Making art and craft every day keeps the doctor away!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Making art every day keeps the doctor away!Art and craft comes in many forms and shapes, so to speak, from (creative & expressive) writing – including so-called journaling – to knitting, crochet, woodcarving and woodworking, and everything else in between.

Your health and personal well-being, according to studies, can benefit when you make time to be creative? And, apparently, it is true! Whether you write, draw, scrapbook, or create quilts, do woodcarving, or whatever in the arts and crafts department; when you engage in something creative, your mind and body benefits.

Expressive Writing fort instance, whether it is just journaling – that is what once was called keeping a diary and done by a so-called diarist – will eanble you in other areas to better be able to put your thoughts on paper, even if the paper is but virtual.

Writing has been found to grant practicioners a host of long term benefits including, but not limited to:

  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor Improved immune system functioning Reduced blood pressure

  • Reduced absenteeism from work

  • Quicker re-employment after job loss

  • Improved working memory

The Science of Google's 20% Rule

Some may have heard of Google's 20% rule, some maybe not (and I must say I didn't until I came across it), which allows employees to spend 20% of their time on side projects they are passionate about. What seems on the surface to be a huge sink in productivity actually saw huge boosts for both the company and their employees.

Side projects, it turns out, boosts work performance and productivity.

A study conducted by San Francisco State psychology professor Dr. Kevin Eschleman and his colleagues measured the effect of creative hobbies on over 400 employees. They found those who had a creative hobby were more likely to be helpful and creative on the job as well as more relaxed and in control.

The finding from the research indicate that organizations may benefit from encouraging employees to consider creative activities in their efforts to recover from work.

Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance-related outcomes.

Creative Therapies

There is now a whole emerging field of people who employ the arts to help people heal. It is called Creative Arts Therapies, and according to the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA), it encompasses a wide range of modes of expression including art, dance/movement, drama, music, poetry, and psychodrama. One could, obviously, also be sarcastic here and say that there is always someone – or quite a number of people – who find a way of making money from “strange professions”.

Creative Arts Therapists are human service professionals who use arts modalities and creative processes for the purpose of ameliorating disability and illness and optimizing health and wellness. Treatment outcomes include, for example, improving communication and expression, and increasing physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social functioning.

When you undertake these activities, whether for yourself or with the guidance of a Creative Art Therapist, you stand to benefit by making art.

In a world full of distractions and stress, it can be difficult to find time to be creative but considering the outcomes time should be made available and not just for us adults but also and especially for children (and young people). Their lives have become far too structured and stressful and, aside from unstructured play, letting them get into creative activities, more or less on their own, could be of great benefit.

© 2018

Europe drowning in plastic waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Plastic bottles at a Chinese recycling plantNow that China has closed its doors, from January 1, 2018, to (plastic) waste for recycling from Europe (and elsewhere) the countries of Europe are beginning to drown in (plastic) waste and many are now looking for other developing countries, such as Vietnam, to take this waste for recycling, Britain among them.

Instead of actually reducing waste, especially, though not restricted to, plastic waste, and secondly building our own facilities for recycling the countries are, yet again, looking for places with lower environmental standards to where to dump the waste rather than doing the other.

Obviously, considering the high environmental legislations in the home countries it would be too expensive for the capitalists to do it at home and hence other countries, with lower and fewer environmental laws and legilations have to be found where our waste can poison the unsuspecting workers. Couldn't possibly have those recycling plants properly operated in our own countries now, could we. But that is exactly what we should be doing.

Before even thinking about recycling we should, properly, work on reducing the amount of waste, plastic and otherwise, that we generate and that is where all, but for starters industry and legislators, come in.

Now that China declines to take any more of our garbage we should be doing our own recycling, after reducing as much as we can, of our waste and by doing so lead the way and we would also create jobs.

When, however, we talk about recycling then recycling it really should be rather than, as in the case of most glass recyclables, downcyling said glass into a road aggregate akin to sand. That is not recycling.

As far as single-use plastic is concerned this needs to be eliminated once and for all as it cannot, properly, be recycled, at least not into decent objects and while there is nothing, per se, wrong with good solid, for lack of a better word, plastic that will and can be in use for a long time, we should phase out plastic more and more over time till we are almost, once again, free of the stuff.

As far as other waste, including and especially E-waste is concerned, industry has to come into play and design to once again – yes, we were there once already – to make products that actually last not just for a year or three but for decades and more. Oh, yes, sorry, I forgot that that does not give huge profits to the capitalist shareholders.

Instead of solving the problem at home our respective governments are looking for other developing – we used to call those Third World – countries which we can contaminate, and their unsuspecting residents, with our waste, by having them recycle the stuff that we don't want to recycle at home, in bad conditions. The new colonialism.

We should be doing the recycling – after looking at all the other options of reuse and so on prior to recycling – at home, in good conditions for the workers and the environment, as dictated by law. This would also create jobs, from collecting, to sorting, to the actual recycling. But, alas, that cannot be as that would be expensive.

© 2018

Bitcoin's impact on the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bitcoin mining uses more electricity than 159 countries

bitcoinThe surge of interest in Bitcoin has triggered not only skyrocketing prices and endless debate on whether it's bubble, but also an enormous increase in electricity consumption all over the world. And, what is important as far as the Planet and climate change are concerned is that most of this electricity is generated using non-renewable fossil fuel.

According to Digiconomist's Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, as of November 20th Bitcoin's current estimated annual electricity consumption is 29.05 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). The figure represents 0.13 percent of global electricity consumption.

According to the UK energy comparison site Power Compare, Bitcoin mining is currently using more electricity than 159 individual countries.

If Bitcoin miners were one country, it would be ranked 61st in the world based on electricity consumption, comparable to Morocco or Slovakia.

Apparently, if it keeps increasing at this rate, Bitcoin mining will consume the entire world's electricity by February 2020, according to Power Compare reports.

Currently Ireland currently uses an estimated 25 billion kWh of electricity annually, so global Bitcoin mining consumption is 16 percent more than the country consumes. Britain consumes an estimated 309 billion kWh of electricity a year, so global Bitcoin mining consumption is only equivalent to 9.4 percent of the UK total.

However, how alarming this all may sound the majority of analyst expect the Bitcoin bubble to burst in the very near future and, aside from leaving a lot of people with egg on their faces and a big hole in their finances, the power consumption will drop to an insignificant level then.

What it, however, does show is what impact online activities doe have on the global power consumption and it also shows how, in so many levels, we have to change the way that we use, or better consume, power, often unnecessarily.

We only need to look at our high-streets, and such places, where the lights are on in the shops almost all through the night, at times even when there is no one about (bar burglars maybe) who could remotely looking into the shop windows to see the goods on display.

© 2018

Simple, frugal and eco living with children

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Simple, frugal and eco living with childrenMany people think that simple, frugal and especially eco-friendly living with children is an impossibility, as kids cost so much money in what they need.

But what do they really need? The greatest, the most important, need a child has is love and care and that should come free. Other things are, sort of, optional extras. And once again, without apology though, I have to warn people that some of my suggestions may be seen as controversial.

Clothes: As few as necessary, and those should, ideally, be secondhand, otherwise let them go naked, at home, and such, where this is possible, especially the boys that haven't reached puberty as yet (or bare bottom, if it is a little too cold). This is a common practice in many countries and cultures, especially in China and Asia, for the boys particularly, and it seems to benefit them no end physically and mentally.

But I don't want skid marks on the furniture, such as armchairs and sofa, you say. Well then either have them use the dog shelf or wash their behinds after they have done their ablutions, as it is done in China and India. Also better for their behinds than toilet paper.

Why not go the whole hog, so to speak, and start the practice of family nudism, at least at home. It also saves on adult clothes. Family nudism equals true minimalism as far as clothes – especially for the kids – are concerned and is good for Planet and wallet.

I have yet to encounter any boy, at least of prepubescent age, who does not take to more or less permanent nudity like a duck to water. You might be hard pressed to get and keep clothes on him even when required.

Underpants: None for the boys. Underpants are now – finally – even by and especially the medical profession considered as extremely bad for the male.

Swimming trunks (costume): If and where possible let them play in the water and swim bare.

Shoes: some, otherwise barefoot and that – even – outdoors as much as possible.

As I said, I can be very controversial.

Sodas: No. not at all, not even as a “treat”. Have them drink tap water instead, as well as milk and fruit juices (unsweetened). And maybe, also, tea and other infusions (herbal teas).

Toys: Some good quality ones – maybe wooden ones – building blocks and others, toys that do not use batteries, and also and especially teach them how to make their own toys and entertainment. It is amazing what entertainment kids can get from some sticks and stones and other things that cost nothing.

Create games (and toys) with them that use and are made from waste materials. There are some Chinese games that could use, for instance, plastic bottle tops as game pieces (counters). I shall be featuring them in the near future after I have created some example by way of reuse and upcycling. So, maybe, look out for that article for some ideas.

Then there are the outdoor games such as Tipcat, which in Pakistan is called Gulli-Danda (elsewhere it goes under different names but is the same) and where it is played a little like cricket with teams. Very easy to make and lots of fun. Tipcat can also be played alone and is still great fun.

When we were children a carved tipcat was always in the pocket to play the game as, generally, a suitable stick was always to be be found and, as we always carried a pocketknife, cut to size. However, a special one could be made and used instead.

Get wood offcuts from a lumberyard, or such, and make your own version of Lincoln Logs, for instance, or just simply wooden building blocks. The kids will have more fun with them than with commercially made ones, that's for sure, and you save money, and save stuff from going to the landfill.

Pizzas & other takeouts: Don't. Cook good wholesome food at home and involve the kids in the cooking activities, at the same time teaching them to cook. There are enough recipes to be found online that copy takeouts and which, as you have done them yourself, are by far healthier as you know what has gone into them and where and how they were prepared and cooked.

Fakeouts are so much better and are easily made at home and can be better than the real thing without going to the expense even of getting all the right ingredients. Chinese takeout foods such as Chow Mein, for instance, which, by the way, is not a dish actually found in China but which was invented and created in the Chinese diaspora and is very popular also among the diaspora Chinese. Same as the pizza is not Italian at all. You do not need soba noodles, for instance, for Chow Mein, and pizza can be made much better at home with homemade dough and your own choice of toppings.

Those are but a few ideas here as to simple, frugal and “green” living with children and they can add to some real savings in the financial as well as the environmental footprint department.

© 2018

European countries fall to Nazism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

5568One European country after the other, especially EU member states, fall back towards fascism and Nazism. A worrying, but to some extent understandable, trend. Understandable because of the forced migration and the forced acceptance of migrants.

A while back more or less far left parties entered parliament in Poland and right-wing parties have been in power for a number of years already in Hungary. The two countries that make up the former Czechoslovakia also have far-right parties in parliament or in control.

In Germany in the 2017 election the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), a right-wing party has entered parliament and is, to some extent, “responsible” for the problems, still in December 2017, of a government proper being formed. The funny thing – though not of the hilarious kind – is that most who voted for the AfD were working class who, apparently, did not read the party's manifesto.

Now, in December 2017, in Austria we have seen a far-right party actually becoming the coalition partner of another conservative right-wing party, taking, in fact the three major posts in government, including the interior ministry.

In countries that were once part of the so-called Warsaw Pact the worrying trend is that those more or less openly fascist parties are singing from a 1930s hymn sheet, including the song about putting Gypsies into labor camps or, as in Bulgaria, talking openly, at least some politicians do, about euthanazing Gypsies.

In Poland at the end of November 2017 thousands of “nationalists” called openly for Jews to leave the country, a fact that was reported in some of the western media. What they may have suggested that they might like to do to the Gypsies in Poland was not mentioned and I dare not even ask nor think about it. I am sure than we can all imagine what it is they would want to do.

© 2018

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

Manchester.

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