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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Teens triumph over troubles with Happiness Skills book

Method helps young people focus on getting happy, says Ailin Quinlan

Think adolescence and you think angst and negativity — it’s not a phase that many of us remember with much pleasure. However, according to positive psychologist Michaela Avlund and schoolteacher Margaret McCormack, while happiness may not be an emotion familiar to many teenagers, they can be taught it. They know, because they’ve tried it — and very successfully — with nearly 60 teenagers.

Last autumn, the two teamed up to provide courses in happiness to Transition Year students in Coláiste Chraobh Abhann in Co Wicklow. It all started with a chance meeting between Michaela , who has a master’s degree in positive psychology, and second-level teacher Margaret, then a transition year co-ordinator, in a local café. Michaela happened to mention that she was preparing to publish a book about happiness skills — Happiness Skills; Based on Positive Psychology.
Margaret was instantly intrigued: “I feel that teenagers today seem to struggle more than they would have 10 or 15 years ago. They appear to have more challenges, partly as a result of the pressures exerted by social media. Life today can be more cruel,” she says, adding that Coláiste Craobh Abhann promoted the need for positive mental health.

“We were interested in bringing the skills into the school.”
Michaela, who is Danish by birth but has been living in Ireland for more than 20 years, was then invited to teach the skills of happiness to 58 students in two groups through weekly workshops during September, October, and November 2015.
Michaela, who is scheduled to present a number of workshops and talks at the Mind Body Spirit Festival at Dublin’s RDS later this month, recalls: “I was writing my book at the time. It was about the happiness skills and how important they are and how we need these skills to give us the resilience required to withstand the tough parts of life.
“Margaret thought that what I was talking about was very relevant to teenagers. “Research has shown that you can change the environment of your brain. When we get into a very ‘down’ frame of mind and begin to ruminate about negative things, there are skills which can help us out of that space and create a happy life that makes us well.”

Michaela Avlund, the author of ‘Happiness Skills’, sought to teach students that they themselves had the power to create positive relationships with other people.
She set out to teach the teens how to stimulate the ‘feel-good’ part of their brains using these skills: Research, says Michaela, has shown that a particular part of the brain, the right pre-frontal cortex, is a kind of defence system which promotes the production of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. If this area is overly-stimulated, too much of these hormones is produced. They build up in the body, causing stress, illness, and negative thinking.
However, she says, stimulating the left pre-frontal cortex produces of ‘feelgood’ hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. The teenagers were intrigued by the idea that they could literally control their emotions by stimulating the production of more positive hormones through managing their perceptions and behaviour.

They studied different strategies and formulas which showed them how to view situations or experiences in a more positive light. Part of it is learning how to turn around an unpleasant occurrence by taking the time to consider how it may have happened, she says. Michaela gives the example of an apparently inexplicable argument between friends.
“This is about finding alternative interpretations of what happened,” says Michaela, who explains that one friend might already have been upset about something else before the row occurred. Students also learned about the need to consciously attempt to have positive interactions with other people.

“I wanted to teach the students that in them lies the power to create positive relationships with other people by encouraging, listening to each other’s dreams, being supportive and being able to forgive when we get hurt,” says Michaela, who is creating a series of Youtube clips to accompany each chapter of her book.
Students discussed the concepts of assertiveness, problem-solving, character strengths, and forgiveness, and received a specific formula for letting go of emotions such as hurt or anger. It was fascinating, according to Happiness Skills participant Sinead Conway, 17 , now a 5th year student at Coláiste Chraobh Abhann.

“We’d never had anything like this before. Most of it was about how to take the positive out of the negative,” she says, adding that she found the course encouraged character development.
“I learned a lot of skills — we learned how to ‘write out’ a problem and look at the different possible solutions, and how to focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses,” says Sinéad, adding that learning how to see a situation “from someone’s else’s point of view” helps in relationships and family life.

“I learned from the classes – it made me feel that it’s your own responsibility to make your thinking better.”
Sinead suffers from stress, and believes that the skills will help her tackle the challenges of the Leaving Certificate course.
“I think I’ll take a lot of what we did in class forward into the Leaving Certificate course.”
Michaela adds: “You can do so much if you use these tools, but you need to keep doing them on a day-to-day basis. It can create positive habits that will stand to teenagers.”
Manus de Paor, 16, in fifth year at Chraobh Abhann, also attended the course. It opened his eyes in a number of ways, he recalls — and taught him the benefits of just chilling.
“There’s a big stigma for lads about talking about the challenges you have in life but, the way this class was set up, it was very easy to discuss challenges so you were going to open up about stuff the way that lads would not normally do.

“We learned how it can help you to act kindly towards others and do things that are beneficial to others and take the time to act nicely. I think everyone in the class changed a bit, and in a positive way — we were friendlier, nicer, less cliquey!”
Learning the importance to your happiness of taking time out for yourself rather than obsessing with online games was fascinating, says Manus.
“I tried that during the summer, just taking time out to just chill and not to do an activity like playing a game on your phone but to reflect. I find it helps. It gives you more perspective on things that are going on. I think it makes you feel more chilled and happy and I found that the classes give you more confidence to talk to people.

“It encourages you to be more confident and to start from a point where you accept that maybe everyone has some good in them. I felt it was all very relevant.”
Margaret says that, after those first workshops finished — the school plans to run them again in early 2017 — she felt it had improved the students’ sense of well-being.
“They learned about how making the right decisions makes your day and your life. “As a class this group decided that if they saw someone doing something nice they would say well done.
“Another thing that got across to them was the strength and power of a smile and a greeting — that really struck a chord.”
Positive psychologist Michaela Avlund will be speaking at the Mind, Body, Spirit, and Wellness Festival in Dublin’s RDS from Saturday, October 29 to Monday 31. Her talk will explore how ‘You have the power to change your brain’. she will also present an assertiveness workshop on ‘Knowing what you need and pursuing it with kindness’.

T — Tell yourself the story. Write it down as it happened.
U — Understand why it impacted on you so badly.
R — What’s the result of what happened?

N — Now change your way of looking at it. Could there be another explanation for what happened? Find an alternative interpretation of, or explanation for, what happened.

Past injustices for Ireland is to recover sovereignty in Europe

The right response to past injustices is to recover sovereignty in a Europe where the powerful are prevented from preying on the weak, writes Yanis Varoufakis

DESPITE their unequivocal Europeanism, the Irish have been serially mistreated by the European Union.
When Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008, the EU forced them to vote again until they delivered the “right” outcome.
A year later, when private Irish banks imploded, threatening their (mainly) German private creditors with severe losses, Jean-Claude Trichet, then the European Central Bank’s president, immediately “informed” the Irish government that the ECB would shut down ATMs across the Emerald Isle unless Ireland’s unsuspecting taxpayers made the German banks whole.
Ireland acquiesced, its public debt ballooned, emigration returned, and the country remains bruised and despondent. With the EU still refusing meaningful reduction of a debt burden unfairly borne by the younger generation, the Irish remain convinced, correctly, that the EU violated their sovereignty on behalf of foreign bankers.
Ireland’s greatest weapon against the ensuing debt deflation was its ability to attract US-based tech giants, by offering them a combination of EU law, a well-trained English-speaking workforce, and a 12.5% corporate tax rate.

Though the shell-like subsidiaries of global tech conglomerates have little positive impact on most households’ income, Ireland’s establishment is proud of its links with the likes of Apple.
Now, the European Commission is jeopardising the Government’s special relationship with Apple by demanding that it claw back €13 billion in taxes from the company.
Is the Commission’s latest intervention another example of EU bullying, in violation of Ireland’s sovereignty? Comparing Trichet’s 2009 intervention and the current standoff over Apple holds important lessons beyond Ireland and, indeed, Europe.
In the eurozone’s early years, German financial institutions channelled a torrent of capital into Ireland’s commercial banks, which then lent it to real-estate developers.
The ensuing property bubble resulted in white elephants in Dublin’s financial district, row upon row of new blocks of flats in the middle of nowhere, and a mountain of mortgage debt. When the bubble burst after 2008, land prices collapsed, debts went bad, and Ireland’s private banks failed.

The ECB, in an affront comparable to British behaviour during the 1845-52 Famine, instructed the Government to invoke “financial stability” to force Ireland’s weakest citizens to repay every euro the defunct private banks owed to German creditors. Financial stability was obviously a smokescreen: taxpayers were forced to repay even the debts of a bank that had already been closed (thus systemically irrelevant).
The roots of the Apple deal are older than the ECB. In 1980, a young Steve Jobs visited an Ireland eager to escape underdevelopment. Apple eventually created 6,000 jobs in the country, in exchange for a sweetheart tax deal allowing it to shield its European revenues from taxation by recording them there.
To this day, the proceeds of every iPhone sold in Paris or in Stockholm (net of its Chinese assemblers’ production costs) go to Apple’s Irish subsidiary Apple Sales International. As a result of the original Apple-Ireland deal, ASI pays a miniscule tax on these earnings, effectively exempt from the ultra-low 12.5% corporate-tax rate.

This arrangement also required the usually vigilant US Internal Revenue Service to play along. ASI’s profits stem from Apple’s intellectual property (IP) rights, which are based on research and development conducted exclusively in the US (most of it underpinned by federal government funding). These profits should, therefore, be taxed in the US.
Curiously, the IRS is choosing not to enforce Apple’s obligation to pay tax on its profits from US-sourced IP returns. Instead, Apple charges ASI a symbolic fee for allowing it to profit from Apple’s IP rights, for which it pays a tiny tax to the IRS. Meanwhile, ASI is allowed to keep, in Ireland, profits representing close to two-thirds of the revenue from the sale of every Apple product sold outside the US. As a result, Apple has amassed untaxed cash reserves of up to $230 billion.

Unlike in 2009, the Irish Government is protesting the EU authorities’ recent Apple ruling, pointing out that tax policy is in the purview of national governments, not the union.
And, in a recent joint letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU’s other 27 national governments, 185 American CEOs alleged the EU had over-reached yet again, resulting in a “self-inflicted wound” for Ireland’s and Europe’s economy. But they are wrong: Ireland’s sovereignty is not an issue here. Apple would not have based itself in Ireland were it not for the EU’s single market, a commons that requires common rules. One of these rules is that governments cannot offer aid to some companies that is not available to others.
Suppose, for example, that the Greek government, seeking to attract 6,000 jobs to its ravaged economy, offered Apple a subsidy of €110,000 per job per year, or €660m. Over two decades, the total subsidy would come to slightly more than €13bn. Were the EU to permit Greece to offer Apple such a deal, the other EU states, including Ireland, would revolt.

Suppose further that the Greek government proposed waiving corporate tax for 20 years on all revenue Apple earned in the rest of the EU but booked in Athens — say, €13bn. The European Commission would then have a duty of care to the European commons to demand that Greece immediately recoup that €13bn — exactly as it is telling Ireland to do today.

Every time the EU acts as a colonial usurper, as it did in 2009, it undermines the legitimacy of its good and proper actions and strengthens the xenophobic, anti-European “Nationalist International”. Europe’s only beneficiaries, much to the delight of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, are isolationist Brexiteers, the far-right Alternative for Germany, France’s National Front, and illiberal governments in Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and elsewhere.

The lesson to be learned from comparing Trichet’s 2009 intervention with the European Commission’s current stance on Apple is simple: Europeans’ real enemy is free riding by the few on the backs of the many. Without common institutions, Europeans cannot be defended from the exploitation and antisocial practices that big business and its political agents portray as economic common sense.
Trichet compromised Ireland’s sovereignty to facilitate German bankers’ free ride on the shoulders of Ireland’s taxpayers. As restitution, the ECB should take on its books part of Ireland’s public debt.

But the EU must not allow Ireland to abuse the European commons by offering Apple a deal that no other member state could. The right response to past injustices is to recover sovereignty in a Europe where the powerful — whether German bankers or American smartphone makers — are prevented from preying on the weak.

Yanis Varoufakis, a former finance minister of Greece, is professor of economics at the University of Athens. 

Garda whistleblower’s life irrevocably changed

Keith Harrison at his Letterkenny home. Picture: North West Newspix

Garda Keith Harrison traces many of his woes back to the night in 2009 when he stopped a garda colleague for drink-driving in Athlone. The charge against his colleague was dismissed in court, but Gda Harrison has no regrets about how he handled the matter.
There were other incidents which may have contributed to him becoming unpopular with fellow officers. He had concerns about the conduct of some investigations of drug-dealing which he raised, but then let lie. He impounded a jeep in 2008 after the owner drove through a checkpoint.
A colleague asked him to cut the offender some slack. He refused to play ball.

Gda Harrison has baggage. He has been disciplined. He has been prosecuted for failure to have his car insured, but the judge in the case did remark that it was down to a misunderstanding and fined him with no disqualification from driving.
Where he finds himself today is isolated, on reduced pay, and of the belief that his road back to full employment is blocked. He also believes that he has been harassed for pointing out wrongs and having the temerity to fall in love with a woman of whose family his colleagues disapproved.

Gda Harrison first felt that he was being scrutinised when on September 4, 2009, a superintendent told him he had been appointed to examine his work and discipline. This was just three months after he arrested a colleague for drink-driving.
The investigation produced nine separate disciplinary charges. One of these concerned a complaint from a publican who claimed that, on an occasion nine months earlier Gda Harrison, had been discourteous towards him. Another was from a woman whom Gda Harrison had prosecuted for having no tax or insurance on her vehicle.
Despite the list of charges, the ultimate outcome was that Gda Harrison was fined €200, which is pretty paltry for a process that required a superintendent to investigate for a couple of months.

Then there was the claim for expenses. While attending a five-day public order training course in September 2009, Gda Harrison used his brother’s car to travel as his own was off the road for the month and untaxed. To avoid complications, he claimed the expenses for his own vehicle.

There was no monetary difference in the claim, but he was pulled up on it. (Ultimately, he didn’t even pursue the expenses.) Not just that, but a superintendent signed a statement that he had seen Gda Harrison driving his untaxed car when he had said it was out of action.
He was fined €5,200 for the offence. Prior to arresting his colleague, he had had a good disciplinary record for 10 years in the job. Following the disciplinary process, he was relocated to another office. While at the second office, he requested a transfer.
He had met an old flame whom he had known in college. Marisa McDermott was the mother of two young children whose marriage had broken down. She and Gda Harrison ran into each other and began a relationship.
Ms McDermott is from Donegal, where she was working as a secondary school teacher. Gda Harrison saw it as an opportunity for a fresh start and asked for a move north.
He was transferred to Buncrana in 2011 and things got off to a good start. He was living with Ms McDermott outside Letterkenny, half an hour from Buncrana. Then his partner’s identity became known to colleagues.

Ms McDermott’s brother Martin had been convicted of manslaughter after he rammed a squad car in 2009, killing 24-year-old Gda Gary McLoughlin. He had up to 100 previous convictions and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Ms McDermott had been using her married name. She is not her brother’s keeper, but communities in north Donegal are tightly knit. For some in the force in Buncrana, the man’s crime was such as to render anybody closely related to him toxic.
Things changed for Gda Harrison after that. There was disgust in some quarters that he would have anything to do with a sibling of Martin McDermott’s. His past had not been an issue up until then, but now it was viewed in a different light.

He agreed to a transfer, even though it would take him further from the home he was making with Ms McDermott. He ended up in Donegal town, an hour south of Letterkenny.
His reputation preceded him. Things didn’t get much better, he says. Then he made the cock-up with his insurance, which had lapsed by a day or two, over a misunderstanding on paperwork.
The offence was not detected at a checkpoint but by a colleague of Gda Harrison’s, who noticed the disc in his car outside the garda station. The judge accepted this was an unusual case.

“Driving without insurance is a very serious matter but there are mitigating circumstances,” said the judge in imposing a fine. “It wasn’t just a blatant case of driving without insurance.”
By then, the middle of 2014, Gda Harrison was persona non grata.
He decided to document all he had been subjected to.
He compiled an affidavit and handed it to his local TD, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, who read it into the record of the Dáil on May 15, 2014.
“He claims that a managerial review of his high work returns and practices was instigated and persons who had past interactions with Gda Harrison in the execution of his duties were invited by the gardaí to make complaints against him,” said Mr Doherty.
He went on to say that Gda Harrison claimed that, from September 2009 until March 2011, he was office-bound while the garda arrested for drink-driving was still driving official vehicles and carrying an official firearm.

Following that, Gda Harrison met the then Confidential Recipient (the office set up to receive whistleblower complaints) and detailed what had occurred. Some of the complaints he made about malpractice in the midlands would later overlap with complaints made by another whistleblower, Nick Keogh.
An investigation was set up within the force to examine Gda Harrison’s complaints. He met the investigating officer in a hotel accompanied by a solicitor, Trevor Collins, who was on this case for the first time.
The following day, Mr Collins’ Linkedin profile was viewed by an account associated with an officer from the Midlands of whom Gda Harrison had complained.
Gda Harrison and his solicitor believed that details of the case had been leaked and that this represented a conflict of interest.
A letter was dispatched from the solicitor to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in June 2014 outlining the concerns.

“The failure of the investigating team to disclose this conflict prior to or during the course of the meeting is deeply concerning,” the letter read.
“This failure to disclose the conflict undermines the credibility and bona fides of the Garda investigation. The non-disclosure of the conflict of interest caused shock, distress and upset to our client. Garda Harrison believes that the investigation team you appointed is prejudiced and biased as a consequence of this conflict.”
The commissioner said she would consider referring the investigation to GSOC, which she did in August 2014.

The GSOC probe has had its own issues. Two years on from Gda Harrison’s complaint, there has been little progress. On September 2, a letter was dispatched to the chair of GSOC, Judge Mary Ellen Ring.
“Two years have now elapsed since the matter was referred to GSOC and yet there has been no progress with investigation despite the fact that our client has co-operated in full with the investigators appointed by the commission,” read the letter. “Our client is deeply concerned at the delay and its probable effect on the eventual outcome. We understand that no witnesses have been interviewed, save for our client’s partner being interviewed in the past number of weeks and despite the fact that she had made herself available for interview at the time of our client’s first interview.”

A response from a GSOC investigator was apologetic.
“As you are aware GSOC has experienced a delay in receiving information from AGS to assist in my investigation,” it read. “There is still one request outstanding and I was informed that a reminder was issued to AGS for the information.”
Over the last two years, Gda Harrison’s legal team claims he has had to endure stress on multiple fronts. He is classified as ‘on sick leave’ and wants to be allowed to return to work. He no longer has an income and has been forced to apply for disability benefit.
Then there are the allegations of harassment. On three occasions, he has been informed of death threats against him.

The third of these involved a man who rang a station from Perth in Australia in August last year, saying he had a bullet for Gda Harrison.
This man was beyond the reach of the gardaí, but in November last year, his name appeared in the local paper after he appeared in court in Buncrana.
Gda Harrison told GSOC he believes the death threats were fabricated in order to give elements of the force an excuse to patrol outside his house. He claims to have observed an inordinate number of patrols passing his home over the last 18 months.
Spokespeople for An Garda Síochána have repeatedly stated that it would be inappropriate to comment on any ongoing GSOC investigation.

Some of these claims may be exaggerated, some may result from coincidences, or accidents or misinterpretations. After seven years of being regarded in somewhat suspicious terms by some of his colleagues, Gda Harrison may have a heightened sense of persecution.

Two years on from his complaint, he still has no answers. Seven years down the road from the night he arrested a fellow officer, his life has been irrevocably changed.
Michael Clifford

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bees Added To Endangered Species in Hawaii

Trouble in paradise for seven species of pollinators native to Hawaii.

The Hylaeus assimulans, one of seven bee species declared endangered in the US

Seven species of bees native to Hawaii were declared endangered on Friday in what The Associated Press said was the first time any bee in the U.S. has received the protection. 
Hawaii’s various species of yellow-faced bees will be protected by the Endangered Species Act effective Oct. 31. But one of the most effective safeguards ― controls on bee habitats ― won’t be part of the new declaration. 
The Xerces Society, which advocates for protecting pollinators, pushed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to intervene on behalf of bees in 2009.

Friday’s decision “is excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive,” Matthew Shepherd, spokesman for the Xerces Society, wrote on the group’s website. “Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any ‘critical habitat,’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.” 

Restrictions would be placed on areas labeled as critical habits, but the Fish and Wildlife Service said it needs more time to identify potential locations. “Accordingly, we find designation of critical habitat to be ‘not determinable’ at this time,” The Fish and Wildlife Service said in posting the new endangered species rule.
Yellow-faced bees live in a variety of ecosystems on the islands, from lush forests to alpine deserts 10,000 feet above sea level, according to a fact sheet published on a University of Hawaii website. They play an important role in pollinating plants native to the Hawaiian islands. 

An additional 42 species of plants and animals on the brink of extinction in Hawaii also received the endangered listing on Friday. The band-rumped storm-petrel, orange-black Hawaiian damselfly, an anchialine pool shrimp and 39 types of plants are endangered because of factors like habitat erosion, invasive species, human interaction and climate change, according to the Centre for Biological Diversity.

“I’m relieved these 49 unique Hawaiian plants and animals are finally getting the protection they desperately need to survive,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, recovery director at the center. “The Endangered Species Act has already saved hundreds of Hawaiian species from extinction, so this is great news for these irreplaceable plants and animals.”

Bees are imperiled elsewhere. The Fish and Wildlife Service this month recommended adding a species from the Midwest to the endangered list, beginning a process that can take up to a year. The ruby patched bumble bee, which once inhabited 26 states and parts of Canada, has lost 90 percent of its range in the last two decades. 

Fish and Wildlife Service officials did not respond to inquiries. 
Michael McLoughlin 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How London's honeybees are coming back

Unconstrained by borders, carried on Channel winds from the northern reaches of France, the arrival of the predatory Asian hornet in Britain - found lurking near a quaint market town in Gloucestershire last week - is bad news for our native honey makers. 
With a wingspan stretching more than 7.5cm, and bearing razor sharp pincers, the thumb-sized velvet black vespas are thought to have first arrived in Europe concealed within a Chinese pottery shipment in 2004. Since then, their numbers have ballooned, while populations of Western honeybees - on which they prey almost exclusively - have nosedived. 

Bee-killing Asian hornet spotted in Britain for first time

Sadly, here in Britain, this new menace is merely the latest of many threatening to send bees towards extinction. Across rural England,  where pesticides and the destruction of habitat are already decimating nesting sites, bee numbers are tumbling into terminal decline. With more than 97 percent of our wild flowering grasslands uprooted since the 1930s, once bountiful Cullem’s and Short-haired bumblebees have already been extirpated from the countryside. 

“The biggest pressures facing our bees right now are urbanisation and cultural practices.
Dr Clint Perry
But there is hope on the horizon. Away from the perils of intensive agriculture and invasive species, our increasingly virescent cityscapes, coupled with hardening metropolitan attitudes towards climate change, could hold the key to their survival. 
AT A GLANCE | Asian hornets

Asian hornets, which are originally from the Far East, carry a large amount of potent venom
The Asian hornet, or Vespa velutina, is an invasive species from Asia and was first spotted in Bordeaux, France, in 2005 and is now spreading rapidly
It is a highly effective predator of insects, including honey bees and can cause significant losses to bee colonies
It is active between April and November
Queens can be up to 3cm in length and workers around 2.5cm
Entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band. It has a black head with orange-yellow face
The Asian hornet is a day-flying species which, unlike the European hornet, ceases activity at dusk
It nests in tall trees in urban and rural areas, and nests can also be found in sheds, garages, under decking or in holes in the wall or ground
In London, of all places, bees are in fact thriving. Following a sustained conservation drive, new government figures have revealed that the capital’s airways are humming with the healthiest population of bees found anywhere in Europe. With more than 2,500 apiaries squeezed into crevices and rooftops across the capital, beekeeping has fast become the preserve of many urban dwellers. 
Just a short walk from St James’s Park, where groves of white cherry trees straddle the lake down to Storey’s Gate, a hive of activity is taking place atop of Fortnum & Mason, the luxury department store. World renowned for its home-made produce, Fortnum’s roof terrace is now home to four apiaries, carefully carved from English oak wood, each brimming with some 50,000 honeybees.

Beekeepers tend to the apiaries on top of Fortnum & Mason's, Piccadilly  CREDIT: FORTNUM & MASON 
“We first had the inspiration from a set of hives housed on top of the Paris Opera house,” Fortnum’s grocery buyer Sam Rosen-Nash tells me. “Fortnum’s make so many of our products in-house, so we thought creating our own honey was the logical way forward.” 
To keep up with soaring demand for their Piccadilly Honey, Fortnum’s has now installed apiaries in four other locations, including a new pied-à-terre alongside Hoxton canal. Dotted across the city, their bees now forage through the Royal Parks as far as Buckingham Palace, where they help maintain the pristine rose garden and herbaceous border. 
“City honey is really quite special,” Sam says, “because it has such a complex flavour character. In Hoxton, the bees are feeding off the buddleia along the banks of the canal, so you have a completely different flavour dynamic to Piccadilly, where we have hints of elderflower coming through.” 

Innovative new beekeeping techniques are also helping city-dwellers tap into Mother Nature. Following a £13 million crowdfunding campaign, Stuart and Cedar Henderson, a father and son team from Byron Bay, Australia, have recently released a novice-friendly apiary called the Honey Flow Hive. Whereas traditional beekeeping is a complex and stressful procedure, often involving copious palls of smoke, confusion and the occasional bee sting, the Hive is a remarkably simple device. Fashioned from pine wood frames and clear plastic chambers, it funnels honey directly from individual chambers with minimal effort, allowing beekeepers to collect their crop without disturbing the insects. 
“Getting nectar,” Cedar says, “has always been a difficult task. I thought it was crazy to have to crack the hive open, pull it apart, stress out all the bees and spend all day just trying to get your honey. Now we’ve built something that allows people to sit back, turn the tap and get honey directly from the hive with no mess. It’s much more friendly for the bees.” 
Retailing at £50 online, the Hive is now being hailed as the most significant breakthrough in beekeeping since the creation of the Langstroth model hive in 1852 and its popularity in London is soaring.

Researchers at Queen Mary University London hope that this will help boost wild bee populations, in parallel. “Beekeeping practices are increasing across the city,” says Dr Clint Perry, a leading biologist heading up the London Pollinator Project, a capital -wide scheme encouraging gardeners to ditch shrubs for bee-friendly Saliva and Syringa in order to provide honeybees with more forage.

Inside the University’s laboratories, scientists have also tagged more than 500 bees with electronic transmitters in order to gauge how well their horticultural efforts are faring. 

One of QMUL's tagged honeybees feeds from a flower in Hyde Park, London  CREDIT: CLINT PERRY 
“London is unique,” Perry says, “because there are so many green spaces that can be tapped into to counterbalance the effects of urbanisation and agricultural practices elsewhere. The typical Victorian London home is small, but there are so many patches of green in the back yard or on roof terraces, so it has far more greenery than in other cities of a similar size.”

While the arrival of the Asian Hornet in Britain is a worry, Perry believes London bees have nothing to fear, so long as residents continue to appreciate their importance to the environment. “The biggest pressures facing our bees right now are urbanisation and cultural practices,” he says. “Whether it’s planting flowers or looking after your own bee colony—these are things that can really make a difference.”
Harry Yorke

Monday, September 26, 2016

Department of Foreign Affairs wasting €46,000 a month for one of their own

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said it is “actively seeking” to buy a home for its ambassador to Japan after the disclosure that the State is paying €46,000 a month to rent an apartment in Tokyo.

The ambassador’s residence in Tokyo was more than twice as expensive as any other property rented by the department last year, the Mail on Sunday reported. The outlay on the apartment included access to a spa, swimming pool and gym facilities, a roof garden and a wine and port cellar, it said.

Drawing on documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper said the residence for Ireland’s consul general in New York cost €20,870 while the department paid €20,050 a month on the home of the ambassador to Singapore. Rent on an apartment in Geneva cost €15,925 a month.

In a statement, the department said it always sought to ensure value for money in all its operations, in particular when signing rental agreements. “Precisely because rents are so high in Tokyo the department has been actively engaged in seeking alternatives to renting,” it said.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been reviewing its options in relation to Tokyo with a view to converting rental payments into a long-term asset for Ireland.
Ruadhan Mac Cormac


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Who Are You???

The maths: We live a brief life. By the time you are 20 years old you have already begun the 3rd decade of it and there is only 11 years between 29 and 40. That is if you ever get that far in the first place. The chance of you being born at all has not been computerised or the math on that one been verbalised yet or fully understood. For example: if your mother or father never met, you obviously would not have become you; comparatively so, if one Dad or Mam was not up to any particular romantic interlude at anytime, there was a likelihood that you were on your way on a napkin to somewhere else and not ever coming back. The variations of you not being here in the first place can be wildly varied, humourous and very true. What matters in the end is that you are here despite practically insurmountable odds. You are already a winner and as individual as your fingerprints.

The science: The dawn of man descended from the common ancestors of apes. We are in fact 98.4% ape and almost 99% chimpanzee. We are also 97.5% mouse and there is more to the adage that  “The best laid- plans of mice and men often go awry” (Robert Burns 1759-1796). The behaviours in man, either in consequence or prediction, is not too far removed from this lot. Don’t blame me about the science, blame all those pesky scientists and Charles Darwin. What happens and matters next in forming you, first and foremost, is what is commonly called the formative years. These are the years that social scientists, psychologists and other academics generally agree is the first seven years of anyone’s life. It is in the end what becomes, in the round, YOU!

You are essentially a social construct, shaped in those formative years by geography, others belief systems and all things local, and by the family, an extended one, or the lack of both, that your were reared from. Being told what to learn rather than how to learn only solidified any confusion that passed as an education for life's challenges.

You were born with a natural propensity and expectation of being loved, and from that, a natural gratitude for giving love in return. When these former expectations were not met in your social construct, or indeed, were not there at all in any form, defensive mechanisms kick in. These are embedded deep and can prove to be the chip on your shoulder that you do not know is there or the disease that you do not know you have and sometimes called ‘a dangerous mis-understanding’. Facing down these unrealised expectations, making meaning, to understand with acceptance, in order to remove the chip is the key to living a more contented if not fulfilling life. Your choices, askew or on the button, are guided by these understandings, or the lack of them being understood at all. It can mean the difference between a life sleepwalking where you never wake up or one where a new meaning can mean several dawns just in one day. De-construction here starts before the re-construction begins on a different foundation and one that is definitely yours in the making.

Where does anyone start looking for understanding is the easy part. Looking at how and why you think the way you do. The blame game is a good beginning; your perceptions grounded on what: the notion that you are, despite evidence to the contrary, a mind reader and a judge all rolled into one? The expectations that people do the right thing by you or should have done and the crushing feeling almost all of the time when they do not; a moral crusader with an immoral compass, that despite your best efforts, keeps pointing at yourself and deserve has nothing to do with it or ever will. We do not make random choices and this is the good news, only a computer does that, so choose well when all the evidence is in. Stripping away all of your tired and old mindsets and a lot more is most definitely a good place to start indeed and starting today is the best time to begin. It is not winning that counts as you have already won that by being born, but the living and taking part of life after that IS; and leaving the baggage way behind that you carried long enough without really reasoning too well as to why.  

Barry Clifford