The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

01 April 2010

Put a Penny On

PennyOn is a simple solution to ensuring every person in the world has what they need – enough to eat, a safe place to sleep, education and their health. It starts with you giving one penny. You can do this every time you shop. Participating retailers will add a penny to your bill; or you can calculate how often you shop and send the money to PennyOn using PayPal.

There’s about £580 million in loose change just lying around – you can turn that into something positive. If you find some of that, you can donate it.

You can also collect all your spare change each night by emptying your pockets or purse – and donate all the pennies to PennyOn, and do something creative with the rest of the money.

Your pennies can be used to help people take care of themselves – from support programmes in your local community to get people back on their feet and overseas educational projects to help people grow their own food so they can feed themselves or building their own schools so they can teach their community the skills they need to thrive. PennyOn will be supporting some worthwhile projects. Contact them for more information:

Socks for Happy People is a new social venture. This is how they describe themselves: The happy surprise with which people say ‘socks?’ when they hear what we do is always fun to see. It seems starting a sock company, in itself, is a little bit different since great socks - despite being over 3,000 years old - have somehow remained below most people’s radars.

Well we think it's time for that to change. Socks are brilliant and they deserve to be celebrated! But socks - brilliant as they are - aren't really the reason we're here. Socks for Happy People exists for reasons much deeper than socks. In fact sometimes we say, in the nicest possible way: "If you think we're in the sock business you've already missed the point." But also:

  • Socks can literally help brighten your day
  • Others can enjoy your socks as well as you
  • Everything can be improved
  • Socks could be the first step into something greater

Their proportional stripe sock is in colourful stripes (in four colourways) with the width of each stripe proportional to where the £65 million of lost pennies are estimated to be:

  • Down the backs of sofas, £5.9 million
  • In the supermarket, £2.6 million
  • Inside vacuum cleaners, £1.3 million
  • In washing machines, £3.3 million
  • In the car, £7.8 million
  • Down the drain £0.65 million
  • On public transport, £2 million
  • In clothes and shoes, £3.9 million
  • On the street, £26 million
  • In handbags and suitcases, £11 million

For every pair of socks you purchase, you will also be donating a pair to a streetchild in Mongolia, and you have the option of putting a Penny On.

Walk to Work

Here’s just one little thing you can do to address global warming, reduce air pollution and improve your fitness – that’s walk to work. If not every day, then at least once a week. It’s a WIN-WIN-WIN for you, the environment and the world.

To promote walking to work, there is a Walk to Work Week. In 2010, this runs from 26-30 April.

There are challenges for this year.
1. Try walking all or part of the way to work
2. Try walking all or part of the way home from work
3. Hold a walking meeting
4. Walk all or part of the way to a meeting
4. Take a walk during your lunch break

But remember, walking consumes energy and your fuel is the food you eat. If you eat more meat or meat products to make up for the extra energy you have consumed, then this will be bad for the environment. This issue is covered in in Robert and Brenda Vale's book "Time to Eat the Dog?", a previous post. So whilst you are walking, think about that delicious veggie snack you are going to reward yourself with!

Walk to Work Week:

For lunchbreak circular walks or to find a good way of getting to and from work on foot, go to (for the UK only)

From 17 to 21 May, Living Streets also organises a Walk to School Week; take your children on foot. Leave the car at home.

Comments from the 2009 Walk to Work Week
"I felt really inspired by the challenges set by Walk to Work Week and have discovered new paths and areas in London. I work near Portobello Road and live in Highgate, so I have taken the plunge and walked home... I realised it will be quite hard to do this walk every day, so the next time I decided to jump off the tube at Kentish Town and walk to Highgate from there, which takes anything from 45 minutes to an hour. I take a different route each time and have discovered beautiful paths on and around Hampstead Heath which I hope to explore more in the future. Apart from the exercise and fresh air, I enjoy having control over my arrival times and the creativity involved in exploring new ways to and from work." Hanlie, Highgate, London

"Nothing major to report except that I have walked to work all week a total of 10.5 miles and I feel great, I am going to carry on doing it for the benefit of my health (and my weight I hope!!) I have realised that stiletto heels were not a plan after Monday so for the rest of the week it has been flats with the heels in my bag ready for when I get to work. Many thanks for arranging this event it was the push I needed." Rita, Greenwich, London

15 March 2010

Are you mentally ill?

Mental illness seems to be increasing… at least according to the American Psychiatric Association which keeps finding new conditions which it compiles in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disease.

The first edition of this manual in 1952 extended to 130 pages and listed 106 disorders.
The second edition of this manual in 1968 extended to 134 pages and listed 182 disorders.
The third edition of this manual in 1980 extended to 494 pages and listed 265 disorders.
The fourth edition of this manual in 1987 extended to 562 pages and listed 290 disorders.
The fifth edition of this manual in 1994 extended to 886 pages and listed 297 disorders.
This was updated in 2000 and the next edition is planned for 2013.

Noteworthy is the fact that the earliest editions had homosexuality as a disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder was only recognised as a disorder in the 1994 edition.

Read more at:

So is mental illness really on the increase? Or are we now no longer able to cope, such that conditions that we would have managed in the past are now classed as disorders. Are we becoming too sensitive to what we encounter in the world around us? Or is society really getting so complex that people are finding it harder and harder to cope? Or are psychiatrists just becoming too clever at seeking out and identifying new disorders?

Whatever the cause of the escalation of mental disorders, we should be attending to our wellbeing.

Research has shown that there is lots you can do to improve your mental health. The WellBeing Project in St Helens, Lancashire promotes the following twelve steps to enhancing your wellbeing:
• Explore your spiritual side. What do you value in life?
• Talk about your feelings. Talk to friends, family members, or visit your GP.
• Value yourself and others. Attend assertiveness classes, try team sports.
• Keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Send a letter or card. Meet for lunch.
• Ask for help. Talk to friends, family members, or visit your GP.
• Relax - take a break. Go walking, listen to music.
• Keep physically active. Gardening, walking, dancing.
• Eat well. Eat together. Eat five fruit and vegetables every day.
• Drink alcohol in moderation. Know your limits.
• Learn new skills. Learn basic skills, computer skills, learn a new language.
• Do something creative. Try cooking, painting, DIY.
• Get involved and make a contribution. Try volunteering, or join a local sports team.

Go to sleep

A survey, carried out for the BBC suggests that many children are not getting enough sleep. of 1,083 children aged between 9 and 11 across the UK who answered a questionnaire, 314 said that they went to bed by 9.30pm, 
and 272 stated that their bedtime was 10.00pm or later. Half stated that they were not getting enough sleep and wanted more. Half said that they were staying up to play on computer games or their mobile phones or to watch television, and more than half had a TV in their bedroom.

A human's need for sleep can decline by up to 11 hours a day during the course of a lifetime - from a maximum of 18 hours for a newborn baby to seven hours as an adult. For children aged 10, experts recommend at least 10 hours of sleep a night.

Sleep is a stronger basic need than food and water. Without sleep the body and mind are unable to function efficiently. Lack of sleep amongst young people has been linked to problems with concentration, behaviour and school work. Sleep deprivation is used in war and terrorism as a form of torture to force victims to disclose information.

Be more effective when you are awake. Make sure that you get enough sleep… at night.

Food for Thought from Insomniacs (UK): Anxiety is one of the main causes of insomnia. Worrying over what you eat will not help you sleep. Weight loss and body image dominate the media affecting how we feel about ourselves and making us preoccupied with what we eat. Worrying over food will keep you awake and add to all the other stresses that affect sleep. Finding a balance and cutting down on the 'sleep stoppers' such as caffeine makes sense. Worrying over every mouthful will only make it harder to sleep. Try to cut out the alcohol and restrict the coffee for a few nights each week and see how well you sleep - it might become a lifetime habit!

Divide up your day…
how long do you spend changing the world? In 19th Century Europe, working conditions were unregulated. The health, welfare and morale of working people suffered, and child labour was common. The working day could range from 10 hours up to 16 hours for six days a week. Religious sentiment ensured a day off for the Sabbath.

Robert Owen, a socialist pioneer, demanded a ten-hour day in 1810, which he instituted in his model industrial community of New Lanark. In 1817, he demanded an eight-hour day using the slogan: “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.”

Although there were initial successes in achieving an eight-hour day for skilled workers in Australia in the 1840s and 1850s, most employed people in the industrialised world had to wait until the 20th century for the eight-hour day to be widely achieved. In Europe today, the working week for many people is just 35 hours, with up to 6 weeks of annual holiday, and the Working Time Directive seeks to limit the maximum number of hours worked per week to 48. In developing countries, workers are not so lucky, where child labour, a long working day and sweatshop conditions are often the norm.

The Great Leap Forward in China (1958-1961): Mao Zedong demanded that the people work at fever pitch. They had to run carrying heavy loads, whether it was freezing cold or blazing hot. They had to carry water up winding paths to irrigate the terraced fields. They had to keep the backyard steel furnaces going night and day. They literally had to move mountains. Work was good, and Mao hoped it would transform China. Mao set this out as the daily norm for Chinese workers and peasants:
8 hours sleeping
4 hours eating and breaks
2 hours studying (which meant reading and discussing good Communist thought)
10 hours working
Under this 8-4-2-10 regime, workers were allowed two days off a month (five for women). Mao called this way of working ‘Communist Spirit’.

How do you spend your time? There are 84,400 seconds in each day. Keep a diary of what you do. How much time are you spending on what, on average, for each day of the week…
Eating and breaks
Travel to work
Study, reading and hobbies
Sport and fitness
Housework, cooking and child minding
Going out: to friends, to the cinema, to the pub, to a football match, etc.
Idling, including sitting in front of the TV, doing the crossword or SuDoKu
Doing things for others and the community: volunteering and community action
Is your life in balance? How much time are you wasting? Could you be doing more for the community and for a better world?

08 February 2010

Invest in me

In a recent discussion among a select group of social investors and entrepreneurs a strange question was presented. If an investor offered you a large infusion of unrestricted capital, say $300,000, with the only condition being that you would give them 3% of your income for the rest of your life, would you take the deal? To the host’s delight, the conversation struck a controversial chord leading to 100 unique email responses about the idea.

For the model of investing in individuals to work, the investor will need to have a strong faith in the integrity and future prospects of the individual entrepreneur they are investing in. The entrepreneur should also look to the investor for wisdom and guidance. This could make an ideal model for learning, growth and success.

The notion of unrestricted funding could be music to the ears of a social entrepreneur because they are often operating at the brink despite knowing that a large upfront investment could catalyse sustainability and going to scale.

For young social entrepreneurs, the greatest burden is often a sense of unrealized potential because the philanthropic and social innovation markets are not yet evolved to catalyze high-potential nonprofits and social businesses in the same way that the traditional venture markets have learned to do. If young social entrepreneurs are given an upfront investment, who knows what we may go on to do. So the slogan should be: “Invest in us; we’ll give you some of our equity for life.”

As reported in Social Edge:

The Thrust Fund. Here is a selection of entrepreneurs who are offering a 3% share in their future income for $300,000; and you can invest in them through the Thrust Fund:

Kjerstin Erickson, 26, the entrepreneur behind FORGE, an international NGO that helps transform Africa's victims of war into heroes of peacebuilding and reconstruction.

Jon Gosier, 28, the lead engineer and entrepreneur behind AppAfrica, a social venture investing in African software entrepreneurs to create jobs and prevent braindrain.

Saul Garlick, 26, the entrepreneur behind ThinkImpact, an international nonprofit that connects American students to rural villages in Africa to alleviate poverty.

Pick one of these - or all of them - who you find compelling and get in touch with them. Get to know them. Explore their passions, their plans, and the potential of changing the world with them for the rest of their life. Revolutions could occur at these people's hands... and you can be a part of it. Invest in your chosen entrepreneur in return for a share of their life’s income:

And in the UK: James Layfield, an ambitious young entrepreneur (but not a social entrepreneur) is looking for private equity investment of £1m for a 10% share of his future lifetime earnings, although there would be a clause allowing him to buy out the investor for a multiple of the original cost. Layfield developed this fundraising idea through the frustration of engaging with the conventional fund-raising process. “I believe that this is the true spirit of entrepreneurship, where I am my own commodity. I’m young, I’ve now started three companies which are all on the right track, and I have ideas for more.” Layfield’s aim is to increase his net worth to £100m by 2019, when he will be 45. (as reported in the Financial Times)

24 December 2009

Lending to microentrepreneurs

The Internet is an ideal medium for linking people to people and aggregating their support to achieve something specific. There is a new term for this – crowdfunding. And websites are being launched, such as and and and one that I am working on (to be launched in mid-2010) provisionally called Sellaventure:

There are also websites such as which link people's gift of money
to the purchase of a specific item which will improve the lives of an individual, a family or the wider community.

It is important (a) that these websites state clearly what will be done with the money they have collected (provide a loan to a Tanzanian microentrepreneur, give a Rwandan woman a goat, etc.) and (b) that the money is not appropriated for general funds through a get-out clause in the small print. People need to have confidence that their money is being spent as they believe it will be, and charities raising money in these ways need to respect their donors.

But many of the "good gift" fundraising has small print, that the money may not go for a goat, but perhaps be given for a giraffe or even spent just on running costs, if that's where the money is needed. I should state that the worst offenders seem to be the major charities, and that specialist websites such as really do do wha they state.

For some time I have been a strong advocate of and have made several loans to microentrepreneurs using their website. I was passed this cutting from the New York Times. Let it speak for itself (see below). But my suggestion to Kiva as a Kiva lender is that they try to do what everybody thought they were doing, to act as a market place to provide loans to microentrepreneurs with the Kiva supporters supporting specific named individuals (which is a powerful fundraising idea) and not just putting their funds into microfinance lending institutions (which is something that banks are better at doing). I really like the idea of giving somebody a hand up, by contributing towards a target sum for that individual to invest in his or her future.

Confusion on Where Money Lent via Kiva Goes by STEPHANIE STROM Published: November 8, 2009 in the New York Times

Last month (October 2009), David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, pressed a button on his laptop as his bus left the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan and started a debate that has people re-examining the country’s latest celebrated charity,

Oprah Winfrey extolled Kiva on her TV show. Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, sang its praises. “I lent $25 each to the owner of a TV repair shop in Afghanistan, a baker in Afghanistan, and a single mother running a clothing shop in the Dominican Republic,” Mr. Kristof wrote in a 2007 column.

Kiva, a nonprofit organization, promoted itself as a link between small individual lenders and small individual borrowers like Maryjane Cruz in the Philippines, who recently sought a $625 loan to support her family’s farm.

But Mr. Roodman’s blog post said that lenders like Mr. Kristof were not making direct loans. Borrowers like Ms. Cruz already have loans from microfinance institutions by the time their pictures are posted on Kiva’s Web site.

Thus, the direct person-to-person connection Kiva offered was in fact an illusion. Kiva’s lenders were actually backstopping microfinance institutions, and since Kiva and other online giving and lending models pride themselves on their transparency, Mr. Roodman and others suggested it might better explain what its lenders’ money — about $100 million over four years — was really doing.

“The person-to-person donor-to-borrower connections created by Kiva are partly fictional,” he wrote. “I suspect that most Kiva users do not realize this.”

“Little did I realize what that click would unleash,” he said in an interview, later adding that the post had attracted dozens of comments, more than 10,000 hits and thousands of Twitter postings.

Much of his long post is complimentary to Kiva — after all, the information he used to write it is largely tucked away on Kiva’s site — but it has brought scrutiny of the organization. It goes beyond complaints about its transparency to questioning whether the model it relies on is viable and, indeed, whether any organization can fulfill the promise it was making to directly connect people to people.

“There’s a whole new generation of socially connected nonprofits that use the Internet to make the illusion of person-to-person contact much more believable,” said Timothy Ogden, editor in chief of Philanthropy Action, an online journal for donors. “The problem is that they are no more connecting donors to people than the child sponsorship organizations of the past did.”

In the late 1990s, several child sponsorship organizations amended their disclosures after a series of articles in The Chicago Tribune revealed that while they were soliciting money to sponsor a specific needy child, that child was not necessarily receiving the money directly.

More recently, charities that ask donors for money to buy a farm animal have added disclaimers to their pitches, stating that money might not buy a cow or a duck but finance broader programs.

Now Kiva is the latest nonprofit group to have to overhaul its explanation of how it works. Where its home page once promised, “Kiva lets you lend to a specific entrepreneur, empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty,” it now simply states, after Mr. Roodman’s post: “Kiva connects people through lending to alleviate poverty.”

Kiva is not the only site with transparency problems. GlobalGiving, whose Web site allows donors to choose among various projects to support, has raised money for philanthropic projects of three or four profit-making companies, according to Dennis Whittle, its co-founder and chief executive. It did not, however, tell donors that their money would support a company’s philanthropic projects rather than one proposed by a nonprofit.

For instance, it raised $975 for SunNight Solar Enterprises, a small start-up that develops solar-powered consumer products, so it could distribute 500 free solar-powered lights to refugees in camps. After The New York Times raised questions about the issue, Mr. Whittle said in a blog post on The Huffington Post that GlobalGiving was considering whether to tell potential donors when it was raising money for a business rather than a nonprofit.

Premal Shah, Kiva’s president, said he could foresee a day when Kiva really did provide person-to-person connection, once some legal hurdles are cleared and when people in the developing world began using their mobile phones to use credit and make payments.

“That’s the future of Kiva,” he said, “when through that disintermediation process you can bring down the costs of these transactions and put them directly in the hands of people.”

For now, however, analysts are raising questions about Kiva’s model, which relies in part on its own data, offers lenders no recourse against default and deploys volunteers to do most of its auditing.

Mr. Ogden goes so far as to question Kiva’s role in the lending process. “Kiva’s new documentation explains, if you read it, that Kiva is a connector not of individual lenders to individual donors, but of individual lenders to microfinance institutions,” he said. “If Kiva’s users want to be connected to an individual borrower, Kiva doesn’t do that, and so the big question is, do Kiva’s users want to be connected to a microfinance institution — in which case, why do they need Kiva?”

Indeed, individual lenders can support microfinance institutions directly through, for example, Microplace, or make donations to support nonprofit groups like the Grameen Foundation and Acción that support microfinance.

Mr. Shah said he thought Kiva’s distinct advantage was in making it easier for small lenders to support microfinance than the other programs.

The difficulty is in engaging the person who wants to lend $25, a mother of three in Des Moines, for instance, “and create a simple way for her to participate in microfinance, which is what we do,” Mr. Shah said.

The question is, does the lender understand that his money may not be supporting the loan he picked on Kiva’s Web site?

The uproar has proven beneficial in an unexpected way. “If anything, it has drawn more people into the nuance and beauty of this model of microfinance,” said Mr. Shah, who joined Kiva from eBay. “It’s highly imperfect, but it’s like a 3 1/2-year-old child: it has a lot of potential.”

He said he had so far seen no impact on Kiva’s business, which set a record with $293,000 lent on the day he was interviewed and celebrated its fourth anniversary last month by announcing it had lent more than $100 million all told.

21 December 2009

Time to eat your dog?

Should owning a Great Dane make you as much of an eco-outcast as an SUV driver? Yes it should, say Robert and Brenda Vale, two architects at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who specialise in sustainable living. In their book, “Time to Eat the Dog? The real guide to sustainable living”, they compare the ecological footprints of popular pets with those of various other lifestyle choices - and pets do not fare well.

As well as guzzling resources, especially eating processed meat which requires a high input of resources, cats and dogs devastate wildlife populations, spread disease and add to pollution. It is time that we recognized the ecological footprint of our pets.

To measure the paw, claw and fin-prints of the family pet, the Vales analysed the ingredients of common brands of pet food. They calculated, for example, that a medium-sized dog would consume 90gms of meat and 156gms of cereals daily in its recommended 300gm portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450gms of fresh meat and 260gms of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, your dog will wolf down about 164kgs of meat and 95kgs of cereals. It takes 43.3sq m of land to generate 1kg of chicken per year (it is far more for beef and lamb), and 13.4sq m of land to generate 1kg of cereals. So that gives him a footprint for an average dog of 0.84 hectares. For a bigger dog such as a German Shepherd, the figure would be 1.1 hectares.

Meanwhile, an SUV such as a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser driven a modest 10,000 kms a year will uses 55.1 gigajoules, of energy both to fuel it and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser's eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares – which is less than half that of a medium-sized dog.

Owning a dog really is an ecological extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat.

The Vales found that cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares (slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf), hamsters come in at 0.014 hectares apiece (buy two, and you might as well have bought a plasma TV) and canaries half that. Even a goldfish requires 0.00034 hectares (3.4 sq m) of land to sustain it, giving it an ecological fin-print equal to two cellphones.

What can we do about this? We could:

  1. Give up owning a pet altogether for environmental reasons. If we are unwilling to do that, then…
  2. Trade down first to smaller pets, and then to vegetarian pets.
  3. And if in the end, you must have a pet, probably go for a goldfish.
  4. Or why not get a virtual pet?


A new campaign has been launched called Twixtmas, which hopes to improve the world a little bit. And if lots of people take part, it will mean that the little improvements add up to something meaningful.

The idea of Twixtmas is that, in the five days between Christmas and New Year (December 27th to December 31st) , we all encourage everyone we know (including ourselves of course) to do five things to make the world a better place. Each day has a particular theme – helping yourself, someone else, a friend, the planet and doing something for your future. To spread the Twixtmas cheer, people are encouraged to give their friends and family a ‘Merry Twixtmas High Five’ hand greeting and share their Twixtmas pledge – the five things they are doing to change their world – as well as spreading the word about Twixtmas and what it stands for. Valuable tips and advice from leading experts in well-being are offered on the website where visitors can also download a Twixtmas Pledge form.

The idea for Twixtmas celebrations is being promoted by the Flexible Thinking Forum, a new not-for-profit social enterprise which works to provide training for more creative and flexible thinking among businesses and organizations.
You can find out more at

Started in 2008, it is not yet too late to do it for 2009, but also make a note to do it in 2010 by putting it in your diary and promoting the idea when you send out your Christmas greetings. Five little things can make a big difference.

15 April 2009

Pitch your ideas for changing the world

Social entrepreneurs take note. Here’s an opportunity to get your entrepreneurial ideas to a wider audience. As part of it’s 25th Anniversary celebrations, the Virgin Atlantic airline is launching a new show, PitchTV, which will air onboard and will also be available online here.

Virgin Atlantic is inviting entrepreneurs in search of investment and exposure for their business ideas to upload a 2-minute video pitch. Virgin Atlantic staff will vote for their favourite and each month. The winning videos will feature on Virgin Atlantic’s PitchTV show which will air on the inflight entertainment system – and give exposure to thousands of business professionals flying Virgin Atlantic. Any viewer interested in hearing more about a pitched idea will then be able to get in contact and maybe help take the idea further.

“When I was starting out, I wish I could have had the chance to pitch my business ideas directly to people who could help make my ambitions a reality. We can now make that happen for you. If you’re a budding entrepreneur, we’re giving you the unique opportunity of getting your ideas by top business professionals from around the world on board Virgin Atlantic planes as well online. Who knows – among the viewers might be someone with the power to bring your idea to life.” – Richard Branson

All you have to do is film yourself delivering the very best pitch possible, but make sure it’s no longer than 2 minutes. Then simply upload your video pitch on

Each year, Branson will also personally select his favourite pitch, and the winner will receive a special prize, details to be revealed later. In the meantime, get your ideas sorted, film yourself, upload your video, and good luck!

27 February 2009

Celebrating Sarah-ness

Nearly every year, two friends called Sarah at America’s Burning Man festival, host a party for all the Sarahs there. A Sarah Party, where Sarahs gather to share food, music, stories about their names, and inevitably debate the with or without an ‘h’ issue.

In 2003 Sarah Pletts met Sarah Jane Hall at the festival and they attended the Sarah Party together. They subsequently decided it would be fun to host a Sarah Party in London. This is how they describe the experience:

Having a name that seemed to be shared by many means that I work hard to differentiate myself. I never really enjoyed being a Sarah until I went to the Sarah Party at the Burning Man festival. It transformed the way I felt about my name. Suddenly it was fun and exciting, and I wanted to pass on the experience to others.

I and some of my Sarah-friends agreed to host a Sarah Party on a whim. It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to find enough Sarahs to make it happen, as there always seemed to be plenty of them in my life, but as the day grew nearer, it became the biggest challenge. Literally hundreds of Sarahs were approached and invited to the party. I e-mailed all the Sarahs I knew, then my whole address book. I asked everyone I met if they knew any Sarahs. I googled them, and I made a sign to try and track them down at a festival. Most of them were wary of my strange approach. They could be forgiven for thinking I was mad.

The Sarahs brave and lucky enough to be able to be there at my Sarah Party on Sunday 29th June 2008 were an extraordinary and diverse group of wonderful people. It really was a delight to meet them.

We tried to theme every aspect of the party within our limited budget. On arrival everyone received a name badge, and a tiara. There was a shrine to honour past Sarahs. Poems were written and read, there were Sarah songs and the extraordinary singer Sarah Jane Morris performed with guitarist Dominic Miller. There were games, a quiz, yoga, massage and juggling, a raffle with MC Sarah Bennetto. We showed a film starring Sara Dee who played 'Sarah'. Sara Leigh Lewis took photographs, and we ate food that spelled our name while drinking 'Sarandipity' cocktails.

We don't know exactly how many came, but there are 59 in the group photo and we know of quite a few who left before or arrived after it. Our guess is about 75. Everyone who came participated and added to the spirit of playfulness.

I didn't expect the whole experience to be quite so fulfilling, and quite such hard work. Through the Burning Man community - which has an ethos of 'gifting' and participation, I have discovered new possibilities for enjoying life and expressing my passions creatively. Doing something for fun can be surprisingly radical. My aim was to inspire and please, and in so doing send out ripples for others to taste and follow their own pleasure. Celebrate your Sarah-ness, express your unique-ness!

And if you are not a Sarah, but a Mary or a Michael, then follow the example of the Sarah’s and organise your own Michael or Mary party to celebrate your Michael-ness of Mary-ness….

Two out of the ten things about being Sarah by Sarah Salway:
• My uncle made a speech at my wedding. ‘Sarah,’ he said, ‘is harass backwards, and he has certainly always been very good at that.’
• Sarah, Sarha, Sahra… how hard is it to spell? Once, after three attempts over the telephone, the man on the other end told me crossly that it would be easier if I’d been called ‘banana.’

The top 10 boys names in the UK in 2007 (according to the Office of National Statistics):

And the top 10 girls names in the UK in 2007

Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance and held at the start of September in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Find out more about Burning Man. Go along and join in if you are looking for something different:

Guerrilla tactics for sustainable transport

1. Organise a Parking Meter Party
Pay for a bay. The going rate on the meter for as long as you want to party. Place a model car in the space – just to show that you are parked there. Bring some deckchairs and a table, a nicely chilled bottle of white wine, elegant wine flutes and some delicious snacks. Enjoy. But at the same time, spread the word. Have leaflets to give out to passers-by. You could even invite them to come and join your party. Maybe, they will be committed enough to the cause to take the adjacent parking bay. You can organise your party to promote sustainable transport solutions, or just to have a ball. Either way, you will be reducing the parking capacity of the street (temporarily) and having a lot of fun. Canada seems to be the world centre for promoting this sort of street event. You can get some tips on organising a Parking Meter Party from:

2. Print out some fake parking tickets
The Alliance Against Urban 4x4s seeks to educate people about the environmental and social damage caused by the increasing numbers of urban 4x4s that we have been seeing in cities as well as to promote more sustainable forms of transport. They are lobbying for increases in congestion charges and road taxes for 4x4s, and trying to get a ban on advertising 4x4s in mainstream media.

Their campaigning activities aim to be peaceful, creative, eye-catching and constructive. They want to engage drivers in the debate and not demonise those who drive oversize 4x4s. Everyone wants to have a safer, cleaner environment, so the hope is that urban 4x4 drivers will realise that their car is the villain (not them) and that this could lead them to making better transport choices in future.

A small number of 4x4 models have carbon emissions less damaging than most, and these could be chosen by people who genuinely need a 4x4. However, most 4x4s are large, highly polluting and dangerous to others on narrow streets. Apart from those need to drive off-road, tow heavy loads or engage in other activities for which 4x4s are specially designed, SUVs are a nuisance to others and bad for the environment.

One tactic used to campaign against SUVs in cities is to place a fake parking ticket on the windshield, which gives information on all the reasons for not driving this sort of vehicle. It might also cause the driver a few moments of worry until they realise what the parking ticket actually is. You can download fake parking tickets from the Alliance against Urban 4x4s website:

In the USA, over 1 million fake tickets served on SUV drivers in 500 cities in 48 States:

3. Draw your own cycle lanes
Hywell Sedjwick-Jell writes… “Every time I see a cyclist struggling through the traffic, I feel a surge of rage growing from my stomach and spreading to my chest and then heading towards my cheeks. That’s when I start thinking about how I might be able to find a way to help, something that will also help me the next time I cycle down that road.”

It started in Latvia, where cyclists had the idea of drawing their own cycle lanes in the narrow congested streets of Riga. One evening in the UK, Hywel went out with chalk in his hands to do the same in a street he cycled down every day… Barker Drive in Camden Town, north London. “It didn’t have a bike lane. I was sick of holding my breath in fear every time I heard the rev of a car engine behind me. I wanted something that would separate me from the street and keep cars away. Maybe if I drew a cycle lane, people would start thinking that there really should be one and start asking for one. I know I certainly would.”

“Cycling is something that should be preserved as precious, and encouraged. When I’m cycling, I’m saving the city from pollution. I’m diminishing raffic. I’m not taking up places in the bus or on the subway; And I’m generally creating a nicer environment for everyone.”

“I usually go out on the streets to draw at about 1.00am. I prefer doing it when there aren’t too many people around. I’ve never checked whether what I’m doing is legal. Yes, I am drawing on public property, but the chalk dissolves when it rains.. I would like people, especially cyclists, to be aware that it is their right to demand bike paths. Maybe someone rushing to work one morning will notice my cycle lane and think “I could send a letter to the Council or to my MP.” [from The Guardian newspaper]

15 January 2009

Stop the runway; join the airplot

Plans for building a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport have been approved by the UK government. There is widespread opposition to this from environmentalists as well as the two main opposition political parties who feel that a stop should be made to any airport expansion if the UK is to reduce its carbon emissions to the extent that will be needed to halt and reverse global warming. The most optimistic forecast for when the new runway would become operational is 2019, by which time the world will have had to come to terms with peak oil and the consequences of our inaction on climate change.

Greenpeace UK has developed a campaign for opposing the runway plan by buying a plot of land where it is to be built and then inviting people opposed to the runway plan to become co-owners. Sign up to join the Airplot and co-own a bit of land that will be needed for the runway. Do this at:

Here’s what Greenpeace say:

We've bought a piece of land slap bang in the middle of the proposed third runway site at Heathrow. We're not going to let the runway get built and we need your help.

 The government plans to go ahead with airport expansion across the country even though this means we'll have no hope of meeting our climate emission targets. At full capacity, Heathrow would become the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the whole country. We can't let this happen if we are serious about tackling climate change.

 We've bought the plot at Heathrow to make sure that climate change cannot be ignored. We will challenge the proposals every step of the way. We will give evidence at the planning inquiry, resist the compulsory purchase of the land, we will campaign during the national election and final, if necessary, we will stand with the community of Sipson and stop the bulldozers. The village of Sipson, including 700 homes, businesses, the local school and several local pubs, will be flattened to make way for the third runway. 

 We have four legal owners on the deeds: Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith and Greenpeace UK. That's the maximum number of owners we can put on the deeds, but we're inviting everyone to join the plot as a beneficial owner and stand beside us to resist all attempts to build the runway.

 You'll be joining beneficial owners who've already signed-up including local Labour MP John McDonnell, Tory frontbench spokeswoman Justine Greening, Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer, environmentalist George Monbiot and acclaimed climate scientist and Royal Society Research Fellow Dr Simon Lewis.

 We'll be depending on thousands of people to join the Airplot community in the coming months and years to put pressure on your MPs, write letters to local media, join us at events, tell friends, and come up with your own ideas to make sure that everyone in the country know that we must stop airport expansion if we are going to stop runaway climate change.

 The government says that we need the third runway to create jobs in these tough economic times. But building a runway in 10 years time will do nothing to stop a recession now. And the benefits to the economy have been completely overblown by the government. In fact an independent study commissioned by WWF suggests that the true cost of a third runway would lead to a £5 billion loss.

In truth the government has few allies outside the aviation industry on this issue. Scientists including the government's former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, the head of the environment agency, Chris Smith, cabinet ministers Ed Miliband and Hillary Benn, all major opposition parties, and an increasing number of Labour MPs have all spoken out against the plans to build a third runway at Heathrow.

Link Now we need your help! Join the plot and help stop airport expansion.
Check out Plane Stupid, the campaign against airport expansion:

12 January 2009

Change the world at

The new US President used two catchphrases in his speeches “Change” and “Yes we can”. is a social action network where you can: learn about causes; connect to good people and non-profits; and take action.

You can also submit or vote on ideas for change in America. For example, here’s an idea that’s particularly relevant:

Appoint Secretary of Peace in Department of Peace and Non-Violence: Our planet, our media, our social interactions, our homes all suffer from the epidemic of inter-personal violence and warfare that plagues America. With the establishment of a Department of Peace and Non-Violence, with a respected Secretary of Peace in the President's Cabinet, and a program to reduce violence in cities, nations, and even in our homes, we will all benefit from the growth of a culture of peace. 
While this is a new layer of the Federal Government, it is a positive force for change, for handling the rage and violence that has cost our country billions in emergency rooms, police protection, broken homes and marriages. This is not an attempt to circumvent or replace the Department of Defense nor to co-opt the Department of State. This is a new entity, in the President's Cabinet, a Department dedicated to training peace-keepers, educating our children, and suggesting non-violent alternatives to hostility, and war.
We are asking for a motive and a method to counteract violence, with positive potentials for resolution of conflict, by individuals trained to work with local, state and national approaches, building a United States that no longer glorifies warfare and deadly force, but brings to the table a sincere desire for peace, and a methodology to achieve it. – Submitted by Stephen Zendt (Senior Citizen working in Financial Services, Walnut Creek, California). is a social entrepreneurship venture based in San Francisco, CA. The company was founded by Ben Rattray in the summer of 2005. launched the first version of its website in 2007. Our Vision: Today as citizens of the world, we face a daunting array of social and environmental problems ranging from health care and education to global warming and economic inequality. For each of these issues, whether local or global in scope, there are millions of people who care passionately about working for change but lack the information and opportunities necessary to translate their interest into effective action. aims to address this need by serving as the central platform informing and empowering movements for social change around the most important issues of our time.

Have fun browsing the ideas on this website:
Take action on issues. Be part of the change.

Football can change the world

Football is the world’s most popular sport. It can be used in many ways to help create a better world. All sorts of projects have been set up, from homeless and slum football leagues and world cups to micro-enterprises making fair trade footballs. But none has been so successful as the Mathare Youth Sports Association established in 1987 in a Nairobi slum which set up the semi-professional Mathare United team which has now won Kenya’s Premier League and helped create many young sports stars.

Boys' football in MYSA was started in the Mathare and Eastleigh area. In the first year the league comprised 27 teams. In 1988 there were over 120 teams from junior to senior level. Today over 13,000 youth aged between 9-18 play in MYSA boys leagues with over 900 boys teams in 15 different zones.

Girls football was started in 1992. Many of the girls were doing domestic work and had nothing interesting to do in their free time. Football was an unexpected success. Girls playing football in African society was an alien concept. Parents weren't comfortable with the idea and the boys laughed it off thinking that girls couldn’t play at all. But some girls were interested and also saw it as an opportunity to get fit, and MYSA was determined to develop the idea. In 1996 the girls under-14 team featured in the Norway Cup. Seeing fellow girls in action was a great morale boost for them. More and more girls wanted to be involved in football. Their parents started encouraging them and their brothers were surprised by how good the girls were. In 1998 and 2000 the girls' teams were runners up in the Norway Cup.

One underlying principle behind MYSA is reciprocity. “We’ll do something for you (provide you with the opportunity to play football), if you give something back in return (help clean up the community)”. A win may earn 3 points in the Mathare league, but participating in a clean up earns 6 points!. The incentive is clear.

Under the MYSA Environment Programme, young people and their teams are encouraged weekly and voluntarily to remove solid waste and unclog open sewers which will reduce disease. Any team that completes its cleanup activity is awarded 6 points in the league standings and individual players get 2 points in every completed cleanup which increases their chance of winning a leadership award. The programme teaches the youth to be responsible for their environment and be “winners on and off the pitch”. One successful activity can lead to another. MYSA is now considering acquiring skills and the necessary equipment which can be used to start a garbage recycling plant, which could become a successful income generating activity for MYSA.

The MYSA Leadership Awards Project tries to help the youth stay in school for an additional year. The MYSA youth are able to earn points for participating in sports and community development activities. Each year the best young leaders by age and gender in our 16 zones will receive MYSA Leadership Awards paid directly to their school. Each award is about $150 which largely covers their school fees. Over 300 young leaders receive awards annually.

Key MYSA achievements
• More and more youth are joining MYSA
• Through sport, MYSA is able to fight poverty by creating job opportunities for the youth and involving them in a scholarship award programme which keeps most of them in school.
• Through sport, MYSA has managed to create awareness on key social issues such as HIV/AIDS and drug abuse.
• First Kenyan team in the Norway Cup.
• First to combine sports with environment clean up.
• First self-help league by and for slum youth.
• Started Mathare United semi-professional team, which is also the first top team to train its players on HIV/AIDS awareness.
• MYSA hosts more that 70 teams from all over Kenya and neighbouring countries, for an annual international girls tournament
• The MYSA sports programme has been a model to other organizations in Africa and has offered consultancy services to countries such as Tanzania , Uganda , Botswana , Sudan , Zambia and South Africa by assisting them in initiating a similar programme, as well as offering coaching and refereeing courses.

Key challenges for MYSA
• Since MYSA does not own any community fields, the sports programme has to rely on the co-operation of local schools for running its activities.
• Future aims are:
To possess our own fields.
To fully equip our MYSA zones with all the required sports equipment
To expand the sports programme to other areas in Kenya
To incorporate sport for the disabled in our programme
To have our own stadium
To host an international youth exchange soccer tournament like the Norway Cup
To decentralize and have offices in all the 16 MYSA zones
To introduce other sporting activities apart from soccer

How you can help
1. Support MYSA with a cash donation. $160 will provide one leadership award and keep a young person in school for an additional year. Contact to find out more and to make a donation.
2. Donate equipment to MYSA. Trainers, boots, balls will all be useful.
3. Buy footballs from Alive and Kicking, a social enterprise which creates jobs for young people in Kenya making footballs, and donate them to MYSA. For just $15, A&K will make and deliver one football, netball or volleyball to a school, youth club, orphanage, slum project or refugee camp in Africa.

12 September 2008

It’s all a lot of rubbish

I’ve read two books about rubbish recently:

Rubbish: the archaeology of garbage by William and Rathje and Cullen Murphy, published in 1982, explores the way in which garbage today and through history provides an insight into how we live. By analyzing the garbage people throw out and excavating core samples from landfill sites, the authors explore the impact of such things as fast food packaging, disposable diapers, old newspapers, compostable food waste, and take a look at recycling and waste-to-energy schemes.

The Book of Rubbish Ideas by Tracey Smith, who is also the initiator of International Downshifting Week. The author looks at rubbish room by room and gives practical ideas for how to reduce it and shows how much of our rubbish can be recycled usefully. Here are some facts and ideas from this lively and useful book:

If you toss out your rubbish, this is how long it takes to break down:
Banana peel 2-10 days
Sugar cane and pulp products 1-2 months
Cotton rags 1-5 months
Paper 2-5 months
Rope (organic matter) 3-14 months
Orange peel 6 months
Wool socks 1-5 years
Cigarette filters 1-12 years
Leather shoes 60-80 years
Nylon fabric 100+ years
Aluminium cans 200-400 years
Nappies 300-500 years
Plastic 6-pack holder 450 years
Plastic bottles 450 years – never
Car tyres 1000s of years – never
Chewing gum never
The Zero Waste Week challenge is to see how little residents can throw away in their rubbish bins over the course of one week by recycling and composting as much as possible as well as trying to reuse things, like shopping bags, and avoiding or reducing disposable items whenever possible. The 2008 Zero Waste Week organized by a group of local authorities in the UK took place from 29th September to 5th October. Find out more at: and and

Check out for recycling ideas

Give up washing powder and use soapnuts instead, a naturally occurring washing detergent which has been used traditionally in India and Nepal. Google it, or check out:

Cut your food waste. Buy only only the food you need. Around one third of all the food we buy is wasted (and that excludes peelings), and this is a significant contributor to global warming. Did you know that in the UK, each day we throw away:
1 million slices of ham
1.3 million yogurts and yogurt drinks
7 million slices of bread
5.1 million potatoes
1.6 million bananas
2.2 million apples
2.8 million tomatoes
Check out:

Recycle your old sex toys: New recycling regulations mean that all electrical equipment – including sex toys – must be disposed of at a designated electrical waste collection centre. This means that you shouldn't just chuck your dead vibrator in the kitchen bin! More than 1,000 electrical waste centres have been set up at recycling sites around the UK. But who wants the hassle and embarrassment of taking your dog-eared defunct sex toy down to the tip? Nobody! That's where the LoveHoney Rabbit Amnesty can help. You can send your old rabbit vibrator to LoveHoney Rabbit Amnesty and they will: carefully dispose of your old vibrator, ensuring as much as possible is recycled; donate £1 to a green charity; sell you a new rabbit vibrator at half price. Irresistible!

Save your sole and recycle your old shoes: a recycled footwear project to donate old shoes to the shoeless:

Use a Sol Shaver solar-powered razor (cost around £30 or $50), and cut the carbon as you cut the stubble. Google it for suppliers.

29 July 2008

Pests or partners?

Here is why we need to conserve invertebrates:

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” – E.O Wilson

“If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” – David Attenborough

Although insect life is critical to the well-being of the planet, many insect species are becoming endangered through human action. And recently, there has been an enormous worry about the fate of bees, where whole colonies seem to be dying without any real explanation as to why… and without the bee, much of our plant life would not be so effectively pollinated.

To celebrate the importance of insect life, Bridget Nicholls created the International Arts Festival of pests, known as the “Pestival”. This was first run in 2006 at the London Wetlands Centre, and is again being run in 2009, this time on the South Bank. The Pestival aims to raising awareness of the integral role insects play in the global ecosystem and in all animal societies and to generate positive PR for insects, so that they are seen as co-citizens of the planet rather than just as pests. “The Pestival aims to create positive PR for this 400-million-year-old, highly evolved taxon that has had thousands of years of bad press.”

Pestival will take place in London in May 2009. “The programme will include talks, demonstrations, workshops, art installations, films, music and performance, fusing art and science and reaching out to a broad, interested audience of homo sapiens adults and children.”

Bugs in trouble
Did you know…
• The New Forest cicada is one of Britain's largest insects, black with orange stripes and lovely transparent wings longer than its body. It spends eight years in a larval stage before emerging in a burst of song -- but it has not been heard since 1996.
• Folklore has it that the spots of the seven-spot ladybird symbolise the seven joys and seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Sorrow than joy may be in store for lovers of Coccinella septempunctata as the aphids it eats are being gobbled up by the Asian harlequin ladybird, introduced to Europe as a biocontrol.
• The shrill carder bee was widespread in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but records suggest a decline to only one third of the previous distribution by the 1970s, with just seven sites reliably identified in the south and east of the British Isles in the 1980s.
• The southern damselfly is a glorious barcode in turquoise and black. But Coenagrion mercuriale has suffered a 30-per-cent decline in its UK distribution since 1960 due to a lack of appropriate heathland management.
• The oil beetle has one of the most extraordinary life cycles of any British insect, being parasitic on various species of ground-nesting solitary bee.But only three of the nine oil- beetle varieties once found in Britain are still resident.

What can you do to support insect life?
Put a note in your diary to go along to the next Pestival which is being held in May 2009 (watch the website for final dates and programme), and send Bridget your best wishes for its success at:

Check out our blog entry for 7th March 2008 (“Bugs are our Friends”) and visit the Bugwatch website:

Think about the problem of pesticides by going to these Pesticide Action Network websites:, and

Make your own chemical-free mosquito repellant from lemon grass, which is readily available. Here’s how:

Find out about beekeeping:

And if you want to become a beekeeper, the first point of contact is your national Beekeepers’ Association. In the UK this is:

Animal rights activists don’t appear to be concerned about people eating insects. If you don’t want to be vegetarian, then insects will provide a more planet-friendly source of protein than farm-reared beef or pork. And if this becomes a fashion, then insects will be bred to create more insects... which could even improve the species! Check out the possibilities at

20 July 2008

What do you think you are eating?

More and more of us are eating pre-prepared food. This could be a pre-prepared complete meal or food which has been chilled or frozen; it could be food that has been canned or bottled; it could be dried and then reconstituted by the addition of water. Whatever the food, it will usually be nicely packaged.

We will make our buying choices partly through the images of the food that have been printed on the packaging. We do this, despite knowing from experience that the pictures on the package are seldom anything like what’s inside – which may be greyer, soggier, and altogether less appealing than the picture.

If you don’t believe this, then go to the website Go to this page: for the first product and then scroll through by pressing the “nachstes” button (yes, the website is in German) through to Each product has three images: the package; the image of the food inside that has been printed on the package; and a photograph of what’s actually inside.

Do the following:
1. Visit the pundo website and feel disgusted about the whole idea of food that has been prepared for you in factories; and start cooking real food for yourself, when you know exactly what ingredients you are using and you can use your culinary arts to make it look delicious.
2. If you encounter any particularly stomach-churning examples of prepared food and how the contents look completely different from the picture on the package, then photograph it, and send your photos to The Guardian newspaper at and they'll put the best photographs in a gallery. You can also post your comments on any particularly revolting example on The Guardian blog at

01 July 2008

Support the Bhopal victims

The Bhopal Disaster of 1984 was an industrial disaster caused by the accidental release of 40 tonnes of Methyl Isocyanate from a Union Carbide India pesticide plant (50.9% owned by the Union Carbide corporation) located in the heart of the city of Bhopal, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, around 500,000 people were exposed to the leaking chemical. The death toll was estimated by the BBC at nearly 3,000 people who died immediately and at least 15,000 from related illnesses subsequently, although this may be a conservative estimate. Over 120,000 people continue to suffer from the effects of the disaster – such as breathing difficulties, cancer, serious birth-defects, blindness, gynaecological complications and other related problems.

Alongside the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Bhopal rates as the major industrial disaster of the 20th century. After a fight, some compensation was obtained from Union Carbide, but it was not nearly enough and many of the victims found it hard to access. Nearly 25 years later, teh disaster is still causing misery.

After marching more than 500 miles from Bhopal to Delhi, a group survivors and their children, with ages ranging from 6-year old Nagma to eighty-plus year old Gulabo Bai, sat at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi for over 70 days in Spring and Summer 2008 to highlight the unresolved issues of the Bhopal disaster, braving dust storms and heavy rainfall. They asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even before they began their march to Delhi. They are demanding the formation of a Special Commission on Bhopal, and for legal action to be taken against Dow Chemical Company, the successor company to Union Carbide which inherited the liability for the ongoing consequences of the disaster.

The Prime Minister remained deaf to their pleas. Then nine of the survivors and supporters began an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi starting on June 10. You can read more about the march, sit-in and campaign at

Penelope Doyle decided to fast for one day on 29 June 2008 in solidarity with the survivors of Bhopal. She became part of the International Hunger Strike Relay. And she writes as follows: “I am doing my part to express my support with the survivors. I am writing to ask you to help in whatever capacity possible.” Here are some of the ways that you could support Penelope and the Bhopal Survivors:

1. Join the International Hunger Fast and sign up to fast for a day or more at

2. Donate to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. Please send the money that you would spend on a day’s worth of food to support the Bhopalis’ struggle by going to

3. Call the Prime Minister of India's office to express your disappointment in India’s leaders who are supposed to be there to help the people. Call from overseas at: +91-11-2301 8939 or +91-11-2301-1166. Or send an online fax to the Prime Minster's office at

4. Spread the word. If you create awareness as a first step, then action will follow. Visit the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal website and the Bhopal Medical Appeal website at for more information. Or for the Union Carbide viewpoint and their statement about the disaster, go to:

11 June 2008

Dialogue in the dark

The idea is really very simple. In completely a darkened room, blind people lead small groups of guests through an exhibition in which everyday situations are experienced without eyesight.

But the experience is altogether different. A role reversal takes place. Sighted people are taken out from their normal social routine and away from the familiar. Blind people help you orient yourself and give you mobility, and they are also ambassadors for their culture which is devoid of images. They will show you that being blind is a different, but it also offers interesting ways of perceiving people and places.

Everybody will have an unforgettable experience. They will feel their own limits, and perhaps develop a greater understanding, empathy and respect for people who see the world without the benefit of sight.

To complement the exhibitions Dialogue in the Dark provides educational activities for pupils, teachers and others who are interested, and for companies and institutions, a special Business Workshop. Their Taste of Darkness allows you to eat in the dark – there are other restaurants such as Dans le Noir? (London and Paris, with franchises in Moscow and Warsaw)and Die Blinde Kuh (Zurich and Basel) which also do this.

Dialogue in the Dark started in 2000. It has creates jobs for over 5,000 blind, disabled and disadvantaged people worldwide. Its experience can change mindsets on disability and diversity, and increase tolerance. Over 5 million visitors from more than 20 countries have experienced the exhibition.

There are Dialogue in the Dark venues in many European countries, the Americas, East Asia and Israel. If you are passing why not drop by. If you can think of somewhere in your own country to install a Dialogue in the Dark permanent or temporary exhibition, then contact Andreas at:

Dialogue in the Dark was founded by Andreas Heinecke. He was born in 1955 and grew up in Baden-Baden in Germany. He studied German language, literature and history. Following his studies began work as a journalist and documentary writer. It was there that he was asked to train a journalist who had gone blind. Andreas was fascinated by the world of blind people and shocked by the discrimination against them, to which they are still exposed today.

In 1988, Andreas began working with the Home for the Blind Foundation in Frankfurt am Main, so that he could share the experience he had gained so far with other broadcasting corporations. He was looking for possibilities to engage blind and sighted people in conversations where their interest in each other would not be impaired by pity, insecurity or prejudice. It seemed an obvious idea to allow blind and sighted people to meet in the dark.

In 1996, Andreas resigned from the Foundation to start his own business and spread the idea of Dialogue in the Dark internationally.

Together with his wife, Orna Cohen, he has also developed the spin-off of Dialogue in Silence where deaf people provide the hearing with access to non-verbal communication.

Dialogue in Silence is an exhibition which invites you into a world of silence. Other forms of expression have to be used and language has to be visible if it is to be understood. Deaf people act as guides for the visitors, taking small groups through the exhibition which is totally soundproof. Hearing people will discover a repertoire of non-verbal communication (such as mime, gesture and body language). Deaf people will show them a world without sound but which is in no way poorer.

Dialogue in Silence:

Go and have a meal in a blind restaurant:

06 June 2008

Words, words, words

Words not only enable us to communicate, they also define the society we live in.

New words and phrases arise when we have something new to communicate which can’t be expressed in existing language – from Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Axis of Evil to Sub-Prime Mortgages and Collateralised Debt Obligations or Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Offsetting, new ideas need new words to express them. But new words also arise through the new ways of communication that we have now developed (such as e-mailing, texting, talking in chatrooms, on-line gaming, rapping…), through spin and PR-speak (which seeks to obscure or manipulate our messages), and within particular groups (such as gangsta culture and business-speak).

Because of rapid technological and social change, language now seems to be evolving faster and faster.

Someone somewhere today will feel a need to say something which needs a new word, and invents that word. Then its usage may spread (slowly or extremely rapidly) so that it becomes accepted slang or even enters a mainstream dictionary.

The Urban Dictionary
Eric Pederson, head linguistics at the University of Oregon, has kept an online slang dictionary since 2000 (at All undergraduates taking his Linguistics 101 course have to collect terms for the dictionary from a community or social group other than their own. If you are not an undergraduate on this course, you can register with the website and you will then be able to contribute your own words and definitions. This dictionary now has definitions of nearly 7,000 words.

Aaron Peckham, now a Silicon Valley software engineer, launched in 1999 at age 18 whilst a freshman at Cal Poly State University. He wanted to parody traditional dictionaries by providing definitions of words that would never qualify for an entry in any mainstream publication. His website now has 1 million definitions for 600,000 words, and some 2,000 new definitions are being created every day. About half the words and new definitions submitted are actually put online; before this happens, they are scrutinised via a team of around 6,500 volunteer editors. Dictionary users can vote “for” or “against” each definition, edit an entry or submit a new word for inclusion.

“Aaron Peckham was chillin' at the computer nine years ago, when he dreamed up Urban Dictionary – a ridonkulous slang online dictionary co-created by fellow technogeeks.” Find out what these words mean at

Here is an example of how it works. David Turnbull used the term "California car pool" in an online exchange with someone, who didn't know what it meant. He had been using this phrase for several years. So he turned to for a definition. As there was no entry for this, he submitted this definition: "When each member of a group uses their own car to go to the same destination." This was published and gained more than 1,600 votes of approval.

Do something:
1. Sign up to receive the word of the day. Each day a word (and its definition) will arrive in your inbox. Subscription is free.

For 23rd April 2008 the word of the day was “Power Outage Baby”. Definition: Some years back the power went out in San Francisco for a long time due [to a supply shortage]. Nine months later, there was a certain increase in birthrate. If you were born nine months after a power outage, you are a power outage baby.

2. Resolve to use the Word of the Day in your speech at some time during the day.
3. Write a definition for a slang word that you came across, or invent a new word. Submit it to

The English Project
The English Project is creating a 'living museum' of the English language where visitors can explore the English language in all its complexity across time and geography. It aims to deepen people’s understanding and knowledge of the language, its history and continuing development so that English speakers everywhere can better appreciate, use and enjoy it.

It will include all forms of English so as to reflect the amazing variety and power and adaptability of the language – from the street and workplace to science and advertising. There will be a core exhibition tracking the broad development of the language over the past 1,500 years across the globe but it will be supplemented constantly by temporary exhibitions focused on special aspects and applications of English in, for example, pop music and science, law and love.

English-language speakers are constantly creating their own new words and meanings in their lives and families for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes these private words gain wider currency and, over time, come into common usage and perhaps are even included in mainstream to the dictionaries. Although more often these words will remain the preserve of the people or group that invented them.

The English Project’s Kitchen Table Lingo Project aims to collect these private words and bring them to a wider audience. So if you, your friends, family, or workmates have special words with special meanings that you use amongst yourselves, then submit them to:

The Future Dictionary of America
As a reaction to the excesses of the Neo-Con culture of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld years, a dictionary was created as a guide to the American language sometime in the future, when all or most of the USA’s problems had been solved and the 2000-2008 administration was just a distant memory. The book includes contributions from almost 200 writers who were asked to invent words that reflected the time and its excesses, and then provide a definition for their word.