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Ethnic Conflict [Jul. 7th, 2009|12:41 pm]
Dina Rickman
Lots of articles, news and graphic images coming out of the situation in China.

For those who haven't been following the story, there's been an upsurge of violence in Urumqi, the capital of one of the Western provinces, Xinjiang. Within the media, the news coverage tends to focus on reports of ethnic tensions and 'ethnic unrest'. I always find the use of ethnic conflict and related terms to describe riots, civil unrest or wars incredibly difficult. Primarily because I don't think the term has significant explanatory power - currently in the world there are myriad ethnic groups living side by side who aren't rioting or polarised against one another, so there must be something else going on which has led to conflict erupting. This is not to say that the problems in Uighur do not present themselves on ethnic lines, or to minimise the experiences of people within the conflict, or to criticise some of the excellent reporting on the situation.

Some comment pieces allude to the history of tension between the two groups which policies of segregation and repressive campaigns against separatist groups in the region have failed to distill, but most of the focus places the uprising in the context of recent riots and hatred between Uygurs and Hans. I always think this kind of rhetoric obscures the reasons behind conflicts. Ethnic conflict, as a label, can be applied to most conflicts (from WWII to Nigeria-Biafra really), but with it there's no discussion of economic and social discontent which tends to lead to violence, just an implicit explanation of violence being due to naturally occuring tension between two groups.

From the quick and non-comprehensive research I've done on Uighur this morning, it seems like the conflict may be more to do with access to social resources which have been limited on the basis of ethnicity. HIV/AIDS, and social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse impact ethnic minorities more in Xinjiang, and there are widespread arrests of ethnic minorities based "on suspicion of separatism or terrorism."
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"This is almost as bad as the time I failed an audition to be a lapdancer for not being sexy enough" [Jul. 3rd, 2009|11:31 am]
Dina Rickman
There's an interesting article on Jezebel about female confessional journalism. It essentially argues, following from a guardian comment piece by the fantastic Hadley Freeman, that articles in which journalists confess anything from regret about their boob jobs, to putting their jobs before finding partners, project an inherently damaging image of women as needy and self obsessed.

It's claimed that forms of journalism in which women share their troubled romantic past with readers, or detail the ins and outs of their quest to look younger will make readers dislike women in general, or view all women, regardless of their individual personalities, as image obsessed neurotics.

There's an obvious flaw in this argument. I don't think female confessional journalism insults in the intelligence of readers, I think it insults the intelligence of readers to suggest that they will assume that because one woman writes an article about one of her pathologies that all women have exactly the same insecurities.
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"Graduates face worst job market in two decades" [Jul. 1st, 2009|01:35 pm]
Dina Rickman
Just as I was preparing to write a shit hot blog about the tension between the limbic system and the frontal lobe and how society places an unsustainable amount of emphasis on immediate gratification, I noticed Richard Garner's story about graduates facing the worst job market in two decades.

Now, I just graduated, and I've already briefly discussed the anxiety provoking effect of these stories. What's particularly terrifying about this story is its quote of the report by High Flyers Research which states "vacancies for graduates have now been cut by over a fifth since 2007." The story also quotes David Lammy, the minister for Higher Education saying "These are tough times, but a degree is a strong investment."

I can't help but feel like Lammy's statement is disgracefully misleading, surely a degree is only a "strong investment" for those good enough to get the few graduate vacancies left. For everyone else, the landscape is far more grim.

Last week, I came to the horrific realisation that despite having a first class degree in politics, the only thing anyone will currently pay me to do is flyer for mediocre London nightclubs. It's not that I don't enjoy standing on street corners thrusting leaflets at anyone who's unlucky enough to walk past, or the occasional rewarding interruptions from people inquiring if I am a prostitute/asking for directions, but it's not the career I aspired to. My brother, in a strange attempt to reassure me when I related this fact to him, told me that he knows people with firsts from better universities than me that cannot get past the interview stage to work on the tills at Tesco's.

I'm not expecting instant gratification in my search for a job, and this post is a rant than a plea for employment, I'm just really, really hoping that the recession is over by 2010 and that, as part of the first generation who really invested in their degrees (in terms of top-up fees) long-term gratification won't be too many years down the line.
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Feminist advertising [Jun. 30th, 2009|10:34 am]
Dina Rickman
Feministing.com, the US feminist super-blog occasionally talks about advertising. It picked up Burger King for the advert shown below, suggesting readers should contact their head office to complain about the sexual undertones.


The website also claims that:

One of the most powerful ways in which we can practice our feminism is in our consumption choices. This can mean everything from where we buy our food to what kind of tampons we use to, yes, what magazines we read.

If one of the ways of practising feminism is through consumption choices, then logically this extends to making choices about advert consumption. This is why I find it so annoying that one of the adverts I constantly see re-appearing on the site is for a crash diet which tell us 'how to lose 6 pounds in a week.' Not that weight loss is stringently anti-feminist but crash diets and images of flat stomachs tend to suggest a desire to conform to a figure that is sold to women as typical by the media, and can actually be very damaging.

Here's the advert below - it doesn't exactly scream 'female liberation' to me

To be fair to feminsting, they are trying to do something about the advert . Still, why is it there in the first place, 37 years after Gloria Steinem wrote Sex, Lies and Advertising? Shouldn't blogs directed at women, or magazines sold to women, stop trying to sell us damaging body images?
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JFS and discrimination [Jun. 26th, 2009|03:50 pm]
Dina Rickman
[Tags|, ]
[music |http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJCa0_jKFWw]

Clearly not the biggest story today, but the news that a Jewish school has been found guilty of discriminating against a 12 year old child interested me. The child involved had a halachicly (meaning in terms of Jewish law) Jewish father but his mother had a 'reform' conversion to Judaism, which would not be considered legitimate by Orthodox Jews, and according to Orthodox halacha Judaism is passed on through the mother.

In prioritising the applications of children who were considered to be Jewish on an Orthodox basis, JFS were said by Lords Justices Sedley and Rimer and Lady Justice Smith to be unjustly discriminating against the child, according to the Race Relations Act.

The case interests me particularly as I am Jewish (in the Orthodox sense). There are wider implications to the ruling, in terms of the boundaries between ethnicity and race (as Judaism is considered a race by law but an ethnicity by many who practise it) and the extent to which discrimination can be viewed as legitimate in admissions policies of faith schools in general. Its also highlights tensions between civil law and Jewish law.

When I first heard about the ruling I thought that it was ridiculous - this child was not, from an Orthodox view, Jewish, and could not be expected to be treated as such. I don't really agree with the argument that Judaism is a race, I feel that my religion isn't something that can be intellectually compartmentalised as a race or an ethnicity, which in my mind represent two of the flimsiest social constructs. I don't know if I can justifiably say that given as I'm an atheist who still self-identifies as Jewish, which suggests an intractable element to my religion typical of racial identities, but there you go.

Then I remembered friends of mine, who were more observant or interested in Judaism than me, who also wouldn't be considered Jewish from an Orthodox view. And I thought it was fundamentally unfair that if we were all 11 again, I'd be given more of a chance to go to a Jewish school than them. If we're going to have faith schools - and there are very strong arguments that we should not - then it is right that they should not be allowed to discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews. Those who self-identify as Jewish and want to go to a Jewish school should be allowed to do so whatever their parental circumstances.
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Habitat are completely shameless [Jun. 24th, 2009|04:44 pm]
Dina Rickman
This story about how habitat have been using the #iranelection tag on twitter to help publicise its products actually slightly amused me. I know I'm supposed to feel completely outraged, and Iran is obviously an extremely serious situation, and we should not mock attempts to share information about it on social networking sites or exploit them to increase sales of moderately priced furniture, but still.

I wanted to write a blog today but I don't have much else to say other than that about Habitat, so here's a few links to good stories I've found trawling the internet today.

David Cameron's new EU group may be crumbling already

Mail's piece about the Burkah, comments are very interesting

La Roux furthering the feminist cause

...and finally, it's probably morally OK to link to my own stories, after habitat-gate
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Cameron's new EU group: The ones that seem a bit dodgy [Jun. 22nd, 2009|01:31 pm]
Dina Rickman
This is in no way authoritative and is only the result of some quick googling of the new parties that Cameron is allied with in the EU parliament (full list on politics home).

Lijst Dedecker (LDD), with 1 MEP in the New Group

From the Indy's article on possible EU group members

It is expected to include the Belgian Lijst Dedecker party, some of whose politicians are former members of the far-right Vlaams Belang part, whose candidates backed a statement saying: "We urgently need global chemotherapy against Islam to save civilisation", and used campaigning material featuring an ape with the words "I have not forgotten my roots ... have you?"

Czech Republic:
Civic Democratic Party (ODS), with 9 MEPs
The Czech Civic Democrats
This is a quote from Vaclav Klaus, the founder of the Civic Democratic Party, taken from E8voice

"Global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so."

Latvian National Independence Movement (TB/LNNK) with 1 MEP

Basically seem to be ultra nationalist and support quotas for immigration (more on Latvian politcs) . If you happen to speak Latvian feel free to watch one of their adverts which apparently warns of the danger of 'non-Latvians.' Clearly worrying rhetoric which could signal a move from being hyper nationalist to potentially prejudiced. May write more about this once my Latvian friend emails me back about them.

Law & Justice (PiS) with 15 MEPs

If you look them up on wikipedia you will find they are against same sex marriage, want to restrict abortion, and are unsure as to whether homosexuals should be allowed to take jobs in which they will have close contact with children. Also,

In June 2006, while the party was in power, the state prosecutor announced an investigation of all gay groups for illegal financing, criminal connections, and pedophilia.

And from E8voice

Artur Gorski, a Polish MP from the rightwing PiS party, warned that the victory of the ‘black messiah of the new left [Barack Obama]’would mean ‘an impending catastrophe, the end of the civilisation of the white man'

More details on the grouping on Conservative Home
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An insight into Melanie Phillips's psyche [Jun. 22nd, 2009|12:08 pm]
Dina Rickman
This is what Melanie Phillips has to say about MPs in the mail today:

They've never done a real job, but so often have gone straight from university into working as a researcher for an MP or think-tank and then been selected for a parliamentary seat. How then can they relate to the lives of ordinary people when they have themselves never lived an ordinary life?

Without sounding like I want to defend MPs (although sometimes I do, just to be difficult), I wonder if Melanie Phillips has the authority to decide that if someone has never held a 'real job' they cannot relate to lives of ordinary people, especially given her own circumstances. According to her wikipedia entry , after reading English at Oxford she went straight into journalism. Personally, I wouldn't regard this as an 'ordinary life' which would allow Phillips to atune herself to the 'lives of ordinary people.' This could explain some of her more radical ideas...
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Twitter and the fourth rule of power [Jun. 18th, 2009|05:26 pm]
Dina Rickman
[Tags|, ]

This afternoon brought the sad news that a pilot has died in mid flight. The story was was broken largely by twitter, Continental News and Newark are already the most second searched item under #iranelection.

The way in which news can be shared and discussed on twitter, particularly in wake of the images coming out after the Iran election represents an incredible change in the way in which we transmit information, especially considering that during the Falklands war it could take up to 23 days for footage of the conflict to reach the UK (a sad exam fact I remember from this book) .

And yes, it's good that information about anything and everything conferences, festivals, breaking news and brutal supressions can be shared quickly and easily. One thing that I have wondered though, is what about Sri Lanka? Although there was a facebook group against the 'genocide' of Tamils (and I put it in quotes because the meaning of genocide is so contested) and a few stories about its impact on twitter there wasn't the same rush of information I've seen with Iran. We found out after the conflict that up to 20,000 civilians were killed, and some say even more. I think it's too easy to compare the severity of conflicts through comparing the number of dead, as it inevitably marginalises the deaths of those in so called lesser conflicts, but it is clear that there has been a lot more bloodshed in Sri Lanka.

So what I'm thinking, in an incredibly pessimistic style, is if we're seeing these shocking images coming out or Iran via twitter and facebook, how bad are the events when they've killed everyone who could have possibly tweeted it? What's not being talked about?
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Staring into the abyss (or, finishing a degree) [Jun. 18th, 2009|02:37 pm]
Dina Rickman

I recently finished my undergraduate degree in politics. After the initial flood of joy at the prospect of never again having to pretend to be aware of whether the thought of Machiavelli can be applied to international relations passed, I began to feel what can only be described as abject terror. I know I'm not the only undergraduate to have noticed and been scared by the news that the class of 2009 will suffer due to the recession. Out of my friends though, I do feel (and what's about to follow is incredibly smug and only based on the fact I haven't had a nervous breakdown in the last week) that I am the one taking being part of the 'lost generation' best. Still, other than a few sleepless nights spent worrying that I've got a 2:2, I've managed not to:

a) Have a nose job to improve my eligibility for marriage

b) Start trying for a baby after being turned down by a graduate scheme

c) Decide to re-take the entire third year in the hope that the recession will be over by 2010

And those are only the people whose actions I have permission to mention.


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