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- Arts + Ents
Monday 28 April 2008
Letters: Saving the white rhino
Hi-tech experiments in cloning won't save the white rhino
Sir: The situation facing the northern white rhino is of grave concern ("The Cloning Revolution", 18 April). There have been no rhino sightings for several years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Garamba National Park. A few elderly, non-reproductive animals live in two zoos in the US and in the Czech Republic.
Professor Millar proposes a very ambitious but impractical solution to the extinction crisis facing this animal. While the chimera technique may have been successful with mice, it is an enormous leap to generalise this success to a large vertebrate like a rhino. No matter what hi-tech approach might be used, there are too few northern white rhinos to sustain a genetically viable population because inbreeding inevitably would occur. Additionally, these approaches are not efficient, even in common laboratory animals, and traditional cloning produces offspring with various birth defects. Lastly, the proposed approach also rests on the success of transferring the "manipulated" embryos between rhinos, a highly technical feat that has never been accomplished in any rhino species.
In addition, this proposed experiment fails to address the reasons why northern white rhinos have reached the verge of extinction. As your reporter Michael McCarthy explained in his related article, Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has suffered from repeated incursions from the Janjaweed militia and now the Lord's Resistance Army. Manageable, subsistence poaching in the park for bushmeat has been replaced by full-scale poaching for rhino horn and elephant ivory.
We believe that it is too late to save the northern white rhino. Rather, we should learn from this tragedy to protect the remaining five rhino species. The International Rhino Foundation and Save the Rhino International are committed to using precious conservation funds to stop the root causes of species loss while there is still time. Experiments such as the one proposed by Professor Millar attract a great deal of media attention, interestingly all speculative, before generating any biological data.
To date, the proposed technologies have not contributed to the management or conservation of any wildlife species. This certainly will remain the case for the northern white rhino, where the highest priority remains protecting natural habitat and eliminating other human-caused threats.
executive director, International Rhino Foundation Cathy DeanDirector, Save the Rhino International,London SE1
Invidious abolition of the 10p tax rate
Sir: Frank Field has been sold a pup (report, 26 April). As the convoluted and increasingly incoherent mishmash of assurances and denials over compensation illustrates, means-tested solutions offer a clumsy and ultimately invidious answer to the problems raised by the abolition of the 10-per-cent tax band. Steve Richards' endorsement of Gordon Brown's tax credits as a "fairer" way to alleviate poverty than through a more progressive income-tax system (24 April) leads me to believe that he has never had to make a claim.
The opaqueness of the procedure makes it difficult for claimants to calculate independently their entitlement, or appeal against any award. Because the amount is calculated on current earnings, if the claimant's income rises they become liable to repay tax credits already received. For anyone close to the breadline, this can be an absolute nightmare. It also acts as a disincentive, with many low-paid workers being discouraged from taking on more hours or a higher-paid position for fear of being hit with a large tax-credit penalty at the end of the year.
Even in the tortuous annals of highly bureaucratic means-tested benefits, Franz Kafka's devious younger brother would have been hard-pressed to come up with a more arcane method of shifting the tax burden.
Sir: The Government's response to the 10p tax fiasco does little to reassure the young people who are tax losers. A rise in the minimum wage will help a limited number, but does anyone really believe tax credits are going to be extended sufficiently to compensate all those who have lost out?
Vince Cable and Frank Field have been the consistent voices of reason through this chaos, but Field has been too easily convinced by vague promises. By the autumn, there will still be huge numbers of the lower-paid inadequately compensated, and they, and their families and supporters, will be casting around for a political party which can preach fairness, mean it and follow it.
Come on Vince Cable – give Nick Clegg a giant nudge. This is your best chance in many a long year to mop up legions of disaffected Labour voters, who need a party which truly believes in social justice, and won't bring themselves to vote for the Tories even when they reveal an unexpected interest in the poor.
Keighley, west yorkshire
Sir: As someone on a low income who only paid tax at 10p, it struck me at the time that Gordon Brown was not abolishing my 10p tax but increasing it to 20p. If a mathematical simpleton like me could spot that why could those clever MPs in Parliment not see it and raise a hullabaloo? I suppose they were thinking of more important things, like their next expenses claim.
Sir: Pensioners who lost out over the abolition of the10p tax band are to be compensated in their winter fuel grant (in nine months' time!). What a cynical "jam tomorrow" promise. They need the compensation now.
Has the traditional Labour Party's passion for social justice been consigned to the scrapheap of history? In the old days it used to be the Tories who penalised the poor, the needy and the powerless and rewarded the rich and powerful. Now it is New Labour.
Israel and US crying wolf over WMDs
Sir: The CIA statement on the Israeli raid on the Syrian facility (leading article, 26 April) is not the first instance of American/Israeli dissimulation on Arab nuclear intentions in the Middle East. In 1981, the Iraqi Tamuz reactor was attacked by the Israelis because it was alleged that it was part of the Iraqi WMD programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency found no evidence that the reactor and the associated "hot labs" were intended to produce weapons-grade plutonium for a bomb. The latest accusation is the third occasion the Americans/Israelis have made dubious WMD allegations against an Arab country. Have they not "cried wolf" a little too often?
Lost world of the English countryside
Sir: You write about the disappearance of birds from the English countryside, and quote percentage decline, some from as long ago as 1967 (21 April).
Some of us can still remember the prodigal richness of all the life of nature, including birds, as far back as the early 1920s. Though accurate statistics may not be available, the magnitude of the decline from those days to the 1960s was infinitely greater than what you now report.
Your figures are indeed a matter of the gravest concern, but they can give no indication of how much of the natural world of the Elizabethan poets, of John Clare and Edward Thomas, and of the prose writers Gilbert White, Henry Williamson and Richard Jefferies, has been lost forever.
Planners block attempts to be green
Sir: Following Dominic Lawson (22 April) and the letters (23 April), I wish Ofgem and the local planners would get their act together. We live in a small, nondescript house which has the misfortune to be listed. Can we put in solar panels? No. What about double glazing? No. Well then, a small sun-room extension to provide warmth and light for most of the year? Certainly not.
Thus we are prevented from much energy and fuel saving by the will of the local planners.
Sir: Frances Knight (letters, 24 April) poses a very pertinent question when she asks what measures urban dwellers are prepared to take to save the beauty of rural Scotland. We had a thermal panel installed on our south-facing roof a year ago which has provided us with at least 50 per cent of our hot water. This costs £5,000 – cheaper if you can do it yourself. As pensioners with an income of approximately £ 20,000 per annum, if we can do it so can you.
We didn't have a holiday this year but that's a small price to pay in doing our bit to preserve our beautiful country, and the smug feeling you get as you bathe in liquid sunshine is well worth it!
St Alban for patron saint of Britain
Sir: While by no means wishing to in any way denigrate St Aidan as a potential "British" patron saint (Letters, 26 April), it seems appropriate to point out that the Orthodox Church already recognises a "British" saint with a certain level of national honour in the shape of St Alban, the first martyr of Britain. He is venerated in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox communions on 22 June.
St Alban was executed somewhere between 209 to 304 for the crime of sheltering the fugitive priest who had converted him. Bede's Ecclesiastical History records several miracles associated with Alban's execution. While his shrine (in St Albans cathedral) is indisputably in England, as the first British martyr, and an individual who predates the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, or the creation of "England", "Scotland", "Wales" or "Ireland", he remains well-placed to serve as either a truly national saint or as a replacement for St George.
If the bone recently returned to St Albans Cathedral from Germany is an authentic relic of the saint (possibly smuggled out during the dissolution of the monasteries), then he would also join St David as one of the few national British saints whose remains are known to be held within the United Kingdom.
However, as St Alban is also considered the patron saint of converts, refugees, and torture victims in the Anglican and Catholic traditions, one does wonder whether the current government might regrettably find him too politically awkward to promote.
Dr Alasdair Brooks
Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire
Sir: David Owen suggests St Aidan as a possible patron saint of Britain; or of Scotland "as he spoke only Gaelic". Aidan was Irish, but didn't speak only Irish; he spoke Latin too, and later in life he was certainly speaking English since Bede noted specifically that when he wanted to say something that the king couldn't understand he had to switch to Irish.
But St Aidan did probably do more than anyone else to convert the English to Christianity, and there would be a certain irony in having an Irishman as the patron saint of Britain, seeing that the Irish have chosen a Briton, St Patrick, as theirs.
Professor of Medieval History, University College Dublin
Sir: So 40 per cent of us don't know how to celebrate St George (Janet Street-Porter, 24 April). May I offer the revolutionary new suggestion that it's a day to pray for England? We did, and it's free!
Rev Canon Dr Adrian Chatfield
Director of the Simeon Centre for Prayer and the Spiritual Life, Ridley Hall, Cambridge
Money in the bank
Sir: My partner and I have taken 35 years to save an amount in the Royal Bank of Scotland equivalent to that earned by Sir Fred Goodwin in just under three months (report, 24 April). His 2007 salary, with accumulated bonuses and share options, is safe; can we be certain that our savings, earned by hard work and thriftiness, are equally safe?
Monique S Sanders
Sir: Your speculation about the taste of dinosaur (leading article, 25 April) suggests a solution to the food problem. Just imagine how many chicken steaks you could get from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. However, they would be no use in Europe, as they would have to be cloned, so they would be classed as genetically modified.
W H Considine
Albourne, West Sussex
Population of Poland
Sir: Last time I checked there were around 38.5 million of us Poles. Jerome Taylor ("Poland launches campaign to lure back migrant workers", 24 April) writes: "An estimated two million people – about 10 per cent of the population – left [Poland] to find work in Britain and Ireland". Hitler and Stalin combined didn't manage as well as your reporter in decimating our nation.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Sir: At last a voice for the Poles. What Daniel Kawczynski's excellent article (Opinion, 25 April) politely omits to say is that Poles are no more immigrants than are Danes, Irish or any other natives of EU member states. Poles are EU citizens exercising their right to move to and work in Britain and are entitled to the same salaries and treatment as any UK citizen. The fact that they are exploited, underpaid, and seen only for what they can do for the economy, serves as a reminder of the undeserving treatment Poland experienced after the Second World War. We are still waiting for an apology for Yalta.
Professor Barbara Pierscionek
Coleraine, northern ireland
Recycling vs reduction
Sir: I take issue with a claim in the report on "water footprints" (21 April) that for "consumers keen to minimise their water wastage, there remains a single, simple mantra to live by: always recycle."
On the contrary, the first and foremost rule should be reduce. Reducing our consumption of all products, from water and food to electrical goods, is the only way to minimise water wastage (and carbon emissions). In this hyper-consumer culture, it is too easy to assume that "recycling" can solve all of our unsustainable habits.
Dr Karen Bird
Sir: Martin Dale asks (Letters, 26 April) "Whither Socialism?" under Gordon Brown. Doesn't he mean "Wither, Socialism"?
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