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Wednesday 1 September 2010
Letters: Sex and food
Climate peril: is it too late?
Imagine that astronomers discovered that a huge meteor was due to hit Earth in three months. Would we sit around for weeks arguing whether or not the meteor was real, then half-heartedly convene a UN meeting to pass the responsibility for dealing with it around the table? Of course not; we would work swiftly and collectively as the human race to avert disaster. We can cast aside our "selfish gene" only when confronted with a massive, immediate and easily identifiable common enemy.
I fear the calamitous effects of a 3.5 degrees temperature rise this century (report, 31 August) are inevitable, and much worse will follow. As the meteor grows ever larger in the telescope the world merely bickers – and perversely continues the suicidal pursuit of more carbon-based fuels.
We may well produce great leaders in the future (perhaps even Obama in unhampered second-term form) who could inspire the "wartime" mentality that is necessary to unite a people. However, I think even this hope is empty because the global warming meteor is invisible, its existence doubted by many. By the time it is "visible" we can be sure it will be far too late.
It is clear that electorates are not prepared to tackle global warming by making radical changes in their lifestyles. That's why governments don't act, and why world greenhouse gas emissions since 2000 have risen by 25 per cent. But if we don't take effective action soon – on a massive scale – we face droughts, crop failures, extreme weather, animal and plant extinctions and mass human migration, on a terrifying scale.
So is there anything that we can do, before temperatures have risen so much that feedback mechanisms such as melting polar ice make climate change virtually unstoppable, that will be both effective and acceptable to voters?
The answer, fortunately, is yes. Saving the rainforest would, on its own, immediately stop one sixth of the world's carbon emissions. In addition, trees in tropical forests are absorbing nearly a fifth of the carbon dioxide that is emitted by burning fossil fuels. This would, therefore, have a huge impact on preventing climate change. Compensating rainforest nations for the loss of income from allowing their trees to be cut down would cost around $30bn a year, which could be paid for out of the "Robin Hood" tax. A 0.05 per cent tax on financial transactions, if agreed by the leading financial countries, would raise around $400bn per year.
The remaining $370bn per year could pay for the research, development and implementation worldwide of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon scrubbing. CCS needs to be fitted to new and existing power stations around the world, and carbon scrubbing can remove existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. We need to start implementing this strategy now.
Sniggering about sex doesn't help
Harriet Walker's attempted trivialisation of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will not do (Opinion, 27 August). As a helpliner at the Herpes Viruses Association, I see the other side of the coin every working day.
The problems associated with STIs continue to be ignorance and stigma. Sexual health information needs to be grounded in reality.
Most people (especially young people) are going to have sex, sooner or later. Education, family background and public information campaigns may affect the age when people start having sex and whether or not they wait until they are in a long-term relationship, but have sex they will, and, inevitably, some will catch STIs.
We are failing as a society because all we do is advocate increased condom use or abstinence. Most people still have no idea about the prevalence and relative severity of different infections and how effective a condom might or might not be at helping to prevent them.
For example, infections can be transmitted via oral sex, but how many people use a condom or dental dam to reduce this risk? How many people think that genital herpes is rare and serious when it is actually common and mostly asymptomatic or trivial? How many people think that chlamydia is unimportant when its untreated aftermath is a significant factor in the increasing need for IVF?
The fallout of all this ignorance is psychological damage and unnecessarily fractured relationships after diagnosis – the, "Why me?" syndrome; to which the answer is, "Why not you? You're a human being. Having sex is part of the job description and sex is an inherently risky business."
Making STIs "less talky-talky and more snigger snigger" is not the way to go. It has been the approach for far too long. We need to go a lot further in normalising the concept of regular check-ups and not being gobsmacked if we catch something. It is time we all grew up.
Head of Information, Herpes Viruses Association, London N7
The web is safer than you think
I read with some concern your feature on "The sheriffs of the wild web" (18 August), which examined the Domain Name System that lies at the heart of the World Wide Web. There were a few inaccuracies that may lead to reader confusion and unnecessary concern.
First, the Domain Name System is highly distributed, and not vulnerable at isolated locations in the US. In fact, the root is supported across over 200 separate locations, with hundreds of physical servers supporting it. This makes it much more resilient than described.
Second, the Domain Name System is far more resilient to hacking than your article suggests. In the case of the Iranian Cyber Army's attacks, our understanding is that the Twitter situation was more likely to have been caused by "social engineering" – phone calls and emails pressuring the registry responsible for specific domains to make the changes that resulted in the redirects.
Third, the "seven guardians" are not responsible for the DNS or the internet or World Wide Web as a whole but for the implementation of security extensions to DNS known as DNSSec. This is not a key to the World Wide Web as a whole, but the addition of a security layer that helps protect the DNS.
We have published a more complete set of comments on our blog (http://blog.nominet. org.uk/insight). As the registry for .uk domains, we are responsible for keeping the .uk registry running, safe and secure – and maintaining trust in the domain – which is why it is important for us to clarify the points raised here for your readers.
Director of Information Technology, Nominet, Oxford
All in the middle class together?
Mary Ann Sieghart's article "The middle-class prize for Labour" (30 August) is bang-on. The rich and super-rich have realised that they can get cover for their unreasonable wealth by pretending that they are middle-class.
It gets increasingly difficult for them to understand what a middle-class income is. It certainly does not pay enough to send a child or two to private school, or to opt out of the National Health Service, or find a modest house for £1m in the Home Counties, or pay £25,000 and upwards for a car, replaced every two years.
The rich should get real. A middle-class income these days is something above the median, say £25,000 up to £50,000. It will not even buy a three-bedroom house out of income. These are the people who will pay the bulk of George Osborne's so-called fair Budget through higher taxes and poorer public services. How could it be otherwise when the last thing he wants to do is lose face with his rich chums?
Wheat that is better for you
Congratulations to The Independent for giving the sequencing of the wheat genome the prominence it merits (letters, 31 August). You emphasise the potential for new varieties with superior agronomic qualities, higher yields, disease and drought resistance. But the breakthrough is also critical in making possible "bio-fortification", that is, the nutritional improvement of wheat.
In many developing countries, wheat is the staple food, providing poor people with up to half their daily calories. The downside is that people become deficient in those nutrients that wheat contains only at low levels, notably zinc and iron. Zinc shortage leads to the stunting of millions of children. Iron-deficiency anaemia is the world's major micronutrient problem, affecting some two billion people.
Sequencing the wheat genome will enhance our ability to produce new varieties of wheat with higher levels of nutrients.
In fact, a "zinc wheat" programme, using conventional breeding, is already being energetically developed by Harvest Plus and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. Initially targeted on Pakistan and northern India, biofortified wheat, with higher levels of zinc, will receive widespread release in 2012. It aims to provide the improved wheat to 220 million people in these areas within 10 years, and then disseminate it further in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Egypt and Mexico.
The Grand Challenges programme is already working on the new varieties of other staple crops (rice, sorghum, cassava, bananas) with enhanced levels of multiple nutrients. Now, with the genome fully sequenced, that approach can be applied to wheat more quickly and easily.
Professor Jack Winkler
Nutrition Policy Unit
The delight of languages
I studied French and Russian at university and have a lesser but reasonable level of understanding in a couple of other languages. My qualifications and interest have won me more than one job, and enabled me to work with clients in other countries in a way I otherwise could not have (letters, 30 August).
Whenever I have had communication with European clients and colleagues in their own languages they have delighted in the fact and made full use of it. We both benefited.
English is not as widely spoken or understood as some would have us believe. The joy of those who hear a foreigner trying to communicate in their own tongue is a wonderful feeling. Practically, speaking foreign languages breaks down barriers, moving one from isolation towards being understood and understanding others.
I agree that the skill is not recognised financially as much as many others; perhaps this is one reason why people do not pursue languages so much these days. Employers would do well to consider how they are penalising their potential foreign interests by not recognising the value of languages. But in no way do I regret studying them.
More than 40 years ago, my brother had to resit his French O-level three times before managing to pass. Without this, he would have been unable to take up a place at university to study engineering.
In those days, students aiming for university had to have passes at O-level in English language, mathematics, a science, and a language, together with at least two or three other passes. This was to demonstrate that they had a good, basic general education. A-levels were then chosen to reflect the more specific talents and abilities of the student.
If this rule for admission to all degree courses was resurrected, the old O-level having been replaced with GCSE at C or above, the decline in language teaching in our schools would be reversed.
Who the Red Shirts are
Your article "Red shirt v yellow shirt: Thailand's political struggle" (20 August) perpetuates the myth that Thailand's Red Shirt movement is rooted in the peasantry and that it represents a grassroots reform movement. It does not.
I am a Thai-speaking writer who has lived in Chiang Mai, which is very close to Lamphun, for 20 years. It is clear that the current Red-Yellow struggle is less between rural poor and urban elite than between two elite groups competing for power and control over the national resources.
The Reds, inspired and funded by a fugitive criminal billionaire – hardly a member of the oppressed classes – are chiefly represented by self-seeking politicians of the Peua Thai party. Their most prominent followers tend to be lower-ranking officials and police, members of security services, taxi drivers, semi-skilled workers and local district and village heads. There is simply no mass movement sweeping the poorer peasant class.
Editor, CPA Media
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Flag-signals on the railway
D Watson (Letters, 27 August) is concerned about semaphore railway signals in the north of England; we also have them on some lines in East Sussex. They are perfectly safe and suffer no more failures than colour light signals. They are quite adequate for the local lines where they are used and their existence is no reason to pooh-pooh upgrading projects on the main lines.
The signalman's use of a flag that D Watson observed is standard practice if there is a failure of any type of signalling equipment, semaphore or colour light and, rather boringly, the flag is held steady rather than "waved" as they do in old railway films.
Your well-meaning correspondent has shown that a little knowledge of railway affairs can put us on the wrong track.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
The writer is a train driver
Bull in a field didn't worry us
The correspondence about the dangers of bulls to walkers (letters, 28 August) tends to suggest that if I see a bull in a field I should avoid crossing that field. My walking group recently quietly crossed a field containing a bull and cows without a flicker of interest from the animals.
Section 59 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which imposes a general prohibition on keeping bulls on land crossed by public rights of way, makes an exception where the bull is not of certain specified breeds and is in a field with cows or heifers.
As one of the members of the Christ's College University Challenge team, I feel obliged to defend our ignorance of long-forgotten popular music from David Lister (Arts, 28 August) and Jim Martyn (letter, 31 August). The sheer arrogance of the baby-boomer generation, in assuming that their transient cultural products are somehow timeless, is astounding. Who will remember Bryan Ferry in 50 years?
Christ's College, Cambridge
Perspectives on the no-ball scandal
Only victims were the bookmakers
I think we are in danger of not separating out the two issues involved in the current "no-ball" furore – alleged criminal offences and artificially altering the course of cricket matches.
If all that happened at Lord's was that three deliberate no-balls were delivered with the purpose of defrauding bookmakers, this is clearly a criminal matter and needs to be dealt with as such, but in purely cricketing terms it is trivial, and calls for any players found guilty to be banned for life are way over the top.
Throwing a match, to defraud bookmakers, is a different matter. In addition spectators and TV viewers are made to watch a charade rather than a cricket match, and no punishment in terms of banning can be too harsh for any players involved.
It's not as if they threw the match
I do not wish to condone the alleged deliberate bowling of no-balls by certain Pakistani bowlers, but can we please put the matter into perspective?
One of your columnists compares the alleged offences to the throwing of the baseball World Series by the Chicago White Sox. That is quite ridiculous: the White Sox threw whole games, whereas two bowlers are accused of bowling a couple of no-balls, actions which had absolutely no bearing on the result of the Test and which only penalised those stupid enough to bet on such outcomes. If the players concerned are found guilty, then a short suspension is all that is justified – unless of course their offence is deemed more serious than dangerous tackles in football or eye-gouging in rugby.
I see the men in Pakistan are shamed by ball-fixing so much so that they have taken to the streets. It's a pity they don't feel the same shame about honour killings, forced marriages and polygamy. It's a man's world.
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