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Jan. 18: Letters to the editor Add to ...

We the too many people

Never mind Marshall Plans for Haiti ( We Need A Marshall Plan For Haiti - Jan. 14) or micro-finance solutions ( Haiti's Struggle - letters, Jan. 16). How will a country of 10,700 square miles ever be able to support a population of nine million - a population that has grown by more than 60 per cent since 1980? Indeed, one has to wonder how planet Earth will cope with the nine billion people projected by the United Nations Population Division in 2050 ( A Simple Family Size Solution - Jan. 16).

It's high time we reacquainted ourselves with Thomas Malthus, who made some dire predictions in his Essay on the Principle of Population first published in 1798. His ideas were reinforced in a 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, that had been commissioned by the Club of Rome. Its thoughts were too depressing then, but its premises are still valid.

How many people can our planet's resources sustain as millions and millions more aspire to live the "good" (i.e., resource-consuming) life? One can only hope the disaster in Haiti encourages a major reassessment of the world's longer-term population problems after the basic, but almost insoluble, humanitarian problems have been addressed.

Douglas MacLeod, London, Ont.

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The family planning solution is given scant attention in CIDA's policy for international development aid; less than 1 per cent of its budget goes to lessening birth rates. Doug Saunders rightly concludes that tackling problems of "poverty, inequality, food and [global]warming becomes a lot simpler" when the population in poor countries falls. CIDA's best investment would be to radically increase its expenditures in those countries for family planning.

Jon Legg, Population Institute of Canada, Ottawa

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Let's hope Hania Zlotnik, head of the UN Population Division, is accurate in her optimistic forecasts because the fact remains that the world's population has doubled since 1960. Move over, dinosaurs, we're on our way!

Phillip S. Utting, Uxbridge, Ont.

Haitian pain

How sad that George W. Bush should worm himself into the Haitian recovery story ( Haitians Wait As World Leaders Pledge Aid - online, Jan. 17). Last week, Barack Obama showed the world that the United States has not lost its generosity of spirit and selfless can-do ability to mobilize the world in a time of urgent need. And now Mr. Bush - the guy who twiddled while New Orleans drowned and whose cronies almost single-handedly destroyed the world financial system - will lead a charity drive to help Haiti?

Gerry Deagle, Vancouver

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Many wonder at Haiti's extreme poverty ( When It Comes To Haiti, Things Only Get Worse - Jan. 16). Perhaps its history can explain it.

After a series of successful slave revolts against the French, Haiti declared its independence in 1804. Slavery was abolished in the British West Indies in 1833 and in the other French West Indies between 1848 and 1852. The United States didn't recognize Haiti until 1862, when it abolished slavery as well.

It's understandable that no country in the region that was slave dependent would trade with Haiti. France recognized it in 1825 but only after it agreed to pay compensation to the French for moneys lost as a result of the revolution. This staggering debt took 109 years to pay off and was often about 80 per cent of the fledgling nation's income.

One can see what's happened to Cuba, which has been isolated for 50 years in the same region. Fortunately for that country, there was an existing infrastructure and educational system in place. But not being able to trade with its surrounding markets has cost it dearly. Haiti, on the other hand, had a mostly illiterate population and was more easily manipulated by dictators.

Marjorie Short, Guelph, Ont.

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I'm shocked by the petty and cold-hearted responses of letter writers to Governor-General Michaëlle Jean's emotional address to Canadians ( The G-G's Appeal - Jan. 15, and Emotion In High Office - Jan. 16). Perhaps some of us are simply getting too accustomed to the aloof and emotionless rule of Stephen Harper.

Sascha Maicher, Ottawa

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Commendable it is that such varied countries were quick to send personnel and matériel to earthquake-ravaged Haiti (Other Countries Race To Send Help - Jan. 15). Notable amongst them is Israel, a postage stamp-sized country that sent 220 rescue workers and a field hospital. Notably absent: Saudi Arabia, one of the world's wealthiest countries. It appears the biggest contributor is the big bad USA.

David Kantor, Toronto

Watch out for al-Qaeda

The sage advice provided by the U.S. government to Americans travelling to Vancouver for the Olympics presumably applies to Canadians as well ( Be On The Lookout For Al-Qaeda, Americans Warned - Jan. 15). So how would I spot al-Qaeda and other extremists? Do they dress distinctively? Do they exhibit characteristic behaviour?

Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city and may well be more so when the presence of visitors from all corners of the globe is considered. As restaurants are cited as likely places where one should use caution, should I make myself aware of what others are eating? Do extremists prefer certain foods? Since one hears foreign languages all the time in Vancouver, what accents should I be noting?

Graham Ross, Victoria

Community and casseroles

I agree with Margaret Wente that "community and casseroles" are always great medicine wherever there is human suffering ( Grief Industry To The Rescue - Jan. 16). I agree, too, that people are generally resilient and possess the skills and resources to overcome most losses. But we must not conflate loss (and the grief industry that has grown up around it) and trauma.

Critical Incident Stress Management is intended to help people manage painful and disruptive physical and psychological responses to incidents that lie outside the range of everyday human experience. We're not talking the death of a pet. We're talking homicide, suicide, rape, terrorism and natural disasters. Though many people overcome even the worst life circumstances, not everyone has the attachments, tools or virtuosity to sail through.

Trauma unaddressed can lead to a lifetime of suffering and loss, illness and premature death. The crisis counsellor identifies and assists those at risk of being overwhelmed and undone by shocking circumstances - and gets out of the way of the resilient.

Donna F. Johnson, Ashton, Ont.

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Disaster response is not about psychotherapy. It's about assessing the needs of survivors and providing emergency help. Perhaps this could be better done with "community and casseroles," but I doubt the people of Haiti are able to drop by their friends' homes right now with a cooked meal and a box of tissues.

Rachel Vella-Zarb, PhD candidate, clinical psychology, York University

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Margaret Wente struck a chord with me when she writes about "community and casseroles." In 1976, on the day my 33-year-old wife, Beverley, died of breast cancer, three close friends independently showed up at our house. We spent the night just sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking. None of them, of course, were "professional" grief counsellors. They were (and still are) good friends. I can't imagine anything would have been more helpful at the time. Ms. Wente is right: We are "more resilient than we think."

Claire Hoy, Toronto

Compromised mandate?

Re The Right To Appoint (editorial, Jan. 15): Yes, the Conservative government has the right to appoint people with divergent views to the board of Rights & Democracy, but they should be fully committed to the defence of all human rights as set out in the International Bill of Human Rights. This is a requirement of the mandate as stipulated in the statute setting up the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.

This means applying human-rights standards equally to all states, not turning a blind eye to the violations of your friends while pressing for enforcement against your enemies. It also means enforcing all rights with equal vigour, not ignoring the rights of women and minorities or economic and social rights.

There is considerable evidence that some of the recent appointees come with a political agenda not consistent with these criteria. Rights & Democracy was set up to be an honest, objective, transparent, non-partisan advocate of international human-rights standards free of factional political pressures. Some of the recent appointments have compromised this mandate. As a result, the centre's independence has been called into question. This is tragic.

Warren Allmand, Montreal, and Ed Broadbent, Ottawa, past presidents, Rights & Democracy

Stuff and nonsense

H.J. Kirchhoff, in his capsule review of The Book of Dead Philosophers ( Paperbacks - Books, Jan. 16), talks of the bizarre deaths suffered by many philosophers and says that, while Heracleitus suffocated in cow dung and Empedocles leaped into a volcano, Jeremy Bentham "was stuffed and is on display at University College London." I hope the stuffing took place after death.

Christopher Kelk, Toronto

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