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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 5 August 2008
Letters: Nato and the Taliban
Some Nato partners are failing to take on the Taliban
Your article rigorously highlights the soaring levels of violence in Afghanistan carried out by Islamic militants in recent months ("Afghanistan spiralling back to days of Taliban, say charities", 1 August). As a result of political and military neglect by both domestic and international actors, these ruthless attacks have cost innocent Afghan lives and further fractured the country's fragile security situation.
On-the-ground research carried out by the Senlis Council has shown that British troops are in particularly grave danger, given that the Taliban are entrenched in 54 per cent of the country. Their situation is not helped by the reluctance of some Nato-ISAF members to send their troops into combat. At present, the caveats imposed by a number of Nato member governments, notably Germany and Italy, are preventing a significant proportion of Nato-ISAF troops already in Afghanistan from engaging effectively with the enemy. Every Nato state should be encouraged to contribute to an expanded force, which currently stands at 52,700, with a firm level of commitment that will provide a total force size of over 80,000. However, contributions should primarily come from those Nato states underrepresented in the coalition's total deployment.
To regain the military initiative and ensure future stability in Afghanistan, it is imperative that Nato displays a united front. Key Nato partners must share the burden of the fight against the Taliban. A failure to do so is putting unnecessary strain on the Alliance and making defeat in Afghanistan a worryingly real prospect.
Director of Policy Analysis, The Senlis Council, Paris
An innocent man accused by CCTV
Keith O'Neill (letter, 2 August) is fortunate not to have come across an innocent person who has been "framed" through misuse of CCTV.
Some three years ago my son visited a local shop on return from work late one evening. A young woman who left the shop before him subsequently complained to the polisce that she had been followed, although her "stalker" had not followed her when she had crossed the road to avoid him. She believed the "stalker" had been behind her in the queue in the shop, and that person happened to be my son.
In the interim, a female student had been subjected to a sex attack in the neighbourhood, and while the "stalking" victim was not shown the shop CCTV by the police, it was shown to the second victim, who reckoned my son looked like her assailant.
My son was charged in connection with both incidents and thereafter his world was taken apart. He had to leave his employment and voluntary activities. He was still on the police radar and was later charged with a further four attacks on female students. He was then held on remand in Barlinnie jail for six weeks, during which time there was at least one further attack on a female student in the area.
On his release, he was subjected to a 14-hour-a-day curfew until his trial. Despite being acquitted of all charges, there being no case to answer, he remains a marked man – his DNA is now in the database and, to the detriment of his future employment, an outline of the court appearance appears on his disclosure statement.
The family have lodged complaint against various agencies involved in this travesty and, no surprise, have found them most unhelpful.
There goes my hero of many years. Richard Dawkins (letter, 1 August) expresses a strong opinion on a subject he obviously has not taken time to study.
Understanding DNA is one thing, understanding how forensics are using it, and especially understanding anything about the computer security issues involved, is another.
The "nothing to hide" argument is silly. We all have something to hide.
I agree with Dawkins that the main threat may not come from the police, but the idea that we "ask the police" how they are going to protect the data comes from children's books – what does this mean? Who is going to judge if this is good enough? Who is going to police the police? Who is going to police the private, probably foreign, company who will actually do the work?
Security measures have to be appropriate to the potential damage when they are breached, as well as to our ability to repair this damage. In the case of DNA, whatever damage might be caused by a leak is almost impossible to repair. A person cannot simply replace their DNA, so they are stuck with one that is now public.
This makes the DNA database very different from all other databases, and until it can be guaranteed that no information can leak from it (impossible to do), the only way of protecting data like this is not to store it.
Dr Richard Zybert
Zybert Computing Ltd, Birmingham
Reading Professor Dawkins' letter shakes my faith, if that is the word, in his writings on evolution. I am not sure what entries on the database he thinks actuaries would use to adjust premiums, but if any are relevant, their use would be in the interests of accuracy, not distortion, of risk measurement.
I suspect Professor Dawkins' view of my profession has been influenced by the rubbish which has been appearing in the financial press about Equitable actuaries. I suggest he instead gives us the same credit for objectivity in our science as we would want to continue to give him in his.
Incidentally, I fully support both his and your call for the database to be removed from police hands.
W B McBride
My big worry about a DNA database is human error. The tests themselves may be foolproof and can't be faked, but anyone involved in the processing can, by mistake, change the name labels on samples. How can even the strictest rules ensure that it would be impossible for this to happen?
How Britain missed the nuclear route
Jeremy Warner, writing on public policy failure (31 July), didn't mention our failure to build the "family" of Sizewells that the Central Electricity Generating Board wanted, but mentions the happy position of the French, who were not so daft. He could have added that they tried the tidal barrage route, using the Rance River 240 MW scheme, built through 1960-67, which nobody has copied ever since.
The nuclear route they chose blunts the impact of rocketing fossil-fuel prices, and enables each home to use 30 per cent more electrical energy than us Brits, with emissions about half ours.
Meanwhile, we buy 2 million KW almost continuously from them. It is cheaper than our cheapest-to-run gas-fired generators. And the private sector is installing a new 1,000 MW undersea cable, so we can buy more. Unless we are outbid by Germany, whose Angela Merkel recently said they must upgrade their nuclear power plants, "because we need them". And Sarkozy embarks on a third generation of nuclear power, with an avowed objective to increase exports.
I wonder what the Greens at Kingsnorth think we should build to replace it? Nuclear that we know works, carbon sequestration that might work, or subsidised wind, which we know is totally inadequate in anti-cyclones, winter and summer?
Steve Fossett had everything to live for
Very sad that The Independent should lift part of the News of the World story that questioned whether Steve Fossett died and should give their "conspiracy theory" such space ("Into thin air", 1 August).
Steve had everything to live for. He was about to embark on the land-speed record and had just completed a submarine to explore the lowest parts of the ocean. He was very comfortably off, with no financial problems. He had recently started taking treatment for high cholesterol, and a heart attack would be a much more likely explanation.
The Independent should be more careful when writing about people who have died and cannot respond.
Laboratory apes suffer as humans do
The news that 95 per cent of former laboratory chimps suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (2 August) could not be more timely. The European Commission will shortly publish the draft of a new animal experimentation directive and campaigners are pressing for the use of great apes (and other primates) in experiments to be banned. Sadly, a handful of people are lobbying to leave the door open to such research.
As this study proves, these animals suffer as humans do: that means they should be granted the same right as humans are never to be subjected to the horrors of vivisection.
Senior Research and Campaigns Co-ordinator, PETA-Europe, London SE1
All-or-nothing response to crime
Dr Poole (Letters, 4 August) raises a valid point in suggesting, following the acquittal of Barry George in the Dando retrial, that those incapable of conforming to society's norms of acceptable behaviour require controlled living conditions somewhere between imprisonment and total freedom. I made a similar suggestion regarding discharged paedophiles in a letter to The Independent some years ago, following riots on housing estates to which these ex-offenders were being released to live.
When interviewed later on various radio programmes, I was roundly taken to task, on the one hand by people who violently objected to any treastment more lenient than burning alive for such offenders, and on the other by those who considered that any attempt to remove child abusers from situations where they could offend again was an infringement of their civil liberties. I hope Dr Poole's suggestion invokes more measured responses.
John Hill (letter, 4 August) recommends education for the police in "philosophy and objective thinking" after a Metropolitan Police commander expressed disappointment at Barry George's acquittal. In fact, the commander's attitude to judicial punishment seems to reflect a philosophical tradition of utilitarianism, one that abjures judgments made from a "subjective" standpoint and instead weighs individuals' interests equally in calculating the best outcome for all.
In the George case, a loner with few social ties was locked up and many more people – along with the baying news media – were placated. Utilitarian arguments for sometimes scapegoating the innocent may be flawed or unpalatable in a number of ways, but a lack of philosophical rigour or objectivity is not among them.
Happy seaside city hits back
Joanna Briscoe's column slating Brighton & Hove's "new" city status looked rather odd seven years after the event – especially in a column called At the Sharp End. (Extra, 4 August).
But as Oscar Wilde said, there's only one thing worse than being talked about and that's not being talked about. I suspect what irks Ms Briscoe is that residents like it here and so many Londoners want to move here. An O2 survey in May revealed Brighton & Hove people are the happiest in the country with their home life.
London struggled in ninth behind other "piddling places with former polytechnics", as Ms Briscoe puts it.
Cllr Vanessa Brown
Deputy leader, Brighton & Hove City Council
Streets fit to play in
The most conspicuous feature in the photo of boys playing in a London street in 1950 ("The end of playtime?", 4 August) is the total absence of any vehicle, parked or moving. In view of the forthcoming energy crisis, can we perhaps foresee a similar photo being taken in 2030?
Peter Ward Jones
Flying into trouble
Is it not inconsistent to give prominent advice on how to overcome the fear of flying (Extra, 29 July), thereby encouraging more to fly, and at the same time to profess concern for climate change, to which aviation is a significant and increasing contributor?
I would like to thank Jerome Taylor for his excellent piece on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ("A pilgrimage to the end of the Northern line", 24 July). I would like to point out, however, that we are not celebrating the centenary of the death of our founder, but 100 years of khilafat (spiritual leadership) that has followed since. With reference to our founder, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, we would never describe him as a "mullah" as that term has derogatory connotations and is the antithesis of what our founder stood for.
Dr Basharat Nazir
Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK, Morden, Surrey
It seems to have come as a bit of a shock to some that in the democratic internal contests for leadership and executive positions in the Green party, our candidates will be audacious enough to communicate with their voters (Pandora, 1 August). I can reassure members that our internal data has not been published in any form, something that was agreed on by all the candidates.
Campaign Chair, Caroline Lucas for Leader, Adrian Ramsay for Deputy, Liverpool
An end to sleaze
So Guy Adams thinks that downsizing is one reason the US press is not covering a sleazy story about the alleged sexual misconduct of an ex-candidate (US Media Diary; 4 August)? Well, the answer to that one is easy: sack more journalists everywhere!
James C Lange
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