Category Archives: UK

Reaching ‘peak stuff’ and how it has changed my view and what I want…

So, the feeling has been building for a while but I think my wife and I have finally reached ‘peak stuff’, that is the notion that we now have enough material possessions in our lives and that we no longer wish to keep gathering more. This makes us very bad citizens in the current age when you are encouraged to buy more and to consume more and to not think about the environmental cost of all this and instead to think about the benefits to the economy. It also causes issues at Christmas with all the gift giving and receiving.

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But the reality is that we really do have enough stuff. We live in a small apartment and, unless something dramatic changes (which it actually might be, if some newspaper reports are right), we won’t be buying a house anytime soon. Therefore we can only buy and keep the stuff that we can fit into said apartment. We have moved several times in the past decade (another increasing trend among my generation and the next), including to and from Canada and this required us to shed the vast majority of our stuff (and to buy new, which was quite fun), the rest was stored to await our return. But even those things, those possessions that we decided were worth keeping, are now looking like unnecessary junk in our lives and we are considering losing more and more of what remains.

 

In addition to this, I have sold off the majority of collectibles that I owned from many years spent building a substantial Transformers and Star Wars Black figures collection. Losing that feeling of needing to own stuff means that these figures would inevitably be heading out the door, and selling them actually paid for our car. I have also stopped buying graphic novels, which has been a passion of mine for a long time (though I still buy beautiful hardcovers of series I love, my last remaining weakness). I had gradually been moving to digital for my book and graphic novel needs anyway so replacing them with electronic versions when they have been available for a good price is a good move. Most of my physical books are borrowed from the library, breaking the link between owning and reading, and subscriptions to online streaming services have ended the need to buy physical copies of movies. All that we have left are mostly mementos of our lives and our travels and I am realising more and more that we need little else.

 

So then the question changes from what do I need to buy and own to what else do I want? I want an electric car (something else that seems right on the cusp of becoming mainstream) for I do not want to keep contributing to our humongous carbon dioxide output. I want less plastic to pass through my hands simply because I have a need to eat (why does a cucumber now come wrapped in this?). I want to eat well (our Riverford Farms weekly veg box helps with that http://tinyurl.com/j58aep6). I want the world to stop consuming fossil fuels when alternatives are finally reaching the mainstream (higher plastic use is clearly a by-product of oil consumption when we have significant quantities of oil derivatives to use) and I want renewable energy to become the norm, as I was told as a kid that it would be. My wife and I recently switched our energy supplier to Green Star (website: https://www.mygreenstarenergy.com/) who source their energy from renewables and that felt like a step in the right direction and a very good thing indeed. I also want everything that I discard to be recycled, though the rates of doing so are still dismal.

 

Finally, I want a political system in my country that works, one that meets the needs of the people and not of the elites and the Corporations who fund them. I want a truly representative Parliament, one that listens to us when they express ourselves and our concerns and then acts to help. I want enough houses to be built in the UK so that those who choose to buy are able to do so. I want a properly regulated financial system that doesn’t always seem like it’s about to bring about financial apocalypse (http://tinyurl.com/zgjg8ll). I want a powerful and well funded environmental agency that will police the actions of those who seek to destroy it, which we currently do not have (http://tinyurl.com/hszoort). And I want a forward looking political system that actually addresses the changes that are coming in the near future, like driver-less cars and ever more insecure working conditions.

 

It sounds like I want a lot, huh, but I really don’t think that I do, and I also think that many of you out there would agree with this point of view. Let me know if you do, eh. Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My wife and I recently started a ‘Riverford Farms’ veg box scheme. Here’s why I think you should too…

Since moving back to the UK a few years ago I am increasingly becoming environmentally conscious and have been trying to reduce the size of the carbon footprint of my wife and I. We have switched over to a renewable energy supplier (who are cheaper than the others and called Greenstar, check them out here: https://www.mygreenstarenergy.com/), we have been eating less meat, though that also has to do with the awful practices used to raise livestock in the UK including feeding antibiotics to perfectly healthy animals and raising livestock in appalling conditions, and we are still looking for ways to do more. One of the best decisions that we made during this time was to start a vegetable box scheme from Riverford farms (website here: http://www.riverford.co.uk/). Now, I know that other veg box schemes are also available but from what I have heard they are the venture capitalist versions of this one, which is the real thing.

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So every week we receive a delicious box of vegetables delivered to our door that has never failed to impress us; the contents within look as beautiful as they should and the produce is of the highest quality. You will not find monstrously overgrown carrots in these boxes, rapidly cultivated to an oversized volume at an increased rate at the expense of flavour. You also won’t find seasonally unsuitable vegetables. Everything arrives when it should in the year and you start to feel a little more connected to the seasons. Yet another advantage is that we have tried a significant number of new vegetables including Romanesco (something like a cross between broccoli and cauliflowers and delicious roasted or fried, see picture below), different kinds of squashes, new cabbages and many more. Consequently, we have been pushed to try not only new vegetables but different meals in our desire to use everything that we receive each week.

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Along with your veg, you also receive a newsletter from Guy, the founder of Riverford, and it is obvious from first reading that he cares passionately about what he does. He wants to bring his customers the finest, freshest products that are produced in a genuinely organic way (by using natural means of controlling pests and not by simply switching to ‘organic’ pesticides, that is chemicals of an organic nature). He explains how, for instance, they use various kings of bugs to control other, invasive bugs that will damage their produce. And he talks about the use of chemicals like Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ and how potentially damaging it is to us, let alone to the environment upon which it is sprayed. Riverford’s animals, which we have not yet tried but intend to do so, are raised without the use of unnecessary antibiotics and the eggs from their chickens (which I suspect are genuinely free range) are the best my wife and I have ever tasted with bright yellow yolks. They’re delicious!

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Another advantage to this is that it has taken a significant chunk of our weekly spend on groceries out of the hands of corporations. I read and reviewed George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain’ recently (link here: https://onlyanatheist.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/181/) and was appalled to learn of the bullying tactics major retailers use to get their way with not only suppliers and local producers but also in regards to the locations where their stores are sited and of how much damage they do to the local business environment when they set up shop and so I am very happy about this result. I am also glad to support a business like Riverford which has a real interest in sustainable practices and in environmentalism. These corporations do not care about the carbon cost of getting their wares to their shelves as long as they don’t have to pay for it. Riverford do care and do all that they can to reduce these costs including growing as much of their wares in the UK as they can.

So, if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint and you’d like to improve your diet by eating more vegetables that are mostly grown in the UK and France, if you’d like to try a new range of produce that will diversify your diet as well as leave you feeling a little more connected to the seasons and the changing vegetables that come with it, then I cannot recommend Riverford highly enough! Their customer service is also excellent and each time there has been a problem (always small) they have done their best to fix it and things have always worked out in our favour. They now have very long term customers in my wife and me and I hope that I also might’ve persuaded you to give them a go too. When I joined they had an offer where you received a free cookbook after a couple of boxes, and then your fourth box free, so it’s worth trying them for a month and seeing how it works for you. I hope you do!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Anthony Loewenstein’s ‘Disaster Capitalism’…

A number of books that I have read in the past year have given me a better understanding of the way in which the world actually works and of the future direction it may be heading in, including Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8), Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/jo8sekz) and several others besides. All of these have been informative, if a little depressing, to read but none more so than ‘Disaster Capitalism: making a killing out of catastrophe’ from Anthony Loewenstein. Right, onto my review!

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‘Disaster Capitalism’ is an excellently researched and documented work, which covers topics from the way in which private military corporations have profited from wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the stripping of public services in Greece during their crisis (austerity has done the same in the UK, handing public services to private hands), to the way in which private prisons and detention centres are run in the US, UK and Australia in a manner that costs a fortune but achieves little. This book covers a litany of cases where the rich and wealthy maintain their hold on the world by preventing the money that is supposed to help those affected by disaster from reaching them, instead padding their bottom lines.

In a similar manner to Johann Hari’s incredible ‘Chasing the Scream’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/hy8q9gu), Loewenstein travelled the world and talked to many people affected by these policies, and the people and places that he managed to access is impressive. Learning how Haiti has been treated in the time since the 2012 earthquake, seeing how aid is funnelled from the US to non-governmental organisations who then seem to be under no obligation to actually provide the relief that the aid was intended for, is incredibly depressing. Reading as Loewenstein documents efforts by the US to force Haiti to accept the neo-liberalist agenda that prevents the island from allowing its citizens to achieve independence from aid through farming and by other means, and forcing them to work for poverty wages in industrial parks as per the dominant model is awful. And the list of crimes goes on and on.

Now, an awful lot of the problems created in this scenario stem from the inability of the media to actually report on what is happening in the world. Other books I’ve read, such as ‘Triumph of the Political Class’ by Peter Oborne (review here: http://tinyurl.com/jevqp6z ) have made the case that the media are so deeply in bed with politicians that they can no longer do their job properly and I think the case can be made that the same is true of commercial interests. Stories have been recently reported where media outlets, in this case the Telegraph, refused to report on stories that would negatively impact on their sponsors like HSBC. It seems that the media, our primary source of information on the state of the world, has become less than trustworthy and this makes it much more difficult to understand what is broken in and how we fix it.

‘Disaster Capitalism’ is another of those books that, once you’ve read it, your world view will likely be changed. And that’s a good thing. I’m starting to see stories in the media in a different light and I feel I am better able to understand world events as well as how far things need to change, to get away from the current model and towards providing actual disaster relief. And with our ever warming world, the incidence of natural disasters is sure to increase making the need for change ever more urgent.

As with the other, similar non-fiction books I have recently read and reviewed, ‘Disaster Capitalism’ ends on a hopeful note and actually there now seems to be a movement towards change. The tide may finally be turning against this sort of arrangement between private companies and government with an announcement that the US will be reducing the number of privately run prisons (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/18/us-government-private-prisons-use-justice-department https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/18/us-government-private-prisons-use-justice-department). Personally, I’m waiting for the end of neo-liberalism, as predicted in many of the books and articles I read, and for us to finally reach the turning point away from allowing these expensive and ineffective deals and towards something that will actually provide the services intended from the money spent. I can’t wait for that day to come, and hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

Next time, my review of Terry Pratchett’s wonderful ‘A slip of the Keyboard’. Until then…

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TEN reviews with an average of 4.3 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream’…

This week I am reviewing Johann Hari’s remarkable non-fiction book, ‘Chasing the Scream’. I have been a fan of Hari’s for a long time, since he first worked for the Independent newspaper in fact, many years ago. His column was always excellent and an essential read for me and when he left that paper, under something of a cloud, I feared that he would leave journalism for good. Fortunately, he did not, instead spending the intervening years writing and researching this stunning non-fiction book about how pointless and futile the drugs war has been and will continue to be until it ends. Anyway, onto my review…

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Chasing the Scream starts with an account of the beginnings of the drugs war that few of us will be familiar with. The tale begins with the person who really started the whole thing and a name that few will have heard: Harry Anslinger. The actions of this man, as head of the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics, laid the basis of all that was to come. He also relentlessly hounded Billie Holiday until he caused her death, as Hari recounts in heartbreaking detail. From there we spend time with another notorious drug war name: Arnold Rothstein, the legendary booze-runner and gangster and learn of his contribution to everything that has followed. Then, having laid the groundwork, Hari moves onto the real victims of the drugs war: everyone who has, in some form or other, been forced to participate.

In the next part of the book, Hari visits and talks with people from all sides of the drug war from a former drug dealer undergoing gender reassignment surgery, to the man forcing people in Juarez to see the victims of this war, to a woman murdered for wanting to know what happened to her daughter in Mexico. All of this puts a human face on the cost of this fight and help to show both the reality and the futility of these policies, a fight that Hari shows has been forced upon the world by the US. It also demonstrates how little choice many of the people caught up in all of this violence had during the course of their lives.

Hari also deals with a great many myths that surround drug usage. He explains that the use of mind altering substances is common throughout the animal kingdom and not something unnatural. He demolishes the idea that the reason that most people use drugs is simply because they are addicted. They are not, they use because they enjoy doing so. But for others, it is more complicated and Hari relates the stories of some of their lives. Some use to escape trauma that has been inflicted upon them and we make matters worse by marginalising and criminalising them and making it harder for them to return to any sort of normal life. And for this small minority what is needed more than anything else is our understanding, our help and our compassion. But that is the last thing that they currently get, at least not in most countries.

Towards the end of the book, Hari visits Portugal and then Uruguay, two countries that offer an alternative approach. In Portugal they decriminalised drug use in 2003 and focus their efforts instead on helping addicts. In Uruguay they went one step further and legalised marijuana and both countries have seen remarkable progress and made significant strides since then. They have not descended into anarchy and chaos as some feared, and Hari actually found that neither country wants to go back to the way they were. Now, with the legalisation of this drug in several US states, it feels like things may finally be changing. I really hope they are.

Chasing the Scream is an incredible book that deserves to find as wide an audience as possible and one that will hopefully contribute to the discussion that ends the toxic culture surrounding drug use and criminalisation. This futile fight achieves nothing except hand the drugs trade to criminals and criminalise people who need our help more than our disgust. As with other non-fiction books that I have read and reviewed recently (particularly Paul Mason’s ‘Post-Capitalism’ and George Monbiot’s Captive State) it also offers hope for future that things can change. We have seen the signs that the US may be willing to consider a new approach and I hope this continues.

Personally, my opinion has swung back and forth on this issue. After reading Peter Hitchens ‘The War We Never Fought’ I briefly considered whether prohibition could actually work. Now I do not think that it ever can and that decriminalisation and possibly legalisation is the only way forward. We have had a long, destructive and expensive war that has failed and it is now time to try something new. And Hari is showing us the way. Bravo!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ongoing Ramblings: my thoughts on Corbynmania…

One of my passions is politics and last Saturday something truly dramatic happened in the UK: Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party. For those who don’t know who he is, which until recently was most of us, he is a socialist, left-wing MP that has served his constituency for thirty years but has, until now, never had a major role. His inclusion in the leadership race was reported to have only occurred so that the left-wing agenda got a hearing and he was widely expected to come, if not last, then second to last in the contest. But that did not happen.

As the contest dragged on, and it really was far too long, something remarkable happened. He began to take the lead and no one could believe it. Indeed, I could not quite believe it myself. Given the recent inaccuracy of polls in the run up to the last election this is hardly surprising but suddenly, anytime the media needed an opinion, he was the candidate they went to. And then he did indeed win. And he did so with a huge share of the vote, nearly 60%! The closest rival barely had 20%. It was remarkable and there is little doubt that Mr. Corbyn’s inclusion in the contest made for a much more entertaining race. I think, without him, the entire thing would have been widely ignored and instead of any of the other, cardboard cut-out candidates, we now have a widely popular leader and a rapidly increasing Labour membership.

So how did Mr. Corbyn win? Well, from early on in the contest there was little doubt that he was dramatically different than the others. When asked a question, he would actually offer an answer! This was so entirely novel that he quickly gained the attention of anyone watching and people began listening to him, even those who had drifted away from the Labour party or had been turned-off from politics in general. Then he became the lead candidate and reports emerged that a great many people were turning out to hear him speak, indeed overfilling the available venues, and of young people giving up evenings to spend them working at phone banks to help his campaign. This is truly impressive and turning this success into a social movement that continues to drive up Labour membership and brings younger voters into politics is now crucial.

I for one am glad that Mr Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour party but before I go any further I should declare my own interests: I voted for him to become leader, along with Tom Watson for deputy, so I’m not unbiased in this matter. I voted Green in the last general election and, had Labour know that, I might have been prevented from doing so, not that my absence would’ve been noticed given the scale of Mr. Corbyn’s victory. My hope, right now, is that we now have an actual Labour leader, a socialist who will fight for the good of the poorest in our society who are being so relentlessly attacked by this Tory government. For that is what a Labour leader should do, in my opinion. I consider myself to be a left-leaning voter though, as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones is fond of saying, left and right seems to be becoming a more and more outdated concept.

What I care about is the issues that affect my life and those of my generation including social mobility and justice, affordable housing, renationalising public services that should have been sold off, creating good quality jobs and the green agenda. And the current Tory government is dealing with none of these issues, actually making many of them worse. Hopefully this will change, indeed it looks like it already might be. Labour must set about opposing the Tory’s austerity agenda, which is idealistic dogma and nothing more, to begin building the houses that Britain desperately needs and defending the unions that are under such fierce and sustained attack from this government.

But now that Mr. Corbyn has won, no one can decide if he will bring about the rebirth or the end of the Labour party. I’ve seen commentary articles that make both of these arguments. So either he will lead to a split in the party so serious that it never recovers and collapses in on itself or he could bring about a resurgence. I’m betting on the latter but if Labour were to collapse it could also lead to the collapse of the Tories, at least according to some sources, and possibly about a fundamental shift in politics in the UK. Whatever happens there is little doubt that we suddenly seem to be living in more interesting times.

One thing is assured: Mr. Corbyn will certainly not be in for an easy ride. The inevitable backlash from the Tories, including the 85% right-wing media, was predictable and actually amusing in the ridiculousness of the things they said. ‘Corbyn is a threat to national security, economic security’ and (almost) world security. And some of these words came directly from our Prime Minister! They are trying to brand him in his first few days before he has a chance to define what the Labour party under his leadership is about. And they can succeed. They only need to persuade a small percentage of the population that this is the case for it to stick. So the challenge for his supporters is to prevent this from happening for if he is smeared, in a similar way to how Ed Miliband was portrayed as a geek who can’t eat a bacon sandwich, then we might lose any hope that he could win the next election years before the contest has even begun.

My impression and opinion is that Britain’s Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, is no leader. He follows where he should lead and the next five years will present a great many challenges that will test the public’s faith in his abilities. Already this year we have had the ongoing refugee crisis, rumblings in Northern Ireland, and now a new leader of the opposition party who will likely oppose this government in a manner that Mr. Cameron has not yet faced. If Labour can unite behind their new leader then I suspect their fortunes may rise. I really hope they do. The poor of this country desperately need someone on their side and that is a position that the new Labour leader is sure to take.

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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