With 1.8 million children in poor housing, City salaries are obscene
Sir: Dominic Lawson's contribution to the season of goodwill is to argue that the bonuses received by City traders and directors, including the $5m for directors of Goldman Sachs and the total year's income of $53m for its chief executive, are just (Opinion, 22 December).
He attacks the motives of politicians and journalists who criticise City incomes, but his only substantial arguments are that these salaries are paid from the enormous profits of City firms their workers have created, and earning such salaries is "a fundamentally harmless aspiration".
Mr Lawson is wrong on both counts. First, the income of companies such as Goldman Sachs is derived from arranging transfers of titles to capital assets. The value of these assets derives wholly from the streams of future profit, interest or the like to which they entitle the owner.
The latter profits are created by workers in commercial and industrial firms producing goods and services useful to ordinary people. The City does not create these useful things but is parasitic on the profits realised in their production.
Second, since the level of incomes reaped in the City does not increase the total production of useful goods and services, the distribution is a zero sum game with respect to these incomes. Thus, the incomes of the City could be distributed to the rest of the population with no loss of overall wealth.
The consumption by a few very rich people of bonuses making up about 2 per cent of the entire British GDP is therefore not "harmless": it removes this income from the rest of us.
A recent report from Shelter showed that 1.8 million children in Britain are living in housing so poor it seriously damages their health. In such circumstances, the City salaries are obscene.
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Greens try to drag society backwards
Sir: Dr Ian East and Bob Walsh both made an important point regarding hydrogen-fuelled aircraft (Letters, 23 December). The technology exists, so when oil becomes scarce or expensive enough, then we will see hydrogen used in place of Jet A1.
The point of interest is that even when aircraft produce no CO2, some environmentalists will still be opposing aviation. As Dr East pointed out, many greens are opposed to any technology. The greens' website dismisses the prospect of hydrogen-powered aircraft out of hand.
Given that aviation's contribution to climate change is minuscule compared to power generation, surface transport and agriculture, and its social and economic benefits are huge, even to those who choose not to fly, then the furious opposition to flying from the greens would appear to be a political desire to punish western consumers rather than any meaningful desire to reduce emissions.
Global warming will not be mitigated by political posturing and hairshirt puritanism. The solutions are technical and will come from engineering, not trying to drag society backwards.
Sir: Ian East is unduly optimistic about the prospects for hydrogen-fuelled aircraft. Apart from the challenges in storing and transporting liquid hydrogen in large quantities, this fuel has only one-quarter the energy density of kerosene. Consequently, fuel tanks need to be four times as big, heavily refrigerated and pressurised.
These problems can be overcome in surface transport, but not in a practical commercial jetliner. There may be a future for aviation after fossil oil, but it will not be based on hydrogen. The search for another means of propulsion has to start now.
Sir: By consorting with Stansted's nimbys and their "professional PR person" Carol ("PsychoGeography", magazine, 23 December), Will Self risks acquiring a foible common in curmudgeonly Roaring Twenties' drivers. Then they could be heard grumbling about how driving was no longer a pleasure now that Mr Ford had opened it up to the hoi-polloi. A century or so earlier, Wordsworth and his pals took a similarly uncharitable view of the railways, transporting hordes to the Lake District.
Self rails against budget aircraft despoiling Essex woodlands but his regular readers will know he and his family went to Australia not so long ago. It seems unlikely they walked or swam.
To reduce the need for airports, should air travel perhaps be restricted to high-minded and high-income families such as the Selfs? There are only two viable solutions to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft and other contemporary necessities.
One requires international co-operation and industrial scale investment in energy conservation, the development and production of cleaner technologies and sequestration techniques. The other would be a dramatic reduction in the planet's human population which is unlikely to happen except through the effects of predicted climate changes if we fail to act.
There is no third way. Saving a few trees, sticking up home windmills and such are merely conscience-easing token gestures. A rejection of technology, which seems to be favoured by puritanical greens and some angst-ridden bourgeoisie, would kibosh the world's economy and be catastrophic for humanity, except for a tiny elite. A return, perhaps, to the "good old days"?
Ethiopia does want a strong Somalia
Sir: Your article "This war in Africa should not be taking place" (27 December) claims Ethiopia does "not want a strong government in Somalia". Nothing could be further from the truth, considering the serious national security concerns that Ethiopia has been repeatedly raising.
No one stands to gain from a weak Somalia, not the Somali people themselves, not the country, not its neighbours, including Ethiopia, and certainly not the region. A strong and peaceful Somalia with a predictable government is pivotal to forging sustainable political and economic co-operation in the region. Trade, development and the improved infrastructure the latter would bring would help the country and region cope with the present floods and future natural disasters.
Ethiopia is certainly "an ancient Christian empire", but there have been Muslims in Ethiopia since the Prophet Mohammed himself urged his followers to take refuge there; they make up nearly half of our 77 million population. Christians and Muslims have lived peaceably together in Ethiopia for centuries, and will continue to do so.
Ethiopia is a melting pot of many nations, nationalities as well as different faiths and its democratic constitution provides political space for all of them. We cultivate this peaceful coexistence with trust and respect for each other, a tolerance for which many in the international community envy us.
AMBASSADOR FOR ETHIOPIA, LONDON SW7
Queen seems to back aggression
Sir: The Queen is head of our Armed Forces, a position held in the United States by George Bush. In Britain, it is no longer an executive position. But it is understandable that the Queen would wish to commend our troops in their task in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all, surely, wish them home safe and well.
But the war in Iraq, in particular, has been divisive, lacking public support, and there is no majority for keeping our troops there a day longer than necessary. The executive decision by our government to send our forces into Iraq without the support of a United Nations resolution is internationally accepted to have been an act of aggression. The resulting paradox, a government decision widely opposed by the British people, has not affected the standing of the government and at Christmas has apparently been supported by the monarch.
Taking Christianity out of Christmas
Sir: If Johann Hari ("I love the commercialisation of Christmas", 21 December) truly wants a de-Christianised Christmas he could start by using the alternative name Yule or Yuletide.
And rather than rejoicing in mindless consumerism he may, as an atheist, find it more fulfilling to return to the true origin of the festivity which, before its adoption by Christianity, was a celebration of the winter solstice, a real, natural event.
Not only is it a good excuse to get together with family and friends, a secular celebration of the winter solstice is also an excellent reminder of our common ties to the natural world and to each other.
Monk the man who made Great Britain
Sir: How odd that George Monk, Earl of Albemarle, the creator of modern Great Britain, never figures on anybody's list of great Britons. In 1669, with the future obscure on the resignation of Richard Cromwell, as he marched the Army of Scotland slowly towards London, absolute power and authority was within his grasp.
He had the means to seize absolute power at the point when the populace was desperate for somebody to take the helm, the classic opportunity for a military dictator. Instead he held the ring while he recalled the Long Parliament and then a convention to recall the King.
The national will emerged slowly and freely. For centuries, my ancestors were Freemen of the Skinners Company and I like to think one was involved when Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that the "Skinners in their Hall" were displaying the Arms of the King, a decision freely taken and commemorated by a plaque to this day.
Although there was to be a hiccup under James II, it was this benevolent hands-off approach by George Monk which created our constitutional monarchy.
DEREK J COLE
ST LEONARDS ON SEA, EAST SUSSEX
Sir: The Conservative Party's list of 12 people who made Britain great must be causing a certain amount of consternation among the party's many Europhobics. Of the 12 named, two - Henry II and Simon de Montfort - were Frenchmen, born and bred.
DR ANDY KING
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON
Sir: The Conservatives want history to be compulsory up to school-leaving age. And now we have their carefully crafted list of 12 good Brits who founded "institutions that have made Britain what it is". As you say in your leading article (27 December), let's have a full-blown national debate.
Historical perspective and understanding is very important. But please, our identity is not only historical. We are shaped as much by our place in the world, and our relationship with other places, as by institutions.
We would like an equally searching debate on the nation's geography, because knowledge and understanding of geography is essential for those growing up in a confusing and rapidly changing world.
What would be on your list of 12 places to learn about? Or if you prefer, 12 countries all young people should know something of.
This defers a more difficult question, that would fall to the teachers. Exactly what should young people be taught about these places, or those 12 historical figures for that matter?
DR DAVID LAMBERT
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, GEOGRAPHICAL ASSOCIATION, SHEFFIELD
Con trail truth
Sir: Mark Bassett's explanation of contrails as due to spinning air is not entirely accurate. They can arise due to a drop in pressure around a wing, but this is rarely seen. The usual trail is caused by condensation of water vapour emitted by the engines, forming water droplets or ice crystals. A Boeing 747, for example, leaves four trails in line with the engines, not beyond the wingtips.
Sir: The interview with Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of BT and the RSC ("Olympic swordsman Bland cuts path ...", 23 December) says his giant barge, moored next to the theatre in Stratford, will afford him "a bird's-eye view" of its refurbishment. True, if one was thinking of the swans of Avon, who rarely seem to take to the air. Or maybe, as Sir Christopher seems such a fan of Much Ado, the writer had in mind the lapwing, whose habit of running close by the ground Beatrice is said to have emulated? (Act III, scene one: Leonato's orchard)
Sir: R M O'Dell (Letters, 26 December) has a point. The problem is that we have grown used to our generous holiday entitlements and most of us prefer to avoid Christmas Day or Boxing Day travel by using extra leave allocation. A full transport service, almost unused, has become unjustifiable. But many European countries run a basic service along major routes over Christmas. The choice of trains is small and travel in emergency may still be a problem where advance seat reservation is required for long-distance journeys.
Sir: After the decision of the Iraqi court to hang Saddam Hussein for his atrocious crimes of mass murder in Iraq, I can only hope the world courts will serve similar justice on the two other perpetrators of mass murder in Iraq who are still at large.
Support, not criticism
Sir: It is not a crime or cause for shame to have a second abortion ("More than 100 teenagers a month have second abortion", 21 December). That a small number of adolescent girls do so is indicative either of problems using contraception correctly or effectively, inconsistent condom use, boyfriends who refuse to use protection, sexual coercion or ambiguous feelings about wanting a baby. These are all too human problems and call for support from family, friends, family planning and health care providers, not criticism.
EDITOR, REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH MATTERS, LONDON NW5
Chew that over
Sir: Unless Philip Moran is exclusively a meat eater, he is not a carnivore but an omnivore (Extra, 27 December).
BRAMHALL, CHESHIREReuse content