So Israel is attacking Gaza in retaliation for rocket attacks. The rockets from Gaza were in retaliation to the blockade and collective punishment imposed by Israel. The blockade was in retaliation for the people of Gaza electing Hamas. Hamas was elected in retaliation for . . . . And so on and so on back to the British, the Second World War, Moses and Abraham.
Why is the blame game the most enduring of all? Is it because people and especially governments find it easier to pass responsibility for disputes than to address and resolve them, even when this means that the disputes escalate and become more entrenched? Extremists need each other. Likud and Hamas have a lot in common since neither wants a compromise.
Peace is impossible without justice, and a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians accepted in principle the 2003 Geneva Accord. This required Israel to return almost all the land occupied since 1967 to the Palestinians and accept Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine. It also required the Palestinians to recognise the state of Israel and abandon the right of return, though with compensation to be negotiated.
As long as the Israeli and Palestinian hardliners are calling the tune, the blame game will continue indefinitely and more people will suffer on both sides (though far more on the Palestinian side). The key to progress lies in changing the game to support moderates and those who would prefer to claim the credit for resolving the dispute. Since Bush, Blair and Brown have proved themselves utterly inadequate, the ball passes to Obama. Hopefully he will play a different game.
I have never understood the argument of disproportionality. Is Dr Hisham Mehanna suggesting that a quarter of a million Israelis should cower in bomb shelters for most of the day while hundreds of Kassam rockets are sent over from Gaza, and that Israel should only act in self-defence when, say, a school has been hit, killing scores of Israeli children (Letter, 29 December)?
Buy-to-let, the next crisis
Since the Bank of England is admitting to not realising the severity of the current crisis, it is perhaps timely to warn them of the next.
The huge rise in the buy-to-let market, fuelled in part by the fall in the stock market and poor returns in the bond market, is taking houses that once formed wealth for all and converting them into an income stream for the rich. Demand may not recover for another 10 years. The most affected are, of course, the young. Thatcher pushed a whole generation to the left, the Blair-Brown years might just have finished the job.
Senior Lecturer in Finance
Our politicians appear to assume that the immense cost of saving the banking and financial sector from its greed and folly should be borne by ordinary taxpayers and "hard-working families" for many years.
But why should we accept this imposition in the face of government-sanctioned injustice? Immeasurable wealth has been milked from our economy and hidden in so-called "tax havens", along with the ill-gotten gains of the world's despots, drug and arms dealers, terrorists and other criminals.
The incoming Obama administration has announced that it is going to take severe action against the use of such territories, including Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, for tax avoidance. It is plainly unjust and socially destructive when ordinary American taxpayers have to stump up the estimated annual $32bn that an unscrupulous ultra-wealthy but tiny minority of tax-dodgers cost America. France and Germany are also beginning to take serious steps against international tax avoidance.
Let's be honest: these places are not cuddly-sounding "havens". Yet the UK is the world's worst offender, nurturing no fewer than half of the world's more accurately labelled "tax hideouts".
How can "hard-working families" who pay their taxes take seriously sermons by Gordon Brown and David Cameron about fairness, justice and globalisation while they apparently support tax avoidance by the ultra-wealthy which is neither fair nor just and makes an utter farce of a supposed globalised economy.
Current Economic theory recalls to me the latter stages of pre-Copernican geocentric theory. In order to justify the ever more eccentric orbits of the planets from their supposed uniform orbs, ever more cheats and fiddles were developed. CDSs, CDOs, sub-primes and the rest are the 21st-century equivalents of equants, epicycles, deferrents and their like.
In short, instead of accepting a simple yet revolutionary new system the greatest minds of the day made the accepted system more and more complicated until it collapsed. Sooner or later, we will realise that, no matter how many times we ignore the observable facts and massage the ones we do accept, the economic world is not as we currently perceive it.
Where is our modern Copernicus who will point out the fallacy of the Bretton Woods world and turn it upside down?
May I humbly suggest that MPs, MEPs and ministers all accept a 50 per cent decrease in salary and expenses while we undergo the current financial crisis. The failure by these people to pass proper legislation to regulate financial irregularities and their responsibility for us arriving at the place where we find ourselves is immoral, yet at the same time they keep enhancing their own pay and expenses. They should all feel the consequences where the rest of us do.
Menezes: maybe nobody was lying
Throughout the reporting of the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes there was an assumption that, as the evidence of police and civilian witnesses differed, either the police or the civilians must have been lying. The fact that the jurors believed the civilian witnesses is taken to show that the police were wilfully lying. It is probable that all witnesses told what they believed to be the truth.
The British Psychological Society published, in 2008, a report entitled "Guidelines on Memory and the Law"; key points made on memories of traumatic incidents are that "Hotspots are typically the 'worst moments' for the person during the trauma, and are also those points that tend to come back, as intrusive memories" and "parts of the trauma can be more difficult to recall (e.g. details that were less important to the person at the time)."
On television and in the cinema it is common to see shots fired in a small room, following which those present continue to converse in normal tones; in a real situation anyone not using ear protection will be almost completely deaf for an hour or more and it will take many hours for hearing to return to normal. No one who has not experienced it can fully imagine the shocking effect of a 9mm pistol fired in a confined space. At Stockwell station 13 shots were fired in a few seconds in an Underground carriage – the impact of this on the civilian witnesses would be hard to overestimate. Anything other than the "hotspot" – the actual firing of the shots – may be poorly remembered or not remembered at all. It is feasible that the police testimony is accurate but that witnesses have poor, or no, recollection of events prior to the salvo of gunshots.
Alternatively, it is possible that the police had formulated the intention to shout a warning and, even though they failed to do so, they sincerely believe that they did.
We will probably never know exactly what happened during those terrifying few seconds.
According to the police evidence in the De Menezes inquest, it was essential to shoot directly into the brain-stem to ensure instantaneous death without even the possibility of a nervous reflex to trigger a bomb. And yet shouted warnings had apparently already been given. How does that work, then?
Where are the missing scientists?
No doubt the talented young people you identified in the Magazine (27 December) will all go on to have productive careers. I was disappointed, though, by the bias towards what could broadly be called the entertainment industry. With the honourable exception of Matt Shardlow and the dubious exception of the girl who will do the sums on Countdown, scientists are conspicuous by their absence from your list.
Scientists will play a critical role if we are to solve problems such as global warming, food shortage and disease, yet the numbers of students enrolling on science courses has declined over the past two decades. It cannot be irrelevant that articles such as yours persistently glamorise arts and media while more or less ignoring science.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Forgotten toll of horse-racing
Chris McGrath's interview with top jockey Ruby Walsh (23 December) graphically illustrated the risk of injury for professional riders. He failed, however, to mention that around 420 horses are raced to death every year.
Animal Aid's research has shown that around 38 per cent of these fatalities occur during, or immediately after, a race, resulting from a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; heart attack; or burst blood vessels. The other victims perish from training injuries or are killed after being assessed by their owners as no-hopers.
Punters are funding this exploitation and suffering through their betting money and racecourse attendance fees.
Campaigner, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent
Well well, unless you're well no well
Steve Watson (Letter, 26 December) quite rightly suggests that a person who is in good health may be referred to in modern parlance as "well well". In the school in the East End of Glasgow where I teach it gets more complicated. Children in this school, on return from illness, will inevitably tell me that the reason for their absence was that they were "no well". If they had been particularly ill they may suggest that they had been "well no well".
There is a significant trend, however, to replace "well" with the even more grievous adverb "heavy". A pupil who considers that he or she has been virtually at death's door will report that they were "heavy no well".
Dunlop, East Ayrshire
Let us hope politically active young people reject Ian Flintoff's siren call to embrace the careerist, greasy-pole-climbing that is the parliamentary cretinism de notre jour (letter, 29 December). That sort of politics is the dismal art of the possible. Principled and determined street politics changes what is possible.
Mary Pimm, Nik Wood
Is there such a thing as a "pure" language, as Sandra Grainger (letter, 26 December) seems to suggest German is? Even Welsh, for some the oldest European language, is sullied by English: here in Rhyl the sign "Promenade" has "Prominad" under it. My mother (who died in the late Fifties) wrote me letters in Gothic script and in a very basic "pure" German, whereas my brother writes letters to me which show the influence of American English. Purity of language, like purity of race, is a figment of people's imagination.
Yes, by all means let us celebrate good British design, such as a number of "classic" Jaguar cars ("Green vandals attack icon of British design", Letters, 29 December), but we need to use such capability to move on, not to reproduce the past. The world has changed, and we need to find new areas where we can design, develop and manufacture products that other people want and which are appropriate for a more sustainable world.
Don't worry about an apology for the wrong grid for the Boxing Day Concise Crossword. When there was a similar error a year ago I had a Victor Meldrew humph and grumph. This year I took the challenge of reconstructing the grid and greatly enjoyed it. Regularly printing the wrong grids could upset the readership, but perhaps printing the clues and grid apart might be an idea?
If I'm hit with an electro-shock stun-gun, I'm dead. Does Jacqui Smith know how many other persons in the UK are fitted with pacemakers?
King's Somborne, Hampshire