‘Ciao, bella’: Women surge into Italian Cabinet.
After two months of political gridlock, Italy’s new Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, has made history in Italy by appointing the greatest number of women MPs to the Cabinet than any previous Italian government. Shockingly, the proportion of women in Italian politics until the last election was, according to a study by the Inter Parliamentary Union, substantially lower than that in Afghanistan. The country now has seven women in the Cabinet, a reflection of the increased numbers in Parliament. A revolution in the status of women in Italy has commenced, with a shift in their perceived status and role in politics.
Contrary to his pre-election promises, previous Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi managed to appoint only four women to the 21-strong Cabinet. Furthermore, his choices perhaps did more harm than good to the reputation of female politicians: during his premiership, and amid much controversy, Berlusconi appointed former ‘Miss Italy’ contestant and topless model Mara Carfagn to the role of Equalities Minister. In contrast, Enrico Letta has given two of the four most important government roles to women: Emma Bonin, a former EU commissioner has taken over the job of Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Anna Maria Cancellieri has accepted control of the judicial portfolio. The Minister in charge of education – one of the biggest spending departments in Italy is also female – Maria Chiara Carrozza from the country’s left-wing Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD).
Natalia Augias, political correspondent for the state-owned RAI television network said:
“In Berlusconi’s governments, women were selected very much on the basis of – how can I say this – their personal, external characteristics. Letta has chosen his women ministers for their competence alone”.
Enrico Letta needs competent people in power. Heading up a coalition between PD and the right-wing PdL (the ‘People of Freedom party’, over which Silvio Berlusconi, while not in Cabinet, still exerts great influence) will not be easy, and Italy faces severe ongoing economic problems and austerity measures. Unemployment is at 11.6%, rising to a massive 37.8% among young people. More than 31,000 companies collapsed in the first quarter of 2013 (the highest figure since 2004), and over recent weeks a record number of suicides reportedly linked to financial despair have dominated the headlines.
The new Italian Cabernet therefore has much to contend with over the coming months, and needs to approach policy and economic and planning with caution. Any divisions in the party will surely be seized by Silvio Berlusconi, who, with a recent surge in popularity, will no doubt be watching the situation with keen interest, planning when to make his next play for power. For the new women in Cabinet there is the additional battle of reversing deep-seated perceptions about their roles: when introduced, Silvio Berlusconi made a point of kissing the hand of new agriculture minister, Nunzia De Girolamo; and rather than focusing on her accomplishments, one Italian newspaper preferred to draw attention to her ‘chestnut hair and dark eyes’. The challenges ahead – political, societal and economic – are huge, but supporters are confident that Enrico Letta and his Cabinet will be able to tackle these.
For further information:
If you are interested in issues like this then you may be interested in our Politics Summer School on the 29th July – 2nd August.
Art History: Colour me surprised!
The Van Gogh museum has recently revealed that the colours in Van Gogh’s paintings are not quite as vibrant as the original colours the artist used in the 1880s and that despite conservation efforts, these have faded over time. Van Gogh is known for his expressive use of colour and it will come as a surprise to many that these colours are paler than the artist originally painted. The discovery will be presented in the new exhibition in Amsterdam called “Van Gogh at Work”, which explores the connection between the skills and techniques of Van Gogh’s painting style and the finished pieces. As an artist, he was known for his unusual methods, as Jonathon Jones writes in the Guardian:
“Van Gogh painted on everything from raw jute to, when he was short of cash, a dishcloth… he regularly reused his canvases, painting over early works. A flower painting in the show has a painting of wrestlers by Van Gogh concealed under it. When he wanted to keep a painting, he sometimes painted on the back: two brown studies for his early work The Potato Eaters have later, vibrant self-portraits on their reverse.”
The reaction to this discovery has brought up an important question: why does it matter that the colours have faded when we can appreciate the beauty in the works as they stand today?
Colour poses a problem for art historians, in terms of both conserving it and understanding it. Artists use often use colour to express emotion in their works, but it is difficult to gauge just how these are going to be perceived subjectively by the spectators. This becomes increasingly difficult for art historians who try to document the use or meaning of colour in works of art painted centuries ago.
It seems strange to think of colour as something subjective. Were someone to tell us that the sky were green on a clear blue day then we would instinctively feel that they were wrong, but colour must perceived subjectively, the colours that we describe or respond to in a painting are not objective even though as a society we ascribe objective terms to these colours like ‘blue’, ‘pink’, ‘light’ etc.
Taking the problem of faded colours to the extreme, art historians were shocked to discover that the cream or white Greek marble statues of antiquity, that we know so well, were actually painted in bright colours. The Greeks thought of their gods in living colour and portrayed them that way too. The temples that housed them were also in colour, though time and weather have stripped most of the hues away. In the 19th century, the excavations of the Ancient Greek and Roman sites uncovered great numbers of statues and traces of the colour were visible even then. As Matthew Gurewitsch writes for The Smithsonian Museum:
“Some of these traces are still visible to the naked eye even today, though much of the remaining color faded, or disappeared entirely, once the statues were again exposed to light and air. Some of the pigment was scrubbed off by restorers whose acts, while well intentioned, were tantamount to vandalism.”
Colour, or the lack thereof, was in fact so important to these restorers working in the 19th century that to envisage these statues from the classical era as colourful seemed intolerable. In fact, the Renaissance masters modelled their great marble works like Michaelangelo’s “David” on these pure, white Greek sculptures. The German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann has done extensive research to replicate these statues in their original techicolour form. An example of his work is pictured below – this shows a replica of c. 490 B.C. sculpture of an archer originally found at the Temple of Aphaia on the Greek Island of Aegina. To our eyes now, this statue looks bizarre but would have fit in well with the bright surroundings of the Greek temples.
Colour has been used by art historians to explain surprising discoveries of religious sculpture in early 17th Century German buildings. During the Reformation, idolatry was condemned and iconoclasm resulted in large amounts of decorative religious statues and ornaments being destroyed in this period. But, Tara Hamling discovered that some religious statues and relief sculptures were even commissioned during this time for the homes of protestants. Interestingly, all these sculptures were plain white or cream. Hamling assesses that in fact these sculptures were only permitted on the basis that they must be colourless, indicating that it was the colour itself that was seen as problematic for religious worship
“The Second Commandment specifies that man must not make a ‘likeness of anything that is in heaven above’…the application of colour to an image contributed to towards a closer likeness and was therefore suspect…firstly it was an act of deception resulting in a false and lying appearance. Second, this deceitful image could seduce and corrupt, and lead to the sin of idolatry”
The recent discovery of the faded colours of Van Gogh’s work is posing the questions for art historians about what this discovery means. Does it matter that the paintings are less vibrant? Does it alter our reading of these? How might the colours in their original format have looked and how might that have shaped the reaction of the contemporaries that viewed them?
One thing is for certain; understanding colour is not quite black and white.
For further information about this subject see:
If you are interested in topics like this then you might be interested in our Art History Summer School on the 19th-23rd August.
Medicine: Problems of rash decisions over MMR
The recent outbreak of measles in Swansea has caused serious concerns for the health of the city’s inhabitants. Under current investigation by a coroner, is the fatality of a 25-year old man who is suspected to have died of measles which if this case is confirmed, it will be the first death from measles since 2008. So far, the cases of measles in the area have totaled over 800. Parents have been advised as a matter of urgency to schedule an MMR vaccine for their children. In relation to the fatality, Maria Lyon – director of health protection for Public Health Wales has said:
“My sympathies are with the family at such a tragic time. Whatever the cause of death in this case, we should not be surprised if, as the outbreak grows, we start to see deaths in Wales. Measles is a potentially fatal disease and around one in every 1,000 people who contracts measles in developed countries will die…We know that there are unprotected people in all age groups but we have particular concerns about the 10-to-18 age group. The MMR vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organisation, UK Department of Health and Public Health Wales as the most effective and safe way to protect children against measles.”
Those who have not completed the full course of the vaccine are now at a severe risk of contracting the disease as it is highly contagious. Measles is an airborne virus and is spread through water droplets that are passed by coughing and sneezing. The disease initially presents as a bad cold or fever but soon develops into the well-known, all-over body rash. As it’s a viral infection, anti-biotics do not work and there are currently no drugs to treat measles. Once contracted, the virus should be fought off by the patient’s immune system within 7-10 days, though rarely, complications can occur such as meningitis, pneumonia, or hepatitis – especially in patients whose immune system is compromised.
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield wrote a paper in the Lancet, which claimed to have identified a new syndrome which they called autistic enterocolitis, raising the possibility of a link between a novel form of bowel disease, autism, and the MMR vaccine. The paper itself did not assert that there was in fact a causal connection but in press interviews, Wakefield strongly advocated for the MMR vaccine to be withdrawn until the link could be proven. The report was later widely discredited and his paper was formally retracted by the Lancet. In 2010, Wakefield was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council (GMC), the most serious sanction the GMC could impose, for unethical conduct, improper evidence collection and serious professional misconduct:
“He had abused his position of trust and brought the medical profession into disrepute in studies he carried out on children.”
Sarah Ditum writing for the Guardian, has identified another contributor to the scare surrounding the MMR vaccine specific to South Wales that has perhaps contributed to the city’s recent outbreak. A series of articles were written in 1997 by the South Wales Evening Post investigating the possibility of negative effects from the vaccine. The campaign, a year before Wakefield’s article was released, decreased the uptake of the injection by almost 14% in the area. At the time, the coverage of the issue was applauded. The campaign even won a prize from the BT Wales Press Awards for its investigative reporting. The Post has defended its record by stating:
“Our campaign reflected the concerns of parents, it told their stories, it called for answers, it wanted clarity. What it did not do was tell people to avoid immunising their children.”
Although re-examining the articles, Ditum has suggested that the newspaper went beyond reporting the simple concerns of parents:
“The Post also seemed to downplay the risk of measles, reporting on 6 July 1998 that “not a single child has been hit by the illness‚ despite a 13% drop in take-up levels”. It’s not parents who should feel embarrassed by the Swansea measles outbreak: some may have acted from overt dread at the prospect of harming their child, and some simply from omission, but all were encouraged by a press that focused on non-existent risks and downplayed the genuine horror of the diseases MMR prevents. The shame belongs to journalists.”
Whatever the cause, the recent outbreak in Swansea has raised general concerns for the potential vulnerability of the generation of people who have not had the full vaccine course for MMR. A form of immunity, known as herd immunity, usually steps in to provide a measure of protection for those who are not immunized from an illness as the chains of infection for contagious disease are likely to be disrupted when large numbers of the population are immune. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the herd immunity threashold for measles is 83-94%. This threshold is now in jeopardy thanks to the scare surrounding the Wakefield paper, potentially causing a resurgence of a disease that would ordinarily be firmly under control.
For further information about this, please see:
If you are interested in issues like immunisations or medical ethics then you might be interested in our Medicine Summer School (Part Three) on 17th-18th August.
Law: Access for all with ‘Legislation for Dummies’?
Legislation passed by Parliament, known as statute law, can be very complicated. Many statutes are incomprehensible and inaccessible to those untrained in how to read and interpret legislation. The website www.legislation.gov.uk has already taken steps in order to improve public access to the law. The website is a national archive of legal and public records. The government often provides explanatory notes in order to concisely explain the measures that are covered by the legislation although these tend to simply repeat the same complex terminology found in the act itself.
In 2002, the government, recognising the importance of educating students about the law and politics, introduced Citizenship to the National Curriculum. Citizenship is aimed at encouraging students to become responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society. The syllabus focuses on democracy, parliament, government, the justice system, human rights and the UK’s relations with the wider world. While useful, the syllabus inevitably falls short of equipping students to understand the law and although the subject is currently compulsory for 11-16 year olds, this does not help those who missed its introduction.
Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, released a report released last week entitled “When Laws Become Too Complex”, which called for legislation to be made easier to understand so that those that find themselves governed by regulations in their working or daily lives may access these with ease:
“We should regard the current degree of difficulty with law as neither inevitable nor acceptable…Most European countries have set up processes to simplify national legislation and established departments dedicated entirely to better regulation and reform of the law… users would like legislation that is simple, accessible, easy to comply with and not unnecessarily burdensome, at present those are not the features of modern legislation”
The report, recognises the improvements that the digital age has made in enabling those who seek legislation to find it, but that once found, it’s incomprehensibility renders it’s accessibility pointless. The language used in legislation has been criticised by the report as “intricate and intimidating”. Heaton, in his position, is also responsible for improving the drafting of bills in order to ensure they are clear and concise:
“The volume of legislation, its piecemeal structure, its level of detail and frequent amendments, and the interaction with common law and European law, mean that even professional users can find law complex, hard to understand and difficult to comply with. Excessive complexity hinders economic activity, creating burdens for individuals, businesses and communities. It obstructs good government. It undermines the rule of law.”
The rule of law, in this instance, is the principle that law must be enforced effectively and conform with certain unwritten, universal principles of fairness, morality, and justice that transcend human legal systems. Coupling this with the principle, Ignorantia juris non excusat – that ignorance of the law is no excuse (the latin phrasing only serves to emphasise the entrenched complexity in our legal system), means that everyone is subject to laws even if they are unaware of the provisions.
Kristztina Morvai, now an MEP for Hungary that works closely with the UN Women’s Rights committee as an advocate for Palestinian women’s rights, wrote a paper on the accessibility to justice for human right violations under the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This landmark article brought the issue of public legal understanding of the ECHR process to light. Morvai describes claims made by impoverished people, victims of human rights violations that were incapable due to a lack of education to grasp the complex ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy of filing such a claim to the court. Morvai describes her experience of dealing with a particular claim by a woman whose land had been unlawfully annexed:
“My superior instructed me to send a P8 form letter, stating that ‘no public authority can be held responsible for the alleged violation’. Fearing that I would be exposed as ignorant of the Law, I nonetheless risked the question ‘Is this not state action?’ My Superior was not looking as European as he did five minutes earlier. He was angry. ‘We do not need much theory here, Kristztina. We have to do the Law and we have enough work with that.’ I sent the P8 form letter to the applicant. She never came back. A pity she missed her classes on state action at Harvard Law School and therefore did not know how to argue against the P8.”
Recognition that not everyone can afford legal advice is important in a democratic society and with the cuts to legal aid under the current government, the call for a more accessible legal system could not be coming at a more important time. Though, the lack of legal aid can never be fully rectified by the improvement of legal clarity for the general public, it does take steps towards at least providing some help to those who need legal assistance – as long as they are in fact able to help themselves.
Legislation is prolific and some acts of parliament remain unrepealed from as far back as 1267 (notably, the language of these older acts is so outdated that it is almost unfathomable to most). Over the past ten years, the government passed on average around 38 acts per year and since 1983 more than 4,000 criminal offences were created. Secondary legislation, also known as delegated legislation, has also doubled since the 1980s. In a system where ignorance of a crime or law is unaccepted as a defence, access to law and the ability to comprehend its meaning is imperative.
Sometimes law needs to be intricate, to leave law undefined or vague creates problems by increasing the level of interpretation that has to be undertaken by judges by increasing court time and cost as well as poorly informing the public. That said, the problem of overly-complex legislation has confused us for centuries, as Edward VI complains back in the 16th Century:
“I wish that the superfluous and tedious statutes were brought into one sum together, and made more plain and short.”
Yet, the recent push for increased comprehensibility, coupled with the easy access provided by the internet can perhaps make legal eagles of us all.
For further information about this subject, please see:
If you are interested in issues like this then you might be interested in our Law Summer School (Part Two) running on the 31st July – 4th August
IR: Got 99 problems…but Cuba ain’t one
The singers Beyonce and Jay-Z have sparked controversy in the USA with their recent visit to Havana to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. For 53 years there has been a trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States. Under the terms of this embargo, US citizens are not technically prohibited from visiting Cuba, but it is illegal fro them to spend money in the country without a license from the Treasury. These licenses are usually restricted to journalists, students and citizens with Cuban relatives.
The first restrictions were imposed on Cuba in October 1960, in retaliation to the decision of the Cuban government to nationalise the property of American citizens and companies. In February 1962, President John F Kennedy extended these trade restrictions into a near watertight embargo. The embargo was lapsed by Jimmy Carter in 1977, but this was re-imposed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, when the President simultaneously tightened immigration requirements for Cuban nationals entering the USA.
The measures taken against Cuba were codified into law under the Cuban Democracy Act stating that the sanctions would be maintained so long as the Cuban government refuses to move toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights”. The American government then pushed these sanctions further under the Helms-Burton Act which restricts US citizens engage in business with Cuba and in fact prevents any public/private assistance to be given to any successor government without stringent conditions being met. Hilary Clinton, the Secretary of State, feels the ban on Cuban-American family travel should be lifted, stating that “Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for democracy, freedom and a free-market economy”.
Despite the strict rules on visiting Cuba, the embargo is regularly flouted by US citizens, who circumvent the restrictions by entering Cuba via countries such as Mexico or Canada, and lying to officials on their return. If caught, the offence carries a maximum of ten years imprisonment. The flexibility of the American people’s attitude extends to Congress, with President Kennedy asking his press secretary Pierre Salinger to pop across to Cuba and buy 1,200 of his favourite brand of Petit H Upmann Cuban cigars immediately before prohibiting trade in 1962.
The embargo has been met with fierce criticism and the UN General Assembly has passed over twenty resolutions against the US embargo of Cuba (for its most recent resolution in 2012, see: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/67/4). The embargo has had a drastic effect on the health of the Cuban population causing malnutrition and poor access to particular US-produced drugs. The embargo has also had an impact on breast cancer, which has been raised by the US-Cuba Medical Project, a humanitarian organisation dedicated to sending medical supplies to Cuba and was confirmed in a report by the UN Refugee Agency:
“More than 1,000 women in Cuba die of breast cancer each year and many of these deaths can be ascribed to the United States economic embargo. Before the early 1990′s every Cuban woman over 35 received regular mammograms and comprehensive early detection programs were in place throughout the country. Today, as a result of the [embargo], spare parts for the best mammography equipment, produced only by U.S. companies or subsidiaries, are not available and equipment is in disrepair. Shortages in medicines and supplies are having an equally devastating effect.”
Daniel Griswold, Director of the Cato Institute’s Centre for Trade Policy studies, writing for the Guardian emphasises the futility of the embargo:
“The embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more free. At the same time, it has deprived Americans of their freedom to travel and has cost US farmers and other producers billions of dollars of potential exports.”
Politically, US politicians continue to pay lip service to the embargo, and the recent visit by Beyonce and Jay Z (whose visit was fully licensed by the US authorities) has attracted debate and criticism. In an open letter to the office of foreign assets control, two members of Congress called for an investigation into the Carters’ visit to Cuba. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote:
“Despite the clear prohibition against tourism in Cuba, numerous press reports described the couple’s trip as tourism and the Castro regime touted it as such in its propaganda. US dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people”.
The criticism of the singers is also leveled at the Obama administration, with the implication the President’s office was complicit in granting the license. The couple are close to President Obama, with Jay-Z appearing as the warm-up act in many of Obama’s election campaigns, and Beyonce famously lip-synched the national anthem at the President’s recent second inauguration.
For further information, please see:
If you are interested in issues such as this then you may wish to attend our International Relations Summer School on the 5th-9th August.
Philosophy: The value in being bored by Art
Wandering around a dull and boring gallery is unfortunately an experience that many people know very well. Having a spectator unable to find any piece of work to catch their interest would usually be an artist’s worst nightmare. Yet perhaps not all artists would feel that way, Andy Warhol famously said, “I like boring things”; something that was certainly reflected in some of his videos and films in the 1960s.
In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art in New York launched the ‘Andy Warhol Motion Pictures’ exhibition, which focused on Warhol’s work in film and specifically its relation to time and boredom. Curators for the exhibition developed an online experience for the public to participate in creating work in the style of Andy Warhol’s iconic films. People could upload silent and uneventful screen tests for an online gallery. The site is still live here: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/warhol/. One of the curators described viewing the hundreds of entries as “perfectly boring” but still maintained there was value in the project:
“As our lives have become increasingly distracted and the Internet has become bloated with more input and content, there is something calming and eerily disturbing about a silent person staring back at you.”
This question of boredom arises again in relation to Andy Warhol with the upcoming release of his film stills at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) here in London. Some stills of Warhol’s most famous films will go on show including Sleep, Vinyl and Chelsea Girls. To pick Sleep as an example, it is quite plainly a five-hour long film where Warhol videos his partner sleeping. Though some critics applauded Warhol’s use of film in capturing the rawness of avant-garde, 1960s New York, the question remains open as to why Warhol decided almost undoubtedly to bore his audience with five-hour long marathon movies with almost no action. The answer might lie in Warhol’s comment on the earlier quote:
“I’ve been quoted a lot as saying ‘I like boring things’. Well I said it and I mean it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not bored by them”
His movie Empire takes this to the extreme with over eight-hours of footage showing the Empire State building. As Lars Svensden says in his book ‘The Philosophy of Boredom’, Warhol had an “uncompromising insistence on meaninglessness”. Indeed Warhol himself stated that “if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning”
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger gave perhaps the most extensive consideration to the phenomenon of boredom in his lectures on the “Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics” and asserted that there was value in being bored and that it is in boredom that we question the philosophical understanding of ourselves and our relation to the world.
Perhaps with regards to his film Sleep, Warhol saw this value in boredom and in turn, intended to bore his audience. One thing is for certain; it would be hard not to show empathy for the protagonist of Sleep, by falling asleep during its five-hour epic runtime.
For further information about this topic please see:
If you are interested in subjects like this then you might be interested in our Philosophy Summer School running on the 5th-9th August and repeated on the 19th-23rd August or our Art History Summer School on the 19th-23rd August.
English Literature: T. S. Eliot inspires Bowie?
In the current enthusiasm for all things David Bowie, accompanying the release of an acclaimed new album, some interesting articles from the past have been resurfacing – including the idea that Bowie might have drawn some of his lyrical inspiration from the influential Modernist poet T.S.Eliot. In an interview with William Burroughs in 1979, the novelist asked Bowie whether he consciously drew on literary influences, since his 8-line poem about a cactus contains verbal echoes of Eliot’s poem ‘The Hollow Men’ (follow-up to his seminal work ‘The Waste Land’ from 1922). The artist himself claims innocence or ignorance, depending which way you want to look at it.
But what does it mean to us as listeners and readers that Bowie’s lyric seems to echo Eliot’s text?
Burrough’s question points to the fascinating question of allusion, or the echoes of previous texts that so frequently occur in literature, not to mention other cultural expressions. For some, it’s a challenging idea, suggesting that you might only be able to really grasp the meaning if you can follow and trace all the sources that made up its creation. For others, it’s liberating: for in considering the connotations and qualities that belong to the related work, you might find new meanings, and new ideas in the primary object of your attention (poem or Bowie lyric). Whether or not the artist intended it, as a reader you can enrich your experience by putting texts alongside each other.
Eliot himself was a master manipulator of those relationships between texts which modern critical theory labels “intertextuality”. In ‘The Waste Land’, a long and complex poem considering the apparent decline of western civilisation following the first world war, he draws on multiple sources of myth, poem, popular song, snippets of Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists, Wagnerian opera, and many more, in some cases quoting them directly. These fragments bring extra layers to his poem, jumbled as they are, and help him to comment on the fragmented nature of culture itself at the beginning of the twentieth century. Eliot ended up publishing the poem twice, once with extended notes that guided readers through the allusive material, and once without, leaving readers to trace, interpret – and perhaps imagine – those links for themselves.
Western culture hasn’t always prized ‘originality’ in artistic creation: in fact it’s a relatively recent notion, dating mostly from the Romantic poets at the turn of the nineteenth century. In Shakespeare’s time, the practice of ‘imitation’ – making older texts your own, transforming them by expressing them in a new way or context – was a highly valued principle. Today, whenever I hear Mumford & Sons sing ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ and hear that climactic line, ‘Stars, hide your fires / These here are my desires / And I won’t give them up to you this time around…’ I can hear, behind it, an echo from Macbeth and the ambitious thane almost admitting his intention to murder: “Stars, hide your fires, / Let not light see my black and deep desires”. I don’t think Shakespeare would have minded.
For further reading please see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/mar/21/did-david-bowie-steal-from-ts-eliot?INTCMP=SRCH
If you are interested in intertextuality or poetic influence you may be interested in our English Literature Summer School (Part Two: 1790-2013) running on the 5th-9th August, or our Creative Writing Summer School running on the 19th-23rd August.
USA becoming hacked off with poor cyber-security controls
US internet security firms have allegedly uncovered evidence that China’s military routinely uses hackers to steal data from US organisations igniting concern over cyber-security. Cyber-security refers to all processes and mechanisms carried out by computer-based equipment and its protection from unauthorized access. Obama raised the issue of cyber-security in his congratulatory phone call with the new President of China, Xi Jinping, indicating that this will be focal point for relations between the two country in the coming years.
Obama’s security adviser, Thomas Donilon has demanded that China cease backing hackers stealing intellectual property from US companies. In reply to this however, China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi claimed that China was in fact the victim of cyber-attacks and that “cyberspace needs not war, but rules and cooperation” in order to avoid it becoming the “new battlefield”. This phone call from Obama and the issues raised were followed up in, the US treasure secretary, Jack Lew’s meeting with the new leaders. Lew took a strong stance on the issues raised by Obama and repudiated the claims of Yang Jiechi stating that the cyber-attacks on China were incomparable with those carried out on US companies as these involved state-sponsored bodies and were motivated by commercial gain.
These meetings coincided with the recent alert from South Korea claiming that they have been subject to cyber-attack, with three of their media broadcasters and two of their banks all experiencing complete freezing of cyber-activity at 2pm (local time) on 20th March. The technical problems affected ATMs, payment terminals and online/mobile banking. Disturbingly, there were reports of an ominous message appearing on the affected websites which displayed a message from an unknown group “WhoisTeam” stating it was only the beginning of “our movement”.
Lim Jong-In, Dean at Korea University, explained that “it’s got to be a hacking attack…such simultaneous shutdowns cannot be caused by technical glitches”. Despite no conclusive evidence, it has been speculated that North Korea are involved with the cyber-attack. A US commander in the region assessed that “North Korea employs sophisticated computer hackers trained to launch cyber infiltration and cyber attacks”. These claims come alongside rising tensions with North Korea after the tightening of sanctions from the UN after the news of a third nuclear test was discovered. This resulted in a very hostile reaction from North Korea who officially cancelled the pact of non-aggression currently in place with its southern neighbour.
Although, the investigation into the hacking attacks will take months to conclude what has happened, it is clear that the issue of cyber-security is likely to be paramount on the stage of international politics in the coming years and will perhaps become the “new battlefield”
Genetics: It’s a dog’s life…again and again
Everyone has experienced the sadness of losing a beloved pet, but now thanks to the South Korean Sooam Foundation, it is possible to have your dog cloned. Controversial researcher Insung Hwang who works at the foundation says he is in the business of ‘healing broken hearts’ and ‘prolonging companionship with your dog by bringing back the memories that you have with your friend’. Hwang’s work isn’t entirely altruistic however, as bringing your dog back from the dead will set you back over £66,000.
The cloning technology involves taking a small tissue sample from the dog (either while it is still living, or within five days from its death) and freezing the cells. Another dog is then used to provide the donor egg, and in a process called enucleation, the DNA in the donor egg is replaced with DNA from the frozen tissue sample. This cloned embryo is then implanted into a new surrogate dog, who will continue with the pregnancy as normal. Identical breeds of dog do not need to be used, but researchers tend to use dogs of a similar size (Hwang says that ‘in theory, a Great Dane could be the surrogate for a Chihuahua puppy’ – although presumably the reverse would be rather uncomfortable for the Chihuahua surrogate!)
Cloning technology has been developing since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned using a similar method in 1996. However, Dolly only lived to six years old – half the expected lifespan, and one suggestion for her premature death is that the sheep from which she was cloned was aged six years old, and that this is therefore the maximum age she could reach. If this was the cause of her early death, bereaved owners of young dogs should steer clear of cloning their deceased pet to avoid suffering the same loss only a short time later (whilst simultaneously grieving for their lost £66,000.)
Even with the advances, cloning is not an exact science and is highly inefficient (Dolly was the only lamb who survived to adulthood viable from 277 attempts). When Insung Hwang first started cloning dogs in 2005, there was a pregnancy rate of just 2% (which has now increased to 30%). There are inherent problems with cloning as dogs can be born unhealthy, with serious defects (most commonly breathing difficulties and thickened necks or tongues). Furthermore, those expecting to receive an identical version of their pet should read the small print, as they are not purchasing their old dog, but simply a dog that looks a lot like the old one. The dog’s personality will be a result of environmental conditioning; any tricks learned by the previous dog will not survive posthumously, and markings (for example Dalmatian spots) will not be identical. However, one satisfied user of Hwang’s service reported that his cloned puppy eats his food in a manner identical to the old dog. Apparently ‘both take a piece of food from their bowl and carry it a couple of metres before eating it’.
Before anyone worries that the world has gone barking mad, there are no plans for cloning technology to be extended to humans. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union explicitly prohibits reproductive human cloning, and is binding for all institutions of the European Union.
If you are interested in Medical Ethics issues you may be interested in our Medicine Summer Schools or our Young Thinkers Summer School.
Medicine: A ‘functional cure’ for HIV?
Medical history was made on the 4th March with the release of information that Doctors in Mississippi have cured a baby who was born with HIV. The infant is now two and a half years old and tests have shown that the child will go on to lead a life with a normal life expectancy, free from anti-retrovirals and will most likely not be infectious to others.
Although it remains somewhat a mystery as to why this has occurred and why this particular treatment has been so effective. The mother of the child realised too late of the risk of passing on HIV to her baby for any preventive measures to take place so after the birth the child was given an unusual procedure of treatment. The child was given three different kinds of anti-retrovirals by syringe, this more extreme measure was adopted as the mother had not had any preventative treatment prior to the birth. After just thirty days, the virus levels were so low that they were not being detected by routine lab test.
Dr. Hannah Gay, a doctor part of the team responsible for treating this child, stated:
“We did not see this child at all for a period of about five months, when they did return to care aged 23 months, I fully expected that the baby would have a high viral load…all of the tests came back negative, very much to my surprise”
The success of this treatment is believed to be attributed to the potency and swiftness of the treatment just thirty hours after the baby was born. The team believe that administering the anti-retrovirals to the neo-nate has prevented the virus from replicating in the short-lived active immune cells. The drugs also acted in an unexpected way, they blocked any infection reaching the CD4 cells (long-lived white-blood cells). This is the reason why ground-breaking discoveries like this will not be viable for children and adults as their CD4 cells would already have been infected.
The effects of the infected CD4 cells make the Human Immunodeficiency Virus particularly difficult to treat and control as they can restore HIV that has been lost when the active white-blood cells die. These CD4 cells then act like ‘hideouts’ for the virus.
The case coincides with the more recent discovery by French researchers who have noted that early treatment may result in a ‘functional’ cure. Christine Rouzioux, a professor at Paris Descartes University who was part of the team that identified the HIV cell, thirty years ago commented on the research, saying:
“Early treatment in these patients may have limited the establishment of viral reservoirs, the extent of viral mutations and the preserved responses. A combination of those may contribute to control infection in the post-treatment controllers…the shrinking of viral reservoirs closely matches the definition of ‘functional’ cure.”
A ‘functional cure’ is when the virus is present in the body at such low levels that it does not require treatment, even though it can be detected by tests. This could be a ground-breaking change for those newly-infected with the virus as it will mean that they can control the disease without medication, which aside from being very expensive, also causes unpleasant side-effects.
For further information about this topic:
If you are interested in topics like this then you may be interested in our Medicine Summer School (Part One) running on 27th-28th July