Sweepings

15July2014 Sweeping away

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. A quiet day I sweep the drive

ScrabbleMarywins, but gets under 400. perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Nadine Gordimer – obituary

Nadine Gordimer was a masterly liberal South African novelist who chronicled her country’s journey from apartheid to troubled democracy

Nadine Gordimer in 2008

Nadine Gordimer in 2008 Photo: AP

7:00PM BST 14 Jul 2014

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Nadine Gordimer,who has died aged 90, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991 and was widely recognised as one of the finest writers in the English language, though her work remained constantly rooted in the political problems of her native South Africa.

She was born on November 20 1923 in Springs, outside Johannesburg, the daughter of Isidore Gordimer, a Latvian Jewish watchmaker, and his English wife, Nan. Educated at the all-white Convent of our Lady of Mercy until the age of 10, she was then home-schooled after being diagnosed with a heart condition. By that time she had already begun writing poetry, and by 15 had published the first of some 100 short stories; more than 20 books would follow.

Nadine Gordimer at home in Johannesburg in 2007 (AP)

Though she had little formal education and her parents remained frustratingly apolitical, Nadine herself began to read assiduously and, at the age of 21, attended the University of Witwatersrand. Despite her restless mind, she remained confined within her white, middle-class, liberal environment. It was this restricted social sphere that would frame both the strengths and the weaknesses of her literary work, for her characters would consistently highlight the limitations and corruptions of white South Africa while remaining firmly within its boundaries.

A brief early marriage to an orthodontist, Gerald Gavronsky, ended in 1952, leaving her a single mother. She reacted by joining the bohemian set in Johannesburg, the city where she would live for the rest of her life. Her first collection of short stories, The Soft Voice of the Serpent, was published in America in 1951 and her first novel, The Lying Days, was published in 1953.

An immediate success, it told the story of Helen Shaw, a white woman who deplores racial bigotry but remains passively inside her car during a race riot in Johannesburg. This kind of moral dilemma was to remain typical of Gordimer’s future work — as was the tendency for moral enlightenment, particularly for female characters, to be focused around the failure of a romantic relationship.

In 1954 she married her second husband, Reinhold Cassirer, an art dealer and refugee from Nazi Germany who actively supported her interest in black politics. The couple sheltered a leading dissident, Albert Luthuli, under their roof while he was being tried for anti-state activities. Nadine Gordimer, meanwhile, joined the ANC and became a sometime messenger and chauffeur for the organisation.

In 1958 she published A World of Strangers, whose central character Toby Hood was largely based on the real life English publisher, Anthony Sampson, who edited the radical Drum magazine from 1951 to 1955. It was through her friendship with Sampson that Gordimer became acquainted with many leading black radicals, including Can Themba, Bloke Modisane and Nelson Mandela.

Her friendship with Mandela was to become of central importance in her life. Decades later, after his release, divorce from Winnie Mandela, and the end of his political career, he would ask Nadine Gordimer to dinner. In the Fifties, however, the primary effect of her acquaintance with ANC dissidents was to radicalise both her writing and her thought. But her thinking was ahead of her writing and though A World of Strangers describes enormous social problems, its resolution appears naive and idealistic.

The gravity of actual events, however, soon began to overtake her fictional depictions. By 1960, the year of the Sharpeville massacre and the declaration of a State of Emergency, she had made numerous friends in the ANC. But this world was collapsing. “It was an incredible time,” she said, “when almost everyone I knew was in jail or fleeing.”

She was left in a sudden state of solitude. Occasion for Loving (1963) brought her first three novels to their logical conclusion with its realisation of social failure. In it, Jessie Stilwell is essentially the same central character as Helen Shaw, though now older and married with children. Her world is questioned when a mixed-race love affair takes place in her house and Jessie merely wishes to evade the issue and to be left alone in idealistic liberal isolation.

Nadine Gordimer, by contrast, chose to speak out frequently, notably making speeches against censorship. In 1966 she wrote two articles on the arrest and trial of Bram Fischer, a leading white liberal, in which her admiration for his integrity was manifest. This was to resurface 13 years later, when she would base a character in Burger’s Daughter, one of her greatest books, on him.

At the time, however, her interest in his trial led to The Late Bourgeois World (1966), which was more explicitly linked to actual historical events than any of her previous novels. She wrote that “it was an attempt to look into the specific character of the social climate that produced the wave of young white saboteurs in 1963-64”. In it, the central character is prepared to risk personal danger when she steps out of her white cocoon and comes to the assistance of a black friend. Deemed dangerous by the authorities, the novel was banned.

Her fifth novel, A Guest of Honour (1971), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and, for once, was not set in South Africa but in an independent black African state, which provided the backdrop for the clash between blacks and blacks. For Nadine Gordimer always saw herself, and particularly with regard to A Guest of Honour, as an African novelist.

Nadine Gordimer in 1986 visiting Alexandra black township near Johannesberg (CORBIS)

In 1974 she won the Booker Prize with what is widely regarded as one of her best works, The Conservationist. Unusually, its central character is male and an arch-conservative, whose personal struggle is for the possession of land against its black inheritors – a battle he is destined to lose. Writing in the New Statesman, Paul Theroux noted that the book “makes practically every other novel I’ve reviewed in the past few years look like indulgent trifling”.

On June 16 1976, 15,000 schoolchildren joined a protest which became known as the Soweto Revolt. Two children were to die, and Burger’s Daughter (1979) was, in large part, Nadine Gordimer’s response to this tragedy: Rosa Burger is the daughter of an Afrikaner leader who is bequeathed the burden of failed white radicalism when her father dies in custody. Though she rejects her inheritance and settles for a job as a physiotherapist, treating the victims of the Soweto riots, she, too, is arrested, merely on the grounds of having been connected to other activists. “We whites… are solely responsible, whether we support white supremacy or, opposing, have failed to unseat it,” Nadine Gordimer wrote, and Burger’s Daughter, too, was immediately banned in her home country.

Despite this oppression she was never tempted to go into exile, believing that it was her literary duty to fight apartheid from within. She did confront the topic of exile, however, in July’s People (1981) which centred on a white family fleeing civil war. It was the first of her works explicitly set in a South African future and, reflecting her view of the state of the nation at the time, was her most pessimistic work.

Nadine Gordimer in 1980

Her novel of 1987, A Sport of Nature, was not her most successful, though its conclusion celebrates South Africa’s gradual liberation from apartheid, so prefiguring the release, in 1990, of her old friend Nelson Mandela. She marked this event with My Son’s Story in which she departed from her normal prose style by writing the central narrative from the point of view of a male black activist, Sonny, who begins an affair with a white human rights lawyer. The themes of love, politics, and personal and political betrayals are once again highlighted and the book was a worldwide success.

By the time of None to Accompany Me (1994), apartheid had crumbled. But Gordimer rejected the notion that South Africa had become a less interesting place. Vera Stark, the central character, is a lawyer who pursues human rights work not out of the then much-discussed “white guilt”, but out of a need to engage with the place to which, by birth, she understood she had no choice but to belong. The book contrasted the difference between justice and empowerment, making the point that once former victims had gained positions of power, they often did not know how to deal with their newly-gained strength.

With these concerns already bubbling away in 1994, it was no surprise that Nadine Gordimer would eventually turn her sights on corruption and misrule under the ANC – the subject of her final novel No Time Like the Present (2012). “We were naive,” she reflected in an interview with The Telegraph after the book’s publication, “because we focused on removing the apartheid government and never thought deeply enough about what would follow.”

Her literary trajectory from None to Accompany Me to No Time Like the Present spanned three novels – The House Gun (1998); The Pickup (2001); and Get a Life (2005). In that time she criticised her fellow writers for novels that “do not deal with today”. But she did not make that mistake. The House Gun followed a crime of passion, and was fired by interactions between races which constantly shifted with the political and economic upheavals of the time. The Pickup put usual arguments about immigration into reverse, telling the story of a white South African woman, Julie Summers, who follows an illegal Arab immigrant back to his homeland, where she becomes the outsider.

Get a Life, about a man’s battle against cancer which forces him into a period of quarantine (during which he is separated from his wife and three year-old child) was an excursion from her usual literary territory – more personal and less political, and less well-received as a result. But Nadine Gordimer was soon forced to confront the scourges of contemporary South Africa again, and in the most dramatic style.

Nadine Gordimer presenting Nelson Mandela with the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2006 (EPA)

In 2006, thieves broke into her home. During the robbery she and her housekeeper were dragged upstairs; her housekeeper was punched and kicked when she started screaming, prompting Gordimer, who even in her youth stood only 5ft 1in tall, to upbraid the attackers. After both women had been locked in a cupboard, the robbers left. Asked about her thoughts at the time, Nadine Gordimer recalled musing simply: “Oh well, it’s my turn to experience what so many others have.”

In 1991 she had become the first South African – and the third African ever – to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, with The Conservationist and Burger’s Daughter singled out as masterpieces. Though she always claimed, unlike her old friends Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, not to have the courage of a true revolutionary, or to have shrugged off the selfishness of the writer, still she never ceased to express in print the problems of her country as she saw them – and to do so as truthfully as she could.

Nadine Gordimer in London in 2012

“You accept or reject the influences around you, you are formed by your social enclosure and you are always growing,” she said more than a decade after the fall of apartheid. “To be a writer is to enter into public life. I look upon our process as writers as discovery of life.

“I have failed at many things,” she added, “ but I have never been afraid.”

Reinhold Cassirer died in 2001. Nadine Gordimer is survived by a daughter of her first marriage and a son from her second.

Nadine Gordimer, born November 20 1923, died July 13 2014

Guardian:

We all realise that Aldi is the EasyJet of the supermarket world (Report, 1 July), but most shoppers do not realise how basic its services are and how this impacts on the disabled. Aldi sells food cheaply but does not offer any of the services normally found in supermarkets such as papers, stamps etc, making them more like the old wholesale warehouses that used to sell to the public.

Being disabled, I have have been unable to find wheelchairs or seating at Aldi. In my experience, checkout assistants do not normally help people to pack at the checkouts. They seem to be paid on how fast they scan the goods and cannot scan and pack as they process the items. Some assistants try to help; others do not. It’s obvious why people shop at Aldi, but I’m not sure it should be compared to other fully featured supermarkets. It changes its products frequently and something you like may not be there next week – and it has a very limited range of vegetarian food.
Phillip Brown
Westbury, Wiltshire

National Grid‘s high case scenario says the price of electricity could double over the next 20 years (Report, 10 July), which it could. But then again, it could halve. Predicting the future is more likely to be wrong than right. What we do know from evidence is that where there is a large percentages of electricity supplied from variable power sources (ie primarily wind and solar), peak electricity prices – the most expensive ones during the day and where companies make their profits – are falling rapidly, thereby bringing down the wholesale cost of electricity.

We also know from evidence that bills are as low as they can be in an energy system where real efforts are made to reduce total energy demand and improve energy efficiency. Neither of these strategies are being followed with any conviction in Britain.

On the other hand, again from evidence, the California electricity crisis of 2001 occurred because the economic justification for all the changes undertaken relied on wholesale prices coming down, and many analyses showed that they would. In the event, wholesale prices went up and led to a $40-45bn bill for customers. Now with Britain’s electricity market reform, the costs to consumers of its strategy  can only be justified if wholesale prices go up – and sure enough we are seeing reports showing that this will happen. Evidence, plus many other reports, dispute this. Evidence is stronger and more robust than predictions. Thus, were policy in Britain to change, and if customer concerns and their bills started to become the primary goal of energy policy in this country, then I would predict falling wholesale prices and an uncomfortable time for the incumbents – including National Grid.
Catherine Mitchell
Falmouth, Cornwall

• Your otherwise excellent article (Firm hopes to keep lights on by turning them off, 8 July) says renewables rely on “significant public subsidies”. But it is actually the electricity from fossil fuels that is subsidised, because users do not pay for the environmental damage caused by the associated carbon dioxide emissions. Economists can argue over the true cost of burning fossil fuels when the environmental damage is factored in, but current users of electricity certainly aren’t paying it. The money paid to wind farms and other renewable sources of generation is not so much a subsidy as a market fudge because politicians don’t see paying for environmental damage as a vote winner – particularly when no country wants to be the first to penalise its industry with higher costs. However,  as the Stern report showed, it is cheaper to curb emissions than to pay for the problems caused by climate change. We need to ensure that the loose accusation that renewables are subsidised is firmly rebutted.
Peter Newbery
Bristol

• National Grid is working with some big users to temporarily cut back on electricity when supply is having difficulty keeping up with demand. On a much larger scale, utilities could offer any user a tariff based on the National Grid’s spot market price in real time (with a percentage added to cover distribution costs). This tariff would have considerable price volatility. Many different smart products would be developed to enable users to automatically reduce their bills by time-shifting demand from high prices to lower prices. Price predictions could be broadcast that, among other factors, took account of the weather on intermittent renewable output. This would enable many smart products to be much more efficient.
Stewart Reddaway
Ashwell, Hertfordshire

• The most recent figures on complaints regarding energy bills from the Energy Ombudsman is yet another sign that Britain’s energy billing system is in urgent need of improvement through new technology. Currently our energy bills are often estimated. This would be an unthinkable situation in any other industry, but one which we’ve resigned ourselves to in energy. The situation around switching providers is just as problematic. Currently, a third of those who switch suppliers or tariffs end up on a worse deal, often because they don’t have accurate information about their energy use. It is no surprise that these issues are at the heart of so many complaints.

Smart meters will offer a simple solution to this, and they are coming. By 2020 every British household will be offered a smart meter. This new technology will enable households to see their energy consumption in pounds and pence and will put an end to estimated bills. Moreover, it should reduce the number of inaccurate bills and so eliminate so many of the easily-solved causes of today’s complaints.
Sacha Deshmukh
Chief executive, Smart Energy GB

The proposal of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to recommend access to bariatric surgery for patients with some forms of diabetes and a BMI of 30 (Report, 11 July) begs the question of clinical commissioning groups’ capacity to fund the consequent expenditure. Nice’s mandates and guidelines ignore the opportunity cost of their recommendations. What should CCGs cut to fund Nice’s proposed improvements? Where are their recommendations of which low-value interventions to eradicate?
Professor Alan Maynard
University of York

• As a 14-year-old in Rochdale, I missed the part where England won the World Cup in 1966, out on my paper round. Now 62, I am unlikely to see England win a trophy in my lifetime. Brazil have won five. Get over it, Brazilians, you have plenty of memories and I’m sure will rise again (Sport, 14 July).
Gary Grindrod
Poole, Dorset

• So the Guardian’s decided to have a spot-the-difference competition between pages 1 of the main and sports sections. Still it will, perhaps, be more satisfying than hunt the female sports- people. Did Heather Stanning not rate a photo (Rowing, page 9, Sport)? The usual dearth of women. Guardian, please, when will you take equality seriously.
Dr Pat Perks
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

• Leo Benedictus (After the storm, 12 July) only half remembers the joke about the hapless Frank Haffey, the Scotland goalkeeper on the day they lost 9-3 to England in 1961. In answer to the question “What’s the time?”, the response of “Nearly ten past Haffey” is both much funnier and more logical than the quoted “Half past Haffey”.
Martin Pennington
Leicester

• Richard Walker shows complete mastery of World Cup cliche (Letters, 14 July). Yes, he’s certainly got that in his locker.
John Irving Clarke
Wakefield

• Jean McGowan asks who the female regulars on the Guardian Letters page are (Letters, 12 July). Me! I appear quite often, to my friends’ and family’s amusement. I say I’m your token Northern Ireland female.
Sharman Finlay
Ballyclare, Antrim

On Friday the House of Lords will be debating the assisted dying bill. I am really pleased that this bill is getting so much media coverage (Report, 14 July).

However, it is extremely frustrating that so many articles, programmes and debates in the media are confusing “assisted dying” with “assisted suicide”. They are very, very different.

We need the media to be clear about this. I have multiple sclerosis, am disabled and would not support a law allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia. “Assisted suicide” would allow medical assistance for people who are not imminently dying to end their lives.

I do not believe the safeguards could ever be in place to protect elderly, ill or disabled people from feeling pressurised to do this. However, the bill being debated on Friday is an assisted dying bill. The bill would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor if they choose to do so. This would give people who are going to die within six months choice, control and peace of mind over their final few weeks and days. I fully support this. The bill is about people who are imminently dying, not people who are living. People like myself who are living with a non-terminal illness or disability could not choose, or be put under pressure, to end our lives.

In Oregon they have had an assisted dying bill for 15 years. There has been no “slippery slope” to change the law to incorporate suicide or euthanasia. I was concerned that an assisted dying bill could cause a decline in palliative care. But evidence from countries that have legal assistance to die shows that palliative care remains on an equal level. In some instances, assisted dying legislation has been catalyst for improvement of palliative care services.
Shana Pezaro
Hove, East Sussex

• As a disabled person with two disabled siblings, I feel particularly vulnerable to campaigns for assisted suicide. While society rightly strives to prevent suicide among the able-bodied and regards such suicides as tragic, there is ambivalence toward the suicides or suicide requests of the disabled, often based on the perceptions of the non-disabled of how terrible it must be to be disabled.

The vast majority of disabled people do not seek assisted suicide, but their views have been ignored in favour of celebrity suicide-seekers who are viewed as courageous when in effect they are saying: “I would rather be dead than to have to live like you.”

One of the biggest problems faced by disabled people is obtaining help, compounded by fear of being a burden or a nuisance. To give the already vulnerable the “right to be die” – actually, the right to be killed – may prove the last straw for some depressed disabled people.
Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

• Anglican bishops Desmond Tutu and George Carey have had Damascene conversions on euthanasia and now back the right of the terminally ill to end their lives in dignity. They call for a mind-shift on the issue of “aid in dying”, arguing that the church’s insistence on the sanctity of life in all situations has the effect of sanctioning anguish and pain.

It is clear that the long-brewing division in the Church of England can no longer be hidden. Our current laws are incoherent and result in patients flying off to die premature deaths among strangers in Switzerland – surely the ultimate unintended consequence.
Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews

• At last – Dr Carey breaks ranks with the Church of England and shows compassion for the terminally ill. The assisted dying law would protect the vulnerable while showing compassion to the dying. Respect for my choices should not be determined by people whose faith is meaningless to me.
Mary Williams
Sheffield

• The debate about assisted dying seems to be dominated by the religious. Do journalists really think that end-of-life issues are chiefly the remit of the religious or is it that most of us are too lazy to think about things like this and don’t mind deferring to self-appointed guardians of our morals?
Bob Morgan
Thatcham, Berkshire

• Many people would enjoy their lives more if they didn’t have the concern that they will have a painful, undignified death. It has been reported that since the Harold Shipman case, not enough morphine is being given to relieve the pain of dying patients. Doctors fear being sued if morphine given to relieve terminally ill patients’ pain hastens their death. Where is the compassion? Terminally ill people should have the choice of an assisted death if it is their wish.
Name and address supplied

• Let us hope an assisted dying bill is passed this week. A form of assisted dying was in place for some time, the Liverpool “care pathway”, introduced as a compassionate act but tragically misconceived. Doctors administered diamorphine knowing that their patients would not survive its effects beyond two days.

My mother was a victim of this system. She was robbed of her ability to swallow. We all want to die in peace and pain-free. How many of us have heard someone we love and who is at the point of death asking for release? Let’s provide that release, but properly, not through imperfect processes.
Catherine Howe
Malvern, Worcestershire

• A few years ago, a friend of mine died of an exceptionally painful form of cancer. During his last 36 hours he was in agony and although his wife requested more painkiller this was forbidden as he had been given the maximum dose. During a discussion with one of his nurses, his wife was told that patients with this form of cancer always went through 36 hours of agony before falling into a coma and then dying. There was no possibility of any last-minute relief.

His wife asked, if this was the unchangeable pattern for the end of life with this form of cancer, why his death could not be induced in order to avoid the agony.

She was told that such an action is currently illegal. As she said, if she let an animal suffer in such a way, she could be prosecuted and sent to jail. Perhaps each case should be considered on its individual circumstances.
Colin Bower
Nottingham

Independent:

Hamas must be so disappointed. Only 170 dead and not many of them the children they took such care to put in the line of fire. You see, they understand the Western media better than we do ourselves.

Hearts bleed copiously whenever Israel tries to stop Hamas rockets being launched from a clutch of domestic housing. It’s nothing to do with me. I’m not Jewish and have never been to Israel. I’m a great admirer of Arab culture and the Sufis.

But why do the Hamas/Islamic Jihad threats of genocide seem to mean nothing to the bien-pensants here? Why do we keep swallowing their propaganda whole and, without pausing for a little chewing-time, start vilifying the Israelis?

Steve Kerensky, Morecambe

 

Professor Walker is right to remind us that European colonisation has historically been catastrophic for the peoples of the territories that have been annexed. Canadian Indians, Australian Aborigines, Caribs suffered horrendously. The Spanish Empire wrecked civilisations. And it is no different with Israel. Since that country has already instituted apartheid, the logical thrust of its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, the original owners of the land, will be to obliterate them.

Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire

I wonder if the Israeli government realises how its lethal and apparently indiscriminate attack on Gaza is affecting public opinion, even among moderates, around the world?

Harriet Kennett, South Warnborough, Hampshire

 

Your correspondent Dr Jacob Amir’s (Letters, 12 July) history of Palestine in 1947 is highly selective, and accords with what Israel wants us to believe.

He claims that Palestinan Jewry accepted the 1947 UN partition plan, but ignores the many Jews who rejected it and wanted still more land than the 60 per cent they received from the UN. He also ignores the many Arabs who then and today oppose ethnic discrimination and favour ethnic equality within a democratic state (what today is called “the one-state solution”).

Within this framework, there would be no need to dismantle the settlements, but the settlers would have to accept the principles of democracy and ethnic equality. What is so bad about that?

John Bibby, York

 

The Israeli government has told residents in Gaza to leave their homes before the planned attack takes place. Just where are they supposed to go?

Alison Chown, Bridport, Dorset

 

In the current conflict in Gaza casualty figures play a large role in the minds of uninvolved observers. When they hear that no Israelis have been killed by missiles fired from Gaza into Israel, but that 100 Gazans have been killed by Israeli counter-strikes, people tend to sympathise with the side that has the larger body count. But that is simplistic.

Notwithstanding the fact that c.650 missiles that have been fired from Gaza into Israel in the past few days, starting the conflict, there have been no deaths in Israel because the majority of the missiles targeted at populated areas have been intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. This has been developed by Israel at great expense precisely to protect its civilian population from such repeated attacks. The Red Alert alarm sounds to warn civilians to run for cover.

Jack Cohen, Netanya, Israel

Has Israel never considered another option in its relationship with Gaza? Instead of endless bombing which achieves nothing except to stoke further resentment and hate why not try killing with kindness? Building hospitals, schools, and generally contributing to the welfare of the people of Gaza would considerably lessen the appeal of Hamas and it might cause Israel to pause before it destroys its own handiwork.

Nicky Ford, Guildford, Surrey

 

Return of the ‘snoopers’ charter’

As Benjamin Franklin  said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty,  to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” When is a snooping charter, not a snooping charter– when David Cameron and his stooge Nick Clegg call it the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (report, 11 July).

Will this legislation be applied to companies?  Will it apply to multinationals that supply weapons to terrorists?  Will it apply to tax dodgers? Will it apply to politicians? No? Thought not.

This draconian law isn’t happening in other EU countries, so why just the UK? It would seem that Obama and the NSA’s influence trumps everything, even EU law.

In 1979 Stiff Little Fingers sang “They take away our freedom in the name of liberty”. They were singing about the terrorists; 35 years later it could equally apply to our government.

Julie Partridge, London SE15

 

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill has been allotted one day this week before the Commons and one day before the Lords before voting day and the summer recess.

This Bill has the support of all three political leaders and directly flouts the ruling of the European Court of Justice that the UK government’s powers to submit all UK citizens to electronic surveillance without particularity, judicial oversight, appeal or review are essentially illegal.

The European Human Rights Convention provides guarantees of legal protection for all citizens. This essential security is explained in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 1948.

Respect for the Declaration, and implementation of the international human rights conventions that followed, is as fundamental to democracy as is the independence of the judiciary.

What evidence suddenly convinced Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband that this Bill was so urgent that it must be whipped through to the vote, thereby denying Parliament the time to consider the implications and consequences of  their votes?

And why, given the acts of terrorism and violence, does the UK Government impose severe cutbacks on our police forces, and deny the police a more than decent pay rise?

Vanessa Redgrave, London SW1

 

Network Rail is definitely on track

Network Rail has been entrusted by its regulator and Government to spend and invest £38bn over the next five years in running and improving Britain’s railway (“Trains, fines and big claims – Network Rail is way off track”, 11 July).

A strong and diverse supplier base is crucial to our success. We have over 4,000 regular suppliers and of the £7bn spent and invested in our railway last year, 98.5 per cent was with companies that are based or have significant presence in the UK.

As someone new to the industry, I see clearly that we need to make further improvements, especially to train punctuality, which currently stands at 90 per cent, and we will do so over the coming years. Overall, the rail network is providing its users with a service that is seeing record levels of safety, passenger numbers, satisfaction and investment but there is still much to improve.

We recognise that we are entirely accountable for investing wisely and making every penny count to improve our railway. That is precisely what we are and will be doing.

Mark Carne, Chief Executive, Network Rail, London N1

Failing schools? Blame the council

The head of Ofsted castigates councils for not raising concerns about under-performing schools (report, 12 July).

So, after 12 years of successive governments forcing the transfer of nearly all education funding from Local Education Authorities to schools and the private sector, thus leading to the dismantling of School Effectiveness Services across the country, followed by drastic reductions in other council funding which make it impossible to find money to maintain such services, how exactly are councils supposed to do that?

John Prescott urged Tony Blair not to abolish LEAs because then any blame for shortcomings would fall on national government. Wrong again, John.

Paul Clein, Liverpool

 

Same-sex ballroom dancing ban

Joyce Grenfell would have been dismayed to learn that two ladies should not dance together and then would not have written, “Stately as a galleon, we glided across the floor…” (report, 11 July).

Lorna Roberts, London N2

 

Bemused by bearded barbs

Janet Street-Porter writes (12 July) that she doesn’t know a single woman who finds a full beard remotely attractive. As someone with a full beard, I can put her mind at rest.

Steve Mills, London SW17

Times:

Scotland’s higher education and scientific research benefit from the best of both worlds

Sir, Scotland has one of the world’s most successful higher education systems. Much of this success is because Scottish HE and research enjoy the best of both worlds. Scotland is an integral part of the UK Higher Education and Research Council network. Scottish institutions receive over 13 per cent of the UK Research Council funding and receive 13 per cent of the research funding distributed by the UK charities. Scottish researchers also benefit from access to the national and international facilities and collaborations which the UK research councils support. This has been complemented by devolution of direct funding for the universities. This has allowed Scotland to pursue policies such as research pooling which brings together the complementary strengths of different institutions.

The break-up of the UK would undermine this so we profoundly disagree with the letter (July 8) from Professors Bryan Macgregor and Mike Danson and Dr Stephen Watson claiming that an independent Scotland “will be better placed to support its universities”.

An independent Scotland will face many financial challenges and the Scottish government has not convinced on how it will balance the budget after 2016, putting research resources in jeopardy.

Scotland makes important contributions to UK and international research through well-established networks that depend significantly on resources shared with the rest of the UK. Both Scotland and the UK will be the poorer if this is damaged in any way.

Professor John Coggins

Glasgow and

Professor Susan Shaw

Dunblane

Sir, Sir Michael Atiyah’s faith in a Scottish liberality on immigration is not borne out by the Yes side’s own plans and White Paper. If he had made voter inquiries to them like I have — including several times through decent, caring Yes supporters who had no idea that their side’s position is as it is — he would find that they will not budge from threatening us with a new Clearances. They will not make it an unrefusable entitlement to inherit citizenship from a parent.

Maurice Frank

Edinburgh

Sir, You publish a lament from a person of Scottish descent, living in England but still convinced she has a right to vote in the referendum.

Such an important poll cannot rely on the vagaries of who, (in)exactly, qualifies as Scottish. Parenthood or place of birth should count for nothing compared to the views of those who live there. Before moving south I worked for almost 40 years in Scotland. Had I remained there, I reckon that, even as a Welshman, I would had earned the right to express a view on the future of the country. Once I moved away, my views became irrelevant.

Shorthand references to “the Scots” unfortunately bolster this erroneous sense of injustice. Whatever the people of Scotland decide in September, it is permanent residence that should be the chief criterion for eligibility to vote.

Trevor Field

Hexham, Northumberland

Sir, As Professor Pennington points out (letter, July 11), an independent Scotland would apply to join Nato to be protected by the very nuclear weapons which the SNP and its supporters abhor.

Stuart Smith

Helensburgh

Family members, often grandparents, who care for children miss out on the extra cash for foster parents and others

Sir, I welcome the extra money and leave entitlements the government has introduced for adoptive families but I wonder why these are available only to those who adopt and not to the hidden army of 200,000 grandparents and family (kinship) carers who raise children which cannot live with their parents and have similarly difficult backgrounds.

Kinship carers provide stable homes to traumatised children who would otherwise be in the care system. Thus they stay within their wider family, and huge amounts of state money are saved. Outcomes for children in kinship care tend to be better than outcomes for those in care. Yet despite having significant needs, they are usually left unsupported. As a result seven in ten carers are stressed, depressed or isolated. As they have no leave entitlements, nearly half give up their jobs. Many end up in poverty.

Kinship carers deserve the same recognition as adopters, and a poll published today suggests the public agrees with them. It’s time to care about kinship care.

Sam Smethers

Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus

Cathy Ashley

Chief Executive, Family Rights Group

Robert Tapsfield

Chief Executive, The Fostering Network

Elaine Farmer

Professor of Child and Family Studies, University of Bristol

Barbara Hutchinson

Stunning is not incompatible with Islamic requirements when butchering animals for food

Sir, As a practising Muslim who has been closely involved with the question of Islamic slaughter of animals, I applaud Nizar Boga for stating that stunning is not incompatible with Islamic requirements and that not stunning compromises animal welfare (“Koran doesn’t ban stunning animals, insists imam”, July 7).

I would add that non-stunning also compromises the health of consumers — adrenaline, for example, released into the body by the slaughter process is accepted as a carcinogen.

I would like to express equally strongly how much I deplore Mr Abdul Majid Katme’s statement that he is against stunning because of his desire to “follow the Prophet” — thus giving an extremely inaccurate and negative impression of the Prophet’s attitude to animal welfare. No one is trying to prevent the throat cut and other specific halal requirements, but the Prophet added at the end of his directives on treating the creature to be slaughtered with utmost consideration and not letting it be aware that slaughter is intended so as not to upset it, “wa arih dhabeehatak” (and relax the animal which is to be slaughtered). As precise stunning was not available in his time, one can only conclude that his statement providentially left the door open for it, probably even alludes to it — and to not stun pre slaughter is actually unhalal now that the possibility of totally preventing the animal’s suffering is an option.

Princess Alia Al Hussein

Amman, Jordan

It is worth being correct about the exact time of events in the lead-up to the Great War

Sir, Two errors regularly appear in connection with the beginning of the Great War in August 1914. Firstly, it is said that Great Britain declared war on Germany at midnight on Aug 4 when of course it was at 11pm — the midnight in Britain is being confused with it being midnight in Berlin. The second error is the assumption that Edward Grey made his famous remark about “The lamps going out all over Europe” the same evening that war was declared. According to Grey’s own account he was speaking to a friend the night before, ie, at dusk on Aug 3. JA Spender, a close ally of Grey and editor of the Westminster Gazette, made a strong claim for being the “friend”. In his memoirs, Life, Journalism and Politics published in the late 1920s, he recalled that it was when Grey was looking out of his Foreign Office window and saw the first lamps in the Mall being lit that he spoke his immortal lines.

Gerald Gliddon

Brooke, Norfolk

Lady? Woman? If it matters, then men must all be gentlemen – and other issues of note

Sir, You report that the British Dance Council will vote on a new rule that partnerships for dance competitions will be “one man and one lady” unless otherwise stated (July 11).

Why is it not “one man and one woman”? What is wrong with the word “woman” (or women).

If it is assumed that all women are “ladies” why are men not given the same benefit of any doubt and assumed to be “gentlemen”?

Marilyn Healy

Perth

Sir, Sweden has a new female archbishop. Antje Jackelén was installed on June 15 as Archbishop of Uppsala, the head of the church of Sweden.

Inger Lock

Crowborough East Sussex

Sir, You say (July 14) that Muslim chaplains condone beating women “to bring them to goodness”. Muslim chaplains cannot be blamed for following the teaching of the Koran which says: “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their bed and beat them” (Surat An-Nisa, 34)

Nabil Jajawi

London NW9

Telegraph:

SIR – Clive Aslet writes of the enigmas of the “death-defying” yew tree. Another aspect of the yew’s remarkable regenerative properties is found in its medicinal poison. Sir Herbert Maxwell, quoting Pliny, explains that the adjective toxicus (“poisonous”) was once written taxicus – from taxus, the yew.

The cancer treatment, Taxol, relies on the needles of specific species of yew tree.

Prof Peter O Behan
Bearsden, Dunbartonshire

SIR – A friend of mine recalls being told at school one day never ever to eat yew berries as they were deadly poisonous. On his way home he saw an elderly man under a yew tree eating the berries. When my friend warned him of the error of his ways, the elderly man said: “My boy, eat these and you’ll never have cancer.” Since then at every opportunity, mainly in the churchyard on Sundays, my friend will devour a handful of the red berries (discarding the stones). The old man would be heartened to hear that today the yew is indeed being researched in the fight against cancer.

SIR – Michael Gove’s ban on holidays in term time has led to several prosecutions (report, July 12). But police, firemen, postal delivery staff and other key workers cannot all simply down tools and push off on seven weeks’ summer holiday. If vital services are to be maintained, their holidays need to be evenly spread, meaning that some of these workers’ holidays will be squeezed into term time.

Are their children expected to have no holidays or to holiday with just one parent?

Peter Forrest
London N6

SIR – During 18 years of headship in the primary sector, I had many requests from parents to take their children on holiday during term time. I cannot remember refusing any of them.

On most occasions the parents could not go away at any other time, or could not afford the ridiculous price hikes during holiday periods. Most requests were during the summer term when, in any case, there were a lot of disruptions such as sports days or swimming galas. We prepared a programme of work for the children to complete during their absence. The resultant goodwill was of great benefit to the school.

Mike Aston
Wollaston, Worcestershire

Policing appearance

SIR – Might I suggest that the 10-point code of ethics drawn up by The Royal College of Policing includes the appearance of officers?

The black shirts, combat trousers and boots of police officers, together with their often shaved heads and frequent stubble, makes them look unapproachable. Where did the idea of baseball caps come from, and what practical use do they serve?

Do their managers not care what the public thinks about them?

Dr Chris Daley
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Operation Jupiter

SIR – Your leading article rightly recalls our soldiers’ bravery in the First World War and today. Last Friday, a House of Commons motion also commemorated Operation Jupiter, that took place during the Second World War on July 10-12 1944. This was part of the pivotal 40-day battle for Hill 112 near Caen, a hill that Rommel described as the key to Normandy. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war and its intensity has been compared by military historians to Verdun and Passchendaele. 7,000 soldiers died – 2,000 of them in 24 hours.

Operation Jupiter was fought by the 130 Brigade of the 43rd (Wessex) Division – comprising young, courageous Territorials including Royal Artillery, Royal Tank Regiments and county infantry regiments from Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Cornwall, Worcestershire and Scotland – against the fanatical SS Hitlerjugend, Panzer, Tiger and Grenadier tank battalions. Those who defeated Hitler’s Germany and saved our country, our parliamentary democracy and Europe itself must also now be remembered.

Sir Bill Cash MP (Con)

London SW1

Off yer bike, postie

SIR – I live in a small village that is served by two postmen, whom I recently complimented on a brand-new Post Office van. They explained that they were not allowed to use their bicycles any more on health-and-safety grounds, in case they fell off. They said they only did two miles a day in the van, which was taxed and insured. Is this why the price of stamps has gone up?

Lindy Dane

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

The demise of the pub

SIR – Mark Prior is far from alone in regretting that pubs have become like kindergartens (Letters, July 12).

Licensees today are so desperate to get people through the door that they will tolerate unacceptable behaviour. In doing so they drive away good customers.

Iain Gordon

Banstead, Surrey

SIR – Most pubs these days are like a cross between a crèche and a disco. Despite being virulently anti-smoking, I would back its return in pubs if only to get rid of the shrieking infants.

Steve Thomas

Brackley, Northamptonshire

The Bhoys from Brazil

SIR – Cowdenbeath, who have historically been one of the worst teams in Scottish professional football, were, some 30 years ago, nicknamed with true Scottish irony, “The Blue Brazil”.

Given the manner of their capitulation in the World Cup, should Brazil now be called “The Yellow Cowdenbeath”?

Eric Davidson
Perth

Big fridges mean fewer trips to the supermarket

SIR – You report on a study commissioned by the Department of Energy & Climate Change urging us to stop buying big fridges and large televisions.

It is a 16-mile (26km) round trip to our nearest good food shop. We take little interest in sell-by dates because what is kept in fridge and freezer will long outlast them. The result is far fewer fuel emissions and fuel costs, and little food wastage.

Professor Michael Jefferson
Melchbourne, Bedfordshire

SIR – As an renewable energy consultant engineer, I was bemused by the idea that the middle classes should stop buying large fridges and televisions in order to save £36 per year. The kind of people who have £2,000 to spend on a fridge don’t care about saving money and will gladly drive huge off-road vehicles in urban areas. If the team at Loughborough University had concentrated on helping households do an energy audit, this may have been of more benefit.

In my opinion, if house insulation was improved with air heat exchangers (heat pumps), large electrical devices would actually reduce heating energy bills.

Tim Wynne-Jones
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – If I am to buy a smaller fridge, where will I store the copious amounts of fresh produce that I am encouraged by health initiatives to grow in my vegetable patch?

Jules Bowes Davies
Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire

SIR – Lord Carey’s support for “assisted dying”, based on his belief that “the old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of needless suffering” is not so much astonishing as baffling.

Killing a weak person is a counsel of despair. If the Good Samaritan had followed it, he would have knocked the injured man on the head to spare his suffering rather than taking him to an inn to be cared for. No doubt pouring oil and wine into his wounds appears primitive, but it was a much more hopeful approach.

Lord Carey’s words offer no comfort for the sick and dying, but they will boost a campaign that is constantly seeking good reasons for doing a very bad thing.

Ann Farmer

Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – For most people, palliative care can alleviate much of the suffering that the dying process causes, but for some it cannot.

We believe in compassionately respecting the wishes of terminally ill adults who wish to control the time and manner of their death, if they consider their suffering unbearable. And rather than turn a blind eye to dying people taking matters into their own hands, a new law with up-front safeguards, as recently recognised by the President of the Supreme Court, would do far more to protect potentially vulnerable people than the status quo.

Sarah Wootton
Chief Executive, Dignity in Dying
London W1

SIR – Lord Avebury’s no doubt well-meant views on the Assisted Dying Bill (Letters, July 7) suggest to me either naivety or a determination to ignore the fact that, however much the law requires the patient to “initiate” the process and two doctors to sign it off, if passed, its operation will be open to misuse as Charles Moore suggested.

The law will not prevent anyone hinting or suggesting to a patient that they “initiate” the process, any more than the Abortion Act prevents doctors signing off approvals for abortions in blank, leaving others to fill in the name on the form.

This is compounded by a Crown Prosecution Service which appears more than unwilling to prosecute in such circumstances. If it is passed, the Bill will ensure that in time the ability to have one’s demise “assisted” will actually provide a means for anyone to end the lives of inconvenient people while hiding behind the law to avoid punishment for their role in murder.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Lord Carey is surely to be admired for changing his view on assisted suicide after witnessing the inhumane suffering of Tony Nicklinson, who was desperate to die on his own terms. It is all very well for those who believe that their religion confirms an afterlife and therefore the sanctity of life, but that view should not be allowed to control the fates of others.

Those who wish to suffer for their belief up to the very end may do so, but that should not deny the rest of us the means to end our lives when we choose to.

B J Colby
Portishead, Somerset

SIR – I wonder if Lord Falconer has any knowledge of, or concern for, the distress and anguish this Bill will cause for the disabled when it is debated.

I am the husband of an almost totally disabled younger wife, who is not impecunious. What life can she expect, when, and if, well-meaning persons – or those who want her money – put pressure on her to end her life after I am gone?

Don Snuggs
Peterborough

SIR – It is interesting that most of the people in favour of assisted dying are not those who will be expected to write the prescription, mix the cocktail or put up the drip.

Dr Donal Collins
Gosport, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Surely Melvyn Wilcox (July 12th) is not serious in expecting sympathy for Israel as it defies international laws in its attacks on Gaza, leading to over 100 deaths, and with its prime minister stating that it will defy all pressure to cease these attacks? It must surely seem to the Palestinians that the state of Israel is a law until itself, as demonstrated over the years in its disregard of UN resolutions condemning the grab of Palestinian land through settlements, etc. All violence is wrong and only leads to more but it must be pointed out that there is a vast difference between that meted out by Israel and that engaged in by the Palestinians. It is time the rest of the world woke up and dealt with this so-called democratic state, which claims retaliation is an acceptable weapon in resolving disputed territories. Of course, without the support of the US, Israel would be much more amenable to reaching a civilised agreement, and the US bears a lot of responsibility for this tragic dispute. – Yours, etc,

MARY STEWART,

Ardeskin,

Donegal Town.

Sir, – The major beneficiary of the current fighting between Hamas and Israel is of course Iran – the main backer of Hamas and supplier of its weapons, ammunition and long range rockets. Not only does Iran get to fight a proxy war with Israel but the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians helps deflect the world’s attention from the ayatollahs’ treatment of their fellow citizens, especially women.

Last Tuesday, the Iranian journalist Marzieh Rasouli started a two-year sentence in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, where she is also due to receive 50 lashes. Marzieh Rasouli mainly writes about literature but her real crime was to support the pro-democracy street protests in Iran in 2009 and post so-called “anti-state propaganda” on her blog. She joins at least 64 journalists and bloggers already serving harsh sentences in Iranian jails. – Yours, etc,

KARL MARTIN,

Bayside Walk,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Why is it always the hallmark of western politicians and media commentary to equate Israel’s horrific assaults on civilian populations with those by the fairly insignificant efforts of Hamas to defend the people of Gaza? This is obscene.

When the two representative bodies of the Palestinian people, Hamas and Fatah, made a peaceful unity pact, the Israeli government responded in the usual way by threatening financial sanctions, walking away from the peace talks and bombing Gaza, injuring 12 civilians, including children between the ages of five and twelve.

Now, having provoked the firing of rockets by its rampage through the West Bank following the death of three Israeli teenagers (which left many Palestinians dead, injured or imprisoned), Israel is raining down terror on a practically defenceless population. Israel’s latest horrific onslaught has little to do with rocket fire from Gaza. Hysteria is being deliberately whipped up in Israel as it uses the excuse of the tragic murder of three Israeli teenagers to collectively punish the entire Palestinian population and attempt to dismantle the Fatah/Hamas unity pact.

Most western politicians and the West’s media pundits should bow their heads in shame at the lack of criticism and analysis of what is being done to Gazans. – Yours, etc,

JIM ROCHE,

Irish Anti-War

Movement,

PO Box 9260,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – I grew up gazing at the Pigeon House across Dublin Bay, and it is an indelible part of the Dublin skyline of my memory. I am saddened by the thought that the Poolbeg chimneys might be demolished. Non-Dubliners may wonder why anyone would miss two disused and rather ugly power station chimneys.

For many emigrants, the chimneys were the last thing we looked at as the plane took us away, and the first thing that we looked for on our infrequent return visits. Eyesores or not, they’re an emblem of home. – Yours, etc,

NIALL McARDLE,

Wellington Street,

Eganville, Ontario.

Sir, – Further to Frank McDonald’s “Odd couple have become markers of our capital city” (July 12th), what would Frank’s opinion be if the ESB proposed to put up two more towers at Poolbeg? – Yours, etc,

WAYNE HARDING,

The Village Inn,

Main Street,

Slane,

Co Meath.

Sir, – I read with interest the resurrection of the debate over the demolition of the Poolbeg chimneys. I propose that these twin redundant structures be replaced with one large wind turbine.

This would make a bold visual statement to both visitors and citizens at the gateway to Dublin. It would be a symbol of a modern, dynamic and sustainable economy, rather than a constant reminder of our historic and continued reliance on fossil fuels to provide power for our homes and workplaces.

Those who lament the passing of the chimneys because they “have always been there” and after a few decades “have become part of the landscape”, could now rejoice in a new wind turbine which would serve a useful function and would generate enough electricity to power about 4,000 homes in nearby Ringsend, Sandymount or Clontarf. – Yours, etc,

TOM BRUTON,

Chartered Engineer,

Rivervale,

Ashtown,

Dublin 15 .

Sir, – On behalf of all Dublin golfers, I am starting a “Save Our Chimneys” campaign, since these iconic structures have been a lot more than just “a reassuring presence” (Christian Morris, July 12th), they are an indispensable distant target to aim at on many of the Dublin golf courses. And, for the very low handicappers, “Do you mean the left or the right chimney?” Please retain the chimneys, or at least relocate the Spire so that we have something tangible to aim at. – Yours, etc,

JOHN RISELEY,

Coundon Court,

Killiney,Co Dublin.

Sir, – Why are we ignoring alternative uses for these structures?

Here are a few. Put windmills on them. Use them for the incinerator, if we ever build one. Put in lifts and platforms like the Toronto or Seattle towers and have viewing platforms, rotating restaurants and bungee jumping from a platform between them. – Yours, etc,

DAVID DOYLE,

Birchfield Park,

Goatstown,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Further to John A Murphy’s “Why we should be wary of Sinn Féin in government” (Opinion & Analysis, July 9th), mainstream Irish political parties react to events. They do not ever pre-empt them. And they will not now. They run around headless chicken-style while Sinn Féin get its troops aligned and ready to march.

There is little point in reminding ourselves of the history of Sinn Féin. Many are sickened by their sympathies and the past deeds of their leaders. That no longer matters. Those who have nothing believe that Sinn Féin will save them. They believe that anything is better than the non-policies of the mainstream parties. And so, they will vote Sinn Féin. And who can blame them?

We must remember that we get the government we deserve. The parties currently in power need to start implementing policies that will help and not hinder the people. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA R MOYNIHAN,

Castlegrange Park,

Castaheany,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – If Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin (July 12th) really want to alleviate fears about their entry into government after the next general election they should repudiate the violence of the Provisional IRA. For more than a quarter of century Sinn Féin turned its back on peaceful and democratic politics and supported a violent armed struggle that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Far from contributing to Irish unity the IRA campaign reinforced partition and deepened sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland. As my colleague Prof John A Murphy pointed out, only when the IRA campaign ran into the ground did Sinn Féin enter into a peace process. That process will only be complete when Sinn Féin disassociates itself from its violent history by accepting that the IRA was wrong and those like John A Murphy who supported a non-violent and constitutional nationalism and republicanism were right. – Yours, etc,

Prof GEOFFREY

ROBERTS,

School of History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – What is an historian if not a “revisionist” (July 12th)? It is usually said of someone whose politics you disagree with. It’s a cant, lazy term to level at Prof John A Murphy, and unworthy of the intelligence and loquacity of Gerry Adams (July 12th). – Yours, etc,

ANTONY FARRELL,

The Lilliput Press,

Sitric Road,

Arbour Hill,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – An Taoiseach has done it again. By coupling Defence with Agriculture he is effectively confirming Defence as a junior ministry.

Yet another sad day for those who take national defence seriously.

To say the least, it would never have happened in Liam Cosgrave’s time. Perhaps An Taoiseach will assign Simon Coveney a Minister of State who can look after Agriculture, so that the new Minister can concentrate properly on Defence matters? – Yours, etc,

Col DORCHA LEE (retired),

The Pines,

Beaufort Place,

Navan,

Co Meath.

Sir, – Simon Coveney, Minister for Defence and De Fences. – Yours, etc,

ÁINNLE O’NEILL,

Osprey Drive,

Templeogue,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Consigning such consummate parliamentarians as Messrs Gilmore, Quinn and Rabbitte to the backbenches makes no sense to me.

However, I wish Joan Burton well; and I sincerely hope she doesn’t rue to day she got rid of arguably Labour’s best and brightest – though somewhat long in the tooth – political operators. – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Beacon Hill,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Are we to believe that there is nobody within the gay community with the skills needed to decorate a cake, and that this is not a contrived controversy? – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS O’CALLAGHAN,

Bullock Park,

Carlow.

Sir, – I was once asked to sign a Mass card to express condolences on the death of a colleague’s relative. While I had no difficulty with offering condolences, I felt that as I was no longer a believer in the faith that expresses itself in the use of such cards, I could not in conscience add my signature to one.

I have to admit that I have now come to regard my approach as priggish and self-righteous. No useful purpose was served other than to give me the smug satisfaction of being “right”. In the broader context of decency and kindness, I know I had failed.

Perhaps the offended bakers and the offended gays should get together over a neutrally decorated humble pie and dig into it with gusto. Maybe their worlds would be a little better for the effort involved. – Yours, etc,

PETER KENNY,

Hillside Drive,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – In exploring the world of Bert and Ernie, Breda O’Brien (“Bert and Ernie’s bromance offers a lesson in tolerance”, Opinion & Analysis, July 12th) writes, “It seems increasingly difficult for a modern audience to conceive that two men could share a flat without also sharing a bed.”

This brought me back 50 years or more, to that mischievous elf Noddy, who shared a bed with Big Ears.

As a young adult, I watched Eric Morecambe share a bed with another Ernie. With the benefit of hindsight and in the interests of clarity and transparency, I must ask, was it Wise? – Yours, etc,

GERRY CHRISTIE,

Monalee,

Tralee, Co Kerry.

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:06

First published: Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:06

Sir, – The images of Christ the Redeemer and the city of Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup final were quite stunning and matched an extraordinary occasion. Brazil endured many months of vilification that it was not in control of developments and would not meet the competition deadlines. How wrong those detractors were. The atmosphere, the seamless organisation and the sheer scale and beauty of that wonderful country were unforgettable and will live long in the memory. – Yours, etc,

DEREK MacHUGH,

Westminster Lawns,

Foxrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Congratulations on your excellent World Cup coverage. Among a fine team, Tom Hennigan’s contributions stood out, in particular his appreciation of the underrated Dirk Kuyt (“Kuyt’s marathon run comes to an end”, July 10th). – Yours, etc,

BILL REDMOND,

Mountcastle Drive,

Edinburgh.

A chara, – Bill O’Herlihy’s infectious enthusiasm, quick thinking and love of fun will be sorely missed from RTÉ’s soccer coverage. – Is mise,

JASON POWER,

St Kevin’s Gardens,

Dartry, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I was pleasantly surprised by the commonsense expressed in your editorial “Protecting cyclists” (July 12th). Thanks for showing some leadership here.

In Dublin, the increase in the numbers of commuters using bicycles has been aided by the heavy-goods vehicle ban, the bike-to-work scheme and the unexpected success of the Dublinbikes rental scheme.

Safety is one of the key factors holding back even more people from choosing this convenient urban mobility solution.

We really do need to modify our transport environment so that riding a bike is as easy as riding a bike.– Yours, etc,

KEVIN O’FARRELL,

Shelmartin Avenue,

Marino, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Derek Scally (“Merkel faces dilemma over revelations about double-agent”, July 9th) provides a concise and informative overview of German–US relations in the aftermath of the most recent spying revelations.

However his depiction of this relationship as “a dialogue of the deaf” contradicts the analysis he presents in his article.

Deaf people in Ireland may be categorised by their preferred language – in the majority of cases this will be either Irish Sign Language or English.

“A dialogue of the deaf” in either language is the very opposite of the meaning suggested by Mr Scally’s use of the term, ie a failure to communicate.

This term perpetuates a profoundly misleading characterisation of deaf people. – Yours, etc,

DAVID O’BRIEN,

Currabeg,

Skibbereen,

Co Cork.

Sir, – Many thanks to Michael Flanagan (“An Irishman’s Diary”, July 14th) for reminding me of Our Boys magazine and of my Christian Brothers’ education (Donore Avenue 1948-1952 and Synge Street).

One of my memories is of the Brother reading Kitty the Hare aloud to calm down an unruly class. The other memory is of the jokes page where there were prizes of five shillings and two shillings and sixpence. The cornier the jokes were, the better.

In particular I remember the one about the lady ordering coal by telephone, to which the reply was “Certainly, Madam. Would you like it a la carte or cul de sac?” – Yours, etc,

TONY CORCORAN,

Fairbrook Lawn,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – John Fitzgerald (July 14th) should know that the alternative means of dying for a badger are to die of a combination of disease and starvation or as a result of being run over and left to die on the road. Death is never pleasant for wild animals. Furthermore, if he has any evidence of badger baiting he should present it to An Garda Síochána. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD ALLEN,

Cummeen House,

Strandhill Road,

Sligo.

Sir, – In Ciara O’Brien’s witty and informative article on electric cars (“A charged affair – my brief fling with an electric car”, Pricewatch, July 14th), she barely touches on the most dangerous feature, silence. – Yours, etc,

MATTIE LENNON,

Lacken,

Blessington,

Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

* The limitations of reason and argument in sorting the great questions of life are clearly evident in dealing with the reality of death, brought into sharp relief in the current debate about assisted dying.

What I find unhelpful is the withering scorn poured on those who believe in an afterlife. One tires of the persistent casual caricature of what believers actually believe, particularly about death and afterlife.

Faith is not an affront to reason; faith and reason occupy different worlds. Faith is unreasonable only when you are unwilling or unable to engage in conversation about your beliefs.

Believing is a kind of falling in love rather than assent to a set of propositions.

What is important for the dying person is to realise that their life was worthwhile. It is for this reason that we should not focus on what we will get in another life but what we have given in this life.

The poet William Wordsworth speaks of “that best portion of a good man’s life, those little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love”.

Moral life is not constituted by loyalty to some universal law but by living out my responsibility for the other person.

We all need assisted living prior to any consideration of assisted dying.

When dying, people tend to look back on their lives to identify what was most worthwhile and memorable.

The philosopher Aristotle saw time as the measure between events. If there are no significant humanly valuable experiences in your life, particularly that of loving and being loved, time contracts to nothing.

The dominant fear around death in Ireland has always been the expectation of God’s judgment.

There remain some residual elements of this fear sustained by the notion of Hell. The writer CS Lewis suggested that the gates of Hell were locked on the inside, the occupants refusing to leave.

A loving God is best conceived of as the council for defence. The judgment of such a God must be more like a knowing smile – an act of healing – than the judgment of a court of law.

PHILIP O’NEILL

EDITH ROAD, OXFORD, OX1 4QB

How Babe Ruth got start in life

* Babe Ruth, an American, was born as George Herman Ruth in 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland. His was a poor family. Six of his eight siblings died in childhood, and his father died in a knife fight after his mother had passed away from tuberculosis not long before that. It was a certainty back then that a boy who had a background like George, either marginally better or worse, was going to end up in St Mary’s industrial/ reformatory institution in the same city. But this place was different, not only for its time but its ethos in how it viewed children in a place run by Christian Brothers who are more famous today for abusing children than saving them. They would save George and give America and the world one of the greatest baseball players that had ever lived.

How they did it was through the kind of forward thinking that many authorities and parents are still trying to grasp the basics of even today. The order of the Xaverian Brothers, yet another strand of Christian Brothers, was different. Its ethos was simple: inadequacies of upbringing rather than deficencies of character were to blame for a child that grows into a bad man – and that any boy treated with encouragement and respect would grow into a model citizen.

It was not speculation, but based on their own tried and tested set of ideals rooted in a firm and strong morality. With a 95pc success rate it would have been hard to argue that they were not 100pc right. What also saved Babe Ruth was that it seemed these Brothers were obsessed with baseball like the rest of the United States.

BARRY CLIFFORD

OUGHTERARD, CO GALWAY

Israel must protect itself

* In consideration of the ongoing crisis in Gaza, the anti-Israel lobby in the whole world frequently attempts to portray the Jewish state as some sort of reactionary bully that disproportionately responds to every little old high-explosive rocket fired at its territory.

Such claims, however, rely on the supposition that Israel sets out to avenge itself on people and entities who attempt to and often do damage it. Such assumptions are unfairly made, and are even insulting, since revenge is something best left to Hamas terrorists and their pals, who for more than half a century have been getting back at Israel and the rest of the world for an alleged injustice 66 years ago with suicide bombings and kidnappings.

No, instead, Israel sets out to immobilise the Hamas war machine and prevent it from targeting it again: directing fire against underground supply tunnels from Egypt, ammunition depots, rocket-launching sites, and even known terrorists’ homes. It’s interesting to note that, in response to these precision attacks, Hamas has been encouraging (if not forcing) Palestinian civilians to sit between these sites and the Israeli military. Such heinous, criminal tactics as human shields are undeniably what lead to high casualty rates during these flare-ups.

In any case, every death in their war is a tragedy – more so when it’s civilian – and there must be a better way to resolve the Palestinian question. However, so long as Hamas continues to preach its “Death to all Jews” brand of anti-Semitic hatred, and to call for the annihilation of Israel, it cannot be involved in the process. Neither, though, can Israel be expected to sit on its hands in expectation of some other way presenting itself, while rockets and mortars rain down on Beer Sheva in the south, to as far north as Jerusalem itself. It must and should protect itself.

KILLIAN FOLEY-WALSH

KILKENNY CITY

Stop clamouring to be like UK

* The year 1916 is one that many go back to when discussing the real push for Irish freedom, as it is called. Indeed, commemorations at a national level seem to go back as far as 1916 in rhetoric and that is it. This year a major impetus has been put into including Irishmen who fell or were injured during the war to end all wars. Any issue that may arise from the reasons they were lain in silence before are superseded by the fact that a new group of fallen have officially joined the fallen heroes of Ireland.

This raises questions about who else should we include. Should we mention a few Fenians, or Wolfe Tone or Robert Emmet ? Should we remember Gunner McGee and the fallen of the Year of the French?

Should we go off the reservation and move also beyond the military struggle in our commemorations?

The inclusion of the fallen who fell for Britain in the Great War is welcome but does it mean that all else is forgotten in the clamour to be so like our neighbours that it seems all rather overbearing.

DERMOT RYAN

ATTYMON, ATHENRY, CO GALWAY

What a sight at the World Cup!

* My drinking pals and myself were swelling beer, and watching the World Cup final in Rio on Sunday. We were the ultimate experts on the game, the proverbial hurlers on the ditch. We did not have a care in the world especially about the EU economy. We knew it was in the capable hands of the leaders of the EU countries.

But lo and behold whom did we see ensconsed in the middle of the VIP stand in the Maracana but the Chancellor of the German republic. What a shock!

And Angela Merkel, we thought you were working.

C CASEY

CASTLEBAR, CO MAYO

Irish Independent

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