Are you comfortably numb?

Friday, May 18, 2007

BBC to lose Neighbours

It's a sad day for us all. Still, at least it's running till next Spring, which is basically when I'll stop watching it anyway, seeing as I'll graduate n all.

Until then, we'll continue to enjoy the uninterrupted pleasure of watching Lou Carpenter's quality acting, Harold's jelly-like jowls and the fitness that is Carmella, Pepper and Elle - with no advert breaks.

Long live neighbours.

Oh dear Birmingham Uni

We were all waiting to go into our first exam today, and we looked at the sheets that were put up to tell us what seat number we were. At the bottom was a note telling us what to do if we couldn't see our name on the list.

It referred us to an 'invidulator'.

Yes, an invidulator.

When the people marking our exams can't even spell, there is a slight sense of desperation.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On the dangers of participant observation

I was just reading an article about participant observation for revision, and came across the following sentence:

It is a little known fact that outrage, indignation, and similar feelings are pleasurable. They confer a sense of self-worth and purposefulness.

I thought that was very interesting, coming from a secular paper. Reminds me of Galations 5...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

External Hard Drive

Yes, I have just purchased one of these ingenious inventions. Due to my laptop crumbling under the weight of a few MP3s and .jpegs like an old man under a grizzly bear, it was time to invest.

Already my computer is so much faster, almost as fast as a bronze-medallist paralympian.

At less than 60 quid for 250GB, yes that's GIGAbytes, you can't go wrong. Unless I forget to turn it off properly, that is.

If only it could solve the problem of our terrible internet connection. But that's up to Telewest, whose incompetency is paralleled only by that of the Birmingham History department.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What if this doesn't change?

Israel. Palestine. Gaza. The West Bank. Our generation has grown up with these words ringing in our ears, a constant drum-beat of bad news. The Middle East has dominated news bulletins almost daily since we were born, and most of us are weary of headlines that offer no sign of a resolution to a most bloody conflict.

Our campus is no stranger to this war. With large Jewish and Muslim contingents at Birmingham, the “Middle Eastern issue” has many of us in its grip, polarising attitudes across our red brick surroundings. Knowing this, it was with trepidation that I boarded a plane to Israel two months ago. I was scared. Not of bombs or bullets, but of the pain I would see. Having witnessed the anger and resentment present on both sides in Britain, I dreaded seeing even deeper bitterness and anguish I was sure would characterise the situation on the ground.

It was simultaneously relieving and exasperating to discover I was wrong. Westerners who have not visited Israel but read the news could be forgiven for thinking that Arabs and Jews cannot even pass each other in the street without stones, AK-47s or suicide bombers getting involved. Funnily enough, this is not the case; conversations with representatives from both sides of the conflict repeatedly threw back the message: “We all want peace, we all want a two-state solution, and we all want to stop living in fear”; a sharp contrast to conversations on my own campus, where some expound the view that Israel does not have a right to exist, and others painstakingly whitewash her behaviour. The necessity of living in such a painful long-term crisis does not always breed the extremism that accompanies distance. Both sides, after all, have to live their daily lives amidst the debris of decades of violence, and both sides suffer for it.

This is not to say that the suffering has been allocated in equal quantities. Standing atop Jerusalem a few hours after landing in Tel Aviv, an emotive symbol of the ongoing conflict that has earned Israel the title “apartheid state” in some circles confronts us. The security wall, or “fence” as it is doggedly referred to by Israel’s representatives, is a powerful physical image of the ideological barrier that divides Palestinians and Israelis. It is 425 miles long, eight metres high and consists of a mixture of concrete slabs and razor-wire fences. A heated debate quickly brews between our group and the Israeli tour guide. “We had no choice,” he argues, citing the 85% drop in suicide bombings as evidence that the wall is justified. A representative from the Palestinian Authority later puts forward the obvious counter-argument: the wall is not even on the 1967 borders; it “divides Palestinian families and communities”, preventing them from living their lives. Frequent checkpoints, guarded by zealous IDF soldiers, make it almost impossible for Palestinian families to bridge the gap imposed on them by an Israeli government they see as having no right to dictate their living conditions, already vastly worse than those in a state whose economy is booming (Israel’s exports exceeded her imports for the first time in 2006).

The wall is a short-term solution, yes. Suicide bombings are a reality, one that stared us unblinkingly in the eye as we later heard the excruciating stories of three survivors of such attacks. Understandable that any government would want to protect its people from such vicious acts. Understandable, but constructive? Just as it seemed obvious to us that attacking Iraq would water a ground ripe for terrorism, so it seems this wall is just a band-Aid on a wound that will fester in bitterness, spawning increased attempts to infiltrate Israel and kill more civilians.

Yet if we’re going to stop the wall we must stop the terror. Issa Kasasiya, Assistant Chief of Staff in the Palestinian Authority, insists that the conflict is perpetuated by extremists on both sides. So what are Palestinian politicians doing to clamp down on extremism from their people? How are they stemming the development of suicide bombers? Despite Kasasiya’s earlier eloquence concerning Palestinian grievances and Israeli failings, his sidestepping of my question was embarrassingly obvious. Amidst his protesting answer that yet again highlighted the faults of the Israeli government, there was a deafening silence as to what responsibility his side was taking to deal with their own mistakes.

This seemed to be a recurrent theme on both sides: a dragging and obstinate reluctance to admit fault unequivocally. By the end of the trip our ears were worn by listening to people protest that the other side had done more wrong than they. The Camp David summit of 2000 was a prime example; each side was expert in explaining why the blame lay mostly with the opposition. Couple this with the gridlock that holds Jerusalem, with the city being sacred to both Muslims and Jews (not to mention Catholics), and I was left with the terrible but inevitable suspicion that there is never going to be a resolution to this conflict.

Both sides now lack leaders who have real leadership qualities, let alone leaders who can work together to regain each other’s trust. Trust between the two peoples has gradually been eroded for decades, leading to the paranoid stalemate that now holds them in an iron grip. I applaud those who are trying to work towards a peaceful two-state solution, and like many of the people we met pray for this to happen. But something has to give. And this is the great challenge. Apologies must come unqualified; mistakes must be admitted without justification. And this is not fair, because grace is not about fairness; it is about giving something that is not deserved.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

The end

...of assessed work for the year. Essays finished, history presentations presented, marks received and lectures done. From now on it's just 3-hour blocks of torture in locations such as the old gym, the new gym and the mysterious sounding 'Avon Room'.

So today revision began. About time probably, as my first exam is next Friday. But I'm feeling pretty calm about exams. For now.

Got a lot of marks back today and I've improved on the disaster that was last term's essays - hooray.

Also finished my almost-last edition of Redbrick today. The Israel article is going in this week so I'll blog it tomorrow. Unsurprisingly, I feel a bit frustrated at the word limit as I feel that I have only incorporated a tiny snapshot of the situation there. But as long as I've annoyed everyone involved it should mean it's relatively objective - maybe?!