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Thursday 12 February 2009
Letters: Rational approach to drugs
Rational approach to drugs is shouted down
I woke on Tuesday to hear Professor Nutt being hauled over the coals by the Home Secretary. I became increasingly irritated by Jacqui Smith's bizarre notion that Professor Nutt had "made a link" between ecstasy use and horse riding.
I have actually read the paper. He compared the risks of two rather different leisure activities, one legal and one illegal. He asked the difficult question about what justifies banning one thing rather than another. His conclusion seemed rather modest – that we try to base our decisions about drugs and risk on rational grounds.
The remarkable thing about most of the speakers from the House of Commons was their inability to engage with the issue at hand. Professor Nutt was denounced as if he had taken out a full-page newspaper advertisement saying "Come on kids, here's the Ecstasy, let's get high."
The fact that he might not see the issue with the same eyes as the Government seems to be intolerable to the Home Secretary and the House of Commons. Well, why bother with an adviser if all you want to be told is what you want to hear? And so blowhards from both sides of the House weighed in with their tediously predictable denunciations, too witless to see that they were being sold a pup, too gutless to risk appearing "soft" on drugs – and too smugly sanctimonious to consider that a pragmatic assessment of realities might be better than a bogus moral crusade.
Dr Philip Timms FRCPsych
Consultant Psychiatrist, South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
Calls by politicians for Professor David Nutt to apologise ("Confused? You will be in this drugs debate", 10 February) set a dangerous precedent for those whose job is to analyse risks afflicting modern existence, as cues for the formulation of public policy. Would an epidemiologist enumerating the risk of junk food, obesity and related diseases be asked to apologise for providing a comparative risk assessment?
Of course, most rational human beings would sympathise with those who suffer tragedies, whether due to drug use or otherwise. The emotiveness of this issue, however, should not cloud investigation and reporting of facts and assessments. This whole episode indicates that in an increasingly risk-averse society there is little appetite for the understanding of quantitative nature of risk, particularly when it involves the word "drug". A course in basic statistics should be compulsory for politicians seeking higher offices.
Dr Aamir Ahmed
Try putting real bankers in charge
It seems to have escaped the notice of commentators on the current banking crisis that the disgraced CEOs and directors of banks are not bankers.
Until relatively recently the CEOs of banks were career bankers who had worked their way up through the ranks. They got to positions of power after they had received a thorough grounding in banking. They qualified themselves professionally through the examinations of the Institute of Bankers. They typically became chief executives in their fifties when they were mature bankers who understood risk.
In my career in NatWest (before it was vandalised by RBS) at one stage I headed a department where we employed a number of accountants who, alongside bankers, investigated companies with problems. It was a fantastic combination of complementary skills, but there is no doubt that it was the bankers who had a particular understanding of risk, not the accountants.
So as part of the process of "rehabilitation" for the banks let us not forget this. The banks must return to their traditional businesses and their traditional values – and they must be run by proper bankers.
The bankers' Commons inquisition was another "snow event". It seemed as if all the participating actors subconsciously colluded to give the public the show they expected. From the rehearsed remorse of the accused to the contrived angry bluster of the inquisitors, it came across as pure theatre, calculated to disguise what was in grifter parlance a snow-job.
I am interested in a term which has become widely used in relation to the financial crisis – toxic assets. Are these the same as what used to be known as liabilities?
Press watchdog trusted and used
Helena Kennedy's diatribe about self-regulation of the press (letter, 11 February) was lacking in one regard: facts. She relied on a poorly researched report from the Media Standards Trust, a private pressure group she is associated with which has opaque appointments procedures and an unclear constituency. At no stage did the report's authors seek any formal evidence from the Press Complaints Commission or come to see how we work.
By contrast, our own procedures and activities are highly transparent, as anyone looking at our website or published reports could tell, and we regularly account for ourselves to – among others – the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
The PCC helps thousands of people a year with advice and quick remedies for inaccuracy and intrusion. If people had no confidence in us, as Helena Kennedy alleges, then they would not come to us in the record numbers that they do. Her peculiar outburst should not deter people who need our help from seeking it.
Director, Press Complaints Commission
Car makers could rescue themselves
Recently I decided that it might be a good time to buy a new car, and in the past few days I have visited six of the larger local car showrooms.
In three of them I was ignored and it was only after I had been hanging around for a while and then approached a member of staff that I got any attention. In none of these showrooms was it possible to test drive a vehicle that day, and I was told I would need to phone and make an appointment.
In the other three showrooms I was approached politely shortly after I walked in and asked if anyone could help me. I was offered a test drive there and then or at my convenience.
The showrooms where I was ignored belong to companies making a substantial proportion of their cars in the UK; the three where they seemed keen to do business are foreign and manufacture their cars overseas. If the UK motor industry needs so much help, it could at least make more effort to sell its cars and try harder to rescue itself.
Beverley, East riding of Yorkshire
An answer for a nation in debt
From the action taken by a Member of Parliament who was a distant cousin of mine, I believe I have an answer to current problems: means to assist in reducing the national debt.
He was Matthew Dease, member for Co Louth during the 19th century, when Ireland was part of the UK, governed from London.
He had inherited a degree of wealth but had no family, and willed that, after small bequests to his solicitor and agent, the remainder of his estate, amounting to £40,000, was to go the Chancellor of Her Majesty's Exchequer "to be by him applied towards the extinguishment of the national debt". His wishes were adhered to and the country benefited by what today would amount to about £4m.
I urge that this example be pressed to the attention of those members of the Lords and others in Parliament who might have received financial reimbursement for favours, that they be encouraged to follow this fine example. Furthermore, the invitation should be extended to all those who have gained bonuses within the country's taxpayer-supported financial services.
Still no inquiry into Finucane shooting
Twenty years ago, on 12 February 1989, Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane was shot dead in front of his wife and children. Credible evidence has suggested that UK state agents colluded in his murder.
The UK government has still failed to establish an independent public inquiry. Instead they have sullied the very concept of "public inquiries" with the 2005 Inquiries Act, enabling ministers to decide who sits on an inquiry, whether it is held in private and which findings are published. An inquiry under the 2005 Act would be a sham.
The Government has repeatedly promised an independent inquiry into the Finucane killing. For the sake of his family and the wider public, it is time it honoured that promise.
UK Campaigns Director, Amnesty international, London EC2
The end of the free market
The free market has indeed "failed us", disastrously, because that is what free markets do. And they fail precisely because they are free; free from regulation and free of "social or ethical purpose".
Once Jeremy Warner's plan ("A manifesto to save the free market", 5 February) is implemented and the we have put in place imposed capital balances, enforced corporate responsibility and the rest, we will be in a much better situation but we won't have free markets, and we should not hanker after them either. All that would then be needed is a final set of controls to suppress tax havens and tax avoidance.
Cromwell and the fight for tolerance
Congratulations to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for a well argued piece (9 February). However, I take issue with her remark that Ayatollah Khomeni was "the Cromwell of his time".
Cromwell was a religious independent, and represented for his time tolerance in belief. England saw a burgeoning of sects, Jews were allowed to return, and eventually Roman Catholics were allowed limited freedom of conscience (although not Muslims – that would have been a step too far in any European country of the time).
As Cromwell said: "It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deny a man the liberty he hath by nature upon a supposition that he may abuse it." He was not an ayatollah.
Graham D Evans
No change in Israel
The Israeli electorate has spoken, and whatever government emerges the peace process is effectively dead. Palestinians will continue to live under occupation, with expanding Jewish settlements, while Gaza remains under blockade and facing devastating retaliation for any attempt to respond. America still supports Israel as its principal ally in the Middle East. How should the rest of the world react?
Horses on the land
Brendan Butler (letter, 7 February) says it is a mistake to believe that Shires were the dominant horses on farms in the 1940s. While he is right for Devon he cannot speak for England. I was evacuated to Ashdown Forest (Sussex) for six years during the Second World War. The farms all had horses, exclusively Shires. At the farm of the convent at Ashdown Park, where I lived for three years, the Shires, called Captain and Titanic, were replaced by a tractor in 1942. It shows we were not that short of oil.
Defying the snow
Flippin' 4 x 4 owners grabbing the glory again (letter, 10 February). I used to deliver meals on wheels in a Skoda Felicia. The only recognition I ever got for battling through snow, ice and floods was, "You're late today."
R A Flower
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Law of lemon tarts
The reason that the illustration on M R Stallion's lemon tart box (letter, 10 February) includes the phrase "serving suggestion" is not that the consumer is not credited with sufficient nous to think of a similar arrangement, but, rather, to address the insistence of pedants and fools that the box should contain the pie, plate, fork and possibly the table-cloth, napkin and table too, as illustrated. This avoids the possibility of a time-consuming legal defence of the position that, by not doing so, it contravenes the Food Safety Act 1990 or Trade Descriptions Act 1968.
Further to the potential ambiguity of "St Andrew's Square", pointed out by your correspondent the Rev Peter Sharp (9 February), I did once see a sign for "St Andrew's Close" under which someone had written, "I can't see him."
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire
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