Nepal earthquake: my experience

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I was in Kathmandu when the earthquake hit on April 25. I got out and am safe and well, but the people on the ground are not so lucky. Please donate to Nepal Ireland Society (or another charity) to help.

I was in Kathmandu when the earthquake hit on Saturday, April 25. Prior to that I was trekking in the Himalaya mountains for 3 weeks and I was supposed to fly home that evening.

The earthquake hit at noon. We were in the lobby of a hotel waiting for a friend who was in a room upstairs, and we were about to head to Durbar Square – the UNESCO World heritage site with 2000-year-old temples which were destroyed by the quake.

We were chatting away when the ceiling started shaking. It seemed as if someone was throwing a big party upstairs, but then the shaking became too much – our chairs, the coffee table, the walls, everything was in motion. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but Ian Taylor, our guide, grasped at once it was an earthquake and urged us to get out of the building.

We got up and ran, but it wasn’t easy as the ground was moving so much. At one point I nearly fell down: it was like trying to run in a plane that’s going through a rough patch of turbulence. When we made it out into the courtyard potted flowers were falling and pots breaking around us, the walls of the hotel were literally swaying like the walls of a kid’s bouncy castle and the earth kept moving – it was very scary. We finally stopped at some distance from the 5-storey hotel, with our backs against a low wall. We watched for falling debris, ready to run. Gladly none fell and after about a minute or two it was over.

I then saw clouds of dust coming down the street – some buildings had collapsed nearby. People were running towards open spots, away from tall buildings, women were crying hysterically. The friend we’d been waiting for rushed down the stairs of the hotel, unharmed. The hotel seemed in good shape and there wasn’t a single crack on the walls (although the rooms were in a mess, with furniture thrown all over the place).

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But a lot of the other – older and poorer built – buildings were completely destroyed, burying people under the rubble.

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The first aftershock hit about 15 minutes after the earthquake. The ground started moving again and everyone expected the worst, but it was over in less than a minute. Tremors continued for the next 48 hours, initially they came every hour or so. Everyone was afraid, worried that an even bigger earthquake would hit. There was no running water, no electricity and hardly any communications. There were no emergency services to be seen anywhere. We were in the dark, afraid to leave the relatively safe area near the hotel. That day we got some food at a nearby restaurant – thanks to our local guide who knew the owners, and we got a car to the airport, but the airport was closed with all flights cancelled, so we had to go back.

We camped outside the hotel in some tents. Tremors continued all night and we got very little sleep, being woken up every hour or so by the ground moving, afraid that an even worse earthquake was going to hit.

The airport was open the next day, but it was absolutely packed with tourists trying to get out of the country and we could not leave again. We were only able to get a ticket on the second day after the earthquake. A lot of passengers clapped their hands when the plane took off, relieved to be away from the disaster zone.

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My thoughts were and still are with the people who stayed behind. Our Nepali guides were super-nice to us and sadly we still don’t know if all of them and their families are OK as some live in very remote areas. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and life wasn’t easy before the earthquake. It is a hundred times more difficult now for the people who lost their homes and livelihoods in this catastrophic event.

When I was leaving Kathmandu hundreds of thousands of people were sleeping in the open – some because their houses were destroyed, others because they were too afraid to go back to their dwellings. Some Nepalis were sleeping on carpets spread out on busy roads. There were reports of looting and people on the ground said they would get mobbed when they’d bring food and water to these makeshift refugee camps full of children and the elderly.

If you would like to help the people of Nepal I would suggest sending your money to someone on the ground instead of giving it to the bigger charities. There have been reports of foreign aid being stopped by Nepali officials, so donating to someone on the ground seems like the fastest and best way of helping these poor people at the moment.

Nepal Ireland Society is one such organisation. They have people in Kathmandu and your donation will be of real help to the fantastic people of Nepal who are suffering because of this disaster.

You can easily find them on Facebook (Nepal Earthquake Relief) and here is the link you can use to donate:

www.idonate.ie/nepalrelieffund

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“Beware Viktor Posudnevsky!” or How I Fought Online Defamation

A couple of months ago I became aware of a WordPress blog post that in no uncertain terms called me a blackmailer – someone who collects “varies critical information” on rich individuals and then charges “2K – 5K” depending on the level of “the client”. Here is a screenshot of the allegation:

https://posudnevskiy.wordpress.com/

Screenshot of the defamatory post

Let me be clear about the facts: I have never blackmailed anybody, but – as they say – there is no smoke without fire. When I worked as a journalist I wrote some very critical articles about both individuals and businesses (some examples are on this blog).

I’ve no doubt that the blackmail allegation has been posted by someone who was the subject of one of my stories. There are a number of give-away signs as to why it is a fake post designed to inflict reputational  damage:

 

  1. The blogger has not identified him/herself. There can be no credibility for the article when written anonymously.
  2. All links on the page circle back to the page itself.
  3. The owner/creator of the blog page has gone to considerable lengths to conceal his/her identity.
  4. My brother and a number of friends commented on the WordPress blog refuting all allegations, but their comments did not appear under the post and they got no reply from the author.
  5. I sent an email to the author as well by using the comments facility and got no word back.
  6. My solicitor sent a request for removal through with no reply.

 

It is a very amateur attempt at reputation damage – an anonymous post on a 1-page blog with no comments facility. Nevertheless if you Googled my name the post comes up fairly high in search results.

This kind of online defamation is common – you’ll find lots of examples on the internet. Competitors, trolls, ex-girlfriends (they’re the nastiest or so I heard) all think they can discredit you with a couple of fake posts, and a lot of them try.

When I first saw it I naturally wanted the thing gone, so here’s what I did – someone reading this might be going through the same and may find this information useful:

 

 1) Contacted WordPress

After I unsuccessfully tried to contact the author of the post and got no reply, I reported the blog (a couple of my friends did as well) through WordPress’s complaints form:

https://wordpress.com/abuse/

After two or three weeks all of us got this automated reply:

Clicky Steve from WordPress replies to abuse/defamation report

Clicky Steve from WordPress replies to my abuse/defamation report

 2) Contacted lawyers

I contacted a Dublin law firm called Abacus Legal and asked them for advice. Martin Moloney, the solicitor, was very nice and sympathetic, however he wasn’t very optimistic. He informed me that had the content been posted on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ it would have been much easier to take down since all these companies have offices in Ireland. WordPress is based in the US and it won’t budge without a US court order.

Martin contacted his colleagues in the States to find out how much a court action would cost me – the answer was I’d need around $2500 just for a retainer… I wasn’t prepared to spend this much on an irrelevant piece of online slur.

 

 3) Contacted Google

I figured that since we can’t get the defamatory post off WordPress we can at least try the “right to forget” mechanism with Google to get it removed, so it doesn’t come up when someone searches my name. So I filled out the famous “Right to be forgotten” form… and I never heard back.

I then asked Martin Moloney, the solicitor, to fill it out and – presto! – in a week or so Google responded with this automated email:

Automated reply from Google

Automated reply from Google

 4) Contacted Google again

Google have another – much less known – form for reporting defamation:

https://support.google.com/legal/contact/lr_legalother?product=websearch

(you can get to it by using this Troubleshooter: https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905)

Martin has filled the form out for me as his client and we’re still waiting for the Search giant’s reaction.

 

 5) Wrote the piece you’re reading now to tell my side of the story

So, as much as I hate to admit it, at the moment the post is still there. I am not overly concerned with it, it is simply a ham-fisted online assault with no truth and no-one brave enough to stand over it. I know all sensible people will see it for what it is.

And if you, the reader, have any advice for me (or even a word of encouragement) please get in touch by leaving a comment!

 

If you find yourself faced with online defamation here are some good stories that may come in handy:

http://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=32630

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/how-do-you-fight-back-against-online-defamation-1.1314609

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/2549910-how-to-fight-back-against-online-defamation-/

Top Irish fighters to mingle with first timers on boxing charity night

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It may only be an amateur tournament, but some big names in Irish boxing are expected at the upcoming Palestine Fight Night in Croke Park. Ex-Irish champion Oisin “Gael Force” Fagan is just one of the pros attending the charity show on Friday, March 1. Jim Rock, Paul Griffin and the Hyland Brothers are also expected at the event. Some 30 novice boxers – men and women training in clubs around Dublin – will compete on the night which will feature a charity auction, singing, DJ, food, bar and other entertainment. Many of these amateur fighters will step into the ring for the first time – a nerve-wracking experience, according to boxing champ Oisin Fagan.

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“I had my very first amateur fight when I was about 24,” the now 39-year-old boxer said. “I remember 4-5 weeks before the fight I was extremely nervous. I’d be so terrified of getting a punch that I’d waste a lot of energy keeping my hands up and I wasn’t able to flow with my shots… I was literally getting sick after every training session and I couldn’t get any sleep. All my pals were going to watch me fight, and I remember thinking to myself: if I’m getting my head punched off me I’d start wrestling or something. I definitely wasn’t losing that fight and I didn’t”.

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Fagan won all three of his amateur bouts before going pro at the age of 30. He won the Oklahoma State lightweight title and became the Irish light welterweight champion in 2006. The boxer famously went the distance with world champ Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in MGM Grand, Las Vegas. Chavez, who won on points, later said the Dubliner gave him the best fight of his career. The Tallaght-born boxer now lives in Kinsealy, co Fingal, and works with Olympic champion Michael Carruth training kids from disadvantaged areas of Dublin. Fagan said he was happy to support novice events like the Palestine Fight Night on March 1.

“I had a very late start in boxing myself, but I’ve been bitten by the bug and now I’m mad about it”, the former Irish champion said. “That’s one of the things I love – a casual fan getting in the ring and training hard for it. It shows people what professionals and good amateurs do – they work really hard. I’m happy to get involved as I’m all for the promoting of boxing, I want boxing to become a household thing”.

The amateur fight night will be held in aid of the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) which campaigns for justice for the Palestinian people through raising public awareness. IPSC supports the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, a call which was inspired by the boycott movement which played a part in ending apartheid in South Africa. It will be the third Palestine fight night in Dublin and the annual event is gaining popularity, said IPSC committee member Gary Daly.

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“This year is the best year so far and I’m happy with the support we’re getting,” said Mr Daly who is an amateur boxer and will be fighting on the night. “I’ve been to the West Bank myself and feel very strongly towards the Palestinian people and what they go through every day”.

He added that an amateur boxing club from Ramallah, Palestine will send a video of the young members of the club which will be played on the night. “It’s about promoting boxing and bringing people together”, Daly said.

The fight night in aid of Ireland Palestine Solidarity campaign will take place on Friday, March 1st from 6:30pm to 11:00pm in Croke Park Stadium, Dublin. Cost of entry €20. All proceeds will go to IPSC, a non-profit organisation promoting fair and sustainable peace in the Middle East. Image

Book about Russians in Ireland published

The first ever book about Russian speakers in Ireland has been published by Nasha Gazeta with assistance from Russky Mir foundation and the Russian embassy in Ireland.

The book is in Russian and English and consists of two parts: the first part is about historic links between Russia and Ireland, while its second part is about Ireland’s Russian speaking community today.

Most of the book is based on articles that have been published in Nasha Gazeta throughout the last ten years, edited by myself and Sergey Tarutin. The books tells the story of Ivan Beshov, the last survivor of Battleship Potemkin and the founder of Beshoff’s fish ‘n chips in Dublin; a Limerick man called Peter Lacy who became one of the greatest Russian generals in the army of Tsar Peter the Great; Ireland’s only true ballerina Monica Loughman who became the first foreigner dancing with a top Russian ballet company and many other interesting personalities.

The book will be distributed in the community and formally launched at an event in September. But some of the English articles have appeared here: http://www.russianireland.com

More about Russians in Ireland book

 

New SEDA News

July issue of SEDA News is out. It has a story about volunteering in Ireland, summer festivals, a couple of interesting international students and also multilingual jobs that are on offer in Dublin. You can read it in full here:

SEDANews-July12-final

The Dublin Vanity Awards?

“Prestigious” awards given out in Dublin, but how much did the winners pay to get them? (and whose money?)

I was at a curious (and very swanky) ceremony in Dublin City Hall last week where dozens of business people and officials from developing countries got awards for things like “personal contribution to intellectual development of today’s society”, “continuous efforts to achieve high quality in accordance with the European Standard”, “maintaining traditional values of virtue, bravery and integrity” and so on. The awards were given out by Oxford-based Europe Business Assembly, a body whose purpose is the “development and management of economic, social and humanitarian collaboration”, according to its website.

Some of the winners included:

  • A bank in Tajikistan was awarded “The Queen Victoria Award – international award for maintaining traditional values of virtue, bravery and integrity”. Incidentally, in 2008 the same Tajik bank got another two awards from EBA – “European Quality” and “The United Europe”.
  • The director of a forest institute in Malaysia was awarded “The Name in Science” award. The institute got another EBA award last year.
  • Three representatives of a rather little-known Russian construction company got the Socrates award “for personal contribution to intellectual development of today’s society”. They got one Socrates award each.

The audience was quite a mix: a folk healer from Ukraine, vice chancellor of a South African university, director of a bank in Swaziland, mayor of a Turkish municipality, vice-director of MIG, the Russian fighter aircraft manufacturer…

All this seemed strange and raised a number of questions: What brought all these people together? On what basis were the awards given out and why were their recipients (mostly) fairly obscure organisations with few if any international achievements? Why such pompous titles for the awards? And so on.

Actually the explanation is obvious – most of these prizes were vanity awards which the recipients had paid for themselves.  Some of the participants of the Dublin event told me confidentially that they were offered an EBA award in return for £5000 (EBA didn’t ask that money for the award directly, but instead for the “promotion” of the company which goes with the award). It all works very simple: EBA and its partner organisations send out loads of letters to companies all over the world, but mostly in developing countries, informing them they were nominated for a “prestigious international award”. If a company expresses interest they contact them with a price list.

If you google EBA on the Russian web you’ll easily find corroboration to the story. For example, here and here a Kazakh businessman describes how his company got a letter from EBA saying it was nominated for the “Socrates International Award”. There was also a price list: the European Quality and Best Enterprise awards would cost £3800 each, while the “Queen Victoria Commemorative medal” was a little more expensive at £6200.

To be fair to EBA and the organisers of the Dublin event, the awards really look impressive and are probably worth at least some of the money: each winner was given a big medal on a colourful sash, a cool-looking gilded statuette and a diploma.

Europe Business Assembly awards in Dublin

If you log onto the website of EBA’s Russian partner organisation it all turns into complete farce – it’s not just the Socrates awards “for contribution to intellectual development of today’s society” that are available, but also membership in such organisations as “International Order of Knights of St Lazarus of Jerusalem”. So how do you become a knight? You just have to fill out an application form on the website and somebody will get back to you – it’s that simple!

There’s nothing really special about this as it’s a common fact that many businesses in the developing world yearn for “recognition from the West” and for some of them it’s a matter of vanity as an “international” award from an organisation with a flashy name like Europe Business Assembly will no doubt impress everyone in their home town. (if you read Russian there is an excellent article about Russia’s “awards factories” in Ogoniok magazine).

And EBA is simply a business that satisfies that need. Although the awards are obviously pretty worthless, EBA’s activities are not a scam and are completely legit – they give people what they pay for. However, questions remain about some of the prize winners, many of whom are public bodies. How did they finance their participation in EBA’s awards ceremonies and was that “investment” of (presumably) public funds justified? For example, in 2010 one of EBA’s prizes was awarded to the Mayor of Grozny in Chechnya. It would be intriguing to see how much he paid for his participation in the ceremony and where that money came from.

What’s also interesting is the level of involvement from the Irish side. Prior to the awards ceremony there was an EBA conference in Dublin’s Trinity College which was opened by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise Ó Muirí . Speakers included minister for trade and development Joe Costello and NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh, all sitting side by side to EBA’s director general John Netting.

Picture by Irina Vasilevica

But, of course, they may not have known (or cared enough) about EBA and simply went along to an “investment” forum to try and sell Ireland Inc. After all, if a person has a few thousand to spend on a vanity award (plus all the costs of visiting Dublin) then they might be interested in investing into Irish property or moving their funds to IFSC or just coming back to Ireland sometime for a holiday and a game of golf… Every little helps!

EBA’s John Netting (right) and the Lord Mayor of Dublin  Naoise Ó Muirí. Pic by Irina Vasilevica

Spain’s economy has got Irish EFL schools worrying

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to David O’Grady, CEO of MEI RELSA, an association of English language schools in Ireland. Here’s a full transcript of the interview.

Economic problems in Spain are causing a bit of a worry. The summer months are the time when most schools collect the money for the whole year. The main summer market for our schools is Spain so if there is a problem in Spain and if education and international travel is a luxury for Spanish people and they give it up, then it’s a problem for our schools. Another stable part of the summer market is Italy and Italian economy is also a bit problematic.

What we’re selling is in many cases a luxury product, and if there is a recession then the first thing people stop spending their money on are luxury products. Balancing against that is the fact that this summer – because of the Olympics – London is full. A lot of the residences where normally foreign students stay are now being used by athletes, journalists and other people connected with the Olympics. So at least for the second half of July and all of August London is full and very very expensive.

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