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Thursday 17 December 2009
Letters: Child detention
There are alternatives to locking up children
Mary Dejevsky ("It's not only the young who suffer", 15 December), accuses those campaigning for an end to child detention of being simultaneously guileless, cynically selective in their empathy, and avaricious. As a coordinator of End Child Detention Now – no paid staff and no interest in infiltrating anyone's wallets – might I respond to her charges?
Opponents of child detention urge the Government to look seriously at community-based alternatives. Countries such as Sweden and Canada do not have an "open borders" policy, but they manage to keep children and their parents out of high-security detention facilities.
Keeping a family of four in Yarl's Wood costs £3,640 a week. If that money was used to prepare families for their eventual return in supported community accommodation (such as the current Glasgow pilot) and to provide support and monitoring post-removal, a higher rate of voluntary returns might result—as it does in Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Even the UK Border Agency admits that detention serves primarily as a deterrent to would be asylum-seekers, and that families are unlikely to abscond.
Ms Dejevsky says that some individuals who present as minors turn out not to be. It is also the case that some detained as adults turn out to be minors. Notwithstanding that, UKBA is for no good reason detaining large numbers of children and babies, causing them significant harm.
We focus on children because they are the most vulnerable. We have seen at first hand the traumatic impact of detention on parents and children alike. Had Mary Dejevsky spoken to such a family she might not be so quick to condemn those who raise their voices in protest.
End Child Detention Now, York
Mary Dejevsky believes "Children's writers have been discovering a new activist side recently". I suspect many of us who signed the open letter against detention of child asylum seekers have exercised our democratic rights to engage in public discourse for somewhat longer than she may remember. Perhaps Ms Dejevsky feels that children's writers should sit at "the little people's table" and keep their mouths shut?
Emission targets cannot be final
It would be unfortunate if the Copenhagen talks failed on the question of 1.5C versus C as a long-term target.
The driving force behind the talks is the desire to avoid dangerous or catastrophic climate change, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the level of danger associated with different temperature changes. If a treaty is signed committing the world to a C rise, with no mechanism for revision, we may find ourselves on a path to destruction.
Our understanding of the impacts of anthropogenic climate change is advancing rapidly now that they are real and observable; it is surely essential that any global deal should reflect this ever-improving knowledge base and allow for any target to be adjusted as understanding improves.
Gordon Brown's largesse in donating billions of our money to helping poor countries combat global warming, despite the fact that we are almost bankrupt, could be the first sign of reality penetrating his massive ego.
Maybe he has now realised that Labour is facing defeat in next year's election, so he can sign cheques with impunity knowing that it will not be he who has to pick up the tab.
As a fully paid-up grumpy old man (letters, 9 December) I suggest that age brings the ability to distinguish between undisputed scientific fact (for example, that the earth revolves around the sun, or that an explosion of hydrogen and oxygen will produce water vapour), and scientific opinion (that thalidomide is a harmless drug; that the universe exists in a steady state; that another ice age is imminent; that millions will die from BSE, avian flu, etc.)
Anyone born before 1960 will have heard all these assurances from respected scientists during their lifetime, and is right as a result to be sceptical.
On balance, it is highly likely that we as a species desperately need to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, just as we need to reduce overfishing, deforestation and the frighteningly rapid extinction of other species, all of which are largely caused by human overpopulation, economic growth and the consequent pollution. Losing the bee could cause more damage to the ecosystem than that projected by the rise in sea-levels from global warming.
Although as a member of the human race I hate the idea, the elimination of excess numbers of our species by flood, famine, disease and war is not necessarily the worst thing that could happen for the world as a whole, and might dispassionately be viewed as nature rediscovering its equilibrium.
In your leading article of 12 December about the need for better political leadership on climate change, you make a very valid point about the need to give a positive picture about the possibilities.
The threat of climate change invokes a huge amount of fear in people that needs to be brought out and faced, urgently. Otherwise people will continue to do what they always do when threatened: to play ostrich and hope that it will go away. And taking comfort from the climate deniers just exacerbates this tendency.
So please let us have the potential benefits put out there, centre stage, with some concrete examples that people can envisage and take heart from.
Hove, East Sussex
Why are offices and houses heated so that people can go about in shirt sleeves? If everyone took to wearing a sweater, and even, dare I say, long johns, we could all turn down our heating by a couple of degrees. That would provide about a 20 per cent reduction in global warming immediately.
Advantages of a single-sex school
In the 1950s, as a pupil at a convent school, I had no idea how much I would come to value my single-sex education (letter, 8 December). It had its undoubted drawbacks, notably the complete absence of sex education plus a lack of contact with boys for those of us who boarded, which made "dating" a real challenge for some of us when we left.
What it did give us was a sense that there was nothing closed to us academically, and we were encouraged to fulfil our potential, whatever it happened to be. We had science, arts and maths to A- and S-levels. Physics, chemistry and zoology sat happily alongside French, geography, English literature and other, less academic, subjects.
I don't share any of the religious beliefs of the women who taught me but I have no doubt that they provided an education more valuable than I ever could have imagined.
There is something surreal about the continuing debate about single-sex versus co-educational schools.
The single-sex education system which developed in the United Kingdom was largely the result of the "public" schools imitating the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and the grammar schools imitating the public schools. The paradox now is that virtually all Oxbridge colleges have become co-educational, while certain outposts of our secondary-education system persist in trying to find a virtue in single-sex education.
Is it not extraordinary that, given that the whole of one's life will be spent dealing with both sexes, we go on making a case that, when 11- to 18-year-olds step over the threshold of school, it is better for their development that they relate only to peers of their own sex? If education involves drawing out qualities that lead to emotional as well as intellectual development, then single-sex education is a contradiction in terms.
Best to turn yourself in
Interpol does not have a Most Wanted List ("I'm on Interpol's most wanted list, but the police won't arrest me", 12 December). Interpol does however publish the names of all those persons wanted for arrest by an Interpol member country whose name and/or face that member country wants to make public
Roddy Bassett's name is simply included among the names of all the other persons wanted for arrest via Interpol (including dangerous criminals) when the country seeking an individual's arrest (in this case Dubai/UAE) wants to make his name public.
Since Mr Bassett publicly acknowledges in the article that he is wanted for arrest in Dubai for fraud, he cannot complain that Interpol's website made his name public. Fraud is a serious matter in any country. Mr Bassett has had three years to resolve this problem by contacting the Dubai rental agency to explain what happened. The onus has been on him to resolve the matter.
When any individual has a problem with information published on Interpol's website, we always do our best to help resolve such issues. Interpol has contacted the authorities in Dubai. It is confident that, if the only charge against Mr Bassett involves the fraud outlined in the article, then, upon payment of his £800 fine and of all outstanding sums owed, Dubai would drop criminal charges against Mr Bassett, and his name would be removed from Interpol's list of persons wanted for arrest.
We therefore advise Mr Bassett or his legal representative to contact the Dubai police or Interpol's Office of Legal Affairs.
Public Affairs Office
Interpol, Lyon, France
We actually like to pay by cheque
I am the honorary treasurer of a small charity with 57 members. Most of our members pay their subscriptions by cheque, and I pay most of our outgoings by cheque, as this is the easiest and most convenient method for those involved.
Any move by the big banks to abolish cheques will make life unnecessarily difficult for us, and I suspect that many small charity organisers would resign rather than put up with what the banks wish to impose on them.
Instead of abolishing a payment method which has served well for many years, perhaps the banks could direct their effort into finding why a direct online payment takes three days to filter through their systems.
As the grandmother of two redheads who are seriously unlovable at times, I find it warmingly reassuring to read that "Santa loves kids. Even ginger ones" ("Even Christmas cards are now obscene", 16 December).
It is actually worse than the Italian Northern League thinks ("Black Jesus outrages Italy's Northern League", 15 December). According to the book of Genesis, God created Adam (and Eve) in His image. They went about naked in Eden, where it was warm and sunny, but there is no mention of either sun block or sun-burn. The only conclusion is that Adam and Eve were black, and therefore, so is God.
Try this for size
While I agree with nearly all the sentiments expressed by Howard Jacobson in his piece (12 December) concerning giving and receiving at Christmas, any fool, especially boys of a certain generation, knows that the substance used to stiffen the tissue paper covering the fuselage of model aeroplanes is called "dope", not "size". The meaning of this word changed significantly for the children of the Fifties as they grew out of making models and entered their adolescence in the Sixties, when the models were to be found in Carnaby Street.
End of terms
One of the literary landmarks of the last decade has been the intermsofisation of the English language. Your essay on the new world order manages three of these horrors (Life, 7 December): ". . .in terms of history . . . in terms of hard – that is, military – power . . . in terms of military execution". For your New Decade resolution may I suggest a ban on "in terms of" from your pages?
Maynooth, Co Kildare, Ireland
Spread the blame
I agree that the bankers were largely to blame for the credit crunch, but is it not fair, if we are going to extract retribution via taxation, that the politicians look at their own role? A one-off tax levy on them would then put them on a par with the bankers.
I'm thinking of hanging a banker on the tree this Christmas.
Copt Hewick, North Yorkshire
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