Monthly Archives: January 2011

Dylan Haskins: The face of Ireland’s next political generation?

Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred.

Ireland’s political class has suffered badly at the hands of the economic recession. The next general election was in fact called for by the Green Party following the humiliating bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. As a number of TDs (including Minister for Health, Mary Harney) who have been active for decades line up to announce their retirement from the political arena, their lack of credibility is painfully apparent. Far from being recognised as pillars of society or civil servants who have worked tirelessly for their country, these men and women leave office with tabloids speaking not of their achievements but bitterly scorning their pension funds.

Much though I can understand public anger at the sorry state of affairs which, doubtless, many political figures had a hand in creating, I am wary of the damage such a negative attitude will do to the political landscape. It is clear that Ireland requires a catharsis of the political class, a general ‘out with the old, in with the new’ if it is to re-establish confidence in the system. But how are we to encourage a new generation, with the new ideas and new talents which this country desperately needs, to run for office if all around them they are seeing the nightmare which awaits them at the other end? Ireland as a whole is walking on thin ice here. Such insubordinate rhetoric will do more harm than good if people cannot bring themselves to realise we must look to the future if we are to rebuild the nation.

And so to my next point – Dylan Haskins (no, me neither), is a young broadcaster and ‘social entrepreneur’ from Dublin. He had a hand in setting up the Exchange arts Centre in Temple Bar of which I wrote in a post, last summer, and has been heavily involved with a series of projects focused on societal change in the urban setting of Dublin. Haskins is also a broadcaster on RTÉ, presenting for an arts programme and thus interviewing famous musicians such as Ellie Goulding and Biffy Clyro. As well as all this, he’s studying at Trinity College.

One would think such a busy man would hardly have time to stand for public office, and yet, as of this morning, that is exactly what Haskins is doing. What’s more, the 23 year-old has some serious heavyweights on his side, including economist David McWilliams (who predicted the crash back when it wasn’t cool to talk about  that sort of thing).

I don’t fail to see how many voters might find Haskins lacking in experience, not to mention years. But, leaving such reservations aside for a moment, I must state my position: This is exactly what Ireland needs right now. With scores of my friends from school, recently graduated and announcing their plans to pack up and emigrate, Ireland faces a brain-drain it simply cannot afford.

Nonetheless, I see tiny glimmers of hope among my peers. The ones who talk of change, not as something somebody else will bring about, but as something they intend to stay and instigate themselves. A girl who has the option of leaving Ireland with a degree in Commerce and a Masters in Accounting and Finances is staying in Dublin to become a CA here, rather than in Manchester. Another has already acquired investment for her first business venture. One guy I know studied law at Aberdeen and has sacked the Inns of Court in London for King’s Inns in Dublin because ‘the new Ireland will need barristers’. These individual decisions may seem small but they are representative of a splinter group of the ‘Scarred Generation’ who simply refuse point-blank to accept a defeat they didn’t sign up for. They are the quietly confident visionaries of a future Ireland, one which we must imagine and build ourselves. They are the people we must emulate. We have the education, we have the desire, we have the ability. Now we just have to do it.

Dylan Haskins may not be the best man for the job, but he’s the best representative of a new generation which the country desperately needs and which, believe me, I would much rather subscribe to than the old. If I was a constituent of Dublin South East, on that reasoning alone, I would vote for him.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Ireland, Politics

Adele sings to Britain from the Live Lounge at Maida Vale

The wonderful thing about not rushing from house to library every day is that I can now appreciate mornings again, and all the delights they have to offer. One of these is the mid-morning Live Lounge segment on BBC Radio 1.

The Live Lounge began under the auspices of the famous DJ Jo Whiley in the early noughties and has since become something of a cultural phenomenon. The show invites well-known artists to come and perform in-studio in an acoustic format. The usual set up involves one of the artist’s own songs and a cover song of their choice. Some of the results have been stunning, Amy Winehouse’s Valerie comes to mind, as does jazz crooner Jamie Cullum’s cover of Frontin‘ by Pharrell – which ultimately led to Cullum being signed to Pharrell’s record label.

This morning was somewhat different, as it was a Live Lounge special (half an hour long) featuring Adele. Adele’s been on the scene for quite some time. Having released her debut album 19 (her age at the time) in 2007, she was awarded a BRIT People’s Choice Award. Since then, she has often been tipped for great success which never seemed to happen. It looks like this time, with her second album (21), she may well make it. The record is outselling all the others in the UK Top Ten this week put together.

Her performance this morning was sensational. Heart-breaking vocals and soulful guitar riffs were the order of the day, and even as I sat listening with my flatmates, I was receiving messages on my phone saying ‘Turn on your radio, quick!’. I have a feeling this may go down as one of those great radio moments.

I can’t find any recordings on the internet except for BBC iPlayer. As far as I know, radio shows on iPlayer play outside the UK so this link should work wherever you’re reading from. The Live Lounge segment lasts about thirty minutes. Well worth the listen if you have the time.

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Robert Burns and beaut bicycles

The 25th of January is the birthday of the great Robert Burns, one of Scotland’s most famous poets and widely recognised as the nation’s national poet. Burns was a pioneer of poetry written in the Scots language, though he also wrote in English and in a “light” Scottish dialect, which could be understood beyond the Land of the Saltire.

Traditionally, a Burns supper is had on or near the date of his birthday. I’m going to one this weekend with the Aberdeen MedSoc – ceilidh n’ all. In the mean time, having finished my exams, I will now endeavour to dispense of all knowledge recently memorised.

Here’s a bottle and an honest friend!
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be o’ care, man?  

…Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought, man:
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not aye when sought, man.

Also – it’s a strange place to find beauty but some of these fixed-gear bikes are stunning works of art.

Kudos to Erik  for leading me to these!

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Filed under Aberdeen, Culture, Photography, Scotland, University

The best moments in life are the ones where you remember just how lucky you are

Thanks Marina!

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Filed under Life

Urban planning for the future

The human faculty for imagining is the wall that separates us from all other animals. Our ability to conjure up senses and images in our heads and, by proxy, foresee an idea of the future, is unique. Concept projects and ideas therefore, even though they may seem superfluous now, can be a tremendous way of bringing together the collective imagination in order to encourage us to think bigger, better and further into the future.

This proposal by Bjarke Ingels Group, a Danish firm set up by Bjarke Ingels in 2006, won the Audi Urban Future 2010. The idea is based on the concept of ‘smart streets’ and driver-less cars and asserts that the only thing stopping this from becoming a reality is a problem of infrastructure, rather than of technological advances or anything else.

This is all well and good, but these proposals are aimed at around the 2030 mark. Closer to home, I thought this video about the potential of solar panelled roads in the United States was interesting. All problems to do with glass strength and advanced technology are insignificant, all that is lacking is public will. I think it could be seriously successful:

Global warming has its critics, but even if we disregard the idea that the world is set to drown in the next 100 years, the fact remains that finite resources are becoming more and more scarce as populations (and consequent demands) rise. Simple solutions such as these are worth exploring sooner rather than later, unless we want to end up in a rather less romantic version of this situation:

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Filed under Technology

In defence of homophobia

Africa, especially for a mzungu European such as myself, holds countless opportunities to pause a moment and re-consider things which one had previously thought to be self-evident truths. Many’s the time in the weeks I spent in Africa last summer, I found myself wondering whether that which I knew all along might not be precisely what I should be sceptical of.

No more so has this been the case than on my first night in Africa. I had landed in Nairobi at around 3 in the afternoon and from there, went straight to Upper Hill Campsite in the suburbs of Lavington. Upper Hill has a strong reputation for providing good food and better company at extremely reasonable prices and indeed, I had stayed there before a couple of times before. Naturally, the low rates combined with 24/7 security guard attract the poor students and backpack travellers, many of whom converge on the Campsite nightly to drink and sleep before leaving Nairobi either for another part of Africa or for home.

It was thus that I encountered two sisters from Cambridge, Anna and Elise Tinn, who were just wrapping up a long tour of East and Southern Africa. Elise, the elder of the two, studied Architecture at Sheffield University and then spent a year working at a firm in London before being offered an opportunity to over-see the construction of a school in Malawi. She moved out to the town of Blantyre in January 2010 and spent six months in the small Southern African country. While she was there, she witnessed one of the biggest news stories of the year, the homosexuality trial which saw two men sentenced to fourteen years hard labour for holding a  public same-sex chinkhoswe, or engagement ceremony.

Non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is not explicitly referred to in the Malawian constitution. Homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi. Section 153 prohibits “unnatural offences”. Section 156 concerning “public decency” is used to punish homosexual acts. Gay rights in Malawi are practically non-existent.

The two men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were imprisoned in Blantyre, denied bail and put on trial. A British colleague of Elise got in touch with human rights activist Peter Tatchell, aware of the fact that prisoners in Malawi rely on charity and family for food during incarceration, and of the likelihood that both men had been disowned by their families. At Tatchell’s advice, the two girls visited the prison regularly whilst the men awaited trial in order to provide food and company. They found the men comparatively well looked-after, most likely due to the high profile nature of the situation.

The international response to the case was strong and severely critical.  The trial and sentences were condemned by regional human rights organizations including AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (Arasa) the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR). In addition, international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and IGLHRC reacted with condemnation, as did donor entities and governments such as the UK government, Germany, the African Development Bank (AfDB), Norway, the E.U. and the World Bank, who operate under the Common Approach to Budget Support (CABS). Jacob Zuma also criticised the trial.

In my adopted home country, Scotland, pressure mounted on the government to use their ‘special relationship’ (i.e. their considerable annual aid contributions) with Malawi to ‘persuade them’ to release Chimbalanga and Monjeza. The same insinuation was made by the government at Westminster, Malawi’s biggest aid donors. According to Elise Tinn, there was no doubt in Malawi that if the men were not released, there would be serious financial repercussions for a country whose GDP is 26.2% foreign aid. Eventually the men were granted a presidential pardon (co-incidentally, just hours after the visit of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon) and are now free.

The laws used to arrest, charge and convict these men had been passed during British colonial rule. No anti-homosexuality laws had existed before then.

As is probably to be expected of a Westerner of my generation, I do not agree with the persecution of people on the basis of sexual orientation, I believe it is wrong. However, I find it despicable that a country (a weak one, at that) and its culture were effectively held to ransom by a sanctimonious and self-congratulating ‘international community’ almost exclusively made up of Western nations. These fools must really have thought they’d achieved some sort of victory when they strong-armed an African nation into going against its own grain.

From what I was told by Elise Tinn, the reality was very different. Whilst the trial had been going on, national newspapers in Malawi had begun to openly debate the possibility of homosexuality not being morally wrong – almost unheard of in Africa. The harsh sentence caused many in the area where she was living to question the fairness of the trial and of the laws broken. However, national feeling became predictably anti-Western and consequently homophobic once it became evident that Malawi had been forced into doing something it did not independently choose to do.

The arrogance of the West in its quest for its own idea of human rights will continue to do more harm than good if it is not curbed. The history of Western empires and colonialism have made many people in countries that were subjected to Western powers cynical about the preaching of certain values on the one hand, and the coercive behaviour of colonial states on the other. Who could blame them?

Why must we always assume that ‘our way’ is the more advanced, the more sophisticated, that others have simply to catch up with us rather than pursue their own separate route? We simply expect that other cultures adopt our own ways when, clearly, these issues are everywhere, not just in the Northern Hemisphere. There’s not a country in the world where a man isn’t struggling against the idea of deference or a woman isn’t struggling to have equal relations with her male counterparts. Of course it is bitterly ironic that the original cause of the Malawi homosexuality trials was a set of laws passed by Victorian colonists.

The closest Western social equivalent to the way people in Malawi feel about homosexuality is the way we feel about paedophilia in Britain. No matter who said it or how they said it, I would not, could not, ever be convinced that such a thing was even slightly acceptable. This is what the West is demanding of Africa, which is arrogant enough. But, worse still, it sees itself as so superior that it can justify inflicting severe damage on a sovereign nation such as Malawi for a cultural idiosyncrasy that runs contrary to its own.

It is immoral and it is disgusting.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Tanzania 2010

The li(n)e of beauty

I was once told , when I asked a grown-up why women made less money than men did even though it was unfair: “because they don’t ask for more”.

This answer stuck with me – more than anything else, because it was probably true. Women are notorious for under-selling themselves, for being overly modest about their abilities or their worth in the work place – ironically, possibly fearing the judgement of other women. We see examples everywhere, there’s even a Women’s Earning Institute in America, set up to encourage women to recognise their own value and act accordingly. The idea of such an establishment for men is laughable.

This social process is certainly changing, but those who claim that it is diminishing are deluded. Women have enjoyed equal political rights for generations now, yet for every woman sitting in the House of Commons there are four and a half men. This is a cultural problem which starts early.

The following short film (it’s only a minute long) puts across a very important point. If the answer to the problem of female equality is to push girls to recognise their own value, what does our obsession with female beauty tell us about ourselves? What kind of impression of the world are we painting for young women? 

Sarah Palin would not be where she is today if she’d been ugly.

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