Final Toastmaster’s Speech (Inspire Your Audience)

Here for everyone’s amusement is my final speech as part of the initial Toastmaster’s competency:

This was my speech for the ‘Inspire Your Audience’ project (Project 10) as part of the Toastmaster’s communication manual. It was delivered at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

For those of you who are interested in getting better at public speaking, I highly recommend Toastmasters as a means to do this.

I have much more to learn, but am so glad I decided to give it a go.

 

Posted in Economics, Opinion, Ramblings | Leave a comment

DevQuest.org – Insider advice from development newstarters

Hey all,

A group of friends and I have started a new website to help people looking to transition into an  international development career.

It’s predominantly targeted at Interns, graduates and Young Professionals in recognition that there is limited information out there which focuses on this and getting your foot in the door is often the hardest part.

For those of you who are interested, you can follow the link below:

http://www.DevQuest.org

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Cambodia

So I have to admit, if you had asked me which country was next on my hit list, I probably wouldn’t have said Cambodia.

You see, as an Australian I have the wonderful privilege of being located next to a huge number of countries which I’d describe as being very ‘Me’ in that they’re warm, diverse and easy to visit. But I also happen to work in an industry where my business is looking at all things international, so the choice of Cambodia was not my own.

Spiders and Dolphins

Of course as is true of all good expeditions it’s probably best that I start somewhere near the beginning, which is with Tarantulas. See, although I knew bits and pieces about Cambodia, I had next to no knowledge about Kratie, the province where I was to be staying. But with the help of Google I discovered:

So armed with this extensive knowledge, I proceeded to focus on the most important point: Would I be willing to eat a tarantula?

Phnom Penh

Of course I was soon to find out how little my research had prepared me for the reality of Phnom Penh. You see far from being full of spiders, it was actually inhabited almost entirely by people.

 Perplexed by this I hit the books (and travel guides) again and here’s what I found out:

  • Phnom Penh is the largest city in Cambodia,
  • It has a population of around 2 million, which is around 10 per cent of Cambodia’s total population
  • As a consequence of its French colonial roots and wartime history, it is as an eclectic mix of French architecture and Buddhism
  • I prefer starting my day with Phnom Penh noodle soup than Weet Bix
  • There is a lot of dust

In fact, with all the dust and activity I couldn’t help but feel that I was located in the centre of a Cowboy Bebop esque cacophony of culture, dust and disorder.

Then there’s the pagodas, which is a term (technically) used to describe the ‘tiered’ style of architecture typical in East Asia, but colloquially used for the Buddhist temples scattering the countryside. And when I say scattering, I mean scattered like ducks on a pond.

You see, way before hipsters spent their time coming up with ‘Facebook’ for the ‘Facebook generation’ on Kickstarter, Cambodian communities were crowdsourcing with the best of them. In fact, many of the Pagodas in Cambodia are not financed by the church, but from Cambodian expatriates.

What this meant was that even when I had travelled to areas of Cambodia which were scarcely occupied (or occupiable given it was the dry season) a monumental pagoda wouldn’t be far off (pun intended).

Phnom Penh’s Silver Pagoda

Woah right? Well, woah is right.

Unfortunately, thanks to my unapologetically crappy Olympus camera there are other pictures, but few which capture the magnificence of these buildings. But fortunately for you, Google has succeeded where my camera failed by providing you with an abundance of stock photos to choose from. Add this to Wikipedia providing me with all the information I need to fake my travel story and you’ve got a winning combination.

A very impressive mural on the surrounding walls near the Silver Pagoda

So here’s the deal, probably the most well-known Pagoda is the ‘Silver Pagoda’, a name which couldn’t be more appropriate given its floor is made of five tonnes or five thousand solid-silver tiles. It is also the home of some of the countries most treasured artifacts including a life-sized gold Buddha and a building donated by Napoleon (which is now occupied by monkeys).

Monument honouring the late King Norodom Sihanouk.

But of course for me to claim this as the end of my day looking at curios, artefacts and monuments would be widely inaccurate because after having toured the palace I spent the best part of my first day in Phnom Penh randomly wandering around the city.

Independence Monument

And this random wandering was how I found the monuments above and a myriad of other statues scattered nearby my hotel. You see, Cambodia has quite a history, being a colony of France from 1863 to 1958, having experienced around a decade of growth (squarely centered in the capital itself) and having barely emerged from a regime that wiped out or around 25% of Cambodia’s population.

So when it comes to effective strategies for tourism you’ll likely find getting lost a surprisingly successful strategy (provided you leave a trail of breadcrumbs).


The elusive museum rooster.

Getting Serious

Of course as inspiring as visiting the National Museum, Royal Palace and Wat Phnom were, I did have to set aside a day to desperately try to understand how it was possible for something as brutal as the Cambodian genocide to occur.

Now although admittedly there aren’t many tourist destinations you want to leave with tears in your eyes, Cambodia’s most well-known memorial to the genocide, the Choeung Ek Killing Field is undeniably powerful and a site which is a macabre must for all visitors to Cambodia.

Given the seriousness of the destination I’d suggest the following:

  • Think twice about taking your children – this is an extremely confronting experience which might not be appropriate for some kids. I certainly wouldn’t have had the maturity to provide it with the respect it deserves when I was a kid. But then I was a hoodlum.
  • If you plan to visit the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, be aware that it is also confronting, so you might want to rest in between so you can appreciate it. It is also not as well-funded, so I would suggest reading up on it before you arrive to get the most out of your visit.
  • I’d try and set aside around 2 hours at the fields themselves – working your way through the audio tour and museum takes time, and is undeniably worthwhile.
  • Don’t plan anything much for afterwards as you might need time to recover.
  • If you fire an AK47, don’t do it on the day you visit the fields.

Finally, before you leave Cambodia I recommend you read ‘First they Killed My Father‘ by Loung Ung. If you do what I did and read this on the plane, bring enough tissues to have people around you think you’re going to craft your own pillow. You’ll need them.

Kratie

Of course, I wasn’t being sent to Cambodia for the purposes of testing out firearms or taking photos of the roosters loitering around museums. I was there to work, which is where the province of Kratie comes in. So to give you an essential flavour of the area, Kratie (pronounced ‘Krashee’) is a province north-east of Phnom Penh:

Kratie is not actually red.

Source

But beyond the fascinating story of Kratie’s position relative to Phnom Penh is the fact that the Kratie province is essentially the bread in a Mekong sandwich, providing an excellent source of water for irrigation or Huckleberry Finn style adventures. Now as a result of this, people are furiously using the Mekong in every way they can as it slithers its way through Cambodia.

What this means is that not only are villages scattered across its shores, but so are rice paddies and the (very) occasional Irrawaddy dolphin. Also when I say ‘shores’ I mean it, you see in Australia we have the tendency to call any trickle of water a river, even when it’s just a result of somebody accidentally leaving their hose on. But the Mekong River, unlike the leaky tap in your backyard, is of epic proportions.

The view of the Mekong across from my guesthouse.


The view of the pagoda on the other side of my guesthouse.

But of course the purpose of my trip was not just to make relative comparisons of flowing water (as undoubtedly useful as this is), but to assist with the monitoring and evaluation of a number of local development projects. So each of my days went something like this:

Potentially the most attractive road I’ve ever seen.

And as simple as this daily routine might sound, it was actually nothing short of exhausting. Particularly given that travelling to and from a site took anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. In any case, at the end of the day the bamboo mat I slept on was nothing short of luxury. It was also another great opportunity to see first-hand both how participatory development projects can function on the ground and just how entrepreneurial NGOs can be.

Siem Reap

But like all things, my time in Kratie was only temporary and with limited time to myself I did what any sane person in Cambodia would do and headed for the temples.

Food white people like to take photos of.

Of course whilst I will openly admit to being much less adventurous in Siem Reap than the rest of Cambodia, I can reveal to you at this point that I did in fact have what it took to eat a tarantula. Although it was more to the amusement of the expatrates than the locals, the closest thing I can compare it to is hairy cheese.


Dr Fish.

I also got to experience the wonders of being (slowly) eaten alive by fish. Now, although I had first tried a ‘fish massage’ when I was in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap brought something a little different to the table.

You see, the fish in Siem Reap probably as a result of subsisting on a diet of overweight westerners, are themselves ahhh… big. So instead of being lightly nibbled, you are mercilessly devoured. In fact when you put your feet in the tank they hand you a pointy stick for defence and a beer for anaesthetic.

Ankor What?

Look, I am fully aware that joke has been used countless times before. But there is a reason some jokes rise to the ranks of ‘dad jokes‘ and others don’t.

Some are timelessly awesome.

In any case, like everyone else, I was in in Siem Reap to see temples in the butt-load (the standard measure of temple quantities).

Angkor Wat

Silly tree, get out of here!


Phnom Bakheng

Statues watching their back at Bayon Temple

Now, for anyone who has been to Siem Reap you’ll know that the streets are littered with tour guide operators offering standard temple packages, making it pretty easy to plan your trip once you arrive. Unfortunately this can make it rather difficult to determine the standard of your tour guide before booking.

Luckily for me I went with my gut and decided to avoid the first tour guide I spoke to, mainly as a result of them having an electrified booth. No really, I stood there watching as the poor guy manning the booth tried not to touch anything as his friend (while laughing heartily) ran to turn off the power at its source.

Needless to say, I didn’t go with this guy, but for those of you looking to do a tour I would highly recommend taking the luck out of it and researching and booking your tour ahead of time so you don’t miss out on snagging one of the legendary tour guide operators.

I said the motorcycle tour was manly right?

I would also suggest mixing up how you do your tours, as I have to say after the first day I was keen to go somewhere where I might have a bit more solitude. So here’s my second suggestion, consider taking a quad-bike or motorbike tour of the area outside of Siem Reap. I personally found this to be the most satisfying part of my time there as not only does it allow you to escape the crowds, but provides a great opportunity to get a more authentic view of some of the countryside.

Think of all the manly things I can keep in that basket.

Photo credit to Nelson

Unfortunately, the motorbike tour was also the last thing I did before leaving, resulting in me being left with an undeniable sense of sadness on my last day. Despite this, I have to say Cambodia rates very highly on the my list of places I’ve visited.

So much so, I am intending on returning and unlike Indiana Jones, when I do it will be awesome.

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Knitters wanted for penguin pullovers

I’ve never been so motivated to learn to knit in my life:

Knitters wanted for penguin pullovers

The Penguin Foundation has a global callout for knitters to make pullovers for penguins in rehab.

Penguins caught in oil spills need the little jumpers to keep warm and to stop them from trying to clean the toxic oil off with their beaks…

Read the full article here. 

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New Journal Article: Estimating the Global Costs of Violence

For those interested, I have just had another one of my pieces of research published.

Those with access to ingentaconnect can access it by clicking here.

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Problem Solving through ‘Bright Spots’

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a leadership conference about applying a ‘Bright Spots’ approach to tackling problems and have received a number of requests for further information around the idea.

At the outset, I should make it clear to everyone that I unfortunately did not come up with this idea. Rather, the approach was popularized by Chip and Dan Heath in their book ‘Switch’.

Solving Pumpkin-Related Problems

In the book, Dan and Chip Heath describe a seemingly counterintuitive way of looking at problems which is centred on replicating success, rather than solving problems.

Take my hobby of growing pumpkins.

There I am, trying my best to grow a prize pumpkin so as to decimate my neighbour Jim in the annual harvest festival.

But lo and behold after 3 months, six out of the ten pumpkins have barely grown at all and another two appear to have ceased to live.

But I’m determined. After all Jim couldn’t be more deserving of a trouncing at the pumpkin festival.

So I begin to try and figure out the problem, checking the acidity of the soil, ensuring my automated watering system is working, my gate is locked to keep Jim out and ensuring there is sufficient horse manure to keep my infant pumpkins thriving past their awkward teenage years.

But here’s the problem, as I’m spending time chastising my dog for the teeth marks on the watering system, which Jim assured were not his, I’m diverting all my attention into solving pumpkin-related problems, rather than trying to replicate pumpkin-related success.

Put simply, I’m ignoring those two pumpkins which appear to be thriving.

And in a nutshell this is the idea behind the ‘Bright Spots’ approach: don’t solve problems, copy success.

Bright Spots and Fighting Child Malnutrition

It is also a helpful reminder in the world of international development where we can become obsessed with the process of solving problems, when the solutions might have already presented themselves through past success.

In fact, this was one of the very examples cited in their book. Specifically, in 1990, Jerry Sternin arrived in Vietnam with the ‘Save the Children Fund’ with a brief to ‘fix child malnutrition in 6 months’.

Now Jerry, knowing very little about Vietnam, knew a lot about the causes of malnutrition; poor sanitation, poverty and a lack of clean water.

But how does a person make a dent on these problems in 6 months?

Taking the context as given, he started looking for ‘Bright Spots’.

He did this by touring village after village and looking for children who were less malnourished than their peers, despite facing the same context of poverty and poor sanitation.

From this he then started to build a picture of what the mothers of these children were doing differently.

What he found was striking. You see, the accepted wisdom was in order for children to avoid malnutrition their parents should feed them soft foods with clean rice two times a day.

Yet the mothers of the ‘Bright Spot’ children were doing something quite different.

Firstly, instead of feeding their children two times a day, they were feeding the same amount of food over four smaller meals, allowing more nutritional value to be taken from the same amount of food.

Secondly, they were supplementing the meals with locally available food (such as crabs and shrimp which lived in the rice paddies), which provided an additional source of protein and nutrients.

Armed with this knowledge, he started to implement cooking classes run by the ‘Bright Spot’ mothers to cement the knowledge.

The results?

Six months after Sternin had come to the Vietnamese village, 65% of the kids were better nourished and stayed that way.

Later researchers who gathered independent data found that even children who hadn’t been born when Sternin left were as healthy as the kids he’d reached directly.

The program was expanded and today has reaches 2.2 million Vietnamese people in 265 villages (Source).

Explaining the Outliers

But the significance of this approach extends far beyond pumpkins and shrimp.

In fact in the world of economics this idea couldn’t be more relevant, as we are often looking for general relationships. Take the relationship between how happy somebody says they are and wealth provided in the figure below:

Life satisfaction tends to increase with GDP per capita

Source

Now for the many of you who have made it your life’s work to avoid the painful process of interpreting graphs, the key idea to get out of this is that as a general rule individuals in more wealthy countries have greater levels of life satisfaction.

Genius right?

But we can clearly see that this isn’t true for all countries. For instance, Argentina’s average income is as high as New Zealand’s, but they’re not very satisfied.

On the other hand, China is much poorer than France, but has higher levels of satisfaction.

In the world of statistics we might call China and New Zealand ‘outliers’, as they’re countries which seem to be bucking the trend.

Now although this is not very surprising, given that we all know that money doesn’t buy happiness (although it helps), it does provide a great example of how we might look to use the approach, even in the (sometimes) boring world of economics.

Instead of trying to get more happiness through raising incomes, why not examine what makes people in New Zealand and China more satisfied to see if we can replicate it?

Want to develop professionally?

Perhaps build on your strengths, rather than focusing on the identified weaknesses.

 

Making a new year’s resolution?

Focus on those you’ve managed to keep and nurture success.

 

Growing pumpkins?

Steal your neighbours pumpkin seeds, rather than sabotaging their watering system.

 

“Don’t solve problems, replicate success.”

If you would like to read more about this idea, you can pick their book up here.

Posted in Economics, Opinion, Speeches | 2 Comments

Swatting at Magpies

At the outset, I’d like to wish everybody subscribed to my blog a happy new year. I personally am not overly superstitious, but it appears to me that ending a year with ’13′ in it can only be a good thing.

So to celebrate, I am going to post a slightly edited version of the first speech I gave to Toastmasters.Obviously I’ve used a bit of poetic license when giving this one, but they’re both based on true events.

 

Good evening.

Tonight I’d like to make my introductions to the audience. You see in addition to this being my entry into the humorous speech contest, it is also my first as a member of toastmasters.

My name, is Giles.

Giles Dickenson-Jones to be precise.

And with a name like ‘Giles’ you might think that I know which piece of cutlery to use first during my dinners with the highest echelons of society.You may imagine that I spend my nights smoking a cigar in a leather arm chair, in a brandy-fuelled daze.

You might even imagine that my weekends are packed to the brim with polo, murder mysteries and wine tastings.

However, tonight I’d like to start my time at Toastmasters by making my introduction in a way which illustrates exactly who this new face called ‘Giles’ is.

You see, Giles is the guy who brings cider and wedges to a formal meeting of toastmasters.

What I mean by this is that no matter how hard I might try to be the Giles that you expect.

The awkwardness of the Giles that I am will always prevail.

 

Now, although as an economist you might assume that I can skate past this claim without a shred of evidence, let me introduce you to exhibit A:

October 1990

Stuarts Point Public School, New South Wales.

Me, a small, not particularly popular child with hair bleached white from the sun.

It’s recess, and although young, I was wise for my age, having already discovered the unmistakable sting of the bull ant, speed of the goanna and roar of the koala.

But until that fateful recess in October, I had not known the peck of the magpie.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, being more than an hour from Sydney means that I can claim an affinity with Animals, not unlike crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin.

However, even I had not been prepared for the aerial terror of the native Australian magpie.

Nor was I able to hide my fear after my first encounter.

Week after week.

Day after day

Recess after recess

The Magpie sought out my bright white hair, like the target that it was.

So I hatched a plan.

But this wasn’t any plan, it was the playground equivalent of the great escape.

And It required, guts, determination and access to the sport shed.

 

In the words of Sun Tsu:

If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.

Whether he was talking about magpies is still subject to debate and may never be fully known.

But as a child seeking to become a man, I knew this was the key to victory.

For myself I knew my greatest weakness was my hair.

In fact it was my Achilles heel.

But what was the magpies?

Well, under cover of darkness with access to a library I found out….

 

Anything solid you could swing above your head.

 

And so there I was, in the middle of the playground, wearing a comically oversized hockey mask, wildly swinging a metal baseball bat over my head, while the bemused teachers and students looked on.

I can assure you since that day, magpies and I have had an unspoken understanding.

They don’t bother me and I don’t swing inanimate objects at them.

 

Exhibit B:

I’ve never been the sporty type.

I know what you’re thinking, ‘oh come on Giles, nobody is that good looking by accident’.

But hear me out.

 

God may have had a plan for my exceptional good looks, but it’s no fault of my own.

You see, throughout my school life, my least popular pastime was always sport.

Although I’m not sure where exactly this came from, it may very well have been from one of my first swimming carnivals.

 

Now let me set the scene.

There I was, a suitably awkward child of 10, dressed in my standard issue speedo.

As was typical at the Macksville public pool during that time of year, the sun was blaring almost as intensely as the hundreds of children crowding the grandstand.

 

Fortunately for me, underneath the grandstand there was respite.

So there I was.

Hiding under the stand with my friend, strategically avoiding as much physical activity as possible.

 

That is, unless it involved trying to escape outside from teachers by squeezing ourselves under the back wall.

Unfortunately, apparently I had a head which was sufficiently larger than my friends.

Large enough, to thwart my escape.

 

So there I was, ten years old with my head stuck between a slab of cement and a corrugated iron wall.

Hundreds of kids screaming, just loud enough to swamp my whimpers as I attempted to absolve myself of the corrugated iron and concrete prison through force.

But, it was to no avail.

 

The only choice that remained was to do the unthinkable and bring our Narnia to an end.

So my friend fetched the teacher.

 

Unfortunately, the adult world’s solution was no more sophisticated than the human equivalent of WD40.

What I mean by this, is that to add insult to injury, the teacher proceeded to pour inexpensive moisturizer on my head in an attempt to ‘slide’ me from the concrete’s clutches.

 

So there I was, lying in the hot sun, with hundreds of my schoolmates watching me.

My face covered in moisturizer and my eyes filled with tears.

 

But at this point, I would like to make something clear to you.

This story real…

In fact it’s so real, that all the time this was happening somebody was filming it.

 

That’s right.

In a time when portable cameras were far from common.

Somebody had the foresight to bring one.

And thank God for that. Otherwise they would have missed what was next:

 

A fire-crew and the Jaws of Life.

So there I was, lying on my side, dressed in my speedos, head covered in moisturizer with tears in my eyes, a jaws of life, a fire crew, hundreds of my friends watching and somebody was recording it.

 

This, my friends was the thing of nightmares and perhaps why sports has never been my thing.

But this is very much the guy who brings wedges to a toastmasters meeting.

And this is who I am.

Try as I might to be the Giles you might expect, the real Giles is still swatting at magpies in the playground.

Thank you.

Posted in Ramblings, Speeches | 1 Comment

The Right Side of History

Once again, I’ve been slack on the blog posts. But, I’ve got a new speech below which I delivered at the final Toastmasters meeting for 2013.

Good evening,

Tonight I’d like to challenge us all to change the way we view the world by asking which side of history we will find ourselves on.

You see, as Nelson Mandela passed away and the world was inundated with condolences for the once terrorist and now freedom fighter, I felt troubled by the life he led and what it might say about the times we live in.

You see, one of the things which I have enjoyed learning about is how little our fears, joys and hopes have changed after 12,000 years of scientific and technological progress.

And this is what worries me so much, you see as a species we have changed very little, and are prone to making mistakes.

And although mistakes are forgivable, it is when we start to make them consistently without recognizing them we should begin to worry.

To make this point, I’d like to you all to think of a story of greed, speculation and economic devastation.

I am of course talking of 1593.

When tulips were introduced from Turkey to the Netherlands they became so popular that demand for them outstripped supply.

With prices for tulip bulbs continually rising, many people in the Netherlands sought to profit by buying low and selling high.

This frenzy continued until one bulb was worth more than an average lifetime income.

As people realized the tulips were overpriced, the market crashed, destroying the livelihoods of a nation.

Yet this is just one instance of the irrational exuberance of crowds, with there being many others including the South Sea Bubble, the Mississippi company scheme, black Tuesday and the global financial crisis.

So not only do we as a society make mistakes, but we make them consistently and in such a fashion that they appear retrospectively ridiculous.

But this is not a speech about market stability.

It’s about the fact that the you and I of yesterday, often did not recognize that we were on the wrong side of history.

In fact in South Africa, as recently as 1948, the then elected Nationalist Party declared:

“Our motto is to maintain white supremacy for all time to come…by force if necessary.”

For Nelson Mandela, the common complacency of people not unlike us, but caught in a different time, meant that until 1994 blacks in South Africa couldn’t vote.

Of course, you are all unlikely to be surprised by this, being students of history yourself.

But what to me is surprising, is for how long what we would now consider a blatant injustice, persisted.

You see, I believe humanity to be inherently good, suggesting that many of those complicit in these injustices either did not know, or didn’t care.

Which means that today it is entirely plausible that I am complicit in some modern moral equivalent of apartheid, without even being aware.

You see as a species we are not only able to change our physical environment, but our intellectual environment by changing the way we interpret our world.

So much so, that we can create a reality which justifies injustices.

The crusades were justified by Christianity, colonialism through ‘civilizing the uncivilized’ and the plight of the worlds poor by corruption.

But we all know that the true reasons and underlying machinations are more complex.

Yet unless we are careful these superficial justifications can become enough to allow us to live with these tragedies in full view.

And it is this fact I would like you to consider.

Because as much as we might think we are somehow different from our parents and theirs, I believe to consider ourselves as being morally superior to our ancestors is a dangerous hubris which risks complacency.

You see, it is not our intentions which have changed but our definitions of virtue.

But what we define to be good is also inherently fragile, and strongly defined by when we live.

So for us to be on the right side of history we must look beyond the now.

As was noted by the Economist in their eulogy of Nelson Mandela, what made him such a giant was not his influence or  his passion, but his willingness to listen and change his mind.

And it is this which I would like you to consider when you make your new years resolution for 2014.

Because as simple as this might sound, being able to objectively recognize and escape our prejudices, is what might stop us from making the same mistakes our ancestors made.

You see my friends, history may very well be written by the winners.

But the everyday is written by us.

Thank you.

Posted in Opinion, Ramblings, Speeches | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco

I’ve often been asked by friends ‘Giles, how can you have a phobia of hipsters but be so fond of San Francisco’?

Well that’s a good question. Such a good question as a matter of fact, that I’m going deal with it in the only responsible way: by all together ignoring it. You see, hipsters are people too and the only bartenders who don’t look at me funny when I ask for a cocktail involving pickle brine.

As a result, they’re okay by me. Kind of like bears, they’re probably as afraid of me as I am of them.

Now although I’m not one to claim myself as a scholar of American history, I do know that San Francisco holds a special place in its books, being a metropolitan hub during the California Gold Rush, a stage for large scale immigration, a nexus of the gay rights movement and a focal point for an unfolding wave of liberalism.

But before I discourage my readers by packing paragraphs with more parables than puns, let me assure you, like all my blog posts, this will be targeted towards a readership with a low attention span (just like its author). So much so, that I fully intend to include a whole array of random photos in completely inappropriate places. Like here:

Rectangle frames are too mainstream for San Francisco.

Fortunately, that photo serves as more than just eye candy, it provides a (not so) clever segway to my opening point: San Francisco is cool. So cool in fact, that no matter where I went, I always felt like something was going on that I wasn’t invited to.

Unfortunately for San Francisco, unlike at my neighbour’s parties, there was no fence to keep me out.

Any place which is willing to risk its financial viability for the sake of humour is okay by me.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Now, as my well-travelled and no doubt learned readers know, San Francisco is home of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is kind of like San Francisco’s equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, as it was the first sight for immigrants entering the United States through the bay.

Wikipedia is a better photographer than me…

China Town

Unsurprisingly, San Francisco’s history of immigration played an important role in shaping the area. In fact, as of 2010 San Francisco had the highest share of Chinese-born immigrants in the US, which is perhaps why it is also home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.

Now for anyone who has seen my previous travel blogs you’ll realize that I have a thing for immersing myself in markets and whatever other obscure attractions I can find. As a result, I spent a lot of time in Chinatown.


In fact, after spending around 4 hrs walking around in this one, I can assure you it’s impressively large. In fact, in the world of eating random street food and buying solar power waving cats, I’m king.

But SF’s CT almost had me beat, with a seemingly endless supply of toys, balms and disconcertingly food, which I find fascinating. You see generally for there to be a product, there has to be a buyer and understanding who they are and what they might be buying it for interests the hell out of me.

Of course, I already know who purchases fish ice cream, because it’s me. But who is purchasing solar powered plants?

And then there is the random assortment of graffiti:

Wait to ruin a perfectly awesome dragon Banksy!

Of course, I’m not going to be so bold as to claim it to be a major attraction of SF’s CT, but there are some pretty cool pieces of street art around the place. And although typically I’m vehemently against the defacing of dragons, for Banksy I’ll gladly make an exception.

It’s also hard to be mad when faced with the world’s largest LOL Cat.

Also home to the world’s biggest LOL cat.

 


Stanford

As you probably also know, I’m a geek.

Typically I’d rather sit in a library writing, than at a pub drinking. In fact even better is being at the library drinking. And while I was lucky enough to be taken on a number of whirlwind tours of bars in the area, they’re not included in this blog because touring Stanford trumped them.

Although it’s hard for me to objectively reflect on why I liked Stanford so much, I dare say it was mostly to do with how magnificent the campus is. You see, although I think it’s pretty cool to be walking around a campus full of nerd, a high nerd density is not sufficient for me to be impressed.

The reason I can attest to this, is that I have also toured Harvard…. although that might have something to do with me being escorted off campus after making too many references to Animal House. 

The Gates Computer Science building.

In any case, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Stanford, partially I suspect as a result of what the buildings at my university typically looked like.

Okay, my university looked nothing like that. We didn’t have walls. But check out this next photo:

It’s a car park.

That’s right, not content with just any old building to park their cars, somebody has constructed what is a Sydney Opera House for cars.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t spend ample amounts of time fawning over this thing, but it does make my point pretty directly that the Stanford campus is nothing short of epic, even when they’re just dealing with the temporary storage of cars.

Of course the explanation for this rather extravagant storage of cars is quite simple. You see Stanford is an amazing campus, with smart students and generous benefactors, and in such a place you can’t have your cars slumming it in a ‘car hold‘.

This is particularly because the university is built on such noble origins. Of which, I was lucky enough to be regaled with after ascending the illustrious Hoover Tower:

Hoover Tower.

You see, the founders of Stanford university did so in the memory of their 15 year old son, who died of typhoid in 1884. But as part of the endowment they stipulated that all Stanford roofs must be red, their son’s favorite color, so he could see them from heaven.

The view from Hoover Tower.

Now, maybe it was the fact that I’m a sucker, but I have to admit when I was told this story I shed a tear, which is in my defense is pretty easy when you’re staring down the barrel end of a view like the one above.

But let me assure you it was a manly tear. In fact it was so manly, that it impregnated the ground.

Unfortunately, like many origin stories, outside of Marvel, this one and by extension my whole Stanford experience, was a lie. The roofs are just red because that’s the style, and there is no heaven.

Okay, a tad melodramatic, but it really didn’t make a difference as I didn’t tip the tour guide. Take that, thoughtful stranger!

Overall though, I have to say San Francisco stands out as one of my favorite places outside of Asia.

Which is why in an attempt to get closer to living there I’m already devising a plan to become a billionaire.

Posted in Ramblings, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Dangers of Hip-Hop

So, I have received a couple of comments from people that I haven’t been updating my blog lately and that I’m a terrible person.

Well, they make a persuasive argument, as I am pretty much the worst blogger in the world lately, but hear me out! There is a reason.

You see, recently I’ve joined Toastmasters, which is essentially a structured way to get better at speaking publicly, so consequently a lot of my writing has been going into producing new speeches.

In a quirk of fate, every time I have tried to record them something has gone wrong.

In any case it’s no excuse, and to try and make it up to the internet, I’ve posted the text of the speech I gave tonight.

Obviously, I’m being ironic throughout this speech, so the delivery was intentionally dry, but I pledge to you to post something unbelievably interesting some time soon!

_______________________________________________________

Today, I’d like to talk to you about something I am very passionate about:

And that is the wanton destructive and irresponsible actions of modern day rappers.

Eminem, Dr-Dre and Tupac to name just a few, are all, in my opinion, dangerous proponents of irresponsible social and economic policy.

Take Macklemore, or as he was originally known Ben Haggerty, in his song ‘everything is gold’ he states:

Everything is gold, everything is equal

Posted on the porch just chillin’, me and my people

Eyelids closed, gold sun shines on

The world’s coated in the gold Krylon

Well Mr Macklemore, I for one am honored to have had the opportunity to share with you your utopian vision of an ideal world.

A world in which all things and spaces would be filled by Gold.

A world in which gold is abundant and accessible and the streets would literally be paved by it.

But, let me tell you something, in such a world I don’t see much chance of anybody ‘chillin’ with their people’, as you so boldly claim.

In fact, the economics of this future is very different.

You see, covering the world with gold would be both highly impractical and expensive.

Let’s take one of Macklemore’s first points, that the world be covered with ‘Gold Krylon’.

Now, although it’s difficult to know exactly how, Macklemore, or ‘Dr Macklemore’ as he has been known, plans to achieve this, why don’t we do the maths for him.

Firstly, estimates suggest that the surface area of the earth is around 510 million square kilometres.

So based on the current price of gold, if we were to cover this area with gold, using gold leaf, we would need to come up with 17 trillion dollars, or approximately 20 per cent of the world’s GDP.

Now, let me just make this clear.

What this in fact means is that Mr Macklemore is advocating the massive redistribution of wealth to achieve his selfish dream of ‘chillin on the porch’.

But he continues:

Yea, and these days days days

They never run away

Gold tints, shades, that block out that golden haze

Take all the gold from the pawnshop that lives behind the case

And get to give it away

 

That’s right.

Macklemore is actually advocating that as a society we should intentionally target the humble pawnshop in a Maoist style revolution.

Given he does not describe how this is to be achieved, it seems likely that he wants it done through any means necessary.

But more than this,

he clearly fails to understand that pawnshops have been a lifesaver for countless families throughout some of the hard times.

You see, pawnshops provide loans to some of the poorest families throughout the world. In fact, they are the western equivalent of micro-finance.

But, ‘Dr Macklemore’ doesn’t seem to be too concerned about this, in fact, as part of his grand ‘chillin on the porch’ policy, he is advocating pulling the rug from the least fortunate.

But guess what Macklemore, I’m not fooled, by your ‘phat beats’, you, like many of your rapper ‘bros’ are simply advocating destruction.

And I also understand that your plans don’t end there:

My gold erupted from volcanoes in the heavens

And every shrine that existed in time melting

Tombs open, Dookie Ropes on the bells

When everything is gold, who cares about the carats.

And here we come to the crux of the problem, with Macklemore’s ode to obliteration.

You see, clearly he has shown his hand as an advocate of change, as he has clearly said ‘My gold erupted from volcanoes in the heavens’.

That’s right, after all this social upheaval and redistribution the outcome he envisions is one in which a world, now covered in gold, is owned by him.

But it gets worse, because with this selfish redistribution of the world’s wealth, Macklemore is clearly not satisfied with anything less than immortality and omnipotence:

They say that gold’s the skin of the gods

You can’t take the band there when you’re gone

But even this is not enough for him, as once he’s gained god-like status, Macklemore simply envisions more destruction:

‘tips over that kiosk in the mall’

‘crack open the vault, let everyone mob in the bank’

And when we’re done accepting him as a god and looting the mall we should:

party and give thanks’.

Unfortunately, my learned friends this is just the tip of the iceberg.

You see, this destruction that Macklemore advocates, is nothing when compared to the work of artists such as:

The blasphemous Kanye West with ‘Jesus Walks’

The dystopian vision of the future by Coolio with ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’

and even Jay Z’s ‘aria of assassination’ the song, ‘Dead presidents’

 

But this my friends is the face of hip hop.

A countless mob of unqualified social engineers, who seek nothing but the destruction of our god fearing nation.

And it is for this reason that I stand here in front of you today, to make it known that I for one will not stand for this.

It will no doubt be a long journey, filled with long speeches, droll monologues and reaffirmations of the existing system, but it must be done.

And this is why today I am starting a movement ‘The Conservative Rebellion Against Pop’, or CRAP.

CRAP will be dedicated to encouraging economically responsible rap music so our children can look forward to the same social hierarchies, simple pleasures and family games of monopoly that we were blessed with.

In this I hope you will join me.

Thank you

For those who are interested to learn more about Toastmasters, I suggest you look here.

Posted in Opinion, Ramblings, Speeches | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments