Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Listening to…..

I’ve rediscovered the joys of BBC Radio 4. I’m not sure why, but having been a constant listener since I arrived in France, I just stopped listening to English language radio a couple of years ago. Perhaps it had something to do with me discovering some good programmes on France Inter, or maybe it was those unbearably smug people with the home-county accents who squat the phone-in programmes on Radio 4, or perhaps it was because I don’t feel engaged by British current affairs anymore.
Anyway, over the past week or so, I’ve been doing a lot of mindless marking while listening to some really great programmes on the Radio 4 site. The advantage of the internet over the tranny is that you can just zap the boring programmes and listen to the ones you’re really interested in.
I’ve heard about what it feels like to be the "persecuted" English minority in Scotland, ....... I've followed the stages in the development of a potential treatment for HIV by one of the big bad pharmaceutical companies in "Quest for a Cure"; learned about inguinal hernia operations (P has already had 3 which doesn't appear to be a record); been left gaping-mouthed at what actually happens to the clothes we give to charity in "Clothes Line" — did you know that the charities sell them to go-betweens who sell them on to stallholders in markets in Africa? I thought that a needy little orphan was hand-picked to wear the baby clothes I had donated. I've also been learning about serendipidous discoveries in science (rubber for example). I’ve heard Lionel Schriver talking about her book We have to talk about Kevin, decided that I don’t really want to read it but been interested in the fact that she made a deliberate decision not to have children herself because she is too single-minded about her work and was afraid she might neglect a child if she wanted to get a book finished. I’ve also listened to Ian McEwan talking about Saturday and that made me want to read bits of it all over again (I completely missed the James Joyce allusion in the last line). I was surprised to hear just how much Oliver Sacks’ voice and style fitted how I had imagined him (batty professor, nothing like Robin Williams in the film Awakenings)as I listened to him discuss The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. I also listened to a documentary about nuns who have donated their brains to science in a large scale trial about Alzheimers. (In fact, Alzheimer’s has been a bit of a leitmotif this week, it came up an the episode of the Sopranos that I watched, and it's also mentioned in McEwan’s Saturday, in a character he based on his own mother. The statistics are frightening.)
This morning I’ve listened to a woman talk about lupus and am, as I type, finding out all about the advantages of opensource scholarly publication in “Publish or be Damned" a programme about scientific publishing and the scandalous cost of learned journals (would you believe it costs £9000 for 12 issues of Physicosomethingobscure published by Elsevier).

Update: it's not a good idea to listen to something interesting as you type, it leads to lots of typos.


Ms Mac said...

And that's the kind of business dealings that put me off donating to big charity organisations. I have to weigh up my conscientous objection to organisations such as the Red Cross and Oxfam against the convenience of getting rid of stuff in their charity bins. I usually go with convenience. Some of us are just too lazy to have principles.

Lesley said...

Another interesting snippet from that programme Ms Mac: many Africans believe that the people who have donated these clothes have done so out of the goodness of their hearts, either that or died. It is inconceivable for them that anybody would want to get rid of clothes with so much wear left in them.

hev said...

I'm very shocked and very upset about the clothes thing. (incidentally, I think people dying does account for a lot of the clothes). I meant to listen to the nun/alzheimer thing - I shall see if I can find it on the 'play again' thingie.
I go through stages on listening to english radio - some weeks that is all I listen to and then I try to listen to German or Swiss radio = probably on the very weeks that there is something worth having.

wendy said...

I have known about that clothes racket for years as my ex grew up in Zaire and he and his brother were very involved in the street market scene at one stage...they also had a friend who was involved in the racket and tried to pull them into it. That's why I never donate clothing, blankets etc etc - I know where it goes. I prefer to find a street person around me and help them out instead.

I have also recently been listening online to BBC and my fave radio station back home - I love it, especially when ironing!

BeefKing said...

Why is this a "racket"? I don't see why clothes getting sold to poor people in Africa is any different to clothes getting sold to to poor people in the UK? Of course Oxfam can't sell every shred of clothing that they are given, so it makes sense to pass them on to secondary markets who will sell them on cheaply, and then use the money for something worthwhile, rather than accumulating a vast stock of items which don't sell in the UK. As long as Oxfam uses the proceeds well, that makes the original donation valid, doesn't it?

Lesley said...

I don't know whether ot not it's really a "racket", maybe Wendy could say a bit more about that. And of course Oxfam's argument is that they make money for their projects this way, which is the most important thing. I was just surprised to discover that the system actually makes a few individuals very rich, and that nobody in need actually gets any clothes for free.

BeefKing said...

I never assumed that when I gave my old clothes away, someone else would get them for free. That's what thrift stores do: they sell your old stuff to make money to help the charity. It'd be too much to ask SalArmy or Oxfam to find a donee for my old shirt, when they could sell my shirt and then buy something for someone instead. I am sure that Oxfam would be happy to tell you to what use they've put the money they earned by selling donated stuff.

Ms Mac said...

I'm not at all surprised at the fact that someone in private enterprise is profiting from charity. But then we only have to look to the payrolls of the larger, well established charities to see that it's not only market stall holders in Africa who get rich from charity and that's what makes me consider who I want to give my charity to.

The recent cases of tsunami victims left to die because various aid agencies were busy scoring points off each other is another reason and don't even get me started on the Red Cross. I have a particular bugbear about them. Don't get me wrong, your worker at the sharp end of the charity market has all of my respect but where there's large sums of cash there's corruption. And that's all I have to say about that.

scorchamac said...

One of the other problems with the whole deluge of donated clothes from the west is the fact that this influx has decimated the local cotton and clothing industries. African growers are being undercut on cotton prices by countries like the US and even then the local garment industries can't compete with "virtually" free clothes.

That is one of the sad facts of life about Africa. We make them receive aid instead of opening and controlling our markets in order that they can get their own kick-started. It's about control. And with control comes power. And power means riches.

I don't know what we should do with our left over clothes. But next time we buy clothing so cheap that we "just couldn't resist it" (Matalan jeans for example) maybe we shouldn't. We are adding to the whole cycle. Someone somewhere is paying the price by not being paid the price. The real price.

I will still pass my clothes on - I haven't got that many ;-) until someone gives me a better idea for what else to do with them.

Rant over.

Lesley said...

In my own case at least, the word donate is inappropriate. There's nothing altruistic about me dropping clothes off at the Secours Populaire: I'm just getting rid of it.
When I donate objects that are worth something though, I would like to think that they go to someone who actually needs them (here or elsewhere) rather than to someone who does "voluntary" work in the shop and has a sharp eye for a bargain.
And when I give money, I'd like to think that at least 80% of the money is actually used for projects rather than for salaries.
Okay, go on, call me naïve.

Sarah (it is you Sarah, isn't it?): and what about writing off the debt we encouraged them to get into, that would help.
And now I'm going to feel guilty about spending in Matalan when I'm next in Scotland.

Heather: the "nun" link takes you to a page where you can "listen again".

scorchamac said...

Anyway, here I am ranting on about the sad state of things in Africa while I "knowingly" go on polluting the atmosphere by buying yet more airline tickets just so that I can have a bit of sun sea and sand and in so doing practically guaranteeing the end of the world starting with all the poor countries! Sorry kids but I'm weak hopefully you will find it in your hearts to forgive me as the sun sets for the very last time!

deborah said...

I'm still listening to Radio 4 and I heard that doctor from Plymouth explaining how he did the hernia operations.
When the interviewer asked about keyhole surgery, the doctor said, well, go ahead, but only after the surgeon has done at least two hundred operations and proved he is good at it .....

scorchamac said...

I'm assuming that the interviewer either had a hernia or was expressing a theoretical interest. There are probably some hobbyists out there who enjoy a thorough probe and cut.

I am missing Radio 4 a lot. No computer. No radio 4. Who knows what might be happening in Ambridge... sigh

Lesley said...

It's true that laparoscopy is pretty operator-dependent and the learning curve is long. But if nobody agrees to be a patient in the first part of the learning curve, surgeons never get a chance to get good at it. There's a really good chapter on this dilemma in Atul Gawande's "A Surgeon's Notes". As usual, I suppose it's the least-informed (ie. the poorest) who end up being the guinea pigs, certainly not anyone who has a dr as a close relative.

Ms Mac said...

I once worked in an endoscopy clinic where we had an emergency one day when the surgeon got the scope stuck in a patient's oesophagus. The surgeon in question was a doddery old gent who retired very soon afterwards. Thankfully the surgeon who was to take the next list was there early and was able to help but it just goes to show that it's not only those surgeons who are learning that patients have to be careful of!

And just as an aside, the surgeon who helped, we shall call him Mr. H, was a proctology specialist. One day a young man, about 23 came in for a colonoscopy with his friend for moral supposrt. While I was checking him in, Mr. H, a big burly rugby player in his 50s, came in to say hello and pick up his list. The young man's friend asked me if that was the surgeon who would performing the colonscopy on his friend. Whe I answered in the affirmative, he turned to his mate and said, "Christ! Did you see the size of that man's thumbs? Good luck mate!". Oh how we laughed!