Sir: Clare Short's article on Darfur (25 January) makes her one of a very small number of people keeping this catastrophe in the public eye.
In Sudan, as in Iraq, there is "big power" involvement over oil. China has extensive oil rights in the south of the country and has stated that it will veto any attempt to arraign the Sudanese government for genocide in the UN. This, more than US reluctance to take the matter to the International Court for fear that it will make Americans vulnerable to similar charges for their conduct in Iraq, is the biggest barrier to effective action to stop the mass murder in Darfur.
Recently, China has moved to secure oil supplies from all over the world. For example, it has acquired large holdings of bitumen deposits in Canada, which have now become economically attractive to exploit. The Americans are finding they can no longer control world events and that the "new boys on the block" are every bit as nasty as the US if not more so.
Symptomatic of this new developing "world order" is Google's censoring of its Chinese search engine. China does not have a bad record on human rights at home or abroad; it does not have one at all. It never has had and the item is not on its agenda for the future.
The world is encouraged to see Darfur as an "African" problem , but, historically, Sudan's strongest economic ties were across the Red Sea, with what is now Yemen, the Gulf states and the Middle East. As the tradition of Muslim enlightenment and tolerance of non-Muslims has been supplanted by fundamentalist intolerance and repression of infidels and ideologically "impure" Muslims, so the land dispute in Darfur is now an ethnic and ideological campaign of eradication by murder, rape, mutilation, slavery and - the oldest and cheapest weapon of mass destruction - systematic starvation. And the weapons carried by the Janjaweed will now be made in China.
We must question language of disability
Sir: Dominic Lawson (27 January) suggests that changing from the label "mental handicap" to "learning disability" has produced a reduction in services. This is silly. Provision changed because people recognised it was deeply flawed. Inevitably, it is now flawed in new ways. Turning back the clock won't help. He also suggests that those of us parents who choose not to use the term mental handicap are in denial about who our child is. This is both silly and offensive.
Language changes over time. So Moron (IQ 50 to 69), Idiot (IQ below 20), Imbecile (IQ somewhere between the two) and "You got a mental handicap or something?" are now everyday insults. As a result, the terms are changed, but the offense remains.
Before long, a new term will replace "learning disability". It already offends many people to whom it is ascribed, and is used as an insult. This change may seem fruitless, if the new term will in turn become debased. But one way to change our bigotry is to question our language and the assumptions that underpin its meaning. Central to this process is listening to the people we are talking about. In this instance, it should mean using the term they choose. People First, a self-advocacy network, choose to call themselves People with Learning Difficulties. I can think of reasons to use another term, but it seems churlish to make a fuss.
THE OPEN UNIVERSITY, MILTON KEYNES
Sir: Mencap has consulted with many people who have mild and moderate learning disabilities about use of the term "learning disability". We found that most people we talked to preferred to use this term.
The terms helps us to talk about people who have a common concern and ensure their human rights are met. While we do not use the same terminology, we agree with Dominic Lawson that people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD), who have the highest support needs, require 24-hour care, and are the most vulnerable people in society, are currently excluded. We are concerned about the impact of this lack of inclusion and believe that since policy makers do not like to use the term "mentally handicapped", they do not like talking about it and focusing on the issues in sufficient detail to make a difference. The Valuing People white paper and Social Care green paper are examples of this.
Parents and siblings have told us that we need to name people with PMLD, understand their needs and focus on providing support for them and their families. This is why we are consulting with people to use the term "PMLD" and making it a key priority to address the needs of a group.
As Dominic Lawson and Dr Maurice Brook (letter, 26 January) point out, while people with profound and multiple disabilities may not engage in the linguistic debate, they still have a right to be valued, have their needs understood and met and be supported to find ways to communicate in order to make meaningful choices in their everyday lives. Mencap will continue to campaign to ensure that the rights of all people with mild, moderate and profound and multiple learning disabilities are not ignored.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MENCAP, LONDON EC1
Sir: I don't believe the change in terminology came about simply through the misguided modern tendency to soften uncomfortable references. I suspect it was cynically promoted by social service professionals so they could be seen as progressive.
This fudging of terminology also goes against the interests of the handicapped people themselves. If I describe my son as having a learning difficulty, people underestimate his limitations and the help he needs, and there is a noticeable reduction in both formal and informal support and understanding. If I describe him as mentally handicapped, which he doesn't find offensive, people show him a far more appropriate level of respect.
The currently preferred terms are misleading and unhelpful, whereas mental handicap is an accurate and widely understood description. We should use the correct term and dismiss the fabricated stigma.
SHOREHAM-BY-SEA, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: As the father of a mentally handicapped 44-year-old son who has Down's, I was pleased that recognition of the term "mentally handicapped" is a fact of life. Stephen Dorrell at the Mencap conference in 1991 introduced the expression "learning disability".
Mencap has in my view disastrously supported ordinary living, independent living, marriage, and babies. Community care has been a failure, and ministerial and government indifference other than saving money has lead to a betrayal. Day centres providing friendship, stimulation and giving parents valuable respite time are to be closed.
Around 29,000 profoundly mentally handicapped are living at home with parents who are themselves at least 70 years old, and no provision has been made for their future. Private care is in short supply and there are long waiting lists for charity homes. When desperate parents take drastic action, the government should be in the dock, not the parent. The truth is the majority of parents want their mentally handicapped children to predecease them. So much for the efforts of Mencap.
P S STAGG
Turning celebration into soapbox
Sir: In his review at the entrants for the best British designs (27 January), Stephen Bayley exhibits another great staple of Great Britain - the moaning old man. He succeeded in turning a feature celebrating British ingenuity into a soapbox to show his own views on the failure of British manufacturing.
Concorde was a commercial failure, the Spitfire had its faults and Clive Sinclair followed his calculator with the C5. But the fact remains that when it comes to design, each entrant is truly worthy.
He appears gleeful in telling us that the Aston Martin DB5 has Italian elements. The car was made in Britain by a British company, and the fact that Sean Connery wore an Italian suit when he drove it as James Bond seems tenuous at best. By following his logic Britain should claim the Millau bridge in France as British, because of Sir Norman Foster's involvement. It should also claim involvement in Volkswagen, as it was British involvement that helped save the company in the same way that Aston Martin was founded by people named Bertelli and Marek.
It's obvious that British design is far from perfect, but to hijack a celebration of the best these islands have produced to berate our failures seems a little pessimistic.
Sir: You criticise the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine used in the Spitfire for its tendency to stall in a dive. Surely you cannot have forgotten Miss Shilling's Orifice, the famous hole in the disc inserted into the fuel pipe so that the heroic British pilots could pursue the rascally Messerschmitts without fear of embarrassment?
Cancer variation is due to local lifestyle
Sir: The "cancer map" on your front page (26 January) gave readers an inaccurate and misleading picture of cancer care across the country.
Geographical variations in the incidence of cancer are largely attributable to the lifestyle and behaviours of the populations, most specifically in relation to smoking rates and diet. That is why incidence and mortality are generally below average in the south of England and high in the formerly highly industrialised north. It is disingenuous to imply that these variations are attributable to disparities in numbers of staff, equipment or the provision of treatment.
Much of the data used to inform your map is out of date and does not include the significant progress that has been made since the Cancer Plan was published in 2000. The Public Accounts Committee report acknowledges that "across the country significant improvements have been made in improving cancer services, in particular, speeding up access to diagnosis and treatment".
Thanks to the positive engagement and enormous efforts of the people who deliver them, cancer services are better organised and more effective. Death rates for lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women are falling faster in this country than anywhere else in the world.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS
NATIONAL CLINICAL DIRECTOR FOR CANCER, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH LONDON SW1
Waste body has no say on new reactors
Sir: I would like to put in context the remarks I made in "Deal with disposal of nuclear waste first, warns advisers" (24 January) regarding the issue of nuclear waste and its bearing on building new nuclear reactors.
The Committee on Radio- active Waste Management (CoRWM) has been asked by the Government, as an independent body, to make recommendations - by July - of options for dealing with radioactive waste in the longer term. We have looked at whether the options on our shortlist could accommodate new-build wastes, and concluded that they could. However, as a committee, we have no position on the desirability of nuclear new-build. Our recommendations should not be seen as either a red or green light for new reactors.
It is not our place to set a timeframe for Government decisions on new-build, although we do believe they should be subject to their own assessment process, including the consideration of waste. This is because such decisions raise different political and ethical issues when compared with the consideration of wastes that already exist.
CHAIR, CORWM, LONDON EC4
Radio 4 should tune in
Sir: Instead of "The UK Theme" (The Third Leader, 26 January), which rambles on repetitively and jingoistically and contains at least one dodgy harmonic cadence, could we not start the day on Radio 4 with dear old "Oranges and Lemons"? Two excellent alternating orchestrations of this lively melody once announced the Light Programme's daily broadcasts. It's non-nationalistic, cheerful and a very good wake-up call. And, Mr Damazer, it's pacy.
A question of Morales
Sir: With all the tedious gossip-mongering surrounding British politics this week, how refreshing it was to read that the new Bolivian President has said that he will only accept half his parliamentary salary. He's also ordered that no cabinet minister should be paid more and that the savings from this will provide 3,800 extra teachers. A lesson perhaps to our ministers, who set their own salary increases well above anyone else's and the inflation rate. Is it a coincidence that the name of this altruistic leader is Evo Morales?
NEWPORT PAGNELL, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: Back in the 1950s, when my grandmother, with whom we lived,was ill, my mother called out our GP. After the visit, my mother asked him whether my grandmother had cancer, which he confirmed. After expressing her worry about pain, my mother was reassured by the doctor, "We would never let her suffer, my dear." Helping people to die isn't anything new.
Credit for the pioneers
Sir: "The storm in a coffee cup that created the Fairtrade mark" (27 January) placed the origins of Fairtrade as a movement about 10 years late. Although it was not until the early 1990s that the Fairtrade mark was born, the campaign to combat poverty through trade began with such organisations as Campaign Coffee and Traidcraft, which both began trading in 1979. Without the pioneering work of these organisations, and others such as Northampton's Daily Bread Co-operative (for whom I worked in the early 1980s), the Fairtrade mark might never have been conceived.
THE REV RICHARD HALL
Sir: Surely it is correct to place more emphasis on teaching our children about the environment and the ecology of our planet rather than on, for instance, what happened in the reign of Henry VIII. Will our relationship with nature itself have to become history before it is respectable enough to be part of our children's school curriculum?
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