2 October 2014 Posting

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to the Post Office and the Coop, sweep the path at the side of the house. .

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


David St John Thomas was a publisher whose titles encompassed railways, canals, handicrafts and even pastimes such as keeping ferrets

David St John Thomas, co-founder of the publishing house David & Charles

David St John Thomas

6:35PM BST 01 Oct 2014


David St John Thomas, who has died aged 84, was co-founder of the publisher David & Charles, catering for a nation of enthusiasts and hobbyists whose interests were, he felt, being neglected by the big London publishing houses.

The firm was established in 1960 at Newton Abbot in Devon by Thomas and Charles Hadfield, and its early titles were about Britain’s canals and railways — the particular interests of Hadfield and Thomas respectively. Then, in 1971, David & Charles bought Readers’ Union, a group of book clubs for enthusiasts of needlecraft, handicrafts, gardening, equestrian pursuits and photography. Gradually the firm’s list began to reflect these areas, moving away from the traditional transport titles for which it had become known.

David St John Thomas was born on August 30 1929 at Romford, Essex, the son of the literary critic and poet Gilbert Thomas, and educated at Teignmouth Grammar School. Railways would become a passion, and in his mid-teens he “unofficially” worked branch line signal boxes and drove locomotives. But he rejected his first job offer, in the Exeter excursion department of the Great Western Railway, and, after National Service on the land (he registered as a conscientious objector), he joined the Western Morning News as a junior reporter.

Thomas began specialising in stories about the railways and tourism, and soon decided to go freelance, also turning his hand to broadcasting. He saved to start his own business, and in fact started two: a fruit farm (to the end of his life he loved growing fruit and making jams) and David & Charles. Hadfield would leave the firm four years later, but he remained a loyal author for a further 25 years.

David & Charles was at first run from a hut on the fruit farm, and for many years the publishing address was “The Railway Station, Newton Abbot”. In addition to its books about railways and canals, it published works about Britain’s countryside and natural history, while its increasing interest in crafts and pastimes led to publication of the first book about buying and restoring a country cottage. “I can’t understand who buys your books,” a couple of puzzled bankers once told Thomas — before admitting that they had taken the advice of a volume on ferret keeping and restoring a steam organ. Many titles also had a significant overseas market (including the world’s first illustrated dictionary of herbs and spices), and Thomas spent months every year travelling the English-speaking world securing edition sales. He opened a branch of David & Charles in North America.

Expansion had its perils, especially with rapid inflation, and twice David & Charles was on the verge of going under. Though he did his best to keep the old values alive, there was a long, unhappy period during which the bank intervened and when there was a less than united management team. This led to near acceptance of a takeover bid by Reader’s Digest in the early 1980s. But the firm recovered, and profits were once again healthy.

In 1990, on the firm’s 30th anniversary, Thomas’s son, Gareth, decided that he no longer wished to head the publishing arm, and it was decided to sell. Reader’s Digest bought the business (at many times the price offered for the earlier deal) and Thomas moved to Scotland to run Writers’ News, a monthly members’ magazine about writing and the publishing industry, and Writing Magazine, a “glossy” available on news-stands. He also established a flourishing book club, while prize money for poetry, fiction and non-fiction competitions was put up by the David Thomas Charitable Trust .

Thomas himself wrote some 50 books, among them The Country Railway, GWR 150 and Farewell to Trains, published only last year. To research Journey Through Britain: Landscape, People and Books (2005) and Remote Britain (2010), he and his wife Sheila travelled extensively around the country for many months.

He was patron of the South Devon Railway and vice-president of the Railway and Canal Historical Society.

After his first two marriages ended in divorce, David St John Thomas married, in 1997, his teenage sweetheart, Sheila Anne Twemlow, who survives him with a son and daughter of his first marriage. For the past 25 years he had lived beside the Moray Firth, and he was a regular worshipper at St Columba’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Nairn. He took particular delight in music and gardening, and enjoyed travelling by train and cruise ship. He died while on a cruise in the Baltic.

David St John Thomas, born August 30 1929, died August 19 2014


Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Ge Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne watches a video prior to David Cameron’s keynote address on the final day of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian insists (Editorial, 30 September) on understanding the Conservative party’s approach to social security policy in a discourse that supposedly distinguishes the “deserving” from the “undeserving”, the “shirker” from the “skiver”. George Osborne’s announcements are, in fact, better understood as being a restatement of less eligibility as the economic and social spur to do wage work. Less eligibility is the idea that the independent labourer’s position should always been more eligible, more economically and socially preferable, than that of the pauper. Freezing benefits and tax credits aims to do this by increasing the income gap between those in and out of work. The position of the working poor, at first glance, seems anomalous, but it is consistent with the thrust of less eligibility that working age people should support themselves and not rely upon the state for their subsistence income.
Dr Chris Grover
Senior lecturer in social policy, Law School, Lancaster University

• Conservative party officials have justified the freeze on benefit increases in work and unemployment by arguing that average earnings have grown by 14%, but working-age benefits have been uprated by 22.4% (Report, 30 September). They forget the past 10-year increase in the RPI of 38%, the cost of domestic fuel of 154%, of food, 46%, and of local authority and social rents, 56%. National government cutting and freezing housing benefit, and local government passing on cuts in council tax benefit uses up cash needed for food and fuel. No problem for those with an income of £100,000 a year, whose income has increased by 14%, or £14,000 cash. Sadly, Tory amnesia seems to have infected everyone in the mother of parliaments.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• George Osborne’s announcement that a Tory government would dispense with housing benefit for the under-21s will surely have the very opposite effect to what he hopes for. This cabinet may be too London-centred to realise that almost 50% of the population still live in rural areas, while most jobs are in towns and cities. At the moment, housing benefit for this age group is limited to the cost of a room in a shared house or a bedsit; hardly a luxury lifestyle, but it does get them within striking distance of a job opportunity. Expecting them to live at home with mum and dad in a rural area with a limited (and expensive) public transport is only going to make getting a job more problematic and shift work would be an impossibility.
Jacqui Davis

• It is worthwhile contrasting the £3bn the chancellor expects the proposed benefits freeze to take from more than 10 million working poor households with – to take but one example from this year’s round of bank bonuses – the £2.4bn paid out by Barclays to just 481 of the working rich. The chancellor certainly remembered to talk about reduction of the deficit in his speech but for some reason “forgot” to repeat previous pronouncements that we’re all in it together.
Arthur Birchall
Isleworth, Middlesex

• Osborne may think cutting benefits to the working poor to reduce the deficit will win back former Tory voters from Ukip but it may equally cause larger number of former Lib Dem voters to vote Labour. Whatever happened to caring Conservatism? It is not long ago Theresa May warned that too many voters thought of the Tories as the nasty party.
Valerie Crews
Beckenham, Kent

• Once again the chancellor announces that he intends to rob the poor to pay the rich, with his newest idea for “benefits cards”. Does he not realise that the poorer members of society, particularly those in receipt of benefits, rely heavily on cash transactions as a way of balancing the family budget? To insist on the use of benefits cards will serve only to result in an added and costly layer of bureaucracy while simultaneously taking away any remaining bargaining powers available to the poor or needy. You cannot haggle at a fruit and veg stall if you have only a plastic card with which to settle the bill.

Those on benefits are not usually poor by choice. Why, therefore, must the chancellor treat the poor and needy as if they are sinners in need of repentance? If we rob the poorest and most vulnerable members of society simply because they cannot fight back, we rob ourselves of hope and self-respect.
Terry Moran

• Maybe Osborne’s cuts would be less popular if given their true titles: not “housing benefit” but “landlord subsidy”; not “in-work benefit” but “stingy employer subsidy”. Those who receive these so-called benefits don’t hang on to them very long, they soon reach the pockets of the well-to-do.
Anna Hodgetts
Burgess Hill, West Sussex

• David Cameron supports funding for the NHS because, from his own family tragedy, he understands personally how important the NHS is (PM tries to plant a Tory flag on NHS with spending vow, 1 October). That is a fine sentiment. What a pity he has no direct family awareness of needing to rely on jobseeker’s allowance, working tax credits or other benefits. He might then understand personally how important they are and hence how they ought, if anything, to be increased, not reduced in real terms.
Peter Cave

• I worked for the NHS for 20 years and the next 19 in an academic setting specifically employed to train people entering my profession for the NHS. I left the NHS in the cloud of cuts introduced under Thatcher, have watched funding cut or reallocated to balance books, all these last 30 years or so. The Conservatives are the worst offenders consistently, have continually cut NHS funding in real terms by, for instance, freezing budgets, allowing mental health monies to be used to bail out the inevitably more expensive physical health services, not keeping to their promise of increasing, prioritising or matching funding for mental health services, despite all the economic arguments for doing this.

I can say this from the now relative safety of retirement and non attachment to the NHS anymore except as an occasional patient and family consumer of health cuts. Lies, lies and damned lies to the anxious but concerned voter and more promises of jam tomorrow for votes now. Let me clarify: you can have a strong NHS if you fund it properly – indeed, economically, this would save money down the line in the future. The current economy is irrelevant and a plea to us for sympathy for failure. People would be happy for any modest tax increase that agreed and showed that such money was allocated to developing the best health service possible; these issues are ignored, and the last people to be asked about this are the electorate.
Peter Elliott
Ventnor, Isle of Wight

• I’m concerned the proposed increase in NHS funding by the Conservatives, if re-elected, will be hoovered up by the privatisation agenda, and trickle up to shareholders and the wealth of the corporations rather than for patient care.
Gavin Robinson

German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a session of the Bundestag Lower House German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a session of the Bundestag Lower House of parliament in Berlin. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/AFP/Getty Images

Knockabout is impossible in the huge hall of the Bundestag, its too big (Germans look to liven up Berlin’s political life with a bit of Westminster knockabout, 26 September). The key feature of the House of Commons is its small debating chamber – only 21m by 14m. It was derived originally from a long narrow chapel with benches for members facing one another, thus disposing them to behave in an adversarial manner. This style of debate can make the chamber a lively, rather noisy place, with robustly expressed opinion, many interventions, expressions of approval or disapproval, and sometimes of repartee and banter – knockabout. After its destruction in 1941, debates were held on whether it should be rebuilt as a semi-circular chamber. Winston Churchill opened the debate with his now famous quotation: “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” He would have advised the Bundestag to build itself a knockabout-shaped chamber – small and narrow.
Maurice King
Quondam honorary research fellow,
University of Leeds

CONSERVATIVE PARTY CONFERENCE 2014 Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, addresses the 2014 Conservative party conference. Photograph: David Gadd/Allstar/Sportsphoto

The spectacle of education minister Nicky Morgan trying to ingratiate herself with disaffected teachers at the Tory party’s pre-election conference was galling (Report, 29 September), coming as it does after a sustained and brutal attack on both the profession and state education by her predecessor. The same day, Sally Morgan, ex-chair of Ofsted, told delegates to the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ conference the academy and free school programme pushed so hard by Michael Gove, was characterised by “patchy results, mismanagement and the occasional scandal”, calling it “the rushed revolution”.

Here in Brighton and Hove we are celebrating our own revolution in which it took students, parents and teachers six months to overturn a planned academy conversion to Hove Park school. At no point did the parents, students and teachers making up the campaign think that conversion of this “good” local authority secondary school was inevitable or desirable. Instead we made banners, wrote letters, composed songs, tweeted, marched, rallied, lobbied, laughed, performed, donated, banged wheelie bins and stood together even when the teachers went on strike.

Sally Morgan’s assessment reflects our own conclusions as to the risks of the academy system, and Nicky Morgan shows no sign of slowing the rush. I urge others faced with this relentless encroachment on their public education system to unite and resist for the sake of generations of children.
Natasha Steel
Hands Off Hove Park School

Theresa May speaking at the Conservative conference Home secretary Theresa May addressing the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

I don’t think that I will be the only one alarmed by Theresa May’s proposals. Oh yes, they’ll be welcomed in some quarters, but if I read them correctly, they represent the most draconian attack on freedom of speech in my lifetime (Editorial, 1 October). Added to the annihilation of our internet and telephonic privacy, they could take us into the Russian and Chinese domain of dissenter control. The argument that they are needed because of an ever-increasing terrorist threat fails against, for instance, the Northern Ireland “troubles” experience, where, deprived of, in Thatcher’s words, “the oxygen of publicity”, IRA recruitment thrived. And where will the censorship end? Investigative journalists, editors, actors, dramatists, criminalised for broaching the subject? Of particular concern is exactly what will qualify as extremism. Will it just be jihadist preachers and Holocaust deniers, or will it be the ultra-left, anybody who is seen as undermining or opposing the status quo? Will protests against bombing in Iraq or Syria now be banned? Will it, like other similar legislation in the past, such as the Terrorism Act, be abused? Who can be confident it won’t? Relevant questions in my view. Taking away freedom on the pretext of preserving freedom, curbing democracy on the pretext of defending democracy, are not only contradictions, they are arguably a route to a totalitarian state.
James Calhoun
Tarragona, Spain

• Instead of hand-wringing and knee-jerk reactions, Theresa May, Muslim Womens Network, counter-terrorism experts and Bristol police (Report, 30 September) should look at our own country and its warmongering. Army cadet corps; armed forces recruitment adverts; Help the Heroes events; the media glorifying “our brave lads”… all acting as recruiting agents for the state and “radicalising” vulnerable youngsters into thinking killing these “nasty” people abroad is their patriotic duty. Our foreign policy may alienate some British Muslims, but our whole culture is geared to creating a militaristic state bent on war as a distraction from the misery at home.
David Wheatley
Margate, Kent

Dannie Abse, poet Dannie Abse, poet. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

Israel “gladly acknowledges” that the Palestinians have a right to a state says Joshua Rowe (Letters, 1 October). Perhaps that is true, if the meaning of the word state is stretched to the limit, and beyond what most people understand it to mean in this context. Speaking about a Palestinian state, David Bar-Illan, spokesman for the Israeli government, has said “semantics don’t matter”. If Palestinian sovereignty is limited enough they can have a state, “call it fried chicken”.Regardless of semantics, the position of our government is that the settlements are illegal and there should be a two-state solution. Anyone who believes those two propositions must vote yes in the debate that will take place in parliament on the motion that “this House believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”. We should all email our MPs and call on them to do so.
Brendan O’Brien

• Your article (Opinion, 30 September) made me draw parallels with our much vaunted England footballers and Tesco’s directors. Neither can compete on the international stage and at the same time are grossly overpaid. They can’t compete with the Germans even on home soil. Pay cuts all round or bigger bonuses?
Dr RJ Nash

• In the discussions of the minimum wage and excessive pay packages, might I propose the following formula: in any enterprise the minimum wage shall be one tenth of the highest pay package, or £10 an hour, whichever is higher. I believe that would solve both problems with one sweep of the legislators’ pens.
Adrian Stern

• As a 14-year-old I saw Dannie Abse read his poems at our local adult education college (Obituary, 30 September). Just before he started I bumped into him in the gents toilet. He stood in front of the mirror with perfectly combed hair and deliberately fluffed it into wild grey candy floss. I knew then that poetry was for me.
Toby Wood

• Perhaps the charitable knitters could now knit some brightly coloured willy warmers for the rather over-exposed Brooks Newmark (Report, 1 October?
Anna Ford

• I have found the perfect name for England and any other bits of the UK that might remain with it should any other bits eventually decide to leave. Since the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is FYROM, the Former United Kingdom of England, Wales etc should be known as FUK-EWE (Letters, 28 September.
Simon Coates
Brussels, Belgium

Militant Islamist fighters Islamic State fighters wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province on 30 June 2014. Photograph: Reuters

Karen Armstrong’s article (Secularism – a violent history, 25 September) is a classic piece of whataboutery, since the point at issue is whether religions are likely to provoke violence, not what supposedly secular regimes may have been guilty of. The key difference is that a secular philosophy of government can evolve (and has evolved) towards being more humane, more tolerant of diversity and less inclined to interfere in people’s personal moral choices. By contrast, too many people who proclaim a deep commitment to religion are convinced that they have a handle on absolute truth, which therefore gives them the right to harass and bully others or even to kill them. Add to this an obsession with religious purity, a passion for the worship of authority and a rejection of any type of thinking which wasn’t part of their faith’s supposed golden age and you have exactly the sort of fundamentalism which we see in Islamic State, ultra-orthodox Judaism and those Christians who are so keen to persecute homosexuals. Yes, Karen, the problem is religion.
Roger Fisken
Bedale, North Yorkshire

• I read Karen Armstrong with pleasure and admiration. I was taught (perhaps incorrectly) that the word “religion” was derived from the Latin “ligare”, to bind, and had the meaning of a bonding together. During the war there was a strong feeling that we really were bound together, and people went to church. We prayed for peace, also for victory. My young ears often heard these words: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against … the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” So many of the ideals we believe in and fought for are part of our Christian heritage. Since the war we have somehow lost this bonding, and church services are seldom occasions that celebrate togetherness. But there is still plenty of spiritual wickedness in high places to wrestle against, and secularists should not lightly dismiss our Christian heritage.
Philip Pendered
Tonbridge, Kent

• Armstrong is wrong to say “Atatürk partitioned the region”. The Ottoman empire was divided by Sykes, Picot, and western powers, sowing the seeds of present discontents and dangers. Atatürk defended his country against an imperialist Christian thrust to the east, reminiscent of the Crusades – and continuing today.
John Thesiger
Staines-on-Thames, Middlesex

• I refute the implication that the barbarism of Islamic State is somehow due to us not supporting Muslims against “secular” military coups. These coups are no more secular than historical colonial takeovers that were preceded by and accompanied by church missionary invasion. As stated by the author, wars have been primarily politically motivated, without strict religious divides, but it is a fallacy to say that people confused religion with politics: the mass of British peasantry has a long tradition of failure to attend church, and fought primarily for clear and defined political freedoms. A monotheistic god has been used as a tool of war since the time of Constantine, and the rhetoric of the US Bush administration was an overt Christian crusade, so secularism cannot take the blame for any entrenchment of Islam against the west. Karen Armstrong appears to have confused religion with politics: to believe in a god is primitive, to ablate female genitalia is an abhorrence and, at the risk of confusing religion with culture, it is not colonial to state that.
C Iliffe

• When Karen Armstrong asserts that “In a different environment, modernity may well take other forms” (than secularism), could she please indicate whether she expects these forms to support or deny freedom of conscience?  While repressive regimes can emerge in both secular and religious societies, monotheist theocracies do seem particularly prone to them. If secularism is, as she suggests, a rare aberration, the very concept of freedom of belief may be an endangered species – a possibility few of us would contemplate with equanimity.
Ruth Brown

• I have long admired Karen Armstrong’s work, and liked much of her piece. Her history is good and her conclusions are sound: we need to look seriously at the casual arrogance of our own behaviour over the last 100 years or so. But she has skated over a central point, which she herself mentions elsewhere in her work: is religion about behaviour or belief? Founders of religions seem to incline more towards behaviour, but their successors have emphasised belief: belief will make you an insider – one of us – and ensure salvation, even if your behaviour is sadly lacking. But belief is based on conviction, not evidence; those who do not share the convictions are wrong, and no compromise with them is possible. From there it is a small step to believing that it is right to make them believe, and that thought can escalate until it includes torture and death, which has already happened countless times in history.

Of course, the lust for power can produce the same outcomes, but that does not excuse religion, and we can hope that power is occasionally realistic enough to be capable of compromise (especially if it sees its power in danger), but a deeply held religious belief is not. I do not believe that religion is inherently violent, but I do believe that (with wonderful and inspiring exceptions) many religious people, and most religious leaders, regard the non-religious, or those who hold different beliefs, as outsiders, lesser folk, dreadfully misguided, a danger to the true believers, and therefore – to put it simply – as less than human. And seeing people as less than human is why we have wars. Armstrong’s nuancing of the role of religion in violence is well done – but not quite convincing.
Nick Shepherd

• Karen Armstrong gave a fairly detailed historical survey but she overlooked a vital point. The reason why religion and deeply ideological politics are so dangerous is that they make absolute truth claims but have deeply unsatisfactory procedures for deciding between competing claims. Compare this with science. Scientists make tentative truth claims and have very robust decision procedures to settle conflicting views. Consequently, serious religious disputes generally result either in bloodshed or, if that is prevented, in division. The latter then provides a continuing danger of the former; as with Protestants and Catholics, Shia and Sunni and many more.
Trevor Hussey
Emeritus professor of philosophy, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

• Karen Armstrong counsels us to divert our concerns with the intolerant vices of modern fundamentalism from religion to secularism. She portrays secularisation, the declining social significance of religion, as the often violent outcome of secularism, the policy of separating church and state. This is an ahistorical conflation. As shown by much of her own research, as well as that of many scholars, western secularisation has had precious little to do with secularism, and virtually nothing to do with so-called “new atheism” which she cites. In Europe and many other nations, the collapse of Christendom, church decay and the erosion of religious culture and rites have been almost entirely due to the blossoming of religious indifference. It is apathy, not anti-religion, violent or otherwise, that has sent swaths of the west hurtling towards secularity. Whatever the sources of the fundamentalism within Islam, Christianity or Judaism, and however much philosophers may pitch secularism against religionism, secularisation has a discrete history driven almost wholly by popular alienation from either.
Callum G Brown
Professor of late modern European history, University of Glasgow

• Karen Armstrong’s survey of religions in history is thorough and appreciated – though she might perhaps have mentioned Rousseau, whose views (especially in La Profession de foi) indicate an advisable compatibility between religion and the best functioning of individuals and societies.

She also fails to draw the essential and imperative distinction between, on the one hand, the incitements by those who, in the name of religion, drive loyal followers to atrocities and, on the other, the practices of religion itself.

While it is true that psychopaths of one kind or another have led others to massacres and to self-destruction (as Karen shows), we should not mistake this loyalty for innate crowd malevolence. Persuaded by their self-esteeming betters, decent people will go on crusades, bomb whole families, fight in trenches, despise Africans, Jews, Germans, French, American natives, women, or any designated group of difference, and be incited to use violence against them all. This doesn’t make them stupid any more than supporting Man United is stupid. It is loyalty pure and simple.

History has demonstrated that a tiny minority of psychopaths have had the power to seize any banner – religion or whatever – and lead the brave and patriotic to murder one another on an increasingly scientific and massive scale.

And yet, religions, in the personal lives of the decent majorities, have inspired perhaps all that is best in the human story: lifelong bondings of love and caring, personal sacrifice, courage to take aid and medicine to infected areas, to risk life for others, generosity and hospitality, and the finest seedlings of great art, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, drama and the imagination. So what must we do? Simple. Somehow we must rid ourselves of the psychos on all sides who exploit differences (including religion) for their own insanities – and we must heed the decencies of men and women for many of whom religion is a valued compass. In short, democracy in the total sense – and in much more than just the ballot box.
Ian Flintoff

• Karen Armstrong’s essay makes me wonder how much the barbarity of Islamic State stems from mainstream 19th-20th century secular political thought, rather than from Islam. The French revolution, Bolshevik revolution, Nazi Germany, Mao’s cultural revolution and Pol Pot’s year zero all bear the same messianic belief that extreme, barbarous means are needed in order to change society. Put more bluntly, do religion and political ideology serve the same role in human minds?
David Whalley
Macclesfield, Cheshire

• Armstrong is wrong on the Armenian issue. Armenians were relocated by the Ottomans not because of their religion, but because of their bloody uprising posing a serious security threat. Armenians in the western part of Anatolia were exempt from relocation. The western powers and Christian missionaries fuelled the rebellion. The purported “genocide” is a myth. If Ms Armstrong has a problem with secularism, she can move to a Muslim country where sharia is the law and judge it for herself.
Ferruh Demirmen
Houston, Texas

• Karen Armstrong seems to have embarked on rewriting history in order to prove that secularism is as guilty of violence as religion. In her references to Turkey and Ataturk, she claims that “(Ataturk) epitomised the cruelty of secular nationalism”, and that “he continued the policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians and Greeks”. This is contrary to historical facts; and her use of terms such as “genocide” and “the beloved institution of the caliphate” are all devoid of any proper scholarship and truthfulness.

In English usage, “secularism” is often used to mean “against religion”, whereas as one of the founding principles of the Turkish Republic (in 1923, and not 1918!) under Ataturk’s leadership “laicism” was never about banning religion by force. (On the contrary he had the Koran and “call to prayer” translated from Arabic to Turkish, and encouraged Muslim Turks to engage with their religion in their own language.) It was about separation of religion from the state and government whereby stopping the domination of any particular religion or sect over others. In this sense, all religions are served best by secularism, and not theocracy or “sharia”, simply because secularism ensures freedom of faith to all on equal terms.

In order to understand the historical events and present conflicts in the Middle East, it is essential to recognise that religion is the most effective instrument to manipulate and to dominate peoples … and not only by the leaders of the groups involved in these conflicts, but also, and spectacularly, by external powers who are very much involved to exploit any potential to pursue their own interests.
Berna Basatemur

• Let’s get one fact straight: Karen Armstrong claims Locke was “a major advocate of the theory of natural human rights”. Allow me to direct Ms Armstrong to Locke’s Proposed constitution for the Carolinas, in which he shows himself to be nothing more than a racist, capitalist bigot without the slightest thought for human rights.
David Beake
Wymondham, Norfolk


From the point of view of public relations, to relinquish the requirement for 24-hour responsibility for one’s patients was a disaster for the profession of general practice. Those chickens are now coming home to roost, with the Conservative plan for surgeries to open seven days a week.

I have to admit that at the time it was a delight to have a full night’s sleep and to know that weekends would be uninterrupted, and all for very little financial penalty. Even before that, a feeling had taken hold in the profession that preventive work was more noble than getting involved in the mucky business of treating the sick.

Our political masters were seduced by talk of burnt-out doctors, work-life balance and disease prevention, allowing us to get away with it, so that the work of general practice became almost exclusively office based.

But prevention only puts off illness for a while; eventually, we all get sick and need medical attention, often at the weekend. Now, deskilled in the arts of acute medicine through spending too much time chasing blood pressure targets and so on, GPs find it hard to deal with real illness. Respect must go to paramedics and hard pressed A&E staff for undertaking that work on our behalf.

Having recently retired as a jobbing GP, I feel that the profession needs to sort itself out, if it is to regain the respect of the public. We have become lifestyle advisers and battlers with bureaucracy (both laudable activities) rather than the first port of call for people with acute medical problems.

I would advocate splitting GPs into two types, those who do hands-on medicine, who can be seen at short notice, and those who chase targets at a more leisurely pace. In a world where a pizza can be obtained at any time of day or night, why should access to a GP be any different?

Bill Hart
Everthorpe, East Yorkshire


T Sayer (letter, 25 September) is a good example of the blind prejudice that hinders progress in the health service. If he read the letters in your paper, he would have seen at least two recent letters from Americans treated by the health service praising it in the warmest possible terms.

There are obviously things wrong with the health service. No such huge organisation is perfect, and there are difficulties in keeping up with rapid changes in medical treatment. But in spite of these deficiencies we know from the available figures that it is still one of the best health services in the world, and far more financially efficient than those in many other countries.

Heaven save us from becoming once again the sort of uncivilised society like the US in which the biggest cause of personal bankruptcy is inability to pay medical bills when insurers have refused to continue covering treatment.

Dudley Dean
Maresfield, East Sussex


Look, son, only Tories can sort out Europe

Regarding your report “Ukip’s shadow lengthens as two more high-profile Tories jump ship”  (1 October), I entirely disassociate myself from my son’s action.

It is a huge misjudgement, as with Reckless and Carswell. He has never been a member of the Conservative Party and has been apolitical. I did not know that he was intending to stand for Ukip in the general election.

By taking votes off our marginal seats, Ukip will simply let Labour and the Lib Dems in; there will be no referendum and even more Europe. To change our legal relationship with Europe requires a majority in the House of Commons and only the Conservatives can do this.

Sir William Cash MP
(Stone, C)


House of Commons

Here we go again. In your editorial of 29 September, you accuse Ukip of being anti-European. For the record we are as European as all the other parties. It is the EU we are anti. Not the same thing at all.

Mary Lees
Littlehampton, West Sussex


Why the extensive coverage of Ukip’s party conference, when the same consideration is not given to other smaller political parties?

We don’t see this coverage of the Green Party conference, or Respect. These at least have the advantage of having elected MPs in Parliament, something Ukip, for all its bluster, is unable to say.

Jo Selwood


Burchill’s rant against a Rabbi

I write regarding Emily Dugan’s article “Ranting about the rabbi: what did she do to make Julie Burchill mad?” (27 September)

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah was my personal tutor and mentor through rabbinical school. She offered me support in moments when I struggled, and was fearless in challenging me to be a better rabbi. She is the person I chose to ordain me when the time came. She is an honest, hardworking, brave, compassionate and wise rabbi. She and another colleague have paved the way for LGBT people in the Jewish community, including those like myself, to have the opportunity to become rabbis.

Throughout the crisis in Israel and Gaza this summer Jewish people were constantly criticised in the media for our allegiance to Israel. Yet when Rabbi Sarah showed empathy towards the people of Gaza and the Muslim community, she was attacked by Ms Burchill.

I am astounded that Rabbi Sarah and her partner Ms Woods’ hospitality has been used against them by Ms Burchill. Despite the author’s previous behaviour, they invited her into their home. Yet Burchill has launched a tirade against them in her book.

Burchill’s assertion that the couple were inappropriately affectionate with one another would be laughable. However, it strikes at the heart of a familiar prejudice against the LGBT community: that when we show affection towards a spouse it is excessive and unnecessary, when the same affection shown between a married straight couple would not even be noticed. Quite frankly, Ms Burchill should know better.

I urge you and all publications to stop giving Julie Burchill a forum in which to vent her hate. Instead, support the endeavours of those who are genuinely attempting to make the world better, for all of us.

Rabbi Judith Levitt
London N3

So Julie Burchill is angry because she took two bottles of champagne to a dinner party and was served with her hosts’ home-made elderflower concoction. I’m with Julie on this. With the university year just starting, I have one essential tip: never take a decent bottle of wine to a student party. It will immediately disappear into a bowl of truly vomitorious punch.

Jane Jakeman


Dangerous fanatics

The Tories hope to introduce legislation to ban extremist groups and crack down on “harmful individuals”.

This is excellent news. An early use of the legislation should be against a fanatical group packed with dangerous zealots whose main aim is the cruel repression of large numbers of people whose only crime is to be unlucky in the lottery of life.

I refer, of course, to the Tory party.

Sam Boote

Empower women and defeat Isis

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (29 September) writes that bombing will not defeat Isis, but Steve Brewer (letter, 30 September) is entitled to ask for an alternative. Military action is an extension of politics, so an analysis must come first.

The median age in Syria is 23 years, and that is typical of the region. High birth rates with no prospects are the problem. The enterprise to re-establish the Caliphate will excite and attract unemployed young men, but the subsequent sorrow and trauma must be borne by the women.

The answer lies in the empowerment of women, but how? Every Middle Eastern city is covered with satellite receiving dishes, so these are the channel through which Muslim women could be educated. Money should be spent on this and it will be a cheap option.

Peter Saundby
Llangynidr Powys

The wrong kind of progress

Your articles on the shrinking of the animal kingdom and the projected world population increases in Tuesday’s edition are clearly related. And yet we are continually told that we need 250,000 more homes and need to expand our airports.

Enough is enough. Progress doesn’t necessarily mean increasing financial gain but can also mean improved quality of life for animals and humans.

Martyn Pattie
Ongar, Essex

Democracy in Hong Kong

Imagine what Hong Kong’s position would be like today if Britain had handed over an established democracy, rather than an aspiring one.

Samantha Chung


Sir, Marin Alsop (“Proms conductor attacks ‘snobbish’ classical music world” Sept 29) should not resort to outdated dogma. Our daughters attended our local comprehensive school and both played in the Proms this season; we both come from working-class backgrounds. Classical music is available to all, but to enjoy it requires some effort which is not part of popular culture for a lot of youngsters.
Roger and Sue Sutcliffe
Dovercourt, Essex

Sir, Please let’s hear no more of this “classical music is elitist” whine.
A similar complaint in sport (“Manchester United? . . . nah, that’s elitist; give me Upton Snodsbury Rangers any day”) would be laughed off the terraces. Elite means simply the best: application to any great art or sport reaps rewards and is inclusive. Snobbery excludes and is to be condemned.
Andrew Keener
New Malden, Surrey

Sir, Your report mentions that Steven Isserlis, apparently Britain’s leading cellist, disagrees that classical music is elitist. He goes on to say that people are bending over backwards to bring classical music to “the masses”. And then he says “I’m very keen to bring everyone in . . . as long as it doesn’t cheapen the music and put intelligent people off”. He may like to reflect on that statement and then tell us again that classical music isn’t elitist.
FW Nunneley

Beckley, E Sussex

Sir, Some years ago I attended a jazz concert and found it was de rigueur to applaud each solo stint. With up to a dozen players in each band this entailed a lot of clapping. It was a relief to return to the “elitist” classical concert hall where I can listen in rapt silence, and save my applause till the end.
Alan McLoughlin
Helston, Cornwall

Sir, Applauding during a movement is disconcerting for most performers. In Handel’s day, bored operagoers would hold loud conversations, move around, eat snacks and play cards. Perhaps Marin Alsop would like a return to that nightmare scenario.
Richard Lester
Cirencester, Glos

Sir, Mozart, who wrote The Magic Flute (on the site of my home in Operngasse), revelled in feedback. Following the clapping during the premiere of his Paris Symphony, Mozart wrote to his father: “I was so delighted I bought myself an ice cream, prayed a rosary as I had pledged and went home.” Restraining enthusiasm is a sure way to stifle it.
Dr John Doherty

Sir, The Proms performance of Britten’s War Requiem was greeted by five minutes’ silence. Listening at home, and possibly expecting more to come, I found the continuing silent reception thrilling and apt. Finally two hands began to clap and in an instant the Albert Hall was resounding to heartfelt applause. When the music moves us we give thanks in silence, then we thank the performers with applause.
Robin Price

Sir, It is good to welcome people hearing a work for the first time,
but I think they would feel more comfortable if they refrained from applause until they heard general applause. That is what experienced concertgoers do. It prevents embarrassment.
Philip Roe
St Albans, Herts

Sir, Marin Alsop should be careful what she wishes for. Appreciating applause between the movements of a symphony is one thing, but would she be so happy with those who might feel the urge to boo and hiss?
Guy Rutherford
London SW13

Sir, It is curious that applause during the performance of a symphony is considered overenthusiastic or deplorable, whereas for opera the reverse is the case. Mozart would be very puzzled.
Michael Stennett
Yoxford, Suffolk

Sir, Verdi and Puccini constructed showpiece arias so as to invite applause. Silence after the likes of Celeste Aida or Nessun Dorma seems wrong.
Tony Phillips
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

Sir, I was surprised to read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments (“Girls’ school head casts doubt on the benefit of single-sex learning”, Sept 29) extolling the virtues of mixed over single-sex schools. The only evidence offered appeared to be Sir Michael’s own experience. On the BBC the next day, a professor from the University of London pointed out that all the evidence is to the contrary. Mixed schools, for example, have issues of gender bias most obviously relating to the choice of exam subjects, which leads to a shortage of female engineers and scientists. A recent report showed that the 38 per cent of boys who attend single-sex schools in New Zealand outperform their mixed-school peers by almost every conceivable measure. Education policy should not be determined by hunches.
Stephen Nokes
Headmaster, John Hampden Grammar School

Sir, I am not sure that Melanie Reid (“We’re far too prim for this age of cybersex”, Sept 30) has understood why older people are shocked by the behaviour of politicians such as Brooks Newmark. It is less about morality and more that we are astounded by the gullibility of a supposedly clever individual in a position of trust. That is the scandal and why resignation must follow.
Dr Geoffrey M Seeff
Woodford Green, Essex

Sir, Melanie Reid suggests we take a more tolerant attitude to sex. In the case of politicians, I disagree. A married person who has an affair is probably lying to their spouse and won’t hesitate to lie to me.
Ron Wood
Galhampton, S Somerset

Sir, Melanie Reid is right. Whoever is prime minister in 2035, there will be online photographs of them in advanced stages of merriment and undress. Unless we wish to condemn ourselves to perpetual rule by puritan professional politicians, we will need to refresh our concept of “scandal”.
Charles Corn
Hartley Wintney, Hants

Sir, I enjoyed Janice Turner’s article (“Why Nigel Farage has his tanks parked in my home town”, Sept 30). That phrase is political hyperbole, though. It should be “tankards”.
Glyn Thomas
Bradenstoke, Wilts

Sir, Newly graduated in 1966 and living in SW1 where the exchange was VICtoria (letter, Sept 27), I was alarmed by a call from my brother who warned that my number could be read as VICeformen. Fortunately,
I received no inquiries.
Angela Boyle
London W7


George Osborne speaks on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham  Photo: Julian Simmonds/The Telegraph

6:58AM BST 01 Oct 2014


SIR – George Osborne’s announcement of the abolition of the 55 per cent “death tax” (report, September 29) will be welcomed by pensioners finally allowed to leave more of their pension pot to loved ones.

We would also ask the Government to give 550,000 pensioners living abroad with a frozen state pension the income they have paid for but are denied in old age.

The British Government freezes the state pensions of those living in many Commonwealth countries and an indiscriminate selection of other locations. Those pensions are never to rise again, regardless of living costs. Pensioners, having made mandatory National Insurance payments while in Britain, receive the same state pension as when they first retired abroad. Some receive less than a quarter of the pension they would if they had retired to many other countries.

Offering financial assistance to a family after a relative’s death is to be applauded, but surely it is more important to pay living pensioners their rightful due so that they can live in dignity in their old age.

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

SIR – Recent EU accusations of tax avoidance, and the charge of collusion between large companies such as Apple and Starbucks and governments, will be viewed with interest by small taxpayers accused of tax avoidance for entering into tax planning schemes which they had been advised were entirely legitimate. While larger players debate what is legal and what is a “special” deal, smaller players can expect to receive “follower notices” or “advanced payment notices” from HM Revenue & Customs, using its extensive new powers.

For this latter group of taxpayers there are immediate adverse consequences, no scope to appeal, and only an ill-defined right to make representations to the issuer of the notices (HMRC), which is judge and jury on whether to accept representations.

Andrew Watters
Director, Thomas Eggar
London EC2

Immigration rules

SIR – Why is it harder for my South African daughter-in-law of 10 years to enter the country with her British husband (Letters, September 29) than it is for a Latvian murderer?

Susan Gorton
Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Scoff between stops

SIR – Darren Johnson, a Green member of the London Assembly, extols the virtues of travelling by bus (Letters, September 22). Unfortunately, less sociable habits such as eating, and sharing, takeaway meals – at any time of day or night – seem to have accompanied the 64 per cent increase in bus trips being undertaken in London.

It would be a joy to visitors from the rest of the country if Mr Johnson used his influence to address this unwelcome development.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

Liberated duchesses

SIR – If 43 per cent of people believe the Duchess of Cambridge represents “a step forward for women” (report, September 26), could someone explain what that step actually is? To me a step forward would be an independent career without reliance on one’s husband for title and position.

Yvonne Carse
Launceston, Cornwall

High Heathrow prices

SIR – You argue (leading article, September 3) that expanding Gatwick could promote competition with Heathrow and lead to reduced costs for passengers. But it is political inertia on building new runways that is pushing up prices for consumers, not a lack of competition. Heathrow has been unable to add more flights for a decade but demand has increased, resulting in ticket prices going up.

Independent research by Frontier Economics estimates that passengers travelling through Heathrow are already paying an average of £95 more for a return ticket than they would if Heathrow had a third runway. According to this research, by 2030, the average return ticket price could be £300 less with a Heathrow expansion – even after construction costs.

Expanding capacity at Heathrow is the low-fare option. Supply would meet demand, there would be greater competition between airlines at Britain’s hub, and passengers would be better off.

Jonathan Sandbach
Chief Economist, Heathrow
Hounslow, Middlesex

Anti-German feeling

SIR – My mother and I returned to London in April 1946, after being PoWs first for three months with the German navy, having been captured at sea, and then for more than three years in the terrible Fukushima PoW camp in northern Japan.

Back in London, my mother packed a large parcel of clothing and food. When she went to post it in Ladbroke Grove, there was practically a riot: she was showered with a stream of the most vindictive abuse.

She explained that the package was for the family of German Captain Jaeger, who had been kind to her and her son in 1942 and was now living in a bomb-shattered cellar in Hamburg. But the Londoners were having none of this (Letters, September 30).

The relentless random bombs had frayed Londoners’ nerves to shreds. Any German was a “bad-un”. Helping them was out of the question – and totally unpatriotic.

Michael Charnaud
Newdigate, Surrey

An ounce of sense?

SIR – David Cameron told Evan Davis that he favours teaching children in pounds and ounces. Could the Prime Minister translate, into ounces, a fifth, sixth, or seventh of a pound?

Rob Reynolds
Staplefield, West Sussex

How Britain could win the nuclear power war

SIR – Nuclear reactor research and development has suffered a 99 per cent budget cut in the past 20 years. A country that can find nearly £3 billion a year in order to decommission old nuclear facilities, but which cannot muster a thousandth of that to research next-generation fission technology, has its priorities all wrong (“Britain can take the lead in a new age of nuclear power”, Business, September 25).

The Government must once again make Britain fertile ground for research and development, starting by revitalising the country’s nuclear research base. Politicians should be bold enough to demand it.

Cheaper, safer and cleaner molten salt reactors are being recognised round the world as groundbreaking technology. Why not make a commitment to research and develop them fully in Britain?

David Martin
Chief Executive, Alvin Weinberg Foundation
London WC2

SIR – News that power produced from wind turbines fell by a fifth in the second quarter of this year (report, September 26), despite their installed capacity growing significantly, should concern policymakers. Britain has had two particularly mild winters, but this will not remain the case every year.

Over the past two years a number of large coal-fired and oil-fired power stations have been closed to meet European Union directives, and two large nuclear plants are being closed owing to reactor faults.

Ofgem, the Government’s energy watchdog, recently warned that electricity-generating margins will drop to 2 per cent next winter. This could be exacerbated by long windless days and more plant closures, leading to price spikes and electricity rationing.

The immediate priority must be to abandon the carbon price floor, which will otherwise force the closure of up to 10 remaining coal-fired power stations within eight years, leaving a large generating hole. We should also prioritise building modern coal and gas plants.

Tony Lodge
Centre for Policy Studies
London SW1

Just dessert: the Beauty of Bath variety was propagated in 1864 at Bailbrook House  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 01 Oct 2014


SIR – Perhaps it’s time to get to the core of the subject and develop a national apple directory by getting us all to survey our trees. In my garden I have many old varieties, from Lord Lambourne to Beauty of Bath. The names alone conjure up a past age and are a source of fascination to my grandchildren .

Nothing quite beats an apple picked straight from the tree. The variety of flavours from native produce bears no resemblance to imported fruit.

Avril Wright
Snettisham, Norfolk

SIR – Why should we believe David Cameron when he promises seven-day GP cover?

Before the last election he pledged there would be no “meddlesome, top-down restructure” of the NHS. Since then it has seen radical reform with questionable results. His new pledge sounds like a mere vote-catcher.

Kate Graeme-Cook
Blandford Forum, Dorset

SIR – There is a crisis in the general practitioner workforce. The number of trainees is declining, the number of GPs emigrating is rising, and the average retirement age of GPs is falling.

Where will our political leaders find the GPs to maintain the current service, and recruit more to run the seven-day service?

Dr Philip Morgan

SIR – How many patients actually need to see the GP? Given a full supporting staff, with a nurse practitioner, social worker and bereavement counsellor, the realistic call on a GP’s time is dramatically reduced. There are also the ranks of the worried well, whose GP appointments are a source of recreation.

It remains to be seen quite how many working people would want to see their GPs on a Sunday. Leisure time is precious and patients, in the first instance, would often value some advice by email.

Vivian Bush
Hessle, East Yorkshire

SIR – Mr Cameron promises that doctors will be obliged to carry out “many more consultations by email”. Only a fool would give an opinion without examining the patient. There is simply too much scope for error, and such a practice would run totally contrary to all medical training. Will Mr Cameron therefore be funding the huge increases in medical indemnity involved?

Peter Mahaffey FRCS
Cardington, Bedfordshire

SIR – Mr Cameron seems to be forgetting that modern general practice involves a lot of teamwork.

Not only will we need many more GPs to staff the service, we will also need more practice nurses, health-care assistants and receptionists.

Furthermore, hospital laboratories will need to provide a routine service seven days a week.

This promise seems every bit as unaffordable as Ed Miliband’s about the NHS last week.

Dr Tim Cantor
West Malling, Kent

SIR – Mr Cameron’s promise of GP access seven days a week reminds me, as a dentist, of the promise that Tony Blair made, of everyone being able to have access to a NHS dentist.

That promise ended in a new dental NHS contract that had the opposite effect.

Dr Howard Koch
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I would respectfully suggest to the Taoiseach that he look back to the notes of the speech he made at Béal na Bláth two years ago where he said the following: “But this time, and crucially, it means excellence in all our endeavours, in our values, our aspirations, our spirit. That pursuit of excellence involves honesty, respect, ethics, passion, compassion, leadership, responsibility. The very qualities we will need to re-evaluate, rehabilitate, and re-establish at the heart of our government, our economy, and our society.”

Where are these qualities now? – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

A chara, – The Taoiseach’s desire to take responsibility for, and bring integrity to, the process of public board appointments will be credible when he passes legislation establishing an independent appointments commission for the purpose. Anything less will be a cloak to conceal continued political meddling. – Is mise,


Terenure, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Am I the only one who is surprised that the Minister of State for the Environment Paudie Coffey had the authority to appoint any driver, never mind two? – Yours, etc,


Sutton, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Paudie Coffey, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, is quoted in your newspaper as saying, in respect of knowingly hiring a director of Irish Water as his driver, that he did not “understand that there was any conflict of interest”. What hope is there for the upholding of standards in public office when a Minister can make such a statement? – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – It would seem that Seanad Éireann is fast becoming Enda Kenny’s Waterloo. Almost a year ago after losing the referendum to abolish the upper house, a personally disappointed Taoiseach said: “Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process.” This time he wallops himself trying to elect one of his own to the country’s upper chamber. Is it not time that the Taoiseach admits defeat in trying to control the Seanad and sticks instead to what he knows best? – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.

Sir, – I wish to apply for the vacant position on the board of Irish Water. As I am very familiar with the company’s product, having used it since I was baptised, I believe I can justify the €15,000 salary. As a Waterford resident and a driver, what more qualifications are required? – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – Adding two extra people to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art to accommodate the Taoiseach’s wishes is nothing new. Two extra people were added to the banking inquiry to accommodate his wishes also. – Yours, etc,


Tralee, Co Kerry.

Sir, – If we are really going back to stroke politics then we might as well vote for Fianna Fáil, because, let’s be honest, at least they do it properly. – Yours, etc,


Booterstown, Co Dublin.

A chara, – Kathy Sheridan (“Taoiseach’s contempt for the Seanad clear since he tried to abolish it a year ago”, Opinion & Analysis, October 1st) suggests the Fiscal Advisory Council might be a template of what the Seanad could be. The council’s five members are appointed by the Minister for Finance. Surely ministerial appointments without oversight are the source of the problem rather than the solution? – Is mise,


London N5.

Sir, – The Taoiseach has “taken responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is”. Is it just the Indian summer forking the tongues or do I feel a boomier boom in the air? – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – I refer to your editorial (“A temporary measure?”, September 30th) in which you correctly highlight the cavalier attitude of the Government towards the pension levy, and the OECD’S recommendation to set up a mandatory pension scheme. Given the level of coercion by successive governments to encourage employees to participate in company pension schemes it is, as Ronan Farren says in his letter (September 30th), “ an act of blatant cynicism” that the levy is to continue. I suppose we have to remember the framing of the forthcoming budget is a balancing act designed to get Fine Gael re-elected, and continuing to raid pension savings is deemed to be a safe bet. We’ll see. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am a pensioner reliant on a private sector pension.

The pension levy and the requirement to pay tax on a minimum distribution of 5 per cent of the fund’s value regardless of whether that amount has been drawn demonstrates the complete hypocrisy of politicians in regard to pension arrangements.

All politicians have the benefit of pensions funded by the State at completely disproportionate levels in comparison to the pay that they have received, a pay level that itself is an insult to most working people. – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – All pensioners are negatively affected, quite significantly, by the unfair, insensitive, dishonourable, high-handed behaviour of the Coalition in this matter of the suddenly no longer “temporary” levy. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.

Sir , – Desmond Fisher states that “given the pope’s repeated emphasis on the church’s dogmatic teaching a change in the rules is inconceivable” (“First real test of Pope Francis to begin”, Rite & Reason, September 30th). However, it was also inconceivable once that the church’s support for slavery would ever change but it had to move with the times. This synod’s main arena of battle will be whether the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion will be lifted.

Pope Francis’s position has been outlined by Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of his closest confidantes, who has stated that the Catholic Church could find a “toleration” of civil marriages following divorce, in some circumstances.

Cardinal Pell from Australia is leading the conservative backlash, stating, “The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realise that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment, which must follow the reassertion of doctrine, will be anticipated and dissipated”.

Already the battle lines are drawn with the president of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Marx, stating that the majority of German bishops support Cardinal Kasper.

In one sense all this in-fighting is irrelevant as many divorced and remarried Catholics follow their belief that the eucharist is not a reward for the good and virtuous only but also sustenance on their particular journey towards God as incarnated in Jesus Christ.

The irony is that if a husband or wife dies, then there is no problem about the surviving spouse who remarries receiving communion. However, when a marriage for all intents and purposes dies and the original marital relationship ceases to exist, those who divorce and remarry are barred from receiving communion as they are, in the eyes of the dogmatist churchmen, adulterers and sinners and not fit to be full partakers in the eucharistic meal.

Pope Francis is trying to loosen the church from the chains of dogmatists and he deserves all our support in his battle for pastoral change . – Yours, etc,


Malahide, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Breda O’Farrell (September 30th) asks why it is that men, single and celibate, are the only people considered competent to say Mass and hear confession. While I share that initial sense of the inequality and foolishness of not tapping in to many capable women at a time of a shortage of priests, Pope Francis does address this issue in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel). The pope explains that the priesthood is reserved for males only because the priest administering the sacraments does so in the persona Christi who is fully man and God, but he importantly adds that it is divisive within the church if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. If the church hierarchy is to have real credibility in the future, then Ms O’Farrell will witness women taking real leadership roles in the organising and managing of church affairs at all levels. – Yours, etc,


Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Clive Williams finished his letter (September 30th) with the observation that the problem of people smoking outside their workplaces is an easy one to fix. Hmm. Like littering (fines). Like smoking on the bus (fines). Like dodging fares (fines). Like drinking in public (fines). Some behaviours may seem unsavoury, and easy to “fix”, but aren’t, so I can only dread the queue to the courts by people who have been sacked or refused admission and discriminated against because they smoked, outside, in the fresh air. And bothering who? Hard cases always make bad laws.– Yours, etc,


Inchicore, Dublin 8.

Sir, – I don’t think it would be unreasonable to request that smokers refrain from puffing away mere feet from the doorway to their workplace. Non-smokers need not suffer from unwanted second-hand smoke inhalation and former smokers (myself included – 10 weeks, four days and three hours at the time of writing) need not suffer the allure of the tobacco leaf any more than necessary. – Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – After getting the final word on the cost of the water charges I’ve decided to start charging myself for the use of water. I will charge myself 20 cent per flush, 30 cent for the dishes, 40 cent for a shower and 50 cent for a bath. So if it’s yellow let it mellow, use paper plates, take short showers and take sponge baths. The only extra cost will be for more deodorant. – Yours, etc,


Westport, Co Mayo.

Sir, – So there is a boil notice in effect for people in Boyle, Co Roscommon. Does Martyn Turner now work for Irish Water ? – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Cutting down on water use may not seem to be as much of a problem to those of us who lived through “the Emergency” of the second World War in Ireland.

The problem then was that of heating water. Tired old ranges with poor fuel supplies, plus erratic gas geysers, resulted in economical washing – or cold baths. Six inches of warm water in the bathtub served to bath a couple of small children or one adult. I knew nothing of showers. Teenagers washed their hair once a week in the bathroom wash-hand basin. Kitchen delph and china were washed in an enamel bowl in the large sink. No dishwashers then. The used water was poured on the flower bed outside. The geraniums thrived and still would.

No washing machines. The weekly family wash was done in a large butler’s sink in the scullery. A woman with reddened hands used a washboard and carbolic soap. The water was supplemented by pots of water heated on the range. The car (if there was one), was washed with a bucket of cold water and a floor cloth. For some, there followed a brand of polish used with a chamois.

We were toughened by rations. Saving water for 21st-century users requires people to reflect on its uses and plan their rationing with some lateral thinking and good humour. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – I wonder if children of Catholic parents had to attend Muslim or Jewish school would Rev Patrick G Burke (September 29th) be so blasé about it.

Would he complain about the daily interruptions to lessons to face Mecca and prayer? Would he complain if the teacher spend an inordinate amount of time reading from the Torah or the Quran? Would he complain about the teacher who said that Jesus did exist but was only a prophet? Would he complain when the theory of evolution gets explained but also ridiculed? Would he complain about gender segregation, the lack of music and dance, or the restrictions on PE for girls?

It is hard to see the injustice when you are on the other side of the fence.

Rule 68 is unfair and discriminatory; it sets a dangerous precedent and should be immediately removed.

If Turkey, a country with an estimated 99.8 per cent Muslim population, can have a secular education system, why can’t Ireland? – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – My breakfast table is vibrating while I’m trying to read my Irish Times in a well-known hotel in Kilkenny.

Some marketing hospitality ditz has convinced hotels and restaurants all over Ireland that what people really want to hear first thing in the morning is some rapper telling me what he is going to “mudda f***kin’” do. Am I just an old “fudda” to think people want peace and quiet at 7am? – Yours, etc,


Knocknacarra, Galway.

Sir, – I was heartened by Susan Knight’s response (September 30th) to the Schaubühne Hamlet, celebrated by Peter Crawley (“The most dangerous Hamlet ever?”, September 29th). Like her, I sat glumly in my seat at the end of the performance at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, in astonished dismay at the standing ovation going on round me, feeling I was just a grouchy old English professor, alone in my numbed outrage.

However, I found a telling phrase in Thomas Ostermeier’s “Director’s Note” in the programme where he spoke of his desire to “violate” Hamlet. Violation may well be the key both to the production and its reception. For the director it is the urge to trash a text treated for so many centuries with reverence and awe – and literal trash was a notable feature of the show. For the enthusiastic audience there may well have been an element of gleeful revenge for all those solemn hours spent with Shakespeare in the classroom. No matter: Hamlet will survive such aggressive travesty and live again in less “dangerous”, more intelligent and sympathetic productions. But five stars, Peter, really? – Yours, etc,


School of English,

Trinity College Dublin.

Sir, – Prof John P McCarthy (September 30th) would have us believe that the phenomenon of 25 constituencies returning Sinn Féin candidates unopposed in 1918 “was in no small part the consequence of intimidation”. He provides not a scintilla of evidence to support his assertion.

Prof McCarthy would have us believe that a party, thousands of whose supporters had faced German or Turkish guns on land and sea for four years, could be intimidated by a republican movement which was virtually unarmed and whose best-known candidates were in British jails.

No party or candidate challenged Sinn Féin’s victories in the 73 constituencies it won, nor its conduct in the other constituencies it contested.

Sinn Féin’s conduct in 1918, and subsequent elections, compares favourably with that of the Irish Party when led by John Redmond.

In two general elections in 1910, the winning Redmondite candidates were disqualified as a consequence of intimidation and fraud on the part of their agents or supporters in East Cork, East Kerry and Louth. – Yours, etc,


London N13.

Sir, – Frank Conroy (October 1st) writes that if “evidence for the existence of something other than the empirical realm” were to emerge, then scientific rationalists “would sit up and take notice”. But such evidence is all around us. The phenomena of truth and falsehood, good and evil, for example, are powerful realities that are not reducible to materialist terms. If rationalists were to dismiss these as mere figments, they would have lopped off a large part of human awareness and would have undercut the scientific enterprise as well. We cannot open our mouths or make a judgment without being involved with realities that go far beyond what empiricist and materialist mindsets can handle. – Yours, etc,


Sophia University, Tokyo.

Irish Independent:

I can smell an election. For the past three-and-a-half years, the country has listened to Enda Kenny (when he appeared that is), and allowed him believe that his judgment as Taoiseach has been the best course for the country.

He has recently appointed a new Cabinet with little or no counsel so that the current Government stands or falls on Mr Kenny’s choice of appointments.

So seemingly centralised is the power of Mr Kenny that those who have been appointed by him may be seen by some as being, to use the old phrase, “tarred with the same brush”.

Michael Noonan, for example, showed a “fierce poor” example of political judgment last Friday when he seemed to be of the notion that the controversy surrounding Mr Kenny’s appointee to the Seanad would blow over.

Now Mr McNulty is effectively out of the race and Enda and Michael have egg on their face. And the Tanaiste and co are looking around for a candidate to vote for in the upcoming Seanad by-election.

These are people who constantly espouse that they hold the notion of Ireland’s reputation very highly. There are others who espouse the same ideal. Has the question now become: “What is the current Government doing to Ireland’s reputation?”.

Perhaps someone should sit the Taoiseach down and ask him what he thinks. I am sure the nation would be all ears!

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co Galway


Don’t knock Laurel and Hardy

I refer to the article by Shane Coleman (Irish Independent, October 1).

Laurel and Hardy should never be used as examples of failure and incompetence; they were two of the most successful men that ever existed. Their “another fine mess” scenarios were brilliantly crafted vehicles of laughter that spectacularly achieved the purpose of amusing billions for most of the past century.

Mr Kenny’s Senate mess is no laughing matter but a microcosm of the economic mess he has so disastrously mismanaged during his term of office.

I fear his administration will be viewed in the future as “wasted years” spent vigorously confronting a problem that does not exist (recession) while utterly ignoring the real cause of economic upheaval in the 21st century (complete transformation of economic conditions by advancing technology).

The problems confronting Ireland and the world are an enormous overproduction capability (with the inevitable demise of growth) and accelerating elimination of dependence on human labour, ie work.

We desperately need the genius of an economically minded Laurel and Hardy who recognise, appreciate and adapt to enormous technological success and get us out of the real, self-inflicted economic mess we are presently in.

Padraic Neary, Tubbercurry, Co Sligo

Mickelson’s a bad sport

Phil Mickelson has behaved disgracefully in choosing to criticise in detail Tom Watson’s captaincy at the post-match Ryder Cup press conference. Mickelson’s comments and thoughts should have been delivered privately and respectfully to his captain and his airing of them so publicly can only be described as an attempt to shift the blame for the defeat to him in full view of the golfing world.

This is the second time that the highly experienced Mickelson has behaved in an unacceptable and unsportsmanlike manner in the past week – the first being his comment made at the pre-competition press conference that American players “do not litigate against each other”, a distorted description of and reference to the ongoing legal process relating to Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. These two Mickelson press conference performances do nothing but lower one’s estimation of this once great player.

In the final analysis, surely even the once-great leftie must accept that the only people who really bear the main responsibility for losing (or winning) a Ryder Cup competition are the players themselves out there on the course, who execute the shots, and not their captains on the sidelines.

Ivor Shorts, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

John McCormack tribute

The John McCormack Society and friends would like to let people know that our next monthly record recital will be held in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, on Saturday at 11.00am.

The presenter will be Sean Callan, and this recital will be a tribute to our former president, Seamus Kearns, who died earlier this year. All are welcome.

Elizabeth O’Brien, honorary secretary, John McCormack Society

The cat and the Canaries

The headline ‘Canary air rage’ (Irish Independent, September 30), reminded me of the cat who boarded a plane and pointed a gun at the pilot’s head, demanding, “take me to the Canaries.”

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9

Creationism doesn’t hold water

I’m not sure exactly what point Howard Hutchins’s letter (Irish Independent, September 30) is making, but it sounds like the tired old creationism argument.

Creationism is, of course, itself only a theory. Theories need to be tested against available evidence.

The concept of evolution has been tested extensively over the years and still holds up. Creationism is only sustainable if vast tracts of current knowledge and understanding are ignored.

No evidence of transition “from ape to man”? There is plenty of evidence of evolution in the fossil record if one is prepared to look at it.

And to claim that man has always been one of the most populous animals is extraordinary, given the 100 million-or-so-year dinosaur existence, to name one example.

The fossil record worldwide shows that nowhere did man exist alongside dinosaurs – an important test which creationism fails miserably.

We rely on painstakingly acquired scientific knowledge in our every day lives. It is very sad that so much effort is made by creationists to undermine quality scientific endeavour.

I imagine that even creationists turn to medical science for treatment of serious illnesses.

Phil Samways, Newport, Co Tipperary

Cronyism can damage your health

Cronyism and cynicism have something in common, just like an invitation and a threat.

The people of Ireland last week were invited by Irish Water to join with them on a ‘journey together’. Today, the same people are being threatened that if they don’t register they will be charged a lot of money for ignoring the invitation

At least Enda Kenny has brightened up some of our lives, with some arguing that this thing called cronyism is something to do with the water.

I heard someone say that all Enda was trying to do was to keep cronyism out of our water! Why is everyone down on him for that?

Cronyism can seriously damage your health!

Fred Molloy, Clonsilla, Dublin 15

Pope John Paul: no female priests

The use of Pope John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’ as an argument in favour of a position he was so clearly against, namely the ordination of women, detracts, I feel, from Luis T Gutierrez’s otherwise interesting letter (Irish Independent, September 30).

A typical example of the saint’s teaching is the following quotation from his Apostolic Letter ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’: “The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary … received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observing of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the Universe.”

Fr Freddy Warner SMA, Portumna, Co Galway

Irish Independent


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