Letters: Free museums

Free museums: we'd never have made our visits if we had to pay
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Sir: Although I applaud Anne Millman's warning (Letters, 21 June) that increased numbers of visits to museums do not necessarily imply increased numbers of visitors, perhaps I can add a point from the perspective of an extra visitor.

I have lived all my life in the north of England and I view a visit to London as a special occasion. Indeed, for a long time I viewed it as pointless and probably prohibitively expensive. Frustrating, what with the bulk of England's "national museums" being concentrated in the capital.

So when free entrance to museums became a reality, I sat up and took notice. It might actually be worth planning an expedition to London for several days, specifically to visit those museums and luxuriate in my own nation's cultural heritage. And so I did. Combining off-peak travel and out-of-season hotels, and investing in two of those super new Oyster card thingies, my beloved and I toured the Science Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tate, the V&A, and more. It was great. And as a bonus, those museums that were too big to squeeze into one day could be visited again for another half-day too, at no extra cost. We resolved to visit again soon, and extend the idea to the ones that are not in London.

If the free admission policy had not been in place, the visit would never have happened. Free entry means extra visitors. Well, two of them at the very least.

Meanwhile, a friend who lives in London added that he now feels able to pop into a museum for maybe an hour when he has a bit of free time. He spreads his complete examinations of museums over many such short visits. But if admission were charged, he wouldn't go at all.



Blame supermarkets for the price of food

Sir: The reason for rising prices of food ("The fight for the world's food", 23 June) is that British supermarkets have ground farmers into non-profitability in order to increase their profits for shareholders. Farmers' earnings are down to the point of insolvency and therefore the only alternative for the supermarkets is to increase prices to customers in order to feed the greed of the stock market. The British supermarkets have the highest profit margins of all the supermarkets in Europe and North America. They could easily fall into line with the rest of the world and keep UK prices stable.

Let them increase their prices. Their greed has created a surplus of farming capacity, which can easily be brought back into production, and also a competitive market situation with farm shops and farmers' markets, which will become even more viable when supermarket prices rise. At these, we can buy produce of much better quality and flavour. At present, these prices are higher than those in supermarkets, but to many of us they're worthwhile, given the much superior quality of the goods. Personally, I look forward to not having to go to supermarkets to shop for any food products.

It was not so long ago that your newspaper reported on beef and butter "mountains" and milk and wine "lakes". Well, we still have that capacity and can turn on the supply just as easily as it was turned off. If the politicians get their backsides into gear, Europe has the capability of feeding the rest of the world.

To suggest that there is a world food crisis is just pandering to the supermarkets and justifying their continued profiteering for the benefit of their shareholders.



Sir: Your concern over food prices leaves some issues to be addressed. Milk prices received by UK dairy farmers are marginally lower than they were 10 years ago and 25 per cent lower than they were 12 years ago. In the last five years alone, the supermarket retail price of milk has risen by 18 per cent.

The result has been an exodus of producers from an unprofitable dairy sector. A similar situation is being experienced in other livestock sectors. Small wonder we now face commodity shortages.

David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, has stated on a number of occasions that food self-sufficiency is not an objective. Sustainable energy, yes, but not a sustainable food supply. Maybe a few hungry mouths will focus the mind.



Sir: Your cover story on food refers only to your usual targets: the EU, the US, China and India. Generally speaking, these countries have stable or shrinking populations, so in the longer term they will have a beneficial effect on the worldwide supply of food.

The real problem will arise in the Middle East and parts of North Africa, where populations are increasing rapidly. In these areas, more than half the population is under 21 and families of 10 are not uncommon. Thus the potential for instability is great. A shortfall in the water supply will also add to instability.

Yes, crops should be for food, but that is only a short-term side issue. Population growth is the real doomsday scenario.



Sir: You state that: "While relatively little corn is eaten directly, it is of pivotal importance to the food economy as so much of it is consumed indirectly. The milk, eggs, cheese, butter, chicken, beef, ice cream and yoghurt in the average fridge is all produced using corn and the price of every one of these is influenced by the price of corn. In effect, our fridges are full of corn."

The simple fact is that animal products are expensive in terms of natural resources, and the rise of consumption has been driven by industrial livestock and dairy farming. In the end, consuming animal products at the rate that the average Briton does is hellishly expensive and wreaks havoc on the environment.

It's hard for people to change their fundamental assumptions about food, but it can be done, and it must be addressed clearly and repeatedly until one of the major causes of environmental damage is faced and lifestyles changed appropriately.



A case of art not quite imitating life

Sir: In your article on Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp (Independent Magazine, 23 June), you state that the rendering of the dissected corpse's right arm is "impressively accurate". This is not so.

The painting displays the flexor aspect of the corpse's arm with the muscles arising from the wrong side of the elbow. The common flexor origin is from the medial epicondyle (inside of the elbow), not the lateral epicondyle (outside of the elbow) as depicted in the painting. It's a fundamental if fascinating mistake.

In contrast, the woodcut of Vesalius in the same article, also showing the flexor aspect of a dissected forearm, is anatomically correct. Either Rembrandt was a very poor anatomist or he had a sharp sense of irony.



When doctors lead, patients benefit

Sir: It is surprising that Deborah Orr believes that by having 14 national directors for clinical issues, the Government is engaging with the medical profession ("Doctors are as much to blame for NHS woes as the government - only they won't admit it", 20 June).

The national directors for emergency access and mental health are working incredibly hard on behalf of patients, but sometimes even they are not listened to by government and are used more to produce political sound bites than evidence-based outcomes.

What we do know is that where doctors, working with other health professionals and patients, lead change, you have successful organisations benefiting patients and getting value for money.

If the Government had listened to doctors, the catastrophic MTAS shambles might not have occurred. The BMA first warned that the new training system was potentially a danger to patients in 2004.

When the BMA raised concerns about spiralling NHS debt in September 2005, the Government responded with, "What debt crisis?" We advised against ploughing funds into schemes such as independent treatment sectors (ISTCs), saying they would not provide value for money and would adversely affect continuity of patient care. The 2006 Health Select Committee report agreed with all the concerns the BMA had raised three years earlier on ISTCs.

Ms Orr talks about "an excellent deal for GPs". It's also an excellent deal for patients, who are benefiting from the evidence-based systematic approach to healthcare. It's the BMA's job to improve the working conditions of doctors and to improve healthcare for patients; we will certainly not apologise for doing our job properly.



Read Rushdie's work before criticising it

Sir: If Athar Siddiqui had actually read The Satanic Verses, he could perhaps have spared himself some "personal outrage" (Letters, 21 June).

The "utterly filthy language including four-letter expletives" is placed in the mouths of British immigration officials and football fans confronted with an apparent immigrant from the Indian subcontinent. The negative portrayal of the character called Mahound is largely shaped by two of his political opponents.

The Satanic Verses is a superb piece of fiction that should be required reading for anyone who has experienced what it is to be an immigrant in this country. The greatest offence surrounding it is that a cynical right-wing Islamist campaign has resulted in the deaths of scores of people. It is so sad that nearly 20 years have passed and there are still no regrets - and in too many safe quarters of liberalism, no condemnation - over this murderous and ridiculous campaign.



Sir: Athar Siddiqui asks: "How can I express my personal outrage at the Queen's lack of judgement in agreeing to bestow a high honour on a person who is widely considered to be a scoundrel by UK Muslims and the vast majority of the entire Muslim world?" I would suggest you have done just that, Mr Siddiqui. Britain is a country that has a tradition of free speech and tolerance. Would this be extended to a practising Christian in Saudi Arabia?



Older workers are a valuable asset

Sir: Last week, the UK saw a long-time BBC presenter leaving his post amid claims of age discrimination ("Nick Ross quits 'Crimewatch'", 20 June). Examples like this serve as reminders about workplace attitudes towards older workers. Youth is increasingly perceived as a valued asset, but it is soon to be in short supply, with an estimated 40 per cent of the population reaching age 50 by 2027.

The world of work is changing and society's attitudes must change with it. Today's employers are facing increased competition and a shortage of skills, and yet only 24 per cent of businesses have even developed strategies to retain older workers. No company can afford to discount the contribution of older workers. Stereotypes must be overcome and perceptions changed, and high-profile companies should be leading the way to ensure the UK's future is marked by prosperity, opportunity and growth for all workers.



The God delusion

Sir: So Tony Blair goes to Rome to discuss his conversion to Catholicism with the Pope. What is wrong with consulting his future parish priest? Does this guy have delusions or something?



Boys keep swinging

Sir: In a travel report online, you ask: Is San Francisco still swinging? (The Traveller, 16 June). Imagine my surprise on reading the piece to see that a city that has one of the largest populations of gay/lesbian/ bi/transgender people can have an article written about it without any mention of the fact that it's the Gayest Place on Earth. If you want to know whether it's still swinging, ask the gay community. I think that you will find that there's a side to the city not covered by this article.



Do the twist

Sir: The catering boss at Epsom advises us that when opening champagne, one should twist the bottle, not the cork. Question: How does the system of champagne, bottle, cork, and space "know" which is being twisted?



Father's vs Fathers'

Sir: I disagree with Rob Churchill about the Fathers' Day apostrophe (letter, 21 June). In "Letters Page", the relationship between the two nouns can be described as "page comprising letters", whereas in "Fathers' Day", the relationship can be inferred as "day belonging to fathers". It is this possessive meaning that makes the apostrophe right in the latter and not in the former. As for whether the noun "father" should be singular or plural, I prefer plural - it conveys a pluralistic rather than an individualistic society.



Greener MPs, please

Sir: Surely the Cabinet should be leading by example when it comes to global warming. I was horrified to see the picture you printed of a Cabinet meeting (22 June, page 22) in which the table was groaning under the weight of bottles of water - it looked like two for each member. The cost to the environment of bottling water and carrying it around the country is horrendous - and totally unnecessary.



Not very sporting

Sir: While it may suit dyed-in-the-wool hunting supporters like John Mortimer to bluster that "hunting is still going on and everybody enjoys it" ("What should we do for Tony's present?", 23 June), the two members of the Quantock Staghounds whose conviction under the Hunting Act this month brought the number of guilty verdicts into double figures may disagree.