Editor-At-Large: No woman is an island, Mrs Palin

John McCain's running mate shares the dangerous tunnel vision of George Bush junior in her avoidance of foreign travel
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Are women voters in America really that hungry for power that they will endorse Sarah Palin? She makes my flesh creep – that one-note voice. That limited script. That constant referral to her twin motifs – God and Our Boys. A carefully stage-managed series of network television interviews on ABC last week only reinforced my certainty that the election of this particular female would represent a backward step, not just for her sex, but for her country.

This is someone who didn't apply for a passport until two years ago, who has only visited Canada – her next door neighbour – and Mexico, apart from one trip to Kuwait to visit the Army, with a stop-off in Germany on the way home to visit wounded soldiers. This, she told ABC's Charlie Gibson, was the "trip of a lifetime". Sarah Palin embodies all that is most insular about the American psyche. If you thought George Bush didn't do foreign travel, welcome to the frighteningly xenophobic world of Mrs Palin.

When asked if her lack of experience in foreign affairs was a drawback, she retorted something along the lines of "most vice-presidents have not met that many foreign heads of state... the desire now is for no more politics as usual... people with big fat résumés from the Washington establishment". In other words, she's proud of the fact that she's been nowhere, met no foreign politicians and possesses a curiosity which is limited to how to skin and cook a moose. She tells Gibson, "you can actually see Russia from Alaska!" I'd be more thrilled if she had ever considered visiting the place she sees on the horizon.

Is my heartfelt belief that travel broadens the mind and adds immeasurably to my understanding of the world a middle class bit of snobbery?

Do I sneer at Sarah Palin because she's happy at home in the featureless tundra of Alaska and doesn't feel the need to stare at the wonderful ceiling of the Sistine chapel, admire the Eiffel Tower, gasp at Ayers Rock or be enchanted by the Taj Mahal? A couple of hundred years ago, the upper classes toured Europe as part of their education. Young people today travel all over the world in their gap year, helping with charity projects in the Third World. Previous American Presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to George Bush senior, realised they had to go abroad to promote their policies. President Clinton holidayed in Africa, Spain and Australia, and his daughter attended Oxford.

Sarah Palin, however, continues the tradition established by George Bush junior – why go anywhere when you can have it all in your own backyard? This fellow would rather walk around an arid ranch in Texas and round up cattle than spend one hour on holiday in a foreign land. And when he does turn up in one of the locations where he is engaged in war, he is surrounded by security and sees nothing that isn't stage-managed.

Ironically, since the US embarked on its post-9/11 foreign policy – the so-called war on terror – its leaders have spent less and less time trying to understand how people outside their own culture live and think. They talk of Muslim culture but only experience it in the confines of a combat zone. They debate global warming but have no appetite to walk across the land in the parts of Africa where crops are failing.

Sarah Palin regularly invokes a Higher Power – The Almighty – as her adviser and running mate, not John McCain, but when it comes to life on earth her tunnel vision is chilling.

Ed, there's no point shelling out on free cookery books

Ed Balls is so desperate for publicity he'll put on a pinny! Proof that the Government has lost the plot is the news that every 11-year-old in England is getting a free cookery book. Ed's big idea – which he hyped on ITV's 'This Morning' – is that kids will read them and think, "I'd like to make a spaghetti bolognese tonight to get healthy". Ha bloody ha. This is the same government that turned cookery lessons into dopey "food technology", in which pupils designed sandwich wrappers and devised marketing campaigns for burgers.

Practical cookery had been phased out, although it's being reinstated by 2011 with a paltry 800 extra teachers. Most urban 11-year-olds can't read or add up well enough to grapple with a recipe and don't realise that peas come in pods, chickens have two legs and wings, and that mince starts out as a cow. Their relationship with food is based on little knowledge of how it is grown or reared. Cooking teaches many disciplines – maths, reading, the social skills of sharing, geography and history. Free cookery books waste cash better spent on proper teachers.

Why the royal mail is in the inbox

The Queen has asked to visit the headquarters of Google next month. She's following a recognised trend – the most sophisticated internet users are not teenagers in chat rooms, but pensioners, who use it to correspond with their friends and family, swap information, shop and meet people with similar interests without having to leave their homes. The Duke of Edinburgh, 87, writes all his letters on a computer and the Queen, 82, regularly sends emails. The Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, has been whingeing that HRH never gave him any feedback for those dreary odes he composed for state occasions. Now we know why – she was probably too busy flogging off unwanted gifts on eBay, or updating the enormously successful Royal website. Contrast these tech-savvy royals with our former Prime Minister, who couldn't even send an email.

When age does not equal gravitas

The Selina Scott row about being too old to read the news rumbles on.

Latest opinion formers to chuck their hats in the ring are the little and large of cocktail party London, Michael Winner and Marie Helvin. Mr Winner claims in the Daily Mail that it's a basic human right to be able to watch wrinkle-free cuties delivering the news on the telly.

He clearly excuses his appearances in those irritating car insurance ads on the basis that he's male – a different set of rules must apply.

Marie Helvin – not known for her in-depth knowledge of political matters – tells us that she prefers the news read by someone with "gravitas".

Weird the way she thinks that being old equals gravitas... has she not heard of Lucian Freud, Keith Floyd, Jimmy Savile?