<i>IoS</i>letters, emails & online postings (01/02/2009)

How ironic yet outrageous that Robert Mugabe celebrated his 85th birthday in full view of his country when the life expectancy of the average Zimbabwean man has fallen to 37 years ("Happy Birthday, Mr President", 22 February). His lavish birthday party sends an almost mocking message to the five million starving Zimbabweans. How much of his party food was produced in what was once the bread basket of Africa?

Alice Wightwick

Newcastle, Tyne and Wear


The Department for International Development's (DfID) new arrangements for sending search and rescue (SAR) teams to overseas disasters are neither secret, nor jeopardising lives ("Disaster volunteers 'will be subject to Whitehall orders'", 22 February). The four UK voluntary groups involved in SAR were last deployed by the Government following the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, saving 14 lives.

To make DfID's response to such overseas disasters most effective, coordination between the groups needed to improve. Because they failed to agree over this, DfID approached the UK Fire and Rescue Service, which will provide SAR expertise and deploy the voluntary groups on behalf of the Government. The new arrangements will not cost more: DfID will pay the deployment costs of Fire Service SAR teams instead of those of the voluntary groups. Only SAR, a small part of DfID's humanitarian activities, will be managed in this way.

Mike Foster

Minister for International Development

London SW1


On seeing the headline "Gary O'Donoghue, the only blind broadcast journalist in Britain ...", (22 February) I was concerned about the welfare of Peter White. Fortunately, I see that he is alive and well and still working hard for the BBC, as he has done for the past 30 years. I am pleased that Gary is following in his pioneering footsteps.

Peter Maher

Waltham Abbey, Essex


It's great to read success stories like those of Gary O'Donoghue but they are by no means representative. As the mother of a disabled son I can assure you that provision for families with children with a disability is still dreadful. I can only work in casual jobs as I can't leave my 15-year-old son on his own and have neither family nor friends able to commit to having him during school holidays or after school. He has virtually no social life. God only knows what will happen when my husband and I aren't around to care for him.


posted online


Mark Rowe implies that rainforests are uninhabited ("Keep your conscience clear in the rainforest", 22 February). They are not. They are home to indigenous and tribal people who have, in the main, skillfully "managed" and "conserved" rainforests for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Today, the best way to save rainforests is to recognise these inhabitants as the rightful owners of their land and grant, and then respect, their land rights.

Stephen Corry

Director, Survival International

London EC1


Here is a method of determining the worth of a work of contemporary art ("Contemporary art is a fraud, says top dealer", 22 February). Artists contribute the same as us to their work: time, resources and, possibly, capital. Before recognition, their time is worth very little to the outside world; let's be generous and say £15 an hour. They fill in their time sheets – independently monitored so there's no accusation of slacking – allowing a reasonable time for inspiration. Add in the materials with 15 per cent to 20 per cent mark-up, say, plus a proportion for rent or mortgage on the studio and there we are – the selling price. As the artist sells more, his/her hourly rate goes up too and so does the price and therefore the worth and value of the work of the art.

I'm sure that the mathematicians who developed the algorithms for derivatives etc, could come up with an algorithm to price the works of dead artists.

Bob Hough

london n8


To my shame I voted for Margaret Thatcher. Mea culpa. It is entirely due to Thatcherism that this country no longer has any substantial manufacturing base, that corporate and individual greed became something to be aspired to, that public services were changed into businesses which served no one other than their own shareholders, that North Sea oil revenues were squandered on unemployment benefits instead of being invested in infrastructure, and that fiscal shortsightedness became a matter of policy.

Jack Dawes

posted online


Simon Redfern in his review of The Real Colin Blythe (22 February) kindly credited me with being a descendant of Colin Blythe. If it were true I might have helped England "finish off" the recent Test match, but Blythe had no children and I am a great-nephew. Blythe's story has become dominated by his poor beginnings and his ill-health, but he went on inaugural tours to Australia, South Africa and America at a time of great change in the game. How many other cricketers have a memorial at the entrance to the county ground?

John Blythe Smart

Kingsbridge, Devon