Hunt furore, Hostage-taking in Iraq and others

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Hunt furore is about humans' pleasure, not foxes' rights

Hunt furore is about humans' pleasure, not foxes' rights

Sir: In all the yah-boo of the fox hunting furore, I think we have forgotten why a ban on hunting is inescapable. I don't think it is anything to do with class war. It's not even much to do with animal rights.

It's much more basic than that. It's about outlawing something that most people in this country find repugnant: killing for pleasure. If foxes need to be culled, then so be it - although the Burns Commission concluded they are not a significant agricultural pest - but many feel it is morally indefensible to allow a small section of the population to derive enjoyment from it. It is, therefore, primarily a question of morals.

Is this the majority imposing their standards on the few? Of course it is, but then that is what civilised society is all about. We do all we can to stop vandals, arsonists, joyriders and pub closing-time thugs from going about their chosen leisure activities on the same basis. There have to be standards, whether on a city street or in a country field. Without them we are no better than wild animals ourselves.

London N5

Sir: Samuel Johnson observed that the Puritans disapproved of bear-baiting not because of the harm done to the bear but because of the pleasure given to the onlookers. Everyone acknowledges both the need to control the fox population and the inevitable suffering caused to foxes in the process. What the zealots object to is that the unpleasant necessity of killing foxes be turned into an enjoyable and sociable event. Once farmers and landowners turn to shooting foxes in order to protect their livestock, who will ensure that they are not enjoying it?

In the meantime, I anticipate a Bill to ban fishing, which must inevitably follow since the principle of banning sports which cause harm to animals has now been established. There are millions of fishermen in this country, many of them Labour voters, and the end of their hobby would cause them to rebel against their favoured party; but we know that this would be no discouragement to such a highly principled group as the New Labour ideologues.

Crowthorne, Berkshire

Hostage-taking in Iraq is inevitable

Sir: The sad truth behind the kidnapping and killing of Western civilians in Iraq is that it is that it is inevitable. We have all been made into terrorist targets by our governments' actions. The killing of the American contractors forced to wear orange jump-suits like the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay tells its own story.

The desperate plea made by Ken Bigley and his family to Tony Blair is heart-rending and piteous, but is equally a waste of time. After all the people who have been killed in Iraq - ten thousand innocent Iraqi civilians, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, as well as over a thousand Americans and sixty-six British soldiers - does anyone think that Mr Blair would be swayed by one more life-or-death situation?


Sir: We do not negotiate with kidnappers and terrorists.

How did weapons decommissioning come to be on the agenda in political discussions about Northern Ireland? What word describes the process by which our fellow human beings were taken from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay? Have Iraqi civilians killed and maimed by bombs or rockets fired from American airplanes felt any different terror from those killed by roadside bombs?

In the asymmetric war in which we find ourselves following an illegal invasion, perhaps symmetry in language would illuminate the truth and truth set us free.

London WC1

Sir: I can reluctantly understand Tony Blair's refusal to negotiate with terrorists over the release of Ken Bigley - but what I can't understand is why the many foreign nationals now in Iraq are not being protected by coalition forces.

Most of these civilians are there to try and rebuild Iraq after the devastation caused by the US/UK invasion. But they seem to be easy targets for hostage-takers as well as the various resistance groups and insurgents now operating in the country, including Baghdad.

The same applies to many of the "liberated" Iraqis, scores of whom are killed each day - often whilst waiting to join the police or Iraqi military units. Why are the coalition forces not protecting these innocent people? Why aren't "Green Zones" established around the recruitment centres and police stations? The coalition forces seem quite good at defending themselves, but not so good at saving thousands of innocent Iraqis from often horrendous death.

This again shows the paucity of thought or planning as to what might happen after the invasion.

Shepshed, Leicestershire

Sir: Congratulations to Johann Hari on his article "Beheaded hostages, slaughtered children and the misguided 'war on global terror' " (22 September).

Of course the indiscriminate use of the word "terrorism" serves only to obscure uncomfortable political realities. It is also inherently racist, because it encourages us to think that the Chechen, Iraqi, Kashmiri, Palestinian and other societies are somehow different from our own.

We know that in our societies we have opportunists, mad people, bad people, weak people, stupid people, careerists, leaders, followers, bullies etc. And yet we believe that at a certain political moment the people in other societies divide into simple categories of good and evil, supporters of "liberty and democracy" and "terrorists", and thus we avoid the very uncomfortable truth that they have exactly the same range of human characteristics as we do.

If our society were put under the strain of foreign occupation, how many of us would become "terrorists", how many would use the opportunity to make a quick buck and how many would be just too scared to do what we know is right? We need look no further than mainland Europe in the Second World War to find the answers.

Milton Keynes

Low pass-marks

Sir: As a university student of mathematics I have followed the debate over low pass-marks in recent maths exams with mounting frustration.

A lower than normal pass-mark can indicate two different things: it can mean that the standard required to obtain a given grade has fallen, as all commentators seem to have immediately assumed; or it can mean that the exam is simply more difficult than usual, so the same standard of candidates corresponds to lower scores.

If exams are becoming more difficult, that can only be a good thing. In recent years GCSE and A-level exams in maths have leaned towards setting large numbers of questions that are essentially routine. The most capable students are then distinguished more on their ability to avoid making mistakes under pressure than on their actual skill in the subject. This is why university admissions staff complain that A-levels do not do enough to separate candidates at the top end.

In many university exams, half marks would be a very creditable score. Indeed, in the examination I took at the end of my first year of an undergraduate maths course, half of the available marks would get you first-class honours; nobody claimed that this meant the exam was easy.

If the shock-horror reports of low pass-marks result from the introduction of more difficult questions capable of stretching the most able students, this is certainly a change for the better.


Crippling shoes

Sir: The article on crippling high heels and cramped shoes (18 September) is well-timed, and not just for the girlies. Link this to an earlier report quoting the John Lewis chain claiming that, although uniform sizes had increased greatly, shoe sizes have not. So people get taller and their feet do not get longer? Come on!

Our branch refuses to stock anything over size 11 for men (I asked several times) and no "sensible" flat school shoes for young girls over size 4. My 8-year-old girl has size 5 feet; my 15-year-old son has size 13 and he is not alone. Of course John Lewis's shoe departments now have no custom from us - so it is not aware of the demand.

My husband crammed his size-12 feet into size 11 and the results are now painfully obvious. He was only aware that he was in the wrong size after an elderly shoefitter in a walking-boot shop pointed it out. I suffered sneers from posh shoe shops for daring to covet beautiful shoes - which were never available in my size. The assistants would arrive helpfully with shoe horns and suggestions that the shoes would "give". I am size 8.

As our choice is limited to boring shoes, our expenditure is similarly curtailed - there is pent-up demand which is not being met. Others may act like Cinderella's sisters and pay the penalty.

Welwyn, Hertfordshire

Green Government

Sir: Your environmental scoreboard ("How green is our PM?", 14 September) reflects the UK's international leadership on climate change. However, it misses some important plus points.

There is no mention of the Government's role in reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, moving away from subsidies encouraging intensive farm production to a system which requires protection and enhancement of the rural environment. No mention either that air quality continues to improve through measures to curb emissions from industry, transport and domestic services. Agreed, much more work to do, but the air we breathe is much cleaner than 10 or 20 years ago.

In England, household waste recycled reached 14.5 per cent in 2002-03 - double that for 1996-97; 66 per cent of households have a kerbside recycling scheme. For the first time in four years in 2002-03 the amount of waste being sent to landfill by local authorities fell.

No mention of energy efficiency and how the Government's plans will cut carbon emissions by an extra 12 million tonnes in the next six years. And on fuel poverty, an extra £95m provided by 2007-08 for improving the energy efficiency of homes under the Warm Front scheme.

On transport, you don't say that a key aim for the UK presidency of the EU is to include aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme or refer to the ongoing work to promote the take-up of cleaner, more efficient vehicles and fuels.

In summary, the Government has achieved a great deal, but acknowledges there is still a great deal more to be done, as the Prime Minister pointed out in his speech this week.

Secretary of State
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
London SW1

Ordinary islanders

Sir: Elizabeth Davies writes disparagingly of the horrors facing the people of the Cayman Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan ("Cayman islanders accuse government of playing down devastation", 22 September). Contrary to the picture she paints, there are many regular people - Caymanians, if you can believe it! - living in these islands, people who live normal, middle-class lives as teachers, nurses, shop clerks, maids, labourers, and so on, including many foreign nationals who work for low wages in the tourist industry.

These people do not live in "famously sumptuous houses", and some of them cannot afford to insure their modest homes. Rather than yachts, they have - or rather had - small fishing craft.

These people too have lost their roofs, their belongings, and in many cases their livelihoods. I think you will find that it is these people, and many even less well off, who make up the majority of residents of the Cayman Islands.

Cayman Brac
Cayman Islands

Censors defied

Sir: A unique aspect of Russ Meyer, "King of the Nudies", (Obituary, 23 September) is that in the 1990s he refused to release his films if cuts had been demanded by censors! Would that other film-makers had his gumption.

London W2
The writer was an examiner for the British Board of Film Classification, 1984-2000

Barred from the US

Sir: If British citizens such as Yusuf Islam are denied entry to the US by a McCarthy-type witch-hunt that fails to provide proper evidence then it seems clear that the Bush administration fears freedom of speech from any person designated a peace activist. Since the British puppet leader is unlikely to raise a protest then perhaps we should show our disgust and boycott the US as place to visit.

Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent

In a huff

Sir: Judith Wheeler (letter, 21 September) thinks that John Walsh should read his OED or get out of London more. May I comment? On what basis is "huff" an adjective? The fact that it is referred to as "a" huff is sufficient proof that it is a noun. We in the South-east might also say "go off in a huff", but we would not say "take a huff". Take a bath certainly, take offence by all means, but take a huff? - Never! John Walsh for Prime Minister, I say.

Harpenden Hertfordshire

Sir: John Walsh and Judith Wheeler may enjoy these immortal lines from Groucho Marx in Duck Soup (Paramount, 1933): "You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon you can leave in a minute and a huff!"

London E7