Japan’s new law on terror

Nabbing imaginary terrorists” (April 22nd) raised concerns over personal liberty in Japan, including a new law that would punish people who plan to commit terrorism and organised crime. While several criticisms in the article deserve refuting, allow me to focus on the new law.

In 2000, the UN adopted a convention against transnational organised crime which has 187 parties including G7 countries and both Belgium and Sweden, which have recently suffered terrorist attacks. Although Japan signed the convention, the lack of necessary domestic laws prevent us from co-operating with other countries. This law will eliminate those loopholes and enable Japan to contribute towards preventing organised crime and terrorism, which are genuine concerns for us as we prepare to host the Rugby World Cup and Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Regarding civil liberties, the government has carefully drafted the bill to clarify crimes covered under the new law so that groups conducting legitimate activities will not be punished.

NORIO MARUYAMA
Press secretary
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tokyo

State freeloaders

Your article on public land in the United States quoted a finding that state trust lands agencies return $14.51 for every dollar spent, compared with 73 cents on every dollar spent by federal forest and land agencies (“Elliott less”, April 15th). However, these estimates do not account for the freeriding behaviour of state trust lands.

Departments of agriculture at the state level provide pro bono range-management expertise for grazing lands held by state trust lands. The bulk of wildfire suppression and mitigation costs are incurred by the US Forest Service, regardless of who manages the land. Finally, state trust lands often have a mission of maximising revenue, which stands in contrast to the mandate federal agencies must follow that land has multiple uses.

A better accounting of land-management costs is in order. Any government entity can look profitable if it is allowed to book revenues while pushing its costs onto other agencies.

PROFESSOR PAUL JAKUS
Department of Applied Economics
Utah State University
Logan, Utah

German productivity

Your analysis of the shrinking population in the former East Germany made for a depressing read, but one which myself and many other economists predicted (“Fading echoes”, April 15th). The article concluded that productivity in the former East Germany is 20% lower than in West Germany. That is a two-folded example of both a problem and a solution. The problem was that at the time of unification, West German unions forced wage parity on their less productive East German workers, driving unemployment up and migration westward. The warped solution is that as more people leave the country, and providing output remains constant, the likelier it is that productivity levels will finally converge.

WILL PAGE
London

The Wright time
* Your article identifies that competition and collective legislation in aviation in Europe has brought many benefits, but there are still issues with the way European airlines treat consumers (“Whack-a-passenger”, April 22nd). A passenger survey released this week shows that European passengers face widespread delays and luggage problems. 24% of reported EU flights were delayed, 5% of flights were cancelled and 9% had luggage lost, damaged or delayed. Airlines are also failing to meet their obligations to compensate consumers. In fact, in cases of a delay of three hours or more only 25% of people were reimbursed. These results were echoed elsewhere in the world according to the survey where there is even less legislation to hold airlines to account.

Whilst the news has recently focused on extreme examples of passenger rights violation, the low level failures, delays and uncertainties that blight people’s experience of air travel get less attention. Now is the time for airlines to recognise their responsibilities to the people who travel with them with across the globe, to hold their hands up when things go wrong and to compensate people accordingly.

Amanda Long, Director General, Consumers International
Luisa Crisigiovanni, Secretary General, Altroconsumo
Vagn Jelsøe, Deputy Executive Director, Danish Consumer Council
Ana Tapadinhas, General-Director, DECO
Ileana Izverniceanu, Spokesperson, OCU

Hit North Korea in the wallet

Jonathan Pollack is right to be sceptical about negotiating with North Korea (“The land of lousy options, April 8th). No one tried harder than Bill Clinton in the 1990s to negotiate a stop to Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons programme. He provided lots of inducements: a light-water reactor to solve the North’s power-generation problems, free monthly bunker-oil deliveries, lifting its terrorist designation and ending financial sanctions against the Kims’ family bank in Macau. Yet the North’s weapons programme continued.

Those limited banking sanctions were the most personal and the most galling to the then leader, Kim Jong Il. That suggests that your proposal of swingeing financial sanctions on the North and on any bank dealing with it will have the most effect. North Korea’s backer, China, will hurt. But it would be better to face that problem in Sino-American relations now than later. It would also show China that the United States still retains the clout to do grave damage to China’s economy and its vaulting ambitions in the region, even if it is reluctant to face down China’s preposterous claims in the South China Sea.

PETER ROWE
Australian ambassador to South and North Korea, 2006-09
Sydney

Mind your language

The real difficulty for e-commerce in India is the language problem (“Delayed delivery”, April 6th). Most e-commerce companies primarily use English on their customer interface. Yet none of India’s top 20 channels or print titles are in English. E-commerce thus limits itself to 100m people through English rather than the language of 1.2bn potential users. The market for English-speaking Indians is saturated. It is surprising that the investors in these firms never asked the question about using the vernacular. If Flipkart had launched in Russia it would have been given a Russian name and a Russian-language website.

TEJESH SRIVASTAV
Delhi

Knot a problem

While the research into the causes of a shoelace coming undone is undoubtedly a valuable scientific effort, there is a very simple solution that just requires the common sense of a five-year-old (“A knotty problem”, April 15th). Tie a stopper knot at the end of each lace.

BILL MACRAE
Red Deer, Canada

This research should definitely win an Ig Nobel prize. All you have to do is double-tie the knot and it lasts all day even if you are hiking several miles. Job done.

HILARY POTTS
London

You broached a topic close to my heart. But I think perhaps by focusing on the mechanical-geometric aspects of the shoe-tie-unwind problem, the research team has missed a pragmatic point. It has been my observation in recent years that the cords from headphones are increasingly able to generate knots of Gordian propensity within seconds of being left to their own devices.

I believe the materials scientists already have the answer. Were all shoelaces made from headphone cord, and vice versa, life would be measurably freer from stress.

NICHOLAS WARD
Vienna

* You say that engineering “has had difficulty creating a shoelace that does not accidentally come loose” and give us tips on how they should be knotted. As any of your older readers will confirm, this is a relatively recent problem, and one of our own making. Shoelaces used to be made of cotton, jute, or hemp. A bow once tied did not come undone and did not require a double knot. Modern shoelaces are made of synthetic fibers, which tend to maintain their shape (springiness) and are generally more slippery and are thus more prone to coming undone than those made from traditional fibers. So it’s not the knots, it’s the fibres that thwart us.

MAURICE McGREGOR
Montreal


Goody goody yum yum
I cannot allow Bagehot’s peremptory traducing of “The Goodies” to go unchallenged (April 22nd). Many enjoyed the TV show during the 1970s and the comedy had some topical content. Who can forget the sight of an Icelandic gunboat patrolling the Serpentine in London at the time of the cod wars? I look forward to a balanced analysis of the process of disentanglement from the common fisheries policy.

RICHARD ABLETT
Bridlington, East Yorkshire

* Letters appear online only