Giant Thames wind-farm plan presents a danger to seafarers
Sir: I was surprised to read, in your article "World's largest offshore wind farm plan given a stormy reception" (19 December), that the London Array developers claim to have made an "exhaustive study which considered factors from cost and accessibility to the impact on shipping lanes". Our understanding is that the announcement of the approval for this major offshore wind-farm in the Thames Estuary came at a time when the consultation process was unfinished.
Far from taking account of the impact on shipping lanes, the decision ignores expert advice on the safety of those using the estuary, in particular shipping. We hope the Secretary of State will now exercise his right, under the conditions governing such decisions, to ensure navigational safety will not be compromised.
The Chamber of Shipping, the trade association for the UK shipping industry, has repeatedly raised serious concerns over the London Array wind-farm's proximity to shipping lanes and the added danger that comes from its potential interference with ships' radars. This decision potentially threatens lives and the environment, from salmon to seafarers, and including leisure boaters and fishermen.
The present proposals also disregard the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's (MCA) guidance (shared with and agreed by the shipping industry) as to the minimum distance which should separate shipping lanes from wind-farm sites. With several environmentally sensitive areas and important fishing grounds in the vicinity of the London Array, the presence of such a large navigational hazard can only raise serious concerns over a potential pollution incident.
If visual and radar detection of vessels is impaired, the risk of collision at sea is greatly increased; should such a collision involve a chemical or oil tanker, the repercussions would be immediate and far-reaching. It is hard to understand why an environmentally minded project has been pushed forward with little consideration given to its potential to cause an irreversibly damaging environmental disaster.
CHAMBER OF SHIPPING, LONDON EC1
Not all sex workers are sad victims
Sir: Joan Smith in her article "Don't legalise brothels -stop the trade entirely" (19 December) does not make a good case. If prostitutes are decriminalised and their clients face arrest, as in the Swedish experiment she describes, sex workers will move underground to ensure their clients' safety. Such women could find themselves in ever-darker places, "looked after" only by the very pimps, drug traffickers and johns Joan Smith so opposes.
To suggest most men visiting prostitutes do so to dominate and hurt them is nonsense. Most men who pay for sex are lonely and sexually frustrated. Is this a crime?
Such men might be surprised to hear that "today consensual sex has never been so freely available". For the minority of men who really are abusive to prostitutes, licensed premises are the best way to screen and safeguard women from such clients.
I knew a shy and reserved student at university who visited Amsterdam 20 years ago to lose his virginity and was fortunate to find an understanding lady, operating in a fully licensed "shop window", who cheerfully taught him well. She was apparently a civil servant from Sao Paulo making some extra cash during her summer holidays.
She was also adept at discussing my history of science course and I am forever grateful to her for her kindness and knowledge.
Sir: Joan Smith fails to distinguish between prostitution and exploitation. I have lived with a prostitute for two years, and I suggest Ms Smith's position further degrades the position of the young women she seeks to uplift.
Until 9/11, Jane (her street name) had been a talented and successful graphic designer. When business began to run thin she took to working for an escort agency, offering sexual favours for cash, to tide her over.
She told me her clients were almost exclusively kinder and more respectful than most boyfriends she had experienced, and that she really enjoyed the work. Times are better now and Jane has returned to graphics work, but keeps up her sex work, too.
Large numbers of men and women indulge in sex given as part of a financial rather than "love" transaction without anyone being exploited. They do so for a variety of reasons: to earn money; to enjoy sex; to meet interesting people and to have fun.
None of this has anything to do with girls (and boys) who are pushed on to the street to mug, steal or sell sex to feed a drug habit or in the desperation of poverty.
As a society, we need to make sure that this doesn't happen; legalising what consensual adults do with and for each other sexually in exchange for cash might be a good way of introducing some helpful definition.
Sir: Joan Smith and Harriet Harman are naive if they think the Swedish model for regulating prostitution will provide a solution . Sweden had only 800 street sex workers when the legislation was passed in 1999 and no drug problem. Convicting clients means charges have to be evidence-based, leading to intrusive police practices.
Since 1999, Swedish sex workers report that the quality of clients has gone down, leaving those who are more likely to be violent and perverted. They cannot increase their level of safety by working in pairs or groups and experience difficulty in finding accommodation.
Greater competition for fewer clients means lower prices and women taking more risks. Sex workers feel exposed to danger, not protected from it. Social workers find it difficult to access women who need help.
If adopted, the Swedish model will be a repeat of the Street Offences Act 1959, with an initial decrease in prostitution, followed by adjustment and then an increase in the complexity of the problem.
Sex-worker groups around the world are campaigning for what they see as "human rights"; that is, safe working conditions, the right to travel, to have a home and family, and freedom from oppressive laws and continual police harassment.
DR HELEN J SELF
BOXLEY, KENT, AUTHOR OF 'PROSTITUTION, WOMEN AND MISUSE OF THE LAW' (2003)
MoD exists to prepare for war
Sir: At the inquest into the death of Sergeant Steve Roberts, the representative for the MoD, David Williams, is reported to have said the reason for not buying a large number of body armour sets was that it would have obviously indicated the department was pressing ahead with preparation for war. Whatever job he is suited for, it is not in the Ministry of Defence.
Our Armed Forces, if they are to do their job effectively, must be trained rigorously and supplied with the most modern and reliable equipment available. Their sole purpose is to be prepared for war.
If it was left to Mr Williams, warships, fighters, bombers, tanks and guns would be designed and built only after we were attacked.
WILLIAM W SCOTT
NORTH BERWICK, EAST LOTHIAN
Time for the EU to embrace Turkey
Sir: Simon Carr's Parliamentary sketch in on 19 December ends, "Andrew Mackinlay pointed out that if Turkey joins the EU we will have a common border with Iraq. Not to mention Iran. That bears thinking about in the Home Office, I'd have thought".
Is that such a bad thing? If Turkey's tradition of democracy and secularism is damaged as a result of a break-up with the EU, this may bring an Iranian type of hard Islamist state or Iraqi type of political unrest a step nearer to Europe. Wouldn't the EU states prefer to have a stable and democratic partner between themselves and the borders of Iran, Iraq and Syria? And Turkey's accession to EU would provide Europe with much-needed credibility in the Muslim world.
It is time for Europe to put historical and religious prejudices aside and embrace Turkey.
Sir: Steve Connor's account of the world's largest lizard that produced offspring without the help of a male is an even more amazing story than your science editor realises (21 December).
He quotes Kevin Buley, curator at Chester Zoo, as saying the birth is an "immaculate conception", and uses the term himself in his report. The term "immaculate conception" was first used to describe a doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding the Virgin Mary, and refers to her being born without stain of sin.
If a lizard has been immaculately conceived, and this is a wondrous event, bringing joy to Mr Buley and Mr Connor, it would suggest other lizards are not, and that we have lizards capable of sin roaming the planet.
Perhaps Mr Connor could tell us more about that extraordinary state of affairs. Or it might be simpler to stick to the term "virgin birth", as your headline writer did, and not confuse it with immaculate conception.
EDITOR, 'THE TABLET', LONDON W6
Giving atheism a bad name
Sir: This Christian is left amused and astonished that Johann Hari (Opinion, 21 December) can be so theologically ignorant.
Christianity anti-materialistic? On the contrary, as William Temple observed, it is the most materialistic of all religions, celebrating not only the physical world from quarks to quasars, but also creaturely embodiment, indeed - precisely at Christmas - the enfleshed humanity of God.
Christianity anti-science? On the contrary, as historians of ideas have observed, it was precisely the Christian desacralisation of nature, granting time and space its own integrity, that allowed the natural sciences to flourish.
Christianity barbaric? After all, it has a God who "feeds small children to bears". Never mind the Sermon on the Mount, no, go for an Old Testament folk tale as the basis of a critique of biblical ethics. Such a hermeneutic would make a first-year religious studies student blush.
It is not that Mr Hari gives a bad name to Christianity, for he torches a straw man. Rather, he gives a bad name to atheism itself: Nietzsche, Marx and Freud would wince at his accusations.
THE REVD KIM FABRICIUS
Sir: I always read Johann Hari with interest, engaging with his passion for causes close to many a heart. But I fear he has created a new book of scripture, namely Elisha (21 December). In truth, Elisha is the second wild prophetic figure of early Hebrew life, after Elijah, and he is referred to in the second book of Kings.
It is not realistic to pick at a verse of scripture, out of context, expecting it to yield the last word on holy living. I do take heart that an ancient scribe didn't edit out that wretched incident with Elisha and the two she-bears mauling 42 boys. For many, it points to God who hangs in there despite human fickleness, All-Vulnerable before Almighty, and who, it must be said, never left any instructions about our Christmas arrangements.
REV PETER SHARP
Sir: While reading Johann Hari's quote of Richard Dawkins, "In the absence of any evidence whatsoever for a belief , we should assume it is untrue", I am reminded of the conversation between the Astronaut and the Brain Surgeon.
To counter the Surgeon's belief in God, the Astronaut says, "In none of my travels throughout the Universe, have I encountered any evidence indicating the existence of God, and so I think you are wrong."
"Funny that", replies the Brain Surgeon. "In all my neurosurgical experience, I have yet to encounter any evidence proving the existence of a thought".
Seal of approval
Sir: Astonishingly, you managed to devote two pages to the rise of the penguin image (19 December) without once mentioning Tux, the penguin mascot of the increasingly popular Linux operating system. Tux is, however, a big bird and forgives you.
Why crime pays
Sir: So it's "High times for farmers as cannabis is America's biggest cash crop" (19 December), is it? Just why is an ounce of marijuana more valuable than several bushels of corn? Prohibition. Why is marijuana completely tax-free? Prohibition. And why is marijuana unregulated and controlled by criminals? Prohibition. Perhaps they should criminalise corn to make it more profitable.
MESA, ARIZONA, USA
Type of bureaucracy
Sir: Howard Fuller complains (Letters, 20 December) about slow NHS letters. This is because secretarial transcription services are being outsourced by some NHS trusts desperate to save money while making experienced medical secretaries redundant or putting them into medical secretariats, thus downgrading their skills. At the same time, the number of clinics and theatre sessions is increasing to ensure the trust meets the government targets. I know of some trusts with a letters' backlog of up to three months.
CHAIRMAN, BRITISH SOCIETY OF MEDICAL SECRETARIES, NORTHAMPTON
Sir: In his article about French attempts to break their own speed record for TGV trains (report, 19 December), John Lichfield states that the top speed for trains on the East Coast Main Line is 140mph. While the Class 91 locomotives used on this route can indeed reach 140mph, they are restricted in everyday use to 125mph, simply because the additional revenue that would be gained through 140mph running would not meet the increased costs of wear and tear to the track. The fastest service trains on Britain's railways are Eurostar services from Waterloo which run at 186mph.
Sir: I am rather worried about Bruce Paley's suggestion that we may as well sell off the country to the highest bidder (Letters, 18 December). This would mean Johnny Foreigner owning our Premiership football teams, our water companies, our power industry and God knows what else besides.