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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 16 October 2007
Letters: Obesity and climate change
Obesity and climate change, two of the West's gifts to the world
Sir: How utterly absurd of the Government to equate the threat of obesity with climate change. Obesity is a disease of decadence seen mainly in the so-called developed world. There are not many obese people in the two thirds of the world forced to scrape by on less than a dollar a day.
However, these really poor people are being increasingly affected by climate change – a condition again caused by the greed and wasteful way in which the minority of people in the developed world live.
The only real connection between obesity and climate change is that the cause of both is to be found in the lifestyles of those who live in the rich developed world. Both can only be addressed by change in how people in the developed world live their lives.
Sir: Government concern over obesity is misplaced. Overweight people will die earlier, thereby reducing the pressure on living space, and thus help to save the planet.
Sir: The Health Secretary claims that obesity is as great a threat to the planet as climate change. While, in time, the exhaust gases produced by the overfed will doubtless accelerate the greenhouse effect, it is hard to see how a catastrophic rise in sea levels could be accomplished by the obese, unless they were all to go swimming at the same time. Is the minister confident of his science?
Sir: Given the Government's reaction to the current alarming statistics on diet and diabetes, morbid obesity etc, can we expect a "War on Tiramisu?"
Prohibition hasn't solved drug crime
Sir: Unlike Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, whose call for legalisation of drugs you report on 15 October, I spent most of my police service investigating serious crime. I have seen at first hand many tragic consequences of drug abuse, including the deaths of many young drugs users, and murder committed in furtherance of the drugs trade. The misuse of dangerous substances is undeniably a scourge on our society, and surely anyone in their right mind would like to see it reduced or eliminated. My instinct is that those who conduct the illegal drug trade should be identified, prosecuted, and prevented from doing further harm.
However, experience in this and I believe every other country shows that neither my instincts nor anyone else's provide a solution to the problem. The police in this country devote a considerable proportion of their resources to identifying drugs offenders, the CPS to prosecuting them, and the prison service to housing them. The courts are, and have been for some time, pretty robust in sentencing drug dealers. None of this has worked, nor is there any sign of it working. People regularly traffic in drugs in countries which impose the death penalty, so it seems unlikely that even more active policing and punishment will have much effect.
I agree with Mr Brunstrom that the only ethical drugs policy would be a utilitarian one, based on reducing the greatest amount of harm to the greatest number of people. Unlike some other areas of crime, there is no basis for any moral absolutes. Were those currently illegal drugs legalised, there would be a real risk of increased numbers of ill-informed, ill-advised and immature people harming themselves with them, and great effort would have to be given to trying to minimise that. However, future victims, like nicotine addicts now, would have an element of choice, unlike the huge numbers of entirely innocent victims of the illegal drugs industry today.
(former Detective Superintendent, Lancashire Constabulary) Garstang, Lancashire
Sir: In a genuinely free and grown-up society people should be allowed to consume whatever substances they like, but in the society in which we are actually constrained there are huge obstacles to legalising all drugs.
When it is deemed progress to ban smoking even in private clubs, McDonald's are viewed as the bad guys, and it is thought wrong for a chocolate company to sponsor a TV soap opera, how will the liberal left react to capitalists profiting from the production and distribution of heroin?
When each budget comes, will the Government listen to the organised medical profession and inevitable tax-funded pressure groups who demand whopping increases in duty, or the Narcotics Manufacturers Association?
The criminals currently engaged in drug dealing would switch to black-market undercutting of legal supplies. Middle-class people dabbling once in a lifetime would buy drugs legally, but there would be no benefit to those on sink estates.
It is surprising a police chief does not consider that if we were the only country to go down this route, drugs tourists the world over would flock here, as well as foreign criminals who wanted to smuggle drugs to their own countries illegally.
Regrettably, in the world as it is, I will not support drug legalisation unless it can be done internationally and some in authority make the case against the folly of high excise duties.
Sir: Please forgive a smile of vindication. When I was the director of a drug rehabilitation programme in 1986, I often met with senior police officers and was aware that they knew that most prohibition laws were to the benefit of criminals. When I was appearing with one of them on television, he confided that he might well see merit in my arguments for a licensed system for all leisure drugs but that, when on camera, he was duty bound to "rubbish" such ideas. It's good to see a policeman standing up against politicians who refuse to look at real alternatives in fear of criticism from ill-informed media and people.
Thornbury, South Gloucestershire
A lost chance for Middle East peace
Sir: The letters of Lyn Julius and Janet Green (19 and 20 September) concerning the non-return of and non-compensation of refugees from Israel and the likening of events of 1960-1962 to some kind of board game are perhaps nearer the truth than either realises. I was a member of the Technical Office of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), which was set up to calculate and administer a compensation scheme for refugees who did "not wish to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours" in Israel.
One big hurdle had to be overcome. The wording of the resolution appeared to presuppose that each refugee would be asked, "Do you wish to return to your home and live at peace with your neighbours, or would you rather receive compensation for the 45 dunums of olive grove that we believe you owned at . . . and which we believe was probably worth . . . ?" Not surprisingly, this question raised enormous problems. The Israeli government saw it as a way of importing trouble, while the Arab states thought it was "buying off" the refugees and burying the problem under large quantities of cash.
Accordingly, a series of steps were worked out that, it was hoped, would save all parties' political faces. In essence, the solution involved omitting the "choice question" and simply offering the refugees compensation, without making reference to their returning or not to their abandoned properties. Similarly, the Arab states concerned were never asked if they agreed to this step. The argument ran that if neither the refugees nor the Arab states, nor indeed Israel, were formally asked about the "choice", then the Arab states would be happy enough to have their refugee problem at least partially solved by the resettlement of some of the refugees and to receive some of the compensation fund.
In early November 1962, though, Israel opposed this proposed partial solution. The Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, advised the White House, making it clear that she would use her influence with the US Jewish electorate to the disadvantage of President Kennedy, who was then facing a potentially difficult mid-term congressional election, if he did not immediately withdraw US support for the scheme. He did so and the UNCCP immediately ceased all work on the project.
It is impossible to estimate the amount of blood that has been shed as a result of this misguided decision by Mrs Meir, which removed any chance of at least some movement towards the partial resolution of the Palestine refugee problem at an early stage.
Don't let Burma suffer in silence
Sir: I would like to congratulate your newspaper on the four articles you ran (11 October) following the detention and interrogation of the Burmese monks, and their supporters. If only other newspapers had followed suit then maybe the response from the international community wouldn't be so "muted".
Already, less than 20 days after the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations that Burma has seen since 1988, it appears to be "old news". Despite midnight kidnappings, interrogations and torture that the demonstrators are enduring, the vast majority of newspapers and television reports have chosen to forget about the Burmese people in favour of inheritance tax allowances.
If the "West" chooses to remain silent on this issue, then what hope does a country have that has lived in a culture of fear and silence for over 40 years?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Armenian accounts of 1915 massacres
Sir: I am a British university lecturer. I lived and taught in Turkey for two years. Most of it was at university level. My Armenian students told me about their version of events in 1915 Ottoman Turkey. They would only speak in private, given Turkey's culture of denunciation and that country's all-pervasive "denigration of Turkey" laws.
They said that at that time Turkey feared a fifth column and so marched the Armenian Christians east to be disposed of; it was a time of war and the Turks had been instructed not to expend valuable ammunition. Consequently, they killed the Armenians with anything to hand: hammers; chisels; sticks; drownings in buckets of water; even strangulation by hand. A truly horrific, medieval scene.
The above is how it was related to me. My outrage goes against Bush, who wants all this forgotten about in order to keep a secure border with Iraq ("Turkey recalls ambassador after US vote on Armenian 'genocide' ", 12 October). That truly is an appalling example of realpolitik.
Working out the Amis stance
Sir: I had been neutral in the war between Martin Amis and Terry Eagleton. Having read Mr Amis's open letter (12 October), I wish to come off the fence.
Mr Amis dislikes being accused of "advocating" discrimination against Muslims: he "adumbrated" a suggestion – no, a "mood experiment". So did he want us to do these things or not? If not, he was thoughtless to raise them. If he did, well, apparently it was a momentary reaction to having to go on a long flight without reading matter. Fair enough, so does he now reject them outright? Not quite clear from his letter.
Terry Eagleton may get a lot of things wrong, but it is usually possible to work out where he stands. I find that attractive.
The economics of music downloads
Sir: It is a pity that Radiohead have decided not to release details of the average price paid for downloads of their new album, as it is rare to see such a demonstration of market forces and consumer opinion at work.
I have conducted a survey of the 100 or so students I teach. They would be willing to pay an average of £8.38 each, with the maximum level of sales revenue being achieved at a price of £8. Me being an old-fashioned vinyl junkie, I'll have to wait until the new year for my copy.
Head of Economics, Worthing College
Plan for NHS dentistry
Sir: I am hoping that David Cameron will soon come up with a plan to restore NHS dentistry in this country. Then Gordon Brown can pinch it and I will be able to get my teeth fixed before the next election.
Plea for unity
Sir: It appears from your correspondence on the weighty matters of creation and religion that sectarian rivalries between Protestants and Catholics, Sunni and Shia are not enough in our trouble-torn world. We must now add Fliers and Giants to identify warring sects within the Church of the Spaghetti Monster (Letter, 13 October). I am certain His Noodliness would wish henceforth for this to be a time for healing and reconciliation, so that Pastafarians everywhere can continue to fulfil His mission free from such internecine strife.
Christmas is coming
Sir: Incredible. It's only the beginning of October and I've just read the first letter (15 October) complaining about hearing the first person moaning about all the Christmas stuff in the shops.
Sir: Here in Germany, there has been Christmas stuff on the shelves since the end of August.
The vision thing
Sir: Gordon Brown is being criticised for not having a "vision" for Britain. Why this obsession with visionaries? Tony Blair, with his great vision, managed to drag the country into the disastrous Iraq war. Mussolini had a great vision for Italy, Hitler had a great vision for Germany and Stalin had a great vision for the Soviet Union. Do we really want someone with a great vision to lead us around like flock of sheep?
Portslade, West Sussex
Sir: Don't bring in new £5 notes (letter, 6 October). Scrap them all. A £5 coin wouldn't disintegrate and would be much more easily recognisable by the blind and others with sight problems.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
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