Brown praises the armed forces, but starves them of cash
Sir: I have always taken a keen interest in the fortunes of Britain's armed forces, the more so since my son, Captain Alex Eida of the 7th Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, was killed in an ambush at Musa Qal'eh, Afghanistan on 1 August 2006.
Since that day I have met and spoken to many soldiers of all ranks and have become increasingly concerned and depressed at the numbers, who, despite their love of the Army, have decided to leave. Their reasons for leaving are many, including all of those, which are frequently highlighted in the media: undermanning, causing too frequent tours to Afghanistan and Iraq; inadequate care and compensation for the wounded; shortages of equipment and support resources; poor pay and poor accommodation.
However, all of this was summed up by one officer I spoke to on Remembrance Sunday, who said that he was leaving because he felt "undervalued". He added that although the numbers now leaving the services may not be much above the norm, it is the quality of those now going that should give cause for concern.
I find it ironic that the Prime Minister, while he professes admiration for the courage of servicemen in past and current wars, has presided over their appalling underfunding for the past decade. Surely it's time to get the basics right, instead of spending vast sums on dubious deterrents, such as Trident, and identity cards; it's the poor bloody infantry that need the cash.
Pakistan must return to the rule of law
Sir: As barristers and solicitors, we express our outrage at the vicious assault on our legal colleagues in Pakistan.
We condemn the suspension of the rule of law and imposition of martial law. Hundreds of judges, lawyers, academics and human rights activists have been detained and we hear are suffering ill-treatment and torture in detention at the hands of the Pakistan authorities. We call for their immediate and unconditional release.
Independent media and journalists have been the target of press censorship and attack. Peaceful and legitimate meetings held by civil society groups and activists seeking to resist these unconstitutional measures have been broken up by the police.
General Musharraf's actions are arbitrary and unconstitutional. He has by-passed Pakistan's own legal protections for citizens' human rights and fundamental freedoms.
An independent legal profession and judiciary, such as we have in the UK, are vital in ensuring the accountability of the state. For example, when the UK government argued that it was acceptable to use evidence obtained through torture, lawyers able to operate independently and free from fear were able to challenge them in the courts.
Essential to our performance of this role is the ability to go to work without fear of ill-treatment, detention and torture. Our colleagues in Pakistan are not so fortunate. The result is that there is no functioning legal system to challenge the arbitrary use of state power.
We support our fellow lawyers in Pakistan for the stand that they are taking against the abuse of power. We join with other organisations across the world in calling for a restoration of the constitution and a return to the rule of law.
Owen Davies QC
Ian McDonald QC
David Spens QC
Andrew Nicol QC
And 67 othersLondon WC2
Wide definitionsof dyslexia
Sir: Jeremy Laurance, explaining what dyslexia is (13 November), says: "Dyslexics have trouble processing words, which may affect their capacity to read and write, to name objects rapidly and to remember."
My experience in education suggests that "dyslexia" is increasingly used not just for difficulties involving words but for a more or less indefinite range of weaknesses in or affecting intellectual achievement. I have encountered people diagnosed as dyslexic on account of poor short-term memory, poor long-term memory, slowness in "processing information" and inability to order thoughts logically. One girl told me she had been diagnosed as dyslexic in that she was "concept-blind".
One suspects that "dyslexia" is becoming so stretched in meaning as to become virtually equivalent to "inability to do well academically". That being so, the question arises of how useful it is to describe someone as dyslexic. This is probably one of the lines of thought behind the claim that dyslexia "does not exist", a claim that regularly annoys organisations devoted to raising the profile of dyslexia as a specific learning disability.
Sir: Our eldest son was diagnosed as dyslexic over 30 years ago, when the condition was generally disregarded. He was referred to a child psychologist, who accused us of exerting "parental pressure" and thereby creating the problem.
We were fortunate in being put in touch with Bangor University, where the Dyslexia Unit was then in the forefront of research, and also in that the head of our son's junior school was extraordinarily helpful, giving him one-to-one coaching himself, so that by the time he was 11 his reading age had passed his chronological age.
His two younger siblings could both read, but had, and still have, very noticeable spelling problems. The genetic connection, in our case at any rate, is clear, and my husband still refers, almost with pride, to a school report which commented on his spelling as "a particularly vicious form of private enterprise".
Dyslexia is not, however, something which, when help and support is provided, cannot be surmounted, though it is never cured. Our children all went on to gain university degrees. We are very proud of the manner in which they have dealt with what is a genuine problem.
Darlington, Co Durham
Sir: Your article and editorial about dyslexia is very welcome. It is indeed unacceptable that we have 300,000 children needing special tuition, and 70 per cent of prisoners illiterate. However, you conclude that charities like Springboard and the West Dunbartonshire synthetic phonics project "must be given the funding they need" so that the Prime Minister can achieve his target.
The Education Acts already give schools the legal obligation to provide for all special needs, including dyslexia, but it isn't happening because the Government has never provided enough money. Surely this necessary funding should come directly from government into all schools (and teacher training) and not have to be begged for by charities.
Dyslexia Association of LondonLondon SW5
Georgia's Art Nouveau heritage
Sir: With events in Georgia featuring so prominently on your news pages of late, it is a shame that there was no mention of that country in your feature on European Art Nouveau (The Traveller, 10 November). Your omission is, though, understandable. As the architect Nestan Tatarashvili of the Georgian Art Nouveau Preservation Pressure Group has observed, Georgia's distinctive and important contribution to the style is virtually unknown internationally.
Examples of Art Nouveau architecture may be found both in the Sololaki district of Tbilisi and elsewhere. But many of these fine buildings are in a poor state of repair and in need of urgent specialist intervention. Moreover in a fast-growing economy there is the inevitable danger that they will be seen by the less enlightened as ripe for unsympathetic refurbishment or demolition.
There is, therefore, a pressing need to increase international awareness not only of the existence and importance of Georgia's Art Nouveau heritage but also of the various threats to its survival. Indeed only last week the Georgian architectural historian and author Maia Mania addressed an audience in London on this very subject, her presentation being in association with the British Georgian Society and SAVE. A calendar celebrating Tbilisi's Art Nouveau heritage has been produced by the British charity Friends of Academic Research in Georgia and sponsored by Bank of Georgia.
It is to be hoped, therefore, that you might feel able to redress your omission by encouraging those of your readers who are interested in Art Nouveau to investigate Georgia's contribution for themselves and perhaps even to play a part in its preservation.
Two troublesome poets in London
Sir: Poetic lovers Rimbaud and Verlaine were not ("London home to be saved in honour of poetic lovers", 12 November). They wrote some great poetry but fought like alley cats. Verlaine was married, but he was the jealous one. Rimbaud had the talent.
They also dossed down in 34 Howland Street (1872) and Rimbaud with Germain Nouveau at 178 Sanford Street near Waterloo (1874) after Verlaine had taken a pot shot at him. As for 8 Royal College Street in Camden Town, how about a plaque in honour of their landlady, Mrs Alexander Smith, who not only put them up but put up with them?
Dreary government attacks freedoms
Sir: Stuart Russell may have no problem with ID cards (letter, 12 November), but along with a DNA database, the smoking ban and more CCTV cameras, they do represent an attack on civil liberties and the freedom of the individual as has never before been seen in this country and must be stopped.
I'm very sorry if he and his friends are comforted by the thought of the Government being able to track our every move, but I and a lot of my friends actually believe in more freedom, and getting the state out of our lives.
His defence of this dour, dreary and intolerant Prime Minister, who doesn't seem swayed by any argument other than his own, is symptomatic of New Labour in general, and the lure of power in particular.
Sir: As the Prime Minister prepares to unveil his new anti-terror plans, perhaps someone should remind him that no such measures would be necessary if our armed forces were simply withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. But international terrorism is, of course, now the excuse for governments to impose totalitarian measures upon their citizens.
At one time they used fire and brimstone to control, then patriotism, then fascism, then communism – and when they run out of international terrorism, they'll probably resort to alien invasion.
Sad homecoming on British trains
Sir: Keith Farr says British trains compare well with Continental ones (letter, 12 November).
We have just had eight glorious days in Europe travelling entirely by train. Journeyed from Cologne to Basle: 15 euros, smart restaurant car, table cloth, jugged venison and wine, wonderful Rhineland scenery and on time. Onwards to Milan and the spectacular St Gotthard pass and then to Menton on the French Riviera. Finally on a Sunday we took a train from Menton to Paris: 600 miles, first-class, £30, six hours and a very adequate snack bar. Nearly every seat was taken and there was no standing.
On Monday, arriving at Manchester airport, it was hard to follow the directions to the trains. The dirty old rattly train was overcrowded with almost as many folk standing as seated for the entire journey. Back in steamy Victorian England, we finally reached Oxenholme, "gateway to the Lake District".
For about eight months this year and last on a Sunday the Oxenholme to London journey (about 270 miles) took six hours. Sorry, there is no comparison.
Sir: The comment you make that "the sight of members of the creative industries manning picket lines might seem faintly ridiculous" and likening them to "pet manicurists" (leading article, 12 November) is exactly the attitude that lies behind the strikes. If you really think that writers are so insultingly unimportant, why do you bother to publish a paper?
Blair the Catholic
Sir: Richard Ingrams is obviously less than enamoured with Tony Blair's imminent conversion to Catholicism (Comment, 10 November). Given that the Catholic Church did so much to poison relations between Christians and Muslims through the Crusades, much as Blair has done through his disastrous policy in Iraq, combined with the obvious relaxed attitude to people being stinking rich, as testified by its own immense wealth, I would have thought the Catholic Church represented a natural haven for this "sanctimonious scoundrel".
Sir: Mark Hall (Letters, 12 November) comments on the irritation caused to those of us with a smidgeon of Latin by the BBC's pronunciation of difficile in the hospital germ phrase. BBC pronunciation is a strange business. The prescription apparently includes both the toff-speak "an 'istoric occasion" and the sub-literate "draw-ring". BBC personnel comply meekly with the most absurd speech guidelines.
Welcoming the world
Sir: Judi Martin expresses concern about the potential cost of hosting a range of sporting events during the next decade (letter, 13 November). Living in one of the richest countries in the world, I would be embarrassed if we did not regularly host international events, sporting and otherwise. If we can't afford or can't be bothered to throw the occasional party, we shouldn't be surprised if we're a bit lonely. Personally, I would like to widen our circle of friends beyond the USA.
Sir: Chelsy Davy's resistance to the charms of Leeds ("Twenty reasons to love Leeds", 13 November) reminds me of the advice given by an elderly local to a cousin of mine: "Nobody's making thee stay. Tha can allus bugger of if tha dun't like it. Yorkshire's a free country [sic] tha knows." Of course, if The Independent, in its excellent list of reasons, chose to miss out rugby league, at which the city's team are national champions, it's no wonder Chelsy is unaware of what she's missing.
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