value

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.

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

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

Food Alert!

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If nothing changes by the end of 2014 the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) will be in force; a catastrophe for those who believe that food and drink are serious issues not to be messed about with so much.

If the agreement comes into force as planned then you will soon be saying hello to genetically modified milk, beef hormones, and chlorinated chicken, not to mention shale gas and oil… And then you will have to say farewell to managed environments, free-range, freedom foods, and a pleasant and green landscape pleasing to the eye as well as our collective conciseness. The influx of products will adversely affect our European food security for what I ask? A populist agenda and cheap shopping!

This project opens the doors to American domination so that they can make by 2029 $0.03 per person with nothing in it for Europeans I venture. The deal will remove trade barriers and tariffs designed to keep safe our own food supply, our own farms and associated businesses. American companies will enjoy commercial equality with our European companies. European jobs will be lost, a new recession is peering at us over the horizon at the end of the decade.

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European social structures will be damaged, possibly beyond repair by this agreement. Social standards will be diminished, economic standards will be diminished, industrial, cultural, and personal freedoms will be diminished because this agreement will attack our basic democratic freedoms through an unprecedented level of influence that will be exercised by the American mega-companies vying to control our food supply chains.

What gain for Europe? Well its suggested that Europe will gain 0.5% of total European GDP but its also said that this figure should be treated with scepticism, it might not happen!

There is also the further very thorny issue of energy supply. The agreement allows for free trade across Europe of energy supply but there is no universality of agreement between European states on the status of energy supply. In some countries certain types of energy (shale gas) is illegal. This is without question a massive area of concern not currently addressed by the agreement or the EU. Democratic rights will certainly be trampled under the American free trade boot when it comes to energy supply.

The European project seems to be under threat from our American cousins attempts to sell Europe food and energy that it does not need or want in most cases. Do we honestly need more Americanisms? Our food is currently too fast, more not less McDonald’s cannot surly be a good thing.

End of the EDL?

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English: EDL Protest
English: EDL Protest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2013 will be memorable for many reasons for me; personally I have started my journey to a new life in the South East of France with the sale of my home in Manchester. The money is in the bank, I have a nice house on the outskirts of a town in Northern England and a house rented near Grasse from which to conduct my search for a new permanent home.

But what of one of the reasons I despair so much about Britain – the far right!

Well 2013 was a bad year for the EDL, it cannot be denied. They lost their charismatic leader Tommy Robinson in an exit facilitated  by the Quilliam Foundation and a BBC documentary. But the organisation’s demise could have come sooner, had it not been for one key factor, the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich.

The killing, in broad daylight near Rigby’s army barracks, gifting Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a new impetus. In dire financial straits and concerned about neo-Nazi elements in his midst, the EDL leader had wanted a way out for some time, say those close to matter.

“Prior to Lee Rigby’s murder, the EDL was finished. It was physically dead…” said  Matthew Collins of Hope not Hate the anti-Fascist movement. The founder and leader, Lennon (Robinson)  had absolutely no interest, he was worried about going to prison. The EDL had radicalised people, however, people who thought they had no way of expressing what they didn’t like. So 2,500 people came out in Newcastle after Lee Rigby’s murder.

No such response to 7/7 and no response either from the numerous Muslim Organisations. The EDL gave people a branch on which to cling in what they thought were desperate times. But no longer I think. Social integration never really existed in Britain and the EDL spoke to those who believe that the country is being over-run by immigration, the EDL feeds those fears to its own ends based on hatred.

Since Robinsons departure the EDL has become quiet but insists it will go on, but how without the media friendly (well media worthy is probably more accurate) Robinson it is difficult to say. The EDL may pass but the ideology will not. The EDL has radicalised around 3000ish working class men into counter-jihadists who will be looking for a new home, new leadership at the very least. They may (re)turn to the BNP who have a political foothold in the European Parliament through their leader Nick Griffin or they may find solace in UKIP (unlikely though, these are working class men not high rolling bankers).

It would appear however distressing that the tattooed working class racist thug is here to stay and should the Muslim community remain separate; alien to some, then these thugs will persist and may go on to kill in kind.

2014 is probably the last year we will hear that chant of E – E – EDL! but if our French cousins are anything to go by then the far-right will re-emerge again and again in ever more nasty and ugly guises I fear. Helped in recruitment no doubt by the gutter press media and acts of plain stupidity in public by those in the eye of the media. Take for example yesterday where Nicolas Anelka made a goal celebration which appeared to be the quenelle salute made famous by the French comedian Dieudonne. The gesture is strongly linked to anti-Semitism in France. The perfect example of why tensions will be persistent.

The end of the EDL? I think yes. The end of racial hatred and the far right? definitely not I’m very sad to say.

Are they worth it?

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Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la vers...
Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la version hébreu de Wikipédia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Youth (yoof) culture in the UK to a large extent is informed in attitudes by Hip-Hop Culture, or certainly the gift-wrapped version we see on MTV, Virgin Music… Critics may be easily prompted to dismiss this version of ‘yoof culture’ as the ramblings of uneducated and lazy youth. But I point to the growing levels of violence practiced against the youth by older and wiser (?) generations and by youth on youth or gang violence mostly in our urban centres.

The State terror that drove Aaron Schwartz to commit suicide; the domestic violence that killed Kasandra Perkins; the communal violence that killed Trayvon Martin and fatally wounded Malala Yousufzai; have all become commonplace. Not UK violence but for sure the violence that we meet every evening on the 6 pm news broadcast. The message is clear, people of youth are violent! Its a crisis!

Education can and often does address the underlying causes of violence but is not the sole key to addressing this crisis.Teachers must help reclaim the public by affirming with youth that life is worth living. Pedagogy must wrestle with the fact that the worth of youth largely swings between being targeted as (new) consumers and being seen as a disposable population fit only for the prison.

Renewed societal values are absolutely central to the improvement in youth experience; by showing how racism, sexism, and economical exploitation shape the outcomes and therefore the values of the youth, teachers have an opportunity to use the past experience of youth to improve the possible future experience of youth. Some Feminists building on critical views of the traditional nuclear family have illuminated the complex ways that power and violence function in the nuclear family and heterosexual relationships. Yet the buck stops there – the family is to blame?

I think not, well not entirely anyway. We lack the language and values necessary to address the states of terror that have escalated into youth-on-youth violence.

As we move into a more technologically-integrated society (Facebook, Twitter, Google+…), the pressing question is how to elevate the experience and contribution of the youth through these social networking platforms. The first task in answering this question is to challenge the notion that the youth are aloof and normalized to the violence in their midst. If we look closely at these social media hangouts, we find that youth are driven by two goals: the need to share information, and the need to be content creators.

Our next task, then, is to engage them in transforming their ingenuity and passion to share and create content that revises the modern world. Obvious blueprints have been offered. The revolutionary maneuvers of youth in North Africa have been realized through Twitter as a cabal for strategy. The Occupy movement illustrated how we can create webs of inclusion in a leaderless movement, and introduced the public speaking platform known as mic check. These ideas engender a generational attitude encapsulating a way of being. Of social awareness on a grander scale.

This isn’t however, the Marxist dream of a classless society. The economic, social and educational carnage youth face in the streets makes us culpable for failing to create effective institutions that integrate youth into society. If the future belongs to the youth, we must engage them by transforming the ideas of identity management on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram into community management by asking them to help share and create ideals we can live by.

“Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you’ll be strong
Fighting for your rights, even when you’re wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone
I am worth it?”
— Kenderick Lamar

Asylum

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English: Chart showing in-country UK immigrati...
English: Chart showing in-country UK immigration removals, (failed asylum seekers and others), since 1993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The media is fond of shining a spotlight on our asylum system, it makes good copy or TV. Its not the best way of running a debate but it does illustrate a reality that should not be overlooked. Britain like the rest of developed Europe is facing increasing asylum demands, probably in the region of 70% increase in the last 8 years.

The influx of asylum seekers is as a direct consequence of the numerous conflicts and wars around the globe. Asylum of itself is not a problem and should never be seen in terms of being a problem, its the fact that there is at the same time massive economic migration going on. Asylum is a tradition of most developed western European nations, a proud tradition in most cases and it must be preserved, it must be accepted that we are fortunate and have the honor of assisting those who need our help. I find it shocking that there are some who reside in this country who feel differently.

Nonetheless, it might be fair to comment that our processing centers are perhaps close to full and stretched for staff. The cracks are becoming obvious. The system is unable to deal with complex situations meaning it slows and blocks preventing those who might most need our help from getting it because we just don’t know they need it.

We should feel rightly proud that asylum seekers come to our countries with the intention of seeking help and maybe even settling on a more permanent basis. The contribute to the wealth (economically and culturally) to our societies. But its clear that the social support systems cannot support these people, those employed to help, the case-workers burn-out with massive levels of sickness absence. All the time the human tragedies build. There is a need to protect the individuals but also there is a need for process which is at best a delayed process.

I would agree with anybody who said reform is urgently needed. Without question we should not settle for half measures, current failures should be corrected, but not at any cost. The economic cost of failure is mounting but so is the probable economic cost of doing the job right. My experience in industry is that doing something right first time is the most economically cost effective way of doing a job. I have no doubt that the same apply’s to the asylum system.

Delays might be necessary, so improved holding centers to accommodate the asylum seekers while the initial checks are being done would be a really good start. Simplification of procedures and processes would also help greatly. These two factors would simply add to the quality and speed of service provided, making it more respectful and certain in outcome.

A win-win in anybody’s language I guess.

At the borders of course better directional control would be needed, this is not a resources issue but probably a training and information issue.

And then once a final decision is made the person if successful should be assimilated into society. With a fully renovated procedure the asylum seeker and society will be both better served.

Final decisions are important and really need to be as speedy as possible. I’m sure most would agree that an asylum seeker should not have to face an almost endless wait on deportation or not. There has got to be clear pathways for those who do not gain asylum, they should not be expected to wait for an appropriate moment for return to their own country.  Our collective responsibility as a European Union should be ensuring those who want and need out help can access it but those who do not are dealt with firmly, fairly and quickly.