Friday, 30 January 2009

Save The Possessive Apostrophe!

Foreigners often remark, with a sly grin, that English is the easiest language in the world to learn. I don’t take that as a compliment, but as a playful poke that English, despite Shakespeare, is unsophisticated and lacking in expression. Of course, I don’t believe that for a second. But the movement backing the abolition of the apostrophe (and I wonder how many of them speak a second language), is doing its very best to destroy one of English’s unique eccentricities.

The Times reported today that Birmingham City Council has decreed that possessive apostrophes shall no longer appear on street signs. The Times ran a photo of the correctly written sign, “St Paul’s Square” against the new sign, “St Pauls Square”. It is a painful sight to look upon.

Before Christmas I heard Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight coming out in favour of dropping the possessive apostrophe with the brisk line: “It is not necessary”.

Using the possessive apostrophe actually gets us to think about what we are saying and who or what belongs to whom or what – whether or not we think possession is a good idea in itself.

The possessive apostrophe is also useful and practical in certain grammatical phrases, and it is fun!

Let’s fight for the possessive apostrophe and, at the same time, for the English subjunctive! Oh, and the semicolon!

Gay Issues In The Left And Right Wing Press

There have been a number of stories in the media this week about gays and lesbians, but today a comment piece in the Daily Mail against a feature in Guardian’s G2 have topped the lot.

In The Daily Mail we have Richard Little John foaming at the mouth over the case of two gay men adopting two children and “stealing” them away from their grandparents.

Then in G2 Julie Bindel tells women to become political lesbians as a solution to escaping rape and domestic violence. Excuse me? Does she really think gay women, or gay men for that matter, live in some kind of fairytale world in which they never inflict violence – mental and physical – on each other?

And as for Richard Little John drawing a parallel between two gay men and two paedophiles, his loathing couldn’t be more naked.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Times They Are A-Changing

Today is a day for the history books.

The world is about to get its first openly gay head of state.

Icelend's Johanna Sigurdardottir breaks all the moulds. She is a woman. She is 66. She is a Social Democrat. She is glamourous. She is openly gay and in a civil partnership. She has two grown-up children. She is popular, having been dubbed "Saint Johanna" - according to a report on page three of today's Independent - and hailed as an "unexpected but brilliant" choice to take her party's centre stage.

This is one progression to have emerged out of the global economic crisis.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Young People In The Media

The British right wing press has given young people a good bashing today.

Forget Generation X or Generation Y, The Daily Mail has decided to sneer and deride youngsters by branding them “Generation Sex” and dedicating a whole double page spread – and a sizeable amount of its front page – to an article all about how teenagers are living depraved and meaningless lives in cyberspace.

The Mail Online has run yet another article on teenage pregnancies and obesity, loudly shouting (as if we didn’t hear the first time) that Britain has the worst statistics in Europe.

The Telegraph takes a subtler tone in its derision as it gives space to a British Social Attitudes report, which found “most young adults do not share the views of their parents’ generation on the importance of marrying a long-term partner or the role of women in the household”.

This, alongside the knife crime stories, would make you believe that Britain has no hope in its young people and that they were nothing but a problem waiting to be solved.

I know this isn’t true and I look forward to young people getting some positive media coverage in the right, as well as left, wing press!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Economic Crisis

I have always thought the cultural phenomenon of house buying was at the heart of this credit crisis and so I listened with particular interest to Alison Gelder, Chief Executive of Housing Justice, who was one of the key speakers at yesterday's CTBI Conference at Methodist Church House in London.

This year 75,000 mortgage repossessions are expected in Britain. We need more housing to be built, but because of the downturn, the government's housing target will not be met. So there needs to be other solutions.

I was happy to hear that one of the possibilities Alison suggested was the removal of the stigma of home renting as a "looser's option". Why do the British think this? On the continent, renting is the norm. Considering how costly mortgage holding is, why do so many want to walk around proudly declaring themselves as "mortgage slaves"?

I think a change in our attitude towards the way we live is also the key towards re-examining our relationships with each other, which was a point raised by Paula Clifford, Head of Theology at Christian Aid who also spoke at yesterday's conference.

At the beginning of the second millenium, individualists are keen to define quality of life as the means to live on one's own - and occupy the maximum amount of space while doing so. If we can look at sharing our living space and redefine quality of life while doing so, we may start to get somewhere.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Slow Kill of Local Newspapers

My former employer, regional newspaper group Archant, has announced it is to close half of its London offices, forcing nine of its offices to relocate.

According to a report in Press Gazette, leased offices in Swiss Cottage, Harlesden and Hornsey, which is home to The Ham & High, Islington Gazette, Hornsey Journal and Willesden Times series, will close, but a new location is yet to be found.

Advertising and editorial staff from East Ham, Romford and Dagenham, which house staff working for the The Newham Recorder, Stratford Express, Dagenham Post and The Romford Recorder, will all be shifted over to the Ilford office (where I used to work). Where are they all going to sit? On the roof?

This looks to me like a gradual shift towards reporters - and fewer of them - working remotely via laptops and mobile phones instead of side by side in an open plan office. Journalist Sam Leith in today's G2 sings the praises of the open plan office, and I can only agree with him. Perhaps we will start seeing reporters using the local library as their office. Either that or burried away miles from their patches where they will conduct every interview over the phone instead of getting out there. Stories will be missed and every story will begin to sound the same. Sub editors will probably be pooled down to a hardcore editing more than one paper. Quality will be compromised and the number of people reading local titles, especially paid-for titles, will drop further.

But what do the big bosses care? It's all about the so-called "new-look organisation" to them. A healthy democracy needs local news.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Solidarity With Israel Protest For Peace

A couple of my friends told me to watch out when I said I would be attending the Solidarity With Israel call for peace today in Trafalgar Square. But I said I was sure that this crowd would not have a violent mob at its head and would be calling for peace by acting peacefully. And that is precisely how the thousands of protesters behaved this morning - with civility, respect and a genuine compassion for peace and an end to death and suffering for the civilians of Gaza and Israel.

The speakers called for an end to the violence and suffering endured by Gazans and Israelis, an end to Hamas terror and a peaceful existence for Palestinians and Israelis living side by side. I couldn't make out what the lone counter-protester with his own loud-hailer was shouting at Chief Rabbi Dr Sir Jonathan Sacks, but it was gesticulated with rage. I wonder if the young man could hear what Rabbi Sacks was saying? Thousands of us were echoing Rabbi Sacks' words: "Yes to Peace". It saddened me that the young man with the loud-hailer couldn't hear what we were all saying to him.

I was particularly pleased that there were Christian messages of support, such as the one expressed by the Bishop of Manchester which was read out to the reported 35,000 of us in Trafalgar Square, and that there were words of support from Sikh and Hindu representatives. It would have been great if there had been a message of peace for Isrealis and Palestinians from a Muslim representative at a rally that was not calling for peace by advocating the destruction of Israel. I wonder why that didn't happen?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Stop The War Violent Protests

I have just watched BBC footage of the so-called "peace" protest today in London, which was organised by the The Stop The War Coalition, British Muslim Initiative and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Why is it that a hardcore of protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in London felt they had to had to throw missles, knock a policeman unconscious and smash the windows of Starbucks in their demonstration for peace?

Is trashing Starbucks a call for peace or a demonstration of hatred against the western world?

Friday, 9 January 2009

Obama and Hamas

I was happy to read the frontpage headline in today's Guardian: "Obama camp ready to open up dialogue with Hamas". A new strategy that is to be welcomed.

George Bush has condemned Hamas from his Washington pulpit, but won't step outside it. I have hope that Obama is a braver and bolder man. Isolating Hamas, as if the power behind the movement was vermin and not people, has not worked.

I was amazed and moved that Jeremy Paxman actually managed to get a Hamas spokesman to say at the very end of an interview via telephone link on Newnight on Tuesday that they would stop rocket fire if Israel stopped. That is a leap forward! All I had been hearing from Hamas up until then was that they would carry on regardless. Imagine what could happen if they were involved in diplomatic negotiations on par with Isreal.

It is good news that Obama is "widely thought" to want to "adopt a more even-handed approach", as the Guardian report states, when he is President.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


People who think that what is happening in Gaza is not relevant to us here in the UK are wrong.

Yesterday Hamas and Al-Qaeda called for Jews all over the world to be killed. The London free papers last night carried reports of anti-semitic attacks rising sharply since the start of the war. The London Lite reported yesterday that there has been an attack on a synagogue in north west London, an assault on a Jewish motorist and a gang of youths shouting anti-semitic slogans at Jews in Golders Green. There was also an arson attack on the Jewish synagogue in Brondesbury on Sunday night according to The London Lite report. My Jewish friends are anxious.

"There is nothing we can do," someone told me on Monday night when I said I hoped that the Israeli air strikes on Gaza would stop and the seven year rocket fire onslaught from Hamas would end. "Yes there is," was my response. "We can apply international pressure."

Friday, 2 January 2009

War in Gaza

Isreali Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has engaged in international talks on ending violence in Gaza. The AFP reported yesterday that senior Hamas official Mushir al-Masri had made a televised broadcast outlining Hamas' intention to "fight until the last breath", but nowhere have I read of any Hamas leader being engaged in the kind of talks that Israel has been engaged in. Perhaps Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has taken up the role of negotiator for Hamas himself, as reports a turnaround in Abbas' attitude towards Hamas. That doesn't look good for Hamas' credibility.

Why can't Hamas represent itself diplomatically on the international stage? When America calls for a ceasefire, which means Hamas would carry the responsibility to stop rocket fire into Israel as well as Israel ceasing airstrikes in Gaza, the image of a Hamas response through eyes of the western media is oblique. The obscurity does nothing for Hamas in terms of crushing the image of Hamas as a party of Jihad.

The clamour for President-Elect Barack Obama to negotiate a ceasefire is getting louder.