Saturday, February 20, 2010

Get over it!

I have a new hero. After nearly three lustra away, I've mostly lost touch with politics in Northern Ireland, so I listened with some interest to today's edition of Beyond Westminster, in which the BBC's recently-retired Ireland correspondent, Denis Murray, discovers the state of the country. At one point, he was interviewing the head of the Orange Order following the DUP's raising of the parades issue in the recent discussion over policing and justice, and after listening to the usual statements about history and so forth regarding the parade in Drumcree Mr Murray, to his everlasting credit, replied, Get over it. Times have changed... it's time to move on! This is the kind of thing I'd like to hear more of, and from some of the interviews that Murray conducted, it sounds like people in the Province are starting to agree.

Another comment in this programme also piqued my interest: it seems that the Northern Ireland Assembly has no Opposition. The Executive is a power-sharing agreement, with ministerial posts going to members from all four major parties. On the one hand, this ensures collective decision-making, but on the other, and this was the point of view of the contributor talking about it, it means that all the parties have a vested interest in the status quo, meaning no real driver for change.

I'm not sure what to make of this. While I've been a staunch supporter of proportional representation for a long time, something which almost inevitably leads to coalition government, I think that having no opposition to poke the government on a regular basis probably isn't healthy for democracy.

Finally, on an administrative note, Blogger, which has powered this blog since its launch in 2002 has deprecated FTP support, meaning that I will have to migrate to a new platform. There may be some disruption, and I apologise in advance to anybody reading this through the LiveJournal feed if it goes mental (as it has done in the past).

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy new year everybody! My retrospective on 2009 is now up on my website.

A new year brings new beginnings
may it blossom into happiness
and bear the fruit of peace and prosperity

Happy new year

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Philosophise with him, dude"

I recently completed a short introductory course on philosophy through DACE which I really enjoyed. The course covered epistemology and metaphilosophy using Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy as the main text, along with an introduction to logic and how to (de)construct an argument.

It was nice to read Descartes' arguments first hand (well, translated, so second hand, really, or maybe one-and-a-half-hand) but for me, the best thing about the course was after we had settled in and people started getting comfortable with each other, and became willing to challenge both Descartes and each other. Having ideas bouncing backwards and forwards being argued and getting different points of view was very stimulating.

I'm now looking forward to the second part of the course, next term, covering philosophy of politics and ethics, but I don't think I would take it any further. I enjoy the mental stimulation of discussion and reading, but I have a horror of essays (hey, I was a science student!). I do sort of wish that we had got some philosophy at school (when I was somewhat inured to the essays) that encouraged critical thinking, although part of me thinks that I probably wouldn't have got as much out of it then, when I didn't appreciated learning as much as I do now. On the other hand, something would have stuck and I feel it would have probably made me a more rounded individual (and I would have quite happily dropped art and music to make room for it in the curriculum).

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

A wedding, some worrying but few woes

Yesterday, two of my best friends, Stevie and Sacha, got married, with me as the best man in the wonderful setting of the Randolph Hall of our alma mater. The ceremony was beautiful ? the first time that I've been to a Humanist ceremony and the focus on friends, family and each other touched me, without the need for a religious dimension. I managed not to lose either the groom or the rings and felt incredibly happy when the couple exchanged their vows and were married in front of their family and friends. The choice of exit music was genius as well!

One good thing about having the entire do in the University is that it meant that we didn't have to worry about getting people into buses, trains or mopeds to get them to the reception, just ensure that the ushers know where to direct people. There were a few crossed wires, but we got everyone down eventually for some mingling before the photos. It's a shame the weather wasn't particularly good for the day, but the University still makes for an incredibly dramatic background and I think we got some great shots.

I was somewhat nervous about my speech, feeling a sort of 'second novel syndrome', since the previous one that I did went down very well. In the event, although I had honed it to the last word, I did end up doing some minor improvising but at least this time I had the regrets ready and in front of me! In the end, the speech seemed to go down very well, with lots of people congratulating me on it afterwards. For those who want to read it the text of the speech is available here .

The ceilidh in the evening was great fun, and although I still can't waltz (three beats with two feet – how does that work? Argh?!), it turned out that neither could Sandra, the bridesmaid that I was dancing with, so we just muddled along. Apart from that, I was up for almost every dance (although I'm paying for it now with really sore feet!) and had a great evening, mingling and catching up with friends that I hadn't seen in a while between dances. The whole day went really well and I was proud to have been a part of it.

To collect photos from the wedding, I've set up a Flickr group which is open to all, so please upload your photos to it and spread the URL for people that don't read this blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh healthcare

Recently a lot of Americans have been bashing the NHS which has bemused me somewhat – I'm much more used to feeling sorry for them for their healthcare system ;-).

I do find the furore that this has generated in the US rather disconcerting though. Sometimes I'm reminded just how much we are 'two countries separated by the same language', with their foaming at the mouth at 'socialised healthcare' whereas for us, it's something that we moan about but are proud of really. And any party that tried to take it away in this country would get a swift kick in the ballot box. And that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Citizenship test

I was shown the official practice citizenship test for the UK recently and thought that I'd give it a go. Having a required pass mark of 18 out of 24, I scored a mighty 15. And some of those were educated guesses. It wasn't so much the fact that despite being reasonably intelligent, well-educated and politically-aware, I scored badly on the (multiple-choice) test that worried me but the fact that some of the questions were very badly worded, were logically inconsistent and some were just plain irrelevant. This is, of course, especially going to be a problem for those for whom English isn't their first language.

I mean, I can see the point of asking questions relating to the British health and education systems, given that migrants will probably want to use them at some point (although even here, some of the actual questions were awful) but what is the point of asking the year that women got the right to divorce? Or the percentage of people identifying themselves as Muslim? Or the number of children in the country?

And it's not like you're given broad categories. I could probably estimate the number of children to within maybe 10-15 percent, but the options were within one million of each other, which makes it impossible to make an educated guess. The same with the Muslim question - the answers were all within about a quarter percent of each other. There is an official handbook and study guide and presumably the answers that they want are there, so all you have to do is to buy the books (making a nice sum for the Government in the process), memorise them and regurgitate the answers on demand.

Learning by rote has been shown time and again to be an ineffective method of learning complex concepts, and I think that citizenship and belonging certainly qualifies in that category. This test feels like it's been written by people who understand neither pedagogy nor citizenship. I completely fail to see how it judges anyone to be 'fit' for British citizenship. Despite all this, I'd suggest that the failings of the test are due to incompetency rather than any systematic malice or ill-will; a thought that I find oddly comforting.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Satellite 2

I spent this weekend at Satellite 2, an SF con celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings. It was the first time that I've been to a con since Concussion, which was Eastercon 2006. This was much smaller than Concussion or Interaction (the previous year's WorldCon) and felt more intimate.

The two-day programme was pretty tightly packed, meaning that I had to miss some interesting-sounding stuff and also didn't spend an awful lot of time in the bar. It also meant that I was up at a time of day on Saturday that I had previously refused to acknowledge actually existed. The organisers had thankfully not scheduled anything that I particularly wanted to see at silly O'Clock on Sunday, which meant that I got a more of a lie in that day :-).

The guest of honour was Iain M. Banks, someone who I had never heard speak before but turned out to be eloquent, funny and a really nice guy. I took the opportunity (which I probably wouldn't have done at a larger con) to buy him a drink and have a conversation with him (under the guise of getting a book signed) in the bar later and he turned out to be just as nice and entertaining as he had been on the platform. Mind you, I don't know how many pints he had had by that point ;-). It's a shame I never made it to the Dead Laika Party at the end of the con, but everyone I was with was too tired or had other reasons for leaving early and I didn't really fancy hanging around on my own.

The whole thing was great fun and although I'm disappointed that Albacon 2010 got cancelled due to lack of advance signup, I'm considering going to Odyssey 2010 (next year's Eastercon in London). The only problem is that single rooms are already sold out, so I'd need to find someone to share a twin room with. If anyone's interested, do let me know.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

India 2009 report V - Epilogue

I've never been a particularly good traveller. My favourite journey is almost invariably the one home, this one particularly so. It was a long journey, but it's so very, very good to be home.

Looking back over it, this trip had its ups and downs. It was certainly good to see my family again, and I really shouldn't leave it so long to see them again – although I suspect it'll always be a duty to visit India, not a pleasure. But also, the first week in particular, was very stressful. There was the inevitable adjusting period, which was bad enough, but combined with the stuff relating to girls, well, it didn't make for a pleasant atmosphere for me. Still, I'm home and still single, which has got to count for something, although oddly, the whole thing has left me less disinclined towards the whole situation than I've felt for a long time.

For now, I'm just going to enjoy being home – where traffic rules aren't just treated as guidelines and they've heard of this strange thing called "lane discipline" – and we'll see what happens.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

India 2009 Report IV - Dance the night away

India is a country of extremes: unspeakable wealth and intolerable poverty; searing heat and monsoon rains; terrible driving and, er, even worse driving. It comes as no surprise then that parties should follow the same pattern. The all-night event known as a Jagratha on Saturday night was to celebrate both the building of my uncle's new house and the birth of my cousin's firstborn son. I overheard someone saying that food for about three hundred people had been prepared and about four hundred turned up – and there were still tonnes of leftovers! The whole street was invited, as were many, many relatives and friends. The thing kicked off with dinner, which was held a little way down the street in my the house my uncle lived in while his was under construction. It was a buffet and the food was excellent, with several dishes and as many topups as you could stomach. People drifted in and out, so there were never too many people there at any one time.

The main event started at about 10pm with a religious ceremony for which not a huge number of people were present, although I was. This was all to be held on the upstairs veranda since this was the largest open space in the house. It was also covered over, just in case (which turned out to be wise – I was told the next day that it started to rain pretty heavily in the early hours). After the ceremony, I left to go and sit outside for a while since, with the coverings, it was quite stuffy on the veranda. I was also worried about the size of the sound system which seemed to have banks of speakers that wouldn't look out of place in King Tut's. I was right about that. As the band started tuning up, the level was still pretty loud outside. Like I said, a nation of extremes; they had the volume turned up to eleven.

This also shot down my plan to hide in my bedroom and slip on my headphones to try and cancel the noise – my bedroom was right next to the veranda, with one of the banks of speakers sitting outside! I stood at the edge with my finger in one ear and listened to one song before retiring to my room. It might not be much, but the solid brick wall at at least some dampening effect on the noise, but I put aside any notion of getting any sleep that night, and just lay down and closed my eyes.

You might say that since I had accepted that I wasn't going to get any sleep, I should have stayed up and experienced the whole thing. And I would have done, even though I dislike the music, finding it grating, had the volume not been so intolerably high. Obviously I had no way of measuring it, but it certainly felt louder than most gigs that I've been to – and with those you leave after, maybe, two hours. Here I had no choice but to listen. I couldn't help but remember an article I had read a couple of days earlier in a magazine that I had brought with me about the abuses of music. I had a solid brick wall between me and it, and I was still pretty wrecked after a few hours.

There was some stuff that I'm sorry that I missed though, such as near the end, small children were dressed up as some of the gods from the songs that they had been singing about which would have been nice to see. In the end, they finished at about 6am, after which I was able to get a couple of hours sleep but I was left tired and grumpy for the rest of the day, although, thank goodness, we weren't going anywhere that day and the most activity that I undertook was to try and help a friend with her laptop problems (something I failed in due to lack of a decent network connection and any driver discs).

My journey home begins tomorrow, with the long drive back to Delhi where I shall board a plane for home. As the philosopher says, if you want to come back, you've got to go away first, and I'm really, really looking forward to coming back.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

India 2009 Report III - Shave and a haircut

Well, haircut anyway. I know that they say that puberty is coming earlier and earlier, but six months would be ridiculous. On Sunday, we spent the day travelling between religious sites for my nephew's Mundan (pronounced moon-an). This is the baby's first haircut and is accompanied by a religious ceremony. Since this was a pretty big thing, a lot of people had been invited and at about 7am about thirty clanspeople and hangers on (and one rather grumpy Raj) boarded a privately hired bus and set off. It was pretty early, and the sun hadn't yet burned through the high cloud. As we left the town behind, a mist rose above the fields creating an eeriely beautiful scene. Or it would have been if it weren't for the more elderly ladies at the front of the bus starting the religious chanting that they would keep up until we reached our first destination, about two hours later.

The plan was to first visit the town of Chintpurni for a blessing before moving on to Jawala Ji where the Mundan itself would take place. The two towns are in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh and nestle in the foothills of the Himalayas, something that I didn't know and was delighted by. I could drown out the sound of the singing and that of people being sick out the window of the bus by staring out at the wonderful scenery as the bus navigated hairpin bend after hairpin bend as it worked its way up the mountains. The icing on the cake was the sight of the snow-capped Himalayas themselves rising up out of the mist, looming above the lower mountains. Quite stunning, and, so I thought, making the trip worthwhile.

Chintpurni is a small town with narrow, and very steep streets. Here, there was a decent amount of order: when entering the path that leads to the temple proper, you're given a ticket by an official, without which you won't be allowed in. Security guards also keep people in the queue and stop queue-jumping. It was slow going, but orderly. You have to take off your shoes before going into the temple, so when we judged that we were far enough along, we stopped in one of the many shops lining the route, removed our shoes and bought the appropriate offerings before rejoining our place. There were also a small number of people making the journey in a more remarkable fashion. Right from down by the street, they would lie down, at full stretch, someone with them would mark the extent of their outstretched hands, they would get up, move to the marked spot and lie down again, thus effectively prostrating themselves at each step. I never did entirely find out if these people were supplicants, wanting something, very religious or just plain nuts. The line wound its way on into the temple where before I could blink, my offering was taken and blessed, my donation shoved into the box and I was out the other side. Once we were all through, we sat for a couple of minutes and then started our way back down the other side. Rather than being by road, here we had to follow steps down, and then back up again to where it rejoined the path up. I was quickly outpaced by most of the family as I helped my elderly uncle over the steps, but found them again when I stopped to get my shoes and socks (and walking back without them was not fun – there was goat dirt strewn around, as well as litter and what I could only hope was water). We eventually made it back to the bus, marvelling at how long the queue for the temple had grown, and continued on our way.

I was assured that Jawala Ji would be easier and faster, since it was a smaller temple, but it proved to be anything but. At Chintpurni, there were security guards who ensured that there was some sort of order at all points. When we reached the temple (after taking off our shoes again, and climbing up to base of the temple itself) we found that the main staircase was closed, so we had to go round a back way. But we eventually discovered that this was closed as well! We had to wait in a growing press of bodies until they opened the gate at the front, upon which there was practically a stampede to try and get in before the gate was closed again. We all managed to make it in but it's a miracle that nobody was injured. The line for the main temple was now enormous, but thankfully we weren't going there (just yet). The mundan was done in a separate area but that too displayed the same lack of any sort of order that characterised this place. There didn't seem to be any queue, just two blokes shaving babies' hair with their families crowding round with cameras, mobile phones and camcorders. Our turn came quickly enough, but with the press of people, I couldn't actually see anything. I did stick my camera into the press though and think I got some shots of the baby, rather than random limbs. After this, the parents took the baby to be washed (possibly another ceremony, I'm not entirely sure) before he was brought to another priest to be ceremonially dressed. I got some good shots of this, although I don't actually understand what the ceremony itself was for, unless it was a general blessing.

I thought that we were done now and could go home, but apparently not. Not until we went through the main temple itself. Thankfully, the line was now much shorter than it was when we first went in, but there was nobody there to keep order, and as we approached the entrance, I could see people shoving and pushing to get through it. This didn't exactly inspire confidence and by the time I got there it was worse. There was a pit in the centre of the room, where two or three priests were taking offerings, blessing them and handing them back. The press was unbelievable, and without my dad providing a barrier behind us, both my mum and myself would probably have fallen, and goodness knows how we'd have been able to get up again. I don't like crowds, but this was worse than a normal crowd. There was a sense of manic urgency, of needing to get round to where the offerings would be blessed, and nothing would get in the way. It was all I could do to get round. I just threw my offering at the pit and shoved my way out, where I had to stand for two or three minutes before I could stop shaking. It was an experience I never want to repeat. And it was only later that I was told that a small, mostly ignored shrine at the side of the temple was the original holy site. It seems that the reason for the temple's existence has now been mostly forgotten.

I'm not religious, but I fail to see how anybody could get any sort of spiritual experience out of that at all. The queues are enormous, the order non-existent, and the blessing over in seconds. All in all, it was something that I'd never do again, although, to be fair, I was told that we had it bad both because it was a Sunday and it was the run-up to a religious festival (although with the number of those in India, the chances of not being on or near one seems slim).

Getting home was a real relief after such a long and arduous day, with the drive down from the mountains equally breathtaking, and terrifying, as Indian driving always is. The last straw of the day came after we got back on the bus after having stopped for dinner. In the morning, it had been the elders of the party singing religious songs, and now the youngsters decided to start on non-religious stuff. Right by my ear, so I got an earful for the next two hours.

Saturday night is a "jagratha", or night of religious music and dancing. It starts at about 10pm and ends at about 5am. I am looking forward to this exactly as much as you would expect.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

India 2009 Report II - Girls! Girls! Girls!

I've spent the past few days meeting several girls. This has been more than a little stressful and has left me physically and emotionally drained. Since this is a public forum, I'll say no more about it for now.


I've more or less settled into a routine here now. Indian households tend to rise early, and the noise inevitably wakes me earlier than I'd like to be up, so I rise with the best grace possible and go and get a cup of tea while reading the local English-language newspaper, The Tribune. There's a national election happening in India next month so that's getting a lot of coverage. Since I'm unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Indian politics, this often leaves me scrabbling for the one page of business and world news (I hear the iPhone is getting copy and paste!).

It's been good to see the family again too. My cousins arrived this evening with their various children in tow, most of whom were born after the last time I was here, and the rest were just babies and have grown into adolescents. In particular, my neice Kavita has grown from a well-spoken, shy little girl into a confident, young woman who has the ambition that sometimes seems to be so lacking in Punjab – a state that reminds me in more ways than one of Northern Ireland. It has the same dependence on agriculture and the same inward focus which seems somewhat misplaced.

On Thursday, I added another item to my decadance list. To add to having a bookcase custom-made, I can now add that I was fitted for a tailor-made suit which I'll pick up next week. This was dearer than I was expecting, but I suspect it'll be worth it in the long run, and it's almost certainly cheaper by a long way than getting it done at home! I was slightly startled to find the shop that we were going to was next to New Look, although that actually was a branch of the chain, unlike the signs that I saw for Walia-Mart or Vindsor Palace :-).

Despite this single instance of a global brand, the 'high street' in India remains incredibly diverse, with little shops smaller than a garage (my cousin's electrical shop wouldn't even fit a Flat Car) competing for custom with large air-conditioned emporia.

The Villages

Yesterday my parents and I went out to visit some relatives who lived in a couple of villages near Phagwara. As soon as you get off the sleek, and well-maintained Grand Trunk Road, you enter a world of small, potholed, single-track roads that meander amongst the fields of wheat and sugarcane, broken up only by the villages and occasional palatial house which really highlight the difference between rich and poor in this country. Amongst these are large, spindly trees that I didn't recognise (although with my low Knowlege (Nature) check, this doesn't necessarily mean anything). The occasional combine harvestor (in bits) and painted signs for Vodafone that compete side-by-side with ox- and horse-drawn carts serve as reminders that modern technology doesn't stop at the GT Road.

The village of Padi where my aunt and her family stay has always amused me because of the water tanks on the houses. All houses here have personal water tanks since the mains supply is somewhat unreliable, but Padi seems to take delight in having them in unusual forms. I've seen eagles, areoplanes, bucky-balls and even one in the shape of a weightlifter hoisting dumbells!

After that we went to see my other aunt in our family home in the village of Johal. Apart from my missing grandmother, who died last year, this hasn't changed in a decade. I recognised everything and what differences there were, were pretty small. We spent the rest of the afternoon there before returning to Phagwara to meet another girl.

Only just after we got back from that, the wind started to pick up. I didn't think anything of it until the lights went out. Apparently these storms can cause problems with the mains power lines, so they're shut down for the duration. I went up to the roof with my cousin for a bit to enjoy the cool wind and almost as soon as we went up I saw a heavily green-tinged shot of lightning. As we watched, these shots of sheet lightning became more and more frequent, but were entirely silent, creating a really eerie atmosphere. The first drops of rain sent us indoors where my mother and I watched the storm from the window until called down for dinner. The storm remained pretty quiet but there were occasional peals of thunder, which seemed to correspond to the fork lightning that struck very occasionally. It was a very pleasant evening, sitting in the dark by candle light, listening to my neice telling ghost stories!


Today, I went to city of Chandigarh to meet another girl. Regardless of that, I had been curious to see that city, ever since I had discovered that it had been designed by the French-Swiss modernist architect Le Corbusier. While I was here, I also discovered that despite being the capital of both the states of Punjab and Haryana, it is part of neither, being administered directly by the national government. There was an interesting article in the Tribune yesterday though telling the story of how the two states continue to have a single High Court, based in Chandigarh.

It's a long drive to Chandigarh and as I was looking out the window I realised that the cars are predominantly white. I don't mean that if you counted them all, white would be the statistically higher colour, I mean that it's unusual to see a car which isn't white! And the ones which aren't tend to be 4x4/SUVs which are presumably climate-controlled.

The city did not disappoint. It is laid out in numbered sectors, with wide tree-lined avenues and large roundabouts with working ornamental fountains and decorative flowers that make it a joy to drive in, compared to the rest of the country. Unlike the rest of India that I've seen so far, including Delhi, there is almost something like a traffic code that is obeyed in Chandigarh. Despite being here now for almost a week and doing lots of travelling, being in a car still makes me fear for my life every time I step into it!

Besides this, there are also several tourist gardens in Chandigarh, of which we only had time to see the Rock Garden which was quite amazing. A very pleasant stroll amongst sculptures and designs made entirely of household and industrial waste, it was inspirational and worth the visit alone.

Tomorrow is my nephew's mundan for which we leave the house at stupid o'clock. I'll try and write about that in a couple of days.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

India 2009 Report 1

Since some people asked, and since my neice found me an internet cafe, I thought that I'd try and keep people up to date with me in India. I left home at 04:00 on Monday morning and didn't get a proper sleep until about 36 hours later! I was expecting that when I got into New Delhi at 23:30, we would spend the night with relatives there, but when my dad picked me up, he said that we would drive straight to Punjab – a trip of about eight hours. I got a little sleep in the car, but not much, and by the time we got there, at ~08:00 the next day I thought it better to try and stay awake until the following night – something I didn't entirely succeed in.

It was lovely to see various family members that I haven't seen in about a decade, even if it did take some time to place some of them! In particular, I got somewhat confused by my neice Kavita and thought that she was her younger sister since she looks much younger than her years.

I've seen one girl so far and there's a few more to go over the next few days. After that, there's a religious ceremony similar to a Christening (but involving shaving the baby's head) for my elder cousin's young boy. This involves trips to two different temples, and will take up most of the day. Then next week is an all-night musical religious festival at the house. This involves both religion and me not getting any sleep, make up your own mind what state I'll be in by the end.

India has both changed an awful lot and stayed the same from when I was last here. Walking off the plane I was met by the same burnt, dry smell in the air and, if anything, the traffic has got worse. My personal theory is that modern motering technology has made Indians worse drivers, since the better brakes, power steering and the rest mean that they can get away with more dangerous things. In the drive down, I eventually had to stop looking forward and just looked out the sides. I swear, my blood pressure must have jumped by several points during that journey! I didn't see much of Delhi, but Phagwara seems pretty unchanged from the outside. Maybe a few more signs of wealth – there seem to be a lot more 4x4s around – but there are so many familiar things – the people, the smells, the cycle-rickshaws, the litter, the complete lack of anything resembling a functional traffic code. I've been told, however, that the electricity supply is now stable and no longer cuts out for hours of the day as it did a decade ago. The water supply is also more regular, although we still drink bottled water to be on the safe side.

I've had an awful lot of experiences in the past few days and I'm still processing a lot of it. Hopefully, I'll be able to update again before going home.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thought for the World

Like many people, I have a problem with the fact that BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day excludes secular contributors. This was most recently addressed by the Corporation on the iPM programme earlier this year with a response from the controller of Radio 4 that was, frankly, weak.

Now it seems that a group has stopped complaining and taken the matter into their own hands with Thought for the World, a short daily podcast to rival Thought for the Day but which includes secular thinkers and philosophers as well as religious points of view. About the same length as TFTD, it uses the same format but has the broader framework of contributors that I would expect from the BBC's offering. Religion doesn't, after all, have a monopoly on morality.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yah-boo politics is alive and well

Last week, Harriet Harman said that there would be a three line whip on Labour MPs during a vote to exempt MPs' expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. This led to a barrage of protests online and elsewhere, which caused the Government to withraw the proposal. I'm really pleased by this, especially since it came about in part due to a grassroots movement on the Internet. My problem with this is the way that the withdrawal was reported in the media and handled by the opposition parties. The BBC article linked to above has the headline Brown backs down in expenses row, the Tories and the Lib Dems have been quick to talk about U-turns and humiliating climbdowns, while nobody has actually said well done and congratulated them for taking the sensible decision. Now you could argue that it shouldn't be necessary to congratulate them on doing the right thing, but if we don't, then surely stubborn politics will just get worse, as the Government of the day (or, indeed, an opposition party) can't be seen to change its mind about anything or it would be seen as losing some battle. So much for the end of yah-boo politics

Our current politics is too confrontational, with each party having to try and score points against the opposition and it's making them lose sight of the greater good: that all decisions should be made for the good of the country. The fact that this simple fact seems to be pushed to the back of politicians' minds should make them pause for thought and remind themselves why they entered politics in the first place.

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