Saturday, 10 January 2015

Heroes

An an antidote to the current anti-Muslim frenzy, here are some stories of Muslim heroes from around the world.

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Lassana Bathily
Article here
"A Muslim shop assistant [Lassana Bathily] has been hailed a hero after saving at least six people by hiding them in a walk-in freezer at the Jewish grocery store where an Islamist gunmen made his final stand."

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Mr. Muhammad Ishaq
Article here)
"The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are deeply saddened by the killing of Mr. Muhammad Ishaq, a local community worker who was part of the polio eradication initiative in Pakistan.

Mr. Ishaq was shot and killed in the Gadap town area of Karachi on Friday evening.

Polio immunization activities were suspended in this area of Karachi earlier this week after a shooting incident injured two WHO staff members who were supporting the implementation and monitoring of a vaccination campaign.

Until activities were suspended, Mr. Ishaq had worked with the national polio eradication effort as a Union Council Polio Worker for several months, helping to plan and implement vaccination campaigns to protect the most underserved and vulnerable children against this debilitating disease.

Because of the dedication of heroes like Mr. Ishaq, Pakistan is this year closer than ever to the eradication of polio. He was known for his dedication and diligence to immunize all children against polio.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that can cause permanent paralysis in a matter of hours. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. Polio can be eradicated if every child is immunized until transmission stops worldwide."

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Malala Yousafzai
Main Blog Post here
Malala Yousafzai is a school-girl who lived in the Swat region of Pakistan who actively tried to improve the availability of schooling for girls in the area. Malala's efforts were recognised within Pakistan, with awards of the National Youth Peace Prize and the National Peace Award for Youth. By 2012 she was planning to organize the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poor girls go to school.

On 9 October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a bus. She was hit with one bullet, which went through her head, neck, and ended in her shoulder. Two other girls were also wounded in the shooting.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with an article reporting Sirajuddin Ahmad, a spokesman of Swat Taliban as saying :“We had no intentions to kill her but were forced when she would not stop (speaking against us).."

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Salaman Taseer
Main Blog Post here
Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in Pakistan on 4th Jan 2013. The governor had campaigned against the abuse of the country's Blasphemy Laws which are often abused to settle scores and persecute minorities. Taseer had been campaigning for the release of Asia Bibi who had been accused of blasphemy after an argument with a group of women while harvesting berries.

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Aitzaz Hasan
Article here "Aitzaz Hasan, 15, was with friends outside school when they spotted a man wearing a suicide vest. Despite the pleas of his fellow students, he decided to confront and capture the bomber who then detonated his vest, his cousin told the BBC."

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PFI

To BFTF's complete surprise, there has never been a post on PFI finance on this blog - let's sort that our right now.

PFI deals, which have been promoted by both Labour and Conservative Governments in recent years, have allowed public buildings to be built with private money. However, there have been many concerns that the contracts are inflexible and offer poor value for money, locking in taxpayer repayments for, literally, decades.

PFI debacle No1 : Notts Riverside Police Station
The Nottingham Post reported back in 2011 on the story and explains how Notts Police signed a 25-yr contract for the new station in 2001, The contract specified payments to the contractor of £960,000 a year for the next 25 years (much of this payment comes from central government).

The building is about half the size of a football pitch hat FOI requests had revealed that the the station is costing taxpayers

So Notts Police Authority signed a 25-year contract for Riverside under which, on top of staffing costs, it pays £80,000 a month – or £960,000 a year.

The building was constructed on a three-acre site and covers a space of 27,000 square feet – less than half the size of a football pitch.

But today, with redundancies and cutbacks being forced on all departments, the station costs are a severe strain on Police finances.

Phil Matthews, chairman of Notts Police Federation, comments that "We are [now] trying to shoe-horn people into the station just to make the most of it. This contract has become an albatross round our neck."

While the TaxPayers' Alliance, says that "Too many PFI deals were badly negotiated and now public bodies are stuck with huge monthly bills...that taxpayers are struggling to pay for".

The Cheerios Manifesto

Sickened, frankly, by the cynical, manipulative text on this pack of Cheerios:


Cheerios Manifesto

It's Simple, we're campaigning to let everybody know that kids looove Cheerios
And they come in bags too

And guess what?
We looove delicious
Chocolatey Cheerios
made with 4 whole grains and a source of calcium
More than just delicious - the're wholesomely nutritious too !

So Mums & Dads - it's Good to say YES!

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By the way, the ingredients for Cheerios are, in decreasing order:
Cereal Grains, Sugar, Wheat Starch, Partially Inverted Brown Sugar Syrup, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Sunflower Oil, Colours, Antioxidant


Did you spot the cyncial way percentages are used in that ingredients list?

In contrast, the ingredients for a packet of Porridge Oats are, in decreasing order:
Rolled Oats

One of those two choices is "wholesomely nutritious", but BFTF is not sure it is the Cheerios.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Some notes on the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Some notes from the coverage of the murder of Charlie Hebdo staff.

Condemnation of the attack (see also here) many Muslim Organisations, for example :

Grand Mosque of Paris :
"We strongly condemn these kind of acts and we expect the authorities to take the most appropriate measures. Our community is stunned by what just happened. It’s a whole section of our democracy that is seriously affected. This is a deafening declaration of war. Times have changed, and we are now entering a new era of confrontation."

Tariq Ramadan :
"Charlie Hebdo: NO! NO! NO! Contrary to what was apparently said by the killers in the bombing of Charlie Hebdo's headquarters, it is not the Prophet who was avenged, it is our religion, our values and Islamic principles that have been betrayed and tainted. My condemnation is absolute and my anger is profound (healthy and a thousand times justified) against this horror!!!..."

An article by Jonathan Freedland :
"There can surely be no doubt now – as to what we’re up against. It is a murderous cult. And, at the risk of mind-reading, it seems bent on fusing itself with Islam, claiming to act in the name, and on the authority, of that faith...

It follows that our responsibility is to thwart that effort. For Muslims, that has meant spelling out that these killers speak only for themselves. Note the speed with which a delegation of 20 imams visited the Charlie Hebdo offices, branding the gunmen “criminals, barbarians, satans” and, crucially, “not Muslims”.Of course they should not have to do it. The finger-wagging demand that Muslims condemn acts of terror committed by jihadist cultists is odious: it tacitly assumes that Muslims support such horror unless they explicitly say otherwise...So no one else should demand it. But when it comes, as it did so rapidly and spontaneously this week, it speaks with an extra power.

If the challenge, then, is to frustrate the killers’ desire to fuse themselves with Islam, then that puts a burden on ..[non-Muslims also] have to take great care that nothing they do, especially in response to this threat, treats the Muslim majority and the jihadist cult as if they were one group..."
Freedland also commented on the chorus of voices insisting that papers like the Guardian should republish Charlie Hebdo cartoons:
"Behind this argument is an assumption that Islam is a unique case. Yet for that to be true, a paper like the Guardian would be running images every day that it knew trampled on the sensibilities of, say, women or Jews or people of colour or myriad others – holding back only when it came to Muslims and what matters to them. But that’s not how it is. Mostly we do our best, not always successfully, to avoid causing that kind of pain.

And this is the key point. It is not only violent jihadists who resent representations of the prophet: such pictures trouble many millions of peaceful Muslims too. To print one now would be to take a stand against the former by offending the latter.

And that makes no sense. Not when our every move must now be aimed at confounding the killers’ wish to make this a holy war, pitting Muslims against everyone else. It is no such thing. Theirs is a dirty little war, a handful of wicked fanatics against the rest of us. And they must lose."

A visit by 20 Imams to the Charlie Hebdo offices after the attack:
"..On Thursday a delegation of about 20 imams from France’s Muslim federations visited the Charlie Hebdo offices...These men are criminals, barbarians, satans. For me, they are not Muslims,” the imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy, said, addressing the media. “Their hatred, their barbarism, has nothing to do with Islam. We are all French, we are all humans. We must live in respect, tolerance and solidarity.”"

Some comments from Rabbi Michael Lerner:
"And when the horrific [Charlie Hebdo attack] resulted in justifiable outrage around the world, did you ever wonder why there wasn't an equal outrage at the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed by the American intervention in Iraq or the over a million civilians killed by the U.S. in Vietnam, or why President Obama refused to bring to justice the CIA torturers of mostly Muslim prisoners

So don't be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media-circus surrounding this particular outrage while the Western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that Western countries have been involved in...I could easily imagine (and regret) how some Islamist fundamentalists will already be making these points about the ethical inconsistencies of Western societies with their pomposity about human rights that never seem to constrain the self-described "enlightened democracies" from violating those rights when it is they who perceive themselves as under attack."

An article in the Telegraph by Michael Deacon:
"Here's a theory...[Terrorists] merely pretend to be offended by cartoons, in order to give themselves a pretext to commit murder. Murder so horrifying, on a pretext so unWestern, that non-Muslims – blinded by grief and rage – turn on Muslims. Blame them. Persecute them. Burn their book, attack their mosques, threaten them in the street, demand their expulsion from Western societies. Actions that, in turn, scare Western Muslims, isolate them, alienate them. And thus drive some of them to support – and even become – terrorists"

Deacon adds that:
"I don't think the terrorists "win" if we fail to reproduce cartoons. I think the terrorists "win" if we leap up, gulp down their bait – and hate Muslims."


Having read all the above, and much else, BFTF's own thought are that this attack would have happened even if Charlie Hebdo had not existed. Whichever group did this decided they wanted to attack FIRST and decided what to attack SECOND. If not Charlie Hebdo, it would have been another publication, or a police station, or the parliament, or a company HQ or a church, or a synagogue.. Focussing on what Charlie Hebdo did or did not do is missing the point entirely. Further proof of this is how the attackers had no problem in killing civilians in a kosher supermarket.

Update 10th Jan
Touched by the story of how a Muslim saved many lives in the Kosher Supermarket that was attacked:
"When the Islamist gunman broke into the store, Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old Muslim from the African country of Mali, told customers to hide in the store's basement freezer. Closing the freezer's doors, he told the customers to wait calmly inside while he keeps a lookout. After police raided the supermarket and killed gunman Amedy Coulibaly, the hostages emerged safely from the freezer."


Friday, 2 January 2015

Housing

As a parent of three children, BFTF is VERY concerned about the cost of housing; the lack of house building; and the rise of BTL squeezing out first time buyers.

And that's without the issue of the next generation of young adults starting out life with a 27k university dept around their necks.

This post is intended to contain some (hopefullycoherent) thoughts on the issue, but for now is just a place to hold information so that BFTF can get his head around the issues.

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Millionaire landlords Fergus and Judith Wilson begin evicting large families
"..Fergus and Judith Wilson, whose property empire extends to nearly 1,000 homes in Kent, have begun evicting families with more than two children, banned tenants on zero-hours contracts and thrown out extended families where the grandmother comes to stay."

"Like many other landlords across Britain, Wilson has also taken the decision to reject anybody who is on a zero hours contract...'“I only have experience in rejecting them as tenants,” said Wilson. “No landlord in his right mind will accept tenants who do not have a guaranteed wage. No rent insurer will accept them, so that effectively makes the landlord’s decision for them. No pay … nowhere to live. Welcome to the real world.”"

"Roger Harding, Shelter’s director of communications, policy and campaigns, said: “It beggars belief that a landlord can evict a family simply because they have three children, and the fact that this one has is yet another sign of our broken rental market.“For many families, private renting is their only option. Families now make up nearly a third of private renters and if more landlords turn them away this will make it near impossible for many to find anywhere half-decent to live. Politicians must make private rented homes a stable place to put down roots, and not somewhere you can be turned away from for no good reason.”"
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How housebuilding helped the economy recover: Britain in the 1930s
"In the early 1930s Britain recovered impressively from a double-dip recession which ended in 1932. In every year from 1933 to 1936, before rearmament could have made any difference, growth exceeded 4% per year. Growth was not driven by fiscal stimulus; indeed it blossomed at a time of fiscal consolidation. So what was the magic formula?

Houses were cheap because the supply of land for housing was very elastic, which in turn meant that there was no incentive for developers to sit on large land banks. Underpinning the availability of land for house-building was an almost complete absence of land-use planning restrictions which applied to only about 75,000 acres in 1932; the draconian provisions of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act were still to come.

Could we repeat the 1930s experience today? It would be very difficult since both mortgage availability and planning rules are very different."
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Why Labour's land banking ultimatum will not boost housebuilding
"Miliband said a Labour government would threaten developers failing to develop with a use-it-or-lose-it ultimatum that would allow councils to buy back the land or fine the developer for not building...

The first and most obvious problem is planning. Britain's bureaucratic planning system means even simple applications can take years. Berkeley Group has spent about 15 years redeveloping parts of Vauxhall in south London, and has gone back to the planning authority several times to increase the number of homes allowed. It certainly hasn't been a case of sitting on the land.

..Besides, land banks are simply not an efficient use of housebuilders' money. This was underlined recently by Barratt chief executive Mark Clare, who said his organisation aims to bank land for a "relatively short" three-and-a-half years in order to maximise the return on investment.

...A large amount of undeveloped land is owned by the public sector but two thirds of it lies in areas that aren't particularly well-off. The key here will be incentivising developers in non-affluent areas. Unlocking this land will require innovative arrangements to make the sites more attractive, such as fast-tracked planning, reduced development levies or a commitment to provide necessary infrastructure enabling communities to be created."


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One estate’s tradition of providing affordable flats is ending with the rush to cash in on the housing boom
"[Lyndsey Garratt] lives on the fringes of the City of London, on the New Era estate. Built by a charitable trust in the mid-1930s, the redbrick square has provided homes to local working people at affordable rents...At least it was until Benyon’s family firm recently moved in as part of a property consortium and snapped up the lot. The investors have made no bones about jacking up rents to match the rest of the market. Garratt was previously paying about £640 a month for the two-bed she shares with her daughter; when her contract expires in July 2016 residents expect they will be charged around £2,400 a month. For Garratt, a care co-ordinator at the local NHS trust, that is way more than her entire take-home pay."


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Parliament's failure to outlaw revenge evictions is yet another setback for renters, landlords, and democracy
"Today was set to be a landmark day for private renters in this country. The Tenancies (Reform) Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons, to kick start a process many hoped would lead to legislation to end retaliatory evictions. That didn’t happen. It didn’t happen primarily because Tory MPs Christopher Chope and Philip Davies filibustered so the bill could not be passed, despite having cross-party support. A sad day for democracy. A far sadder day for the 9 million of us who rent our homes with little protection in existing law."


The Statistics of Friday Prayer

Imams often complain that a significant part of the congregation for Friday Prayers turns up at the last possible moment, and thus misses out of the Imams sermon.

Leaving aside the issue that in many mosques the sermon is in Urdu/Bengali/other language, and thus inaccessible to many youngsters in those communities, BFTF thought it might be interesting to chart what actually happens in the lead up to Friday Prayers at a Nottingham mosque....

Frequency of Arrivals


Cumulative Frequency of Arrivals

Notes :
8% people already arrived before beginning of chart.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Greatest Movie Monologues....EVER.

BFTF loves a good movie monologue, especially one with a message. Here are the ones that get BFTF lower lip trembling a la Colonel Trautman. Haven't bothered with Youtube links because, lets face it, all these monologues are in your head anyway...

Monologues are ordered broadly with those having the most important message at the top, and those having purely an awesome theatrical presence at the end.

1: Syriana (2005)
Danny Dalton : "Some trust fund prosecutor, got off-message at Yale, thinks he's gonna run this up the flagpole, make a name for himself, maybe get elected some two-bit, congressman from nowhere, with the result that Russia or China can suddenly start having, at our expense, all the advantages we enjoy here. No, I tell you. No, sir! Corruption charges! Corruption?!! Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets. Corruption is why we win."

2: First Blood (1982)
Col. Trautman: ..."This mission is over! [goes to floodlit windows and gestures about barricade] Look at them out there! Look at them! If you won't end this now, they will kill you. Is that what you want? It's over, Johnny. It's over!"

Rambo: "Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don't turn it off! It wasn't my war! You asked me I didn't ask you, and I did what I had to do to win, but somebody wouldn't let us win! Then I come back to the world, and I see all those maggots at the airport, protestin' me and spittin', callin' me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me?! Huh?! Who are they?! Unless they been me and been there and know what the hell they yellin' about!...Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million-dollar equipment. Back here I can't even hold a job parking cars!! [throws machine gun at wall before breaking down]..."

Rambo : "... and the box was wired, and he opened up the box, fucking blew his body all over the place. And he's laying there, he's f**king screaming. There's pieces of him all over me, just...like this, and I'm tryin' to pull him off, you know, my friend that's all over me!... I can’t get it out of my head. A dream of seven years. Everyday I have this. And sometimes I wake up and I don’t know where I am. I don’t talk to anybody. Sometimes a day, a week. I can’t put it out of my mind...."

3 : Scent of a Woman (1992)
Col. Slade: "No, I'm just gettin' warmed up. I don't know who went to this place — William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead; if they ever had one, it's gone. You're building a rat ship here — a vessel for sea-going snitches. And if you think you're preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham! What kind of show are you guys puttin' on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sittin' next to me. And I'm here to tell you, this boy's soul is intact. It is non-negotiable. You know how I know? Because someone here, I'm not gonna say who, offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't selling..."

Col. Slade:"...There was a time I could see! And I have seen- boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off! But there is nothin like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is... no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sending this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executing his soul! And why? Because he's not a "Baird man." Baird men. You hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird bums, the lot of ya..." too!"

4: A Few Good Men (1992)
Colonel Jessup: "You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!"

5: Any Given Sunday (1999)
Tony D'Amato: “The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game. Every minute. Every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the f**king difference between winning and losing. Between living and dying.”

6: Terminator 2 : Judgement Day (1991)
Sarah: "Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. The Terminator would never stop. It would never leave him. It would never hurt him. It would never shout at him or get drunk and hit him. Or say it was too busy to spend time with him. And it would die to protect him. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice."

7 : Blade Runner (1982)
Batty : “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I Watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time … like tears in the rain. Time to die.”

8: Taken (2008)
Bryan Mills : "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

9: Apocalypse Now (1979)
Lt. Col. Kilgore : "You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like... victory. Someday this war's gonna end..."

10 : Incredibles (2004)
Syndrome: "Oh, I'm real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers. I'll give them heroics. I'll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone's super...no one will be."