There has been some debate about a new and secure mental health institution in the ACT, if it is necessary and where to put it (Letters, August 13).
The Economist (August 3) reproduced a graph from a Chicago University study showing the de-institutionalisation of mentally ill people in the US in the 1970s led to a corresponding increase in the prison population when expressed as a proportion of the population. Indeed, a prison in Illinois is now considered to be one of the largest mental health institutions in the US.
Much the same has happened in Australia.
It would seem that in the US there is no real distinction between insanity and criminality and, indeed, where to draw the line in the sand in distinguishing the insane and the criminal from the rest varies according to the socio-political conditions of the society concerned. One could, in fact, define all chronic antisocial behaviour as a mental health problem. It would seem that there is a proportion of people who need to be kept at arm's length from the normal community and, here, the incarceration rate is about 150 per 100,000 people whereas in the US it is three or four times higher.
If one were seriously mentally ill, the choice between prison or a mental institution may be a difficult one, unless the latter has become far removed from the institutions of old.
David Williams, Watson
Right to quality of life
I enjoyed Moira Smythe's extreme involuntary euthanasia solution (Letters, p8 August 10), save for her closing reference to ''heartless pragmatism''.
In ageing one understandably is apprehensive about lifestyle threatened by physical and mental restrictions. However, the change of standards and values also can profoundly depress old people.
The glorification of so-called celebrities, the lack of courtesy and decent behaviour, bad and unchecked language, an anything-goes approach to dress, an acceptance of drugs, welfare dependency, derisory sentences for criminals, poor discipline, lack of self-control.
And the mundane challenges: telephone buttons too small, the changing of light bulbs or batteries, the replacement of old-fashioned items by new, complicated equipment.
People become humiliatingly dependent on others and spontaneity goes until moved to an even more regimented existence in an aged-care boarding school, perhaps in the prison-like accommodation of dementia.
Why then do people impertinently try to keep others alive at all costs while simultaneously taking away the qualities of life they hold important?
What right have any of us to decide others should be prevented from following their own disillusioned wishes if they find human society no longer tolerable and their own lifestyle not up to scratch?
Or does rejection of such honesty reveal unexpressed doubts? Maybe these people are right?
Greg Cornwell, Yarralumla
Last word on mine
Once again the goldmine at Majors Creek is causing concern (''Fears stormwater from goldmine may have polluted creeks'', August 12, p3). This is the latest of a number of incidents that I foreshadowed quite some time ago in your paper.
At the time I was criticised by self-styled ''Greenie'' councillor Peter Marshall of Captains Flat. However, I note that Marshall has never responded in your paper to the repeated environmental violations by the company concerned and I would be keen to know if he, and his supporters, still consider the mine to be completely safe for the surrounding region.
Ric Hingee, Duffy
Picking the pox
Maybe both chickenpox and smallpox are the culprits?
John Carmody (''Chickenpox now blamed for Aboriginal deaths'', August 8, p9) made a deliberately provocative claim that has caused some consternation (Letters, August 12). I invited Carmody to present his arguments at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research seminar series last Wednesday because I too was sceptical of the claims and thought that public debate would be enhanced by providing peer review. Among other things, he argues that chickenpox is a more likely suspect for the 1789 epidemic in Sydney because there were no cases of deaths from smallpox among colonists (colonists are likely to have had immunity to chickenpox but not smallpox).
The seminar participants provided a series of robust criticisms and questions, which Carmody addressed satisfactorily.
Personally I believe that there is a case to answer and we should consider several alternative hypotheses for the introduction of diseases that decimated the indigenous population in the early colonial period.
Note that you do not necessarily have to choose chickenpox over smallpox and Carmody does not discount the possibility that smallpox was not important for outbreaks of disease outside Sydney (after 1789) or, as Campbell Macknight argues, for outbreaks in northern Australia.
I believe that Macknight is also right to rehearse the argument that smallpox was also probably introduced by Indonesian fishermen, the Macassans. Interested readers can evaluate the arguments by listening to the seminar at caepr.anu.edu.au/Seminars/seminars.php).
Boyd Hunter, Kaleen
Chester-le-Street, where the Fourth Ashes Test was played, is a town roughly halfway between Durham City and Newcastle upon Tyne. Its name is pronounced ''Chesterlystreet'', not Chester le Street, as written.
Beryl Richards, Curtin
Badly run debate
Regarding the fuss about Kevin Rudd's use of notes during the leaders' debate, it is obvious this was due to bad instruction from the organisers.
I cannot name anyone in Australian life who needs notes less than Mr Rudd.
I look forward to seeing an improvement in the format of the next debate.
Stan Cronin, Watson
Australia has voted: Kevin, get a bloody haircut, I will even give you the $30.
L. Christie, Canberra City
Borrowing for the future is an investment, not indulgence
Paul Fitzwarryne (Letters, August 13) supports the Business Council's view that running a deficit is poor economic policy. He supports their analogy of comparing national debt with that of households, on the basis that it pushes the responsibility for repaying that debt into the future. He gives buying a Ferrari and expecting his grandchildren to pay it off, as an objective example.
Paul, what about borrowing, running a deficit, to buy your first home, or borrowing to send your children to a private school, or borrowing to buy your first set of carpenter tools?
The trouble is not the deficit or absence of a surplus, it is what you spend your money on, for example the NBN.
Mind you, our grandchildren will do all right exactly because we did borrow money to buy a house, and so have our children. Thank goodness for that.
Patrick O'Hara, Isaacs
There is a fundamental flaw in Paul Fitzwarryne's argument (Letters, August 13) against deficit spending. Measures such as the national disability insurance scheme, the Better Schools program and the NBN are not just for us and our children: they're for our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
The NBN is a serious move to fill the gap in our capability caused by John Howard's neglect of national infrastructure and profligate spending on middle-class welfare and other pre-election ''bribes''.
Spending like this isn't Ferrari-buying indulgence, it's investing in the future.
Furthermore, if certain parties, notably the big multinational miners, were paying the taxes they should be, we would have little or no deficit.
Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin
We're no basket case
J. A. Kirkpatrick (letters, August 10) thinks that Australia has a basket-case economy. Many other people seem to share that opinion.
However, as an old-school economist, I'd like to assure them that Australia's economy is doing better than most other OECD economies. So far we weathered the GFC very well and most economic indicators are healthy.
A national debt is not the sole measure of an economy's health. What I find of more concern is that the Howard government manufactured a surplus by selling Australia's assets, and then decreased taxes and introduced payments such as the baby bonus.
These liabilities make it difficult for any government to balance the budget if there is a serious slowing in economic activity. The effects of the GFC are still working in Europe, and an Australian government might have to deal with more of it's after-effects.
M. Pietersen, Kambah
Debate falls short
Leaving aside the fact that these are not ''debates'' in any sense of the word, why are we only hearing from two party leaders?
Another party, one with whom Labor and the Liberals obviously fear sharing a stage, received 12 per cent of the vote in the last federal election. The Greens are now the only left-of-centre, non-xenophobic party in Australia and the only party that looks beyond the next two election cycles when considering Australia's future.
Was their exclusion done with the collusion of the TV networks, or did the major parties refuse to participate if they had to compete with the Greens for the approval of the ''worm?''
Commentators sometimes wonder why much of the public has such low regard for politicians.
Perhaps it's partly because the two largest parties are so arrogant that they think only they are capable of contributing to the nation and know they can get away with treating voters with utter contempt.
Steve Ellis, Hackett
Gibraltar still valued
Alex Massie (''Gibraltar? Send in the navy'', Times2, August 12, p1) suggests that the British territory of Gibraltar is ''of no significant strategic importance whatsoever''. What nonsense! Certainly with the end of the Cold War it is not as significant as it once was. But every year a quarter of the global maritime traffic passes through the straits between Gibraltar and Morocco. Controlling those straits is vital to NATO.
Years ago I visited both Gibraltar and the tiny Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa.
The Spanish demand that Britain ignore the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and hand them over to Spain. But try suggesting to the Spanish that they hand their territory back to Morocco!
Robert Willson, Deakin
Regrettably I must agree with most of Alex Massie's comments. There is, however, an important observation that needs to be made.
The real losers in this sorrowful saga are Gibraltar's original inhabitants, the barbary macaques. In the mist of the kerfuffle these monkeys have been forgotten by everyone and, it is reported, are seen meandering about the rock broken-hearted at the stupidity and selfishness of the humans they are forced to share the place with.
John Rodriguez, Florey
Speech not so free
It takes a case such as Michaela Banerji's to remind Australians they do not have the same free speech rights as Americans. (''Public servant loses fight over Twitter attack on government'', August 13, p1).
The High Court previously ruled Australians only have limited free speech rights to political expression. The court decision against Ms Banerji narrows that even further.
The American press has ''public figure doctrine'' protection allowing them to report corruption in a timely manner.
The Australian press does not and must sit on cases, sometimes for years: they couldn't report that NSW premier Robert Askin was corrupt until he was dead.
Politicians enjoy ''stop the boats'' because it's easy to score points on that issue. Let them argue this instead.
Brendan Jones, Paddington, Qld
Numbers the catch when talking dams
It seems good to have read Simon Corbell noting (''Water vigilance vital despite new dam'', August 12, p1) that Canberrans do understand we live in a water-vulnerable part of Australia, since consumption [per head] has been falling.
Clearly, this concedes the new dam has its practical limits into the future and its droughts. But what about the other half of the story, the elements within the ACT government who still seem hell-for-leather chasing as many heads to depend on what is essentially a large waterhole, with much potential for thirst downstream. Has Simon any comment on the declaration of the perpetual growth lobby, which said, ''Let's hope the population growth will continue to perform to the expectations of the multi-faceted developmental fronts we are promoting'' (''Practised eye sees ACT as our most populous inland centre by 2030'', June 16, p22).
Ian Clark, Reid
I must agree with Paul Remington's sentiments (Letters, August 10), that overpopulation is the greatest threat to our environment, way of life and wellbeing of future generations. However, I disagree with his comments about rather drinking battery acid than to preference Labor, the Coalition or the so-called Greens. Too painful for me - I would rather crawl for 10 miles on my hands and knees over broken glass instead.
As far as I am concerned, the Greens are the worst offenders as far as supporting a ''big Australia''. Their policies on migration, births and future infrastructure are all for promoting population growth.
Never once did I hear any words of support from them for Dick Smith when he warned of the dangers of infinite population growth in a finite world or for Bindi Irwin when she said similar things.
Many years ago the Chinese had the foresight to introduce the ''one-child policy''. I wonder where China would be today if instead it had adopted the Greens policy of ''planning for population growth by living with a smaller footprint''.
A. Quinn, Palmerston
TO THE POINT
INSERT GAFFE HERE
Referring to his debate with the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott was heard on the ABC 7pm news (August 12) to note that ''no one is the suppository of all wisdom''. The metaphor may be a bit fixed but I doubt this was a gaffe by Mr Abbott. I suspect he was quite deliberately suggesting Mr Rudd's stance to be reflexive rather than confusing the word repository.
Gary J. Wilson, Macgregor
A repository in search of a suppository (''Uncertainty as Abbott holds out on economy'', canberratimes.com.au, August 13).
John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW
I can hardly wait until Tony Abbott has to talk to visiting dignitaries. He will be our very own George W. It should be hilarious.
Gary Frances, Red Hill
I read about Mr Abbott's gaffe. What a bummer!
Malcolm Gerloch, Melba
REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS
Our campaigning politicians keep telling us how much they love our country, but that does not necessarily persuade us to love them. They should remember that someone once wrote ''patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel''.
Ray Aitchison, Waramanga
FAMILY OUT IN THE COLD
Canberra is called the ''well-off'' capital of Australia. Then why are an Indian couple and their baby sleeping in a car in this cold weather (''Nightmare for a 'forbidden' family'', August 12, p3)? What is wrong with our system to let this happen? Where were the departments of welfare and housing when they were needed?
Pat Bourke, Hackett
What a disappointment to read The Canberra Times and find the federal government being referred to as ''Canberra'' (''Gonski hold-out states to save the Feds $1.2b'', August 13, p5) This form of ''Canberra bashing'' is something we Canberrans have come to expect from the interstate media, not our local paper. Obviously your reporter (Daniel Hurst) is not a local.
John Williams, Rivett
ALMIGHTY TEST LOSS
Frank O'Shea seems convinced (''Happy to pass on, Lord, but please - with dignity'', Times 2, August 12, p5) it was the Lord who created the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and took the lives of the Spanish people whose train was derailed last month.
Not unreasonably, anyone who has such accusations thrown at him is likely to retaliate. So, thank you Mr O'Shea for having a hand in the collapse of our cricket team in the fourth Test!
Sam Nona, Burradoo, NSW