Sir: Patrick Cockburn's remarkable and depressing report "Revealed: secret plan to keep Iraq under US control" (5 June) makes it imperative for us to know whether our government supports the Bush administration's plan to turn Iraq into a permanent American dependency – and whether British troops will be kept there to assist it.
As the report makes clear, any such decision would have a bearing on the US elections, and help John McCain at the expense of Barack Obama.
Sir: There is something akin to despair when, as a Palestinian, I have to listen to President Bush telling us what a wonderful country Israel has become. This despair deepens when Obama and Clinton fall over each other to assure everyone of their unswerving commitment to Israel (report, 5 June).
What does that leave us Palestinians with? The support of political movements such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, Iran's theocrats and other friends we could do without. I remember feeling intensely uncomfortable in the Sixties to have the Soviet Union as our ally and wishing that the Americans were our friends instead.
What chance have we, moderate Palestinians, got when the strongest power on earth offers blind and unstinting support to our torturers and usurpers whilst also planning to turn fellow Arabs in Iraq into members of a US vassal state (Patrick Cockburn, 5 June)?
Please America, our moderation is being severely challenged by your continuous refusal to be remotely even-handed. We Palestinians are victims of a major injustice that could be put right under new leadership with the moral courage to act fairly by both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Dr F H Mikdadi
Sir: Why the big surprise? Surely ours is not the only household where the reasons for the invasion of Iraq by the US have always been seen as a base in that part of the world and a secure supply of oil. Was anyone truly under the illusion that the US was spending billions of dollars to save the Iraqi people from the hands of their evil dictator? A return on investment is usually expected.
It certainly makes one wonder what Tony Blair is receiving, or will receive in the future, to thank him for his "investment" of his unswerving support for his American friend.
America is ready to elect a woman
Sir: In her comments on Hillary Clinton's defeat in the race to become the Democrats' presidential nominee ("So, when will a woman be elected President?" 4 June), Mary Dejevsky states that Hillary's supporters "may choose to abstain, or vote for John McCain, rather than vote for the man that narrowly beat the woman who had the best chance anyone has ever had of being the first female president".
Surely the desired outcome is that people vote for who they feel would be most suitable for the role as President based on a candidate's policies, character and voting record, rather than race or gender.
There is much to celebrate as a result of this contest, regardless of who is eventually elected President. By attracting nearly 18 million votes, Hillary Clinton has shown that America is ready for a female president. She was considered a serious contender from the outset and had the Democratic party rules mirrored the Republican system, she would no doubt have won. Her misfortune is that she came across an extremely electable opponent who made far fewer mistakes in his campaign.
That Obama is an African-American and also has a very strong chance of taking the presidency is equally encouraging. He should not become President because he is black, but his presence at this stage of the race suggests that the American electorate is ready to elect a president of any race or gender if they show they are right for the job.
America has shown that it is ready for a woman as President or an African-American. Now, the nomination of an atheist by a major party – that really would be a step forward.
Sir: Mary Dejevsky asks: "So, when will a woman be elected president?" The question "So, when will a woman be able to run for president without the name-recognition of her husband's previous incumbency?" might be worth raising too.
Class warfare over Oxford admissions
Sir: Once again, thinly concealed bile has been paraded as rational comment on the admissions record of Oxford University. The smell of class envy assails the nostrils. Gerry Murphy (letter, 31 May) talks of the "intransigence of privately educated admissions tutors". Has he provided evidence that admissions tutors are (by definition) privately educated, or that only the privately educated ones are intransigent, or that state-educated admissions tutors would have different criteria for admission?
He demands an "equitable extension of access". As far as I know there is no bar on access – anyone may apply once the basic GCSE criteria have been achieved. Once, there was the Oxford entrance exam and the interview. The entrance exam was abandoned on the grounds that state-school applicants were disadvantaged. Now the entrance test is making a comeback. How else can an organisation choose – teacher recommendation, coursework, specially set research? None are foolproof, and of course, all are at the mercy of the heinous charge that those candidates with better informed, more committed teachers will have the edge. What a surprise – better taught and stimulated candidates will do better.
If that is the case then the answer is clear. Teach and organise learning better, expect more and aspire to Oxbridge – and forget the class struggle.
Sir: Your correspondents ask why state school students fail to apply for Oxbridge (letters, 4 June). Pupils identified as academically able should be nurtured as Oxbridge applicants from early in their secondary school career, as is the case in private schools. They should be encouraged to read widely, enter essay-writing competitions and apply for relevant work experience or voluntary work to ensure that their personal statement shows real enthusiasm for their chosen subject.
No school would enter a soccer team into competition without proper kit or training, so why enter pupils into competition for a place at an elite university without proper preparation? Winners of a soccer tournament get a medal; winners of the Oxbridge race get to run the country.
Sir: Further to Peter Wood's comments on the Oxford selection process (letters, 2 June), the tutors and admission staff are faced with the difficult task of differentiating between many hundreds of applicants, who have achieved identical high grades at A-level. Even pupils gaining four or five A-grades may be expected to offer something beyond the academic field, and it is in this area that applicants from independent schools can gain an advantage, having access to sporting, musical and artistic facilities which may well be unavailable to those in the state sector.
A way forward may be to continue the good work done by many independent schools in opening up their facilities to neighbouring comprehensive schools and the wider community.
Sir: Whatever the truth about Oxbridge admissions policies, it is fatuously irrational to equate the age of a university with its quality, or the value of a course of study with whether it was available in one's youth. Many years ago, at a – horror – "former polytechnic", I taught Oxbridge graduates on the law conversion course. they reacted to such modern wonders as overhead projectors like 18th-century Pacific Islanders to mirrors.
Cheer up, we are all reactionaries now
Sir: Poor Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in her lamentation for the left (2 June) has forgotten that Newton's third law of motion (to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) applies to politics.
For 10 years she, Johann Hari and others have been preaching against anyone who holds a "right-wing" or "conservative"' view. They suggest that such people are not only wrong but bad and probably eat their offspring. They are unable to accept that there are those of us who can hold both right- and left-wing views.
To those in the middle ground outside the M25, this vaguely left-wing government and its supporters appear to be tired, corrupt, incompetent and venal. So we will give the vaguely right-wing lot a go and in 10 or so years when they appear tired, corrupt, incompetent and venal we will react and sack them too.
Don't despair, Yasmin; just remember Newton.
We share blame for Zimbabwe's plight
Sir: In all the coverage of Zimbabwe, it is rarely noted that the US and British states have been imposing punitive economic sanctions on the country since 2001.
The former Assistant Secretary of State on African Affairs, Chester Crocker, told the US Senate in 2001: "To separate the Zimbabwean people from Zanu-PF we are going to have to make their economy scream, and I hope you senators have the stomach for what you have to do." The senators did as Crocker proposed.
Under the USA's Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), US representatives at every international financial institution were instructed "to oppose and vote against: (1) any extension of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or (2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution."
Due to the sanctions, foreign trade plummeted towards near zero, and foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe fell by over 99 per cent. Inflation soared, and the lack of foreign exchange devastated Zimbabwe's manufacturing sector, causing unemployment to rise to over 70 per cent. This campaign by the US and British states to cripple Zimbabwe's economy should, in all honesty, at least be noted.
Sir: I trust Robert Mugabe's wife Grace will enjoy her shopping spree in Rome's famous luxury boutiques. Zimbabwe's starving citizens and tortured opposition members can now sleep easy knowing the UN is looking after their best interests. The mind boggles at the UN's hypocrisy and spineless attitude. Is there no end to this madness? One can only pray they do not invite the Burmese military junta to a seminar on aid distribution.
Science, God and earthquakes
Sir: Richard Lapthorne (letters, 28 May) writes: "Given acceptance of the geologists' explanation of earthquakes as readjustments in the earth's crust, perhaps Bruce Homes (letters, 22 May) would see the sense of attributing them to acts of science rather than acts of God." This is a masterclass in poor logic. Lapthorne's argument amounts to saying that scientific observation has revealed that "readjustments in the earth's crust", along fault zones, cause earthquakes. Ergo, science causes earthquakes. What about the earthquakes that occurred before science had revealed the causes of them?
Dr Paul Wilson
School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester
Sir: In Glenn Moore's account of the Frost-Ferguson interview (3 June), he refers to "Frost, who is still working in his 80th year". When I started at my senior school, "Jack" Frost was in the sixth form. If he's now 79, he must then have been at least 26 years old. Considering how long he took to complete his school years, I'm glad to see how well he's done for himself.
Graham P Davis
Sir: Of many idiocies behind the Home Office's determination to deport Zyad Al-Sadou to Iraq (report, 2 June), one stands out. The chief executive of the Border Agency says: "Foreign nationals must obey the laws of this country . . . Those who have committed criminal offences here are subject to the same legal processes as anyone else." But this is offered as a justification of the fact that foreign nationals who commit offences are not subject to the same legal processes as anyone else, because, in addition to serving their sentence, they face deportation.
United in protest
Sir: How good it is to see that academia has at last caught up with the teaching profession (report and letter, 2 June). At last we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. For years now the teaching unions have been saying that the government emphasis on league tables, statistics and constant change has been damaging education. Perhaps now we can form a choir.
Immediate Past President, Association of teachers and lecturers, Shipley, West Yorkshire
Useful nuclear waste
Sir: Dr R E Dawson (Letters, 4 June) asks how I would dispose of nuclear waste. For decades it has been possible to glassify waste and deep bury it, or deposit it in subduction trenches. But its energy content is too valuable. Sir David King, until recently Government Chief Scientist, is reported as saying: "We can bury nuclear waste, or use it as free fuel for life. We have six tonnes of plutonium and 60 tonnes of uranium stockpiled from the Fifties. Using fast-breeder reactors we would be near self-sufficient in nuclear fuel until 2100."
Sir: At the risk of offending your more sheltered and sensitive readers I have to report that on holiday in Norfolk many years ago I came to the village of Knocking. The village store had a large name plate across the facade which informed everyone the name of the village and that it was, indeed, a shop.
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