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ISSUE 858 DECEMBER 10 2007 CARDIFF’S STUDENT WEEKLY free word - EST. 1972

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Volume II 7 Winter 200

INSIDE: the second anthology of Cardiff students’ creative words page 25

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FAITH TO FAITH Corinne Rhoades News Editor

PHOTO: Ed Salter

Students of faith and non-faith at Cardiff University have rallied their beliefs in the first ever forum on faith. Following a report by gair rhydd highlighting the inadequacy of Muslim prayer facilities in the University, students of all beliefs were invited to discuss the institution’s provision for religious students. The My Faith, My City forum marked a step by the Students’ Union (SU) towards pressuring the University to develop a specific policy on faith. Currently, the Equal Opportunities and Diversity Policy Statement outlines the University’s policy in relation to the Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Acts. Stating that ‘no employee, student or applicant shall be treated less favourably than any other on any grounds not relevant to his or her employment by or membership of the University’, Cardiff University does not bar anyone on the basis of faith. But the forum, which took place last Thursday December 6, called for a more definite statement in relation to religious belief. Sally Airey, Societies, Postgraduate and International Officer, arranged the meeting as a platform for peaceful debate. Opening the meeting, she said: “We won’t all agree today, just like we

THIS ISSUE:

fashion shoot at winter wonderland backstage at the pop factory

we are scientists interview with santa claus food guide to a no turkey christmas

don’t always agree in our studies, but at least we can construct an element of understanding.” Despite this, the beliefs voiced by students, regarding the way in which religion should be catered for at university, caused tension at various points during the night. One forum attendee claimed: “Faith is a preference and not a personal need,” sparking outcry from students who said that they “do value other things besides their academic experience”. The minutes from the forum will now be written up into a report by Airey, to be presented to the University in early January. Considering the perspective of the SU on the issues raised so far, as well as the student debate facilitated by the forum, the report will produce action points for both the University and the SU itself. It will coincide with another report, put together by Gareth Powell from the Cardiff University Chaplaincy, focusing on Cardiff University’s current provision for faith. The upcoming weeks will also see the University put under further pressure by members of the SU executive team to act on this issue. Universities, including Nottingham, Glasgow, Warwick and LSE, already have Quiet Rooms on campus or nearby to provide for the religious needs of Continued on page four

music record of the year film, arts, books, cult classics and more


02 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

NEWS

NEWS@gairrhydd.COM

At a glance...

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gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

03

NEWS

NEWS@gairrhydd.COM

Getting the ball rolling...

William Taylor News Editor Plans are well underway for next year’s Summer Ball following the announcement that tickets will be on sale from February 1. Cardiff Students’ Union has announced that tickets will be sold at a discounted price only on the day of release. The annual event sees a hybrid of live music, star performers, bars and food, which acts as a celebration of the

academic year. Held in Cooper’s Field, within full view of Cardiff Castle, the Students’ Union has promised the event will be ‘the best one yet’. Students are advised to check the website, www.cardiffuniversityballs. com, for all the latest Summer Ball news. Emily Issacs, 20, who attended last year’s event said: “It’s a night not to be missed and it was a great way to finish the year.”

Crime time

PHOTO: Dave Green

Anneka Buckle Reporter Students are being urged to use caution this Christmas and take their possessions home with them. Residents on Salisbury Road, Cathays, have been warned after recent findings revealing that the street has faced up to 60 crimes in the past year. Incidents in the past year include assaults, burglary, drugs offences and criminal damage. The street, which is heavily populated by students, has been the scene of nearly 200 reported incidents in the past three years. It is also well known that students repeatedly leave their doors open during the day and night and can become easy targets to criminals. PC Bob Keohane, said: “Students have got to remember that Christmas is coming up for burglars as well, and they’ll be looking for things like laptops

and iPods to give to their kids.” Students are also being warned that the majority of crime victims are female, and to bear in mind that burglars target busy night-clubs in town over the holidays. Chief Inspector Dave Offside said there were many operations going on in the area to help combat the rise in crime. He stated: “We have engaged with the community through many initiatives, including pact meetings and more recently student pact meetings.” Arguably students are known for their high-tech equipment, which clearly makes them vulnerable targets. Charles Austin, 20, stated: “Students should take note to place insurance on any important belongings and to keep doors and windows closed at all times.”

PHOTO: Dave Green

Students are being warned to take their possessions home with them as findings are released detailing 60 crimes on Salisbury Road in the last year

House of Commons praise Cardiff University Pamela Debattista Reporter Successful collaboration with science centres has earned high praise for Cardiff University, which has been recognised by the House of Commons as Wales’ only Beacon for Public Engagement. The University’s strategic link with Techniquest has been cited as a model for the kind of effective co-ordination and collaboration that leads to

increased public engagement activities by universities. The Government’s Science and Technology Committee looking into the long-term future funding of UK science and discovery centres carried out the examination that led to this review. This investigation was fuelled by the dive in numbers of students opting to study towards careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), along with the added knowledge of the importance of

continued engagement with the public in science and technology. Cardiff University has seen an increase in the applications year on year for STEM subjects while nationally there has been a drop. The problem is considered to be so serious that in 2006 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) invested £18 million in a scheme to encourage young people from a wide range of backgrounds to take up these subjects.

Cardiff, along with its partners BBC Wales, Techniquest, University of Glamorgan, and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, successfully bid for the Beacon for Public Engagement against 86 other bidders from around the UK. The Beacon for Wales will now assist Welsh universities to make wider contributions to society through engaging communities more fully in partners’ work.


04 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

NEWS

NEWS@gairrhydd.COM

Cardiff students gather to discuss issues of university faith and belief continued from front page their student body. But it was exposed by the gair rhydd in March 2007 that Muslim students studying at Cardiff were forced to pray in shower rooms, basements and even under the stairs. Due to the nature of Islam, which requires Muslims to pray five times a day and during lecture hours, this caused an estimated 6,000 prayers to have been missed by students. Airey said: “They acknowledge students’ and staff’s spiritual needs at other universities. Now it’s up to students at Cardiff to step forward and address the University’s hesitancy.” Speaking to gair rhydd after the forum, Mohsin Malik, President of the

Islamic society, said: “It is pleasing that different faiths could meet and discuss what we want. The University hasn’t approached us so it’s up to us to show there’s a demand.” Specific requirements for Muslim prayer, such as separate wash facilities for men and women, have also meant a disruption to the academic lives of Muslim students who must search for a quiet space to pray in which meets these needs. But the Atheist and Agnostic society feel that providing Quiet Rooms would “disrupt the secular ideal” of the University. Liam Lord said: “Issues such as better sport and exercise facilities and mental health support are not controversial so they should take priority.” A policy on faith would seek to

incorporate the diversity of religions and beliefs at Cardiff University. In light of this, Dan Cruse, CoPresident of the Christian Union, said: “It’s in the University’s best interests to make provision. It has a responsibility to be a good university which may require accommodating for students’ faiths to help them reach their academic potential.” In addition to the reports, the Union may see changes to its own policy, with the possibility of a regular committee meeting on faith following the suggestion that a sabbatical or nonsabbatical officer for religion could be created. But Airey said: “It’s clear, due to the popularity of the forum, that this is something which the Students’ Union needs to consider.”

Samantha Shillabeer spoke to students as they exited the forum to find out their views on the discussions “Everything went really well. A lot of different perspectives were raised at the forum and it gave me a greater understanding of other people’s beliefs. The issue of a Multi-faith Room is a very complex one though, and the Union has to be careful because of a conflict of interests among students.” Azri Wanharon, 3rd year Law

“I found the discussions very productive and interesting. I am pleased that the University is carefully considering the idea of Prayer Rooms and that the issue is not just being ignored. However, I feel that the issue of Prayer Rooms has been slightly exaggerated.” Fozia Shah, 1st year Medicine

PHOTO: Ed Salter

“I found the verywas “Thediscussions fact that a forum upinteresting. shows that theIUnion productive set and am cares about its students and pleased thatconsiders the university is their opinions carefully considering thediscussions idea of important. The were structured and ischaired prayer rooms and that the really well and this is somesue is not just being ignored.” thing which I would love to see happen again in the future.”

Saif Sabri, 3rd year Engineering

Promising drugs discovery Laura Hinson Reporter American drugs company Inhibitex has taken up a world licence on anti-hepatitis drugs discovered at Cardiff University. Professor Chris McGuigan (pictured right) and Johan Neyts discovered the drugs in the laboratories of the Welsh School of Pharmacy. The new licence will mean that more research and trials can be undertaken on the drugs, which are thought to be

the most promising of their kind. Inhibitex Chief Scientific Officer Dr Joseph M. Patti said: “The programme has the potential to provide meaningful benefits to large patient populations.” Inhibitex have bought drugs from Cardiff in the past, when the University formulated the anti-shingle drug FV100. Hepatitis is a swelling of the liver, which can lead to cancer. It affects an estimated 123 million people and there is currently no cure for it.

“I came to the forum with set ideas about certain issues but I have learnt that they are more complicated than I originally thought. The idea of a Prayer or Quiet Room needs to be thought about carefully in order to not discriminate against anyone.” Helen Godfrey, 2nd year Theology & Religion PHOTOS: Ed Salter

Reforms for NUS after overwhelming majority vote at extraordinary conference Lee Macaulay Investigations Editor The National Union of Students (NUS) is closer than ever to its most radical reforms after a new draft constitution was passed at the extraordinary conference in Leicester last week. The motion to introduce the new constitution went through with over a two-thirds majority, which will see

it go to a final deciding vote at the annual conference 2008 in Blackpool to be ratified. The result was overwhelming without need for a hand count because of the sheer number of voters in favour of the changes. In his final speech, Wes Streeting, NUS Vice President of Education, explained to delegates: “In your hands, you hold the power to transform the NUS.” He went on to describe the current

system as “a bankrupt, shambolic farce of a democracy”. Rowena Vassallo, Vice President of Cardiff Students’ Union, told gair rhydd: “The atmosphere was really exciting at the conference – around 900 delegates attended from higher education and further education institutions from all around the UK. People were really engaged in both sides of the debate. “As an Executive Committee, we are generally pleased with the result, as we

hope it will signal a new era for NUS and the student movement.” She added: “The five new ‘zones’, in particular, with their own individual conferences, should hopefully provide further opportunity for students to gather, discuss ideas and issues and essentially become actively involved in the democratic processes by which motions are submitted and NUS policy is changed. As always, only time will tell.”


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

05

NEWS

NEWS@gairrhydd.COM

A letter of opportunity International students studying in the UK will soon be in the running for a prestigious award, as the International Student Awards enter their sixth year. Run by the British Council – the UK’s international organisation for education opportunities and cultural relations, the International Student Awards 2008 also offer up to £2,000 in prize money for the winners. With the aim of celebrating the achievements of international students and their contributions to communities right across the UK, the competition does not focus solely on academic achievements.

Launching Live Millie Schurch Reporter November 23 saw the launch of the Live Music Society CD in CF10. Three local bands that are featured on the CD performed at the event. The Ex Tens followed A Thousand Suns, with The Screenbeats successfully rounding off the evening. Following his guest appearance on the drums in the closing set, Live Music Society President Aimen Chouchane said he

was “really happy with how the event had gone. Everyone who came seemed to have had a really good time”. The society hold on average two events a week, including a live band in the side room of Fun Factory, a fortnightly open mic night, and gigs at various local venues. The highlight of last year was the annual Battle of the Bands competition; The Stopmotion Men won the sell-out final at Clwb Ifor Bach in March. To find out more, visit their forum at www.lmscardiff. com/forum.

Coming soon

It is an opportunity for students to talk about their achievements outside the lecture theatre or any new experiences they have had through living in the UK. Cardiff University has enjoyed success at the Awards in the past when Masters student Piyush Roy secured a Silver Award at the 2004 ceremony. Studying for an MA in International Journalism at the time, Piyush wrote movingly about one of his tutors, the late Geoff Mungham, who despite passing away just 10 weeks into Piyush’s studies left a lasting impact on all his students. If you are an international student

interested in entering the competition, you need to write a ‘letter home’ in English, explaining why you believe a UK education is preparing you for a brighter future. The letter should be written as if you were sending it to a family member, or a former teacher or professor. In an entirely web-based competition, all entries must be received by January 21 2008. For more information about the competition go to www.educationuk. org/shine, or contact Katie Jones in the International Office at international@ cardiff.ac.uk.

Not so Topshop?

William Taylor News Editor A peaceful protest by People and Planet took place outside Topshop in Cardiff city centre last Thursday. The student campaigning group protested as part of a national day of action to expose the impact of the company’s business practices on wages and labour standards for workers in the fashion industry. As part of the protest the campaigners created a washing line with the words ‘Hanging out Topshop’s dirty laundry’ written on it. The group also invited people to sign washing encouraging the Arcadia Group to sign the Ethical Trading Initiative. People and Planet targeted Top-

shop with their protest following alleged reports that the Arcadia Group, which owns the high street chain, has yet to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to workers’ rights. BBC’s Newsnight recently reported that cotton used in making Topshop clothes was picked using forced child labour in Uzbhekistan. Sarah Waldron, Campaigns Officer at People & Planet, said: “The reaction of the management to these stories of exploitation has been disappointing – each time responsibility is passed on to their suppliers.” “But if the Arcadia Group is serious about conditions in its supply chain it must do more than send a code of conduct to its suppliers. “Arcadia must seriously address its own practices, but it has not even taken the most basic step of joining

the Ethical Trading Initiative,” she continued. Topshop’s website claims in their ‘corporate responsibility’ section, that they ‘have long-term relationships with their suppliers’. It also states that the company has a programme in place based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) core labour standards and other relevant guidance, good practice and regulations. Topshop said: “Our programme deals with issues important to our stakeholders, such as working conditions, livelihoods of the people who make our products, community involvement and the reduction of the environmental impact resulting from the manufacture, distribution and sale of our products.”

Globetrotting travel tips Portia Nicholson Reporter Students living in Richmond Road will soon have a new local. A Varsity bar is set to open in the street in Roath, after councillors granted the pub chain Barracuda a licence for it to be built. But the bar has caused outrage among local residents, who fear it could lead to antisocial behaviour and excessive noise in the area. The popular chain, which owns 39 pubs in the UK, targets students by offering loyalty cards and discounts. John Clifton, a representative from Barracuda, said: “This is exact-

ly the sort of licensed premises we feel a large sector of the community would welcome.” But Richmond Road resident Robert Hills objected to the plans. He said: “It is completely irresponsible for the council to grant a licence for a large student bar here; families and professional people also live in the area and a new bar will cause even more noise and disturbance.” Cardiff police have also opposed the licence. The council sub-committee has granted the new bar a licence which allows them to serve alcohol from 10am to 11.30pm.

Samantha Shillabeer News Editor British students who are planning to travel, are being encouraged to ‘Know Before You Go’ as part of a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) scheme. The campaign has been launched following the release of statistics which highlighted thousands of arrests, deaths and hospitalisations among Britons abroad last year. The FCO believes that many of these problems could be prevented through better preparation by travellers and has published a list of guidelines to follow. These include getting comprehen-

sive travel and medical insurance, having any vaccinations which are required, photocopying your passport and researching your destination before you leave. Those going on skiing holidays this winter have been issued with additional advice after research revealed that over a third of skiers and snowboarders under 25 get into trouble due to a combination of alcohol, altitude and adrenaline. Jess Prasad of the FCO said: “Winter sports holidays are becoming more and more popular with young people but many don’t realise the dangers of drinking.” She urges skiers to remember

that alcohol can affect you quicker at high altitudes and that most insurers will not pay out if you injure yourself under the influence of alcohol. For more information, travellers are encouraged to visit the FCO website at w w w. f c o . g o v. u k / travel.


06 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

WORLD NEWS World News in brief Ruth Smith Reporter

NEWS@gairrhydd.COM

Santa Cops are coming to town

Colombia hostages may still be alive

A good Philippino police are getting night’s sleep into the Christmas spirit by patrolling the streets in a different kind of uniform

An Irishman holidaying in Bulgaria became separated from his friends and broke into a furniture store to sleep in a bed for the night because he could not find his hotel. David Gibbons, 30, was believed to have been drinking and did not know where he was the next morning when woken by police, after having been discovered snoozing by staff. He is now facing a fine of up to £2,000 and criminal charges.

Arm-less

A US farmer has had to cut off his arm to set himself free from a burning combine harvester. Samson Parker, from South Carolina, was attempting to unblock the machine from a trapped corn stalk when his hand got stuck. He began to cut himself free with his penknife but the combine ignited. He then had to begin cutting off his arm, after which he stumbled to a road where he flagged down a passer-by who wrapped up his arm and called for help.

A tight squeeze

Portia Nicholson Reporter

Ceri Isfryn Reporter Police in the Philippine capital of Manila are getting into the Christmas spirit by wearing Santa hats on the beat. Some officers will also be dressed in the full suit and deployed around the city. Metropolitan Manila Police Chief Geary Barias, explained that 1,000 officers and 700 police recruits have traded their blue caps in for the festive season. He said: “We want to make sure our people celebrate the Christmas season peacefully, free from crime incidents. “Our targets will be petty criminals

A-GRADE APES Japanese research reveals that chimpanzees have a better photographic memory than university students

Navodita Pande Reporter A cat who had a jar stuck on its head for 19 days has survived. The Cain family of Barlett, Tennessee, have fed the feral cat, Wild Oats, for several years. They saw it with the peanut butter jar stuck on its head a couple of times but were unable to get it off. Finally they managed to catch the cat and remove the jar using some oil to lubricate it. Wild Oats has now fully recovered.

like pickpockets and ‘hold-up’ men preying on holiday shoppers.” This is the scheme’s first year and it has drawn a mixed reception from the residents of the city. Dennis Perez said: “This serves as a reminder that Christmas is coming and we should have peace.” However, others were more sceptical of the new scheme. Jenny de Jesus, a parishioner in the Quiapo district’s Roman Catholic church, said: “The Santa hat is OK, but of course they should focus on their duties.” But Giovanni Valera, a police officer in the region, claimed: “We are wearing this to show people that during the Christmas season, our hearts and minds are on serving the Philippino people.”

Hostages held in Colombia by leftist guerrillas may still be alive after six years in jungle-captivity. According to recent evidence, high-profile hostage Ingrid Betancourt and her fellow hostages are thought to still be living. In a letter penned to her mother, former presidential candidate Betancourt described her day-to-day conditions as a “living hell”. Ms Betancourt was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2002 and has not been seen since. Her letter also described how she sleeps under a mosquito net in a hammock, washes in rivers and how she has tried to escape. The letter, along with other documents which include a grainy film of the captives, was seized from captured leftist guerrillas. The documents show for the first time since 2003 that the hostages are alive but subjected to harsh living

conditions and are being kept constantly on the move by the kidnappers known only as the FARC, to avoid detection by Government forces. The letter was released a week after Bogota suspended efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to negotiate a deal with the guerrilla group FARC to free its hostages. Despite objections from Betancourt’s mother, the family released the letter in an attempt to put additional pressure on the Government to broker a deal with the FARC. But the release of distressing images of the saddened and gaunt Ingrid Betancourt have caused great concern, leading the Government to relaunch attempts to exchange imprisoned left-wing FARC rebels for hostages kidnapped by the group. Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said: “The President has made clear to the High Commissioner for Peace his immediate disposition to reach a humanitarian agreement to alleviate the suffering of those who remain in the hands of the FARC.” As yet, however, there is no sign of an imminent agreement.

Chimpanzees are smarter than students, research at a Japanese University has discovered. The findings from Kyoto University suggest that actually, the animals have a remarkably better photographic memory than humans. Lead researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa said: “Here we show for the first time that young chimpanzees have an extraordinary working memory capability for numerical recollection – better than that of human adults tested in the same apparatus, following the same procedure.” Before the findings, it was believed

that chimpanzees could not match humans in memory and other mental skills. Dr Matsuzawa added: “There are still many people, including many biologists, who believe that humans are superior to chimpanzees in all cognitive functions. “We are still underestimating the intellectual capability of chimpanzees, our evolutionary neighbours.” Researchers unanimously believe that humans and chimps have diverged from a common ape-like ancestor in the past six million years or so of evolution. In this study, Dr Matsuzawa and his colleagues tested three pairs of mother and baby chimpanzees against

university students in a memory task involving numbers. The students were slower than all three of the young chimpanzees in their response. Chimps performed better in speed and accuracy when numbers appeared briefly on the screen. Dr Lisa Parr, who works with chimps at the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta, USA, described the research as ‘groundbreaking’. He said: “These studies tell us that elaborate short-term memory skills may have had a more salient function in early humans than is present in modern humans, perhaps due to increasing reliance on language-based memory skills.”


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

07

NEWS SPECIAL

NEWS@gairrhydd.COM

SHAG WEEK...

a summary

SHAG week in Numbers...

5,000 free condoms given away to students

£776 SHAG week completetly took over the Students’ Union last week with volunteers raising awareness about sexual health. Gareth Ludkin provides a round-up of the week Cardiff University students have been encouraged to stay safe with 5,000 free condoms being given out for SHAG (Sexual Health Awareness Group) week. Held in the Students’ Union, the event, the first of its kind, saw a week of raising awareness by the SHAG society. Dressed in pink t-shirts, SHAG manned a stall in the Union foyer as well as hosting a range of special events, including RAID night, an Ann Summers party and G.I. Jonny. The Debating Society also got

involved, hosting a debate on abstinence. At the end of the week, a trip to Cardiff Bay took place to promote World Aids Day on Saturday December 1. Jesnie Barry, Co-President of SHAG, said: “Everyone seemed really enthusiastic to get involved. “We were really pleased with the response we got from everyone.” As part of the week, a petition was also signed by students lobbying the Welsh Assembly to invest more in the GUM (Genito-Urinary Medicine)

clinic on Newport Road. The only one of its kind, the clinic is only able to open three days a week. But Jo Plummer, Education and Welfare Officer for the Students’ Union, stressed the need for investment so that the clinic could better benefit students and the wider community, saying she backed SHAG week “wholeheartedly”. She said: “The week has given us plenty of ideas and some interesting future projects are being planned as a result.”

But the week was not just about promoting sexual health awareness. A key motivation for the event was also to raise awareness of the SHAG Society among the student community, as the group are facing the loss of their funding next year. In a bid to secure funding from local boards, SHAG sought to make students more aware of the service they provide. The society runs a drop-in service on the third floor of the Students’ Union every Wednesday and Friday afternoon between 12pm and 4pm.

raised for the Terrence Higgins Trust

12.8

seconds

average time to put on a condom blindfolded


08 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

INVESTIGATIONS

INVESTIGATIONS@gairrhydd.COM

Looking for a house this year? N professional as you think. gair rh

You’re all childr matter how we

Lizz Rice and Lee Macaulay Investigations Reporters

B

eing a student might mean you get discounts, free dental care, and tax free wages, but when it comes to accommodation, Cardiff’s housing might not offer any perks. Because when you live in a student house, you might have to face a nightmare with your landlord or letting agency. Some of these characters plague students throughout the UK, leaving tenants living in unacceptable conditions. The National Union of Students Housing and Health Survey revealed that 50% of students live with damp, and 40% with mould, but Cardiff seems to have attracted landlords who go beyond negligence and unfit housing. One group of students got locked inside their own house for a whole night because the letting agency refused to fix their broken front door, stating that “you students are all the same, you probably came back plastered and kicked the door down.” When an independent locksmith wrote on an invoice that the break was no fault of the tenants, one Cardiff student took them a copy to claim compensation. The agency

Protect Yourself gair rhydd’s top tips to keep your deposit safe thanks to Tenancy Deposit Protection Natalie Sauro Investigations Reporter Students across Cardiff have been having trouble getting their deposit money back since, well, forever. Tenancy Deposit Protection is a law that finally helps. From April 6 2007, all deposits taken by either your agencies or landlords must be protected by a tenancy deposit protection scheme. It’s not very exciting but could save you losing your deposit. It also means that if your landlord decides to unfairly charge you £50 to clean a carpet or £30 for dusty light shades you can get it solved without lots of problems, enabling disputes to be settled quickly. If your landlord fails to protect your deposit, you’re within your rights to talk to Cardiff County Court. They could even have

to pay you up to three times your deposit back. There are three ways they can protect your deposit. Two are insurance based schemes and are supported by a free dispute resolution service. So if you disagree with your landlord taking your deposit, you can get them involved, for free, to have the final say. The third scheme means your money will be put into a central pot and you’ll get back the interest it gains over the year, which will pay for a night out. By law, landlords must give your deposit back within 10 days of your contract ending. That’s why it’s so important for you to ask your landlord or agency where your money is going!

didn’t open the letter, but ripped the invoice into pieces in front of the girl, while shouting ‘this is bullshit, bullshit, bullshit’. When she complained about the abusive language used, an employee of the agency responded: ‘You’re all children, it doesn’t matter how we speak to you’.

“You students are all the same, you probably came back plastered and kicked the door down.” With some shady agencies, you can find grime, leaks, vermin, fire hazards, draughts, and broken furniture. If you’re lucky, you’ll find walls, ceilings, floors, electricity, heating, and working appliances. Yes, it might seem stupid: surely a house would have ceilings and walls? But it isn’t always the case with Cardiff’s landlords. ‘The kitchen and living room ceiling completely fell through in our property

back in my second year. They didn’t repair it for two weeks’, said one Cardiff student. The company has still left a different property without alcoves after arranging the fixtures on the 26th September. Student houses have a reputation of being cold, as loans fail to cover heating bills, but having gaping holes to the outside is a different temperature entirely. The living conditions some students are found to be living in are far below an acceptable and legal standard. One property was found to have rooms without heating that were not fixed until the end of November. Another student claims that she has had to start using an inhaler since the damp in her room from a leak still has not been fixed. In fact, the NUS found that 12% of students suffer health problems as a direct result of their poor accommodation. Students are also forced to endure safety issues. Half of properties don’t have locks on the windows. One property had the locks removed from their bedroom doors by the landlord, a violation of their insurance terms. After moving in, one business management student found her belongings removed after cleaners and decorators had been working there. “I even found some of my kitchen equipment in the bins outside. They ignored my letters to them to be reimbursed and stated it wasn’t

1 2 3

Get insurance – trust us, you’ll be sorry if it all got nicked. It’s also worth seeing if your insurance covers you for legal fees just in case any disputes pop up with your agency / landlord.

Keep a copy of the tenancy agreement, so you can ensure that you know if your agency is breaking it or not.

Keep all receipts safe, especially deposit receipts.

Make sure your agency / landlord fill in an inventory with you. The more information you include in it the more useful it will be when negotiating


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007 INVESTIGATIONS@gairrhydd.COM

Not all letting agencies will be as hydd investigates bad housing...

ren, it doesn’t e speak to you! their problem.” A second year Geography student moved into her property in September to find her bedroom so damp that the landlord warned her not to sleep there. Despite her making the landlord aware of the problem seven times over the summer, it was not ‘fixed’ until two weeks after she moved in, leaving her with no bedroom. The student has been paying rent since June, and has been refused any compensation numerous times. The company also refused to reimburse the high electrical costs involved in running the dehumidifier, which they used for several weeks to relieve the damp. When the council were asked to inspect a property in accordance with the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) regulations, it failed the inspection spectacularly, with a lack of fire equipment being a major concern. The council granted the agency with a temporary license that gave them nine months to fix the problems. The agency later told tenants that they ‘had no intention of fixing anything until the end of this period.’ leaving them with an unsafe house to live in for the rest of the year. If it wasn’t bad enough for students having to bear the inadequacy of their housing, many are subjected to prejudice by their landlords and letting agencies. One household claimed to have tolerated verbal abuse on a number of occasions, reducing several of them to tears. They have also suffered many missed appointments, unfounded accusations, and lack of commitment to their responsibilities. It isn’t just terrible conditions that

are a problem for some Cardiff students though. gair rhydd has heard stories of landlords and letting agencies withholding bonds and deposits for no good reason.

The kitchen and living room ceiling completely fell through in our property back in my second year One postgraduate student waited almost six months for one of her bonds to be given back after leaving her rented home: “It was £400, which for a student is alot of money, and the next agency I went with tried to keep it as well. I got it back after three months after waiting weeks and weeks” “I was given excuses every day and two seperate employees told me it was in the post which I never recieved.” “The bond I got back eventually was £30 less than I was due.” One of the letting agencies brought to gair rhydd’s attention has already been on a national consumer watchdog programme for their poor performance. They’re still in business though

because students aren’t aware of their behaviour. If you’re looking for a new house for next year, don’t just go to the first one you fall across, just because you like the house they offer. Instead, check out the Housing Guide realeased in the new year or go to Cardiff Student Letting, Cardiff Students’ Union’s own letting agency. Prevention is better than cure, but if you’re unlucky enough to already be in a house where the landlord or letting agency is failing to provide the service they should, then get in touch with Cardiff City Council at www.cardiff.gov. uk to know your rights to safe housing and contact the Private Sector Housing on 02920 873564/5 if you think they are being violated. Alternatively, the Advice and Representation Centre, on the 3rd floor of the Students Union provides answers to any queries you may have. The Students’ Union provides an agency that is designed to attend to the needs of students, and also eliminates the agency fees that are usually paid when you sign a contract. The university also provides a list of private landlords whose gas and safety certificates have been checked. One method becoming increasingly common in avoiding a risky landlord, is for a parent to buy a house and rent it to students. It not only abolishes the letting agent, but acts as a worthy investment for parents. Word of mouth is the other most reliable option, as speaking to the previous occupiers allows insight to how the landlord will act.

Want more advice?

Look out for the 2007/08 Housing Guide in February 4 edition of gair rhydd.

Get in touch with the Advice and Representation centre at Cardiff Students’ Union. Call 029 2078 1410 e-mail advice@cardiff.ac.uk or pop in on the third floor at Park Place

09

INVESTIGATIONS Making sense of the small print Individual and Joint Tenancies Most students are offered a joint tenancy which means all tenants share responsibility of rent. So if someone leaves, the landlord has the legal right to recover rent from the rest of you! Try to ask for individual agreements so you’re not responsible for someone else’s rent, because that could result in less beer and shopping money!

Guarantor Agreements Means that a guarantor (who most of the time ends up being your parents) will be legally obliged to pay the rent if you don’t. And if you are in a joint tenancy, it can sometimes mean that they are legally obliged to pay if your housemates fail to pay their rent. If someone is going to stand as a guarantor make sure they are fully aware of all of this.

Never pay any money before signing the contract and don’t sign anything you don’t understand Got a story or want to write for Investigations? e-mail investigations@ gairrhydd.com


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

EDITORIAL & OPINION

OPINION@gairrhydd.COM

freewords Est. 1972

Faith to Faith The Students’ Union witnessed the concept of free-speech in action last week. A unique platform for debate was provided by the My Faith, My City forum, which brought together the diverse range of beliefs and values that comprise our student community. While the forum promoted a peaceful, diplomatic approach to debate, it also posed a more realistic question about how possible this is to achieve. The issues raised were not just about religion, but about faith: the fundamental beliefs and feelings of an individual which impact the way they live their everyday life. There is little wonder, then, that the forum’s non-confrontational conduct code proved frustrating for some. Quiet Rooms take on a different function to service different beliefs, a notion rejected by some as discriminatory. It comes down to an issue of respect; in a principled effort to exercise our freedom, we risk denying others the right to live out their lifestyle with precisely the freedoms which we feel are due to ourselves. Interestingly, the forum attracted a considerable number of students, while Student Council faces a regular struggle to reach quoracy and pass motions which affect the entire student body. With this in mind, what the forum made clear above all was the immense value which Cardiff University students place on the fulfilment of their beliefs.

creative words After six weeks in the making, gair rhydd is proud to present volume two of creative words. The first volume of creative words was published in May 2007 and after its success, the contributions have continued to pour in. With so many submissions, competition to reach the final print has been tough, as the work submitted has been of such high quality. For those of you who missed out on being published in print, check out gairrhydd.com in the new year, where all submissions will be published. It is fantastic to be able to showcase such talents to the whole of the student body. Special thanks must go to Ben Bryant, Tom Williams and Roseanna Eastoe. Thank you for your total dedication, passion and enthusiasm. We hope you enjoy reading this special collection of poetry and prose, and if it leaves you feeling inspired email your work to books@gairrhydd.com for the next volume of creative words.

Editor Amy Harrison Deputy Editor Ben Bryant Co-ordinator Elaine Morgan News William Taylor Abigail Whittaker Samantha Shillabeer Corinne Rhoades Investigations Lee Macaulay Politics

11

2nd degree burns

Should medical students require an undergraduate degree to take medicine? Josie Allchin is sceptical

F

riendly teasing has been rife among my group of housemates ever since we moved in with a medic. Not that this by itself merits undue sarcastic comments. Quite the opposite in fact, since one day she’ll be invariably saving others’ lives, and quite possibly mine. But it’s the fact that this particular medic friend of ours has already done an undergraduate degree. She won’t graduate until she’s 26. In our eyes, she’s old. And deserves to be the subject of our immature age-bashing, obviously… However, it was reported in gair rhydd last week that one medical professional has called for such behaviour to become the norm (that’s the undergraduate degree, not the age-bashing). Professor Edward Peile, head of Warwick Medical School, has expressed the opinion that straight-from-school medical degrees should be scrapped in favour of a system with a graduateentry-only course. In other words, those wishing to pursue a career in medicine must take a three-year undergraduate course before embarking on the fiveyear onslaught of a medical degree. Surely, though, this is wholly unnecessary – my thoughts first turned to those potential medics who (would be made in most cases against their choice), to study for eight years, three of which would not even be directed at medicine. This would be before they could even consider graduating, getting a proper job and paying off that engulfing black hole of debt they would have accumulated. No doubt this would put people off who simply could not afford the expense, excluding many who may make fantastic doctors. Is this not entering into a realm of indirect discrimination against those who cannot meet the expense of eight years in the higher education system?

This would put people off who simply could not afford the expense The practicalities, or rather impracticalities, of making our future doctors stay in education for just under a decade are undeniable. It’s not just the debt that the students themselves will incur, but that the Government will also have to foot the bill for keeping the many thousands of medical students

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in education, which is expensive at the degree’s current length. But economical considerations aside for one moment, what exactly were the thoughts that went behind Professor Peile’s statement? Firstly, he implies that those taking medicine first time round are simply not mature enough, stating that taking on postgraduates only would attract more motivated, grown-up and independent learners who work harder. He also mentions that those who take on medicine at an undergraduate level, who will begin life as a doctor in their early twenties, will have little or no more depth to their ‘life experience’ than when they were applying for medical school. There’s no denying that maturity and hard work are very much essential when undertaking a medical degree – but surely it’s just an unfair generalisation to assume that all undergraduate applicants are too immature, unlike all those who have already done a degree. One third-year medic, a postgraduate, is of the opinion that doing a degree beforehand “does have its advantages; however, everyone is different – there are some undergraduates who appear to

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be less mature and less motivated, but that said, some of my undergraduate friends are doing as well as, if not better than, me.”

He implies those taking medicine first time are not mature enough Another postgraduate medic, though, appears to agree with Professor Peile’s opinion that the extra life experience gained from doing a degree beforehand is beneficial: “I don’t think I could have done medicine first time round because I don’t think I had the confidence – doing an undergraduate degree first helped me in that respect. So it’s not all about having the actual degree, but about the life experience gained while doing one.” Perhaps, then, the extra life experience gained from doing an undergraduate degree beforehand is beneficial; it’s not all about the intelligence, good grades and academia, but about social and communication skills – the allimportant bedside manner that many Millie Schurch, Portia Nicholson, Ruth Smith, Ceri Isfryn, Navodita Pande, Lizz Rice, Natalie Sauro, Martyn Fisher, Magdalene Quartey, Gordon Lawrence, Ted Shiress, Michael Cove, Pete Anning, Yousar Jafar, Gemma Batstone, Gareth

OLD MEDICS: Still studying may take for granted. However, in the face of the impracticalities of making all potential medics do an undergraduate degree, and the fact that many undergraduates would hotly deny that the majority of them are too immature to undergo the medical degree, perhaps more time in medicine should be dedicated to extra-curricular activities in an attempt to boost the important communicative skills and confidence needed to be a good doctor. Failing this, maybe the entry system needs to introduce more character-based assessments, such as observing how the applicant interacts with a patient, to pick out those with good communication skills. In a time when competition for places on medicine courses is high, this would really hone in on those who are exceptionally suited for medicine. Places would not just be given to those with the top grades as a way of differentiating between the best applicants. But by no means should we implicate a compulsory undergraduate degree. We cannot afford to sacrifice the many good doctors that inevitably will never be so if this new system came into action.

Ludkin, Sarah Shearman, Jamie Jones, Matt Cutler, Dan Jones, Kerry Allen, Natalia Popova, Hannah Mitchell, Grant Morgan, Niel Humphryes, Andrew ButtonStephens, Sarah Day, Charlie Dyer, Steve Kinnard, Matt Pearson, Heather Fleming,

Jake Yorath, Natalie Blyth, Roz Lambe, Aled Lloyd Address University Union, Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3QN Web www.gairrhydd.com Email info@gairrhydd.com Advertising 02920 781 474 Location 4th Floor Students’ Union


12 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

OPINION

OPINION@gairrhydd.COM

The Death of News

Have ‘proper’ news stories disappeared forever? Or is it just the way we consume them that is to blame? Martyn Fisher explores

N

ews in 2007 is everywhere. And that, to dive straight in, is the problem. Not just news itself, but the mediums via which it is delivered are now everywhere. You don’t just have to buy a newspaper or wait until the 6pm radio/ TV bulletin anymore to get the daily news. But who or what is to blame for this news-suffocation? What does the public deem newsworthy nowadays? And most importantly, is news as we know it moribund, or even fully clog-popped? The TV channel BBC News 24 not only has the normal presenter-toreporter news story format, but is also accompanied by running news text on the bottom of the screen. All of it 24 flamin’ 7! Likewise, the BBC News website not only plasters its main page with stories under every category, topic or region imaginable (and Heaven forbid that gaps do appear; just get Dave from Chesterfield to offer his opinion on the latest in the ‘Search For Maddie’ pantomime), but it also tells you what the most popular news stories are on the site at that moment in time.

The future reeks of further trashy news stories

Recent most-read stories have included ‘JK Rowling outs Dumbledore as gay’. That this was the most-read

story arguably means that it was the most important news story in the country at the time, if we judge by audience reached. But by what criteria does one judge a story as relevant? Who is to blame if the Beeb reels out a story about a fictional wizard being gay and the public takes the bait? Could it be that news hasn’t died, but evolved? Could it be that I’ve just looked at and regarded the word ‘news’ in the wrong way? A dictionary definition of the noun ‘news’ simply tells us that it means, “a report of a recent event.” Now going on that term of classification, anything goes. Therefore, who can blame media groups and corporations for spouting the twaddle they do when it’s lapped up like the proverbial warm bakery product? Sneering at people for consuming stories about homosexual wizards could be interpreted as snobbery on my part, but then why do we as a nation waste so much time reading such useless information offered to us as news

when it has absolutely no bearing on our lives? So what of the more serious stories we still get then? Why do political sto-

ries only seem to muster interest or get substantial coverage when there’s a crisis? How is it that when a British woman

gets held in custody in a nation with far more disturbing problems we suddenly care because of the British angle? The media spouts so much filler on such happenings in the hope of feeding the public’s insatiable hunger that they even end up contradicting themselves! Private Eye delights in noting how The Daily Express runs stories implying that Kate McCann is an innocent victim, only to scream to the world the next day that Kate McCann is an evil homicidal maniac. Yet people buy The Daily Express regardless, just for that next titbit of gossip to kill 30 seconds of the day. Similarly, another way we’re fed more of what can be regarded as the serious news stories comes in the form of the rollercoaster ride. Take the case of Anthony Walker, murdered in a racially-motivated attack with an ice axe two years back. The

press milked this despicable occurrence until the udders were red-raw, the culprits caught and the public bored of this particular piece of escapism. The rollercoaster ride had finished. Off stepped the public, and into the line for the next ride. This example epitomises how news itself hasn’t died, but the way in which it is presented and devoured is rotting.

Could it be that the news hasn’t died but evolved? Alas, the future reeks of further trashy news and the platforms on which we’ll be given it are expanding. Be it Paris Hilton buying a new handbag or a revelation that Mary Poppins was a crackhead, it’ll be slopped messily on our news-plate and greedily consumed. Really, just how difficult will it be for the Murdochs of tomorrow to feed today’s teens and twenty-somethings when they regard David Hasslehoff, who downed so much toffee-vodka at Generic Nightclub’s ‘Drink Until You Die’ night that he had to have his stomach pumped, as a ‘legend’? Interesting and relevant news IS still out there. Unfortunately, you have to sift through the Godzilla-sized portions of crap and rise above their potentially asphyxiating effects until you reach Destination Newsworthy!

What’s your beef? Magdalene Quartey explores steroid abuse

I

t’s very s a d t h a t children perceive a muscled body image as an ultimate ideal for the male physique, and that they pursue it via dangerous methods in an endeavour to ‘get girls’. The first thought that comes to mind when you hear this is that obviously there is a lack of warning of the severe dangers of using steroids, although we cannot ignore that these sometimes naïve boys also see many sportsmen using this drug and the effect it has on their body, misinterpreting the physical effects and often not knowing the hidden dangers that come with using the drug. I honestly cannot believe that there are people who actually maintain that being bulky and built is attractive; more particularly, men, as indicated when I asked a Year 1 Engineering student his thoughts

on using anabolic steroids. He declared confidently that most men see it in terms of demonstrating male strength, in that it is less likely for a very muscled man to be violently approached on the street than one who is less bulked up. So there’s an association between being muscular and bulky and educing fear and respectability from fellow males who appear smaller in comparison to the bigger and more muscular man. I fervently disagree with this view, and see it as part of the misleading messages being communicated to these young boys, who perhaps want this ridiculous affiliation of greatness and power that accompanies such body images. We could claim that some of this influence comes from athletes. In the US, some American Football stars are being investigated by a US congressional committee looking into steroid abuse in sports. Its chairman says his “primary focus” is on the message being sent to children who idolise and attempt to emulate professional athletes. There is a growing abuse of anabolic

steroids, which are now being used by “tens of thousands” of bodybuilders and teenagers. George Chatziroufas, Needles Exchange Officer at Hope Street Drug Centre in Liverpool, has seen evidence of increasing numbers of young men using such drugs. He said: “Some people are taking them because they do want to get into bodybuilding or sport but a growing number are taking them because they want to look good fast.” He added: “Most people think to inject steroids is a quick fix, but they don’t have enough information.” Those who used anabolic steroids were often oblivious of the risks, which include acne, breast enlargement, sterility, liver tumours and hepatitis, said the council chairman, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins. I’m amazed that “the Home Office controls on anabolic steroids are aimed at suppliers and traffickers,” and that “it is not an offence to possess them to enhance performance.” I’m sorry, but if the drugs are as dangerous as we’re being led to believe, shouldn’t there be tougher controls on how they are circu-

lated? And shouldn’t the fact that boys as young as 12 and 13 can get their hands on them be enough proof that its easy accessibility should be halted? I’m clueless as to who gave these young boys the idea that muscular – often overly muscular – men will get them girls. Women don’t find a steroidstuffed ‘macho’ dude attractive. I know I don’t. Drug abuse to gain a muscular physique is pushing it a step too far. These kids are endangering their lives and there still seems not to be enough widespread public awareness of the issue. We should be alarmed and saddened at this revelation. A responsible approach needs to occur at every level: from athletes for the message they send to these kids who see them as role models, from the media for reinforcing images of the ‘strong man’, and from magazines that depict muscled men in a good light. We need to tell these kids that drug abuse is not just bad, but will also lead to very severe and dire side effects and that in this instant, “the end does not justify the means.”


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

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OPINION

OPINION@gairrhydd.COM

Sexual Health Cardiff, In light of Cardiff’s recent SHAG week, Gordon Lawrence argues sodomy and free love are corrupting society

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ast week the Students’ Union marked Sexual Health Week. Wandering around campus and flicking through gair rhydd one could not escape reading and hearing about it. However, I think that our attitude to sex is wrong, and is responsible for the sexual health problems faced by society today. I also believe that the solutions presented to us are fundamentally flawed. Sex should be an act of great love. Philosophers distinguish between irrational love (Eros) and self-sacrificing love (Agape). In my mind, sex shows both aspects of this love. There is an irrational attraction between the man and the woman; at the same time both man and woman sacrifice the self for the other and make themselves vulnerable to each other. Natural sex is the process by which man and woman come together. The man releases sperm into the woman’s body in a process that, at certain times in the female cycle, results in an egg being fertilised and new life being created. This act is one of the ultimate human experiences. It is exciting and emotional. It is almost beyond description. Someone of my acquaintances compared it to “fine wine”!

Sex should be an act of great love; between irrational love and selfsacrificing love It seems to me, however, that we are seeking the pleasures of sex whilst trying to escape its consequences and the responsibilities it entails. Sex is supposed to be selfless, and this is what makes it human in my view. However, in a quest for individual pleasure without responsibility, I believe that sex stops being selfless and becomes selfish. Being selfish is the opposite of being loving (and the opposite of being human), and this is the problem. When we go out we are told to “use a condom” or some other means of artificial contraception. I believe condoms have a lot to answer for, however. Condoms can encourage casual uncommitted sex. We are encouraged to think that when we use a condom there will be no consequences. Yet condoms separate the idea of sex from the idea of having children to the stage where I suspect that we can forget that sex exists so that we can procreate. Therefore, condoms can stop sex being about the couple and make sex instead about the individual. Because condoms can encourage casual uncommitted sex, it can cause the breakdown of relationships, marriages and families. How much more tempting it is to have sex with someone who is not our partner if there are no consequences! How much easier it is to have sex with another instead of sorting

Disability and me

Ted Shiress questions the practice of discrimination, going beyond the mere insult

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SEX: an act of (safe) love

the differences! The Pill carries all this baggage and more besides. Being on the Pill is the same as pouring lots of noxious unpleasant chemicals inside you. It stops the body operating in its natural way. It is also proven to be carcinogenic. Why are we so keen to have organic fruit and vegetables and eat healthily, yet we don’t mind taking these chemicals? If the consequences of all this were not so tragic the irony would be funny.

Condoms have a lot to answer for: they encourage uncommitted sex with no consequence If all this were not enough, artificial contraception can and does fail, resulting in conception. It also encourages complacency and an unhealthy addiction to sex. When no artificial contraception is available, sex is risked without it and again, conception can be the result. This can then lead women to seek an abortion. Abortion is an intrusive and unnatural procedure that ends the life of the child and is bad for the woman whose mental health is often damaged for life. Of course there are cases where the woman becomes pregnant in circumstances outside of her direct control and

feels unable to bring up children. Surely in such cases it is better that the woman is given help so that she can persevere and carry the child, who can then be put up for adoption after birth? There are many couples unable to conceive who would love to bring up children. Society should support the adoption choice far better than it does currently. It seems to me that we would all be a lot happier if we decided to revisit our roots and have natural sex. Of course this wouldn’t be easy. We would have to find a partner whom we felt we could be with for the rest of our life. This involves patience to find someone suitable, and this is very difficult (I speak from my own experience). This would involve a period of getting to know the other at a deep level without having sex, to ensure that person is the right person. After that point, making a public commitment to the other, the couple could then have natural sex as it is supposed to be. Sticking to one sexual partner has been shown to cut the spread of AIDS more effectively than condoms! There is one form of contraception that I do not think carries the baggage of artificial contraception and that is Natural Family Planning. This is not the unreliable rhythm method. This method (which can be manual or computerised) uses the woman’s temperature and other information to predict whether the woman is fertile or not. Based on this information the couple can decide whether or not they are ready to have children, and enjoy sexual intercourse

ticks and stones may break my bones, blah, blah, etc. My column in last week’s gair rhydd proved a tad odd to some of my closer acquaintances, as they are aware that I promote the use of derogatory language – e.g. ‘spastic’ – in a humorous form. I do find it entertaining. It is often a great milestone in a friendship when a friend calls me ‘spack’ as it proves they are comfortable with me and realise I will not be offended. I have even educated some friends that I find ‘spazz’ a highly offensive term to call me, as a ‘spazz’ apparently drives a chair while a ‘spack’ drunkenly stumbles. However, if I am so relaxed about these terms then why was I previously getting so precious about the importance of grammar when describing disability?

It is a milestone in a friendship when a friend calls me ‘spack’ Well, it is clear in society that insults such as ‘spazz’ are a complete no-go – they are totally demeaning and derogatory. I do not find them offensive at all. They are almost void of semantics, as they are at the appropriate times. When managed properly, this is as reliable from a family planning point of view as artificial contraception, and has several advantages over it. Natural

One form of contraception that doesn’t carry the baggage of being articfial is Natural Family Planning Family Planning does not encourage casual uncommitted sex; it makes us remember that sex is about procreation, so that if there is an unexpected pregnancy there is less of a shock and a greater willingness to bring up the child or at least carry the child to birth whereupon he or she can be put up for adoption; during those periods where

regarded as so wrong in so many ways. Anyone using these terms is clearly unworthy of befriending in any way because they are worthless and will soon be weeded out of society through Darwinian theory. This is mainly why I find the terms so amusing to use myself! However, as mentioned last week, the linguistic punch associated with disability is really much more subtle. For instance, the last time I needed to pass urine when I was in public the door I opened marked me separate from gentlemen or women. I mean, come on! What is more offensive to you? Some worthless chav polluting the airwaves with outdated terms that even the BNP do not use or having a toilet door inform you that you are not considered worthy of a sex? And yet I do not see the new wave of so-called ‘PC police’ having a go at toilet doors – though I do suppose it would be quite amusing! I will not even comment on the fact that condom machines are not included in these disabled toilets – I consider this to be the optimum of offensiveness! I suppose, my point here – which is valid in many contexts – is that complete verbal wrongs have very little impact, and mostly backfire, portraying the speaker to be the headcase. However, words cause damage when they are not considered to be outright inappropriate and are used carelessly.

sex is not possible, it allows the couple to work on other aspects of their relationship; and it is entirely natural and free from health risks. The result, I believe, would be a nation of people who would be happier in their family and sexual life. While I acknowledge that many of my ideas are highly idealistic, I don’t think this means they are invalid. There is nothing wrong in having high ideals. Modern Society doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of high ideals, and I think this is very sad. Let us strive towards high ideals. Being human, we may stumble on the way, but nonetheless, I believe that we must keep trying.

What do you think? Let us know your views on www.gairrhydd.com


14 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

OPINION

OPINION@gairrhydd.COM

The Sack Race

Another day, another high-profile sacking forced by the media. Michael Cove laments our harsh, harsh world

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t’s traditional at this time of year for the air to be filled with bells jingling and the sweet sound of carol singers. Right now, however, you’re more likely to hear the frenzied sharpening of knifes and mobs baying for blood. At the time of writing, a number of public figures must be feeling like Christmas turkeys, hoping a bit of the seasonal goodwill will blow in their direction. Harriet Harman is in hot water over the latest Labour funding furore, Sir Ian Blair is still dodging the sack, ducking and diving like a crafty whacka-mole, and questions are even starting to be asked of the big cheese himself, Glowering Gordon. Steve McClaren and the Controller of the BBC have already been given the boot. It does seem that you can’t pick up a paper these days without seeing another high-profile figure squirming in the spotlight. Now let me get something straight right from the start. It is the job of the press to mercilessly scrutinise those with important jobs, and if someone has a track record of incompetence or makes a horrendous error then they should resign. What interests me, though, is the culture of responsibility that seems to have taken hold, whereby one individual must take the personal blame for everything that happens in their organisation. How much could Gordon Brown ac-

What happened to letting people learn from their mistakes? tually have done to prevent the Northern Rock crisis? The experts put it down to the American sub-prime housing market – something that’s simply out of his hands. And why should he be to blame for the actions of a junior civil servant in Revenues and Customs? The argument goes that the man at the top is responsible for the policies that allow mistakes to happen. In some cases this may be true – but not all. What if, like Brown, you’ve only been in the job for a matter of months? Furthermore, mistakes are inevitable no matter what policies are in place; no leader, even a supposed control freak like the Great Clunking Fist, can be held accountable for the actions of everyone who works underneath them. What matters more, surely, is how someone responds when things go wrong. So what’s with the recent bloodbath? The answer is lazy, formulaic journalism that doesn’t help public accountability one bit. We all know the pattern; we’ve seen it enough times. A scandal breaks, and depending on how quirky it is and what else is going on in the world, it may or may not capture the imagination of the press. All the papers will report on it because all the other papers are reporting

It’s that time of year again: Christmas time, mistletoe and whine. Pete Anning injects some much-needed Christmas cheer

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STEVE McCLAREN: Probably deserved it, to be fair on it, and the herd stampedes onwards. in the Premiership and put all the blame So much of what passes for news these on the manager who got them there, days is the media commenting on crises when its obvious they can’t compete that they themselves have whipped up, with the likes of Manchester United? Resignations and sackings should be like an arsonist marvelling at his own handiwork. How many items on the a practical means for improving the runTV news start with, “The Government ning of an organisation. Instead, they came under more pressure today to…” have become a symbolic gesture that or, “There are growing calls for…”? By whom? The resignation saga takes hold, guaranteeing papers can fill their front pages and column inches for days on end, and BBC News 24 can plug the gap before its next dramatic two-minute countdown. The microscope is intensified, and the media and wider public have now unsurprisingly more “shocking revela- come to expect as the right way of dotions” come to light. Is there any corner ing things. For instance, Peter Fincham of public life (or business for that mat- had nothing to do with the footage that ter) where you couldn’t find something was edited to show the Queen stormamiss if the world’s press zeroed in on ing out of a photo-shoot. Yet it was his head that was offered to the palace as it? Soon you’ll hear that the position a way of showing just how sorry the of the guy in charge is being “called corporation was for the trivial mistake. into question”, and they will set out to They had to be seen to be getting rid of defend themselves, pleading that they the top brass; not just the people who had no knowledge or influence of the actually got it wrong. This mentality problem and vowing to get on with the needs to change. It’s unfair and even job in hand. But they would say that, counterproductive, since government wouldn’t they? Desperately clinging on departments, football teams and other like that. Why not do the honourable bodies all face constant changes in leadership. thing and just go? So when you’re tucking into your They usually do, their career left in tatters as the herd tramples them into Christmas turkey this year, spare a the dust and then charges on to its thought for all those high-profile execnext victim. And the story is forgotten utives with million-pound settlements and pensions who don’t have to go within days. Whatever happened to letting some- back to work after the holiday period. Hmm. one learn from their mistakes, get to grips with the job and become an experienced and wise professional? How pathetic and pointless is it to see, every year, a newly-promoted team flounder

What matters more is how someone responds when things go wrong

reckon Christmas gets a bit of a bad press these days. The ever-increasing number of anti-Xmas articles that appear in publications – those that aren’t trying to flog you some Christmas item – is on the increase. On some level, maybe there’s a valid point; after all, there are the endless gaudy decorations and excessive lights, the unnamed overpriced Christmas attractions, and the buying of presents nobody wants and then having to go and visit said person whom you don’t want to see in order to give it to them. It’s a nightmare to park/walk/breathe in any city centre and, as numerous people with credit cards and little student loan left will be finding out, it costs a fair load of cash to keep everyone happy. Then you tramp all over the country visiting various relatives so that everybody can have a bit too much drink and start fighting. And I could go on. However, no doubt that article will be coming sometime soon to a paper near you. So what’s good about Christmas? Well, from a second-year student’s point of view, it’s a holiday – and holidays mean time to catch up on various long-term projects I haven’t even started yet. It’s also a chance to get a job, so I can borrow a little less currency from Gordon Brown. Maybe this is not exactly my idea of fun, but there is always the week itself to have off. But Christmas is about more than that. So what if every aspect has been commercialised? I like the Coca-Cola adverts. I think it’s the small details you notice the most: for example, walking through my department and smelling the Christmas tree needles, or having a great big Christmas party with my housemates, or going to unnamed

overpriced attractions anyway just for a laugh. Another good thing about Christmas is that New Year’s Eve, the mother of all piss-ups, falls immediately after. Also, as much as I love the independence of being at university, going home means real food. And at Christmas, when the compulsion hits everyone to buy ‘luxury’ everything, it means real good food. Ah yes, many a Christmas afternoon has been spent sat in front of the TV watching whatever ancient film is on having eaten half of the supermarket. It just can’t be beat.

So what if every aspect has been commercialised? I like the Coca-Cola adverts I think, in general, most people are pretty happy to see their folks (even random aunts) at Christmas, and if that means I have to trawl the shopping centre for a few hours so be it. A little sacrifice never hurt anyone. I think perhaps we have lost a part of Christmas and there is some justification in ‘Bah humbug’ arguments: many family-orientated traditions have gone, and I think many people forget that it is actually a very important religious festival. I’m sure I’ll be grumbling about traffic and shopping etc. soon enough, but if Christmas was cancelled we would all really miss it.

THE GRINCH: Loves it really


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

LETTERS

LETTERS@gairrhydd.COM

letters@gairrhydd.com Welcome and croeso to gair rhydd’s letters page, the place for students to have their say about the things they care about. So, if you have an opinion on any topic we would love to hear from you. Contact us at letters@gairrhydd.com or voice your opinions on specific articles online at gairrhydd.com A Tired Cliché Dear gair rhydd, I am writing in response to ‘The Tired Cliché’. Being an English Literature student, I am fascinated by language and I am, without shame, a snob when it comes to the treatment of English. But I do not find clichés offensive; in fact, I think they are an integral feature of our language. The origins of such clichés confirm this. All are rooted in our history, often in literature. It was our 1850s Poet Laureate, Tennyson, who first observed it is “better to have loved and lost” in his 100-page masterpiece. And ‘Romeo’ is the most obvious example of one of the 150 clichés that originate in Shakespeare. I don’t find such clichés ‘dated’ – they are historical. They are living recognition of our wonderful literary past. When you use a cliché, you are referring back to all the times it has been used before, and applying its meaning then to your current situation. So, when you say the over-used “I love you”, you bring into the present the sentiments that passed between Romeo and Juliet, Tennyson and his “lost” friend, and every moment “I love you” has ever been used in a poem, prose, song or film. The over-use of an idiom or cliché is actually what gives it

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its meaning. I agree with the author of the article that in formal writing, literature and serious expression of emotion, clichés should be avoided. But in everyday life, it is impossible to expect people to express themselves in anything other than the colloquial. I think clichés are a perfect, everyday tool to convey a feeling or emotion for which we don’t have the time or ability to express in our own words. Anon

Opinionated Dear gair rhydd, Just what have you been putting in your opinion writers’ coffee this week? Both Lucie Apampa and Rasputin have launched scathing attacks into the Government’s anti-terrorism policies without giving proper thought and consideration as to why the Government is acting the way it is or proposing the policies it has. Firstly, ‘What’s the big ID-ea?’ (A pun worthy of the ‘The Sun’!) is certainly premature: nothing has been finalised yet, no one knows just what ID cards will contain, how they will work, how effective they will be, how much they will cost and so on. Now as long as I don’t have to directly pay for an

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ID card I don’t really mind; if a police officer stops me in the street and asks to see it, even if I have every legal right to walk away, I will almost certainly hand it over and be co-operative. I realise the police are doing an extremely difficult job attempting to protect the public and I think they deserve our understanding, patience and cooperation. I have nothing to hide so as long as the police are reasonable I will comply judiciously with their requests. Criticising ID cards because they won’t, by themselves, stop any terrorist acts being committed seems a little silly. Well, of course they won’t – they are just one potential weapon in a whole arsenal the state has at its disposal. By themselves, they are relatively insignificant and an annoyance; however, when employed in juxtaposition with the rest of this arsenal of anti-terrorism policies then the whole becomes far more effective than its constituent parts. There’s really no question of ID cards conflicting with or further impeding civil liberties – the police already have the power to stop and search if they have reasonable grounds to and, if it is so wished, the state can find out everything about me, all my personal details, all the skeletons in my closet, everything. So giving PC Plod the right to ask for a piece of plastic with my name on it doesn’t change anything one iota. Secondly the article ‘Keeping the faith, keeping the facial hair’ was an immense despondence to read. Rasputin claims that, in the current climate and in the eyes of the state (specifically the police and security services) then being a Muslim automatically equates one as being a terrorist. This is nonsense: not even the most paranoid and maniacal security officer locked away in the bowels of Thames House thinks that every Muslim is a terrorist. Actually the opposite is true: the police and security services, after decades of dealing with Irish-based terrorism and Soviet Bloc agents, are entering new and uncharted territory. The fact is the police and security services need the cooperation and active support of the Muslim community to win this fight against terrorism, much like the support of large sections of the Irish community, on both sides of the border, and the Dublin Government was instrumental in winning the last fight against Irish terrorism. Far from holding all Muslims in contempt, the police and security services are actively recruiting Muslims into their ranks. For the latter, this is the first time they have ever recruited publicly, demonstrating just how important the

Letter of the week Donate Blood! Dear gair rhydd, It is a very dangerous and selfish idea to think students should boycott blood transfusion services. Students are, for the most part, fit, healthy, not on long-term medication and have a bit of spare time to give. They are the perfect candidates to be blood donors. Whichever sexuality you are, gay or not, the blood service only bars those men who have had sex (oral or anal) with another man, not gay men in general. Gay virgins are free to donate. Straight men who have been raped are barred. Do you see the subtle difference? It isn’t about equality, gay rights and it isn’t about passing judgment about a group of people. It is about protecting people from the statistical risk that certain activities (gay anal sex, non-medical drug injection, recent tattoos, family history of vCJD, recent travel to malarial regions, working as a prostitute etc.) present. People are dying of AIDS and hepatitis because of infected blood products given decades ago. The current rules are there to protect people from these small, but real risks. Not every drug user shares assistance of the Muslim community is. Secondly, whilst we have suffered one significant terrorist attack (London on 7/7) and a few botched ones, (Glasgow airport, for example), dozens of attacks have been stopped and many terrorist suspects arrested by the security services acting on tips from within the Muslim community itself. If this information ceases then it is almost assured that some future attacks will be successful, potentially eclipsing even 7/7. Nonetheless, given that the terrorist groups operating in Britain or planning to attack our interests on a national or international scale are, since the Irish terrorist groups have silenced their guns, predominantly – perhaps even exclusively – Muslim, then it is perfectly understandable that the police and security services will pay closer attention to people from this ethnic demographic than anyone else in regard to anti-terrorism. This is not a racist comment; simply a statement of fact. It is unfortunate that anyone who looks likely to be Muslim is more likely to be paid closer attention, especially at vulnerable places such as airports, but it is very necessary and we all must just smile and get on with it. All very well for me to say, you might think – I’m a normallooking white man and thus unlikely to be picked out for an individual search in an airport. Unfortunately, this is not the case, since due to a piece of metal in my face I tend to set off the alarms every single time I go through security at an

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dirty needles, not every gay man has casual, unprotected anal sex, prostitution doesn’t automatically lead to disease, but the transfusion services have a duty to protect some of the sickest people in society and must always err on the side of caution. People who are willing to stop students giving blood are hopefully able to go up the road to University Hospital, stand in the paediatric cancer ward, and explain to parents of children with leukemia that they don’t want local students to donate blood products because of perceived discrimination towards a particular group. I would suggest that rather than trying to prevent students from giving life saving blood donations, the NUS should be encouraging students permanently unable to donate blood to give their time and act as volunteers for the transfusion services. That way they could actually have a positive impact on people’s live rather than discouraging an activity that benefits every single man, woman and child, straight or gay in Wales. The NUS are plain wrong on this matter and need to put protecting health above misplaced sexual politics. Neil Young airport, which is fairly frequently, and it’s even more annoying coming back where it can be difficult to explain to the heavily-armed foreign police officer that it’s my face setting off the alarm and not a hidden firearm. So I know what’s it’s like to get frisked by a large chap with a gun and a dog, but I just let them do their job, discover for themselves that I’m not carrying any contraband and then just get on with my flight. I would be more concerned if such precautions weren’t being taken, since it would suggest that security isn’t taken as seriously it should be. So if you’re a Muslim (or even a hobo-esque chap with a decidedly dodgy-looking beard) and you get stopped and searched at an airport or train station, or you think a police officer is paying closer attention to you more than anyone else, be aware that they’re not doing it because they automatically think you’re a terrorist, or because they want to annoy you or get pleasure out of frisking your arse, but because they are trying to protect you, me and everyone else in society. You may not like it – you may even take offence – but the police and security services are simply trying to do their job in incredibly difficult and dangerous circumstances and if they decide that a small inconvenience for you is necessary to protect society then let them do their jobs, smile, be cooperative and thank them when they send you on your way. It’s far easier and better than just bitching about it. Mark


gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

OPINION

OPINION@gairrhydd.COM

the...

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l w o r i L M D

RASPUTIN

A full-on festive fracas It’s time to move on

Save the Christmas Nativity

t has become such an oversubscribed cliché that whenever I hear someone utter the phrase ‘politically correct brigade’, a little part of me feels inclined to go and purchase something either very sharp or something which requires ammunition. The culprit last week was MP Mark Pritchard (shock horror, a Conservative), who, in response to ‘Christianophobia’ believes it is ‘time for the dragon of political correctness to be slain’. (How many press officers did he have to slay to get that line out?) This comes in conjunction with a Sunday Telegraph survey of 100 primary schools (hardly the greatest sample out of over 22,000 primary schools in the UK) which found that only one in five were to put on the traditional Christmas Nativity play this year. Alternatively, half of the schools were using ‘modern interpretations of the Christmas story’, while one in three were to stage a religion-free performance or no event at all. ‘Ralph the Reindeer’ and ‘The Snowman at Sunset’ are just two of the plays which avoid explicit reference to Christianity and instead stick to ‘strong moral message[s]’. The playwright, Niki Davies, a practising Christian, has written both religious and non-religious works. Davies said: “The Nativity is Christian-based. Perhaps if the school has children from a lot of other faiths, maybe the feeling is they need to be thought about as well.”

remember my primary shool Nativity. I was a shepherd…and a Wise Man. Casting was always difficult, what with the small size of the year group and Stuart Bolton not being allowed on stage because of his allergies. Still, dual role aside, it went well until Balthasar had to reply to a shepherd and I forgot to do both parts. I swore loudly in front of a stunned primary school audience. Good times. Don’t take them away from me. The traditional Christmas Nativity is dying a worse death than I did that evening, with fewer schools staging the story of Jesus’ birth and the various converging plots surrounding it – and barring a Christmas miracle of biblical proportions (or, in a modern context, of Richard Curtis proportions), it will continue to falter. Only one in five schools perform the traditional Christmas story, with most others cutting anything more religious than mince pies.

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I’m sure that comparing the Son of God to stuffing...must be blasphemous It provides yet greater theoretical fodder to feed the fears of those who are convinced that our identity is vanishing into a theoretical pit of multiculturalism. ‘Our’ religion is being undermined. ‘Our’ values are being left by the wayside. ‘Our’ country is being overrun by ‘others’. As Pritchard eloquently puts it (after deftly taking out a few more press officers): “Taking Christ out of Christmas is like serving the Christmas turkey without the stuffing.” I’m sure that comparing the Son of God to stuffing – definition: ‘food put into the cavity of a piece of meat’ – must be blasphemous in some way… but anyway, is this really what is happening? Can Christianity really claim to warrant ‘ophobia’ status? Personally, the concept of non-religious plays seems perfectly reasonable

to me. After all, in a society so abundant with different faiths, and let’s not forget, growing secularism, it seems to me that the aims of a play at Christmas (which to more and more of the population is increasingly not associated with religion) should not be to annually force the views of a single religion down everyone’s necks – unless, of course, it’s a Christian-denomination school. Surely more aspirational aims would be to draw attention to a wider sense of morality, awareness of others, tolerance and for the kids to have some fun.

At the end of the day, five-year-old children have not decided they are Christians. Their parents have At the end of the day, five-year-old children have not decided they are Christians. Their parents have. That said, although 72% of the population identify themselves as Christian (according to the 2001 Census), you can guarantee that many, if not the majority, are far from ‘religious’ in the practical sense. But (thankfully) society is no longer as Manichean as the past; it is not as simple as Religion = Good, Secularism = Bad. You can be a wholesome, honest, decent human being and not be religious, so why not the same for our school plays? Besides all of this, isn’t it time we had a change? I mean you know all the characters (cue generic plastic doll for Jesus), plot twists (‘The inn is full! Whatever are we going to do now?’) and even the end (an ear-splittingly out-of-tune Away in a Manger) before you’ve even squeezed into one of those uncomfortable, stack plastic chairs. My five-year-old nephew performed in his first nativity play last year (he was a shepherd, just for your information). Having performed his single line syllable-perfect, a little later on, during one of the hymns, he got in a bit of a strop and stormed off the stage. Perhaps it was because someone had stepped on his sheep. Or he couldn’t remember the words to the song. Or perhaps, as I like to think, he was making a statement of principle. As he strode out of that Nativity, my then four-year-old nephew was asserting his right to freedom of expression and refusing to act as a vassal of an ideology, which had been imposed upon him as a baby on the day of his christening… Then again, I have a feeling it was more to do with the fact that he hadn’t

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It is sad to see the demise of the traditional Nativity To get linguistically anal for a moment, the schools putting on a performance that doesn’t involve the birth of Christ aren’t actually presenting a Nativity. I have been very careful to capitalise the word ‘Nativity’ in its true context thus far, because when heralded with a capital ‘N’, it refers specifically to the birth of Jesus. With a small ‘n’, ‘nativity’ refers to any birth. I struggle to think of a Christmas play culminating in a birth of someone other than Jesus, so no ‘nativities’ then – just ‘Nativities’ and, becoming more popular, Christmas ‘shows’, for want of a better word. Are you listening at the back? Anyway, the Nativity is dying out, in favour of school plays focusing on other, ‘less controversial’ topics, or no production at all. British schools are ignoring the birth of Jesus Christ, instead presenting fatuous morals about sharing and giving and Rudolph the red-nosed sodding Reindeer. It’s sinful, I tell ye! Well, perhaps not. But it is sad to see the demise of the traditional Nativity. In a festival robbed of its religious roots by commercialism – a crowded platform, this, but truth compensates for its lack of breathing space – the story of Jesus’ coming into the world is one of the few religious elements that remains. The Nativity is one of the few bastions of Christianity still left in Christmas. I strongly disagree with those who argue that watching and/or performing in a Christmas Nativity is forcing

beliefs upon innocent young children, indoctrinating them into Christianity. It’s not. It’s just presenting a famous religious story. And for those who say, “For it to be fair, Chanukkah and other religious festivals should be presented as well”, then fine, I’ve no problem with that – but don’t take the Nativity away from schools. It’s part of a strong tradition. I say that not in the same bigoted and unnecessarily fearful tones of Mark Pritchard MP, who expressed concerns that our multi-faith society surrenders the nation’s Christian traditions to the BNP (which makes about as much sense as they do), but simply because the Nativity is a Christian tradition worth keeping. It’s fun, edifying and it certainly doesn’t offend anybody. Besides, a need for entertainment and modern-day morals doesn’t immediately demand secularism. There’s nothing wrong with trying to liven up the Nativity story (though new characters such as ‘The Little Blue Star’ and ‘The Whoops-a-Daisy Angel’ sound bloody awful) but that does suggest the staged version of the original Christmas story is an absolute dirge, which it isn’t. A word-for-word Bible reading would be, but very few Nativities are like that. Updating the story is part of the fun, but it can remain Christian and still be enjoyable and educational for kids, without the need to resort to fairy godmothers and flying octopi.

It’s fun, edifying and doesn’t offend anybody In fact, religion aside, the Nativity is a great story full of wonderful, diverse characters, thrilling musical numbers and, most of all, suspense. Will Mary and Joseph make it to something resembling a safe delivery room – hell, a stable will do – before Mary gives birth at the side of the road? Well, clearly. But the kids don’t know that. They’ll be rapt in the story and if they take moral messages out of it, be they religious or not, then great. They’re learning good things, and in the unlikely event they convert wholesale to Christianity, they can always change their faith later if they wish. The Nativity can have wonderful effects, but it cannot do any harm to children not of the Christian faith. There’s a quote from Jeremy Hardy that I feel is apt here: “It’s important in a multi-faith society to pay lip-service to cobblers when it’s fun for kids.” I don’t agree with the “cobblers” part, but he makes a good point that the most damaging effect a Nativity can have on a child is persuade him to go into theatre. On second thoughts…


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FEATURES

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Cardiff Medic reach out to Ethiopia from the World Health Organization showing that in Ethiopia there are 850 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in comparison to 11 in the UK. One of the benefits of undertaking this research is that it will enable the faculty of the Ethiopian medical school to become researchers.

gair rhydd’s Heath Park correspondent, Yousar Jafar, reveals all about the partnership between Cardiff University and Hawassa Medical School in Ethiopia

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n 2006, Cardiff University Medical School established a link with the Debub University College of Health Sciences in the city of Hawassa, Ethiopia led by Dr Yifru Berhan of Ethiopia and Professor Helen Houston and Dr Mujataba Hasan of Cardiff Medical School. This partnership builds on the existing link between Southern Ethiopia and the Gwent Healthcare NHS trust which was launched in 2000. This unique health link between South Wales and East Africa is bridging thousands of miles to provide better healthcare to one of the world’s poorest countries by helping and supporting health professionals in Ethiopia.

Childhood mortality in Ethiopia is painfully high and easily preventable

The purpose of the University link is to further co-operation between the 2 educational institutions and the exchange of students and staff in order to build on international understanding and further academic co-operation. These aims are to be achieved by a programme of exchange visits, one of

which has already taken place in March 2007 between staff, that target the development of leadership skills, teaching and clinical practice as well as to share teaching innovations and conduct collaborative research between both institutions. In 2008, three final year medical students from Cardiff University will have the opportunity to go on an exchange to Hawassa Medical School in Southern Ethiopia for their elective period. This is the number of medical students that Hawassa Medical School can accommodate. The student response from Cardiff Medical School in support of this link has been very promising with brave efforts being made to fundraise for the Ethiopian Appeal recently set up by two third year medics, Arla Gamper and Beatrice Baiden. On 14th October 2007 the Cardiff half-marathon took place with over 5,000 people taking part in the 13 mile run. Arla Gamper and Beatrice Baiden trained for 2 months in order to participate in the Cardiff half marathon and to raise money for the Ethiopian Appeal. They ran together in their scrubs and successfully completed this exhausting task in a respectable time of 2 hours 14 minutes, managing to raise nearly £500 for a cause they’re both extremely passionate about. Both medics claimed that it was ‘an awesome experience’ and ‘a massive per-

Despite the lack of resources, the staff and medical students are enthusiastic and diligent sonal achievement to run that distance and raise money to help train Ethiopian medical students.’ The money raised for the Ethiopian Appeal will help support two Ethiopian final year medical students to come to Cardiff University for eight weeks, also as part of their elective. Events that took place during RAG week have contributed to the Ethiopian Appeal and future events such as the annual ‘Dining Out’ will also help to raise money for the Ethiopian Appeal with many more activities in the pipeline. Third year medics will also be selling handmade Christmas cards to students at the Heath Campus and the Biosciences building. Professor Houston, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies within the School of Medicine, claims that ‘the response from the student body has been fantastic’ and that she is ‘delighted about our student response to the suggestion that they help to raise some funding to allow two Ethiopian students to come

from Southern Ethiopia.’ Ethiopia is situated in East Africa and is one of Africa’s poorest nations. The main industry in this developing country is agriculture, where coffee is essential to the Ethiopian economy. The agricultural industry accounts for over 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Ethiopia but sometimes the agricultural sector suffers from frequent drought and poor cultivation practices which can further hinder Ethiopia’s economical growth. Ethiopia has a population of 77 million people in comparison to the nearly 60 million people living in the UK. The life expectancy of males and females in Ethiopia is 49 years and 51 years respectively whereas in the UK the life expectancy is 30 years higher on average. Infant mortality in Ethiopia also shows worrying statistics. The number of deaths per 1000 live births in Ethiopia is 110 compared to only 5 in the UK. One of the chief aims of the collaborative research between both institutions is to ‘carry out research in maternal and child health because the levels of childhood mortality and morbidity in Ethiopia are very high’ Professor Houston explains. The objective of conducting collaborative research is to research topics that are relevant to the health problems faced in Southern Ethiopia with the facilities that are available and can be supported by Cardiff University. This includes research being conducted in infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB), Malaria and HIV/AIDs which are all rife in Ethiopia due to the lack of sanitation and health education in the local community. Not only is the childhood mortality in Ethiopia painfully high (and easily preventable), the deaths of mothers during delivery is also drastically high because of the shortage of modern medical equipment. Maternal deaths are nearly 100 times more than in the UK with statistics

The Ethiopian students are “very industrious, studious and focus very hard on their studies.’

Across the UK, research is an important part of medical school life but in Ethiopia they don’t have such training programmes or active researchers in the more peripheral cities, not to mention the lack of resources. In turn, it will allow researchers from Cardiff University to have the opportunity to experience and have some understanding of health problems in a different country at first hand, hence making this link mutually beneficial. In Hawassa Medical School, there are 80 medical students in each year. However, in the first cohort, who are now in their fourth year of study, there were only 40 medical students. The Ethiopian medical school also trains 40 health officers who are exposed to the same clinical experience as medical students. At any one time, there are 80 medical students and 40 health officer students learning in the same environment each year. This varies considerably to the intake at Cardiff University Medical School who have accepted 305 students in the 1st year this September. Another difference that was evident during the staff visit in March 2007 was the male to female ratio in the Ethiopian medical school. Cardiff University medical school is largely female dominated with a male to female ratio of 1:3 on average. However as one might expect, this ratio doesn’t hold true for Hawassa Medical School which is male dominated with between 20 – 35% being female. This is because families with limited resources generally prefer to educate their sons rather than their daughters but there are also other rea-


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sons behind this decision. Secondary school education in Hawassa is private and entry into medical school is based entirely on academic attainment. The first staff exchange enabled 4 members of staff from Cardiff University to visit the small city of Hawassa in South Ethiopia. In the report published of their first visit, the Cardiff team explained that the ‘laboratory services were rudimentary’ and that the library building was ‘excellent but lacked modern facilities, computers and internet access as well as new text books’ which are resources taken for granted by all students studying at a British University. The medical school in Hawassa have a limited number of journals in their library and are keen to acquire recent journals and learning materials. Cardiff University are helping to provide these essential resources by sending surplus journals donated by staff and also support the university with CD-rom material. Despite the lack of resources, the Cardiff team mentioned how impressed they were by the diligence and enthusiasm of both the staff and medical students and their perseverance to pursue medical education with limited resources. Professor Houston describes the attitude of Ethiopian medical students as ‘very industrious, studious and focus very hard on their studies.’ She also goes on to say that ‘their workload was probably too high because they didn’t have much time for any social engagement, sports or other outside activities as they felt it was important to work all the time.’ Not only do these students show commitment on an academic level, but they have the motivation and desire to be at the forefront of medical advancement in their home country, despite the hardships they face. Many of these students live 100-150km from their homes and live in dormitories on campus. In Ethiopia there are 139 hospitals for a population of 77 million people (that is 1 doctor for 550,000 people) and of those, 36 are in the capital city Addis Ababa. Further to this, 85% of the population live rurally but many of the hospitals are over 150km away from the rural population. In some towns there is only one local hospital with no more than 50 beds to serve a community of half a million people. For developing countries the WHO

Hawassa Medical School is male dominated... as families with limited resources generally prefer to educate their sons

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FEATURES

DECEMBER.10.2007

...in numbers Population

recommends that the doctor to population ratio should be no more than 1 doctor for 10,000 people. In the WHO annual report this ratio was 1:355 in the USA and 1:500 in the UK but for Ethiopia it reached a shocking 1:118,000 in 2006. This is due to the shortage of medical doctors as well as other non doctor frontline health workers. The retention of doctors was very high in 2006, where there was increased internal and international migration. The unattractive career options also contributed to driving Ethiopian doctors away. Another reason for the low number of doctors in this country is due to the low production rate of doctors however one way of improving this situation is to increase the intake of medical students. Hawassa Medical School aims to increase the intake of medical students from 80 to 200 by 2008 which is a step in the right direction. With the help of Cardiff University, Hawassa Medical School will be able to rise to the challenges they have set themselves and achieve their goal of improving the medical course and taking clinical practice to the next level in Southern Ethiopia.

77 million

139 hospitals 49

life expectancy of Ethiopian males

life expectancy of Ethiopian females

51

110

deaths

1000

per

births

(5 in the UK)

850

maternal deaths per

100,000 Photographs: (Descending) Arla Gamper and Beatrice Baiden post marathon; Professor Houston and students at Hawassa Medical School; Professor Houston and staff at Hawassa Medical School.

live births (11 in the UK)


20 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

FEATURES

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New Year, 2 0 0 8 
 New Promises

As the festive season explodes into a mess of silly hats and mince pies Gemma Batstone is looking to make some changes

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his year I’m finally going to...Quit smoking, lose four pounds, spend more time working and less time partying… sound familiar? Every year I tell myself I’m going to make some changes but usually only a few days later find myself guiltily reverting back to my old ways. Seriously, what is the point? Particularly at a time of year when it is dark and cold outside, there’s all that leftover alcohol and chocolate from Christmas time and New Year’s parties galore I still don’t believe that it is actually possible to keep New Year’s Resolutions.

The celebration of New Year’s is one of the oldest holidays, first observed about 4000 years ago Apparently, though, people do. New Year’s is the only holiday that celebrates the passage of time. Perhaps that’s why, as the final seconds of the year tick away, we become introspective. The whole concept of a ‘new start’ encourages people to assess their lifestyles and boosts willpower to make changes that promise improvement for the coming year. One of the top strategic thinkers in the world, Gary Ryan Blair, suggests that starting at New Years: “offers a time frame that adds structure and so increases the sense of achievement when you are successful.” He has even started a website which aims to offer advice and encouragement, founded on the premise that ‘a single resolution can positively and profoundly create lasting change in your life and help to make the world a better place’. Already then, people are cashing in on the new year’s resolution gim-

mick – one American website I found offered a resolution planner to keep track of your progress and a personal call from a life coach to check up on you (seriously, who would be stupid enough to pay for that?!) With this in mind, I took a look at this year’s list of Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions. Based on a study of over 300,000 participants worldwide they were to: Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape, Stick to a Budget, Debt Reduction, Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends, Find My Soul Mate, Quit Smoking, Find a Better Job, Learn Something New, Volunteer and Help Others and Get Organized. Admittedly, they’re all great goals, if you want to be Miss World, that

The problem is people don’t want to admit their real faults so develop generic resolutions is. I’m sure every reader could find something in that list that applies to them, but they’re not real resolutions because they’re not personal. Anyone can define their New Year’s Resolution as ‘Finding a soul mate’ and then sit back and wait for it to happen, and perhaps that’s why so many people fail. The problem is that people don’t

want to admit to their real faults and so develop generic resolutions as a result. For example, last year my gran asked me what my New Year’s resolution was going to be and I had to spend a good few minutes trying to reword the phrase ‘stop going out in slutty fancy dress’ into something a little bit more dignified – it finally became ‘dress more stylishly’. (Incidentally, I think it lasted until the ‘999 Welcome Back Party’ during the first week of term at Bounce). But it proves the point that the things I am most desperate to change in my life I am unwilling to admit to other people. Take Bridget Jones’ Diary – every year she specifies that she wants to find a nice new boyfriend and yet she spends all year posing as a happy singleton. Why is it that everyone is so keen to focus on the failings of others at a time when we are all supposed to be celebrating together? Is it because realising the faults of others somehow reduces the blame we put on ourselves? Don’t get me wrong. As one of the most ambitious people you will ever meet, I’m not saying that having goals in mind is a bad thing, and it certainly provides drive and enthusiasm, which, let’s face it, we could all do with in anticipation of the January exams. However, for me, New Year’s is about celebrating with family and friends, welcoming in the New Year and all the hope it brings, and not dwelling on missed opportunities. Aiming for self-improvement is something that should be aspired to every day, not put off till New Year and then conveniently forgotten. After all, life’s too short to be constantly worrying about the future. We should be making the most of the holidays and having fun. Happy Christmas everyone!


22 gairrhydd

DECEMBER.10.2007

POLITICS

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Labour’s own Pantomime Season

Gareth Ludkin tries to decipher which end of the Pantomime horse Labour is meant to be

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t has not been a comfortable fortnight for Gordon Brown and the Labour Party, who have become embroiled in yet another scandal over donations made to the party. All this comes only days after the party admitted to losing important data of millions of British citizens in the post. A catalogue of errors and revelations have resulted in resignations, scandal and ever growing criticism over the Labour party and its leadership.

It seems that it is a time for coming out of the closet and revealing the depth of donations

The entire scandal was sparked after it was revealed that David Abrahams, a shy millionaire property developer based in Newcastle, used four different intermediaries to donate £600,000 to the party. Abrahams claimed on Newsnight last week that he had made those donations through middlemen in an attempt to maintain total anonymity. Labour’s own strict rules stipulate that donations made to the party may be made through intermediaries but in doing so they must reveal the true identity of the donor. The party must then declare the true donor’s identity to the Electoral Commission. Key members of the Labour party this week have continued to reveal that they failed to comply with these stipu-

Harman’s relation to the leadership brings the scandal to the centre of the party BROWN SWAPS THE BRIEF CASE FOR THE CHARITY TIN lations - their own strict rules to help avoid corruption within the party. This policy concern was arose from the deputy leader campaigns of Peter Hain, Harriet Harman and Hillary Benn, who all accepted payments, either directly or indirectly from David Abrahams. Furthermore, Peter Watt, Labour’s General Secretary, resigned after he admitted to knowing about David Abrahams’ donations made via intermediaries. He also said that he was not aware that this contravened the rules, a shocking statement from a general secretary, you would expect would be aware of such a basic rule. More startlingly, Abrahams claimed that he had been making donations to the party for over 40 years, which begs the question: how many others knew? Covering their backs, Labour stated that Watt was the only party member who knew about these donations. The party was then to sink lower

into the crisis. Gordon Brown stated that the donations were completely “unacceptable” and promised to return the £600,000 donated to the party. On this same day Harriet Harman, Gordon Brown’s deputy leader, also admitted to accepting £5,000 from Janet Kidd, but denies any knowledge that she was linked to David Abrahams. The question is: why did she accept the donation in the first place if she did not know its origin? Harman’s involvement in this scandal makes this all the more embarrassing for the government. Her relation to the leadership brings the scandal to the centre of the party. David Cameron gleefully raised concerns over the scandal at Prime Minister’s Question Time, calling for a police investigation. Cameron said that “it takes us to questions about the prime minister’s own integrity”. He also asked: “are people not rightly now asking, is this man simply not cut out for the job?”

The acting Lib Dem leader Vince Cable then delivered the final blow, quipping that he had noticed Brown’s “remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean,” suggesting that Brown had lost all control over his party after he stated he would be a strong leader of the Labour party. In another twist, Wendy Alexander, newly appointed leader of the Scottish Labour party, was forced to accept that she too had accepted illegal donations from outside the UK. Pressure has been mounting on Alexander to resign but as a close ally of Gordon Brown she has yet to do so. Spanning the length and breath of the UK, Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Wales, was another member who admitted that donations made to his leadership campaign had not been correctly registered with the Electoral Commission, then later admitted to there being further payments which had

not been properly registered. It seems that it is a time for coming out of the closet and revealing the depth of donations made which were made unlawfully. This scandal is truly embarrassing, as its consequences spread further. A poll for Newsnight revealed that 57% of people think that Brown has been tainted by sleaze and also that only 43% think that Brown is not cut out to be leader. In response, David Abrahams, writing for the Guardian stated that he had acted out of good faith and did not realise that donating through third parties to maintain anonymity was against the law. Abrahams defended the resignation of Peter Watt and said that it was the party’s fault for not checking up on donations made. He also insisted that the payments were a “cock-up not conspiracy.” Underlying all this scandal remains the fact that the party has messed up and it has badly affected public trust in the party. There are many questions that need answering in regard to this scandal. An internal inquiry to me seems the most sensible option. The Met becoming involved only diverts attention away from the key issues which British people care about most. This ‘political backbiting’ has become an all too familiar feature of British politics. Sleaze and corruption, or at least the notion that it is everywhere, must be dealt with internally. The integrity of politicians must be restored, if this is at all possible.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY BLAIR CREATED SPIN Sarah Shearman on Blair as the Defender of the Faith

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n a recent interview Tony Blair has revealed that he never mentioned his strong religious beliefs while Prime Minister for fear of being labelled ‘a nutter’. I contest that it is perhaps his political beliefs that would have the British population label him a nutter. This comment has, however, allowed some important and intriguing questions about religion in our society to emerge. Firstly, why is an open commitment from a public figure to organised Christian religion viewed as shameful? Blair’s right hand man, Alistair Campbell, famously told the media that “we don’t do God” and urged the former PM to keep his Christian beliefs under wraps. Indeed, he did keep his religion secretive for the earlier part of his career, which got off to a glittering start; his landslide victory meant that he was already in a strong position. This position was cemented further after he addressed the nation following Diana’s death to coin the iconic phrase ‘The People’s Princess’. The

sympathy displayed immediately rendered him ‘The People’s Prime Pinister’. To top that he impressively exercised his diplomatic skills by instigating the Good Friday agreement; this was another display of his outstanding ability to bring people together and charming prowess, making

tring around the September 11 attacks and the consequential war in Iraq. He made it clear that religious faith influenced his personal reaction to the event. In keeping with this he joined forces with George W Bush and entered an illegal war. Jeremy Paxman irreverently

BLAIR’S POLITICAL HAND OF GOD him a truly modern leader. So where did it all go wrong? The obvious answer would be to say that it was when he allowed his religious views to emerge to the fore; the clear correlation between his voicing of these views and the decline of his premiership can be pinpointed as cen-

mocked Blair about his religious views and his relationship with Bush, asking him if they pray together, venting the nations prejudice over Blair’s religious views. Despite the largest protest in British history, Blair was resolute in his decision to go to war, claiming that

his faith was instrumental in guiding him ‘to doing what I believe is right’. Indeed, ‘doing what I believe is right’ became the mantra he spouted for the rest of his premiership: a phrase that was a smack in the face for democracy, being sustained by faith rather than popularity. I do not believe, however, that it was his Christian faith that was responsible for such disastrous political decisions. In response to the anti-war protest he claimed that even if there were one million protestors then this would amount to the death of fewer people then Saddam Hussein is responsible for. This eye for an eye revenge war, therefore, does not seem very Christian to me. It is a common misconception in society that Christians answer to ‘the man upstairs’; but it is a religion that invites its followers to scrutinize their consciences and teaches ‘thou shall not kill’. The decision to go to war was therefore more to do with a personal crusade and kinship with Bush than any religious faith guiding him to do the right thing.

It is fair to say that we are still a very religious nation. This does not mean that we worship and adhere to organised moral codes of practice but belief systems still have a perpetual hold on the imagination. Understandably, in a multicultural and increasingly secularised society it can seem dangerous to be ruled by one man and his views; but it is not religion here to blame, but Blair himself. Blair may be religious but his ‘faith’ is purely single-minded megalomania. The fact that it was not just the public who was against Blair but his own party indicates that his behaviour was misguided. He is using this stigma that already exists in society against religious people as an excuse for his decline in popularity. Religion is not an excuse for neglect of democracy or the unwarranted substitution of cabinet for sofa politics to achieve a personal mission. Therefore, by blaming society for his unpopularity he is actually perpetuating this stigma against religious people further.


DECEMBER.10.2007 SCIENCE@gairrhydd.COM

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23

SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT

A CLEANER, GREENER WALES?

Last week saw the release of Wales’ Low Carbon Research Institute policy and its specific four-point plan. Sophie Cole reviews its aims and suggests an element of realism needs to be added in order for this initiative to be duly praised

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artners in the new all-Wales Low Carbon Research Institute have revealed details of their plans to make the nation an international showcase for sustainable energy use. The Welsh Assembly Government has just announced £5.1M in funding for the Institute, which, it has been suggested, will co-ordinate research on clean energy technologies and how they can be put into practice. The Institute is to be led by Cardiff University’s Welsh School of Architecture, which has a worldwide reputation in the design of low energy buildings. The other research partners are Cardiff’s School of Engineering, Bangor University School of Chemistry, Swansea School of Engineering and Glamorgan University’s Sustainable Environment Research Centre. The Institute itself has pin pointed four main areas which will, ultimately, become their motto and their fundamental goals. The first is low carbon energy generation, storage and distribution. Within this, areas of research will include large-scale offshore wind and tidal power generation, biomass microgeneration sites, better harnessing of solar energy through more efficient photovoltaic electricity technology, use of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies in generation and transport, and more sustainable coal and gas-powered energy.

The Institute has pin pointed four main areas Secondly, there will be a focus upon energy demand reduction. This will include research into greater energy efficiency in buildings, including improved heating, cooling, ventilating and lighting. This will also include research into energy controls for industry, greater use of waste heat as well as, reducing carbon emissions from the water, waste and sewage systems. The Institute further aims to consider how the Welsh Assembly Government can achieve its aim of zero carbon building by 2011. Thirdly, ‘the institute’ suggests the creation of An Energy Graduate School which would offer Masters, CPD and

PhD courses on energy, with the aim to create a highly skilled workforce familiar with sustainability issues. The School is proposed to work with industry on meeting its training needs and involve it in the delivery of courses. Fourthly, and finally, it is anticipated that partnerships will be established within the industry, research organisations and Government. This is a key priority will for the Institute as it would offer the ability to ‘translating research into practice’. Specific links will be founded with central industry and local Government in order to achieve this Furthermore, it has been suggested that the possibility of creating new energy industries for Wales, such as large and small-scale renewables and smart metering, will be explored. The Institute have stated they will aim to, also, provide independent advice to the Welsh Assembly Government on delivery of its Energy Policy. The funding for the Institute is claimed to be provided by the Welsh Assembly Government through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’ Reconfiguration and Collaboration Fund, which supports higher education institutions in joining together to achieve world-class research. It has been said that the Institute will also seek European, UK government and industry funding to support a research agenda which stretches decades into the future. Additionally, the five university partners will also be looking to establish collaborative programmes with other research groups in the UK and overseas. It is reported that a number of interdisciplinary research projects are already under way in Wales and the Institute will be looking to building on the world-leading energy research capacity and facilities already developed here. Professor Phil Jones, Head of the Welsh School of Architecture said: “Energy demand and supply is vital to Wales’ future, and the nation has great potential to exploit a range of low carbon technologies. Our aim is that the Low Carbon Research Institute will be recognised internationally as an interdisciplinary centre promoting excellence in research and attracting leaders in the field to Wales. More importantly, the Institute will seek to achieve more affordable low carbon energy costs, improve energy efficiency from different

sources, reduce energy demand across all sectors, make Wales less dependent on imported fuels and reduce climate change.”

The manner in which the policy is presented is as frivolous and aesthetically pleasing as Miss World’s pledge for world peace Undeniably, new research initiatives and the founding of a collective body to improve a nation’s ability to produce and use low carbon energy, should be applauded. Cue standing ovation. Nonetheless, with policies such as these it easy to become overwhelmed with the terminology, which, alone on a (recycled paper) page, looks set to change the world. However, we are very rarely informed of how such initiatives will actually be installed. Such as how such institutions will, in fact, actualise their policy’s words into the promised operating wind turbines. Do not confuse these questions as condemnation of Wales’ Low Carbon Research Institute, as they are not, it just seems that instead of four fabulously tantalising environmental offers we should be shown the reality of it all. How and when will these aims be materialised, and to what time scale? And how is the budget to be broken down? It is frustrating, as these environmental pledges should be, for what they represent, celebrated. Yet the manner in which they are presented are as frivolous and aesthetically pleasing as Miss World’s pledge for world peace. Undoubtedly, we all want cleaner and greener energy, especially if it can impact on the welfare of the planet, nevertheless detail how this can and will make ‘the ‘change. Saying you can achieve something and actually being able to, are, in essence, two very different things. Give us specific information, as to not have to doubt the success of the project. After all, we all want to stand up and cheer.

EVAPORATING: Wales’ Low Carbon Research Institution aims to not only lower cardon emissions, but, further, purify the energy Wales uses and emits



gair rhydd - Issue 858 pt1