Letters: Ancient history

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The Independent Online

Ancient history needs to teach what we owe to other civilisations

Sir: I am delighted by Professor Shipley's report that ancient history at A-level has been saved (letter, 24 May), but I am disappointed that he still narrows his subject matter to Greece and Rome. In the broad sweep of human history-making and history-writing, the Greeks and Romans are relative newcomers.

Thousands of years before them, the peoples of the Near East, Egypt and Mesopotamia and elsewhere were writing wonderful histories and literature, preserved today in thousands of fascinating texts. From the hieroglyphic and cuneiform records, for example, as well as from archaeology, it is plain that Greece and Rome and thence the whole of Western civilisation are hugely indebted to the Babylonians, Hebrews, Egyptians, black Africans, Persians and many others.

Even the script you are reading derives from Phoenician, transmitted through Greece; the paper itself owes a debt to Egypt, and our whole system of time is derived from the Babylonians.

Showing A-level students this broader picture is crucial in developing their understanding of our interconnected world. Indeed, if our politicians had had a better understanding of the many historically interconnected forces in, say modern Mesopotamia and the Levant, they might not have made such a mess of things over so many decades.

Because OCR seek to "develop the best possible syllabus" for ancient history, therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to extend the perspective of the subject beyond Europe, to broaden its potential appeal, and perhaps increase student numbers. Isn't it time to bring the study of ancient history into the 21st century?



We should insist on green homes

Sir: Your front page article "The green house effect"(25 May) masks the Government's failure to take prompt action on improving home energy efficiency. There are no obligations for developers - except housing associations - to build new homes to high energy efficiency standards. Last year's Code for Sustainable Homes failed to introduce mandatory requirements and the recent Energy White Paper again missed an opportunity to propose tough action.

Housing associations build only one in five new homes, so this means 80 per cent of the 190,000 houses built each year are not required to have high levels of home energy efficiency. This is unsustainable. The Government should oblige all developers to build homes to at least the same standards as housing associations.

The Government could also make it easier to increase the efficiency of existing homes by reducing VAT to 5 per cent on items such as energy-efficient light-bulbs and boilers.



Sir: It is encouraging to see that the Government has at last woken up to the potential of home-generation of electricity by micro-wind and photovoltaics.

The planning changes will help, but the Government still refuses to even consider implementing the policy that has resulted in Germany already having 300,000 solar homes and being 10 years ahead of the UK in wind and photovoltaic electricity. Germany has a guaranteed premium price for renewably generated electricity that is fed back into the grid.

While this so called "feed-in tariff" is falling, as planned, the number of solar houses continues to rise exponentially. As a result, Germany has about 200,000 new jobs in the solar industry and is on course to have a photovoltaic electrical capacity comparable with the UK nuclear capacity by 2012.

There will be no greater incentive to implementing the energy efficiency measures which the Government rightly supports than to see the smart meter in your home running backwards.



Sir: In the report "Small businesses threaten legal action after investing in HIPs" (24 May) you say Michael Lawson, who set up a business to produce Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and Home Information Packs (HIPs), bought into the idea of the European directive on home energy and is terrified Gordon Brown will not commit to HIPs. There seems a great deal of confusion, not least amongst government ministers, about this.

EPCs are required by the EU directive and can stand alone; indeed, they will in the rest of Europe. All those training as domestic energy assessors will have plenty of work. The Government ought to decouple EPCs from HIPs; this could be done at any time, but they continue to insist that the two must be linked.

HIPs were not designed to help reduce carbon emissions and improve energy standards. They were supposed to speed the home-buying process, and that idea was based on the false premise that most sales would succeed if all information was provided at the beginning of marketing.

Apparently, this is still ministers' single, fixed and unchangeable belief. All HIPs will do is increase costs for vendors and slow marketing.



Connie Booth has risen above fame

Sir: It's almost impossible, apparently, to believe that any job could rival the status of being a showbiz celeb. In the article about Connie Booth (26 May), she's portrayed as something of a spoilsport for not wanting to take part in a Radio 4 reunion programme about the makers of Fawlty Towers.

John Cleese's career post-Fawlty Towers is described as having "continued on its upward trajectory"; hers is seen to have "stuttered" as she reached a transition which led to a career change. What gets overlooked is the courage and integrity this must have taken, not to mention the strength of character required to not succumb to the vanity of being lauded on the radio.

Fawlty Towers was great, and iconic in the sense that it touched the lives of millions of people, but nothing like as deeply, I suspect, as Booth's work now touches and helps transform the lives of her individual clients. I'd be far more gripped by a Radio 4 programme about the work she does now than the work she did 30 years ago.



Legal arguments over the West Bank

Sir: Lyn Julius confuses the Law of Belligerent Occupation and the Law of Title to Territory, and her conclusions over the occupied territories are wrong on both counts (letter, 29 May). She should read the declaration of the US Judge Buergentha, the only member of the International Court of Justice bench to advise that the court should have declined to issue its advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's so-called wall

Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor, nevertheless accepted that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and that its people have the right of self-determination. Where the right of self-determination exists it overrides claims by a state to sovereignty. Israeli civilian settlements are therefore illegal, and which of Israel or Jordan might have "better title" against the other is irrelevant.

The time has come for all people of good-will to call on Israel to renounce its inadmissible territorial ambitions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory so that peace may be negotiated between the parties, including the "secure and recognised boundaries" required by Resolution 242. I look forward to seeing Ms Julius do this.



Sir: Rewriting history is rarely a constructive act, but Lyn Julius takes the biscuit for sheer effrontery.

The 1922 League of Nations mandate did not grant the whole of mandate Palestine to the Jewish people. It incorporated the Balfour Declaration that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ... it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".

In any case, the League of Nations was succeeded by the UN, whose Resolution 181 most specifically did not cede what is now the West Bank to Israel, but identified it as the proposed Arab state. It was subsequently agreed between Israel and Jordan that this area would be incorporated into the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, an agreement which neither party had a right to make.

What is needed today is not a rehashing of old, dubious, neo-colonial disputes but a recognition that the human rights of the Palestinians are consistently being abused by Israel, and the need for Justice for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, Jews and Arabs alike, plus recognition by Israel of international law and the democratic right of Palestinians to elect their own government.



Nothing appalling about the rain

Sir: "Appalling weather" (report, 29 May)? The climate changes but the language of weather forecasters does not. "Appalling" the weather would indeed be if it did not rain; "appalling" if the next month was as dry as the previous one.

Much of your 29 May issue details the misery of persons living in countries without enough water; they risk their lives trying to get to Britain and its "appalling" weather. Your language must change to flag up the fact that rain is good (stuff holidays), crops need it, we need crops, we do not need drought.



Are our councils really recycling?

Sir: All the acres of newsprint used to describe possible new recycling and payment or reward schemes ("Cash rewards to reduce rubbish disposal" 25 May) have missed out a significant factor: only a quarter of British people believe everything their council collects for recycling is actually recycled.

One in 10 people in this country believes the separated items their council collects aren't really recycled; they think they are simply thrown away with everything else. This is based on a survey of 1,000 adults last month and reported in our "Basket of Goods" survey, May 2007.

As representatives of the metal packaging industry, we campaign to promote recycling because our product, when collected and reprocessed, becomes prime new material. Most consumers support recycling, and consider it the most important aspect to be assessed when considering a product's potential impact on the environment.

The same survey shows consumers need to be convinced their local council really is delivering - or recycling - the goods before they will give support to any new recycling schemes.



A new vision for the paranormal

Sir: Julien Evans' letter (28 May) regarding the appearance of the Virgin Mary to scattered individuals in isolated locations merely skates on the surface of a much deeper problem. For millennia, deities and paranormal manifestations have behaved in a similar fashion, providing a fraction of the service that a civilised society should expect from them.

This is surely evidence of the ineffectuality of self-regulation; the only solution must be to commission a report followed by a judicial review and a White Paper. Only when this Government enacts suitable legislation can an agency be established, and these incorporeal entities be held accountable for their behaviour and a respectable level of service. If required, I would be happy to tender for the IT requirements of such an agency.



Sir: Dr W Thomas (letter, 30 May) speculates that Gordon Brown would have had Jesus pay VAT for miraculously turning water into wine. I do not wish to be too much of a pedant, but VAT would be liable only if Jesus had sold the wine (which he did not).

It is much more likely that Jesus would have been required to pay excise, which is a tax on production of goods, and is levied on quantity rather than value.



Misery and Monaco

Sir: The sad and moving tale of African migrants fighting for a chance in life is portrayed in all its horror on the front page (28 May), and the shameless opulence of the Monaco grand prix on the back. Perhaps you should have dedicated the inner sheets to how the world has managed to get from one extreme to the other.



To hell with that

Sir: I'm intrigued by Richard Turnbull's suggestion (article, 25 May) that those of us who are not churchgoers are destined for hellfire. Does it mean that, so long as the presidential or prime ministerial bum hits the pew every Sunday, little matters such as sanctioning wars in which countless people are killed is no real obstacle to Paradise?



Felonious stupidity?

Sir: Has John Reid thought through the implications of giving the police powers to stop and question? A person who refuses to answer questions could be arrested and charged with obstructing the police; but on arrest the police officer will have to caution them that they are "not obliged to say anything ...". In other words, a person lawfully going about their business is obliged to answer questions but a criminal is not.



Listen to the Lib Dems

Sir: Dr Hayward (letter, 29 May) believes the Tories could be the ones leading the way towards intelligent debate post-Blair. May I suggest that the Liberal Democrats are way ahead in this respect, and certainly were long before David Cameron and his cynical colleagues decided to take up politics as a hobby. The Liberal Democrat line-up of Campbell, Clegg, Huhne, Cable, Hughes, Baker and so on, represents open and fearless debate of the highest quality.



Don't Stare

Sir: I recently attended an outdoor concert in Huddersfield. I noticed there was a fenced area labelled " Disabled viewing area" so, being sensitive to other peoples' feelings, I looked straight ahead as I walked by.