Letters: Chinese civilisation

Judge China by our standards? We have none

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Martin Jacques ("Don't judge China by our standards", 1 August) argues persuasively for a better understanding of China as a civilisation, as opposed to the British and European experience of the nation state. If we were to apply "our standards"' we would have little to shout about.

At the behest of the USA, the British government invaded Iraq and contributed to the killing of countless thousands of civilians. We maintain a pointless nuclear weapons capability because it seems to fit with having a seat on the UN Security Council and because the French have still got theirs. The Government is complicit in extraordinary rendition and in aiding and abetting torture. The police prevent lawful protest and occasionally beat up passers-by.

Despite our being one of the five richest countries on earth, a recent University of York study on child wellbeing places the UK 24th out of 29 European countries, and the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that almost 3 million British children live in poverty. We have the highest rate of incarceration in Europe, including around 2,500 children. We oblige asylum-seekers to live on handouts of £5 a day. We have an education system that rewards privilege through private and selective schools while many of the most disadvantaged still leave school barely literate.

It is not our standards by which we should judge China or anyone else; our standards are a disgrace. It is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Neither the British nation state nor the Chinese civilisation measure up well, but at least we do not have the death penalty. China kills more of its own citizens per capita than any other state except Iran, and for a wide range of offences. Public executions are commonplace, a fair trial a rarity. A civilisation yes, but killing thousands of people every year is far from civilised. That surely deserved a mention.

Simon Sweeney

York

The golden age of grammar schools

Mary Warnock's article (29 July) suggests that even philosophers like to endow the past with that rosy glow which confuses fact with nostalgia. The post-war period seems to be her golden age, when poor disadvantaged children, including future ministers, made it to Oxbridge or those universities which much later described themselves as the "Russell Group".

She could check the Oxford entry statistics for the period when her husband was facing enraged Wykehamist school masters and note that while some 51 per cent of undergraduates were from the 6 per cent of the population educated in independent fee-paying schools, the rest, excluding overseas students, were mainly from direct grant schools with overwhelmingly middle-class intakes.

When the direct grant was abolished in 1975, most of these schools became fee-paying. She could make out a case that other local grammar schools educated an aspirant lower-middle class after most working-class children had failed their 11-plus, but it was simply not the case that grammar schools levered the poor disadvantaged into academic elites.

Her strictures on state-school students who like to relax and go out in the evening are also a bit dated; she should be around Oxford at 3am when all those elite academic students fall out of the clubs.

Professor Sally Tomlinson

Department of Education

University of Oxford

As a working-class girl lucky enough to go to a grammar school in the 1950s, I must reply to Professor Richard Pring (31 July). My infant and junior schools were surrounded by factories at which most of the parents worked. There were never less than 35 in my classes. Ten children passed to the grammar school, probably 10 per cent of the year. Only one of these failed to get at least five O-levels.

As the professor says, 11 is young to make a final choice. I believe the C stream of the grammar and the A stream of the secondary modern should have been run in tandem until 13.

My grammar school, filled with mainly working-class children, was excellent. Unfortunately many children who obtained 10 (yes 10) O-levels had to leave at 16 as their parents could not afford to keep them at school any longer.

Thirty remained to take A-levels. From memory, we produced one obstetrician professor, three dentists, two maths teachers, two junior school teachers, one economics professor, two chartered accountants and one architect. That seems like a lot of social mobility to me.

In my area the secondary modern schools were excellent, and the children going there were certainly not written off. There were opportunities at 13 to go to a technical college where five O-levels could be taken, or at 15 you could go on day release to a college of further education. My first boyfriend was doing that, and the maths he was doing was of A-level standard.

In contrast, I despair at the education my son received at the local comprehensive. My grandchildren will be privately educated. We are now back to the 1930s: only the rich can get a good education. State education has been destroyed on the altar of political correctness.

G Mottram

Brighton

The benefits of organic food

Your report "Organic food 'no healthier than conventional' " (29 July) echoes the conclusion of Gill Fine of the Food Standards Agency that their review of nutritional content of organic and non-organic foods showed "no evidence of additional health benefits" from eating organic food. Yet the study did not measure health – it only looked at "nutrients": that is, some dietary inputs but not health outcomes.

I will continue to eat organic foods as I do not want to eat pesticides or be responsible for them polluting our environment.

C I Rose

Wells next the Sea, Norfolk

Organic standards cover so many aspects, such as animal welfare, pesticide and fertiliser use, additives and processing aids permitted, pest control and materials permitted in the packaging. Nowhere in the organic standards does it promise more nutrition. Most people who buy organic buy for the many aspects that the standards cover and simply because it has more taste. If organic food happens to be more nutritious, then this is just a bonus.

Emma Titterton

The Soil Association, Bristol

Affordable oil will run out

John Halstead (Letters, 5 August) misses the point about "peak oil". It is not that the oil might one day run out completely, but that market forces will drive the price way beyond what we've experienced before.

The price of oil affects everybody (unless you prefer to go without food) and moves rapidly. If the price of oil goes so high that "no one would use it", this still doesn't provide the necessities for a society that relies on it so completely. Instead, the warnings from the likes of Dr Birol give us the opportunity to move to alternatives on our terms and not just once society grinds to a halt (or descends into chaos).

Robert McSweeney

Peterborough

As long as we are not concerned about emissions, it would be nice to believe that oil could go on for ever. However, John Halstead repeats the fallacy that as long as the price is high enough more oil will always be available.

It is not the price of oil – or any other energy source – that matters, it is the energy cost of producing it or the Energy Return on Investment (EROI). In the early days the energy in one barrel of oil was enough to produce about 400 barrels. Today, with oil coming from remote and hostile locations, the ratio has fallen from 400:1 to nearer 30:1. The yield from Canadian tar sands is down to 4:1. As things get more difficult we will eventually reach 1:1. There is then no point in producing the energy; whether a barrel is worth $10 or $10,000 the net yield is nil.

We will solve this imminent crisis not by building barrages, wind farms or other false hopes, but by cutting waste, improving energy efficiency and urgently researching viable renewables.

Anthony Day

Cyber Associates Ltd, Sustainable Development Strategies, YORK

Test match antics of the Barmy Army

The Barmy Army has been a problem for some time (Dominic Lawson, 4 August). I attended a New Zealand v England Test in Wellington in 2002 and the Barmy Army drove me spare with their incessant chanting and their abusive and patronising behaviour towards local cricket enthusiasts.

After the day's play I talked to some of the "Army" in a bar in central Wellington, and their inflated sense of their own comic brilliance was simply stunning. When I pointed out that what they thought humour and wit might be considered by the locals to be boorish and insulting, they suggested that it was merely that New Zealanders were a dull lot.

The ECB has indeed much to answer for. Not only have they failed to control drunken behaviour in the Test arenas, but it seems to me that they have actively encouraged the Barmy Army and its hangers-on by turning Test cricket into a stag party. The playing of the national anthem, "Jerusalem" and "Rule Britannia", the dressing-up days, the public address system cheering the crowd to "get behind England" have all debased the great game and ensured the a football mentality has moved into the space that was once occupied by good humour, fellowship and an appreciation of skill and craft no matter who was the architect.

Tony Penman

Clavering, Essex

As an 18-year-old girl who has never touched a drop of alcohol at a cricket match, I am definitely not a boorish, chauvinistic lager lout, as Dominic Lawson describes the Barmy Army. However, attending live cricket matches is about so much more than the cricket itself. It is an event, an occasion, a fun day out. People in fancy dress, the chanting and the banter between supporters make it so, even if not a lot is happening in the middle.

Test cricket in England is thriving and you won't find an empty seat anywhere. This is not happening elsewhere in the world, so we must be doing something right. Other countries would love to have the large and passionate fan base that England get, following them worldwide through good times and bad. Maybe the booing of Ponting was uncalled for, but I am sure Ponting sees this as a compliment – no one would bother booing if he was average. He is booed because he is good.

The Aussies themselves are not exactly a bunch of sober and polite fans. They are famed for their drunkenness at the cricket. It makes for a raucous crowd and an exciting atmosphere. It is definitely a far cry from the members' pavilion at Lord's, and for me that is a good thing.

Sarah Fairbairn

Horsted Keynes, West Sussex

Briefly...

British dissent

I am disturbed at the suggestion from the Home Office that immigrants who take part in anti-war protests could be denied British citizenship. The Home Office needs reminding that loyalty to a country and supporting government policy are not the same thing in a democracy. Why is the British government no longer proud of our right to demonstrate freely?

Julian Gardiner

Elstree, Hertfordshire

Natural morality

Jerome Taylor (1 August), says that the law stops short of labelling the civil-partnership ceremony a marriage "to avoid offending religious groups." Why do reporters always assume that it's only religious people who would object? I am not religious but I consider that a marriage can be only between a man and a woman. Any other partnership is not a marriage. I consider homosexuality to be a natural, not a "normal" state and that the natural consequence of homosexuality is childlessness. These views have nothing to do with any religion.

S Smith

Lincoln

Exit door

One point that is often overlooked in the debate about assisted suicide is that simply having a well-defined legal right to an assisted suicide could be a great end-of-life enhancer, and even a prolonger. You might well tolerate being locked in a dark room for far longer if you knew you had a key to the exit door in your pocket.

Alison Sutherland

St Ola, Orkney

Academic work

Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 4 August) repeats the myth that university employees have long holidays. At our institution, we have a contract with six weeks' holiday, the same as I did when in industry. When in industry I made sure I took all my vacation. Now, taking one's full holiday allowance might be in our forward job plan – but is one of the easiest targets to "opt" to miss. Some undergraduates have longer vacation periods, but in a postgraduate institute, there are only two weeks without resident students and always PhD students.

Professor Patrick Corbett

Heriot-Watt University

Edinburgh

Superlative

"The cruellest nicknames in sport", "The 10 best home phones", "Alex Ferguson's greatest rants". . . . With the taste for superlatives now evident throughout your publication, I suggest a change of title: The Most Independent.

John McMahon

Dublin

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