All posts by rolade

Is queuing (or lack of it) influenced by our culture?

I arrived at the bus stop 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I was pleased to see my former student and we chatted while queuing. My smiling turned into frowning when I saw two women placing themselves before the more than ten persons already in line.

I was shocked not only because they jumped the queue but that no one said anything. Less than a minute later, three women did the same thing. I whispered to my student that it was unacceptable and we should say something. He turned red and apologised on behalf of the French people in France.

I often witness queue jumping (or cutting) in France and was a direct victim of it several times. I haven’t forgotten the first time I experienced this. Coming from Australia, where falling in line for everything and in everywhere is a natural behaviour, my first year in France was quite a shock. While queuing in a local bakery, a well-groomed woman bypassed me and 5 other persons. Stunned and a bit angry, I put together a few French words alerting the man in front of me. Unfortunately, he said “ça va, j’ai le temps” (it’s all right, I’ve time). I couldn’t believe what I heard. It wasn’t a question regarding time! It’s about respect and courtesy!

The female queue jumper didn’t apologise and walked out proudly, as if she was the centre of the world. I was so disappointed that I gave a minute sermon to my two-year-old son (who was in his pram) on respect, discipline and social manners. He understood nothing, of course; but, I knew there was at least one person in that bakery who worked out the message I tried to impart.

For me, falling in line for goods and services is about fairness and civility, as popularised in the adage “First come, first serve.” When this norm is broken, there’s individual disgust that can lead to social disharmony. There have been incidents of individuals hurting each other because of perception of fairness related to queuing.

I’d also experienced something related to queuing that was as annoying but not so straightforward. While at the cinema, a woman queued for her daughter and her friends. I didn’t expect it and was taken by surprise when she left and wished the girls a good time. Is it right for a person to hold a spot for another (or a group)? How about paying someone to do it for us?

In western countries, like the UK and Canada, standing in line while waiting for goods and services in shops, government offices and everywhere is an expected human trait and behaviour. In France (also a western nation), however, this seems to be more of an individual prerogative.

Italy is another western country where non-queuing is a cultural phenomenon. As The Local (https://www.thelocal.it/20150410/my-italian-habits-that-foreigners-just-dont-get seen on 15/10/17) has stated, “We’re not into queuing. We don’t queue, we just stand close to one another until we see an opportunity to overtake you. But for Italians, it’s perfectly normal! Arm yourself with a lot of patience, or download a game on your phone – and don’t get offended by nudges, they most probably didn’t mean it.”

In India, Shefaly Yogendra has this to say: “Queues are for societies that at least have a pretence of egalitarianism. India is hierarchical and none misses a chance to impose their authority over the next person, the commonest phrase being — Do you know who I am?” (https://www.quora.com/Why-are-people-in-India-generally-disrespectful-of-forming-straight-lines-when-queueing-up-for-something seen 15/10/17).

For queue believers (like me), line jumpers or by-passers/cutters are annoying and unpleasant; so, what shall we do?

(I’m posting this from Cap d’Agde in France where I’m participating in a 7-day international chess tournament. So far, I’ve more losses than wins; but this doesn’t matter as what’s important is how I play and progress. The best part of this event is the nightly game between Karpov/Russia and Vaisser/France).

Age discrimination or something else?

During the last weekend of August this year, I was in Paris and spent an evening promenading in Champs Elysées. On the famous Avenue Foch, close to the Arc de Triomphe, there was a trendy looking nightclub that caught my attention. There was more than a dozen male security guards in black outfits who scrutinised the acceptable and non-acceptable entrants. I observed inquisitively two male and a female staff letting some people in while refusing others. After some time deciphering their decision-making behaviour, I asked one of the bouncers, “How do you decide who’ll get in and not?”

He answered, “I don’t speak English.”

I commented, “Yes you do. Quels sont les critères que vous utilisez pour décider qui sera autorisé à entrer ou pas ? »

He responded, « C’est une boite de nuit privée » (This is a private night club).

I stood speechless trying to understand what a private nightclub was.

For me, a nightclub is an entertainment premises that has a bar, a stage for live music, one or more dance floor areas and a DJ booth, and operates late into the early morning. I know that nightclubs use bouncers to screen prospective entrants and they don’t admit people with informal clothing, e.g. jeans and t-shirts (those who don’t comply with their dress code). However, these were not the type of club goers I saw refused at the Le Duplex.

What about private clubs? A private club can be an incorporated organisation whose members contribute to the club’s funds that are used to pay the operating expenses, and it is generally governed by state statute. It can also be unincorporated whose proprietor owns the venue and operates the club for profit. My understanding is that a private nightclub is exempted from civil rights law, so discrimination based on age is out of the question.

France and other members of the European Union adhere to the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation and age. The prohibition of discrimination is required in both public and private sectors, including access to and supply of goods and services intended for the public.

In blogs and websites, it is revealed that le Duplex’s clientele is mainly young. What is “young” when life expectancy continues to increase and in developed countries the average age is over 80 years? Those refused entries didn’t look over 50 years old to me. Even if they did, don’t they deserve to enjoy the music, party atmosphere … and nightlife?

Did I witness age discrimination that night at Champs Elysées?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34401457/these-are-the-rights-you-have-when-you-approach-a-nightclub-door (seen on 17/09/17) discloses the following:

“The Equality Act of 2010 says that when someone provides you a service, even if you don’t pay for it, you must not be discriminated against because of race.
It also stops discrimination on the basis of “protected characteristics” such as disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, age and religion.
If you feel that you have been unfairly discriminated against then you can seek help from the Equality Advisory Support Service. You may be able to take them to court and claim damages. In 2010 we did have a case based on race and sex and they recovered £15,000 damages and their court costs,” equality lawyer Ciaran Moynagh told Newsbeat.”

Age discrimination in nightclubs, however, is not easy to prove. As well, since they call themselves “private clubs” they reserve the right to let in whoever they want to maximise their revenue. Obviously, they are not going to tell you that you’re too old. They’ll find other reasons or not give you any – it’s their prerogative.

I’ve heard about the case of Richard Sleeman, a 62-year-old sports journalist, who attempted to sue a Sydney nightclub for age discrimination. The court ruled against him as the reasons for his exclusion were in line with the authority provided by the Liquor Act (he appeared drunk).

If you’re over 55 years old and in Champs Elysées, visit the Le Duplex (not smelling alcohol, not behaving like a drunk, not arguing with anyone, and well-dressed). Let’s see if you get in.

The power of public opinion is sometimes more effective than legislation in ensuring a fair and equitable society.

No swimming, no sunbathing but a memorable summer holiday

You’ve probably heard about the simplicity and generosity of Polish people; well, I’ve been a recipient of these admirable human traits. I recently spent a week in Gdansk in the company of a cordial and considerate Pole and her mum.

Gdansk is one of the five big cities in Poland with about 470,000 inhabitants. (I’d like to visit its capital, Warsaw, one day). This country, which is rich in mineral and agricultural resources, is often referred to as “ex-eastern European nation” when geographically it lies entirely on the north European plain and is in the central European time zone. It’s one hour ahead of standard Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter months, and two hours ahead from late March to October due to daylight saving time.

I’ve been told by my hosts that winter in Poland is very cold and summer is not-so-warm. I agree with them concerning the later; I haven’t experienced the former yet. I was there in the middle of August but always carried a jumper when I went out. I was lucky to experience several sunny days promenading in the famous Royal Way which included the Old Town Street, where Polish kings used to parade; the Golden Gate; the Torture House; the Prison Tower and Neptune’s Fountain.

The majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, so there are churches and places of worship in almost every corner and street; I went to half a dozen of them. Some Poles belong to the Polish Orthodox Church and various Protestant denominations, such as the Lutherans. Of course, there are also members of minority religious groups.

One of the highlights of my trip was the visit to Westerplatte, where the first battle in the invasion of Poland took place that marked the start of the second world war in Europe. In September 1939, German naval forces and soldiers assaulted the Polish Military Transit Depot (Wojskowa Składnica Tranzytowa or WST) without warning. The German battleship sailed into the free city of Danzig on a ‘courtesy visit’ but had planned to launch an assault on 26th August, which was postponed by Hitler. It was difficult for me not to be sad and angry looking at the photos of the atrocities, but it was also a moment to admire this symbol of resistance to an invasion. Several nights after I had left Gdansk, I still thought of the 182 men (armed only with machine guns and mortars) fighting heroically against a much stronger and better-equipped invader of 2,600 men with planes and battleships for over a week.

Another moving experience for me was the visit to the Solidarity Museum, which has a monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970. Inflation and destabilising economic conditions led to protests and crackdowns. Anna Walentynowicz was fired from work at the Gdańsk Shipyard on 7 August 1980, five months before she was due to retire, because of her participation in the protest. Subsequently, Solidarity was born on 31 August 1980 at the Lenin Shipyards. In September 1981 at the Solidarity’s first national congress, Mr Lech Wałęsa was elected president. However, the government attempted to destroy the union with the martial law of 1981, and several years of repression followed. During these years, in Australia (though I knew almost nothing about Poland), I participated in public meetings and fund-raising events to support the shipyard workers and their families. In Gdansk, I was nearly in tears seeing photos of Australians who were involved significantly in these operations. The contributions of other countries and individuals are also exhibited in the museum.

The roundtable talks between the government and Solidarity-led opposition produced a semi-free election in 1989, and a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed in August that year. Poland was the first country in central and eastern Europe to break out of state communism.

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation and World Economic Forum, the most visited countries in 2016 were 1. France, 2. US, 3. Spain, 4. China and 5. Italy. Some sources ranked the UK 7th while others placed it on 8th.

I believe it is more important to know why you’re going to a particular place rather than the destination per se, and these are some of the considerations:

Purpose – to relax, to shop, to improve our cultural and historical knowledge, to have an adventure, to visit friends and relatives, etc.
Budget – how much we want to spend affects our transport, accommodation, food, activities, etc.
Environment (cold or hot weather) – beach, city, countryside, amusement parks, snow fields/skiing resorts, etc.

Wherever we are and whatever we do, let’s be respectful of local traditions and customs and be open-minded.

Every ending has a new beginning

Last July 8, I attended a retirement party; and like most farewell gatherings, it was filled with joy and sadness. The honouree was a gentle, kind and caring person who had helped many people, including me. There were always cakes and sweets on her desk for anyone who needed a boost on a hectic day. I often had it out of ‘gourmandise’ (greed). I miss her and her chocolates, and it’s strange not to see her grin anymore.

Everything has an ending; however, this ending has also a beginning. Today may be your last working day, but it’s also an opportunity to start something you have been wanting to do for a long time, such as going to the gym, reading a book, jogging, travelling or relaxing on a sofa or hammock, etc.

The passing of time is inevitably fast that no one is far from any ending. Most situations that herald the end of something, like retirement, retrenchment, graduation, leaving home, holiday, relationships, entertainment or sporting events, mean ‘change.’ The majority of people are anxious about changes because of fear of a possible loss, uncertainty and anxiety (though 90% of these worries don’t happen). We should consider the end of any event or situation as a change that has a silver lining even when it looks sombre.

With any change, positivism is the key. Our thoughts, emotions and feelings affect our body. While positive thoughts and emotions encourage calmness and physical activity, negative thoughts inhibit peace and efficiency. Positivism involves restructuring our perceptions and thinking process so that any problem or negative situation, such as change or end of a situation, is accepted as having benefits or as a stepping stone to something better. After all, change is the only constant in life.

Optimism is contagious. Optimistic individuals, even those who aren’t with us anymore (and aren’t related to us either by blood or ethnicity), continue to have positive effects on us. For me, these are:

Mother Teresa (1910–1997) lived a life of poverty to help improve the conditions of others; her devotion and compassion inspired many people to care for the poor, sick and needy.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884– 1962) was an American politician, diplomat, activist and First Lady of the United States from March 1933 to April 1945. She was a supporter of the rights of women and helped draft the UN Declaration of human rights.

Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) spent 20 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa; but upon his release, he showed forgiveness and reconciliation to his former political enemies and became the first black president in 1994. (While living in Australia in the 80s, I joined many rallies and peace marches in protest against apartheid).

Luther King (1929–1968). You surely know the “I Have a Dream” speech Mr King delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. This is just one of his many philosophies and beliefs that have influenced by thinking and action. My other favourite is “Darkness can’t drive darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can on that. “He was, and still is, an inspiring leader of groups and movements for more equal society and for non-violent civil rights actions.

According to Ms Judy Belmont (mental health author, motivational speaker and psychotherapist), the ten essential habits of positive people are:

• They don’t confuse quitting with letting go. They don’t relinquish responsibility (i.e. quit) but let go (i.e. take action to stop and move on) of things and situations that aren’t any healthier for them or have negative influence on their lives.
• They don’t just have a good day, they make a good day.
• For them, the past stays in the past.
• They’re the most grateful people. “They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences. They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.”
• They’re energised by possibilities (opportunities) rather than stuck by their limitations.
• They don’t let fears interfere with their lives.
• They smile a lot.
• They’re great communicators.
• They believe that if they live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness. (They’re realistically optimistic)
• They don’t blame others and consider themselves as victims in life as they’re empowered (i.e. having control of and power over their lives).

Let’s stay positive..
All the best!

Health and well-being

Last June 19 – 22 was Well-Being Week at the European Parliament and there were exhibitions and information sessions held to inspire and help people to be healthy and happy. June 21 was Music Festival not only in France and Luxembourg but in many parts of the world, and it made many people joyful. June 22 was UN International Yoga Day and it highlighted the useful contribution of yoga to humankind’s healthy lifestyle that is harmonious with nature. In Luxembourg, the 23rd was a public holiday as it was the country’s national day filled with festivities, food stalls, concerts, fireworks and merrymaking.

These were different events, but had similar goals, which were to inform, entertain and encourage people to relax and be peaceful– important for our well-being. When we are happy and peaceful, we are stressed-resistant and our immune system functions favourably maintaining a healthy body and mind. My adult students recently did a class project on health and well-being, and concluded that “Healthy workplaces are positive and positive workplaces are healthy.”

You may argue that achieving a work-life balance isn’t easy as it doesn’t only involve you and there are issues beyond your control, such as a demanding job and/or boss. Rightly so, however, this one person (YOU) has choices. We can have positive daily work experience in the midst of deadlines, not-so-caring supervisor and uncooperative or annoying colleagues. At home, relationships can be improved by having open communication, by being honest and respectful, and by showing more empathy and understanding. We have different levels of optimism, but even a half-empty glass has a space that can be filled. If everyone contributes to filling this, it does not take long for it to be full again.

On the global level, The World Economic Forum (Matthieu Ricard https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/5-ways-to-improve-the-well-being-of-the-world/) has identified 5 ways to improve health and well-being: Increasing support to mental health (addressing mental ailments account for only a small part of the health budget of developed nations); Cooperation (need to move to the next level of partnership to face the many challenges of our times. Solidarity and reciprocity that nurture harmonious relationships); Caring economics (“economy must exist to serve society, not to be served by society. It must also benefit society as a whole”. There should be a pragmatic action to achieve a fair economy and long-term harmony); Promoting altruism (“Happiness and satisfaction are measured in terms of a generation, encompassing our life plan, our career and our family. Whether or not we are happy depends not only on external conditions but also on the ways in which our mind interprets these conditions as happiness or misery”); A new economic harmony (“a situation that guarantees everyone a decent way of life and reduces inequality at the same time as ceasing to exploit the planet at such a drastic rate.” Material abundance doesn’t equate to happiness and well-being.

My students entitled their class project “You only live once” — living to the fullest in terms of being healthy and happy, but without excesses. Did you know that the global consumption of alcohol was 6.3 litres of pure alcohol per person ages 15 and older in 2015, which was equivalent to 3 litres of beer (4 percent alcohol) a week? The highest consumption was in Europe and Central Asia (10.2 litres of pure alcohol per person a year); and lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (0.8 litres). (http://datatopics.worldbank.org/sdgatlas/SDG-03-good-health-and-well-being.html).

As you may know, too much alcohol drinking can take a serious toll on our health and well-being. For instance, it can weaken our immune system hence making our body susceptible to diseases. It’s summer time here in Europe and it’s a real temptation to grab a cold beer or softdrinks. The former is tonic but can also cause ill-health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthydrinks/focus.html), the long-term effects of artificially sweetened drinks on weight and health are unknown. Thus, if you drink these, be reasonable! Water is much cheaper and absolutely good for our body – about 8 glasses per day. You can, of course, quench your thirst by drinking coffee and tea without sugar or cream.The Harvard School of Public Health has also revealed that even 100% fruit juice should be consumed with moderation (no more than a glass a day) as though it has vitamins, it’s also high in calories.

Take care.. Enjoy your summer!

If you were there; if you were her

I’d difficulty deciding on the topic of my blog this month. My heart goes out to Manchester in the UK, especially to families, relatives and friends of those who were at Ms. Ariana Grande’s concert last May 22. More than one hundred people were injured and 22 were killed in that vicious terrorist attack, including an eight-year-old girl and an off-duty female police officer.

Last Wednesday evening, I had a mixed feeling of warmth and sadness watching on BBC Tony Walsh reading his poem ‘This Is The Place’ as a tribute to Manchester city at vigil. His rendition was defiant and resilient for peace. For me, it means not hating and living in fear; but be hopeful yet stand up for your rights.

So, here I am doing my usual routine on the first day of every month.

Most-stressful departure ever

You’ve certainly heard about flight delays and lack of information at airports that angered passengers. You probably know at least one person who has lost a luggage or whose baggage ended up on the other side of the world. How about long check-in lines that make you nervous about missing your flight? The story below is an addition to the list of disappointing travels.

Maria has been an international traveller for over 30 years and has visited about 40 countries with more than 20 stopovers/transits. Stories and anecdotes about unfortunate travelling were foreign to her until last month. Her Expedia-purchased tickets (Brussels-New York) had a very short transit in Montreal. To her surprise, she and her family couldn’t board Air Canada because they didn’t have a visa for Canada and their US Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) was not enough to get them into this plane for New York.

They didn’t think of getting a Canadian ETA as they were only transit passengers for less than 2 hours; there was no exiting from and entering into the Canadian soil outside the airport; and they were in the same airport flying with the same airline company. It was amazing that Expedia reminded them to get an American ETA when it was obvious they had to as they were going to New York, and which they already had before purchasing the tickets.

After about 10 minutes of talking with the female staff who hadn’t yet told them how they could obtain the Canadian ETA, Maria queried, “So, tell us how we can get this ETA?” She responded, “online.” There was no sign of empathy or willingness to help, so Maria asked, “How long will it take?” “Between 2 and 72 hours,” she said.

Before this, while queueing, another airline/airport staff spent at least 20 minutes looking at their passports and jovially asking them personal and social questions. Consequently, there was less than an hour and a half left before the scheduled take off. Nevertheless, Maria ran around like a lost hen looking for a computer where she could apply for the Canadian ETA. To add to the stress and chaos, the application form had several pages of questions on personal background, travel information and passport details. The next 30 minutes were un-describable: perspiration, unusually fast heartbeat, shaking hands, etc..

With the approved Canadian ETA fresh from the printer, they rushed to the check-in counter. Guess what? It had already closed. More perspiration, stress, etc. There was no Air Canada stand; more panic.. After a quick look around and a few steps here and there, Maria approached a Swiss Airlines’ female ground staff, who quickly rang the boarding area. She then turned to them and said, “Run; you might be able to make it but you couldn’t bring your luggage with you.” Armed only with a piece of paper that had the name and phone number of this considerate staff, Maria jumped queues explaining her situation to everyone (passengers and staff alike) along the way. As the door of the plane closed behind her, she wiped her forehead and face then walked slowly towards the vacant seat.

Unfortunately, one member of her family had to stay behind to look after their 3 suitcases. The only flight for New York that day was through Washington D.C. This family member joined Maria in Manhattan 7 hours later (the Canadian ETA, afterall, was a waste of money and time as far as he was concerned).

Maria has since written to Air Canada and its response is summarized in this paragraph “We sympathize with your situation but respectfully, it is the customer’s responsibility to obtain the proper travel documents. If you could not fly because you required the eTA and did not apply for one, all fare rules associated to your ticket apply. Further information regarding the eTA is available on the Government of Canada website http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp.” If you were in their shoes, would you have checked on travel requirements for Canada? (You were only transit passengers for less than 2 hours; there was no exiting from and entering into Canadian soil except at the airport; you were in the same airport flying with the same airline company; and Expedia didn’t mention this to you).

She also brought this joyless experience to the attention of Expedia who, until now, hasn’t responded to her email.

What’s the rationale behind the Canadian eTA for transit passengers of less than 2 hours? If it’s to collect an airport tax, why not do this at the check-in desk or in one of the pre-boarding counters?

We’re all in the same boat

Happy Labour Day!

Four of my friends were born in April. When I was in Australia, April was a month of non-stop partying, gift giving and receiving, and catching up with relatives and acquaintances. It’s widely known that the birthstone of April is diamond. Meanwhile, it’s still a wonder why this fourth month of the year is called as such. One explanation refers to its Latin origin, Aprilis, which is derived from aperire meaning “to open” as in the opening or blossoming of flowers and trees throughout the month of April in Europe (the northern hemisphere). Another theory is that since Aphrilis is derived from the Greek “Aphrodite” and since months are often named for gods and goddess, it can be deduced that April is in honour of the Greek goddess of love (the Romans called this goddess ‘Venus’). (http://blog.dictionary.com/april/)

This year’s April, however, didn’t seem like a month of wealth (diamond) and love for many individuals and families. The Hunger Project reveals that 795 million people, which is one in nine persons in the world, do not have enough to eat; and 98% of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries. (http://www.thp.org/knowledge-center/know-your-world-facts-about-hunger-poverty/)

Last April, you’d surely seen on TV the horrifying chemical attack in a Syrian town that prompted the US airstrikes, suicide bombing of the 2 Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, stolen truck driven by a terrorist into a store in a busy Swedish street, killing of a police officer in Paris, etc. I know none of the victims, nevertheless, these incidents have saddened me a lot and made me earthlier.

There’s only one planet Earth, and “we’re all in the same boat.” The loss of lives and sufferings due to crime and poverty contribute to more fears, anxiety and insecurity. On the other hand, these can bring individuals and communities together (and have done so).

No individual or nation thrives alone or in isolation. As such, there are many international alliances, e.g. The United Nations and its many bodies, European Union (EU), The Commonwealth, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), G7, G20, International Criminal Court, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), etc.

Though it looks like a person is an insignificant fish in the ocean, individuals make up the whole; and we can’t anymore pass the buck around. There are simple and costless ways we can do to help prevent and tackle crime, climate change, safety, insecurity (all forms including poverty), inequality and other ills in our society. Voting during local and national elections for the person and party that address these issues seriously, for example, is never a small step. We’ve to think globally and act locally!

As with the Titanic in the 1900s, when one side of the ship/boat sinks (sooner or later) all other parts submerge into the bottom of the sea. Some passengers may survive due to their quick thinking and surviving skills, sacrifices of loved ones and strangers, just pure luck or their own selfish acts; others perish; and many are left heart broken.

Sailing or travelling is smooth and peaceful, and we reach our destination with a grin, when no one or nothing rocks and/or destroys the boat. Let’s go an extra mile to smile, understand, cooperate, care and participate in making our neighbourhood (eventually our world) more liveable, sustainable and fun.

Fake news – a global concern

Last March 4, the BBC reported on the joint declaration regarding fake news, disinformation and propaganda by Mr. David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression) and his counterparts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of American States (OAS) and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

After some minutes of flicking and clicking online, I got into one of the United Nations’ websites which I thought would shed more light on this declaration. Someone from the Special Procedures Division of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights responded promptly to my request for a copy of the declaration.

This declaration focuses on concerns about fake news and the risk of censorship while trying to combat these. It, likewise, mentions the danger in which the growing prevalence of fake news or disinformation, fuelled by both State and non-State individuals and agencies, mislead citizens and interfere with people’s right to know the truth. Charter 6, the last section, says “All stakeholders – including intermediaries, media outlets, civil society and academia – should be supported in developing participatory and transparent initiatives for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena.”

Last month, you most probably heard about the much publicised video of a female cyclist responding to catcalls from men in a van by chasing them and destroying their vehicle’s wing mirror. This was posted on Facebook then by the media; several of them later updated their stories calling it as a hoax or fake.
How to recognise fake news?

Publishing or reporting fake news undermines the trustworthiness of the media as a whole. But, why are some media outlets and journalists not careful and thorough with their information?

Facts and information take more time, effort and money to produce than entertainment-style reporting. Even well-known major media organisations use entertainment model to gain maximum audience and profits.

The onus, therefore, is for us – the consumers (readers, listeners, audiences) to decide whether we want to be informed or entertained. If our goal is the former; firstly, we should find out about the source of the information (i.e. do we recognise the author or publisher)? Are there supporting materials or reports from credible sources, i.e. has it been reported elsewhere? Most importantly, let’s be more questioning and less accepting, such as thinking about underlying purposes or intentions of the story and its source (e.g. income from ad platforms, political gain or propaganda).
Why are fake news believable?

Stories are attention getter (e.g. outlandish, involving famous people) and disseminated to meet specific agenda, but not really to inform factually. As well, often their formats and sources resemble those of reputable media outlets. According to the U.S. News & World Report (https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2016-11-14/avoid-these-fake-news-sites-at-all-costsPrdicker@usnews.com.ublication), these news outlets produce fake news: The Onion (satire), The Borowitz Report – The New Yorker (satire), American News (hoax), Daily Buzz Live (propaganda) and World Truth TV (propaganda).

Why should we be vigilant about fake news?
According to research results by Zubiaga, Arkaitz; et al. (PLOS ONE, 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal), “Whilst one can readily see users denying rumors once they have been debunked, users appear to be less capable of distinguishing true from false rumors when their veracity remains in question.” As well, “highly reputable users such as news organizations endeavor to post well-grounded statements, which appear to be certain and accompanied by evidence. Nevertheless, these often prove to be unverified pieces of information that give rise to false rumors.”

Though we may know that it’s a fake news, we (human beings) have the tendency to remember this because of its entertaining element that interests and abets processing.

False news influences beliefs, attitudes and actions; therefore, can lead to fears, conflicts and loss of job/family/friends/belongings. It divides and destabilises communities and society as a whole.

For instance, fake news about crimes committed by illegal entrants and refugees, such as the reported rape in Germany that led to street protests (although Germany’s government officials debunked it quickly), undermine peace and the country’s refugee and humanitarian programme.
When it comes to our decisions and actions, there’s no short cut or substitute for facts and truths. Thus, we should always go for reports that have in depth analyses and are professionally-generated.

*(The prefix dis indicates reversal while mis means wrong or erroneous. Misinformation is a form of disinformation that is disseminated intentionally to mislead or confuse).

Carnival here and there

This week, 9 of my acquaintances are on holiday or have taken days off from work to participate in carnival activities. One of them lives in Binche, Belgium, where every year during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday (i.e. today) there are street performances, dancing and merry making. The Shrove Tuesday’s parade includes the throwing or giving away of oranges to spectators by the Gilles – famous participants colourfully dressed with wax masks, ostrich-feathered hats and wooden footwear. The oranges are considered to bring good luck because they are a gift from the Gilles and it is an insult to throw or give them back. (Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras, Pancake Day or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French as it’s the last night of eating rich and fatty food before fasting during Lent, which is 40 days before Easter).

According to http://www.carnivalpower.com/history_of_carnival.htm, the Catholics in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means “to put away the meat.” As time passed by, carnivals in Italy became quite famous; and the practice spread to France, Spain and all Catholic countries in Europe.

Two years ago, I was at the Notting Hill carnival in London and it had a fully Caribbean flare with lots of feathers, and I have since found out that in Africa feathers are used in masks and headdresses as a symbol of humans’ ability to overcome problems, pains, illness and difficulties. I’m certain you’ve heard a lot about the spectacular carnival bonanza in Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, and the lavish Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Sydney, Venice and other cities.

During my early days in Luxembourg when I read everything from billboard notices to free newspapers, I remember seeing something like “You haven’t lived in Luxembourg properly or fully until you’ve sampled the country’s magnificent array of carnival processions and parties.” Indeed, in Luxembourg, carnival is a serious and month-long celebration with various Luxembourgish associations organising a host of festive events and cavalcades (tradition that goes back to 1870); and February 27 was a no-work day in some companies.

During the carnival period, people enjoy tasty doughnuts, pancakes and other local specialities, such as knots of pastry sprinkled with icing sugar (Verwurrelt Gedanken) and small cakes made of scalded pastry (Stretzegebäck).

I did make some pancakes last weekend. As well, I was in a fancy-dress party organised beautifully by a lovely Polish-French couple, which included games, dancing that lasted till dawn and devouring on bigos (made of cabbage) and faworki ‘Angel wings’ (a yolk-base dough well aerated, kneaded then fried in deep oil, which are traditionally eaten on the last Thursday of the carnival).

Often, we hear about disorders and drunkenness that result from carnival festivities. Generally, however, there are more ups than downs: they liven up arts and cultures, vitalise local economy, provide employment and attract tourists. They encourage community spirit (e.g. one of my students serves as a volunteer First Aid personnel in his German-speaking hometown in Belgium); social integration; self-esteem; optimism and happiness. They also provide opportunities for authorities to showcase their organisational skills in terms of security, safety, transport, etc.

If you want to go beyond the carnival atmosphere, check the following local and world events in March: concerts and shows in your towns and cities, Water-Drawing Festival in Japan, Festival of Colour in India and Nepal, Bali Spirit Festival in Indonesia and Semana Santa in Mexico.

Our brains adapt and change

I hope 2017 has started well for you and your loved ones. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions but believe that there’s always a room for improvement. So, in any day of any month, I try to deal with my faults and weaknesses. These imperfections make me wake up in the morning wanting to do something better than yesterday.

As you can see on the above photograph, I got a trophy 3 weeks ago for finishing 2nd among adult female participants at a chess tournament in Marange-Silvange, a commune 20 km from where I live in Moselle department in north-eastern France. From time to time, I join this kind of competition because it makes my avid-chess playing son happy and proud of his mum. As well, I find the atmosphere festive amid rivalry characterised by fair play, respect and camaraderie.

What pleases me most is watching children, as young as 5 years old, sitting for some time thinking, analysing and making decisions which pieces to move to corner their opponents’ Kings. For me, all players are winners because they learn and exercise discipline, accept or manage their wins and losses, and try to improve their future performances. Furthermore, spending a Saturday or Sunday afternoon playing and socialising is more productive, with long-term benefits, than being a couch potato — which is likely when the outside temperature is -5°C.

Though there’s been a widespread use of computer and video games, Internet entertainment and online socialising, individuals and families still get involved in group activities. According to http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-popular/the-top-10-most-sold-board-games-ever), the following are the most popular board games ever: 1. Chess 2. Checkers 3. Backgammon 4. Scabble 5. Monopoly 6. Clue (or Cluedo) 7. Othello 8. Trivial Pursuit 9. Pictionary and 10. Risk.

Except for Clue and Othello, I’ve played them all; and when I was at university my favourite was Scabble which was responsible for my many sleepless nights. During the first decade of my professional life, I used to play Risk with 2 close male friends who either tried to persuade me to form an alliance to get rid of the other player or accused me of being unfair for showing leniency to the other.

On the other hand, except for a few hours of self defense lesson required by my father and membership to a local gym, I’ve never been in any sports club or group. Sometimes I play lawn tennis with my family and bowling a few times a year, and wish I could ski.

As you probably know, football (US ‘soccer’) is the most played sports in the world. Cricket and field hockey come next then tennis, volleyball, table tennis, baseball, golf and basketball. (http://www.mostpopularsports.net)

Whether you are a board game or sport enthusiast, you are doing something that helps develop or strengthen your mind as these activities train you to be patient and resilient in the face of difficulty or inconvenience. Likewise, being with other people widens your social network that can also have a flow-on effect on your professional life; and of course, it entertains you that has positive psychological and health benefits. It’s never too late to start a leisure activity or hobby, and why not a board game? Most towns and cities have local clubs that welcome new members.

I’d spoken with many chess players during tournaments and they told me that they started playing at home with their relatives or friends (or friends of friends) during family gatherings, through encouragement by teachers and classmates, watching the game or sport live on TV/movie/online, and living near the club or tournament.

Whatever game or sport we decide to do, let’s bear in mind that, as Dr. Doidge has said, not all activities are equal. “Those that involve genuine concentration—studying a musical instrument, playing board games, reading, and dancing—are associated with a lower risk for dementia. Dancing, which requires learning new moves, is both physically and mentally challenging and requires much concentration. Less intense activities, such as bowling, babysitting, and golfing, are not associated with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s.” (Dr. Norman Doidge is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher and author at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry and New York’s Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research).

Dr. Doidge has also said that “The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.” (http://www.azquotes.com/author/18876-Norman_Doidge).

PS:My website was down for a while for reasons unknown to me, and it took a few days to fix it.Our brains adapt and change