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Saturday 9 August 2008
Letters: Olympics and human rights
Olympic athletes must compete in the human rights struggle, too
Rather than being on "the brink of historic change" (front page, 8 August), isn't it more the case that China is on the verge of getting away with it? Having failed to deliver on its promise of human rights improvements and greater freedoms if awarded the Olympics, it can now take all the public relations glory without honouring its side of the deal. Then, once the attention of the world and its press turns elsewhere, the Chinese authorities can carry on as before in clamping down on any demands for a more liberal society.
If members of the world leaders club won't take a stance, then let's hope at the very least that some of the medal winners use their elevated status to raise the banner for democracy and the liberation of Tibet. Or perhaps enough of the people can somehow make it into Tiananmen Square to protest. If this does happen, then we must give them our full and unequivocal support.
We in this country could take the lead and there is the opportunity for London, as host of the next Games, to use its unique position to champion the cause of freedom and human rights in both China and Tibet. The UK Government must not act duplicitously in conferring equal and honourable status on a regime that subjugates its people. The real battle at these Games is not solely for sporting glory, but also for personal liberty. No record haul of medals for the UK team will compensate for us failing to go "longer, faster, higher" in supporting the Chinese peoples' wishes to be free.
I would like your readers to help me. I have heard a great deal about the fight for democracy in Tibet, but I am none the wiser as to whether there will be an election for the position of Dalai Lama once China relinquishes its authority. I quite fancy the position myself, as it seems to offer the kind of job security we all need nowadays.
Climate camp and the future for energy
In 2006, Tony Blair said: "Climate change is the greatest long-term threat facing the world today." Prince Charles and many others have said the same. But on 2 August, the Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, told a Sunday newspaper: "We are not going to sacrifice fuel poverty on the altar of climate change." He could have said, "We are not going to sacrifice short-term interests on the altar of long-term interests."
On Saturday, at the climate change camp in north Kent, protesters will try to invade and shut down Kingsnorth coal power station, which, when rebuilt according to new plans approved by Wicks, will contribute 8.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year to global warming.
Wicks has called the protesters "naive", saying that "There are countries with a huge stack of coal where demand is increasing – are any of us able to say to the Chinas of this world, please don't burn coal? I think I know what the answer would be."
But China and India wish to replicate the development of the West. Therefore, surely, we should take advantage of that aspiration, prove renewable energy to be feasible by our example, and then support their development in the same direction.
My family uses energy-efficient light bulbs, and we try to minimise our carbon footprint. But we estimate that our careful family efforts over a one-year period will be off-set in reverse by Kingsnorth within three or four seconds. So, either we shouldn't bother to try, or we should join Saturday's protest. As optimists, we will do the latter.
There seems to have been little coverage in the national media of the climate change camp at Kingsnorth in Kent. It seems to have been important enough to the police, however, with officers from at least 27 forces currently camped out on the Hoo Peninsula fully equipped with riot gear. They have, during daring raids on the camp, confiscated caches of kitchen knives, crayons, coloured chalks and even a children's board game called War on Terror, a clear indication of the threat to world peace.
The police are diligently ensuring our safety by searching every person entering the camp, including representatives of the local press. They are also apparently flying helicopter missions during the night at low level in order to ensure the protesters cannot sleep soundly. The camp will certainly not be allowed to become a haven for out-of-work softies, vegans and other such ne'er-do-wells, and to ensurethis the police have even seized materials intended for the construction of toilets and other such comforts.
My concern is that the peaceable residents of the camp may react to police provocation – and that will at least prove the police were on the right track all along.
This week's protests in Kings-north, Kent, the proposed site of E.ON's new coal-fired power station, offer a timely reminder of the real energy challenges that face the UK.
The climate camp protesters are trying to portray this as a simple "good, clean renewable energy versus bad, dirty coal" debate. In reality, we'll need renewables and coal, along with natural gas, nuclear power and plenty more besides if we're going to meet energy demands.
Chemical engineers are united in agreement that fossil fuels will remain a vital energy source for some time to come. That's why the Institution of Chemical Engineers is backing the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, on condition that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is implemented at the earliest possible opportunity.
In a perfect world, we would indeed acquire all of our energy through renewable sources. However, this isn't a perfect world – it's time to accept that fossil fuels have a key role to play if we're going to keep the lights on, and it's time for the Government to introduce a framework that encourages industry to start implementing CCS.
Director of Policy, Institution of Chemical Engineers, Rugby, Warwickshire
The significance of the breakthrough in hydrogen fuel-cell (HFC) technology reported by Steve Connor ("How to turn water into rocket fuel – scientists unlock power of the sun", 1 August) has yet to impact on debate about alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear, judging by the letters of Bill Hyde (5 August) and Simon Prentis (7 August) and recent ministerial pronouncements. It surely merits immediate attention.
HFCs now offer a cheap and easily manufactured storage mechanism for solar-generated electricity that could revolutionise how ordinary sunlight is utilised. The prediction is that within a decade every home could be energy self-sufficient. Additionally, solar can also be expected to deliver reliably on an industrial scale and much more cheaply than the geo-thermal option that Mr Prentis advocates. Given the economy, availability and simplicity of this new technology, it is imperative that government energy options be reappraised without delay.
Daniel Nocera, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is quoted as saying of the breakthrough: "This is just the beginning. The scientific community is really going to run with this." For the sake of present and future generations and of rich and poor nations alike, let us hope politicians run with it too. If the science is sound, the Kingsnorth and Severn Barrage protesters, no less than the opponents of nuclear, have powerful new ammunition at their disposal. The terms of the debate may not have changed, but HFCs must now enter into any reckoning and our energy priorities be assessed in a different light.
Service charge really is optional
On a visit to the harbour festival in Bristol, I took my family out for a meal, and, aware of your campaign for fair pay for waiters and waitresses, I studied the bill with more than usual attention.
I was surprised to find an "optional service charge" of 10 per cent had been added. I remonstrated with the waitress and was surprised, and pleased, to find that she enthusiastically agreed with my request for a replacement bill excluding the optional service charge. She confirmed that she was fully aware of the Independent campaign, that it had raised awareness among waiting staff and was already having an effect.
She went on to explain the mind-boggling complexity of the way waiters and waitresses were paid by restaurant owners, but confirmed that all tips in cash went to the waiting staff.
So, well done to you for exposing this scandal. Keep up the good work until it is outlawed.
UK prisons policy fails vulnerable men
Giving evidence at an inquest last year into the self-inflicted death of a prisoner in London's Pentonville, a governor said that 80 per cent of prisoners had at least one drug, alcohol or mental health problem. Thus in men's prisons, four out of five prisoners have some kind of mood- and judgement-impairing condition.
These men have fallen through the welfare safety net into disorganised crime and into prisons that punish their crimes but leave detoxification, psychiatry, reform and rehabilitation as poorly funded and lowly regarded afterthoughts. They are then discharged back into their disorganised lives, where they return to preying on their equally disadvantaged neighbours to survive.
Inquest's recently published report into women's deaths in prison, "Dying on the Inside", shows the worst impact of the callously indifferent and target-driven policies of the Government on vulnerable women in prison. But these pressures bear on vulnerable men in prison, too.
It will be a good thing if this concentration on women's plight in prison (report, 8 August) gets the Government to understand that its policy on imprisonment generally isn't a system of rational deterrence and rehabilitation but is self-defeating and unpopular.
Karadzic did not train at Tavistock
I wish to correct an inaccuracy in Dominic Lawson's article headlined "We should have no reason to be surprised when a doctor turns out to be a murderer" (25 July). Mr Lawson writes: "Dr Karadzic was a respected psychiatrist, who trained with our very own Tavistock Centre (he specialised in paranoia, in case you were wondering)".
The Tavistock Centre is the main site of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health trust nationally and internationally renowned for its clinical services and training. The trust trains NHS psychiatrists in three specialist training programmes: adult psychotherapy, child and adolescent psychiatry (both at the Tavistock Clinic) and forensic psychotherapy (at the Portman Clinic).
We wish to make clear that the Tavistock Clinic did not train Dr Karadzic in psychiatry and has no record of his ever attending any other course with our organisation. I am concerned that Mr Lawson's article implies a number of things about Dr Karadzic and, by association, links this organisation with him and brings its reputation in medical and multi-disciplinary mental health professional training into question.
Dr Matthew Patrick
Chief Executive, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, London NW3
Your leading article of 8 August comments upon "dangerous smoke signals". They certainly are, when officialdom wants to legislate the Broadcasting Code into avoiding all portrayals of a practice now frowned upon. Do they want to deprive us of our regular fix of Sherlock Holmes? After all, it wasn't just the St Bruno dragon he chased around his rooms at 221b Baker Street.
the Rev Peter Sharp
"Soccer" is not an American word (letter, 7 August), even though its use now seems to be confined to the US. I believe that, like the equally obsolescent "rugger", it originated in Oxford University slang of the 1880s. When I was a boy in Leicester in the 1950s, it was in common use, particularly to distinguish association football from rugby football. My guess would be that the now general use of "football" to mean "soccer" originated in Scotland and subsequently spread to England.
I was very pleased Sarah Churchwell raised the issue of threatening advertisements in her article "We are all under suspicion" (Opinion, 28 July). Like her, I was quite shocked when the recent TV licensing advert appeared: I don't think I have ever seen anything so sinister and intimidating in an advert. If "they" really do know so much about everyone, why don't they send a letter to the culprits, rather than assuming every non-payer is an illegal TV viewer. Such effrontery is not so much Orwellian as just plain outrageous.
I fear it is your maths teacher Jonny Griffiths (letters, 8 August) whose squares are confused. Ask what a child's height is and you might get the answer "1.4m". It would be quite meaningless to square this figure, since we are not talking about (say) the area of a square window. Ask the same child's height in metres, however, and the answer would come back as "1.4", no units attached. And the square of 1.4 is 1.96, with not a metre, or square metre, in sight.
Do other British towns have this? At the entrance to my high street now there's a sign reading, unbelievably, "Caution: do not follow the vehicle in front." Apparently it's to do with "rising bollards" (which sounds like a good excuse for sick-leave, but that's another story). How much more of this nonsense can we stand?
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