9 December 2014 Dentist
I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to Joans to empty my rubbish the Post Office and M&S and books up an appointment at the dentist.
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up mussels for tea and her tummy pain is still there.
McMichael shared a Nobel prize
Published at 12:01AM, December 9 2014
Scientist who employed a radical approach to statistics on public health and made a breakthrough on passive smoking
Professor Tony McMichael was an Australian scientist who was recognised worldwide for his pioneering work in environmental health. As the leading figure in environmental epidemiology — the cornerstone of developing public health strategies across the world — McMichael established the dangers of passive smoking and lead in petrol, while his research influenced debates on climate change and the future of genetically-modified food.
He was a key member of the UN climate change team that was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2007, though he modestly quipped that he was the holder of “approximately one two thousandth” of the prize.
In his book, Planetary Overload, McMichael argued that humanity faced a new threat, resulting from its success as a species. “Our burgeoning numbers, technology and consumption,” he wrote, “are overloading Earth’s capacity to absorb, replenish and repair. These problems pose health risks not just from localised pollution but from damaged life support systems. Might we, too, become an endangered species?”
The book was published in 1993 by Cambridge University Press after being rejected by another publisher. “I got a devastating letter from the health sciences editor at Oxford University Press,” he recalled, “saying that they weren’t at all interested and it all seemed rather speculative and a bit fantasy-like.” The rejection was, he thought, written by someone belonging to a privileged society who didn’t have to see children dying from diarrhoea and malarial disease every day. The book is now assigned reading for students.
Anthony John McMichael was born in Adelaide in 1942, the son of an architect, and enjoyed an idyllic outdoors childhood, exploring the woodlands and beaches by bicycle. While at medical school at the University of Adelaide, he saw degrading illness first hand as a volunteer in an Indian leper colony. It became clear to him that the planet’s resources were unequally divided. He also discovered that there were ways of contributing to health other than becoming a “stethoscope-carrying doctor”.
Later he visited Papua New Guinea, where he met Judith Healyok, a researcher in healthcare systems, whom he married in 1967. She survives him along with their daughters Anna, a violinist, and Celia, an academic.
As a doctoral student at Monash University in Victoria he began a study of the factors that influenced the mental health of undergraduates, a process that gave him the tools of epidemiology.
On his return to Australia in 1976 McMichael led a long-term study into stillbirths in Port Pirie, South Australia, to discover whether they were linked to a large lead smelter in the town. The investigation showed that children with the highest lead levels in their blood scored lowest on cognitive tests at 12, and led to a huge clean up of the plant and eventually to a worldwide ban on lead in petrol.
He was chairman of the working party for the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council that reported on passive smoking, one of the key reports cited in campaigns to ban smoking in public places.
A big thinker who challenged epidemiologists to get out of narrow confines, he developed global models to collate and refine data that was less amenable to calculation, such as the results of changes in the seasonal variation of deaths in poorer countries, and opened the way for different disciplines to co-operate. He was a key player in the so-called “epidemiology wars”, a clash between those who believed poverty was a social factor of no concern of epidemiologists and others, like McMichael, who sought a wider approach.
In 1994 he moved to London as professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he chaired the advisory panel on genetically modified food and health — which came out in favour of “socially beneficial genetic biotechnologies”.
He later returned to Australia and led a groundbreaking study that concluded that greenhouse emissions from cattle could be stabilised and the developed world made healthier if people in richer countries ate less meat and those in poorer countries ate more.
One of his last acts in the public sphere was to prepare and co-sign with other public health leaders, a letter to Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, urging him to make climate change a central part of the G20 talks.
He was a talented pianist. His hero was Chopin, and he had his picture taken at the pianist’s grave in Paris. Framed, it hung over his piano.
Professor Tony McMichael, OAM, epidemiologist, was born on October 3, 1942. He died on September 26, 2014, aged 71
It would be a grave disservice to students “to ditch religious studies in school” (Loose canon, 5 December) and to trivialise multifaith religious education as “mushy relativism” is unjust. Educators from Bosnia visiting our comprehensive school were amazed and envious of the opportunity to explore and appreciate diversity in religion.
A student told our guests that she had “always thought fundamentalists were Muslims. Now I realise that newspapers stereotype people and are prejudiced, as other religions have fundamentalists too. I shall read more carefully now and try and come to my own conclusions.” This is far from Giles Fraser’s “suffocation of curiosity”.
Another student added: “I’m not sure about religion and God but am not really an atheist. I’m still sort of fumbling for a faith. It’s been really good to learn about people of other religions, because the unknown leads to fear and when you know, you can relate. I’ve also realised how fundamentalists are in all religions. The American right has fundamentalists too. I was really surprised to read about their views on evolution.”
Yet another had “always thought of fundamentalists as bad but now I understand more why people become fundamentalists … The Sufis are lovely and yet they are fundamentalists. This course has really made me see and think.”
Maybe it takes guests from countries suffering daily religious strife to realise the inestimable value of multifaith religious education in our schools.
• The great strength of the 1988 Educational Reform Act which introduced the national curriculum was the emphasis on spiritual and moral development of pupils and of society. I chaired the National Curriculum Council in 1990-92 and regard religious education as a vital part of the curriculum. The act set out that pupils should be introduced to Christianity and all the other major religions of the world, and has been the foundation of British values which underpin our multifaith society.
I have recently stepped down as chairman of a large secondary school in Tower Hamlets which has a Christian foundation with 85% Muslim pupils, none of whom opt out of the broadly Christian act of worship. As a result the pupils are educated in total harmony, with outstanding results.
At a time when religious understanding has never been more important, to call for the abolition of religious education is deeply disturbing.
• Giles Fraser is right about religious studies. I have taught the subject in public and state schools, and spent 30 years with Christian Aid, in the course of which I often visited schools to do as he says: “to help children to think, to question, to argue”. A perceptive teacher once asked me how I got away with that. The last thing our present government wants is a generation that does its social analysis and will not be told who to hate and what to buy.
Can we teach students to understand Jesus as a Jewish prophet who taught people not to hate and how to live lightly on the Earth? Can we teach other faiths in the same light? If not, better shut up shop.
• I do enjoy Giles Fraser’s columns, and his writing in general, but his suggestion that it’s time to ditch religious studies in school is utter nonsense. The reason some (and I stress some) RS teaching is so poor is because it has been marginalised in schools, and, as Giles points out, ends up being taught by non-specialists. Yet in schools where the subject is valued, where specialists are hired and have access to regular training, it can be hugely enjoyable and encourages pupils to become engaged with, and question, complex and thought-provoking ideas, theories and morals.
I too am concerned about the changes being proposed to GCSE & A-level, but scrapping the subject won’t help anyone. What’s needed is firm support for the subject from senior management in schools, and the promotion of, as Giles himself points out, an opportunity for children to think, to question, to argue. I’m lucky enough to teach in a school where this is the case, and RS has rapidly expanded into one of the most popular choices at both GCSE and A-level. And Giles will be pleased to hear that no colouring in is required at all at key stage 4 and key stage 5.
• And while we’re about it, can we please abolish the absurd anachronism of “faith schools”? Religious studies is one thing; the notion that any one religion should be solely responsible for all studies has “inevitable partiality” and “future conflict” embedded into its heart.
Fr Alec Mitchell
The Miliband family’s Christmas card for 2014. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Jonathan Romney (One-shot wonders, G2, 5 December) mentions the tracking shot which opens Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. Famously, this took all night: the actor playing the border guard kept fluffing his line as the panoply of actors, director and equipment approached him. But cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (quoted by Romney) is wrong that continuous tracks are more like perceived visual reality. This is actually remarkably discontinuous and probably the reason that human beings so intuitively grasp montage; that is, cuts between views.
• How pleasing to read Lucy Eyre on the Jack Aubrey novels of Patrick O’Brian (Jane Austen at sea, 29 November 2014). I discovered them in the early 1990s, and one after the other they accompanied me on overseas jobs, including to The Far Side of the World. Like Austen they can be read again and again, rediscovering forgotten nuggets of delight. I have just finished my third reading of all 20 books.
• A week ago we ate in a Korean restaurant. A group of young people, probably in their early 20s, came in. Soon they were pointing in our direction and sniggering. So, Hilary Devey (My decree – old-age selfies for children, 6 December), what would you recommend for these youths? We are in our 80s.
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
• After reading about food bank Britain (Church v state rift over hunger, 8 December), I saw your G2 advert for masterclasses, including one on “Breaking into the food market”. A radical solution, but justifiable in the circumstances.
• Looking at this year’s Miliband family Christmas card (Report, 6 December) it occurred to me that if Ed were to do something really radical and vow never again to wear a suit, he’d be in with a chance of looking convincing.
As a regular London theatregoer I often look round at my fellow audience members to see how many are not, like me, a white, female pensioner. In January this year I saw Drawing the Line at Hampstead theatre and was intrigued to note that this play about the partition of India had apparently failed to attract anyone from the Indian subcontinent. This particular theatre is certainly not inward looking in its choice of plays and casting – the Indian roles were clearly played by ethnically correct actors – so I wonder what an establishment has to do to encourage a more diverse audience (Place greater diversity centre stage or risk losing funding, arts organisations warned, 8 December). More happily, Behind the Beautiful Forevers at the National had a good sprinkling of non-white faces the night I went.
Once again the fabulously wealthy Duke of Northumberland is selling a family treasure that will go to a foreign owner unless public funds and donations can be raised to keep it in this country (Report, 6 December). The £6.8m auction price achieved in July for The Garden of Eden With the Fall of Man by Jan Brueghel the Elder was double the estimate – probably inflated by media hype – and it will now apparently take more to prevent the painting going abroad.
I remember an earlier example of this kind of blackmail by the duke in 2003, when we had to buy his Raphael, The Madonna of the Pinks, to prevent it going to the Getty Museum in California, I went to see the picture at the National Gallery and was happy to stump up a contribution, as it is ravishingly beautiful and I would go and look at it every day if I could.
But repeating this is a step too far for me – the duke wins wherever the picture finishes up and I will content myself with looking at it online. I certainly would not have tried to get a glimpse by visiting his home at Alnwick Castle, the monstrous requirements of which exert a malign influence on the town and countryside around it.
We have plenty of Flemish works in this country and Belgium’s museums are not far away. Let this one go and spend public money on something we’re short of.
• Gaby Hinsliff writes well about the defeatism implicit in support for measures that increase inheritance (Opinion, 5 December). However, I disagree that “it’s only natural” that parents want to provide for their own children, even to the detriment of others.
It was once thought “natural” that non-white people are not quite human and women are less intelligent than men. In fact, these ideas, and many others like them, were originally promoted as part of “divide and rule” – the fundamental strategy central to all exploitative societies, including our own.
The message is, grab what you can before someone else does. Once this fear is promoted enough, it takes on a life of its own, and it has now come to operate on every scale from nation states down to interpersonal relationships. But the truth is that, under the fear, all people want meaningful lives where they help others and are helped in turn.
I was encouraged to see Marina Hyde tackling the issue of poor postnatal care in hospitals (Opinion, 6 December); but was dismayed that she seemed to be suggesting that we go back to a time when babies where taken away from their mothers for many hours.
This “laying in” was/is not the best type of care for mothers, and certainly not for newborn babies. For a newborn to be taken away from their mother and “fed by nurses with expressed milk” is damaging on many levels (and since when is expressing breast milk a few days after birth that simple?).
What most mothers and babies need in the days after birth is a safe, quiet, familiar place in which to get to know their babies. For most people this place is home.
For postnatal care to improve there needs to be more investment in community midwives. Reverting to the 1950s is certainly not the answer.
• Until I retired a year ago I was a consultant anaesthetist with a special interest in obstetric anaesthesia and analgesia. I would like to endorse Marina Hyde’s article about the appalling lack of care women receive after giving birth. Rooms shared between four women and their babies cause sleep deprivation that would be against the Geneva convention for prisoners of war. Any request to the staff to look after a baby while the mother gets some sleep is met with a refusal and the assertion that the baby cannot be taken to the nursery as there is no one there to look after it, and it must stay next to the mother and be her responsibility at all times. With complete exhaustion and the burden of sole charge of a precious newborn baby, it’s a wonder more mothers don’t collapse under the strain. I got home to my husband and mother-in-law as fast as I could.
Dr Heather Parry
What is most sickening about the fraudulent recruitment of students at the public expense by so-called “private higher education providers” (Thousands of ‘fake’ students at new colleges, 2 December) is that they do not seem to be subject to the draconian security monitoring and anti-student visa restrictions imposed on the UK’s mainstream universities. At the University of Sussex’s Institute of Development Studies, for instance, one of Britain’s top international universities, we have had to stop recruiting senior Indian civil servants for our MA programme because they got fed up with constant visa difficulties and being treated like criminals trying to get into some backstreet bogus language school. One of my PhD students from Ghana, who had spent four years studying full-time in the UK, on a Commonwealth scholarship, was last year refused a visa to come back for his own graduation.
Universities are one of Britain’s top export earners, yet they are being undermined and harassed by the excessive “anti-terror” monitoring requirements and by routine refusal to grant visas, in the name of an immigration control policy that is clearly driven by populist anti-foreigner hysteria and now the rise of Ukip. Yet the private, clearly fraudulent, colleges continue to evade these controls – and get public subsidy into the bargain.
The Education Secretary’s idea of placing more ex-soldiers in schools to instil values such as character, resilience and determination are a risible, cheap gimmick.
There is no evidence that having some sort of “pep talk” from an ex-soldier can result in the desired outcomes. Children are influenced by a multitude of factors inside and outside school. These might include sport, youth clubs, secure housing, attentive parents, household income, and access to early intervention services focused on their emotional well-being.
But when you are living on a deprived estate, in poverty, with parents trying to cope on minimum wages, using a food bank and suffering drug and alcohol abuse due to mental illness, then the odds are stacked against you.
Using Army veterans is at best tokenism, at worst an abuse of soldiers who have served their country, and report that they feel discarded, unsupported and left to cope with mental health problems.
Walton on Naze, Essex
Richard Garner contends that “the CBI first drew attention to the need [for schools] to produce more ‘rounded and grounded’ human beings” (“Former soldiers will be drafted into schools to help build pupils’ character”, 8 December).
Colleagues I worked with during my career from 1980 onwards complained bitterly about the attempts by successive governments to turn state schools into exam factories. In 1985 we saw the introduction of the directed time initiative (I ran out of my directed hours for the academic year by April and went on strike for the first and only time).
The National Curriculum followed in 1988 and although a sensible attempt to rationalise what was taught, it quickly became a straitjacket and a bar to anything not considered by ministers to be “important” subjects.
The sell-off of sports grounds in the 1990s further damaged the “rounding” curriculum in many schools and colleges, and league tables put the final nail in the coffin.
My own state school education in the 1960s and 1970s, allegedly a time of incompetent teachers and hours wasted on wishy-washy pupil-centred education, was a rich experience of music, art, cookery, nature trails and sport, in addition to Latin, modern languages and three separate sciences.
Successive leaders of industry, in cahoots with a variety of governments, helped to do for the liberal arts type of education I was lucky enough to receive, through their demands for “better qualified” drones. Teachers of my generation have fought long and bitterly to retain the “rounding and grounding” activities that existed when we first began work, and have been told times without number that they were an excuse to avoid the hard work required to “raise standards”, and that we are an obstacle to providing pupils “equipped for the modern world”.
We should be grateful that the CBI has seen the light, but it is galling in the extreme that for 30 years the voices of people who know what it is like to educate young people have been ignored.
Labour, be radical, edgy and bold
John Pinkerton asks why Labour does not adopt more radical policies (letter, 8 December). I am equally baffled, and now despairing. I am beginning to think that a vote for Labour is a wasted vote: the say-nothing, do-nothing, mean-nothing party.
As a Labour Party member since 1983 I wonder why it is that, in 2014, Labour has not found an authentic voice that chimes with ordinary people’s life experiences. For Labour the next general election should be a walk in the park, with the right-wing vote split and the Lib Dems disappearing: but it is Labour that struggles to be heard.
So Labour, abandon the soft clichés, the feeble, fragile attempts at tinkering at the edges of society’s ills. Be radical, be edgy, be bold, wake up, and wake up the population of Britain by putting ordinary people first. Then the voters will take notice. They may not agree but at least they would have noticed you.
Osborne ducks fuel price challenge
I despair. The Chancellor has once again actively taken the step of not applying the fuel escalator, even though the price of petrol is in decline and is likely to remain much reduced for the foreseeable future.
What will be the result of this? An increase in the likelihood of disastrous consequences for the future of the world’s climate, and a failure to collect much-needed revenue.
And what would have been the consequences had he not taken this step: merely short-term unpopularity, soon forgotten as the motorist fails to see a persistent rise in price.
What does this say about the Chancellor’s values, even given the degree of self-interest to which we have become accustomed in many of our politicians.
Holocaust in Africa
In his interesting reflection on the Armenian Holocaust (1 December), Robert Fisk notes the involvement of members of the Kaiser’s army who later turned up in Hitler’s Wehrmacht “helping to organise the mass killing of Jews”, thus illustrating an instructive German involvement in the two holocausts.
However, he overlooks the first holocaust of the 20th century – which was not in Armenia but German South West Africa (now Namibia), where the indigenous Herero people were systematically rounded up into concentration camps and massacred to make way for the Kaiser’s “place in the sun”. The Reichskommissar in charge of creating this German Lebensraum (living space) was Heinrich Goering, whose son, Hermann, would become Hitler’s Reichsmarschall.
Nor was it a coincidence that many Nazi functionaries who learnt their trade in the German colonies would – in the words of Viktor Bottcher, Governor of Posen in 1939 (and a former civil servant in the German Cameroon) – go on “to perform in the east of the Reich the constructive work they had once carried out in Africa”.
Thus the holocausts of the 20th century reveal a sinister link in the mentality of colonial contempt for supposedly “inferior” people.
Rank-and-file bankers share the guilt
Simone Stanbrook (letter, 5 December) asks that we treat the rank and file of the banking system differently from the “fat cats” of the higher echelons.
Yet it was these ordinary bankers in my local branch who caused me to be crippled with outgoings of nearly £200 a month for payment protection insurance while trying to build a modest business in a difficult climate down here in the South-west.
It was a rank-and-file man who instructed me to take out an expensive life policy to support a business overdraft because “we don’t like to have to go after your relatives should anything unfortunate happen to you”.
There’s something about the defence of “We were only following orders” that doesn’t quite hit the spot for me.
Party with the guts to confront Trident
Allan Williams (letter, 6 December) is right about the vile nature of the awful Trident renewal programme, but not quite right in asserting that no political party has the guts to confront that obscenity.
The Green Party’s policy on peace and defence explicitly states that the party “rejects any reliance on nuclear weapons. This rejection means that we will decommission UK’s own nuclear weapons and insist on the removal of US nuclear bases.” Now there’s something to cheer for.
Your article (3 December) on the massive growth in Green Party membership is welcome. But please note that actually our figures are even better than you have said.
Our party membership totals 36,000 once one includes Scottish and Northern Ireland Green Party members too. For they number 8,000, taking us very close to Ukip’s membership total.
The Scottish and Northern Irish Greens have separate parties because we practice what we preach, genuinely believing in independence and devolution.
Dr Rupert Read
Green Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge.
School of Philosophy, Politics and Languages, University of East Anglia
Ban this bullying of suppliers
“The news that Premier Foods could be forcing its suppliers into controversial ‘pay to stay’ arrangements is deeply disturbing,” said the director general of the Institute of Directors (“Premier is shot down for ‘pointing gun’ at suppliers”, 6 December). It is more than that, it is reverse bribery under duress and there should be a law against it.
Sir, On balance, the case for the British Museum retaining the Elgin Marbles stands (reports, Dec 5 & 6), but it has been gravely weakened by the irresponsible and gratuitously provocative loan of one of the works to the Hermitage Museum.
The case for continuing to hold the Elgin Marbles in Bloomsbury after two centuries has rested in part on the physical safety of the collection and on permitting the illuminating artistic pre-eminence of the sculptures themselves to be best appreciated in the context of a multicultural, international “encyclopaedic” museum.
That the present venture has exposed what is arguably the world’s supreme depiction of a nude male figure to serious and needless risks is confirmed by the museum’s defence of its own great secrecy. As you report, its registrar boasts that “museums are good at mitigating risk”; that the loan needed undisclosed insurance; and that, if intercepted by thieves, “they would be unable to sell it”.
Reducing risk is not the same as eliminating or declining to incur it. Positively embracing risk by placing the sculpture successively on a lorry, a passenger aircraft (months after another was brought down by Russian-armed separatists in Eastern Europe) and another lorry, on each leg of the journey, can only be seen as a failure of imagination and a dereliction of duties on the part of the museum’s trustees.
Director, ArtWatch UK
Sir, If the Elgin Marbles had been left in Athens by Lord Elgin, they would not now exist. Either the Turks would have blown them up or the pollution would have destroyed them. In 1955 I attended a conference at the British Museum where the chief conservator, Dr HJ Plenderleith, demonstrated this by comparing them with examples he left behind. Those were virtually unrecognisable. I remember he carefully avoided making any political point.
Surely the answer is to move away from the current impasse and to replace copies of our marbles back in situ so that the original effect can be admired, as it should be, from ground level?
One can understand the Greeks sabre-rattling and blaming the Turks for selling them, but these nationalistic attitudes are often an excuse for political distraction. Suppose there were a movement to return the Great Altar at Pergamon back from Berlin to what is now Turkey. When it was built Bergama was part of Helenistic Greece, then it was Roman and became known as one of the seven churches in Asia, then it was Byzantine and finally Turkish from the 14th century. How would Unesco sort that one out?
Hatfield Peverel, Essex
Sir, I sympathise with Simon Warburton’s suggestion that all museum treasures should be repatriated (letter, Dec 6), but the consequences are hard to imagine. In contrast to areas such as Mesopotamia or Anatolia with their rich histories of one civilisation following another, with all their accompanying artefacts, the British Isles have comparatively little indigenous material to put on show. Our Celtic, Roman and Saxon assemblages, for all their richness, are pretty limited fare.
Dr Michael Cullen
Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
Sir, Simon Warburton thinks our Greek friends should be “outraged at [our] haughty attitude” that “only we know how to preserve such antiquities”. He should remember that they are only in this country because the forebears of the present-day Greeks did not know how to preserve them. The horrified Lord Elgin paid a large sum upfront to rescue them from the local builders who were breaking up the Parthenon antiquities to provide hardcore for their constructions.
Sir, The controversy over these sculptures seems to centre on two aspects: the legitimacy of the original acquisition, and the issue of general repatriation of works of art.
Whether or not Lord Elgin paid or did not pay (or did not pay enough) is irrelevant: the sculptures were obtained with the approval of the Ottoman government, which, obnoxious as it may have been, was the legitimate ruler of Athens at that time, and recognised as such by other nations. The sculptures were not looted, unlike works of art seized by Napoleon and by Hitler.
Repatriation of works of art would be very complex, for where would it end? Most countries would be denuded and how would Italy store it all, let alone exhibit such treasures? As for those Anglophobic Hollywood “celebrities” who were interviewed, I would advise caution, for if the US had to repatriate its works of art it would be left with some dusty old wigwams and a few ghastly modern daubs.
Fr Julian G Shurgold
Sir, The Romans so admired “Greek” sculpture that they made copies of several works that we know have survived. Without these copies the world would be a lesser place. Today, using computerised laser imaging, etc, it should be possible to construct statues virtually indistinguishable from the original. The marble could be sourced from quarries with good matches. Similar copying has already been achieved, at the Lascaux caves for example. The debate then would be which museum is best equipped to curate the original work.
Sir, Your leading article (Dec 5) maintains that the sculpture of Illissos is the first of the Elgin Marbles ever to leave these shores. Interestingly the obituary of Vice Admiral Sir William Crawford (June 25, 2003) commented that the battleship Rodney, en route for refit in America in May 1940, was carrying £1 million in gold bullion and “many of the Elgin Marbles”.
Peter N Davidson
Blebo Craigs, Cupar
Sir, In the second century AD the Athenian magnate Herodes Atticus erected statues of members of his own family, but placed a curse on anyone mutilating or removing them. His Roman masters expressed their disapproval at the expense; but according to Philostratus they evidently dared to go no further.
Professor emeritus Graham Anderson
University of Kent
Sir, Janice Turner’s critique of the House of Lords is unanswerable (Dec 6). In the country at large, there is general agreement that the second chamber should be democratically elected, inclusive and experienced. Instead of having a body elected in the same way as the Commons, why not have one made up of members elected by groupings based on a person’s employment or profession, with all those categories of people outside these groups having a vote?
Caerleon, Newport, South Wales
Sir, The BBC’s director of television wants the corporation’s critics to be a “little less of the critical friend’’ (Dec 4). Anyone who has complained about the BBC’s output to Feedback on Radio 4 will know that the BBC’s programme makers are incapable of recognising or accepting criticism. Vigorous criticism, constructive or otherwise, is at its best the engine of improvement and a guarantor of quality. At worst it is an indication that someone is at least considering your output.
Sir, With regard to the IT expert who wired himself up to propose to his girlfriend (Dec 6), one could not help but notice that the graph of excitement peaked at the very time he proposed, and went downhill from there. Is there a lesson to be learnt from this?
Philip L Wheeler
Abbots Langley, Herts
Sir, It is shoulders, not the size of bottoms, that make for discomfort on trains that run between Portsmouth and London (letter, Dec 8). Sitting on the outside seat of a row of three seats next to two average-sized men, I spent the entire journey with my upper body at a 110-degree angle.
Sir, The Modern Slavery Bill is indeed significant in addressing the fight against human trafficking, in particular through criminal law (letter, Dec 6). However, successful prosecutions depend on the co-operation of victims, who may be scared of the authorities. It is vital that the UK recognises its obligation to protect victims of trafficking. One way in which the bill can achieve this is by recognising fully the non-punishment principle: that trafficked people should not be penalised for offences committed in the course, or as a consequence, of being trafficked. While the bill recognises the principle, the list of offences that are excluded (ie, for which victims of trafficking can be prosecuted) is so long that it significantly weakens the principle.
In 2013 the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe published guidance that links the duty of non-punishment to states’ human rights obligations towards victims of trafficking. The bill would be greatly improved were it to be amended to recognise that victims of slavery should not be punished for offences they have been compelled to commit.
Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz
(Member, Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings) Aberystwyth University
Sir, – Brian Morris (December 6th) writes that he has just spent three weeks assessing essays, debates and written tests undertaken by his students. He further states that he is utterly impartial in his marking and in all other dealings with his students, and I have no doubt that this is true. But here is the crux. How does he know that the grade that he awards is of the same equivalency as that awarded in another third-level institute or even by another lecturer in his own college? What system of cross-moderation is used in third-level colleges teaching similar courses or even between faculty members in the same college?
This is a serious issue and cannot be answered by a random perusal of some scripts by an external examiner, or by the often expressed view that “We are professionals and we just know”. The second-level teachers are right to insist on the continuance of external moderation of any new assessment methods that are proposed by the Department of Education. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Brian Morris asks why it is accepted that third-level lecturers can impartially correct their students’ major exams, but not secondary teachers.
In university, lecturers do not have much, if any, sort of “relationship” with their students in general, except for just lecturing a few hundred anonymous individuals in a big lecture hall, unless for the few that are motivated enough to come to the lecturers afterwards to ask them about something.
A secondary teacher, on the other hand, teaches classes of up to 35 students, and unlike a university lecturer, would not only recognise their pupils by name, but would also be likely to know much about their family backgrounds.
In addition, unmotivated students in university simply don’t turn up for lectures; in school, such students tend to disrupt classes instead.
Despite what Mr Morris suggests, having a personal bias is not simply a sign of being “unprofessional”. Such biases are human nature when you have the sort of daily interaction that occurs between a teacher and a pupil at second level. – Yours, etc,
TOMÁS M CREAMER,
Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.
Sir, – Brian Morris argues that secondary teachers should trust their professional integrity and mark their own students’ work, noting this as the common practice at third level. This analysis neglects a key and fundamental difference between second and third level. Secondary schools are a child-centred environment, where parents may exert a powerful influence on any individual teacher. By contrast, third-level education is an adult place of learning, where parents are not involved, and therefore unable to exert undue influence on teaching staff. – Yours, etc,
Dr PEADAR GRANT,
Sir, – Similarities can be drawn between the second-level teacher strike of late and the suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the strongest opponents to this emancipating movement were women. Grace Duffield Goodwin wrote Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons in 1912. In this she pointed out that women are exempted from political and legal responsibilities such as serving in the army or sitting on juries. Women are spared from many responsibilities like “providing for family, paying debts and going to jail for minor crimes. If a wife engages in illegal business the law holds [the husband] responsible, and not her. Why would women want to give up that kind of legal protection for equal voting rights?”
Comparable arguments are being put forward by the teacher unions for rejecting greater professional autonomy, ie the need to “maintain educational standards” as printed on so many placards last Tuesday. In other words, it appears they are arguing that at the moment the system has the public trust and if something goes wrong, if a student isn’t demonstrating that they have grown or learned, if the curriculum is overloaded, or if the backwash effect of state examinations is restricting pedagogy, etc, well then it is the system or the State Examination Commission that are responsible. Why would teachers want to give up that kind of protection?
Unfortunately it is often not until our freedom and autonomy have been attacked that we really value them. However, this requires exposure to the potential of such freedom in the first place. The historical and cultural context in Ireland has given prominence to state exams. As a result, there are now Stockholm syndrome-like symptoms emerging where teachers are positively disposed to the exam that many acknowledge has held them hostage for so many years. – Yours, etc,
Dr RAYMOND LYNCH,
Department of Education
and Professional Studies,
University of Limerick.
Sir, – Una Mullally is a passionate supporter of the legalising of gay marriage (“Who does the BAI ruling on marriage equality serve?”, Opinion & Analysis, December 8th). She appears to advocate that she and her fellow proponents of that view be given time on the airwaves unchallenged by those who seek to uphold the status quo in regard to the definition of marriage. This is a call for restricted debate or no debate. At the same time she asserts that “We need debate. But we also need truth …”, regarding a decision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
One can argue as to the sources of truth but giving both sides equal opportunity in terms of time and representation is a necessary requirement for exploring factual and moral questions in a democracy. This is a price we pay for democracy. It has to apply in terms of a national referendum.
The Chris Donoghue example is instructive. He espouses one side and so any of his off-the-cuff remarks on the issue will be made accordingly. That is why people in his profession are required to conduct debate according to BAI guidelines. The guidelines are necessary, but not necessarily productive of equality. In some instances producers or presenters afford equal time to each side but line up three advocates of one side against one for the other. All this, of course, assumes the power of media to form public opinion.
There are a number of ways of conducting the national debate. Give each side equal unchallenged slots of time or have them put their case face to face, or some combination of both. But democracy requires that the equality Ms Mullally advocates in one instance must apply in all instances. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to Karlin Lillington’s “State sanctions phone and email tapping” (Front Page, December 6th), one might be forgiven for forgetting that one of the main responsibilities of our Government is to defend our sovereignty. Therefore it is with alarm that we should react to the Minister for Justice signing away, with the stroke of a pen, and without any public debate, our control over our cyberspace. What next, our airspace?
It is even more shameful when one considers, as revealed by Edward Snowden, that a foreign power had already pre-empted this surrender by taking onto itself the right to spy on our cyberspace without any legal provision being in place. So they infringe on a part of our sovereignty and our response is to give it away to them? Some way to start our commemorations of 1916. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll show Independents/Others are now more popular than any one of the four main parties, on 32 per cent (excluding undecideds).
With this in mind, might it be time for opinion polls to start giving a more detailed breakdown on Independents/Others?
What portion of this support is going to Independent candidates who stand on primarily local issues, and what portion to those with national profiles and concerns? What portion is going to socialist Independents and what portion to free-market independents, to social conservatives or to social liberals? At the very least it should be possible to provide a breakdown of support for the main political groupings of the “Others”: the Greens, People Before Profit, Anti-Austerity Alliance, Reform Alliance, United Left and so on. Given that Independents and smaller parties are likely to play an important role in the formation of the next government, it would be useful for the public to have more detailed information on their levels of support, rather than just for the amorphous blob of “Independents and Others”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The decision by Willie Frazer, who represents the group Fair (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives), to seek permission to hold a second “Love Ulster” march in Dublin early next year is regrettable (“Loyalists planning Love Ulster march in Dublin early next year”, December 6th).
While I fully endorse one’s right to assemble and march, within the parameters of the law and due recognition given to accepted civilised behaviour, the inclusion of loyalist bandsmen appears to be a deliberate attempt by Mr Frazer to provoke a reaction. If this proposed march, as Mr Frazer claims, is to highlight the suffering of innocent victims of violence in the North, why is it confined to Protestant victims only? Why are Catholic victims of violence excluded? Surely if Mr Frazer is to be consistent in applying principles of justice, fairness and equality in both life and death, all suffering should be recognised?
If the Garda concede to Mr Frazer’s request and grant permission for the march to proceed, restrictions must be put in place to avoid a recurrence of the civil disorder witnessed on the previous occasion Mr Frazer’s group marched in Dublin.
Under no circumstances should this group be allowed to parade with sectarian flags and emblems or should loyalist bandsmen be allowed to play sectarian tunes.
Most importantly of all they must not be allowed to parade in the vicinity of where the Dublin bombings of May 1974 took place.
I look forward to the day when all the victims of the Troubles can be remembered with equal respect and dignity, regardless of creed or political status, collectively. I take the view that Mr Frazer’s narrow focus in representing Protestant victims has only set that day back. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Optics aside, it is difficult to see the value of an external review by an accountancy firm on issues of patient safety (“Savita hospital review finds ‘reasonable compliance’”, December 5th). The central issue in the Savita tragedy was poor medical management of a sick patient. Unfortunately, the inevitability of such poor outcomes remains the case in the vast majority of Irish hospitals.
The reasons for this have been clearly identified and reported in The Irish Times over the last few months. First, the grossly inadequate provision of intensive-care units and critical-care beds has never been addressed. All the so-called “early warning systems” can hope to achieve is to underline this fact on a daily basis. If the alarms keep going off, people stop listening.
Second, as stated by the recently departed head of Health Information and Quality Authority, while there are pockets of excellence in Irish healthcare, there are no clear standards of care and we do not know how many patients are being killed or harmed (her words not mine) because it is not being measured. Finally, the total lack of accountability of HSE management for poor clinical outcomes is appalling.
Where I work now, there is no public vs private nonsense. Patients are treated free at the point of care on an as-needed basis. Each person has a unique patient identifier; care is provided by consultants or the institution doesn’t get paid; I am responsible for every clinical decision I make, and there is a permanent electronic record of diagnostic tests, consultation letters and other reports. If a patient has an adverse outcome, all providers involved must attend the relevant morbidity and mortality meeting, which are held routinely. – Yours, etc,
Dr PAUL MacMULLAN,
University of Calgary,
Sir, – Laya Healthcare has just announced up to a 19 per cent reduction in health premiums for some plans and fixed its prices over two years. While this will be welcomed by consumer groups, it should not be a surprise. Laya recently cut reimbursements to doctors by 5 per cent across the board and in many instances by much greater amounts. Since 2008 health insurers have cut fees to consultants by 20 per cent or more, reducing them to the levels of over 10 years ago. During this time consultants costs have skyrocketed – the costs of any small business such as staff, utilities, and consumables. Most notable of these is the cost of medical indemnity insurance which the Medical Protection Society has increased by nearly 100 per cent in the past two years. This, it says, is due to the high incidence of litigation in Irish society and the sums being paid out in settlements. This increase in indemnity premiums is on the back of serial increases over several years. Some doctors are now paying over 40 per cent of their income in medical indemnity. This is unsustainable for any business.
The only solution for many doctors will be to increase consultation fees or to opt out of the full participation schemes that the majority of hospital consultants are currently signed up for with the healthcare insurers. While this is unlikely to improve their public image, for many it is the only pathway to survival. This will more than undo any consumer benefit that may accrue from these recent cuts in health insurance premiums. The young Irish medical graduates are looking at this and opting out at source. Not only are they leaving in droves, it looks like they are not coming back any time soon. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I do not represent the O’Brien Press, nor am I attempting to speak for it. Nonetheless, as a writer, I was astounded to learn (December 5th) that the Arts Council had reduced grant aid to this publisher by a whopping 84 per cent. Now correct me if I am wrong, but is this the same council that has had a hand in initiating the very first Irish fiction laureateship? Do they not do irony in Merrion Square?
For more than four decades, the O’Brien Press has been a leading Irish publisher of poetry, fiction and children’s books. It does not need me to sing its praises or trumpet its achievements. But no doubt the Arts Council would wish to be praised for its own mighty work in highlighting Ireland’s literary profile.
The council has exercised a “scorched earth” policy concerning literature for quite some time, reducing or killing off even the most modest of grants to literature festivals, scuppering the hopes of small but energetic publishers.
The grant to the O’Brien Press should be restored to what it was formerly and as soon as possible. The reduction of the grant is as disgraceful as it is inexplicable. One might wonder yet again whether the council is not merely interested in an exportable cultural image rather than the promotion of literature. This latest Merrion Square fiasco makes an utter nonsense of the much-heralded, God help us, Irish fiction laureateship. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Approximately 48 hours in advance of another national demonstration against water charges and The Irish Times runs an article stating that the Government has given the troika a dressing down over the same issue (“Troika rebuked over water charges”, December 8th). Considering that it is a number of weeks since the troika officials were in town, why is this news only emerging now? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The US closing prices in the Business section give stock prices for most of the main US companies in Ireland, with one notable exception.
Should we just “Google” it? – Yours, etc,
Terenure, Dublin 6W.
The spotlight on the issue of homelessness and the dangerous plight of those living on our hostile streets or in temporary accommodation is high on the radar of the public consciousness.
More so in recent times following the deaths of “homeless persons”. Only after their lonely demise were the labels removed and names, histories, contexts given to their “homeless” faces.
How many times has the thought crossed our minds, when we see someone appearing or behaving detached from reality in some way, that their street-living was a result of their own selfish actions? They must have done something wrong to have been expelled from their family/society in general to find themselves in their situation?
The harsh reality is that behind many issues of homelessness lies a legacy of survival, trying to get through each and every day, within a context of involvement in social services and/or medical and treatment services. Behind each case of homelessness can lie mental health issues, substance abuse, family issues, or financial difficulties, which are everyday features of some lives.
What this realisation tells us about ourselves is that we are never too far away from an emotional, physical or social challenge which can be so overwhelming for us, we find ourselves unable to manage.
Each of us has an inbuilt drive to survive. What this level of survival looks like to each of us will be different – for some, it is financial survival, saving our business or home or getting enough together to put food on the table. For others, it will be enough to get from one end of the day to the other, avoiding harm along the way.
It may be time to consider that the broader issues faced by some of us, however uncomfortable they may be, are a living reality for others and need to be acknowledged and not judged, so that the possibilities of life-supporting interventions and choices can be made more accessible to those who need them.
Jo-Anne Sexton, Donnycarney, Dublin 9
Christmas is about more than toys
There is a growing realisation that children are given far too many toys, thus eliminating the possibility of the use of their imagination to invent games and play activities.
Children are targets for ruthless marketing, where wants are confused with needs. Sales are stimulated by manufacturing bogus scarcity and bogus urgency.
Recently, I visited a leading toy store and found it packed with shelf after shelf of items that must have been designed by people who have lost all sense of the children who will be the recipients of their wares, but are acutely aware of their purchasing power.
The great philosopher Plato believed that children become their surroundings. One can only hope that the minds and hearts of our children are not shaped by the offerings in some toy shops.
Perhaps the worst offenders are those who persuade gullible parents that in an age of the computers children need to engage in the endless playing of mindless computer games so as to become ‘computer literate’.
The RTE ‘Toy Show,’ where children are unwittingly engaged in the business of promoting the pre-Christmas sale of toys, takes Christmas advertising to a new level, matched appropriately by the lunacy of Black Friday, when civility is thrown to the winds.
This drift into mindless acquisitiveness has become the defining characteristic of Christmas. I am reminded of the child who when expressing the hope that he would get lots of toys from Father Christmas was told that he should think more about giving than getting. He responded to this moral reminder by praying that Father Christmas would give him lots of presents.
Philip O’Neill, Oxford, OX1 4QB, UK
D’Arcy’s €500k ‘homecoming’
RTE has plenty of excellent broadcasting talent in-house whose remuneration packages are not so exorbitant as to make sensational national headline news.
But according to an Irish Independent report on December 8, RTE intends to recruit broadcaster Ray D’Arcy with a pay package close to €500,000 – a headline reminiscent of the Camelot years of ludicrous pay levels and extravagant operating costs at the heavily loss-making State broadcaster.
The 2013 Annual Report of RTE reveals that its commercial revenue has declined from €240m to €145m over the preceding five years. Annual television licence revenue received by RTE is €19m million lower over this period.
The Department of Communications reported that the TV licence evasion levels in Ireland, at 17pc of chargeable domestic households and businesses, is very high by European standards. The latest annual report of An Post indicates no material progress in curtailing TV licence evasion levels since 2008.
RTE returned a modest surplus of €700,000 last year following an era of very substantial losses.
How can the board of RTE afford to pay one individual with a package equivalent to 65pc of 2013 profits, when its capacity to make a decent profit and grow revenue is so uncertain?
D’Arcy is quoted as saying that his return to RTE is “a bit like coming home”, but is the viability of this homecoming to be based on a very hefty increase in the TV licence fee, or the hope that An Post will become more effective as a TV licence fee collector – a prospect defined by RTE “as a key priority for 2014”?
Myles Duffy, Glenageary, Co Dublin
12 pubs, or pay the water charge?
Regarding the trend of the 12 pubs of Christmas: say 12 drinks at €5 each, that’s €60 in one night. The same price as the water charge for a single household for one year.
There should be a nationwide protest at the cost! Ho, ho, ho.
Brendan Chapman, Booterstown, Dublin
Set a minimum price for alcohol
The decision to proceed with a Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) policy for alcohol in Northern Ireland reflects the increasing conviction of policy makers of the effectiveness of price in the fight against alcohol harm.
The challenge to Scotland’s bid to introduce a MUP of 50p remains tied up in the European courts, but there is confidence that this challenge by the drinks industry will be overcome.
The consequences of alcohol harm in Ireland are catastrophic. The death rate from liver cirrhosis has doubled in both men and women in the last 20 years, reflecting the doubling of per capita intake of alcohol in the last 50 years.
MUP, which establishes a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold, has proven to have had significant positive and rapid benefits on health and crime in Canada, where MUP has already been introduced. The Northern Irish Department of Health estimates that introduction of MUP there could save 63 lives a year; in the Republic the figure for lives saved would be much higher.
Those who argue against MUP suggest that moderate drinkers would be penalised. This is quite simply not the case. MUP will in fact have the greatest impact on harmful and hazardous drinkers. A recent UK study of patients with liver disease demonstrated that the impact of a minimum unit price of 50p/unit on spending on alcohol would be 200 times higher for patients with liver disease who were drinking at harmful levels than for low-risk drinkers.
If we take a MUP price of 60c in the Republic of Ireland, this would not change the price anyone pays for a drink in a pub or restaurant, as these, for the most part, already sell at well above that MUP. A bottle of wine costing €8 at present, or a 700ml bottle of spirits at €14 would still cost the same. What would change is the price of the cheapest and strongest wine, cider and beer, mainly or completely in the supermarket and off-license sector.
Prof Frank Murray, President and Chair of Alcohol Policy Group, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland