Sir: Reports on the case of Robert Torto, found to be a paranoid schizophrenic, who decided it was necessary to kill those who deviated from his religious beliefs, make interesting reading (14 July). Nowhere is there any mention of which religion he adhered to, although mention of his church makes it likely that it was a fundamentalist Christian sect. Would such reticence have been shown had he been a Muslim?
Can anyone explain the difference between the mental state of a Christian fundamentalist setting fire to buildings to burn non-believers to death and a Muslim fundamentalist doing the same thing? By extension, are not the jihadists who do this as much paranoid schizophrenics as Mr Torto? Should they not be detained indefinitely in Broadmoor or Rampton instead of being imprisoned for life?
There seems to be an inexplicable inconsistency about the behaviour of judicial system and media reporting between these cases. Whether this is due to the perceived need to pander to Islamist extremists, or whether to institutionalised Islamophobia will probably depend on whether you consider spending the rest of your natural life in Belmarsh to be worse than spending it in Broadmoor.
BBC fiasco exposes moral vacuum
Sir: The BBC's current embarrassment is a symptom of a deeper issue ("Pressure on BBC chief mounts over Queen slur", 14 July). "Outsourcing" - the contracting out of business functions, in this case programme making to independent companies - is almost universal in today's business environment. This amounts to delegating corporate values and ethics to another company, which inevitably blurs responsibility and fatally undermines accountability when something goes wrong.
And I mean fatally: virtually every major rail accident in recent years has been traced to the work of outsourced contractors. Train or track operators who have outsourced safety-critical work escape accountability by pointing the finger at the contractor. And the contractor blames financial pressure from the commissioning company for cost-driven short-cuts. No single corporate entity owns the whole process and is accountable for it.
Control over functions delegated to independent companies is defined by contract. Failure to meet a contractual obligation is a business issue not an ethical one. This is an environment which, to everyone's relief, is entirely purged of moral responsibility.
The only rationale for the whole grisly process is to cut costs, with no one being accountable for the consequences of the cuts made. Mr Fincham is responsible and should resign.
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: Michael Grade attributes the crude editing of part of A Year with the Queen to "a huge influx of young talent... They have not been trained properly". Really? We are led to believe that courses in media studies proliferate by the year and that the world is awash with their graduates. If the students don't learn that honesty and integrity are a foundation of their studies, and subsequent profession, what exactly do they learn?
The lie that trains are greener than planes
Sir: The claim at the end of your report about Britain's slowing airport expansion "(Grounded: another victory in battle to curb airport growth", 10 July) that "planes can produce 10 times as much CO2 as trains" must be based on a comparison between an idealised (slowish) train and an inefficient plane.
In reality, on journeys over 500km, France's new TGV trains use about the same amount of energy per passenger-kilometre as budget-airline flights do. These trains score well in greenhouse-gas terms only because they predominately use nuclear energy. France generates more than three quarters of its electricity in nuclear-power stations and much of the rest comes from renewable, mainly hydro-electric, generators.
Britain's electric railways are far less environmentally friendly because most of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. This is likely to remain the case for decades because even the most optimistic forecasters suggest that we will be unable to produce more than a quarter of our electricity needs from renewables. By remaining implacably opposed to the nuclear industry in spite of its enviable safety record, many allegedly green lobbyists risk helping to condemn our children to a high-carbon future.
Sir: Professor Richard Tomlins' letter (14 July) supporting local objections to the blocking of the expansion of Coventry airport seems at odds with his role at the University as Visiting Professor of Race and Diversity. It is fairly obvious that if global warming continues there are many aboriginal races and much "bio" diversity that will be lost. It is only one train stop and 10 or so miles from Coventry to Birmingham International Airport. Can we at least see solutions offered in context. This is a global economic problem, not Coventry's.
A flood indemnity scheme is needed
Sir: During and after the Second World War, the Government operated an indemnity scheme which covered the cost of repairing war damage to property, a risk always excluded in a standard insurance policy. Many householders are unable to obtain cover against flood and the number is expected to grow (Letters, 11 July). The Government could operate a scheme similar to "war risk" with premiums being paid into a national fund.
This scheme could be run by insurance companies, with the flood risk being underwritten by the Government. The levels of risk have already been assessed across the country identified by the post code. Such a scheme would not be compulsory, but householders would have to understand that only by participating would any claim for flood damage be entertained.
The premiums collected should cover the risk and there could very well be a surplus to be used for flood-protection schemes. There should be a moratorium on building on flood plains until the local defences have been strengthened, the price of a new house built on a flood plain could include the premiums for, say, the first 10 years from purchase.
SOUTH CADBURY, SOMERSET
Sir: Tom Crossett says it is madness to build on flood plains (letter 13 July). But the problem is when the ground floor is below the flood level. Records must exist that plot the known height of flooding in different areas. It follows that if the ground floors are set above this level, with a good safety margin, the houses would not flood.
Height could be achieved by extra courses of bricks or, as is done in tropical countries, by a concrete subframe raised on pillars, the space underneath being used as a garage. To stop building on flood plains because houses with ground floors at ground level flood is ridiculous.
Sir: Rob Sedgwick (letters, 13 July) suggests that we should systematically replace older homes "with modern, low-carbon, low-density housing", then refers to the lessons of the past few decades and that as a society we have got to stop taking the easier option for short-term gain.
One lesson from those decades that we ought to have learnt, is that the demolition of perfectly good older housing that just needed renovation and its replacement with what was seen as modern housing for reasons of dogma, political or otherwise, was a disaster for both individuals and society.
The PKK are not a democratic force
Sir: I read Mr Birch's article "Turkey 'faces Choice Between Democracy and Dictatorship' " (9 July) with great dismay. I believe that the terror threat before us has a global nature which requires international remedies. The underlying character of terrorism is the same everywhere: it targets innocent people without discrimination and uses violence as a means of attaining its goals. It acts in one form in New York, another in Istanbul, Madrid, London or elsewhere. Therefore, I would like to reiterate that there is a growing need for international cooperation to curb this menace.
However, this article not only disserves our common cause to combat terrorism in any form or country, but also refers to an interview with a well-known member of a terrorist organisation, the PKK. It also pictures the terrorist organization as a force of democratisation. It is extremely disappointing to see that The Independent lists terrorist acts of PKK in Turkey as if they were parts of the so-called Kurdish campaign. May I also remind you that PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the UK, US and most European countries.
ORHAN TUNG PRESS COUNSELLOR, TURKISH EMBASSY, LONDON SW1
National curriculum undervalues science
Sir: In your sample school timetable (13 July) there is only one period devoted to science and the suggested topic for that is the ethical and moral implications of using nuclear power. If that is the extent of science teaching then where are our scientists, technicians, engineers and doctors to come from?
PRINCES RISBOROUGH, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: So in the curriculum for the 21st century, religious education is to involve a study of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism etc. How about giving equal time to the rational voice, eg Richard Dawkins, perhaps with his book The God Delusion as a set text?
Sir: May I suggest a new school subject for the staff of The Independent - devolution studies? Your coverage of the new curriculum for "British" children fails to mention that this applies to secondary schools in England only. Interestingly, though, you point out that the topic of "British values" will focus on different cultures and how to respect them.
Sir: What gave Richard Garner (The Big Question, 13 July) the idea that global warming is "a subject which has largely been neglected in the timetable up until now"? My daughter has just finished her GCSEs. Subjects in which she has studied global warming have included geography, physics, biology, design technology and German. It seems as though studying it in one, topic-based lesson would save time.
Cannabis can be a trigger for psychosis
Sir: Johann Hari is absolutely right that the various chemicals in cannabis can have differing effects (Opinion, 12 July) and we need more research on them all. However, he is wrong to dismiss the links between cannabis and psychosis. Research that he does not mention shows that if under-18s smoke cannabis it can treble their risk of developing psychosis.
This increased risk may apply to a small number of people, but it can devastate lives. Just as peanuts are a harmless snack for most people but are potentially lethal for others, so cannabis can be a trigger for severe mental illness in some people.
That's why Rethink wants to see the debate about cannabis classification focused on a wide-scale public health education campaign so that young people know that the drug is not risk-free.
DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, RETHINK, LONDON EC2
Sir: Your report "Glyndebourne cleared to build wind turbine" (13 July) was inaccurate in suggesting the vote was split down party lines. The proposal to approve was put by Peter Gardiner, Liberal Democrat, citing climate-change concerns. It was seconded by Bob Worthington, Conservative, citing energy-security concerns.
COUNCILLOR IAN EILOART
PLANNING APPLICATIONS COMMITTEE MEMBER, LEWES DISTRICT COUNCIL, EAST SUSSEX
Magna Carta and all that
Sir: Mr Crofts (letter, 14 July) is unfortunately wrong. The few vestiges of Magna Carta that survived in English law were abolished by Gladstone's government in 1868. This was probably not a bad thing as it is difficult to see how a provision "that all fishponds and weirs throughout the realm be utterly destroyed" contributed to our liberties.
Mr Crofts might also want to note Sellars and Yeatman's definitive summary of the Charter in 1066 And All That: "No baron should be tried except by a special jury of other barons who would understand" - a clear precursor of New Labour.
Back to basics
Sir: The recent correspondence on the teaching of grammar is fascinating but fails to identify for how long this has been an issue (Letters, 13 July). I clearly remember my first Latin lesson at grammar school in 1965 when the master asked a few questions designed to assess our understanding of grammar before concluding (and lamenting) that he would, once again, have to start his teaching with the rudiments of sentence construction. I'm sure the French, and particularly the German, masters who followed him were grateful (as am I) for his efforts.
Light the way
Sir: On the shelves of my local supermarket are "basic" light bulbs priced at 16p each, while the cheapest low-energy bulb is over £2. As far as my personal finances are concerned, I would be silly to buy the low-energy bulbs. So I am following much the same pragmatic course as the government - that is, not allowing global-warming considerations to adversely effect the economy, while making a gesture. So I have put a low-energy bulb in the downstairs loo.
Married to the mortgage
Sir: Have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor worked out how fixed 25-year mortgages with penalties for early cancellation will work in a society where divorce is so prevalent (report, 12 July)?
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