Letters: African orphans

Madonna brings real hope to real orphans in Africa
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The Independent Online

Tell that to the millions of African orphans, dying every day in the internally displaced persons' camps in Darfur, northern Uganda, eastern Congo, Central African Republic and Somalia for lack of shelter, food, clean water, medical services and, above all, security. And tell the jobless, hopeless and the dying extended family members in Zimbabwe, themselves in dire need of help, to look after the orphans of their relatives in their own homes.

Save The Children does commendable work in giving hundreds of thousands of nameless and faceless African orphans of war and HIV/Aids, the opportunity to survive in a very hostile environment in countries where corrupt government officials divert foreign-aid funds to their private use. If the children supported by Save the Children live to be 10, and it is a big if, they will go to poorly equipped government schools with inadequate materials and poorly paid teachers. They will end up illiterate, or semi-illiterate and unemployed, marry young, and die of HIV/Aids, war, or malaria, leaving more orphans.

Contrast this with Madonna's decision to adopt and bring these two children to where they will get first-class private education and private medical services. Madonna is providing real hope to real children. She should be allowed to adopt a second child, and many more rich individuals should join her in adopting at least one child from Africa

Sam Akaki

Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa, London W3

Smith's exes and Brown's ethics

I am struggling to comprehend how Jacqui Smith can claim that her main home is a room in her sister's house in London. I believe that identifying a main home by measuring where a person spends most of their time is inadequate. How can her family home, where her kids are growing up, which she owns and, crucially, where she would be living were she not having to travel to Westminster to work, not be classed as her main home? The key point is that when her time as an MP ends, she will move back to her family home Redditch, not stay at her sister's house in London.

As it stands, we, the taxpayers, are subsidising her furnishing of her family home, we are paying for items that she would need to buy for her house regardless of whether she was a MP. This does not seem to me to be the point of expenses; those are supposed to cover the added cost of working in Westminster, not the cost of fitting out your house with the latest TV, set-top boxes and washing machines.

As she is lodging at her sister's house, surely her expenses should only cover rent paid to her sister, utilities and possibly the cost of a new bed? Other than that, it seems a misuse of taxpayers' money. Although she is within the rules of the expenses, what she is doing is completely unethical. If I were one of her constituents, I would most certainly not vote for her in the upcoming election.

I think it's a sign of the ethics of the present government that Gordon Brown does not deem this as sufficient grounds to remove her from her post as Home Secretary.

Danny Batten

London SW16

Jacqui Smith and her husband between them have a total salary of nearly £190,000, yet they see fit to claim for sofa beds and entertainment centres.

What is it about our MPs? Looking at some of the items on Jacqui Smith's claim list, has no one told them that the rest of us spend our salaries on such basic items as dining tables and cookers, and indeed bathplugs? That's what salaries are for.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset

I really feel for Richard Timney. The £10 spent on life's fleeting pleasures will become a distant memory compared to the permanent reminder of the 88p bathplug: every time he pulls it, he will be confronted with a horrific graphic representation of his wife's political career.

Paul Jenkins

Newton Abbot, Devon

I agree with Gordon Brown that it is important to let Jacqui Smith get on with the important work of curtailing the civil liberties of hard-working families, and, er, law-abiding taxpayers.

David Partridge

Bridport, Dorset

Being a fellow subscriber to Virgin Media with the Home Secretary and her husband, and thanks to the media coverage, I am at least now well informed about what will show up on my bill should I choose to select one of the "additional options". Many thanks.

David Chittock

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Visas denied for religious order

I have waited until now to join the protests concerning unreasonable rejection of visa applications, because I had hopes of a successful outcome for my potential guests. As it now seems inevitable that they will join the many rejected applicants, I add my voice to the debate started by Dr Jan Culik ("Nightmarish arrogance of British embassies", 20 March).

As organiser of a conference to celebrate the bicentenary of the founder of the well-known religious order, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, I had arranged an invitation for two delegates from the Dominican Republic. These women were being offered a few days in an English convent with all expenses paid.

Their application for a one-week visit was backed by reputable bodies including the Papal nuncio in San Domingo; their appeal on initial rejection was further supported by, among others, Hazel Blears and the Baroness Hooper. None of the letters sent has been acknowledged and telephone calls have achieved nothing.

This siege mentality concerning visa applications from certain countries reminds me of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. There appears to be no differentiation between short-term tourist visas and longer-term applications which might be open to abuse. And what is the point of asking for guarantees from potential hosts if our veracity is apparently not worth taking seriously?

Jenny Bryer

Co-ordinator, SHCJ Associates (European Province), Birmingham

Choice of care for the old

Your report on disabled people having no right to choose their NHS carers (24 March) highlights a flaw in the system: the unfair division between health and social care.

All cannot be well in a system where local authorities such as Surrey promote greater choice and independence in adult social care through direct payments and self-directed support while health services can restrict the personalisation and control of this care when someone's condition worsens.

There are some 11 million people of pensionable age in this country – Surrey has a higher percentage of older people than the rest of the UK – and the figure is forecast to rise significantly over the next 20 years. Most older people having social care from local authorities have related health issues. These tend to get worse as people get older.

At Surrey County Council, we are committed to ensuring adults needing our support can maintain their dignity and independence. Now the Government must ensure health services are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Sally Marks

Executive Member for Adults and Community Care, Surrey County Council, Kingston-upon-Thames

Interesting points about your pint

Your report on "extreme beers" (28 March) lacked historical perspective. Beers such as IPA (India Pale Ale) were much stronger than the 5.9 per cent of Jaipur IPA. They were first brewed for the Raj in India in the 19th century and were about 7 and 8 per cent alcohol and heavily hopped: alcohol and hops helped preserve the beers on three-month sea journeys to India.

Imperial Russian Stouts, brewed in London for export, were even stronger, often as high as 12 per cent. Thornbridge also produces a fine example of this style. And Thornbridge is not aiming its beers at "lager-guzzling twentysomethings" but at beer connoisseurs who share the brewery's fascination with historic beer styles. They are meant to be sipped and savoured. Scores of small craft breweries are following a similar path to Thornbridge's and rescuing Britain's great beer styles from oblivion.

In general, British beers are modest in strength compared to most other countries. A genuine Czech or German lager would weigh in at 5 per cent. Belgian ales often reach 8 per cent or more.

Your report referred several times to the large amounts of hops used in strong beers. Hops have nothing to do with alcoholic strength. Hops give aroma and flavour; the alcohol is the result of fermenting malt sugars.

Roger Protz

Good Beer Guide

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Dark future for country idylls

Jane Viner (letters, 27 March) did not need to shoot down Alan Broadway's thoughtful and inoffensive reflections on town and country life quite so defensively. Life in in most parts of Herefordshire is magically peaceful, the countryside is beautiful, the people are very friendly and there is an endearing quaintness about much of the county. But dig a little deeper and you will find a low-wage economy, rural deprivation and poverty, low expectations, and very little for teenagers, in job prospects or entertainment.

We've had seven great years here, but hope, rather sadly, that our 16-year-old will eventually find a life elsewhere, because there is no real future for an ambitious youngster in this county as things stand. No surprise then that as much as 50 per cent of the population is 45 or older, and there is real worry for the future, because increasing numbers of elderly folk need help, and many young people move away.

Tom Canham

Little Dewchurch, Hereford

Briefly...

Disorder in class

Regarding your report about television programmes promoting bad behaviour among schoolchildren (31 March): a friend, a teacher, tells the following story. He went into a class one day to find it in chaos, with pupils all shouting at once and waving papers around. In the midst of the melee, a tall, gravitas-laden boy stood solemnly intoning, "Order! Order!" But no one was taking a blind bit of notice. Where, my friend asked, could they possibly have learned such atrocious behaviour?

Stephen Pimenoff

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Innocents suffer

Alan Halibard makes a good stab at justifying collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza (letters, 21 March). But are two snags to his logic. First, those under voting age in Gaza – children – do not deserve collective punishment so should not face power cuts, medical blockades and tank shells. Second, Palestinians neither voted to be ejected from Israel in 1947 nor for the continuing Zionist colonisation of the West Bank in the area recognised by the whole international community as the territory of Palestine.

Simon Jones

Chelmsford, Essex

Co-operative effort

The article "The time has come for a new socialism" (1 April), which you erroneously published under my name alone, was in fact co-written with Jonathan Rutherford. The article, and the ebook, The Crash – A View From the Left are part of a long-term collaborative project that also involves a lot more people than just the two of us.

Jon Cruddas MP

(Dagenham, Lab)

House of Commons

TV licence change

Further to Albert Chatterly's letter (30 March), until recently, we wrote to everyone who we were notified had bought TV receiving equipment, even when their address had a licence. This was because there are occasions, such as in buildings divided into bedsits, when more than one licence is needed at a single address. Now we write only to unlicensed addresses. Also, a free TV licence is available to anyone over 75, and not 70. This free licence has to be applied for.

Jon Shaw

TV Licensing, London WC2

Don't egg me on

In reply to the delightfully bonkers letter from Jolyon and Katherine Laycock (27 March), what can one say? "Cuckoos are disreputable characters?" It's called nature, not a Walt Disney film. They don't lay their eggs "in other people's nests", but in other birds' . But, hats off for the poetic "never a backward glance, on a hedonistic quest for pleasures new". For the record, the young "sprog" migrates to Africa (and back) for the winter by itself without assistance, obviously never having done it before.

Peter Brown

Brighton, East Sussex

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