Saturday, 12 June 2010

consider this reconsidered....

Syria seems a good place from which to recommence my musings, particularly given I have just discovered that my blog is actually banned from the country's normal internet portals.

Banned! Perhaps the authorities here don't like some of my views on Calvinism or EU legislation, or fear, for that matter, that my hatred of the 9-5 working week will have an adverse affect on the morale of the locals (!). Who knows...At any rate, here I am with you having been rerouted via Angola, giving the whole act of writing anything at all a hint of Bond-esque exoticism which a childhood full of John Le Carre novels has taught me to relish.

I must admit I have not checked this site since I stopped writing two years ago. I have written almost nothing of any description since, bar a long thesis on Liberalism and Religious Conservatives which, if you are very unlucky I may post excerpts from, Dickens-style, on a weekly basis.

There is a point to this new start, however. My interest in plural societies and how we manage them (both from a philosophical and sociological/public policy perspective) are dominating my research right now, and I'm hoping to contrast what I learn in the Middle East with my analysis of Liberalism's fundamental failure to provide suitable solutions to the challenges of Multiculturalism in the West. As such, I'll use the blog from now on for related discussions and, given I'm a woman and thus a multi-tasker, anything else which catches my eye over the next four months of my stay here in Damascus. Enjoy!

Thursday, 5 June 2008


I won't be blogging for a while as I get my thoughts and life together. I may even learn how to operate wordpress to move on from Blogger. Now that would be exciting.

I'll be back.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Scots Wha Hae

Stop me from generalising but, meet the average Scot, and you'll marvel at the sheer dourness that encircles them as they bewail their misery and misfortune.

Even when nothing that bad has actually happened, there's normally an arsenal of enemies awaiting character assassination, or an assortment of seemingly miserable anecdotes, to regail onlookers with over a pint or two on a Friday evening

People like to say this attitude is based on a Calvinist understanding of life that sees pleasure as sin - one that certainly resonated with my parents who approved of anything they deemed 'character-building' - but I think it's equally to do with the pleasure of watching others squirm from behind their rose tinted spectacles, as we methodically destroy their naive world views.

The funny thing is, dourness is something we Scots actively enjoy. Yankee style positivity and platitudes simply don't work in our neck of the woods. Black humour is considered the thinking man's opiate and - even when things are working out famously, with your job say, or your fiance - it just wouldn't be the done thing to applaud success or happiness, at least, not without puncturing it with the odd jibe.

I grew up with that approach to life, and it's one I both understand and appreciate. More than anything, curiously, I enjoy the looks of bewilderment passed at us by passing foreigners who simply don't get why, for the love of God, we are not more positive about life. For many Scots, moaning is a kind of humourous code, a bit of mindless banter.

But if we're not careful, it gets too wrapped up in the way we view the world, blinding us to the good things and making us focus exclusively on the bad.

As such, I've resolved to try and free myself from the desire to moan, mostly because it breeds apathy instead of action in the face of difficult situations that it would be a good deal better just to move on from and forget instead of dwelling, Bannockburn style, on the injuries of the past.

After spending far too much time resenting an array of people in my address book I am going to take the advice of Selim, the prisoner condemned to life in a light-less dungeon in Tahar Ben Jelloun's magnificently dark, yet inspriing, novel 'This Blinding Absence of Light', in which he says:

'I had no enemies. I was not giving into my worst instincts any more. I understood how draining it was to spend my time chopping into pieces all those who had done me harm. I had decided not to bother and that is how I got rid of them, which amounted to killing them without dirtying my hands or stewing forever in the desire to repay them with the same misery they had inflicted on me.

I had to move beyond the idea of revenge once and for all , become impervious to (it)...because revenge smelled strongly of death and did not solve any problems. Search as I might, I found noone to detest. This meant I had returned to a state of mind I loved above all others: I was a free man'

Moving On...

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. Anais Nin

Before I left York for Brussels my flatmate offered me a piece of advice: never go back.

She was right. In the year since I moved back to Brussels I've been totally unable to recreate the sense of exploration and excitement that kept me motivated here first time round.

Despite the champagne and the shopping I've been unhappy, resentful, and running to stand still, forcing myself to go through the motions of appearing interested in Commission communications on budgetary policy, asking myself the unanswerable question: should I stay or should I go?

Well, now I have my answer. And whether I jumped, or was pushed, or it was a combination of both, doesn't reduce the relief I feel that - for better or for worse - it is time to move forwards and get the hell outta here!

Sure, everyone is scared of change. But I had a revelation of sorts last week: two years off thirty, I'm damned if all those dreams I put in one corner of my mind and shut off for some uncertain 'later' will never come to fruition.

If there are things I feel need to be seen and done, aspects of me, my life, my attitudes, that need changed, then now is the time to see them, do them, change them.


What I liked about Herman Hesse's Siddharta is the idea that life is a series of cycles.

You can either live one sole cycle, doing what you were essentially 'born to do' because of your family background of situation or, having explored all the possibilities, and fallen into all the pitfalls, of one way of living, learn from those and move on.

Well I'm fed up of making the same old mistakes over and over and over again. I know I was wrong about a lot of things but, seriously, basta.

It's time I started learning from my mistakes, not just to save myself the pain of repeating them ad nauseum but because I think it's our moral duty to others in general to be the best people we can be.

So I am going to take a break, finish that thesis - well, if possible - and get my head in the right place so that when I next make a decision about the future its based on far, far more than simple fear of moving forwards.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The End of the World As We Know It

I don't know what's wrong with me at the moment. Can't seem to bring myself to write about anything much. Perhaps that's because I keep being given assignments about the onset of armaggedon at work which make everything seem a bit pointless.

Last time I checked terrorists were about to cause a clash of civilisations with the muslim world that would result in a Revelations-style fight to the death.

However, unlike the (apparent) majority of my fellow citizens I have never been particularly afraid of this scenario, partly because I think those threatening to destroy Western civilisation are more than usually incompetent and partly because we have most of the money and weapons on our side.

From what I can tell there's a large number of disgruntled 16 year olds from Luton with about 2 GCSE's to rub together looking for their moment in the limelight and a short-cut to credibility with their peers.

The shoe-bomber just made me laugh, as did the jeep 'attack' on Glasgow airport where the only person that got injured was the mujahideen doctor type who set himself on fire. From shame, probably.

True the whole 7/7 London Tube incident was scary but we definitely had more to fear from the IRA than these guys.

Climate change catastrophe and rising food prices is a different story.

The past year has seen startling hikes in the cost of basic foods: Corn has jumped 31%, rice 74%, soya 87% and wheat by an astonishing 130% since March 2007. As a result 100 million people could be pushed into poverty and hundreds of thousands put at risk of starvation according to the IMF and World Bank.

As opposed to the very localised threat of a possible terrorist attack (which can spread fear, but rarely, if ever, total destruction) the current situation is so grave that Ban Ki-Moon has warned it will cancel out all progress toward the Millennium Development goals of halving world poverty by 2015. Now billions of starving and desperate people is not only a humanitarian disaster but the recipe for a real third world war.

We are faced with the threat of a world which is deforested and denuded of its natural resources. Common goods like fish stocks and fresh water are getting rarer and will likely be the trigger for major conflict in years to come. If sea levels rise we'll sea a massive increase in refugee numbers, while natural disasters, salinisation and desertification linked to climate change will ensure harvests go from poor to non-existent in many of the world's poorest areas.

People like to blame biofuels for the current rash of food price hikes and shortages, and to a certain extent they are right since biofuels increase demand for crops, which boosts prices, which drives agricultural expansion, which eats forests, which releases even more CO2, which brings armageddon another step closer.

However, using biofuels as a scapegoat is a little too simplistic. Even if we turned over agrofuel fields to food production , that won't do much to counter world population growth and industrialisation which means people are consuming far more than the world can actually produce.

Take eating habits. The average Chinaman already eats 30 kilos more beef per capita now than he did in 1980. And the average kilo of beef requires 2000 square feet of land and 13000 litres of water. Since the same nutritional content can be gained from soya at 1% of the land and water, the logic of global capitalism, the logic of demand and supply to those who can afford goods, is pretty much responsible for the fact that farmers are growing food for the rich, and leaving the poor to starve.

Not that they have much choice. Agricultural markets are amongst the most restrictive and subsidised in the world, and their distortions trap poor farmers in a cycle of poverty and give them little incentive to increase food production. Likewise, the real culprit in the biofuels saga is the United States government which props up its industry to the tune of $7 billion a year, not including basic farm subsidies, which has a knock-on effect on world food production and prices.

It is the CAP and other subsidies, not biofuels, that are the root cause of this problem. If we really want to feed the world's poor, Europe and America should stop bleating about biofuels and move to end agricultural protectionism and export restrictions; enhance agricultural development in the poorest countries; and ensure the success of the Doha Development Round to encourage free, fair, and sustainable agricultural trade at global level.

Likewise, Europe must use its collective weight at international level to ensure that climate change and sustainability criteria are effectively integrated with trade policy to stop the latter undermining the former, as is currently the case. And that means stopping the Americans, in particular, screwing everyone over with their peculiar definition of 'free market economics' which is all about protecting their farmers, and damning the rest of the world.

It also means everyone becoming a vegetarian, as called for by Paul MacCartney.

It's a long shot. I dont see it happening myself. Armageddon is - sadly - a far safer bet.