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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 2 October 2007
Letters: Burma and history
It is time to find out who killed Burma's independence hero
Sir: The present difficulties in Burma are in no small measure rooted in the events of 19 July 1947. Aung San, Prime Minister of the transition government towards independence from British rule and, incidentally, the father of the current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was assassinated while presiding over his cabinet.
While Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British Viceroy, had great faith that Aung San was a leader who could peacefully reconcile the ethnic and social groups to create conditions conducive to post-war reconstruction and prosperity, Governor Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith was hostile. Mountbatten had been taken away to attend to then bigger problems in Delhi, and the transition to independence was left in less certain hands.
It is time to release confidential papers and investigate whether rogue elements in the shadowy quasi-military outfit called CASB (Civil Affairs Service Burma), set up by Sir Reginald while head of the government in exile in Simla, had colluded in that assassination in a misplaced display of loyalty to the British Crown. Members of CASB regarded Aung San as a Japanese collaborator. Mountbatten had to dismiss the head of CASB to avoid the prospect of Aung San being arrested.
The Patriotic Burma Forces under the command of General Aung San, having broken in 1944 with the Japanese, facilitated the Allied campaign to regain the country by attacking the Japanese army from the rear. The PBF was invited to participate in the Allied victory celebrations of June 1945. But Sir Reginald and a coterie of officials around him, especially in the CASB, remained implacably hostile.
Professor S P Chakravarty
Sir: Is it too much to hope that there may be a boycott of the British Museum Chinese exhibition to make clear to the Chinese government British awareness of Chinese influence on the Burmese junta?
Councils mixed up over recycling
Sir: I was appalled to read Patricia Hague's letter (1 October) concerning the recycling restrictions imposed by her local council, Coalville. As an equally keen recycler, I was delighted when our own council, Uttlesford, recently widened the types of allowable plastics to include, ironically, exactly the varieties now excluded by Coalville.
Having recently visited various family members across the UK, I continue to be amazed at the wide variation in recycling initiatives, which go from the disgustingly paltry to the exemplary. I would be intrigued to learn why there is such a huge disparity in the schemes currently in place across the country. Surely all councils have access to the same recycling technologies?
Sir: I can sympathise with Patricia Hague's sentiments regarding local councils changing the rules about what can and cannot be recycled.
My local council (Doncaster) made it very clear from the start that they introduced their recycling programme simply to avoid a heavy fine from central government. They don't collect any cardboard that has been in contact with food, or any that is plasticised, foil-backed or corrugated, as they regard cardboard as being fit only to be recycled as compost. Nor do they allow shop-bought fruit and veg to be disposed of in green bins for the same reason.
Terraced houses with only a patch of concrete for a "garden" have had green bins delivered for their garden waste. Because there are no fewer than three recycling partnerships operating in the borough, and only one deals with plastics, only a third of the households in the borough can have their plastics collected for recycling. And if local press reports are to be believed, most of what we put out for recycling ends up on a slow boat to China for dumping anyway.
It does seem as though what started out as a good idea to benefit the environment has been taken over by the bureaucrats and turned into a money-saving exercise.
T J Honeybone
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Sir: The reader who did not understand that there is no market for most of the packaging used by manufacturers, and consequently it cannot be recycled (letter, 1 October) needs to appreciate that it is not her council that is at fault but the freedom of companies to make this waste.
Instead of taking it personally she needs to write to her MP and say this sort of waste must be banned and only recyclable or no-packaging solutions used. We have spent most of our lives buying unwrapped goods in preference to wrapped for this reason. If everyone refused to accept the packaging that is frequently not needed or made of inappropriate materials, we would not be creating a recycling problem to be sorted lower down the chain by Councils and householders.
Pretext for another senseless war
Sir: In David Usborne's article on the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, (29 September) the line about him wanting to see Israel "wiped off the map" was trotted out once again. This has already been widely debunked. What Ahmadinejad seems to have said was (a perfect translation is not easy): "As the Soviet Union disappeared, the Zionist regime will also vanish and humanity will be liberated" – not a threat, merely an opinion.
Anyone with their eyes open can see the rush to demonise a Middle Eastern foe as a pretext for another senseless war. Please don't join in this obvious neo-con propaganda, as practised by the rest of the mainstream media. Iran is no threat to us, the US or Israel – Israel has about 200 nuclear weapons, and the US has vowed to defend it.
The American and Israeli right accuse Ahmadinejad of claiming he wants to wipe Israel off the map, but compare a map of the land that Israel occupied in 1948 and look at the land it occupies now. Who's systematically wiping whom off the map?
Food air-freighted from Africa
Sir: The emphasis on African organic farmers in Martin Hickman's report on the Soil Association's air-freight consultation marks a welcome and necessary shift (26 September).
A year ago, the public debate was all about the damage to the environment of Kenyan green beans. Since the start of our consultation, the air-freight debate has become more sophisticated. There is now greater awareness that the picture isn't that simple. We agree with Mr Hickman that any decision about air freight must take into account "the importance of development".
The scientific evidence of the greater environmental impact of air freight compared with either local, seasonal production or imports by sea and road is overwhelming. Air freight accounts for as much as 90 per cent of the fossil fuel used in production, processing, packaging and distribution. The effect on the climate of products air-freighted to the UK can be 26 times greater than growing the same product in season.
In countries where development is vitally needed, growing organically and exporting the produce to the UK brings benefits to rural communities, local economies, human health and wildlife. Air-freighted organic fresh fruit and vegetables from Africa, Asia and Latin America are no exception.
Our consultation is looking at all uses of air freight from developed and developing countries. We also need to consider how sustainable farming systems that rely on air freight are. The climate change effects of air freight continue to grow rapidly and inevitably governments will have to take action to curb this.
Standards researcher Soil Association Bristol
Worries about low-energy bulbs
Sir: For those concerned about mercury (a more dangerous toxin than excess carbon) in fluorescent light bulbs, the switch to fluorescent extolled by Hilary Benn is alarming. Yes, incandescent bulbs emit heat (an advantage in winter), but they are warm aesthetically, too. Not only are fluorescent bulbs cold, but as shoppers will attest, they also misrepresent colour. What does this distortion do to our children's sensory development and to their connection with the natural world?
Studies show that fluorescent lighting affects the brain waves of susceptible people, leading to headaches, disorientation and hyperactivity. However, anyone who suffers from such adverse effects, such as Frank Broughton's daughter (letter, 29 September), has no need to validate their experiences through research.
Why not encourage manufacturers to develop more energy-efficient bulbs? General Electric, for instance, announced that it will release an improved incandescent bulb in 2009.
Value of theology for non-believers
Sir: I am a non-believer with a degree in theology and I read, with weary amusement, the comments of Dr John Haine (letter, 24 September). Because the test he proposes ("When a theologist [sic] proposes an experiment capable of falsification ... then his subject might be able to contribute something useful") could equally be applied to history, classics, English and even economics.
Theology today is one of the humanities. It doesn't deal in experiments. Its currency is in ethics, the development of ideas and institutions, the interpretation of texts and the study of personal experiences and their effect on history. It is a fascinating and frequently useful subject that owes much more to Continental thought than any other in the general university curriculum. The philosophy of religion (which deals in part with the existence, or not, of God) is only one piece of an integrated subject.
Why is it that an increasing number of people who make no study of theology to any rigorous level feel they can dismiss it as unworthy of such study? How empirical is their position? One of the reasons I tend not to describe myself as an atheist is that theology showed me that people can be atheists on metaphysical, philosophical or moral grounds – the stance is frequently complex. But another reason I try not to call myself atheist these days is to distinguish my informed views from the opinions of Messrs Dawkins, Haine and Christopher Hitchens.
Sir: I have been intrigued by the debate between Richard Dawkins and various theologians about the value of theology as an academic subject. I must take issue with the distinguished professor, however, on his dismissal of the subject as comparable to leprechaunology.
University College Dublin, an esteemed academic institution of many years' standing, currently offers a degree level course in Irish Folklore. One of the modules addresses the social, political and economic relevance of various Irish creatures including fairies, banshees, bog-sprites and leprechauns.
If I were Richard Dawkins I would check under the bed.
Lanesboro, Co Longford, Ireland
Sir: Ian Flintoff (Letters, 1 October) is smugly waiting for the "Humanist and Atheist Brigade" to help out at New Orleans. Perhaps it didn't occur to his theist mind that they arrived at the same time as the Salvation Army but felt they didn't need to trumpet their lack of belief in superstitious entities.
Sir: "Noddies" are far from new (Terence Blacker, 26 September). In the 1960s, I appeared in a TV series fronted by Ludovic Kennedy called Intolerance. I was questioned (in shadow, since I was gay) by Stuart Hood, and my answers were patched into so-called interviews by Kennedy, whom I never met. I have remained deeply sceptical of TV "reality" shows ever since.
Dr Michael Staunton
Sir: Pundits have been analysing the factors that the Prime Minister might take into account when deciding whether to go for an early general election. Predictably they focus on his party's electability: poll findings, the opinions of MPs in marginal constituencies, public perceptions of his financial record and so on. It is a pity that the question of when it would be in the public interest to hold an election seems to figure so far down the list.
Exit from the EU
Sir: There is a double whammy in Roland Rudd's claim that " the [EU] Reform Treaty . . . sets out the procedure for withdrawal" from the EU (Letters, 1 October).This procedure is the same as set out in the EU Constitutional Treaty, reinforcing the view that the two are nearly indistinguishable. Second, we already have the right to leave the EU by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. The EU Treaty proposal removes that right, so that in future we would have to ask the EU.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Sir: Where is this "democratically elected government" P Edwards claims exists in this country (Letters, 1 October)? Our present government's dubious legitimacy rests on a parliamentary landslide gerrymandered from the votes of less than 25 per cent of the electorate, led by an unelected leader who achieved office by acclamation since the last election. This government has less claim to be democratically elected than Adolf Hitler's first administration in inter-war Germany.
Paying to pay
Sir: Like other correspondents I am perplexed by payment charges. I find a booking fee for theatre tickets confusing. Surely the costs of running the ticket office could be bundled in with the other costs, so that a ticket has a complete price at the first attempt. I have wondered how I would stand were I to charge my own "going to see it fee", perhaps with a bonus for sitting still and not talking.
Manner of speaking
Sir: Gerard Bell (letter, 1 October) claims to suffer corporate-speak "on a daily basis". This phrase itself is corporate-speak. He means "daily".
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