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Tuesday 1 September 2009
Letters: Poland and Hitler
When Poland's leaders were Hitler's accomplices
Norman Davies, focusing on the Polish experience of September 1939 ("We must not forget the real causes of the war", 29 August), reminds us that Poland's leaders were well aware of Czechoslovakia's recent fate at Hitler's hands.
Without in any way denigrating the extraordinary courage of Poland's soldiers and people in that September and thereafter, it is well not to forget that Poland's government was not always as honourable as its people. During Hitler's carve-up of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary were only too happy to join that man at the trough to try to grab slices of that defenceless country's land for themselves.
Poland in the 1930s was far from the liberal democracy which Czechoslovakia had achieved. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but, while the purpose of much written in Russia at the moment amounts to revisionism, it does hit awfully close to the truth when it labels the Polish government as crypto-fascist.
What is sad is that 70 years on, governments in their greed and duplicity still so often fail to represent the best of what their people are.
Norman Davies brings back memories of the odyssey which brought me to Britain. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 led to simultaneous invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union and all the atrocities perpetrated by these infamous allies against the nation of my origin.
Seventy years have passed since that midnight intrusion by the NKVD. In consequence, my mother, younger brother and I, after a painful journey in a packed cattle truck, found ourselves in Kazakhstan, where we were slave labourers for the crime of "potential disloyalty".
If it had not been for Hitler's betrayal of his ally in 1941, we would probably have perished there. As it turned out, the USSR could hardly oppose our evacuation to the Middle East. From there, by different routes, we found ourselves in Britain.
Father took part in the Warsaw uprising and joined us in Britain after the liberation from a camp in Germany. My brother finished Sandhurst and took part in the Normandy landings. I was trained as a pilot, then University of London degree and career in the City. Mum and Dad are no longer with us. They never saw Poland again.
How exams rate boys and girls
How heartening it was to read Esther Croom's spirited defence of hard-working students (letter, 28 August), which demonstrated flair as well as diligence. Like teachers, but perhaps unlike journalists, students understand the powerful motivational potential of the celebration of success.
Your front page article "Boys end the exam gender divide" was, I suppose, a welcome variant on the predictable "Exams dumbed down" or "Government/ teachers fail to meet targets" slants, but am I alone in thinking your jubilation at boys' "historic fightback" following a reduction in coursework, somewhat bizarre?
As a senior GCSE English coursework moderator, I am unlikely to be entirely unbiased in my evaluation of the merits of coursework, but "Ditching GCSE coursework key to improvement" evinces a use of language more usually associated with the "red tops".
You write: "Research has shown that girls favour the more methodical and diligent approach of being assessed on coursework, whereas boys are more likely to rouse themselves for an exam." Brilliant! We engineer results by cutting out coursework to handicap girls because they work too hard, then, in a few years' time, we can address the burning issue of girls' underachievement.
Diligence might be an old-fashioned virtue, but, entering the operating theatre, I'd fervently hope that my surgeon, having "roused himself" to wield the scalpel, had first studied my medical notes methodically.
Esther Croom should bear in mind that every time I am told that today's students are working harder than ever, the implication is that my generation got lower exam grades because we did not work hard enough.
To tell students who in years past would have been awarded a grade B that they are in the top flight is much more cruel, and most likely harmful, than merely pointing out an unfortunate truth.
So boys have ended the exam gender divide, have they (headline, 28 August)? That's amazing, I thought it was just that they'd moved the goal posts yet again – this time to give boys the advantage.
It shows what a mockery the exam and testing system is. Results are improving because children are getting better at taking the tests, or because the tests are redesigned to fit their abilities better – simple!
World-class care on the NHS
Ian Birrell reports that "the NHS is flawed" (28 August). As I write this, I am sitting in Bristol Royal Children's Hospital with my son, who is two and half. He had kidney failure shortly after birth and has been reliant on regular life-saving treatment since then.
He has received consistent world-class care from dedicated NHS professionals. This has been irrespective of our ability to pay or his other disabilities. I look around the ward and I wonder how many of the parents here would still have their children if it were not for the NHS. I can't think of many other countries where we would have fared better.
We need to be careful about writing headlines like "The NHS is flawed". We should beware of what we wish for.
Greg Lindsay's insistence on the power of the free market to provide health care in the USA (letter, 29 August) is misplaced.
For example, the CIA World Fact Book shows that infant mortality is 6.26 per 1,000 live births in the US, and 4.85 in the UK, while life expectancy at birth is 78.11 years in the US and 79.01 in the UK. The WHO reports that health expenditure per capita in 2006 was $6,714 in the USA, and $2,784 in the UK, yet we still live longer. This hardly seems to represent a triumph of the free market over socialised medicine in promoting efficient use of healthcare resources.
Economy needs more people
Rising birth rates among migrants arriving in the country are good news for the economy ("Baby boom drives British population to record high", 28 August). There is also probably a link between improved academic results and the increasingly diverse nature of the population here.
What the anti-immigration brigade continually forget to mention is the need to counter the ageing population. One academic estimates that the country needs 500,000 migrants coming in annually to retain present standards of living. While increased birth rates contribute something, as more migrants leave the country the number of economically active people is decreasing.
Rather than pander to the far-right claims of a country sinking under the weight of incoming migrants, policy makers should be more worried as to how they are going to encourage more migrant workers into the country and then get them to stay here. This is where the mutterings of the Conservative Party about the need to control immigration are so out of touch with the reality of the economy which they hope to be running in a few months' time.
A new strategy for fund managers
James Moore ("Investors told to take a share of responsibility", 26 August) is right. Fund managers need to engage more with companies to make sure they have sustainable business plans. But he omits a crucial fact: the fund managers themselves are driven by short-term performance. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that they neglect sustainable strategies without an immediate pay-off. Their silence is evidence of complicity, not absenteeism.
Fund managers need incentives that represent the ultimate investors (the majority of people, linked to these companies through pension funds and other investments). They should be required to show us their research and engagement strategy on companies. And they should tell us how they will engage more fully, not if they will. That way, investors who want companies to act responsibly could make sure the fund managers acting on their behalf are genuinely delivering in their interests. Not least, because that's what they're paid to do.
Managing Director, Investment Banking, Triodos Bank UK
Music pirates of cyberspace
The credit crunch has exposed many fallacies the rich and famous have been peddling. One is that they deserve massive salaries because they are incredible good at their jobs. Another is that pirate downloading is bad for the film and music industry ("Face the music, Mandelson tells pirates", 26 August).
Car workers have been laid off due to the credit crunch, as before them the coal workers and the shipbuilders because of "market forces". Those workers are supposed to take it on the chin and find another job.
When new technology overwhelms the handsome monopoly the recording and film companies have had for decades, we are supposed to curtail our civil liberties for the sake of their jobs and their industry. Music has existed for millennia while the monopoly of the recording industry is only about 100 years old. They had a good run. Now, let's go back to music.
The news that the Government has proposed tough new measures aimed at curbing illegal filesharing is welcome for the future of the UK's wonderful creative industries.
Piracy is not a victimless crime; it robs organisations of their revenue, employees of their livelihood, and the Government of taxable income . What is rarely mentioned in the digital content debate is that 27 per cent of the software used in UK businesses is illegal, which equates to £1.3bn loss per annum to the software industry – more than the losses to the film and music industries combined.
The creative industries contribute £53bn to the UK economy through their investments. Cutting off serious infringers' access to the internet, with the right evidence, would take away their ability to access and distribute content they have no right to in the first place.
It's a basic matter of right and wrong, thieves and victims; let's not call it anything other than what it is.
Chief Executive, Federation Against Software Theft Ltd
Deal with Libya
Mr Megrahi will probably be dead in a few months, and he may even be innocent; so why is there so great a fuss about the Government's last-minute attempt to extract some good out of this murky story? Contracts that secure oil and gas for the UK from Libya have been achieved and will benefit all UK citizens. It may be that the Government has got its priorities right.
Cricket on screen
The best film that I've seen about cricket (letters, 28, 29, 31 August) is Lagaan - Once Upon a Time in India, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker in 2001. I found it so exciting that I was motivated to go and watch a "proper" match. Well, to be honest, the real thing could do with a few song-and-dance interludes and a bit of love interest.
Football in private
On the possible return of full-scale football hooliganism, Terence Blacker (28 August) claims that "banning fans is ineffective, as are fines imposed on clubs". His proposed alternative is to force clubs to play a number of games unattended and untelevised behind closed doors. I can't work out how this would amount to something other than banning fans and thereby financially penalising their clubs.
Where did Amy Jenkins (27 August) get the idea that in Fay Weldon's generation men did not change nappies or make up bottles? I am roughly the same age as Fay Weldon and many men in the Sixties did both these things as well as pick up their own socks. In many respects women get the kind of men they deserve and always have done. Why did they get involved in the first place with the types who refused to share the chores?
Horsham, West Sussex
Concerning the limited range of adjectives in current use (letter, 29 August), the one that outstrips all others, particularly on TV, is fantastic. It has spread like an epidemic in recent years.
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