Legalising drugs, defending manufacturing, and Star Trek
November 17, 2010
Miliband spin 31st October 2010

According to your In Fact column, Ed Miliband can solve the Rubik’s Cube in 20 seconds with one hand. Given that the world record is 38 seconds, and it needs both hands to move the squares in different directions at the same time, has Labour’s PR department rather overstepped the mark with his hagiography?

Chris MonkHastings

Should we legalise drugs? 2nd November 2010

In the war on drugs you can choose your battlefield: moral, religious, medical or economic. But hopping from one theatre of conflict to the next, as Alexander Linklater does, will get you in trouble. In Britain, the war on smoking is being won, and the war on alcohol misuse is being lost. Our best hope of inducing more responsible attitudes to other recreational drugs is to learn the lessons of both. The economics of alcohol consumption in Britain are managed by the major drinks companies, which is bad enough. On the other hand, the entire economic strategy for drug consumption is in the hands of violent psychopaths, home and abroad. It is time for equally hard-headed but more benign generals to take the high ground.

Clive WolfendaleCAIS Drug and Alcohol Agency

Defending manufacturing 3rd November 2010

Tim Leunig (November) is wrong about British manufacturing: while, exceptionally, there have been cases of state support for the sector, this is now generally illegal under EU competition law. The real issues concerning manufacturers are about skills and competition for labour. Given the vast sums the government spends on educating graduates who go on to work in call centres (one in three call centre workers, according to Prospect), and on other areas of activity, one begins to understand why labour and capital has been sucked away from manufacturing. Leunig is wrong to imply that British manufacturers are either too stupid or feeble to do anything about this. We know we have to produce value-added or origin-critical products. That’s why there are plenty of things the Chinese and others like to buy because they’re made in Britain—not China.

Daniel ChamierJohn Chapman Limited

The Cayman question 5th November 2010

Philip Clothier (November) has inaccurately portrayed the government’s “agenda” with the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands government (CIG) has not approached the British government seeking a guarantee for a loan. It has sought foreign and commonwealth office approval to take on additional commercial borrowing, in accordance with guidelines agreed between the CIG and the British government. There has been no change of policy in the conditions attached to this. The approval given by former minister Chris Bryant to borrow £217m last financial year, and the permission I granted in June to borrow £123m, were both conditional on the CIG implementing fiscal plans that included new revenue measures. We do not “guarantee” the CIG’s borrowing, nor are we their “ultimate paymaster.”

Henry Bellingham MP Minister for Africa, the UN, Overseas Territories and Climate Change

Do poets need paper? 21st October 2010

Tom Chatfield (November) quotes Don DeLillo’s speculation: “Does poetry need paper?” Thanks to increased e-book sales, Chatfield says, we won’t have to wait long to find out. But am I wrong in thinking that, before paper existed, all that poetry needed was the human voice and a good memory?

George RonsonOrpington, Kent

Life lessons from rowing 27th October 2010

Every aspiring young person should be made to read Josh Raymond’s wonderful article on rowing (November) in order to learn two important but depressing rules of life. First: if you are not prepared to “fit in” with a group—team, club, business, political—you must expect to sit out. Second, if you are light-hearted in your work, some lesser people might assume you are not taking things seriously. Thank goodness there are some who break these rules.

Andrew JamesAbingdon, Oxfordshire

The Star Trek problem 16th October 2010

David Edmonds’s discussion of the “fat man” scenario (October) reminded me of a well-known Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Captain Kirk and Spock go back to 1930s New York to undo a change in history accidentally caused by McCoy, after using an alien time portal. McCoy saved a woman called Edith Keeler from dying in a traffic accident. But if she lives, she will form an influential pacifist movement that delays America’s entry into the second world war, and means the Nazis develop atomic weapons and win it. Spock concludes that Keeler must die. Kirk is reluctant—she’s well intentioned and he’s falling in love with her—but in the end decides not to save her from the accident and restrains McCoy when he tries to.

Most people accept that Kirk was correct. Yet it would have been very different had the original accident been prevented, and one of them had pushed Keeler under another truck to save history. This is why philosophers debating the fat man scenario are out of touch with reality. The closer we are to the situation, the more we feel; this is necessary to be human. We are also much more inhibited against violence done to women and children than fat men. Whoever designed the scenario let this psychology rule them without being aware of it.

Gwydion M WilliamsPeterborough

Ringfencing aid 14th October 2010

Paul Collier (October) is wrong that Britons favour ringfencing aid. A recent UK Public Opinion Monitor poll found that 57 per cent were against it, compared with 80 per cent who believe in ringfencing the NHS. Aid was the second most popular target for cuts, after broadcasting.

Collier also cites the success of M-Pesa telephone banking in Kenya as evidence that British aid is “smart.” But one success story cannot invalidate a mass of research questioning aid’s impact on growth and poverty. Tanzania, for example, spends 10 per cent of its budget on defence and national service—so 10 per cent of the £120m of budget support Britain gave to Tanzania this year has financed guns and bullets. Another £12m for the NHS would save lives.

Brian CookseyDar es Salaam

Getting Colombia right 3rd November 2010

The response from British MPs (Letters, November) to Tom Streithorst’s report from Colombia (September), ignores the fact that, since 2002, Colombia’s overall security has improved dramatically. The murder rate is down by 46 per cent, kidnappings by more than 92 per cent, and coca cultivation by 58 per cent. Some 35,000 paramilitary and 17,000 guerrilla have been demobilised and reintegrated.

The state has taken a zero-tolerance policy to the alleged cases of extra-judicial killings carried out by some soldiers, and the British special rapporteur has “found no evidence to suggest that these killings were carried out as a matter of official government policy.” Former president Alvaro Uribe was never formally accused by the independent judiciary of “links to drug traffickers and paramilitary death squads”; in fact, he dismantled the paramilitaries when all illegal self-defence groups were demobilised. Colombia’s recently-elected President Juan Manuel Santos is also firmly committed to human rights.

Mauricio Rodriguez MuneraColombian Ambassador to Britain