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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

Logic or Loathing, the Scottish question

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There aren’t many things as bitter as a divorce and it very much looks as if Scotland is getting themselves ready to divorce the British Union (England really).

What those Westminster types appear to have missed is the way the arguments are being put; Scottish arguments in favor of independence are all emotion and national pride. The Westminster arguments are all financial logic, well that’s what they’d like you to think at any rate, the manner in which some of them frame their arguments leads me to believe they’ve had a frontal lobotomy.

I have to admit that there are compelling arguments for keeping the union together though, Scottish tax’s may well rise and incomes could be hit. These of course are the logic arguments but when logic, even compelling logic such as this rubs up against loathing of the sort the Scottish Nationalists display there’s no contest.

Bearing in mind I’m not Scottish, I try very hard not to go to Scotland; its on the whole cold, damp and honestly I struggle to understand the version of spoken English used to communicate up there, in short its not the kind of place that suits me, but I have to admit nonetheless that I have a secret respect for what they might just achieve.

They have all manner of energy resources and wide open spaces, and yes it looks very beautiful in the brochures. They also have the British naval base where the nuclear submarines are based and this could prove a bit of a problem for the whole of the union, never mind the suggestion of a Sterling currency union which the English don’t appear to like one bit. But really I think they might just do it regardless the logistical challenges. After all who wants to be part of a dog end of an empire?

What ever the Scottish decide I will wish them well because if they don’t actually get independence I’m certain they’ll get what was termed Devo-Max which basically means they’ll run almost as an independent nation, just with a few Westminster MP’s to pay for. If David Cameron and his cronies hadn’t been quite to pig-headed about not putting the Devo-Max option on the ballot papers he might have had a chance of salvaging some respect in Scotland. Win, Lose or Draw after the vote takes place I would probably bet that he wont be welcome North of the Border any time soon!

From the politics point of view Scotland is broadly speaking a Socialist nation while the rest of the UK isn’t, so you have to have some sympathy for them, they just don’t get the leaders they want. And I can see why the British Labour Party don’t want them to split away either, it’d mean the end of them as an opposition party in the remaining UK with no possibility of taking power for a long time to come. Basically the remaining UK will have a Conservative Government, unchallenged for quite some time to come. On this point alone I selfishly hope the Scottish people remain in the union, but I wouldn’t hold it against them if they didn’t, in fact I’d be quite the jealous one!

So the divorce papers have been served, the marriage is in trouble, the wife wants to leave after years of abuse and feeling like she’s been treated like an idiot. The husband on the other hand cant bring himself to believe she’ll leave, she wont be able to support herself he thinks.

Like most of these sorts of cases, she divorces him and the husband doesn’t see it coming till its actually happened and his suits are cut to ribbons in a bin-bag at the door of his now former home!

The Problem with OXFAM

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The problem with OXFAM is typical of most large NGO’s; the need for cash, and lots of the it. But if you listen to OXFAM you could be forgiven for thinking that the problem with OXFAM is SodaStream & Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson has been an OXFAM Ambassador for around 6-years and so she says, she’s rightly proud to have been associated with the organisation. However, as with many of these organisations there’s a but and big but at that. Scarlette Johansson has a sponsorship deal with a commercial organisation, in this case SodaStream. Nothing unusual in that sort of set-up, famous people are often associated with a brand to promote further brand awareness. Makes perfect sense.

And here in lies the problem for OXFAM; SodaStream are an Israeli company who’s operations are based in Judea & Samaria (Ezor Yehuda VeShomron), what most people would understand as the West Bank Palestinian Territories. Under international law this area is classified as occupied. This is debatable but not the issue at hand. OXFAM actively campaigns against the Israeli occupation.

I wont go into the spoils of war argument here but I could.

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But wait a minute, SodaStream who’s employee base is 15% Jewish Israeli and 85% Palestinian Israeli operates an equal pay and conditions policy for those doing the same work. Effectively their policies are colour blind. Scarlett Johansson recognises this and is proud to be linked to SodaStream on this basis.

In many other countries companies foreign owned or not are generally welcomed as wealth promoters and employers and as tax payers. So what does OXFAM say, well their stance is the same as those who support the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement (BDS). OXFAM is a human rights organisation. In their view the company is illegally based on occupied territory and they cannot have an Ambassador who is linked with such a company, its a contradiction that cannot be maintained.

Well they may hold that view but if they honestly do hold that view then they should have sacked her and not allowed her to leave. OXFAM have plainly took the gun, loaded it up, took aim and shot themselves in the foot!

The fact is that most if not all large NGO’s are heavily reliant on sponsorships for their finances. They have huge, almost crippling salary bills to pay and they therefore need the corporate support to survive. The issues of deprivation, human rights and equality become very quickly a secondary thought. In short OXFAM took the view that they needed Scarlett Johansson more than she needed them (she didn’t).

By contrast Ms Johansson has said she is proud to be associated with SodaStream as a company that promotes cooperation and interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestinians. She said the company was committed to “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.”

The reason, the real reason why OXFAM didn’t tell or even ask Scarlett Johansson to leave; she was no longer welcome as an Ambassador, is that they relied on her for good branding. I have to think that they may live to regret this decision.

As for Scarlett Johansson, well she has handled her self with dignity and has shone a light on the ridiculous BDM movement. Trade is without question a leveller and a conduit for peaceful cooperation.

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.

A Life Worth Living

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The march of technology in the medical arena means that life, or probably more accurately signs of life, can be preserved for quite some time. But this for me raises the question of do we value life as a series of electro-chemical impulses or do we value life for the qualities it might provide including the risk to life that we sometimes experience.

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What kind of life do we value – biological or experiential?

Legal norms and values would appear firm that biological life should and must be preserved. That potentially we could be in a living death as it were kept ‘alive’ by machines and techniques external and alien. The cessation of our ability to breath and think seems no longer a barrier to being alive provided of course we live in one of those wealthy developed nations with the means to prolong life in a mechanical and medical way.

Almost if not every hospital in the land has the equipment and expertise to keep people alive in this way. Heartbeats and pulses are maintained whilst the loss of brain function goes unchecked. We do not have the technology to change the loss of brain function, and we pointedly refuse to accept that the body is dead so long as the machine does its job. Physicians fear the liability implications in deciding that flicking the switch is actually in the best interests of all concerned, not least the living dead who is in all probability way beyond an opinion on the matter. The very essence of cardio-pulmonary life becomes a grotesque excuse for the living as we knew them.

And still we are encouraged by those on the less than liberal right to think about the sanctity of life, how precious it is. Their assertions are not based on quality of life experience, suffering, the imminence of death itself or the burden on others and the wish of the person to either live on or die but more likely based on a religio-emotional response to the imminence of death, a fear no-less of death even by proxy.

So where do I stand on the matter?

Well I believe wholly in the sanctity of life, that the value of life exceeds all others, that no other value overrides the value of life except that of more life! But I am not in the life is created at conception camp, no, a life is a life when it can be viable.

I do not believe that all lives are equal on the other-hand. Those who are in fear of their life from another have the right to take the others life. Those who have practiced evil, encouraged evil and supported evil have no right to life (Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol-Pot…) and those who are functionally brain dead do not have a right to expect their bodies to be preserved in a vegetative state indefinitely.

However, it is more difficult than to give simple rules about what is a good life and what isn’t. Quality of life will be a different experience for everybody and it can be simply put that the value of life varies with the quality of life experienced. Whilst this is simple to articulate, in fact it is almost impossible to measure for another, its a personal thing. Nonetheless the concept that life may not be worth living goes hand in glove with the quality of life approach. Life can and must be divergent for the experience to be worth living.

Notwithstanding there are vast populations across the globe where simply having enough to eat is at the center of existence, we in the developed and broadly speaking sophisticated populations have choices. There are some among us who will live a simple life, no too exciting who will work hard and provide for their dependents and then there are those who want and strive for something with a bit more risk attached. I count myself in this latter group.

I am reminded of a film I watched some time ago in which a young man discovers that a life of work and reward for work was not actually what he was looking for. In it he is told of an old Arabic saying which goes along the lines of ‘throw your heart out in front of you and then run to catch it’.

Of course the trouble with this approach means that you have to run the risk, life might not work out as you’d like. If it were all to go wrong and some how I suffered a great accident during one of my adventures I’d like the machine turned on, my organs that are working harvested for the benefit of others and then the machine turned off.

I will be happy to expire one day, but not before I’ve had a life worth living!