Wind turbines are not the worst blot on the landscape
Sir: I must confess to being taken aback by the virulence of the opposition to wind generators as expressed recently in your columns. I actually find them quite pleasing to look at, both singly and in groups - certainly no more visually intrusive than the lines of electricity pylons we are all used to. I would probably not wish to live within earshot of one but eyeshot would be fine.
To talk of "desecration" and "pollution" of the countryside is ludicrous. If it were decided at some future time that they were no longer needed they could quite easily be removed in such a way that in a year or two no one would know they had ever been there. If you want an example of how you really desecrate and pollute the countryside go and look at what the coal industry did to, for example, South Yorkshire.
We are probably wrong to insist on siting them in areas of outstanding natural beauty - they can, and probably should, be situated elsewhere. Anyone who has driven along the autobahn from Hanover to Berlin will have seen the series of windfarms in open and quite ordinary countryside on the outskirts of Magdeburg; why not site them in East Anglia rather than Snowdonia? Offshore turbines can be even more effective as they can be larger. There are any number of sites off UK shores where the water is relatively shallow where these things could be installed out of sight of land but well away from shipping lanes.
Proponents of nuclear power may have a point in that, sadly, we may not be able to get by without some recourse to this fuel source, but what about the costs of decommissioning and of storing/reprocessing nuclear waste? Nuclear cheerleaders are also usually silent about the obvious fact that every extra nuclear power plant is one more potential terrorist weapon. Our reliance on nuclear must be kept as low as possible.
The sane view has to be that wind power is part of the mix - along with solar, tide power, hydro, geo-thermal and, yes, nuclear. Power plants of all kinds are routinely switched in and out of the grid according to demand, breakdowns, or planned maintenance, and wind power will be no different in this respect.
Yes, wind power may be expensive to generate by present-day standards but how will it look in 20-30 years time when the oil is finally running out? There are a lot of ostrich attitudes in play here.
Abortion: rights of foetus and mother
Sir: Jeremy Laurance is mistaken in his claim that "One medical question lies at the heart of the debate over the abortion time limit - when does a foetus become a sentient being?" ("The key question", 16 March) The relevant question is, "Is a foetus a human being?", which one can ask at any stage of development.
The question about abortion is of course a human rights question: does a foetus have human rights? One has human rights because one is a human being, not because of the sort of human being one is or because of anything one may or may not be capable of thinking, saying or doing.
This is why it is wrong to plan the extermination of the disabled or the Jewish, the red-haired or the dull, or any other category of people. Any attempt to qualify the concept of humanity, by any criterion, undermines the whole concept of human rights, and turns them instead into privileges accorded as the relevant power sees fit.
Why should sentience, or any other particular criterion, be accepted as the defining characteristic of the human being, particularly when one can take the much simpler route of identifying every individual creature belonging to the human species as a human being? And it is difficult, I think, to dispute the fact that a foetus (or a blastocyst, zygote, or embryo, for that matter) is a living creature belonging to the human species.
The challenge is, as ever, to make our hearts and actions follow our reasoning - following through on the facts that (say) women are human, and the poor of sub-Saharan Africa are human, and habitual reoffenders are human, has proved to be a difficult business for our average slothful selves. Learning to value the unborn (or indeed the vulnerably pregnant) is no easier.
Sir: It is good to know how strongly Cardinal Murphy O'Connor feels about foetuses. What your correspondents are too tactful and charitable to mention is that he does not seem to feel quite so passionately about actual living children. It is not long since he moved one of his paedophile clerics discreetly to another parish instead of reporting him to the police. He did however, as I recollect, eventually admit his error and apologise for it.
I do however agree with him that especially women in the childbearing age groups do need to find out what the views on abortion are of the political candidates at the next election. No young woman in her right mind would want to support a politician who really thinks it morally right to compel a woman to have an unwanted baby, with all we have learned in the past few years about the likely fate of such children - unloved, unwanted, resented, fostered, in care homes and sometimes prison. This is not a fate that anyone with a social conscience should find acceptable.
Even Michael Howard must be aware that very few women have late abortions, and those that do have pressing medical reasons for doing so. The fact that two thirds of babies born at 23 weeks suffer long-term disability with which their parents will be offered very little long-term help should also make us pause before we rush into foolish legislative attempts.
Sir: One "fact" you forgot to mention ("Abortion: the facts", 16 March) is that the female ovum (egg) was only identified in 1828. Until then it was assumed that the maternal role was simply to nurture the male seed, and life was assumed to begin at "quickening" around the fourth or fifth month.
When the true state of biological affairs was confirmed, Pius IX (not Pius X incidentally, who was only elected pope in 1903) correctly taught that new human life begins at the moment of conception (formation of the zygote), and this remains the teaching of the Church.
Dr LIONEL GRACEY F.R.C.S.
Sir: I fail to see why anyone should think that that women who have been less interested in dedicating themselves to home and family have been influenced by some ultra-feminist stereotype (letter, 15 March).
Far and away the largest factors have been that since the Seventies two incomes have been necessary to pay a mortgage, and the low status afforded to motherhood. That status does not derive from feminism, but from society at large. In today's "Me, me, me" society any job whose description is "Hours:constant. Pay: none. Promotion prospects: unpaid taxi driver and killjoy" is bound to be seen as a mug's game.
I can see why some women today long for a 1950s life, its more unpleasant aspects softened by the mists of time; but the reality of dependence and the other things that went with it such as routine tolerance of domestic violence would be a huge shock to them.
Why is it that feminism is always cited as causing things, rather than coming about as a response to an unsatisfactory situation?
World Bank chief
Sir: Tony Blair claims he is committed to positive change in Africa. We therefore urge him to oppose Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank.
Wolfowitz is a major player behind the Project for the New American Century, a think-tank committed to shaping the international system to serve US military, security and material interests. The reluctance of the US to cancel the debts of the poorest countries illustrates the mismatch between the World Bank's stated commitment to eradicating poverty and US policy, driven by the likes of Wolfowitz, to secure US global dominance.
RUTH BLAKELEY, DAVID CROMWELL, DAN BRICKLEY, CLAIRE THOMAS, ERIC HERRING, ANTHONY McKEOWN
(on behalf of the Network of Activist Scholars of Politics and International Relations), University of Bristol
Sir: Given that the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh only applied 18 months ago for stamps to commemorate its 500th anniversary (letter, 12 March), I am not surprised it was turned down at such short notice, as the Royal Mail receives up to 2,000 suggestions for themes for special issues each year.
The Geological Society of London, the world's oldest geological society, made the long list to celebrate its bicentenary in 2007 a year ago, after I had first contacted the Royal Mail on its behalf over two years ago. As it is, the Geological Society won't know if it has made it until early next year.
DAVID NOWELL F.G.S.
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
Sir: Colin Brown reports (17 March) that the one-off payment of £200 and free bus passes (off-peak only) were hailed by Labour MPs as the "winning ticket" for the general election. How wrong can they be?
Old people do not become daft when they reach 65. The handout will be seen as the blatant piece of electioneering that it is. Nothing more. Our state pensions remain a national scandal. Means-tested top-ups are a disgrace.
National Insurance payments rise in line with incomes, not the Retail Prices Index. Pensions must do the same, and the backlog be made up. Any party that has the good grace to do that will have a genuine "winning ticket".
Sir: Mr Brown's tax hand-outs are remarkably unfocused. Why not £200 off council tax for anyone (like me for example) living in a constituency vulnerable to a 5 per cent swing to the Tories.
Sir: Thanks to Gordon Brown's budget rise on tobacco taxation, independent shopkeepers like me up and down the country face another year of hardship as a result of the effects of tobacco smuggling on our sales.
When will the Chancellor realise that tobacco smugglers are plaguing the streets of Britain because the high levels of taxation on tobacco in the UK create a huge difference in price between tobacco here and elsewhere.
Now that we are part of an expanded European Union, how can we compete with the smugglers who can buy a packet of 20 cigarettes in Latvia for 41p when we will now have to sell them for just under £5? As a result of the Chancellor's decision, more and more shopkeepers up and down the country will have to cut jobs or go out of business.
Retailers Against Smuggling
Sir: For a recent graduate looking to buy a house, the £800 stamp duty bribe from Mr Brown doesn't make up for the £10,000 he charged me in tuition fees.
Sir: If Shelley and Peter Crowther (Budget supplement, 17 March) truly believe that they are "not fantastically well off" on a joint income of £95,000, perhaps they would like to try living on the income of almost anyone else featured in your supplement. Alternatively, as they so admire Sweden, where there is "a lot of help for working families", they could move there and pay Swedish taxes.
Sir: Did I really hear the Chancellor say "one pence"? I think I'd better go and lay down for a bit. Too much worrying about misplaced apostrophe's. It must be something he found in that black hole of his. A pence for your thoughts, Mr Brown!
Terror on TV
Sir: Today's children are being terrorised by a 20-second Marmite commercial. Surely those of us who grew up in the 1960s must be due considerable compensation, or at the very least an apology, from the BBC for all those hours we spent behind the sofa hiding from Daleks.
Balsall Common, West Midlands
Sir: Kevin Hassett (letter, 3 March) claims to be a Liverpudlian and offers as a defence to The Spectator's criticism of the city the claim that there has been no expression of regret regarding the tragic deaths of 39 fans of Juventus at the European Cup Final match with Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium in 1985 (not 1983, as Mr. Hassett stated). There have been many contacts with Turin over the years both official and personal. Many fans, some who were involved and many who were not, have sought to make amends and heal the wounds.
Sir: After the Labour Party's appalling attacks on civil liberties I thought the only obvious alternative was to vote for the Liberals. I now find that half that party (including the leader) couldn't be bothered to attend a crucial debate on the Terrorism Act. It now seems that the only party who are providing any serious defence of my civil liberties is the Conservative Party and although I am a lifetime Labour voter, they will be getting my vote. What strange bedfellows one can end up with!
All clear now?
Sir: It is now becoming clearer to me that whenever Tony Blair prefaces a comment with "Now let's be perfectly clear about this" I am about to hear something that I believe I ought to understand but probably won't. Being perfectly clear in politics is now synonymous with the magician's exhortation to "watch very carefully" just before performing skilful sleight of hand. Surely if what Tony says were perfectly clear in the first place I wouldn't need to be told so by the man himself.