Uruguay reinstated 8th January 2004 You say (In fact, January) that the triple alliance war against Paraguay in the 19th century involved Brazil, Argentina and Peru. But it was Uruguay and not Peru that took part, and most of us here still bitterly regret it, because of the destruction of Paraguay that followed. Juan Jos? Castillos Montevideo, Uruguay
Not anti-German 25th November 2003 Unlike Lesley Chamberlain (Letters, December), I don’t think Joyce Hackett’s article on cycling in Germany in the November issue was in the least anti-German. Surely anyone who has lived in another country will recognise the kind of (often painful) exposure of one’s unconscious assumptions that Hackett describes. Philip Gray Northampton
French favours 12th January 2004 Tim King’s article on French corruption (January) skirts the real cause: like Italy and Spain, France is a Latin country with agricultural roots. Its corruption goes back to the clientelism of the Roman latifundium or agricultural estate, where the dominus handed out favours to those who supported him. The mafia is based on the same structure. In addition, France continues to be a mishmash of ethnic groups that are not French at all: Basques, Flemings, Bretons, Corsican-Italians, Occitans and Alsatians are a few of the sub-populations the French republic has oppressed since it took power. Why King calls this modern day mini-version of a decaying Ottoman empire “one of the world’s most civilised” beats me. Bart Roozendaal Amsterdam
Childcare nightmares 15th November 2003 Katharine Quarmby (November) says that “childminders are the least qualified of childcare workers: they can start work after a 12-hour training course in childminding and a first aid certificate.” If only it were that simple. All I wanted to do was to look after a friend’s three year old for half a day a week. It is a legal requirement that in order to be paid to look after an under-eight in one’s own home for more than two hours, one must become a registered childminder. I had thought that as an Oxford graduate, a primary school teacher, a mother of two, with many years of experience in leading children’s activity holidays, Sunday school and toddler music classes, it wouldn’t be too difficult. I was wrong. I did the 12-hour course a year ago after a six-month wait and have since spent over 20 hours on paperwork. Having been checked by the criminal records bureau I still have to be cleared by the council planning department. My buildings, contents and car insurers need to approve, and I must also organise public liability insurance. Faced with these hurdles, many potential and existing childminders are giving up. If the government really wants to promote childminding it should simplify and speed up the registration process. Victoria Cattermole Cardiff
Dr Kelly’s religion 9th January, 2004 As one who has chosen to be a Baha’i I was delighted to read Ziba Norman’s article (January), in which she describes some of the history and beliefs of the faith. However, I disagree with her speculation that David Kelly may have taken his own life as a result of the strain of trying to “square his beliefs with his professional duties.” In fact, Baha’is believe that “if one can be happy and content in the time of trouble and hardship… it is the proof of nobility.” Gordon Grams Oporto, Portugal
Reforming inheritance 24th December 2003 Daniel Kruger (January) is wrong to say that inheritance is one of those touchstone issues which prove that left and right are still meaningful terms. A proper inheritance tax could be a meritocratic proposal for the Tory party, as radical as the sale of council houses. To give every 25 year old ?5,000, financed by an inheritance tax starting at 20 per cent on all receipts of capital gifts and inheritance (except from partners and spouses) would be a big step towards a property-owning democracy. For more detail visit www.universal-inheritance.org. Dane Clouston Oxford
Vernon God Little 1 18th December 2003 In his review of Vernon God Little (December), Michael Lind states, “Then there’s the hayride. My family has lived in the state since the mid-19th century, and I’ve never heard of a hayride in Texas.” He might do a little research on his home state. He can even download a hayride permit for the city of Austin. The hayride may have originated in New England (as did many other traditional activities), but it occurs all over the US. In my youth I went on hayrides in Idaho. Mark Worden Roseburg, Oregon
Vernon God Little 2 22nd December 2003 I enjoyed Michael Lind’s review of Vernon God Little. I too was born and raised in Texas (although I’m a liberal democrat, gay, secular humanist). Lind nailed it. Hayride my ass. Kary Walker Gaithersburg, Maryland
Double standards 7th January 2004 In his provocative critique of television reviewing, David Herman (January) criticises AA Gill for describing a Channel 4 documentary as “good” then failing to say why. Three paragraphs later he describes Powerplays, co-written by Mike Poole and John Wyver, as “one of the best books ever written about television,” then fails to explain why. Matt Bishop London SE1
British nursing 1 11th December 2003 I have been a nurse for 30 years but finally gave up for good a few months ago because I could no longer tolerate the deteriorating culture of nursing described by Julia Magnet (December). I know many other nurses who have left the profession for the same reason. I have been a good caring nurse, always committed to providing the highest clinical standards. I have also kept my knowledge up to date within my speciality of critical care, and have studied to doctorate level in my own time and at my own expense. However, nurses like myself are no longer welcome-we are seen as troublemakers because we will not lower our standards. Heather Dent Bishopsteignton, Devon
British nursing 2 9th December 2003 Julia Magnet bases her attack on the current state of nursing on a series of myths. The first is that there was a golden age of nursing. A cursory reading of nursing’s history demonstrates that this is not the case. The second myth is that the rot set in in the 1960s with the Salmon committee, when power-hungry nurses sought management positions which took them way from patients, leading them to demean patient care. In fact, the Salmon committee was driven by a government anxious to deal with the lack of career structures for clinical nurses. The third myth is that Project 2000 and the entry of nursing into higher education has led to nurses being “overeducated” and less adept at caring for patients. But why should more education lead to an inability to care? If that were the case, why then does the same principle not apply to doctors or teachers? The fourth myth is that the problem in the NHS is one of quality and not quantity. It is both. Research from America suggests that hospitals with better qualified nurses have lower mortality rates. Anne Marie Rafferty School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Dominant minorities 11th December 2003 Amy Chua’s essay (December) struck a chord with me because I lived as an economic migrant among the market-dominant minority groups in southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s, and also in east Africa in the 1990s. Chua’s global overview of such minority groups, her analysis of the backlash against them in the context of emerging democracy and her suggestions for easing ethnic tensions are all fascinating. I especially admire the candid description of her aunt’s racist attitude towards her Philippine servants. I too have observed that attitude among the Chinese in Malaysia and among the south Asians in east Africa. My only qualification to her thesis is that political manipulation from external sources must also disappear in order to eliminate ethnic tensions and usher in real growth in wealth and democracy. Madhavan Purushothaman Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire
Adorno the bigot 30th December 2003 Stephen Everson (January) is too easy on Adorno. All of Adorno’s writing has an intimidating seriousness of tone, designed to frighten people off from asking if it’s right. How can anyone criticise Adorno’s most famous remark-that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric-without seeming insensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust? And yet does anyone think that Seamus Heaney is a barbarian? It is the same with Adorno’s claim that the “decultivation of the German middle class transformed Beethoven’s own people, into Hitler’s own people.” Aesthetic decline causing moral decline-that seems like a serious point. But is it true? Since fascism got nowhere in the US in the 1930s, Adorno ought to think America had the more robust musical culture at that time. But he doesn’t-if anything, he thinks the US had the most damaged culture of all. And what of the chronology? In 1928, the Nazi vote was a mere 2.6 per cent. After the 1929 Wall Street crash the Nazi vote suddenly rose, and in 1932 it peaked at 37.3 per cent, before tailing off. Such abrupt swings in such a short time fit awkwardly with the kind of generational change Adorno is claiming drove events.
Adorno is a terrible writer on music. Why? Because he only actually likes the Germanic musical tradition, but disguises this mental self-imprisonment behind that same intimidating seriousness of tone. His attack on the Rite of Spring is a catalogue of misinformation. And rubbishing its “folklorism” is a dubious jibe; there is a massive legacy of folk quotation in Germanic music, from Bach’s Goldberg Variations to Berg’s violin concerto, which Adorno fails to notice because, being Germanic, it doesn’t sound so “exotic” to his ear.
As for Adorno’s claim that popular music is formulaic (and therefore dehumanising) while classical music is not-once again, is what he’s saying true? So much of the greatest classical music is formulaic. Mozart’s first movements always end their first section in the dominant key because late 18th-century convention makes it virtually illegal to end anywhere else. Similarly, Bach’s suites pour harmonic and melodic riches into the pre-cast moulds of stylised courtly dances. The sarabande of his first French Suite is an incredible work of harmonic genius. Even so, its length, structure and large-scale tonal plan are predetermined by convention. Turning to popular music, we can all think of pop songs that don’t fit the mould at all: the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and Laurie Anderson’s O Superman, for instance.
There’s so much music for us to discover and to fall in love with. But like some curmudgeonly old uncle who hates foreign food, you know Adorno is not going to like it even before he’s heard it. Guy Sigsworth London W9