Sir: I read with interest your excellent article on the poaching threat to Indian tigers (Report, 12 April). But I was surprised to see the emphasis placed on the Tibetan community as consumers of tiger goods.
I organised a major investigation into illegal wildlife trade across the Himalayas (basically from India to China/Tibet, via Nepal) for the WWF, paid for by our Foreign Office. This included rhino horn, bear gall bladders etc, but a main focus was on tiger parts (possibly available on www. citesnepal.org, unless problems in Nepal have closed down the site again). I was also acting curator of Nepal national zoo at a time of concern that captive animal institutions would be used as tiger-smuggling conduits. The wildlife trade investigation included extensive visits to army, police, customs, border posts; discussion with religious groups (with a lot of emphasis on Tibetan Buddhists; (interviews of convicted and suspected smugglers; and undercover investigation (both as tourist buyer and as the smuggler side, in collaboration with the Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists).
We found very little evidence of illegal consumption by the Tibetan community. Tiger parts were certainly highly valued and recognised as such, but only a tiny number of community members could or would obtain them. By far the largest proportion of tiger parts went beyond Tibet for Chinese traditional medicine.
Also the indications were that the primary driving force was the sale of traditional Chinese medicinal products in western expatriate Chinese communities (predominantly in US). Significantly, many of the identified buyers were from mainland China, not Tibet.
My concern is that the photogenic nature of a few Tibetans wearing tiger-skins will lead to an undue and unproductive shift of focus of effort away from the real drivers of the trade.
Anonymous-looking powders and dried bits are far more important as end uses of poached tigers, as indeed are a few hyper-wealthy purchasers of tiger floating bones (also highly unlikely to be Tibetan).
CENTRE FOR APPLIED ZOOLOGY, NEWQUAY COLLEGE, CORNWALL
Does PM now have Royal Prerogative?
Sir: As a long-retired officer in HM Armed Services, I found the report on the court martial of Flight-Lieutenant Dr Malcolm Kendall-Smith headed "Prisoner of conscience : RAF doctor who refused Iraq service is jailed" (15 April) extremely disturbing.
On entering the service I swore allegiance to the Sovereign, and all orders given to me, even if they were through a government or ministerial channel, were endorsed by the Head of State. I assume that when Kendall-Smith entered the RAF he swore allegiance to HM The Queen and that he held the Queen's commission.
Although I appreciate that the report on the court martial proceedings may not be fully comprehensive, it appears that , although Kendall-Smith's allegiance was to the Queen, this allegiance has now been, presumably through the political manipulation of the Royal Prerogative, vicariously transferred to the Prime Minister.
Because of this, orders are now given to HM Armed Services personnel by the Prime Minister, although these personnel do not swear an oath of allegiance to him. Although the Prime Minister may have aspirations, he is not yet Head of State or Commander in Chief of the Armed Service.
It appears the court martial was conducted in rather a cavalier fashion since Kendall-Smith was apparently not allowed to bring any evidence for his defence.
His lawyer has indicated that an appeal will be made . If this is so, I hope that the surreptitious introduction of the Royal Prerogative into military law will be fully examined so that Armed Services personnel will be left in no doubt about loyalty and obedience to lawful orders.
SQDN-LDR H NORCROSS
DFC, RAF (RTD ), FARNHAM ROYAL, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: I am an RAF officer who has served in Iraq on several tours and I believe the front page on 14 April about Flight-Lieutenant Dr Malcolm Kendall-Smith contains an error.
You describe Flt-Lt Kendall-Smith as a "war criminal". My understanding is that a war crime is a crime committed in wartime in violation of accepted customs such as the Geneva Convention, for example, the ill-treatment of prisoners-of-war. Flt-Lt Kendall-Smith has been convicted of failure to obey a legal order under UK military law. He is not, therefore, a war criminal.
English down the centuries
Sir: Masha Bell (Letters, 7 April) is not quite right. The simplification of English grammar had been going on for centuries before the Norman Conquest; read Beowulf, King Alfred, Aelfric or just the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle down the years.
The language now spoken worldwide was orginally the East Midlands dialect and was the creation of Chaucer as much as anybody else. Some of our peculiar spelling was devised by Norman monks: instead of the native English spelling "niht", the monks wrote "night", because that was how it was pronounced (the "gh" is the same as the "ch" in loch, while the "i" was still a long, continental "ee" sound).
Swedish is spoken only by Swedes, but English by Glaswegians (I think), Sydneysiders, New Yorkers, Ontarians, etc. Who's going to make them agree a new orthography?
Finally, English is a hybrid language, and the history is written into each spelling: philosophy is from the Greek, mercy the French, insular the Latin, sky the Norse, thought the Old English. The spelling alone tells you that.
Sir: It is mystifying that John Romer should try to justify the argument for simplifying English spelling by using the cliched but wrong example of "fish" being spelled as "ghoti" (Letters, 8 April). At the beginning of a word, "gh" is never pronounced as "f", and "ti" is never pronounced as "sh" at the end of a word.
And I don't think English can be said to "aspire" to being a lingua franca. People may aspire to learn it because, through no one's design, that is what it has become. But most of these want to learn American English anyway, so they will not be much affected by attempts to simplify spelling in the UK.
Solution flows in our rivers and canals
Sir: Ratepayers are right to complain about water restrictions when our country has a surplus of water (Opinion, 6 April). The reservoir at Kielder in Northumberland is one example of a surplus which could be used to relieve shortages elsewhere. The Government has been irresponsible in failing to provide a national water grid for this essential supply. It would not be expensive and would not require a web of pipelines.
Britain has a network of rivers and 2,000 miles of canals which could easily be used, with extensions by pipelines only where needed. A British Waterways official told me there is no insurmountable reason why Edinburgh could not have a waterways link to London.
C N BURKETT
7,000 reasons to be thankful
Sir: I assure Madeleine Harvey (Letters, 13 April) she doesn't need to learn a further 9,000 kanji to be literate in Japanese. For general literacy, you need about 2,000 kanji; above 2,500, and it's similar to the article on one million words in English: they sit in dictionaries, no longer used.
It remains a very complex script, mixing kanji, kana (hiragana/katakana) and even roman letters, which means Japan is a country where even an educated 12-year-old cannot hope to read a newspaper.
But kana are phonetic, and there are almost no "irregular" kana spellings. You can write entirely in these (though only infants' books are published in this fashion), but Japan copes with the problems of mastering the system by utilising a range of compromises, for example, writing alongside a kanji its pronunciation, if a writer thinks any of their readers may have trouble with it.
Finally, to gently contradict Francis Roads (Letters, 27 March), literacy is certainly a problem in Japan. Learning the script takes up so many class hours, yet some universities now provide remedial courses because entrants do not have even 2,000 kanji, and with the growing dominance of typing, people find it harder to remember how to handwrite them.
DR NICOLAS TRANTER
SCHOOL OF EAST ASIAN STUDIES UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD
Surgical helmets seldom necessary
Sir: The article "If the hat fits", 4 April) presents a one-sided view of the treatment of plagiocephaly. It is important to highlight a balanced approach to the treatment of positional skull deformity, especially in the light of recent interest in the media surrounding helmets.
Plagiocephaly is a common condition, successfully treated with advice from paediatricians and paediatric physiotherapists. In most cases, children's head shape improves by the age of two without the need for a helmet.
Using a helmet to treat plagiocephaly is appropriate only in the treatment of severe cases. Most children respond well to physiotherapy only. Parents are advised to reposition their babies regularly, to lie them on their tummies for play from the age of six weeks and to put them in car seats for only limited times.
These measures prevent plagiocephaly and will assist remoulding the skull if flattening has occurred. Our local health visitors also give this advice.
Manufacturers are able to demonstrate that their helmets have caused skull remoulding. But it cannot be proved that the helmets alone are responsible for the improved skull shape, because the deformity may have corrected itself without intervention. These companies are profiting from the popularity of helmets and have funds to advertise their product. The effectiveness of helmets is not supported by independent clinical research.
Although the "Back to Sleep" campaign advocates babies sleeping on their back to prevent cot death, it is important to place babies on their tummies and on either side during the day; this prevents skull moulding and will encourage normal development of movement.
Reading about the use of helmets on the internet leads to parental anxiety. These parents may then pay for unnecessary treatment. Paediatricians and paediatric physiotherapists throughout the NHS advise against helmets for clinical reasons but are unable to effectively publicise cases of children whose plagiocephaly has resolved as part of the normal growth of the skull. Helmets restrict the visual field (and possibly development of vision), can cause difficulties with head control in younger babies, and could cause overheating or skin irritation.
All parents want a beautiful baby and could be pressured into costly, unnecessary treatment. We are concerned that there is so much coverage of treatment with helmets and no publicity of simple advice that would prevent most cases of plagiocephaly.
MISS ANNE WHITING
MCSP, SENIOR PAEDIATRIC PHYSIOTHERAPIST DR ROBERT SCOTT-JUPP
FRCPCH, CONSULTANT PAEDIATRICIAN, SALISBURY DISTRICT HOSPITAL
Sir: I would like to concur with Ann and Leslie Watson (Letters, 15 April) about the Iranian people. I visited Iran in November 2004 and had a wonderful holiday, made all the more special by the friendliness of the Iranian people we met. We were treated very well, as were the Americans in our party. Iran is a beautiful country, with many ancient buildings.
HUDDERSFIELD, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: As a foundation governor of a Church of England primary school, and a fellow cleric, I would like to applaud Rev Chris Wilson for his speech supporting the ban on funding of more faith schools (Report, 12 April). Like many Christians who view recent developments with dismay, I wish to reassure our parents that our school is not a place where the book of Genesis is mistaken for science, nor where suspicion of people of other faiths and other Christian traditions is fostered, nor where hostility towards gay people is actively encouraged. In our school we try to encourage more mainstream Christian values; kindness, tolerance, concern for others, and the imaginative use of papier mâché.
REV RICHARD COLES
ASSISTANT CURATE, THE PARISH OF BOSTON, LINCOLNSHIRE
Think about it
Sir: In the Buddhist section ("Faith: The facts", 14 April) you state that "enlightenment is sought through mediation". This is an ideal way of sorting out problems between people, but I've never heard it recommended for enlightenment by Buddhist teachers. And apparently "mediation ... is common to all customs in different parts of the world ... and is intended to promote wisdom and compassion". I've always been led to believe "meditation" is the key word here, but maybe New Labour has inveigled its way on to your subs' desk?
Sir: Will Self ("Access all areas", 15 April) is mistaken. The ephod is, according to my COD, solely a Jewish garment. There is no way the Jewish priesthood can be described as "sanctified". Further, he has misspelt "heeled over", by giving the homophone; the tea clippers were five-masted, not five-mastered, and the Route-master was not in use in the 1940s, but introduced in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I promise to get out more.
On the button
Sir: Now that John Lyons has solved the Male Nipple Mystery for us (Letters, 14 April), perhaps he could tell us whether Adam and Eve, if they existed, had navels.
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
What's in a word?
Sir: Could Niall Griffiths ("Can I have a word?", 15 April) kindly let us know of an authoritative English dictionary which gives us the meaning of "mallamoroking"?
NORMAN T SHEPHERD
DURDHAM PARK, BRISTOLReuse content