Sir: How reassuring it was to wake up on Wednesday morning and hear that the Democratic voters of New Hampshire had confounded the pollsters and the front pages of the first editions. Voters 1 , Media 0.
The Rev Dave Thompson
Sir: Mary Dejevsky is correct in every way ("Is it worse to be a woman than a black man?", 8 January) . I was the scheduler [diary manager] for Hubert Humphrey during his career and retired after 13 years as Senator John Kerry's scheduler in the US Senate.
One of the reasons I left law school to work for HHH was I knew I would not be able to rise to power in politics in the US and the best way to have authority would be to be in the position of telling the candidate where to go – literally, which is what schedulers in the US Senate do. I was also accepted exerting that kind of authority because I was married – that somehow made me safe and OK.
My country is so chauvinistic and immature that it will be a long time before the people accept female leadership, but Hillary is leading the way just as Speaker Pelosi has.
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Sir: The reason many Democrat voters prefer Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton has little to do with sex. In arguing that Hillary's main problem is her gender, Mary Dejevsky completely ignores a far more important issue: the Iraq war.
Obama consistently opposed the invasion. Clinton supported the war enthusiastically when it was popular, then flip-flopped once the polls turned negative. American voters who are sick of the war and sick of the cynicism which allowed it to happen see in Obama a candidate they can trust. It is insulting and inaccurate to suggest that they are simply being sexist.
St Antony's College, Oxford
Sir: Congratulations, on the front page headline "Barack Obama's incredible journey" (9 January). It almost reached the high standard set by the American press reporting the defeat of Truman by Dewey in 1948, but not quite.
Church Crookham, Hampshire
Sir: If Barack Obama misses out on being elected as President of the US, I am sure that the citizens of Kenya would only be only too happy to have him.
Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia
Management of sheep and badgers
Sir: Thank you for the article "What are we eating?"(7 January) – mostly very good, but it says that one of the biggest issues surrounding sheep farming in Britain is that many animals are subject to painful mutilations: tail-docking, castration and mulesing.
I'm a sheep farmer and I'd never heard of mulesing – I had to find it on the web. Apparently it is done in Australia, but it isn't done in Britain and is almost certainly illegal.
In Britain, castration is usually carried out using a special rubber band on very young male lambs and it usually only causes pain for a couple of hours. It is needed in extensively-reared flocks, like ours, where lambs are not killed until they are over 10 months old; because otherwise the male lambs would be trying to mate with the mother sheep and the female lambs – which would result in them lambing very early, when there is no grass for them to eat.
Tail docking is also usually done with an elastic band when lambs are very young and many lambs seem unaware that it has been done. It is needed if the sheep are living in areas where there are blow flies; lambs with tails tend to have dung in the wool around their bottoms – this is where blow flies lay their eggs. The eggs hatch and burrow into the flesh, eating it as they go; nobody wants lambs to suffer that.
Nobody is perfect, but if you buy British meat, welfare will almost always have been good – better still, find a good butcher who can tell you exactly where your meat was produced.
Newton Abbot, Devon
Sir: Your article "What are we eating?" states that "eating farmed fish prevents endangered wild fish from being further threatened". In fact other species including mackerel, anchovies and herring are scooped up and ground into fish meal to feed the farmed fish; at least three tons of fish meal is required to produce one ton of farmed fish.
St Buryan, Cornwall
Sir: Richard Ingrams seems keen to establish his credentials as the hard man of country matters, most recently pouring scorn on the sentimental attitude the general public have towards badgers (5 January).
He tells us that badgers are "now generally accepted to be the cause of TB in cattle" This is, of course, not true in the literal sense – the cause of TB in cattle is the organism Mycobacterium bovis. But if Mr Ingrams is trying to tell us that badgers are the main agents of spread of the disease, then this is almost certainly not true either and is definitely not "generally accepted" to be so.
The results of a decade of public-funded research costing about £50m have shown, among other things, that while badgers contribute significantly to the disease in cattle, cattle-to-cattle transmission is very important and is the main source of infection in many parts of Britain. Based upon the same body of research, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded that "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain".
Nevertheless, Mr Ingrams tells us, detailed plans are "already advanced" for a mass extermination of badgers in the West Country. Fortunately, this is by no means the foregone conclusion that he implies. It is true that such a cull has been recommended by the Government's Chief Scientist; ministers are apparently awaiting a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, due later this month, that will be "vital to future policy" on this issue.
Mr Ingrams concludes with a presumably tongue-in-cheek proposal that the majority of badgers could be slaughtered while preserving a sett or two for the benefit of BBC wildlife programmes. This, of course, ignores one of the most important findings of the research – that incomplete culling would lead to greater spread of the disease by encouraging surviving badgers to roam more widely.
Dr Francis Kirkham
Ecological Research & Consultancy, Crediton, Devon
Climate: we must lead the world
Sir: How refreshing to read Frank Moran's letter (31 December) concerning energy for the future and the urgency of taking effective action to reduce our effect on our climate. It is indeed about time the Prime Minister and politicians of all colours stopped talking about targets for 20 to 30 years' time and started taking actions that will have an immediate effect, now and during the coming year. It is imperative that we take the following action now.
Build the Severn Barrage; reduce the national road speed limit to 50mph; plan and introduce a system of road mileage allocation; invest massively in public transport, rail, light rail and bus; allocate grants to householders and industry to fit solar thermal panels to reduce our gas consumption; stop all development of airports; stop new road construction.
The important thing is to take action that has immediate and obvious effect and that will impact on the lives of every one of us. It is the job of politicians to show a lead and convince us of the need for these actions. We are an inventive and resourceful nation and it is time we gave a lead to the world.
R F Clarke
What Bush and Blair were praying for
Sir: It is sad to find Alistair McBay of the National Secular Society sneering at inaccurate caricatures of Christianity (letter, 8 January).
We do not "pray for guidance from on high" in the sense of seeking a yes/no instruction. What we do is try to view all our own imperfect ideas in the light of what we understand of God's nature. The "rational analysis" lauded by McBay is naturally and inevitably a part of this process.
To what extent Blair and Bush engaged in it we cannot know. But it is a demanding task, and properly undertaken it represents a search for truth, which sadly Mr McBay, like so many secularists, seems unwilling to engage in.
The obvious ignored on the West Bank
Sir: Rob Prince (letter, 8 January) refers patronisingly to a previous letter writer's visit and description of the apartheid conditions she found within the Palestinian West Bank as "Noddy goes to Palestine".
Shimon Tzabar, a veteran Israeli soldier and anti-occupation activist whose obituary this paper ran in March 2007, was no Noddy. His prophetic quote: "Foreign rule leads to resistance, resistance leads to oppression, oppression leads to terror and counter terror . . . keeping the territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims."
The occupation is the problem; why do so many attempt to ignore the obvious?
Sir: In reply to Rob Prince, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is run for the convenience of 450,000 Israelis who live in settlements built against international law.
There are 500 or so checkpoints and barriers restricting the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank. These wouldn't exist without the illegal settlements and have been condemned in the 2007 all-party House of Commons report and the 2007 Amnesty International report and by the World Bank.
In the West Bank there are two groups of people living in the same area under different laws – which is apartheid. Blaming Israel for this situation is both straightforward and accurate.
Spelling reform means Newspeak
Sir: Enough of this preposterous debate concerning English spelling. Advocates for linguistic dumbing-down to accommodate victims of poor education would do well to read – if they are able – George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and reflect upon how ugly a language may become when its natural evolution is bypassed for a quick fix by beady-eyed politicos and cone-headed zealots.
A future founded on linguistic principles that are as blindly logical and linear as some of your correspondents propose, with little room for creative interpretation, will surely be as bland as a Milton Keynes shopping mall; joylessly mechanistic, bereft of literacy and with all the life, warmth, humour and humanity of a central processing unit. Orwell's dystopian brutality had an easy ride once society's critical faculties had joined on the scrapheap the warts-and-all idiosyncrasies of language.
Beware the apologists for lousy teaching who'd willingly break something precious that cannot be remade; and be very afraid of the totalitarians who would exploit it.
Blind drunk birthdays
Sir: With reference to the battle against binge drinking (report, 2 January), and creating a cultural shift, may I suggest that the greetings card industry be involved? There appears to be a theme running in many birthday cards that you have to get blind drunk in order to have properly celebrated the day and to have had a "good time". Could the greetings card industry be persuaded that this doesn't help? Perhaps rather than glorifying drunkenness, the media could associate it with being a loser.
Horsham, West Sussex
Joining the despots
Sir: Lionel Caplan questions the grounds for the recent inclusion by The Independent of Castro among despots such as Hitler and Stalin (letter, 8 January). To be fair, you did include somewhat less barbarous men, such as Napoleon. Having said that, diverse Americans have equated Castro's rule with that of Hitler and Stalin, almost certainly the origins of this odious comparison. Castro is no liberal and appears to have committed human rights abuses, but the Americans have continually lost all sense of perspective when it comes to his rule.
Daffodils in winter
Sir: Gillian Coates' daffodils (letters 7, 8 January) may have been a record for Trefor in Anglesey, but here at Biggin Hill I picked eight daffodils, naturalised and grown without any protection, from my allotment on 1 December 2007, and have been picking daffodils since. The previous earliest date I've picked them was 1 January, again in 2007. I look forward to picking them on 1 November in 2008!
Biggin Hill, Kent
In memory of Diana
Sir: I was disappointed by your decision to print a letter from Michael Cole (8 January) on the subject of Princess Diana's and Dodi Fayed's inquest. Apart from reaffirming the partisan stance of the writer, spokesman for Mr M Al Fayed, the letter offers little to illuminate the discussion. It does, however, include a monstrous statement, declaring the statue of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed in Harrods store to be "elegant". I have yet to meet anyone who feels this statue to be other than preposterous kitsch, but I clearly move in the wrong circles.
Sir: Your leading article on 9 January commends pay restraint in the public sector. This must be the biggest kick in the teeth for poorly paid, hard-working public-sector workers; they are already receiving pay increases well below the inflation rate. Most of them work far more unsocial hours than any MP, often having to cope with violent and dangerous people, for paltry wages. We seem to be slipping backwards into Dickensian times. The new workhouses are call centres.
Too many alternatives
Sir: If a word has "two alternative meanings" (letter, 9 January) there must be three meanings.
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