Karen Leach: A Victor, Not a Victim

This article was originally published on the On The Game ’17 website here.

As a young girl, Karen Leach dreamed of representing Ireland on the Olympic Swim team. Instead, she suffered years of sexual abuse from the ages of 10-17 at the hands of her Irish swimming coach, Derry O’Rourke, crushing her spirit and her will to live. Now, at 48, Karen finally feels free.

She is now a qualified psychotherapist and counsellor, using her strength and knowledge to help others who are struggling in silence.

Karen spoke at Play the Game’s 10th conference in Eindhoven on Sunday. This is her incredible story of survival, and how she has managed to gain her freedom once again, after 37 years trapped in “a prison.”

The sound of idle chatter and flashes of cameras are palpable. Cameramen hover, as they wait for guests to file into the conference room. Amidst this chaos, I spot her – a woman who has gone through the unimaginable. She sits in solitude in the front row, waiting patiently.

She is invited to the podium. She rises from her chair, with an air quite unlike anyone I have ever seen before. She walks to the podium with the greatest strength, with vigour. She is valiant.

“I am Karen,” she begins. “This, is my life.”

The hall is silent throughout her testimony… No one moves.

Karen is honest in saying that “unless abuse comes to your door, you will never know the true pain it can cause.” She does not sanitise her experiences. They are graphic, and they are shocking.

Her abuser told her that what he was doing to her was to track her physical development as a swimmer. After practise, she would beg the other girls to “please, wait for me” but “they couldn’t, because they were running too.” She recalls rushing to her Dad’s car still wet from the pool water because she did not have time to dry herself.

“I would hear the chair creak, and I would hear footsteps through the shower and I’d see the handle of the door open, and the door would open and I’d see a shoe, and I’d see a knee and I’d see a belly with a Speedo t-shirt, or the familiar jumper and the next thing, he’d be standing there, and he’d shut the door and I’d be stuck there.”

She was unable to speak about her abuse until she turned 30, until after O’Rourke was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He only served 9. It was then that she finally told her mother, who said, “Karen, I’m reading the newspaper today, today I’m reading about my little girl. This is my child I’m reading about and it’s you.”

Her mother was unable to live with the fact that her daughter had suffered. Karen received a call shortly after this, that her mother’s body had been pulled out of the canal by a fireman.

Karen also lost her father from a stroke. Before he died, she told him he was “the best dad ever” and he responded, “Karen, I don’t know about that” and that she knew exactly what he had meant.

For years, sexual abuse has remained a taboo. With more cases being reported and with survivor’s testimony, the sporting world is now pressured. Now, more than ever, they need to ensure that children are safe. “Every child has a right to be saved in their childhood,” Karen asserts, “Children are sports’ future”.

Her testimony ends. There is a poignant silence. Suddenly, there is an eruption of claps.

Despite all her hardships, she survived numerous suicide attempts. She has conquered her life.

She is inundated with people, as if she is magnetic. I wait for her, until suddenly, it is just us and the employees who are packing up the conference room. I am greeted with a plethora of warmth.

I ask about the most rewarding part of being a psychotherapist and counsellor. She says she takes her patients “from the darkest places of their life until they find the light. I see people grow and change over time, the most rewarding part is when I’m finishing up with someone, they’re leaving and going out the door and they’re saying, “Karen, I’m good now, and I just say go get your life, go get the world.”

Karen attributes her recovery to “the people I met along the way – kindness, people listening to me” as well as psychotherapy, counseling, spending years in a psychiatric hospital and homeopathy. She wants others to know that recovery is possible and that she tried many times to love herself, that she “failed many times, and this year succeeded” at loving herself.

“I want there to be the right support, awareness, and education. I want children to have the awareness and the support. I want them to be able to know that there is someone there that they can go to talk to, there’s someone there that will listen to them, that will believe them, and that their dreams can come true, and that they’re safe.”

She tells me about her son. “He has just turned 11 and he loves swimming. He’s a great little swimmer.”

She is leaving for Ireland in the morning, as her son needs his mum.

 

Feature Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game

Advice to future journalists – from journalist and match-fixing expert Declan Hill

‘If you want to be a journalist, do it differently, so you get a unique brand and a mark on it.”

A journalist since the early 1990s, Declan Hill is an expert in match-fixing and corruption in international sports. He is best-known for exposing corruption in sport, and his books, Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime (2010) and The Insider’s Guide to Match-fixing (2013). He is currently also leading an investigation of community activists into odd municipal politics back in his home country of Canada.

By Simone West

Declan Hill sits patiently in the lobby at Van der Valk Hotel Eindhoven, the Netherlands. He is sporting a black bow tie with specks of blue, grey and white, with a matching folded handkerchief visible in his breast pocket. He walks out of the conference venue into the fresh air, and heads towards a football field.

“I’ve been fascinated with things that most people try to ignore,” he tells me, “things like organised crime and corruption.”

We delve into a discussion on how he became an investigative journalist. “It’s interesting, the title, ‘investigative journalist’, I don’t really believe in it, I think I‘m just a journalist.”

But Hill feels much of journalism is problematic – he sees it as not being secretarial, as simply “booking a local expert who will talk about Prince Harry’s wedding, or spin stuff.” There is one underlying problem with modern journalism – that  “journalists have turned away from finding original stories.”

I ask him how journalists can adapt in order to produce quality work.

“Do it differently. I think the problem is that you go into these sausage-making machines of journalism schools and they pump you out like you’re professors and your professors are teaching you  – they’re not actually being journalists. So right away you should ask yourself, well hang on a second, do I want to be a teacher of journalism or do I want to be a journalist? And if you want to be a journalist, do it differently so you get a unique brand and a mark on it.”

“You’re not going to be able to break through; you’re not going to be able to make a mark in journalism unless you do it differently. My advice to a young journalist starting up is to really look at themselves in the mirror and just say right, what is my value adding? What can I do differently, that no one else can do?”

Hill speaks about two “sad truths” of journalism – the first being that it is “a declining industry; the traditional forms of journalism are declining rapidly.” While traditional forms of journalism are declining, it is an adapting industry. New jobs are replacing the old ones, however this means large media corporations are cutting jobs. In May this year, Fairfax Media announced that up to 125 journalists, or one-quarter of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Australian Financial Review newsrooms would be made redundant in order to save $30m. Similarly, U.S.-based global cable and satellite sports television channel ESPN announced just last month that it was laying off 150 people, about 2 percent of their 8,000 employees. This came after a round of cuts earlier this year which cut jobs for 100 people.

The second sad truth, according to Hill is that “most journalists aren’t actually journalists- they are secretaries. Their editor will read the New York Times that morning and say  – “We should really do a story just like this one!” and they’ll do a story exactly like the New York Times, or De Telegraaf here in the Netherlands, or Politiken in Denmark or the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, wherever.”

He tells me the most challenging story he has ever worked on.

“There have been so many. I think the ones that are challenging are the ones with human cost. There was a guy, who his daughter and her friends had been murdered at a shooting at a university. He was the police officer and he was called in to go after the shooter and he had no idea his daughter was there so he was running.”

“And he goes up and he finds his daughter, killed in the hall, surrounded by her friends. I remember him looking at us, and I thought, “What can I possibly say? What words could I use to describe something like that? So there have been a number of those challenging stories really finding the human cost and I think those stories are really, really important to do.”

Why we need journalism

“I think giving a voice to the voiceless, that’s what I do journalism for. It’s to empower people. It may not be able to rectify an injustice, but at least I can give a voice so they can articulate what has happened to them.”

He says there is an art to picking what stories to write about.

“The ones that come to you and are tapping you again and again are the ones you have to go back to – you have to figure out a way to go back to”.

 

declan
Declan Hill speaking at the 10th Play the Game conference in Eindhoven, the Netherlands in November 2017. Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game

 

This article was originally published on the On the Game 17 website, here. 

Blood on our hands – ‘Conflict diamonds’ are still leaking out of the Central African Republic via Cameroon

 

‘Conflict diamonds’ are still being funnelled out of the Central African Republic (CAR) via Cameroon despite a short-lived international embargo, where they have helped fund a genocidal war that has killed thousands of people since 2013.           

By Simone West

This article was written on November 7, 2017

Diamond Picture

Diamonds marked #RCA [CAR] #diamond on social media sorted by carat weight and posted on social media. Picture: Global Witness      

A wedding ring is a symbol of unity. It is a commitment between two people to cherish one another. So it’s fascinating when the diamonds that make up these symbols of love originate from places where death and suffering are rampant.

A young boy with calloused hands mines in the minefields in the Central African Republic (CAR). He has dropped out of school to provide his family with a vital source of income. He digs by hand, for hours on end. Meanwhile, somewhere over the equator, an overzealous woman spots an exorbitantly sized engagement ring on her friend’s wedding finger. “Congratulations!” echoes around the brunch table. They are all adorned with their own jewelry, bought from around the world. Does anyone stop to ask, where did the diamond come from?

Awareness of ‘conflict diamonds’ or ‘blood diamonds’ among consumers is globally ripe. Now, more than ever, people are demanding to know where the materials have been imported from. This consumer awareness reached its peak following the release of the 2006 film, Blood Diamond, which exposed the illicit diamond trade and its funding of the gruesome civil war in Sierra Leone. But awareness is not enough to stop the conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate supply chain.

Conflict diamonds illustrate how the exploitation and sale of raw materials can finance war. In 2000, Southern African diamond producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, and discussed the creation of an international certification system designed to reassure consumers that the diamonds they bought were conflict free. In 2003, the Kimberley Process (KP) was born. But 15 years later, the system is showing cracks in its framework. It is unable to stop many diamonds mined in war zones from being sold in international markets.

The Kimberley Process Infographic

In May 2013, the Central African Republic was suspended from the KP, which meant the country could not export its diamonds. The black market, however, was very successful and diamonds funnelled into neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.

IMPACT, an independent non-profit formerly known as Partnership Africa Canada, were largely involved in the inception of the KP and remain a member today. Offah Obale is a Conflict Minerals Researcher at IMPACT and says, “we’ve remained dedicated in working towards a successful Kimberley Process” while also carrying out extensive “field investigations in Cameroon, at mine sites and along the border with the CAR.”

In 2016, IMPACT called on the KP to place Cameroon under special measures which would require a tightening of internal control within a three-month period. During that time, no diamond could leave Cameroon without expert and external oversight. The KP Review Visit which took place in the month following the report, according to Obale, “did not take immediate steps to tighten Cameroon’s internal controls, as per our recommendation.”

However, the KP Plenary Meeting is scheduled for Australia in December 2017.

Cameroon image from IMPACT
Kimberley Process must act after a report reveals shortfalls in Cameroon’s traceability procedures create opportunities for smuggling and corruption. December 2, 2016. Photo: IMPACT website.

“There will be further discussions on the current situation in the Central African Republic, the continuing insecurity, and reports of conflict diamonds exiting the country through Cameroon”. Obale confirmed.  

Many organisations who were originally part of the KP have questioned its effectiveness, and have since left. Global Witness is an international non-governmental organisation that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption and human rights abuses worldwide. Global Witness resigned as an official Observer of the KP in 2011.

In June this year, they published ‘A Game of Stones’,  a report detailing the role diamonds have played in funding the ongoing CAR conflict. They went undercover via social media as interested buyers on Facebook and WhatsApp, speaking to several dealers.

The report includes voice messages translated from the original French, as well as transcripts like this one:

‘Over a crackly mobile phone somewhere in the Central African Republic (CAR), or maybe Cameroon, a dealer is pitching for business. “Yes, it’s scary,” he says, “but in this business, (…) you have to dare.” The business is diamonds and, as he reminds us, “this [CAR] is a diamond country.”1

Michael Gibb is the Campaign Leader for Conflict Resources at Global Witness. In a phone interview, when prompted about their unique method of utilising social media, Gibb explains that his team is “more innovative and embracing of new technologies.”

According to Gibb, the report “highlights a number of really deep and serious structural weaknesses in the diamond trade and how it’s being responded to,”

Commenting on why Global Witness withdrew from the KP, Gibb explains, “[It was] a really landmark and a really important achievement. It remains a significant institution. It’s doing important work, however it has a number of limitations and weaknesses that we have been pointing at for a number of years. The work in CAR shows that enforcement remains problematic.”

“For a long time we worked within the Kimberley Process to try and address those [issues]” says Gibb. “It became very clear to us over time that the Kimberley Process was very unlikely ever to substantially reform, partially due to that way in which it was set up, so we decided that as an organisation, our resources are best at working directly with companies and other institutions, outside of that institution and outside of that process”.

While these organisations work towards eliminating conflict diamonds in the legitimate supply chain, it begs one to question what to do next: Awareness is one step, but action is pivotal. Change is only created when pressure is placed on the major stakeholders. The world needs to be more vocal in order to ensure that human rights issues are high on the agenda.

Annual KP reviews are creating change, but it’s not enough. Neighbouring countries and trading centres must maintain tighter security laws. Companies sourcing minerals directly or indirectly from CAR need to report on their risk-based supply chain due diligence. There is a lot to be done. Let us be certain of where our diamonds are coming from, so when someone is presented with a wedding ring, it really is a pure symbol of love and celebration, and represents something truly extraordinary.

There is blood on our hands, without many even realising it.

 

Opening of Gender Neutral Bathrooms at RMIT

Wednesday 17 May marked International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Universities in Melbourne celebrated the recent developments, including the opening of gender neutral bathrooms.

The facilities are a small victory for the queer community, who have been rallying for these inclusive spaces for quite some time. Mish Daniel Forder, Queer Officer at MONSU Caulfield at Monash University, and Evan Chung, student at Melbourne University, kindly offered their time to chat about how the recent developments have impacted the queer community around uni campuses in Melbourne.

REVIEW: LA MAMA THEATRE PRESENTS ‘THE MAGNOLIA TREE’

Out of the darkness, cicadas sing in scattered groups. The small audience at La Mama are privy to the living room of an old widow and a framed photograph of her late-husband on the bookshelf. A Frederick McCubbin painting hangs on the wall of the family home, all combining to make the space feel sad and nostalgic.

The cicadas in the Magnolia Tree reflect the mother, whose advanced Alzheimer’s has led her three adult children – Jack, Deb and Vicky, to have to decide what to ‘do’ with her.

Playwright Michael Griffith has written a striking character-driven play filled with family secrets and fractured relationships, presenting them with an impossible bind.

What would you do? Place a parent in a nursing home or help them end their suffering? Would you have the strength to be an accomplice in ending a life?

On a deeper level, it begs the question: should euthanasia should be legalised in Australia?

Although blooming whilst connected, when a magnolia falls from the tree, it dies. Like the magnolia, the mother thrived prior to her illness. Yet with the onset of Alzheimer’s, the brain is disconnected from the beating heart.

Is this really a life? Sever it from the source, and it dies. This is the stance Jack, played by Ezra Bix, holds as he attempts to persuade his two sisters to let her go.

Vastly different to her real estate agent brother is Deb, a middle-aged mother who has never owned a house, played by Rohana Hayes. They clash on the character spectrum, with Jack’s responsible and stoic nature contrasting with the wide-eyed, naive Deb, who is typified by her question, “people have to pay to live in a nursing home?”.

Vicky, played by Helen Hopkins, is her mother’s sole carer. Her unkempt appearance illustrates a woman, who as Jack says, “wants to be important”, hiding in the house providing around-the-clock care for their mother.

The Magnolia Tree exudes 70 minutes of tension, with years of family secrets finally coming to the surface. The three siblings are forced to confront their closeted thoughts and past actions with nothing left unsaid.

At the completion of Act 2, the fourth wall is broken and the audience is asked to vote on the ending. In this thrilling moment I was hesitant, slowly raising my hand, yet most of the audience were adamant about their decision. They raised their hands, voting to let the mother die peacefully rather than wait for her inevitable decline.

Griffith has written a raw and grim account that confronts three characters at a monumental stage in their lives. The play is universal. It will challenge you. There is nothing more humiliating than to lose your ability to think, walk, speak, excrete. Griffith creates these vehement and headstrong characters, which the actors and director, Sara Grenfell, bring to life.

This play is a must-see for anyone who thrives on watching dilemmas and tensions unfold. It is an important demonstration of human resilience and repairing deep fractures after years of suppression.

_______________________________________________________________

★★★★ 4/5 stars

The Magnolia Tree

La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton

Performances: Wed 6.30pm, Thu 7.30pm, Fri 7.30pm, Sat 7.30pm & Sun 4pm

Season continues until 28 May 2017

Information and Tickets: http://lamama.com.au/2017-autumn-program/the-magnolia-tree

This article was originally posted on the RMIT Catalyst website, at http://rmitcatalyst.com/review-the-magnolia-tree/ in May 2017.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL COMEDY FESTIVAL | TOMMY LITTLE – ‘GOOD TALK’

The self-proclaimed “weapon” is back for a knockout 2017 season of ‘Good Talk’ – an hour where the comedy veteran, Tommy Little, does not shy away from crude and raw anecdotal stories.

This establishes the show as a fearless account of the blunders of life.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is in its 31st year, with 2017 marking Little’s 9th year performing at the festival since his 2009 debut.

Little confidently waltzes onto the stage, sporting a white t-shirt, blue jeans and his token trademark: a beer in hand.

Visibly enthralled by his diverse audience, he feeds off them. Middle aged-parents accompany their teenage children. Little chuckles, questioning whether these parents knew what ‘Good Talk’ would delve deep into: Sex. Lots and lots of crude sex jokes.

We, the Thursday night “theatre audience” as he coins us, love it. There is no time to be discerning. Little is unapologetically honest and harvests his energy from his genial audience.

‘Good Talk’ explores the blithe and spontaneous nature of Little’s life as he delves into embarrassing and disconcerting stories from the past year. He explores the awkwardness of sexting, sharing one scenario where his ex-girlfriend asked for a sexy nickname. He responded with a less-than sexy one, in his best Spanish accent. “Anything is sexy when said in a Spanish accent,” he proclaims.

Little’s performance is a culmination of scripted and ad-lib content, enhanced by audience participation. He breaks the fourth wall, involving the audience members from the first few rows. He is visibly taken aback at the blunt answers he receives when this backfires, causing innocuous trouble.

We are introduced to Michael from Berwick in the front row, who is on a date with a woman he has been “seeing” for only a month.

“So, are you guys exclusive?” Little asks. This is followed by a long silence. Sensing tension, he aborts mission, meandering to the other side of the stage. We, the audience, feel uncomfortable yet exhilarated by the temporary chaos caused by a few provocative questions.

Between the bellows of laughter, at times I can’t help but cringe as he delves deep into the nitty-gritty. He is awfully descriptive. He tries to find a polite term for a sexual encounter, finally settling with “going south” on a woman, and likening the act to a visiting the “bushland of Tasmania.”

His exploration into the confronting nature of the male genitalia is tantalising, to the point where you can’t look away. He reels you in and is blatantly carefree, assertively pronouncing that only a “gentleman” would wash his lower region in the bathroom sink before doing the deed.

He does not shy away from obscenities and swears throughout. He intertwines Australian vernacular and plays the endearing role of an Aussie larrikin, which – combined with his charismatic way of speaking – makes him relatable. He’s impossible not to like.

Little appeals to the young at heart, to those who disguise the very first fart in a relationship with being “one of the actors on TV”. His target audience is anyone who doesn’t mind laughing at some political incorrectness. The fierce eruption of laughter that emanates downstairs in The Forum after every second sentence attests to this.

Dedicated fans can catch Little in the foyer after the show, as he sells his branded beer stubbies and wine glasses.

He’s sure to leave you with a lasting impression. If you’re patient, you may just get a ‘Good Talk’ out of him.

★★★★

Good Talk is playing six nights a week at The Forum Theatre until April 23. For more information, head to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Website.

This article appeared on the RMIT Catalyst website and dates back to April 2017.

Original article found here http://rmitcatalyst.com/melbourne-international-comedy-festival-tommy-little-good-talk/

 

Romania to reduce brain drain

By Simone West and Rebecca Birch

Romania is struggling with a shortage of doctors and nurses migrating West to work. Now the European Commission and Romanian Government are trying to solve the problem by building new hospitals and improving living conditions.

Between 2009-2015, Romania lost 50% of its doctors.  10% of the population also reported that they did not have access to appropriate healthcare.

The doctors and nurses migrate to Western Europe, because they can get higher salaries and better living conditions there, than in Romania.

The European Commission and the Romanian government are ready to take action in order to prevent this brain drain and have announced that they will develop three new regional hospital projects in Romania, including one large university hospital in Bucharest with an estimated start date in 2020.

Emilian Pavel is part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. He is also a Member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and believes that this incentive will make some of the doctors return.

Lack of digitalisation

Darius Onete is a student from Romania. He currently studies in Aarhus, Denmark. He believes that a lot of the problem lies in the administration, and the lack of digitalisation.

“Not much of the papers are digital,” he says and further explains.

“If a paper has to go from one doctor to another, the process will take time,”

 This can create frustration for the patients, but also for the doctors that just want to provide the best care for their patient.

After that, another issues comes up: The long waiting times to see a doctor.

‘’If you need treatment, you have to wait,’’ Onete says.

He has only experienced very few times where he did not have to wait less than one hour.

an-overview-of-_25337353_51f40c2641cc3b7f734b87bf787a1674789cba9c
Original Piktochart found here: embed link

Higher wages and new medical equipment should make doctors return

Romania have recently taken measures to ensure the return of their doctors, such as implementing a pay rise.

Oszkar Bondar is in his fifth year of studying general medicine in Romania. He believes the recent salary increase was implemented to stop students and physicians leaving the country, but that the Romanian government seemed to forget something.

“The main reasons they resort to leaving the country is that not being able to safely do what you love, with people that you enjoy working with, is one of the biggest issues,” he says and adds,

‘’having better equipped hospitals is equal, or in some cases, even more important than money,”

The recent salary increase has helped, but another factor that is bringing them back is the improvement of their workplaces, such as new medical equipment.

An EU Problem

Photograph: Simone West

Member of the European Parliament, Emilian Pavel, believes that a main reason for the exodus is related to the living conditions, yet he believes Romania is evolving.

Referring to Romania’s “noise”, he explains how the problem lies in the lack of infrastructure and the difficulty young families face in order to get proper access to childcare or nurseries.

‘’The combination of the lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy and some services that are required by the young families that were as good as in the west, were the main reason that doctors left,’’ he believes.

The solution is more complex to solve. Pavel says that the proper solution is a mix of different incentives.

“It’s never one unique solution. On one part, [it is] investment in life quality, On the other side, work conditions and salaries. It’s a mix that makes your life easier and as close as possible to what you would love it to be.”

A new hope for a more modern society

Romania is already implementing some of the solutions.

Pavel says they are starting to have higher wages that are competitive to what a doctor in Western Europe can get.

There are more European projects on the horizon, that will not only improve doctors workplaces, but will also provide new machinery and state of the art medical equipment.

“Things will not become worse than it is now, because of the new measures that have commenced. These are really promising projects’’ he says.

The but

But there is a but. The new projects will not work, if they don’t manage to solve the problem with the doctor gap.

‘’If we don’t fill up the gaps, there will be a shortage in those countries where usually the gaps were filled by central eastern European doctors. I think the key is to encourage people to go towards studying medicine ”
Pavel believes that mobility is one of the main, most important things gained because of the European Union and that migration is the key to societal fruition.

A Bright Future

Pavel is optimistic about the future of medicine in Romania.

‘“It’s in our responsibility to give them reasons to stay first of all, give them reasons to come back, and when they do, they come back with international experience and knowledge, that Romania can take advantage of.’’

 

original article posted here

Girls in Western Australia and Victoria earn right to wear pants to school

The state of Western Australia has announced that girls at public schools will be given the choice to wear pants and shorts to class, as well as skirts and dresses.

by Simone West

On 3 September 2017, the Education Department of Western Australia announced it would make changes to a statewide dress code, allowing girls enrolled in public schools to have more uniform options. Victoria has followed suit, with Education Minister James Merlino announcing in a statement on 11 September that this is “something I would expect all government schools to do.”

School councils in Victoria make sanctions for their school’s dress code, however some still require girls to wear skirts and dresses.

Mr Merlino said all schools “must adhere to human rights and anti-discrimination requirements.”

Some Christian day schools have been known to have a strict dress-only policy, due to modesty or religious reasons.

Madison Stefanis is in Year 11 at an independent Christian girls school in Toorak, Victoria.

“We hardly do anything even moderately religious,” Stefanis says, “but we still are not allowed to wear pants.”

Stefanis has admitted to feeling restricted by the dress code, in relation to playing sports. This has been a common complaint for other students who are actively involved in sports.

Girls’ Uniform Agenda is an Australia wide group and campaigns for girls to have the option to wear shorts as part of their uniform. A paper prepared by co-founders, Dr Amanda Mergler (QLD) and Ms Simone Cariss (VIC), states that in an Australian study that looked at children’s perceptions of the factors that impact on their ability to engage in lunchtime play at school, 10 to 13 year-old girls reported that their uniform was a factor. Boys did not mention uniform at all during the study. Uniform was noted as a restriction to doing certain types of activities, such as basketball. (Stanley, Boshoff & Dollman, 2012).

Most education departments allow individual schools to regulate their own dress code, though they typically have a provision that the guidelines must comply with anti-discrimination policies.

The modification does not apply for private schools, however many private schools in Perth have since announced their intention to change their dress code.

gender-neutral-_24437096_e595c97faeb512adfb6562851787f7860d14b91d

Original post published here on 13 September 2017.

Merge places physicians a step closer to blood cancer cure

by Simone West and Sabrina Leretz

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – A grant of DKK 100 million has been awarded at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, Danstem at the University of Copenhagen, paving the way for a long-lasting treatment of hematologic diseases.

Prof. Kristian Helin, at the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), together with Principal Investigator (PI), Prof. Bo Porse, will head the program. On the clinical side, the program PI is Prof. Kirsten Grønbæk.

Copenhagen Biocenter is a fortress. It is a high-rise building, intimidating to the eyes. There is something foreboding about a clinical environment. It is almost as if you should not be allowed to touch anything. The security system before each laboratory entrance ascertains the important work they are performing, which cannot be tainted.

Grønbæk is a Professor, MD at the Department of Hematology at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Her work days consist of both seeing patients and researching at the Biocenter. Despite her prominence at Denmark’s State Hospital, she greets me with warmth and the same treatment as a respected work colleague. She has an air of elegance and I am aware while interviewing her that she is an expert in her field with years of experience. I am not intimidated, yet I feel an immense amount of respect for her, a woman who devotes her time to help fix blood diseases that are difficult to treat.

thumbnail_Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 1.57.56 pm
Prof. Kirsten Grønbæk, MD, Department of Haemotology

Grønbæk’s research is focused on identifying, monitoring and targeting epigenetic changes in blood cancers. While genetics is the backbone and makes us who we are, what is expressed in the cells is called ‘epigenetics’. In blood cells, codes for regulation are disrupted by mutations or deletions, so they are unable to function correctly and different proteins are made, which change the whole phenotype (the observable physical properties of an organism).

In a recent development, the Grønbæk Group has officially become affiliated with BRIC. BRIC is part of the University of Copenhagen, established in 2003 by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The grant has been awarded in order to establish a new research program, ‘Program for Translational Hematology’ which focuses on blood cancers that arise in stem cells and in the bone marrow, where the blood cells are produced.

The main purpose is “to identify the patients cancer stem cells (CSCs) and to develop methods to directly target these cells that we believe are the source of relapses,” says Grønbæk.

The two diseases being studied are Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), with both diseases known to arise in the early stem cells.

“If we want to cure these diseases,” Grønbæk says, “[we have to] actually hit the right stem cells, so the whole idea of this project is to develop or identify drugs which can kill the stem cells which are the source of these diseases.”

“We want to take the patients stem cells and expose them to 400 screening drugs to see which other drugs are actually being active and to take care of this, we are establishing a group with a bioinformatics team.”

The team will be targeting stem cells from patients with AML and MDS, as Grønbæk explains, “we haven’t seen the same kind of progress in outcomes of patient treatments as we have seen for the lymphoid malignancies with the myeloid cancers, and we think it is because we do not target the cancer stem cells.”

Due to recurrence in the disease, stem cell research is particularly important.

The collaboration will engage nurses and PhD students in the clinics, as well as other patient doctors. Grønbæk and her fellow Principal Investigator (PI) will be employed both at BRIC and the University.

In addition, Grønbæk is collaborating on another study, via Associate Professor Sine Reker Hadrup, an immunologist at the Danish Technical University in Lyngby. Together with Dr Ashwin Unnikrishnan from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, they will be studying how hypomethylating agents (azacitidine or ‘aza’) can enhance the visibility of tumor cells to the immune system.

A method has been developed that will allow the researchers to look at the individual patients’ immune cells before and after treatment with aza so they can determine exactly what mark on the tumor cells the T-cells are recognising.

“This is potentially very important and may lead to the development of even more specific immune therapies.”

 Via collaboration with the Van Andel Research Institute, Grønbæk is also working with US Organisation, ‘Stand-Up to Cancer, Epigenetics Dream Team.’ Here, she has had the opportunity to collaborate with Susan Clarke from the Garvan Institute in Sydney, who is one of the pioneers of epigenetics.

Together, they will collaborate on epigenetic regulation and pave the way for further successful treatments.

 

Link to original article posted on The Danish School of Media and Journalism (DMJX) website where students’ work is displayed. 

Tarantino as an author in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained


How, why and in what senses can Quentin Tarantino be regarded as the ‘author’ of a film with reference to Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012)?

Quentin Tarantino is a widely known American director who has fashioned his own unique genre, known as the historical revenge fantasy. In creating Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012), Tarantino cements his role as an auteur in American cinema and hence asserts himself as the ‘author’ of all of his films. Tarantino often bases his films on historical events, with both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained sharing stylistic and thematic similarities with other Tarantino films. The two, however, share direct links to one another that separate themselves from the rest.

Susan Hayward (1996) dates the term ‘auteur’ to go as far back as the 1920s, ‘in the theoretical writings of French film critics and directors of the silent era.’ The debate focused on the auteur (author of script and filmmaker as being the same) versus the scenario-led film (scripts commissioned from authors or scriptwriters). Subsequent to this, in the 1950s, this debate was popularised by the film review Cahiers du cinema (1951) during the French New Wave film movement. It is the highest praise any filmmaker could receive, labeling the director as the “author” of his or her own films. Even though, in the late 1960s, there was a tendency to see the auteur structure as the major one, Hayward argues that the studio and stars were ‘equally important contributors to the production of meaning in film.’ While this is true in Tarantino’s films, each one is thought to be his own, due to his stylistic choices and trademark features. While the stars are equally important, Tarantino is widely thought to be the creator of his films.

Oliver C. Speck (2014) writes in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained – The Continuation of Metacinema that Tarantino ‘implicates his audience in violence, exposing a portion of our dark nature’. Tarantino delves into historical and political stories, often shocking an audience and allowing them to take him seriously as an auteur. Speck contends that there is a ‘provocative shift’ from films that explore ‘race and violence but are set in a never-never land of an unspecified presence, to films that deal with Slavery and the Holocaust’ and that this fortifies his title and role as an auteur. Tarantino makes bold moves and Speck states, ‘this seriousness stems from a political/critical impetus.’ Only these two films imagine those who have been tortured in history (the Jews and the slaves) to attain revenge on the leader of the oppressive regime, hence both films cement the conscious and deliberate political turn Tarantino has taken.

In The Auteur Theory: Tarantino’s Blood, Robert Conley writes that a director needs ‘three qualifications’ for someone to be labeled as an auteur: Technical Competence, A Stylistic Stamp and Soulfulness. The first two are thought to be determined easily: basically, are you able to tell it is the director’s film just by watching it? With Tarantino’s films, this is unquestionable- one can pick a Tarantino film without knowing the title of the film. Conley writes that ‘soulfulness is the more abstract idea from the auteur theory, being that you can only gauge this based off individual’s “feelings” of films.’ Tarantino clearly epitomises these three qualities. Each Tarantino film has a distinct feeling, due to elements like sound, mise en scene, style and even genre.

Tarantino has his own authorial signature in all his films – trademark features that make it a typical Tarantino film. He is well known for intertwining pop culture references into witty dialogue, and incorporates elements of other director’s work, specifically, directors that have influenced his own work. Tarantino himself has said that Django Unchained is an affectionate tribute to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. This is evident in the scene where Django kills all of the major Candyland characters. The scene is reminiscent of a huge Sergio Leone standoff, with Django placed on the balcony and the family below in the foyer. By emulating Sergio Leone’s work, it acts as an homage to a director he so admires. Part of what makes Tarantino such an iconic auteur is his ability to fashion eccentric characters and storylines. He has a flair for approaching topics and subjects that have taboos attached to them or which haven’t been looked at in that certain light. Django Unchained received heavy criticism for the excessive use of the ‘n-word’ which according to a review in Variety, contains ‘no fewer than 109 instances of the ‘No word,’ with most of them being used for ‘either for laughs or alliteration’ rather than because of necessity or to add meaning. Tarantino however has since justified his use of the word, proving to critics that he is unashamedly decisive with his authorial decisions and that every line, sound and visual is there for a specific purpose and in order to garner a certain response from audiences.

Tarantino is also famous for his dry wit in his screenplays. For example, in Inglourious Basterds, Colonel Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, is a maniacal character. He speaks in riddles and speaks multiple languages. His eccentric nature makes for an interesting character, even though the audience is supposed to despise him for the fact that he is a detestable Nazi. Each one of Tarantino’s films introduces an eccentric character like this. Another typical element of Tarantino’s films is the element of stardom. Like so many other auteurs, namely Wes Anderson, Tarantino employs the same actors over and over again. Christoph Waltz plays main roles in both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, as Colonel Hans Landa and the German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz. Tarantino’s recasting of these characters further creates a familiarity within his films – the audience is able to associate his films with the stars in it, many being award-winning actors. This strengthens his cult audience and guarantees a good audience reception as well.

Another example of the bold, signature mark of Tarantino is his sheer attention to blood and gore – Tarantino does not shy away from what other directors decide to omit or sanitise. He thrives on displaying blood and guts, by presenting scenes viscerally. This is evident in both the underground bar scene in Inglourious Basterds as well as the wrestling scene in Candyland in Django Unchained, where two black slaves are forced to fight one another to the death using only their hands. The combination of the sound of broken bones, paired with the visual of the splattered, fresh blood on their bodies and on the floor in this scene is overwhelming for an audience. Tarantino purposefully utilises the element of shock to send a message – that violence is a major part of history and was used as a means of survival and for the entertainment of those in positions of power. This violence is so blatantly excessive and overdone that McGee (2012) believes it is ‘almost impossible’ for the audience to walk away from the movie ‘without the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, even for a fantasy”.

Django Unchained is widely considered to be a black film. In terms of blaxsploitation, the term refers to films made by actual black people, which are supposed to show authentic black experience and are made for a black audience. This term is problematic as it implies that white directors are unable to make black films. There are two assumptions here according to Speck (2014), one of essentialism, and the other, auteurism. The essentialist assumption believes that ‘there is a direct relationship between people’s racial identities’ and the aesthetic. On the other hand, the auteurist assumption believes that ‘we can reasonably attribute cinematic authorship to lone individuals.’ While auteurism implies that only Tarantino deserves either credit or blame, Speck says that ‘essentialism tells us that [his] whiteness prevents him from understanding black culture well enough to capture its essence on film.’ None of these claims manage to echo the realities of authorship well, hence there is a divide in the filmic world on whether or not Django Unchained can in fact be considered a black film.

The structure of Tarantino’s films differs from other directors. His films can be seen as a series of vignettes, or scenes, rather than one complete narrative. Conley (Film Matters Spring 2014) writes that Django Unchained is ‘broken up into chapters or “situations” as Tarantino names them’. The purpose of this is to perhaps add some structure, as time is convoluted in the film. The viewer is often asking, when is this happening? Is it in chronological order? Tarantino does this to invite the viewer to think about the historical context and the fluctuating nature of time.

According to Ken Garner (2013), Tarantino uses music as ‘an instrument of irony and authenticity.’ Garner points out Tarantino’s musical priorities in Popular Music and the New Auteur – Visionary Filmmakers After MTV.

Garner writes of how Claudia Gorbman, in her essay “Auteur Music” labels Tarantino as ‘one of those contemporary auteur directors who demonstrates her idea of the melomane, the term taken from the French word for “music lover.” She writes how ‘music is a platform for the idiosyncratic expression of taste, and thus it conveys not only meaning in terms of plot and theme, but meaning as authorial signature itself.’

Referring to the scene with the gramophone in the basement bar in Inglourious Basterds, Garner argues that this scene is a surprising one and that ‘it is unlike any other scene in any Tarantino movie’ due to its conventionality. The music is picked by Tarantino, and is shown simply to ‘authenticate the location period, and nature of the social occasion for the soldiers.’ It is a practical use of sound rather than a metaphorical one. Tarantino’s musical selection in Inglourious Basterds implicates that his authorial signature has changed.

The typical Tarantino musical move would be for him to select short fragments to compliment tension-filled scenes and ones that would signal impending violence. These typically have a slow tempo and are combined with ‘strong rhythmic figures doubled by piano, bass, guitar, or brass with percussion.’ In juxtaposition, moments of actual violence tend either to not be scored or are scored by different kinds of sounds- such as brass or string, or ‘funk rhythms.’ Garner quotes Tarantino in a 2009 interview with Steve Kandell for Spin, where Tarantino says he carefully chooses his own soundtrack in order to “never just throw stuff over it, it’s supposed to be exciting, it’s supposed to rev you up. It’s supposed to get you going.”

In conclusion, while Tarantino’s style has tended to cause controversy and offence to many critics, he is undoubtedly the ‘author’ of all his films, specifically Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. He not only directs but also is involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process, allowing audiences to view his films as his own work. By delving deep into provocative subject matters, stunning audiences all around the world with his excessive use of violence and by planting his authorial signature in each film he creates, Tarantino asserts himself as an unmistakable auteur.

REFERENCES

Conley, R 2014 ‘The Auteur Theory: Tarantino’s Blood’ Film Matters Spring 2014, pp. 77-79.

Garner, K 2013, ‘You’ve Heard This One Before: Quentin Tarantino’s Scoring Practices from Kill Bill To Inglourious Basterds’ in Ashby, A (eds), Popular Music and The New Auteur – Visionary Filmmakers After MTV, Oxford University Press, Madison Avenue, NY, pp. 157-176.

Geiger, J & Rutsky, R.L (eds), Film Analysis: A Norton Reader, 2nd edn, 2013, W.W Norton & Company, NY.

Gorbman, C 2007 “Auteur Music,” in Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema, eds. Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 149-162.

Hayward, S 1996, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, London, Taylor & Francis [CAM]

&

Hayward, S 2006, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, 3rd edn, London, Taylor & Francis [CAM]

McGee, P 2012 Bad History and the Logics of Blockbuster Cinema: Titanic, Gangs of New York, Australia, Inglourious Basterds (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Speck, O.C (eds) 2014, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained – The Continuation of Metacinema, Bloomsbury Publishing, NY.

Walker, T 2012, ‘Quentin Tarantino accused of ‘Blaxploitation’ by Spike Lee… Again’, The Independent, 26 December, viewed 14 October 2016,

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/quentin-tarantino-accused-of-blaxploitation-by-spike-lee-again-8431183.html

 

SCENES

I walk towards a busy intersection, judging seemingly ubiquitous conversations.

An exceedingly organised woman clutches a 2017 diary and divulges her plans for next year to a friend. An energised man assertively heads in the right direction, muttering, “left!” over and over again to his trailing companions.

High-rise buildings surround us on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Street. Police survey us. Blasphemous graffiti mocks us. Tourists with neon coloured suitcases maneuver their cargo around the pedestrians, the wheels pressing the wet pavement and making a faint jeering sound. The sounds in the street guide a blind woman. She hears what I hear; the nervous beeping of the green man, telling pedestrians that our walking time is fleeting.

Students tape posters on poles for an upcoming protest and disagree on the angle. No one will actually read the fine print, but at least they care.

We have all become apathetic.

Everyone is too busy to hear the musician, to see the blind woman, to feel the brisk air enter our lungs. Blood runs through us all, but the complete use of our senses is not as important as it used to be.

A natural instinct to fully experience each one of our senses has been replaced by modern apathy.