Category Archives: Paying dem bills or my raison detre

I’m a bit of a worker bee…a bit too much of a worker bee. This is what I’m doing for the dollars, hopefully not 24/7.

What the UN Doesn’t want you to know

Reading a fascinating piece in the Telegraph about Kathryn Bolkovac, the woman whose story has been made into the film, The Whistleblower.

In What the UN Doesn’t Want You to Know, Kathryn Bolkovac tells a story of horrific human trafficking in Bosnia after the war where:

“She discovered numerous individuals in the Bosnian and UN police…who were not only using trafficked prostitutes but were on the traffickers’ pay-roll.”

It’s shocking to read about both the involvement of UN personnel in human trafficking but also the backlash Kathryn Bolkovac experienced from other UN colleagues as she drew attention to it. Read it here.

One part of this story that struck me as absurd (i.e. ridiculously unreasonable) was the fate of Jacques Paul Klein. The article reads:

In fact, Jacques Paul Klein, the head of the UN mission in Bosnia, went on to lead the UN mission in Liberia, where he presided over similar scandals.

He has now ‘dropped off the face of the earth’, says Bolkovac.

He was retired from the UN after allegedly having an affair with a woman who was taking his UN secrets to the Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the downfall of Jacques Paul Klein was not due to his complete failure to protect women and girls from being trafficked. It was not due to his failure to stop his own personnel from working with and for human traffickers. His downfall came when he made a romantic misstep into the clutches of an immoral woman. His crime? Not being able to keep it in his pants.

Indeed, isn’t that the only crime being committed here? Men, too weak in the face of deprivation, make errors of judgement.

But we can’t just let men get away with it, can we? Some of them fall on their swords and lose their jobs (a man losing his job…the greatest indignity).

A final quote from Kathryn Bolkovac from this interview in the Huffington Post which articles my own opinions about the UN. The question was asked by .

Do you feel that people who decide to work for an organization such as the UN should be held accountable to higher moral standards? Did it disappoint you more when UN staff on management level failed to support you in the disclosure of your findings?

Absolutely! A higher moral standard should be expected by UN staff, peacekeepers, IPTF, and contracted private companies. We all represent the United Nations and our home governments. This work should be a calling to service, not a money-making venture.

A list of small good things

the squarest tip I’ve ever written. Next one will have to be about something radical.


99 tips for a better world: make a list (14 of 99)

So…2013 is kind of nuts. So far, it’s all about the work, with the occasional summer frolic and wedding (not mine) squeezed in.

One of the downsides of the busy is that some of the small good things I do can fall away in the mad rush.

Late last year as I careened towards holidays, I noticed that I was forgetting to take my reusable bags to the shops, I was churning through disposable coffee cups, and I even grabbed coffee from cafes without checking their fair trade status. Eek!

Dropping the ball on these things from time to time is human. An off day or week here and there isn’t going to affect the quantum of my good efforts over a lifetime. But an off day or week can often be the beginning of a broken good habit. Good habits maintained over a lifetime will dramatically affect the quantum of my good efforts and also makes those small things an effortless part of my day.

So I’ve written myself a list to put on the back of my door (my apartment is so tiny I will be able to read this list from almost every corner).

This list isn’t wildly aspirational – just the small good things I can do without much effort every day.

Daily small good things

1. Take a reusable bag
Envirosax are my favourite because they fit heaps of shopping and are easy to fold back up.

2. Take a reusable coffee cup
I have a Keep Cup because they fit in coffee machines.

3. Take out the recycling
It’s too easy to throw something in the rubbish when the recycling is piling up.

4. Make a plan for coffee
If I think about my morning in advance I can be sure I will have time to go to my favourite fair trade place rather than grab whatever is nearest and most convenient.

5. Take lunch to work
This is a double-whammy – I avoid the packaging of a bought lunch and the temptation to buy the cheapest thing available (which is probably also the least environmentally-friendly). I’ll admit this is probably the hardest item on the list but much easier if it’s a part of my regular routine.

6. Leave enough time to walk
Good for the environment, body, mind and soul. If I tell myself I don’t have time to walk it’s a sign I should recalibrate my day immediately.

7. Do the laundry
If I keep on top of laundry I’m less likely to find myself using the dryers at the Laundromat at 10pm on Sunday night

8. Take a reusable bottle
Buying bottled water when it comes free and clean out of the tap is, to my mind, both appalling and stupid. And yet, still tempting if I find myself out and about without water.

9. Take some coins
My suburb has an amazing collection of buskers. Having a live soundtrack for my shopping is one of the great daily joys in my life. I like to support the brave souls who bring music to the street and to express my appreciation with a few coins.

10. Water the garden
My little balcony garden won’t feed a family any time soon, but it does keep me well stocked of fresh herbs and less reliant on the shops to make my dinner taste good. Believe it or not, I can easily forget to water it for an entire week.

So, what small good things are part of your daily routine?

Returning to work

Back to work this week. The theory* goes that the return to work will be as miserable as your holiday was good. My return to work on Wednesday was brutal. 

I couldn’t believe my glorious beach side holiday was over. I couldn’t accept that the first half of 2013 is already happening. It’s going to be peddle to the metal until the end of May this year. I guess I’m reluctant to get in the driver’s seat and turn the key.

Easing in is always best, so today I’m working from ‘home’ (not my regular home, my spiritual home by the beach).

Instead of waking up too early (before 7am is undignified. Heck, before 8am is undignified), putting on uncomfortable work clothes and trekking to the other side of the city to sit in an office (with broken air conditioning on a 40+ degree day), I started the day with breakfast and a book.


I think it might be time to reread Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow and Eva Hoffman’s Time again. Both books speak to my longing for a less scheduled life. Going back to work felt as abnormal and unnatural as doing nothing for entire days felt normal and natural.

Maybe I can find a middle ground for these next few busy months? I’ll let you know how I go.

*I made the theory up but it stands proven in this case.


99 tips for a better world: buy fairtrade coffee (1 of 99)

Cross posted on the glorious Lip Mag – over here.

Also on Lip today:

modern ms manners: a note on office etiquette

small screen sirens: on nudity

healthy bytes: should you drink coffee?

I had planned to write a column today espousing the value of Fairtrade coffee. I was going to fill the page with encouraging words to invite you to make a conscientious choice when buying your next flat white. Then I thought about Lipreaders, and decided against it. I don’t need to convince you to buy Fairtrade coffee, right?

Buying Faitrade is one of the easiest things you can do to redress the inequality of the global supply chain.

If your regular cafe doesn’t serve Fairtrade (or another reputable ethical certification), go to another cafe. Even better, ask them to switch. If they tell you Fairtrade beans are more expensive, point out that the cost of a caffé latte is influenced by many factors – you can easily find a good Fairtrade coffee for the same price or less than an unfair one.

If they tell you Fairtrade coffee doesn’t taste as good, remind them that Fairtrade has come a long way since the 1990s and that some of the best coffee in Melbourne is Fairtrade certified or at least consciously grown and purchased.

If they don’t take seriously the impact of their business on the lives of poor farmers and workers in the developing world, go to another cafe. If you’re like me and not a huge fan of confrontation, write them a note, or use social media to inquire about the origins of their coffee beans.

The thing about coffee is that it embodies so perfectly the inequity of global trade. I pay three or four dollars for a lovingly-curated coffee experience each morning, noting whether it was too hot, too cold, too bitter, too weak or myriad other sins. The barista invests skill and passion into the creation of my drink and can tell me more about the history of the beans than I know about some members of my extended family.

Often, at the other end of the supply chain is a farmer who struggles in the way that so many food producers struggle against the vagaries of nature, insecure environments, corruption, illness, competition against mega farmers with access to more advanced farming techniques. The farmer also struggles against powerful buyers who do whatever they can to reduce the price they pay for a product. Also part of this system is low-paid workers, harvesting and packaging beans for shipping to distant lands.

The other thing about coffee is that all of the above is so well known and efforts to address those problems are all over the place. Fairtrade and other ethical certification systems aim to address the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. How effective these efforts are is debated in the industry and by academics, but for my money the evidence favours Fairtrade. So I will hedge my bets and make sure my coffee is certified. It’s too easy.

I mean that literally. It’s too easy to choose the more ethical option, so there is no reason not to. Don’t pat yourself on the back for buying Fairtrade — just buy it in the same way that you buy dolphin-free tuna.

In my job, I just spent the last year ushering in a system whereby the organisation I work for has committed to using Fairtrade products more often. My colleagues and I avoid telling people they have to buy Fairtrade coffee; we just make it easier for them to do it, and convince them that it’s a good idea.

Here, on these pages, I don’t have to be so diplomatic. If you don’t know where your coffee beans are coming from, find out. It’s just too easy.

Find out more about Fairtrade at

Women hold up…

I moved to a new apartment on Monday but didn’t get electricity until Thursday. As a consequence I maintained a schedule this week of:

  • moving,
  • unpacking,
  • finding somewhere to sleep once it got too dark to unpack any more (thank you to guardian angels who took me in),
  • getting up and going home early each morning to get ready for work,
  • going to work, then
  • doing it all over again.

On Wednesday I was still in high spirits, if miffed at the state of electricity companies in Victoria (tell ANYONE you know you’re having trouble with your electricity and they will tell you an even more harrowing tale).

By Thursday I was exhaaaausted.  Zombiedom kicked in in a big way. So I muddled my way through work that day, traipsing back and forth between the office and home to check whether the electricity had been turned on.

I’d like to think it was my zombie state that caused me to follow a few more links on the internet than usual. I am pleased I did because I found the breathtaking preview (what we Australians call movie trailers) for Half the Sky.

I’m already on the look out for when it will be screening in Australia so I can arrange for everyone I know to see it. If you know anything about a planned Australian release, let me know.

This film follows the book of the same name by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Learn more about the Half the Sky movement here.