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- Arts + Ents
Thursday 20 December 2007
Who would be a teacher in this atmosphere of distrust?
Sir: There is much talk about schools being stuck with "weak teachers" and the difficulties of attracting the right candidates, but it seems only pay is being considered. I am considering a switch from a very well paid job into teaching and the thing that worries me more than money is micro-management and over-centralisation.
It doesn't seem teachers have much flexibility in what or how they teach, as the Government roll out endless new targets and faddish plans. Independent schools, on the other hand, do not look dissimilar to the ones of 30 or so years ago and they are achieving much better results. I'm sure this is not coincidence.
Also, teachers live in fear of pupils, as they can be persecuted by malicious claims, subjected to violence and constantly have to worry about accusations of impropriety. I understand the need to protect our children, but when I hear stories from a female friend who had to ask a six-year-old to clear spilled yoghurt from her own clothes as she could not be seen to be touching her, I despair for the society we have become.
If we start to trust our educators again, maybe we'll see their confidence grow and the teaching profession become a more attractive career choice.
Sir: Julia Doherty (Letters, 18 December) tells us that "pay and conditions are appalling and talented individuals who would make good teachers are not attracted to the profession".
In recent months I have talked to several able, competent individuals seeking a career change in mid-life, who have considered becoming teachers. In general, these people find the pay, conditions and splendid holidays more than acceptable. However, as one friend said: "It's a great plan except for having to work with all those whining teachers."
Futile blame and point-scoring in Bali
Sir: After two weeks of political and economical argument, rich and poor countries playing the blame game, crying officials and the host nation suggesting the science of climate change is still up for discussion, we ended up with an agreement. But was the UN climate conference a success?
The answers can be found in the final conference text. This 1,500-word document, the combined effort of 180 nations and many brilliant minds, provides a unique opportunity for everyone to see how effectively our leaders propose to tackle global warming. Nothing concrete was agreed at all. The word "will" has been used only three times throughout the entire document.
A reference to deforestation was included: "Enhanced national and international action on mitigation of climate change, including . . . consideration of . . . policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries" were the far-from-convincing words that everyone could agree to. The agreement contains not one reference to legally binding targets, blocked by the USA with indirect support from Japan and Canada. We were left with nothing but: "Recognising that deep cuts in global emissions will be required." Without binding targets, the world will have to rely on pie-in-the-sky technologies to be developed in time before global warming runs amok.
Strategies to stabilise or even reduce the world population were not discussed. And that despite the clear scientific prediction that the continued growth of the human population will stretch dwindling natural resources to the limit, with increased risk of conflicts over resources.
There is a strong feeling among activists that the political process, rooted in capitalism and greed, executed in an atmosphere of blame and point-scoring, was a spectacular failure.
Chairman, Carbon-info.org, Eastleigh, Hampshire
Sir: Dr Hansen is, of course, right in his warnings of the climatic menace of new coal-fired power stations (leading article, 17 December). Sadly, like all scientists, he does not understand the ways of politicians.
The art of politics is one of compromise, of giving everyone a fair share of the cherries in the cake. Give a politician a deadline of 2050; he will instinctively hope for 2075, and expect 2100.
Scientists have got to get into the way of presenting their facts not only with cold and careful logic, but with an ample supply of highlighters, capital letters, underlining, and, above all easy-to-read graphs so that their conclusions and timetables can be seen to represent cold, hard reality, not the wishful thinking of a budget statement.
Scientists seem to be expecting to stir up public opinion to the point where politicians have to sit up and take notice. Fine, if you have 20 years' start. No good at all if you have five years, if that. For the sake of everyone, including their own families, every competent eco-scientist must, please, reach MPs and make sure they both listen and actually understand.
Kenneth J Moss
Sir: Coal will be the most important fuel for meeting the world's energy demands throughout the 21st century. It provides 33 per cent of electricity in Britain, 78 per cent in China, and 93 per cent in Poland. We are not going to secure international agreement for measures to tackle global warming without recognising this reality.
Fortunately the technology to capture and store some 85 per cent of coal's carbon content is not "decades away" (report, 17 December). It is available now, but its cost is too high and some promising additional techniques have still to be fully developed. Economies of scale will quickly make carbon capture and storage routine.
This is why large-scale demonstration projects must be given public financial support urgently, and why the Government should prohibit the construction of any new coal-fired power stations not fitted with CCS technology.
Chris Davies MEP
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, European Parliament, Brussels
Sir: If the Government approves plans for the ill-conceived, old-fashioned and environmentally disastrous coal-fired facility at Kingsnorth, it will not only demonstrate an appalling lack of commitment to fulfilling the UK's environmental goals it will also be a disaster for Kent (report, 17 December).
The South East region, including Kent, is likely to be one of the worst hit by climate change, because of its long coastline and low-lying land. Ironically, Kent is also ideally placed to benefit from renewable solutions such as wind and tidal energy generation, which can deliver both energy security and new employment opportunities.
Instead of backing a further coal-fired station at Kingsnorth, this would be an ideal opportunity to invest in renewables and make serious progress towards our EU targets. The Government could start along the right path by backing distributed generation and providing full funding for renewable energy grants for homeowners.
Dr Caroline Lucas MEP (Green, South East England), London SE1
Use your public library or lose it
Sir: As a librarian of 30 years' standing I have been following the correspondence regarding libraries that was sparked by Hermione Eyre's recent article.
It seems to me that libraries suffer from the "Radio 3 syndrome" people never listen to it but like to know it is there. In any poll taken of local authority services, libraries nearly always come near the top in the appreciation league (usually tying with the fire service) and yet use of libraries is falling.
I am constantly amazed that many people think libraries are part of a national network that is centrally funded by government. Many do not realise that it is their council tax that pays for them, hence the variation in delivery across the country. While some authorities cherish their libraries and see them as an important part of the community, others pay lip service to their statutory duties and provide a "bare bones" service.
Here in Northamptonshire we have just launched our "Friends of the Library" scheme where local people can become actively involved in the service and contribute their time and effort to produce a service that fits their needs.
So I say to all those who bemoan the loss of the traditional library - get involved. To quote an oft-used phrase "Use it or lose it".
Legal aid cuts mean 'advice deserts'
Sir: Johann Hari is right to condemn the Government for its assault on legal-aid services (Opinion, 13 December). Over the past 20 years, successive governments have cut (under the guise of restructuring) the legal-aid budget.
As a result, there are areas all over the country, known as advice deserts, where those who are financially entitled to receive legal aid cannot find a legal-aid lawyer to represent them. In the area of housing law, more people lose their homes, fewer homeless families are housed by local authorities, and fewer tenants are able to challenge unlawful acts by their landlords.
Fixed fees and other legal-aid changes will make the situation much, much worse. This government prided itself on "bringing rights home", when it introduced the Human Rights Act. "Rights" are not much use to vulnerable people if there are no lawyers able to help them enforce those rights.
Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, London WC2
A bad time for Clegg's liberalism
Sir: Nick Clegg has made being "liberal" the centrepiece of his now successful campaign for the Lib Dem leadership. But an era in which the overriding political issue is the human race's bursting through the ecological limits of the planet that sustains us is hardly an era well suited to a liberal approach to economics and consumer choice.
The Lib Dems' staunch liberalism under Clegg will stand directly in the way of their alleged commitment to taking seriously the most important issues of our time in particular, the economic roots of dangerous man-made climate change.
The Lib Dems' commitment to neo-liberal political economy is why I left their Party and joined the Green Party. Nick Clegg's election underlines for me why the decision I made was the right one.
Cllr Rupert Read
Sir: Has Nick Clegg got "bottom"? Is there basalt under the blancmange? The next few weeks and months will no doubt tell.
What he has got, of course, is (assuming they remain on the Lib Dem front bench) two superb lieutenants in Vince Cable and Chris Huhne. They could be quite a trio.
Was Jesus really born in a stable?
Sir: Peter Popham's interesting note about the Vatican breaking with tradition regarding the Pope's nativity crib (15 December) raises the question, "What tradition?" St Francis's crib and its successors have been European scenes misrepresenting the Near-Eastern situation in St Luke's narrative.
The translation "inn" is unfortunate; the most natural rendering of the New Testament Greek kateluma would be "guest room". When Luke wanted to refer to an inn, as he does in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he uses the usual word pandokion.
Bethlehem was Joseph's home village, so the Holy Family would almost certainly have been staying with relatives. In an "all under one roof" house, probably built into a hillside, with the guest room already chaotically overcrowded with other relatives, a clean manger in a less crowded part of the house was probably the best place for a new baby.
There is not the slightest hint of any detached European-type stable in Luke's narrative, or of any lack of consideration. And can we not do away with the fiction of an innkeeper who does not appear at all?
The Rev Roy Crew
Crescendo of outrage
Sir: Sorry, but you've done it again: "Competition to add lyrics to Spain's national anthem reaches crescendo," says a headline on 18 December. But a crescendo is the process of gradual increase that ultimately reaches a climax. Think how silly a headline would be that stated "Hamilton's lap speed reaches acceleration".
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Pennies for fruit-pickers
Sir: I'm sure we all agree with Burger King ("How migrant workers are abused in the land of the free", 19 December) that an extra "penny" per pound on pickers' rates is pointless as it would only give workers an extra $100 each and not solve exploitation. I'm with them all the way let's make it an extra 10 pennies per pound. So Burger King, what do you say now?
Sir: Brian Connor Robles (letter, 19 December) repeats the myth that Britain has to choose between the EU and "the special relationship" with the US. Perhaps we should explore the advantages of being independent of either. Britain could be light on its feet and able to respond quickly to the rapidly changing world, much more than as part of a union. Such a position would not preclude working with America or the EU should it be to our benefit.
St Helens, Merseyside
Fair deal for Kosovo
Sir: I disagree with Yury Fedotov's assertion that that the potential "chain reaction of secessionist claims" (Opinion, 19 December) should be the focus of any UN resolution within Kosovo. The making and breaking of states has been a naturally occurring process throughout history. Resolutions should instead concentrate on the specific merits and constraints of a declaration of independence within a given territory in order to reach a fair outcome for its peoples.
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Sir: Miles Kington must have opened a German dictionary instead of a French one (18 December). Shooter means to kick the ball towards the goal in an attempt to score; in his sentence with a player stranded near the touch-line, the verb would have been centrer. But many thanks for a splendid column.
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