I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate helping the fiber board Priceless
Mary Jill comes to vist and the Benefits lady
Scrabbletoday, Mary getsnearly400, 395, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.
Gailene Stock – obituary
Gailene Stock was a controversial director of the Royal Ballet School who won her dancers jobs but not always plaudits
Gailene Stock Photo: PETER PAYNE
6:45PM BST 29 Apr 2014
Gailene Stock, who has died aged 68, was an Australian whose internationalist approach as Director of the Royal Ballet School caused controversy but won jobs for many of her students.
Her decision to produce “more employable dancers” came at a perceived cost to aesthetic standards in English ballet, and was also held by some to favour overseas dance students more than British-born children. Yet when she was recruited, in 1999, rescue was required: the graduate employment rate was under 50 per cent, and pupils were not prominent among recruits to the Royal Ballet and other top British companies.
With around 1,300 applicants each year for fewer than 30 places, Gailene Stock took a robustly pragmatic approach, introducing more public performance, overseas exchanges and competition – all to ready students for the tough reality of life as a dancer. Yet while she managed to double the employment rate to almost 100 per cent, it was by producing more all-purpose graduates, employable in a variety of international companies, rather than an elite streamed to serve the Royal Ballet.
Inevitably critics said that the “English style”, which had been for decades rated one of the marvels of world classical dance, was being overlooked. On the school’s 2003 exchange to New York, one senior ballet writer lamented the “abominable weaknesses” of Royal Ballet School students, while another noted a “total lack of imagination and expressiveness”.
And while students became more generally employable, it remained true that only a handful of graduates were accepted by the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. The supply of British-born stars dried up, with only Darcey Bussell becoming a household name.
In 2008 the Royal Ballet’s own director, Monica Mason, told a committee of MPs that the Royal Ballet School was producing very few native graduates “with the required level of artistic excellence or aesthetics” to join the Royal Ballet. This was taken as an implicit criticism of the Stock approach, as was Birmingham Royal Ballet’s endorsement of Elmhurst School, Birmingham, as its own feeder institution.
Gailene Stock, however, countered that the original purpose of the Royal Ballet School as a feeder to the Royal Ballet itself – made explicit when both were granted royal status in 1956 – was no longer relevant. As a native of a country whose comparatively small population was by then producing a disproportionately large number of high-achieving dancers, she found the idea of working to an “English” artistic brief out of date.
She held that the Royal Ballet School had a valid function as a sought-after finishing school for brilliant young foreign talents who went on to become Covent Garden stars, such as Alina Cojocaru, Sergei Polunin and the Australians Steven McRae and Leanne Benjamin. In her view, teenagers leaving the Royal Ballet School with contracts to Vienna, Hong Kong, Berlin, San Francisco or Tokyo should be just as proud as if they were heading to Covent Garden.
It remains a controversial argument, particularly with funders and with parents of British children; but Gailene Stock’s vigour in strengthening the school’s financial base and raising its international profile was acknowledged by many outside Britain.
Gailene Patricia Stock was born in Melbourne on January 28 1946, the daughter of Roy and Sylvia Stock. She showed extraordinary determination as a child. Aged eight she contracted polio and was bedridden in a full-body metal frame for two years; though told that she would probably never walk again, she was back at her dancing classes four years later.
She then suffered a serious car accident which put her in a coma for three days, only weeks before a Royal Academy of Dancing exam. Once again she pulled herself back and was commended by the examiners, who on their return two years later gave her a special scholarship to London’s Royal Ballet School.
At the time the Australian Ballet company was in its infancy, but it offered the 16-year-old Gailene a job just as she was due to go to London. She declined, taking up the Royal Ballet School bursary, but nine months later decided to explore Europe, dancing with companies in France and Italy before returning to her native ballet company in 1965. She spent seven years there, rising to principal dancer under director Robert Helpmann.
Gailene Stock danced for three years in Canada as principal ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She was pursued to North America by an Australian colleague, Gary Norman, whom she married. The pair returned to Australian Ballet and resumed their dancing careers. After having their daughter in 1978 she moved into teaching and management.
Following six years as director of the National Ballet School, Victoria, and further administration jobs, Gailene Stock was director of the Australian Ballet School from 1990 to 1998. She linked the school closely with the Australian Ballet, run by her family friend Ross Stretton. Later, when Stretton was appointed the Royal Ballet’s director a year after Stock’s own move to the Royal Ballet School, they became an Australian double-act in London.
While Stretton’s appointment was terminated after only a year, Gailene Stock was hailed in London for her outsider’s eye on ballet education. She made it a condition of her appointment that her husband should come with her to teach the boys at the Royal Ballet School, exploiting the interest that followed the film Billy Elliot.
She spearheaded splendid refurbishments of the school’s junior and senior sections, achieving a much-praised move of the Royal Ballet School’s senior section from dowdy Chiswick premises to an award-winning conversion next to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and upgrading the younger section’s accommodation in White Lodge, Richmond Park.
Gailene Stock was appointed to the Order of Australia in 1997. Her CBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours was taken to her hospital bed, where she was being treated for cancer.
She is survived by her husband and their daughter.
Gailene Stock, born January 28 1946, died April 29 2014
Neuroscience under the microscope … Photograph: Blend Images/Rex
Zoe Williams’ article suggesting that the neuroscience about the importance of the first three years doesn’t stand up to scrutiny (Written on the brain, 26 April) is as flawed as the arguments of the small group of proponents on whose writings it is based. What this group of critics have in common is a highly rhetorical use of the evidence to oppose state intervention to support early parenting.
This is a particularly unhelpful development for two reasons. First, these critics are misrepresenting the evidence to sabotage the work of academics (eg Rebecca Brown and Harriet Ward’s Decision-Making Within a Child’s Timeframe) whose rigorous and appropriate use of the neuroscientific evidence will ensure that the 45% of child protection cases who are under four years are protected in a more timely manner than has been the case to date. These changes were urgently needed, and they simply confirm what the wider evidence tells us about the developmental impact of seriously suboptimal parenting.
Second, the evidence about the sensitivity of the brain during the first three years to early environmental input is now beyond dispute, making this the period sine qua non, in terms of investing limited resources to optimise outcomes, particularly for the disadvantaged children exposed to multiple risks.
The time has come for the neuroscientists to start challenging this misrepresentation of their work.
Dr Jane Barlow Professor of public health in the early years, University of Warwick; president, Association of Infant Mental Health
Dr Sue Gerhardt Author of Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain.
• The subheading on Zoe Williams’ article asks: “does the science [on which much early-years policy is based] stand up to scrutiny? She doesn’t answer the question, and for good reason. Her article does much to build up straw infants that she has little difficulty in knocking down. Of course she is right to be critical of the overblown claims.
The report I submitted to the prime minister, The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults, showed that by their first day at school, children showed hugely significant differences in abilities, and that these differences in abilities, which are not closed by 13 years at school – if anything they become a little wider – are class-based.
Clearly what happens during the foundation or early years is crucial, and the report showed how they generally determined life chances. So by all means let’s critically look at what is written by the overzealous, but let’s also answer the basic question. The fundamental importance of the early or foundation years is backed up by science.
The founders of the Labour party sought ways of ensuring greater equality of outcomes. The foundation years debate focuses on what seems to be the most promising way of achieving that noble ambition. And that investment in the foundation years, pound for pound, gives greater returns to the taxpayer than any other interventions later in life, however necessary they may be.
Frank Field MP
• Zoe Williams is rightly critical of the scary image of the shrivelled brain reproduced from the cover of MP Graham Allen’s report to the government on the importance of the first three years of a child’s life, for it makes a travesty of what neuroscience can and cannot say about early child development. The image derives from a short unrefereed report at a US neuroscience meeting, without information as to its provenance other than that it is from a three year old abused child. That children’s brains and their synaptic connections develop rapidly in early years is well established. That young children benefit from a stable, loving and secure environment is, as John Simmonds says (Letters, 28 April), common sense. But there really is no good evidence that these two statements are related. That is indeed a bridge too far.
Emeritus professor of neuroscience, The Open University
• I agree with Sylvia Triandafylla (Letters, 28 April) that evidence clearly shows that poverty is a fundamental factor in family stress leading to child abuse and neglect, but not with her conclusion that the answer is that children of poor families should be swiftly adopted. Why not reduce family poverty and support parents to manage better? Health inequalities are tackled by attempts to equalise social determinants, why not inequalities in child welfare? To advocate the transfer of children from poorer families to richer ones as a solution to social inequalities is contrary to human rights and social justice.
Professor of social work, Coventry University
• Zoe Williams reminds us that, with the arrival of the new 26-week rule around adoption, the UK leads the world in placing adoption in the forefront of its child protection policy. We all hope that this is only done in the last resort when parents who are not “good enough” have been offered the support necessary to effect change. The time restrictions, however, mean this is not the case, as does the reduction in services to the groups who have their children taken away: those with a learning disability or mental health issues, victims of domestic abuse, and substance abusers. As adoptions soar over 4,000 per year, as an adopted person of the 1960s, I wonder whether we will look back on this with the same regret as my era and ask how we thought it right to legally break up so many families.
Halifax, West Yorkshire
• The question “Did anyone try to help my mum?” from a child who was removed from her care is perhaps the most poignant line in Zoe Williams’ article about neuroscience and child protection. While the breakthroughs in neuroscience are stimulating valuable discussion and debate, what we do with this information is vital, and the conclusion is clearly that prevention is better than cure.
Just as young brains have a critical time span to learn things, professionals have a limited time to help struggling families before they slip into crisis. Early intervention is the key to supporting families who are often facing multiple and complex problems, but the systems of support in this country remain stacked in favour of crisis management, with high thresholds preventing families from getting the help they need before problems escalate. The resulting social and economic cost, £9bn a year, of failing to help demands a radically different approach nationally and locally.
Chief executive, 4Children
• What an interesting set of articles and viewpoints on neuroscience (Letters, 28 April). Sylvia Triandafylla states that “placing children for adoption … [is] currently the best way we have of interrupting this cycle of inter-generational deprivation”. Of course this is sometimes absolutely necessary, but it is also incredibly expensive, traumatising and disruptive. Ensuring that all new parents have as much support as possible to become nurturing parents, and that that support is ongoing throughout their children’s lives is surely a better way for many families? Family learning enables adults and children to develop a range of skills together, and enables adults to pull themselves out of the poverty, which Ms Triandafylla sees as having “a clear statistical link [with] poor parenting”.
Director, research and development, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
• Zoe Williams is absolutely right to urge caution when drawing conclusions about the effects of a child’s early environment from the newly emerging neuroscience of extreme populations, and when extrapolating directly from animal research to humans. She is also right that the effects of some interventions to support parents have not been as large as policymakers had hoped. However, this does not mean that brain science will not advance to shed more light on development, or that animal studies cannot be illuminating. Nor does it mean that the early environment is not important in human development.
Indeed, a vast body of longitudinal research on large populations of children growing up in a variety of conditions has shown consistent predictions from early experience to later development.
These developmental pathways are, however, complex and are affected by the continuing care a child receives, child temperamental characteristics, and the background stresses that can challenge parents. And, in spite of the fact that parenting interventions are no panacea for the plethora of problems facing many parents, there is also good evidence that well-designed support targeting specific difficulties in parenting, alongside delivery of wider support, can be of considerable benefit to parents and their children.
The important thing is to carry on conducting good research into these processes – through neuroscience, comparative studies and, not least, the psychological studies of parent-child relationships and child development – so that interventions can be properly evidence-based, and so that, as a wider society, we can create the best conditions for parents to help their children flourish.
Research professor in developmental psychology, University of Reading, and author of The Social Baby (2000) and The Psychology of Babies (June 2014)
• It is unfortunate that Zoe Williams focused so strongly on the ways in which the neurobiological research on early childhood development has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. This increasingly robust body of research complements an already extensive literature that shows that abuse and neglect may have long-term adverse consequences across children’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural development.
The neurobiological evidence simply adds an additional strand to what is already known from other fields of inquiry, and helps us understand more about important issues such as, for instance, why children who have been extensively neglected in their early years may find it difficult to concentrate or to control their emotions, and why some of those who are placed for adoption do not establish secure attachments with even the most loving families. The neurobiological research does not show that the consequences of abuse and neglect are inevitable or irreversible, but it does help us understand why those children who are subjected to more extended periods of maltreatment in their early years are more likely to experience compromised development.
The key question is how such research findings should be used. They can inform how scarce resources might best be used to help very vulnerable parents to safeguard their children from harm and promote their development; they can also inform debates concerning appropriate timeframes for decisions concerning adoption where parents are not able to ensure that children are adequately safeguarded.
There is also a danger that research of this nature can be used crudely to support an increasingly ugly political discourse that denigrates such parents because the majority are poor and vulnerable. However, attempting to discredit the research itself, as is done in this article, mirrors the cynical use of research findings for ideological purposes and is of no benefit to the families concerned or the professionals who have child protection responsibilities.
Professor Harriet Ward
Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University
• Infant wellbeing and mental health develops through the ordinary devoted parenting of children. Though there might be important periods of optimum growth potential, all is not irreparable. Neuroscience also appears to show that new pathways can continue to be created.
This less remarked upon feature is the enduring plasticity to the brain that can be supported through nurture, and indeed that endangered aspect of policy of childhood, play. This has to be given an equal prominence.
This is all the more important as many looked-after children encounter the profound effects of trauma, abuse or neglect after their first three years. It is clear that those that could benefit from early intervention and those in fostering, or even more so children’s homes, mostly are different cohorts.
According to government statistics most young people arrive in children’s homes after their 14th birthday. These settings could yet be the facilitating and reparative environment that meets the neuroscience-rediscovered understanding that there are new opportunities for developmental growth at adolescence.
It could be, but not until English policy recovers a positive view of residential options, rejoining the rest of the world. Rehabilitating residential options for young people is a vital aspect of our recovery of our understanding of adolescence.
Just before Easter the government published a discussion document on adolescence as part of its innovation programme. The opportunity to re-engage with adolescence is warmly welcomed.
Perhaps recovering and renewing old ways can be the best and new ways?
CEO, Independent Children’s Homes Association
• ”It is never too early to intervene and it is never too late to begin.” This, rather than a misunderstood idea of the brain’s development being “solidified” by the age of three, is one of the main contributions from neuroscience. Alongside notions of critical (and sensitive) periods for brain development is an equal one of plasticity. This should be a reason for optimism in intervening in the lives of neglected and abused children. Brain development can be understood as the learning of how to regulate attention, behaviour and emotions. These abilities are fundamental to success in school, with peers and later in relationships. Anyone who has been a parent will know that these abilities are not present at birth.
Neuroscience reinforces our understanding that development of these key functions takes place in the context of responsive relationships with carers. A persistent lack leads to neglect and chronic stress, and possibilities of overproduction of cortisol and similar stress-related hormones. These can damage the developing brain through mechanisms such as inhibiting the myelination of neural connections or synapses. This can be thought of as similar to the plastic sheathing of electrical wire ensuring effectiveness and endurance. Persistent use becomes like a pathway through a field, regular use making it easier to access the interconnected parts of the brain involved in managing our attention, behaviour and emotions.
Reinforcing the idea that relationships matter should be a cause for celebrating the contribution of neuroscience in changing the lives of neglected infants and children.
The book of Kells. Photograph: Johansen Krause
You report that police may now investigate whether there was a cover-up concerning the sex abuse allegations against Cyril Smith (Report, 29 April). In 1979, when the Rochdale Alternative Press and Private Eye reported the allegations in considerable detail, I was a reporter on the Observer. I phoned Cyril Smith to put the allegations to him directly – but when he heard what I was asking about, he put down the phone without uttering a word. The key question is whether anyone from the police, Rochdale council or the Liberal party also asked him about the allegations at that time – and if not, why not.
• My 15-year-old son, who is quite sensitive and young for his age in many ways, is sitting his National 5 English exams tomorrow (Report, 29 April). He has been studying a fairly depressing collection of Norman MacCaig poetry, including one called Memorial, whose first line is: “Everywhere she dies. Everywhere I go she dies.” And for drama, they’ve studied the film Psycho. Maybe some thought could be given to the wellbeing of our youth, who are already under stress from exams and the changes of adolescence. At the moment my son’s favourite books are Just William, and Jennings. Surely there is room for choice, and some fun, in English.
Name and address supplied
• Here’s a modest proposal to help alleviate the awful “perfection anxiety” and “panicked ennui” of the super-rich that Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett refers to (Tedium of the super-rich, 26 April). Train the unemployed to make beautiful illuminated manuscripts (I’m thinking Book of Kells) that are unique and personalised tax demands. The super-rich can buy these artworks from HM Revenue and CustomsHMRC, but only if they pay the correct amount of tax. Everyone wins.
• The Proms “offered more than 27 hours of Wagner last year” (Letters, 29 April)? And what was the name of that piece?
• I read somewhere that a gentleman is someone who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t (Letters, 29 April) .
Worthing, West Sussex
• How will the Scottish village of Ae be voting on 18 September, I wonder (Letters, 29 April)?
Thank you for David Adam’s piece on OCD (Comment, 29 April). I recently told someone: “I have OCD. I’m on medication and everything.” It struck me as odd that I felt the need to point out the fact I am on medication. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or trying to get attention. I was trying to differentiate myself from those who say, “Oh, I am so OCD about that!” When I mention I am on medication or that my disorder was diagnosed by a psychologist and a psychiatrist, it is my attempt to highlight the disorder for the serious condition it is. Most people respond with “Oh, yeah! I have all my books in alphabetical order and I hate it so much when someone messes it up”, or similar. I guess it is an attempt to find common ground, but to me it feels like responding to “I have cancer” with “Oh! I had a terrible flu the other week.” I Just want people to take the disorder seriously. With comments such as Stephen Fry‘s, I fear this won’t happen soon.
I am unsure what point James Mumford’s rather sniffy article about Rev is trying to make (Rev: so good it’s dangerous, 28 April). The series does not portray Adam Smallbone as a buffoon (the point actor Tom Hollander made in an interview on TV on Sunday) but as a sincere man of faith battling in the modern world. Yes, some episodes are exaggerated, but it is supposed to be a comedy which makes serious points. Nevertheless, Monday’s episode (which ended season three) was one of the most moving depictions of the Easter story I have seen. If encountering an angel or whatever is not spiritual, I do not know what is. I am a practising Anglican and the series certainly speaks to me and reaffirms one’s faith in Christianity and its continuing relevance in the modern world.
• I wonder if, in his concern for authenticity, James Mumford remembers the show’s Christmas episode, when, having behaved outrageously and being intoxicated, Adam is called to the bedside of a dying parishioner? Suddenly sobered he goes to the old woman’s bedside and gently administers the last rites: a serious moment of (religious) truth?
Rev Geoffrey Bamford
Holmbridge, West Yorkshire
• Does James Mumford seriously think that a crippled woman being healed by prayer and running down the aisle would more closely reflect the “insider” experience of the Church of England than a small, wavering congregation and a vicar who has lapses of faith? Does he really believe that no “insider” would concur with Rev Adam Smallbone’s assertion that God will bless a committed gay marriage even though the Church of England will not? And did he somehow miss the fact that Jesus appeared in person and spoke to Smallbone in his deepest moment of crisis in last week’s episode? From reading the reports of dissent and recrimination among Anglican church bodies, it seems that “pillorying the characters who support the church’s [official] position” is in the spirit of an insider’s viewpoint. Mumford represents a narrow, doctrinaire and humourless wing of the church that is driving away those who, like Smallbone, combine faith with a fallible humanity.
Bury St Edmunds
• James Mumford claims that “Rev’s operating assumption is that faith is individual. The Rev Smallbone’s prayer monologues are purely personal. Faith is not something held in common.” Clearly he had not seen the series finale: a communal alleluia to put the icing on the cake of a brilliant series.
Rev Gary O’Neill
• James Mumford says that: “Rev goes nowhere near the supernatural.” However, God turned up in the penultimate episode, wearing a shellsuit, looking somewhat wasted and dishing out crap advice in a Northern Irish accent.(He was played by Liam Neeson.) But he then gave Rev the inspiration he needed. Supernatural enough for television, surely?
• Glad to see the Americans are telling us what to watch. May I ask what UK inner-city parish has Jason Mumford served in?
Exactly a year ago, the UK carried out its first drone strike from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. Like the more than 450 other remote weapon launches carried out by UK drones, no details about the strike or the resulting casualties have ever been made public. As British troops pack to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014, information leaks suggest that the UK’s armed Reaper drones will not be brought back to the UK, but rather be deployed for a counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism role in Africa and the Middle East.
Despite calls for greater transparency from many civil society groups, MPs, the defence select committee and the UN human rights council, all the Ministry of Defence will say is that “no decision has yet been taken”. The use of armed drones to carry out remote strikes with no risk to the operators raises serious legal and ethical concerns. The MoD has so far refused to release empirical data about the use of such systems on the grounds of operational security. Before any further deployment of the UK’s Reaper drones is contemplated, the MoD must release more information about the impact of its drone strikes in Afghanistan to enable proper public scrutiny and inform the wider debate about growing use of armed drones.
Director, Drone Wars UK
• It’s disappointing that your article (Huge cost of military failures: £35bn bill for operations since cold war, 24 April) says only that this money could have been spent on a new aircraft carriers or more soldiers. We would do well to remember Eisenhower (no pacifist) when he said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” He also identified what drives this appalling and inhumane waste – collusion between governments and arms manufacturers. Until we break that link, governments will continue to view “security” problems through the lens of military involvement and will continue to cause death and destruction in the name of peace and security. Imagine if we’d spent that £35bn on something else.
I read your report on the IPCC’s conclusions and it is clear that the world is facing a serious climate crisis (‘Go green to save the planet’, 18 April). But we, the public, seem to be happy for our governments to pacify us with token gestures.
One policy option that seems to be glaringly absent from the debate is the path of taxation and regulation. So why are these policies not part of the fight against climate change? Why not ban the advertising of flippant air travel and overpowered cars? Why not put a hefty tax on aviation fuel and on petrol? Why not limit the size and power of private cars and commercial trucks? Or even better, tax and subsidise us out of our cars on to bicycles and public transport. Why not use taxation to increase the price of electricity and gas? And restrict imports that carry a large carbon, chemical, pollution or exploitation footprint? It’s not rocket science and, indeed, such tax-and-regulate policies have, in health matters, been shown to dramatically cut levels of smoking.
Of course, we the public would howl with indignation at having our convenience, our self-pampering and our “goodies” taken away, but if we abandon car-dependent suburban living, switch to more localised production and live more modestly, we would actually find more satisfaction in our lives.
And I am sure that it would not be completely hair-shirt living because, as fossil-fuel based consumption were “prised” away from us, human ingenuity would kick in and many conveniences would live on in a modified form.
It is a clear decision: either cut the pampering or fry the planet. Unfortunately, we seem to have chosen the second option.
• Your leader and associated articles describes an express train overloaded with fossil fuels, racing towards irreversible collision with the biosphere.
Nothing was said about thinking outside the box. Anhydrous ammonia, which can be safely stored in cylinders, can be used to drive transport vehicles. It was employed to power rail cars in New Orleans in 1879 and buses in Brussels in 1943, when diesel was appropriated for military purposes. Its use is currently being exploited for ammonia-diesel hybrid, and eventually pure ammonia-driven turbines and private cars in Canada and the US. Traditionally synthesised using energy from combustion of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, ammonia can now be manufactured using non-polluting, endlessly renewable energy from our offshore nuclear fusion reactor, the sun.
The International Monetary Fund advocates a radical transformation of the global energy system over coming decades. If miners and other industrialists can be persuaded to leave fossil fuels in the ground, preserve the photosynthesising carbon sinks of old growth forests and jump aboard the sidelined train, it could become mainline.
• It is with relief that I finally read positive news about climate change. The report warns that decisions and changes need to be made now. What’s our part in all of this?
I suggest our part is to take a moment and contact our federal politicians. Tell them we want an end to fossil-fuel subsidies. We want our tax dollars back.
And we want the big polluters to pay for dumping carbon into our air, for free. After all, we would charge them for polluting our drinking water or our back yard.
And we want the money the big carbon-polluting companies pay to be given back fairly to all of us in an annual payment, or through lower taxes or more clean energy. It’s called a carbon tax. The big polluters pay the carbon tax and we reap the rewards.
Politicians want to hear from us. They want to hear what we want them to do. So tell them. It only takes a moment.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Putin may just be smarter
Putin is smarter than our leaders in the west (28 March). Take Syria. The west seems to have learned nothing in the last 12 years. We may not have liked the old dictators in the Middle East, Saddam, Gaddafi and Mubarak, but at least they maintained secular states in which religious conflict was contained and some sort of order was maintained.
And do we really like what has replaced them through our efforts? It is not our beloved democracy, but mayhem and chaos and breeding grounds for Muslim extremism, only redeemed in Egypt by a replacement dictator.
In Syria, Putin rightly saw that the so-called revolution would be overtaken by al-Qaida and its associates, and he backed Assad. What has the west gained by backing the rebels? Only mayhem and chaos and a breeding ground for Muslim extremism. We delude ourselves if we think that a western-style democracy can be established in these societies as they are today. Putin is under no such illusion, and perhaps his way is actually more humanitarian in terms of human suffering.
As for Ukraine: the west foolishly backed a popular revolution in Kiev that overthrew an elected president, then ratted on an agreement to which it was a party to find a way forward by negotiation. Putin understood that Ukraine was a dangerously divided country with ethnic and linguistic fractures that could easily tear it apart. Of course he wants to maintain Russian influence there. The west wants to maintain its influence. But the west’s foolish provocation of the eastern Ukrainians has only pushed them further into the arms of Putin.
I may not like Putin personally, but we would do better to listen to him than demonise him. He may just be smarter than we are.
Capitalism is in trouble
The excess of the income of capital, compared with that of wages, may seem outrageous (Capitalism is in trouble, 18 April). But you can be both among the greatest world’s capitalists and philanthropists. For instance Bill Gates and Warren Buffett: the latter is supposed to have handed 85% of his fortune to the charity of the former, the two still peaking at the highest positions on Forbes list. No doubt those geniuses and their likes will eventually save the world … or is there an error?
Les Ulis, France
• Will Hutton is right: “The huge gap between rich and poor threatens to destroy us”. Yes, it certainly does, but clinging to the capitalist myth that infinite growth in a finite system is possible will destroy us. Logic has a way of imposing itself on reality.
Molly M Radke
Hansville, Washington, US
Stop running down the US
I am British, a naturalised citizen of the US, a former resident of Canada and now resident in Europe. I have experienced both capitalist and socialist societies, commencing with the Soviet Union in 1979.
A few years ago, a journal, Rage, with which I was associated, conducted a survey of opinions of the US and its policies expressed by citizens of the US and by foreign citizens. The result very convincingly showed that those inside the US expressed pride and confidence while those outside expressed what can best be described as jealousy. Since that survey, letters to the Guardian Weekly have confirmed these findings over and over again. Jennifer Coopersmith’s letter (Reply, 11 April) is a case in point.
She decries the American Dream with no other objective than to express jealousy. Europe, for example, suppresses initiative and entrepreneurialism with regulations and taxes, and I have first-hand knowledge how the best around the world move to the US for a chance. Australia and Canada join Europe in preferring regularised government and compliant citizens over people who are willing to follow their dreams and move on.
We need to stop running down the US: its citizens are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. Instead, we need to cure the drag with which erstwhile British colonies and Europe encumber their citizens.
We must value the psyche
Thank you for your feature on Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (21 March). Of the five intellectuals quoted only one, the woman, Salley Vickers, mentions the psyche. Like Cinderella in the kitchen ashes, the psyche has been waiting for her missing half. The male intellectual mind has been turning its back on its natural partner, the psyche, with its attendant emotions and feelings and trying to explain how the world works and what we humans are with only half a tool kit.
Wisdom that the Asian world is and has been familiar with for millennia is very slowly seeping into western male intellectual consciousness. Thinkers in our past knew about it – Emerson and Whitman, for example – and Carl Jung delved deep into the psyche and understood its value and the value of intuition and feelings.
The psyche, by the way, is not located in the mind; it pervades the body and can be felt in the chest area when one is happy, or in love with life; “mental” problems are really dysfunctions of emotions and feelings. Think “emotional health”, not “mental” health.
• Steven Pinker said that Daniel Kahneman made a powerful and important discovery that “human reason left to its own devices is apt to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors”. Far from being a new discovery, this is one of the oldest themes in philosophy, going back to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the Bhagavad-Gita’s statement that all living things are born into illusion.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
• As experts fear Thierry Jamin’s expedition to Peru would bring disease to the indigenous Nanti people, as happened in Australia and New Zealand, why don’t they send in a drone to scan the top of the “strange square mountain”? (18 April).
Church Point, NSW, Australia
During the next five months Uefa will select 13 host cities for its Euro 2020 football competition. We appeal to Uefa to exclude Jerusalem from this list of hosts.
Israel flouts the UN position that Jerusalem should be an open city for all, making it impossible for most Palestinians to visit the holy sites there, or to visit relatives. The Israeli state supports the confiscation of Palestinian land and homes in East Jerusalem for the use of illegal settlers.
In February this year, Amnesty International published a report entitled Trigger Happy which documents the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation forces. The report describes this treatment as “unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal”.
Just one example of this was seen earlier this year when Israeli soldiers shot repeatedly at the legs and feet of two talented teenage Palestinian footballers at a checkpoint, maiming them for life.
Israel continues to perpetrate its devastating military occupation of the Palestinian territories, flouts international law, totally disregards UN resolutions, and imprisons hundreds of Palestinians, including children, without charge.
It would be a mockery of Fifa’s Mission and Statutes if Jerusalem were awarded the status of hosting games in this tournament.
Leaders of international football must respond to the pleas from suffering Palestinians to sanction Israel in the community of nations.
The Rev Garth Hewitt
Dr Ghada Karmi
Professor Nur Masalha
Professor Steven Rose
Professor Hilary Rose
Salman Abu Sitta
Baroness Jenny Tonge
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Orthodox economic model has failed
As an economics graduate (from 1970), I am at one with the students at Manchester University who are challenging the paradigm that has dominated the teaching of the subject over the past 30 years (“Manchester students man the barricades”, 26 April).
The teaching of the subject today appears to be have been captured by “quants” and purveyors of free-market dogma. (Even The Independent’s Hamish McRae recently referred to investment in equities and property as “real” investment in contrast to investment in government which was supposedly “unreal”.)
I am reminded of some words of wisdom of the great Paul Samuelson, the first economics Nobel laureate. When asked what his advice to economics undergraduates would be he replied: “Read history.” That is where all the important economic data lies.
Too heavy an emphasis on arcane theoretical models based on faith in “efficient markets”, where the only requirement for academic success is mathematical prowess, has distorted the discipline and allowed it to be subverted by “right-wing think-tanks” serving the interests of the corporate and financial sector.
The result: the failed paradigm that caused the great crash of 1929 has returned with a vengeance to cause the great crash of 2007-8, and the only response from academia appears to be to rebuild the paradigm and not make the same mistakes next time.
It is not necessary to be a Marxist radical to say that economics has failed to serve the interests of any but the richest and most powerful. It is time for change, and among the correctives should be a compulsory unit on economic history for all economics undergraduates.
Chris Forse, Snitterfield, Warwickshire
Are the “Manchester students manning the barricades to overthrow economic orthodoxy” going so far as to question “growth”?
Orthodox economics seems to require an ever increasing population, with an infinite supply of environmental resources, to pay for an ever longer-living number of the elderly. At some point a new economic philosophy will be needed.
R J Buchanan, London SE18
How can we sign on every day?
Your front-page headline of 28 April – “Jobless must sign on every day” – has me perplexed.
I am long-term unemployed and am familiar with the problems my local JobCentre has just dealing with me once a fortnight. You are never seen on time and getting access to the “job points” to look for vacancies on the website can be difficult. Getting access to a phone to ring up about a job can incur a long wait. What will it be like if 10 times as many are forced to visit at the same time? They may have to move the JobCentre to Gateshead International Stadium to accommodate us all.
Derek Holmes, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
How are the jobless expected to report to their nearest JobCentre each day or undertake voluntary work when many rural bus services run only once or twice per week or not at all, following severe cuts? Those services that still operate often allow only a fixed time at their destination; missing the return bus could entail a very long walk, as I doubt that JobCentres will be reimbursing taxi fares.
Many of the unemployed in rural areas formerly worked as bus drivers or in low-paid public-sector jobs which have been axed.
Dr John Disney, Nottingham Business School
The Coalition knows nothing of life in the northern towns and cities of England. Here unemployment has lasted since the decline of traditional heavy industry a generation ago, while many away from London just haven’t got the rail services that make commuting a possibility.
So rather than being helped back to work, all those on the dole face is more attendance at JobCentres (which will surely mean more civil servants to deal with them), and yet more compulsory voluntary work that offers no extra payments.
At least Scotland has the chance to cut away from the capital’s dominance. Perhaps we in the North should have the option to join them at some future date?
Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, Lincolnshire
A-level scientists must get into the lab
Charles Tracy, of the Institute of Physics, (letter, 24 April) suggests that students could get top grades in future science A-levels without doing practical work. That is not so. Students can get top grades now with very little lab experience. They will need to do more, and to do the practical work most valued by higher education, to win top grades in future.
Students will be required to do a minimum of 12 pieces of practical work, for which they will receive a separate grade, and exam papers will include questions on the knowledge and skills obtained in the lab – on the student’s ability to take a question or a conundrum, to design an experiment to solve it, and to interpret the results.
Many science teachers are thumping the air with delight at the chance to truly teach experimentation, and to see students develop valuable skills rather than simply jump through predictable assessment hoops.
As I said recently, we will monitor new and reformed qualifications to make sure that any necessary adjustments are made, but I am confident that these changes will benefit students, as many science teachers recognise.
Amanda Spielman, Chair, Ofqual. Coventry
Cornwall takes its rightful place
With Cornwall at last, and not before time, recognised as the UK’s fifth home nation, surely we can now have our team in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer. The British Olympics team had a few Cornish gold medal winners, including Helen Glover.
We Cornish loved the UK Olympic Games and supporting our British team, but at the Glasgow games only a Cornish team will do, or perhaps if necessary “England with Kernow” as a transitionary team to 2018.
Tim James, Penzance
“Don’t Cornish people go to Tesco, walk the dog, watch Take Me Out and play on XBox like the rest of us?” asks Helen Clutton (letter, 29 April). No longer owning a dog, I shudder at the idea that the rest of the things your correspondent sees as normal are normal.
Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk
I don’t go to Tesco, haven’t got a dog, have never heard of Take Me Out, and wouldn’t know an XBox if I fell over one. Does that make me Cornish?
Michael Hart, Osmington, Dorset
One reason for falling crime figures is better policing – and more diligent measurement
Sir, Your leader on what you describe as the “astonishing” fall in crime last year (Apr 25) postulates a number of reasons why this might have happened, including longer sentences, less binge drinking and better anti-crime technology.
The one factor you do not mention is more effective policing. It is this omission that I find “astonishing”, particularly as you mention that similar falls in crime have occurred in the United States, where it is generally recognised that it is policing and, in particular, police leadership, which is the most important factor in making communities safe.
House of Lords
Sir, On the basis of her perception of contradictory trends in violence according to police records and the Crime Survey for England and Wales, Melanie Phillips (opinion, Apr 28) comes to the conclusion that pretty much all scientific endeavour is flawed. She tells us that ideology, vested interests and methodological weakness are to blame.
Twenty years ago my colleagues and I reacted entirely differently to these contradictory trends. Rather than abandoning hope that there are answers we decided to measure violence across the country using an entirely different source of information: data collected in a scientific sample of accident and emergency departments.
Year after year, 2013 included, this method, which has been subject to repeated peer review, has demonstrated downward trends which are almost identical to trends identified in the crime survey.
We also decided to compare A&E data with police records, an exercise which has been repeated in several other European countries. Only a third to a half of violence which puts people in A&E was represented in police records. In a further study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, we discovered that the main reason for this was that many of those injured in violence do not report offences; often because of fear of reprisals, because they didn’t know who the assailants were and because they didn’t want their own conduct scrutinised too closely. These are some of the reasons police records are not a reliable violence measure.
The conclusion is clear though: whatever the reasons, violence is on the way down.
Professor Jonathan Shepherd
Sir, As police and academics attempt, mostly unsuccessfully, to identify reasons for rising/falling crime rates I am reminded of my first night shift as a young constable in 1981. It was an extremely wet night. We were briefed by our sergeant, who informed us that there would be little or no crime in Hammersmith as “PC Rain was on duty”.
Sure enough, the local criminals stayed at home in the dry, and we had a quiet night.
Sir, The BBC has announced that it is to remake Civilisation for the digital age, and a presenter for this “jewel in its crown” is soon to be chosen.
Kenneth Clark’s series is revered but it had little to say about women. That is why we feel so strongly about campaigning for a female historian to be at the televisual helm this time.
The BBC’s first director-general, Lord Reith, said the corporation’s purpose was to “educate, inform and entertain”. Many women meet these criteria and should be in the frame to speak for civilisation: Mary Beard, Lisa Jardine, Amanda Vickery, Marina Warner, Bettany Hughes, Frances Stonor Saunders, AS Byatt and Hermione Lee, to name but a few.
A female presenter would ensure that the series is not just about History but also Herstory. It’s imperative that women also have a voice in the story of our world.
Kathy Lette, Helena Kennedy
Bianca Jagger, Jemima Khan,
Maureen Lipman, Sandi Toksvig,
Susie Orbach, Kate Mosse,
Shami Chakrabarti, Joanna Trollope, June Sarpong, Jo Brand, Jeanette Winterson,
Tracy Chevalier, Ronni Ancona
Marina Lewycka, Caitlin Moran,
Daisy Goodwin, Polly Samson,
Carmen Callil, Lorraine Candy,
Jo Elvin, Kate Pakenham, Salley Vickers, Barbara Taylor, Lisa Appignanesi, Joanne Harris,
Stella Duffy, Esther Freud,
Miriam Margolyes, Sheila Hancock, Lisa Meyer, Haydn Gwynne, Ali Smith, Rosie Boycott, Mariana Katzarova
Stella Creasy, Natasha Walter
Frances Crook, Patricia Hodge,
Caroline Michel, Catherine Mayer, Fay Ripley, Jemma Read
Erica Wagner, Kay Burley,
Pamela Connolly, Meera Syal
Sir, Janice Turner did well to highlight the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls (“They’ve declared a world war against women”, Apr 26). The thought of their plight weighed heavily with me over Easter as did a sense of impotence over what I can personally do about this and what if anything we are doing as a nation.
Like Ms Turner I am sickened by the stance taken by Islamic extremists against the education of girls and women. We must not allow misplaced and misinformed political correctness to cause us to give any quarter to such views in the UK.
Sir, Do Ukip’s supporters know of their MEPs’ absenteeism in the European Parliament?
The cry for democracy falls flat when the politician neglects his/her responsibilities to participate, advocate and negotiate in the EP’s process. I worked in Brussels in
2009-12 and observed with disbelief how the Ukip MEPs were rarely present for EP committee meetings. With so much emphasis in their campaign on democracy, they didn’t care to use their voice or vote in committee decisions, but instead focused on shouting at commission representatives in various plenary sessions. How would their wealthy backer Paul Sykes react to that?
EP committees play an important and influential role in the ordinary legislative procedure. In the area of fisheries policy, Nigel Farage wasn’t present in the PECH committee when I was following the fisheries policy dossiers in 2012 in Brussels, despite the high level of interest in the UK press, the huge reform at hand, and the large role the EU plays in determining the future of Europe’s fisheries.
Sir, Nigel Farage and Ukip say they want an “honest conversation” about immigration. If they are looking for an honest debate about this or any other subject they could start by being honest themselves.
For example, one of the Ukip posters asks “Who really runs this country” and states that “75% of our laws are now made in Brussels”. But anyone who has read the 2010 House of Commons library report How much legislation comes from Europe will be aware that Ukip’s 75 per cent figure is, to put it mildly, a vast exaggeration.
The report, based upon a careful study of more than a decade of legislation, estimated the proportion of our national laws implementing EU laws at between 6.8 per cent and 50 per cent, depending upon how loosely one defines the term “law”.
If political advertising were not exempt from Advertising Standards Authority rules, the ASA would have a strong case for at least demanding the withdrawal of the poster on the ground that it gives false information.
Sir, John McTernan (“Don’t lose heart. There are ways of defeating Ukip”, Apr 28) doesn’t get it: Libby Purves (“This kingdom feels less united than ever”, Apr 28) does. We are voting Ukip because we are fed up with being second-class citizens in our own country. London seems to be the only place that matters to our political class.
Mrs L Hughes
Newton Abbot, Devon
Sir, Instead of asking what is to be done about Ukip, John McTernan should ask why it is so appealing. Had he done so he might have found some answers that made sense. “Holding Farage to account” is a waste of time, because he stands for what people want.
What they do want can easily be found by looking at the comments in a range of newpapers online — a free opinion poll every day.
Dr Alastair Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wilts
Sir, While sympathetic to Ben Macintyre’s view (Apr 25) that we should love the Scots despite their desire to leave the Union (I have a half-Scots wife), I fear he may be fighting a strong natural tendency.
I was in a bar in Andalusia a couple of years ago, watching Barcelona being thrashed by a German team. I expected some signs of distress but there were none.When I remarked on this to a local, I was told “Oh we don’t mind. We hate the Catalans” — a view which does indeed prevail widely in Spain.
People don’t like it when others want to leave their club.
Professor Jonathan Brown
Milford on Sea, Hants
Failing democracy: the impoverished township of Diepsloot on the outskirts of Johannesburg Photo: AFP/Getty Images
6:58AM BST 29 Apr 2014
SIR – The Queen has congratulated South Africa on 20 years of democracy. But as an Englishman who has lived here for 30 years, I have seen the destruction of the country’s infrastructure since 1994, when Nelson Mandela took over.
There is now very little overseas investment. The mining house BHP Billiton has sold up and the platinum mines near Rustenberg have been at a standstill due to strikes for the past three months.
With disinvestment on this scale, millions of jobs have been lost, and today beggars in rags at traffic lights are the norm. Sewage flows through the gutters, and Escherichia coli is present in the water supply systems, due to pumping and filtration stations breaking down. Crime is sweeping the country.
We are coming up to yet another National Voting Day on May 7, when the African National Congress will yet again win power due to corruption at the polls.
As a surgeon, I have done what I can for the poor South Africans. All of my friends and colleagues have either emigrated or been murdered. We have decided to move to Australia. I am saddened to leave such a once-beautiful country, and I see no hope for it.
SIR – Boris Johnson’s suggestions on reform of the electoral system for MEPs omits reference to two issues. The European Parliament cannot initiate legislation – only the Commission or the Council of Ministers can, and their legislative initiatives are usually rubber stamped by the parliament. So the ability of British MEPs to promote or protect British interests is minimal.
Furthermore, however they are elected or appointed, British MEPs will always be in a minority. In sovereign countries with a democratic system, the minority party accepts the rule of the majority because it always has a chance to become the majority at the next election. This can never be the case in the European Parliament. Of course, this is true for MEPs from all EU member states, and is a main reason why Euro elections elicit so little interest.
Oppède, Vaucluse, France
SIR – I cannot see that the electorate would willingly trust MPs to choose their MEPs for them, as Boris Johnson suggests. Surely a better, cheaper and more democratic idea would be, as Britain is now largely ruled by Europe and most of our laws are made there, to choose the 73 MEPs as at present and from them choose half a dozen or so MPs to carry on the dwindling workload of Parliament in Westminster?
Lament for the makers
SIR – George Osborne announces that £200 million will be spent on a new polar survey ship, but does not say where it will be made. The BAE shipyard at Portsmouth is threatened with closure, and this order would sustain skilled jobs.
Whatever happened to the “march of the makers” promised by Mr Osborne in 2011? Since his statement, we’ve put in orders to Germany for trains, Korea for naval tankers and Philadelphia for police cars and RAF helicopters. Do we want a British manufacturing industry or are we happy to continue the downward spiral to zero hours, low skill and low wages?
SIR – Nick Clegg wants us to be governed by people whose native language isn’t English, and now he doesn’t want our English Queen to be head of the Church of England. Perhaps he just doesn’t like being English?
Ballajora, Isle of Man
Out of Gluck
SIR – Ivan Hewett celebrates the increasing profile of non-standard Western classical music at the Proms. But he fails to mention the continuing marginalisation of music written before 1800. At last year’s festival, not a note of Haydn was heard, and this year will be the same. Not much Handel will be played, either.
This year marks the 300th anniversaries of the births of Christoph Gluck and C P E Bach. The former is represented only by a brief extract from Orfeo, his best-known work; the latter features only in a concert at Cadogan Hall and, briefly, in a matinée concert. There is hardly any music written before 1700 in the programme; admirers of, say, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Corelli and Purcell will be disappointed this year. How can this be justified?
C D C Armstrong
SIR – The Coalition could do more to cut taxes and red tape, but I doubt that this would be sufficient to improve dramatically the number of globally successful entrepreneurs.
To do so requires action on four fronts. First, Britain needs to provide working capital to those thinking of setting up or expanding their business. Secondly, on immigration policy, we need to be more welcoming to the talent that entrepreneurs need to develop their businesses. Thirdly, we need to be less risk-averse, and recognise that most successful entrepreneurs will fail before they succeed.
Finally, we need to encourage our entrepreneurs to think big. Data show that only 1 per cent of small businesses in Britain have high-growth potential, compared with 3 per cent in America.
Prof Stephen Caddick
Vice Provost, Enterprise
University College London
SIR – Dr John Doherty’s notion that James Joyce was somehow less Irish for having a British passport (Letters, April 25) – the only one available for the first 40 years of his life – is almost as fanciful as his idea that Flann O’Brien, a native Irish speaker, was one whit less Irish for being born in what later became Northern Ireland.
Over and out
SIR – In 1949 I played in the St George’s School, Harpenden, under-12 cricket team against Hardenwick School. A boy from my school opened the bowling, and I followed at the other end. He took all 10 wickets, conceding no runs, while I was hit for 10.
The boy went on to teach at Radley College and took an active part in cricket but as a wicketkeeper. He kept his achievement secret, but later, on being asked why he had given up bowling, he said: “Once you have taken all 10 wickets for no runs there is nothing more to achieve in the bowler’s world.”
SIR – I have a cricket ball given to my great-grandfather, Arthur Weller, dated July 1880. He played in a match between Horsham and Cuckfield, Sussex. The inscription reads: “Balls 9, Runs 0, Wickets 7.”
Brighton, East Sussex
Good ways to revive underused village churches
SIR – I wholly endorse Sir Barney White-Spunner’s call to reinvigorate churches as the centre of local communities. The Government is not going to help, though a token gesture, such as the alleviation of VAT, would be welcomed to relieve some of the massive maintenance costs of these historic buildings.
In February, in our parish church in Hanmer, Clwyd, I gave a PowerPoint presentation about a recent trip to Tibet – the first time that anything like this had been done. There were refreshments afterwards, and up to 70 people enjoyed a new social experience in the church. Now we are looking for other ways to maximise the use of this wonderful building.
SIR – The naves of our parish churches were always sacred spaces, as the surviving consecration crosses on their walls show. The chancel housed the parish priest’s altar and the nave the parish’s altar. It was never an all-purpose space. Even marriages had to take place in the porch.
Nor are pews a relatively recent invention: it is likely that every nave was equipped with pews by the Elizabethan period. The earliest surviving pews date from the early 15th century, and they may have replaced an assemblage of stools and benches.
There is a discussion to be had about how best to keep our churches alive, but let us not rewrite history in the process.
David J Critchley
SIR – Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, compares HS2 protesters to the self-interested Victorian landowners who opposed the railways. The protesters I have met have not been relentless Luddites, but farmers and small business people facing ruin, concerned taxpayers, infuriated commuters whose lines are starved of investment, and those who distrust “legacy” policies.
SIR – Neil Jones suggests that we could soon be a Third World country if we don’t embrace HS2. I wonder how far away from the proposed tracks Mr Jones lives and whether he would tolerate years of upheaval in his area just to get to Birmingham a few minutes earlier.
Major construction projects rarely come in at the budgeted figure or on time. I can think of many better uses for the money.
SIR – The present plans for HS2 at its London end are unpopular and unrealistically expensive. We don’t need a four-mile tunnel to Euston. Nor do we need to build more long platforms for high-speed trains when we already have them at St Pancras, City Thameslink and Waterloo.
We should reuse our vacant routes, sites and buildings before squandering huge amounts of money on an ill-thought-out project, which will cause disruption, inconvenience and unnecessary cost
to thousands of passengers for many
SIR – By opposing HS2, Andrea Leadsom MP is acting against the interests not only of the nation (Letters, April 28) but also of her own constituents. South Northamptonshire depends for its rail services on railheads outside its boundaries, such as Milton Keynes and Rugby. At both of these stations, local and London commuter services are severely limited by the number of non-stop long-distance trains on the line. Once these trains transfer to HS2, local services can be improved.
Surely it is the job of MPs to gain benefits for their constituents.
SIR – HS2 is yesterday’s technology, not tomorrow’s. We should instead be building a privately funded “intelligent” road for driverless cars along the HS2 route. This would be a much more affordable means of travel than HS2, which would only be an option for the richest.
SIR – By the time HS2 is built, those able to afford it will all be video-conferencing instead of wasting time travelling.
Bridge of Cally, Perthshire
Sir, – Regarding your editorial on the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement (April 28th), there are various points you make that I would disagree with but one in particular stands out.
You say that the Israeli government’s demand that Israel be recognised by the Palestinians as the Jewish state is “a wrecking condition” insisted upon by Mr Netanyahu, and that if this was accepted by the Palestinians it would mean them acknowledging second-class status for Israel’s Arab minority. This presupposes that Mahmoud Abbas’s determination not to recognise Israel as the Jewish state is because of some concern he has about Israeli Arabs.
As Israelis, we don’t need Mr Abbas to lecture us on the rights of our Arab citizens. In Israel, Arab citizens, who are about a quarter of the population, are fully equal in law to Jewish citizens. Arabic is Israel’s official second language. Israeli Arabs serve in the army and police, the judiciary and civil service, and they are fully part of the political system of the state. They have free speech, free press – all the attributes of a civilised democracy. They are certainly freer than any Arabs who live in the other countries of the Middle East. They are certainly better off than Arabs in the squalidly corrupt Palestinian Authority.
One should ask not why Mr Netanyahu insists on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state but why President Abbas opposes it so much. The real reason Mr Abbas and his acolytes do not recognise Israel as the Jewish state is because that would mean the end of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and they are not ready for that, at least not yet.
Their “recognition” of Israel, therefore, is to be only temporary and tactical, so as to create an interim Palestinian state, after which further demands will be placed on Israel, including the absurd “right of return” which, it is hoped, will swamp Israel with millions of so-called refugees from around the world who can claim some Palestinian heritage. This is why Mr Abbas will not recognise Israel as the Jewish state – because he wants the Palestinian state to replace Israel, not to live in peace with it.
We have long had our suspicions about Mr Abbas’s genuine commitment to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Alas, his decision last week to form a unity government with the terrorist organisation Hamas – which has not changed its absolutist position on Israel – gives credence to such pessimism. Yours, etc,
Ambassador of Israel,
Sir, – Dr Sean Alexander Smith may have satisfied himself that he is sane, but I am not satisfied that he is civilised. Surely it is not necessary for religious believers to have recourse to their respective traditions to decide whether the state has the right to kill its citizens? Here we need only look to our recent history. A number of Irish people were wrongly convicted of capital crimes in the 1980s in England. Will Dr Smith argue that these people should have been hanged? Christians may believe in resurrection, but can they resurrect a hanged man so that he can appeal his sentence?
Guilt or innocence is not the issue however, but the question of certainty. Is any justice system infallible? There is a strange contradiction it seems to me in the attitudes of the demented tricorne-hat-wearing reactionaries of the United States who decry what they call “big government” while at the same time advocating the death penalty. Excessive interference by government in the lives of its citizens has surely no more perfect manifestation than that it should be able to kill them as a normal part of its business.
None of the Christian scriptures cited in the previous letters on this subject mentioned that Jesus himself was asked to be judge in one capital case where guilt was, apparently, certain. His judgement? “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” [John 8:7] Is this not enough? What more do you want? Any further argument would seem to be pharisaical casuistry. Yours, etc,
Sir, – As an agnostic, I approach the death penalty debate with a different perspective from that of most of your contributors. To my mind the arguments of all those theists, whatever their religious persuasion, who claim to respect the “sanctity” of human life and yet approve of judicial murder, are both perplexing and abhorrent, and I assess them accordingly. As a wise man is reputed to have said long ago: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves … By their fruits ye shall know them.” Yours, etc,
Sir, – Harry McGee (April 28th) is quite correct to propose one single constituency for Ireland in the European elections. Not only are the countries and places he mentioned one big constituency, even states like Spain are. Spain of course uses a closed list system, where you vote for a party not a person.
This should be applied also to Dáil elections. One single list per party and you vote for that list. Nothing would stop independents standing as single person lists if they wanted. This would help focus debates on politics and not the personality, as so often happens now. Yours, etc,
GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH
Sir, – With reference to Harry McGee’s article , it seems to me that the elephant in the room is the Electoral Act 1997. What is wrong with having a two-seat constituency? The population of the Irish Republic is, according to the 2011 Census, 4,588,000. Eleven MEPs represents a seat ratio of one MEP to 417,000 people. Using four constituencies while observing local authority and county boundaries, the following would be a better outcome: Dublin three seats (population 1,273,000, ratio 424,000); rest of Leinster three seats (population 1,231,000, ratio 410,000); Munster three seats (population 1,246,000, ratio 415,000); Connacht/Ulster two seats, (population 838,000, ratio 419,000). Why let the tail wag the dog? Yours, etc,
Sir, – If Brian Hayes TD wishes to run for the European Parliament then surely he first needs to clear up his commitment to his Dáil constituents. If he no longer wishes to represent them, ought he not to resign his seat? Yours, etc,
Sir, – As a member of the Labour Party for more than 50 years, I have experienced more than enough of our party’s ups and downs in polls and elections, indeed more downs than ups. It seems to me that the Irish electorate wants Laboury-type policies yet continues to vote for our conservative parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and now, it seems, Sinn Féin. The Labour Party has been in government from time to time over the years, but never as the majority party.
Labour usually receives most of the blame for those periods in government, and little of the credit. Sometimes indeed it might have been “cuter” to have stayed out, especially after the last election when years of profligacy and mismanagement (from parties supported by the Irish electorate with its votes) left our country almost as an outcast among democracies.
At the time many experts suggested we would need at least 10 years before coming out of “banana republic” status. Recent reports suggest we are well ahead of that in returning to some sort of reasonable health. Obviously, most people have been hurt during this recovery process, and some more than others.
Regarding the call by our MEP Phil Prendergast for Eamon Gilmore to resign as party leader, if Ms Prendergast sees the leadership as being a problem, she is entitled to say so. But it’s hard to see a change as solving any problem. I suggest that even if all Labour Party elected representatives were to resign their positions it would not improve things one bit; indeed it would certainly make them worse. What is required instead is for each voter to take much greater care in deciding who, or which party, deserves their vote, with their own and our country’s future welfare in mind. Yours, etc,
Sir, – As to Phil Prendergast and her advice to Eamon Gilmore, a story comes to mind. As a Limerick team was going from rugby bar to rugby bar in celebration of winning a very handsome plaque, the voice of a friend of mine was heard to say: “I’d keep the noise down until ye’ve won something ye can drink out of.” Yours, etc,
Sir, – In response to Clare Bourke (April 29th) on the apparent “value” of the licence fee, perhaps someone should point her toward YouTube. It provides, free of charge, wonderful concerts from the National Concert Hall and elsewhere. There is no need for the bloated national station.
The public broadcasting model is outdated and is yet another tax: the worst value for money, €160 a year for two overhyped stations – and we have no choice but to pay. I fail to see the value in being forced to pay for a poor service you don’t want. I believe RTÉ should go down the road of all the other stealth taxes: those who use pay. I guarantee if you made the paying of this tax optional RTÉ would quickly see how little value it really has in the open market. Let the people choose. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Paul Gillespie’s World View column (“Climate change is key to modern ethics”, April 26th) is a further encouraging sign that debate on climate change is being seen in the greater context of global economic orthodoxy.
The statistics Dr Gillespie presents outlining how the richest 10 per cent account for 60 per cent of the world’s consumption align well with Thomas Pikettys recent thesis ( Capital in the Twenty-First Century ) regarding the growth of inequality.
The global economy is set up to facilitate an accumulation of wealth among a minority. This group drives accelerated growth in consumption in the economy to enhance its own standing amongits peers, as to stand still in an anathema.
However, in doing so, it consigns the remainder of the planet to increased indebtedness to feed this unnecessary consumption and also deplete the finite resources of the planet.
Climate change is but one manifestation, albeit a most serious one, of the malignancy of the current economic orthodoxy.
Inequality, injustice, rampant poverty and, increasingly, the subversion of democracy through legalised political corruption, can also be seen as symptoms.
However, whereas these latter ailments mainly affect only those impoverished by the system, climate change is not so selective and as a result the idea of a change in economic approach may yet gain some mileage. Yours, etc,
Sir, – As the Government plans to roll out subsidised high-speed broadband countrywide, what measures will be put in place to protect children against the tsunami of pornography that will follow in its wake?
In the UK the biggest viewers of pornography are children of 11 to 17 years; this is causing significant mental health problems, while internet pornography is also now a leading facilitator of child abuse.
The increasing availability of out-of-home Wi-Fi connections has made it nearly impossible for parents to protect their children from disturbing material. The Government is paying for the high-speed roll-out; the Government issues the telecoms with their internet licences; therefore it is up to the Government to make sure the telecoms behave responsibly. Yours, etc,
Sir, – In your issue of April 26th two articles appear under the respective headlines “State approves €500m for broadband” and “Homeless crisis ‘bloody awful and getting worse’”.
As a country it appears to be quite obvious where the priorities lie in regard to the welfare of citizens. God help the lady living in the car and so many other unfortunates. Surely the feeding and housing of all people, including the necessary financial support, must receive absolute precedence over all other requirements. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your front page top headline (April 26th) reads “State approves €500 for broadband”. Further down the page the headline reads “Homeless crisis ‘bloody awful and getting worse’”. We are told there are 952 long-term vacant council houses and flats in need of renovation and that €15 million has just been allocated for that purpose and, further, that Waterford Hospital has no funds to replace 300 torn and dirty matresses.
Has nobody in government got any sense of priorities? What is wrong with this country and the people who are supposed to be running it? Yours, etc,
KW SUPPLE KANE,
Sir, – Derek MacHugh is correct to be worried about European and six nations rugby. Vanity teams backed by endless funds can only damage the game for everyone. While players are entitled to be well paid for their undoubted talents and efforts, some balance is required between players, owners and supporters. One way to stem the tide of last-gasp mercenaries and poached players would be to limit the number of non-nationally-qualified players to three or four per team. In this way the power of money might be limited. Yours, etc,
JOHN K ROGERS,
Sir, – As a cyclist, I welcome reports that the cycle network is to be increased over the coming years. Extrapolating from the practices on the current network, it is likely that many of the new routes will be shared with footpaths.
Given that pedestrians often pay as much attention to shared cycle lanes as many cyclists do to red lights, perhaps we should dispense with 2,840km worth of red tarmac, white lines and road markings, and accept that they are just free-for-alls. It might even come in under budget! Yours, etc,
Sir, – Olivia Kelly (April 19th) might have mentioned the importance of the Bike-to-Work scheme in popularising cycling in Dublin and in other parts of the country. Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Church of Ireland (report, April 29th) in its official response to Sinn Féin’s motion in the Stormont Assembly in favour of same sex marriage has affirmed “that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long … of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side …The Church of Ireland recognises … no other understanding of marriage.”
Just over a year ago an electoral college of the same church elected to the see of Meath a cleric in that diocese who had remarried after his first marriage ended in divorce. His election was subsequently ratified by the House of Bishops. He was obliged to withdraw from the position days before his consecration was due to take place when (as newspapers reported widely at the time) disclosures were made regarding his conduct as rector of a parish in Northern Ireland.
The Church of Ireland believes that it is appropriate for a divorced and remarried man to be a candidate for the office of bishop; other divorced and remarried men still act as clergy in the church. The remarriage in church of divorcees is no longer uncommon. In that case why does the church continue to affirm its commitment in principle to a theology of marriage which it cannot be bothered to honour in practice? Yours, etc,
Published 30 April 2014 02:30 AM
* According to Ian O’Doherty (Irish Independent, April 28), Gabrielle McFadden’s claim to a Dail seat is based on ‘a promise’ she made to succeed her late sister, Nicky McFadden TD, shortly before she died.
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It would seem that a Dail seat is to be regarded as a family heirloom; a chattel that can be bequeathed with less formality than a legacy in a will, which is at least signed and witnessed; and that Ms McFadden is counting on the mystical inertia of a distracted electorate to fulfil her ambition.
There are 24 TDs in the Dail who are connected to family dynasties and 13 of these directly succeeded a close relative in winning a seat, reflecting a strong culture of nepotism embedded in the Oireachtas.
The familial nature of this culture is further aggravated when TDs employ relatives as drivers, assistants and advisers in sinecures funded by taxpayers. It is from these foundations that parish pump favouritism and chicanery flourishes.
How can Ireland ever evolve as a transparent and ethical meritocracy when nepotism drives our political system? Would the public good, for example, be enhanced if county managers, senior public servants and heads of state organisations were allowed to slither their close relatives into privileged positions in order to succeed them?
It is time for Ireland to grow up politically and for the electorate to think more carefully about the severe limitations of these family dynasties. No new thinking will ever emerge from a system that only looks defensible to people who are related to each other and whose span of accountability and vicariousness does not transcend their own tribe.
GLENAGEARY, CO DUBLIN
MAGNA CARTA‘S 800TH BIRTHDAY
* On President Higgins’s recent state visit to Britain, I think it would have been appropriate if Runnymede near Windsor had been part of the itinerary.
It is the place where the Magna Carta was agreed and signed in 1215. It is the embryo from which our modern democracies and human rights grew. The principles of liberty came from Runnymede. The US Supreme Court has ruled that its democracy and Bill of Rights have their foundation in the Magna Carta.
Next year will be the 800th anniversary and all the great democratic leaders will be there including President Obama and, I hope, we will be well represented too.
SOUTH CIRCULAR ROAD, CO LIMERICK
DON’T RUSH NEW CURRICULUM
* Regarding ‘Quinn should teach these wolves a lesson’ (Irish Independent, April 27), first, all three unions did not treat Education Minister Ruairi Quinn with disdain. The TUI listened respectfully.
Also, that “They earn more than €60,000 a year on average, take three months’ paid holiday, have protected pensions, and jobs for life”, is simply not true. I do not know one teacher who earns €60,000 a year.
The teachers I know are taking extra jobs in order to supplement their incomes. Also, I know several teachers who have gone from school to school because of the ‘casualisation’ of teaching. It is virtually impossible to get a permanent role in today’s climate.
The main reason teachers are up in arms over Mr Quinn’s new plans is because they care about the future of education and don’t want to see a new curriculum rushed in without adequate planning.
AL AIN, UAE
MY GOD, IT’S UNBELIEVABLE
* God exists in the minds of people only, because no human has ever produced a scintilla of proof that a god or gods exist or ever did exist. We now know that the Earth is billions of years old, and science has proved that life forms started about four billion years ago.
Of all the millions of species of life that exist on Earth man in his present form is a very recent arrival and we represent less than 10pc of all life on this planet; insects represent about 80pc of life here.
Man has everything in common with animals – he reproduces in the same manner; he must eat, drink and breathe to stay alive; he has the same internal organs as an animal. All life is related, and all living things on Earth, from microbes to elephants and everything in between, will die, decompose and turn to dust.
Man has invented and worshipped gods from the dawn of time. It is amazing that so many people choose to live in total ignorance of the workings of nature and of the world around them even when it is beamed into their living rooms and explained to them in great detail by some of the greatest naturalists and scientists of our time, such as David Attenborough and others.
BALBRIGGAN, CO DUBLIN
LABOUR’S MADE ITS BED . . .
* What’s wrong with Labour? Where has its vote gone? . . . Frankfurt?
Eamon Gilmore is under pressure from a colleague who represents nigh on half of the country geographically at European level, which doesn’t really look good for a man who represents the people of a Dail constituency at a national level.
The party is certainly under political pressure. Is it because the Government can’t hide behind the troika any more? Is it because the traditional union vote has collapsed following a High Court decision to prevent a mandated strike from taking place while a ‘Labour man’ sits in the office of Tanaiste? Is it, to put it very simply, as my child might say, people don’t like Mr Gilmore any more?
The way Ireland works is very simple. Politicians put their faces up on poles, seep into the conscience of the nation and get elected. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that the Irish have become used to putting faces with policies.
ATHENRY, CO GALWAY
* Every cloud has a silver lining . . . the introduction of water charges may have deodorant manufacturers rubbing their hands in glee . . . or indeed raising their arms.
BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9
A SAVINGS LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
* An Post published its results for 2013 on April 24. The annual report says the State Savings Schemes, amounting to €18bn, continue to attract large inflows of cash. It also states that these schemes account for 16pc of personal savings.
What the report does not say is that it operates under the umbrella of a ‘state subsidy’. For example:
* With these schemes, there is no DIRT deducted. This is a subsidy of 41pc per annum on gains.
* There is no investment levy applied on entry to the schemes. The levy for insurance-wrapped non-state savings is 1pc on entry and for any new investments added.
* It distorts the market for bank deposits and credit union savings as these are subject to 41pc DIRT.
Why is there not a level playing field and why should some savings be tax free while others are not?
BLACKROCK, CO CORK
LEARN PRIVATE SECTOR LESSON
* As a private sector worker without any pension, no guaranteed employment and less than two weeks’ holiday a year, I would like to welcome back the 27,000 teachers after their two-week Easter holiday on full pay, guaranteed jobs and pensions for life.
From the antics at your annual ‘Whingefests’ (conferences), it would appear many of you feel underpaid, overworked and not appreciated.
Guess what? None of the 70pc workforce I belong to in the private sector feel your pain, and any stress you’re feeling will be softened by the fact that it will be no time at all until the two-month fully paid summer holidays kick in.