Month: March 2014

Fresh Funky Beats: Hudson Taylor

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An acoustic folk duo from Dublin, their sound is like Mumford and Sons except it doesn’t smell of aftershave and Marks and Spencer’s cheese. These exciting up-and-comers have recently released their debut single “Weapons” and it ain’t too shabby. Give it a listen and let me know your thoughts in the comments…

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Eight Dead in US Landslide

 

Part of a hillside missing after it gave way and became a deadly landslide in Seattle.

At least eight people have been killed in a US landslide in the state of Washington.

Disaster struck on Saturday when part of a hillside disintegrated near the town of Oslo,  135ft-deep, destroying six houses and taking eight lives so far.

The landslide is thought to be the result of the recent torrential rain in Washington. Citizens have been urged to retreat to higher grounds.

One eyewitness told the local Daily Herald that he was driving on the road and had to quickly brake to avoid the mudslide. “I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds,” said Paulo Falcao.

The hillside that gave way and collapsed near Oso. Photo: 22 March 2014

Rescue work at the site. Photo: 22 March 2014
A Washington citizens describes the wreckage in footage below:

Truth vs. Lie in the World of Journalism

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Recently I’ve been thinking about the concept of truth.

Famed journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said “When the truth is so depressing, the only working alternative is wild bursts of madness and filigree ” Is this the eternal temptation of journalists?

It is widely known that the world of journalism frequently veers off the platform of truth. For centuries, newspapers have blurred the lines between truth and propaganda. Calling to mind the days of the Second World War, its world rife with censorship and half-truths, one would assume that society had evolved since then. But perhaps this is the hardest truth to print: it hasn’t.

George Orwell, writer of Nineteen Eighty Four, the famous dystopian novel about a world in which the government rewrites history, once said “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” But surely even if one does print what someone else does not want printed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the truth? Amongst the recent onslaught of news about the conflict in Ukraine, it’s difficult to glean who is telling the truth and who is spreading propaganda in order to fulfill a political agenda. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, repeatedly the object of controversy, has said coverage of the conflict in Ukraine has been “exaggeration” and that everything’s fine and dandy. But how do we believe it when there is such apparent evidence of unrest and devastation? With constant images of Independence Square is in ruins, it cannot be contested that the conflict is real. But to what extent is the conflict due to Russia’s incursions into Ukranian territory? How much do we know about the politics of it all? How much is being kept from us? A scourge for the honest news can only result in frustration and dead ends. Once upon a time in the modern Western world, we liked to believe in the freedom of the press, but that illusion came crashing down in the hands of Edward Snowden, former employee of the CIA and former contractor for the National Security Agency, who, by no stretch of the imagination, revolutionised the world of journalism. Call him a hero, a whistleblower, a traitor or a war criminal – by releasing thousands of classified governmental documents, he changed the scope of the news world for the better.  More than ever, citizens questioned their government in all its supposed wisdom as it abolished the delusions that President Obama was the next coming of Jesus Christ and brought the government to its most transparent state.

So the question arises: who can we trust to tell the truth?

The most obvious perpetrators of propaganda don’t require much introduction. Papers such as the Daily Mail spin stories to favour the Conservative party’s values: NHS scams, slut-shaming of female celebrities- basically sensationalist bullshit to distract the average citizen from real political issues. When people are busy reading about Katie Price’s new nose job, how will they have time to think about their rights to privacy being breached? Meanwhile, the Sun offers a good old healthy dose of sexist, racist, often prejudiced blather concerning whatever was on TV/the football pitch that week.

More than anything, one must consider the relationship between  media and the public, and how they influence each other. The relationship is that of a cyclical nature, as media is fueled by public interest and public interest is fueled and influenced by the media. Thus it is an exaggeration to say that the media solely tells the public “what to think about.” In the capitalist free market, the media must gauge what is popular and their “agenda setting” is influenced simply by what people “like.” They rely on sale figures to discern what sells the most newspapers (and thus what to print), and this is why a lot of papers abandon integrity and “hard” journalism in favour of sensationalism. Therefore this cannot be a reliable form of information, because it is altered in order to attract the public through exaggeration of the truth and fabrication of facts.

Which brings us to the papers of the “intelligent citizen.” Both The Guardian and the Independent are respected journals who claim that their sole purpose is reporting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but that. But how can this be regulated? How far can newspapers convince us of their integrity before something inevitably makes them cave to the economic strains of funding and the pressure to print what is in the interests of the government?

Frankly, I think pondering the world of journalism and its integrity will inevitably get you lost in a minefield. I feel that the only thing one can do is try and consider each news story from different sources and use their own intelligence and intuition to separate the truth from the lies. As for whether there is any point in following the news when it’s so difficult to keep up with it and question its legitimacy, I say this: knowledge is power. As citizens, we can protect ourselves from the corrupt intentions of the powers that be by arming ourselves with information and refusing to consume the drivel that is served to us every day on a black and white platter.

Uncovering England’s Dirty Little Secret

When one thinks of Bedfordshire, the images that spring to mind are usually pretty green pastures, cottages, cute elderly couples and university. The mention of it rarely drums up the picture of barbed wire and iron gates. Yet there is a dark secret of rural England that lurks in the most picturesque of corners.

Welcome to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, Bedfordshire. A place of solitude and despair for refugees, it is Britain’s shameful little secret. It has been the subject of controversy since it opened in 2001. As a detention centre for refugees seeking asylum in the UK, one would think that it makes sure to take a gentle approach to its detainees and attempts to make it a place of comfort for people, some of whom came to the UK to escape abuse in their home country. But the reality is far, far worse. Allegations of sexual misconduct by the centre’s guards have been rife, as recently as last September, the allegations have been corroborated by more women, who say that this behaviour is still going on. One woman recounted her experience in The Observer

 “A lot of officers were taking advantage of the girls that were detained. They would promise favours or offer to make life easier, saying they would have more chance of winning their case or staying in the country.” In a formal witness statement she has sent to Bedfordshire police, she states that one Serco official she was involved with sexually told her: “Don’t worry, there is no way they can deport you.”

Most recently, revelations have come to light of the vulgar truths of Yarl’s Wood, most notably from Meltem Avcil, a former detainee who was taken into Yarl’s Wood at thirteen years old. She shares her story with The Guardian:

“I witnessed children under the age of six trying to breathe out of those windows,” she says, “because they wanted freedom, they wanted to run around, they wanted air. There was a small courtyard, I can’t deny that, but how much comfort can you get from a courtyard surrounded by barbed wire?”

After experiencing the horrific conditions that she and her mother endured, she points out that after women have experienced and fled from rape, sexual and physical abuse and harrowing home lives, they escape to the UK only to find their torture being continued in another country – supposedly one of modern humanity and safety.

Acclaimed author Zadie Smith has spoken out about the issue as well, pointing out the covert way in which the centre has escaped real scrutiny:

“It’s no accident that this detention centre is tucked away in a pretty corner of Bedfordshire. Out of sight, out of mind. For how many of us want to wake up with the knowledge that we live in a country willing to imprison victims of rape and torture, who have arrived at our shores to request asylum? …We need urgently to address the outrage of Yarl’s Wood. Its continued existence is an offence to liberty, a shame to any civilised nation, and a personal tragedy for the women caught in its illogical grip.”

Avcil has now started a petition to end the detention of women who seek asylum in the UK. With more than 32, 000 signatures to date, she hopes to achieve 35, 000 in order to attract the attention of home secretary Theresa May and change the lives of refugee women detained in this centre.  The Women for Refugee Women report, Detained published in January, paints a harrowing picture. The organisation spoke to 46 women who had been detained, most in Yarl’s Wood, and found over 85% had been either raped or tortured before arriving in the UK; all said detention made them unhappy; 93% felt depressed; more than half thought about killing themselves; and more than one in five women had tried to kill themselves. Forty of the 46 women had been guarded by male staff, and 70% of those said this had made them uncomfortable. One woman, who had fled Uganda, where she had been imprisoned and repeatedly raped by guards, described being under suicide watch, with a male guard who watched her even when she was on the toilet. The conditions that these women endure do not represent the Britain that the government tries to convince us of – freedom and humanity seem to be absent in Yarl’s Wood.

The road to ending this torture and abuse is not a short one – immigration policy in the UK isn’t known for its open-mindedness and compassion.  But as they say, every little counts, and the more we talk about this issue the less the British government are able to sweep it under the golden velvet carpet of privilege. Detention of children was banned in 2010, so it’s only a matter of time before the (frankly, antiquated) detention centre ritual is abolished. To help Avcil’s cause and find out more, see the links below.

Links:

To sign the petition: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/theresa-may-british-home-secretary-end-the-detention-of-women-who-seek-asylum

To get informed on detention of female refugees: http://www.refugeewomen.co.uk/

Tweet me your thoughts: @superhans180

Julia Louis-Dreyfus owns the screen on political satire Veep

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American versions of UK TV shows rarely go well (think The Inbetweeners US, Skins US, The IT Crowd US et al) but there are beautiful moments when the Yanks get it right. Such is the case with political satire Veep, the American cousin of BBC’s legendary portrait of UK politics The Thick of It. Americans being Americans, one would be forgiven for thinking they wouldn’t really “get” the astounding comedic value of creative swearing, but thankfully, with Armando Iannucci (creator of The Thick of It) at the helm, the politicians have lost none of their bite.

Veep centers around Selina Meyers, Vice President of the United States of America with a Sidekick complex and a blazing tongue. Together with her associates, including a hopelessly loyal assistant, a growling dog of a chief of staff and a dingbat of a director of communications, the entire show is superbly administered. The performances of Louis-Dreyfus are dynamite, worthy of those two Emmys. Each line is delivered to scathing perfection, her ruthless desperation for power so hilariously obvious, her revulsion for her colleagues and opponents so incredibly curated by the actress that it is incredibly difficult to fault any aspect of the performance.

The writing is also genius; in one exchange with her deputy director of communications, who explains he has used an incompetent employee for intelligence, she spits out “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo. It doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess.”

With the imminent arrival of Season 3, I recommend catching up on the two seasons before getting hooked. With only around nine episodes per season, each one will have you in stitches – and I do not throw that phrase around.

If I still haven’t convinced you, here’s a taste of what you’re missing.