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Tuesday 9 October 2007
Letters: Tasmanian Devils
The state connives at the systematic poisoning of Tasmanian devils
Sir: I was thrilled to see the sad plight of the Tasmanian devil given such prominent coverage (article, 3 October). I studied in Tasmania for a period and volunteered on the conservation programme you described on the Forrester and Tasman peninsulas, checking the health of the devil population. The article mentions the deplorable use of the 1080 poison on private plantations to kill rabbits.
First, only in January 2006 was this practice, by the state institution Forestry Tasmania, stopped on state-owned forests. Second, it is not specifically to kill rabbits (an introduced pest) but rather the local populations of any herbivore that might feed on the new eucalypt plantations, including wallabies, wombats, bettong, potteroo, kangaroos, all native species, some actually protected by law.
This practice continues on private plantations, preceded by a period of free-feeding, putting down poison-free grain to actively attract herbivores so that when the poison goes down it not only kills all the potential plantation-eaters in the immediate area but also any that wandered in and found a free feed, so returned for more.
I witnessed this practice, in an area clear-felled to the stage that it resembled the Somme, and which was bisected by gullies and streams, all of which should have had a buffer zone around them but had been destroyed. All this in the full knowledge of the state government.
So although I am pleased to see the plight of the Tasmanian devils highlighted, a better story may be the systematic destruction of 85 per cent of Tasmania's old-growth forest and replacement with plantation, and the disgusting poisoning of officially protected endemic species.
Unless attitudes in state government and state institutions change, the devil will survive only in zoos because it won't have any habitat or food to sustain it.
Gordon Brown as Machiavelli
Sir: Gordon Brown was clear, when first asked about a snap election that his mind was focused on the needs of the country and the programme set out in the last Labour manifesto.
David Cameron presented him with a golden opportunity when he began agitating for an early election. It enabled Mr Brown to allow the idea that a November election was a possibility. That was a move worthy of Machiavelli, provoking the Tories to show their shallow tendency for "yah-boo" politics through petty gimmicks like a speech without script – "It will just be me" – a rhetorical device to appeal to a warm-hearted public who forget that serious politicians make only statements which come from a depth of careful consideration.
The new Prime Minister has proved his qualities. The Tory leader has revealed himself as a shallow opportunist.
Sir: What a relief there is to be no imminent general election. Perhaps our elected representatives would be good enough stop their egotistical posturing and devote their time and effort to the task we have entrusted to them: running this country.
Leamington spa, Warwickshire
Sir: Many of us know a widowed mum/aunt whose house was bought in the late 1960s for less than £15,000, and who now ekes out a living on a state pension of less than £100 a week. That house (through no personal effort) is now valued at just less than £1m, a large chunk of which would be lost to inheritance tax.
David Cameron, having no discernible policies and deciding to scrap inheritance tax up to £1m, has caught the public mood and within a week reduced a Gordon Brown opinion-poll lead of 11 per cent. Mr Brown now has two years to implement his policies on crime, the economy and the NHS. Mr Cameron, by keeping to his one policy, could yet form the next government.
Sir: It seems strange that Gordon Brown wants to show us what he can do first, then offer us an election later. I thought it was the other way around in a democracy.
Sir: Would many people be impressed with a prime minister who voluntarily called an election he thought he was likely to lose?
All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Sir: I agree that creationism should be discussed in science lessons alongside the theory of evolution (letters, 8 October).
It is important for students to hear multiple views so they can choose the theory that makes the most sense to them. But I am most concerned that students will hear only one theory on the origin of species.
There are several theories of how species developed. I, and millions of others, strongly believe that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster, who created all that we see and feel around us.
The overwhelming evidence resulting from centuries of systematic and methodical research that show new species of animal are a consequence of evolutionary processes is nothing more than coincidence, put in place by Him, and the reams of scientific results proving the existence of evolution are a result of the Flying Spaghetti Monster changing the evidence with His Noodly Appendages.
If we are to start teaching our children supernatural options to long-established scientific fact, it is only fair that all options are given equal play.
Perhaps, one day, we can look forward to the time when all three theories are given equal emphasis in our science class-rooms: one third of the time for creationism, one third devoted to Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third for the teaching of logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
France's record in Central Africa
Sir: In the 5 October edition of your newspaper you published in the Extra section an article entitled "Inside France's Secret War", the content of which I categorically reject for several reasons.
Firstly, through a very aggressive introduction, Johann Hari attempts to convey a horror story which he totally fails to substantiate in the body of the article.
Secondly, the human rights situation in the CAR is known and subject to a monthly review by the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA).
The author accuses France of human rights' violations in the CAR to protect her exploitation of the region's wealth. He neglects to mention that the French armed forces are acting in CAR only at the request of the Republic's authorities and in support of the Multinational Force of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, financed by the European Union.
A glance at the figures would be enough to see that French economic interests in CAR are extremely limited: CAR is in 140th position on France's list of customers and ranked 142nd on that of her suppliers. Such a conspiracy theory is just as unbelievable as purporting that the British military intervention in Sierra Leone was designed to monopolise that country's diamond production. The Central African Republic's weakness and absence of control over her territory increases her vulnerability to the spillover from the Darfur conflict which is impacting on the situation in the republic's north-west. The UFDR (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity) rebels' attack on Birao in March is public knowledge, and Alpha Oumar Konaré, chairman of the African Union Commission, firmly condemned it in a communiqué on 5 March 2007.
In accordance with the rules of engagement, the use of force by French soldiers on 4 March 2007 was strictly confined to legitimate self-defence: the rebels had attacked the town, killed CAR soldiers, wounded many of them and attacked our forces.
It is precisely the seriousness of this situation which led the UN Security Council on 25 September this year unanimously to adopt Resolution 1778, presented by France, authorising deployment of an EU operation in eastern Chad and the north-eastern CAR.
Thirdly, the accusations levelled against France on her role in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994 are totally unacceptable. France played no role whatsoever in preparing or perpetuating the genocide. My country constantly strove to help bring about a negotiated solution between the parties to the conflict.
After the genocide began, and faced with the international community's impotence, France supported at the UN the deployment of a humanitarian operation and, acting on a mandate from the Security Council set out in UNSCR 929, undertook the only large-scale operation to save the threatened population.
France has nothing to hide in Africa, as her full co-operation with the NGOs, International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and the International Criminal Court, which is currently carrying out an investigation in CAR, demonstrates. Further evidence of her commitment to the continent has again been shown by the recent initiative on Darfur.
French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, London SW1
Revolt against low-energy lights
Sir: Joan Ruddock (letter, 4 October) would have us believe that light from fluorescent (low energy) bulbs is "ever closer to a traditional bulb". Nonsense – I can spot a fluorescent bulb when I walk into a room in less time than it takes to say "awful pallor". As an architect who designs contemporary houses, and at the risk of incurring the wrath of eco-terrorists, I wouldn't dream of specifying a fluorescent bulb for a client's home, except perhaps for the garage, and I certainly wouldn't have them in my own home.
The standard of design of most British homes is so mediocre that perhaps the insipid light from "low-energy" light sources goes unnoticed. For the first time in my life I'm going to be Luddite, by stockpiling "traditional" high-energy bulbs for my home and for anybody else who might want them (for a large fee). Now, let's talk about sensible green design, like underfloor heating.
Peter Thomas de Cruz
Sir: R F Parrott (letter, 5 October) was almost incandescent over the possible banning by government of halogen spotlights. Perhaps your correspondent is unaware that LED bulbs can be used to replace halogen bulbs. LED bulbs are much more economical than halogen; in fact, they are better even than low-energy fluorescent light bulbs. So no one will suffer from the phasing-out of halogen.
Cllr Rupert Read
Green Party, Norwich
Sir: Your correspondents are missing some of the more important implications of the proposal to ban incandescent (and heat producing) light bulbs. If this goes through, whither the lava lamp?
Leave the plastic at the supermarket
Sir: Patricia Hague (letter, 1 October) reports that her local council will no longer accept food packaging plastics for doorstep recycling. Our council, Gwynedd, has taken a similar step.
Whether or not she is right in her supposition that it paves the way for councils to collect more tax through microchips in bins, it is a good opportunity for us all to reduce the plastic waste we generate. One way is to avoid buying over-packaged goods. Another is to leave unwanted plastic at the supermarket checkout, although this is currently hardly feasible without creating a lot of fuss, but it is already common in Germany.
The pressure to reduce waste should be passed up the food chain to the packers. Not long ago, meat was taken home wrapped in greaseproof paper.
Under the flightpath
Sir: To hear from a pilot ( letters, 5 October) that significant turns close to the runway reduce safety is alarming. Here in Chiswick scarcely a day passes without a jet banking steeply over my house. Having lived here since the 1970s, being told I made a bad choice about where to live is a bit rich. The third runway means more final approaches right over my house, not something I'd have gleaned from a 1978 map.
Sir: Richard Ingrams writes that the late Ned Sherrin was "a compulsive attendee" at memorial services (Comment, 6 October). He was no such thing. He was a regular attender, someone who attends (just as a murderer is someone who murders). An "attendee", if indeed there is such a word, would be the person attended. Sadly, Ned himself is now cast in that role at his own memorial service. No doubt Richard, if he is spared, will be among the attenders.
Sir: Two points regarding Marion Jones appear to have been overlooked (report, 6 October). It is one thing to disqualify her (and presumably each relay team member); but another to award medals to the next in line. The events all had heats or stages from which one other person would have qualified in her place. That person could have finished second or fourth in the final. And by removing her name from the results her disgrace will soon be forgotten. Better to leave her name in place with the words, "Disqualified for drugs offence".
A L J THOMAS
Right to be a monk
Sir: Joan Bakewell says, "No one seems to question [the Burmese monks'] right to be idle and dependent" (Comment, 5 October). What an impoverished, materialistic world view that remark reveals. Is it idle to rise at 4am, and sit meditating for hours confronting one's demons? Is it dependent, or is it not a great gift and service, to provide a container for the spiritual values of an unhappy society? Reminds one of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Sir: In the interest of scientific accuracy, the amorous peacock attacked the blue Lexus (report, 5 October) because it saw it as a rival, not a mate. Peahens are brown or, sometimes, white. Cars coloured brown or white can expect a much more gentle reception.
Gillian A Coates
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