Spectator readers respond to recent articles

29 July 2009

Not every illness is swine flu

Sir: Congratulations to Sarah Standing (‘The national swine flu sickie’, 25 July). It seems incredible that so much money is being spent so recklessly when we have such an enormous debt on our national books. In these days of ‘patient-led’ medicine the public decides what it is suffering from and certificates are often available for the asking; no doubt the flu itself will be followed by epidemic ‘post-viral fatigue’.

GPs seem suddenly to have abandoned the god of ‘evidence-based’ medicine in favour of self-protection. I can say this because I am a GP of a certain vintage who rarely caught any disease from a patient. I must have seen 50 or more children with chickenpox or rubella and survived until my own children brought the infection to the house.

Swine flu has, it appears, always been with us so there are probably many in the community with antibodies. Perhaps a few of our vast army of researchers could test those living in the neighbourhood of pig farms.

But my main concern is with misdiagnoses. A high temperature together with symptoms such as diarrhoea and a cough occurs in a variety of diseases, some subject to sudden deterioration. Malaria and meningitis are two but streptococcal infection can be lethal in a short time and that is probably what happened to the child who died. I suspect the phrase ‘associated health issues’ may conceal such deaths. 

Anne Savage  
London NW3

Border dispute

Sir: I think Jan Morris’s assertion that ‘Nobody in all England lives more than 100 miles from a Welsh Border’ (‘The last permitted bigotry’, 25 July) might be doubted by the residents of Brighton, Norwich, and Newcastle upon Tyne, amongst others.

Tom Spencer
London SW12


Hacked off

Sir: In the absence of urgent political action, Gary McKinnon will be arrested, extradited, charged with hacking into Pentagon and NASA computers and destined to spend his life in a US prison. This would amount to a crime committed in our name by incompetent and cowardly politicians.

It is not just that Gary is clearly not a terrorist, that his mental state would turn incarceration into a slow death by torture, that the treaty being misused to extradite him should never have been signed, or the infantile American overreaction to evidence of defects in their military technology. What really upsets me is our own government’s assertion that nothing can be done. We are still a sovereign nation. US law enforcement has no ability to touch him unless we allow them.

If we refuse to extradite him, and deal with it in our own way, the reasons will be well understood by most Americans: at the diplomatic level there will be at worst a minor short-lived row. And for once Gordon Brown and Jack Straw would be seen to have shown leadership, done the decent and humane thing and carried out the will of those who voted them into office.

Tom Sackville
Via email

Right again

Sir: Dot Wordsworth’s reflections on the double negative (Mind your language, July 25) call to mind a lecture in Glasgow in which the argument was put that there was no such thing as a double positive. It was undermined by a voice from the back saying: ‘Aye, right.’

Ron Clark
Stirling, Scotland

A dog’s choice

Sir: Charles Moore tells (The Spectator’s Notes, 25 July) of the distressing event of having to put down the family’s dog, and regards it as ‘unimaginable’ how one could take a human on a one-way journey to a sinister (his adjective) Swiss clinic for their life to be terminated. Surely, the most important difference here is that the human on the plane has made the (however upsetting it may be) decision. Jip, their dog, had not.

Dr Martin Kidd

Not cricket

Sir: Without wanting to sound too old-fashioned, for Roger Alton to imply that Andrew Strauss, the England cricket captain, is a cheat (Sport, 25 July) is snide, ill-informed and unacceptable. Mr Alton has clearly not played much cricket, otherwise he would know that it is common knowledge among those who play the game that a slip fielder can rarely tell the difference between taking the ball on the fall, close to the ground, and taking the ball on the half-volley. In addition, it is now well established that the television replay does not provide a satisfactory answer in such cases: the image is greatly foreshortened with the consequence that catches of this sort always look as though the ball has hit the ground first. Mr Alton seems to prize the integrity and character of sportsmen above all else in his articles — what price the integrity of sporting journalists?

James Roberts
Oakham, Rutland

Dance of time

Sir: Antonia Fraser, in her splendid biography of Marie Antoinette, mentions that the French queen danced with Lord Strathavon, whom she called ‘this charming Scot’. He subsequently danced with Princes Charlotte, the daughter of George IV, and with Queen Victoria.

When I was in publishing we had a book by Lord Mountbatten, who was, of course, Queen Victoria’s great-grandson. There is a photograph he liked to show me of him as a baby on the old queen’s lap. I can therefore claim to have shaken the hand of the man who was rocked by Queen Victoria, who danced with the man who danced with Marie Antoinette.

David Roberts
London NW1

Sir: My grandfather, who was born in 1869, told me that, as a young boy, he had met an old man who knew Robert Burns (1759-1796).

Isabella Dovaston
Ayr, Scotland

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