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Wednesday 4 November 2009
Letters: Halloween 'killjoys'
Cruel tricks played on Halloween 'killjoys'
My three-year-old granddaughter sat in a pink and black witch's dress on Saturday waiting excitedly for her Halloween "guests" to arrive to receive the sweets that she had ready. A few eventually rang the doorbell when Daddy placed the prepared pumpkin head by the front door.
So yes, I can appreciate what fun can be had from this strange custom imported from the States. Where I would take issue with Philip Hensher (2 November) is that anyone who does not answer the door to a motley collection of "spooks" deserves to have their house pelted with eggs.
A few years ago my extremely houseproud mother was dying of a brain tumour in our local hospice. I never told her that just because she wasn't at home on Halloween that year she had her front door smeared with rotten eggs and half a bag of flour poured through the letter box. An elderly neighbour, crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and unable to answer the door, received similar treatment. "Killjoys" who "deserved it"? I don't think so.
Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain. The Scots named it after the holy day of All Saints. It is surprising that your leading article of 2 November views it as an American import. It should rather be seen as the reintroduction of a British Isles native back into England. While it's accepted that the Americans introduced variations on this Celtic New Year celebration, colouring it in more recent years with British Hammer Horror film imagery, its history as a Celtic native festival should be embraced.
Newcastle, Co Wicklow, Ireland
Trick-or-treat an American import? Never seen 30 years ago except in films? Clearly you were not brought up in the North of England. In Sheffield during the late 1940s and early 1950s it was commonplace.
The experts really do know better
It is very depressing to read letters like that from Sheila Wright (3 November), which seems to imply that David Nutt believes that cannabis is the same as when he and his colleagues "were at University".
Professor Nutt is still very much at university, and indeed is a world-leading authority on drug-induced mental disorders. Presumably that is why he was invited to chair the drugs advisory panel in the first place – not because of any romantic ideas he might have gained from the implied association he might have had when he was "at university".
It is not just the Government who fail to appreciate that "experts" are experts because they know a lot more than the rest of us about their subject. No wonder we cannot have intelligent debates on important matters when attitudes like this prevail.
That is why this and any future government cannot dare to take sensible decisions based on facts rather than on prejudices. They would be crucified by the media and punished by the electorate. Don't blame the Government when the real fault lies with us, the public, and the media.
Professor Tom Simpson
School of Chemistry
University of Bristol
Your correspondent Sheila Wright writes that "the cannabis on sale today is many times stronger than the drug that was around when Professor Nutt and his colleagues were at university".
That's because the importation, distribution and sale of cannabis is now almost entirely in the hands of organised crime (it used to be more in the hands of disorganised crime), who don't care a fig for anything except profit. If cannabis were legalised (as I believe all drugs should be) then licensed premises could sell the much less potent and much more pleasant varieties that most smokers would prefer.
Sheila Wright remarks that cannabis "has been known to be on offer at primary school gates". Has it not occurred to her that if cannabis was legalised, regulated and sold over the counter like alcoholic drinks and tobacco products, there might not be any criminals touting it at school gates?
Bruce Anderson's article (2 November), arguing in favour of the legalisation of drugs, omitted a vital item from his impressive balance sheet – the many lives that would be saved by proper control of quality. Corrupted drugs are one of the major causes of the death of young addicts before they have the opportunity to be cured. Let's take quality control out of the hands of the criminal underworld whose only interest is profit and put it where it properly belongs, with the medical profession.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
As a scientist, Professor Nutt knows you must compare like with like. His comments that alcohol and tobacco are worse than cannabis may be true in some circumstances. But you cannot compare occasional use of cannabis with a low THC content to the daily use of skunk. You cannot compare the occasional glass of wine at dinner to an alcoholic drinking more than 30 units of alcohol each week. You need to take account of the numbers of people using a substance, how often, what strength, in what quantity.
Since so-called harm reduction was made central to UK drug policy, the use of drugs has escalated. For more than 10 years the strategy has not been to reduce use of drugs but to reduce the harm from the use of drugs. This harm has been centred around the physical harm to the user, and ignores the harm to those around the user – family, employers, health services etc.
This current furore may well be what is needed for drug policy to be re-written, with prevention of drug use as the priority and with treatment leading to abstinence from drugs as a secondary strand, rather than methadone maintenance being prescribed as the norm.
Director, National Drug Prevention Alliance, Slough
Teaching the fruit of research
I was absolutely amazed at the views of Emeritus Professor Frank Fahy of Southampton University (28 October) that research-led universities are to be criticised and discouraged.
I am no academic, but I have observed my university from the outside for as long as Professor Fahy has watched his from the inside. Research is a necessary tool for teaching by the best teachers. All the top research-led universities are valued and admired for their teaching. That is no coincidence.
Here at Sheffield, lecturers are actively encouraged to share their research interests with their students, which enriches both the experience of students and their learning of the subject matter. While it would not be true to say anyone can teach, nevertheless a lecture illuminated by the products of the lecturer''s own research is a real boon.
Chairman of Convocation, University of Sheffield
Bring banks into the real world
Slowly those living in the ivory towers of the western elite are coming to realise how immoral and unacceptable the existence of "bank bonuses" has become to the rest of the citizenry. Undoubtedly, the recent and consistent views of Mervyn King have assisted this perception among us mere mortals.
It is time for radical alternatives to be investigated and implemented such as decoupling retail and investment banking (bring in a Glass-Steagall 2 Act immediately). But far more is required to reassure those of us who will shoulder the £1trn UK debt ($13trn worldwide) created to keep these senior banking "operatives" in post.
We must consider public finance alternatives such as credit unions, mutual institutions and publicly owned and run retail banks to place competitive pressure on their private sector rivals. The latter should be broken up and regulated to benefit wider society, not to benefit the "commissions" allocated to individuals in those banks.
We need £3.6m to purchase a piece of land on which to build our much-needed hospital in the Dover district. Bankers are set to receive £6bn in bonuses. Discuss.
Filling up a finite planet with people
Sean O'Grady's enthusiasm for a population of 86 million ("Zimmer-frame nation", 22 October) perfectly exemplifies the proverb coined 40 years ago by Kenneth Boulding, President John Kennedy's environmental adviser: "Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist."
The argument that looking after ever-more old people needs ever-more young people, who will grow old and need ever-more . . . etc is obviously an ecological Ponzi scheme which I thought Adair Turner had helped us all grow out of by now.
And then there's "the economy", the God to which its acolytes believe everything must be sacrificed. But our YouGov poll in June showed that people are more interested in their quality of life. Seventy per cent of us think population growth poses serious environmental problems in England (already the most crowded country in Europe); half of us would prefer a smaller population than we have now; and only 8 per cent actually want any more growth at all.
Chairman, Optimum Population Trust, Wells, Somerset
This state hasn't failed yet
In an otherwise positive piece in the Traveller magazine (3 October), I was disappointed by your description of Venezuela as a "failing South American state" which is increasingly isolated internationally, a claim of which it fails to provide credible evidence.
Venezuela enjoys excellent relations with countries worldwide. No country has broken diplomatic relations with Venezuela, and we are a member nation of the most important and prestigious international and regional organisations, such as the United Nations Organisation and the Organisation of American States. Furthermore, Venezuela has been a leading nation in promoting Latin American integration, taking on relevant roles in such organisations as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA).
As for being a failing state; by nearly all indices, including economic and those regarding quality of life, Venezuela has made considerable progress in recent years, achievements that have been recognised by international organisations.
Left and right
D S A Murray repeats the canard that the BNP can't be right-wing because it's "statist" (letter, 30 October). Since when was massive state authority and control a philosophy only of the extreme left? Murray might look up "fascism" in a good dictionary.
Tough acts to follow
John Walsh's list of actors who have played Sherlock Holmes (2 November) excludes perhaps the greatest of them all: Carleton Hobbs. In the 1950s, on Children's Hour, Hobbs, along with Norman Shelley as Dr Watson, brought Holmes to life. His voice was perfect for a radio production of the Sherlock Holmes series, the sound effects brought Victorian London into our homes and, best of all, the writers kept to Conan Doyle's script.
In Victoria Summerley's article about The Archers (30 October) she implies that Lucy Davies, who played Hayley, was the only actor to be replaced upon leaving the series. The character Dan Archer, who died (in the programme) in 1986, was played by four different actors; characters were not written out whenever an actor died or left the programme.
All Latin to us
Pandora (3 November) needs to brush up on her Classics. There is no word in Latin meaning "rejoice" that could possibly be the basis of the Rooneys' baby's name, Kai. Was she thinking of the Greek chairein ("to rejoice")? Perhaps the footballer was going to call him "Andy" but thought it would look better in Greek (kai means "and").
I see from your quotes of the day (2 November) that the Palestinian president thinks America is "back-peddling". Is that associated with the front page story on transplants of body parts?
J N Saunders
Shotley Bridge, Co Durham
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