Letter of the week: Automatic for the people

Michael Hodges (Class Monitor, 16 November) wrote that his checkout woman is to lose her job because "tills will be automated". No, they won't. Automation means replacing human labour, mental or physical, with machines, and generally constitutes progress. Self-service tills simply mean that the work formerly done by checkout woman will now be done by customers. Customers are getting less service and paying the same. This is an example of how the capitalist market doesn't work. While it may make accounting sense for individual businesses to get rid of checkout workers, ticket clerks, etc, it makes sense for the whole economy only if this is constrained by a shortage of that sort of worker. I don't believe that is currently the case. The effect is a net loss of the services they used to provide.
John Wilson
London NW3

Heaven can wait
Since Charles Darwin, in the final paragraphs of On the Origin of Species, credits "the Creator's Laws" for evolution, the endless war between the two factions is a phony one ("Since the dawn of time", The Issues, 9 November).
I, by and large, follow Darwin. Yet he makes it clear that he is but advancing a theory. God as the "intelligent designer" is equally a theory. Obvious, then, that both can be taught side by side in classrooms.
Barry Baldwin
Calgary, Canada

Richard Dawkins represents very large numbers of us who had religion and its rites shoved down our throats from early childhood. My generation - which is about to test the theory of heaven in person - rallies to him as patriots to the flag or warhorses at the sound of gunfire. We atheists are not "excessively mean to people of faith", we just want them out of our hair so we can live and breathe and wonder at this beautiful Earth and the Universe (or universes) it spins in without some jealous, even malevolent, "father" in the sky harassing us.
Civilised as it may be for evolutionaries such as Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, the authors of Unscientific America, to call for an accommodation with religious moderates, I say, "Accommodation, yes - but not yet".
Tim Symonds
Burwash, East Sussex

War and peace
How right Peter Wilby is to feel uneasy under the pressure of the "poppy fascists" (First Thoughts, 16 November). Until 1994, the centre of the poppy bore the words "Haig Fund", after the general who earned the nickname "the butcher of the Somme".
However, a far better symbol than Peter's white shroud is the white poppy, which bears the word "Peace" in its centre. White poppies have been produced as an alternative to red poppies since 1933, initially by the Co-operative Women's Guild and thereafter by the Peace Pledge Union ( Be warned, though: wearers can often face as much aggression as if they were the enemy.
Alan Johnson
Fleetwood, Lancashire

Peter Wilby should do what I do and wear a red and a white poppy together in his lapel. I started the practice last year and it made a story in my local paper. It's a great talking point, and combines honouring those doing the fighting and our striving for peace.
Peter Heneker
Cardigan, Wales

Observation point
Vernon Bogdanor's review of David Kynaston's Family Britain 1951-57 (Books, 16 November) offers a telling comment on the Mass Observation Archive and how it is viewed and used by academe. Bogdanor accuses Kynaston first of assuming that the MO material "speaks for itself" and then of failing to offer any interpretation of his own.
Quite apart from such criticism of Kynaston's book, Bogdanor also asks if the anonymous MO contributors are typical of "the British people". He interprets what they write as individualistic "stream of consciousness" - as though they were being interviewed on the street and unloading the first thoughts that came into their heads.
Between Kynaston and Bogdanor, there is a failure to recognise that MO contributors are historians themselves, drawing upon very different kinds of material - experiential rather than bibliographic - and that what they contribute is "entertaining", to quote Bogdanor, because their view and interpretation of the world around them informs and challenges books such as Peter Hennessy's Having It So Good - a book that Bogdanor sees as “the standard".
Bill Bytheway
Swansea, Wales

Being different
It is premature to suggest that President Obama has already failed in his attempts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together ("A state of collapse", Cover Story, 16 November). Two of his strengths, which must have appealed to US voters, are his readiness to learn and his desire to do things differently. It is now urgent that he demonstrates both of these characteristics. He must learn that when negotiating with a serial "No we won't!" politician such as Binyamin Netanyahu you need to be willing to play strong cards. To be different, Obama should no longer go along with US collusion with the "secret" about Israel's nuclear arsenal.
Richard Stainton
London SE24

Below the belt
I was somewhat troubled to see an advert for "The Prostate Centre - challenging the traditional model of private healthcare" in the same edition of the New Statesman (16 November) that features a supplement entitled "How to save our health service".
While I understand the need to include advertising, I would argue that giving a platform to a private company that is in direct competition with the public institution we wish to save undermines the New Statesman's moral position in the debate.
Pierre-Louis Le Goff
Eastleigh, Hampshire

X-ray vision
Why can't writers call radiographers radiographers?
If Michael Hodges (Class Monitor, 9 November) was not attended by radiographers for his CT examination, he should sue. He is mistaken in assuming the two people behind the secondary radiation screen were not looking at him. They were looking at the images of his guts on the monitor, as they should have been.
For years, I have read sloppy pieces where radiographers are described as "nurses", "X-ray nurses" and "technicians", and now that I am a retired radiographer, I have time to complain. For the record, "X-ray nurses" do exist. They carry out nursing duties, which do not include imaging, in radiology departments. And "gurney"? Hodges means a CT table. As for his poor penis, don't worry, it wouldn't have got in the way.
Jane Brooks
Swansea, Wales

Past imperfect
I appreciate the attention Terry Eagleton gave to Walter Benjamin ("Waking the dead", The Critics, 16 November), but his article is at best misguided. The past does exist, in our stories about it, and these stories can indeed change what was "true". They can also erase the past.
Putting past events into a broader historical narrative does not make better sense of them; it makes different sense of them. It locates those events in terms of the current stories we tell about ourselves. Our current stories are just as capable of being misguided and incomplete as the stories that were told about those events at the time they were happening.
The suggestion that we need an African-American president to condemn slavery seems odd, too.
Matt King
via email

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.