Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekend working...

This is the worst time to have a relationship.

But I have told myself that I'm not going to let the PhD be my excuse anymore to not have a life.

Even so, it is hard. My mind wants to wander to anywhere and everywhere except the thesis. Internet is a huge time suck, so is companionship, even though the latter is what I crave when I could paradoxically least afford the time for it.

Sorry my darling. Your being here does make a huge difference to my life, I'm just sorry that I cannot share in your life as much as I would have loved to under normal circumstances. Please bear with me.

* * *

I have learnt and have got to remember the following every single day:

Perseverance means that you cannot be a perfectionist. If I cannot get it right the first time, I have to keep trying. Giving up is not an option. Losing heart is not an option. Losing momentum simply means that I have got to try even harder.

My only option is to keep going.

I CANNOT BE DISTRACTED. Not by my love, not by friends and family, not by office politics, not by students' pleas, not by the Internet, not by blogging, not by blogs. I cannot be distracted by my burning desire to comment on the state of the world and/or to record the ephemera of everyday life. I have got to stay focused.

My words are my bricks and mortar with which to build a meaningful thesis. They demand my concentration and my mental energy. They need my belief and my vision and my action.

So I have got to go now.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quiz blitz...

Did these a while back...

On what colour I am (as if you couldn't tell from looking at my blog :P! Proud to be from the Emerald Isle I am too!)

Your Life is 72% Green


You live a very green life, and you're aware of how your actions help the earth.

Of course, it's hard to be totally green. But when you make a tradeoff, you know why you're making it.



Your Blog Should Be Green


Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff.

You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.

However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.


You Are A Green Girl


You feel most at home in a world of ideas.

You're curious and logical - and enjoy a good intellectual challenge.

You're super cool, calm, and collected. Very little tries your patience.

Your only fear? People not realizing how smart and able you are!



On what kind of President am I? (Only a couple of items - both I could have easily gone for either way - turned me from JFK to Bill or vice versa. Anyway, it was no secret that I whole-heartedly supported Hillary during the primaries... So far, President Obama seems to be doing the right things, except perhaps his continuing pro-Israeli stance. But on that score he is probably more neutral than Hillary).

You Are 92% Democrat


You are a card carrying Democrat, and a pretty far left one at that!

There's no chance anyone would ever mistake you for a Republican.



You Are Most Like Bill Clinton


No doubt, your legacy may be a little seedier than you'd like.

But even though you've done some questionable things, you're still loved by almost all.



You Are Most Like John F. Kennedy


You live a fairy tale life that most people envy.

And while you may have a few dark secrets, few people know them.



You Are 8% Capitalist, 92% Socialist


You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you'd like to see it fixed.

As far as you're concerned, all the wrong people have the power.

You're strongly in favor of the redistribution of wealth - and more protection for the average person.


And finally, I have been thinking of getting a dog for a goodish while now... Especially as it seems that I managed to not completely kill the plants that I have, though I have been advised to perhaps graduate to fish or a bird first before taking on a puppy...

You Should Own a Beagle


Low maintenance, very friendly, and sturdy.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Year of the Ox Everyone!






Pictures taken last month (and technically also last year) - the calamondins (the very same pot that were flowering last summer) are actually twice the size now as the ones shown in the pictures. So glad to see them thriving even better than last spring, when I first got them.

Gung Hei Fat Choi!

Hope you're all enjoying the Chinese New Year celebrations wherever you are :) Am ensconced at the family home now waiting for the big meal later...

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Friday, January 23, 2009

WTF?!?!?

[Reader Beware: Angry rant with toxic language right ahead. Proceed at your own peril.]

I feel like hitting somebody right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And all because of the rather useless and oversensitive girl in the office who's been trying to second guess my every motive lately.

FERCHRISSAKES I don't have the time, ability, and most most importantly, INCLINATION, to play your bloody mind games!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When all I was trying to understand was if you have understood my previous, COULDN'T BE SIMPLER instruction correctly (pass my contact number to students so that they could reach me out of office), after you yourself admitted that you have failed to do that, and I wanted then to find out exactly what the story was regarding a particular student's case, HOW DOES THIS TRANSLATE TO ME ALL OF A SUDDEN BLAMING YOU UNFAIRLY???????????????????

I haven't even opened my mouth to utter any words that remotely resemble the word "Blame", and so there's not even any question of whether such purely hypothetical blame are being lain fairly or unfairly. All I said was "Oh I thought I made that quite clear in our previous conversations that you were to pass my number to the students who rang in?" And all I subsequently asked during our phone conversation was to get more information about the student's case itself and what he said and wrote.

AND you KNEW I was in a hurry - ringing me at 4pm when I was on my way to a meeting (I have told you same and you can hear traffic around me on the phone) and I needed to get back to the student by 4:45pm (he in fact rang at 4:35pm) MEANT THAT I DID NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF TIME TO LISTEN TO YOUR OVERWROUGHT EXPLANATION OF WHY YOU DIDN'T PASS ON MY NUMBER TO THE STUDENT AS INSTRUCTED!!!!

If you want to be a fucking crybaby about it just because I moved swiftly on to the details of the student case itself during our phonecall in a hurry. FINE. Just DON'T FALSELY ACCUSE ME OF BLAMING YOU WHEN I HAVE DONE NOTHING OF THE SORT!!!!! I didn't even have the fucking time to start laying blame on anybody during our short conversation, and your pre-emptive e-mail does NOT IMPRESS. AT ALL.

JESUS H CHRIST!!!

What a way to head into the Chinese New Year. BUT THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY!!

Addendum:

The below is actually what I wrote back to her (Note: Words in italics are those I wish I have taken out of the reply e-mail I sent her. Words in [CAPS] are words I wish I have included instead.):


Regarding your concerns about the phone call, I thought I have explained quite clearly that students should be asked to ring me directly on my mobile number. Simply stating this does not mean that I was blaming you [IN ANY WAY, NOT TO MENTION WHETHER] unnecessarily or unfairly for the situation regarding XX, nor does it mean I did not appreciate the fact that you're doing your best to help from a liaison perspective. I just wanted to make sure that you understood correctly what I have asked you to do when dealing with student queries coming into the office while I am out of the office. This is especially important after it transpired that there may be a difference in what I have said and the notes you've taken regarding the written response to XX.

Moreover, as you probably realised [ARE AWARE DURING OUR PHONE CONVERSATION], I was in a hurry when you called (you left a voicemail at 4pm which I just missed and I called you back straight away after listening to your message, and [AS I STATED] I was on my way to a meeting [AND YOU COULD HEAR TRAFFIC AROUND ME DURING OUR PHONE CONVERSATION]), and I needed to get as much information as I could from you in order to be able to respond to XX when he rang later before the end of office hours at 5pm (which he did at 4:35pm, just when I managed to get out of the meeting).

I appreciate that you took the time below to explain to me the reason why you didn't pass on my number to XX at the first instance, which I agree is very reasonable [ENOUGH], but I hope you can also understand that our conversation yesterday was never about placing blame on anybody, but for me to understand that you understood our initial agreement and what happened with XX in a limited time. So forgive me therefore for saying this, but perhaps sometimes you may have a tendency to take things personally which were not meant to be taken personally? [IN ANY CASE] If there are misunderstandings or mistakes [ANY ISSUES] in the course of our dealings with students, then these need to be stated and discussed in the open. Sweeping them aside out of consideration for potentially hurt feelings may not help us to serve our students ultimately, do you agree?

I await your kind response to the above too, and please understand I'm approaching the above [PURELY] from the perspective of getting a constructive dialogue, [AND] not [TO ENGAGE IN] a blame-shifting exercise [AT ALL].

Best wishes,

Snowdrops



Comments on how I should have handled it, and/or what I should do going forward, are very very welcome. I really can't pretend that I have had vast experience of handling admin staff - in fact, my experience of getting any secretarial person to do anything productive had generally been less than positive.

But if it's not them, then it must be me. Now that I've calmed down a wee bit (though I'm still seething over the false accusation of blame-laying!), I'm willing to learn.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Are you Monica-and-Chandler or Ross-and-Rachel?

It has often been said that the greatest love story in that quinessential 90's sitcom, Friends, was the one between Ross and Rachel. Their on-and-off, off-and-on romance represented the key plotline in the series, and sustained the Friends franchise for the ten long years that the series ran, right up to the very last scene in the very last episode.

I used to absolutely adore Ross, his character represented exactly the sort of bookish intellectual type that was (and is still) just my cup of tea, in spite of the fact that all my then college friends found him geeky and insufferable and dull and arrogant (perhaps because I was exactly the same??), and they really couldn't fathom what Rachel saw in him. The fact that he was played by the not-so-photogenic David Schwimmer didn't help. In their eyes, his only redeeming quality was his puppy-dog devotion to Rachel. He was absolutely adorable in the laundry scene when he was trying valiantly to tell Rachel how he feels about her, but couldn't.

Instead, my friends preferred Joey, by far. Yes he was a bit dim, but who cares when he was played by the dreamy Matt Le Blanc. More importantly, among the guys in Friends he was the most easy-going character, with a great sense of humour and an ability to not take himself too seriously. His lack of critical faculty was precisely what made him so genuinely cheerful -- and a great sense of humour is one of the most (if not the most) prized qualities in a guy in Irish girls' eyes. Moreover, despite all his Cassanova ways, deep-down he was a pretty decent bloke. When Rachel and Joey finally got together late in the series, my friends felt vindicated finally (and fervently wished that they managed to work through their inhibitions regarding Ross, but as that was ultimately in vain, it made Ross an even bigger villain in their eyes).

Nobody however - at least nobody I've met - had ever professed a liking, much less love, for Chandler.

Yes, Chandler. The Clown. The deeply insecure male who would rather stand the blood-curdling cries of "Oh. My. God" from the disgusting Janice than be alone by himself. The guy who would like to be considered "the funny man" but was only hilarious because he always, always, managed to say the most inappropriate things at the most inopportune moments. Unlike Phoebe, who was blissfully unaware of the impact of her awkward comments, and thus remained a light-hearted and refreshing presence among her friends, Chandler was all too painfully aware of his inadequacies as a human being. His only saving grace was due solely to the power of empathy -- we could all identify with him because we have all been weak and insecure and unsure of ourselves. We could feel his pain, the desire for the ground to open up and swallow him to save him from deep mortification as he lurched from one awkward social situation to the next. We've all been there ourselves, but we would never say that we like him.

I thus used to think that Monica and Chandler as a couple was really more a pairing of convenience, a co-dependent relationship because each cannot find another person in the world who could ever stand (and understand) them. Monica was a neurotic control-freak made insecure by the casual cruelty of her exacting mother, who fed her a steady drip of self-reproach ever since she was born and found that she couldn't ever compete with Ross for her parents' affection, so that in spite of her good looks and perfect record on everything, Monica remained weighed down by a tonne of childhood emotional baggage -- the kind that Chandler instinctively appreciated because of his own traumatic parental issues.

This is totally unlike the relationship between Ross and Rachel, which I thought for the longest time as the quinessential great romance. They could have paired up with other people, and they had paired up with other people, but in the end they still found that the other person is the most important love of their lives, in spite of all the issues and obstacles they had to work through to get there. And they got there in the end... Oh, isn't that just wonderful? Isn't that what love is all about?

Somehow over the years, I'm slowly beginning to think that Ross-and-Rachel is really not such a great love story after all, and that the truly great love story is actually happening - quietly, without fanfare - between Monica and Chandler.

When I occasionally caught the re-runs of Friends episodes now (they are everywhere on Irish telly), I finally opened my eyes to how absolutely spoilt and cowardly Ross was. His indecision and inability to express his feelings to Rachel, indicators of his innocent gaucheness which was so adorable to me at the time (I was a naive young thing who had only ever experienced the sweet awkwardness of puppy love when the series first ran), seems to me now just pathetic self-denial. I can't believe now that it was really his friends who helped Ross make up his mind that he really loves Rachel after all, rather than coming to that conclusion himself, uncoerced. That it was actually Phoebe who literally had to push him out the door and drove him all the way to not one airport but two, that it was she who decided to risk HER life to speed through rush-hour traffic and it was she who never gave up on the idea of reaching Rachel in the face of surmounting odds against them. And all these just to get Ross to stop his feckless dithering and profess his love to Rachel already. In the end, it was Rachel who turned up at Ross's door, whilst he stood helplessly by the answering machine, unable to do anything to achieve his aspirations in love.

Jesus, what a wuss!! Why didn't I see it the first time round?? Ross didn't deserve Emily, and he actually, now that I really think about it, didn't deserve Rachel at all. His propensity to get married and divorced several times whilst he was still in his twenties and early thirties no longer had that cute naivete that I adored about him, but is rather just a plain testament to his inability to commit.

In contrast, I am really finding myself liking Chandler more and more. He is prepared to be vulnerable in front of the person he loves. And he is able to love. He knows what Monica needs emotionally and psychologically, and he is more than willing - and capable - of handling a headcase like her. More to the point, he doesn't hesitate. He is unflinching and courageous when it comes to loving and defending her - not only against others, but more importantly, against herself. He doesn't mind that she could look an absolute mess at times - he even managed to find her sexy when she had a horrible flu. More importantly, Chandler doesn't need others to tell him that Monica, in spite of all her many, many faults, is the love of his life.

In short, Chandler is my hero!

Words cannot express how lucky I am - a complete Monica clone - to be finally able to move past the Ross-and-Rachel phase of infantile on-and-off infatuation to an altogether more adult relationship with someone who - miracle of all miracles - resembles the very best of Chandler.

Not because you're in any way the clown, my darling, but you keep me light, and sane, and allow me to see the beauty in this world in spite of all its dreariness and cruelty. I can now see how right my college friends were - a great sense of humour is the most valuable quality in a partner. We can laugh at ourselves, and at the world, in good times and bad.

My dear, all your weaknesses, I love, perhaps even more so than your many strengths (perhaps my previous poem is already outdated?). I just cannot ever fathom how someone would, or even could, feel the same way about my neurotic, far-too-serious self. You are an amazing gift.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

No time to blog... but the world unfortunately doesn't stop

Have had no time to blog since returning to work in 2009... so in spite of the best of my intentions I've been extremely lousy in following up with blog replies, etc. Sincere apologies...

Am continually depressed by the news from Gaza. Saw Questions and Answers on RTE last night and I cannot believe the smug callousness of that old woman who argued that the violence perpetuated by the Israelis on the Palestinians was in no way disproportionate purely because of what's written in the Hamas charter. The fact that she looked respectable just made her chilling remarks even more scary.

Excuse me old lady, but what Israel committed in action was a far more unconsionable crime against humanity (breaking the ceasefire agreement contrary to much of its propaganda that it was Hamas who broke it; using white phosperous bombs in the densely-populated Gaza strip which is a designated war crime according to UN charter; bombing UN schools despite having been given precise coordinates beforehand; mounting civilian deaths including medics and hundreds of women and children despite its bare-faced lies that it was taking care to avoid so-called collateral damage and that the majority of those killed were alleged terrorists when they were simply citizens driven out of their homes and had no safe shelter to turn to; and all these were only a handful of its crimes against humanity in THIS war and not counting its economic blockade against a population under siege over the last three years, passively killing thousands via malnutrition and the withholding of life-saving medicine; and its war in Lebanon in 2006 and its bloody massacre of Palestinian civilians back in the 8o's as admitted by its own soldiers and indeed being made into the film Waltz with Bashir) than anything the Hamas had ever committed in action, despite the words in its charter. And action speaks far louder than words. Just because the Israeli state government is wily enough to hide its inhuman and systematic genocide of the Palestinian people behind self-serving justifications does not mean that the rest of the world are totally blind to its state terrorism.

I felt I need to write a proper angry letter but am too depressed and exhausted that I simply don't have the energy ...sigh...

(Thank goodness therefore for articles on the Guardian by articulate and conscientious Jewish commentators like the world-class pianist Daniel Barenboim and the professor of Middle-Eastern Studies at Oxford University, who are not blind to the terrible atrocities commited by the Israeli government in their name.)

I thought that my interest in politics would wane as a result of the fact that I'm now in a relationship... turns out that I still have plenty of interest, and I still pay attention, but it's just that I no longer have the time nor energy to respond properly to world events. Is that a good or bad thing? I feel sooooo impotent...

Cease and desist, please. Stop the slaughter. Now.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

2008, a (rather shallow) personal review

This is coming a little bit late, but then really this is only the first proper week of the new year so I guess I'm still okay (and at least I managed to get the depressing global review out of the way).
(The numbers below signify perhaps a reverse chronological order, but really doesn't mean anything apart from the order in which the items popped into my head.)

1. It's really a blessing to be able to ring in the new year with the person you love and care about, and who miraculously feel the same way about you. I am so happy we could just be. Thank you for being with me. xoxo

2. It's been a long time since I've received Christmas presents that I actually liked, but this year unbelievably I received two gifts that really made me feel that the giver actually knows me very well. One is vouchers for a cookery course at Cooks Acdademy; the other is a beautiful set of dessert cutlery from Newbridge silverware.... I'm really gobsmacked and my eyes are filled with tears of joy and gratitude again even just thinking about it. Thank you my darlings.

3. I finally learnt all the words to the carol "Twelve Days of Christmas" - it's really great as a party game right before dinner especially if you have a group of friends (or even reluctant family members!) to whom you could assign particular lines to get them to sing for their festive supper!

4. It's been rather an unlucky year where my gadget purchases are concerned. Now with all the post Christmas / January sales on, I feel an even bigger fool regarding my unfortunate sucker status where PCWorld/Dell are concerned... Can I do better in the new year?

5. I didn't travel at all in the past year, not even to Newry (a town in Northern Ireland close to the border) where all my friends and acquainstances have been over the holiday period to load up on once-in-a-lifetime bargains as the Euro almost reaches parity with the weak Pound. Thus I am one of those smug annoying people who could lecture others about being green when really it was more to do with the fact that I lacked the time to go gallivanting around the globe. Perhaps later this year if all goes to plan... (fingers crossed!)

6. I'm really surprised to all of a sudden come to the reaslisation that I'm beginning to display signs of ageing. OMG! When did this happen????????????? The chief signs are thining hair and shadows under my eyes which are no longer easily shifted after some proper sleep. Thankfully there is no sagging skin or wrinkles, etc. But still, allow me a panicked "Arrrrrghhhhh!" Although I have quite a lot of skincare products (I tended to buy these in binges), I don't really have a beauty regime that I stick to (hey I already found it hard enough to keep to a routine of cleaning my contact lenses okay?) Perhaps out of sheer necessity I will now need to start building a beauty routine into my daily routine... (Probably it's way too late anyway!! Who'd heard of only instituting a beauty regimen at age 30!!!!! Arrgh! I feel like the fabled grasshopper who wastes time singing all summer, and now must try to behave like an ant where my looks maintenance is concerned...)

7. Where general health is concerned, I definitely have been eating healthily thanks to my new-found enthusiasm for home-cooking (and I've ALWAYS been a vegetable person even when I was a child). But my sleeping pattern has been out-of-whack, and is still out-of-whack... I must do better on this, especially if the shadows under my eyes are not to turn into full-blown panda eyes for the rest of my life!! Exercise-wise, although I don't need to lose weight (sorry I've been a skinny cow all my life), I still get my bit in by walking miles to the bus-stop, but I must really, really curb my taxi habit!! If only for the sake of financial belt-tightening in this year rather than from a purely health-and-exercise perspective.

8. Last but not least, looking back on my list of new year's resolutions last year, it seems, execution-wise I still have my priorities upside down, but I'm also glad that I'm able to really pursue a few of them with relative degrees of success:

1. PhD. Still plugging away at this, but am working to a clear time-table for submission, and am comforted by this line from Yeats, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of a passionate intensity."

2. "Make time for family and friends, and learn to be relaxed with them." I think I have made reasonable efforts to achieve this in the past year, but still could do much, much better in the new year (i.e. THIS YEAR!)...

3. "Learn to have real courage for my convictions (including all my aspirations in life and love). Put my convictions into practice and continue to rise above those unethical few with axes to grind." I think I am beginning to be able to do the putting-convictions-into-practice bit, and I think I have done pretty well in rising above office politics stuff in the past year... the fact that I released my pent-up work rants on this blog was actually a great, great help. I'm grateful to those of you who have put up with my often irrational rants over the past year on this blog and yet amazingly remain supportive. Thanks a million guys :)

4. "Be prudent in my finances and continue to re-build my nest egg after I spent a good chunk of it building and feathering my new nest last year." Oh well, due to circumstances beyond my control, there was no way I could re-build my nest egg over the past year, in tandem with the majority of innocent savers/small investors the world over. I am thankful though that I still have some level of savings and I will continue to learn to practise the age-old virtue of thrift. (As well as working hard to stay in my job I suppose...)

5. "Continue upgrading my culinary skills, practise the piano for pleasure and go to a dance class in spite of not being able to tell my left foot from my right." I think I am progressing rather steadily on the first item (hooray!); and I did practise the piano albeit only on the rare occasion, but it was strictly for pleasure (hah! what a get-out clause that was!); but I failed to join a dance class at all. (Hmmm, something to look forward to this year?)

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008... a depressing global review and a search for light in 2009

2008 has been rightly described by many commentators as being an "annus horribilus" - what with the once-in-a-century global financial meltdown, the cyclone devastation in Burma, the 7.9 earthquake in China, the continuing genocide in Darfur and the belligerence of Mugabe in his ugly hold on power in Zimbabwe, the assasination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan just before the start of the year and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai towards the end of the year, and then, as the year almost draws to a close, this latest human-made atrocity of the Isrealis' murderous attack on Palestinians in the Gaza strip over the last seven days, with the criminal silence and subsequent undermining of the UN efforts to call for an immediate ceasefire by the U.S. administration and the U.S. media.

Even the occasional bright spots are marred by events before and after - the historic election of Barack Obama as the "hope and change" President-elect, whose actions before and after seem to undermine his credibility as a real agent for change; the spectacular Summer Olympics in Beijing marred by Tibetan protests as well as controversies over its opening ceremony and athlete ages, and where it subsequently emerged that local governments deliberately suppressed stories about its contaminated milk products for the sake of the Olympics, as if China has not hurt its own children enough with poisonous lead-based toys and shoddily-constructed school buildings.

2008 was the year when citizens around the world opened their eyes to the sheer corruption of their political regimes, whether in the West or the East, developed or developing. The U.S. government under George W. Bush has lost all credibility - moral or otherwise - steadily over 8 years of his tenure, but even the most ardent Bush critic could never foresee the new low that his administration could sink to as the sheer scale of corproate mismanagement and outright fraud in the banking sector came to light, aided and abetted by an incompetent administration which derided any sort of regulation as hamstringing entrepreneurship, rather than seeing them rightfully as essential instruments to guarding public interest against unfettered corporate greed. Similarly in Britain, Gordon Brown and his New Labour party was met with derision and despair from a populace horrified at how centuries-old freedoms are being continually whittled away in the name of national security, and especially at his economic mismanagement as a Chancellor and then as a Prime Minister that left a property bubble unchecked whilst allowing the hollowing out of the UK manufacturing sector to occur amid the simultaneous deregulation of the UK financial sector.

The crucial question is, can 2009 be the year in which we, individually and collectively, make a positive difference to the outcome of at least one of the above disastrous events of the past year? Whilst many solutions have been proffered by experts and pundits alike in the media about what we should do in the face of the global financial crisis, it seems that not only do the solutions require significant individual and political will, but there is a danger that what is rational and viable at the individual level (e.g. be financially prudent) may prove disastrous at the collective level (the potential for a global depression brought on by deflationary economics); and indeed, vice versa (humongous economic stimulus package at the taxpayers' expense will lead to further unsustainable borrowing which will fall again on the shoulders of individuals, both this generation and the next).

We are really stuck between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. We do need some kind of stimulus package that is both environmentally sustainable and economically viable in the long run, so that the expenses that future generations are being asked to shoulder on our behalf now are not being frittered away into greedy bankers' pockets or used to further fuel our collective dependency on carbon-based fuels, but are actual investment into developing sustainable infrastructure for a global population, within a model of economic organization that future generations can reap benefits from in a much more equitable manner than the current template of Anglo-Saxon neoliberal capitalism can ever realistically accomplish.

But we cannot simply leave it to the so-called "experts" to provide answers to the above. If anything, 2008 should teach us that the sole top-down model in any sphere of human endeavour -- whether political, economic, or social -- is no longer viable. Each of us needs to stay informed and vigilant, for we could no longer naively rely on government officials nor trust the corporate elite to respect, much less safe-guard, the public good. This does not mean that the only model of governance for the future should be sheer anarchy, where everyone looks out only for number one. No, it means all of us need to be active members of an informed citizenry, one that champions universal human rights and advocates for the rule of law, for participatory democracy to work.

So in 2009, perhaps there are a few things we can do, or can do more, if we don't want our collective human race to usher in the new Dark Ages by the end of our first decade of the new millenium:

1. Stay informed. Read a range of newspapers (online or dead-tree) everyday. Read international coverage of events happening in countries far away from yours, because you are a citizen of the world, and globalisation means that none of us can afford to be parochial. Be conscious of editorial bias, whether allegedly leftwing or rightwing (hah, including this post, of course!). The only way to stay broad-minded is to be exposed to opinions very different from your own and recognising where they are coming from. Use reason and logic, and well-researched facts, to combat misconceptions and slander. But choose your battles (as I'm trying to learn to choose mine).

2. Keep engaged in the political process. If you are, like me, lucky enough to be living in a country where there is still a semblance of a functioning democratic governance structure, do not take this privilege for granted. If your instinct is to turn away from politics, spare a thought for the Palestinians or the Zimbabweans, or indeed the Chinese in Mainland China and even, I'm extremely sorry to say, Hong Kong. Fulfil your citizen duty by being informed and engaged, register to vote, and don't fritter away your votes, and don't be scared of opportunities to raise your voice in public domains, and don't be scared of political debates - it's the measure of a mature society that allow its citizens to throw in their tuppence's worth without fear of reprisal; and fear of ridicule should not bar one from expressing one's sincerely-held views.

3. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This mantra for sustainable living should be manifested as far as possible in our everyday lives. None of us, even the rich, if they have an iota of social conscience, can afford to live in a disposable society anymore. Reduce your consumption of tat, or at least restrict them to those that you could reuse (I was glad that, save for the Christmas crackers, the festive tat I bought for Christmas 07 and 08 could all be reused for future years, and perhaps I should give up on Christmas crackers altogether this year). Choose "naked" or less prepackaged goods (or complain when the product is excessively packaged, or not based on more sustainable materials), try bringing your own coffee mugs to get coffee at coffee chains, and of course, bring your own shopping bags wherever possible; and buy local and buy seasonal where your food purchases are concerned. Spare a thought for those not so lucky with such ready access to food and water - the food and water crisis has not yet really touched us yet.

4. Look out for our fellow men and women, children and the elderly alike. The credit crunch will hit us hard, but it will hit the less fortunate amongst us even harder. If 2009 is going to be bad for all of us, it will be even worse for those among us who struggle desperately even in the so-called good times. Don't shun charities just because it is hard enough to tighten your own belt. If you cannot afford to be charitable with your money, be charitable with your time and talents. Volunteer to help out in meaningful ways, lend your voice to good causes, pay attention even when the last thing you need is a depressing story. You might be inspired by the human spirit to endure, and the fact that you care - even if it means just not turning a blind eye - counts. A lot.

5. Make time for your loved ones. Be there, listen, be present. Everyone will have their own worries, people will get frustrated in bad times, but there is no need to take things personally, and know the important thing is that we're lucky enough to still have each other. Isn't that amazing?

I know a lot of the above is far easier said than done. But I will try even more in 2009. Hope you will, too.

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A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

SNOWDROPS
S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?