A tree is not just for Christmas

Our annual celebration of Nordic non-drops is a cause for hope

Shopping at this time of year is enough to bring out the bah-humbug in anyone. Those mountains of useless expensive stuff encapsulate what’s gone awry in our attitude to the planet’s resources. Yet amid this disregard for nature is one puzzling note. Carted home in gas-guzzling SUVs, swathed in energy-profligate lights, and presiding over heaps of gift-wrapped plastic, the presence of the Christmas tree raises a doubt. Is there, after all, a little place in our hearts that still cherishes the nature we so readily destroy elsewhere?

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/dec/18/environment.comment

Sperm does not a father make

David Blunkett should remember that social fatherhood, rather than a biological link, is crucial for a child

David Blunkett’s affair should stand as a warning. Not just against adulterous affairs. Not even against going to Spectator parties. Mainly it should warn against giving far too much importance to the rights of “biological” fathers. There is no better antidote to the contemporary myth – so beloved by Fathers4Justice – that biological parents should always have contact with their child than seeing the havoc such claims can cause.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2004/dec/07/uk.comment

Phoney populism

Don’t pander to the ordinary bloke’s addiction to cars

Are cars the new beer and fags? I ask because while this government is bold when criticising the old comforts of smoking and drinking, it shies away from challenging an addiction that impacts more directly on the quality of our daily lives: the ordinary bloke’s addiction to cars, to driving and even to driving dangerously.

This may seem harsh. Among many promises for a safer world made in the Queen’s speech, was one for improved road safety. The new bill, we are told, will toughen up laws on dangerous driving. It includes a measure which will do the opposite, introducing graduated fines for speeding. This will not mean increasing the number of penalty points as the speeding gets greater, but reduce penalty points for breaking speed limits by smaller amounts.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2004/nov/25/queensspeech2004.uk

New mission for chimps’ champion

She has devoted her career to saving primates. Now scientist and campaigner Jane Goodall is 70 and embroiled in the toughest fight of her life

There are not many women who in their seventieth year take on more commitments and get deeper into public controversy, but Jane Goodall, the world’s leading primatologist, is not like other women.

While some her age draw pensions and play golf, she says she is ‘on the road 300 days a year’. She criss-crosses the world giving lectures, meeting conservationists, pouring energy into her chimp sanctuaries and the environment youth movement she recently founded. She returns whenever she can to the Tanzanian forest home of the chimps who made her famous.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/oct/10/academicexperts.environment

Diana the victim

Princess Diana died seven years ago today. Since then she has been branded as the ultimate media Machiavelli, a skilful and devious self-publicist. But in reality, says Ros Coward, who has interviewed those closest to her for the first authorised biography, she promoted her image only for the good of others – and it was she who was manipulated

One fact everyone seems to know about Princess Diana these days is that she was an ace manipulator of the media. This view has arisen relatively quickly. In the immediate aftermath of her death, people united in distaste for the role the media appeared to have played; indeed the media acknowledged how much she had been tormented by collectively agreeing to spare her young sons similar attention. Only seven years later, however, more details are known about how she talked to the press, occasionally staged photo-opportunities, and gave that Panorama interview. Some talk as if Diana was the ultimate media Machiavelli, perhaps even the architect of her own disaster. In seven short years, the victim has become the criminal.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/aug/31/monarchy.historybooks

Nests in jeopardy, lairs to lose

As the EU expands, the battle between developers and conservationists intensifies – and its victims look set to be the unspoilt wildernesses and ancient species of the 10 new member states. Ros Coward reports

In her 87 years living in the village of Pely in the heart of the Hungarian countryside, Widow Rab Laszlone has seen many changes, including the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire, two world wars and the rise and fall of communism. But one thing has remained constant: storks, which return every year to nest next to her house. For the past decade, they have adopted the electricity pole by the gate, rather than her roof, but they still cohabit like close neighbours. “Why do you keep dropping those frogs on to my path?” she chides the two storks, reorganising their nest overhead. But Widow Rab isn’t angry. “It’s fine,” she says. “I like them. We’ve always had storks here, since I was a child. Let them stay.”

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2004/jul/31/europeanunion.weekendmagazine

Top-off fees

Are these cat-walking, pole-dancing Cambridge undergraduates the new (pretty) face of feminism?

Tabloid newspapers are relishing a new discovery: “undiegraduates”. These are highly qualified female students who are prepared to strip off and flaunt what they’ve got. Cambridge is currently the chief supplier.

Last week the university was found to have a pole-dancing club, whose members include theology and oriental studies students. This week, 37 high-flying students, including trainee neurosurgeons, went down the catwalk in an event sponsored by Storm modelling agency. The agency is now considering employing four of them.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2004/mar/05/highereducation.uk1