LONDON Love&Hate 愛と憎しみのロンドン

Home未分類 | Dance | Sylvie Guillem | Royal Ballet | Royal Opera | Counselling | Sightseeing | Overseas Travel | Life in London(Good) | Life in London(Bad) | Japan (Nihon) | Bartoli | Royal Families | British English | Gardens | Songs | Psychology | Babysitting | Politics | Multiculture | Society | Writing Jobs | About this blog | Opera Ballet | News | Arts | Food | 07/Jul/2005 | Job Hunting | Written In English | Life in London (so so) | Speak to myself | Photo(s) of the day | The Daily Telegraph | The Guardian | BBC | Other sources | BrokenBritain | Frog/ Kaeru | Theatre | Books | 11Mar11 | Stage | Stamps | Transport | Summer London 2012 | Weather | Okinawa | War is crime | Christoph Prégardien | Cats | Referendum 23rd June | Brexit | Mental Health 


Auctioneers hope for £500m art sales


Auctioneers hope for £500m art sales

By Deborah Brewster in New York
Published: February 1 2008 17:53 | Last updated: February 1 2008 17:53

Sotheby’s and Christie’s together hope to sell up to £500m in artworks during their February auctions in London beginning next week.

If realised, the amount would be 20 per cent more than last year, which was itself 50 per cent more than the year before. Highlights of the Impressionist and Modern, and the postwar and contemporary, art sales include works by Francis Bacon, known for depicting contorted human forms, and Andy Warhol, a key figure in the pop art movement.

Christie’s has a Bacon triptych that carries an estimate of about £25m ($49m, €33m). If sold, the price could challenge the £26.6m record for Bacon, “Study from Innocent X, 1962”, sold by Sotheby’s in New York in 2007.

The triptych, a response to the suicide of the artist’s lover George Dyer, features two images of a figure writhing on a beach, while the third, central part shows a figure overlooked by two sinister faces. Dyer committed suicide in 1971 in a Paris hotel room that he shared with Bacon.

A few weeks later, Sotheby’s will offer a 1969 work by Bacon, “Study of a Nude with Figure in a Mirror”. The work carries an estimate of £18m to £25m. The auction house has promised the unidentified seller a minimum price of £18m – a record guarantee for a London auction.

The sales come as prices for Impressionist, Modern, postwar and contemporary art continue to rise – up by 40 per cent in the past two years, by most measures – in spite of regular warnings by collectors and dealers that they have reached a peak.

Christine Koerber, analyst with JMP Securities, said: “Everyone will be paying close attention to these auctions to see if the prices will hold up . . . there has been a lot of talk about buyers from the emerging countries, but . . . half the buyers are American, and the emerging countries’ buyers are just too small in number to offset major weakness in the US economy.”

A work by Bacon, showing a bullfight, was the star lot of November’s postwar art auction for Sotheby’s in New York, selling for $46m (€31m, £23m) after being estimated to go for $35m.

Bill Ruprecht, Sotheby’s chief executive, said: “There are always wealthy people. When art markets move up and down, you don’t have the severe contraction of demand, only of supply. Sellers don’t want to sell in a down market, the very best things come out at the top of the market.

“A few months after the credit market problems last year, we sold a diamond for $16m,” he added. The diamond was bought by Georges Marciano, the founder of Guess jeans.

Sotheby’s has guaranteed 19 per cent of its February contemporary auction, compared with just 13 per cent last year, according to Ms Koerber.

Buyers’ confidence in the contemporary art market – where prices have risen most – has dropped by 40 per cent in the past six months, according to a survey of 155 buyers by ArtTactic, a London-based research firm.

Christie’s will hold its Impressionist and Modern art evening sale on February 4, while the Sotheby’s sale will take place the next day. The Christie’s postwar and contemporary art evening sale will be held on February 6 with the Sotheby’s sale taking place on February 27.

Additional reporting from Reuters


'It's like bombing the Louvre'


'It's like bombing the Louvre'

Marie Smith Jones was the world's last Eyak speaker - by the time she died last week, she could use her mother tongue only in her dreams. But the loss of a language is not just a personal tragedy, says Mark Abley, it is a cultural disaster

Mark Abley
Monday January 28, 2008

Some deaths come as a shock. The death last Monday of Marie Smith Jones did not. She was 89, blind, a heavy smoker and a recovering alcoholic, who had borne nine children and buried two of them. People had been expecting her death for years.

By "people", I mean linguists. Most residents of Anchorage, the Alaskan city where she spent her final decades, had never heard of her. Even after she addressed a UN conference on indigenous rights, she managed to maintain her privacy. Yet among the advocates for minority languages, Jones was famous. A few of them knew her by a different name: Udach' Kuqax'a'a'ch', a name that belonged to the Eyak language and means "a sound that calls people from far away".

Jones is thought to have been the last full-blooded member of the Eyak, a saltwater people of southern Alaska. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, it spilled 240,000 barrels of crude oil into their traditional fishing grounds. More important, Jones was the last person to speak Eyak fluently. She had held that melancholy distinction since her sister's death in the early 90s. Her passing means that nobody in the world can effortlessly distinguish a demex'ch (a soft, rotten spot in the ice) from a demex'ch'lda'luw (a large, treacherous hole in the ice). It means that siniik'adach'uuch' - the vertical groove between the nose and upper lip, literally a "nose crumple" - has fled the minds of the living.

Are such arcane details significant? Jones thought so. Asked by Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker how she felt about her language dying with her, she replied: "How would you feel if your baby died? If someone asked you, 'What was it like to see it lying in the cradle?'" Jones added that she hated reporters. A fisherman's daughter, who had worked in a cannery from the age of 12, she could not then have imagined how many journalists she would meet in old age.

The Eyak language has no offspring - no close relatives of any kind. Kolbert wittily described it as "the spinster aunt of the Athabascan language group". Linguistic evidence suggests the Eyak people split off to become a separate culture roughly 3,000 years ago, travelling downriver to a salmon-busy coast. In verbal terms, Eyak's nephews and nieces include the Apaches of the dry south-west, familiar to us from westerns.

The Eyak may never have had a large population, and in recent centuries they suffered badly from the ravages of smallpox, measles, influenza and colonisation. A larger Indian group, the Tlingit, began to encroach on their territory. Today, powerless and divided, the Eyak scarcely survive as a cohesive people.

Yet even after Jones's death, their language will enjoy an academic half-life. Unlike hundreds of other tribal tongues in the world which fell silent before the linguists arrived, Eyak is richly documented. Video and audio recordings, transcriptions of ancient stories, a hand-typed dictionary that runs to well over 3,000 pages: all this now exists in DVD format. Future scholars who set out to explore Eyak's grammar, or its exact relationship to other languages, will have plenty of material to draw on.

The dictionary's compiler, Michael Krauss, founded the Alaska Native Languages Center in 1972 to record, preserve and (if possible) strengthen the 20 indigenous languages in the state. He is an informed and eloquent spokesman for minority tongues. But despite his work, most Alaskan languages are in feeble health.

They were weakened by terrifying epidemics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by the economic and social destruction of their communities, and by the unsparing malice of an education system that promoted the silencing of all indigenous tongues. Can they now survive a force that Krauss has described as "cultural nerve gas"? To minority languages, he famously predicted, the mass media will prove "insidious, painless and fatal".

As in Alaska, so it is in much of the world. The statistics have become routine; their shock value has faded. Even so, it may be worth repeating that if a child who is born today survives the century, three-quarters of all human languages are likely to vanish during his or her lifetime.

Thanks to Jones's feisty presence, Eyak became something of a poster child for the cause of language preservation. The notion of a "last speaker" carries a powerful mystique. But perhaps Eyak was an unwise choice. Now the poster is out of date, what happens to the cause?

Linguists and cultural activists were not the only ones to seize on the solitary example of Jones. In a famous essay published a few years ago in Prospect, Kenan Malik did the same. He used her to illustrate a trend he saw as both inevitable and desirable: the concentration of human intelligence among fewer and fewer languages. "The reason that Eyak will soon be extinct," Malik wrote, "is not because Marie Smith Jones has been denied her rights, but because no one else wants to, or is capable of, speaking the language. This might be tragic for Marie Smith Jones - and frustrating for professional linguists - but it is not a question of rights. Neither a culture, nor a way of life, nor yet a language, has a God-given 'right to exist'."

Fair enough. But Eyak's death comes as a result less of personal choice than of longstanding government policy. For most of a century, indigenous children in Alaska suffered physical punishment if they were caught speaking their mother tongue in the classroom or the playground. In Wales and Ireland, Canada and South Africa, the same held true. There are many countries, including China and Russia, where language loss should still be a human-rights issue.

Official policy in Alaska centred on "reclaiming the natives from improvident habits," on convincing them to "abandon their old customs," and on "transforming them into ambitious and self-helpful citizens". Small wonder that after several generations of reclaiming and transforming, the remaining handful of Eyak were unable to speak their ancestral tongue.

Jones married a white man, and did not pass on her language to her children - a decision she came to regret. But she made it to spare them the pain she had endured. As a girl, she had learned to see bilingualism not as an asset but an impediment. Eyak, she had been told, was a useless language.

Or perhaps her teachers didn't deign to call it a language. In 1887, a federal commissioner for Indian affairs had made the prevailing wisdom clear: "Teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous dialect is a positive detriment to him." The word "barbarous" betrays obvious contempt; the use of "dialect" is more subtle and insidious. But any language can seem barbarous to its speakers' enemies, and no language is primitive.

So the cause of language preservation carries on, as it must. In Krauss's words, "Every language is a treasury of human experience." His fellow linguist Ken Hale put it more bluntly: "Languages embody the intellectual wealth of the people that speak them. Losing any one of them is like dropping a bomb on the Louvre."

How best to avoid that fate? For a minority language to flourish, its speakers need a sort of bullheaded confidence. Such stubborn self-belief emerges from a sense of cultural power and feeds back into it. The classic example is the astonishing rebirth of Hebrew a century ago in what would become Israel. In our own time the Basques and the Catalans, the Welsh and the Maoris display a similar faith.

These are the groups who should now act as poster children for minority languages: the Maori boys and girls in pre-school "language nests", the artists and producers who mutate the mass media in Welsh, the Catalan activists who have peacefully forced Spain to rethink its identity. The vigour in these cultures, and many others, belies the easy notion that all minority languages are doomed.

It was sadly different for Jones. During the last 15 years of her life, she could use her mother tongue only with a visiting linguist or in her dreams. She had, as Krauss said this week, "a tragic mantle" to bear, and she did so "with great dignity, grace and spirit". Perhaps last week she was called from far away under her Eyak name.

We can say "thank you" as a tribute. There is no one to say awa'ahdah.

Lost in translation
Words you'll never hear again

The following words are all from languages which no longer have a single native speaker

Unrihtwillnung: improper love (Old English)

Istamaasdu: Listen, you in the plural! (Hittite, Turkey)

Ebauthoo: water (Beothuk, Newfoundland)

Kälymentwam: path to heaven (Tocharian, central Asia)

Moíthgnatha: famously smooth (Old Irish)

Qeto: wine jars (Linear B Minoan, Crete)

Tehonannonronkwanniontak: they greeted him with respect; literally, they greased his scalp many times (Huron, Ontario)

Molatuendalaas: God's curse in your stomach (Cornish)

Tpochgo: night (Mohican, New York and New England)

Ngangki: sun (Yaralde, South Australia)

Mun*s: mouth - the fourth letter, here substituted with an asterisk, is the Runic thorn (Gothic, eastern Europe)

Xuqu'liilx'aax'ch'kk'sh: Are you going to keep tickling me in the face in the same spot repeatedly? (Eyak, Alaska)

Mark Abley's book The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches From the Future of English will be published by William Heinemann in June.

Slow but sure


Slow but sure

By Niall Ferguson
Published: January 25 2008 19:31 | Last updated: January 25 2008 19:31

Has the democratic wave broken? Is the tide of political freedom now ebbing after the spectacular flow that began in 1989? Recent events on nearly every continent certainly give real cause for concern to those who dream of a world governed by the ballot box rather than the bullet. But they may also provide an overdue opportunity to think more realistically about the way the process of democratisation works.

The picture is, as usual, especially bleak in Africa, where two erstwhile democratic role-models find themselves in serious difficulty. Only five years ago, Mwai Kibaki’s election as president was supposed to mark a new dawn for Kenya after 24 long years of misrule by Daniel arap Moi. But now allegations that Kibaki in effective stole last month’s presidential election from the opposition leader Raila Odinga have unleashed bloody ethnic conflict between Kikuyus and other tribes.

The problem in South Africa is not violent (as yet) but it is equally troubling. There, the African National Congress has chosen as its new leader, and therefore the country’s most likely next president, a man who currently faces serious corruption charges involving payments of more than R4m. Already, some of Jacob Zuma’s more radical supporters are warning that there will be “blood spilt in the courtroom” if he is convicted. It is not without significance that Zuma is a Zulu, while his arch-rival Thabo Mbeki is a Xhosa.

In Asia, too, democracy is in retreat. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Pakistan on December 27, two weeks before elections were due to be held there, has significantly reduced the chances of a peaceful transition from military rule back to democracy. In Thailand, the generals are still in power 16 months after staging a coup against Thaksin Shinawatra (another democratically elected leader facing accusations of corruption). Meanwhile, a much nastier military junta continues to rule Burma with the mailed fist, having crushed last summer’s protests by political dissidents and Buddhist monks. It is scarcely worth adding that the prospects for democracy in the world’s most populous country look little brighter. The Chinese Communist party shows no sign of wanting to relinquish its monopoly on power.

To be sure, communist rule is a thing of the past in the territory of the former Soviet Union. But Time magazine’s Man of the Year, Vladimir Putin, is making a mockery of the Russian constitution by, in effect, handing the presidency to one of his own sidekicks, who intends to appoint Putin as prime minister. Nor is Russia the only former Soviet Republic slipping back into old autocratic habits. In Kyrgyzstan, last month’s elections were condemned by international observers. Kazakhstan is little more than an Oriental despotism; the same goes for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Even Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” seems to be withering fast.

Latin America offers some consolations, though it still remains to be seen if Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez will really accept the unexpected defeat he was handed in last month’s referendum on constitutional “reform”. As for the greater Middle East, the Bush administration’s bid to spread democracy at gunpoint has proved far more costly in lives, money and time than almost anyone in Washington envisaged five years ago. Despite the success of the recent military “surge”, Iraq continues to teeter on the verge of civil war. Afghanistan is little better.

It was not supposed to be like this. Nearly 20 years ago, on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama published a seminal essay, “The End of History”, in which he prophesied “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

In fairness to Fukuyama, he was writing after more than a decade of sustained improvement in global governance. In the mid-1970s, roughly half the world’s states could be classified as “autocracies”. By 1989 the number had very nearly halved. And the trend continued much as Fukuyama foresaw – by 2002 it was down to fewer than 30. In its 1998 report, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance was able to announce that, for the first time, a majority of the world’s population were living in democracies. There really did seem to be a democratic wave, beginning in the Iberian peninsula in the mid-1970s, spreading to Latin America and parts of Asia in the 1980s and sweeping eastwards from central Europe in 1989-91. All Fukuyama did was surf it.

The trouble with waves is that sooner or later they break. Every year, the think-tank Freedom House awards scores to the countries of the world according to their degrees of political freedom. According to the latest figures, no fewer than 57 countries have suffered a democratic ebb in the past five years. Among the worst performers were Armenia, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Fiji, Gabon, Russia, Somalia, Thailand, Vanuatu and Venezuela. The list of “success stories” is almost as discouraging: Burundi, Haiti, Iraq, Lebanon and Liberia have all improved their scores by more than 10 points (out of a possible 40) since 2003. It would be a hopeless optimist who put money on the durability of those democratic transitions. A pessimist might wonder if we are about to witness another of those declines of democracy such as happened in the 1920s and 1930s, when the democratic wave that ended the first world war was followed by a riptide of reaction and repression.

Why does democracy flourish in some countries, but shrivel and die in others? The simplest answers on offer are economic. According to the political scientist Adam Przeworski, there is a straightforward relationship between per capita income and the likelihood that a democracy will endure. In a country where the average income is below $1,000 a year, democracy is unlikely to last a decade. Once average income exceeds $6,000 a year, it is practically indestructible. This certainly seems plausible at first sight. The countries with the maximum Freedom House scores are, with the exception of Barbados, the rich countries of north-western Europe. The countries with the lowest scores include some of Africa’s poorest.

Another appealing economic rule is the Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman’s: that sustained growth (rather than the level of income) is conducive to democratisation. At first sight, that proposition appears to fit the long-run historical trend, with the greatest challenge to democracy coming in the era of the Depression.

However, recent economic developments have weakened such arguments. The world economy as a whole has never enjoyed a boom like that of 2001-07. Yet democracy has gained little from all this prosperity. Moreover, the most rapidly growing economies in the world since 2000 have not been the democracies. Take the case of the so-called Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China). While communist-ruled China’s share of world gross domestic product has increased by 2.5 percentage points in the past seven years, democratic India’s has risen by just 0.6 per cent. Russia has outperformed Brazil by a comparable margin. And this disparity between democracies and autocracies seems set to widen. From now until 2050, according to Goldman Sachs, China’s share of global GDP will increase from 4 per cent to 15 per cent, while that of the G7 countries – the world’s wealthiest democracies – will decline from 57 per cent to 20 per cent. Other emerging markets expected to achieve rapid growth in the next 40 years include Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam, none of which seems an obvious candidate for successful democratisation.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed as if capitalism and democracy were in some kind of mutually beneficial relationship. Not only was economic progress apparently conducive to political progress; the causation could go the other way, from democratisation to enhanced economic performance. These days it looks different. Rapid state-led growth is enriching China and other Asian manufacturers, regardless of their political systems, while their demand for energy and commodities is enriching democratic and undemocratic primary producers alike.

A quite different explanation for the success or failure of democracy has to do with culture rather than economics. It was Samuel Huntington who argued in 1993 that, following the cold war, western civilisation would find itself in conflict primarily with Islamic and Confucian civilisation. By implication, these two civilisations were much less likely to produce peace-loving democracies than the Judeo-Christian civilisation of the west. Of all the ripostes to “The End of History”, “The Clash of Civilizations” has been the most compelling.

Prima facie evidence in support of Huntington’s proposition is not hard to find. In the Freedom House rankings, for example, it is clear that western societies are much more likely to be democratic than Muslim societies. Yet such cultural explanations also have their defects. Taiwan and Indonesia show that democracy can work for “Confucians” and Muslims alike. If due allowance is made for economic and other variables, the gap between the west and the rest is much less significant. In any case, it was not so long ago that serious scholars were arguing that Roman Catholics were incapable of the capitalist work ethic, or that German-speakers could never make a success of democracy – hypotheses falsified by postwar European history.

History is indeed the key to understanding what makes democracy work. Over New Year in Cape Town, I diverted myself from the alarms and excursions of African politics by re-reading the second of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, Phineas Finn. The setting is Westminster in 1866, the year before the second great electoral Reform Act. The youthful hero enters parliament as the member for a tiny Irish constituency, whose 307 voters generally do the bidding of the Earl of Tulla. He finds the House of Commons a den of iniquity, where his fellow MPs vote as the whips (rather than their own consciences) command, largely in the hope of securing the salaries that come with ministerial office, so that their grasping creditors can be satisfied and their club bills paid. There is general satisfaction, even among Liberals, when a popular demonstration in favour of the secret ballot is broken up by the police.

The England of the 1860s was, in short, hardly a model democracy, quite apart from its still-restricted franchise. Was there corruption? By today’s standards, certainly. Were the rich over-represented? Without a doubt. Yet three things are striking about the system Trollope so vividly describes. First, the political elite were agreed in condemning any kind of political violence – even the threat of it – out of hand. Secondly, those in government did not hesitate to leave office, and all its perquisites, if they felt their parliamentary position to be untenable. Thirdly, the overwhelming majority of MPs on both sides accepted the sanctity of the constitution and supremacy of the law.

These assumptions did not spring into life overnight. They were the product of around 200 years of political evolution, dating back to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Only gradually did the two-party system arise. Only gradually did it become conventional for the prime minister to command a majority in the House of Commons. Only gradually did ideas about representation develop until finally – long after Trollope’s time – the right to vote became associated with adulthood alone, rather than with property-ownership, education or sex.

The reality about democracy is that it cannot be conjured up out of thin air in the absence of such assumptions. As a young Tanzanian once explained to me: “In Africa, if you give a man all the privileges of power – the money, the power, the big house and car – and then say, five years later, ‘Now you must give all this up to your harshest critic,’ he is quite likely to find a reason not to do what you ask.” Yet this is not a peculiarity of Africa. It was once the case everywhere. Only slowly, by sometimes painful trial and error, do elites learn that it is in their own interests to exclude violence from politics; to take turns at governing; and above all to submit to the rule of law.

Winston Churchill famously described democracy as “the worst form of Government – except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. This remains the case, not least because representative government with multiple parties will generally produce superior governance to dictatorships and one-party states, where rent-seeking behaviour is generally unchecked by free political opposition. There is corruption in most countries, but it is nearly always worse – and more economically distorting – in non-democracies. That is why, if they remain one-party states, China and Russia will sooner or later stumble and fall behind the democratic tortoises, Brazil and India.

The key to spreading democracy is clearly not just to overthrow undemocratic regimes and hold elections. Nor is it simply a matter of waiting for a country to achieving the right level of income or rate of growth. The key, as Stanford political scientist Barry Weingast has long argued, is to come up with rules that are “self-enforcing”, so that the more they are applied, the more respected they become, until at last they become inviolable.

There is no reason why that should not be possible in any of the world’s civilisations. As the British example makes clear, however, it can (and probably must) be a very protracted process. And that is precisely why it would be rash, after a few bad years, to prophesy the death of democracy – as rash as it was to predict its triumph after a few good ones.

Niall Ferguson is a contributing editor to the FT

Cash for answers


Cash for answers

By Tim Harford
Published: January 25 2008 19:32 | Last updated: January 25 2008 19:32

In 1737, John Harrison, a self-taught clockmaker from Yorkshire, stunned London’s scientific establishment by presenting an idiosyncratic solution to the most important and notorious technological problem of the 18th century. He was hoping to win a then-fabulous prize of £20,000 (about £5m today) for anyone who could devise a way for a ship’s navigator to determine its longitude and therefore its position at sea. Harrison’s approach was to build a clock that would keep Greenwich time faithfully; by comparing local time (measured using the position of the sun) with the time in London, the navigator would know how far east or west the ship had sailed. The theory was sound, but given the rolling of ships and changing temperature and humidity, the leading scientists of the day – including Sir Isaac Newton – reckoned that a sufficiently accurate clock would be impossible to build. Harrison proved otherwise.

The longitude prize, sponsored by the British government, was not unique. Prizes were also offered in France for a functional water turbine, and for a method of preserving food for Napoleon’s armies. The latter prize quickly inspired the tin can, more of a blessing than food snobs might acknowledge.

But such prizes then fell out of fashion. For commercial innovations, we now rely on patents to encourage and protect innovators. Basic research is funded not by prizes but by grants.

And yet two centuries after tinned fish hit the market, the way we look for solutions has come full circle. Governments, private foundations and even corporations are rediscovering the value of offering prizes for good ideas. Rather than paying for scientific and engineering effort as they have done for the past 200 years, idea-hungry patrons are returning to the 18th century, and paying for results.

The most famous innovation prize of this century, the $10m Ansari X Prize, was designed to promote private space flight. The pot went to Mojave Aerospace Ventures in 2004, after the successful flights of SpaceShipOne. And even the Ansari X Prize is dwarfed by a quasi-prize of up to $1.5bn that is about to be offered by five national governments and the Gates Foundation to the developers and suppliers of a more effective vaccine against pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and bronchitis. The prize, called an “advanced market commitment’’ or “advanced purchase commitment’’, takes the form of an agreement to subsidise heavily the first big orders of a successful vaccine. Given that the top companies in the UK’s powerful pharmaceutical industry spent little more than £5bn in 2006 on research and development, a $1.5bn prize should be taken seriously on hard-nosed commercial grounds alone.

And if formidable obstacles to setting the prize conditions can be overcome, the pneumococcal diseases contest could be followed by a malaria vaccine prize twice as big and an Aids vaccine prize that would be bigger still.

Prizes need not have such lofty ambitions. They can simply be a way of turning a solution into a commodity. One company, Innocentive, provides an exchange where “seekers’’ can offer cash to “solvers’’. Both sides are anonymous, which is one of the selling points of innovation prizes: they reward neither connections nor seniority, but solutions alone. Innocentive’s problems read a little like the small ads on the world’s least romantic lonely-hearts website. “A technology is desired that produces a pleasant scent upon stretching of an elastomer film’’ ($50,000). “Surface chemistry for optical biosensor with high binding capacity and specificity is required’’ ($60,000).

Netflix, a film rental website which offers recommendations based on what you looked at, bought, rented or reviewed in previous visits, has skipped middlemen like Innocentive. In March 2006, the chief executive of Netflix, Reed Hastings, met some colleagues to discuss how they might improve the recommendation system, Cinematch. Hastings, inspired by the story of John Harrison, suggested offering a prize of $1m to anyone who could do better.

The Netflix prize, announced in October 2006, struck a chord with the Web 2.0 generation. Within days of the prize announcement, some of the best minds in the relevant fields of computer science were on the case. Within a year, the leading entries had reduced Cinematch’s recommendation errors by more than 8 per cent – close to the million-dollar hurdle of 10 per cent. And it has cost Netflix very little to mobilise all this effort. The company has had to pay out a mere $50,000 progress award, to a team of three AT&T data analysts.

Even Netflix is surprised at how well it’s been going. “We just didn’t think the relevant research community was so big,’’ says Steve Swasey, vice-president.

More than 2,500 teams from 161 countries and comprising 27,000 competitors have entered the contest. Teams from California, Budapest and Toronto have been battling away at the top. Clearly, the million-dollar prize has mobilised far more than a million dollars worth of research effort.

The Netflix prize has been helped by the ease of transmitting data around the world and the affordability of the computing power necessary to have a go. The fun of the challenge alone is one of the biggest attractions to participants. So, too, is access to Netflix’s huge database of recommendations – a dream for statisticians and computer scientists. And the competition has also been fanned by the fact that all improvements are incremental and the company is able to publish listings of the current leaders, meaning the race is verging on a spectator sport.

The X Prize and Netflix prize have managed to generate a tremendous amount of interest. That means more than free publicity for the organisers; it also means that the prize catalyses far more effort than one might expect on cold financial grounds. “One of the goals of the prize is to transform the way people think,’’ says Bob Weiss, vice-chairman of the X Prize Foundation. “We were trying to create a sea-change.’’

Weiss says that the founders of the X Prize foundation wanted to revive their childhood dreams of a day when ordinary people would be able to travel into space – expectations formed in the heady 1950s and 1960s. They may get their wish. To Weiss’s delight, Virgin Galactic claims it will soon be in a position to offer private space flights. It will be using the technology that won the X Prize.

Future X Prizes, each one funded by corporate sponsors and philanthropic donors, aim to kick-start other new industries. The Archon X Prize for genomics will be awarded to the team that can sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days, at a cost of $10,000 per genome. That is unimaginably quicker and cheaper than the first private genomic sequencing in 2000, which, according to the X Prize foundation, took nine months and cost $100m for a single human genome. (Craig Venter, the director of that effort, is one of the backers of the new prize.) It is the kind of leap forward that would be necessary to usher in an era of personalised medicine, in which doctors could prescribe drugs and give advice in full knowledge of each patient’s genetic susceptibilities.

Another prize will be awarded to the manufacturer of a popular mass-production car that has a fuel efficiency of 100 miles per gallon. The model is the same each time. The X Prize foundation identifies a goal and finds sponsors; it announces a prize and whips up the maximum possible enthusiasm, with the aim of generating far more investment than the prize itself; the prize achieved, it hands out the award with great fanfare and moves on to set other challenges. The prize winner is left with intellectual property intact, and may capitalise on the commercial value of that intellectual property, if any commercial value exists.

The X Prize foundation claims that the Ansari X Prize directly stimulated $100m of spending on research and development, 10 times the value of the prize itself. That is clever, and for a handful of sexy challenges it is likely to be a trick that can be repeated.

But the X Prize and the Netflix prize may give too flattering a picture of what might be possible if prizes catch on. Rather, prizes could become humdrum. For the problems listed on Innocentive’s website – “The challenge is to produce a specific citric acid ester in a faster cycle under current specifications’’ ($40,000) – the day of the humdrum has already arrived.

In other cases, for example the advanced market commitment for a pneumococcal virus, the sums of money being invested in the research are so huge already that it is hard to imagine the mere glamour of the $1.5bn “prize’’ weighing heavily on the minds of scientists and inventors.

For both the uninspiring innovation and the billion-dollar research programme, it is the prize money itself that has to do the talking. If that is not the case, the prizes will not multiply research efforts, as the Ansari X Prize and the Netflix prize have done, but will increasingly need to compete with alternative methods of funding innovation – that is, grants and patents – on a level playing field. To become a significant alternative to grants and patents, prizes will have to become very large indeed – large enough to cover, on average, all of the likely research expenditures of all those hoping to win. Is that desirable?

Champions of prizes see them as a component of a wider system to promote innovation, rather than as an outright replacement either for grants or patents. Instead, the hope is that prizes will help to compensate for the specific weaknesses of those alternatives.

The downside of a patent is fundamental to its design: in order to reward an innovator, the patent confers a monopoly. Economists view this as, at best, a necessary evil since monopolies distort prices. In the hope of raising profits from some customers, they will price others out of a market. The most obvious victims are consumers in poor countries.

In an ideal world, prizes could replace patents. Instead of offering a patent for an innovation, the government could offer a prize. The inventor would pocket the prize but would not be allowed to exploit any monopoly power, so the innovation would be freely available to use in products for poor consumers – cheap drugs for Africa, for instance – and, importantly, in further innovations. But to explain that idea is to see its limitations. How could the government know enough about the costs and benefits – and even the very possibility – of an innovation to put a price tag on it and write the terms of reference for a prize competition? For this reason it is hard to see prizes replacing patents in most cases. But it is not impossible.

The modern heir to 18th-century prizes for canning, water turbines and finding longitude at sea is the advanced market commitment for vaccines for the poor: the goal is clear, the costs and benefits can be guessed at, and the quasi-prize nudges the patent system to one side with a prize contract that respects the patent but, in exchange for a large subsidy, radically constricts the holder’s right to exploit it.

Prizes can also, in principle, supplement grants for basic research, paying scientists for results as well as for effort. There is, for example, an “Mprize’’ for creating long-lived mice. The eventual aim is to lengthen human life spans. And the Clay Mathematics Institute, a non-profit body set up 10 years ago by a Boston businessman, is offering million-dollar prizes for the solution of seven “Millennium’’ problems in mathematics.

These prizes are exceptions; but prizes were once the standard way of encouraging basic research. According to Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, more than twice as many 18th-century scientific societies paid for results using prizes or medals than paid for effort with grants. As that changed, scientific societies sometimes ignored the wishes of donors, or even had the wills of deceased donors voided, in order to hand out grants rather than the prizes specified.

The standard historian’s explanation of this trend is that once science became a profession rather than the province of rich amateurs, prizes were no longer a suitable way of funding innovation. Hanson is not convinced. “Most academics who study the issue of prizes have focused on what a prize does to the behaviour of researchers, versus a grant,’’ he says. “But there’s another aspect: what does the person giving the prize or the grant get out of it?’’

He argues that grants are more appealing than prizes to bureaucracies for many reasons, not all admirable: “With grants, there’s all sorts of possible patronage and corruption.’’ Even leaving aside outright graft, there is plenty of opportunity for cosiness and cliques. Then there is the mundane fact that grants are easier to account for in an annual budget than a multi-million prize that could be paid tomorrow, in a year, or never. For Hanson, it was for these reasons, rather than any intrinsic merits, that grants elbowed aside prizes in the 19th century.

Prizes may be making a comeback because of all the money now available from private foundations – which demand results. Not only the X Prizes and the Millennium problems prize, but even the pneumococcal vaccine prize is part-funded by private money. Yet governments are getting in on the act. The US space and defence research agencies Nasa and Darpa both use innovation prizes, and other government agencies look likely to follow with, for example, an “H prize’’ for advances in hydrogen fuel technology.

If Hanson is right, this new trend is a welcome swing of the pendulum towards a modest use of prizes. But not everyone is convinced that prizes will live up to the hype.

“The literature has pushed them as a silver bullet; more recently there’s been a bit more sobriety in the debate,’’ warns Andrew Farlow, an expert in the economics of vaccines at Oxford University. “How much genuine risk-taking can it pull along?’’

The problem is not the principle, he argues, but the details. A vaccine for HIV is a distant and costly prospect, and might require a $10bn or $20bn prize. Inevitably, companies and their shareholders will question whether the prize would be honoured in full. The triggers for releasing some of the prize money are difficult to define: early vaccines would probably be expensive, fallible and risky, but better than nothing. Donors would not want all the money to go to those efforts and leave none to encourage superior successors. Try framing “good enough’’ in legalese, when billions are at stake.

Donors might pay a lot more than they needed to for a substandard product, or the prize might be too restrictive and too small to generate any interest at all. That would drain attention, enthusiasm and political will. “It all sounds like good economics, but whether you could ever set a prize big enough or correct enough to work in those cases is doubtful,’’ Farlow concludes.

But the proponents of advanced market commitments (AMCs) believe the problems can be overcome. “There’s no question that there’s going to be a way to deal with these challenges in a sensible, analytically based way,’’ argues Ruth Levine, vice-president of the Center for Global Development, a think-tank based in Washington, DC, which has been a leading force in evaluating and advocating AMCs. “By that I mean that a proposal or contract will be written that makes sense and is based on good empirical work.’’

The pilot is the pneumococcal vaccine pledge, made in principle back in February 2007, and now being hammered out. It is a big deal – a lot of money is on the table, with the potential to save many millions of lives at a low cost. Yet compared with other possible AMCs, the pneumococcal problem is relatively simple: two credible vaccines are in the late stages of development. Levine acknowledges that this example is as close to a procurement contract as to a pure innovation prize, but believes there is much to be learned from the exercise about whether donors can make a commitment together and handle the legal and accounting challenges. “What this won’t be is a pure test of whether putting a market-like offer out a long distance into the future will give firms an incentive to do early-stage R&D,’’ she says.

That is the dream of AMC proponents, but the true test – a malaria or HIV prize – is some way off yet. Only then will we see whether private companies will take the bait, and the public purse will get value for money. We can be sure that big Pharma will be checking the small print: John Harrison, master clockmaker, was eventually rewarded for his brilliant, accurate maritime clock only by appealing direct to King George III. Neither he nor anyone else was ever judged to have satisfied the conditions necessary to receive the longitude prize.

Tim Harford’s new book, ‘The Logic of Life’, is published next week

The new face of Sweden

The new face of Sweden

By Matthew Engel

Published: January 18 2008 21:55 (FT on 19/Jan/2008)

The Islamic Centre was firebombed at midnight. The mosque itself was fearfully damaged; the adjoining school and meeting rooms were destroyed. No one knows who was responsible, but the list of possibles is a long one.

It took two years to rebuild. After it reopened there were another two attacks inside a month. People talked about a climate of fear and a breakdown of society.

Is this Baghdad, or Cairo, or Karachi? Not even close. It’s Malmö, the port on the southern edge of the Scandinavian peninsula, and Sweden’s third-biggest city. Normally, it is docile to the point of tedium: for decades Malmö has been seen as a sanctuary from the troubles of the world. And that has become the problem.

Unnoticed by the rest of the world, Sweden has changed, and Malmö has changed dramatically to become one of the most racially divided cities in Europe. Already, 37 per cent of the population were either born abroad or had both parents born abroad. Among children, that figure rises to almost half.

The numbers have been somewhat inflated by the other big change to Malmö – the opening of the bridge across the narrow Oresund seven years ago, linking the city to Copenhagen. Many Danes have moved to this side of the strait, attracted by lower property prices.

Even so, Malmö (population 278,000) is now one-quarter Muslim. And that proportion is rising rapidly due to continuing immigration and differential birth rates. Officials accept that most of the inhabitants will be of non-Swedish origin within a decade, and that a Muslim majority could follow soon after that. Like more obvious multi-ethnic places such as Birmingham and Rotterdam, Malmö would be a “majority minority” city. And that does not factor in the possibility of a new Middle Eastern cataclysm (war in Iran? The disintegration of Iraq?) producing a new surge of refugees.

Local and national politicians are struggling to adapt and respond to these rapid changes. But there is a growing acceptance that “the Swedish model” – exceptionally generous welfare policies combined with an exceptionally generous approach to immigration – is now unsustainable. That has been the basis of Sweden’s image abroad, and of its own self-image. And, in a very quiet, very Swedish way, its collapse is likely to be traumatic.

At first sight, Malmö is everything you expect of a Scandinavian city: clean, pretty, cycle-haunted, quiet, overpriced, dull. Even the lights at pedestrian crossings click discreetly. I fancied that the police cars didn’t have sirens but a recorded message saying “Excuse me!” But I never heard one. The main threat to a pedestrian comes from irate cyclists guarding their cycle lanes against trespassers. This does not feel like a place with problems.

That’s partly because it is one of the most segregated cities in Europe. The migrants are concentrated in one district, Rosengård, with the newest ones in the sub-district of Herrgarden, where the male unemployment rate is 82 per cent. Other locals mention these names with a shudder.

You don’t need a road sign to show you’re in Rosengård. A satellite dish is attached to the balcony of just about every flat, some looking massive enough to draw in pictures from Alpha Centauri, all of them showing channels from home, wherever that may be. Very occasionally, there is an exception: a balcony with the last, lingering flowers of summer, belonging to a rare Swedish-born family who have not moved away.

But if Rosengård is a slum or ghetto, it is a showpiece slum or ghetto. The blocks of flats – no more than eight stories high – are mostly well-maintained. There is no more litter there than anywhere else in town. There are very few graffiti. And although there are many men and teenagers hanging round even on a weekday afternoon, the atmosphere is entirely unthreatening, indeed welcoming. (Very different, said our Danish photographer, from the equivalent areas in Copenhagen.) Within an hour of arrival, we were having coffee and pastries in a Turkish family kitchen. The seventh-floor flat was not opulent, but nor was it uncomfortable. Instinctive eastern hospitality battled with northern reserve and the migrant’s understandable suspicion of the stranger. But it felt like a refuge against an uncertain world.

Down below on the estate, crime is an issue. “It’s easy to get into problems,” says Lulli, a 16-year-old boy from Kosovo. “Fighting, drugs, stealing. But it’s very hard to get out.” However, these problems might seem very low-grade in other cities. People kept telling us, in shocked tones, about the fires started in the wooden buildings used for burning rubbish. The banlieues of Paris and the gun-ridden estates of south London would be delighted to have such troubles.

In Herrgarden, kids from diverse backgrounds do mix. But at schools composed almost wholly of migrants, they find it hard to feel an attachment with wider society. “My passport says I’m Svensk, but in the apartment, no,” says Lulli’s Turkish pal Nihad. “In Herrgarden, if someone has a problem, we help him. The Swedes, they are very cold. They shake hands. We kiss. Not like gays, like brothers.”

Fuelled by resentment against native Swedes, some go into town on a Friday or Saturday night to indulge in a little light mugging of what they call “the Svens”. The police think only about 150 youths are involved. At least these youngsters speak Swedish. For their parents, it can be much harder. Cushioned by social security but imprisoned by linguistic inadequacy, many of the unemployed hardly go out. The migrants are here physically, but many have not made the mental leap.

“It’s OK here,” says Nihad’s father, Sala, who still works in Turkey. “But it’s cold, and it’s not home. Nihad, though, he has more chance.”

Four years after the big arson attack, the Islamic Centre has responded to its own troubles by becoming ever more open. “Everyone can come here, Muslim, Christian, Jewish,” says the centre’s director Bejzat Becirov (from Macedonia), offering coffee and lunch. And at the centre’s elementary school, the 11-year-olds give their verdict on what Sweden means to them. They, at least, are positive. “We have clean water,” says Rayan, from Somalia. “Candy!” cries Hussein, also from Somalia. Then Omar from Lebanon chimes in: “Nice cars!”

The 260 children learn in Swedish, and the girls do the counting in their skipping games in Swedish. I asked one eight-year-old where she was from. “Iraq,” she replied. Several others shouted her down. “Sweden!” they cried. They all learn Islamic studies, but on the door of the classroom is an Olympic-style motif showing five religions interlocking and overlapping: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.

And this positive mood is reflected among the many Swedes who believe that their charitable impulses have brought them rewards. “Twenty years ago Malmö was a very dull city,” says Julia Janiec, an adviser to the city council’s Social Democratic leaders. “We had almost no restaurants, no bars, no theatre, no university, no young people, no nothing. Now we have a dynamic multicultural city.”

This dynamism is not wholly obvious to a visitor. “There is a lot to see and do in Malmö!” says my map. But number three on its list of attractions is the public library. To an outsider, Scandinavian countries seem much the same. That’s not how the Scandinavians see themselves, however, and 20th century history provided a new and sharp division. In the past hundred years, 25 of the 27 members of the European Union have endured either foreign occupation or home-grown dictatorship. The exceptions are Britain and Sweden.

While Norway and Denmark were under Nazi rule, Sweden maintained neutrality by making unheroic compromises and accommodations. It emerged with some guilt – in part survivor’s guilt, but guilt nonetheless. Its reparation was to set itself up as clergyman to the world: “a moral superpower”.

Sweden opened its door, its wallet and its heart to refugees from the planet’s most traumatised places. There is still a substantial cohort of leftist Chileans opposed to the Pinochet regime in the 1970s. And the list of the most common birthplaces for Malmö’s population is like a reprise of global headlines: Iraq, Bosnia, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Somalia, Croatia.

Other Scandinavians often find the Swedes rather bleak: humourless, pedantic, rulebound, a bit stingy. (Trying to grasp the linguistic differences, I asked a Dane if he could understand a Swedish film. “Oh yes,” he said, “but I’d never watch one.”) I also met a Norwegian, Agnes Domaas. “These newcomers have made Sweden so much better,” she said. “They are so happy. Sweden needs them.”

The poor Swedes have worked so hard to be welcoming, it seems harsh that they get so much criticism. But higher standards apply here. The Swedes did not ask The Guardian to call their country “the most successful society the world has ever known.” But they, and the world, do expect the country’s policies to work, just like the drainage and the electricity.

Yet there is an increasing sense, even on the left, that the combination of Sweden’s welfare and migration policies was foredoomed. The “Swedish model”, often seen as a middle way between communism and capitalism, dates back to the 1930s. The intellectual roots of the policy lie in the concept of folkhem (“people’s home”); scholars have noticed its similarity to the interwar German idea of Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”). One turned malignant, one did not, but they were grown in similar cultures.

Nick Johnson of Britain’s Institute of Community Cohesion has studied race relations in various multicultural cities. “In both Sweden and Denmark,” he says, “it was very striking that people on the left were saying they hadn’t realised the extent to which their social model was predicated on a strong sense of nationalism. And diversity was starting to open the debate about the kind of society they want.

“Some were thinking that they can only maintain strong support for individuals if they control their borders. They are now facing the problem the UK has wrestled with for years: that of having a permanent ethnic minority underclass.”

If the left is starting to think that way, it is inevitably far more true on the right. Though Malmö is still Social Democrat, the country made one of its rare political shifts in 2006 and elected a centre-right coalition led by Fredrik Reinfeldt.

But the biggest recent change came from a court, not government policy. In 2006 immigration appeal judges said the situation in Iraq constituted “difficult circumstances” rather than an “internal armed conflict”. The Swedes do like understatement.

Refugees from Iraq now have to jump higher hurdles to gain admission. Yet in 2006 Sweden still took in nearly half the 22,000 Iraqis who made it to the west. One small town near Stockholm, SOdertalje, welcomed 1,000 – more than the US had done in total since it launched the war. (Other Swedish towns are less hospitable – and Malmö officials are especially bitter about their neighbours in Vellinge, who refuse to help at all.)

A new anti-migrant party, the Swedish Democrats, wants to emulate the success of rightwing groups in other countries in northern Europe, including neighbouring Denmark. But even the far right are fairly understated. The Swedish Democrats are expected to pass the 4 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation in 2010, and in Malmö one poll put them over 11 per cent. Yet their local leader, Sten Andersson, insists that he does not want to prevent admission of genuine refugees or families of existing migrants. “You could not say stop,” he says. “But we cannot give jobs to this big number, and we cannot find flats for them.”

There are success stories, of course: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Inter Milan grew up in Rosengård; the father of another Swedish footballer, Henrik Larsson, came from the Cape Verde Islands. Nyamko Sabuni is an uncompromising Burundi-born woman who is now minister for integration (“The firmest handshake in the government,” a journalist told me). But one senses the journey here has been so wearying that many first-generation migrants have exhausted their sense of adventure just by travelling. None of the newcomers speaks Swedish. The government provides the classes, but that in itself is a traumatic process. Only then can they even contemplate the possibility of finding a job. And that’s not easy.

I was told of a Kosovar electrician – much in demand, theoretically – who took seven years to get work because his qualifications were not accepted and retraining him to Swedish standards was so grindingly bureaucratic. Kent Andersson, Malmö’s Social Democrat deputy mayor (no relation to the Swedish Democrat Sten) accepted that the story was probably true but insisted they were working hard to streamline procedures.

For some, it is too late. Mohammad Jabbar, 52, fled Iraq five years ago. At home he was an architect and engineer; in Malmö he has a little gift shop. “It is better here,” he says. “Not for me, but for my babies.”

Sweden, you could argue, has not really helped the world, its incomers or itself. When I met him, Kent Andersson was just back from the International Metropolis conference in Melbourne, where he had been startled to hear the mayors of both Toronto and Melbourne complain that they weren’t getting enough migrants.

The difference is that Canada and Australia – countries which have been built on immigration – generally make sure they get the newcomers they want. Sweden gets those it gets. The main criterion for admission has simply been the fact of making it to Sweden. Many have endured terrible journeys to get there, but for them travelling hopefully has often been better than arriving. They have found no American-style melting pot, and Swedishness has proved an elusive prize.

This is not the only European country with humane impulses that has got itself into a mess over immigration. For too many years, mainstream politicians regarded discussion of the subject as illegitimate, dangerous and inherently racist. But in Sweden the altruism is more profound, and the sense of failure more acute.

Swedish politicians, as wary as the British of Brussels initiatives, now think the “blue card” system for potential migrants with marketable skills proposed by the European Union may offer them an honourable way out of their dilemma. But taking the best-qualified and most skilled people out of the under-developed world is not an act of kindness: it will severely damage the third world’s chances of improving itself.

At least the debate is now happening in Sweden and elsewhere. I asked Kent Andersson if he thought Sweden had damaged itself by being too liberal towards migrants. “No,” he said. But he admitted that “we can’t give them the life we want to give them.” And there was a very long, very Swedish, pause before the “No.”

‘Interculturalism’ in Leicester

By William MacNamara

At the end of their safari, 50 women from the Leicestershire Women’s Institute gathered for lunch and raised toasts to the marvellous sights they had seen. They had journeyed by bus to the heart of their county seat, Britain’s most ethnically diverse city, and visited a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Jain temple.

“I didn’t know they believed in God,” said one woman after hearing a Leicester imam speak. “I suppose I never thought about it.”

Leading the women was Asaf Hussain, an interfaith leader and scholar at the University of Leicester. He calls his tours “safaris” in recognition of the exotic sights to be seen by mostly white, middle-class audiences. For Hussain, the trips demonstrate the power of “interculturalism”, a philosophy that he has spent 30 years refining and teaching.

“The multicultural state is not an end in itself,” he told students during one of his lectures. The statement is his central critique of Britain’s immigration policies, which he believes foster a culture of suspicious tolerance without meaningful integration. Ultimately, he asserts, the limits of multiculturalism show themselves through terrorism, when British-born Muslims express their alienation by bombing their homeland.

“We live together, we coexist,” he said. “But deeper down there are problems. We want real relationships with each other.”

With charm, connections and boisterous humour, he nudges Leicester toward his vision of interculturalism. One year he organised a Lord Nelson festival that introduced the city’s south Asian population to the “great hero”. The next year he organised a Lord Ganesh festival.

Leicester, he acknowledges, has a record of racial harmony that improves matters. The first wave of immigrants, Asians expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, arrived in the 1970s. Since then, the city has taken in Africans, eastern Europeans, Mongolians and many other groups.

While the population fell after a 1960s peak of 290,000, new immigrant groups have pushed the figure past that level in the past three years, according to census projections. By 2011, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights estimates, whites will be a minority, making Leicester Britain’s first “pluralist” city, where no race is in a majority.

The city’s multicultural status quo, Hussain said, hides frictions. As whites have moved further into the suburbs, they understand their city’s racial dynamics less and less. To reach a point where whites welcome an immigrant neighbour, he said, they must understand that neighbour’s religion. That is why he started his “intercultural safaris”.

The visit to the mosque seemed to be the Women’s Institute group’s favourite part of the trip. “I went in to the mosque and came out with a heart full of love at what the imam was saying about tolerance,” said one woman.

Such encounters need to be multiplied, Hussain believes, if the city is to handle its largest immigrant wave to date. In the past four years, an estimated 20,000 Somalis have arrived in Leicester from the Netherlands, where many allege discrimination.

New groups often strain the city’s existing race relations, said Freda Hussain, a head teacher and former High Sheriff of Leicestershire, as well as the other half of Leicester’s race-relations “power couple”. In some cases, she said, children of eastern European immigrants refuse to sit next to black students and disrupt classes by calling them pejorative names.

“This is a totally dynamic, fluid situation,” her husband said. City agencies are doing much of the work of keeping Leicester harmonious.

For now, however, he teaches oversubscribed classes in “intercultural understanding”, and fields more requests for safaris than he can meet.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

A dynasty to look up to


A dynasty to look up to

The Borbons exude sincerity and sophistication, the Windsors are plagued by scandal and dysfunction. It's not easy being royal these days, but Spain's first family is showing them all how it's done. Elizabeth Nash reports on a very modern monarchy

No one watching last week's memorial service in Madrid for the bereaved families will forget the moment when King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia moved towards the devastated men and women from the workers' suburbs and embraced them as if they were members of their own family. Queen Sofia, tears streaming down her cheeks, handed her shawl to a lady- in-waiting then hoisted the gold chain of her little black bag across her body to free both hands to touch and caress her weeping subjects.

She and the king moved slowly along the pews of the Almudena cathedral, individually talking and listening to each of more than 500 relatives of those who died in the bomb blasts. In their wake followed the princesses Elena and Cristina and their spouses, Prince Felipe and his fiancée Letizia, who all did the same. It took more than half an hour, during which political leaders of the world's most important countries were kept waiting on their feet, and the Spanish royal family secured nationwide, perhaps worldwide, admiration and affection.

This is what they are for, you might think: to console a traumatised people in the name of the nation, above party, regional or special interest. But this surpassed the job description. The royals "broke all the rules of protocol", exclaimed the Spanish media in amazement. They were the only public figures to reach across the chasm dividing the ruling elite, the Church hierarchy and the world's dignitaries from those for whom the whole show was orchestrated, but who until that moment were mere observers of a frigid, alien spectacle. Can you imagine Britain's royals making such a gesture?

And therein lies the difference, in stark relief. The Spanish royal family, dismissed here as Hello! fodder and historically irrelevant beside the house of Windsor, have proved themselves to be more dignified and better in touch with their subjects. Their emotions are real and empathetic. Not for them a reluctant, distant gesture of sorrow, a lowered flag and a five-minute walkabout. What the Spanish royal family dis- played was no formal act of condolence, nor a histrionic performance for the cameras. It was the physical enactment of every Spaniard's feelings for those afflicted by the tragedy, a spontaneous human response that not one of the dignitaries present in the cathedral was capable of making.

Spontaneity is not a word that occurs frequently in Spain's manuals of protocol. Spanish ceremonial etiquette has been famed for centuries for its remote and elaborate formalism. Spaniards love procedure. You can attend academies and take a degree in protocol. Journalists have been invited on a crash course on etiquette to prepare them for the royal wedding of Prince Felipe, heir to the throne, on 22 May.

There's not much that Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos need to learn about ceremonial. Each from a royal dynasty, they were rigorously trained from childhood for their destiny to rule. But they combine their regal bearing with a common touch unique among Europe's crowned heads. And it's not a stuck-on populism designed to curry favour. These are no cycling monarchs. They exude wealth, style and regal sophistication. The king may don leathers for a burn-up on his Harley, but that's for his own pleasure, not to chum up with the biker fraternity.

Spain's royals have evolved a regal but relaxed counter-protocol, partly reflecting the cheery, straightforward personalities of the king and queen and their three children, and partly because their survival depends on retaining the affection of their subjects. Juan Carlos summed up their philosophy in a rare television interview in November 2000 that marked 25 years of his reign: "I always wanted the monarchy to be open and near the people, for many people to be able to reach the king and queen, for them to be able to see us, to talk to us, to speak to us. Because the truth is that, before being king, one of the things I learned and which is still of great use to me is to listen."

Compare that with Elizabeth II. Certainly, lunches for women of achievement help, but what meaningful dialogue can she have with 180 women at the same time? Prince Charles, who has it in his power, potentially, to modernise the Windsors, is yet more remote, seemingly spending his time launching foods from his estates. Those further down the royal hierarchy in Britain are generally acknowledged only when there is a scandal; one has to think of a failed television career, a toe-sucking wife, a drug-addled teenager or petulant princes unwilling to engage with their subjects (apart from the odd lap-dancer, of course).

Juan Carlos and Sofia, meanwhile, were never guaranteed popular support: they had to earn it. And both directly experienced the terrible costs of losing popularity: exile. Juan Carlos was born in Rome in 1938, where the house of Borbon took temporary refuge after Spain proclaimed a republic in 1931, which was then crushed by General Franco's fascist forces in the ensuing civil war. Sofia's brother, King Constantine of Greece, was driven from his throne in the 1960s. Foisted upon Spain in 1975 by the will of Franco, who died that year, Juan Carlos made it his mission to be loved, and has shown a surer touch than any politician.

The king was the first establishment figure to step on Galicia's polluted beaches during the Prestige oil disaster in 2002. He strode in his brilliantly buffed shoes across the black slime to express his admiration and thanks for the fishermen and volunteers helping to clean up. Shamed by the king's example, ministers hurried to the scene but barely glanced at the sea and kept well clear of both the filth and the people shovelling it. Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, when he finally made it to Coruña, studied charts in the maritime tower. The fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed were heartened by the king's gesture: "He went down and got his feet dirty," said one, approvingly. They scorned the politicians for not doing the same.

The queen, too, hailed by her husband as "una gran profesional", has won hearts by well-judged, but mostly low-key, gestures. She attended the mass funeral of 24 children killed in a bus crash held on a municipal football pitch in Soria in July 2000. And her face, ravaged by grief as she leaned towards the devastated relatives and gently caressed their faces, produced the Spanish press photo of the year.

The royals work hard to be popular by leading an unpretentious lifestyle. They shun the opulent royal palace in Madrid, except for formal functions, in favour of the Zarzuela, a former hunting lodge out of town whose dining table, it is reported, seats no more than 14. More importantly, the king nurtured Spain's fledgling democracy. In his message to the nation after being proclaimed king on 22 November 1975 he pledged to restore democracy and reign as king of all Spaniards, "without exception".

None the less, he was dubbed "Juan Carlos the Brief" by sceptics who thought him destined to follow his predecessors into exile. The rightful heir was Juan Carlos's father, Juan de Borbon. But Franco opted for the son to succeed him, and Juan Carlos inherited full powers after the dictator's death. The young king skilfully shed those powers and reinvented himself as a constitutional monarch, approved by popular ref- erendum three years later. His standing was further enhanced when he defused a coup attempt in 1981, when Lt-Col Tejero burst into parliament and held MPs hostage at gunpoint. The king pledged his commitment to Spain's democratic constitution and ordered the military back to their barracks.

Then there are the three children, Elena, Cristina and Felipe. No Sophiegate here, no toe-sucking, no ugly divorces; a scandal-free zone. Elena married a lugubrious duke, Jaime de Marichalar, and quietly fulfilled her duty to bear children. Cristina caused a minor flurry by picking the ex-handball champion Iñaki Urdangarin. But that wedding, as well as being a happy one, was a political masterstroke: the Spanish princess married her Basque husband in the cathedral of Barcelona, the city where they live, reconciling at a stroke Spain's three competing centres of political and economic power.

And Prince Felipe, trying the nation's patience with his prolonged bachelordom and unsuitable girlfriends, finally settled on Letizia Ortiz, a divorced television presenter who is hailed by the nation as the perfect modern princess. Felipe's first serious romance was as a teenager with the aristocratic beauty Isabel Sartorius. The queen cut that relationship - in a steely gesture reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth's veto of Camilla for the young Charles - because Isabel was deemed too old, came from a broken home and was niece of a leading communist. Letizia is divorced, and of non-aristocratic birth. But she is beautiful, Spanish and her profession, even her "past", are praised as proof that she is a woman of her time. The couple cancelled their stag and hen night parties out of respect for those afflicted by the bombings. Felipe also asked Madrid's city hall to cancel a multimedia spectacle to celebrate their wedding and to donate the money to a monument to victims of the attack. The wedding celebrations have been scaled down to a shadow of the national fiesta that was planned, but perfectly in tune with the country's sombre mood.

There have been blips, of course, but only small ones. There was a half-hearted murmur when Juan Carlos took delivery of a £11m luxury yacht in 2000, paid for by Mallorca businessmen in appreciation for the prestige lent to the island by the royal family who holiday there. Scorn was heaped on Prince Felipe's new house, condemned as a tastelessly decorated, ostentatious pile (shades of Prince Andrew's "Southyork"). No one quite knows, or cares, how the princesses' husbands earn their living.

The family is helped by the hermetic self-censorship of the press. Royal finances, for instance, are off limits. Spain's monarchs have virtually no private fortune. Anyone investigating how the king spends the £40m a year received from the Spanish taxpayer is politely invited to get lost. Rumours of peccadilloes circulate but never see the light of day. All this helps the house of Borbon to avoid scandal. Even the Guiñoles - the satirical puppet show based on Spitting Image - never touches the royals. The taboo is partly due to genuine respect, but also reflects the royals' peculiar role in Spain's transition to democracy after Franco. To attack the crown is tantamount to attacking the country's democratic identity.

With Felipe's engagement, even republicans conceded that King Juan Carlos is a both a good thing and a good king. As the El Mundo columnist Fernando Lopes put it: "Spain is not a monarchist country. In little more than half a century, Spain ejected three kings and installed two Republics... which were suppressed only by force of arms." Franco destroyed the last republic in 1939, but before that, Spaniards had cheerfully thrown out Alfonso XIII, Isabel II and Amadeo in a space of just 70 years. Many republicans try to square the circle by declaring themselves "juancarlistas", a sort of provisional adhesion to the monarchy so long as Juan Carlos is king.

A question mark therefore hangs over the future of a post-Juan Carlos monarchy. The media's sympathetic approach may not transfer automatically to King Felipe, despite the prince's efforts to earn the nation's affection too. That's why last Wednesday's appearance of the three junior royals was so important. They need to display their commitment to the people as convincingly as their parents. And their actions that day will probably confirm the monarchy's safety and popularity for at least another generation.

Are you watching, Buckingham Palace?



Arguably the most "evolved" of the Euro-royals, Crown Prince Haakon attended state school, married a single mother, sired a female heir (a first for Norway), and reads that socialist Henrik Ibsen. And he frequents coffee bars... in jeans.


The Grimaldi family's reputation hasn't been helped by the antics of Princess Stephanie. The one-time wife of bodyguard Daniel Ducruet was engaged to Franco the elephant trainer before settling down with a circus acrobat last September.


King Abdullah, a former racing champion, played his trump card when he wed Queen Rania. She gave him three babies, kept her model figure, and set up a charity to help entrepreneurs. Oh - and they take it in turns to read bedtime stories to their brood.

Cast Change at the ROH on 17/Jan/08

Cast changes
Thu 17-Jan-2008 2:00 PM


Giuseppe Verdi

Thursday 17 January 2008 at 7pm

Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is currently suffering from bronchitis and will not be able to sing the role of Violetta in tonight's performance of La traviata.

A statement from her management reads:

"Ms. Netrebko arrived for rehearsals in London with a bronchial condition which has sadly now returned. She hopes to be able to perform again very soon and is very sorry to disappoint the audience." The role will now be sung by Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, making her debut with The Royal Opera.

Ermonela Jaho flew in from New York overnight as a precaution as Anna Netrebko was feeling a little unwell yesterday, although at that point she had still hoped to sing at the performance tonight. Unfortunately her condition worsened and, regrettably, she was obliged to cancel at noon today.

Ermonela Jaho made her professional debut as Violetta in Tirana, Albania aged 17 and has subsequently sung the role at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste, L'Opera de Marseille and at L'Opera de Lille.

She has appeared at the Wexford Festival in Ireland as Agnes in The Maid of Orleans in 2000, both Giulietta (I Capuleti e I Montecchi) and Irène (Sapho) in 2001 and Marguerite (Manon Lescaut) in 2002. Future engagements include her debut at Glyndebourne Festival Opera as Micaëla (Carmen) in August 2008 and further performances of Violetta (La traviata) at the Teatro Comunale in Florence as well as her debut with San Francisco Opera.

The rest of the cast remain the same and includes Jonas Kaufmann as Alfredo and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Père Germont. Maurizio Benini conducts.

17 (matinee) and 25 January: Bennet Gartside replaces Thiago Soares as Orion
22 January, 16 (matinee), 19 February, 24 (matinee) and 31 March: Thiago Soares replaces Viacheslav Samodurov as Orion
16 (evening) February and 24 (evening) March: Thiago Soares will be replaced as Orion - casting to follow shortly.

7, 13, 16, 19, 22 May at 7.30 pm / 4 May at 3pm / 10, 24 May at 7pm
Swedish soprano Nina Stemme has withdrawn from her role debut with The Royal Opera as Amelia Grimaldi in Simon Boccanegra. After careful consideration, she has decided not to add this role to her repertory.

Casting for the role of Amelia Grimaldi will be announced shortly.

The rest of the cast remains unchanged. John Eliot Gardiner conducts all performances.

These performances of the revised 1881 version of Simon Boccanegra use the sets and designs created for Ian Judge's production of the 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra which was first performed at the Royal Opera House in 1997. The production was subsequently revised for performances in Washington in 1998, where a new Council Chamber scene was created, which is missing in the 1857 version. The production was also seen in Dallas in 2001. Ian Judge returns to Covent Garden to direct. Set designs are by John Gunter, costume designs by Deirdre Clancy and lighting by Nigel Levings.

16, 19, 25 June, 1 July at 7.30pm / 21, 28 June 2008 at 7pm
British baritone Christopher Maltman has withdrawn from the role of Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos with The Royal Opera.

The role of Harlequin will now be sung by Austrian baritone Markus Werba making his debut at the Royal Opera. Recent roles include Papageno (Die Zauberflöte) at the Salzburg Festival, Count Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro) in Lyon and Mercurio (La Calisto) in Munich.

Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca has withdrawn from her role debut with The Royal Opera as The Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. After careful consideration, she has decided not to add this role to her repertory.

The role of The Composer will now be sung by American mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson. She made her debut at the Royal Opera House in September 2004 as Dorabella (Così fan tutte) and has previously sung the role of The Composer in Dresden and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

The rest of the cast remains unchanged with Deborah Voigt as Ariadne/Prima Donna, Robert D. Smith and Richard Margison sharing the role of Tenor/Bacchus, Kristine Jepson as The Composer and Gillian Keith as Zerbinetta. All performances are conducted by Mark Elder.

'White flight' increasing


'White flight' increasing, race chief says
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 2:29am GMT 16/01/2008

The flight of the white middle classes from the inner cities is accelerating, the Government's race relations chief has said.

Trevor Phillips said so-called ''white flight" - an American phenomenon now increasingly seen here - was deepening racial segregation.

Mr Phillips has warned in the past of the growing polarisation of the country along ethnic lines.

But his use of the emotive term ''white flight" will fuel the controversy triggered by the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester.

He said last week some Muslim enclaves were "no-go areas" for Christians and there was a need for greater integration.

Mr Phillips, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the Bishop was right to raise the issue because white families were moving out of areas with high ethnic minority populations.

Interviewed on Radio Four's Today programme, he said: ''There are areas in which there is no contact or very little contact between different ethnic and cultural groups.

"Nobody is putting up walls and gates but we all know that in virtually every big city there are places where different kinds of people feel uncomfortable, whether that is Asians in so-called white areas or white people in so-called black areas."

He added: "We know that white flight is accelerating. That schools - we know this from studies done by Bristol University - are becoming more segregated than the areas they sit in. So there is a phenomenon we have to deal with and I think that the Bishop of Rochester was right to raise this."

The term "white flight" was coined in 1960s America to describe the emergence of inner city ghettos.

However, Government ministers have preferred to refer to it as ''churn" and to attribute the movement of people to house price fluctuations.

A survey conducted by the old Commission for Racial Equality in 2006 found that a quarter of Britons wanted to live in an all-white area.

The movement has been especially notable in London, which has always seen a big turnover of population, and is now witnessing unprecedented movement.

Last year, nearly 245,000 people left inner boroughs for the suburbs, rural areas, or new lives abroad.

The movement has a bigger impact in northern cities where communities already live "parallel lives".

As a consequence they become "shut off" and vulnerable to political and religious extremism.

Research by Migrationwatch suggests movement within Britain is mainly from areas of high ethnic minority population to those with predominantly white populations.

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch, praised Mr Phillips for confronting the evidence of "white flight".

"This is another courageous contribution from Trevor Phillips, who is clearly prepared to face the facts about the current strains in our society," he said.

"We would add - although he does not - that massive levels of immigration are a significant factor in this."

Is it any wonder people are fleeing London?


Is it any wonder people are fleeing London? By Jan Moir
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 16/01/2008

In a north London suburb last week, a schoolgirl was beaten, gang-raped and then had drain-cleaning fluid poured on her body apparently to destroy DNA evidence. In the eternal cesspit of senseless urban crime, I feel that a dreadful nadir of sorts has been reached, a benchmark of slaked lust and casual, sadistic cruelty.

Police sources say the 16-year-old will never fully recover from the injuries caused by the caustic soda and, at the time of writing, she remains under heavy sedation in a burns unit, fighting for her life.

One could weep an ocean for this young woman, her life ruined by these savages, who hunted in a pack like animals and dragged her to an empty house, caring nothing for her wellbeing or future.

Drain cleaner? The callous premeditation is shocking, and underlines the fact that some of the rootless delinquents who roam the London streets are now scraping the bottom of the barrel of humanity.

I'm almost embarrassed to say that the attackers have been described as "five black youths", in case you think I'm being racist in highlighting this crime.

Yes, these are the peculiar times we live in, particularly in a week when Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has pointed out that "white flight is accelerating" as Britain becomes increasingly polarised along ethnic lines.

Following the controversy started by the Bishop of Rochester, who said that some Muslim enclaves were "no-go areas" for Christians, it all seems to suggest a country that is becoming increasingly fragmented; a patchwork of rigidly delineated little pockets of race and religion, knots of unyielding humanity who just can't rub along with each other.

This is not a Britain many of us would care to recognise, or even want to live in, although it is true that certain sectors of the middle class are fleeing from inner London like pashmina-wrapped lemmings, desperate to escape the creeping spread of urban decay.

Last year, nearly a quarter of a million decent, law-abiding citizens packed their bags and left the capital for good, seeking what they hope will be a better life elsewhere. They moved to outer boroughs, other city suburbs, rural areas, abroad, the back end of beyond, anywhere but here.

While their fairytale, roses-around-the-door belief in the safety of the countryside and the romantic ideal of a thatched cottage for two is touching, it does point to an underlying urban unease.

I would rather take my chances in the city than the country, but one can hardly blame them for wanting to move.

Elsewhere in London this week, a medical student was stabbed to death in a row over an orange in a Brixton fruit shop. A pupil who was expelled for allegedly having a knife took his school to the High Court. And about the time most of us were sitting down to dinner, watching The Bill on television or putting the children to bed, a teenage girl underwent an unimaginable ordeal in an ordinary suburban street.

What is going to happen to those of us left to live here if youths across the city continue to feel quite comfortable and confident in running amok? That's before you even factor in the older, more professional criminal gangs from more than 25 countries, who operate prosperous drug trafficking, people smuggling, prostitution, money laundering and fraud rackets on the capital's streets.

London is a welcoming city, where home-grown and particularly international criminal networks are flourishing nicely. Somewhere in the city, a great termite nest of law-breaking and corruption grows by the day, nourished by immigrants, some of them illegal, from Algeria, Nigeria, Jamaica and Pakistan, among others.

Is it racist to point that out, too? I don't know any more. All I know is that London has room to absorb them all, particularly as so many of its citizens have recently left in a hurry. And while cosy family evenings by the fire remain one of the few benefits of a wet British winter, how alarming that fewer and fewer people feel safe doing this inside their own homes.

Victory in fight to keep imperial measurements


Victory in fight to keep imperial measurements
By Sophie Borland
Last Updated: 2:24am BST 12/09/2007

Britain can carry on using imperial measurements such as pints, pounds and miles, the EU Commission has ruled.

Europe's Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said it was time to end a "pointless battle" after decades of wrangling between London and Brussels over pressure to switch to the metric system.

Imperial weights and measures now face no further threat from Brussels: "It is entirely up to the British Government whether to keep pints and feet and inches, and the whole miles system, but as far as the Commission is concerned there is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements," said the Commissioner.

The decision comes after years of disputes between the Government and officials in Brussels over plans to bring in metric units in-line with the rest of the Europe.

The country has long sought to keep its traditional units that had date back to the Middle Ages despite constant attempts by the European Union to change the law.

Since 1995 all packaging has had to display metric units but in order to appease the British public, imperial measurements were also allowed to be shown alongside.

Britain had been due to go completely metric in 2010 and as of January 1 of that year it would have become illegal for all shops to display the likes of pints, ounces and pounds.

A decree published today however will confirm that imperial measurements of distance and weight will be able to be continued to be used indefinitely.

It follows a consultation carried out by the European Commission that found that the imperial system would not cause any harm to the single market, the trading agreement that covers the 27 member states of the EU.

Gunther Verheugen, the Commissioner for the Single Market is expected to confirm the ruling later today.

Insisting that Britain’s traditional ways had never been targeted, he said: "Let’s get one thing straight from the off.

"Neither the European Commission nor any faceless "Eurocrat" has or will ever be responsible for banning the great British pint, the mile and weight measures in pounds and the ounces.

"These imperial measures form the part of the traditions that are the very essence of the Britishness that all Europeans know and love."

It is thought that one of the factors that helped sway the decision was that European industry needed to sell to American markets which would not be happy importing products only bearing metric weights and measures.

The move has been welcomed by the so-called Metric Martyrs, the campaigners who have long fought to keep the likes of pints, ounces and pounds.

The most famous of these was Steve Thoburn, a greengrocer who worked at a local market in Sunderland who gained a criminal conviction in 2001 by breaching the Weights and Measures act by selling bananas by the pound.

He became a national hero but died suddenly in 2004 following a heart attack.

Leigh Thoburn, his widow, has demanded that he be given a pardon.

Neil Herron, campaign director of the Metric Martyrs, welcomed the news today but said he would be continuing the fight to clear Mr Thoburn's name.

Mr Herron, from Sunderland, said: "At last someone has exercised an ounce of common sense but the disgrace is that it has had to come from Brussels and not Westminster.

"It has taken seven-and-a-half years to finally prove what everyone in this country - apart from the politicians - realised was nonsense."

Today's Commission announcement says both Britain and Ireland can continue using imperial measures.

However, unlike the British, the Irish have already fully embraced metrication, with no public pressure to preserve pints, ounces or miles. Ireland ditched miles and adopted kilometres in the mid-1990s, despite retaining right-hand drive cars and driving on the left.

The 10-week consultation with industry, traders and consumer groups which resulted in today's decision was carried out earlier this year.

Help Me Love My Baby


This heart-warming, two-part series follows two mums as they discover how to do something most mothers take for granted – fall head over heels in love with their babies.

Baby blues, antenatal depression or postnatal depression, if left untreated, can damage the mother's relationship with her children – and one in six women are known to be affected by mental distress during pregnancy or following childbirth (source: MIND 2006, 'Out of the blue? Motherhood and depression).

Help Me Love My Baby follows two brave women who confront their fears, admitting they feel anger and resentment towards their babies, not a loving bond. Their journey is an emotional, but ultimately uplifting, one. Working closely with parent-infant therapist Dr. Amanda Jones, they unlock psychological clues, buried deep in their past, allowing them to repair the bond with their own babies. Along the way they learn to unlock the hidden code of baby behaviour that will help them forger a deeper bond with their child.

The fact that post-natal depression can create a 'wall' between mother and child is a difficult topic to confront. As Amanda says: 'For a mother to express negative feelings towards her baby… it's just a taboo. And it makes it very hard to ask for help. But in my experience mothers that I meet are grappling with very difficult and hostile feeling towards their babies, which they feel awful about.'

Zoe (28) may look like a model parent to outsiders, but the reality is very different: 'I don't think I can cope at all – I wish I'd never had her, I resent her… I haven't enjoyed one minute of having Izzy.' Zoe and her partner Dave were both delighted when she got pregnant with Izzy, so Zoe's reaction to their new-born daughter came as a shock to them both.

Born six weeks premature and with jaundice, Izzy's mum Zoe struggled to feel anything other than numb when she first saw her. Feelings of guilt mixed with an overwhelming sense that she did not have a connection with her baby. After six months Zoe feels so negative about Izzy that she keeps her at arms' length. In turn, Izzy avoids her mother's face – like all babies she gets upset by stressed or blank faces, and copes by turning away. When she gets upset, she can't look to her mother for help – turning her into a grizzly and unhappy baby.

Slowly Amanda starts to unlock Zoe's secrets of an unhappy childhood, a troubled relationship with her own mother, and the fear of raising a clingy child. Through cuddles, play and intense eye-contact, Amanda helps both mother and baby to develop intimacy and an emotional attachment. Zoe learns what Izzy's body language and cries mean, helping her to respond and understand her daughter.

In a remarkable transformation, over a year of filming, Izzy begins to respond to her mother and Zoe begins to feel a powerful maternal bond. They learn a blueprint for their future, and hope their fragile bond will grow stronger in years to come – as Zoe says: 'It's more precious for me now because I didn't have it before.'

'I thought my baby was a monster'


'I thought my baby was a monster'

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 03/12/2007

What happens when a mother feels nothing for her newborn? Glenda Cooper meets the women who had to be shown how to bond

It should have been one of the happiest days of Zoe Hicks's life. Her baby, Izzy, who had spent a month in special care after being born premature, was finally coming home. The whole family had gathered to celebrate; Zoe herself could not stop crying.

"Everyone assumed it was because I was so happy," recalls Zoe, 29, from Evesham in Worcestershire. "But I just wanted to run back inside the hospital and leave her there. I didn't want to take her home. I didn't think I could ever love my baby."

Zoe had had a trouble-free pregnancy and labour with her first daughter, Xara, born four years previously, but with Izzy it was a very different story.

In April 2006, when she was 34 weeks pregnant, Zoe had to have an emergency caesarean after scans showed Izzy was failing to grow in the womb.

She was born weighing just 3.5lb. "I didn't think she looked like a baby - I thought she looked like an alien," says Zoe of the first time she saw her daughter in an incubator. "I felt numb.

Everyone said she looked beautiful and I was looking at her thinking, 'No, she's horrible.' I just felt nothing towards her."

Because Izzy was so premature, Zoe and her partner Dave were only allowed limited time with her in intensive care, and Zoe had to express milk rather than breastfeed. "Everyone assumed I would be upset I couldn't hold her more, but I didn't want to."

When Izzy was allowed home, the situation was no better. "I was like a robot. If someone else was there, I would run and pick Izzy up if she was crying and try to look as if I loved her.

When I was on my own, though, I would leave her to cry. I thought she was a monster."

Zoe is not alone in failing to bond with her baby. But such is the taboo surrounding these problems, many women are reluctant to seek help, even though research suggests up to one in 10 suffer postnatal depression.

The majority of these, according to psychotherapist Dr Amanda Jones of London's Anna Freud Centre, which specialises in the well-being of children, will fail to form an attachment with their baby. While most will go on to do so within a couple of months a minority, says Jones, will never bond - unless they are given professional help.

Zoe is one such woman. She heard about Jones's programme when Izzy was five months old, at a time when she was taking anti-depressants. The scheme currently receives 100 referrals from GPs per year.

Women are usually recommended anti-depressants or cognitive behavioural therapy (commonly six sessions aimed at changing ways of thinking and behaving) by their GPs.

Jones believes that this is not enough; her therapeutic sessions try to examine causes of the emotional breakdown, and the number of sessions vary from family to family (Zoe had 40 sessions). "We believe we help the majority of mothers who see us," says Jones.

"It is always very difficult to talk about cost when it comes to preventative health care, but studies have shown that a child who is anti-social can cost social services £100,000 by his 18th birthday. This isn't a quick-fix solution but we believe it can make a real difference."

Jones prefers the term "emotional breakdown" to "postnatal depression", believing it more accurately describes the range of symptoms a mother showing no affection to her child can experience, resulting, at worst, in harming him or her.

Her concern is also for the babies themselves, which may become withdrawn and fretful and fail to thrive.

As a result, she practises psychodynamic parent-infant psychotherapy: mother and baby are treated together, says Jones, as it reveals more quickly if there is a problem with the mother-child bond.

The centre, along with a north London mental health trust, is one of only a handful to offer this therapy, and claims 85 per cent of mothers see an improvement in their relationship with their child as a result.

Elsewhere, less than half of mental health trusts have a perinatal unit, according to a 2006 report by the mental health charity Mind, and 75 per cent have no specialist mother and baby units or access to them.

Through the sessions, Zoe talked about her long-standing fears of having a clingy child - fears that had been exacerbated by seeing a premature Izzy weak and vulnerable in her incubator.

It became clear these fears related back to Zoe's own childhood - the so-called "ghost in the nursery" in which an unresolved relationship with a parent rears its head in later life.

Zoe had gone to live with her grandmother at the age of 12 because of her mother's drinking. "I'd never had a positive relationship with my own mother," says Zoe. "I'd had to look after myself.

I realised I was terrified of anyone being dependent on me as a result." The problem had been masked with her first daughter, who was born healthy and appeared self-sufficient.

"I often speak to the mothers through the baby," explains Jones. "For example, with Zoe I would say to Izzy, 'I think your mother feels very alone.' It helped Zoe to articulate what she needed to say - that she felt that Izzy was a monster.

And by talking to the baby, you are indicating to parents that they can be involved with the baby, too." Jones also films mothers and babies together and then plays back the video so the mothers can see how and when they are failing to respond to their babies.

"What I look for," explains Jones, "is whether a baby is avoiding looking at her mother's face and whether there is eye contact. That's the main clue.

Other symptoms can be lack of curiosity about the world, or having a food disorder - such as regurgitating their food or not eating well. Speech delays and separation anxiety are also common."

Given the propensity of mothers to deny problems, having the baby in the room can also reveal the mother's feelings towards her child. "With Zoe, I could see instantly that she didn't want to touch Izzy," says Jones.

Jones sees the mothers and children she treats once a week for an hour and a half therapy session. "Mothers must feel safe to express to me whatever they want," Jones says. "These are things that they have often kept down for a long time. There can be a lot of emotional anger."

There certainly was for 22-year-old Sophie from Hertfordshire, who had, through failed contraception, found herself pregnant with twins at 21. Like Zoe, she gave birth prematurely and her daughters Mia and Gracie were put in intensive care.

Sophie managed to hold Mia the first night; she was not allowed to hold Gracie until the next day. "Her heart rate became unsettled," says Sophie, "and I thought, 'She just doesn't like me.'

" She found it more difficult to care for her, often leaving her to scream, than she did the more placid Mia, and by the time Jones saw her it was clear there was a problem. "Sophie was scared of Gracie," says Jones. "We can see the power a tiny baby has to terrify her mother."

Over time, Sophie came to realise that she was confusing her feelings for her mother - who had physically assaulted her during her childhood - with her feelings for Gracie. By the end of her treatment, Sophie announced: "I can't imagine feeling anything but overwhelming love for [my daughters] now."

For Zoe, the first turning point was more dramatic. When Izzy was seven months old she had to go into hospital for a hernia operation. "It was a big test," says Zoe. "I held her as the anaesthetic was given and watched her fall asleep in my arms.

I cried and cried - it was like something was released. The fear I was feeling was what any mother would feel seeing their child go under anaesthetic.

Before, I was terrified I wouldn't feel that way. Now, if someone says 'Isn't Izzy beautiful?', finally I can agree."

Mummy wars


Mummy wars: maternal instinct versus doctors’ diktats
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 12/11/2007

Whether it’s knowing if you are doing the right thing during pregnancy or deciding how best to care for your new-born baby, there has never been a time of greater anxiety for mothers-to-be. Rachel Halliwell explores the taboos of breast-feeding, while expectant mum Rowan Pelling warns against paying too much attention to dietary advice

The other day, as I pushed my little girl Bridie around in a supermarket trolley, she began prodding at my chest and chanting, mantra-like, "milk" at the top of her voice.

"No way," I said. "You'll have to wait until we get home." Turning away in a huff, my daughter refused to look at me again until we reached the biscuit aisle, leaving me to ponder how I had come to be the very creature I used to ridicule - a long-term breast-feeder.

Bridie is 17 months old. A year ago I baulked at the idea of breastfeeding a child of this age. A woman who breastfed for more than 12 months, I maintained, was doing it for her own needs, and really needed to let go.

The benchmark for breastfeeding turning from natural to weird was, I felt, when a child - with teeth - started trying to help itself. So, as someone who negotiates feeds with my toddler in the middle of Sainsbury's, I have become, by my own definition, decidedly odd.

Meanwhile, my daughter shows no sign of wanting to come off my breast, and in a shameless volte face I'm not remotely inclined to make her. If anyone asks when I plan to stop, as if I'm hooked on fags or drink too much gin, I can't put a timescale on it.

When my older girls, Bronte, 12, and Merrily, nine, were this age they were happily taking their milk from a cup, having been weaned at six months.

It was what my friends did; it was, we thought, what we were supposed to do. When we asked our health visitors if it was OK to stop, they patted us on the back for having breast-fed for so long. We should be proud of the wonderful start we had given our babies, they said. There was no suggestion we ought to carry on.

Actually, anyone who did was whispered about, and considered a bit renegade. "Who were they trying to impress?" we muttered. Surely they were taking this earth mother thing a bit far?

Even when Bridie was born, I only planned to breastfeed her for six months, which is in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. But as the months flew by I started to feel genuine sadness at the prospect of not breastfeeding any more.

I'd already decided Bridie would be my last baby. Taking her off my breast seemed to mark the end of my childbearing days. So, when six months became seven, then eight, then nine, and she showed no sign of wanting to come off me, I did nothing to project her towards what I once viewed as a goal.

I'm lucky, in that my husband, Carl, is very pro-breastfeeding. He says that when Bridie stops we won't have a baby in the house anymore, which makes him sad.

But not everyone sees it that way. One of my friends, who happily sat with me when I nursed Bridie as a newborn, openly admits that she would cringe if I fed her in front of her now. Pushed for a reason, she says that she views breasts as fundamentally sexual objects. "Seeing a toddler feeding off them is just weird," she says.

It's that commonly found attitude that means I'd rather feed Bridie in a toilet cubicle, than at a restaurant table. This exasperates my husband, who regards breastfeeding as one the most natural and beautiful of acts between mother and child.

Admittedly, I sometimes yearn for a weekend away, alone with my husband. Breastfeeding gets in the way of that.

And Bridie goes through periods when she wakes in the night, and will only settle if I feed her.

Occasionally she really plays up, and starts shouting for milk, night after night, on the hour every hour. Moments like that make me start to feel like she's pushing her luck.

Then again, I find breast-feeding a wonderful source of comfort when she's tired or unwell. It has a hypnotic effect on us both, recharging our batteries so we can take on the rest of the day.

Detractors claim that extended breast-feeding makes a child clingy. Yet I think it helps my daughter feel secure. She's a supremely confident, and outgoing little girl.

The fact that new research shows that breastfeeding boosts a child's intelligence has convinced me to let Bridie self-wean from me, which generally happens at around the age of two-and-a-half.

Now, when people ask me whether I still breastfeed Bridie to satisfy my needs or hers, I am compelled to say both. And I add that no one can force a baby to breastfeed – they will do it only for as long as they want to or are allowed.

Babies are many years off developing the social graces that will make them accept something they don't really want, for fear of causing offence – however bright the breast-milk they take from their mothers might make them.

Man-made chemicals blamed as many more girls than boys are born in Arctic


Man-made chemicals blamed as many more girls than boys are born in Arctic

· High levels can change sex of child during pregnancy
· Survey of Greenland and east Russia puts ratio at 2:1

Paul Brown in Nuuk, Greenland
Wednesday September 12, 2007
The Guardian

Twice as many girls as boys are being born in some Arctic villages because of high levels of man-made chemicals in the blood of pregnant women, according to scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Amap).

The scientists, who say the findings could explain the recent excess of girl babies across much of the northern hemisphere, are widening their investigation across the most acutely affected communities in Russia, Greenland and Canada to try to discover the size of the imbalance in Inuit communities of the far north.

In the communities of Greenland and eastern Russia monitored so far, the ratio was found to be two girls to one boy. In one village in Greenland only girls have been born.

The scientists measured the man-made chemicals in women's blood that mimic human hormones and concluded that they were capable of triggering changes in the sex of unborn children in the first three weeks of gestation. The chemicals are carried in the mother's bloodstream through the placenta to the foetus, switching hormones to create girl children.

Lars-Otto Reierson, executive secretary for Amap, said: "We knew that the levels of man-made chemicals were accumulating in the food chain, and that seals, whales and particularly polar bears were getting a dose a million times higher than that existing in plankton, and that this could be toxic to humans who ate these higher animals. What was shocking was that they were also able to change the sex of children before birth."

The sex balance of the human race - historically a slight excess of boys over girls - has recently begun to change. A paper published in the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences earlier this year said that in Japan and the US there were 250,000 boys fewer than would have been expected had the sex ratio existing in 1970 remained unchanged. The paper was unable to pin down a cause for the new excess of girls over boys.

The Arctic scientists have discovered that many of the babies born in Russia are premature and the boys are far smaller than girls. Possible links between the pollutants and high infant mortality in the first year of life is also being investigated.

Scientists believe a number of man-made chemicals used in electrical equipment from generators, televisions and computers that mimic human hormones are implicated. They are carried by winds and rivers to the Arctic where they accumulate in the food chain and in the bloodstreams of the largely meat- and fish-eating Inuit communities.

The first results of the survey were disclosed at a symposium of religious, scientific and environmental leaders in Greenland's capital, Nuuk, yesterday, organised by the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I, which is looking at the effects of environmental pollution on the Arctic.

Dr Reierson said the accumulation of DDT, PCBs, flame-retardants and other endocrine disrupters has been known for some time and young women had been advised to avoid eating some Arctic animals to avoid excess contamination and possible damage to their unborn children.

Dr Reierson, said blood samples from pregnant women were subsequently matched with the sex of their baby. Women with elevated levels of PCBs in their blood above two to four micrograms per litre and upwards were checked in three northern peninsula's in Russia's far east - the Kola, Taimyr and Chukotka - plus the Pechora River Basin.

To check the results the survey was widened and further communities, including those on Commodore Island, were investigated. The results were now in for 480 families and the ratio remained the same.

He said full results for the widening of the survey would not be published until next year but preliminary results for Greenland showed the same 2:1 ratio in the north.

Aqqaluk Lynge, the former chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference who hails from Greenland, said: "This is a disaster, especially for some 1,500 people who make up the Inuit nations in the far north east of Russia.

"Here in the north of Greenland, in the villages near the Thule American base, only girl babies are being born to Inuit families.

"The problem is acute in the north and east of Greenland where people still have the traditional diet.

"This has become a critical question of people's survival but few governments want to talk about the problem of hormone mimickers because it means thinking about the chemicals you use.

"I think they need to be tested much more stringently before they are allowed on the market."


The Inuit are nomadic in nature, having survived for thousands of years using formidable hunting skills to seek out the bowhead whale, seal, caribou and walrus. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), an international body, was founded in 1977 to represent the rights of the approximately 150,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia). With relatively low levels of educational attainment and few opportunities, violence, alcohol and drug dependency are a growing problem as the Inuit try to safeguard its traditions.

Protect Rural England


The 0.0174069% of Earth we call home is glorious. The trick is keeping it that way

The best-selling American travel and science writer Bill Bryson, takes over today as president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. In this exclusive extract from his inaugural speech, he explains how the British countryside is under threat

Bill Bryson
The Guardian,
Monday July 9 2007

Something I have often wondered is why you don't make the whole of England a National Park. In what way, after all, are the Yorkshire Dales superior to the Durham Dales? Why is the New Forest worthy of exalted status but glorious Dorset not?

It's preposterous really to say that some parts are better or more important than others. It's all lovely. And there's not much of it. Of all the surface area of the Earth, only a tiny fragment - 0.0174069%, or so I gather - can call itself Great Britain. So it's rare and dangerously finite and every bit of it should be cherished.

The miracle, in my view, is that on the whole it is. For all the pressures on rural England, and all that could be made better, the countryside remains one of this country's supreme achievements. I know of no landscape anywhere that is more universally appreciated, more visited and walked across and gazed upon, more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of England. The landscape almost everywhere is eminently accessible. People feel a closeness to it, an affinity, that I don't think they experience elsewhere.

If you suggested to people in Iowa, where I come from, that you spend a day walking across farmland, they would think you were mad. Here walking in the country is the most natural thing in the world - so natural that it is dangerously easy to take it for granted.

Because the countryside is so generally fine and looks so deceptively timeless, it's easy to think of it as somehow fixed and immutable and safely permanent. In fact, it is none of these things, of course - though it is very ancient, even more ancient than people often realise.

Not far from where I live in East Anglia there is a hedge, called Judith's Hedge, which looks like any other. But in fact Judith's Hedge is very venerable indeed. It was planted by a niece of William the Conqueror in the second half of the 11th century. So it is older than Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, York Minster - older than most of the buildings in Great Britain.

Even closer to home for me -indeed just beyond my bedroom window - is a handsome church tower that was built at about the same time. It has been standing there, adding a little touch of nobility and grandeur to the landscape, for 900 years. I find that a literally fantastic statement. If this church were in Iowa, people would travel hundreds of miles to see it. Of course, you'd have a job explaining to them how it got there, but you take my point. It would be a venerated relic. And here it is just an anonymous country church, treasured by a few aging parishioners and one overweight American, and otherwise almost entirely unnoticed because it is just one of 659 ancient parish churches in Norfolk alone.

Altogether there are 20,000 ancient parish churches in Britain. There are more listed churches than there are petrol stations. Isn't that an amazing fact? If you decided to visit one every day, it would take you 54 years to see them all.

Wherever you turn in Britain you are confronted with wondrous and interesting things - 19,000 scheduled ancient monuments, 600,000 recorded archaeological sites, 100,000 miles of public footpaths, 250,000 miles of hedgerows, 73,000 war memorials, 6,500 listed bridges, 14 National Parks, a hundred or so Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, over 4,000 sites of Special Scientific Interest. You can't move 10 feet in this country without bumping up against some striking reminder of a long and productive past.

And it is almost entirely man-made - or human-made, I should perhaps say. That's really quite interesting. Where I come from, when the landscape is stunning it's because nature made it that way. In Britain when it's stunning, it is, more often than not, because people made it that way. Of Britain's 27 World Heritage sites, only four are natural formations. The rest are monuments and landscapes built by humans. All that posterity asks of us is that we look after what has been created for us already.

You hardly need me to tell you how lucky you are to have what you have in this country. Being surrounded by such a sumptuous diversity of history and beauty is a delight and a privilege, of course, but it is also a great danger. When you have such an abundance of great things, it is easy to think of it as essentially inexhaustible and to persuade yourself that it can be nibbled away at without serious loss. I hate it when people think like that.

To me, the mathematics of the British landscape are wonderfully simple and compelling. Britain has about 60 million acres of land and about 60 million people. That's one acre for each of us. Every time you give up 10 acres of greenfield site to build a superstore, in effect 10 people lose their acres. To enjoy the countryside they must go and use other people's acres. By developing countryside you force more and more people to share less and less space. Trying to limit the growth of development in the countryside isn't nimbyism, it's common sense.

In the meantime there are three matters that I hope and intend to pursue. The first is litter and fly-tipping. You are probably aware that this is something of an obsession of mine, and I am finding to my gratification that it is something many others feel strongly about too.

Second, pylons and overhead wires generally. To me, marching ranks of pylons are way too common in the countryside, and inexcusably alien and ugly.

Too often when you go into the country you end up feeling as if you have wandered onto a set from War of the Worlds. In 1986, when electricity companies were being privatised, the Economist magazine calculated that if all the generating companies were required to devote one half of 1% of their turnover to burying overhead cables, we would be able to bury 1,000 miles of them every year. There are 8,000 miles of high voltage power lines in this country, so they would all be buried now.

At a minimum there should be a presumption against pylons within sight of World Heritage sites, national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. But really they should just be taken away.

Finally, number three, trees, forests, woodland. You can never have too many trees. The UK has less forest cover than almost any country in Europe. France has 28%, Germany 32%, Italy 34%, Sweden almost 70%. Britain has 12% - the fourth lowest amount in Europe. Even Cyprus has more. What's more, there are no specific targets for woodland creation in England. Well, I think there ought to be.

And while we are talking meaningfully about planting things, I think we should be pushing forcefully for restoration and renewal of hedgerows. I am really worried about hedgerows. They define the English landscape and everywhere they are quietly fading away. Eventually you end up with no hedgerows at all and this is the fate that I fear is awaiting very large swaths of the countryside.

How clean is my valley?


How clean is my valley?

Bill Bryson's litter campaign has made him the champion of rural England. He tells Tim Dowling that the country needs tractors, and explains why paper cups get left on walls

Tim Dowling
The Guardian,
Saturday May 5 2007

The offices of the Campaign to Protect Rural England are on a busy, near-leafless road in London, just behind the hulking power station that is now Tate Modern. The CPRE's newest president, the author Bill Bryson, is being led round the corner in search of a suitably sylvan photographic backdrop. He is, as reports invariably describe him, jovial and agreeable, wearing a jacket and jumper combo which looks suspiciously like the one he wore in newspaper photographs the previous day. This week's announcement of his nomination (he still faces an election at their AGM in July) is the culmination of his long-running personal crusade against litter, although he still maintains the air of a somewhat accidental figurehead.

"I was starting to speak out about littering, and kept promising I was going to do something about it," he says. He is soft-spoken and sometimes difficult to hear over the insistent roar of traffic, but the words spill out in an enthusiastic tumble. At lectures and book signings he started asking people to contact him if they too felt strongly about litter, and he ended up with more than 900 emails in his inbox. "So I found myself at the head of this slightly small, growing army of disgruntled people, and I didn't know what to do with them. I thought, I don't know how to run a campaign - what am I thinking of? But I've got these 900 very willing people, and they are obviously just a specimen sample of the strength of feeling that's out there, so we must tap into this in some way and see if we can't make a difference."

His solution was to approach the CPRE, one of the most venerable environmental charities in Britain, founded in 1926 to fight the ribbon development that was beginning to threaten England's ancient landscapes. Past presidents include David Puttnam, Jonathan Dimbleby, Prunella Scales and Bryson's immediate predecessor, Sir Max Hastings. It is a Very English Organisation.

Its new president, however, is an American from Des Moines, Iowa, albeit one who has lived in England for the past three decades, apart from a sojourn back in the States (which stretched to eight years after his four kids became "embedded" in the school system). Bryson first came to Britain on a midnight ferry in 1973, blissfully unaware of the rationing and industrial strife in which the country was mired, and clearly thrilled by the prospect of a nation which could keep him in a state of almost perpetual bemusement. "Everything was mysterious and exciting in a way you can't imagine," he recounted in the bestselling Notes From a Small Island. "England was full of words I'd never heard before - streaky bacon, short back and sides, Belisha beacon, serviettes, high tea, ice-cream cornet. I didn't know how to pronounce 'scone' or 'pasty' or 'Towcester' or 'Slough'. I had never heard of Tesco's, Perthshire or Denbighshire, council houses, Morecambe and Wise, railway cuttings, bank holidays, seaside rock, milk floats, trunk calls, Scotch eggs, Morris Minors and Poppy Day. For all I knew, when a car had an L-plate on the back of it, it indicated that it was being driven by a leper."

Whether he is tackling England or Australia or quantum physics, much of the charm and humour of Bryson's writing derives from his ability to maintain the perspective of a bewildered outsider eager to satisfy his boundless curiosity. This winning formula helped to sell 2.7m copies of his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, turning him into a publishing phenomenon (earning him, in turn, an honorary OBE), and it seems to characterise his whole approach to the litter question. "I never really thought about that," he says, "but the part of writing books that I enjoy does seem to be the part I'm drawn to with the litter campaign. With litter it's not trying to find information so much as trying to find solutions, but also why people do it. I'd love to see some sociological studies of what's going on in people's minds."

He believes that most littering these days is done stealthily rather than brazenly. "Studies show that it's done by a very small proportion of people, and of the people who do it, a very high proportion are subject to being reconditioned, and that's what gives me hope." On the walk back to the CPRE offices, he spots evidence to support his claim: a Starbucks cup sitting on a ledge. "It wouldn't be tossed down, it would be set down," he says. "They'll put it on a ledge as if it's not quite littering. They probably looked around for a bin and didn't see one within 20 yards."

For Bryson fly-tipping and littering are primarily rural issues, however, because the countryside lacks the infrastructure to deal with it. "In the towns there is litter but it gets swept up," he says. "In the countryside litter doesn't have a friend. It doesn't have anybody who's saying, wait a minute, this is really starting to get out of control." This was his thinking when he decided to join forces with the CPRE, but enlisting the aid of an organisation for a litter campaign is one thing; agreeing to be its president is another. While Bryson considers himself to be vaguely left-leaning in his politics, he is, he says, "pretty much apolitical. I'd very happily work with anybody. I had a really interesting meeting with Max Hastings, and I suspect that an awful lot of the things that go on in the countryside he would feel much more strongly about, but at the same time there was just a huge amount of common ground."

Being the CPRE's president means signing on to a raft of initiatives he may not have even considered voicing an opinion on previously. The latest newsletter offers updates of battles against polytunnels, the expansion of Bristol airport, road-widening, housebuilding and post office closures. "Before I agreed to do this," says Bryson, "I said, you know, let me read all your policy documents, and there wasn't anything I didn't agree with."

In the past, critics of the CPRE have described it as Nimbyish and largely concerned with what the countryside looks like rather than how it functions, but Bryson thinks this assessment is wide of the mark. "It's been about preserving what is good about the countryside and enhancing what should be improved, and keeping the countryside vibrant. One of the most fundamental beliefs of the campaign is that farming is central to the future of the countryside. It is unthinkable to have a British countryside that doesn't have actual functioning farmers riding tractors, cows in fields, things like that." He agrees that some development is probably necessary, particularly in terms of affordable housing, but, he says, "on the whole it better to approach these things conservatively. Make the people who want to make change prove their case rather than regret it afterwards."

Rescuing the countryside is not quite so straightforward these days: rural England is caught up in a tangle of competing political interests, even between conservation organisations (the CPRE and English Heritage, of which Bryson is still a commissioner, are backing rival plans for the Stonehenge site). Some of Bryson's own suggestions to combat rural litter, including the temporary deployment of signs that say "litter cameras operate in this area", run counter to the CPRE's stated aims. "True," he says, "and I'm very much against clutter in the countryside." He's not particularly troubled by the factionalism, though. "I think everybody's on the same side; it's just some questions of detail."

Contrary to some reports, Bryson has not given up writing. In fact he has only just finished a book - a short biography of Shakespeare - to be published in the autumn. "And then I will be moving on to a new book, but I haven't quite decided what. I've been wanting to do a book about baseball for the longest time, and nobody will let me do it. It's the one thing from America I really miss."

Club members gather to find solace in heightist world


Club members gather to find solace in heightist world

Stephen Moss
Saturday August 25, 2007
The Guardian

I am 6ft 4in, which yesterday made me one of the shorter men in the Wotton House Hotel, near Dorking, Surrey, the suitably spacious venue for the annual convention of the Tall Persons Club of Great Britain and Ireland. "I bet you don't often feel like this," says club director Jim Briggs (6ft 9in), as he and fellow director Stuart Logan (6ft 8in) peer down at me.

The three-day convention is the climax of National Tall Awareness Week, which highlights discrimination against tall people.

"Airlines don't make you pay more if you are blonde, so why should they be allowed to charge you more for being tall?" says Mr Briggs, a British-based American whose transatlantic twang bears an uncanny resemblance to Loyd Grossman.

"We're living in a heightist world," he says, complaining that recently he was barred from sitting in the exit row of a plane because he was not deemed "able bodied". "The stewardess was accusing me of being disabled because I am tall. But I'm not a disabled person. This is what we are fighting against."

Karsten Mathiesen (7ft 2in), a visitor from Denmark, demonstrates just how far he has to bend to enter the room. Mr Briggs launches another salvo. "The world just doesn't seem to cater for the taller, larger person. Take the average 6ft 6in doorway. That standard was set in 1865, so we are using 100-year-old technology here. We're gaining a couple of inches in each generation, so why are we using 100-year-old standards on these doors?"

Competition for the king-sized beds at the hotel must have been ferocious.

The club, which was founded in 1991, campaigns, provides information to its 600 members on suppliers that specialise in larger-than-average clothes and furniture, and offers help and support to people who have suffered psychologically because of their size.

"It can be isolating to be very tall," says Gill Hebb (a mere 6ft ½in). "Sometimes you are literally on a different plane. One of the nice things about going out with people from the Tall Club is that, when you go into a nightclub, you can hear what everyone is saying because they can talk straight into your ear. I don't think you can describe how comforting it is to walk into a room and have to look up to everybody."

Today the 90-strong group of delegates is planning a ramble around Guildford, and they know they will attract unwanted attention.

"When we walk around together, people stop and stare, nudge each other and giggle, " says Ms Hebb. "Karsten and I once went into a pub in Edinburgh and I just couldn't believe how impertinent people were, staring at us and making comments."

Trying to change public attitudes is a key part of National Tall Awareness Week. "For some reason," says Mr Briggs, "it's OK to walk up to me in the street and say 'My God you're tall, how tall are you? But would you walk up to a large-breasted woman in Tesco and say 'My God you've got big tits, what's your bra size?' Of course you wouldn't. So why is it OK to come up to me and say 'What kind of freak are you?' "

The club emphasises the problems faced by teenagers and the prevalence of bullying.

"It's hard enough as a teenager of average height growing up," says Jackie Timbs (6ft 1in), "but when you're head and shoulders above everybody else, as I was as a teenager, you're not just dealing with the everyday teenage issues. You do get picked on."

But the convention is not just about campaigning. There's plenty of partying, too. Finding a partner if you're close to 7ft can be a tall order, and this is a good place to size up possibilities. Briggs says the club has so far brokered 40 marriages.

Above all, the delegates are pleased, for once in their lives, not to stand out in a crowd or be defined by their tallness. In one corner of leafy Surrey this weekend it will be the men of 5ft 10in and women of 5ft 6in who look out of place. Bending to enter rooms and struggling to get knees under tables will be the norm, and height will not be the sole topic of conversation, as it too often is in the wider (and shorter) world.

Death in the rainforest


Death in the rainforest: fragile creatures give the world a new climate warning
Amphibian and reptile numbers fall by 75% in reserve meant to save them

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday April 17 2007

A protected rainforest in one of the world's richest biodiversity hotspots has suffered an alarming collapse in amphibians and reptiles, suggesting such havens may fail to slow the creatures' slide towards global extinction.

Conservationists working in a lowland forest reserve at La Selva in Costa Rica used biological records dating from 1970 to show that species of frogs, toads, lizards, snakes and salamanders have plummeted on average 75% in the past 35 years.

Dramatic falls in amphibian and reptile numbers elsewhere in the world have been blamed on habitat destruction and the fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which has inflicted a devastating toll across central and South America. But scientists hoped many species would continue to thrive in dedicated reserves, where building, land-clearance and agricultural chemicals are banned.

The new findings suggest an unknown ecological effect is behind at least some of the sudden losses and have prompted scientists to call for urgent studies in other protected forest areas. The researchers, led by Maureen Donelly at Florida International University, believe climate change has brought warmer, wetter weather to the refuge, with the knock-on effect of reducing the amount of leaf litter on the forest floor. Nearly all of the species rely on leaf litter to some extent, either using it for shelter, or feeding on insects that eat the leaves.

The study revealed sharp declines among two species of salamander, whose numbers fell on average 14.52% every year between 1970 and 2005. Frog species slumped too, with numbers of the mimicking rain frog falling 13.49%, the common tink frog 6.69%, and the strawberry poison frog 1.18% a year. Lizards suffered similar falls, with one species, the striped litter skink, down 10.03% each year, and orange-tailed geckos declining by 8.05% every year.

The researchers also analysed weather records for the region, which revealed a rise of more than 1C in temperature over the 35-year period and a doubling of the number of wet days. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday. "All of the falls recorded elsewhere have been in high, mountainous regions and those have mostly been driven by the spread of fungus. All of the tests we've done for the fungus here have been negative," said Steven Whitfield, a co-author of the study.

"Our best guess is that the declines are related to a drop in leaf litter on the forest floor. Most of the species use leaf material as a place to hide, but because it's moist, it's also a place to shelter when it's dry and warm. Many of these species also feed on the insects that eat the leaf matter, so if that disappears, so does their food and shelter."

The scientists say it is crucial to extend the study to other protected forests, such as those in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, to assess the populations of amphibians and reptiles there.

"If we are to design effective conservation strategies, we need to know what's causing these declines. If it's down to a link between climate and leaf litter, then we need to better understand that," said Mr Whitfield.

Amphibians are considered delicate sentinels of environmental change. Sudden population collapses were first noticed during the 1980s, during which more than 120 species are thought to have become extinct.

In Britain, the common toad population is "seriously threatened", with natterjack toads having declined by 75% in the past century. Numbers of great crested newts in the country have dropped by 60% since the 1960s.

Last year, English Nature announced that the chytridiomycosis had arrived in Britain following the escape of infected bullfrogs imported from North America. The organisation destroyed 11,000 frogs in an attempt to contain the spread.

The collapse of amphibian populations prompted 50 of the world's leading conservation experts to call last year for an urgent mission to save them from extinction. In a letter to the US journal Science, the conservationists proposed a $400m (£217m) plan called the Amphibian Survival Alliance, which would dispatch teams to collect endangered amphibians for captive breeding.

John Fa, director of conservation science at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, said: "Something needs to be done in terms of saving these species, and maybe that is captive breeding, but it's difficult. You have to know that even if you're able to breed up the numbers, will they survive in the environment when you put them back?"

Declined at least 75% in the past 35 years, even in protected areas: Common salamander; strawberry poison frog; Bransford's litter frog; broad-headed rain frog; Noble's rain frog; mimicking rain frog; common tink frog; Warszewitsch's frog; orange-tailed gecko; leaf litter lizard; striped litter skink.

Girls at risk amid India's prosperity


Girls at risk amid India's prosperity
By Nick Bryant
BBC News

India is in the throes of a revolution of rising expectations, a country animated by a providential sense of its own possibility.

Already, it is close to dislodging Japan as the world's third largest economy, if purchasing power is taken into account. And by 2040 should have eased past China to become the planet's most populous country.

Though progress can be agonisingly and needlessly slow, especially in the countryside, living standards are improving, along with literacy rates and life expectancy.

In Mumbai not so long ago, I visited what can only be described as a gentrified slum, where a young father sat in front of his colour television mesmerised by the fast-moving ticker racing across the bottom of the screen.

He was checking on the value of his share portfolio, and happily it was increasing with each occasional blink of his eyes.

Daring to dream

Even in the shanties, still stinking and overcrowded, people are daring to dream. The signs of change are everywhere.

Inequalities aside, the crude equation that increased wealth will lead ultimately to decreased suffering should apply to most of India's social and economic maladies.

Yet there is one problem that prosperity is actually aggravating.

I saw this for myself in a hospital in Punjab, where we filmed a young mother giving birth, with the help of a surgeon's scalpel, to her second daughter.

The Caesarean section was a complete success, and the safe arrival of such a beautiful ball of life should have been greeted with uncomplicated delight.

But the mother had failed once again to provide her husband with a son and heir, so it was a singularly joyless occasion.

Old attitudes

Handed the little girl, not yet 10 minutes old, the women of the family were disapproving and edgy, fretful perhaps of how they would break the news to the men folk, who had not even come to the hospital.

On the maternity ward a few minutes later, I was asked by one of the ladies - the mother's sister, I think - whether we would like to name the baby girl.

We demurred, of course. Then came an even more extraordinary request: did we want to take the baby, not just to hold, but to have?

In another time, she might have been killed.

For this prosperous Punjabi family, we seemingly offered a less savage means of disposal.

In modern-day India, sex selection, the all-too-common practice by which female foetuses are terminated before birth, conforms to a very different and disturbing calculus: increased wealth brings increased access to prenatal ultrasounds and sonograms.

New and more widely available technology, the engine of India's relentless economic growth, is also fuelling female foeticide.


According to a study by Unicef, a higher percentage of boys are born now than 10 years ago in 80% of India's districts.

Only last month in the state of Orissa, the skulls of 40 female foetuses and newborn girls were discovered in an abandoned well.

More distressing still, sex selection is worst in the most affluent parts of the country: Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat.

In northern Punjab, for example, there are just 798 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys. The national average is 927.

Even though it is illegal in India for a doctor to reveal the gender of an unborn child, the law is rarely enforced.

Over the past 20 years, it has been estimated that some 10 million female foetuses have been aborted.

Girls are unwanted because they are seen as a financial burden. Landholdings can pass to in-laws and dowries, which themselves are illegal, siphon money from families.

First birthday

Why pay 50,000 rupees to your new in-laws when you can pay 500 rupees for an abortion? You do not even have to leave home.

Many unscrupulous doctors carry portable ultra-sound equipment in the boots of their cars.

Increased consumer choice is one of the hallmarks of the new India.

Tragically, it is being applied, with almost industrial efficiency, to depress the female birth rate.

Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2007/08/18 10:46:38 GMT
BBC    ↑Top

Fears over child poverty target


Fears over child poverty target
By Kim Catcheside
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Back in 1999 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, promised to halve the number of poor children in 10 years and to eradicate child poverty in 20 years.

It was hugely ambitious, but in the glow of the new Labour government's extended honeymoon it seemed somehow to be possible.

Now disillusioned anti-poverty campaigners are asking if the government is still serious about its promise.

"We want to believe", says the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, Kate Green.

"But on the current rates of spending on tax credits and benefits there's no way the government is going to halve child poverty by the end of the decade."

The logic of the figures is pitiless.

To halve child poverty by 2010, more than a million children will have to be lifted across the poverty line in the next three years.

But spending on tax credits and help for lone parents announced in the Budget and in the pre-Budget report will help only 300,000 of that total.

Last chance

Time is running out to get the government back on track.

The director of welfare research at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Mike Brewer, calculates that the chancellor has got to add another £3.5bn-£4bn a year to tax credits to halve child poverty.

"The absolute last chance to find that money is the pre-Budget report of 2009," he says.

"The plan must be to hope that the public finances get better. But my colleagues at the IFS think that the chancellor's predictions for the public finances are already too optimistic."

Despite the stark figures, the government is sticking to its guns.

Work and Pensions secretary Peter Hain said a "huge amount" of success had already been achieved, with 600,000 children lifted out of poverty over the last decade.

But he admitted more needed to be done to reach the government's "ambitious goal".

"At the pre-budget report the government committed to helping a further 100,000 children directly through increases to the children's tax credit and to the child maintenance disregard," he said.

"I also believe that work represents the best route out of poverty and I am committed to helping more lone parents and people who have previously struggled to find jobs to get back into work."

He added that increasing the numbers of single parents in work would alone lift another 200,000 children out of poverty.

Official statistics define children in poverty as those in households whiose income is less than 60% of the median for similar households.

Median income is the level with half the total number of households above it, and half below.

Lisa Harker, the government's former poverty tsar and now co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Research notes: "There's a rhetoric reality gap in government."

Donald Hirsch, author of several reports on child poverty for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, speculates that at some point ministers are going to have to admit the 2010 target is going to be missed.

He is worried about what might happen to anti-poverty policies after that.

Long grass

Crudely speaking, there is a two legged strategy at the moment.

The first is to raise the incomes of the poor by raising tax credits and that involves large amounts of public spending.

The second is a more multifaceted approach.

This includes measures to get people off welfare and into work, raising skills and closing the education achievement gap between poor children and their peers.

Ministers hope much of this could be achieved by reprioritising current spending.

Mr Hain said the combination of helping people into work and targeting help where it is needed will help the government reach its goal of ending child poverty.

"We know that children in households where no one works are up to seven-and-a-half times more likely to be living in poverty," he added.

"So it is important that children can see the benefits of work and aspire to a life in work and break the cycle of worklessness that still blights too many lives."

Donald Hirsch says: "My fear is that they will abandon trying to raise the incomes of the poor and concentrate on longer term initiatives to narrow the education gap between rich and poor and widen opportunities."

Political urgency

Would there be a political penalty for failing to meet child poverty targets?

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, says "missing the targets would only matter if it were part of a wider picture including failings in the economy; a rise in house repossessions for instance".

On Wednesday, Tory leader David Cameron started to create the mood music for that scenario.

He criticised Gordon Brown's performance on child poverty promising that the Tories would be the ones to make poverty history.

Kate Green and Lisa Harker agree this creates a new political urgency for Mr Brown.

Lisa Harker says: "The way to differentiate Labour from the Tories is to deliver on child poverty."

Kate Green adds: "It's not enough to have aspirations - you have to meet them too."

Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2007/10/22 11:16:24 GMT
BBC    ↑Top

Minority report 3


The few non-white MEPs try to avoid being stereotyped as token experts on race or immigration. But it is a telling sign of their rarity that many are inundated with appeals from people in other countries who share their ethnicity or religion. As well as being the only Asian woman in parliament, Gill is the only Sikh too. She says she receives "almost weekly" calls from Sikh groups in Italy and France who are attacked because of "the turban issue".

The sprinkling of non-white or Turkish MEPs from France, Germany and the Netherlands are reluctant to accuse their fellow MEPs of discrimination. Instead, they focus on how hard it is for people from ethnic minorities to get into politics. "People need time to build up networks in society. Immigrants start very low in terms of jobs and education and they need time to catch up," says Emine Bozkurt. Born in Holland to Turkish parents, in 2004 she became the first MEP elected from the Netherlands with ethnic minority heritage. "People refer to me as a migrant but I've never migrated apart from when I moved to the European parliament. Then I really felt like a migrant."

To British eyes, Socialist MEP Kader Arif is classically French: pale pink shirt unbuttoned at the neck, smoking, philosophical. His French assistant refers to him as "black". Hugely popular in south-western France, Arif attributes his political ascent to his accent which, reassuringly for his constituents, is a strong Toulouse drawl. His passions - rugby and bullfighting - show he is well integrated, he says, since coming to France from Algeria aged five.

The reason there are so few non-white MEPs, Arif says, is because of the social environment and the nature of political careers. You find more immigrants in sport and culture because there talent can be objectively recognised and rewards are instant - unlike in politics, he says. "When you get recognised in sports or culture, this breaks all social barriers; politics is made up of social barriers."

He believes there is racism across the board in French political parties. All of them, he says, conservatively recruit in their own image. But he was elected first in the list of 10 MEPs in their National Front-friendly constituency of 8.5 million people. "It shows that sometimes the masses are in advance of the political elites," he says.

For Moraes, the whiteness of the European parliament is not simply because alienated, unconfident minorities shun politics. "Confidence of the individual is a small part," he says. "A large part is direct and indirect discrimination. Where do you advertise jobs? Do you encourage schools in particular parts of Europe? Is there real accessibility? Do people apply from non-traditional backgrounds?"

If you judge power by the size of an office then, as the adage goes, the bureaucrats really are running Europe. Julian Priestley is the outgoing secretary general, the parliament's top civil servant. After three decades working in Europe, he talks of "broadening the diversity agenda" in carefully honed sentences that are almost as long as his desk.

"It is true that at the moment the number of people from ethnic minorities working here is way below the proportion of European citizens from ethnic minorities," he says. The problem is recruitment. "I have a horrible feeling that when European institutions place advertisements announcing competitions [for training and employment] there will be part of ethnic minority communities who will feel it's not really for them. We should work with those communities to make sure that candidates come forward."

He considers ethnic monitoring "interesting" but fears it would be blocked by his colleagues who find it "intrusive". And, he adds: "You don't need ethnic minority monitoring to know we're not doing very well." Is the parliament institutionally racist? "I think that would be unfair. The numbers are insufficient because we haven't been imaginative enough and active enough as all institutions together to take positive measures for people to come forward. We've been slower than certain parts of public administrations in the member states and I recognise that."

As the sun sinks and the colours slip out of Brussels, Arif smokes at his desk on the 14th floor of the European parliament and ponders whether this building is equipped to tackle questions of religion, race, immigration and identity that define modern Europe. "It's not because I'm from a minority that I can fight racism," he says. "But if you don't have institutions that represent the diversity of Europe you can't fight against racism properly".

Path to power: How MEPs are elected

The European parliament is created by the largest democratic election outside India. The only directly elected institution in the EU, its 785 MEPs from 27 member states sit in chambers in Brussels and Strasbourg. Countries are given representatives based on their size, so Germany has 99 and Malta has five. Since 1979, elections are held every five years and every adult citizen in the EU can vote. The last elections were in 2004; the next will be in 2009.

Candidates are chosen by, and stand for, national parties. In the UK, MEPs are elected by proportional representation from large, multi-member constituencies, such as north-west England and London. Voters in East Anglia, for instance, have elected seven constituency MEPs, including Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem representatives who they can ask for help on European matters.

Once in parliament, MEPs join European political groupings of like-minded MEPs from other member states. The biggest grouping is currently the European People's party, a centre-right group that includes German Christian Democrats and British Conservative MEPs. Labour MEPs are part of the Socialist group, the second largest.

Despite there now being 492 million voters in the EU, the turnout for parliament's elections is low - in 2004 it was 45.5% across the EU (and just 16.96% in Slovakia for example).

Odd ones out

Europe's non-white MEPs

Counting those of Turkish descent and two Romas, there are 15 MEPs whose origins lie outside Europe:

MEPs: 78. Five non-white MEPs: two Labour, two Conservative, one Lib Dem

MEPs: 99. Three MEPs of Turkish/Kurdish descent: one socialist, one green, one Euro left/Nordic green

MEPs: 78. Three non-white MEPs: two socialist, one European People's party

MEPs: 24. Two Roma MEPs: one European People's party, one Alliance of Liberals and Democrats

The Netherlands
MEPs: 27. One non-white MEP of Turkish descent: socialist

MEPs: 24. One non-white MEP: socialist None of the other 21 EU member states has any non-white MEPs, despite significant ethnic minority populations in countries such as Italy (78 MEPs) and Spain (54 MEPs)

Minority report 2


Ethnic-minority MEPs who have climbed this white political ladder are not over-sensitive souls. But Gill admits she feels "uncomfortable" if seated next to a neo-fascist. (The far right easily out-numbers the non-white MEPs here: the new Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty group has 19 members.) "I've got used to it now but initially I felt quite intimidated. It's threatening. This man thinks I shouldn't be here. If he was in power, you don't know where they would stop. They are intolerant; they don't want to understand; they don't want you playing your part in society; they don't see you as an equal. That's pretty unpleasant."

I am dining in the huge parliamentary restaurant with Syed Kamall, a charming, blunt Conservative MEP of Guyanese descent, who was born in London, when the French National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, sits down at the next table. Le Pen, convicted of inciting racial hatred in France, stares over, inscrutable, chewing on a bread stick. In here, it seems, this shrunken white-haired extremist is a celebrity. A waiter approaches and shakes Le Pen's hand. The three black waiters running between tables are not dispatched to serve Le Pen's coterie.

Kamall, who has no truck with hand-wringing lefty verbiage, grins rebelliously. "I've always wanted to go over to his daughter - because she's in parliament as well - and greet her with a kiss on the cheek in front of him. It amuses me. He doesn't speak to me but one of them [in France's National Front] does. He always says hello. They like to say they are not racist but ..." He shrugs. "I'm very lucky to come from London - it's very different from the rest of Europe. I've been to parts of Europe where I've been the only dark face. In some way, I relish that. Just being here sends a message."

As part of the centre-right European People's party group, Kamall and his Conservative colleague Nirj Deva, born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and raised in Britain, are pretty unusual. Their EPP colleagues, the German Christian Democrats, are the biggest single party in parliament and do not have a single non-white or Turkish MEP. A German Christian Democrat once told the British Asian MEP Claude Moraes: "We would never have someone like you in our party elected in Germany."

Parliament passed a race equality directive in 2000 (currently not fully implemented by many member states) but several MEPs say their colleagues don't engage with ethnic minority issues. Viktoria Mohasci, the second Roma MEP, does not believe parliamentarians would tell her to "go home" to her face. "But in my work if you raise Roma issues, most people smile," she says. "If I speak of how Roma kids in schools are not getting as many qualifications, most people smile and say the Roma produce these kids - they are to blame. They don't take it seriously."

Across the political spectrum, ethnic minority MEPs struggle to get colleagues interested in campaigning for a parliament that is roughly reflective of the ethnic mix of Europe's people. Islam, immigration and integration are increasingly tense subjects across Europe. This parliament is tackling them with all-white representatives. But no one seems too bothered.

Here is an astonishing fact: no one knows how many non-white parliamentary officials there are here because no one is counting. Yet the European parliament is the sort of place where every paperclip is logged, in triplicate. There were exactly 37,091 people - civil servants, administrators and other staff - working for the European parliament, European Commission and other EU bodies in 2006 (far fewer than in Eurosceptic legend). But there is no way of telling how many are non-white. Officials estimate that it is probably "a handful".

In parliament, any debate about this has yet to begin. Everywhere you turn, progressive politics are being practised. Sensitivity towards the diversity of nationalities and languages is so acute as to encourage parody: Gaelic was recently made the EU's 23rd official language with its own translation box in the chamber - meaning that parliament must find those elusive Gaelic speakers who also understand Bulgarian or Hungarian. There is a gender committee looking at equal opportunities and rights for women. And yet there is no committee examining ethnic discrimination. European politicians think they are "colour-blind", argues Moraes, but parliament's whiteness is "symptomatic of what happens when you pretend discrimination doesn't exist".

Moraes would like the ethnic monitoring of parliament's workforce - a basic recording of the background of the workforce, widely accepted by British companies and institutions. "It shows you where you are going wrong and then you can put something in place to correct it," he says. For other countries, however, it is anathema. "You can't get the concept of monitoring accepted here," says Gill. "There is a real reluctance to deal with it, particularly because the French have the attitude that they just see themselves as French. White French will say a person is French and from an African background but one or two of the black French I've met say, 'We're French and we don't want monitoring'."

Of course, MEPs point out, you do not need to be from a particular community to speak up for its interests. "You don't have to be a Muslim to represent Muslims," says Sajjad Karim, a Lib Dem MEP from the north-west who is one of a handful of Muslims in parliament. But Karim and others, such as Kamall, like to stress the practical benefits of having MEPs from diverse backgrounds. It is particularly useful in trade or diplomatic manoeuvres with senior politicians beyond Europe, they say. Karim has undertaken missions to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, where officials assumed he was from their Brussels embassies. "When they realised I was an MEP, it was fantastic because we were changing their view of what Europe was about."

Minority report 1


Minority report

There are 785 MEPs in the European parliament. Of which only nine are non-white. Why is no one up in arms about it? Patrick Barkham reports from Brussels

Wednesday February 14, 2007
The Guardian

It is not Livia Jaroka's youth or talent that mark her out in the beige corridors of the European parliament, but her skin. Jaroka, a centre-right MEP for Hungary, was nominated for a parliamentary award for her conscientious work last year. The response? A Bulgarian objected, arguing that she did not deserve it. "In my country, there are tens of thousands of Gypsy girls way more beautiful," Dimitar Stoyanov wrote in an email to MEPs. "In fact, if you're in the right place at the right time you even can buy one (around 12-13 years old) to be your loving wife. The best of them are very expensive - up to €5,000 a piece, wow!"

Jaroka is Roma, one of two representatives in the European parliament who are from what is now the largest homogeneous ethnic minority in the European Union. The "Gypsy girl" email met with widespread condemnation within the parliament building, but Stoyanov, then an observer in the parliament, since Bulgaria had not yet joined the EU, duly took his seat as a fully fledged MEP last month, part of the new far-right coalition that includes fascists and Holocaust deniers in Europe's premier democratic institution.

A walk through the European parliament in Brussels challenges some of the prejudices peddled by the British press. We are told the European project is stalled, sclerotic and bureaucratic, but there is a buzz here. The chamber - all blond wood and black office chairs - is packed; the lifts echo with earnest chat in all 23 "official" languages. New countries, political groups and, increasingly, laws that affect us all are being formed here. Once dismissed as a talking shop, parliament has a hand in most European legislation. Its power is not doubted by the young European elites who compete for jobs or the legion of lobbyists, who would not waste their time working its cafes and committee rooms if parliament did not matter.

With 785 representatives from 27 member countries and chambers in Brussels and Strasbourg, it is the world's only directly elected international chamber. It represents a more diverse range of people than almost any other - 492 million European citizens. It is also almost completely white, and it is against this backdrop that Stoyanov's inclusion starts to make sense.

There are just nine non-white MEPs here, 1.1% of the total. Five of them come from Britain. Add MEPs of recent Turkish/Kurdish descent and there are a grand total of 13 MEPs whose ethnic origins could be said to lie outside Europe. It is estimated (part of the problem is no one in the EU, and few of its member states, are counting properly) that at least 5% of the population of the EU - 25 million and rising - is non-white. This figure does not include the eight million Roma in the EU, of whom Jaroka and another Hungarian Roma MEP are the only two to make it into parliament.

The chamber in Brussels is housed in two sleek glass blocks a stone's throw from narrow streets filled with North African grocers and Vietnamese cafes. Within its walls, every face seems to be white. As well as MEPs, almost all those legendary Brussels bureaucrats are white. So are security staff. This whiteness stunned Claude Moraes, a London MEP who was raised in Scotland by Indian parents, when he first arrived in Brussels. "I grew up in an all-white town and an all-white school. When I came here, it hit me hard that it was so ethnically non-diverse and that no one spots it or cares about it," he says. "You walk out of this place and there is complete ethnic diversity in Brussels - from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Come here and that's all over, unless you arrive at 5am when the cleaners are in."

Neena Gill was elected as a Labour MEP alongside Moraes eight years ago. She is the only Asian woman in parliament. "Nobody would believe me when I said, 'Britannique'. Only two nights ago I was at a function and this Belgian found it really hard to accept that I was an MEP because I was wearing a sari," she says. "I hear phrases such as, 'Madame Gill is wearing oriental costume.' When they realise you're Indian, people say, 'Why aren't you wearing that spot on your head?' It is the sort of thing that would have been said in Britain 35 years ago."

British children: poorer, at greater risk and more insecure


British children: poorer, at greater risk and more insecure
UN puts UK bottom of 21 advanced nations
'A crisis at heart of our society' - children's commissioner

Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian,
Wednesday February 14 2007

Children growing up in the United Kingdom suffer greater deprivation, worse relationships with their parents and are exposed to more risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those in any other wealthy country in the world, according to a study from the United Nations.

The UK is bottom of the league of 21 economically advanced countries according to a "report card"' put together by Unicef on the wellbeing of children and adolescents, trailing the United States which comes second to last.

Today's findings will be a blow to the government, which has set great store by lifting children out of poverty and improving their education and prospects. Al Aynsley Green, the children's commissioner for England, acknowledges that the UN has accurately highlighted the troubled lives of children. "There is a crisis at the heart of our society and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children and young people and the effect that this has on their wellbeing," he says in a response today.

"I hope this report will prompt us all to look beyond the statistics and to the underlying causes of our failure to nurture happy and healthy children in the UK. These children represent the future of our country and from the findings of this report they are in poor health, unable to maintain loving and successful relationships, feel unsafe and insecure, have low aspirations and put themselves at risk.

"It is time to stop demonising children and young people for what goes wrong and start supporting them to make positive choices. To bring an end to the confusing messages we give to young people about their role, responsibility and position in society and ensure that every child feels valued and has their rights respected."

The Unicef team assessed the treatment of children in six different areas - material wellbeing; health and safety; educational wellbeing, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks; and the young people's own perceptions of their wellbeing.

The Netherlands tops the league, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain. The bottom five are Portugal, Austria, Hungary, the US and the UK.

Nine countries, all of them in northern Europe, have brought child poverty down below 10%, the report shows. But it remains at 15% in the three southern European countries - Portugal, Spain and Italy - and in the UK, Ireland and the US. Child poverty is a relative measure that shows how far their standard of living has fallen below the national average.

The Unicef report adds: "The evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty are more vulnerable: specifically, they are more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioural difficulties, to underachieve at school, to become pregnant at too early an age, to have lower skills and aspirations, to be low paid, unemployed and welfare-dependent."

The Conservatives seized on the report, claiming that it endorsed their attack on the way in which Gordon Brown had addressed the issue of child poverty, and the prime minister had demonised the role of children in his drive against antisocial behaviour.

The shadow chancellor, George Osborne, said: "This report tells the truth about Brown's Britain. After 10 years of his welfare and education policies, our children today have the lowest wellbeing in the developed world."

Labour said it had taken 700,000 people out of child poverty and was mounting an unprecedented investment programme in a network of children's centres. A government spokesman argued that in many cases the data use d in the report was several years old and "does not reflect more recent improvements in the UK such as the continuing fall in the teenage pregnancy rate or in the proportion of children living in workless households".

Some of the most shocking findings concern the relationships children and adolescents have with their family and peers. The UK is bottom of the 21 countries.

This, says Unicef, "is as difficult to measure as it is critical to wellbeing".

To attempt to score countries, the experts have focused on children's own reports of how much time their parents spend "just talking" to them, how many say they eat the main meal of the day with their parents more than once a week and the percentages of 11, 13 and 15-year-olds who find their peers "kind and helpful". UK parents do reasonably well on "talking regularly" - 60% of children say they chat, putting Britain 12th in the league table. But while a similar proportion say they eat together more than once a week, the UK lags towards the bottom of the league, with Italy, Iceland and France at the very top end.

The report presents a sad picture of relationships with friends, which are so important to children. Not much more than 40% of the UK's 11, 13 and 15-year-olds find their peers "kind and helpful", which is the worst score of all the developed countries.

The UK takes bottom place "by a considerable distance" for the number of young people who smoke, abuse drink and drugs, engage in risky sex and become pregnant at too early an age. For 16 out of 17 OECD countries with the data, between 15% and 28% of young people have had sex by the age of 15. For the UK, the figure is 40%.

On education, the UK comes 17th out of 21. At the age of 15, British children score relatively well on reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. But more than 30% of 15- to 19-year-olds are not in education or training and are not looking beyond low-skilled work.

Feminist, socialist, devout Muslim @ Denmark


Feminist, socialist, devout Muslim: woman who has thrown Denmark into turmoil
Parliamentary candidate, 25, finds herself at centre of Europe-wide controversy
Ian Traynor in Odense, Denmark
Wednesday May 16, 2007
The Guardian

In the land that launched the cartoons war between Islam and the west, Asmaa Abdol-Hamid finds herself on the frontline, gearing up for a new battle.

The 25-year-old social worker, student and town councillor describes herself as a feminist, a democrat, and a socialist. She has gay friends, opposes the death penalty, supports abortion rights, and could not care less what goes on in other people's bedrooms. In short, a tolerant Scandinavian and European.

She is also a Palestinian and a devout Muslim who insists on wearing a headscarf, who refuses, on religious grounds, to shake hands with males, and who is bidding fair to be the first Muslim woman ever to enter the Folketing, the Danish parliament in Copenhagen.

For the extreme right, the young activist is a political provocateur, an agent of Islamic fundamentalism bent on infiltrating the seat of Danish democracy. To many on the left, Ms Abdol-Hamid is also problematic, personifying through her dress the reactionary repression of women and an illiberal religious agenda that should have no place in her leftwing "red-green" alliance of socialists and environmentalists.

As a result of announcing her parliamentary candidacy earlier this month, the young Muslim and Danish citizen has been thrust to the centre of a debate tormenting Denmark and the rest of western Europe - on the place and values of Islam in modern Europe and the treatment of large Muslim minorities.

Ms Abdol-Hamid is unfazed. "I see more Islam here in Denmark than in Iran or in other places in the Middle East," she says. "It's easier to be a Muslim in Denmark than in Saudi Arabia. I don't feel a stranger here. I'm interested in politics. I want to talk about this society, about political issues. But I'm not in politics because I'm a Muslim."

Her ambition, combined with her insistence on flaunting her religious affiliation, have outraged the Danish political establishment and triggered a new bout of soul-searching almost two years after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet ignited violence and protest across the Islamic world.

"This goes far beyond the extreme right," says Toger Seidenfaden, editor of the Politiken daily newspaper. "Asmaa is insisting on the right to be a religious Muslim and that's provoking broad debate among the public."

The key issue is the headscarf and whether it can be accommodated in parliament. This month Ms Abdol-Hamid gained the candidacy for a safe Copenhagen seat for the leftwing Unity List.

The Danish People's Party or DFP, the far-right movement that unofficially props up the weak centre-right government of the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is on the warpath. A couple of DFP politicians compared the headscarf to the Nazi swastika. One described the prospective MP as "brainwashed".

"We don't like the idea of her performing as an Islamist in the parliament," says DFP spokesman Kim Eskildsen. "We find it wrong that she'll use the parliament as a tool for Islamism ... We don't consider this woman a Nazi. But the way the headscarf is used is comparable to other totalitarian symbols."

The happiest country in the world, according to one detailed survey of international living standards and public attitudes, Denmark is economically highly successful, with the lowest unemployment in the EU.

For the country's 200,000 Muslims and immigrants, however, that happiness is increasingly somewhere else. By virtue of the DFP's influence on the centre-right government, Denmark has enacted the tightest anti-immigration legislation in Europe in recent years.

Many Danes married to foreigners now commute into Copenhagen every day from the southern Swedish town of Malmo across the bridge linking the two cities because they cannot obtain residence for their spouses at home.

Ms Abdol-Hamid, who shares a one-room council flat with one of her six sisters in the "ghetto" of Vollsmose, in the town of Odense, says her political mission is to fight for this underclass.

"This is such a rich country. But we have people in Denmark in deep poverty and nobody helps them. For me the welfare system is very close to Islam. But we need to change the government."

But conservative Muslim leaders are also disapproving of her activism.

"Some Muslims don't think it's right for a female to act like this. They go to my father and tell him, get her married, get her married," she laughs. "Others think you can't be Muslim and Danish at the same time. Some of the Muslims and the extreme right are just the same.

"And there are women in my party who say that anyone who wears the headscarf is oppressed. It's like they think I'm dumb. They're taking away my individuality. We need the right to choose. It's up to us whether or not we wear headscarves.

"They think I'm a woman from the Middle East. No. I'm a Danish Muslim."

Flemish couples don't want to be wed by Wouter


Flemish couples don't want to be wed by Wouter
Alex Duval Smith, Europe correspondent
Sunday February 25, 2007
The Observer

Wouter Van Bellingen has a good Flemish name. He is a former patrol leader in the Boy Scouts. He is an elected official of a party that wants more autonomy for Flanders. And he is a Belgian black.

Now, three couples in the town of Sint Niklaas - whose patron saint is Santa Claus - have judged their registrar by his skin and cancelled their weddings. 'I am not really surprised. I'm used to having more space on the train than my fellow passengers,' said van Bellingen, a 34-year-old father of two. However, the town's Socialist mayor, former minister Freddy Willockx, said that he was shocked by the racism that was being shown by the people of Flanders. 'I had found the image of a black man officiating at a white wedding rather beautiful,' he mused.

But while the Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has expressed his indignation at the situation, the country's racial equality commission has been caught on the hop. 'We are more used to cases where someone seeking services has been discriminated against. Legally there is not much we can do,' said Jozef de Witte, the director of the Centre pour l'Egalité des Chances. Van Bellingen knows just what the racist couples can do: 'They have three choices - to accept me as their registrar, to stay single, or to move. I have been elected for six years.'

The registrar began his job at the town hall of St Niklaas, to the west of Antwerp, on 1 January - two months after topping the list in local elections of Spirit, a left-inclined nationalist party whose coalition with the Socialist Party scored 35 per cent of the vote. Vlaams Belang, the right-wing nationalists who want Flanders to break away from Belgium, won 26 per cent of the vote in the town, which has a population of 70,000.

'I was in all the papers because I had become the first black alderman in Belgium,' said Van Bellingen, who was born in Antwerp to Rwandan parents and grew up in St Niklaas with an adoptive white family. His three brothers and sisters were half-Indian, half-African and white.

Mayor Willockx, 60, said that he had only learnt of the cancellations from town hall staff after the event. 'In Belgium, couples wishing to be married can pencil in a date at their town hall up to six months before the ceremony,' he said. 'The place of marriage is determined by the bride's home address. It seems that the three couples had been pencilled in. The cancellations happened independently of one another but in each case the couples or their parents were clear about their reason; they didn't want a black man officiating.

'The director of administration came to me in confidence to find out how he should handle future cancellations, especially since one set of parents had been abusive. If it happens again, I want to talk to the people, but there is nothing that we can do to trace those who have already cancelled their pencilling-in.'

He has received more than 2,000 emails and letters since the cancellations became public knowledge three weeks ago. 'Only about 10 have been racist or critical of the council's support for the registrar,' the mayor said. 'This is not a racist town. We have a refugee centre right in the middle of town and we have never had any problems.'

Van Bellingen, who has married 25 couples since the beginning of the year, views the whole experience as enriching. 'The African in me - who always likes to see the positive side of life - feels happy about what has happened,' he said. 'I hope that the three couples change their minds. If they do, I shall happily marry them and thank them for bringing about a debate. The issue of race is too often hushed up because people feel ill at ease with it. My books are now full until August and the people I marry all want me in their wedding photograph. The people of St Niklaas are so proud of their black registrar.'

As a result of the marriage controversy, local members of Belgian human rights groups have organised a symbolic mass wedding on the market square of St Niklaas to take place on 21 March, which is World Anti-Racism Day.

'It's going to be such fun,' said Van Bellingen. 'We have 200 couples so far and we're going to have the most crowded wedding photo ever, the biggest wedding dance ever and the most multicultural buffet imaginable.'

Research shows 41% of people believe there is very little child poverty


Research shows 41% of people believe there is very little child poverty

· Findings underline challenge for ministers
· Government faces struggle to meet targets

Patrick Wintour, political editor
Tuesday December 11, 2007
The Guardian

Nearly 41% of the British public believe there is "very little" child poverty in Britain, research undertaken for the Department for Work and Pensions shows, in contradiction of official statistics which suggest more than 3 million children are in poverty. The unpublished research suggests about 52% of people think there is quite a lot of poverty.
Those who have read the research, due to be published next year, say a strong feeling emerges that the poor have themselves to blame. The research underlines the political challenge facing the government. Some senior Brownites have made a drive against inequality one of the missions of the government, but these findings suggest the government goals do not yet resonate with the electorate.
The children's secretary, Ed Balls, mentioned the existence of the research in a speech yesterday, re-committing the government to meet its target of halving child poverty by 2010.
Lobby groups have been pressing the government to spend an extra £4bn a year in child benefits and tax credits to meet the target of halving child poverty by 2010 in comparison with 1990 levels.
Ministers define child poverty as children living in a household on less than 60% of median income, adjusted for the composition of the household. The median is the halfway point between the nation's highest and lowest incomes.
In his speech yesterday, Balls pointed out there were 600,000 fewer children living in relative poverty now than there were in 1998-99, the biggest fall of any EU country over this period. He did, however, concede that the 2010 target was a challenge and accepted that it was disappointing that there had been an increase of 200,000 children living in poverty in 2005-06, the last year for which there are figures.
Balls said: "We're not going to abandon these goals just because the going has got tough. This is when we need to make sure we try even harder."
Ministers have set up a cross-government child poverty unit, including Neera Sharma, principal policy officer from Barnardo's, and Caroline Kelham, from the prime minister's strategy unit.
Earlier this year Sharma wrote a report arguing that an extra £3.9bn a year needed to be spent by government if it was to meet its target of cutting child poverty from 3 million children in 1999 to 1.7 million in 2010. At present the number of families in child poverty has fallen only to 2.8 million.
Campaigners such as Barnardo's would like to see tax credits and benefits rise faster, partly to keep up with the rise in earnings.
Balls stressed that the solution did not lie solely in benefit increases, saying: "This is not a problem that we can simply buy our way out of."
He said: "If we want to eradicate child poverty altogether over the next decade, we will need to have a much broader, all-encompassing approach. It is vital that we prevent children who are in primary school today from becoming tomorrow's impoverished parents if we are to meet our 2020 goal of eradicating child poverty."
Ministers are increasingly insisting that the target is likely to be met as much by luring more benefit claimants into work, and then ensuring the minimum wage is enforced - reforms recently announced by the business minister Pat MacFadden.
The work and pensions secretary, Peter Hain, is due to make a statement setting out a government overview on its welfare reforms on Thursday.
Ministers have recently announced piecemeal reforms, including changes in benefit rules for single parents. At the moment, lone parents with children under 16 qualify for benefits. In future, the receipt of benefits solely on the basis of being a single parent will end when their children reach 12. The age will be cut further to seven from October 2010.
· The following clarification was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Thursday December 13 2007. We were right to say in the above article that the government defines child poverty as children living in a household on less than 60% of median income. However, we defined the median as the figure that is halfway between the highest and lowest incomes. The national median income is the figure such that half of households have an income above that figure and half an income below it.

Life in a goldfish bowl


From The Times
May 24, 2007

Life in a goldfish bowl
There are few rulers more burdened with care than Emperor Akihito of Japan. As he prepares to visit Britain for a conference, Richard Lloyd Parry profiles a troubled monarch who finds solace in the study of the goby fish

To plenty of his own people as well as to foreigners, there has always been something cosily reassuring about Emperor Akihito of Japan. Like many monarchs, he and Empress Michiko have cultivated a personal style over the years, as practised and familiar in its own way as the British Royal Family’s handbags, corgis and stiff G&Ts.

There are his double-breasted suits and her old-fashioned hats, as smart as they are unfashionable. There is their public demeanour, one of intense solicitousness and earnest courtesy, without a trace of aristocratic hauteur. And then there are the Emperor’s enthusiasms – his love of tennis, of the cello, and, above all, his passion for a small, unglamorous fish called the goby.

In a few days, in recognition of his contribution to goby studies, Akihito will deliver a keynote speech at the august Linnean Society, an organisation of natural scientists in London, at which his esoteric expertise will be on full display. He will talk of binomial nomenclature and the history of Linnaean taxonomy. He may refer to his own painstaking work in distinguishing different goby species by minute comparison of their shoulder-blades. It is an appealing, almost Pythonesque image – the dotty boffin Emperor ensconced in his palace, sifting through fish bones. And yet there are few monarchs today more serious, or burdened with greater care, than Emperor Akihito.

The carefully cultivated image of bland serenity conceals one of the most complicated, tense and, in many ways, troubled royal houses in the world. Virtually unnoticed by the outside world, first as Crown Prince and now as Emperor, the 73-year-old Akihito has overseen a transformation of Japan’s Imperial Family from a controversial relic of war and dictatorship to a symbol of peace and antimilitarism. Out of an ancient aristocratic history, he has recreated his family as emblems of middle-class liberalism. And he has kept at bay conservative ultranationalists who would hijack the Emperor as the vehicle of a right-wing revival.

If there is a single theme running through Akihito’s life, it is war – its horrors and the importance of preventing it. He was born in 1932, the year after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and spent the Second World War as a privileged evacuee; he returned to a city burned flat by incendiary bombing. Since succeeding to the throne in 1989, he has made a point of visiting places associated with the worst suffering of the war, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, and the Pacific island of Saipan where Japanese, Americans and locals died in a suicidally hopeless last ditch battle.

His father, Emperor Hirohito, might have ended up tried, or even hanged, as a war criminal. In the end, the postwar American occupiers merely forced him to renounce his divine status, and seized the lands and abolished the titles of the extensive aristocracy. The present Imperial Family’s studiously good behaviour is as much a necessity as an expression of good manners, a survival mechanism by an institution that feels lucky to exist.

The new postwar constitution defined the Emperor as a symbol of the state and the “unity of the people”. From early on, the then Crown Prince Akihito fleshed out this theoretical definition. His mentors included a female American Quaker, who would never have been allowed to teach a Japanese prince before 1945. His choice of bride was equally unprecedented – Michiko was the beautiful and stylish daughter of a wealthy industrialist, rather than the aristocrats who had supplied previous imperial brides. When the couple became parents, they raised their own children at home, rather than farming them out, as Akihito had been, to a lonely life among nannies and wet nurses.

This was not just the indulgence of personal taste but a deliberate effort to present an image of Akihito and his family as representative of the new and growing Japanese middle-class – and it was pursued, not for its own sake but as a matter of survival.“Unless the overwhelming majority feel comfortable, this system could be in trouble,” says one insider. “They have to prove that the existence of the monarchy means something – it’s a conscious agenda for them. For that purpose their solution is to work hard.”

They lead a remarkable life, different in almost all ways from that of foreign royalty. They rise at 6.30am, watch television news and stroll around the Imperial Palace, a moated woodland in the very centre of Tokyo, inaccessible to all but a tiny number of visitors and imperial employees. They lead lives of surprising simplicity.

The various buildings are of late 20th-century construction: smart and dignified but far from the opulence of a European-style palace. The Emperor goes between them on foot or, in case of rain, in a 14-year-old car, a cream Honda Integra, which he drives himself – rather touchingly, he insists on keeping the speed limit, using his seat belt, and renewing his licence, despite the fact that these private roads are almost traffic-free and exempt from the laws of the highway.

He receives visitors – government ministers, foreign leaders and royalty, newly-arrived ambassadors and the recipients of imperial awards – in a separate official palace. Thirty-two times a year, dressed in the garb of a Shinto priest, he pays his respects at a shrine to his legendary ancestor, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu no Omikami. In the evenings are official receptions and banquets. Last thing at night, the Emperor and Empress might watch a nature programme on television or a video (on a VHS player – they have no DVD, just as they have no internet access) or read (The Times is among their daily reading matter, as well as Japanese newspapers and magazines).

Despite bearing the burdens and duties of royalty, Japan’s Imperial Family enjoy few of its perks. Apart from two modest seaside villas and a farm, there are no grand retreats. In the absence of a home-grown aristocracy, and vigilantly watched by courtiers, they have few playmates at all, and little free time from official duties. “If they can take one whole day off a week, they are very lucky,” says Makoto Watanabe, the Emperor’s Grand Chamberlain, who has served him for a decade. “They belong to this very frugal, serious, workaholic generation which almost views leisure or a wealthy lifestyle as immoral . . . It’s rather a cruel thing to say, but it will continue until the end of their lives. There’s no retirement. They don’t complain about it and they don’t show it in public, but I’m sure it affects them, physically and psychologically.”

A budget of 300 million yen (£1.25 million) a year is allocated to the Emperor’s private household, but all must be accounted for. He has no property or cash of his own – even the holiday villas are owned by the state. Once, courtiers report, the Emperor was being briefed by the governor of the Bank of Japan on the consumer economy. At one point, he interrupted with a puzzled question: “What is a cash-point machine?”

And the pressure on them is political, as well as physical and financial. The Emperor studiously avoids any explicit expressions of political opinion, but over the years it has become clear that he is a man of firm, liberal beliefs. On visits to China, Korea and SouthEast Asia, he has spoken with regret of the sufferings inflicted by Japanese forces during the war. All of this has infuriated the ultranationalist right, the successors to the Emperor-worshippers of the prewar period, who already resented Akihito’s modernising reforms. Emperor-worshippers, by definition, cannot criticise the object of their devotion – and so their target has been the next thing to him: his wife, Michiko.

A series of whispering campaigns has driven the Empress to several nervous breakdowns – as recently as this spring she suffered from internal bleeding, reportedly caused by stress. The intensity and isolation of life within the Palace, combined with the pressure to produce an heir, has also broken the spirit of his daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, wife of his elder son, Naruhito. The succession crisis caused by the absence of a male heir has now eased, after the younger prince Akishino had a son last year. But Masako remains an unhappy figure, painfully unadapted to Palace life.

And this perhaps, explains the Emperor’s passion for biology. “His duties, inevitably, are related to political questions or government,” says Watanabe. “In natural science there’s none of that. He can straightforwardly pursue the truth . . . He has contacts with scientists who also pursue the truth and tell him he’s wrong regardless of whether he’s Emperor or not.” How appealing it must be to put aside cares of state and stand up in front of an audience of like-minded rationalists, to talk of species classification, and the shoulder-blades of gobies.

A world-class scientist
It is a 10cm-long bottom-feeder with a translucent, orange-speckled body and big bug eyes, by all appearances one of the humbler residents of the seas. The most recently-discovered fantail coral reef goby, however, is a blue-blood: it bears the scientific name Exyrias akihito, in honour of the only reigning monarch who can claim a world-class reputation in science.

Since 1967, when he completed the first of 38 peer-reviewed papers published in academic journals, Emperor Akihito has established himself as a world authority on gobies. This fish family includes more than 2,000 species and Akihito’s skill is in their taxonomy – identifying which is which – and he has contributed to the identification of several species.

Peter Miller, an emeritus professor at the University of Bristol, says: “He has made a very useful contribution, and I’m not just saying that because he’s the Emperor. I have referenced his papers myself. I doubt that there are more than a dozen scientists in the world who can match his expertise.”

Akihito learned his love of biology from his father, the Emperor Hirohito, with whom he would spend childhood summers collecting specimens of marine life from rockpools at the imperial retreat of Hayama. He was drawn to ichthyology – the study of fish – on the advice of Ichiro Tomiyama, of the University of Tokyo, who pointed out that taxonomy was the ideal specialism for the Crown Prince, because he would be able to work with a microscope in his own palace laboratory.

His visit this week has been timed to coincide with the tercentenary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus, the great Swedish naturalist who devised the standard binomial system of classifying species.

Akihito will visit Sweden before Britain, then on Tuesday he will address the Linnean Society of London. Linnaeus is one of Akihito’s heroes, and in a press conference last week he described his satisfaction at being elected to the eminent Linnean Society in 1980: “I thought I was not worthy.” His wife, the Empress Michiko, is well aware of Linnaeus’s influence. She said: “Shortly after we were engaged, His Majesty, then the Crown Prince, talked to me about fish. He would use the precise binomial nomenclature, such as Tilapia mossambica. I was astonished, slightly awed and overwhelmed.”

Japanese Empress who dreams of being invisible


Japanese Empress who dreams of being invisible

By William Langley
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 20/05/2007


Glimpsed through screens of knotted willows listing beside lily ponds filled with ornamental carp, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, (the 284-acre grounds of which were estimated, during the last Japanese property boom, to be worth more than all the real estate in London) offers a reassuringly expensive image of the world's oldest monarchy.

Inside, the mood is less promising. The talk in the palace is of crisis, and a whiff of despair hangs in the air. This is the home of ageing Emperor Akihito and his wife, Michiko, the beautiful, accomplished commoner whose arrival in the imperial family more than 40 years ago was supposed to herald a new age of modernity. Instead, as Michiko ruefully reflected last week, on the eve of her first official visit to Britain, those dreams have been crushed by the forces of tradition and secrecy.

The 72-year-old Empress is a broken butterfly. "It has been," she said during a rare, and carefully controlled, news conference, "a great challenge to get through each and every day with my sorrow and anxiety."

The grim picture of Michiko's life inside the palace has taken years to leak out. Even to travel into Tokyo she must seek permission 14 days in advance. In deference to protocol she must change her kimono three times a day, keep her eyes lowered, and walk three steps behind her husband. She has no money of her own, or even a telephone on which she can make private calls. It was only five years ago that she was first allowed to travel abroad without the Emperor.

Not that Akihito is a monster. Far from it. A shy, bookish, amateur biologist, author of a noted work on goby fish, the Emperor has, himself, been royally squashed by the real power at the court, the Imperial Household Agency, a 1,200-strong, inscrutable secretariat ferociously wedded to its ancient ways. "They are a set of bureaucrats," says Professor Jeffrey Kingston, a history lecturer at Tokyo's Temple University, "whose job is to keep the family on a tight reign, and ensure that all the members live according to the agency's dictates."

The IHA, its outlook and allegiances little changed from the Shogun era, remains firmly of the view that royal women belong in the background; their purpose to raise heirs and offer occasional, decorative reminders of their existence on ceremonial occasions. So little information is released about them that when Empress Nagako, widow of the late Hirohito, died aged 97 in 2000, millions of Japanese were unaware that she was still alive.

Although Japan has had several ruling empresses in the past, all were, essentially, regents. "They were either widowed or unwed," says Hidehiko Kasahara, professor of Constitutional Law at Keio University, "and the throne did not pass to their children, but reverted, as soon as possible, to the male line. The rule of male supremacy has been absolutely fundamental."

It was into this world that Michiko Shoda, eldest daughter of a wealthy flour miller, arrived in 1959. She was the first commoner ever to marry into the imperial family, and, for all the attractiveness and good intentions she brought to the court, has never been allowed to forget it. Akihito met her at a tennis match and fought for years to persuade his parents to accept her. Even when the marriage was agreed, Nagako appears to have given her daughter-in-law hell, and the stiffer element within the IHA never sought to disguise its contempt for her.

She was well-educated, with a degree in English literature, and a passion for books that had a led her to a close - very close it has been suggested - friendship with the controversial novelist Yukio Mishima, who later committed ritual suicide with a samurai sword. Yet her real offence was to represent the prospect of change in a court packed with people who saw no need for it. "After I married," explained Michiko last week, "I experienced difficulties in my new life, amid many demands and expectations. I never expressed it in terms of pressure. I just felt sad and sorry for not living up to people's expectations." Although she spoke from what appeared to be a prepared script, the candour and poignancy of her words was unmissable. At one point, Michiko told of her longing for an invisibility cloak, a common feature in Japanese folk tales, that would free her from the confines of the palace, "and I would walk through the railway station, then go to Kanda-Jimbocho [an area of Tokyo noted for its bookshops], and browse as I did when I was a student."

Touching as all this was, it also hinted at the naivety that has dogged Michiko throughout her time as Empress. Akihito apparently promised her that her role would be brought up to date, but she seems never to have asked herself, or him, how, or even wondered whether her husband was up to taking on the redoubtable IHA and its quasi-spiritual attachment to the past.

Japan's royal family can trace its lineage back 25 centuries through 126 generations, "almost literally," says Kasahara, "into the mists of time". Britain's monarchy is little more than an upstart by comparison, and even in the 900 years since the semblance of a unified throne was established by William the Conqueror, the crown has passed through several different families.

After Japan's defeat in the Second World War, the American occupying authorities were inclined to abolish the monarchy entirely, but were persuaded that to do so would demoralise a beaten and traumatised nation beyond endurance. A compromise was reached whereby, in exchange for the Emperor's renunciation of his claim to divinity and the disbandment of the lesser aristocracy, the Chrysanthemum Throne would be left intact. The IHA accepted the deal reluctantly, amid mutinous mutterings and with a determination that there would be no more concessions to progress. Certainly none to an upstart miller's daughter with no drop of royal blood.

Sadly for Michiko and the other women of the court, the world has changed around them. Modern Japan, taking its cues from the West, has lost much of its deference to the imperial family; the press routinely reports and even criticises the royals' everyday activities, and the days when a photograph of a prince brushing a strand of his wife's hair away from her eyes could be suppressed on the grounds that it was suggestive of intimacy are gone. Yet the refusal to evolve is creating profound stresses within the court, as a new, reformist faction under Akihito's heir, Crown Prince Naruhito - whose own wife, Crown Princess Masako, has been plagued by depression - attempts to break the power of the IHA.

Michiko's life, as she barely began to explain last week, has been a sad one. She has had three children, and is broadly popular with her husband's 127 million subjects, yet the bright, beautiful girl who, on the day of her marriage was bathed by handmaidens in sacred water and wrapped in a 16-layer silk kimono, and showered with petals as she crossed the palace bridge, is now, in the words of a recent biographer, "a stick-thin, grey-haired wraith".

A few years ago she recalled a childhood story of a snail that carried its sorrows in its shell. "It took its tale of woe to a friend," she said, "but the other snail said it was not alone, and its shell, too, was heavy with sadness, and all the other snails it spoke to said the same thing. And so the little snail came to realise that everyone had to bear their own sorrows, and I must bear mine."

The power of the postcode


The power of the postcode
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 13/09/2007

There's no lottery about postcodes. It is a precise ... and revealing ... science, writes Jasper Gerard

It's in the DNA of the British to keep up appearances. Even the Queen patches her carpets.

Meanwhile, the middle class kits itself out from Boden clearance sales and supplements the weekly shop in Waitrose with a crafty whizz round Lidl.

But postcodes, we now learn, strip away our pretence and lay bare just how smart we really are. An Englishman no longer gives away his life story by opening his mouth, but by opening an envelope marked with that telltale code.

How long you are put on hold is now determined by it. Whenever some call centre operative from Bangalore asks for your postcode, he will have "frighteningly accurate" information about your salary, credit rating, property value, hobbies, relationships, holidays, political affiliations, even what TV shows you watch, your interest in current affairs, what newspaper you read, which websites you check.

CCTV cameras may document where you are through the day, but now companies can instantly summon an image of how you live - thanks to your postcode.

And this will not be some generalised punt, such as that if you live in Gloucestershire you are probably gin and Jag, into wife-swapping and with a weakness for flashing the cash. It will be detailed, about you and your most immediate neighbours.

Your friends think you are swanky to strut around in Manolos, but you know they are hand-me-downs from your sister who found they gave her blisters. And guess what? Your new friend from Bangalore knows that, too - my dear, he can tell instantly that anyone down your street could barely afford Russell & Bromley.

Contrary to popular myth, there is no lottery about postcodes: the richer you are, the smarter your area and the more attractive you are to companies desperate to flog you stuff. So far from being a lottery, it is an increasingly precise science.

Professor Roger Burrows, who this week presented a paper on postcode profiling at the British Association Festival of Science in York, says: "In some call centres, a message will flash up 'wealthy customer, handle with care'." And the intelligence is freely available: "Everyone can access information about others in the country based on their postcode."

Employers and dates already scour Facebook for background, but you can edit that information. There is no such protection from other websites that publish what you - poor, naïve soul - might consider "private". I've just had a gander, and I'm reeling from the avalanche of detail cascading down after a few clicks.

Check out peeping toms will be in paradise. Everything you ever wanted to know about your neighbours and much more is there. Are they, it asks, "Sun readers or Guardianistas?" It's like curtain-twitching, just more scientific.

My Kentish village (TN8) is described in detail. I am, apparently a "type 3" - that is, a commuter who lives in a desirable shire village whose income is "very high" (open to debate, I fear). But I am also told my postcode's average wage, how much nearby houses have sold for - and even that three folk nearby claim the Jobseeker's Allowance. Those of us with jobs are, I learn, "highly astute" (don't laugh) senior managers and work-from-homers who shop online and are into fine art, opera, the National Trust and The Daily Telegraph. I learn that my neighbours are charitable, Christian, married (some for the second time), and are also getting on a bit. It doesn't tell me if they are swingers, but I suspect plenty of other websites will.

And then there is, which tempts me to snoop around the postcodes of famous people. The average price of a semi in David Cameron's West Kensington (W10), I discover, is a perky £2,943,752, and his neighbours mostly cycle to work - though it fails to tell me if their chauffeurs also drive behind. Charlotte Church's neighbours in Cardiff, by contrast, read mid-market tabloids, earn between £10,000 and £15,000, and really do shovel muck for a living - which might explain why the language of the "voice of an angel" borders on the agricultural.

Who you happen to live next door to really matters, and not merely because their Leylandii block your light: if one of them has a dodgy credit rating, this will limit your access to loans as financial-service companies calculate risk by the proportion of local households that have defaulted.

Barclaycard has stopped direct delivery to certain postcodes. A mail-order firm has cut fraud losses by 80 per cent through extra checks on orders from just 17 per cent of postcodes. It makes financial sense, but stigmatises people merely according to geography. Very precise geography, it must be said: companies will classify houses differently just yards apart.

Prof Burrows found a street in London's East End that contained five different categories, gradually changing from a smart, gentrified enclave right down to a grimy bit that wouldn't recognise Cath Kidston if it smacked it in its rather common chops.

Postcodes now do far more than help Postman Pat. They dramatically affect property values, with residents of a Birmingham development threatening to sue the builder after finding themselves in the "wrong" postcode; developers in London's Raynes Park (SW20) lobbied furiously to have the area rechristened "West Wimbledon" (SW19).

Just as the capital's telephone designations - 0207 for inner London, 0208 for outer - caused consternation among the many outed as "suburban", so the British have long been snobbish about the code at the end of their address. W1 (Mayfair) was always smart, while W2 meant, oh dear, you lived "north of the park" and, worse, now next door to the Blairs.

Windsor, rather than dropping bombs on Slough, simply requested the town be dropped from the Windsor postcode. An Old Etonian of my acquaintance was perturbed when he discovered the great country pile he had just bought carried the prefix "MK", for Milton Keynes - how non-U. A postcode has long damned not just an area but a way of life: if a Labour luvvy from Hampstead said something silly, he was ridiculed for being "so NW3".

But what has changed is the sheer detail that can be gleaned and how this will be used, determining your chances of gaining that platinum card or the right deal for that holiday to the Maldives.

Postcode data is not all bad: government resources, notably money for health, can be better targeted to where they are most needed, though inevitably this encourages Labour's habit of robbing the suburbs to give to the poorer inner cities. There's nothing you can do about it.

And nor is there any place to hide: ring a call centre - even from your mobile - and the person who answers will immediately ask for your postcode. You can refuse, of course; but then the company may refuse to do business.

Should you be suffering from "postcode cringe", though, stuck in an unfashionable area, don't book the removal van yet. Even the smartest postcodes - such as the Telegraph's SW1 - can be "contaminated" by, say, the number of bedsits around Victoria Station. Horton in Surrey and Grange Park in Northampton are in the highest household incomes bracket, areas not normally associated with Burlington Berties.

And items such as pet insurance might be discounted in unfashionable postcodes as vets will be cheaper. Oh, and live in a crummy area and you could receive a higher pension - because your area's so ghastly you will die quicker.

It's still so terribly complicated, being British. Shaw would recognise all of this. John Major announced "the classless society", but far from abolishing class, we have invented hundreds of new classes. We can go ex-directory; if only we could go ex-postcode.


If you live in Epsom, you're more likely to live in a semi-detached house, have a managerial job, and invest in ISAs. Your household income will be around £59,000pa - the country's highest average. You shop for food at Waitrose, Sainsbury's and M&S, and for clothes in Next or French Connection. You go to the gym, play golf and enjoy skiing breaks. As well eating out, you'll appreciate wine and the odd cigar.


If you live in Everton, chances are you're a single pensioner living in a high-rise block of flats. With an average household income of around £16,000pa, you're unlikely to have much to save. Unemployment is twice the national average and you don't own a car. Your inactive lifestyle is fuelled by a poor diet and nights in the pub, which contributes to the likelihood of long-term illness.
Template by まるぼろらいと

Copyright ©LONDON Love&Hate 愛と憎しみのロンドン All Rights Reserved.