Hate, Actually...

Why is it that the British only seem able to solve a crisis through the emotion of hate?

Last year the MPs expenses scandal meant politicians were the hate figures of choice. Today it is the turn of Rebekah Brooks. But wait a minute --surely we should also hate the police officers and the nurses who have sold information to News of the World, presumably as a result of their hatred of celebrities who have more money than them?

We should definitely hate David Cameron; first for not holding an inquiry and then when he does for not holding the kind of inquiry we wanted in the first place.

Of course we all hate Rupert Murdoch, and have hated any arse-licking politician who has ever spoken to him like Brown or Blair or Cameron --although we hated Kinnock and Brown when Murdoch's empire told us to.

Yes, hate works. Let's not forget, either, that for years it was hate that made the News of the World go round.

Every week you can buy a copy of said newspaper which provides you with detailed instructions on who to hate and why and how much. Hate is the very essence upon which a publication such as the News of the World thrives: how to hate MPs because they are only in it for the money, how to hate celebrities because they are successful, how to hate your neighbours because they probably have more sex than you.

The News of the World has taught us to be creatures in its own image.

But shouldn't we resist this barrage of hate?

How about compassion instead? We should feel compassion for those 7/7 victims whose phones were hacked; compassion for the Dowler family who have been through so much. Admiration and compassion for the family of Joanna Yeates and her boyfriend who, in their moment of tragedy, squared up to the tabloid media and stopped the hate campaign against wrongly accused Christopher Jeffries. Their compassion in a moment of anguish should be our model.

We should feel admiration for Hugh Grant, whose eloquent arguments in debate with Paul McMullan, former features editor at News of the World, on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday are a shining example to those of us who care about the future of media.

We should feel admiration, too, for the Guardian journalists who broke the story in the first place.

Of course, there are no excuses for the behaviour of the News of the World and other tabloids in the past. But surely we should pause for thought before simply replicating the same sort of feeding frenzy in reverse. Certainly, the truth must be outed -- but let's do it calmy, and show due consideration and respect to those victims who have been trampled underfoot and who might not wish to have the whole painful mess dragged up again.

Jonathan Powell writes in the New Machiavelli that governments tend to quickly launch inquiries in order to sate a public outcry, only to find that such inquiries eat up resource and rarely pleases anyone at the end -- the Bloody Sunday inquiry being a rare exception.

So let's show the media how it should be done: cool, calm, factual. But not hate -- definitely not hate. Hate will turn us into a nation that reads drivel like the News of the World and believes that this dreadful mess can be solved with a quick inquiry.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.