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First Tuesday current affairs discussion - Tuesday 5 December 7:00pm start

Tuesday 2nd Jan: First Tuesday Current Affairs discussion

We'll discuss two topical subjects

Public discussions and debate in Manchester
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Manchester Science Festival

Feeding a growing world

October 2012

Rob Lyons, Angelica Michelis, Louise Bolotin and Carol Wagstaff introduced a discussion about how to feed a growing world

Rob LyonsEver since October 2011, when it was estimated that the global population had passed seven billion people, discussions have raged about how the world will cope. With food prices already rising amid deeper environmental concerns, the United Nations and governments worldwide are particularly preoccupied with how we will feed ourselves. An increasing population is overwhelmingly viewed as a matter of more mouths to feed rather than a potential source of solutions.

Dr Angelica Michelis

 

So while feeding the world seems a straightforward technical issue of implementing the most efficient and effective farming practices, a host of extraneous social, political, cultural, even ethical issues seem to thwart the implementation of solutions. The angst-ridden discussion about the pros and cons of growing genetically modified crops is only one example. Meanwhile, Western societies seem disillusioned with the gains of industrialised food production. Factory farming and processed foods are demonised; local, organic, natural are celebrated.

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Exploring Space: star gazing or history making?

October 2012

Manchester Science Festival

Fresh from the Battle of Ideas science strand, Craig Fairnington hosted this showing of For All Mankind (1989), followed by a discussion about our aspirations for exploring engineering solutions today

Apollo 11 bootprintDuring the Apollo lunar missions from 1968 to 1972, those on board were given 16mm cameras and told to film anything and everything they could, in space, in orbit, and on the surface of the moon itself. NASA was at the cutting edge of video camera technology during the Apollo missions and customized various types of cameras to capture the footage. Two decades later, filmmaker Al Reinert went into the NASA vaults to create this extraordinary compendium of their journeys and experiences. Assembled from hundreds of hours of the astronauts' own footage, with a soundtrack made up of their memories and a specially composed score by Brian Eno, the film takes the form of one journey to the moon and back again, building with elegant simplicity and exquisite construction to create an overpowering vision of human endeavour and experience.

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What does tolerance mean today?

October 2012

Frank Furedi introduced a discussion on contemporary challenges to the classical liberal ideal of tolerance.

Frank FurediTolerance is a virtue in all regards, except when it isn’t. In the wake of last year’s riots there were plenty of conservative calls for A Clockwork Orange-style ‘zero tolerance’ clampdowns on Britain’s apparently feral youth. David Cameron can simultaneously reject calls for a burqa ban as against the British tradition of tolerance, yet call for an end to the ‘passive tolerance’ of multiculturalism which permits hate speech of Islamists. In contrast, liberals proudly counter that they will ‘tolerate everything except intolerance’. Yet when the accusation of ‘intolerance’ can be applied to opponents of gay marriage, footballers accused of using racist language and those who wish to send their children to a faith school, it becomes increasingly unclear how tolerance differs from respect or approval.

On Tolerance
The tradition of tolerance – through John Locke, Voltaire, Kant and JS Mill – emphasised the importance of moral independence, not relativism. Locke tolerated what you thought because no one could ever establish tyranny in your heart. Mill also tolerated what you did – so long as it did not harm others. And crucially he valued the existence in society of views and opinions he found objectionable – their existence vital to the pursuit of truths which we should not assume we know. Yet today, the concept of harm can be extended to include offensive or hurtful remarks. Some even argue we should not tolerate acts which harm only ourselves: banning smoking; curbing binge drinking; warning against ‘junk’ foods. And, in the name of protecting tolerant societies from their enemies, the war on terror has justified intolerant measures – laws against incitement to terrorism or religious hatred – in many countries.

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Disabled by society, enabled by the legacy?

September 2012

Dave Clements, Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole and Denis Joe introduced a discussion on the changing perceptions of disability and the impact of the Paralympics.

Dave ClementsIt is widely reported that attitudes towards, and discrimination of, people with disabilities are getting worse. Institutional abuse revealed in recent scandals points to the shocking treatment some disabled people still face. The charity Scope argued that London’s Paralympics would ‘play a positive role in raising the profile of disabled people’. Chris Holmes, LOCOG Director of Paralympic Integration, predicted a ‘step-change in attitudes towards and opportunities for disabled people’. Has society become more hostile, as campaigners claim, or are we just more sensitive about the words people use? While the games may lead to greater participation in sport, will they have any impact on wider attitudes or on participation in the public sphere? Has the treatment of people with disabilities really changed for the worse anyway? Are some people still disabled by society?



Dr Katherine Runswick-ColeTanni-Grey Thompson, former Paralympic athlete and member of the House of Lords, recalls: ‘when I was growing up you didn’t see disabled people on the streets… because they were locked away from society’. The disability rights movement played an important role in changing things by struggling for equality, and a greater visibility for disabled people in society. People weren’t disabled by their bodies but by society, said campaigners. But where today is that radical message that the disabled are as able as their able-bodied counterparts and that society needs to change?

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What's behind a renaissance in the Arts?

September 2012

Pauline Hadaway, Billy Cowan, and Clare Howdon introduced a discussion on what's behind a renaissance in the arts.

Pauline HadawayThe pin-up boy of New Labour’s Cool Britannica, Damien Hirst, doesn’t seem so hot these days, with his £36,800 souvenir painted skulls on sale at the Tate gallery art shop coming across as a tad pricey in these recessionary times. Periods of economic decline though, often create a buoyant market for the arts as investors move their money away from longer-term productive investments. In times like these we usually hear the cry ‘art is only for the rich’. That may hold true within the confines of the market, but there is evidence that people do value art, and recessionary periods also see a rise in attendance at galleries and museums, even when those institutions charge for admission (e.g. see Nanopublic).

 Billy Cowan

However a recent survey of British institutions showed that arts students were least satisfied with their course compared to other students. Some students complained of being left to their own devices much of the time. John O'Boyle, director of academic services at specialist arts college Ravensbourne in London, though, may have highlighted a central reason for this when he says: "Creative students are taught to be highly critical of everything around them, including their own experiences, I doubt that law students think, 'How might this law degree be different?'" In a ‘multicultural’ society that gives equal value to all, criticism seems to have become the first casualty.

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Philanthropy and politics: all about the giver?

July 2012

Inderjeet Parmar and Vanessa Pupavac introduced a discussion about the role of philanthropy and NGOs in politics

Inderjeet Parmar

Many of the important institutions in our society have some historical connections to philanthropists of the recent industrial and financial past. From the Portico Library on Mosley Street in Manchester to the Port Sunlight village on the Wirral, there's been a desire by people of substance to use their wealth to have an impact in changing society for the better. This isn't an English thing, but can be seen as a trend internationally, as pointed out in some detail by Professor Inderjeet Parmar in his latest book 'Foundations of the American Century'.

 Vanessa Pupavac

Bill Gates has joined a long list of successful business people, who have setup foundations to do good with the wealth at their disposal. The world John D. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and the Ford Foundations were established in seems a far cry from the world we find ourselves in today. So with foundations and philanthropy still widespread, it is worth considering what has changed - in terms of who is being 'helped', and perhaps more importantly, what drives those giving and helping.

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