Smartphone neck

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

text-neckA new disease, if one would want to call it thus, has arrived in the region of the cervical spine; the “Smartphone neck”, also known as “text-neck”. Especially members of the younger generation are affected by it malaise. Though, to all intents and purposes, it is a self-inflicted injury, much like shooting yourself in the foot while cleaning a gun having forgotten to clear it first.

Personally I am not surprised seeing, on a daily basis, people of all ages being glued to the screens of their cellphones and smartphones, texting or whatever, not just in town, including crossing the roads without looking up, but even while walking in the park of the woods.

Personally I cannot understand why people have become so obsessed with needing to be connected all the time via their devices on social nedia and whatever.

On the other hand the “being busy on my smartphone” also is a message to the world around them that says “I do not want to interact with you, you and you in real life”. A “don't even think about talking to me” open message without saying so directly.

Spending too much time at the computer, as, alas, I also do, does not help the neck either though it is a little better than looking down onto a screen as with a smartphone.

We are often our own greatest enemy.

© 2017

Security devours freedom

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

14479765_655052154674847_4338337349472694382_nA flock of sheep is in the enclosure and the mother ewe asks: “Children, do you know why we are surrounded by barbed wire?” “I know, Mom!”, says one of the lambs. “That is there to keep the terrorists out, so that we can enjoy our freedom in peace.”

The terrorists hate us for our freedoms we are being told and in order to fight them and to keep us safe we have to give up our freedoms piece by piece to the powers-that-be.

The powers-that-be press the people to clamor for more and more security and protection by creating more and more threats and claiming that in order for them to be able to protect us they need to have access to all our telephone data, our Internet data, and more and more surveillance of all our lives, of everything that we do. We must, we are told, to give up more and more freedoms for which the terrorists hate us here so much.

Well, the way things are going there will soon be nothing left anymore for them to hate us any longer. We will have given away all those freedoms, more or less voluntarily, to be safe from terrorists (and criminals).

All those CCTV cameras neither deter crime, nor do they help to solve crime, and they definitely do not stop terrorism. Neither will broad telephone intercepts, especially on cell phone networks, and data collection and retention. But it will make “1984” look like a children's story.

Incrementally our freedoms, that we are being told the terrorists hate us so badly for, are being eroded and removed and the people, in general, by clamoring for more and more safety and security, having been first scared by the powers-that-be into believing all those threats and dangers, are playing right into the hands of the elite whose aim is to remove our freedoms from us.

More and more surveillance, data retention, monitoring of everyone's Internet activity and (mobile) telephone calls, and whatever else they are going to come up with next is not there to keep us, the public, safe but to monitor everything that we do just in case that we get ideas above and beyond our station.

It is all about people control and has absolutely nothing to do with making and keeping us safe from terrorist attacks or such like. How can any of those measures prevent a suicide attacker carrying out his “mission”? It cannot and will not. In the same way that police and soldiers on the streets, even in armored carries, won't. If you shoot a suicide bomber the bomb goes off, if you challenge him he will detonate it. Off it goes in any case and there will be victims.

None of those measures are designed to keep us safe. They are designed to keep us controlled and to keep us in a perpetual state of fear.

© 2017

Bed edging in parks, gardens and other green spaces

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Groundscare TurfTeq edgingIsn't it about time bed edging was back on the agenda? Neat edges make such a difference to parks, gardens and other green spaces, and it’s economical to maintain them if you have the right machinery. The TurfTeq is a versatile and productive edger.

But it can also be done without such machines – or with using them (on hire) – only every now and then to re-cut such edges. It is not necessary to own them outright these days.

Well made and well maintained edges add an instant appeal to beds, whether flower or shrubs, and even a bed in transition – that is to say between plantings – if free of weeds and well edged looks acceptable and more than that to the eye of the beholder.

Besides the use of such machines – or manually remaking and maintaining such edges – keeping them well trimmed manually by use of sharp edging shears is as important, if not even more so. The grass clippings can either be removed or incorporated into the soil. Visibly, however, they should not remain as that will detract from the good looks.

© 2017

Groundscare TurfTeq edging

Wake up! Fascism disguised as liberalism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

truth-hate-speechThe first thing I have to say here is that this liberalism, as it appears to us, is actually what is referred to as neoliberalism and what, in the US is often called neoconservatism or short neocon. In truth this is neither liberalism nor conservatism, as in old money, but it is fascism in disguise. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are same side of the same coin; the reverse side being fascism.

People are – by those very neoliberals – led to fear the rise of neo-Nazis and so-called right-wing parties, and those in power, which in general are the neoliberals, are trying to pretend that those groupings are the danger of fascism reemerging. They are far too visible for that. So do not be deceived.

The true danger and fascists are the neoliberals that have,m by now, infiltrated almost every political party, especially those on the center to left of the spectrum, the trade unions, and other such organizations and bodies, and are, as in the case of the Labour Party in Britain, leading the working class organization ever more towards an alignment with capital. Or how else is one to interpret the comments at a gathering of business leaders in a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, shortly after he was elected as leader, when he said that the Labour Party is the natural ally of (big) business? And that, by the way, came out of the mouth of a person who confesses to be a socialist.

Working class parties and groups are becoming revisionist in so many places in Europe and elsewhere in that they distance themselves from so many of the teachings of the old leaders of the socialist and communist world, and of the affiliations they once had to parties such as the SED and the CPSU. They are pandering to people that are not and never have been their supporters ever, namely the bourgeoisie and the capitalists. They have abandoned or are abandoning the working class or are even trying to pretend that class today is dead and a thing of the past.

Fascism does not come openly via so-called neo-Nazi groups. I believe we have been conditioned by the powers-that-be, aka the elite, to see the danger of fascism as coming (only) from that corner. This maybe just so that we do not expect it from another direction. But from another direction it is coming and a fascist dictatorship, a more-or-less global one, is in the offing unless we manage to stem the tide. But to that end we, and others, will have to wake up and become awake and aware first.

To clarify things a little. I am not saying the Labour Party is leading us towards a fascist dictatorship, though if we allow the right-wing neoliberals, the Blairites, the New Labour gang, and others free reign then it invariably will do so as truly as will the Tories, the Lib-Dems and/or the Green Party. It is the neoliberal elements within them – and some of those groups are nothing but neoliberals, such as the Green Party. Don't be deceived by their eco-label or the social-democrat/socialist one they are trying to pin onto themselves.

The true Nazis and fascists have returned to us, that is to say their offspring have, often from South America to Germany, though some never left, in the guise of neoliberals, and have infiltrated (almost) all parties and movements, and especially those on the left. Be it the Greens, and not just in Germany, the Social-Democrats in Europe, other left parties, and also the Democratic Party in the US. Of those in the “center” and on the right we shall not even talk.

The specter of groups such as the skinheads and others is being held up in front of us so as to not look elsewhere. But elsewhere we must look. I am no Bible thumper – not even a Christian by a very long shot – but I will quote a passage here anyway because it fits and that one is “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16).

© 2017

#fascism #neoliberalism #neoconservatism #politics

A move back to our roots: more wood and clay and less plastic

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

23213129_1845303528843664_4872651655123413633_oBefore plastic became ubiquitous, many kitchen items were made from wood or pottery, that is to say clay, and also from metal. Predominately the material was wood and pottery; metal in the form of copper, lead, bronze and then finally iron, from whence came steel, including stainless steel, came into the equation much later.

The anti-plastic movement is gaining strength as more people realize the folly of using a material that not only leaches chemicals into our bodies, food, and environment, but also does not biodegrade. The movement has taken many shapes and forms, from no-straw campaigns to the zero waste lifestyle to more natural-fiber clothing.

But there is plastic and there is plastic in this context and while, yes, predominately, though not entirely anymore, plastic is made from oil and thus not very sustainable and all that, some plastic is better than other. The main concern, in the general context of getting away from plastic, is the disposable kind, the stuff that really no one needs and that ends up in our countryside, rivers and the seas.

Children are the key to the future so it is the children, therefore, first and foremost that we must educate about the “back to our roots” way of using natural materials. Once kids’ habits change (through education), they will influence their parents to change, while holding them accountable.

To this end teaching children the making of things from natural materials, such as making a wooden spatula or even a spoon, and in that case an eating spoon just right for them, and making a piece of pottery, would be the order of the day.

There was, once, a time when all schools were teaching handcrafts, especially woodwork and pottery but today that is all but gone.

When a child makes something him- or herself, for personal use especially, this product will have a special value for them – and thus we should teach them to aim for the best they can do.

But it should not stop at wood and clay (pottery) but include also the making of products from other, ideally natural materials, by hand and schools – and other places – must be at the forefront again for children – and not just children – to learn again the skills and the joys of making. Textiles, leather, and also metals, should be included.

While in regards to wood, pottery, and even textiles, the entire process can become part of the learning process with leather and metals it is somewhat of as different story. Working with wood and clay for pottery the process goes from natural to made product easy. With textiles it is a little more complicated. Wool needs to be shorn off the sheep, then made into yarn and then worked either by knitting, weaving or otherwise. Even more work is involved in the making of cotton, canvas and linen. And metals are getting even more complicated.

Having said that, however, does not mean that the skills of working those materials should not be taught; they should, as they once were. They should also be taught to both genders, as far as schools are concerned. Boys and men should know how to sew as well, not just girls and women, and the same goes for mending. We must remember that traditionally in the past the tailor was male. Also the cooks – chefs – in inns and hotels were (and often still are) predominately male, so both cooking and sewing is not (just) something that girls and women do. But I digressed somewhat.

We must become makers again instead of being (just) consumers (and learning again to appreciate the handmade efforts of ourselves and our children – proficiency comes with time) and this making can take many forms.

And making “by hand” may not always mean absolutely without any machines. As long as your hands are still involved in the work, and your skills, and it is not an automated process you are still making whatever you are making “by hand”. The potter who uses a powered wheel rather than a kick wheel still shapes the clay by hand into the object that he or she is making. The wood-turner who is using a powered lathe rather than a foot-operated pole lathe or such, still, like the potter, shapes the object, using his hands. I am just saying.

© 2017

Pruning your trees

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Pruning your treesOnce the leaves have fallen in late autumn/early winter, take the opportunity to get in there to remove any congested growth. For some fruit trees, however, the time to do any real pruning and cutting back is not that time of year but much earlier or somewhat later.

Trees of the prunus species, cherries, plums, damsons, and related, should be pruned – pardon the almost pun – while the sap is rising, after they have flowered. While that may reduce any fruit production for that year it is r4eckoned to reduce the risk of any infection entering the tree.

Apple trees have a very narrow window, so to speak, in which pruning should take place and that is about from mid to late January to the end of February (in Europe at least). Others can be pruned more or less immediately after the leaves have all fallen off and this also goes for the majority of ornamental shrubs and trees.

© 2017

The most important school subjects

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Handwerk1The most important school subjects are not reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. even though they are important, especially for self-directed learning, as I can ascertain. However, “viewed scientifically the most import school subjects would be music, sports, dramatics, art and handicrafts, the latter is what the Scandinavians would call sloyd”. This is what the brain researcher Manfred Spitzer says and, as far as child development, especially in elementary school children, is concerned that is exactly what is needed.

Children who spend much of their childhood playing (for play is an important aspect of learning), drawing, painting, doing sports, dramatics, and such, are in a much better position later to be taught, to study and to be trained in order to be able to follow a useful profession and calling. Much more useful than learning in Kindergarten already Chinese or having to be worried in elementary school about tests and passing them in order to progress up the ladder, so to speak.

Some may say that this does not do the economy any good and that it is only that which counts, in other words productivity and growth, and training obedient wage slaves.

But today's economy no longer needs untrained docile workers at production lines but highly flexible, stress resistant multi-taskers who are prepared to learn new things to the end of their life. No one needs what the schools of today churn out in the way of unripe non-adults. Nor will the children, as children and later as adults, ever need most of what they have been “taught” in school – generally only in order to pass the tests and exams – in later life.

Yes, reading, writing and some other things are important, as I have already said in the beginning, but you do not have to go to the brainwashing institution called “school” to learn those.

As far as handicrafts, aka sloyd in Scandinavia, and such like are concerned getting hands dirty and learning about traditional trades is what it is all about – kids will be having a ball as long as they are not just be shown how to but are actually allowed and helped to make things.

Also teach them gardening and the growing of food and involve them in this, to the extent of letting them have their own plots where to experiment with growing this or that.

Maybe the best thing would be for children to be taught at home (or other similar setting) rather than in the formal setting of the brainwashing facilities that we call schools where children are but trained to pass tests and regurgitate information in order to pass them.

Many kids are measured on their intelligence base solely on regurgitation of information. Many grow up thinking they are worthless and stupid because they do poorly. This is one of the many factors that contribute to social burden and decay. No matter what anyone says you are not stupid, just a different kind of smart. Also and especially children develop and mature in different stages regardless of age so any standardized tests actually prove nothing and all they do is make some believe that they are failures and will never amount to anything.

That is why self-directed learning, as often is the case with homeschooling, where the kids decide what they want to learn, research, etc., rather than following a set of guidelines, is so much better than any other way.

© 2017

Thank You for voting Tory

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

500534084Thanks for voting Tory. Everyone who did has really done well.

Due to the actions of the Conservative government of the “United Kingdom” it has been estimated that 120,000 children will wake up homeless this Christmas and many, many more in dire poverty. Hope you are proud of yourself. But, I guess, as long as it is not you and your children why should you care.

The Tories have been talking about getting Britain back to Victorian values but what they really aim to do is turning back the clock and bringing us all back into the Victorian era and if we are not careful back further still.

10446715_10205374118698472_1392947066675936283_nVictorian values were not, necessarily, the greatest thing either but the era definitely was no good for the common man, woman or child. Homelessness was rampant and dire poverty and we are on the best way to that kind of situation again.

It won't be long, if we allow the Tories to remain in power, that we will have workhouses and child labor again, but, no doubt, that is also something that the Tories would not mind, as long as it is not their children but only those of the working class.

The most worrying part is that such a great number of working class people actually vote Tory (or even further right-wing) and thus are causing misery for their class and the children of their class. But it seems to be the attitude of “I am alright, Jack” in the same way as Gypsies in the West are not prepared to do anything to help those of the same race persecuted in Eastern Europe, for instance. But, when the shoe is on the other foot they are the first to complain.

I do not even want to start to talk about the other things that are being destroyed, dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder for private gain, by the Tories, such as the NHS and other aspects of the welfare state. You really have done well keeping those parasites in power.

© 2017

Which cutting board is best, wood or plastic?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

wooden cutting boardWhen it comes to cutting boards which is the more sustainable and healthy choice; plastic or wood?

The good old cutting board is one of our most durable household goods and it has proven its worth through times and ages, especially when made from good wood. Properly cared for it will go through generations without complaining of breaking.

As a refresher, it is generally considered advisable to have at least two cutting boards, kept separate, so to speak, in your kitchen. One of those should should be designated for raw meat, seafood, and poultry, and kept for that purpose only and the other board(s) for everything else. This helps avoid cross-contamination for purposes of health (keeping bacteria from sneaking into our produce, bread, and other non-fleshy items) and for purposes of hospitality (vegetarians and vegans will thank you).

In fact, this question of bacteria helps answer your question about plastic vs. wood. Plastic gained favor for a while because it is non-porous and dishwasher-safe, two qualities that made it seem like a healthier, cleaner choice. But it seems this was just another PR coup by the plastics industry.

According to research, including a study at the UC-Davis Food Safety Laboratory, wood wins the bacteria battle hands down. While bacteria such as salmonella and listeria are easy to clean off brand-new plastic boards, these boards become, so say the researchers, “impossible to clean and disinfect manually” once damaged by knives. In other words, the sneaky little bacteria hide out in the cracks and crevices. Wood cutting boards provide a home for bacteria too, but only for a very short time, and the little critters actually scoot down under the surface and die.

Many woods, in fact, have very high antibacterial and antiviral properties, such as the much maligned Sycamore, for example, which has one of the if not indeed the highest. Maligned, in Britain, for the fact that it is not a “native” tree and that is spreads somewhat like a weed. It has been in Britain for almost 2000 years, having brought here by the Romans and thus, I should think, we really should give it citizenship.

This makes wood more or less magical and if you buy a cutting board made from sustainably harvested sources – sorry, but forget the bamboo notion – it is definitely a greener choice than oil-based old plastic.

Once there are too many cuts showing on the surface of your wooden cutting boards or they have become excessively worn or have developed hard-to-clean grooves there still is no need to throw them away, even though the food safety people may say so. All you have to do is sand them smooth again or, if need be, planed down a bit, and they are ready to roll and entirely safe again.

So, if you have old wooden cutting boards rejuvenate them with some sanding and giving them a coat of vegetable (or mineral oil) and they will be yours to use, safely, and will last for many generations to come. The reason I put mineral oil in brackets is for the fact that – personally – I do not like using it simply because it is oil-based, as in the black stuff coming out of the ground. Some people claim that vegetable oil goes rancid but I have not found this to be a problem.

© 2017

Zero Waste – is it possible?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sinnlos sammeln und sortieren - recycling bins1Zero Waste is a concept that is very much like the idea of sustainable consumption in that it is not feasible regardless of what some people preach.

While it is possible to reduce waste, all waste, including food waste, to a minimum, zero waste, in that we do not produce any waste at all, just is not possible, regardless of what some people may think or claim, in the same way as there can be no sustainable consumption.

Whatever we do we are going to produce waste in some way, shape or form, though ideally, and that is the operative word and challenge, that waste should be recycled by whichever way. In addition to that we must change the way that we produce things and also produce food and use all the food grown, not just those vegetables, for instance, that have the right shape, size, etc.

As far as products are concerned they must be made so as to keep waste in production to the minimum and made in such a way that they can be kept going ad infinitum, almost, by being repairable, ideally user-repairable. But that is not a model that industry (and, it would appear, government) does not want.

Going further, however, we all must find ways, aside from just reducing waste, to make use of the waste that is still there especially the kind that can, in some ways, be reused, reworked, repurposed and upcycled, and that before we even think whether or not it can be (commercially) recycled.

This is also where upcycling as an economic activity, especially by small workers, comes in. Far too much of commercial recycling destroys the product and does not actually recycle anything but downcycles rather. But I am beginning to digress.

Zero Waste is a nice idea but it just will, I am afraid to say, never really work because there will always be some waste that is being produced though a more-or-less circular process might just reduce it is a very small percentage.

However, the latter process will only work if everyone, from government to every individual person, pulls on the same rope, so to speak. The problem is that already now in the case of ordinary recycling things are not always the way they appear and are made to appear.

While recyclables may be collected by the municipalities they may not actually always end up being recycled even if that means that they are downcycled. Quite frequently, for a variety of reason, one of them though being that at some time the price for the recyclables may be too low, they are sent to landfill.

The problem is that all our individual efforts come often to nothing because there where we can do nothing about things are not on the same level. It is therefore much more important that we see that we can reuse more of the stuff that runs under “waste”, from composting to reworking and upcycling, even in a semi-commercial enterprise, than believing the, let me call them, powers-that-be that they will take care of it.

There has always been waste, with the exception, maybe, in the case of Nature, and there always will be, in some way, shape or form. What way, shape and form this waste is going to be, however, and what we do with it though, is another question in point and that is up to us. Reusing, repurposing and upcycling whatever can be treated in this way needs to be done, up to and including doing this as a business. Those three have to become an economic activity, even if only on a small scale, but in many small enterprises.

We cannot keep pretending to be able to tackle waste by claiming that we can go “zero waste” because we cannot truly and fully. To believe otherwise is conning ourselves. Only Nature knows no real waste as in Nature everything is recycled, truly recycled, in one way or the other.

© 2017

Industry and industrial production in the new age

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

design-100-resimage_v-variantSmall16x9_w-640I am going to play the Devil's Advocate here and will say that industry and industrial production will not, as it is being claimed, go over to total robotic production but will, in fact, cease and that in the not so distant future. And that regardless of what governments and industry and economists proclaim.

Why? Because it is dependent on a great deal of energy, especially of electricity and gas, and to all intents and purposes there is a very limited amount of oil and gas, upon which our energy production and on it industry depends, left to go around (despite the fact that the price of oil did fall quite significantly in the late part of 2014 and the early part of 2015 but that is a political ball game rather than oil and gas being abundant still) and renewable energies such as wind and sun just cannot provide the high voltages and wattage that are required by industrial production as we have now and the one that they are envisaging for the future.

The future of production will be small scale industry again – that is, at least, the way that I (and also others) – see it and much will be made more or less by hand again rather than by large machines, by production lines and robots. Without the power to do so it just cannot compute.

However, we keep being told that robots will take our jobs and that almost everything in the not so distant future will be performed by robots, many of them being what is referred to as “humanoid” robots. In the BBC Radio 4 program Analysis of March 2, 2015 entitled “When robots steal our jobs” this was very much being hinted at and also, it is claimed, that when this happens we all will have so much more free time to do what we want.

Hello! And what about money to live? Oh, some say, everyone will be given a basic universal income. Yes, sure, and pigs fly.

While the idea of a basic income is a great idea and one that should be supported and for which trial are now being carried out in some places, it will, probably, however, never come to pass in the capitalist system as we have it today. It will require a new system that has other ideals, a system where man and Nature are valued and stand in the center and not profit for corporations and shareholders. And one where no longer perpetual economic growth and the acquisition of wealth by business owners and others is the aim and name of the game.

This system will come about when capitalism collapses, as it must and will, and we return to a different way of production when also, as it must be, the means of production will be in the hands of the workers and not of the state. True socialism is not state capitalism and is the only system that abolishes and eliminates the distinction between the bosses and the workers.

But it has to be said here that in the post-industrial age production will be of a different kind and conducted in a different way than most of us have come to know and understand over the last century or more. The kind of production that we have known for so long ever since the “Industrial Revolution” will become a thing of the past and, like the motorcar, will be seen, later, as but a blip in human history.

Does anyone really believe that those robots, that are claimed to be taking jobs, can be made and run in a world where non-renewable resources are becoming scarce and where we need to get away from fossil fuel derived energy? I, for one, do not and that simply because of the fact that due to the restraints that will be forced upon us if we do not want the Planet to be destroyed entirely neither their manufacture nor their use will be feasible in due course. They will just remain ideas in the heads of the capitalists.

The new world will be very much like the old world before the industrial revolution and production (and other work) will be performed again in the ways of old. Sounds dreadful to many, I know, as the consumer goods will neither be abundant anymore nor cheap, cheap, cheap, as they are presently and as the consumers today demand them to be. That those products, that are so very cheap, come too us at a very high cost of exploitation of people and the Planet no one seems to want to know about. In addition to that those goods are not cheap in other ways as they are designed to break down in a very short space of time resulting in the fact that we have to buy new again, and again. But that is the way this present capitalist system has been set up, especially ever since the Second World War.

Before that time, and even for a while thereafter, especially in certain countries, products were made in a way that they lasted and that they could easily be repaired. However, the capitalist saw there profits disappear if they were to create new products that were better and learned from what had happened during the war where they were suppliers to the military. Products that get destroyed all the time would have to be replaced with the same products again and again and they basically put a self-destruct mechanism into the goods they made and sold. This mechanism is built-in obsolescence and non-repairability. If something breaks down after a short while, designed actually to do so, and then made in such a way that it cannot be repaired you do not have to invest all too much in research and development of new products; you can just sell your “old” ones over and over again. A total win-win situation for the capitalist and a total lose-lose situation for the consumer.

Years ago, and that will be the way again that things will be produced in the future, products, today often referred to as “durable goods” and given a lifespan of about three years, used to last for decades for they were made to last, and they were repairable and that is why they did last, for when something did break it could be fixed, often by the owner him- or herself. Those durable goods of today are not fit the name durable as they are rather the opposite. While that means that such products, like we once had, will be more expensive initially this cost, spread over the years that the product will actually last, coupled with repairability, will make them cheaper in the long run.

In the German Democratic Republic an entire repair sector existed in the economy, from small shops to industrial complexes almost that were geared to repair whatever the customer might bring along, from clothes and other textiles as well as, obviously, shoes and boots, over household appliances and such to vehicles. You could even get your knives, scissors and other cutting tools sharpened, reset and such, and all at a reasonable cost. But, to some extent, I digressed a little.

Industrial production in the new age of no-fossil fuels to power everything will, nay must, by virtue of lack of the amount of power required by the large-scale production we know today, return to much small scale and thus products will be made in a different way and must be made to last and be repairable as they will be more expensive.

But to be perfectly honest the cheap goods that come to us today more often that not are not made in a sustainable way and the fact that they are – predominantly – non-repairable makes them, in the long run, more expensive than the kind of products and goods that we had before that we, although more expensive, repairable. Personally, I don't think that such a change is a bad thing at all.

© 2017

Pavements and cycle paths are critical infrastructure, not frills

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cycle path londonIn the USA this does not seem to be understood by local, state, and federal government and the only thing that seem to count in their eyes are provisions for the motor car. But things are not much better in Britain, for instance.

Unfortunately, many pavements (sidewalks, as our American cousins would say) in Britain are in a bad state of repair as well, even though the maintenance of those is down to the local authorities, the councils. Lack of funding from central government and more cuts in the name of austerity certainly do take their toll, but some of them seem to have been lacking maintenance for a couple of decades at least and in some instance it would appear more than just a couple of decades.

As to cycle paths, their provision, in comparison to what is being done and has been done almost for ever in countries of mainland Europe, is absolutely derisory and the talk of government that it would like to encourage more people to cycle is laughable when one sees the provisions (not) made.

There is hardly, in Britain, a single cycle path that is continuous and virtually none that is actually physically separated from the motor traffic on the road, unlike a great many, if not the majority, of such paths in countries such as The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. According to the British government, an not just the current, it is not possible to do such things in this country. It can be done, the only thing lacking is the political will to do so.

If government is truly interested in getting people out of their cars and wanting them to walk and cycle to the shops, to school, and even to work, then provisions must me made so that people can feel safe and be safe to do so. What it boils down to is that the motoring lobby hands out fat donations and facilitation payments to the governments while, obviously, the lobby of cyclists and pedestrians does not and cannot do that. Hence more and more roads are being built instead of making provisions for alternative modes of transport, by creating the necessary infrastructure. But time and again there are plans for new roads, there is money found for new roads, and so on. Cycle paths and pavements, on the other hand, when it comes to them then there is no money to be found.

As I said, the majority of cycle paths would make our continental cousins, especially in Holland, Denmark and Germany, suffer a serious laughing attack. Not only are they not physically separated from the roads; nay, often they are just short strips on the road and then that is it. At other times, where there are long stretches of cycle paths that are part of the road cyclists will have to dodge the traffic anyway as the paths are full of parked cars, or cars are actually using those parts of the road that are dedicated to cycling, thus again the cyclist either has to avoid those stretches or is actually in danger of being hit. That is no way to encourage people to take to the bike instead of the car. In fact, it has rather the opposite effect. Thus it is hardly surprising that people, illegally, cycle on the pavements as no safe provisions are being made for them.

© 2017

From consumer society to maker society

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20139988_1539078376130193_5453055660688507791_nThere was a time when people made and grew almost all of the things they needed; the majority of them at least. They did not – and could not – simply go to the stores or order on-line for home delivery. The latter option did not exist until even a few years ago and the other was not an option because there were no stores (in the very old days) or they could not afford to buy what they wanted.

Money was tight for many, especially the working class, farm laborers and such. So the only option they had was to make what they needed and wanted from materials that were available for free or cheap.

The raw materials for many of the things people needed and wanted was wood, but also other natural and man-made materials, such as scrap and trash. Children used their imagination to fashion all manner of toys from natural materials and from trash, and this is, on all counts, still true today in many a Third World country but also in what some would call backwards areas in the Western world.

The majority today, however, cannot even think how to get something that they need or want aside from checking their wallets or bank accounts and the nearest store or website. The very thought of making something seems alien to many today.

We have been brainwashed into the consumer mentality believing that whatever we need and want has to be coming from some shop of sorts, whether in bricks and mortar or in the virtual realm, and that making things that we need and want to ourselves from natural materials or, God forbid, waste materials, is something only for the very poor in other countries.

And also to use things that are more that a year or so old is also something that is only for the very poor. We must have new manufactured goods all the time, preferably cheap from some offshore manufacturing site.

Sometimes I wonder how this kind of brainwashing was ever possible to happen to the majority but happen it did and it is scary.

We have to find back to reality and that pronto. The time is going to come, and it is not all that far away, for sure, that those products that the majority run after today will no longer be dirt cheap and therefore we must change our ways and do things differently again. I say purposely again as it once was the way things were done and they must be done that way again.

We must return from a consumer and consumption orientated society return to, or transition and develop, however one may wish to put it, into a maker society where, once again, people are prepared to make things and enjoy making things rather than just consuming things. But it is a learning curve and I will not deny that, especially for those that never did such things before. Many young people today, as children, never made their own toys and entertainment the way some of the somewhat older generation did. They often were not allowed to do that as they could get hurt using a knife for whittling of such and as a knife, in the hands of a child or young person (and not just in the hands of a young person), in places such as the UK, is immediately considered an offensive weapon.

Not only is it just a question of being prepared to make our own things – and to repair the things that we have – but a society where everyone makes things or grows things, and is involved in making and growing things or maintaining those things.

In the main, however, all people are doing today is to consumer, bar the few that produce and grow things, and after the things are used they get thrown away. That is the mentality that is prevalent today and it is that mentality that also is causing other ills in society for a consumer, a user, society also uses people and animals in the same way as things and discards them when they are no longer productive.

The entire world needs to change to a new society but it will only do so if we, the people, actually change. The consumer is but a passive user of products and living things and often has no idea as to the true cost of his or her mentality to the Planet.

While it is true that the consumer him- or herself does not do the actual exploitation of environment, of people and of animals, and that is being done by the capitalists, the corporations and such, it is he or she who, by the act of consuming in the way he or she does, being not prepared to turn to being a maker, participates, passively in this exploitation, whether they want this to be true or not.

Edward Abbey is quoted to have said, with reference to the United States of America: “If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor rule. That was the American dream.” And this also applies to all other nations as well.

The move from a consumer society to a maker society – even if the making part is but a small one with each and every one, to start with – already would go a long way towards this, such as removing the power from the corporations, and thus the rich and “powerful” to dominate others, as in us as the people.

However, a maker society does not just mean making just things for oneself from scratch and even scrap but a society of people who make things rather than having things made for them in some factory in some far way third world country.

On the other hand making things ourselves, for ourselves and for others, and even for sale, liberates. It sets us free from the constant consumption and consumerism and allows us to think what we really need and want (out of life). And it not just liberates the individual, but the entire society.

As far as society goes, we cannot just be consumers, as the majority seems to be today, permanently buying something and tossing out the things – often the very same things we have just bought new, but which are newer than the old ones – that we only bought a couple of months ago. We all must become makers again, on a small and on a larger scale, but always on a human scale.

© 2017

Grab a great read AND support Anti-Slavery Day on 18th October 2017

(PRESS RELEASE)

x-defaultFormer football club Chair, actor and author Michael Bearcroft has announced an exciting new partnership with the charity HopeforJustice, whereby £1 from every sale of his re-released novel Dangerous Score (£9.99, New Generation Publishing) will go directly to helping combat modern slavery.

Estimates suggest that over 21 million people are living in modern slavery today, with over 10,000 of those living in the UK. It is also the third largest source of illegal income, only exceeded by drugs and arms trafficking. As Anti-Slavery Day approaches on the 18th October, author Michael Bearcroft has re-released his successful novel Dangerous Score which explores the world of corruption, organised crime and human trafficking, pledging that £1 from every book sale will go directly to Hope for Justice.

Following an early career as a junior footballer for Sheffield United, Michael continued to be involved in the football industry for many years, as the Chairman of Corby Town F.C and sponsor of both Rothwell Town F.C and Kettering F.C. It therefore seemed logical that the sport he knows so much about would feature as the backdrop for Dangerous Score.

In the book, Michael brings together the worlds of football and organised crime as they collide and become entwined in a bloodthirsty, bitter tale of love, lust and murder. When successful footballer Jason Clooney’s wife unexpectedly leaves him in Australia, he returns home to the UK to start a new life in Sheffield. A winning goal catapults his home team- Kettering Town Football Club- into the national spotlight. However, a brief encounter with a mysterious woman called Jess, propels him into the underworld of international organised crime and human trafficking, changing his life forever.

Michael began researching human trafficking whilst writing his novel and was astounded at the sheer scale of the problem. He decided that he wanted to do whatever he could to help support those forced into modern slavery which led to his new partnership with Hope For Justice, a global charity founded in the UK in 2008 with the aim of working to end modern slavery and human trafficking.

In the past three years, Hope for Justice has rescued 350 people from human trafficking in the UK and is actively working to help many more.

‘Human trafficking is a hidden crime and it’s happening all around us. The main character in Dangerous Score stumbles into this secret world and finds himself submerged in the underbelly of organised crime. I’ve partnered with Hope for Justice because I want to support and bring more light to the desperate plight of people around the world and in the UK. This charity is doing truly amazing things that are transforming people’s lives and I want to help let more people know about them so that collectively, we can do more to eradicate this truly heinous crime,” explains Michael.

Dangerous Score (£9.99, New Generation Publishing) is available from Amazon and all good bookshops. £1 from every sale goes to Hope For Justice.
For more information visit:
www.dangerousscore.co.uk
www.hopeforjustice.org

Brits fall short of smiles

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

800px-A_Smiling_boy_from_BangladeshAccording to some research only about 28% of Brits attempt to smile at someone at least once a day, despite 63% admitting that being smiled at brightens their day.

Further still, over half (52%) smile most when they make others smile, with nearly 20% (18.75%) worrying that they don’t smile enough.

Personally, knowing the way the majority of Brits – at least today – act whatever they told researchers appears to be what they thought the researchers would want to hear.

A great many in the UK look away when someone smiles at them, often embarrassed which, in turn, makes those that do smile when they meet another person's eyes become reluctant to do so.

A smile cannot only brighten someone's life; it could actually save someone's life. No, I am not exaggerating. A number of years ago me smiling at a complete stranger on a tube train in London did just that.

There was this young man sitting opposite me on an Underground train with a very sad face and every time that our eyes met I smiled. It took some time before he reciprocated and his face brightened up.

Reaching my destination I got up and he also was leaving the train. On the platform he shook my hand and said “I would like to thank you” to which I said, “for what?”

His reply was that really hit the message home which was “for acknowledging my existence”. Cutting a long story short he was very depressed and had been heading to the stop that I also too in order to take his own life by jumping of a bridge that was near there.

Instead of heading to the HQ I was meant to head for at that time I took the young man for a drink and a chat, duty at the HQ could wait a couple of hours. This was more important.

I don't know how many other lives have been saved or, at least, changed by smiling at someone, and I don't just mean by just my smiles. Also I am certainly not averse to striking up a conversation with complete strangers. Many a stranger becomes an acquaintance in such a way and, maybe, even a friend.

Smiling at others does not only benefit the recipient but also the “giver” as it releases, in the same way as some other activities, that I shall not digress to right now, do. So, let's turn our smiles on and not just on World Smile Day.

© 2017

When the oil runs out, people will need horses again

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

when-the-oil-runs-out1When the oil runs out, we will need horses again and also oxen, donkeys and other draft animals and what is often called “beasts of burden”.

“Oh, but we will have electric vehicles instead of the gas powered cars, vans and trucks, etc.” I hear almost everyone say now. Really? I do not think so as the feasibility of this is zero without the power to make them and to charge them and, in addition to that, EVs will never have the power to carry the 35 tons or more of freight on the road, not even 3.5 tons, and as to farm works, electric tractors pulling the plow is not going to happen.

And, even if we could create electric motors capable of doing such jobs there is and remains the problem of the rare earths – and there is good reason why they are called rare earths – that are required for the making of such vehicles, motors and especially the batteries. On top of that comes the problem that those batteries have a lifespan of about 3-5 years at the most, if that long, and then need replacing at costs that are almost have the cost of the vehicles themselves. Does anyone still see this to be the way? I can't. And the same goes for hydrogen fuel cells and all that jazz. Methane, from sewage and such, could work but it all depends on whether manufacturing capacity will still exist to make tractors and other vehicles.

Personally, I cannot see that with lack of fossil fuels (and we all know that nuclear is not an option) the factories will continue to be able to make those cars, trucks and tractors, etc. Either manufacture of those will be done again more or less by hand, thus pushing the prices to such heights that they will become unaffordable, or it just is no longer happening.

If the latter is the case – and even if some will still be made with high prices which will be affordable but too a large minority, if at all – then the horse for transportation and farming will be, once again, the only option. Plus some of the other animals that have, through the ages, been used as draft animals and for carrying goods (and people).

For personal transportation the horse will not be possible for a great many people, especially those that live in towns and cities, but then neither will be the car; at least not in the way that we know them today. The great majority will have to, for their personal transportation, revert back to what we used before the advent of the motor car, namely human power, in the form of walking and cycling.

Even if the electric car and truck will ever make it – though due to lack of power for manufacturing them and their batteries, as well as the rare earths mentioned earlier, I cannot see it happening – the prices will become out of the reach of the majority of those that use a car today.

Farming, as it is being carried out in the main in the so-called developed nations today with the huge machines and the large acreages will also end up being a thing of the past. There is simply no way, with the exception, maybe of using methane, that is to say poo-power, to power tractors, trucks and combines.

So, it will be a return to more people on the land working the land by hand and by use of draft animals, which will, predominately, no doubt, be the horse, who has been our loyal servant in this field (pardon the pun) for centuries and more before the advent of the machines, and this is not all that long ago.

Not so long ago our countryside was a lot more populated than it is today because people worked the land to feed the nation although the more and more mechanization came into agricultural and other rural trades the more people headed for the cities to try their luck there, though many of those were not just agricultural laborers that had lost their jobs due to mechanization but they were smallholders and small farmers who had lost their land, and land to which they had common rights, in the various land grabs of the previous centuries; land grabs by the feudal lords to enlarge their estates.

© 2017

#GreenLiving #oil #horses #endofoil

Consumerism – do we need prohibitions?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We are living well above our means, in more than one way. Thus the question as to whether we need prohibitions that will halt our over-consumption? Maybe we do need someone who raps us over the knuckles when we go too far? That maybe the only way that the Planet can be saved. But this is not going to happen, not from the side of those that think they are in charge as economic growth is what they are on about and growth – according to them – can only be achieved in that people consume more and then still more. Only growth on a finite Planet does not compute.

But do we really need some higher authority to tell us. Should we not be able to restrict ourselves?

On the other hand most people, even many who think of themselves as as having a high degree of eco-consciousness, are into consuming. Fair enough, we all have to eat, need clothes, etc., and thus we consume and are consumers, obviously, but with consuming in this context I mean the many, often unnecessary, things that we buy, thus consume, just because we are lazy, we believe we need them, and because our friends have them.

Coffee to go, obviously in the one-way cup, because it is so convenient. Coffee from the pod, the most wasteful and expensive way to make and consume coffee. Another new cellphone or even smartphone though the old one that we have is still perfectly good and does what we need it for. But, hey, there is a new version out that has more bells and whistles, not that we will ever use any of those bells and whistles.

Using the car to go to the shops – even though you only live a few minutes away from them on foot or by bike – because it looks like rain. Take out pizza or whatever simple because we can't be bothered to cook. OK, there are people who are so busy and work so many hours just to sustain a lifestyle nowadays who really do not have the time to cook at home, I know, but. And so on and so forth.

But would prohibitions really make a difference. OK, with prohibitions people could not do this or that but is it really so hard for us as individuals, as people, to understand that we must change for the good of the Planet and also for the good of our own finances.

Unnecessary driving costs fuel and unnecessary purchases cost money, but at the same time both have an impact on the Planet in many ways. The prepackaged salads and all the rest generates a great deal of packaging waste, more often than not in the form of plastic, some of which is, while others is not, recyclable and it then ends up in landfill or, via the not so environmentally-minded, in the countryside and eventually in rivers and the sea.

For a change to come about industry, especially, will have to play its part and reduce the amount of packaging, and that includes food producers and supermarkets as much as online retailers like Amazon. Legislation could come into play there in that packaging could be regulated and a reduction demanded by government because we, as consumers, can do little there except shop where we do not have everything prepackaged – and that is not all that easy – and sending a message to industry and supermarkets that way.

Waste or squander is no peccadillo, no trivial offense. Nobody has the right to take more than what he/she needs.

I can hardly see, however, government legislating against consumption per se. That is definitely not going to happen. A change in that department will only come about when the mindset of people changes and you cannot do that by degree and prohibitions. Most people will rebel against any kind of prohibition and unless and until industry actually changes its manufacturing processes which are designed that products break down after a relatively short time or, in the case of PCs, for instance, that software (updates) is no longer compatible with old sets (and that also applies to smartphones, for instance) we have little choice to buy new products every year or every couple of years or so. If products would, like they used to, last for a long time and can be repaired, ideally by the user or in small shops, then we would not have this waste that is generated by having to continually buy new.

On the other front, that of packaging, we don't need to look much further back than half a century or so and we can see that things were not over-packaged in the way they are today. Fair enough, that was also the time when the so-called convenience foods were not about. There were no ready-made salads in plastic bowls and such to be found in the isles of the supermarkets. Produce was sold predominately loose, and was packed in brown paper bags, other things came in simple cardboard boxes, tin cans or glass jars, and almost nothing was double or triple packaged, as today.

There was also once a time when packaging, such as glass jars, and others, had an obvious – obvious to all but the very dense – second use and some manufacturers still do so today. Let's get back to that and maybe, just maybe, we have less of packaging waste. We can hope, can't we?

But when one sees that even people who think of themselves as green and environmentally-minded throw away glass produce jars into the recycling and then go and buy recycled glass jars, in the believe that they do good for the Planet doing that, rather than using the glass produce jars as storage jars then one has to wonder where we have gone wrong.

I think no one can deny that we have to stop this malarkey but can we be made to stop with and by government intervention and should that be done?

Most of us know that much of what we buy and consumer is not good. With that I do not mean that it makes us fat or gives us all manner of diseases. Our consumer behavior does hurt us, but mostly it hurts others. Others who also live with us on this Earth and who we do not see because the live far away, those that still would like to live on Earth after we have long gone, and also the Planet as a whole.

While no one can deny that we have stop (with) this madness of consumption – for the sake of it and the economy, as our respective governments keep telling us – the question is how many of us, of our contemporaries, are prepared, voluntarily, to give up this mad pursuit. But, if we want to sustain ourselves and the Planet we will have to do just that for, as I have said above, our governments are not going to do all that much in that department as it would interfere, as they see it, with economic growth. However, perpetual growth – economic or otherwise – is not feasible on a finite Planet with finite non-renewable resources. And, no, the good Lord is not going to put more oil and whatever into the ground for us, as some, including some American lawmakers, believe and declare from the “pulpits”.

As I have said while legislation might be a way to go I don't see it happening. For one the powers-that-be (but really should not be) won't do it because it fuels economic growth and that is all that they seem to be able to think about and on the other hand legislation often does not work because the mind of the people per se rebels as soon as they are not allowed to do something. Persuasion towards a voluntary reduction appears to me the only way. Though disallowing the use of plastic bags or taxing the use of them might just do something.

© 2017

Macron wants EU Army and German Interior Ministers want European FBI

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

French President MacronWhile the French President has called for a European Army and a European defense budget, amongst other things, Interior Ministers of several German federal states are calling for the establishment of a EU-wide version of the FBI.

Those who could foresee all those things coming already years ago, because they have been muted for years among EU circles, have been called conspiracy theorists and worse.

It was as clear as spring-water already from the very beginning when both EUROFOR and EUROPOL were founded what the end outcome and aim was meant to be for both. The former to become a European Army and the latter a European Federal Police. Anyone who believed the story that EUROPOL was supposed to be a European version of INTERPOL also, I assume, believe that the Easter-bunny lays eggs.

At present those are both, some would say, suggestions by, in one instance the French president of the day, and in the other by a number of interior ministers of German federal states, the latter who also would like this European FBI to be run by German “experts” and under German control. Surprise, not.

When EU-officials, whether directly EU people or politicians of the member states, talk of things like this publicly, as “suggestions”, we can, almost, bet our bottom Dollar that they are ready to put those things into operation in the not too distant future.

Macron also wants a “European attorney general” and a “European asylum department”, as well as a “European civil defense authority”, in other words an EU FEMA. Anyone still doubting and wondering as to where this all is headed?

Where this is leading to is to a full-fledged neoliberal fascist European superstate, primarily led by Germany and France. Something that many have foreseen years ago, including and especially myself, and have warned against. But, hey, we were all conspiracy theorists.

When it all started, as the European Economic Community (EEC), it all looked very good on paper but even then the writing was on the wall to where this might be headed, at least for those capable to read between the lines.

When the EEC was turned into the European Union the warning bells should have gone off everywhere but they did not and everyone wanted us to believe that it was all a really great and wonderful thing. Now, slowly but surely, the covers are coming off and the true face of this monster is beginning to show.

Again those that warned against what was happening and could see what was might happen – and which appear to be happening now – were being laughed at, called stupid and worse, and were regarded as conspiracy theorists.

We see more and more cases such as this now where, it appears, those that were foul-mouthed as conspiracy theorists were right all along. Maybe it is time that we listened a little more to people who seem to be able to see the writing on the wall even if we, ourselves, do not wish this writing to be true.

© 2017

Plastic, plastic use, and plastic pollution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

plastic_waste1Plastic is pervasive nowadays and there is almost no place where you can look and plastic will not be staring you in the face in some for or the other. The computer keyboard, the case of the laptop, of the cellphone; all plastic, and that just for starters.

Since the real commercial production of plastic begun in the 1950s the world has produced more than eight billion tons of plastic which is about as much in weight as a billion elephants. Now let that sink in for a moment. That's an awful lot of the stuff. And that which has not been recycled or burned is in landfills and much of it, in fact, is floating around in the sea, causing problems to marine life, and in the end to us, who eat some of that marine life.

In 1950 the world produced around two million tons of plastic per year, while 65 years later, in 2015, it was 380 million tons in that year alone. Half of the so far produced plastic has been has been made in the last 13 years. Until 2015 only nine percent of this plastic has been recycled while twelve percent has been burned. The rest, alas, is still with us, predominately in landfills.

In some cases, let's face it, there, probably, is no real substitute for plastic and there is plastic and then there is plastic, as I keep saying. Instead of making it from petroleum there are other ways plastic materials could and can be made but even if the plastic is from a plant-based source it remains plastic and compostability is in most cases nothing more than greenwash.

On the other hand plastic can be extremely durable – aside from being light – and I say the can be because some of it is not made to be durable and that is due again to industry's design of needing things to break in order to sell more of the things to us.

It is the single use plastic that really is the greatest of problems, whether it comes in the form of the all present and all pervasive PET-bottle or the other plastic packaging such as fruit punnets, salad bowls, etc. ad infinitum.

What bugs me is that many of those things can be given an extended life if we but put our thinking cap on when we encounter them. Only recently I rescued the bases of some Sainsbury's sandwich trays (the kind you but ready-made sandwiches in for parties) which will become the trays for plant pots when raising seedlings.

I have found that the plastic that is used for those salad bowls with ready-made made salads from supermarkets, for instance, is a fairly flexible and also strong kind in that there is nothing preventing us from reusing those small and not so small bowls for a variety of uses in the kitchen, at table and otherwise in the home (and garden).

Those single-use plastic beer beakers (1pt), often made of a strong and flexible plastic, that are used at festivals and such like, instead of glasses, and then, obviously, being tossed thoughtless into the countryside, make for great propagators put upside down over a small plant pot for raising seedlings.

While, obviously, it would be good if we could get rid off all single-use plastic I, personally, doubt that that is going to happen soon and thus we ensure that we dispose of the stuff responsibly (for recycling ideally though we can but wonder how much recycling actually truly happens) or, maybe better still, must find a way of making use of those things by reusing, repurposing and upcycling them in other ways, stretching their lifespans for as far as possible.

In the case of plastic drinks bottles, be it water or other, I would advocate the introduction of a deposit, as it is done in some countries already, and the use of reverse vending machines where such bottles can be returned to and the deposit given to whoever returns them.

Bottled water is a scam anyway as most of the water is not “spring water” or “mineral water” but simply ordinary, often tap, water filled into bottles and sold at a huge profit. In most places in Europe, bar a couple of countries, the local tap water is better than any bottled water. The US still has a problem despite considering itself to be such a great advanced nation. In some places the municipal water supply there is as bad, sometimes even worse, than that in many a city in the Third World.

The problem nowadays though is also that other drinks and products that used to be packaged in glass come now in plastic bottles and jars, such as wine, spirits, peanut butter, etc. The claim is that this is being done to reduce the impact on the environment as glass is heavier than plastic and thus transportation requires more fuel. Come on, let's be honest dearest people. It is cheaper and the environmental claim is but hogwash or should we better call it greenwash. Fact is that plastic bottles and jars are cheaper than glass and that they are cheaper to transport than glass. Hence the move to more and more plastic.

As consumer we are facing a dilemma when it comes to the above, that is to say drinks and produce in plastic jars, let's not even talk about fruit and vegetables packages in unnecessary plastic (wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry the other day when I saw at ALDI apples packaged in the kind of tube in which tennis balls are sold) as in the great majority of cases we do not have an alternative. It was Sainsbury's a couple of years ago that started the trend of peanut butter in plastic jars and now almost every producer of peanut butter has followed suit.

Wines and spirits, at least those at the lower end of the price scale, now also come in plastic, rather than glass, in our supermarkets and the letters WTF very much come to mind with regards to that.

So, instead of working to reduce the problem industry and supermarkets actually perpetuate the problem by introducing more and more plastic packaging. Get rid off the plastic carrier bag, to some degree, and they just get some more plastic in that you can't avoid, more or less. Sometimes I do wonder whether they actually want to help or not, and it looks more like that they do not want to help at all. Plastic is cheaper to use than glass and much cheaper to ship as it is lighter and there are no breakages. It's all down to money yet again. But where does that leave us, as consumer, who are left without an alternative and choice often?

© 2017

Everybody is not a lawyer or a doctor

...and not everybody can be a lawyer or a doctor

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Handwerk1In the school system in far too many countries children are being pushed towards academic careers and towards college and university degrees. Manual trades are being discouraged, often even with derogatory statements from teaching staff that they at those schools are “better” that those who do those trades, and other manual work.

We need to, once again, teach children that it is not just OK to work with your hands but that you can learn to build some real cool stuff and make a good career out of just that.

I have come across a number of young people who had to fight with the schools to allow them to follow a chosen path, in the cases I am referring to, one of horticulture and forestry, via vocational college rather than university. The schools were refusing to allow the youngsters to make their own choice and from what I learned it was a real battle.

The kids were bright and, yes, university material, but had no intention to go to such institutions, rather wishing to pursue a career where they were working with their hands and outdoors even. It was – and is – all about the schools wanting to be looking good in the league tables and not having all those that have the “right grades” go to university apparently sets the school back the league table.

In other cases when schools have been visited and someone commented on the great pieces of woodwork, for instance, such as scale models of period furniture head teachers have been known to say that those pieces were the work of one or the other of their less able students.

It would appear that learning a useful skill and trade, in the eyes of teaching staff and whatever else of those schools just not as important as getting a liberal arts degree or media studies one; degrees that often quite will not bring about any useful employment in the first place. Already far too many young graduates a flipping burgers because there are no openings for them elsewhere.

Many years ago the West German state, more than just the universities, operated a numerus clausus (limited number) system which restricted the numbers of students for at least particular subjects such as law, medicine, and even forestry (forest officer career path), to make sure that, basically, for everyone passing out with the degree a job was available in the profession. Certain sections of the liberal (neoliberal, more like) spectrum ranted and raved against it claiming it those measures to be unfair, and a change was in the air.

We need to get vocational training back into our schools – homeschoolers are better off in that department as they can do that – where youngsters, and not just the boys, learn wood and metal work, etc. In addition to that all schools should – and it should be feasible – have a school garden where horticulture can be taught hand-on.

We really need more people working with their hands again making cool things and growing stuff, working the woods, and so on. There are too many people around today with degrees that are worth very little to nothing and not enough people with the skills that really make a difference.

In many countries of mainland Europe, where the proper system of apprenticeships still exist, the certificates of journeyman and of master craftsman (also applies to women before anyone screams and shouts) are as well regarded as university diplomas and in many places you cannot, for instance, operate a business as an electrician, carpenter, etc., without having attended trade school and done the master certificate. That, by the way, takes at least six years. No wonder the Eastern-European plumbers, carpenters, and other craftsmen are so in demand in Britain. Time we grew our own again, but properly. And this may not just apply to Britain alone.

© 2017

Forked branch boot jack

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A boot jack is a device that allows a person to pull off muddy or tight fitting boots without having to sit down and fight a wrestling match with them.

forked-branch boot pullerThere was a time when no farm yard, let alone stables, did not have at least one boot jack of sorts. Some were made simply of wood while others were of wrought or cast iron.

They also came in different designs as to the boot removal “slot”. Some where simple V-shape notches cut into a board, while others were much more cut out and such. The V-shape notch, in my view, however, is probably the best version as it allows for more than just one size of boot to be removed.

Today those handy devices are seldom seen and found, with the exception at riding equipment stores and in catalogs of Amish-type mail-order companies and the odd general hardware store in the boonies.

But if you happen to work in muddy conditions, or mucking out stables or, generally wear boots such as Wellingtons, aka rubber boots, then having one of those boot puller conveniently sited by your back door (or the door that you would generally come in via with such boots) might be one of the best things that you ever do.

In lieu of going to the stores and spending good money on such a device or even spending some time in the workshop making some from board wood we shall be knocking up a fully serviceable boot jack from a bit of a branch.

First, find a stout green hardwood branch with a fork that's just a little bigger than one you would use to make a slingshot. Try the notch out for size by fitting it around the heel of your boot; the "V" should grab the back of the foot gear snugly.

After you have found the correct tree limb, cut the two prongs of the "wishbone", by means of a saw, to a length of about seven inches each.

Then make a diagonal cut across the other end of the stick, at a point nine or so inches from the crotch.

Now, find a scrap block of 2 X 2 hardwood (a short, sturdy piece of another branch would work, too) to use as a brace, which will be attached underneath the Y-shaped piece of tree limb.

Fasten the "step" to the tail of the limb slightly below the fork, using a screw or a nail (it's best to make a pilot hole to avoid splitting the wood) or by lashing the components securely together. The riser should elevate the device just enough so that when the boot jack is placed on the floor you can get a boot heel into it easily.

Voila, one totally serviceable boot jack for virtually no money and made in little time.

In order to use your natural boot jack, stand with one foot on the tail of the jack, insert the other foot into the fork, lean back, and ease off that boot, without getting your hands dirty.

© 2017

Want to double world food production? Return the land to small farmers!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dachas1_webIf we want to double world food production and be able to feed a growing population we will have to return the land to small farmers and also establish more small farms.

All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture and it is being justified by the need to 'feed the world'.

But it is the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases. We must give them their land back!

The agricultural industry, the huge farms with large heavy machines are not the answer and neither are genetically-modified (engineered) seeds and such. In the same way that the so-called “green revolution” is and was a disaster so is this playing with genetics.

The large farms with the heavy machines also do serious damage to the environment in that they compact the soil, destroy in this compacted soil mycelia, and other organisms, vital to soil and plant health, and then we wonder why our soil washes away, gets blown away, and why it is getting more and more infertile.

The same goes for forestry operations. Here the powers-that-be also seem to be entirely ignorant as to why we are short of all that important small wildlife and fungi in the soil that it once used to teem with. The answer is the use of heavy machinery, including and especially the so-called timber harversters that run to ten tonnes or more in weight and with their wheels, which often have large cleats on them, which compact the soil to a depth of a foot. No fungi or invertebrate can live in soil of that kind.

As far as farming for food production, especially as regards to vegetables and fruit, the small farm is more efficient than the huge industrial farms. While the former may be somewhat more labor intensive the latter are polluting the environment from machinery exhaust fumes to chemicals used for all manner of things, often massively overused.

Many of the “officials” in the farming industry, in the the ministries, especially in the industrialized countries, claim that only large farms have a future and can feed the nation and the world. This is utter baloney as most of those farms can only exist by means of massive subsidies from the tax payer.

The system of the small farms that have returned to Russia, the former USSR, and the fact that those small farms, the Dachas (and no, the dachas are not – in the main – holiday homes) produce the majority of all fruit and vegetables sold and consumed in Russia.

In most industrialized countries we are dealing with Nature, in our factory farming and -forestry operations, as if She were a factory floor. But She is not. She is a living organism that requires a completely different approach and handling than the one that we have, over the years, been using.

We throw chemicals at the soil trying to have it yield more and more and still more, without ever properly caring for the soil. In addition to that we spray this pesticide and that against this or that pest and against weeds, which are now also classified as pests, it would seem, and many of those chemicals in turn appear to be killing our bees in a direct or indirect way. It really does not matter in which way it happens; without bees we will have no crops, with a few exceptions.

All those chemicals, aside from damaging the soil and our pollinators also leach into the water courses and into the air causing still further damage. And that is aside from the pollution from the heavy machines that drink diesel like sponges take up water.

Most smallholdings and small farms, on the other hand, whether in the Third World or elsewhere, such as in Russia, and other places, often are from the start working the organic method, which we could also call “the way farming was done before agrochemicals”, and thus have a much smaller environmental footprint and are far less polluting (if at all), and it is that that we need.

© 2017

Why upcycling must become an economic sector

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sinnlos sammeln und sortieren - recycling bins1Upcycling is, in general, the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained – though not always, and we will come to that later – and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also (just) be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Ideally, however, upcycling should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better then than not doing that.

So why should upcycling become an economic sector then, you may ask, and part, the first part, probably, of the waste management economy.

Because recycling, as it is being done at this the present time, simply does not cut it. So-called recycling, and I am talking here about commercial recycling, mostly recycles nothing really but only downcycles. The problem with our current way of recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

Post-consumer waste paper, in most cases, is not made into new paper for writing, printing and books, but rather into packaging materials, and also paper insulation for buildings. Unlike in the German Democratic Republic where post-consumer waste paper became new paper for school exercise books, for books and for newspapers, elsewhere it is generally not post-consumer waste paper, or only between thirty to fifty percent. The rest is made up of pre-consumer waste, that is to say waste from the paper manufacturing industry and even virgin pulp. True 100% recycled paper from post-consumer waste paper is very rare and then only used for printing books, predominately paperbacks.

100% recycled sounds very good but in many cases it just is not true. This also goes for many “100% recycled” plastic products. Some beverage brands claim to have 100% recycled plastic (or 100% plant-based plastic) but when one reads the small print then one finds that the contents of the recycled (or the plant-based) is less that 40%. That does not equate 100%.

The problem is that post-consumer plastic, when remade, is not of a good enough quality for many new products, with the exception of the likes of garden furniture, and products such as benches, and others, that are made from so-called “plastic wood”. But that is a different story.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Making furniture and other things from pallet and pallet wood, as well as other “waste” wood, one could call recycling but, even this, as with the PET bottle being turned into a string, is more of an upcycling process as a product of a higher use value is being made. We are cycling the product up rather than re or down. Each and every time that we are making something better out of an item of waste rather than the same or a lower product we are upcycling.

While recycling, if it were done “properly”, is, no doubt, important upcycling is by far better and reuse, and the rest of the Rs that were discussed in a precious piece, also. That is because recycling simply, on a commercial level at least, is not done the right way, and only leads to products of a lower value and grade. It is for that reason that upcycling must become an economic activity and sector. There is a great deal of scope for it and as those products, in the main, will be made by hand they will also be made to last – or so, at least, one should hope, so as to break the cycle.

An example for an upcycling company is US-based TerraCycle, though the making of the products is outsourced to places such as Mexico, China, etc. TerraCycle “makes” a large range of different products from pre- and post-consumer waste. Another example would be Feuerwear, based in Germany, who upcycle old fire hoses into a variety of bags and such. Aside from those two there are others from very small to larger businesses in other countries, including (and especially) Third World countries, that are upcyclers, who upcycle things like bicycle inner-tubes, etc., but even combined all of those together they are but a drop in the ocean. That is to say we need more of them, many more, and upcycling must become a serious economic activity.

© 2017