Monthly Archives: January 2012

Did anyone watch the Mens final on Sunday?

I watch tennis on and off, depending on my available time and how high the quality of the players is. I have to say I was quite engrossed by the Australian Open this year.

I can’t really say I supported any one player througout the Championship, although I did find myself rooting for Nadal towards the end. Djokovic is a good player too but I mean, come on, he is sometimes just TOO good. And he wins everything. Supporting Djokovic is surely pure cowardice because the man simply never loses.

Anyway, here are some fun shots of Nadal’s facial expressions, and the reason why I like this player so much. He plays with pure fury!

The internet is a marvel of the technological age a global web of networks upon networks each one containing billions of data and information. If one is able to view or comprehend the vast social and physical change this technology has had on our lives then an individual may adapt the viewpoint that the Internet could represent a different reality. A digital space or world; with social networking and role-playing games like world of warcraft we have this literal digital life or even freedom. A freedom to inhabit a different existence to learn freely, there is so much information on the world-wide web that it really is  a great tool for learning and the acquisition of knowledge. This for me is embodied in how the open source community has boomed, we now have entire operating systems that are built through the digital interactions of a global community. Most importantly the main notion behind open source is that its free to use and develop and this for me optimizes what the internet should allow to happen. Free communication free interaction, with this idea there has always been states and governments that have censored the internet however recently the hugely popular Wikipedia had a 24 hour strike in response to recent legalistic stupidity that has not even made it to Congress. This action clearly shows a need to worry about this because if their are people in the American Government attempting to censorship and control something that was designed to provide free exchange then the outcomes could be quite painful for creatives and people who rely on user upload sites to transport digital work. One thing I am looking forward to seeing is the reaction to efforts to control digital space by Hackers Anonymous. As they are capable of huge hactivist action and can disable any website on the web I believe we are at a stage where we will soon see the battle lines for the soul of digital space be drawn.

I’ve never read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and picked this book up over Christmas from my brother, who was quite willing to lend me this book he hasn’t read himself yet and isn’t high up on his list because he finds Marquez too ‘wordy’.

Which, yes, is true, but I didn’t find his style of writing lengthy or heavy in detail in the kind of way that makes you feel that if you put the book down for a few days, and then pick it up again, that you will not have the foggiest idea of what is going on anymore (which is always how Tolstoy novels make me feel).

To summarise the plot without any major spoilers: boy(Florentino) falls in love with girl (Fermina Daza), sends her love letters, they have a romantic correspondence for a few years which her father discovers and disapproves of, then girl marries a prominent doctor and cuts ties with Florentino. The book describes the lives of the two protagonists over the next 50 years (give or take) until the husband of Fermina eventually falls out of a tree whilst trying to rescue his pet parrot and dies. The culmination of the story is how Florentino and Fermina attempt to rediscover their love for each other in the twilight of their lives, despite popular perceptions of the impropriety of it all (they are at this stage about 70 years old).

I did enjoy reading this novel and like the way the author describes a single love story throughout the ages. The only issue I had was that on some level I wasn’t convinced. And what I mean by this is that I did not much like the Fermina Daza protagonist and the author does not accurately convey the reason for Florentino’s obsession with her (in fact, they never really meet in person and their interactions are mainly, in the beginning, through letters – although this is probably characteristic of the time period). Her decision to marry the doctor and her casual rejection of Florentino (based on her sudden impression that he seems more like a ‘shadow’ than a real person) makes her seem, if anything, weak in character and somewhat bland. Her subsequent semi-unhappiness with her domestic life with said doctor therefore came across to me as deserved and I didn’t really feel anything for her predicament.

Overall, it’s as much a story about growing old and the questioning of prejudices, disguised as a love story, definitely worth a read. Maybe I will read another Marquez novel to get a better idea of his style.

I’ve been having a ponder on how aid/charity/NGO workers are popularly perceived by the general public and how people can have set ideas on the working/living situation of such individuals. Allow me to elaborate: I have had various experiences where I catch a glimpse of how people overwhelmingly believe charity workers should essentially be

(a) underpaid (preferably heavily)

(b) have no incentives to do what they do other than a strong, altruistic desire to rid the world of all its wrongs and

(c) that in the process of doing their jobs they should, above all, suffer (ideally by living in a mud hut with no running water or electricity), as any indication that they are not suggests that the tax-payer/supporter is probably paying too much, and funds are being squirrelled off to unnecessary luxuries.

Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating just a liiiittle, but overall that is pretty much an accurate description of how the public views us. I’m going to make an effort to explain why I believe these stereotypes are not only unrealistic but unhelpful.

Firstly, we are, at the end of the day, human. We may have our own families to provide for, we have rent/mortgages to pay, we want to be able to go on holiday occasionally too. Really! Shocking but true. Personally I have a whopping student debt to pay off, and if I can’t pay it off with an aid worker’s salary, then I can’t work as an aid worker but will have to do something else. It really is as simple as that. On another note, if we (as a global collective) are to turn this whole poverty thing around, we need to have the best brains and the best trained if we are to have any chance whatsoever. We need doctors, nurses, economists, campaigners, journalists, human rights advocates, academics – you name it. And education, sadly, isn’t free. This doesn’t mean I believe that salaries should be uncapped – the heads of some charities earning in excess of 100k a year is quite frankly absurd, and is damaging to the sector’s overall reputation.

Then there’s this point: we all have to do the daily slog, but the idea that we should get nothing from ours then a warm fuzzy feeling of having made a small positive change (however nice this idea is) is just a little toooo utopian. Is in fact less controversial for those in the profit-making industry to rake in fat-cat salaries, despite harmful business practices taking their own toll on the very work we are trying to achieve, as well as taking risks which destabilises the global economy? Which brings me to my next point: it is more acceptable to make ostentatious amounts of money in a profession that not only does not help development efforts but directly hinders them. Take the US where such people are not even taxed appropriately (how much tax has Romney been paying on his 20+ million income a year? not so much: ), and essentially lost tax money = money NOT being pumped into social services. The fact that Romney did also donate a sizable sum to charity in my opinion misses the point.

To illustrate: for any of us trying to work in international development, you will be aware that it is not easy (and nor should it be – to dissuade the faint-hearted). My first internship was at Oxfam GB’s offices in Oxford, where I worked 3-4 days a week and where I did not receive pay however I did receive lunch reimbursements up to 6 GBP and travel costs to and from the offices (I ended up renting a room in a shared house with some performance poets and walked to/from work every day). After a while I realised I was essentially doing the same work as others who were getting paid a salary, but rather than this being a deterrent I was pleased to be doing work that actually served some purpose instead of doing coffee rounds and photocopying (contrary to what the photo below suggests). However, there was always the lingering suspicion that those who undertake unpaid internships (a) come from middle-class backgrounds whose parents are able to financially support them and (b) those whose families live in the area and rent costs don’t come into play. Take this into consideration when a lot of NGO headquarters (at least, in Europe) tend to be based in well-off areas (Oxford, London, Paris, Geneva, etc) where living costs are not to be taken lightly. This immediately categorises the large majority of volunteers as those with means/resources.

I have mixed feelings about unpaid internships. Granted, they are a great way to get in there and get some experience. However I’m under the impression the entire concept of unpaid labour is imported from the US and, with the recession, have become more common as a means of cutting down on running costs. On the Continent, most countries have laws in place where if a person works full-time for any period longer than 8 weeks the company/organisation is legally obliged to pay them at least minimum wage. However there is no such law in the UK, and the United Nations also does not pay its interns as it has its own agreements with governments on how it operates in their countries (most UN employees for example don’t pay income tax – although this could be attributable to the fact that their wages are paid out of States membership fees anyway). In fact the only UN agency to pay its interns is the International Labour Organisation because to not do so would contradict its mandate. Could we perhaps be slipping into a system where unpaid labour is a morally grey loophole for not paying your staff what they are due? I personally have a friend who worked for free for months on end, waitressing in the evenings to still be able to afford her living costs, in the hope of eventually landing a paid job – an idea which was neither confirmed nor disspelled by the employer, but which never materialised. Are we in fact not conceding ground with regards to our rights to receive due pay for our efforts?

I would like to conclude my pondering and get back on track to my original thought track with the blog article that got me thinking this morning. Duncan Green is Oxfam GB’s head of research and posts interesting articles about his views on international development. (I first came to know of him when he was doing tours across UK universities raising awareness of Oxfam’s GROW campaign.) In his latest article he reflects on the fact that the Oxfam guesthouse in Nairobi has had their swimming pool boarded up right from the start because of concern that the presence of such a luxury item at an aid workers’ guesthouse was a ‘tabloid scandal in the making’ :


This is quite frankly awesome will be making this soon!

Daily Health Boost

Today’s Inspiration:

“If there is one thing I absolutely love and can’t live without is must be green smoothies. I have one every day and it makes a huge difference in my overall health and energy level. All you need is a blender and some vegetables. Any blender will do but the better your blender, the better your smoothie will be. When you first start out making them you can use more fruit to get used to the taste but you don’t need much, don’t let the green color fool you! Also take a look at the wellness warrior website. It is by Jess, she is a super inspirational woman. A few years ago she was diagnosed with cancer and since she is living a very healthy lifestyle, her attitude towards life is very, very inspiring!”

Five Steps To the Perfect Green Smoothie Green Smoothie

If there was one piece…

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