Discredited claims of climate deniers
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary's interview (10 September) didn't disappoint. In his now familiar tone Mr O'Leary dismissed man-made climate change as "bullshit" and suggested a global conspiracy by thousands of scientists who are busy falsifying climate records, ice core samples, ancient tree rings, coral samples, satellite measurements and weather station data and turning the laws of science upside down in order to get research funding. He went on to trot out a myriad bogus claims, including making the basic error of comparing daily weather with long-term climate trends.
Mr O'Leary's claims are similar to those peddled by other high-profile climate change deniers, but which have been comprehensively discredited by peer-reviewed science. The same laws of physics that keep Ryanair aircraft in the air (whether being flown by one pilot or two) tell us that the greenhouse gas emissions coming out of the back of their engines contribute to man-made climate change.
Airlines have a clear interest in delaying environmental initiatives and, as the tobacco industry eventually conceded, what is good for shareholders is not necessarily good for other people.
Jarlath Molloy, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London
Aviation fuel tax could cut emissions
Michael O'Leary's anti-green rants are becoming increasingly embarrassing. Stringing together a list of climate change denying non-facts from the bonkers anti-science blogosphere is plane stupid.
Intelligent and informed atmospheric science tells us that aviation's CO2 emissions are at least twice that of CO2 alone, because of other exhaust gases, condensation trails and induced cloud formation, making Ryanair's 2009 emissions a grand total of 10,175,432 tonnes CO2 equivalent. While this may be good for Ryanair, it is seriously harming the planet.
I'm not suggesting Ryanair should be closed down or O'Leary silenced, although a period of quiet reflection from him would be welcome. If O'Leary's fuel bill (currently tax-free everywhere they fly) included tax at the same rate as cars, Ryanair's growth rate would be halved and his airline's CO2 emissions might be stabilised or even start falling.
And slower growth could well generate higher, more consistent profits and shareholder dividends.
Jeff Gazzard, Board Member, Aviation Environment Federation, London EC4
Nobody believed the Earth was flat
Not being an expert on the subject, I cannot comment on Michael O'Leary's claims about climate change, but I can tell you that his claim regarding scientists of Galileo's time believing the Earth was flat is incorrect.
Since the 3rd century BC, the overwhelming majority of educated people in the West have believed the Earth to be spherical: and that includes both scientists and priests.
The American Scientific Affiliation has published a paper which traces the origin of the flat-earth myth to a novel by Irving Washington, and a paper written by Antoine-Jean Letronne, who attempted to discredit the Church by spreading the same falsehood.
James Ingram, London SE1
Stop posing as a global power
No one will be surprised that, as a retired RAF officer, I reject any suggestion that the RAF could, successfully, be merged with its sister services ("RAF under fire as battle for shrinking defence budget turns nasty", 14 September). That is the road to sub-optimisation of a powerful but limited resource, and that is why the RAF was formed in the first place. It is also no coincidence that none of our significant allies have considered such a course.
I was saddened to read Major General Julian Thompson's cheap shot about the "only enemy aircraft shot down since the end of the Second World War has been by the Fleet Air Arm". It is unworthy of him and ignores the fact that the RAF, of the armed forces, bore the brunt of the first Gulf War and, arguably, the second, and, alone of the services, has remained on continuous significant operations in the Middle East region since then.
This is not a time for petty inter-service rivalry. We need cool and dispassionate debate about our national needs for defence and security. I believe defence of the United Kingdom homeland, its people, property and institutions must remain the cornerstone. Fulfilling our obligations to our dependencies and to our formal treaty obligations, such as under Nato Article V, must also inform the decisions on the size and shape of the services.
However, we do now need to engage in a rational debate about any other circumstances where Parliament could authorise the use of lethal force and when sailors', soldiers' and airmen's lives and their wellbeing should be risked; and then take a long hard look at the implications to the defence budget of such contingencies.
P P Gaskin, Group Captain RAF (Retd) , Brize Norton, OXfordshire
It is to be hoped that the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review is not informed by the fantasy world in which Mark Allatt of Conservative Way Forward seems to live (letter, 14 September). He bemoans the likely rationalisation of our armed forces, including what he refers to as our "independent" nuclear deterrent.
In 1997 Jolyon Howorth wrote: "Since 1949, there has been no such thing as 'national defence' in Europe. The technology of weapons systems, the internationalisation of security institutions, Nato's integrated command structure, growing interdependence at every level, and the ever broadening definition of security – all these have consigned to the history books earlier approaches to the military 'defence' of the 'nation'."
Mr Allatt, as well as the defence review, should avoid a fixation on traditional territorial defence. Security threats are more likely to emerge from within the UK than from land armies threatening to invade, or missile attacks from afar. It would be better to take full account of Britain's role as a member of Nato and the major contributor together with France to the common security and defence policy of the European Union, which over time must become the bedrock of our approach to security.
It is time we stopped the expensive and inefficient national posturing that presents the UK as a global power, and accepted our role as contributors to and beneficiaries from civilian as well as military alliances.
Simon Sweeney, York
Aircraft carriers (letters, 14 September) are an anachronism, needing a screen of escorts, with escorts for the escorts, and supply vessels to support what has become a task force, with bases stocked with fuel, food, ammunition, hospitals, replacement personnel, and all the paraphernalia associated with an imperial power of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Shall these ships patrol all the oceans of the world? Or are they intended as transports for commando operations? If the latter, what level of policing action and where, will warrant sending them out?
The concept is completely out of date, and frankly ludicrous. Both the Royal Navy's new carriers should be cancelled, or perhaps sold abroad.
David Applegate, Taunton, Somerset
A special need to drop phonics
As a retired teacher and head teacher, I too, have been very concerned at the number of children labelled "special needs" ("More than 700,000 pupils wrongly classed as having special needs", 14 September). Yes, I am sure there are too many marked out for special educational needs, but no, I do not believe it is due to bad teaching. What is bad, however, are the teaching methods taught in the training colleges and universities.
The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that the teaching of reading has changed so drastically over the years that children no longer learn reading with interest and enthusiasm and are therefore demoralised from the start.
Teaching phonics to English children is a nonsense. English isn't a phonic language, so working out words with phonics will only lead to disappointment and, at the very best, a slow road to reading fluency. Teach them the Reading Revival way by learning 12 words at sight and then presenting the first book which contains only those words – and the child will read the book instantly and be enormously encouraged.
When subsequent books have all the words already learned, plus a few new ones, the child will be a fluent reader within a term. This is the way we were taught to teach 50 years ago when a British education was the envy of the world. Let us go back to those methods and there will be far fewer "special needs" requirements.
Helena Rogers, Bere Alston, Devon
How we laughed when we read your front page (14 September) informing us "Now Ofsted has revealed the truth..." (It must be the way you tell them!) If Ofsted told me it was daylight I'd go to the window and check for myself.
The only "truth" Ofsted has ever come up with is that schools with more able pupils do better academically than those with less able pupils. We've known that for over 50 years.
Peter Hicks, Brighton
Why is it a state visit?
Why is the Pope coming on a state visit? It is a rare courtesy, which has not been extended to the heads of many of the states with whom we have close ties, members of the EU, of Nato, of the Commonwealth, and others with whom we might wish to strengthen our relations, for political, commercial and other reasons.
Whether justified or not, the doubts raised about the Pope's visit were foreseeable. Surely we should be told what considerations, what raisons d'état, have determined that the Vatican state should be accorded this exceptional preference.
Nick Elam, London SE5
Geoffrey Robertson reports (8 December) that the Queen will be wearing black to greet the Pope. I am astonished.
It is one thing for a head of state visiting the Vatican to follow the host's protocol. It is another thing when the head of the Vatican state is visiting this country. The Queen should wear what depicts her role and reflects herself and the qualities of this country. It appears that the visitor is stipulating what his host should wear.
Peter Liddell, Kimpton, Hertfordshire
A small town defends itself
I was glad to see my small home town, Lymington, mentioned in your newspaper (article, 13 September). I don't like to think of its anti-chain attitude as due to it being "too posh for Argos". It is more a genuine aversion to the clone-town culture that has affected most high streets. Some of us wanted an Argos.
I have recently returned to Lymington after living in London and the changes in the town over the years reflect the changes to the nation as a whole.
At the time that my parents came to the area in the 1960s some of the shops had not changed since the Edwardian era. Lymington had at least two butchers, two fishmongers, more than one greengrocer, a number of hardware shops, three bookshops and several newsagents. These were all independents, and one bookshop was even founded in the 1700s. These are all now gone, replaced mostly by the supermarkets. The very old independent bookshop, King's, is now a Waterstone's.
Before writing this I did a quick survey of the High Street and Quay Hill (the town's most popular tourist street). I counted 10 empty shops and eight charity shops. In the last 30 years four pubs have closed down and one new one has opened. Apart from the pubs, what is left are supermarkets, gift shops, clothes shops, restaurants and many coffee shops and tea rooms (two are national chains).
If a Wetherspoon pub opened here I imagine many more pubs would close down. The new pub would have been the size of a supermarket and next to an ancient church. One of the main sources of income for this town is tourism and if more pubs close it will lose its unique character.
It's less a case of being "too posh" and more a case of a small town defending itself against homogenisation.
By the way, I've never seen our station master wearing a top hat.
James Wild, Lymington, Hampshire
Some of your correspondents have commented on the superiority of other nations' second-language proficiency. Over the past 10 weeks I have had regular contact with multiple groups of 16-year-old Spanish and Italian students.
While each group may contain two or three proficient English speakers who act as spokespeople for the group, the majority of them were limited to brand recognition – Coke or Cornetto Classico – with few "pleases" or "thank yous".
Andrew Whyte, Northwood, Shrewsbury
In the debate on language learning, no one has mentioned the advantage of knowing what one's opponents are talking about when, during negotiations, they are having a discussion among themselves in their own language.
C D Greenfield, Farnborough, Hampshire
Mystery off the coast of Lebanon
Robert Fisk's report (4 September) on the raid led by Major Anthony Palmer on the coast of Vichy-controlled Lebanon, and subsequent correspondence (8 September), brought the mystery back to my mind.
The vessel involved was not a fishing boat but a high-powered seagoing launch which belonged to the marine flotilla of the Palestine Police. The Special Operations Executive under Major Palmer had trained a number of Jewish Hagana volunteers in the various arts of demolition, and required a suitable vessel to use in an operation on the Lebanese coast prior to the invasion of that country by the allied Ninth Army.
It appears that nobody could or would relinquish the right kind of vessel. So the police were ordered to give up one of their best launches, and protests were overruled. On the night of 17/18 May 1941 the night guard on the police pier in Haifa was ordered to stand down at midnight until 2am, and anything he saw or heard was to be ignored. Palmer and his men then took over Sea Lion, cast off and were never seen again.
I know the Israeli people have searched the sea bed north of Haifa, but without success, and I was asked if I could help. I could only give my view that the vessel foundered somewhere on its journey. Sea Lion was a powerful vessel with a normal crew of four, sometimes five, equipped for three- or four-day patrols between Ras en Naqura southwards to the Egyptian frontier. But Palmer had crowded on board 24 men, including himself, with explosives, weapons and rations, so that Sea Lion simply must have been well down in the water. Even in summer the sea off the Levantine coast can be surprisingly choppy and in my view Sea Lion did not stand a chance.
There is an interesting memorial in Tel Aviv which reads in English: "To the memory of Major Sir Anthony Palmer and 23 members of Hagana. 18.5.1941", added to which in Hebrew are the names of each member of the party.
Esward Horne, Archivist, Palestine Police Old Comrades Association, New Milton, Hampshire
God of particles
While it is true that we occupy an insignificant bit of the universe (letter, 8 September), it is nonetheless a reasonable hypothesis that God calculated a requisite number of neutrinos, electrons, positrons, Higg's bosons, and what not, that the resultant expansion would certainly produce a star with a temperate planet favourable to the synthesis of DNA and the subsequent development of independent intelligent life capable of observing and analysing the universe in which it found itself, inferring that there must be a Higg's boson (if only we could catch it), and responding to Him of its own free will. It required a philosophical attitude to the outcome.
Chris Noël, Ledbury Herefordshire
Please may we have more pieces like the one by Matthew Norman (15 September) which emphasise how impossible it is for Sarah Palin to become President of the US. I am going through a very insecure time and am anxious for reassurance on this matter.
Ed Edmunds, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan