Tories Victorian values bring the return of Rickets & Co

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

foodbank1Children are suffering malnutrition and Victorian diseases as poverty tightens its grip

In Salford, Greater Manchester, UK, the number of malnutrition cases has doubled – with many of the victims children.

Victorian illnesses such as rickets and beriberi – thought to be long eradicated – are on the rise due to food poverty according to a shocking new report with the number of people being admitted to hospital with the condition doubled over a four year period.

These shocking pictures show what poverty was like in Manchester in the 60s and 70s and although health conditions are often a primary cause, Salford council leaders believes that poverty is also to blame.

The number of people being admitted to hospital with malnutrition increased from 43 in 2010 to 85 in 2014. Although an exact breakdown of those admitted was not available, many of them are believed to be children. 50,000 emergency food supplies given to struggling families across Greater Manchester in past year. This was significantly higher when compared to Greater Manchester overall.

In addition, just alone in Salford, there were other signs that household poverty was increasing. The number of homeless people rose from 40 in 2010/11 to 356 in 2014/15.

In 2013 the number of children deemed to be living in poverty was 12,175, as measured by households in receipt of work benefits and tax credits, which equated to 26 per cent of children in the city. The figure for the North West was 21 per cent and for England 18 per cent.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that some children in the city are being fed when they arrive at school as they have gone without breakfast and nearly 12,000 unwanted tinned meals given to foodbanks across Greater


But, if the Tories are to be believed, we have never had it as good as we are having it now in Britain. In Germany the government is using the self-came mantra, a country that has also seen a serious increase in poverty and homelessness levels.

We are seeing a drastic rise in in-work poverty, foodbank usage and homelessness. In 2014 the Faculty of Public Health said conditions like rickets were again becoming more apparent because people could not afford quality food in their diet. Forgotten forms of poverty and diseases associated with it are becoming standard again.

It would appear that this was the standard that the Tory regime in Britain has been aiming at by promoting a “return to Victorian values” forgetting to tell people that what they really meant and mean with it is a return to Victorian conditions.

But neoliberal “conservative” regimes in other countries of Europe (and elsewhere) are, it would appear, working towards the same aim. There seems to be an agenda there somewhere.

© 2017

Teaching children skills that are really important

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Instead of worrying whether we should give gold stars for participating or for being the best we should involve children in real world activities where the end result of the activity itself is the reward.

children-making-boxes1Teaching them gardening, woodworking, repair skills, fiber arts, sewing, leatherwork, cooking, and so on. Those are important skills that are useful. I am not saying that reading and writing and being able to do sums and such are not. Those are essential for self-directed learning but so very many subjects and things that are taught in public schools today are not necessary, let alone essential, for later life. Those subjects are just taught because they are used for the passing of tests and many are as useful in later life as the proverbial bits on a hog.

Getting them out hiking somewhere with gorgeous views. Teach them to raise animals and care something other than themselves. Have the help out an elderly relative or elderly neighbor. Give them age appropriate chores to do in the home, garden, etc. and making them feel important when they have done so.

When they help you in the garden (I know that to begin with such help can be more a hindrance than help) don't give them plastic or cheap “tin” gardening tools but invest in the small version of the real thing. They can be had. Or, with a little ingenuity, make the bigger tools smaller, and suitable for them.

The same goes for woodworking and such like activities. Years ago one could get real woodworking toolboxes, for instance, for children with real, small, saws, planes,, chisels, hammers, etc. Today, alas, they no longer seem to exist. The fear that kids could hurt themselves with those has done away with this, it would appear.

Our society has lost what is truly important in life. It is time to find it again. It teaches the young ones things – in school – that are more or less unimportant and those things that are important for life and in life it tends to neglect. In fact, often the school system makes those things that are not part of the “curriculum” out as unimportant and actively discourages the pursuit of those despite the fact that those are the things that are important in and for life.

The school system, and no doubt not just in Britain, “teaches” children to pass tests rather than teaches them things for life. Good test results put schools in front in the league tables but it does nothing for the students. The only way to change that is if we either demand the system to change, are able to change it ourselves – and I do not think that those two will happen – or take maters into our own hands, as many people do already, and homeschool or even unschool our kids.

© 2017

Cobalt production will have to quadruple by 2030 if demand is to be met

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Cobalt_OreUSGOVMining giant Celcore (LSE: GLEN) recently has announced in a study that in order to meet demand of “electro-mobility” the production of cobalt would have to be quadrupled by 2030 if demand is to be met. While not stated the same will more than likely be also true for other minerals and so-called rare earths. Whether this is feasible, however, is an entirely different question and scenario.

The experts from Glencore have not just considered the electric vehicles themselves but have included the entire infrastructure needed for a growth in EVs, from energy production, over energy transportation to the charging stations. The conclusion of the study is in shorthand that electro-mobility is a driver par excellence for growth with regards to raw materials.

In figures expressed it looks a little like this: For the year 2013 Glencore expects in the EV-sector an additional need for 4.1 million tonnes of copper, which would be equal to 18% of the entire copper production of 2016. As for nickel and cobalt the developments are rather dramatic. According to Glencore estimates in 2030 and additional 1.1 million tonnes of nickel will be required, which is 56% of the nickel on offer in 2016. In the cobalt department it is even worse. The additional need in 2030 is estimated to be an increase of 314% above the entire 2016 offer.

Cobalt is not as rare as many of the so-called rare earths which are needed in addition to all of this and which do not seem to fall into Glencore's remit and thus have not, apparently, been part of this study. It shows, in my opinion, once again how precarious the situation is as regards to our belief that electric vehicles and such are really able to replace the car, van, truck, etc., that today still, in the majority, are being powered by fossil fuels.

Anyone who believes that electric vehicles will be replacing all those gas and diesel-powered cars, trucks, tractors, combines, and so forth, better starts taking a very good and long look at the figures. It is not going to happen.

© 2017

London’s recycling rates fall flat

London, UK, Thursday, December 21, 2017:

  • Londoners are set to use around 38,000 tonnes of paper and card this Christmas - that amount could wrap Big Ben more than 34,000 times.

  • Each year in London we throw away 890,000 tonnes of food from our homes, of which 540,000 tonnes (enough to fill 42,000 London buses) could have been eaten.

  • One year’s worth of a borough’s domestic food waste could generate enough electricity to power a local primary school for over 10 years.

  • Each London household will need to recycle 2000 more Christmas cards to reach the Mayoral recycling target of 42 per cent by 2030.

  • 85 per cent of London’s residents believe recycling makes a difference, yet our recycling rates remain some of the worst in the UK.

The London Assembly Environment Committee publishes its report, ‘Waste: Household recycling’ today, which examines London’s household recycling rates. The report found:

  • More waste needs to be recycled from London’s growing number of flats. 50 per cent of London’s housing stock is flats[7] and there will need to be a 40 per cent increase in recycling in flats if the Mayor’s recycling target is to be met by 2030.

  • Measures such as limiting bin size, reducing the frequency of general waste collections and introducing fines for households that don’t recycle should all be considered urgently.

  • The London Plan could address recycling capacity in new developments to ensure new flats are equipped with the right recycling facilities.

  • Milan’s municipal recycling increased dramatically by introducing food waste collections to all properties, including flats. Density has not been a barrier to increasing recycling there by 20 per cent since 2011. 80 per cent of the population in Milan live in high rise buildings.

Leonie Cooper AM, Chair of the Environment Committee, said: “When Christmas is over, London will be left with thousands of tonnes of recyclable waste and perfectly edible food, a large proportion of which, will no doubt go to landfill or incineration.

The recycling rates in London are laughable when compared to other major European cities, so we must take the issue more seriously. A new year is the perfect time to reflect and try to change old habits.

With a rising population, scarce landfill space and more and more flats being built, time is running out to get a grip on this issue. Londoners need to be able to recycle more. It’s a win: win situation for the environment and for the tax payer. As the cost of sending waste to landfill increases, it’s the taxpayer who will end up footing the bill if recycling rates don’t improve.

The Mayor needs to take a real lead in increasing London’s recycling rates and efforts should be concentrated on getting more flats to increase their recycling levels.”

Source: London Assembly

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