Voice From the Back

Poisoned, not bombed
For the first time, more people are leaving their homes because of environmental factors than because of war. The world now has 25 million environmental refugees, compared with 21 million war-related refugees. The crisis is largely the result of more than half of the world’s rivers drying up or becoming seriously polluted, according to a report from the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century. The Amazon and the Congo are the two healthiest of the world’s 500 major rivers—probably because they have few industrial centres near their banks, the commission suggests. It blames abuse of land and water resources and poor management by regional authorities for the problem. Guardian, Science, 2 December.

Asking dangerous questions
The only way to judge the success of an agent of change would be to ask: is it affecting the human condition? Does the internet move food and supplies around the world to the people who need them? Does it relieve human suffering, make us more aware of political prisoners, change the plight of refugees? The role of computers as agents of change is to administer the planet properly, and help us figure out, for example, why farmers in some countries are paid to burn food while people in others starve to death. Or to co-ordinate human effort around the globe in a way that hasn’t been achieved before. Guardian online, 2 December.

Capitalist art
It isn’t just the bitchiness which, judging by her book, is endemic in ballet. The pain is no joke either: like her fellow ballerinas, [Darcey] Bussell hates giving in to injury partly because ballet is such a short career, and will dance on if humanly possible, smiling through the pain . . . There is also the mental pressure. Criticism in ballet is unrelenting, intense emphasis is placed on the body, and at every stage girls are weeded out and dumped. No doubt this is why, as Bussell observes, “dancers are neurotically unsure of themselves”. Add to this the internecine competition for roles or just to retain a three-month contract, and you have a very nasty environment. But, as Bussell explains, “we can’t be too nice because it’s the rivalry that keeps us hungry and drives our careers”. Night & Day, 21 November.

Where can it go?
“Capitalism is a force that moves, but it does not know where it is going.” Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister of France, Yorkshire Post, 20 November.

It goes this way
As the world enters a new millennium, children are continuing to be killed and exposed to abuse in flagrant violation of their rights, according to the executive director of Unicef, Ms Carol Bellamy . . . Despite unprecedented wealth in the global economy, where currency markets exchange $1.5 trillion a day, more than 1.2 billion people struggle to survive on less than $1 a day and more than 600 million are children. Per capita income, adjusted for inflation, is lower today in 80 countries than it was a decade ago. Herald, 13 December.

So much for rights!
A year after the UN approved a declaration to protect human rights activists, repression has increased throughout the world, according to findings published in Paris today. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said more than 200 activists had been executed, tortured or arbitrarily arrested since the UN vote. But the picture was incomplete as nearly a dozen countries made it impossible for independent associations to operate, while a further 30 states systematically obstructed investigations. Guardian, 8 December.

America is taking the threat of terrorism at the Olympic Games in Sydney next year so seriously that a US navy battlegroup, with an aircraft carrier, destroyer and submarine will be on stand-by off the Australian coast throughout the games. They will be in international waters ready to respond to any attack with force, including biological and chemical warfare units. Times, 15 December.

Class war casualties
Up to 55 cases of corporate manslaughter a year should be brought against companies and directors where employees have been killed in the workplace, according to new research. Gary Slapper, director of the law programme at the Open University, said the law needed to be changed and a tougher approach taken to fatal safety lapses in the workplace . . . “When a reckless company kills, the legal system usually just yawns and turns away. There is virtually no deterrent,” he said . . . Since 1965, 25,000 people have been killed at work or in major commercial disasters. Health and Safety Executive reports suggest that 70 percent of these deaths resulted from a management failure. Dr Slapper’s research also shows that 60 percent of deaths were attributable to economic factors, cutting corners to save money as opposed to simple ignorance about safety. Independent, 29 November.

Hard times
The Duke of Westminster’s nine-year-old heir, the Earl Grosvenor, has been named on a High Court writ. The reason? The lad’s £1 billion inheritance. Thankfully, young Hugh is not about to be cut out of his father’s will. The move, says Jeremy Newsum, the chief executive of Grosvenor Estate Holdings, is “a bit of housekeeping”. This has been made necessary because of dramatic changes in the way the family’s assets, estimated at £1.75 billion, now have to be managed. Times, 15 December.

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