Olympics, oil, female doctors and others

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Greek pride in the way the Olympics are being staged in Athens

Sir: I am disappointed by your recent coverage of Greek efforts to stage a successful Olympics. You appear to have concentrated on the negative aspects of the Games: "The Olympics may be coming home but are Greek Athletes running away?" (3 August) and "Organisers admit only half Athens tickets sold" (4 August) and worst of all, George Kassimeris' "We should not be hosting these Olympics" (3 August).

Greece is the smallest country to host the Olympics since Finland in 1952 - why not reflect on the positive? Despite the corruption, mismanagement, and, hateful words, "Balkan malaise" (that you rightly draw attention to) the Greeks have pulled it off.

As a constant visitor to Athens for the past 25 years, the changes wrought in the city, its antiquated infrastructure, because of the impetus provided by the Olympics are priceless. Greece and the world finally possess a city worthy of its history, and its place as one of the cradles of Western Civilisation.

It is time for us all to celebrate our inherent Greekness, through the Olympics, through the achievement of a small, poor, and proud country. There is much to write about.

Nuremberg, Germany

Sir: Mr Kassimeris's column is, I believe, a waste of paper. His words are an insult to every Greek. Simple as that.

I am sorry Mr Kassimeris, but 10 days before the Games start I find it rather late to voice your concerns. We are hosting the Games. This is the case, and has been the case since 1997. Mr Kassimeris implies that we have some kind of "international recognition" complex. Thanks for the interest Mr Kassimeris, but I am not ashamed to be Greek. I am proud to acknowledge both the good and the bad about my country and nation.

Why would anyone want to damage the seven-year effort of so many? Has he talked to any of the millions of Greeks in Australia, USA, Germany and England to see how they feel?

We have done what we could (with many errors undoubtedly) in realizing a nation's dream involving sport, infrastructure, cultural heritage, and yes national pride, against challenges that have often been beyond our control.

The Olympic Games will start in a few days, and I hope that London wins the 2012 bid so that you can feel the way we Greeks feel these days.


Harsh impact of oil market on road users

Sir: Hamish McRae's article on the current turbulence on the world oil markets ("High oil prices are a blessing in disguise", 4 August) graphically illustrates the folly of a UK domestic budget which relies so heavily on taxation from road users by excessive fuel duties.

Although the Chancellor has taken his foot off the accelerator since the painful events of the fuel crisis of 2000 he has not attempted any fundamental reduction in his avaricious take from petrol and diesel users. The increased commodity prices being experienced at present harshly impact on car drivers and lorry operators reliant on the fuel to conduct their life and carry out their essential work, and provide a painful demonstration of what happens when a high price for oil meets a mega-high tax regime.

The moment is therefore overdue for a major change in the way we tax road users. Last month Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, published his transport White Paper and his feasibility study into road user charging pointing to the prospect of a different means of taxing vehicles by type, distance, time and location. A much more basic version of this will be introduced for some lorries from 2008.

Although these options are some way off they should be used as the opportunity to adjust fuel duties downwards and closer to the more realistic levels which we see elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.

Social and business mobility by car, and the essential movement of goods and services by goods vehicles, are basic prerequisites of a 21st century society and should not be regarded as a cash cow for the Exchequer.

External Affairs Director
Freight Transport Association
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Sir: Hamish McRae remains reassuringly consistent in his continuing advocacy of energy conservation as the best answer, both to energy security and to climate change concerns. But his reliance on the price mechanism alone to alter our profligacy is surely too simplistic. Twenty years ago the average British household spent 6.2 per cent of its disposable wealth on buying fuel; now it is down to 2.9 per cent. Doubling that figure immediately is simply not realpolitik.

Setting higher minimum standards of efficiency for the buildings we occupy, the machines we use, the vehicles we drive, does and will reduce waste enormously. Mr McRae states that "regulation is hopeless", using the example of the 1990s US efficiency standards for cars prompting a market swing into SUVs. But the problem was not regulation per se (in practice mpg of US cars improved enormously). It was the failure to make the rules comprehensive enough to include gas-guzzling vans and trucks too.

Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy
London N1

Sir: One sentence in Hamish McRae's thought-provoking article promotes a current myth. He lists possible alternatives to oil: Wind power, solar energy, wave power, tides, biomass, nuclear energy, hydrogen.

Hydrogen should not be on this list; it is not a primary source of energy, but is rather the equivalent of electricity (or steam) and must be generated using energy from one of the sources listed above, or from oil, gas or coal. Unfortunately we don't have huge hydrogen reserves awaiting exploitation.

Hydrogen is often hailed as the answer to global warming - but as is the case with electricity it can only help if it is produced from one of the non-carbon primary sources.

Birchington, Kent

Female doctors

Sir: Professor Black's suggestion (2 August) that the rapidly increasing proportion of female doctors will soon undermine the status of the medical profession, engenders the predictable howls of protest from those who have misunderstood her message.

In no way does she seem to be doubting the abilities or value of female doctors: indeed, as colleagues, I have found them to be generally more conscientious and better at relating to women patients, as one might expect, than the much reviled white middle class male doctors. (It's a tribal thing.) On the other hand, the men by no means have a monopoly on stubbornness and arrogance.

What most eloquent writers of letters (3 and 4 August) ignore is that the vast majority of users of the NHS are not sharp young executives, who want a quick cure for a minor irritation, or even radical feminists determined to consult only one of their own kind. Rather, they are elderly with chronic conditions, sometimes not very bright, and often overawed. These people want consistency of care from a familiar face so that they do not have to explain themselves afresh every time they attend the GP's surgery or the hospital outpatients' department. Part-timers, anxious to establish their work-life balance, cannot provide this service with any degree of reliability. Sadly, most part-timers are women. The full-timers, who can provide the desired continuity, are usually men.

East Riding of Yorkshire

Sir: I co-ordinate medical school applications at a sixth form college and it has been my observation in recent years that the extremely strong candidates who have struggled to get offers have all been male. Good female candidates have been offered places more readily.

Rather than increasing the proportion on graduate courses, which may well be worthwhile for other reasons, my solution would be to reduce the dependence on GCSE results where many clever students, especially boys, have yet to come into their own. AS-level results could be used as a better guide and maybe the scientific requirement of A-levels could be boosted, rather than looking for ever larger numbers of A*s.

Traditionally three of biology, chemistry, physics and maths were needed, but now biology, chemistry and any other A-level including subjects such as art and drama are accepted. Beefing the science requirement would almost certainly help balance admissions and may well lead to more doctors wanting more challenging specialisms such as cardiology.

Bridgwater, Somerset

Cancer cures

Sir: Professor Edzard Ernst's findings on bogus internet cancer cures (report, 3 August) are a great cause for concern for us all in the field of cancer care.

A cancer diagnosis is a very worrying and upsetting experience, which inevitably leaves people frightened and vulnerable. Many cancer patients look to the internet to help them find a cure. But no medical practitioner or cancer support charity, such as Macmillan Cancer Relief, would ever advise anyone to abandon their conventional treatment in favour of so-called cancer cures, and would always suggest that they talk to their doctor before resorting to any alternative treatments.

However, patients do report benefits from complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, and acupuncture, which may help them deal with the side effects of orthodox treatment such as chemotherapy, and to improve their quality of life during rehabilitation.

However, there is a confusing amount of information for cancer patients on alternative therapies, which is why we have joined forces with other cancer organisations to call for more rigorous research into this field. We hope that the newly established Complementary Therapies Clinical Studies Development Group, which has been set up by the National Cancer Research Institute will provide mechanisms in the UK to focus on this area and investigate complementary approaches and any new treatments.

Macmillan's Complementary Therapies Medical Adviser
Macmillan Cancer Relief
London SE1

Bag search

Sir: I was recently doing my usual routine of checking the bags of customers entering the Soho pub where I work, when one American gentleman asked me: "What is it that you're looking for when you're searching bags?"

I responded: "I'm looking for liquor, drugs, weapons, bombs ..." His comment was: "Is this ever since 9/11?"

"No," I replied. "It's ever since a pub in Soho was blown up five years ago."

When will Americans realise that terrorism has existed long before 9/11? In fact, much of the terrorism that has happened around the world has been funded, or at least tacitly supported, by Americans.

London, SE15

Rainbow trout

Sir: I read with interest your article on the fragile habitats in chalk rivers being under threat (29 July). Unfortunately anglers must accept some responsibility for this through the policy of stocking numerous stretches of these rivers with rainbow trout.

The rainbow is not a native species and its presence, especially in large numbers, has a detrimental effect on the whole ecology of the chalk stream, not least on the indigenous brown trout. But they do have their place, notably in the many still water fisheries throughout the country, most of which are artificial and where they provide excellent sport.

Waddington, Lancashire


Cuban example

Sir . Rather than visit countries to observe the poorest people on the planet struggle to survive with nothing (report, 2 August) John Bercow MP and celebrities who use human tragedy for photo opportunities should visit Cuba a poor country, that despite its recent drought, annual hurricanes, and a 44-year-old blockade, manages to provide clean water for its people, keep them fed, provide access to quality health care and have all their children in school.

Kingston, Surrey

Pork pies

Sir: Having recently made one of my regular visits to Melton Mowbray, and being a firm supporter of that town's campaign to make sure that only pies made in the immediate locality are entitled to be called Melton Mowbray pies, I visited the town's Olde Pork Pie Shoppe and bought a magnificent pork pie - and a pound of their excellent Toulouse sausages.

Oakham, Rutland

Age of illiteracy

Sir: We should look more closely at Mr Goldman's assertion (Letters, 2 August) that "many intelligent people" known to him, "can barely write their names" and that the blame resides with Baroness Williams.

She was ultimately responsible for the primary education of his acquaintances now aged approximately 35 to 39. By the same token, the Minister of Education responsible for the illiteracy of his acquaintances aged 40 to 44 was Williams's predecessor, now ennobled as Baroness Thatcher.

Can we therefore look forward to a letter deploring her incompetence? Or is illiteracy confined to those now in their late 30s?

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Scrumptious rejects

Sir: Perhaps William Boohan's supermarket (letter, 28 July) cannot find supplies conforming to the small smooth strawberries demanded by the stores. Luckily for us, our local market sells "rejects" at half the price of "perfect" ones and they are scrumptious. Try the real local retailers.