Thursday, 24 February 2011

Somalian Pirates in the Gulf of Aden

Sugule Ali, "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits (to be) those who illegally fish and dump in our seas."

The recent activities of pirates in the Gulf of Aden has been well documented in all of the major newspapers worldwide. Many people take the view that the pirates are thieves who threaten death and rape in order to get easy money. Personally, I don't think the world works like that. People do things for a reason and, much as Hollywood would prefer us to believe differently, there are very few, if any, "bad guys". These pirates risk their lives everyday by taking part in these activities. Only the other day, pirates were shot by the US military resulting in the death of four American hostages. This is likely to result in an escalation of violence between the pirates and the various forces present in the Gulf of Aden. Up until now, the pirates have minimised any use of violence on hostages and, in incidences where hostages have died, the pirates have blamed it on friendly fire. Considerably more pirates have died than hostages. Whilst the fact is that these pirates have no right to kidnap people or threaten them with violence is not in any dispute, one does have to wonder why these young men would risk death or imprisonment in prisons far from their homeland? Obviously piracy is incredibly lucrative but in any country one can turn to crime and potentially end up wealthier than one would be by obeying the law. Yet most people tend to choose to follow the rule of law and take up gainful employment. That is where the problem lies, these men do not have the option to fish like their fathers used to.

From what I can see, the piracy stems from the civil war in Somalia which began in 1991. During the war there has been no coast guard to protect the coast of Somalia resulting in large scale fishing from foreign countries and the dumping of toxic waste along the coastline. The effects of the dumping of waste was not felt by the Somali people until December 2004 when the tsunami in the Indian Ocean resulted in huge waves which stirred up the time bomb lurking underneath their waters. Tonnes of nuclear and toxic waste had been illegally dumped in Somali waters by several European firms. The European Green Party investigated this and obtained contracts showing that a number of European companies had illegally dumped waste in that area and not just any waste, nuclear waste. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment mission, there are far higher than normal cases of respiratory infections, mouth ulcers and bleeding, abdominal haemorrhages and unusual skin infections among many inhabitants of the areas around the northeastern towns of Hobbio and Benadir on the Indian Ocean coast—diseases consistent with radiation sickness. UNEP continues that the current situation along the Somali coastline poses a very serious environmental hazard not only in Somalia but also in the eastern Africa sub-region. So essentially, to ensure a better dividend for their shareholders, European companies sentenced the people of Somalia to decades of radiation sickness and massive environmental damage. What a nice thing to have to deal with whilst you are also suffering though a civil war.

To add insult to an already huge injury, at the same time as various firms were greedily dumping their waste, foreign trawlers began illegally fishing Somalia's seas, with an estimated $300 million of tuna, shrimp and lobster being taken each year, depleting stocks previously available to local fishermen. Now what would you expect the Somali people to do when this started happening to them? Just sit there and take it? Through interception with speedboats, Somali fishermen tried to either dissuade the dumpers and trawlers or levy a "tax" on them as compensation. Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St. Andrews says "It's almost like a resource swap, Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts and the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters." The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) issued a report in 2005 stating that, between 2003 and 2004, Somalia lost about $100 million in revenue due to illegal fishing.

To really darken up this whole sordid episode in March 2010, the international environmental organization ECOTERRA also alleged that newly-leaked information revealed that the anti-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden serve as a cover-up for the live testing of recently developed less-lethal and sub-lethal weapons systems. The latter allegedly include Human Electro-Muscular Incapacitation (HEMI) Bioeffects devices that emit electrical waveforms for which it is not yet scientifically understood what are the long-term effects on a human body.

It is also interesting to note (for anyone reading this who is so right wing that they go "Oh yes but it's their fault that they don't have a coast guard"), that the civil war in Somalia kicked off because dissidents wanted to get rid of the pro-US President Said Barre. In a situation which uncannily mirrors the current situation in Egypt, just before the President was overthrown in 1991, nearly two-thirds of the country's territory had been granted as oil concessions to Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Philips. Conoco even lent its Mogadishu corporate compound to the U.S. embassy a few days before the Marines landed.

So in summary, the Somalian people have had toxic waste dumped on their coast, suffer from radiation sickness, lost their livelihood and may be having weapons tested on them. This on top of struggling through a civil war which has resulted in Somalia being listed as an area of concern in the Genocide Intervention Network.

The average Somalian has had a mixed reaction to the pirates activities. Some people do not like having gangs of armed men hanging around drinking. Others feel that it has benefited their communities. The pirates spend their booty in local towns and even buy generators and other things for the local people. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews found that 70% of Somalians strongly support the piracy as a form of national defence of the country's territorial waters. Even the people of Kenya have indirectly benefited with local fishermen reporting their largest catches in forty years. This has been attributed to the pirates scaring away foreign fishing trawlers. Marine biologists have also stated that the local fish environment is beginning to recover because ot the prevention of commercial fishing.

In short, it can all be summarised by this statement from the pirates' spokesman, Januna Ali Jama, "The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Karin Herzog Dynamic Duo - Dynamic Waste or Mirace Cure

For the past two years I have been an occasional user of the Karin Herzog Dynamic Duo cellulite creams. It all started when I attended a business school in the UK and my roommate told me about how great it was.

I did some research and saw a range of case studies on various websites which seemed to show that Karin Herzog creams really do work. After a lot of deliberation I invested the most I've ever spent on a tube of cream and spent £45 on the Dynamic Duo set. The set comprises one large tube of Silhouette cream (a 4% oxygen cream) and Tonus B12 (a cream packed with various antioxidants and caffeine). The instructions were a bit misleading about whether to use Tonus B12 first or Silhouette first. I opted to spread a reasonable amount of Silouette on my thighs and stomach each evening after my shower. I then waited about 10 minutes to allow the Silhouette to absorb into my skin before rubbing in a small amount of Tonus B12.

I am a beauty cream skeptic generally so I had low hopes for what it would do to my rear. However, it really did seem to work. I don't have a lot of cellulite as I'm in my twenties and quite slender. I eat healthily and exercise moderately. I therefore know that my cellulite is mainly just a natural part of being a woman. I've seen all different types of women on beaches and almost all of them have a little bit of cellulite. I think it comes from the weight of my bottom pushing down on the tops of my thighs and compressing the fat there. Therefore unless I were to be a skeleton pumped with steroids to rid my body of all of the naturally occurring female fat or one of the lucky percentile who don't have it, I think cellulite will always be a part of my life. However, Karin Herzog Dynamic Duo does seem to really tone up, tighten and smooth my thighs.

I don't use it every day as I don't have the time. I just use it whenever I feel my thighs getting a bit wobbly. Recently though, I have started to worry about what is in the cream. The main ingredient is Hydrogen Peroxide and I'm not sure that putting it on my skin is a good idea so I have really dropped off in my use of it.

A few days ago I happened upon a great website called Paula's Choice. She is a skeptic like me who goes around the world investigating the reality of cosmetics and whether they actually work. I wrote her an email about the Dynamic Duo. I received the below email from one of her helpers:

Thank you for your email. Karin Hertzog’s Dynamic Duo is, unfortunately, just a dynamic waste of money where affecting cellulite is concerned. Cellulite cannot be changed by rubbing products into skin, vitamin B (or any antioxidant) or hydrogen peroxide will have no impact on the formation or breakdown of fat cells in the skin. Hertzog’s product duo blames cellulite on “toxins that block the capillaries, causing uneven, bumpy skin,” and that cellulite can be “washed away” with “trapped toxins.” This could not be further from fact.

Women have a unique skin structure, forming honeycomb connective fibers, which acts as a mold for fatty tissue to form the familiar pattern of cellulite. These connective tissues are too weak to prevent the dimpling of cellulite (there is some research that indicates that vascular changes may be to blame, but this is in its early stages and should be considered causal inference, at best.)

The claim of toxins as the cause of cellulite essentially follows that purging the body of pollutants is the answer, and there is no evidence to support that this is even possible. Detoxifying the body where science is concerned translates to a reduction in the cellular damage with a mixture of antioxidants or other enzymes that have proven capabilities of reducing undesirable cellular functions from occurring. There is certainly helpful for the body, but there is no evidence to support a connection to cellulite, and the benefits have no impact on fat accumulation when applied topically. Cellulite has no relationship whatsoever to toxins from the environment, but rather by accumulation of fat on the body because of caloric intake and exercise imbalance. That is not new knowledge, unfortunately!

The claim of detoxifying the body is an ironic one where Hertzog is concerned, as hydrogen peroxide has extensive research provide its ability to impede the production of healthy skin cells, and oxidizing agents have a destructive effect on the skin by causing free-radical damage. Hydrogen peroxide does function as a disinfectant, but the accumulative effects that result from using such a damaging substance to skin cells on a regular basis will result in cellular destruction and a reduced healthy cell function.

Hertzog’s Tonus B12 is just a collection of various conditioning agents and some antioxidants (its not known how much of each, as the ingredient list is not available on their website.) However, this is irrelevant as avocado, green tea, jojoba oil or any other antioxidant or conditioning agent will not have an impact on cellulite in any way. Skin cannot be “energized” by a skin care product applied topically.

I would recommend that you adhere to your initial reaction, that no skin care product can deliver miracles outside of what is scientifically possible, or evidentiary.

Pretty damning stuff. I don't know where I stand on this. I definitely think he's right - apart from the exercise and caloric intake bit because I'm pretty okay on both of those. On the other hand, I do notice an improvement when I use the creams. I think I will need do get a response from Karin Herzog.

If any of you guys have tried Karin Herzog Dynamic Duo or any other cellulite treatments then let me know!

Back from my studies

It's been a long time since my last blog, I've been very busy taking my two ACA advanced stage exams. Having taken 12 exams already, in order to complete the ACA professional stage, I was pretty bored of the whole thing by the time my technical integration tuition started. Luckily one of my ACA tutors in Nicosia gave us all a relatively inspirational speech about the merits of passing these two first time so that all that would be left would be the case study.

I don't think I've ever done as much preparation for an exam as I did for these two. I studied every weekend and some nights after work too for about 6 months. By the time it came to the exams I knew the whole syllabus completely. However, there were massive building works going one next to my apartment and I sat my Business Reporting exam in a state of total sleep deprivation. You can also always rely on the ICAEW to mix it up and give you a paper that is different to any of the past papers or mocks. I really wonder what the point is of the ICAEW writing mock papers if they are not going to be representative of the real exam.

Needless to say Business Reporting may end up being one I have to retake. I think Business Change went okay but you never know. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Using decals to decorate

Like many people my age, I live in a rented apartment. I really have no desire to leap into owning a house anytime soon. Much as owning my own little nook would be nice, I don't want to be tied to a mortgage or have to worry about maintenance. It's great to be free from owning any real furniture and it's great to know that I can leave my job without stressing quite so much. However, the one massive flaw in renting is that you can't decorate your apartment properly.

My apartment is white EVERYWHERE. I mean there is no colour at all. I could try painting small sections like cupboards - my landlord is not averse to the idea - but I don't want to invest in paintbrushes nor do I want to risk the serious mistakes that can happen with paint. I also live abroad and will be returning home at some point so I cannot invest in good paintings or wall hangings.

One day, loitering around on Etsy, I discovered wall decals. These are basically high-end stickers. You can buy them in numerous colours and designs and then just stick them on your wall. They are made from top quality self-adhesive vinyl and can be stuck to a wall and removed when you leave.

I did a quick search on etsy and found Byrdie Graphics - an etsy store specialising in wall decals and wall patterns. My purchase was incredibly cheap and Byrdie Graphics ship worldwide at very reasonable rates.

A couple of weeks later, my decals arrived with an instructional postcard as well as a tester decal of a small bird. I did the tester as advised and all went well. The main decals were quite tricky to put up. You need to make sure that you get them straight and centered which in itself can be quite hard. On top of that, they are seriously sticky once you have taken one side of the backing off. We nearly went wrong a couple of times but we got the hang of it and soon our breakfast bar was looking quite a lot jazzier than it had that morning. We did get a few air bubbles but they are only visible if you look very closely.

The decals even got the sniff approval from our cat Scampi.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Horseriding at Drapia Farm, Cyprus

On saturday, I went horseriding at Drapia Farm in Cyprus. It was my birthday treat organised by my lovely fiance. Unfortunately, I think I may have given him the impression that I was a more experienced rider than I am.

We turned up to Drapia Farm in Kalavassos on saturday morning and were greeted by a couple of young girls. To be honest they weren't the most friendly bunch. I explained that I am not a very experienced rider. I swiftly found myself on a horse with very little guidance. From the start, I had a bit of a bad feeling about my horse as she kept wondering off and ignoring me when I pulled on her reins. Our "instructor" left me alone with my horse and on her return, I asked her for some help. I think German was her first language and I didn't really understand her english. There was no explanation of the trail we would be following or anything like that. Our instructor rode ahead with a friend and we were left behind slightly clueless as to where we going or what we were supposed to be doing.

It all seemed to be going pretty well. Then I suddenly found myself sprawled on the floor in agony. It turned out that our horses had been given a fright from a rock falling off the cliff next to us. Falling of a horse is really scary and very painful. Luckily, I didn't hurt myself too badly. I have some very bad bruises and for a few days I had a sore back and neck.

To be fair, accidents happen with horses and when you get on a horse, you take the risk that you might fall off it. However, for the amount it costs to go riding at Drapia Farm, I think the service was pretty poor. It doesn't cost much to be friendly and give a little bit of proper tuition. I certainly wouldn't ride with them again and I wouldn't recommend riding with them unless you are very experienced.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Valley of the Roses, Agros, Cyprus

On Sunday, we went to the Rose Festival in the small village of Agros in Cyprus on the foothills of the Troodos mountains. The drive up was gorgeous, all the flowers were out and the mountains were verdant and fresh – a pleasant reprieve from the heat of Nicosia. Driving in the troodos is always a bit scary thanks to all the people driving too fast or too slow along the windy mountain roads. We finally made it to Agros and had a delicious lunch at the main taverna in the village. You can sit outdoors under the shade of a huge tree whose branches spanned the entire seating area of the taverna. As it was Sunday, there was a set menu of souvlaki (rotisserie pork, lamb or chicken). We ordered souvlaki with green beans, greek salad, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), fresh yoghurt and olives washed down with some local wine. The food was really good although a little pricey.

Afterwards, suffering from the accompanying sugar low of a large meal, we headed off to find the rose festival. Like most things in Cyprus, it wasn’t very easy to find. Eventually we got there – take the first left before the high school (the modern building with a green roof) - and follow the road down. First stop was the rose house of Agros which is home to the Venus Rose range of bio-certified organic rose products. All the roses are grown locally and harvested in May at dawn. The petals are distilled using by hand. It takes a lot of rose petals and a lot of work to produce even a tiny drop of pure rose essence.

We were given a guided tour of the venus rose range by Christakis Tsolakis who owns the company. It is a family business which has been running since 1948. Chris demonstrated the rose water cleanser which really did seem to work miracles. My skin was left cool, soft and very clean. We also got to try some of their local rose liquer, rose aperitif and rose wine. Chris was a charming if slightly eccentric guide. His demonstration of the flammability of the rose perfume certainly put me off buying it! The Venus Rose range is distributed worldwide which is incredible for a little company based in a mountain village. However, it is easy to see why people would want to buy it. There is no animal testing, no parabens and the ingredients are all organic and natural. The Venus Rose range is very ahead of its time!

The best thing about the tour is that you are under no pressure to buy anything. The shop is in a separate part of the building and you are left to browse alone at leisure or to leave empty handed. Unfortunately, we missed the main events of the rose festival but we were shown a video of the proceedings and it definitely looks worth visiting. The festival takes place in May each year.

Click here if you are interested in buying from their range.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Made my first treasury on etsy

Today I managed to finally be on Etsy at exactly the right time to make a treasury. My treasury theme is Mediterranean Dreams and it contains lots of gorgeous items to get you into a summery mood. Please take a look at it and leave a comment if you can.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

First donation to Argos Animal Shelter

At the weekend, I made my first donation to Argos Animal Shelter Cyprus. It wasn't a lot of money, just 20% of my profits so far on my jewellery sales. I think it will still make a difference as it was enough to buy a couple of bulk bags of animal food.

Argos Animal Shelter looks after more than 200 abandoned cats and dogs. They really need all the money that they can get! Hopefully people will keep on buying jewellery and I can keep on giving donations.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Sale at New World Monkey Jewellery

I've just launched a sale section in my etsy shop where you can buy some pieces from my collection at greatly reduced prices. Don't forget that 20% of all profits go to helping animals in Cyprus. Happy shopping!

A visit from the Mormons

Last night we were visited by representatives of the church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints AKA the Mormons. Having recently read an article from the Sunday Times about their programme of sending young people around the world to spread the word, their visit was a bit like bumping into a celebrity for me.

We were making our dinner at about 6.30pm when we heard a knock. Given we only know about 10 people in this country, we tend to assume someone knocking on the door is asking us to move our car in the car park. My boyfriend answered the door and there were two young men dressed in shirts and ties with little backpacks on. They both looked very neat and nervous. They each had a little name tag written in Greek.

My instinctive thought was – don’t let them in, they will try to brainwash us! Luckily my boyfriend is slightly friendlier than me. They stood in our entrance way for a while explaining that they were representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints. I asked the obvious. Apparently Mormons is their nickname. Even our usually feral kitten was silently watching them next to us. Usually he runs and hides from visitors but obviously even he found them to be quite gentle.

We invited them in and ended up having a very enjoyable chat with them about their work in Cyprus. These young men had saved $10,000 each in order to have the opportunity to spread the word during a two year stint abroad. The one man was from Utah and the other from Germany. They both spoke fluent English as well as Greek. Quite incredible considering that Greek is a hard language. They were quite disappointed that people in Cyprus seldom actually talk with them in Greek but instead respond in English.

Intriguingly, they have actually managed to convert some Greek Orthodox Cypriots to the Mormon faith. Certainly, their visit helped me to learn about a religion that I know little about and it probably does result in the occasional conversion. They were not pushy in their methods but instead were happy to just answer any questions and provide information. I definitely have more respect for a religion where believers actually do something for their faith.