Category Archives: Europe

Miss Representation – vive la différence?

Had you ever heard of the documentary Miss Representation? I hadn’t. And yet, it seems to encapsulate in one fell swoop almost all of the social concerns I have for the next century. The American documentary, premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, explores how (American) mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of females. For a prime (and frankly, shocking) example, pay close attention to the video below around the 2.45 mark.

Although the film is indeed very America-centric, this is still relevant to us across the Atlantic, given how much of the pop culture media we consume is American. Some of the statistics are quite stunning – America is actually regressing in its journey towards gender equality. This comes as less of a surprise once we consider such TV programmes as ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians‘, ‘Gossip Girl‘ and the late ‘The Hills‘. America is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an anomaly – there are only two countries with 50% or more women in parliament – Andorra and Rwanda. After that, the numbers fall dramatically.

Although we studied it at university, I have yet to see such a compelling distress signal regarding the deeply harmful effects that the misogynistic portrayal of women in the media might have on society as this film. Western nations love to pat themselves on the back for treating women equally, quick to compare themselves favourably against such backward nations as Iran where women are subjugated by the rules of Sharia law. However, the case against the Western (or at least, the American) media is strong and as the movie points out, it is only growing stronger,

It is my wont to swiftly draw comparisons between America and Europe. On Sunday the 15th of January, French journalist Anne-Sophie Lapix welcomed the far-right leader of the Front Nationale party Marine Le Pen onto her Sunday night current affairs show Dimanche +. In the space of about ten minutes, Lapix, probably as well-known for her looks than her journalism up to that point, calmly and efficiently destroyed Le Pen’s economic policies in a battle of the titans that is now all over the French press. If for no other reason, and even though the entire conversation is in French, it is worth a watch just for the pure spectacle – the meaning of what they are saying can probably be inferred simply through their body language.

What I found interesting about the segment was the way in which these women were being portrayed. Sophisticated, intelligent, and calm – they seemed to embody the exact opposite of the stereotypes referred to in ‘Miss Representation‘ of women as hysterical bimbos probably suffering from PMS. The more disappointing facet to this is the fact that France isn’t even a bastion of gender equality (although progress is slowly being made). I can’t even grin smugly and say ‘at least somebody’s doing it right – vive la différence!’.

How are we ever expected to achieve the dream of universal equality when we so readily ignore this derogatory treatment of women in a media we consume so voraciously? What does it say about our progress or indeed even our desire for progress? As the older brother of an eighteen year-old girl, the statistics and the evidence are hardly comforting. I don’t know what she wants to do with her life, I’m sure she doesn’t either, not just yet. No doubt her plans are ambitious. Looking at the trailer for this movie really makes me wonder what I’m supposed to say to her, other than ‘well, do your best’.

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Filed under America, Current Affairs, Documentaries, Europe, Politics, Pop Culture, Women

As advertising campaigns go…

This one, for Dutch underwear brand Hema, does not at first appear to be all that controversial.

It simply promises the wearer that the new Hema push-up bra will augment breast size by two categories, no matter how small the wearer’s breasts are.

And then there are a couple of very conservative pictures of the model…

…whose name is Andrej Pejic, was voted in FHM’s list of World’s 100 Sexiest Women – and is a man.

Didn’t see that one coming did you?


Filed under Ad Campaigns, Clothes, Culture, Europe

The Cube pop-up restaurant

Pop-up restaurants are experiencing a huge amount of attention at the moment, especially since summer is in full swing and, in London at least, that’s when most of them seem to appear.

My friend Jake is a chef at a well-known restaurant near London Bridge and, now that I’ve moved down from the wilds of Scotland, he has become my reference point for all things cool and current in the world of food and drink. He’s taken me to a couple of pop-up places like Frank’s Campari Bar in Peckham.

However, today I was speaking to a friend of mine about the phenomenon and he mentioned something altogether on another level. The Swedish appliance makers, Electrolux, have sponsored a massive publicity drive using the medium of the pop-up restaurant. The project is called The Cube.

The Cube is an especially designed restaurant with a capacity of just 18 diners. Electrolux are touring two such restaurants across Europe this summer in particularly high-profile and stunning locations such as the triumphal arch at the Parc Cinquantenaire in Brussels, where it launched its tour in April.

While the website states that the restaurants will be visiting Switzerland, Russia and Sweden, reports of a delay until next summer, at least for the Stockholm restaurant, suggest that it may be a while before The Cube comes closer to home. Imagine if they attached it to Big Ben? I’d eat dinner there.



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Filed under Europe, Food

Thorium – the next step for nuclear power?

Since the Fukushima incident which followed Japan’s massive earthquake and consequent tsunami in Marcj of this year, the issue of nuclear energy has been at the forefront of current affairs across the globe. Germany made headlines when its coalition government declared it was to terminate its nuclear energy programme by the year 2022. There had been widespread mass-protest against nuclear energy in Germany in the wake of Fukushima and the decision has made Germany the largest industrial power to commit to giving up on nuclear power.

The news had a hugely positive effect on share prices for renewable energy companies with German solar manufacturer, Solarworld, up 7.6% whilst Danish wind turbine maker Vestas gained more than 3% within a day of the German government’s announcement.

Nonetheless, there is still speculation from sceptics who say that, in order for Germany to make up for the amount of nuclear energy it will be disposing of (currently 11% 0f total energy consumed), the country will have to burn more fossil fuels, thus doing more harm than good to the environment. They believe that, although the German economy can survive without nuclear power, such a quick phase-out is negligent. A stable power supply is taken for granted in Germany – and any suggestion that this was no longer 100 per cent guaranteed might deter investors. According to Dorothea Slems of German paper Die Welt, “A look back at the oil price shocks in the 1970s shows how sensitive the question of energy is.”

This leads me to what could be the greatest energy technology breakthrough of this century, and could potentially change the global energy landscape forever. Thorium is a radioactive chemical element which is around four times more abundant than Uranium and far less hazardous. Some countries, most notable India and China, are now investing heavily in research to build thorium-based nuclear reactors. India has also made thorium based nuclear reactors a priority with its focus on developing ‘fast breeder’ technology (nuclear reactors that create more fissile material in fuel than they consume).

Some of the benefits of Thorium, when compared with Uranium are:

  • Weapons-grade fissionable material (233U) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor;
  • Thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste;
  • Thorium comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment, whereas natural uranium contains only 0.7% fissionable U-235;
  • Thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reactor without priming, so fission stops by default.
Norway appears set on running its post-oil economy on Thorium-based nuclear energy. The technology’s supporters say it will be the saving grace of a world hurtling towards a massive energy crisis based on Asia’s ever-expanding economies and the West’s evermore entrenched commitment to guzzling fuel.
Germany’s decision to end all nuclear energy within its borders may have been rushed and may not have been entirely environmentally sound. But it has sent out a loud and clear message to the rest of the world: It’s time to re-think the way we produce the energy we rely on. If such economic behemoths as India and China are listening, that can only be a good thing.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Energy, Europe, Politics

Oriana Fallaci: the Godmother of Italian journalism

About two years ago, I read Kate Adie’s fascinating autobiography The Kindness of Strangers, in which she describes how she got involved in the BBC and her fascinating experiences as a foreign correspondent reporting from Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Tiananmen Square, Iraq and Sierra Leone. In many ways, Adie embodies the essence of stereotypical Britishness: calm under adverse circumstances and focused on getting the job done without fuss. This strong personality made her universally respected in her field.

I did not know, until discussing radical Islam with my Italian flatmate and another friend of mine, also Italian, that Italy has its very own answer to Kate Adie. In fact, the woman in question, Oriana Fallaci, was a generation older than Adie and, unlike Adie, actually participated in fighting during World War II.

Fallaci was born to Socialist parents in 1929 and was a partisan fighter during the war. Reflecting on this period later, Fallaci said: “…I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”

While still in her teens, Fallaci became a journalist writing for an Italian paper. In 1967, she began her career as a war correspondent, working in Vietnam, India, Pakistan, the Middle East and in South America. Glamorous, tough and beautiful, Fallaci quickly gained notoriety for her coverage of various high-profile conflicts across the globe. In Mexico, whilst covering the Tlatelolco Massacre preceding the 1968 Olympics (held in Mexico City), Fallaci was shot three times, dragged down stairs by her hair and left for dead by Mexican forces.  In a profile of Fallaci, The New Yorker described her former support of the student activists as having “devolved into a dislike of Mexicans”:

The demonstrations by immigrants in the United States these past few months “disgust” her, especially when protesters displayed the Mexican flag. “I don’t love the Mexicans,” Fallaci said, invoking her nasty treatment at the hands of Mexican police in 1968. “If you hold a gun and say, ‘Choose who is worse between the Muslims and the Mexicans,’ I have a moment of hesitation. Then I choose the Muslims, because they have broken my balls.”

Fallaci became famous for her aggressive and provocative style of interviewing which baited the subjects into answering question very badly. In a 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, he agreed that the Vietnam War was “a useless war” and afterwards, Kissinger described the exchange as “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.”

Fallaci retired in the 1980s, moved to New York and lectured in various universities including Chicago, Harvard, Yale and Columbia. However, after the 9/11 attacks she came out of retirement and published what is by far her most famous work: The Rage And The Pride. In the book, she heavily criticised Islamic extremism and Islam in general, warning that Europe was too tolerant of Muslims, writing “sons of Allah breed like rats”. The Rage And The Pride and the two other books that followed to form a trilogy were all bestsellers in Italy and across Europe, selling in excess of 1.5 million copies. You can read The Rage And The Pride here

Fellaci was a life-long smoker and died of lung cancer in 2006.

This compilation of interviews with Charlie Rose is a terrific glimpse of a woman whose writings and opinions caused as many to hate her as to love her (skip to 9:15) . In Italy she is a folk hero of sorts. It’s easy to see why. I just wish I’d heard of her before now.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, Pop Culture

Dr. Doom strikes again

For those of you unfamiliar with the Irish media, a significant amount of economic and financial policy is promulgated via the national broadcasting radio, RTE Radio. Counter to this outlet of information, is Professor Morgan Kelly of the University College Dublin School of Economics, who forswears television and grants very few interviews, holding his council for months at a time before releasing a few thousand words in a weekend paper.

Kelly’s predicitions of the 2007 end of Ireland’s property boom have made him something of an anti-celebrity on the island. Nicknamed ‘Dr. Doom’ after the publication of his bitterly scathing indictment of the Irish banking bailout last November, Kelly nonetheless is held in such regard that after his latest barrage against the handling of the banking crisis, which was published on Saturday, its main target – Patrick Honohan, the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland – rushed to the airwaves on Sunday morning to defend himself.

The article is a master class in beating the bejesus out of a person using nought but words. Kelly writes that Honohan’s “miscalculation of the bank losses has turned out to be the costliest mistake ever made by an Irish person”.

Kelly’s proposition of walking away from the bailout, he admits holds no political potential. However, Ireland is already projecting a government deficit of €14.8 billion, or €10,000 per household in the country. Clearly this position is not maintainable.

What is becoming increasingly and uncomfortably obvious is the fact that those European governments which run a budget deficit are under the thumb of its lenders, and when there are no lenders left (which, for Ireland, there aren’t) and only the EU is left, then those governments are under the thumb of the EU.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Europe, Ireland, Money