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Wednesday 1 December 2010
Letters: World Aids Day
World Aids Day is a day when the world considers the unique stigma and discrimination related to HIV. I am 18 and have lived with HIV all my life, and for most of that time I have not been able to discuss this with anyone because of the stigma. Here in the UK, it is difficult to find other young people living with HIV to identify with, to talk to about the situations we face.
This year, however, I had the opportunity to spend some time with other young people who are HIV-positive at a summer camp, held at a school, but run by the Children's HIV Association (CHIVA). Everyone involved with the camp knew the situation. All the participants and camp leaders, which included me, were HIV positive. We felt safe, we were open, and for once we were free to be ourselves.
I found it a great shame when I first heard that CHIVA had been rejected by a couple of schools because the camp was for children and young people living with HIV. I'm still not sure if the participants should ever be made aware of this. It is one thing to think that prejudice exists in the world, but to see it playing out and realising it affects you is something I find disheartening. We're being judged by a situation which is not in our control.
The people who rejected CHIVA in effect rejected every participant, including me. It alarms me to think that these educators lack knowledge themselves. I implore those responsible for the education of our young people to examine their own attitudes. Would this happen at your school?
J D Bailey
Ambassador Eric Goosby, US Global Aids Co-ordinator, who runs the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, has released his World Aids Day message. It's filled with the usual self-congratulatory stuff. Fair enough; one would expect that from the Co-ordinator. But it's well past time to utter some home truths.
First, the American financial contribution, beginning with George Bush, is not worthy of the praise lavished upon it. There's nothing remarkable about the US being the largest donor overall in the fight against the pandemic. The gross national product of the US is larger than Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom combined. US foreign aid, as a percentage of GNP, ranks 20th of the 23 OECD countries. Mythology about the largesse of the US must end.
Second, President Obama has abandoned his campaign promise to give $50bn over five years specifically to Aids. It's now down to $39bn over six years: an astounding reduction in commitment and an invitation to widespread death.
The Obama Global Health Initiative amounts to the most disreputable sleight-of-hand. You can't build a Global Health Initiative on a budget that plays one health imperative against another. You must enlarge the pie dramatically. Cynically, with votes aforethought, that hasn't happened.
The good Ambassador invokes the need for "efficiency" and "smart investments". Those arguments are always used to cover up the refusal to provide resources. The refusal doesn't extend to bank bailouts, stimulus packages, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, oil spills and terrorism. Spare us the crocodile efficiencies.
Co-Directors, AIDS-Free World
This World Aids Day marks 30 years since haemophiliacs began to be infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through what Lords Morris and Winston dubbed "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS". Since that time, more than 2,000 of the 4,670 adults and children infected with Hepatitis C have died, including 900 of the 1,200 who also contracted HIV.
For 30 years, survivors and bereaved families have campaigned for answers to the question how this happened, and for proper compensation. At every turn, government has failed to deal with the disaster.
After repeated calls for a full public inquiry were ignored, in 2007 Lord Morris of Manchester asked Lord Archer of Sandwell to establish an independent inquiry into contaminated blood and blood products. The Government refused to co-operate and give evidence. When the inquiry report was published in 2009, the Government ignored most of its recommendations, particularly with regard to compensation.
Before the last election, the Coalition parties promised an urgent review when in power. While a review is under way, there is great concern among the affected community that the current economic crisis will cause the moral right of their cause to be lost.
While Lord Morris keeps up the fight with his Contaminated Blood Bill, which would put the Archer recommendations into statutory form, once again this community is forced to continue its 30-year fight. With the death rate still at more than 1 person per month, how many will be left to see justice done?
Universities step into the dark
It is foolish of David Loader (Letters, 16 November) to suggest that anyone expects universities to be "exempt from sacrifices". But both the outgoing Labour government and the Coalition singled them out for cuts, even though public spending on tertiary education is relatively low in Britain.
The new fees structure may be marginally better than the old, but the gigantic rise is a dangerous experiment. It is caused by another step into the dark: the withdrawal of all public funding from a large part of university teaching, especially in arts, humanities and social sciences.
No one anywhere has attempted such a revolution. No party campaigned for it; no sensible arguments justify it, not even economic ones. It will not reduce the Government's costly and mostly fruitless interference with universities, but it will change much of their teaching from a mainly state-backed into a largely privately financed enterprise.
It is as if every state school in the country were being privatised. Perhaps in the Coalition's second term, in the interests of consistency, state funding will be removed from schools, because literacy and numeracy confer lifelong benefits in income.
The excellent analyses by Geoff Harris and Jean-Luc Renaud (Letters, 23 November) counteract those academics and students who vociferously defend their own turf and deride a "utilitarian" approach to higher education. We need to differentiate much more robustly between mediocre graduates in questionable subjects and courses of direct benefit to the student and the country.
A higher education review should be based on the content of courses deemed deserving of taxpayer support, and the student numbers annually required to service the country's needs in the decades ahead. There would still be scope for universities to offer "non-utilitarian" courses – but not at the taxpayers' expense – and we might end up with more engineers and architects, builders and biologists, agriculturalists and medics who are UK nationals rather than depending for our vital services on immigrants who are desperately needed in their own countries.
We also need shorter degree courses with universities' annual vacations similar to industry's, more sandwich degrees spread over several years while the student is also in employment, and more students attending colleges nearer home to save millions on accommodation. In my day accountancy trainees aged 17 worked a full day, studied in the evenings and had classes on Saturday, giving us a useful qualification at 22.
St Andrews, Fife
Good news from banks? Not really
You think 19 per cent per annum is bad? Perhaps you might welcome the news that two high street banks are no longer going to charge interest on unauthorised overdrafts from next February?
Sounds wonderful. But wait; they are replacing the interest with a "fee" of £6 a day for every day that you are overdrawn by more than £6. In other words, they are going to charge up to 100 per cent interest per day, which equates to 36,500 per cent per annum.
The greed of the bankers caused the present economic problems, but the bankers are the only ones who have not suffered, and are not suffering. In fact, as evidenced by this and the obscene "bonuses" they continue to award themselves, they are profiteering even more, at the expense of their so-called customers.
David F M Helliwell
You report that the banks are launching a combined approach to reduce overall bonus pots while still refusing a cap on individual bonuses (Business, 26 November).
It seems that the army of bank floor, contact centre and other low-paid workers on not much more than minimum wage with a small bonus of a few hundred pounds will see that bonus reduced while the investment bankers and executives will continue to reward themselves handsomely.
The rewards of teaching
Michael Gove's plans to raise the level of degree qualification required by aspiring teachers is to be applauded, but rather misses the point. Having gained a first-class degree at a prestigious university many years ago, I have loved my last five years of teaching maths. There is no question that it has been the most rewarding (and exhausting) job that I have ever done.
But I have been able to enjoy the challenge of teaching, thanks to the standard of living I had already attained from 10 years of working in the City. The fact that I earn considerably less now as a second-in-charge of a large department than I did when I left the City 20 years ago (with no adjustment for inflation) says it all.
To attract the brightest into teaching, you have to pay them an attractive salary. Our future graduates will be leaving university with a huge personal debt; the allure of City salaries to help repay those debts will be hard to ignore.
If Mr Gove's teachers in teaching schools are teaching teachers (Letters, 27 November), when are they going to teach my children?
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
All in ermine together
This Coalition Government has given a very twisted logic to the word fairness. They propose to cut the elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons from 650 to 600, while last week they increased the non-elected members of the House of Lords to 800. (Whether any of them come from my area, I very much doubt, and who cares anyway?)
But these 800 can claim expenses of £308 per day. This gives a whole new slant on another Coalition sound bite: "We are all in this together." I am sure that those on Jobseekers' Allowance of £60 per week will have the utmost difficulty stumping up donations to any party.
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Computers in prison
Working as an assistant to the literacy and numeracy tutors in a local prison, I would take the opposite view to Diana Dunwoodie concerning prisoners' access to the internet (Letters, 22 November). Inability to access online information inhibits learning and adds to the prisoners' sense of isolation, exactly the opposite of what is required if they are to re-integrate into society after release.
Access would need to be controlled, of course, which could be achieved by siting the computers in designated areas under the scrutiny of prison officers or tutors. It would not be technically difficult to incorporate filters into the systems to prevent access to inappropriate websites.
Band of heroes
I take issue with Harriet Walker about Strictly Come Dancing (27 November). She refers to "the dizzying awfulness of the live band". Come off it, Harriet, the band's terrific, singers and musicians alike. They perform 150 minutes of live music, week after week, for weeks on end, and every programme has different numbers. That must amount to at least 100 numbers over the series. I don't know of many other groups or bands who could reach the standard that Dave Arch and his musicians do.
Perspectives on Wikileaks
Arabs must stop blaming the US
For me, as a Palestinian Arab, the only consequence of the Wikileaks revelations is a feeling of deep shame at the hypocrisy, the double standards and the utter lack of vision of our Arab leaders.
Robert Fisk's excellent front-page story (30 November) is heart-rending. As long as we Arabs lack democratic governments, decent visionary rulers and respect for the individual and his or her human rights, we shall not live in peace.
Yet again, we Palestinians are wasting yet another opportunity to make peace and resolve our diaspora. The time has come to stop blaming America and Israel for all our own failings. This is probably our last chance – if anybody is listening in this noisy, turbulent and rather frightening new world order.
Dr Faysal Mikdadi
Robert Fisk writes of "the vast illegal system of land theft which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian war". Wrong. What really lies at the heart of that "war" is the absolute unwillingness of the Arabs, having lost several skirmishes about the issue over the years, to recognise the state of Israel, and its right to exist within secure, defined, and agreed boundaries.
Robert L Bratman
Iran will claim it was right all along
Revelations that some Arab countries called on the US to take military action against Iran and that Mossad planned to harness minority and student groups to overthrow the Iranian regime may come as a surprise to many, but not to one man. Indeed, in Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be stroking his beard sagely and saying, "I told you so."
Ahmadinejad has long believed that those around him are, with the support of the Great Satan, out to get him – and the Wikileaks documents will only confirm what he already knew. His mistrust of his regional neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, will be strengthened and his crackdown against ethnic groups such as the Azeris, Kurds and Baluchs will be intensified.
For Iranians, their country's nuclear enrichment programme is seen as a point of great national pride, and their dislike of foreign interference is intense. As demonstrated by North Korea last week, when a nation comes to be seen as a pariah state, its behaviour can become increasingly irrational, unpredictable or even violent.
I hope that the Israelis and the American neocons are very proud of the company that they are keeping: several of the most repressive, backward, misogynistic, Jew-hating and anti-Christian regimes on earth, with which they have lined up to demand the nuking of an emerging democracy with a high culture, with more women than men at university, and with reserved parliamentary representation for Jews, for Armenians (how different from Nato Turkey) and for Assyrians (how different from "liberated" Iraq).
Lanchester, Co Durham
When the secret technology fails
Just about everyone has, at some time or other, said something in a telephone conversation or email that wouldn't look too good printed in a newspaper.
Of course the US communicates with its embassies through secure telephone links and computers, so that conversations and messages can be critical, candid or off-the-wall. Thoughts about world leaders can be expressed because it's all in-house. However, when one of their own copies hundreds of thousands of "secure emails", technology falls flat.
The delivery of future secret communications could well depend on a man on a jet, or a man on a donkey.
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