The slaughter of the 20 kids and six teachers at the Newtown school in Connecticut is a tragedy that affects everyone worldwide. We are all diminished by this act of barbarism. But it is only the latest in a string of such incidents which includes the Amish kids in Pennsylvania, the Columbine kids in Colorado, the kids in Dunblane, Scotland, and of course the kids at Port Arthur. Only the US legislators have been gutless enough not to take on the gun lobby in that country and take effective steps to control the spread of guns.
So let us Australians show our solidarity with our American friends, and the parents and relatives of the victims, and that Australians do remember the kids and parents of Newtown and other schools and colleges that have witnessed these tragedies. Let us do it with a minute's silence on Christmas Eve during public carol singing and church services. The playing of Silent Night without lyrics should then follow, for indeed it will be a silent night for those kids and their parents.
With a gesture like this, perhaps we can show US legislators the world is watching and waiting for action, and not a little angry at the inaction shown by the legislators of the so-called leader of the free world in failing to control the US gun lobby and gun culture.
Guy Swifte, Garran
I am unfamiliar with court proceedings, but I was wondering if the somewhat abstruse discussion of the police duty of care in the shooting of Jonathan Crowley could have concentrated more on what the law, or police regulation, lays down on the use of police firearms. I will hazard that, like much of what passes for law in Australia, they are unnecessarily wordy and liable to a number of interpretations confusing to a police officer in a situation that may demand an immediate response.
In the 1960s, Hong Kong police regulations on firearms use were succinct. As far as I can remember, they were: ''A firearm may only be used when no other means exists to save someone's life or prevent serious injury to a person. If used, the firer will aim to kill.''
Admittedly, a subjective element still existed, but the regulations were a clear starting point for legal argument. Perhaps our own laws might benefit from their consideration.
Incidentally, the late British humourist and former editor of Punch Alan Coren once spent a day in a London magistrates court observing its activities. His subsequent article concluded: ''Justice is about truth, but the law concerns itself with lies.''
Bill Deane, Chapman
Recent press reports concerning discriminatory pricing by overseas hi-tech firms have overlooked a particularly lucrative form of predatory pricing and gouging behaviour.
Recently I dropped an iPhone and cracked a glass back on the phone. Inquiries revealed that Apple would charge me almost $300 to replace this part. The solution was to buy a part from overseas for about $10, which included a special tool, and the part was replaced by me within minutes.
No one would deny these hi-tech firms a reasonable return on their stockholdings on a part I would imagine would cost mere cents to manufacture and virtually nothing to store. But their profit margin running to thousands of percentage points is obscene, and any comments seeking to justify such practices only aim to defend the indefensible.
James Humphries, Oxley
Pope in to see me
Dr Alan Cowan (Letters, December 19) suggests the Canberra Times ask David Pope to go and see someone.
Please ask him to come and see me. I would be honoured and probably overexcited to meet him. I could tell him I am still chuckling at his first CT cartoon, with the RBA troglodytes jumping up and down on the catapult. I might confess I used to be in love with Larry Pickering's cartoons and was never going to leave him, but Geoff Pryor took my cartoon heart, and I was faithful to him forever, nearly, and truly did not want to leave him. I blame Pope, of course, for taking my tiny cartoon heart. Pope seduced me. I promise a cup of tea. My Pope deserves no less.
Warwick Davis, Isaacs
I hope I never have to be treated by a doctor without a sense of humour about bodily functions and their relationship to everyday life.
Bill Arnett, Moruya Heads, NSW
A sorry business
Since our Prime Minister, state premiers and Territory chief ministers are falling over themselves in the race to say sorry to all and sundry, perhaps the Prime Minister would like to apologise to us conscripts, who were given the choice of two years in the army or two years in jail, and who, within 12 months, were required to kill people, against whom we had nothing personally and with whom we might well have been friendly, under different circumstances.
Of course, I jest. But I think it serves to demonstrate just how all this ''sorry'' business has reached ridiculous proportions.
D.N. Callaghan, Kingston
The report ''Cell of 'corrupt' Customs officers'' (December 20, p1) referred to ''multiple warnings from police and official inquiries''. Does this mean several warnings and inquiries, or half a dozen, or a dozen, or 20, or more? I don't know.
The use of ''multiple'' here, and in other news stories I have read, conveys next to no information other than there was more than one. If there were dozens of warnings and inquiries, why not say dozens? If there were a lot, why not say ''many'', or if a few, why not say ''a few'', or ''frequent'', or ''sporadic'', or even ''a sprinkling''? These words have a helpful quantifying dimension. ''Multiple'', although richer in syllables than ''many'', is very poor in information content.
Terence Craig, Holt
Winning in general
Many thanks to M.Silex (Letters, December 19) for supporting my contention that the nation suffers from the marginalisation of engineers by generalists and lawyers. He also raises another point which I had overlooked. It indicates how the marginalisation is done and how it is exploited to the taxpayers' disadvantage. Here is an example of what, no doubt, he means.
After a career on the inside of government, I joined an industry team on the outside, bidding to sell major equipment to the government in a very large contract.
Our selling effort was impeded by the government engineers asking detailed, awkward technical questions. We joined an industry-wide move to complain about this on two grounds: that these questions unlevelled the competitive playing field, and that they greatly increased our tendering costs.
The government responded by reducing the precedence of the technical questions, thus leaving only a small number of general requirements. I well remember our relief when this happened. From that point on, we knew we would win the contract. We concentrated on lobbying and pure marketing, and ignored the engineers. We won.
Any company that does this, and also wins the follow-on support contract can then make money fixing up the inherent problems the customer engineers had been prevented from raising in the first place.
Peter Rusbridge, Kambah
Spare us, please
Are readers of The Canberra Times to be spared nothing? Could I suggest that details of Jenna Price's vagina (Times2, December 18, p2) might best be kept between Jenna Price and, well, her vagina?
Virginia Berger, Barton
Planet in peril
Since industrialisation began, the global population has risen from one billion in 1800 to seven billion today. The flaws in this industrialisation of a small planet include the failure to recycle resources while overloading the natural cycles of water and carbon dioxide.
As to the water cycle, excessive irrigated farming stops major rivers from reaching the sea continuously: the Indus, Rio Grande, Colorado, Murray-Darling and the Yellow River.
In the carbon dioxide cycle, the decay of life releases carbon dioxide that is used in photosynthesis to produce new plant life, on which we all depend. But deforestation by humans has reduced the volume of photosynthesis just when an increase in volume was needed to absorb the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels. So carbon dioxide in the air has increased, and this acts as a heat-trap for Earth's infra-red radiation. Before industrialisation, carbon dioxide in the air was 280ppm. Today it is 398ppm in north Norway, and that figure is rising by 25ppm in each decade.
So now we have rising population, scarcer water and rising temperature. This will soon result in food shortages, as well as melting polar glacier, which will raise the sea levels and flood coastal cities and farms.
Five nations - China, the US, India, Russia and Japan - account for 52 per cent of annual global dioxide emissions. These annual emissions are not falling, so their future cumulative impact on the planet must be a source of deep concern.
Burgess Cameron, Yarralumla
On the rails
Mark Dawson (Letters, December 19) refers to the ''Cooma Branch Line'' railway from Queanbeyan. In fact the Goulburn-Bombala line through Queanbeyan reached Cooma in 1889, and the Canberra branch line, 8 km, was opened in 1914.
It is sad that our once-valued railways are neglected, shrink and are forgotten, while in the rest of the world, even in the US, rail freight is increasing. In Europe, international passenger lines grow. Time we stopped arguing and got on track.
Jack Palmer, Watson
To the point
BITE THE BULLET
If assault weapons, or any other guns for that matter, are so difficult to regulate in the USA, why not regulate the supply of ammunition? After all a gun without bullets is not particularly dangerous.
Ian McRae, Holt
GIVE OBAMA A CHANCE
I do not like the situation in America but I would not go as far as Chris Williams (Letters, December 20) calling President Obama an empty vessel. Successive presidents before Mr Obama have done nothing. Let us give him a chance.
Sankar Kumar Chatterjee, Evatt
TATTY OLD FIGLEAF
It's bad enough that the Federal Government has crashed its own economic strategy, but to have the hide in the immediate aftermath to seek praise that the crash caused by its ineptitude may help job creation is the best political dummy I have heard in decades.
Colliss Parrett, Barton
THE USUAL NEGATIVITY
Coalition comments on the federal Government's decision to abandon a Budget surplus have the usual ring of negativity: Joe Hockey talking about ''putting the garbage out five minutes before Christmas.'' How original, and how refreshing, it would have been, on the other hand, for Mr Hockey and Tony Abbott to say,''We agree with this, you have done the responsible thing by the nation, as we have been telling you you must.''
Barrie Smillie, Duffy
NOT DOOMED YET
If you are reading this, Doomsday didn't happen … whew! In case anyone is seriously interested in real prophecies they should check out what Mother Shipton foretold in the 1600s. Very interesting and a lot of which came true.
Sandra Smith, Macgregor
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