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Thursday 14 August 2008
Letters: Nato forces
Nato needs the forces to respond to the new Russian challenge
It is becoming clear from the excellent reporting by Daniel McLaughlin (6 August), Margarita Antidze (8 August), and Kim Sengupta and Shaun Walker (11 August) that, far from being opportunistic, the Georgian government was responding to Ossetian provocation orchestrated by Russia. If Russia considers its intervention to have been a success we will see similar provocations, justified as protection of ethnic Russians, targeting the new Nato front-line states, particularly in the Baltic.
In Nato's previous incarnation its transition-to-war plans involved the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Mobile Force, a lightly armed formation which could be deployed to threatened front-line areas. It was formed of detachments from several Nato nations, to ensure that any Warsaw Pact attack would be an attack on the whole alliance. Had Georgia been admitted to Nato, and an ACE Mobile Force been deployed, Russia might have hesitated, and Nato solidarity been preserved (Iain Paton – letter, 12 August).
Nato used to have six front-line states (Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway and Turkey). It now has 10 more, all new members. If the Nato Collective Defence Obligation is to have any credibility it is vital that a number of ACE Mobile Forces are established, and that troops from the less exposed states are based on the front line.
Dave Brown's cartoon of 11 August depicts admirably the cynical hand of America in the monumental if not insane blunder made by Georgia's President Saakashvili.
It is sheer idiocy to have started a war, effectively against Russia, and then declare a unilateral ceasefire, to go on to scream about Russia's aggression and request help from the US and others. Is it thinkable that Georgia's President might have had the hope that the West would actually send military assistance to get him out of the quagmire he created for himself?
It is a godsend that Georgia is not in Nato, and one hopes that common sense will prevail, and that none of Russia's neighbouring republics will be given that membership, not at least for a long time.
Now that the Cold War is back on, will the government drop their "war on terror" nonsense?
Practical reasons for learning languages
Michael Church is right to stress the cultural value of languages ("Speaking in tongues", 11 August), but we are missing out in practical ways too.
By not learning languages we make ourselves dependent on other people's knowledge of English, and we are excluded when they are talking among themselves. Not everyone speaks English, and still less do they always write it, so that we simply don't know what is going on elsewhere unless someone translates their publications for us. Whether it's culture, law social policy or science and technology, we probably know less about new ideas from Austria and Germany than from Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking, or at least attempting to speak, another person's language is a courtesy, which might make our young people better behaved abroad and enable us to welcome visitors more warmly, for example to the Olympics in 2012.
There is so much that could be done. Au pairs could be encouraged to speak their own languages to our children; foreign students of English could act as teaching assistants. Companies could introduce incentives to their employees to learn a language. Universities could reinstate a language as an entry requirement, because reading foreign publications will produce better-informed scientists, politicians, business people and professionals generally.
Learning two or more languages doesn't hold back our continental neighbours; on the contrary, it seems to give them an advantage.
London SW2, The writer was formerly secretary, British Iron and Steel Industry Translation Service
We are always hearing that it's shameful that Britons are so poor at foreign languages. If I remember my Bible stories correctly, different languages were introduced as a punishment for humanity's hubris at attempting to build a tower (of Babel) to reach the heavens. Unable to communicate with each other, the builders were forced to abandon their efforts.
What's changed? Different languages are still the same barrier to communication and progress that they have always been. In this global economy, we should as soon as possible select a single language that everyone on earth will be taught.
There will be no more communication problems, no more confusion, no more bureaucratic wastage on having to translate documents into scores of different languages, no more tedious interpreters and misinterpreters.
The fans of a multi-language world are narrow-minded nationalists, the enemies of communication, and slaves to conservatism. If we move beyond these Luddites, perhaps, at long last, we'll be able to build that tower that goes all the way to the stars.
Newcastle upon tyne
Why don't the English learn foreign languages? Simply because they don't have to. The rest of the world try to use English as a lingua franca if confronted by a foreign person who does not speak their language. Why do we have to get so uptight about not speaking a few of the hundreds of languages in the world?
Surely we should be grateful that so many people abroad speak our language. I am fortunate to be able to speak several languages because I lived in the relevant countries. I doubt I would have learned them otherwise.
The square of a child's height
Your graphic on body mass index (5 August) gave the square of the child's height in metres. This is clearly wrong, and Jonny Griffiths (letter, 8 August) was right to point out that it should have been in metres squared. BMI is measured in kilograms per metres squared; its value would be different if pounds and feet were used for the measurements. Jonathan Phillips (letter, 9 August) is wrong to claim that no units are required for the square of the height.
In reply to the latter's assertion that it is meaningless to square the height, I would add that powers of quantities often appear in scientific calculations despite the possibility that these powers are not meaningful on their own. For example, the distance travelled by a freely falling body is proportional to the square of the time, even though the square of a time does not have any direct physical significance. And, to emphasise the point, the square of a time is measured in seconds squared.
At our school, education works
Keith Rothwell's mother (letter, 12 August) left school at 13 and was able to write "long, legible letters, correct in grammar and spelling".
So can most 11-year-olds today, even those who have English as a second language. Today's pupils would also recognise that a partisan sample of two does not indicate that the 1923 educational system "worked". They might conclude too that, with encouragement, Mr and Mrs Rothwell Snr might have achieved more, although a lifetime of employment in the mills is not to be disregarded, as their son implies it should be. They would certainly condemn teachers for "swift and painful physical punishment".
As a school governor in inner London, my experience is that education is working, and that teaching, support and administrative staff are doing all they can to make it work better. Our pupils enjoy school and are motivated, behaving well without the need for physical punishment.
We all try to dispel prejudices, but there are a lot around.
Nothing sinister about transponders
Geoffrey Payne's letter (12 August) states that the CAA is proposing that all civil aircraft carry transponders to enable unmanned aircraft to use the UK's airspace. This is not correct.
If the proposal is introduced, transponders will only be required if a pilot wishes to use certain areas of airspace. It will still be possible for gliders and hang gliders to use a significant proportion of the UK's skies without carrying a transponder. The consultation is part of our on-going work to improve the safety of all aircraft operating in the UK's airspace and not part of any plan to introduce UAVs.
Head, Surveillance and Spectrum Management, Civil Aviation Authority, London WC2
Fighting for a bright future in the North
I read with amazement that David Cameron's favourite think-tank, the centre-right Policy Exchange, has suggested that cities such as Sunderland, Liverpool, Rochdale and Bradford are "beyond revival" and their citizens should move south ("Cities in North doomed, says favourite Tory think-tank", 13 August).
Is this a sign of how much importance David Cameron's Tory government will accord these cities in the future if they are ever returned to power?
The think-tank says: "It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland and ask ourselves instead what we need to do to offer people in Sunderland better prospects."
What do they suggest, a one-way bus ticket south? Our prospects are better than they were 11 years ago, and they would be even better if people such as these didn't keep putting our city down. Our council works hard to promote the benefits of companies relocating to Sunderland, but this hard work can so easily be undermined by reports such as this.
Are we looking at the renewal of the north-south, divide with investment and regeneration projects being biased towards those southern cities, such as London, Cambridge and Oxford, the report suggest we should move to.
They say: "Sunderland demonstrates just how hard it is to regenerate such a city." Well, there are those who relish the challenge and we are determined to succeed, so I for one will be staying put and fighting for our city's future.
The suggestion that the great cities of the North should be decanted into the South is ridiculous. The magnificent North of England is rightly proud of its heritage and hates southerners.
There is a simple if expensive way to deal with this problem. Eurostar should be extended north to Edinburgh and Glasgow. This would improve carbon emissions, reduce airport congestion, improve our links with Europe and even perhaps stop the increasing alienation of Scotland. What a Tory policy that would be.
Little did my husband know that by relocating from Hull to Bristol in 1993, he was anticipating the Policy Exchange report by over 15 years.
His family remain defiantly Up North, but now that Hull has "lost its raison d'etre"(only a Tory oaf could come out with a sentence like that) should I start making room for the rest of my in-laws, or is their move to Oxfordshire compulsory?
Voice and image
I really don't see the fuss about the Chinese authorities using a girl to front the singing of another at the Olympic opening ceremony, to make it both look and sound good. It was a show, a spectacle – image was important. Do all those complaining want the BBC to refuse to show My Fair Lady because Audrey Hepburn is lip-synching to someone else's voice?
If Jonathan Philips (letter, 13 August) is to be believed, foxes should be grateful for being killed by dogs. Fox mothers shot and their cubs dug out and baited to train young hounds? Oh yes, this is much nicer than dying of old age! Foxes like all other animals live and die according nature. But perhaps Mr Philips should start a campaign to allow young hounds to kill our aging pets?
Common or garden
Why does an excellent paper such as The Independent use such ingratiating expressions as "one of Britain's most prestigious royal gardens" (report, 13 August). Who cares where the outbreak of koi carp herpes has occurred? What difference does it make if it's a "royal" garden. How is a "royal" garden different from another type of garden? If the virus spreads, will you report that it is infecting common gardens? As a foreigner, I find it astonishing than even the non-establishment media in Britain still uses such class-conscious language.
Wellington, New Zealand
What to do with eggs
Talking of signs (letter, 9 August), is anybody else fed up with being treated like a moron in the supermarkets: "ideal for lunchboxes" next to cartons of drinks, "ideal for picnics" on the Scotch eggs or (my favourite) "ideal for dark places" on small lamps. Do the British public really appear so dim as to need advice on every aspect of their purchases?
Welton le Marsh, Lincolnshire
Previous correspondents are right to say that "soccer" and "rugger" are every bit as English as "footer" itself. Such usage was common at Oxford University by the 1890s. But I think John Cornwell (8 August) may be mistaken in suggesting that "wagger" alone sufficiently represents "waste paper basket": for that you need "wagger pagger bagger".
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