Thursday, 21 June 2012

Challenging the BBC on coverage of NHS Bill

BFTF sent the following complaint to the BBC, it is pretty self explanatory.

I have been very disturbed by the lack of coverage of the recent NHS Bill and feel the BBC has failed in its duty to inform and explain this key part of current affairs to its listenership. In particular :

i) The coverage during early March - when the Bill was being debated in Parliament and when the need for public awareness was at its height, was almost zero. To take one example, the BBC Radio 4 flagship Today programme covered it only once, for 2 minutes on 10th March in the weeks preceeding its passing in Parliament. Other items the Today programme covered on that day included 4 mins on a theme park, 6 mins on bagpipe day and 8 mins on Jubilee celebrations.

ii) The coverage gave no context to the issues. At no point did I hear any consideration given to the concern that the Bill would remove responsibility from the Secretary of State. Nor was there any mention of the increase in the amount of private work allowed in the NHS to 49%. Nor was there any consideration of whether competition and privatisation actually deliver any benefits to the NHS.

I can recall watching in utter disbelief as the BBC, and other major news providers, essentially “blacked out” concerns and protests in the days when they most needed to be covered .

This experience has left my trust in the news output of the BBC utterly shattered and left me wondering what else you are failing to inform me about.

I expect better of the BBC. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

UPDATE : 01 Jul 2012
The key parts of the, very polite and quick, response are shown below:

I understand you're unhappy as you feel there has been a lack of BBC coverage regarding the recent NHS Bill.As your complaint relates to coverage in March, I must inform you that our timeframe for complaints and appeals has been reduced to thirty working days after broadcast to make the process more efficient... As your complaint was registered more than 30 days after the coverage you refer to in March, I’m unable to comment.

That said, I appreciate your concerns and I would like to assure you that I've registered your complaint onto our audience log.This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.The audience logs are important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content. . .


Other relevant NHS Bill posts on BFTF are :
Interview with Prof Ian Shaw on the Bill and its implications for the NHS
Some examples of what is wrong with the NHS Bill (and responses from the local Conservative Party)

Other than BFTF's own experience, the following were also of use in drafting the complaint to the BBC :
Details of BBC coverage, esp on Today programme
MediaLens article about BBC coverage

Related content : Great comedy on RAdio 4 at 6.30pm weekdays

Re-introduction of CSE's

BFTF was utterly gobsmacked to read today that the government wanted to return to a two-tier education system by re-introducing CSE-type exams for the less able.

BFTF feels very strongly that the introduction of the GCSE - as a single examination- was a big step forward, that eliminated the discrimination faced by those who took CSE qualifications. The continued use of multiple exam boards, on the other hand, was ridiculous and inevitable resulted in a moral hazard of schools wanting to use the "easiest" board. So the proposal to switch to a single board sounds like a good idea. Unbelievably angry about this, and found that kids also find this policy inexplicable, as shown by the following conversation that we had regarding it.

BFTF: Look, they want to reintroduce CSE exams - I remember those, it was a two tier system where the people who got CSE's were worthless and got sent down the mines and ended up with rubbish jobs.

No1 Son: And I heard that they want to change the system so that instead of doing it in two exams with 50% each you do one exam right at the end. What the heck is that about?

No2 Son: But why would you elect a government that would do that ?

BFTF: It wasn't in their election manifesto

No3 Son: Will they send me down the mines?

BFTF: Not if you do well.

No3 Son, clearly not convinced: Can we move to a different country?

NB: For the record, mining is a noble profession that BFTF has the utmost respect for. It's just a turn of phrase.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Airstrikes killing Civilians

BFTF found his blood boilig as he read an article in The Guardian describing how, in complete contrast to US claims, airstrikes were killing many innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

A single quote from the story (written by a representive of the Reprieve charity) will suffice to explain what is happening:
"During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west...Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee."

Also read this article in the Independent on the "Living Under Drones" report by researchers at Stanford University. The researchers make a number of points, including:

Between 2004 and 2012 drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Drones strike without warning, their presence terrorizes men, women, and children - and the US practice of striking one area multiple times, sometimes killing rescuers makes rescuers afraid to assist injured victims.

The report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US.
Most importantly, the report makes a series of recommendation, including:

Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan.

Make public the tar­geting criteria and the mechanisms to track and publicly recognize civilian casualties.

Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, as called for by the UN Special Rapporteur.

BFTF sent emails to the local conservative party, the local (Labour) MP and to David Cameron (the latter being more in hope than in expectation) saying that the silence of the UK on this issue was unacceptable and was not in keeping with the values that BFTF thought the UK stood for. And asking whether killing innocent civilians decreases or increases the risk of radicalism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Also sent emails to local masjids asking whether they could also lobby on this issue.

Local Conservative Party
Chased up on 8th Sep, 9th Oct(also asking how they were speaking out against "double tap" airstrike killings, 23rd Oct, 29th Oct. Finally received a response from Andrew Robathan MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces (via local Conservative party who had (BFTF understands) chased this up a number of times:

“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the policy of United States government and I am unable to set out the specific circumstances in which insurgents of terrorists have been or would be targeted by UK Remotely Piloted Air Systems, as to do so could undermine operational security....... ...The selection and prosecution of all ISAF targets is based on a rigorous scrutiny process which is also compliant with International Humanitarian Law... ...Every effort is made to minimise the risk of collateral damage, particularly civilian causalities, which includes in some circumstances deciding not to engage the target...
Regarding the above communication from Andrew Robathan, BFTF sent the following back to the local Conservative party pointing out that they had failed to answer the two questions put to them :

Whether killing innocent civilians decreases or increases the risk of radicalism in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

What the Conservative Party was doing to speak out against the policy of "double tap" drone killings?
Local Labour MP
Chased up on 9th Oct, 23rd Oct, 29th Oct. Received response around 1st Nov saying that, although the MP had not been aware of the issue, they took it "very seriously", that the Labour Party had spoken out on the damamge that drones were causing to American/Pakistani relations and that the MP found the reports of strikes on first responders "deeply concerning".

The MP further stated that they had written to the Foreign Office to ask what representations had been made to the American Government on this issue and what assessment they had made of the practice.

Also received the following (via local MP) response from Government regarding "double tap" airstrikes. It essentially ignored the issue, the key part saying:

"The British Government's position is that the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles against terrorist targets is a matter for the states concerned. We expect all concerned to act in accordance with international law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting military operations."

Also received a response referencing a Parliamentary question laid down by Tom Watson, Deputy Chair of the Labour Party and member of the Shadow Cabinet on 6th Nov 2012.

Tom Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his Department’s policy is on follow-up drone strikes; and what steps he is taking to ensure that rescue workers and people providing assistance to the injured are not targeted as part of such missions.

Andrew Robathan : Any weapon released by the UK’s Reaper remotely piloted air system is done so under the command of a pilot bounded by Rules of Engagement which are no different from those used for manned UK combat aircraft. The targets are always positively identified as legitimate military objectives, and strikes are prosecuted in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict and UK Rules of Engagement. Strikes should not be directed against non-combatants, including any individuals assisting the wounded or deceased, or individuals who are “hors de combat”.
and also referencing a very moving and passionate speech by Yasmin Queshi MP(LAB), part of a debate on unmanned aerial vehicles secured by Rehman Chisti MP:
Yasmin Queshi MP : ...I have constituents of Pakistani Kashmiri and Afghan heritage, and they have several times come to see me, and written many e-mails and letters to me, about drone attacks, especially as some of them have family members living in the relevant parts of Pakistan—Waziristan and other areas. They have told me in person about the effects of drone attacks. They ask, “How would you feel if you were asleep at night and suddenly you heard drone attacks—buildings being destroyed and people being killed: you would not know from day to day what would happen. One minute you are peacefully asleep in bed, and the next an attack is happening.” How would we like that—if people were asleep in Bolton, for example, and that were to happen, with the deaths of young children as well as adults, including old people. Much has been made of the shooting of young Malala, but there are many other young Malalas in that part of the world—and young boys, too, and families being destroyed...

... the evidence increasingly shows that drones are being targeted not at specific people but randomly, that they are being controlled, in America, not by the army but the CIA, and that there are successive strikes with more than one hit in the same place. That cannot be right. I am sorry if I sound very passionate about this, but thousands of innocent lives have been taken in Pakistan and Afghanistan—and in Yemen and elsewhere, although I do not have many constituents from there. I can talk more about Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the most intensive drone use has been.

There are ways to fight a battle, but we must abide by international law. I am grateful that an investigation is being carried out by the UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, on whether the use of drones is legal, and I wonder whether the Minister will also welcome that. If it is found that they are illegal, will we desist from using them in our campaign?...

Local Mosque A
Chased up in late Oct 12, at which point Imam said they would challenge local MP. Around 1st Nov Imam at this mosque received response from local Labour MP. Response was similar to that received by BFTF. All good stuff, and BFTF notes how much faster the Mosque received a response compared to that received by BFTF - which just goes to show the power that they, quite rightly, possess as representatives of the Muslim community in Nottingham.

Local Mosque B
Oct'12: Chased up via email
Nov'12: Talked to Imam, gave draft text as requested.
Dec'12: Chased up via email
Jan'13: Talked to Imam, gave another draft text.
Feb'13: Chased up via email
Mar'13: Chased up via email, and via a Trusteee
Apr'13: Asked whether BFTF should formally complain about lack of progress
Apr'13: RESULT !! Imam sent an awesome letter to MP, which included this:

The two questions we would like to ask are :
1) What guarantee can the Labour Party give that, if elected at the next election, it will strongly and publicly challenge the US to stop “double-tap”airstrikes that target first responders ?

2) In what way is the Labour leadership speaking out against double tap airstrikes at the present time ?

[We have] 1000 weekly users, including many hundreds for Friday prayers. We have informed them that we are asking you these questions, and we will be informing them of your answer.

Further Information
"DroneWars" - a site that contains information on drones and their use.

"Double Tap AirStrikes" - an important post on the US practice that kills people assising survivors of airstikes.

Soldiers sacked close to retirement

BFTF found his blood boiling as he read an article in the Telegraph that described how soliders were being made redundant very close to their retirement dates - resulting in their pensions being put back by decades. Two quotes from the story will suffice to explain the nature of what is being done :

"...One 40-year-old sergeant serving in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was only three days away from serving 22 years and qualifying for an immediate pension pot worth £108,000. He will now have to wait until he is 65 to receive the pension..."

"...Diana and Barry Payne said their son, Richard, a major, had been sacked just 86 days short of 16 years’ service that included “life-threatening” operational tours of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland....To deny him a pension so close to qualifying is not only underhand, but undermines the ethos on which the Army supposedly prides itself."

BFTF sent an email to the local conservative party mentioning the above and adding that
"this was heartless behaviour and that, even if the soldiers were not needed in their currnet roles they should have been given other duties for the short time until their planned retirement. It would seem to me, and perhaps to any other fair-minded person, that no soldier should be made redundant once they are within, say, two years of their planned retirement date. My question to you is very simple. Do you agree? and if so what representation are you going to make to government to stop this happening?"

UPDATE : 27 Jun 12
Received a rather prompt response from Nottingham Conservatives saying that the head of the local group would be "writing to Patrick Mercer, MP for Newark. . . , a former British Army Colonel with parliamentary experience of defence affairs".

UPDATE : 08 Sep 12
Chased up local Conservatives as no response received yet from Patrick Mercer M on tihs issue.

UPDATE : 30 Nov 12
The local Conservative party, who had (BFTF understands) chased up for a response from Government on a number of occasions have provided this response from Andrew Robathan MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces:

“The Army will always seek, subject to service need, to select personnel who apply to leave on redundancy as a priority to minimise the impact on individuals. In both the first and second tranche of the redundancy programme two thirds of those selected were applicants.

In order to ensure that the redundancy programme is fair to all involved, clear and objective selection criteria were drawn up, including such things as rank, arm, length of service and career employment group in areas where a surplus of Army manpower exists. The proximity to an individual’s immediate pension point was not a redundancy selection criteria. This is because selection based on proximity to pension point would stand to compromise the future structure of the Army and it would lead to a less fair selection process.

I hope you will appreciate that the fields from which redundancies were drawn were the areas in which there is a surplus of manpower forecast against future structures. As a result, it is possible that some soldiers and officers will be made redundant before they reach their Immediate Pension Point (IPP), the stage at which they become eligible for an annual income on retirement. Regrettably, wherever the line is drawn, there will be those who fall short of it. Those leaving immediately prior to their IPP receive a larger redundancy compensation lump sum to reflect the loss of future annual income, and will still receive a deferred pension at age 60 or 65 depending on the pension scheme to which they belong.

Finally, the Armed Forces Covenant promises fair treatment for the Armed Forces Community and has established two key principles, that the Armed Forces Community should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services, and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases especially for the injured and bereaved. MOD considers terms and conditions of service and the impact of changes in defence as part of that fair treatment – as explained in the context of the selection criteria above – and has committed to ensure changes in defence are managed in a way which treats individuals fairly and minimises uncertainty wherever possible.”

Monday, 18 June 2012

How art can affect you

BFTF parked near Nottingham Castle recently and, on returning to the car to find that there was still some time left on the ticket, decided to pay a quick visit to the Nottingham Society of Artists Trust Gallery. No1 son, who was with me tagged along. The Gallery had a contemporary exhibition called "Language of Colour" and it has to be said that some of it was pretty mesmerising stuff. No1 Son and BFTF seemed to have pretty much the same view of what was good and what was pants - with so-called "modern art" largley falling into the second category. It is a bit of a simplification, but the BFTF view of art can largely be summarised as shown in the chart below.

One image, of a fiery red sun, so affected BFTF (and indeed No1 Son) that we could physically feel the heat on our foreheads - to the extent that BFTF was touching the nearby radiator to see if that was the source of the warmth.

A bit spooky really - and just goes to show how easily our senses can trick us.

Rather cheekily, BFTF took a snap of the picure in question through the gallery window. It is called "Heat" and is an oil painting, perhaps 70cm square, by Roger Crooks

Oh, and by the way, if BFTF had been suitably cash-rick, it might even had shelled out the required £240 to buy the picture. . .

Friday, 15 June 2012

Well Done Martha Payne

Late yesterday evening, BFTF saw a tweet saying that Atgyll and Bute Council had banned a blog about school dinners called NeverSeconds, run by nine-year -old Martha Payne.

BFTF wandered over to NeverSeconds and found it be an immensely completely charming site, and was very impressed by the initiative and creativity Martha was showing.

Impressively, the site also gave visitors the opportunity to donate to the Marymeals charity, who set up school feeding projects in some of the world's poorest communities.

Feeling something of a red mist descending, BFTF fired off a couple of tweets to the A&B council telling them the the initiative and creativity Martha was showing was something that this country needs too see more of, not less.

24hrs later and BFTF was chuffed to find that it had been part of a campaign that had resulted in the council changing their mind completely and reversing the ban on NeverSeconds - as described in this article.

The whole thing was a fascinating example of the power of social media. BFTF wondered whether this was something that the Muslim community should have been supportive of, and hopes to as a few Imams for their views of this. . .

Will post responses as BFTF gets them.

NB : No2 son contributed the word "immensely" to the above post, as BFTF was having trouble finding the right word to use.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

1933 - Letter P (work in progress)

BFTF has been fascinated by the contents of a multi-volume 1933 Odhams Press publication entitled "The British Encyclopedia". The volumes provide a glimpse into the the way the world looked at that time and BFTF thought you, gentle reader, might be interested to read a few extracts from some of the somtimes surprising, sometimes shocking, sometimes sad entries. See here for extracts from other sections of the encyclopaedia

Please note that these are only tiny extracts and are not meant to be a summary of the entire encyclopedia entry.

A maritime country of the Mediterranean administered by Great Britain under mandate from the League of Nations, as a Jewish national home...

The predominant race is Musselman-Arabs, but the Jews are rapidly increasing, mainnly by immigration from Russia and Rumania...

The principal farm crops are wheat, barley, millet, tobacco, olives, melons and lentils. Sheep, goats and camels are raised...

Oranges (from the Jaffa district) are exceptionally thick skinned and are more suitable for transport than any other competitive oranges on the market. The best are sent to Liverpool, which receives 2/3 of the crop. Egypt and Turkey take the remainder. Each orange crop is worth £2,000,000.

The ostensible aim of the British Government, in accordance with the Balfour Declaration, is to make Palestine the Jewish national home without prejudicing the non-Jewish communities within the mandate area.

Population (census 1922), 757,182(590,890 of Mohammedan belief, 83,793 Jews, 73,024 Christians, 7028 Druses, and 163 Samaritans)

The Future of Palestine.-Much has been said about the development of Palestine, its future prospects and the probable effects of concentrating a small number of Jews in a territory that is overwhelmingly Muslim..

The Jew accepts Moses but rejects Christ and Mahomet; the Christian accepts both Moses and Christ but not Mohamet; and the Mahommedan accepts all three, Mahomet, Christ and Moses, as prophets, and in virtue of such a recognition he would appear to have a paramount right to th custody of the holy place of civilisation.

An Ottoman political ideal having as its basis the reunion of of the scattered religious sects and political divisions of Islam under one head, for the resistance of further encroachment by European powers, and for the ousting of European rulers from Asia and Africa. This ideal finds expression in Arabic by a phrase Ittihad al-Islam, meaning "Islamic Union" or Pan-Islamism, and was first mentioned in English in the Times of 19th Jan. 1882.

The Ottoman interpretation of the movement was simply a confederation of Muslim peoples on German lines and under Turkish hegemony. 1911 the Young Turk Committee...were canvassing all Muslim states under European control on behalf of the Pan-Islamic doctrine, urging all good Mohammedans to achnowledge the Sultan of Turkey as their legitimate, and emphasising the oriental fact "religion first, nationality second".

The Persian was urged to "remember he was a Muslim and to forget he was a Shiite"

Under a similar scheme the smaller sects of Islam (Ismailis, Zaidis, etc) which rendered any system of unification impracticable, were to be wiped out and their adherents incorporated with the break bulk of Muslims.

With the advent of the European War, events moved rapidly. Turkey subordinated her foeign policy to [Germany] and went to war claiming a jihad that nobody would either countenence or join. The keeper of the Holy Places, the Sherif of Mecca, entered on the British side in 1916 and in doing so he damned forever the Turkish cause in the eyes of the already disgusted and Turk-ridden Arabs. . .

At the end of the war...the general shrinking of Turkish power, extent and prestige gave Pan-Islamism a blow from which in all probability it will never recover.

NB : This post is not finished yet!

1933 - Letter O

BFTF has been fascinated by the contents of a multi-volume 1933 Odhams Press publication entitled "The British Encyclopedia". The volumes provide a glimpse into the the way the world looked at that time and BFTF thought you, gentle reader, might be interested to read a few extracts from some of the somtimes surprising, sometimes shocking, sometimes sad entries. See here for extreacts from other sections of the encyclopaedia

Please note that these are only tiny extracts and are not meant to be a summary of the entire encyclopedia entry.

Old Age Pensions was not until 1909 that the first statute providing for old age pensions came into force. . .the claimant must have reached seventy years of age...

...The habitual use of opium is most common in China...

Large quantities of opium used to be consumed in China. . .the use of opium was put down between 1906 and 1916. In 1917 the importation of opium into China ceased [no emntion of the British involvement in forcing China to take Opium as payment for silk etc)

1933 - Letter N

BFTF has been fascinated by the contents of a multi-volume 1933 Odhams Press publication entitled "The British Encyclopedia". The volumes provide a glimpse into the the way the world looked at that time and BFTF thought you, gentle reader, might be interested to read a few extracts from some of the somtimes surprising, sometimes shocking, sometimes sad entries. See here for extreacts from other sections of the encyclopaedia

Please note that these are only tiny extracts and are not meant to be a summary of the entire encyclopedia entry.

A town of Palestine, capital of Samaria, 30 miles No f Jerusalem. It is beautifully situated among gardens, orchards and fertile fields...

...The town, which was fortified by the Turks during the European War, was taken by Lord Allenby in Sept, 1918. Pop (1933) 17,171

National Dept
...The Bank of England was, indeed, founded upon a perpetual loan of £1,200,000 to the State [in. This loan was the first national dept...

National Debt
1694 : £1.2 million (initial national dept on formation of Bank of England)
1697 : £21.5 million
1713 : £52.0 million
1748 : £79.3 million
1763 : £138.3 million
1783 : £250.0 million
1814 : £742.5 million
1914 : £711 million
1919 : £8079 million

National Health and Unemployment Insurance
...The idea of State responsibility fo rrthe distress arising to the individual out of illness...grew very gradually in the British public mind...

In 1911, however, was passed an Act of Parliament which imposed...a State system of insurance...[This entry covered a rather impressive 4 pages]

...Another innnovation of this period [~1880] was a structural alteration whereby a ram took the place of the old-fashioned bow...and proved a frightful source of danger to consorts by aggravating the effects of accidental collision...

12 pages [regarding the invention of the underwater mine and torpedo] the great wars which followed vastly more loss was occasioned by underwater weapons than by the gun...

[worth noting that this entry was a very impressive 12 pages long!]

...Some astronomers think that the spiral nebulae may be external galsaxies of stars, or island universes comparable with our own, and at enormous distances from it, but others consider that they are subordinate parts of our universe, being star clusters too closely packed for telescopic resolution.

...A race of mankind probably indigenous to equatorial Africa. ..

...The typical negro is described as having a black skin, wooly or crisp hair...calves poorly developed and feet comparatively long...

...A sultanate of Central Arabia, inhabited by Wahabis. . . Ibn Saud, Sultan of Nejd, annexed Jebel Shammar and made captive the representative of the Ibn Rashid dynasty in 1921; andin 1924 he made war on the Hejaz and captured Mecca, the Sherifian capital. In Dec 1925 he entered Jidda and, on the abdication of ing Ali in the same month, became King of the Hejaz. A treaty embodying Britain's recognition of his complete independance was signed at Jidda in 1927...

[No entry, this particle was only discovered in 1932]...

...During the seventeenth century...the main barrier [to the printing of newspapers] was provided by the Licensing Laws, which forbade the setting up of manuscript in type without a license from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London, and not until 1695 was the Licensing Act finally abolished... the middle of the [18th] century the Stamp Act [a tax on newspapers] was made even more exacting... "taxes on knowledge" continued to be multiplied and by 1804 the Stamp Tax amounted to no less than 3 1/2 d per copy... [The Tax was abolished in 1855]

Northern Ireland
[Only ref to conflict there was: ] ...After the settlement of the Irish problems in 1922, boundary disputes between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State continued. . .in 1925 Mr Baldwin intervened and a settlement was arrived at whereby no boundary alteration was made A commission to inNo entry, this particle was only discovered in 1932]...

...The chief mineral is coal. The soil is generally extemely fertile. . .The manufactures include lace, hosiery, machinery, silk and cotton spinning, bleaching, coal mining, iron adn brass founding, glove making etc...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

1933 - Letter M

BFTF has been fascinated by the contents of a multi-volume 1933 Odhams Press publication entitled "The British Encyclopedia". The volumes provide a glimpse into the the way the world looked at that time and BFTF thought you, gentle reader, might be interested to read a few extracts from some of the somtimes surprising, sometimes shocking, sometimes sad entries. See here for extreacts from other sections of the encyclopaedia

Please note that these are only tiny extracts and are not meant to be a summary of the entire encyclopedia entry.


Mahomet (or more correctly Muhammad)
The founder of Islam, an Arabian by birth, of the tribe of Kuraish...

...Islam [was] promulgated as the gradual revelations of the divine will, through the angel Gabriel, and were collected in the Koran.

...There is no doubt that Mahomet was a man of extraordinary insight and deep reflection. Though without book-learning, he had a deep knowledge of man, was familiar with bible narratives and Eastern legends, and possessed a grasp of the eternal ground of all religions, though tinged and modified by his vivid poetic imagination.

Marriage Laws
...a marriage cannot be contracted by a male under fourteen years of age or a female under twelve, and until majority the consent of the parent or guardian is required. . .

. . Mars shines with a reddish light. . .considerable portions, however, have a bluish-green colour and vary decidedly in tint with the seasons. There seems much reason to suppose that such changes are caused, in part at least, by recurrent growth and decay of vegetation.

. . .The polar regions exhibit white caps, possibly of snow . . .

. . .the constituents of the nucleus of the heavier atoms include hydrogen and helium nuclei together with "cementing" electrons; it is possible that the helium nucleus is itself built of hydrogen nuclei. . .

. . .thousands of pilgrims annually perform the Hajj. . .It was captured in 1924 by Ibn Saud, Sultan of Nejd. . .

. . .the terminus of the Hejaz Railway, and, as the burial place of the Mahomet, the second holiest of Mahommedan cities. . .

Mehem'et Ali
. . .Viceroy of Egypt. . .in 1811 he massacred the Mamelukes to the number of 470 in Cairo and about 1200 over the country. He then commenced, by the orders of the Porte, a war of six years duration against the Wahabites of Arabia, which was brought to a successful conclusion by his son Ibrahim, and secured him the possession of the Hejaz . . .

. . .The minarets of Egypt, Spain, Syria, India and Persia, built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, are amongst the most graceful works of Eastern architecture. . .

Minimum Wage
. . .the first Act establishing frade-boards, with power to fix minimum rates of wages, eas enacted in 1909 [applied to four trades]. . . by the beginningof 1921 forty-nine additional trade-boards, covering 3,500,000 persons, had been established. . .

. . .[Christian missionaries] made mistakes; they failed to recognise that the great race-religions contained elements of good. . .The tendency was to impose their own ways of thought and life on the natives. In this way Christianity everywhere came to be known as the white man's religion, and was associated with a change to foreign dress and customs.. . .

Moorish Architecture
. . .The most characteristic Moorish palace in existence is the Alhambra in Granada, an immense structure of simple and rather forbidding exterior, but within gorgeous almost beyond description. . .

. . .Between 1492 and 1610 about 3,000,000 Moriscos are estimated to have left Spain. The expelled Moors, settling in the north of Africa, founded cities from wich to harass the Spanish coasts, and finally developed into the piratical states of Barbary, whose depredations were a source of irtritation to the civilised Christian powers even until well into the nineteenth century

. . .often astonish by their extent and the grandeur and height of their cupulas or domes. .

. . .In India, where the Mahommedan population is almost exclusively Sunni[. . .]both classes [Sunni and Shia] join wholeheartedly in the Muharram celebrations. . .[which] often passes off quietly, without any physical exposition of the hatred felt by all good Mohammedans towards all good Hindus and vice versa.

. . .A Mahommedan teacher. . . FAnatical Mullahs ("Mad" Mullahs) have in recent times preached "jehads" in India and Somaliland, and in the latter country British punitive expeditions were undertaken in 1901 and 1905.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

UNCLE and Proud

It is interesting to see how different cultures appraoch the problem of how to address a stranger, especially someone who is older than you.

The traditional British refrain, made famous by many a black and white movie, is to call them "Mister" or "Sir" (or "Miss" and "Ma'am" if female), alternatively the issues may be dodged slightly by using the words "Excuse me" and hoping that the person in question knows that they are the target of your communication.

But in the south asian community, it works a little differently.

Here, it is all about respect for elders (and BFTF means that in an entirely good way). The rule is very simple.

When talking to someone your own age you call them "Brother" or "Sister".

When talking to someone more than 10-15years older than you, you call them "Uncle" or "Auntie".

. If you are on the receiving end and don't want to be called "Uncle" because it makes you feel old. Tough.

BFTF (who is old enough to remember when colour TV was a novelty) mentions this now because it has become apparant over the last few years that, when served in shops, he is becoming less likely to be addressed as a "Brother" and more likely that he will be called "Uncle". After a few attempts at saying "Hey, I'm not old enough to be an Uncle", BFTF has resigned himself to the fact that this is a tide that it not going to be turned back and that some kind of peace needs to be made with the new designation (which, dissapointingly, does not seem to come attached with a discount on the price of the goods being bought).

So, dear reader, it's ok, you can call me "Uncle" and I'm cool with that.

UPDATE : 10th June 2012

A number of people have pointed out that this post should really be entitled "Uncle Gee and Proud" as the suffix "Gee" if often used as a maek of respect. Whilst this is true in cases where the two people know each other well and in a family context, in BFTF's experience it is plain vanilla "Uncle" that is used when addressing a stranger or someone that is not well known.

The possible exception to this is when trying to persuade an oldster that they are just plain wrong on some point or other, as in "Uncle Gee, I know Pepsi is on offer at Sainsburys, but that store is 5 miles away and you are driving a big Merc, so it'll cost more in petrol that you'll save."

Note : This article has also been published in The Invitation magazine.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Talk : The Euro Crisis

Having attended some of the Café Scientifique Nottingham events over the last year or some, and found then very interesting, BFTF was intrigued to see a link to an event from the related MeetUp Café Economique entitled, simply “Euro Crisis” which was a talk on the current Euro Crisis by Brian Davey who is aa member FEASTA, an organisation involved in developing sustainable economic solution to real world problems .

The talk was very interesting, and accompanied by a wealth of interesting data and charts. Happily, the entire presentation can be found at the Café Economique Wordpress page here.

This post contains a short and a long report on the talk. The short version is shown below:

We’re doomed.

And here is the long version.

Brian began by outlining the context for the current crisis. There were four factors he felt were important.

1) Growth constraints
-high energy, food, material costs

2) Growing Power of the Global Finance Sector
-lots of money looking for safe havens and gambling on economic outcomes, increase in FIRE economy relative to manufacturing

3) Uneven development between nations unbalancing the global economy
- e.g. China, vs USA and Crisis within Eurozone

4. Ageing society in “developed” countries
– more and more elderly people dependent on pensions from the finance sector

Brian suggested that, from 2001 to 2007, fiscal deficits in the Eurozone were not high compared to the UK and the US but that there were very large trade imbalances, with Germany being a very large net exporter. (It is worth noting that the Eurozone limit on budget deficits is 3%, and Greece has exceeded that for pretty much all of the last 10 years)

The problem was that the countries on the periphery of the Eurozone (e.g. Greece) could not devalue their currencies to regain competitiveness with the German economy - and could not print money to pay off their debts (the Maastrich treaty specifically bans this)

As credit agencies began downgrading these peripheral counties they faced higher interest rates on their debt,
which resulted in higher taxes on the population
which resulted in people spending less
which resulted in manufacturing and service companies going bust and people getting laid off
which resulted in the government getting less tax revenue
which resulted in higher taxes on the remaining population
and so on. . .

Meanwhile, banks fear bankruptcy and a domino chain of failures as state bonds are downgraded and their assets lose value.

The proposed solution
Brian explained that the current “solution” involves the European Central Bank conjuring up money out of thin air which it then lends to banks at 1% (say) interest. The banks then lend this back to the European Structural Stability Fund at 2-3% (say) interest, and it is this ESSF that bails out the countries on the periphery of the Eurozone.

The End-Game
According to Brian we could be in a position like that of Argentina in 2002, when that country defaulted on its debts. The dire situation there saw the formation of workers co-opertives and even local currencies as a means of surviving when many financial structures had simply stopped working.

And the fact that many of the struggling Eurozone countries owe a large proportion of their debt to German banks means that we may see a Europe where the national infrastructure and assets of Eurozone counties end up being owned by Germany.

Some Personal Comments
Whilst much of the talk make sense, BFTF had the constant feeling that there were alternative viewpoints to some of the data being presented. For example, oil prices shot up in 2008, but then dropped very low soon after - what’s to say the same won’t happen now? How does gas- an increasingly plentiful fuel - affect future trends? What about renewable? Or the effect of the economic down turn itself (reduced economic activity dramatically reduced oil prices due to reduced demand)

But still, it was an interesting talk and BFT certainly recommends that you read the original slides - and then do some research on your own !

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Himmah Jubilee Celebration at ASDA

Sunday 3rd June saw a lovely Jubilee celebration at Nottingham Hyson Green ASDA. The store had teamed up with local community organisation Himmah to organise the event which comprised food stalls and live entertainment from a number of Nottingham's communities.

Angie Murfitt, who is ASDA' Hyson Green's Community Life Champion explained that the event was "ASDA's way of giving back to the community", adding that it was about "everybody getting together and celebrating the Jublilee"

The breadth of culinary styles on offer really did offer something for everyone with people really getting into the spirit of the event and trying out the different foods.

Alain Job was running a very impressive stall of African fare, with dishes ranging from Safari Jollof Rice (based on the traditional recipes of a Nomadic tribe, to Exotic Fish Curry wrapped in Wach leaves. If these seemed a little too exotic then he also had some mouthwatering beefburgers on offer for the more traditional palate.

Alain Job and his African fare - you can find him at the Victoria Centre Fish Market

A table of confections from Divine Cakes was very popular, with each cupcake featuring a picture of the Queen gently placed on top for that Jubilee touch.

Farooq (Himmah Volunteer), Angie and Hannah at the Divine Cakes Stall

Tea was provided by a team comprising Himmah Volunteers Safoora, Humaira and Shafa. When asked why they thought that tea needed to be part of the event, Safoora responded that "Tea epitomises something very British but has also transcended boundaries to become something very international"

Safoora, Humaira and Shafa selling pukka English tea !

Classic food from the subcontinent was provided by local fast-food legends Khyber Pass. Himmah volunteer Javaid was manning the stall and ready to provide near instantaneous combinations of samosas, pakoras and chaat that would ease the hunger of the emptiest tummy.

Javaid with Khyber Pass's menu

Somewhat optimistically, an ice-cream van was also at the event. Still, knowing the British weather, anything could have happened.

Mr McYummy and his ice-cream van, waiting for a break in the weather !

On the entertainment front, there was also no shortage of things to see. . .

Unique World who demonstrated their African Bongo Drums, which certainly gave the event a strong beat.

Nottingham Capoeira - who have a strong relationship with Himmah - showed what this South Americal blend of dance and martial arts is all about

Other performers included the Nottingham Samba Group and a Sikh Swordfighting demonstration, the latter of which may have left many of the on-lookers with a newfound respect for the art of swordsmanship.

As the event drew to a close, and with the bunting still fluttering in the wind as it was taken down, Angie was asked why ASDA had chosen Himmah, who usually work with the homeless and destitute in Nottingham, as partners for the event. Angie commented that she had been impressed by Himmahs attitude and that Himmah had "really opened my eyes to situation of people less fortunate ourselves"

Further information :
Himmah :
See Here for an example of the work that Himmah do with the homeless and destitute in Nottingham.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Mining Memories

This post has moved to the Nottingham Science Blog

92nd Nottingham Scout Group

A post describing some of the stuff the 92nd Nottingham Scout Group get up to! (more on Notts Scouts here)

May 2014 : Another trip to Walesby, with many other Scout groups

The Mayor Of Nottingham arrived and met all the
different Notts Scout Groups (love the wellies by the way)

Awards to the most special of Nottingham's Scouts including (but not shown)
Sr "Ash" , a member of the 92nd who received her Scout training certificate

Of course, all the ususal Scouty activities as well

April 2014 : Some outdoorsy pictures
Some pictures from a variety of recent camping trips etc:

Getting ready for some high wire activity

Some of the 92nd Scout Group!

"Crikey, what have I let myself in for!

Although it may not look like it at this stage, it did eventually become a tent

RoboScout, the future of young adventuring...

A raft under construction

Mar 2014 : World Book Day!
For World Book Day, some of the Scouts did a rather clever thing - they each started a story, then passed it to the next scout to them who added a bit more before passing it to the scout next to them...and so on. So at the end of the session, there were six stories, to which each of the scouts had contributed. The Scout leader has kindly allowed BFTF to print one of the stories here...

THE EVIL VACUUM by the 92nd Nottingham Scouts

Once upon a time there was a boy called Jimmy. He was in love with his Dyson, but little did he know it was evil!!! One day he brought it out from it's hidey hole and pluggged it in. It roared to life. Hoovering a giant dust bunny, something happened. The Dyson went crazy and began to hoover up Jimmy. He screamed for help but it was no use. Jimmy was gone...

....To his surprise be found himself in the Dyson, a brand new world. He went on amazing adventures to different parts of the Dyson...

...But, of course, he thought it was stupid, and he wanted to get out. He tried speaking in French, "Je suis tres cool". He tried burping (that's what they did in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!) He tried dancing, boogying around. He tried blowing the most amount of balloons he could. But now it got to him...He had to FART his way out. OFF. He could feel his bum carrying him away...

...He was in a weird space time zone. Dun Dun Dun : "I'm in farting space". Bang - what was that? It was...a fart! He was approaching the land of Scotland. Everyone existing there stated fainting and feeling sick.

Mar 2014 : Various activities
A bunch of stuff from recent months that never got to the blog at the time...

Food tasting at a Scout "Ready Steady Cook" event

Setting up a tent on a camping trip

Making a raft on a camping trip

At the Library

Jan 2014 : Bag packing at Asda
Very early January 2014 saw the 92nd Scouts Group fundraise £357 by bag packing at Asda Hyson Green. No3 Son was part of the team and commented that "Most of the people I packed for were kind and polite....I met a Brownie leader who asked about my Sherebrook toggle...At the end of the day I felt good because I had helped more people than I expected...About a third of the people I met let me pack their bags but the majority of people donated...I discoverd that I pack bags quite quickly!"

One of the 92nd Scout Group bag packers in (very cheerful) action!

Big thanks to Asda Hyson Green for facilitating this event - which, aside from the fundraising aspect, has a number of social benefits for the scouts and in terms of building community cohesion.

And of course to the Scout leaders for putting together a complicated schedule describing which Scouts were wanted at ASDA at what specific times!

BFTF sent an email to Angie (Community Life Champion at Asda Hyson Green) to say thank you, and also a Tweet to Asda saying the same!...

...and a bunch of Tweets saying "Thank You" to the wonderful residents of Hyson Green for being so kind and supportive of the 92nd Scouts Groups efforts!

Thanks for the opportunity Asda!

Autumn 2013 Part 1
How the Scout Leaders manage to organise so much cool stuff is something that BFTF is always amazed at, and the Autumn 2013 session was no exception to this.

Hightlights included orienteering in Forest Park (in the dark !), with one of the scout leaders commenting that the girls seemed to be much better at this that the boys because they focussed on the task at hand while the boys tended to get distracted.

A trip to Wallesby Scout Camp also featured for the Beavers, in which they had the chance to take part in activitied such as archery.

A visit by the Police to the cubs gave them the opportunity to sit in a Police car - with the flashing lights on (hopefully not something they will have to do again)

While another hit was a session of Laser Tag at Quasar in Nottingham.

Laser Tag - Red Team

Laser Tag - Blue Team

Autumn 2013 Part 2
After the move to the Pakistan Centre (bless the team there for being so welcoming!) the goodstuff continued, with multiple outings and a visit by "Uncle BMX" from Forest Fields to show the kids how to fix bikes.

"Uncle BMX" from Forest Fields shows the Scouts how to fix a puncture

A feeling for how much hard work and imagination the team leaders put into the Scout Group can be gained from looking at what was happening on just one day - 28th November:
One group was playing football
Another group was making glove puppets for their creativity badge
Yet another group was learning sign language for their communications badge
While a futher group was thinking about the difficulties faced by disabled, especially blind people.

Learning Sign Language

OMG! Cute Hand Puppets !


Spring / Summer 2013
Spring 2013 brought, amongst much else, a camping trip for the scouts.

And Summer 2013 included presentations by Dr Sam Tang on chemistry and Professor (!!) Paul Nathanail on geology and, at the request of the 92nd Scout leaders, also on on knots!

One of the Scout leaders said that Sam and Paul (who held their demonstrations on different weeks) really got the full attention and interest of the children, and that they were much quieter that might have been expected at school.

Whilst collecting No1 and No3 sons from Scouts a couple of weeks later, BFTF was charmed to see that the kids had made ginormous "Thank You" cards for Sam and Paul...

Paul Nathanail demonstrating knots

A Thannk You card for Paul

A Thank You card for Sam

There was also some rather nifty marching going on...

Its all gone a bit Dad's Army.... !

And here the Scouts were playing with the foam generated by a lump of dry ice subliming in a tub of warm soapy water. As you do....

Dry Ice + Warm Soapy Water = Cool !

Schedule for Autumn 2012
Well done to the volunteers at the 92nd Scout Group for organising a suberb set of activities for the Autumn 2012 term!

Global Challenge Activity Badge
06-Sep : Practice Drills.
13-Sep : The traditions of Turkey.
20-Sep : About the "Save The Children" charity.
27-Sep : Global Issues : Poverty/Disability - what can we do to help?
04-Oct : Visitor : GPS Navigation - how can it be used and what is its history.
11-Oct : Arts and Crafts - Eid Cards.
18-Oct : River Trent Cruise and Party ~(£3 per sperson)

Animal Carer Activity Badge
01-Nov : Night Walk to record wildlife.
08-Nov : About the "Wildlife Trust" charity.
11-Nov : Visit to Stonebridge Farm.
15-Nov : Visitor : Pets At Home - rules of pet care and types of fish.
22-Nov : Games Night
29-Nov : Arts and Crafts - Danger in the Countryside.
06-Dec : Arts and Crafts - Danger in the Countryside (continued).
13-Dec : Party and Games at Forest Park.


Reduce, Re-use and Recycle postser designed by the Scouts
If you want to help the 92nd Scout Group be all it can be - please volunteer! Just an hour every week - if given with reliability - can make a big difference.

And the more volunteers they have, the better a service they can give, the more kids they can give places to and the more effort they can put into planning exciting activities.

Are you playing your part in creating a strong society by volunteering? If not, here is your chance!

Ultimate Frisbee (14 Jun 2012)
This week, the 92nd Scouts Group got a visit from the University of Nottinghams' Ultimate Frisbee team. The team, with seemingly endless enthusiasm, taught the Scouts how best to throw, catch(apparantly, one should sandwich the frisbee between both hands) and pass a frisbee. No3 sons comment : "Interesting"

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, Its Ultimate Frisbee!

Trip to the Tennis Centre (14 Jun 2012)
Taking advantage of the Nottingham Tennis Centre's "Festival of Tennis", the 92nd Scout Goup took a trip to the centre and had the chance to watch some professional tennis and take part in some tennis traing sessions. It really was non-stop action with No3 Son commenting "It was amazing"
Hit that ball onto one of the targets!

Jubilee Party (07 Jun 2012)
Jubille fever hits the 92nd Scout group this week, with a special Jubilee party ! Food, entertainment and a disproportionate number of balloons were there!
Union Jack Balloons proved tricky to find - so this was the next best thing!

Party = cakes

Liiter Picking and the Global Challenge(26 Apr 2012)
Today the 92nd Scout Group embarked on their "Global Challenge" badge. The Beavers were taking part in a quiz about countries and their capitals (did you know that the capital of Angola is Luanda?), while the Cubs and Scouts were litter picking in Forest Park.
Gloved hands and carrier bags all set for litter picking !

St George's Day March (21 Apr 2012)
The weather held off just long enough for a great St Georges Day parade in Nottingham City Centre. The 92nd Scout group were able to put their marching practice into. . .er. . .practice. The Scouts undertook a circular march from the Castle, around the market square and back to the Castle for a group promise. Good effort small people!
Some of the 92nd Scout Group marching together (ish) at the St George's Day Parade

Preparing for St Georges Day parade(19 Apr 2012)
Today the 92nd Scout group, including the younger beavers and cubs, spent time preparing for the St Georges Day march on Saturday 21st April as they will be marching alongside all the other scout groups in Nottingham before participating in a scout event at Nottingham Castle. But to march alongside others, you first need to learn to march - and teaching this skill was the task that the volunteer scout leaders had set themselves.

Yaseen, one of the Scout leaders, started with the basics by asking the Scouts to stand side by side in a line and then to walk across the hall while staying in formation.

How hard can that be? Surprisingly hard, as it turns out.

Between the differences in stride length amongst the Scouts and the hard-wired urge of the youngest ones to run instead of walking, it was a surprisingly tough task. Once the Scouts had started to make progress, it was time to take things to the next level and soon Yaseen had the Scouts responding well to “By the left quick march!”, “Group Halt!” and even “Atten…SHUN” (at which the Scouts were to stamp their left foot in unison).

The Scouts also spend some time preparing “St Georges Shields” for the march.

BFTF wishes them well for Saturday !

"By the left quick march. . . . . group Halt !"

Visit to the Theatre Royal, Nottingham (12 Apr 2012)

The Easter break saw the 92nd Scout group taking a really interesting trip around the innards of the Theatre Royal in Nottingham. Guided by David Longford and Caroline Pope from the theatre's education department, the scouts were taken on trip through time and space as David and Caroline described the history of the theatre and also took the youngster, literally, behind the scenes.

David and Caroline had a very interactive style and asked lots of questions of the youngsters, whose responses were fascinating. Aware that a "back-up" actor was called an "understudy", they quizzed David on what would happen if all the actors and all the understudys were ill, to which David had to admit that the play would probably be cancelled.

On the other hand, when asked which Queen was on the throne when the theatre was built in 1865, it took the clue that the monarch was known for wearing black before the wee ones chirped up "Victoria".

Some of the 92nd Scouts Group at the Theatre Royal

Queen Victoria, apparently best known for looking a bit like a goth. . .

Rounders in the Park (29th Mar 2012)

Taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, the 92nd Scout group were playing rounders on Forest Park today. It proved to be a really noisy event! The cubs, scouts and beavers really enjouyed themselves and there was plenty of "audience participation" from the scout leaders as they gave advice on whether the youngsters should stay or run to the next base. Indeed, it was almost like a surreal version of "Have you got your cards right" with "get back" and "run" replacing the "higher" and "lower" that the audience called out on Brucies famous show.

Rounders - its like cricket but without the boring bits. . .

The Spring 2012 Programme

Thought it might be nice to show just how varied their programme of activities is by listing what the Cubs managed to get through in the Spring2012 term :
Rucksack packing for camping - getting ready for the Summer Camp
Visit from Nottinghamshire Constabulary (they liked the Police's armour!)
Making a Bird Feeder
Making Jacket Potatoes
Talent Show Night (No3 son was, apparently, a rapper!!)
Design and Decorate a Biscuit
Learn two knots - getting ready for Summer Camp
Visit a Fire Station (they got to use the Firehose!!)
Visit to a Synagogue
Labelling parts of a Mosque
Themes around the Scout Promise
Entertainer Badge


If you are a young person, this is something great for your CV.
If you are doing the DoE, this is a great way to fulfil your volunteering section.
If you work in the youth or social work fields, this is a great opportunity to get training related to your area.
If you are a parent, you probably already have the skills required.
If you are scared, no not worry, the National Scouts Association trains all the volunteers.
If you want to help make the next generation all they can be, this is your chance.
To find out more, contact Sr. Saida on 07932 275127

Image Sources:
Queen Victoria