Letters: US and Haiti

The Americans are doing their best to help Haiti
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There is a great difference between Hurricane Katrina and the Port-au-Prince earthquake. President Bush had the means but not the will to rush assistance to the citizens of New Orleans. President Obama has the will but not the means to help the people of Haiti in a timely manner.

After the hurricane, the highways, airport, and seaport facilities of New Orleans were in working order. The current horrors in Port-au-Prince are caused by the fact that the seaport is not operating, the airport has only one runway and limited parking space and a shortage of fuel, and the roads from the airport into town have been damaged by the earthquake.

Patrick Cockburn (16 January) is correct in saying that numerous people, trapped in the rubble of their workplaces and homes, who could have been saved by heavy lifting equipment, will have died because the equipment arrived late. However, days after the disaster, it is proving difficult to get food and water into the city, let alone heavy lifting equipment.

Also, the co-ordination of the activities of the various NGOs and countries providing relief is under the direction of the UN. There will be mistakes made in the relief effort. However it is too early to be pointing fingers and apportioning blame.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

It is hard to avoid comparing the difficulties getting aid into Haiti in a reasonable time with the ease with which death and destruction are delivered in a matter of minutes by drone aircraft in Pakistan. Politicians need to reflect on the inevitable impact that the contrast will have on perceptions of the West.

Jon P Baker


Ways to heal the ecucation rift

I wholly support the principle set out in Paul Collier's article "Private v state: here's how to bridge the educational divide" (14 January) and have seen it in action, in the Republic of Ireland and, to a lesser extent, in some Northern Irish schools.

Before returning to the UK, I was principal of one of the many good voluntary-aided schools in Dublin. All Irish schools receive state funding, but many also charge modest fees to supplement this. Everyone wins: the state provides less funding to these schools and parents pay much more manageable fees, so the schools are accessible to more people. Standards are good enough for parents to want to buy in, but the gulf between these schools and wholly state-funded community schools is less than in England.

I returned to an English independent school and am delighted at the great breadth and high-quality education we provide for relatively low fees by English standards, with bursaries for those who can't afford it. However, a symbiosis of state and independent would bring our quality of education within the reach of everyone, which would benefit the whole nation.

Barbara Stanley

Head, The Abbey School, Reading

Paul Collier's excellent article exposes the incoherence that bedevils educational funding, but it is not only in pre-school education that a public/private mixed economy operates.

It has been many years since you could get your teeth fixed entirely on the taxpayer; if you use your own money to buy vital drugs the NHS won't provide, you won't, now, be turned out of your NHS bed; and it was New Labour that introduced the principle of supplementing state funding through private fees in higher education.

Governments of both sides have swallowed these ideological camels, but still strain at the gnat of educational vouchers. Yet the shibboleth that excludes primary and secondary education from such cost-effective good sense did not exist until the late 1970s, when an Old Labour government sacrificed the direct grant scheme on the altar of socialism.

Most of the former direct grant schools are now independent, but remain a national resource of the highest quality, vital to the survival of important, strategic and vulnerable subjects in our top universities.

Both parties plans for the future provision of state education – whether through new academies or parent-led Swedish-style state-funded independent schools – depend on the creation of excess supply to create real choice, and it is difficult to see how this can be affordable entirely through public spending for the foreseeable future.

The first party to liberate itself from the dogma that excludes 5-18 education from funding arrangements that work throughout the rest of the public sector could solve its supply-side funding problems, open to many more families the opportunity of an education recognised by the OECD as among the best in the world and be on to an electoral winner.

Andrew Grant

Chairman , The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference,

St Albans, Hertfordshire

It is not clear exactly what measures Professor Collier is advocating, and he appears to conclude that they will never happen anyway. But more worrying is his bland assumption that for all of us education in the private sector must be the best.

Our two sons both obtained first-class honours degrees and went on to obtain PhDs following their comprehensive school education . They now have happy lives following challenging and interesting careers and have the advantage of a wider understanding of society, not having been confined in their schooldays to a small privileged group. So for us state was best.


Broadstone, Dorset

Having taught in a variety of educational establishments in this country, both state and private. I find Professor Collier's solution to the educational divide between the state and the private sector plausible. But a far easier way to help to solve the problem is to give state-sector teachers the same freedom as independent-sector teachers. This means allowing them to decide what they teach, how they teach it, and when they teach it.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Liberty? It just leads to slavery

Howard Jacobson (16 January) is bothered by the unfortunate penchant of the "denizens of Bleeding Heart Yard", as he calls people a little too attached to civil liberties for his taste, to question police stop-and- search procedures. How, he asks, do they dare run off to Strasbourg, where they employ "lawyers in another country" to keep the noble crusaders of the War on Terror from carrying out their duty?

Oh, those nasty European institutions! Next thing you know, the European Court of Human Rights may even decide to protect trial by jury, the doctrine of double jeopardy and habeas corpus against the depredations of British governments keen to overturn a thousand years of law.

How can one explain, other than by reference to a mind driven mad by fear of conspiracies, either of the Islamic or Marxist-Leninist kind, Mr Jacobson's conflation of the various ills of present-day society? Terrorists attack us, children refuse all notions of authority, parents use knives and lawyers (at the same time?) to intimidate teachers. Truly, we are going to hell in a handbasket.

And what do the Shami Chakrabartis of the world, people like myself (full disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of Liberty) do about it? Why, they demand due process and engagement with the real causes of our problems. By so doing they prepare, Mr Jacobson would have us believe, our way into the gulag. In my experience, gulags of one sort or another, in Siberia, Gaza or Guantanamo, are created by the "agencies of security" he defends, rather than by their critics.

How many times must we be reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin before we come to understand them: "Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Jeffry Kaplow

London SE3

Roadside bombs: a query for Chilcot

The supreme irony of the Iraq war as a response to 11 September has to be that it was Messrs Bush and Blair who facilitated the al-Qa'ida-Iraq connection, not Saddam Hussein. It was the power vacuum resulting from the fall of his regime that served as an invitation to al-Qa'ida to enter Iraq, where they set up training schools in the making of roadside bombing devices .

The Taliban from Afghanistan were welcomed to attend these schools and when they had become proficient in their skills they imported them back to Afghanistan on their return.

Will the Chilcot inquiry focus on the connection between the folly of the Iraq war and the roadside bomb attacks that are increasingly ending the lives of our servicemen in Afghanistan, or is that not one of the lessons to be learned ?

Chris Ryecart

Harwich, Essex

We all mourn loss of life in the war in Afghanistan. Lives should be put in jeopardy only when there is a very strong military case and there is no other option. Why are mines defused after they are located? Were they exploded in situ there would be material damage, which can be made good; life blown apart is for ever lost.

Donald Bishop

South Brent,Devon

Fences offer Israel an illusory security

Israel's plan to build a fence along its border with Egypt is further evidence of its obsession with building physical barriers between itself and its neighbours. Israel has already faced international criticism for the hardship to Palestinians caused by the separation wall in the West Bank, and the blockading of Gaza.

But there is another, equally sad, aspect to Israel's "laager mentality". Israelis should perhaps reflect on whether these barriers are as much a restriction on their own freedom as on the Palestinians.

Not too many years ago, before Israel's occupation turned into the rapacious colonisation of today, it was commonplace to see Israelis shopping in Palestinian markets or eating in Palestinian restaurants; Israeli tourists regularly visited historic sights in Egypt and Jordan. But that has now all come to an end.

Any security based solely on physical exclusion is in the long term illusory. The eventual uprising is as inevitable as it will be catastrophic, unless Israel realises that it needs to mend fences with its neighbours, not build them.

Johnny Rizq

London W3

Snow clearing

I saw a gritter in Manor Street, here in Bridlington town centre, the other day. A short time later I saw another council vehicle in Manor Street. It was a regular road sweeper gathering up all the precious salt and grit recently spread by the first lorry

Terry Duncan

Bridlington,East Yorkshire

For your safety

Who has been the most vetted under this government? A foreign doctor applying for a job in our "out of hours" GP service? A foreign owner being assessed as being "fit and proper" to take over one of our football teams? A bank director who is deemed so valuable that he might flee the country if too many obstacles are put in his way? A photogenic prospective parliamentary candidate? Or is it the mum who just wants to take her son and his friends to a football match?

Mark Timlett


British binge

Like Pete Dorey (letter, 16 January), I have long wondered why binge drinking is an almost uniquely British problem. But it is no new problem: one only has to read about the 19th century to realise this. In the early days of the railways drunkenness of engine drivers was one of the principal causes of accidents. Daniel Gooch on the Great Western took the step of sacking anybody at work who was found to be drunk. Drunkenness was a widespread problem – and hence the Temperance movement. But this still doesn't answer the question, "Why Britain?"

Ian K Watson


Mind your language

Regarding Ed Balls's call for Mandarin in schools and doubts about teacher training (letter, 16 January), it is relevant that official policy is now increasingly loaded against university studies in arts, humanities and social sciences, including languages. Examples in my experience include the refusal of additional university places for business-backed degrees in financial management with Mandarin or Arabic, and a huge reduction in the research funding for Asian studies at SOAS, after it had improved its performance in the latest Research Assessment and was recognised as the best in the UK. Joined-up government?

Peter Robb

London N1

Sing to children

I don't believe we have lost lullabies at all (letter, 14 January). My grandmother and mother, I, my daughter and now my granddaughter have all sung to our children, and not always at bedtimes, either. My favourites are "Shenandoah", Brahms' Lullaby, and "Sweet and Low", among others. It probably doesn't matter what you sing to children, although maybe jazz songs at bedtime are not to be recommended.

Elaine Streeter