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Monday 10 October 2011
Letters: Quantitative easing
A handout for the banks and a dose of inflation
The latest helping of £75bn in quantitative easing is simply another subsidy to the banks to further shore up their balance sheets. As in the past the funds will not be passed on to small businesses or anyone else to get the economy going again.
What is really required now is to recognise once and for all that the neo-liberal economic system is bust and stop trying to restore it. The banks should be taken directly under government control and then become instruments of policy.
If the Government were in direct charge of the banks then the lending required could take place. Construction and other industries could get on with building the houses and restoring the infrastructure of the country, thereby providing the work and tax revenue so desperately needed.
The present situation is the worst of all worlds, allowing the banks to continue as before, restoring their position, living in a bubble and continuing to pay themselves unjustifiable bonuses.
Under the stewardship of Chancellor Gordon Brown we lost about 35 per cent of our worldly wealth by the huge depreciation of the exchange rate of sterling with the euro and other currencies. Despite the catastrophic weakness of the euro our currency still falls. No one appears to have much confidence in the UK.
Now we have another £75bn dilution of our wealth under the name QE, which is a euphemism for theft by the Government. Now a total £275bn is the level of our loss by QE dilution, the latest tranche of which will become inflation, just like the earlier amounts.
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire
The custodian of our currency, the Bank of England, is to indulge in another dose of monetary incontinence, otherwise known as quantitative easing.
But QE will eventually have to be reversed if runaway inflation is to be avoided. More QE today should mean even more painful withdrawal symptoms tomorrow.
Our monetary masters in their heedless quest for growth think otherwise. They would tolerate higher inflation to speed the fall in the real value of government debt. It's default by stealth and it too will ultimately be painful.
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
Wilkins and the DNA discoveries
In commenting on the matter of Nobel Prizes not being awarded posthumously, Steve Connor (4 October) wrote that Maurice Wilkins would arguably not have received a share of the DNA prize had Rosalind Franklin still been alive. It is time to put this myth to rest. I was a PhD student at King's College in 1951 to 1955 and during my subsequent career in structural molecular biology I maintained close contact with Maurice Wilkins and his colleagues for many years and, until her untimely death, with Rosalind Franklin too.
The model published by Crick and Watson in their famous Nature paper indeed conformed in general outline to the helical parameters of Franklin's DNA X-ray photograph, which Watson had seen, together with the deductions of Crick and Watson about DNA base-pairing, and to the earlier published proposal of Astbury and Bell that the bases were stacked on top of each other like "a pile of pennies". But describing their proposal as a "model", Crick and Watson produced no data to show that it was in satisfactory agreement with the complete intensity pattern of the available X-ray photographs – and, indeed, it was not.
In view of the importance of ensuring that a satisfactory structure could be achieved, not least because other workers were proposing very different alternative models, Wilkins and his group embarked upon a lengthy investigation which involved obtaining better DNA specimens, better X-ray photographs and novel crystallographic refinement methods, which led to the clear establishment of correct structures for DNA in various states. These proved beyond doubt the essential correctness of the general nature of the Crick and Watson model, including the obvious corollary of its vital biological implications. It is clear that, by this lengthy and experimentally outstanding work, Maurice Wilkins fully justified his share of the Nobel prize.
Undoubtedly, Jim Watson was much influenced by his sight of Franklin's X-ray photograph, though the crucial features in it could probably have been gleaned from previous work of others, including that of Astbury's group, but it is a travesty to imply that Maurice was less worthy than Rosalind of a share in the prize.
Professor A C T North
Law firms favour elite schools
Kate Hilpern is wrong to suggest the transformation in the legal profession's diversity has been amazing ("New rules promise to bring an end to the old boys' network", 27 September). According to our research 15 per cent of lawyers still come from exclusive public schools that educate only 2 per cent of the population.
We analysed the profiles of 49,600 professionals working in London using the business networking site LinkedIn – 7,200 of them attended public schools. This makes those educated at one of the country's 250 public schools seven times more likely to become legal professionals than those educated in the state sector. Although these biases towards people with private education are likely unintentional they still exist and sustain the hegemony of the old school tie.
The situation is actually deteriorating as the legal profession becomes more elitist. While the UK's blue-chip law firms opened up to a generation of partners educated in state secondary schools in the 1960s – predominantly in grammar schools – this has proved to be a transient change. For instance, between 1988 and 2004, the proportion of partners under 39 at the UK's five Magic Circle firms who had been educated in private schools increased from 59 per cent to 71 per cent.
But this isn't a case of wanton snobbery on behalf of legal employers – in many ways, Britain's blue-chip legal employers are simply reacting to the decline of state education. The overwhelming conclusion must be that if your children aspire to a successful legal career and you are choosing them a school, it pays to pay.
Laurence Simons, London WC1
I read the Diversity in Law supplement with interest, but, in addition to gender and ethnicity, was disappointed to see only a brief passing reference to age as a factor.
Far be it from me to suggest that lawyers deliberately flout the law on age discrimination, but neither recruitment processes nor openness towards those who can bring the benefits of life's rich experience seem apparent.
The legal profession has gone nowhere either to consider the benefits of such recruits or even just to apply an inclusive approach towards older entrants. Just ask a few mature law graduates.
Elusive fig-leaf in Afghanistan
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I heard the comments by General Stanley McChrystal, former Coalition commander in Afghanistan, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the invasion of that country.
General (retired) McChrystal says that the mission in Afghanistan is only half complete, and that we "lack the knowledge to end the conflict successfully". Well you don't say, Stanley!
In those 10 years, British forces have lost 382 dead and thousands have been seriously injured. The death toll is almost as great as the total losses in the Falklands and Iraq. At least we have something to show for those wars.
The strangest thing has been the apathy of the British public to the losses in Afghanistan. Iraq was hugely controversial, with people marching in the streets and newspaper columns filled for weeks with vitriol, directed mainly at Tony Blair and George Bush. But on Afghanistan, there's been virtually nothing.
I am of course pleased that healthcare in Afghanistan has improved and that millions of Afghan girls are now receiving an education, but the cost has been too great for advances that may be short-lived. It appears we're going to hang on in there for a bit longer, until we have enough of a fig-leaf to pretend that we've achieved a degree of success.
I suspect even the fig-leaf will be an illusion. And I don't believe it's worth the lives of any more British troops to create that illusion.
Rugby rabble slinks home
So the England rugby team comes home. They have displayed bad management, bad coaching, bad playing and bad behaviour. This undisciplined rabble has been a complete embarrassment.
Four pages in Saturday's sport section on England's forthcoming game against France in the rugby World Cup. Not a single word about Wales's clash with Ireland. When will you accept that England are not the only home-nation team in the competition? On present form, they are not even the best, or even the second-best. And now they are not even in the competition. Let's have a bit more even-handedness, please.
Newton Abbot, Devon
Margaret Barnes (letter, 5 October) laments the "rugby" (union) coverage given to Wales and Ireland in The Independent, in comparison to England, pointing out that it is a national newspaper. She should try being a rugby league supporter. Despite league having similar support levels to union, that support is generally concentrated away from the London-centric world of the media. Count those column inches and draw your own conclusions.
Danger on the motorways
Our prisons are bursting at the seams, the Government proposes to increase the motorway speed limit to 80mph and now "dangerous drivers could face five years in prison" (report, 7 October).
Is there ever any hope of joined-up thinking in government? Surely this is an argument for reducing the motorway speed limit to 60mph, with severe penalties for drivers who flout the law.
Trevor Pateman (letter, 3 October) is quite correct when he points out that modern cars are more fuel-efficient, cleaner and safer than those he drove forty years ago. Had the number of cars on the road stayed the same over that forty-year period, there would indeed be a strong case for raising the speed limit.
As we all know, however, the national fleet has increased enormously, more than offsetting the benefits of all those cleaner engines, so raising the speed limit would not be the action of a wise and green government. Mr Pateman is not the only one who "has work to do", but raising the speed limit is most unlikely to enable us to do any more. It would, however, undoubtedly put further strain on the environment.
Newcastle upon Tyne
On the subject of motorway speeds, four days ago I drove to London from Merseyside by the M56, M6, M5 and M40 and I noted that a very small minority of drivers were observing the 70mph speed limit. Most were doing 80-plus and not a few 90-plus. Where a 50 mph limit was imposed, most vehicles drove at 60.
My instincts tell me that if it were made legal to travel at 80mph, overall speeds would rocket to terrifying levels and, with the dangerous habit of tailgating at high speed, there would be many more shocking accidents.
Peaceful era before Jobs
The death of Steve Jobs prompts me to recall that 20 years ago when I had to travel on business I sat relaxed on the train knowing that no one could contact me, I did not have my peace disturbed by hissing noises from nearby earphones, overhearing the utterly uninteresting phone conversations of nearby and not so nearby travellers and the clattering of laptop computers and flickering coloured lights.
I might write a few notes in my notebook regarding meetings to come or meetings just attended. I could write minutes and notes for my secretary to type for me. My boss did not expect me to contact him until the next time I was in the office unless some extraordinary unexpected thing had happened.
Oh, happy days.
Pioneers of the air
Guy Keleny (Errors & Omissions, 8 October) is surprised that "aviation" appeared in the dictionary four years before Otto Lilienthal's glider experiments of 1891. He may be more surprised to learn that Yorkshire Baronet Sir George Cayley had not only flown a glider by 1852, but had published his famous "triple paper" on aeronautics in 1809-10, acknowledged by Orville Wright as a true inspiration of the Wright brothers' work.
The rewards of Allen's genius
John Walsh's profile of Woody Allen (8 October) contains the following curious sentence: "The creative results of Allen's self-exile to London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome in the mid-late 2000s were patchy – Match Point made $23m worldwide, Cassandra's Dream less than $1m – but he clearly felt the move was therapeutic." Since when were creative results measured in dollars?
Political mood music
David Lister (The Week in Arts, 8 October) asks why the musical send-offs of the party conferences are always rock. Why not a classical fanfare, he asks. Isn't the answer simply that politicians in general, party leaders in particular, and the folk who stage-manage these events for them are all pig-ignorant musical philistines?
Perspectives on single-sex schools
Let children learn to live with other human beings
Thank you for your article on the myth that single-sex schools suit girls better than mixed (6 October). The UK must have one of the most unnatural education systems in the world. Apart from separating girls from boys, we also separate Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and a host of other religious groups.
Aside from the academic argument, which as you state is arguably down to exclusive schools being able to cherry-pick their pupils, children need to be able to learn to co-exist with other human beings, not to start off life being acutely conscious of as many differences as our apartheid-based education system can inculcate.
As someone who attended two academic single-sex schools, I never "went through life feeling the leadership roles were mine". When I started university, there was a marked difference between the girls who had attended mixed schools, who were extremely relaxed in all company, and those of us who went to single-sex schools, who were awkward and uncomfortable, as well as desperate to be involved in relationships. My son and daughter, who attended the same schools (another logistical and emotional advantage) have many friends of both sexes.
Over the years, the media has constantly compared our schools system unfavourably against those in Europe, yet most schools in Europe are mixed. It's time we scotched this myth and let our young people grow up in an environment that simulates life.
Preparing girls for a world of risks and opportunities
Your article touches on some of the advantages of single-sex schooling without highlighting the life benefits that it can provide, especially for girls.
What an all-girls school can do is build risk-taking and resilience. In science lessons it is the girl tackling the boiling test tube and the Bunsen burner; in school plays it is the girls who do the casting and directing; on the sports field it is the girls who plan the strategy and score the goals. In working life, the ability to take risks is essential. The young employee who is brave enough to ask a question at a big meeting, or to disagree with the crowd view is someone who has learned early in her education that it is OK to take risks, it is OK to stand out from the crowd.
Resilience is important too. In working life, things happen that are not "fair" – companies merge, economies crash, strategies change – and a young employee can find his or her career hits the wall, through no fault of their own. All-girls schools show girls that it is OK to make mistakes, it is OK to try and fail – and then pick yourself up and try again – or as Beckett said, "fail better".
Chief Executive, The Girls' Day School Trust,
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