Category Archives: Columns & Series

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To Laugh Or Not To Laugh At Cultural Stereotypes?

Stereotypes also signal the presence of different ethnicities around us and in a sense play a part in preserving aspects of ethnic cultures.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he media coverage of the San Francisco Asiana airline crash earlier this year put the spotlight once again on the proliferation of cultural stereotypes in society today. One announcer on a US television station read out racist sounding, fake pilot names of the Korean-owned flight on-air. The headline “Fright 214” accompanied a US newspaper story covering the tragedy, a headline dubbed as mocking the common Asian accent. Some chimed in on social media with racially-tinged jokes to lighten the incident, but others have said all these sentiments were inappropriate as the tragedy involved fatalities. This begs the question: should we keep laughing at cultural stereotypes?

Psychological factors explain why we laugh at stereotypes. When we laugh at cultural stereotypes, it means we are entertained by the traits of certain groups. It also usually means we do not find certain stereotypes offensive. There are also people who laugh at stereotypical representations of their own race. Do we actually learn anything from laughing at stereotypes?

Perhaps we can answer this question by asking ourselves what we often interpret from noticing stereotypical portrayals that tickle our funny bones. It is not surprising for some of us unfamiliar with Asian cultures to narrow-mindedly equate “Asianness” with “Chineseness”: a good number of stereotypical portrayals of Asians perpetuate the silly generalization that all Asians are Chinese. As mentioned, US media published fake Asiana pilot names including “Sum Ting Wong” and “Ho Lee Fuk” and the headline “Flight 214” – names that sound distinctly Chinese and a headline closely mimicking the way some Chinese sound when speaking English. Similarly, Maggi Australia’s crowd-sourced YouTube campaign promoting its Fusian “Asian” Noodles range features lots of kung fu. These repetitive Chinese-esque stereotypes arguably overshadow the presence of other Asian ethnicities around us. It does not help that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are still prominent, popular Asian icons and household names today.

More obviously, Asian stereotypes constantly impart the idea Asians do not speak English well. In reality, Asians in the West tend to speak the language quite fluently. In other words, “Asian” is often used as an umbrella term, an umbrella term callously implying all Asians speak with one accent and are “one race” when in fact there are various Asian groups speaking with different tonalities. The mention of Korea’s “(strict) hierarchical corporate culture” within the Asiana media coverage was unfortunately twisted to suggest this caused the tragedy. As such, to those unfamiliar with Asian customs, stereotypes give off the impression Asian values are undesirable in certain contexts.

On the flip-side, cultural stereotypes arguably do have their relevance. Studying how stereotypes are evidently part and parcel of everyday life can assist us in understanding the significance of customs and why some embrace longstanding cultural norms. For instance, some of us re-learn our mother tongue so as to reconnect with our ethnic roots, fulfilling the common perception Asians, Indians, etc. speak their own language. However, some Asian Australians choose to re-learn their mother tongue not to discover the significance of their Asian heritage, but purely to communicate with the older generation.

Stereotypes also signal the presence of different ethnicities around us and in a sense play a part in preserving aspects of ethnic cultures. Tired scenes of a Chinese person jumping around doing kung fu or speaking in broken English or fluent Mandarin tend to appeal to many (think the popular Rush Hour franchise). Kung fu and Mandarin have been salient parts of Chinese/Asian culture for the longest time and many often recognize this, drawn to looking intently at Asian culture when they see/hear kung fu/Chinese, and so encouraged to take an interest in other races, ultimately instigating the virtues of multiculturalism for just a moment.

So should we laugh or not laugh at cultural stereotypes? Not all of us are ignorant and do know that exaggerated stereotypes are simply generalizations. Maybe we should not laugh at stereotypes as there is bound to be someone who will get offended. But there is no law against laughing at stereotypes. So if we do laugh at stereotypes, maybe we should be mindful that not everyone might laugh along. Or maybe we should not laugh at all.

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Photo Credit: El Mundo, Economía y Negocios

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Sport, Diversity And Youth In Australia

In order to foster a local multicultural sporting environment, Australia needs to do more than just provide opportunities for young people of CALD backgrounds to participate in sport.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Australia, multicultural sporting initiatives have provided opportunities for Australian and migrant youth from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to participate in local sport. At grassroots level, Melbourne’s non-profit organisation Centre for Multicultural Youth’s boyspace project trains newly arrived males aged 12–25 from Afghanistan in playing soccer, and some of these budding soccer players have won medals in competitions around the state. The Australian Football League (AFL) has given its first Sudanese-born player regular opportunities to play in its professional league. Through the Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership Program, the Australian Government consistently provides grants to organisations to help youth from emerging CALD communities partake in sport.

But do such pretty pictures of aspiring young CALD athletes on-field imply Australia is fully committed to fostering a welcoming, inclusive sporting arena for them? Not exactly.

Incidents in Australia where youths racially vilified athletes on-field point to the idea that not enough is being done to educate this demographic about appropriate moral conduct as a sport player or spectator. In May 2013, a 13-year-old girl racially abused Indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes as he played a pivotal role in one of his team’s games. In similar incidents this year, an under-15 Somalian footballer and 17-year-old Burundi-born soccer player reportedly had racist taunts hurled at them by fellow players while playing in the junior AFL league and grassroots soccer State League game respectively. Such naïve youths in Australia are rather ignorant of respectful codes of conduct for sport. If there actually are programs educating youths on acceptable spectator and player behaviour within school curriculum, they are not wholly getting through to youths.

It is interesting to note that there is a lack of diverse faces representing Australian sport on the international stage at a time when there are increasing opportunities for CALD Australian youths to participate in sport. Often on the media front, Anglo-Centric faces are the faces seen representing Australia at worldwide sporting events.

For example, press photos unveiling Australia’s 2012 London Olympics uniforms featured mainly Caucasian Australian athletes wearing the green-and-gold attire. Anglo-Saxon Australian players frequently dominate Australia’s World Cup and international cricket teams too. In other words, ever since Indigenous Australian Cathy Freeman’s time in the media spotlight as the nation’s coveted Olympic gold medalist sprinter, there are rarely, if almost none, African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, minority faces portrayed in the public eye promoting Australia sporting teams on the global stage. There are in fact multicultural young athletes competing at this level in recent years – Australia’s 2012 London Olympics badminton and table tennis teams boasted under-25 athletes of Asian descent representing the country.

Prominent multicultural athletes have the capacity to serve as role models for aspiring young CALD Australian athletes, encouraging the latter to excel in sport. Moreover, global sporting events are undoubtedly extremely popular and watched by millions of Australians, Australian youth from all backgrounds nonetheless and so it would not hurt to have diverse faces representing Australian sport.

In order to foster a local multicultural sporting environment, Australia needs to do more than just provide opportunities for young people of CALD backgrounds to participate in sport. Emotions run high during sport matches whether we are players or spectators and this is a good reason why naïve youth can get caught up playing/watching sport, exemplifying unnecessary racialised rowdy behaviour on-and-off field.

Holding sporting competitions involving players and spectators from different cultural groups within school curriculum programs could diminish discriminatory attitudes among CALD youth – Australian youth in general – within Australian sport. Classes explaining player and spectator etiquette could help too. As for increasing the representation of CALD young athletes in the public eye, it really is up to Australian media – and sport team selectors – to recognise that these athletes make valuable contributions to the local sporting sphere and in turn share their sporting achievements and stories. Ultimately, sport has the capacity to enhance a cohesive multicultural Australian society. This will inevitably hold true if we all hold utmost respect for and enthusiastically cheer on each and every athlete regardless of their race.

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Photo Credit: Sport Without Borders

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Engaging Australians With Asian Languages: Tweaking the Curriculum

The presence of Asian language programs Down Under in the future looks promising and by tweaking the local Asian languages curriculum, Australians may very well be motivated to learn Asian languages and speak Asian languages outside the classroom, solidifying bilingualism in Australia.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n today’s Asian Century, the ability to speak an Asian language is an advantage for Australians. Asia is increasingly becoming a vital economic, social and cultural partner in the Asia-Pacific region and with such a skill, communicating with neighbouring Asian countries becomes easier.

Australia already has initiatives in place to motivate locals to pick up Asian languages. Over the last few years, The Asia Education Foundation’s (AEF) BRIDGE project established partnerships with schools in China and Indonesia, putting forward opportunities for local students and teachers to engage with their peers who are native Asian language speakers. Between 2008 and 2012, the Australian Government’s National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program provided over $60 million in funding to increase the number of qualified Asian language teachers in Australian classrooms.

But this is arguably not enough. The number of Australians studying Asian languages is declining. Students enrolled in Indonesian language studies dropped 37 percent nationally from 2001 to 2010. Today, fewer high school students who do not speak Chinese at home are learning the language than four years ago.

According to the AEF, “there is no one single solution to building demand for Asian languages”. Rather, tailored and more innovative approaches could encourage Asian language study in Australia.

Providing Australian students with additional tools outside the classroom to acquaint themselves with Asian languages could be the way to go. Instead of utilizing the National Broadband Network to engage Australian classrooms with schools in Asia to support Asian language promotion, schools can offer accredited, personalised language learning e-resources. Given access to such online educational materials at home, students could potentially find it easier to grasp tricky Asian “alphabet” and writing systems at their own leisure outside limited class hours.

There are abundant opportunities for local Asian language students to travel abroad and interact with native Asian language speakers, adding an element of adventure towards studying these languages.

However, there needs to be fun, interactive Asian language curriculum in Australian classrooms to spur local students to study Asian languages. It is good to see Caufield Primary School leading the way – students perform classic stories such as The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan in Japanese alongside two hours of Japanese classes each week. This will undoubtedly assist students in gaining confidence pronouncing the complex tones of Asian languages down pat.

Also, such spontaneous language learning classes will serve to make Asian language study consistently appealing and enjoyable for those who do not get opportunities to go abroad.

Given the recent spate of racial attacks towards Asians in Australia, perhaps some Australians hold racial sentiments and prejudices towards this minority group living here. Perhaps this is why some Australians are not interested in studying Asian languages.

Asian customs starkly differ from Western ideals. Clearing up stereotypical misconceptions about Asians through education will not only encourage both Australian students and teachers to see Asian culture as part and parcel of today’s globalised era but also potentially pique their interests in studying or teaching Asian languages as well.

After all, Asian culture is strongly entwined with languages. According to Professor Zong-Qi Cai at the University of Illinois, many Chinese idioms and the beauty of Chinese language are tied with pre-modern tradition.

As part of the AEF’s BRIDGE project in 2012, Australian teachers spent time in China, interacting with language teachers here and learning first-hand about Chinese history and culture. This is definitely a start to engaging Australian teachers with Asian languages. Incorporating on-going Asian cultural activities that provide insight into Asian customs and developments in Asian countries within local language curriculum can offer intriguing cultural dimensions to Asian language study and instill self-assurance in both teachers and students to interact respectfully with their peers in Asia.

Recently in May, the Australian Government pledged $84.6 million towards enhancing students’ access to studying Asian languages. The presence of Asian language programs Down Under in the future looks promising and by tweaking the local Asian languages curriculum, Australians may very well be motivated to learn Asian languages and speak Asian languages outside the classroom, solidifying bilingualism in Australia.

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Photo Credit: Central Reference

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Religion, Society and the Woolwich Murder

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture.

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Wednesday 22nd May, the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich shocked Britain. To state the obvious, the murder was unjustifiable and downright sickening. Nobody would make any attempt to contend that point, and nor would anyone, of sane mind, begin to attempt to justify the actions of the killers. Undoubtedly, the death of anyone is a humbling event and the tragedy in loss of life cannot be questioned. Yet, over the course of just 24 hours I’ve heard a host of opinions on the matter – none of which, in my eyes, come even close to exactly what the worst thing about this whole thing is.

I don’t have any plans to entertain the opinion of racists, or those who stereotype and discriminate in the most uneducated way. For the most part, I think Britain is in agreement that the killers do not represent any faction of Islam – the notable exception being the so-called English Defence League (whose overwhelming membership can be summed up by a delightful video). An opinion that I have found to be extremely common is one that emphasises the harmful role of religion. In this respect, I fully agree; religion has unparalleled power in the lives of ‘believers’. It must be stressed that this is the case in all religions: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and indeed Islam. By virtue of the sheer profundity of their beliefs religious followers have the capacity to be further indoctrinated – and so extremism is born.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. (Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction, p. 1, 1843)

If you had to make a list of quotes that had been overused, misquoted, and taken well out of context, Karl Marx’s reference to religion would be high up there. Few understand that Marx’s critique of religion is not actually that – it is a critique of society. People are quick, and perhaps with reasonable justification, to criticise the role played by religion for a variety of reasons: a) religious extremism fuels the majority of terrorism, b) religion advocates a number of prejudices and outdated laws, and c) religion highlights the incompatible blend of cultures. Religion does all these things, but what if religion is the symptom rather than the disease?

Why is it that, in a country as educated as Britain, that people choose to ignore scientific evidence and subject themselves to the subordination of a deity or scriptures? In the less economically developed world religion acts as an outlet of hope, born out of intrinsic necessity in such insufferable conditions. Thus, the only discernible conclusion to make is that the fulfilment gained from social bonds and interactions is inadequate; people turn to religion as a result of a broken society. In all respects it is true that the madmen who acted so horrifically in Woolwich were not acting out on the behest of social shortcomings, but their initial turn to religion was probably because of this.

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture. It is a damning indictment of British society and social policy, that religion takes precedence over a British national identity. Never has it been more evident, than from the thick British accent of a terrorist, that certain communities are becoming isolated and alienated from the rest of British society. Obviously, this is not a justification for terrorism – I can only place that as a consequence of immoral, unscrupulous thinking, if not outright insanity. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people believing in what they want to believe, it just shouldn’t come at the expense of national pride – British togetherness. It is a sad fact that, because of our broken society, notions of national belonging and identity play second fiddle to religious beliefs.

Religion did not cause the events of Woolwich. However, if religion had not existed – if the killers had been secular, it would have been hard to imagine the barbaric murder of a soldier taking place, as it happened.

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Photo Credit: Mig_R

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Is K-Pop Failing to Connect With Australians?

There are speculative reasons as to why many Australians are not warming towards K-pop. Perhaps the colourful, sometimes ridiculous outfits worn by K-pop artists – looking immaculately beautiful is part of this industry – turn some away, especially those who are avid fans of music.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he K-pop wave has been fiercely lashing Australian shores over the past few years. Today, national digital radio channel SBS PopAsia plays the latest Korean music hits all day. There is an hour of Korean music videos on free-to-air weekend television here. However, there are signs pointing to the notion that Korean music is failing to connect with the majority of Australians and this suggests any local love-affair with K-Pop will eventually dwindle.

K-pop is a rather niche market in Australia, appealing to a small demographic of the population, in particular (Asian) high schoolers who follow Korea’s entertainment scene as opposed to other (Caucasian) Australians who do not.

This is evident in light of the recent cancellations of K-pop concerts in Australia. The Melbourne leg of the 2012 KPRS Charity Concert, touted as one of the biggest K-pop fundraising concerts of the year featuring a slew of popular Korean performers, was slated to go ahead in July. It was postponed until the end of the year before being cancelled due to poor ticket sales. The fact that this concert was organsied during a time when many students – K-pop fans – are occupied with end-of-year exams arguably contributed to such dismissal ticket sales. It goes to show support for K-pop from working professionals with cash to flash, especially those who like attending music concerts, is scarce.

Local groups have shied away from supporting these K-pop concerts Down Under. Small non-profit Asian entertainment companies with limited resources such as Sydney-based Aus2One have solely bore the brunt of coordinating these events. Aus2One alone struggled to bring popular Korean bands Son Dam Bi and Brown Eyed Girls all the way from Seoul for the 2013 K-Pop Heart Concert in Sydney which has been postponed indefinitely. Nearly zilch backing from local financially profitable companies towards Korean entertainment events means considerably less publicity for K-pop here, so less Australians will pay attention to this kind of music.

Although K-pop music is played daily on SBS PopAsia and easily available to purchase online, few Korean songs have struck a chord with Australian audiences. Only Psy’s Gangnam Style has captivated the attention of a considerable number of Australians, reaching number one on local charts. Interestingly enough, there is hardly any interest in the rest of Psy’s music repertoire and Gangnam Style has not sparked Aussie curiosity towards other K-pop songs and Korean entertainers on the same scale as Psy.

There are speculative reasons as to why many Australians are not warming towards K-pop. Perhaps the colourful, sometimes ridiculous outfits worn by K-pop artists – looking immaculately beautiful is part of this industry – turn some away, especially those who are avid fans of music. Flashy fashion does not interest everyone and K-pop music videos almost always embody fashion spectacles, distracting from the message and meanings behind songs.

Moreover, many K-pop songs boast repetitive beats and funky dances and so a “teeny-bopper feel” surrounds this genre of music, often obscuring the meaningful messages that artists advocate in their craft. Looking past the bevy of scantily clad dancers in the Gangnam Style music video, it is evident Psy is sharing a story about the lavish lifestyles within the Gangnam district of Seoul. Perhaps most of the time many Australians perceive K-pop as “fluff” at face value and pay no heed to it. Or at the very least pay attention to it for a second before directing their focus to the next catchy “fad” which may not be Korean at all, for instance the Harlem Shake.

It is a shame most Australians are not wholly engaging with K-pop given that it is a reasonable avenue of fostering multiculturalism Down Under. If more K-pop events were organised and K-pop artists were depicted in the media as serious performers working hard to share their passion for music instead of money-making machines, chances are Australians will sit up. Chances are more Australians will congregate at K-pop events to enjoy K-pop and interact with their fellow Australians of different races who take a liking to this music, even making new friends and learning about new cultures.

Only time will tell whether K-pop will be more than just a fad in Australia.

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Photo Credit: kccuk

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Argentina’s Bondage

It isn’t that often that you see a country defending itself in a US court. But in the last week of March Argentinian representatives were in New York district court trying to defend their country over its 2002 default on $100 billion national debt.  This hearing was a part of an ongoing legal battle over a portion of this debt which was not restructured after the initial default and the negotiated restructuring that occurred in both 2005 and 2010. This eleven year legal battle over an outstanding $370 million dollars was the catalyst for the seizure of an Argentinian Naval tall ship  in Ghana in October 2012.

The plantiffs in this cases which include hedge funds and individual investors have argued that if Argentina has been capable to pay back portions of their restructured bonds, they are capable to payback the same portions to the non-restructured bonds (equal step clause).  Argentina fears that if the court rules against them, it will cause a surge in “what about me” claims where restructured bond holders then begin asking for full payments again; this is why the Argentinians have made three separate offers to the outstanding bond holders to restructure and discount their holdings, all of which have been refused.

As result of these debt concerns the price to insure Argentina bonds has risen and unless another settlement is reached the country is set to default on payments due at the beginning of June. So while the world watches the people of Cyprus suffer as the pain of the recent bailout cripples their nation, a country with an economy 20 times its size is on its own path to default.

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Photo Credit: The Sagamore Journal

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Russia’s Green Light?

In light of the revelation that the two Boston Marathon bombing terrorists were of Chechen ancestry, does this give President Putin a green light to finally crush the simmering rebellion in the region?

After two wars in the breakaway Russian state from 1994-1996  and from 1999-2009  the region has fallen into an uneasy peace for the past couple year. This peace hasn’t halted the ongoing terrorist campaign by separatist organizations striking at targets both inside Chechyna and in Russia as a whole.

With the 2014 Sochi Olympics quickly approaching President Putin who’s hardline on Chechen terrorist/rebels will want to ensure no threat is presented for the upcoming games. Should the Boston brothers be traced back to a specific Chechen organization will the Russians use this to crackdown on terror organizations in Chechnya and the bases that they use in surrounding states?

For decades the United States has intentionally avoided confronting Russia on the Chechen issue. The standard response from the US government has been calling for “peaceful resolution” to the conflict in the region, while condemning  human rights violations by both Russian military/government forces and Chechen rebel organizations. The question moving forward is whether the US chooses to engage the Russians on the Chechen issue? Will the US turn a blind eye if the Russians decide to crackdown on these organizations and individuals in the run up to the 2014 Winter Games? It is probably too early to say one way or another to how Russia will react to this situation but that reaction will determine the stability of the entire Caucasus region.

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Photo Credit: BelyakovPhoto

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North Korea: What If We Had It Wrong The Whole Time?

Give the bellicose rhetoric coming out of North Korea you would think they have a hidden super weapon and Kim Jong Un was doing his best Dr. Evil or Bond villain impersonation. Yet the world is now fixated on a nation that can barely feed itself, its military is several decades out of date and despite their claims it’s missiles cannot reliably hit the continental United States.

Now this is not to understate the fact that a war on the Korean Peninsula would have catastrophic costs to the Korean people but the fact of the matter is; the war would be short and the North would lose badly; one of the most repressive regimes on earth would fall and the Korean peninsula would likely emerge united and democratic.

The nuclear deterrent that this pariah nation possesses is not of the scale of the Cold War and its ability to deliver these weapons accurately is questioned. The response to American or allied troops (Japanese or South Korea) being killed by a North Korean nuclear attack would be a response in kind and the North would run out of rubble before the Americans would run out of hydrogen bombs.

What this surmises to is a situation where the only way the North Koreans can make good on their threats is if we have had it wrong the whole time. That every assumption and intelligence estimate that has been made about the North is wrong, and that Kim Jong Un truly is a bond villain, stroking his cat and a super laser ready to strike.

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Photo credit: kalleboo

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Power Of The Pope

Following the election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy as Pope Francis the First it had me wondering, what sort of power for change will he truly have? As we all probably know, the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the approximately 1.2 billion individuals who categorize themselves as Catholics. The election of a South American Cardinal has been considered by some as an effort by the Church to tap into some of the fastest growing Catholic populations and his membership in the Jesuit order and modest lifestyle could signal that the church may dedicate some its vast wealth to aid the poor and needy.

Even with these advantages, the new pope faces a number of challenges, so much so that Canadian Cardinal Marc Oulluet (an early front runner in this election) was quoted as stating that being Pope “would be a nightmare”.  Beyond the spiritual responsibility it seems that almost every month a new report of abuse emerges against members of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile in one of his final acts, Pope Benedict decreed that a secret report that had been submitted to him on the “Vatileaks” scandal would remained sealed to all but the new Pope leaving some discontent among the electing Cardinals. The new Pope will have to battle against a Vatican bureaucracy and institutional inertia to effect change.

Despite the backing of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, I suspect that many within that number are what could be called “Sunday Morning Catholics” who religiosity extends to Sunday mass and major holidays. Calls for reform from church outsiders and members that could potential stem the decline of church attendance  are up against push back from entrenched hard line Cardinals who seek a continuation of traditional doctrines. Either way, Pope Francis is damned. Should he move towards reform he will alienate traditional elements of the Church. While if he maintains the status quo he will face greater push back from everyday Catholics who seek a more open and inclusive church in the 21st century. Either way, the new Pope’s power to effect change will be constrained.

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Photo credit: dslrtravel.com

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The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media (Part 2)

Part two of a two part series examining the lack of diversity in Australian media. Part one can be found here.

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It wouldn’t be fair to state that there are no recurring, positive portrayals of Asians in Australian mainstream media today. Reality cooking competition television program Masterchef Australia often features a diverse cast (albeit most of them are of Anglo-Saxon descent), incorporating contestants of Asian background in many of its seasons. Chinese-Australian Poh Ling Yeow appeared in almost all episodes of the first season and finished runner-up. She was also extremely outspoken about her hybrid methods of Asian cooking on the program, defying the stereotype that individuals of Asian descent are timid and submissive. Similarly, Adam Liaw was a prominent Chinese-Australian contestant on the program and won the second season.

Half-Japanese Australian Yumi Stynes is one of the very few of Asian background who has emphatically made their mark across several Australian mainstream media outlets. Stynes has notably been a VJ for Channel V Australia, co-hosted a national breakfast television program and presented a number of national radio shows. Hence, there are definitely Asian media personalities amidst the sea of Caucasian faces in Australian mainstream media.

However, the sheer presence of Asians in Australian media does not necessarily encourage Anglo-Saxon and non-Asian audiences to understand and appreciate Asian cultures and values so as to learn to get along with them. As per Masterchef Australia and the McDonalds Australia Day campaign, many Asians are often depicted briefly and cast alongside a large number of Caucasians on Australian television programs, radio shows or advertisements. In a sense, this perpetuates the notion that Australia is a “diverse white nation with white ideologies”. That is, the representation of Asians in the media is strategically constructed and seemingly functions as a deliberate means to briefly, just briefly, showcase Australia’s multicultural side.

The importance of Asian faces in Australian media

The representation of intimate, individual Asian-Australian perspectives that are every part of Australian society is considerably lacking in the media. “Asian” is a broad term. An “Asian person” can be someone who is of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Hmong etc. descent. Each “Asian ethnicity” is different and this is something that Australian mainstream media does not seem to recognise enough.

It is important to have Asian faces in Australian media for a number of reasons. Firstly, the presence of confident, eloquent Asian-Australian personalities or characters in the media can function as role models for many young Asian-Australians growing up in Australia – this group will then have individuals of their own race to look up to and attain the sense that Asians rightfully belong in Australian society. Secondly, it allows Asian perspectives and voices to be articulated to the wider public, stimulating in-depth discussion about multiculturalism and encouraging one another to understand different cultures within Australia. Also, Asian faces in the media will indeed provide a clearer and more accurate depiction of Australia as a diverse nation.

The Conversation has mentioned that the process of overcoming the lack of diversity and equality in terms of representation in Australian media needs to be “driven by both broadcaster and artist/producer”. That is, both broadcasters and the Asian community – or any ethnic group for that matter – need to actively take the initiative and perhaps collaborate together to enhance diversity within the media. However, respect for one another and all parties regardless of race naturally needs to be fostered first before anyone can work together.

But given that there are ostensibly racist sentiments towards Asians in Australia, when this will happen along with more Asian faces in the media here remains to be seen.

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Britain’s Defence Industry: Decisive Dealers in Death

As Osborne plans to impose £11 billion of welfare cuts or tax rises, the arms industry in Britain in contrast is an ever increasing chief expenditure. In 2011, after the US Britain was found to be ‘the world’s biggest defence exporter’, and shamelessly remains the fourth-biggest military spender in the world. By shamelessly I mean proud, exemplified by Cameron last December as he admired the ‘outstanding performance‘ of the Typhoon fighter jet in Libya.

From an impartial British citizen’s perspective it is tempting to believe Cameron when he says:

Boosting exports is vital for economic growth, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to promote British business … so [it] can thrive in the global race. Every country in the world has a right to self-defence, and I’m determined to put Britain’s first-class defence industry at the forefront of this market, supporting 300,000 jobs across the country.

In actuality, the defence industry makes up a mere 1% of the workforce. More importantly, what does increasing your own nation’s GDP mean when it comes at such a barbaric cost elsewhere?

Within just four months in 2009, as the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger’s culminated, up to an alleged  75,000 people were killed. A recent Independent article reveals how during a similar amount of time, over a mere three month period last year, the UK sold nearly £4 million worth of weapons to Sri Lanka – regardless of numerous reported human rights abuses.

The following article is about the recently revealed execution of the 12 year old son of the military leader of the Tamil Tigers, shot dead by the Sri Lankan army. If you can’t relate to the 75,000, perhaps you can relate to a young individual in order to realise that it is time to regulate the arms trade. It is time to stop profiting from deaths.

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The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media

Part one of a two part series examining the lack of diversity in Australian media.

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Recently, McDonalds Australia released a series of television ads as part of its Australia Day campaign. Two of these ads are near identical with almost the same narration and cast. One of them features an Asian guy while the other does not and this has subtly put the spotlight once again on the lack of Asian faces in Australian media.

It does seem odd that McDonalds Australia has taken the trouble to produce two television ads that are similar in every aspect except for a few seconds near the beginning and end in celebration of Australia Day. One of the ads features an Asian guy called “Stevo” eating McDonalds and his Asian parents for roughly five seconds. The other advertisement is entirely the same, except in place of “Stevo”, two Caucasians called “Gordo ‘n’ Sonny” are shown instead. This has led to an article that suggests poor “Stevo” was not deemed “Aussie” enough for the television ad(s) that attempts to showcase the quintessential Australian(s). Or perhaps he was not “Aussie” enough to appeal to a certain (Anglo) audience one of the ads was supposedly targeting.

At the very least, such an incident subliminally reminds us once again of the fact that there are few Asian-Australians in Australia media today. Judging from the two almost identical McDonalds ads where in one of them Asian “Stevo” was featured ever so briefly, it gives rise to the inkling that it is rather troublesome to place an Asian face or voice within Australian mainstream media. Where do they fit?

In line with the phenomenon of the lack of Asian faces in Australian media, independent news analysis website The Conversation points out that although the White Australian Policy ended in 1975 and there was the establishment of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 1973 and SBS in 1978/9 with governmental mandate of providing voice to a growing multicultural society, Asian-Australian “stories and faces stay on SBS”. In addition, studies have proposed that Asians are often discriminated in local mainstream media, especially within media coverage of Asian immigration and “boat people”.

No doubt it is perplexing that Asian faces and voices are uncommon on Australian television and commercial radio. The 2011 Census reveals roughly 2.4 million or 12% of the population comprise Australians of Asian heritage, which is more than a tenth of the nation’s residents. As such, Australians of Asian descent constitute a considerable proportion of the population and so it would only be fitting to see and hear regular Asian personas and opinions in the media, showcasing the true diversity of Australia.

Reasons behind the lack of Asians in Australian media

One can speculate the reasons behind the lack of and more often than not negative representations of Asians in Australian mainstream media. Racism towards Asians Down Under is seemingly one of them.

In 2011, an Energy Watch ad was pulled from television screens for racially and negatively stereotyping Indians as “doorknockers”. The ad shows an Indian salesman with a strong Indian accent convincing a Caucasian Australian couple to switch to his electricity company, offering them a lucrative discount on their bills. A blonde Caucasian “heroine” then steps in to warn the couple that they should shop around first before making a decision and blows a whistle in the Indian man’s face.

The fact that this Energy Watch ad, embedded with racist ideals, was callously approved and initially given the green light to be broadcasted to the Australian public by media authorities is no doubt demeaning towards Indians. Such a decision gives rise to the idea that xenophobic behaviour towards Asians, in particular Indians, exists among some Australians. In addition, this incident occurred in a decade today where many local jobs are increasingly outsourced overseas to developing Asian countries such as India and China. Cheap, shoddy labour is commonly associated with mass manufacturing in developing regions, so perhaps this sentiment stimulated the creation of such an ad depicting an Indian person offering “dodgy” deals/services.

In 2011, the inclusion of an Indian family in long-running drama Neighbours which is known to have a predominantly white cast sparked racist comments from some viewers on the program’s official website. Some said it was “un-Australian” to include this Asian family regularly in the program. As such, xenophobic attitudes towards Asian groups are evident within the community and some do prefer to see and hear Anglo-Saxon faces and voices in the media. Thus, there is the likelihood that Australian mainstream media constantly favours featuring Anglo Saxons over minority groups in order to appease the “white media palate” of the majority of the population (media audiences) who are Caucasian.

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Counter Terror Expo 2013

CTX 2013

Counter-terrorism it has become big business. In recent times the growth of an entire terrorism-industrial complex has developed around the real, and perceived, threat of terrorist attacks. This type of fear driven commercial activity raises all manner of ethical questions, not least in terms of maintaining the ‘threat-level’ in order to sell more products. Often however, the counter-terrorism industry is not the Neo-con monster it is perceived as, but can provide the impetus for fresh innovation and research, as well as driving the development and emergence of new technologies, many of which have far grater scope than their original remit and benefit society at large.

A stark illustration and interesting case in point is that of the forthcoming Counter Terrorism Expo (CTX) event at the Olympia, London on 24th and 25th April 2013. This is an amalgamation of conferences, workshops, and trade shows, bringing together an array of private and public organisations all with a focus on security and counter-terrorism. The event hosts a number of features including (but not limited to) the Cyber Security Conference and Solutions Zone – focusing on the strategic analysis of cyber security for governments, critical national infrastructure, and private corporations. CTX brings together representatives and professionals from police, emergency services, government, military, intelligence and security services, private sector, oil and gas, cyber, maritime/anti-piracy and critical national infrastructure. It provides a platform for some the leading suppliers of integrated security solutions with a full trade show and workshop programme concerning themes such as intelligence reporting and analysis, investigations and detection, video management and CCTV, blast protection and resilience systems, CBRE protection and suppression, armoured and support vehicles, and command and control technologies.

Far from being adverse to this, I believe a multi-solution approach to security is absolutely essential for a dynamic, intelligent response to security threats and a holistic appreciation of the sector. Indeed, I would like to see events like CTX in the future go a step further and also include scholarly presentations from appropriate academic institutions, like the Jill Dando Institute at UCL or the War Studies Department of King’s College London. This would not only complement the professional experts and workshops discussing operational strategies, but also provide sober political and risk analysis, and allow practitioners access to the most up-to-date research from across the field. Nonetheless, with 400 exhibitors and an audience of over 8,500, CTX 2013 will no doubt prove to be a unique showcase for emergent technologies, equipment, and services in the security sector.

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Photo Credit: counterterrorexpo.com

Colonised Africa Map

Legacy of Lines on a Map

In Robert Kaplan’s recent book Revenge of Geography,  Kaplan argues that geography, particularly land masses and oceans, have played a distinct role in determining the geopolitical fault lines of the world both in the past, present and he predicts into the future. Although this idea isn’t particularly new, Kaplan argues that it is one that has largely been forgotten and has resulted in the development of many of the geopolitical trends that we see today. Although Kaplan spends most of the book looking at six distinct areas: Europe, Russia, China, India, the Middle East and finally North America and how geography has shaped the ebb and flow of power within and between each region. A more interesting analysis is how these rules of geography can be applied to the periphery of the world system.

When looking at many of the protracted conflicts from recent history and today there is a common thread that seems to tie them together. That common thread is geography. What I mean by geography is that I am not speaking specifically about rivers, plains and mountains although they do play a role; I am more speaking about the lines that we find on a map. So many of the protracted conflicts that are festering around the world have to do with where arbitrarily lines have been drawn on a map.

Look at Afghanistan, the ongoing insurgency is largely based in Pashtun region that straddles Afghan/Pakistan border which prevents proper counter-insurgency operations from being carried out. Had the British drawn the borders a little different, it would have dramatically altered the battle against Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Even before the US invasion, northern portions of the country where Tajik, Uzbek and Turkman population are centred, battled as members of the Northern Alliance against the governing Taliban.

The same can be argued for Africa, the divorce between North and South Sudan illustrates the same issues as do the ongoing conflicts in the Congo, Mali and the East African horn. Lines drawn on a map with no acknowledgement of geography are often plagued with instability due to the fact that geography often dictates the cultural and ethnic distinction of the peoples within a region. So when geography was ignored in the past, it has resulted in instability in the present and future.

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Photo Credit:  Eric Fischer

healthy salad

I’m Eating A F*cking Salad!

Healthy food is too expensive. And unless you’re clearly overweight, it’s almost frowned upon and sometimes a little embarrassing.

The moment you pull out your lunchbox, flamboyant salad leaves edging to spring out on to your surroundings as you peel the lid off because you’ve stuffed it with as much as you possibly can.

Then there’s always that leaking residue from whatever dressing you’ve decided to acquaint your salad contents with, so this time you have decided to wrap the lunchbox in extra plastic bags. This was a very sensible, practical idea at the time you did it, but now that it’s time to eat amidst the public, it feels like the music has stopped , pass the parcel has landed on YOU, and every breathing soul in the room is watching you unveil and devour your food. Even the ones who aren’t facing you.

All you can think is, “Holy fuck I hope the people sitting near me don’t think the fishy smell is coming from me… Well, it is, but it’s my tuna salad!”.

For a young female, the narrative of eating often goes something like this:

If you eat the unhealthy option i.e. burger, crisps, chocolate, chips, fat-ass triple sandwich – you’re potentially categorised as a fat bitch. You go for the healthier option, you must be on a diet, and the cries of “Oh, don’t be silly, you don’t need to lose weight” echo.

A big problem with going for the healthier option isn’t just social pressures though, it’s also the fact that it is usually obscene in price in comparison to the naughtier options, and also frugal in choice.

So society should back off when bitch be getting her Aldi seasonal salad out for lunch. Being healthy is not the same as being on a diet, and this message deserves greater emphasis. Many people are insecure, especially when they’re young and weight conscious. If healthy food was cheaper and more accessible, then choosing that option wouldn’t set you apart so much.

Whilst fast food chains have noticeably introduced healthier options, the prices are still not as cheap as they should be. Considering going to McDonalds for a salad seems like going to a crack house for vitamins, or a whore house for a hug, you would think it would be cheaper. It really shouldn’t cost this much to eat a f*cking salad!

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Photo Credit: sa_ku_ra