20 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 wettish day. Sharland comes to call

Scrabble: Mary wins, but gets just over 400. perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

107 Games Mary win 57 John 50


Professor George Scanlon – obituary

Professor George Scanlon was a scholar of Islamic art who uncovered a flourishing society in the ruins of al-Fustat, an early capital of Egypt

Scanlon (pointing) directing excavations at Fustat with his two Polish colleagues, Professors W Kubiak and A Ostrach

Scanlon (pointing) directing excavations at Fustat with his two Polish colleagues, Professors W Kubiak and A Ostrach

6:44PM BST 18 Aug 2014


Professor George Scanlon, who has died aged 88, was a scholar of Islamic art and architecture and a pivotal figure in the excavation of early Islamic settlements in Egypt.

He was best known for his excavation work at the settlement of al-Fustat, Egypt’s first capital during the Islamic period. Though occupied since antiquity, the city, built immediately after the Arab conquest of Egypt in AD 641 and featuring the first mosque built on the continent of Africa, reached its peak in the 12th century. But in 1168 it was burned down on the orders of its vizier to keep its wealth out of the hands of the Crusaders. The ruins were eventually absorbed by Cairo, and for some 800 years were used as a rubbish dump. When Scanlon first visited the area in 1964, the site was in danger of being buried under modern buildings.

At the time that Scanlon began his work, most archaeologists working in Egypt tended to focus on pre-Islamic sites. The Arab conquest of 641 was generally seen as marking something of a pause — even a step backwards — in the civilisation of Egypt; so the archaeology of the Islamic period tended to be neglected.

Scanlon’s excavations, however, revealed a flourishing society living in a city which featured a coherent street plan and an extensive and sophisticated sewerage and drainage system, and enjoyed extensive trading links with countries ranging from Spain to China.

Scanlon’s findings at al-Fustat and other Islamic sites helped to stimulate a new scholarly interest in Islamic art and archaeology work in Egypt, with missions being established to investigate sites throughout the country. “It’s like a Cinderella story,” Scanlon observed. “Now we’re with the best of them.”

George Scanlon was born on April 23 1926 in Philadelphia, and took degrees in History and Literature at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. It was during his service with the US Navy in the 1950s that he became interested in the medieval civilisation of the Mediterranean and Egypt. Returning to the United States, he took another degree, in Oriental Studies, followed by a doctorate at Princeton University. In 1957-58 he spent a year as a Fulbright Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the American University in Cairo (AUC), researching his doctoral thesis entitled A Muslim Manual of War, an examination of Mameluke equestrian warfare.

From the 1960s onwards, under the auspices of the American Research Center in Cairo, Scanlon became active as a field director archaeologist, working for three seasons on medieval sites in Nubia — Gebel Adda and the Coptic monastery of Qasr al-Wizz — as part of the Unesco-funded campaign to save or record monuments before they were engulfed by the waters rising behind the Aswan Dam. Subsequently he worked for nine seasons at al-Fustat.

Unusually for Egyptian archaeology, these were “rescue” digs carried out, often in a hurry, with the aim of documenting important sites before their destruction. This necessitated much improvisation, and, when leading excavations at al-Fustat, Scanlon directed activities from the quarterdeck of a houseboat (appropriately named Fustat) that served for many years as his office and home.

A lively individual known for his colourful work shirts (which students competed for once he grew tired of them) and for breaking into operatic arias while he worked, Scanlon would deal with any insubordination from the lower decks with the experience acquired in the US Navy in the South China Seas.

After a hard working day, the boat would become a social centre where members of the archaeological team might rub shoulders with a visiting writer, a film star, or a sprinkling of local ambassadors — though Scanlon would invite only the sort of diplomats capable of holding their own in a discussion of, say, the novels of Henry James.

When not working in the field, Scanlon pursued an extensive teaching career. He was a fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and Senior Visiting Fellow at St Anthony’s College in Oxford (1966-68 and 1971-74), where he funded and inaugurated the annual George Antonius lecture.

He was an Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan (1969-1971) and research curator at the university’s Kelsey Museum of Ancient and Medieval Archaeology. He was Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at AUC from 1974 to 2011.

Scanlon set demanding standards of scholarship and would never “dumb down”, always insisting on exactitude in dates and facts. Students working on his excavations at al-Fustat would often test him by buying a modern piece of pottery, encrusting it with dirt, then mixing it in with other finds to see if he could be tricked. He never was.

Scanlon received numerous honours, including election as a Corresponding Member of the Institut d’Égypte in 1987. In 1998 he was the first recipient of the Middle East Medievalists’ (MEM) Lifetime Achievement Award.

He was unmarried.

Professor George Scanlon, born April 23 1926, died July 13 2014


I can’t help thinking that every time David Cameron utters the words “family-friendly”, a couple with 2.4 children (in need of a tax break) are at the front of his mind (Cameron puts ‘family test’ back on agenda, 18 August). All manner of policies impact on families; he need look no further than the scandal of children and young people with mental health problems being assessed in police cells due to a shortage of health facilities (Report, 18 August). Let’s hope that one of the parties contesting the next election will have the courage to call for increased spending on healthcare; after all, 49% of us support such a policy (Half of voters happy to pay more tax to fund NHS, 16 August).
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

• Cameron’s test to ensure that all domestic policies help family life is surely just to make us think that Conservatives are genuinely interested in our welfare. We are talking here about home life. Home, no matter where or what its material and human combination and composition, is where we seek solace, shelter, warmth, love, affection and nurture. When our home life, for whatever reason, becomes physically and mentally intolerable, we and it become dysfunctional, and the place that should give us stability and security gives us neither. Concern about the impact of the cost of living and living conditions and cultural nourishment on home life is one of the bedrocks of socialism. Is Cameron a closet lefty?
Judy Marsh

• Not all so called “problem families” are poor (Zoe Williams, Whose fault is poverty? The election blame game is on, 18 August). Some may be wealthy. In his study of public schools (Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion, 2014), psychotherapist Nick Duffell questions the decisions of some parents to send their children to boarding schools (Report, 10 June) when the outcome can be adults who find it difficult to make satisfactory personal relationships.

The head of the government’s Troubled Families programme, Louise Casey, could ask David Cameron to extend her brief. Problem: David Cameron is a main case study in Duffell’s book. Indeed Duffell argues that the dominance of the Commons by those from public schools makes for unsatisfactory government.
Bob Holman

• Louise Casey would be helped in her task if she considered the advice given by the English historian RH Tawney a century ago in his inaugural lecture at LSE on “Poverty as an Industrial Problem”: “Improve the character of individuals by all means – if you feel competent to do so, especially of those whose excessive incomes expose them to particular temptations.” And as Baroness Barbara Wootton pointed out in 1959, commenting on the training of social workers, “Until we have abolished mental and physical illness, poverty and overcrowding, as well as such human frailties as jealousy and self-assertiveness, many of the problems presented are frankly insoluble. But they can often be alleviated, and most of them, it is worth noting, would be a lot more tolerable if those afflicted with them had a lot more money.” Perhaps Mr Cameron’s new concern about families should lead him to have a word with Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Pickles about the adverse effects of their policies on families.
Professor John Veit-Wilson
Newcastle University

• If politicians are genuine in their concern about the health and wellbeing of our children (and ultimately our society), they need to understand what is known about brain development and put in place policies that support the best environment for our children’s development. Young children who are nurtured, talked to and played with attentively by a constant, sensitive and responsive carer – most often, but not always, the mother – with other caring adults as secondary attachment figures will almost invariably thrive.

The lives of children will only be improved when the emotional needs of very young children are safeguarded and given due weight by policymakers. Scientific research is convincing in its message that the first three years of life shape a child’s physical, emotional and mental development – for good or bad – out of proportion to the rest of childhood.

What About The Children?, a national charity that speaks out about the emotional needs of children under three, would like to see policymakers promoting prevention rather than intervention to protect the wellbeing of all children by establishing: universal education and support services during the perinatal period; tax and benefit systems that promote the role of families in caring for children; high-quality care for all children under three that prioritises, irrespective of the setting, continuity of sensitive care.
Lydia Keyte
Chair, What About The Children?

• The dreaded Tina – “there is no alternative” – has spooked ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions into the mantra that the bedroom tax is absolutely necessary to get the housing benefit under control (Woman killed herself after worries about bedroom tax, 13 August). No matter that they were warned that the stress of demanding both bedroom tax rent up to £24 a week and council tax up to £8 a week from single adults receiving £72.40 jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), employment and support allowance (ESA) or income support from April 2013 would lead to suicide.

During the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 they were sent a case reported by the local government ombudsman in 2001 of a single, semi-literate adult living alone in Southwark (and 30 other debt-related suicides). Jobcentre Plus mistakenly cancelled his JSA, so Southwark cancelled his housing and council tax benefits, creating arrears in both accounts. Southwark’s outsourced agent sent him a summons for unpaid council tax of £235.10, plus costs. The summons (about 3m of which are dispatched a year) contains the following threats, in bold type and highlighted: “The council will be able to … instruct bailiffs to take your goods to settle your debt – this can include your car. You will be liable to pay the bailiffs’ costs which could substantially increase the debt. Instruct your employer to deduct payments from your salary or wages. Deduct money straight from your jobseeker’s allowance or income support. Make you bankrupt. Make a charging order against your home. Have you committed to prison.”

His body was found hanging in his flat. The police found the summons with him, paper littered with rough calculations and a note: “Dear … I at to do this I am in so much in Detr good By for ever Love …”
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• Polly Toynbee is right to say that Jobcentre Plus offices have become sanction factories (Comment, 13 August). Last winter my brother received two unjust sanctions from his jobcentre. The first immediately deprived him of his jobseeker’s allowance for 13 weeks, the second deprived him of his allowance for four weeks. We appealed. When the DWP refused to overturn them, we pursued our appeal to HM Courts & Tribunals – where both sanctions were swiftly quashed on the grounds of unreasonableness, and my brother’s lost benefit immediately restored.

It is grossly unfair that benefits are stopped as soon as a sanction is imposed, and not when all paths of appeal have been exhausted. Nevertheless, my advice to anyone who feels they have been wrongly sanctioned is to appeal. Don’t be put off by the DWP upholding the initial sanction – it seems to be its default position. And don’t be put off by the appeals procedure. It looks arduous but isn’t. Keep going, in writing, beyond the DWP to the independently minded HM Courts & Tribunals – where common sense and justice seem to reside. It is your right.

I believe many unjust sanctions are knowingly imposed in the knowledge that many jobseekers won’t have the willpower to appeal against them. Don’t let them get away with that. Appeal, appeal, appeal.
Simon Block
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

• Is “Labour’s poverty plus a pound policy”, in David Laws’s phrase (Report, 16 August), by any chance related to the policy that lifted 600,000 children out of poverty and which has been followed by a rise in child poverty under the Tory/Lib Dem coalition?
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

Trident relocation costs detailed

I read with much interest Richard Norton-Taylor’s analysis of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report, suggesting that Plymouth Devonport could be a reasonable alternative to Faslane, should Scotland become independent (Trident could go to England, says thinktank, 14 August). The Rusi report argues there are no insurmountable technical or financial obstacles to Plymouth being a site. Well, unlike Faslane, the Plymouth site is next to a significant population of 260,000 people. The site also contains a considerable number of redundant submarines that are waiting, after an exhaustive decade-long consultation period, a final decision on what will be done with them. An accident with a Trident submarine at Devonport does not bear thinking about and the report admits there are a number of realistic scenarios that would put the public at risk.

I would also think the local authorities, local MPs and the local population may be concerned about it, and many would actively oppose it. The Rusi report also suggests it will “only” cost an extra £3.5bn on top of the already huge £80bn cost for Trident replacement – £3.5bn would have avoided much of the deep cuts in local government budgets, or plugged the holes in the NHS, or of our conventional armed forces. What the report really outlines is the need for a thorough, carefully considered and informed public debate on the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.

Last week, many of our members commemorated the 69th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. Is it not about time that we had a sensible, rational debate about why we do not need nuclear weapons? They don’t protect us from terrorism, nor climate change, nor future health pandemics. Our political parties need to rethink Trident, and actively reconsider our future role in a troubled world.
Cllr Mark Hackett
Chair of Nuclear Free Local Authorities

• The headline above Simon Jenkins’ comment piece on the obscenity that is Trident was enough to make my day (Trident is absurd. Scotland may help us get rid of it, 15 August). “Oh joy,” I thought, “finally, those metropolitan types get it!” Then, in the third paragraph, he refers to “the wild, unpopulated lochs…”. The sleepy hamlet of Glasgow is 25 miles away from Faslane. Closer by you’ll find Balloch, Helensburgh, Dunoon, Garelochhead…
Colin Montgomery

• Simon Jenkins’ article on Trident is very welcome. We have had ample warnings about nuclear weapons. Archbishop Tutu condemned nuclear weapons as an “obscenity”. The great humanitarian Victor Gollantz wrote, in The Devil’s Repertoire, “To drop a nuclear bomb, in any circumstances whatever … would be the final iniquity, final in the sense that no more abominable iniquity is possibly conceivable by the mind of man: sheer, unqualified evil”.

Albert Einstein said: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

A UN joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons on 21 October 2013 was supported by 125 states and declared: “The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed. All efforts must be exerted to eliminate the threat of these weapons of mass destruction.”

John F Kennedy warned “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or madness.” As Simon Jenkins says, our leaders want nuclear weapons because without them they fear “loss of influence”. In effect, our leaders are willing to risk terminal disaster for fear of losing influence. Do we really want such people to be in positions of power?
Jim McCluskey
Author of The Nuclear Threat

Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front

I have to thank you for publishing the story about the forgotten men of the Chinese Labour Corps (Painted out of history, Britain’s Chinese allies, 15 August). My grandfather served with them in France and was invalided back to the UK after being gassed. He recovered enough to start a Chinese provision shop importing goods from Hong Kong by West India Dock. He prospered, and was able to bring his son, my father, from China to learn and take over the business before returning home to later die.

My father prospered too. He did good business serving the Chinese crews from the ships coming from the far east, and was able to bring my mother from China in 1927. I was born in 1929, and we were not able to return to China later due to war – first the Japanese and then the Germans. After the war, my father died and the People’s Republic of China confiscated all our property back at the village, and so we are now settled here, with four generations in the UK. I believe that we are a unique family.
William Wong

• Your account understated how horrendously these 95,000 Chinese were treated, as were 40,000 under French control. As Xu Guoqi revealed in his book Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War, members of the Chinese Labour Corps who survived the journey from China were in effect held as forced labour – mostly used for trench digging, and so exposed to direct enemy fire. When not working, they were held in barbed-wire compounds, frequently beaten, and addressed not by name but by a “coolie number”.

After the war, the 80,000 or so CLC personnel still alive were engaged in mine clearance – often fatal. In 1919 CLC survivors, ordered to leave Belgium, were interned in France. Some were killed when groups of British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealander troops threw grenades into CLC camps; others are said to have been shot to avoid repatriation costs. All this is a reminder of how dehumanising and brutalising violent conflict is for all drawn into it.
Bruce Ross-Smith

Himalayan Balsam Flower

We would like to assure Paul Gleave (Letters, 14 August) and Roger Brake (Letters, 15 August) that their concerns regarding Himalayan balsam are being addressed. Over the past decade, thanks to funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency, we have been investigating the natural enemies of this plant in its homeland in the valleys of the western Himalayas. An Indian fungus – a Puccinia rust species – has undergone intensive research during the past five years in our UK quarantine facility and has proved to be highly specific and damaging to its co-evolved host. The resultant pest risk assessment has been approved by both the UK and EU parliaments and the rust will be released in experimental trials later this year – a first for Britain and Europe. It is expected that the fungus will have a significant impact on the competitiveness of this invasive alien weed and thus reduce its highly deleterious effect on the British countryside.
Dr Harry Evans and Dr Rob Tanner
CAB International, Egham, Surrey

Margaret Thatcher

However much Thatcher scorned the solidarity of others (Pride with solidarity, 18 August), she unequivocally espoused it for herself, and her own – “one of us” within the party, homeowners across the nation, and everyone else against the European federalists. This is the problem with such an essentially apolitical idea as solidarity – its value depends entirely on what the solidarity is about. The other side of the solidarity coin is groupthink, and there is no shortage of it among old boys’ networks, freemasons, Tories, bond traders, the English Defence League, the West Bank settlement community, Boko Haram and Islamic State. It should never be celebrated for its own sake, in isolation from its purpose – and its purpose must always remain open to criticism.
Jon Griffith
Hastings, East Sussex

• No useful cats (Letters, 17 August)? My enormous tabby-and-white tom (RIP Nitty) scared off a burglar by dropping off the bed with a loud thump when he heard strange noises and went to investigate. What, too, of the American tabby on the internet video who hurled herself at a vicious dog that had attacked a little boy?
Deirdre Mason

• Was Marina O’Loughlin’s demonstrably untrue statement – “Once you get outside the major conurbations, people will put up with any old mass-produced pap” – meant to provoke fury (Restaurants, Weekend, 16 August)? If so, it succeeded.
Chris Stephenson
Saxmundham, Suffolk

• I don’t drive, have never owned a car, and can just about distinguish a Rolls from a Mini. But somehow I find myself enjoying Sam Wollaston’s column every week (On the road, Weekend, 16 August). Who knows, I might even buy a car.
Sonya Mills

• Newspapers used to publish football league tables only after at least three games had been played. To print them after one game (Sport, 18 August) is daft.
Robin Nicholas
Farnham, Surrey

• “Victor, England’s only captive polar bear” (Arctic roll, 19 August)? I think we should be told where the wild ones are.
Chris Evans
Earby, Lancashire

I read with interest Santanu Das’s article (1 August) about the first world war and was disturbed by a significant omission in his account. He needed to continue south from India until he reached the continent of Australia and include in his discussion all those Aboriginal men who served in the conflict.

A 1901 estimate indicates that there had been almost 100,000 Indigenous Australians living in this country. It is known that of these, about 1,000 served during the first world war and just over 100 were either killed in action or died of wounds or disease. It should be acknowledged that officially they were not allowed to enlist, it being considered that they could cause irritation to the white men with whom they will serve. Those who were successfully recruited had needed to resort to such tactics as hiding their Aboriginality, claiming foreign nationality or by travelling hundreds of kilometres to find a recruiting centre that would accept them.

The Australian War Memorial is working hard to compile a more accurate account of the war history of Indigenous Australians, a task made very difficult because of the rubbery nature of early 20th-century records. This would have been largely due to the prevailing attitudes of the day, which regarded Aborigines as a lesser race. Indeed, there are stories coming to light of some extraordinary feats of valour by these black first world war soldiers that have never been acknowledged.

A former prime minister of Australia offered a very moving and articulate apology to the Indigenous peoples, but sadly there is still a very long way to go before there can be reconciliation in this country.
Annie Didcott
Canberra, Australia

• Santanu Das’s account of non-white involvement in the first world war opened my eyes. Canada’s recent marking of war’s outbreak featured the contribution of Francis Pegahmagabow, Canada’s most decorated aboriginal soldier. As scout and sniper, with every kill confirmed by a white officer, he won three military medals. Would a white man with his record have been more generously rewarded?

Pegahmagabow returned to Parry Island in Georgian Bay and, chosen as chief, he remained only another tribal member to government agents who bullied him as he, despite being damaged mentally and physically by war, tried to improve the lot of his people.

Joseph Boyden’s novel, Three Day Road, based on Pegahmagabow’s wartime story, deftly intertwines experience in the trenches with aboriginal life in northern Ontario. Boyden’s details of scouting in no man’s land correspond exactly to those of my late father-in-law, who, like Pegahmagabow, served for four years.
Elizabeth Quance
Westmount, Quebec, Canada

The importance of facts

Jonathan Freedland assumes authorial omniscience as he explains what and why the public thinks and feels (25 July). His evidence? A tally of who’s reading what on the Guardian website. His one explanation of the fact that more people are reading about the downing of MH17 than about Gaza is that “we” have a “morbid fascination” and identification with the personal experiences of the victims: any of “us” could also die in such an accident. But “we” do not similarly feel the same inward preoccupation with Gaza as they “are in a situation utterly different to ours”, but “we” have an “outward” horror about their catastrophe.

These suppositions are stated as fact while Freedland’s disquisition about the actual massacre aims to dispute facts by positing an assumption that there is no black and white, no good and bad side, no simple victim and oppressor side – as if these allegations stem from the distortions of entrenched fears on both the Israeli and Palestinian side.

What is Freedland’s evidence for this, and would not it be legitimate to ask if the fears and despair come from fantasy or reality? UNRWA notified Israel countless times that the bombed UN school was being used as a shelter. Israel could have blocked the tunnels just as Egypt did – obviating any direct military interventions. There is evidence too that Palestinians who did penetrate into Israel through the tunnels aimed to kidnap soldiers, not kill civilians, and that in fact they only targeted military installations.

The facts can be ascertained in investigations. Black and white and grey are Freedland’s formulations, likely derived from his own personal psychology. With such horrendous loss of life perpetrated by one of the world’s most powerful countries, a nation with a thriving arms trade, with a “secret” nuclear arsenal, whose assaults are perpetrated over and over again with impunity, it’s clearly important to get the facts.
Judith Deutsch
Toronto, Canada

Peace prize for Snowden

I was a supporter of Barack Obama long before he ran for the Senate in 2004. I often wonder what the US would be like if Obama had been president for the past six years, instead of whoever is heading the current administration:

If Obama were president, our privacy and civil rights would not be undermined by government spying;

If Obama were president, the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay would have been closed;

If Obama were president, his accomplishments would have earned the Nobel Peace prize, instead of making Edward Snowden a prime candidate for that honour (25 July).
James K Genden
Evanston, Illinois, US

Australia’s carbon tax

Jenny Goldie (Reply, 8 August) states that repeal of the carbon tax in Australia caused deep shame to many Australians. That is not what the majority of Australians thought when they supported this repeal, which was a main platform of the Liberal party in the last election. What is a fact is that Australia is a world leader in the export of fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas. To be consistent, she should be advocating the halting of these carbon exports, which far outstrip any possible reduction of greenhouse gases in Australia. This measure was correctly named as a tax. To state otherwise is just hypocritical.

Further, she omits to mention that it was the Palmer United party that required the benefits of repeal to be passed on to the consumer. And I will not hold my breath waiting for big business to comply.
Gerry Cartmel
Bridgetown, Western Australia

Greece’s tax dilemma

So Pete Sheppard thinks that the EU, ECB and the IMF should send experts to Greece to combat tax evasion (Reply, 8 August). As I remember, in October 2010, Christine Lagarde (head of IMF to be) gave George Papaconstantinou (Greece’s former finance minister) a list of suspected culprits involved in the $35bn-a-year tax dodging thefts that drain the Greek economy. I don’t think anything ever came of it. What more does Sheppard want of us?
Don Dormer
Frankfurt, Germany

Of dogs and cats

As an addendum to Jason Wilson’s defence of mongrel breeds of dogs (8 August), I ask why don’t dogs of any kind, pure bred, mongrel or wild, clean themselves? At best they drag themselves along the ground after doing their thing and require that their owners wipe their bottoms and wash them. How could one have any preference between a dirty pet and a dirty pet?

Meanwhile, any feline is clean and sweet-smelling, having thoroughly cleaned itself and its offspring for as long as it takes. It reacts to any attempt at washing with a violent protest against the suggestion that it needs washing. Of course, it doesn’t, whereas dogs do.

Williams needs to consider more basic information about the breed of a pet than just how curly its hair happens to be.
John Graham
Hoogstraten, Belgium


• Jo Tuckman clearly describes the reasons why children are being sent unaccompanied across the southern US border (18 July). Murder and crime on the part of drug cartels would be reduced, if not eliminated, if all soft and hard drugs were legitimised throughout the world. The lessons learned from the abolition of prohibition seem to have been forgotten.
Nicholas Solntseff
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

• The Greater Manchester chief constable will no doubt have the noblest of intentions by seeking new access to medical files (15 August) to help the police force protect vulnerable people. If the resources of the British police are as stretched as those in Australia, my guess is that the British police won’t have the time to utilise such a facility for its intended purpose.
Eddie van Rijnswoud
Kalamunda, Western Australia

• There is a certain relief in learning that rats pervade in Paris parks (8 August). It proves that the country is still afloat.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France


We can all share Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s compassion for the unfortunate migrants found in a container at Tilbury docks (18 August), but it is wrong to paint them as entirely innocent. 

They were complicit in a criminal act. They paid to be transported in a way that they knew was dangerous and illegal. They did not stop at the first country that could offer them asylum but travelled on to Britain. To offer them asylum now would be a slap in the face to all those asylum seekers who use the legal channels.

Of course we should accept a certain number of asylum seekers based on due process. We should not feel we have to accept every illegal immigrant who washes up on our shores with a desperate story. That will just encourage more illegal immigration.

Paul Sloane
Camberley,  Surrey


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown points to the world’s gross inequalities, one consequence of which is the desperate attempts by so many people to enter Europe. She ends by writing: “No other issue leaves me feeling so unutterably hopeless.”

In The Gambia, where we have been working for the past 30 years, we see young men either climbing into flimsy boats and many drowning at sea or dying of starvation as they attempt to cross the Sahara on foot.

We think we have come up with two potential solutions. International development has rightly tended to focus on women’s development over the last 30 years. Listen to Justine Greening talking about the importance of women’s and girls’ education. But we have forgotten the hundreds of thousands of young men who are on the streets of Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria and The Gambia. We estimate that only 10 per cent of men are in employment five years after leaving school.

We are embarking on a programme of supporting business entrepreneurship, thus creating wealth and employment, and simultaneously encouraging corporate social responsibility among thriving businesses in The Gambia, to get away from the constant and unsustainable dependence on outside aid.

The focus has got to shift. We hope it works.

Dr Nick Maurice
Director, Marlborough Brandt Group
Marlborough, Wiltshire


‘Soft’ subjects seem  to be harder

In your editorial on A-level results (15 August) you suggest that “more pupils were encouraged to take tougher subjects like science and maths this year”. A sign of how pervasive is this misperception of “tough” and “soft” subjects is that even a paper as objective as The Independent makes this observation despite publishing evidence to the contrary on another page.

Your breakdown of results by subject reveals the proportion achieving A* or A as, for selected “tougher” subjects: maths 42.1%, chemistry 32.6%, physics 30.6%, biology 27.5%. And for selected “easier” subjects: English 20.0%, sociology 18.3%, business 14.6%, drama 14.5%.

Might someone explain why a much smaller proportion of students achieve A* or A in the “soft” arts, humanities and social sciences than in the “hard” maths and physical sciences?

Dr Giles Hooper
University of Liverpool


Among the comments in your A-level results coverage regarding the increased uptake of maths and science, I was particularly saddened by the comment attributed to John Cridland about the poor take-up of languages.

My son is lucky enough to attend Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys School (Habs) and was one of 11 boys to have completed GCSE Italian this year. As only two boys have opted to continue Italian at A-level, the school will not run the course.

If a school of Habs’ almost limitless resources is taking this stance, I imagine there is little hope of the state sector doing better. The end of minority language teaching at A-level is nigh.

John Baines
Radlett, Hertfordshire

Met committed to fight corruption

Your article “Secret internal police report points to ‘highly corrupt cells in the Met’” (8 August) paints an overly negative picture of our efforts to tackle corruption. I would like to reassure your readers and the public of London that the Met is, and was, totally committed to thwarting the threat posed by corruption.

What your article fails to make plainly clear is that the three former officers referred to were in fact all thoroughly investigated and charged with serious offences, and the Crown Prosecution Service believed there to be sufficient evidence to put before a jury. That in itself demonstrates both ability and a willingness to tackle crime within our ranks.

The Met’s early approach to tackling corruption in the 1990s was brave, innovative and bold. It took the tactics we used to tackle serious and organised crime and used them against police officers, who were themselves experienced and street-wise detectives. This method had successes and transformed our anti-corruption approach.

There can be no finishing line when tackling corruption within the Met. So while the corruption we face has changed over the past decade, so have our tactics. Our determination and commitment, for the good of Londoners and the honest hard-working men and women of the Met, to tackling corrupt staff and those who seek to corrupt them will never diminish.

Craig Mackey
Deputy Commissioner
Metropolitan Police


Mysteries of the Cliff Richard raid

It is clear that South Yorkshire Police gave the BBC advance notice of the raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s Sunningdale home and that Sir Cliff knew nothing of it until he saw the media coverage. This is deplorable and requires a full explanation by both the police and the BBC.

Searches for financial records in cases of suspected fraud are one thing, but what possible evidence did the police expect to find in Berkshire of an alleged assault 29 years ago in a stadium 175 miles away in Sheffield?

And what evidence did SYP place before a magistrate to justify the search warrant and to seek it without notice to Sir Cliff? In several recent cases the High Court has drawn attention to the need for courts to be more circumspect in considering such applications, made without the other side being present to rebut or question any assertion made to support the application.

Sir Cliff has stated that he will co-operate with the police if they wish to speak to him. Will the police, in their turn, be transparent over their investigation?

David Lamming
Boxford, Suffolk

Circumcision rituals across the world

You report on an outbreak of tribal bellicosity in Western Kenya (13 August). Members of the Bukusu tribe have felt so elevated by their feast of circumcision as to have forced the procedure on males of the neighbouring Turkana tribe, greatly to the latter’s annoyance.

However, before rushing into judgement on the motives of the Bukusu, we must ask: is this morally any different from the routine, legal, and similarly unconsensual prepucectomies carried out by parents on their infant male offspring in western countries?

David Hamilton


You report (18 August) on the UK’s first specialist FGM clinic.

While this initiative is timely and welcome, it is important to draw  attention to the tireless  work of Comfort Momoh MBE, who has been caring for victims of FGM at her dedicated African Well Woman Clinic at Guy’s Hospital and educating health professionals for around two decades.

Dr Rowena Fieldhouse
London SE21


Farage wobbles  on sovereignty

I had always supposed that Nigel Farage believed in the sovereignty of the British Parliament, and that that was the basis of his opposition to the EU; however, on 15 August he introduced a new doctrine: “Ukip”, he says, “believes in direct democracy: that is, letting the people decide.”

Later on he says: “It is a basic issue of democracy which I believe should be decided by the people and not bureaucrats”; but this is not the way our constitution works. Perhaps Mr Farage needs to re-read Bagehot.

John Dakin
Toddington, Bedfordshire


North-south divide in the pub

If it makes Charles Garth (letter, 19 August) feel better about being charged more for beer in Lancashire because he was a “southern toff”, I was once in a pub in Wembley which was filling up with northern rugby league fans in town for the Challenge Cup Final.

I overheard the manager telling one of his staff to “charge the northerners an extra quid a pint. They expect it to be more expensive in London so they won’t say anything”. Sure enough, the poor punter handed over his cash without complaint. I had to intervene by pointing out the price list next to the bar.

It seems that, in pubs at least, we are all monetarily vulnerable to ridiculous stereotypes.

Michael O’Hare
Northwood, Middlesex


Critics of Israel should not assume that all Israelis are rightwing – or even Jewish

Sir, Dominic Kirkham does Israel an injustice by describing it as a “monster” because it has failed to live up to his young idealistic vision (letter, Aug 19).

Most countries could probably be criticised for a similar failure. Although he writes “Events do not happen in a vacuum”, he ignores the crucial fact that, since its creation, Israel has struggled to realise its vision while fighting off its surrounding enemies and their constant efforts to annihilate it and kill its citizens.

Israel is only human, and it is irresponsible to demand that it meets higher standards than any other country.

Professor David Weitzman

Sir, In reply to Dominic Kirkham’s letter, I am sure many of us were also “idealists” when we worked on kibbutzim in the 1960s. Reality, however, is somewhat different. Far from a sectarian state, Israel is a democracy, allowing religious freedom and, as Rabbi Sacks stated (Aug 16), preserving the rights of religious minorities. In Israel the 1.5 million Israeli Arabs have full rights, and there are currently 12 Arab members of parliament.

Kay Bagon
Radlett, Herts

Sir, If anything, Mr Kirkham’s letter proves Jonathan Sack’s point.

There is no justification for the actions of a government to be used as an excuse to exacerbate religious hatred. There is more than one way to heaven and the acceptance of other faiths is a starting point to creating harmony.

Across the Jewish diaspora is a plethora of opinions and lumping all Jews together as being card-carrying members of the Israeli right wing is wide of the mark. If Mr Kirkham wants to understand zealotry then he should cast his eye over the Hamas Charter and its eliminationist creed.

Ray Maxwell
London N14

Sir, Mr Kirkham claims Israel is indifferent to international law when in fact it is fully compliant. One of the huge problems of this dispute is the false claim, invoking international law, that settlements are illegal, when they are fully in accord with the right of Jewish presence in the whole of the area of former Mandate of Palestine.

Those who think it appropriate to trash a UK supermarket because it sells Israeli produce should understand that no Palestinian state will come into existence through terrorism.

Peter Simpson
Pinner, London

European Parliament amendments to data protection legislation will hamstring beneficial scientific research

Sir, Amendments to Europe’s Data Protection framework proposed by the European Parliament would undermine important research using personal data, with dire consequences for European research and, eventually, society at large. Scientists are using personal data in many vital areas of research which underpin policy making, ranging from the links between unemployment and health to the long-term socio-economic benefits to children who are breastfed. This research is based on large groups who have given broad consent for data about them to be linked from different sources, on the understanding that all research respects ethical and confidentiality safeguards. Researchers maintain contact with participants over years to build these data sets and the parliament’s amendments could make this contact difficult or, especially in the case of health-related data, impossible. As robust, well-tested, protocols are already in place, bona fide research using personal information should be allowed. The European Parliament’s amendments would undermine research in a wide range of academic disciplines.

Professor Paul Boyle, President of Science Europe / CEO Economic and Social Research Council, UK

Professor Miguel Seabra, President, Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT)

Dr. ir. Elisabeth Monard, Secretary General, Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)

Professor Emilio Lora-Tamayo, President, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

Professor Petr Mateju, President, Czech Science Foundation (GACR)

Dr Arvid Hallén, Director General, Research Council of Norway

Dr Eucharia Meehan, Director, Irish Research Council

Professor Alain Fuchs, President, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)

Dr Pascale Briand, Director General, French National Research Agency (ANR)

Professor Matthias Kleiner, President, Leibniz Association, Germany

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland

Dr Graham Love, CEO, Health Research Board, Ireland

Professor Peter Strohschneider, President, German Research Foundation (DFG)

Professor Martin Stratmann, President, Max Planck Society, Germany

Professor Jürgen Mlynek, President, Helmholtz Association, Germany

Professor Michel Laurent, Chairman, National Institute for Development (IRD), France

Professor Yves Lévy, CEO and Chairman, French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm)

Professor Peter Allebeck, Secretary General, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte)

Dr Franci Demšar, Director, Slovenian Research Agency

Professor Jaromír Pastorek, President, Slovak Academy of Sciences

Grete M. Kladakis, Head of Division, Office of the Danish Council for Independent Research

Professor Thomas Risse, Chair, Science Europe Social Sciences Committee

Professor Richard Frackowiak, Chair, Science Europe Medical Sciences Committee

Professor Dirk Inzé, Chair, Science Europe Life, Environmental and Geosciences Committee

Mt Emei in Sichuan is eclipsed in height, if not holiness, by the remote Mt Kailash in Tibet

Sir, You say (Aug 16) that Emei is China’s highest holy mountain. One might wish it otherwise but in reality Tibet has been part of China for over 60 years, and within its borders is Mt Kailash. At 6,714m high it dwarfs Emei and is regarded as so holy by Buddhists, Hindus, Bonpo and Jains that it has never been climbed. A circuit of the pilgrim route around the mountain is believed to annul all sins. The route is above 4,000m — and the highest point is 5,660m — so it is not to be undertaken lightly.

Peter Finch

Tring, Herts

Advancing from a law degree to a career in becoming increasingly competitive and discouraging

Sir, How sad it must be to find oneself so attached to London that the very idea of having to find a position as a pupil barrister anywhere outside of the Royal Boroughs, after all the gruelling hard work and financial wounding that comes with attending university, coupled with two years’ worth of applications, would be so unthinkable that one would rather “abandon hopes” than move elsewhere. May I suggest that anyone who finds themself in Kate Dunn’s situation (“A law degree: is it a waste of money?” Times2, Aug 18) look elsewhere in England and Wales, where any of many cities with crown courts may also contain chambers.

William Clay

Beverley, E Yorks

Sir, We really need to tell young people not to do a law degree at all if they think it will lead to employment at the Bar.

It will indeed be a waste of money. Defence barristers are leaving the Bar in droves because it is such a shambles. Cuts in legal aid, late payments for work done years ago, inefficiency by the CPS all contribute to a profession in crisis.

It is becoming impossible to make a living at the criminal Bar unless you are one of the very few at the top.

Sue Wood

Radlett Herts

Unhitching Scotland from the UK would open a large can of legislative worms

Sir, The Scottish government has said that the 1707 Acts of Union would be repealed prior to independence, but this poses a legal problem. The two Acts of 1707, collectively called the Act of Union, are the authorising legislation for the Westminster Parliament. Repeal it, and you risk invalidating all laws passed in the past 300 years. Facing the same problem in 1922, Ireland amended the two Acts of Union of 1801 to keep them on the statute book while a commission then went through 120 years of legislation, replacing UK laws with Irish equivalents. Ireland finally disposed of the Act of Union in 1983.

Should there be a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum, it is likely that the 1707 Act in some form will be with us for many years to come.

Russell Vallance

Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute

Amsterdam’s great museum allows flash-free photography – but does it help visitors to enjoy the paintings?

Sir, I was recently in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and was astonished to see people rushing around the galleries, not stopping to look at the paintings, but taking photographs of them (“Flashes of genius”, letter, Aug 16).

This included selfies and one person who repeatedly passed his camera to strangers to ask them to take his photo in front of a picture.

It may have been good publicity for the museum but it detracted considerably from my enjoyment of the visit.

Daphne Tutton


Sir, The Rijksmuseum allows photography, but not with flash. Last month I was reprimanded, very courteously, for breaking this rule.

RHG Charles

London, NW11


An Isle of Mull postie collecting from one of the Royal Mail’s familiar red post boxes Photo: Tony Smith / Alamy

6:58AM BST 19 Aug 2014


SIR – Collection of mail as early as 9am in effect converts first-class post to second-class and second-class to a new third-class. Monday’s work will arrive on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. The charges should reflect this.

David Vaudrey
Doynton, Gloucestershire

SIR – The little white tab on most post boxes, which tells us when the next collection will be made, is invaluable. Everyone posting a letter has the right to know whether it will catch the post the same day or not. This can be achieved by the simple tab system – low maintenance and a long history. No more empty tab slots (blind boxes) or boxes without tab slots at all (eyeless boxes).

John Mountford

SIR – It is pleasing that in this ever-changing world some things remain the same. This morning I was able to pick up two rubber bands from my front porch, just after the postman had been.

Malcolm Freeth
Bournemouth, Hampshire

SIR – My local town’s Post Office now has two post boxes, one labelled “All mail” and the other “All other mail”. Just to be on the safe side I chose “All mail”.

David Scott
Corfe Castle, Dorset

Nitrous oxide inhalation can cause vitamin B12 depletion among other problems

Laughing gas is party drug of choice for young people

The gas is usually inhaled from party balloons Photo: Christopher Pledger

6:59AM BST 19 Aug 2014


SIR – In your report about nitrous oxide (laughing gas) now being second only to cannabis as the drug of choice for teenagers (report, August 16), you correctly refer to resulting health problems associated with oxygen deprivation.

There is also a long-term consequence of vitamin B12 depletion. Nitrous oxide users are unable to absorb B12 from food, leading to extreme tiredness, personality changes, concentration problems and, eventually, severe and irreversible nerve damage – although the symptoms will often take many years to manifest themselves.

Users should reflect on the long-term and often debilitating effects of inhaling nitrous oxide before striving to experience any short-term euphoria.

Martyn Hooper
Chairman, Pernicious Anaemia Society
Bridgend, Glamorgan

SIR – The health risks posed by the current youth craze for inhaling nitrous oxide are beyond doubt. The small silver cylinders, designed to fill party balloons, discarded by users, also create a considerable litter problem in many urban areas.

Laughing gas abuse is becoming a menace, with chilling echoes of earlier glue-sniffing crazes. The sale of nitrous oxide should be prohibited to all but licensed medical and industrial bodies. The abuse of nitrous oxide and its sale on the open market should be made a criminal offence and the sale of domestic cream whippers and nitrous oxide refills banned or regulated.

If Theresa May, the Home Secretary, can get rid of qat, she can rid us of laughing gas and its revolting detritus.

Anthony Rodriguez
Staines-upon-Thames, Middlesex

Waspless plums

SIR – Where are all the wasps? I have just picked pounds of damsons and Victoria plums without seeing a single one.

Ann Brooke-Smith
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

The big sleep

SIR – My wife was driving recently with our seven-year-old grandchildren in the back of the car. Suddenly one of them began to cry. Asked what the matter was she said through faltering sobs: “That sign says ‘Tiredness can kill’,” before letting out another wail: “But I’m tired!”

Dr Brian Whiting
Canterbury, Kent

Autumn bank holiday

SIR – An additional holiday in October (Letters, August 18) could also commemorate Agincourt (October 1415), or of course El Alamein (October 1942), the turning point of the Second World War – according to Churchill, at least.

John Wilkins
Ware, Hertfordshire

SIR – With regard to the long gap in bank holidays between summer and Christmas, there is a compelling case for upgrading Remembrance Sunday to enable a proper breather and pause for reflection.

This could easily be achieved by closing shops on Remembrance Sunday, as on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

This would enhance the dignity, solemnity and reflection one associates with the occasion and enable more workers who are contracted to work on Sundays to be able to partake in Remembrance events.

John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex

Disease-free elms

SIR – Before I retired from farming, I let elm trees grow in the hedges (Letters, August 15). They would grow to around 15ft, and then succumb to Dutch elm disease.

I adopted a policy of cutting them down to hedge-height every four years or so, just before they would have died, and found that they grew up again disease-free.

Michael Dugdale
Bucknell, Shropshire

Guides in skirts

SIR – The new Girl Guides uniform launched this week consists of a blue and red zipped hoodie, a polo shirt and a long-sleeved sweat top.

There is also a skirt and dress available, but Guides and their leaders know that these items would not be sensible wear for all the outdoor activities that Guides can enjoy.

I suspect that only a small minority will choose a skirt or dress as well as, or instead of, activity wear, but these items have been provided for those girls who want the option.

Di Borthwick
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Subsidised viewing

SIR – I am delighted that Alison Place enjoys watching BBC Four (Letters, August 18).

Since I help to pay for her enjoyment of a channel that I never watch, perhaps she might consider making a small contribution to my monthly Sky subscription?

Dorn Brokenshire

Ightham, Kent

Bird-brained swervers

SIR – It is not the poorly educated pigeons sitting on the roads that concern me most (Letters, August 15), it is the foolishness of drivers prepared to risk human life by swerving round the blighters.

Ron Hill
Yarpole, Herefordshire

The long and the short

SIR – I noticed that at the European Athletics Championships the shorts for male sprinters are getting longer while the women’s are getting briefer.

Is there an aerodynamic reason for this?

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

A screenwriter reviews his one-star review

SIR – As the principal screenwriter on The Unbeatables, I invested my heart and soul in the film, neglecting my marriage and missing my mother’s final birthday to create something honest, funny and engaging for cinema-goers.

The Unbeatables is a rare and overdue story about bonding between Argentina and England via the medium of football. Juan José Campanella, the director, won an Oscar for his last film, so he probably knows what he’s doing.

Robbie Collin, in his one-star review of The Unbeatables, complains about the football element being “very, very long”. Maybe he doesn’t like football?

He also claims that the character Lara just cries all the time, but then he immediately quotes one of her wisecracks. Mr Collin dismisses her as a plot-fodder cry-baby, but she’s actually the brainiest one in the movie, an aspirational character who orchestrates others to conform to her plan. Throughout the film she fires one-liners like bullets ricocheting in a Western.

Thankfully, Telegraph readers have arrived to ensure fairness, posting comments under the review telling Mr Collin that it’s a “lovely, funny film”. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Richard O Smith

Reported numbers of Brits supporting Islamist terror organisations may only scratch the surface

Isis militants pose at a captured checkpoint in northern Iraq

Clear and present danger: Isis militants pose at a captured checkpoint in northern Iraq Photo: AFP/Getty

7:00AM BST 19 Aug 2014


SIR – The Prime Minister’s brave talk about Islamic State-related terrorists does no more than begin to address the problem.

None of the estimated 500 British citizens who are now fighters in the IS forces were brought up with the IS interpretation of Islam. All were brought up with something much milder, but all have been converted to the IS viewpoint.

So we might expect that a very much larger number of young Muslim men, and even some women, have been teetering on the edge of going to join IS and that a larger number still are ready to support them practically or morally. We might guess at 50,000.

Outside that circle are those who would not report such people to the authorities – a still bigger number. In the face of a problem involving such a large group of people, David Cameron’s implied solution will be no more than a drop in a bucket.

He does not have the manpower in the intelligence or enforcement services to control activists popping up at random within such a large population.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

SIR – Well-meaning Church of England prelates, through naive pacifism, have long endangered Christians in the Middle East, in the face of Islamist mass-murderers and homicidal dictators. Even today, many fail to side against Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic jihad, as these thugs’ primary targets are at the moment non-Christians.

Remember Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words: “When they came for [others] I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Andrew M Rosemarine

SIR – The immediate imperative in Iraq is to destroy the Islamic State’s capability through air strikes by the United States – and by Britain – until its strength is reduced to the point where local forces can deal with it. IS is vulnerable in a way the Taliban aren’t, since it does not have a Pakistan to shield it.

Can the international community really contemplate dealing with these people, if they take over Syria and claim a seat at the United Nations? If Western powers do not take decisive action, let us hope Russia will at least prevent the fall of Syria.

D S Shann
Preston, Lancashire

SIR – How can we possibly get involved in another war while we are in the process of sacking our elite military forces and are without a viable fixed-wing aircraft carrier?

Richard Waldron
Woolavington, Somerset

SIR – The Government should reconsider the decommissioning of the helicopter carrier Illustrious. This ship could deliver assistance to those in need in Iraq.

Albert Guest
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – William Binchy writes that the abortion debate has been compromised by politics (“UN committee’s view on abortion contradicts core ethical value of human rights”, Opinion & Analysis, August 18th).This is true. In a changing world of cultural diversity and values, what can one expect? The European Court of Human Rights is not a federal court, but a supervisory court which supervises the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the member states. And this is about 47 member states with varying cultures, languages and traditions. 

A classic example of the politics of human rights is well illustrated by the AB and C case v Ireland case in December 2010. Two of the applicants sought an abortion on the grounds of their health being in danger, and not their “lives”, and were refused an abortion. The court’s grand chamber held that there was no violation of the convention by Ireland. Yet in 35 other member states, A and B would have been given an abortion. The decision went against the European consensus.

If politics is the art of compromise , well this it. – Yours, etc,


Beggars Bush Court,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – If William Binchy was one of the three professionals who had to make the decision about delivering a baby before term, I wonder which of the following options he might have chosen: 1. Deliver the baby right on the cusp of viability (as happened) with the high risk of permanent harm to the child due to the premature birth (brain damage, eye sight, lung function, etc). 2. Wait until there was evidence that the woman was close to dying (through the self-harm she had threatened) and then make the decision to deliver the baby no matter what stage of the pregnancy she was at (and try to save the woman too). 3. Put the woman on a forced drip-feed (and security detail) so that she stayed alive with the baby being nourished to term, as is its human right; then deliver the baby and arrange for counselling, adoption, social service supports, etc, for both baby and mother. A fourth choice (not currently available) would be to give the woman access to a legal and safe abortion before 12 weeks. But then Mr Binchy doesn’t have to make any of these choices (or take responsibility for them). He only has to write about them. – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park East,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Prof Binchy advises that those of us concerned about Ireland’s international reputation should closely scrutinise the argument that Ireland should change its Constitution to comply with its international human rights obligations. By framing the question of whether or not a woman should have the right to choose to terminate her pregnancy as one concerning solely the right to life of the unborn, Prof Binchy utilises a familiar argument: are you in favour of denying an innocent child the right to life? Clearly, the answer must be no. It is an effective argument and, through repetition and reinforcement, Prof Binchy would have us believe that women have no place in the debate whatsoever.

Prof Binchy uses the term “human rights” 18 times in his article. He refers to “abortion” eight times and to the “unborn child/children” six times. He eschews medical terms that do not serve his argument, like zygote or foetus. Notwithstanding his repeated reference to the “equal worth and dignity of every human being”, the words “woman” or “mother” do not appear once.

I, for one, am concerned about Ireland’s international reputation where a “human rights” approach to the issue of abortion views the mother as utterly irrelevant.Women have human rights too. – Yours, etc,


Bath Street,


Dublin 4.

A chara, – Can we not just be grateful that the lives of mother and child were safeguarded? Not without difficulties; we cannot eliminate these. There are still problems to face. But why such predominant negativity? – Is mise,


Blackthorn Court,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – The almost total lack of concern for the wellbeing of the child at the centre of the case on the part of those who are crying foul at the treatment of its mother is chilling. Having been forced from the womb three months before term, he or she faces months of intravenous feeding and painful mechanical assistance to breathe, and having been born at just 26 weeks gestation, will have only an 80 per cent chance of surviving into adulthood and a 25 per cent chance of developing lasting disabilities of some kind.

These appalling prospects were not brought about by some kind of medical emergency but because the doctors at the centre of the case were compelled to induce the early birth of the child under the terms of the so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. How can this be good medical practice to condemn a child to this sort of danger? And in what other situation would doctors be compelled by law to perform a procedure that risked serious injury to a patient?

This case highlights the legal Pandora’s box that could open as a result of this case and any others in the future. Having introduced a law which compels doctors to curtail dramatically a child’s gestation in the womb, with serious damage to their health as a possible result, the State would surely be exposed to huge liability in any legal actions which may be taken by such children once they reach the age of majority, or by their legal guardians before then.

The same Government which worked hard to right the wrongs done to Irish citizens as a result of the Magdalene laundries and symphysiotomies may well, through the introduction of this legislation, create a whole new generation of people whose lives will be ruined at the hands of the State, leading to a further round of apologies in the Dáil by a future set of political leaders years or decades down the line. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.

Sir, – Further to the excellent letters yesterday from two other Donegal dwellers about the long, slow death of rural Ireland, politicians should consider what has happened to communities in England’s countryside.

I should say “former communities” because they hardly exist. The villages of England have all but vanished as living entities after a lengthy process of urbanisation in which bigness was seen as an economic and bureaucratic virtue.

So small local schools vanished, along with cottage hospitals. Soon after, the casual community meeting places – the post offices and shops – were closed. Other key services, such as transport, were removed. And then, of course, the people went. Many of the houses are still there, refurbished into charming and overpriced holiday homes for city folk who visit occasionally. Some are lived in by retired people who grumble about the need to travel so far for their daily bread.

This social vandalism occurred in England almost by accident, but we do not need to follow suit. There is still a chance to prevent it happening here if we adopt sensible policies.

But, I wonder, is there the political will to ensure that rural Ireland is saved from its neighbour’s fate? – Yours, etc,


Ballyarr House,


Co Donegal.

Sir, – On the recommendation of readers of The Irish Times, which voted Mayo the best place to “go wild” in Ireland, we are just back from a short family holiday in Mayo. It is a super county to visit, with exceptionally warm and friendly people, wonderful scenery and lots to do. In our short time there, we enjoyed visiting the Céide fields, the sea stack and blow-hole at Downpatrick and great walks at Erris Head and Ceathrú Thaidhg. We all loved the excitement of “coasteering” at Erris Head.

To finish, we cycled the greenway from Newport to Achill and we wondered why there are not more cycling greenways, in stunning west Cork, for example, where you take your life in your hands to cycle the roads.

Last year, we all enjoyed a short holiday in Donegal, taking in more lovely scenery and great walks.

So what’s there to complain about, you may ask. The roads to both counties are poor and so are a real disincentive to people to visit. Furthermore, very few of the roads within these counties deserve to be called national roads. Have your readers ever driven the N59 from Belmullet to Newport?

These counties need and deserve more tourists and for this to happen they need better roads. The Wild Atlantic Way is an inspired initiative and will help, although more meaningful signposting is needed. However, for Mayo and Donegal to really benefit, better roads are a must. – Yours, etc,


St Lawrence Road,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – Congratulations to Una Mullally for an informed (and balanced) piece on so-called media watchdogs (“Balance is the new blackout”, Opinion & Analysis, August 18th). I welcome her ironic suggestion of an Atheist Minute to follow the Angelus, and wonder what form it should take. Silence and an empty black screen symbolising the void? Or sights and sounds of nature, climate and the effect of gravity, all represented as clearly acting without divine purpose? And, in the interests of balance, surely both the Angelus and the Atheist Minute need to be followed by an Agnostic Pause. May I suggest that it feature people shrugging their shoulders and looking confused? – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,


Ontario, Canada.

Sir, – Peter Kenny (August 19th) refers to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s recent upholding of a complaint against Derek Mooney’s discussion on same-sex marriage on the basis that it was one-sided, by asking, “Regarding the requirement that broadcasters give equal access to the proponents of either side of an argument, I wonder whether it would be consistent with natural justice to apply this obligation to the Sunday sermon?” Why? A Sunday sermon is intended for the ears of those of a particular faith that make the effort to go and listen to that sermon, while public broadcasting is intended for the ears of many people who might happen to tune in, and depending on its audience listenership, its opinions can have an influencing factor. The Broadcasting Act of 2009 is quite clear on the responsibility of the broadcaster: “Every broadcaster shall ensure that . . . all news broadcast by the broadcaster is reported and presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views”.

This basic principle takes on a greater significance when there is an upcoming referendum. – Yours, etc,


Riverside House,

Dunleer, Co Louth.

Sir, – Norman Davies (August 19th) recommends that the Taoiseach be got rid of because of the latest opinion poll. The Taoiseach, as Mr Davies says, may not be great at public debate. I remember a previous taoiseach, however, who was brilliant at public debate but the country went broke under his leadership. The priority of running the country in the interests of the majority of the ordinary people of the country should embrace more fundamental issues than whether politicians can talk well on TV or the contents of the latest opinion poll. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Norman Davies appears to want the type of politician that spends all his time “communicating” and less time running the country. Our Taoiseach has helped to put Ireland back on its feet while the Opposition parties, consisting of the incompetent and the irresponsible, struggle to find their voice. – Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – If the maligned Labour Party can double its support in the latest opinion poll by changing leader, an overall majority would surely await the ascendant Sinn Féin if it followed suit. – Yours, etc,


Meadow Copse,


Dublin 15.

Sir, – I am sitting outside the Imperial War Museum in London and trying to put into perspective the calls for a boycott of all things Israeli. This is proving especially difficult as I have just spent an hour in the museum’s permanent Holocaust Exhibition, which identifies the early Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses as a central and essential causational tool in the exclusion of Jews from German society. Therefore, I cannot help but draw an analogy between the present call for a boycott, with the dreadful long-term consequences that followed the Nazi-inspired Jewish boycott of the 1930s. Before anyone points out the difference between a boycott of all things Israeli and a boycott of Jewish businesses, perhaps they could explain how a Jewish, and not Israeli, film festival (at the Tricycle Theatre, London), which, by the way, included contributions from Palestinian Arab filmmakers, is any different from 1930s Berlin.

It must be said that my cynicism has been reinforced after witnessing masked thugs intimidating customers attempting to enter Jewish businesses in London. These are third and fourth generation enterprises that have nothing to do with Israel, and have been serving their local communities since the early part of the 20th century. On this basis, I cannot reconcile the claims of the protesters that they are anti-Zionist, but not anti-Semitic; however, if anyone can enlighten me to how this is possible, then I will gracefully acknowledge my mistake. – Yours, etc,


Sean Hales Terrace,


Co Cork.

Sir, – When a person criticises the Israeli state for its actions or policies, the riposte that the critic is being “anti-Semitic” is as foolish and cheap as calling someone who criticises the French state on that account “anti-French”. The “anti-Semitic” riposte is supposed to deliver a knock-out blow because a widely disseminated western doctrine teaches that anti-Semitic/anti-Jewish is a uniquely evil hostility, infinitely more damnable than hostility to any other race, nation or religion. But since that doctrine has no rational basis, contempt is the correct response to this attempt to bludgeon into silence a critic of the Israeli state. – Yours, etc,


Sydney Parade Avenue,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – I was saddened to read of the sudden death of David Sleator, a very kind, down-to-earth man and a wonderful photographer.

His black-and-white photographs of eight men who were homeless and used our services here in Trust has pride of place in our basement centre in the heart of the Liberties. These wonderful photographs appeared in a special supplement of The Irish Times to mark the millennium and are still commented on by all who see them. He visited us many times and we all felt better for having met him.

Photographers capture what others fail to see and portray emotions so hard to describe. David did this with great sensitivity and professionalism. He will be greatly missed. – Yours, etc,


Director and co-founder,


Bride Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – As the shackles of political correctness grow ever tighter, I am somewhat bemused that the Rose of Tralee pageant continues to flourish apace. Obviously, it would be churlish to complain about an annual parade of pulchritudinous ladies participating in a “personality” contest. However, perhaps the time has come to consider a similar competition for male contestants. I suggest the “Thorn of Tramore” has a pleasing ring to it. – Yours, etc,


Cormac Terrace,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Patsy McGarry reminds us that Bishop Willie Walsh expressed a wish to see another Pope John XXIII (August 17th).

One wonders which Pope John XXIII he had in mind. Was it the John XXIII who was admired by Evelyn Waugh? Or was it the John XXIII whose Journal of a Soul testifies to a bishop and a pope who was nurtured on the piety of the Counter-Reformation? Or did Bishop Walsh have in mind the John XXIII who in the same spiritual journal wrote of his desire to be worthy enough to preside over the canonisation of Pope Pius IX ( not a pontiff remarkable for his concessions to rationalism or modernity )? One fears that the former bishop of Killaloe made the error – not an uncommon one, it must be allowed – of confusing affability with unorthodoxy. – Yours, etc,


Ulidia House,

Donegall Road, Belfast.

Irish Independent:

Published 20/08/2014 | 00:00

Charlie Weston’s straight-talking article (Irish Independent, August 17) paints a stark picture of our powerlessness as citizens in the face of unjust and exploitative banking practices. Eventually, we will have to collectively confront the fundamental flaw at the heart of our current economic system: the interests of the international financial markets are diametrically opposed to those of ordinary working people and the domestic economy.

Domestic economies need relative economic stability and predictability of prices in order to maintain business viability and job security, whereas financial markets want economic instability, since they make enormous profits betting on the outcomes of market fluctuations. For ordinary working people, money is a utility which we use to facilitate our standard of living and to create a functioning, real economy and society. For the financial markets, money is a commodity to be sold (loaned), traded, leveraged and gambled, to make money out of money.

The financial sector has created vast pyramids of leveraged capital composed of complex financial instruments called derivatives, which are essentially bets on some aspect of the real economy. When one of these pyramids or bubbles collapses, they know that we, the taxpayers, will have to foot the bill. Western central banks are flooding the financial system with free money to support these derivatives bubbles, as well as forcing national populations to pay the astronomical debts of bankrupted financial institutions. In the ideology of financialisation and market theory, no moral responsibility accrues to market actors or speculators.

All deleterious consequences of market activity upon ordinary people, such as the loss of pensions, investments, jobs and homes, are considered natural market outcomes for which no one can be held accountable, as if they were just unfortunate natural disasters.

Our elected politicians worldwide should confront the anti-democratic dominance of the international financial markets over our economies and restore the balance of power to the public. Corrective measures must include reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated main street commercial banking from speculative investment banking.

Maeve Halpin

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Failed model for home loans

In the absence of any significant reform to a flawed banking model, news of a sharp rise in mortgage lending is worrying. Clearly, lessons haven’t been learnt.

The typical €200,000 mortgage costs, at present, at least €270,000 over its lifetime. The lenders, though, do little to earn such a large return. A community banking model would not seek profit, but self-sustainability, so such a mortgage might cost as little as €210,000 over its lifetime. Buyers are being forced to endorse a failed and inequitable model in the absence of a more honest and appropriate alternative. It’s time the Government stopped serving banks and began serving the nation.

Keela Freeley

Clonard, Co Wexford

Respecting rights of the unborn

I think Colette Browne needs a holiday, given what she wrote in her article (Irish Independent, August 6). To describe a pregnant woman as a nine-month human incubator brings to mind a similar derogatory statement issued many years ago by Ian Paisley when describing Catholic families.

So does this mean she now recognises the unborn as a human life and not the “collection of jelly cells” or “embryos” as the pro-choice lobby would wish us to believe? Paisley has always upheld the rights of the unborn and given that Colette Browne seemingly uses similar descriptive words, can we hope an epiphany has now taken place in her thinking? One hopes so.

Fr John McCallion, M.Phil, CC Coalisland, Co Tyrone

Making light of climate change

Amazing! Ian O’Doherty (Irish Independent, August 15) concedes that pollution causes climate change. Yet he says that it’s pointless to reduce it, as it comes at too high an economic price and climate apocalypse is inevitable anyway.

We can only infer that this columnist believes economic threats trump existential ones. Posterity be damned. And anyone who disagrees with O’Doherty’s worldview is referred to disparagingly as “nuts”, “utterly mad”, “fanatic” or concerned with “the polar bears, like”.

I believe (along with 98pc of geoscientists) that our future is a race between education and catastrophe. And while I accept that O’Doherty is a journalist with a glib, tongue-in-cheek style, his article is wholly irresponsible in the context of educating the public.

Kiera Rogers

Dundalk, Co Louth

Betrayal of Christ’s church

People constantly err in identifying the Vatican with ‘the church’. The Vatican is made up of men; ‘the church’ is Christ. Our church leaders have once again betrayed Christ’s church in failing to deal with the scandal caused by allowing Cardinal Brady to remain on until retirement age.

Cardinal Brady should have stepped down voluntarily; but that’s his problem. It seems to me these clerical VIPs in Rome consider themselves exempt from the moral code that applies to the rest of us. Indeed, this whole sad saga seems to imply that they have a special moral code that overrides conscience.

Hence the enormity of the task Pope Francis faces in trying to bring real reform to the heart of the Vatican.

Sean McElgunn

Address with editor

Gaza and humanity’s failure

Yesterday marked World Humanitarian Day and as the recent conflict in Gaza has demonstrated, healthcare personnel, hospitals, ambulances and clinics have been deliberately targeted as the UN’s call to stop targeting civilians goes unheeded. The harsh economic blockade imposed on Gazans has already caused immeasurable human anguish. If we are bound to revere the Hippocratic Oath there should be a universal call to stop the death and displacement of Palestinians in Gaza.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London, NW2

Connolly’s stand on WWI

There has been some debate recently in the Irish media regarding James Connolly‘s position when World War I broke out in Europe. Writing in the Workers’ Republic in the first week of the war, he made clear his position. Connolly viewed the conflict as an imperialist adventure by the capitalist nations, and argued for the European working class, regardless of nationality, to stand united in opposing the war and fight instead for international socialism. While he argued that if the German army invaded Ireland, the Irish would be justified in fighting with it against the British Empire, this should not be confused with support for German imperialism.

He continued: “Should the working class of Europe, rather than slaughter each other for the benefit of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world.”

In taking this principled stand, Connolly was adopting a position in line with that taken by revolutionary socialists across Europe, the US, Australia and elsewhere at 
this time.

Kieran McNulty

Tralee, Co Kerry

Irish Independent

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