The Happy Hero – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Happy Hero
Solitaire Townsend
Published by Unbound October 2017
Paperback 192 pages £8.99
ISBN: 978-1-91158-639-5

  • The Happy Hero comes with a promise: that you can be happier and healthier by simply making a difference to the world around you.
  • Named ‘Ethical Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2008, Solitaire Townsend is co-founder of ‘change agency’ Futerra and passionate about making sustainability so desirable that it becomes the normal.
  • Offering practical examples to get the individual started on helping to save the world, The Happy Hero shows us how we can combat even seemingly insurmountable global problems like climate change.

We have a world to save. Capes and masks are optional ….

Happy Hero cover

The Happy Hero reveals the secret of enjoying a better life and sets out the principles of how to feel good by doing good. Sounds simple, but where do you start? Everyday we are bombarded with fear and negativity from the media and have been trained out of happiness by these stories.

The Happy Hero offers a simple solution; stop worrying about the future and start making it better. Whether it’s donating blood, only eating meat at the weekend, buying vintage/pre-loved clothes or picking up litter in your street. Luckily, many of the changes we need to make to build a better world, we want to do anyway.

New research shows that trying to make a difference, even in the smallest ways, can extend your life, improve your relationships and even help you recover from a cold. So Superheroes, what are you waiting for …?

While I have enjoyed the book immensely at some points the author is a little out of touch with reality and as far as energy is concerned, oh my, oh my...

Nuclear fusion works and the Soviet Union has had a working nuclear fusion reactor – albeit a small one – operational in the 1980s. Not that the West took any notice of it and the idea. Why? Because they wanted to continue with fission reactors for one simple reason – reprocessing into weapons grade material.

As far as antimatter... dream on...

We have to reduce our energy consumption if we – as we must – want to ditch fossil fuels. Solar, wind, wave, and hydro (and the environmental impact of the large-scale ones of those, the dams, is far too great to continue with them) will not fulfill the needs of today, let alone those of tomorrow, in the way we are abusing energy.

On the other hand, though there is some CO2 emission as it is still being burned, there is methane gas. Methane digesters have been in use on Chinese farms ever since some time in the last century, if not before, and, theoretically, every farm, anywhere, could be self-sufficient in gas for heating and cooking, and with the help of also a rather old piece of technology, namely the Sterling engine, electricity. Add to that a few PV panels and a couple of “small wind” turbines – and a change in voltage used – and every farm could export to the neighborhood as well.

It is a well written book that also has a lovely story inside of it of a “Happy Hero” which, in itself, could become a book. Just a suggestion to the author for presenting the story in the form of a novel might get even more people reading about the matter in hand and being prepared to get involved in a direct way, whether small or large.

Solitaire Townsend has been trying to make the world a better place for nearly 30 years. As co-founder of Futtera she advises governments, charities and big brands like Danone and Nike on ways to solve social and environmental problems. With offices around the world she admits that making the world a better place was a damn good business plan. Solitaire was recently Chair of the UK Green Energy Scheme, a member of the United Nations Sustainability Lifestyles Taskforce, and a London Leader for Sustainability. Her master’s degree in both Shakespeare and Sustainability are put to good use in The Happy Hero.

© 2017

Britain does not have a housing crisis but an empty homes crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Thousands of homes in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire left empty, the Gazette reported on November 24, 2017.

empty-homes1Despite concerns about the lack of housing in the area, almost 3,000 homes are registered as being unoccupied and while the number of empty homes has fallen since 2010 Gloucestershire saw a rise over the last 12 months. Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that there were 2,464 homes in Gloucestershire left empty and 321 in South Gloucestershire.

Well, that is just in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. It can be safely assumed that the figure in other counties, towns and cities across Britain would, no doubt, show similar numbers or much greater ones even as, no doubt, would be the case in London.

Britain does not have any housing shortage. The crisis is that of homes being left empty, and that for a number of reasons, but none of the reasons is valid enough when we have homeless individuals and families.

If, in fact, all the homes left empty for the various nefarious reasons would be added together we could, as has been estimated some time back, house our homeless population several times over and that is not even counting those properties that, with very little work, could be turned into perfectly good homes.

There is no need to build more homes; we already have them. We just need to occupy them.

There will, without doubt, now people be popping up out of the woodwork saying that that may all be fine and good but that those homes are in the wrong place and not where people work or want to work.

But that would be rather disingenuous for where the new “affordable” homes are to be build jobs are also not close at hand either in the main which, again, means commuting. That is also true for the proposed – though it has gone rather quiet about it – new garden cities, once called eco-towns.

We do not need such, whether eco-towns or the other, but we need to refurbish old homes and building to be suitable and we must bring the empty homes back into use. If need be those homes – and other suitable buildings for self-conversion – must be taken over by whatever organization or the state and have people put in them.

Alas, we could not possibly do that as that would not give the Tory donor house builders any profits and that just cannot be allowed to happen now, can it. And no profits for the Tory donors would mean fewer and lower donations to the Tories.

© 2017 

US and UK banning the use of Kaspersky anti-virus

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

kaspersky-internet-security-21-700x393Not only the government agencies are on the bandwagon, even Barclay's Bank is advising its customers who got it free via the Bank to stop using it.

I am going out on a limb here now and say that this is because Kaspersky anti-virus is one of the best in catching Trojans and thus the government agencies want people to stop using it under false pretenses.

A little like the list of security software that the FBI published a while back where those that catch (almost) all viruses, malware, etc. were listed as bad performers.

Britain's main cyber security agency has warned British government agencies to avoid using anti-virus software from Russian companies, the latest in a series of moves targeting Moscow-based security software maker Kaspersky Lab.

In a letter to departmental permanent secretaries, the director of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, said Russian-made anti-virus software should not be used in systems containing information that would harm national security if it was accessed by the Russian government.

He said his agency is in talks with Kaspersky Lab to develop a system for reviewing its products for use in Britain.

Kaspersky's anti-virus software was banned from U.S. government networks earlier this year on concerns the company has close ties to intelligence agencies in Moscow and that its software could be used to enable Russian spying.

Kaspersky has strongly denied allegations about the safety of its products or ties to the Russian government, saying it has become a scapegoat in the midst of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

British bank Barclays said on Saturday it had stopped offering Kaspersky anti-virus products to customers.

“Even though this new guidance isn't directed at members of the public, we have taken the decision to withdraw the offer of Kaspersky software from our customer website,” Barclays said in a statement.

This is (1) Russophobia gone over the top and (2), and I may be going out on a limb here, could just be that Kaspersky's products (and some others from Eastern Europe) recognize government Trojans and such like better than possibly those that the agencies wish to promote instead. Can't have government Trojans now recognized, can we.

Just thinking aloud...

© 2017

Churchill & Orwell – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Churchill & Orwell – The Fight For Freedom
by Thomas E. Ricks
Published 1st June 2017
Royal Hardback, £25
352 pages, with 26 b/w photographs
ISBN 9780715652374

9781594206139_ChurchillAnd_JKF.inddLiberty and truth have never been so topical. In an era when belief and freedom are being questioned, and increasingly challenged, the figures of Churchill and Orwell – those two exemplars of Britishness who preserved individual freedom and democracy for the world, through their far-sighted vision and inspired action – loom large, casting a long shadow across British culture and politics. This new, overarching work by the #1 New York Times bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas E. Ricks explores their extraordinary, epoch-defining lives in detail.

Churchill and Orwell, the two great thinkers who indelibly marked post-war history, are titans of their age, each standing in political opposition to the other, but each committed to the preservation of freedom. However, in the late 1930s they occupied a lonely position: democracy was discredited in many circles and authoritarian rulers, fascist and communist, were everywhere in the ascent. Churchill and Orwell had the foresight to see clearly that the more salient issue was human liberty – and that any government that denies its people basic rights is a totalitarian menace and has to be resisted.

Churchill and Orwell proved their age’s necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill & Orwell is their drive in the 1940s to triumph over the enemies of freedom. Churchill may have played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, but Orwell’s reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 (which Churchill admired so much he read it twice) would define the stakes of the Cold War for its 50-year course, and they continue to inspire to this day.

With Orwell’s 1984 at #1 on Amazon and so many other bestseller lists and the intricacies of freedom in national and international politics thrust into the limelight once more, Churchill & Orwell elucidates the extraordinary men behind a victory hard won, and as important to our lives today as it ever has been.

‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’ ~ George Orwell

‘We seek only the right of man to be free; we seek his rights to worship his god, to lead his life in his own way, secure from persecution’ ~ Winston Churchill

Thomas E. Ricks is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Gamble, The Generals, and the no. 1 international bestseller Fiasco – ‘the most authoritative account of how the Bush administration and the US Army created a disaster in Iraq’ (Max Hastings, Sunday Times). He is a former writer for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, and has covered military operations across the globe. He now contributes to the New York Times, Washington Post and New Yorker, and has appeared on the BBC, Sky News and in the Guardian and other UK press. He is also contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine, for which he writes the prize-winning blog The Best Defense.

Today probably more than ever Orwell's books “Animal Farm” and “1984” are important. In “Animal Farm” we find the idea that all are equal but some more equal than others and this is exactly how the neoliberals operate today while “1984” presents us with the nightmarish scenario of an all pervasive totalitarian surveillance state. While it is claimed that Orwell was aiming at the Soviet Union of the day with it today it more appears like a scenario that we are sleepwalking into right this very moment in our neo-liberal capitalist societies. Neo-liberalism is but one side of the coin the other side of which is fascism.

While in their day Churchill & Orwell, especially the latter, were concerned with the rise of totalitarianism that is to say Hitler (& Stalin), today totalitarianism is on the rise again in the guise of neo-liberalism.

Personally I do believe that Orwell may have been mistaken as to Stalin – or why would Stalin still be loved by the Russian people today – and much if not indeed all of what may have happened was more due to Stalin's lieutenants rather than Stalin himself and he, Stalin, may have trusted his lieutenants far too much than was good.

When the author praises the likes of Solzhenitsyn and Lech Wałęsa so much as change makers he is either not aware of who and what they were or is mislead or otherwise confused. Both were not mere dissidents but paid agents of the Western intelligence services, and the same goes for Václav Havel. His name best be not mentioned to many young and not so young Czechs today.

This is a book for anyone interested in politics, especially how today's neo-liberalism is headed towards a totalitarian system, by increments in such a way that most people do not even realize it and call anyone pointing this out conspiracy theorists.

© 2017

Not my circus, not my monkeys

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

monkey1“Not my circus, not my monkeys”, is a Polish proverb and one that we do well to remember each and every time someone wants to drag us into their dramas.

All too often others, even good friends, try to draw us into dramas that have absolutely nothing to do with us and in which we should, on no account, involve ourselves. Not if those people are our friends and even less so if they are just acquaintances or even less. They may do it unintentionally but there may be times when they are trying to do it on purpose and especially then we have to remind ourselves that it is not our circus and not our monkeys, as the Poles would say.

But all too often, rather than reminding ourselves of this fact, we get drawn into such dramas – and often even happily as we think that we are helping the other person by doing so – which then affects us badly and also those around us and on the relationship with others.

Helping a friend or relation to deal with a problem in one thing, allowing oneself to be drawn into dramas that have nothing to do with us, another altogether. And it is the latter that will drain us of positive energy.

© 2017

Unlock the untapped potential of your faucet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

plastic-in-ocean-670x388Drinking tap water might be the simplest solution to ocean plastic pollution (oh dear, and this even rhymes).

The solution to plastic water bottle pollution could be as simple as educating the general masses that (their) tap water is safe to drink. While it is not the case everywhere – the safety of the tap water, that is – and unfortunately also in many places in the US, in most places in the more civilized countries it is the case. Also, tap water undergoes far more rigorous testing for purity and safety than does any bottled water.

Bottled water, for anyone who does not know it as yet, is also one of the greatest scams ever created by industry. In the great majority of cases the water is nothing more than tap water filled into plastic bottles – the latter which then end up polluting the environment – and while it is true that in some cases that water went through some additional “filtration” treatment to remove chlorine, for instance, it still is tap water.

And for a bottle of that, which as tap water would cost you just a fraction of a cent, you end up paying hundred times as much and more. That sure does not make sense. Not only are we hurting the environment with the plastic (bottle) waste, we are also hurting ourselves in our own pockets.

The pollution of those bottles, which more often than not are not recycled in any way, shape or form, pollutes the environment even if they are properly disposed off into the waste stream.

In 2017 about 480 billion bottles of plastic will be produced and less than 10% of them will be recycled. The remaining 90% will end up somewhere – whether discarded in nature or in landfills – where the plastic then breaks down into microplastic and ends up in our groundwater, rivers and eventually lakes and oceans. In addition to plastic pollution, bottled water also has an enormous carbon footprint from production and transportation.

And the problem is getting worse as bottled water consumption is growing, all while households may already have access to a clear and present solution, namely their kitchen tap.

Unfortunately, some people are afraid to drink from the tap. A survey of 1500 households in the US and Europe found a growing mistrust in tap water. The concerns are based on a myriad of factors including multiple water crises like the one in Flint, Michigan, the water database by EWG and microplastics reported in tap water by Orbs, preference in taste, health expert opinions, bottled water advertising, and urban myths.

There is also a misconception around recycling, mineral water, and everything else related to bottled water. And so more people are turning to bottled water.

While there are some issues here and there the fact is that, generally, tap water has gotten better in both Europe and the US over the last ten years. More importantly, there is no scientific evidence that bottled water is healthier than tap water.

So here are a couple of recommendations:

1. Drink tap water. It is almost free and in most places in Europe and North America it is as healthy and clean, if not even more so, as bottled water.

2. Anyone worried about the quality of the tap water or who does not like the taste can use a water filter, such as a filter jug even, costing very little to buy and “run”.

3. Always bring a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated.

4. Ask for tap water in restaurants and bars. This, alas, may not always be successful.

It is time to stop polluting the environment with plastic and to clean up the oceans. This way our children and grandchildren can enjoy clean oceans full of life and plastic free sand beneath their feet on the beach. We also must not forget that, if we eat fish, those tiny particles of plastic find their way into the food chain – they already have done so – and end up in the fish that we eat and thus in us.

© 2017

The wasteful toilet flush

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

toilet-cisternNo, I am not taking the proverbial though about it we have to talk, in a way.

The primary use of water in many Western homes is flushing the toilet and it is reckoned that in the US 18.5 gallons (US gallons not Imperial gallons) are used per person per day, which equates, for the US, in US terms again, 5.7 billion US-gallons of clean drinking water going down the drain, literally wasted.

There is an old saying that goes: “If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down” and that could be a start to save water in this department. If your water usage is metered and you pay according to how much water you and your family use then thinking along those lines not only saves clean drinking water from being wasted but also stops you flushing money down the drain, literally.

Aside from that there is another option or one could even say two. If you have a garden then you do not want to waste this fantastic source of nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. that you tend to flush away. You want to use it beneficially for your plants. Saves too in the garden fertilizer department.

This is, if you have a garden, have the males of your family pee on the compost heap or, alternatively, have them pee into a plastic bottle, such as one of those that you buy your milk in, and then, every evening or such, empty this onto the compost heap. It acts as a compost agitator – you see, something else you don't have to buy then – and (one) helps to speed up the composting process and (two) makes a very nutrient rich compost.

If you don't have a garden then still do the bottle thing and only once a day flush the contents of the bottles (all of them together). That way you only flush once. But, if possible, urine should be utilized in the garden, ideally as a compost agitator. While it is a “plant food” it should never be applied to plants directly nor the soil around them even, as it will burn plants and roots when still “fresh”.

© 2017

Fascists on the ascent

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Poland November 2017Everywhere in EU member states (and non-EU countries of Europe) the specter of fascism is seriously rearing its ugly head again. And that not just in the from of fringe groups and insignificant parties. In some countries they have made it into parliament and in some they even are in government, unfortunately, already. In other countries they are headed in that direction. The danger is real and present.

On Sunday, November 19, 2017, in Ostia, a suburb of the Italian capital Rome, there was an election runoff for the post of mayor and for members of the town council. The winner was the Five-Star-Movement (M5S) with 59.6% for their candidate Giuliana Di Pillo. The candidate for the governing Democratic Party (PD) in Italy already had to bail out in the first run with only 13% of the votes cast. With “only” 40,9% of the votes the candidate of the fascist “Brothers of Italy” (FdI), Monica Picca, was unable to prevail but the result shows that the extreme Right led by ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi is on the ascent.

But I do not think that we need this result in a rather local election as a sign and proof that the fascists are on the ascent all over Europe. But not all often wear their aims so broadly on their sleeves as some do. Many come in the guise of Liberals.

In Poland in early November 2017 an estimated 60,000 “nationalists” (can we say Nazis) alone in Warsaw, during nationwide wave of demonstrations and marches, called for all Jews to leave the country and for a white Poland for only those with Polish blood. I can't say what they may have said about the Gypsies, as the media did not report that. And they would have reported nothing had the call no been for Jews to leave the country.

As a Rom I do not need reminding that the fascist are on the rise as we can see this day in day out in countries such as Hungary, Romani, Bulgaria, etc., and not just by mob actions and pogroms but by government speech and more. But when such actions are “only” aimed at the Rom, the Gypsy, the world remains silent and, unfortunately, many Romani People in the West too, even when they are in the know about this.

When the word “Jew”, however, falls then they finally wake up, and make mention of it, as in the case of Poland in early November 2017. No mention was made as to what was said about the Rom in Poland, though I am sure there was a lot that those fascists did say about the Gypsies and how they would like to deal with our Romani People.

Apparently, however, the EU condemnation, a very light one, came only after it was made public what had been said about Jews and where the Rom are under attack the EU, apparently, cannot possibly interfere because those are internal (domestic) affairs of the countries in question. It can interfere when it suit, though, such as when it condemns, and rightly so, school segregation. When, however, the lives and freedoms of Rom are threatened then it would seem, the EU cannot and will not.

But the EU has never had the best for the Rom at heart, regardless of what they say and regardless of the moneys that have been given to obscure projects that never seem to have materialized. It is a neoliberal construct after all and neoliberalism is one of the coin which, on the other side has fascism. Only neoliberalism is not as obvious, generally, as is outright fascism, the results, however, are, in effect, the same.

As far as the Rom, the Gypsies, are concerned, there is only one thing that will help and that is for the People, us, the Rom, to do things ourselves. We can petition governments and the EU, etc., as much as we like. As far as they are concerned we do not – really – count (except, maybe, during election times, especially not as long as we do not conform to their measures and be totally integrated into the neoliberal capitalist model of wage slaves.

Only we can free ourselves. But, alas, as far as our “leaders”, most of who we have not chose but who have appointed themselves to be our leaders, are concerned there is no money in that for them and thus they will do anything and everything to prevent us liberating ourselves. We need grassroots unity and ditch the “leaders”, the judges (Rechtssprecher) and the false sherengros (headmen), etc., free ourselves from their chains, and advance as one, regardless of tribe, group and clan.

© 2017

Rising abuse of alcohol among children and young people

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

binge drinking kids 2What is the answer? More education or does it need stronger prohibition and laws?

I think what everyone forgets in this equation is to ask the question as to why children as young as eight and ten drink themselves into a coma even. We must first ask why are children and teenagers taking to excessive drinking, so-called binge drinking, which lands some in a coma, and there are at least two reasons here. One is the very system and the pressure of the education system to perform to set standards and the second is the very fact that children no longer have boundaries of any kind and thus feel insecure.

binge drinking kidsGerman media recently reported that in central Germany, what is known as Mitteldeutschland, Saxony and Thuringia, more and more children and teenagers end up in hospital because of alcohol. In 2016 more than 950 children and young people were treated in hospital in Saxony alone for acute alcohol poisoning. In Thuringia the number was around 530. This is a rise of 3% above the previous year. Alarming is the rate of 10-14 year-olds among that number. In that age group there was a serious increase in binge drinkers, almost 25%. More than half of those were girls.

The story, more than likely, will be no different in other countries, including and especially Britain and the United States, despite strict alcohol laws and all the jazz.

While everyone is talking,again, about educating children and young people about the danger of alcohol and especially binge drinking and even stricter laws the underlying cause no one seems to be prepared to look at, consider, and especially not tackle.

Those engaging in this activity of drinking themselves into a stupor and even a coma – almost at least if not actually – have, I should guess, heard all the warnings, had the lessons about it, and there is, in most countries, already a minimum age to buying alcohol in that it is illegal for anyone under a certain age to purchase alcohol and more importantly that it is illegal for traders to sell alcohol to anyone who even appears to be underage. So, how come they still do it and more importantly why?

The idea of the powers-that-be, however, once again, is not to tackle the causes but to deal with the symptoms by more education and more prohibition. Seems to be working well, doesn't it.

© 2017

Christmas supermarket till receipts wrap around the world – every week!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

till-receiptsOver 26,000 miles of receipts issued as waste reaches 'epidemic' levels

British supermarkets issue over 26,000 miles of till receipts every week in the run up to Christmas – more than enough paper to go around the entire circumference of the world – and virtually all of it is wasted.

These are the findings of a leading expert in waste and recycling, which has calculated that around 270 tons of till receipts are printed out for customers, many of which are thrown straight into bins along with non-recyclable single-use carrier bags.

Most of those receipts, and everything else that is printed from the till roll, is also on a special kind of paper that does not really recycle well, if at all. It is a so-called thermal paper as the printers does not actually ink but heat to create the “imprint”. In addition to that the paper is laced with BPA, which is a known health risk.

Stores that print out additional offers along with the legally required receipt make the problem worse by producing paper that customers almost always ignore. And those are just the receipts, etc., that are issued over the run-up to Christmas.

Factor in to that the estimated 150 million supermarket and convenience store transactions every week, and a couple of feet soon turns into thousands of miles.

In extreme cases, a customer can sometimes leave a store with:

  • Till receipt

  • Separate bank card receipt

  • Money saving offers

  • "You saved… compared to our competitors" promotions

  • Loyalty vouchers to collect

While the receipt itself is a (legal) requirement, it is the reams of promotional material to which we should object, leaving customers walking away with armfuls of ticker tape that they often bin, along with their carrier bags.

Those estimated 150 million weekly grocery transactions equate to:

  • 26,000 miles of paper, more than enough to reach around the world's 24,000 circumference

  • 270 tons of paper, most of which is discarded rather than recycled because, as indicated already above, some of the paper is mostly non-recyclable

  • A year's worth of till receipts would reach from the moon and back – twice

The frightening thing is that the data is only confined this to grocery stores in the United Kingdom. Add to that other business sectors like DIY warehouses and petrol stations, add in the rest of the world – that weekly till roll is going to wrap the world up like a gift bow, and that's not a good thing.

© 2017