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Saturday 7 March 2009
Letters: Darfur expulsions
Darfur expulsions mean 100,000 at risk of meningitis
The Sudanese government, and President Omar al-Bashir himself, must reconsider their decision to expel many Médecins Sans Frontières medical teams from Darfur. Independent humanitarian aid is vital for hundreds of thousands of people in the country.
Médecins Sans Frontières is a medical organisation, willing to continue daily medical care to the population of Darfur. The sudden halt of our medical programmes, including vital surgical, nutrition, and basic healthcare assistance in large areas of Darfur, will have an immediate and devastating impact on the population.
We have been ordered to leave just as meningitis is erupting in several different camps for the displaced populations in southern and western Darfur. We were planning to vaccinate 100,000 people. Nobody else will be able to do this.
Médecins Sans Frontières is a totally independent and impartial organisation and this is very well known. We have nothing to do with the International Criminal Court that has issued warrants for the arrest of Mr al-Bashir. We do not cooperate with the court, nor have we given it any information, yet we, and the country's population, are being held hostage to political and judicial processes. This is totally unacceptable.
President, Medecins Sans Frontieres Geneva
Science day for the benefit of Israel
There's a whiff of hypocrisy about the letter in defence of the Zionist Federation's Israel Science Day, in its claim that science "crosses borders and builds bridges" (5 March). Israeli science and scientists have been recruited to do the reverse: to help close the borders and bomb the bridges, destroying the hopes and prospects of Palestinian education and science.
The leading signatories to the Susan Greenfield letter know full well the extent to which science is intimately locked into British political decision-making, and to assume in the face of all the evidence that Israeli science has no such connections suggests an unaccustomed naivety on their part, a naivety not likely to be shared by the many London school students sickened by the images of the Israeli massacres in Gaza.
The Zionist Federation saw the event as a public relations exercise for Israeli science. Sadly, the more likely outcome is to link science and massacre more firmly in the students' minds. Finally, contrary to the claims of the signatories, the movement of boycott of and divestment from Israel is strong and growing both here and abroad.
Professor Steven Rose
The Zionist Federation, sponsor of Israel Science Day, declares on its website that: "The Zionist Federation aims to encourage the participation of Jews in Zionist activities including education, culture, Hebrew language and Israel information, underpinned by our belief that the main goal of Zionism is Aliyah." Aliyah is a campaign to encourage Jews, wherever resident, to migrate to Israel. The Federation further states that: "Today we promote Israel's case and defend our common future."
The Zionist Federation is a lawful organisation, operating quite openly in the UK. Given its declared aims, however, it is unrealistic to pretend that the Israel Science Day is an altruistic promotion of science, rather than a pro-Israel propaganda exercise.
The attempted academic boycott against individual Israeli scientists was a discriminatory exercise, which made no allowance for the principled stance taken by many Israelis against the excesses of their own government; as such it deserved to fail. It is inappropriate to yoke this together with the present protest against a political entity using a scientific conference as a front to promote the interests of the Israeli state. For whose benefit is this being done, that of the young scientists or that of Israel?
Let forests get on with their job
I agree with almost all of Simon Usborne's article detailing some "inconvenient truths" ("Don't believe the greenwash", 3 March), but he could not be more wrong when he refers to the "utterly rational" need to harvest ancient forests. Even if we were to ignore the point that you cannot keep all of the tree from degrading by converting it into furniture and construction materials (what about the bark, roots, leaves and twigs?), forests still play a crucial role in stabilising the soil, with their large networks of roots, and in recycling water through transpiration.
The destruction of forests has been shown to lead to serious soil degradation in some regions (such as Indonesia), resulting in catastrophic mudslides and much greater emissions of carbon dioxide. And rainforests obviously play a crucial role in keeping large regions from drying out by generating a cycle of transpiration and precipitation that repeats many times over before the water eventually reaches the ocean. This is one of the principal threats to the Amazon, the destruction of only part of the forest making the whole region vulnerable to desertification. This would result in much greater emissions of carbon dioxide and devastating water shortages.
As the most damaging effect of global warming is going to be the reduction of fresh water around much of the world, it would be best that we leave ancient forests alone to get on with the thing that they have be doing so well for many millions of years – sequestering carbon.
Bishops Itchington Warwickshire
Old computers dumped in Africa
I am disappointed that you identified Westminster Council in your report "Dumped in Africa: Britain's toxic waste" (18 February) based on information in a well-meaning, but in this case misleading, study by Consumers International.
We were first alerted to the presence of computers bearing a Westminster-branded sticker located in a dump in Ghana last year by a Danish TV company. From an image supplied, it was clear these were not council computers. These stickers were supplied to businesses in Westminster in the 1990s who wanted the council to dispose of their waste. We can only conclude that after a business left equipment in the street for collection, somebody else got there first and either donated or sold them on to the Third World.
It looked as if they had been dumped only recently, so it is likely these same computers were used for at least another decade by an organisation based in Ghana, before being disposed of locally.
Whatever the story, I can categorically state these were not sent to Ghana by the council or any of our contractors. All our electrical waste is disposed of according to strict guidelines and with due respect for the environment, and after all data has been wiped.
Cllr Danny Chalkley
Cabinet member for environment and transport Westminster City Council
Doctors sound alarm over drink
The British Society of Gastroenterology supports Scottish government plans to apply a minimum price per unit of alcohol, and calls for similar action throughout the UK.
Price increases never go down well in a time of recession, but as clinicians we are seeing an alarming rise in alcohol-related admissions, including serious liver disease in adolescents and young adults. We estimate that nearly a third of our specialist beds are now occupied by patients with alcohol-related problems.
There is an urgent need to address this to reduce the severe health, as well as social, impacts of excessive consumption. A minimum price should also allow for a much-needed increase in funding for research, treatment and support services for those battling with this addiction.
Professor Chris Hawkey
President-Elect, BSG, London NW1
Mother who chose to shame her son
Many a parent has watched the transformation of a sweet, sunny, adorable child into an infuriating, hurtful and inconsiderate boor. It's called being a teenager. Julie Myerson's son behaved erratically and smoked cannabis (report 4 March). His own estimation that about 40 per cent of his peers behave similarly sounds about right.
Most parents roll with the punches. They do not add homelessness to a 17-year-old's problems, then expose him to the glare of publicity in a name-and-shame book. Jake seems to have survived the trauma of his rejection and become an articulate, intelligent young man who points out reasonably that smoking a spliff does not equal drug addiction.
"Julie hopes people will refrain from making any judgements until they have read the book," says a spokesperson. Great marketing, awful parenting.
We will all need to repay our debts
All this talk of how to "kick start" the economy is really nonsense. Everyone is basically over-indebted, from individuals to banks, and they all need to reduce their debts. While that is happening, any ideas of boosting people's spending or increasing bank lending are out of the question.
The only choice is whether to repay debts quickly or slowly. If people do it quickly, by savagely cutting their spending, more jobs will be lost than if they do it slowly over a longer period. The only bodies in a position to reduce the job losses by spending are governments, who, while everyone else is cutting back, can increase their debt and spend more to make up the difference and protect some jobs. So, the next time a government announces that it has a policy to "boost spending and lending", just remember that it will only extend the length of time people take to repay those debts. It can't remove the need to do so.
A long slow recession or a short sharp one – those are the only options available. And there is question of how much unemployment we're prepared to endure in the meantime against how much government [taxpayer] debt we're prepared to rack up in order to keep people at work, debt that we'll all have repay in taxes over the decade ahead.
In the space of one century, we have experienced the curse of communism, national socialism, fascism and now predatory capitalism. Even though we have had a spell of democratic socialism, the excesses of rapacious capitalism could not be prevented. Where do we go from here? Is it the Lib Dems' turn?
My mate Alan pointed out over three years ago that "this whole **#!**! economy is based on the never-never. It's going to collapse". He left school at 14 and has no qualifications. Is he a genius? Are the heads of the FSO, Barclays, HBOS etc idiots?
Little Downham, Cambridgeshire
Ethics of the spooks
While an "ethical counsellor" for MI5 may sound very right-on (report, 6 March), the actions of the UK authorities should be guided by international law, not by philosophical ponderings. Torture is abhorrent and is banned under the UN Convention Against Torture and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That should be guidance enough.
Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2
In his Errors & Omissions column (28 February), Guy Keleny notes the clash of metaphors in a story about Citigroup being "kept afloat" while its costs "ballooned". However, Mr Keleny may have missed the statement that Citigroup is also "firmly in the camp". It would be difficult to stay afloat if one were camping on water – unless, perhaps, one's tent was guyed to a balloon.
Dr Charlie Robertson
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Power for electric cars
Professor Stephen Glaister is wrong (letter, 4 March). There will be plenty of electrical power to recharge the batteries of Boris Johnson's electric cars, without a large use of fossil fuels, at night, which is when electric car batteries are normally recharged. Relatively little electricity is used at night industrially, domestically or for transport or retail. The bulk of overnight use is met from nuclear, hydro-electric, wind and tidal generation; and generation from these sources will increase in the future.
Sir Reginald E W Harland
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Enemy of 51st state
How short is Matthew Norman's memory ("Turn us into the 51st state? Why not?", 5 March)? May I remind him that the country he so wishes to join elected George W Bush, not once but twice? It is only four years ago that many American friends asked me whether they could be adopted by the UK to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with the US. Be careful of what you wish for.
Stand up for Gordon?
Gordon Brown receives 19 standing ovations in Congress (report, 5 March). Who now says that Americans do not understand irony?
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