Better

31 December 2014 Better

Mary a bit better not keen on the Tesco mussels.

Mary’s much better today, breakfast weight up underdone pheasant for tea.

Obituary:

Luise Rainer and William Powell in 'The Great Ziegfeld' (1936)

Luise Rainer and William Powell in ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ (1936) Photo: REX

Luise Rainer, who has died aged 104, won Oscars for Best Actress in successive years, in 1936 and 1937, the first ever to do so, but six years later quit Hollywood in a huff and did not make another film for 54 years.

A tough negotiator with a reputation for being “difficult”, she made many enemies in the film industry. She scorned the saccharine parts in which MGM regularly cast her and would have no truck with studio boss Louis B Mayer’s preferred method of contract discussion — seated on his knee. She did not fit in pre-war Hollywood and made only eight movies there. When she left no tears were shed.

She was an ultra-emotional actress, a high priestess of the cult of smiling through tears. She won her first Academy Award for her virtuoso performance in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) as the impresario Florenz Ziegfeld’s first wife, Anna Held. The part was small and in later years would doubtless have been considered a supporting role. Mayer tried to dissuade her from appearing in it, but she insisted that there was one scene that she could turn into something memorable.

This was the so-called “telephone scene”, in which Anna congratulates Ziegfeld on his second marriage to Billie Burke, concealing her own misery behind a pose of jaunty insouciance. Only when she hangs up do the tears finally break through. Rainer claimed she wrote it herself, drawing on Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine.

The scene might have ended up on the cutting-room floor. When the finished film ran for four hours, Mayer’s first thought was to throw out a sequence that he considered was delaying the entry of the dancing girls. But the producer, Hunt Stromberg, argued strongly in its favour and, for once, Mayer was persuaded to change his mind.

Nobody expected her to take the Oscar, but, not for the first or last time, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences let their hearts rule their heads. They did it again in 1937, when she was named Best Actress for her performance as a long-suffering Chinese peasant in The Good Earth (she would later use the statuette as a doorstop).

It was regarded as evidence of a remarkable range. Yet she never looked or sounded Chinese. She registered as what she was — a winsome European with saucer eyes, a moon face and an air of infinite endurance. Those whose hearts she touched melted in sympathy; others were content to dub her “the Viennese teardrop”. In fact, however, this was a misconception. She had been born in Germany, but as war in Europe grew ever more likely in the 1930s, MGM chose to soft-pedal her German birth and promote her as Austrian.

Luise Rainer in ‘The Good Earth’ (1937) (ALAMY)

MGM never found another movie that Luise Rainer considered worthy of her talents. And in this conviction she was egged on by her first husband, the playwright Clifford Odets, with whom she shared a stormy three-year marriage from 1937 to 1940.

Jealous of her career and friendships, he exercised a baleful influence on her, encouraging her self-destructive instincts. Without him she might have reached an accommodation with Hollywood instead of flouncing off into premature delusions of grandeur. Nearly eight decades later, her second Oscar-winning performance in The Good Earth has lasted less well than that of her defeated rival, Greta Garbo, in Camille.

Luise Rainer was a gifted actress with a limited range, but let nobody underestimate her charms. In youth she had features to make even the most hard-boiled tremble. Unfortunately, she became known too soon for a sense of her own importance, which her career had yet to confirm.

Luise Rainer, circa 1937 (GETTY)

It stayed with her all her days. In later life, in semi-retirement in London, she embarked on her memoirs, taking 200 pages to deal with her first 22 years — at the end of which she was still a starlet in the inter-war German cinema. To compile her magnum opus (later abandoned), Luise Rainer kept extensive records of everything that might eventually be relevant, including a master file headed “Persons who have corresponded with Luise Rainer”. They ranged from George Gershwin to Bertolt Brecht, Luchino Visconti to Tennessee Williams.

She insisted that talent, even if left fallow for many years, does not disappear. And in a sense she was right. When, in 1997, she was persuaded to come out of cinematic retirement and appear in a movie once more – Karoly Makk’s The Gambler, based on a story by Dostoevsky – she proved every bit the professional and the grande dame of yore. Aged 85 and portraying an old Russian aristocrat obsessed by gambling, she used every wrinkle, every dart of the eye, to bring the character to life and dominate the screen in the few scenes in which she appeared. By modern standards it was an over-the-top performance, but a jaw-dropping demonstration of what had once passed for great acting.

She was born, as she later admitted, not in Vienna but in Düsseldorf on January 12 1910 and brought up in Hamburg. Her background was well-to-do. Her father ran an import-export business in oil and soya beans and travelled extensively. During her childhood Luise Rainer changed school eight times.

While in Dallas, her father took American citizenship, which was later to save his life. Married to a Jew, he was arrested early in the war and sent to a concentration camp. Only the fact that he was technically an American secured his release. His daughter, by then a big Hollywood star, was given the status of honorary Aryan, but she still featured in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, the Nazi list of prominent Jewish artists.

Luise Rainer (left) in a scene from ‘Escapade’ (1935) (GETTY)

Luise’s father exercised a firm control over the family and disapproved strongly of her desire to become an actress – regarding it as tantamount to prostitution, he threw her out of the house, she claimed, when she was only 16 and she was forced to beg for apples and eggs. Corroborative evidence, however, has never been found, and much of her early history was recorded from interviews in her eighties at the time of her screen “comeback”.

Expelled from her father’s house, she went to live with her grandparents and presented herself at the Louise Dumont Theatre in Düsseldorf, asking for a job for the next season. This is how she liked to recall it: she was granted an audition, played a scene from Schiller’s Joan of Arc, was immediately signed up, and within months was starring in Frank Wedekind’s notorious sexual melodrama Spring Awakening.

In this part she was so striking that the great Max Reinhardt summoned her to Vienna, where she appeared in plays by Pirandello, Shakespeare and others. As she told it, it was like a fairy tale, and a carefully shaped one. She scored a big hit, too, with the playwright Ernst Toller, who was much smitten by her charms. Alas, he was but one of many. “Toller was nothing to me but a man,” she admitted. “I was in my teens and his fame didn’t mean anything to me. But I had no room for him because there were so many other men in love with me at the time.”

One of them, apparently, was especially gallant. When an MGM talent scout spotted her in Vienna and invited her for a screen test in London, she packed two left shoes in haste and did not discover the error until she was already halfway across the Channel. Since she was too poor to replace it, and would not accept a gift from strangers, a besotted Dutchman sailed straight back, retrieved the missing shoe and presented it to her in a basket. Cinderella could have asked for no more.

Between 1930 and 1933 she had appeared in a few German films, beginning with a short, Ja, der Himmel über Wien in 1930, followed by Sehnsuch, 202 (1932) and Heut’ kommt’s drauf an (1933), a musical with Hans Albers about a jazz contest. Her screen career took off, however, when she signed with MGM and transferred to Hollywood.

Her first American film, Escapade (1935), opposite William Powell, was a remake of an Austrian production, Maskerade, but was considered too slavish an imitation and was not successful. She got the part only when Myrna Loy, who was to have starred, pulled out. At first, Louis B Mayer was reluctant to give her star billing; but he eventually agreed under pressure from William Powell, an immensely popular actor with considerable clout at the time.

Escapade was followed by her two Oscar-winning roles . But thereafter MGM was at a loss to know how to cast her. Guessing that the Powell/Rainer combination was what the public wanted to see, it rushed them into a romantic spy melodrama, The Emperor’s Candlesticks, in 1937, but it proved a miscalculation. No better was Big City (her third film of 1937), in which she was the long-suffering wife of Spencer Tracy’s New York cabbie.

Luise Rainer and Spencer Tracy in ‘Big City’ (1937) (GETTY)

In 1938 Luise Rainer made three more films, of which only The Great Waltz – a fictionalised account of the life of Johann Strauss – suited her talents. She played Strauss’s dewy-eyed wife who loses him to a glamorous diva, played by Miliza Korjus (“rhymes with gorgeous”, as contemporary trailers had it). A cream cake of a movie, it was Luise Rainer’s only film to approach the ultra-sweet charm of The Great Ziegfeld.

Also in that year, she was miscast as a Southern belle in The Toy Wife, with Melvyn Douglas, and appeared in Dramatic School. After that she was granted six months’ leave of absence to try to patch up her failing marriage to Clifford Odets. There were rumours of early retirement, and MGM did not renew her contract.

In 1939 she appeared on the stage — first in London with a production of Behold the Bride, then on Broadway in a revival of A Kiss for Cinderella, which flopped. She returned to Hollywood, but no studio was interested in an MGM cast-off. It took her until 1943 to win another part, this time for Paramount, in Hostages. But it proved just another Resistance story that sank at the box office. After that, she dropped out of movies until 1997, except for a 28-minute short in 1988 made especially for video. Called A Dancer, it was a dramatic piece in which she played a dance teacher reunited with a lover she had not seen for 30 years.

Luise Rainer at her home in London in 1997 (REX)

Luise Rainer did not formally retire, but lived largely in seclusion in London with her second husband, Robert Knittel, a publisher with Jonathan Cape who later became editorial director for Collins. She made few professional appearances in London, turning up unexpectedly in two television productions in 1950, By Candlelight and The Seagull, and later in a BBC television play, The Stone Face. In 1978 an exhibition of her paintings was held at the Seale Gallery.

Sporadically she returned to the stage, achieving notable successes in 1952 in New York with The Lady from the Sea and in 1960 in Vienna with a revival of The Little Foxes. In 1981 and 1983 she scored a personal triumph with a one-woman touring performance of Tennyson’s 900-line poem Enoch Arden.

Luise Rainer’s life was so colourful it was sometimes hard to tell where reality ended and fable began. A casual meeting with Albert Einstein on Long Island Sound allegedly drove her jealous first husband Odets to snip the physicist’s face out of a photograph.

She also claimed that Brecht wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle expressly for her but she turned it down; and when Federico Fellini pressed her to take a cameo role in La Dolce Vita in 1960, she turned him down, too, because he insisted that she must play a sex scene with Marcello Mastroianni.

Luise Rainer’s second husband Robert Knittel, with whom she had a daughter, died in 1989. For the last 25 years she had lived in relative seclusion in an elegant flat in Belgravia.

Luise Rainer, born January 12 1910, died December 30 2014

Guardian:

primary school children in running race
‘Children under six meant to be hyperactive! In the sense that they should be running around pretty much 12 hours a day.’ Photograph: Angela Hampton Picture Library/Alamy

Educational psychologists’ alarm about the over-prescribing of hyperactivity drugs to very young children (Report, 22 December) is welcome. But the underlying question remains: how it is that a “disorder” which scarcely existed in the UK in the 1980s, though widespread in the US, is apparently so prevalent that it is said to affect up to 5% of our nation’s children? Even the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines, to which your report refers, do not question that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a “real” brain disorder, rather than a convenient way of labelling a child who is boisterous and disruptive in class.

Ask paediatricians how often they saw children with “minimal brain dysfunction”, as ADHD was then known, in the 80s, and their answers range from one in 100 to one in 500. In the early 90s, Ritalin prescriptions were running at about 2,000 a year, although the drug had been available for years and was in massive use in the US. Today, the figure is over 600,000. Does the fault really lie inside our children’s brains, or is it a further – and dangerous – manifestation of a medicalising culture?
Steven Rose
Emeritus professor of biology (neuroscience), The Open University

• I was not surprised to read that “overstretched health workers go straight to medication rather than offering psychological interventions” to children with ADHD. Being a community paediatrician, I see the lion’s share of children who have neurodevelopmental disorders – at my clinic we see around three children under the age of six every week that are suspected to have ADHD.

Psychological interventions should always be prioritised (as per Nice guidance); however, as the burden of ADHD is grossly under-recognised and therefore underfunded, many community paediatric departments do not have a clinical psychologist in place. This makes providing psychological treatment much easier said than done.

If this postcode lottery does not end and these fragile young children fail to receive the appropriate help they so desperately need, they are, albeit unwittingly, being set on a slippery path – latest research suggests that children with undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions are much more likely to struggle to achieve educational qualifications and are at much greater risk of committing crime, suffering alcoholism and abusing drugs later in life.

Investment in these vital support services is needed now to help guide these children to a safer future.
Dr Neel Kamal
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

• Children under six are meant to be hyperactive! In the sense that they should be running around pretty much 12 hours a day. What they lack is opportunities for exercise, particularly outdoors. I see children being taken to and from infant school in buggies, when any normal child over 18 months should not be in a buggy at all. Too many young children are already obese; cooped up at home, in a car, or plonked in front of a TV, then won’t sleep at night.
Mary Smith
Upminster, Essex

• There is a danger of confusing the moral panic in relation to medication for ADHD with the reality of the nature of this condition. The result is to dismiss it as some sort of pseudo-scientific construct sponsored by pharmacological corporations. My own research and working practice shows, if anything, that ADHD is underdiagnosed and under-treated in at least some localities in the UK. Perhaps it would be helpful to dispense with the hyperbole and focus more on the statistical evidence regarding incidence and intervention rates.

Health and local authorities need precise information about the extent of the problem, and professionals and clinicians need actively to identify affected children and young people in order to provide adequate services. While “pills are not a substitute for skills”, the evidence clearly shows the efficacy of medication as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

In approaching the issue I make no excuses in being biased in favour of scientific, egalitarian and humanistic values through seeking to bring some measure of objectivity to bear on the subject.
Henryk Holowenko
Deputy principal educational psychologist, London Borough of Tower Hamlets

• At YoungMinds, we have welcomed recent government announcements: the increased funding for eating disorder services; the ending of children being detained under the Mental Health Act in police cells; and the establishment of a taskforce to review children’s mental health services. However, we are deeply concerned that the announced cuts to local government funding will be a significant step backwards.

Funding for children’s mental health services comes from a variety of sources, not just the NHS. Local government plays a crucial role in many areas, especially for early intervention services, which the government itself recognises as vital in supporting children and young people, helping them before mental illness becomes entrenched. Earlier this year we revealed that almost two-thirds of councils had cut or frozen their budgets for children’s mental health services since 2010-11, with one making a cut of 94%. The 1.8% cut to local government funding is likely to further this trend.

If local government no longer has the financial capacity to support early intervention in children’s mental health services, it is essential that these services are provided elsewhere. If they are not, and early intervention services continue to be cut, we will see more children and young people needing more intensive and more expensive support for mental illness, a situation that will cost millions and cause extreme distress and pain to thousands of young people and their families across the country.
Lucie Russell
Director of campaigns, YoungMinds

• All the mental health charities you are supporting are doing excellent work, but your editorial (24 December) does not reflect the most recent thinking and practice.

The British Psychological Society’s report Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia, praised by your columnist Clare Allen (theguardian.com, 2 December), argues that “professionals should not insist that people accept any one particular framework of understanding, for example that their experiences are symptoms of an illness”. Diagnosis is helpful for some, but others, even those with what you describe as a “critical illness such as schizophrenia”, see their distress as an understandable response to life events and circumstances.

We all share your aim of reducing stigma and bringing mental health issues into the open. Biological views about chemical imbalances, faulty genes and so on are not only unproven but have been shown to increase fear and stigma. Avoiding uncritical use of the language of diagnosis and illness is an important step that the media can take towards changing attitudes.
Dr Lucy Johnstone
Consultant clinical psychologist, Bristol

‘I must have been ungrateful to my employers over a lifetime for not recognising that it was them, not me, who paid my PAYE,’ writes Ken Cordingley. Photograph: Cultura Creative/Alamy

Zoe Williams is quite right (Why we should all learn to love paying our taxes, 29 December). Given, as John Lanchester explains in his excellent book How to Speak Money, we have, by a process he calls “reversification”, turned the odious concept of debt into something respectable by calling it credit, why not start talking about the privilege of paying taxes rather than the burden? My father was very proud when his income rose high enough to have to pay income tax. As a teacher in the second part of last century, my income never rose high enough for me to qualify for the higher rate, but it would have been nice if it had.
Peter Wrigley
Birstall, West Yorkshire

• I am at the age when I start to benefit from the taxes I have paid over the years. I feel no guilt at receiving my pension and know that should I be ill the NHS is still there for me. I will no doubt be relying on local services for the elderly, paid for by my tax. My father said to me long ago: “Never worry about those who claim to be paying too much tax, you have to be earning the money to pay it.” I am sure there are many working long hours for low wages who wish they were wealthy enough to complain about their taxes.
David Watson
Nutley, East Sussex

• Speaking on the Today programme, Jon Moulton of Better Capital, owner of City Link, said: “City Link has paid a fortune into the exchequer on such things as PAYE.” I must have been ungrateful to my employers over a lifetime for not recognising that it was they, not I, who’d been paying my PAYE. He was not questioned about how many of the delivery personnel were self-employed and, therefore, paid no PAYE or had NI paid on their behalf. I worry about the influence the likes of Mr Moulton have on my daily life.
Ken Cordingley
Williton, Somerset

If schools taught sign language, deaf people would be less isolated. Photograph: Getty Images/Altren
If schools taught sign language, deaf people would be less isolated. Photograph: Getty Images/Altrendo

I am 17 and have recently started a campaign, Let Sign Shine, aimed at ending the isolation of the deaf in society. My aim is to get sign language taught in schools, with the same respect and importance as languages such as French and Spanish. I have started a paper and online petition to get sign language into schools and have 3,600 signatures since beginning the campaign six months ago.

My goal is to reach 10,000 signatories, so that it has a chance of being discussed in parliament. This is something that concerns me a great deal because my 11-year-old sister Laura is unable to speak: she is deaf and has verbal dyspraxia. Her only means of communication is through sign language.

Even going shopping is a major difficulty for her without the ability to talk to a cashier or sales assistant. The simple tasks of life, including going to the doctor and answering the door become impossible with this massive communication barrier.

Sign language was made an official language in 2003 but still is not taught in the majority of schools. Our society would benefit greatly if it was. It would enable a large group of people to be included in everyday life.

A bond between the deaf and hearing would be created. The mental wellbeing of the deaf would also improve, with fewer people feeling isolated. The hearing would find fulfilment in the knowledge they have gained.

I urge head teachers, governors and all others in the education system to get schools teaching sign language. I hope there is enough support for this idea to change society and end the isolation encountered by people like my sister Laura. The Let Sign Shine petition is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/letsignshine.co.uk.
Jade Chapman
Dereham, Norfolk

Why not use the old Midland mainline?

Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle and Carlisle line: worth an upgrade? Photograph: Denis Thorpe
Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle and Carlisle line: worth an upgrade? Photograph: Denis Thorpe for the Guardian

The chaos affecting both rail routes to the north of England and Scotland after Christmas only serves to underline the lack of alternative mainlines (Report, 27 December). It adds to the strange recent decision to give the Virgin-led consortium control of the east coast mainline to Scotland, when it is already running the west coast mainline, making a mockery of any idea that privatisation brings competition. To solve both of these problems, why not restart the Midland route – St Pancras to Glasgow – by bringing back the Thames-Clyde Express? The tracks are all there, and have been largely recently souped up at great expense. Suitable trains are there too – the Intercity 125s. Plus lucky travellers would traverse the incomparable Settle and Carlisle line, ridiculously under-utilised by merely local passenger services. All aboard!
Benedict le Vay (Author of Britain From the Rails)
London

• Ricky Tomlinson (Saturday interview, 27 December) says he was converted to the left by reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. That book has never been out of print and has similarly influenced hundreds of thousands, including George Orwell. Will no one undertake to celebrate the centenary of its publication before the year is out?
Gerry Abbott
Manchester

• No matter how many times the European Space Agency refers to 67P as a comet (The Rosetta mission, 29 December), it does not enhance the cause of science – 67P is an asteroid. A comet is totally different, both in its composition and essentially in its orbit round the sun.
John Bowler
Cheltenham

• I’ve changed banks twice now but the “old” banks refuse to close my accounts (Letters, 30 December). My father died in 2008 but his bank refuses to close his account despite my having power of attorney and writing and phoning numerous times. What is it up to?
Mick Kusmidrowicz
Combe Martin, Devon

• Further to the passing of Mandy Rice-Davies (Letters, 26 December), may I recommend Fool Britannia, the sublime 1963 LP featuring Peter Sellers, Joan Collins and Anthony Newley, which lampoons Harold Macmillan and his government. It is a masterpiece of political satire.
Martin Barnett
Leominster, Herefordshire

Letter pic
Illustration: Gary Kempston

Bringing torturers to account

So, now the so-called revelations about US torture practices (19 December) are revealed. And now we all know they did it.

When Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four asks: “But what is it, what is it? How can I do it if I don’t know what it is?” he is predicting the more-modern dilemma that faced the prisoners held by the US during their war of terror. And the answer, obviously – and it has always been obvious – is what we want you to do.

What needs to be explored now is whether the current US instigated “investigation” is genuinely intended to identify those responsible and bring them to account, or whether it is deception intended to cover over the cracks in America’s reputation in the world.

Given its historical record, I would expect another scapegoat will be found. It has already got Putin as a possible. I wonder who will be the next person used to get the US off the hook?
Lavinia Moore
Aldgate, South Australia

• For those who can help, therapeutic support for those who have been tortured must be the first priority.

But surely, equally important is those who have tortured. Unless they are identified, and given the possibility of coming to confront their actions, aren’t they bound to replicate horrific patterns learned, and to find disturbing ways of escaping their own feelings and memories, whether at home or at work?

Isn’t this too the human legacy?
Fran Bradshaw
London, UK

Putin doesn’t need the west

The west’s attempt to use cheap oil and an economic embargo to bankrupt Russia is unlikely to succeed in the long run (Rouble fall leaves Russia cold, 12 December). Vladimir Putin has already turned to China, signing dozens of trade and economic cooperation agreements.

Russia has commenced building giant oil and gas pipelines to China. This is also beneficial to China because Russia is its next door neighbour and therefore will not have to depend on Middle East oil and attendant American geopolitical complexities. However, the west’s approach may cause bankruptcy to western oil companies and the Saudi economy. Moreover, the Brics group of countries has taken steps to bypass the US dollar and pay in one another’s domestic currencies. This is a blow to the US global financial hegemony.

As Putin explains, this is part of “a system of measures that would help prevent the harassment of countries that do not agree with some foreign policy decisions made by the United States and their allies”.
Bill Mathew
Melbourne, Australia

Abbott must speak out

I listened to our prime minister, Tony Abbott, after the Sydney hostage siege. I agree, our thoughts and sympathies must go to the friends and families of the victims. Mine do.

But with the media saturation, and the world looking on, could an Australian leader please acknowledge that leaders from the Muslim community also came together to deplore this lone act of violence? Remind us of this fact as you call for calm and thoughtful reflection, and remind us that the perpetrator’s actions were contrary to the teachings of the Islamic faith, and that a candlelight vigil for the hostages was held at the Lakemba mosque.

And when that leader thanks the police and emergency services, let them also thank people like Rachael Jacobs (#illridewithyou) who also responded with courage, initiative and leadership. Let them ask us to think about this example as we process these tragic events. If there ever was a silver lining this was it.

Please let that leader avoid tenuous and unnecessary links to Isis, and deplore the salacious, ill-informed media headlines. Ultimately, fear is the weapon and this kind of reporting aids, abets and sates the perpetrators. It is their goal.

And if that leader feels the need to say it was a politically motivated act, then please reinforce the knowledge that the perpetrator was also acting alone, and not as a sanctioned representative of any political party, religious group, state or country. Who will that leader be?
Ian Meggitt
Lewisham, NSW, Australia

Radical grammar rules

I was amused (or was it appalled?) by the word “radical”, as used in “students, from a radical rural teacher training college” (12 December). It’s always like this: on many issues, we see society running into walls at high speed and those who suggest a change of direction, even a small one, are deemed to be the radicals. As for the Mexican students who were slaughtered by local police or the drugs gang working for the police, and apparently working for the mayor, they were the ones referred to as radical. That’s an amusing irony, isn’t it?
Marc Jachym
Les Ulis, France

• The headline to Hugh Muir’s Comment is free In brief (Loaning the Elgin marbles to Russia is wrong, 12 December) is wrong. What happened to the word “lending”? Last century, “loan” was a noun. We lent to people – I lend, you lend, they lend – but you’re having a lend of us with this “loaning” business, a solecism Muir repeats in his piece. Has “lend” gone the way of “give”, where everything is “gifted” and nothing given?

When will this absurd nouning cease? With hope, in the Guardian.
Nicholas Tolhurst
Kew, Victoria, Australia

Commuting, Palestinian-style

Commuting offers “only minor frustrations”, according to Joe Moran’s book review (12 December). He should read the report of an Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel published in the Quaker magazine the Friend two years ago, entitled How was your commute today? It describes observing and recording Palestinian workers passing through a checkpoint to work in Israel. At 4am “already there are as many as a dozen women and a hundred or so men squatting on the ground, silent or talking quietly, waiting for the gates to open”. Then, when they finally open 10 minutes late, “the crush of workers … on to the turnstiles is enormous”.

Every minute or so the turnstiles unlock “and another 80 men or so go through and take their places at the magnetic gate … Instantly, the space behind crams full of heaving crushed bodies.” Between 5am and 6am, the article states, “1,945 people go through: face after face”.

I could go on quoting this report with all its horrors, but enough said. Perhaps Iain Gately should add another chapter to his book.
Pat Stapleton
Beaumont du Ventoux, France

We are being cooked slowly

We human beings are so wired that in the event of imminent danger, the fight/ flight response kicks in and we respond by instant action (19 December). The other possible response to grave danger, is the lobster immersed in water, which is gradually getting hotter. He doesn’t respond and gets cooked.

In the case of immminent and potentially catastrophic climate change, the signs are visible everywhere but we don’t quite get it. We behave more like a lobster than someone faced with imminent catastrophe. There is only one small planet and imminent danger affects every living creature. The severity of our situation must be felt by us all including our governments who will represent us in Paris next year. A lukewarm response is not an option.
Titus Foster
Shoreham, UK

Briefly

• Regarding Kerry Smith, the Ukip candidate who resigned for making offensive remarks about gay people and foreigners while he was reportedly on sedatives (19 December): obviously the sedatives were not strong enough. Perhaps a truth tablet had been substituted. Double the dose next time Smith, then come and speak to us again.
Steven Clayton
Halifax, UK

• In We must take back the NHS (5 December), David Owen tells us that Michael Gove “claims that no privatisation of the NHS has taken place”. I’m pleased to know that our chief whip is so well informed.
Peter Martin
Huddersfield, UK

• Nicola Davison’s article (5 December) informs us that the Shanghai Tower, the world’s second-tallest building, will feature “sky gardens” in its “vertical city”, and that Suzhou in Jiangsu, a city “few people outside China have heard of”, will get the world’s third-tallest building. Suzhou also features gardens, centuries old, of the Chinese classical type. It has many canals and bridges, being known as the Venice of the east, and is a Unesco world heritage site.

Cruise ship passengers arriving in Shanghai are regularly offered excursions to Suzhou. Judging by their popularity, it would seem that a lot of people outside China know of Suzhou.
Anthony Walter
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

 

 

 

Independent:

Share

Steve Richards (30 December) misses a key point in his suggestion that we pay more tax to cover the growing costs of our increasingly privatised health service.

As we have seen from the weekend railway shambles in London, running public services through privately owned companies results in highly paid management and prosperous shareholders, but abysmal services for punters.

There needs to be a plebiscite, not on finding more money to operate this dysfunctional system, but about the whole privatisation agenda and the extent to which we want our taxes to fund private businesses.

Julian Clover
Colchester

 

Forget the Ukip sideshow, what the British public needs before the general election is wise and intelligent counsel concerning the state of the health service. The politicians with the guts to give us the truth, like Andy Burnham and Norman Lamb, shoulod be gioven the opportunity to crack open this debate now without fear of being shut down by fiscal scaremongering.

Trust us, the people, to decide what we want and if we want a first class NHS and must pay more tax, be honest. Tell us in your manifestos whether you are prepared to tax more, and give us a real choice. But above all, stop treating us like fools .

Barbara McGoun
Horning, Norfolk

 

Your picture of a crowd of stranded rail passengers at the weekend (30 December) says everything about the state of our railways. An absolute disgrace.

On Boxing Day 1937, I was a young engine cleaner. We worked that day as normal, with no extra pay. And we ran a proper train service, with no enhanced payments. In those days, the travelling public had a guaranteed service.

Nowadays, passengers have to suffer what has become a badge of shame for privatised railways.

John Weston
Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire

 

It is all very well us praising the railways for doubling the number of passengers since privatisation, but the simple lack of a seat gives us third-world conditions at excessive first-world prices.

I suggest denying the fat controllers their bonuses until someone addresses the current provision of absurdly short trains over much of the network.  Three-coach trains from Waterloo to Exeter on a day when Paddington was closed beggars belief.

Peter Jeffery
Eastborne

 

Perhaps Nicholas Lezard’s ‘lifestyle’ column (30 December) was not entirely serious, but is he aware that protein supplements are essentially nothing more than whey powder? That is, a dairy product left over from the manufacture of cheese? It’s hardly akin to injecting steroids.

What it does is speed up the repair of muscle fibres which get torn (on a microscopic scale) in the course of normal exercise. In doing this it also alleviates the muscle pain often felt in the following day or two, which as a runner I found quite useful.

Of course it shouldn’t be a substitute for proper meals but there’s nothing sinister (or special) about it. Just buy the cheapest unbranded stuff you can find, mix with chocolate milk and drink straight after exercise. No ‘ground-up worms’ required!

David Redford
Sheffield

 

Dennis Forbes Grattan writes (letter, 30 December) that problems with drunks in A&E are due to publicans and nightclubs.

The root problem is cheap and easy accessible alcohol in supermarkets and other retail outlets. Publicans and nightclubs are undercut, and struggle to make a living. Many people drink away from such places or preload beforehand. Little wonder that some publicans may not be as vigilant as in a previous age.

David Houlgate
Knaresborough

 

So Sean O’Grady (30 December) thinks revelations that Margaret Thatcher wanted to both acquire nerve gas and use troops against the miners show that she “was much more of a radical then her critics,and admirers, had previously given her credit for.” Surely however the word to describe her should be reactionary not radical?

Tim Mickleburgh
Grimsby, Lincolnshire

 

The Argentine Ambassador, Alicia Castro. thinks that a statue of the saviour of the Falkland Islands, Margaret Thatcher, is a celebration of war.(News Matrix 29th Dec)

I wonder if she would care to comment about the Pukara aeroplane, used by the Argentinians in the invasion of the Falklands, and placed on display in the centre of Buenos Aires.

Michael Chick
Rustington, West Sussex

 

I cannot believe that Ed Richards, departing Ofcom CE can be so naive as to state “vulgarities no longer upset the viewing public”.

If his conclusion is based on a fall in complaints, then the public have given up complaining as the “vulgarities” are now the norm and the only solution is to turn off! One of my favourite television programmes used to be “Have I got news for you”. “Vulgarity” in this originally very amusing show is now commonplace and so, off it goes.

At least i use asterisks when appropriate!

Andrew Walker
Fulletby, Lincolnshire

 

I couldn’t agree more with David Lister’s opinion of New Year’s Eve. The best I ever experienced was at the turn of the century. I wanted  to spend it on top of the world so a small group of friends and myself decided to walk up Moel Famau in North Wales.  It’s a small  mountain of just less then 2000 feet  close  to the Wirral Peninsula where we live.  To our  great surprise  approximately 1500 like minds  chose to do the same  thing. It was a wonderful experience as we quietly and orderly  ascended a narrow path in pitch blackness. At the top groups of people exchanged greetings then descended back to the real world. I don’t recall hearing a single  rendition of Auld Lang Syne or one party popper! Happy New Year to one and all.

Margaret Delaney
Wirral

Times:

Sir, At least the train ran to Adlestrop (letters, Dec 29).

glynne morgan

Guyzance, Northumberland

Sir, Your report (“Royal Mint makes £100 coin to bring in the new year”, Dec 29) reminded me of watching the 1954 Gregory Peck movie The Million Pound Note. After the film, I said that I would love to have one.

My father, who remembered the effects of hyperinflation in Germany in the 1920s said: “Son, if you ever find yourself holding a million pound note, leave the country.”
Richard Tweed
Croydon

Sir, The article (“Pilots fly into trouble over craze for cockpit snaps”, Dec 27) is interesting. Failure of normal, relaxed verbal communication between the pilots was part of the cause of the Papa India crash at Staines in June 1972. The potential tension of a “sterile cockpit” is real and the idea that professional airline pilots, any more than surgeons, would not be able to make appropriate judgment calls while talking at work is bizarre.
Dr Robert Bruce-Chwatt
(Forensic physician and former pilot)
Richmond, Surrey

Sir, The rise in negligence claims against the NHS reflects the success of “no win, no fee” cases largely replacing legal aid (news, Dec 26). Access to justice is free to all, at the point of need, according to the merits of the case.

It is a solution, not a problem. Payment by result means lawyers are only paid on successful cases with inbuilt incentives for commercial discipline and economic prudence.

It rewards competence.
Anthony Barton
Solicitor and medical practitioner
London N1

Telegraph:

Susan Lord, a supporter of the Bill seeking to legalise assisted dying,  outside Parliament

Susan Lord, a supporter of the Bill seeking to legalise assisted dying, outside Parliament Photo: Reuters

SIR – I am interested in the claim (Letters, December 29) by those writing in support of legalising the hastening of death that “an overwhelming majority” of the public supports such a change in the law.

I suspect that, given the choice, an overwhelming majority of the public would support many things, but acquiescing on the part of those who govern us is not the purpose of representative democracy, and even minority views still have legitimacy.

So, speaking as one who has supported a close relative through his last days and, while not acting to prolong that life (as this was not his wish), did not act to hasten death, which was finally and by any measure painless, I would like to record that I, for one, do not support the legislation that so many apparently advocate. I suspect I am not alone in that.

Peter D Harvey
Walton Highway, Norfolk

SIR – It is true that “currently, one Briton a fortnight ends their life” through an accompanied suicide in Switzerland. But many of them are not “terminally ill” (as defined in Lord Falconer’s draft Bill).

The enlightened Swiss are willing to help any competent adult suffering unbearably and irreversibly – they do not distinguish between “terminally ill”, “severely disabled” or “elderly”. The same is true in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In the past eight years, on different occasions, I have travelled with four Britons to Switzerland to witness their suicides – two were terminally ill, one was severely disabled and the fourth was an elderly friend whose life was increasingly restricted by severe osteoarthritis.

Of course, after the election, our new Parliament must properly discuss this issue. But, personally, I hope that we will follow the example of other Western European countries and not restrict any law to just the “terminally ill” – especially as many disabled individuals and elderly people can suffer much longer and more severely than those expected to die within six months.

Michael Irwin
Former Chairman, Voluntary Euthanasia Society
Cranleigh, Surrey

SIR – I wonder how long it would be before the elderly, disabled and children were pressurised into accepting assisted dying (which is murder by any other name). In spite of the so-called safeguards, on the Continent this is now occurring.

In the area of abortion, originally those opposed (often on religious grounds) were exempted by the law from being involved. However, a recent Supreme Court decision has decreed that irrespective of their beliefs, NHS staff have to undertake duties in the abortion process.

We fought a world war against such a totalitarian state. I hope law-makers realise the implications and desist.

Stephen Coltman
Bournemouth, Dorset

Ship fire rescue

The cargo container ship Siprit of Piraeus arrives at Bari with passengers evacuated from the Norman Atlantic (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

SIR – Almost exactly two years after the cruise ship Costa Concordia went aground and capsized, another Italian-registered vessel, the ro-ro ferry Norman Atlantic, found itself in trouble off the Italian coast with a serious fire on board.

Once again the Italian Marine Accident Investigation Authorities are faced with the formidable task of establishing what happened and why, and making recommendations to prevent it happening again.

Hopefully they will achieve this without being hampered by any compulsion to apportion blame.

They face main two issues; determining what caused the fire, and examining how successful or otherwise the rescue operation has been. Many searching questions need to be asked and the right, rather than the convenient, conclusions drawn.

This particular accident challenges many of the established conventions and wisdom on how a mass rescue should be conducted.

It has taken very much longer to execute than current emergency plans envisage and, as many mariners have been predicting for years, such events do not always happen in flat calm conditions with the sun shining and power available. The reality can be very different.

In this instance the rescue has had to contend with viciously cold weather, high winds, rough seas and pouring rain together with acrid smoke, visible flames, a very hot deck and no power. It would also seem that some of the on-board life-saving apparatus has not functioned as envisaged.

Add to this a tired crew, cold and understandably frightened passengers, restricted lift capacity of the helicopters, limited rescue facilities of other ships in the area and long hours of darkness, and you have the precise ingredients for complexity that many have long feared in such situations.

Rarely has the outcome of a comprehensive and thorough investigation been more important for improving safety at sea.

Rear Admiral John Lang
Former Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents.
Martyr Worthy, Hampshire

Darkest Warwickshire

SIR – I have no mobile reception at my Warwickshire home (Letters, December 29), but I spent four weeks in a remote hilltop town in Rwanda with five bars of signal.

Alice Roberts
Kineton, Warwickshire

Rumpelstiltscar

SIR – Sarah Barlow (Letters, December 29) wishes she knew the name of her late husband’s first car, which he used as an online password. It had eight letters. Could it have been the vehicle of the Fifties and Sixties used by our best security force, the police – a Wolseley? That was the make of my own car after I graduated in 1961.

Richard Hawkes
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – Dolomite, Standard, Vanguard, Magnette, Somerset?

Christopher Lisle
Maidstone, Kent

Rail rage

The scene at Finsbury Park during network disruption (Paul Grover/The Telegraph)

SIR – I was one of thousands affected by the railway debacle, when my five-hour journey took nine hours.

Every such emergency brings the same complaint: “Why don’t they tell us what’s happening?” Information should have been the concern of railway management, after their primary responsibility of taking immediate remedial action.

This might not solve the problem but would certainly lessen the anger of those trapped in the mess seemingly caused by gross management inefficiency.

Patrick O’Connor
Elham, Kent

SIR – The over-running engineering works at the weekend led to demands for fines of Network Rail and cancellation of executive bonuses. The latter seems more sensible, as fines would only be paid by customers.

However, I wonder if the companies involved have begun to plan for over-runs by imposing ever longer closures. These inconvenience customers, yet because they are announced in advance they protect the management from criticism over delay.

We have seen long closures at Blackfriars station and on the London Underground at Bond Street. We now have a major planned disruption at London Bridge and the closure of the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road Underground station for virtually the whole of 2015.

Brian Gedalla
London N3

Speed cameras where few accidents occur

SIR – Ian Kemp (Letters, December 29) writes that “speed cameras are only ever installed” where there is “a clear history of speed-related personal injury collisions over several years”. When the new A4 bypass outside Bath was constructed, this lovely straight piece of dual-carriageway was given a 40mph limit protected by a speed camera. Had there been many accidents involving speeding construction vehicles while it was being built?

Phil Mobbs
Wantage, Oxfordshire

SIR – The part of the A5 (the old Watling Street) that joins the M6 to the M42 in Staffordshire, is flat and straight for 25 miles and has 32 speed cameras. I do not think they are all necessary for safety.

Robert Brown
Lichfield, Staffordshire

SIR – I have received a “Notice of intended prosecution” for driving at 35mph in a 30mph zone. To see proof of my exceeding the speed limit, I will have to attend court.

Why is the “proof” not attached to the notice? It would save time, and time is money, for both parties, one of which is the British taxpayer.

Christopher R Keeley
Reading, Berkshire

Too few hospital beds

SIR – Robert Colvile’s special report (December 29) makes for depressing reading. I suspect that the brand new Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, has been planned and built with significantly fewer beds than its predecessor.

As at other new hospitals, this will have been done on the presumption that care in the community will soak up the need. Until those involved with the NHS accept the folly of this policy of fewer and fewer inpatient beds to serve an ageing population, hospitals will continue in a permanent state of crisis.

Dr Robert Walker
Great Clifton, Cumbria

Three score years and a night out clubbing next

Funeral tea with ham: a first-century BC memorial stone from Gaul, with boar’s head (www.bridgemanart.com)

SIR – Squadron Leader T J W Leyland (Letters, December 29) writes that he has discovered in his sixties the joy of a good breakfast out and wonders what social events in life come next. Nightclubbing is an option.

In much of continental Europe nightclub-type venues are more family-orientated, with the young and young at heart alike enjoying themselves. British nightclubs might take note.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – Cream teas. I have recently enjoyed one to celebrate a friend’s 80th birthday.

Jill Forrest
Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire

SIR – In his seventies, I think Squadron Leader Leyland will find himself experimenting with the best alcoholic drink to make the tablets go down.

John Henesy
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – The choice is between going for a mug of cocoa, then a hot-water bottle and bed at 9.30pm, or going round again, starting with the all-night parties from one’s twenties.

Clive Davidson
Manchester

SIR – Attendance at many funeral teas is what comes next.

Gerard Friel
Twickenham, Middlesex

Outmoded post codes

SIR – Living in a rural area, we have often found that carriers cannot find us to make a delivery because our postcode points them to a place a mile away.

The Post Office refuses to change our code. These days GPS and OS location devices can pin-point anything to within 10 yards, so why do we persist with postcodes?

If each time a delivery was made to a house, its GPS location was also noted, this could eliminate postcode use painlessly within a few years.

Dr Brian Wareing
Penyffordd, Flintshire, CH4 0EZ

 

Globe and Mail:

Daryl Copeland

Out of Afghanistan: The winners and losers after 13 years of combat

Former diplomat Daryl Copeland is an educator, analyst and consultant, the author of Guerrilla Diplomacy and a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Tweets @GuerrillaDiplo.

Thirteen years after the campaign began, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan on Dec. 28. A residual foreign military presence of about 18,000 troops, the Resolute Support Mission, will stay on for counter-terrorism purposes and provide training and logistical assistance to Afghan police and security forces.

With rising Afghan civilian and military casualties, and Taliban gains amidst generally deteriorating conditions, there was little to celebrate at the secret handover ceremony. That event received only passing media attention – surprising given the exceptional human and financial costs associated with this intervention.

As coalition members rush for the exits, there have been many attempts to explain what went wrong, which by my reckoning includes just about everything. That said, few in positions of authority are admitting failure. Clearly, among responsible senior officials, more than a few of whom managed to eke a promotion or two out of the war, there is no appetite for a searching retrospective.

While awaiting the attribution of some form of culpability for the wilful blindness which plagued the ISAF mission, it may be useful to look ahead with a view to identifying some of the main winners and losers.

Losers

The United States

America entered Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, using air power and special forces to assist the Northern Alliance in defeating the Taliban and ejecting al-Qaeda. Those strategic objectives were achieved by early 2003, yet instead of disengaging militarily and focussing instead on development and reconstruction, the war ground on fitfully, running for years as a sideshow eclipsed by the ill-starred imbroglio in Iraq (2004-2011). Over that period, the would-be liberators lost the battle for hearts and minds and came to be regarded as occupiers. The much-publicized abuse of detainees at the Bagram and Guantanamo Bay prisons, widespread collateral damage, Koran burnings and various other indignities contributed to the population’s alienation and accelerated the loss of U.S. prestige and influence globally. Afghanistan battered the American brand and hastened the end of the United States’ unipolar moment.

NATO and the ISAF coalition partners.

Casting about for a relevant post-Cold War role, NATO entered Afghanistan with a mandate from the UN Security Council, but without a carefully considered master plan or grand strategy. In more than a decade on the ground, vast resources were squandered while ISAF drifted, unable to deliver either security or prosperity to the country. That negligence and incompetence cannot reflect positively on NATO’s future. The U.K., Canada, Australia and other countries have also paid a high price, with little to show in the aftermath and few lessons learned.

The Afghan people.

For more than 2,000 years, from the days of Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn, through episodes of British and Russian colonial aggression and right up to the present day, Afghanis have suffered at the hands of foreign occupiers. About 40 years ago it appeared that this debilitating pattern might finally be ending, but the USSR mounted a large-scale invasion in 1979. That act plunged the country into a spasm of violence from which it has yet to emerge. Following the USSR’s ignominious departure a decade later, Western support for the Mujahidin eventually blew back in the form of a rising tide of radical Islamism and al-Qaeda’s presence, which in turn led to the intervention by ISAF. Although precise numbers are impossible to come by, civilian casualties have been heavy. Today, with political gridlock in Kabul and the Taliban resurgent, both democracy and development remain elusive.

Winners

China and Russia

As the USA and its allies have become bogged down pursuing unsuccessful military adventures – not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere under the aegis of the Global War on Terror – China has been busy engineering its “peaceful rise”. Diverse economic and security initiatives have been accompanied by more assertive behaviour in the East and South China Seas, a charm offensive in Latin America and major investments in Africa. America’s armed distractions have in other words expedited the advance of its principal strategic competitor. Russia, meanwhile, is moving to re-assert its influence in the formerly Soviet Central Asian “Stans”. Mismanagement of the Afghan file has largely dealt the West out of this round of the Great Game.

Illicit narcotics producers and organized criminals.

As Afghanistan struggles, national production of opium has reached record highs. The corrosive effect of that development is far-reaching, ranging from endemic corruption to festering social ills, both locally and in distant metropolitan centres. The Taliban, less inclined than ever to negotiate, are among the main beneficiaries.

Bottom line? For Canada, for NATO, and for much the world the war in Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster.

It’s long past time that this was recognized, with accountability assigned and remedial action taken accordingly.

Jan Hux

Blaming diabetes on poor eating habits has delayed real action

Irish Times:

Sir, – Since January 2002, I have sought compassionate treatment for the unviable unborn and its parents. In 2006 the then Fianna Fáil government defended its position on my action against Ireland in the European Court of Human Rights by stating that I had not exhausted domestic remedies (ie, taking an action against the State while pregnant).

It seems that the legislature wants to have pregnant women in court, dead or alive, so that it can adjudicate on their unviable unborn. Government after government has demonstrated that it does not trust our doctors.

In D v Ireland (European Court of Human Rights 2006), the State’s expert opinion suggested that “remorseless logic” would not be applied to Article 40.3.3 in relation to the “unborn” and that if, tested in court, the interpretation of “unborn” may not be applied to an unviable foetus that has no prospect of being “born”.

I now ask our politicians again, 13 years after being told my unborn had no prospect of life outside the womb, that women should not suffer the exponential sadness of being sent away to deliver early.

Successive governments have treated the issue as a gamble too far in the teeth of an election. It is high time the issue of termination for medical reasons in the case of fatal foetal abnormality was dissociated from politics.

If, by an unfortunate gestational anomaly, an incompatibility with life has occurred, and we have the medical technology to inform us, women should not be forced to continue incubating as human ventilators. We want to safely deliver and respectfully bury our unborn. Not have them sent home as ashes in the post, as has been the case for many parents.

Obstetricians differ from politicians; they are in the business of caring for mothers for the long haul, not relentlessly seeking re-election, power and position.

Where their expertise is engaged, it is the doctor over the politician who should, in conjunction with the parents, decide what is best.

For this reason, I urge the present Government to accede to the majority wish that the eighth amendment should be repealed on the next referendum day. The mother of a non-viable unborn should not have to be dead to receive respect, assistance and compassion. – Yours, etc,

DEIRDRE CONROY,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – I do not find Michael McDowell’s opinions in relation to doctors shirking their responsibilities to be argued “persuasively”, as described in your editorial in relation to matters surrounding the recent tragic case of maternal death (“End of family’s agonising ordeal”, December 29th).

All arguably ethical actions are not necessarily legal, and acting according to your ethical assessments and beliefs, or in your perception of the best interests of a patient, is not a defence in law if your actions are deemed to be prohibited by law.

What are doctors to do, particularly in non-urgent scenarios, but to hold off and seek legal advice and/or judicial determination if they are uncertain as to the legality of their proposed action in these very rare cases?

Lawyers can be wrong with impunity, but for doctors it is not so easy. If greater discretion is needed for doctors in these difficult cases, it should be provided in law. – Yours, etc,

Dr TOM HOGAN,

Castleknock,

Dublin 15.

A chara, – Wisdom, tempered with compassion, has prevailed and the court has ruled that the indignity this woman was enduring may come to an end, along with the ordeal her family was suffering. I hope they will be given the privacy they need to grieve their double loss.

Trying to find something positive in this whole grim situation, at least there is now some legal precedent to help prevent anything similar from occurring again. I sincerely pray it does not. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – The recent sad case of the pregnant woman on life support has unleashed a tirade of criticism of the eight amendment, Article 40.3.3, including in the pages of your newspaper.

The article in question simply declares the equality before the law of mother and child, as far as is practicable, and the Constitution is just the place for such a declaration of principle.

As with any article of the Constitution, it must be supported by effective legislation that remains true to the purpose and spirit of the article, so that there isn’t constant recourse to the courts.

However, as with any article, no matter how carefully phrased, the issue may ultimately end up in court.

Even if the eighth amendment hadn’t existed, this case or a similar one may have ended up in the courts anyway, as we have seen with similar cases in other jurisdictions.

The amendment is one of the most explicit equality measures in the Constitution, and yet those who would normally champion equality remain silent, if they’re not actually attacking the measure. It is also one of the most explicit child protection measures, and those who would normally champion children’s rights are silent.

The principle declared in the amendment protects the unborn child from the excesses of abortion we have seen in other countries and if it is removed a whole group of the vulnerable will be under threat.

Do we really need to create another scandal that future generations will berate us for? – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN O’REGAN,

Arklow,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Constructive ambiguity may be justified to resolve political difficulties. It has no place in legal provisions concerning matters of life and death. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK WARD,

Kilkenny.

Sir, – Since it was introduced in 1983 the eighth amendment to the Constitution has caused havoc in the legal system and unimaginable distress and suffering to those affected by it. All of the cases concerning this amendment have highlighted the dangers of tinkering with the Constitution. This amendment, which was hailed by its supporters as double-bolting the door against the legalisation of abortion, achieved exactly the opposite.

It is time that the Irish electorate deleted it in full. – Yours, etc,

TIM BRACKEN,

Cork.

Sir, – Full credit to The Irish Times and Martin Wall for bringing to light the kind of official thinking that will leave older people aghast and fearful for their future security (“Cuts to State funding must be considered, review finds”, Front Page, December 29th).

It beggars belief that officials at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, who will reap the benefits of gold-plated pensions themselves, have the gall to suggest that the weakest and most vulnerable in society must pay for the privileges enjoyed by 300,000 public sector workers – privileges that include a degree of security that is non-existent in the real world.

We are all well aware that we are sitting on a pension time bomb and that demographic changes are pulling in the wrong direction, but pruning must begin in the areas where fruit has been most abundant. In the Republic of Ireland, that means rebalancing the scales so that the public and private sectors share equal reward and responsibility for the basic State pensions of those who are no longer able to work. – Yours, etc,

NIALL GINTY,

Killester,Dublin 5.

Sir, – In playing her good cop role, the Minister for Social Protection gave reassurances that the pension would not be cut and that the current rates would be “protected” (“State pension will not be cut, insists Joan Burton”, December 29th).

She failed to mention what measures were planned to restore the value of the pension given that it has not been increased in six years and persons in that group have suffered cuts in fringe supports and have had property tax, and soon water charges, extracted from their meagre incomes. – Yours, etc,

JIM O’SULLIVAN,

Rathedmond,

Sligo.

Sir, – I worked for 52 years, contributing all of that time toward my old-age pension. It has always struck me as wrong that those contributions were being spent by government as soon as collected and nothing put aside. To benefit from a full contributory pension I paid the higher social insurance rates over those years. It is interesting that the mandarins now making recommendations for its reduction have not borne the burdens of high social insurance payments historically (although that system has recently changed).

They have a cheek to be making such recommendations. Go to those people who do not contribute to society, face up to them and make them pay a fair share.

Attacking the elderly who have been compliant throughout their lives is a low policy. – Yours, etc,

HARRY MULHERN,

Millbrook Road,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – I refer to the terrible tragedy that has befallen the Greaney family in Cobh at the hands of Michael Greaney, who stabbed his wife to death, and one of his daughters almost to death, and then took his own life (“Father was cleared to return to Cobh home after psychiatric assessment”, December 30th).

Undoubtedly there is a complicated background leading up to this horrific and heart-breaking event, but according to the article Mr Greaney was assessed by a consultant psychiatrist and a multidisciplinary team last October. The outcome of this process was a decision that Mr Greaney posed no risk to his family and recommended that he be allowed back to the family home.

There is a need to acknowledge that psychiatric risk assessment for suicide and violence is of extremely limited value in general psychiatric practice.

This was the conclusion arrived at by one of the world’s foremost experts on risk assessment research, Prof George Szmukler, two years ago.

Prof Szmukler concluded that rare events, such as suicide or serious violence – no matter how tragic they are or how much our society wishes us to prevent them – are impossible to predict with a degree of accuracy that is clinically meaningful.

Society expects psychiatrists to fulfil the role of predicting these risks, but the evidence is very clear – it cannot be done.

There is a need for an open and honest debate about this whole subject to try to find new ways forward to reduce the likelihood of such catastrophes happening again in the future.

My heartfelt condolences to the Greaney family at this dreadful time. – Yours, etc,

Dr CIARÁN CRUMMEY,

Bawnboy,

Co Caval

Sir, – Paul Williams (December 30th), responding to Lara Marlowe’s “How the Gaza war changed perceptions” (December 27th), is right when he claims that “Israel draws enough short straws in the Irish media”. But does he really believe that killing 469 children and injuring 3,000 in Gaza was the best way to stop the rockets falling into Israel?

I often wonder what would have happened to this county had a hostile helicopter gunship crossed the Border in the early 1980s to provide a swift, brutal 30mm lesson to the people of Carrickmacross as to why violence was not the answer. – Yours, etc,

DERMOT O’ROURKE,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Paul Williams writes, “In reviewing the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, Lara Marlowe leaves out some very obvious points”.

Mr Williams airbrushes a raft of glaringly blatant Israeli-created facts on the ground such as the military occupation, dispossessions, expulsions, segregation, and the ongoing cruel blockading of Gaza; coupled to the vast discrepancy of power between the fourth most powerful military on the planet and a rag-tag of resistance equipped with “rockets” which seem to cause less actual damage to Israel than its own regularly repeated “mowing of the grass”. – Yours, etc,

D FLINTER,

Headford,

Co Galway.

Sir, – I cannot get my head around John Fitzgerald’s problem with foxhunting (December 29th).

If he considers hounds chasing a fox with the intent to kill as a barbaric activity, then how does he view the fox’s behaviour with regard to lambs and chickens? Both hounds and foxes are behaving in a manner that is natural to them.

I rather suspect that his real gripe is with the mounted followers who, in deference to the farmers whose land they cross, clean their horses and dress themselves appropriately to follow the chase.

If he feels that to be a spectator at such an event is barbaric, then I wonder what his views are on some of the wonderful nature programmes created by Sir David Attenborough that many of us watch on the television? Here again we are spectators, and often witness members of the large cat families hunting and killing other more vulnerable species.

But lastly, maybe John Fitzgerald gets all hot under the collar and writes to The Irish Times at this time every year because we call foxhunting a sport, rather than a way of life, or a pastime. – Yours, etc,

ANNE STRAHAN,

Ballynonty,

Co Tipperary.

Sir, – John Fitzgerald hopes that “the next Dáil will have a majority of TDs opposed to hare coursing and foxhunting, and that the vice-like grip that the bloodsport lobby has had on our politicians will at last be broken”.

I endorse such sentiments wholeheartedly. However, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the majority of the present crop of TDs are actually against bloodsports; but given the nature of our electoral system, some vulnerable and pusillanimous TDs will always seek to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Pope Francis delivers a long critical rant to his employees (December 23rd). He certainly lists a long catalogue of faults. Did he never read about casting the first stone? Or more pertinently, did he never recall the words of an eminent religious leader, who once declared “Who am I to judge?” – Yours, etc,

ERIC CONWAY,

Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – Things may get curiaser and curiaser. – Yours, etc,

MICHELE SAVAGE,

Dublin 12.

A chara, – Contrary to Dr Vincent Kenny’s worries (December 24th), our Independents should revel in the label “non-party” on the ballot paper as this may attract those voters who didn’t party during the boom, or if they did, don’t intend to do so again. – Is mise,

LOMAN Ó LOINGSIGH,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Thanks to the post-Christmas sales nearly every home in Ireland has a new “George Clooney”-type coffee machine, but will these end up like George Foreman’s steak grill, under the stairs? – Yours, etc,

KEN BUGGY,

Ballyduff Upper,

Co Waterford.

Irish Independent:

We have been conditioned to make resolutions each New Year
We have been conditioned to make resolutions each New Year

The New Year has arrived before we had a chance to fully acquaint ourselves with the old one.

It’s a bit like the first guest arriving before the table has been set or the potatoes taken out of the oven.

People will be thinking about changing – shedding the skin of the old self and re-emerging as a shiny, reconstructed superstar for 2015.

That, after all, is what you have been conditioned to do. You must emerge more youthful, happier, positive and successful. Well, good luck with that.

I can imagine no worse time to burden yourself with such a wish list – after you’ve eaten your own bodyweight in turkey and plum pudding, and drunk enough to restock the bar in Croke Park.

Happiness won’t come because you have finally shed a few pounds or have been given the key to the executive bathroom.

Looking outside your own skin for the fantasy formula for a new you is a gross violation of your true self.

Just like the seed that lies beneath the frozen soil, your soul carries all the strength and power you will ever need to shine in this world, and to be the best that you can.

That is the gift you already have within, so trust it and cherish it: be grateful for each second you are here. When you settle in your own skin – not some cosmetic plastic version – but the real you, the magnificence of the world will be yours and you will have the wisdom and compassion to see the magnificence of others.

E Fullam

Greystones, Co Wicklow

Thoughts for 2015

I would like to share a few personal thoughts for 2015:

1. For other people: try a smile – it will make them feel good.

2. For the mind: try to read more – it will encourage you to write more, which will mean more letters for the letters page.

3. For the soul: try to pray more – for nothing is impossible to God.

4. For peace – try to ignore the bullies of this world, they’re just very sad people.

5. For the future – try to leave the past behind, and live and enjoy, as the song says, one day at a time.

God bless, and a very happy New Year to you all.

Brian Mc Devitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

An alternative New Year’s Eve

I suspect many people dread New Year’s Eve for the same reasons that they dread Christmas.

People often feel pressurised into behaving in a certain way, whether they want to or not. There is an atmosphere of expectation about the event, and people can feel that even if they are doing something they enjoy, in some way it may compare unfavourably with all the “happy” people that come out of the woodwork at this time of year, people who may spend quite a large proportion of the following year complaining about just about everything under the sun.

For me, there are two times of the year when I just don’t like being on my own. One is Christmas Day and the other is New Year’s Eve.

My New Year’s Eve normally consists of meeting up with friends and heading out for the night. I know some of this is driven by pressures which I feel come from outside myself.

So this year for the first time ever I am abandoning my usual pursuits and spending New year’s Eve on a residential drumming workshop at the foot of Ben Bulben in Co Sligo in the company of around 40 other people, most of whom I don’t know.

We will drum our way into the New Year cut off from the outside world.

I won’t have to sit in a pub watching the countdown on TV and put up with people’s ‘ecstatic responses’ simply because a new year has started, or listen to a DJ do the same countdown and then shake hands and hug people, whether I want to or not.

While I have no idea how I’ll find this new experience, it cannot be any worse than the usual drunken spree I go on, all in the name of enjoyment.

While it is obviously too late at this stage for someone to book into an alternative weekend like this, it’s something they could bear in mind for next year.

Tommy Roddy

Salthill, Co Galway

Media hysteria at water charges

The media narrative against water charges is out of all proportion to their importance or cost, given the cuts to public expenditure and increases in taxation which have happened as a result of the post-boom collapse and the present, seriously over-borrowed, state of the country.

The seriousness of the national bankruptcy in 2010 – recovery from which is still not certain – is highlighted by the fact that we needed an €80bn bailout, €65bn of which was funded by foreigners.

The government statement, quoted in the media at that time, said that without this external support, the State would not be able to raise the funds required to pay for key public services for our citizens and to provide a functioning banking system to support economic activity.

The present coverage of the water charges issue contrasts starkly with some of the boom-time coverage of the public affairs of this country, when the decisions were being made which ended in national bankruptcy.

The euphoria of that time is reflected in the Irish media describing the German economy as being “a basket case” while in contrast “the Irish economy (was) the strongest in Europe”.

The fact that public spending rose more than 50pc over three years during the boom was labelled as responsible conduct.

As a result, the conclusion was that ‘every day and in every way things were getting better and better’ and there was virtually no downside.

Even the great battles on corruption and taxation were supposed to have been won.

The contrast between those positive pronouncements over a decade ago and the recent very negative row over water charges tells us how wrong media hype can be.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13

‘Pension cut’ story is just a ploy

With regard to the story that a cut to the state pension was being considered (Irish Independent, December 30), it is insulting to our intelligence when government ministers allow such negative information to filter through so that they can then debunk the story – it is downright cruel when the most vulnerable are at the centre of the ploy.

In playing her good cop role in this ‘good cop/bad cop’ ruse, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton gave reassurances that the pensions would not be cut and that the current rates would be “protected”.

However, she failed to mention what measures were planned to restore the value of the pension, given that it has not been increased in six years and pensioners have suffered cuts in fringe supports and must now pay property tax, and soon water charges, from their meagre incomes.

It must also be borne in mind that many thousands depending on the basic state pension, the “most vulnerable”, gain nothing from recent and proposed future income tax cuts.

If government ministers put as much effort into sharing more fairly the current burdens that we are forced to bear as they do into self-image building, both the cynicism and the ever-deepening despair that is gripping large swathes of the population might begin to ease.

Jim O’Sullivan

Rathedmond, Sligo

Christmas card plea

As it’s the time for New Year resolutions, may I suggest to your readers that when they send Christmas cards, they put a return address on the envelope.

As someone who has lost their address book, I’m in the difficult situation of not being able to return Christmas greetings to relatives and friends – it’s not a pleasant situation to be in at the start of a New Year.

Tony Moriarty

Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6

Irish Independent

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