Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Is Latin really making a comeback?

by Viva Avasthi

Ancient Rome

Despite The Economist's conviction that Latin is making a comeback, as described in their article from a couple of days ago, I beg to differ. In fact, I believe that the question is not, "Why is Latin making a comeback?" but rather, "Is Latin really making a comeback?"

I'm afraid the answer is, "Not really, no."

Although it would be brilliant if Latin really were making a comeback, The Economist's argument that Latin is becoming more popular can be refuted in two parts: by observing the ancient language's popularity in young people and by analysing just how popular the Latin-based services the newspaper refers to are. I'll also try to attempt to use ideas from behavioural economics to explain why Latin is not making a comeback any time soon.

What do we (Really) Know From Economic Development? A Random Analysis of Poverty in Some Non-Developed Countries

by Jaime Bravo

  One of the things I have come across recently is the fact that we know very  little about poverty. I mean, really. We have the Millennium Goals, settled by the UN, and, yes, poverty is decreasing in some parts of the world. In a study I made a few weeks ago, I discovered a few facts about poverty in non-developed countries that are really important. I saw that there is a big problem with GDP all across the world. The study was based on a few countries (particularly, Germany, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Argentina, Afghanistan, Colombia and Spain) and there were three different groups.

Firstly, I considered GER and SPA as the completely developed countries; ARG and COL (those from Latin-America) are considered as the upcoming-completely-developed countries among the group. Finally, PAK, AFG and BAN are the less-developed countries included in the study. What I saw was that, even though the less developed  had a lower-income than the others, they were doing significant efforts (for example, the number of children in school in Afghanistan has increased a lot if we compare it with the upcoming-completely-developed economies).

Secondly, I found that the crisis hit harder to developed economies than to non-developed ones (the table I presented included data from Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Kenya, Norway, Spain, Sudan, Thailand, France and Austria) in terms of GDP reduction. It could be because both the GDP and the exports decreased simultaneously. (The table presented considered the data from 2009, one year after the crisis started.) This is quite interesting: while non-developed economies are mainly importers of manufactured-products and exporters of commodities, they didn't stopped exporting commodities but importing manufactured products. The logic behind this is quite simple. Non-developed economies have a lot of unskilled labour and they have a lot of labour-intensive industries. In the other hand, developed economies have some kind of equilibrium between unskilled and skilled-labour and they have a lot of capital-intensive sectors/industries.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Meritocracy: the alternative to Democracy and Communism

by Bisade Asolo

Imagine yourself in a packed, dark hall, surrounded by thousands of people. In the middle of the hall a 
spotlight illuminates a boxing ring. In the ring are two heavy-weights: ‘Democracy’ and ‘Communism’. Both have areas of strengths and weakness. DING! Both ‘Democracy’ and ‘Communism’ swing at each other, resulting in a double knock-out. Silence permeates the hall. "It's a DRAW!" shouts the striped referee. Instantly, the boos of gamblers chorus through the room. Your phone vibrates; information regarding the next bout. Favourable odds are on a talented but lesser-known boxer. In brilliant, black font you read the name 'Meritocracy'.

A lesser-known social system, meritocracy allows people to reach success proportional to their talents and abilities. There are obvious advantages to this social system; one being that everyone has an equal chance of success because a meritocratic society rewards hard-working intellects as opposed to just the wealthy. This would encourage society to work harder in general which can only ever be a good thing. As we know, hard-workers are the driving force of world. Bill Gates, for example, would not be where he is today without hard work and PC users would not have the benefit of various software packages due to his hard work and that of others. Furthermore, in a meritocratic society, the government would comprise of people based on ability. So only the very best would be in positions of power, unlike in a democratic government, in which we often see people in power because of wealth and popularity and not ability.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Book Review: 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf

by Viva Avasthi                                                                                  
                                                                    Rating out of 5: ★★★★★

A Room of One's OwnAfter 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', which I've reviewed here, it was the extended essay entitled 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf (1182-1941) that I got my hands on next. This text is based on a series of lectures delivered by Woolf at Newnham College and Girton College, two colleges of the University of Cambridge. In 1928, when Woolf gave her lectures, both colleges were solely for women; today Girton also admits men.

Despite being based on her lectures entitled 'Women and Fiction' (and being classified as a non-fiction text for this very reason), it is a fictional narrator of no particular name who is the main character in this text. We are encouraged by Woolf's anonymous narrator to call her by "any name [we] please" as it is apparently "not a matter of any importance" - a highly effective way for Woolf to direct her readers towards thinking more closely about the ideas and arguments presented rather than who they are being presented by.

This essay follows the thought processes of the unnamed narrator in trying to establish why it is that up until the point of this essay being published women had not been able to have as much influence in society, and particularly in the field of literature, as men. She travels from the colleges of the fictional Oxbridge University to the British Museum in London to Shakespeare's time (as a thought experiment) to see why "masculine values prevail" and "football and sport are 'important'; the worship of the fashion, the buying of clothes 'trivial'". In a particularly intriguing part of her writing, she imagines what it would have been like for Shakespeare's own sister, had she been a genius, to attempt to display her talents to the world.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Book Review: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

by Viva Avasthi                                                                                  
                                                                  Rating out of 5: ★★★★★

You might be someone who is interested in what others have been reading and what they have learnt from or enjoyed about particular books; in which case you'll be interested in this summer's series of book reviews on this website. This month I've read two novels and a text better referred to as a fictitious extended essay than anything else.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
To keep my account in chronological order, I'll start by mentioning some of my opinions on the first of my reads: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The novel follows the descent of an outstandingly handsome but initially naive man who makes a Faustian bargain, trading his soul for eternal youth. He emerges as a corrupt individual prioritizing beauty over everything else and ruining countless lives including his own.

If you haven't already read this classic, I would highly recommend that you do so - if not for the marvellous prose, then at least for the brilliant storyline. There have been at least six film or television adaptations of this book, and although I have only seen the 1945 film version, I find it difficult to believe that any production could do justice to the book. Filled with vivid descriptions and numerous witticisms on almost every page, this book was such a wonderful read that once I'd finished, I was very tempted to start reading it all over again.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The London 2012 Olympics: One Year On

by Pavandeep Virdee

It seems hard to imagine that it was only last year that people in Great Britain were celebrating the incredible sporting achievements of the Olympics. Whether it be the memorable moments of Mo Farah crossing the finish line, or the much-awaited triumph of Jessica Ennis- I think it’s safe to say that the Olympics brought many intangible benefits, for all of us.
But what about the economic benefits?

Did the Olympics succeed in its expectation to provide economic growth, or did it in fact fail to deliver? Well, with the official report on the economic benefits of the 2012 Games published on the 19th of July this year, the 2012 Games were said to have ‘gone out of their way to show that the Olympics more than paid for itself’; by generating an approximate figure of £10bn- almost £1bn higher than its cost.
The report states that many of the benefits include the additional business that has been secured for UK firms and companies. For instance, some UK companies have won more contracts for other international sporting events, which adds up to the figure of £1.5bn, with £120m of this being business that UK companies have won, to help with the Rio Olympics.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Britain's EU Membership - The Cons

by Karina Shooter

Picture courtesy of
In my previous article, we looked at the advantages of Britain’s EU membership.  Now we are going to consider the alternative point of view – what are the disadvantages?

One of the most common arguments which is used to oppose Britain’s EU membership is the cost. Different estimates on how much EU membership costs Britain per year vary dramatically, for example although the Foreign Office and Commonwealth say that the cost of EU membership is £300 per head, the Bruges (an anti EU group) claim that the cost per head is £873. The argument put forward from Euro sceptics is that we are suffering from an imbalance of payments – the UKs allocation from the EU budget is much less than our contribution in the form of membership payments – therefore we are experiencing a trade deficit.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Whatever happened to the 'F word'?

by Pavandeep Virdee

I can understand that the title above may be a little misleading - so just to clear any confusion, the only ‘F word’ I’ll be using in this article is in fact feminism! I know what you’re thinking: why feminism? Well, it may seem a little strange, but believe it or not, it seems that many young women and girls are more reluctant to talk about feminism; or even simply mention the word in a conversation, than ever before.

But why is this? With regards to feminism itself, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with its cause; it has been at the heart of defending equal political, economic and social rights for women for over 100 years. From the right to vote, all the way to having free access to contraception - the wave of feminism has passed us all. Nonetheless, what is the mystery behind the decline in modern feminism?

The biggest reason for the dislike of feminism amongst recent times, is that feminists are often branded by the media and anti-feminist groups, as being ‘men-haters’, who believe that women’s rights are more important than men’s rights - leading to them being too concerned about the issues of women, whilst forgetting the issues of men too.

Still, is this really the case? The truth is that most feminist groups today do not neglect the issues of men- some have in fact pioneered in promoting global awareness of unspoken issues, like prison rape - which largely affects male prisoners. It can be said however, that feminists do advocate more for the rights of women, but that’s largely because they believe that in comparison to men, women still have many significant issues, which are not always openly addressed by society - such as the lack of rights to contraception and abortion for many women in developing countries.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Field Burning in South Africa

© Travel Pictures Travel, Image Ref 3104447 –
Aerial View Of Sugar Cane Farms
Near Mtwalume. Kwazulu Natal South Coast. South Africa

by Sparshita Dey 
(with Viva Avasthi)

As suggested by the introduction, this is the second of our field burning case studies of countries/states across the world. Our first report was on Brazil - the world's largest producer of sugarcane. This report will focus on the KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa and whether or not there is a market for the Pyroformer™ there.  

Field Burning in the KwaZulu-Natal Province happens mainly on sugarcane fields in order to maintain a continuous harvest throughout the years so that production and profit is generated consistently. This therefore relies on the removal of plant residue from the soil to allow replanting. Furthermore, the burning is also an important way of warding off snakes, dangerous insects and other pests as well as killing or destroying weeds for healthier growth of the sugarcane plants themselves as they have less competition.

^Source: - “A National Climate Change Strategy for South Africa” 
The above has been taken from the South African National Climate Change Strategy document from September 2004. The highlighted text shows that as part of the strategy, South Africa had highlighted field burning as a key area where greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced in the agricultural sector. This suggests a certain amount of awareness of environmental issues regarding field burning at a government level hinting that the government will be more inclined or interested to fund any projects with the intention of reducing the emissions: like the use of the Pyroformer™. 

Field Burning In Brazil

by Viva Avasthi (with Sparshita Dey)

Following our introduction to our project investigating field burning across the world, we're starting with an overview of field burning in Brazil, with a focus on the state of São Paulo (indicated on the map below by the initials SP).

The situation in Brazil

São Paulo is at the heart of Brazil’s sugarcane industry,
and has set an eco-friendly example for other regions
through its successful ‘Green Protocol’.
Brazil produces the largest quantities of sugar in the world, which could explain why the Brazilian government is so keen to prevent the burning of sugarcane in its fields. 

In 2012, Brazil produced 25% of the world’s sugar and 50% of the world’s sugar exports. The sugarcane sector employed 70,000 growers with the direct employment of 1.18 million people and an annual sector revenue of US$ 28 billion. US$ 16.2 billion of foreign revenue was generated in 2012.

The statistics above illustrate that the sugar industry is an important sector of Brazil's economy. Through eliminating field burning, the government aims for the production of sugarcane in the country to be sustainable so that Brazil can continue to retain its competitive advantage over other producers of sugar. Field burning has occurred in the country’s fields for hundreds of years for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are: to remove sugarcane straw (which consists of the plant’s tops and leaves); to drive out snakes; and to allow the cane to be cut more easily by hand.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Field Burning and the Pyroformer™: An Introduction

by Sparshita Dey and Viva Avasthi 

Copyright © Aaron Joel Santos / NOI Pictures

As part of our work experience, we chose to work at Aston University in Birmingham for two weeks where we are involved in some research regarding “an innovative sustainable energy solution developed by the EBRI (European Bioenergy Research Institute) that could dramatically reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels”. This solution, namely the Pyroformer™,  aims to tackle the problems created through agricultural field burning (also known as 'stubble burning'). 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Britain’s Membership of the EU – The Pros

by Karina Shooter

Photo courtesy of

Sky News has announced the results of an exclusive survey about Britain’s EU membership. In response to the question: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” 51% voted ‘No’, with 49% supporting the ‘Yes’ option.

The results show that there is no clear consensus on people’s views towards EU membership, and if we take into account the fact that the poll will have a margin of error, it really does highlight how result of the referendum vote could go either way. This means that it is more important than ever to discuss the pros and cons of EU membership. I will look at each side of the argument in separate articles. In this article we will look at the advantages of Britain being a member of the EU, in a subsequent article I will explore the disadvantages. 

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of EU membership is the single market. Europe is the world’s largest single market – it is an economic zone larger than that of the USA and Japan combined and it has a total GDP of around £11 trillion. The single market allows Britain to freely trade good and services between countries in the European Union, without tax or regulations. European markets account for half of the UK’s overall trade and foreign investments. It is said that EU countries currently trade twice as much with each other as they would do in the absence of the Single Market. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Hamilton Young Liberals Summit 2013: Progressivism is NOT Dead in Canada

by Eyrie Clark

"The Liberal Party is dead" is a famous saying which many Canadians have heard before. On Sunday the 23rd of June, I attended the Hamilton Young Liberals Summit, hosted at McMaster University by a small group of their devoted students. I'm here to tell you that the Liberal Party, and thus progressivism as a whole, is very much alive and well in Canada and Canadians.

Me with Ivan Luksic (Left), the Liberal candidate for my riding.
The event was attended by a number of Liberal politicians, from incumbent riding presidents to up-and-coming candidates for the Hamilton area, including the Minister of Community and Social Services Ted McMeekin, who decided to spice up his presentation by bursting out into song, something which can only be described as interesting.

After some brief speeches from each of these figures, including some involved students from the university group, the 'official' summit ended and the exciting part began: networking. After the speeches, they opened the floor to the audience to meet with all of the speakers, talk to them personally, and become acquainted. I personally got to meet a few of the politicians, including Ivan Luksic, pictured above with me. He will be running for the position of Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for my riding. Without delving into too much detail, an MPP is basically a lesser version of an MP; instead of legislating federally for Canada as a whole, MPPs Legislate and have authority in Ontario only.