self

The Lesson of Chanukah

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As most people know Chanukah is seen very much in the vain of a Jewish Holy Holiday which this year begins today, 16 Dec. and ends 23 Dec. But should it be seen in this way? I think not.

Each night a candle is lit, one more than the previous night until all 8 candles are alight.  The significance is to do with the time of the Second Temple and the re-dedication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire for Jews but it can be seen as so much more I think.

By adding the number of candles lit during the 8 day period we get to 36 which in Hebrew is denoted by the letters Lamed and Vav which also mean the word Heart.  The candles could be seen to signify the flame that burns in all our hearts, the flame of life so to speak. Within the light of life burns our hopes and desires, the essence of self but because it burns in all of us, Jew and Gentile we are all linked.

Chanukah; a festival for all of us to reaffirm our celebration of life through light.

LIVIN’

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The older you get, the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N!!!

Quote from dazed and confused.

Brilliant, just genius.

Set Free by the Truth!

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I learnt a looooong time ago that success comes from effort you put in + talent + luck.  What I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago is that whilst I thought I was putting in the max, actually I wasn’t.  This is a truth that applies to most all of us, we spend sometimes hours just doing meaningless and pointless tasks.

I admit facing the reality was a difficulty, after all I’m perfect aint I? Well, NO actually.

The possibility that I could make better and quicker decisions just hadn’t occurred to me and when it did it was like being hit by a juggernaut. The reality just hit me right between the eyes, suddenly it was obvious what I had to do, I had to measure my activity and the waste would become self evident. I adopted a method I have to use every couple of years and I kept a diary for a couple of weeks. When I was a child I was in hospital for a very long time and at the time had pioneering surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Anyway since turning 40 years of age (and that seems like a life-time ago now) I go for a check every couple of years to make sure I still have a functioning heart and nobody’s replaced it with a lump of rock.  Before the appointment where I’m prodded, pressed, listened to and covered in wires I have to keep a diary of diet and activity.  Thankfully over the last 8 years I’ve actually improved my health! Yes, I’m fitter now than I was 10 years ago!

Anyhow, the lesson is there. Measure stuff and stuff gets done. So I applied the logic to activity, especially activity that brought me closer to my dreams. And you’ll never guess what? I found I waste time.

I waste time day-dreaming (not necessarily a total waste of time but too much dreaming and not enough doing, well need I say more?).

I waste time flicking though pages of magazines looking at cars and phones and computers that I will never consider buying.

I sleep more than I thought I did.

I watch a lot more TV than I thought I did.

I spend hours, yes honestly hours on-line looking at and not buying cycling gear (yes its a fantasy, I am a MAMIL; a middle aged man in lycra)

The truth is that I measured what I did and hey presto I became more productive. Its no miracle just facing up to the truth and then doing something about what I didn’t like about my life.

Learning to be HONEST!

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For quite a few years I was a shitty person, selfish, self-centered, self-obsessed… the list could go on.

Essentially I put my needs (for needs read wants) ahead of everybody else’s, of my friends, of my girlfriends, of my work colleagues… yes everybody without exception.

My friends abandoned me, regularly, and I had to make new ones (which incidentally I became quite adept at from the amount of practice), my girlfriends dumped me but that really should be no surprise and I got sacked (but not often).

Like most people I didn’t and still dont like to hear bad things being said about me and even less so being said to me so I rationalized them, went defensive, went on the attack (more people walking away) and ignored what was being said. I thought they were wrong, they were jealous, they were just moaning, being needy and high maintenance and generally were being real pain in the derriere.

Because… I was good, I was a nice person, I had the answers, my needs were more important, I was important!!!

I didn’t get the other people have needs thing, I didn’t get the other people are important thing.

I still have relapses, but then my wife slaps (yes sometimes she really does but not hard, just hard enough) me back to reality, she keeps me grounded and enlightens me on what’s important, which quite often is not necessarily me and what I want.

I would blame everybody but me if something went wrong, but I can HONESTLY say that I’ve learnt that sometimes I do actually screw-up. Painful to admit, yes, but I do make mistakes.

I eventually realized that I was being an Ass-Hole and started to make changes. This didn’t always go well, the people around didn’t know which Philip would turn-up, which head of the day I was using and I can see why there was some confusion. But I was beginning to ignore those little demons inside my head that kept on pushing me to just get what I wanted and screw the rest, go on just this one more time, I’ll be good tomorrow. It was like a drug being selfish, being me was giving me a high and destroying my chances of ever being a fully functioning adult.

It finally dawned on me that I had to be HONEST not just with others but probably more importantly with myself. It is sometimes good to put yourself first, you are not always in the wrong. The realization journey was like a pendulum and I’d reached the edge of the opposite swing and was beating myself-up way too much. You have to stand-up and support what is the right thing to do, not just the right result but the right way of doing it.

Today I feel well adjusted, a little stressed from time to time but I guess that’s normal and importantly on the whole I’m HONEST with myself, with others and with the people I care about.

The Trouble with (Mobile) Phones

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As supply chains go we very rarely stop to ask where the materials in our mobiles phones (cell phones for the American readers) come from, what the human cost might be. The use of coltan, (a contraction of columbite and tantalite, and its derivative tantalum), to make capacitors for electronic goods becomes a problem when its sale funds a civil war and the social impact on the local population includes death, violence, rape, poor labor conditions and the breakdown of family units.

The battles in Central Africa have been raging for almost twenty years and are funded, in large part, by the localized militias’ control of natural mineral deposits, whether directly, or through taxing and exploiting artisanal miners and local populations.

Artisanal mining is at best described as basic. Small teams with primitive tools clear some jungle, dig up the ground and extract whatever minerals they find close to the surface. Through an informal market, minerals are then sold on to middlemen and make their way along precarious routes, through multiple palms greased with taxes and bribes.

In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC – democratic? that has got to be a joke, yeah?), at least 5 million people have died in the recent conflicts, of whom it is estimated around 40% were women and children. Recruitment of children as soldiers has been systematic, along with widespread sexual violence as a weapon of war (that’s rape if you were wondering). The warfare is complex and ever changing, with an intricate web of rebel and government-backed militias in combat with each other. Gender-based violence has become a weapon of choice in these conflicts.

According to most experts, smelters and refiners are the main “bottle neck point” of the conflict mineral supply chain. So, an accurate list of smelters would be extremely useful in determining conflict mineral sourcing.  Many of these smelters are highly mobile operations, often based in difficult to reach locations deep within conflict zones and so its likely to be extremely difficult to capture usable data on the operations. 

But hope is on the horizon (well of sorts anyway).  the US has recognized the exploitation associated with, and trade of conflict minerals originating in the DRC is helping to finance conflict characterized by extreme levels of violence in the Eastern DRC, particularly sexual and gender-based violence.

According to Oren Ben-Zeev, a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers who assists companies to comply with the disclosure process, the chain of custody of conflict minerals is difficult to establish.

Ben-Zeev states, “identifying the ‘chain of custody’ between the origin of the minerals and the finished products into which they are incorporated, compounds in difficulty for every supplier tier between the smelter and the reporting company. At the end of the day, companies that are far downstream cannot conclusively determine the smelters in their supply chain.”

Conflict minerals are made into essential components in all advanced electronic devices. There is little we, as consumers, can do to change this. But we can vote with our wallets to support those tech companies that demonstrate their commitment to implementing comprehensive due diligences processes in their supply chains.

The Fairphone initiative, based in Amsterdam, offers the first conflict mineral free smart phone, and Intel now manufactures a conflict mineral free microprocessor. Raise Hope for Congo, a campaign of NGO the Enough Project, ranks electronics companies based on their actions to contribute to a clean minerals trade in the DRC.

Next time you reach for your smart phone or tablet, perhaps it’s worth considering what your response will be.

Much of the above is based on work by Jude Soundar and Alex Newton

Purim Disqus

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It will soon be Purim; a Jewish Festival of enjoyment and celebration. I wrote about this very same festival last year around the time I celebrated with friends in North Manchester, great fun. But what is Purim? What is the story?

Purim is the story of Esther and how she saved the Israelite people of Persia:

There once lived a King by the name of Achashverosh, who ruled over Persia in the third century, BCE.

The story begins with a grand feast that the King was throwing at his palace. Irreconcilable differences propelled the King to divorce and seek a new queen. In search of a new queen, the King commanded his men to travel throughout the kingdom in search of the loveliest of maidens so that he could view them and choose the most beautiful to be his wife and the new Queen.

Around this time there lived a gorgeous woman named Esther. She lived in a small province with her uncle Mordechai. She knew that being the Queen of Persia would be good for her people, so she prepared herself to be brought before the King.

Once the King saw Esther he stopped looking and she became the new Queen of Persia.

One day while passing by the palace gates, Mordechai overheard two guards plotting a revolution with the intent to kill King Achashverosh. Mordechai informed Esther, and the militants were captured and executed. Mordechai saved the King’s life.

The King had an advisor named Haman. This advisor was power hungry and conniving. Haman disliked the Israelites, especially Mordechai. When Haman would travel throughout the towns, he expected the people to bow down to him, as he was second in command to the King. Mordechai refused to bow.

In order to gain favor with the King and rid himself of Mordechai and his people, Haman devised a plan to kill them all. Haman used his sharp tongue and twisted the thoughts of Achashverosh, alleging that Mordechai’s people would cause a problem for the King and that the King should lend his seal to a petition to have them destroyed. The King authorized the genocide and letters were written and sent to all the provinces of Persia bearing the King’s seal.

Haman drew lots to pick the date upon which the genocide would begin. The thirteenth of Adar (the month of Pisces) was the selected day for the mass extermination of the people. Remember this date.

When Mordechai caught word of this, he tore his clothes in mourning, dressed in a sackcloth and cried before the King’s gate.

When Esther was told about her uncle’s behavior she sent him new clothes, but he refused them. He sent her a message telling her to go to the King and plead for the lives of her people.

The law in Persia at that time was strict; no one was to approach the King unless they were summoned. To disobey was punishable by death. Esther sent word back to her uncle that the townspeople should fast for three days, she would do the same, and after the three days she would approach the King.

After three days, Esther went to the King who was so pleased to see her that he held out his scepter and asked her if he could grant her a request. Esther asked the King and Haman to join her in her quarters for a banquet that she would prepare on the following day.

As Haman left the Palace that evening he saw Mordechai. So full with hatred was he for Mordechai, that he resolved the next morning he would ask the King’s permission to hang Mordechai in a public spectacle on gallows fifty feet high.

That same night the King could not sleep and he asked to hear the daily chronicles, which recorded the events of the palace. There the King learned that Mordechai informed the King about a scheme to overthrow the kingdom and kill the King. Mordechai had saved the King’s life, but had not been rewarded for his loyalty.

When Haman arrived in the morning, the King asked Haman’s advice as to the appropriate manner to honor a person that has found great favor with the King. Haman, assuming that it was he who was to be honored, said that the man should be allowed to wear the King’s crown, the King’s clothes and should be led through town on the King’s horse, proclaiming that this man is favored by the King.

King Achashverosh accepted the idea and told Haman to give this honor to Mordechai. Enraged, Haman followed the King’s orders. That night was the banquet that Queen Esther had prepared for the King and Haman. The King was so pleased with her, that again he asked Esther if he could grant her a request. This time Queen Esther asked her husband to save her life, the life of her people, and her uncle, Mordechai, who the king had honored that day. The King was horrified that the life of his queen and his devoted Mordechai were threatened and demanded to know who was responsible for this. Esther replied that it was Haman.

Haman fell to his knees before the King and pleaded for his life, but the King ordered that Haman be hung on the very gallows that he had intended for Mordechai. Mordechai was then made the new advisor to the King.

However, the order of genocide could not simply be revoked, so the King ordered that the Israelites be informed and armed to fight in their own defense. Due to their awareness of the kabbalistic tools of unity, the 72 Names of God, and their understanding of the cosmic cycles of the kabbalistic calendar, the Israelites of Persia triumphed over the Persian Army. They awakened the power of miracles available in the month of Adar/Pisces. And moreover, they were able to alter their destiny.

(Story c/o livingwisdom/kabbalah.com)

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So what does this story tell us? what does it teach?

The story of Purim is a story that teaches that we must overcome one of our greatest enemies; doubt.

Esther could not affect the destiny of her people until she affected the cause of their impending calamity. By saying her people should fast for 72 hours and give succor to one-another she helped her people come together, to overcome the desire for self alone and awaken the energy of unity through the experience of sharing. The king armed them, they fought and overcame their impending doom.

For Jews the time of Purim is a time of celebration. If you go to a Jewish area wherever you find yourself, in whatever country you are you will almost certainly find a community in festive mood. Parties, cake, drink, face-painting for children and general merriment – a time of joy.

Doubt is an enemy of achievement an enemy of aspiration. Doubt of others is bad, but Doubt of yourself is worse. Be sure of yourself, know who and where you are in your life. Know who and where you would like to be in your life. Do not doubt yourself and go and achieve.

These are the lessons from Esther.