15 January 2015 Dentist

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. Gout fading pay dentist, and go to M&S and Co op.


Elena Obraztsova at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow

Elena Obraztsova at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow Photo: EPA

Elena Obraztsova, who has died aged 77, was one of the great Russian mezzo-sopranos, renowned for her vocal intensity and theatrical flair, and for her long-running feud with the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya.

She excelled in the opera of her compatriots, delivering spell-binding performances of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Prokofiev; yet she could also turn her hand to contemporary music, singing Oberon in the Russian premiere of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Her presence was striking, both physically and vocally. After a London concert in 1981 one critic noted how she was “clad in flaming red, her hands clasped and spreading in ritual gestures”, before describing the “unremittingly forceful projection of her vast dramatic mezzo”.

Few voices have ever been quite so powerful. Her first appearance in New York in 1975 (with the Bolshoi) took the city by storm; the following year she received a 15-minute ovation for her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Amneris in Verdi’s Aïda with Rita Hunter and Carlo Bergonzi.

Despite her freedom to visit the West, Elena Obraztsova was something of an apologist for the Soviet regime. She was one of the signatories of a letter in 1974 denouncing Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya for their support for Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Three years later, when the two divas met in New York, Vishnevskaya is reported to have screamed “Judas, Judas!” at her. Maintaining her grandeur, Elena Obraztsova departed with the words: “Très vulgaire, n’est-ce pas?”

Her conservatism was also evident in her work. She once prepared for a new production of Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmilla with the Bolshoi company, only to be confronted by the director’s unusual staging. “People came with kids to see a Pushkin fairytale, but instead they saw some naked girls running around and some beds with couples rolling around in them,” she recalled in disgust.

Elena Vasiliyevna Obraztsova was born in Leningrad on July 7 1937 (although she would later say 1939), spending her earliest years living under the German siege. Her father, an engineer who played the violin, left for the front, while in 1943 the womenfolk were evacuated to a small town in the Vologda area.

Her talent was spotted early and she was soon receiving singing lessons. She also recalled listening to opera performances on the wireless. After a post-war business trip to Italy her father returned with recordings by artists such as Beniamino Gigli and Enrico Caruso. By 1948 Elena was singing with the children’s chorus of the Leningrad Palace of Pioneers, and 10 years later she entered the Leningrad Conservatory, although her parents tried unsuccessfully to enrol her at a technical college.

Elena Obraztsova in ‘Boris Godunov’ at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1965 (ALAMY)

If there was any doubt about where her future lay, Elena Obraztsova dispelled it in 1962 by winning gold medals at competitions in Helsinki and Moscow. In December 1963 she made her debut as Marina in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov in Leningrad, and the following year was seen at La Scala.

She was part of the Bolshoi delegation to the Expo in Montreal in 1967, again singing Marina, and in 1970 she won the Tchaikovsky competition. By 1975 she was appearing as Azucena in Verdi’s Il Travatore in Los Angeles with Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Ingvar Wixell; and three years later she sang Carmen opposite Plácido Domingo in Franco Zeffirelli’s film of Bizet’s opera, as well as appearing in Don Carlos with Domingo and Margaret Price under Claudio Abbado.

Thanks to recordings, her reputation in Britain preceded her debut at Covent Garden in 1981, where she reprised Azucena in the Visconti production with Joan Sutherland and John Tomlinson, conducted by Richard Bonynge. After the success of the Three Tenors in 1990 she joined Renata Scotto and Ileana Cotrubas as the Three Sopranos, appearing at the Roman amphitheatre in Syracuse, in Italy.

By the turn of the millennium she was still going strong: Prokofiev’s War and Peace for the Met, which was also Anna Netrebko’s debut; Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades in Los Angeles; and Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment in Tokyo in 2006 with Juan Diego Flórez.

Having been a renowned teacher for many years, Elena Obraztsova was appointed artistic director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 2007; latterly she organised her own vocal competition. When the Bolshoi Theatre reopened in 2011 she was seated next to President Medvedev.

Meanwhile, the feuding continued. In her autobiography, Vishnevskya identified Elena Obraztsova as one of those who had caused her the most difficulty with the authorities.

Elena Obraztsova made no secret of her cosmetic surgery and was showered with Russian honours. Her first husband was Vyacheslav Makarov, a physicist. Her second marriage was to Algis Zhuraitis, a conductor at the Bolshoi, who predeceased her in 1998. She is survived by a daughter of her first marriage.

Elena Obraztsova, born July 7 1937, died January 12 2015


gathering in front of charlie hebdo and republic square. Paris. 2015/01/12
Place de la Republique, Paris. The terrorist attacks ‘are tragedies for the victims and for their families and friends, but they are not by any stretch of the imagination a serious threat to western civilisation.’ writes John Newsinger. Photograph: Michael Bunel/Corbis

Western governments have played the major role in turning much of the Middle East into a cauldron of blood, and yet we respond with what can only be described as hysteria when affected by minor splashes. The brutal killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, of the Jewish victims (the most heinous of the killings in my opinion, given the history of persecution experienced by French Jews) and of the police are actually small beer compared with what western governments have been responsible for. They are tragedies for the victims and for their families and friends, but they are not by any stretch of the imagination a serious threat to western civilisation.

Nevertheless, they have provided a convenient occasion for a positive carnival of self-pity and self-congratulation. Paris is the capital of the world! What must the people of Gaza think of this posturing, posturing in which, quite shamefully, Benjamin Netanyahu was allowed to participate. And as for the west’s pen being mightier than the Islamist’s sword, what nonsense. In the real world it is the west’s drones, stealth bombers and smart bombs that are far mightier than any terrorist’s Kalashnikov. With all the bloodshed that is going on every day in the Middle East, we have by some strange alchemy managed to cast ourselves as the victims, bloodied but still brave and defiant in the face of a minor terrorist threat that has been exaggerated into some sort of existential Islamist onslaught.
John Newsinger

• This pussyfooting around theology is becoming frustrating. Giles Fraser’s article (The cartoonists were smarter theologians than the jihadis, 11 January) is the first I’ve read in your paper that unpicks the cod-theology of this latest group of young and immature terrorists. But there is much more to be said and discussed that is relevant to our current problems. A secular British media should not shy away from discussing modern theological beliefs. It is, as my tutor at university once told me, a necessary precursor to political discourse. Please take all of our communities seriously and engage in a discussion of their beliefs, whether you agree with them or not.
David Edgeworth
Woodford Green, Essex

• After the great flood of journalistic output resulting from the horrendous acts in Paris last week, it was a great relief to finally read someone prepared to take a deeper, less emotive look at the perpetrators and their motivations (Gary Younge: This polarised debate won’t help us move on from Charlie Hebdo, 12 January). That the many young men who go to Syria to fight for Islamic State or claim allegiance to various al-Qaida affiliates have, to them, justifiable motivations should not be denied by the use of reductive terms such as terrorism or criminality. What makes these young men so prey to Islamic radicalisation?

Could the answer, as Younge goes some way to recognising, be found in a nexus where extreme versions of Islam are seen by some to act as a counter-balance to or even a refuge from the extreme form of capitalism increasingly dominating the globe, the marginalisation and sense of frustration this creates across whole swaths of society, and the diet of real and imagined victimisation of Muslims in countries from Iraq to India available via TV and the internet. If we wish to cure an illness, it is important to remain calm and analytical in face of the symptoms in order that we are better able to identify the causes.
Peter Hudson
Director, Rainbow Development in Africa

• Monday’s Guardian (12 January) had pictures of “17 people killed in Paris”. But 20 died. The difference is the word “victim”. The three terrorists are also victims. They are today’s unemployed youth, the dregs of every big city, without hope and without a mission. Doubling security forces on the streets won’t solve their problem. They need jobs and, in order to get that job when it comes along, they need good education. That’s where Charlie should spend his money.
Michèle Young

• The headline of Natalie Nougayrède’s front-page article “A nation united against terror” (12 January) referred of course to France in its horror and grief at recent events, but it equally could have referred to the countries of the EU who came out in support. If ever an event demonstrated the power and solidarity of nations working together, rather than singly and individually, then the rallies of unity in France demonstrated this. Nations pulling together in this way, showing tolerance to all, give the lie to the arguments of those who trash this unique institution. Do Nigel Farage and other Eurosceptics who favour separation have anything valuable or relevant to say after this?
Janet Davies
Hartley Wintney, Hampshire

• Recent events in France have done much to highlight the role of the cartoonist in political satire. Another forgotten example that seems particularly apposite is that of Naji al-Ali, who was assassinated on the streets of London in 1987. Yet there appears to have been no recent mention of him or his work in any of the various media outlets. His reputation largely rested on the character Handala, depicted as an orphaned child who became a symbol for the poor and dispossessed, in particular the Palestinian people. His work often invoked or offended the sensibilities of both the Arab and Israeli leadership, in equal measure. It is a reminder that while the pen may be mightier than the sword, it may require no less bravery to wield it.
Graham Ogden

• Phoned our local newsagent, superstore and WH Smith to ask if they will be stocking this week’s special edition of Charlie Hebdo. In each case they barely knew what I was on about, two of them asking me to spell the name of the publication. Precious little awareness, let alone solidarity, from retailers here, it seems.
David Hemsworth
Haywards Heath, West Sussex

• My Dutch-Moroccan Muslim in-laws are overwhelmed with fear and confusion by the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo outrage. Dare they stay in the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam where most of them were born and where I – a British Jew – met their oldest brother? Or are they to be driven out by a rising tide of contempt for their beliefs and culture? Supporters of Charlie Hebdo’s front-page cartoon call it an act of defiance in support of freedom of speech. How have we allowed defence of a good principle to degenerate into self-righteous insistence on a right to insult millions of powerless people?
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Woodford Green, Essex

Re the words “All is forgiven” on Charlie Hebdo’s cover. It’s already been said, over 2,000 years ago, and in the Middle East. “Father forgive them”, and then He added, “they know not what they do”.
Julia Phillips

A bride and groom in front of a regional government building seized by pro-Russians in Kramatorsk
A bride and groom in front of a regional government building seized by pro-Russians in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. ‘The break-up of multi­national entities is usually messy,’ writes Yugo Kovach. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

Your inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh in an article on “the best new adventures for 2015” (Totally out there, Travel, 10 January) is disrespectful to the people of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognised part of Azerbaijan currently under the occupation of Armenian armed forces. Do you think it is morally right to encourage an aggressor to maintain control over a portion of a territory of another country and show total neglect of the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people?

Sadly, your piece plays into the hands of the separatist regime, which strives to legitimise its act of occupation. The Guardian’s stance against recent separatist tendencies in the post-Soviet space is commendable, and one would wish the same sensitivity shown to Azerbaijan.

The Foreign Office warns against any travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding occupied regions of Azerbaijan. By promoting Nagorno-Karabakh as a so-called tourist “destination” you mislead the public and potentially put their lives at risk; also, those taking unauthorised trips will be unable to travel to the rest of Azerbaijan in future.
Tahir Taghizadeh
Ambassador of Azerbaijan in London

• It’s one thing to accuse Putin of forcibly changing borders, quite another to overlook what Nato did in Kosovo (This trauma could lead to a European reawakening, 14 January). The break-up of multinational entities is usually messy. Algeria springs to mind. Also, wasn’t Northern Ireland less a land grab by London and more an instance of a young Irish state not commanding the allegiance of the protestant north? The same sort of thing could be said of the Ukraine conflict.

Other examples abound from the break-up of the USSR. The Slavs of Transnistria don’t feel any affinity with the Romanian-speaking Moldovan authorities, and they furthermore fear that Romania will eventually absorb Moldova. Nor do the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave wish a return to rule by Azerbaijan. Then there are the Abkhazians and South Ossetians of Georgia who distrust Tbilisi rule.

To treat these conflicts as instances of Russian ultranationalism is unhelpful. Must the federalists stoop so low as to picture Russia as the indispensable common enemy that will unite Europe?
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

David Cameron. ‘It’s good to see that David Cameron is looking after our security,’ writes Paul Francis. ‘Last time he wanted to be elected he seemed to be on the other side of the argument.’ Photorgraph: Matt Dunham/AP Photo

It’s good to see that David Cameron is looking after our security (PM wants new internet spying powers, 13 January). Last time he wanted to be elected he seemed to be on the other side of the argument. In a speech at Imperial College London in 2009 he said: “If we want to stop the state controlling us, we must confront this surveillance state … The internet is an amazing pollinator, spreading ideas and information all over the globe in minutes. It turns lonely fights into mass campaigns; transforms moans into movements; excites the attention of hundreds, thousands, millions of people and stirs them to action … That’s foreign policy in the post-bureaucratic age – enabling the free flow of information to give people power so they can use that power to demand change.” Or was that a different David Cameron?
Paul Francis
Much Wenlock, Shropshire

Milk on supermarket shelves
‘Clear labelling on milk packaging will enable consumers to make an informed choice about the provenance of the dairy in their diet and reward farmers with a fair price.’ Photograph: Gary Roebuck/Alamy

First Milk’s announcement that it will delay payment to farmers (Report, 13 January) in some ways is not a surprise. It highlights the deepening of the crisis facing dairy farmers in the UK. The number of milk producers in England and Wales has now fallen below 10,000, and there are suggestions that this number will halve by 2025. This is not because of inefficiency on farms; it is due to the drive for ever cheaper milk, which means only a few will be left standing. The use (or abuse) of milk by retailers as a loss leader amounts to playing with our food. A perception of cows in fields maintained by those selling milk and dairy products masks the steady march towards a future where milk and dairy products will increasingly flow from industrial sites rather than from traditional farms.

I started a farmer-led movement called Free Range Dairy and the Pasture Promise label to promote the value of Britain’s seasonally grazed dairy herds and to try to shift industry focus away from volume and towards value. The remaining cows in our fields can deliver so much more than bucolic images, turning abundant fresh grass, which we ourselves cannot digest, into a wonderful, nutritious food. If we are to secure a truly sustainable supply of healthy and affordable milk and dairy products for our nation, we must all take responsibility for the food choices we make. That is why I would like to see clear labelling on milk cartons and packaging that will enable consumers to make an informed choice about the provenance of the dairy in their diet and reward farmers with a fair price.
Neil Darwent
BBC outstanding farmer of the year, Frome, Somerset 

You quote NFU president Meurig Raymond stating that “liquid milk in particular is now cheaper than water”. While I have every sympathy for the plight of dairy farmers, I assume that Mr Raymond is referring to that ultimate triumph of marketing, bottled water. A product that is 1,000 times more expensive than tap water, isn’t required to meet the exacting standards of the European drinking water directive (and frequently doesn’t), doesn’t taste any better and is responsible for its very own waste mountain. Water remains a fraction of the cost of milk (and bottled water). And no, I don’t work for a water company.
David Howarth
Steyning, West Sussex

The headline on your editorial (13 January) says “Dairy farmers are being driven out of business. The groceries regulator should find out why”. It won’t take the regulator much effort to find the answer. Every dairy farmer, past and present, will tell you that in 1933 a progressive, forward-looking government legislated to form the Milk Marketing Board. Margaret Thatcher could not bear the thought of a co-op being successful and so legislated to have it closed down in 1994, much to the delight of her friends the supermarkets.
David Lucas

Your editorial says that “Britain consumes more than four-fifths of the milk it produces, but its price is dictated globally, by the cost of producing milk in, say, New Zealand or the US”.

Is this not a striking example of the much wider need to get real about the sort of economy we want to live in? If it is true that our production can cover our consumption, it must be possible to separate the local price from the global price, ie we need to create, and live by, an understanding that it is good for all of us to pay more than the minimum conceivable price for this core product.
Ian Graham

HP brown sauce spilling on to a white surface
HP sauce. Produced in the Netherlands. Photograph: studiomode/Alamy

In his interesting account of the Ofsted report on Roma education (Officials twitchy over Roma report, 13 January), Warwick Mansell could have mentioned that the report made it quite clear that the education of the other children in the schools with large Roma populations had not suffered in any way through their presence. That’s one twitch less, and it would help redress the balance to say so.
Janet Whitaker
Labour, House of Lords

• When the Tories said “The NHS is safe in our hands” (NHS is toxic for Tories, poll shows, 14 January), what they really meant was “The NHS will be safely in our hands”. With the number of Tory politicians blatantly involved in private health companies, it very nearly is.
Tony Vinicombe
Shoreham, West Sussex

• Tories are toxic for the NHS.
Laurence Gibson
Stowe, Buckinghamshire

• Toasters kill more people than sharks (Letters, 13 January)? I wonder how many of those killed were using Jamie Oliver’s horizontal cheese on toast method (Do something, 10 January; Corrections and clarifications, 10 January)?
Martin Jeeves

• Instead of the unpleasant term “bed-blockers” (Letters, 12 January; A certain age, G2, 13 January), you should use the word “prisoners”. That is what people in custody in hospital are, denied release because of savage cuts in social care.
Jane Lawson

• Economists themselves sometimes ask how many economists it takes to change a lightbulb (Letters, 14 January). Answer: none, the market will do it for you.
Jem Whiteley

• With its picture of Big Ben, HP sauce epitomises Britishness (Letters, 14 January). It’s a pity then that it is now manufactured in the Netherlands.
Alan Woodley




Sir, First Milk’s announcement that it will delay payment to farmers (News, Jan 12) in some ways is not a surprise, but it highlights the deepening of the crisis facing British dairy farmers.

The number of milk producers in England and Wales has fallen below 10,000 and this number could halve by 2025. This is not because of farm inefficiency but due to the drive for ever cheaper milk, which means only a few farmers will be left standing. The use (or abuse) of milk by retailers as a loss leader amounts to playing with our food.

A perception of cows in fields maintained by those selling dairy products masks the steady march towards a future where milk and dairy products will increasingly flow from industrial sites.

I started a farmer-led movement called Free Range Dairy and the Pasture Promise label to promote the value of Britain’s seasonally grazed dairy herds and try to shift industry focus away from volume and towards value. We must all take responsibility for our food choices. That is why I would like to see labelling on milk cartons and packaging that will enable consumers to make a choice about the provenance of the dairy in their diet and reward farmers with a fair price.

Neil Darwent
BBC outstanding farmer of the year 2014, and director, Free Range Dairy Network

Sir, I congratulate Deborah Ross on her piece about cheap milk (Times 2, Jan 8). At last, an article showing the human side of the dairy industry crisis. We were fifth-generation dairy farmers, milking 250 cows, and our herd was in the top 10 per cent in the UK for herd health, milk quality and production. During the last round of low milk prices, we were receiving 16p a litre; it was costing 21p a litre to produce and this became unsustainable.

To remain on our tenanted farm we had to sell our herd. It was the worst day of our lives, as we loved our cows and knew them all by name. It was like selling our family, and for many months I could not bear to walk around those silent farm buildings.

Doreen Forsyth

Amble, Northumberland

Sir, The controversy over milk is just part of the problem in food retail marketing. For years now, supermarkets have driven down the prices as they strove to gain market share. My late father, who worked for the National Farmers Union in the Seventies, forecast just such a scenario, saying that it would lead to the British farmer being dictated to by the retailer. If we don’t pay a price that gives a sensible return for the producer, we may not have a farming industry left.

Brian Milner
Boston Spa, W Yorks

Sir, If farming was to return to the supposed utopia of small farms that you appear to advocate (leader, Jan 10) the world would not be fed. Britain has had to feed an extra 14 million people over the last 70 years but, at the same time, a huge area has been taken out of agriculture for development. Have shop shelves been bare? No, because British agriculture has risen to the challenge by embracing science while being mindful of welfare.

Richard T Halhead

Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies, Cockerham, Lancs

Libby Purves says we need to keep school science practical experiments — is she right?

Sir, I couldn’t agree more with Libby Purves (“It’s a litmus test: humans need to be more hands-on”, Opinion, Jan 12). When my younger daughter was taking A levels in the late 1990s, her comprehensive school had a workshop and she was able to make the products she had designed. She became very proficient at operating a centre lathe. Her design and technology course gave her a distinct advantage when studying for her engineering degree at Cambridge, as she had practical skills as well as academic ability. She now works in R&D, and can also do all her own plumbing and repairs around her flat.

Elizabeth Clarke


Sir, The science community “has been up in arms” but not in the way that Libby Purves suggests. Rather than “cries of protest”, there is broad consensus that current GCSE assessments often make practical science stultifying for students and teachers alike. Controlled assessment simply has not worked well.

Our proposals should broaden students’ experience of practical science, and free teachers to teach inspiring practical science, and plenty of it, rather than teach mark schemes. Most science teachers welcome this.

Amanda Spielman

Chairwoman, Ofqual

If school science experiments are no longer assessed, it’s another sign of how our lives lack the physicality we require

A human being is not just a brain on a stick. We are complex animals but beasts nonetheless, requiring input from countless nerve-endings. To be complete we need a million messages from our extremities, and to do more than talk and write and look at screens. We need impetus and exertion, heat and cold and weariness, physical intricacy and intimacy. Our ability to manipulate unseen ideas is a matter for awe, but we need more. We need to feel and smell and touch. Our young need it even more.

Why this airy opener? Because I am going to write about Ofqual, the office of qualifications and examinations regulation, and I feared you would glaze over. But stay with me. A current flurry of dismay is relevant to all, as the exam body pushes our already screen-bound schoolchildren one step further away from filling that human need for practicality. Ofqual plans to remove from A-level science the assessment of real experiments on lab benches.

Its concern, on the face of it a reasonable one, is that assessment of this work by teachers — 25 per cent of the final grade — may be overgenerous, routinely producing higher marks than the pupil gets in externally assessed written exams. It says that the current practicals are “time-consuming, prescriptive and repetitive” and it would be “impractical” — ie, expensive — to improve them.

So now Ofqual will assess students’ knowledge of science experiments “by well-designed written exam questions”. No need for that exhilarating trek from classroom to lab, no fizzing test-tube and changing litmus, no dissection or “experiment to show osmosis using two eggs”. Just a requirement to describe what would happen if you did have eggs, or acids, or a rat on a slab. Ofqual insists that inspectors will ensure that lab work still features, and proffers an optional pass/fail “practical endorsed certificate for science” which won’t count towards your grade. Get real! In these days of anxious, league-table, name-and-shame education, anything that doesn’t inflate target figures will be neglected. Especially by already struggling schools.

So the science community is up in arms. Biologists call it “the death knell for UK science education”, and from industry, universities and the teaching profession there are cries of protest. They argue that practical bench-work is too important to leave to the university level, and anyway students are motivated to do science by seeing things happen before their eyes, under their hands. Not just by parroting facts about what “would” occur in an experiment.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering warns “many young people will be able to leave school with the highest grades in science without being able to do science at all”. Engineering tutors at university already find high-flying freshmen devoid of any hands-on sense of materials and stresses now that kids no longer build soap-box carts. School “design technology” rarely produces much beyond a desktop-published folder. Even in the ’90s my son designed an electric bilge-pump, got an A, but never was allowed to make it. My daughter’s “Food Tech” GCSE seemed to consist mainly of designing pizza-boxes and drawing flow-charts of imaginary pie factories.

I leave more detailed objections to science professionals. But it feels like part of a wide, sad trend towards the brain-on-a-stick delusion. Nimble crafty fingers and sweaty, frustrating constructive effort are valued far below intellectual expression: we have conceptual “artists” who never make a thing but grandly delegate an idea to humble workshops; we have nurses intent on paperwork who think it beneath their dignity to get up and make a patient physically comfortable in bed. Hands-on activities — with rare exceptions like surgery — gradually become low status. The “garden designer” outranks the man with the spade, the security consultant out-earns the locksmith.

Yet human beings yearn to struggle off the page and into physical life, and not just in sport and keep fit. Full human physicality requires doing more than just honing your abs: we are programmed, right from the sandpits of infancy, to mess about and reconstruct whatever’s closest. To prove we’re really here.

Burnt-out bankers decide to retrain as plumbers, intensely cerebral actors jump at any chance to juggle, throw things or dance (remember Simon Russell Beale’s twirling moment at the Royal Ballet?). Lads bored and confused by school geometry lessons rush out and make expert, split-second calculations of distance and angle in the skateboard park or parkour acrobatics. Lawyers, if they have any sense, go home and chop logs, paint the hall or knit. Einstein sailed his damp little boat and taught himself the violin; Marie Curie maintained her own bike.

There is a cheerful, emotionally balancing validation in achieving something solid. I remember meeting the first scion of an old fairground family to study at Oxford: a girl accustomed since infancy to put up hoopla-stalls at speed. She found it hilariously incredible that her brilliant confreres in college couldn’t change a lock or a wheel. And it may be that her understanding of the world’s history and her empathy with its literature include a dimension which theirs will always lack.

And so back to Ofqual, and its belief that “experimentation can be assessed by well-designed written exam questions”. Maybe it can, to some extent. But too many of us already live too much from the neck up. It’s no time to make it worse.


The frontpage of the upcoming

The frontpage of this week’s ‘survivors’ edition of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo Photo: Charlie Hebdo/AFP/Getty Images

SIR – While I condemn the horrendous attack at the Charlie Hebdo building in Paris last week, I cannot condone the latest act of defiance by the magazine in publishing further offensive cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

I’m all for freedom of the press and of speech, but there should be a mutual respect for all religions out of our common humanity. As far as I know, no British satirical magazine publishes such material.

Sally Burgess
Budleigh Salterton, Devon

SIR – The cover for this week’s Charlie Hebdo is not defiant. It is more akin to throwing petrol on to a smouldering fire. I expected greater subtlety from such an intelligent group of people.

Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – Lampooning the pompous (like yesterday’s Adams cartoon) creates healthy scepticism and intelligent debate.

I’m a Christian who is sometimes upset by criticism but well aware that a lampooning cartoon will not offend God but rather the self-serving, puffed-up people who claim to serve him.

Less respect, more lampooning, please.

Diane Barlow
Cury, Cornwall

SIR – The Government should urgently consider changing the Public Order Act 1986 to allow uninhibited discussion with regard to religious ideology.

The present law clearly states that a person is guilty of an offence if he intends his words, writing, sign or other visible representation to be “threatening, abusive or insulting”.

John Barker
Prestbury, Cheshire

SIR – We should have the freedom to insult anyone, but the good manners not to.

Duncan Ruddick
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

SIR – We suffer from a lack of respect for the “other”. We mask it with terms like “satire” and when it is challenged, we cry “freedom of speech”.

There are names deemed offensive to black people and Jews that we do not use. It is time we applied these standards to Islam.

David Ross
Huntsham, Tiverton

SIR – The Deputy Prime Minister believes we should have the “freedom to cause offence”. What about the rights of those who are hurt by these offensive statements?

Ernest and Sylvia Adle
Didcot, Oxfordshire

SIR – Public focus should be on long–term planning towards a fairer society.

The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.

Hasan Beg
Kirkcaldy, Fife

Funding cancer drugs

SIR – Following the decision to withdraw the funding of life-extending drugs from 8,000 cancer patients, perhaps David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other members of the Government who so passionately support spending £11 billion of taxpayers’ money on foreign aid should explain to the patients concerned why their treatment must be cut while the aid budget is ring-fenced.

Ian Rolfe
Oxted, Surrey

SIR – The message that developing cancer is down to bad luck needs to be put into context.

First, breast and prostate cancer were not covered in the study by Johns Hopkins University, despite accounting for nearly 90,000 cases in Britain annually.

Secondly, the study concludes that “only” a third of cancers are preventable through factors such as lifestyle. According to our research, this means that 81,000 cancer diagnoses a year in Britain could be prevented, which is no small number.

Some cancers are not preventable, but the idea that we can do nothing to limit cancer risk must be challenged.

Amanda McLean
Director, World Cancer Research Fund UK
London WC1

Bubbling tankards


SIR – Defending his opposition to prosecco on tap, Luca Giavi, director of the consortium of winemakers in the Valdobbiadene-Conegliano area, claims that “the producers of champagne… would do the same”. He is on shaky ground.

I recall the bar in London’s Connaught Rooms where champagne was dispensed by the pint and half-pint, with the personal tankards of regular customers hanging, ready for use, above the counter.

John Carter
Bromley, Kent

Lost at sea

SIR – Every time there is the tragic loss of an aircraft over the sea – as with the AirAsia jet – there follows the hunt for the black box.

Since the technology is available to transmit such information from an aircraft to a ground location, it is time for an international agreement that all new – and, where possible, existing – commercial aircraft must be fitted with this facility.

Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex

The Government must act to reduce the deficit

SIR – David Cameron is right to draw the electorate’s attention to the consequences of Labour’s “borrow more – pay later” attitude for our children and grandchildren. Interest costs accumulated by an ever-increasing national debt will pile a huge burden on to future generations.

Labour’s policy is one of greed – robbing the future to pay for the present. However, with a large proportion of the population dependent on state handouts, the chances that this message will be listened to is remote indeed.

J B Box

SIR – The Tory policy of a fixed-term approach to deficit reduction has strangled the recovery. With £75 billion of cuts and tax rises still to come, the inescapable conclusion is that austerity has failed.

Further attacks on the welfare budget would be morally reprehensible. For the Tories and the Labour Party to continue with this strategy is utterly nonsensical.

Alex Orr

SIR – Ed Miliband has said that he wants to lead millions of conversations across Britain to explain his vision.

I welcome him to Surrey to explain why taxing wealth creators and family homes, increasing government borrowing, avoiding benefit reform, bashing private schools and refusing a referendum on the EU are policies we should support.

Stefan Reynolds
Godalming, Surrey

SIR – Given that the Coalition is worried about the level of alcohol consumption in this country, perhaps they could reduce the campaign period to three or four weeks.

Alan Stanley
Southgate, Middlesex

Business skills for life

SIR – Communication, teamwork and time management – often referred to as “soft skills” – are qualities every employer looks for in employees.

Figures released today reveal that these skills are worth £88 billion to the British economy. However, for too long employers, government and educators have failed to recognise or promote soft skills sufficiently, resulting in lost employment and development opportunities, as well as lower productivity.

We are calling for a wholescale re-evaluation of the importance of these proficiencies. Through open consultation, we hope to understand how businesses and government can work with educators to connect young people with employers and help them to gain the soft skills that are needed in the workplace.

If we succeed, the British economy could benefit to the tune of £109 billion by 2020. This will make a real difference to the careers and lives of millions of people.

James Caan
Jez Langhorn

McDonald’s UK & Northern Europe
Neil Carberry
Confederation of British Industry
Kirstie Mackey
Barclays Lifeskills
Fiona Blacke
National Youth Agency
Katerina Rudiger
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
Richard Atkins
Association of Colleges
Mike Johnson
Gelder Groups
Lizzie Crowley
Lancaster University’s Work Foundation
David Hughes
National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
Liz Watts
Dereth Wood
Simon Tarr
People 1st
Chris Jones
City & Guilds
John Allan
Federation of Small Business

To boldly swim where no man has swum before


SIR – I applaud your article encouraging more of us to embrace the pleasures of wild and cold water swimming (“Come on in – the water’s freezing”, Features, January 6).

However, without wishing to take anything away from the charitable fundraising efforts of David Walliams, I am concerned by the implication that he is the first and only swimmer to have swum the Thames. The only person to complete the full swim to Southend is the extreme swimmer Lewis Pugh, whose team I lead. He accomplished the feat in 2006, five years before Walliams. Moreover, unlike Walliams, who stopped at Westminster, he did not wear a wetsuit.

Lewis also holds the records for the furthest north (North Pole) and south (Antarctica) swims of one kilometre, again without a wetsuit.

Tim Toyne Sewell
Nether Wallop, Hampshire

Same-sex marriage Act

SIR – Mary Baxter’s letter on same-sex marriage raises important issues for all political parties.

The Prime Minister claims that the passing of this Act was one of his proudest moments. But one must consider the way it reached the statute books: it was hurried through Parliament at an unprecedented rate led by what appeared to be a personal campaign supported by an inner circle. The majority of the Government’s supporters failed to back it and a petition from the electorate with more than 500,000 signatories was virtually ignored.

If politicians wish to be respected, they need to reassure the public that the full democratic process has been restored.

Malcolm Blunn
Shorwell, Isle of Wight

Taxing questions

SIR – I run a small VAT-registered business and recently made an innocent mistake when submitting a return.

HMRC’s online system would not allow me simply to cancel the incorrect return and resubmit. I phoned an HMRC adviser and, after a 20-minute wait, was told to post a letter to the VAT Error Corrections office in Liverpool. I did this immediately but, some four weeks later, I received a “default” letter, containing a threatened surcharge. I contacted the HMRC Helpdesk via email; they were unable to help.

This totally avoidable waste of my time and theirs – on what should have been a very simple matter – is quite astonishing.

Wesley Hallam
Ubley, Somerset

Lay off the sauce


SIR – As a young boy I was addicted to HP sauce and my father had a battle to stop me dolloping it on every meal.

I always discovered the condiment, no matter where he’d hidden it. Finally, he referred me to the French on the back of the bottle, solemnly informing me that it said that HP was very dangerous for boys under the age of 17.

Foolishly, I believed him and it wasn’t until I began to study French a couple of years later that I became aware of the deception. I insisted on a raise in pocket money to compensate for the hurt caused and, God bless him, he agreed.

Michael Wilson
Dummer, Hampshire



Globe and Mail:

  (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

Michael Marrus

Was Paris march a ‘moment’ that revived Liberté in France?

Irish Times:

A chara, – The Irish Times is to be commended for deciding not to republish material it deems “likely to be seen by Muslims as gratuitously offensive and [that] would not contribute significantly to advancing or clarifying the debate on the freedom of the press” (“The Irish Times and the cartoons”, January 13th). The right to risk giving offence by speaking hard truths as the situation warrants should never be mistaken for a duty to offend for its own sake. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Congratulations to The Irish Times – five words that I don’t often write – for exercising its right not to republish any of the Islamophobic Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Satirising hegemonic power is courageous but satirising the victims of that power is cowardly. Alas, this cowardice is all too often mistaken for courage.

The words of the novelist Saladin Ahmed are worth pondering: “In a field dominated by privileged voices, it’s not enough to say ‘Mock everyone!’ In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone equally ends up serving the powerful. And in the context of brutal inequality, it is worth at least asking what pre-existing injuries we are adding our insults to.” – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – I am disappointed by your decision not to publish the cover of the post-massacre edition of Charlie Hebdo. The justification that publication would be gratuitously offensive to Muslims ignores the enormous offence given to everyone else by the murderous behaviour of Islamist terrorists in Paris. The Irish Times has had no problem publishing Martyn Turner cartoons which were offensive to devout Catholics, but those carry no threat of violent reprisals. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – What is lacking in much of the debate concerning the recent tragic events in Paris is common sense and the recognition that a “right” to absolute “free speech” and absolute free expression of any opinion in the media, however offensive, simply does not exist. Nor should it. Legal rights are usually circumscribed by the recognition that they should be exercised in the common good and can be restrained in certain circumstances where their expression is likely to cause such profound offence that violence and communal strife is likely to result.

I support the editorial decision made by you not to reproduce the cover of the current issue of Charlie Hebdo, but I consider the coverage of the story and the reproduced cartoons in The Irish Times to be in conflict with the spirit and reasoning that led to that wise decision. – Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – It was good to see that Ireland was officially represented by the Taoiseach in Paris on Sunday, at the march for freedom of speech, and to show solidarity with the 12 people murdered at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, (and the four civilians killed at a kosher grocery and the police officer who was fatally shot last week). Incredibly, officials from Saudi Arabia also attended the march, just two days after Raif Badawi was publicly flogged (the first 50 lashes of 1,000) for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Mr Badawi was jailed for 10 years in May 2014 after starting a website for social and political debate in Saudi Arabia. He was charged with creating the “Saudi Arabian Liberals” website and “insulting Islam”. His sentence also included 1,000 lashes, a 10-year travel ban, and a ban on appearing on media outlets.

Last year Mr Kenny congratulated the crown prince of Saudi Arabia on that country’s election to the human rights council of the United Nations. This year he should publicly distance Ireland from this latest abuse, and other gross human rights abuses (violence against women and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, race and ethnicity) by the Saudi Arabian authorities.

The Government should demand that the Saudi authorities cease to continue with Mr Badawi’s punishment of flogging, which violates the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in international law. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Free speech is important and must be cherished. But does that include the freedom to insult and deride things that many hold sacred? Maybe it should, but I, for one, feel a bit uneasy.

Before we rush into amending the Constitution to decriminalise blasphemy, maybe we should consider a bit more the danger of incitement to hatred and violence. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I fail to see how you are serving your readership by running a Charlie Hebdo centrespread. While respectful of the right of a publication to publish, I contend that this decision was, at best, irresponsible. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – How disappointing it is that The Irish Times failed to reproduce the cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo magazine in yesterday’s edition, despite the fact that you trumpeted “two pages of Charlie Hebdo cartoons” in a banner at the top of the front page (January 14th). The issue of the depiction of Muhammad in cartoons and other forms is absolutely central to the Charlie Hebdo news story, and by failing to reproduce the image, you have failed in your duty to inform your readers and to allow them to make up their own minds on the alleged offensiveness of these images. By failing to reproduce the Charlie Hebdo front cover, I’m afraid that protestations of solidarity by The Irish Times ring rather hollow. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – There are moments in history that become turning points. In our view, 2015 will be such a moment. It is the most important year for global decision-making since the start of the new millennium.

We believe it’s just possible that we could end 2015 with a new global compact – an agreed pathway to a better, safer future for people and planet that will inspire all the citizens of the world. We can choose the path of sustainable development. Or we might not – and regret it for generations to come. Which side of history will we be on?

There are millions of voices that world leaders can’t afford to ignore – the voices of the people they represent. They are voices of all ages from every corner of the planet – the voice of a young girl currently deprived an education, of a pregnant mother deprived of healthcare, of young people deprived of decent work, of a family from a minority group fearful of discrimination from corrupt officials, of farmers forced to migrate to cities as climate refugees, and of billions of other people. Their voices will roar ever louder against the inequality and injustice that keep people poor. They, and all who stand with them, are calling for a grand new global contract for our one human family – and then deliver on it together. The great news is that in 2015 there is a historic chance to do just that.

Two critical United Nations summits will take place this year. The first in September, where the world must agree new goals to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle inequality and ensure a more sustainable planet. The second is the climate summit in December, where we must ensure the wellbeing of people today doesn’t come at the expense of our children’s futures.

Together with critical discussions on financing, these opportunities are the biggest of our lifetime. We know from past efforts against Aids, malaria, preventable diseases and saving the ozone layer that when we come together, so much can be achieved. Yet, with just months to go before these summits, few leaders are playing the leadership roles we need. We see climate progress but not yet of the scale that is needed, and a set of goals that are hugely ambitious but will be meaningless without brave financing and implementation agreements led from the very top. If this does not change, we fear leaders could be sleepwalking the world towards one of the greatest failures of recent history. It’s not too late to rise to the occasion. Let’s be clear – the actions we take in 2015 will decide which way the world turns for decades to come. Please take the right path. – Yours, etc,


actor and activist;



and activist;


musician and activist;


actor, filmmaker and

founder of Eastern Congo



co-founder of the Bill

and Melinda Gates


BONO, lead singer of U2 and

co-founder of One and Red;

DBANJ, Nigerian musician

and activist;

Emeritus Archbishop




Director of the Earth



1997 Nobel peace laureate

and chairwoman of Nobel

Women’s Initiative;


2011 Nobel peace laureate;

MALALA, 2014 Nobel peace

laureate and education



co-founder of the Bill and

Melinda Gates Foundation;



and campaigner;

Queen RANIA of Jordan,

advocate and campaigner;



United Nations Foundation,


Sir, – GPs see about five million emergencies per year in this country (providing 24-hour emergency care to their “public” patients still forms the basis of the GMS contract); emergency departments about one million. Over 90 per cent of primary care emergencies are seen by trained, experienced doctors, ie senior decision makers. In emergency departments in general, the decision to admit is made in over 90 per cent of cases by doctors in training, whose ultimate default position, especially in areas of uncertainty, is to admit patients to the hospital. Senior decision makers, ie hospital consultants, generally see these patients for the first time on day two on the “post-take ward round”.

In departments where there are large numbers of self-referrals to the hospital (much higher in urban areas), it is logical to expect that some of the patients who end up being admitted to the hospital by doctors in training may have otherwise been managed in the community had they first seen their GP.

Solutions to overcrowding involve small margins and small wins in many different areas of the system. Without the commitment of GPs to the provision of emergency care, hospital admissions would undoubtedly increase. If the boundary between primary and secondary care was more clearly defined in the system, the impact on overcrowding may be greater than we suspect. Primary care is cheaper than hospital care. More patients being managed in the community means less overcrowding, and more money for the rest of the system. – Yours, etc,



in Emergency Medicine,

University Hospital


Sir, – We have been analysing, writing on and discussing this problem for the past 10 years. In that time span there has been a direct correlation between the number of sick people awaiting admission to acute hospitals being held on trolleys in emergency departments and the number of medically fit for discharge older people occupying acute beds in these hospitals. The solution to this growing problem does not just lie in an increase in Fair Deal funding to facilitate admission to nursing homes but must include a more advanced and better funded home care package scheme.

I suspect politicians will only act when their sick constituents arrive in their clinics when they are not able to gain admission to an acute hospital. We are getting closer to that reality but no closer to a solution from the HSE. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – It is reckoned that a third of hospital beds are used to deal with alcohol-related diseases. The most effective health legislation was the ban on smoking in the workplace, at nil cost to the taxpayers. Similar action is required for alcohol, with a total ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship. – Yours, etc,


Bunclody, Co Wexford.

Sir, – I saw Charles Haughey in his office, on each of the three occasions that he left it with dignity, when he ceased to be taoiseach: on June 30th, 1981, after 18 months in office; on December 14th, 1982, after just nine months; and finally on February 9th, 1992, after five years. This was not the behaviour of a Latin American dictator (Bernard Lynch, January 14th).

Some of us are getting a little weary of the continuing whingefest of mature journalists and former politicians. Charles Haughey’s real crime, and it is easy to forget that he was convicted of none, was that up until 1992 he succeeded in surmounting all the challenges made to him. He survived the many attacks of such estimable people as Jack Lynch, Conor Cruise O’Brien, George Colley, Desmond O’Malley, Garret FitzGerald, not to mention the Workers’ Party, and Mrs Thatcher, to the understandable but lasting resentment of most of them, their admirers and their supporters.

While not disputing that Charles Haughey had serious failings and made some bad choices, both personal and political, they are in my opinion outweighed by the more lasting benefit of his many achievements. Rightly, a lot of things today are done differently, and what were very lax ethical rules, often poorly policed, have been tightened up a lot since, which I welcome, though in some areas (eg pre-election spending by candidates) not nearly enough.

With regard to Charlie, while it makes a decent effort to tell a story and covers a lot of ground, I share Vincent Browne’s view that The Guarantee is a better example of the genre. – Yours, etc,


Tipperary, Co Tipperary.

Sir, – The old adage that if it looks too good to be true, it usually is, and that there is no such thing as a free lunch both apply when considering the news that Goldman Sachs is to advise on the proposed sale of the (reluctantly) State-owned Allied Irish Banks (“Goldman Sachs to advise Government on pro bono basis”, January 12th). Goldman Sachs, which Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine famously described as the “vampire squid” of global capitalism that goes about looking to “stick its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”, is, we are now to believe, working “pro bono” as a charitable gesture for “arse out of their trousers” countries like ours. Forgive me, but I smell a rat.– Yours, etc,




Sir, – I was, to put it mildly, disappointed with the headline The Irish Times chose to summarise the story of Sean Quinn’s settlement regarding future earnings upon the discharge of his bankruptcy: “Sean Quinn to pay €10,000 per year under bankruptcy ruling” (January 12th).

Given the “per year” element of the settlement only extends to two years, may I suggest that a more accurate headline would have been: “State settles with Sean Quinn for €20,000, despite losses to the State of billions of euro, and an insurance levy being paid by hundreds of thousands of people for decades to come.” – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – I understand that warning images on cigarette boxes serve a decent purpose.

However, is it really necessary to display an image of a heroin needle on some packets? It must be hard for heroin addicts in recovery who smoke to see this image every time they roll a cigarette. It could influence them to relapse. Is that fair? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I have just heard, for the fourth time today, reference on local and national radio forecasts to “extreme weather warnings” and “extreme weather conditions”.

Could someone please enlighten me as to what is so extreme about snow or ice in January?

It would seem that the choice of words has become extreme, not the weather. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

Published 15/01/2015 | 02:30

A man touches the spray-painted shut mouth of a statue near a poster reading "I am Charlie" as he takes part in a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris. Photo: Reuters
A man touches the spray-painted shut mouth of a statue near a poster reading “I am Charlie” as he takes part in a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris. Photo: Reuters

Much of the media commentary over the past few days has displayed something of a visceral, reflexive ‘repulse’ philosophy when pitching the free-speech validity of laughter, satire and debilitative discourse against fundamentalist extremism.

  • Go To

However, reaction to the tragedy appears to conveniently decontextualise the brutal and tragic events in Paris from any authentic appraisal of balance or holistic inclusion of cause and effect.

Of course, we must all abhor – and condemn – such vicious acts of unlawful aggression. But we must also, somehow, try to parse and probe all the evolutionary complexions pertaining. Reflex condemnation is understandable, but simply assessing such terrorist fundamentalism as a terrible and wanton wrong – without wondering about all the whys and wherefores – is a one-dimensional pursuit.

The historical connivances and manipulative meddling which Western powers – with all their lofty talk of universal democratic integrity – have visited upon so many countries and cultures must at least be considered. This is not to dilute the travesty of the tragedy, but to attempt to understand more and seek some initial avenue of rapprochement without capitulation.

Some attendant queries could well be:

Where do all the rogue armaments emanate from in the first place? Who supplies these? Where are they sourced? Are Western arms manufacturers obliquely complicit in such a burgeoning of weapon availability world-wide? Does filthy lucre override all considerations of social decency and human integrity? Does cartooning have an open carte blanche to deride, satirise and demean all and sundry, irrespective of taste, etiquette, risk and offence? Is one man’s ‘blasphemy’ not another man’s incitement?

There are no easy or comfortable answers to questions like these. But there is surely a case for relentlessly responsible contextualisation, respectful resilience and steadfast determination to try to understand and try to solve with a degree of dignity. There is no point bunkering down and blinkering our scope of enquiry. Why do people act as they do?

Let’s be fully honest in the round, while being strong in adversity.

Jim Cosgrove

Lismore, Co Waterford

A fresh approach is needed

There is a poem called ‘Walls’ by a Soweto poet named Oswald Mtshali which casts some light on what happened last week in France: “Man is a great wall builder / The Berlin Wall /… But the wall most impregnable / Has a moat / flowing with fright / around his heart / A wall without windows for the spirit to breeze through / without a door for love to walk in.”

And yet there is evidence everywhere of the love that exists between people. Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 Stephen Jay Gould, an American scientist and writer, wrote: “Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one… Every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ‘ordinary’ efforts of a vast majority.”

Calls to “defeat terrorism” are being made again at the moment. However, we may be looking in the wrong direction to make societies more secure. What we need is to find a way is to fan the flame of decency that exists within all of us. Love, rather than tension, needs to dominate world consciousness so that hatred cannot take root.

As a teenager in the early 1970s I listened to the news reports of the daily ‘body counts’ of Vietcong killed by the US army. I lost faith in the judgment of politicians and generals trying to create a ‘safer’ world by killing others. Nothing has happened since to make me change my mind.

Why persist with approaches to create a more secure world that have spectacularly failed? The billions that have been spent on wars on terror need to be used to find more effective strategies. The quest of our time should be to create a more mature and loving collective consciousness in the world.

John Burns

Blackrock, Co Dublin

A far-fetched comparison

I take issue with Colin Crilly’s letter (‘States kill more than terrorists’, January 14) suggesting that “You’ve only got to look at Israel, and its recent slaughter of over 2,000 people in Gaza to see … [that] state terror, kills far more civilians than a few fanatics ever will”.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, has pointed out that the proportion of civilian casualties in Gaza (nowhere near 2,000 unless there were no non-civilian deaths) was unbelievably low and the envy of military commanders throughout the world. Mr Crilly’s comparison is far-fetched.

Martin D Stern

Salford, England

ECB an undemocratic outfit

Unlike the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank has only one self-imposed target by which its performance can be judged: to keep inflation at or just below two per cent. It has failed miserably to achieve that target, with the result that people and nations with large debts have seen their real debt burden increase.

This suits net creditor nations such as Germany, but is a disaster for almost everyone else, with deflation likely to lead to increased real indebtedness, recession and perhaps even depression in the rest of the Eurozone.

Lest anyone think this is an accident of history, it is an outcome advocated by some German economists and by many of the German staff in the Frankfurt-based ECB.

And yet no one calls for the resignation of the ECB Board for failing to achieve its one self-declared target, never mind achieving a broader set of economic targets, as the US Fed does, including employment levels.

Our leaders seem to be afraid to criticise the ECB in case it might once again threaten to pull the plug on our banking system.

The ECB is the most undemocratic institution in the EU, with Ireland never even having sought representation at board level. It is time that must change, and it is time our political leaders had the courage to hold our banking masters to account.

The Eurozone must be run in the interests of all Eurozone members. Failing that we must consider acting in our own national interest and leave the Eurozone in concert with other Eurozone members whose economic needs are being ignored.

Frank Schnittger

Blessington, Co Wicklow

Ireland on the periphery

Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, says Ireland is “at the heart of Europe”.

Charlie mustn’t have attended enough geography and biology classes when he was in school. The heart of the EU is Germany and sidekick France, and we here on the edge of nowhere are seen at worst as a nuisance, and at best a pimple which will make the right noises when squeezed.

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork

Whither the water woes?

Tales of bankruptcy and golden goals seem just now to have moved the hot – and indeed cold – topic of water charges off the front pages. Gives us all a chance to assess our liquidity?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

Irish Independent


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