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Wednesday 16 June 2010
Letters: Cuts and payments
Cuts nobody voted for
The Europe-wide assault on the public sector will warm the cockles of what passes for the Chicago School's heart. In the UK, having successfully socialised the costs of 30 years of privatisation, deregulation and outsourcing, the forces of "liberalisation" are now set to cash in on the crisis they have created by ramming through long-planned anti-government measures. Indeed, they are even asking the public to select the axe of its own execution.
I don't recall voting of this coalition, this hybrid government and its agenda. Introducing measures which, in the government's own words, are going to have such a profound and "painful" effect on society requires at the very least a general election to obtain the mandate.
That the Liberal Democrats – certainly the leadership – are a party to this shock-and-awe strategy is appalling, a betrayal of fundamental values. If the membership – this is our party – is to stand a chance of retrieving the situation then the leadership must go.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
Liam Fox says that the cuts in the defence budget "will leave Britain's military stronger". He is ring-fencing the war in Afghanistan and the Trident programme, leaving the remainder of the armed forces subject to the "Star Chamber" cuts similar to those imposed on all government departments except the NHS and foreign aid (including aid to a country that is buying a super-carrier, and has a space programme, items the UK can't afford).
After the Star Chamber reductions in Navy ships, RAF aircraft and the Army's conventional forces including armour and heavy artillery, the UK military will be capable of fighting only two types of war: a war against insurgents in a desert country and the "mutually assured destruction" response to an atomic attack.
It is difficult to believe that Fox's comments are from the Ministry of Defence in 2010, and not the Ministry of Truth in 1984. The Falkland Islanders can be thankful that Argentina didn't re-equip its armed forces after 1982, as a task force wouldn't be possible after 2015.
George D Lewis
This coalition government is determined to make ordinary people pay for the crisis we did not create. David Cameron has a cheek to ask us, those who will be hit by job losses and cuts in public services, where we want the axe to fall, who should lose their job and whose services should be cut. We are asked to choose our own pain and that of our friends and neighbours.
One thing is for sure, we are not all in this together. It won't be the rich and the bankers and people like Cameron who will feel the pain. It will be ordinary people who never had any say in how this crisis was created.
I thought the then Labour government consulted the public on 6 May of this year. It didn't work very well then; why would it work any better this time round? Is Mr Osborne going to send each of us eligible to vote another form?
Food labels that fight the flab
With half of Europeans estimated to be overweight or obese – including 61.5 per cent in the UK – it is time for action to curb this epidemic. Obesity significantly increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes and has large cost implications too.
MEPs will have the chance to make a significant contribution this week as they vote on a series of measures about the information presented on food labels. As things stand, food labelling across the EU is a kaleidoscope of styles that confuse shoppers with all sorts of markers and figures.
Independent UK research confirms a single front-of-pack labelling scheme, including traffic-light colours, is most helpful for consumers so they can see at a glance whether products are high in fat, salt or sugar.
MEPs will decide whether to consider these colours on food labels across Europe. Accepting this would make healthy choices easier choices for all of us and mark a significant milestone in our battle with the bulge.
Chief Executive, British Heart Foundation
Executive Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Cancer Research UK
Director, Children's Food Campaign
Chief Executive, Diabetes UK
Chief Executive, National Heart Forum
Your report on the negotiations taking place in Brussels for a new EU labelling regulation was very timely (15 June). However, by focusing solely on the issues relating to front-of-pack nutrition labelling, you failed to make clear that this regulation is about much more – covering, as it does, everything from country of origin information to on-pack legibility.
On the issue of nutrition information, it is worth reminding readers that the leadership shown by UK manufacturers and retailers over the past decade has largely shaped the debate now happening in Europe. In fact, UK consumers take for granted the nutritional information already carried on the back of most food and drink packs today – something the new EU regulation now aims to make standard for the rest of Europe.
Food retailers and manufacturers across Europe have learnt from the experiences of the UK market and supported the widespread use of Guideline Daily Amount labelling. We all believe this is the best way of providing objective information for consumers, boosting their food literacy in a way that is both accurate and does not demonise products that should form part of any healthy, balanced diet.
Director of Communications
Food and Drink Federation
You carry a whole page article on the lobbying of the big retailers and food "manufacturers" against the placing of health warnings on their processed products, which annually cost a reported 70,000 lives and create massive health-related costs for the taxpayer. A few pages earlier Andrew Grice is pointing out the potential damage to the economy from a blanket rise in VAT to 20 per cent.
The logical solution is not to raise the rate of VAT, but to impose it on these hugely profitable but nutritionally disastrous concoctions, so that, as with taxing tobacco and alcohol, those purchasing these substances can at least contribute towards their resulting healthcare costs.
Salt spray to boost clouds
You report: "Radical plan to combat global warming 'may raise temperatures' " (7 June). The geo-engineering idea is "cloud brightening" (Latham, 1990) which proposes that seeding low-level marine clouds with tiny seawater particles can increase the number concentration of droplets in the clouds, and therefore their reflectivity for sunlight, thus producing global cooling. Four independent global-climate modelling studies (four different institutions) find that "if important technological and other questions can be resolved", the cooling could be sufficient to maintain the Earth's average temperature and polar ice content roughly constant for several decades.
The paper by Ken Carslaw and colleagues which was the subject of Steve Connor's article concludes that it is extremely difficult to increase cloud droplet numbers sufficiently to produce a significant cooling. But this issue is not one that their modelling can definitively address – it is a technological question as to how large an increase can be created.
Carslaw et al give prominence to their finding that in some circumstances seeding the clouds can produce a warming effect. But this is not a new finding. Our paper (Latham et al 2008) demonstrates this warming effect clearly. However, on a global scale (the Carslaw et al studies are not global) the cooling is much greater than the warming. To avoid any warming we simply need to avoid seeding clouds which have high droplet numbers – usually ones that contain significant land-based pollution.
Our geoengineering idea does not involve the creation of new clouds. It is to increase the reflectivity – and perhaps lifetime – of existing clouds.
University of Leeds
University of Manchester
I feel some comments are desirable to offset the rather pessimistic note of your report.
The research in question (available on line at: doi:10.5194/acp-10-4133-2010 ) consisted of computer simulations of deployment of a particular design of salt spray vessel (designed by a group led by Professor Stephen Salter) focused on four very particular areas of the globe. You correctly quote Professor Carslaw: "In some locations the artificial spray particles may hinder natural drop formation and could have the opposite effect to that intended." This refers to the North Pacific area, where aerosols from California already exist. The research showed that here the beneficial effect of indigenous aerosols could be suppressed.
However, the research also covered other areas of the globe; in particular the South Pacific (largely remote from industrial pollution). Here, deployment of salt-spray vessels would show a 20 per cent increase in cloud nuclei.
It would be unrealistic to expect marine-albedo enhancing ships to be deployed over the entire oceanic surface; they would be deployed where they caused the greatest effect. In my opinion the priority would be in the oceanic areas close to the edges of the polar icecaps, to hinder the retreat of the ice in their respective summers. Since these areas are free of man-made aerosols it seems reasonable to assume results similar to those of the South Pacific area and that there would be a positive effect on the marine albedo.
Hopefully computer simulations in these very areas should follow and/or even better, an experimental test of the proposals.
Dr Phil Nicholson
(Formerly Department of Physics ,University of Strathclyde), Glasgow
Asia invests in Africa's future
Sean O'Grady says that East Asia is quietly engaged in a new scramble for Africa ("They think Africa's dark age is all over", 11 June). However, this is the wrong way to look at the growing relationship between African and Asian countries.
O'Grady argues that the continent has highly insulated banking systems and limited international capital flows. However, it is not only African countries whose policies restrict trade in the world. Through the Common Agricultural Policy and other devices, European countries have protected their agriculture from international competition. This, as NGOs such as Oxfam have argued, has profoundly affected the ability of developing countries' farmers, in particular, to export profitably to the industrialised world.
Africa has welcomed Chinese investment because China has contributed to building up the continent's infrastructure. In Angola, in exchange for Angolan oil, the Chinese are building railways, schools, hospitals and a fibre-optical network. This kind of investment is something that Africa's former colonial powers have not so far undertaken on the same scale.
European countries should stop advocating a largely discredited model of neo-liberal economics to the developing world, and instead undertake to invest in a serious way in poorer countries.
Words that offend on TV
Philip Hensher (14 June) incorrectly states that recently published research by Ofcom about offensive language concluded that words like "loony, nutter, poof and queer are acceptable".
This is not the conclusion of the research. The report clearly states that context is the key to understanding whether certain words will cause offence. For example, was the language used in an abusive or discriminatory way?
When conducting such research, Philip Hensher says, "You don't ask randomly selected focus groups whether they find descriptions of a minority offensive: you ask that minority." He's right – and that's exactly why Ofcom's targeted such groups to understand why they may find some language offensive.
Director of Standards, Ofcom, London SE1
Where are the mature views?
Of the 30 "global panel of UK fans" you have selected to tell their stories as part of your World Cup coverage (11 June), it is notable that the average age is 33.
There is only one person over 46 and no one over 52. We know that this selection is not representative of foreigners living in this country, so does it indicate that older people aren't football fans? Perhaps it simply confirms what many over 50s already know: if older people aren't yet totally invisible in society, they are airbrushed out by the media.
How to give back the fuel payment
The Gebbetts (letter, 10 June) are undoubtedly correct that many better-off pensioners would be prepared to forgo their fuel allowance. However, it need not involve the direct means-testing and increases in the number of civil servants and administration costs they fear.
The fuel allowance could simply be added to the list of "state benefits received" in the annual tax return sent out by HM Revenue and Customs. This would at least result in a proportion of the fuel allowance being repaid as tax depending on gross income.
Paddock Wood, Kent
I agree with Joan McTigue's views on psycho-jargon and discipline (letter, 10 June). But further, why should "oppositional defiance" be considered a disorder? When I was at an early age, indiscipline and the punishment that followed were both considered perfectly normal.
Little Sandhurst, Berkshire
Perspectives on football fans
A baffling obsession
Alleluia! I am not alone in my total despair at the national obsession with football (letter, 14 June). It is almost impossible to avoid it even in radio and TV programmes one would normally consider to have serious attitudes.
The only good thing to say about the proliferation of print is that you can tell which evening would be good to go to the cinema, out to dinner, or even to the supermarket where you can be sure that the few people there will be enjoying the peace and quiet as much as you are.
Triangle, west Yorkshire
Football fans like Nicolas Granda-Barton (letter, 15 June) provide no end of amusement for objective, bemused football cynics like me with the things they say in the game's defence.
In this instance, your correspondent likens football fans to ethnic minorities, gays and women, as targets for "prejudice". So a passion for football is something one's born with and can't help, and it should be beyond objective examination.
Then it follows, of course, that all the stupidity, fanaticism and hype that surrounds the game must be beyond criticism. It would be more honest to state that for many, football is no less than a religion. Perhaps people like me should understand that better.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Nicolas Granda-Barton misses the point. Football itself may or may not "make the soul soar". The issue is the behaviour of those who follow it, ranging from outright violence through anti-social behaviour through hijacking the news schedules through rather pathetic flags on cars and houses (somehow that idea works in South America but not here) through dominating our public houses to a constant assumption that everyone must be interested.
And, crucially, his analogy with racial or gender discrimination fails. Regrettably, those of us who simply cannot wait for it all to be over are clearly in the minority, so our protestations are against an oppressive majority.
We are victimising no one. All we ask is that you act out your obsession in the privacy of your own home and do not ram your peccadilloes down anyone else's throat.
When will football commentators get over their deeply entrenched clichés about Africa? "Great shot from the African!" or "A goal for the whole of Africa!" they cry.
Imagine during an England game, the commentator exclaiming "Great shot from the European!" or "A goal for the whole of Europe!"
Africa is a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic continent, with ... er ... different countries.
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