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Veg-aid

Factory farming

I imagine that out of most people contributing to or visiting this site, I’m the least motivated when it comes to actually engaging in small, day-to-day ethical activities: things like recycling, buying second-hand or Fairtrade clothes, buying local food produce etc. Since a lot of what The Night Shift is about is precisely these small acts, I’ve decided to make an effort to get stuck in. But I shall need the help and support of fellow Night Shifters (in return for which I can offer some startlingly original interpretations of Proust, plus a fine line in Frankie Boyle jokes).

Inspired by many discussions with friends over recent months, plus these two extracts (link in each word) from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, I’d like to try, if not to become an out and out vegetarian, then at least massively to reduce the quantity of meat I eat on a daily basis, and to make sure that the meat I do eat is sourced locally and produced in animal-friendly conditions. (I should point out that writing that last sentence already inspires in me a wave of antipathetic lethargy just at the thought of how much effort finding those ‘local sources’ will take – I live in Amsterdam and don’t speak Dutch).

So, how can you help me? Well, I have a few questions to which those in the know could respond:

  1. If you live in Amsterdam, where can I get my ethically righteous meat?!
  2. I stress a lot about not eating sufficient quantities of whatever it is that one is supposed to eat to stay vaguely healthy. In this case, what should I eat to replace the proteins I’d be missing from the meat?
  3. I’m not a good cook at all (I’m more your chips and beans sort of guy): do you have any very simple vegetarian recipes you could suggest?

I’ll keep you updated with my progress and inevitable lapses…

Dan Hartley

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The importance of being earnest

What I have learned about the blog so far is that some people see a discrepancy between our practical aims and the way we discuss them on the blog. I’d like to give some ideas about how we could improve the flow of exchange between people with different backgrounds. Since I’m very interested in the philosophical etc. contributions for example, but sometimes don’t have sufficient knowledge to comment, I would like to request some more practical exemplifications of the ideas you’re discussing.

I think that people can easily be intimidated by the technical terms you use and thus won’t read the text or contribute own ideas. I don’t think that your posts are pretentious though (what does ‘pretentious’ even mean? Each domain has it’s own terms and can only break things down to a certain point). Even if one might call them such, it’s no use taking it on a personal level (there shouldn’t be made a classification amongst us, scientists versus others). The idea of this blog is exactly the opposite – crossing borders, having specialists in each field who can contribute to the overall idea, growing through each other etc. It’s no use discussing about it endlessly. So

a. Be as clear as possible without trivializing ideas.

Perhaps we should start putting very short introductions to our posts – if they are of a difficult nature. (“This post is about…” or some basic information about the content….”what you absolutely need to know”).

It would be interesting to start a catalogue of practical questions and try to answer them from a philosophical… point of view (what would X have said about…). It demands high capacaties to transform such abstract ideas into practical advice, but that’s the way something genuinely new can emerge.

b. If you don’t understand a concept, idea etc., why not just ask? Sometimes one is so trapped in his or her ideas that one doesn’t even notice the  degree of complexity (as a trainee teacher I know how important it is to put yourself in your pupils’ position to see the difficulties).

I don’t want this blog to be a gladiatorial arena for who-knows-best, but a space where one can put whatever he/she wishes to express!

Julia Kröger

Food: bread

(My first loaf)

Food: bread:

I thought I’d start with a staple – Bread. I live in France, so I have good bread on every corner and it comes from the locals, but for all of you in England (and I guess elsewhere), this is a luxury you don’t have access to.  A big part of cooking and baking, besides an oven, is taking time. Hammam was discussing this in his comments, and I feel that taking time to bake (like taking time to read a poem), is a nugget of ‘action’/’praxis’.

Bread recipes are super easy to come by and I’ve inculded a recipe at the bottom for good measure.

Anyway, I won’t rant – it’s just bread.

***

RECIPE FOR – “Dee’s Health Bread”

(http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Dees-Health-Bread/Detail.aspx).

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 7 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup flax seed
  • 1/4 cup cracked wheat
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups bread flour

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/2 cup warm water. In a large bowl, mix remaining 3 1/2 cups warm water, honey, molasses, oil, eggs and lemon juice. Mix well. Add yeast mixture and stir.
  2. Gradually add 5 cups whole wheat flour beating well after each addition. Add the flax, cracked wheat and sunflower seeds, stir well.
  3. Let stand for 20 minutes, until mixture is very light. Stir in salt and the rest of the flours until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Knead 10 to 15 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Put into a greased bowl and cover, let rise in the oven with light on until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. Punch down and shape into 6 round balls. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
  6. Form into loaves and let rise covered in oven until doubled. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) 25-35 minutes.

Nutritional Information open nutritional information

Amount Per Serving Calories: 97 | Total Fat: 2.5g | Cholesterol: 6mg

Nutritional Information
Dee’s Health Bread

Servings Per Recipe: 72

Amount Per Serving

Calories: 97

  • Total Fat: 2.5g
  • Cholesterol: 6mg
  • Sodium: 133mg
  • Total Carbs: 16.7g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2g
  • Protein: 3.1g

Powered by: ESHA Nutrient Database

Consumables

This is an introductory blog concerning the consumables in our life.

Intro:

I intend this to be the start of a discussion on our many daily consumables, both of the edible and non-edible variety. There’s lots of things to be included here – the article from a local farmer outside Paris should be one.  This needs to have a place for recipes, the veggie/vegan/bio discussion, buying high-street/buying second hand ad infinitum.  I (we) want to appeal to a range of people, not to exclude.  To do this, we have to be wary of the pitfalls inherent in many of these issues (nobody likes a ‘hippie’, it seems), and yet articulate the problems of the current structure of consumer capitalism with both aggresive critical accuracy and grace.  Recipe for cheesecake?  Where to buy decent, cheap and second hand clothing?  What things to avoid if turning Veggie?…etc.

As for my (personal) ‘manifesto’, it is simple and obvious: buy as much as you can from local, independent producers and distributors.  Buy second hand.  Reduce, Re-use, Repair, Recycle.   Be aware that almost all meat/eggs/dairy you can purchase comes from factory farming, unless stated otherwise.  (I will include a few links at the bottom to various articles on these issues).  I appreciate that consuming fair-trade is only akin to a ‘band-aid’ on standard (implicitly ‘un-fair’) trade and that consuming in this manner should not allow me to become comfortable or lax in my critical faculties (the very critical faculties that stopped me drinking at Starbucks when I was younger – though now they have gone fairtrade perhaps someone wants to defend them – though it won’t be me).

If it is all so obvious, then, why bother mentioning it? For I’m sure lots of people have similar manifestos, but the point being that it is not in any way easy.  It’s very hard, and my family and acquaintances often jibe at me even when I try to stick by my rules (and often fail).  I count myself pretty good on most accounts, and can become quite militant too (as a humorous aside: an ex and I broke up when, as the culmination of various issues, she didn’t like my cynicism regarding her recent job proposal – from the Disney channel Spain), but if we share and learn from one another then this is an area in which theory can very easily be made practice.  Perhaps – for those of us who, occasionally or often, bow under the pressure of social injunctions to consume in a certain manner – the ‘consumables’ category, can help us stick to our own rules and come up with more.

Theory and Practice

Lenin writing: theory or practice?

The Night Shift is all about fusing theory with practice. What I’d like to do in this post is to open up a discussion as to how we might go about defining those terms. Instinctively, ‘theory’ is something you do whilst reading books, thinking and writing – conceptualising various problems and analysing them philosophically. It is fundamentally passive. ‘Practice’, on the other hand, is doing something: acting, moving, physically changing one’s environment. It is fundamentally active

But does this distinction hold up? Firstly, ‘thinking’ as a concept implies the opposite of ‘passive contemplation’; it suggests mental agency (or what certain philosophers might call ‘negativity’): does this not count as practice? Reading, surely, is something we do physically by moving our eyes and turning the pages of a book: is this not practice? The same holds for writing, too.

Similarly, is moving or physically changing my environment really devoid of theory? Do I not begin an act with a certain end in mind towards which I guide my body? What would a practice look like that didn’t have some kind of theory bound up with it? Is a thoughtless act even possible?

So it would seem that the distinction between theory and practice is not as clear-cut as we first imagined. How else, then, might we go about defining the difference between the two? Perhaps in terms of the effects of our thoughts and our acts? Perhaps a practical act – now comprehending both theorising and physical activity – generates a certain type of effect. What might that be? Well, here, at The Night Shift, we would have to think about what defines a genuinely political act. It would be an act which forged a path towards universal emancipation; but how do we define universal emancipation?!

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but between us it seems to me that we must confront them if we want to claim a rigorous justification for what we’re even doing here.

Electricity and the future for your jalfrezi

Electricity is a funny thing: Without it we wouldn’t be able to function in our daily lives at all. The use of electricity most often quoted is for lighting, however it is also the single most important component in the supply of gas, water and sanitation services (sewerage). We depend on it for food, communication, transport and shelter as well as the ability to sit in front of the TV watching X-factor whilst shovelling microwaved chicken jalfrezi into our mouths. So, I’m saying it’s important. Fine – I expect all of you knew that anyway, though maybe you didn’t appreciate just how vital it is. What really fascinates me about electricity though, is how few people there are that know even the most basic things about this fundamental resource. Nobody needs to know why the room lights up at the push of a button, they just know that it will happen.

The thing is, though, that if you have something vital like electricity you want to be fairly certain that it’ll continue to be available to you no matter what changes are made to society itself. If we live in a free, equal and fair society can we still be confident that the light comes on when you push the button?

So far, so little of information you may be thinking (and fair play if that was what you were thinking), so let me give you a rough outline of how electricity is produced and distributed in the majority of developed countries where utilities have been privatised and hopefully this will make you a little clearer on the likely problems and questions of electricity in the future.

Electricity supply comprises four different areas: generation, transmission, distribution and retail. To briefly explain them, generation is made up of any number of companies that produce electricity. Transmission is a single monopoly that operates to move electricity from the points of generation (power stations) to the main points of consumption (cities). Distribution consists of a number of companies that own a region of the electricity network and whose job it is to break the very high voltage electricity from transmission down into something more usable and then get it to homes, schools, factories etc. Finally retail exists to monitor the energy consumption of each dwelling and charge the owner, these are the companies that send you your bills.

The key issue that makes electricity distinct from other forms of energy supply, is that it has to be used (almost) instantaneously to when it is produced as it can’t yet be stored reliably. So the first point to understand is exactly how much of it needs to be generated at any point in the future and then continuously match the total amount generated across the country to the total amount being consumed. This, as you may appreciate, is quite complex. Electricity is traded using contracts that cover half-hour periods. The retailer will forecast how much of it they will need at any time and contract with various generation companies to be supplied with that electricity. So what happens if the retailer underestimates how much they need, a power station blows up or Gordon Brown unexpectedly appears on the ITN news and the population of Surrey switch their TV’s off? Well, the balance of supply demand is continuously managed by the owner of the transmission network who, if necessary, can tell the generation companies to switch things off or bring new generators online (for which the generation companies charge extortionate fees). The contracts are then reviewed after the half hour time period has been completed and any differences are settled up.

As I want to keep this to a readable length (and I’m tired, hungry and hungover) I’ll add only two more considerations: Electricity is a very finely graded form of energy: it can only be moved around if it’s at a very precise level of voltage and frequency. I can’t just plug a generator into a socket at the wall and power my house off of it, it would need to be synchronised to the correct output and connected to the correct position on the network for it to work without blowing something up.  Which leads on to my final point – electricity is very dangerous stuff. Access to electrical infrastructure outside your own home is entirely restricted, with very good reason: a 400kV transformer is not something you’d want to open up to children or interested members of the public.

Hopefully you’ve already worked out where this is going: the nature of electricity supply requires large organisations and hierarchy as well as restrictions on members of the general public. How is this compatible with your view of a socialist society? Can this be achieved or do we need to rethink the way electricity would be supplied?

What is the format? – Knowing the limits & keeping one’s bearings

Malevich - Black Square and Red Square (1915)

This is written from the position of devil’s advocate. I’m writing it because I think that what this blog is trying to do is important and necessary.

I read the blog today in its entirety and I see that it is already drifting from one topic to another without any structure. The danger is that it will soon become unmanageable, or simply off-putting to a reader. Consequently I would argue that there must be some structure imposed (tabs at the top etc.) so that people who visit the blog can manoeuvre easily. If the contributors can agree on what the blog is for and at whom it’s aimed, that should give guidance to the format that the blog should take.

The danger is that rather than offering something to non-contributors, the blog will simply become a forum for the contributors, discussing issues of interest to them which are inevitably going to be quite disparate.

While the traditional blog format works for posting interesting quotes, or linking to that suicide note for example, it is not conducive to what seems to be the aim of the contributors. That aim appears to be for something much greater in size and more far-reaching. The question then arises of whether the blog format is even the right one. Will its form simply constrain the efforts of the contributors?

A less important issue is definitions. Admittedly this skirts close to what is arguably the realm of pedantic academia (this is a danger that Joe and Terry are very alert too), but terms (e.g. socialist, workers, capitalism, etc.) are appearing in people’s contributions and I wonder whether there needs to be a reference for readers. This may be too much, I admit, however if the endeavour of the project is to be a (political/social) resource for others, then at least the issue of definitions should be considered.

Joe’s concern over too much theory and analysis is an important one (vital, as he points out, if one is serious about undertaking actions that make a better world), but the danger is that we assume that everyone is as critically aware (I can’t think of a less pompous term) of the pitfalls of modern living as are the contributors. If the blog is meant to educate/inform, then analysis and theory are vital. As Terry mentioned: there is a need to mediate contemporary society.

Finally, with the issue of editing, I would argue for a strict, if not downright bastardly, approach to entries. Clarity, focus and relevance should be always present. Again, to go back to the first issue raised, the stated aims and goals of the blog should determine the format. If socialism or an alternative to capitalism is to be discussed, then the entries must be excellent; the reality is that the world is so markedly stacked against those arguing for alternatives that the tools that are offered to would-be adherents must be impossibly sharp.

At which point I will take issue with the entries entitled Mask and Marx’s beard. The latter offers little or nothing to the reader. However if it would be combined with the quote attested to Marx, I would have less to take issue with. Mask however raises much more pressing concerns. I would argue that the entry does not seem to argue anything, existing only as an attempt to draw more people to the website. The only text that seems to accompany the images are copyright symbols that assert that all rights are reserved to the artist.

The issue of private property is an important one to discuss, but I assume that this is not what this entry is trying to do. It may well be the failing of the format of the blog to not offer these entries a proper place, but as it stands, they do not attempt to contribute as the other entries do. If contributors are serious about the aim of this blog then such an entry needs to be taken down, or added to. It cannot be the aim of entries to this blog to advertise a contributor’s other websites (this is provisioned for by the blogroll widget). If such lax entries are allowed, then I would argue that there is a danger that this project will lose steam in a month or so.

All the points raised here stem from the simple question of what is this blog for? And who is it for? In the initial contributions, these questions were addressed, but those opinions should now lead to a formulation of structure and form for what could be an excellent resource for people. Julia’s entry offered the best example so far of the perfect marriage of theory and the praxis of everyday life, underlining why this project is so important and so vitally needed.

Some Suggestions:

  • Use tabs at the top more to allow new readers to navigate the site easily, finding that initial something of interest to them, that may hopefully lead to them checking more things.
    • About Tab: Could contain the motivations of the contributors, essays (what is the form to be used?) on what the project is about, on the format of the blog, etc.
    • Theory Tab a.k.a. Dan’s Tab: should be the sole realm of theory for theory’s sake. There is a place and time for everything, Dan’s esoteric rants are for here!
    • Analysis Tab: Analysis of events, postings of interest, etc.
      • Breaking down into Politics, Society, Economy, Culture, etc. – Sociological images is a good example of a blog format analysis
    • Taking Action Tab: Taking up Joe’s point again, there needs to be a strong emphasis on offering practical undertakings to people. This this section could include links to other sites, opinions or reports on participating in certain activities, analysis of such things, etc.
  • There needs to be a strong editorial line on what is put on the blog. Each entry has to be able to argue its relevance. Also a word limit could be considered – preventing such excesses that this entry is guilty of, but more, forcing the contributor to clarify and focus their entries.
  • The form of entries should be somewhat standardised (e.g An intro image, and then text). Also what type of language to be used, not being esoteric, but neither writing informally. The issue of a style for the entries is to prevent the blog becoming disjointed and off-putting.
  • Perhaps topics could be proposed bi-weekly and contributors could each decide to take the issue up in their own way, and then a discussion could flow from each person’s research, opinions etc.

In conclusion: this project has incredible potential for all those involved, but it will sink or swim solely on how committed the contributors are when they sit down to read, write, re-write, re-write again, curse and publish.