IoS letters, emails & nline comments (1 February 2009)

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By curtailing prisoners' activities aimed at rehabilitation the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw reveals himself as a self-righteous prig and a bully ("Straw clamps down on prison comedy classes", 25 January). A prig, because he can't see any role for humour at all. A bully, because he's very good at taking out his self-righteousness against those who cannot retaliate via the ballot box, yet is deeply afraid of Rupert Murdoch, whose newspaper drew attention to the prison scheme.

What kind of prison environment would be to the liking of these tabloid potentates? The Lubyanka, maybe? Or perhaps, more logically, prisons such as Attica in New York State, in which rehabilitation was right off the agenda, leading to serious riots in 1971 that left 39 people dead – both guards and inmates.

Nigel Baldwin

Portsmouth, Hampshire

I spent five years in prison, just after the Woolf report was published in 1991. I saw amazing changes in terms of yoga classes, increased education and theatre groups, all guaranteed to lift self-esteem and allow prisoners to boost their creativity and self-worth. Then Michael Howard became Home Secretary and everything changed. Even the prison officer who had dressed as Santa for the visiting children of Styal prison was told he could no longer do it because Howard was scared the newspapers would find out. Now we have Straw, a man like his name, blown over in one breath by the tabloids. No inner authority, no strength.


posted online

If Bishop Richard Williamson had said something really unforgivable, such as that contraception was not a sin, or that the story of the Virgin Birth was untrue, he would not have been readmitted to the church ("Pope readmits Holocaust-denying priest to the church", 25 January). There is a wealth of evidence and live testimony to support the existence of the Holocaust and use of gas chambers, yet there is neither to sustain the fundamental beliefs of the church.


posted online

In the outcry about the BBC's refusal to broadcast the Disaster Emergency Committee's appeal it is being suggested that the corporation is biased towards Israel. Why is the BBC apparently less concerned about this, than about an apparent bias towards the Palestinians, if the appeal were to be broadcast?

Roger Hart

by email

Sadie Gray is right to bust one of the myths about divorce ("Why divorce makes women the poorer sex", 25 January). Many women just want to get the divorce over with, and compromise heavily. They live in houses they will have to sell as soon as the youngest child reaches a certain age, while their ex-spouse is able to then cash in on what has been a growing investment that he may not necessarily have contributed to by covering maintenance costs, or, as in one case I know, even contributing to the mortgage.

Suzy Miller

Posted online

It's a great idea to put parkour into schools ("Free running could be taught in secondary schools", 25 January). It will give the children something to do instead of just wandering around the streets, and will also lower the crime rate. Parkour is not used to run away from the police, as it is represented in films, but is a way of escaping from life's problems. It can also relieve stress as you express yourself through your movement.


posted online

In what way has Burns been "snubbed" in England ("Burns speaks for Scotland...", 25 January)? English schoolchildren are as likely to study him as, say, Keats or Cowper. He may well be Scotland's finest poet and he should be more widely read, but so should Tennyson, who is even further down our cultural radar screen, Pope, Shelley, Coleridge and dozens of others who, unlike Burns, don't have the advantage of an annual orgy in their honour.


posted online

Robert Burns was a great man. Here in Ireland I've heard "Parcel of Rogues" done by Irish balladeers many times, sometimes changing the lyric slightly to refer to Ireland directly. Burns's legacy will live on both in Scotland and across the wider world for his genius with the written word and his unique style.


posted online

I can beat your first butterfly sighting by two and a half weeks ("Early birds", 25 January). My father has a picture of a small tortoiseshell butterfly in my house in Peterborough on New Year's Day. It lived in my lampshade for a couple of days – who could blame it, it was freezing outside – and then disappeared.

Helen Phillips

Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Bitterns are herons, not waders, ("Early birds", 25 January). And some overwinter in this country. Their sighting has nothing to do with the arrival of spring.

Stephen Groves

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

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