Climate change, Arabs in Britain and others

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The Independent Online

Will Blair live up to his fine words on climate change?

Sir: Some of the devastating effects of climate change could indeed be avoided if the world's politicians take action as you suggest ("We can avoid the Sixth Extinction - if we act now", 8 January) but if Tony Blair's record on translating commitment into action is anything to go by, we might as well say goodbye to those one million species now.

The Prime Minister has indeed uttered fine words on the threat posed by climate change, but his government's policies do not back up his rhetoric. Expanding airports and building new roads will mean increases in the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change. And despite the Government's welcome policy of expanding Britain's renewable energy production, next week sees the test of whether it will commit to cleaning up Britain's old and dirty coal-fired power stations.

On the international stage, the Government's influence is also weak. Tony Blair makes much of his special relationship with George Bush, but he has failed to persuade the US to join international efforts to tackle climate change.

Of course individuals have a role to play. We can all reduce our individual contributions to climate change by cutting down on car journeys, turning down the thermostat on the central heating and not leaving our televisions on stand-by. But the Government must marry its rhetoric with its policy. Actions speak louder than words.

Executive Director, Friends of the Earth, London N1

Arab contribution to our society

Sir: This morning (8 January) a client from a local business called at my shop. She is of Anglo-Libyan origin. Friends of her Libyan father - Algerians, Lebanese, Palestinians, other Libyans and many Greek Cypriots and Turks - form a significant part of the local business community and have been my former clients.

On the desk when this lady called was today's Independent, open at the page featuring Mr Kilroy-Silk, author of the statement that "Arabs have contributed almost nothing to civilisation". My client was appalled. How is it possible, in the same capital city, for some of us to experience the cultural difference of those we mix with to do business as a source of vitality, while others, like Kilroy-Silk, are not only ignorant about the history and cultures animating their community, but apparently living in isolation from it while occupying the same social space?

We need to know the answer to this question because, if Messrs Blair, Straw and others like them (who pay lip service to a multicultural community) were not in the same cloud-cuckoo land as Kilroy-Silk, the United Kingdom would provide a political pointer to a peaceful global community. These people have joined Bush in a campaign to enforce global cultural conformity. They have "contributed nothing to civilisation"!

Novalis Signs, signmakers
London N4

Sir: No surprise that Kilroy-Silk knows nothing of Arab contributions to world culture ("Kilroy-Silk lands in hot water over 'indisputably stupid' attack on Arabs", 8 January), but unforgivable that The Independent should also get it so badly wrong.

All of the early developments you attribute to the Arabs in ancient Mesopotamia - temples, city states, cuneiform, trade networks - were in fact established by the non-semitic Sumerians. True, these were later developed by peoples speaking north semitic languages - Assyrians, Aramaeans and so on - but they were quite distinct from the southern semitic Arab tribes, who only emerged to prominence thousands of years later.

The Arab world then undoubtedly made huge contributions to science, history, astrology, architecture and mathematics, including algebra (which incidentally means "reintegration" and not "difficult"), but to give them credit for the work of others is as foolish as denying them the credit they deserve.

Principal Lecturer
Department of Language Studies
Canterbury Christ Church University College

Interpol dispute

Sir: The conflict described in the article about Interpol (18 December)is not a personal one; at least as far as Interpol is concerned. In the underlying case, the organisation annulled a discretionary decision taken by the former Secretary General, Raymond E Kendall, to terminate his wife's post in the final days before he stepped down.

Interpol believes that employees should be paid for working, and that if employees' posts are terminated in a way to provide employees money for not working, then such terminations should occur consistent with Interpol's rules and regulations.

The decision to reverse former Secretary General Kendall's decision has been reviewed by Interpol's 13-member Executive Committee, by an independent labour law expert and by an independent counsel supported by an independent accounting firm. In all circumstances Interpol's action in reversing former Secretary General Kendall's decision to terminate his wife's post under what Interpol considered irregular and unjustifiable circumstances has been affirmed. Had his decision been left unchallenged, his wife would have received in excess of one million French francs - a sum greater than which she would have received had her post not been eliminated and had she worked full time until retirement.

Second, with regard to suggestions that any one country has greater influence on Interpol now than in the past, your readers should know that each of Interpol's 181 member countries has one vote on all matters and no right to veto.

The article also raised a question about whether Interpol is being distracted from its anti-terrorism work. On the contrary, Interpol is now recognised as being more valuable than ever before; thanks to our 24-hour seven days a week service; our new global communications system; the greatest budget increase in the organisation's 80 year history and the excellent work of dedicated staff in its General Secretariat and in its 181 national central bureaux.


British taps

Sir: The problem of scalding water ("Taps to be fitted with thermostats to prevent scalding", 7 January) has bothered me ever since I moved to England from Germany two years ago, and, less so, the problem of icy water in the other tap.

I just don't understand why the British don't use the simple solution the Germans do: install one-lever mixed taps. Not only do you put an end to scalding water, you save time and water. Whenever I take a two-tap shower I spend at least five minutes adjusting the taps to the right temperature.

In Germany it's just one flick, saving gallons of water a year. I've never seen sinks, showers or baths with hot-and-cold taps in Germany in all the 25 years I lived there. Similarly, the plumber I asked to install a one-lever mixed tap in my shower in England had never heard of them.

Eastbourne, East Sussex

University fees

Sir: My mother was a parlour maid in London in the early 1900s and recounted the important day when the sons of the house were going up to Oxford or Cambridge University.

If her employers had been told that their servant "Bailey" in the future would have two of her grandsons, on ability only, gain places, one at Oxford and one at Cambridge, they would not have deemed it credible.

Within less than a century, the clock is being turned back, it is money that counts, not ability. Most of our MPs have sufficient funds to protect their offspring from the financial burden of ongoing debt that their legislation on fees will impose on the sons and daughters of many hardworking parents.

To me, those of our young people who come through the state system with flying colours are the jewels and lack of money should not be allowed to dim their brightness.

Twickenham, Middlesex

Uses of terror  

Sir: With respect, I think that both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Andrea Clyndes (Letters, 6 January) are missing the point. The terrorists may want us frightened but the British and US governments want it more. It helps their re-election chances; it allows them to bring in draconian laws (locking up foreigners, without trial, indefinitely) and it makes them feel superior to us. It is going to carry on until at least November 2004.

Selby, North Yorkshire

Spam beaten

Sir: Mr Card seems to have been unlucky in his choice of spam filter (letter, 6 January) if he can't even achieve 90 per cent effectiveness. He should use a "Bayesian" filter, which learns the kind of spam he gets and becomes progressively more effective with time. I use one of these filters (spamprobe) and regularly achieve 98 per cent or 99 per cent success. I see only one or two spams most days and no false positives at all (that is, no "good" emails are classified as spam).

London N14

Car-free Londoners

Sir: Harry Sales of Penzance (Letters, 7 January) can rest assured that Londoners don't spend half their lives in cars either. Guy Keleny's sweeping generalisation ignores the fact that 30 per cent of Londoners have no access to a car, often through choice, preferring to walk, cycle, catch Mr Livingstone's excellent bus services or travel by Tube or train.

London SW8

Hidden suffering

Sir: Can Tessa Boo (letter, 6 January), tell us what special training and or experience makes social workers per se experts in recognising suffering in children. My experience as a foster carer leads me to conclude that we all struggle with this. It is sad when members of one profession try to claim parts of the world as their own. Surely this does not help those children who are not visited regularly by "front line" social workers.

Dronfield, Derbyshire

Grumpy sisters

Sir: How wonderfully reassuring to read your cover story in today's Review (8 January) entitled "Grumpy old women". I am unable to function each day until I have had a good rant, and to see many of my bêtes noires voiced so vociferously is hugely comforting. As a recent convert to The Independent I would add the "dumbing-down" of supposedly high-brow newspapers to the astutely observed list from your female contributors.

Belsay, Northumberland