Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Miracles of Modern Conception

by Charlotte Randall

(source: Guardian)
On the 27th of June 2015, it was reported that a Belgian woman had become the first to successfully conceive a child after having her ovarian tissue, which had been removed and frozen when she was thirteen due to sickle cell anaemia, transplanted back into her body.

Sickle cell anaemia is a genetic disorder which causes a base mutation on the coding strand of DNA in the genes that produce haemoglobin, which results in the deformation of red blood cells, making them become sickle shaped and unable to carry enough oxygen. The disorder can lead to fatal complications such as strokes, pulmonary hypertension and kidney dysfunction, which can lead to kidney failure.

Belgian doctors offered the woman in question a stem cell transplant from one of her siblings, at age eleven; however, the procedure involved intense chemotherapy in order to destroy the sickle cells, which would inevitably damage her ovaries and make her infertile. She chose to have fragments of her right ovary removed and frozen. Ten years on, these fragments were grafted onto her left ovary and two years later she conceived a boy. This has been considered a huge medical breakthrough for fertility, especially concerning young women with cancer. This story got me thinking about other critical fertility landmarks in the past decades and how they are affecting society today.

Test tube babies

On the 25th July, 1978, Louise Joy Brown, the first “test tube” baby was born. The baby was the product of the first In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedure, developed by gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and physiologist Robert Edwards (the latter won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010).  The basis of the IVF used with Brown’s parents was the mother’s eggs collected from her fallopian tubes after her natural ovulation. The sperm was then fused with the egg outside the womb, dividing to form an embryo, which was then inserted into the uterus. The procedure, although following the same steps, has quickly developed to make it more likely that a foetus will develop and that many women in a high age range can become pregnant, by using techniques such as Transvaginal Oocyte Retrieval, which means many oocytes (immature egg cells can be removed), drugs for ovarian hyperstimulation which have the aim to produce 2-7 eggs which can form embryos and the injection of hormones such as progesterone in order to increase the success rate of implantation.

In 2013 it was estimated that over 5 million people have undergone IVF; however, the process doesn’t always work. According the NHS website the success rates are:

•    32.2% for women under 35  
•    27.7% for women aged 35-37  
•    20.8% for women aged 38-39   
•    13.6% for women aged 40-42   
•    5% for women aged 43-44 
•    1.9% for women aged over 44

Also, there have been considerable ethical and social issues with the IVF procedure such as a religious view of “playing God” and life beginning with conception and so throwing away embryos not being implanted is murder. There are also medical risks such as multiple births when more than one embryo is transferred back into the uterus, which can lead to prematurity and pregnancy loss. Despite this, IVF has enabled millions of infertile couples be able to have children when previously it had been impossible, changing countless lives.

Three-Parent Babies

On the 24th of February of this year, the House of Lords passed an amendment to the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in order to allow a new and controversial IVF technique, the aim of which is to prevent children being born with serious mitochondrial diseases, by using two eggs and a sperm: i.e. two mothers and a father. The process works by the DNA being removed from the donor egg cell through a process called Maternal Spindle Transfer. The DNA from the mother’s egg cell is removed and then is inserted into the donor egg. The rest of the process is very similar to the above process of IVF where the egg is fused with the sperm and is inserted into the uterus. This process has been encouraged as it has shown that the hybrid egg can prevent the inheritance of mitochondrial diseases as the genetic information that codes for the faulty mitochondria from the mother is not inserted into the donor egg.

However, this new procedure has caused great controversy, with The Human Genetics Alert claiming that it will “inevitably lead to a future of “designer babies”.” There are also questions about the safety of the procedure as it has not undergone any clinical trials yet and has only been tested on primates, mice and human eggs that have not been implanted into a uterus. Despite this, this procedure has serious potential to allow women with genetic mitochondrial abnormalities to have children of their own.

Making babies without men (or women)

Photography: Mexican Sail Ship Leaves Portsmouth

by Tony Hicks

I took these photographs this morning, as STS ARM CUAUHTEMOC, a Mexican sail ship, left Portsmouth.

Balinese Theatre Workshop

by Alex McKirgan

On Friday 26th June, members of the Year 12 IB cohort and from Year 8 were invited to participate in a Balinese Topéng Workshop run by the very famous Margaret Coldiron and an ethnic Balinese Topeng Dancer Puja.

The workshop began with all of the students discussing various types of theatre  we had experienced over the years, with the replies ranging from The Lion King to The Book of Mormon. It soon become apparent to us that this type of theatre was something none of us had ever witnessed and the rhetoric of a Year 8 student accurately reflected the mindset: this was something so different. Waves of excitement and energy began to emerge in the groups as we began to wonder what this workshop would entail.

After Puja and Margaret introduced themselves, we were treated to a brief history of the Balinese culture and how the  art of Topéng came to be. It was  an enriching experience to learn about a culture which was so different to our traditional Western culture and in particular, how Balinese Topéng is not a special event which happens only on occasion, but is embedded in the daily lives of the citizens of Bali, being performed as a communal ritual rather than a form of entertainment. Some  of the IB cohort  had not watched any form of theatre in over three years so we really appreciated it and it helped to give us the international awareness that is part of the IB course.

After a brief period of reflection, we began to learn the basic steps of the male Topéng dance. However, we could not begin to learn until we did the necessary stretches before hand. Having demonstrated our physical capabilities by performing handstands at the start of the workshop, our flexibility was well below that of our instructors who pushed many of the students to their physical boundaries with their elementarystretches. Puja informed the Year 12 students about how the Year 8 students had found these stretches much easier than we did, with an elderly sentiment emerging amongst the senior students. However spirits were not dampened and we were eager to continue. We then took our positions and mimicked Puja as best we could to try and submerge ourself in the art of Topéng. Whilst some failed to copy the elegance of Puja with their heavy feet pounding around the Gatehouse, others managed a decent attempt. 

Nevertheless, the aim of the workshop was not to see who was the best at Balinese Topéng. It soon became apparent that all students from Year 8 and Year 12 gained a personal insight into the Balinese culture which developed their understanding of the world outside the stereotypical boundaries. For example, Nicholas Gatenby of Year 12 said:

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Confederate Flag: Truly a Symbol of Slavery

by Sian Latham

Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate flag in protest,
outside South Carolina's State House on June 27, 2015
The Confederacy and all its associated ideology and symbols, have long been seen to exist hand in hand with pro-slavery morals. 

It was defeated by an army that included ex-slaves fighting with the Union and was born from a desire to protect the institution of slavery; it is is only brandished by ‘crazy’ Southern Americans. 

All these connotations, all this history, has meant that the Confederate flag, and all who brandish it, have come under fire recently, in the wake of the 9 African-Americans shot down in Charleston by a white man intent on starting a race war. 

Yet, I question whether we can be sure that all of the abuse targeted at the flag is securely grounded in fact rather than grounded in assumption and misconception.

The birth of the flag originates at the outset of the American Civil War - a war, as it has generally become known, of slavery. Many, or even most, would say that the war was fought by the North who were anti-slavery and the South who were pro-slavery. As such, any symbol of the Southern (pro-slavery) side is a symbol of racism and shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s true. If a symbol is one that boasts of slavery, then it shouldn’t be tolerated. However, let me pose you this question: Does Hitler’s abuse and usage of the swastika change its original meaning? If you are unaware, Hitler ‘stole’ the swastika from the Hindu religion in which it symbolizes good luck, the creator and power: not a fascist Nazi regime. If, much like myself, you can appreciate the dual nature in which the swastika exists, and perhaps, even further, the false connotations it now holds, then my argument may yet find understanding ears among you. If not, I’m afraid my argument will fall on deaf ears, but I can but try to convince you of my opinion.

What I am trying to say, though perhaps slightly convoluted in my manner, is that the Confederate flag is, it can be argued, no more a symbol of slavery than the flag of the Union: the Stars and Stripes. When the flag was first designed and brandished, the Civil War had only just begun and the issue of slavery as morally right or wrong did not yet exist. The South feared the oppression of the North. They feared the eventual loss of the slaves, and their resultant wealth and social structure, but also a loss of the Southern identity. For the North, the war was to regain the land that had ‘illegally’ seceded.In the North, their (on the whole) opposition to slavery was not out of a moral sense of right or wrong but rather of fear: that the slaves threatened their jobs and livelihoods. Though the South was the house of slavery, so to speak, the North were the larger benefactors. It was the North who traded, manufactured and transported the goods and raw materials that were achieved by slave labour, not the South. Before, and at the beginning, of the war, the end to slavery was as unwanted by elements of the North just the same as the South.

In fact, it was under the stars and stripes flag that the constitution, condoning slavery as a ‘necessary evil’, was followed and maintained as a code of the American's patriotic life. The United States of America was founded and born on the back of condoned slavery; the founding fathers had seen it as a necessary moral wrong in order to make a strong white country. A strong white country that brandished the stars and stripes: a flag now as connected with slavery in its connotations as the British. While both the British and United States’ flags have hung over slaving countries, the fact is now seen as an inconvenient, immoral act of the past that does not define the flag or the country it flies over. Thus, how can we argue that the Confederate flag has any more history in slavery than the Union’s? Both condoned slavery at the time of their birth. It is only that one managed to fly over a country that has survived longer and had time to change, which has allowed it to distance itself from the issue of a slaving past.

How do Lightbulbs Work?

by Reetobrata Chatterjee

Lightbulbs are something that we walk past every day. With the flick of a switch, a dark gloomy room is transformed into a habitable environment. Imagine if lightbulbs did not exist and, as soon as the sunlight faded, you would have to whip out the trusty candles in order to see whether you were about to walk into a door or fall down the stairs. 

However, since the 1900s when the light bulbs became commercially available cheaply enough for the average guy, no one has had to face this problem. They were all probably too worried about catching tuberculosis anyway to ponder to long on this.

There are many different types of lightbulbs ranging from the classic incandescent kind to the more modern and high-tech LEDs.

Incandescent (the classic): The modern incandescent light bulb consists of 3 things: a long thin wire; a glass bulb and an inert Argon atmosphere so that you don’t have to fetch the ladder every week. The physics behind this is really simple. The current in the tungsten filament (the long thin wire) heats it up, causing it to glow. This glow travels through the bulb into your eyes. Next. 

Halogen (the common): This uses the same principle as the Incandescent lightbulb, being the thin tungsten filament, but it is built better in order to make it more efficient and longer lasting. The key difference is that along with the argon, it also has some halogen-based compounds such as Hydrogen Bromide. The main problem with the durability of the classic lightbulbs was that the tungsten would shoot off the filament (infrequently) and firmly deposit itself on the bulb. This meant that the filament lasted a smaller amount of time and over time the inside of the bulb became covered in tungsten, affecting the amount of light that got through. The Hydrogen Bromide effectively “captures” the stray tungsten atoms and returns them to the filament with some clever chemistry, which means the bulb lasts longer.

Sodium (the big): Sodium lamps are used in places like stadiums, sports halls and so on. Basically anywhere with a large room. These light bulbs are similar in the fact that they have a glass bulb. That’s it. Instead of a tungsten wire, they have vaporised sodium gas inside the bulb. As the current flows from one side of the bulb to the other, the Sodium atoms become excited (a technical term) and absorb some of the electrical energy and re-emit it as light. The main advantage these have over the fluorescent tube light kind (which work in basically the same way) is that these don’t emit much UV light. This means that the sports fans can watch the game in the stadium without the worry of dying from skin cancer, which is always a plus. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Short Story: 'You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties………'

by Fenella Johnson

Let's go,"Jase had said, when we got the invites, grinning with every muscle on his face, and it had seemed a good idea at the time."What are you worried about? They’re girls. They don't come from a different planet."

Exams were over and summer's heavy tendrils had wrapped the world into a cruel orange heat, and the rhythm of the days had sunk into my bones-and the hours slunk on. Jase and I were brothers in arms, best friends, and it seemed natural that we would go to a party together. We did everything else together. Everything except girls. Jase was good with girls, he always knew what to say, and even though he wasn't good looking, he had that self confidence that tricks you into thinking he is. I was still utterly aware of the contours of my stringy still-boyish body -- the fuzz on my chin, the straining of muscles still growing. Jase loped on ahead, uncaring.
This time it was no different. It was a sweltering airless summer and the weather swung between blazing sun and storms, and the morning had swung open like a switchblade, but now the rain was over and the evening was beginning to end softly like a tongue touching the roof of a mouth.
It was Julia, the girl who set next to me in the perpetual hell that was Maths, who had invited us but it was not her who answered the door. It was someone called Suzanne, who had strawberry lips and blonde hair, who took our offerings of cheap crisps. Jase took one look at her and I knew I'd lost him for the evening. He had disappeared with her, a hour ago, peering over his shoulder to demand me to make a move on the girl sitting next to me, but she was beautiful and so I had retreated to the relative safety of the kitchen, to nurse a lukewarm beer, glare at the nearby skinhead in a Metallica t-shirt and reflect on the music playing.
Earlier it had been Bowie, and before then Prince but now the record was nothing like I had ever heard before, a soft curious drumming beat, like hummingbird's wings. There was a singer crooning something, but I couldn't hear what, the lyrics escaping me every time.
Kitchens are good at parties-you don't need an excuse to be there, and there's drink and you don't look so lonely as you would standing by the dancing. It had become clear to me by now, that this was the wrong party-there was nobody here I knew but it was too late to go anywhere now and I didn't want to. There was something about the music and the people there; it was like you were in a half-world, and watching them from afar.
Two girls walked into the kitchen. The first headed towards the beer, and then the skinhead intercepted her, the second towards the tap. I dared to smile at her, she grinned wolfishly back. She had thin black hair, and a gap between her clean white teeth, and I spoke to her, because she was a girl and Jase said that was how you got girls.
 "Water- good idea, that’ll cool you down"
 She replied that she was and her voice-this is the thing, it was so unforgettable and at the same time completely forgettable and it was methodical, and in tune with the music.
 "What's your name?"
 "I have no name, “she said, “I was made imperfect."

Friday, 26 June 2015

Pride in Portsmouth

On the day that gay marriage was ruled constitutional by the US Supreme court, Dodo Charles recounts PGS' participation in Portsmouth's pioneering Gay Pride event.

Saturday marked the first Portsmouth Pride since 2003, and PGS Pride was lucky enough to be involved.

If you’ve never witnessed a Pride before, I feel the best way to emulate the mood and experience would be to actually just explain what it is: a sort of party. There are very few other occasions where you will march to the beat of a samba band, with a series of dancers, all whilst carrying giant banners.

We actually happened to be situated behind the samba band, at the front of the parade, complete with banners, and a mixture of pupils and teachers. The main purpose of Pride however, is not just to have fun and enjoy yourself, but it is part of a greater aim to spread acceptance and diversity, something that was shown prolifically by the turnout to the event.

After the march, there was an event on Southsea Common, where PGS had a stall, the main highlight of which was the free cake (although donations were welcomed…) that we were giving out. There was, of course, naturally, a stage where speakers such as Peter Tatchell spoke about the event and LGBT issues, and of course music classics (Hairspray incl)

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Top Five Trends for Summer

by Charlotte Povey

1. Crochet

This year we’ve seen the return of the legendary seventies style, crochet, comeback into limelight. All thanks to the appearance on the Chloe catwalk, this trend has taken off  at new heights. With dainty spaghetti straps to enhance the feminine side of you or a sleek shift dress style to add more edge to your outfit, I can guarantee you that crochet is acceptable at any event this summer.

2. Gladiators

Huge variations of sandals climbing up models legs were seen this spring at Paris fashion week; no doubt this is a fashion that will appear across stylish summer destinations this year. From Valentino to Balmain the warrior look can be interpreted alongside the bohemian lace-ups. This is a trend that ticks two boxes at once. Don’t fret, however, because if the knee-high option sounds too intimidating then ankle height gladiators are equally in this season. As long as there is latticed leather on your legs this vacation you will be working one of the favourite styles this year.

3. Off the shoulder

This is the perfect beach-to-bar trend this summer and it's bound to have heads turning. This gypsy-style can be paired with jeans and an off the shoulder top or dare to bare in a dress that incorporates this whole look. Bright colours can jazz up the look and golden jewels turn the daytime outfit into an elegant night outfit. Overall the off-the-shoulder trend is an all-rounder this summer.

4. Flares

As much as I personally hate to admit it, Flares are coming back onto the high street this summer. This is a surprisingly flattering trend that will elongate any legs. Bloggers, models and street-styles have exposed originating from the seventies this style. It is fair to say this trend has returned with vengeance.

PGS at Portsmouth Gay Pride, 2015

by Jo Morgan

Saturday June 20th was Portsmouth’s first Gay Pride parade. Thousands turned out to support the city’s LGBT community. Behind the samba band and leading the parade were staff, OPs and pupils from the nursery right through to the sixth form representing PGS Pride – the school’s society which aims to celebrate difference and help every pupil to feel proud of themselves. The PGS contingent were joined by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who has done much to fight for LGBT equality around the world. After the parade, the team promoted the great things they do and raised funds for next year’s parade by selling rainbow cakes at the variety show on Southsea Common. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

How Drug Legalisation Can Be Made To Work

by Loren Dean

Drugs have been used by a wide span of the population for various reasons since their discovery; therefore, the act of illegality in the UK is a relatively new concept. It came about because of a significant increase in usage in under 16's in the 1960s - the Misuse Of Drugs Act was brought in in 1971 to tackle the problem of underage usage. Since then there have been strong debates discussing the legalisation of drugs in the UK.

Drugs are dangerous. That is a fact and therefore there should be severe consequences and penalties for users who seem to ignore the risk. By making something legal this gives the false impression of safety around the substance, which is obviously untrue. According to the Drug Project and Journal of American Medical Association, 900,000 Americans die each year from substance abuse, alcohol and tobacco. The vast majority of these deaths are caused by the already-legal substances and it is thought that illegal drug abuse might be lower due to the criminal status of the substance; this therefore proves that the current drug laws are effective and should remain in place.

A common misconception of the term legalisation is that it means unregulated. If now-illegal drugs were made legal then they would have to be strictly regulated with age restrictions and the like, just like tobacco and alcohol now. The legalisation of illegal drugs would benefit society because, as of right now, drugs are a criminal paradise where there is not any regulation; as a result, there are a lot of backstreet concoctions of drugs which can be cut with anything from talcum powder to rat poison. Therefore, the main causes of deaths is that users do not ever 100% know what is going into their bodies; the difference between batches can be fatal.

It should not be forgotten that substances such as alcohol and tobacco are drugs that have become socially acceptable, so this may be the concern that we need to change the mindset of the nation. The negative effects that legal drugs have on our society are far more evident than illegal drugs on the street. For example, alcohol disrupts judgement, causing deaths of innocent third-party victims as a result of accidents like drink-driving collisions. 90,000 British citizens per year die from smoking and tobacco causes a large variety of cancers for example lung or oral cancer. This is a major concern as these numbers may skyrocket if all illegal drugs become legal. It is known that cannabis - currently a Class B drug - is forty times more deadly than a single cigarette when smoked; if this was legalised too, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Because drugs are illegal, there is a fluctuating black market system by which the cost of drugs increases and so users are more likely to commit crimes to obtain money for expensive drugs. There was a case where a young man stole diamonds worth $160 thousand to pay for a few wraps of marijuana which proves the extent someone will go to pay for a $20 drug wrap. If drugs were  legalised, it would mean cheaper prices with no need for a black market so no need for drug-related crime to settle the debts of expensive drugs.

It is thought that a positive argument for the legalisation of drugs is that they can be taxed; however, this is very short-sighted and can lead to the development of a black market for tax evaders and those who cannot afford taxes but are already heavily reliant on drugs who thus may commit crimes - this starts the whole vicious cycle related to drugs all over again as a direct result of legalisation.

On the other hand, it is also known that the most effective means of drug-use reduction is educating the younger generations of the dangers in schools; coupled with the deterrents of jail sentences and a criminal record this may be the way forward for the future. The problem is that we need to deter the next generation of drug users away from drugs; then there would be no need for legalisation or illegality but 90% of minors are introduced to drugs and are exposed to the criminal lifestyle by their parents or immediate carers. This needs to be stopped.

However, proof that legalising drugs can work is Portugal.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Poem for Monday: The Long-Life Option

by Sally Filho

The long-life option

High-fibre bran
Kicked off the plan
and the long-life option irrevocably began.

Every slice of meat was trimmed,
Every pint of milk was skimmed.
The peanut butter hit the bin,
I locked away the biscuit tin.
I studied health-guide supplements,
Then stock-piled natural complements
With value-added nutrients.
The fridge converted to organic,
The camembert began to panic.

Empowered by vocabulary,
The regime conquered gradually,
Then veritable revolution
Reformed internal constitution.
My citrus acid allergies
Were blitzed by herbal remedies.
Complex carbohydrates
Usurped the ruling saturates and
Attacked the pro-coagulants.

Bio-cultures all the rage,
Progressively defying age.
Pure-bred fats now hard to trace,
My cupboard, though, is losing space.
Since the invasion of their nation,
The shelves have filed for compensation.
Only paced negotiation
Might resolve the situation.
Every niche must strive for peace
And vitamins should slow-release...
I think Im in for life!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

There's No Such Thing as 'Reverse Racism': Why We Need To Be More Racially Aware

by Ayesha Gyening

I feel like it is really important to educate others on the use of this word because many feel like this word is a form of cool slang that can be thrown around when in reality it is a slur.

Although many artists (all of them black) use the n word in their songs and it's becoming a part of popular culture due to social media and the popularisation of black culture, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a good reason that it is only appropriate for black people to use the word.

The term has been used to oppress and degrade black people for centuries, from the sixteenth century onwards, and is associated with the lynching, raping and enslavement black people had to face as well as other forms of repression. Therefore, this word has a deep historical meaning and it is a hate-filled word.

Why the word is still used

Some black people believe that by reclaiming it they are taking away the power and hatred and giving it a different meaning. It’s a way to defy the oppression that they faced and are still facing.

 However, not all black people condone the use of the word. Oprah for example doesn’t say it and dislikes the use of the word, as it’s a reminder of the oppression and degradation she faced growing up in twentieth century America.
This is a word that no one but black people can use, no matter the context, without it connoting centuries of oppressive and degrading treatment. Whilst other people of colour are oppressed too, because they didn’t have to go through slavery it is not right for them to say it. The racism in today’s society emphasises why the term is exclusive to black people as they are still being oppressed.

Reverse Racism

Today, many people like to think that ‘racism is over’, especially given the fact that there is a black president in the White House. People of all ethnic backgrounds have equal rights to a certain extent, and for many it may be hard to see that racism is ongoing because we have become desensitised to it. Growing up in a racist society where it is a dominant ideology perpetuated by the media, therefore it has been ingrained in white people to such a level that it may be hard to identify. Racism is prejudice which has power behind it. Although people of colour can be prejudiced against other races, they do not have a system of structured support that backs them. 

Poem for Sunday: ?

by Kelvin Shiu

Abrupt, powerful, forceful.
Words which echo without being said.
No vibrations created.
No physical sounds.
No wind, no air, no nothing...just darkness.
Denial, followed by more denial.
What comes next?
The sharpness of the sting resonates through the body like a wave of toxic fumes crawling away within you.
When will it stop, when will you find the tunnel of light, the key to your prison.
Is there light, or just darkness followed by more.
Why not just overcome the black with red?
Why not terminate your purgatory? But then again.
Are you more than that?
Are you more than what THEY think you are.
"I don't know" may just be defined as "I don't care".
You are no anchor, you aren't strong.
Your anchor is rotting away at the hands of others as they watch ignorantly unaware of your pain, unaware of your desire for it all to stop. Not just this but everything.
Should you let them allow it to crumble and incinerate in flames, or should you slice away the fires of your heart leeching at every droplet of blood you own?
No one will help, no one really wants to help.
Why don't you say no.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

How United is America?

by Lauren Robson-Skeete

Mourners remembering the nine members of the Emanuel church
in Charleston, SC, shot dead by white supremacist Dylann Roof
Racial tensions in the United States are reaching disproportional levels since the eruption of the Michael Brown case and subsequent innocent killings - most typically a white officer targeting members of the black community. The abhorrent number of incidents appearing on the news is all too worrying as it is quickly becoming the ‘norm’ to witness yet another death in the media. 

In a recent survey conducted by Gallup it was found that in the beginning of 2014 the most important problem facing the US considered by black Americans was race relations at 3% and this rapidly surged to 13% by 2015 (see chart below). Comparatively, only 1% of white Americans viewed this as the most pressing issue and the figures only rose to 4% as being the most important problem facing the US. Interestingly, these statistics alone, if only on a relatively small scale, highlight the stark divide in culture in America and the poignant epidemic of violent deaths of black people in America - proving just how disunited the ‘United’ States of America is.

These issues came to the forefront after eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot twelve times in Ferguson by officer Darren Wilson.  Wilson was acquitted of his death despite disputable evidence (particularly as Brown was unarmed). The media surrounding this case propelled the issue, and subsequently peaceful and violent protest erupted out of outrage at the verdict and even after such a tragedy the Ferguson police force's handling of the protesters was criticised for being unnecessarily brutal. Simultaneously, it sparked a number of questions concerning police bias and corruption coupled with the problems surrounding the use of guns and their very real consequences. Seemingly, lessons can and should be learned from other advanced countries where gun control is far tighter and clearly there is a strong correlation between the carrying of guns and the number of deaths.

In some cases, however, it is plausible to argue that to a certain degree (perhaps if critiqued and examined thoroughly in the areas where there is discontent) that the police officers’ acquittals could be justified due to lack of evidence. However, it is unequivocally clear that there is an overwhelming police bias as only in the past month video evidence of Walter Scott (who was unarmed) running away from officer Michael Slager in south Carolina showed him being killed after being shot eight times. Critically in this case the officer was charged with murder, but it still elicits the question as to why only with absolute undisputable evidence (like video footage) will an officer be charged with murder, whereas in other situations there would be far greater insight into finding out the truth had the victim not been black.

Additionally, nine more innocent people were shot dead by Dylann Roof only this week, as they were praying in a historical African American church - the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston - a place that should provide devout protection. This vicious attack is being treated as a hate crime by the police. It would be thought that these horrific problems would signify an end to the issue but with an all-too-recent attack, particularly in such a holy setting such as a church, the land of the free does not seem to be very free at all.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Second Battle of Ypres

by Will Pearson

The Second Battle of Ypres is historically significant for being the only major offensive initiated by the German military at the Western Front. But, most infamously, this battle also served as a test for releasing chlorine gas as a weapon of mass destruction.

In total, there were six major military engagements over the course of the Battle of Ypres. The first engagement took place on April 22, 1915 and the last would commence on September 25, 1915. The German army would face multiple allied nations during the battle with a collective of troops from Canada, Africa, France, Britain, India, Belgium, and Newfoundland.

Germany wished to gain an advantage over the Allied Forces at the Eastern front where defeating the Russians proved to be extremely difficult. Through launching an attack on a Belgian city, the attention of the Allied Forces could be diverted. The attack itself was not even considered successful, as the German army was never able to actually take the town.

The end result of the battle was a harsh one. The German army suffered roughly 35,000 casualties, while the Allied forces would lose over 70,000. The civilians of Ypres also suffered gravely. When the German army realised they could not take the town, they instead launched a bombardment onto it, during which the entire town was destroyed, and rebuilding it would continue for decades.

The Battle of Ypres was not the first instance of using chemical weapons in World War I. Prior uses and attempts occurred, but they were failures. In the Battle of Bolimov, for instance, cold weather turned the gas into liquid, turning it completely void.

'Gassed', painted by John Singer Sargent, 1919
In Ypres, beginning with the first engagement at Gravenstafel, gas warfare would take on an deadly new turn. German troops bombarded French, Algerian and other allied troops with heavy artillery. Soon after, the Germans unleashed 170 tons of gas on the battlefield. An odd green and yellow mist travelled from the German position to where the French troops were located, causing mass panic and casualties.
The gas eventually covered around four miles of the Allied lines. The effects were devastating. Within ten minutes, 10,000 troops were killed as the gas suffocated them, and approximately 2,000 troops were sickened, blinded, or made incapable of fighting. They were all then captured as prisoners of war.
After this initial bombardment, the German infantry advanced, but military leaders were very wary of being overconfident. The orders were given not to continue forward, which made it clearly impossible to completely take the town. This is not to suggest in any way the attack did not deliver major results. The Allied front line in Belgium was extremely weakened as a result.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Spanish Inquisition – the Torture of Accused Heretics

by Ethan Creamer

The Spanish Inquisition was established by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, with the reluctant approval of Pope Sixtus IV in the issuing of the Papal Bull Exigit sinceras devotionis affectus in 1478, which allowed an inquisitorial tribunal consisting of two or three priests over the age of 40. Following the 1491 Treaty of Granada, the Reconquista had eventually succeeded, whereby Spain was fully recaptured from North African Moors in 1492 and this had set the scene for further persecution of Muslim and Jewish minorities in Spain as they were a threat to religious uniformity – which was equal to a politically seditious threat in early modern Europe. The reformation, led by staunch Protestant figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, unsettled the religious homogeny of Europe, and the ‘Most Catholic Kings of Spain’ sought to ensure that their dominions remained loyal to Roman Catholicism in the face of the Protestant Reformation and more notably the remnants of the communities of Jewish and Muslim faith in Spain, and that all subjects of Spain were to profess true faith in Catholicism.

The overall aim of the Inquisition was to ensure that Heretics – those not wholly faithful to Orthodox Roman Catholicism - in Spain were routed out and tried. The following groups were the subject of repeated investigations by Spanish Inquisitors:
(a)    Conversos - Jews who had converted to Christianity from Judaism.
(b)   Moriscos – remaining North African Muslims (moors) largely living Southern Spain who had converted to Christianity.
N.B. Often forced to convert.
(c)    ‘Witches’ – those accused of practicing magic/folk magic/those not fitting into the norms of society/those accused of ‘conspiring with Satan’/those accused of making diabolical pacts/pagans/women accused of harbouring sexual appetites for demonic entities etc…..
(d)   Cathars – anti-Trinitarian Christians, who followed Sabellianism and were pacifists and even anti-capital punishment (all but unheard of in early modern Europe!)
(e)    ‘Blasphemers’
(f)     ‘Sodomites’
(g)    ‘Bigamists’
(h)   Lutherans – followers of the German Protestant reformer Martin Luther, rejected traditional Catholic views of transubstantiation in the Communion Rite. Starting under King Phillip II from 1558 onwards.
(i)     Intellectuals and Clerics interested in works of Erasmus – an influential reformer and a Humanist.
(j)      Freemasons
(k)   Alumbrados/Illuminists– practitioners of a mystical form of Christianity, who believed that the reception of the Holy Sacraments was useless.
If you were unlucky enough to be a member of one of these groups, perhaps falsely accused of heresy, or so much as aroused the suspicion of an Inquisitor you may well find yourself a victim of torture at the hands of the Inquisition to extract a confession - in fact even St Ignatius of Loyola (the Founder of the Jesuit Order in 1541) found himself questioned on numerous occasions being subject to questioning by the Inquisition.
Below is a roundup of ten of the most stomach-churning, gruesome and painful methods of torture used to extract confessions of Heresy by the Spanish Inquisition:

1.      The pulley: known as the strappado or the garrucha this was the first method of torture the Inquisition usually applied. Executioners would hoist the victim up to the ceiling using a rope with their hands tied securely behind their back. They were then suspended about six feet from the floor. In this position, heavy iron weights, usually amounting to about 45 kg, were attached to their feet. The executioners would then pull on the rope, then suddenly allowing it to slack causing the victim to fall.

2.      The rack: a favourite of the Inquisition. A rectangular frame, with a roller at one or both ends. The victim's ankles are fastened to one roller and the wrists are chained to the other handle and ratchet mechanism attached to the top roller are used to very gradually increase the tension on the chains, inducing excruciating pain, straining the ropes until the sufferer's joints were dislocated and eventually separated. Additionally, if muscle fibres are stretched excessively, they lose their ability to contract, rendering them ineffective.


3.      ‘The Pear of Anguish’ – quite possibly one of the most gruesome and painful methods. This device would be inserted into an appropriate orifice – those accused of Blasphemy the mouth, those accused of sodomy into the anus, and women accused of adultery, incest or of ‘sexual union with Satan or his familiars’ in the vagina. There was no set mode of use for generic Heretics, with freedom bestowed upon the Torturer. The instrument would then be progressively expanded, and I’m sure not much is left to the imagination………

4.      ‘The Turtle’ – the accused Heretic would be placed under a wooden board, and large stones placed on top, causing crushing pain and slow suffocation.

5.      ‘The Iron Boot’ affectionately known as bootikens – designed to crush the foot and legs. These were boots that went from the person's ankles to knees. Wedges were hammered up the length of the boot into the person's leg, breaking and crushing bones as it went.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Coping with the Stress of Summer?’

by Sophie Whitehead

Its June. The first glance of the untypically British sun (an unknown phenomenon for the most of the year) finally (very slightly of course) pokes its head out and immediatelyits BBQ time! Records show that the most commonly used BBQ meats; chicken, beef burgers, sausages peak to their highest point in the early June times which can be only put down to the classic Brit, fed up with their Sunday roast and frosty nights, dying to embrace the more al fresco way of living and copying a dining style from our Mediterranean friends across the sea. Spirits soar, the hair garland makes a reappearance from the wardrobe (where it was stuffed after last year's Reading Festival) and it's suddenly time for the soul to relax and the fun to begin. The mind is so clogged with facts and figures, largely stored up for a big exam at the end of the year, it is dying for a break and the two months off can be seen as a sought after hero in disguise for eradicating that tired feeling and preparing for the new year.

However. There has always got to be a however. For many, this sudden weight of relief to know you have a specified time off school, college, work - wherever you may be - can be an unforeseen burden in itself. How do I make sure I spend it right? To go from having no time to, in many cases, what can be seen as too much time can lead to a very stressful scenario. 

Never before in the year have you had to ask yourself what shall I do? because it has always been answered for you by the list of emails that need to be answered by an hour ago, the stack of assignments that need to be completed or even the lack of sleep that you are desperately trying to recover. Until now. An ironic paradox begins to form which sees a small part of yourself begging for the hectic schedule you had around the December/Christmas period and longing for a sense of the mind-numbingly boring monotony of day-to-day life - because at least its a plan; an organised ritual that can be completed without too much brain work. When summer raises its lazy head it brings with it a host of promises that cannot always be completed. So where to start? How to ensure that the summer of 2K15 is the best it can possibly be?

*    Try and plan a little ahead of time so you have things to look forward to so that the two months off dont fizzle by unnoticed. An event will break up the time, allow you to gather your bearings and ensure you have great memories to cherish for the rest of the year.

*    Be chilled. Not everything will go to plan. Dont feel the large expanse of time as a burden but rather embrace every little opportunity that is presented to you. A Yes man (or woman) is largely much more exciting than one who constantly turns down things afraid of what the outcome could be.

*    Never too many memories! Never too many pictures! Even if everything you snap is completely rubbish when later reviewed you can smile at the frame-freezed event you captured.

*    Obviously everyones summer will be different. Some want to volunteer and travel to places they haven't had the chance to throughout the year. Some prefer a more casual beach trip or simply catching up with an old friend while others take up a new hobby or get a job to help fund the next year of fun. Dont define a successful summer by anything than your own standards. It doesn't matter if a friend went to Barbados and swam with turtles, if you did something you love then why does it matter? And yes that sounds ridiculously cliched and overused, but the bottom line is that summer is when you can try out new things and not be judged for it. You can finally release those pressures that haunt throughout the year and just live a little. As the Spanish say live la vida loca.

Here are my top tips: