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Monday 8 October 2007
Letters: Dolphins no danger
Tales of dangerous lone dolphins are plainly untrue
Sir: As a zoologist and cameraman who has had 30 years' experience working on whale-watching and cetacean research boats, I have dived and snorkelled many times with wild dolphins and whales and have, in the past five years particularly, looked at and filmed four lone dolphins ("Man's mysterious new best friend", report, 25 September).
I have yet to see anyone being injured by them, and have only heard and seen evidence of minor cuts and bruises, with the exception of the case of Tiao. On the contrary, these unique animals have given immense pleasure to those lucky enough to see them.
One of them, Dony (mostly known in the UK as Georges or George), the amazing "travelling" dolphin, has had many thousands of interactions with humans, from babes in arms to the elderly, in his journeys around five countries in Europe.
When you say Tiao killed a swimmer, this gives the mistaken impression that he attacked someone, deliberately using fatal force. What happened is that after he was abused for hours by people trying to ride him, putting ropes around his tail and, as you said, pushing ice-cream sticks and other objects down his blow-hole, three people actually dragged him on to the beach. Naturally, he resisted, and tried to wriggle back to the sea, hitting one of his tormentors in the stomach in the process.
There have been more than 70 of these "friendly" dolphins recorded so far. Only one being reported killed by a boat's propeller hardly translates into "significant numbers of which meet a bloody end by being caught in propeller blades". Also, you say Marra died from blood poisoning possibly caused by cuts from people's jewellery, for which there is no evidence.
I have never seen or heard any of these dolphins accepting food from people. Captive dolphins have to be starved for weeks before they can be forced to eat dead fish. What they clearly seek is social contact with us so, by stopping these interactions, we could well be affecting their mental wellbeing, and therefore their health.
If we do encounter one of these animals, we need to remember they are large, extremely strong, wild animals, not "smiling" pets, and that it is illegal to harass them.
Kenton,near Exeter, devon
An indictment of Britain
Sir: Your report of 5 October on the treatment of refused asylum-seekers confirms the stories we have heard at Asylum Link Merseyside. Beatrice, one of the cases you describe, was working with us as a volunteer until she was detained and taken to Yarl's Wood Detention Centre. When last seen here, she was a beautiful, smiling young woman. We were hardly prepared for the horrifying "before and after" photographs of her in your paper. What an indictment of Britain.
Mr Lindley, the Border and Immigration Agency's Director of Enforcement, writes (letters, 6 October) of the "proud tradition in our country of giving genuine refugees protection". His utter confidence in the accuracy of the Home Office's decisions on the genuineness of asylum claims is touching.
"Unfortunately," writes Mr Lindley, "not everyone accepts our decision." This is not surprising. Asylum-seekers are surely the only people who can really judge the truth of their own personal stories. Decisions, in the absence of concrete evidence, are based on "credibility" and are little more than guesswork.
But there is plenty of evidence of the danger of the countries from which many asylum-seekers come. No wonder they are reluctant to accept the kind offer of the Home Office to help them return voluntarily.
Even if the Home Office does not accept that a person is a "genuine" asylum-seeker, that is no excuse for allowing him or her to be treated so inhumanely. British law should protect these people from physical and racist abuse.
Let us hope that the police and the Border and Immigration Agency will investigate the evidence provided by the dossier and bring to justice those responsible for these crimes.
Volunteer at Asylum Link, Merseyside
Shedding light on creationism
Sir: Science teachers should be encouraged to discuss creationism, as called for by Michael Reiss of the University of London ("Creationism as a valid school topic", 5 October).
May I suggest that science teachers discuss the following:
Genesis 1:3 states, God said, "Let there be light", and there was light [on the first day of creation].
Genesis 1:14-19 states, And God made two great lights, the sun and the moon [on the fourth day of creation].
Two issues arise: If the sun was created on the fourth day, it would not be possible to have light on the first day. Second: There is only one "great light": the sun. The moon is not a source of light; it merely reflects the light of the sun. I have a wall mirror, and if I shine a torch at it, it will merely reflect the light; but the mirror can never be described as a light.
This proves that the people who fabricated this story were primitives who had no knowledge of anything outside their immediate environment. The science teachers may also discuss that science has, by several radiometric dating methods, established that rocks found on Earth are three billion years old.
The Bible states that the Earth is 6,000 years old. Some creationists try to explain this by suggesting that a Biblical "day" may be interpreted to mean 1,000 or even a million years.
Not so. The word translated in the Bible as "day" is from "yom" in the Hebrew and "hemera" in the Greek. Both mean a definite 24-hour period from sunset to sunset.
Sir: Many thanks to Jim Buck (letters, 6 October) for his "goldilocksfish" satire on Professor Richard Dawkins.
Mr Buck points to the unlikelihood of matter coinciding in precisely the life-sustaining system that is our world; and then to the problem of infinite explanatory regress or, as he puts it nicely, "in the words of the old song: We're here because we're here, because we're here".
After reflecting on these puzzles, I am now convinced that the world and universe was probably conceived, designed and built by a God. Unlike the world's constitution, God's array of capacities and properties is not unlikely, but necessary.
God has to be that way, otherwise he wouldn't be God. He's God, for God's sake, which part of "highly rational, purposeful, disembodied, supernatural, omniscient and omnipotent being", don't you atheists understand?
There is no regress problem either, because God created himself and has always existed, even before he created everything, including himself. Yes, that all seems much more plausible than all this "Big Bang" nonsense.
Sean Cordell, Sheffield
Other views on climate change
Sir: Your environment editor is remiss in his continued forecasts of catastrophe which are speculations presented as facts. Here are some actual facts.
Data from the British Climate Research Unit show that warming peaked in 1998. The earth's mean temperature in 2006 was .125 degrees cooler than in 1998. Some may say 1998 was an exceptional year but 2006 was, on average, cooler than 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. The latest data for 2007 show little change from 2006. During this time, CO2 levels increased by about 4 per cent, casting further doubt on the connection between anthropogenic CO2 and global warming.
Much has been made of the decrease in Arctic sea ice. You should note that Antarctic sea ice is at a record high. The Northern hemisphere is warmer but the Southern is cooler and, on balance, the earth is cooler now than nine years ago. Global warming has stopped, at least for the time being. In any event, with another degree temperature increase, should it ever occur, an increase in CO2 would actually be beneficial to humanity.
By mid-century, we will have to feed a further three billion people.The simplest and most environmentally friendly way to assist in this is to increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This will increase crop yields significantly without requiring more land for food production. A slightly warmer climate will also usefully extend the growing season.
Obviously, climate change is an important subject for scientific investigation but there is no need for panicked action which may well do more environmental harm than good.
We can well afford to wait for 10 years before doing anything so that actual data can be used to better constrain our still quite-rudimentary understanding of this very complex subject.
Dr Norman Page
No end to war in Afghanistan
Sir: I absolutely agree with Patrick Cockburn's "Why? Six years on from the invasion of Afghanistan" (6 October). The Afghan conflict has lasted longer than the Second World War, with no apparent "end-game" in sight.
Although it was correct to invade (because Osama bin Laden was hiding in the country with the protection of Mullah Omar, then the Taliban president) the Allies, Britain and America, failed to concentrate on Afghanistan alone, instead being sucked into the Iraq war to conclude the Bush family feud with Saddam Hussein, who posed no threat to the West.
Had the resources expended in Iraq been marshalled against the Taliban over the same period, today Kabul might well be a bastion of freedom and democracy instead of being at the perpetual mercy of the suicide-bomber, and the Taliban's feared return. Saddam faced the hangman, and a similar fate awaits Bin Laden, if caught, but what justice will be meted-out to Bush and Blair? None. There never is to the "victors".
Bush and Blair had no chance of winning the peace and, by all present assessments, have lost both wars. As always, the civilians, of Afghanistan and Iraq, and "our boys" will pay the long-term price, while the two former world leaders hit the fat-fee lecture circuit.
Lop-sided view of managing offenders
Sir: Deborah Orr's critique of the National Offender Management Service is interesting, but it presents a lopsided picture of what the Government is seeking to achieve by reforms to offender management ("The criminal justice system is in a mess", 3 October).
The crime rate is 41 per cent lower than it was in the middle of the last decade, and since 1997 we have made a measurable impact on the reconviction rate of offenders through the courts, achieving the initial targets we set.
The principal reform for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has been to ensure that offenders' risk and rehabilitation is the central concern of everyone working with them. End-to-end offender management has been a challenge for administrators, but less so for front-line staff, who feel their work is enriched by more contact and continuity. NOMS will not be scrapped in the review of Ministry of Justice organisation.
Our next significant reform will be to create new probation trusts and, while still being precise about what activities need to be paid for and to what quality, we will be able to lighten the touch from the centre.
Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, London SW1
Bulbs on the internet
Sir: Your correspondent, RF Parrott (5 October), is mistaken in his assertion that there is no low-wattage bulb available for the halogen downlighter to which he refers. This bulb is known as a GU10 and the energy-saving version, although not quite so bright as the regular bulb, is perfectly adequate for the job. Inexplicably, retail outlets rarely stock these bulbs but they are readily available via the internet.
Bats about bats
Sir: Asked by the local bat group to "rescue" a family from a pipistrelle which had got into a bedroom, I found them all cowering in their sitting-room. When I picked the bat out of a fold in the curtain where it was sleeping, one macho man braved a look at it. His face lit up. "Oh, but it's beautiful; it's absolutely beautiful," he said. It was tiny, as big as the top of my thumb, despite its large wing-spread, and furry with an appealingly impish face.
Sir: I wonder how passionate these so called bat-lovers would feel if they had to spend thousands of pounds on a bat survey and be told you cannot live in your own home the way you want because a colony of bats is in residence? I have been waiting more than nine months for planning permission, delayed because of bats. This means more damage this winter because necessary repairs cannot be done, which in turn will mean more money must be spent to fix this. Will the bat-lovers please contribute to this ever-increasing expense so their damned bats can be saved?
No gain with glitz
Sir: In Rob Sharp's article on the Nespresso phenomenon (Extra, 4 October), only the briefest mention of the environmental issues was made. Two and a half million capsules and rising is a great deal of land-fill and an enormous amount of manufacturing energy, as well as extra energy used in transport. The traditional espresso machine (hardly carbon-neutral) at least created bio-degradable grounds. The Nespresso concept is everything we should be rebelling against, not rejoicing in its fashionable marketing glitz.
Chalvington, East Sussex
Sir: Nick Martinek's letter (2 October) demonstrates the propensity of Europhobes to spin. One could think Eurosceptics would want the Reform Treaty to formalise terms for countries to withdraw from the EU. Instead, this becomes spun into, "We would have to ask the EU". Quite why Eurosceptics feel the EU would want to force recalcitrant member states to remain is beyond comprehension.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
Sir: The Mariam apparition in Fatima, Portugal is not the "supposedly last apparition" (report, 5 October). Since June 1981, a Marian apparition occurs daily in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
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