Letters: Work your magic, J K Rowling

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Sir: I run a small bookshop in Fishguard and looked forward to the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ("Harry Potter's new book conjures up a price war," 16 July). I bought a supply of copies at a trade price of £10.70 to sell at, or near, the RSP of £16.99, only to find that our only local supermarket was offering copies at £4.99.

My beef is not with Kwiksave for discounting; I understand the economics of volume buying and even loss-leader selling. But how can the publishers, Bloomsbury, offer terms that allow any retailer to sell a book at under half the trade price that an independent bookseller can buy at, just to make a killing on one day? The outcome of this extreme level of discounting on a single or few top sellers, will eventually drive bookshops like us out of business. The deep discounters will have no interest in offering a range of more than 50 titles and in the end the public will suffer.

So who can do anything about this vicious circle? There is one person who could stand up for some principles and support the industry as a whole. That is of course J K Rowling herself: she has the clout to stand up for the trade that supports her all year round. She and other top-selling authors could set terms in their publishing contracts to prevent such extreme discounting. Indeed I suggest she has some duty to fellow and aspiring authors to help them have their books made widely available.

Otherwise where will it end? Post Offices at the heart of communities are under threat, Tesco takes over £1 in £8 of what we in the UK spend. Manufacturing, and now much of the service sector, has been transferred to India and China, all in the name of giving the public what it wants. But at what long-term cost to UK jobs and community welfare? Just how immersed in greed do we all have to get before we realise that some balance between commercial success and social responsibility has to be found. Perhaps an understanding of the word "enough" by the few who can influence these decisions, before we all go completely potty.



This cycle of death is not the only way

Sir: Jim Poyser (letter, 11 July) suggests that "there would have been no Iraq war if 9/11 hadn't happened", the implication being that the one was the inevitable consequence of the other. The subsequent bombing of one Arab country, to avenge the killing of our own western people, with the resultant escalation of violence and danger is thus justified by a cry of, "They started it".

Yet the Iraq war, and cycle of death that goes on in Baghdad day in, day out, was not inevitable. War, violence and revenge are the easy options. But there is another way. Bush and Blair, were they men of real moral courage and vision, could have said four years ago, as Blair is saying now, "We will not allow these terrorists to alter our way of life. We will not live in fear", but could have gone on to add, "However, we are strong enough not to retaliate in kind. We shall stay our hand. The killing stops here".

To be a great man of peace, a Martin Luther King or a Yitzhak Rabin, is to risk the hatred and opprobrium of those who would prefer the cycle of revenge, violence and death to continue unchecked, and is to risk one's own life for the sake of peace in our world.

This is not in any way to condone the psychopathic mindset of those who have twisted murder, torture, killing and hatred into virtues, with results that we have seen in New York, Bali, Madrid, and now in London, and that we see continuing, almost daily, in Iraq. But let us remember the words of another great man of peace, Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".



Sir: Discussion of the Prime Minister's accountability for the bombings is confusing the concepts of blame and responsibility. If, as seems likely, a principal motivation on the part of the bombers was the war in Iraq, then responsibility is clear. Those who made the decision to prosecute that war are responsible, in that they chose a course of action, knowing that this was a likely consequence.

This does not, of itself, imply blame; they may have concluded that it was part of the acceptable risk which any war entails. All wars have civilian casualties and Iraq is certainly no exception. The deaths in London are such casualties, in the same way as deaths there from German aerial bombardment in the two World Wars.

If you consider the war was right, then this predictable, and widely-predicted, consequence is part of the human cost. You cannot choose to go to war in a foreign land, and then cry foul if your enemy, or its allies, strike back on your own territory. Nor can you decide unilaterally that your methods of prosecuting war are legitimate, while your enemy's are not. Our profound sympathy for the innocent victims must not be allowed to cloud our judgment.



Sir: It is convenient for people like George Galloway and Clare Short to blame the terrorist outrages on a British policy on Iraq with which they disagree. But none of us understands the mind of a suicide bomber, and it would be equally logical to blame the attacks on Islamic disgust at the the sexual promiscuity brought about, some would say, by policies like the provision of the morning-after pill and gay sex at 16. What Galloway and Short need to answer is: should government policy be designed to minimise the risk of terrorist attacks on Britain? Or should it be to do what it believes to be right?



Talk of 'evil' gets us absolutely nowhere

Sir: When will people realise that by branding the terrorists as "evil" they are using the same blinkered philosophy as the terrorists themselves. The extremists justify their actions by declaring that the West is "evil". Are people so blind as not to see the irony in our response by declaring that the terrorists are "evil"?

The truth of the situation, however much we seek to deny it, is that people don't take their own lives without a cause, however misguided that cause may be. It is ridiculous to suggest that recognising this simple truth is in someway "giving credit" or "justifying" their actions. I think it is time that people stopped using such fundamentalist rhetoric, and attempted to understand these causes, so that they may be able to work against this threat. By subscribing to such naïve ideas, we do not give the problem the necessary thought it deserves.



The rewards of private health care

Sir: In my experience more and more doctors who are able to quit the NHS to operate solely within the private sector. Nurses and midwives who value the freedom from constant interference from managers and the bizarre requirements of target-setting also favour the private sector as a rewarding environment. Contrary to prejudice the rewards are chiefly those of job satisfaction, not monetary. It is demoralising to work in poorly maintained, unclean hospitals and frustrating when clinical need is put second to target-achievement.

Dr Teale (letters, 4 July) may not be aware that most large private-sector hospitals have intensive-care units, perform major operations such as coronary bypass grafts, liver resection and undertake cancer chemotherapy. Recently the private sector has set up urgent care and casualty facilities. It also contributes to training rotations at registrar level in collaboration with local NHS hospitals, often funding research, which could not otherwise happen.

Unremitting political interference from the Salmon Report which ruined nursing in the early 1970s, to the current "agenda for change", make the life of a committed professional almost impossible in the NHS. Many are voting with their feet. All the very slim management at a private hospital requires of you is to get the job done and advise them of the equipment and facilities necessary. We also have all the inspections, standards of care and accreditations that apply in the NHS. It is probably therefore also not surprising that more and more nurses and doctors choose the private sector when they become ill themselves.



Sir: I've been vainly trying to find out about overall creeping privatisation of the NHS with Freedom of Information Act queries, and have been forced down to individual Trust level. Which poses the question: how can a Strategic Health Authority, let alone the Department of Health, formulate strategy without information, or interest in obtaining it, about NHS trusts and primary-care organisations existing and future financial commitments under PFI/PPP contracts, or privatised services, or the balance between public and private healthcare?

Or, like aid to Africa tied to privatisation of services, is that the plan; that we'll wake up one day to find we've got multiple healthcare choice between half a dozen profit-driven, foreign-owned companies?



IT: misplaced trust in private consultants

Sir: Peter Walton is right (Letters, 28 June) that the Government's record of large-scale IT projects is dismal (although the small-scale ones that I have been involved in have been successful). The fundamental explanation for this state of affairs is indicated by an article on management consultants in the preceding day's paper ("The real power behind No 10"). It is the way that Civil Service management no longer trusts its own IT staff but invariably trusts private consultants - in which they follow the lead given by Government ministers.

When I started work in government IT, nearly 20 years ago, we knew we were capable of producing top-quality systems, and did so. We provided expert advice - from a background of knowing both IT and government business - and it was generally heeded. Now, after years of derogation, many staff have left, morale is very low, management clearly has no interest in listening to its in-house experts, and remaining IT jobs are to be out-sourced. At least it will soon be completely clear that all "government" IT system failures are actually private-sector ones!



The Koran can mean what you want it to

Sir: John Bennett's perceptive letter (15 July) already contains the answer to his question. Any sufficiently extensive text deemed to be a repository of knowledge and wisdom which can be accessed through "interpretation", be it the Bible, the Koran or Dante's Divine Comedy, is capable of many conflicting or incompatible readings. That is simply because no complex text, particularly when from different contributors or sources (think of manuscript tradition) can be totally unambiguous, in spite of the efforts of authors to make it so (think of legislation). Therefore no debate, however articulate and profound, can determine its meaning: it can only reconfirm its inherent ambiguity.

What governs the interpretation of such texts is the culture and ideology prevailing in the society to which their alleged interpreters belong. When it was generally accepted that heretics should be burnt at the stake suitable confirmation of this belief was found in the so-called sacred books. Those who today believe that defenceless people should be massacred in the name of a political cause will easily find supporting quotations in both the Koran and the Bible.



Striking similarities

Sir: If Sir Roy Meadow can be struck off the medical register for giving erroneous and misleading evidence and for making "grave errors" in the presentation of statistical evidence that had "serious repercussions" why is Tony Blair still Prime Minister?



An inciting act?

Sir: A question about these proposed new laws that will ban indirectly inciting terrorism. Will they ban the illegal invasion and occupation of other peoples' countries that indirectly incites terrorism?



British are not all racists

Sir: Rajnaara C Akhtar (Opinion, 16 July) is rightly concerned about Muslims being targets for vengeful racists, but in saying that the bombings are "dividing Britain into three; the Muslim community, the rest of the British community, and the terrorists" she appears to be assuming that those racists act on behalf of "the rest of the British community". They do not, any more than the bombers act on behalf of British Muslims.



Divine madness

Sir: Howard Jacobson (16 July) says: "Once belief hardens into a dogma ... the believer enters the terrain of derangement." It starts much earlier than that. The terrain of derangement is entered with belief - it just gets worse from there.



Olympic sites

Sir: Jonathon Notley writes in his letter (7 July) of Athens' "history in creating the ancient games". The ancient Olympics took place at Olympia in the Peloponnese, a site many days' travel from Athens in the 8th century BC. There is no evidence for Athenian involvement in the founding and organisation of the earliest olympics. Just as Lancashire hotpot does not originate in London, the ancient Olympic Games did not originate in Athens.




Sir: Miles Kington's whimsical Albanian proverbs (8 July) do help to take one's mind off more sombre subjects. But "nobody writes poems about spiders"? What about Robert Lowell's beautiful "Mr Edwards and the Spider":

"I saw the spiders marching through the air,/ Swimming from tree to tree that mildewed day/ In latter August when the hay/ Came creaking to the barn ...."