SIR – I was grateful to be mentioned inLexington’s column on defence spending (November 26th), though he misread the main argument in my book, “The Wounded Giant”. In fact, I support the idea of roughly $400 billion in defence-spending reductions over ten years. That amount was mandated back in August in the initial tranche of cuts under the Budget Control Act. What I oppose is the additional $500 billion or so in ten-year cuts required under the subsequent “sequestration” of defence spending that was mandated because of the failure in November of the so-called supercommittee.
Even achieving the $400 billion in savings will be hard and require cutting muscle rather than just fat, but it is a judicious response to America’s budgetary and economic plight. Achieving $400 billion in savings will require change, such as adjusting the traditional two-war paradigm for determining the size of ground combat forces to what I call a “1 plus 2” construct, with enough capacity for one big regional war plus up to two substantial multinational stabilisation missions at a time.
Money could also be saved by having the navy rotate crews by aeroplane, leaving many ships overseas for one to two years at a stretch, to avoid wasting time in ocean transit. This would allow the navy to sustain current deployment practices in the crucial western Pacific and Persian Gulf with a fleet of 250 ships, instead of the current 285 or the navy’s preferred 315 to 325.
Michael O’Hanlon Brookings Institution Washington, DC
SIR – The headline to your article on the British government’s plans to boost spending on infrastructure projects, “Weapons of mass construction”, triggered a simultaneous chuckle and a deep frown (December 3rd). The government’s gamble on a hefty, PR-minded investment in infrastructure to revive a battered economy could prove as elusive and damaging as Tony Blair’s punt on what Saddam Hussein didn’t have concealed in Iraq.
Perish the thought that the Cameron-Osborne-Clegg axis hasn’t conspired to build its own weapons of economic destruction through a risky wager based on shifting sands rather than solid foundations.
Paul Connew St Albans, Hertfordshire
SIR – Contrary to the assertion in your recent Economics focus on using randomised trials to assess aid programmes, the Millennium Villages project in rural Africa is makingtimely progress towards the UN’s millennium development goals (MDGs) (December 3rd). The gains are on several fronts, including increased agricultural production and farm incomes, and reductions in disease burdens and hunger. The project is now halfway through its ten-year horizon, and we look forward to further gains in the second half as we work towards the MDGs. The second phase of the project emphasises business development through farmer co-operatives.
You cited an unpublished study claiming little progress at the site in Kenya. That study has many methodological problems. One is obvious: the authors didn’t realise that some of their “control” villages actually received direct interventions from the Millennium Villages project.
Ironically, the “negative” study confirms the large gains in agricultural productivity achieved by the Kenyan Millennium Village.
Jeffrey Sachs Director Earth Institute at Columbia University New York
Ducking the issue
SIR – You missed the point on why foie gras is inhumane (“How much is too much?”, December 3rd). Animal-lovers will not be satisfied by research that teaches farmers how to produce an enlarged duck liver that is less diseased. Their overriding objection is to the method of forced feeding that is used to make foie gras.
It is hard to see how the ducks will suffer less as a result of the new findings. They will still have large pipes shoved down their throats and bear the ill effects that come with a grossly enlarged liver, a liver which, any way you slice it, is still much larger than anything their wild ancestors would have developed.
Jonathan Wadley Animal Protection and Rescue League San Diego
Opinions in Georgia
SIR – Although it is true that there is now a new competitiveness in Georgian politics, the polling figures you cited need clarification (“Misha challenged”, December 3rd). You said that the “popularity” of Bidzina Ivanishvili is pegged at 17% as opposed to 42% for the ruling party. In fact, pollsters rarely talk about popularity. The closest term in their lexicon is “favourability”, and Mr Ivanishvili’s favourability rating is far above 17 points. Indeed, he is currently fiercely competitive with the governing party on this score.
Irakli Tripolski Spokesman for Bidzina Ivanishvili Tbilisi
Rabies in Ecuador
* SIR - As the general director of health for the Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health, I am shocked by a recent blog post. Once again, this shows the laxity of some journalists in addressing complex issues, in this case health issues.
Outbreaks occur ubiquitously, independently of political reasons. Some are more predictable than others. What has been shown during this year in Ecuador, and especially during this rabies outbreak, is transparency, political commitment to tackle issues and responsiveness.
It is probably the first time in Ecuador that a minister of health wants to make himself accountable to the public for the way health services are managed, while simultaneously advancing efforts to securing progressive universal and optimal care with dignity.
Bats transmitting rabies is a difficult issue and the complexity of the spread of this disease strongly relates to an ecological unbalance. Health officers responded with effective control measures immediately when the first cases were suspected. However, due to the strong correlation with biological and contextual determinants, the response called for interdisciplinary and multisector collaborations.
That is the reason why President Rafael Correa, following the recommendation made by the Minister David Chiriboga, declared a health emergency in the province of Morona Santiago. This declaration is largely backed up by epidemiological data, and will allow controlling the current outbreak and building a middle term, multisector action plan, tackling rabies through a systemic approach.
Furthermore, the previous week, at the occasion of the meeting of Health Ministers of UNASUR hosted by Uruguay, Dr Chiriboga requested an extraordinary meeting of the council of Health Ministers to be held in Quito in early 2012 to sign and launch a regional action plan to fight rabies in the Amazonian region. Would this by any chance constitute a populist reaction? Or it is rather a demonstration of efficacy and social accountability?
Perhaps the reason why some people in Dr Chiriboga's staff are calling him "Moses" is not related to the ten plagues, but because he is bringing freedom (at least from the health system perspective) to his people.
Juan Moreira Director General de Salud Ministerio de Salud Pública del Ecuador Quito, Ecuador
Incensed about myrrh
SIR – It may be true that Christianity has nothing comparable with the jokes made by Muhammad that are listed in theHadith (“Two mullahs went into a bar…”, November 26th). But Kurt Vonnegut (pictured) once pointed out that jokes are easily lost in translation. For example, when an expensive ointment was used to anoint Jesus’s feet, Judas complained that it should have instead been sold to benefit the poor. Jesus’s reply that, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8) has usually been taken as conveying a sense of self-aggrandisement that is inconsistent with the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount.
In “Palm Sunday”, Vonnegut suggests that Jesus’s words are a joke, intended to rebuke Judas as in: “Don’t worry about it, Judas. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.”
Lynn Kerr Kingston, Canada
* SIR – You wrote that the Hadith details every joke Muhammad ever made. It is worth noting that the Koran itself shows its appreciation for humour. It says: “He deserves paradise who can make his companion laugh.”
Nicholas O’Brien Dublin
* SIR – Your obituary of George Daniels, a master watchmaker, omitted a significant milestone in the adoption of his co-axial escapement (November 26th). This year, Omega announced that all of its watch movements (except in its Moonwatch) will use Daniels’s innovation. In doing so, Omega must have solved how to produce the movement economically. This wholesale adoption by a big brand in the industry is surely a sign that the “outsider” has been honoured as one of their own, and that the “most ingenious invention in watchmaking for 250 years” will effortlessly pulse on the wrists of many generations to come.
Alasdair Clements San Francisco
Short back and sides, please
SIR – I was surprised not to find the usual reference to Anders Borg’s ponytail in your article praising Sweden’s fiscal stability (“Out and happy”, December 3rd). Maybe you found it inappropriate to mention it in light of the finance minister’s recent support for a haircut on Greek government debt.
Martin Gutjahr Zurich
A tale of two Europes
SIR – I always enjoy the literary references that you sneak into your articles, such as “The best of times, the worst of times” in Bagehot’s column on Franco-British relations (December 3rd). However, I recall that at the end of this particular Dickens classic the Brit loses his head and the French carry on knitting. Surely that outcome would not be the far, far better thing that David Cameron has ever done.
Perhaps this week Bagehot should call on Jacob Marley for some vision. “A Christmas Carol” was first published on December 17th 1843, and has a much sweeter outcome.