World food prices:

John Band writes: Re. “Bernanke printing money … now there’s food for thought” (Tuesday, item 20). When Adam Schwab says, as an explanation for high developing world food prices, “commodities are priced in US dollars, so it is the US’s monetary splurge that has led to basic commodities rocketing”, this makes no sense when referring to people whose incomes are denominated in other currencies.

Simply, the number of AU$, euros or Libyan Dinars required to buy a tonne of wheat is not affected by changes in the US$ exchange rate, because the fact that the price of wheat when measured in US$ has risen is *definitionally cancelled out* by the fact that you can now buy more US$ with your foreign money.

The real wheat price is affected by supply and demand for wheat. We’ve had a year of terrible wheat harvests worldwide (our own disasters this summer playing a small but significant part), and demand keeps increasing. Ben Bernanke can be blamed for a lot of things, but bad weather and developing world overpopulation aren’t among them.


Kevin Childs writes: Re. “Rundle: how Napier could be a lesson for Christchurch” (yesterday, item 15). Please tell Guy Rundle to stand in the corner. He puts Christchurch in Southland (without caps, agreed) which is like putting the NT in Tassie. Christchurch is in Canterbury; south of it is the province of Otago and below that is Southland. Give the man a map.


Guy Rundle writes: The Churchill brigade (yesterday, comments) marches again. In yesterday’s comments, Ken Lambert defended “Winston” — the intimate address is always a giveaway — who had “enough on his plate” in 1943, other than to worry about the fate of the Bengalis. Which rather makes my point for me — their lives were thought of as worth less because they weren’t white.

Furthermore, Lambert has missed the key point I drew from Mukherjee’s book — both Australia and the US were pressing for relief of the famine, given that there was, by 1943, a grain surplus under allied control in and around Europe. The Bengal famine was a deliberately sustained one, designed to break the back of anti-colonial resistance among other things. That, and the degree to which Churchill’s personal despite of Hindus steered the policy moves it into the category of being actively evil, rather than simply negligent.

As to Indian loyalty, well, one and a half million Indians may well have joined the army — perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the army got fed. In any case, India had a population of more than 200 million at the time, and a life expectancy of around 40. Thus among men of military age, the volunteer rate amounts to around 3%. Not exactly a tidal wave, is it?

Lambert suggests that Churchill — sorry, our Winnie — as a racist, was a man of his time. Actually, although many people were mildly racist, Churchill was a flagrant racialist in a manner that many people found repellent. As with many of that era he was simultaneously philosemitic, anti-Semitic, and Zionist. That latter point is the one Niall Clugston misses. It is simply a matter of historic fact that Churchill’s “diehard” position on absolute British rule of India was a major factor keeping him out of cabinet in the 1930s.

He had opposed the Baldwin government’s white paper leading to the 1935 Government of India Act, which introduced limited “diarchic” self-rule (or pseudo-self-rule) == a desperate attempt to give some promise of eventual dominion status to India, and string them along for a few decades more. It was precisely in response to this strategy that the “Quit India” movement was founded — sharpened by the demand that Indians sacrifice to the war effort without genuine representation.

Gandhi was spared not out of any sense of British decency (post-war, Churchill’s next government would murder thousands of Kenyan independence activists in an African gulag, and run murderous campaigns in British Guiana) but because they wanted someone to deal with eventually — their lethal fight was against the Indian Liberation Army of Subhas Chandra Bose, who had quite legitimately gained the assistance of the Japanese in running a guerrilla campaign against the British. His insurgency was one of the targets of the politically manipulated and extended Bengal famine.


Gavin Moodie writes: I deplore Steve Pratt’s chauvinistic promotion (yesterday, comments) of vanilla ice cream and reject his claim that in ice-cream, white is right. Steve seems to want a return to the white ice cream Australia policy. All true ice cream lovers know that the best flavour is caramel.

Peter Fray

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