Sir: I appreciated Joan Smith's article on the sex trade (2 December). I agree entirely that the issue of "demand" in this appalling situation of human slavery needs to be addressed as much as the "supply".
Whether or not one agrees with the concept of prostitution as a service like any other, any man who pays for sex in this country, especially with women who are visibly young and foreign, should be aware that he is not merely buying some consensual "fun" but that there is a strong possibility he is committing rape.
For too long, the blame has rested on the perpetrators of this sickening trade. I believe that the men who provide the demand, and who are either choosing to "overlook" the source and circumstances in which they pay for sex, or who can honestly claim "ignorance", need to be tackled, via awareness campaigns, but also through liability when raids on brothels take place.
What we are talking about is girls and women being kept imprisoned against their will, beaten into submission, and repeatedly raped. A sign of sexually enlightened times? I think not.
Sir: Surely Joan Smith is worldly enough to realise that, unpalatable as she may find it, prostitution will always exist, and that there will always be some men willing to pay for sex. Furthermore, in her comments on Sweden, where buying sex was made a criminal offence, she neglects to inform us that prostitution still exists in that country and that they estimate that two thirds of prostitutes there now work from "home" or as escorts. Forcing prostitution underground often makes it more dangerous for the women. Is that what she would prefer?
Sir: Joan Smith might consider that in our Western culture, young males are educated in the belief that women will do anything for money, as indicated by tabloid sex photo-shoots and stories, print and internet pornography, many television programmes and women's own bonkbuster biographies. It's going to be tricky to wean them from the belief that it is in order to perform with unknown women as nature intended so long as the girls get the price they're asking. This state of affairs is vile, of course, but you can't cure the spots without curing the sickness.
I B YAUGHAN
To save the planet, change the system
Sir: Another day, another edition of The Independent warning of ecological meltdown ("How Europe is choking itself - and the world", 30 November).
Your writers see environmental problems as a litany of individual difficulties: some waste generated here, some carbon dioxide emitted there. In fact, all these problems reflect the character of capitalism as a whole. Capitalism must sustain growth in order to maintain capital accumulation, and in so doing it constantly increases the rate of conversion of ordered energy, in the form of labour and raw materials, into products and, eventually, waste.
The mobile phone is a good instance of this. A few years ago we all lived without it; now everyone has one, converting energy into waste heat and finally waste phones, most of which are perfectly functional. The result is the waste of both the materials and labour that created the phones. And this for a product we could easily do without.
Nowhere can one better observe the environmental contradictions of capitalism than in The Independent itself. While editorial idealism fills the front page with stories of environmental decay, the reality fills its inner pages with advertisements for cars and luxury goods. In short, the only answer to the environmental crisis capitalism has generated is the democratic determination of the extent and direction of human productivity - socialism.
ST ANDREWS, FIFE
Sir: As usual, the energy debate, like every other environmental discussion, leaves unmentioned the twin elephants of consumption per head ("standard of living") and number of consumers (population). But indefinite growth in either, let alone both, is clearly unsustainable on a planet with finite resources. Sooner or later, we must stabilise, then reduce, both. The longer we leave it, the harder it will be.
The best way to reduce consumption of anything is to raise prices. We need to recognise that the party is over, and that the last century or so of unlimited cheap energy, funded by natural capital, is a fool's paradise. Then we need a long-term plan to raise prices predictably, squeezing out all non-essential energy use. And we badly need a population policy, because total human environmental impact (emissions, water consumption, waste, road congestion...) equals the average per person multiplied by number of people.
We do our children no favours by continuing to tiptoe round these elephants.
Sir: Though your headline "Pay up to save the rain forests" (28 November) is an admirable concept, it does not appear to relate to the real world.
The logging at present does not seem to relieve the poverty of the indigenous population, so who receives that money? What would the state do with any payments made? Would they use them to employ draconian measures in policing the forest, so ensuring poverty persists for the indigenous people?
I have no doubt that such a payment would provide a ready source of corruption in the governments concerned. Would they turn the management of the forest over to private ownership, paying a subsidy to companies or a few individuals? This still leaves the indigenous population to their poverty.
V J G BROWN
Papal hypocrisy over gay priests
Sir: Janet Street-Porter is quite right to accuse the Catholic church of hypocrisy (1 December). On matters of homosexuality, I would go further and question the distortion of morality in Pope Benedict XVI's recent edict.
It seems that the Catholic church is willing to accept men who have dabbled with homosexuality for whatever reason - as an experiment or even as an extension of promiscuity - as long as they have overcome it for at least three years. But men who are born gay and whose homosexuality is not a matter of choice but part of their God-given nature cannot even be considered for the priesthood. Apparently, they cannot be trusted to suppress their urges in the same way that heterosexual priests are expected to do.
Pope Benedict considers homosexuals lack the moral fibre to struggle with their sexual nature and are therefore not worthy of trust. In other words, they are inferior. Yet he goes on to say he "respects" homosexuals. I find his words totally deplorable.
Sir: While I agree with much of what Julie Bindel says about the way marriage is very much a commercial affair ("Marriage? No thanks, we're gay", 28 November), I think she is disregarding some of the fundamental principles involved in the Civil Partnership Act.
Largely as a result of the Government's efforts, gay rights have moved on in leaps and bounds in recent years: witness the equalising of the age of consent. The partnership register is simply an extension of the aim to make life equal for everybody. Whether a relationship is called a "marriage" or anything else, why should two people who live together and are committed to each other miss out on the rights that heterosexual couples enjoy, such as those relating to inheritance tax, property and pensions? Gay people should have the right to say that they are the "next-of-kin" when a partner is ill or dies, and not have their rights and wishes trampled on by family members, as is now often the case.
We have still not reached finality in our struggle for equality, hence the importance of annual gay pride days held all round the country. That conclusion will not be reached until anti-gay discrimination is forbidden by legislation, as it now is for race, sex and disability. This is all the more reason to have, in the interim, the Civil Partnership Act.
And if those wishing to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the partnership register also want to shout about it from the rooftops and invite all and sundry to their celebrations, let them do it. They've waited long enough. They certainly have my blessing on their "big day".
Misconduct is rare in our armed forces
Sir: If Deborah Orr wishes to attack the Army (Opinion, 30 November), she should adopt a more balanced view. Anyone who saw the pictures of the Marines would have been as appalled by their conduct as Col Tim Collins, whose response was not undermined by that of Andy McNab.
As for punishing the offenders, I suspect that a number of careers will have been blighted, as will have been the case with Camp Breadbasket.
The attack on the Iraqi police station resulted from "friendly" policemen kidnapping two British soldiers and action being taken to rescue them. When this is coupled with the picture of a young soldier in flames as he jumped out of his fire-bombed vehicle, one can only guess at the fog and confusion of the situation and the need for positive action to defuse it.
Instances of unprofessional conduct are rare and should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the British armed forces are still the best and most disciplined in the world. On occasions politicians put the services in an almost impossible position; Iraq is one.
RUNCTON, WEST SUSSEX
Phonics cannot be taught in isolation
Sir: Having taught and trained teachers, it is comforting to see the cure-all recipe for reading coming up yet again ("Kelly tears up reading policy with return to phonics", 2 December).
As the responses show, practising teachers have long known that no one method will do. Look and Say, ITA, Breakthrough to Literacy and phonics by colour all have something useful to say about how children learn to read, but experienced teachers recognise that a diverse approach for diverse classroom conditions and diverse pupils is needed.
The idea that phonics is not taught in primary schools any more is a myth. It was not true in the 1960s and 1970s, when new schemes were rife, and it is not true now. I am surprised to see the Department of Education and some of the media still subscribing to it. Any reading scheme, indeed any teaching, will depend on the quality, training, and retraining of teachers - and the salary incentives and funding to go with them.
Zero respect for new Brixton drugs policy
Sir: Your article on zero tolerance now being introduced in Brixton (1 December) states that people caught with cannabis will be arrested. This means the stepping up of stop-and-search, which is always a point of racial tension and unwise in an area where criminals carry firearms.
The only problem society has with cannabis is that it is illegal. For most users, cannabis is a substance that makes them more sociable, but, unlike legal alcohol, does not induce violence. Prohibition, though, leads to crime and dealers. When youths visit these dealers, they can be offered hard drugs, too, and free samples are often given.
The answer is to legalise it and allow each person to grow their own. Cannabis sativa grows easily in the garden or in a window pot. It can also can be taken as a tea or cooked. In fact, it is a useful herb and useful medicine.
Sir: It is disappointing that there has been a U-turn regarding the policing of cannabis in Brixton, but a new "get tough" policy will, at best, move the dealers elsewhere. One way of getting dealers off the streets altogether would be for the Government to allow the sale of modest amounts of cannabis to adults in licensed premises, similar to those in the Netherlands. As every visitor to Amsterdam knows, these coffee shops are a generally benign presence, especially when compared to binge-drinker-infested pubs. Would that the Government had a little more courage.
One rule for men...
Sir: Had a talented sportswoman led the dissolute life of George Best, I think Angela Moore's epithet (letter, 1 December) would have been a bit harsher than "rascal".
I B HOLLOWAY
You're light-years off
Sir: Geneviève Roberts reports ("Hubble catches Crab Nebula", 2 December) that the explosion of a star "occurred" more than 1,000 years ago, when Chinese and Japanese astronomers observed the event from Earth. However, considering that the remains of the supernova are 6,500 light-years away, surely the event occurred at least 7,500 years ago.
Idiot? Or idiot savant?
Sir: Adrian Hamilton hits the nail squarely on the head ("When the very term 'victory' is meaningless", 1 December). But I am puzzled by his final two sentences, when he says that Bush's speech was wilfully stupid, and that Bush knows that. I read recently the opinion of a leading Middle East politician, who claimed Bush was not stupid, but was very, very strange. What should we worry about most? That Bush is stupid? That he pretends to be stupid? Or that he is so strange? Whatever the answer, it doesn't help the "war effort".
A true role model
Sir: There is much talk nowadays of role models, especially for the young, both black and white. By sheer dignity, decency, compassion and an understanding of what it can mean to be truly human, Mrs Walker, Anthony's mother, is not only a fine tribute to her son, but a role model for us all, regardless of age, creed or colour.
Celebrity who's who
Sir: I was amused by Nell McAndrew's remark (The 5-Minute Interview, 2 December) that the Queen "didn't have a clue who I was". When some "celebrity" told Noël Coward a similar story, he replied, "And who were you?"