What has happened to the British Army? Can it any longer be regarded as an effective fighting force? Generals openly squabble with the government. Soldiers post endless complaints on Facebook. The families of the soldiers call for them to come home and seem to object in principle to the notion that if soldiers go to war there's a chance they will die.
We are told that it's too dangerous to travel by road in Afghanistan, so more helicopters are needed. If our Army has no control over the ground and has to fly everywhere, isn't that an admission that we are losing the war?
The news is dedicated 24/7 to coverage of every individual coffin being flown home, amidst outpourings of grief, followed by bitter remarks about the Government and demands for the troops to pull out.
Every soldier's death is announced on the news on every channel and repeated round the clock on every hourly bulletin. Anyone who has read Clausewitz (obviously, our generals and political and media leaders haven't) will know that the government, military and people (and media) must be as one if a war is to be won.
The leaders of the Taliban simply need to show their soldiers the TV pictures from Britain, distribute British newspapers to their men and tell them the comments of the soldiers' families for them to know that their victory is very close. The truth is that Britain is no longer capable of conducting wars. We manifestly don't have the stomach for it.
Our media, wallowing in emotion, sentimentality and cynical Government-bashing, is a disgrace. They would rather sell papers and win ratings than win a war. In the 24/7 media age, war has simply become impossible.
The British Army has become a joke.
Authors unlikely to 'lurk' at schools
Ian Barge (letters, 18 July) is concerned that predatory authors may lurk outside schools in search of innocent victims, having visited days previously. Perhaps I can reassure him.
Almost all of the many dozens of schools I have visited since my first book was published have been more than an hour's journey from my home, often much more. Returning within a few days to hang around outside would be somewhat inconvenient and likely to arouse suspicion.
In fact, as a strategy for gaining access to children, honing one's craft for years to finally achieve publication, promoting oneself as an author who visits schools, undertaking such visits, then sneaking back post-visit in the manner suggested, would be considerably less efficient and more likely to fail than finding a partner, having children of one's own, and encouraging them to bring friends home.
I hope Mr Barge will no longer consider me a potential threat to the children I talk to, and will agree that the proposed vetting charge is unjust and unreasonable. But, should he still believe it necessary that I undergo vetting, perhaps he could do the decent thing and offer to pay my £64 contact-with-children tax himself?
It is good to see authors standing up against the government's Vetting and Barring Scheme (report, 16 July). As a school governor for more than 10 years, I have been vetted several times. Yet in all the time I have been a governor, I have never been alone with a pupil. Nearly every meeting is held in the evening when there are no children in the school, so I see pupils only at concerts and celebrations or when serving on a discipline panel (with other adults present).
The wide scope of the scheme has always seemed unnecessarily paranoid, but we just shrug and put up with it. What is particularly sad about the present preoccupation with child abuse by strangers is the way children are being encouraged to see all adults as a threat. I am now a councillor and, at a recent photo op to celebrate new play equipment being installed in a local park, several of us were pictured alongside local children (with parental agreement) who were playing there. After the pictures were taken, one 10-year-old said, "Are you paedophiles then?".
The vetting that so many of your correspondents complain about is only the latest symptom of the culture of mistrust in which we now live. It was quite the reverse when I was young.
Many years ago, I was waiting for a train on Honeybourne station when a young lady asked me if I would mind looking after her baby while she went to the loo. Without hesitation, I did so. It did not occur to her that I might molest her child, nor to me that she might abscond, leaving me holding the baby. We trusted each other.
A few days ago, now an octogenarian, I was sitting in a crowded London underground train when a young lady got on with a small child and both had to stand. I asked the young lady if the little girl would like to sit on my lap, at which the child clung to her mum, both of them looking at me in terror, so I offered her my seat instead.
You report that about £360m will be collected if the £64 fee is paid by just half of the 11.3 million people expected to be coerced on to the register. I hope that the government is not making plans on how to spend this money, because anyone who is required to be on the register to pursue their occupation will be entitled to claim the full amount as a tax deduction.
Most members of the categories you list as liable to pay fees are likely to be taxpayers. It follows that, whatever the gross revenue may be, the net revenue will be minimal, and possibly even negative, given the administrative costs of charging millions of people £64 apiece then reimbursing this through the income tax system.
Saudi's dark record on human rights
Cruel punishments for "moral" offences isn't the only human rights issue that bedevils Saudi Arabia ("Princess facing Saudi death penalty given secret asylum", 20 July). As Amnesty shows in a 69-page report this week, the kingdom's already-dire human rights record has been made even worse during its own "war on terror" drive.
Since 2001, at least 9,000 people have effectively disappeared into Saudi Arabia's secretive and unaccountable justice system; more than 3,000 have not since emerged. Apart from occasional announcements from the authorities over trials said to be in progress, it is almost impossible to get reliable information about the fate of those apprehended. What we do know is alarming: detainees tortured, trials without lawyers, prisoners kept in jail years after their sentences have expired.
This week, we're seeing a rare light shone on Saudi Arabia's disturbingly dark human rights record. But when will foreign ministries around the world wake up to just how miserable this record actually is?
Campaigns Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2
A charitable look at state schools
With exquisite timing, local councils are demanding more money from central government to fund an unexpected increase in pupil numbers, partly at least because parents are less able to afford private education, a day after the Charities Commission launched their attack on independent schools on the basis that they are not providing public benefit. It is incomprehensible to me as a taxpayer that saving the Exchequer billions in providing education for 7 per cent of school-age children compared with tax breaks of £100m to independent schools with charitable status is not to the public benefit.
If the state sector provided the quality of education available in the private sector, independent schools would disappear, so the social engineering delegated to the Charities Commission would be unnecessary.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Selling homes to fund old-age care
The cry goes up, not in your leading article (15 July), that it is unfair the family home should have to be sold to pay for the care of an old person (letters, 21 July). But what is unfair about it?
Provision needs to be made for the home to continue to be available for a spouse or partner. But, if the home is no longer required, it makes sense for it to be sold. To exclude the equity in the home from capital available to pay for care would be unfair to those whose capital is in other forms. It would be unfair to those who have downsized and converted part of the equity into other savings.
In this country, many of those now old have used house purchase as a main form of investment. They have benefited in the past from generous mortgage tax relief. The care system is very patchy in quality and needs all the funds it can get. There are far more deserving calls on taxpayers, particularly when the public finances are shaky. And as the population ages, it becomes ever more difficult for the young to fund the care of the old.
Lest this should appear to be special pleading, I should mention that I am 69, married, with a house (not downsized) as our most important asset, and have children who will inherit what is left. Of course, going into care and selling a home is often a sad experience, but why on earth should the taxpayer assist in preserving capital to pass on after death?
Hospital parking not tax on the sick
I read JH Moffat's letter (17 July) about the £2 parking charge at Wythenshaw hospital while in the hospital's cardiac outpatients department. Whatever else this institution is, it is not cheap and it is not free, but it is brilliant in providing a service to us all without us having to worry about paying the bill.
The parking charge is no more a tax on the sick than is the bus-fare of those who came by bus or the shoe-leather of those who walked.
Afterwards, I took myself off shopping to Trafford Centre five miles away. There, the parking is free at the point of use but a pair of socks can cost up to £20. That price must surely include a parking tax. Is this fair? Or is it extorting money from the unshod?
J H Moffatt got off lightly; my wife had to pay £2.50 for a 10-minute appointment at Mayday hospital, Croydon.
Say that again
Damian McBride, former spin-doctor to Gordon Brown, says Brown was "speechless with anger" over McBride's laddish emails (report, 21 July). Reading that tongue-twister carefully, I think we need independent corroboration. Maybe the PM's anger was about being damaged, yet again.
Load of bull
Has Sarah Brown any ideas about what to do with the bull calves of dairy breeds ("Operation Sarah", 16 July)? Is it more virtuous to incinerate them than to eat them? If we ate more veal in this country, the poor cows would have the pleasure of their male offspring's company for six months, instead of having it taken at birth. Unless Mrs Brown is a vegan, her rejection of veal was an empty gesture. She sounds dangerously like her husband in doing what she hopes will be popular without thinking it through.
I would happily pay the TV licence fee just to listen to BBC Radio 4, although that's not needed. But I do object to "top-slicing" the fee to support commercial television. As taxpayers, we had no option other than to support the banks because our entire way of life could have been destroyed. I do not think that commercial TV is of such strategic importance.
Watchdog has teeth
Ofgem has not watered down proposals to make energy bills clearer ("Watchdog muzzled by fear of energy companies", 16 July). We will shortly publish final proposals on measures to better protect customers, including requirements that suppliers send them annual statements setting out the name of the tariff, annual consumption and how much they pay annually. This will arm customers with better information if they wish to switch. The licence conditions accompanying it will be fully enforceable.
Chief Executive, Ofgem, London SW1
In the article on Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday (18 July), I find it improbable that Alex Duval Smith, reporting from Cape Town (in the midst of a cold, wet winter, with flooding) found a student from Khayelitsha who told her: "We're on summer break so nothing has been arranged." Summer break in mid-July in the southern hemisphere?
A de Lange