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Wednesday 18 July 2007
Letters: Harlequin ladybird
No need to panic over the arrival of the harlequin ladybird
Sir: Once again the enjoyment of my breakfast has been spoilt by your sensational, yet colourful, account of the problems that might be caused by the arrival in the UK of the harlequin ladybird (report, 13 July). Professor Majerus makes the classic mistake of confusing percentages and numbers. The fact that 90 per cent of the ladybirds in some London parks are harlequins does not mean that the actual numbers of the other species of ladybird are reduced. Fortunately I have a large set of data of numbers of ladybirds from many English localities collected before the arrival of the harlequin. In due course this will enable a comparison to be made of the numbers of species and individuals before and after the arrival of the harlequin. Until then the jury is out.
Instead we are presented with speculation as fact. Professor Majerus must come up with the evidence to satisfy his peers that his interpretation of the effect of the harlequin on the British fauna is correct. This ladybird expert has yet to see such evidence. A number of the harlequin's natural enemies already occur in the UK and, therefore, it is possible that they will limit its increase. Indeed I have just read an account of the predation in England of harlequin larvae by the larvae of lacewings, and another account of house spiders feeding on adult harlequins.
Ladybird species are difficult for the layman, and even the specialist, to tell apart. It is possible that your report will encourage people to fear and even destroy all sorts of other, and definitely beneficial, ladybirds thinking they were harlequins. Readers should continue to treat ladybirds as the beneficial creatures they are. Of course harlequins themselves feed on aphids, and a more useful piece of research might be to compare their effect on the environment with that of insecticides.
DR JOHN MUGGLETON
Take time to talk to Muslims
Sir: I can only agree with Ms Alibhai-Brown ("Ignoring terror suspects' rights will achieve nothing more than to further brutalise them", 16 July). In order for us to develop a long-term strategy to combat terrorism, we need to listen to Muslims so that we can know the roots of this complicated issue. If we want to stop some Muslims believing that terrorism is an act of martyrdom, we need to know the foundations of such extreme schools of thought. Labels are not important, but most if not all such fatwas trace back to wahhabism and Salafism. Only then can we educate others that such schools were recently formed, which denies them any credibility.
Destruction is easy, and takes little time. But for us to solve the mess that these extremists/terrorists have left our society in, it will need the effort of experts and much time.
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right to worry about the likely counter-productive and brutalising effects of indefinite detention, a measure considered recently by Apco head Ken Jones. She is, however, wrong to claim that its re-introduction as a reaction to current terror threats would be for us in the UK to adopt "American simplicity". Simple it may be, but history shows that internment is not a characteristically American practice.
During the second Boer war of 1899-1902, for example, the British Field Marshal Lord Kitchener instigated the close confinement of vast numbers of South African civilians, thereby earning himself the dubious accolade of having invented the concentration camp. More recently, in Northern Ireland, between 1971 and 1975, 1,900 suspects, virtually all of them Republicans, were detained for various terms without trial, under the "Special Powers Act".
Sir: The main reason given by the police for scrapping time-limits for detention of suspects in terror cases (report, 16 July) is the time needed to sift through electronic data in the hope of finding sufficient evidence for a prosecution.
Backlogs and delays in this kind of work do not only apply to terror suspects' cases but also to more routine matters, such as screening people newly appointed to work with children. The cause is obviously shortage of staff. The salaries of clerical and data-processing staff, compared with those of police officers, are a drop in the ocean of policing costs. Surely most of us would be willing to pay a few extra pence on the rates rather than incur either evils of innocent people held indefinitely or of terrorists slipping through the net.
Creative and flexible solutions such as using freelance data-processors are less likely to be considered if the time limit were to be removed, and the incentive to speed up the work would disappear.
Tuvalu is doomed no matter what
Sir: I looked in vain through your article "SOS: a special report from Tuvalu" (16 July), for any mention of the other cause of oceanic island flooding - the crustal subsidence that affects oceans and their islands around the world. Plenty of complaint about global warming, of course, but complete disregard of the inexorable subsidence of oceanic crust which appears to be the cause of three-quarters of the effect.
Charles Darwin worked out the origin of atolls such as Tuvalu in 1835 from observations during the voyage of HMS Beagle. The process is irreversible in the short term, and no cure is available. Sea level change at 5.6mm a year is enough to frighten any government unaware of the reasons for this anomalous rate.
Even Shanghai, situated on a delta which also is subsiding, has a rate of only about 3mm a year, compared to hard-rock areas of the China coast which are nearer 1mm a year.
Tuvalu is doomed whatever happens to the atmosphere.
Why boycott of Israel is necessary
Sir: Howard Jacobson's latest tirade against those who advocate an academic boycott of Israeli institutions exemplifies a prominent and recurrent feature of such criticisms (14 July). He says little or nothing about the Palestine-Israel situation. He ignores the motivations of the boycott, which originate in Israel's violations of international law, infringements of Palestinians' human rights, and the 40 years' oppression of the population of the Occupied Territories. Instead of confronting the advocates' case he misrepresents them, without distinction, as accusing "Israel of every known crime against humanity" and encourages his readers to see in that the signs of anti-Semitism.
Those who advocate the boycott are not insensitive to the importance of academic freedoms but they give higher priority to the rights to life and livelihood and believe that public opinion must find ways of actively and effectively opposing those policies of Israel which perpetuate oppression.
If the critics, who make passing reference to not supporting the Israeli occupation, were to show that they actually oppose it and were to present alternatives to the boycott, then they could be taken seriously. Otherwise they appear only as apologists for Israel.
Countryside enigma for city children
Sir: Changes to the national curriculum may introduce valuable life skills such as money management (Letters, 16 July), but will continue to overlook more basic education, in which many young people are lacking.
On a train from London Victoria to Brighton last week, I was joined at Croydon by a group of teenaged boys, whose lively conversations revealed some of the failings of our system. As the train left London, talk of football, girls and music turned to the landscape outside the windows. The boys debated whether this was "countryside" that they were seeing.
To some, the answer was a definitive "no", with one of the boys stating confidently that this was "just fields", and not countryside at all. Others in the group confessed that it looked more like countryside than anything else they had seen. The only point of commonality was the fact that there were "lots of trees, like, forests" and "it's good to see trees (yeah)".
Their banter fascinated me not just for the fact that these teenagers were even "bovvered" about the countryside - showing how much maligned teenagers often are - but more for the fact that they did not know what "real" countryside looked like. It is all very well teaching kids to buy a house and invest for the future, but what sort of future are we offering them if we cannot even teach them about life just 20 minutes' train ride from their own inner-city doorsteps?
Abuse is one crime, cover-up another
Sir: Your report of 16 July on the LA settlement by the Catholic church coincided with the publication of the Cumberlege Commission's "room for improvement" message to the UK church in tackling priestly child abuse. While this reveals significant and welcome progress, it also states that the bishops and cardinals have demonstrated "a patchy will" to drive through the Nolan reforms and have "tolerated rather than embraced" them. It also states that "complacency" surrounds the issue.
Both stories do little to change the suspicion that, in many instances in the past, two crimes had been committed, but only one was properly investigated and punished. In the cases that have come before the courts in the US and here, the initial crime of abuse has subsequently been compounded by the behaviour of a hierarchy engaged in its deliberate and systematic cover-up.
So far, abusers are at long last being punished by secular courts, but far too many of those who were engaged in the cover-up have proved to be beyond the law. This continues to rankle with the victims. Perhaps if someone like Boston's Cardinal Law had been made to answer before secular authorities for his role in covering up the crimes in his diocese, rather than being comfortably retired to the Vatican by the late John-Paul II, it might have jolted others in the global hierarchy out of their apparent complacency.
NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY, LONDON WC1
Music therapy for traumatised children
Sir: I was most interested to read of Nigel Osborne's latest project in Mostar (9 July). Professor Osborne is internationally known for his pioneering work in Bosnia where the Pavarotti Centre provides clinical music therapy for children suffering from the effects of violence and post- traumatic stress syndromes.
However, it is not correct to say that this is the only such centre in the world. In Northern Ireland the Coda project was initiated in April 2004 to provide a service to children and young people affected by "the Troubles". Music therapy has been delivered by therapists employed by the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust and reaches a total of about 80 children each week, most of whom are attending primary schools. These schools and community centres are situated in interface areas which have been particularly involved in protracted civil strife, such as Londonderry and West Belfast. The project has been independently evaluated by the Save the Children Fund with very positive results.
DR MICHAEL SWALLOW OBE FRCP
FOUNDER, NORTHERN IRELAND MUSIC THERAPY TRUST, BELFAST
A home for heretics
Sir: Michael Charley wonders why Islam does not expel its extremists as the Roman Church excommunicates its heretics (letter, 17 July). Perhaps because they have a way of becoming the establishment - like the Church of England.
THE REV KIM FABRICIUS
Sir: I am sick to death of people barking on about how unsightly wind turbines look (Letters, 17 July). There might be issues regarding the amount of time they can actually produce energy, and issues surrounding the air eddies the blades turning produce and what effects they may have on an already changing climate. The alternative is insecure foreign energy supplies that we sometimes have to go to war for. Or nuclear power where the waste has a half-life of 10,000 years.
Black's tragic flaws
Sir: I was very touched by Bruce Anderson's description of the demise of Conrad Black as being the stuff of tragedies (Opinion, 16 July), while at the same time being unable to bring himself to use the words crime or criminal about him.
I look forward to reading Mr Anderson's next piece on the so-called underclass, when no doubt he will identify the main cause of criminality in the feckless poor as being down to the fallibility of human nature, just as it is for the rich and powerful.
MR P LEVY
Out, out damn moth
Sir: I was brought up with the smell of mothballs in chapel services and being hugged by great aunts with their mothball smelling furs. Ugh! ("Lock up your cashmere," 17 July). My mother's solution - followed by me to this day - is bars of scented soap or candles in clothes drawers and wardrobes. Cedar wood was for the affluent.
Organ donor opt-out
Sir: How strange. We may be about to agree to an opt-out, presumed-consent situation for organ donation, but we cannot even get an opt-in situation for voluntary euthanasia. Who is to say that lack of the former results in greater human misery than lack of the latter? Or that the former would be less open to abuse than the latter? Would I really be in less danger of being killed for an organ than for an inheritance?
ST OLA, ORKNEY
Plumbing the depths
Sir: Since when did we have to shrink a millimetre by 0.0394 to get an inch? (Science facts supplement, 16 July). And is knowing that a gravitron (sic) is a gauge boson really useful everyday information? Perhaps better to include a "bathimeter" - my dad's kitchen accessory to determine whether, in wartime Cumbria, there was sufficient water in the loft tank to heat for a bath.
PROFESSOR M J PERKINS
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