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Middle East, waste and others

Middle East peace will require more than Sharon's 'chutzpah' achieve peace

Middle East peace will require more than Sharon's 'chutzpah' achieve peace

Sir: Adrian Hamilton uses the Jewish word chutzpah to describe Ariel Sharon's position in his recent meeting with President Bush (Opinion, 14 April). For those who don't know, it means the ultimate in cheek.

But in reality the expression is much better attributed to the writer. He posits that Prime Minister Sharon paints Israel as David surrounded by Goliaths. How else could any reasonable person describe Israel's position having been attacked four times by armies and countless times by murderous insurgents?

What Sharon is doing by withdrawing from Gaza is a brave political action in the face of profound opposition. If Mahmoud Abbas can find the same political will on his side to eradicate Arab militias then perhaps peace can have a chance. Would that Mr Hamilton and others of similar mind prevailed on him so to do. In the meantime Israel has no option but to relinquish the thorn in its side which is Gaza. Prime Minister Sharon should be congratulated rather than sniped at.



Sir: Adrian Hamilton is, as ever, deeply pessimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. His perception of the Palestinian people as "impoverished and demoralised" is unjustified and symptomatic of those who wish to demean and belittle the Palestinian national movement.

His suggestion is that with "their best brains emigrated" the Palestinian people are somehow incapable of negotiating with Israel. This is absurd. With the death of Yasser Arafat and the promotion of men like Salaam Fayaad, Mohammed Dahlan and Abu Mazen as President we have the greatest chance ever for achieving a negotiated and lasting peace in the Middle East.



Sir: Adrian Hamilton is right to question whether Sharon has any interest in a just and lasting peace for the Palestinians.

It seems amazing that in both the US presidential election and now our own general election politicians spend so much time talking up the threat of global terrorism and yet so little time addressing one of its root causes: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict is, quite justifiably, a running sore for Muslims around the world and until a just and lasting peace is secured for both sides any hope of countering global terrorism is pie in the sky.



The tide of rubbish can be held back

Sir: Mike McCarthy is right about a "nasty, smelly problem that's not getting any smaller" in your report (April 15) on the amount of food waste going into dustbins and then having to be disposed of in landfill sites. It is an issue that in West Sussex we are tackling in an innovative way.

More than 18,000 households are now using waste digesters in their gardens. Thanks to a simple device, they no longer have to put scraps, meat bones, and rotting fruit into their dustbins. Instead, food waste is placed inside the digester and is broken down into the soil, and enriches it.

Thanks to backing from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the last six months we have been able to offer our residents digesters that would normally cost more than £60 for nothing. It is a scheme that we would hope to extend to thousands more households.

Mike McCarthy missed an important item out of his "tide of rubbish" list - disposable nappies. In West Sussex 82,000 of these end up in landfill every week, which is why we are offering parents incentives to a change in lifestyle including a free starter pack of cotton nappies worth around £100 or four weeks' free nappy laundering service.

We may be a long way from turning back the tide of domestic waste, but in this part of England we are determined not to let it swamp us.



Sir: Thanks for the excellent article on food waste. It is a situation funded mainly by EU subsidy. Because the farmers are subsidised, the supermarkets drive down farm gate prices. Hence, indirectly the subsidies go to the big retail companies. They can then afford to over-stock to ensure "choice"' and also to affix very conservative sell-by dates in case somebody sues for a stomach ache.

The whole cycle of food production and marketing is a mess in which many powerful groups have interests they will defend to the last.



Ancient trees of Windsor Great Park

Sir: Ancient trees, while appearing "decrepit old things" ("Prince Philip turns on 'tree-huggers' over felling plans", 12 April) actually support a vast array of wildlife and can live on for centuries despite appearing "past it" on the surface.

Windsor Great Park holds one of the most impressive collections of ancient trees in the country - if not the world. If we were to remove dead wood as Prince Philip suggests, our country's wildlife and natural history would be much the poorer. While we agree with the Prince that new planting should be encouraged, it should not be an excuse to chop down our ancient natural monuments.

Ancient trees are often undervalued in the wider countryside and the Woodland Trust is working with the Ancient Tree Forum to better protect these priceless national treasures from destruction. We hope that Prince Philip will realise that these trees are important not just to "tree-huggers" but to our society as a whole.



The schools that teach languages

Sir: I was very struck by the juxtaposition of two items in The Independent (14 April). In the news section, you report the shocking effect of the decline in the study of modern languages in Britain, as highlighted by the House of Lords' European Union Select Committee. With the number of undergraduates choosing to study abroad during their university career almost halving in a decade, the outlook for Great Britain plc is very worrying.

Elsewhere in the paper, you publish the views of Christopher Price, airing an ancient prejudice against independent schools and arguing that "public schools" like Eton should have their charitable status removed. His case seems to be that some independent schools - which, bizarrely, he distinguishes from "many independent day schools [which] co-operate with their local state schools" - simply exist to entrench social exclusivity.

Eton's record in the demonstration of public benefit is long and impressive and the school is well able to argue it for itself. Mr Price must have missed the most recent example, reported three months ago: Eton is co-operating with a local state school in Slough to provide induction for newly qualified teachers.

But independent schools are hugely diverse, serving children from all social backgrounds and all levels of ability. They provide enormous public benefit, and the teaching of modern languages is a perfect example. Sixty per cent of all the school candidates gaining A grades at A-level in modern languages come from independent schools. Without this continuing supply of potential linguists to the universities and the nation, it is frankly difficult to see where the next generation of language teachers will come from.



Sir: Michael Howard's remark that he "did not have confidence" in London's state school system is hardly the "dreadful slur" that Barry Sheerman MP pretends ("Howard under fire over state school comments", 15 April).

A large number of London parents share Mr Howard's view. In London, 10 per cent of pupils go to independent schools; in inner London it is 13 per cent. No doubt many more London parents would choose independent schools if they could.

So there is no point in feigning shock when parents admit their lack of confidence in state schooling. It would be better to find out the cause, and do something to change it.



Banner of socialism still raised high

Sir: I was not surprised to discover that the word "socialist" no longer features in "political discourse" and the papers' "political coverage" (Errors & Omissions, Matthew Hoffman, 9 April).

Your paper, and the rest of the mass media, has carried no information on the Socialist Party of Great Britain, even last year when the SPGB, founded in June 1904, marked its centenary.

Mr Hoffman's only definition of socialism was the long-since defunct Clause IV of the Labour Party. Your readers may like to know of our clear definition of socialism, printed on all our leaflets and pamphlets, and in our journal, Socialist Studies: "A system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community."

For 100 years, socialists in Britain have been organised in a political party which has consistently worked for socialism - and nothing but socialism. Yet in Errors & Omissions it is troubling to find that even the concept of socialism is seen as being as dead as the dodo. Are we to suppose that capitalism is to last for ever? Perish the thought!



Don't mention the war, Mr Hain

Sir: I found Mark Steel's remarks about Peter Hain most amusing (Opinion, 14 April), since I encountered the gentleman over a year ago in Brecon, where he was campaigning in support of a hopeful Labour candidate. When I informed him that my late uncle-in-law, Tudor Watkins, had held this constituency for Labour for 25 years, he was eager to talk to me. However, his face fell when he realised I was equally eager to talk to him, mainly to tell him what I thought of Mr Blair's illegal war against Iraq.

He conceded that I was not a "peacenik" (his term) when he learnt that I was a Dunkirk veteran who had later been wounded in the fighting in North Africa. Adopting his most persuasive salesman manner, he said: "They will find weapons of mass destruction you know!"

To my reply of "bullshit" Mr Hain, looking somewhat apprehensive, began to extricate himself, as there was now an interested crowd beginning to gather.



Vegetarians can be speed freaks, too

Sir: I agreed with Michael Bywater's tirade against the "safety" camera menace (14 April) and the hairshirted killjoys who believe that these devices are there to protect us from ourselves rather than collect a tax. However I'd rather he hadn't resorted to the cliché of equating them with vegetarians.

This vegetarian enjoys nothing more than hustling his Audi A4 Cabriolet 2.4 through bends at the maximum safe speed, which does not always relate to the posted speed limit. However, now that fixed penalty points have pushed my insurance through the roof I'm having to change it for something less exciting. But, having opted for cloth upholstery over leather, I'm now having great difficulty selling the damn thing!



A crackers way to identify quackers

Sir: You report that woodpeckers are easily identified by schoolchildren, possibly because they are used to Woody Woodpecker cartoons (14 April). This baffles me, as Woody bears very little resemblance to any of the British woodpeckers. I wonder if cartoon-watching helps children to identify ducks and mice, given the lifelike representations of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.

I am equally baffled by the shock expressed by Professor Stewart Evans that only half of the children could identify the curlew, goldfinch, oyster catcher or golden plover. How many adults would pass such a test?



Coaching unacceptable

Sir: The introduction of a US-style scholastic aptitude test for university entrance (report, 14 April) is long overdue, but to be valid and fair to non-affluent students, it has to be non-coachable. SAT coaching is big business in the US and improves results. Coaching should be no more acceptable than plagiarism.



Beware the cockatrice

Sir: I was a little alarmed to read, in your report of the conviction of a farmer for arranging cockfights, that cockerels' eggs had been seized (report, 13 April). Are the authorities aware that these, if hatched by a serpent on a dung heap, give rise to a cockatrice? This fearsome beast, hitherto safely confined to the premises of the College of Arms, is reportedly capable of killing with a single glance.



Scientists' morals

Sir: Your article "Primate instincts" (13 April) stated "research on monkeys has shown that, even from birth, a sense of morality is programmed into our genetic code". On page 16 of the same day's paper, you reported that staff at the University of Cambridge left some monkeys, deliberately paralysed for investigation into strokes, unattended for up to 15 hours, and that some were found dead. Are scientists sure we are related to monkeys, because somehow the morality gene does not appear to have been inherited by our top scientists.



Dogs might fly

Sir: Your transport editor, Barrie Clement, reports a warning by BA pilot Malcolm Scott that pilots might be reduced to "machine minders" by the increasing use of on-board computers (report, 29 March). As a former BA crew member, I recall a prediction made many years ago that the cockpit of the future would consist of a just one pilot and a dog. The pilot was there to feed the dog. The dog was there to bite the pilot if he touched anything.