Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review

Are the powers that be afraid of the Blogger?

You bet your life that they are

by Michael Smith

While, at least in say the USA, Canada, Britain and other such countries they try to pretend that they are not, and also pretend that they actually welcome the activities of the citizen journalist and Blogger, the truth is that they, that is the powers that be, are running scared.

The same is true with regards to the established media, the likes of what once was Fleet Street, though thy no longer “live” there, and its “professional” journalists. Hence also the fact that Bloggers are not, as yet, welcome to join the NUJ and the IUJ.

While many – by now nigh on all, in fact – newspapers and other media outlets have an online presence, often with Blogs, they still are in no way happy with Bloggers who run their own online publications.

Though it may be true that there are even some good commercial outfits out there that are just online and who have come, basically, out of the field of Blogging, and the Blogging community, such as Grist and especially the Huffington Post, most in the media are still stuck in the old way.. This, by the way, also goes for many of the PR companies, though not those that I deal with most of the time.

Italy recently, basically, went as far as, at least some judges did, declaring that all Italian operated Blogs and all Italian Bloggers as illegal, as under an obscure law from just after WWII only government licensed media are permitted.

So far the government of Italy has not taken any steps, as yet, but we hear a lot of clamoring from the EU and its member states about the need to police and regulate the activities of online social media and networks. This, to me, is proof enough that the powers that be are running rather scared of Bloggers.

Where is this going to lead?

We, who are Bloggers, who are citizen journalists, or freelance journalists running Blogs, and out readers too and especially must stand up against this blatant attempt of censorship.

Support the Net Freedom Foundation and in any other way possible stand up for a free Internet and for the freedom to run your own publications, whether online or in print.

Blogs are the greatest “upset” tot he established media and the establishment and are a revolution much like the invention of the Gutenberg printing press with the movable type in 1448.

In the same way that the Gutenberg press liberated Europe from the Dark Ages, basically, so does the Internet and Blogs and citizen journalists liberate the world, yet again. Problem, as far as the powers that be are concerned is that the Internet and Blogs and all the other ways of publishing and printing from home via PC is, upsetting the status quo and there control over the media.

The printing press provided a powerful demonstration of how new communications systems, when leveraged socially, can topple once unassailable empires of received truth. And this is where the “problem”, so to speak, lies as far as the powers that be and Blogs and Bloggers and citizen journalists per se are concerned.

Blogging, especially as a means to informing and of bringing forth discussion and such, as well as other social online media, it would appear, are seen by the powers that be as something that threatens them as just those very empires of “truths”, with the established media, in the main owned by members pf one very influential lobbying group, in the forefront of those that are running scared and that is why the governments, some overt some covert, try to curb the activities of Blogger and Blogs.

I mean we cannot possible allow to have people who think and analyze events and while doing so come to a different conclusion than the established media and then report such thoughts and analysis to a wide audience on the Web. This just cannot be allowed now, can it?

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Getting divorced from the TV

by Michael Smith

What would you miss?

In Britain the first thing you would miss is paying the nigh on $200 annual license fee without which the viewing of television is a felony.

In addition to that you would miss all the garbage programs.

I have gotten divorced from the TV some ten or more years ago and have not really missed the one-eyed monster god in the corner at all.

Now, with BBC's iPlayer, for instance, we all have the chance to watch some of the interesting – and also, alas, the not so interesting – programs for a week or more afterwards and I must say that I do that at times now.

On the other hand seeing what is on in most cases on the box it is definitely a case of not missing anything.

In general terrestrial television in Britain is a waste of time and, so I have been told by many of my contacts in the USA, for instance, the same appears to be true in America.

While in the USA there is no license fee payable in order to watch TV the programs appear to be equally bas if not worse and therefore I doubt that anyone would seriously miss television, especially not if one can watch some stuff online; interesting stuff I mean.

What you will gain, on the other hand, by divorcing yourself from the TV is a great amount of time that you can spend with and on other much more beneficial things, and even if that be only reading books.

Personally I do not think that I could even fit the TV into my life anymore for I am way too busy with all the things that I am doing as with writing and such, and from what I have heard from others who have gone the same road of divorce from the TV they have made the same experiences.

In addition to that for those that have a family you will find that you suddenly have time for family quality time, time to do things with your children, time to spend with the other half and such.

While, at first, the kids will moan and groan about not having a TV and also think that they are being deprived something that their peers have it should not take too long and they too find that life without the box is so much better and so much more rewarding.

I have heard though of some children's services getting involved in some cases trying to get the parents to have the TV for the children and claiming that it deprives the children, etc. Instances of that have occurred in Europe as well as, as far as I know, the United States.

In Europe where a license fee is required in most countries for the watching of TV and even the listening to radio broadcasts it will take some time to persuade the authorities before they will believe that you do not, in fact, have a TV and use it without a license. It took somewhere in the region of 5 years before the British TV Licensing Authority stopped sending me letters saying that I had to have a license and that they'd we coming around to check as to whether I had a TV. They finally believed though they never actually came to check, but I still get the occasional letter claiming that, in case I now had a TV I would have to get a license and they say they'd be coming to check. Oh well! They are welcome. Not that they will be permitted to come in unless they have a warrant and a police officer with them.

Despite those little inconveniences I think it is more than worth it having gotten rid off that one-eyed god in the corner that demanded worship. Not only am I saving those two hundred bucks, I am not wasting time either; time that could be used in a much m ore productive way.

© M Smith (Veshengro), March 2009

A New Economic Path

by Michael Smith

It is time, methinks, that we looked as our economic system again in a new light. Capitalism, as we know it, has broken down, yet again, and yes, I am well aware that the communist system, as it was used, and I stress “as it was used”, does not work either.

However, the way things have failed, yet again, with the capitalist system, due to the greed of bankers, and G-d knows the greed of other businesses too, that system too cannot be seen as one that benefits the people. In fact, as we can see, it benefits only a select few. And when those screw up they get rewarded for it, basically, by being bailed out by the taxpayer, whether it be banks or the automotive industry.

In addition to that the entire system of government as we know it, whether in Britain or the USA, must be overhauled too. Democracy is not a government of the people by the people and neither is the constitutional republic thing of the USA one that is one.

Also, the way Britain, for instance, is going, as well as the USA to some degree, and some EU member states, we are heading headlong into a police state. In Britain this has arrived already with all the CCTV cameras, the searches for knives and such at so many places, the proposed scatter radar scanners for weapons to be embedded in street furniture and all that. It is a shame though that the British people are so very happy to let this all happen. Or they are just so apathetic that they do not care. Then again, it could be that they feel powerless to do anything about it and, in fact, I think we are basically powerless and it does not matter who we elect into office.

But, let us look at the economy first, for I am beginning to digress:

As far as I can see we must find new ways of doing business and we might not go too wrong if, to some extent, we would go back to the ways of old, including barter.

Banking and credit definitely seems to be the biggest problem of us all and while industry and commerce may have to have a means of obtaining credit in one way or another the ordinary mortals like you and me should looks back to the old ways.

What are those old ways? Well, they are cash and savings. In other words, if you have not got the money to buy what you may want to buy then you cannot buy it and you don't. You save up to get the money to buy this item.

We also must come to the understanding that we have affluenza – many of us – and that we misinterpret and -understand what our needs are and our wants.

Someone with a car that is say 2 years old and working fine does not need a new car while he may want a new one and that is the same for someone whose computer is working perfectly well and is doing all that he needs to do when he thinks he needs a new PC. That is when wants gets misinterpreted as needs.

In truth our needs are not complicated and also not expensive. But people mistake, as I have said, wants with needs. When they, and obviously their offspring, say that they “need” this or that in most cases this is a “want” and not a “need”.

Aside from that we must look at economics in a different way. Maybe, somehow, along the lines of what Fritz Schumacher used to write about, that is to say “economics as if people mattered”.

The state of economics that we have presently but which appears to be breaking apart is no0t one where people seem top matter., The only thing that appears to matter to those that own the businesses and the banks is profit and yet more profit for themselves, their directors and their shareholders. The workers and the people in general do not matter to most of those in the least. There are a few exceptions, or there used to be, for many of them have gone into ownership of multinationals, such as Rowntree and Cadburys, who once had great social systems in place for their workforce.

I believe that we must look at the system of economics and trade completely afresh and find new ways of doing business on a more people-orientated scale. I am sure that this can be done for it used to be done in years gone by.

In some places we are already seeing, for some years and decades even, a different local system of trade and even currency, and even though in some countries this is being frowned upon by the powers that be as, in some countries it is against the law – theoretically – to print own money and to mint coins, it is a system that should be encouraged rather than discouraged. The problem I see here though is that the powers that be do not like such local currencies and barter trade systems because they cannot get any taxes from such sales and transactions. The problem is the states, the governments, as they are. They cannot abide the idea that people could trade without the state getting its share, however unfair this share may be. If no currency of the realm changes hands but just a barter currency or barter trade in general the state has noway of getting the revenue it so desires and that is why any economic activity other that “proper” sales are discouraged and even deemed illegal.

If we want to be able to survive as people and nations in this downturn and especially afterwards and live lives that are more fulfilling then we must first of all change the system of economics under which we work and trade. This must then be followed by the system of government; a system where the people really run the show and not just an elite that has been, supposedly, representatively elected by the people.

Economics must be brought back down to scale and go local again and banking must be changed as well and especially.
We can no longer – not that we really ever could – have banks that lend far above their deposit base. This is unsustainable and not just in the long run.

As far as the economy and economics are concerned in general we must get away from the global market issue and look back to locally produced goods, products and services. On such a scale the exploitation that is happening in the present system of the economy will then be greatly reduced, and I mean here there exploitation of workers in the same way as the exploitation of resources.

As I have said in a previous article about plastics recycling I cannot understand how it can be sustainable for the recyclables to be shipped to China for processing in to plastics base again, then to have goods made from the material there and then have the stuff shipped back to us in Europe, America or Australia. This just does not compute. And it especially does not compute when one knows that there are plastics recycling companies in the UK, for instance, who reprocess the recyclables here, and then make that plastic resultant from the recyclables into new goods that sell at not much more or in fact no more than the goods that come from China. So, someone make the calculations. Once again the reason for carting the stuff to China and then the reprocessed goods back to us is greed for the profit margins are so much better when this all happens in China, obviously.

Greed – corporate greed – is what got us into this problem in the first place and it is not the first time either and still we allow it to go on and on that way.

To some degree one can but hope that economic downturn and the looming depression might be a wake up call for all of us and we may, hopefully, learn that there is and must be another way to do things; a way that is sustainable. This way will have and must have a “repair” mentality again rather than a “chuck it” mentality. However, obsolescence is built into most things that we buy nowadays. Nothing is made too last and most things simply cannot be repaired. It is either too expensive to do so and it is cheaper to actually buy new or one simply, even a technician, cannot get at the insides of the product to carry out a repair.

Mind you, the mentality of people must change first as well for we know of bicycles and other things being thrown out into the trash simply because of a puncture in care of the bikes or a broken plug in case of some electrical goods. Though this might just change in the current climate and especially if this is not over by the end of 2009, say, as predicted by the chief of the Federal Reserve.

Most eminent economists are beginning to talk the “d” rather then the “r” word, that is to say they are coming round to understanding and stating that we are in a recession heading for a depression or that we are indeed already in the latter. Therefore, this could last for quite some time and people might just then come ro0und to understand that we cannot carry on the way we have been doing, and repairing things and the demand for things to be repairable might then happen.

But, we then will have a problem also for, where are the cobblers, the radio and TV repair men and women, the chair menders, the bicycle mechanics, and all those other skilled people that can fix all those things. In most cases they are no longer around. Their businesses folded years ago when we used to buy new each and every time instead of having a pair of shoes resoled, a bike mended, or what-have-you.

Many things, however, can be fixed by someone with a little handyman or -woman experience and a few tools. A bicycle does not have to go to the tip because of a puncture or a chain that has come off but we have see just this happening in this country not so long ago at the municipal garbage dumps. A Hi-Fi system that has a plug ripped off only needs a new plug fitted at the end of the lead but, alas, many people just throw such an item and buy new rather than put a new plug on or have one fitted by someone if they do not have the skills to do it themselves. Getting an electrician to fit a plug may cost a few bucks – if one cannot do it oneself – but it is a lot less than buying a new appliance.

While, with the current economic problems and the looming depression we have the mother of an opportunity for change here I doubt that it will happen unless we all, as people, can get the powers that be to understand from where we are coming and what we want.

The situation that we are in economically and financially could also be of benefit to the environment and to the creation of “green” jobs by the ton. But will this happen and will this opportunity be used for the benefit of us all? Or is it going to be “business as usual”? Much as regards to the outcome, I think, is down too us, to each and every one of us. Let's use this opportunity wisely and not waste it.

© M Smith (Veshengro), March 2009

Improvised self-defense tools for the security operative

by Michael Smith

Innocuous looking and originally inoffensive tools are here becoming defensive tools for the operative.

This is a DIY article as to how to make your own defensive tools without needing much outlay and especially under conditions where going to a specialist store would not be possible.

I do not mean that the article is DIY but we are talking here about DIY in regards to making your own defensive weaponry, such as kubotans and other such from stuff that could be regarded as trash even.

I am sure that the experienced field operative and protection operative will have his own ideas once I have been able to stimulate the thoughts here with this little piece.

The Defense Pen

This is either a real pen, but one that, ideally, is not needed for the purpose of writing, or a specially made or machined device, so to speak, that, to all intents and purposes, it looks like a pen when carried. In fact, the truth is that an ordinary pen can be used for this purpose as well.

However, I prefer to have a separate defense pen for the task. There are, in some places, such defense pens available to purchase but there are a number of ways that one can be improvised for use by the operative by employing simple DIY and it makes a nice project to wile away some spare time, if you happen to have some.

The Defense Stick

Now this is NOT a baton of a large scale but more like a homemade kubotan, the little martial arts too that can also be bought, obviously.

I found an ideal improvisation and that is the use of the musical percussion sticks that are used in music teaching at schools. They can be bought for a couple of bucks as a pair and only one of them is needed to make into the “defense stick”. In fact, you don't have to do anything to it; it is ready as it comes. You will need to know, however, as to how to use such a defensive tool effectively.

The defense stick can be employed somewhat like a kubotan but, in my view, is probably more versatile still in its uses and deployment.

Defense sticks can be bought, factory made, from metal but it does not have to be, as it is not difficult to make one from the aforesaid musical percussion sticks. So why fork out quite a sum of money if you can “improvise” it for far less?

The other thing with such tools that might be referred to by some as weapons is that they doe not look anything like it and hence are not picked up too easily by those that are not in the know.

The defense stick, obviously, could also be made from a piece of branch wood from this or that hardwood tree and either turned or hand carved into what one may want it to be like. This is not a difficult operation either and it is also cheaper even though the percussion sticks are only a few Euro.

The Kubotan

This little device was – so rumor has it – invented and devised by an instructor for the Japanese police and has found its way into many martial arts disciplines by now. While, originally, the kubotan – at least nowadays – is of hardwood or metal even it should be most easy to make one from some length of bamboo and, as far as I know the qualities of bamboo, it would surpass both hardwood and metal. Made from bamboo will also make it undetectable. That, I know, is also true for the wooden kubotan but... not everyone can use a turner's lathe.

On the other hand bamboo is, in my opinion at least, a material that is stronger than wood and less prone to breakage in use than some woods might be. Also, bamboo has what could be called natural grooves that do away with the need for turning anyway.

Blackjack or Slapper

This too is a tool that can be made by the operative himself and with a little skill in working leather it can look quite nice too.

The ideal way of making such a tool is using a spring, a fishing weight of the right kind, whether lead or bismuth, and some leather in which to case the contraption.

My suggestion would be to “screw” the pear-shaped lead (or bismuth) weight into the spring that I mentioned (a gate spring will do nicely) and then “wrap” the thing in two bits of leather.

Once sewn up it is trimmed to shape, the edges of the leather cleaned up, sanded and then sealed with leather oil.

A nice, simple and effective defensive tool that costs little to make but would cost well over $20+ to buy, as far as I have seen.

The list above is, obviously, in no way exhaustive and I am sure that many a reader would be able to add to this. All I am trying to do here is provide you with some food for thought.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Reuses for Errant Mittens

by Michael Smith

I do not think that there is any winter that is going by here where I do not see an orphan mitten or glove lying in the snow or mud, or otherwise lost, in the parks or countryside. And, as I hate anything going to waste I tend to collect those.

I also have rather a collection of orphaned socks of different sizes and many woolly hats. What people lose is amazing at times and how anyone can lose a hat on a cold day beats me every time. But, eh, I am not complaining.

But back to the gloves in hand, so to speak...

There have been times when the gloves that have been found have been a pair even and those were of the Thinsulate brand as well... nice one, thanks. But most mittens and gloves are orphans, missing their mate.

In some instances I have made up a pair, especially for the rough outdoors stuff, from those single orphans but it does not always work and especially not with mittens that are child or even baby sized ones.

Here are some suggestions for mitten reuse. Some of these suggestions here will only work with mittens that are your size while others, such as the drawstring bag idea work also with child and baby mitts.

Drawstring Mitten Bag
You can create a drawstring bag from a mitten and use it to store marbles or drawstrings. Thread a piece of nylon cord through the mitten's cuff. If the mitten is lined, you should be able to use the lining as a drawstring channel. Otherwise you may have to build a channel. Such a drawstring mitten is also great as a money bag or purse, primarily for coins.

N.B. For more information check out a tutorial somewhere online or in books on making a drawstring bags.

You don't, necessarily, have to put a drawstring into the mitten. I have made a purse from a small child's mitten by using an elastic cord of the kind that is found in windcheater fleeces nowadays and a locking toggle. Works great.

Ice Scraper Mitten
Get a drill, a punch or an awl and a nylon cord. Drill a hole in the bottom of your ice scraper. Thread the cord through. Attach the cord to the mitten. The scraper is now attached to the mitten. You will never find yourself without a mitten when you need one.

Mitten Duster
Use that mitten as a duster. It's reusable and washable and it fits conveniently on your hand. It's not so hard to clean corners any more.

iPod Pouch
Especially the child mittens lend themselves, much like small socks that also can be found in abundance in local parks, to the use for and making of iPod pouches.

USB Sock
Well, small mittens work for that as well as small socks and their use is a lot cheaper than buying a so-called USB sock. Mind you, most USB drives nowadays are so small that they might get a little lost in such a bag, but whatever... they are kept clean and well this way.

As far as I am concerned orphaned mittens like orphaned socks can have many uses and I am sure there will be many more uses turning up in the end and many a reader will have his or her own ideas and – hopefully – suggestions which they, so I hope, will share with us.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Lords issue warning regarding the 'surveillance state'

by Michael Smith

Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are "pervasive" in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, Members of the House of Lords have warned. And rightly so, one can but hasten to add.

The proliferation of CCTV cameras and the growth of the DNA database were two examples of threats to privacy, so the Lords constitution committee said.

Those subject to unlawful surveillance should be compensated while the policy of DNA retention should be rethought.

Too many times local authorities also have been making use of RIPA, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which was never intended to be used in the way that so many councils are employing it, such as spying on people as to what rubbish is put out when incorrectly and by who, and such like.

The government said CCTV and DNA were "essential crime fighting tools", but this has, in fact, been disproved by senior police officers who have stated not so long ago that CCTV is useless in most cases. So why the continuation of the lie to the people.

The only answer here can and must be that the government of the UK is hellbent on “people control” and nothing else.


Surveillance and data collection, so the Lords' committee says, must be proportionate.
What, however, is proportionate in this instance and who decides this and who monitors this on behalf of the people?

Civil liberties campaigners have warned about the risks of a "surveillance society" in which the state acquires ever-greater powers to track people's movements and retain personal data.

Controversial government plans for a database to store details of people's phone calls and e-mails were put on hold late last year after they were branded "Orwellian".

Ministers are currently consulting on the plan, which would involve the details but not the content of calls and internet traffic being logged, saying it is essential to fighting terrorism.

While we are being told that this database will not contain the details of phone calls and emails who is to say that this is going to be thus and, yet again, who, on behalf of the people is going to monitor this.

None of these methods will aid in the fight against crime nor in the fight against terrorism. Only one things will: proper policing; one that is NOT target driven but one that uses the old-fashioned ways of investigations of officers with common sense and a nose for spotting things that are wrong.

In its report, the Lords constitution committee said growth in surveillance by both the state and the private sector risked threatening people's right to privacy, which it said was "an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom".

The public were often unaware of the scale of personal information held and exchanged by public bodies, it said.

He only reason I can see for all those intrusive measures is that the governments are, in fact, frightened of the people and of the power the people have nowadays with the Internet. For the very same reason that they, in Italy, are trying to outlaw the citizen journalist, the Blogger and Blogs.

Instead of alienating the people by such measures the governments should empower the people to take part in the enforcement of the laws that there are and to be the eyes and ears as far as crime and terrorism is concerned and empower the people also the properly, as individuals, to hold the police to account when they do not deal with crime in the proper way.

Target-driven policing is leaving people frustrated and worse. You cannot tell a crime victim that they must book an appointment with an officer to take a statement or too tell Park Rangers when there are hoodlums rampaging through a park, threatening people, that local officers will be made aware and will attend to take a statement in a couple of days.

The reason for such replies is the target culture and the wish to appear to solve everything to which officers are being dispatched. So, if you don't send a response vehicle then that is not logged as such an incident and hence the possible lack of a result in an investigation does not reflect (badly) in the league tables. This is what it is all about and, as far as the government is concerned, “people control”

here is so much misuse of the powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, for instance, that it is hardly surprising that people, and especially organizations that try to protect the civil liberties in the UK, are getting concerned.

Orwell was right only a little too early in the date.

There are and estimated 4,000,000 (in words: four million) CCTV cameras in the UK and often they are used by local councils to simply spy on people over issues such as littering and such like.

The Conservatives said the government's approach to personal privacy was "reckless".

"Ministers have sanctioned a massive increase in surveillance over the last decade, at great cost to the taxpayer, without properly assessing either its effectiveness or taking adequate steps to protect the privacy of perfectly innocent people," said shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve.

The government and the police, as said previously, are alienating rather than making friends out of the public but then they do not seem to care. They rather see anyone and everyone as a criminal and terrorist until proven otherwise. It used to be “innocent until proven guilty” but that was a long time ago.

When the “Miranda” warning in the UK was changed from “you have the right to remain silent but anything you may say will be taken down and given in evidence” to “you have the right to remain silent but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court”, the goalpost was moved and it became a “guilty until proven innocent”. In the same way as anyone carrying a knife may be considered automatically to carry it will ill intentions, for instance. A knife is a tool and not a weapon, primarily, and while there are people who carry a knife as a weapon the emphasis should still be, also with children and young people in the possession of a knife, that there is another purpose there for that knife than as a weapon of offense or defense. Guilty until proven innocent, and in the knife instance often it simply is guilty, whether guilty or not. You do not solve crime that way.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Secateurs used as wire cutters

by Michael Smith

Time and again I see this and cringe. People, whether pruning roses or people pruning vines, they need to cut some wire, often just tying wire but at times also some slightly stronger ones, resort to the pair of secateurs that they are using rather than going and getting the proper tool. Using the hardened cutting blade of a pair of secateurs to cut wire not just dulls the blade; it can, in fact, cause nicks to be broken out of the blade and with that the blade be ruined irreparably.

Now there is no more need to worry and do that for all secateurs in the Ergo range from Bahco have a special aperture at the heel of the blade which, in fact, is a wire cutter. Very clever, methinks. Only shame that until my recent visit to the Garden Press Event 2009 at the RHS Halls in London's Westminster I, and more than likely many readers neither, did not know about this. I have reviewed two of the secateurs in that range last year after the Garden Press Event and even though this aperture was already part of those pruners then no one mentioned this and this was also not included in any of the press material.

As far as I am concerned, this is a feature that should be mentioned for now one no longer has to feel guilty when using one's secateurs with which to cut some tying wire or such, as long as one uses the right part of the blade and, obviously, one of the Ergo range of Bahco's pruning shears (secateurs) that have this facility built in.

While Bahco secateurs (pruning shears) of the Ergo range certainly are not cheap, they are the only ones that allow for the need to cut, say, tying wire without damaging the blades. Nice one.

© M Smith (Veshengro), March 2009