31 January 2015 GP/Sandy
A busy day GP comes and Sandy!
Professor Terence Miller, who has died two days short of his 97th birthday, was a geologist and palaeontologist who, as a university administrator, came under fire from extremes of Right and Left.
Early in his career Miller contributed sections on geology to volumes of Pevsner’s Buildings of England series; as a palaeontologist he isolated and identified a group of aquatic invertebrate animals, the Upper Palaeozoic Bryozoa. But as he recalled in an interview in later life he left his academic field just as things were beginning to get interesting: “It was becoming clear even in the 1950s that something was brewing… the preliminary ripples of momentous things. I found myself having to hold up tutorials whilst my bat-brain continued to crunch and grumble over the latest papers on geomagnetic sea-bed patterns, off-set faults, oceanic trenches, ophiolite belts and the like… In the end, I left geology never to return – alas, at exactly the wrong moment!” By the time geology had undergone the great “paradigm shift” to plate tectonics in the late 1960s, Miller had left the field.
In 1967, through British government auspices, Miller was appointed principal of the University College of Rhodesia, where the administration of Ian Smith had declared UDI two years earlier. Under British rule the college (now the University of Zimbabwe) had a special relationship with the universities of London and Birmingham and was constituted as an independent institution of higher education and research, open to all races.
Miller was deeply committed to this liberal multi-racial vision and therefore came into bitter conflict with the Smith regime. He was attacked as a “commie bastard” and was once given a dressing-down in person by Smith. When, in 1969, Rhodesia declared itself a republic, with a racist constitution, Miller resigned and returned home.
His African students petitioned him to reconsider, but he explained that he would only change his mind “if the Rhodesian Front Government were to disappear overnight in a cloud of smoke”.
Two years later he was appointed director of the newly formed Polytechnic of North London and found that he had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. The new institution had been formed from a shotgun marriage between two unwilling partners (the Northern and Northwestern Polytechnics), with an academic structure involving an unusually high level of student representation. At the time the polytechnic’s branch of the National Union of Students was in the grip of the International Socialists, a Trotskyist group for whom militancy for its own sake was a guiding principle. Even before Miller took up his appointment, the group had issued a statement promising “the most serious disturbances this country has yet seen in a polytechnic”.
They were as good as their word. Before Miller arrived, militant students staged an occupation of the polytechnic demanding that his appointment be rescinded (the fact that he had worked in Rhodesia was held against him and he was accused of “racism”, even “fascism”). He made his first appearance as director designate through a window as students had barricaded the door.
Troubles continued until the late 1970s. Students who did try to work during occupations were bullied, while non-Marxist university speakers found their lectures picketed or broken up. Governors’ and academic board meetings were invaded. Miller himself once received a black eye during a scuffle with protesters.
Miller’s somewhat autocratic, outspoken management style and his insistence on academic excellence (“elitism”, said his enemies) did not help, and some staff and governors joined students in campaigning for his dismissal. In a spirited defence of Miller in 1975, Lord Annan, provost of University College London, attacked the “brutal and brazen” treatment to which he had been subjected and declared the goings-on at the polytechnic to be a “public scandal”, but Miller did not always make things easy for his supporters. Admitting he was “not temperamentally a politician”, he once confessed that he itched “for the ability to say ‘Hang the ringleaders,’ ” adding: “One can’t unfortunately do it.” One of his key allies, Caroline Cox, the head of the sociology department, felt obliged to protest when Miller declared that “sociology is in about the condition chemistry was in when they called it alchemy.”
Terence Miller on a north Norfolk beach
Despite the enormous stress on him and his family, Miller soldiered on as director until 1980, when he took early retirement, by which time the main troublemakers had left. In fact even during the worst disruption, most students came to the polytechnic to work, and despite a brief drop in admissions for some courses, the institution (now London Metropolitan University), not only survived but prospered.
Terence George Miller was born on January 19 1918 in Cambridge to Scottish parents. His father was estates manager at Jesus College, and, after education at the Perse School, Terence won a scholarship to the college to read Natural Sciences.
His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he served, first, as a troop commander with Royal Artillery Special Forces in Norway, France, Holland and Germany and then, after a short spell in the Parachute Regiment, as a squadron commander in the Glider Pilot Regiment from 1942 until the end of the war.
After seeing action on D-Day, June 6 1944, he returned to RAF Brize Norton where he married Inga Priestman. On September 17 he returned to action at Arnhem, but was taken prisoner by the Germans on September 26 and was officially reported “missing, presumed dead”.
Sent to a camp on the Baltic coast, as the Allies advanced he and his fellow prisoners enjoyed taunting their guards by sidling up to them and whispering “Russki kom” while performing a throat-slitting gesture. He recalled the morning when the prisoners woke up to find the guards had disappeared and the whole camp was eerily quiet. As they emerged through the unguarded gates they heard the sound of an approaching tank. It stopped a short distance from them, the turret opened and a Russian soldier enquired “benzin?” (petrol?). Hastily denying all knowledge, they set off towards the western Allied lines ahead of the approaching Russians.
In 1948 Miller returned to Cambridge to complete Part II of his undergraduate studies, graduating with a First in Geology and a Harkness Scholarship.
He remained at Jesus as a research fellow, publishing two general interest books, Geology (1950) and Geology and Scenery in Britain (1953). It was through his Cambridge geology professor and mentor, Percy Allan, that he was commissioned to assist with sections on geology for the Pevsner series.
Miller continued his academic career at Keele University where he was a founding member of the Geology department. In 1965 he was appointed to a chair in Geology at Reading University. Until he left for Rhodesia, he continued his involvement with the military as a lieutenant colonel in the TA, serving in Germany, the Canadian Arctic, East Africa and Borneo where he applied his geological expertise to military engineering.
Following his retirement, Terence Miller and his wife Inga moved to Falmouth, where he enjoyed researching military history and sailing a series of dinghies in the bay. In later life they moved again to north Norfolk where he developed skills as a sculptor. Inga, who died in 2012, was a trained artist who had her own studio.
Terence Miller is survived by their son and three daughters.
Professor Terence Miller, born January 19 1918, died January 17 2015
Mitochondrial diseases are devastating inherited conditions that can lead to serious disability and death. They are passed from mothers to children, often striking at a very young age, and are caused by faulty mitochondria – the “batteries” that provide cells with energy. These diseases cannot usually be treated or prevented. New IVF techniques, collectively known as mitochondrial donation, offer some affected families the opportunity to have healthy children. The UK hosts a world-class team at Newcastle University developing this technology, which is ideally placed to be among the first to treat patients. British law, however, does not currently permit its use.
Since 2007, the UK has run an exemplary and internationally admired process for considering benefits, risks, ethical issues and public consent, which must properly precede a change in the law. This has revealed broad public, ethical and scientific support for approving mitochondrial donation, so that the fertility regulator can license clinical use when there is sufficient evidence it is safe enough to proceed.
As experts in this field, we consider the UK’s system for regulating advances in reproductive medicine to be among the world’s best. This benefits patients, science and society, by enabling medical progress with appropriate consideration of risk and public opinion. We therefore hope that parliament will approve the government’s proposed regulations for mitochondrial donation. A positive vote would not only allow affected families to choose to use this new procedure under the care of the globally respected Newcastle team, with proper advice and safeguards; it would also be an international demonstration of how good regulation helps medical science to advance in step with wider society.
Professor John Carroll Professor of reproductive biology, Monash University, Australia
Prof John Christodoulou Chair of the Australian mitochondrial disease foundation and Western Sydney genetics programme head, Australia
Dieter Egli Assistant professor of development cell biology, New York, USA; and senior research fellow at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute
Adam Eyre Walker Professor of evolutionary biology, Sussex
Professor Frances Flinter Consultant in clinical genetics, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital
Professor John Gearhart Institute for regenerative medicine, Philadelphia. Member of the FDA advisory committee
Professor Susan Golombok Director, Centre of Family Research, Cambridge
Professor Michael Hanna Consultant neurologist; director, MRC Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases, London
Dr Stephen Harbottle Chair, Association of Clinical Embryologists, Cambridge
John Harris Professor of Bioethics, Manchester
Outi Hovatta Professor in obstetrics and gynaecology, Stockholm
Howard Jacobs Professor of mitochondrial genetics and molecular biology, Tampere, Finland
Martin Johnson Emeritus professor of reproductive sciences, Cambridge
Professor Richard Kennedy President-elect, International Federation of Fertility Societies and executive director, women and children’s services, Australia
Thomas Klopstock Professor of neurology and speaker of mitoNET, Germany
Nils Goran Larsson Managing director, Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing and professor of mitochondrial genetics, Cologne
Shoukhrat Mitalipov Director, Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy, Oregon
Professor Carlos Moraes Department of neurology and cell biology and anatomy, Miami. Sat on FDA committee
Gail Norbury Chair for genetics and reproductive sciences, London
Guido Pennings Professor of ethics and bioethics, Belgium
Alexandre Quintanilha Worked on mitochondrial bioenergetics, Portugal
Mike Ryan President Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Melbourne
Mark Sauer Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology; vice-chairman Ob&Gyn chief, New York
Julian Savulescu Director, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics
Randy Schekman Nobel prize, physiology of medicine 2013, Berkeley, California
Sonja Schrepfer Professor of transplant and stem cell immunobiology, Hamburg
Hongying Sha Professor, department of neurobiology, China
Joe Leigh Simpson President, International Federation of Fertility Societies, USA
HJM Smeets Professor of clinical genomics, Netherlands
Jan Smeitink Chairmen, Nijmegen Centre for Mito Disorders, Netherlands
Evan Snyder Former chair, FDA committee; director, Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, Sanford
Julie Steffan Genetics of Mito disorders, Paris
Carolyn Sue Professor and director of neurogenetics, Sydney
Seang Lin Tan Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Canada
Atsushi Tanaka Director, Saint Mother Obs and Gynae clinic and institute for ART, Japan
David Thorburn Director, genetics research theme and head of mitochondrial research, Melbourne
Anna Veiga Scientific director of reproductive service, Barcelona
Anu Suolmalainen Wartiovaara Professor of clinical molecular medicine, Helsinki
Dagan Wells Associate professor, Nuffield department of obstetrics and gynaecology, Oxford
Massimo Zeviani Director MRC mitochondrial biology unit, Cambridge
I invite Suzanne Moore (G2, 29 January) to come to a local party meeting in Stoke so she can check her claim that the Greens are a party of “middle-class do-gooders”. Meet Jan Zablocki, a Communication Workers’ Union activist who will be standing against Tristram Hunt in Stoke Central. Greens have long championed the idea of a telescopic state: big in some areas and small in others. There’s nothing “incoherent” about that – we want it big where it’s a guarantor of security for the poor and vulnerable, and small when it comes to surveillance, for example. Her claim that the Basic Income “falls to pieces when properly examined” would be more persuasive if she’d properly examined it. And her claim the party is anti-science is risible; it’s the only party that takes climate science seriously. But if the charge is that we don’t believe we should do things just because we can do them (eg genetic modification), then we plead guilty.
Green politics is about much more than attracting the disillusioned Labour voter. It’s about environmental as well as social justice; about rewriting leftwing politics, not tearing up the rule book altogether.
Professor Andrew Dobson
• As Suzanne Moore argues, the Green party is trying to step into shoes that should be filled by a genuinely left alternative, like Syriza in Greece. It is precisely the task of growing such an alternative that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – which aims to stand 100 candidates in this year’s general election and 1,000 in the local elections – has set itself. The coalition includes the RMT union, a host of trade union fighters, community campaigners and socialists. Unlike the Greens, we are anti-austerity not just in words, but in deeds. Our conference last weekend was addressed by rebel councillors from Hull, Leicester, Warrington and Walsall, all of whom have taken a defiant stand and voted against cuts – facing expulsion from their Labour groups as a result.By contrast, Brighton’s Green councillors have obediently passed on millions in central government cuts to ordinary people in the city – with devastating consequences for many lives. The Greek elections marked a turning point in the battle of European workers and young people against austerity. The task of building a real alternative to the mainstream parties of the 1% is urgent. In this year’s elections, it will be TUSC that represents the opportunity of a clean break with the cuts consensus.
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
• Where has Suzanne Moore been while the Socialist Alliance, Respect and numerous others have fizzed and faded and the Greens have made steady progress? The Marxist left in Britain couldn’t grow bacteria in sour milk. Suzanne’s inability to support the only viable anti-austerity party illustrates the sectarianism that scuppers every effort. I am an advocate of green economics and happy to be a non-Marxist Green. But I am delighted by Syriza’s victory.
• Far from being anti-science, puritanical and incoherent on economics, the Green party is the one which takes climate science most seriously and links that to corporate exploitation of the Earth’s finite resources, challenging the corporate power to which the mainstream parties are so wedded – witness how none of them will oppose the TTIP outright, despite massive and growing public rejection of it.
The Greens are often in the lead in fighting austerity locally, and that means alongside working people, and the workless, groups such as Taxpayers Against Poverty, and claimants who are punished by the state and vilified by the media. The utopians are those in the Labour party who still believe, against all the evidence of increasing inequality, that bowing to the mantra of deficit reduction and corporate investment on the owners’ terms will benefit working people. We need public investment and a million green jobs, and an end to cuts which go so far as to kill some of the most vulnerable.
• As George Monbiot says (Opinion, 28 January), the Greens’ policies are more equitable and socially responsible than those of Miliband’s Labour. But they have one dangerous electoral blind spot: immigration. Green policy is for unrestricted immigration, from inside and outside the EU, apparently with no questions asked. This is madness for a party that is supposed to be fighting for long-term sustainability and an end to the pursuit of endless growth, and it makes no sense in terms of the ordinary perceptions of voters.
The UK, and especially England, is by world standards very densely populated. There needs to be a serious debate on the long-term numbers of people we want in this country. Food security, agricultural sustainability, balance of urban versus rural land, the needs of wildlife and ourselves for open green spaces, and simply the total impact of human density on our well-being and infrastructure all need to be properly discussed, not brushed under the carpet. One would expect the Greens to be the party integrating these issues into a broader socioeconomic framework, yet they have no coherent population policy. Yes, vote Green, but many of us will be holding our noses, even so.
• George Monbiot makes the case for politics with a clear message: back what you believe and vote Green. But at what cost? In our constituency – Morecambe and Lunesdale, a Conservative-Labour marginal, the cost of not supporting Labour would be another four years of a Tory MP, contributing to the terrifying prospect of a government further hammering benefits, with cuts in basic services and increasing privatisation. So I shall work to see Labour returned. Nor shall I be holding my nose, as we have an outstanding candidate.
But there is a message that Labour must heed: people get involved in political debate when they sense that the debate is relevant to their lives. The votes on Scottish independence and in Greece show what happens when there is a politics of passion and belief. We want positive statements that our world does not have to be like this, and resources found for the fabric of our society – libraries and youth work, the arts and sport, school buildings and social care. We want core services – water, electricity, gas, railways – brought back into public ownership, and a benefit system that does not demean the people whom it should be supporting.
Lord Oakeshott’s support for a Miliband-led progressive government is the best solution on offer. Each of us should vote for the local progressive candidate – and those candidates have four years to find a way to work with us to transform the political landscape.
Emeritus professor Roger Clough
• Here in west Lancashire, a constituency which is as far from revolutionary as you could imagine, the red flag is flying in the local Green party. We are a radical, comprehensive and socialist party, more than the Labour party ever was.
I was a school boy in the impoverished 1930s, working in bomb alley (Croydon) 1943-45 then RAF Middle East, enthusiastically supporting Labour’s rescue of a true community for the next 30 years while working in industry and education, deploring the devastation by Thatcheron (partly rescued by Blair & Brown) over the next 35. • Now in my 90s, I plead with old and young to vote for the parties of the future to rescue fair pay and secure jobs, state-run health, essential services and public transport. Fairer taxation is vital to pay for that future. Many voters will recognise these essentials in the philosophy and aims of the Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP. I ask my party, Labour, not just to espouse these same essentials, but to make it clear a vote for these parties (lead by three highly talented women) will not be wasted, as they will be welcomed into a socialist government, as will those clearly on the left in Northern Ireland.
Mike Scott Archer
Sir, As part of my training as a public health inspector in the 1970s, I had to attend a ritual slaughter house (report and leader, Jan 30). Although the Jewish slaughtermen where highly skilled (the same could not be said of the Muslim ones), I shall never forget the look of terror in the eyes of an animal as it was turned upside down in a casting pen. Having had its throat cut it then kicked itself out of the pen as it bled to death. The method was then, and still is now, inhumane. There is no justification for slaughter without stunning and it should be banned, regardless of religious belief.
Sir, Choosing selectively from inconclusive scientific evidence to support an opinion that religious slaughter is less humane than conventional methods ignores the ample body of evidence that supports the opposite view that shechita, the Jewish method of slaughtering animals, is humane and conforms to all the principles of animal welfare. The British Veterinary Association appears not to be familiar with the broad range of far more serious animal welfare problems at slaughter, from the questionable mechanical stunning methods to issues surrounding handling and the woeful levels of mis-stunning. As you report, less than 1 per cent of all animal slaughter in the UK is by the shechita method.
Henry Grunwald, QC
Chairman, Shechita UK
Sir, With reference to your leader , the cutting of the throat in shechita must be done in one single cut. Like the guillotine in bygone France, death is instantaneous, even though the animal may convulse afterwards, and the slaughterer must be properly trained. The main problem with stunning is that the operation blemishes the animal so that it cannot be kosher, and the animal is not always rendered unconscious in a single bolt.
David J Dunitz
Sir, In stating that it defends the “rights” of Muslims and Jews to kill animals without stunning, Defra misapplies the concepts of equality and toleration. There are no such “rights”. There is a dispensation that allows these minorities to carry out an act forbidden to the majority. That majority does have the right to withdraw this dispensation if it now feels the act to be intolerably cruel. Only by having one clear law for all, and a single set of unifying cultural norms (such as freedom of speech, equality of the sexes, and, indeed, pre-stunning) can the issue be resolved.
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire
Sir, Supermarkets and restaurants are keen to inform us of the country of origin of their meat, whether it came from animals that were corn-fed, organically fed, free-range, outdoor-reared, outdoor-bred and so on. I should also like to be able to make an informed choice about which meat to consume depending on how the animal was slaughtered.
Sir, Your leader “Eat Less Meat” (Jan 28) includes the significant phrase “retain meat as part of a balanced diet”. The human digestive system, from tooth to rectum, is too short for an efficient herbivorous (vegetarian) diet and longer than needed for a carnivorous one. Our teeth allow for both chewing and biting (tearing). We are omnivores, whose past history is to eat whatever we could find, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. Our digestive system is a compromise well suited to a balanced diet. This balanced diet allows us to be very adaptable and is largely responsible for the evolution of modern humans. We should keep it that way.
David A Jones
Emeritus professor of genetics, University of Hull
Sir, Your leader is doubtless right that we should all eat less meat. But it is misleading to equate pasturage of cattle with that of sheep. Sheep are often grazed on land that is wholly unsuitable for arable crops or anything else, including forestry. And in Scotland (pace RP Fernando, letter, Jan 30) most of the animal is indeed eaten, as those who have recently attended Burns suppers can testify.
Dr Lindsay GH Hall
Sir, Pronuclear transfer (“three-person IVF”) does not give “a chance at life for children who would otherwise be condemned to suffer and die” (leader, Jan 29). On the contrary, this technique treats no existing child or adult: this is indeed part of the objection to the quite unnecessary risks the technique creates for those produced and their descendants.
The pronuclear material used in pronuclear transfer is not taken, as your leader claims, “from the intended mother”: adult women do not have pronuclei. This euphemistic phrase conceals the deliberate creation of an embryo from the egg of the woman who wants a baby: an embryo then used, together with a second donor embryo, for spare parts to create a third, genetically modified embryo.
Pronuclear transfer offers no advantage at all in terms of safety over conventional egg or embryo donation, let alone ethically uncontroversial approaches such as the decision to adopt. The question must be asked: why should the wish for a genetic connection of this unprecedented kind with the child one wants to raise be seen as trumping all the risks of germ-line modification for the child and future generations?
It is no answer to these risks simply to assure us that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will be licensing and monitoring trials. These risks can and should be avoided altogether by parliament simply refusing to grant in-principle consent for this or any other intervention on the human germ-line.
Dr Helen Watt
Senior research fellow, Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford
Why the Ship of Theseus is more like Trigger’s broom
Sir, The Ship of Theseus is not the only philosophical parallel to the step-by-step replacement of HMS Victory (letter, Jan 30). Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and Horses had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.
Trigger shares with Theseus the additional puzzle of which is the genuine article if the discarded parts are put together to form other brooms or ships. Your description of the decaying timbers on Victory suggests that this is not an issue in Portsmouth.
Rogate, W Sussex
Sir, I fear I am being overly influenced by the BBC’s production of Wolf Hall. I seem now to be always removing my headgear from the rear.
Sir, May I correct your report “Drivers foxed by attacks on car brakes” (Jan 29)? My 1926 Vauxhall has cable brakes (lengths of twisted wire that pull the right levers). Modern cars, though, have hydraulic brakes (in fact a misnomer) with oil in hoses where pressure pushes the right pistons. The poor fox’s teeth wouldn’t last long chewing the cables.
Chipping Norton, Oxon
Sir, The Curzon Soho, one of the busiest and best loved arthouse cinemas in the West End, is under threat of demolition to make way for Crossrail 2. This new railway may provide transport benefits, but these should not be at the expense of entertainment sites such as the Curzon — which is one of the reasons why people travel to Soho in the first place. An alternative solution must be found, otherwise Soho faces yet another catastrophic cultural loss with little gained in return.
Stephen Fry; Tim Arnold; Guy Hamilton; Benedict Cumberbatch; Colin Vaines; Alexander Parsonage; Howard Raymond, Save Soho Committee
SIR – Professor Sally Sheldon and a group of academics object to an attempt by parliamentarians to stop the selective abortion of girls (Letters, January 28).
This issue is one that the Telegraph exposed. It is about the abortion of girls purely on the ground of their sex – the first form of violence against women and girls.
The academics’ letter shows beautifully the need to clarify the law. For too long, confused interpretations of the 1967 Abortion Act have passed unchallenged. Professor Sheldon herself has written elsewhere that the idea that sex-selective abortion is illegal is “far from clear”. We cannot sit idly by as a preference for sons results in selective abortion of daughters.
The letter claims that action will require ethnic profiling. This was not true for female genital mutilation – a predominantly cultural practice – and need not be true for sex-selective abortion.
Our amendment to the Serious Crime Bill affords the Government an opportunity to combat the socially destructive practice of sex-selective abortion and sends a clear message about its illegality.
Fiona Bruce MP (Con)
Mary Glindon MP (Lab)
Angie Bray MP (Con)
Rob Flello MP (Lab)
Sir Edward Leigh MP (Con)
Jonathan Evans MP (Con)
Sir David Amess MP (Con)
Gary Streeter MP (Con)
Martin Vickers MP (Con)
SIR – The letter warning against Fiona Bruce’s measure to outlaw sex-selective abortion claims that “any doctor in Britain performing an abortion on a woman against her will would already be committing a crime”. However, such abortions are performed on the basis that a woman’s mental health will be worse if she does not have an abortion – despite many studies now showing that abortion leaves thousands of women with long-lasting psychiatric and psychological problems.
The signatories of the letter also warn that the amendment to the Bill “erodes women’s reproductive rights” as it “seeks to construe abortion as an offence against ‘the unborn child’ ”. But in a civil case about a claim for damages on behalf of a child disabled by foetal alcohol syndrome, the unborn child was defined as an “organism” without legal rights.
Woodford Green, Essex
SIR –The 47 academics and lawyers who signed the letter object to something being done about deliberate distortion of birth-gender ratios. They ignore the statistics of gender distortion from India, which are causing immense social problems there.
To make sex selection, as a motive for abortion, a specific crime would give clarity to our courts. To prevent abortions of female foetuses (the grossest form of gender inequality) is a worthy aim of MPs.
Dr Peter Sander
Include iGCSE in tables
SIR – The release of this year’s Department for Education performance tables (telegraph.co.uk/education, January 29) is a reminder of the absurdity of the decision not to include iGCSEs.
Many independent schools choose to study the iGCSE because of the rigor and excellent preparation for sixth-form study that it provides. Excluding iGCSE results from national statistics is an affront to hard-working students, confuses parents and misrepresents Year 11 achievement in England.
President, Girls’ Schools Association
SIR – America has JFK, Paris has Charles de Gaulle, Rome Leonardo da Vinci. Britain has John Lennon, Robin Hood and George Best.
On the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, we should consider honouring one of Britain’s greatest citizens by naming our principal airport after him.
Director, Churchill War Rooms
I have heard it said that Wordsworth tramped more than 175,000 miles in the Lake District: that is, six miles a day, on average, from the age of one.
The London School of Economics (of which George Bernard Shaw was a co-founder) tells me that Shaw wrote more than 250,000 letters in his long life: an average of about eight a day, assuming that he got into his stride at the age of four.
Is a chocolate-hazelnut spread sweet inspiration for your child’s name?
SIR – What’s in a name? I suspect many of us don’t like the name we were given, even if it isn’t exotic (Features, January 28).
My mother didn’t like the idea of names being shortened, so all three of us were given one-syllable names. I thought mine was the most boring name in the world.
A book I read had a character named Sophronia. How I longed to be named Sophronia instead of Anne. If I had been, I probably would have hated it just the same.
Rape and the law
SIR – How is a man supposed to prove a woman’s consent (“Tough new rules for police investigating date rape put greater onus on subject”, report, January 29)? A little pile of pre-printed forms by the bed?
More importantly, the basis of English law is the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved, a fundamental right in our civilisation.
Date rape will always be very much her word against his. Yes, she may have been too drunk to know what she was doing or she may have just had morning-after regrets. Who knows?
The sexual revolution of the Sixties, the Pill, and the removal of the old taboos made life a lot more fun, but sheer bad behaviour has taken it all too far. A woman’s fear of pregnancy has been replaced by a man’s fear of rape charges.
I don’t know the answer, but putting an impossible burden of proof on the man, and in the process overturning this vital legal principle, is categorically not it.
SIR – British drivers (Letters, January 29) still have very good roads. The people of Poland and the Czech Republic yearn for the days when they only had potholes, and not today’s eroded surfaces, valley-sized ditches and razor-edged humps.
Ostrava, Czech Republic
SIR – I recommend the fixmystreet.com website, which my wife and I have used successfully on many occasions to report dangerous potholes. Each report is directed to the council responsible and any motorist’s claims afterwards are justified. Local holes can be repaired very quickly.
Staines upon Thames, Surrey
SIR – Michael Carpenter’s tale of food kept safely under his policeman’s helmet (Letters, January 28) reminded me of the time our isolated cricket pavilion bar suffered a burglary for the third time in a week in the small hours of the morning. Our local constable was on the scene with our genial member and key holder, who offered him a pint of beer, which was accepted with grateful thanks.
Unfortunately the station sergeant turned up a few minutes later, and, in a possibly well-practised move, the constable calmly placed his helmet over the offending drink to report to his senior officer. He quietly removed the headgear and finished his well-earned pint once his boss had disappeared.
Rosey view of life
SIR – I was employed as an au pair by Judy and John Sinclair, both teachers at Le Rosey School in 1972 (report, January 27).
Considering that the children of some of the world’s richest parents went there, I was struck by how lovely and normal they were. On leaving, I was given a year book in which I was referred to as “Mr Sinclair’s maid” – the only indication that “the very rich are different from you and me”.
SIR – Is the recent excessive use of the word unprecedented unprecedented?
Dr Tony Bentley
Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire
Pardon my French approach to eating croissants
From scratch: an apprentice baker making pains au chocolat and croissants in Rouen
SIR – In 1961, aged 14, I arrived by train at breakfast time in Marseilles for my first exchange visit. I was presented with a bowl of coffee and a pile of croissants (Letters, January 29). I’d never seen a croissant before, nor had I ever been served coffee in a bowl.
I followed my hosts’ lead, dunking the pastry in the coffee – a practice outlawed in my home for being impolite. I failed to notice, however, that my hosts were also drinking their coffee from the handleless bowl – another no-no back in England.
I gradually mopped up the coffee but, with my 13th croissant, was dismayed to see some dregs still at the bottom of the bowl. I was defeated. I leant back in my chair, patted my tummy and uttered my first fully constructed sentence in French: “Je suis plein.” My hosts burst out laughing; apparently I had announced that I was pregnant.
Balcombe, West Sussex
SIR – If there are courses in croissant eating (Letters, January 26) they will be held in France; croissants are not an appropriate breakfast for the British.
SIR – I always follow my two breakfast croissants with a sliced banana, to which the crumbs adhere, leaving a clean plate. The dog deals with those on the floor.
The Russians took over concentration camps
SIR – This week we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (report, January 28).
However, we should not forget that many of the Nazi concentration camps did not cease being places of misery and death in 1945. In areas under control of the Soviet Union, the NKVD (the Soviet secret police) continued to operate many of the Nazi concentration camps into the Fifties. The camp names and inmates were changed: Buchenwald became NKVD Soviet Special Camp No 2, Sachsenhausen became NKVD Soviet Special Camp No 7.
National Socialist enemies of the state were replaced by Marxist socialist enemies of the state. But the regime of cruelty and murder continued.
Even parts of Auschwitz did not cease functioning as a concentration camp: the NKVD continued to hold inmates there for some years after 1945.
Osmund Stuart Lee
Globe and Mail:
Sir, – Many column inches have been expended on these pages discussing the nature of marriage, apparent or real. I have read appeals to reason and rationality, to sentiment and morality, to “real” and not “bogus” equality. Once in a while logic has reared its head.
Nothing about extending the definition of marriage in any way takes away from the current, traditional definition of marriage as the union between man and woman. We have been asked “do we really want to experiment”, “embark on a voyage into the unknown” and more.
Well, I can only write from experience. Five years ago I moved to one of the few countries that had long since allowed equal marriage. By then I had been married for six years. Strangely, not a day goes by when I emphatically do not wake up, say good morning to the missus, and lament how our marriage is not what it once was.
When I venture out, I never hear my Dutch neighbours discussing whether they should be allowed to marry their wife’s pet dog, adopt the donkey at the local petting zoo, or engage in equal union with the local red herring.
People meet and fall in love. Some marry and have children. Some don’t. They cycle up and down outside my window. They succeed and fail much as anywhere else. No one notices. No one says “wasn’t it so much better back then?” Life goes on. We have other fish to fry, not least struggling education, health and social services, public transport and infrastructure.
Get over it and vote Yes. You won’t notice the difference either. – Yours, etc,
The Hague, Netherlands.
Sir, – The cynicism of the Coalition with regard to the Children and Family Relationships Bill and the same-sex marriage referendum is breathtaking. Having realised that adoption rights are likely to be at the heart of objections to the referendum, the Government’s answer is to try and negate the possible unwillingness of the electorate to approve such a step by introducing it in legislation.
What is the urgency of this legislation if not to try and pre-empt objections to the referendum?
Why not wait until the referendum is passed before finalising this legislation?
It is also very difficult to understand how the proposed legislation could be construed as “guarding with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded”, as per (Article 41.3.1) of our Constitution. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The insistence of some commentators on repeating the slogan of the “child’s right to a mother and father” is merely a rhetorical sleight of hand primed substantially for emotional effect and obfuscation.
Clearly all children have a mother and father so I can only assume that what really is being implied is that a child has a right to be parented by one man and one woman. Even as a spurious and contentious aspiration any attempts to enshrine such a right would throw up a myriad of absurdities in our attempts to assert or vindicate it. No more than trying, say, to assert the child’s right to a brother and sister. The process becomes futile and tiresome.
If commentators feel that same-sex couples or single parents are unsuitable for the role of parenting, please say so and explain why. This would save us all from the turgid dissembling and humbug.
Of course this really is a side issue to that of marriage equality and I find myself getting lured into this sideshow of “children’s rights”. I suspect that this has been the intention all along. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am at a loss to understand the obsession with the “Heathrow slots”. In certain quarters these are regarded as a vital strategic interest in terms of connectivity to the “outside” world, ie beyond the “British Isles”.
Connectivity is an oxymoron when applied to an overcrowded, runway deficient, multi-terminal sprawl like Heathrow which operates outdated air traffic control systems together with poor inter-terminal communications.
I cannot help thinking that a lot of this obsession with Heathrow is a post-colonial hangover and that losing these slots would be akin to cutting our umbilical cord to the “motherland”. These views are especially amusing when coming from the “nationalist” end of the political spectrum.
Most experienced long-distance flyers of my acquaintance avoid Heathrow like the plague in favour of Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris. In fact thousands of passengers from the UK are now using Dublin as a hub specifically to avoid Heathrow. We now have direct flights to the Gulf and will shortly have direct flights to Africa.
We should sell off Aer Lingus when we can, at a price reflecting its “valuable slots” and use the money to build something that we really need, like a new children’s hospital. – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – I see that a number of TDs are concerned about their chances of re-election in the event of an imminent sale of Aer Lingus, particularly those in constituencies close to Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports (“Coalition TDs voice concern over Aer Lingus”, January 29th).
The comment has been made that this “a year one issue” and not ” a year five issue” in terms of the life of a government. Perhaps Enda Kenny could have a quiet word with Willie Walsh and ask him to come back with an offer in 2017 when the country will, once again, reopen for business? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The torrent of invective directed at President Michael D Higgins by anti-water charges protesters in Finglas last Thursday was nothing short of disgraceful; an act of wanton stupidity that has done untold damage to their albeit quite legitimate cause.
How could they possibly justify the abuse meted out to this essentially apolitical head of state?
Irish Water must be having a field day! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I deplore the abuse hurled at President Michael D Higgins, but cannot agree with Noel Whelan (Opinion & Analysis, January 3rd) that it “represents a new low”.
Perhaps the social standing of the abusers is not quite as exalted as those whose abuse of President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh induced his resignation from the presidency in order to uphold the dignity of Ireland’s highest office.
I realise that much water has flowed under the bridge since the Ó Dálaigh resignation, but I’m sure many of your readers can remember the squalid behaviour of the then government. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If only the water protesters had restricted themselves to calling the President a thundering disgrace, it would surely have been acceptable to the governing parties. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Government has dropped proposals to allow a legislative clause that would allow for the banning of sponsorship of sports by alcohol interests (“Alcohol sponsorship Bill dropped”, January 24th). This spineless climbdown in the face of pressures from the drinks industry must rank as a shameful betrayal of people of all ages in our population, but particularly children and other young, impressionable people who will continue to be subject to the most subtle and insidious advertising and promotion techniques that the drinks industry in this country can fund out of its already enormous profits. It is a sad state of affairs when our Ministers for Health, Children, Social Protection and Justice in particular can absolve themselves of any responsibility for the wellbeing of people whose lives will continue to be directly or indirectly blighted by alcohol abuse as a result of the decision of this Government to cave in to very powerful vested interests in the drinks sector. – Yours, etc,
Dr MICHAEL J LOFTUS,
Sir, – The appearance of Michelle Obama in public in Saudi Arabia with her hair uncovered in the presence of King Salman has provoked “shock and outrage” in the conservative kingdom (“White House defends first lady’s attire in Saudi Arabia”, January 29th).
I myself experienced the same feelings of shock and outrage when I recently viewed footage of the state-directed execution in Saudi Arabia of a Burmese woman who was dragged through the streets before being hacked to death as she continued to plead her innocence up the moment of her brutal beheading. Naturally her executioners ensured that she wore a suitable head-covering for her last appearance in public. Can you imagine the outrage otherwise?
Bravo to Michelle Obama and other women who chose to not cover their hair. Why should free women adopt a symbol of subservience as the price they must pay to show “respect” to their medieval-minded hosts? – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN GIBBONS,
Castlebar, Co Mayo.
Sir, – The teaching unions (and many others) are adamant that in principle having them mark their students will damage the relationship with their pupils and the objectivity of the independent exam. The Minister for Education is willing to compromise by asking that 40 per cent of the students’ marks be teacher assessed.
A simple solution – all teachers should give all pupils the maximum 40 per cent automatically. The Minister’s requirement would be met in principle, the pupils would love their teachers for giving full marks and the remaining 60 per cent in the final exam would be the independent distinguishing factor. Everybody’s happy! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It was with real interest (if not quite with bated breath) that I opened this morning the payslip which contained details of my first monthly pension payment since the last budget. What I found was that I was richer by some €30 per month. On closer examination, it appeared that tax reductions of some €55 had been offset by a rise in my VHI subscriptions of almost half of that. Swings and roundabouts, then; or, as I prefer to think of it, a new and rather less exhilarating version of “slap and tickle”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Ciaran Hancock quotes the views of pensions ombudsman Paul Kenny on the notorious 2011 pension levy (“Pension levy on private sector not always ‘fair’”, January 29th).
While questioning the levy’s fairness, Mr Kenny considered it “legal”. I am one of those whose private-sector workers whose pension has suffered a permanent reduction. Unlike those in the public sector, people like me have no hope of seeing this austerity measure reversed. We have to “suck it up”, as we have had to do with so many other impositions over the past four years and more. But the difference between this levy and the other tax increases is that this one targeted our life savings. Our pensions were fully funded by us and our employers.
The genius of this levy was that the Coalition at last found a way of pillaging our bank accounts. Moreover they were decently quiet about it. The levy was passed through the Oireachtas without a whimper. Was there any other €2.1 billion imposition in the history of the State that was introduced more furtively?
If I had a good lawyer and a lot of money, I’m sure I could disprove Mr Kenny’s claim that it was “legal”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – You report that more than 380,000 people are waiting for hospital outpatient appointments. The article cites the HSE’s “performance assurance report” (“HSE figures show lengthening hospital waiting lists”, January 29th).
I wonder how long the HSE took to come up with that magnificent title for the report. It seems safe to suggest that at least 380,000 people have long since failed to be assured that the HSE is performing. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Given the title of the position, is it not the role of the Ceann Comhairle to knock heads together now and then? – Yours, etc,
Beaumont, Dublin 9.
Sir, – Further to your interesting article on passive houses (“Passive house gets Pat Cox’s vote”, January 29th), Mr Cox is not a consultant on the planned trans-European motorway from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Mr Cox is the European Coordinator for the Scandinavian-Mediterranean corridor, which crosses seven European countries from the Finnish-Russian border to Malta, covering all transport modes. The role of the European coordinator is provided for in EU law. He has a mandate from the European Commission and reports to the European Parliament and the member states. His main role is to facilitate the implementation of the Scandinavian-Mediterranean corridor and to make recommendations in areas such as transport development or access to financing and funding sources. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was pleased to hear of Iarnród Éireann’s plan to extend a rail link to Dublin Airport, as expressed by its chief executive David Franks earlier in the week.
Perhaps as a first step towards general rail connectivity, it could contemplate closing the seven-minute gap between the arrival of the 21:35 service from Belfast to Dublin Connolly and the departure of the last Dart service from the same station. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Can someone please explain why there is still no car park at the Cherrywood/Brides Glen end of the green Luas line in Dublin and is one ever going to be built? It is an impossible place to get to on public transport. – Yours, etc,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
The Government has announced its job creation strategy just one year after the ‘Economist’ magazine, a far from left-wing publication, warned of a “tsunami of unemployment sweeping over the world that no government prepares for”.
The Irish Government is certainly not preparing for such an eventuality and, in fact, enacts a policy which is in direct opposition to the reality of employment in the 21st Century.
Last night, I paid my house insurance online; I got 5pc discount for using modern technology which involved no input from any other person in the insurance company or a bank to transfer my money and acknowledge the transaction.
I then conducted some financial payments and transactions through on-line banking.
This morning, I took a friend to Ireland West Airport; he booked his flight to Liverpool online and had his boarding pass on his i-Phone. Incidentally, the return flight cost just €41.
While drinking a cup of excellent coffee from an automatic dispenser, I read the morning newspapers (online) and noticed an advertisement for 10-minute laser eye surgery which provides 20/20 vision eliminating the need for spectacles or contact lens for life at less than €600. I also learned that Apple made, transported and sold 85 million i-Phones in a quarter – a potential for 340 million in a single year.
I think it is fair to presume these miracles of modern technology are not produced by hand. The Irish, and indeed all governments, plan employment policy as if modern technology did not exist and makes no impact whatsoever on economic activity.
Production of goods and services no longer depends on human labour; awesome automation and robotics can produce much more wealth than all the workers in the world ever could.
The distribution of wealth, however, is totally dependent on employment. Work is in decline but employment must be sustained; it is time for the governments of the world, including our own, to wake up.
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
Lowry’s note from another era
Deputy Lowry’s ‘lovely girl’ note to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed to me that I had gauged him correctly as a politician and a man of a past era.
His comments about the woman’s looks are something that should have remained in his head and not have been put to paper. I am really writing as a result of hearing him on the radio attempting to justify his comments. He should have been on to resign and apologise.
He says his comment “and not bad-looking either” was not sexist. He says he did not mean it as a sexist remark but he is not considering the fact that the comment was sexist and he cannot change that fact. Would he have commented on a man’s looks in the same way?
He then goes on to say that women have no issues with comments about their hair, shoes, clothes etc.
Does he seriously believe his comment about facial looks is the same as commenting on material things that a woman or a person may wear?
He also states that the lady in question was qualified academically for the position. If that is the case, why did he mention her looks?
TDs are there to do right by the nation and not there to look after their constituency.
Swords, Co Dublin
We’re (sadly) not the Greeks
With indications that Europe will eventually cut a deal with Greece, the ‘sign of the fingers’ to Ireland is going to be painful.
Credit for the deal Ireland should have achieved from her European partners would have stood her well in the halls of future dealings with Europe, and at a global level. We have a proven ability to impose huge taxes on our citizens to repay immoral debts, and our economy is doing ‘very well’, thank you. It is too late to cry that there is an inability to pay.
Instead, the brave Greeks will now inherit that badge of honour – bravery. We just didn’t have it when it mattered. When the Greeks said, “We’re not Ireland’, it was met here with some audible cringing.
Looking to the future
Your front page photograph of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton (Irish Independent 30/01/2015) togged out in virtual-reality goggles, succinctly – albeit unwittingly – captured the essence of our Government; ineptitude, sanguinely feeling its way.
Threat to our way of life
Will the people who never worked a day in their lives consider government promises of full employment by 2018 a threat to their way of life and social identity?
Skype’s the limit for our TDs
Michelle Mulherin’s recent call for Skype to be available to TDs would be tantamount to bringing a microphone into government buildings.
In fact, probably worse, as Skype can also allow video chat. I don’t know about you, but I’m not so sure I would want some stranger reading my personal information that happens to be on Ms Mulherin’s desk when she calls Kenya for a chat.
This moronic Skype idea is nearly as stupid as allowing online voting, and that’s saying something.
Who signed off on this expensive phone bill?
Unbearable use of language
Recently I read the following in a theatre column in a Toronto newspaper: “Diane Flacks turned the birth of Eli, the first son she and her wife, Janis Purdy, had, into the hysterically funny book (and later play) ‘Bear With Me’.”
Surely such Alice-in-Wonderland distortion of language points to a deeper, and fundamental distortion in what is being described?
Ceann Comhairle’s role
Seán Barrett TD has long been an admirable public servant and a former Minister for Defence (1995-1997), but he is constitutionally unsuited to the role of Ceann Comhairle.
Our Ceann Comhairle should take a leaf from the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow: “If someone is being very cheeky, it can be quite fun to deal with that situation.”
On the other hand, the role of Speaker was quite perilous in the distant past in Britain; seven such office holders were executed by beheading between 1394 and 1535!
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16