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Monday 4 May 2009
Letters: Kenyan visa staff
Kenyan visa staff are rude, dismissive and unhelpful
My wife is Kenyan, and the people in Nairobi who handle visa applications are just as rude, dismissive and unhelpful as their counterparts in other countries (letters, 1 May). Our first application was made when we were engaged, and living together in Tanzania. Family and friends had seen photographs, and our plan was to return to UK so she could get to know them before we wed.
It was difficult to put documents and paperwork together, but eventually we collected "proof". It took four trips to the Visa Handling Services (a private company hired by the British High Commission and staffed by Kenyans) to have our application accepted, though we had to sign a form stating we were unable to prove with documentation that we were actually in a relationship. We left convinced that no matter how in-order the documents were, something would always be found wrong. Once, my birth certificate was questioned, and we were told the application could not go ahead. When we got that sorted out, we were told it was not needed.
A month later, after my then fiancée had attended her interview at the BHC, she returned to the VHS offices to find that her application had been refused because the interviewer was "not convinced you will stay together after a UK marriage" and "I do not find it credible that you have been living together in Tanzania". I have no idea what she based those assumptions on; I had supplied letters from my employer, colleagues and landlady saying they knew and had met my fiancée. A year later, we wed in Kenya.
Just how much money does the government make from failed applications? Ours cost £350, and no refund is given if you do not get the visa.
Why swine flu is deadly in Mexico
The British are most probably not at the same risk of swine flu as the Mexicans and other indigenous Americans (report, 2 May). That only Mexicans have died of the disease so far may be explained by their inherent poor immunity to animal-derived viruses.
Swine flu is a Eurasian epidemic, since it appears to have originated in pigs. Pigs are not native to the Americas, having been introduced from Europe over the past 400 years. In contrast, the thousands of years that the peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa have lived with domesticated animals have allowed them to evolve greater genetic resistance to domestic animal-derived viruses.
The biochemistry of the indigenous people of Central America was, and is, unusually homogeneous, which can be beneficial (relative lack of genetic disease) or problematic in that they are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, since their genetic similarity allows viruses to move more efficiently between people.
Studies show that the indigenous people of the Americas have less immunity to disease as they have only about 17 human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) as opposed to the Europeans who have at least 35 HLAs. Also the Europeans, who grew up in germ-filled domestic environments, have developed as part of their immune systems, helper-T cells that target micro-organisms. Native Americans have helper-T cells that have mainly evolved to combat their problematic parasites, not infectious diseases.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, at least 90 per cent of the people of central America died from the common European diseases brought by the Spanish.
Gillie Green MSc
Deborah Orr says there is "no reason to imagine that this flu is any more dangerous than any other flu" (Comment, 30 April). The authorities are right to be very concerned about this strain. During the 1918 H1N1 Spanish flu pandemic, approximately 2.5 per cent of all those infected died; in other pandemics the figure is much lower.
High fatality rates do not create pandemics: it is the ability of the virus to spread. As a major variant of H1N1, the present "swine flu" virus enters a population with little or no immunity and has already proven readily communicable between humans. This makes this virus a highly credible candidate for pandemic infection and, potentially, a very dangerous virus indeed.
I found much food for thought (no pun intended) in Johann Hari's article on how the roots of the present swine flu pandemic could be traced to factory farming (Comment, 1 May). But he compromises the scientific veracity of the piece when he uses the terms "bacteria" and "virus" interchangeably. If bacteria did emerge as "pumped-up super-charged viruses" after treatment with antibiotics we really would have a problem.
Avoiding the swine flu is ridiculous. It is the flu, a new strain that seems to spread faster. And while the media has started a panic about 150 deaths in Mexico (not all of which have been confirmed as swine flu), we must remember that 100,000 people have died of common influenza worldwide in the same period.
Every dark cloud may really have a silver lining. The swine flu scare is said to have prompted Michael "Wacko" Jackson to abandon his forthcoming trip to the UK.
How to make MPs pay up
HMRC has a well-established procedure for determining if there is any element of benefit in an employee's expenses (and of taxing the employee on it if there is any such benefit). This is the P11D regime.
The expenses claimed by MPs should be subjected to the same rules and procedures as all other employees, and any benefit over and above the remuneration voted by Parliament should be recovered in full by the State. Alternatively, the present regime applied to MPs should be put in place for all employees.
It started with the Prime Minister saying that Parliament should wait for Sir Christopher Kelly to report and David Cameron saying that a decision was needed now. It ended with the parliamentary Conservative group saying that Parliament should wait for Sir Christopher Kelly to report.
They do say that a week is a long time in politics, but for Mr Cameron to lose the direction of his party with in such a short time is more than a little confusing.
IMMINGHAM, North Lincolnshire
Led down a Tudor garden path
I am sorry to spoil a romantic tale of Merry England but David Keys is wrong to suggest that Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I "were deeply in love" by the time of her Progress to Kenilworth Castle in July 1575 ("Recreated, the Tudor garden where an ambitious earl wooed the Virgin Queen", 1 May). By then, Dudley was interested in marriage only for reasons of political power, not affection.
Nor is it true that "a masquerade" was to have been staged in the castle garden. The intended setting of a two-act play by George Gascoigne was Wedgnock Park, some three miles away. The sexual innuendo of his later monologue was probably inserted at a later date and never voiced before the notoriously haughty Elizabeth.
Finally, as I show at some length in my book, Elizabeth, Shakespeare and the Castle: The Story of the Kenilworth Revels, the anonymous account of the Kenilworth festivities, including the marvellous description of the garden, was almost certainly not the work of Robert Langham, to whom it has conventionally been ascribed. Langham was not a member of Dudley's staff but a minor court official.
The true author is likely to have been William Patten, the disgraced Lord of the Manor of Stoke Newington, whose published works bear many striking similarities to the unattributed Kenilworth publication.
Ravages of the palm oil industry
I have visited Indonesian Borneo and seen from the air how much land is given over to palm oil production ("How British shoppers are razing these rainforests", 1 May). During my stay, I wanted to see some orangutans but this proved impossible, apart from a sorry specimen in a so-called zoo. In fact, I was told most of the indigenous people had never seen one.
I am pleased you have identified which companies are using palm oil in their products and I will boycott these. There is a need for palm oil to be clearly identified as a listed ingredient on all products, not hidden under the "vegetable oil" label.
The great work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Centre needs a high profile. Many of the people in towns and cities are not aware of what is going on in their own country.
Tourists would pay good money to go to Indonesian Borneo just to see orangutans in their natural habitat. Please name and shame all the companies using palm oil from unsustainable sources.
Your article highlighting the ecological damage being done by palm-oil culture, used just seven words to gloss over the fact that "controversially, it is used as a biofuel" .
In Wales, the giant coal-fired Aberthaw power station has experimentally co-fired palm oil, and the oil is also increasingly used to manufacture bio-diesel fuel. In 2005m Aberthaw burnt 2,602 tonnes of palm oil for which it received Renewable Obligation subsidy. This is tiny by comparison with its total fuel-use, but it makes a bottle of supermarket cooking oil look a bit silly.
This is yet another failure of politicians to understand the ecological adage that everything influences everything else and that bio-fuels are distinctly not green.
Dr JOHN ETHERINGTON
I am sitting here looking at the list of ingredients in my bar of chocolate. They are cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, reduced fat cocoa powder, soya lecithin and vanilla. Palm oil, indeed any vegetable oil, is not one of them, and since the chocolate tastes fine it is clear that vegetable oil is not a necessary ingredient.
The best solution for confectionary manufacturers struggling to find "ethical" palm oil is simply to stop using it, and I'd like to ask them for a convincing explanation of why they are not prepared to do that.
A charmed life
Paul Vallely ends his piece on Joanna Lumley (Saturday Profile, 2 May) with a claim that people either lust after her or are charmed by her. From personal experience, these two reactions are not mutually exclusive.
Foie gras cruelty
Selfridges has turned 100, but the birds and geese force-fed and killed for the foie gras they sell do not even reach their first birthday. The foie gras industry that Selfridges supports is so cruel that foie gras production is banned in the United Kingdom and more than a dozen other countries. Foie gras is produced by ramming feed through pipes thrust down the throats of ducks and geese every day for three weeks until their livers become grotesquely enlarg-ed. It's time for Selfridges to end their sale of foie gras.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, London SE1
Contrary to Mr John Broughton's assertion (letters, 1 May), I did not say I knew of no individual who had overpaid tax. I said I knew of no one who did so knowingly, in excess of what he or she believed was owed to the Revenue. Payment of excess in error is, of course, commonplace. I would be interested to hear from any readers who voluntarily send an extra amount to the taxman, in addition to the amount they believe is due.
Wilson was a don
I agree with Professor Phil Cohen that "it would be unimaginable for Britain to have a prime minister who was a university professor" (letters, 2 May), but we have come pretty close. Harold Wilson was one of the youngest dons at Oxford during the 20th century.
A doctor writes ...
What's wrong with a little torture? If we can get information from enemy combatants and save lives, we should use all the means we can devise. The left's soft position on enemies of the state costs US soldiers' lives. Would we rather protect enemies of the US than our own soldiers in harm's way, or residents of the US? When we are kind to those who are cruel, we are cruel to those who are kind.
Alan J Winters, MD, JD
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