Monday, 31 December 2012

Unlimited rises in benefits

BFTF noticed a survey on welfare reform that was reported in The Sun (see here). The article stated that:

"...More than 2,000 people were surveyed by pollsters Populus on behalf of the Tory Party. ....When asked whether the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits, 80 per cent disagreed."

BFTF is genuinely puzzled by this, as it looks like the Coalition has actually asked people "Should the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits?" which is an outrageously leading question, not least becasue it leaves the unspoken impression in the readers mind that "unlimited" means "very large" - when actually, it means "in line with inflation"

A quick look on the internet found what seemed the origninal survey on limiting benefit rises to 1% per annum for a limited time (see here for the survery).

The Survey is actually pretty sensible (although it stangely starts at "Question 2") and it does not contain the leading question quoted in the Sun report.

The other aspect of the story that troubled BFTF was the it was not clear how long the "limited period" would last or what the legislation actually said. Reports such as this one in the Guardian talk of "A brief three-clause bill"

The Confused BFTF
Unhelpfully, the Guardian chooses not to give a link to the Bill, and BFTF cannot find it at the UK parliament website, nor at the DWP website.

So much for public involvement in the political process...

So BFTF has asked the local Conservative Party the following :
i) According to The Sun, the Government commissioned a survery by Populus which asked people "whether the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits". This appears to be a shockingly leading question, not least because "unlimited" actually means "in line with inflation". I can find no record of this question in Populus's report of the survery. Did the Government really ask this question? Or is The Sun making stuff up?

ii) I understand that the 1% rise cap is currently draft legislation ("a three clause bill" according to the Guardian) but am unable to find a link to it. Where can I read the actual proposed Bill?
Update 03Jan13 : The local party referred me to Lord Freud, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Welfare Reform), so BFTF forwarded the email on to him.

Update 16Jan13 : Received a response from the "Ministerial Correspondence Team" which refused to answer any part of question (i), ignored question (ii) but did tell me that the legislation aimed to "uprate most benefits by 1 per cent from 2013/14 and for a further two years", with excemptions for pensioners and the disabled, whose benefits will increase in line with CPI.

BFTF does rather wonder what is the point of writing a clear, specific and (hopefully) reasonable question when politicians and civil servants are going to ignore it and provide the answer to another question entirely...

Update 14Mar13 : Forgot to mention that Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood did supply BFTF with a link to the relevant legislation (rather wonderfully via the magic that is Twitter) - so you can read it yourself here.

Update Jun2013 : Received response from Lilian Greenwood MP stating that she had asked Lord Freud if the government had indeed commissioned the survey, and would get back to BFTF when she got a response.

Update Jul2013 : Received (via Lilian Greenwood) response from Steve WebbMP, Minister of State for Work and Pensions, who could "confirm that this survery was not commissioned by the Government"

1933 - Letter C

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.

Caen
…One of the finest churches is St Pierre [built in 1308]… there is a public library with over 100,000volumes.

Caf
In Mohemmedan mythology, a mountain, which surrounds the whole earth as a hedge encloses a field. Its foundation is the stone Sakharal, which is an emerald, whose reflection gives the sky its tints.

Caliph
…The most celebrated of the Abbaside caliphs of Baghdad was Haroun al Rashid (Aaron the Just), 786-808, under whom learning, science and art were in a flourishing state. Subsequently the Muslim kingdom lost province after province and the temporal authority of Baghdad was destroyed.

… the most brilliant period of the Western Caliphate was in the ninth and tenth centuries, when literature, science and art were in more flourishing condition than anywhere else in Europe…

Camouflage
[this entry deals only with camouflage against observation from the air, no mention of camouflage clothing etc]

Capital Punishment
Formerly in Great Britain, as in many other countries, it was the ordinary form of punishment for felonies of all kinds, but a more accurate knowledge of the nature and remedies of crime; a more discriminating sense of degrees in criminality, and an increased regard for human life have all combined to restrict, if not to abolish, the employment of the penalty of death.

…The work of practical reform initiated in 1770 by Sir William Meredith…but the modifications secured [by proposed bills] were few, owing to the opposition of the House of Lords, which continued down to 1832 to oppose all attempts at criminal law reform…

Casualty
[Reports an authoritative statement given to the House of Commons in May 1921 regarding WW1 casualties : Great Britain(743,702 dead, 1,693,262 wounded); India(61,398 dead, 70,859 wounded); Australia(59,330 dead, 152,171 wounded); Canada(56,625 dead, 149,732 wounded)]

Catholic Emancipation
…[ In 18th century Ireland, Roman Catholics] were deprived of the guardianship of their children…

Cetacea [Whales and dolphins]
…The blood vessels in these animals break up into extensive plexuses or networks, in which a large amount of oxygenated blood is delayed, and they are thus enabled to remain a considerable time under water. Injury to these dilated vessels leads to profuse hemorrhage, and hence the whale is killed by the comparatively trifling wound of the harpoon…

Chemistry
…these substances, by union of which all the different sorts of known matter are built up, are about 80 in number and are called chemical elements.

…the recent work of J.J. Thompson and others indicates [that] these atoms are themselves complex and are built up of positive and negative electrons. According to this conception the atoms of all elements are formed of the same material - these electrons - but in different quantities and it is thus not inconceivable that one element should be transformed into another…

…An electrical theory of the nature of atoms, based on the properties of electrons, has made great progress in recent years. According to the theory, the mass of an atom is derived from a nucleus which is made up of some whole number of elementary nuclei, all perfectly alike.

Chicago
In 1880 its population was 503,185; in 1930 it had increased to 3,376,438.

Child Labour Regulation
…It has been increasingly realised how bad are the after effects of employing young children in factories and workshops…

…The international protection of children in industry formed an important subject of consideration at the Conference held at Washington in Oct 1919 under the League of Nations, when recommendations were made to the several nations of the League for levelling up the legislation of the more backward nations to a common minimum standard…

…In 1920, in Great Britain, the Women, Young Persons and Children (Employment) Act was passed. It made it illegal to any child under the age of 14 to be employed in any industrial undertaking other than an undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed…The Act does not apply to domestic service, agriculture of transport by hand…

Children’s Games
The study of children’s games is an important branch of folk-lore. These games are historically valuable on account of their derivation from the ancient ceremonies and religious rites inseparable from every great occasion in the lives of our ancestors.

…[Line Singing Games] are contestant in character and consist of two lines of players, representing rival tribes or villages which alternately advance and retreat before each other. “Nuts in May” is a popular example of the line game and preserves the ancient custom of marriage by capture, the boy, or prospective husband, advancing to carry off the girl for his wife.

…[Circle Singing Games] are the survivals of those occasions when the people of one community met to celebrate some special local event, such as a marriage, seed-time or harvest. “Oats and Beans and Barley” belong to this time and depicts the ceremonies of seed-time combined with marriage customs. “Kiss in the Ring” is also a circle game representing an early form of marriage by choice.

China
In bodily strength they [Chinese] are far inferior to Europeans, but superior to most Asiatics, and their great assuidity and patient endurance of fatigue make them valuable as labourers. They are considered to be deficient in courage. In their moral qualities there is much that is amiable. They are strongly attached to their homes, hold age in respect, toil hard for the support of their families…In the great mass these qualities are counterbalanced, or rather supplanted,, by numerous vices - treachery, lying and various others.

In the western parts Mohammedanism has many followers, estimated at 20,000,000.

[on trade:]…a second embassy in 1816, by Lord Amherst, was treated with insolence ; and subsequently the treatment of British merchants became such that a collision was inevitable. In 1840 the British, on being refused redress for injuries, proceeded to hostilities, and a treaty was concluded (1842) , by which the five ports…were opened to British merchants”

Christianity
[after a definition of Christianity:] This comprehensive statement defines…its universalism, which differentiates it from Judaism and Islam, both of which remain national forms of theism.

Cod
The average length of the common cod is about 2.5 or 3 feet and the weight between 30 and 50lb, though sometimes cod are caught weighing three times this.

Condom
A town in south-west France…pop 6640.

Copts
…Reduced by a long course of oppression and misrule to a state of degradation, the number and national character of the Copts have greatly declined. At present they number about 700,000.

… the women go out with veiled faces, like the Moslem women…

The Copts are quiet and industrious, have a good capacity for business, but are servile and crafty.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The effects of nuclear weapons

BFTF'd formative years were back in the 1980's, a decade marked by great music, the beginnings of the revival of the English national footy team, overstyled hair (on both sexes) and, more disturbingly, the ever present threat of nuclear war.

Those of a younger generation may not appreciate just how real this possibility was, but BFTF can vividly recall programmes such as Weekend World routinely discussing what would happen if the Soviets rolled into West Germany and there was a (so called "limited") nuclear war. For example, check out this interview with Margaret Thatcher (scroll down to Part 2) ,and a listing of another example here

There was the concept of the "4 minute warning" which was the time between Soviet missiles being detected - and the missiles delivering their nuclear payload to the UK.

Docu-dramas such as the US made "The Day After" and the UK film "Threads" brought home to people just how devastating a nuclear war would be - and how long lived would be its consequences.

And this is despite the fact that those films did not even begin to portray the full horror of the level of human death, misery and devastation that even a single nuclear weapon could cause.

Even today, a quarter of a century later, just thinking about Threads gives BFTF a bad feeling in the pit of the stomach.

And the threat of nuclear apolcalypse filtered through to popular culture, for example in music by Nena, Sting and The Jam - and also into films such as "War Games". See also this Wiki article.

Even if you escaped the direct effects of blast and radiation in a nuclear exchange, the following were sobering facts that you needed to face:

If you were a person who depended on medication to lead a healthy life then a nuclear war meant that your medication would disappear.

If you lived in a city then a nuclear war meant that food and water supplies would stop immediately.

Gas and electricity supplied would stop immediately - there would be no domestic heating.

Effects of Nuclear Weapons
A report by the organisation Medact describes how, for a relatively small 75kt (i.e. weapon with an explosive equivalent to 75,000 tonnes of TNT) the following would be the case:

50% of people within a 5.4kn radius would die or be injured from blast overpressure effects and that, at this distance:
"Walls of typical steel-frame buildings blown away [and] severe damage to dwelling houses...Full thickness skin burns are likely up to around 4km away from the blast. [These] only heal very slowly with scarring and, under normal conditions, are usually treated by skin grafting".

Radiation affect the body in three main ways.
i) Bone Marrow : Depressed production of white blood cells and platelets:
"Loss of white blood cells results in susceptibility to infections and the development of spontaneous haemorrhages. These effects may be fatal, usually at the end of the fourth week after exposure or the subject may gradually recover."

ii) Gasto-Intestinal : These effects occur at higher radiation levels, the report stating that:
"The main initial damage is to the cells lining the small intestine. This results in massive diarrhoea with loss of body fluids and the risk of septicaemia from bacteria that have gained access through the damaged lining. These symptoms occur earlier than in the bone-marrow form and, if the subject survives, are likely to be followed by the features of the bone-marrow form described above."

iii) Central Nervous System : This is affected at very high levels of radiation resulting in:
"convulsions, coma and death within a few hours. At somewhat lower doses, there is a gradual loss of mental and physical activity, followed by disorientation, coma and death in a few days."

A shocking testimony from Hiroshima
The report includes a description of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At Hiroshima, a priest, Father Kleinsorge, was asked to help some soldiers and it was later reported that:
'When he had penetrated the bushes, he saw there were about 20 men and they were all in exactly the same nightmarish state; their faces were wholly burned, their eye sockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks.' This was the result of having their faces upturned when the bomb exploded"

"Square Leg"
The report mentions the 1980 'Square Leg' NATO exercise, in which an attack of 5 One Megaton weapons on London was simulated. Medact comments that:
"Based upon the 1971 census, when the population of Greater London was 7.2 million (private householders only), blast effects alone would have resulted in 1.1 million immediate deaths and 2.4 - 2.9 million injured. If only 1% of the population were directly exposed to the effects of heat in the open there would have been approximately 28,000 partial-thickness and 5,000 full-thickness burns among those who had not been killed or injured by the effects of blast. If 25% had been exposed, the corresponding figures would have been 700,000 partial-thickness and 125,000 full-thickness burns."

It almost happened
It is worth remembering that a major nuclear exchange - which would have devastated much of human civilisation - very nearly happened on at least two occasions; once in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and - at a time of heightened tensions - in a 1983 false missile alarm in the Russian early warning system.
What Medact want to see.
Although their work is wide ranging, Medact was originally formed by a 1992 merger of Medical Association for the Prevention of War, and the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. Given this history, it is not surprising that their view is that:

"As health professionals we are aware that the continued possession of nuclear weapons and the development of new nuclear weapons is not only dangerous but a huge waste of resources. At a time when our National Health Service is acutely short of funds, for Britain to embark on a programme to develop a new nuclear weapon system to replace Trident, with capital costs of up to £25 billion and running costs of perhaps £50 billion more, would divert massive resources and potentially create death and sickness on a massive scale, would be totally irresponsible.

It is essential to begin realistic negotiations between all the actual and potential nuclear weapon states to bring about nuclear disarmament, as they are under an obligation to achieve under Article 6 of the NPT. The objective should be a Nuclear Weapons Convention, which would ban the production, stockpiling or use of nuclear weapons and require the destruction of existing stockpiles as do the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions for the respective weapons. A draft NWC drawn up by Costa Rica already exists as a United Nations document."

Further Information
Wikipedia article on effects of nuclear weapons
Medact articles on Nuclear Weapons
CND page on nuclear weapon effects
Hiroshima Remembered


Hiroshima, after the nuclear attack



Image Source
Hiroshima Aftermath

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Sandy Hook School Killings

Just wanted to share three items from the media regarding the recent Sandy Hook School Killings in Newtoen, Connecticut, US.

The Freedom of an Armed Society
A very thought provoking article by Firmin Debrabander in the New York Times entitled "The Freedom of an Armed Society" makes a powerful case that (contrary to the arguments of the NRA) an armed society is a society of scared individuals who would actually be easier for the state to control. He also comments on the chilling effect that carrrying a gun has on debate by mentioning the instance of a an armed protestor at a town hall political meeting in 2009. DeBrabander points out that:
"no one engaged him at the protest; no one dared approach him even, for discussion or debate — though this was a town hall meeting, intended for just such purposes. Such is the effect of guns on speech — and assembly"


Young White Males
Another article in the same NY Times series on the Sandy Hook killings, suggested that huge sections of US male population was feeling disenfranchised, lost and having no purpose in life. The author comments on how many male members of his extended family have had criminal or drug problems and asks what it is that makes young while males commit these mass killings, saying:
"There is something about life in the United States, it seems, that is conducive to young men planning and executing large-scale massacres. But the reasons elude us."


Train kids to rush shooters, apparantly
Megan Mcardle writes a, frankly terrifying, article in which she suggests that:
"I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once."

BFTF has no doubt that she follows her own advice and has trained her own children accordingly...or perhaps not.

Obamas Speech
President Obama's comments on the tragedy were haunting, if you have not heard them, you should (see here) :

"We can't tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."

Friday, 14 December 2012

Wise Words from No3 Son

Some words of wisdom from No3 Son while watching a crime drama on the telly...

No3 Son: Why do people kill themselves when they get arrested?
BFTF : Because they are scared of jail.
No3 Son : So they think it's better to die than to go to jail?
BFTF : Yes.
No3 Son : Well, that's why you need to get an education.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

40,000 page views, and some famous adverts

Crikey, 40,000 page views. So soon! Thank you dear readers.

It seems like a good idea to celebrate this small but perfectly formed milestone with a post that has a more humorous tone than usual. So let’s look at a few of the most memorable television adverts of the last three decades. Put your nostalgia hats on …NOW.

One of the first adverts that BFTF can remember was for Fairy Liquid, which famously washed more dishes than other brands. It is worth mentioning that the large, cylindrical bottles that Fairy Liquid came in were, for children, highly prized in their own right. In particular, they made rather awesome water pistols, having a valuable combination of high water capacity, long range and robustness. And if they were the urban childrens M16 rifle, the squeezy Jif lemon was the urban childs Walther PPK, but that is another advert altogether. . .


It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that regulations regarding advertising have changed significantly over the years, and whilst anything that reduces the level of smoking in society, the ban of cigar advertising (cigarette advertising had been banned long before BFTF was watching telly) did mean the loss of adverts such as those for Hamlet, whose commercials involved a series of individuals who found themselves in hopeless predicaments and lit up a Hamlet, “the mild cigar” and resigned themselves to their situation.


The late 70s and early 80s were a period of serious industrial strife, with news programmes featuring a display showing how many jobs had been lost that week (or, in one case, how much money British Steel was losing). During this period Austin Rover were developing what would become the miniMetro, a car that was hoped to save the British car industry (or, more realistically, slow its decline). To bring home to Austin Rover workers the scale of the challenge that faced them, some were taken to see the state of the art, highly automated, Fiat factory - which was immortalised in this famous, operatically soundtracked advert for the Fiat Strada.


Some adverts are memorable for being a technical tour-de-force and one example of this (to BFTF at least) was the Blackcurrent Tango advert in which a Ray Gardner, a spokesman for the company responds from the Tango offices to a letter from French exchange student “Sebastian”. The response is initially very reasonably but then becomes increasingly jingoinstic as Ray moves, seemingly seamlessly, from the offices to a boxing ring above the cliffs of Dover, the advert closing with three Harrier jump jets hovering into view (truly a touch of genius that). It’s quite long for an advert, but worth watching.


Moving right up the present day, the recent season of Direct Line adverts staring comedians Armstrong and Miller. BFTF could watch them all day. They are works of comedic art. I defy you not to have a smile on your face after watching this, the first ad in the series:


Factual Accuracy
BFTF usually takes a lot of care to check facts in blog posts, but has not bothered to do so at all in this one. It is all straight out of BFTF’s head. So, for the love of God, please don’t quote anything without checking the facts elsewhere.

Communities as gangs

A very short post, just to highlight a single paragraph in this story about the adverese reaction that a US mosque received when it decided to open its doors to host a Muslim conference. Commenting on those who reacted angrily to this move, the rector of the church made the very perceptive comment that :

"Communities too often devolve into gangs in which only those who toe the line are accepted. But true community is not about conformism; it tolerates and even celebrates divergent opinions and personalities."

Very, very true words.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Demonisation in the Media

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Dec 13 : A story in the MailOnline about a vegetarian lady who "grew up in a Hindu household where none of the family eats meat" and was accidentally served a meat dish at a restaurant. BFTF suspects that the heandline would have been a lot more faith-centric had she grown up in a Muslim household: 'I feel like it is not my body anymore': Devastated vegetarian ate meat for the first time in her life - after Nando's served her chicken by mistake

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Dr Joel Hayward wins damages re MailOnSunday article
A MailOnSunday article in 2011 ran with the headline:

“Ayatollah of the RAF: Academic chief of RAF's 'university' is Muslim convert who has criticised NATO air strikes in Libya, claimed Nazi gas chambers were British propaganda and compared Churchill to Mohammed”.

The subject of the article,Dr Hayward, sued the paper, saying that story accused him of acting like an “Ayatollah” by giving Muslim cadets preferential treatment and making other students take a “softly, softly line when writing about Muslim terrorists or Islamic extremists”.

The MoS said that they "stood by their story"

In contrast, Minhaj-ul-Quran issued this statement supporting Dr Hayward, and including this comment:

"Dr Hayward has supported several Minhaj-ul-Quran International de-radicalisation workshops at which he has been very effective at explaining the motives and methods of terrorism as well as developing strategies for de-radicalising youth and hopefully preventing another terrorist atrocity. This is highly valuable work and it is unbelievable that Dr Hayward’s well-known efforts were not included in the character- assassination article."

In Oct 2013 the MailOnline had this "correction and clarification":

"On 7 and 8 August 2011 we suggested that the beliefs of Dr Joel Hayward, then the Dean of the RAF College Cranwell, prevented him from fulfilling his duty of impartiality and fairness as a teacher in the RAF by causing him to show undue favouritism to Islamic students and spend too much time on Islamic activities. We now accept that these allegations are untrue. We apologise to Dr Hayward and have paid a substantial sum to him in damages."

The take-home message from this story that BFTF takes is that the DailyMail "standing by its story" means nothing.

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Muslims in Texas
Not so much a story of demonisation as an example of how the MailOnline will - in its UK edition - trawl the entire world for examples of Muslims, and only Muslims, who show any sign of non-conformity with wider society. In this case, a Muslim in Texas....TEXAS !!.... had pork pieces put in her drinking straw by TGI staff when she sent back a Cobb Salad because it contained bacon (her bad, she should have read the menu, apparently is says that this salad contains bacon). The subtext to the story is "staff play a prank on a Muslim and, instead of taking a joke, she goes ballistic - see how touchy these Muslims are, they aren't like the rest of us"

Note also how the headline uses the words "devout Muslim", implying that it is only these "devout" types that we have a problem with, and who get all bent out of shape.

The UK edition of the MailOnline,
reaching out to Texas for stories about uppity Muslims

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Extremist Story was "fabricated"
Back in 2009, Glen Jenvey, described as "an extremely capable and knowledgeable analyst" by Tory MP Patrick Mercer, falsified a story about extremism which he submitted to news agency South West News, and was then picked up and run by the Sun newspaper. (see also here)

According to a statement by the newspaper "Jenvey told how he fabricated the list of Jewish targets by posing as a fundamentalist on an extremist website where he urged others to suggest names...He then leaked the made-up list to a trusted news agency, used by The Sun, and online forum Ummah.com was wrongly accused of being used to prepare a backlash against UK Jews."

Jenvey has also appeared on BBC2's Newsnight as a terror expert commenting on internet monitoring of extremist groups.

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Mar 2013 Prisoners Wives-BBC1
It was great to hear the Muslim greeting of "Assalamu alaikum" in this episode of "Prisoners Wives" as this routine greeting is so rarely voiced on mainstream TV. Unfortunately, in this case it was said by one a group of vicious prisoners (none of whom were asian incidentally, giving the impression that they were converts to the faith) to Gavin Allison, a young and vulnerable new inmate. The group forced Gavin to convert to Islam under threat of violence - but when Gavin spoke to the prison Imam, the Imam suggested that Gavin should think about it for a while and clearly had reservations about the group Gavin was hanging about with.

So, what's the take-home message here? Well, what BFTF took was the association of "Assalamu alaikum" (Peace be upon you) as being something that is said by violent young men. So sent this off the the BBC:
"It's rare to hear this greeting on TV - so when it happens the context is important. In this case it was made by violent prisoners forcing a young man to convert to Islam. I don't want this greeting to be associated with criminals in the minds of your viewers. So I hope you will ensure it is used elsehwere on the BBC in more postive contexts"


How abusive Christians, Hindus and Muslims are described in the Daily Mail
Former evangelical minister, 40, tormented his family to a 'total Victorian nightmare' of rape and psychological torture
"....A former evangelical church minister subjected his family to a 'total Victorian nightmare' of cruelty and sex abuse that saw him rape his wife and stepdaughter and cruelly humiliate his stepchildren.The 40-year-old man was a regular churchgoer but twisted the Bible's teachings to justify his behaviour, a trial at Gloucester Crown Court was told...."

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Doctor, 33, killed himself after parents objected to relationship with fellow medic because of 'cultural differences'
"A Doctor killed himself after splitting from his fiancee because his parents were worried that she wasn’t Indian. Dr Madhu Honnaiah, 33, injected himself with a lethal mix of his hospital’s own drugs after breaking up with fellow doctor Emma Wrighton, 32. An inquest heard his Indian family had been upset at the engagement because of the couple’s ‘cultural differences’"

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Rich Indian couple found guilty of slitting their 14-year-old daughter's throat and murdering servant, 45, after finding pair in 'compromising situation'
"An Indian court on Monday found a dentist couple guilty of murdering their 14-year-old daughter and a servant five years ago, in a dramatic finale to a case that transfixed the country and tapped unease on both sides of the rich-poor divide."

Note the absence of the word "Christian", "Hindu" etc in the headlines and the absence of terms such as "strict", "severe" etc. Now lets see how criminals who happen to be Muslim are treated in the media...

Muslim abuser who 'didn't know' that sex with a girl of 13 was illegal is spared jail
"...A muslim who raped a 13-year-old girl he groomed on Facebook has been spared a prison sentence after a judge heard he went to an Islamic faith school where he was taught that women are worthless..." is one of the subheadings,and only in the penultimate paragraph does the article admit that the "faith" of was an irrelevance when it reports that :

"But he [the Judge] said that Rashid knew what he was doing was wrong.‘It was made clear to you at the school you attended that having sexual relations with a woman before marriage was contrary to the precepts of Islam,’ he said."

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Jan 2013
Fox Made Me Do It : Randolph Linn, 52, from Indiana (USA) recently pleaded guilty to setting an Ohio Mosque on fire on Sep 20th 2012, causing $1million worth of damage. The mosque is the third largest in the US and has been in existence for 32years.

According to reports (see here and here), Linn told the judge that he had been spurred on by newspaper, radio and Fox News accounts that Muslims were killing "us" and were in control of the White House.

Reports from the trial state that Linn said that “Every day you turn on the TV, you see Muslims trying to kill Americans,” and, when asked whether he thought all Muslims are terrorists, Linn responded, “I’d say most of them are.”

The trial judge asked Linn "‘Do you know any Muslims or do you know what Islam is?’”, to which he responded ‘No, I only know what I hear on Fox News and what I hear on radio.’

US Attorney Steven M Dettelbach later said "U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio, who said, “Religious freedom is at the core of our country, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute such hate crimes whenever and wherever the evidence warrants. This was a true joint effort to seek justice for these victims.”

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12th Dec 2012
The Headline(Mail Online): Former British Library manager, 29, jumped 80ft to her death from exclusive restaurant after her Western lifestyle was revealed on Facebook and exposed to strict Muslim parents.

The Implication: That "Strict Muslim Parents" are so unhinged, so ready for violence that their children prefer to commit suicide rather than publically going against them.

The Reality: Nowhere in the story does it suggest that the family of the unfortunate Rema Begum were a factor in her death. Perhaps a more likely reason is revealed by the paragraph stating that she "had been suffering from depression after losing her job as a manager at the British Library after a row with bosses at Christmas 2011, believed she was living an impure life and as punishment would not be allowed entry to paradise."

Without wishing to belittle the personal tragedy in these cases, BFTF notes that an almost identical story a few days later on 17th Dec 2012 involving a Hindu lady received a very different headline "Doctor, 33, killed himself after parents objected to relationship with fellow medic because of 'cultural differences'

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25th Jan 2012
The Headline(Mail Online):'Strict Muslim' raped four women at knifepoint to 'punish them for being on the streets at night'

The Implication: That "Strict Muslim" teaching is to assault women who do not conform.

The Reality: Nowhere in the story is there any evidence that the rapist was, in any way, a practicing Muslim - and indeed all the evidence of his behaviour suggests the exact opposite. BFTF has covered this story, including the utter pointlessness of complaining to the PCC, here and here

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Is Uni outreach dinner reaching the right places?

Back in early 2012, BFTF and No1 Son (who is in his final two years at secondary school) received an invitation from the University of Nottingham to attend an evening dinner, together with other children and their parents.

The aim of the evening was to give the children an introduction to University life, have students available to talk to, and to give some short talks on specific topics such as student loans, budgeting etc. The event was targeted, apparently, at families who were likely to be unfamiliar with university in the hope that barriers could be broken down and children/parents who had previously thought of uni as "not for them" might view a university education with a more open mind.

It is perhaps making clear that BFTF thinks this initiative is A GOOD THING, and every pound the universities spend breaking down barriers with families who have no history of engagement with higher education is a pound well spent.

The event was very well run, and certainly succeeded in its aim of providing useful information to the potential university-goers. Particularly memorable were the comments of one student who gave a talk on student financing and implored future students to budget better than she had so that they did not have to spend the last two weeks before Christmas "living off Noodles " because they had run out of money.

There was also a feedback form at the end of the event which asked questions such as whether the parents had been to university, what they thought of the event etc.

However, (uni educated) BFTF noted that quite a few of the other parents also appears to have gone to University and wondered whether the event was really bringing in the people it intended to (i.e. those who had no experience of higher education, so sent an email to the organisers saying:

"As I am sure you are aware, one of the best indicators of the liklihood of a child going to university is whether the childs parents did.

With this in mind, I guess that the event aimed to ensure that a high proportion of attendees were from households were the parents did not go to university. And, indeed, I noted a question to this effect during the event (on the feedback form perhaps?)

I'm very supportive of the event I attended - but would like to ensure that the money and time is being spent effectively. To this end, it is possible to let me know what percentage of the attending families had one or both parents who had attended university?"


The organisers took a few months to collate their data and then responded saying that many of the attendees didn't complete the form or did not give permission for their data to be shared. As a result there was not sufficient data to allow a meaningful analysis, addind that "We will be looking at the form for next year to see if improvements can be made."

BFTF bounced back with :
"It's a shame that the question - which seems rather an important one - can't be answered from the available data. Do you have any data from a previous year, or from similar events held elsewhere that might give some clue to the ratio of families with a graduate parent to those without?"


This didn't get a response so BFTF followed up with:
"Just wondering whether you think this years [2012/2013] questionairre will be able to answer the question "How many of the children attending this event have parents who had a Uni education". As I mentioned previously, this seems to be a pretty important question, because if the answer is "most of them", perhaps you are not spending your money in the wisest way. . ."


To which the team responded by saying that they worked closely with "The East Midlands Database" to target the appropriate families as effectively as possible, and that they would be putting forward BFTF's suggestions for consideration (which is a bit weird as BFTF hadn't actually made any specific suggestions)

A Note
Readers may wonder whether is was a bit hypocritical of BFTF to attend the event if BFTF's view is that it should only attract non-university educated families.

Well, BFTF can see your point, but the event did have some value for No1 Son and it would perhaps have been churlish to deny him that for some moral point scoring.

Another, more important, Note
The University of Nottingham does some fantastic outreach work, with many departments running their own outreach programmes. You can get a flavour of their work here and here.

And, of course, there is the awesome, amazing, annual MAYFEST, which you can read about here.


Monday, 10 December 2012

Nottingham Police and Crime Commissioner

Following on an election lead up that was initially something of an information free zone, and an outstanding Nottingham Citizens event to challenge the candidates to commit to action on a series of "asks", we now have Paddy Tipping as the elected PCC for Nottinghamshire.

Police Targets
According to the Electoral Commission leaflet that landed on BFTF's doormat before the election, the PCC will:

Oversee how crime is tackled in their area and aim to make sure the Police are providing a good service.

and is a role that includes

*Meeting the Public regularly to listen to their views on policing
*Producing a Police and Crime Plan setting out local Policing priorities
*Deciding how the budget will be spent
*Appointing Chief Constables and dismissing them if needed

It was the "make sure the Police are providing a good service" bit that caught BFTF attention. This is clearly an important part of the job, and one that ought to be amenable to some kind of measurement. I.e. What criteria will the PCC use to decide whether the Police have "provided a good service". Seems like fair enough question to ask, so BFTF did, using the email address here, also asking how the PCC would ensure that the Police adopted a holistic and long term approach to Policing and did not focus exclusively on achieving short term targets?:

The PCC team responded, very quickly, with a response that included:

"Firstly, the Commissioner is currently preparing a detailed 5 year plan which will be published [here]following consultation sometime in the new year...

Secondly...Various performance indicators and targets (including long term targets) are being considered and will be agreed and published so members of the public can see and monitor progress over time...

---------------------------------------------
BNP leaflet demonising Muslims
BFTF has been wondering whether a BNP leaflet that has been distributed in Luton should be accepted as part of the rough and tumble of politics. The leaflet was in a 1930's Germany style (with Muslims being the target rather than Jews).

The Office of the PCC forwarded BFTF's question to the Office of the Chief Constable, as it related to an operational matter. They responded with remarkable speed, sending a pdf letter which stated that distribution of leaflets similar to that shown above would very likely fall under the offence of "distribute written material to stir up racial hatred" which is contrary to sections 19(1) and 27(3) of the Public Order Act 1986.

The letter added that if BFTF (or presuambly anyone else) became aware of leaflets similar to that above being distributed they should report the matter to their local Police station immediately.


Recipe - Keema Salan

BFTF's other half is a great cook and, unlike BFTF, is capable to cooking proper, complicated, classic Pakistani dishes.

BFTF has been keen to have a bash at one of these for some time, so took notes when Mrs BFTF was making some Keema Salan (Mince (Mutton) Curry).

Kaama Salan
It's a taste sensation!

Ingredients
1 kg minced mutton
1 tin tomatoes
2 large onions
1.5 teaspoon Salt
1.0 teaspoon Red Chilli Powder
0.5 teaspoon Turmeric
0.5 teaspoon Garam Masala
2.0 teaspoon Zeera (Cumin seeds)
Some cooking oil

Procedure
a) Bung everything except the oil into a pan, bring to the boil and it simmer for 20minutes, during this time, add a little water if required.
b) Increase the heat to evaporate most of the water then add some oil and gently fry for a further 20mins.
c) Serve.

The dish rates as "EASY" on the BFTF Washing Up Index

See also the RECIPES post for other easy recipes to try, both sweet and savoury.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Gift Aid on Mosque Donations

BFTF was talking with an Imam earlier this year who mentioned that donations to that partcular mosque were down, presumably due to the tough ecomic climate.

BFTF pointed out that one way of increasing income was to ensure that people were donating on a regualar basis via standing orders and that the mosque was taking full advantage of the Gift Aid scheme. The Imam agreed that this was something the mosque needed to improve its act on.

And, in due course, a letter landed on BFTF's doorstep (along with, presumably, the doorsteps of other mosque-goers) asking that BFTF set up a standing order to allow regular donations.

But there was no Gift Aid box, something that would allow the mosque to increase donations by some 25% if the donor filled it in .

So BFTF sent the mosque a template form with the Gift Aid components on and asked :

1) Does the mosque intend to have a "Gift Aid" section in the form when contacting donors in the future?

2) Of the money that the mosque is receiving via Standing Orders, how much (as a percentage) is it currently claiming back as Gift Aid?

BFTF didn't receive any response from the mosque so chased up in September and again in December.


Standing Order Form including Gift Aid Statement


UPDATE 09 Dec 12
A few points :
i) Received email from the mosque saying that they were in the process of updating their standing order forms to include a Gift Aid statement.
ii) Someone has pointed out that the template above may not fulfill all the legal requirements.
iii) One other aspect of this issue that BFTF discussed with the Imam was the the mosque did not interact or acknowledge, in any way, the donations that people were giving by standing order. There was no thank you, no annual update, no newsletter, no seeking of views, no nothing. BFTF suggested that this was not a good way to encourage existing donors to increase their donations, or to gove them a feeling that they were stakeholders in the mosque.

FURTHER UPDATES
Chased up mosque asking whether they now included a gift aid section on their standing orders on 15th March, 29th March and 6th May, so far without response.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Amazon, I can't shop with you any more

Just sent the followng to Amazon.

Dear Amazon,

I love your products, your service and your prices.

But I love the the NHS, the Police Force, schoolteachers, roads and libraries more.

By paying only £1.8million on sales of £3,500million in the last year you are putting at risk these great institutions as well as some of the country's most vulnerable people.

I won't give my money to a company that is running the UK down by not paying it's fair share of tax. You have already lost hundreds of pounds of my spending and, if you continue on your current path, you will miss out on hundreds of pounds more over the next year.

You know what is the right thing to do.

Do it.


Update 02 Jan 13
Dear reader, you may wish to sign the petition at Change.org to pressure Amazon into paying corporation tax in the UK. The petition is by Frances and Keith Smith who say :

"We pay our taxes and so should Amazon!

We run the Kenilworth and Warwick bookshops, independent shops which have been a proud part of our local high streets for many years. As we run into the busy Christmas period, we are proud of the personal service we provide to all those who visit our store.

But times are tough and getting tougher.

We face unrelenting pressure from huge online retailers undercutting prices, in particular Amazon and it's pushing businesses like ours to the brink. But what’s even worse is that Amazon, despite making sales of £2.9 BILLION in the UK last year, does not pay any UK corporation tax on the profits from those sales. In my book, that is not a level playing field and leaves independent retailers like us struggling to compete just because we do the right thing.

All Amazon UK book and toy sales are routed through its Luxembourg subsidiary...Experts say if Amazon's total UK sales profits were not funnelled to Luxembourg, it could be paying as much as £100m a year in British corporation tax. As Independent booksellers, we are happy with competition in the market but it must be on level terms and by dodging corporation tax in this way, Amazon start with an unfair advantage....We pay our taxes and so should they -- please take a stand with us and tell Amazon to pay their fair share.

Until they do, please consider purchasing from local, independent shops instead.



Update 18Mar13 : Millions of Britons are using consumer power to boycott companies seen to be avoiding their fair share of UK tax, new reaserch reveals. A ComRes survey about public perceptions around tax avoidance, commissioned by Christian Aid, revealed some remarkable aspects of the UK publics views about multi-nationals and their tax payments :

34% say they are currently boycotting the products/sevices of a company because it doesn't pay its fair share of tax in the UK.
45% say they are considering a boycott.
72% of people agreed the Gov't should ensure UK-based companies pay the proper amount of tax in all countries every operate in.
89% said it is unfair that they have to pay their taxes when multinationals can avoid doing so,
85% say we need global leaders to stop multinationals from abusing the tax system, ‘People understand the importance of developing countries being able to collect tax that is owed to them by multinational corporations. Tax is a powerful weapon against poverty and three quarters of Britons agree that if developing countries could collect more tax then they would, in time, be less dependent on international aid, and therefore better able to provide for their own people,’ adds Joseph Stead. Christian Aid estimates that at present, multinationals’ tax dodging costs poor countries $160billon every year, far more than they receive in aid.

Christian Aid is part of the Enough Food For Everyone IF coalition, which is calling on governments to stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries, so that millions of people can free themselves from hunger. The group of more than 100 charities and faith organisations wants the UK public to ask their MPs to lobby the Chancellor ahead of the Budget on 20 March. Enough Food For Everyone IF wants the Chancellor to use this Budget to require multinational companies to reveal the tax avoidance schemes they use in developing countries – and to commit the UK to sharing the resulting information with the countries concerned. This would help their tax authorities to decide how best to use their very limited resources.

Update:15th May2013
An article in the Guardian reveals that the HMRC has four criteria for deciding whether a company should pay corporation tax:

1) Is there trading activity by the non-resident company?
2) Does that trading take place in the UK?
3) Does the non-resident company have a fixed place of business in the UK?
4) Is the trade carried on through that fixed place of business? Or, if there is no fixed place of business, is the trade carried on through a dependent agent?

The Guardian comments that :

"The [Amazon]company indicates on its website it carries out a wide range of activities from his corporate offices in Slough in Berkshire. It says: "UK Corporate Offices – Slough, Berkshire, England. Since 1998, our teams have developed a genuinely British site with the same commitment to customers, cutting-edge technology and rich editorial content that has made Amazon.com such a success. Our Slough teams manage all corporate functions, including buying, marketing, software development, sales and legal."

And yet :

"Despite Amazon EU Sarl's extensive activities in the UK, it appears that HMRC inspectors – for reasons we cannot know – have accepted the retailer's insistence that this business is not captured by these four tests."


: BFTF has heard of a company called Hive.co.uk, who work with a network of local booksellers.

: Bought a book from Hive.co.uk, for a price that was similar to that of Amazon. Hive told BFTF (via Twitter) that "Hive is a UK registered company and as such are liable for, and pay, all relevant UK taxes. We’re UK through and through." and that, in relation to the commssion they paid local independent booksellers "Commission is dictated by value of the order. Typically it's between 2%-20%, but as stated, it varies depending on your order."

Hive.co.uk say they pay taxes and pay 2-20% commission to local bookstores

Related Links
38degrees Tax Dodger Guide

Monday, 3 December 2012

Marvellous Muslim Movember Moustache

With intensionally inflammatory words written weekly regarding Muslims..
...It's important articles articulating an alternative view are written.

So it was with great and gleeful gratitude...
...That BFTF heard about a Majid's Marvellous Muslim Movember Moustache.

It was grown to generate generous donations of dollars, dinars and dosh..
...To support real and relavant reseach into preventing many male cancers.

That research could bring transformative treatments to men in all sections of society...
...A picture of the perfectly pruned chin is contained below...


Majids Marvellous Movember Moustache


Congratulations to Majid on a magnificent and magnanimous gesture, which as well as helping heroes heal may also show the Muslims can make a difference for the mainstream.

Cosmology, Evolution and Ethics

BFTF went to a talk recently where the original speaker (who was due to speak on a Chemistry related topic) did not turn up so one of the audience offered to give an impromptu talk instead.

He entitled it as "Cosmology, Evolution and Ethics" and made the following arguments :

Cosmology : The Second Law of Thermodynamics means that the Universe is, essentially, running down and that it is heanding towards a (very distant) future where it is the same temperature everywhere. This will be a dark, dead universe. The speaker, who described himself as an atheist, mentioned that there were also theories suggesting that another Universe might pop up somewhere else.

Evolution : There are too many people in the world, consuming too many resources - and there may not be much time in which to avert a catastrophe. The speaker commented on current economic policies- especially the moral imperative to repay ones debts as "crazy", feeling that they encouraged investment in doomed schemes because the lender was sure of getting their money back. He also commented that humans did not need all the fruits of industry, and did not need to burn fossil fuels to stay warm, as human body heat was itself sufficient.

Ethics : All options need to be on the table to reduce the amount of resources humans are using, and the number of people on the planet - including eugenics and allowing wars to reduce the number of people. The speaker felt that the differnet policies should be investigated by way of "experiments" to see which ones worked so that they could be rolled out more widely. He also spoke approvingly of the Chinese policy of allowing only one child per family as a policy that had made a big differnece to the number of people the planted needed to support. Regarding eugenics, the speaker said that it had not been implemented well in the past but that it had its "good points".

Q&A
The Q&A session after the talk suggested that the overwhelming majority (if not all) of the audience disagreed with the speakers views.

The speaker was asked why we should be at particular risk of disaster now, given that there were many examples from history of people claiming that there were too many people for the world to support - and been proved wrong. The speaker responded by saying that he did not know how many people the world could support, but that there were many estimates ranging from not much higher than the current level to populations of many, many billions.

Another question asked if the speaker could give an example of a "good" eugencis policy. The speaker said that a good example was that of the Feminist revolution [which is not generally felt to be an example of eugenics]

A different point was made by another commenter, who suggested that the speaker was talking from the pont of view of someone who had received all the advantages (energy, medical services, a reasonable income) of someone in Middle England - and would have a very different view of whether people could survive without some form of heating (or candles to provide light in the hours of darkness) if he was living in Scotland.

One questioner, who seemed to be particuarly on the ball, pointed out that, aside from the moral problems with eugenics, it was a really bad idea biologically because the human species was a very homogenous one and needed as much gene mixing as it could get.

Regarding the "one child" policy in China, the point was made that this had resulted in todays young couples (who were the sole offspring of their parents, who has been the sole offspring of THEIR parents) having to financially support up to 6 ageing adults - never mind any children they might want to have. Someone else pointed out that, far from growing, the populations of many Western nations were static or dropping, and their numbers were only increasing because of immigration.

But perhaps the most disturbing comment was made by a member of the audience who said that, in the 1930s/40s one of their forebears had been a Mosleyite and had belived in eugenics. Because of this belief he had allowed his young son to die - in agony - from meningitis on the principle that the child would have pulled through by himself if he had been "fit" enough.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Why "Drone Attacks" is not a helpful term

BFTF has spent quite a bit of time over the last six months challenging the local Conservative Party and local MP on the civilian killings and "double tap" airstrikes that are taking place in Afghanistan/Pakistan area. You can read about this, including the rather disappointing response from government, at the link below:

http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/drones-killing-civilians-in-afghanistan.html

During this dialogue, BFTF used the phrase "drone attacks", not least because this was a label that was widely used in the media.

But this label is not helpful because it confuses two, very separate, issues

Issue 1 : The use of drones, per se.
BFTF understands the concerns regarding autonomously firing drones (which are not a reality at the time of writing) and of drone "pilots" behaving as though they were playing a video game, But it has also to be recongnised that, from a military point of view, drones are far, far cheaper, and can fly much for much longer than piloted aircraft - and do not put a human pilot in harms way. If BFTF was the head of an Air Force, using them would be the mother of all no-brainer decisions.

Issue 2 : What the drones are doing.
For BFTF it is the people who are dying in the missile strikes launched from the drones that are the real issue, and they would still be the issue if those missiles had come from piloted planes, or had been long range artillery.

BFTF's feels that concern should perhaps be focussed on the issues of target selection, confidence that the target is legitimate, elimination of injury, mutilation or death of innocent bystanders(1), and the damaging effects of "double tap" strikes.

Using terms such as "drone attacks" when challenging government or other institutions on what is being done in our name allows them to focus on Issue 1 rather than Issue 2 - and this is what happened, to a degree, in the response from the Government to BFTF's challenge.

So, from here on, BFTF will use simply use the term "missile strike", in the hope that this will help focus the attention where it should be - on what got hit.

(1) : Otherwise known as "collateral damage"

How it looked and how it was.

Just a short post of an experience BFTF had today. It has some relevance to situations where one party accuses another of being dishonest, duplicitous or working with a divisive agenda.

How it might have looked from the Imams perspective.
Earlier this year, BFTF attended a particular monthly social event that is held at the Mosque but has not attended again. I have nudged him a few times to attend again and he has said that he would. Just before the most recent event he texted me to say that he would be away from Nottingham at the time of the next event so could not attend - but I happended to drive past his house on the way to the event and his car was clearly there.

I'm really disappointed. I wish he had said he didn't want to attend rather than giving a fake reason. I thought be was a really honest bloke and this has made me doubt that he is.

How it really did happed from BFTF's perspective.
BFTF has wanted to attend a number of these events over the last few months but has had other engagements, that could not be avoided, each time. In the most recent case, BFTF genuinely expected to be away from Nottingham, but had to postpone the trip because No1 Son and Mrs BFTF had both came down really badly with flu so needed looking after.

Note : Just to be absolutely clear, the Imam in this case is an absolutely great chap, BFTF does not know what he is thinking and he probably didn't drive by BFTF's house.

Positive Muslim story in the Daily Mail (moved)

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