More Rain

2 August 2014 More Rain

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A damp and cloudy day

Scrabble I win, by six points but gets under 400. perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Juno Alexander – obituary

Juno Alexander was the actress wife of Terence Alexander and former Free French officer known for her joie de vivre

Juno Alexander

Juno Alexander

5:18PM BST 01 Aug 2014

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Juno Alexander, who has died aged 88, was the older sister of the Conservative politician Lord St John of Fawsley (Norman St John Stevas) and the first wife of the actor Terence Alexander; she made a name in her own right as an actress, broadcaster and local politician — and as a woman of idiosyncrasy and verve.

She appeared in television series such as Harpers West One (1961) and Love Story (1963), and as a panellist on radio shows such as Just A Minute and Going for a Song. During the war she joined the Free French and worked with the Resistance; later she served as a Conservative councillor on Richmond council, south-west London.

But rather like her brother Norman, whose personality was a little too rococo for some, and whose gossipy indiscretions were not always appreciated by his political colleagues, Juno Alexander’s joie de vivre sometimes got her into scrapes. In 1970 she was reported to have resigned her council seat after performing high kicks in the council chamber wearing black stockings and false eyelashes and calling the mayor “Darling”.

The story, she claimed, was only partly true: she had not performed high kicks, but she had certainly called the mayor “Darling” because that was what she called everybody.

Juno Alexander in the early 1970s

Juno Stevas was born in Paddington on July 2 1925. Her Greek-born father, Spyro Stevas, and her Irish mother, Kitty St John O’Connor, would go on to own and run a series of small hotels in then unfashionable parts of west London, though they later divorced.

Juno was educated at Our Lady of Sion Convent in Kensington, where the nuns sought to channel her rebellious spirit to useful ends by appointing her head girl. The treatment worked, and the nuns and the Church would remain an important influence throughout her life.

As a teenager, Juno became a competitive skater and show jumper, and after leaving school she studied ballet and drama at the Italia Conti school. She made an early appearance as a dancer at a Royal Variety Performance partnering Clive Dunn, whose shoulders, she recalled, sloped so steeply that it was impossible to remain aloft when she was hoisted on top of them. As the young Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, came backstage to meet the performers after the show, she overheard Margaret asking her sister in a stage whisper: “Is that the little girl who fell off?”

Juno Stevas in Pantomime as Prince Charming

In the early stages of the Second World War, Juno was inspired by General Charles de Gaulle’s stand against Germany and, despite having no French ancestry, she volunteered to work with the Free French, initially as a secretary at the organisation’s headquarters in Duke Street. Later, however, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Army and crossed over to France to work with the Resistance.

She claimed that once, while conveying a radio transmitter to a Resistance agent in Paris, she had been challenged by a German soldier who asked her what she had in her bag. Having been brought up not to tell lies, she told the truth — and was amazed when the soldier laughed, either because he genuinely thought she was joking or because he did not want to make a discovery that would inevitably mean the torture and death of a pretty young woman.

Following the liberation of Paris she was surprised to find, among files kept at the Gestapo headquarters, a photograph of herself meeting an agent under the clock outside Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly.

Juno Stevas in her Free French uniform

After the war Juno Stevas trained at the Webber Douglas Drama School, graduating in 1947 as the school’s “Most Promising Actress”. She immediately joined Hayes Rep as leading lady and went on to Worthing Rep the following season. There she met the newly- demobbed Terence Alexander, the actor who would become best-known for his role as Charlie Hungerford in the BBC Television detective series Bergerac. They married in 1949.

Juno Stevas on her wedding day with her brother Norman

From the late 1940s to the 1960s, Juno Alexander made frequent appearances on television, in programmes such as The Alfred Marks Show, The Max Miller Show and The Eamonn Andrews Show. After the births of her children, she did less work, but still had small parts in films and in television series, among them Compact and Garry Halliday (a precursor to Dr Who in which she appeared with her husband as his air stewardess girlfriend), and appeared on television and radio panel shows including Petticoat Line, with Anona Wynn .

Juno and Terence Alexander in Garry Halliday

In the 1960s Juno Alexander became involved with charitable and political work, serving as public relations officer for the homelessness charity Shelter, and in 1969 organising a successful ecumenical festival for human rights at Strawberry Hill.

A highly effective campaign to prevent parking meters being installed in the streets around her home in East Twickenham led to all three major parties asking her if she would be prepared to stand under their colours for Parliament. However, she felt that the House of Commons was her brother Norman’s territory, so instead she opted for local government.

She threw herself into local issues with typical enthusiasm and energy, though some situations defeated even her resourcefulness. On one occasion, while out canvassing, she knocked at a door and was greeted by a middle-aged lady with the words: “Ah, I am sure you have come to see Mother. Please follow me.” Juno Alexander was ushered into a room containing an open coffin. Startled, but still in command of the situation, she said a few prayers and made respectful noises before emerging to be offered a cup of tea. When questioned about her relationship with the deceased, she had to admit the real purpose of her visit, at which point her hostess grabbed back the teacup and said: “I am appalled by this behaviour! What IS the party coming to?”

Sadly, however, Juno’s political activities contributed to the break-up of her marriage with Terence Alexander.

After resigning from the council, Juno Alexander served as a JP and became a popular after-dinner speaker. On one occasion, before addressing an audience in Yorkshire, she went for a walk along a cliff and was amazed to see a kangaroo bounding about on the cliff top. Fearing that she must be going mad, she went straight to the nearest hostelry for a stiff whisky and was relieved when the landlord explained that there was a wallaby farm on the hill.

Juno Alexander was the mother of two sons, one of whom recalled being driven by his mother to a “green-themed” party thrown by the son of the Rolling Stones’ financial adviser Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein. As they queued among the Bentleys, Maseratis and Rolls-Royces, all waiting to clear security, Juno Alexander saw the guard looking down his nose dubiously at her tiny turquoise Fiat. Winding down the window, she shouted: “I’m so sorry, Darling; it’s the only green car I’ve got.”

Her sons survive her.

Juno Alexander, born July 2 1925, died June 29 2014

Guardian:

Children are always the innocent victims of war. In the case of the assault on Gaza (Editorial, 1 August) they have not just been the victims, but the targets. Seven out of 10 deaths have been civilians and two out of 10 have been children. And they have died horribly, in their schools, in hospital beds and while sleeping. The Israelis tell us that these deaths are accidents. Just one example of too many that gives the lie to that. At the Abu Hussein school in Jabaliya refugee camp, survivors said the school was hit by a barrage of eight shells in 15 minutes. Children tried to escape by running from room to room only to be killed or injured by the next shell. Besieged and locked in for years and with half of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants under 18, we must make reality of those two words, “never again”.
David Wilson
Co-founder, War Child

• Well over 10% of the rockets fired by Hamas at Israel in the last three weeks have exploded inside Gaza. As your newspaper accept without inquiry the Palestinian fatality statistics given by the Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza, ie Hamas, it behoves you to demand clarification of how many fatalities were caused directly or indirectly by such misfirings, particularly of civilians, including children. By indirect I mean explosions of arms stocks in Gazan schools etc.
Peter Simpson
Pinner, Middlesex

• Gaza became independent a long time ago. Wouldn’t it have benefited the population more if the huge funds that were given by the EU and other countries had been used constructively, to build up the economy, create research centres and laboratories, provide tech training, open libraries and cultural centres, instead of merely focusing on destruction? There could have been a flourishing and prosperous community and probably already a Palestinian state a long time ago. Economic exchange with Israel could have replaced the exchange of hostilities and hatred. Construction, manufacture and production of a peaceful economy is the only way forward to improve the lives of the Palestinian population. To use an old biblical phrase, swords should be turned into ploughshares.
Professor Catherine Hezser
Professor of Jewish Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies

• Muslims in Britain and France must marvel at the seeming lack of care or sympathy offered by their respective governments. Here, where journalists and pundits with opposing views endlessly debate their rhetorical positions, no journal, august or otherwise, has yet expressed its outrage by openly demanding from the leader of the opposition that he makes the position of his party unambiguously clear regarding this horror.

In these countries, there may be among their Muslim citizens increasingly disenfranchised, radicalised youths who may soon conclude that nothing they can say or do will have any effect on the viewpoint taken either by the EU or the US. In 2013, an Afghan war veteran was murdered on the streets of Britain by two men who claimed that their actions were an act of war. Whether the effects of distant wars creep ever closer or not, the governments of Europe may be ignoring this conflict at their peril.
Al-Sharif Abdullah bin Al-Hussein
London

• Andrew McCulloch (Letters, 30 July) could not be more misguided in his analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany. Is he not aware that Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founding ideology, as enshrined in its charter, is pure genocidal antisemitism, directly inspired by Nazism. German money funded the MB, which organised incitement and violence against the Copts and Jews of Egypt throughout the 30s. That Egypt is today virtually “Judenrein” would gladden the heart of any Hamas supporter. Hamas remains totalitarian, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-non-Muslim, reactionary. Aren’t these values antithetical to everything the Guardian stands for?
Lyn Julius
London

• Didn’t the Jews under siege in the Warsaw ghetto dig a network of tunnels? Wasn’t their attempts at resistance and survival a source of pride to Jewish people everywhere? Aren’t there books such as Mila 18 hailing their ingenuity and bravery in building the tunnels and defying the Gestapo attempts to control them? How can Israel now justify all the destruction and deaths because the Palestinians have also dug tunnels after being under siege for seven years? When will the world take on Israel’s hypocrisy and double standards and stop this slaughter?
Judi Oshowole
London

• It must be time to say the unsayable and talk to Hamas. The lessons from Northern Ireland are clear – we need to negotiate with all the parties involved in the war, even with those some call terrorists. Surely the EU can take the lead?
Helen Lewis
Epsom, Surrey

Put Gaza’s children before politics, says Vanessa Redgrave

Reading Julian Borger’s article (Poor training of gunners blamed for high civilian death toll in Gaza, 1 August), I recall a tense meeting with the Israelis to “exchange evidence” seven weeks after an Israeli sniper shot my son in Rafah, Gaza, in 2003, while he wore the internationally recognised high-vis orange jacket of the unarmed, non-combatant civilian. Ever since, we, a British family, have had cause to demand answers from the IDF and the Israeli government for the shooting of our child. The relatives of over 1,400 Palestinian civilians slaughtered in just four weeks have cause to do the same. As do the Israeli families of over 50 young soldiers killed trying to serve their country.

In 2003, it became obvious the Israeli government and IDF were unused to being asked to account for their rules of engagement. Our own investigation into Tom’s shooting did not remotely tally with the IDF’s cobbled together “field inquiry”. This was a document far removed from the truth, desperate to create an alternate reality to that which had actually taken place. Both we and staff at the British embassy immediately recognised it for a crude cover-up with many fabrications and mistakes – most deliberate, some possibly careless. We received no apology for Tom’s shooting, or when we ourselves were fired upon by an Israeli sniper at the Abu Houli checkpoint during one of our visits to the area.

Was it poor communication between command centres back then? Were IDF soldiers insufficiently trained? Or were they simply allowed to do what they liked, without fear of consequences? Or all three? Too many questions. Too few answers. Plus ca change… All agencies must work to stop this disgracefully wanton, careless violence. And Israel must – for once – be called to account for the way it behaves. It isn’t just the only hope for the people of Gaza. It might also be the only hope for Israel, the country with the self-titled “most moral army in the world”.
Jocelyn Hurndall
London

At midnight on Thursday, the University of London Union ceased to exist. It was the largest students’ union in Europe, representing 120,000 students from across London, and was a major centre of student life in the capital – playing a pivotal role in campaigns and activism, and publishing probably the world’s biggest student newspaper, London Student. Its abolition – undertaken by the University of London with no mandate from the student body – will, in spite of the management-speak in which it is dressed up, go down as an act of vandalism. But this development is neither accidental nor senseless: it is the result of a marketising higher education system which is run by cliques of senior managers and former academics who have, increasingly, no basic loyalty to their institutions, their students or to any meaningful conception of education as a public good. We are proud to have fought back this year, and many have been persecuted for their part in doing so, but if ULU’s fate is not to be repeated across the country, we will need to build a national movement capable of turning the tide.
Michael Chessum
ULU president 2012-14

Reading Geoff Scargill’s damning indictment of the Premier League (Letters, 24 July), I began to worry I’d been suffering a year-long hallucination and that games such as Crystal Palace 3-3 Liverpool, Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal and Cardiff 3-2 Manchester City hadn’t actually taken place. Each of those contests, and many others, easily matched the excitement of the World Cup group stages (and far surpassed most of the knock-out games). Then I wondered whether I’d imagined Vincent Kompany, Daniel Sturridge, Mesut Özil and the host of other “top European players” that ply their trade every week. Thankfully, I soon came to my senses, and can now resume looking forward to the new season. The Premier League is deeply flawed, but it is certainly not boring or lacking in quality.
Alex Larkinson
Cambridge

• Geoff Scargill would find old-style enjoyment at old-style prices in the lower leagues. Last Saturday the Hatters of Luton Town entertained Royal Antwerp and a crowd of over 3,000 to an enjoyable game in gorgeous sunshine, helped by 802 Antwerp fans. They danced, cheered and sang throughout, even though they lost 4-0.

When Luton’s third goal went in, the Belgians rejoiced so loudly that the Luton fans turned from applauding it to applauding the visitors. Football the old-fashioned way.
Mike Broadbent
Luton

• Sunday league football, despite its uneven and often waterlogged pitches, could produce a more skilful and genuinely talented kind of player, given the right financial backing. Both genders would benefit from playing purely for the love of the game. And it would bring the soul back to a sport that has been found wanting for many years. Let’s have less of this oversubscribed hype and let the once beautiful game breathe, find new roots and flower into a sport that can be played, watched and discussed for all the reasons that we as supporters can be proud of.
Robert Holmes
Cardiff

• Your report seems to express disapproval that the average age of Premier League supporters is now 41 (Sport, 29 July). With men and women living to an average of somewhere in the low 80s isn’t this about right?
Jan Wiczkowski
Manchester

• Awesome football letters, but the editor’s come in and closed down the cliche letters; and rightly so.
John Bailey
St Albans, Hertfordshire

The Hanoverian kings are a hard sell, as your article and leader (1 August) comment, in spite of their glorious legacy. In the Georgian market town of Beverley, we are celebrating this legacy with a nine-day festival next month (13-21 September), 300 years after George I arrived in England – and we are astonished that no other UK town is marking this anniversary. The festival is about all things Georgian: art and architecture; music; chocolate; costume; and literature, including Mary Wollstonecraft, educated in a Georgian house in this town.
Barbara English
Beverley, East Yorkshire

• A brief addition to the Open door piece on the history of crosswords (28 July). When I was doing some studying in Manchester Central Library’s newspaper microfiches in the 1970s (ie lazing around, reading old 1930s newspapers), I remember noticing that the daily crossword was not only in English, but also in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Sanskrit, on a rotating basis. I thought this was in the Manchester Guardian, but I can’t find any reference to this on the internet. Any ideas?
Chris Collins
Fife

• Great to see the Dead’s Phil Lesh get the neo-spiritual In praise of… slot (31 July), but it’s not quite true to say that most of his peers have given up the ghost. Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann are still hard at it, though the band did have a habit of hiring keyboards players who exploded.
Max Bell
Thame, Oxfordshire

• Will the advent of “driverless cars” (Comment, 1 August) mean I can go to the pub on a Saturday night, drink a skinful, and not be done for driving home under the influence?
Simon G Gosden
Rayleigh, Essex

• Sad to see the historical illiteracy of the voters of the Top 20 most influential books by a woman (Report, 30 July). Surely Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, said to be responsible for starting the American Civil War, should top any list?
Colin Braithwaite
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Here in Yorkshire we go down to London (Letters, 1 August). It is a question of status.
John Tollick
Pontefract, West Yorkshire

Israeli shelling of Rafah

On 29 July, I watched on TV the IDF destruction of the central electricity station in Gaza. The human consequences of this operation, added to the bombing of entire areas, hospitals, clinics and schools, are awful.

Yuli Novak, a former IDF airforce member, has written a deeply thought and felt article about her times in war (A tonne of shame, 29 July), and the change in Israel between 2002, through Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008-19 January 2009) and today, when she states the IDF airforce “boasts of having released over 100 one-tonne bombs on Gaza”.

This wanton destruction of life and the means of living; the seven-year Israeli blockade of Gaza; the slaughter inflicted by one of the most powerful militaries in the world against a population who have nowhere to go and no place for a safe evacuation; all this and more, far exceeds the horror of the five-year siege of Sarajevo.

In the early summer of 1993 I met the chief rabbi of Sarajevo, who was giving relief and obtaining exit permits and transport out of the besieged city for Jewish and non-Jewish Bosnians.

In Kosovo in 1998 and then in Macedonia in 1999, I saw the young Israeli Relief Agency volunteers helping the Albanian children who had been driven at gunpoint with their families in their thousands out of Kosovo.

When the IDF demands that Palestinians evacuate hospitals and their homes; when the coordinates given by UNRWA to save the children in their schools are followed by the bombing of those schools, the sick and the wounded, the girls, boys and their mothers and the elderly become homeless refugees between the 25 by seven miles of the Gaza Strip. Chris Gunness of UNRWA has stated there are and will be well over 200,000 homeless Palestinians in Gaza.

On 26 July, when 6-7,000 Israeli citizens rallied for peace in Tel Aviv, Uri Avnery, founder with his wife Rachel of Gush Shalom, wrote an article entitled Once and For All.

Uri emphasised the need to stop the blockade of Gaza, to release the Shalit/ Palestinian prisoners who have all been re-arrested, and for the Israeli government to start talks with the Palestinian Unity government on the basis of the Arab peace initiative of some years ago. The Palestinian unity government includes the PLO and Hamas.

Daniel Barenboim, with two official passports, Israel and Palestine, is an example of what can and could be done. Edward Said, the truly heroic Palestinian professor and musician with American citizenship, spent his life for this purpose. Yehudi Menuhin, the superb Israeli violinist, also explained the human point of view through music and eloquent passion to end the cruel conflicts, intolerable suffering and injustice.

Years ago I made a pledge. To put children before politics. Children have mothers and grandmothers. The human or humanitarian view is the most difficult to achieve or maintain I believe.

In the midst of terrible violence and enduring oppression, all peoples are damaged. I once was told by a Croatian journalist during the war, in 1993, “Fuck the children!”. But I have met exhausted children, mothers, teachers and paediatricians in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, in Tel Aviv and in occupied Palestine, in the UNRWA schools.

I believe in political solutions not in military solutions, like Uri Avnery in Tel Aviv. I fear for the lives of the Israelis who are rallying for peace every Saturday in Tel Aviv. Who go, like Uri Avnery, to the Palestinian villages to stop shootings and demolitions of homes.

Humanitarian agencies have to talk to governments that other governments categorise as “the bad guys”. Until governments agree to talk to the “bad guys” we can never have justice nor peace nor a future for our children anywhere.
Vanessa Redgrave
London

Independent:

I am Jewish. My refugee parents arrived in Britain in 1939. All my grandparents died in the gas chambers.

I fully understand why Israel is determined that Jews should never again be victims. But I believe that over the past 50 years Israel has taken a wrong path. I am dismayed that a people to which I belong, which has suffered so much at the hands of the Nazi regime and others, should have become an aggressor.

Israel’s behaviour creates new generations who hate Israel and grow up determined to take revenge and gain justice. And so the cycle continues, taking Israel ever further from the security it craves. Moreover, Israel’s actions are undermining core Jewish values such as kindness and compassion.

Israel needs to find a radically new path, both for the sake of peace and for the sake of the soul – the spiritual well-being – of the Jewish people. Perhaps it’s only Jews who can tell Israel this without being dismissed as anti-Semitic. And most of those of us living outside Israel have been far too silent.

We need, with love and understanding, to encourage Israel to embrace a bold new approach that will in time allow Palestinians and Jews to live at ease with one another.

Peter Stevenson
Edinburgh

 

Your edition of 1 August contained an excellent round up of recent anti-Semitism by crime reporter Cahal Milmo. It was, however, severely undermined by accusations (on the previous page) from foreign comment writer Robert Fisk, who claimed that any “honest critic of Israel” using the word “disproportionate” would be called a Nazi by “Israel’s would-be supporters”.

This is exactly the kind of vague catch-all language that causes British Jews to suffer the antisemitism detailed by Cahal Milmo, because by implication it risks catching the majority of British Jews in its net.

Mark Gardner
Community Security Trust
London

 

It may seem pedantic while Gaza burns to refer to international law, but it is fundamental to any solution. While Martin Stern (letter, 31 July) is right that the 1949 Armistice Line is not an internationally recognised border, he is wrong to suggest that Israel may therefore lawfully occupy Palestinian land beyond it.

International law says that this is a violation of the UN Charter, as expressed in UN Security Council resolution 242, which Israel accepts, which states categorically “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. There is no getting around this.

Furthermore, the whole international community, except Israel, considers all lands captured in 1967 as “occupied”, and therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention is also applicable. Article 47 forbids any body from ceding any part of occupied territory to the occupier, something the Quartet in its so-called Road Map seems to have overlooked. It is there for a vital reason: to protect an occupied people from unbearable political or military pressure. No Convention signatory could accept the ceding of any occupied territory, even in the event of the occupied people’s representative agreeing to it. There is no getting around that either.

If Israel withdrew completely, it would indeed be able to make a territorial claim, through the law not war. But it is a dangerous course for Israel to adopt. In the words of a British diplomat acting on legal advice in August 1967, “If the [1949] armistice agreements are to be regarded as annulled ab initio, it destroys Israel’s claim to one third of the territories she has occupied since 1948, including Eilat, since it seems to take us back to the 1947 [UN Partition] resolutions.” I doubt if Israel or its supporters have much appetite for that.

David McDowall
Richmond, Surrey

 

Ukraine deal: some good news at last

I am not sure whether it was wise of you to publish the details of the German peace plan for Ukraine at this stage, but if it is true, it is one of the best things I have heard for a long time, in contrast to the usual depressing news from elsewhere (“Land for gas: secret German deal could end Ukraine crisis”, 31 July).

I think it is quite disgraceful that the only comment from a spokesman of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was that he thought it highly unlikely that the US or UK would agree to recognising Russian control over Crimea. Are the governments of the USA and UK crazy? Crimea has always been part of Russia and most of the population are Russian.

Also, I should have thought it was obvious to everybody (apart, apparently, from Anglo-Saxon politicians) that Angela Merkel has a better understanding of the Russians than Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron and Philip Hammond put together, along with their myriad experts and advisers. If she and Vladimir Putin can come to an agreement, it would be as well for these masters of the universe to accept it.

Peter Giles
Whitchurch, Shropshire

It is obviously too early to be 100 per cent certain of the causes of the Eastbourne pier fire, but there is undoubtedly compelling evidence somewhere on social media that traces culpability, either directly or indirectly, to President Putin.

Failure to act swiftly and firmly, leaving such actions to go unpunished, would surely be the height of irresponsibility.

Geoff Woolf
Shenfield, Essex

 

City stronger without the bank cheats

Reacting to the Bank of England’s decision on bank bonuses, some have warned that it will undermine London’s ability to attract banking talent from around the world, as if impropriety were an essential qualification for the job.

The fact is that for years, some bankers inflated dividends and gave themselves huge salaries and bonuses not by their talent for initiative and efficiency, but by devising ways of cheating the public and ruining the economy. And not just in this country, as the great financial crash demonstrated.

Clearing the sector of such practices will not hurt London; it will attract honest, constructive expertise and increase its competitiveness. If anything, this is a measure to be copied by other financial centres.

Hamid Elyassi
London E14

Back in the days when schools and hospitals worked tolerably well, teachers, nurses and junior doctors were very poorly paid. I don’t suggest that their low pay was the cause of their institutions’ success; but it clearly wasn’t an impediment to their doing a good job. They did their best because theirs was a job worth doing. They were people for whom money was not the prime motivator.

But we are told that, to attract the best bankers, only huge salaries will do. Surely the best person to do a job is one who thinks it worthwhile, not the one who does it just for the money. As long as we continue to allow the payment of disgracefully huge salaries we shall go on employing grubby little people, and we shouldn’t be surprised if some of them rob us.

Susan Alexander
Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

Too poor to pay council tax

We share the concerns highlighted in your report on cuts to council tax benefit (“Council tax rises hit Britain’s poor hardest”, 25 July).

In our report on the impact in London, A New Poll Tax?, families previously deemed too poor to pay council tax but now no longer protected tell us that it is simply not possible for them to make these payments from household budgets already stretched to breaking point.

Four in 10 affected Londoners have been sent a court summons for non-payment, many face a double punishment when court costs are added. In London alone, councils have charged over £10m in court costs for council-tax support claimants who have fallen behind on payments.

All parties should commit to returning to a fully funded council tax benefit system. Local authorities and central government should not be taxing families too poor to pay.

Alison Garnham
Chief Executive, CPAG
London N1

Joanna Kennedy
Chief Executive, Z2K
London N1

 

Driverless courtesy cars?

Reading about self-driving cars again, I am now less concerned than I was about the safety of the autopilots and the chance to get insurance for them, but I do wonder: will these cars have some kind of a “courtesy programme” added to their computer brains?

Will they give way on a single track, offer a slip into the queue from the side road, signal a pedestrian to use a crossing or allow backing out of a parking space?

Sonja Karl
Bangor, Gwynedd

If a driverless car (insured or not) is involved in an accident on the open road, will the car be represented in court?

Eddie Peart
Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Times:

Rex Features

Published at 12:01AM, August 2 2014

Some feel we should use the past tense when talking about the past, and some disagree

Sir, I am reading Melvyn Bragg’s piece (July 30) on the use of the historic present tense and am surprised to note that he does not give any examples. Perhaps he should in future.

Ian Cherry

Preston

Sir, The historic present is confusing and awkward. Melvyn Bragg, in his confession, proved his point that it is here to stay, within one paragraph: ‘Chaucer employs it at will’.

Douglas McQuaid

Oxhey, Herts

Sir, The usefulness of the historic present is that it gently emphasises that the protagonists were not aware of what happened next. It suggests a step into the then unknown; the past tense records a step towards a known outcome.

Will Wyatt

Middle Barton, Oxon

Sir, Melvyn Bragg hosts a radio show called In Our Time that has discussed such contemporary topics as Abelard and Heloise, the battles of Bannockburn and Bosworth Field, and the Abbasid Caliphs. Is it any wonder that he favours the historic present? As a historian I’m happy with it in small doses. I think of it as a kind of submerged direct speech.

The Rt Rev Professor NT Wright

St Andrews

Sir, I disagree with Melvyn Bragg about the use of the historic present. I find a book using this tense highly annoying (including Wolf Hall). If I persevere I am jarred by occasional lapses. Leave the past where it belongs — in the past tense.

Sheila Taylor

Pevensey Bay, E Sussex

Sir, As TS Eliot says in Burnt Norton: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past.” On that basis, could we persuade John Humphrys, Melvyn Bragg and Matthew Parris to shake hands and defuse the tense argument about the historic present?

Yanka Gavin

London SW11

Sir, You would think that Melvyn Bragg and John Humphrys have read no fiction. Hilary Mantel, who won the Man Booker prize two years in a row, uses the historic present (as I do now) almost continuously, and to the ultimate point of the Immediate Present: here, now, he stands before you.

David Tipping

Sir, The present historic is used by people who need to make an uninteresting subject more exciting. They often fail, but by so doing make themselves sound pretentious, thus further devaluing their subject. In the real world — anywhere not in academia, the media or literature — the present historic is used rarely.

Charles Vaughton

Retford, Notts

Sir, Lord Bragg rightly refuses to
de-demonise “wicked”, but the real threat to our language and culture comes from the interrogatory uplift. There are few more troubling experiences of linguistic vandalism than hearing academics resort to the cadences of Antipodean populist soaps. Since we live in an age when parliament is happy to legislate against thought crime can we expect a law to prohibit giving the impression a question is being asked when no actual question is intended?

Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden

Villedieu-les-Poêles, Normandy

Kaiser Wilhelm II was determined to have a war with Britain as far back as 1890, a historian says

Sir, In his recent biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Professor John Roehl adduces very convincing evidence that the Kaiser was determined on war with Great Britain as far back as 1890. He was waiting only until his programme of building warships was complete and was perhaps held back until after the death of his grandmother Queen Victoria, for whom he appears to have had affection and respect. It appears clear that his desire to create an empire in competition with that of Great Britain was an obsession, perhaps amounting to psychosis, and his less than successful dealings in China and the Middle East exacerbated this obsession. Amnesia on the part of Germany today seems very surprising in view of the lapse of time and very reasonable doubts about the state of the Kaiser’s mind.

WAC Halliwell

Winchester

One way to bring bankers into line with modern ethics would be to levy fines on their bonus pool …

Sir, The Financial Conduct Authority has fined Lloyds Bank £105 million for its complicity in rate rigging (July 29). What is the point of fining a publicly quoted organisation, when the loss will fall on the taxpayer and pension funds, and hence pensioners? It would make far more sense to penalise the bank’s officers and employees who were responsible for the misconduct.

Robert Rhodes, QC

London WC2

Sir, Punishing bankers for behaving badly is fine but surely it would be better to incentivise them to behave well. They know all about incentives. I suggest that all fines levied on a bank for transgressions should be paid out of the bonus pool. If the pool is insufficient, previous years’ could be clawed back and/or future years’ pools pre-empted. The result would be a level of collegiate self-policing far more speedy, effective and proactive than anything achievable by any external regulator. (Would you let a colleague’s dodgy dealings threaten your standard of living? I think not.)

This would be an improvement on the current situation, in which fines are just another business expense to be absorbed. Best of all, it would do away with the need for the Byzantine levels of bureaucracy identified (July 31) by Patrick Hosking.

Christopher Greening

Barkway, Herts

There are persuasive precedents for resisting the urge to paint over a self-portrait of Rolf Harris

Sir, The proposed destruction of a Rolf Harris self-portrait in Plymouth (report, July 31) recalls a similar proposal in 1914 to paint over a mural of local literary figures in Chelsea Old Town Hall because it included the disgraced Oscar Wilde.

After heated debate in the council, after which the mayor used his casting vote to break the deadlock, the mural, which also featured George Eliot and Thomas Carlyle, survived and can still be seen today.

Philip Dewhurst

Bournemouth

Matters arising from the players’ demeanour and refreshment in the modern game of cricket

Sir, Evidently the England cricket captain had time for a shave on Thursday morning. Was this the key to England’s Test match win? Perhaps “Cooky” should experiment with getting up earlier on match days.

Sue West

Wimborne, Dorset

Sir, I made one of my infrequent visits to a Test match on Thursday and was concerned because they no longer have a drinks break. They did, however, have a “hydration interlude”, so I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies.

CR Showell

Winchester

Telegraph:

SIR – Why do so many weather forecasters insist on telling us that a particular type of weather will be “on offer” – as if we could refuse?

Andrew Blake
Shalbourne, Wiltshire

SIR – I am worried about prospects for the remainder of the summer. Our local hardware shop has sledges prominently displayed in the window.

Kenneth Taylor
Crewe, Cheshire

Pensioners lving in Spain do not get the same treatment as those living in Australia or Canada Photo: Getty Images

6:59AM BST 01 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – The Queen opened the Commonwealth Games by talking about “shared ideals”. We believe that justice and freedom from discrimination are some of these ideals.

Yet some 500,000 British pensioners living abroad in Commonwealth countries continue to be discriminated against. The British Government sees fit to freeze the pensions of those resident in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, but not of those living in the United States, Turkey and the Philippines.

These British pensioners, having paid mandatory National Insurance payments while in Britain to secure their old age, still receive the same amount of pension as when they first retired and left to live in a Commonwealth country, with some people receiving less than a quarter of the pension they would receive if they lived in many other countries.

How fitting it would be if, in this year of Commonwealth collaboration and closeness, the Government were to demonstrate its commitment to these “shared ideals” by righting this historic wrong and treating Commonwealth-based and other British pensioners with the dignity and equality they deserve.

Sheila Telford
Chairman, the International Consortium of British Pensioners
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

SIR – I witnessed the start of the Tour de France and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and enjoyed both very much indeed. However, in the surrounding areas, the contrast was very noticeable. Yorkshire was vibrant with bunting and there was a buzz in the air.

But the Glasgow area was devoid of reference to the Games. We went to Glasgow Green before the opening and there was nothing to be seen except a closed-off space for an evening concert.

Bob Gardiner
Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire

SIR – The sport has been first class but is anyone else getting sick of the bagpipes?

Jeff Pack
London W5

Flammable piers

SIR – It should be no surprise that once again a holiday resort has lost a pier to fire. I recently walked the full length of the piers at Brighton and Southport, both of which are constructed with wooden decking and allow smokers to use these facilities: a recipe for disaster.

Lionel F Goulder
Birmingham

Tea with a view

SIR – I am surprised to see that there have been complaints about the installation of underwater CCTV at a swimming pool in East Grinstead.

Over 60 years ago, the pool at Butlins in Ayrshire had a large underwater window set into the side of a café. Everyone enjoyed watching the swimmers’ antics, and no one thought it odd in the least.

Geraldine Blake
Worthing, West Sussex

A walk with the car

SIR – Driverless cars (Letters, July 31) could greatly extend our repertoire of walks, especially in (say) the Lake District.

We could park at the start, walk to the end and find the car waiting for us without the walk being circular. However, I’m not convinced that the vehicle could tackle the Hard Knott Pass on a foggy day.

Robert Fletcher
Broadstone, Dorset

The science of farming

SIR – Arable crops have been grown on chalk downland in England for thousands of years (“How biofuel crops are threatening diversity”, Letters, July 15).

Oilseed rape has been grown in this country since the time of the Romans, providing fuel, animal feed, crop diversity and biodiversity. Forty per cent of each crop’s seeds harvested this summer will be used to make high-quality vegetable oil for food and renewable energy. The remainder will become a high-protein animal feed.

Technology remains vital to production. Farmers use rotation and crop protection systems, including pesticides, to reduce pre-harvest losses and use fertiliser to increase yields. Farming is all about ensuring that crops achieve their economic potential while minimising the impact on the environment.

Europe has a 30 million ton vegetable protein deficit. Oilseed and cereal crops help reduce our reliance on importing grains from other regions of the world.

Guy Gagen
Chief Arable Adviser, National Farmers’ Union
Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire

Tax and Labour

SIR – “Harriet Harman recently suggested that taxes on the middle classes would have to rise” (leading article, July 31).

She didn’t. She said in the middle of a phone-in answer about how to fund public services that there was a case for those on middle to higher incomes paying more in tax. It was a point about progressive taxation, which used to enjoy cross-party support but which today’s Tories regrettably seem less keen on.

Lord Wood of Anfield
Shadow Minister Without Portfolio and Adviser to Ed Miliband
London SW1

Poo-pooing the pootle

SIR – Meg Hillier, the Labour MP for Hackney, has called for an overhaul of roads to allow women cyclists to “pootle” at their own speed.

My daughter, who cycles to her office daily, is one of the “Lycra-clad hordes”. She certainly cycles more than 80 miles a year; she often covers 80 miles in one race!

She carries a pack on her back when cycling to work, and her tent and clothes on her touring bike when she holidays.

Of course there are women who “pootle along”. But don’t assume all of them do.

Carol A Parkin
Canford Cliffs, Dorset

Cricketing reminder of First World War valour

SIR – There were 628 VCs awarded in the Great War (to 627 recipients, because Noel Chavasse of the RAMC was awarded the decoration twice, in 1916 and 1917).

The number 628 is famous in the statistical history of cricket as the highest total scored by an individual batsman at any standard of cricket. The batsman was A E J Collins, who performed the feat in a match at Clifton College, just a few years before the start of the First World War.

Collins enlisted in the Army and reached the rank of Captain in the Royal Engineers. In the First Battle of Ypres, he was killed near the Menin Road in November 1914.

Though originally buried, his body was eventually “lost”, and his name is now on the Menin Gate, along with 54,000 others missing in the Ypres Salient.

Colin Johnston
Aberdeen

SIR – In his article “Lest we forget the worldwide war” , Professor Sir Hew Strachan suggests that the First World War commemoration is becoming “resolutely local”, with the misleading effect of “reducing a world war to a series of local occurrences”.

He refers to the BBC’s World War One at Home project – for which I am a consultant, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This project has sought to emphasise the relationship between home front and empire. All the AHRC consultants are making a conscious decision to ensure that the imperial dimension is central.

Sir Hew also suggests AHRC funding would be better used on “new research”. This is already happening. My own collaborative research project is analysing a large body of cartoons reproduced in the Armed Forces’ trench newspapers. It has led already to exhibitions next year in Canada and Australia.

The point of the centenary “engagement centres” funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the AHRC is to encourage collaboration between local historians, academics, community groups and the third, or voluntary, sector. We are beginning to embark on collaborative research on the war that will make historical discovery more inclusive and creative.

Professor Jane Chapman
University of Lincoln and Wolfson College, Cambridge

Privatisation would make health care more efficient. Photo: PA

7:00AM BST 01 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Many years ago, most of the councils in Britain privatised their refuse collection services. The services were carried out more efficiently by specialist contractors who made profits, saving those councils’ ratepayers money. The emptying of dustbins remained free at the point of use.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, accuses the Coalition of putting the NHS “up for sale”.

What exactly is his point?

Jeremy M J Havard
London SW3

SIR – I work in the NHS as a ward manager. I recently put adverts out for a housekeeper and for qualified nurses.

For the housekeeper role, I shortlisted 15 applicants, but only eight turned up on the day for the maths and English tests, which are essential when we are trying to improve standards within the organisation. Not one person passed both, even though the maths test is aimed at 11-year-olds, so nobody was interviewed.

Of the nursing candidates, only eight out of 20 passed the English and maths tests.

I now have to start the process all over again, which has massive cost implications for the NHS. How can people be leaving school without being able to pass what is a basic arithmetic test?

Mary Moore
London E2

SIR – Doctors are part of an increasingly global healthcare workforce, with many practising in a number of countries during their careers in medicine (Thousands of doctors planning to leave NHS to work abroad”, July 28). Britain has benefited significantly from this, with around a third of doctors on our register having trained overseas.

Our records show the number of doctors registered to practise medicine in Britain has increased steadily in recent years, and now totals more than 260,000. Last year, 4,741 doctors – fewer than 2 per cent of doctors on the register – asked us to issue a Certificate of Good Standing, which they need to practise abroad. This percentage has remained consistent since 2008.

What is more, these figures do not provide a reliable indicator of the number of doctors leaving Britain, as many of those who request a certificate do not in fact leave or, if they do, they subsequently return.

Niall Dickson
Chief Executive, General Medical Council
London NW1

SIR – I have just checked over my private healthcare insurance renewal to find that I’m covered for a childbirth cash benefit, parent accommodation, for kids under 14 in hospital and pregnancy complications.

I will be soon be 70, so I gave them a ring to ask if they could remove this unwanted cover and reduce my premium. I was told that it’s a standard cover for everyone, including men.

Liz Derbyshire
Wroughton, Wiltshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Hamas, a terrorist organisation, for all its futile rockets, has had very little effect on Israel other than to perhaps temporarily damage its tourist industry and psych up its enemies.

However, given its avowed charter aim to destroy Israel, Israel must respond, as a successful missile strike could be devastating. Its response, however, should be proportionate, but instead it has killed over 1,000 people in Gaza, mostly innocent civilians and hundreds of children.

Although Hamas is proscribed/banned in the USA, the EU, in Canada and beyond, Israel must be held accountable to the high standards appropriate to a sovereign state and to international norms. That does not excuse Hamas its war crimes, but the proportions of harm, death, destruction, and disregard for civilised norms are very different so far.

Israel is yet again, devastating Gaza, destroying entire cities and towns, as it has done many times to Lebanon. Hamas is thankfully incapable of devastating more than a house or two, and rarely enough does it succeed in doing that. When the illegal IRA blew up a car, a house, or more in the past, the British army never invaded the Irish republic, devastating Dublin and massacring thousands of people. But that is how Israel behaves.

It has massively and collectively punished those not responsible for Israeli grievances against Hamas, and that is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and ostensibly a war crime. Israel is now seizing 44 per cent of Gazan territory in its newest “buffer zone”.

Has Israel not abused UN resolutions, human rights, and international humanitarian law long enough? Regardless ot its legitimate grievances, these are massively outweighed by its excessive behaviour, outright disregard for innocent life and continuous creeping theft of Palestinian and Arab lands (in 1947/1948, West Bank and Golan in 1967, Gaza then and now again). Its West Bank “wall” is another obscenity. Its behaviour now in Gaza is also hardly different, indeed arguably worse, than that of Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

If selectively targeted sanctions are being imposed on Russia, should they not also be on Israel? Should the EU, the US and others not blacklist and ban Israel’s top officials and companies responsible for war crimes and violations of global norms? Perhaps then Israel will begin to stop acting with outright impunity and rejoin the community of civilised nations able to make peace with their neighbours.

Having said that, Hamas’s indiscriminate, reactive, and futile rocketing of Israel is criminal and should also be repudiated. But it is long overdue time for Israel to stop thinking that the life of an innocent Palestinian child is not worth as much as the life of an armed and aggressive Israeli soldier.

As for Hamas, not only is it banned abroad as a terrorist organisation, but the Palestinian Authority should be obliged to repudiate any alliance with an organisation that abhors Israel and seeks its destruction. Lastly, Gaza should be placed under direct UN administrative mandate, as East Timor was, with Hamas removed from power and security assured by neutral UN forces, obviating any further Israeli intervention.

The UN should nurture a pacified Gaza towards effective self-government abiding by international norms, if necessary continuing under UN occupation just as the Allies administered Germany and Austria after the second World War. This would be the only realistic chance of a durable peace that could entice Israel to accept a final settlement with the Palestinians. – Yours, etc,

FRANCIS MARTIN

O’DONNELL,

Sauelengasse,

Alsergrund,

Vienna

Sir, – It is hard to know which world your correspondent David D Kirkpatrick (World News, August 1st) lives in. He states that countries like Saudi Arabia are allying themselves with Israel in opposition to political Islam.

Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of political Islam of the al-Qaeda or Isis variety. The Wahhabi sect that runs the country has long exported its philosophy. The real truth is that all of the Arab countries have consistently turned their backs on the Palestinians, going back to the foundation of the Israeli state. Jordan massacred them during Black September period in 1970/71, they all stood by and watched the siege of Beirut, and Egypt has always blocked the border with Gaza.

There is not one siege of Gaza; there are two, the Egyptian one and the Israeli one. A simple question is worth asking: where does Israel gets its oil from? Through which airspace do commercial planes flying from the east travel? All the Arab dictators have in practice always supported Israel, without exceptions. Yours, etc,

GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH,

Bogotá

Colombia

Sir, – During a recent statement on Gaza in which he criticised the Israeli Defence Forces, White House press secretary Josh Earnest used the phrase “our allies in Israel need to do more”. The fallacy that Israel is an ally of the US is at the heart of the decades of misery inflicted on the Palestinian people and the principal reason Israel has been allowed its unfettered dispossession of land and water from the unfortunate Palestinians. Israel’s actions (aided by a spineless US leadership and media) have done untold damage to US interests in the region and beyond. Why the EU should follow more or less the same line is not only mysterious, it’s shameful. Yours, etc,

JOE MURPHY,

The Mill,

Baltinglass,

Co Wicklow

Sir, – The Israeli assertion that they do not target civilians in Gaza rings false in the tragic aftermath of the indiscriminate destruction of schools, hospitals and places of refuge, resulting in the deaths of more than a thousand women, children and innocent civilians, while the EU and the “civilised” world blandly comment that such carnage is “unacceptable”. How much more bloodshed will sate the Israeli lust for victory? This is not warfare. It is massacre. Yours, etc,

VERA HUGHES,

Cartronkeel House,

Newtown Moate,

Co Westmeath

Sir, – Peter Geoghegan (Opinion & Analysis, August 1st) makes a good job of evoking some aspects of the campaign for the Scottish referendum on September 18th.  What stands out from his piece is how good it is for voters to think hard about a question instead of indulging in knee-jerk reaction.  It can produce some surprising results in some unlikely people. And on the big day Scots voters will have had the better part of two years to ponder, as a practical proposition rather than a romantic aspiration, whether their country should be independent again.

This long campaign might have become wearisome but in fact it is exhilarating.  Public meetings all over the country are packed, and it is rare to get through a day without, on a chance encounter, a debate with somebody or other on the choice that faces us.  I don’t think we have seen anything like this since the days of Gladstone and Disraeli or, on your side of the water, Parnell and O’Connell.  After decades of tabloid idiocy and sinister spin-doctoring as the main drivers in politics, it almost makes you believe democracy can be reborn.  Like Peter Geoghegan, I am sure the consequences will in any event be felt far beyond voting day. Yours, etc,

MICHAEL FRY,

Rothesay Place,

Edinburgh

Sir, – I was fascinated to read in Frank McNally’s article on Joe Mitchell that the latter had suffered from a writer’s block which lasted 32 years. However, the man was only trotting along behind Henry Roth, whose masterpiece Call it Sleep appeared in 1934, to be followed by A Star Shines over Mt Morris Park in 1994. He did, however, weaken somewhat in 1987, when a small collection of essays was allowed into print. Yours, etc,

ALAN O’BRIEN,

Barnhill Avenue,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin

Sir, – There has been a steady trickle of letter-writers venting their rather fastidious spleens on users of the perfectly legal and legitimate space your newspaper affords for online comment.

Can I remind them, and other readers, that there is nothing to stop them posting almost any comment they wish under their own real names, which is what I (and many others) do. Yours, etc,

DICK BARRETT,

Upper Rathmines Road,

Dublin 6

Sir, I refer to the article “Department must be brave enough to reform” (July 30th), written by Conor Lally. The article refers to developments in the Irish Prison Service in recent years. It is both incorrect and unfair to Brian Purcell to suggest that the many positive changes that have occurred in the service in recent years have commenced since my appointment as director general in December 2011.

As the article suggests, the Irish Prison Service has experienced considerable change in recent years. This reform and change agenda has been required in order to meet our commitments as set out in the two public service agreements, starting with Croke Park in 2010 and its successor, Haddington Road. This reform agenda has also been possible due to the end of the trend of increasing committals, meaning a reduction in the number in custody.

The significant developments which have occurred are not a result of the actions of one person but have been driven by all levels of management within the service and with the support and hard work of all our dedicated staff. It is a fact that many of the reforms mentioned in the article, such as community return, the refurbishment of Mountjoy and the incentivised regimes programme, had been initiated in some form prior to December 2011. While the advancement of these initiatives was part of our three-year strategy, published in 2012, all had commenced, to some extent, during Brian Purcell’s tenure as director general.

I believe that the work of a director general of the prison service is a continuum of the work completed by his or her predecessor.

The work completed since 2011 is built on the platform established by Brian Purcell during his tenure as director general, as was the work that Brian completed built on the platform created by Sean Aylward when he succeeded to the post. Yours, etc,

MICHAEL DONNELLAN,

Director General,

Irish Prison Service,

Ballinalee Road,

Longford

Sir, – The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants, on behalf of its members in the Department of Justice and Equality, wishes to respond to certain comments in your editorial “Overhauling Justice” (July 30th) concerning the recent external review of the Department.

Your assertion that “management at all levels failed to respond to modern requirements” is not borne out by the report of the review group. The report identifies significant high-level issues relating to the strategic management of the Department and its relationship with particular agencies and the media. It also identifies certain cultural issues.

However, in no sense does the report refer to or imply a failure across all levels of management. In fact, the calibre of its staff generally is identified as one of the Department’s key strengths. In this regard the report specifically notes, among other qualities: the willingness, flexibility and can-do attitude of staff; their experience and depth of knowledge across a complex range of business agendas; the accuracy and precision they apply to their duties; their strong work ethic and public service ethos and their professionalism, competence and resilience. The report further acknowledges that staff have striven to deal effectively with an ever increasing workload in the face of staff reductions.

Despite unprecedented cuts in pay and staffing over the past half-decade, AHCPS members in the Department of Justice and Equality remain committed to the highest standards of public service, to working constructively with senior management and other stakeholders in the implementation of necessary changes and to fully restoring the Department’s reputation. – Yours, etc,

JOHN KELLEHER,

Deputy General Secretary,

Association of Higher Civil

and Public Servants,

Fleming’s Place,

Dublin 4

Irish Independent:

I REFER to an article by Mr Brendan Keenan in the Irish Independent, July 31, 2014; “the machines will take our jobs if we don’t get smart”.

The machines are taking our jobs because we are smart; amazingly smart. Smart to genius levels of innovation and invention in automation that can do practically everything better, faster, more efficiently and in greater quantity than human labour ever could.

What is not so smart is pretending such technological development has no economic impact whatsoever and idiotic persistence with economic ideology and policy outdated and irrelevant in unprecedented conditions of abundance and leisure.

Those who consider it at all delude themselves that automation eliminates only manual work; in reality every profession or task from scientist to scavenger is in the mix.

Complacency and optimism that we are “recovering” is extraordinarily misleading and dangerous. We don’t need “recovery”; we need to adapt to the best economic conditions that ever existed. In such abundant economic conditions we no longer need to, or can, sustain “growth”.

Economic growth was possible and very necessary as long as we could never produce enough. While there was shortfall between what we could produce and what we could consume there was opportunity and need for growth. Now that we can grossly overproduce practically everything, growth is a no no; unnecessary and unsustainable.

A recent report from the EU itself of more than 50pc elimination of jobs is being ignored by idiotic self deception.

For the first time in history we can produce everything in abundance without having to work very hard. We either recognise, embrace, adapt and enjoy our amazing good fortune or we ignore, deny and pretend it never happened and precipitate absolute employment collapse. We appear hell bent on the latter.

Generating jobs is the greatest and most urgent challenge humanity faces. Secure employment with pension entitlements is what keeps society from disintegration.

We can achieve it only by spreading work as widely as possible, shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement.

Luckily we have the means to finance it; the machines create the wealth, we need employment to share it out.

Education into the future will be more for life and society rather than a job. We will always have the 20pc/30pc workforce inventing.

Innovating and providing crucial services probably working every hour available.

The remaining 70pc/80pc employment will be very different indeed; an exercise of dignified inclusion in society rather than performing vital hard work tasks.

Padraic Neary, Sligo

Wait to rejoin Commonwealth

In response to Lord Kilclooney’s letter on Thursday 31 about his despair of our absence from the Commonwealth Games, I suggest we wait until the 1916 commemorations before we rejoin.

President Higgins could even sign the agreement on the steps of the GPO while the Proclamation is being read out.

Keelan O’Neill, Tullow, Co Carlow

Hamas must be disarmed

In response to Zoe Lawlor and Mags O’ Brien’s letter, I must object to the one-sidedness and imbalance. Israel is defending its citizens against the continuous bombardment by Hamas. They claim that Palestinians citizens are being held captive, and they are correct in that, but they are being held captive by their own leaders. Israel is not an occupying power, they withdrew fully from Gaza in 2005.

It was repaid with rockets, rockets launched indiscriminately at civilian targets.

Israel enforced a blockade and built a wall to stop suicide bombers from murdering its civilians and to stop Hamas from launching even more attacks. Hamas is using building equipment and cement to build terror tunnels, it is not using them to enhance the lives of its citizens. Hamas is not building schools or hospitals, instead it is launching rockets from them. It has also been found to be using UN schools to store weapons and rocket ordnance. While Israel develops the Iron Dome to protect its citizens and builds shelters, Hamas build tunnels.

There cannot be peace in the region until Hamas relinquishes power and withdraws its charter – the charter that states that only the complete annihilation of Israel and its citizens (Jew, Arab or Christian) is achieved. Jordan, Qatar, Israel and a reformed Hamas must solve this issue together. Hamas started this. Israel must endeavour to end it as soon as possible to ensure that there are no more civilian deaths, on either side, but Hamas must be demilitarised.

Jason Davis, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Israel betraying its past

I am ashamed to belong to this ‘Godless’ body the EU, including Ireland, which does not have the moral strength to vote against the slaughter of the innocents.

Israel is betraying the memory of its own past suffering; the trapped of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto has parallels with those now caged in the Gaza strip with no escape from the missiles. Israeli aggression created Hamas and its killing machine will create even more extreme terrorists or is that ‘Freedom Fighters’?

John-Patrick Bell, Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim

Hatred behind criticism

It needs to be asked why people never get emotional and righteousness about other conflicts in the world, only whenever a conflict involves Israel. Over the past three years hundreds of thousands of Muslims Arabs have been killed by other Muslim Arabs and the ancient Christian communities in the Arab world have been systematically destroyed. Yet the letters pages of Irish newspapers have been empty about all that.

Also, thousands of Palestinians have been killed in Syria in recent years, yet nothing has been said about that either. One can only conclude that such people have only one motive: sheer hatred of Israel.

Dr Derek O’Flynn, Embassy of Israel

Will we all get Ebola?

The Irish Independent is to be commended on two very informative articles recently.

On Friday, you informed us of yet more obfuscation by the present Government regarding the hugely unpopular projected water tax.

On Thursday, you made us aware of the dangers of a hitherto virtually unknown disease, the Ebola virus.

Could the two ever be connected?

Could Ireland become the first first-world country to suffer an outbreak of Ebola, simply because the people cannot afford to wash properly, or even to flush the toilet?

D K Henderson, Clontarf, Dublin 3

Cost of filling the kettle

With the proposed 0.5c per litre charge for domestic water, it will soon be considerably more expensive to fill a kettle than to boil one. This is a startling fact that should help us reflect on both the cost and value of both water and electricity.

James McCarthy, Cork

Holy seating hopes

Do the people who stole the pew from a Kerry church want to be seated at the right hand of the Father?

John Williams, Co Tipperary

Irish Independent

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