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Tuesday 31 May 2011
Letters: Deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan show need for a UN armed force
Your intensely moving front-page story by Stuart Alexander on his son's death in action in Afghanistan (30 May) leads one to question the whole strategy of using regional coalitions such as Nato or the African Union to prevent conflict or defeat terror.
Surely it is time for the one organisation that is truly global, the United Nations, to have available to it a permanent armed military force capable of intervening instantly anywhere in the world to prevent conflict under the legality of a UN mandate. Such a UN force was envisaged in the original UN charter in 1945, but was never implemented, mainly because of the Cold War.
To be effective, however, the UNDF (UN Defence Force) should not be composed of national "peacekeeper" contingents, which are often hurriedly, belatedly and sometimes unwillingly assembled, but should consist of professional military personnel recruited permanently by the UN in the same way as UN civilian staff.
These military personnel would serve in the UNDF for their whole careers, thus enabling in due course national governments to reduce their own defence expenditure.
The continuing crises in Libya, Somalia, the Congo and recently in Ivory Coast indicate once again that interventions by organisations such as Nato or the African Union lack the military capability, or in some cases the political will, to act with sufficient speed and effectiveness to prevent or end conflict.
Hassocks, West Sussex
The answer to Stuart Alexander's question – "Was my son's death in Afghanistan a price worth paying?" – is, for him and his family, no: for Blair, Cameron et al, yes.
The point he raises about professionalism is a good one. His son Sam was a highly trained professional, who knew what he was doing. The politicians who sent him and his colleagues to Afghanistan are not – they are amateur tinkerers. Tinkering with the economy, with the defence budget, with the NHS, with the schools.
They don't know what their tinkering is doing, or the effect it will have on the lives and well-being of the people of this country, and for the most part, don't care. It is time we found a way of getting rid of these amateur tinkerers without giving them four more years to ruin more lives.
My sympathy goes out to Stuart Alexander in his moving and telling article on the death of his son in Afghanistan, but his statement, "Sam's life has not been wasted because he was so damned good at what he did" is simply not true.
This may seem a hard thing to say, but Sam's life, and that of his comrades, was wasted because he achieved nothing in Afghanistan. We should get out before more young lives are inevitably wasted.
A confession. I used to get angry at each announcement of another service person's death in Iraq or Afghanistan, but recently I had begun to become blasé and accepting. Stuart Alexander's truly stunning article has changed all that. It is profoundly moving, and of course absolutely correct in its positioning.
My deepest sympathies to him and his family, and thank you.
East Molesey, Surrey
Callous nurses neglect the old
The callous attitude to caring for the elderly demonstrated by a significant minority of nurses ("Hospital patients 'left so thirsty doctors had to prescribe water' ", 26 May) may, in part, be a reflection of the low standards considered acceptable by their regulatory body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council – despite the press release of 27 May by the NMC Chief Executive.
My mother entered a nursing home from a care hom, and protestations by the family to the manager and nurse in charge that she was deteriorating and needed medical intervention were ignored. Within three weeks of admission she was rushed to hospital, where she died.
At a subsequent inquest it was revealed that she had arrived at hospital with bedsores and acute renal failure. Records of bed turning, fluid balance and temperature from the nursing home were not provided to the coroner, so presumably such basic monitoring had not taken place. After prolonged questioning the nurse in charge admitted that she had been lying on oath, that no records had been kept and that she had provided "poor nursing care".
I reported the nurse to the NMC, with a copy of the coroner's report. After a delay of some six months I was informed that she had no case to answer, the only reason given being that she had a satisfactory reference from her current employer – the nursing home presumably having "let her go".
Having attempted to find out how such a conclusion could have been reached when the nurse herself admitted to the coroner that her nursing was of substandard quality I was effectively told that, as a complainant, it was none of my business and if I was not happy I should find a solicitor.
Professor Christopher F Mason
Yet again nurses can't feed and hydrate patients. These recurring failures in nursing care are directly traceable to Margaret Thatcher's reorganisation of the health service.
Medical and nurse management structures were abolished in favour of general management. Anyone could run departments, irrespective of their professional backgrounds. In fact efforts were made to bring in "talent" from outside health care with no experience of what they were supposed to manage.
The body of knowledge was discarded, almost overnight, that monitored and developed procedures of nursing care and held nurses to account for their professional practice.
What did that reorganisation achieve? Fewer people at the top who knew what the people at the sharp end were doing. More accountants, more budgetary control and more middle managers to manage these budgets. More targets from the centre, with bureaucrats to monitor and lie about their achievement. More management, less care. The amount of money that was spent on the introduction of unnecessary financial and budgetary systems to make privatisation possible was scandalous.
Now they are back in power, the Tories are ready for the next stage. Given the mess they made of the last reorganisation, which probably took 10 years to settle down, who in their right mind would give them the chance to do it again? Nick Clegg?
Steve Powell SRN RMN
Cameron's aid guilt trip
While I am entirely in favour of the UK contributing through both private and public co-ordinated aid programmes, David Cameron's presentation of his policy based on emotions rooted in his childhood is the very last way to justify such actions ("We can still afford to help the world's poorest", 28 May).
People on a guilt trip are poor judges of how to act. To many, Cameron comes over (wrongly I am quite prepared to admit) as a rich man deciding to give away other people's money to those he feels the world that bred him has wronged in some way.
I live in a town that has been economically disadvantaged since the collapse of its deep-sea fishing industry in the 1970s. Yet I remain fully supportive of David Cameron's pledge to increase overseas aid, despite the opposition in some sections of his party.
Economic prosperity is far higher in Britain than in most other nations. Here people only endure comparative deprivation, whereas elsewhere individuals are, literally, starving to death. So Cameron must stick to his guns, and not give way to the selfish element that still dwells among the Conservative Party.
Pass the hat for the rainforest
In response to Johann Hari's article "A turning-point we miss at our peril" (26 May), here's a pledge of £1,000 to save the Yasuni rainforest from destruction.
I understand that £1,000 is not a large chunk of the $3.5bn required (although actually only $100m is needed by the end of this year); it'll need many more donors, and many wealthier ones. But as world governments are predictably sitting on their hands, it's time to put them to shame. This money can easily be raised without any government help; $100m could be raised in this country alone with one 24-hour BBC telethon.
Millions of us realise that saving the environment is by far the most important issue of our times, but generally feel at a loss as to what we, as individuals, can do. Now here's something we can do – to keep the oil under the ground and the trees standing on top of it, which will ultimately make a very significant contribution towards saving our entire species by keeping millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere.
I suggest that The Independent leads the fundraising campaign. As soon as there's suitable account set up, I'll pay my £1,000 in.
Confounded by Barcelona
When I opened the football pages of Saturday's Independent I could not believe that any of the football experts predicted wins for Manchester United in the Champions League final, never mind five out of the eight. These included esteemed sports writers such as James Lawton, Sam Wallace, Brian Viner and Jack Pitt-Brooke: unbelievable.
The United team of this year were fairly average as compared with previous teams and the only reason they won the league this year was, apart from riding their luck, that they had no real opposition. They also had a fairly easy ride through to the Champions League final.
Your esteemed columnists must have made their predictions with their hearts, because they certainly did not make them with their heads.
Clerics in the legislature
Naomi Phillips (letter, 27 May) rightly denounces the anachronism of bishops' retaining their seats in a "reformed" second chamber.
During the AV referendum campaign, the "No" camp repeatedly argued that we should not adopt AV, because only three other countries use it. Yet now many of the same people are happy for us to remain one of only two countries where clerics have a formal role in the legislative process, the other being Iran. But then it would be naive to expect intellectual consistency when vested interests and privilege are at stake.
Naomi Phillips of the British Humanist Association objects to the presence of bishops in the House of Lords as unrepresentative and unelected.
True, they do not represent the full range of religious or non-religious opinion in England, let alone the rest of the UK. But they do valuably represent a part of it, so why not extend the concept and make them the norm rather than the exception?
Allow each large membership organisation in the country to appoint representatives to the House of Lords. Then Church of England bishops (or laity), people of other denominations and faiths, trade unions and campaign groups, including the British Humanist Association, could all enjoy a place in the legislative process.
Granted, defining what we mean by a member and a membership organisation would be fraught with legislative difficulties and the risk of unintended consequences, but if we could get it right what a wonderful counter-balance to the House of Politicians it would be.
Power in an apron
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 30 May) is wrong to assert the apron as another symbol of female oppression – quite the opposite. The creating and preparing of one's food is all about self-empowerment; getting down and dirty in the pleasures of real bread-making is preferable to restrained office-wear and a pre-packed industrial sandwich.
I could not agree more with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown about the struggle for real and enduring parity between the sexes. Now could she recommend that all women and girls should read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir? The poisonous environment may have changed over the years but the issues of feminism have not.
Leaning church of Monmouth
If Tony Paterson is looking for the world's most crooked building he does not need to travel as far as East Frisia ("Leaning towers of Frisia", 30 May). The church at Cwmyoy in Monmouthshire has a very strong claim.
Its tower may not be leaning at quite the 6.74 degrees recorded at Midlum, but I doubt any building can rival the way different sections lean away from each other. The tower goes one way, the nave another, the chancel arch another. The stone buttresses required to keep the whole lot standing add to its appeal.
Perspectives on the Geordie accent
How regional English emigrated to America
History is the key to why Americans think Cheryl Cole has a funny accent. As a fellow Geordie living in the American South, married to a Texan, I am no stranger to "funny accents".
If anything, Americans have reason to side with Cheryl Cole's cheerful lilt over Simon Cowell's snootier tones, as it is in many ways more similar to their own. Americans would agree with a northerner like Cole that "class" rhymes with "lass", rather than "farce", as a Cowellite speaker of standard English would say.
In his seminal work Albion's Seed – Four British Folkways in America, the historian David Hackett Fisher traces this back directly to the Quaker Friends' migration from modern-day Lancashire and Yorkshire between 1675 and 1725. This set the pious tone of life for most of the new land, and also the speech pattern of the "middle American" accent still spoken by the majority of Americans to the present day.
In fact, standard English developed after the standard American accent as the London-based elite developed it to administer Great Britain and the Empire from the 18th century onwards, and is therefore uniquely suited to playing the authority figure everyone loves to hate.
As a Geordie, however, Cole's regional pedigree, and arguably her cultural experience, has more in common with the newcomers that left the border and coastal towns of northern England, Scotland and Ireland for America around the around the same time and went on to found the folk traditions of places like Tennessee and the highlands of Georgia and the Carolinas. But the Geordie accent is an even more distinct remnant of Anglo Saxon Old English from the 5th century that never found purchase in the New World.
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Mass media erode the old dialect words
The modification of British accents (Philip Hensher, 28 May) to conform to an acceptably understandable TV and radio norm is definitely to be regretted by those of us who appreciate a strong regional voice.
The Geordie accent is clearly distinct, but as someone who can remember it as was spoken 50 years ago, I find one thing missing – the old dialect words. These are sadly dying out as new generations listen more to the TV, radio and computer than to each other.
The similarity to Scandinavian noticed by Mr Hensher is a direct link to the Viking past. My father was posted to Norway during the Second World War and found that if he lapsed into broad Geordie he was speaking an approximation of Norse – "gannen 'yem" means going home in Geordie as well as in Norwegian; "spuggie" is a Geordie sparrow and a "spug" means a small bird in Norwegian.
The sad thing is that within a relatively short time a manner of speaking that has lasted a millennium will be all but lost.
John E Orton
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