Quake rescue teams make this Pakistani proud to be British
Sir: Waking up on Saturday morning to witness scenes of utter devastation and human misery in Pakistan was a heart-wrenching experience. An area of unrivalled natural beauty was transformed into a death-zone of unimaginable proportions by brute force of nature.
Amidst the despair and the sense of bereavement, there was hope. It came in the shape of the blue uniforms of the rapid UK search and rescue team. The first international deployment to arrive in the region, and they made their immediate mark by rescuing countless individuals who probably would have otherwise died. This shows remarkable initiative and foresight on the part of our government, particularly the Department for International Development, for launching an urgent aid effort on Saturday, even when the true scale of this horrific event was not evident.
It also shows the remarkable generosity of British people in helping grief- stricken humanity. Whether the calamity is inflicted by man or nature; from the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo to the human sorrow of the Boxing Day tsunami, the British public are at the forefront of any relief effort. As all British of Pakistani origin pray for good news about the loved ones in our former homeland, one cannot but feel an immense sense of pride in our identity as British citizens.
MALIK AHMAD JALAL
UK unprepared for diabetes epidemic
Sir: The Association of British Clinical Diabetologists (ABCD) welcomes your timely article (6 October) highlighting the potentially catastrophic impact of diabetes in the UK. As described in your article, diabetes causes many complications such as blindness, kidney failure and amputation.
Research has shown that careful management of diabetes can prevent many of these complications. In the UK the quality of care for patients with diabetes is very largely dependent on consultant physicians specialising in the condition (diabetologists). These are the only health care professionals who are fully trained in the use of complex therapies and the management of diabetes complications. Unfortunately specialist diabetes care is now under serious threat and this could reduce the UK's ability to deal with the impending diabetes "epidemic".
ABCD is concerned that the Government's policy of developing a "primary care-led NHS", is damaging the speciality. This is causing a loss of morale amongst consultants and specialist trainees and a fall in the number and quality of applicants for consultant posts. Last year, in England and Wales, one third of consultant vacancies were unfilled. We believe that this decline is in large measure due to the Government's efforts to force specialist diabetes care out of hospitals and into general practice, which is largely unprepared to deal with it. This damaging policy must be reversed before it adversely affects patient care.
If, as is likely, the anticipated "explosion" of diabetes does occur then many more properly trained diabetes specialists will be needed to deal with it.
DR RICHARD GREENWOOD
CHAIRMAN PROFESSOR KEN SHAW HONORARY TREASURER DR PETER WINOCOUR HONORARY SECRETARY ASSOCIATION OF BRITISH CLINICAL DIABETOLOGISTS, NORWICH
Sir: In response to the letter from a diabetic nurse (8 October) , does she inject herself three to four times a day? I have an eight-year-old grandson who was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of five and who has to have three injections a day, one of which is by syringe the other two by pen - they all have a needle. How can she possibly know what it's like? I would suggest that it is not painless, but manageable.
Schools lottery is no improvement
Sir: Children can't choose their parents and rarely have any influence on their wealth. Thus, from a child's perspective, selection for a school is random regardless of whether the decision is based on how close to the school their parents can afford to buy a house or simply having their name picked out of a hat.
So, what does changing the process by which a school selects pupils actually achieve? No more places at the highly performing school have been created and an equal number of children are unable to attend the school of their (parents') first choice. We are now just randomly discriminating against children rather than against children of relatively poor parents and I'd question whether that's an improvement.
What has been achieved is that the children attending Haberdashers' Aske's Academy in Lewisham (report, 29 September) will typically have a longer commute each day. This leads to more congestion on the roads, higher carbon emissions and more time spent by children in cars or on buses rather than doing homework or playing. That less than marvellous achievement is what The Independent and the Government are supporting.
My fundamental point is so obvious that I worry I'm missing something: improve schooling for all children rather than playing games with their future.
Sir: Quite soon after New Labour came to power we were hearing the most amazing stories about the improvement in basic skills attainment in primary schools. Now we hear that barely half the children who start at secondary level can read or write satisfactorily. Clearly something major has gone wrong in a very short space of time. As a concerned citizen I would like to know what.
Sir: Are educational standards slipping today? I have been reading the Principal Moderator's Written Coursework Report (2005) for GCSE English and GCSE English Literature published by the AQA examining board. I could not help noticing two obvious spelling errors in the report: "practice" and "it's" instead of "practise" and "its". Oh dear! Could do better.
DEREK J CARR
Data Act protects the wrong side
Sir: Ten days ago, my daughter's car was hit from behind by another car, in pouring rain. When she got out, rather shaken and with a very sore back, the woman driver of the car that had hit her immediately apologised. She said she accepted full liability and, so they didn't have to stand out in the rain, wrote down all her details and they both drove off.
When my daughter arrived home and stopped shaking she saw that all the woman had written down was her name and phone number. You've already guessed that the insurance company has proved unsuccessful in contacting this person using the information given. (Yes, my daughter realises that she should have taken the car number herself, but ....)
Her insurance company advised her to report matters to her local police. The police told my daughter that, as there hadn't been a fatality and she hadn't suffered a serious injury they were unlikely to take any further action.
My daughter then played her trump card. The lady had written her details on the back of a recent Visa receipt from a local petrol station. Would the police contact the petrol station to view their CCTV camera? No. Would the police contact the credit card company to get the true details of the driver? Sorry, we can't get that information because it is protected by the Data Protection Act.
At the time of the review of the Soham murders, the same reason was used by a chief constable to justify his force's failure to divulge information to the Cambridgeshire police. Just who is being protected by the Data Protection Act?
LAWRENCE G CROSS
At the mercy of the oligarchs
Sir: We really must stop fretting about British democracy ("I've always argued for electoral reform", 28 September). Consider the facts.
A small number of voters (a million at most) in marginal constituencies decide which faction of the political class forms a government. That political class is self-centred, self serving and self-perpetuating. The governments it provides are only acceptable to a minority, and in the present case was rejected by nearly two-thirds of those who voted. These governments then take their cues from big business, big money and Mr Rupert Murdoch.
So Britain is no democracy at all - there is nothing there to fret about. Instead it is a thoroughgoing oligarchy.
Only by getting our heads round this reality are we likely to find the kind of focus and energy which achieved so much political change in eastern Europe. This work is becoming ever more urgent; in the coming environmental crisis - never mind the economic one - who wants to be left at the mercy of the oligarchs and their sponsors?
B J FEARNLEY
Free-to-air channel should be free
Sir: The launch of More 4 has encouraged me, as a former Sky subscriber, to tune in on satellite to this free-to-air channel. I was surprised to find that I can only watch More 4 and E4 on Freesat if I pay a further subscription to Sky.
I thought the idea of Freesat was that, for those of us in rural areas where we cannot receive Freeview, we would be able to get the same channels as are available from Freeview by satellite without a further subscription payment. Ofcom should insist that both E4 and More 4 are available to all free of charge.
Fortunate nation blotted off the map
Sir: Thank you for the map of the 21st century world included with Tuesday's Independent; it made for some very interesting reading. I was however a little aggrieved to find the bulk of my home nation, New Zealand, obliterated by an insert graphic.
I realise that, in the context of a map focusing mainly on war, misgovernment, poverty and human rights abuses, New Zealand is not going to be of very great interest, being thankfully largely free of such afflictions, but nevertheless wiping off the map New Zealand's South Island, the world's 12th largest island (nearly twice the size of Ireland) and the home of a million people, seems rather inconsiderate and a fate that no other country is subjected to.
Would you have allowed the insert graphic residing in the North Atlantic to be sited in such a careless fashion that it obliterated Ireland, Wales and the West Country?
Sir: Surely some mistake. Your map colours the UK green for "mistreatment by police and/or prison authorities". Surely we should be at the very least lime for "arbitrary arrest and detention" if not red for "extra-judicial executions".
Sir: Thank you for your gift map of the 21st-century world. Given The Independent's increasingly alarming reports about global warming and climate change, will you be updating the coastlines drawn on this map before, during or after the fact of sea-level rise?
Grade inflation at the BBC
Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith may have inadvertently hit upon an excellent scheme to avert government pressure on the BBC. If a peerage is awarded to each BBC chairman on appointment, a key incentive for kowtowing to government disappears.
In addition, since the much-lamented death of the uncle of the current BBC chairman, Michael Grade, there has not been a Lord Grade in the upper chamber. Michael would make an excellent replacement. Whittam Smith's attribution to Michael of such an elevated status in his article "The implausible 'muzzling' of the BBC" (10 October) may be premature, but perhaps government should take the hint.
Or, perish the thought, does Andreas imagine it is actually Lew who is currently chairing the BBC?
Sir: If a well-travelled diplomat wrote Shakespeare's plays (report, 5 October), why did he set one of them on the non-existent sea-coast of Bohemia?
LEWES, EAST SUSSEX
Colour of muggers
Sir: Why did John Walsh (Tales of the City, 11 October) feel it necessary to specify that the muggers in question were black skinned? I note that he did not detail the skin colour of any of the other participants in his narrative, so one is left with the rather uncomfortable feeling that far from making a point about the preponderance of youth-on-youth crime, he is actually pointing the finger at all young black males as being potential muggers.
Home rule for England
Sir: Iain Mackenzie, in the Isle of Arran, says England would find it easier than Scotland to gain its own parliament (letter, 11 October). English campaigners are studiously ignored. A letter mentioning an English Parliament appearing in any national paper is almost as rare as any Westminster MP mentioning England. If this letter finds its way into print, I will joyfully eat the edition of The Independent in which it is emblazoned.
CAMPAIGN FOR AN ENGLISH PARLIAMENT, CARLISLE
Pheasants in the garden
Sir: Those contemplating shooting trespassing pheasants with air rifles (letter, 10 October) should be aware that it is illegal to shoot or take pheasants between 1 February and 30 September. The pheasants seem to know this! Furthermore an air rifle is not really up to the job except in skilled hands. I would suggest improvising a cage trap (easily done with a bit of ingenuity) baiting it with corn and humanely and discreetly dispatching the captives.
Sir: It is interesting that Jesus told George Bush to attack Saddam Hussein when, in the Sermon on the Mount, he told the rest of us to love our enemies.
HALIFAX, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: Strange how God forgot to tell President Bush that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
BRADWELL, ESSEXReuse content