Christmas, alternative medicine and others

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Don't they know it's Christmas - not the Santa Claus festival?

Don't they know it's Christmas - not the Santa Claus festival?

Sir: It appears to be politically correct to suppress anything to do with the nativity of Christ at Christmas, but not to suppress Santa Clauses and Christmas trees.

Several councils have done this. They say expressions of Christmas are offensive to other religious groups, but they allow forests of Christmas trees - honoured in Germany because they remain green for the birth of Christ, and introduced into Britain by Prince Albert - and armies of Santa Clauses, a mixture of St Nicholas, a Christian bishop and Kris Kringle, a character in Norse mythology.

I've known Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and they are not offended by cribs and posters of the nativity. These images are understood and tolerated by other faiths. What they can't understand is Santa Clauses and Christmas trees - but how many people do? Intolerance comes from those who have no faith. People of different religious faiths respect one another's beliefs and differences. People with no religion would suppress all expressions of religion, and use the banner of political correctness to hide their real intolerance of any system of beliefs.

Christmas begins with Christ, and there should be cribs and nativity posters everywhere to indicate that it is really about the birth of Christ. The account of his birth is also in the Koran. Muslims honour Jesus as a prophet. How can they be offended at celebrations of his birth? Why can't atheists be as tolerant as those of differing faiths?

Nantwich, Cheshire

'Irrational' remedies can still work

Sir: Johann Hari is right to challenge traditional Chinese theories of acupuncture (3 December); but he needs reminding about babies and bathwater. The explanation might be irrational but the therapy could still be useful. We should seek a more rational explanation.

Acupuncture has some effects - and side-effects - that are really rather surprising when compared with conventional treatments. Examples include the drowsiness and fatigue that follow treatment, the delayed response and the cumulative effects over a course of treatment. The Chinese explained all this in accordance with the world view of the time, using their concepts of "qi" flow and meridians. We in the West are attempting to explain it using current scientific concepts: nerve and muscle.

Research into these areas has produced enough interesting findings to keep the debate alive: acupuncture clearly stimulates nerves, and seems to influence the spinal cord as well as the hypothalamus of the brain in ways that could explain the effects we see in our patients. Modern theories of muscle trigger points could well provide an explanation for what the Chinese called acupuncture "points", which is otherwise a challenging concept. Of course, we also need hard information from clinical trials, but first we need to find out exactly how and for whom acupuncture should best be used.

However, Chinese medicine is a good deal more subtle than Hari seems prepared to admit, and other concepts may yet be useful: for example, it provides a system for classifying patients that seems to predict whether they will respond to treatment - an almost fabulous potential that molecular genetics is eagerly addressing at this very moment.

We also do well to remember that world views continue to change and evolve. Some future issue of The Independent will quite likely carry an article by the Johann Hari of the day, ridiculing the "scientific" explanations of therapies that were all we could manage to produce given our limited vision in the early 21st century.

Editor, Acupuncture in Medicine
London WC1

Sir: Two cheers (at least) for Johann Hari and his attempted demolition of the claims of so-called alternative medicine. The greatest successes for such treatments are usually claimed for indeterminate conditions - such as backache or stress - that generally have a significant subjective component to their symptoms. In such circumstances, "traditional" medicine is often not particularly successful and there is clearly a desire among sufferers to seek alternative remedies.

What one gets by paying an alternative therapist is attention - far more than you will generally receive from your harassed, time-poor GP. And attention and care are wonderful balms to the oppressed spirit. No doubt the effect is enhanced by the desire to believe the cure will work, because one has paid so much.

I have rarely come across a person who claims to have been fully delivered from their illness by their alternative therapist, but they certainly feel a lot better for keeping going to see them.

Bolton, Lancashire

Sir: I can give Mr Hutchison the information he asks for about the homeopathic remedy for my cat (letter, 6 December). It is important, of course, to be sure of the diagnosis, for which you need a properly qualified vet. We are lucky because there are a few vets around here who use homoeopathy for some of the local farm animals.

My cat's pain was relieved by the remedy for arthritis, Rhus Tox. This can be bought at most chemists in the dosage given for acute cases (6C). Give it every two or three hours until improvement, then stop. Chronic cases would usually be treated with a different dosage. Renal failure is not as easy: there are several remedies for this and a choice must be made.

I don't think arthritis or renal failure can be "cured," but my cat needed no more veterinary treatment for arthritis, while steroid injections for the kidney failure were needed less often, thus reducing the number of visits to the vet. So the cat's life was prolonged and its quality improved and our money saved.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Cashpoint charges

Sir: Your article "The UK's most expensive cashpoint charges £10 a go - and why not?" (4 December) suggests the growth of charging ATMs is good in terms of choice and fair in terms of price.

While punters at a private club in Soho may choose not to walk round the corner to get their cash, a mother without access to private transportation often cannot make the same choice. Paying £1.75 is simply the only option. Which? does not believe this constitutes choice. In a world where fee-charging ATMs rose by 52 per cent, in stark contrast to 3 per cent for free cash machines, choosing not to pay appears to be a diminishing prospect.

I'd also like to clarify a point raised in the article. Which? did not say that every ATM in the UK will be charging by 2009. We did quote Nationwide statistics that indicate it is possible that surcharging ATMs could overtake free ones by that year.
Which? has no issue with the principle of "convenience" machines that surcharge, subject to three conditions: they do not encroach on consumers' free access to money; the machines should be clearly labelled so that consumers can make an informed choice; and the charge is fair and reasonable. Our concern, and the reason we welcome the Treasury Select Committee investigation later this month, is that all three of those conditions seem under threat.

Senior Policy Adviser, 'Which?'
London NW1

Writers unanimous

Sir: In her article about English PEN, Clare Longrigg predicts "a messy climax" and "new levels of bitterness" at the organisation's AGM on Thursday.

For the record, you may like to know that an atmosphere of harmony and unity prevailed throughout the meeting. All votes were passed unanimously. I was re-elected president by acclamation and, after the meeting, we continued in the spirit of conviviality with a very good Christmas party.

I suppose "concord all round" or "maintained levels of goodwill" do not make for a very good story but they would have been more accurate prophecies of our extremely successful meeting.

President, PEN
London EC1

Beating up burglars

Sir: As I approach the age of fourscore years and ten, I puzzle at what constitutes "reasonable force" to protect my property and apprehend an intruder (leading article, 6 December). In any prolonged struggle, I would likely be overpowered by someone a good deal younger than myself. Am I then justified in rendering such persons unconscious with a single blow from a blunt instrument?

Earlier this year, while on a trip to St Lucia in the West Indies, I returned to the apartment I had rented to find a young male intruder ransacking my possessions. I struggled with him but he overcame me and escaped. Upon reporting this to the local police, I was told that, in such circumstances, I should endeavour to cause sufficient injury to the intruder as to necessitate hospital treatment, as this would assist them in apprehending the intruder.

Kyle of Lochalsh, Highlands

Sir: In reply to Rod Heathcote (letter, 8 December), I would take issue with the assumption that "most of us have been the victim of crime or violence". I have lived in London all my life and can safely say that I have never been such a victim and the people I know who have suffered from crime or violence are in a small minority.

While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should have every right to defend themselves and their family in the face of an intruder or an attack, it is essential that we maintain some perspective. I sympathise with the experiences of Mr Heathcote and his family, but we must not been drawn into the hysteria of the less scrupulous elements of the media, who think nothing of creating panic unnecessarily in order to sell more newspapers.

London E4

Australia's heritage

Sir: As an Australian resident in London, I feel duty-bound to correct two errors in Kathy Marks's article on the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade ("Australia's birth or mob rule? Eureka divides a nation after 150 years", 4 December).

Australia Day, 26 January, is not "the commemoration of Captain Cook's arrival at Sydney Cove", but rather the date that Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet, unfurled the flag and took possession of the land (conveniently ignoring the local inhabitants). Cook (then a lieutenant) had arrived in 1770, further down the coast at Botany Bay.

Ms Marks asserts that Australia is a country "short of heroes and unifying myths". Has she never heard of the Anzacs, the Gallipoli campaign, Don Bradman, or even Our Kylie? And our "lack of grand historical events such as wars of independence" is, regrettably, compensated by our consistent eagerness to invite ourselves along to the military adventures of our great allies.

London N16

Audubon museums

Sir: If Liverpool gets an Audubon Room, or still better, a proper Audubon Gallery, that will be splendid ("The bird man of Liverpool", 8 December); but its claim to be "the first permanent gallery" to him is questionable. There has long been a John James Audubon Museum at Henderson, Kentucky, besides the Audubon State Commemorative Area at St Francisville, Louisiana.

London SW5


Sir: Contrary to the view of R J Hoskin (letter, 9 December), steam-age arithmetic is still useful. I am happy to use a calculator. But to eliminate error, it is essential to know the rough answer, obtained by simple arithmetic. This was brought home to my wife and me some years ago at Heathrow airport. Two people opposite were calculating the conversion of sterling into Italian lire. They were out by a factor of ten. After this was pointed out to them, it transpired that they worked in the Imperial College computer centre.

Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

Strategic gibberish

Sir: I loved Simon Carr's piece on departmental gibberish (7 December). We have been baffled by the following sentence which was in the recent government Public Health White Paper (p199): "This will encompass integrated strategy to develop a joint planning and commissioning strategy; integrated processes to involve health practitioners in utilising the common assessment framework and information sharing; and integrated front-line service delivery through multi-disciplinary teams and increasing co-location of health and other services." A plain English version should be produced as soon as possible!

London N1

Financial sacrifices

Sir: J Blincoe (letter, 10 December) points out that it is a viable option to live on full-time benefits to raise children, provided you accept the financial sacrifices involved but weigh them against the advantages to the children of having a full-time carer. That may well be so, but some acknowledgement of the taxpayers' contribution in all of this would have been appreciated. Of course if all of us with children chose to live off benefits, there would be far fewer tax payers anyway ... and presumably less benefit to be paid out.

Coggeshall, Essex