Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Replacing religion's false comforts

It wasn't quite billed as a clash of titans, religion versus science, but with the Rocky walk-on music it hinted that we might be in for something special.

In the end, what we got was a rather tame affair -- shadow-boxing if you will. There were a few reasons for that. For one, the format certainly didn't help.

After opening statements, each man was given separate, alternate questions to answer. So it made it difficult for a robust, heated encounter to develop. A time limit on those answers would have done no harm either.
Richard Dawkins debates Colombian Jesuit priest Father Gerardo Remolina at Bogotá's Javeriana University ...
Clash of the heavyweights - well, not quite ...

Another reason as to why sparks weren't exactly flying is that the opposing sides weren't actually that much opposed to each other -- at least that's how it appeared.

We're referring to Javeriana University Bogotá's 'debate' titled 'Is God an illusion?' (¿Es Dios una ilusión?). The protagonists were Colombian Jesuit priest and author Father Gerardo Remolina and the British evolutionary biologist, author and atheist Professor Richard Dawkins.

We more or less knew what we were going to get from Dawkins.

It was Fr Remolina who surprised somewhat. He basically came across as a man of reason and some science who has just happened to have made a good living from something he doesn't entirely believe in. Or if he does fully believe in it, he's not very convincing.

He effectively reduced all the core tenets of Catholicism to symbols. 'Is God an illusion?' 'Well, what is God?' 'Eh, you tell us, Father.' 'Does heaven exist?' 'Well, what is heaven exactly?' OK, we're using a bit of poetic licence here but many of his answers to questions that are at the core of Christianity were abstract, to say the least.

This aspect to proceedings did not surprise us. He had a fair idea of the gallery he was playing to. (In one way, at the risk of being facetious, it was like the 'That would be an ecumenical matter' scene from the Irish sitcom Father Ted.)

It would have been much more entertaining to have a fundamentalist Christian from Bible Belt USA on stage. A creationist to the core.

Their phoney arguments are much more engrossing. It's not for nothing the influence of the traditional Christian churches is on the wane. These new guys on the block have a far sexier story to sell; and selling it they certainly are. There's money in that crucifix you know. (They definitely would have felt at home with the Rocky entrance music anyway.)

Of course, religion's greatest strength in the face of rigorous scientific enquiry is the comfort it provides. It's a release from the trials and tribulations of this mortal world we toil in.

It tells us that there is something more than our present existence, something greater. It can give hope in the midst of despair. Who cares if the evidence suggests otherwise? Remember, 'happy are those who have not seen yet still believe.'

Stony-faced science, in contrast, can leave us cold. Take Dawkins' rebuttal to that comforting aspect of religion, quoting the Canadian cognitive psychologist Steve Pinker: 'If you're being chased by a tiger it may comfort you to believe it's a rabbit. But it's a tiger and it's going to eat you.' Doesn't tend to leave one all that chirpy, does it?

Yet, science isn't in the game of emotions. It's about truth-seeking. Fantasy and fiction, on the other hand, by definition operate without the inconveniences of having to prove themselves. In this regard, a fantastical story of everlasting life is generally going to appeal more than the theory that when we die, that's it.

Religions across the world, despite the many glaring holes and contradictions in their stories (it's not called having 'faith' for nothing), still trump atheism.

Thus, when asked if he felt we were coming near the end of religion, Dawkins said he can only hope that that's the case. The reality, however, suggests we're still some way off that juncture at this stage in our development as a species.

Some people might ask, 'So what? What's the big deal?' As we wrote about before, getting personal comfort, strength even, from belief in a higher power is one thing -- what you do in private is your own business after all. Forming whole societies based on religious doctrine that doesn't stand to reason is quite another thing.

We're not going to take up space here disputing the argument that a religion-free world would be some sort of immoral, violent backwater.

Coming back to comfort, it's not like an atheist is devoid of it. Science can provide it. And it's arguably a more reassuring one than what religions offer because it comes more from fact.

Take an individual's very existence. It's a remarkable achievement in itself when we consider all the things that had to happen by chance to actually get us on this planet. Isn't that something worth celebrating and living for? Not to mention making the most of it for the short period we are here.

What's more, it could be argued that parents have a lesser need for religion than childless, singletons (even if in reality the opposite seems to be the case). Who needs a god or organised religion when you have your children and later, perhaps, grandchildren to get behind, your raison d'être?

So a world without religion doesn't have to be a gloomy, hopeless, meaningless place. Remember, it's only in recent years that the more established religions, from a Christian perspective in any case, 'jazzed up' their message to the masses. In the not-too-distant past, the stick was preferred to the carrot. 'It's God's will or it's eternal damnation.'

Atheism can be appealing, too, liberating even. Don't dismiss it right out of hand.
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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Colombian universities' English at all costs

Colombia's powers-that-be place a fair amount of importance, in theory anyway, on improving the level of English here. There was even a ridiculously ambitious plan from the government to have the country bilingual by 2019. Still on track with that guys?

There's aiming high and then there's the pie in the sky. Keep it attainable people. (If only the Brits had colonised the place instead of those plundering Spanish, eh?)

In order to graduate from university, many Colombian students are forced into trying to learn English ...
"This would have been much easier if I'd started at a younger age." (Picture from web.)
Nonetheless, as the global language (for now) in an unprecedentedly interconnected world, there's no doubt having English up to a workable level is, or at least could be, an advantage.

Thus, convincing the masses to warm to it is a noble pursuit.

Like most things, but perhaps even more so with languages, the younger this is done the better. However, Colombia's track record in this regard, especially in the public schools, leaves a lot to be desired.

This being the case, the fact that in many university courses you can't graduate without attaining a certain, usually relatively high level of English could be viewed as being a bit harsh.

Of course, if you're studying international relations or the like where English is usually a core element and prerequisite for the course, fair enough.

Yet for degrees where English is not essential per se, why then make obtaining a good grade in it a qualification requirement?

If the student has shown to be competent and worthy of his or her degree in the chief area of study, let them at it we say.

Fair enough, as mentioned above having a decent grasp of English may open more doors in the work place. So the universities in question could be seen as forcing a good deed on students who have paid hefty enrolment fees. How thoughtful of them.

Now as you know it's far from cynical we are here, but those of that disposition could be forgiven for thinking that the English requirement is just a money-making racket. 'Aw, hard luck, you failed English. Not to worry. Pay for a course to get your level up to scratch, pay for an additional semester and hopefully you'll be good to graduate in a few months.' Come on guys, these universities would never be so self-centred.

As tough as it may seem on those who struggle with English, as ever in these parts some centres of learning 'allow' a way around it. From what we can gather, in not all places does the English test have to be taken supervised, on campus. There's an unsupervised, on-line option.

We recently had the friend of an acquaintance ask us to assist her while she took this on-line test. Of course we objected strictly on moral grounds -- it had nothing to do with the fact that it wasn't financially worth it for us.

This practice, where it happens, obviously makes a mockery of the whole English requirement. (For the record, this was Universidad Central.)

An Ielts or Toefl exam would soon find out those who profess to have English to a high level (to a point anyway; some people who do have good English don't always perform well in these type of tests).

Outside of that, coming back to the practice of having an English test requirement for degrees where it's not essential, isn't it best to just let potential employers deal with that?

A Spanish-speaking civil engineering firm searching for prospective employees would probably list English as merely an advantage, not an actual requirement.

Forcing the language on people at a later stage in their development isn't the way to achieve bilingual status.

Needless to say, it starts at a much younger age.

If English is a priority for Colombian officialdom, the place to get serious about it is at primary level education.

Alas, from a public school perspective anyway, it's more a case of the blind leading the blind in this regard.
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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Bogotá bubbles

In a Colombian context, especially in relation to employment, Bogotá is where it's at for the most part. As the capital and most populated city, it's the place that attracts the most job seekers, both from within and outside the country.

In many employment sectors, such as education and finance to name just two, it's where the best money can be made. Yet, as we've oft mentioned on these pages before, it's a very unequal city.

Bogotá, Colombia: A very unequal city ...
Bogotá: It looks fairly equal from this viewpoint ...
Colombia's inequality is, arguably, most apparent here. In simplistic terms, financially speaking, it's broken into three groups: 'The have lots', 'The have a littles' and 'The have nots'. For our time in the country, putting aside our 'First World' background that, in theory anyway, puts us on a higher plain in this regard, we're firmly in that second group. We share this space with perhaps about 60 to 70 per cent of those who currently call Bogotá home. (In actual monetary terms, we're talking about an average monthly wage of roughly 350 to 450 euros at current conversion rates.)

That is to say, if we operate within certain circles of the city, a working-to-lower-middle class bubble so to put it, we can live within our means. Indeed, with a not-overly frugal existence, those of us in this middle group can even put some money aside on a monthly basis.

Nonetheless, from a socialising perspective, the likes of the city's 'exclusive' Zona G, Zona T and Parque 93 are largely off limits, save for on very rare occasions.

Not only that, but for the seldom times that we do go out in those places, we tend to be quite uncomfortable. Paying multiples of the price for the exact same product, or something very similar, that we can get, with a smile, in the barrios doesn't sit well with us at all. OK, there are some places, although not too many in our experience, that offer both good quality and decent service -- this being a particular rarity in these parts -- at reasonable enough prices.

The thing is, after six years of having Bogotá as the base, remaining in that more modest income bracket, even if we were to see a significant upswing in terms of take home pay (while we're always striving to improve our lot here personally and professionally in the pursuit of a happier existence, money's not the chief motivation), it's unlikely that our socialising habits would change that much.

We now have a very clear idea of what the price of things should be. So when we're asked to pay significantly more than that for no real strong reason, we don't like to. For many of the more well-to-do Colombians, not only do they not have many major issues paying above the odds for things, it's actually a status symbol to do so. Going out in the fancier establishments is a true sign that you've made it; style, questionable as it is, but with little substance. It's also a good way to help ensure the riff-raff are kept at arm's length.

Of course, the quest for a life without these socio-economic divisions, or bubbles as we'll call them, is idealistic in the extreme. The best we can hope for is to see a fusion of some of the bubbles, a levelling out of living standards. The likes of Colombia has a long way to go in this regard, but there's always hope.

From a global perspective, it's also worth bearing in mind the following, which we read in an official UN source a few years back: If the poorest 80 per cent on the planet were to live like the richest 20 per cent, at current consumption levels we would need four planet earths to sustain us.

Thus, it's not a just a case of improving the lot for our most unfortunate. The richer amongst us need to learn the art of modesty in living. We can't all over-indulge in the man-made finer things in life.
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Friday, 27 October 2017

Measuring success

How do we measure success? It really depends on how we define it. It's different things to different people, being case and very often time dependent.

In some walks of life, defining success is a bit more straightforward, in theory anyway. The sporting world is one obvious example. The rules of engagement are, usually, easily understood and from them emerge the winners separated from the also-rans. Of course normally there can only be one winner and some individuals or teams may have a clear, unfair advantage over others. In such an environment, those who don't actually win may view their season or career or whatever as a success.

We might be on the road to success but we just don't realise it ... (Wrong Way Corrigan)
Looks quite like the road to failure ... (Image from quotefancy.)
However, on a more personal level, taking our life as a set of interconnected things, judging it as a success (so far; we're not planning to pack it in just yet if we can help it) is down to the way we view it.

As has often been said, the roads to success and failure are very similar. In fact, seeing life as just one long road with plenty of twists and turns, then the difference between success and failure at any one time just comes down to which side of that road we're on. It's therefore a mentality thing more than anything else -- basically which side of the bed we fall out of on any given day, so to put.

Yes, we have to make decisions at various stages along that road of life, but we continue on one path nevertheless. We can't be on different routes simultaneously.

Even what some people see as fundamental indicators of success can be contested. Take financial stability, for example. On its own, it doesn't necessarily mean we have achieved success. (Fair enough, the line 'It's not always about money' is easier to utter when you have it compared to when you don't. So it is said anyway, we wouldn't know.)

We might have money but we may not have achieved what we wanted to or what we were capable of doing.

Bringing it back to something more natural, the fundamentals of a species, success is ensuring that we pass on our genes to the next generation, and multiple times at that to increase the chances of the germ line continuing for some time.

Yet with the global human population becoming almost too difficult to manage, we could view success as somebody actively limiting the number of offspring he/she has, or not having children at all. In this case, we might not pass on our genes, but we can rest assured that our energy will convert into something else when we breathe our last. Reassuring that.

Thus, success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. That is to say, if others view us as being successful but we don't feel it ourselves, then it doesn't really amount to much. In this regard, being successful is linked to finding happiness and fulfilment in what we do.

'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' as they say.
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Monday, 9 October 2017

Taking the time to think

Many of us were brought up with, and still adhere to, the old adage, ‘The devil makes work for idle hands’. In other words, not having anything to do invariably leads to negative occurrences. Thus, to keep out of harm’s way it’s all about, to borrow from Rihanna, ‘work, work, work, work, work’; always having something to do, always being busy. Indeed.

However, there is a growing appreciation -- backed up by research -- for a little bit of, if not quite utter idleness at least a bit of boredom in our lives. The thinking is, in today’s always-connected world, we don’t leave enough time aside to actually think. It’s all go, go, go.

Disconnecting is good for us ... (Image from ClipArtPanda.)
What’s more, even in our ‘down times’, a lot of us are staring at a screen, plugged into music, messing around on our phones or such like. There are distractions all over the place preventing us from truly switching off and getting in touch with our minds on our own terms.

Where once the daily commute to and from work could be used as a time to ponder, now it’s rare to find somebody not fiddling with their smartphone. (Heck, even the old sanctuary of the toilet is under attack, be it with people using their devices on the throne or rushing the experience so as to get back to work.)

For sure, a lot of people don’t view using the latest app or whatever in their leisure time as a bad thing, but research suggests that it can adversely affect creativity. A case of when we’re using such things, even if they’re educational, somebody else has already done a large part of the thinking for us, so to put it. (Where alcohol, to a point, stimulates the creative juices -- so some like to think -- being too busy, too ‘switched on’ impedes them. Sure didn’t some of the best Irish writers of times past like a drink every now and again?)

From a personal viewpoint, not having a smartphone, nay any phone, these last few days -- a forced absence due to a theft albeit -- has been quite refreshing (we’ve found the silver lining in this cloud).
Nonetheless, and unfortunately in certain aspects, not being in the smartphone loop these days can mean missed work opportunities, especially for independent workers.

What’s more, for those of us working in areas where the internet is a fundamental part, there are many pros to having a smartphone. In effect, it’s a convenient, pocket-sized office. So what previously was considered lost time, like waiting for a meeting to start, can now be used more productively.

In theory, this should free up other time to be used as we see fit, at our leisure, letting our minds wander. In practice, however, it often leads to us trying to squeeze more smartphone time into our days. Rather than letting the battery die, many of us frantically search for a power point. ‘Sure I couldn’t be without WhatsApp for 30 minutes now, could I?

Another angle to all of this is multitasking. Modern technology has allowed us to have lots of things on the go at once. What can happen here is that we fail to devote enough time to any one of them to complete them properly. A variant of the old ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ line.

As we’ve said before on similar themes, it’s all about balance. Finding time in a busy, always-on-the-go life to pause, take stock, let the mind drift, this is important. This little bit of helpful ‘boredom’.

On the other hand, however, there are those who perhaps think too much, question what they are doing, where they are going to the point where it becomes a problem in itself. This can be a momentary thing, like after the death of a loved-one or some other life-changing incident, a natural reaction really.

Yet, if it’s more long-lasting, it’s more than likely a sign of feeling unfulfilled, believing our lives lack purpose. In this scenario, the ‘cure’ may be found in less moments of boredom or excessive thinking and more action.

Whatever the case, bored or busy, keeping that dastardly devil at bay, that’s the key. Most of the time anyway.
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Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Santa Marta's serene surrounds

It's no major revelation to state that the main reason most tourists go to Santa Marta is to visit the attractions surrounding it. In other words, the city is a tourism hub solely because it's close to places of greater interest and beauty. (It's historic centre is quaint enough for sure and it has a bog-standard beach, but they're not necessarily crowd-pullers in themselves.)

Of the many places of interest in the region, the best known are, arguably, Parque Tayrona and The Lost City, La Ciudad Perdida. Indeed, by all accounts the latter has become almost too well-known compared to our first and thus far only virtually-solo trek there back in early 2009. It's not that 'lost' at all these days so it seems. An inevitable result of Colombia's growing popularity that.

Paso del Mango, Masinga, near the city of Santa Marta, Colombia.
A quite refreshing dip ...
Nonetheless -- and thankfully for those of us seeking less-crowded locations -- the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this being the mountain range that surrounds the city, still has plenty of fairly remote spots to discover. And we don't have to go too far out of our way to find them.

In fact, about an hour's combined bus and moto-taxi ride from the city centre, via the suburb of Bonda and the village of Masinga, there's the quite stunning Paso del Mango. Similar to rural parts of Colombia's coffee region, many of the farms (fincas) here offer peaceful, sustainable mountain living but with the special bonus of the beach, should you want it, being just a stone's throw away, relatively speaking.

However, considering just the trickle of visitors the place seems to get, you mightn't be too pushed to leave the tree-shaded serenity it offers.

The small rivers that race towards the Caribbean around here regularly have their flow interrupted, resulting in impressive waterfalls that call out to you well before you can see them.

Paso del Mango, Masinga, near the city of Santa Marta, Colombia.
Peaceful surrounds ...
Aside from being picturesque, the little pools they've created provide a very refreshing dip after trekking in the tropical sun -- not forgetting the natural massage the cascading water provides should you wish. What's more, there's a good chance you'll have them all pretty much to yourself to relax and unwind in.

Speaking of unwinding, another plus point for us was that there was no mobile phone signal in the finca we overnighted in.* Seeing as how addicted many of us have become to our handheld devices, rarely disconnecting even when on holidays, a bit of forced rehab is a very healthy thing every now and again. (At the risk of ruining the image, we must point out here that the finca's caretakers, a young local family, do have cable TV. We were able to avoid that, though.)

Lying in pitch darkness, the gentle sounds of a busy nocturnal jungle and flow of a nearby river are therapeutic-like (interrupted by the odd dog bark albeit and, if things get sticky, you may have to turn on a fan. Nothing's perfect, eh?).

Altogether, the biggest pull factor Paso del Mango has to offer is its tranquillity. With a few other fincas currently in construction, there is a risk it might lose a bit of that in the coming years. Here's hoping it doesn't. We're all for development, but when we're talking about a paradise like this, keep it sensible, sustainable and in harmony with the natural environment. It's not too much to ask, is it?

*For more information about Finca Entre Ríos, visit Aluna Casa y Café.
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Friday, 22 September 2017

'We are the law' police

As most Colombian country folk know well, if you poke a bull, you can expect a reaction. In the same way, if you antagonise people, most of us will react in some way.

There are a number professions, however, where maintaining a cool head and looking at things rationally is a prerequisite; or at least it should be.

One of those is policing. Yes, there's no doubt that being a law enforcer is no easy task. So for that very reason, it's something that should not be in the hands of those of a reckless disposition.

Policía Nacional de Colombia: It seems like for every decent police officer in Colombia, there's at least one incompetent one ...
Some police officers think they are the law. (Image from Facebook.)
Unfortunately, in Colombia, as you get in many countries, some police officers here don't have the temperament to carry out their duties in an even-handed, fair manner. Add to this a new police code which seems to have been introduced without much forethought or adequate instruction, and the risk of abuse of powers -- or not knowing the limitations of them -- increases substantially.

OK, there's nothing new in the fact that some Colombian police officers are corrupt or take advantage of their position. The problem with the latest police code is that rather than trying to curb these abuses, the way a number of 'boys in green' interpret it results in further problems, not less.

What's more, a lot of these additional problems are completely avoidable, with the police very often being the root cause. Rather than taking an objective view of the situation and doing some fact-checking, they take one side of the story and run with that. But hey, to heck with due process when there's a chance of money being made.

For sure, we all must respect the law, but what about when the law -- or those supposedly upholding it in any case -- don't respect us in the first place? With some of the penalties at the Colombian police force's disposal, it pretty much equals a 'guilty until proven innocent' policy. 'We are the police and we alone can decide whether you've done wrong or not.' Judge, jury and executioner.

There are, thankfully and rightfully so, procedures in place to contest penalties. The thing is, with more common-sense policing, some of these charge notices issued need not have been handed out in the first place.

We could also say that police time is being wasted on rather trivial issues while the bigger criminal problems crippling Colombia carry on pretty much unabated with, at times, police connivance.

Obviously enough there are areas where more effective policing is needed. Yet the way the new police code is being used by some officers -- not all that is to say -- seems more a case of coming down hard on the less serious problems in the country. The easy way out.

This isn't terribly surprising all the same. A case of adding a splash of paint to a few internal walls in a house where the load-bearing structures are falling apart, built on flimsy ground as they were.
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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

What the Farc?!

There have been a few developments since we took our what-you-might-call slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the early candidates for Colombia's 2018 presidential election.

Rather than having a clearer picture of the state of play, things have got even more muddled (heck, we might throw our hat into the ring yet; well, if everyone else is ...).

Former defence minister under outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos, Juan Carlos Pinzón, has entered the running, distancing himself from the now unpopular Santos in the process; a man's got to do what a man's got to do.
Colombia's newest political party, Farc ...
'The Farc is dead, long live the Farc!'
On the female front, Angela Merkel lookalike Clara López is making another bid for the top job while the Conservative Party's Marta Lucía Ramírez is gearing up for a third attempt; suckers for punishment, eh? Very much on the other side of the political spectrum to Ramírez we've Piedad Córdoba on the list for the 'loony left' (don't shoot the messenger; it's how Córdoba and her ilk are generally viewed here).

Speaking of the left, arguably the most eye-catching move has been the founding of the political party for the former guerrillas, Farc. In a bid to distance themselves from the image of death and destruction that they represent for most Colombians, they've come up with a novel name: Farc.

The, um, devil is the detail. This Farc stands for Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común), different to what the armed Farc stood for, which was Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. See the difference?

We could say it's a case of 'keep it simple, stupid'. At least it will make it easy for both supporters and opponents alike to know who they are. No need to copy the Northern Ireland scenario where people said (and some still say) Sinn Féin-IRA, linking the party to the armed group it represent(ed). Farc was/is Farc, a rare instance of efficiency in Colombia that, to look at it positively.

Of course, as mentioned here on umpteen occasions and alluded to above, 'the left' is a dirty concept for not only middle-class Colombia but large swathes of its lower-classes as well. Come on guys, not all leftists are unwashed, miserable hippies. We shouldn't generalise now.

So the fear in some quarters that the political Farc could be a force to be reckoned with at the polling booth next year -- we've parliamentary elections in March, before the presidential contest -- seems quite irrational. Yes, it did register a less negative image than the other political parties in a recent opinion poll (the biggest thing that this poll highlighted was the lack of confidence in politics here in general).

However, if there's one thing we can rely on in Colombia, it's the electorate's unfailing support for the centre/centre-right when it comes to election day. Thus, the guaranteed seats Farc is to be given, five in each chamber as per the 2016 peace agreement, might be the party's lot for now.

What's more, the mess that we have in 'socialist' Venezuela weakens further Farc's chances of making any significant political inroads in the near future. We must note here that just because a government says it is socialist doesn't mean it actually is that way in practice. The 'whatever you're having yourself' political experiment that Venezuela currently is has done more to damage the left than the right ever could.

That aside, what 'post-conflict' (no sniggering down the back there) Colombia needs is a massive clampdown on corruption -- we're talking generations to achieve that; a culture doesn't change overnight -- and, as far as we're concerned, a healthy dollop of social democratic thinking and policy.

The question is, do we have a political party here that can actually deliver that? You cynics will say no, but we live in hope -- honestly, we do. Failing that, Venezuela might sort itself out in the next decade or so.
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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

What a load of (Colombian) buffalo

Colombia's coffee region, the Eje Cafetero. Home to coffee (we kid you not), beautiful landscapes, quaint colonial-style towns with friendly, easy-going folk (*LINK). It's why it tends to be on most tourists' must-visit lists.

One thing, however, we don't tend to associate with this part of Colombia, nay any part in fairness, is buffalo. Yet midway between the towns of Marsella and Chinchiná, tucked away among the spectacular mountains that define this region, you'll find a herd of 70-odd of the animals.

Buffalo from the Bufalera Gibraltar farm, located between the towns of Marsella & Chinchiná on Colombia's Caldas-Risaralda border.
Buffalo enjoying the environs of Colombia's famed coffee region.
To the uninitiated or if you're just not paying much attention, you mightn't notice them at all; these Indian-style buffalo could pass as cattle. (For the record most of the 'buffalo' beasts roaming the North American plains are bison.)

Nonetheless, buffalo they are and they've found a nice home for themselves on the Caldas-Risaralda border. They belong to Luis Fernando Sanint and his father, the latter being the man who first brought this particular breed of buffalo to Colombia in the 1960s.

While Luis Fernando and his wife's main focus has been on producing artisanal, organic cheese (the farm is considered fully organic), with the help of another few locals they're now expanding into offering farm tours. Considering the facilities they already have to hand -- an impressive, let's call it rural-style convention centre, a swimming pool and guest accommodation -- together with the growing, passing tourism trade, they might just be on to a winner.

Visitors are given the opportunity to get up close and personal with the buffalo during milking as well as having a wander among them in their pastures. There's a PowerPoint presentation on the animals, which gives an insight into the history of the breed farmed and also explains the health benefits of buffalo meat and milk (for the record, buffalo milk is suitable for those who are lactose intolerant and apparently it contains more Omega 3 than cow's milk while its meat tends to have more protein).

A highlight for many is getting to taste the cheese. The mozzarella -- do remember that the original, traditional Italian type is made from buffalo milk -- is a Colombian favourite, but European cheese lovers will probably find the quality mature cheeses they have on offer a treat (the typical Colombian doesn't tend to go for them, so finding a quality cheddar in these parts is usually a challenge).

While Luis Fernando doesn't specifically raise his own animals for slaughter, buffalo steak is, appropriately enough we could say considering the setting, served on the tour. If meat's not your thing, they also farm and sell fish, so you can catch your own lunch right on the spot.

Whatever the case, a visit to Bufelera Gibraltar should leave you satisfied food wise, if nothing else. The setting is pretty agreeable as well.
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Monday, 21 August 2017

Sustainable living, Colombian coffee-country style

It's generally accepted that no visit to Colombia is complete without a trip to its famed coffee region, the Eje Cafetero as it's known here. Even if the beverage is not your thing, the scenery that this part of the country boasts is as stunning as you'll find. There's also the agreeable climate, even if you have to dodge a few torrential downpours every now and again.

What's more, in terms of tourism infrastructure, it tends to be a bit ahead of many other regions as, for the most part, leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers haven't had such a devastating effect.
Brisas del Cauca, Marsella, Risaralda, Colombia.
Brisas del Cauca: Not just a pretty landscape ...
In this regard, when it comes to selecting coffee tours, visitors are pretty much spoilt for choice. Fincas, that is to say farms, are ten-a-coffee-bean so to put it. For the most part, to get an idea of the coffee-making process while at the same time enjoying the natural surrounds, you can't go too wrong with whichever place you choose.

Some, however, have a more commercial feel to them, lacking that genuine friendly touch that most Colombians, especially the rural folk, are famed for.

This certainly can't be said for Luis Fernando Vélez's Brisas del Cauca finca, located a short distance from the small, picturesque town of Marsella in the Risaralda department. In fact, it offers much more than a hands-on insight into Colombia's coffee culture and a breathtaking backdrop.

In many ways, in this more or less self-sustained, organic fruit and veg farm, what's on view is another way of life.

Alongside the coffee plants and cacao trees (the 'journey' from cacao pod to edible chocolate is largely similar to that of coffee; a step-by-step guide to both processes is available), Brisas del Cauca is home to avocado, bananas, honey, mandarines, oranges, passion fruit, plantain and yuca to name just a few of the natural goodies on offer.

What's more, fuelling Luis Fernando's penchant for throwing up a finca-sourced meal with a concoction of flavours, there's a host of diverse herbs growing on site.

Indeed a walk around the grounds with the affable host is akin to a green and healthy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory experience. Something edible comes along with practically every step. As for the herbs, Luis Fernando has the low-down on the alleged health benefits of each one. His enthusiasm for them and everything else on the farm would almost have you believe that eternal living is within grasp.

While most visitors come on day trips, there is the option for individuals or small groups to spend the night there; there's no point in rushing these things if you don't have to.

Whatever way you do it, for an understanding of the coffee-and-chocolate-making processes (check out our videos of those here) plus all the priceless little extras, Brisas del Cauca is as good as they come. Luis Fernando awaits you.

*Brisias del Cauca owner Luis Fernando Vélez can be contacted on +573116085894 or e-mail brisasdelcauca@hotmail.com. You can also find him on Facebook.
** For those not staying on the farm there are numerous accommodation options in the picturesque town of Marsella. The well-kitted out Hotel Carmen has good-quality rooms from $35.000 COP.
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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Colombia's comedown?

For the last 12 months or so Colombia seemed to be on the crest of a wave somewhat. This was mostly down to the implementation of the peace deal signed between the government and the country's largest rebel group, Farc.

Heady times, albeit superficially and in just some areas. The bounce Colombia got internationally was apparent in numerous foreign media reports naming it as one of the must-see places in 2017. Add to this President Juan Manuel Santos' scooping of the Nobel Peace Prize and the grounds for optimism were clearly there.

However, considering Colombians can be as cynical as the best of them (amongst themselves that is, not normally to outsiders) coupled with a belief in many quarters that the Farc peace accords change very little in practice, the optimism certainly appears to have waned. (It should get a small shot in the arm with Pope Francis's upcoming visit here in September.)

Bogotá from a high: Is it, and Colombia in general, a work progressing or regressing?
Bogotá and Colombia in general: A work progressing or regressing?
Indeed, for some, the place is getting worse. A well-to-do Scotsman who has called Colombia home for the last 27 years believes this to be the case. He says that for the first time in his almost three decades here, he feels things are regressing. That seems quite a statement bearing in mind that when he first came here Pablo Escobar was still wreaking havoc.

So why, at a time when Colombia seems as open and welcoming as it ever has been, the negativity? The following sheds some light on things:

Cocaine high
Cocaine. Its mere utterance gives most Colombians a sinking feeling; the scourge of the country for decades.

Of course, the substance is ingested just as much, if not more so, in North America, Europe and Australia as it is in these parts, but here is the source.

As long as the external demand and enormous profits to be made from it continue to exist, cocaine production won't slow down any time soon. In fact, the opposite has been the case of late, it has increased.

The money in the white powder offers a route to riches that 'legitimate' Colombia can't come anywhere close to. Thus, it's mob rule where cocaine is king with officialdom either turning a blind eye or implicated in it.

A not so well-oiled machine
In contrast to Venezuela, Colombia's oil revenue looks set to fall substantially in the coming decade.

Unsurprisingly, sources in the industry here say the government lacks any sort of plan for a not-too-distant future when the country will have to import the resource.

We'd expect Venezuela to have its house in more normal order in 10 years' time than it is now, so maintaining good relations with the oil-rich neighbour is key. Welcoming fleeing Venezuelans with open arms during this current crisis might just be the right strategy.

Short-term gain, long-term loss
As for the lack of forward-thinking in terms of resources, so it is for practically every other area, especially in the likes of education and infrastructure.

Unfathomable and often contradictory legislation enforced arbitrarily combined with rampant corruption mean progress is slow or there's none at all.

In such an environment there are few signs that the vast inequality is being reduced. This ensures continued envy and justification for crime from the have nots.

Reasons to be cheerful?
Notwithstanding the above, we're not running away from the place just yet. The fact that the country is in a state of flux, a tad chaotic if you will, both excites and frustrates many foreigners based here.

Plus, with La Selección (men's national football team) on the verge of World Cup qualification, the powers-that-be can rest assured that the football-mad masses will forget all their daily strife, at least for a time.

And that's how things tend to roll here. Live for the moment, to heck thinking about the future.
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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Left misérables

We tend not to get too caught up in the left/right political tabs. It can be a bit simplistic to label somebody as purely leftist or rightist. Very often people display traits and have beliefs that come from both sides, regardless of how they may view themselves. Put it all together and a lot of the time they're closer to the centre than anything else; and we tend to find that's not a bad place to be.

At a national level, the Republic of Ireland as a whole is generally seen as being slightly more left than right in the political spectrum whereas it's the opposite with Colombia. Of course internally, for all countries, it's more complex and contested, but this overall perception is usually a good guide to a nation's psyche.
Chairman Mao: Misery personified and thus an idol for some extreme leftists ...
Chairman Mao: A barrel of laughs (from Wikipedia).
Nonetheless and obviously enough, we do have those who not only see themselves as being 'hard left' or 'hard right' but they also conduct themselves in such a manner, contrived as it sometimes is albeit.

While we pretty much dislike fundamentalists of any type -- they tend to be impossible to reason with, close-minded -- extreme leftists are a particular case in point. The 'left misérables' (not to be confused with the more enjoyable Les Misérables) let's call them.

Now it would be fine, in theory anyway, if they went about their miserable existence on their own, yet they tend to try and want everyone to be miserable with them -- or so it seems in any case. 'Happiness is a sin and the world must be rid of it' kind of thing.

We could look at it along the old Catholic versus Protestant lines. The traditional misery that the Catholic Church brought upon its flock contrasted with the Protestant individual 'freedom' to work and accumulate wealth; it's OK to smile (as long as you're working and making money).

The extreme leftist types are like those pious Catholics from times past: hardship and pain, the cornerstones of life. A big difference, though, is that this belief system is accompanied with an amount of aggression -- in a verbal and virtual (keyboard warrior) way if not always physical. Plus, these types come across as quite mean-spirited.

For sure the world is far from perfect. We've terrible inequality, rampant corruption, senseless violence and so on. The majority wish it wasn't so and some of us try to make it better in whatever way we can. Doing that with a positive attitude, a happier disposition even in the face of adversity, generally garners better results.

Why not give it a go 'left misérables'? Who knows, you might even start to enjoy life. Perish the thought, eh?
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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Introducing (our) Colombia

We all, those of us with links to the place at least, have our own views about Colombia and what it represents. There are, obviously enough, many ways to look at it.

Nonetheless, however you view it, do remember that it is 'Colombia' not 'Columbia'. For a country with so much to offer and seemingly growing ever more popular by the day, some outsiders still can't spell it correctly. Hence the line 'The only 'u' that should be in Colombia is you.' Clever enough stuff, eh?

So as a helping hand in this regard, taking each letter of the country's name, here we give our -- sideways you might say -- take on what Colombia is for us.

Delicious changua, Bogotá, Colombia.
Changua: Not everybody's favourite. (Photo by Jorvato, Wikipedia.)
C is for changua
Admittedly this isn't the first thing people think of when linking the letter 'c' to Colombia. Most would more than likely go for the country's world-renowned coffee. (No? What were you thinking of then?)

Yet we're plumping for changua here, not only because we find it delicious, especially in combating a hangover (on the rare occasions we have one), but also because not many outsiders will know about it.

In fact, the changua we love -- a couple of cracked eggs cooked in milk with bread, cilantro leaves, a bit of onion and perhaps garlic, ideally some cheese melted in as well, with salt to taste -- is pretty much a Bogotá speciality. It's hard to get that exact mix on offer in other parts of the country.

For most who haven't tried it, it sounds revolting. We have to admit, we thought the same. But it works, and works wonderfully if you ask us.

O is for office
Panadería Vicky in Barrio Nueza Zelandia, one of our 'offices' in Bogotá ...
One of the 'offices' ...
We've had a few 'offices' scattered around the capital; they've generally depended on where we've been living at the time.

Basically, we're on about 'our' panaderías, the bog(otá)-standard bread and coffee shops. Delightful places to get an affordable coffee with milk (a 'perico') and snack-sized portions of fresh bread, all the better when they're just out of the oven. We call them the office as we tend to spend a good deal of time in them, be it to do some writing or other work, or simply just to chill out.

Giovanni's on Calle 32 just up from Carrera 5 in La Perseverancia (see below) remains a favourite even though we now live miles away from there. Max Pan in Barrio Santandercito and Vicky's in Barrio Nueva Zelandia are new regulars in our current north Bogotá base.

Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.
Lost City
L is for Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)
Colombia's Machu Picchu so to put it, but somewhat quainter and allegedly older. It's now over eight years since we visited this ancient indigenous settlement hidden away (well, not quite now!) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta jungle off the Caribbean coast, yet it left a lasting impression.

Things might have changed a little since then, but we found the three-day trek to reach it more authentic, and certainly far less congested, than the more celebrated Inca ruins. While we're due a return, there remain other popular and not-so-popular beauty spots that we've yet to visit here; 'a lot seen, a lot more to see'. All in its own good time.

O is for Ordóñez
An important 'o' this, insofar as some people put a 'u' in here. Don't. That's a different place.
So rather than 'u for Uribe' we've got 'o for Ordóñez', the nation's former inspector general (*LINK Ordóñez, Petro et al) who's now a 2018 presidential candidate.

As mentioned in a previous post, in many ways Alejandro Ordóñez represents traditional Colombia, so he's worthy of inclusion here. That and the fact that of the country's political big guns he's one of only a couple we've met, briefly as it was.

M is for mujeres
We could have used 'c' for chicas, but changua is far more important (and rewarding). So we'll mention the women, 'mujeres' here.

Colombia, of course, is well known for its beautiful women, but that beauty often comes at a price, in all sorts of ways. This is certainly the case for the majority of the ones we've tried to 'woo' anyway.

We've practically written the book on that in a host of previous blog posts (you can start with 'Ignoring is bliss' and work back from there), so we'll say no more other than try not to take things too seriously if you do get involved on this score. It's better in the long run.

B is for Bogotá
An obvious one, but it has been the base of our Colombian operation and it's a city that still exerts a strange hold on us.

When we do eventually leave the place, there are lots of things we'll miss. They're just not always easy to put a finger on.

I is for IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz"
Self-serving this may be, but we're talking about our experiences in the almost six years we've been here, and IQuiz has played a significant part. Put simply, our labour of love.

On the Rossies, from Fernando's tienda, barrio La Perseverancia, Bogotá, Colombia.
Best buddies!
A is for Abril 
No, we're not referring to the month of April, which is 'Abril' in Spanish. We're on about the surname Abril, and more specifically our good friend Fernando Abril.

For sure Colombia has many amazing and unique things going for it, but as in many walks of life, it's often the simpler ones that matter most.

In this regard, Fernando, his small tienda and a number of the clientele in the not-quite-salubrious surroundings of La Perseverancia have been a memorable find.

Yes, in other barrios we've found similar places, but Fernando's and the folk of La Perse are the original, the first 'true love' so to put it (with a worthy mention of a bar up Barrio Egipto way, the precursor to La Perse in a sense).

So that's 'our Colombia', one version of it anyway. Each to their own and all that.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Colombia's 'No Dar Papaya' School of Motoring

It's perhaps stretching it somewhat to say that how people drive gives a true reflection of their personality. This appears even more so the case when otherwise friendly, generally polite people turn into nothing short of aggressive lunatics when they get behind the wheel. A sort of Michael Schumacher in his heyday mixed with The Incredible Hulk, something along those lines.

You'll get this, what we'll call character aberration with many Colombians. Nice people in so many facets, yet when they sit into a motorised vehicle they transform into quasi-kamikaze pilots (of course this isn't unique to here, but we're looking at it from a Bogotá perspective for this particular piece).

Autopista Norte, Bogotá D.C., Colombia.
It's a battlefield out there ...
As much as an anomaly as it may seem, it does fit in with one cultural trait, the 'No dar papaya' mentality. Basically, on the highways and byways this manifests itself into 'I shall not give an inch of space because if I do, there'll be somebody waiting to take full, merciless advantage.'

Hence the driving at breakneck speed up to a vehicle stopped ahead or traffic lights that have been clearly red for some time. 'What?! Go through the gears and slow down gradually. You must be mad! We'll be overtaken by all and sundry." The sad part is, this is true.

It's usually the privately-owned public service vehicles -- the few old-style buses that are still plying their trade and the yellow taxis -- that are seen as the chief culprits in this. They're certainly masters of it, but the drivers of the public-private transport system, the Transmilenio and SITP, are no slouches either. 'To heck what you paying passengers think, you're in my reckless hands now guys.' (A note on the taxi drivers here: Some get themselves into a hissy fit if you don't close the door in the calm manner they want, an almost impossible feat, yet they proceed to drive the car like a weapon of mass destruction.)

Now whatever about not respecting your fellow warrior motorists, those also behind the 'comfort' of metal and glass that is, giving scant regard to those on foot is taking it to another level. Either we've many colour blind drivers here (that would explain a lot) or they just don't really care about those annoying human obstacles trying to cross the street, regardless whether the pedestrians have the right of way or not. Unfortunately it's more the latter case.

Didn't you know the streets are first and foremost motorist territory? No? Well you'd better learn quickly.

For sure, drivers here have genuine grievances; there's the very poor state of many of the main arteries, a lack of efficient traffic management and security issues, to name some of those problems. In such an environment, we can understand a bit of road rage, to a point.

Yet some motorists could try bringing just a modicum of that more laid-back nature they have in other facets of life when they go driving. Both your vehicle and other road users will thank you for it.
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Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Pastrana-Uribe alliance: Colombia's path to 'redemption'

For many of the old and not-so-old bearded lefties, both men and, um, women, it's a nightmare scenario. A presidential candidate under the auspices of former heads of state Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana sweeping to victory in next year's election.

The two ex-presidents, anti the peace deal with the Farc that's currently in operation, have come together in a grand alliance of the winning 'no' side in last year's referendum on the peace accords. The far-too liberal agenda must be checked, the 'Good Ship Colombia' needs to return to calmer waters, and these doyens of the country's politics can guide her there.

It's not clear at this remove who'll be the actual face on the ballot paper, the Pastrana-Uribe puppet on a string so to put it, but with the big guns in his (it's sure to be a man) corner, it practically doesn't matter.
Former Colombian presidents Álvaro Uribe & Andrés Pastrana have formed an alliance ahead of the 2018 presidential election ...
The likely lads: Uribe (l) with Pastrana. (Photo from Facebook.)
Now while we've written here before that when it comes to genuine choice in Colombian elections it's generally 'la misma mierda' (the same sh*t) whatever you're having, there might just be merit in the 'new, old way' with Messrs Pastrana and Uribe. Here's why:

A firm hand
Let's be honest, if you give sneaky characters an inch, they'll take a mile and then some. In these parts we've plenty of such types in all walks of life. From a political perspective, we've some of those dastardly ex-Farc lads now trying to pass themselves off as honest politicians alongside other leftist relics looking to impose their 'far out' ideas on the country.

It's not exactly a case of nipping this in the bud as it's been going on throughout President Santos' stewardship, but the Pastrano-Uribe ticket can stop the rot. The old Uribe line was 'A firm hand, a big heart', so it's time we saw that firm hand again (it's better not to ask how firm that hand might be; rest assured it will take no prisoners when needs be).

Sure Colombia could do with a bit of population pruning; look no further than these guys for that.

The Lord is my shepherd
Not only does the country appear to be floating more towards nasty socialism akin to the mess that is Venezuela, it also seems to be becoming more secular.

The fundamentalist Catholic candidate Alejandro Ordóñez provides one anecdote to that, but Pastrano-Uribe may just have a broader, whisper it 'sexier' appeal.

The papal visit later this year is set to ensure that Colombia's religious fervour gets a good shot in the arm as well, not that it really needs it (as hypocritical as it tends to be all the same).

Religion still matters here and Pastrano-Uribe have that base covered as good as the best of them.

More Maduro than Maduro himself
Speaking of Venezuela, we've the Nicolás Maduro factor next door.

The Pastrano-Uribe alliance could be seen as fighting fire with fire to tackle the firebrand, if rather clownish, premier. Counter one idiotic proposal or statement with another. The perfect blocking tactic. Genius.

Tweet like Trump
You can't be a top president nowadays, so it goes anyway, without being a dab hand at the old Twitter machine.

In this regard, Álvaro Uribe even out trumps Trump -- indeed it might have been Uribe who The Donald took inspiration from. He's been shooting off (careful) controversial, divisive tweets for years. No doubt he'll be extolling the virtues of such a strategy to his anointed one for this election.

It's not enough to be a real-life bloody commander, you've got to be a virtual killing machine these days, too.

Whatever the case, there certainly shouldn't be a dull moment with the Pastrana-Uribe alliance in the mix in the run-up to round one of the presidential election next May. Just sit back and enjoy the ride we're all going to be taken on; there's not much else we can do.
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Sunday, 25 June 2017

Finding that happy place

Depression, as we know, is an illness of the mind. That being so, some view it as a condition that can be cured, or at least managed, by the power of the mind alone. In over-simplified terms, 'will ourselves into a happier state'.

In relation to non-clinical depression that most of us go through on occasions, there is merit to that. For example, and not meaning to be facetious here, there's no point getting ourselves down over such an uncontrollable thing as the weather. If it's raining there's nothing we can do about it, but we can take measures to prevent ourselves getting wet all the same.

Bogotá D.C., Colombia, viewed from a high ...
Happiness isn't always just in the mind; the place plays its part, too ...
If it's our routine and work that has us at a low ebb, the old saying 'a change is as good as a rest' might be the remedy. That's perhaps easier for some to do than others; it depends on our education, employment position, financial standing and such like. (It must be noted here that it is, generally speaking, those who have access to more opportunities who tend to find themselves in thinking this way.)

Yet for others, whether it's momentary 'depression' or one that has been clinically diagnosed, the place of residence plays its part. That is to say they're content at what they are at, but they feel they're doing it in the wrong place, usually inhabited by people not quite of their ilk.

In such a scenario, 'simply' willing yourself out of this delicate mental state is nigh on impossible. You basically have to get up and go to feel happier, but the get-up-and-go required to do that is often lacking, especially in major depression cases.

In milder instances, a short break from our normal environment does the trick; the key is to take them regularly. (For the record, while we like Bogotá, getting out of the metropolis is needed every now and again.) For most working-to-middle class people, regardless of marital status or offspring to cater for, 'escaping' on a regular basis for short periods is doable.

It's a far more complicated issue, though, if you feel no love at all for where you are, to the point that the actual place and people are the chief reasons for your depressed state, yet you have a significant other who is content there and has no desire to leave. An immovable object meets an unstoppable force. Either a compromise is reached or the relationship is pretty much doomed.

There are those who say that love conquers all and if it doesn't then it wasn't meant to be. Perhaps that's the case. 'If you loved me enough you'd live with me even in hell' kind of thing. However, staying in a place you detest for the sole purpose of maintaining a long-standing relationship, and one that seemed solid at that, certainly doesn't seem like the key to a life full of happiness.

Finding that happy state isn't always a matter of 'mind over mud' so to put it. On occasions that 'mud' you're treading on plays a big part, for better or for worse.
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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Things could always be better

When we're going through difficult or frustrating times, there is the old saying of 'Things could be worse' to make us feel a bit better.

For most, if not all people, that is the case. Things could always be worse. (OK, there may exist a person who compared to everybody else on the planet is faring the worst, but even that individual could, in theory, find solace in the words above.)
Do you see the glass half empty or half full ..?
Some people are happy with what they have, others not ...
It's similar to those who espouse to either the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty mentality. It depends on how you look at it, and in any one person this could change from day to day without there being any noticeable change in the actual circumstances.

Yet, the argument against the glass-half-full/things-could-be-worse outlook is that, in certain cases, it promotes mediocrity, curbs development.

For example, in countries that have had a less-than-glorious past, such as my native Ireland and here in Colombia, the desire to continue to try and improve things isn't always apparent, be it at a government or individual level. One reason (of many), perhaps, why the oft-criticised public transport system in Bogotá splutters unspectacularly along (the Transmilenio is one thing, but many of the SITP bus routes are in disarray -- let's not go there, again). There are, needless to say, other examples that we won’t get into here.

Those in the glass-half-empty brigade are often accused of being negative, pessimistic. That might be so, yet when it comes with a desire to make things better, then it can be seen as something positive.

The key, as is usually the case in such matters, is finding the balance. For sure, it's pointless to strive for what amount to unattainable goals -- once we know that is the case that is -- or get worked up about things that we can't fix or undo.

It's generally better to focus on the positives of our current situation whilst, should we so wish, look for improvement where we feel it's needed. Otherwise we'll never even be close to feeling content, no matter what the situation.

That being said, there is a danger of underachievement if we always think 'things could be worse', especially so when in reality making our lot better doesn't require an awful amount of effort nor drastic change.

It's really a quest for contentment and fulfilment; feeling satisfied doing what we at least think we should be doing.

This is what keeps us going. And for many it's never ending. Once one goal is 'netted' the search for another begins.
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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A prostitute by any other name

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a prostitute as "A person, in particular a woman, who engages in sexual activity for payment."

The form of that payment is not explained, but it's safe to assume that it doesn't have to be upfront or even actual money. It could be payment in kind, as can happen in many other lines of work. Some journalists and writers, for example, start off working for no more than a few non-cash perks in order to get themselves established.
Money can buy you sex but perhaps not quite love!
'Love' is stretching it a bit here! (Image from memegenerator.net.)
Of course, quite apart from prostitution, a young or wannabe journalist working in such a way doesn't deny that he/she is a journalist or trying to be one. That, obviously enough, would be self-defeating in terms of career progression.

What's more, most if not all people who work in these more accepted professions do so by choice; it's a safe bet that the majority working in prostitution would rather be in a different, um, position.
Also, considering the stigma attached to the word, some would be horrified to learn -- outwardly anyway that is -- that what they are actually doing amounts to being a prostitute.

So what, um, boxes (sorry, we'll stop) does one have to tick to say that she is a prostitute? When you take the payment in kind side of it into account, it's a grey area indeed, open to a host of interpretation.

However, one important element has to be sentiment. If there is no sentimental attachment, no feeling of physical attraction (let's not even mention love), then we'd have to say it's sliding closer to prostitution, or at least the uninterested party is looking for some sort of gain.

Ideally it would all be clear cut. That is to say the more traditional prostitute, where it's payment upfront or as soon as the job is done.

Or, failing that, at least have it where both parties are left in no doubt as to the state of play: "I see that you are interested in me but I have no interest in you. However, I'm not in the best financial position right now so in return for having sex with me I will extract as much as I can from you in terms of financial assistance, in whatever form. Agree?"

The problem occurs when the lines are blurred. A charade of a relationship is maintained so that payments are given for services rendered or to be rendered, services that more than likely would not be made available if this financial assistance wasn't forthcoming.

Some will ask, with reason, that if the paying party gets what he wants out of it, a satisfied customer so to put it, then where's the issue? Well there isn't one really. Just let's call it what it is: Prostitution. It doesn't have to be a big deal.

Yet for the 'charade relationship' there is a potential problem as the thin veneer comes off it, more than likely ending the pretence.

The thing is, most men like to think they don't have to 'pay for it'. However, as has been said here before, we pay for it in some way (not always financially), but most of the time it's not as blatantly obvious as 'traditional' prostitution.

Basically, if desire and sentimental attachment are missing in any relationship, you have to ask what's the point of it?

This brings us back to that earlier suggestion: If both parties feel they're getting something out of it, occasional pleasure for the man, the woman some payment, monetary or otherwise (maybe even some pleasure as well), then on it can go.

It's all about how it's perceived. Accentuate the positives and everything can be fine, within reason. The key, perhaps, to any relationship that.
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