Showing posts with label News Related. Show all posts
Showing posts with label News Related. Show all posts

1 February 2021

Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils

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Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils
Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils (photo via spixel)

Nearly half of LGBT+ pupils are bullied in school because of their gender or sexual orientation. In fact, LGBT+ bullying is the most common type of bullying in schools. Just 27% of secondary school pupils believe it would be safe to come out as LGBT+ in their schools.

Despite this, a 2020 report shows that only one-fifth of secondary school students report learning about LGBT+ identities and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

While schools are now required to teach LGBT+ content as part of Relationships and Sex Education, guidance from the Department of Education leaves it up to schools how and when they approach this content. There is no specific mention of the need to tackle bullying aimed at LGBT+ pupils as part of the curriculum.

The content of LGBT+ education needs to be standardised across schools, and a more explicit stance needs to be taken against anti-LGBT+ bullying.

Taking care

Protecting the wellbeing of young people is hugely important, and teenagers from sexual minorities are more likely than their peers to suffer from mental health problems. The experience of discrimination at a young age can have long-term implications for people’s mental health. In the short term, being bullied in school affects pupils’ attendance and educational performance.

Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils
Bullying can affect students’ school performance. (photo via wavebreakmedia)

However, funding for LGBT+ anti-bullying projects in English schools, provided by the Government Equalities Office, was withdrawn in March 2020. Since September 2020, Relationships Education is a compulsory subject in primary schools, while Relationships and Sex Education is compulsory in secondary schools. Schools are required to teach “LGBT content” as part of this new curriculum.

The explicit reference to LGBT+ content is laudable, given that the previous curriculum does not mention this at all. But the curriculum guidance leaves it up to schools to determine how and when they teach LGBT+ content. The only specification is that it must be taught at a “timely point”. The guidance continues to make allowances for religious schools to teach in accordance with their faith perspectives.

In principle, then, a school could get away with teaching very little about LGBT+ inclusivity, on the basis that it was not timely nor appropriate to do so with their pupils. For example, the Catholic Education Service’s Model Curriculum for Secondary Schools, which has been cited as an example of good practice by Nick Gibb, the minister of state for School Standards, merely discusses the need to teach about diversity in sexual attraction and developing sexuality, but makes no mention of LGBT+ content.

We cannot assume that all schools will offer comprehensive teaching on LGBT+ identities, especially when the guidance is vague. A further issue is that some teachers still feel they need more support to teach LGBT+ inclusive relationships and sex education.

A missing focus

Also, while the new curriculum guidance makes some reference to anti-bullying education, the emphasis falls mainly on cyberbullying, rather than LGBT+ bullying. Schools are required to identify any homophobic incidents and to deal with them appropriately. But beyond this, there is no specific mention of the need to tackle homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying as part of the curriculum.

The Government Equalities Office has claimed that it is “misleading” to state that the government has de-prioritised anti-LGBT+ bullying, because the Department for Education has awarded £750,000 to three charitable organisations for anti-bullying projects. The three organisations are the Diana Award, the Anne Frank Trust and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, none of which are LGBT-specific.

The lack of suitable emphasis on LGBT+ content, coupled with the withdrawal of funding for anti-bullying projects in schools that are specific to LGBT+ students, reflects a deliberate stance on the part of the government to sit on the fence, perhaps due to the contentious nature of the subject matter.

In 2019, parental protests erupted over the “No Outsiders” programme – which aimed to teach children about the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 (including, but not limited to, sexual orientation). The government’s lack of clarity on their expectations for schools’ teaching on LGBT+ topics was highlighted by the National Association of Head Teachers.

LGBT+ anti-bullying projects are needed alongside LGBT+ education under the new relationships and sex education curriculum in order to truly embed short and long-term positive changes for the LGBT+ pupils. The government can no longer afford to take a back seat on this

About Today's Contributor:

Rachel Heah, Lecturer in Law, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

We’re Teaching Robots To Evolve Autonomously – So They Can Adapt To Life Alone On Distant Planets

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We’re Teaching Robots To Evolve Autonomously – So They Can Adapt To Life Alone On Distant Planets
In the future, robots we’ve programmed may evolve and multiply on distant planets.(SquareMotion)

It’s been suggested that an advance party of robots will be needed if humans are ever to settle on other planets. Sent ahead to create conditions favourable for humankind, these robots will need to be tough, adaptable and recyclable if they’re to survive within the inhospitable cosmic climates that await them.

Collaborating with roboticists and computer scientists, my team and I have been working on just such a set of robots. Produced via 3D printer – and assembled autonomously – the robots we’re creating continually evolve in order to rapidly optimise for the conditions they find themselves in.

Our work represents the latest progress towards the kind of autonomous robot ecosystems that could help build humanity’s future homes, far away from Earth and far away from human oversight.

Robots rising

Robots have come a long way since our first clumsy forays into artificial movement many decades ago. Today, companies such as Boston Dynamics produce ultra-efficient robots which load trucks, build pallets, and move boxes around factories, undertaking tasks you might think only humans could perform.

Despite these advances, designing robots to work in unknown or inhospitable environments – like exoplanets or deep ocean trenches – still poses a considerable challenge for scientists and engineers. Out in the cosmos, what shape and size should the ideal robot be? Should it crawl or walk? What tools will it need to manipulate its environment – and how will it survive extremes of pressure, temperature and chemical corrosion?

An impossible brainteaser for humans, nature has already solved this problem. Darwinian evolution has resulted in millions of species that are perfectly adapted to their environment. Although biological evolution takes millions of years, artificial evolution – modelling evolutionary processes inside a computer – can take place in hours, or even minutes. Computer scientists have been harnessing its power for decades, resulting in gas nozzles to satellite antennas that are ideally suited to their function, for instance.

But current artificial evolution of moving, physical objects still requires a great deal of human oversight, requiring a tight feedback loop between robot and human. If artificial evolution is to design a useful robot for exoplanetary exploration, we’ll need to remove the human from the loop. In essence, evolved robot designs must manufacture, assemble and test themselves autonomously – untethered from human oversight.

Unnatural selection

Any evolved robots will need to be capable of sensing their environment and have diverse means of moving – for example using wheels, jointed legs or even mixtures of the two. And to address the inevitable reality gap that occurs when transferring a design from software to hardware, it is also desirable for at least some evolution to take place in hardware – within an ecosystem of robots that evolve in real time and real space.

The Autonomous Robot Evolution (ARE) project addresses exactly this, bringing together scientists and engineers from four universities in an ambitious four-year project to develop this radical new technology.

We’re Teaching Robots To Evolve Autonomously – So They Can Adapt To Life Alone On Distant Planets
Robotic hardware will undergo natural selection in this cradle-to-grave facility. (Emma Hart, Author provided)

As depicted above, robots will be “born” through the use of 3D manufacturing. We use a new kind of hybrid hardware-software evolutionary architecture for design. That means that every physical robot has a digital clone. Physical robots are performance-tested in real-world environments, while their digital clones enter a software programme, where they undergo rapid simulated evolution. This hybrid system introduces a novel type of evolution: new generations can be produced from a union of the most successful traits from a virtual “mother” and a physical “father”.

As well as being rendered in our simulator, “child” robots produced via our hybrid evolution are also 3D-printed and introduced into a real-world, creche-like environment. The most successful individuals within this physical training centre make their “genetic code” available for reproduction and for the improvement of future generations, while less “fit” robots can simply be hoisted away and recycled into new ones as part of an ongoing evolutionary cycle.

Two years into the project, significant advances have been made. From a scientific perspective, we have designed new artificial evolutionary algorithms that have produced a diverse set of robots that drive or crawl, and can learn to navigate through complex mazes. These algorithms evolve both the body-plan and brain of the robot.

The brain contains a controller that determines how the robot moves, interpreting sensory information from the environment and translating this into motor controls. Once the robot is built, a learning algorithm quickly refines the child brain to account for any potential mismatch between its new body and its inherited brain.

From an engineering perspective, we have designed the “RoboFab” to fully automate manufacturing. This robotic arm attaches wires, sensors and other “organs” chosen by evolution to the robot’s 3D-printed chassis. We designed these components to facilitate swift assembly, giving the RoboFab access to a big toolbox of robot limbs and organs.

Waste disposal

The first major use case we plan to address is deploying this technology to design robots to undertake clean-up of legacy waste in a nuclear reactor – like that seen in the TV miniseries Chernobyl. Using humans for this task is both dangerous and expensive, and necessary robotic solutions remain to be developed.

Looking forward, the long-term vision is to develop the technology sufficiently to enable the evolution of entire autonomous robotic ecosystems that live and work for long periods in challenging and dynamic environments without the need for direct human oversight.

In this radical new paradigm, robots are conceived and born, rather than designed and manufactured. Such robots will fundamentally change the concept of machines, showcasing a new breed that can change their form and behaviour over time – just like us.

About Today's Contributor:

Emma Hart, Chair in Natural Computation, Edinburgh Napier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license

We’re Teaching Robots To Evolve Autonomously – So They Can Adapt To Life Alone On Distant Planets
We’re Teaching Robots To Evolve Autonomously – So They Can Adapt To Life Alone On Distant Planets (Photo via Pixabay)

29 January 2021

Royal Entomological Society: "Discovering The Miniature Safari All Around Us"

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Royal Entomological Society: "Discovering The Miniature Safari All Around Us"
1st Prize Under18: James Spensley
The winners of the National Insect Week Photography Competition have been announced by the Royal Entomological Society.

A record 2443 entries were received from amateur photographers in 72 countries during 2020. Each winning photograph captures a moment in the busy and often beautiful lives of insects. People of all ages have been discovering the smaller animals we see around us every day, even during the pandemic.
Head judge Dr Tim Cockerill from Falmouth University's Institute of Photography said "In a year that has been memorable for all the wrong reasons it is wonderful to see how so many people around the world have taken solace in nature.

Life has gone on as normal for insects and it's clear that watching wildlife has been a great comfort to many of us. Every one of the photographs entered into the competition represents someone turning their attention to insects. They are truly fascinating animals and are all around us, but often go unnoticed. Photographs like these really allow us to appreciate them and the great many roles they play in nature
."
The winner in the over-18s' category German wasps drinking by Alan Clark features a group of German wasps (Vespula germanica). 

Royal Entomological Society: "Discovering The Miniature Safari All Around Us"
1st Prize Over18: Alan Clark
Dr Cockerill said "This brilliant image reminded the judges of those classic wildlife photography shots of antelope drinking around a water hole on the African savannah. To see this in a much-maligned insect like the wasp made for a striking and memorable photograph."
In the under-18s' category, Marmalade hoverfly on a pink flower by Jamie Spensley (age 17) is a bold and striking composition featuring a hoverfly nestled within a flower from an impressive young wildlife photographer.

Other judges were TV presenter and naturalist Nick Baker, Ashleigh Whiffin from National Museums Scotland, and Lucia Chmurová from the conservation charity Plantlife.

About National Insect Week:

National Insect Week is organised by the Royal Entomological Society to encourage people of all ages to learn more about insects and entomology, the study of insects. It is supported by a large number of partner organisations across the UK with interests in the science, natural history and conservation of insects.

About The Royal Entomological Society:

The Royal Entomological Society is one of the oldest entomological societies in the world. Many eminent scientists of the past, including Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, have been fellows. The Society organises regular meetings for insect scientists, as well as hosting international symposia and events for the public. It publishes journals and books as well as identification guides. It has fellows and members all over the world. 
The aim of the Society is "the improvement and diffusion of entomological science".
SOURCE: Royal Entomological Society

SpaceX Vs Nasa: Who Will Get Us To The Moon First? Here's How Their Latest Rockets Compare

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Nasa’s Space Launch System. (Nasa)
No-one has visited the Moon since 1972. But with the advent of commercial human spaceflight, the urge to return is resurgent and generating a new space race. Nasa has selected the private company SpaceX to be part of its commercial spaceflight operations, but the firm is also pursuing its own space exploration agenda.

To enable flights to the Moon and beyond, both Nasa and SpaceX are developing new heavy lift rockets: SpaceX’s Starship and Nasa’s Space Launch System.

But how do they differ and which one is more powerful?

Starship

Rockets go through multiple stages to get into orbit. By discarding spent fuel tanks while in flight, the rocket becomes lighter and therefore easier to accelerate. Once in operation, SpaceX’s launch system will be comprised of two stages: the launch vehicle known as Super Heavy and the Starship.

Super Heavy is powered by the Raptor rocket engine, burning a combination of liquid methane and liquid oxygen. The basic principle of a liquid fuel rocket engine is that two propellants, – a fuel such as kerosene and an oxidiser such as liquid oxygen – are brought together in a combustion chamber and ignited. The flame produces hot gas under high pressure which is expelled at high speed through the engine nozzle to produce thrust.

The rocket will provide 15 million pounds of thrust at launch, which is approximately twice as much as the rockets of the Apollo era. Atop the launcher sits the Starship, itself powered by another six Raptor engines and equipped with a large mission bay for accommodating satellites, compartments for up to 100 crew and even extra fuel tanks for refuelling in space, which is critical to long duration interplanetary human spaceflight.

SpaceX Vs Nasa: Who Will Get Us To The Moon First? Here's How Their Latest Rockets Compare
Super Heavy separating from Starship. (wikipedia, CC BY-SA)

The Starship is designed to operate both in the vacuum of space and within the atmospheres of Earth and Mars, using small moveable wings to glide to a desired landing zone.

Once over the landing area, the Starship flips into a vertical position and uses its on-board Raptor engines to make a powered descent and landing. It will have sufficient thrust to lift itself off the surface of Mars or the Moon, overcoming the weaker gravity of these worlds, and return to Earth – again making a powered soft landing. The Starship and Super Heavy are both fully reuseable and the entire system is designed to lift more than 100 tons of payload to the surface of the Moon or Mars.

The spacecraft is maturing rapidly. A recent test flight of the Starship prototype, the SN8, successfully demonstrated a number of the manoeuvres required to make this work. Unfortunately, there was a malfunction in one of the Raptor engines and the SN8 crashed on landing. Another test flight is expected in the coming days.

Nasa’s Space Launch System

The Space Launch System (SLS) from Nasa will be taking the crown from the discontinued Saturn V as the most powerful rocket the agency has ever used. The current incarnation (SLS block 1) stands at almost 100 metres tall.

The SLS core stage, containing more than 3.3 million litres of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (equivalent to one-and-a-half Olympic size swimming pools), is powered by four RS-25 engines, three of which were used on the previous Space Shuttle. Their main difference from the Raptors is that they burn liquid hydrogen instead of methane.

SpaceX Vs Nasa: Who Will Get Us To The Moon First? Here's How Their Latest Rockets Compare
Stages of the SLS. (Nasa)

The core stage of the rocket is augmented by two solid rocket boosters, attached to its sides, providing a total combined thrust of 8.2 million pounds at launch - about 5% more than the Saturn V at launch. This will lift the spacecraft to low Earth orbit. The upper stage is intended to lift the attached payload – the astronaut capsule – out of Earth’s orbit and is a smaller liquid fuel stage powered by a single RL-10 engine (already in use by ATLAS and DELTA rockets) which is smaller and lighter than the RS-25.

The Space Launch System will send the Orion crew capsule, which can support up to six crew for 21 days, to the Moon as part of the Artemis-1 mission – a task that current Nasa rockets are currently not capable of performing.

It is intended to have large acrylic windows so astronauts can watch the journey. It will also have its own engine and fuel supply, as well as secondary propulsion systems for returning to the Earth. Future space stations, such as the Lunar Gateway, will serve as a logistical hub, which may include refuelling.

The core stage and booster rockets are unlikely to be reusable (instead of landing they will drop in the ocean), so there is a higher cost with the SLS system, both in materials and environmentally. It is designed to evolve to larger stages capable of carrying crew or cargo weighing up to 120 tonnes, which is potentially more than Starship.

SpaceX Vs Nasa: Who Will Get Us To The Moon First? Here's How Their Latest Rockets Compare
NASA’s SLS and SpaceX’s Starship, on the right, could both get us to the Moon and beyond. (Ian Whittaker/NASA/SpaceX, Author provided)

A lot of the technology being used in SLS is so-called “legacy equipment” in that it is adapted from previous missions, cutting down the research and development time. However, earlier this month, a test fire of the SLS core stage was stopped a minute into the eight-minute test due to a suspected component failure. No significant damage occurred, and the SLS program manager, John Honeycutt, stated: “I don’t think we’re looking at a significant design change.”

And the winner is…

So which spacecraft likely to reach carry a crew to the Moon first? Artemis 2 is planned as the first crewed mission using SLS to perform a flyby of the Moon and is expected to launch in August 2023. Whereas SpaceX has no specific date planned for crewed launch, they are running #dearMoon – a project involving lunar space tourism planned for 2023. Musk has also stated that a crewed Martian mission could take place as early as 2024, also using Starship.

Ultimately it is a competition between an agency that has had years of testing and experience but is limited by a fluctuating taxpayer budget and administration policy changes, and a company relatively new to the game but which has already launched 109 Falcon 9 rockets with a 98% success rate and has a dedicated long-term cash flow.

Whoever reaches the Moon first will inaugurate a new era of exploration of a world which still has much scientific value.

About Today's Contributors:

Gareth Dorrian, Post Doctoral Research Fellow in Space Science, University of Birmingham and Ian Whittaker, Senior Lecturer in Physics, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

27 January 2021

COVID-19 Movie 'Songbird' is a Disaster – We Need Better Pandemic Stories [Trailer Included]

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COVID-19 Movie 'Songbird' is a Disaster – We Need Better Pandemic Stories [Trailer Included]
COVID-19 Movie 'Songbird' is a Disaster – We Need Better Pandemic Stories (Image via STX Films)

If the reality of COVID-19 were not enough, you can now watch Songbird, a new blockbuster movie which pictures the world in 2024 trying to deal with the ravages of COVID-23, a new mutation of the coronavirus. As one reviewer writes, the film combinesa Romeo & Juliet-lite love story with a sub-Contagion thriller”. Hailed as the first feature film about the pandemic, released during the pandemic, Songbird has not received the warm welcome its producers might have hoped for.

COVID-19 Movie 'Songbird' is a Disaster – We Need Better Pandemic Stories [Trailer Included]
'Songbird' (screengrab)
One of the most generous reviews is from The Guardian, which described the film as “a fascinating historical document of how some creatives found their way around the rules during an impossible time for a struggling industry”. In contrast, Canada’s Globe and Mail, cautioned viewers to “physically distance” themselves from Songbird, which it described as “crass and gimmicky”. Other reviewers also saw the film as a “schlocky and opportunistic” production. Viewers, meanwhile, have criticised it as being in bad taste for trying “to bank on the current times and failing just about every step of the way”.

The range of these responses tellingly reveals the complexity of the bigger questions behind the film, namely: what role does culture play when it comes to disasters? This question is not new. Yet the seemingly never-ending current global health crisis gives it a sense of urgency.

Cultural representations of disasters can show ways to make sense of crises. Whether it’s the allegorical painting of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, HBO’s Chernobyl, or Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), a magical realist response to Hurricane Katrina, these cultural representations act as social commentaries. They anticipate political action, shape and express environmental ethics, and – most importantly – they can help us to imagine what a possible future could look like.

Not in the same boat

Films, TV series and books about disasters show, again and again, that there is no one way of experiencing any disaster. Zadie Smith’s recently published Intimations, an essay collection of pandemic reflections, describes this in clear terms: “The misery is very precisely designed, and different for each person.” As the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 clearly demonstrates, we are all not in the same boat. This has been captured by poetry, and confirmed by research.

The pandemic has not struck with the same force nor at the same time. What COVID-19 has revealed is ever-starker socioeconomic divides. The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on certain demographic and labour groups. It has cut a swath through the most vulnerable populations, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions as well as the key workers who are keeping the cities, hospitals, and schools running. In short, the impact of the pandemic (and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg) is contingent on pre-existing, long-term, and sustained vulnerability.

COVID-19 Movie 'Songbird' is a Disaster – We Need Better Pandemic Stories [Trailer Included]
'Songbird' (screengrab)
In response to the profound suffering and disruption to all aspects of our lives, many yearn for some, even small, return to “normal life”. Yet, it is precisely this “normal” – the reality of fatal inequalities, racial violence, injustice, and disenfranchisement – that is the problem.

No return to the pre-pandemic conditions is possible, nor should it be wished for. Rather, post-pandemic recovery has to work to address and repair these long-term structures of injustice, racism, and political, social and cultural marginalisation. Good artistic works aim to recover these hidden narratives and voices, voices that need to be central to any long-term recovery processes.

Starting slowly

The future starts slowly. How it will look depends on long-term community efforts and – even more so – on policy changes and political decisions. Yet waiting for these might mean waiting too long. In the meantime, artists, neighbourhood groups, mutual aid and solidarity groups forge their way through the crisis, start this slow labour of recovering, already pointing towards what alternative futures, in a small way, might look like.

The future starts with listening to the discordant experiences of those most affected by the impact of the pandemic. For Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, reflecting on writing in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, it soon became clear that “the book that I’m going to write will take years”. Indeed, her novel Chernobyl Prayer took ten years to complete. This “novel of voices”, as she calls it, captures precisely those discordant meanings, ongoing sense of irreparable loss and confusion.

Understanding what the current pandemic means and what its real impact is will also take years. Undoing long-term vulnerabilities will take even longer. Yet this work has to start now and continue day in, day out. For British philosopher Nigel Warburton, Albert Camus’s The Plague (1947) provides inspiration, with its depiction of “ordinary people rising to an occasion and doing extraordinary things”.

Whether an artistically uninspiring, ethically problematic contagion-themed love story where the pandemic is exploited as a jumping-off point can capture the many voices of the pandemic experience, sketch a horizon of post-COVID-19 life, or provide an inspiration for such ordinary work of slow healing and recovery, is highly unlikely. Tellingly, for one viewer of Songbird, in order to enjoy the film, one must “ignore what’s happening” in real life.

While seeking an escape might not in itself be bad, as film scholar Alfio Leotta reminds us: “The kind of escape we seek matters.” It is thanks to the other worlds offered by books, films, that we can gain a better, more critical, but also more courageous, imaginative, view of the present we are in and, not least, of what can the future hold.

About Today's Contributor:

Kasia Mika, Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Queen Mary University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

22 January 2021

Poirot at 100: The Refugee Detective Who Stole Britain's Heart

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Poirot at 100: The Refugee Detective Who Stole Britain's Heart
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.(ITV)
A hundred years ago, Agatha Christie introduced British readers to a small man with an impeccably maintained moustache who, with the help of his “little grey cells”, was very good at solving crimes. That man, of course, was Hercule Poirot, who made his debut in Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1921.

Though potentially the second most famous detective in British culture (after Sherlock Holmes), Poirot is not British at all but a refugee. Coming to England as part of a group of Belgians displaced by the first world war, his origins lie in Brussels. Writing about this retired Belgian police officer solving cases around the UK and across the globe, Christie was able to explore (and at times poke fun at) the complexities of Englishness and its relationship to continental Europe.

European flair

On the surface, Christie’s novels resemble a nostalgic retreat to the pastoral and to the English stately home. They can be read as a possible turning-inwards thanks to an emphasis on closed rooms and detailed floor plans of grand buildings. But such appearances are deceptive.

The opening of borders, both literal and intellectual, shapes Christie’s England. It was her understanding of the work of European thinkers that gives her detective an edge. Where an English detective, like Sherlock Holmes, looks for external pieces of evidence that can be analysed, Poirot solves the case by realising the hidden implications of people’s behaviour – including his own. Poirot’s Freudian focus on the psychology of suspects enables him to see that simple mistakes and slips of the tongue can hide deeper meanings. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a crucial clue is revealed when Poirot realises the importance of his own almost unconscious instinct to tidy.

In Christie’s world, the typically English common sense of policemen is not enough to solve the mystery. Instead, a dash of continental theory sheds light on what lies beneath the surface.

Another of Poirot’s trademarks is his occasional struggle to find the correct English word or idiom. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he even misquotes Hamlet. Yet it would be a mistake to read these moments as simple errors. Instead, Poirot knowingly plays into the trope of the “funny foreigner”, using difficulties with language to disarm suspects and allay fears of suspicion (how could such a comic figure be so great a detective?). In the famous scenes where Poirot explains the truth, his English becomes markedly more fluent. In this, Poirot represents the outsider perfectly placed to see through English deceptions.

Little England

The success of the “funny foreigner” schtick with unsuspecting English plays into Christie’s larger exploration of Englishness in her books.

Poirot is an enthusiastic devotee of England. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd he comments that England is “very beautiful, is it not?” But this enthusiasm is not always returned. A running joke of the Poirot novels and adaptations is that he is often mistaken as French. In Ackroyd, he is described as looking “just like a comic Frenchman in a revue”. But in a genre that demands close attention to detail, the joke here is at the expense of a particularly inward-looking type of Englishness, those who cannot tell the difference between the French and the Belgian.

Likewise, as literary scholar Alison Light notes, Poirot’s popularity coincides with the expansion in travel, as the English increasingly saw themselves as tourists abroad. Several of Poirot’s most famous cases occur on modes of transport and in exotic locations, like Death on the Nile. However, while the English in these stories might be abroad, class relations from home still manage to play out wherever they might be. England follows them, and that inward-looking Englishness runs deep.

While Christie might have poked fun at England and Englishness, she managed to capture the hearts of British readers with her small, smart Belgian. Poirot was so loved by readers that Christie wrote 33 novels, two plays, and more than 50 short stories about him between 1921 and 1975. ITV’s adaptation of many of these stories, Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet, ran for 25 years (1989-2013) and is also now considered a classic of British TV. Few fictional detectives have had their complete adventures adapted for the screen. In this regard, Poirot makes a strong claim to being Britain’s most loved detective.

Poirot at 100: The Refugee Detective Who Stole Britain's Heart
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.(screengrab)

About Today's Contributor:

Christopher Pittard, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

One-Third Of Drivers Don't Know Their Drink-Drive Limit [Infographic]

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One-Third Of Drivers Don't Know Their Drink-Drive Limit [Infographic]
One-Third Of Drivers Don't Know Their Drink-Drive Limit (Please, scroll down to see full infographic)
There are few issues as serious and wide-spread in their risk to both drivers and pedestrians than the enduring problem of drink-driving. A recently announced infographic from Hilton Garage has taken a deeper look into some of the stats behind the reality of drink-driving, today, as well as the fundamental actions that we can all take to help.
In order to prevent the ongoing increase of drink-drive accidents on the road, Hilton Garage is encouraging people to be more aware of the steps that they can take to prevent such incidents from ever occurring. This includes being mindful of the risk, serving non-alcohol alternatives for people who are driving, keeping an eye on friends who may be at risk of drink-driving, and acting as a designated driver.
  • Furthermore, the infographic highlights just how many people don’t understand the laws revolving around drink-driving. Many currently don’t understand the drink-drive limits in terms of how much alcohol needs to be in their blood or breath to get them in danger, meaning that they not only risk the safety of themselves and others on or by the roads, they also run the risk of getting in trouble with the law.
Drink-driving continues to be a consistent and persistent issue across drivers of all ages. Driving under the influence is the number one causing factor of road accidents and injuries throughout the UK and, as a result, not only do drivers have a responsibility to avoid drinking and driving. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent it.

The Infographic:

One-Third Of Drivers Don't Know Their Drink-Drive Limit [Infographic]
Infographic Design By Drink driving facts

21 January 2021

Kamala Harris Original Art Illustration Magazine Cover Design Pays Homage to 21st Century Diversity

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Kamala Harris Original Art Illustration Magazine Cover Design Pays Homage to 21st Century Diversity
Vice President Kamala Harris Original Art Culturs Magazine Illustration
As the United States made history welcoming Vice President Kamala Harris, Culturs — the global multicultural magazine, focused on how Harris represents an increasing wave of politicians displaying hidden diversity.
Along with Barack Obama and John McCain, the issue's cover story highlights how Third Culture Kids (TCKs) like these three examples are changing the face of U.S. politics. Third Culture Kids are those who grow up with geographic and cultural mobility during their formative years when identity is formed. In 1984, Sociologist Ted Ward called TCKs "The prototype citizens of the future."
"The classic profile of a TCK is someone with a global perspective who is socially adaptable and intellectually flexible," says Ruth Van Reken, co-author of a celebrated book on Third Culture Kids. In the article, she shares that "The U.S. 'melting pot' indeed has birthed notable TCKs in its political ranks.
  • The issue boasts an original art illustration of Harris amongst Lotus flowers, which is one translation for her name's meaning.
"We've had a lot of celebratory comments about this cover, and gratitude from people sharing that it is a proper observance for such a monumental occasion," Doni Aldine, Culturs Editor-in-Chief, shares.
  • The issue covers a number of cross-cultural political up-and-comers, along with articles on digital democracy in online algorithms, views on immigration and cross-cultural lifestyle content like the Ojibwe Native American Jingle Dress dance, a review of the book "Caste," and more.
This historic Colorado-based print publication celebrates cross-cultural identity and amplifies voices of hidden diversity for TCKs, immigrants, refugees, multiracial and multiethnic people. On sale for $9.99 starting Feb. 1 at Army and Air Force Exchange Service Stores (AFFES), select Kroger grocery stores, Books-a-Million and independent bookstores. 

About Culturs:

Culturs is a global multicultural philanthropic brand that brings lifestyle content to culturally fluid populations whose lives are punctuated by "straddling" different cultures during their formative years. The missing "e" in Culturs represents the population's hidden diversity. Proceeds support cross-cultural education around the globe. 

SOURCE: Culturs


20 January 2021

Eric St. John Stars with Chris Brown and Young Thug in New Mini Movie / Music Video [Video Included]

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Eric St. John Stars with Chris Brown and Young Thug in New Mini Movie / Music Video
Eric St. John Stars with Chris Brown and Young Thug in New Mini Movie / Music Video (screengrab)
Eric St. John has continued to shake the entertainment industry as he is currently working with award-winning artist Chris Brown and talented rapper, Young Thug, on a new mini -movie / music video. 

  • Eric St. John has already shown the world his incredible acting skills, and he is set to star in "De Gringo a la Tumba," an amazing movie by international writer and director Jacob N. Stuart.
City Girls set in 1940's Hollywood in an exclusive cabaret-style club, is narrated by "A Bronx Tale" star Lillo Brancato Jr. Throughout the video Chris Brown sings, along with Young Thug, and the cabaret girls put on a show, until the scene explodes into a cinematic shootout.

City Girls - The Video:

"I am truly impressed with Executive Producer Matt Goldstein and I am grateful that he hired me for this acting role on his incredible production!" said Eric St. John.
Eric St. John is fast-becoming a sought-after brand in the entertainment industry as the American actor and producer has caught the attention of major stakeholders in the industry. Not too many people will be surprised that Eric is working with Chris Brown on a new music video, considering the fantastic acting skills he has displayed in recent times.

City Girls (Behind The Scenes) - Video:

  • City Girls  was directed by talented Jake Miosge, in his directorial debut. Eric is grateful to work with Miosge stating " It is an honor to work with Jake on his directorial debut!"
Eric has expressed his delight in working with Chris Brown and Young Thug. "Chris Brown is one of the premier musical talents of our generation, and I am grateful that he brought me on board for his awesome project! Young Thug is the epitome of cool!" said Eric St. John.
Eric St. John Stars with Chris Brown and Young Thug in New Mini Movie
Eric St. John

About Eric St. John:

Eric St. John is a talented American actor and world-class martial artist, trained in multiple disciplines with some of the best in the world. The multifaceted entertainer looks set to take the industry by storm as he continues to deliver captivating performances on movie sets.

SOURCE: Eric St. John

Favale Media's "Donald Trump Farewell Video" Features Four Long Years Of Lowlights In Just Four Minutes [Video Included]

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REM predicted the end of the world as we know it would start with an earthquake but for many it started with a descending escalator carrying Donald and Melania in Trump Tower on June 16th, 2015…and it's been all downhill since then.

Now with Trump's presidency officially ended, Favale Media has captured the last four years of lowlights in a commemorative video featuring Radiohead's "Creep".
"Regardless of political affiliation, every presidency in modern history has been fodder for comedy," said Vinnie Favale.
Comedians had a field day in 1952 with Vice President Nixon's "checkers" speech. In 1963, Vaughn Meader had the number one album ("The First Family") spoofing JFK. Nixon's Watergate and Clinton's Monicagate were a goldmine for Johnny Carson's monologue writers and Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 and Obama made their own fair share of gaffes to keep the late-night talk show writers busy.

  • But Trump's presidency presented a whole different challenge for the comedy industry.
Favale says "Unfortunately old the expression 'it's all fun and games till somebody gets hurt...then it's hilarious" never applied to Trump. Claims that he could shoot someone on 5th avenue and get away with it and exaggerating the size of his inauguration crowds were relatively harmless…contesting the election results and instigating the riot at the Capitol not so much."
Prior to the attack on the Capitol, Favale was going to take a lighthearted approach. "There were so many moments to choose from, I thought I might just highlight the silly stuff and use the Village People as the soundtrack. But then Trump's comments at his "Save America March" rally and the ensuing attack on the Capitol by his loyalists forced Favale to change the tone of the video.
"The thing about the Trump is that for every silly video clip there are like ten horrific ones and the footage from the January 6th riot was just too difficult to ignore."
  • Using the aptly titled "Creep" from Radiohead, the video came together pretty quickly.
"It's sad that it all had to end this way and I think we all are looking forward to the inevitable Biden grandpa memes."
Favale Media's "Donald Trump Farewell Video" Features Four Long Years Of Lowlights In Just Four Minutes
Favale Media's "Donald Trump Farewell Video" Features Four Long Years Of Lowlights In Just Four Minutes (screengrab)
Favale Media specializes in Live Events, Films, Musical Theater, Scripted & Unscripted TV Programs. Vinnie Favale is a veteran of CBS, David Letterman, The Howard Stern Show and a founder of Comedy Central.
SOURCE: Favale Media

19 January 2021

How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony

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How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony
How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony (image via Don/KnowYourMeme)

For most of us, memes are the harmless fodder of an “extremely online” internet culture, floating benignly between different social media platforms — and, on the whole, making us laugh. But in the shadier corners of the internet, like on the forum 4chan, memes can quickly mutate from jokes into more ambiguous, shocking and potentially harmful viral content.

That’s especially true of memes that call into question the efficacy and safety of vaccines — often termed “anti-vax” content. Anti-vaccination sentiment is not a new phenomenon, but is increasingly fuelled by online misinformation. Unfounded claims proliferate online, linking vaccines to disease development, or presenting COVID-19 as a hoax.

When they go viral, such conspiracy theories present a major obstacle to the success of any immunisation campaign, as they may contribute to vaccine hesitancy. In the UK, more than a quarter of the population signals reluctance or suspicion about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Globally, willingness to be vaccinated varies widely.

To combat the spread of anti-vaccination rumours, platforms are currently using a dual strategy of censorship and fact checking. Both practices have their pitfalls. Censorship may actually stimulate curiosity, while people who distrust mainstream media are not likely to trust fact checkers.

And much online content — like viral memes — is not primarily meant to inform, and is therefore hard to evaluate in terms of whether it’s information, misinformation, or simply a joke.

Imageboard dissidence

Internet memes are a defining feature of online communication. The term can refer to any widely shared and replicated piece of online content in a variety of styles and formats. While mostly humorous or relatable, some memes have come to be associated with hateful beliefs through their occurrence on influential websites such as the imageboard 4chan.

4chan boasts over 20 million unique visitors a month, and is highly influential in meme culture. On 4chan’s “Politically Incorrect” board (/pol/), people anonymously discuss world news and political events from perspectives that run counter to the public consensus. Views expressed on /pol/ can be shocking and unpleasant.

Conspiracy theories such as QAnon flourished on /pol/, and the forum has been linked to the recent Capitol riots.

How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony
4chan is an imageboard from which many famous memes have originated (II.studio/Shutterstock)

Presumed malicious intent behind vaccination programmes is a commonly voiced concern on the board. In a recent study, I showed that anti-vaccination posts encountered on /pol/ (and found across social media) display a number of recurring elements, such as revulsion to vaccine ingredients and selective appeals to authority. With vaccine hesitancy becoming an increasingly pressing concern, the role of such memetic patterns in the spread of misinformation deserves careful attention.

Renegade quotes

Anti-vaccination posts regularly contain a visual component. For instance, a reference to authority can be expressed through a vaccine-critical quote next to the face of the person who supposedly uttered it. Surprisingly often, quotes included in anti-vaccination discussions are attributed incorrectly.

Online, incorrect attribution does not just happen by accident. Fake quotes are a very popular meme format, often intended to satirise and amuse. Today’s internet users are likely to encounter the face of historic figures such as Lincoln, Einstein or Gandhi, paired with an absurdly out-of-place statement.

Such memes creatively critique the popular practice of sharing inspirational messages. They also ridicule received sources of wisdom and authority. But as a result, it is often unclear whether anti-vaccination statements voiced through the face-and-quote format are shared and received in earnest, or through an ironic lens.

This image of Bill Gates with a vaccine has been repurposed hundreds of times online. (Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Photo, CC BY-NC-ND)

Accustomed to online irony, a proportion of internet users on 4chan and beyond may not intend their multi-layered jokes to contribute to vaccine hesitancy. The influence of ironic meme culture may also mitigate the impact of misinformation by priming the browsing crowd for absurdity rather than accuracy. However, diverse audiences make for diverse reactions. While quotes supposedly exposing the evil intentions of figures such as Bill Gates – a common target of conspiratorial beliefs – can easily be read in jest, they can also influence internet users to distrust vaccines.

Vaccine revolt

A second common feature of anti-vaccination discourse is revulsion to vaccine ingredients. This sentiment tends to be communicated by means of lists combining chemical and bestial elements. When taken out of context, a compilation of vaccine components — mentioning mercury, formaldehyde, and cow’s blood — can indeed inspire fear and disgust. When presented to shock, the ingredients of any complex product may come to look like an alchemist’s concoction or a sinister witch’s brew.

Feelings of aversion may be exacerbated by the image of a syringe, which in anti-vax posts is often presented together with ingredients deemed harmful. Most children fear needles, and a large proportion of adults do, too. In many contexts, sharp objects are associated with harm, not health.

It is surprising, then, that ironic replications of the syringe-plus-ingredients template circulate online, mocking the anti-vaxxer’s fears and supposed scientific illiteracy. Such memetic efforts may aim to comically combat misinformation, but nonetheless spread visual prompts that reinforce suspicion. From this perspective, you may even wonder whether popular newspapers contribute to vaccine hesitancy by repeatedly using pictures of a needle breaching the skin.

Attitudes to vaccination are communicated not just through what is written, but also through particular representational patterns. Meme formats and visual outlines can spread misinformation, even when created and shared with humorous intent.

After all, “Poe’s Law” dictates that there’s a wafer-thin line between satirical and fanatical content. In the context of COVID-19, that line is all too easily crossed.

About Today's Contributor:

Jan Buts, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Translation Studies, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

18 January 2021

Shackleton presents Antarctica NOW: Why does Antarctica Matter to All of Us?

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A seven-day online festival that takes participants on a virtual journey to discover: ‘Why does Antarctica Matter to All of Us?’
British Expedition Apparel brand Shackleton presents Antarctica NOW, a seven-day online festival celebrating the extraordinary continent that for centuries has captured restless imaginations and transformed understanding of the rest of the world. 
Normally January would be a time when thousands of people head to the Antarctic, whether for work or exploration, but COVID-19 has inevitably impacted on that. As borders close and lockdowns intensify, we invite people instead to come with us on a virtual journey. Through dynamic presentations and discussions, provocative writing and pioneering photography, this is a chance to explore the unique wonder and vital significance of Antarctica today.
Over a century ago, when the brand's namesake Ernest Shackleton led three expeditions to Antarctica, exploration was about discovering new lands and breaking records. Today's explorations in the seventh continent are more focused on fields of science, climate and conservation, all of which are playing a pivotal role in our understanding of the planet.

We are realising what we learn from the frozen continent today will be paramount in fighting climate change in the future. This is why Shackleton has decided to host Antarctica NOW, in order to spread awareness of what's happening in the coldest place on earth right now - and why it's crucially important to every single one of us.

Shackleton presents Antarctica NOW: Why does Antarctica Matter to All of Us?
Shackleton presents Antarctica NOW: Why does Antarctica Matter to All of Us? (screengrab)

Discussion topics at the 7-day festival will include:

  • What's the polar power struggle playing out in Antarctica right now?
  • How do events in Antarctica impact on everyone?
  • What's left for Antarctic explorers? Who gets to decide who goes?
  • How fast are the ice shelves melting?
  • What's the link between Antarctica and space research?
  • What can the ice tell us about the past - and the future?
  • Are we winning the wildlife conservation battle?
  • How can we make the world sit up and notice?
Antarctica NOW opens on Monday January 25th and runs until the 31st January with a lead speaker broadcast live on Zoom and Facebook at 6pm each evening, as well as a host of other interviews, briefings, writing, photographic essays and a discussion forum available via Shackleton's website and social media channels.

Curated by writer and editor Rachel Halliburton (Avaunt Magazine), the festival brings together some of the most exciting and significant voices in the Antarctic community, including explorers, geopoliticians, scientists from the European Space Agency, cartographers and prize-winning photographers, to investigate and raise awareness of the most urgent and critical issues threatening the frozen continent..
"Antarctica is our spiritual home - it's where Sir Ernest Shackleton made his name as a polar explorer over a century ago and where our expedition-grade apparel is tested and used today. 'Like me, anyone who's seen Antarctica first-hand feels compelled to protect it" says Shackleton co-founder Martin Brooks. 'The aim of the festival is to raise awareness of the critical issues surrounding Antarctica, and how these impact all of us across the globe. As Shackleton said himself, 'It's in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all,' We invite everyone to explore what makes Antarctica both critical and wonderfully compelling.'
Shackleton presents Antarctica NOW: Why does Antarctica Matter to All of Us?
Shackleton presents Antarctica NOW: Why does Antarctica Matter to All of Us? (screengrab)

The Event Schedule:

  • Monday 25th
6:00 PM - Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway University of London
A new Cold War? - why the Antarctic is on the brink of an international power struggle

  • Tuesday 26th
6:00 PM - Mark Drinkwater, Head, Earth and Mission Science Division at the European Space Agency
Checking Earth's Pulse at the Poles from Space: Are 2020 vital signs cause for concern?

  • Wednesday 27th
6:00 PM - Dr Mackenzie Grieman, Post Doctoral Research Associate at the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge University
Ice as a time machine – what stories can glaciers and ice sheets can tell us about our past?

  • Thursday 28th
6:00 PM - Sebastian Copeland, Photographer, filmmaker, explorer & philanthropist
Waking the giant – how can photography help bring about change?

  • Friday 29th
6:00 PM - Lizzie Daly, Biologist & wildlife broadcaster
From gentoo penguins to Antarctic blue whales – what needs to be done to win the wildlife conservation battle?

  • Saturday 30th
6:00 PM - Hugh Broughton, Architect and leading designer of research facilities in the Polar Regions
Polar architecture – what are the challenges of designing for the world's most extreme environment?

  • Sunday 31st
5:00 PM - Steve Jones, Expedition Manager at Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions
Earth's final frontier – what advice do today's explorers need and why did Scott and Shackleton's expeditions go wrong?

6:00 PM - Louis Rudd MBE, Record-breaking polar explorer & SAS Soldier
Tales of the Unexpected - the inside story on The Spirit of Endurance Expedition.

Related Video:


SOURCE: Shackleton

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