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Editorials | The Guardian

Latest news and features from, the world's leading liberal voice

Published: Mon, 24 Oct 2016 07:31:48 GMT2016-10-24T07:31:48Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2016

The Guardian view on climate change: good news – but not yet good enough | Editorial

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 18:42:52 GMT2016-10-23T18:42:52Z

Eleven of the last 12 months have been the hottest on record. Though progress on cutting carbon emissions is encouraging, more must be done

The Montreal protocol is the most successful environmental treaty in history, and arguably one of the most successful of any international pact. It phased out the gases that were destroying the ozone layer, averting potential catastrophe and healing the hole that human activities had opened in our protective layer. Unfortunately, it had a side-effect overlooked when it was signed in the 1980s: some of the chemicals substituted for the ozone-destroyers had an effect on the climate thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide. This month, world governments agreed to address that by eliminating the substitute chemicals – called HFCs – potentially reducing rising temperatures by as much as 0.5C in a relatively short time. Scientists put the safe limit on future rises at 2C above pre-industrial levels by the middle of this century: beyond that, catastrophic and irreversible climate changes are judged likely. So the reduction agreed under the Montreal protocol could have an enormous, and swift, impact.

This is just the beginning of the good news. The International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed this month to measures to combat the impact of flying. Planes are not only a rising source of greenhouse gases, but also contribute through the vapour they produce, which – coming at such high altitudes – has a greater warming effect. This week, international shipping will debate similar rules to cut its impacts. This is a trillion-dollar business, and ships use particularly dirty fuel. Governments should take the simple measures needed. Altering the fuel to be less polluting, preventing outflow during shipping and harbourage, and improving monitoring to reduce emissions need not be costly and will be invaluable in the fight against marine and air pollution as well as climate change.

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The Guardian view on machine learning: people must decide | Editorial

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 18:37:51 GMT2016-10-23T18:37:51Z

Each advance in artificial intelligence increases the power of computer networks, but the responsibility for their use remains with human beings

Researchers working for Google have produced a new kind of computer intelligence which can learn in ways less immediately dependent on its programmers than any previous model. It can, for instance, navigate its way through a map of the London underground without being explicitly instructed how to do so. For the moment, this approach is less efficient than the old-fashioned, more specialised forms of artificial intelligence, but it holds out promise for the future and, like all such conceptual advances in computer programming, it raises more urgently the question of how society should harness these powers.

Algorithms in themselves long predate computers. An algorithm is simply a sequence of instructions. Law codes can be seen as algorithms. The rules of games can be understood as algorithms, and nothing could be more human than making up games. Armies are perhaps the most completely algorithmic forms of social organisation. Yet too much contemporary discussion is framed as if the algorithmic workings of computer networks are something entirely new. It’s true that they can follow instructions at superhuman speed, with superhuman fidelity and over unimaginable quantities of data. But these instructions don’t come from nowhere. Although neural networks might be said to write their own programs, they do so towards goals set by humans, using data collected for human purposes. If the data is skewed, even by accident, the computers will amplify injustice. If the measures of success that the networks are trained against are themselves foolish or worse, the results will appear accordingly. Recent, horrifying examples include the use of algorithms to grade teachers in the US and to decide whether prisoners should be granted parole or not. In both these cases, the effect has been to punish the poor just for being poor.

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The Observer view on Britain becoming mean and narrow-minded | Observer editorial

Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:12:29 GMT2016-10-22T23:12:29Z

The post-referendum political debate has been besmirched by racism, bigotry and hatred

Just four years ago, Britain proudly projected the image of an open, tolerant, confident nation onto the international stage. We luxuriated in the glow of an Olympic opening ceremony that drew together the best of British: from Shakespeare to EastEnders the Queen to James Bond; the NHS to the internet.

It featured Dizzee Rascal and Rowan Atkinson, Arctic Monkeys and the London Symphonic Orchestra. It was, according to writer Jonathan Freedland, “a byword for a new approach, not only to British culture but to Britishness itself. Politicians would soon be referring to it, using it as shorthand for a new kind of patriotism that does not lament a vanished Britain but loves the country that has changed.” It was hailed abroad and Britain, it seemed, had shown itself to the world as a vibrant, open, confident, multicultural country.

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The Observer view on Congo and the failure of democracy in Africa | Observer editorial

Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:04:29 GMT2016-10-22T23:04:29Z

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the latest country disintegrating because a leader wants to hang on to power

Two decades ago, the Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, was engulfed in what became known as Africa’s Great War, a conflict that drew in half-a-dozen neighbouring countries and raged for five years from 1998.

The conflict and its aftermath cost the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people, mainly from starvation and disease. This epic disaster was largely ignored outside Africa, even though it was the developed world’s insatiable demand for the DRC’s mineral riches that helped to fuel it.

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The Guardian view on the US presidency: the time is right for a female leader | Editorial

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:02:08 GMT2016-10-21T16:02:08Z

Hillary Clinton failed to take account of the populist anger and lost ground to the rightwing demagoguery of Donald Trump. But in belatedly recognising widespread frustration with elites, she deserves to win

The final presidential debate, thankfully the last set piece in a wretched campaign, revealed what is admirable and loathsome in American politics. Hillary Clinton displayed a razor-sharp intelligence and a quick wit. Her facility with facts trumped Donald Trump’s lack of them. Americans finally saw on Wednesday why Secretary Clinton had got rich from giving lectures after leaving office. Her fluency with words, which has earned her $22m in speaking fees, appeared to silence her opponent. Mr Trump, a boastful, thin-skinned billionaire who trades in racism and misogyny, was left squawking on the sidelines of the debate. His jibes revealed a man out of his depth. His answer was to plunge down deeper. By disgracefully refusing to rule out calling this a rigged election he gave up a fight he had by then lost.

Americans should vote for Secretary Clinton as an able and proven politician. A Trump presidency would be bad for America and dangerous for the world, so a vote for Secretary Clinton is the most effective way of preventing it. Mr Trump has been exposed for questionable tax arrangements, outrageous business practices and irregularities at his charity. The billionaire is a grabber and kisser of women who he presumed gave consent because he was famous. There are numerous allegations of sexual assault by Mr Trump. He has demonstrated that he has neither the conscience, training nor sense of history – and the desire to be judged well by it – to occupy the White House. Secretary Clinton possesses such attributes. She has a serious and sustained commitment on issues like education, healthcare and equality, and she has stood consistently for the rights of women, ethnic minorities, children and the disabled through her long career.

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The Guardian view on zoos: respect our animal relatives | Editorial

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:41:36 GMT2016-10-20T18:41:36Z

Kumbuka the gorilla’s escape from his enclosure at London Zoo has reignited arguments about keeping large animals in such institutions

Gorillas are not just animals, Sir David Attenborough said this week, explaining: “They are related to us; they get stressed. A gorilla is not a fish.” Leaving aside the fact that fish can also get stressed and are probably also related to us, albeit more distantly, he surely has a point. Humans, at this advanced stage in their evolution, may like nothing better than to parade themselves on Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor, but gorillas still value a bit of privacy and do not necessarily enjoy performing for visitors.

That, some think, may have been a factor in the escape of a dominant male gorilla called Kumbuka from his enclosure at ZSL London Zoo. The attraction went into lockdown while the gorilla was located – he was in a secure keepers’ area – and tranquillised, although not before he had downed five litres of undiluted blackcurrant cordial. It does not appear to have done him any lasting harm, and the zoo was able to give assurances that the public were never in any danger from his adventure. But the incident has been a public relations disaster, particularly because the management initially failed to explain how the animal was able to escape; the answer, it emerges, was two unlocked doors. Some commenters on social media enjoyed the spectacle of human visitors, who had been advised to seek sanctuary in secure buildings at the site, being locked up while an incarcerated animal had its hour of relative freedom, a reaction that should surely worry the zoo authorities.

Related: David Attenborough: zoos should use peepholes to respect gorillas' privacy

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The Guardian view on fighting prejudice: a call to action for Jeremy Corbyn | Editorial

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:30:08 GMT2016-10-20T18:30:08Z

Two reports this week suggest Labour needs to pay attention to the way it tackles abuse

Two reports came out this week that underlined the interaction between abuse on social media and a fear of hatred and violence in the real world. On Monday, the cross-party home affairs committee delivered a clear and helpful analysis of antisemitism that was particularly critical of Twitter and its repeated failure to watch for and take down antisemitic posts. But it also criticised both the Liberal Democrats and in particular Labour for the way, through inaction, they too appear to condone antisemitic behaviour. On Wednesday, an internal Labour party report upheld claims of violence and homophobic abuse this summer in Wallasey, the constituency of Angela Eagle, which began when she challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. Again, Twitter trolls and public anger marched together.

The upshot is that it is no longer reasonable for Labour leaders to deny the charge that an abusive culture is flourishing in some parts of the party. For as long as this accusation has been around – and the argument broadly coincides with the year of civil war over the party’s leadership – the instinctive response of Mr Corbyn’s supporters has been to defend and counterattack, claiming that it is a cynical ploy by their enemies, who exaggerate rumour in order to undermine the new regime. For understandable reasons, the view from inside the Corbyn camp is that the movement has been besieged from the start by parliamentary sceptics, backed by most of the media, seeking to sabotage it.

Related: MPs urge Jeremy Corbyn to take critical antisemitism report seriously

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The Guardian view on troubled families: tackle troubled society | Editorial

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 19:00:46 GMT2016-10-19T19:00:46Z

The government’s troubled families programme is part of the strategy of blaming individuals for failures that are not their fault

In the aftermath of the UK riots in the summer of 2011, which resulted in a total of 1,800 years of prison sentences being handed down, the still-new prime minister David Cameron reannounced his troubled families programme. The policy, first unveiled a year earlier, identified 120,000 families with multiple deprivations such as unemployment, long-term illness or poor housing whose chaotic lives were, Mr Cameron declared, costing the country £9bn a year. By putting a key worker into the family to help them to tackle their problems and “turn them around”, the new policy was projected to save central and local government £1bn in costly emergency interventions such as police callouts. Last year, the first stage of the programme was deemed so successful that it would be extended to 400,000 more families. This week, the first evaluation of the programme’s early years was finally published. Ministers will not find it happy reading. Questioning the value of the whole programme, it is sceptical of the credibility of the data, and the confidence with which “success” is attributed to intervention.

Related: More than £1bn for troubled families 'has had little impact'

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The Guardian view on #NiUnaMenos: challenging misogyny and murder | Editorial

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 18:39:18 GMT2016-10-19T18:39:18Z

Activists challenging gender-based abuse and killings have already changed laws in Latin America. Changing attitudes is tougher

Black-clad girls and women downed tools, pens and keyboards in Argentina’s major cities today and took to the streets to demand “no more machista violence”. Their strike and demonstration followed similar protests across the region: seven of the 10 countries with the highest rate of female murder victims are in Latin America, where activists say the phenomenon reflects not only high rates of violence, social conflict and organised crime, but also a cultural strain of aggressive hypermasculinity. Now people have had enough. Though there have been powerful women’s movements in the region for a long time, the campaign against gender-based violence has gathered momentum, culminating in the #NiUnaMenos – “not one less” – movement.

Related: Brazil and Argentina unite in protest against culture of sexual violence

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The Guardian view on the child sex abuse inquiry: obscurity adds insult to injury | Editorial

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 19:03:43 GMT2016-10-18T19:03:43Z

Only Whitehall insiders can make sense of the obligatory doublethink around the relationship between the Home Office and the independent inquiry

If it were less important for the victims and survivors of abuse, the tale of the biggest and most costly statutory inquiry ever launched would be a farce. But the scale of the responsibility of the independent inquiry into the institutional failure that allowed thousands of children to be abused over decades leached the humour from this afternoon’s Commons home affairs committee session with permanent secretary Mark Sedwill. After an hour of parrying and blocking MPs’ questions it felt damagingly like a high grade version of the institutional cover-ups that victims and survivors of abuse want the inquiry to expose.

Mr Sedwill was in an impossible position. The more he tried to argue that the independence of the inquiry into historic child abuse meant he could not know what was going on, the harder it was to understand why he had met the former chair, Dame Lowell Goddard, on at least two occasions. It was even more confusing that a member of the panel with which Dame Lowell was supposed to be working, Drusilla Sharpling, had actually raised her concerns with the Home Office in April this year, several months before Dame Lowell’s abrupt resignation in August.

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The Guardian view on Philip Green: time to lose the Sir | Editorial

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 19:02:55 GMT2016-10-18T19:02:55Z

The retail tycoon has done nothing to earn his knighthood. MPs should strip him of the title

When MPs debate this Thursday whether Sir Philip Green should retain his knighthood, they should recall article 172 of the Companies Act 2006. In the event that the provision has slipped anyone’s memory, here comes the refresher. A company director, it says, must “have regard” to “the likely consequences of any decision in the long term”, “the interests of … employees”, “suppliers, customers and others”. Those strictures passed into law in 2006, the year Tony Blair honoured Mr Green for services to retail.

So how did the high-street tycoon do at BHS? MPs need look no further than the joint report, published in July, from their colleagues on the work and pensions select committee and the business, innovation and skills committee. It notes that Sir Philip “systematically extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from BHS, paying very little tax and fantastically enriching himself and his family, leaving the company and its pension fund weakened to the point of the inevitable collapse of both”. The result is that 11,000 workers have now lost their jobs and 20,000 pensioners are unclear how they will eke out their retirement.

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The Guardian view on A-level changes: loss of civilisation | Editorial

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:56:22 GMT2016-10-18T18:56:22Z

Dropping archaeology, history of art and classical civilisation from the sixth form curriculum is cultural vandalism

First art history, then classical civilisation and now archaeology. One by one the A-level subjects that introduce British sixth formers to disciplines they may not come across at home are being axed from the curriculum to make way for what the Department for Education considers more rigorous studies. At least that appears to be the justification for removing these life-enhancing subjects, although the exam board AQA suggested it was more to do with the difficulty of standardising marking regimes across different papers. It is true that relatively few state schools offered the subjects, partly because there was a shortage of teachers in some parts of the country. It is also the case that, thanks to public service broadcasting and free museums, there are other ways of learning about the original inspiration for our contemporary sense of what is beautiful, or understanding how our ancestors lived and worshipped, or what principles guided classical life. But if such ideas are unfamiliar at home, or considered unimportant, there may be no guide to the museums and no incentive to watch Time Team or Britain’s Lost Masterpieces. In the name of a more demanding curriculum, the government is narrowing access to the culture that shapes our sense of ourselves and what it means to be human.

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The Guardian view on Ched Evans: reconsider the law | Editorial

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:52:49 GMT2016-10-17T18:52:49Z

The admissibility of sexual history in rape cases deters victims from coming forward and misleads juries. The only thing that matters is consent

The verdict of a jury last Friday that found Ched Evans not guilty of rape appears to be a devastating setback for justice for rape victims. The footballer admits that he had sex with a woman he barely knew, who was drunk, and to whom he addressed not a word. He was convicted by the first jury to try him in 2011. But at his retrial, the jury decided they could not be certain that the woman had not consented, a verdict they reached after they had heard evidence that she had behaved in a similar manner with two other men at around the same time. Everything about this case stinks. A rich young man who on his own admission behaved in a way that most people would find unacceptable is found not guilty, while his victim, a young woman who was only 19 at the time, has had to move house five times, change her identity twice after Twitter trolls outed her on social media, and now has her alleged sexual history spread over the tabloids.

It is true that not all the evidence that Mr Evans’ legal team finally won on was available at the first trial. A subsequent appeal against conviction was dismissed. Only after a new legal team was employed was the original evidence reconsidered and the witnesses re-interviewed. A new defence was presented to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The court of appeal considered the new evidence and decided that it met the condition of “similar fact”: that meant there could be a retrial, and the new evidence of sexual behaviour could be introduced. Explaining her reasons, Lady Justice Hallett admitted she did so with “a considerable degree of hesitation”.

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The Guardian view on child refugees: who is a brother’s keeper? | Editorial

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:52:17 GMT2016-10-17T18:52:17Z

Late, slow, and obstructive to the last, the Home Office has begun to allow some children from the ‘jungle’ camp in. This must be only a beginning

Fourteen children and adolescents arrived in south London today from the camp in Calais which is to be demolished, possibly as soon as next week. As a fraction of the eligible children in the “Jungle” camp it is negligible. There may be as many as a thousand children there who deserve to come to Britain and who are legally entitled to do so. As a fraction of the 88,000 child refugees adrift in Europe, 14 is infinitesimal. Yet by the standards of the British government, these 14 children represent a heroic humanitarian effort. There may ultimately be as many as 300 admitted, a figure that the home secretary, Amber Rudd, described as “a good result”.

It is a “good result” only from a perspective of remarkable smugness or meanness. The smugness would marvel at the fact that we have taken any refugees in at all when we have so successfully defied our moral and indeed legal obligations for so long. The meanness is both stingy and frightened. Britain is the sixth biggest economy in the world – at least for the moment – and it is absurd to suggest that we could not absorb more than 300 children. Even David Cameron promised last autumn that we could welcome as many as 20,000 over five years from Syria. And Syria is only one of the ravaged countries from which children now try to escape, carrying with them little but the hopes and prayers of the families they leave behind.

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The Guardian view on data sharing: the privacy of citizens is being eroded | Editorial

Sun, 16 Oct 2016 18:55:39 GMT2016-10-16T18:55:39Z

We are heading towards a form of Facebook government where the default settings on public privacy controls are tweaked with little debate

Last week ministers began to take their first steps towards suspending the privacy rights of the nation’s citizens. With little fanfare the digital economy bill began hearings in parliament and while the proposed legislation contains some measures to be welcomed – such as creating a legal right to minimum internet download speeds – the big unwelcome change is that the public’s personal data will be shared across departments without specified safeguards. What vague measures have been outlined the information commissioner described as incoherent and inconsistent. If the bill becomes law, it will matter not if the data was collected for one reason and used for another. Government departments will be able to pool data collected without having put in place robust privacy protections. Such an approach invites public sector bodies to mimic the data free-for-all that currently exists in the private sector. We are already halfway there. Last week it emerged that details of individual children on the national pupil database in England and Wales were passed to the Home Office for immigration purposes hours after ministers said this was not happening.

The thinking is that for all the hand-wringing over the prospect of a too-powerful state limiting civil liberties, more lives are blighted by the erosion of authority than by its extension. So the government points to success in mapping troubled families and says data sharing helps work out “warm home” discounts for those in fuel poverty. Yet the bill is a symptom of a dangerously illiberal creed. There is an idea that data science will transform governance: that by harvesting and interrogating vast amounts of citizens’ personal data, policymakers can pinpoint solutions to society’s problems. It won’t. Instead big data politics will furnish an overweening state with arguments to justify ideological choices. Data science is often just information alchemy. Look at what happened when the data suggested that a single mother in York had been claiming benefits fraudulently because she had been cohabiting with Joseph Rowntree, the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925. She lived in a property provided by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, now a housing association. With her welfare cut, she was forced to rely on a foodbank and told that she’d need to appeal. As Cardinal Richelieu realised long ago, “if you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him”.

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The Guardian view on the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej: a nation can be renewed | Editorial

Sun, 16 Oct 2016 18:53:00 GMT2016-10-16T18:53:00Z

The Thai monarchy sits atop an extremely hierarchical and unequal society. This must change

As King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s black-clad subjects embark upon a year of mourning, they are marking not only the passing of a widely revered ruler but also that of an era. He inherited the throne as an 18-year-old who had never expected to become Thailand’s leader and had not even grown up there, yet Bhumibol ruled for longer than any other contemporaneous monarch. After seven decades, he seemed the one constant in a nation that transformed itself economically and continued to struggle politically through multiple coups and outbursts of popular discontent.

Related: Thailand's crown prince to delay ascension to throne after father's death

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The Observer view on care for the elderly | Observer editorial

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 23:05:18 GMT2016-10-15T23:05:18Z

If older people are to live fulfilling lives, we must invest more money – and love – in social care

The most dramatic demographic trend of the past century has been the marked increase in human lifespans. The ultimate prize for advances in medical science, there is much to celebrate in longer lives. But there is a darker reality: longer spells of good health will, for many of us, end with longer spells in poor health.

Caring for older people experiencing end-of-life decline seems to come much lower down the pecking order of priorities than investing in expanding our lifespans. Last week the Care Quality Commission made a highly significant intervention when it warned that funding cuts have placed adult social care services at a “tipping point”. It follows similar warnings from independent organisations such as the King’s Fund.

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The Observer view on parliament’s role in deciding the nature of Brexit | Observer editorial

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 23:05:18 GMT2016-10-15T23:05:18Z

A clear message has been sent to hard Brexiters: you will not close down debate on our future

It was the week when the fight back against hard Tory Brexit finally began. And the loud squeals of outrage and surprise from startled ministers, sneering pundits and the lie factories of Fleet Street could be heard as far away as Brussels. Having won the vote, Tory Brexiters thought they had won the wider argument. They thought they could make Brexit mean whatever they wanted it to mean. They claimed an overreaching mandate they do not possess. They said, in effect, “trust us, we know best”. And then, muttering “no running commentaries”, they tried to close down debate.

The good news of the past few days is that they have not succeeded. And they will not get away with it. The result of June’s referendum is not in dispute. A majority voted to leave the EU. Any government, Conservative or Labour, is honour-bound to carry out that instruction. What is in dispute, rightly and passionately, is the manner of that exit, the terms and conditions of Britain’s departure, and the degree of democratic oversight that is necessary and proper. To suggest otherwise is borne of a mixture of churlishness, arrogance and fear.

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The Guardian view on international law: we need enforcement and example | Editorial

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 18:21:21 GMT2016-10-14T18:21:21Z

The crimes committed in the wars of the Middle East must in the end be punished. Meanwhile the west must not add to them

War used to be described as the continuation of politics by other means. But decades of effort have ensured that some tactics are no longer just a brutal form of diplomacy, but are defined as crimes. In recent years, the noble goal to protect humanity has been hollowed out by the despicable attacks on hospitals and schools carried out with apparent impunity in the wars across the Middle East. This deliberate targeting has to stop. In Yemen more than 140 people attending a funeral in the country’s capital Sana’a were killed in an air strike by Saudi-led coalition forces prosecuting a bloody war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Russia allies itself with a state that uses chemical weapons against its own civilians. Russian and Syrian warplanes above Aleppo appear to be intentionally targeting civilians. Below them, hospitals, UN aid convoys and schools are no longer safe.

This week the quarter of a million trapped and starving people in Aleppo were told by Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, backed by Moscow and Tehran, that he had to “keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey to go back to where they come from, or to kill them”. International diplomacy pays lip service to the idea that such actions are, if proven, war crimes. In meetings, the UN security council “strongly condemns” such violations of international humanitarian law. Yet four of its five permanent members support coalitions that attack hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Sudan.

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The Guardian view on women in theatre: a leading role please, not just a bit part | Editorial

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 17:31:38 GMT2016-10-14T17:31:38Z

It is time for the possibilities, dreams, imaginations and capabilities of female actors to be properly reflected on stage

In London, the Donmar Warehouse has just opened its all-female The Tempest, in a cast led by Dame Harriet Walter and with Phyllida Lloyd as director. It is the culmination of a project that started with a production of Julius Caesar in 2012 and continued in 2014 with a Henry IV. The plays were a collaboration with the theatre company Clean Break, an organisation that works with female prisoners and former offenders. Completists can see all three dramas performed over the course of a day this autumn. For many who saw Julius Caesar in 2012, there was shock – and joy – in seeing female actors grapple energetically with Shakespeare’s heftiest roles. The way the women uninhibitedly occupied stage space (“manspread” was not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary) was a revelation.

That same year, Pentabus Theatre’s artistic director, Elizabeth Freestone, in partnership with the Guardian, conducted research into the gender balance in the 10 theatres most generously subsidised by the public, and found that at every level – from boards of trustees to designers and actors – there was a 2:1 ratio in favour of men. Shakespeare, in fact, is part of the problem. Only 16% of his characters – and of course he was writing for male companies – are female. And they have fewer lines: his most garrulous woman is Rosalind, with under half Hamlet’s lines. Such is the cultural entrenchment of Shakespeare in British theatre that this paucity of women can seem normal. We have internalised a gender imbalance on our stages. And that is a problem. Not for the obvious reason that publicly accountable theatres ought not to be employing fewer women than men, but because the theatre is the art form above all that promises to reflect our world and show it as it is; and because theatre feeds so strongly into related, and much more culturally pervasive, media such as television and film.

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