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Tuesday 21 September 2010
Letters: The Pope's visit
Whose job will go next?
There are articles every week banging Vince Cable's drum on behalf of big business and its need to bring in "talented" non-EU staff ("Migration cap is very damaging, says Cable", 18 September).
The notion that in a trading bloc of over 500 million people (the EU), we cannot find anybody matching these requirements is laughable. Would these industry sources whom Cable speaks to enlighten us as to what these missing skills are? I am sure the silence will be deafening.
The whole thing is just an attempt to get in more, cheap, IT staff, to further undermine what was once a very successful British industry, one that used to be staffed mostly by the products of bog-standard comprehensives and non-elite universities. Therein lies the answer as to the muted outcry over its decimation during the last decade.
Suppose we had legal jobs being moved out of Europe instead of the technical jobs that are seen as of little value in class-obsessed Britain. Would our Business Secretary be trying to promote foreign mega-corporations intent on bringing in hordes of cheap lawyers who would put the Ruperts and Sebastians of this world on the scrapheap? I think not.
We are told that globalisation is a fact of life. Fair enough but we as a nation need to decide what high-value activities we are going to hang on to. We have to produce something to trade with or we'll starve. IT, along with most of our manufacturing, has been sacrificed already. Who will Uncle Vince and his new City wideboy chums come after next?
At last someone in the Coalition is talking sense over the cap on immigration.
I work in a world-class university attracting funds and students from around the world, and there is serious danger that a cap on immigration will seriously damage our delivery of quality education and research. In the 35 years that our institution has trained specialist engineers for a global industry, I am not aware of a course place or a research job being given to a potential immigrant in preference to a national or a European. The supply of suitable candidates from the UK is just very limited.
Professor Patrick Corbett
I prefer science to miracles
I found the whole episode of the Pope beatifying Cardinal Newman in Birmingham thoroughly depressing.
Close to the Oratory on the Hagley Road where Cardinal Newman studied is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the largest organ transplantation centre in Europe. My life was saved there by an emergency liver transplant in 1993.
I was struck with a condition so acute that my liver failed within a few weeks. admitted to the hospital on a Friday night in coma, I was given 48 hours to live. I was fortunate to receive a transplant early on the following Sunday morning, without which I would have died. My life was saved by a combination of years of worldwide scientific research, the dedication of medical staff and the altruism of another human who had the courage to carry a donor card and tell his family of his wishes should he die.
It upsets me greatly that in close proximity to this, the supposed direct and provable supernatural intervention of a long-dead cardinal in curing a spinal condition is celebrated with "relics" including hair and soil from his grave. Moreover, the church claims the beatification of Newman means he is now capable of responding directly to other people who pray to him.
The contrast is a stark one. I can only hope the secular advancement the Church fears so much continues apace. With so many problems in the world, the human race can well do without wasting its time on ancient mumbo-jumbo.
The Rev Bernard O'Connor misses the point about the prominence given to cases of clerical sex abuse (Letter, 20 September). The scandal is not just about the incidence of this crime but that it is indicative of far wider, fundamental issues related to the nature of ecclesial authority and clerical status.
The reforming council of Vatican II was called precisely to address such issues, which it did in favour of openness, accountability and collegiality. It was traditionalists under John-Paul II – one of whom was Joseph Ratzinger – who set themselves against any reappraisal, allowing no challenge to the ontological and moral distinctiveness of the celibate male clerical state and the caste system it operated.
To such traditionalists there was no problem, other than that of deviant or insubordinate individuals. To the rest of us it is this state of denial which is the essential problem.
Surely, Mary Dejevsky's belief (Opinion, 17 September) that "a future Pope might usher in a new age of Vatican II-style reform" is pure fantasy.
As she points out, John Paul was every bit as conservative as Benedict, and the massively enlarged College of Cardinals is now full of prelates who were appointed by these popes and who therefore share the same conservatism. Catholics who look forward to more relaxed, even liberal, developments will have to wait for many decades.
Dr Michael Johnson
Jesus's birthday passes unnoticed
The advertisements for Christmas are already beginning to inundate us. After all, 25 December is only three months away: that's just over a quarter of a year to spend all that money. Many theologians readily admit that 25 December is not the true birth date of Jesus Christ. When, then, is the true date?
The Gospels inform us that John the Baptist, who was Jesus's cousin, was born six months before Jesus. John's father, Zechariah, was a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem in the order of Abijah. We can find when the order of Abijah served in the Temple in I Chronicles 24:10, and from this we can calculate that the birth of John fell at Passover. Jesus, then, was born six months later, on Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, which falls on Tishrei 15.
This may not mean very much to us who use the Gregorian calendar, but Tishrei 15 falls this year on Thursday 23 September. Biblical days begin at sunset, so the feast actually starts on the evening of 22 September, which would have been the "silent and holy night" we will all be singing about three months later.
So Jesus's real birthday will pass with hardly a soul knowing it.
Bangor, Co Down
The Swiss way of war
Switzerland may have managed well defensively while maintaining "a military budget more apposite to its gross national product" than the United Kingdom (letter, 20 September). But it has done so in a way that would astound most politicians and members of the public here.
When I visited I was told by a Swiss journalist that every road, bridge, mountain pass, reservoir and power installation in Switzerland is permanently mined, and can be blown up within minutes of any foreign invasion, to impede the attackers' progress.
Several mountains are hollowed out and converted into military installations that contain warplanes, helicopters, tanks, troops, equipment, food and water. Certain highways are pre-designated as landing strips for jet fighter aircraft and can be cleared of traffic and secured in minutes.
In addition each able-bodied Swiss male between late teenage years and 60 does military reserve service, and is required to keep a military-issue rifle and ammunition in his home ready for instant duty. So Switzerland has a permanently ready, trained and armed citizen militia as well as its professionals, to repel any invader.
This is one of the reasons it has never been invaded in recent memory, and why even the Nazi Germans balked at the idea. Without the Channel, England would be a far easier nut to crack for any invader.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Victims of the Sarkozy ban
Young Projects Abroad volunteers in Romania are helping with the human tragedy created by President Sarkozy's Roma deportations campaign. They agree with the EU Commissioner Viviane Reding that French deportations of Roma are a reminder of the Nazis.
Our volunteers work at Sacele Hospital and Prejmer Day Care Centre. Every day, the tragedy, created artificially by the French President, unfolds before our eyes. Children are abandoned because the families cannot support them. In France, a wealthy European country, the welfare system could look after them; here they cannot be cared for. And that is on top of the distress of being deported just because they belong to one ethnic community.
For years our volunteers have been working with hospitals and care centres in the Roma districts of Prejmer and Sacele. Volunteers working here aim to improve the lives of babies and young children from Roma families. We have dealt with many abandoned babies and great poverty, but nothing like this before. More volunteers are desperately needed to provide the necessary care to these babies.
Dr Peter Slowe
Director, Projects Abroad
Angmering, West Sussex
Fruity prose on the wine list
I wonder if any of your (professional or amateur) wine experts can enlighten me on a point which has concerned me for some time.
A selection of wines presented to me in a restaurant recently included one which it was claimed "shows cherry and strawberry with vanilla overtones", one which is "full of fresh blackberry with cherry and a pinch of sweet spices", another with "lashings of currants and vanilla", one that has "flavours of small yellow plums balanced by pineapple and citrus", another which professes "a lemony flavour with hints of grapefruit", yet another with "gooseberry character and a hint of passion fruit" and so on.
My problem is this: how is it that just one fruit never, ever deserves a mention in these attributes – the grape? Can this really be justified?
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire
The great Welsh conspiracy
C D Greenfield (letter, 16 September) makes a valid point about being able to understand your opponents' language when they are possibly talking about you. There is a perception among certain visitors to Wales that, as soon as they walk into a pub or shop, those already present "start talking Welsh". Even one well-known politician apparently suffered this fate.
Two questions arise. How do these people know which language was being used prior to their entrance. And, particularly if they are immigrants (yes, we do have some from the other side of Offa's Dyke), why don't they take the trouble to learn at least a few words of the language to forestall being gossiped about in this way?
Perhaps if you're a politician, you could learn our national anthem while you're at it.
Keep up with those insults
Amy Jenkins (18 September) believes that "a homophobic or racist insult ... is now pretty much beyond the pale". Really? Has she been in a group of under-25s at any time in the past decade? "Gay" is the universal derogatory reference for anything that does not conform to tabloid norms or breaks the social group's taboos. Similarly "Paki" is a commonplace curse.
With commentators as hip to the beat of the street as this, you'll be bringing us the shock news of the demise of the bustle some time soon.
Cawood, North Yorkshire
Engine of victory
Regarding the Battle of Britain celebrations (letter, 15 September) I would like to point out another omission: the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. I was reminded of this when I was leaving St Paul's Cathedral and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight passed overhead. To hear six Merlins over London was memorable. The Merlin in its many variations powered many aircraft including the Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster, Halifax and Mosquito and turned the Mustang into arguably the best fighter of the war.
Fred J C Morris
May I correct one point in Paul Valelly's excellent article on oysters (Magazine, 18 September). My greatest oyster soup in the world, as printed in my book, does cost £30; but it feeds eight to ten people, so it is actually cheaper than your average curry or TV dinner.
Director, Food by Design
Perspectives on dumbed-down TV
A terrible collapse in arts coverage
I sympathise with David Lister's dismay at the decline in the standards of arts coverage on UK television ("A priceless drama archive that puts our TV executives to shame", 18 September). There has been a terrible collapse in quality on UK television for a couple of decades, making it no longer worthwhile even to scan the schedules. It didn't take the discovery of this archive to remind us of this.
When Harold Pinter died the schedules were rearranged on BBC radio to broadcast some of his plays, but no Pinter play was shown on TV, although there are several in the archives.
David Lister writes only of theatre, but his remarks apply equally to cinema, opera and dance. There are very few foreign-language films to be found in the BBC schedules and practically no opera or dance. I have on VHS tape a recording from TV of John Adams's opera Nixon in China. It is unthinkable that a John Adams opera would be broadcast on TV today.
The reach of the subsidy that opera receives would be hugely increased by broadcasting some operas on TV, even if this meant broadcasting a little less snooker. There is some coverage of classical music in the context of the Proms, the Young Singer of the Year and the young musician competition, even though music would seem to be less in need of a visual medium than the other, neglected, arts.
David Lister suggests that TV executives should be obliged to see this recently discovered archive. However, the arts executives probably wouldn't have heard of the playwrights and would judge the plays to be "bad TV" because there isn't a dead body in the first 20 minutes.
It is very obvious that the main concern of TV executives is to generate lowest-common-denominator programmes to maximise viewing numbers, with very little consideration of quality. Fortunately one is no more obliged to watch TV than to read trashy magazines, but what a terrible wasted opportunity.
I was delighted to read in David Lister's column that a large haul of missing television footage has been found.
I was left both sad and happy by these discoveries. Sad, as is Mr Lister, that we no longer see first-rate drama on the television and happy that I was privileged as a teenager to be introduced to these great plays at an impressionable age.
As far as I remember, once a month on a Sunday night there was a Play of the Month and these were usually the great classic plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, Wilde and others. I especially recall The Wild Duck, Three Sisters, Hedda Gabler, The Lower Depths and some great 20th century plays such as Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea. On Wednesdays we were offered challenging new plays under the heading Plays for Today. These included Cathy Come Home and many plays by great contemporary writers such as Howard Brenton. A beautiful play by Bernard MacLaverty called My Dear Palestrina, which starred Eleanor Bron, is an especially strong memory. I believe these plays are lost for ever.
Not only did we see great plays, we saw great actors. I remember Donald Wolfit in The Strong are Lonely, Ingrid Bergman in Hedda Gabler, Kenneth More and Googie Withers in The Deep Blue Sea, Jill Bennet in Three Sisters and Patrick McGoohan in Brand. How sad it is that today's teenagers do not have that wonderful opportunity to be introduced to great theatre via their television. I do hope that the treasures that have been rediscovered can be shown again, perhaps on BBC4 or More4.
A vacuum at the heart of the policy
Ben Walsh reflects my thoughts and wishes exactly ("Why can't we have arthouse films on TV?", 20 September). To be fair(ish), BBC4 occasionally dips into world cinema – magnificently, when it broadcast Heimat in its entirety. But, as with so much of our cultural heritage, the lack of a regular, incremental and, potentially, enormously entertaining approach, reflects a vacuum at the heart of BBC and Film4 policy making.
The value of such consistent display and analysis is exemplified by Tom Lubbock's contributions every Friday in The Independent's Arts & Books section.
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