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Saturday 26 April 2008
Letters: St George's Day
Boost the nation's pride and spirits with a day off for St George
Sir: I, like many other English, was very disappointed to find that 23 April passed just like any other day. St George's Day is an incredibly special day in the English calendar – a rare chance for our country to celebrate everything that makes us the proud nation we are. In this world of doom and gloom, terrorism and economic austerity, don't we need something to give us a bit of national pride?
An annual, nationally recognised public holiday that helps to boost pride in our unique national identity and increase patriotism can only be a good thing for social and cultural integration in this country. Shouldn't we have a regular celebration of the national identity we all share, regardless of race or religion?
The French have Bastille Day, the Irish have St Patrick's Day, and the Americans have the Fourth of July; why shouldn't we have St George's Day?
It is for this reason that I decided to give all 275 of my company's staff St George's day off work, despite the significant impact on company revenue and overheads. After all, there is only one day of the year to honour our cherished patron saint.
Come on Gordon Brown – help restore the population's pride in this great nation. Make St George's Day a public holiday.
Chairman, Weston Group, takeley, Essex
Sir: Far from being a suitable candidate for Britain's (or the UK's) patron saint (leading article, 23 April), St Aidan would represent the triumph of the English over the other peoples of these islands. King Oswald, King of Northumbria, who invited St Aidan down from Scotland to be his religious comforter, was a late convert to Christianity who only converted because he believed a stronger God would give him more success in battle. King Oswald's battles were often attempts to gain English ascendancy over native British forces that were already Christian, and he met his death in AD 642 fighting Christian Welsh forces at Oswestry (named after "Oswald's tree", to which parts of his body were nailed after the battle).
St Aidan would be a possible candidate for an alternative Scottish patron saint as he spoke only Gaelic, but with his reputation forever tarnished for giving succour to the deeds of Oswald he would be best suited as the English alternative to St George.
Teachers' pay fails to match the job
Sir: I was deeply disappointed by your leading article "A lesson in selfishness" (24 April). As a relative newcomer to the teaching profession it is far and away the least selfish job I have ever done in my life. I love my job and I am utterly committed to my students, but there is no denying that the demands are simply not commensurate with the remuneration.
I am permanently exhausted and my job costs me all my weekday evenings, part of every weekend, every day off, time with my own children and almost any recreational or social life of my own. Even with a modest mortgage and unextravagant lifestyle, I still find myself unable to manage on my salary, let alone save for the future, and things are rapidly deteriorating as the cost of everything increases.
Teachers cannot be expected to carry the responsibility for socialising, educating and enriching an entire nation's youth, to absorb and respond to every government initiative and curriculum change and to give our all to our job when we are rewarded with such parsimony. If the Government genuinely cannot pay us more, then perhaps they can reduce the workload instead. I'd settle for that.
Dr Kathy Fawcett
Assistant Head of sixth Form, The Castle School, Thornbury, Gloucestershire
Sir: Many of us in the engineering and science community spend a great deal of our time pressing for improved recognition, resources and rewards for teachers of science, technology, engineering and maths – the Stem subjects that are crucial to our economic prosperity and to a sustainable future.
We need to foster, and reward, a high degree of professionalism in such teaching – from staff who conduct themselves with commitment and dedication, whose first priority is to convey an interest in and a passion for their subject to the next generation.
Our efforts are very much undermined therefore when some teachers display such deplorable selfishness and lack of concern for children as to strike. Stem teachers, like their colleagues in other disciplines, should be highly regarded professionals for whom striking would be unthinkable.
Dr David Brown
Chief Executive, Institution of Chemical Engineers, Rugby, warwickshire
Sir: The young teachers you interviewed ( 25 April) said that they were paying back student loans at 4.8 per cent interest.
When student loans were introduced, the Government claimed that they were to be at zero per cent interest. When challenged, they said that this meant "zero per cent in real terms". What this really meant was that the interest rate would be the same as the rate of inflation. It would therefore appear that the Government regards 4.8 per cent as the rate of inflation for those paying back student loans, but 2 per cent, or thereabouts, when dealing with paying teachers and other public workers. How fortunate it is for the Government to have both the RPI and CPI.
Ottery St Mary, devon
Sir: Despite the many persuasive arguments in the recent past advocating the improvement of all our schools through the dissolution of the "public school" system, it is oddly reassuring in these troubled times to know that the NUT can still be relied upon to come to the rescue of the independent sector.
Don't give up hope for an HIV vaccine
Sir: Your front page of 24 April asks the question – is it time to give up the search for an HIV vaccine? It is clear from the responses to the Independent poll quoted that the resounding answer is "No!" More than 80 per cent of the scientists surveyed agree that a new direction for HIV vaccine research is needed; an opinion that we support completely.
There is no evidence to indicate that an HIV vaccine is not possible. On the contrary, we have learned over the past 25 years that there are several points of entry for an effective HIV vaccine. These advances include the discovery that HIV, despite its ability to mutate, has a few regions that are very stable, making them attractive targets for a vaccine; the discovery that the outer envelope protein of HIV serves as the principal target for neutralising antibodies against the virus; the demonstration that in animal models, neutralising HIV with human antibody is possible; the demonstration that, in some individuals, certain immune responses can control the virus for years and sometimes decades; and that, with the right vaccine, non-human primates can be protected from infection with a virus similar to HIV. What we need to do now is design new vaccine concepts based on this knowledge and continue solving the key scientific questions that remain.
In science, knowing what does not work is as important as knowing what works. The failure of the recent Merck trial allows us to discount one approach and focus our efforts on more promising avenues.
The vaccine field is moving from a phase of optimistic hope to a new realism that it will be a hard road ahead. One only needs to remember that it took nearly 50 years to develop a vaccine for polio – and many predicted it would be impossible just before major breakthroughs.
PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR INFECTION, ST GEORGE'S,UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, ANDREW McMICHAEL, DIRECTOR, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford
Tax U-turn shows politics at its worst
Sir: The hysterical, in both senses, reaction to Gordon Brown's U-turn illustrates all that is bad in our politics (report, 25 April).
There is a truism that when in a hole one should stop digging. Unfortunately, our adversarial politics make it almost impossible for any politician to admit to having made an honest mistake, and to rectify it.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the 10p tax band, where were all the self-righteous critics, Labour, Tory and Lib Dem, when the policy was first announced? If they had been doing their job and properly scrutinising proposed legislation, the now, in retrospect, obvious problems would have been spotted in time for something sensible to be done.
Now some innocent people are going to suffer financially while our wonderful, caring politicians indulge in petty point-scoring instead of coming together to solve a real problem.
Professor Tom Simpson
University of Bristol
Sir: The Prime Minister claims that "the central issue is that we have taken more people out of poverty than any previous government". Hardly surprising when the only previous government of recent times was the Conservatives. Unfortunately, the people paying for Mr Brown's microscopic improvements to the low-paid are the slightly less low-paid and not the well-paid, who are receiving tax cuts. Whither Socialism?
Why children should study humanism
Sir: In response to Richard Ingrams' criticisms (Comment, 19 April), including humanism in GCSE religious studies does not compare to suggesting that the science course will include astrology; it is like saying the study of astrology will include astronomy, or that the study of alchemy will include chemistry; a rational approach to real world phenomena previously defined and obscured by superstition.
The reason why atheism would not be included in religious studies is because atheism is not a belief system; it is a disbelief in the existence of a god or gods.
As for what humanism means, humanists value happiness, freedom and justice, and are motivated by the desire to increase these and leave the world a better place. Humanism is the recognition that our moral values do not exist in a vacuum, and are founded on human nature and experience alone, and that our ethics and concern for others do not have an external source, as the religions currently studied in GCSE religious studies assert.
Humanists believe that moral values are not dependent on religion and that to assert otherwise is untrue, unfair to non-religious people, and a damaging idea in an increasingly secular society.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: Richard Ingrams is confused and out of touch. Religious studies in schools today has two general aims: for children to learn about the different beliefs and values present in today's society, and to reflect on their own beliefs and responses to the ultimate questions of meaning and purpose.
Government data says that 65 per cent of those aged 12 to 19 are not religious, so if they are going to have the opportunity to reflect on their own beliefs, obviously their beliefs must be reflected in the curriculum. Equally, there are many non-religious people in Britain today whose beliefs must be learnt about by young people for exactly the same reasons as religious beliefs must be learnt about.
As the Religious Education Council of England and Wales said in 1991: "It is necessary for pupils to learn that there are many who do not believe or practise a theistic or religious world-view. Indeed, if pupils did not learn this, it could be said they were victims of indoctrination."
Director of Education, British Humanist Association, London WC1
Sir: So Richard Ingrams doesn't think that humanism or atheism should be included in religious studies. Under which subject would he suggest that they be studied? Or doesn't he think religion should have any rational competition?
Racists for Obama?
Sir: I can't help noticing (for example, in your letters column of 25 April) that there appears to be no problem condemning white voters for rejecting Barack Obama on the grounds of his race, but nobody ever condemns black voters for disproportionately voting for him.
Sir: Congratulations on your excellent report on the "great migration crisis" (21 April). To the species mentioned you could add grasshopper warbler and ring ouzel, the latter being so scarce now that a passage bird I found on 17 April near Brighton on its way to more northerly hills /mountains became "instantly twitchable". Even though the ever-increasing width of the Sahara is a major factor in migratory birds not reaching Europe, the ring ouzel winters in southern Spain and north Africa so obviously a number of factors are at play here.
Sir: I too was heartened by John Grist's letter on politeness (Letters, 22 April). However, this week I have had a grown man threaten to fight me for a seat in a coffee shop, seen somebody shout at a homeless man for asking him for change, and had to deal with an overtly racist woman being thoroughly unpleasant to those who were only trying to help her. I'm not giving up on humanity yet, but I'm starting to worry that the odd ones who were always bad are getting worse.
Sir: Prince William's RAF joyrides are nothing new (report, 24 April). The day I was born, in 1932, my father flew his machine under Clifton suspension bridge in celebration. On many occasions he paid us visits and demonstrated his skills close to the washing line. My brother, as a Battle of Britain pilot, did much the same in his Beaufighter. Perhaps more memorable were the victory rolls over the school playing-fields by both Spitfires and Hurricanes piloted by old boys (in their late teens). This is the stuff woven into aviators and should be supported.
Bank on the taxpayer
Sir: With regard to the assets swapped by the banks, when credit-card debt can be rated as a "triple A" asset, you can fully understand how this mess came about. As to who will pick up the pieces, it will not be, as hoped for in your leading article of 22 April, the banks or the shareholders but the taxpayer; indeed, it will come as no surprise if the taxpayer foots the entire sum.
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