When the livin’ is easy…

#### Violence in Urumqi: July 5

After the city of Urumqi in the Chinese province of Xinjiang was hit by riots, at least 150 people were left dead with more than ten times this number arrested. Riots started after violence sparked in what began as peaceful protests over clashes with Han Chinese that resulted in the deaths of two Uighers, the ethnically Muslim residents of the city.

The difficulty of this story lies in the Chinese government’s tight control of media outlets, as well as the heavy bias one way or another that any witnesses are likely to possess. This makes certain facts impossible to determine. The Chinese government blames Xinjiang separatists for inciting the unrest, particularly exiled Uigher leader Rebiya Kadeer, whereas Uigher witnesses insist that the authorities began firing into the crowds, sparking the anger and violence. There is also a dispute over whether the Han Chinese or the Uighers suffered the highest casualty rate. What is for sure is that the riots are an unwanted PR disaster for a China trying to improve its worldwide reputation in the wake of last years Beijing Olympics.

Curiously, access to sites such as Facebook and Twitter was suddenly restricted, and searches for terms like “Uighers” and “Urumqi” returned no results. **James Appleton**

#### Swine flu death: July 10

Ah good old Swine Flu. Rarely out of the papers all summer, not a day went by when we did not hear news of its imminent mutation. Yes, this infectious little mite began to feel like an old friend gracing us with its presence constantly. The hysteria and hype went up to a whole new level in July when it was announced that the first person without underlying health problems had died. The victim was a young man from Essex although nothing more was known, however this little nugget of information

was enough to trigger a national wave of panic and fear of a fatal pandemic. All this time wasted worrying about the possibility of a nuclear attack from Iran/Iraq/North Korea (delete as applicable) and all along it was the pigs that were plotting our demise.

Still, fears been temporarily quelled by the announcement made shortly after the man’s death that the entire nation is to be vaccinated against the virus. This is no easy task seeing as the UK population now stands at a staggering 60 million; still one of the chief swine flu negotiators of the BMA assured us that GP’s will be ready for the biggest vaccination campaign in the last half century. In the meantime the media’s coverage of ridiculous preventative measures such as refraining from ‘cooing’ over babies, and placing restrictions on the French over their traditional ‘kiss kiss’ greeting will no doubt keep us all entertained. **Beth Baker**

#### Bailin’ Palin: July 11

Could she really be going for it? Sarah Palin, that great symbol of family values and intellectual vacuity, resigned the governorship of Alaska and sparked speculation that she is lining herself up for a presidential bid in 2012. This speculation was gleeful from the media on both sides of the camp: the glee from conservatives originating in their conviction that she will return the US to its traditional values; from liberals, their conviction that she will crash and burn in such a horrific way that the Democrats would be all but guaranteed another four years in office.

Whether or not she has her eyes on the White House, she has certainly not faded from view. Palin has since sparked controversy by evoking her child with Down’s syndrome while accusing President Obama of trying to set up “death panels” that will have a say over who does and does not get life-saving treatment. She has reminded us that an America with Sarah Palin at the helm would have possibly the most divisive administration in its history. Of course, she is less divisive outside of the States; she seems to have far fewer supporters on the streets of, say, London than on the streets of Wasilla or Wyoming. Nonetheless, it is the latter group that matter in early November 2012, despite the devastating effect that a Palin administration would have on the entire world in terms of the environment, international relations and general faith in humanity. **JA**

#### 200 dead in Afghanistan: August 15

A much more sombre story this one and an event that once again threw the temporarily dormant Afghanistan war debate wide open; Richard Hunt, a 21-year-old soldier became the two-hundredth British fatality of the conflict. The grim milestone was reached during a marked upsurge in death and violence in the country as part of a major new offensive tactic named as Operation Panther Claw and in the face of increased violence from the Taliban, attempting to disrupt the imminent elections. Footage of coffins arriving back in Britain was a poignant reminder of the ongoing bloody conflict and begged the question: what exactly was the war achieving?

Whilst the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt did his best to urge the public to have faith in the military operations by reminding us that the war was ‘about the Afghanistan people’, low turnout at the elections and violent protests outside polling stations did little to reassure us that democracy was a realistic option for the country. With the 200 fatality milestone reached, the war took on a new level of unpopularity as more and more people ask why these young soldiers continue to fall victim to a seemingly meaningless war. Britain has traditionally been a fiercely proud and militant nation; however, whilst we continue to praise the bravery of these young men and women, our support for the war is hanging in the balance. **BB**

#### Dying bomber released: August 20

August saw perhaps the most controversial news story of the summer: the release of the only man convicted for the Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. Al-Megrahi who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer was supposedly released on compassionate grounds so that he may live out his final days with his family and in his home country of Libya. Less than a fortnight after train robber Ronnie Biggs was released on similar grounds, the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced his controversial decision to release the man found to be responsible for the deaths of 270 innocent people in Scotland’s most horrific terrorist attack.

The controversy surrounding the release continued to intensify. Despite having received reassurance that al-Megrahi’s return to Libya would be a low-key affair, we were instead subjected to a torrent of footage displaying intense national celebration and euphoria as he stepped off the plane. Criticism came from all directions with Cameron, Clegg and even Obama launching a tirade of abuse against MacAskill who was forced to defend his position to the Scottish parliament. It is now clear that the decision was not merely a moral one, but a political one too. Had the government made an agreement prior to his release stating that they did not want al-Megrahi to die in prison? Was the move merely a political tactic in order to sweeten relations with Libya? It seems very suspicious that this decision should come about arouwnd the time that it was declared that Libya has become a useful ally in the fight against terrorism. This decision therefore continues to spark controversy in a world which increasingly looks like a game of political Battleship. **BB**

#### TV debates for Brown: August 29

Peter Mandelson reportedly upset Gordon Brown’s apple cart by suggesting that he would be willing to partake in a series of televised political debates before the PM himself had agreed to it.

This was not an entirely new notion; the Tories suggested the idea of a public debate between PM candidates way back in 2000. However it was only this summer that the notion became a realistic prospect with Nick Clegg practically chomping at the bit to get some much needed good publicity. Brown himself was slightly less eager; not entirely surprising given that his charisma is comparable to that of a postage stamp.

Still, in the last few weeks Brown has suggested that he would be willing to partake in any debates that may take place and who knows? Maybe he will excel himself. After his vibrant speech at the Labour party conference last week we may be in for a surprise.

The debates themselves are a popular prospect. They could potentially inject some real life into British politics and would give political leaders the opportunity to prove that they are not all style over substance. Besides, any excuse to copy the Americans a little bit more, right? **BB**

#### _Question Time_ invite BNP: September 6

The BBC announced that it was “open” to the idea of the British National Party appearing on flagship political panel show Question Time. This announcement has been met with both astonished praise and astonished fury. The argument is between those who believe in the indisputable right to free speech and hold out hope that leader Nick Griffin will be torn apart live on air by the more experienced debaters of the major political parties, and those who say that allowing them on air legitimises their messages and policies. The BBC insists that it must remain impartial, and therefore not deny airtime to any party based upon their political views.

While the argument that this will legitimise the party may have held some credence in the past, it might be time to face up to the fact that the BNP have already managed to turn themselves into a legitimate force, to the point where they hold two seats in the European Parliament. By ignoring them or simply pouring disdain upon them, the major parties simply allow the BNP to play the victim, accusing the major parties of not caring what the ordinary people, whom it claims to represent, think. There are repeatedly stories about people who voted BNP without realising the bigotry behind their policies, and an appearance on a mainstream television broadcast might finally show exactly how out of touch with people this party is. **JA**

#### Death of an icon or five: September 14

Patrick Swayze’s death was the latest in a summer which saw the demise of a number of icons: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Keith Floyd and Sir Bobby Robson being the others. Each was influential in their own way, providing inspiration for many aspiring singers, actors, chefs and footballers. Although pictures had been circulating for some time of the Dirty Dancing star looking gaunt and painfully ill, it was nonetheless a shock when his death was announced. Although arguably not the most fabulous actor in the world, Swayze had been an idol for many during the eighties and his face had graced many a teenage girl’s wall. He was undoubtedly a very talenteddancer and performer, and his brave battle with one of the most aggressive forms of cancer gave hope to others fighting the disease.

The death of a celebrity always provokes a sense of public mourning and unity, most poignant of course with the death of Michael Jackson. It proves just how revered celebrities truly are in our society, but at the same time it serves as a harsh reminder that no-one is invincible. **BB**

#### Carter calls protests ‘racist’: September 16

While heads of state often seek support from their predecessors, you can’t help but feel that US President Barack Obama will be less than appreciative of former President Jimmy Carter’s comments on the row over the current healthcare proposals.

After Obama, his campaign staff and his White House have worked hard for two years to avoid making his race an issue in the presidency, Carter came out and declared that much of the anger directed at the president and his healthcare plan is “based on racism”, going on to state that there was “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president”.

What Carter’s intentions were and whether or not he is right immediately became trivial; the Right grasped the opportunity to accuse the Left of playing the ‘race card’, which they have so long been waiting for them to do. The White House quickly released a statement denying that Obama believed his race was an issue in the healthcare debate and did a relatively good job of preventing the story from reflecting too badly on them.

In the end, Carter’s comments probably made very little difference, as those who were quick to exploit them were almost certainly the same people who were already steadfastly opposed to Obama’s presidency. Having seen first-hand placards on the streets of Chicago with a Hitler-style toothbrush moustache superimposed on the president’s face and the slogan “I’ve changed’, a play on Obama’s campaign motto, I am doubtful that those who have been vocally vitriolic are that open to debate, reasonable or otherwise. **JA**

#### The Lib Dems are coming: September 19

As conference season opened, it was the Liberal Democrats who had the opening lines. Nick Clegg told his party that he wants “to be Prime Minister” and announced ambitious tax plans. These are not the comments of a party aiming just for a decent showing next year; for the first time in many years, it seems like the Lib Dems mean business.

Their tactics have been in a sense surprising. While they might well have gone for a safer option, railing against Labour to try and secure the official opposition spot in a seemingly inevitable Conservative win, the party has instead taken aim at the Tories. This could work well – disillusioned former Labour voters could well be persuaded to switch their allegiance to a liberal party if they could be persuaded that they offer a serious challenge.

And this is once again the perennial problem that haunts the yellow party. While many people agree with their policies and principles, these people are often unwilling to vote Liberal because they are not seen as genuine challengers. The Lib Dems are stuck in a cycle that is difficult to break: the fewer people that support them, the less seriously they are taken; the less seriously they are taken, more people will withdraw their support.

However for the first time in recent memory the party has a charismatic and popular leader in Clegg, who is potentially a more potent force than the charisma black hole that is Gordon Brown when battling the shiny-faced charm of David Cameron. Unfortunately the issue is still one of PR; despite their attention grabbing announcements, a recent poll showed one in three voters could not identify Clegg. It will be a challenge to turn public perception their way in the few months until the election, but if they play their cards right they could be genuine challengers for a change. **JA**

#### England emphatic at Oval: September 23

England regained the prestigious Ashes trophy with a 197-run win over Australia in the Fifth Test at the Oval. The one time every two years or so when everybody comes together to give a damn about cricket (or “clever man’s baseball”) is certainly momentous for the English, and though we don’t always fully understand the rules and can rarely sit through an entire game, it is incredibly important that the tiny little urn is in English hands when it is raised skywards. And this year, it was! Well… okay, four of our squad including captain Andrew Strauss were South African-born, but as long as they’re winning, they’re English enough for us.

Some of you may say that writing about the Ashes belongs in Sport, not in Comment. We say that any opportunity to laud our victory over the Aussies is a good one. **JA**

#### BB is not watching you: September 26

On the day after my twentieth birthday I received one of the best birthday presents ever; the news that reality show Big Brother would finally be coming to an end next summer. After a decade of ‘quality’ programming, the show which pretty much invented the ‘overnight celebrity’ phenomenon would be no more. As is probably quite obvious, I was never a fan of the show. In fact I would even go as far to say that I would rather eat my own head than sit through an entire episode. Somehow an hour of watching people sleep/prance around in ridiculous outfits/sit in a comedy sized chair and moan accompanied with the incessant shrieking of Davina McCall has just never appealed to me.

It seems that finally the fat cats at Channel 4 have realised that it is not possible to take the format any further; there is only so much that will shock and surprise people before the show becomes utterly ridiculous. (Which in my opinion it was ever since the opening credits of the first episode of the first series but anyway, I digress.) There was also the issue that viewing figures had dropped dramatically during the latest series: the polls showed that they were down 33 percent on last year’s series. Despite the head of Channel 4 claiming that Big Brother’s demise would leave a huge void, it seems that the broadcaster has realised that TV is going full circle. We are no longer entertained by low-budget, tacky reality television; instead we are harking back to the days of good quality drama and quirky comedies. So how do I top a birthday present like Big Brother’s axing I hear you ask? Well Santa if you are listening, I would quite like X-Factor to follow suit. Then I would be a very happy girl… **BB**


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