October 31, 2005

About street kids. I've just realised I'm really pissed off.

The summer before this one, I went to Uganda, in east Africa. It was a really cool time for various reasons – It's a beautiful country, the people are amazingly cool and welcoming, and some parts of it were great fun. I went out to do some random jobs for one of the staff of the engineering department – if you've never heard of the DTU and you're interested in development work in rural 3rd world communities, take a look, they do some very cool things.

One of the things I had to do involved me staying in the capital, Kampala, for about two weeks. Now before any Ugandans read this, and get upset with me – I RESPECT Uganda, in a big way. This is not a criticism of Uganda, except for as much as it's part of the world that allow such screwed up stuff to exist. It's not 'personal' – Kampala just happens to be the place I saw this kinda stuff up close first.

I saw children begging on the street. I saw what I'd guess to be a 8 to maybe 11 year old girl looking after a toddler who could barely walk.
I have no way to say that how it is in my head.

I was staying in a guesthouse on a hill, maybe half an hour walk from the centre of town. Every time I walked into town, I had to walk past these kids who were every day sitting by the same patch of fence. I got to know, through walking around, that different areas were always going to have beggars in them. The stretch of fence down the road to the right when you're going down the hill. The corner by the bakery, and all the way down the road to the supermarket from there. The miniature 'posh' bit of town where the westerners live and the South African burger place was. In the two weeks there, I had to walk round the city quite a bit.

One of the things that drove it home was the contrast between the place I was staying – the Church of Uganda 'Namirembe guesthouse'. Tis a great place, amazingly friendly staff, some of the most corny Christianity I've ever seen, but decent rooms and food. Recommended.. but the contrast between the luxury I had up the hill and the small patch of pavement those kids had kinda ripped me up a bit.

About a month or two after I got back, I was walking through a shopping centre in my home, and caught out of the corner of my eye a kid crouched by a shop window. I turned to look, and was surprised when he wasn't in brown rags holding out a dusty palm.

Since I got back, for the last year… I haven't really done that much. Well. I've been supporting make poverty history, I've been to Ukraine, another place I feel kinda the same about. It's kinda messed up there as well, in places. Hey, it's messed up here too.

So why blog about that now?

I went to church this evening, and the service was on the theme of Justice – the idea that God's kinda in favour of things that try and help people out of nightmare like existences seems to be catching on. There were a couple of videos shown – the first, talking about free trade, and the second, about a Christian project called 'soul action', and specifically a large trip to Durban, in South Africa, to do social action there.

And while that was going on I realised how angry I was about what I'd seen in Kampala. How some of my behaviour then and in the year since I got back has been to do with the fact I didn't know how to respond, how to react, and so I've kinda been avoiding it. I was actually trembling with the release of emotion – I'm quite good at holding stuff in, and lettin it out isn't always easy. The way my church is set up, there's the altar and a seating area for about 20–30 people right at the front for when the church is really full, then you get the 'main' stage where people preach from and the band is, both facing the main seating area. Reason I say that is cos towards the end of the service I went up to the bit behind the band towards the altar (it's a very relaxed service and I doubt many people noticed) and stood there yelling and crying for a while – took advantage of the fact the music at that point tends towards the loud.

Please don't take this the wrong way – I'm not trying to impress people with the wrath of matt – Actions are what count, not pointless noise making.

All this is kinda fitting with what's going on at the moment – Me trying more and more to get to know God better, alongside wondering where I'm going with this life I seem to have. There's a poem I read recently, in 'Red Moon Rising', which is a brilliant book. Goes like this:

some want to live
within the sound
of church or chapel bell
i want to run
a rescue shop
within a yard of hell

Written by a missionary in China. Kinda fits with how I'm feeling. I could live a comfortable life with a good job in industry somewhere, and I could probably be happy doing it. And maybe it is just that while I've calmed down a lot I'm still more pissed off than on average. But I don't want to live that way.

October 30, 2005


Been a bit of time since I've done anything with this humble lil blog of mine, and a couple of people have bugged me to update, so here we go – name change, profile change, etc. And new entries, hopefully!

Biggest change in my life of late was graduation. Still happy about that – the degree was good, worth it, etc, but Very glad to be done with it. After 4 years, it was time for a change.. which is what I've got.

After various wrangling last year about what I'd be doing now, I'm now doing one thing I thought really unlikely – the academic-year-long year out program run by my church. So far it's been really good, mostly, in various ways – I'll probably write something about it soon, but it depends on whether I think anyone would be bothered to read it..

Something else I want to write tonight, so I'll call this one a day here.

June 03, 2005

Darfur Report – Why should we care?

Writing about web page http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2005/05/31/opinion/20050531_DARFUR_AUDIOSS.html?th&emc=th

Just found a link to this on the BBC website – this is one of the best bits of journalism I've seen for a long time. It's a response, from a New York Times journalist in Darfur, to a letter he recieved asking why Americans should care about what's going on over there.

To quote the BBC - it's compelling.

Personally, I doubt my responce would have been printable. Instead, the journalist shows an incredible example of how to deal with that kind of attitude. I'm impressed.

May 25, 2005

Update? What a dull entry title!

Haven't updated this for a while, so probably should! A fair bit's happened.

I've had 9 hours of exams in the last 2 days. That's not particularly pleasant, but it has meant I'm now half way through (yeehaa!) incredibly quickly!

My plans for next year have fallen through. Plan was – do a gap year scheme which would have had me hanging round a CU in a uni somewhere attempting to be helpful – but there aren't enough unis, apparently. I was kinda gutted at first, but am now fairly happy about it, partly because I'm now kinda curious about the unknown stuff I'll be doing next year, and not knowing what it's gonna be actually sounds good. In a really weird way. Also happier because of several people who've been vaguely happy about me staying (Would have left warwick) and, in the event of not getting something, having people happy cos you're staying round is about as good a second best as possible! So I'm ok with that. Would be interested to know what God's got planned though….

The exam today went well, the others could have been worse. in general work is ok – am probably gonna get a 2 something – other exams being the deciding factor!

I have a nice long rant I wish to have on my blog at some point, which may happen later this evening if I get dragged it, else later. You'll find out.

May 09, 2005


Few more frustrating tasks exist (at least from my point of view) than trying to model a wind turbine blade in a CFD program that copes neither with moving parts nor with rotating domains!!

Would be ok if it wasn't possible. But it is, so I have to figure it out…

April 21, 2005


I just had a project meeting – editing and compiling the final report for my 4th year project. 30,000 words written by 7 people takes a lot of sorting. 11.5 hours worth to be precise. Apparently the problems with my report style are; I use far too many words to say simple things, and my sentences, as a result of this, are somewhat lenghty, and; I use ';' far too much. Ah well!

And then I came here, and found this which shocked me. 893 comments (and counting), on a 3 line entry! To be fair, this is a hijacking, but still!

April 10, 2005

Scientific Genius, and minor ammusement for a sunday afternoon

Thought this was Great. The wonderful names you get in particle physics are well known – is this a competition which the astronomers are just getting in on?

From the BBC:

European project to build an Extremely Large Telescope (ELT)

Which is comic enough, for me, anyway. But swiftly followed up by this:

Concepts for ELTs include the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) being considered by the US and Canada; and the Euro50 and Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (Owl)

I like the idea of sitting down and deciding that the concept you're going to be spending the next few months designing will be called the 'Overwhelmingly Large Telescope'.

There is however a question that I'd like to ask. The English language has many fine words, and 'Overwhelmed' is an excellent example. We also have the word 'Underwhelmed', though I've got an idea this is a more recent development. However, there seems to be a gap – "Whelmed" – why is it conspicuous by it's absence? What would it mean if it was not? Why has it either been lost from or never entered into common usage? Does anyone have any answers to these vital questions of etymology and, er, something else?

May the day come swiftly when common parlance will allow any journalist and critic to use the prhase 'A pleasantly whelming experience'. Let us unite.

March 29, 2005

Faith, and religious 'discussion'

I really am not a great fan of pickin religious 'fights' with people I don't know that well. My main reason is that I don't like to appear a crusader who on the slightest provocation will launch into a long, convoluted and spittle heavy explaination of why the perfectly innocent comment just made was wrong… I know of few things more irritating.
So, I feel quite award when I think I'm doing it, and kinda feel like I might have crossed that line already, and want to some more – so I move to my own blog. Which is a perfect place to rant where nobody whatsoever will hear me, but will still allow relief of pressure ;).

OK… Faith.

There's a widely held idea (refered to below as 'the idea'!) that in some way uncertainty is a necessary part of belief, because if it wasn't uncertain then belief wouldn't be necessary, and faith is the ability/capacity that enables us to deal with this act of basing our lives on something we're not really sure about.

I've got problems with that. Maybe God can be proved to exist, maybe he can't – I'm not gonna argue that here. I'm tempted to say 'the idea' is wrong, but I'm gonna settle for it not being the whole story.

Example. Jesus walks on the water. The disciples, looking out of the boat, can see him standing there on something that really doesn't look too solid. One of them, Peter, says "If it's really you tell me to come to you" and Jesus does. So Peter gets out of the boat, and starts walking. Half way he looks round at the large waves etc, gets a bit worried, and starts to sink, only to be caught by Jesus, and is told "Oh you of little faith – why did you doubt?"

Consider how little sense it makes at this point for Peter to doubt the existence of God. He's a Jew, brought up in a nation of people who believed in God, where the argument 'Who made the world then!?' wasn't so silly. He's also wandered round with Jesus for a bit, watching some fairly non-standard things happen, and if that wasn't enough, he's currently walking on water. Doubting whether or not God is there doesn't make so much sense.

Another question – did the apostles have any faith? Yes… they must have right? But if faith is the ability to believe without proof, how does it apply to the people who Did have Christianity proved to them – 100%-without-a-doubt-resurected-corpse. If they did see that, how does faith apply to them?

My solution to this – faith in God is the ability to trust him to come through when you need him to – like when you're standing on the surface of a lake, or when you're on a roof trying to convince a crowd of several thousand people, who think you're drunk, that someone rose from the dead.
The main reason I'm writing this whole thing is that having that trust is key to being Christian, and I've got a nasty feeling 'the idea' above might get in the way of it. That'd be bad.

There's a verse that appears to suggest the opposite of what I've argued – Hebrews 11 verse 1. It says this:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

This really confused me for a bit. But… in context, ie the bible, 'things hoped for' means the promises of God, very often heaven. And the bible doesn't regard these as uncertain (for obvious reasons!). When the bible talks about Hope, that's short hand for 'really looking forward to' (at least that's my very brief definition!). No uncertainty is implied by this half of the verse. The other half – maybe. I'm not sure, which is why I haven't said the starting definiton of faith is wrong, rather than just incomplete. It should be said that this verse, and one a few verses below it, are the only verses in the bible that imply this way of looking at faith, and doctrines based on 2 verses are.. er.. you can guess.

I'm aware that the above is dangerously close to a sermon. I should add that it's not just me that thinks like this – it's a fairly established idea, as far as I know. Given that, my vague attempt to avoid being preachy probably failed. Ah well. Sorry bout that.

March 24, 2005

Do the Media

Writing about web page http://www.alertnet.org/thefacts/reliefresources/111056581462.htm

War in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe, has claimed at least 10 times as many lives as the December tsunami yet remains almost unheard of outside of Africa, key players in the aid world said.*
Gilligan said the main reason the tsunami got huge coverage while war in Sudan has faded from the front pages was it was new, wiping out lives from one minute to the next.
There is a consensus in the media industry that the tsunami was covered better than any previous disaster.

The Tsunami on boxing day was a terrifying thing. Numbers of people beyond imagining died very suddenly, with little or no warning. It was, without doubt, an absolute tragedy for anyone remotely involved.

And the response, it is widely reported, was stunning. I got at least 2 or 3 emails from Oxfam saying 'You've been incredible', and for the first time I've ever heard of, they closed the donations, and said they had enough. That is a great example of generosity when it was desperately needed, and it will undoubtedly make an incredible difference to the survivors of the tsunami.

Nothing new there for anyone. The questions I'm asking though start with this – why, when so many disasters pass by almost unnoticed, did the tsunami get such huge coverage?

Possibly it was the suddenness of it. Early figures were in the thousands, though anyone actually looking at where the numbers were coming in from must have been able to see very quickly what kind of increase was likely. The media knew that thousands, almost definitely hundreds of thousands, were dead – and it had happened almost unbelievably quickly. For those who had friends and family in the affected zones, it must have been a nightmarishly fast transition from 'they're on holiday – probably sunning themselves on the beach, lucky..' to 'are they even alive!?'

That also is a possible reason – the papers here could print fairly quickly lists of names and photographs (including Steve Pretty, old Sab) in one paper of 'missing Brits'. A huge area was covered, including a large number of popular holiday destinations, and the number of people in Britain with some kind of connection to someone out there must have heightened interest.

That's almost definitely not a complete list, but I'll leave it there and go on to my next question – How did the media coverage affect the public response?
Having never read a study on this, I should admit at this point I'm making assumptions based on general reading and common sense. But I'd be incredibly surprised if the media coverage didn't have a large effect on the donations received. Graphic pictures of destroyed towns, orphaned children and desperately searching relatives aroused compassion, and that got people reaching for their pockets.

In the period leading up to Boxing day, a huge amount of fuss was gathering steam over 'the worlds largest humanitarian crisis' in Darfur. I found how the media behaved with that situation really interesting, and also quite confusing – before Darfur hit the headlines, the vast majority if not all of the information in the articles had already appeared in the same newspapers, just tucked away in the 'international news' section somewhere in the hinterlands of the middle pages.

And it's now disappeared again. Quoting from a Reuters article*;

"Darfur has slipped from the front pages, but the situation there is again going from terrible to being absolutely horrendous," U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland said.

It can be seen that the situation there is only getting worse, and this can't be helped by the lack of attention that so benefited the people of the Tsunami zones. And as the quote at the top of this entry shows, Darfur is not the largest example.

The article I've linked to brushes on this. It seems to make what sounds like an extremely sensible point – that charities who want media coverage in order to help generate donations need to invest donations in training people in their press departments to help the journalists get stories that will make it to the front page.

That's obviously a good start. It does put all the onus on the charities -which, to some extent, seems fair enough, as they're the ones wanting the cash. My next question, however, is this; given the impact of media attention on donations aid work and the huge necessity of such donations to the lives of the millions of people helped by aid, should the media not acknowledge a responsibility to very deliberately use its influence to increase and direct donations as necessary?

And it is not just aid that can be helpful. Just as the Make Poverty History campaign is not actually asking people to donate, but to campaign, and not so long ago the main political opposition was described, at best half jokingly, as the Daily Mail, pressure Can be put on the government of our and any other democratic country to act in whatever situation the electorate, and their 'representatives and guides', the media, choose.
That this works is demonstrated by the relatively recent end to the civil war in the south of Sudan between the SPLA and the Government was reported to be largely due to international pressure on both sides, and if the agreement made is to be kept to the indications are that further pressure will be required.

That this would have to be done in partnership with well trained staff in NGO's** I don't doubt – but the attitude that seems to be present at the moment, that of 'We go where there's a story, so if you give us a story somewhere there we'll go' seems incredibly irresponsible given the power that could be wielded for good. Instead of saying to the NGO's 'Give us a story', newspapers and other agencies could work with the NGO's to help them find stories that would help – After all news agencies don't normally have news handed to them on a plate.

One problem I can certainly appreciate is that the appetite for receiving donations is without doubt larger than the appetite for giving them. That there is just not enough space in the newspapers for all the disasters that would be worthy of mention. But that not all people could be helped is not a reason to help none.

Imagine, for a minute, an educated electorate, not just in the UK, but in Europe, Australia, and the US. In the news right now is the fact that the President of the USA and congress passed some very speedy legislation to allow intervention in a standard legal process – and not a few commentators put this down to pressure from the people. If that electorate had instead been waving placards concerning the fate of millions rather than one, and were educated by the media enough to ask for sensible action to be taken…. imagine the impact that could have.

*Starred quotes from Reuters article: link, "Congo war tops AlertNet poll of 'forgotten' crises", all others from linked article, also from Reuters, "DEBATE-Has tsunami carved a news niche for disasters?"

**Non Governmental Organisations, e.g. Charities like Oxfam.

March 23, 2005

The Terri Schiavo case

Writing about web page http://abstractappeal.com/schiavo/infopage.html

Everyone who pays any attention to the news will have seen this case, and the massive row over it.

My view has swung about, from a very uninformed 'she's in a "vegitative" state – I'm kinda in favour of letting her die in peace' to a 'Just seen a video of her responding to people. I was under the impression vegetables didn't move. I’m really uncomfortable with her being killed.’

It’s now swung back again, as I found the site this has linked to, and read one of the statements made by a judge at the end of one of the trials. The key fact contributing to this is that it seems that Mrs Schiavo’s brain has suffered major damage, to the point where the vast majority if not all of the area of her brain controlling emotion and conscious thought has literally been replaced by fluid. Her response to various stimuli is inconsistent, and thought to be controlled by ‘lower brain’ functions.

The site above is impartial, and gives a good summary of events, as well as many links to the legal documents outlining and explaining the judgements made in the case. If you’re interested in what’s happened – read it.

As a defence against anyone taking offence at what I’ve said in a Really sensitive subject, I’d like to say that I’m not trying to influence anyone’s opinion on what should be done by relating my own, that my own opinion is mainly influenced by the consistent findings of the legal processes involved, and that anyone who wishes to have an opinion on what’s going on should do their own research on the issue.

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