I strongly agree with Paul Vallely in that the West should not be rushing into Mali, but there is one issue to add to his list of qualms: that of mineral resources ("Don't go to war over a band of zealots", 20 January). In Mali, Algeria and other countries nearby, there are deposits of uranium, oil and gas. Uranium is already mined by the French company Areva in neighbouring Niger and prospecting for oil is being considered in Mali's section of the Taoudeni Basin. This means that all action currently taking place in the region is potentially linked to commercial interests, as was the case in the Iraq war.
I find it most disconcerting that modern wars are so often sold to the public as "the war against terror" when, under the surface, they are mostly pursuing commercial interests. In this way, corporate interests repeatedly "abuse" both the public and the state with corporations (a) using national armies to control resources, and (b) gaining profit by the sale of arms and equipment both to other corporations and to national governments.
War for commercial gain is an affront to those countries invaded, to the taxpayer and to soldiers who are maimed and killed believing that they are fighting for a "greater good" when really corporate profit is the main agenda.
I'm writing to thank your readers for so generously donating to this year's Christmas Appeal in support of the national domestic violence charity, Refuge. Two months of features in this newspaper have highlighted our life-changing and life-saving work with abused women and children. In these increasingly straitened times, we need public support more than ever to sustain this vital work. Your readers responded to the appeal with extraordinary generosity, raising £16,000. We have been quite overwhelmed by their kindness, and I would like to thank each and every person who donated. Your support will make a huge difference to countless women and children.
Sandra Horley CBE
Chief executive, Refuge
You report that "high-quality childcare is a middle-class preserve" (20 January). It never used to be in the days when house prices were low enough to be affordable on one income, with one parent thus being able to stay at home looking after his/her own children.
Janet Street-Porter is happy to spend £26 having her Ferragamo handbag strap repaired ("High streets don't need chain stores", 20 January). But there are many people who would find paying £26 for a whole handbag a bit of a stretch. That is why high street chain stores such as Bhs and Primark thrive – because they sell acceptably stylish accessories for under £30.
"When did it become a human right to have a house with a garden?" asked Janet Street-Porter (Editor at large, 13 January). It's a curious question coming from a woman with three homes. In the same column, Janet bemoans people's lack of cooking skills. Perhaps the gardens so many dream of – dreams that she dismisses – could be used for growing vegetables. Using their own produce would get people more interested in cooking. Or is only Janet entitled to do that?
The Environment Agency's call for the public to build snowmen to slow the thaw has been much derided, but there is sense in the idea. The risk of flooding is great in urban areas where gritting, for example, speeds the thaw and older drains cannot cope with high volumes of water. Packed snow maintains a lower core temperature and takes longer to thaw. But the number of snowmen required to make a difference is debatable.
Henry Hitchings observes the difference between good manners and etiquette (20 January). A friend of mine, on attending a grand dinner at Oxford University, saw that the first course was gulls' eggs. Never having been served them before, he turned to his neighbour and asked how they should be eaten. The reply was courteous but unhelpful: "Just the same as plovers' eggs."