Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Ramblings Relocates

Took a notion to shift over to Wordpress, another blogging platform. Don't really desire to keep two up to date, so I'll likely just be posting over there unless I find out it's rubbish and sheepishly return

Monday, 27 April 2009

Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (2005). "Decency, Morals, God"

Last night I watched Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, and would encourage you to watch at least part of the film, this fascinating clip below.

Sophie Scholl and her brother have been arrested for their involvement in the White Rose movement, distributing leaflets criticising the Nazi regime and Hitler. After thorough interrogation their guilt is proven, and here (2mins 3os in) we see a conversation between Scholl and Investigator Mohr, who treats her in this as intellectual equal, dealing with issues of morality, conscience and God.

The White Rose movement holds high significance, showing clearly that there was opposition to the Nazis from within Germany, thought painfully highlighting its infrequency and lack of strength.

I was in Cologne a few years ago where the actions of the White Rose movement are now celebrated annually.

Article on Sophie Scholl from the Catholic Herald can be found here

Scrap the Scrap money

£2,000 for a 1965 Morris Minor which hasn't been roadworthy for decades? Scrap it

The decision by Alistair Darling to introduce a car scrappage scheme whereby you can trade in your old car for £2,000 off a new one is a ludicrous one.

As an article in today's Times shows, loopholes are rife. The scheme would allow me to trade in the Renault 9 GT Turbo I bought on Ebay for £42*, providing I had a SORN (statutory off road notification) and receive £2,000 off a brand new car. I'm interested to see what this will do to the second hand car market, as opportunistic sellers realise they can finally get rid of the disused cars sitting about their yard to equally opportunistic buyers for a decent price. Even if you overpaid and bought my Renault 9 off me for £200, you'd still be on course to save £1,800, providing you were planning on buying a new car in the first place.

The scheme undoubtedly benefits the car industry, sure, but why prop up an industry that is fuelling (see what I did there) increased carbon levels? Why not follow Obama - a leader who recognises that renewable energy, and the manufacturing of hybrid cars will create jobs and boost a flailing economy - and promote 'green' cars, and use this scheme in accordance with this?

It's Economy over Environment once more, and ignorant of the huge potential for both to compliment each other

*Incidentally, I don't have this car anymore, having sold it - ironically - for scrap, netting £90

Gerry the Prod?

An article in today's BT (quoted here at the Indy) attributes some interesting quotes to Gerry Adams talking about faith with Gay Byrne as part of a series on the spiritual beliefs of public figures.

"I have formed an opinion," he says to Byrne, "and it's probably a Protestant thing, that the notions of having some sort of middle-man isn't altogether necessary." He admits he hasn't gone to confession "in years," preferring to speak directly with God.

When asked on the matter of Transubstantiation and whether the elements are the real body of Jesus Christ, he replied unconvincingly "Who knows?"

With these comments perhaps alienating some ardent Catholics, and McGuinness seen by many nationalists to be 'in bed' with the DUPers, just how are SF perceived amongst their traditional base? I'd love to see some poll data...

R we getn thikker?

Eugh...even my own title repulses me

I'm glad to see the media are providing coverage on the ever-decreasing value of language, vocabulary, spelling, grammar.

In today's Indy (and BT) Robert Fisk writes an opinion piece lambasting society's reluctance to read books, and the knock on effects this has on grammar
Meanwhile in The Times, a leading report by Alexandra Frean on the shrinking range of language in children (especially amongst disadvantaged children) coins the phrase 'word poverty', and makes an interesting observation - "If a child hits or pushes another child, it is usually because they don't have the language of conflict resolution."

Other pieces worth looking at are the appalling comments made here by a 'leading academic' calling for spelling within English language to be re-drafted along phonetic lines.

Another interesting report can be found here, at First Things, A self-titled journal of Religion, Culture and Public life which makes the point that the Internet has not increased our learning, but rather increased our social network at the expense of our social skills. I found this particularly true: "The genuine significance of the Web to a seventeen-year-old mind is not the universe of knowledge brought to their fingertips, but an instrument of non-stop peer contact”
Below is my favourite mis-spelling, taken at London protests against Israeli strikes in Gaza

Friday, 24 April 2009

Match Fixing - justifying the original scepticism of Professionalism?

The Independent reports today on the betting scam surrounding a match between Accrington Stanley and Bury at the end of last season, which saw home side Accrington lose 2-0. Meanwhile at home, the Irish League is once more embroiled in the now annual farce of supposed match fixing where teams with nothing to play for are suddenly backed either to win or to lose by huge sums of money. Gareth Fullerton broke the story on the front page of the Belfast Newsletter, reporting that Paddy Power are only taking bets on the IPL matches involving Linfield and Glentoran this weekend.

These problems were foresaw at the very inception of professional sport in the late 19th Century, and the prospect of match fixing was one of the major reasons why Gentlemen Amateurs were desperately against the introduction of payment for playing. Neal Garnham reports that "In England the most influential arguments against professionalism had been based on ‘the social antipathy of men who considered professional sport ethically unacceptable’". There was a genuine fear that if a man was being paid to win, he could be bought to lose.

Reference - Garnham, Neal; Association Football and Society in Pre-Partition Ireland; (Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast, 2004).

"Why we can't go to war with North Korea" according to one American

This simplistic article highlights numerous reasons why the US shouldn't go to war with North Korea. However whilst he illustrates why a war isn't a good idea (and it isn't) he implies that any interference in the goings on of NK is none of the USA's business, even if they do bomb Japan.

Fascinatingly enough, he quotes Santanya's well known phrase, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" to illustrate his point about the mistakes of the Korean War. However, he should also imply that phrase to the Isolationist policy the US had in the 30s and early 40s which allowed a dictator far too much room to manoeuvre and almost brought about a restructuring of world order. With the new totalitarian regime possessing nuclear weapons, this is no time for America to be isolationist, and thankfully Obama seems to recognise this

Ronnie Biggs Press Reaction. A Case study to highlight critical consumption of the Media

Ronnie Biggs, who turns 80 later this year, is currently being recommended for release from prison. Infamous for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, he escaped prison after only 15 months of his 30 year sentence to Brazil where he gained celebrity status for his bold taunting of the British justice system, including recording a single with the Sex Pistols. He returned to Britain in 2001 where he was subsequently re-arrested and sent back to prison.

Today's papers presented the same story, told in a different manner, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so.

The Times offers a sympathetic view to Biggs, even allowing the story space within their Editorial comment. It calls for "Mercy" and "Clemency" and twice asserts that the decision to exercise such acts of kindness lie with Jack Straw.

In its article by Richard Ford and Adam Fresco, a hugely sympathetic view is taken, with the onus on justice secretary Straw to cede to compassion. We are told that he hopes to move to a nursing home near his son, that he has suffered strokes which have left him unable to speak, and furthermore he is reduced to pointing and spelling out words with letters of the alphabet. His physical condition is described in that he is fed through a tube and can only walk a few steps unaided. After this factual information presented in a manner to create an image of a helpless creature, we are told that the parole board is expected to release him in time for his 80th birthday. So not only does the innocent reader feel sorry for the physical state of this man, but we are also invited to show sentimentality and a display a sense of occasion.

After such a picture is painted, the scene is set for Ford and Fresco to inform us "The final decision on whether Biggs will spend his last years in freedom rests with Jack Straw". Look at the language. It places huge pressure on Straw to be populist, and invites the reader to condemn the Justice Secretary should he deny this frail creature his "last years in freedom".

As a Times devotee, I'm somewhat dismayed by the lack of objective reporting which is contrasted with the Independent's story (objective mainly due to length) and the BBC's dull version of events (objective because it prides itself in such).

Meanwhile The Sun seems to tilt to the other side of the argument. In a much shorter article than in The Times, it uses language such as "villain father" and reminds us that Biggs has served [only] "a third of his sentence". The information on his condition is presented matter-of-factly, not inviting "mercy" or "clemency"

The Daily Mail predictably goes even further, offering two full pages on Biggs (p.10-11), considerably more than the other papers. Twice we are told in Stephen Wright's (Crime Editor) article that the care received by Biggs if released would be "provided at the taxpayers expense" as well as the question being asked of which authority will have to "pick up the bill for caring for Biggs". Here we are not presented with a frail old man, but rather an undeserving drain on the public purse.

The opinion piece which goes alongside the article by Geoffrey Wansell is unsubtly titled "He put two fingers up to justice for 36 years. So should he just be freed because he's a sad, broken old man?" Wansell presents the previously unmentioned view that "There are those who are convinced that Biggs has failed to 'serve his debt to society' - not least because he has never demonstrated the slightest remorse for his crime." Wansell refers to Biggs' "unrepentant delight" and the paradox of his "fame as a fugitive". He refers to Biggs as "cocky", "a convicted criminal", "a ruthless chancer" and tells us how much he earned from the Robbery - £146,000.

While The Times refers to "Mercy", Wansell refers to "Compassion" but uses it in such a way as to question whether we should have any compassion on "a conman with little or no compassion for anyone but himself."

Facts are facts. Yet which facts are chosen and how they are presented affect a story hugely. The Daily Mail emphasises that the Taxpayer will have to foot the bill for Biggs' healthcare, not mentioning that of course the Taxpayer is already paying for his imprisonment. It glosses over Biggs' physical condition, mentioning it briefly three quarters way down the article when many readers have stopped reading or skipped straight to the end. Conversely, The Times places great emphasis on the frail condition of Biggs mentioning it near the beginning of the article, and in great detail.

Compare too that The Times tells us that Biggs married in 2002, while Wansell in The Mail informs us that "He abandoned his wife and three sons in Australia when he was close to being captured by the British police in 1969". Both facts. Both true. Yet both inviting incredibly different conclusions to be drawn.

We are slaves to the information the media decides to inform us of, yet as clever consumers we can read a variety of sources, and question the language being used, the positioning of information and the conclusions that the writer is urging us to draw.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

North Korea - We know

Further to the National Geographic piece on Refugees from North Korea which I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'd like to highlight just one practical way in which you can make your voice heard.

Open Doors are running a campaign to speak out against China's forced repatriation of N.K. refugees. It is a great tragedy that China forcibly return refugees to a country where leaving is a capital offence. As a result, not only are many refugees returned to face potential execution, but the stance of the Chinese Government means that female refugees who aren't caught, unable to declare their status, are often forced into the sex slave trade. Open Doors claims that 70% of N.K. women refugees are forced into brothels or sold as sex slaves or wives (source)

Just as we condemn the Allies for knowing about Auschwitz and doing nothing about it so will our children condemn us for knowing something of the terror that goes on in North Korea and refusing to engage with it, instead ignoring the information and living selfishly in denial.

When you kids ask what you did to liberate the people of North Korea, what will you say?

Start here - not to ease your conscience but rather to take action - by sending a letter to the Chinese Ambassador asking her to urge the Chinese Government to change its policy of forced repatriation.

Click for change

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Fees ... Where's the justice?

Where does £3,125 of tuition fees per year go, if you study at the University of Ulster?

Extra lecturers, or even pay rises to attract the top ones?
- No, staff face pay reductions of up to £5000 per year, as the Vice Chancellor received a 25% pay increase to take him up to £212,000 per year (that's slightly more than the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and nearly 20 grand more than Gordon Brown gets) (source)

Free printing?
- No, students pay 5p per sheet which is the same as, for example, Bennett's 1 hour photo charge. A service, or profiteering?

No, apparently the money that students pay to the University, is not reinvested back into them. Rather it pays for extortionate and rarely used equipment such as the 'Bod Pod'.
And surveys which reveal the jaw dropping results released today, that "Sisters make people happy"

Wow. If that's not value, I don't know what is

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


If you're interested, you can read my Dissertation here

Entitled 'Fiercely Loyal or Indifferent?' it attempts to use Association Football as a gauge of how involved Northern Ireland was in the Second World War by looking at wartime football in both Northern Ireland and England

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Newsletter exclusive!

On the front page of yesterday's Newsletter was the beginning of an article entitled "Education sector 'is in distress'". It began with this statement
Primary six pupils and their parents are in 'a state of anxiety' over the future
of the transfer system as confusion reigns over just what will happen in the
next 18 months, according to education experts

I guess that makes me an expert on education then, because I independently had come to the same conclusions...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Escape from North Korea, National Geographic

Since last summer when I looked into the possibility of going on an organised tour to North Korea (there is no other way of travelling to/within the country), I have had kept an eye out for any news smuggled out of the country. As the world's most inaccessible country, it appeals enormously.

National Geographic ran an article last week entitled 'Escape from North Korea' and whilst it's long, it's well worth a read, bringing up issues of sex trafficking, active love, gratitude and the effect of faith on people in need

Read it here

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Free things No.3 - Gumtree

More free things from Gumtree. I'm relatively new to the whole Gumtree thing. Essentially it's a classified website offering jobs, flats, cars all that kind of stuff. But there is a 'Freebie' section, worth checking out. My personal favourite is 15 foot Boa Constrictor offered here

Good or Bad? - No.1 Ryanair

Spent this past hour booking flights for myself and my father to go to Belgium early June. As ever, using good old Ryanair because I am a slave to their ridiculously low prices. Having sacrificed taking any luggage, travel insurance and deciding to check in online rather than at the airport, I had my flights for a bargain 20 Euros a piece. However, without a VISA Electron card, I faced charges of another 20 euros (10 euros per passenger) for paying with a credit card (it's the same price as with a debit card, but with the added security).

Ryanair is without doubt the cheapest airline on paper, providing you are willing to forgo your human rights for the length of time it takes to get to your destination. Overpriced snacks on board, as well as all the additional charges they try and lure you into before you can book your flight are only the start of it.

Charging for mobile phones is the latest thing, with threats in place to charge a quid if you want to use the toilet. Chief Executive Michael O'Leary is undoubtedly one of the most successful and despised businessmen in Europe, making £650m a year from all the extra charges. He's not in a hurry to help either, as this quote illustrates

"We don't fall all over ourselves if they... say my granny fell ill. What part of no refund don't you understand? You are not getting a refund so fuck off"

The bottom line is they are cheap, and we are suckers for a bargain. If they work in our favour, great. But if there is a problem, don't expect any help.

It comes down to that old adage - You get what you pay for. But frankly, I'll take it

Verdict: Good

Friday, 20 March 2009

Papal Infallibility?

If the Pope is infallible, how can he make mistakes?
This is the question I found myself asking last week when Pope Benedict XVI admitted to making "mistakes" and "mishaps" over the re-admittance of Bishop Richard Williamson to the Catholic Church, despite his refusal to acknowledge the scale of the Holocaust. Surely this denies the dogma of Papal Infallibility, which according to the Catholic Encyclopedia is not only exemption from error, but also the exemption from the liability to err.

And so if the Pope can make mistakes, how infallible is the statement that he made on Tuesday that condoms are not a solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa? He is also quoted as saying that condoms "even aggravates the problem" Does that sound infallible? Or is it a 'mishap'?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Monday, 16 March 2009

Chris McCandless

His life was documented first in Jon Krakaurer's book, and then in Sean Penn's film both titled 'Into the Wild'. I haven't seen the film, but found the book fascinating, the life of this nomad so enticing that I just wanted to lock up the shop I was working in and go get a bus to wherever.
This quote from a letter he wrote to Ron, an old churchgoing man whose life he seriously impacted is something that has stuck with me

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

- Chris McCandless

Friday, 13 March 2009


Reports like this really make you scared about the people we live, work and hang out with. Who are these one in seven people who actually believe it's acceptable to hit a girl for wearing revealing clothing in public?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

No more


No more.

We will not be dragged backwards. We will not let the good name of our Province be used as a byword for terrorism no more. We will not stand idle while bastards try to rip down our peace, we will not simply watch as they indoctrinate children and rape this country of its fragile unity. We will not be known as the generation who allowed this to return

Nor will we retaliate.

We will let these cowards know that there is no home here for their attitudes, no refuge for their methods.

We will stand, and we will let the world know what we stand for.

1pm, Wednesday
Belfast City Hall
L’Derry Guildhall Square
Newry Town Hall

Monday, 9 March 2009

Old Age

Was back home for the weekend there, and asked my 90 year old Gran; "Nanny, what's it like being old?

She paused for a moment and sighed:

"It's all right ... You've got nothing to do ... but you've alot of time to do it"

An Eye for an Eye

In a quite literal manifestation of the laws given to the Hebrews in Exodus 21, an Iranian woman who was blinded and disfigured after a man threw acid in her face has welcomed the decision by a Tehran court to do the same to him. Ameneh Bahrami, 30, rejected a marriage request from the man - known only as Majid - who responded by waiting for her outside of her workplace to throw acid on her. Ms Bahrami (seen above) who is currently in Barcelona receiving medical treatment waived her right to $25,000 so that the man would be blinded in both eyes, rather than just one as was originally intended.

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Exodus 21v23-25

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
- Jesus
Matthew 5 v 38-39

This is perceived to be one of the Bible's great contradictions. Some reading around however sheds some light. In the time the law was given, the concept of “an eye for an eye” was not a requirement, but a limit. The purpose of the statement was not that if someone pokes out your eye, deliberately or not, then you HAVE TO poke out his eye in return. The statement’s purpose was to say that if somebody deliberately pokes out your eye, then you have the right to avenge your mistreatment, but ONLY UP TO what they’ve done to you. You could merely punch them in the nose if that satisfies justice for you, or you could go all the way up to the point of
poking out his eye in return, but no more. You can’t chop of his head if he poked out your eye. In a world where blood feuds were common, meaning that one family would go to war with another family because of a series of escalating insults and violent actions. The concept of “an eye for an eye” stopped the escalation of violence. The concept was simply “if you must retaliate, then you
can only go this far and no further.” Another commentator wrote that if someone killed your sheep, it was the 'macho' thing to go to his and kill five of his cows. Thus starting a tit-for-tat.

In Northern Ireland we know all about tit-for-tat murders. Perhaps even now some loyalists are plotting revenge for the two British soldiers murdered in Antrim Saturday night. But where does that get us? Is that not what the dissidents want? A civil war to encourage Britain to wash its hands of us? Justice must be sought, in that these murderers should be brought to trial and sentenced accordingly. But can we go further? Can we offer forgiveness? Mercy? Even Grace? Jesus advocates justice. But he also calls us to go further. When one considers that he calls us to offer forgiveness instead of seeking revenge, to love instead of hating and to forgo our rights, is that really a religion to use as a crutch? What would you do if you were Ameneh Bahrami?

Darwin's Deathbed Conversion - Urban Myth!

Being a Christian I have oft heard the story that Charles Darwin 'repented' of his theory of Evolution on his deathbed and converted to Christianity. Being a historian, I investigated this and have found to be an urban-myth-come-Christian-propaganda.
Basic googling exposes this as a lie made up by Elizabeth 'Lady' Hope, an evangelist who claimed that in Autumn 1881 (Darwin died in April 1882) she visited a bed-ridden Charles who was reading the book of Hebrews. She alleged that upon her speaking on the Genesis account of creation, he became distressed and asked her to return the following day to speak about Jesus to him and a room full of around 30 staff. It is at this time, that he supposedly gave his life to Christ.
It is probable that Lady Hope did visit Darwin in late September/early October 1881. His children who furiously deny this story were almost certainly absent, and therefore not witnesses to this tale.
However, historical investigation has shown several flaws with this account. Firstly, Darwin was not bedridden six months before his passing. Secondly, even if he was, the room he was in was far too small to accommodate 30 people. His wife Emma was present, and herself being a religious person why is it she never collaborated with this story? Why didn't Darwin himself let his children or others know about his conversion? Why did Lady Hope wait until after his death before making her story known?
The urban myth still holds popularity today. It filters down and I hear many of my contemporary Christian friends speculate of this account, as it continues to snowball into supposed truth. Yet it is simply not true.
Being a Christian is not an excuse for being naive, or dismissing fact because it doesn't fit in with uor worldview. When our beliefs our challenged, we should investigate further. Likewise, to not believe in something, does not mean it isn't true. And so, we should investigate the sources before we reject anything out of hand

Thursday, 5 March 2009 - Exposing UU?

As a dissatisfied student at the University of Ulster, I'm out to bash it, so the statistics I've selected below are completely to back up my point of view. However, for those of you who want to investigate for yourself, a full range can be found at I have compared results with Queens and Stirling (it lets you compare any three universities in one sitting)

- 7% of UU graduates, 6 months after graduation, are sales assistants or retail cashiers. 5% are assumed to be unemployed. 3 years well spent, won't you agree? For History graduates at UU, one in five will work in sales/retail.

- 70% of UU students get employment with a job related to their degree. At Queens this is 81%

- Only 25% of History students go into a graduate job, that is a job related to the degree they studied. For history graduates at Queens, this is 30%, Aberdeen 40%, Birmingham 51%

-14% of UU students leave with no award. Significantly higher than at Queens where this is 4%, Stirling 5%

- As many as 76% find their course at UU intellectually stimulating. Queens 86%, Stirling 84%

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Fairtrade Fortnight

It's been a manic week and a half of late, but now that the fuss is over, I can get back to my little retreat of blogging
We're in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight now, and today has seen the positive announcement that Cadbury's Dairy Milk has committed to going Fairtrade. The fact that this is such a prominent chocolate bar, shows their intentions and should do much to promote Fairtrade.

Around this time last year Tate & Lyle announced that they would become the biggest UK company to carry the Fairtrade certificate when it brought all its sugar into line with Fairtrade ideals.
It's great to see these companies use their large volume of change to make a genuine difference in people's lives, although it would be great if they didn't have to wait until Fairtrade fortnight to launch their proposals.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Student Activism?

I posted a few months ago about a Student protest on the issue of top up fees. In Monday's Times, Hugo Rifkind writes an article on Student Activism which is worth a read.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Blurring lines

The line between Atheism and Christianity is getting blurry! Couple of interesting articles have been brought to my attention

The first is simply the news that the Vatican have made public their belief that Darwin's theory of evolution is compatible with Biblical teaching. Evolution and Christianity have long been at loggerheads, and with this revelation along with this being the 150th year since The Origin of the Species was published, there should be calls made for open debate and more teaching on the matter.

The second is an article by Times columist Matthew Parry - An Atheist who sees a need for God in Africa. A really fascinating read.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Todays News: Mistakes - Making them and learning from them

The theme of today's local news has been mistakes. First we see the University of Ulster learning from their mistake of the late 60s to locate a University in Coleraine and not Londonderry with news of £250m worth of investment, equating to room for 2,000 more students. Derry is a thriving city, and one which has a much greater capacity to offer graduate opportunities. Coleraine meanwhile has never made the most of the opportunity on it's doorstep either in terms of the entertainment facilities on offer, or in persuading businesses to set up in the area offering jobs to Media, Journalism, Business and IT graduates.

In other news, Minister of Environment Sammy Wilson has once more proved himself to be fully incompetent, misguided and - in a nutshell - a numpty. His decision to ban a Government advert on Climate Change on the grounds of it being nonsensical propaganda beggars belief, especially when you consider his portfolio. It would be like Nigel Dodds (finance minister) denying the Credit Crunch. Other leaders have rightly spoke out against him, and I fully condemn his decision. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and one must wonder what exactly an environment minister who doesn't think the environment needs fixing does with himself all day? Skimpy holidays in France?

In time, the current executive will learn from these mistakes, but I only hope it isn't too late. It pains me to say it, but we must let America lead the way, and follow suit.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Forget the crunch, it's snowing!

With people in Belfast waking up to snow today, Northern Ireland continues it's tradition of always being behind the times compared with Britain. Following Monday's heavy snowfall in large parts of England and Scotland, I was struck when I read the Editorial in The Times the following day. It begins:

The first thing to say about snow is not that it disrupts our travel. It is not
that the economy suffers. It is not that the country cannot cope. It is not that
it started in Russia and then spread to the rest of Europe. The first thing to
say about the snow is that it is extraordinarily beautiful.
What? No griping about the £1.3 billion the snowfall is predicted to have cost us? No gurning about the complete lack of buses, the gritters who were unprepared? The article continues;

There is a joy to trampling through unspoilt snow that some children enjoyed
yesterday morning for the first time in their lives. Some children built their
first snowman and rolled their first gigantic snowball. The scene out of every
domestic window was a Christmas card from the fables of Dickens, five weeks too
late. Dull would he be of soul who would not look out of his own window and note
a scene touching in its majesty.
Did the editor nip out to the toilet and Santa Claus nipped in to change his leading article? Why all this sympathetic imagery, this optimism? I really was struck with a sense of disbelief as I continued to read the article. Such appreciation for the simple things in life looked totally out of place in a newspaper. Yet there it was, pushing aside our obsession with money, work, complaining and stopping - if only for a minute - to ponder the beauty of snow.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Christians at work

Yesterday I read the story of Caroline Petrie, the Christian nurse in Somerset who faces disciplinary action for offering to pray for a patient. This reminded me of the story of the Southampton Bus Driver who refused to drive the buses carrying the infamous "There's probably no God" slogans, which the bus company permitted somewhat. Are they right? Should they be punished? Or praised?

I think it's a tough one. How would I feel if someone offered to pray to Allah for me?

Personally speaking, I think Mrs Petrie has done nothing wrong. In asking simply if the patient would like prayer, she has shown compassion, and in accepting a polite 'no' has shown that she is not some wacky fundamentalist. Some patients who fear death would find prayer comforting, some would be desperate for it, clinigng to it as a last baton of hope. And Mrs Petrie belives that more than that, prayer works, and that by petitioning God to heal, he may just do that.

On the other hand, I disagree with Mr Heather, the bus driver. The slogans on the bus do not portray his opinion, nor could they be interpreted to do so. He refuses to drive a bus on the basis that he does not agree with the advertising on the side. What precedent does this set? Will he refuse to drive a bus promoting safe sex, without any advice to keep it for marriage? Will a Muslim refuse to work in a supermarket which advertises alcohol? It is a dangerous precedent to set in my opinion. As employees, we must obey those in authority above us. Peter writes in the Bible;

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to
those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is
commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is
conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for
doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it,
this is commendable before God.

Once again, the path of following Jesus is seen to be a radical, counter cultural one.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Truth of Reconciliation

In the aftermath of the Eames-Bradley report* and the controversial £12,000 'recognition payment' Denis Murray talks to Andrew Neil on This Week. Watch the video here

There are some interesting points raised. Around 2 minutes in Denis Murray states,
Some clergymen in Northern Ireland . . . say that I can offer you forgiveness,
but that doesn't mean anything unless you express regret
Is forgiveness conditional? Do we offer it on the grounds that
someone is sorry? That's probably our default way of doing things. Who forgives his wife for cheating on him if she doesn't express regret, and sorrow for the pain caused? Yet Jesus, radical as ever, wants us to forgive unconditionally. He is quoted as saying;
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive
him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses
There is no clause. No conditions. No small print. If you hold a grudge, if someone has wronged you, forgive them. There is no hierarchy of sin mentioned, no one sin to great to offer forgiveness for. We should not wait for someone to express regret before we offer them forgiveness. Yet it is true, that we can offer it and they may not accept it. They may feel small because we have offered something they cannot fathom and refuse out of disbelief or mistrust. They may simply have no remorse whatsoever. But we are called to forgive.

And Jesus knows a thing or two about forgiveness. He offered the ultimate forgiveness of sin. He offers forgiveness for all our sins, through his death and resurrection. And he can offer it, but it won't mean anything in our lives unless we recognise our need for it, continually, acknowledging that we need to be forgiven for our disobedience against our perfect creator.

Another thing to note is Michael Portillo, 5 minutes in. He says this:

The thing that would most interest me for the future ... will be whether
education is now going to be inter-communal, whether Catholics and Protestants
are going to go to the same schools ... If that's not happening, then that's a
very serious problem
This is a statement I agree with wholeheartedly. Would we not rightly say America was stuck with its past if black children and white children went to different schools? For Northern Ireland to rid itself completely of sectarianism, the education system must be overhauled. I'm not calling for greater promotion of integrated education, I'm calling for an abolishment of segregated education. Segregated education allows for one version of history to be taught to pupils of one background. It means our children will grow up with the mindsets of their parents and their grandparents. It means another conflict will never be far away from the surface, as long as we keep the 'other side' anonymous. How can you hate Catholics if you're friends with one? How can you loathe Protestants if you play football every lunchtime with them? But if you wait until you're 16,18 and in a working environment, or third level education before you interact with people of the 'other side', then by that time you may well have a deep rooted sectarian mindset. It is imperative that with EU money being directed to Eastern Europe thus reducing cross community schools projects funding, that we address our Education problem immediately, and pave the way for the next generation.

*You can read the 192 page Eames-Bradley report here

Friday, 30 January 2009

Nazis, Numpties and the National Trust

Who'd have thought it? Doing a bit of reading around some different bits on Northern Ireland in the lead up to the Second World War, and came across something I'd never known before - Joachim Von Ribbentrop (Hitler's foreign minister) was hosted at a reception by Lord Londonderry in Mount Stewart in 1930s. Not only that, but the numpty tried to invite Herr Goering to the Coronation in 1937.

So next time you're down at Mount Stewart, keep an eye out for the little statue of a stormtrooper that stands there as a diplomatic gift

£12,000 the value of a life?

So, there is quite a ruckus going on at the minute over the head of the Eames-Bradley report, which among other things has called for families of all those killed during the troubles to be given £12,000. Frankly I find the whole 'recognition payments' thing rather foolish. It has overshadowed other good ideas that come out of the report completely. It has opened up wounds of pain that it seeks to heal, as many families feel bitter at the 'one size fits all approach' (e.g. The families of the nine people killed in the Shankill Road bomb will receive the same amount as the family of Thomas Begley, who died carrying out the attack when the bomb exploded prematurely). And it also attempts to put a price on life. Is £12,000 too much? Is it not enough? Is money really the compensation that these grieving families want?

Apparently the monetary value of the minerals and skin that compose our bodies amounts to around £3.00. Now that seems a petty amount, and a price that completely devalues me as a person. So £12,000? It's a considerable amount more, it's a yearly wage, but I still think I'm worth more than that. Ask any of those families who lost a loved one during the troubles if they would pay £12,000 to have them back, and they would in an instant. Life does not have a monetary value.

The Bible tells us in the book of Genesis that we are created in God's own image. If God who made the vastness of the universe, saw fit to create me in his image, as a being who loves relationships, who laughs, who cries, who feels love and pain, then surely that gives me much greater worth than any monetary valuation?

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Free things No.2 - Couchsurfing

I was away last week in Spain visiting a friend, but I also made the most of my time away to do a bit of couchsurfing. It's not some wacky water sport, but rather a means of experiencing and sharing hospitality and culture. I've been doing CouchSurfing for over two years. The first time I tried it was when I was off to Germany for the World Cup, and I used a similar project, Hospitality Club, to stay with some random Germans in the cities I was travelling in. Although my primary selfish aim was simply free accommodation, I was completely taken aback by the rich conversation I was drenched in, and the wonderful people that I was able to meet. I know that had I stayed in a hostel, I would have met all the usual tourists from everywhere except Germany, and gone to all the usual tourist places, so to be able to meet people who knew and loved their city and wanted to show off their side of it was a wonderful experience.

Since then I have hosted 43 people in my home on the North Coast. I had a hitchhiker from Finland, an American couple and their 9 month old baby, a film crew from Canada, two Swedish girls, a French girl travelling with her Grandfather amongst others. I've met some wonderful people, and had some great times. I've also used it myself some more too. I've stayed with a young unicycling family in Liechtenstein, a Tube driver in London, and a Scrabble player in Ballycastle. Last October I took my Dad couchsurfing in Krakow, and last week I stayed with a wonderful man, Ivan, in his home in Cadiz while in Faro I slept in Bruno's house (right) which is right beside the sea.

There'll be the usual won't you get raped/mugged/murdered questions that I'm used to, but the system is based on community trust provided through references and vouches.

I highly recommend it, as a means of meeting varied and fascinating people, and enjoying the richness of culture and diversity.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Free things No.1 - Free Hugs

A video to make the dullest day bright

Free Hugs

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Spheres of Influence

Thursday night was the East Londonderry Association of the Alliance Party's AGM. I went last year shortly after I joined the party; it being my first taste of things to be, and seemingly the first taste of youth the Association had seen in many a year - As I sat waiting for it to begin, a little lady scurried up to me and asked if I was from the Press! Having been slightly involved over the past year, I went again, roping in some friends to come too. Rach, Richard, Callum, Ashleigh and Pete were the talk of the evening! Constant references to all these young people who turned up. I could hear wee old women chatting in the balance tone* about who these people were and wondering where they came from. I thought the evening itself was reasonably interesting. There was the usual reports and re-nominations (which saw a red faced Pete fighting off attempts to have him elected to various posts and yours truly become the Publicity Secretary, whatever that may be). Ian Parsley (pictured, North Down Deputy Mayor and Party Policy Spokesperson) spoke about all things central, and what the Party is doing and is looking to be doing in the year ahead, on cutting down on the cost of segregation, improving the economy and furthering sustainability efforts.

Whilst I thought the evening was interesting, I wasn't expecting my friends to have had a good time. Yet surprisingly they did. And I think that seems to come down the lure of influence. Whilst the Association might be just a bunch of old fogies, they are people campaigning to make a difference and - through local councillor Barney Fitzpatrick and Party Central - they are. And I thought back to last year's AGM where I grasped that. I realised in me a desire to be involved in spheres of influence, be that in local politics, lobbying, journalism or outher outlets.

*The Balance tone - A volume old women have perfected whereby speaking quietly enough so that it's a private conversation yet speaking loudly enough so the person you're talking to can hear, thus making the conversation public. Perfected during church services when talking about the preacher

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Defiance - A film about Leadership

Released last Friday, Edward Zwick's film Defiance (trailer here) is the latest in an ever lengthening line of films depicting different aspects of life during the Second World War. The film is an adaptation of Nechama Tec's book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Set in Belorussia, it focuses on four Jewish brothers who have escaped from their village where the local authorities handed all Jews over to the Nazis, shooting their parents in the process. The brothers hide in the woods, that they know so well from their youth where they would hide from the police, often wanted for smuggling. As the eldest, Tuvia (Daniel Craig) assumes natural leadership of his brothers, but soon there are more joining them. Aron the youngest goes wandering off and discovers other Jews hiding in the forest and brings them back to his brothers. Tuvia calls for the old man to lay his sick child down, while the reflex of Zus, the second oldest, is to lift his gun in suspicion. Zus (Liev Schreiber) is not impressed at these extra mouths, and sends Tuvia to get food while he waits with Aron and the other brother, Asael.

Tuvia returns with food, a pistol, and more Jews - including his old teacher - who he met while hiding in the barn of Jewish sympathiser, Koscik. As the camp grows, so does their reliance on the brothers and in particular Tuvia who becomes defacto commander. The Bielski Otriad grows in reputation and more Jews come, Tuvia and Asael even going on a mission to the nearby ghetto to bring as many out as they can which leads to Zus mockingly calling him 'Moses'.

In the early part of the film Tuvia's leadership goes unchallenged. It is he who has rescued these people from the Nazis, and has organised food missions to feed them, giving compassionate orders to "take from those who can afford to give, and leave alone those who can't". When the camp is discovered by local collaborators, it is Tuvia who is quick to point and yell instructions and directions, differentiating in the spur of the moment between those who need to run, and those who need to stay and fight. He is a good delegator in the midst of chaos.
Zus begins to doubt Tuvia's direction as he sees more mouths and less food in the camp. He claims that "they only follow you because they are too weak and afraid for themselves." A fight ensues and Zus leaves with some of the best men to join the Russian Partisans.

As Zus and Tuvia fight, it is Asael who steps in from amongst the crowd, shouting for his oldest brother to stop as he holds a rock in his hand ready to crush Zus. This is the first glimmer of initiative that we have seen in him. Our previous sightings of Asael were when he was sobbing as they first went on the run and when Tuvia had to force him to go talk to Chaya, the girl who he had taken an interest in. As their mutual interest grows, it takes the intervention of Bella to tell him to hurry up and propose, and his unfinished muttered proposal is accepted with haste. Now a married man, he grows in confidence and begins to teach the new camp dwellers how to shoot, encouraging and rousing them with Tanakh-littered rhetoric.

Zus meanwhile is off with the Russian partisans. He is defensive about his relationship with his elder brother, responding to the Commander's remark "You compete with him" with an instinctive,"He competes with me". He helps out Tuvia in a mission to get medicine for the typhoid-suffering at the camp, but this seems to be as much proving to his older brother that he is able and strong. He says to his sickly brother; "I give the orders tonight" as he tells him to stay in the truck.

When one of his Jewish comrades is beaten for using an officer's latrine because the man "would not shit in the same toilet as a Jew" it is Zus who takes up the complaint with the Commander, taking upon himself the role of liaison officer for his injured friend, seeking justice. When the Russians retreat it is Zus who his friends turn to to find out what is going on and why
As Tuvia's sickness worsens it creates a power vacuum at camp. Asael has seemingly been handed responsibility in his brother's absence but the rebellious Arkady Lubczanski takes no heed. He demands extra portions of food as one of the hunters, and responds to Asael's command to get back in line with a threateningly held knife. Order is restored when Tuvia enters, and Arkady follows his orders to get back in the queue without question.

However more disturbance is not far away. With Tuvia recuperating in his cabin, Arkady has forcibly introduced a new policy that fighters receive better food portions. When Tuvia questions him he responds "You are no longer commander". Tuvia looks to walk away and then turns round and shoots Arkady dead. His cronies are ordered to go dump his body. He then looks to reassert his flailing authority, telling all "As long as I am leader, you will obey my commands. There will be no complaining, no sitting, no doing nothing."

Later, With Luftwaffe planes circling above, it is Tuvia who makes the rapid decision to leave immediately. He delegates Isaac - the intellectual of the group - to spread the word, and busies himself with rushing people out of camp. Alas they have been spotted and an air raid comes leaving Tuvia - literally - shell shocked. With his older brother dazed and confused, Asael steps up the mark showing complete awareness of the situation. With the planes having done their damage he knows the infantry will follow and knows the best places to post his shooters. He makes wise decisions quickly, leaving no time for uncertainty. He serves others by helping the injured despite his weak frame.

While Asael and those he trained to shoot stay to delay the infantry, the others follow Tuvia further down the trail. The run soon descends into a slow walk, illustrating the lack of hope and ideas their leader now holds. He looks exhausted, weary and ready to give up. Yet it is still he they turn to when they reach the end of the trail and are faced with a swamp.
"Tuvia, do we stay or do we go?"
"Tuvia, what do we do?"

The hesitancy allows for indecision and arguments, with no one stepping forward to assume leadership. With so many options being given as to whether to turn back, to stay or to continue forward, nothing is getting done. Tuvia has lost all hope and tells his new love Lilka to turn her gun on herself before the Germans would get her.

At that moment Asael arrives, despairing at the lack of movement with German troops soon to descend upon them. He immediately senses Tuvia's lethargy and steps in with a rousing speech:
"Nothing is impossible. What we have done is impossible. We will go forward, not by miracles, but by our own strength." He asks for rope, belts to support them as they cross the swamp. He deals with problems with decisiveness and swift
"We won't have enough rope"
"Then we'll link arms"
"What if someone slips?"
"The strong will carry the weak"

His confidence is infectious and soon there is a massive response with all sorts of belts flying in as the group numbering in their hundreds make their way across the swamp. Tuvia is now rejuvenated by his younger brother's initiative and thanks him with a kiss.

Upon reaching the other side, Tuvia's old teacher is breathing his last. He uses his final words to tell Tuvia: "I thank him (God) and I thank you". Despite organising food missions, ensuring that hundreds could be fed, killing his own horse at one stage to feed his community and leading them away safely from danger twice; this is the first time that Tuvia has been thanked for his efforts.

The final battle in the film sees the Jews face more Germans, this time armed with a tank. Yet clever thinking from Tuvia and the return of Zus ensure that once more the community is kept safe from harm, as they go on to build a new camp, brothers reconciled and hope regained.

Tuvia's leadership is strong and macho, using initiative and delegation to gain the support and following from those lacking direction. But it is also somewhat iron fisted. When confronted by Zus at one point, he tells him, "I cannot have you questioning me in front of the others". His reaction to Arkady in shooting him - which whilst seemed to fit with the survival mood of the film - showed a lack of patience and unwillingness to discuss problems with opposition. It is interesting to note that Tuvia, knowing what it is like to lead these people thanks Asael for leading them across the swamp, despite us never seeing him thanked himself until the very end. Are we thankful for our leaders? Do they know it?
Zus's leadership is as much about competing with his older brother as anything. When the Russian Partisan Commander asks him "Are you related to Bielski" he replies, "I am Bielski". Stronger in build and seemingly infuriated by his position in the family, he seeks to rebel against Tuvia and lead men to join the Partisan's only to find there that he has no identity or standing amongst them, some of whom are deeply Anti-Semitic. Zus allows his natural leadership abilities to be marred by jealousy and competition. Do we seek only to lead and never to be led when there are others with more experience? Can we take a back seat, and offer support?

Asael's leadership is one that develops throughout the film. He goes from the terribly timid boy who couldn't approach his future wife without fear to a man who shows courage in the face of adversity, and manages to pick up his community and its leader when they seemed resigned to death. He communicates well with Tuvia, letting him know what the mood around the camp is. He grows in confidence, yet never displays signs of cockiness. He knows when to take orders, and when to take over and give them.
For me Asael is the hero of the film. A young man who gains respect, and does not demand it. A young man who develops into a leader, discerning the positive and negative qualities from his older brothers and putting the good attributes into action. A man who serves others; Asael shows us what a good leader can be like.

The ultimate example of a leader is found in the Bible, in the example of Jesus. God manifest in man who spent three years training his disciples, imparting upon them his wisdom and knowledge. He taught them by observation, setting examples not only in leadership, but in how to live a life honouring to God. One of the most stunning examples he gave them was when he washed their feet, just hours before he would be led away to death. He showed that being a leader does not mean to be at the front all the time, to be served. Jesus showed that as a leader we should serve others, not only by washing the feet of those who followed him, but by the ultimate sacrifice - His death so that we can live.
Jesus said; "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

And so as he served us, we should serve him through serving others

Friday, 2 January 2009

Ethical Shopping

Something I feel very strongly about is the issue of Ethical Shopping. Simply, I divide it up into two areas - Fairtrade and Local

Fairtrade is the only logo on a product that guarantees a fair price for the worker in the developing country. This means that not only by buying Fairtrade products are you guaranteeing a fair price for the worker but it also means that when you buy a product that isn't Fairtrade, you may be giving money to a company who pay poor wages to workers who do long hours in poor conditions.

Fairtrade gives the coffee bean harvester maybe 4 times the wage of a non-fairtrade worker doing the exact same job. This extra money is then circulated in the local community. So the farmer is able to spend his money supporting his local butcher or crafts person. Fairtrade also take money and set it aside for community funds which are ploughed into schools, training, industrial technologies, sanitation.

How we can help
- Buy Fairtrade goods (common ones are coffee, bananas, tea, rice, clothing)
- Encourage others to do the same
- Ask at the places you shop in if they have a Fairtrade alternative (e.g. Trolans in Portstewart used to stock Fairtrade Wine, but not anymore - Pester them to bring it back!)
- Does your church, university, workplace use fairtrade products? Lobby them

Never underestimate the power of those in education. Around a year ago we were studying the reunification of Germany. We were told that when East and West became one again, those in the East started to buy Western basics, such as Bread, Milk, Eggs. It wasn't that they were cheaper, or even better, there was just this notion that it would be a luxury good coming from the land of capitalism. This had a huge knock on effect to the East German farmers and producers. Productivity in the region went down, unemployment went up, which was a disaster for an area struggling to cope with the introduction of a free market. So pretty soon the East Germans twigged on. Their buying products from the West was having a negative impact on the East's economy.

And so I wondered about my own consumer habits. What good am I doing to the Northern Irish economy (let alone the environment) by buying a Brocolli from Spain, when there are plenty of local ones in season? Who exactly benefits when I buy bread from Ayrshire and not from Armagh? An increase in local produce being bought, means more jobs in agriculture, production, retail. It also means more graduate jobs - A successful local business needs people with degrees in marketing, advertising, web design, business. We don't need to lose all our best graduates to England, if only we would contribute more to our local economy.

Buying local goods, inevitably means buying in local shops. In the past 15 months, I have shopped in Tescos once. I prefer instead to go to Buds in Portstewart, or Peter's on the Old Coach Road. Still small supermarkets, but with a greater range of local options (e.g. Linwoods, who don't supply to the mega chains, and Ballyrashane creamery). I like to shop at Glass's - A stunning fruit and vegetable shop in Bushmills, with a real mouth watering selection. And is it more expensive? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Why would a sack of spuds from McCurdy's at Portbradden cost more to bring down the road than potatoes from the south of England which have had to be transported on a truck and a ferry to get here (losing days of quality on the way)? With local food, you pay for quality, not for distribution costs.

That's not even going into the sub-ethical business model that the big supermarkets are often accused of (demanding exclusivity, ordering more stock than they need but only paying for what they take, demanding double the order at the same price to allow for a 2 for 1 offer and many many others)

I worry. I worry that if I'm allowed to get old and if I'm still in this country, I won't have any good local butchers or greengrocers to shop in where I can contribute to my local economy, where I can get personal friendly service, where I can get food that tastes better, where I can buy as much as I need (you try buying for one!).

I feel the Supermarket is stealing our community, and I want it back.

How we can help
- Read the label, find out where it is from and buy local goods and produce where possible
- Try the difference between the 'freshness' on offer at your supermarket than that at a greengrocers
- Try the difference between the 'taste' on offer at your supermarket than that at a butchers

Further Reading
Blytham, Joanna; Shopped - The shocking truth about British Supermarkets (2004 ed available on Amazon for a penny!)

Thursday, 1 January 2009

2009. A Year of Choices

I'm not one for New Years resolutions. Gym membership in the month of January will swell, cigarette sales will decline, sales of Dieting books will increase. And yet come February we'll be back to driving to the shop with gout to get our smokes. I'm not defeatist, just a realist. And so when Thom tries to encourage me to run the marathon with him, I think about it seriously for a while, and then come to the conclusion that it just won't happen. His optimism remains though, and I sinisterly look forward to around March, early April when he concedes he won't be doing it as we sit in the Harbour cafe eating a fry.

Yet, what does 2009 hold for me? As I went for a dander last night at the convenient time of 11.55pm, I thought about this, and about what 2008 was for me.

I think the past year was defined by leadership. Learning to put in to practice some of the skills that I have picked up over time and thoroughly enjoying that. Learning about leadership as I go, what it looks like, dealing with people, being vulnerable and open, serving.

This next year I feel may be future defining. Ultimately what I do come June or September could shape my future steps. If I take the option of a TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) then that looks down the road of living abroad, and using that to make a living whilst enjoying the culture of another country. If I take the option of working up here, then that may further entrench me in the local community, setting out a potential path of life on the North Coast. If I strap on a pair, and run for the Student Elections as I threaten to, then that might give me more of a taste of leadership, and who knows where that could end up.

Ultimately though, things could define my future that I can't forsee. If I get run over and lose the use of my legs, that shapes my future in an altogether different way. If I meet a girl who I fall hopelessly in love with, but who just happens to be on a one year sabbatical from her job as an oil rig driller somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, that may affect my future.

There is a balance. I have plans. God has plans. It's not about compromise, it's about honouring and serving God. Yet I can and should honour him will 'all my mind', using this wonderful brain that he has given me to reason out my future, to see where my desires lie and to go follow God there.

I'd love to live on the continent.
I'd love to be a journalist
I'd love to be a politician of sorts.

All three are never going to happen. Living on the continent completely forsakes the option of being involved in a sphere of influence in a place where you aren't immersed in the history and culture, let alone speak the language to any degree of fluency. So I have to choose.

I thank God for choice. Over the course of 2009, I get to make alot of choices. Sometimes it will be easy, between what is bad and what is good. Sometimes it will be difficult, discerning what is good from what is of God. And sometimes it will be pure lethal, trying to work out what to do when God gives me a few options and promises that whichever one I choose, he'll go with me and won't leave me.