Roll up, roll up and place your bet: is man having an effect on the climate of the world or not?
If we bet that man is not having any effect on the climate and we are right, then we can save a lot of money and carry on with the party. If the bet is wrong, however, then we are in big big trouble and it will be too late to do anything about it.
On the other hand if we bet that man is having an effect and manage to cut emissions, avoiding the worst of the changes, then we won't be sure we have made the right decision as there will be no major problem. But in the meantime, by making this bet and rushing ahead developing all sorts of new products to achieve the reduction, we, in Britain, could make a nice little earner and become wealthy.
So forget the argument about who is right or wrong, just place your bet that we are having an effect and get on with making money out of it.
Those people writing books for and against are making money out of it already without placing a bet: pity all that money will be worthless if the world becomes uninhabitable.
We too had the first frost of the year on 1 December (letter, 3 December). Moreover, on 1 November violets and primroses bloomed here. The latter are still flowering happily.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Brass-necked bluff at RBS
I did not know whether to laugh or cry at the latest episode over bonuses at Royal bank of Scotland, but clearly it is time this fairy tale of bankers' bonuses is put to bed.
RBS made disastrous decisions which would have caused it to fail with disastrous consequences as the dominoes fell around the rest of the Banking sector. Were the architects of this grim scenario arrested and put on trial for effectively defrauding their shareholders and employees? Not at. And did the shareholders, through the remuneration committee try to recover the bonuses paid before this fiasco came to light? We have seen no such action even discussed.
You and I as tax payers present and future will end up owning shares to the equivalent of 84 per cent of RBS. And with that majority shareholding our Chancellor has the right to approve, or not, proposed bonuses.
Personally I cannot imagine the sheer brass-necked arrogance of the directors proposing any bonuses at all. If the family owned corner shop had suffered a serious loss, can you see them sitting round the table at a posh hotel debating their bonuses? No, they would be discussing what to do to survive with likely pay cuts and job losses all round.
The Board of RBS says it will consider a mass resignation if the £1.5bn bonuses are not paid. But this tired bluff has been used once too often and it is time it was called.
RBS "insiders" have put into the public domain legal advice to the effect that, should the Government block the board's proposed bonus payments, the board would "have no alternative but to quit". While it would obviously easier to comment if this advice were published in full, it seems nevertheless ill-founded.
Most articles of association incorporate a provision that the directors have full powers of management, subject to the right of shareholders, by a special resolution (requiring a 75 per cent majority of those voting), to give them an over-riding direction.
The Government will, if RBS shareholders approve the bank's participation in the asset protection scheme, have an 84 per cent interest in RBS, and could therefore give precisely such an over-riding direction.
While the RBS board might not like this, and might choose to resign out of protest (or perhaps pique), it is difficult to see that the directors would be legally obliged to do so, as complying with such an over-riding direction could hardly constitute a breach of directors' duties..
The directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland should be reminded of the old adage that no one is indispensable. There is not an infinite demand for money men, and if staff leave RBS they may well find it more difficult then they think to find comparable bonuses elsewhere. What would they say to a potential new employer? "My main qualification is bankrupting RBS"?
In any case I can think of no case in the world of business, politics, journalism, sport or any other occupation where gaps were not rapidly filled by eager young people, often with better ideas.
A J Caston
Honestly, I don't have television
Like Jennifer Kavanagh (letter, 30 November), I too have experienced difficulties with TV Licensing. A few years ago, a letter arrived asking me to tick the appropriate box: "Do you have a television?" I correctly ticked the "No" box and sent off the reply.
A week later, another letter from TVL arrived asking if I was sure that I didn't have a television. I replied that I did not have a television, but should I buy one, they would be the first to know. A further letter from TVL arrived saying that some people actually did have a television, but said that they didn't. Also TVL would be sending round one of their inspectors to check that I was telling the truth.
I wrote back to TVL saying that they should not go to such a great deal of trouble, but that they should send round one of their super-duper detector vans. If they insisted on sending round an inspector, I would probably be out either playing badminton, walking or cycling. In the evenings I might be out playing in one or other of the jazz groups that I am attached to, and if anyone at TVL would like a swinging trio, for that special occasion, I would be happy to consider any request.
I did enclose my business card with my letter, but in the course of the last few years, I have heard nothing.
In response to Jennifer Kavanagh's comments, most people in the UK do own a TV set (97 per cent). Of these, the vast majority pay for their TV licence. On their behalf, we need to enforce the law amongst those who watch TV but don't pay the fee, and this is why we contact addresses where there is no record of a licence in place. Unfortunately, we do rely on the public to notify us when they don't require a licence, as this is the only manageable way for us to enforce the law.
While we never presume guilt, people do sometimes tell us they don't need a licence when they do – in fact, a quarter of those we make contact with when we visit – so our inquiry officers will visit to double check. We expect them to be helpful and courteous at all times, and we apologise if this was not the case when Ms Kavanagh was visited. Once we've confirmed a licence isn't required, we put a stop on any contact for several years.
We do our best not to trouble genuine non-viewers, and want to make it as easy as possible for people to notify us when they don't require a licence. It's now possible to do so via a simple form on our website.
TV Licensing, London WC2
We have had hassle from these people, who seem incredulous that there are actually some uman beings around who do not watch television.
Unlike your correspondent, we do have a television set, but it is not connected to an aerial and we do not watch TV, but use the set purely for watching re-recorded videos and DVDs. Although we have a letter from TV Licensing confirming we do not need to buy a licence because we are not receiving a signal, they still send us a regular letter checking up on us. Their letters suggest that we might now be watching TV and have "forgotten" to buy a licence.
For many years they have been threatening us with a visit, and we would be delighted to show them the "snow" on our screen, but they have never carried out their threat.
Sidlesham, West Sussex
Play of guilt and innocence
I have not seen Alan Bennett's latest play, The Habit of Art, but Johann Hari ("Alan Bennett and the question of innocence", 27 November) grossly over-simplifies The History Boys.
The boys in the play have done their A-levels and so are over 18; that is not paedophilia. The headmaster "is depicted as a prejudiced buffoon" not for objecting to Hector groping his pupils – he does the same to his equally young (but female) secretary – but because he is angered not by the age gap but by the homosexuality.
Bennett makes it clear that the grown-up Posner does not touch his pupils and that this is a good thing. Most clearly of all, when Hector tries to justify his actions his colleague, Mrs Lintott brings him firmly down to earth: "A grope is a grope. It is not the Annunciation."
The History Boys is a refreshingly accessible play, but it doesn't "say" anything as simplistic as Hari seems to think.
Design transforms the school day
The article "Design, schools and pure humbug" (2 December) is misinformed. The new Minimum Design Standard for schools ensures that only good designs go ahead. We are also testing the quality of the schools that are being built by asking the teachers, pupils and parents whether the design has translated into a high-quality building that helps to improve education.
Design is not being "watered-down" in new schools. It is being celebrated and is making a positive difference to the school day.
CEO, Partnerships for Schools
The deadly tidal surge of 1953
To expand on Alan Thorpe's and Irene Barker's letters about floods and climate change (1 and 2 December), the weather conditions in the North Sea on 31 January 1953 have been replicated recently. There was a storm surge presumably linked with a severe depression and a strong northerly gale which caused a tidal stand.
According to the Journal of the Thames Barge Sailing Club there was a barge alongside whose crew noticed that the tide had not gone out in the evening of 30 January. They reported this to the local police, who said that it had nothing to do with them. The tide came in in the early hours, on top of the tide which had not gone out, and local people were trapped in their houses.
As someone who occasionally visits the Work for an MP website I have been surprised at the number of staff the Labour Party have suddenly decided to employ – press officers, administrators and so on. In total they have put the feelers out for 11 new positions whose combined salary is about £350,000 a year. This is an awful lot of money for a party that is broke. An early election?
Roots of Christmas
We surely all know by now that the date of Christmas was deliberately grafted on to those of ancient European pagan midwinter rituals and the Roman Saturnalia (letter, 2 December), but is a return to such celebrations therefore somehow more "true" just because closer to "the root"? In grafting, I thought that we would pay more attention to the flower and fruit rather than digging up the root.
A M C Cotton
Bells and minarets
Thomas Eisner (letter, 2 December) is not comparing like with like. The nearest equivalent to a minaret is a church bell tower, not a synagogue. Under sharia law, Jews and Christians are not allowed to build new churches or synagogues and may not show religious symbols in public. The ringing of church bells is forbidden. If they do not observe these rules they have no right to live in a Muslim country. What the Swiss are now doing in banning minarets is only applying sharia principles. Muslims have no right to complain.
Strike for freedom
Your report on Aminatou Haidar (2 December) did not convey the dangerous urgency of her situation. Ms Haidar, now well into the third week of her hunger strike, is too weak to walk and her state of health has been exacerbated by a perforated ulcer. Although barely able to speak, Haidar has vowed to continue her hunger strike and stated that her action should not be seen as an isolated act of defiance of a single individual but part of the struggle of the entire Saharawi people.
Chair, Free Western Sahara Campaign, London NW3
Deborah Backhaus (letter, 30 November) wonders what colour pencil case is used by children in fee-paying schools. True blue, of course.
Ashford, MiddlesexReuse content