The dreadful side-effects of some statins can be permanent
Sir: I read Ian Morris's letter (31 August) regarding statins with great interest. In 1989, I was in hospital, having suffered heart failure; I was also diagnosed a Type-2 diabetic, with raised blood pressure.
I retired three years later and was prescribed Atorvastatin by my GP because my cholesterol was slightly up. A month later it was down to normal but I was advised to keep taking them after I questioned the need to do so. In 2002, I suffered a stroke, losing most of my mobility. My blood pressure was stabilised but I became insulin-dependent.
My overall condition was up and down but after badgering my GP he referred me to a local leisure/fitness centre two years ago and my strength and fitness gradually improved.
A year ago, like Clive Goozee (letter, 1 August) my statin was changed and I immediately experienced horrendous pains in my legs. I stopped taking them and although my GP changed me back to the original prescription he admitted that the reason was cost.
I am convinced the major reason for my continued existence and reasonably good health is the exercise I still enjoy, and I would advise anyone in a similar position to make enquiries at their local fitness centre.
KING'S LYNN, NORFOLK
Sir: The suggested mass medication of all those over 50 with statins fills me with horror. My partner was prescribed these drugs a year ago to assist with slightly raised cholesterol levels.
Within 14 days, the side-effects were so grave I almost failed to recognise the person I had lived with for nearly 30 years . Repeated urinary tract infections (normally rare in men) and very severe loss of short-term memory disappeared a few weeks after he stopped taking the medication. On the advice of his GP, he resumed taking statins and these intense symptoms returned.
A search of the internet has led us to discover that thousands have suffered similar side-effects, some long-lasting or permanent. Most of the medical establishment and the manufacturers deny any side effects, other than "very rare muscular and liver problems".
The more people who take these drugs, the more problems there will be.
Comprehensives can buzz with aspiration
Sir: Johann Hari is spot-on in arguing (2 August) that comprehensive schools containing largely pupils from lower-income and deprived backgrounds will struggle to raise aspirations, communicate knowledge and produce young people who have enquiring minds.
But Hari's solutions are disappointingly unimaginative and potentially counter-productive. Busing has the capacity to stigmatise those being bused, and a school-place lottery such as the one being introduced in Brighton produces losers on both sides of the social divide that persists in our country.
I was fortunate in being a pupil at a comprehensive school located in a catchment area designed to include the kind of council estate in which I grew up, on the periphery of Bristol and a more affluent corridor leading to the centre of the city.
The school was led by a headteacher who reminded everyone at the beginning of each school year that the school's motto was the Greek word for excellence - Arete - which also embodies the notion of fulfilling one's potential.
This headteacher had real presence and style, and he expected the best of everyone. Parental involvement was high, and an active parent-teacher association kept the school on its toes.
I have concluded that a combination of a socially diverse catchment area, the high level of parental involvement that comes from a social mix, and top-quality leadership setting the highest standards, makes this type of school buzz with aspiration. Busing and lotteries are the equivalent to waving the white flag.
PROFESSOR DAVID HEAD
DIRECTOR, PLYMOUTH BUSINESS SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF PLYMOUTH
Sir: As a mature entrant to the teaching profession, it has been interesting to see how the reality of our classrooms compares to the perception. But nothing compares with the amazing level of accountability that Johann Hari gives schools in our society.
Apparently the character, knowledge, intelligence and social skills of Big Brother participants are a direct result of our education system. Clearly, it has nothing to do with the type of person for whom the opportunity of appearing on a dumbed-down reality TV show is an attractive proposition.
Hari takes a tenuous link and develops a detailed argument related to the alleged deterioration of education since the 1970s. In that time, achievement in schools has improved dramatically so that more students than ever are now going on to higher education. Of course, the nature of education has changed and there are no longer large numbers leaving at 15, as his parents (and many of my peers) did.
That could have to do with the demise of manufacturing, compulsory education to 16, and the need for students to be ICT- wise as well as numerate and literate. The conduct of the two participants referred to may have more to do with their home background, social circles and lifestyle than the school where they spent less than 15 per cent of their time between the age of five and 16.
(MATHEMATICS TEACHER), LONG BUCKBY, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Sir: I read with interest Johann Hari's insightful comment on how Big Brother is giving dramatic evidence of our country's educational shortcomings. I praise his observation that the perceived stupidity of particular contestants is actually an indication of how they have "not been engaged by the schools system or the culture".
We are sailing in to a sea of anti-aspirational learning poverty that can only have dark repercussions. Research we have recently conducted showed that almost half of the people who leave school after GCSEs (or, going further back, O level) do so they because they are engaged neither by the subject matter they are forced to study, nor the teachers who are under pressure to achieve examination targets come what may.
Brian Belo and Chanelle Hayes are just two more disillusioned victims of a "one size fits all" education system that totally fails to respond to the varying needs of individuals.
Punishing exam schedules, relentless testing and ineffective teaching is lowering learning motivation levels to a crippling extent and - we can safely assume, adding to the £10bn the CBI says is the annual cost to the UK economy of a poorly trained and dispirited workforce.
The sad thing is that this generation want to (and know they need to) continue learning. Seventy-one per cent of our respondents see ongoing education as essential to stay on top of a fast-moving world of work, and eight out of 10 saw the importance of having a formal qualification above the minimum level.
As Mr Hari said of his parents, respecting and revering learning is something that stays with you for your whole life.
ACADEMIC DIRECTOR, HOME LEARNING COLLEGE, LONDON SE26
Arctic threatened by race for resources
Sir: Andy McSmith (31 July) is right to point out the dangers of a "truly cold war" in the Arctic. But what to do to prevent this peaceful and fragile area of the globe becoming the next flashpoint in the race for scarce resources?
Some of us suggested that the way forward should be to use the present International Polar Year to lay the foundations for an Arctic Charter, setting out an internationally agreed regime for the region. This was the legacy of the last International Polar Year, leading to the Antarctic Treaty, which has protected that continent from inappropriate exploitation for 50 years.
Negative voices will say the latter was possible because there are no people in the Antarctic, but surely it is the very presence of potentially devastating human activity in the Arctic that makes the need there all the more pressing.
DIANA WALLIS MEP
(LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER), MEMBER OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF ARCTIC PARLIAMENTARIANS
Difficult Latin name to pronounce
Sir: I have never come across a species name before which combined a Latin noun with a French adjective: Clostridium difficile, the adjective being pronounced on all sides (doctors, nurses, politicians, etc) as "diff-i-SEEL". Or is it that the English ignorance of all things linguistically foreign has come into play again? Perhaps someone important in the Department of Health initially mispronounced it, and everyone else followed suit. My Latin teacher told me it was pronounced "diff-i-KILL-ay". Was she wrong, or did some Frenchman discover the bacterium? C'est très difficile à comprendre.
DR EDMOND WRIGHT
The co-habiting law plan is ill-conceived
Sir: The suggestion that those who split up after living together for as little as two years - or shorter periods if they have children together - should be able to make financial claims against each other is ill-conceived and impractical to enforce (report, 31 July).
The most fundamental change suggested by the Law Commission is that couples living together would automatically enter into a contractual relationship unless they make a conscious decision to "opt out". Discussing opting out at the same time as embarking on/or being in a committed relationship will be a difficult topic for many couples to broach without mistrust arising.
Anyone thinking of moving in with a partner without the legal ties of a marriage/civil partnership should review the potential implications in the light of this proposed new legislation.
Co-habiting couples have never been recognised as a legal entity. There is no formal contract preceding such an arrangement, as is the case with marriage and civil partnerships, and yet at a stroke, unless couples opt out of the proposals they are caught by them. It surely must be a logically stronger case if the converse applied with "opting in" to the proposals being appropriate.
With more couples considering co-habiting as an alternative to marriage, particularly in the light of recent high-settlement divorces, perhaps the law reform advisers' time would be better spent in recognising the legality of pre-nuptial agreements, regardless of whether the couple is married or not.
These proposed new laws do very little to encourage committed relationships, and seem to fly in the face of the Government's stated policy on marriage and co-habiting. But they will provide a substantial increase in fees for the legal profession.
Scouts discriminate against atheists
Sir: The Scout Association no doubt has many things to celebrate on its 100th birthday, but inclusiveness is not one of them.
Despite all their talk of multi-culturalism, the Scout Association still discriminates against non-religious people in the Scout promise "to serve my God", and the Scout Association's "equal opportunities" policy, which contains the words: "With reference to religious belief, the avowed absence of religious belief is a bar to appointment to a Leadership position."
Or is it only "avowed absence of religious belief" Scouts discriminate against? If atheists and humanists are prepared to keep quiet or pretend to be religious believers, are they acceptable?
KINGSTON UPON THAMES
No life after man
Sir: The article on "Life after man" (30 July) was either an unbalanced paraphrasing of the writer's original work or the author was living in cloud-cuckoo land. If all humans died tomorrow, I imagine several nuclear power stations would eventually detonate, rendering vast areas radioactive for, at the very least, centuries. In addition, no mention was made of the many huge chemical factories and toxic dumps scattered around the planet; they would ultimately leak and contaminate their surroundings. Eden, I think not.
Sir: Most of the species on our planet would fare much better without us humans. But how can we find the motivation to save the amazing diversity around us without some seismic shift in our way of living?
Time to think again
Sir: Interesting to read (28 July) not only that at Peterloo in 1819 "police ordered some 60 cavalrymen to charge", some 10 years before even the Metropolitan Police was founded; and that in 1913, Emily Davison threw herself under the King's horse "at the Epson Derby". Who sponsored the Oaks, I wonder? Hewlett-Packard?
Rallying round the flag
Sir: How bizarre that Jack Straw should tell the SNP that flying the Union Flag on Government buildings applies only to England (report, 29 July). I thought it was our new PM (Scottish) who was desperately trying to defend the Union. Presumably, the Saltire can be flown over Government buildings in Edinburgh, but only the Union Flag in London. Parity, Mr Brown. You cannot have a Union with only England in it; you either legislate the same for all four members, or forget about the Union and we all fly our national flags.
Sir: With reference to Miles Kington's quest for finding the highest alcohol content in pub drinks (24 July). I have a couple of contenders from my past travels (although not from pubs). The first is a rum of 60 per cent, a bottle of which I was given from a refinery in Madagascar, after a visit. The second, far more potent, is a bottle of "spirit" sold in the drinks section of supermarkets in Tel Aviv, crudely labelled "95 per cent pure alcohol". Whether this was true state, I don't know, but being a 20-something kibbutz volunteer at the time (mid-1990s) it was quite a novelty.
Sir: I was interested to see that a Katherine Hamnett T-shirt with the logo "Bring Back God" was designated "Best Green Buy" in the Ten Best Women's T-shirts (2 August). The opportunity now exists for an even greener best buy if Ms Hamnett can be persuaded to change the logo to "Bring Back Cod".