18 January 2015 Learning
Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. Struggling with web developer.
Bess Myerson, who has died aged 90, was the first and only Jewish woman to win the Miss America beauty pageant; she then had a long career in public service before her life was overwhelmed by scandal.
When she was crowned Miss America in September 1945, the full horror of the Holocaust had only recently been revealed. Her victory took on a symbolic meaning: the Jews had survived and were thriving in the United States. Her biographer, Susan Dworkin, said: “In the Jewish community she was the most famous pretty girl since Queen Esther.”
Bess Myerson was born on July 16 1924 in New York City. Her father was a housepainter, and she grew up in the Bronx, in a cooperative apartment complex started by socialists.
Bess was a typical high-achieving child of immigrants and graduated from the city’s free college for women, Hunter, with a degree in Music in 1945, the year she won the beauty pageant. She claimed to have entered the contest because she wanted to buy a Steinway piano with the prize money.
Miss America winners usually travel the country doing promotional work, but when Bess Myerson won many sponsors backed out of their commitments for anti-Semitic reasons.
She focused her activities on New York City, and in the decades after her victory her image was ubiquitous: on television, as a regular panellist on the popular quiz show I’ve Got a Secret, and in subway advertisements.
Shortly after her victory, in 1946, she married Allan Wayne, a naval captain who had seen action in the Pacific. The couple had a daughter, Barbara. But Wayne suffered from what would today be called post-traumatic stress disorder; he became a violent alcoholic and the couple divorced in 1957. Bess married the entertainment lawyer Arnold Grant five years later.
Bess Myerson waves from a float during a parade before the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City in 1945
In 1969 she entered public service when the mayor of New York, John Lindsay, appointed her consumer affairs commissioner. She took what could have been nothing more than a public relations role and made it into a serious job, suing companies on behalf of consumers and winning millions of dollars for people who had been defrauded by false advertising claims.
During this period she divorced Grant and became more involved in public service, as New York entered an era of crime-ridden decline. She also became the public companion of Ed Koch and was constantly at his side during his bitterly contested 1977 mayoral campaign against Mario Cuomo.
Koch, a bachelor, was a notoriously prickly politician. He was also rumoured to be gay, and Bess Myerson’s presence by his side smoothed out his rough edges with voters and partially neutralised the homosexual innuendo. She was given much credit for Koch’s ultimate victory.
Bess Myerson after being crowned Miss America in 1945 (AP)
Her own foray into politics ended in failure when she was defeated in a primary race for the US Senate in 1980.
Then her life spun out of control. While serving as Koch’s cultural affairs commissioner, she became romantically involved with a married man 20 years her junior – Carl Capasso, a sewer contractor who did business with the city. When Capasso’s wife found out, she sued for divorce.
Bess Myerson in 1985 with New York Mayor Ed Koch (AP)
Bess Myerson was later accused of inducing a judge to reduce Capasso’s maintenance payments by giving the judge’s daughter a job. The “Bess Mess” was sensational tabloid fodder. When Bess was subsequently arrested for shoplifting after visiting Capasso in a Pennsylvania prison, where he was serving a sentence for tax evasion, her fall from grace was complete and she drifted into obscurity.
In later life Bess Myerson had time to regret living her life in the spotlight. In a 1990 unauthorised biography written after all the “Bess Mess” trials were over, she is reported to have once told a Jewish businessman: “I should have married someone like you at 24 and moved to Scarsdale.”
She is survived by her daughter, Barra Grant, a film and television director.
Bess Myerson, born July 16 1924, died December 14 2014
As Sonia Sodha argues, the political debate on universities has focused on fee levels and headline prices to the exclusion of almost everything else, including the benefits and value of a university education, and how they might be improved (“It’s time to reinvent what universities can be, Comment).
As many of the officers of the National Union of Students have commented over the past few years, universities should place much more emphasis on the quality of teaching and what is taught. A highly critical select committee report on quality and students contained the following student quote: “Contact time we have with staff is a problem. Lecturers are often informative but there is no one-to-one time. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a sausage factory rather than surrounded by some of the foremost minds in my field.”
Universities should focus more on how learning contributes to wider social functions such as active and ethical citizenship and shaping a democratic civilised and more sustainable society, which is crucial if they are to play an active and responsible role in an increasingly complex and uncertain world. An expanding population, increasing globalisation and advances in technology will bring colossal societal and ecological changes, particularly if our unsustainable practices and lifestyles prevail. This is just a taste of what a graduate’s future might look like.
Universities have a significant role to play in developing “sustainability literate” leaders and hence optimising their contribution to the future of society, the environment and the economy. A small number of UK universities have begun to respond to this agenda, notably the universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Keele and Worcester but much more needs to be done by all our universities to prepare graduates for an uncertain future.
Professor Stephen Martin
Former chair of the Higher Education Academy
Education for Sustainable Development Advisory Group
The rapid social and economic changes of the 21st century require perpetual innovation from our universities. Research we commissioned from Youthsight revealed that 67% of undergraduates expect the world of work to significantly change over the next 20 years and from our experience one of the chief concerns of students today is how far their degree will equip them to meet these changes.
Ensuring that degrees deliver skills that are “future-proof” requires universities to think creatively about how they are structured. Partnering with private sector companies is one option for doing so, as they can directly feed in the attitudes and aptitudes that they want to see in graduates, while helping universities to build work experience and internship opportunities into their courses. This in turn would help universities develop the next generation of graduates with the skills and experience employers need and those that our continued economic success demands.
Vice principal (academic quality and enhancement)
Pearson College, London
Sonia Sodha claims that the purpose of a university degree should be directly linked to the needs of employers and the labour market. So, education and learning have no intrinsic worth, and creating cultured, educated citizens who can think for themselves and possess a variety of cognitive skills is old-fashioned nonsense, only still believed in by dinosaurs like me! Instead, universities must slavishly serve the needs of big business and the deity that is “the market”.
Is there no sphere of civil life or human activity that can be spared the philistine assumption that they have no purpose or merit unless they directly serve corporations and the pursuit of profit? Can we not have an economic system that serves society, rather than a society which exists to serve the economy?
I campaigned for a “No” vote in the 1975 referendum on the common market, largely on political grounds but objections were patronisingly dismissed – the market, we were told, was an economic, not political, project. Subsequently, I took a rather childish pleasure in continually referring to the European “project”, whatever its current nomenclature, as the “Holy Roman Empire”. Now, suddenly, I find myself in agreement with Will Hutton (“The British Museum reminds us Germany is a force for good”, Comment) who also sees the EU as the successor to the HRE! There the agreement ends, because he apparently finds this laudable.
Is this really the best we can do? For centuries, there has been a fixation with some mythic ideal of the Roman empire – its codes of laws, “Pax Romana” and so on, and the HRE was just one of the futile efforts to turn back the clock. Of course there are all manner of national and international problems that need co-operation and resolution, but over 200 years since Napoleon did us all a favour by getting rid of the thing, is bringing it back the most forward-thinking idea that the third millennium has to offer?
Make milk the cream of the crop
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 due to the drive for ever cheaper milk. The use 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 these products will increasingly flow from industrial sites rather than 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 try to shift industry focus away from volume and towards value. I would like to see clear labelling on milk cartons 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.
BBC outstanding farmer of the year 2014; director Free Range Dairy Network CIC
Walkie Talkie’s poor reception
The Walkie Talkie is a sad contribution to London and the City in particular (“Iconic address” – or just more pie in the sky?”, Rowan Moore, New Review, 4 Jan). Wherever you see it from it looks out of scale and ugly. I am totally in support of elegant, beautiful towers; the Shard is a great contribution to London’s skyline. The problem with the Walkie Talkie is its proportion. It looks as if it has been sat on by a massive celestial gnome, making it bulge out like a malformed marshmallow.
Towers are exciting when they rise up elegantly, shimmer in the sunlight or moonlight and respect their neighbours. Chunky towers can be exciting, too, but the good ones respect proportion and are stout and rooted to the ground. The Walkie Talkie has none of these attributes. It is a sad indictment on Land Securities for forcing overdevelopment of the site and both the GLA and the City for running scared in their planning responsibilities. Moore is also right to question the sky garden; the reality is that few of us will ever get up there. It will be the playground of privileged City workers.
Goldstein Ween Architects
Antidote for political games
I’m struck by the unedifying spectacle of politicians engaged in name-calling and abnegation of responsibility. I propose a remedy. If a politician blames the previous government for present ills the interviewer must make an adenoidal sound like the buzzer on the children’s game Operation; equally, if the politician ignores the interviewer’s question, he/she will receive the same treatment. Political parties should be prohibited from comparing their policies with those of other parties. Instead, they would lay out their manifesto and an independent, taxpayer-funded fact-checking body would tell us how much of it is true. Then in May we vote.
Lord Garden did his own research
I was angered to see your piece linking fees for trainees to my husband, Lord Garden, who was the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman in the Lords for the last three years of his life (“Unpaid interns charged £300 for job references”, News last week). He died in 2007. I don’t know Jan Mortier and never heard my husband mention him. Tim was well known for doing all his own research and administration and never felt the need to employ a “consultant” or an “aide”. He would certainly have had nothing to do with the practices associated with his name in the article.
House of Lords
We draw our own conclusions
It is to be expected that a piece entitled “Now hidden – Islam’s rich history of images of the prophet” (News, last week) should be illustrated – the key word being “images” – but I can’t have been the only reader to notice that the illustration used was of some buildings and some mountains.
Critics of multiculturalism say the UK has failed to confront the kind of religious fundamentalism that led to the terrorist attacks in Paris Maya Vidon Photograph: Maya Vidon
Britain has allowed Islamic extremism to breed unchecked
MANY Muslims who came to Britain to escape oppression in their own countries have found Islamic extremism very much alive here (“The terrorists can kill but they will not win”, Editorial, “Civilisation under siege”, Focus, and “Please don’t take offence — but, non, je ne suis pas Charlie”, Dominic Lawson, Comment, last week).
For too long we have allowed this to flourish and in so doing have severely let down our own citizens and those Muslims who travelled here to avoid persecution. I suspect there are many of these in the UK still living in fear, afraid of increasing peer pressure from their neighbours and communities, which has festered under our so-called tolerance. We owe it to Britons of all faiths and beliefs to stand up as never before for our freedom and values.
Joanne Grant, Leeds
BRITISH MUSLIMS REJECT RADICAL ISLAM
We write as Brits and Muslims who utterly condemn the Paris murders.
We will take every opportunity to reject, calmly, the angry voices who, in seeking a cycle of retribution, make our great faith of Islam seem so petty and small. But how we deal with such a threat can have huge ramifications.
We thought that UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s language about a “fifth column” was a mistake. It risks spreading an “them and us” agenda which, if it increases a sense of marginalisation, makes the work we do harder. Yet we believe that this is a moment not just to criticise, but to build bridges and seek common ground.
We also heard the UKIP leader commit to “actively support and rally behind the people who are leading the charge against radical Islam, especially those in Britain’s Muslim communities”. As British Muslims committed to that effort, we welcome that. So we have written to Mr Farage to say, ‘If you want to talk about supporting us, please talk to us.
We’ll do our bit, Mr Farage. Now let’s talk about what we all need from each other. We must do more as British Muslims but we can’t do it alone. Let’s come together as Britons to oppose every hatred, whether against Jews or Muslims, Christians or atheists, or any group, so we defend together the freedom of expression on which our religious freedoms depend too.’ Let our leaders join us in insisting that ours can be an inclusive Britain, where freedom and tolerance prevail; the country that we are all proud to call home.
Sughra Ahmed, President, Islamic Society of Britain
Qari Asim, Imam, Leeds Makkah Mosque
Adam Deen, Executive Director, Deen Institute
Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal MBE DL, Chair of Chase Against Crimes of Hate (CACH)
Rabiha Hannan, Trustee, New Horizons
Dilwar Hussain, Chair, New Horizons
Sabbiyah Pervez, blogger
Julie Siddiqi, Community Activist
Zehra Zaidi, Director, DiverCity
The publication of the latest Charlie Hebdo cover is an error of judgment. Most people agree that the atrocities in France were carried out by extremists who do not represent Muslim communities in Europe, yet the Charlie Hebdo cover effectively says “ta gueule” — shut up — to Muslims in France and maybe elsewhere.
The truth is in France the sizeable Muslim community must remain tolerant of its hosts, but it is generally not allowed to forget the French are precisely that — its hosts — and tolerance in France is very much a one-way street.
In the UK we are a bit closer to getting it right in that we advocate free speech but also attempt to acknowledge the sensibilities of other communities and try to avoid giving them offence. France is demonstrating very clearly that no lessons have yet been learnt about the reciprocity of tolerance and how liberté must dovetail with responsabilité.
Marc Gander, UK citizen in Paris
We all have multiple identities based on our familial ties, occupation, place of birth and political opinions. But in recent years people of certain ethnic groups have been automatically labelled Muslims.This profiling plays into the hands of Isis wannabes, toytown jihadists and misogynistic imams who see the world only in terms of “them and us” and wish to isolate Muslims in ghettos both physical and ideological, all the better to control them.
It is time we stopped labelling people as followers of outmoded philosophical systems based on the colour of their skin. Je suis Charlie.
Michael Pallett, Queensland, Australia
I lived in England for half a century and my staff included Christians of many denominations, as well as Jews and Muslims — we all got along fine. The UK is a highly successful multicultural society and it is of course terrible that some lunatics have decided to hang their hats on radical Islam, but it is not evidence of a failure of multiculturalism.
Kevin Hill, Listowel, Co Kerry
One could take Dominic Lawson’s main point further. No UK newspaper has dared reprint any of the cartoons, rationalising their fear of reprisals as the desire not to be seen to give offence. To this extent the terrorists may be said to have won.
Andrew Hoellering, Thorverton, Devon
OVER A BARREL
The idea the pen is mightier than the sword is a nice one. However, Mao Tse-tung was closer to the truth when he observed that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Thus your cartoonist Gerald Scarfe depicting a hand clasping a pen being sliced off was nearer to reality.
To paraphrase an old adage, democracy depends on rough men who stand ready to do violence on its behalf. Thus the pen is ultimately protected.
Greg Waggett, Clare, Suffolk
I can’t help feeling the media frenzy after the events in Paris was what the terrorists desired.
Dominic Ballard, Brabourne Lees, Kent
I wonder what the murdered cartoonists would make of seeing the Saudi ambassador to France taking part in the rally in Paris shortly after the jailed free-speech Saudi activist Raif Badawi received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes in Jeddah.
Sudhir Gangani, Cheadle, Greater Manchester
Minor accident units are the tonic to revive A&Es
HAVING an A&E target of a four-hour wait in isolation is nonsense (“Making the grazed knees and twisted ankles wait longer will help heal A&E”, Comment, last week). It says nothing about quality of care, and the figures can be easily manipulated.
Patients kept waiting on trolleys reflect accountants’ use of beds: what is wrong with mothballing beds for allocation in times of crisis? Being in a bed takes away a lot of anxiety for patients and doctors, facilitating diagnosis and the start of treatment.
GPs are not going back to 24-hour cover, so why not accept this and go over — as some hospitals are doing — to minor accident units, or out-of-hours GP patients’ units, alongside A&E? With experienced doctor, such patients can be quickly dealt with and this is far preferable to the NHS 111 telephone service.
Reg Kingston, Retired consultant, Chorley, Lancashire
I agree that A&E services have become a victim of their own success and the path of least resistance for the public who want everything now. Patients will often be seen by inexperienced junior doctors, who constantly — and appropriately — require the supervision of the senior staff, who in turn are struggling to deal with the genuine emergency cases.
It is these emergency cases that would suffer if we were to abolish the target. Before its implementation, patients needing hospital admission would wait in the corridors of A&E departments for beds to become available. There was no incentive for a ward to take a new patient until it was convenient. Simply scrapping the target would create a return to these bad old days.
Much better would be to maintain and even strengthen the target for those patients needing admission but scrap it entirely for normal ambulatory attendances, who would be sorted by our triage systems. Those there inappropriately with a common cold could decide for themselves whether the eight-hour wait was worth it.
Stuart Durham, A&E consultant, Lancaster
Having read so many horror stories of waiting times in A&E, we feared the worst when my 72-year-old husband was advised to go for emergency treatment in London late on a Sunday night before new year.
He was seen within 15 minutes, admitted to a ward within an hour and operated on the next day. Throughout his week-long stay in hospital he was treated with utmost care and courtesy by nursing staff. And, yes, the French health system will be charged for the full cost of his stay.
Petrina Rance, Eyragues, France
Rule change on assisted dying will alter practitioners’ role
I SHARE Professor Anthony Busuttil’s concerns so eloquently explained in “Top doctor in warning on assisted dying” (News, last week). As a medical practitioner who spent 30 years as an oncologist and who treated and cared for patients in all stages of cancer, it saddened me to see suffering.
I was also privileged to be in practice at a time when palliative care and the hospice movement ceased to be the Cinderella interests of a few on the fringes of medicine and to see them develop into essential, academically-based specialties in this country.
Perhaps that is why the proponents of the current bill under consideration by the Scottish parliament are trying to reassure us that assisted suicide would only be sought by about 100 Scots per year.
In order to further reassure us, after the defeat of the original bill, the sponsors have tweaked the failed bill here and there just to make it all more acceptable. As a result, and as Busuttil points out, we are to turn medical practice and care as we know it on its head. As he says, this may well alter the relationship between patient and doctor: it will also change the relationship of the clinicians involved with current regulations and training.
It means that those medically involved in prescribing the lethal doses of medicines, and those required to dispense them, would be expected to prescribe and dispense drugs for a condition — suicide — for which the medicines are not, and will not, be licensed.
The responsibility for so doing would lie not with the well-meaning legislators or the independent facilitator who collects the drugs, but with those clinicians. In order to do so, will those clinicians need to undergo specific training in off-licence prescribing and in the right dose to use to ensure death?
Will their revalidation every five years, a GMC requirement, and their annual appraisal need to take this into account? When will medical schools be required to include in their curricula teaching and training in assisting suicide safely and with the least chance of adverse events?
Lastly, if this is passed, how long will it be until the law has to be amended to include medically-assisted euthanasia for those unable to kill themselves and who feel their human rights are being denied?
Alan Rodger, Glasgow
Labour the point
IT IS revealing to read that the changing by the Scottish Labour party of the wording of their constitution to emphasise their new priorities is part of a doctrine the party has dubbed “Murphy’s law”(“Murphy’s new clause ‘puts Scotland first’”, News, last week). This phrase, in common usage, is a maxim that suggests that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Current performance would indicate that they have, at last, got something right.
Kenneth MacColl, Oban, Argyll and Bute
HITCHCOCK CONCENTRATION CAMP FILM STANDS TEST OF TIME
One of the main concerns of contemporary films depicting the horrors of the concentration camps in order to counter German support for postwar Nazi insurgents was: would they be believed (“Hitchcock film of Belsen to be aired”, News, last week)? The director Billy Wilder’s answer was to swamp the screen with graphic images of the violence of the camps, but this proved to be a turn-off for its intended, propaganda-weary audience, as well as not believed. Alfred Hitchcock’s solution was much subtler, and it is for this reason that his film is still remembered today in a way Wilder’s documentary is not. Hitchcock made multiple suggestions but the following stand out.
The first was to use continuous takes — as he had done in his own movies — thus countering any claim of faking. The second was to start with one camp and, aided by maps, gradually build up a picture of how widespread they were, to the point of leaving no part of German unimplicated. Last — and I can only surmise this, since there were few if any records kept of the planning meetings surrounding its production — was the necessity to focus as much on the living, particularly the reactions of ordinary citizens to what they were being forced to see.
Stephane Duckett, Author, Hitchcock in Context, London SE11
With parliamentarian snouts in troughs no longer grabbing the headlines and months of tedious electioneering stretching ahead of us, I suggest a generous quantity
of “Beware of boars” signs (News, last week) be prominently displayed in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster.
Ralph Treasure, Lacey Green, Buckinghamshire
DAY OF RECKONING
It would do no harm for religious leaders to brush up on their management skills (“Go forth and MBA, Welby tells bishops”, News, last week). However, there is much more to being an effective faith leader than being a proficient manager. In framing the course, the church should be mindful of Albert Einstein’s comment: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
Zaki Cooper, Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews, London NW4
OUT TO LAUNCH
Having lived through the Cuban missile crisis and the Cold War, I was surprised by Major-General Christopher Elliott’s comment that if Iran deployed nuclear weapons against the UK, we would not retaliate with Trident (“Not ruling the waves, just all at sea”, News Review, last week). The point of a nuclear deterrent is the implied threat to use it. If not, what is the point of Trident?
Bernard Kingston, Biddenden, Kent
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
After another feverish search for the black box recorders in the latest in a string of air disasters, it seems to me that the last place to hold this vital data is on a plane that is about to crash (“AirAsia jet’s tail raised from sea but black boxes elude divers”, World News, last week). If the information is held in digital form, surely — given the global communications facilities available today — it must be possible to constantly upload it to a cloud facility. I understand the huge quantity of computer storage that would be required, but it is only of ephemeral interest and could be discarded as soon as the plane had landed safely. The data would then be immediately available to give the precise location and time of the crash to rescue units and clues as to the how and why to air accident investigators.
Barry Joyce, Broad Oak, East Sussex
COMEDY OF ERRORS
Graham Lord (“Quotation marked”, Letters, last week) says the author who mistook an inquiry about price for the name “Emma Chizzit” when signing books in Sydney wasn’t PD James (who told me in an on-stage interview that it happened to her) but Monica Dickens in 1970. The situation isn’t as simple as he thinks. I’ve been informed that it happened to Monica Dickens in the 1950s, in the 1960s and in the 1970s, and that it happened not to Dickens but to Kenneth Williams, and that it occurred not in Sydney but in Bristol (where the accent, I was told, is curiously similar). Obviously it’s a comic error that could have happened to more than one writer.
Peter Kemp, London N3
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Peter Beardsley, footballer, 54; David Bellamy, botanist, 82; John Boorman, film director, 82; Raymond Briggs, illustrator, 81; Kevin Costner, actor, 60; Richard Dunwoody, jockey, 51; Estelle, singer, 35; Jane Horrocks, actress, 51; John Hume, joint Nobel peace prize winner, 78; Mark Rylance, actor, 55; Philippe Starck, designer, 66
1486 King Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York, ending the Wars of the Roses; 1778 Captain James Cook first sights Hawaii, which he names the Sandwich Islands; 1882 author AA Milne born; 1884 author Arthur Ransome born; 1919 start of the Paris peace conference; 1943 first uprising of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto
SIR – Emma Barnett decries the way some entangle their opinions about Israel with anti-Semitic attitudes. She might have pointed out that to do so is, in fact, to play the Islamist game. There is ample evidence that jihadists, including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State (Isil) and al-Qaeda, profess a vehement hatred for Jews and advocate killing them regardless of who they are, leading to attacks such as the one on the kosher supermarket in Paris. They also aim to eliminate Israel from the Middle East, not only because it is the nation state of the Jewish people, but because it is a bastion of Western democracy, which they equally despise.
If Jews cannot live freely without fear of attack in a democratic society, then everyone is at risk.
SIR – As a British Christian, I find the bias against Jews hard to understand. Jesus and the first Christians, to whom we owe much of our Western culture, were Jews.
SIR – I suspect that if the words Pakistanis or Scots were substituted for Jews in most of the questions in “the British public’s attitude towards British Jews”, the percentages agreeing would have been equally high, if not higher.
SIR – While it is undeniably the case that Charlie Hebdo causes offence (Letters, January 14), your correspondents must surely understand that protecting the right to free speech only when it does not offend is meaningless.
Who should decide what is offensive? Many people were upset by satirical programmes such as Monty Python, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Spitting Image. Not for one moment, however, did the broadcasters consider cancellation. The difference between these shows and the events in Paris is that now protests are accompanied by extreme violence.
Still, appeasement in the face of violence is counterproductive. If we want to defend our way of life, we must all have the courage to support each other’s liberties and continue as before.
SIR – There has been talk of countering terrorism through education and religion, showing more respect and curtailing the “freedom to insult”, but I have seen little mention of a more pragmatic approach, such as setting up a fourth branch of the Armed Forces specifically to deal with terrorism in Britain.
Of what practical value is a Trident submarine when the local supermarket is under siege?
The love of money
SIR – The Most Rev Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, expresses concern about consumerism.
We went to York Minster on the Sunday before Christmas, but were unable to enter while a service was being held. The gift shop, however, was open for business.
SIR – For all its faults, the Coalition has created a situation where more people are in employment than ever before.
In Peterborough, our cathedral continues to benefit from the culture of enterprise and wealth creation. Thanks to the dynamism of the Dean and Chapter, well over 60 corporate sponsors have signed up to the current fundraising campaign. One might well wonder where the cathedral would be without these businesses, or the Church without wealthy donors.
SIR – As a regular churchgoer I fully understand the views expressed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
Looking at the photograph of them both in Thursday’s paper, however, I would have preferred to see them in traditional black and white vestments rather than the gaudy and surely expensive robes of today.
The TV executives out to censor political debate
SIR – We all cherish free speech, particularly in the wake of the horrific events in Paris. At least in this country we were able to watch the argument between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, at Prime Minister’s Questions, about the Prime Minister’s refusal to participate in a television debate without the Green Party, and thus form our own opinions (Letters, January 16). Sadly, the broadcasting executives who have the ultimate power in this matter remain invisible and unaccountable to the electorate.
These debates are supposed to help us make a decision about the next government, but this won’t be the case when the broadcasters censor what we are allowed to see.
SIR – Jeremy Warner’s article on the need for economic growth is excellent.
But I must challenge his assertion that without the free market system there would be no wind or solar power, and much of the world’s population would remain stuck in carbon-guzzling poverty. Wind turbines and solar power are not examples of free-market innovation. They require generous government-imposed subsidies, and even then only 0.6 per cent of today’s global energy requirements come from renewable energy systems. The rest comes predominantly from coal, oil and gas, along with a growing but minor contribution from nuclear power.
Hartlepool, County Durham
Osborne, that’s rich
SIR – George Osborne’s claim that Britain will be richer than the United States by 2030 is surely wishful, politically motivated nonsense.
America is self-sufficient in food supplies (and is also an exporter) and energy (particularly now with the exploration of shale oil, and vast quantities of minerals), and has a very large workforce – all ingredients needed to ensure economic success.
We, however, need to import large quantities of all of these at considerable cost to our economy.
R J Burn
Foreign aid disaster
SIR – It’s good to know that an extra £1 billion has magically been found to send overseas.
According to the Department for International Development, “UK aid only goes where it is most needed and where it will provide the very best results for taxpayers’ money”.
That’s a relief. Just think: it might have been wasted on recruiting a few thousand doctors and nurses to work in A&E.
SIR – You report that the inefficient spending of foreign aid was caused by government officials wresting with financial years ending on different dates.
Would they be the same officials who insist on ending the income tax year on the ridiculous April 5, when all other tax years run to March 31?
There is considerable evidence that business people, taxpayers and even tax officials would find their lives made much easier if income tax were accounted for in whole calendar months, instead of the present ludicrous system.
Perhaps the Chancellor could sort out this absurd anomaly in his next Budget speech.
Children need healthier lifestyles, not PE classes
Best foot forward: few children in modern Britain brave the elements on the way to school (Getty Images)
SIR – In my school days, we didn’t get more than a couple of hours a week for PE and it did us no harm. For causes of obesity, we need to look elsewhere: children being ferried everywhere by car; spending too much leisure time on sedentary hobbies – using computers rather than playing outside with friends; eating too much fast food rather than enjoying more nourishing family meals together.
It’s all too easy to blame the Government and conveniently ignore the harmful effects of changes in social patterns and lifestyle.
SIR – It is hardly surprising that the number of hours of PE undertaken each week is falling. We have seen a weakening in the regulations protecting school playing fields and no legal requirement for free schools to have any grounds at all.
At a time when the main response to the increase in demand for pupil places is to build temporary classrooms on playgrounds and playing fields, we have less outdoor space than ever for physical activity.
We need a radical approach to education in order to ensure continued access to the outdoors for children at school.
SIR – The decline in school sport began in the Eighties, when the unions decided that members should not give their time to after-school activities. Consequently, teachers withdrew their time helping PE staff run teams and clubs.
Then the powers that be decided that activities should not be competitive. Competition is character-building, and a good teacher is always able to temper the effects of winning and losing.
SIR – Tony Pay (Letters, January 15) refers to “Hermann Goering, a well-known collector”.
A more apt description would be “a well-known thief”. According to Frank Wynne in his book I was Vermeer, Goering “paid” Han van Meegeren for the fake Vermeer by returning around 200 paintings stolen from public and private collections across the Netherlands.
Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire
What’s in a name?
SIR – I was fascinated by the surname of one of your correspondents in Thursday’s paper – Fewster.
Apparently, it has origins as far back as the 12th century and means a woodworker. Even better, her first name is Trees.
Can anyone beat this for originality?
Walked to death
SIR – You report that researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that taking a brisk 20‑minute walk every day will help a person avoid the risk of early death. I first heard this theory 40 years ago, when I was living in Chicago, and I began an appropriate programme with my golden retriever at my side. Ten minutes into the third day, the dog died.
I have not walked briskly since, and if I abstain for two more months, I hope to reach my 84th birthday.
Castle Cary, Somerset
Globe and Mail:
On his way to the Philippines this week, the Pope was asked to pronounce on the question that has been on everyone’s minds: What limits should we draw around freedom of expression? The Pope answered, quite sweetly, that he would punch in the nose anyone who swore at his late mother. Then, more troublingly, he said, “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. … There is a limit.”
In fact, one can make fun of faith. In some cases, one should. And in all cases, one should be permitted to, under the law, without fear of flogging or bullets. The worst one should expect is (in the most heinous phrase of our new millennium) “giving offence.”
I personally have given offence to Catholics in these pages – once for wondering whether Pope Benedict was using his new iPad to search for Prada shoe sales and for referring to my great-aunt Sister Mildred in her long black habit as a “Dalek bride of Christ,” and once for wondering why the allegedly progressive Pope Francis was doing so little to examine the Church’s horrendous sex scandals.
Did I know in advance I was “giving offence”? Not really. I thought I was being cheeky. Similarly, I have been accused of being offensive by the fans of Murdoch Mysteries, by animal-rights activists and by monarchists. Here’s the thing: You cannot know in advance whom you will offend with your opinions. And for every person you do offend, another will be enlightened or amused or moved to question or simply so bored he turns the page.
I wish the fear of committing an imagined offence against a potential but hypothetical group of people had not kept most of Canada’s English-language newspapers and broadcasters from showing the cartoons that led to the slaughter of 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. I wish The Globe and Mail had published the contentious cartoons, so our readers could see for themselves, in context, what could possibly inspire such blood and savagery as a response. Here, I echo Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno, who holds a similar view about her paper not publishing the cartoons: “We do not wish to offend. That’s the thing. The deeply wrong thing.”
The New York Times, along with the majority of North American newspapers, did not print the most inflammatory cartoons. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, described a difficult decision made by executive editor Dean Baquet: “Ultimately he decided against it, he said, because he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers.”
But isn’t that defence not only self-serving, but insulting as well? Infantilizing, even. It assumes that all Muslim readers will react to the cartoons in the same way, as if they are incapable of filtering their opinions through any lens other than religion. A set of beliefs is just that; it is not a hive mind. The religious scholar Reza Aslan was all over television this week, repeating the idea that there is no one “Muslim world” – there are hundreds of millions of individuals who share some of the same beliefs. But not, by any means, all.
Self-censorship is a form of slow suicide for those of us in the news business, and a news outlet that tries to avoid giving offence will soon be printing one page a week. Every day, we pick our way through a minefield of the miffed. Slate magazine, quite rightly, dubbed 2014 “The Year Of Outrage.” It’s as if people believe there is a lost commandment that reads, “Thou Shalt Walk Through Life With Thy Feathers Unruffled.” But there isn’t. Something will always ruffle your feathers. We feel offended by transgressions against the belief systems that bind us, mainly sexual and identity politics. Why should religion – merely another belief system – be free from those slings and arrows?
Personally, as an atheist, I’m irritated by a lot of what goes on in the world, but I deal with it like a rational person, by muttering to myself on the bus. The opinion piece by radical cleric Anjem Choudary supporting the Charlie Hebdo killers was revolting, but I’m glad USA Today ran it – it doesn’t help to pretend these ideas aren’t out there, and I’d rather see them in the light of day. Similarly, while I think the French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has proved himself a vile anti-Semite, and his public declaration of fellow-feeling for the kosher supermarket killer was stupid and insensitive, I don’t think he (or anyone else) should be arrested for a Facebook post.
Yet there will be more. In the days after the attacks, France made 54 terror-related arrests, and 37 of them involved something called “condoning terrorism.” What does that mean? After the mass rally in Paris, 12 interior ministers of European countries issued a joint statement, which contained buried in it an ominous declaration of a crackdown on speech that incited extremism.
Again, what kind of speech is that? Who gets to decide what the limits of expression are? At the moment, it’s the state, with its formal power, and religion, with its historical legacy of compelling obedience. You could consider that offensive.
Sir – The response of the French to the disgraceful acts of murder and terrorism is admirable. The consensus throughout the neighbouring nations gives welcome support.
Published 18/01/2015 | 02:30
Sir – The response of the French to the disgraceful acts of murder and terrorism is admirable. The consensus throughout the neighbouring nations gives welcome support.
I wonder where were the demonstrations in this country in response to the horrific acts of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Ireland?
I recall multiple marches demanding the setting free of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four – but not one calling for the elimination of terrorism. Indeed it seems to be a badge of honour amongst certain politicians to have supported the IRA.
Liberals the new establishment
Sir – Much of Brendan O’Connor’s article ‘Are we really champions of freedom of speech?’ was insightful and honest. He writes, ‘There is a certain consensus in Ireland on social issues like abortion and gay marriage….anyone who falls outside of that consensus and who dares to express any opinions that do not concur with the accepted liberal truths is immediately branded some kind of right-wing Catholic nutjob.”
Freedom of speech and religious liberty are surely meaningless concepts in Ireland if Catholics do not have the right to practice and to profess those beliefs on issues such as the protection of unborn life, gay marriage, and euthanasia.
Many in the media have created an environment that is hostile to opinions that differ from liberal orthodoxy. People of faith are often fearful of expressing their beliefs.
The interesting irony is that while, formerly, liberals attacked the intolerant establishment, they have now in turn become the new intolerant establishment.
We need time to forgive the past
Sir – I watched with admiration the gathering of politicians and general public to show defiance and also support for free speech last Sunday in Paris.
Thanks be to Jaysus we do not have Sinn Fein in government – with Gerry Adams leading the fight against terrorism at a demonstration like this where genuine feelings of peace and love was the priority.
Anybody over the age of 55 knows what our country went through and cost in lives, misery and monetary terms of the Troubles. We can forgive – but let us have a bit more time! Our memories are still too raw!
Je suis Charlie.
SF silence on Paris was overwhelming
Sir – The overwhelming silence of Sinn Fein on the deaths in Paris is something to behold. I suppose they are having a little difficulty with the freedom of press since Gerry’s little joke in New York. Plus, of course, deaths of police personnel.
They have a little difficulty with that too – remember Adare, June 1996?
Why didn’t they just come out and condemn the acts of the terrorists? They’ve been lying through their teeth about everything for years so it’s not like anybody would have noticed.
Unfortunately, I have to withhold my name from this letter since I am a Catholic living in the North and criticizing SF isn’t good for your health.
Since they’re expected to take a load of seats at the next election, residents of the Republic are soon to understand this. Good luck with that.
(Name and address with Editor)
Terrorists do win sometimes
Sir – Dan O’Brien’s piece on Paris is headed ‘Terrorists won’t, and can’t win’. This is naive. We only have to look close to home to see that terrorists do win and true democrats are marginalised.
French identity needs Jews
Sir – In the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities in France, I feel that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was rash in urging French Jewish citizens to come “home” to Israel.
France is their home. It is the place where they were born and raised. French is the language they speak. French culture is inherent to them and is part of their very essence.
Netanyahu’s offer was a compassionate gesture which was appreciated by Europe’s largest Jewish population, but if many take up his offer then France will have lost part of its identity and it would be seen as a victory for the terrorists.
Keep the pen close at hand
Sir – I have to congratulate Willie Kealy on his excellent article in last week’s Sunday’s Independent (‘We need fire in our hearts to protect our freedoms’).
As short as it was, it said it all.
Just a few quotes: “Freedom is a precious thing. It must never be taken for granted.”
And he then goes on to say that the majority of people in the world do not enjoy the kind of freedom that we have in this country – flawed though it is.
And last but not least, putting ourselves in danger could be something as simple as taking a pen in our hand to make a point about freedom or anything else for that matter.
Well be assured Mr Kealy, I for one, have every intention of keeping my pen in my hand, otherwise we let the bullies win.
Has anything really changed?
Sir – Someone draws a cartoon of a holy man depicting him in a way that makes some fanatics feel he has been disrespected. Three of these fanatics decide to become judge, jury and executioner. Twelve people were initially murdered, including a defenceless policeman who had nothing to do with cartoons.
All over the world people of all beliefs stood in solidarity to show their sympathy. Has it changed anything?
We need manners and courtesy
Sir – I refer to Ruth Dudley Edwards’s piece (Sunday Independent, 11 January). I cannot understand how she can think it is okay to ridicule and lampoon individual organisations in the public press.
I have not read all of the commentary on the outrages in France, but nowhere have I seen any reference to the desirability of exhibiting good manners and courtesy to our fellow humans.
I often get the impression that writers and opinion-formers consider themselves to be exalted superior beings looking askance from above on the rest of the population – and on religious people in particular.
In championing the removal of our blasphemy law from our statute books, Ms Dudley Edwards doesn’t seem to have considered what may happen if belittled and denigrated people or organisations have no recourse ot the law.
Be careful what you wish for Ms Dudley Edwards!
Read what James Connolly said
Sir – John-Paul McCarthy suggests James Connolly has little to teach today’s Ireland (Sunday Independent, Jan 11).
Really? Is this the same Ireland that was economically broken by the misdeeds of an unholy alliance of bankers, developers and compliant politicians?
That is certainly not the sort of society Connolly or the men and women of 1916 fought and died for. Rather than plucking selective quotes in a cheap attempt to portray Connolly as a “warmonger” – and there was no more vociferous opponent of the senseless slaughter of WWI – your columnist might read what Connolly had to say about people’s everyday lives..
As we approach the centenary of the event that led directly to our freedom, one James Connolly quote is probably worth noting: “The freedom of a nation is measured by the freedom of its lowest class.”
James Connolly Heron,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6