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Having grown up in suburban Melbourne, I was never socialised into the North American Thanksgiving culture, although I learned a lot about it subconsciously from watching countless feel-good Hollywood movies in which families would feast on roast turkey and pumpkin pie and the snow would be falling outside.

As much as Thanksgiving has become a commercialised holiday for many people – just like Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and all the others – I think the spirit of the celebration is a worthwhile principle and that we should all take time to acknowledge the good things we are blessed with.

When I was little I was very shy at school and refused to speak to people when they said hello. The process of just making polite conversation petrified me and filled me with dread. Over the years, and especially since I started university, I’ve become a lot more talkative because I am often in situations where I have to talk to people in order to do my job – like conferences, seminars, lectures, meetings and lab tours.

I get to my office each morning earlier than anyone else. If I can make it, I’m usually at my desk by 8am – often earlier. There are no academics around in the early morning, no postdocs, no teaching staff. The early morning is a time when the university is populated by ‘invisible’ people. People like cleaners, security staff, maintenance personnel. People who don’t really exist because none of the ‘real’ inhabitants of the university see them during regular working hours.

When I walk onto the campus in the morning I say good morning to the security guard at reception. I say good morning to the cleaner guy in the baseball cap who mops the entrance. I say good morning to the fire marshall who walks around testing the fire alarms, and to the cleaner women who push wheelie bins through my building, and to the guy who changes the bin liners in my office. I say good morning to all the invisible people I see.

This morning I said good morning to the security guard at reception. Usually, he says good morning back and asks me how I am. Then he opens the automatic gate for me to walk through, to save me having to fish out my swipecard. This morning he did these things too. But he said something else. He said he appreciated that I took time to say good morning each day and acknowledge him and that it was a nice change from the staff who trudge past without even looking. Then he walked away.

I just stood there for a minute, speechless.

It’s amazing what experiences you can have at odd times, when you’re least expecting it, at times when it’s quiet and other people are not there and the people who are there feel more at ease to tell you what’s on their minds. Invisible people, who are never seen by so many of us.

I have been amazed at this encounter all morning and it has caused me to think a lot. I am amazed that the simple gesture of saying good morning to this man each day has caused him to make such an interesting, thought-provoking comment to me.

I am thankful that I have been able to be nice to staff at my university who are never seen by the majority.

I am thankful that I have had a great opportunity to access education to the highest levels and to have been supported by the kindness and generosity of my family.

I am thankful for my friends in Melbourne and elsewhere across the world for their good humour and companionship.

I am thankful that I am in good health and that I am on track to finishing my PhD.

I am thankful to people who read my blog for hearing what I have to say and I hope some of it might strike them as useful, interesting, or maybe even funny.

…What are you thankful for?

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It’s been silent in this place today. There are a couple postdocs down the hall, in another office. But in this one there’s just me. No one else has turned up today.

I don’t feel lonely when I’m working at my desk at home because I only have one desk – there isn’t supposed to be anyone else working there. But here, I’m in an office of about 100 square metres floorspace, amidst rows of work stations and 11 PCs besides my own (apologies to the Apple lovers – I’m allergic to Macs). It’s not a massive place, but the expanse of empty space feels so much bigger when you’re alone in it. All you can hear is the quiet tap-tap-tapping of your fingers on the keyboard.

I wish I could work in a lab where everyone was around more, where there was more cohesion and less indifference between people. When you work in the silence a lot, it gets so profound that you sometimes give up believing that you will ever achieve your goals. You tend to let your hope slide.

You start to remember the past.

I know, that my playing isn’t the perfect one, like this mad world is. But I know, that if I’ll try to do all my best to improve it, I’ll gain the result, which I want. So, I want to wish you to save your good spirits and optimistic view at life, and to continue to improve this imperfect world and do it better. Because, when we have any goal and when we believe in this goal and know, that this goal is good and worthy, we will achieve it one day anyway.

This post is for a dearly beloved friend of mine. She knows who she is, but sometimes she doesn’t know that she is beautiful.

Not sexy or glamorous or attractive. I mean beautiful. In her soul.

I first met this young woman in science class at high school. I had come fresh out of Catholic primary school, where I had become accustomed to being different from other children, and I had prepared myself for several more years of the same. But this young woman made me laugh. She cracked jokes, she talked to me, she liked me for who I was.

She shared her chips with me at lunchtime.

She watched the magpies with me.

We were in special maths class together.

Even when I moved away to the other side of the world, and we gradually grew up, I still felt like this young woman was a beautiful person in my life. At times in my adolescence when I childishly hated everyone and everything around me I could never hate her, because all she radiated was friendliness and warmth. Her messages to me made, and still make, me feel like a valid human being, because she writes with honesty and with a passion for what she believes in.

This young woman’s life has by no means been perfect. Like us all, and perhaps more than her fair share, she has carried the burdens of sadness and sorrow on her back for many years. There have been people whom she has loved more than they deserved, people who have hurt her, people who have angered her with their complacency about the injustice in the world. There are certain demons that plague her, and she fights hard to overcome them. Through all this, although it is painful, she soldiers on.

I have never told her this, but this young woman has always reminded me of sunflowers. Sunflowers are big, and bright yellow, like the sun, their outsides are happy and joyous and they cannot help but spread a smile across the face of those that see them. Their insides, though, are darker, they conceal sadness and thoughtfulness about the world, but they are also deep. There is much inside them that we cannot see. Sunflowers, like this young woman’s life, remind me of hope, of hope at times and in places where you would not expect it.

I just want to say I love you, whoever you are. And I want you to know that I still read your messages, when you post them, and your honesty and passion for the world make me feel content that I know you, and that I have a friend whose soul is so beautiful.

Dearly beloved friend, whatever happens, never stop shining your light…

I wish more people in the world were like you.

David Cameron has once again shown the world the extent of his policy of double standards by agreeing that Syrian head of state Assad should be given safe passage out of Syria should he ask for it.

Safe passage for Assad, who has openly failed to put an end to state violence against civilians across the country for almost 2 years, but not for Assange, who has been unlawfully detained without charge or trial also for almost 2 years.

Why so selective about whom you protect, Cameron?

Why is it that you would go to such extreme lengths to negotiate escape for a president accused of heinous war crimes against his own people, but not for an ordinary man who showed the world that many of its governments are corrupt with double standards like yours?

Assange has always maintained he will face allegations of sex offences in Sweden provided he is protected from persecution by the US – persecution which has nothing to do with sex offences but with the way WikiLeaks has revealed, and continues to reveal, the increasingly unethical and inhumane activities conducted by US governments past and present. If you are so concerned about justice, Cameron, why don’t you lobby Sweden for protection for Assange?

Why do you instead agree to safe passage for Assad? Do you think that is fair, even if Assad is sent to The Hague? Is it fair that the man responsible for the murder of so many of his own citizens, in what is one of the longest-running Arab Spring revolutions yet seen, should be allowed safely out of his country to trial, while the man partially responsible for inspiring the Arab Spring in the first place, through the revelations of WikiLeaks, is awaited day and night to just dare to step out of the Ecuadorian Embassy so that he can be arrested and extradited to Sweden without guarantee of protection from unlawful persecution from the US?

Is it fair?

If you think it is fair, Cameron, it is clear that you pursue a politics that is rife with the corruption of double standards. If you think it is fair, it is clear that you value the silencing of threats to your own government but not the growing revolution of open governance. It is clear that you value all that suits you, and nothing that does not.

One of the most honourable qualities of a political leader is the ability to pursue liberty impartially. Too often, though, political leaders choose liberty for themselves, for their secrets and their lies, for their allies and their partners in crime, for their donors and their friends, but not for those who try to reveal this unjust liberty to the rest of the people. If you were a leader who pursued liberty impartially, Cameron, you would recognise that Assange deserves liberty from persecution and surveillance and that Assad does not.

In my little world today, far from the eyes of supervisors, reviewers, my family and friends, and just about everyone else in the world, I’m in the midst of an equally frustrating and exciting storm in which I am once more searching for external examiners.

I feel a bit silly, because although this is something very important to me now, I know that in another few years I’ll look back on these times and think how pathetic I was! As much as I try to stop worrying about my viva, I can’t help it. I’m a worrier. I worry about everything, especially my viva, and the closer my viva comes in my diary, the more I am worrying about it. If I stop worrying for a while, I start to worry that I’m taking it too easy when there’s something important I should be worrying about. I’m worried that I won’t be able to find a good external. I’m worried that even if I do find a good external, that they’ll say no or they won’t be available at the time I need them. I’m worried that even if they say yes and they’re available, they’ll turn up to my viva and eat me alive like a savage rabid thesis-gobbling monster.

I guess today’s just going to be one of those worrying days.

…it turns out Lady Gaga is friends with Julian Assange.

One of those ‘WTF?!’ moments…

I don’t think I’ve ever paid quite so much attention to how guilty I feel about being a bad friend as I do today. Embarking on a PhD, and indeed a career abroad, feels so selfish sometimes, as if the friends we’ve left behind don’t matter any more. Sure, you keep in touch, but being there physically has an emotional power you just can’t convey in writing. It’s the age-old case of words being not enough!

It feels like people have so much potential in them to be caring, nurturing friends, if only they’d put aside their concerns for a flourishing career, a fat pay packet, fast cars. And however much I don’t feel that way, here I am, working on my career all the same. However much time it takes to write an email or a card, or a whole letter, it still feels like it’s not enough. I would feel so much happier if I could take care of my friends the way I want, and here we are, the ways of the world are preventing me from doing what I want. Again.

How many times have I been through this.

I still half-believe he died because I didn’t deserve him, like I was a bad friend, like I didn’t love him enough. When you start taking people for granted, even if you feel thankful for all you’ve been blessed with every day, I suppose it still isn’t enough. It isn’t enough because you still aren’t there in person to love them, to face life’s battles together. And the person I’m thinking of when I write this slowly starts blurring, fading, and insinuating into another, and another. It is the same with almost all the people I love and care about in the world. This impossible distance, and the emotional aloofness it creates, forcefully, no matter how much you try to stop it.

I’ve already established that life is simply too short. Until these days it had been just another cliche for me, but now that I’ve experienced all that’s happened, I finally see how real it is. It’s amazing the way we, humankind, have protected ourselves so well from the worries of death by building society and all its half-corrupt institutions that promise intellectual enlightenment as if that were some force that could reckon with death. Fools! Nothing can reckon with death. When it comes, it comes, and then you’re gone. And it doesn’t matter where you go. You just go.

So what are we here for?

For all my faith in science, I’d still like to believe I’m here for my friends. If we don’t reach enlightenment, who cares? If I am a bad friend, I am a bad friend all the same. Not science, not academia, not even nature can change that. Only I can. So have I? Have I become a good friend yet? What does it mean to be a good friend?

And suddenly a dead man becomes the answer to all my questions.

Friend of WikiLeaks

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!