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Thursday 3 December 2009
Letters: The cost of war
Billions spent making the Afghans hate us
We are told by Gordon Brown that each of our soldiers sent to Afghanistan has £392,000 spent on them. The US estimates their cost at $500,000 per soldier per annum.
Most Afghans live off less than $10 per month, have little or no education and will never leave their home area let alone their country. Yet we are told these poverty-stricken peasants represent a threat so great to us that we send our young men 4,000 miles to kill them, or be killed.
Having travelled in that Himalayan region, one quickly understands the remoteness and complete lack of economic development. People survive by having strong ties of kinship. They are fiercely loyal to these ties, and blood feuds last for generations. However, our political leaders tell us that by killing them in their homes, we will "bring stability". Surely it would be more sensible to assume that they will hate us and fight us until we leave.
A fraction of the money spent on killing them would massively aid in their economic development. One hundred thousand troops at $500,000 each is $5bn. This is double the entire budget of Afghanistan. One billion spent on the resuscitation of Afghanistan would win us more friends and cost us no lives. The rest of the money could be spent on our own hospitals and schools.
Our political leaders should understand that we can also do the sums and will hold them to account.
President Obama is living in the worst of all possible worlds. The decision to send 30,000 more troops will not be supported by either the US political right or left. General McChrystal in his original request stated that even if the US sent 30,000 troops to Afghanistan the US would risk failure.
The future will tell whether Obama has taken a fatal drink out of the Afghan poisoned chalice he inherited from the Bush administration. If he has it will be a tragedy for the American people, as his presidency offered so much promise.
George D Lewis
It was annoying to read your uncritical reports (30 November) that Army commanders in Afghanistan are "warning" the British public against their "defeatism" and "pessimism" and telling us not to say that the fight is not worth it because that means that "all the sacrifices, the deaths and injuries have been for nothing".
Elsewhere in the report an Army captain opines that the UK population clearly does not understand the campaign. It seems to me that a great many of us understand it all too well. We are not defeatist or pessimistic about it, we simply do not approve of it and wish our country to withdraw.
All the fun of climate change
Ooh, now I'm scared. Climate change is scary enough, whether down solely to our activities or as part of cyclical vagaries that have occurred throughout Earth's history, or a combination of both. Yes, scientists must continue to argue and compare data without hubris and emotion, but to hear the "business as usual" tripe from members of our probable next government opens the door to despair ("Cameron hit by Tory backlash on environment", 2 December).
I almost hope John Redwood comes to rue his ill-informed optimism that "We will benefit from the better weather for tourism, agriculture and outdoor sports." So that would be helicopter flights over "Waterworld Experience", followed the next season by camel treks across Blackpool Sands if a different model takes effect. Then the agricultural conversion to rice paddies boosts the economy as we export to those countries that used to grow rice, but which have inconveniently and carelessly disappeared.
White-water rafting through Cumbria and Cornwall takes care of the outdoor sports until the feedback loop reverses the Gulf Stream and we corner the winter sports market when the European mountain ranges have lost their snow. We may be starving on the ski slopes by then, but, hey, there goes the obesity problem too. All encompassing, forward thinking government.
There are conflicts in the data, but measures must be considered and acted on before John Maples' "tipping point": I hope he's got the date in his diary and can let us know when it's already too late.
And we know that government advisers whose work leads to the wrong conclusions are quickly dispensed with. Or they'll jump first when this Tory downpour replaces the present shower, with the old cry of "Armageddon out of here."
Get a grip, chaps.
You are right to point out that under the strictly neutral rules of the European Parliament, the climate-change-denying Nick Griffin will attend the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (report, 30 November). Alas, he is not the only one.
UKIP's Godfrey Bloom is also on the list, as are two Tory MEPs. Just last week their party made a failed attempt to vote down the EU's commitment to provide additional funding for developing countries struggling to cope with the impact of developed countries' carbon emissions.
Whether they are trying to water down our commitments at Copenhagen, in the case of the Tories, or to outbid one another in denying the reality of climate change, this coven has nothing to contribute to the climate change conference. They should stay at home and leave Copenhagen to those who follow the science and seek a solution.
Fiona Hall MEP
Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, Brussels
While the politicians continue to argue about how best they can spend even more of our tax money on green legislation, the general public are paying a fortune for energy.
Those of us who attempt to to cut household energy costs are limited by the expense of measures that would undoubtedly help. To qualify for government help for the installation of alternative energy products, we have first to spend many thousands on insulation. Going green is only for the rich.
Dr Tim Lawson
In the early 1980s, my garden here usually had its first air frost around 20 October, trending later since then. Now this year it took until 1 December. Even if not entirely "scientific", this observation is at least consistent with the predicted trend to warmer, wetter winters (for good or, more likely, ill).
How hospitals are failing patients
Your report on the state of Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (27 November) is yet another example of our failure to deliver the highest standard of care for our patients. The problem of unclean wards has been highlighted in similar reports from recent Health and Environment Inspectorate visits in Scotland.
To blame our failings mostly on the state of hygiene alone, however, is simplistic. What we ignore at our peril is the introduction of European working time directives, vacancy control in hard-pressed areas such as intensive care units and cuts in number of beds in the acute sector. Patients are being decanted all over our hospital wards, thus increasing the risk of hospital acquired infection.
Not so long ago we had a core team of doctors and nurses who cared for a cohort of patients within defined geographical areas. The same team of healthcare workers looked after a patient throughout their hospital stay. Now we have doctors in training and those who are trained struggling to cope with patients scattered all over the hospital; it is not uncommon that a patient might have up to five different healthcare workers caring for them in a 24-hour period. Handover of patients between teams is often inadequate and continuity of care has been all but dispensed with.
Regrettably the medical profession has accepted these changes supinely. Is it any surprise that morale among staff is the lowest I have known in my 22 years of service in the NHS?
Dr Izhar Khan
Selling books is not a charity
In a most annoying article (24 November), Tom Sutcliffe writes of a visit to his local independent bookshop: "I noticed that Richard Dawkins had published a new book and then noticed that the hardback price was £20 and hesitated. I went home and discovered that Amazon would deliver it to my door for £9.99. Since then I've found myself wondering exactly how much of a premium I'd pay to keep that small bookshop in business."
Tom Sutcliffe likes bookshops and knows that he wouldn't have come across the book if it weren't for that well-stocked, well-informed local bookshop. But he buys it from Amazon because it's cheaper.
Not every book is cheaper on Amazon, and the hidden costs of the whole process – to publishers and everyone involved in book production – are vast. But so long as local bookshops are viewed as a charitable concern by browsing customers, their future is clearly limited.
Interestingly, I read Tom Sutcliffe's article online.
The Woodstock Bookshop
Christmas greeting from a Muslim
I have spent much time thinking about the question whether we, as Muslims, should say "Happy Christmas" to our Christian friends (Article, 26 November). I have great respect for Al-Azhar: I have prayed there and listened with a keen interest to the sermons of the present shaikh. Debate is one of the great features of Islam.
There are two main passages in the Quran which describe the birth of Jesus. In Sura Ali'Imran, verse 45, we are told: "Behold! The angels said: 'O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter, and of those nearest to Allah."
This verse illustrates the high esteem in which Jesus is held in Islam: he is recognised as a bearer of the divine message. In opposition to the Wahhabi view, it could be argued that it is wrong for Muslims to abstain from passing on Christmas greetings to their fellow countrymen and neighbours.
Batley, West Yorkshire
I enjoyed John Walsh's response to the Bishop of Croydon's comments on Christmas carols (1 December). However, it was not John Betjeman but Thomas Hardy who wistfully wrote that he would still go to see the oxen kneel in their stable "hoping it might be so".
Jane Austen's death
The disease Addison described was adrenal gland failure caused by tuberculosis ("TB may have killed Jane Austen", 1 December). She may well have died of Addison's disease and TB could have been the cause of it.
Dr N Horsfield
Michael Brown, in his column (1 December), notes that two Tory "toffs" who were independently wealthy made very good MPs, because they were immune to the whipping system. Rather implying that we should vote for a plutocracy. I would have thought that it is justification for paying MPs a good salary, making the parliamentary whipping system illegal and trying to reduce ministerial patronage.
My son lives in Tokyo and I can testify to the cyclists there easily cohabiting with pedestrians (letter, 1 December). I do not recall that they ring their bells; they glide past, almost magically, causing no surprise or alarm. If I hear a bell ringing behind me, my instinct is to move – maybe into the cyclist's path. The onus must be on the cyclist to steer past the pedestrian.
Respect for the fallen
The suggestion by A Maitland (letter, 1 December) that "some" schools send pupils on a battlefields tour "solely because head teachers and governors think it will look good on the prospectus" is unfair to schools who do it because of pupil interest, parent enthusiasm (after all they pay for it) and teacher commitment. An unsolicited letter praising a "well-behaved and respectful" group laying a wreath "with true feeling" as being "one of the most moving moments we have ever witnessed during our many visits" is available on request.
What's in a name?
There must be far worse ways of mispronouncing Welsh names than the Hispanic "Jones" (letter, 30 November). Many years ago, in the Philippines, I enjoyed music on a radio station which occasionally played a piece recorded by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under the baton of Owain Arwel "Huggies".
M John Perkins
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