Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Brothers in alms

Like so many things in my life, my relationship towards charity has been haphazard and characterised by chance rather than anything that might resemble a "plan". Rennes was awkward for me, as it put me face to face more directly with poverty, and a culture with a much greater culture of "direct" charity (less euphemistically called "begging"). It's possible, though, that being confronted in that way made me more conscious about giving, and I think since returning to Australia I've become more conscientious about it. The other factor influencing my increased philanthropy, of course, has been the continuing spate of charity-supported sporting events in which I or those close to me have participated. I know some people who aren't big fans, but I think they're probably pretty constructive in terms of stimulating donations and awareness for different causes. They've certainly had a significant effect on broadening my awareness and engagement.

Anyway, this year I resolved to be a bit more systematic about my donations. One of the contributing factors was a very vague awareness of a commitment (which I can't find) of developed countries to increase their foreign aid budgets. I remember the target being 1%, but I can't say of what, and I can't find any reference to it, so its possible I'm wrong. Regardless, I felt like as someone who is fairly well off by any reasonable measure, I should be prepared to make a comparable commitment, and that 1% of my income was a reasonable target to aim for. It turns out other people have the same idea, although I only found that site while looking for the foreign aid one.

So, without further ado, these are the charities to which I have donated this year.
  • Red Cross Australia: In the past I've given to their specific event appeals (Haiti, Victorian Bushfires, etc). This year I gave to the Pakistan Flood appeal, and to their general Australian fund.
  • Premier's Disaster Relief Appeal: I wasn't personally affected by the dramatic Queensland floods and cyclone Yasi, but I had very strong links to both. I was in Brisbane during the floods and helped with the cleanup, and I grew up in Innisfail and went through cyclone Winifred (a pale imitation of Yasi).
  • Movember: I participated in this a few years ago, and if I have a friend doing it, I donate to their effort. If not, I donate generally - prostate cancer and depression are good causes, and I reckon Movember has been effective at involving in charity people who might not otherwise pay attention.
  • Oxfam: Although I like Oxfam's mission, and I have donated to them in the past, I am sometimes sceptical about some of their publicity. This donation was to Meg's team doing the Trailwalker in Brisbane.
  • Salvation Army: The Salvos are probably the most visible social charity in Australia (for me, anyway). In the past I've donated to them through some sporting events, this year it was through their general appeal.
  • Heart Foundation: The Heart Foundation are one of the more important community health charities, and becoming more so with changes in our lifestyles. I often donate to them through sports appeals, but this year it was through the general appeal.
  • UNICEF: International Children's charity. This year was the first time I've donated to them, on Lee's recommendation.
  • Kidney Foundation: I know someone who's life was extended through a kidney transplant, and in the past I've donated through their barbeques, but this year I donated through the general fund.
  • Fred Hollows Foundation: Eye care in Australia's remote communities and abroad. This was the first year I've donated, on Mum's recommendation.
  • Endeavour Foundation: Disabled service group. We used to donate clothes and things when we were in Innisfail. I know their CEO.
  • Cancer Council Australia: I donated to these guys because they are the supported charity for the half-marathon I'm doing in August. I recognise the name through sun protection advertising, I think.
This list will no doubt change next year. Some of the change will be for silly reasons. Charities that send me unnecessary or excessive mail or gifts, for example, won't be looked upon kindly. I am giving money in order that the charities use it to do good, not that they use it to make me feel good - for me, that comes with the act of donating. Some of the change will be for better reasons. I would like to donate more to charities working closer to my field (Engineers Without Borders might be a candidate, but I was underwhelmed with the material on their website; another possibility would be something to do with education or literacy), or in areas that have meaning to me (something in the Solomon Islands perhaps). If you're reading this and you want to recommend a charity, add a comment or send me an email.

EDIT: Added National Breast Cancer Foundation (Steve's half-marathon) and MS Society (Paul's bike ride)

Monday, 20 June 2011


I just signed up for the Brisbane Half Marathon on August 7th. I have been making noises about doing this for a while, but having paid my registration, now I'm committed (doubly so once I've blogged about it). In doing so, I've taken inspiration from various people - Lee, Chad, Andy and Meg among them - who have either done or made noises about doing a half marathon. I've been running fairly regularly for about 6 months now, and over the last month or two I've been increasing my distances up over 10km, and feeling the benefits both in fitness and in my enjoyment of running. On Saturday morning, I ran 14km, part of it along the actual route for the half marathon. Although this is still well short of the half-marathon distance, I'm confident that I'll be able to get through the 21.1km, even if I won't be setting any land speed records in doing it.

Like so many other running/cycling/hiking events, this do is linked to a charity. Specifically, they're calling for sheckles on behalf of the Queensland Cancer Council, who I understand do yeoman work in providing research and support for the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer in the state. In the past I've set up a page at everydayhero, but I'm not going to do that this time. They sting both donor and charity for a slice, and although I'm sure their service does help to attract donors, I'm not 100% convinced that's effective. However, if you would like to encourage me, or if you are just feeling charitable, I would encourage you to donate. And if you want to email me or leave a comment to say that I've helped prompt you to do so, I promise to feel warm and fuzzy inside and run just that little bit harder.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Chasing the White Whale

I managed to slay the lesser of my figurative reading white whales this weekend, and to resume combat with the other.

I had commented to someone during the week that it had been a while since I had finished a novel, and they had pointed out that a three week break (it might have been four) was hardly a drought, especially given that the material in question was far from the easiest.

Anyway, I finished Moby Dick this week. I'm glad to now be able to say I've read it, given its significance in the western canon, but I can't say its one of my favourite books. The first sentence, "Call me Ishmael", is grossly misleading in its simplicity. The writing style thereafter gets quite overwrought. Still, I didn't mind that so much while the narrative was advancing. Unfortunately for me, the book spends quite a significant portion of its length in discourse on the nature and history of the whale and those who hunt it. I can't say I was fascinated by this, and often wished we could get back to the story. Indeed, our protagonists don't actually sight the storied white whale until about 90% into the book, from which point everything happens in a very great rush before finishing. I suspect a contemporary editor would have very stern things to say about Melville's pacing.

Having finished with cetaceans for the time being, I've returned to weightier prey, in the form Le Comte de Monte Cristo (en francais). I made good progress on this before heading overseas, finishing off tome 1 (of 4), and resuming it yesterday reminded me that it isn't nearly as daunting as the first chapters, or its impressive size, would suggest. I'll say this, too: being such a long book, the narrative structure is much less predictable to the reader. With other books I get an idea of how, or at least at what pace, things are going to progress, but I really don't have that feeling with this book. With so many pages left, I really don't have a grasp of where the story arcs will go, and that's kind of pleasant. I don't pretend that this burst of activity will go right through to the end of the book (I had to take a break yesterday when I tired, to read some bush poetry), but I do maintain my hopes of getting through it some time this year.