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Monday 3 March 2008
Letters: Israel and Gaza
Gaza, a matter of life and death for a whole people
Sir: While politicians and leaders of the Jewish community deplore David Cameron's use of the word "gimmick" in connection with school visits to Auschwitz, they fail to notice the blockaded population of the Gaza Strip who are being eliminated through grinding starvation, disease, summary executions , and a slow-motion Holocaust (publicly threatened by the Israeli minister Matan Vilnai) .
Since 2001, 14 Israelis have been killed by the home-made Qassam rockets fired from Gaza, compared with 816 Gazans killed by the Israel forces in 2006 and 2007 alone. The Israeli Coalition Against the Siege recently denounced their governments's action as "state terrorism".
Having lost my grandparents in the Nazi-besieged Warsaw ghetto I am appalled to see that my own country inflicts a similar collective punishment on the inhabitants of the Gaza strip.
Sir: Since the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August 2005, the land ceded by Israel for "peace" has been used as a base from which to launch approximately 4,000 missiles into Israeli territory.
Each of these Palestinian missiles, has been intended to kill or maim Israel's civilian population in towns and cities such as Sderot and Ashkelon. As Israel has sustained these attacks little has been reported in the media, and the nations have hardly mentioned the suffering of Israeli civilians, or the many thousands of Israeli children who have been traumatised and who have to sit in reinforced classrooms or bomb shelters.
Indeed the nations have preferred to turn a blind eye and increase their funding to the Palestinian Authority, whose economy has been a main concern of Tony Blair, the EU and the UN while Israeli suffering has been sacrificed upon the altar of creating a 23rd Arab state – Palestine – upon Israel's ancient only Biblical homeland.
The Hamas leadership has declared a goal of obtaining weaponry which will render the entire state of Israel vulnerable to these missile attacks as they pursue their open agenda of destroying the Jewish state. In the face of such a threat to its very existence Israel has eventually responded by targeting the terrorists who are carrying out these actions. Sadly, as the terrorists deliberately operate from the midst of civilians, the latter inevitably become casualties.
Forget politics, and tax aviation fuel
Sir: In Saturday's front-page story Simon Calder stated that cheap flights were the main cause of the out-of-control expansion of the airline industry and the inevitable harm that will bring to our precious environment.
Something is wrong when it is cheaper to fly than travel by surface transport. There is, ridiculously, no tax on aviation fuel. This is because of a convention agreed in 1944(!) by the UK and US to encourage civil aviation. This is now about as relevant as the window tax.
No politician can advocate changing this policy and expect to survive, with the electorate believing they have a God-given right to their hedonistic jaunts around the planet virtually cost-free. Putting 80-odd per cent tax on jet fuel would bring the cost of air transport up to a reasonable level, but would by no means cause a collapse of the airlines. The revenue could be rightly spent on surface transport.
Of course no country could do this by itself and although I don't approve of much legislation emanating from Brussels, this is a case where Europe could make it happen. Of course it would need cross-party agreement all round – I can dream, can't I? – and would cause havoc with relations with the USA. They cannot carry return fuel from New York to Europe and it would force them pay our charges and to impose the same charges in the USA.
As usual, if we want to save the planet (more like save our own miserable skins) we are up against politicians who must one day learn to put such issues above party and international politics if we are to survive. Who better for the job than Tony Blair – a conviction politician by his own admission. He could have a word with the Almighty and seize the opportunity to redress his recent disastrous warmongering.
Finally please try and avoid the terms "flying"" and "aviation" in this context. As a retired aviator I associate those words with the adventure and excitement of human flight – what we are dealing with here is sordid "air transport".
Sir: "And the contrails left by planes are particularly damaging to the global climate" (leading article, 1 March). Why are you perpetuating this myth? Contrails (condensation trails) are visible water droplets exactly the same as clouds and doing as much harm to the climate.
They form in the vortices leaving the wings of an aircraft when it is flying at an altitude where the dewpoint is favourable to their formation. Nothing to do with engines, or their emissions.
Sir: It would be easier to take your exhortations on air travel if the paper wasn't quite so stuffed with ads for flights. The real world for most people means air travel is the most practical way of visiting places with little time and money, so why not encourage less polluting aircraft? If it can be done for cars, why not planes?
Troubling protest over Shylock
Sir: The incident in which a group of students at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School refused so much as to write their names on a Shakespeare test is troubling in the extreme.
It is true that a school which allows its students to protest in this fashion, even at the risk of its ranking in the dreaded league tables, shows educational wisdom which can only be applauded. The protest itself is, however, quite another matter.
Not only is it ridiculous to treat Shakespeare as an anti-semite on account of his portrayal of Shylock (a character whom I and many others, both Jews and Gentiles, find rather sympathetic, not at all nasty, much less caricatural), but even were the Bard's purported anti-semitism to be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, it would be disgraceful not to engage with it, by abstaining from taking an exam relating to The Merchant of Venice or any other play (as was here the case).
The students who acted in this fashion have not only failed in their appreciation of literature, but they would also most certainly not merit a passing grade in the history of 16th century Britain.
Elephants, the yobs of the game reserve
Sir: I spent my summer of 2007 helping with animal conservation work on the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa. I am a great animal lover and prior to reading the article "Why is South Africa proposing to cull thousands of elephants?" (The Big Question, 27 February) I would have been strongly against mass culling. I am now greatly in favour.
Elephants can be seen as the local Asbo yobs. They leave a trail of destruction where ever they go; they will pull down 50-year-old trees to taste a ripe berry they may dislike, leave the tree and just move on to the next one. I spent most of my time on the reserve cleaning up after them.
I can remember the first time I saw a wild elephant with her calf and I was in awe of their sheer beauty. If it was not for the game reserves and national parks then the land that these elephants occupy would be farmland, and so no wild animal would be there anyway. For a game reserve to survive it needs to control the populations of every animal species that it holds; that goes from the impala to the plants and shrubs that are native to these reserves.
Lean and healthy chicken? Think again
Sir: Congratulations: consumers condemn cruelty to chickens. ("Boycott of battery chickens forces supermarkets to think ethically", 28 February). But we need to look after the welfare of humans as well as the welfare of animals.
For decades, nutritionists have been advising people to avoid fatty meats, and eat more chicken because it was lean. So it was. But chickens reared in modern intensive conditions, with energy-dense feeds, are no longer a lean choice.
For the past 38 years, we have been measuring the fat content of British supermarket chickens in our laboratory. In our latest study of 52 chickens from various supermarkets, we found that there were about three times the calories coming from fat as from protein. And organic chickens were just as fat as battery birds.
Consumers, and many nutritionists too, still think chicken is a protein-rich product. But now it is a fat-rich product. The reform of the chicken industry must focus not just on how they are reared, but on how they are fed; on their welfare certainly, but also on their nutritional value. The problems of overweight, inactive chickens are being transferred to overweight, inactive humans.
Professor M A Crawford
Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, Professor J T WinklerNutrition Policy UnitLondon Metropolitan University
Harry's ego-trip glorifies killing
Sir: The TV pictures of Hooray Harry's ego-trip to Afghanistan must make going to war an appealing temptation for a Tesco shelf-stacker, so we can expect a rise in recruitment.
But stripped to its essentials, war actually means sending young men to kill other young men they've never met and with whom in other circumstances they might be the best of friends. War is awful, war is failure, and would happen less often if the middle-aged politicians who sanction it had to lead the charge. And the media's glorification of it is despicable.
Sir: Everyone connected with the recent incident has behaved perfectly correctly. It was entirely right, indeed laudable, for the Prince to want to experience front-line service, and for the Army to arrange it for him; the Government and British media were correct in keeping his presence in Afghanistan secret; and when the cover was blown by an irresponsible foreign source, it was quite right for his stay there to be terminated immediately.
As for those whingeing about freedom of the press, have they not considered that war inevitably curtails that freedom? Would they have wanted the date and place of the landing in Europe in 1944 broadcast beforehand? This is not to say that the Afghan operation was advisable. I personally think it was extremely foolish. But that has nothing to do with the point at issue.
Thomas A Pickard
Sir: God spare us the Halmania. The BBC newsreaders speak with unctuous voices as they praise the suffering of the Prince at having to stand on sand instead of carpet. Good luck to the kid, but give us a break and thanks be to The Independent for its lesser coverage than the rest.
Long Melford, Suffolk
Sitting on a small fortune
Sir: After the 1951 Festival of Britain closed, I bought two of the Ernest Race "Antelope" chairs, for 10 shillings (50p) each. ("Time pieces", 1 March). It was all I could afford as a young architect working in the schools department at the London County Council next door.
A couple of years ago we found them in the back of the garage, had them sand-blasted and powder-coated, bought two new seats, still from Ernest Race, £90 for the two, and they are as good as new for about £150 the two – a lot compared with the original £1, but considerably better than Liberty's charging £1,200 each. And I bet theirs don't have their ball feet in real brass.
Little Baddow, Essex
Sir: The football authorities can quickly stop players feigning injury (Brian Viner's excellent article of 1 March) by requiring the "injured" player to spend 10 minutes off the field having the "injury" treated.
Choose a bag
Sir: Presumably, Michael Walpole (Letters, 29 February) refused the plastic bags offered him by Sainsbury's and WH Smith, so what is he complaining about? People must be free to make their own decisions on so-called environmental issues, even though, naturally, they should be encouraged to do so responsibly. Marks & Spen-cer's approach is typical of a store that always knows better than its customers what's good for them.
Launch of diplomas
Sir: Your article "One in five secondary schools fails to sign up for flagship diplomas"(26 February) implies there are concerns with the take-up of diplomas, but this is not the case. In fact 82 per cent of England's 3,053 secondary schools are already part of consortia, so we are exactly where we would expect to be at this stage. We have deliberately staggered the roll-out of diplomas between 2008 and 2011 to ensure they are of the very highest quality.
Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and familiesLondon Sw1
Free from Big Oil
Sir: Contrary to Johann Hari's claims (21 February), my online magazine spiked has never "taken money from the fossil fuel industry", and those organisations that do sponsor us do not dictate our editorial agenda. It is testament to the small-mindedness of today's illiberal liberal commentators that they think anyone who criticises green authoritarianism must be in the pay of Big Oil.
Editor, spiked, London EC1
Art of the absurd
Sir: Richard Ingrams' absurdist reductionism is almost worthy of Marcel Duchamp in his rendering of Joseph Beuys' piece Fat Chair as not "meaning anything much more than a chair with fat on it in a glass case" (1 March). This is somewhat akin to describing Van Gogh's Sunflowers as "nothing more than a piece of hessian nailed to a wooden frame with a thin smearing of oil-based pigment".
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