Jamie Oliver, The Pope and Miles Davis' albums and others

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The Independent Online

Sir: I was delighted to read (30 March) that Jamie Oliver has persuaded the Government, not before time, to part with an extra £280m to improve the quality and nutritional value of school dinners.

Meals on wheels need to be taken on by Jamie Oliver

Sir: I was delighted to read (30 March) that Jamie Oliver has persuaded the Government, not before time, to part with an extra £280m to improve the quality and nutritional value of school dinners. Perhaps he could now turn his attention to the meals on wheels service which, in my view, is an undeclared national scandal.
My aged father, who sadly died just before Christmas, was in receipt of these meals last year. Our family was appalled at both the lack of quality and the lack of quantity in what was delivered to him on a daily basis. Of course, we took supplementary food to him, but every old person is not in a position to have this kind of help.
The chicken pie had almost no chicken in it, the steak and kidney pie had almost no steak and/or kidney and the pastry crust looked like wet rags. The limp and unappetizing vegetables had to be seen to be believed. And it was not as if these meals were given free by the Government; he was asked to make a major contribution to their costs. If your readers have not seen such "dinners" at first hand they should imagine the meal that would be delivered while in flight on the cheapest airline in the world.
As a family we complained both to the social services and to the local health authority. Both services made the right noises, implying that they had heard such criticisms frequently, but in the grand old British way nothing was done about it.
I make no party political point here, because it is excellent news that children are being encouraged by Ruth Kelly, for whatever reason, to develop healthy eating habits. Yet what about those who have healthy eating habits but are apparently deemed too old for those habits to be necessary anymore? While there is an election in the offing, perhaps Jamie Oliver can do something quickly to put meals on wheels on the political menu so that old people, in this respect at least, will not remain for a further five years in the land of the quietly forgotten.

Great Bookham, Surrey

Pope John Paul II: a great man, but flawed

Sir: After the death of all great men there follows a period of uncritical hagiography, succeeded by debunking and many years later a more balanced view emerges. So can we conflate the process somewhat following the death of John Paul II?

He was undoubtedly a great and brave man, worthy of admiration, albeit critical. But like all men he was flawed, and his flaws flowed from the same qualities which made him great. He defined himself in Poland by his courageous stand against totalitarianism and the part he played in the demise of communism.

As Pope he impressed many who met him as a man of compassion and piety who played a pauline role. But he became the absolute leader of another totalitarian organisation. He put out the flickering light of openness to new ideas and the willingness to consider the possibility of being wrong introduced by John XXIII. He presided over the illness, hopefully not fatal, of the Church in Europe and North America - the huge decline in the number of priests and religious and the virtual loss of at least two generations of the 20-and 30-year-olds.

He condemned countless people to death from Aids by his views on contraception and the use of condoms. His suppression of dissent within the Church was absolute - a lesson he learnt well from the system which oppressed him in his youth.

So, in my view as a practising Catholic for some 72 years, I admire his strength and fortitude, his concerns for the poor and his opposition to war. I think he was a great man who will gain nothing from uncritical hero worship. He was also that most dangerous of great men - a charismatic conservative. And, despite as some media reporters seem anxious to categorise him, he was not the greatest Pope of the last 200 years. That accolade must go to John XXIII. I pray that the next Pope has some of the vision of that truly great man.

Debenham, Suffolk

Sir: At a time of widespread acclamation of the undoubted achievements of John Paul II (2 April) it is important to remember why there is an alternative view.

Those of us clergy who welcomed the election of a Polish pope as an interesting novelty expected him to endorse the Church's own official teaching, as reformulated by the Second Vatican Council. What we got was a man who cleverly subverted this to the traditionalist authoritarianism which the council had tried to move beyond. Whilst the older model of the Church - sometimes called "Medievalism" - had enabled Poland to resist Soviet domination, the Church now had a leader who saw this as the model for dealing with the very different problems of modernity. The result is a Church polarised under a more centralised autocracy than at any previous time in its history.

In contrast to the open dialogue anticipated by the Vatican Council all discussion has taken place within the tightly controlled, non-negotiable parameters that typifies totalitarianism. Such was the case over female ministry: here was a man full of adulation for the traditional roles of women but who could not bring himself even to officially acknowledge altar-girls or women readers in church. Indeed, a close reading of papal writings and actions reveal a man confused and full of contradictions. A centre piece of his papacy - reconciliation with the Orthodox churches - is now further away than ever, simply because of his excessive emphasis on papal authority and of the outrage caused by his attempts to promote Roman (Uniate) missions in their territories.

The consequences of a preoccupation with the centralisation of power and emphasis on Latin uniformity have proved disastrous to the church in many parts of the world. None more so than in Latin America - the land with largest proportion of Catholics - where, thanks to papal policy, the church is now being eclipsed by other forms of Christianity.

Whilst no doubt many will soon be calling for the canonisation of this pope, they should bear in mind that this is itself a currency now much devalued by its profligate abuse as an "infallible" power. A better policy, after all the panegyrics have finished, would be to quietly forget about this man and return to the Second Vatican Council agenda of engaging in constructive dialogue with modernity and the rest of the world.


Sir: I have found the blanket coverage of the Pope's last days quite nauseating. The attitude of Pope John Paul II to contraception and the use of condoms has exacerbated the misery and suffering of some of the poorest and least educated people in the world.

Burngullow, Cornwall

Sir: Catherine Pepinster (2 April), in seeing the value of "no fuss" dying, makes a point with which I empathise.

On the other hand, there is great value for everybody in sharing in the sufferings of others. The Pope has helped very many by his decision to share his pains and death with us.

Tintagel Catholic Church
Tintagel, Cornwall

Elephant contraception

Sir: Regarding the information about elephant contraception in your story "Return of the culling fields?" (15 March), the Humane Society of the United States has been supporting a field trial of PZP immunocontraception on a herd of 60 wild elephants in a private conservation area outside Kruger for the past five years.

We have observed no abnormal behaviour in the four family groups nor any of the "perpetual" mating described in the article. Young females are only contracepted after they produce their first calf so there are still young elephants in the group. Also, we are now looking at using only one initial shot of the vaccine followed by boosters once a year, so the second boost four weeks after the first may not be necessary.

There is a cost to contraception but it also costs significant money to cull elephants and nobody has, to date, done a true comparison of the costs. We also suspect that contraception in a large number of elephants (such as the 12,000-plus elephants in the Kruger population) would not have to be 100 per cent successful in order to slow or stop population growth.

Culling is very intrusive, very distasteful, immoral and a gross failure of the imagination of we humans who claim to be the ethical stewards of the remaining wild and semi-wild places in Africa.

We have a technology that works to slow or stop elephant reproduction with no adverse behavioural consequences other than the elephant's displeasure (very obvious) at being shot in the behind with a vaccine-loaded dart. This technology, of already proven success in herds of wild horses in the US, needs to be given a serious test of its utility in wild elephants.

Executive Vice President, Operations
The Humane Society of the US
Washington DC

ADHD treatment

Sir: As a teacher I was horrified to read Dr Alison Poulton's letter (2 April) for two reasons in particular. Firstly by suggesting that "appropriate" children with ADHD should be given "stimulant medication", by which she presumably means the "chemical cosh" Ritalin, she is recommending increasing even further the number of pupils given this powerful drug for something not all paediatricians and other doctors actually would agree exists: a dangerous development.

Secondly by criticising the NASUWT for demanding the exclusion of children who disrupt the education of the rest of the class - and even at times threaten their safety by their ill-thought out actions - she offers no real solution for the hard pressed teacher (or fellow pupil desperate to learn).

I am not a member of the NASUWT, but I certainly support their call - perhaps Dr Poulton should offer to take a class with several such pupils for a term, and then report back on how she coped without resorting to exclusion, and whether the rest of the class actually made any progress.

Sleaford, Lincolnshire

Miles Davis' albums

Sir: The trouble with Miles Davis' albums after Tutu is that he became less and less engaged with the actual recording sessions (Sholto Byrnes; "Blowing up a storm, 1 April) , and as a result his contributions come across as whimsical doodles which can be added or subtracted without substantially changing the music. In any album prior to On the Corner there are two or three unique, spine-tingling Miles moments, which confirm his status as an expressive genius. These moments fade away in the 80s, and we end up with Miles just marking time and the young rock musicians providing the musical excitement.

I would like to hear a release of the later "rock" albums without Miles Davis: I'm sure they would sound better. Sadly, Miles in his last years exclusively involved himself in a kind of music where his subtle expressive talents had no place.


Train times

Sir: The headline of your leading article (1 April), "Back on track but still moving far too slowly" is entirely correct. There has been a marked improvement in the timekeeping of the trains at my local station, but this has been achieved by increasing the journey time to London and halving the frequency of the service. The trains now take longer to reach Waterloo than at any time since the lines were electrified in 1916.

Further, the practice of "passenger dumping" continues. If a train becomes badly late, the passengers are made to get off and the train is run non-stop to its destination. In effect it is cancelled as far as passengers to or from any intermediate stations are concerned, but the train reaches its destination on time, and so does not count as being late.

Twickenham, Middlesex

Intimate galleries

Sir: In his search for a small and intimate concert hall as part of an art gallery, David Lister need travel no further than the delightful Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University ("The Week In Arts: Size does matter when it comes to venues", 2 April).

It wasn't just the pictures that made it "Gallery of the Year 2004".


Fair shares

Sir: Labour attacks the idea of a local income tax (report, 1 April) saying it would hit lower-paid workers. How can a tax based purely on one's salary hit the poorest the hardest? No other tax could be fairer.

Under the current system, the council tax burden is much heavier for the poor than it is for the wealthy. It's high time for a local income tax, and I speak as someone who would have to pay more, or, as I see it, my fair share.

London W1

Laws and limericks

Sir: John Strawson's piece of legal piecing together ("Why a sordid war in Iraq may still have been legal", letter 29 March), like the Attorney-General's advice, doesn't hold up.

Of the 14 clauses in Security Council Resolution 1441, 12 clearly envisage firming up the inspection regime. Clause 13 threatens "serious consequences", a bit vague if it meant invasion. Clause 14 clearly does not envisage immediate military action. It states that the Security Council will "remain seized of the matter".

The war was programmed in by a belligerent group of politicians who probably saw the UN as little more than an impediment.

Pantymwyn, Flintshire

Sir: Here is another limerick based on Professor Day's line , "We went to war on a page of A4" (Letters, 31 March and 1 April):
Lacking the UN's permission
And ignoring a massive petition,
We went to war
On a page of A4
With a critical legal omission.

Preston, Lancashire