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Monday 29 June 2009
Letters: Men's health
Men are badly served by the National Health Service
I read Terence Blacker's "When it comes to health, men are second-class citizens"(16 June) having just brought my husband home from hospital after treatment for prostate cancer.
My husband has recently turned 52. We asked our GP to do a blood test for PSA in March (Prostate Awareness Month). This was because my father-in-law died of prostate cancer and my two brothers-in-law have recently been diagnosed. As the youngest, we felt he needed to have his PSA levels measured as a precaution. Despite the family history, the GP we saw said this was unnecessary at his age and did the blood test only when my husband insisted. No physical examination was done. We were told to make an appointment to discuss the results, a PSA of 12.9. Our GP was of the opinion that we should wait and monitor the levels over a period. He begrudgingly agreed to refer us for a biopsy when we insisted, but refused to refer us as an urgent case.
At this stage, we were looking at a referral time of four to six weeks. We decided to use my husband's private health insurance, and the biopsy was done, the result being a Gleason score of seven (the scale goes from one to nine). Consequently my husband has undergone a radical prostatectomy.
My husband has had no symptoms; if he had listened to his GP, he would have had neither a blood test, nor a biopsy, and as a result, by the time he showed symptoms, he would have been beyond treatment.
As Terence Blacker rightly points out, if it had been a woman with a lump in the breast, it would have been different. Indeed, twice in the past 10 years I have found lumps in my breast and have been referred to a consultant as a matter of urgency.
If we had listened to the very person who is supposed to be our first line of defence, our GP, we would be in desperate straits. We have been lucky; others may not be.
Climate change: a levy on oil is vital
Dr Pollard (Letters, 22 June) refers to an "oil paradox". This arises because of an error on mankind's part. We have treated our fossil fuels in the same way as we treat renewable commodities, and price on the basis of extraction and refining costs, together with the laws of supply and demand. Fossil fuels ought to be regarded as a store of capital. When we use them, we are, in effect, selling capital.
We need an international agreement to set up something akin to our former fuel-tax accelerator, whereby an increasing levy is placed on every barrel of oil, and all gas and coal, wherever it comes from, to be collected by a new UN agency. This money would be used to fund renewable energy projects worldwide.
Placing the levy on crude oil would mean that all its products, including aviation fuel, would be affected. The spend on renewables would create sustainable jobs, many in poor countries. The levy would be just, in that the more fossil fuel we use the more we contribute to securing future energy supplies. As Dr Pollard states, there is actually far more renewable energy available than we need, but it is much less convenient to harness than fossil fuel.
The levy would, admittedly, put up food prices, but we saw this happen anyway last year. The levy, if properly managed, could be adjusted to smooth out wild price fluctuations, and allow us all to adapt more easily to the inevitable high-energy-cost future.
BSkyB's malign effect on sport
Your leading article "Free competition is in the best interest of the viewers" (27 June) astonished me with the statements that BSkyB has "offered a fair deal to British sport viewers"and made a "contribution that ... must not be overlooked".
The whole of the Sky TV industry is based on making money and swallowing any competition. And it is headed by Rupert Murdoch, whose acquisition of The Times and The Sun newspapers signalled a new, ruthless and unpleasant societal order. Monopolism and capitalism were in, and, as his empire expanded, Murdoch was able to court politicians and influence public thinking in such a way as to make his right-wing, fear-mongering world view not just acceptable but effectively unchallengeable.
It is no surprise to me that UKIP and the BNP are finding such favour today, nor that our culture is ever more narcissistic and greedy, the same culture that has created the global recession.
So the Premier League's "coffers" have been "swollen" by the BSkyB revenues. Is that a rational assertion of the good that BSkyB has done for sport in general? In football as elsewhere, competition has been reduced to the spectacle of the few richest and most powerful teams swapping trophies, and the poorer majority scrabbling around for money and support with no prospect of higher achievements.
And most of the population cannot see live football anyway. Indeed, we cannot watch most sports unless we pay to do so. And plenty of us hate that idea. Especially as we know that our money is going not towards customer care but towards empire-building.
So my enjoyment of TV sport, indeed of TV and the media in general, has been spoiled by BSkyB. I continue to make my little stand by refusing to pay for cable or satellite TV, but in this age where having more overrides having enough, my stand constitutes next to nothing.
When is a chugger not a chugger?
Your Big Question on chuggers (24 June) reminded me of an incident a couple of years ago when I was returning to my car, which was parked on a street in London. I was just opening the door when I saw a very pleasant-looking young woman approaching carrying a clipboard and wearing a laminated ID card on a ribbon around her neck. I was preparing a polite but firm "Not today thank you" type of response when I was completely thrown by her asking me if I was "doing business?", the time-honoured opening gambit of the street prostitute. I said I wasn't but felt bound to ask about the clipboard etc. She explained that, thus disguised, she could approach as many men as she liked without arousing the suspicions of any passing police officers. The scheme seemed most ingenious and I have found myself wondering about other chuggers I have seen subsequently.
In your piece on "chugging", you quote an Irish TD referring to "fake collectors". Let me reassure readers that in more than 10 years of on-street activity in the UK, there has never been a single reported suspicion, let alone proven case, of bank fraud, identity theft, or other misuse of personal details relating to "chugging".
Even if such events have occurred in Ireland, that probably reflects the fact that, until recently, Ireland had practically no law regulating charities of any type at all, compared to the UK which has built up a robust and comprehensive body of statutory and self-regulation since the 1960s.
Public Fundraising Regulatory, Association, London SE1
Hackney's falling crime rate
I was disappointed to see Lord West's comments about the likelihood of being mugged in Hackney, which play to a damaging and outdated stereotype of the borough (26 June).
In fact, Lord West lives in the London borough that has the second-fastest decline in its crime rate, down by nearly 40 per cent in five years as a result of close working between the council and police. That represents 10,000 fewer victims of crime a year. In the past year, violent crime has fallen four times faster in Hackney than across London as a whole.
Hackney is no crime-free utopia, but with lower rates of street crime than many other London boroughs it is a clichéd and inappropriate target for the minister's ill-judged "wit".
Elected Mayor of Hackney
Jackson's tragic life will be his legacy
In your leading article of the 27 June, you state that, "[Michael] Jackson's legacy will not be the freak show, but the music he made at the height of his powers". I would beg to differ. The interesting – and tragic – aspect of Jackson was his life, which was not remotely reflected in his music. He stands in contrast to the likes of Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis. Both died at half Jackson's age and the music of both is full of reflections of the strangeness and darkness that ultimately defeated them.
Jackson's music is a bland product designed to sell to as many people as possible. He did not write his own songs and simply hired people adept at producing product for the masses. That was his "talent" as much as singing and dancing, but it says nothing about his life. In the end, his legacy will be his bizarre and sad life (a film is surely already in the planning) rather than his curiously cold and emotionless music.
Port Erin, Isle of Man
These past 24 hours it seems the entire BBC news operation has been crippled with Michael Jackson fever. Since the sad news of the passing of this fine artist first broke, the BBC news broadcasts have been more than 50 per cent devoted to it.
How many reporters does the BBC have worldwide and what has happened to the results of their endeavours in these past 24 hours since Jackson's death? Did they really scrape together nothing worthy of taking the place of the third showing of a "Thriller" clip? Would the BBC news today have been silence and no images had Mr. Jackson not passed away so conveniently yesterday?
What does it say about our culture when a quality newspaper feels it must devote 11 pages of news coverage and two of obituaries to a sad and damaged man whose celebrity was based on his rare ability to clutch his crotch and twizzle to the beat rhythmically?
Solihull, West Midlands
Really! Thirteen pages on Michael Jackson! What would you have done if Ronaldo had died on the same day?
After the saturation coverage by the media of Jackson's death, all that is lacking is for Gordon Brown to declare a day of national mourning to commemorate the event.
Simon Carr headlines his column of 26 June, "If you have to say you are honest, no one will believe you". Might not this also be true of people who have to keep assuring each other that they are "honourable"?
Anyone familiar with the Bible's Old and New Testaments will know that Jewish lines of descent were through the paternal line, those who "begat" their successors; and that included Jesus ("You're still Jewish – even if your mother isn't", 26 June).
It is understood that the need for a Jewish mother, rather than father, only began with the Diaspora: everyone would know who the mother had been, but there might be some doubt about the father, as for sparrows.
Sir Reginald E W Harland
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Michael McCarthy ("Car-free towns are impossible without railways", 26 June) posits that the car is essential for rural communities because so many of them are hard to reach by public transport, making Vauban-like communities hard to replicate on a wider scale. Sadly, he does not go on to explain why the inhabitants of rural communities couldn't cope with walking to cars kept on the outskirts of their villages, as the inhabitants of Vauban do.
Bank chief's salary
Daniel Watkins (Letters, 26 June) informs us that the new chief executive of RBS would not deploy different strategies if offered £1.2m pa instead of £9.6m pa, but would do so for another company. That of course depends whether another company would be willing to pay him £9.6m for £1.2m-worth of work. Perhaps the relentless focus on reducing costs, which so many executives urge on their staff, is not practised by those on the boardroom gravy train?
I have a great deal of sympathy for Liz Finlay (letters, 26 June) in her reaction to the use of "to medal" an athlete and "to farewell" the deceased. But it has been my unfortunate experience that modern English usage has now regressed to the point that there is no noun that cannot be verbed.
Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire
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