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Archive for April, 2011

This is not an easy post to write, mostly because I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to say. Distractions are abundant and the topics of conversation are infinite in our media flooded, idea permeated and opinion focused society. So it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what you think and what you want to stand for.

When something reminds you however, it’s a great feeling of relief and clarity, almost like an epiphany. A few moments ago I followed a link to a random video and I ended up watching a short film on sustainable farming on The Perennial Plate website. The people in the video were not trying to push their morals or their highly informed opinions on anyone, they were merely farmers growing and selling food locally in the American Midwest, living their lives in a way that made them happy.

Obviously not everyone can be a small-scale local farmer. No one is advocating that this is the only way to have a purposeful and happy life. However, the values held by these people seem to be getting farther and farther away from the mainstream, when in fact they are simple and beautiful ones: live in a way that is harmonious with your environment, be content and don’t crave everything under the sun.

It can be argued that industrial farming practices are slowly destroying the health and moral fibre of our society. You can hardly buy bread at the store that doesn’t have at least five additives on the list of ingredients. At the same time, food prices continue to rise, leaving poor countries in actual situations of starvation.

These are just a few thoughts and far from a clear vision. If you’d like to see some inspiring examples of ‘socially responsible and adventurous eating’ head over to the Perennial Plate website.

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Chase and Status ft Tinie Tempah – Hitz

Plastician – Japan

Chase and Status ft Liam Bailey – Blind Faith

Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats

The Killers ft Lou Reed – Tranquillize

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Earth day reflections

Today is Earth Day – a day to celebrate the natural world around us, its beauty, and to remind ourselves that it needs our help to survive.

The first Earth Day was on April 22 1970 and it was the idea of then U.S Senator Gaylord Nelson. In the context of the student anti-war movement, he decided to capitalise on some of the emerging public consciousness and shine the light on pollution and environmental issues. Today, millions are celebrating around the world. The importance of such an event is its ability to galvanise public interest and get the debate about environmental issues going.

One article I read today on service ideas was particularly interesting. It offers a few great environment related volunteering ideas for families. When I first glanced at the article, I was struck by two things – the way it reminded me of Big Society speak, and its unrealistic assumptions about time and willingness availability. It encourages families to volunteer their time to various worthwhile activities which happen to also be good for the environment. While these are noble ideas, I thought to myself: who has the time?

On a second reading however, I think that was probably hasty of me. Most little things wouldn’t require that much of a time commitment and, in the words of the authors, it’s important to develop the habit. Most of the suggestions also have an element of fun and would be a breath of fresh air. With that in mind, I’ll start contemplating an Earth Day resolution.

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The issue of voting rights for expatriates almost never seems to be a topical one on the political agenda, unless an election is about to take place and the expat vote is likely to have an influence on the outcome.

There are several principles which come into consideration when thinking about the right of expatriates to vote in their home country’s elections.Key is the democratic principle of representation and the principle of citizenship. If an expatriate is living in a foreign country but is still a citizen of their home country, should they be allowed to vote in their home country’s elections? The intuitive answer is yes. And this is the case in most electoral systems around the world, including that of my home country, Romania.

However, in 2009, the expatriate vote was called into question for me, personally. Being a student in the UK, before the vote, I was relatively enthusiastic about my right to vote in the Romanian presidential election. In the end I did not manage to get to a polling station. Around 90,000 other Romanian citizens living abroad did however.

In the wake of the election, when the results were announced and disappointment set in, the opposition started looking for explanations. Romania, a country deep in financial crisis, recovering from the scars of a Communist past (scars of corruption, bribery, feelings of entitlement and disregard for those living in below poverty conditions) had seemingly just condemned itself to five more years under a president and a government that had seemingly only exacerbated the country’s woes.

The explanations were many, including accusations of fraud (videos were taken of busses full of people some claimed had been driven around the country voting in several polling stations). The opposition’s fraud allegations did not go far (not surprisingly given the state of the Romanian judiciary system). It is shameful that these allegations had to exist at all, for a country that claims itself an equal partner in the European Union and a democratic nation.

Another explanation for the result of the election was the expat vote. Many claimed that the scales had been tipped by votes coming from beyond Romania’s borders. When talking to ordinary Romanians, they were baffled by the fact that people living outside the country, be it Romanian citizens, had a hand in deciding the way that those living in the country would be governed. The questions asked were sensible: given that they live abroad, how can they have a clear and accurate picture of the political, economic and social situation within Romania, and the way the Government was actually engaging with its citizens, excluding official press releases padded by spin doctors?

The issue is not an easy one to give a verdict on. The questions are just. In a way, expatriates can be seen to have given up their right to have a say in their home country’s affairs when they emigrated, in pursuit of a better or different life. However, leaving the country is not always one’s choice (children leaving with their parents), or they may be gone for only a few years (students for example). Differentiating between the different ‘types’ of expatriates for voting purposes is not realistic. The solution has to fit everyone. And currently the solution is to allow expatriates to vote. The question needs to be asked however, does this practice enhance democracy or does is in fact deter from it?

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Yale Open Courses

A few years ago I stumbled onto Yale Open Courses. It’s a website from the American university Yale who have started taping class sessions for several of their courses (or modules as they are called here in Britain) and posting them online (in high quality video or audio format), along with course materials, reading lists etc. There is no sign up required, the material is completely free, and in essence you can take a whole class as if you were sitting in a Yale class room. Anyone can watch, no matter where in the world you are.

I think this is an amazing initiative. The number of people who get into Yale, and who can afford to go to this top university is so small that giving people outside the ivory tower a glimpse into this academic heavy weight and the fountain of knowledge that Yale professors are (seeing as most of them have won or have been nominated for Nobel Prizes, Pulitzers, etc) is a noble pursuit.

In the beginning, the number of courses was limited. However, now there are several of them, in various academic fields. I have taken one of their literature classes (the poetry one) and one in the field of economics (for my current studies). The best thing about it is that you can complete the class sessions at your own pace, and you can learn about topics that you never thought about before, such as astrology or ancient Greek history.

There are several other initiatives similar to this from a few American universities (such as Berkeley), but none come in a format as comprehensive and easy to engage with at the Yale Open Courses.Having rediscovered this amazing resource recently, I will definitely try to take a class when I have some spare time this summer.

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Love…

…how the trees take turns to bloom in spring.

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