Monthly Archives: February 2011

Dictators are afraid of mice

I was sent a link to this clever ad campaign by the International Service for Human Rights. It plays on the fact that dictatorships are becoming more and more difficult to maintain with the massive increase in communication media, particularly the internet. The rulers portrayed are Colonel Gaddafi, Mohammed Ahmedinejad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-Il and Robert Mugabe.

The message is simple but effective.

(thanks Callum!)


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Filed under Ad Campaigns, Photography, Politics

Dreams of viticulture and inspiring Italians

I have had many great strokes of luck in my life, and one of these has been an Italian flatmate. She’s glamorous, she has very (very) big hair and when she gets angry, she spouts silky diatribes of Romance lingo that make her a wonder to listen to.

She also talks of home and a farm in Calabria which, never having really been to Italy (I was too young to remember when I went) I find difficult to imagine. I think of it as a version of Provence only hotter, but she insists it’s different to anything else – not least because the widows in Calabria still wear black until the day they die. She’s very proud of the fact that she’s not a city girl.

One of the things I have yet to do but is very much on my ‘Bucket List’ is a vendange tardive (late harvest). This is the hand picking of grapes at the end of summer for dessert wines, because allowing the grapes start dehytrating concentrates the sugars and changes the flavours within. My father did it when he was a student and he tells me that the work is back-breaking but the people he met were a whole new level of intellectual. It sounds idyllic to me.

I haven’t seen this film (Days of Harvest/I giorni della vendemmia) yet, but the advert is a perfect mixture of both the vendange and Italy in general – I’m going to watch it with my two Italian friends.

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Filed under Film

Katharine Birbalsingh – the Tory teacher

Katharine Birbalsingh was featured in the Review section of the Sunday Times last week and her story was one which really shook me. Her experiences as a teacher at a number of state schools in England exposed a culture of political correctness and a refusal to brand inadequate performance by pupils as failure.

As Bill Gates said in his ’11 Lessons for Life’ speech to a group of American high school students:

Your  school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have  abolished failing grades and they’ll  give you as many times as you want to  get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

The following speech was given by Birbalsingh at the Conservative Party Conference last October. Less than a week later, she was fired and is now fighting a case for unfair dismissal which I sincerely hope she wins.

Social mobility figures in Britain are an absolute disgrace. They make me cringe with embarrassment on behalf of a country which has achieved so much over centuries and now cannot seem to solve a problem which is seriously hampering the potential of its greatest resource – its youth. Clearly the system is failing. The grammar schools of ages past produced a generation of upwardly mobile ‘sharp-elbowed’ middle classes. This trend has now slumped and it seems Britain is back to its old ways: if you didn’t go to private school, if your parents weren’t wealthy already, if you weren’t surrounded from a young age by a group of rich, educated, posh success stories, then you’re just not welcome to play the game of life at the top.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Education – an experiment in democracy

Latest figures suggest there are 3.1 million Irish passport holders, and 800,000 Irish-born citizens living overseas. Most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office show that 27,600 Irish people have emigrated in the twelve months up to April 2010

Ireland prides itself on its Diaspora but its emigrants are one of the few nationalities who do not retain the right to vote when they move away. There are a few exceptions to this rule:

If you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered on the Register of electors. This means that you cannot vote in an election or referendum here in Ireland. (The only exception to this is in the case of Irish officials on duty abroad (and their spouses) who may register on the postal voters list). is a site which allows Irish citizens living abroad to cast a vote. It is not a real vote, but the results will no doubt be worth a look. I encourage any Irish person reading this from abroad to cast their vote.


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Filed under Current Affairs, Ireland, The internet

“They said ‘Why are you wearing that snake pin?’ I said ‘because Saddam Hussein compared me to an unparralleled serpent’. And then I thought ‘Well this is fun!'”

Madeleine Albright was the first ever female Secretary of State and is a former American Ambassador to the United Nations.

This semester, I’m reading a course called ‘Gender, Sex and Death’ which focuses heavily on the changing role of women, the opinions that quite literally every person in the world has on the subject and how that’s affecting us. The following interview is, therefore, absolutely fascinating to me. Albright discusses the way in which her gender has affected her career as one of the world’s most high-profile diplomats.

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Filed under America, TED

Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures

Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist who specialises in something called kinetic sculptures i.e. sculptures that move. He mixes art and engineering in a way that makes for some awesome results.


Filed under Art

“I eat out of bins too. So what?” – Katharine Hibbert gives us a piece of her mind

Freeganism is “an anti-consumerist lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources”. Basically – it means eating out of bins.

I’ve done it. In fact, I used to do it quite regularly, especially in my second year. I admit, it wasn’t out of some greater moral philosophy but more because it was free food and a hungry stomach rarely despises common fare. As well as this, it was a real adventure. Climbing walls and rooting through an Aladdin’s cave of discarded sandwiches, pies and soup tins – all perfectly fresh – knowing that at any moment you might have to make a run for it, is one of the best pastimes I can think of. Especially when you’re bored at 3 o’clock in the morning.

For me, it was merely a pastime but nonetheless I could understand why many fellow students were turning to it as a way of life. The waste I witnessed whenever I went through a bin behind a supermarket was absolutely revolting. And it never became less shocking. Not once did I ever eat anything from a bin that made me ill, or indeed tasted less than perfect. Not once. Yet all of this food, representing hours of labour, thousands of pounds worth of fuel, packaging and material, had been thrown out because of a ‘best before’ date marked on the side of the packet.

Katharine Hibbert, author of the book Free: Adventures on the margins of a wasteful society, wrote this article in the Guardian this week. In it, she discusses the ignorance which leads to such sinful (and it is sinful) waste in a world where millions starve for lack of food. Some of the solutions to the problem are surprisingly simple. Did you know the difference between a ‘best before’ and a ‘use by’ date? ‘Use by’ dates are for food that can easily go bad, ‘best before’ is a guide to peak tastiness.

It makes for an interesting and introspective read.

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Filed under Food