Letters: Underwater spies

Use of shark 'spies' will lead to greater persecution of marine life
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Sir: I'm sure that I am not alone in being horrified by the news that sharks are being modified by the US military via the application of "neural implants"to make them underwater "stealth spies" (report, 2 March). The US has a history of using marine animals in their military activities, but this approach to change animals into military robots seems to be new and, quite frankly, chilling. If animals become "spies" or other agents of defence, then we can expect counter measures to be taken against them. How, for example, would a vessel know if the shark swimming nearby was innocent or an agent of a foreign power? What action would they take if they were not sure? This could simply lead to more persecution of these already much-maligned animals.

Humankind might be said at the moment to be waging war on marine wildlife. Not only are we training and modifying some animals to act as our proxies, but we are also invading their environment with incredibly powerful military sonars. These sonars are a significant threat to a wide range of species. In the US the use of such technology has been a matter of significant public concern and this has led to a ban of the latest generation of American low-frequency military sonar in most waters. However, elsewhere in the world, including in the UK, powerful sonars are being brought into use with little public scrutiny or understanding of the potential consequences.

The need for a robust defence policy is clear, but the ways in which marine wildlife in particular are presently caught up in defence strategies deserves serious public scrutiny and debate.



Sir: You report that the Pentagon is using brain implants to turn sharks into military spies. Considering what a liability those spies can be (failure to anticipate the fall of the Shah, bombing the Chinese legation in Belgrade using out-of-date maps, scoring a direct hit on the Amariya air-raid shelter in Baghdad, uranium from Niger, WMDs... where does one stop?), coupled with concern over the decline in many shark species in the world's oceans, surely it would make more sense to turn spies into sharks.



Why shouldn't Blair pray to his God?

Sir: The condemnation that has been directed at Tony Blair for daring to say that he believes he will ultimately judged by God for going to war against Iraq has been both predictable, and completely unjustified (report, 4 March). At this point, can I "reassure" your readers, if that is the right word, that my own beliefs fluctuate between agnosticism and outright atheism and further, that I have always been opposed to the war in Iraq.

Tony Blair has not said that God spoke to him, or that he was in any way guided by God into conducting this war. Had he said this, the condemnation would be completely warranted. What he did say was simply that he believed in God and that he would be judged in the next life for his actions. This strikes me as being a perfectly reasonable and innocuous thing to say. But for whatever reason, elements in the media and beyond have chosen to deliberately misinterpret this in order to further their own anti-religious agenda. This reaction seems to be symptomatic of the disdain with which too many of those of a secular disposition regard the sincerely held beliefs of billions.

All this furore has achieved is to further demonstrate the intolerance, contempt and outright hatred with which the secular liberal elite regards anything to do with organised religion.



Sir: Reading that Blair claims God will be his judge on Iraq I was, once again, outraged by his arrogance and total lack of accountability for his actions.

Blair claimed that we were invading Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction and, either through mendacity or incompetence, this claim proved to be false. The reason for the invasion then morphed into one of removing an evil dictator, thus bringing democracy and stability to Iraq. Robert Fisk's reports supply conclusive evidence that the latter has not occurred. As this justification continues to lose credibility, Blair then offers to submit himself for trial by an imaginary judge in a non-existent court. I would like Blair to be held accountable for his actions on this earth and in his lifetime.

The final irony is that he does not do this either to the Foreign Affairs Committee or even as an official announcement from Downing Street, but on a television chat show. A sad, but accurate, reflection of the values and integrity of this government.



Sir: Have British politics taken leave of the rational? A Prime Minister wishing to involve this country in a war would, one imagines, make sure that the casus belli was impeccable. He would then consult widely with experts to ascertain what the likely effects and outcomes of that war might be.

As the catastrophe that is Iraq, the destabilising of the Middle East, and the exponential increase in terrorism were all predicted before the war, one might imagine that, in a sane world, the decision would be to draw back. It should be unimaginable that this awful choice should rest with an individual who consults only with a deity that may or may not exist. Hubris always ends in tragedy. Religion must be a private and never a public affair: faith is not knowledge.



Sir: What sort of godless society do we live in that Tony Blair should receive such a lambasting because he admits to considering his responsibilities to his faith?

Here is a man who was seen reading the Koran in the aftermath of 9/11 and who has apparently read it three times. One can interpret this as an attempt by a 21st-century crusader to know his enemy. Or as evidence that we have a compassionate leader who makes every effort to think outside the box.

Personally I'd rather have a Prime Minister who believes in something, and who is not so mealy-mouthed that he daren't admit it. The world is full of leaders who don't believe that they are answerable for their actions to anyone.



Sir: The time has come for the establishment of a celestial call centre to help screen the deity from being pestered by the many politicians seeking his advice.



Sir: Even Mr Blair's hubris must be reaching breaking point if he hopes that God will be as forgiving as Lords Hutton and Butler.



There are no simple answers for schools

Sir: Deborah Orr is right to point out the problems in the education debate (Opinion, 1 March). There are still too many people insisting that there is one right way to do things. As a member of the Labour Party's National Policy Forum, I am regularly involved in debates about education where I hear again and again how wonderful LEAs are. Nonsense. Most are good, but not all.

My own LEA is Tory-run and has great overall results, because most schools do well. But where schools are struggling, the LEA does not give the right level of support. They do not provide enough places for children who can't be educated in the normal school environment and they are slashing the vital support services that some schools rely on.

Like Deborah Orr, I want to see a system that treats each child differently, to help each child make the most of his or her only chance at education. The first step towards this is to let a school community decide which way of managing themselves suits them best. If a school community feels that their LEA is not supporting them, they need an escape route.



Sir: Did a "senior Blairite MP" really tell one of your political reporters, in respect of the new Education Bill, that some MPs "may be put off by the legalistic way in which the Bill is framed"? (report, 1 March). If this is not condescending clap-trap, what are we to make of the opinions of some of the Prime Minister's followers, that fellow Labour MPs are unable to carry out the basic role for which they are elected: to represent us in Parliament, through debate and passing legislation?



Ministers' duty to visit the wounded

Sir: I read your front page report of 1 March with a familiar sense of outrage. As a former Armed Forces officer, I have been trying to obtain details under the Freedom of Information Act with regard to the Prime Minister's visits to wounded Armed Forces personnel. Such visits would be expected as part of the duty of care owed by Ministers to those who are injured doing their bidding. However, Downing Street refuses to reveal when such visits have taken place, despite the acknowledged public interest, and despite the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence has made such visits public.



Dishwashers are not wasteful of water

Sir: Terence Blacker, talking about water (28 February), hints that our consumption could be reduced by limiting the use of dishwashers.

Rigorous studies carried out some years ago by Bonn University revealed that dishwashers typically use far less water than does manual washing. Since then, dishwashers have become even more efficient in terms of water use (and also power and detergents). Recent research in the UK and elsewhere shows that the consumption of water per cycle in a modern dishwasher is less than a third of that used to clean the same amount of soiled items by hand, typically about 18 litres compared with 63 litres. This assumes, of course, that the dishwasher is fully loaded, properly stacked, not pre-rinsed, and set on the right programme.

So it's sad that UK households have one of the lowest ratios of these ecologically friendly appliances in western Europe.



Life in England, as viewed by the Dutch

Sir: Recent letters (1, 2 & 3 March) about the facility of the Dutch with languages remind me of a holiday I spent there some years ago. When I congratulated our hostess on the excellence with which she, her husband and their two young boys talked to me in near-flawless English she explained that they acquired their knowledge of languages from the TV programmes they could receive.

She went on to tell me, too, how they also gained their impressions of other nations' lifestyles from soaps: the Americans came across as over-indulged, ruthless adulterers; the Australians as beach-loving hedonists, while the English inhabited depressing, run-down inner cities and spent much of their time in dingy pubs - the womenfolk with their hair in curlers and rarely out of aprons.



Westminster wind farm

Sir: Campaigners against wind farms throughout Britain will be cheered by the rejection of the Whinash site in Cumbria (3 March). Here in Northumberland we feel powerless in the face of commercial interests which, with government support, can make local objections useless. Our wild and open spaces are currently threatened by industrial installations on a massive scale. Keep them near industry, or off-shore, but preserve our landscapes for posterity. The best spot by far is over Westminster, where a plentiful supply of hot air should ensure highly efficient usage.



Sir: To paraphrase the poet Wordsworth, "My heart leaps up when I behold a windmill on the hill". To me these elegant structures are uplifting and symbolise working along with nature rather than destroying it. I am a lover of the landscape and I welcome the windmills with open arms. There may be a problem with birds but if we continue with our present attack on nature the damage to all wildlife will be far greater.



Women on trial

Sir: While bemoaning the double standards facing women, Janet Street-Porter ( "She has let all of us women down", 2 March) only adds to these. A disgraced male would not be held as representative of his sex, and told his few actions had let down half the population. In placing expectations on women "to operate on a higher plane" Street-Porter illustrates her own hypocrisy.



Sir: Janet Street-Porter tells us that "women don't need equality - we are the superior sex, and should aim higher and be paid more than men." Really? Does she also think that white people should be paid more than black people? Christians more than Muslims? Straight people more than gay people? I'm sure she doesn't. So why does she find it necessary to single out men for such prejudice? Ms Street-Porter obviously feels it's OK to do exactly what I'm sure she would criticise coming from men - denigration of the opposite sex.



Jowell's separation

Sir: Presumably Tessa Jowell will now be able to prove that her financial affairs are separate from those of her husband by announcing that she is not intending to have them considered in any future divorce settlement?



Wagner's wars

Sir: It may be that Francis Ford Coppola increased the popularity of 'The Ride of the Valkyrie' by using it in Apocalypse Now, ("A ten-minute guide to the Ring Cycle", 1 March), but German newsreels showing parachutists dropping from Junker 52s over Crete in 1941 were accompanied by the very same piece of music. Plus ça change!



Doomed... well, sort of

Sir: So "The curse of Oliver" is it (3 March)? One actor dies 16 years after being in Oliver, two others take nearly 40 years to pass away, one doesn't do very well in America and another becomes an osteopath. They don't make curses like they used to, do they?