Letters: October 18 to October 24 2013

Professor Arieh Warshel talks to Israeli President Shimon Peres after winning the Nobel chemistry prize. (Reuters)

Professor Arieh Warshel talks to Israeli President Shimon Peres after winning the Nobel chemistry prize. (Reuters)

Ask not who toils for Nobel prizes, ask where

In the interesting coverage of the Nobel prize-winners of 2013, some pertinent information has been omitted or minimised, which may be of interest to South African readers ("Long and short of literary genius", October 11).

Michael Levitt, one of the three co-winners of the chemistry prize, for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems, was born, raised and educated in Pretoria until he went to Kings College London to obtain his BSc.

Levitt, along with his Israeli-born co-winner, Arieh Warshel, were together at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel for a number of years where they started on the work that ultimately yielded the Nobel prize. The third winner, Martin Karplus, was an Austrian Jew by birth and fled prior to the Nazi invasion of his country.

Even more dramatic is the history of François Englert, co-winner of the physics prize with Peter Higgs for their theoretical work on the acquisition of mass by subatomic particles. He was a Holocaust survivor who hid during the war in orphanages and children's homes.
Among his various appointments, he is professor of physics and astronomy at Tel Aviv University.

The Nobel prize for medicine or physiology went to two Jewish Americans, Randy Schekman and James Rothman, and a German, Thomas Südhof. Two Israelis, Howard Cedar and Aharon Razin, were in the running.

Of the eight Nobel prizes in the sciences, six were of Jewish origin this year and most of them worked in the United States, and three had Israeli affiliations. Jews, who make up about 0.2 % of the world's population, have been awarded about 20% of the Nobel prizes – an overrepresentation of at least a hundredfold!

Israel, a country of about seven million, which is continually embroiled in existential conflict, has produced more than 10 Nobel prize-winners in the hard sciences and economics and a number of near misses.

It has a remarkable list of outstanding achievements in all branches of technology, agriculture and economics and the country is ranked at the top of international indices on matters relating to innovation and expertise. Yet it continually loses top achievers to greener pastures in the US and elsewhere.

Instead of the tired slogans and dishonest rhetoric that characterise the media debate on Israel, intelligent readers should be better informed about what makes Jews as a people, and Israel specifically, tick so effectively.

Perhaps as we enter the existential challenges of the 21st century, in which whole countries are being consumed by conflict caused by scarce resources and fanatical movements, it may be worth asking how Israel has managed so effectively to recon-cile its own shortage of resources and massive diversity of languages, world views, ethnicities and historical experiences to create a functional democracy in a region notable for its absence. – Mike Berger


Give China a bit more credit on Africa's wildlife

The Mail & Guardian article "Rhino horn trade thrives in Jo'burg" (October 4) may mislead the public.

China is one of the countries with the richest wild animal species in the world. The Chinese people love animals and nature, just like the South African people. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of wildlife and has promulgated laws and regulations in this concern, established a multi­sectoral joint law-enforcement mechanism, and taken various measures to protect wildlife and raise public awareness.

China joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1981, and has been fighting against wildlife cross-border crimes in close co-operation with the international community. We have signed wildlife protection co-operation agreements with many countries and implemented a series of international wildlife projects and protection activities.

China has always paid special attention to protection of the rhino and African elephant. In 1993, the rhino was identified by the Chinese government as "wildlife under first-class national protection", the same as the giant panda. Also in 1993, the state council of China issued a notice prohibiting the trade in rhino horns. The smuggling and trading of rhino-horn products became criminal offences with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The African elephant is also identified as "wildlife under first-class national protection" in China. We have taken strict regulatory measures on ivory, further enhancing law enforcement in this area. The China Wildlife Conservation Association has set up a special fund for elephant conservation. China is the largest sponsor of the African Elephant Protection Fund.

Chinese celebrities such as former National Baseball Association star Yao Ming and pop singer Li Yuchun have visited Africa as animal-protection volunteers; they have called on everyone in China to protect rhinos and elephants. I believe their efforts, and the efforts of many others, will further raise public awareness of wildlife protection in China.

China has long been committed to co-operation with South Africa on wildlife protection. The Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and China on Co-operation in the Fields of Wetland and Desert Ecosystems and Wildlife Conservation, signed during President Xi Jinping's state visit to South Africa in March, further endorsed bilateral co-operation here.

We will support and collaborate with South Africa in the fight against rhino-poaching and smuggling of rhino horns and ivory. – Pan Peng, press counsellor, Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the Republic of South Africa


Consensual sex for teens a slippery slope

We need to have an understanding that the delayed onset of sexual activity is good for young people ("Teens, feel free to get your freak on", Online, October 9).

The later it is that a girl has sex the greater chance she has of completing her education and becoming ­financially independent.

Criminalising teenage sexual activity has never worked. [At the same time,] many of the factors that push children into sexual activity need to be addressed. These include the highly sexualised nature of modern culture.

The free availability of porn is one of the major factors that drives the increased sexualisation of our children and needs to be addressed. – Isabella van der Westhuizen


What a lot of hogwash! The next would be to allow children of 12 to vote, or to drive cars. Why can't 10-year-olds drink alcohol or smoke? Stop living in cloud cuckoo-land! We are breeding a generation that will have no sense of right or wrong.

Why do we need to stop at stop streets any more? Why are criminals arrested for murdering ­someone else? I know I am using stupid examples, but so is allowing children to have consensual sex.

We're breeding a generation of people devoid of all morals. Woe to the nation, it is doomed to fail.

Remember, for every right there is an equal responsibility – this is the foundation of civilisation. – Still Puzzled

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