacEwen

President Elect, Royal College of Ophthalmologists

A reader says that a new TV series from Germany hepled her to come to an understanding of her parents’ generation

Sir, I disagree completely with Andrew Billen’s review of the German series Generation War — which is called, more appropriately, in German “Our fathers, our mothers” (Apr 28).

I have seen the whole series and it created extensive interested among my generation whose mothers and fathers are still alive. I give the TV series five stars (not just two) for its courageous depiction and self-effacing portrayal of a German generation which is still with us but never provided any answers for us.

My mother an active and youthful 89-year-old living in a Westphalian spa town is the most selfish and at times ruthless individual I know. It became one of the reasons why I escaped, aged 17, to become an au pair in Hull in the 1970s where I found care and compassion in Britain.

Generation War has explained to me in a critical fashion why that generation who lived and survived the Second World War are how they are. I now understand that mindset and psychology of my father and mother: survival through selfishness and bloodymindedness.

Ursula Smartt

Godalming, Surrey

Telegraph:

SIR – I spent years driving my children from Winchester to school in Truro. We loved looking out at the wonderful sight of the magnificent stones of Stonehenge as they appeared on the skyline.

I have visited Stonehenge many times, showing foreign visitors around. Not once has any of them mentioned the traffic. It is far too windy to hear the cars, and one is concentrating on the commentary on the hand-held devices given to all visitors.

The road should be widened, but it should not be sent underground; we should still be allowed to enjoy the glimpse of this mysterious monument.

Sarah Robinson
Itchen Abbas, Hampshire

SIR – Surely we should be bringing the data to the people, not the people to the data. For a fraction of the cost of HS2, digital communications could be vastly improved nationwide.

S M Swaffield
West Lutton, North Yorkshire

SIR – As a constituent of Andrea Leadsom, I am dismayed to read of her opposition to HS2. Does she want us to go further down the road to becoming a second-class country? If we had had such opposition to other infrastructure projects over the last 150 years, we would now be a Third World country with no roads, railways, canals, motorways or airports. Please don’t stand in the way of progress, Mrs Leadsom. I voted for you as a progressive MP to help lead our country forward.

Neil Jones
Towcester, Northamptonshire

Caring for the disabled

SIR – Like the Jones family’s son Robert, our child has agenesis of the corpus callosum. Louise does not speak, though she understands some of what you say to her. She cannot feed herself, is doubly incontinent, uses a wheelchair, and has lost the sight in one eye. She is totally dependent on others to survive and lived at home until she was 18.

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of the disability charity Scope, whom you quote in your article, says he is championing the cause of disabled people. But he also is proposing to close 11 care homes in Britain, including the Douglas Arter Centre in Salisbury, where our daughter has lived for the past 20 years. We are told it is out-of-date, inaccessible and does not meet Scope’s mission statement.

We were told Louise had a place for life, but now are faced with a battle either to try and save DAC or find another home for Louise that we will all be happy with.

We can understand the sentiment of your headline: “I wished all four of us were dead”. Even the so-called caring elements of society like Scope are abandoning us.

Sheila and John Murray
Winchester, Hampshire

Who’s driving?

SIR – Madeleine Hindley has got the wrong end of the stick in the matter of Mrs Warner driving to parties. The evidence suggests that she has to wait to drive her husband from them. The same system exists in our marriage: my husband drives to events and I drive home from them. He calls it “sharing the driving”.

Ruth Bennett
Farnborough, Hampshire

SIR – The long goodbye has ever been so. Rev James Beresford, in his book The Miseries of Human Life, published in 1806, noted: “After a flat evening visit – long after you have been tortured with violent longings to be gone – endeavouring, at last, to catch the eye of your tattling wife and interchange the mysterious signal; yet, though you have pointed her like a partridge for an hour, she will not rise.”

Liz Tidey
Newdigate, Surrey

Fishy precedent

SIR – Now that the RSPCA has successfully prosecuted a man for swallowing a live goldfish, should we assume that its undercover investigators will be patrolling certain restaurants, ready to pounce on any diner daring enough to order oysters from the menu?

Liz Pace
Crowborough, East Sussex

MS treatment for all

SIR – New treatments for multiple sclerosis will be licensed and go before Nice for approval this year. Millions of pounds have been invested and numerous trials conducted, but it will all be for nothing if Britain continues to be among the worst in Europe when it comes to prescribing treatment to those who actually need it.

The MS Society’s research shows that six out of 10 people potentially eligible for disease-modifying treatments across Britain are not taking them. Some are told they’re not ill enough yet, or that the treatments are simply “not available”; in many cases, people are not communicated with at all. These are licensed medicines that can reduce the frequency and severity of MS attacks and, in some cases, may slow the progression of disability.

We urge the Government to ensure that people have timely and regular access to an MS health care specialist, whatever their situation, and wherever they live.

Max Beesley, Actor
Lethal Bizzle, Musician
Justine Caine, Actress
Ricky Champ, Actor
Laura Checkley, Actress
Noel Clarke, Actor and screen writer
Camille Coduri, Actress
Simon Donald, Viz co-creator and comedian
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Explorer
Christopher Fulford, Actor
Blake Harrison, Actor
Kerry Howard, Actress
Beccy Huxtable, Radio producer and presenter
Lorraine Kelly, broadcaster and journalist
Louisa Lytton, Actress
John Michie, Actor
Scott Mills, Broadcaster
Billie Piper, Actress
Adrian Scarborough, Actor
Sarah Solemani, Actress
David Tennant, Actor
Russell Tovey, Actor
Joe Wilkinson, Actor and comedian
Richard Wilson, Actor
Janis Winehouse, mother of singer Amy Winehouse
Gok Wan, Fashion consultant and broadcaster

Trading down

SIR – On a recent visit to London, it struck me how stuck in the past we are with our trading laws. On Oxford Street I noticed all shops were open on Good Friday. Two days later on Easter Sunday, only stores below a stipulated floor-size could trade.

We are trying to pull out of a recession. Shouldn’t we be encouraging more trade? Personally, I do not want to be told by our government when I can or cannot shop; I prefer the market to dictate this to me.

Martin Stroud
Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Boris for the win

SIR – As Boris is the Tories’ greatest asset, why find him a safe seat? If they want to win the next election, they should put him up against Miliband, Balls or Clegg.

Brian Christley
Abergele, Denbighshire

What’s in a name?

SIR – Context is all. My mother was delighted when her Scottish blacksmith addressed her as“Mistress”.

Hugh Hetherington
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Honouring D-Day sacrifice at Pegasus bridge

SIR – While Lt Den Brotheridge was killed on Pegasus bridge, poor L/Cpl Fred Greenhalgh had already drowned when the glider he was in crashed beside the bridge. He had been forgotten to history as he had been buried with the wrong date of death. Only when I researched this for the 50th anniversary did I spot the error and the date was subsequently changed on his headstone in La Délivrande cemetery to June 6. He was the first British casualty in Normandy on D-Day.

Winston Ramsey
Old Harlow, Essex

SIR – The D-Day landings were the largest amphibious landing the world has seen and were crucial to the Allied victory in Europe. This 70th anniversary is the final one which the Normandy Veterans’ Association will mark officially.

It is the top priority for me to ensure the Ministry of Defence does everything within its power to best represent the wishes of our veterans to our international partners and to ensure all commemorative events are a success. This will include the lending of manpower from all three services to provide logistic and ceremonial support in order that the maximum number of those who wish to recognise this great sacrifice in France this June can do so.

The MoD is also working in partnership with the Royal British Legion, Normandy Veterans’ Association, regimental associations, the French authorities and others to register details of all veterans wishing to travel to Normandy and those accompanying them. This effort is in order to ensure that passes are available to enable all veterans attending to get where they need to.

I would urge any veteran who would like assistance regarding accreditation or travel to contact the Ministry of Defence on 0207 218 1431 or consult the dedicated webpage at www.gov.uk/mod.

Lord Astor of Hever
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Ministry of Defence
London SW1

SIR – It is remarkable that the CBI finds it “too political” to campaign for retaining the successful Union with Scotland, which has lasted for 300 years, but is enthusiastic in campaigning for the dysfunctional European Union, in which we have been floundering for 40 years.

J P Seymour
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – If the CBI “mistakenly” supported the No campaign, are we now to believe that it actually supports the Yes campaign? Hardly impartial – or helpful.

Felicity Thomson
Symington, Ayrshire

SIR – A bit of diplomacy would do wonders for our Union (Comment, April 26).

Using the term “English” when “British” is appropriate is hardly likely to win hearts. The term “British” is often used in Northern Ireland when the term “UK” is appropriate. We are, after all, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Going back to basics on this will only win more Irish hearts to our union of British and Northern Irish peoples.

John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex

SIR – Not enough thought has been given to the small details which will complicate life in the event of a Yes vote.

For all those living in Scotland, their British passports will become invalid overnight, with all the implications for those wishing to travel and those already overseas. Scots living south of the border will have to decide whether to remain British and renounce their Scottish inheritance or remain Scottish.

A European Union spokesman has declared that an independent Scotland would be outside the EU and have to apply to join. If so, all those who elect to be “Scots” working in Britain, and those who move when companies start to move south, will become overnight immigrant workers, and have a non-EU-member status, with all its implications and controls.

Brian Wallis
Middle Barton, Oxfordshire

SIR – If Scotland votes for independence, it could mean England losing out on its upgrading to AAA rating and seeing its debt rise by 9.5 per cent of GDP. As an Englishman, I have no say in this matter.

John Allen
Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire

SIR – If Scotland votes for independence, what will happen to the Stone of Scone?

Gerald Milne

Windsor, Berkshire

SIR – If Scotland were to vote Yes in this year’s referendum and become independent, may we expect Westminster to apply to Brussels for a quota to be imposed on the free movement of Scottish football managers to the home of football?

John Hewitson
Puttenham, Surrey

Irish Times:

Sir, – “Correlation is not causation” was the first important principle of good research we learned in college. Thus, to associate the taking of ordinary level maths at leaving certificate with poor outcomes in primary school is not just offensive, it’s ridiculous.

The grasp of maths concepts is incremental, closely linked with language proficiency and cognitive development based on the use of concrete materials and problem-solving. There are many factors correlated to difficulties in maths; developmental delay, language difficulties, inadequate access to concrete materials and, oops, high pupil teacher ratio.

Higher level maths are no use to the teacher trying to support 30 pupils with varying needs and learning styles who has to borrow counting blocks from the next classroom, unless of course, he’s a big strong man. Then he’ll be fine and the pupils will be brainboxes I’m sure.

I am of the generation where I had to choose between higher level Irish and maths and I chose Irish. However, as a school principal I am committed to the full implementation of the numeracy strategy and would love to lead my staff and pupils towards the highest standards in maths. I intend to do just that, after I’ve dragged the bins out, unblocked the toilet, figured out who’ll repair the window for what I can give after I’ve retained VAT and RCT, explained the bewildering resource application process to the non-English-speaking parent of a junior infant with special educational needs, sold raffle tickets to replace the bulb in the projector etc.

Minister, just let us do our jobs. You’d be surprised what we could do if we were allowed and if the pupils had the resources they need and are entitled to. Yours, etc,

ANNE McCLUSKEY

River View,

Old Bawn,

Dublin 24

Sir, – I read with some interest David Robert Grimes’s piece (Weekend Review, April 26th) in support of Mr Quinn’s assertion that primary teachers be required to have honours mathematics. In September I will need a teacher for a class of 30 junior infants presenting with a myriad of challenges and difficulties. I hope I can find a teacher who can adequately respond to the needs of this diverse group and, most importantly now, has an A in honours mathematics. Le Meas,

RONAN Mac NAMARA,

Principal,

St Kilian’s NS,

Mullagh,

Co Cavan

Sir, – If Ruairí Quinn chooses to “reform” by megaphone, what response can he expect? Yours, etc,

DES CURLEY,

Boyle,

Co Roscommon.

Sir, – I spent this past weekend with a good friend who is English. During our conversation, he innocently referred to the Irish as British and said that while he thought England should allow Scotland independence, he didn’t think it would be a good idea considering the troubles it (independence) had caused in Ireland. In a separate conversation with an English colleague in my London office, he referred to the Irish as Anglo-Saxon.

English people are generally good and well-meaning. However, there is a distinct lack of understanding of the Irish experience. Joining the Commonwealth would only serve to blur the history between Ireland and Great Britain without having any economic reasoning to support it.

The UK Independence Party (Ukip) is enthused at the idea of reviving the Commonwealth. A spokesman for the party recently told me that almost all the Commonwealth countries “have stronger cultural, legal and linguistic ties to the UK than any continental country”. This is profoundly untrue given that the majority of Commonwealth countries are non-white and non-English-speaking. It is a mere clutch at an imperialist past, an attitude for which Russia is currently being heavily criticised.

When I mentioned Ukip’s aims to a fellow journalist in London, British-Indian and Catholic with strong positive feelings towards Britain, he retorted that it was a useless institution. There is no argument for joining the Commonwealth except to ease the discomfort of an Irish elite who wish to revel in the past glory of their British counterparts. Yours, etc,

NATASHA BROWNE.

Woodford New Road,

London E17 3PT

Sir, – Geoffrey Roberts (Letters, April 28th) grafts hard to dismiss any reluctance, fears and suspicions felt by those who would baulk at Ireland’s re-entry to the Commonwealth. Yet he offers not one valid, viable or valuable benefit that such a move might produce. He proffers “democracy, peace, human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law ” as being qualities to which Ireland and the Commonwealth aspire and resonate. Aren’t we already integrated to the EU, on foot those very same tenets?

As a republic we should spurn any such notion of reigniting our colonial past, and plough on with European countries, along with all other nations, dedicated to “democracy, peace, human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law ”. Up the republic of conscientious objectors, where hope and history can rhyme without galling our gast or palling our past. Yours, etc,

JIM COSGROVE,

Chapel Street ,

Lismore,

Co Waterford

Sir, – The very idea of rejoining the Commonwealth fills me with revulsion. Do Messrs Roberts and Walsh (Letters, April 28th) not realise that most of the member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations criminalise sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex?

In Uganda, a member of the Commonwealth, vicious anti-gay witch-hunts and violent acts are carried out with the support of the Ugandan parliament. Please, no more talk of the Commonwealth. Yours, etc,

PATRICK O’BYRNE,

Shandon Crescent,

Phibsborough,

Dublin 7

Sir, – Harry McGee’s criticism (Opinion & Analysis, April 28th) of the “ludicrous rationale” of European Parliament constituencies that go from the Dublin suburbs to the islands of Kerry and Donegal is right.

I am not sure, however, if his solution of having one single-seat constituency for the whole country is much better. The ballot paper would be miles long and every “celebrity” in the country would be on it. The obvious solution is to have a five-seat urban constituency for Dublin and adjoining commuter belt counties and two three-seat rural constituencies in the rest of the country. This would be much more coherent than the present arrangement. Yours, etc,

ANTHONY LEAVY,

Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton,

Dublin 13

Sir, – Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to look at an election poster of Donegal man Pat the Cope Gallagher, EU candidate for downtown Leixlip, Co Kildare, on our main street. I am only nine miles from O’Connell Bridge. Could we not have had a larger metropolitan constituency to cover all within commuting distance of the metropole? I would even put up with a fringe MEP as the price! Yours, etc,

JOHN COLGAN,

Dublin Road Street,

Leixlip

Sir, – Over the next few weeks while people are out canvassing for my vote in the upcoming local and European elections, this is what I would like to know about them.

What have you done? Give me your CV. Please don’t tell me what you are going to do. You don’t know what you are going to do. You know what you would like to do but – as we know – that doesn’t always work out.

No, tell me if you have ever started your own business. Have you worked in the private sector, and for how long? Have you ever lost your job because the business had to close? I want to know that you have experienced all the vagaries of life that will allow you to make fully informed choices for the rest of us who have perhaps lost our jobs, who have started our own businesses, who are working in the private sector.

We have too many career politicians making vital decisions about how we live and they are just not getting it right. This has to change and the only way we can do that is to amend the job spec and start asking the right questions.

The next general election in 2016 is also racing towards us and this time we really need to be ready to make an informed choice. Yours, etc,

LULU CLEARY,

Palmerston Park,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6

Sir, – My friend and colleague Dr Michael Foley makes a very good point (Opinion, April 25th) about the gaping internet-shaped hole in the fractured landscape of Irish journalism regulation. However, he goes beyond the available evidence when he says the existing system of scrutinising the press, an industry-funded complaints process based on a press ombudsman and a press council, has had a “good first six years” and has been “a success”.

It would take more than a few words of British praise for “the Irish model” to support the contention that the system is working in a meaningful way. Have member publications seen an improvement in their journalism since 2008? Has public trust in them increased? Or how about a more realistic question: are users of the service and other interested parties happy with it?

This last question was addressed in a piece of research commissioned in 2011 by the Office of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council. But I know about this study only because, as a journalism lecturer, I was one of the people interviewed for it: the results were not published.

To seek such evidence is not to question the integrity of the retiring press ombudsman, Prof John Horgan, nor of the various members of the council. But from its tightly limited remit to the adversarial process it engenders, from the low proportion of upheld complaints to the even lower percentage of successful appeals, the system raises obvious issues that can only be answered by a thorough review.

As a recent (partly successful) complainant myself, I have been contacted by people who are dissatisfied by their dealings with the Office of the Press Ombudsman. Like the positive notes sounded by Dr Foley, such anecdotes can be deemed representative only if they are supported by proper research.

Any system of would-be regulation should be at least as transparent and accountable as the industry it seeks to regulate. Neither Irish journalism nor the Press Council has any grounds for complacency. Yours, etc,

HARRY BROWNE,

School of Media,

Dublin Institute

of Technology,

Dublin 2

Sir, – Perhaps, instead of penalising new-to-the-market but older purchasers of private health insurance to compensate for the lack of younger people entering the market, Mr Reilly should remove the €399 levy/tax the Government has placed on all private health insurance premiums.

Excessive cost is one of the reasons why the private health insurance industry is failing to attract younger members whose earnings have fallen substantially over the recent years.

Also, for an older person not to get private health insurance it is hard not to think of a better reason than the knowledge that you are to be penalised for no other reason than that you are an older person.

I had thought that discrimination on age grounds was forbidden under the law. Yours, etc,

DAVID DORAN,

Ashfield Royal,

Oak Road,

Bagenalstown,

Co Carlow

Sir, – I fail to understand the comment of Dr Alan Ahearne (Opinion & Analysis, April 26th) to the effect that “double-digit growth in the Dublin house prices is less of a problem today than at the height of the bubble because prices are much lower”. This is the type of logic that got us into the mess we were in during the Celtic Tiger period. If the 15 per cent house price increase experienced last year was to continue for a further four years, prices would be back to the levels that they were at the height of the bubble. Something needs to be done immediately to stop this madness, but is the Government too concerned with the election fever to do anything about it? I fear it is. Yours, etc,

BRENDAN O’DONOGHUE,

Killerig,

Co Carlow

Sir, – I think April 27th will go down in the annals of rugby as the day the game all of us knew, played, lived, loved and watched changed forever. We saw one of the icons of European rugby marginally outperformed by a team of foreign mercenaries assembled at enormous cost at the whim of one wealthy individual.

He and his associates in French rugby and his counterparts in English rugby seem to think this is the way forward. It is not. It signals the death of rugby as we know it and heralds a future when ageing southern hemisphere and Pacific Island musclebound giants will dominate and destroy European rugby, and perhaps worse, encourage young Irish and other players to try and emulate the most likely unhealthy physical specimens that this version of the game demands.

I can’t think of an appropriate protest that all could participate in without further damaging our sport but I am sure there are those out there with the anger and the vision that can suggest a way forward. I for one will choose to play golf, do the garden, or my wife’s bidding rather than watch this travesty. Yours, etc,

DEREK MacHUGH,

Westminster Lawns,

Dublin 18

Sir, – Listening at the weekend to the playback of the tribute to Seamus Heaney from the National Concert Hall I appreciate my television licence fee. I felt I was there listening to the most beautiful poets and musicians pay their respects. Public service broadcasting of such a wonderful evening in Dublin, available the length and breadth of Ireland. In grateful appreciation, Yours, etc,

CLARE BOURKE,

Foyle Road,

Fairview,

Dublin 3

Sir, – I was delighted to read (Sports Saturday, April 26th) that physical education is still considered to be “central to developing academic excellence”. I would love to know more about plans for physical education in primary schools, where I believe the foundation for second level PE must be built. Would it be too much to envisage a specialist PE teacher in primary schools after all these years? Yours, etc,

BRIGID KILKELLY,

Castlebar,

Co Mayo

Sir, – Mark Twain was not the only literary figure who failed to see any sense to sport. Kipling referred to “the flannelled fools at the wickets or the muddied oafs at the goals”. George Orwell claimed that sport was bound up with “hatred, jealousy and total disregard for all rules”. TS Eliot felt sorry for anyone whose only monument was “the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls”. Yours, etc,

MATTIE LENNON,

Blessington,

Co. Wicklow

Irish Independent:

Philip O’Neill Edith Road, Oxford – Published 29 April 2014 02:30 AM

* Rob Sadlier’s letter (April 24) rightly shows that my recent contribution to your pages appears to have dodged the implications for belief in God of the world’s suffering.

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The extermination of six million Jews, the death of an innocent child as a result of reckless drunken driving, and the loss of hundreds of young people in the South Korean disaster at sea are all events that challenge our faith to the core. The heartfelt cry of those caught up in these experiences is often, “where was God?” To tell the bereaved that it was the will of God is meaningless and offensive.

In the face of these challenging realities, all we can say to the question, “how did God allow it?” is, “I don’t know” or “there is no God”.

This is where hope comes in. Hope is not the desire for things to turn out well but the belief that, whatever the outcome, it will make sense.

A lack of hope, particularly in the face of human suffering, is unbearable. The most I can say is not, “what is God doing?” but “what are we doing?”

Nobody can prove the existence of God or the non-existence of a deity.

What I can do is say why I believe in some kind of reality at the heart of my experience of life. People with similar experiences may come to different conclusions.

The philosopher Thomas Aquinas is often attributed with the provision of five proofs for the existence of God. He provided five ways to consider the question of God, not five proofs.

Even science no longer deals with proven certainty but with various levels of probability.

The most I can do is provide reasons why I believe. What I believe is another matter. The ‘why’ question and the ‘what’ question are regularly confused.

Borrowing from mathematics, I see God as the X to be determined – the unknown at the heart of things. When troubled by doubts, my default position is that, more than likely, there is a God.

Philip O’Neill

Edith Road, Oxford

TIME TO HEAL THE DIVIDES

* Declan Foley (Letters, April 26) tries to answer those who ponder if there were a God at all, in the midst of tragedy. He claims that enormous damage was done to many non-European nations by conquerors in the name of earthly and heavenly regents. I beg to differ.

It is true that non-European nations are passing through states of bloodletting, sectarian, ethnic, social and religious adversities. However, this should not blind us to the salient fact that such attitudes were/are alien to the noble mores upon which religious scriptures were built.

Past and recent horrors have demonstrated that Europe itself was/is not immune from religious and ethnic strifes and crises. The mass slaughter of six million Jews, the oppression and genocide of Armenians during the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia, entrench negative stereotypes about divine religions, but who said that religious doctrines indoctrinate their adherents to dehumanise, demoralise, despise and loathe each other and others?

Does Christianity allow child sexual abuse in places of worship, and the following cover-up? Does Christianity endorse the ethnic cleansing of indigenous aboriginals in Australia?

Doesn’t Islam safeguard the freedom to worship without coercion and the inviolable rights of the disenfranchised; and promote tolerance and the sacredness of human life?

Does Judaism promote the Judaisation of the holy land, the annexation of Arab and Muslim territories and the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians?

The conflicts we witness are not religious-based. They are fuelled by greed and power. The world at large is going through a critical juncture.

This is the time to reject extremism and isolationism. This is the time to heal divides, promote benevolence and pluralism and reach out to others immersed in anguish and despair.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2

STILL CHASING WOMEN

* I recently saw a quote from Bob Hope, which may be of interest to those of us of a certain vintage: “I was still chasing women in my seventies . . . but only downhill.”

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, D9

PRAISE FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS

* Ten years ago, on April 21, 2004, I was proud to be present with 100 international observers at the release of whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu in Ashkelon, Israel. In this prison he had served 18 years, 11 of these in solitary confinement.

I witnessed at first hand the extreme hostility he faced as he emerged from the prison gates. We, his supporters, were pelted with eggs, water bombs and urine bombs.

Since his release, he has been confined to Israel, forced to live in an area the size of Munster where he is hated by the population.

Vanunu is a truth-teller who told the world about Israel’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.

As I recall his sacrifice, I am reminded of other brave whistleblowers who have suffered similarly within their own communities for telling the truth, not least the two brave gardai John Wilson and Maurice McCabe.

All whistleblowers are honourable people. They deserve to be cherished by any nation that values decency and integrity.

Justin Morahan

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

CLAMPING CONTROVERSY

* Now that city clampers have been set the target of 60,000 cars in 2014, motorists can expect to fork out more money for the City Council. What’s more interesting is that they will get €2,000 bonus if they achieve that.

So, not only – save for really blatant parking offences – has clamping become an easy and sneaky way of extracting money from motorists’ pockets, clampers are now further motivated to make a bigger kill.

Concetto La Malfa

Dublin 4

POLITICS AND ST PATRICK

* Adlai Stevenson, the great American diplomat and orator, once said that a hypocrite is someone that cuts down a giant redwood tree, then jumps on the stump and makes a speech about conservation.

In the political arena, we have our version of the tree cutter. Every year, at the taxpayers’ expense, our Taoiseach and ministers traverse the globe celebrating St Patrick’s Day and St Patrick. However, a substantial number of these ladies and gents, if they had their way, would remove St Patrick and what he preached.

For instance, Ruairi Quinn’s attempts at removing religion from schools; Eamon Gilmore withdrawing the Vatican diplomat; Mr Kenny playing with his mobile phone in the Pope’s presence, and so forth.

Now, lest it be thought I was discriminating against the anti-Christians, I would suggest a ‘jolly boys’ and girls’ outing’ be arranged.

North Korea springs to mind because there they will see a religious free state and be taught a few tricks to how it’s achieved, and where everybody will be equal – that’s equally miserable and hungry.

I started with a quote so I will end with another, this time from Khrushchev: “Politicians will tell you that they will build a bridge were there’s no river.” Remember this when you are looking at your ballot paper.

Michael O’Callaghan

Whites Cross, Cork

Irish Independent

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