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Thursday 22 December 2011
Letters: Is that blue teapot still out in space?
I share entirely the humanitarian thrust of John Badcock's letter (20 December) criticising Richard Dawkins, but I have to take exception to his statement that a belief or a non-belief in a deity have "equal intellectual validity".
To use the well-established argument, just because one cannot prove that a small, blue teapot is not orbiting Saturn does not make it equally likely that it is.
A lack of evidence for a proposition – in this case the existence of God – does not make the beliefs of theists as equally valid as those of atheists.
I condemn the Christopher Hitchens description of Mother Teresa. His statement was vile and demonstrated a hatred that was "beneath a gentleman".
I and other atheists of my acquaintance would never dream of being so nasty to someone who undeniably had great empathy and compassion for the dying poor of Calcutta.
The religious believer, on the other hand, will happily support the Christian view that people such as Christopher Hitchens will "burn in Hell for ever". Which carries the deepest hatred, the Hitchens view of Mother Teresa or the official Christian view of non-believers?
Atheists are "sceptical". They question the validity or authenticity of something outlandish which purports to be factual. Religious believers are "unsceptical". They are brainwashed into believing that everything written in the Bible is factual, when, for example, the story of the Tower of Babel is obviously nothing more than a fairy tale.
Their belief is uncritical because if they don't believe all those fairy tales, they are terrified into believing they will burn in Hell for ever. This is obviously a powerful persuader.
Atheists view the threat of Hell as being nothing more than crude psychological terrorism.
Stan Broadwell's view (letters, 21 December) that "religions throughout the world thrive on that great con trick that death is not the end" fails to take account of all Indian religions, which view birth as not the beginning.
Hence there is no con in saying death is not the end. This is because, Indians, like myself, believe that we are trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, which we call samsara until we reach nirvana or enlightenment.
West Bromwich, West Midlands
John Badcock tells us that his belief in God has equal intellectual validity to the disbelief of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Hitch demolished this nonsense far better than I ever could: "Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith.
"We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake."
We are ruled by Big Business. We did not vote for them
Robert Fisk is surely right to identify bankers as the dictators of the West (10 December). Like all dictators, it's impossible for the people to remove them.
We are now beginning to realise that it's not the people who are in charge in a "democracy", but CEOs of multinational corporations, global bankers, global ratings agencies and global bond markets. None of these is elected by the people or accountable to the people and yet their decisions dictate what happens to our economy. Our Chancellor explicitly shapes our policies according to how bond markets will react.
Who appointed bond markets as the controllers of democratic economies? Who's in charge?
I've come across several great ideas on the internet, including 100 per cent inheritance tax to bring to an end once and for all the hidden rule of dynastic elites, and "social" capitalism which makes the infrastructure of the economy socialist (all banks and markets are run by the State with publicly accountable officials, although they are still allowed to make profits), while capitalism operates within that context and thus becomes much saner and invulnerable to unrestrained greed, boom and bust.
Isn't it time there were articles detailing how to radically reform capitalism and even democracy? Everyone else is talking about it; why not newspapers?
BBC needs lessons in geography, too
Reading your article on the proposal to teach geography to school students to 16 (20 December), I thought perhaps the BBC might send their news production team to get lessons as well.
When the news of the 2012 Royal visit schedule was announced, it was shown on the 1pm news that Harry was to visit some countries where Queen Elizabeth was sovereign; the graphics listed Bolivia. I suppose Belize is also a B in South America.
Then with the announcement of the death of Kim Jong-il, the map on the 6pm news showed Pyongyang in the incorrect position in the north-east of North Korea. I know it is a secretive country, but that secretive?
Professor Andrew Scott
Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey
You report that Michael Gove wants us to learn lessons about the school curriculum from Asian countries such as Singapore (19 December). The most important lesson he should learn concerns the exam system. Singapore has retained the GCE O-Level exam which we banned in this country 20 years ago even though the Cambridge Board still sell it as a gold-standard exam to our economic competitors.
Chairman, Campaign for Real Education, Heathfield, East Sussex
It was with a sense of déjà vu and not a little schadenfreude that I looked at the photograph accompanying Richard Evans's review of "The Right Kind of History" (16 December). This was clearly taken during Michael Gove's doomed attempt to join the teaching profession, long before he settled for the far easier option of politics.
The photograph shows the classic scenario for what is known in the staffroom as The Last Chance Saloon, the classroom observation of a trainee teacher whose two previous attempts have been classified as "lamentable".
In the room are four other adults: the children's usual teacher, who will prevent any lasting harm befalling her charges, the head teacher at the back whose expression betokens "Fail!", his assistant, to Gove's left, who can be seen adjusting the CCTV, disguised as a table leg, and the sinister, KGB-trained Ofsted representative in the Wendy house, who thinks he is invisible.
It is easy to see why young Michael failed. Of the 10 children in the frame, only three are looking at their budding teacher, and he has managed to avoid eye contact with any of them.
It must have been easy for the headteacher to leaven his decision to fail him. "You did, however, score impressively in 'shiftiness'. Have you considered a career in politics?"
Bus passes vital for old and infirm
At a recent social gathering of older citizens, I caused a lot of discussion by suggesting that most OAPs are semi-invalid. Your letters (13, 16, 17, 19 December) give the impression that bus passes are used by recently retired people rushing all over the country, having fun.
Unfortunately, after about 70, most people have a reduction of both strength and stamina. Bus passes are needed for carrying shopping and library books and for getting up steep hills. There is also an increase in visits to the doctor and hospitals. Many pensioners would be unable to cope with the extra expense.
Appeal to the whistleblowers
It is very concerning for me that people are reluctant to whistleblow for fear of losing their jobs ("Abuse hotline for care homes gets more than 2,000 calls in six months", 12 December).
The RCN has just reported that nurses are being explicitly told not to raise concerns about the quality of care on NHS wards. It is especially worrying that most managers, with responsibility to take such concerns seriously, seem to discourage the reporting of concerns.
As Older People's Commissioner for Wales, I take the matter of whistleblowing very seriously and have commissioned Cardiff University to research this sensitive topic in health and social care settings in Wales. This research is due to report in the spring of 2012.
In January, I will also be calling for evidence from people in Wales who have been whistleblowers so we can paint a more accurate picture of the challenges and barriers they face. It is no use having policies and processes in place for whistleblowing if people feel they are not supported to use them.
Older People's Commissioner for Wales, Cardiff
Euro failure means profits
Currency markets must be rubbing their hands in glee. The possible demise of the euro will bring untold fortunes and limitless opportunities to gamble, to sell short, to create panic.
Not so long ago, before the euro came about, currency markets did the rounds of all of the European currencies in turn. What else is there to do? Stable markets bring no profits. George Soros famously gambled on the pound and made billions in profit.
... while ye may
The relative immediacy with which George Osborne brought in legislation reducing the pensions of public-sector workers rather contrasts with the period of eight years allowed bankers before the full implementation of the Vickers Plan ring-fences their activities. How much in bonuses will be comfortably wangled in that time?
Wrong but right
Stephen Glover (19 December) points out that claiming the News of the World deleted Milly Dowler's voicemails has proved to be inaccurate. This is by no means the first time that inaccurate information has precipitated significant change.
The classic, rather benign, example is the story of the student allegedly killed in Prague in November 1989. It is accepted now that this did not happen but at the time it was enough to oblige the authorities there to start negotiations on transfer of power.
A twisted life
I must admit to being amused by your comment about the notorious armed robber and multiple-murderer Donald Neilson (Obituaries, 21 December). No one could dispute the claim that "After the army, [Neilson] did not adjust well to civilian life".
Pay up, or else
No cosy deal from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs for me. I have just been sent a tax bill for 39p.
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Ebola outbreak: Sierra Leone's guardian of the dead is at work again
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