Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Love is stronger than fear and hatred

I am once again reminded of the immense capacity for the human being to love, and the power of love over fear and hatred.

Hundreds of people lined up to give blood to help the victims of the shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. Volunteers amassed to assist those who were waiting in the queue for hours to make their donation. Local restaurants arrived with food donations, church groups brought bottles of water and local companies donated portable fans. Thousands stood united in love in vigils honouring those who tragically lost their lives.

For 77-year-old Bernard Kenny it was love for a fellow human being which no doubt compelled him to risk his life trying when trying to assist Jo Cox as she was brutally stabbed and shot by Thomas Mair.

Today, thousands of people pledged to #LoveLikeJo, who spoke out against hatred and extremism in all its forms and believed passionately in a love that is fierce, brave and humble and could cross any divide.

What strikes me is how strongly loves begets more love and how the response of love in the face of an act of hatred, even in its most extreme forms is infinitely more powerful and far reaching than than the hatred.

The speech you can hear in the below video featuring Lin Manuel-Miranda's tearful sonnet tribute to the Orlando victims at the Tony Awards sums it up beautifully:

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us/That nothing here is promised, not one day/This show is proof that history remembers/We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger/We rise and fall and light from dying embers/Remembrances that hope and love lasts long/And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love/Cannot be killed or swept aside

Let us all stand together united in love so that we can work together to create the better world which Jo believed in. Any act of love, no matter how small makes a difference. Like a phoenix love can and will rise through the flames that burn from hatred.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Failure just means you have tried

It took me a long time to figure out how to begin this blog post. I was so afraid of failing by writing some boring drivel that would immediately cause any reader to reach hurriedly for the search bar. The same fear has prevented me from posting anything since November last year, and before that 2013.

I have missed the fervour and enthusiasm I once delighted in when I posted regularly during my academic years and had great confidence in my writing ability. I had no fear of sharing my views and took intense delight in observing that my blog was reaching people in multiple locations across the globe.

Today, my anxiety has been bubbling away under the surface, manifesting itself through a shaking feeling, difficulty in concentrating and chest pain. But I wasn’t going to let it get the better of me.

Instead, I grabbed hold of it and used it to spur me on push myself outside my comfort zone. This was the first time I have encountered a positive experience of anxiety. Normally, I have allowed it to consume me and have spiraled into a full-blown anxiety attack.

Today was different. Some recent well-received advice was strongly manifesting itself in my mind. Embrace failure because all it means is that you have tried. If you don’t try you are already failing. It is my hope that in sharing this wisdom I will encourage others, for I feel my main aim in life is to enhearten others.

Failure does not have to be a bad thing. Just as I used my anxiety today to push myself, failure can be used as a steppingstone. It is in fact success if we learn from it.

I will close now by sharing with you some famous “failures” to give you some motivation and inspiration to keep on trying.

Oprah Winfrey, a lady dear to my heart for the insight she has given to me for meditation, was fired from her job co-anchoring the 6pm news at Baltimore’s WJZ. She was supposedly “unfit for television”.

Today, the admirable philanthropist is worth $3 billion. She could have simply given up when an assistant news editor told her she would be fired for “involving herself in other people’s stories” after she helped a family whose house caught on fire by providing them with blankets. Instead, she stayed true to her heart by continuing to involve herself in other people’s lives and allowed failures to be steps towards success.

At just 15 years of age, Jack Andraka had an idea to create a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer better than those developed by scientists, research labs and major pharmaceutical companies.

He wrote a proposal to develop a superior test. He was rejected by 199 research laboratories. Fortunately he did not abandon his dream, and the 200th research lab — at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — accepted him. There he successfully developed a test 100 times better and 26,000 times less expensive than the current test and will save thousands of lives.

In her own words, JK Rowling found that she had failed on an epic scale: “An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” After penning Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Edinburgh cafes whilst she and her daughter scarped by on benefits, 12 publishers rejected her manuscript before she was accepted by Bloomsbury.

At Harvard’s June 2008 graduation class, J.K. Rowling spoke eloquently of failures:  “You might never fail on the scale I did. But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”

So here’s to a life not without failure, but one in which we try and do not allow the fear of failure ensnare us.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Two phenomena stood out for me with regards to the attacks in Paris. The first being the immense capacity for the human being to love. The hatred of the attackers and their superiors was immeasurable, but countering that was the outstretching of intense love and kindness. People opened their homes to assist strangers, offered condolence, gave their blood to save the lives of those who were gravely injured. As I write the doctors and nurses will be lovingly working tirelessly and selflessly to save all of those hurt. In the months and years to come the friends, relatives, and colleagues of those directly affected will lovingly support them through this horrific trauma so that they can enjoy life again, be able to go out to a restaurant or concert without fear.  We could look at the world and despair, but as long as love exists there is hope.

The second was the outcry on social media, and the wave of blue, white and red as the “world” stood in solidarity to show their outrage. In reality it of course not the entire planet who mourns for the ~129 deaths and the broken lives of the surviving witnesses. For there are many people too impoverished or trapped in a miserable existence to even be aware of what is happening outside their own country, city, town, village, dwelling, room.

As it happened in a Western capital city that normally experiences peace on a day-to-day basis, the shockwaves will be felt for a long time to come. Yet terrorist attacks happen all over the world, regularly, and I do not see long lasting waves of solidarity for victims in countries where it seems to be accepted that violence simply happens there. On the same day that the French capital was targeted, 19 people were killed, and 33 injured in Baghdad. Just the day before in Beirut an ISIL suicide bomber detonated a bike loaded with explosives and as onlookers gathered, another man detonated himself. Collectively, they killed 43 and injured 240. I do not see profile pictures washed with Lebanese or Iraqi flags, or people urging others to pray for those affected by those monstrous attacks. Throughout this year alone many have died brutally or been badly injured in Yemen, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in Nigeria, in the Philippines etcetera yet their only seem to enter our consciousness for a fleeting period, their significance usurped as soon as something shocking happens closer to home or as soon as we become absorbed back into our own lives. 

Let us not just stand in solidarity with the victims of the Paris attack, but rather with each and every man, woman and child who has, who is, or who will be affected by violence so that we can live in a world where the French’s tripartite motto can stand true. A world of liberté, égalité and fraternité.  

Friday, 30 October 2015

You are amazing

"You are amazing," she told me. Those three words were exactly what I needed to hear tonight. There have been many occasions this year that I have felt far from being an amazing person. However, my friend's statement made me realise how far I have come in the past year, and powerfully enabled me to let go of all the times where I haven't behaved as the person I want to be.

Without going into detail, whilst I wish that my current circumstances weren't as they are, the experience is allowing me to take a deep look into myself and the way I interact with others in a way that I know will strengthen all the relationships I have and to be more comfortable with who I am. Sometimes it takes a mere few words to catalyse a powerful transformation. I say catalyse because it will not come without life experiences, or personal reflection. Of course, there are many life experiences that we would rather not suffer. However, horrible as they may be, they are opportunities for inner growth if we allow them to be.

Discovering who we are is not a linear process towards a set outcome. It is a journey, or rather an adventure. One which we go through not alone but with the help of others. What can your words do for someone today to help them in their path of metamorphosis?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

There was a time, O' Bee

There was a time, O’ Bee, when all crops were lovingly tended by conscientious farmers. Yet now the pesticide-soaked world is rapidly being seized by multinational companies like Monsanto who care not for you, nor your brothers, nor the farmers, nor the people who ingest their ‘food’ as they violate one species with the genes of another. gold and ebony black. Should your brothers see you laying there they would want to clothe themselves in mourning dress. Perhaps they too will fall from the sky, their wings suddenly freezing mid flight as they finally succumb to undernourishment  Your distant ancestors could buzz from flower to flower, soaking up their goodness.  But you, poor Bee, had no such pleasure. It was the genetically modified crops that slew you, deprived of the vital nutrients.

It was unbeknownst to you that the flowers you were pollinating would feed you so little. Tragically, many human beings too do not know the dangers of GMO, or chose to ignore them. Your brothers and I, O Bee, long for a time when the wickedness stops. When farmers will once again be in control of their precious lands. My dearly departed friend, how long will it continue that the rich in this world waste copious amounts of food whilst the spindly-legged, bloated-bellied poor wake up each day to a torturous struggle? It doesn’t have to be this way. You didn’t have to die. 

Photo by Peter Joseph Swanson, taken from here

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Exploring the Zooniverse

Last night I attented a talk at Sheffield’s lovely, independent Showroom Cinema by Astronomer Steven Bamford from Nottingham University about the Galaxy Zoo and Zooniverse citizen science projects

When Dr Chris Lintott, a researcher in the department of physics at the University of Oxford, first considered launching a website to ask the public to help classify photographs of 1m galaxies, he assumed it would probably take three or four years to complete. Galaxy Zoo was launched in July 2007, with a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged by the SloanDigital Sky Survey (SDSS). The images, taken automatically by the telescope, were previously unseen by human eyes.
Dr Lintott hoped that that each image would receive 10 classifications and that the public would prove able to accurately classify galaxies. Three weeks and 10m classifications later, he was proved right. In fact the public was sometimes better than professional astronomers at classifying them.
Users were asked to define whether it was a spiral galaxy, elliptical galaxy or a merger and if it was spiral, to specify the direction of the arms.

It is estimated that the perfect graduate student — essentially, a human computer that never eats, sleeps or takes a bathroom break — spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week analyzing Galaxy Zoo's data would have needed three to five years to match what Galaxy Zoo's volunteers collectively accomplished in the project's first sixth months.

Over 50 million classifications were received within the first year, contributed by more than 150,000 people. This saved many hours of valuable (and expensive) telescope time. It took cofounder Kevin Schawinski a mind-numbing week to classify 50,000 himself.

Confident in user’s classification abilities, Galaxy Zoo 2 was launched and users were asked to take a closer look at just over 200,000 of the brightest of the Sloan galaxies. They were asked about the number of spiral arms, the size of the galaxies' bulges and more. Within 14 months the site received over 60 million classifications.

The website’s third incarnation, Galaxy Zoo : Hubble drew from surveys conducted by the Hubble Space Telescope to view earlier epochs of galaxy formation. In these surveys, which involve copious days of dedicated observation time, light from galaxies which has taken billions of years to reach us can be seen. The idea behind it was to compare galaxies then to galaxies now, giving a clear understanding of the factors influencing their growth, whether through mergers, active black holes or simply star formation.

The current Galaxy Zoo website combines new imaging from Sloan, with the most distant images from Hubble's CANDELS survey, which uses the new Wide Field Camera 3 - installed during the final shuttle mission to Hubble - to take ultra-deep images of the Universe.

Data collected from this form of citizen scientists allowed scientists to write detailed papers, which would not have been possible without the public’s health. Even computers are incapable of efficiently differentiating between the different types of galaxies 

Perhaps the most interesting finding is Hanny's Voorwerp
(dutch for Hanny’s object) discovered by Hanny van Arkel, a green gas cloud which looks a bit like a monster, below a galaxy. It is thought to be a portion of a gas-cloud, mostly made up of hydrogen, heated by the jet from a black hole.

If you’d like to have a go at classifying galaxies click here to be redirected to the Galazy Zoo website. Make sure that you sign-up and are logged in so that you can get credit for any interesting discoveries you make. Or if galaxy classification isn’t your thing, visit the Zooniverse website, which sprung from the Galaxy Zoo project. It allows you to do other forms of citizen science, from exploring the surface of Mars to help discover what the weather is like on Mars, to helping marine researchers understand what whales are saying.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kate Middleton and the topless tempest

Looking at photos of a respectfully shrouded Duchess of Cambridge beaming widely in her visit to a mosque in Kuala Lumpa I detect a falseness in her overly joyous demeanour. She is forced to constantly act in the real-life play that is her life.

Strikingly, these images were circulating simultaneously to those of the topless of Kate Middleton on a private terrace in Provence published by Closer magazine in France. They are a stark contrast to one another.
BEAMING The Dutchess of Cambridge and Prince William
You cannot help but think of Princess Diana and the photos snatched with a long lens whilst she was holidaying with Dodi Fayed.

Publishing the photos is no doubt breaking French privacy laws, considered to be the most robust in Europe.

’s not the first time that compromising photos of royals have surfaced from France. Twenty years ago, photos of the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was pictured topless with an American businessman sucking her toes. And in 1994 paparazzi took pictures of Prince Charles stood naked on a balcony of a French chateau near Avignon.

French laws ban not only disclosing someone’s private life, but also forbid the “theft of personal image” which technically bans paparazzi taking photos even in public places. But such laws did nothing to deter the magazine from publishing the photos as they knew they could make sums far more superior than any fine they would be punished with. Raunchier titles, like Closer, Public and Voici, unashamedly indulge in celebrity gossip and in fact budget for seemingly inevitable legal payouts.

GROTESQUE The cover of  Closer

Voyeurism in its extreme, the publication of these photos is a disgusting invasion of privacy. Whilst some remain sympathetic, others think that she brought it on herself. 

“Any woman, let alone one who has acquired some celebrity, who bares her bosom where she’s visible to a long lens is a fool,” wrote Erasma2 in a Washington Post comment thread

“No use for the photographer or the magazine, but no sympathy for Kate either.” "Kate topless even on private property should expect the photos to be splashed in the news,” added commenter Desertdiva. “There is NO expectation of privacy for anyone."

Would such people be of the same opinion if photos of their naked or half-naked son or daughter started to circulate the internet? I doubt it. 

The question of where a person is really in private is a complicated, one and it is not just famous people who are affected by since we live in a “I just tagged you on Facebook without your knowledge” culture. 

There is clearly a massive difference between Harry drunkenly gallivanting naked at a Las Vegas party with strangers and choosing to disrobe whilst sunbathing with your husband. 

Perhaps she shouldn’t have ventured onto the balcony. But where do you draw the line? What if she happened to be nearby a window that has accidentally been left uncovered for example. The fact remains that it was in the environs of a private place and not somewhere for all to see. The excuse is that the photos were taken from a public road. Of course it would have been easier to use a drone, something which is becoming increasingly popular amongst journalists and ethically-challenged photographers. 

It will be interesting to see how the storm continues over the weeks to come.