Sir: Can the Government's chief scientific adviser ("Plan to cull badgers met with dismay by animal-rights activists", report, 23 October) explain why, if badgers are the main source of TB infection in cattle, there are cattle with TB on the Isle of Man, where there are no badgers? Or how, if badgers and other wild animals are the source, France manages to have badgers and wild boar without a TB epidemic among cattle?
The source of the TB infection stems from the poor and crowded conditions many farmers keep their cattle in, just as bovine BSE was caused by feeding them offal and ground-up spinal cords. When people are left to live in poorly heated, unsanitary and crowded conditions and poorly fed – as many were in the 19th and early 20th century and as the homeless are now – TB was and is rife. The same goes for cattle.
On the BBC's "Have Your Say" website you can read the views of the "guardians of the countryside" in the farming community, demanding the right to kill wild animals as "vermin", largely on the grounds that they don't make any money from them. One even hypocritically says that "cows have a right to life too", as if they wouldn't be sending cattle with TB to the slaughterhouse for money if they hadn't contracted the disease.
Badgers are an endangered species. Cattle are not. When will the Government stop pandering to the backward views of what has become mostly an industry of large farms treating domesticated animals and people as merely a source of profit, and endangered species as an impediment to money-making.
The suffering of asylum-seekers
Sir: Your article headlined "Asylum-seekers are left to starve" (22 October) highlights a really shocking situation. We run a drop-in for destitute asylum-seekers and, since March 2006, we have met hundreds who are suffering tremendously.
Asylum-seekers who choose destitution over deportation do so for a very good reason. Overwhelmingly, the people we welcome have been persecuted in their home countries, often after speaking out against oppressive regimes. Many placed in detention at home have been tortured, and others multiply raped.
We know that people who flee their countries and claim asylum are often perceived as traitors and so are even more likely to be persecuted on their return. For that reason, they choose to live underground rather than be forcibly repatriated.
We see people who are hungry, who are suffering from the physical and emotional after-effects of torture and who have lost family members in tragic circumstances. They sleep on park benches, in graveyards, on buses and on friends' floors. They are banned from working and live a hand-to-mouth existence.
Destitute asylum-seekers walk the same streets as we do, but they inhabit a different universe. It is a world of fear, hunger and enormous physical and mental discomfort.
It is a world that we, who like to boast of our robust democracy and apparent offer of sanctuary to those who have been "genuinely" persecuted, should be profoundly ashamed of.
New North London Synagogue, London N3
Sir: Unfortunately, your otherwise excellent article omits one of the main causes of this crisis. The story you describe, of Ibrahim Zukrya from Sudan, is illustrative of the problem. Ibrahim, despite being tortured, was denied asylum in this country and was forced into destitution, despite his well-founded fear of persecution, and his fit to the Hague Convention definition of a refugee. Luckily, three years later, when he found a good solicitor, his application was accepted.
Not only has the government imposed destitution and starvation upon refugees, but they have acted to ensure immigration work is so unprofitable that most good solicitors can no longer afford to work in this area. Brighton is now a desert in terms of immigration advice and representation. The only legal-aid provider of immigration advice is Brighton Housing Trust's Immigration Legal Service, a charity.
Because destitution seems to be a deliberate policy aim of the Government, the Refugee Trust was set up to provide a basic minimum of help to asylum-seekers in Brighton and Hove who had no recourse to any other form of help. The mere fact that we exist is a terrible indictment of British society in the 21st century.
The Refugee Trust, Brighton
Railing at the Eurostar changes
Sir: Some days ago, my wife and I got the 3pm Eurostar back from Brussels and left it at Ashford an hour and 40 minutes later, along with 100 or more fellow-passengers. We dispersed by car and domestic rail services to other towns in Kent and Sussex. Ashford International, opened only 12 years ago and built at vast (and largely public) expense, is a wonderful station; not only is it served by Eurostar, with several trains a day to Paris, Lille, Brussels and even Disneyland, but also it is a busy junction, with direct services to Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings, Orpington, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Bromley, Maidstone, Ramsgate, Canterbury, Margate, Dover, Folkestone and many other towns between.
So people living in, say, Canterbury or Lewes can get by train to Paris and Brussels with only one change, and without having to go via London. If they catch the 9am to Lille they can link up there with TGV services to the whole of France, without having to travel to the Gare du Nord and cross Paris by Metro or taxi.
This sensible and green state of affairs ends on 14 November, because most of Ashford's Eurostar services are being transferred to a new station at Ebbsfleet, 50 miles away in north Kent, which cannot be accessed by train, except (idiotically) by Eurostar from London, Paris or Brussels, because it is served only by the high-speed line. If anyone wants to get to it from Ashford, they will have to drive, a round trip of 100 miles on congested motorways, then pay a parking charge of £11.50 a day.
The Eurostars will still run through Ashford (there is no other route), but only four a day will stop there, three for Paris and one for Disneyland but none for Brussels. Lille will be served just once a day by the Disneyland train, which will get there a couple of hours too late to catch most of the TGVs which were originally retimed and rerouted to link up with Eurostars.
The Eurostarcrats have so far turned a resolutely deaf ear to petitions, green organisations, ministers, local government and French and Belgian nationals and companies who have moved to Ashford to take advantage of its accessibility to their home bases.
It is not too late for them to think again. They have only to arrange for a few more trains to stop at Ashford (adding a few minutes to their journey times) to prevent all the transport integration, so carefully built up, from being destroyed. Those few trains should include services to Brussels and Lille.
Fat chance of change
Sir: In the past 25 years, this nation has drifted towards the "American" model (money before people) in social and economic policies, which may account for some problems you report ("British people are the fattest in Europe", 23 October).
If we were to align ourselves more closely with the "Old European" alternative (people before money) we may be able to find answers to these problems.
Sir: What a delightful day for your chubby readers, such as myself (reports, 23 October). First, in your Health section, we actually have a balanced article on the whole obesity debate from Professor Patrick Basham (anyone out there remember the term "moral panic") then the revelation that we "chubbies" are happier (at last I know why I am so much more cheerful than the endless army of miserable dieters I meet these days).
Second, I turn to Letters and read Caroline Doggart ("Civil servants should stay slim or lose their jobs"). After 26 years of hard work in the public sector, with minimal sick leave, I am to be rewarded with dismissal. Joy of joys, given that because I am in my fifties, job loss will be accompanied by my pension and severance pay; I could not be more delighted.
And I could share a fun leaving party with the legions of fellow-chubbies who work to keep essential services going as we look forward to a life of leisure financed by the public purse. If Ms Doggart would care to inform us which group of people she next wishes to target in her campaign to ensure that only the fittest survive in the workplace, they too could look forward to an escape from the daily grind.
Powers of unreasonare shared by all
Sir: There may or may not be differences in powers of reasoning between blacks and whites but the powers of unreason are shared by all ("Africans are less intelligent than Westerners says DNA pioneer", report, 17 October) .
Let us assume that the bell-shaped curve for IQ scores for blacks and that for whites do not quite overlap. Possibly because of our limited capacity to process information, we don't seem to be able to keep in mind the variability in IQ scores and the average IQ scores at the same time.
As a result, we latch on to the average since it's easy to understand and use the simplifying assumption that every single member of the group was average.
Hence we read headlines that say "Africans are less intelligent than westerners" or "women are less intelligent than men" (last year's headline). It's a very short step to assuming, however unconsciously, that all blacks are less intelligent than all whites or that all women are less intelligent than all men or that all Britons are less intelligent than all Japanese, which is nonsense.
If we take the headline as meaning that some Africans are less intelligent than some westerners, that would indeed be true, as would some westerners are less intelligent than some Africans. Imagine also that you pick someone at random with an IQ of 120 from a mixed group of 50 blacks and 50 whites. Is that person black or white? You have no way of knowing.
Similarly, if you meet a black person, you have no way of predicting his or her IQ in advance. In short, "Africans are less intelligent than westerners" just doesn't mean anything useful, except to those who can't think straight.
Dr S Ian Robertson
Sir: Headlines such as the one on African IQ serve only to give credibility to racists and bigots who already hold this view. How do you think our young black children feel when they see headlines like this?
As a black parent, I can tell you that it demeans them, reduces their self-esteem and confidence and makes them believe they do not get job interviews because they may have already been prejudged by employers who may hold this view.
Sir: Isn't this the James Watson considered a misogynist by Rosalind Franklin, whose crucial work on the double-helix enabled Watson and Crick to claim the Nobel Prize, and who has never acknowledged her part in the discovery?
If so, why on earth are we taking seriously what this person has to say?
Penalties of age
Sir: Margaret Spivey writes (letter, 24 October) that "for the first time, North Somerset Council offers pensioners no concessions for evening Classes". Our village branch of the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) is also now unable to offer concessionary fees to those over 60 and fully retired. Our WEA Regional Office tells us that this is because of the Age Discrimination Act. Sounds like another ill-thought-through piece of legislation.
Rosemary L Johnson
Sir: Henry II of France died in an accident similar to the one suffered by a modern jouster (report, 23 October. In 1559, Henry had been engaged all day at a jousting party. At the end of the afternoon, the keen sporting king ordered a reluctant courtier to mount one last bout. But the courtier's pole splintered. One shard pierced Henry's eye and another his throat. The king was borne unconscious from the field and died soon after, leaving his widow, Catherine de Medici, in charge of the French state because her sons were too young to rule. A splinter was the term for a joust in those days.
W J Dempster
Sir: I live in a city with a 20mph limit theoretically applying within the whole central zone. Nobody takes the slightest notice of it and no one has ever seen a policeman stop a speeding motorist. Indeed, a policeman told me that speed cameras cannot detect speeds under 30mph reliably. Only hand-held cameras do that job, and they need a policeman's hand to operate them. Before we reduce the speed limits we need to enforce the limits we have.
Colin Murison Small
Monkeys see, dogs do
Sir: In the small coastal town in Chile where I lived, rabies was endemic so stray dogs were a problem. The locals would chase away any dog by throwing stones at them. Just like the baboons of Nakuru Park (letter, 24 October),the animals had learnt to equate humans with accurately aimed projectiles, to the point where it was often only necessary to bend over and pretend to pick up something, for the animals to turn and run.
Eduard J Zuiderwijk
Bar Hill, Cambridge
Clinging to a recipe
Sir: My son poaches an egg by dropping it on a square of cling film, which he then screws up and pops into boiling water for the requisite time (letter, 23 October). Whether this cooking method results from years of penury as a student, or his PhD in biochemistry, is not clear.
Sir: Did Keith Nolan (letter, 18 October) pay for his fruit from an account with a certain high-street bank, one of whose cheques I received drawn on the payer's "Currant Account". Should it not have carried a financial health warning that "interest may be paid in peanuts"?