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Wednesday 19 August 2009
Letters: The effects of war
Each war leaves behind its 'human timebombs'
Sadly, Daniel Fitzsimons is one of many "human timebombs" (report, 14 August). I taught for several years in prison education and saw first-hand how each conflict over the past 30 years has resulted in significant numbers of young soldiers being incarcerated in our prisons.
Most of these young men had been discharged from the armed services, often on medical grounds, although a few committed offences while still serving. Generally, they had been found guilty of alcohol-fuelled acts of violence; typically, they tended to be in their early twenties and had invariably participated in and witnessed incidents that don't even enter our worst nightmares.
The other thing they had in common was excellent after-care for broken limbs or amputations, but no therapeutic input for less visible damage.
While this is discussed at intervals, little progress seems to have been made; until strategies are in place to address mental health issues which inevitably arise in time of war, tragedies like that of Daniel Fitzsimons, will arise over again in various trouble-spots across the world.
The deeply troubling case of Daniel Fitzsimons, the private security guard working in Iraq, should send a clear message to the Government: British-based private military and security companies need to be carefully regulated, including through legislation. The precise circumstances of Mr Fitzsimons' case are still emerging, but it's clear that private military and security companies have been poorly regulated for far too long.
It's entirely right that employees of companies like ArmorGroup are not placed above the law when working in Iraq or elsewhere, and of course it's right that the Iraqi authorities are investigating this very serious incident. Meanwhile, Amnesty would strenuously oppose the application of the death penalty to Mr Fitzsimons. Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and at least 34 people were hanged in the country last year alone.
Amnesty International UK, London EC2
Where will future cures come from?
Johann Hari (12 August) writes that "If we are going to make the planet tropical, we had better start paying attention to tropical diseases". Thus he gives a global-warming edge to his point that malarial parasites can adapt to our medicinal drugs by quickly evolving resistance to them. He relates how this process made chloroquine, an earlier wonder-drug against malaria, nearly useless in much of the tropical world, and how the same is happening to a newer one, artemisinin.
What is not mentioned is that the active ingredients of both chloroquine and artemisinin were invented not by people but by nature. For chloroquine is a variant of quinine, from the Peruvian shrub Cinchona ledgeriana, and artemisinin comes from the Chinese herb Artemisia annua. There is not the slightest chance that either drug would have been discovered by chemists working without the strong hints offered by the plants and the traditional medical practitioners who had used them for centuries.
The same is true for many of the other medicines we use today. It is impossible for us to match the inventiveness with which competing lineages of plants, animals and fungi have created useful chemicals over evolutionary time.
The hidden story here is that we are quickly and catastrophically destroying those lineages, and the species to which they belong. We are committing millions of them to extinction every year, most of them completely unknown to science, as we clear and burn tropical forests and degrade or fragment these and other ecosystems. In doing so we are erasing the very source of new medicines which we need to combat resistant forms of disease, and the illnesses that are spreading to new areas with climate change. Meanwhile, our vulnerable human population continues to surge.
Unless we protect and study our remaining natural ecosystems, especially in the tropics, we'll be cutting medicine off at the knees just when we need it the most.
Dr Julian Caldecott
Trapped in a charity bag
We are now receiving two or three plastic bags a week through our door requesting unwanted clothing. Yet on the occasions we have left clothes in them they have never been collected.
But is it not a system bound to fail? People give their old clothes away at times convenient to them: when moving, or having a clear-out. And it is easy enough to drop them into the nearest charity shop or clothing bank.
My guess is that the surge in charity bags is being driven by the plastic-bag manufacturers themselves. Having lost market share since supermarkets persuaded people to employ reusables, they are clearly now focusing their sales effort into the charity sector.
Sadly it leaves yet a further trail of difficult-to-dispose-of plastic. They do not double as bin-liners since they rightly have holes to avoid suffocation. Moreover people may be disinclined to make everyday use of them as they are all labelled with some high-sounding cause. There must be a mountain of them in kitchens, garages and cupboards-under-the-stairs.
It would be interesting indeed to know just how many thousands of tons of unwanted plastic currently resides across suburban Britain, all paid for out of worthy funds, and all of which will take hundreds of years to decompose.
The proprietors of Parliament
Bruce Anderson (17 August) says, "Alan Duncan was right to warn of the dangers of nationalising Parliament." What does this mean? I was baffled when Alan Duncan said it and am even more baffled that Bruce Anderson would repeat it.
Does this hark back to Parliament as a gentlemen's club? If Parliament does not belong to the nation, to whom does it belong? The view that Parliament is a private institution would certainly explain why MPs do not understand the public attitude to the expenses scandal .
Is it to be viewed as a limited company with the Government as the directors, MPs as non-executive directors and the voters as the shareholders? This view would explain why members of the Government do not need to be elected and why the very rich receive more respect and attention than the rest of us, having more to offer the directors in the present and the future. It would also explain the disinclination to take control of other companies such as banks, because companies do not interfere with each other and our directors would be envious rather than critical of such fulfilment of greed.
Bruce Anderson says that Tory MPs need a high level of salary and expenses because "unlike Labour MPs, Tories believe in educating their children". Whereas the 93 per cent of parents who send their children to state schools don't, apparently.
Album sleeves for the download age
It will take music that is as dramatic, inspired and genius-packed as 40 years ago, to go with that "album sleeve" concept that the music industry want to re-activate (John Walsh, 17 August). These days the corporate music business has mostly lost touch with that.
I recently gorged myself on classics from that 1966-76 era at bargain prices, at a closing down second-hand record store a few miles from John Walsh's home. It's name: The Vinyl Resting Place.
Will the "download generation" the industry wants to "connect" with even have record players?
John Walsh, in his delightful article about LP sleeves, omitted one culturally important aspect of the 12-inch album cover – you can't sit cross-legged and roll a spliff on a CD cover or a digital download.
Boycott apartheid between the sexes
I would like to offer support to Jim Fitzpatrick's decision to leave the segregated wedding ceremony ("Minister who left Muslim wedding attacked", 18 August). Some years ago I did exactly the same thing.
My wife and I were invited to a Muslim wedding by a colleague of my wife. Upon arrival I discovered the sexes had been separated into different rooms and my wife and I would be similarly separated throughout. I had not expected this and left within minutes.
I took the view that I had not spent years protesting against the apartheid culture of South Africa to conform meekly to a culture of gender segregation here in the United Kingdom. I see no moral distinction between segregation based on colour or race and segregation based on gender. Free social interaction between people of all kinds is a sine qua non of an enlightened and tolerant community.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
'The Wire' with no subtitles
I hope your readers will realise that most Americans do not, as do the characters in the TV show, The Wire, use a "burner". We use cell phones. We do not "crew up", nor do we "re-up". The language used in the fine television series is as foreign to us as, say, looking right before crossing the street or asking for the "loo" when we would like to use the rest room.
Nevertheless, we persevere. Watching the programme (or program, as we prefer), allows the viewer to enter the world of the drug dealers and crooked politicians so aptly portrayed. Subtitles are not needed (report, 17 August). The UK viewer need only pay close attention, as many in the US did when the show was first broadcast, and are doing now that it is available through DVD.
Olney, Maryland, USA
Subtitles to watch The Wire on BBC? No way. Maybe it is because I am a working-class lad from a council house estate that I can easily pick up on what the various corner-hoppers, cops, dealers and corrupt politicians are laying down. The whole idea of this amazing piece of TV is that you have to attune your ears to the dialogue, which you cannot do if you are being lazy and reading what is being said.
My only problem with the programme is the time it is on, but I have discovered that if I have a nap during Newsnight I am alert and ready for the next gripping instalment.
Clevedon, North Somerset
Through the net
Steve Long of the Criminal Records Bureau boasts that his checks are 99.96 per cent accurate (letter, 15 August). So, of the quoted 98,000 unsuitable people identified, 39 were incorrectly rejected. Perhaps more worryingly, for every one million of the "millions of checks performed" there are 400 approved who should not be. Gulp!
Unfair on Larkin
In Tim Lott's thought-provoking article about artists and morality (18 August), he lists Philip Larkin as someone of dubious personal morality. Now while I understand that Larkin was fairly right-wing and also a librarian, and realise that such activities are clearly unfortunate, they are hardly in the same category as the crimes of others in the list.
I ask my bank to order new fivers from the Bank of England (letters, 15, 17 August). Then, when I go to the ATM, I take the tens and twenties into the branch and change them. Most times I get mint-condition fivers in exchange. If we all started doing this, the supply would increase. If we don't, the next thing will be the £5 coin and the value of the currency will be symbolically reduced. The sensible thing to do would be to have plasticised notes, as in Australia, but we don't do sensible.
Professor Ross (letters,18 August) ends by claiming that global warming "can be dealt with by scientists and technologists. Give us the tools and we will finish the job!" Well, why didn't we think of that before? I don't want to be a party-pooper, but wasn't it the scientists and the technologists that helped get us into this mess in the first place?
It's great that Nick Chadwick (letter, 15 August) is happy in his civil partnership, but he seems to be letting his own opinions on marriage blind him to the wider principle. In secular terms straight marriages and gay partnerships are the same in intent – the commitment of two people into a permanent relationship – so why not in name?
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