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Monday 21 April 2008
Letters: Mediums and the message
Mediums and public relations people share similar delusions
Sir: The reporting of the changes to the treatment of fraudulent mediums (report, 18 April) with comments on the role and function of PR (letters, 18 April) fortuituously allows for comparisons from these surprisingly similar practices.
First, both contain people who appear to have genuinely deluded themselves that what they do is somehow beneficial to society. Second, they do this despite them both being intrinsically unethical practices due to their use of manipulative persuasive communication techniques on their chosen victims for personal material gain.
The PR people also work for the benefit of their clients (who tend to be – when not burying bad news, producing dodgy dossiers and the like for governments democratic and otherwise – the usual suspects of oil, drug, arms and other "socially responsible" corporations).
Third, they do this largely in a vacuum of public accountability or scrutiny, although here the fraudulent mediums do slightly better than the PR people through this new consumer protection ruling.
Finally, when both practices are subjected to independent, empirical scrutiny, their unethical and manipulative natures are revealed. It has long been proven that mediums use either hot reading (heating by covertly finding out information about their audience in advance) or cold reading (using good performance skills to cover a combination of guesses mixed with information drawn from participants), and that if you control the conditions to prevent either of these they can't do it.
Although efficacy of PR is more open to question (no one knows how, why or even whether it works, but the PR people won't admit that), its deliberate usage to attempt to distort the communication of events for particular, normally governmental or corporate interests, is a matter of historical record.
Both these practices share the certain need for proper public accountability and regulations to protect the public; they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.
Dr Vincent Campbell
Department of Media & Communications, University of Leicester
Israel's reign of terror in Hebron
Sir: Your front page describing the criminal activities of Israeli Defence Force soldiers in Hebron ("Our reign of terror", 19 April), as reported by the courageous group, Breaking the Silence, is no surprise to anyone like myself, who has actually been to Hebron.
But let there be no doubt that such activities are spread right across the whole of the West Bank. Military "incursions", night-time arrests, insulting behaviour at checkpoints, detention without charge, house demolitions, and theft of water and land by expanding settlements, the Wall and roads for Israeli use only are everyday events.
It is true that Israel does from time to time prosecute soldiers for particularly gross violations, but it is not true that these actions are just the unfortunate result of young men and women being given unlimited power over powerless Palestinians, as the military authorities would have us believe.
What is really happening in Palestine is the terrorising of an occupied civilian population by state and settlers with the objective of taking over as much of the West Bank ("Samaria and Judea") as possible by further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land and villages. What I don't understand is why US and European politicians shut their eyes to all this; surely they can't really be unaware of it?
And I don't understand why Israel is treated as part of the civilised western world.
Sir: While world leaders rightly excoriate the brutal occupation of Tibet and oppression of its people, the siege and suffering of the Palestinians continues to be largely ignored. These same politicians have turned a blind eye to Israel's crimes of conducting one of the most brutal occupations in recent times.
Israel continues to violate international law and numerous UN resolutions with complete impunity. It has received more US tax money than any other nation on earth. While our nation has plunged into a deep recession, and more and more Americans are thrown out of work and their homes, we continue to send Israel massive amounts of money (or euros at Israel's insistence), at present a rates of $7m a day. US tax money is also sent to Egypt and Jordon to purchase their co-operation with Israel and serve as our torture rendition sites.
Unless we can raise humanitarian awareness of the plight of the Palestinians, more will surely die of starvation and despair. Perhaps, years from now, we will be building a Palestinian holocaust museum to mourn the human tragedy that could easily have been avoided.
Americans should demand that we stop giving billions of dollars to fund Israel's war of terror, money desperately needed for our domestic programmes.
Los Altos, California USA
Sir: I visited Hebron last November and witnessed some of the appalling repression described by Donald Macintyre. I also heard testimony from a former soldier,now a member of Breaking the Silence, who made it clear that the events described were not, as the IDF claims "highly unusual", but commonplace.
If the Israelis wish to refute this why don't they set up an international commission of inquiry to investigate, with an independent chairman, say, the former US president, Jimmy Carter?
Sadly, Israel's policy seems to be one of continued denial in the hope that world opinion will look away. Please continue to publicise abuses in Palestine, which are such a shameful stain on the character of the Israeli state.
Norton-on-Derwent, North Yorkshire
Sir: There is growing concern in Israel of the effects this widespread "brutalisation" of their young men and women on military or border police service throughout the Occupied Territories is having on Israeli society when they return to civilian life.
When our 62-year-old Jewish director in Jerusalem, Professor Jeff Halper, was arrested on 2 April, as he unsuccessfully tried to prevent the demolition of yet another Palestinian home by Israeli bulldozers (more than 18,000 since 1967, leaving more than 100,000 Palestinians homeless), one of the border policemen man-handling him boasted, "I was born to demolish Palestinian homes. I love demolishing homes. I wake up in the morning hungry to demolish homes".
UK Director, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, London NW1
Sir: I cannot understand how the Jews who suffered so much in the Second World War have absolutely no empathy with the Arab population. Obviously, there will never ever be peace, while America sends vast amounts of arms etc and billions of dollars to these barbarians.
I am pleased that Tibet and other situations are being made public, but I rarely see mention of Gaza and what these poor souls suffer.
I visited the Holy Land twice in the 1990s and was disgusted to see how Israel's soldiers treated civilians in Jerusalem. Of course, I do not condone the rockets fired by Hamas, but that is no comparison with the Jewish attacks.
Malnutrition in hospitals
Sir: I was surprised, but pleased, to read your report on 14 April that the Government is planning to give the new Care Quality Commission (CQC) powers to take action on malnutrition in hospitals and care homes.
Figures cited in the Department of Health's Nutrition Action Plan show that the cost of undernutrition is estimated at £7.3bn a year, and a recent British Medical Journal study reported that about 20 per cent of patients in hospital are malnourished, a wholly avoidable scandal.
When the Care Quality Commission was being debated in Parliament, the Government refused to accept Conservative calls for these powers to be given to the CQC.
Ben Bradshaw, the minister who announced the U-turn, said "there are good reasons why [such powers] are unnecessary" and he and Labour MPs opposed it, voting my amendments down in committee and on the floor of the House.
I would like to believe that the Labour Party's pride of authorship did not deter them from accepting better ideas than their own, even if they had to admit to them being Conservative ideas.
Stephen O'Brien MP
Shadow Minister for Health, House of Commons, London SW1
Science exposes the reality of GM crops
Sir: Dominic Lawson believes in the capacity of GM crops to feed the world (Comment, 18 April). It is clearly upsetting for him to find his faith in this complex, hi-tech solution being challenged by reality. This is what has happened to believers in GM crops.
In the fields of North America, although GM crops resistant to sprays or capable of killing insects have made life simpler for big farmers, they have not, finds the US Department of Agriculture, increased yields. In farmers' fields in India, GM crops have increased costs but not yields, and have sometimes failed, with catastrophic consequences.
Even more worrying for those worshipping at the altar of GM crops, the debate has moved on. This is the message of the recent international scientific report, led by Professor Robert Watson, now the chief scientists at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
This report recognises that the challenges farming now faces are those of the increasing scarcity and price of oil, and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farming (primarily nitrous oxide) by 80 per cent by 2050.
Professor Watson's conclusions are supported by a report from the International Trade Centre, advisers to UNCTAD and the World Trade Organisation. As with energy production, the future of food production lies in systems which take nitrogen from the air to fertilise crops using the sun's energy, as organic farming does, rather than burning up increasingly scarce oil and natural gas.
In stark contrast to Mr Lawson's emotional piece, peer-reviewed scientific research is showing that organic farming will increase food production in developing counties, and world-wide will provide us with slightly more food than we produce now.
Policy Director, Soil Association, Bristol
Who's a fan of Virginia Woolf?
Sir: I can only assume that the exclusion of Virginia Woolf from Arifa Akbar's account of the Booktrust's "Literary Map of London" (17 April) was because of the wealth of material to choose from. She didn't just live in Bloomsbury for a time, but was a Londoner all her life (1882-1941) and in some ways like Dickens, a frequent and observant street-rambler. Seven of her nine novels feature London and the other two mention it.
My suggestion for an "inspiring location" would be Westminster and "Mrs Dalloway". I would also recommend Virginia Woolf - Life and London - A Biography of Place by Jean Moocraft Wilson. This includes a Mrs Dalloway walk.
Funny world, physics
Sir: Seeing the report on Physics of the Impossible (Review, 18 April) I wondered what these physics could be. Turning the page, I was enlightened by your review of Cathedral of the Sea which, we were informed, "was built in 54 years in this century".
Sense about Brown
Sir: Thank goodness Rupert Cornwall has brought some cool sense to the debate about Brown and the Labour Government ("The PM, the Pope, and some political realities", 18 April). Most of the media, encouraged by cynically opportunistic politicians, have been whirling about in a frenzy of self-reinforcing positive feedback, and I hope his article is a sign that this will be checked. OK, Brown and the Government are not perfect and have made mistakes, but do we want any of the options on offer?
Dr Brian Robinson
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Sir: Your leading article (14 April) and Nigel Morris's report with various "non comments" from former ministers and others, including talk of a challenge to Gordon Brown's leadership, highlight the failure of this Government. Will Mr Brown realise that he is not up to the job and let someone else take over before it's too late, or will he do a Mugabe, refuse to go and ruin the country
Sir: What a splendid compendium on science, enjoyable to dip into. So far, I have only one quibble: The words "bacteria" and "flagella " (as in "phenomena" and "criteria") are plurals. Singulars, respectively: bacterium. flagellum, (phenomenon, criterion). I expect, in time, they will be anglicised, as in the case of agenda.
Bit of a spell
Sir: Matthew Norman's brickbats (Media, 14 April) would be more effective if he did not mis-spell the names of his intended targets. I would also suggest that Ann Widdecombe has an open and shut case for punitive damages. If she was indeed my contemporary at Oxford I did not meet, let alone "snog", her. I am happy to testify to that effect in the libel courts.
Financial Times, London se1
Translates into profit
Sir: As long as publishing is ruled by profit, translators of Arabic literature will get short shrift (letters, 18 April). My translation of a Mahfouz novel was among five titles cited in the Nobel Prize press release. The result: a money-grubbing American publisher tried to buy my copyright; when I refused to sell, out of loyalty to my publisher, they commissioned a rival version.
P J Stewart
Boars Hill, Oxford
An unkind cut
Sir: Will the extra £200 or so per annum tax that I will have to pay out of my paltry pension be enough to compensate the Treasury for the tax cut Gordon Brown awarded himself?
Keighley, West Yorkshire
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