Letters: Education and adoption

Paying for child education beats the Madonna-style adoptions
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Sir: Joan Smith is right in her questioning of Madonna's adoption of 13-year-old David Banda (Opinion, 12 October). Plucking children from poverty also means depriving them of any opportunity to help shape or change the future of their countries for the better.

That seems to accept, arrogantly, that we in the developed world know best, and have all the answers as well as all the wealth, which in Madonna's case is vast beyond most imaginations, let alone that of a child such as David.

Better, surely, is to invest in the futures of these children and their nation. In Cambodia, where there is a huge population of street children, and others living and working on rubbish tips, projects such as Global Child are providing children with an education and an opportunity to become leaders of the future. The project pays the children $1 a day to keep them in school, the equivalent of a day's earnings on the rubbish tip or in selling on the streets of Phnom Penn.

I sponsor a nine-year-old girl for a relatively small amount each year; imagine what Madonna's millions could do in changing the future of hundreds if not thousands of children in the same way, and the impact that education would have on the future of the relevant country.



Sir: Working in a government hospital in Malawi, it always saddens me that we have far too many orphans but far too few staff. Can I suggest to Madonna and others to consider "adopting" nurses rather than babies.

From birth to university, it costs, on average, £7,600 a year to bring up a child in the UK. This is the cost of the annual salaries of five Malawian nurses, each of whom may treat thousands of children each year. Funding a nurse would certainly be less controversial.

It might even prevent more children from becoming orphans in the first place.



Brave soldier speaks up for the people

Sir: I am greatly cheered that General Sir Richard Dannatt has spoken up on behalf of the Army he leads.

But I would remind the Government, and Tony Blair in particular, that there is another voice that has not been heard in England recently, the voice of the people. And the people have spoken with a loud voice on the subject of Iraq. This was on 15 February 2003, when (according to police figures) at least 750,000 people marched through London to beg Tony Blair not to lead this country into a war in Iraq.

Mr Blair did not listen then. How big a march will it take, this time, to convince him that a single brave soldier has said publicly what most people have felt in their hearts for years?



Sir: It is astonishing that Doug Henderson MP condemned General Dannatt's statement on "constitutional" grounds, cleaving to an unwritten constitution for which the Government has previously shown such disdain.

Had the general said the Army was no longer going to implement government policy, Mr Henderson would have a good point. But this Government has repeatedly ignored military advice on military matters, and I believe that in this instance Sir Richard had a duty to tell the public the blindingly obvious, that this government's foreign policy is damaging British interests at the expense of the lives of its citizens and those of other nations.

A "constitution" which prevents that fact from being made known may be of great use to the Government, but deeply damaging to this country and its citizens.



Sir: Could Sir Richard Dannatt let us know when the coup is coming so I can make alternative arrangements?



Sir: The Lancet figures of 655,000 Iraqis killed since the invasion of Iraq is a savage indictment of the US-UK handling of their legal, moral and ethical duties towards the Iraqi people. Now there is a grubby attempt to discredit research that has been peer-reviewed using techniques that are readily accepted elsewhere, rather than own up to this disaster.

This is symptomatic of an increasing and ever-pervasive anti-Arab racism. When Arab casualties are involved in Iraq and elsewhere, the figures are debated as if there was an acceptable level of Arab deaths.

There are some who are appalled at the deaths of Iraqis, others who debate their numbers, but increasingly, many adopt the attitude of so what, it does not matter. This was so eloquently expressed by Donald Rumsfeld, when he stated: "We don't do body counts on other people."

Britain is embroiled in an operation that has resulted in an enormous loss of life, whatever the figures. Yet nobody is prepared to apologise or to resign for this debacle. What message does that send out to those whom we are trying to persuade that western values are real and worth supporting? Is Arab life worthless?



The veil as a symbol of male control

Sir: For decades, women's organisations globally have challenged the notion that we are responsible for crimes committed against us, that we are carriers of "honour" or shame, that men are incapable of self- control when presented with the temptation of visible female flesh or that our own behaviour can constitute "contributory negligence" when we are assaulted.

Yet women's physical selves remain the territory of male projections, control and judgements, whether seen as embodying modesty or - in Steven Berkoff's charming word - "sluttish" (Letters, 12 October).

Is it not disingenuous to claim the veil is simply a matter of personal choice on the level of sock colour, or a religious symbol akin to others, when it is clearly a gendered one, often used to police and deny women's right to bodily integrity?

Why are few voices raising the key questions of what exactly is wrong with our faces and bodies and why they should be covered?



Sir: As a Muslim who wears the hijab but not the veil, I felt the views of Jack Straw were unhelpful towards the Muslim community because he blames the veil for creating a barrier between communities.

Unfortunately, this gives credence to the biased view that Muslims are not making an effort to build bridges, which is not true. Social cohesion requires different groups to work together to try to understand each other, and the Government has a huge responsibility in encouraging this through its policies.

A blame culture, where fingers are pointed at Muslims for not doing enough to integrate, will only marginalise and alienate us further.



Sir: Muslim women wearing the veil have the similar unequivocal right to personal cultural expression as anyone, even white, working-class males with shaved heads and swastika tattoos on their faces, or urban youths in hoodies with scarves covering their lower faces.

If the rest of us are intimidated or alienated by these personal expressions it is our problem; the alternative is the fashion police. Of course, the veiled women will also have to accept the same career limitations as others who choose to display extreme cultural expression.



Sir: In the West, black clothing has formal connotations. What is the reason for Muslim ladies to wear black? Why not break out into wonderful colours of individual choice? Then even the clothes which cover completely might present a happier sight.



Sir: Anthony Sheppard (Letters, 11 October) wonders whether Jack Straw asks his Scottish constituents to remove their kilts in his presence. As a Scot, I will confess that some of my compatriots may communicate through a part of their anatomy normally covered by a kilt, but it is not, I believe, the recognised custom.



The glories of our absurd language

Sir: Thank you, Nigel Hilton (Letters, 10 October), for clearing up something that has worried me for years. So our high levels of illiteracy are nothing to do with woefully poor, criminally negligent (sorry, I mean "progressive") teaching methods; it is all down to having a language that's just too darn hard. Silly me.

To describe English orthography as "creaking and dysfunctional" is akin to criticising a bicycle wheel for having too many spokes. That complicated latticework might be a bit bewildering, but watch everything go wobbly when one of them breaks.

The English language is a beautiful thing; its glories manifest in its very idiosyncrasies, inconsistencies and frequent absurdities. With his joylessly reductionist and drably puritan argument for what amounts to a linguistic Year Zero, Mr Hilton reminds me alarmingly of Syme in Nineteen Eighty-Four: "We're cutting language down to the bone," enthused Orwell's Newspeak zealot. "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

Still, I guess destructiveness comes more easily than its antonym, eh?



More than one bridge to the past

Sir: Contrary to what every schoolchild is taught and to Extra (11 October), the great iron bridge at Coalbrookdale was not the first. Cast-iron it is and oldest surviving it may be, but first it is not.

When Abraham Darby's remarkable structure was opened in Shropshire, other iron bridges had been around in Yorkshire for some time.

The following appeared in The Leeds Intelligencer for 2 February 1770, nine years earlier:

"A few days ago was finished by Mr Tobin of this town, a most curious bridge of one arch, six foot wide, and seventy-two foot in span; made entirely of iron; and is thrown over a canal in Sir George Armitage's park at Kirklees in this county; It has also iron ballustrades, which are ornamented with roses of the same metal; may be taken to pieces at pleasure, and is thought the greatest curiosity of the kind that was ever exhibited in this part of the country."

It is the misfortune of Mr Tobin and Sir George Armitage that their bridge did not survive into an age which reveres artefacts from the Industrial Revolution.

In 1769, John Smeaton, the father of civil engineering, built a cast-iron bridge to carry the Great North Road over the River Ure Navigation at Boroughbridge. Some say the French and the Chinese were even earlier in this field.



Something fishy about those specks

Sir: So Miles Kington cannot find a word for "those strange shapes which float across my vision when I stare at the sky, like skeletal fish drifting aimlessly in a glass tank, which are presumably tiny specks of dirt on my eyeball" (12 October).

I can tell him: it is "floaters". At least, that is what my optician told me they were, and I wish he had not, because, now I have a name for them, I find it harder to stop thinking about these dirty, fishy specks.

So, here is another missing English word for Mr Kington's list: the one for the "desire to abolish the name of annoying, unwanted object or objects so you can forget about them more easily".

A feeling which, after reading this, Miles Kington is probably experiencing already.



Sir: Please allow me to put Miles Kington out of his misery. There is a name for "that plate the waiter always takes away when you sit down": it is called a charger. One mystery solved.



Fat lot of good

Sir: The really surprising thing about your obesity report ("The fat man of Europe", 11 October) is that Greece, with nearly the same obesity level as the UK, leads the EU in terms of the consumption of fruit and vegetables. Where can they be going wrong?



Writer wronged

Sir: Pandora's reporter at the Cheltenham Festival (9 October) is suffering from a sense of humour bypass. When a girl in the audience talked of lending John Grisham's books to her friend, his throwaway remark about hoping she might buy her own was made as a joke and taken as such by everyone else, from the laughter that greeted it. I was chairing this event, and was astonished by Pandora's repeated description of the author as "charmless". If he were, I doubt he would have signed copies for fans for an hour and a quarter.



What's afoot?

Sir: The article on America's population reaching 300 million ("Supersize Nation", 11 October) persistently uses imperial measurements. In such a modern and forward-thinking newspaper this is ludicrous. Since 1971, this country has been metric and in my lifetime - I am 31 - I have never had any maths tuition involving imperial measurements. Please stop pandering to the luddites and move forward. Ditch the groat.



Déjà vu

Sir:Although it the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 (letter, 10 October) was the right decision in the long run and led to prosperity, it is as well to remember that it was hugely controversial at the time, and Sir Robert Peel had no mandate for the decision from either the electors or the party. So to add to Peel's achievements is the taking of major policy decisions without a proper mandate, a precedent which has been followed by many of his successors up to the present day.



Doleful prospect

Sir: People who are rubbish (Letters; 4, 10 October) get jobs when all the other interviewees are more talented than the interviewers.