Letters: Gun crime

Guns destroy young people's chance to learn from their mistakes
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Sir: The news of Billy Cox's death came as a shock but not a surprise to the staff at the Fairbridge centre in Kennington. Gangs, guns and drugs are a fact of life for many of the young people that we support, whether they are directly involved or talking about it with their peers at our centres.

Billy had attended Fairbridge for two days and like all of the young people we support he came through choice. He failed to complete the 10-day course but was booked in to start again next week. It is tragic that he will not get this second chance.

Fairbridge encourages young people to learn from their mistakes, to realise the consequences of their actions. After all, this is what we all do - regardless of class and upbringing - in order to make the transition to adulthood.

But where guns are involved - as they increasingly are - the chance to learn from experience is taken away. Billy was ready to try again and would have been given that opportunity at Fairbridge next week. Instead, as we all know, this opportunity was tragically taken away from him when he was shot dead.



Energy from the sun and the tides

Sir: James Moore reports that the nuclear lobby believes the numbers add up (report, 14 February). Based on business-as-usual economics or Stern economics? Apply the Stern discount rates and take full account of the true costs of nuclear and the conclusion would surely be different. British Energy's prospective partners would do better to look at long-term investments in renewables. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is a powerful technology, with no carbon emissions, an inexhaustible supply of fuel, and no dangerous wastes to manage.

CSP concentrates sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and uses the heat to raise steam and drive generators. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation can continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source.

CSP works best in hot deserts, and Britain can get solar electricity from North Africa using highly-efficient HVDC transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3 per cent per 1,000 km, solar electricity may, be transmitted from North Africa to London with only about 10 per cent loss.

In the TRANS-CSP report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe. That report shows in great detail how Europe can meet all its needs for electricity, make deep cuts in CO2 emissions, and phase out nuclear power at the same time.



Sir: It was refreshing to read Patrick Moore's supporting article for the future of nuclear power (15 February). It was however depressing to learn that the Government have now to start the public consultation process again, delaying the next generation of nuclear power. This irresponsible decision will only compound the problem of carbon emissions and delay any real improvements by many years. To cite security and safety as reasons for not progressing with new builds is wildly inaccurate .

As a previous group security manager for BNFL, I had responsibility for the security of Sellafield and the Magnox generating stations. I can assure you that the security of UK nuclear establishments is world-class, and evolves through a process of performance management and continuous improvement. Safety is a culture adopted by all within the nuclear industry, not the oppressive regime experienced in many other industries. The public should be given greater awareness of the truth on nuclear issues and shielded from the scaremongering by some environmentalist groups and elements of the media.



Sir: Patrick Moore implies that the only available non-fossil fuel power supplies are wind and nuclear. Wind power requires large land area for quite modest power outputs compared with tidal and wave power, which are much more energy-intensive and are capable of filling the perceived energy gap which wind power cannot do alone.

The Severn Tidal Barrage has been subject to several inquiries, the most recent being in 2002. The project envisages a system producing 8,640MW (equivalent to approximately nine power stations) which would be about 5 per cent of the UK's present power supplies. The updated version envisages the possibility of pumped storage to enable virtual all-day electricity production. As a bonus the barrage would provide coastal protection from tidal surges which are likely to get worse with global climate change.

The 2002 report concludes with the view that the project is financially viable in the present energy market, given government planning backing. A similar but smaller scheme of 240MW - the Rance barrage at St Malo, France has been operating successfully for 35 years.

The other major "green" alternative for big power generation, wave power, has been subject to extreme prejudice by successive governments, having had its development grants curtailed over the last two decades. Nevertheless wave-power is now back on the agenda with Limpet 500, a small wave-power station off the isle of Islay, built by Powergen.

The Government and nuclear adherents like Moore hope the country will swallow the myth that the only alternatives to fossil fuels are nuclear with a dash of wind thrown to provide a green figleaf.



Attempts to revive EU constitution

Sir: Richard Corbett MEP (Letters, 10 February) makes great play of the fact that 18 EU member-states have ratified the EU Constitution. He does not mention that most of those countries would have rejected it, had it been put to a referendum. Nor does he recall that it was not eurosceptics, but passionate supporters of the EU project who drafted the Constitution, and they chose to make it conditional upon all member-states ratifying it.

It is therefore quite right for sceptics to point out that two founding member-states of the EU, France and Holland, have rejected the Constitution, and that it is therefore dead in its own terms. The fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as President-in-Office of the Council, is now determined to press ahead with the Constitution, without so much as a backward glance at the voters of France and Holland, shows the EU's spectacular contempt for democracy.



Sir: Richard Corbett MEP is right. Even a tiddly-winks club, let alone a union of 27 nations, must have a set of rules - call them a constitution - to define its character.

Such rules must not be set in stone, though. They must be capable of being revised in the light of changing circumstances to avoid perpetuation of such aberrations as the CAP, which was steamrollered by France in 1957 while United Kingdom was standing aloof.

In the world of rapidly evolving globalisation, we must secure political and economic synergies which, in our case, the EU alone can offer. However, this does imply a degree of shared sovereignty.



Sir: Simon Carr may be an experienced observer of Westminster but he is woefully ill-informed about the European Union (sketch, 8 February). Members of the European Commission would be flattered to be told that they are part of the most powerful political body in Europe - they have no powers to pass legislation, the EU budget is only 3 per cent of overall public spending - and members of the European Parliament are far from powerless. They have the power of co-decision over most legislation and indeed, in 1999, brought down an entire European Commission. It is a long time since MPs in Westminster exercised such control over the executive.



We demand local strawberries

Sir: Spanish farmers are complaining that the "demanding English market" for strawberries is draining their precious water (report, 14 February). I have seen punnet upon punnet of Spanish strawberries in our supermarkets. Yes, I have once tried some of the rock-hard bullety tasteless things; but I have never asked for them let alone "demanded" them.

What I would demand is a return to home-grown food in season. I have an allotment where I grow strawberries, and they have a beautiful, sweet flavour and texture when eaten during the months in which they are supposed to be eaten. When they have gone we eat what is coming into season next, and wait for our next strawberry harvest the following May, June, July and August.

We do not have to have everything all the time, all year round. Ban the imports of food out of season; make every supermarket set aside at least 75 per cent of their fruit and veg shelf space for locally produced goods. And let us save food miles; and let the Spanish people keep their water and strawberries for their own consumption.



Cleopatra: the face of power

Sir: Cleopatra's alleged lack of beauty makes a good Valentine's Day tale (report, 14 February), but the real story offered by the coin will have a familiar ring to modern eyes: a military adventure in the Middle East that went disastrously wrong. This powerful portrait was made to match Cleopatra's grandiose title with biblical echoes "queen of kings and of her children who are kings" (or "of the children of kings", as you have it: that last bit of Latin is unclear).

Coins like this were intended to impress upon those who handled them the extraordinary power of Antony and Cleopatra after Antony's Armenian triumph of 34 BC (note the Armenian tiara behind his bullish neck). In that year the lands east of the Bosphorus to Armenia and Mesopotamia were divided between Antony and Cleopatra and their children, while Cleopatra's first-born son and co-ruler Caesarion was formally recognised as the child of the late Julius Caesar and named "King of Kings" in eastern style. These military adventures temporarily brought Cleopatra and her family enormous wealth and prestige. Nonetheless she, Caesarion and Antony all perished within four years of the triumph, casualties of war ensuing from the collapse of the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

While still alive Cleopatra did issue other coins with portraits presenting a rather more modest and attractive image of their queen to the folks back home in Alexandria. These are simply inscribed in Greek "Queen Cleopatra".



What the Iranian president really said

Sir: The march to war with Iran appears to be picking up pace, assisted more often than not by disgraceful comments and actions from the Iranian regime. However, while in no way excusing such behaviour, one has to wonder why the inaccurately translated phrase "wipe Israel off the map", attributed to Ahmadinejad, is repeated ad nauseam including in The Big Question of 1 February.

A closer translation from Farsi might be that "this regime that is occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time". This translation is not such a clear statement of genocidal intent as war-mongers routinely depict but more his desire for regime change or that Israel will one disappear as did the Shah's regime and the Soviet Union. Why does this quote routinely go unchallenged even when Iranian officials have tried to correct it?



Prince William's support

Sir: I agree that Prince William has every right, as an individual, to support any team and attend any match he chooses to (Letters, 16 February). However, if he is neutral or a supporter of another team, I question his commitment to his role as Vice Royal Patron to the Welsh Rugby Union, a role he commenced on 23 January, stating how honoured he was.



Rampaging politicians

Sir: John Pinkerton claims in his letter (15 February) that he considers David Cameron and Boris Johnson unfit to run the country because of their drunken rampages when they were students at Oxford. I would rather trust someone who got their wild days over with when young than some megalomaniac god-botherer like Blair who appears to be having his wild days now. At least Cameron, Johnson etc only trashed restaurants. Blair joined Bush in trashing Iraq.



Sir: I am all in favour of freedom of information - but it does need to be correct information. I was reported to have spent over £1,000 on taxis ("MPs' travel costs unveiled", 14 February). To my almost certain knowledge, I have never once claimed for a taxi journey since becoming an MP in 2001.



Transportation dilemma

Sir: Peter Ritchie (letter, 14 February) asks, "When will public transport be improved and affordable and actually go where you want, not just to the centre of town?" The answer is simple: it will improve when the kind of people who have demanded higher standards in other areas of modern life no longer have a cheap and vastly more convenient private alternative. The Government is to be applauded for grasping this nettle, even though the grossly intrusive means they have proposed at this stage are unacceptable.



Androgynous names

Sir: I don't recall any particular problems during the last 60 years with being called Hilary (Letters, 16 February), other than when our new doctor wanted to call me in for a smear test. I do, however, remember the look of disappointment on the faces of the other (male) members of an office I joined once, as they were obviously expecting a female engineer to arrive.