Lessons of history fail

We could, in one respect, be forgiven for commemorating this anniversary of World War I as indeed we predictably are: as much out of nostalgia as of sorrowful respect.

Increasingly, in the many wars that have followed, right up to the recurrent slaughters in Palestine and in particular the present one, the carnage has intentionally and routinely come to include large, even overwhelming, numbers of civilians.

For all its legendary brutality, this is one crime against humanity that cannot be held against World War I.

It might not have been the war to end all wars, but it was the last one broadly to keep to the laws of war and maintain conventional regard for civilian life.

Well may we mourn that.

Alex Mattea, Kingston


It saddens me to hear British Prime Minister David Cameron justifying the war that began a century ago as a struggle for ''the principles of freedom and sovereignty that we cherish today''.

What tosh! It was a failure of world leaders to settle their differences peaceably - a failure that cost 16 million people their lives and wasted the world's treasure on death and destruction rather than life and creation.

The money to make each of those ''booms'' would have put dinner on the tables of many of Europe's underclass.

I agree with Stanislaus Katczinsky, who, in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, suggested that ''whenever there's a big war comin' on, you should rope off a big field … and take all the kings and their cabinets and their generals, put 'em in the centre dressed in their underpants, and let 'em fight it out with clubs. The best country wins.''

Imagine all the lives that would have been saved if George W. Bush had fought it out one-on-one with Saddam Hussein!

Imagine how many women and children in Gaza would still be breathing if Benjamin Netanyahu had punched it out with some Hamas leader!

Prime ministers and presidents love to put wreaths on war memorials, but it is the little guys like Katczinsky who paid the price in 1914 and keep paying the price in 2014.

Mike Reddy, Lyons

Amanda misguided

I've always liked Amanda Vanstone: she's down to earth and seems to have some understanding of the wider community.

I haven't always agreed with her opinion and have never agreed with her politics. But I am surprised at her description of a civilised society (''A civilised society does not trash politicians'', Times2, August 4, p5).

A civilised society demands that politicians must earn the respect of their electorate to avoid such criticism. It is possible to respect the position without having respect for the individuals holding those positions.

And if politicians cop flak from their electorates, then that is a healthy barometer for them. Either they start to perform or they are buried in the trash.

W. Book, Hackett

Speech skills flagging

Warmest thanks to Dean Frenkel for his thoughtful article ''Don't nobody say nuthin''', (Times2, August 4, p1).

As he writes, it is not just that we have poor speech skills but that we refuse to acknowledge this fact or to insist that we do something about it, beginning with our school system.

Indeed, the whole popular culture of Australia is against it.

I find it agony to listen to sporting stars interviewed on TV, with endless ''Ye know, like …'' and incoherent mumblings, that the boys are ''gunna thrash 'em'''.

I am amused that Frenkel cites former prime minister Bob Hawke as one of our ''most brilliant speakers''.

It was Hawke who, in Parliament, was forced to apologise after he lampooned former foreign minister Alexander Downer for speaking in an ''educated'' Australian manner.

Another former prime minister, Robert Menzies, set all Australians a splendid example in speech skills but, sadly, we have not followed it.

The ancient Greeks taught young people rhetoric, the art of persuasive or impressive speaking or writing.

What about reintroducing it, for both teachers and pupils?

Robert Willson, Deakin

The ABC's 7pm TV news on August 4 contained at least two offensive linguistic usages.

In the first, Palestinians were described as ''hiding'' in a United Nations shelter.

They were seeking protection. There was no cause to imply guilty flight by using ''hiding''.

The second was in a report about the Australian War Memorial, which referred to the number of souls who perished.

Souls are the supposedly eternal essences of individuals.

Souls do not die: people do.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Solving twin claims

It is very satisfying to read of the generous donations being made to improve the health and life of little Gammy (''Gammy's mum threatens to sue couple'', August 5, p1). However, with the alleged ''parents'' in Western Australia denying all knowledge of this little boy, would it be too difficult to check the birthing hospital in Thailand and confirm that the surrogate mother did give birth to twins?

Having established that fact, then surely a DNA sample from the donor couple could establish beyond doubt whether Gammy had a twin sister now residing in Western Australia.

N. Bailey, Nicholls

Leading by example

Former MP Peter Slipper has been convicted of abusing parliamentary travel allowances.

Tony Abbott, George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce did the same thing. Why aren't they in court?

As senior government ministers, they should set an example of honesty and openness.

To my mind, their crime is more serious than Slipper's.

Richard Keys, Ainslie

'Normal' victims

One would assume Helen Sorensen (Letters, August 5) does not walk around in body armour and armed to the teeth - in other words, she is a ''normal'' civilian.

How does she suggest that ''normal'' civilian Palestinians stop heavily armed ratbags firing rockets? She should put herself in their shoes. Does she beg? Shout? Scream?

Should her failure to impose her arguments on the militants subject her, and hundreds of her friends and relatives, to indiscriminate bombardment and slaughter through sophisticated and highly efficient armaments?

G. Williams, Gowrie

Farcical Senate system

Your editorial writer achieves an enviable turn of phrase: a Paul Keating-type description of the final demise of the carbon tax ''all the sweeter perhaps by the surmounting of last-minute pettifoggery by Senate upstarts'' (''The tax is axed, but what's next?'', Times2, July 18, p2).

The problem is that these featherweights are there for six years, having been elected by managed trickle-down preferences through the porous Senate voting system.

One upstart ''won'' his seat with less than 0.5 per cent of the primary vote.

They are the Palmer United Puppets and, unless Tony Abbot gets a second trigger and feels lucky enough for a double dissolution, we are stuck with them.

Are the government's psychologists ready with smart changes to the Senate election system to rule our sports club committee nominees and their like?

Does the PM have the chutzpah to change the farcical Senate system to ensure we get only worthy candidates elected?

Colin P. Glover, Canberra City

It can't be that hard to trace residents of Mr Fluffy homes

I am surprised that studies of former Mr Fluffy home residents have been described as difficult.

The ACT government has records of ownership of homes, and old electoral rolls are held on microfiche at the National Library, so it should be easy to identify adult owners (I concede there could be difficulty in identifying tenants from those days).

Tracing owner families forward using electoral rolls, cancer registries, and the national death index would be straightforward.

Surviving members of these families who have moved could again be found from present electoral rolls, and family members determined.

A quicker study would take all people on the mesothelioma register, and use old electoral rolls to identify addresses, then check which of those addresses were asbestos-affected.

Given that two of the seven most recent mesothelioma sufferers had lived in Mr Fluffy homes (''Alarm as Mr Fluffy home owners diagnosed with mesothelioma'', July 22, p1), I fear there may be many more.

John Donovan, Weston

It is high time that the ACT government committed to knocking down and rebuilding all the houses affected by asbestos at no cost to the owners.

They have had their worlds turned upside down and are now living in a nightmare not of their making.

Their major assets have become not only worthless but dangerous.

Where does the money come from? Put off the tram line for a year or so. We'll cope.

Let's face it: there by the grace of whatever power you believe in, go you or I.

Deirdre Sheppard, Fraser

Stay in your ivory tower

The article ''Light rail has benefits for all in a sustainable future'' (Times2, August 4, p5) would have left many shaking their heads.

Melbourne has one of the biggest light-rail networks in the world. The last addition to the network was in the 1950s. Simply put, that city found it was more costly than heavy rail and buses.

Brisbane had the same experience and mothballed its tram network.

To come out with a most bizarre suggestion, as the article's four authors have, that light rail should replace an established bus system and leave it to operate away from the main corridors is absurd. To give an example: imagine a light-rail track from Civic to Tuggeranong. Then try to conceive how many passengers per kilometre it would pick up along Adelaide Avenue, and Melrose and Athllon drives.

The authors, all professors, should stay in the academic world and leave the practical world to others.

Howard Carew, Isaacs

Kambah's story of neglect

I note that the report on a recent survey of support for the north Canberra light-rail scheme identified Kambah as one of the few suburbs whose residents were, in the majority, dubious about the whole affair (''Tram line winning support: research'', August 2, p1).

This was unsurprising to me, considering the deprivation that this suburb suffers.

Kambah is the largest suburb in Canberra, in terms of both area and population. According to the latest census, Kambah had a population of about 15,500 in 2011 - twice that of its nearest rival - yet its facilities are pathetic.

It was the first suburb of Tuggeranong, in the early 1970s, and was clearly something of an experiment.

Overall, on current assessment, the experiment must be judged as failed. The basic infrastructure in Kambah - footpaths, roads, lighting, etc - is now dilapidated.

Where ''improvements'' are made, they are done on the cheap; the ''upgrading'' of the public toilet at the Kambah Village Centre, for example, and the roadside bicycle path on Boddington Circuit, which is as minimalist as one can get (a white line with a bicycle motif now and then, after which motorists are invited to use their imagination).

Every time I visit the shops at Yarralumla, population 3000, I wonder (only momentarily, admittedly) where we, down south, went wrong.

Maybe Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury and co could think about diverting down our way just a few million of the estimated $600 million tram-line expense to fix our footpaths, clean up and maybe expand our main shopping precinct, and give us the services our population warrants.

Ed Highley, Kambah

Brickworks endorsement

It was pleasing to see on the WIN TV news that ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr (perhaps inadvertently) endorsed the Yarralumla Residents Association's position on the Orwellianly named Canberra Brickworks redevelopment proposal.

When he chided us residents with words to the effect of ''it's not just about the residents of Yarralumla; this development is for all Canberrans'', he was echoing what the association has said.

We do not oppose redevelopment of the brickworks; just the present proposal that breaches several significant principles of Canberra's design.

It fails to offer anything to redevelop the brickworks, except to ''make the site safe''.

It puts a town-centre, high-rise style precinct where there is not a town centre and probably never will be.

It puts a significant set of tall buildings on a prominent ridge, normally a no-no for Canberra.

It fails to provide for adequate services (public transport, communications, utilities) for the extra 4000 people who might live there.

It fails to provide for adequate traffic infrastructure on streets already stressed.

In its present form, the Land Development Agency's plan will be a blight on Canberra that all Canberrans will have to live with into the future.

The LDA can do better than this and should be told to do so. Perhaps Barr might care to oblige.

Colin Holmes, Yarralumla

Mad decision to fly Ebola patient to US

Surely the transport of a patient infected with the highly contagious and deadly Ebola virus would preclude that person from being allowed to cross borders (''First Ebola virus patient arrives in US for treatment'', August 4, p7).

Was any thought given to the safety of the countries the flight had to cross?

What if, for whatever reason, the plane was required to land in an unsecured location that was not capable of managing an infection like this?

What if the patient decided to do a runner when they landed in America? And then they transported this person halfway across town.

This is a single person, carrying a deadly, contagious disease being allowed to cross borders and potentially infect others.

If this person is so important then a mobile hospital could have been arranged on site.

This was an act of clinical madness.

Joe Murphy, Bonython

To the point


Simon Corbell is right in saying that Labor went to the last election with the light rail already announced (''Hospitals, jobs before light rail: poll'', August 4), but that is not the full story. Previously, Labor said it would not build it because, at $614 million, it was too expensive.

The announcement it would build it was made during the election campaign and no explanation for this change was given. The only possible reason for this timing is that it was about the green vote.

Stan Marks, Hawker


We ''celebrate'' the end of World War I as well as Anzac Day (during World War I) and now the beginning of the ''Great War'', too (aka World War I). When will we realise this glorification and drum-beating for inhumane wars has now become a major industry?

Rhys Stanley, via Hall


The United States has never let the Cold War cool down. Too emasculated these days to get up to its usual interventionist tricks, Uncle Sam is making the bullets for Israel against Islam and for Ukraine against Russia. I wish Secretary of State John Kerry would sleep at home in his own bed now and again.

Barrie Smillie, Duffy


Rajend Naidu (Letters, August 4) asks if someone can make sense of why ''the Pentagon continues to restock Israel's weapon supply''? The answer is simple: if the Pentagon stopped selling arms, the United States economy would go broke.

Geoff Barker, Flynn


The current treatment of children in detention centres will lead to lifelong developmental issues spanning cognitive, emotional, social and physical development. This must stop.

Jason Tolmie, Bonner


Is it just me or has there been a significant decline in ACT Policing involvement in visible community policing? It seems to me that Police Minister Simon Corbell needs to get more value for money from our local police in these budget-challenged times. A recent attempt to get the police to attend to people parking illegally to fish at the Point Hut Pond dam wall confirmed that active and visible community policing is a joke.

Jed Bartlett, Gordon


Please tell me I did not hear Tony Abbott say he was conducting a humanitarian crusade.

K. Davis, Pearce

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