The Nimrod crash was shocking and it is right that the investigation and report were thorough and hard-hitting; but that one Nimrod was unsafe should not mean this applies to the whole fleet.
I am not in the RAF nor have I any connection with the Service – except 50 years as an aircraft enthusiast – but I think that for the sake of the present-day Nimrod crews and their families some facts need to be pointed out.
The Nimrod has been in service for 40 years, but its US equivalent, the Lockheed Orion, entered service in 1962 and the Franco-German, the Breguet Atlantic, a couple of years later; all three types have been heavily modernised and rebuilt over the years. The Nimrod is a maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine operational type and has had long, hard service, flying in atrocious weather at low level over the sea on anti-submarine or search-and-rescue missions, flying thousands of (air-refuelled) miles over the South Atlantic during the Falklands War, and operating in both of the Iraq wars and that in Afghanistan.
Despite this, only four Nimrods have been lost through accidents before XV230 and none during the years since, about 10 per cent of the 49 which entered service. Of the four crashes, only two could be attributed to faults in the aircraft and only nine crew were killed. Hardly an "unsafe" aircraft surely? For comparison, 23 of the Nimrod's predecessor, the Shackleton, crashed (13 per cent), 17 four-jet Vulcans (14 per cent), and 14 four-jet Victors (18 per cent); helicopter crash rates are considerably higher.
When we accuse the Government of cost-cutting, which they undoubtedly are, could it be something to do with our demands for better health care, education and pensions, against which defence-funding suffers?
Cherry Willingham, Lincoln
The perils of palm oil plantations
Your coverage of the issues surrounding palm oil production is most welcome (report and leading article, 28 October). But simply scoring companies on whether they are using "sustainable" palm oil, as WWF have done, is rather oversimplifying things and assumes the existence of truly sustainable palm oil.
Greenpeace has capably demonstrated that plantations and companies are being certified as sustainable while still converting forests to palm plantations, albeit in other regions or under different subsidiary names, and Friends of the Earth categorically stated that "the vast scale of palm oil production means that it cannot be sustainable".
Claiming that palm oil can simply be grown on existing "marginal" land ignores the reality that much of the land designated as marginal is actually vital to local people who use the land for growing food or collecting materials for crafts such as boat-building.
I have spent time with the Orang Rimba tribe in Indonesia and seen first-hand how their culture, way of life and very means of survival are threatened by encroaching palm plantations. War on Want has also documented how increased demand for palm oil from Colombia has led to mercenaries forcibly evicting people from their land to clear the way for the palm industry. Palm plantations provide very little in the way of jobs and are more likely to displace people and deprive them of their traditional livelihoods and food security.
Until we cut the global demand for palm oil and switch to a broad spectrum of edible oils, much of which can be grown on existing agricultural land, and ensure that companies are not simply buying the cheapest oils on the global commodities market, then these problems will persist.
Campaigns Manager, Lush Cosmetics, Poole, Dorset
You are right to highlight the environmental damage caused by the monoculture plantations which are invading virgin rainforest at an accelerating rate to grow the world's cheapest vegetable oil. But you fail to mention the human cost of this increasingly lucrative commodity.
Christian Aid supports several small farming communities in Colombia who have been driven off their land by violence or threats of violence. A few years later, that same land, which they had been using to grow food, is covered in African palm plants from which the valuable oil is extracted.
In July this year, riot police removed 123 families from land they were farming to make way for a new plantation run by a company which supplies several UK retailers.
Colombia has had a higher proportion of its population forced to flee their homes than anywhere in the world, apart from Sudan. Palm oil cultivation is only making this problem worse. Certification of sustainable plantations is not protecting people who rely on the land to feed themselves. It is time to question the whole direction of palm oil production.
Colombia Country Representative, Christian Aid, Bogota
It is the ultimate irony that the climate change negotiations at Copenhagen now contain a clause permitting virgin rainforest to be felled and replaced by commercial palm oil monocultures because these plantations can be classed as "forests". This is like saying that it is OK to destroy a priceless Leonardo Da Vinci painting as long as you replace it with a poster.
The tropical rainforests act not only as the lungs and heart of our planet's weather system but contain a host of irreplaceable genetic bio-diversity. If these ancient forests, and their indigenous peoples and diversity are destroyed, the Copenhagen talks will be no more than hot air and will give us no hope. Never was the saying that "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" more apt.
West Didsbury, Manchester
Muslim women are officially inferior
Methinks Arif Khan (letters, 24 October) and Professor Abdel Haleem (report, 24 October) do protest too much. Unless they are prepared to publicly deny the legitimacy of the hadiths, they know very well that discrimination against women and non-Muslims (traditionally accorded the inferior status of dhimmis) has been sanctioned by Muslim rulers from the inception of the violent overthrow of non-Muslim societies in the mid-7th century.
Stoning for adultery and mutilation for "lesser" offences, for example, is still practised in Iran and the Horn of Africa, and no doubt elsewhere, except that it is rarely reported by mainstream media. Unfortunately, for the above Muslims, 9/11 was a wake-up call that inspired numerous authors such as Bat Ye'or, Andrew Bostom, Bruce Bawer, Ibn Warraq, Robert Spencer and Patrick Sookhdeo to undertake in-depth studies of the ugly reality behind the superficial veneer of the proclaimed "religion of peace", enabling us to judge for ourselves claims put forward by partisan defenders of the Islamic status quo.
You quote Professor Abdel Saleem as saying that the Koran gives "equal standing to women". In fact, it does the exact opposite.
Chapter 2, verse 228 says, "Men have a status above women". Chapter 4, verse 34 says, "Good women are obedient ... as for those from whom you fear disobedience ... beat them". Chapter 2, verse 223 states, "Your women are your fields, so go into them as you please".
Chapter 4, verse 11 says a woman may inherit only half as much as a man. Chapter 2, verse 282 says a woman's witness is worth only half as much as a man's. And so on.
Al-Qa'ida aims for America's economy
Thank you Johann Hari for pointing out that al-Qa'ida's war aim is to "bankrupt America" (Comment, 21 October). This has been apparent since 2001 but neither the American government nor ours seem to have seen this. How much of the rush to war comes from the "military-industrial complex" Eisenhower warned us about?
The strategy itself was used by the American "Indians" (only in B movies) who would attack a fort with a small band. The fort commander would send out the cavalry to chase them away, only for them to run into an ambush where they would be almost annihilated.
The present war is a repetition of the Vietnam war in more ways than one and, given America's warlike tendencies, will almost certainly lead to a similar end. We were fortunate then to have a wise prime minister in Harold Wilson who made sure we did not follow America into the abyss. There may still be time to extricate our nation from this great evil.
Port Solent, Hampshire
Hunting Act has failed
This weekend marks the start of the hunting season, and what could be the last opening while the Hunting Act is in force.
The reality is the Hunting Act is a bad law that has failed. There have been just three successful prosecutions against hunts in the five years the Act has been in force, despite the thousands of hours of "monitoring" by the League Against Cruel Sports and their associate organisations.
Opinion polls by independent organisations consistently show that fewer than three in 10 people think the Hunting Act is working.
The ban on hunting was driven by class politics and prejudice, not animal welfare or wildlife management, which is why the law is unworkable. Repeal would be a public benefit; police have had to spend hours investigating spurious claims by animal rights activists when they should have been tackling real crime. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent bringing in, enforcing and discussing the law.
I am sure non-hunting people will agree that the money wasted on enforcing a dreadful piece of legislation would be better spent targeting majority issues, such as education, policing and the NHS.
Countryside Alliance, London SE11
Surrender, Arnie. Your number's up
You say the odds of Arnie spelling out "Fuck you" as an acrostic in an email are about eight billion to one (report, 29 October). This assumes that all the letters in written English occur equally often: in fact, six out of seven of the letters in "Fuck you" occur less often than the one in 26 chance you quote.
So this is bad news for Arnie; using the letter frequencies given on Wikipedia, and assuming that letters are as likely to start a word as they are to occur in general text, the odds for this being a coincidence worsen to 186 billion to one.
Kiss of death
"Blair bid for EU presidency wins support from Brown" (report, 29 October). Excellent. That should be the end of that then.
Lowdown on knickers
I wish to share one of my puzzlements of the modern era. We are led to believe that market forces are that which drives the course of many events, and that the consumer voice is central. Yet among all my female friends and associates, most over 25, I know of no one who favours the present "fashionable" low waistline. We're no Simon Cowells, but all the same, prefer to restrict the show of our knickers to our select few. How then can we influence the bottom line to become bottoms up?
Doesn't square up
We are told ("Mona Lisa smiles on Wrexham", 29 October) that the painting's 240 square metres is equivalent to 24 double-decker buses. Vehicles of this type, being 10 metres long and 2.4 metres wide, have a footprint of 24 square metres. So, unless North Wales has unusually small buses, I think 10 would suffice.
Write on, HRH
I have worked out how to bring real, long-lasting revolutionary social change to the UK. Give the Duke of York (letters, 29 October) a regular column in The Independent where he can expound his views at will. You could call it "A Golf Club Bore writes ...". And syndicate it free. I can hear the tumbrils now.
No more excitement
In Sean O'Grady's analysis on the potential break-up of UK banks (28 October), he bemoans a lack of innovation amongst the incumbents, asking, "When was the last time a British bank offered you some exciting new product?" Surely we've seen plenty of innovation in recent years: self-cert, buy-to-let and 125 per cent loan-to-value mortgages. How much more excitement do we really want?
Put up, or ...
So, Mark Steel's PE teacher (Comment, 28 October), used to thrash him in the shower with a belt. Please provide details of the teacher's name, school, dates, etc and I will personally fund the legal action. Or Mr Steel can withdraw the allegation.