Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Review: Menashe at Cinema No. 6

by Naeve Molho

On a recent trip to No.6 cinema in Portsmouth, I encountered the film Menashe, by documentary film-maker Joshua Weinstein.  This movie drama delves deep into the heart of New York where one father will face a gruelling battle, against tradition and religion, in an attempt to regain his child. 

The film is set within the secretive Ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, which resides in Brooklyn’s Borough Park district, well known for their ‘religious conservatism and social seclusion’. Formerly described as an ‘insular and close-knit’ society, they allow G-d and the Talmud (code of Jewish law) to dictate every aspect of their life from Food and Love to Education. 

The story of Menashe, who is a grocery shop worker, presents the consequences of being a single father within this strict community.  After the death of his wife, Menashe is forced to lose his son to his brother in law, due to the laws of Talmud which dictate a child must grow up in a two-parent household.  If Menashe wishes to remain within his community and have custody of his son, he has no choice but to find another wife through the help of a Yenta (Jewish matchmaker).  Menashe is portrayed as a lazy and sometimes egotistical character who will come to the eventual decision of sacrificing the last ounce of his freedom for his only child.

The film explores what it means to be a member of the Hasidic community and how hard it can be to abide by the strict set of rules alongside non-Jewish societies who are judging.  It highlights not only the imbalance of wealth globally, with many members of the Ultra-Orthodox  living in cramped apartments with huge debts, but also represents a place where the movements of feminism and equality will never happen.  During one scene, Menashe faces a female date who finds the idea of women driving a ludicrous thing, alongside his rabbi constantly reinforcing the misogynistic ideas of the Talmud in which ‘the key to happiness is threefold: nice wife, nice house, nice dishes’.

Unfortunately ultra-orthodox Judaism embodies a mantra of sexism and injustice which to an unreligious audience may seem deeply offensive and controlling; however, it is important to understand this is their Tradition, a tradition that the majority of this community will be born into and die in.     

Sunday, 4 February 2018

An Extraordinary Debut for an Extraordinary Player

by Sudeep Ghosh

Ronaldinho, one of the greatest football players of all time, has now officially announced his retirement. In a hugely successful career, he was able to become a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year (2004 and 2005) and lifted the World Cup trophy in 2002.

Born in Brazil, he moved to France in 2001, to play for Paris Saint-Germain. He quickly attracted the attention of the world after winning the 2002 World Cup, and received offers from Manchester United and a struggling Barcelona side. He opted for the latter, in a move that would soon help him become the best player in the world.

However, his illustrious career often shadows his strange beginning at Barcelona FC. After he won his first match, the world was excited to see his debut match at Barcelona’s renowned home stadium, Camp Nou - the largest stadium in Europe. Unfortunately, his debut coincided with his match for his national side, Brazil. As both matches were to be played on Wednesday evening, Barcelona desperately tried to move the game to Tuesday night. However, Sevilla FC, their opponent, were adamant that the game be played on Wednesday - hoping to play against a weakened Barcelona side.

Barcelona finally agreed to play on Wednesday. However, in a cunning plan, the Barcelona President revealed that the match was to played on Wednesday at 0:05 a.m, meaning that Ronaldinho would be able to play for his club as well as his country. This meant that Barcelona were now faced with another problem - keeping the crowd awake until midnight.

So how do you keep a crowd entertained for that amount of time?

The Lasting Effects of the American Civil War

by Philippa Noble

As the American Revolution and the Constitution that followed left societal scars on America that last to this day, the American Civil War has certainly left its mark on how the US has developed both socially and economically.

The most commonly referenced long-term effect of the civil war is industrialisation and, therefore, the US coming to the front of the global scene. Following the North’s (or Unionists’) victory in 1865, premature industry in the northern states developed into a much more sophisticated version of itself. The South, having suffered heavy blows to its economy during and after the war (with blockades, rapid inflation, and a sudden loss of capital), was left at a severe disadvantage against the North. This led to northern states becoming dominant and spreading their values (including mechanisation and the evolution away from agriculture dependency). In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act which reinforced this shift with ameliorated transport links, supporting interstate trade and increased production. The encouragement of patents and protectionism insured that the united economy could grow, including the developing industries inside. The number of patents issued jumped from 7,653 in 1860, to at least 15,000 annually in the post-war period, to 45,661 in 1897. Patents increased security and encouraged innovation, while protectionism increased tariffs on foreign imports as industry grew and agriculture expanded westwards. This protective wall nurtured the economy as a growing population (both American-born and immigrant) expanded the work force and ultimately productive potential. This led to a flourishing period of industrialisation and, by 1913, the US produced a third of the world’s total industrial output. A crippled South submitted to industrialisation, as they could provide no means of opposition (especially with increasing Northern majorities in Congress). However, they were mainly left out of this expansionary period, remaining heavily reliant on agriculture. As a cause of this, northern and middle states became much more populous than their southern counterparts as their industry thrived with new opportunities and rapid growth. Industrialisation was the main characteristic of postbellum America and remains prominent, ranking in the top 20 for highest GDP per capita and first in highest nominal GDP in the world.

Discord between states is another short-term-turned-long-term effect of the war. Dating back to the early War of Independence, the disunity of states dictated strategic areas of British focus (i.e. Southern, Middle, and New England colonies). It was also evident by the differences in economies: whilst Southern colonies were reliant on tobacco, rice, and indigo, Northern colonies relied on shipbuilding, iron works, and cattle and grain. Obviously, economic activity evolved over time, but still maintained and even exacerbated differences with focuses heavily set on agriculture in the South and the beginnings of industrialisation in the North in the lead up to the civil war. These eventually manifested in war, yet at the same time the American Civil War was much more sinister than just a cumulation of differences: it was cementing this discord in history. This led to centuries-long contention, immortalised by constant reenactments and “state pride”. As an example of this, the Confederate Flag still flies in many Southern States; it’s still even a part of five southern state flags. It represents for many Southerners history and pride, yet for Northerners racism and the glorification of slavery - just another way that disagreements have been perpetuated since the civil war. As was mentioned earlier, the divide between North and South wasn’t solved by the war or even after. Economic growth was focused in the developing North while the southern economy floundered. Beliefs on slavery were muddled, with the southern states being left to effectively govern themselves in that respect, brought by the end of federal interference. Overall, discord between states had been an issue ever since they were created as colonies, but neither the colonists nor the statesmen managed to fully bridge the divide and they still haven’t succeeded yet. The war’s contribution to this matter was to create a monument for it, forever perpetuated by denial and glorification.

Poem: The Eagle

The Eagle

(inspired by ‘The Moth’s Plea’ by Elizabeth Jennings)

I am the metaphor of a metropolis,
And the symbol of a nation.
You hear fables of a great beast
But it’s all a fabrication.

But then you see a conflicted country,
Full of discrimination.
Some fifty states, judged by their race,
A sea of consternation.

I envy the birds who have no expectation.
I am laureled, yet laden with the realisation that
I never asked for the delegation
Of all this segregation.

I am the eagle.

You try to take a picture of me caged in a city from afar,
But I’m yearning to once again fly free in the canyons of Utah.
The responsibility of a country shackled in chains –
Have you ever thought what it’s like to be
The face of so much disdain?
They could’ve picked any other animal than me,

To be the image of this country.

                                                                       Samuel Lewis

#MeToo...How Should Women Respond?

by Georgia McKirgan

Last October Ronan Farrow set off a chain of events that will change how we live. While there had been many high-profile cases of workplace sexual assault before then - Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump - the article that Ronan Farrow wrote in The New Yorker, detailing the experiences of 13 women who had been sexually assaulted by the Hollywood movie producer, set off a tidal wave of sexual harassment claims that show no sign of letting up. Already, the careers of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C. K., James Franco, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Piven, Damien Green and Al Franken are effectively over or damaged and more will follow. Most of the cases so far have been in entertainment or politics but no-one thinks these two occupations are the only ones where this is a problem. The recent undercover reporting by the Financial Times of the President’s Club dinner in the City shows that finance may be an equally guilty sector of the economy.

A common feature of the cases so far has been men taking advantage of positions of power to force themselves on women to whom they are attracted. Some defenders of the men accused say that it is wrong to judge men for things they did many years ago by the standards of today. My response is, these kinds of behaviour were never ‘right’, we just used to put up with it. Much of the current discussion is about how we punish the perpetrators. Clearly, rape and sexual assault are crimes that need to punished but for less serious incidents, what justifies someone losing their job and career? Where do we draw the line? What are the appropriate punishments for different levels of offence? The junior minister Mark Garnier has kept his job after admitting asking his PA to buy sex toys for him but Damien Green obviously fell on the other side of the line for behaving inappropriately towards the journalist, Kate Maltby. Important as these issues are, my concern is looking forward. The landscape of sexual relationships has changed, and it is never going to go back. Women’s voices need to be heard.

As valuable as efforts are to educate men, particularly young men, about appropriate behaviour towards women, I think women are missing an opportunity if we sit back and let this be a discussion about how men should behave. A good example of the minefield we are now in and the role women can play is the recent case described in an article by a woman who had a bad experience with the actor/comedian Aziz Ansari. Ansari is a big star, having recently won a Golden Globe award for Best Performance  in a TV Comedy. The article by “Grace” describes events after she went back to Ansari’s apartment during a date. Clearly, he behaved badly and tried several tactics to persuade her to go further, more quickly in their relationship than she was comfortable with, but a discussion about what he should have done differently without recognising her agency is deeply sexist. While men like Ansari need to learn how to behave appropriately towards women, women like “Grace” need to learn to be more vocal and take more control of these highly-charged situations. At any point, she could have been much more forceful in making it clear what her feelings were. At any point, she could have left the apartment...this situation in particular was never physically abusive. He was clearly behaving badly but if we leave the discussion there, we are accepting that women are completely passive in these situations. This is not about ‘victim-blaming’. Men are still totally responsible if they put a woman in a position where she feels uncomfortable, I’m just making the point that women have some agency in the situation and we should help all women feel empowered to exert more control over these situations.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Autism and Anorexia: Possible Links

by Eleanor Barber

Autism and anorexia are both stigmatised in society. When a society is quick to judge and condemn those who are different, it leads to damaging and lasting effects on both the individual and society. However, there are many people and organisations that are focused on helping people and finding more about these disorders. Interestingly, there are links between these conditions that we are missing, which could be beneficial to the wider community. Despite initial thoughts that autism and anorexia are not linked, it seems that there are specific traits in each that make suffering both almost unbearable to live with.

Many psychologists point to modern Western culture, with its high beauty standards for both genders, to explain anorexia. However, early genetic studies in the 1990s suggested that anorexia is strongly heritable and tends to run in families. There are other theories which link anorexia to personality traits like, anxiety, perfectionism and a tendency to get stuck on certain thoughts or ideas. A small  trait of autism is the inability to deal with change and being obsessive, which links with one of the personality aspects associated with anorexia.

In the early 2000s, Nancy Zucker wanted to better understand the social and cognitive difficulties of her patients with eating disorders. She noticed that, although they tended to be empathic, they found it hard to recognise the impact of their behaviour on other people. “They can be very empathic and have a great desire to be accepted by other people, but they also seem a bit impervious to how their starvation affects others” Zucker says. This is very similar to those with autism. In 2007, Zucker and her colleagues outlined potential links between autism and anorexia in a article which revealed how similar the conditions can be. The review pointed to many studies of people with anorexia who have rigid thinking and behavioural patterns, which is a trait commonly associated with autism. Neurocognitive studies have showed that people with anorexia have problems with switching between tasks, which again is commonly associated with autism.

Janet Treasure [2014] did a study that found that, while only 4% of 150 girls receiving outpatient treatment at a London clinic, 1 in 4 patients scored above the cutoff for autism on a screening questionnaire. A previous study done by Treasure in 2012, found that anorexia seems to increase the autism traits that clinicians and researchers see. Even after recovery many women continue to struggle with social issues, although less than when they were ill.

Photography: After the Deluge

by Tony Hicks

Can We Prevent Another Financial Crash?

by Harry Leggett

A financial crisis is a disturbance to financial markets, which has effects right through the financial system meaning that the market cannot efficiently allocate capital. In 2008 the US housing and mortgage market fell through, the effect of this on all other markets was that there was a liquidity crisis and people referred to it as a “credit crunch”. This then led to a. Banking crisis which created a sovereign debt crisis. The recession was at its worst in 2008-2009 however it took a while for a lot of countries to rid the burden of the debt. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis there had been years and years of low interest rates, dangerously low to zero and also excessive risk taking and leverage of the banks, particularly within the sub prime lending, hence the collapse of the sub prime mortgage market. There were lots of social risks that were a result of the financial instability, for example the taxpayers had to pay the bailout costs, the shareholders lost equity and employees lost jobs. The banks were lending out too much money which led to an asset price bubble and the banks could not afford to cover their losses their make, causing bank insolvency. This is shown by Northern rock who suffered a run on the bank, meaning their was a large amount of cash withdrawals by account holders due to a drop in confidence. Due to the banks handing out risky loans and mortgage the banks liabilities on their bank balance sheet far outweighed their assets. Systemic risk is is the risk of collapse of an entire financial system or entire market, as opposed to risk associated with any one individual entity, group or component of a system, that can be contained therein without harming the entire system. The behavioural economics of people reacting to other peoples worries ultimately led to people having low confidence in the banks and causing a run on multiple banks.

After the 2008 financial crisis the government made certain interventions into the financial market which attempted to stop a future financial crisis. These policies are called macro-prudential regulations, they attempt to mitigate risk to the financial system as a whole which is often referred to as systemic risk.

The aim of a bank is to help people look after the money, they provide loans and oversee costumer transactions. After the 2008 financial crisis the banks were in an awful state. Two banks had been bailed out by the taxpayers, causing uproar within the economy. In years gone by the owners would pay, however in 2007 the government had to use tax payers money to bail out the banks. Now a bank would pay in a far less destructive way than before. The shareholders and creditors would have to pay instead of the tax payers. The users of the bank have an insurance that they can have up to £75,000. People were worried about the safety of their money, if it could happen to northern rock could it happen to my bank? To prevent a liquidity crisis occurring within any of the main banks in the UK the government intervened within the market and created new laws and regulations in order to stop the banks abusing consumer trust. The government implemented strong regulations so that stop an imbalance between liquidity and capital within a bank. The bank balance sheets are now controlled and monitored so that the bank cant go into liquid insolvency. Capital is not borrowed money; it takes the form of funds raised by banks selling shares or profits retained from earlier trading periods. Capital can help a commercial bank to mitigate losses (loss bearing) incurred in its trading - for example if the holders of unsecured loans default on repayment. If a commercial bank incurs losses and does not hold sufficient capital, it may not be able to repay its creditors. Capital also avoids the need to make payments at times when a commercial bank is not profitable. Payments to shareholders depends on the profits generated by the business, and the use of past profits involves no ongoing payments. If the bank is not profitable, it does not have to pay dividends to its shareholders, whereas it would have to pay interest on loans, It is not unusual for commercial banks to suspend the payments of dividends during profitable periods. Other implementations made by the government were the government made an attempt to reduce public and private sector debt to reduce solvency risks. The effects of the government intervention was very dramatic. Interest rates plummeted to a low and quantitive easing was at a very low level. The effect of this on the economy was that zombie. Businesses, Businesses that are only just surviving, were held up by the low interest rates. Low interest rates mean there is little incentive to save and more incentive to spend, and also it is cheaper to borrow within the economy, therefore meaning that companies can borrow in the short term to hold up their business. This led to a worry from the government that the economy was becoming dependent on low interest rates. This is dangerous in the long term as low interest rates will tempt banks into taking greater risks, some have said that the brutally low interest rates have led to secular stagnation, where there is little or no economic growth in the short run.

Photography: Blue Moon, Blood Moon, Super Moon

by Tony Hicks

Blue moon, super moon and blood moon the first time since 1866. It looks white to me; I can't see blue or red.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Review: 'A Beautiful Young Woman'

by Fenella Johnson

In L√≥pez’s enticing debut novel, a man examines his childhood in hopes of better understanding his mother’s disappearance in the charged political atmosphere of Buenos Aires , during the military coup of the 1970s. He gains new understanding of his mother's activism, and in the process reframes the memories from his childhood in the political context of the time, coming to terms with a deeply felt loss.

Everything in Julian Lopez’s  debut novel ‘A Beautiful Young Woman’ is too much ; the Argentine summers, which become in the narrator’s mind one eternal blurred summer, are too oppressive and hot.The city of Buenos Aires is overwhelming in smell and sound : the characters are too lurid and sultry, the women obvious caricatures of telenovela actresses. Even the adjectives in the title seem excessive. This is fitting in a way, for the novel is written from the perspective of a child- no wonder then, that everything is too large and too vivid.But this largesse often serves to contribute to the sense that the plot will collapse under Lopez’s ambition. It is, at its highest points, both a study of a mother’s relationship with her son and an exploration of what it is like to live in the looming shadow of fear. However at its lowest, Lopez appears to be a author who is attempting to stuff a novel with more shocking moments than it needs : therefore it is, by the end, overcooked .

A 'Beautiful, Young Woman'  is  a novel seemingly about nothing and yet also about many things, driven not by plot but by the author’s obsession with memory as the plot returns again and again to a series of scenes from an Argentinian man’s childhood. The novel is not set in any particular time : it operates outside of it ,as a rumination on memory, and the narrator is simultaneously both a young boy, terrified  and alone, and the grown man, troubled  by what he can neither remember nor explain. Often deliberately confusing, the novel meanders, focussing on several images of the mother - dedicating pages to her hair, her hands, her mouth-, deliberately dissecting what it is to project an image of extreme femininity : ‘beautiful ,young’ conflicts in the novel with traditional ideas of motherhood. This means it is more like a loose collection of short stories bound together by a question that is even more omnipresent for it’s never being uttered :why? For the ‘beautiful young woman’ of the title is the narrator’s mother, whose abandonment of her child simultaneously defines and fractures him. And this disappearances, although ambiguous, has weighty cultural meaning : despite it’s never being outright stated, it is implied by the end of the book that she is one of the ‘disappeared’ (murdered) men and women who were believed to be left wing ‘enemies’ of the vicious military dictatorship that ruled Argentina during the 1970s and 80s and simply vanished during the so-called ‘Dirty War ’. The mother does frequently disappear on suspicious errands and the unnamed mother and son live alone in a cramped apartment where the doorbell is not to be answered when it rings : the novel often becomes not only a personal attempt to understand the disappearance of an individual, but nods to the nationwide disappearances - ‘“I tried to push myself toward a childhood without deceit, without suspicions, but it could not exist for any of us’. This is furthered by neither mother or son being named, allowing them to become symbolic of the many Argentines who either ‘disappeared’  or had to confront a disappearance.