The Best of the Year 2013

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This is a new one for this publication but I thought it would be a good idea. Here I shall be listing the best books and products that I have encountered and reviewed this year.

Best books

books2013_webI think #1 must be “Turn Here Sweet Corn” as it is such a good book that gives such a deep insight into organic gardening and -farming without being preachy.

On the same level we have then “A Quirk of Destiny” – another must read book – though different, as it is about GMO and more a thriller and a novel rather than a memoir.

A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvest”, “The Rurbanite”, “Lost the Plot” and “The New Horse-Powered Farm” all shall share the second spot here are they are, in their own fields, equally important.

Best products

products2013_webLoewe garden pruners must here be mentioned as the best tools that I have reviewed in 2012 and 2013 as far as pruning shears are concerned. 2013 saw the 90th anniversary of the first ever anvil pruning shears made and patented by Loewe and for this anniversary the company went retro and produced a version of the first one in almost identical packaging too.

The Grow Bag Frame is then the next best product for the garden and it stands out in its simplicity making the use of the British grow bag for growing the likes of tomatoes or beans so much better and so much more efficient.

Megahome Water Distiller

Rock Croft Safe Eyes wrap around safety goggles

Fiskars SmartFit™P68

Freeplay Encore Player

And here you have it. My take on the best books and product that I was able to review in 2013.

© 2013

Government council cuts are punishing the most vulnerable

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Unite_logo_for_webMass scale cuts to council budgets will lead to the death of local government and heap punishment on the most vulnerable, as ministers announce a further 2.9 per cent cut in funding for 2014/15, warns Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union.

Many of the country’s most deprived councils will bear the brunt, with Liverpool city council facing a 62 per cent cut in funding between 2010 and 2017. Local government workers, who have already suffered a £3,544 cut in pay since 2010, will be pushed deeper into poverty as they are forced into a jobs versus wages tussle.

Unite, Britain’s biggest union, fears that by 2015 there will be little local government left after a 43 per cent real terms cut in funding in the five years since 2010. Cuts of this scale will lead to the complete demolition of services including care for the frail and elderly, children services, support for vulnerable families and youth services.

Despite the huge pressures faced by councils, Unite appeals to councils not to slash before thinking, but to work with unions to find savings and to protect service quality.

Responding to the government’s provisional local government financial settlement, published on December 18, 2013, Fiona Farmer, Unite national officer, said: “This government is presiding over the complete meltdown of local services. Ordinary hardworking people are, again, the ones being battered by the loss of the services they rely on to educate and care for their families.

“This is a shamelessly political settlement which rewards wealthy Tory councils and punishes the less well off.

“In some of the country’s most deprived areas, including the prime minister’s Oxfordshire constituency, services such as care for the frail and elderly, support for vulnerable families, children’s centres, sexual health services around teenage pregnancy and Connexions services, have already been shut or are threatened with closure. The wealthy Tory shires continue to escape relatively unscathed.

“The government will be gambling on the public blaming local councils for service cuts, but it is wrong; the public understand where the real blame lies - at the door of the communities and local government secretary, Eric Pickles.”

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

In spite of warnings such as this by the leaders, so to speak, in the labor movement the British Labour Party has stated that it will continue, should it win the 2015 elections, which cannot come too soon, with the austerity measures and cuts.

While it is true that the finances of the United Kingdom are rather in disarray and the country is heavily indebted to the bankers of the world there are savings and cuts that can be made elsewhere and which would be real cuts in expenditure and not to vital services.

Alone abandoning the stupid idea of a nuclear deterrent which is laughable in the extreme would save billions upon billions which could be better used elsewhere and that is just for starters. Abandoning ideas of wars in countries where we have no business of being would be another great saving that could be made, not that the generals and warmongers would like this idea and neither the industries whose “vital interests” might be abandoned if we did.

The brief of our armed forces is the “defense of the realm” and the realm, last time I checked, does not include Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or any other country. It also does not include Bosnia and such like. It ends with the territorial waters of the United Kingdom and may, if we so want, include Gibraltar and the Islas Malvinas and other so-called dependents.

Let's look at savings there and to creating a peaceful country that regards the sovereignty of other countries and to a green economy which could create masses of jobs and give us energy and food security and much more.

© 2013

Old-fashioned ways for the modern age

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When speaking here of and referring to old-fashioned ways I do not – necessarily – mean in a Luddite way or in a way similar to the Amish who refuse – basically – to have anything to do with modern ways.

old-fashioned-waysIt is not those – per se – that I will be speaking of but of the ways of old that especially today would be good for us and the Planet if they be brought back.

The old-fashioned ways I shall be considering and speaking of here are those that society today more often than not thinks quaint and antiquated, like walking and cycling instead of using the car, using pen and paper instead of electronic means for writing, for instance. As well as speaking with people face-to-face or on the telephone instead of sending text messages. And also making do and mending and making things rather than buying them.

The motorcar, it has to be said is beginning to fall out of favor in the second decade of the twenty-first century and that especially with young people and that to such an extent that many are not even bothering, while making the driving license, to actually acquire a car themselves. Instead they take to cycling, including for the daily commute.

This is a good turn of events as it cuts down on pollution from motor vehicle traffic – the less of them on the roads the better – and is good not only for the Planet and the doers' wallets. It also keeps the doers fit and healthy, if they do not get knocked off their bikes by inconsiderate motorists who seem to believe that they own the roads. But safety can be found in numbers here (as in so many cases) and the more people who will take to the bicycle the better.

The cost of fuel and everything else associated with owning and sunning a car is one of the reasons that the old-fashioned way is becoming rather popular again, that is to say the walking and the cycling.

A bicycle is not just cheaper to buy and cheaper to run. It also can be (almost) entirely maintained at top condition by the owner and also repaired. The bicycle is, however, but one of those old-fashioned ways that is making rather a comeback. The humble typewriter is another.


In late Spring 2013 the Russian secret service community announced that, in light of the electronic spying by the NSA and GCHQ disclosed by Edward Snowden, the services are returning to using typewriter, albeit electric ones, for sensitive documents and communications. Thus the announcement of the death of the typewriter has been very premature indeed.

The typewriter is far from being an old hat and dead even though it could have been thought so with the large use of computers and such nowadays.

To all intents and purposes, however, the typewriter is very much alive and is having rather a renaissance these days and that includes also and especially manual ones.

Manual typewriters, and here especially old working ones, are sought after once again and not (just) to put on display. They are intended and bought for use. Reports even suggest that young people especially, in places such as the USA and other hyper-modern countries, are looking at using and learning how to use typewriters again.


Pen and paper is another old-fashioned way whose death has been announced very prematurely indeed. In fact pen and paper is having rather a revival if the amount of Moleskine and other notebooks that can be seen carried and used and here very much again by the younger generation, especially young professionals, is anything to go by.

head-medium_0For many years we have been told – brainwashed in fact – that computers would make pen and paper obsolete and also that we should reduce and even eliminate the use of paper and go “paperless” in order to save the (rain) forests.

The latter, as to the rainforests and paper, is a total fallacy at best and an outright lie at worst as paper pulp cannot be produced from (tropical) hardwoods.

Why we are thus being lied to in such a way I cannot say but what I can say if that pen and paper are still very much in use and, it would appear, are coming back in vogue.

Even the use of the fountain pen is coming back and many of those that have taken to using Moleskine, Leuchtturm1917 and similar quality notebooks also invest in good quality fountain pens to use with those notebooks. Here it is also mostly “real” fountain pens – filled from an ink bottle – rather than cartridge pens.

Slowly, it would seem, many people are coming back to the realization that not everything modern is what it is made out to be and that not everything that glitters is gold. There is a great amount of fools' gold around which has been mistaken for the real stuff.

Too many of the good old-fashioned ways are not, as yet, coming back into their own but in order to bring back sanity into all of our lives and for the sake of the Planet they must be revived.

MAKING DO & MENDING is one of those and while the mending with products today that are made to break down easily and designed so they cannot be repaired in most cases it is a bit hard – but we can change that too – the making do is what we all can do already now. Especially here as to making do with what we already have as long as it works (well) and does the job.

Making do is something that we can and must do (again) for the sake of sanity, our wallets, and especially for the Planet. We only have this one Planet, we only have one Mother Earth.

Our ancestors, and especially here those of the working class and the peasantry, were masters in the making do department and from their ways, some of which are recorded in books and other publications, we can surely learn a great deal and we also must.

© 2013

Walking the breadline - the scandal of food poverty

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

britain-isnt-eating-posterIn 2012 half a million people in the UK depended on emergency food aid. The single most common reason for people to need food aid is that their benefits have been changed, delayed or stopped.

The explosion in food poverty and the use of food banks is a national disgrace. It undermines the UK's commitment to ensuring all its citizens have access to food – one of the most basic human rights – along with access to water, not that the Con-Dem coalition regime under David Cameron would know anything about human rights.

We urgently need action to stop our benefits system making people destitute. We need a national investigation into how this is happening but first of all we need to give people enough money so they can feed themselves and their families and on top of that we must ensure that basic foods are at an affordable price. In other words, basic healthy food stuffs need to be at a price that everyone, even those with a low income. From everyone according to his or her ability and to everyone according to his or her need, but then again that is not something that the British government would understand, and not even a Labour one.

The poster that is going with this campaign is already, it would appear, upsetting Number 10 and Ian Duncan Smith and this is a good sign that it is hitting the points it should.

It is an absolute scandal that in Britain, the country that is number eleven of the richest places in the world with a GDP of over $ 2 trillion food poverty, and poverty in general, is allowed to be so prevalent.

PLEASE read, share & download the report produced by Church Action on Poverty

Watch the VIDEO:

© 2013

Urban gardens are key in times of crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Allotment gardens have often been sources of local resilience during periods of crisis. During World War I the number of allotment gardens surged from 600,000 to 1,500,000 in Britain, supplying city people with food and other ecosystem services.

Urban_gardens1The gardens were planted in parks and sports fields, and even Buckingham Palace turned up the earth to grow vegetables. After declining abruptly in the 1920s and 1930s, World War II saw a new explosion in the numbers of allotment gardens in cities of Britain and other parts of Europe.

In Germany, and several other European countries, allotment gardens have always played a great role for the people and in giving them a small measure of self-sufficiency in food though some do manage to grow more than enough for themselves and their families as far as vegetables are concerned.

In Britain the law, theoretically, states that councils have a duty to provide land for allotment gardens if a certain number of people demand them. This appears to be (1) a little known fact and (2) something councils often do not follow either, even if the demand is there.

In other European countries the allotment garden movement is far more active than it is in Britain and also much better organized and there are allotment colonies all over the place. Cities, towns and even villages have them and they are well used, it would seem.

However, we need more urban and suburban community gardens where people can grow their own food and there is enough derelict land around in most places so that this can be possible, also in the UK, and in the middle of the cities. Where the soil may be contaminated it is quite feasible, though it means bringing in healthy soil, to do the growing beds in large containers such as reused builder bags which nowadays, to 90%, are not reused by the companies and cannot even be returned. This is, basically, killing two birds with one stone namely having a place in which to grow food and also keeping such bags, made predominately from woven polypropylene, out of landfill.

Using this approach could turn many empty urban lots in any town or city into productive community gardens without needing to dig the ground, which might be covered in concrete or tarmacadam and thus cannot be easily dug or ground that is possibly contaminated. Yes, it would require bringing it good soil to fill the bags with and then grow the food therein but that still is better than not having such gardens at all.

Allotments must be made available also to all that want to work such plots and not just in urban areas but in them and suburban areas especially as there less land at home is available for the growing of food and people must be encouraged to grow at least some of their own food at home or at allotments and similar gardens.

Our food security depends on this for our individual regions as much as for the country as a whole and there was a time when all cities had market gardens and small farms surrounding them and even almost in their hearts, as did Paris before World War One and we must bring this back to make local foods available to all.

Allotment garden, known as Schrebergaerten or Kleingaerten in German, have in that country been in use for about a century or so and they are, as previously stated, well received and they are much like that Dachas in Russia, and in some cases, just like on their Dachas in Russia, people spend their entire summers, growing plants, both flowers and vegetables, living in little cabins.

During the Second World War the roads and streets of Germany, including those in towns and cities, were lined with fruit trees to provide fresh fruit, especially apples, pears and plums, for the population during the war time and many of those trees were still about in the 1980s though rarely anyone made use of the fruit provided by the trees.

There were also, once upon a time, so-called common trees of various fruits that lined the country lanes of Britain but most of those trees have been grubbed out by now as they were deemed a danger to motorists. The car has to come first, obviously. But, actions of guerrilla gardeners grafting fruit tree branches to that of city trees and the reception of this by the people proves that it would be popular to have fruit trees lining the streets and being found in our parks and open spaces. Many, the majority, in fact, of our common woods in the countryside were a mix of timber trees with fruit trees (the latter in the end also will provide valuable timber) to a ratio of 2:1. Proof that it is all possible and that food security can be created for every area, including our urban and suburban areas. Time we got going.

© 2013

The Stick

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Entered into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2008 it is now available everywhere. In fact it has been available in your local woodlands for ever and has been used by children as a toy for centuries if not millennia.

stick-gunsI know that the above is a little tongue in cheek but it is true that the stick was inaugurated into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2008 as a favorite child's toy. One can but wonder though why it took them that long to realize that.

One of the first toys that children, especially the boys, seem to pick up when they get out of doors is a stick and it becomes all manner of imaginary things, a gun, though rather frequently, being just one them.

As children we made ample use of sticks for toys, as they came, or we turned those sticks, with a little help of a (pocket)knife into just what we wanted them to be, including catapults (slingshots) for hunting, digging sticks, and much more.

It must be something deep in our psyche but when going into the woods one of the first things most kids do is to pick up and good sizable stick and to use it as a walking stick, as a staff.

Not much has changed as to that even in our modern age of computers and games consoles and it is good to see that, for sure, and thus the stick definitely deserves a high place in the list of toys.

© 2013


4113373_2450673_final_01A new survey reveals that a growing number of seasonal foods including Christmas puddings and mince pies now only use palm oil which is produced in way that reduces harm to the world’s rainforests.

Many of the biggest names in Christmas party food including the Co-operative Group, M&S, Premiere Food and Waitrose makers of some of the UK's most popular Christmas puddings and mince pies, have all made a commitment to reduce or only use sustainably sourced palm oil in their products.

In the survey carried out by the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and Ethical Consumer magazine some of the UK's biggest Christmas party food companies were surveyed on their use of palm oil or its derivatives.

The survey was carried out in response to the increasing threat that unsustainable palm oil is posing to the world’s rainforests, and consequently, to the people that rely almost entirely on these forests for their livelihoods.
Having destroyed vast areas of forest in countries including Indonesia which is home to orangutans, palm oil companies are now planning to expand into the rainforests of the Congo Basin in Africa, home to lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.

Simon Counsell, Executive Director of The Rainforest Foundation UK said: "We commend the producers of Christmas party treats that have committed to reducing or using only sustainably sourced palm oil because by doing so, they are helping to ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s rainforest, its people and unique wildlife.”

The top scoring companies in the survey include the Co-op, M&S, Premier Foods and Waitrose.

The bottom scoring companies include ASDA/Wal-mart, Iceland and Mondelez International. Leonie Nimmo, researcher at Ethical Consumer said: “Our latest research shows that some companies have put their commitments to sustainable palm oil into practice and made significant changes in their supply chains.”

“However, others, including Tesco, ASDA and Cadbury still have a serious amount of work to do to address the issue across their global operations.”

The Christmas party food survey is the latest initiative of a campaign to encourage consumers to buy products that have the top rated palm oil policies, forcing those companies that are not taking their environmental responsibilities seriously to use more sustainably sourced palm oil.

Details of the ethical palm oil score for many other products can also be found in the Rainforest Foundation’s online guide, here:

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

This article is for your information only and the GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW does not (necessarily) approve, endorse or recommend the product, service, company or organization mentioned.

Soaring hospital admissions for malnutrition in Leeds, UK

Soaring hospital admissions for malnutrition branded ‘disgrace’ by politician

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

malnutritionSpiraling numbers of admissions to hospitals in Leeds of patients with malnutrition have been branded “an absolute disgrace”. And one can only agree with that. However, is this not directly part of what the Con-Dem Coalition is all about; getting the country back to Victorian values.

The figures, however, which have trebled in five years, could just be the tip of the iceberg, a politician has warned, as people with malnutrition needed hospital care on 93 occasions in 2012, compared with 30 in 2008. The fact that those figures could just be the tip of the iceberg is also because those are just the figures from one UK city, namely Leeds. We have, so far, no figures from other places, and especially not the capital, London.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, executive board member for health and wellbeing on Leeds City Council, said that he numbers being admitted to hospital are shocking and potentially the tip of the iceberg.

“It’s an absolute disgrace”, she continued, “that in a wealthy, modern nation we are seeing anybody turning up in hospital in that condition, but the fact we are seeing three times as many now tells us something about the changes to the welfare system, wage stagnation and the way fuel prices have gone up out of all proportion with people’s pay”.

Pressures on ordinary working are enormous and the reasons for the increase include poverty, which can prevent people buying nutritious food, the growing number of older people, many of whom are living in ill-health, as well as greater recognition of the issue by health workers.

A year ago it was revealed that more than 27,000 people in Leeds were suffering from malnutrition, which occurs when the body does not get the nutrients it needs. Lack of cash means that people are forced to choose between eating or heating their homes. Victorian times are indeed returning just as the coalition of the blues and yellows want them to be.

If the working class can be kept on a subsistence level they will, once again, like in the times of Queen Victoria (and before) become a pool for cheap labor and the zero-hour contracts that have been and are being introduced all over the place are also part of this.

There seem to be, however, even more sinister moves afoot in the entire European Union as to the dismantling of the welfare state and the safety net for which people have fought so long and hard.

On December 13, 2013 (a black Friday one can only say) the Dutch King Willem-Alexander has announced the end of the welfare state and this trend seems to be moving across the entire area of the European Union. Ireland has, apparently, told the unemployed of the country to sling their hooks and leave the Emerald Isle.

In Britain people affected by changes in the welfare system who have absolutely no prospect of getting any work and thus see no way how to carry on with life have taken to ending theirs and have committed suicide and quite a number of them by now already.

Still the Con-Dems are continuing with their assault on the poor and the working people of this country unabated with claims that they are creating a fairer society. One can but wonder in which parallel universe those people actually reside. In ours it cannot possibly be.

We need a new system, political and economical, not a new government. In fact, we need no government at all.

© 2013

The best things in life come in Cellophane

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption.

We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

  • Victor Lebow, Journal of Retailing (1955)

And here is where we can see the very philosophy of consumerism and when it was created.

no-to-consumerismWe have been brainwashed since the 1950s – in the USA at least, as the rest of the developed world took a little longer to cotton on – into this very idea of consumerism only because they began to base the economy on obsolescence and the modern version of that is products that can no longer be fixed and that have a factored in lifespan after which they will have to be replaced.

Before that time when Victor Lebow advocated this new approach to making the manufacturers ever richer the economy worked on a different level and you had to bring out really something new and revolutionary to get people to buy it or the things they had really had worn out and could no longer be fixed.

Before this time of brainwashing people to buy into this new idea of an economy everything bar consumables, as one could refer to them, such as foods, soap and the like, were made in such a way that they would last for as long as possible and almost everything could be repaired either by people doing it themselves or by taking it to a repair shop.

And entire economy existed, and in the former East Germany an industry existed, basically, geared to repair, from electrical appliances, over clothes and shoes, to almost everything else. Repair shops for almost anything could be found on every high street, from cobblers being versed in all manner of shoe and boot repair, tailors geared to repair and alteration, electrical repair shops that could fix any appliance, from the wireless and the TV to washing machine and what have you. And then cam the new economy of consumerism and built-in obsolescence and that part of the economy died a death and that predominately because products were being made and still are being made in such a way that they can neither be opened nor repaired.

Basically this entire new economy can be traced back to 1955 and the approach taken by Lebow, et al, in order to turn everything we have had before around and get people to have to buy new every couple of years at least. They had run out of ideas to keep going without this and thus they had to invent a new way of making more and yet more money.

It was also, not long after this, that vacuum cleaner manufacturers made the suction claims as if that would make for better cleaning power. However, that is just what the people began to believe having been indoctrinated to believe just that and that way they could sell one new one after the other. The fact is that most vacuum cleaners today do not even have the cleaning power of the little Hoover of the 1950s. They may be able to lift a bowling ball and thus eat your curtains and lift up your carpet but cleaning power that does not equate to.

Nowadays the sales of products go on bells and whistles even though those new bells and whistles often do not work at all properly and “food” manufacturers make all sorts of health claims appertaining to their products which bear no resemblance to reality. And the same goes for all the claims associated with genetically engineered “foods” being needed to feed the world. It is a sales gimmick at best and something far more sinister at worse, if the book “A Quirk of Destiny” by Catherine Greenall is taken as a warning.

We need a return to sanity on all levels and get back to the way things were before those people decided that consumerism was to be the new religion and brainwashed the people into believing that they can buy themselves happiness.

Consumerism is much like the arms race. It needs things to break in order for the makers to make more profit in the same way as the arms industry needs the arms race and wars to continue to make their huge profits and ever bigger ones. And, as the governments are but protection agencies of the corporations they, the governments, are not about to make any changes as to consumerism nor the arms race.

It is up to us, each one of us, who have to buy this and that to send the corporations a message via the way we spend our cash as to what we want and that we no longer buy into the consumerism message. We have an enormous power in our wallets and if we but make use of it by demanding, via where we spend our money, the kind of products that we want, products that are made ideally in our own countries, made to last and are repairable, and are made ethically. It can be done and will be good for us and the Planet.

It will also create jobs at home in the factories and workshops, if products are, once again made at home, and will rekindle the repair-economy also with the small repair shops we once had.

We can bring about the changes that we want to see if we but make the right points to the corporations, the producers, and spend our money more locally especially, on locally-made products and for local services.

Time to get off the consumerism train and onto the local bus.

© 2013

The Christmas Tree

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

no_christmas_treeIt is, once again, the time of year where young spruce and fir trees are being sacrificed on the altar of the festival of Saturnalia disguised as a Christian feast by being cut down and then placed for a couple of days in the living room or such, basically, to die.

I will not engage here in the discussion as to real tree vs. fake one. As far as I am concerned it is a no tree event. A fake tree has a very large environmental footprint in production and shipping and killing a real tree just in order to put it on display decked with tinsel, lights and all that jazz is, in my opinion, not a good idea.

But, millions upon millions of little trees – and not so little ones even – are being slaughtered at this time of year for people to do just that and they pay quite a bit of money for this “tradition” as well. Money, that I am sure, could be put to much better uses for more important things.

The tradition of the tree, first of all, has nothing to do with Christ and neither has the date, but that is neither here nor there except for the fact that it is the destruction of a living thing, as far as the real tree is concerned, simply for our dubious pleasure.

If you want to bring Nature indoors for this feast then do so by using branches from evergreen trees, ideally fallen in high winds, and pruning cuttings from the likes of holly (Ilex ilex) but do not sacrifice a living tree for this.

The tree you are killing could, in time to come, become a tree from, at the fullness of its life, your next notebook be made from or book for reading pleasure rather than expiring after a few days in your living room.

The most amazing part of this all is, in my experience, that there are many people who are vehemently opposed to woodland management for instance or to the use of paper for documents and such, who will, without giving it a second thought, it would seem, go out and buy a young spruce or fir that has been sacrificed and put it into their living room.

Unless it is potted a tree has no place in the house and especially not dressed up tradition or no tradition.

© 2013

Packaging Waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The greatest scourge, as far as waste is concerned and the amount of it, is packaging waste and much of it, because of the way that it is made – the packaging, not the waste – is also not recyclable.

MW DDR TaschenmesserSimple East German packaging (in this case for a pocketknife)

Industry is over-packaging almost everything that is put onto the market for us to buy and often it is a question of why in the mind of any normal and rational thinking person.

One of my favorite example are the replacement brushes for the Braun electric toothbrush. Each brush is individually encased in a plastic bubble with paper backing and the two or four little brushes are then encased in a hard plastic bubble that it is huge in comparison to the two or four small brushes. Waste of resources for starters and then, well, waste.

The packages are that size, so I have been told, so that – one – people, shoppers, can see them and – two – so they cannot be stolen easily.

Now, if I want and need those replacement brushes I buy them regardless of packaging size yelling at me “I am here” and a simple cardboard box would do equally well, as it was done some fifty or so years ago. And we can especially learn as regards to packaging and reduction of waste of same from the minimal packaging that was used in places such as the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

There have been, over the years, attempts by makers of some products to encourage reuse of the packaging, noticeable some mustards, Nutella and also Classico pasta sauces, in that the jars were made as reusable drinking glasses or, as in the case of Classico sauces where real Atlas Mason canning jars are used, which can be reused for canning by just buying the replacement rims and lids. And, to some extent this is still happening today. It is with the Classico sauces and also some mustards.

Good packaging design, however, could contribute greatly to a reduction in packaging waste generated if it would be – the packaging, not the waste – be conceived with a second use in mind and this reuse be obvious.

Another design alternative is where, as has been done with a media center some time back, the packaging becomes the stand for it or, as in the case of a recently unveiled new computer printer where the packaging becomes the case. It can be done and is not really rocket science.

Designing packaging with reuse and second use in mind (and instructions as to how to reuse the packaging incorporated) is not – or should not be – difficult as can be seen with regards to what has been done before.

On the other hand, as far as glass bottles (and glass jars) are concerned commercial reuse, not recycling by breaking up the containers, with a deposit scheme should be reintroduced and no, it does not, as is being claimed time and again by “our” politicians unwilling to do it, require pilot projects and lengthy studies. It does work and has worked before and yes, even in Britain. We only have not done it for decades now.

However, glass bottles and glass jars are but a small section of packaging waste. A far greater amount is made up by cardboard and plastic and here is where reuse design of packaging especially comes in and into its own.

Also here it can be done and some manufacturers of sweets already make mention on their “tins”, whether they be of actual tin or of plastic, that the packaging can be reused and how.

If designers could, together with their clients in industry, create containers and other packaging that “automatically” have an obvious second use our problem with all that stuff going into landfill might get solved somewhat.

This will, however, impact on other sales and the economy if people having packaging that they can reuse for something that they otherwise would have to buy and this may upset the “we have to grow the economy” brigade. But so be it! It is the Planet that is more important that the perpetual growth economy which is not sustainable and will destroy us all if we allow it to.

© 2013

Estimated impact of October 2013's St Jude storm

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

storm1The Forestry Commission has at the end of November 2013 released figures for the estimated impact of the St Jude storm of October 2013, revealing that 64% of the 100,000+ woodlands across southern England (from Cornwall to Suffolk) were likely to have been affected in some way but that very few woodlands are expected to suffer long term damage. More damage was found between Wiltshire and Kent with little or no damage recorded at the south-west and north-east extremes of the survey area.

Most damaged trees are very likely to be left where they are and will turn in to valuable dead wood habitats for wildlife. The woodlands are expected to readily recover from localized damage without seriously affecting local woodland and timber businesses and there could even be a benefit to wildlife conservation as the dead and dying trees provide additional food sources and breeding habitats for flora and fauna such as lichens, fungi, invertebrates, birds and small mammals.

The Forestry Commission’s National Incident Management Team organized a survey of over 160 woodlands over two weeks, searching for trees blown over or snapped and looking at damage to their crowns to assess overall woodland damage. Although around 70,000 woods were affected by the storm, the level of damage within the vast majority of these woods is reported as being low, with crown damage the highest at 3.7% of all trees across the storm area, but these trees will recover from that damage. 1% of larger trees across the storm area were blown over, plus another 0.5% snapped around halfway up the trunk, amounting to approx 10 million (out of approx 660 million) trees 'lost' from the woodlands. The loss however will be more than compensated for by the younger trees that will benefit from the gaps created in the canopy. Woodland flowers will also benefit from the increased light getting to the woodland floor.

While leaving the fallen wood where it is to provide additional food sources and breeding habitats for flora and fauna such as lichens, fungi, invertebrates, birds and small mammals, “for the wildlife”, as some greenies always demand, it saddens me to see valuable wood being left to rot. We are rather, it would appear, importing wood and wood products from abroad than using such timber as our woods provide, even when it is but storm felled timber.

There is a case for leaving some wood to decay to benefit fungi and such but anything that is usable and reclaimable should not be left as it is not good for the environment, especially not as far as greenhouse gas release is, concerned. The wood dying releases not only the carbon (carbon dioxide) stored during the tree's lifetime but also and this is far more dangerous, methane in its decaying process with methane being many times (up to forty times) more dangerous a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

In the last couple of years, because of lack of firewood from British sources, we have imported logs for firewood from as far afield as Poland, the Ukraine and Western Russia and this certainly does not for sustainable energy make. While, as the same time, we insist to leave wood too rot in British woods and forests to benefit the wildlife which, while decaying, actually is a greater hazard to the environment than would be the burning of the wood. This does appear to be a fact, however, that is very difficult to get into the heads of those opposed to the removal of timber from the woods and from parklands.

Important it is also to remember that if the fallen timber is large enough to be converted into wood products that will remain “alive” for many years, decades and maybe longer than that even, that the carbon originally sequestered by the tree will be locked up for as long as the product exists and this is a real benefit to the environment.

When I was a youngster at about eight years of age when I began my career in forestry there was a “clean forest floor” policy and all debris, bar the small twigs and branches, was used or burned and we had a greater diversity of wildlife, including fungi and lichens than we seem to have today with the about of timber being left to rot. The one thing we had less off of what we have too much today was tree diseases. Should that tell us, maybe, something?

The wood that has come down in the St Jude storm, in the same way as wood that comes down in any other storm, should, as far as possible be put to use, and if only as firewood. Ideally it should be made into wood products, however, that will keep any carbon locked in for long as the product exists.

Nowadays especially where people want to have, once again, wooden utensils in their kitchen and wooden products of all kinds in their homes (and elsewhere) it is important that we make use of as much home-grown wood as possible and that does include storm-damaged trees and timber.

Let's get back to some proper use and management of our woodlands and forests and maybe, just maybe, we will also conquer a few other things, including the tree diseases that have begun to spread. Bringing back our forests nurseries to raise trees at home also is part of that as is the removal of diseased wood.

© 2013

Plastic bag 'tax'

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In October 2013, after the gods only know how long, it was announced that the government has at long last decided to follow the lead of some other countries by introducing a charge, albeit a paltry 5 pence, which is about 8 cents Euro and about the same in US money, for plastic bags from 2015. Better late than never I suppose but one can but asked what (a) has kept them that long and (b) why will it almost two years before the levy will be introduced.

plastic-bagsNow, in a way that only politicians can, they appear to have completely confused a simple issue by – firstly – making biodegradable bags exempt, which will clearly do nothing to prevent bags littering our environment, and – secondly – by exempting retailers with fewer than 250 employees.

The problem with biodegradable shopping bags is that they are still plastic and the biodegradable part to this is rather a questionable one as well. Very much in the same way that we keep hearing abut bio-plastic, that is to say, yes, plastic made from bio-matter. And even if it is so-called compostable and biodegradable (only in commercial composting plants, however) it is still plastic and much of the plant-based plastic in fact is neither compostable nor anything else but PET. But, according to some in the recycling industry, cannot be recycled in the same way as oil-based PET.

But back to the issue of the plastic one-time shopping bags. The first thing is that the bags should be at least charged at 10 pence at least in order for people to remember to bring their own reusable shopping bags and secondly, as said before, I cannot understand why (a) so-called biodegradable bags are exempt and retailers with fewer than 250 employees. I am totally lost as to what difference the number of employees of a retailer makes to the use of shopping bags.

Once again inconsistency, incomprehension and confusion reign! In fact, I believe the government has, once again, lost the plot (if ever they had any).

© 2013

Turn Here Sweet Corn – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works
by Atina Diffley
Published by University of Minnesota Press, August 2013
344 pages 1 b&w photo, 5 b&w plates, 29 color plates, 6 x 9
$18.95 paperback
ISBN 978-0-8166-7772-6

PaperbackTHSC_smlWhen the hail starts to fall, Atina Diffley doesn’t compare it to golf balls. She’s a farmer. It’s “as big as a B-size potato.” As her bombarded land turns white, she and her husband Martin huddle under a blanket and reminisce: the one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds; the eleven-inch rainfall (“that broccoli turned out gorgeous”); the hail disaster of 1977. The romance of farming washed away a long time ago, but the love? Never. In telling her story of working the land, coaxing good food from the fertile soil, Atina Diffley reminds us of an ultimate truth: we live in relationships—with the earth, plants and animals, families and communities.

A memoir of making these essential relationships work in the face of challenges as natural as weather and as unnatural as corporate politics, her book is a firsthand history of getting in at the “ground level” of organic farming. One of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest, the Diffleys’ Gardens of Eagan helped to usher in a new kind of green revolution in the heart of America’s farmland, supplying their roadside stand and a growing number of local food co-ops. This is a story of a world transformed—and reclaimed—one square acre at a time.

And yet, after surviving punishing storms and the devastating loss of fifth-generation Diffley family land to suburban development, the Diffleys faced the ultimate challenge: the threat of eminent domain for a crude oil pipeline proposed by one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, notorious polluters Koch Industries. As Atina Diffley tells her David-versus-Goliath tale, she gives readers everything from expert instruction in organic farming to an entrepreneur’s manual on how to grow a business to a legal thriller about battling corporate arrogance to a love story about a single mother falling for a good, big-hearted man.

Atina Diffley's book “Turn Here Sweet Corn” is a masterclass in organic gardening and farming without being preachy, a lesson in entrepreneurship, a love story and a legal thriller, all rolled into a memoir that is as easy to read as a good novel.

Reading the chapter “Endangered Species” I just wanted to scream at the developers as well as the people who regarded the vegetables growing in the fields as “just laying there being wasted”. The latter pointing to the fact that so many folks today do not know where the vegetables that they buy in the supermarkets come from and that, unless they are grown in a hydroponic way, they grow in soil, what they would regard as as “dirt”.

The developers, when they take over the Diffley land, you also want to scream at. We cannot eat houses and infrastructure and we need farms just like the Gardens of Eagan and others close to the cities. But seems to be something that escapes them and that all too many today do not understand and that includes many in our governments.

When reviewing books I tend to use Post-It notes for annotations which I leave sticking like flags out of the pages of the book. When a book has many such flags, as this one has, it means one of two things; it is either extremely good and those flags indicate references or bad and the flags remind me as to where the bad points are and that I will comment on these.

In the case of “Turn Here Sweet Corn” it is the former and not the latter. This book is a handbook for organic gardening and farming without being one.

The book is an absolute page turner that I found very hard to put down. And the reader will also learn something new about organic gardening and farming on almost each and every page. It is easy to read and teaches the whys and wherefores, and even the how-tos to some degree, of organic farming and gardening without being a boring manual.

Atina Diffley is an organic vegetable farmer who now educates consumers, farmers, and policymakers about organic farming through the consulting business Organic Farming Works LLC, owned by her and her husband, Martin. From 1973 through 2007, the Diffleys owned and operated Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest.

Rating: Six out of five. I know that that is actually not possible but I am going to do it anyway.

© 2013

Enjoy a beverage... thank a farmer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

320px-Interesting_alcoholic_beveragesHow many of us, when partaking in a “jar”, as it is often referred to in working class areas of Britain, of beer, ale or whatever, consider how the ingredients came about and thank a farmer…

Let's look at a few:

Wheat or barley makes beer, together with hops

Corn, in the USA, makes Whiskey, while it is barley that makes Whisky (Scotch)

Grapes make wine

Sugarcane makes Rum

Agave makes Tequila

Potatoes make Vodka

Apples make Cider

Pears make Perry

Rice makes Sake

Get it yet? All those ingredients are grown on a farm or in an orchard, thus, when having a drink of this kind, thank a farmer. You probably can add a few more that I have not listed and when it comes to tea, coffee and others the same is true... thank a farmer.

© 2013

Climate change has pretty much fallen off the agenda of the organized left

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

PolarBearSince the election of the Con-Dem Coalition Government in 2010 and the onset of vicious austerity, the issue of climate change has pretty much fallen off the agenda of the organized left. Some of this is understandable, because people tend to fight what in front of them, but in order to present a positive alternative for our economy, we must look again at how that economy might look in the future.

The Campaign Against Climate Change (CCC) was founded in 2001. In 2010, it produced a report, with the assistance of the CWU, PCS, TSSA & UCU trade unions to argue for the creation of one million climate change jobs to address the environmental and economic crisis which we face. CCC say: "One million climate jobs is a massively ambitious goal, we agree and at first sight it will look unrealistic to many. But we are facing an emergency and we need to start making the seemingly impossible - possible. What we are really talking about is a massive effort to transform the economy, along the lines, and on the scale, of what has previously been achieved in war time - in the US, for instance, in 1941 when car factories were transformed into tank factories inside a few months - and when the whole economy was turned around to concentrate solely on producing materials for the war effort in a very short time. We need something similar but this time it will be an economy focused on preventing catastrophic climate change rather than on waging war - and we will concentrate on achieving a low or zero carbon economy as soon as possible. This will need a lot of work done in a very short time and this will necessarily mean jobs - lots of jobs. Many in government will tell you we need to be making cuts - but the lesson of previous recessions is that it was not cuts but well targeted spending than lifted us out of recession. We need a massive investment in a green economy - and the planet we live on - now."

For more details on the campaign, what creating one million climate jobs means in practice and what benefits it would have for the economy, see the 'One Million Climate Jobs' pamphlet, available here online:

Those (of us) on the left of the political spectrum have to remember that climate change is as much a danger to all of us as is the oppression levied against all of us by the likes of the Com-Dem coalition and others of their ilk in the UK and other countries.

None of us stands a chance for a better life, even with a true revolution and a change of the system, if the Planet goes to pot and it no longer can support life and with life I mean hear all life and that includes you and me.

Yes, we must fight the austerity measures and the other measures against the poor and the working class by the parties of the right, and that includes the so-called Liberal-Democrats, the yellow bellies, in Britain, for they are in no way better than their Tory coalition partners, they only pretend to be, in Britain and elsewhere, but that cannot and must not come at the expense of neglect of the environmental issues that are also important. Both fights must go hand-in-hand as one, the fight against capitalism and environmental degradation and destruction.

What good would be a new world, so to speak, for all of us, free of capitalist exploitation when the environment ends up destroyed while we are busy waging the battle on one side only. We must do both and improve the environment and the lives of the people as a whole.

© 2013

Record High for Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

1914New Worldwatch Institute report critically examines global greenhouse gas emissions

Washington, D.C.----The disappointing climate conference in Warsaw, Poland-which was intended to lay the groundwork for a global climate agreement in 2015-stands in sharp contrast to the continued growth in emissions of greenhouse gases. Negotiators and activists alike confront not only the fact that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reached the highest annual total to date, but also a shifting geographic distribution of emissions. The international community must take swift action, concludes a new Vital Signs Online trend released by the Worldwatch Institute (

According to the Global Carbon Project, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production reached 9.7 gigatons of carbon (GtC) in 2012, with a ±5 percent uncertainty range, and may reach 9.9 GtC in 2013. The 2012 value is 58 percent higher than emissions in 1990, the year often used as a benchmark for emissions trends. Coal (43 percent) and oil (33 percent) accounted for the majority of these emissions, with natural gas (18 percent), cement production (5 percent), and flaring (1 percent) making up the remainder.

Recent U.S. government and World Bank moves to limit international financing for new coal projects signal a desire to shift away from this particularly carbon-intensive resource. For now, however, coal remains a major driver of CO2 emissions, accounting for 54 percent of the emissions increase in 2012. Coal use is rising in countries currently undergoing energy sector transitions. Coal-related emissions increased in Germany (4.2 percent) and Japan (5.6 percent)-both of which are phasing out nuclear power plants. Oil, gas, and cement accounted for 18 percent, 21 percent, and 6 percent of the global increase in 2012 respectively.

Although CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities, it is not the only one with significant warming effects. Other major long-lived greenhouse gases include methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Each gas's contribution to climate change depends on such factors as the length of time it remains in the atmosphere, how strongly it absorbs energy, and its atmospheric concentration.

Fossil fuel combustion, together with deforestation and land use change, has pushed the mean atmospheric concentration of CO2 to approximately 393.9 parts per million (ppm) in 2012, an increase of more than 40 percent since 1750 and of 24 percent since the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began keeping detailed records in 1959. Scientists have suggested that the CO2 concentration will need to be reduced to at least 350 ppm if we hope to maintain a climate similar to that which has supported human civilization to date. Atmospheric CO2 concentration increased by 2.2 ppm in 2012 alone, exceeding the average annual increase over the past 10 years. And the Scripps Institution's measurements indicate an average of 396.2 ppm for the period of January to September 2013, implying an even greater increase this year.

Although the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed in 2010 that the increase in average global temperature since the pre-industrial period must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius, many projections now put the climate on track for warming that is significantly above that. The Global Carbon Project foresees a "likely" increase in temperature of 3.2-5.4 degrees Celsius. A World Bank report projects an approximate 20 percent likelihood of exceeding a 4 degrees Celsius increase by 2100 if current mitigation commitments and pledges are not fully implemented.

Emissions data also highlight the shifting geographical and historical complexity that makes international negotiations so contentious. The global distribution of emissions in 2012 looked very different than it did in 1990, when the Kyoto Protocol was established. At that time, industrial countries accounted for 62 percent of emissions; by 2012, that figure had dropped to 37 percent, reflecting rapid industrialization and development in emerging economies and shifting patterns in production and consumption.

Additionally, although international climate negotiations have focused traditionally on the role and responsibility of nation states, new analyses point to the significant role of corporate entities in emitting greenhouse gases. According to painstaking work by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, investor-owned corporations have been responsible for 21.7 percent of CO2 and CH4 fossil fuel and cement emissions since 1750, with state-owned corporations responsible for an additional 19.8 percent, highlighting potential new ways to frame responsibility for climate mitigation.

As climate negotiators, experts, and activists leave Warsaw and gear up to work on forging a global deal in Paris in 2015, they will have to grapple with these changing complexities.

Further highlights from the report:

  • CH4 is the third most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, after CO2 and water vapor, on a per molecule basis. Although atmospheric CH4 levels declined during 1983-99 and remained relatively constant during 1999-2006, they have been increasing since 2007.

  • China's emissions rose by 5.9 percent in 2012, an increase that accounted for 71 percent of that year's global increase. The United States and Australia, although both still major emitters, experienced reductions of 0.05 percent and 11.6 percent respectively.

  • In 2012, the top four emitters of CO2 were China (2,626 million tons of carbon, or MtC), the United States (1,397 MtC), India (611 MtC), and the Russian Federation (492 MtC).

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

The not so smart grid

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The, in the beginning of September 2013 broadcast, pilot of the Channel 4 series (?) “BLACKOUT” shows how vulnerable our electricity grid is and smart is not the word that I would use to describe it. Stupid would be more adept here.

pylons1It would not even require a (sophisticated) cyber attack to cripple the grid. All it needs is a solar flare of the right magnitude or the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from an asteroid (or meteorite) exploding in the atmosphere. But still the powers-that-be want to make the grid “smarter” still. Sorry, I should really turn off my sarcasm but...

Instead of an ever more “sophisticated” electricity supply grid we must decentralize power generating and distribution down to a local level again – and not just as regards to electricity.

The national supply grid – especially with the reliance on computer control – is highly vulnerable to cyber attacks and to EMP. In fact, an EMP blast, whether from a solar flare of the right magnitude or other source, could cripple all the developed countries' electricity supply and could destroy the entire infrastructure.

We have become too reliant on so-called “smart” technology which is not smart at that smart at all; the technology and our reliance and dependence on it.

It is not a question “if technology fails” but rather “when” and when it happens we are all going to end up up the proverbial watercourse without a paddle.

As (almost) everything is dependent on electrical power when a collapse of the “smart” grid occurs – as it sooner or later will – we are all screwed. Everything will be affected by it; gas supply, water supply, and much, much more.

Smart grid and smart meters are not so much intended to make things easier; they are all designed as a way of control over the population. It has absolutely nothing to do with improving energy delivery or efficiency.

Smart meters are capable to monitor the energy use of every home and if a home, according to the powers-that-be, deemed to use too much power they can and will cut off the supply, for a a short time or for even longer.

It is also for this reason the of-grid energy independence is not being pushed, especially not as to households first and foremost keeping as much as energy as possible generated by themselves by means PVs and small wind, etc. People are always encouraged – pushed would be a better term here – towards feeding the electricity generated directly into the grid.

Only a decentralization of the generating of electrical power can give us security in this respect. Small is beautiful also and especially applies in this case and that is why the author of the book by that title, Fritz Schumacher, also advocated this.

With using renewables such as PVs (on every roof) and small wind also, and storing the generated energy in battery banks every home and building could be self-sufficient as far as electricity goes. Even more so if (1) we changed the current and the voltage that we use and (2) by using less on electricity.

Most of our devices and appliances, today, do not need mains voltage of the 240 V AC 50 Hz (110 V AC 60 Hz in the USA). They use transformers, in fact, to change that high voltage – and it is a very wasteful process – down to low voltage DC, in the region of 12 V or even lower and 12 V DC is the general output power (13.5 V DC nominal, in fact. The same voltage as that of a ordinary motorcar) of domestic PVs and small wind. Thus a lighting a lower power circuit could be created in buildings as only some of the so-called “white goods” require mains voltage. There are, however, fridges and freezers, designed for the caravaning and boating sector, that work directly from 12 V DC. So, there is no excuse.

But this, as so many other self-reliant steps, scare the bejesus out of the power-that-be as it would mean that they and their cronies in the respective industries would no longer have power – in some aspects at least – over the people and will go to any length to block any such attempts.

Only, however, if and when power generating is decentralized, ideally to the house and block level, will the problem that could be caused to the grid, as we know it, be mitigated and even averted. Time for a rethink, as in so many other ways and cases.

© 2013

92% of Britain is undeveloped says Lord Wolfson

Therefore we must develop at least some of the the countryside into garden cities.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Lord WolfsonObviously the noble Lord does not eat and thus does not need farms nor does he breathe and thus does not need air purified by trees. Assuming however that he does eat it is the countryside whence the food cometh and we cannot carry on assuming that someone else can provide the food, as seems to be the believe also of some ministers. Some of them, not so long ago, stated that we do not need farming in Britain as we can buy all our food from abroad and yes, it was a member of the Conservative Party.

The countryside provides food, employment, housing and environment and while you can improve all of those it does not mean that you substitute one for the other.

Lord Wolfson, head of the clothing retailer Next in the UK and a major contributor to the Conservative Party says that we need more new garden cities and they must be built on countryside land as the countryside is underdeveloped and empty.

We trapped ourselves in tight urban areas giving ourselves the impression that there is no countryside left, he said, and continued to say that the reality is that 92% of Britain is undeveloped but we don't just see it.

Lord Wolfson then further stated that there is an enormous amount of land that could be developed into beautiful garden cities, not urban jungles. According to him those areas of the countryside are empty and unproductive and of no use. I would say he needs to get out more and get a life.

Those areas would be more bio-diverse than the agriculture that they would be replacing.

Lord Wolfson is offering a quarter of a million Pounds to whoever comes up with the best plans for a new garden city (or should that, maybe, read cities) in Britain.

Whilst the majority of the country may be undeveloped that does not mean that it should all be developed,. But that appears to be something that Lord Wolfson has in mind.

A lot of the agriculture and the countryside management that goes on in the countryside is a good use of land and we must away from the feeling that just because there is no development going on there.

Lord Wolfson does seem to be alluding also that the 92% of the underdeveloped countryside is available to be exploited for development which is a total fallacy and as stupid as the people who he showers money upon.

Garden cities could have a lot to offer as far as housing is concerned as long as they are planned and developed in line with the needs of the countryside and the environment. Otherwise you just create another block of unsustainable housing.

However, when it comes to housing we do NOT need more homes. We have more than enough empty homes and properties that could be turned into homes all over the country. In fact, there are enough homes to house the homeless of this country, those of Eire and of one or two other smaller EU nations and still have room to spare.

The idea of garden cities fail in the provision of housing as they would be built to the detriment of the existing settlements, no doubt, and thus the existing settlements would be left – as derelict often and with all the problems that they have – that is to say as they are in favor of new developments and this is not sustainable in the same way as the idea that the last Labour government floated of Eco-Towns was another one of those silly ideas that would have benefited builders and developers and no one else.

Instead we must redevelop our existing settlements and make them more livable. We must build viable communities and while garden cities are one way a much better way is to actually turn our existing settlements into such viable communities. Build on what we already have rather than design and build new settlements in the middle of nowhere with the need for all the infrastructure and everything else that goes with it. Making the existing communities more sustainable and making them into places where people actually want to live (and work).

We have already once had so-called garden cities but some of them were basically Legoland of the real world designed on the drawing board and then plonked into the countryside with little or no consideration of the people in the countryside and also for the people that were moved to those new cities.

The problem with garden cities or so-called eco-towns plonked into the countryside is that they also need infrastructure, such as water, gas, electricity and roads leading to them and would add even more to the commute that we are – I thought – want to get rid off.

In order to do the latter, however, we must either move the jobs to where people live or have people move again to where the jobs are and, while living in the country is great, if you work in the city that's where your home should be also. Leave the countryside and the living therein to those who actually also work there.

Britain does not have a housing crisis. That is utter baloney. Britain has an empty homes crisis and many of those homes are, in fact, local authority ones that are being earmarked for destruction and “redevelopment”, as in the case of the Ocean Estate in Stepney and the Robin Hood Estate in Poplar. And those are but two examples of many that could be listed.

Thus we do not need new garden cities and ideas such as those – except in order to make money for the builders – but we need to have the existing homes refurbished and the areas in which they are located made more livable and improved. A much better and cheaper option and also a much more environmentally friendly one.

It is very worrying that some of the members of our government have absolutely no idea as to the way things are in real life and that also includes the one who, when challenged as to the ancient woods that are threatened with destruction in the path of HS2 states that there is nothing to worry about. The government would just move the woods. In which parallel universe do those people actually live?

© 2013

Who would have thought: Russia's FSB going back to using paper

Who would have thought this about paper in the modern electronic world. To avoid e-document theft, Russia turns to paper and type, even typewriters.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

1950_s_REMINGTON_QUIET-RITER_TYPEWRITER_w_CASE_MANUALMany of us, lots of us in fact, use paper towels to clean up leaks – but you will hardly have ever heard about the way that paper is being used by the Russian Secret Service to prevent leaks of a much more serious nature.

It was revealed earlier in 2013 that Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO) had budgeted 486,000 rubles – just under $15,000 – for new electric typewriters, along with ribbons and other accessories. By using typewriters and paper for sensitive or classified communications, the FSO, which is charged with protecting important government personnel including Russia’s president and prime minister, hopes to prevent the kind of electronic document leaks related to the recent WikiLeaks scandal.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper quoted Nikolai Kovalev, former director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, speaking to Russian newspaper Izvestiya: “From the point of view of security, any means of electronic communication is vulnerable. You can remove any information from a computer. There are means of defense, of course, but there’s no 100 percent guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of preserving secrets, the most primitive methods are preferable: a person’s hand and a pen, or a typewriter.”

In addition to being safe from electronic theft or distribution, paper documents written by typewriters are easier to trace to their source. Each individual typewriter has its’ own unique “signature,” due to minute differences in type patterns and mechanical operation. Computer printers just do not exhibit this type of identifiable signature even though there have been attempts to create some sort of signature for printers and photocopiers.

Many new media around the world commented on this and The New York Post ran the headline, “Russian government goes back in time; will use typewriters to leak-proof sensitive classified documents,” which unfortunately (and unfairly) implies that paper documentation is somehow a thing of the past.

The truth is, electronic document vulnerability is a very real concern. In addition to government intelligence records, proprietary or sensitive business records (including financial records, vendor lists, or client information) can be targeted for theft, as can personal correspondences via email or text. Identity fraud (through appropriation of personal information, such as a credit card number, that has been stored or transmitted electronically) affects thousands of people every day; in 2010, more than 8 million Americans reported being the victims of identity fraud according to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress.

Paper a typewriters are far from dead and a thing of the past. Fact is that typewriters and paper documentation are still necessary for many specific uses. Many US states have laws requiring that permanent records, such as death certificates, must be filled out by hand or typed. Funeral homes, government agencies, and even prisons still rely on typewriters to create physical copies (that is to say, paper, not virtual) of permanent records.

Typewriters are also becoming increasingly popular among a demographic too young to remember a time before “key-stroking” had supplanted “typing” as a necessary skill and “old-school” typewriters didn’t even need electricity to run. It may be for that reason also that working old manual typewriters are fetching quite large sums on places such as e-bay and other auction sites.

I have only recently found that my old portable (it you feel like carrying around a case of several pounds) Remington Rand Quiet Riter from around 1953 that was bought for about $10 at a second-hand shop a couple of years ago can, in good condition, and mine certainly is, $100 or more. Well worth holding onto then alone for that reason.

Permanent, secure, and an elegant form of artistic expression, typed documents are still a necessary part of our world, even in this “digital age.” And, the way things are going, they might become much more a thing of the present again than we ever might have imagined and thus I am glad that I still have my old Remington Rand Quiet Riter. The only problem that remains is getting the ribbons for it.

© 2013


amazon boycott bumper stickerA group of MPs has on Saturday, November 30, 2013 been backing Ethical Consumer's call for shoppers to boycott Amazon this Christmas because of the internet giant's aggressive tax avoidance policies.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the House of Commons public accounts select committee and one of the eight MPs who are supporting the Amazon boycott said: “It's hugely important that we all take a stand and damage the reputation and business of companies such as Amazon that deliberately avoid paying their fare share of tax to the common purse for the common good.”

“If enough people boycott Amazon then we will damage their business. Amazon's market share and reputation matters.”

Margaret Hodge MP who has been boycotting Amazon since the company's appearance before the public accounts select committee last December accused the internet giant of endangering British jobs: “Boycotting Amazon is not anti-business, it's pro-fairness. Tax avoidance is not only morally wrong but it disadvantages British businesses and British jobs.”

Ethical Consumer's Tim Hunt said: “This Christmas shoppers may benefit from Amazon's cheap shopping but these bargains come at the cost of reduced public services. Amazon's tax revenues could help fund the vital public services that are now being slashed.”

“Amazon is having a devastating impact on high streets across the UK as tax-paying businesses are unable to compete with Amazon.”

“We're calling for a boycott of Amazon in response to the public's anger at the scale of Amazon's tax avoidance. Our aim is to mobilise consumer power to make Amazon pay a fair rate of tax.”

The boycott of Amazon has been run by Ethical Consumer since December 2012.

The MPs who are supporting Ethical Consumer's Amazon boycott are Natascha Engel, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Austin Mitchell, Graham Morris and Dennis Skinner.

For more information on why Margaret Hodge MP is supporting the Amazon Boycott please visit:

Amazon's company filings showed paid tax of £3.2 million in 2012, on sales of £320 million. The Seattle-based group has told investors its 2012 UK sales were £4.2 billion.

Ethical Consumer has researched online alternatives to Amazon for books, CDs, computer + video games, DVDs, film + TV streaming + MP3s:

Ethical Consumer recommends that shoppers who want to boycott Amazon should always try and shop instead with locally-owned high street stores who have always paid their taxes in full.

There are no clear Best Buys for computer +video games ie companies that appear to be paying their fair share of tax.

Ethical Consumer give two clear options:

  1. Where possible, buy second hand from your local retailer.

  2. Use a lending site such as Games Planet / Metaboli or Games Collection.

For shoppers wanting to shop at tax-paying department stores, Ethical Consumer recommends the following stores who appear to be paying their fair share of tax: Debenhams, John Lewis, Lush and Next.

For more information about the Amazon boycott visit:

Launched in 1989 Ethical Consumer is the UK's leading ethical and environmental magazine. In each issue Ethical Consumer examines the ethical and environmental record of the companies behind everyday products and services from bread to banks.

For more information visit the Ethical Consumer website:

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.