Let US foreign policy sort out the cricketers' problem in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

I find it terribly moving, plucky Ukraine making its stand for democracy with quiet dignity, armed with no weapon but the righteousness of its cause and the strength of its feeling. Compare the behaviour of these citizens to that of the England cricket team, which seems unable to decide whether lending legitimacy to a cruel and corrupt totalitarian regime is something they can decide not to do individually, or something they should let their government guide them on.

I find it terribly moving, plucky Ukraine making its stand for democracy with quiet dignity, armed with no weapon but the righteousness of its cause and the strength of its feeling. Compare the behaviour of these citizens to that of the England cricket team, which seems unable to decide whether lending legitimacy to a cruel and corrupt totalitarian regime is something they can decide not to do individually, or something they should let their government guide them on.

So it's awfully irritating when everything gets ruined by reports of the heroic opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko being a pro-Nazi revisionist just as corrupt as his opponent, who blames the Babi Yar Massacre on "the Jews", and draws his support from like-minded western Ukrainians who hate the disputed incumbent, Viktor Yanukovich, mainly because they're racists and he's from the ghastly old east.

It's even more irritating to learn that far from being a spontaneous expression of public feeling, the protest has been manipulated by US-government backed public relations experts who have become adept at running campaigns in order to get their own men "democratically" elected using techniques perfectly honed in the marketing agencies of western capitalism.

The branding of Ukraine's seemingly spontaneous youth organisation Pora, with its snappy name, its bright orange livery and its ticking clock logo, it turns out, owes more to lessons learnt by US activists running similar campaigns in Serbia, Belarus and Georgia than it does to the sophistication of Ukrainian media studies students.

The US, apparently, is finding such techniques a lot less cumbersome than international diplomacy, and considerably more successful. And although it seems sinister - and actually is, let's face it, because no doubt international diplomacy will still appear cumbersome if and when the young activists are rounded up in the night - well, looking again at the British cricketers you can see why it is that the US longs to interfere when it suits.

It seems obvious to me that all of the cricketers should tell the English Cricket Board to take a flying leap, because they are not going to play in Zimbabwe. Instead, they whine about feeling "used" by Mugabe, hide behind their sad little union, the Professional Cricketers Association, as it expresses its "moral, political and contractual concerns", and bleat that they need the Government to tell them what they should think about taking part in their holiday in hell. Neither their own enlightenment nor their government's is likely to emerge unless the US develops a geo-political end in Zimbabwe. Then we can wonder afresh why-oh-why we're so in thrall to US foreign ambitions.

¿ The most virulent slagging off of Janet Street-Porter's 57-year-old physical imperfections has been delivered, predictably, by a woman. Remarking that her face in the morning looked like "a bag of witchety grubs", the columnist opined that Janet was doing womankind no favours by showing her cellulite. Au contraire. Janet speaks for every woman who'd rather grow old disgracefully than save up for the plastic surgeon. Her exposure is no betrayal. It's a liberation.

Bully for them

National anti-bullying Week seems to have gone marvellously. A million of the blue bands that schoolchildren who abhor bullying are exhorted to wear have been snapped up. Another million are being manufactured.

A host of celebrities have publicised themselves as awfully caring, including Rio Ferdinand, and Sharon Osbourne, who explains that her eldest daughter, Anne, was bullied. Mrs Osbourne suggests that a good way to protect your children from critical peers is to broadcast their adolescence on television.

Cynics who doubt that having thematic weeks, wearing braceletsand so on really raises awareness have been shown how wrong they were. Anti-bullying awareness has become so high that when this week a "baying" mob of 40 girls surrounded a classmate outside some Bournemouth school gates, their headteacher knew exactly what to do. They have all been suspended until Monday.

The schools minister Stephen Twigg, who has been orchestrating Anti-Bullying Week and has promised to "name and shame" schools that don't follow the "anti-bullying charter", has praised her tough action. The victim of the bullies, by the way, does not intend to return to the school at all.

Redemption through reality TV? It can be done

* I'm a Celebrity may have grabbed all the headlines, but reality television heaven could this week be found in front of the US version of Wife Swap.

A Park Avenue Princess, who spent $2,500 a week on clothes, tried to see her three children for an hour a day (even though she had never worked) and had never cooked in her own kitchen, swapped with a woman who got up at 5.30am to drive a school bus, split logs for six hours every day, and did everything in the home as well.

Guess what happened?

The princess realised she had been really selfish, confessed that she had arrived with lots of prejudices against the poor which were all totally wrong, and began cooking and hanging out with her family when she returned to Manhattan.

The pauper, on the other hand, rejected the boorish sniping of the princess's awful husband with great dignity and moral force, her actions underpinned by the realisation that her values were absolutely right and that money really didn't matter because she had her family and she loved them.

That family, of course, realised that they loved her too, and didn't show it enough. Her husband spontaneously took over the bulk of the wood-chopping and also started to help out a lot more in the house. Our heroine's delighted comment? "I guess I've got some me-time after all ..."

* Prison, above all, should protect its citizens from dangerous individuals. The criminal justice system should be able to rely on the media in its efforts to achieve that aim. So it is appalling to see a newspaper actively assisting a notorious rapist and murderer in his continued pursuit of one of his victims. Maxine Carr has been tried, found guilty, and has done her time. The horror of the crime she was associated with is so great that her chances of leading a normal life are nil. Yet The Sun is printing a campaign of vilification, by Ian Huntley, against her. This man will be gaining considerable satisfaction from his renewed ability to exert control over Ms Carr. How grateful he must be to the newspaper for providing a vehicle for his pitiless misogyny.

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