Friday, 27 February 2015

“Mum, my name is John”: Gender Identity

by Tanya Thekkakkara

Gender is everywhere. Like the very air we breathe, we are often unaware of its omniscient presence. When a child is born, a quick glance between the legs determines the gender label that the child will carry with them for life. For many people, this creates little, if any dissonance. Yet biological sex and gender are on two completely different scales; gender is not inherently nor solely connected to one’s physical anatomy

What? Crazy right.

Beyond anatomy, there are multiple domains of defining gender per se. Gender, on the other hand, is far more complicated and consists of three dimensions:

1. Gender Identity; one’s internal sense of self as male, female, or neither
 2. Gender expression; one’s outward presentation and behaviours
 3. Gender role; similar to gender expression, however explores how one person should speak, think and act within the context of society.

With the unison of these three dimensions, it produces a person’s authentic sense of their own gender.

Now that is all fair and well, but you may be wondering how this has any relevance to the proclaimed title above. Recently within social media, film actress Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have been causing headlines. No, before you ask this is not the typical celebrity-fueled headline - “Angelina caught eating a burrito!”; without discrediting the exceptional taste of Mexican cuisine of course, it was a lot more profound. The title read “Pitt’s and Jolie’s daughter arrives in tux at a film premiere.” Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter now called John Jolie Pitt (original name Shiloh) arrived with a cropped haircut and in a tuxedo. Jolie has spoken openly of her child’s identification in the past, telling in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2010 that John had been exploring their identity since the age of three.

“She wants to be a boy”. Jolie said. “So we cut her hair. She likes to wear boy’s everything. She thinks she’s one of the brothers, she always insists that we call her John otherwise she doesn’t respond and you know what that’s okay, she’s still my child and I love her.”

However, one may argue that, of course, lots of girls like the same toys, clothes and games as boys. But what about when a child seems to “want to be” a member of the opposite sex? Does this hint at gender dysphoria or identity issues? Or is it just a natural part of growing up? These are the probing questions parents face when dealing with their transgender child and yet to this day many children’s feelings are suppressed as parents shrug it off as just a “phase.” Consequently, with this certain depth of attitude from their parents it could lead to detrimental effects such as depression. Even if it does eventually turn out to be a “phase”, encouragement from parents to express who you are and acceptance are vital for a healthy child.
This was interesting by itself yet an online search brought up something even more intriguing.

There are many cultures that this will be considered normal. The Soman Fa’afafines are a clear example of this. Within Samoan society, it is viewed as the third gender- “fa’afaines” which have always existed and when translated literally means “in the manner of”. F’afaines have a very unique role within their society, one which differs from the perception of transgenderism in the western world. In fact, this recognition of the third gender has been known to man prior to Christianity and hence why it is still acceptable for a male child to feminine. They are notoriously known within these communities as intuitive and widely creative, it is rumoured that most Samoan families contains at least one fa’afine.  It is onerous to label the notion of the Samoan third gender with the Western culture, as these societies completely reject the terms “homosexual” and “transgender”. This is due to the fact  Fa’afine have a very varied sexual life partaking with sexual intercourse with female, male and other fa’afines.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Saturday Night Live 40

by Oliver Clark

After forty years of various hits and misses, America's hit comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live is still as strong as it has ever been. As it marked the landmark occasion on the 15th of February (oddly enough, a Sunday), I felt that the least I could do to honour the show and its history was to stay up until 5am to watch it. This was much to my parents annoyance, as it appears that my laughter and singing managed to keep them up all night as wemll. The were all out on that night, ranging from Chevy Chase to Jim Carrey, Miley Cyrus to Alec Baldwin, Paul McCartney to Jack Nicholson, it was a colossal night that no one who witnessed it will forget in a hurry. Although the show, with a duration of over 4 hours, featured numerous sketches, including Bradley Cooper engaging in a extremely drawn out kiss with the 92 year old Betty White, and Nick Ocean singing the love theme to the movie 'Jaws' (a 2 minute segment that brought me to uncontrollable tears), here are my top 3 highlights of the show.

1. Opening Monologue/Song - Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon

Now this may seem rather biased, those readers who know me will be aware that I am a Justin Timberlake mega fan. What no one could deny was the charisma, chemistry and pure creative genius that was shared by him and long time friend Jimmy Fallon for the opening of the night. With references to near every catchphrase, sketch, laugh and tear that the show has experienced in its 40 years (that could be fitted into a 5 minute rap), this was a truly fitting way to start an excellent night of comedy.

2. Celebrity Jeopardy - Will Ferrel, and a host of stars portraying other stars

The parody of the popular quiz show 'Jeopardy' has been featured on SNL for over 30 years, with Will Ferrel taking the reigns as quiz master Alex Trebek. In the 30 years of the sketch, no contestant has managed to answer a question correctly, and it looks like this may be the case for many more years to come. The jokes made and parodies of the high profile celebrities are so outrageous, that it is evident that the show does not take itself seriously in any way, shape or form, which I believe is key in modern comedy.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Why Does The Media Have An Anti-Islamic Bias?

by Alex Sligo-Young

The Western media currently seems to have a fixation on any crimes committed by Muslims, and, worryingly, the language used in the reporting of these events seems to be getting increasingly violent. David Cameron recently declared that “we all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult”. However, is this well-meaning action focused in the wrong place?

According to the media, ISIS is the biggest threat to the world since the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Their tendrils of hatred seem to extend into every street in Britain, with daily extremist conversions and a mass exodus of British citizens that join the fight for the caliphate. The recent shootings in Paris and Denmark have only added fuel to the fire. But is the problem really that great, or is it just a figment of the Western media’s imagination? The man who perpetrated the killings in Copenhagen is believed to have had a mental illness, making him easily susceptible to any extremist propaganda that may have been circulated on social media. Unfortunately, the media seems to be blind to this, instead focusing on his religion as the reason for his attack. This seems to perpetuate the extremist cycle as it provides justification for right-wing groups protesting against Muslims (a minority group in most European countries); often, this only makes the problem worse, causing retaliation from extremist Muslims. This focus on the killer’s religion seems ironic, especially as it took place in a Scandinavian country like Denmark.

Anders Breivik is infamous for committing the worst mass-shooting in Norway’s history. Breivik brutally murdered 77 people (mostly young adults) who were on a holiday camp on an island in Norway. His calculated attack drew attention away from the scene via a car bomb his set off in Oslo. He then drove to Utoya Island and ruthlessly slaughtered the teens. However, Breivik’s religion was never brought into the debate about the cause of the attacks and his fellow Christians were not persecuted for his actions, even though he is a self confessed “Militant Christian” fighting against the “de-Christianity of Europe”. Instead Breivik was ruled clinically insane and his mental state was fully investigated by the judicial system and covered by the media. This example shows how western media pursues the anti-Islamic message, while ignoring extremist Christians.

The detrimental effects of this aggressive media coverage are clear. The Metropolitan Police reported that hate crimes against Muslims rose 65% in the last year, a staggering increase that hints at serious societal rifts developing. This is possibly due to a far-right backlash against Islamic extremism that is taking hold in both the UK and Europe. This is shown by the increase in popularity of Pegida, a far right movement in Germany that has seen a surge in popularity and has even spread into traditionally social democratic countries like Denmark. Pegida also recently drew a record crowd of 25,000 people to protest in Germany. Showing an alarming movement towards the extreme views present in Europe in the 1930s.

However, this anti-Islamic view is not just limited to Europe. Unfortunately, America also has an anti-Islamic media, and  this is having extremely negative effects on American society. This is exemplified by the Chapel Hill shooting in America, where the “execution style” murder of three Muslims was carried out. The murder has been recognized as a hate crime that was motivated by anti-Islamic feelings in the murderer. This begs the question: what climate is the media creating where someone can be so full of hatred that they kill three innocent people?

Recipes for Healthy Snack Ideas

by Zoe Dukoff-Gordon

Here are a few healthy snack ideas, very easy and keep really well!

·     Healthy Pancakes


Makes 12 pancakes
1 small sweet potato (200g)
Oat milk (200ml)
1 mug brown rice flour (200g)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Coconut oil, for greasing


1. Peel the sweet potato, discard the skin and chop the rest of the potato into small pieces.

2. Either steam or boil the sweet potato chunks for about 10 minutes, until they’re really soft.

3. Then place them into a blender with the oat milk, flour, honey and cinnamon and blend for 30 seconds or so until the mix is totally smooth.

4. Place a non-stick frying pan on the stove and grease it with coconut oil, then allow it to get

5. really hot before placing about 2 tablespoons worth of batter in it.

6. Use a spoon to shape the batter into a circle and then allow it to cook for 2–3 minutes, until the top of it no longer looks like runny batter and is starting to firm. Flip the pancake over and allow it to cook on the other side.

7. Continue until you’ve used up all the batter.

·     Healthy Banana Bread Recipe


3 Ripe Bananas
1 cup Ground Almonds
1 cup Brown Rice Flour (or flour of your choice)
1/4 cup Sultanas
Pinch of Salt - I like to use pink Himalayan
1/3 cup Coconut Oil
1 tbsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Organic Vanilla Extract
3 Medjool Dates
Handful Flaked Almonds

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

On the Hunt for Organs

by Charlotte Randall

On the 1 December 2015, Wales will become the first country in the UK to start an opt-out organ system, meaning that every person, over the age of 18, who has lived in Wales for over 12 months will have to donate their organs, including the kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and small bowel, for transplantation on the event of their death if they have not registered their decision not to. Why? Simply because there are not enough organs for those who need them.

Organ transplantation has become one of the most tremendous achievements in modern medicine and has dramatically improved life expectancy and quality of life after organ failure, especially with the kidneys. Due to its increasing success rate, organ transplantation has become a more popular and longer-lasting treatment for many patients suffering forms of organ failure and organ problems. However, there are a lack of donations. Indeed, there are increasingly high demands for organs, not only in Wales but also across the UK. Since April 2014, 2,901 people received organ transplantations; however, a further 6,842 people were still waiting for a donation. Moreover, the NHS website for organ donation claims that three people die daily in the UK in need of transplant. Due to this ever-growing problem, scientists are now beginning to look to combat this issue with alternatives to organic human organs by using the advances in scientific technology, especially in the form of genetic and organ engineering. 

An area, which has been widely researched, is Xenotransplantation, the process of transplanting organs or tissues between members of different species, in particular pigs and humans. Pigs have a compatible anatomy to human and for decades, humans have used tissues from pigs to construct replacement heart valves. Coupled with this, is the rapid breeding cycle of pigs meaning that could potentially be a large supply of organs. However, there is a problem. The human immune system tends not to like the presence of a pig organ, in particular the alpha-1,3-galactose enzyme (which is not present in humans) which coats the blood vessels, and sends white blood cells to attack and destroy it. However, Dr David Copper came up with a solution by genetically modifying the pigs to remove the gene that makes the enzyme, along with other genes that disturb the immune system, as well as adding several human genes to the pigs genome, making it less likely that the body will reject the organ. This also gives another advantage, as the patient may not have to use so many immunosuppressant drugs, which have disagreeable side effects such as nausea and vomiting. There have been positive results for transplanting genetically modified pig’s organs into other species, such as baboons. In August 2014, investigators from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLMI), USA, transplanted a genetically modified piglet heart into a baboon, which was not rejected and has now lasted for over a year, making many scientists hopeful that this research will progress to humans. Indeed, there are high hopes for Xenotransplantation with predictions that some tissues could be used for corneal transplants or neuronal transplants for Parkinson’s disease. While we are a way off from total transplantation, as there are still fears that the pig organs could transmit disease to humans, it is being considered for short term transplantations, giving the patient more time to wait for a human donor.

A potential alternative to Xenotransplantation is Organ Decellularization, building up a new organ from the basic shape and frame structure of the old, essentially growing a organ from the patient’s own cells. There are immediate advantages with this as it avoids the issues with the body’s immune system rejecting the organ and there is no chance of Zoonosis, diseases that can cross the species barrier from animal to human. In 2008, Dr Ott and Dr Taylor created a beating rat heart from a framework of the old. They used detergents to strip the cells from the heart, leaving behind an extracellular framework of connective proteins such as collagen and laminin. They then inserted cells from new born rats and incubated it in a bioreactor-a vessel, which provides the cells with the correct conditions for chemical reactions to occur and thus stimulate blood flow. After four days muscle started to grow and contract and after eight the heart began to beat. This ground-breaking discovery has been used by Paolo Macchiarini from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, to construct new tracheas for nine people by using their own cells, grown on their decellularized tracheas, showing the real potential for this mechanism. However, this system depends on an already existing organ and if the patient’s organ’s framework is too badly damaged or unusable, we are back to the problem of donation. This problem was solved by a different approach by Macchiarini, who built up a trachea on an artificial, synthetic polymer scaffold. This is most likely to be the future of organ engineering, as organs could be quickly mass-produced. This idea is also apt for the current height of technological advancement in the form of 3D printers, which have the capability to produce the complex architecture of organs. Due to the popular interest in this field of engineering, lots of attention is being paid towards it and the advances are coming thick and fast making the reality of organ printing a real possibility in the next few years.

Why Harry Potter Should Be Studied Instead of Silas Marner

by Ilana Berney

So why should Harry Potter be studied instead of Silas Marner? In my view it’s a no-brainer. I’d swap in an instant, and not just because I’m a massive Harry Potter fan. No I actually have quite a few decent “Englishy” reasons as well, most of which I shall present to you in this hopefully convincing argument.

Firstly both books have the overriding theme of good defeating evil. In Harry Potter, Harry defeats Voldemort and in Silas Marner, Silas also defeats evil; it just isn’t in the form of a single character, instead in the form of a whole village, Lantern Yard, which starts off most of Silas’ problems and leads to him becoming the social outcast who is presented through most of the book.

Harry Potter has the main character suffering for quite a long period of time, similar to Silas’ suffering. In Harry Potter, he loses both his parents at one year old and then spends the next ten years of his life with his aunt and uncle who despise him. In Silas Marner, Silas loses everything he has including his would-be family when his best friend betrays him and he has to leave the only home he has known. The betrayal of a supposed best friend is also displayed in Harry Potter and is how his parents come to be killed, again starting off his years of suffering the same as in Silas Marner.

Although both characters suffer tragedy and become social outcasts (Harry bullied at school and hated buy family, Silas a weaver who isn’t part of community), they both also find hope and something much better than what they previously enjoyed or had. Silas loses his gold but then discovers Eppie and becomes part of community again and Harry discovers friends and a new community/family at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter also has the same theme of the corrupt upper class as Silas Marner. In Harry Potter the Malfoys are presented as rich but are also unlikeable and often cruel to the ‘lower’ class witches/wizards. Harry Potter also has the key feature of the less well-off being the true community leaders, in this case the Weasleys who take Harry in and are key members in the defeat of Voldemort. In Silas Marner it is the inn keeper and Dolly Winthrop who look after Silas and bring him back to the community.

Community Court Live … 6 Months On

by Eloise Peabody-Rolf

In the 6 months since going live on 12 September 2014, the Hampshire Community Court have been busy !  (NB for more  on how I got involved, the set up of the scheme etc  - please see my earlier PP blogs).
Over 30 hearings have now been held covering a variety of offences, including possession and use of drugs, antisocial behaviour, ‘sexting’ and bullying.   We’ve also developed our hearing formats, using the experience of cases to improve and tweak our processes.

From the follow up reviews at 1 and 3 months (progress will also be checked for each case at 6 and 12 months intervals), the great news is so far none of the respondents have re-offended, positive changes have been made in respondents lives, and we’ve received good feedback from many involved in the process - the victims, respondents and their parents and teachers.

As the Community Court is a new model for youth justice being trialled in Gosport and Fareham,  there are many people interested in our progress.  Our newsletter is widely read (even as far as Japan !)  and we have hosted visitors who are influential in youth and restorative justice.

From a Community Court perspective, there is added pressure when we  have visitors, as we want to do our best for the people referred to us,  but it’s also important to explain what we do to our visitors and answer their questions as best as possible.  The volunteers in the Community Court greatly appreciate the interest being shown in the pilot and the benefits this approach can bring to young offenders and their victims. For a visitor to travel and take time out of their day to come and see what we’re doing, shows a level of interest already, and at the end of the meeting  we welcome their constructive feedback.

On November 26  Martin, an advisor to the Mayor of London 's Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) to meet with the Community Court team, the deputy PCC, Mark Walsh and his senior officers, plus a number of parents .  A mock hearing was run to demonstrate the processes the Community Court team have developed and now routinely use.   Martin told us the Mayor’s team is keen to learn from the pilot’s experiences, as they are looking to follow our lead and deploy a similar scheme in London, so are watching us closely !

On February 3rd we had two visitors : Marion, a senior Police advisor and a board member from the Ministry of Justice’s Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB);  and Amanda, who has served as an Inner London Youth Court Magistrate Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and has extensive experience of the voluntary sector.  Following the cases they observed, both Marion and Amanda gave very positive feedback regarding the maturity and sensitivity the members of the peer court demonstrated during the hearings, plus the significant potential benefits they saw in ‘Community Courts’ and the contribution they could make to youth justice processes in the UK.

A week later,  Garry Shewan, the Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police,  and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) lead for Restorative and Community Justice, visited.  Garry was one of the judges at the Suzy Lamplugh Awards Eloise Peabody-Rolf and PC Mark Walsh attended at the end of last year, where they met briefly.  Garry is a passionate advocate of restorative justice, and expressed a keen interest in visiting Fareham to find out more about the pilot, particularly how we use restorative approaches in our hearings, and how we involve the voice of the victim and community.  During his evening with us, Garry shadowed the Peer Panel throughout the hearing.  Afterwards he gave us some candid feedback, and said he was impressed with the team and the process we have developed and are running.  He gave us a great compliment in a tweet following his visit :  ‘amazing young people thinking restoratively’.  

Monday, 23 February 2015

How to Avoid an Existential Crisis

by Julia Alsop

An existential crisis is the moment when our minds are flooded by questions about life itself, and about whether there’s purpose or meaning or value, and the implications that this has on us as individuals. 

We all have such crises, often when we’re faced with big decisions about our lives and how we plan to progress and what our aims for the future really are. 

The anxiety of these thoughts be can pretty frustrating, especially when we realize that we are the ones in control of our situation, who have to make decisions that affect not just ourselves but other people too (Sartre called this ‘anguish’). So here’s a little list of what to do, if and when you start pondering the big questions...

1)   Firstly, are you definitely having an existential crisis?
Well you can probably tell. I took an online quiz (because obviously nothing is more reliable). The results told me I was verging on nihilism, but with the occasional tendency for optimism. Cute. Then the website recommended I take the ‘ Are you a sociopath?’ test …Okay; perhaps the Internet isn’t going to be particularly useful. For the record, I’m not a sociopath.

2)   Take the IB
If you’re not in Sixth Form yet and you want a sure way to get through without an existential crisis then take the IB. You’ll be far too busy studying six subjects (plus all the trimmings) to consider existential questions. Unless you choose to take Philosophy. Or TOK. Which you have to. So it’ll basically leave you sitting in your bedroom at 2 am writing a biology design coursework, wondering if IB will, one day, be worth the blood, sweat and tears (IT BETTER BE). So maybe this tip doesn’t really work…

3)   Take a conventional route through life
Go through school, go straight to university, get your degree, find a job to work up through, buy a house, pay your mortgage/bills/taxes/student loan, settle down, have kids, and get old. Lots of people have done that so surely little harm can be done there? Except, what purpose is there to doing the same thing again and again? What if things don’t go to plan? Okay, perhaps this advice isn’t great either… with people to compare yourself to maybe you’ll always doubt…

4)   Take an unconventional route through life
Take a gap year. Or two. Start university when you’re a few years older (or don’t?). Go travelling. Become a nomad and never settle down. Be an eccentric. But there’s still uncertainty, like with conventional routes, perhaps even more so… Yikes.

5)   Think about really dull, mundane stuff
So we’ve moved onto distraction rather than avoidance. Think about the most efficient way of cleaning the carpet, how to make porridge taste semi-decent, or how interesting it is to watch paint dry. I’m going slightly crazy just writing those boring options… so you may temporarily forget to think about what the meaning life is but you may die of boredom in the meantime, and you won’t exactly achieve anything.

6)   Make a bucket list (and do some of the things on it!)
So this is more appealing. Travel the world. Watch the BFI and AFI Top 100s. Learn a language. Or an Instrument. Or a few. Go skydiving. Read every book by a certain author. Doing amazing things may help you with the point 7 (see below), but can also make you feel very aware of just how limited you are and what the actual purpose of what you are doing really is. But at least when you do distract yourself you’ll be having fun.

7)   Find a real purpose and distract yourself with that
Easier said than done, but at least try. Try the bucket list idea to help. The only problem is that your existential crisis may remind you of the limit of time… will there ever be enough time to do everything you want to do?

8)   Do nothing at all
Again, easier said than done. Have you tried it? You’ll find yourself at least thinking or fidgeting…

Evolutionary Maths

by Jack Dry

Maths in nature seems slightly unnatural to me. Shouldn’t nature be free from the same maths which has been used to design carbon dioxide belching factories, noisy cars and nuclear bombs? So, when I first learnt that there was maths ingrained in nature, it confirmed my hunch that maths really was everywhere.
Cicadas are insects. More specifically they are locust-like insects which have red eyes and are a wooden brown colour. Their colouring is clever since it allows them to blend into the trees which they peacefully sit on. This makes it more difficult for predators to see them and so they are eaten less often. Coincidentally, this is why a large proportion of insects are darker, tree-like, colours. This is called an adaptation. An adaptation is where an organism has changed over time to become more suitable for the environment in which it lives. Adaptations are a product of natural selection, the phenomenon which Darwin coined. Although their colouring is a clever adaptation, it’s by far their finest.

Before explaining the genius behind the cicada’s development cycle, it is necessary to clarify what a prime number is. A prime number is a number which is only divisible by itself and one. Take the number 5, for example. In making a rectangle with five beads the only way it is possible is if they were arranged into a straight line. This is a trait of prime numbers. If you had six beads, however, a rectangle could be made from two columns of 3 next to each other or a straight line of six beads. Therefore the number six is not a prime number. 

Now I shall act as Gauss’ lens and convey the mathematical genius of the cicadas. All organisms have a period in which they develop. During this period, very few of the organisms inhabit their typical environment, if any at all.  They are undergoing a period of development where they are preparing to swarm the lands in vast numbers, albeit for a very short period of time. The cicada’s period of development is a rather lengthy seventeen years. All insects also have predators. The cicada’s predator is typically the aptly named cicada killer wasp. The wasp’s period of development is four years. This means that only every 68 years will the wasps and cicadas occupy the same environment. Only every 68 years will the cicadas be killed by the wasps. If the cicada’s period of development was two years less - 16 years - the cicadas would be eaten by the wasps every time they developed. If this were the case then the cicadas would quickly become extinct. In this way the cicadas are able to survive and reproduce more successfully with a prime number period of development- the aim of all organisms.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

EyeWire: Playing and Learning at the Same Time

by David Danso-Amoako

I want to tell you about a way in which you can make a huge contribution to the science of mapping our brain - by playing an online game. 

How? Well, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they were trying to map the human brain in order to understand how neurons work in our brains. This used to be an impossible undertaking because it would take years to map one single neuron, let alone the 100 billion in our brain. However, neuroscientist Sebastian Seung and his team from MIT found a way to advance progress of their precise mapping by making a game called EyeWire to involve people in the ongoing project to map the human brain.

Scientists at MIT scanned neurons in a mouse brain, which is similar to a human brain.The paths of these neurons were then mapped through the use of their own artificial intelligence software.  Unfortunately, there were gaps in the path of the neurons that the artificial intelligence mapped. To fix this they have developed a game where the path of the neuron is shown in a cube. Players are then invited to correct the image from the artificial intelligence by filling in the gaps. In the game you would try to colour in the complete path of a neuron that has already been partially filled with what you think are missing. This helps the artificial intelligence to make fewer mistakes by learning from players’ correct mapping.

This project has worked very well and the team is now proud because the project has improved their speed of mapping a single mouse brain neuron from two weeks to two days, which is good time saving. Players who consistently map neurons correctly are able to reach the level “Master of the Scythe” at the end of the game. Once you reach this stage, you will be able to manage the global community of players and amend their work to see what is correct and what is incorrect. In the future, after mapping the mouse brain, we could, through this game, map the human brain which would be an excellent achievement.

Imagine if, like those in MIT, we could make our work more appealing through games.We could be more actively engaged in our learning. An example of good application in learning is Hour of Code 2014 in which the Angry Birds game is used to teach us the simple way to code. Another good example is how some typing software uses car racing to help improve the speed of child and adult typing.

If we could somehow transfer this learning to our subjects in school, we would be able to learn at our own pace. We would be able to retain more of the learning we do as individuals and as a group. We would enjoy learning and do well in school and perform well on tests that we have. If we make learning fun, we will have more fun working harder than ever before. In addition, if we have been making mistakes we can learn quickly and easily from the games what our mistakes are and from this response we can change our way of doing things.

Poems for Sunday: Homage to Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas

Two of the most popular British poets of the twentieth century are Dylan Thomas and Philip Larkin and yet they could not be less alike in style. In many senses, Larkin's restrained writing is a reaction against Thomas' neo-Romanticism. Here Phoebe Warren presents an artful homage to both poets.

Philip Larkin
Pursuing Youth 

Dull day for play, but the children hungrily await
Cramped over their desks gridded four by six,
Watching the rhythmic hand jittering on the clock
Until the bell sounds. The first break time of the day.

Thirty-six pairs of feet make pursuit,
Criss-crossing the field in a frenzy of excitement;
Soon the yellowing grass becomes muddied,
Scorched with the fragmented screams of glee

The freedom of play time always fascinates teachers: 
They wisely speculate over steaming coffees,
Gazing aimlessly at the seeming mania of youth,
Yet still retain a mysterious yearning to join them again. 

But the lines scolding their faces set them apart 
From the blissfully innocent. Now corrupted, the learned 
Can merely stare at a distance, with an erroneous hope 
This will allow them to reconnect with this dream.


Dylan Thomas
The Daily Expedition 

On the cliff top we stood
Where our cheeks met the whispers of the wind
Slowly exhaling onto our skin;
We paused to inhale the salted air
And ran freely in tune with the rising sun,
The golden haze glistening off our bodies

The rhythmic crashing of the shore line 
Rolled the blue sea upon 
The golden beaches, rising 
Up the white cliffs along the luscious 
Green grass, and we paused,
Admiring the land around us

And there was a fence we climbed over
Exploring the land we knew so well
But forever finding something new:
A sunflower shook its golden face
Greeting us on this very morning
And we went on our way

Over the hay bales we skipped
Growing more confident as we rose
Onto the highest hill and gazed
Over the land we had yet to explore 
Till the Sun began to fall

Stumbling into the land of tomorrow.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Falling Petrol Prices - Cause for Joy or Worry?

by Rosie Bell

On the long journeys into school, we scream with joy at the price of petrol, our excitement unbelievably piqued for what seems so mundane. Therefore, I decided to examine what the causes were of our fan-girl squeals; what are the implications of falling petrol prices for the British economy?

The falling petrol prices are a result of a drop in the world oil prices. This fall in prices came about as the US experienced an oil boom in 2013, which at first didn’t affect the world oil prices as the geopolitical conflicts in other major oil regions culminated in the supply of oil being maintained. On average, these conflicts took more than 3 million barrels of oil off the market per day. 

However, by mid-2014 the rising world production of oil overtook the significance of these conflicts. This growth in the supply coincided with a fall in demand for oil as cars became more efficient with better fuel consumption and weakened economies. As a result, prices in Britain have been dragged down by 11% and are still falling.

This has had a huge effect on the British economy, as the lowering petrol prices has played a large part in the fall in the consumer price index measurement for inflation which currently stands at a record low of 0.3%. George Osborne has described this as a ‘milestone for the British Economy’ and is beneficial as the consumers will be able to ‘stretch their pound’. This concept is also aided by the more money available to spend on domestically produced goods and services due to the lower fuel prices. 

A reason for worry, however, lies in the possibility of deflation. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Does 'Selma' Distort History?

by James Burkinshaw

Selma: MLK (David Oyelowo) and LBJ (Tom Wilkinson)
In the lead-up to Sunday's Oscars, one of the nominees for Best Picture, Ava Duvernay's Selma, which portrays Martin Luther King's 1965 civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, has been criticised for historical inaccuracy.  

Should films be judged according to their historicity? Certainly, the vast majority of "historical" films, from Braveheart to Zulu are primarily produced as entertainment and are not supposed to be taken seriously as a presentation of historical fact. Even films with a more serious, educational intent (and Selma certainly seems to fall into this category) are surely entitled to some poetic licence in order to shape complex and often chaotic events into an aesthetic whole. However, what responsibility, if any, does a director of a serious historical film, such as Selma, have to balance aesthetic choices with historical accuracy?

Duvernay herself has asked critics to look at the bigger picture: "For this to be I think reduced . . . to one talking point of a small contingent of people who don’t like one thing, I think is unfortunate, because this film is a celebration of people, a celebration of people who gathered to lift their voices, black, white, otherwise, all classes, nationalities, faiths, to do something amazing." The "one talking point" Duvernay refers to is the film's characterisation of President Lyndon Baines Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson) as the main antagonist, blocking Martin Luther King's (David Oyelowo,) attempts to achieve voting rights for African-Americans. The "small contingent of people" she mentions include not only academic historians but former LBJ aides and colleagues and supporters of MLK such as Andrew Young (who is himself portrayed very sympathetically in the film), all of whom point out that Johnson, far from being an obstructionist villain, was actually a driving force behind the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, helping King use events in Selma, Alabama, to achieve that goal - and, therefore, one of the people who did "something amazing". Any film needs an antagonist to provide dramatic tension and conflict; however, Lyndon Johnson seems uniquely ill-suited for this role. 
1965: MLK and LBJ, in the Oval Office

It is not as if there is a shortage of deserving candidates for the job of arch-villain in the story of Selma. There were many members of Congress who tried to block civil rights and voting rights legislation, whether out of racist conviction or electoral cowardice. There was the swaggering, thuggish Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (played in the film by Stan Houston), the fervidly racist, intellectually pretentious local judge James Hare (not portrayed in the film) and the ambitious, demagogic governor of Alabama, George Wallace (Tim Roth). The most terrifying figure of all, perhaps, was J Edgar Hoover, the all-powerful director of the FBI, a vicious racist and paranoid anti-Communist who spent years vindictively and obsessively harrassing MLK through constant surveillance (including hidden microphones and wire taps), smears leaked to the press and anonymous, threatening phone calls and letters to King's friends and family as well as King himself. These activities reached a critical mass during the period leading up to Selma, at one point almost driving an exhausted MLK to suicide. Adding a further layer of dramatic irony which should be a god-send to any film director, Hoover, who used the extra-marital secrets of MLK and others in an attempt to blackmail or destroy them, was himself a closeted gay man. However, this extraordinary figure only appears once in the film (played by Dylan Baker), in a relatively brief scene in which he appears to be doing President Johnson's bidding. In fact, it was Johnson's predecessor, President Kennedy, who had authorised Hoover's surveillance activities. And, far from controlling Hoover, LBJ, like all of his presidential predecessors (including Kennedy) had to treat the autonomous FBI director with caution and deference- aware of the destructive power Hoover had amassed over half a century running the Bureau.
J Edgar Hoover

In another key scene in the film, LBJ is shown in a meeting with MLK at the White House a few weeks before the March on Selma, refusing to pass Voting Rights legislation. This is based on an actual meeting in which Johnson told King (all of LBJ's meetings and phones were recorded on tape), "I need the votes of the southern bloc  (i.e. members of Congress from segregationist Southern states) to get these other things through. And if I present a voting rights bill, they will block the whole program." This is shown by Duvernay as an act of obstructionism on Johnson's part. However, as Nick Kotz notes in his excellent book, 'Judgement Days', "On the subject of voting rights, as on most topics, Johnson's aides knew that one conversation with the president seldom revealed all that he was thinking. Johnson liked to keep his options open . . . Four days before letting King know that there could be no voting rights law in 1965, he had told (his attorney general) something quite different . . . instructing him to start drafting a voting rights law." Only three weeks later, on January 15th, Johnson phoned King to say, "We have got to come up with (voting rights legislation) . . . I think the greatest achievement of my administration was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but I think this will be even bigger because it will do things that even that '64 act couldn't do."

Whereas Duvernay portrays Johnson as aggressively opposed to the march on Selma, in the January 15th phone call he explicitly encouraged King to demonstrate: "If you can find the worst condition that you can run into in Alabama . . .if you take that one illustration and get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings - every place that you can - then pretty soon the fellow who didn't do anything but drive a tractor would say, "Well, that is not right - that is not fair" Then that will help us in what we are going to shove through in the end." LBJ understood the power King's activism had to influence not only politicians in Washington but moderate white voters in the South. Three weeks later, Johnson harnessed the disturbing images from Selma being broadcast into American living rooms, holding a press conference in which he urged passage of voting rights legislation. He knew the limited window of opportunity: "Every day that I'm in office . . . I'll be losing part of my ability to be influential . . . (a president) uses up capital. Something is going to come up . . . something like the Vietnam War or something else where I will begin to lose all that I have now." 

Driven to despair
by Vietnam, 1968
Johnson's haunted reference to 
Vietnam reflects the irony that, at the very moment that he was achieving his greatest triumphs in passing historic civil rights and anti-poverty legislation, he was also dispatching two battalions to Vietnam, initiating the escalation that would, ultimately devastate South-East Asia, tear America apart and destroy his own presidency and its political legacy. Adding to the sense of tragedy was his impotent awareness from the beginning that the war (a situation inherited from his predecessor, John F Kennedy) was unwinnable: "I can't get out (of Vietnam) and I can't finish it with what I've got. And I don't know what the hell to do." It has become something of a cliche to compare political figures to Shakespearean/Greek tragic heroes, but in the magnitude of his political accomplishments, the enormity of his personal flaws and the cruelty of the Cold War fates that shattered his presidency at the moment of his greatest domestic achievements, LBJ remains, for me, the most fascinating political figure in American history. He is as complex, contradictory and compelling as any character in literature - someone the writer Greil Marcus immortalised as a combination of Huck Finn and Captain Ahab. It seems, therefore, all the more of a waste to see him reduced to such a two-dimensional caricature in Selma.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Poem for Ash Wednesday

T.S. Eliot
'Ash Wednesday' was written by T.S. Eliot (who died fifty years ago), following his conversion to Anglican Christianity in 1927. Although less densely allusive than his earlier masterpiece, 'The Waste Land', 'Ash Wednesday'  echoes its yearning tone and sense of crisis. It is probably Eliot's most deeply personal poetical work. 

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying
Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Crime Drama Paradox- How Realistic is 'Silent Witness'?

by Holly Govey

Laura Barnett-journalist: “This programme bears about as much resemblance to reality as a badger does to a stealth bomber”

First broadcast in 1996, today Silent Witness enjoys a TV audience of over 7 million viewers and claims an increasingly popular reputation as the latest show in the 18th series draws to a close. However, despite its high viewer record, the show has faced criticism over the years for depicting gruesome and harrowing scenes as well as for its failure to convey the work of forensic pathologists accurately.

The programme is focused on the post-mortem process; however, the procedures depicted in this popular crime drama are glamorized and exaggerated. Its iconic name stems from the ability to uncover clues about a murder from the body- which has been rendered “silent” through death. In this way, it is a “witness” to its own murder, as it contains vital clues about what has happened. However, the bright, modern laboratories that Alexander and her team work in surrounded by touch screen computers are a long way away from the hospital mortuaries in which most forensic scientists work, some of which date back to Victorian times.

Ultimately, this programme is centred on entertainment and relies on the shock factor, leading to unrealistic expectations and perceptions of forensic scientists. In contrast to this, the show also depicts realistic and brutal violence and aggression. These themes are an integral and inescapable component of media, something which has a pivotal role in socializing people and providing information. In this way, it could be argued that in normalizing violence we may be disinhibiting aggressive behaviour and innoculating the public against the horrors committed in our society. 

This link can be seen in one episode of Silent Witness which was scrapped after the plot was seen to mirror the real-life, shocking Rochdale child sex grooming case. Furthermore, Silent Witness came under criticism in August 2012, after the series 15 episode 'Redhill' was declared to be “too violent”. More recently, the BBC was condemned as 'insensitive' and 'very misguided' for airing an episode of Silent Witness, entitled “Sniper’s Nest”,  in which a sniper killed eight people including a police officer on the same day 12 people were shot dead in the Paris terror attack in France.

Friday, 13 February 2015


by Will Hall

I have always found superstition a very strange and bewildering topic. I personally find it quite amusing when people react to superstitious occurrences in a serious manner, but I guess that’s just my opinion. 

One of the weirdest superstitions has to be Friday 13th. It is also an appropriate place to start considering that today is Friday 13th. Why this particular combination of week day and date would prove to have any consequence I don’t know, but many people seem to be alarmed by such a coincidence. Believe it or not a fear of Friday 13th actually has a name, although, good luck ever remembering how to say it: paraskevidekatriaphobia. This comes from two Greek words meaning Friday and thirteen, and is listed as a genuine phobia…

Another strange superstition is that being pooped on by a bird brings good luck (see below). Now, I’m pretty certain someone made this up to keep their kid happy when a pigeon did its business, but even so some people genuinely believe this far-fetched idea. I myself have experienced such an atrocity several times, and the first time it occurred, it certainly did not bring good luck, because that very day my dog had to be put down. So, this superstition can be written down as a load of rubbish.

The whole good luck and bad luck idea makes me wonder just as much as the individual superstitions do, and personally I don’t believe in any kind of luck or superstition. But that’s just me. I guess some people like to think that luck is a genuine force, and that’s fair enough. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Whitechapel Murders: Casefile Four

by Sian Latham

Casefile Four
Victim: Catherine Eddowes
Date of Death: 30th September, 1888
Age: 46

Suspect: Aaron Kosminski
Catherine Eddowes was found in Mitre Square at 1:45 am. The body contained grievous wounds, more severe and elaborate than those on the previous victims. There was an incision across the throat, eyelids, lip and ear. The incision on the throat was deep enough that the blow would have prevented any sound from being produced. Part of the nose had been removed. The abdomen had been cut open and the intestines partially removed and placed on right shoulder. Other organs were missing. The damage to the face would have taken approximately five minutes alone and she was last seen at around 1:30 talking with a man in Mitre Square.

The man had a pale complexion, dark moustache and appeared to the witness to be a sailor. Eddowes had been released from police cells 45 minutes prior to her death after being picked up for drunken behaviour in the street. She wasn’t known to be an alcoholic. After leaving the police station she appeared to head towards the street she had been picked up from, definitely not in the direction of home. The walk from the station to Mitre Square would have taken about 10 minutes, so there is a whole half hour unaccounted for in terms of her movements.

Eddowes was never married but had three children with the same man. She moved around a lot and didn’t have a stable income. Her daughter married and moved away to try and avoid Eddowes. Her son went to live with his father, and the second son may have died young (it is unclear).
Suspect: Aaron Kosminski
Suspected by: Melville Macnaghten,Sir Robert Anderson,Donald Swanson
Age at time of murders: 24
Occupation: N/A

At the time Kosminski was outlined as a suspect due to his identification as the suspect by a witness. However, the witness was a Jew and refused to give evidence against a fellow Jew, thus Kosminski was never arrested or convicted. Macnaghten wrote that “he had a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies.” He also lived in Whitechapel.