British generosity brings hope, Tories fail to offer a viable alternative and others

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In Sri Lanka's desperate hour, British generosity brings hope

In Sri Lanka's desperate hour, British generosity brings hope

Sir: I am an undergraduate student in the UK and returned home to Sri Lanka for my Christmas holidays and was in Galle town minutes before the wave struck. There is nothing left of the places I visited in town minutes before.

There was a home for handicapped children which houses over 100 children along the coast at Dewata, which we used to visit frequently. Not even the ruins of the building are left. All the children are believed to have perished. Sunday masses were being offered in two churches along the south-eastern coast at Matara and Tangalle when the wave struck. The people present perished.

Most bodies that washed ashore were of little children. In Galle town where we make daily visits there is nothing left. There are trawlers in the town centre. Vehicles drowning in canals. Witnesses in Galle tell of how vehicles got washed away into the sea and how people were trying to hang on to anything they could to save themselves and how little children stood no chance at all.

Newly born babies from Galle maternity hospital still with name tags on their wrists have got washed away and their little bodies have ended up in the canal near by.

Our little town will never be the same again. Had it been a normal working day the death toll would have been much higher. We still do not know exactly how many have lost their lives.

All the locals are helping the destitute in every possible way. The local schools, temples and the Galle Cathedral are housing the homeless. My family and I are distributing food parcels. My mother has given away all our clothes. My uncles are getting fresh bread baked at the local bakeries and are distributing it in Galle town. We are transporting bowsers of clean drinking water from the interior to the town. We are doing all we can to console those who are traumatised. There are many orphans and elderly who have lost everyone. We are united in our grief and are helping each other.

Most of all we are overwhelmed and touched at the generosity of the British people. We do not feel alone; your kindness will never be forgotten. Thank you for your help and support at this desperate hour of need.

Galle, Sri Lanka

Tories fail to offer a viable alternative

Sir: John Rentoul's analysis (Opinion, 6 January) offers a sad reflection on the state of politics in the country. It identifies the lack of both principle and philosophy underpinning the positions of the Government and Conservative opposition.

The failure of the Conservative Party is surely rooted in its inability to counter the neo-conservative strategies of New Labour and to present a coherent alternative. The Conservative case against war in Iraq was not argued, with honourable exceptions such as Kenneth Clarke; the importance of the rule of law in terms of resisting detention without trial has not been upheld; the case for a small state which would involve opposing the introduction of compulsory ID cards not made.

Those who are dissatisfied by this government have been given no viable Conservative alternative to vote for. An election based entirely upon the rather unhealthy motivation of voting against seems inevitable.

Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sir: We liberals must stand up against the Government's attempt to pervert our language to make "liberal" a term of abuse. If believing in the right of the individual to determine his or her own destiny; not to be locked up without trial; and to be able to walk our streets without having to prove who he/she is all amount to the definition of a liberal, then I for one am proud to be both "wishy-washy" and "woolly-minded".

We should perhaps never have expected a Labour government, coming as it does from a statist, "we know best" tradition, to advance the cause of civil liberties, though many of us held out more hope from New Labour than has proved sensible. What is frightening, however, is just how much this government has shifted the balance of power between the state and the individual towards the state. The profoundly illiberal ID card scheme will take us further down this route.

At the next general election we have, for the first time in a very long time, a real and crucial choice to make as voters. We can vote for further state intervention in our lives with yet more loss of liberty, or we can seek out parties or individuals who stand up for liberty and freedom.

Booton, Norfolk

Sir: How appropriate that Mr Howard, the soon-to-be-forgotten leader of a soon-to-be-forgotten party, should seek to represent an alleged "forgotten majority".

Woking, Surrey

Trees and climate

Sir: It's clear why forestry won't reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2) in the long term ("Keystone copse", 5 January).

The world has a fixed amount of carbon, most of it bound as mineral carbonates. Roughly speaking, the rest is a fixed total, divided between living organisms, their fossil fuel remains and CO 2 dissolved in water or as gas in the atmosphere. We are concerned about the distribution of the total between these various forms. Burning fossil fuel converts its carbon content to CO 2, and the increased proportion in the atmosphere is thought to promote global warming.

As your article says, trees (and all plants) take up carbon but when they die, they rot and return it to the atmosphere as CO 2. Planting forests only increases the amount of held carbon if the wood is not burnt or allowed to rot. To hold enough carbon to make a significant difference needs need huge living forests. Growing and burning bio-fuel only serves to reduce the need for fossil fuels: there are probably better ways of doing that.

Professor G S SOLT
Olney, Milton Keynes

Sir: Having spent much of the past two decades seeking to alert people to the magnitude of the threats which accelerated climate change causes, it would be churlish not to welcome their seriousness being recognised so fully by your columnist Johann Hari (31 December). But I am concerned at the facile nature of the only response he posits. Relying exclusively upon the wholly untried technology of injecting carbon dioxide into the floor of the oceans is yet another attempt to find a simple technical-fix panacea to what really requires an extraordinarily complex range of behavioural changes.

Every single serious study of the most effective - and cost-effective - way to ameliorate the worst effects of climate change has concluded that what we all need to do is re-examine every energy-consuming aspect of our lives, and ask ourselves two things. First, is what I am doing absolutely necessary? And, if it really is, am I doing it in the most energy efficient way possible?

I appreciate that such an approach is neither glamorous nor easy to sell in our 30-second soundbite culture. But that is the main message that the Prime Minister will need to be getting over on climate change, as he prioritises the issue when he chairs the European Union and the G8 this year.

Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy
London N1

Happy adoption

Sir: I am beginning to wonder if my family and I are oddities, because we never seem to fit any results of research.

I refer now specifically to the article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (3 January) concerning adoption. I am completely in agreement with her abhorrence of the journalistic baying after the Milibands since they brought home a baby for adoption from America. However I was astounded to read that adoption is a complicated, fraught, delicate, unpredictable and awesome business and even when successful hides lurking demons and unseen feelings which demand superhuman patience and the gods on your side.

I am the mother of a natural son and three adopted children who bear no relation to each other. They are all in early middle age now and have children of their own, giving me nine grandchildren. There have never been any problems to us or them arising from the fact that they are adopted. We love all our children deeply and equally and they love each other in the same way. We are a very close family and our grandchildren are loved and love each other in the same way.

It would be sad if existing or prospective adoptive parents were burdened by this article. I think it is the case as with so many other situations - you only hear about the ones that go wrong.

I would like to wish the Milibands the measure of joy we have experienced with our children.

Framlingham, Suffolk

Disputed goals

Sir: The debate regarding the introduction of video aids to assist football officials, in the wake of Tottenham's disallowed "goal" on Tuesday evening, has deflected attention away from a bigger issue. This is the moral code and attitudes that prevail in football today.

Roy Carroll, the goalkeeper, was clearly aware that the ball had crossed the goal line and that a goal should have been awarded, but was content to carry on as if it had not. In all the furore surrounding the incident, I have not heard of any criticism of the goalkeeper's action. This, of course, reflects the absence of morals in football and has become acceptable through the misuse of the word "professionalism".

Contrast this culture with that of golf, in which professional players are expected to, and indeed do, declare penalties upon themselves in situations where only they are aware that they have transgressed the rules.


Sir: If the FA can use video evidence to punish retrospectively miscreants who assault opposing players, why can they not use the same facility to award goals retrospectively when they have so obviously been scored? Fair play means more than just a requirement not to punch your fellow professional.

Lichfield, Staffordshire

Battle stress

Sir: The article "Home by Christmas - but soldiers still live with the tension and fear of Iraq" and leading article (18 December) contain a number of misleading impressions about the provision of counselling and mental health care to the Armed Forces.

We have a duty of care to our personnel and take our responsibilities very seriously. Any member of the Armed Forces who is injured, either physically or mentally, receives the best available medical care and support.

All personnel are trained on how to identify signs of operational stress in themselves and others, how to manage it, and where to seek further help. They have access to trained mental health staff in operational theatres, including the Gulf. We brief personnel on their return on how to relate to friends and family. Service families are also advised on how to recognise stress in their loved ones and how to adjust to life after an operational tour. On return, all personnel have a period of "normalisation" in their unit to give them time to readjust, followed by a period of leave.

Treatment, when required, is carried out to the "gold standards" of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, with a particular emphasis on proven psychological therapies, and we work closely with the Department of Health and the Veterans Agency to ensure care continues after discharge.

Minister for Veterans
Ministry of Defence
London SW1

Dictators on the payroll

Sir: What is Tony Rohl (letter, 5 January) talking about when he exhorts us to "help America rid the world of dictators"? America props up numerous dictatorships for its own greed and 80 per cent of US arms exports to the developing world go to non-democratic regimes. Enough of this nonsense.


Leadership potential

Sir: The recent survey published by the human resources firm DDI suggests that the leadership qualities required in business and commerce are predictable at an early stage by selection as a school prefect. Many of the prefects at the grammar school I attended in the 1950s were unimaginative sycophants, brown-nosers and assorted creeps. If this is the stock from which our "captains of industry" are selected, little wonder that our economic performance in the latter half of the 20th century was little short of abysmal.

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Bashing burglars

Sir: When I was a lad 60 years ago burglaries were extremely rare. This can be attributed, in my view, to the heavy porcelain chamber pots which used to reside under every bed. These receptacles were necessary as the only other facility in our terraced houses was the outside lavatory in the back yard. Burglars knew that the "contents" awaited them, followed by a blow to the head from the heavy container itself. I feel confident that statistics will confirm that the rise in burglaries is related to the demise of the chamber pot.

Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

Literary style

Sir: Dylan Jones (6 January) tells us he has more than 80 Tom Wolfe books, including 30 first editions. Would the rest of your writers please let us know how many books they all have in their impressive libraries? Unfortunately, with Dylan going off menu for his column this week, I'm now unsure whether or not I can wear my black John Smedley polo neck to Sketch this Saturday.

(Five Richard Brautigan first editions)
London SW16