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Tuesday 29 December 2009
Letters: Bird culls
Parakeets face cull, but oh for the wings of the sea eagle
The article, "Noisy Parakeets fall foul of the tourist trap" (23 December), is misleading. From 1 January 2010, landowners and occupiers will be able to deal with parakeets causing significant damage to crops, having a significant negative impact on native wildlife or raising issues affecting public health and safety without the need to apply for a personal licence. It remains illegal for anyone to kill monk and ring-necked parakeets, except in exceptional circumstances.
Comparing parakeets to sea eagles is like comparing apples and oranges. Parakeets are not a native species of the British Isles and numbers of escaped ring-necked parakeets have grown rapidly, with associated problems emerging.
The sea eagle is a native species once also found in England. In 1700, there were more than 200 pairs in the UK, but by 1916, the species had been driven to extinction by human persecution. No decision to reintroduce the sea eagle to England has yet been made by Natural England, but we will run a public consultation on that next year, after more research.
Dr Helen Phillips
Chief Executive, Natural England, London SW1
The eventual economic benefits of the eagle's huge wingspan, shock of white tail-feathers and bright-eyed glare is significant. On the Isle of Mull, in Scotland's Inner Hebrides, eagle-watchers contribute about £1.5m to the local economy each year.
In more ways than one, our countryside is definitely richer for the return of the white-tailed eagle, which belongs as much to the lowlands of England as it does to the Highlands of Scotland.
RSPB Head of Countryside and Species Conservation, Sandy, Bedfordshire
The business of higher education
By what logic is tertiary education under the aegis of a Minister for Business (front page, 23 December)? And what qualifies that minister, Peter Mandelson, to dictate to professional academics, themselves inifinitely better qualified than he is, to know what and how best to teach undergraduates?
I guess it suits a nation of shopkeepers that this be so. And it fits with this grindingly materialist view of the world that the one word never used in respect of universities is "education". Yet surely to strive to have a properly educated population would be no bad thing?
Tory and Labour education policies are now at one. The whole purpose of the education system is to feed the economic machine. By implication, a liberal education is a waste of time and money. The slide began with Baker's Education Reform Act and is now complete with vocational degrees. Soon, grants will be given only to students who do degrees that the government of the day approves of.
Michael Gove has already made a start by suggesting that if top science graduates go into teaching their debts will be paid. Victorian values and payment by results are on their way. Where is the Tawney of the 21st century?
The late Professor Sir Brian Pippard (1920-2008) advocated the possibility of a two-year university degree course in the late 1960s/early 1970s. This was coupled with the concept that no academic specialisation should occur until after this two-year degree; students who wished to specialise would undertake a two-year Masters degree. As I recall, his critics felt that this was a way of obtaining higher education "on the cheap".
This was in a time when some 5 per cent of school leavers went to university; how much more appropriate the concept is today with a target of 50 per cent going to university and many of them requiring a more general education to prepare them for the changes in the modern world.
We can only hope Peter Mandelson will implement more of these "Pippardian" ideas, and possibly apportion some of the credit.
Dr David Bartlett
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
This Government recognises the higher education sector as one of the nation's most precious assets, in terms of the pursuit of learning and as an absolute economic imperative for our future growth. Now let me put the figures in our grant letter into context.
It asks for a £135m reduction in the Higher Education Funding Council's allocation for next year. This represents 1.1 per cent of the total government spend of £12.3bn on higher education. HEFCE agrees these savings should be made in a way which minimises impact on teaching and students.
And we are not cutting student numbers, nor are we penalising universities for this Government's aspiration for 50 per cent of young people to go on to higher education. We have always been clear that over-recruitment would be penalised, except in special circumstances, such as last year's extra 10,000 STEM places we allowed for as a recessionary measure.
Minister of State for Higher Education, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, London SW1
Royal smile would be very welcome
After reading your report ("Queen's sadness over deaths in Afghanistan", 26 December), one might be forgiven for thinking that the Queen had devoted most of her broadcast to a commercial on behalf of the Armed Forces, just as she did a few years ago in the case of Iraq.
I was relieved that this was not the case and that in fact she gave far more emphasis to the peaceful initiatives of young people in the Commonwealth.
All well and good, but the Queen remained grim of visage throughout. Couldn't she be tactfully persuaded that an occasional smile might be welcome to the millions of viewers who watch her on what is traditionally a day of celebration? It might even have brought a message of hope to those whose personal circumstances have left them with little to celebrate this year.
Many citizens must share the Queen's sadness at the tragic deaths of our young men and women in our wilful war in Afghanistan.
Yet her failure to mention the tens of thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq (many of them women and children) could be seen to imply a lack of awareness of the suffering caused in these countries by our doomed efforts to solve differences by means of war.
In this age of globalisation we know, more than ever, that we are all members of the human race, and we survive or go down together.
Divided world of Judaism
Jeffry Kaplow (letters, 26 December) is correct that Orthodox Judaism has "a traditional reluctance to proselytise", but this is not because it "believes that its people are chosen of God [and] "chosen-ness is regarded as something almost genetic".
On the contrary, it simply does not see being Jewish as a sine qua non for salvation, because the Talmud teaches "the righteous of all nations have a place in the World to Come".
But anyone who has a genuine desire to accept its beliefs and practices is welcome to convert, although the Beth Din (Jewish Court) will first conduct a careful examination to ensure that s/he is sincere and understands what s/he is taking on.
Allen Shaw, in the letter below Mr Kaplow's, writes, "JFS refused admission to the child because his mother had been converted at a progressive, not an Orthodox synagogue". Since the non-Orthodox movements differ in crucial matters from Orthodox Jud-aism, they are better thought of as separate religions, albeit based on Jewish sources. But so too is Christianity and, to a lesser degree, Islam.
Martin D Stern
How terrorism terrifies officials
At the height of the IRA terror campaign, it was a matter of pride that we went about our business as usual. Things are different now (report, 27 December). Any single attack on western targets, successful or not, results in a cascade of oppressive measures to be borne by innocent travellers. This terrified response by the authorities may not be exactly the sort of terror the activists want to spread but it is almost as good.
The craven response is not even effective as far as preventing terrorist acts is concerned, witness how a man known to be an extremist passed through several airports and got on a plane to Detroit with explosives strapped to his body.
Instead, the dim-witted repression just makes everybody miserable. So now, nobody is allowed to leave their seat for the last hour. The in-flight map display will be turned off so terrorists will not know where they are (I'm not making this up: some genius who hasn't heard of miniature GPS receivers thinks this will make all the difference). And it's only one piece of hand-baggage each, including duty free.
I'm dreading the day when somebody takes over a plane using unarmed combat. As usual, the panicky response will be over the top. We can expect naked passengers to be shackled to their seats throughout the flight. Terrifying.
When Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, was asked to justify the British military presence in Afghanistan, he famously said our troops are there because people in that country were "plotting". In the light of the latest terrorist incident, it is clear that there has been serious "plotting" in Nigeria and the Yemen.
Possible military intervention in these two countries (in addition to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia etc) will soon have to appear on the Home Secretary's "plotting" agenda.
The Christmas Day terror attack has provoked much outrage, and the usual calls for racial and ethnic profiling. Rest assured, this is already inconveniencing millions of people.
I've been forced to cancel my New Year travel as a result of visa delays. The embassy officials concerned admitted the increased precautions are due to my ethnic lineage (not my nationality, because I was born in the UK). But this seems redundant if airport security staff aren't scrutinising people already on the terror watchlist.
It's a glass act
If Howard Jacobson does not invite people to dinner because his wife cannot cook ("Funny how the scenes of contentment you picture for yourself never materialise", 26 December), maybe he should try cooking himself? Tim Matthews
That adds up
Steve Connor's interesting article on the golden ratio (22 December) confuses Professor Bejan's use of mathematics. As a mathematician, he can create theorems, which can be proven or, as a physicist, he can create laws using the language of mathematics to describe them. He cannot prove these laws, only provide evidence to support them. It sounds as if Professor Bejan is an applied mathematician: he looks at interesting features of the natural world and marries them to theorems in mathematics. This marriage does not create a mathematical law but a natural law.
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Aged and concerned
Am I unique in being 73 and having both parents alive? It was always the plan that, as their only child, I would move into their sheltered-housing flat when they no longer lived in it. Then they needed a nursing home at £1,000 a week each. Fifteen months later, their savings are exhausted. The flat has to be sold to pay their care and I have to return to my cheaper house with no prospect of affording a return. Survival ideas would be welcome.
Chew on this
Lisa Markwell says this is no time to make New Year resolutions (26 December). One that all of us can make, which is not difficult but of great value to our future and the future of our ailing planet, would be to go vegetarian every Monday. If everyone in the UK abstained from meat one day a week it would result in more carbon savings than taking five million cars off the road.
Road to oblivion?
Reading Richard Ingrams' thoughts on Top Gear (26 December) had me wondering whether Clarkson and his mates will end up being the Black and White Minstrels of the Noughties, stars of a programme so politically incorrect it will be spoken of only in hushed tones, with not even the shortest clip appearing in future TV reviews.
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