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Friday 2 January 2009
Letters: The euro
The euro can be a shield for the British economy
To those of us who originally supported the single European currency, the success of the euro is no surprise ("Ten years on, Europe's single currency is vindicated", 31 December). A currency that combines the strength of 15 highly developed economies, is bound to be better shielded against the currency speculation that forced sterling out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. Such a powerful currency would inevitably challenge the dollar as the major currency of reserve in the world.
While the UK remains out of the euro, sterling will be subject to constant fluctuations against the euro and other major world currencies, making it difficult for manufacturers and exporters alike to plan investment. Also, remaining outside the euro has meant base rates in Britain have been at least one percentage point above that of the eurozone, making the cost of borrowing unnecessarily high. Joining the euro would bring currency stability, aid investment and protect the economy from speculators.
Your editorial marking the success of the euro after a decade correctly points to the economic benefits of the single currency. It has certainly brought stability after a decade when speculators picked off each currency in turn, rendering stable policy-making impossible.
Another advantage for citizens who use this currency, is the sheer convenience of not having to carry multiple currencies when travelling, and not having to ensure foreign cash is obtained (on commission) before leaving home, only to be left with small amounts no bank will accept.
Professor Ronald J Hill
Department of Political Science, Trinity College, Dublin
Facts and figures about Gaza rockets
D Roberts (letters, 29 December) claims that "thousands of Palestinian missiles have recently struck Israeli towns and cities". The Qassam rockets used by Hamas have been in use since 2001, and as of May last year, about 3,000 rockets have been fired. For much of the time since, there has been a relative lull in their use during the ceasefire from June till December.
Now, I am not excusing the action of Hamas, but I do want to insert some facts and figures into the debate. The number of Israeli citizens who have been killed by Qassam rockets, since their use in 2001, varies between 15 and 20, depending on which report you read. The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli military action runs into thousands. This does not include the Palestinians who have died due to lack of medicines, access to healthcare, police action, malnutrition or poverty.
Mr Roberts also talks about the "traumatised Israeli children [who] attend school in bomb shelters". Yes, they are traumatised, but how about the trauma of the Palestinian children waiting for a bus outside a UN refugee agency? The seven who died didn't suffer from trauma, but the survivors of that attack covered in the limbs and blood of their friends, don't they suffer a trauma?
Mr Roberts may respond by saying that this is a war, and in war, civilians will always suffer, especially if the cowardly Hamas have their bases near civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals. Unfortunately, there is nowhere in Gaza that isn't near a densely populated civilian area. The Gaza Strip is roughly the same size as the Isle of Wight, with a population of more than 1.5 million.
The condemnation of Israel, for paralysing Gaza and creating an even harsher humanitarian crisis for its people, has been universal. In my judgement, the bloodbath in Gaza reflects shamefully not only on Israel, but also on the Arab nations for failing to give meaningful support to their kith and kin.
Within the past two decades, America has led two major wars in this area, not because of its love for the people or their autocratic and cruel leaders, but because these nations are in possession of what America, and the world, could not do without: oil.
If these oil-rich Arab nations truly care about the Palestinian cause, they should put it to America, as the only country that has any influence in Tel Aviv, that the free flow of oil is conditional on there being an immediate solution to the Palestinian problem. Sadly, Israel and America have an even stronger card up their sleeve, that of the Arab discord and disunity, which is likely to continue unabated, as will the misery of the Palestinian people.
Burradoo, New South Wales, Australia
It is doubtful whether the UN resolution to partition Palestine could have worked (letters, 23 December). It was contrary to the principle of self-determination, since Jews were the minority even in the territory allocated to the Jewish State, and in any case the population had not been consulted.
It was pushed through against the wishes of interested neighbours by a surprising agreement between Truman and Stalin, bringing with them their respective client states. Well before the Arab states declared war, there were attacks by Jewish terrorists on Palestinian civilians, including the Deir Yassin massacre, to clear the road to Jerusalem and prevent it from becoming an international city.
A viable solution would have required the two sides to talk to each other as equals with due respect for law and without threat of violence. The same is true today.
P J Stewart
Boars Hill, Oxford
Meir Abelson (letters, 22 December) believes a British consul who in 1867 reported that, "the country [Palestine] is to a considerable degree empty of inhabitants". A Palestine map, of which I have a copy, compiled in 1947 under the British mandate, shows several thousand Arab villages with the boundaries of their farmed territories. Many hundreds of them have been destroyed under Israeli occupation.
In 1963, I worked in an Israeli kibbutz (Gal'ed) that had about 300 inhabitants; in its grounds were the ruins of three Arab villages whose population, numbering perhaps 3,000, had been driven out. We played soccer in a field that was the site of one of those villages.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Recently, my back yard was invaded by a neighbour who then redeveloped the area and built a very nice wall to keep me out. He took exception to my habit of lobbing bricks into his new garden from my now overcrowded patio, so he and his army destroyed my house.
This has resulted in creating two outcomes which aren't desirable to either of us, a ghetto for myself and my family to live in and a now near-inexhaustible supply of new ammunition to throw back over the wall. I'm now waiting for the height of the wall to be increased to the maximum of my throwing ability.
Target trouble in the NHS
Bruce Anderson (29 December) writes about Goodhart's law, which states that it is impossible to use the same monetary measure as both an indicator and a target because it causes market distortion. I wonder if the same is true with targets in the health service.
Hospitals struggle with their routine admissions because bed occupancy is driven by four-hour emergency department waits. A lot of resources are put into decreasing MRSA and C difficile rates (because these are targets) while wards struggle to deal with equally problematic, but lower-priority (because they are not targets) infectious agents such as vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.
Rather than trying to meet specific narrow targets, the focus should be on overall patient safety and high-quality care. Targets would inevitably be achieved, but as a by-product of good patient care, rather than as our main aim. After all, most of us went into healthcare to look after patients, not targets.
David P Stansfield
South Sea Bubble bubbles up again
I was reading Nicholas Mont-serrat's book The Master Mariner and came across the following passage (the year is 1689): "The South Sea Bubble, that great ball of fatuous madness, [read house prices today] which infected England for 10 fevered years, and then burst like the abcess which it was, had its origin in the second curse of mankind, which was debt. But this was no mere husband's worry-wart like a slate at a tavern or account due for ribbons. It was the Great National Debt, creeping up on a nation encouraged by its dung-headed masters to believe that the best way to save was to spend.
"Any prudent householder knew that this could not be true. From his private life, he had learned beyond question that if he overran his income he must make do with less, less of everything, from cakes and ale to a new carriage, until the balance had been restored. But when private life was enlarged to public, the rules were magically changed, by fools or scoundrels, to persuade this prudent citizen, multiplied by six million, that a debtor could borrow his way to riches.
"Hence the National Debt. When Mr Pepys quit his office, it stood at £700,000 [£696m today] a sum shameful enough, if a man were thinking in terms of honest house-keeping. By 1714, a mere 25 years later, plagued by wars which none could afford, it had risen to a staggering £36m [£4.8bn]."
The problem is that we prudent citizens are paying for it.
Keeping track of the trains
Your article "Millions stranded in trains fiasco" (24 December) reports on the level of train services on Boxing Day. It is incorrect to say that train operating companies have blamed the Association of Train Operating Companies for not co-ordinating an agreement on any possible introduction of Boxing Day services in future.
There has been some small growth in the number of Boxing Day rail services over recent years. Significantly increasing the level of train services would require an industry-wide review involving Atoc and the train operators.
It would also need a major change of practice by Network Rail, which usually carries out extensive engineering works at this time, and the Department for Transport (DfT), which specifies service levels in franchise agreements.
Director of Communications, Association of Train Operating Companies, London WC1
It's how you say it
There is no such thing as a "pure language" (letters, 26 December), for they all borrow more or less heavily: every language has its own peculiar expressive qualities. In most languages, there are also usually purists and pedants who insist that what is spoken or written today is a pale, bastardised version of the tongue of... (name your own favourite dead writer).
Sir Roy Strong (Pandora, 30 December) says history is not taught properly in schools, and I could not agree more. My Chinese wife has been learning English, studying for British citizenship, for two years. She has mock tests on her computer which she uses to check her progress. I have tested British friends and in many cases they would have failed; the 14-year-old son of a friend said: "How would I know? They don't teach us that stuff." My wife is expected to know things no longer taught in schools? Something is seriously wrong.
Archie Bland in his Big Question article on Charles Darwin (30 December) laments the widespread popularity of creationism. But he seems to interpret evolution as disproving the existence of God. Such a viewpoint forces anyone with any experience of God to conclude that evolution must be false. Archie and others like him have only themselves to blame for this.
Revd J D Wright
Tories can't count
You report (30 December) that 310,000 teachers took sick leave in 2007 and, estimating there are 195 days in the school year, the Tories calculated about 15,000 teachers were off sick each day. Teachers not off sick when I was at school taught me that 310,000 divided by 195 comes to about 1,500. I hope George Osborne was not among those who came up with the 15,000 figure; heaven help us if he were the next chancellor of the exchequer.
You're quids in
Times must be tough on the high street. There's a sale on at our local Poundland store; selected items as low as 50p.
Watch your language
Welsh, Europe's oldest language (letters, 30 December)? Tell that to the Basques.
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