It’s a nail in London’s coffin when gardens are covered over

The sterile fashion for hard surfaces instead of greenery is contributing to flooding and the disappearance of fauna

For the last six months the house opposite mine has been in the process of “renovation”. This means that, apart from its Victorian facade, every aspect has been “modernised” into a state of gleaming sterility. The finishing touches are being done now. The back garden is being concreted and the front garden covered with what looks like black bathroom tiles. Not an inch of ground has been left visible, let alone a hedge – indeed that was the first thing to go when the builders moved in. The developer is strolling about looking satisfied and the estate agent is in tow composing the brochure. But what he will doubtless describe as “finished to exacting standards”, I prefer to describe as another nail in the coffin of London’s environment.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/04/london-gardens-replaced-hard-surfaces-disaster

Market forces have brought chaos to universities

Lifting the cap on fees has marketised higher education, with falling student numbers and reduced entry requirements

Some call what’s happening in the university sector a “radical overhaul”. This sounds planned and orderly. But as student numbers fall and talk turns to the politically embarrassing possibility of university bankruptcies, this starts to look more like a demonstration of the law of unintended consequences.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/24/market-forces-chaos-universities-fees

Wandsworth jail reading group: ‘Here, they don’t have to be prisoners’

The reading group in Wandsworth jail offers offenders a welcome escape from their restricted lives

Wandsworth prison is an ominous place with its dark brickwork, iconic gates and perimeter walls topped by billowing rolls of barbed wire. The prison library, however, looks a bit like a comfy community library.

I’m here at the invitation of academics Jenny Hartley and Sarah Turvey who have been running volunteer reading groups in Wandsworth and other prisons for the last 13 years. Recent policy has prioritised vocational qualifications for prisoners. But Turvey sees the groups as equally vital. “The majority of prisoners have had negative experiences of school and are wary of formal education in prison,” she says. “We’re helping prisoners develop skills they need before they can even think about qualifications.”

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jan/15/wandsworth-prison-reading-group

Jimmy Savile was protected by the media’s defence of the status quo

Even in places where you might expect most awareness, my experience tells me paedophilia doesn’t get taken seriously

The revelations about Jimmy Savile have rightly induced soul searching among those who dealt with him in the media. How did he get away with it for so long? Why was he shielded? Some people have even asked if he was protected – or helped – by people in full knowledge of his behaviour. But what if Savile was protected, not by a knowing network of big players making big decisions but by endless small decisions to protect the status quo? What if these are the kind of low level decisions – about finding the subject of sexual abuse embarrassing, uncomfortable and disruptive – that go on every day and which mean Savile’s activities don’t belong to a dim and distant, sexist past but very much to the present?

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/18/jimmy-savile-protected-media

Why Kate Middleton is no Princess Diana

Media and public desire for a new people’s princess is palpable. But this time the royal family are ready

Kate Middleton has given her first speech. Cue enormous excitement in the media and huge praise. According to one source, she delivered an “assured” performance to “rave reviews”. The speech in fact was a few tremulous sentences in which she thanked the charity for inviting her, described its important work, and mentioned missing William.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/20/kate-middleton-no-princess-diana

Stephen Hester’s bonus is wrong – but what about Wayne Rooney’s millions?

Bankers’ bonuses are an easy target. Politicians should raise other excesses, such as footballers’ pay or lottery winnings

Politicians have been falling over themselves to have the toughest stance onStephen Hester’s £1m bonus from RBS, which he has now turned down. Being tough on bankers’ bonuses is seen as an easy vote-winner, and they are desperate to make political capital out of the public mood. Like anyone with a commitment to greater social equality I don’t dissent from the near-universal criticism of Hester’s bonus. However I can’t help feeling cynical about the outcry. If politicians are so concerned about pay excesses, why don’t they talk about some of the other areas of excess – the obscene pay of footballers, for example, or unimaginably vast lottery winnings.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/30/stephen-hester-bonus-wayne-rooney

Leveson has put the media’s privacy problem on full public display

Paul McMullan’s views are callous, but it’s true that privacy can be a cloak that hides as well as a sanctuary that protects

If you were planning to write a play about the phone hacking scandal – and I’m sure someone is – then the worst tabloid journalists will be drawn just like Paul McMullan who yesterday gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry. A more off-putting example of the species it would be hard to invent, and yesterday, like a pantomime villain, he stepped out from the shadows to spill the beans. Yes, phone hacking and other dubious practices had been routine. At no point did he appear more villainous than his breathtaking defence of these practices on the ground that “privacy is the space that bad people need to do bad things in”.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/30/leveson-inquiry-media-privacy

My Christmas with Gaddafi’s spokesman

Moussa Ibrahim was one of her partner’s most charming PhD students and quickly became a good friend. So imagine the shock when Ros Coward turned on the TV and discovered he was the public face of Gaddafi’s regime

Moussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi’s spokesman, who became familiar to the world through his appearances in the Rixos hotel justifying the Gaddafi regime, was reported captured last week. Currently there is no news of his whereabouts, or whether he is dead or alive. If it’s the latter, his fate is not promising. It doesn’t seem highly likely that those who dispatched Gaddafi to his grisly end will be very forgiving to someone who, as the dictator’s minister of information, was seen as the public face of the regime and who spread Gaddafi’s inflammatory messages. But why should I care about the fate of a Gaddafi loyalist and whether he is tortured or not? Because only last Christmas, Moussa was in my home with his German wife and new baby. I cooked them a traditional roast dinner and we played with the baby. Moussa was very hands-on, changing nappies and rocking the baby to sleep. Perhaps more surprisingly, we toasted the Tunisian uprising over several glasses of good red wine, to which Moussa was always extremely partial.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/25/my-christmas-with-gaddafis-spokesman

This image of the Dowlers should be a reminder to the power elite

It was the Dowlers’ suffering that finally brought phone hacking to public attention. Their pain should never be forgotten

The settlement between Rupert Murdoch and the Dowler family announced this week, and the photos that accompanied it, were a powerful reminder that it was the fate of one young girl and the ongoing suffering of her family that is at the heart of the phone-hacking story. Murdoch’s empire foundered eventually not on dirty tricks employed with spoilt celebrities but because his employees added to the suffering of a family who had already suffered too much.

Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/sep/21/dowlers-phone-hacking-power-elite

Sending Liz Jones to report on Somalia is grotesque

The fashion writer represents the worst excesses of the west’s dieting obsession. Why send her to cover a devastating famine?

 

Who would be the most inappropriate journalist you could think of to send to cover the famine in Somalia? Asked that question, it wouldn’t be long before most people arrive at the correct answer: Liz Jones, a narcissistic fashion journalist, a lifelong anorexic, a person who just spent £13,500 on a facelift, and a confessional columnist who charts her obsessions every week in the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine. If a further question was asked along the lines of “could there be anything worse than the simple fact of sending such an inappropriate journalist to cover a famine?”, the answer would have to be yes. Yes, she could use the occasion to berate the British NHS and the caring professions for not being caring “at all”. Apparently they failed to realise the fate of the starving Somalians rested on Jones being able to queue jump.

Full article

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/01/liz-jones-somalia-famine