6 August 2014 Sharland

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A warmish day. Sharland comes to call.

Scrabble Mary wins, but gets under just 400. perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Peter Marler – obituary

Peter Marler was an animal behaviourist who showed that birds learn to sing and decoded the meaning of their songs

Peter Marler with a Jameson's wattle-eye

Peter Marler with a Jameson’s wattle-eye

5:55PM BST 04 Aug 2014


Peter Marler, who has died aged 86, was a British-born animal behaviourist who became known as the “father” of the field of bird song study in the United States.

At the time he began his research, the general view among scientists — promoted by Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen — was that the patterns and structures of bird communication were arbitrary and instinctive. As such, they were thought to be particularly valuable for taxonomic purposes (determining a species’ place in the evolutionary tree) because they were not subject to “convergence” — the process whereby organisms not closely related independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

Marler came to almost the opposite conclusion, showing that most birds must learn to sing, as humans learn to speak, by hearing and memorising the distinctive songs of their species, and he went on to shed light on the process and to show how the quality of bird calls are adapted to suit the functions they fulfil.

He became interested in bird song in the 1950s when he was studying for a PhD in Botany at University College London. His thesis involved taking mud cores to reconstruct the history of Esthwaite Water in the Lake District. But while he travelled around the country, he also noticed that he could hear differences between the songs of chaffinches in different locations.

Male Chaffinch (Alamy)

After taking his PhD he went to work for the newly-founded Nature Conservancy; but he could not stop thinking about the chaffinches, and eventually his employers awarded him a fellowship to do a field study of the birds for a PhD in Zoology under William Thorpe, Professor of Animal Ethology at Cambridge, at his new field station in Madingley.

Thorpe, a pioneer in the use of sound spectrography for the detailed analysis of bird song, had also been working on the song of the chaffinch, and the two men joined forces to pursue their research. In a series of classic experiments they found that when individual young chaffinches were brought up in acoustic isolation, the song of the adult bird was abnormally simple. When they put isolated acoustically-deprived birds together they stimulated each other to produce more complicated songs, although they were still comparatively simple and far from normal. When the isolated birds were introduced to wild chaffinches, however, the result was that they soon learned to sing perfectly.

Marler went on to examine the battery of functions performed by bird song. He noticed, for example, that, when threatened by a predator, both the chaffinch and the great tit uttered a high-pitched alarm call that other birds nearby could hear easily but predators such as hawks found difficult to locate. By contrast, “mobbing” calls, designed to recruit help in chasing a predator away, seemed to be pitched to make the caller easy to locate. The quality of the calls, he suggested, was clearly related to function, and thus could be seen as an example of evolution at work.

Thorpe was not an easy man to work with — Marler described him as a “typical Cambridgian” who “didn’t recognise my PhD from University College London and never called me Dr Marler until I got a PhD from Cambridge”. After seven years under Thorpe’s shadow, Marler accepted an offer of a teaching post at the University of California at Berkeley, bringing with him a cage full of jackdaws and a whole new field of bird song studies.

His early research in the US was on the song of the white-crowned sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys. In an early paper which became the most cited in its field, he showed that sparrows at Sunset Beach, California, had a different “dialect” from their neighbours in Berkeley and that birds at Inspiration Point, just two miles down the road from Berkeley, had a different dialect from both the other groups. He concluded that local dialects may evolve through cultural influences, observing in 1997 that the different dialects were so distinctive that “if you really know your white-crowned sparrows, you’ll know where you are in California”.

White-crowned sparrow (Alamy)

In other research, he found that young male swamp sparrows reared in isolation and exposed to song only through tape recordings, commit song material heard in the first two months to memory, but keep it in storage for around eight months until they have reached early adulthood; in the meantime they experiment with a great variety of “plastic song” — like the pre-speech babbling of human infants — before the adult pattern is adopted. This triggering of some sort of “pre-recorded” memory, he suggested, might help to explain why, after the initial babbling phase, human babies are able to pick up language so quickly: “The bird apparently practises what he has heard in infancy and, in the process of rehearsal, so to speak, selects out the final, mature song of its species” he said in 1980.

But Marler conceded that genetics, too, had a role to play. In another experiment he reared male song sparrows and swamp sparrows in isolation and exposed each to songs of both species.

While the song sparrows learned some parts of the swamp sparrow’s simple song, the swamp sparrows learned almost none of their close cousin’s elaborate melody.

Clearly, Marler concluded, birds are strongly influenced but not necessarily bound by innate preferences. Like children, they learn songs from their elders. But unlike children, who can learn any language they are exposed to, the musical language of most birds is constrained by their genetic heritage. He went on to assemble evidence that birds that do not mimic others have a kind of “filter’’ in their brains that keeps them from learning or imitating alien vocalisations.

Marler had been intrigued by birds from his early years in Slough, where he was born, the son of a toolmaker, on February 24 1928. His father kept tropical cage birds and, while studying at Slough Grammar School, Peter co-founded the Slough Natural History Society.

He also ran a rescue centre for injured wild birds in the family home. Among the patients were a barn owl, greenfinches and a rook called Grip which would sit on Peter’s mother’s shoulder while she was knitting, occasionally “helping” by pulling on the threads; it would also fly into neighbours’ houses, returning with shiny trinkets and knick-knacks. From time to time Peter would have to tour the neighbourhood, returning people’s belongings.

At school, Peter was interested in all scientific subjects — chemistry being a favourite. Among other things he concocted a paste, largely consisting of nitrogen triiodide, a distant cousin of TNT which becomes unstable when dry. When his grandmother came to call, he would sometimes put a small spot of paste on the garden path, where it would explode with a satisfactory “crack” when she stepped on it, making her furious.

After nine years at Berkeley, Marler moved to Rockefeller University in New York, where he remained until 1989. He then moved to the University of California in Davis, where he helped to establish a new Center for Neuroscience and subsequently became an emeritus professor in the department of neurobiology, physiology and behaviour.

As well as his work on bird song, Marler also led investigations, working with Jane Goodall among others, into how monkeys and chimpanzees communicate. He found that vervet monkeys vary their alarm calls to indicate the sort of predator at large. An alarm call for a leopard, for example, would send nearby monkeys scrambling into the tree tops, while an alarm call for an eagle would send them deep into the undergrowth.

Vervet money (Alamy)

In 1971 he was elected a member of the US National Academy of Science, and in 2008 a foreign member of the Royal Society.

Peter Marler is survived by his wife, Judith, and by their son and two daughters.

Peter Marler, born February 24 1928, died July 5 2014


It is far too soon after the iniquity of the default retirement age was brought to an end to be wishing for a return to enforced retirement (The have-it-all generation has to be told when to quit, 5 August). We and others fought long and hard to articulate the strong business case for age-diverse workforces. It is retrograde to see older workers referred to as “desk-blocking new talent”. There is much evidence across business of the benefits that younger workers derive from having older workers around as mentors and contributing their skills and experience – and indeed, in a fast-paced technology-driven world, of the benefits older workers derive from having younger workers around.

Organisations benefit from having workforces that reflect the demographics of the customer bases they serve, and with a diversity of thoughts and ideas. By 2030 the EU working-age population will have shrunk by 4%. So it’s a business imperative to encourage age-diverse employment – we need as many people as possible, young and old, to be active in the labour market if our economy is to be healthy and competitive.

The economics of longer working lives are about more than the cost of pensions. We all benefit from retaining the skills and contribution of both eager older workers and eager younger workers. And we’re all the poorer if we consign people who still have much to contribute to the sofa through an unfounded belief that this will automatically benefit younger generations.
Susannah Clements
Deputy chief executive, CIPD

•  Ros Altmann, the older workers’ champion at the Department of Work and Pensions, suggests that people of pensionable age should quit and start their own businesses, leaving jobs for younger people. Has she considered what this would do to younger people who already run businesses? As a second-hand bookseller for 37 years, I often felt that colleagues looked at me askance because they knew that my husband had a good job and would never let me starve. Similarly, all these people quitting to start a business would have a pension to fall back on, and could afford to undercut those already in the field or take work from people who were already finding it hard to survive. The average income of a self-employed person has fallen from £15,000 to £11,000 since the beginning of the century. Think again, Ros.
Margaret Squires
St Andrews, Fife

•  Every time you publish another article designed to bash the “have-it-all” generation I am angered at the assumption that life has been a bed of roses for those of us now in our 60s and that (apparently) our comfortable existence has been achieved at the expense of the younger generation. Whatever truth there may be in this, it is doubtful whether many youngsters today, in order to achieve their ambitions, would swap their current existence to live life under the conditions that prevailed in the 1950s (details on request if needed!).

The point is that while we rightly sympathise with the difficulties they experience, we must also concede that, from a material point of view, they are much better provided for than was the generation being accused of causing all their problems. Many of us in our 60s may be relatively comfortable after a lifetime of hard work, but most of us grew up with damn all. The Guardian really should cease stoking up intergenerational conflict – surely there are more constructive ways to address today’s problems.
Robert Ramskill

•  The reason the have-it-all generation continue to have it all is that they are the ones who vote. That is precisely why the under-30s, the unemployed and those on low wages, who tend not to vote, suffer most under current government policies. Our politicians may be sociopaths but they are not stupid sociopaths. They will go on shuffling goodies in the direction of those likely to get them re-elected. It is clearly time to introduce compulsory voting, which probably needs to be linked with compulsory voter registration and with making it easier to cast a vote. We need political parties to make the case, which is unanswerable, and commit to include it in manifestos. There’s no point in a level playing field if one side fields far more players than the other. The Tories are unlikely to vote for Christmas, so I look to Labour and the Lib Dems.
Alan Healey
Milson, Shropshire

•  “People with good jobs, professional and managerial, will keep them,” says Anne Perkins. “But teachers, or those who do hard manual work, will not.” I was planning to say that, as I understand it, teaching has always been a profession, and even the coalition, with its penchant for downgrading the status of teachers, hadn’t so far aligned teaching with “manual” work. But a couple of pages later, in the Education section, I read the experiences of a dedicated teacher and a committed teaching assistant who had just left the teaching profession on account of the appalling impact of current unprofessional education policies and practices on their working lives. I realised I had overestimated the coalition.
Professor Jennifer Jenkins

• When Anne Perkins reaches retirement age, will she take her own advice and let a younger journalist be employed?
Maggie Johnston
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Where has this ridiculous tendency to describe any example of more than two objects as a “curated collection” come from? A trawl through the weekend’s papers produced an embarrassment of riches; a curated collection can mean any careful arrangement of pictures on your living room wall or a random selection of car-boot tat that you throw together. It’s what’s left in a house that’s up for sale when you’ve taken out all the family photos that could frighten prospective buyers, or the stock of a shop (I quote from a rival broadsheet: “a beautifully curated collection of hard-to-find fashion labels”). I’d have thought that the Guardian house style would avoid this, but there it is in your advert: “Shop our curated collection of DVDs, merchandise and T-shirts.” It’s not a curated collection – it’s a selection of things you think we might like to buy.
Anne Cowper

• The illustration comparing a “British man” standing between a smaller emperor penguin and larger mega penguin (Giant penguin fossil found, 5 August) shows the smaller beast looking up to the Brit, Ronnie Corbett style, but the larger bird is ignoring both of them. The prehistoric past was clearly a foreign country, at least in respect of class.
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany

• Here in Burley-in-Wharfedale (Letters, 5 August) we go along to Ilkley and Otley, in to Leeds and Bradford, over to Harrogate and out to Filey and Whitby. Oh! and once in a while we just go to London.
Angus MacIntosh
Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire

• Here we even go up to Barnstaple. We know our place.
Stuart Mealing
Holsworthy, Devon

• Our cat, Gerald, was shocked to be labelled a Conservative voter (Letters, 5 August). He’s from a classic working-class background, having been abandoned on a building site in Stoke-on-Trent, has overcome undeserved prejudice against his name, and has always been left-leaning. The latter may be due to his gammy leg.
John Cockell
Congleton, Cheshire

• Rabbits vote Green.
Norma Laming
Ipswich, Suffolk

Martin Kettle’s dystopian and all too credible prediction of the disastrous consequences of a majority for independence in the Scottish referendum in September (Remember 2014, the last summer of the old Britain, 31 July) suggests two possible variants of his scenario. First, David Cameron’s coalition government would surely have to resign immediately following such a catastrophic defeat. The incumbent government that had presided over the disintegration of our country as a direct result of its failure to offer Scotland a credible alternative to independence could hardly carry on as if nothing terrible had happened; and anyway there would be a pressing need for a new government with an electoral mandate to open and lead the negotiations with Edinburgh on the detailed terms of Scotland’s secession. 

Second, the negotiations between Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK) on the terms of secession would be quite likely to get bogged down in failure to agree on some key issues. If the best terms that the government at Holyrood was able to extract fell significantly short of the SNP’s demands, there might well be justified pressure from the Scottish people for a fresh referendum to establish whether those who had voted in 2014 for independence still favoured it on the only terms on offer following the negotiations. Come September, Scots will have to decide whether to buy a pig in a poke. They may well find that they don’t like the pig when it eventually emerges. However, it would be risky for Scots considering a yes vote in September to assume that they will have an opportunity later to change their minds if they don’t like whatever may emerge from negotiations with rUK.
Brian Barder

•  In broad outline, Martin Kettle’s depressing scenario of a fractured Britain is by no means implausible. But put it together with George Monbiot’s article (The rich want us to believe their wealth is good for us all, 30 July) and you begin to get an idea of why some of us are still finding it hard to decide how to vote. Most Scots probably take Alex Salmond’s starry-eyed vision of an independent Scotland with more than a pinch of salt. But where is the uplifting unionist alternative? A dystopian Tea Party Britain with the Tories, with Ukip driving it ever further into the Atlantic? A Labour party so hesitant that it barely dares to defend its past record, let alone to challenge the prevailing neoliberal, consumerist paradigm? The potential king-makers, the Lib Dems, now exposed as a party not so much of protest but of two irreconcilable ideological strands?

Of course there isn’t political unanimity in Scotland either. But we are maybe – just maybe – a little bit closer to agreeing what makes a society civilised. With a decent choice of futures, the independence pool might well look too deep to take the plunge. But faced with the sort of political prospectuses now on offer to a united Britain, who can be surprised that it has some appeal?
John Thomson
Gelston, Dumfries and Galloway

• On Sunday the Observer reported that Tuesday’s independence debate “is only available in England via STV Player”, but I found it in the BBC Parliament schedules for Wednesday – admittedly a day late.
David Barnard
Cholesbury, Buckinghamshire

Peter Wilby’s remark about Indians only being allowed to play cricket in India after a “prolonged struggle” (Sticky wickets, Review, 2 August) is an example of the freedom-struggle revisionism that now often passes for history on the Indian subcontinent. For the greater part of the 19th century, Indians took no more interest in cricket than did the British in, say, kabaddi, which like so many local sports had its roots in the martial arts.

The first Indian community to take an interest in cricket was the most Anglicised: the Parsees of Bombay, who in 1879 played a cricket match against the British members of the Bombay Gymkhana (founded in 1875 on part of what is now the Azad Maidan).

The “prolonged struggle” that Wilby refers to was a brief squabble about parity, which ended in 1884 with the Parsee, Hindu and Muslim communities each being given land for their own gymkhanas. Thereafter the Parsees and British regularly played an annual fixture, although the Parsees refused to play the Hindus for some years, just as the Hindus discriminated against untouchables. The young MK Gandhi enjoyed his cricket and is on record as having watched a game between the town of Rajkot (Indians) and the local military cantonment (British) while a schoolboy in the late 1880s.
Charles Allen

• England has won 58 gold medals at the Commonwealth Games (England’s record tally shows young the way ahead, Sport, 4 August). And so Jerusalem has been played 58 times as, to quote the stadium announcer, “the national anthem of England”. Furthermore, each home cricket Test match now starts with a rousing rendition of Jerusalem. Isn’t it time for England’s rugby and football teams to follow suit, abandon the illogical singing of the UK’s God Save the Queen, and let Blake and Parry on to the field of play?
Michael Elwyn

Ragwort on the RSPB reserve at Sandy.

Here at the British Horse Society, our 81,000 members have never denied that ragwort has its place in Britain’s ecosystem (Country diary, 31 July). What is critical, however, is that its spread is monitored and controlled, or its positive impact on insect life will be negated by the destructive effect it has on livestock, and horses in particular.

The fact that we’ve already received over 11,000 replies to our ragwort survey ( suggests that our concerns are shared by a huge number of people across Britain. We are keen to gather as much information from as many people as possible to find out the best way forward for everyone who cares about horses and bio-diversity. It is important that we explore the extent to which ragwort is a problem so that we can deal with it appropriately. We do not want to destroy all ragwort, but it is imperative that we protect our animals from its deadly effects by controlling to some extent where it grows.
Lee Hackett
Director of equine policy, British Horse Society

While we welcome opening up the debate about parties, your article on Young Independence (Not all rich, not all white, totally Eurosceptic: meet Ukip’s youth, 4 August) ignored the real third force in youth politics right now – the Green party. The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green party, has grown by 70% since March this year alone, now standing at well over 3,000 members – more than Young Independence – and we have 60 branches in dozens of towns and cities across the UK.

This puts us ahead of the Liberal Democrats and catching up with Labour to be a highly significant force among young people, both within the student movement and outside. Poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.

Young Greens are at the forefront of campaigns across the country opposing the politics of the hard right and fighting for decent housing and jobs for all, free education, a living wage and publicly owned services – and opposing austerity, which hits young people incredibly hard. In contrast to the mainstream parties, we are also proud to be against the scapegoating of migrants and the refusal to tackle climate change.

This October we will be holding our convention in Brighton. We welcome all those who similarly value social and environmental justice to come along.
Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chairs, Josiah Mortimer, Laura Summers, Thom French and Fiona Costello National committee members, Charlene Concepcion National treasurer and London Young Greens co-chair, Amelia Womack Lambeth Green party, deputy leader candidate, Bradley Allsop Chair of Northampton Young Greens, Howard Thorpe Green party campaigns coordinator, Sahaya James Gloucestershire Young Greens chair, Karl Stanley Co-convener Young Greens North, Hannah Ellen Clare, Co-convenor Young Greens North, Joseph Clough Manchester Young Greens treasurer, Jantje Technau Canterbury Young Greens chair, Deborah Fenney Leeds University Union Green party secretary, Pete Kennedy Coordinator, Doncaster Green party, Samantha Pancheri Chair Milton Keynes Young Greens, Jo Kidd Chair Canterbury district Green party, Ross Campbell Liverpool Young Greens chair, Benjamin Sweeney Co-chair Dudley Green party, Mani Blondel North Staffordshire Green party, Keele University Young Greens, Rory Lee Bath & North East Somerset Green party, Darren Bisby-Boyd Peterborough Young Greens, Alex Bailey Peterborough Young Greens, Jack Tainsh Peterborough Young Greens, Emma Carter Leeds Young Greens, David Stringer Teesside Young Greens organiser, Alexander Catt Blackwater Valley Green party, Glen Marsden Manchester Young Greens, Duncan Davis Nottingham Young Greens, George Blake Keele Student Greens, Mike Lunn-Parsons North Staffordshire Green party and Keele Young Greens, William Pinkney-Baird Durham Young Greens, Harriet Pugh Manchester Young Greens, Merlin Drake Ceredigion Green party, Lisa Camps York Green party, Grant Bishop Birmingham Green party, Sam Peters Surrey Green party, Matthew Genn Sheffield and Rotherham Young Greens, Lucy Bannister Manchester Young Greens, Rustam Majainah Surrey GP, Matthew Maddock Keele University Young Greens, Huseyin Kishi London Young Greens, Portia Cocks Mid Sussex, Crawley and Horsham Greens, Graham Bliss Rugby Greens, Andrew Iredale Young Greens, Andrea Grainger Keele University Young Greens, Julia Lagoutte Durham University Young Greens, Lee Burkwood Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Alan Borgars Welwyn Hatfield Green party, Miles Grindey South East Hampshire Green party, Merryn Davies-Deacon South West Young Greens

We shouldn’t look away

Jonathan Freedland’s Sifting through the wreckage (25 July) lacks clarity. His point that the MH17 disaster makes us examine ourselves while the Gaza crisis makes us feel compassionate towards others is well-taken, but the juxtaposition of these two events makes it seem that either MH17 was a premeditated murder or that the Gaza situation is an unlucky accident. Neither is the case, and comparing these events ultimately interferes with a clear understanding of them.

In confronting these two events, Freedland seems to want to avoid assigning blame, perhaps even preferring the option of throwing up one’s hands and saying “life is … terribly fragile”. But to blame is not necessarily to think in terms of “goodies and baddies”. Blame should be apportioned according to responsibility, and the greater the responsibility the greater the blame. Hamas must take some of the blame for what is happening.

But, in the case of Gaza, Israel, by the fact that it is far and away more powerful than Gaza, and is the occupier of that territory, has a greater responsibility than do the Palestinians. Equating the destruction that Israel has visited upon the civilians of Gaza with a somewhat abstract Israeli fear of a missile falling deflects from a rational understanding of the situation. While Palestinians are running from bombs, Israelis are watching from beach chairs.

Freedland comes close to making the US at least partly responsible for this situation, but steps away from what he considers a passionate, rather than “coolly analytical”, argument. But one can reproach the US for supplying arms, money and political support to Israel while not reining them in. One can do this without blaming the US for all the world’s troubles. The US, as well as other western nations, has a major responsibility in ending this conflict. If we should not look away from Syria, as Freedland suggests, by the same token we should not look away from the terror that the citizens of Gaza are subjected to.
Michael Taft
Ottawa, Canada

• Owen Jones’s analysis (25 July) of the collective mentality behind the Israelis’ infliction of yet another campaign of seemingly random slaughter on the inhabitants of Gaza is timely. He writes of the Jewish perception of themselves as the eternal victims: a feeling built up over centuries of very real victimisation culminating in the Holocaust. But Binyamin Netanyahu and others claim the victim position even while unleashing overwhelming military force on a comparatively defenceless population.

Jones also discusses the moral corruption and erosion of empathy that comes to any group occupying other people’s land. However, neither he nor many other commentators mention religion.

The Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox don’t constitute a majority of the Israeli population. But they remain a minority with a disproportionate influence. Any regular synagogue-goer encounters repeated assurances from God that all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean was for the children of Israel, and instructions from the same source for the slaughter of one group after another who were in the way.

As Jones argues, it’s important to understand the thinking in the background of Israel’s treatment of its subject-neighbours. But what are we to do with this understanding? That is hard to see, but it is certainly not what the governments of Australia, the US, the UK and others have been doing for decades by giving continual assurances to the Israelis of our undying support regardless of what they do, tempered by mild expressions of hope that they will treat their victims as humanely as seems reasonable.
John Watt
Busselton, Western Australia

• Just two questions: why are there no bomb shelters in Gaza? They build tunnels and smuggle in weapons, but there’s no protection for homes and buildings. They receive warnings to evacuate and still the death toll rises. Why doesn’t Hamas protect its people? My heart goes out to all those whose lives are put in danger by the people they elect.
Annette Leckart
Paris, France

• It is now obvious that only serious pressure from the rest of the world can ever end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There will be no peace or two-state solution until the 47-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the siege/blockade of Gaza, is ended.

The international community should up the stakes, and send in a peacekeeping force to oversee the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the West Bank. History will judge it to be as clear as that.
Bill O’Connor
Beechworth, Victoria, Australia

• I hope and believe that neither the Israeli Defence Force nor Hamas will emerge victorious from the current Gaza conflict. The true victors will be the Palestinian people. Through 70 years of violence and oppression, they have doggedly maintained their claim for the return of their traditional homeland. Their ability to suffer and endure has been remarkable, but the international community cannot allow such suffering to continue indefinitely. Eventually, the steadfastness and courage of the Palestinian people must win its just reward in the form of a viable and independent Palestinian state.
John East
Greenslopes, Queensland, Australia

Shakespearean dilemma

Edward Snowden – hero or villain? The masterly interview by Ewen MacAskill and Alan Rusbridger (25 July) once again proves the Guardian’s incomparable depth and objectivity when dealing with contentious issues.

The picture that emerges is one of a man who found his conscience and his underlying concept of patriotism to be in conflict with his role in the needlessly intrusive covert surveillance of both the innocent and the politically powerful.

This is a Shakespearean dilemma that has no apparent resolution, combined with the dramatic irony of the protagonist being voluntarily confined under the protection of a state with a record in human rights transgression even worse than present-day America, Snowden’s spiritual home.

What verdict will history pass on Snowden? As ever, that will depend on who is writing it.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia

Carbon tax repeal a shame

The repeal of the carbon tax legislation is a matter of deep shame for many Australians (Australia kills off carbon tax, 25 July). We have gone from being a leader in climate action to an international pariah. Only Canada matches our recalcitrant stance on the issue.

Nevertheless, while the three Palmer United party senators voted for the repeal, their leader Clive Palmer, who holds a seat in the lower house, has been instrumental (we hope) in saving the Climate Change Authority that advises on targets, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Cefc) that provides funds for renewable energy projects and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) that promotes the uptake of renewable energy. It is paradoxical, to say the least, given Palmer is a billionaire coal baron.

Meanwhile, the Abbott government called for yet another review of the Renewable Energy Target (20% of electricity to come from renewables by 2020 – mainly large wind projects), putting climate sceptic Dick Warburton at its helm. Just having the review has brought the wind industry to a virtual halt. We expect Warburton will kill the target or reduce it significantly. No doubt, the fossil-fuel industries will stand by and applaud as they, and certainly no one else, will be the beneficiaries.

Thankfully, some jurisdictions are taking climate change seriously. For instance, the Australian Capital Territory government is building large solar and wind farms in the region such that it can source 90% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. These initiatives go some way towards offsetting the despair we feel at the actions of our federal representatives.
Jenny Goldie
Michelago, NSW, Australia

Greece is still suffering

Tourists rescue ailing Greece (11 July) was not Helena Smith’s finest piece of work. We rely on Smith to inform us about what is really happening in Greece. German chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek PM Antonis Samaras and the banks may think the crisis is over – maybe it is for them. Here in Apokoronas, Crete, out of a population of 15,000, 256 families including more than 400 children – nearly 1,000 people – rely on food parcels provided by a local charity. Those numbers are increasing, not falling.

Jobs that pay €3.50 ($4.70) per hour in the tourist industry here “in a country where trickle-down economics begins with tourism” may be preferable to a daily visit to a soup kitchen, but they hardly lay the basis for balanced economic and social development. This is not a drop, never mind a trickle.

If the EU and the ECB and the IMF would really like to help Greece, perhaps they could send some experts in combating tax avoidance and tax evasion among the very wealthy. Then the holiday spending of our visitors might really be put to work on behalf of the whole society.
Pete Sheppard
Apokoronas, Crete, Greece

Is it safety or profit?

Following other tales about airport security confiscations (Reply, 25 July), I can add a story about wine. Last year, I was unable to take two bottles of rather special wine through security at Paris Charles De Gaulle because of a “new regulation”. I could have put them in the hold in my suitcase but no one told me that at check-in, and I was not confident that baggage handlers would treat my precious cargo with due care, judging by the many bumps and dents my luggage has suffered over the years.

My indignation might have been tempered if it were not for the fact that, metres from security, in a so-called secure zone, there were dozens of shops selling me all kinds of liquids, alcoholic or not, and at sometimes hugely inflated prices, of which I could buy as much as I wanted and take on to the plane.

Now, if all those bottles had presumably been screened and were deemed safe by the use of appropriate technology, how come the same technology and screening could not have been used on my two bottles of wine?

Is security about safety or profit?
Trevor Rigg
Edinburgh, UK


• Sarah Wheeler in her review of the book How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne by Jonathan Beckman (25 July), finishes her article by saying “What a film it would make.”

But a film based on this theme was made in 2001 by director Charles Shyer, The Affair of the Necklace, which starred Hilary Swank and Jonathan Pryce. It is a film worth seeing.
Rose Lapira
Attard, Malta


Reading the reports marking the start of the First World War, what repeatedly haunts me is the feeling that we should also take a close look at our own time and ask ourselves whether there are any “avoidable catastrophes” that are happening now and about which future generations will say: “How could they let that happen?”

Of course Gaza, Ukraine and the conflicts raging across the Middle East are prime examples, but we also have creeping catastrophes such as climate change, depletion of resources, pollution and the death of the oceans, which will not only have historians scratching their heads at our stupidity but will also significantly impact on the wellbeing of future generations.

While we commemorate past tragedies, maybe we should consider the catastrophes of the future we are currently building.

Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany


Prince William and others have of late been delivering the opinion that in the First World War we, the British, were “fighting to preserve our freedom”. Certainly we declared war on Germany to try to protect Belgium’s – and possibly France’s – freedom but, to be fair to the Kaiser and his bellicose advisors, there is no evidence that they wished to subjugate Britain too.

It is important, even at this distance in time, to get our facts right.

Andrew McLuskey
Staines, Surrey


If only the British Commonwealth and German soldiers, laid to rest in St Symphorien’s graves, could have talked sense into their leaders in 1913, then 17 million lives might have been saved.

What’s done cannot be undone. However, it taught those who send us to war absolutely nothing. In the Treaty of Versailles the French demanded more than their “pound of flesh”, which allowed Hitler to command German pride to rebel against punitive sanctions, which led to the Second World War.

France again tried to restrain Germany in 1951, with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, to tie up the “sinews of war”. Then 1989 saw the reunification of Germany, and they never looked back, as European Economic Community morphed into European Union, with the wealth of Germany controlling all of the eurozone. A recalcitrant Britain, despite not joining the euro, is subservient to the EU. Germany’s victory was finally won by – who would have thought it? – peaceful means.

Ronald Rankin
Dalkeith, Midlothian

As with John Lichfield (“How memories of the Great War live on”, 31 July) my own great uncle, Cyril Gutteridge, died in the carnage of the First World War as a British soldier.

I’ve been riveted by that war since I was 10, but what I didn’t know for years is that the reason millions of English, German and French ordinary people cheered when war was declared has a cause that is in me and in every person, and it needs to be studied.

Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, identified the cause of all cruelty thus: “The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it. Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.”

Contempt is as common as mocking someone else inwardly, or a husband riding over his wife’s opinions, thinking she’s too emotional to be rational. But “ordinary” contempt leads to cruelty in social life, economics and between nations. When we rob another person of their humanity, there is no limit to our cruelty.

The study of contempt – which can finally end the thirst for war – is urgent for the world today as we mark the centennial of the First World War.

Christopher Balchin
Brooklyn, New York

The commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War has been moving but lacking in political context. Listening to some, it would seem that the ludicrous propaganda that this was the war to end all wars is still believed. What the past century has really marked is the evolution of ever more deadly weaponry.

By 1939, war could be taken much further into civilian centres. And out of the Second World War came the nuclear bomb.

The progression of ever more dangerous weaponry continues with drone warfare. This technology allows the leaders of the aggressor nation to operate even more easily in their own moral vacuum. Unless checked, drone warfare will make the slide to total war even quicker to achieve.

The final great irony of this commemoration is that it came when hundreds of people were being slaughtered in Gaza.

Maybe the real reflection should be: what has changed in 100 years, other than the sophistication of weaponry?

Paul Donovan
London E11

Palestinian football star is dead

Eddie Peart’s suggestion of a football match between Israel and Palestine (letter, 5 August) would have a better chance of coming to pass if Israel had stopped targeting Palestinian footballers. The latest of many killed was Ahed Zaqout, former star player and popular TV sports commentator, killed in his bed on 30 July by an Israeli air strike.

John O’Dwyer
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire


Miliband has shown some backbone

Whether or not Ed Miliband is prime ministerial material, he had the backbone to condemn David Cameron’s silence on Gaza. He is showing an independence of thought and morality that has been lacking in recent leaders of the Labour Party.

It contrasts with “Middle East peace envoy” Tony Blair, who regaled his faithful acolytes at a recent lecture with the fact that estimates of his wealth were grossly exaggerated (£20m not £100m).

John Pinkerton
Milton Keynes

Labour leader Ed Miliband rightly criticised David Cameron for not speaking out against the slaughter of Palestinian civilians.

But surely Mr Miliband should not have attended the lavish 60th birthday party Tony Blair threw for his wife, Cherie, at their £6m grade I-listed mansion on 25 July, while Palestinians were being slaughtered in Gaza.

Cherie’s birthday actually does not fall until 23 September, so Mr Blair could easily have postponed the event and concentrated on essential mediation in Gaza, from his Jerusalem base of the so-called Quartet representative, whose role includes “promoting economic growth and job creation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and supporting the institution-building agenda of the Palestinian Authority”.

Mr Blair finally returned to Jerusalem on 29 July. He has visited Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority territory on the West Bank and Cairo since Israel began its devastating attacks on 8 July but has not once visited Gaza. Why not? And why does Mr Miliband not loudly complain about Mr Blair’s lack of intervention?

Maybe he did at the lavish party, but I doubt it.

Dr David Lowry
Stoneleigh, Surrey


Are gays actually being persecuted?

Perhaps Ruth Hunt doth protest too much (“People say it’s fine now – it’s not”, 2 August). Is dislike of homosexuality really as rampant as she suggests? Many of us think it is wrong, but I have never met anyone who would be deliberately rude. Does Ruth perhaps have a persecution complex?

As regards infiltrating infant and nursery schools with homosexual material, has she stopped to consider views of parents or teachers? Have they not a right to object? In any case, children of that age are far too young to be thinking about this.

S M Watson
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire

I feel saddened by the news that Jeremy Pemberton is unable to work as a priest in Nottinghamshire as a result of his brave decision to marry his partner.

The Church of England should embrace single-sex marriage as an example of loving commitment; instead it is enforcing a dogmatic, unloving view of Christian ethics. In doing so, it jeopardises its claim to be the established Church in this country; it also risks losing many of its members who believe that endorsing single-sex marriage would be the right thing to do.

John Dakin
Toddington, Bedfordshire


A council cutback that drivers need

English councils are coping with budget cuts of almost a third (report, 4 August). One cut not made by some councils is of the vegetation near road signs. In some cases nothing has been done for two summers, leading to direction information and speed limits being obscured. It will be interesting to learn the courts’ attitude to defence evidence that a sign was not visible, or that driving without due consideration for other road-users was due to attempts to read a half-covered direction sign.

Peter Erridge
East Grinstead


It really must be the silly season

August often throws up unusual news stories, but a Government minister resigning on principle still falls in the area of the unexpected.

Keith Flett
London N17


Readers tell us what uses and abuses of the English language most annoy them

Sir, John Humphrys (Aug 2) asks what irritates us most about the abuse of English. What irritates me most (ly) is the bad use of grammar.

N Waller
Brockworth, Glos

Sir, John Humphrys accepts that he may have to concede defeat in the War of the Historic Present and ask what irritates us about the abuse of English. How about “concede defeat” rather than “concede victory”?

Christopher Nott
London E11

Sir, I agree with John Humphrys (and Oliver Kamm) about the pointlessness of the “rule” against ending a sentence with a preposition. My mother’s favourite rebuttal was the lament of a small boy at bedtime: “Mummy, what did you bring that book that I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?”

Anthony Golding
Letchworth Garden City, Herts

Sir, Last week I heard a senior Conservative say: “the last government borrowed far more than us”. “Us” do not borrow. It should have been “more than we are (borrowing understood)” or “more than we have (borrowed)”; but never “us”. Similarly, the use of “me”, as in “he is taller than me”, makes my hair stand on end. I fear that so many people use “me” and “us” iniquitously that it may become standard English before too long.

Kenneth Duncan

Sir, On at least four occasions in his article, Mr Humphrys begins sentences with ‘But’; two of these also were at the start of paragraphs.

Sean Perry
Newmarket, Suffolk

Sir, John Humphrys might have included a request for fewer abuses in several other areas but certainly not less of them.

Frank Mackay
Plush, Dorset

Sir, I would add two “wince factor” irritations to John Humphrys’ ejector-seat list: the overuse by politicians and academics of the adverb “incredibly”, and the mispronunciation of the letter H as haitch which still grates with many of us septuagenarians. So it’s incredibly irritating!

John E Jones
St Albans

Sir, John Humphrys and several of your readers referred to the “historic present tense” as used by Melvyn Bragg in his BBC radio show. The word that your writers were looking for is “historical”.

Simon Walters
London NW7

Sir, We should think more carefully about the view of humanity that media reports endorse when they say “women and children” to mean “the helpless” or “the powerless”. This lazy usage is a disservice to vulnerable men, and to the many women who, against the odds, have empowered themselves. Gender should be used as a descriptor only when it is truly valid to do so.

Sir, TV newsreaders, presenters and weather forecasters seem to have launched an “er” craze. We hear “bubberling”, “tumberling”, “burgerling”, “sizzerling” and a host of other examples.

John Colbert
Walsall, W Midlands

Sir, John Humphrys might add to his list “moving forward” and that most overused word, “iconic”.

George Healy
London N16

Sir, Blow the historical present. What about the present participle? The phrase “I’m sat” seems to pop up everywhere.

Jilly Ashley Miller
Sherborne, Dorset

Sir, Currently, at this moment in time, my list of pet hates is so long that I am bored of thinking about it. Perhaps I should concentrate on growing my business.

Maureen Ann Peacock

The Times’ Balkans correspondent knew the region inside out and did not hesitate to speak out about injustices

Sir, It is good to see James Bourchier among the great correspondents in your supplement (Britain at War, Aug 4). One of the most knowledgeable correspondents in the Balkans, he was on good terms with kings and presidents, and admired by their peoples, despite being astringent in his criticisms of their follies.

His efforts to get the victorious allies to behave less punitively towards former enemies in the Balkans were largely ignored. Later generations had cause to regret their wilful dismissal of his counsel.

He was a man whom, a century later, we can appreciate, admire and like: Irish (not English), of course; warm in his sympathies for peoples under the cosh and their aspirations for self-determination; espouser of unpopular minority causes; unafraid of stating unpalatable truths to those rulers with whom he enjoyed close relations. He was also gay.

He was a decent pianist. But he was very deaf: for a journalist, having to conduct confidential briefings at the top of his voice was a handicap — especially with Princess Clementine the Queen Mother of Bulgaria. She, too, was deaf, so their private conversations were eavesdropped by all kinds of courtiers, charlatans and spies, glued to keyholes. Some of his confidants took the precaution of insisting they spoke only in remote spots outside, so that their bellowed exchanges could not be overheard.

The Times was variable in supporting its correspondent. After the Great War the paper was clumsy in retiring him and lukewarm in appreciation of his gifts. Allegations of “localitis” or even disloyalty to the allied cause circulated.

You mention his love of Hellenic history, but neglect to mention that he retired to Bulgaria, the country in his beat that he knew best, whose errors during the war brought him unhappiness, and, by association, some cost. He was buried at his own wish beside Rila Monastery, where he was known to locals as “Uncle James”. Only the last Exarch of the Bulgarian national church had a more magnificent funeral.

Bourchier lies still at Rila. The present British ambassador and his wife, conscious of Bourchier’s gifts as reporter and as a quasi-diplomat, took their family and guests on pilgrimage to the grave in June. That coincided with their commemoration of the opening of the British residence in Sofia 100 years ago.

Sir Edward Clay

(Second Secretary in Sofia, 1973-5)

Epsom, Surrey

eenagers but the admission prices should penalise disruptive children instead

Sir, I see you illustrated Jake Chapman’s view that getting children to understand art is a waste of time (Aug 4) with a photo taken at the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern. A ticket for a child over 12 for that exhibition is £14.50. My 14-year-old daughter and her two friends had been inspired to visit by the reviews and by a guide from Goldie on the BBC iPlayer, but the cost is equivalent to two week’s of her allowance. That is a great pity as they are at an age to be absorb much from the exhibition.

I also have a seven-year-old boy who generally detracts from gallery contemplation. I wonder whether the Tate might charge for children on a sliding scale: the £16 full cost for a babe in arms to £0 for a 17-year-old?

Helen Clark

Tunbridge Wells

Law may be hotly competitive profession to join but would-be lawyers need to approach it carefully

Sir, Given the hot competition for training contracts at law firms and pupillages it is surprising that some students do not put more thought into their application letters (report, Aug 5).

I have had letters from applicants who have wanted to pursue a career in “soliciting”, and under experience one put that she had “attended a few lectures at university”. The application was completed by saying she had “interned” a judge at a local Crown Court. I suppose that demonstrates initiative.

David R Pickup

Aylesbury, Bucks

If scrapbooks are coming back into fashion, it would help if publishers stuck to one-page pix

Sir, You report (Aug 4) that scrapbooks are back. For some sports fans like myself they have never gone away. However, the biggest problem is that too many sports pictures run over two pages; pasting them into a scrapbook requires high-level joinery skills. Now scrapbooks are back for others, can we have the sports pictures back on just one page?

Tony Elgood

Gloucestershire County Cricket Club

Winford, Somerset


The dangerous practice of lightening skin

Many skin-lightening products are unregulated and can have serious health consequences

Vera Sidika photographed in october 2013 (lt) and July of this

Vera Sidika photographed in october 2013 (lt) and July of this Photo: @vee_beiby

6:58AM BST 05 Aug 2014


SIR – Skin lightening is not only popular among dark-skinned African women, but is undertaken by women and men in various parts of the world, including South America, Asia, the Middle East, North America and Europe.

The vast majority of products used for skin lightening are dangerous, especially when used at high concentrations and over prolonged periods. Many are obtained illegally, and fail to meet international safety standards for cosmetics.

Poor or inaccurate labelling also means that users may not be fully aware of the exact active ingredients. Skin-lightening products include topical steroids (such as clobetasol), mercurial salts and hydroquinone. Home-made concoctions, with battery fluid or cement, are also used, with devastating consequences.

As practising dermatologists working in Africa and multicultural European cities, we have observed and managed many of the consequences of using unregulated skin-lightening agents, including stretch marks, paradoxical hyperpigmentation and induction or exacerbation of other skin disorders. Kidney problems associated with the use of substances containing mercury have been reported, as well as diabetes mellitus in relation to use of topical steroids. Although relatively safer lightening products are being marketed, these agents are never as efficacious as topical steroids, hydroquinone or mercury salts.

Although Miss Alonge employs the argument of “personal choice” in relation to skin lightening, it is important to understand the influence of social standards of beauty and the global cosmetic industry. Even when personal choice is taken into consideration, the hazards associated with skin lightening, and its economic impact on the healthcare services of resource-poor countries, cannot be ignored.

Dr Ophelia E Dadzie
London N12

Dr Antoine Petit
Paris, France

Dr Ncoza Dlova
Durban, South Africa

For ripe and ready fruit, head to the market stall

SIR – David Benwell (Letters, August 2) asks if there is a foolproof method of discovering which melons or peaches are ripe and ready at the point of sale. Having spent a lifetime in the fresh-produce industry, I can tell him the answer is “No”.

Quality controllers in supermarkets are trained to reject any produce that shows signs of being edible until at least a week beyond its sell-by date. Some items, such as “ready-to-eat” pears, require a set of stainless steel gnashers to penetrate their brick-hard and tasteless flesh.

Peaches and nectarines will eventually ripen at home but require monitoring to catch them at the right time. They all ripen in unison, so be ready to eat them quickly.

Buy melons at least a week before you intend to eat them and you have a good chance of enjoying properly ripened fruit.

But there is a much greater likelihood of finding ripe produce on market stalls than in a supermarket.

George Wilkie
Hemingford Grey, Huntingdonshire

SIR – To judge the ripeness of a melon, hold it to the ear and tap it with the knuckles. The fruit that sounds hollowest is the most ready to eat.

David R Jackson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

We must resist Whitehall’s centralised database

The Human Rights and Data Protection Acts are the most effective barriers to the proposed database of personal data

ID documents

ID documents Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 05 Aug 2014


SIR – When David Cameron came to power he quickly repealed Labour’s Identity Cards Act. He clearly appreciated the intrusive power of the underlying National Identity Register which linked the ID cards to other Whitehall databases. Now we hear (report, August 4) that the Cabinet Office is again planning a centralised database of all our personal data.

Our personal privacy is protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (the right to respect for private and family life) and specifically by Schedule 3 of the Data Protection Act, which requires that our explicit consent is obtained by a public authority before our sensitive and personal information is stored and shared.

Without the Human Rights Act it would have been more difficult to get the Identify Cards Act repealed, the Contact Point child database shut down and plans for a centralised medical database halted.

The Conservatives have made great play of their dislike of the Human Rights Act and it appears that senior Whitehall mandarins, clearly piqued at their powers being repeatedly challenged, are now fully on board with its repeal. Whitehall is well aware that the new data-sharing projects cannot proceed unless the Human Rights Act is repealed and the Data Protection Act amended to remove any requirement to obtain our consent before sharing our sensitive and personal information.

This point was confirmed in a recent Human Rights Act judgment (R v Secretary of State) preventing the needless release of trivial information on spent convictions. The Supreme Court commented on the “growing concern about surveillance and the collection and use of personal data by the state” and that the “protection offered by the common law in this area has, by comparison, been of a limited nature”. We must maintain our Human Rights and Data Protection Acts as a barrier against Whitehall aggregating all our personal information under central control.

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones
Ramsey, Isle of Man

SIR – You report that “ministers believe they could save up to £37 billion a year in error and fraud if they were able to harmonise thousands of databases”.

If this is the case then the Government is grossly negligent in not effecting such harmonisation.

Robert Smart
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Would it not be much simpler if Whitehall took all our money and gave us weekly pocket-money?

Eric Howarth
Bourne, Lincolnshire

Durable diesels

SIR – I use diesel cars (Letters, August 4) because they provide me with up to 200,000 miles’ driving, compared to the 90,000 or so achieved by petrol cars. This is important for me because of the special adaptations required by my disabilities — costing £3,000 each time I change car.

Rob Mannion
Bournemouth, Dorset

Phone-sized pockets

SIR – The design of men’s shirts once responded to the need for a pocket which could comfortably house a cigarette packet. The decline in smoking has coincided with the rise of the mobile phone.

Can we persuade shirt manufacturers to change pockets so that they are deeper than they are wide, enabling a mobile phone to sit upright and accessible rather than becoming diagonally wedged in a pocket of inappropriate dimensions?

Tony Jones
London SW7

Trade with Russia

SIR – The sanctions being imposed by the EU and America on Russia will not deter the Russian government from involvement in Ukraine. Indeed, the sanctions will be blamed by the Russian government for poor economic performance and be used to justify its strong anti-Western stance.

The shooting down of MH17 was a crime and those responsible should be tried in a court of law. However, the ordinary people of Russia and Western businessmen who have worked hard to build up trade with Russia are not responsible for this tragedy.

Through trade and contact, a trust develops leading to reliance and openness between countries. There is no better basis for establishing a better understanding between Russia and the West.

Steven Landes
Senior Partner, S H Landes LLP

Barry Martin
Chairman, The Russia House

David Gardner
DG Leadership

Michael Lightfoot
Managing Director, Classical Brands

Timothy Jelley
Founder, Export Explorer

John Metcalfe
Director, RFIB Group

John Bonar
Focus on Russia

Scottish questions

SIR – A question for Alistair Darling to put to Alex Salmond: how would an independent Scotland plan to set up its own embassies and diplomatic missions round the world, and what would it cost?

Roger Gabb
Bridgnorth, Shropshire

SIR – Does Lulu get a vote in the Scottish referendum?

Neil Withington
London S

Francis Maude responds: ‘This Government is not interested in building large databases’

The Cabinet Office Minister responds to Philip Johnston’s concerns about private data.

‘We will not weaken the Data Protection Act’ Photo: Rii Schroer

By Telegraph Comment

1:16PM BST 05 Aug 2014


SIR – Citizens rightly have concerns about privacy and how personal data is handled. We share such concerns: one of this Government’s first acts was to cancel the illiberal ID card scheme.

We are not interested in building large databases. We will not weaken the Data Protection Act. Nor will we collect more data about people, or use information in ways beyond those that the public already assume we do.

At present, the data Whitehall holds is divided between departments. There is no simple way to cross-reference it, if indeed it can be done at all.

This means that the public miss out on more effective, tailored services, and that the taxpayer loses billions to fraudsters.

So we think it’s worth exploring, in a very open and transparent way, whether we can use the data we already have more effectively.

We have said from the start of this process that if civil liberty and privacy groups do not find our proposals proportionate and sensible, we would find it difficult to go ahead.

Francis Maude MP (Con)

Minister for the Cabinet Office

London SW1


Irish Times:

Sir, – For a country which produces so many clever people, the Israeli government has been behaving very stupidly. It is winning the battle (undoubtedly) and the intellectual arguments (largely), but it is losing in the court of world opinion (indisputably).

I used to be a strong supporter of Israel, but on the present conflict I ask myself a simple contemporary question: does it pass the “smell test”? And the answer is a resounding no. Its disproportionate response looks wrong, sounds wrong and feels wrong. There is no taste involved, but even my “sixth sense” tells me it is wrong. After John Kerry used the apartheid word a few months ago, I told an Israeli friend I thought his country was heading for the place pre-1992 South Africa occupied. Now I suspect late July 2014 will go down as the Soweto moment. – Yours, etc,


Ahoghill Road,


Co Antrim

Sir, – Canon Patrick Comerford has strongly attacked Israel (“Israel denounced by senior Irish cleric”, August 4th), partly based on what he sees “night after night, on television screens and impartial news outlets”.

Since Canon Comerford is a former Irish Times journalist I would have expected him to have a more insightful view of the media’s coverage of Gaza. The UN’s John Ging told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last week that Hamas “are firing their rockets into Israel from the vicinity of UN facilities and residential areas. Absolutely.”

Why, with so many journalists in Gaza, have none ever bothered to capture even one image of Hamas launching rockets from civilian areas or close to UN schools and camps? The media in Gaza are in effect “embedded” with Hamas. Yet strangely, this is the first conflict where Western journalists never take any photographs or TV footage of the fighters they are embedded with. Why?

Why do journalists spend so much time loitering around Gaza’s hospitals like ghoulish “stage-door Johnnies”? Why do the media film suffering children in these hospitals in an exploitative manner that would not be tolerated in the West? Why do the media blindly accept that every wounded civilian is a victim of Israeli fire and and not Hamas’s misfiring rockets, booby traps or exploding arms dumps? These same journalists fail to report that Hamas uses Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, as a base. They also fail to point out that the figures they use for Gaza’s dead and wounded are actually supplied by the Hamas-controlled health authority.

Unlike Canon Comerford, I am not convinced that the media are “impartial” when it comes to the world’s only Jewish state. – Yours, etc,


Bayside Walk,

Dublin 13

Sir, – Capt John Dunne has stated that he hopes the political and economic model that is Israel does not spread to its neighbours as “the undertakers would never be able to keep up”.

He is in for a shock the day he decides to read about what is happening in the countries which border Israel, not to mention the whole Middle East. He might notice that Isis has almost completed the murder and removal of Assyrian Christians from Iraq, one of the oldest sects of Christianity. – Yours, etc,


Leighton Road,

Causeway Bay,

Hong Kong

Sir – When 170,000 Muslims are killed by other Muslims, as in Syria, nobody gives a damn. When one percent of that number is killed by Israelis defending their country the “international community” gets bent out of shape. – Yours, etc,


South Eagle Rd,



Sir, – Your correspondent Niall Ginty (August 4th) tries to argue, ridiculously, that the actions of the Israeli military against the defenceless population of Gaza are part of a defence of Christianity against Islamic fundamentalism.

This, and every other argument offered in favour of what Israel is doing to the imprisoned population in the Gaza ghetto, rings hollow. There is a very simple solution to the problem Israel has with the ineffectual Hamas rockets — give Palestine back to the Palestinians! – Yours, etc,


Collins Avenue,


Dublin 9

Sir, If John Cully (August 5th) is correct,the German president made a fool of himself yesterday by admitting that his country’s invasion of neutral Belgium was wrong and by admitting the terrible atrocities committed against the Belgian people by the German army in August 1914. Whatever faults the Germans may have, they are not noted for making fools of themselves.

Any student of Leaving Cert history would be aware of the record of German aggression against France. Bismarck in 1870 provoked France into declaring war with the aim of using this war to unite the states of the newly formed German Empire in a common cause. Germany, not France as stated by Mr Cully,was the strongest military power in Europe in 1914.

German generals knew that a war was likely in the future, so in 1902 the Schlieffen Plan was drawn up, with the invasion of France through neutral Belgium as its main strategy. Many historians have accepted the “blank cheque” theory, whereby Germany promised full military aid to Austria in the event of a European war. This emboldened Vienna to send a harsh ultimatum to Serbia following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Mr Cully is wrong in stating that the war was neither wanted nor provoked by Germany. He would seem to be in urgent need of a non-partisan book on this period. Might I suggest one by Niall Ferguson,The Pity of War. Yours,etc,


Ivy Grove,


Co Tipperary

Sir, – Listening to and reading about wars in the media, from the first World War to the current Israeli/Gaza one, one must observe a common strand in all cases. All of these terrible wars and their attendant atrocities were/are waged by men. It makes one cringe to look at any of the footage of these events and see all the power-seeking males (and not a woman in sight) who seem to defy all forms of common sense and reason when it comes to making caring, sensitive and logical decisions for the good of humankind.

They have created a dangerous, materialistic world where power and economics takes precedence over normal decent human life. Is it not now time to boot them all out and let the women take over? Do you think for a minute that, for example, the constant firing of rockets into Israel resulting in the terrible retaliatory bombing of Gaza would happen if women were in charge? I don’t think so. So men please back off and let the women take charge. No matter how badly they perform they could not make a bigger mess of the world than you have done. – Yours, etc,


Mt Charles,


Co Clare

Sir, I do not question the good faith of many in the Government and in the media in their efforts to promote the decade of commemoration on which we have embarked. I hope it’s not cynicism on my part then which causes the attendant extensive media coverage and many State functions to provoke in me a sour taste of lip service, a whiff of opportunism.

It is, I hope, prompted rather by the contrast between, on the one hand, this apparent concern to recover and debate our past and, on the other, the downgrading of the status of history by its effective axing from the curriculum by former minister Ruairí Quinn, the degradation of the depositories on which so much of the writing of history depends by the chronic underfunding of our museums and archives and the failure of the media to expose to significant investigation these decisions and their probable consequences.

With the absence of sustained critical comment on these issues the media may be seen to collude with the Government, unwittingly or otherwise, in regarding our history as of interest mainly for its potential as another commodity to be packaged and peddled, a desirable part of the cultural veneer, in this great little country to do business in.

Our selective amnesia regarding our participation in the first World War is now rightly deplored. Will it make us a more balanced people when our amnesia becomes total – our ignorance and indifference to be occasionally challenged by state ceremonial and newspaper supplement? Yours, etc,


Foxes Grove,


Co Dublin

Sir, – I note with interest Archbishop Martin’s statement (August 4th) concerning the involvement of Irish men and women in the first World War and their “idealism” and “valour”. I may not live to see it but I hope the archbishop of the time might make a not dissimilar statement on September 1st, 2039 in relation to the men and women of Ireland who volunteered to fight Nazism for similar – if not greater – ideals. Yours etc,


Member of Aosdána,


Co Clare

Sir, – If Bill Callaghan believes that media analysis of our housing problems has been very poor (August 5th) I can only suggest that he has been in hibernation for the last couple of years.

Media scrutiny from every angle of the equation has been intense and no stone has been left unturned in the desire to find a new perspective on every situation pertaining to this issue. If there is a gap, it is in consideration of the position of the much maligned landlord.

The latest measure being mooted in various circles appears to that of rent control. You cannot squeeze landlords from every angle – with property taxes, PRTB charges, annual maintenance charges, management and running costs, as well as reduced tax breaks, owning rental property is far from an attractive option in the current climate. Mr Callaghan talks about “vested interests” in high house prices. Perhaps these are the landlords who are queuing up to get out of the market as soon as their negative equity disappears.

One of the reasons we have housing crises is that the squeeze on landlords has made rental property an unattractive proposition, thereby ultimately reducing the supply to the rental market which would have kept rental prices low. It will eventually dawn on someone that responsible landlords are the solution, not the problem. – Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,


Co Wicklow

Sir, – Firstly, despite the address from which this letter is sent, I write this as an Irish citizen.

No country is as close to us in cultural, ethnic, historic or geographical terms as is Scotland. On September 18th, Scotland will vote on whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom. It has been asserted that if it votes for independence it will risk its membership of the European Union.

Should the Irish Government not make clear that it will support Scottish membership of the EU, so long as that is the wish of the people of Scotland, regardless of the result of the independence referendum? This would seem to be the friendly, decent and neighbourly thing to do. – Yours, e tc,


Gonzaga University,

Washington State

Sir, – With reference to Gus Jones’s letter (July 30th) regarding passport control facilities at Dublin Airport, the Department of Justice and Equality, Irish Naturalisation Immigration Service (INIS) has sole responsibility for the operation of self-service passport control facilities at the airport.

INIS is currently trialling the self-service passport control kiosks between the hours of nine and five, but it is planned to extend the operation of the trials to cover the period 7am to midnight. The Dublin Airport Authority works very closely with INIS to facilitate passenger improvements in this area. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Airport Authority,

Dublin Airport,

Co Dublin

Sir, – I can empathise with your correspondent Tom Farrell (August 4th). Back in 2001, I found myself a first-time father-in-waiting at the tender age of 42.

I asked my brother-in-law if he thought I was too old. “Not at all,” he replied, adding helpfully: “All kids think their parents are ancient, but in your case they’ll be right!” – Yours, etc,




Dublin 13

Sir, – If Tom Farrell frustrates his granddaughter’s prediction and survives another 10 or 15 years, I’d advise him to avoid showing her that letter of his that you published on August 4th. She would be apt to be witheringly condescending about the glossarial foot in mouth whereby he dared to use the word ‘”girl” instead of “woman”.

Permit me to “mansplain”: the word he wants in this instance is “womansplaining”, best abbreviated to “womplaining” to reflect the grumble and grouse with which the explication is frequently pickled. – Yours , etc,


Lakelands Close,


Co Dublin

Sir, – Following your newspaper’s recent article (“Never been North”, Weekend Review, July 26th) highlighting the positive experiences of different individuals travelling back and forth between the North and South of Ireland, I write to inform you of my own family’s (11 of us) trip from Dublin to Belfast and environs (Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede, Antrim coast, Ballymena, the beach at Ballintoy, Newry and many more lovely locations too numerous to mention in this short letter).

However, the most delightful and uplifting part of our lovely excursion came when we cautiously engaged a local Portstewart lassie in a short conversation about the bygone “Troubles”. “Ah yes,” responded 19-year-old Simone, “we heard about that and we went over it a wee bit in history class at school.” Enough said – until we eagerly return for our next visit. – Yours, etc,



Limekiln Road,

Dublin 12

Sir, – In recent days it has come to light that our Government plans to charge citizens even more than originally anticipated for household water usage. The ensuing discussion has largely been dominated by the price, and there remains little commentary on the product: water. Eskimos surely wouldn’t be as caught up in the price of a cubic meter of ice.

Though the rate varies dramatically between regions, Ireland receives on average more than 1,000mm of rain per year, which equates to 1,000 litres per square metre. The roof of my parents’ house measures about 80 square metres. At an estimate, about 80,000 litres of rain fall on the house per year. While the water may not be potable, and the once-off cost of a harvesting mechanism might be significant, it could be used for bathing and handling waste.

Eighty thousand litres at the rate of €4.88/1,000L, is €390 or so. Money might not grow on trees, but with the right set-up it could fall from the sky.– Yours, etc,


35 Shrewbury Road,

Dublin 18

Sir, – Jacky Jones (Second Opinion, August 5th) conflates the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (Mary born without “original sin”) with the Virgin Birth (the belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb by the Holy Spirit), when she asserts “It is as if no fathers were involved in these pregnancies.” Perhaps this common schoolboy error could be labelled the immaculate misconception? – Yours, etc,


Achill House,


Dublin 1

Sir, – Congratulations to your Berlin correspondent, Derek Scally, on his fascinating interview with Georg Friedrich, prince of Prussia (“The Man who Would be Kaiser”, Weekend Review, August 2nd). At a time when we commemorate the fateful events of 100 years ago, seeing them mainly from the Irish and British perspectives, it is most interesting to learn something of how these events are perceived through the eyes of the great-great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Keep up the good work on reporting from Berlin. Yours, etc,


Gilford Road,

Dublin 4

Irish Independent:

The band played Waltzing Matilda, and I’m sure there will be many more poignant pieces of music played with moments of silence observed in remembrance of the men women and children who died.

Some gave their lives fighting for what they thought was right, while the others were casualties of this senseless battle.

This all may have happened 100 years ago, so are we any the better off as a result of it?

While it is right and proper to remember the dead there is somehow a sense of hypocrisy felt when we watch the various dignitaries bow their heads in memory of those who gave their lives in this game called war.

While at the same time they stand silently day by day witnessing the butchery between Israel and Palestine.

Will all those who have fallen in this terrible conflict will they also be remembered in 100 years time?

If so, I’m sure it will bring a lot of comfort to those who have lost loved ones in this war of hatred.

The world we now live in is governed by money. Humans do not count anymore. The world’s leaders are mere puppets who dance to the tune of the power lords of finance.

Yes, indeed, let us bow our heads today while the butchery continues between two neighbouring countries, while the silence throughout the rest of the world is deafening.

Fred Molloy


Dublin 15

Recalling Irish soldiers

Lest we forget, many Irishmen who were working in England at the outbreak of World War I enlisted in English regiments there.

One such was Thomas Kedian of Moneymore, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, my grand-uncle. He was a lance corporal with the Lancashire Fusiliers and was killed at the Somme on 7 July, 1916. His body was never recovered and is commemorated on the Ulster Tower at Thiepval.

Anthony J Jordan


Dublin 4

The hottest parts of hell

The words of Dante come to mind when I think of Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan’s decision to abstain on a vote establishing a commission of inquiry into ‘Operation Protective Edge’ at the UN Human Rights Council and I quote: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”

John McDonagh


Co Mayo

Self-defence in Gaza

I read David Quinn’s piece on the rise of anti-semitism sentiment in Europe, although I would say it’s more like almost world-wide.

With the strongest condemnation of the anti-semitism, I am disgusted that you blame it on defenceless people of Gaza and Hamas.

You, without any shame, give absolute right of defence to Israel without any consideration of innocent lives.

Are you calling the shelling of UN schools self-defence?

Are you calling bombing of hospitals self-defence? Are you calling the shooting of children playing on the beach self-defence?

Are you calling the genocide carried out by second-largest army in the occupied land self-defence?

All the above are, in any book, war crimes. On the other hand, you might need lessons in English or humanity.

When you lock 1.8 million people into one area, how can you distinguish between military and civilian zones?

You have no idea how it is living in those conditions and – although Israel uses the rockets as an excuse for the killing of close to 2,000 people, of whom 30pc are children, in the last three weeks – it is shameful that you use your Israeli media as your reference. Shame on you.

Mahmoud Zahedi

Trauma and my tooth

Getting my tooth out recently was a piece of cake. It was with some trepidation I approached the dentist’s surgery, as it was the first time in over a quarter of a century that I had undergone this procedure.

Initially, the dentist put me at my ease by engaging in some light-hearted banter. He explained the procedure to me by saying I would hear certain sounds much louder than I would expect, as well as informing me that if there were problems he would have to carry out a different procedure.

He did all of this in a calm and confident voice. He talked to me throughout the procedure and, while the whole operation took around a half an hour, my tooth was out before I realised it.

A couple of follow-up phone calls in the days after the operation put my mind at ease regarding the dangers of getting a “dry socket,” a particularly painful condition that affects a small minority of people who get teeth out. Thankfully, that never happened to me.

The whole procedure put me thinking of how adversity affects us in our lives. Many of us experience trauma and often the trauma isn’t even acknowledged by the person themselves or those around them. The person is left to just get on with things. All of this just adds to the original trauma.

Getting a tooth out is traumatic. The dentist informed me that it is the only such operation where the person remains completely conscious throughout.

Appropriate attention during the procedure and follow-up after-care promoted healing both physically and mentally.

Now I’ll have to cut down on the cake to ensure I don’t have to go through this again!

Tommy Roddy


Ivan Yates and loyalty

Ivan Yates in a previous role as a Fine Gael TD talked about loyalty when there was a heave against his then leader John Bruton.

He thought it was disloyal that four members of the frontbench – Jim Higgins, Jim O’Keeffe, Alan Shatter and Charles Flanagan – would try and oust his leader. As things turned out – thanks to Michael Ring, Mayo West, and Eric Byrne, Dublin South Central (winning seats in by-elections), – Mr Bruton did become Taoiseach and Mr Yates’ loyalty was repaid by being appointed Minister for Agriculture.

When, out of choice, Mr Yates left the political stage in 2002, he departed after 21 years of Dail service with a ministerial pension and a Dail deputy’s pension payable at a certain time.

It might not be any harm if Ivan Yates in his writing showed a little bit of loyalty to this party that saw him elected a county counsellor at 19 and a TD at 21 and a senior government minister at 34.

I don’t know anybody in the public sector that acquired incremental payment at such a youthful age and retired at such a young age and then acquired more work.

So Ivan, show a bit more loyalty to the party that gave you such great opportunities at a young age and spare a thought for the poor struggling public sector workers like teachers, gardai and the nurses who the country can’t be run without.

Thomas Garvey


Co Mayo

Unique advice

Just recently I read two brilliant quotes which I would like to share with your readers. “Each of us is unique, we all have something that only we can offer the people in our lives and even the world at large.”

“Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.”

Brian Mc Devitt

Co Donegal

Irish Independent


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