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Who benefits from regulating incomes?

Tuesday 4th Apr: First Tuesday Current Affairs discussion

Discussing First topical issue (Mark Iddon) and Second topical issue (Simon Belt)

Public discussions and debate in Manchester
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Playing God? The ethics of biomedicine

October 2014

Andy Miah, Sorcha Ui Chonnachtaigh, Steve Fuller and Anna Bergqvist will introduce a discussion on the ethics of biomedical enhancements

 

Andy Miah

Over the past decade, dramatic advances have been made in synthetic biotechnology, neuroscience and digital technology. Engineers of brain computer interfaces predict headbands that will deliver digitally enhanced cognition, letting us talk without speaking, see round corners, and drive just by thinking about it. In 2010, Craig Venter made headlines with his (partially) synthetic cell, and, as he plans to patent an entire manmade lifeform in the future, work continues on the creation of smaller DNA constructs known as bioparts. This year a man in Austria voluntarily had a (damaged) hand amputated so he could be fitted with a bionic limb controlled by brain signals. Stem cell science and synthetic biology bring the prospect of replacing flesh with ‘synthetic skin’ rather than creating crude cyborgs.

Dr Sorcha Ui Chonnachtaigh

 

Yet while futurists and transhumanists talk excitedly about the possibilities of biomedical enhancement, there is considerable ambivalence about such advances across wider society: the so-called ‘yuck factor.’ Ethics committees and ‘public dialogues’ have risen in prominence in recent decades partly to tackle public fears about the impacts of experimentation in controversial areas such as mitochondrial exchange, acting as a significant check on its development in the UK.

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First World War: origins and warnings for the 21st Century

June 2014

James Woudhuysen and Terry Jackson opened a discussion on the origins and warnings of the First World War.


James Woudhuysen

The origins of the First World War are variously attributed to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, the complex system of international alliances that developed before 1914, the way in which Germany's Schlieffen Plan depended on its army sticking to strict railway timetables, or the unreadiness of old dynasties to move with the times.

Terry Jackson

 

In fact, James will argue, it was the very 2014 phenomenon of Foreign Direct Investment that, before 1914, bound all the eventual participants in the conflict into a system of long-run, spiralling tensions. Today's commentators on the First World War often miss three other forces that mediated and accelerated the catastrophe.

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There's art in them there hills

May 2014

James Heartfield, Ann Jackson and John Siddique explored why visual and literary art is so popular in the hills of the Pennines, chaired by Pauline Hadaway

 

James HertfieldThe Pennines have long been an alluring part of the world, both for industrialists utilising its natural resources and the workers in those industries escaping their factory life to enjoy the open and grand countryside. Developments in our technological infrastructure, particularly in the generation and distribution of electricity for power, has resulted in post war economic growth taking place in towns and cities rather than the countryside. There seems to have been something of a counter movement of preference by some for living in the urban countryside, particularly by artists, resulting in places like Hebden Bridge getting national recognition as a cultural hotspot.

 

Ann Jackson

Evan Davis in his recent BBC2 programme Mind the Gap, revisited David Fletcher's notion of Hebden Bridge for example becoming Britain's second city. This rather playful idea comes from Hebden Bridge being an inverted city with a greenbelt centre and suburbs called Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. The tension between urbane city life and the rather slower and historic pace of life in the country has long been the source of an interesting dialogue, codified in planning regulations around protection of the green belt and metropolitan types banning fox hunting or badger culls for example. The description of economic disparity across the nation, popularly tagged as a north / south economic divide in the Thatcher years, is today often used similarly used to explain a beleaguered countryside.

 

John SiddiqueThe Blair government response to the decline of traditional manufacturing industries and hollowing out of the economy was to front on Education, Education, Education, whilst heavily investing in the creative industries in the hope of giving UK PLC some sort of immediate purpose and niche offering beyond the City of London. Whilst some individual artists profited handsomely from this attention, the spread of funding for most was certainly far more modest. More importantly perhaps was the development of a new tier of state led funding agencies bringing into play a swathe of grant applications that effectively played off art project against art project, whilst introducing local participation, social equality and identity through locality agendas to the creative process, however loosely policed.

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Mediation: a degradation of equality before the law?

March 2014

Michelle Simpson, Luke Gittos and Tanya Greaves introduced a discussion on the impact mediation in family and employment disputes is having on the law

 

Michelle SimpsonIn the wake of cuts to the Civil Courts, the coalition government have been arguing for mediation as an alternative to bringing cases before a Judge. In 2011, a new protocol in the Family Courts compelled parties to family law cases to consider alternative means of settling their cases. In January 2012 Kenneth Clarke, the then Justice Secretary, said that mediation was the best way to solve divorce cases ‘cheaply and simply’. The focus on mediation has given rise to a lucrative area of business for lawyers, who can develop practices on the basis that they are robust mediators.

Luke Gittos

Tanya GreavesFor many, the idea of resolving a case prior to a costly court case was very appealing. But are we at risk of creating a justice system in which finding an answer is prioritised over the exercise of legal judgement? Does it matter if parties bend the rules a bit if it avoids litigation? Does the rise of mediation show that our culture is less litigious, or just more dependent on lawyers solving our problems in the corridors of the Courtroom?

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How will universities deal with online degrees (MOOCs)?

February 2014

Dennis Hayes, Claire Beecroft, John Hutchinson and Joe Gazdula introduced a discussion on MOOCs, chaired by Shirley Lawes

 

Dennis HayesPromoted as a way of using technology to extend education to all, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have also been criticised as being a portend for the reduction in the quality of educational content. Is there a real decline in educational standards as many think there is, and what is the relationship between standards of education and the use of technology in facilitating education?

 

Claire Beecroft

Education is a hotly contested subject due to the special role it plays in passing on knowledge in society, or what Oakeshott described as ‘the conversation between the generations’. Many in education, the media, politicians, policy makers and academics have celebrated a ‘learning age’ in which easy access to information has been confused with knowledge and understanding, and led to the pronouncement that it is redundant. Others suggest that the idea that constant innovation and change mean that knowledge is soon ‘out of date’, undermining the requirement to pass on ‘the best that has been known and thought in the world’ and is a symptom of the decline of the social project of educating.

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Abortion: a choice for a woman or society?

January 2014

Ann FurediPeter D. Williams and Christine Fidler introduced a discussion on qualifications to being pro-choice on abortion

 

Ann FurediCampaigners for equal rights for women have always had to respond to arguments around women having autonomy over their own bodies. When it comes to controlling fertility, whether that be contraception or terminations, religious and moral arguments are open to modification, refinement and shifts in the relative balance of how much sway and influence they have. The availability of abortion offered to women through the 1967 Abortion Act is strictly proscribed and needs two doctors to approve the abortion request after the woman requesting the abortion has received counselling to help evaluate the request. A recent sting operation by the Daily Telegraph newspaper attempted to test the current operation of this process.

 

Peter WilliamsThe Daily Telegraph sent undercover reporters, accompanying two pregnant women to nine clinics in different parts of the country, and filmed two doctors agreeing to proceed with a termination after being told the pregnant woman wanted an abortion because of the sex of the unborn child. Current legislation requires that a termination can only be granted if two doctors honestly believe a woman meets the legal test that continuing the pregnancy "would likely cause injury to the mental or physical health of the woman". A case was made for the doctors to be prosecuted, which Keir Starmer the Director of Public Prosecutions decided against, saying that although there was a realistic prospect of securing convictions, it would be against the public interest to take the doctors to trial.

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