In defence of Oxfam
Sir: Mary Wakefield rightly praises Médecins sans Frontières but makes many misinformed claims about Oxfam and aid in general (31 January). Contrary to her suggestion, money donated to Oxfam and other charities’ emergency appeals must be spent solely on that crisis. This is stipulated by the Charity Commission and confirmed by our publicly available audited accounts. It is regrettably not possible for our website to provide a running commentary of developments in Liberia, but the British public can rest assured that their generous support is helping to save lives and to put lives back together. Indeed some of our funds in Liberia were spent on the same public health broadcasts that Ms Wakefield lauds as helping tackle the myths and fears around Ebola. I have just returned from a seven-day trip to west Africa during which I met our Liberian community health volunteers, who go door to door seeking out sick people and ensuring suspected Ebola cases go for treatment as early as possible. Initial findings indicate that survival rates of Ebola sufferers who were sought out by Oxfam volunteers were 19 per cent higher than other referrals.
Ms Wakefield does have one valid criticism. In hindsight we should have recognised the Ebola crisis much sooner. Since September, responding to it has been our top priority and continues to be.
Mark Goldring, chief executive, Oxfam GB Oxford
The appropriate term
Sir: Rod Liddle is right that the approved terms for non-white people seem to shift by the day, and he’s already behind the curve (31 January). The term in favour at the moment is ‘BAME’. Watching it evolve has been enlightening. For a while now the term BME has been used, meaning ‘black and minority ethnic’. No one has paused to ask why, since Asians are by far the largest ethnic minority in the UK, we don’t say ‘Asian and minority ethnic’. That would be logical, but somehow I don’t think logic is the issue here. Thus the Asian community is lumped with the undifferentiated also-rans. From time to time I have seen BAME used, but only to spell out the ‘and’. It’s only recently that people — not entirely consistently — have started pretending that the term was ‘black, Asian and minority ethnic’ all along.
Whether anyone outside the pages of the Guardian actually uses such terms is another question entirely.
Homeopathy for cows
Sir: Nick Cohen’s attack on the Prince of Wales (‘The Charles problem’, 31 January) includes an unjustified slur on the successes of homeopathy as being largely placebo effects. He should try Arnica 30 next time he has a bruise: the pain will quickly vanish. More neutrally, my brother and I were raised on a farm in west Wales milking cows. They suffer mastitis due to their overloaded udders. We used to give penicillin for this, which meant the milk from that cow could not be used for a couple of days. Now my brother uses homeopathic remedies and the cows hardly ever get mastitis. Cows do not experience the placebo effect.
Vinyl is sublime
Sir: Peter Phillips’s otherwise illuminating article (‘Saved by Spotify’, 31 January) on the state of the recorded music industry only tells part of the story. Paradoxically, while streaming and downloads are booming, so are sales of vinyl, particularly among those who have grown up with digital music. There has also been a revival of interest in local record shops. People are starting to recognise that the format influences how we listen to music. Spotify is great for using on the bus but listening to an LP is a complete aesthetic experience. Don’t write off the physical format just yet.
Nicholas Berry Independent Classical Specialists
Sir: I hate to take issue with Ysenda Maxtone Graham (‘Lapsing into a comma’. 24 January), but there is no weak comma in ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’. This particular comma is as strong as an ox. The first half of the line is not in itself a sentence; it’s merely in apposition to the second half. No other punctuation — except perhaps a dash — would do.
John Julius Norwich
Sir: I agree with Carola Binney’s article (‘Making history’, 31 January) on the importance of fiction to the aspiring historian. Throughout my A-levels, I quoted in my history essays a diligent diarist called Robin Cowper who began writing his journal during the reign of Henry VII and was apparently still scribbling busily at the time of the Restoration of Charles II. His pithy entries added a human touch to events such as the burning of Cranmer (‘a piteous sight: I am assured that grown men did weep’) or Cromwell’s dissolution of the Long Parliament (‘all this is naught but tomfoolerie’). He was never challenged, partly because I guarded him carefully to prevent him suffering the fate of another bogus source, ‘Bullfinch’s Encyclopaedia of Historical Facts’, which was rumbled when too many pupils started joining in the joke.
Dry clean only
Sir: Alexander Chancellor complains about the inadequacies of dishwashers (Long life, 24 January). May I offer a solution? The real chore with washing up is not the washing part, which can be therapeutic, but the drying. Leaving it to drain is unsatisfactory, as the racks are tiny. A better solution is for him to wash the crockery and then place it in the dishwasher to dry, leaving it there until it is next required.