Saturday, 17 August 2019

Europe has space for enough wind turbines to power the entire world, study finds

Europe could create 100 times the energy it currently produces through onshore windfarms

Europe has enough space to create millions of wind turbines that could power the entire world until 2050, according to a new scientific analysis.

An international team of researchers say there is 4.9 million square kilometres of land – 46 per cent of Europe’s total land – that would be suitable for wind turbines, according to the paper published in Energy Policy.
Study estimates 11 million additional wind turbines could create 497 exajoules of power (file photo) ( Envision Energy )

Building 11 million additional wind turbines could create 497 exajoules of power which would supply the world’s energy needs until 2050 when there is expected to be a global demand of 430 exajoules.

Reaching this target would mean ramping up onshore wind power production by a factor of more than 100, scientists say. They say we need to drastically increase wind power to avert climate catastrophe.

“The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers, indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist,” said co-author Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex.

“Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 per cent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically,” he said.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should instal turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe.”

A map showing the power density potential for each European country (University of Sussex / Aarhus University)
Scientists analysed data from the European Copernicus satellite programme and wind speed atlases.

They also used Geographical Information System data to find areas that might not be suitable for a windfarm due to roads and restricted access for military or political reasons.

Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in energy technology at Aarhus University, said: “Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand.

“But even without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilising the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100 per cent renewable and fully decarbonised energy system.”

Large parts of western Europe are ripe for onshore farms because they have good wind speeds and flat land. Researchers say Turkey, Russia and Norway also have huge potential for future wind power density.

Mark Jacobson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, said: “One of the most important findings of this study, aside from the fact that it concludes that the European onshore wind potential is larger than previously estimated, is that it facilitates the ability of countries to plan their onshore wind resource development more efficiently, thereby easing the way for commitments by these countries to move entirely to clean, renewable energy for all purposes.”

(Source: Independent)

Anti-natalists: The people who want you to stop having babies

They believe humans shouldn't have children. Who are the anti-natalists - and how far are they willing to push their ideas?

"Wouldn't it just be better to blow a hole in the side of the earth and just have done with everything?"

Thomas, 29, lives in the east of England, and although his idea of blowing up the world is something of a thought experiment, he is certain about one thing - humans should not have babies, and our species should gradually go extinct.

It's a philosophy called anti-natalism. While the idea dates back to ancient Greece, it has recently been given a huge boost by social media.

On Facebook and Reddit, there are dozens of anti-natalist groups, some with thousands of members. On Reddit, r/antinatalism has nearly 35,000 members, while just one of the dozens of Facebook groups with an anti-natalist theme has more than 6,000.

They are scattered around the world and have a variety of reasons for their beliefs. Among them are concerns about genetic inheritance, not wanting children to suffer, the concept of consent, and worries about overpopulation and the environment.

But they are united in their desire to stop human procreation. And although they are a fringe movement, some of their views, particularly on the state of the earth, are increasingly creeping into mainstream discussion.

While not an anti-natalist, the Duke of Sussex recently said he and his wife were planning to have a maximum of two children, because of environmental concerns.

Philosophical chat
Thomas hadn't heard of anti-natalism before someone used the term to describe his views in a YouTube comments thread a few years ago. Since then, he's become an active member of an anti-natalist Facebook group. It provides him with intellectual stimulation and a place to test his debating skills.

"I think it's awesome, you're discussing real life problems," he says. "You've got an idea - let's say humans do go extinct. What if humans then evolve again? Then you haven't really solved the problem.

"There's a lot of discussion, some of it gets quite touchy."

But his passion for anti-natalism isn't only theoretical. Thomas believes all human life is purposeless and has tried, although not succeeded, in getting a vasectomy on Britain's National Health Service (NHS). NHS doctors can refuse to perform sterilisation operations if they believe the procedure is not in the best interests of the patient.

Non-violence and consent
Despite some of the nihilist rhetoric in anti-natalist groups, there's no indication that they're a violent threat. When they do talk about extinction it often feels as though it's a debating exercise. No-one in their online communities is threatening murder or violence.

Thomas's idea of blowing a hole in the side of the earth - he imagines a big red button that would end human life and says he'd "press that in an instant" - is actually highly controversial because of a key anti-natalist principle: consent.

Put simply, it's the idea that creating or destroying life requires the consent of the person who will be born or die.

Kirk lives in San Antonio, Texas. He says he recalls a conversation with his mother when he was just four years old. She told him that having children was a choice.

"This doesn't make any sense to me, to voluntarily put someone who has no needs or wants prior to their conception into this world to suffer and die," he says.

Kirk says that even at that young age, he became an anti-natalist. He opposes the creation of human life because none of us were explicitly asked if we wanted to be here.

"If every person gave consent to play the game of life then I personally wouldn't have any objection to that," he concedes. "It hinges on the consent or lack thereof."

The concept also works in reverse. The problem with that big red humanity-eraser button is that plenty of people enjoy life - and not everyone would consent to it all coming to an end. Instead, Kirk and most anti-natalists want people to volunteer to stop giving birth.

Mental health issues
There's another distinct theme common in anti-natalist groups. Posters frequently share experiences of their own mental health, and occasionally condemn those with mental health problems for having children.

One post included a screenshot of a post from another user that read: "I have a borderline personality disorder, in addition to bipolar and generalized anxiety". The anti-natalist added their own comment: "This individual has two kids. I feel bad for the kiddos".

In another group, there was also a comment where someone was clearly contemplating suicide.

"I've had schizophrenia and depression," Thomas explains. "Depression does run in my family too. I think if I have kids there's a high likelihood that they're going to be depressed and they're not going to like their life."

But he also says the community is often wrongly labelled by outsiders.

"People start labelling us crazy psychos," he says. The truth, he says, is much more complex.

Saving the earth?
Fuelling anti-natalist arguments in recent years is an increasing focus on the environment and the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

Judging from posts in the anti-natalist groups, there's clearly a large overlap between their ideas and environmental activism.

"I feel that it is selfish to have children at this time," adds Nancy a vegan, plastic-free, animal rights enthusiast and yoga instructor from the Philippines."The reality is that the children being born into the world are creating more destruction for the environment."

In a Facebook group called "very angry anti-natalists" a petition is being shared which they hope to send to the United Nations. Its title is "Overpopulation root of the climate catastrophe - worldwide birth stop now." So far it has 27,000 signatures.

The idea of refraining from having children to benefit the environment isn't a new one. In Britain a charity called Population Matters has proposed this for years - although they are not anti-natalists. In fact, they argue in favour of the sustainability of the human race rather than its extinction.

"Our aim is to achieve harmony between the human race and the planet we're fortunate to inhabit," says Robin Maynard, the group's director. "If we have fewer children across the globe and smaller families we can achieve a much more sustainable population."

But will an increasing population necessarily lead directly to environmental disaster? According to the BBC's Global Population Correspondent Stephanie Hegarty, it's hard to say, because the future is so difficult to predict.

"According to scientific projections, due to economic development and dropping fertility rates, the population of the world is likely to plateau at about 11 billion in 80 years," she says. "Whether the planet can sustain that or not - we do not know.

"It's also very difficult to predict how many people the planet can sustain because it's all about consumption. And that means everything from air, water, food, fossil fuels, wood, plastic - the list goes on and on," she says. "Clearly some of us are consuming a lot more than others. A family of 12 in a country like Burundi will consume less, on average, than a family of three in Texas.

"There are so many factors that are going to be changing over the next decade and the next century that we can't predict right now."

Insults and criticism
Among the intense philosophical and ethical debates going on anti-natalist groups, there's a darker and less edifying undercurrent. Some routinely insult parents - calling them "breeders". Other slurs are directed at children.

"Whenever I see a pregnant woman, disgust is the first feeling." wrote one user next to a picture that said: "I hate baby bump".

But that doesn't mean that all anti-natalists hate children, according to those who spoke to the BBC.

"I would say I personally like children and it is because I like them that I don't want them to suffer," Nancy says. "Maybe bringing them into the world would give me some pleasure but the possible threat is so huge I'm just not sure it's worth it."

But that's not the only criticism. In some anti-natalist groups, users allude to the notion that babies shouldn't be born in war zones, if there is a high chance of disability, or even to low-income parents. At times the rhetoric sounds like selective breeding - or eugenics.

The anti-natalists we spoke to had mixed feelings about those ideas.

"What are their motives behind having a kid?" says Thomas when asked if he's concerned about children being born in war-torn areas. "In such a country there's less hope that things are going to turn around."

He's more relaxed about children being born into low-income households.

"Obviously I'm against having kids... but I think you can be happy and in a low-income area."

"My anti-natalism is across the board," states Nancy. She opposes eugenics. "Why are we picking and choosing some groups because they are in a position of disadvantage?"

So is there a general anti-natalist life philosophy?

"Do the best you can," says Kirk. "Be kind - and don't procreate."

(Source: BBC)

The system lifted me from poverty. Today, Danielle John is not so lucky

One woman’s shocking story sums up the inhumanity of the modern benefits regime

Last week, a woman’s sanction letter from the Department for Work and Pensions went viral on Twitter. Danielle John, from Cardiff, simply wrote: “Was told to put this up on Twitter… this was because I had a miscarriage and missed appointment.”

These stories are fairly common now. We are used to seeing reports about people being sanctioned because of attending a funeral/cancer treatment/their child being in hospital. But this one struck me in particular because the language was so coldly efficient. Brief to the point of cruelty. I didn’t know it was possible, even in a business letter, to say: “We’re about to ruin your whole life” without a shred of empathy.

The letter, written in February 2017, starts in large font: “You’ll lose some of your payment… This reduction will last 229 days.” Two hundred and 29 days for a single missed appointment. That’s almost 32 weeks of punishment. Or, if you prefer, February until August, with no money at all. When you consider that the harsher punishments for domestic violence introduced in 2018 suggest a sentence towards the upper limit of “a fine to up to 26 weeks’ custody” for common assault, you have to wonder what fantastical, sadistic metric the DWP has used to calculate sanctions.

The letter goes on to say that for her missed appointment – I just want to pause to remind you here that Danielle John was having a miscarriage at the time of missing this appointment – she would be sanctioned £10.40 for each of those days. So, a total of £2,381.60.
 Author Kerry Hudson outside the council block where she used to live in Airdrie, Scotland. Photograph: Mark Vessey

For two years, I have been writing solely about exclusion based on my experiences of homelessness and poverty and the consequences of austerity in the deprived towns I grew up in. I’ll admit to feeling a little jaded. Like many, I’m tired and, with the rest of the nation, I’m sitting with my popcorn watching the Brexit Shit Show in fascinated, terrified, distracted horror. As a consequence, part self-protection, part general fatigue, I’ve stopped feeling as much as I should about the many stories of human hardship, pain and deprivation that austerity has inflicted on so many of the most vulnerable.

But when Danielle posted her letter on Twitter, I took the time to read a little further. Yes, as usual, the letter was shocking, callous and entirely devoid of compassion. But then I discovered that Danielle had not been able to address the missed appointment – thus incurring 229 days of punishment – because, according to a doctor’s letter she also posted, she was suffering “recurrent miscarriages from August 2015 until October 2016” and that “she probably would not have been able to work at that time”.

Danielle says she had attempted suicide by slashing her wrists a few months before her sanction meeting and they still sanctioned her. After she was left with no money from February to August in 2017, she says the stress and debt sent her back to drug use after being clean for 15 years and she is still repaying the debt she incurred during those months.

Danielle John represents only one of these… I was going to say cases but of course she is a person. A human being who went through an undeniably human experience where she had no choice but to depend on a system hardwired to disregard humanity.

I was born into a single-parent family in receipt of benefits for my entire childhood. For much of that time, we lived in temporary homeless accommodation and hostels. I left school at 15 with no qualifications and with severe depression and anxiety as a result of growing up in poverty. I’m writing in this newspaper now because, no matter where we lived or how poor my education, I had access to libraries. I was able to get dependable benefits at 16 that allowed me to access housing benefit and offered me the stability to go to college, which was also free. Back then, I was just about able to afford university and once I was there I could access mental health treatment on the NHS and live in council housing.

Decades into the future, when we look back and wonder how things have ended up as they are, I hope we don’t have to say it’s because we were distracted or jaded. That we were listening to certain narratives about poor communities and forgetting to really think about the human repercussions of the frequent austerity horror stories.

In 2019, food bank usage, which has been directly linked by academics to sanctions, continues to rise and we still have the UN poverty envoy publicly labelling universal credit “universal discredit”.

Indeed, even Amber Rudd, secretary of state for the DWP, has backed down from three-year sanctions, which were deployed if claimants made three or more serious breaches, realising that forcing people to live below the poverty line for three years is unlikely to help raise them up or act as any form of incentive. Though, of course, if in the first place she’d asked anyone with any expertise in, or experience of, poverty, – if she’d even met me at a bus stop for five minutes – any of us could have told her that and saved a lot of time, expense and hardship.

That we currently have a benefits system that so arbitrarily brutalises and fails our most vulnerable should be a national scandal. But it is the dismantling of all the other essential, social mobility-enabling services that makes this such a scary story. Not just for today or next year but for consequences that will be seen in decades to come.

(Source: The Guardian)

Sigrid Nunez’s portraits of animal intelligence

Sigrid Nunez, like Virginia Woolf, is a writer known for her intellectual rigor and her ability to capture, insightfully and unsentimentally, the myriad complexities of human life in beautifully written prose. In the ambition and variety of their work, they have much in common. Something else that they share: neither Sigrid Nunez nor Virginia Woolf is thought of as a warm-and-fuzzy writer, and yet both, quite literarily, are.

And I mean warm and fuzzy in every sense of the phrase. For while both Nunez’s marmoset Mitz (from her 1998 novel Mitz) and Woolf’s spaniel Flush (the hero of Flush: A Biography, published by Woolf in 1933) are warm-blooded and furry creatures (although they suffer the indignities of lice and fleas), they are also engaging characters based upon actual animals. Many famous nonhuman literary characters are inventions: Chekhov’s lapdog, E. B. White’s mouse and pig and spider and swan, Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller, John Steinbeck’s Red Pony, and Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Elsa, the lion who was born free, did exist, as did Tulip, J. R. Ackerley’s beloved Alsatian bitch. Nevertheless, real or imagined, few animals have literary pedigrees as noble as Flush and Mitz.

Both animals embark upon an incredible journey to arrive at their ordained homes: Mitz is captured in a Brazilian jungle, almost fatally shipped across the ocean, cruelly displayed in a junk store, whimsically purchased by a Rothschild, and finally brought home to Tavistock Square by the concerned and devoted Leonard Woolf. Flush wends a less dangerous, but similarly circuitous, route to Wimpole Street. And both creatures thrive in a sort of literary animal heaven: Flush with the mid-nineteenth-century power couple (poetry) of Barrett and Browning, and Mitz with Woolf and Woolf, their mid-twentieth-century counterparts (prose).

Do some writers appreciate or understand something about animals that others do not? I think that perhaps they do, for fiction writers are always attempting to penetrate and plumb the depths of alien consciousness. Both Nunez and Woolf make the leap from human mind to animal heart with gazelle-like certainty and grace. Flush and Mitz are as real and engaging as the humans with whom they cohabit, and the reader delights in these interspecific ménages. John Chamberlain, reviewing Flush in the New York Times in 1933, wrote: “In seeking to record the states of consciousness of a dog, Mrs. Woolf is more successful, it seems to us, than she ever was at adumbration of the psychic life of human beings.”

*

As a child I was forbidden from reading any books in which an animal even flirted with mortality because of the devastating effect such books (or films) had on me. The rapport that exists between animals and people is in some ways deeper and more consistently affirming than human/human affection because it is not dependent upon the constraints of language or eroded by the tribulations of everyday life, and so it is spared the tension and damage that miscommunication and irritation often wreck upon those relationships.

Mitz poignantly and charmingly explores this mysterious and life-affirming bond. We are never told exactly how Leonard feels about Mitz, but the reader understands the tender intimacy that they share because Nunez depicts it. Leonard and Virginia sleep in different beds in different bedrooms, but there is Mitz, stowed in the pocket of Leonard’s waistcoat, safe and warm against his heart, and here is Mitz, delicately removing the dandruff from Leonard’s scalp. They may not sleep in the same bed, but Mitz waits on Leonard’s pillow until he falls asleep before retiring to her birdcage, and returns to wake him in the morning.

Our relationships with animals may be simpler than those we have with fellow humans, but that ease in no way diminishes the devastating sadness that accompanies their loss. And I feel that a deeper and more profound sadness enshrouds the conclusion of Mitz. For as imagined by Sigrid Nunez, the death of Mitz seems somehow to represent, or parallel, the loss of something much larger than a marmoset but equally precious: peace. Europe had narrowly avoided war in September of 1938 by allowing Hitler to annex the Sudetenland. “Leonard called the pact a national disgrace and gave it six months.” He was right: Mitz died in December of 1938. Three months later, in March of 1939, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and in September, with his invasion of Poland, the war officially began. And less than two years later, in March of 1941, Virginia Woolf took her own life.

*

I knew that Sigrid Nunez is a cat person, but where did this surprising appreciation and understanding of marmosets come from? And dogs, as well—The Friend, Nunez’s most recent novel, is a book about many things, but at its heart it is a love story between a woman and a dog. Yes: love. Whether it be a cosmopolitan woman’s deep affection for her gigantic dog, or a man’s devotion to the little monkey that warms his breast, the love that is shared between humans and animals has informed many of our most beautiful and heartbreaking stories. Sigrid Nunez knows this, Virginia Woolf knew it, and knew that Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew it as well, for on the last page of Flush she quotes Mrs. Browning:

… I knew Flush, and rose above
Surprise and sadness, —thanking the true PAN
Who by low creatures leads to heights of love.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old

When it comes to the origin of Western fairy tales, the 19th century Brothers Grimm get a lot of the credit. Few scholars believe the Grimms were actually responsible for creating the tales, but academics probably didn’t realize how old many of these stories really are. A new study, which treats these fables like an evolving species, finds that some may have originated as long as 6000 years ago.

The basis for the new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, is a massive online repository of more than 2000 distinct tales from different Indo-European cultures known as the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, which was compiled in 2004. Although not all researchers agree on the specifics, all modern Indo-European cultures (encompassing all of Europe and much of Asia) descended from the Proto-Indo-European people who lived during the Neolithic Period (10,200 B.C.E.–2000 B.C.E.) in Eastern Europe. Much of the world’s modern language is thought to have evolved from them.
An illustration of Beauty and the Beast from 1913. WARWICK GOBLE

To conduct the study, Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues scanned the repository. They limited their analysis to tales that contained magic and supernatural elements because this category contained nearly all the famous tales people are familiar with. This narrowed the sample size to 275 stories, including classics such as Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast.

But tracing these tales back through time is no easy task. There are scant historical records, and many of the fables began as oral stories that left no written versions. So the researchers used statistical methods similar to those employed by biologists to trace species lineages back through the branching tree of evolution based only on modern DNA sequences.

Here’s how it worked: Fairy tales are transmitted through language, and the shoots and branches of the Indo-European language tree are well-defined, so the scientists could trace a tale’s history back up the tree—and thus back in time. If both Slavic languages and Celtic languages had a version of Jack and the Beanstalk (and the analysis revealed they might), for example, chances are the story can be traced back to the “last common ancestor.” That would be the Proto-Western-Indo-Europeans from whom both lineages split at least 6800 years ago. The approach mirrors how an evolutionary biologist might conclude that two species came from a common ancestor if their genes both contain the same mutation not found in other modern animals.

But it’s not quite so simple. Unlike genes, which are almost exclusively transmitted “vertically”—from parent to offspring—fairy tales can also spread horizontally when one culture intermingles with another. Accordingly, much of the authors’ study focuses on recognizing and removing tales that seem to have spread horizontally. When the pruning was done, the team was left with a total of 76 fairy tales.

This approach allowed the researchers to trace certain tales, such as The Smith and the Devil, which tells the story of a blacksmith who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for unmatched smithing prowess, back thousands of years—all the way to the Proto-Indo-European people. If the analysis is correct, it would mean the oldest fairy tales still in circulation today are between 2500 and 6000 years old. Other stories seem to be much younger, appearing for the first time in more modern branches of the language tree.

The authors have done “as good a job as possible,” with the data they have, says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

In a new dispatch, published this month in Current Biology, he ruminates on what allows these stories to stand the test of time. “What really interests me is why these cultural forms exist. Why is it that fairy tales, art, songs, poems, why do these things seem to have such longevity?”

Tehrani says that the successful fairy tales may persist because they’re “minimally counterintuitive narratives.” That means they all contain some cognitively dissonant elements—like fantastic creatures or magic—but are mostly easy to comprehend. Beauty and the Beast, for example, contains a man who has been magically transformed into a hideous creature, but it also tells a simple story about family, romance, and not judging people based on appearance. The fantasy makes these tales stand out, but the ordinary elements make them easy to understand and remember. This combination of strange, but not too strange, Tehrani says, may be the key to their persistence across millennia.

“This is of course something we now need to test more rigorously,” he says. “That’s the next phase of this research.”

(Source: Science Mag)

Friday, 16 August 2019

China's solar power is now cheaper than grid electricity, scientists reveal

In just 25 years China has gone from having no solar panels to 100 per cent more than any other country

Solar power is now cheaper than grid electricity in cities across China which could drive a surge in uptake, according to new research.

Some experts thought China would have to wait decades until solar generation cost the same as electricity from the grid. However, thanks to a combination of technological advances and support from the government, “grid parity” has already been reached.

Scientists found that all of the 344 cities they looked at could have cheaper electricity powered by solar energy, according to the study published in the journal Nature Energy. Twenty-two per cent of cities could also have solar systems that would generate lower cost electricity than coal, according to the researchers, led by Jinyue Yan from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Pictured is an aerial view of solar panels in Hai'an, Jiangsu Province of China ( Getty )

As the price of clean energy technology plummets and China’s electricity demands rapidly rise, investing in renewables is becoming more appealing.

Kingsmill Bond, an energy strategist at Carbon Tracker who was not involved in the research, told Carbon Brief: “The conclusion that industrial and commercial solar is cheaper than grid electricity means that the workshop of the world can embrace solar. Without subsidy and its distorting impacts, and driven by commercial gain.”

In just 25 years China has gone from having no solar panels to at least 100 per cent more than any other country.

It is already home to several vast solar farms including the Tengger Desert plant, which is the world’s largest. In 2017, China was by far the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, accounting for nearly half of the new infrastructure commissioned.

However, coal is still dominant and has around 60 per cent share of the market compared to five per cent for solar.

Investment in solar power requires long-term thinking as installation costs are expensive and policymakers often don’t feel it is in their benefit in the short term. Also, because the price of solar is continuing to fall, many companies will look to wait until prices fall further.

In the paper, researchers suggest policy changes that would encourage more people to use solar energy.

According to a UN report, global investment in renewable energy shot up in 2017, far outstripping investment in fossil fuels.

In just over a decade, concerted investment has increased the proportion of world electricity generated by wind, solar and other renewable sources from around 5 per cent to 12 per cent.

Despite the apparent progress, the International Energy Agency has warned much more investment in renewables across the world is required to prevent more than 1.5C of average global warming as set out under the terms of the Paris climate agreement.

(Source: Independent)

Only 11 per cent of TV viewers can name 15 female actors over 40 – because they never see them

 Women on screen still have a shelf life; men on screen have a whole life

In May 2018, after watching yet another drama premiere featuring a man in middle age in the leading role paired with a much younger partner, I started to look for the women my own age leading the shows we all watch.

I found many new shows featuring middle-aged men – This Time with Alan Partridge, Don’t Forget the Driver, Home, After Life and Semi-Detached – and returning shows with leading males such as Not Going Out and Car Share, I only found two shows led by women: Mum and Sally4Ever.

In frustration, I launched the Acting Your Age Campaign to challenge a status quo which dictates that women in acting appear expected to retire when they reach middle age, though male actors such as Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise find themselves cast in their biggest roles, James Bond and Ethan Hunt respectively, at the same age.
Charlize Theron has spoken up about ageism in the film industry ( Getty )

A female drama student beginning her training this year will see roughly half the career longevity of her male peers – not because of talent or ability, but just because of ageing. Her student fees incurred training for that career remain the same.

Despite being 51 per cent of the population being female, and women between the ages of 40 and 69 making up 12 million people living in the UK, representation in film and on TV remains paltry. At the BBC alone, men over the age of 45 outnumber women of the same age by three to one.

Women over the age of 50 at the BBC account 15 per cent of those seen on screen. That was the finding of an Ofcom/BBC review conducted in the autumn of 2018. Not for the first time, the BBC was reminded of its obligations as a national broadcaster and as laid out in the BBC Charter. Despite promises to change and learn after being found guilty of age discrimination in respect of the case of Miriam O’Reilly in 2011, the BBC has, not for the first time, decided to “go another way”. Yet middle-aged women’s licence fee remains the same.

But the BBC is not the only broadcaster or film company which enables and promotes gendered ageism. In the last 20 years of the Academy Awards, four times as many middle-aged men have won the prize for best leading actor, compared to women in middle age. For the Baftas, across the same timeframe, this figure is three to one. But when it comes to young women this figure is reversed.

The question is, why? I think the answer, after #MeToo and #TimesUp, is wearily depressing: men are valued for their talent and women for their perceived sexual currency.

Charlize Theron tells the tale of being seen by the makers of Wonder Woman only to discover that they were looking at her for the part of Gal Godot’s mother (though she was only nine years her senior), while Cameron Diaz announced this week that she is retiring from acting at 46 years old. These are just two examples of a female actor being treated as some kind of perverse elite athlete of sexuality projection. Women on screen still have a shelf life; men on screen have a whole life.

The most offensive aspect of this proscribed myth is that women in middle age don’t want to see ourselves onscreen. I’m calling time on that.

As part of my campaign, I carried out a survey of regular TV and film viewers. What I found was not surprising, but look how far it differs from what happens in reality.

Almost all (99 per cent) of respondents didn’t feel female actors should retire at 40, and 98 per cent of female respondents were happy to see women over the age of 40 on TV and in film. Again almost all (98 per cent) felt that young female actors should expect a career longevity determined by talent not age. A lower figure, but still a majority (61 per cent), felt that romantic partners in drama should be paired with actors of a similar age.

More than half (53 per cent) of respondents could identify more than 15 leading male actors over the age of 40; just 11 per cent could identify more than 15 leading female actors of the same age.

The patriarchal staple of the middle-aged man paired with the young woman has no place in an evolving society, and no place in our collective cultural life. If the creative arts want to depict truth, if they want to demonstrate a commitment to equal representation, and if they want to learn the lesson of the terrible cases of sexual exploitation that have occurred within their industry, they need to face the final taboo within the entertainment industry – everyday ageist sexism.

No woman’s career, in entertainment as in other industries, should be dictated by anything other than her capacity to do her job.

(Source: Independent)

Chemotherapy warning as hundreds die from cancer-fighting drugs

Patients should be warned about the dangers of chemotherapy after research showed that cancer drugs are killing up to 50 per cent of patients in some hospitals.

For the first time researchers looked at the numbers of cancer patients who died within 30 days of starting chemotherapy, which indicates that the medication is the cause of death, rather than the cancer.

The study by Public Health England and Cancer Research UK found that across England around 8.4 per cent of patients with lung cancer, and 2.4 per cent of breast cancer patients died within a month.

But in some hospitals the figure was far higher. In Milton Keynes the death rate for lung cancer treatment was 50.9 per cent, although it was based on a very small number of patients. 

Patients should be warned about the dangers of chemotherapy 
At Lancashire Teaching Hospitals the 30 day mortality rate was 28 per cent for palliative chemotherapy for lung cancer, which is given when a cure is not expected and treatment given to alleviate symptoms.

Deaths of lung cancer patients from chemotherapy were also far higher than the national average in Blackpool, Coventry, Derby, South Tyneside and Surrey and Sussex, according to the research.

Similarly, around one in five people who underwent palliative care for breast cancer at Cambridge University Hospitals died from their treatment.

Public Health England (PHE), said it had contacted the hospitals concerned to ask them to review practices.

Dr Jem Rashbass, Cancer Lead for PHE, said: “Chemotherapy is a vital part of cancer treatment and is a large reason behind the improved survival rates over last four decades.

“However, it is powerful medication with significant side effects and often getting the balance right on which patients to treat aggressively can be hard.

“Those hospitals whose death rates are outside the expected range have had the findings shared with them and we have asked them to review their practice and data.”

The study looked at more than 23,000 women with breast cancer and nearly 10,000 men with 9634 non-small cell lung cancer who underwent chemotherapy in 2014. Of those treated 1,383 died within 30 days.

More than 1,300 breast and lung cancer patients died because of chemotherapy in 2014, the study shows  CREDIT: ALAMY 
Chemotherapy is toxic for the body because it does not discriminate between healthy and cancerous cells.

The researchers also found that there were significant differences in survival for older people and those in poorer health. They advised doctors to be more careful in selecting patients for treatment where it could do more harm than good.

“The statistics don’t suggest bad practice overall but there are some outliers,” said Professor David Dodwell, Institute of Oncology, St James Hospital, Leeds, UK.

“It could be data problems, and figures skewed because of just a few deaths, but nevertheless it could also be down to problems with clinical practice.

“I think it’s important to make patients aware that there are potentially life threatening downsides to chemotherapy. And doctors should be more careful about who they treat with chemotherapy.”
The first analysis of deaths through chemotherapy has found some hospitals are worse than others 

Professor David Cameron, Edinburgh Cancer Centre, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, Scotland, added: “The concern is that some of the patients dying within 30 days of being given chemo probably shouldn’t have been given the chemo. But, how many ? There is no easy way to answer that, but perhaps looking at those places/hospitals where the death rate was higher might help.

“Furthermore, if we give less chemo then some patients will die because they didn’t get chemo. It’s a fine balance and the more data we have the better we can be at making sure we get the balance right.”

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Chemotherapy is an important part of treatment for many people with cancer. Having information about how well it is being delivered is vitally important to patients and to the health service.”

All the hospitals named said they had since reviewed the cases and were satisfied that chemotherapy prescribing was safe.

In numbers | Cancer in the UK

Lung cancer cell during replication. Photo: National Institutes of Health
10,000: Number of lives which could be saved with earlier diagnosis

352,197: Number of people diagnosed with cancer each year (2013)

161,823: Annual deaths from cancer (2012)

50%: Chance of living at least 10 years after cancer diagnosis (as of 2010-11)

41%: Percentage of cancer cases which are preventable

Source: Cancer Research UK

(Source: The Telegraph)

The media erased Latinos from the story

It was the deadliest attack targeting Latinos in recent U.S. history. Why wasn’t that the headline?

I’ve been a professional journalist for 20 years. But this week, the media failed Latinos in America during what was perhaps our darkest hour in my lifetime.

On Monday, days after a deadly attack on Latino shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, President Donald Trump gave a statement calling for unity and condemning white supremacy, a message he’s delivered after other mass-casualty gun massacres. On the same day, the El Paso police identified the dead.

Rodriguez. Anchondo. Benavides. Garcia. Velazquez. Regalado. Hernández. De Alba. Campos. Flores. Juarez. Marquez. Legarrega. Loya. Manzano. Moriel. Silva-Elisbee. Sanchez.

Those are some of the names, some of the lives, behind a macabre day in El Paso—the deadliest attack targeting Latinos in recent American history.

Latinos make up 18 percent of the population of the United States. Our roots here extend far back before the nation’s founding. We have fought in every American war. Our food, our language, and our culture have shaped every aspect of American life, going back centuries. And yet the headlines in our largest papers and the cable-news chyrons omitted or downplayed the historic nature of the carnage in El Paso. Instead, they gave top billing to calls for unity by a president who has for years used angry rhetoric that dehumanizes and maligns Latinos.

On Tuesday morning, I happened to walk by the Newseum, the news museum in Washington, D.C., that displays front pages from across the country in its windows. They almost all looked the same—from the Portland Press Herald in Maine to The Arizona Republic to The Washington Post. The word the headlines shared in common was Trump, as they offered a variety of takes on his speech. Much of the broadcast coverage offered a similar emphasis on the president, with a few notable exceptions.
CALLAGHAN O'HARE / REUTERS

The attack in El Paso left 22 dead. Most were Latinos, some of whom were Mexican citizens. It followed a sustained and deliberate campaign by the Trump administration to demonize immigrants. Journalists should report on that. We should contextualize it. But that is only the beginning of our work.

There have been hundreds of articles and broadcast stories since the attack in El Paso, reporting with depth and compassion about this moment. But the banner headlines and the segments at the top of newscasts reflect the value editors assign to aspects of a story. The front page still speaks volumes. The top story in a broadcast signals to the audience which topics matter most. And despite the fact that the attacker purposefully targeted Latinos, that is not what most outlets chose to emphasize.

This erasure of Latinos by the national media is nothing new. For years, the marquee Sunday political talk shows have rarely featured Latinos. There is only one Latino on The New York Times’ editorial board, and there is none on The Washington Post’s (although at least one Latino editor regularly takes part in its editorial-board discussions). NPR, where I work, recently had a period of time with no Latino reporters on its politics team, before it made two hires.

Meanwhile, verticals and publications courting Latino readers, such as The New York Times’ Spanish-language site, have proliferated. That might seem like progress, but in practice, it often means that outreach to Latino audiences is walled off. The pinnacles of elite journalism remain mostly white.

Why does that matter? Latin American children are being separated from their parents at the border, and hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise. The media have an important role in framing these conversations, and the lack of diversity in newsrooms hobbles their ability to do so.

Instead, one leading Sunday show featured Tom Brokaw in January saying that Latinos “need to work harder on assimilation.” In fact, studies have shown that Latinos assimilate at rates similar to other groups. Thomas A. Saenz, the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, recently told NBC’s Suzanne Gamboa that the absence of Latinos from journalistic institutions leaves a void that can be filled with “false, negative images and rhetoric.”

News organizations failed after El Paso because, for years, we’ve marginalized voices of Latinos in our coverage—and in our own newsrooms. When words such as infestation are used by the powerful to describe immigrants and the media fail to treat that as a major story, it brings that absence into sharp focus.

In the days since the El Paso shooting, we have seen more Latino journalists writing and appearing on television. That’s progress.

But it took a massacre. And I’m worried that this improved representation will not persist when this awful news cycle comes to an end.

Lasting change will require a sustained commitment by newsroom leaders to recruit, train, value, and empower Latino journalists. This is no easy feat in a struggling industry beset by dwindling advertising revenue, layoffs, and hostility from elected officials who attack our collective integrity and impartiality.

But none of these challenges can justify accepting the muted voice and reach of Latinos in newsrooms in America. It’s incumbent upon senior editors to reflect deeply about how they failed in covering this monumental story. That reckoning should be followed by an ambitious, detailed plan to be better equipped if—God forbid—we are called upon to cover a story like this again.

(Source: The Atlantic)

Don’t eat and read

All books should not be read in the same way. Novels, for instance, are there to be devoured. Reading them is a voluptuous act of absorption, not an act of empathy. The reader does not imagine himself in the hero’s place, but assimilates what befalls him. The vivid report of these experiences is the appetizing trimmings in which a nourishing dish comes to the table.

There is, to be sure, a raw diet of experience—just as there is a raw diet for the stomach—to wit: one’s own experiences. But the art of the novel, like the culinary arts, begins beyond the raw ingredients.
WALTER BENJAMIN, 1928. COURTESY OF THE WALTER BENJAMIN ARCHIVE AT AKADEMIE DER KÜNSTE, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

How many nourishing substances there are that are unappetizing in a raw state! How many experiences are advisable to read about, but not to have! Some readers are struck so forcefully, they would have been devastated had they suffered the experiences directly.

In short, if there were a muse of the novel—a tenth muse—her emblem would be the cook. She raises the world from its raw state in order to create something fit to eat, to bring out the fullness of its flavor. One may, if necessary, read the newspaper while eating. But never a novel. These are two conflicting obligations.

Translated from the German by Tess Lewis

Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was a philosopher, cultural critic, and essayist. Associated with the Frankfurt School, Benjamin influenced many of his contemporaries, including Bertolt Brecht, Gershom Scholem, and Theodor Adorno. Benjamin’s best-known essays include “The Task of the Translator,” “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” and “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In 1940, he died by suicide in Portbou, on the French–Spanish border, when his attempt to escape Nazi forces was thwarted.

Tess Lewis has translated works from the French and German, including books by Peter Handke, Anselm Kiefer, Philippe Jaccottet, and Christine Angot. Her awards include the 2017 PEN Translation Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She serves as the cochair of the PEN Translation Committee and is an advisory editor for The Hudson Review.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Trump official revises Statue of Liberty poem to defend migrant rule change

A top US immigration official has revised a quote inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in defence of a new policy that denies food aid to legal migrants.

The head of Citizenship and Immigration Services tweaked the passage: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".

The official added the words "who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge".

He later said the poem had referred to "people coming from Europe".

Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration's acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced on Monday a new "public charge" requirement that limits legal migrants from seeking certain public benefits such as public housing or food aid, or are considered likely to do so in the future.

The New Colossus was written by New York-born poet Emma Lazarus in 1883
The new regulation, known as a "public charge rule", was published in the Federal Register on Monday and will take effect on 15 October.

The rule change is intended to reinforce "ideals of self-sufficiency", officials said. Critics argue that it will prevent low-income US residents from seeking help.

What did the official say?
On Tuesday, Mr Cuccinelli was asked by NPR whether the 1883 poem titled The New Colossus at the Statue of Liberty on New York's Ellis Island still applied.

"Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus's words etched on the Statue of Liberty, 'Give me your tired, give me your poor,' are also a part of the American ethos?" asked NPR's Rachel Martin.

"They certainly are," Mr Cuccinelli responded. "Give me your tired and your poor - who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

"That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge [law] was passed - very interesting timing," he added.

The actual passage reads in part: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In the interview, he added that immigrants are welcome "who can stand on their own two feet, be self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, again, as in the American tradition".

After the host asked if the policy "appears to change the definition of the American dream," he said: "We invite people to come here and join us as a privilege.

"No one has a right to become an American who isn't born here as an American."

Mr Cuccinelli was pressed later on CNN about his comments, and pushed back on claims he was trying to re-write the poem. He insisted he was answering a question and accused people on the left of "twisting" his comments.

Then asked by anchor Erin Burnett about what America stands for, he said: "Of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe - where they had class-based societies where people were considering wretched if they weren't in the right class."

The two then discussed their own immigrant ancestry, with Ms Burnett pointing out his rule would have "excluded" her family.

"I'm here because they were allowed in, and I'm an anchor on CNN," she said.

Beto O'Rouke, a Democratic presidential hopeful from Texas, shared a clip from the interview and said the comments show his Trump administration "think the Statue of Liberty only applies to white people".


Who will be affected by the new rule?
Immigrants who are already permanent residents in the US are unlikely to be affected by the rule change.

It also does not apply to refugees and asylum applicants.

But applicants for visa extensions, green cards or US citizenship will be subject to the change.

Those who do not meet income standards or who are deemed likely to rely on benefits such as Medicaid (government-run healthcare) or housing vouchers in future may be blocked from entering the country.


 Those already in the US could also have their applications rejected.

An estimated 22 million legal residents in the US are without citizenship, and many of these are likely to be affected.

President Trump has made immigration a central theme of his administration. This latest move is part of his government's efforts to curb legal immigration.

What has reaction been?
The Democratic led House Homeland Security Committee condemned Mr Cuccinelli's revision in a tweet, calling the words "vile and un-American".

"It's clear the Trump Administration just wants to keep certain people out," the committee wrote, calling Mr Cuccinelli "a xenophobic, anti-immigrant fringe figure who has no business being in government".

Others pointed to his background as the attorney general of Virginia, in which he led a conservative campaign against immigration and homosexuality.

Asked about Mr Cuccinelli's remarks on Tuesday, President Trump did not directly respond to the Statue of Liberty quote, but said: "I don't think it's fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States."

"I'm tired of seeing our taxpayer paying for people to come into the country and immediately go onto welfare and various other things.

"So I think we're doing it right."

(Source: BBC)

At 12, this Odisha boat boy faced British bullets to become India’s youngest martyr

The 12-year old Baji Rout hailed from Odisha, where he stood up against the British and lost his life.

The year was 1926. In a small village in Dhenkanal, Odisha, was born Baji Raut. The boy would soon lose his father and would be brought up by his mother, who was earning a living through rice-husking in the neighbourhood.

At the time, the King of Dhenkanal was Shankar Pratap Singhdeo, infamous for fleecing poor villagers of their earnings. Even Baji’s mother was a victim.

Odisha was reeling under pressure, and the time was ripe for a revolt. It began due to the efforts of Baishnav Charan Pattanayak of Dhenkanal town. Veer Baishnav, as he was fondly known, raised a banner of revolt against the King, and founded Prajamandal, which had a Banar Sena wing composed of young children, which Baji joined, despite being of tender age, according to OrissaMatters.

Pattanayak had a good plan up his sleeve. He took up employment as a painter in the Indian Railways. His main motive was to move from place to place, using the Railway Pass. Through this plan, he was able to meet as many people as possible, instigating them against the King, and establishing contacts with leaders of the National Congress in Cuttack, drawing their attention to the sorry state of the oppressed people of Dhenkanal.

Pattanayak began educating himself in Marxist revolutionary theory and practices, and together with local intellectual Hara Mohan Pattanayak, founded the Prajamandala Andolan, which translates into the ‘Party of the People’.

The movement grew slowly but steadily, and seeing this, many other kings offered their cooperation to the King of Dhenkanal to suppress the people’s movement. Many rulers from adjoining provinces sent armed troops and reinforcements to Dhenkanal, to further oppress the people. Even the British contributed, sending a platoon of soldiers from Calcutta. The English sent 250 gunmen, and with all the bolstered support, the tyrannical King of Dhenkanal unleashed a reign of terror to quell the mass movement.

How better to further suppress the people than economic sanctions? Shankar Pratap placed a ‘Rajabhakta Tax’ or Loyalty Tax, and those who didn’t pay, had their houses razed to the ground by royal elephants, and all their property confiscated. This just incensed the Odisha people further, and the movement gained strength.

Fed up, the king decided to end this once and for all. Pressing his entire force against the leaders of the movement, he targetted Veer Baishnav directly and confiscated his ancestral properties.

On September 22nd, 1938, a surprise raid was planned where Hara Mohan Pattanayak and other leaders were arrested. Pattanayak was wilier than they thought, and he escaped.

The angry authorities kept searching for Pattanayak and stumbled upon news that he was in the Bhuban village, camping. The king and armed forces attacked the village on October 10th, 1938, for the third time, destroying houses and torturing people for information. But, no information on Pattanayak was forthcoming.

Stories started doing the rounds during the raid, including one which claimed that Pattanayak had escaped by jumping into the Brahmani river to swim to safety to villages on the other side. The troops immediately started a pursuit and were met by blockade of simple villagers, who refused to give up their local hero.

The authorities then opened indiscriminate fire, killing two people, Raghu Naik and Quri Naik on the spot, according to Odisha Sun Times. The crowd parted, and the troops ran to the nearest ferry, at Nilkanthapur on the Brahmani river.

A young Baji Rout, on guard at the Ghat at the time, was approached by these troops to ferry them across the river. It was the fateful night of October 11th, 1938. He was in charge of a country boat at the ghat and was sleeping when the troops approached him.

Baji Rout of Odisha fearlessly stood up to the British, at just 12 years of age. Image Credit: Uttam Sahu
Despite being just 12 years old, he refused. Incidentally, the boy had been asked by senior activists to keep an eye on the ghat, to ensure that cops didn’t get ferried across the river.

The angry Britishers ordered Baji to carry them across the river on his boat, and Baji remained stubborn. According to Orissa Matters, a soldier hit Baji on the head with the butt of his gun, fracturing the boy’s soft skull. Baji collapsed but continued raising his voice, warning villagers of the presence of the troop.

Another soldier pierced Baji’s skull with his bayonet, while a third shot him. Witnessing this cruelty, someone ran back and told the villagers, who were angered beyond measure.

The villagers rushed to the spot, and the British cops saw them and panicked. Instead of running after their original target Pattanayak, they got into Baji’s boat and tried to flee from the village. Even while fleeing they opened fire on their pursuers, killing four more, as well as young Baji.

Basihnav Pattanayak was the one to collect the corpses, bringing them to Cuttack by train. People rushed to receive them along with revolutionary slogans of Lal Salaam to the martyrs. Post-mortem tests on the martyr’s bodies were conducted in Cuttack. Eminent freedom movement leaders discussed with Pattanayak, and it was decided that the last journey of the boy Baji Rout and his co-martyrs to the crematorium would be through the lanes of Cuttack so that everyone could get a glimpse of the immortal sons of Odisha.

Thousands of people joined what was to be the largest funeral procession ever witnessed in the state. Baji Rout was carried to the crematorium ground with much fanfare, and the obituary procession was truly one of a kind.

It is only apt that famous poet Sachidananda Routray, Jnanpith Award Winner, wrote a poem about Baji Rout, which opens with the sentence

“It is not a pyre, O Friends! When the country is in dark despair, it is the light of our liberty. It is our freedom-fire.”

Thus, Baji Rout was laid to rest at the crematorium at the age of 12, as a Banar Sena member, giving up his life in the struggle for our freedom.

(Source: TBI)

Turkish government destroys more than 300,000 books

Regime says it is cracking down on anything linked to Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric it blames for 2016’s attempted coup

More than 300,000 books have been removed from Turkish schools and libraries and destroyed since the attempted coup of 2016, according to Turkey’s ministry of education.

Turkey’s education minister Ziya Selçuk announced last week that 301,878 books had been destroyed as the government cracks down on anything linked to Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Muslim cleric who is accused by Turkey of instigating 2016’s failed military coup. Gülen has denied involvement.

The figure was first reported by the popular newspaper Hürriyet, with images of books being seized and burned published by online news outlet Kronos27.
 A building in Istanbul is reflected on a poster of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government is leading the crackdown. Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP

According to the website Turkey Purge, which describes itself as “a small group of young journalists who are trying to be the voice for Turkish people who suffer under an oppressive regime”, in 2016 a maths book was banned for featuring Gülen’s initials in a question reading “from point F to point G”. In December 2016, Turkish newspaper BirGün reported that 1.8m textbooks had been destroyed and reprinted for containing the “objectionable” word Pennsylvania, which is where Gülen lives in a guarded compound. Streets named Gülen in Ankara have also been renamed, according to reports.

Free speech organisations said they were alarmed at the comments from Turkey’s minister of education. “In just three years, the publishing landscape in Turkey has been all but decimated, with 29 publishing houses shut down by emergency decree for ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’,” said PEN International and English PEN in a joint statement.

A 2018 report from English PEN found that, following the state of emergency decreed after the attempted coup, 200 media outlets and publishing organisations had been shut down, 80 writers subjected to investigations and prosecutions and 5,822 academics dismissed from 118 public universities. The report pointed to a “crisis of freedom of expression” in Turkey.

“The government has dramatically increased its influence on the media and publishing landscape, thereby silencing critical voices,” said PEN. “We call on the Turkish authorities to permit the reopening and independent operation of publishing houses, and to urgently end their far-reaching crackdown on freedom of expression, which continues unabated.”

(Source: The Guardian)

The Kenyan dance parties where men are banned

The team behind a new event in Nairobi argues all-women's dance parties can create safe nightlife spaces for women.

On a warm evening in a suburb of the Kenyan capital, a residential outdoor space has been hired out to be used as a dance floor.

Music is playing loudly and women are dancing.

"You have to be so strict in a place with men. You just want to go out with your friends and men interfere," says Jane, 26, who's come to the party with her best friend Shani.

"So having a space where it's all women immediately feels safe and you feel you are with people who understand you."

Security is tight and while a few men are let in, it is only to drop off the women they are accompanying.

After that, the men all have to leave immediately.

And it's not just the partygoers who adhere to the single-sex policy: the bar tenders, security officers, DJs, sound mixers, MCs and ushers are also all women.

Unpleasant experiences when out with friends in mixed clubs is part of the reason the two welcomed the idea of an all-women's rave.

'A difficult year for Kenyan women'
"When I learnt that it is a safe space for women I immediately signed up," says Shani.

Shani and Jane enjoy clubbing and heard about the all-women's dance party on Twitter.

The night, called Strictly Silk, was conceived by Njoki Ngumi, Njeri Gatungo and Akati Khasiani, all members of The Nest Collective, a Kenyan multi-disciplinary arts collective that also works across film, music, fashion and other arts.

They started the all-women's dance parties in 2018 but the inspiration behind it was more than simply a night of fun.

"2018 was a difficult year for a lot of Kenyan women. There were a lot of stories about violence and people were becoming bolder about misogyny online and offline," says Ms Ngumi.

"There were a lot of stories around sexual harassment. We just wanted to curate this energy in celebration of women in spaces that are not usually welcome for women and especially things to do with nightlife," she adds.

Kenya has been in the spotlight recently with some well publicised cases of rape and alarming cases femicide.

In 2018, international charity Plan International ranked Nairobi sixth among 22 global cities where women were most likely to be sexually harassed.

The interviewed experts said Kenyan women stood a 50% chance of being sexually harassed in public spaces.


And in May 2019 the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (Fida Kenya), raised the alarm, saying they had recorded over 50 femicide cases in the first five months of the year.

Not only for lesbians
Munira, 22 and Khadija, 25 are best friends. As practising Muslims, they often find themselves with minimal options when it comes to night life.

They say that, although women from all faiths attend the all-women parties, they particularly suit Muslims.

"Some of us have to remove our hijabs to blend in when we are out dancing. When they see you with a hijab, people are surprised and wonder what you are doing there.

"A space like this is also better because we are forbidden from freely mingling with men," Khadija says.

"It's difficult because there are simply no exclusive all-women clubs," adds Munira.

Although all-women dance parties may seem like a novel concept, the idea of exclusive safe spaces for women is not new.

Ms Ngumi asserts that Indian, arab cultures and even some religions like Islam, have long had exclusive spaces for women, although these spaces were mediated by patriarchal or religious systems.

There is however a belief among some people that an all-women rave is simply code for a gay party, something Ms Ngumi dispels:

"We are deliberately queer-affirming and queer-celebrating but people would imagine that this is an exclusive queer event. There are events that are exclusively queer but this is not that kind of party. We welcome all people, including non-binary people."

It's an assurance that those in the LGBT community, who face intimidation and even violence in public in Kenya, have openly embraced.

Gay sex is illegal in Kenya and punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

In May 2019, Kenya's High Court upheld the law criminalising gay sex after campaigners had challenged it.

"Unbeknown to a lot of people, there is a large lesbian community in Nairobi and sometimes we want to be in a space with just women and being in a place where people are of like mind, is safer," says 22-year-old Ann Marie, who is bisexual.

Binti, 23, who also identifies as queer, adds that having an all-women rave without judgment has been the highlight of her year so far.

Ms Ngumi hopes to make the all-women dance parties not only regular in Kenya but across Africa.

"This is a worldwide issue. There are conversations around the toxicity of club culture and nightlife particularly towards women, gender identity and orientation," she says.

"As we shift towards mainstream club culture, we must have spaces that celebrate women both exclusively and in the mainstream."

The names of some of the people in this article have been changed to protect their identity.

(Source: BBC)

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

‘Greta effect’ leads to boom in children’s environmental books

The 16-year-old climate change activist has galvanised young people to read more about saving the planet

Some seek to convey the wonder of endangered animals while others give tips on how to tackle waste or tell tales of inspirational environmental activists.

All are part of what children’s publishers are calling “the Greta Thunberg effect”: a boom in books aimed at empowering young people to save the planet.

The number of new children’s books looking at the climate crisis, global heating and the natural world has more than doubled over the past 12 months, according to data from Nielsen Book Research shared with the Observer. Sales have also doubled.

Whether it’s beautifully illustrated factual books like A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals, apocalyptic climate catastrophe novels such as Where the River Runs Gold or how-to guides such as Kids Fight Plastic, publishers are targeting a plethora of new fiction and nonfiction titles at young readers inspired by Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate emergency campaigner.

Earth Heroes, which features Thunberg on its cover, is one of them. A collection of stories by travel journalist Lily Dyu about 20 individual inventors and conservationists around the world, including Sir David Attenborough, Yin Yuzhen, Stella McCartney and Thunberg, it was snapped up in June by children’s publishers Nosy Crow.

“I absolutely would say there has been a Greta Thunberg effect,” says Rachel Kellehar, head of nonfiction. “She has galvanised the appetite of young people for change, and that has galvanised our appetite, as publishers, for stories that empower our readers to make those changes.”

Kellehar has sent the collection hurtling through the publishing process at breakneck speed so that it will hit bookshelves in early October, just before Thunberg find outs if she will be awarded the Nobel peace prize: “We’re turning this around in four months, which is really unusual in children’s publishing.”
 The climate-change activist Greta Thunberg: children’s book publishers believe she is responsible for the huge increase in the number of young people reading about environmental issues. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

 Greta’s doing this amazing thing, as are lots of other people you’ve never heard of all around the world
Rachel Kellehar
The message of the book is: you’re not alone and you can make a difference, she says. “We feel it’s important to get that message out as soon as possible, and that is partly driven by the Greta effect. Whether or not she wins the Nobel peace prize, October will be a key moment to reach out and say Greta’s doing this amazing thing, but also lots of other people you’ve never heard of all around the world are doing amazing things. From young girls in Indonesia who have got plastic bags banned, to an engineer in India who is creating artificial glaciers, this is a book about people who are finding different ways to confront climate change head on, wherever it is affecting them.”

Bloomsbury will publish a similar collection, Fantastically Great Women who Saved the Planet by Kate Pankhurst, in February. It features women throughout history who have dedicated their lives to studying, conserving and protecting planet Earth. Isobel Doster, senior editor in children’s nonfiction, has also noticed a “Thunberg effect” – a “real thirst” for authors who write about environmental role models to whom children can look up and actions they can take to prevent climate change.

“Additionally, there’s been a tonal shift in the natural history books that are coming on to the market, she says. “It’s not enough just to explore the beauty of the natural world – we have a responsibility to tell readers why it’s important to look after it.”

Plastic is also a hot topic for nonfiction picture books: Walker Books recently acquired one by MG Leonard called Tale of a Toothbrush, which follows the journey of a single plastic toothbrush, while Hachette Children’s Group brought out A Planet Full of Plastic by Neal Layton earlier this summer.

In fiction, Matt Haig’s illustrated chapter book Evie and the Animals – about a girl who wants to save the planet – won plaudits from critics for its timely storyline and strong appeal for Thunberg fans when it appeared on shelves in June. Meanwhile, fans of There’s a Rang-Tan in my Bedroom, the moving Greenpeace cartoon that went viral last year, were delighted when it was published last week as a picture book.

Author James Sellick hopes his story – about an orangutan who loses his home and family due to palm oil production and deforestation – will have greater longevity for children in picture-book form, where it can be revisited and given more context from parents. The book also offers tips about actions children can take, such as writing letters to companies that use palm oil.

“I want not only to educate but to inspire a new wave of eco warriors. Kids are the future. Hopefully if they have been educated about environmental issues from a young age they will go on – and go further – than we are right now,” said Sellick.

Designed in a similar way to inspire the next generation of conservationists, naturalists, biologists, zoologists and nature lovers, A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals will be published later this month. Author and illustrator Millie Marotta says she is hoping the book will tempt young readers to take a lifelong interest in wildlife conservation and show them there are things everyone can do to help, right now.

“We’re losing so many species every year, every month, every day, even. The generation of children who will be reading this book are the ones who are going to be the most impacted, and who will have the biggest impact. They are going to be the people to fix what’s happened and hopefully turn things around.”

Inspiring the next generation...
Kids Fight Plastic
Martin Dorey
Written by a long time anti-plastics campaigner and founder of the Beach Clean Network, it shows children what they can do in their home, on days out and at school to reduce the plastic they use.

A Planet Full of Plastic
Neal Layton
Nonfiction picture book that explains where plastic comes from, why it doesn’t biodegrade and why that’s dangerous for animals and the planet.

Where the River Runs Gold
Sita Brahmachari
An adventure story set in a terrifying caste-divided, dystopian world in which bees have long disappeared and children must labour on farms to pollinate crops.

(Source: The Guardian)

Germany is closing 84 coal plants to save the planet

Germany will close all of its coal plants and instead shift to relying on a clean, renewable energy industry using solar and wind.

Germany will close all 84 of its coal power plants. The nation — one of the world’s largest consumers of coal — will rely on renewable energy instead.

The announcement came earlier this year as Germany revealed its struggle to meet its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions targets. Coal accounted for 40 percent of Germany’s electricity at the start of the year, per the Los Angeles Times.

“This is an historic accomplishment,” Ronald Pofalla, chairman of the 28-member government commission, said at a news conference in Berlin last January. “It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it. There won’t be anymore coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038.”

Coal is the EU’s biggest economy. Germany accounts for the lion’s share, responsible for around one-third of electricity-related CO2 emissions, according to Carbon Brief. It generates roughly half of the EU’s electricity from brown coal (lignite), which emits higher levels of CO2.


Coal nations are being urged to turn away from the fossil fuel due to its impact on the planet. Stateside, President Donald Trump has been criticized for his promises to revive the failing industry. Some are taking action — last December, more than 1,000 global institutions pledged to divest from gas, coal, and oil, effectively removing nearly $8 trillion in support.

More than halfway into 2019, German coal production has fallen by a fifth, largely replaced by renewables such as wind farms and solar. Wind is on track to become the country’s largest source of electricity, surpassing environmentally-unfriendly lignite. Germany also pledged to close its 19 nuclear power plants since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Renewables will account for 65 to 80 percent of Germany’s electricity by 2040, officials say.

“It’s a big moment for climate policy in Germany that could make the country a leader once again in fighting climate change,” said Claudia Kemfert, professor for energy economics at the DIW Berlin, the German Institute for Economic Research. “It’s also an important signal for the world that Germany is again getting serious about climate change: a very big industrial nation that depends so much on coal is switching it off.”

Germany will spend more than $45 million to mitigate losses in coal regions, but some believe the nation isn’t acting fast enough. This past weekend, climate activists stood in the way of the entrance of the Block 9 power plant in Mannaheim, said to be the dirtiest goal plant in the country, Clean Techica reports. The group, called End of Terrain, delayed new coal supplies.

(Source: Live Kindly)