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Friday 28 September 2007
Letters: Burmese plight
The world shares blame for the plight of the Burmese people
Sir: I commend you for highlighting in your front pages Burma's struggle for freedom after 45 years under the military regime.
I was a young surgeon at the Rangoon General Hospital during the 1988 uprising and I saw many students in their uniforms shot brutally in the head and chest, not to maim but to kill as many as possible. We were shot at while treating injured patients in the accident and emergency department. Such was the junta's disregard for human lives.
I strongly support John Bercow's opinion (26 September) that this vile regime should be confronted by setting out specific benchmarks accompanied by deadlines and sanctions. Burma's neighbours, such as China and India, should be ashamed for staying silent and supporting the junta. We Burmese still admire the Gandhis and Nehrus of India.
Dr T Maung
Sir: I note the condemnation that international governments have afforded the Burmese junta. However, it is these very international governments that deserve condemnation. Over the past 20 years they have sat back, read the reports coming from Burma, and have done nothing to help the Burmese people, until now, when they try to suggest they are doing something about this "outrage". Some of us have been outraged for 20 years and more, have written letters to MPs and MEPs and signed petitions, but to absolutely no avail.
It is clear that the Burmese people have prepared to fight this in their own way, without outside assistance. The Burmese junta has and continues to receive outside support. The fighter jets, the tanks, the weapons do not materialise from nowhere.
So it is going to be a matter for Burmese people to confront the violent state, while we sit back and watch and condemn. I hope that in years to come we do not have cause to regret this lack of action.
Sir: Fine words on Burma from your new columnist Gordon Brown (27 September). A series of statements of the obvious followed by a series of requests for someone else to do something about it. Fine words but as usual no action.
Tidal power from the Severn estuary
Sir: The announcement by John Hutton of a feasibility study into the Severn tidal barrage scheme is worthy of two cheers. At last the Government seems to have recognised that there are non-carbon-emitting power sources other than wind and nuclear. And given the £70bn estimate for the decommissioning of the latter, it is a lot cheaper, too.
So all the more bewildering that Friends of the Earth are in opposition to this scheme on the grounds of damage to wildlife in the estuary. This could be a serious mistake. In my opinion (and that of the Government's chief scientist) global warming is the chief threat to mankind. And melting icecaps will not just end our way of life but destroy the environment of the birdlife in the estuary anyway.
FoE propose an alternative plan using tidal lagoons. But mature plans for this only exist for a small 60MW scheme in Swansea Bay. Plans for the Severn Barrage (having a power output over 100 times the Swansea Bay plan) have been researched on several occasions. The most recent, published in 2002, recommended that the Government back the scheme and that such a scheme was commercially viable.
Which brings us back to asking why the Government requires yet another feasibility study. Why not just give the go-ahead and ask for commercial tenders? At the risk of sounding paranoid, one is tempted to think that the idea has been refloated to set a trap for the environmental movement, whose opposition to the barrage will provide just the required excuse for the Government to go nuclear .
Sir: A country which has signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, and various other international laws should protect its most important sites for wildlife, not dam them.
A Severn barrage will inevitably degrade a site of international importance, but make carbon emissions reductions which are trivial on the global stage. Thanks to the impacts of the Cardiff barrage, the ecological damage that barrages do is now better known than the last time the Severn barrage was rejected. Displaced birds, for example, do not thrive elsewhere.
Most governments pledged at Johannesburg to reduce the extinction rate; prevention of loss and fragmentation of aquatic systems is a priority. However, as with some wind farms, dams and biofuels, the impacts of climate change are being used as an excuse to permit the predictable destruction of biodiversity.
In contrast, efforts spent reducing global deforestation would bring benefits to both climate and wildlife. If we really care about the long-term "services" the planet provides, let's subsidise energy efficiency and habitat protection – and not join the nations renowned for hollow pledges on the environment.
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Sir: The study of the feasibility of a barrage across the Severn estuary is very good news. The conservation arguments are important, but they are far outweighed by the urgent need for cleaner sources of energy.
An additional factor is that a barrage will prevent large areas of land from being inundated as the sea level rises. Much of the land along both sides of the estuary has been formed from sediment carried down the river Severn or brought up the estuary from the sea. Over the last two millennia this land has been drained and adapted for agricultural and residential purposes. It lies at or below the present sea level and without massive intervention will soon be regained by the sea.
I do not expect my own house, in Cardiff Bay, to survive more than 50 years or so unless something on the scale of the proposed barrage is erected.
Iranian president insulted in America
Sir: Ahmadinejad's visit to New York provided the powerful Israel lobby with three opportunities to demonise, insult him, and threaten academic freedom.
First, Columbia's President insults him to his face. Second, New York's congressional, state, and city officials threaten to punish Columbia by withholding funds for inviting him. Third, Congressman Tom Lantos introduces a resolution in the House that lays the foundation for future military action against Iran. As usual, resolutions supporting Israel pass overwhelmingly; this resolution passed by 397 votes to 16.
No doubt Ahmadinejad is an unpolished politician given to inflammatory ramblings that both hurt Iran and the Palestinian cause. However, Columbia has a history of inviting "controversial" figures, as it did in 1933 when it invited Hitler's ambassador to the US, Hans Luther, to speak. Unlike Columbia's current President, the then University President Nicholas Butler insisted that the ambassador was "entitled to be received with the greatest courtesy and respect".
The powerful Israel lobby ensures that freedom of speech or academic freedom to debate Israel's policies or its strategic worth to the US is silenced. Criticise Israel and you're an "anti-Semite", a "holocaust denier", a supporter of terrorism. What does the pro-Israel lobby fear from discussing Israel and its unparalleled influence on Congress?
Israel is the Achilles heel of western hypocrisy. It's OK for Jews and Christians to have nukes, but not Muslims.
Mohamed Khodr MD
Winchester, Virginia, USA
Cameron stands for true Tory principles
Sir: Colin Bower's letter (22 September) is headlined "Cameron must start acting like a Tory".
David Cameron's plans to tackle social and family breakdown and crime, to reform the education system so that parents have a real choice and teachers have freedom to carry out their jobs without interference, and to provide a health service that delivers quality care and treatment are all well thought through and workable, sound policies.
Surely Conservative policy would be to give people freedom and control over their lives so they can exercise responsibility. This is exactly what David Cameron is proposing. Let's support and applaud him for it.
We need a change of Government and the Conservatives under Cameron can provide sound government to take the country forward.
Sir: Garth Matley's letter of 25 September – "Give Cameron a chance" – left me a little confused as to whether the "chance" referred to the leadership, or to the party itself.
The Conservative Party having been so foolish as to choose someone other than Kenneth Clarke, it is now stuck with its decision; so, yes, Cameron must be given a chance as leader.
So far as the party itself is concerned, Matley says that "most of the people I speak to" think Cameron should be given a chance. Living where I do, I can say the same thing, but surely this is the party's problem – it is essentially a regional party. Until it can somehow find a national appeal, it is doomed to eternal opposition.
All emoting together in Brown's big tent
Sir: The Prime Minister's conference Q&A session with Mariella Frostrup and a couple of hundred of his closest sycophants was thoroughly deserving of the comprehensive demolition rendered by your sketch-writer Simon Carr ("Gordon would like to be seen as Mr Substance, but he talks a lot of piffle", 27 September).
Just when we thought we were rid of Blair's vacuous public emoting it seems we now have to learn to live with Brown's leaden take on touchy-feeliness.
Ramsey, Isle of Man
Sir: "Conference: a meeting for consultation, exchange of information or discussion"(Collins). No exchanges or discussion in the hall at Bournemouth. It's no conference but simply a rally; all those references in our great leader's speech to "I", "the British people" (ein Volk?) etc.
Sir: Like his father gathering his flock into the Kirk, Gordon Brown has brought into his "bulging big tent" (Steve Richards, 25 September) all who believe in his conviction politics and vision, leaving outside the sinners, the outcasts, the feckless and the dispossessed. For those concerned about the wider world the tent seems small and insignificant.
Sir: The party conference season now in full swing never appears to inspire the majority of the population to vote. Twenty million people put in a bid to obtain tickets for a revival of a Led Zeppelin concert. Come on Led Zep, start a political party. We all need cheering up.
Bradford, West Yorkshire
Ethical policy? Don't look to nation states
Sir: Adrian Hamilton is right to question David Miliband's "foreign policy – the second wave", but any suggestion that Britain can ever have an ethical foreign policy is nonsense. Our foreign policy has been and always will be about serving the national interest, and the same is true of American, Chinese, Russian and every nation's foreign policy.
So we look to the UN to take the ethical position and pass resolutions in the interests of morality and humanity. But sadly there is little chance of this while five nations have the right to veto anything that is not in their national interest. Until the right of veto is removed from the permanent members of the Security Council, it is hard to see how the people of Burma, Palestine and Darfur will ever get the peace and freedom they deserve.
Sir: I sympathise with Bill Evans and his dislike of "impact" being used to replace "affect". It seems to stem from a desire to make what we say sound more important. Sadly, we can expect more of this in the future. Or should I say "going forward"?
We like kilometres
Sir: Malcolm Treen (letter, 27 September) says that exclusion zones should be quoted in miles because "we don't do kilometres". Who is "we"? The metric system of weights and measures is easy to understand and simple to use; in fact everything a weights and measures system should be. I (should that be we?) am frustrated at this country's reluctance to move to what is clearly a better solution. How we ever managed to say goodbye to shillings and old pence is beyond me.
Sir: I was interested to see a photo of Piccard's gondola (Extra, 25 September). I must correct the statement that Bertrand was his son. He is actually his grandson. Jacques is his son, with whom my brother played a lot when, before the war, we lived next door to the Piccards and their five children in Brussels. Jacques partnered his father in his deep sea dives. I have a vivid mental picture of the absent-minded professor at their children's Christmas parties filling up toy balloons with gas.
Where to find God
Sir: Dr Alliott (Letters, 26 September) suggests that anyone really wanting to find a Christian God should work in a Salvation Army soup kitchen for a week, dig a well with Christian Aid in Africa or work for people with leprosy. The very fact that there is a need for soup kitchens, that there are people dying of famine and thirst, and that leprosy is still prevalent hardly seems evidence of a caring God, Christian or otherwise. What it does show is the humanity of the carers – which is by no means unique to believers.
Sir: Jack Straw has expressed a new-found enthusiasm for householders' right to use force against those who enter their homes illegally. Does this also mean that he would support the Iraqi population in using reasonable force against those who have entered their country illegally?
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