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

UniStats.com - 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 Unistats.com. 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.