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.

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.

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 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 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, who work with a network of local booksellers.

: Bought a book from, 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." say they pay taxes and pay 2-20% commission to local bookstores

Related Links
38degrees Tax Dodger Guide

Monday, 3 December 2012

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".

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.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Independent Panel on Forestry report

BFTF received an email today about the Independent Panel on Forestry report, which has made a series of recommedations to government on the future of the UK's forests. I urge you to read the very moving forward to the report, which you can find at the link below:

And it is perhaps worth mentioning three of the recommendations that particularly struck a chord with BFTF :

Recommendation: We urge society as a whole to value woodlands for the full range of benefits they bring. We call on Government to pioneer a new approach to valuing and rewarding the management, improvement and expansion of the woodland ecosystems for all the benefits they provide to people, nature and the green economy.

Recommendation: Government and other woodland owners to give as many people as possible ready access to trees and woodlands for health and well-being benefits – this means planting trees and woodlands closer to people and incentivising more access to existing woodlands.

Recommendation: We propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England.

Lime Tree Fruit

The Secretary of State for the Environment (who was then Caroline Spelman) has responded in a communication you can find in the link below:

The key points of the response are perhaps these two paragraphs below :

"The Panel’s work will also inform the future of the Public Forest Estate, a key component of our English woodland network. I therefore agree with the Panel that the Public Forest Estate should continue to benefit from public ownership. A well managed and publicly owned estate provides the sort of public benefits we need to protect – such as access and biodiversity.

But I also agree with the IPF that the way that the Estate is cared for and managed should evolve to meet the challenges ahead of us. We need a new model that is able to draw in private finance, make best use of Government funding and a means to facilitate wider and more comprehensive community support."

bluebells at Bucknell Woods

BFTF is keen to support the reports recommendations so has eamiled the current SEcretary of State (Mr Owen Paterson MP) with the following :

Dear Secretary of State

I have just read the recommendations of the The Independent Panel on Forestry and found that many of them struck a strong chord with the way I would like to see the UK's forests managed. In particular, I am deeply supportive of the recommendations to ensure that the value of the countrys woodlands are recognised, that sustainably industries using woodlands are encouraged and their value to the health and wellbeing of the country is recognised.

I know that you care about the environment, and that your work on fisheries has been welcomed by environmental groups, so I hope that you can do all you can to implement this report's recommendations so that the UK's forests can be something we are all proud of.

Update 03Jan13: Received the following encouraging response from the Defra:

The issues you raise are important and will be considered along with the rest of the report in the Government’s response to the Independent Panel on Forestry report. Our forests and woods are part of our heritage and our future. We want to see them protected and enhanced, so that they can make a better contribution to the environment, the economy and people’s well-being. We agree that a well managed and publically owned estate provides the sort of public benefits, such as biodiversity, and access that we need to protect.

The Government is committed to safeguarding the natural environment, one of the key themes contained in the report. In the Natural Environment White Paper we committed to providing appropriate protection to ancient woodlands and to more restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites.

We want to ensure a robust ecological network that is resilient to climate change and other threats and covers a range of habitats, including open habitats. It is important that we also ensure the condition of existing habitats is of high quality through good management.

We are currently considering the Panel’s report and recommendations and will respond fully in January 2013.

Update 18 jun 2013: Challenging the Government to fund DEFRA and the Forestry Commission properly:

Following a prompt from the Woodland Trust to challenge the Government to do the right thing in the forthcoming spending review, BFTF has done exactly that with the following email to Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP (with a copy to BFTF's locla Labour MP and Conservative party for good measure:

"The Government has made positive moves to recognise the importance of the nations forests by agreeing with much in the Independent Panel on Forestry report of 2012. Please do not undo that good work by reducing the funding for the agencies (such as DEFRA and the Forestry Commission) that are needed to actually put those recommmendations into practice"

Update 25 Jun 201: Apparantly, the Woodland Trust received feedback that the "message has been heard" and that the campaign had been put in front of Danny Alexander

Update 17 Aug 2013: BFTF has been of the view that it is better to send an individual, hand crafted, email rather than just being part of an email petition, believing that the former was evidence of some degree of committment while the latter was sometimes just bandwagon jumping. BFTF asked the Woodland Trust about this and they responded with the following interesting comments :

"...[all petition emails] in this campaign go direct to where they need to at the Treasury - they are sent to a monitored inbox which [the government] confirmed would be the best one to use. We arrange for supporters to come via our website to take action so we can give them updates and latest news as the campaign progresses, and also to make sure we can say to our target, in this case the Treasury, that we have had x actions taken, as this means we can check on what they say they have received and it also enables us to hold them to account. When our call needs to be specific, for example when we are dealing with a complicated issue like this, we pre-populate the email in order to ensure the message gets through, and include the option to add personal messages which give it extra weight and also means emails can't be dismissed as spam."

Related Links
Woodland Trust

Image Sources
Lime Tree Fruit
Bucknell Wook Bluebells

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Great stuff on the BBC

Whilst the BBC is not without its problems in terms of its dramatic and news output, its factual programming world class. So much so that BFTF thinks it needs its own page to showcase some of this great stuff...

A State of Mind
Fascinating programme of the lives of two gynmansts in North Korea preparing for the annual "Mass Games" event. See here for a more detailed post on this prog.

Apr 2013 : The Genius Of Turner - Painting the Industrial Revolution
Great programme describing how some of Turners paintings covered key changes in the Industrial Revolution. See here for a more detailed post on this prog.

Mar 2013 : This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain?
Very, very sad programme about the state of Basra 10 years on from the US-led invasion of Iraq. The programme looks at the story of Geoff Dunsmore who travels to Basra to see how the city has progressed in the years since his RAF reservist son Chris lost his life there in a rocket attack on a UK military base in 2007. A full review on this program can be found here. BFTF recalls that it was a Labour Government that took the UK into that war and asked the local MP whether, if it had been the current leadership in place back in 2003, whether they would also have taken the UK into Iraq and precipitated the disaster that Basra then suffered.

Nov 2012 : Storyville : Kings of Pastry
A documentary about chefs competing in a once-every-four-years pastry competition in France. See here for full post on this programme.

Nov 2012 : Storyville : From the Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain's Coast on Film
Storyville rarely disappoints, and this was no exception. Produced using over 100 years of BFI archive footage, the programme showed how the people and industry on the UK's coastline had changed over the decades, all to a soundtrack by Brighton-based band British Sea Power. A particularly moving sections included how London Docklands has changed from being a warehouse and fishing based area, to an area of dereliciton, to a place of luxury flats for city workers.

Monday, 15 October 2012

German support for Hitler in the 1930s

Recently watched a fascinating, but rather frightening, episode from the "Nazis - A warning from History" series.

It was the second programme in the series and looked at the ways in which the general population reacted to the Nazis rule in the 1930s.

The programms began by describing how, once they gained power, the Nazis began imprisoning their opponents in concentration camps. There was no significant public outcry against this becasue, as Manfred Von Shroder (Nazi Party Member 1933-45) commented, people knew of the concentration camps and thought that "so what, the communists would have done the same, and this is a revolution...the English had invented them [concentration camps] in South Africa with the Boers"

Lizzie Van Zyl was a child inmate of a British concentration camp
in South Africa during the Second Boer War

The programme also looked at the way the government was run in Nazi Germany, with Prof Ian Kershaw commenting that the country was unusual in being one where there was "No collective governemt yet where the head of state does not spend all his time dictating"

The narrator comments that Hitler was surrounded to acolytes who knew that their future depended on being able to please him. So ambitious Nazis would listen to Hitlers vision and, on their own initiaive think of ways his vision could become reality, making up detailed policy and claiming they were acting "on the will of the Fuhrer"

As far as the general population was concerned, life improved under the Nazis, not least because they printed money to finance large infrastructure projects (such as the autobahns) and a re-armament programme.

The programme also described how Jews were systematically discriminated against and banned from any jobs in the public sphere.

Front Page of the Nuremburg Laws Legislation which
banned Jews from participating in public life.

Johannes Zahn (Economist and Banker since 1931) was asked what it was like to work in a system that was so discriminatory and responded, rather frighteningly, that "Well, the general opinion was that the Jews had gone too far in Germany, that out of 4,800 lawyers in Berlin, 3,600 were Jews" and that "there was hardly a theatre director who wasn't a Jew. And one day it became just too much. The general feeling that the Jews should be driven back was not opposed"

A Nazi anti-Semitic cartoon, circa 1938--showing Churchill as an octopus with a Star of David
over its head and its tentacles encompassing a globe

Nazi propaganda hugely exaggerated the number of Jews who were in professions like the Law or the Theatre and didn't mention that the Jews had been banned from other careers for hundreds of years.

Surprising information about the Gestapo has come to life in the town of Wurtzburg, where US soldiers prevented the destruction of Gestapo files. Recent research on these files has revealed that, far from their being a pervasive Gestapo network, there were only 28 secret police officials for a region of nearly a million people

As Professor Robert Gellately comments "I think the Gestapo could not have operated without the co-operation of the citizens of Germany...there were simply not enough Gestapo officials to go around", adding that around 80-90% of the crimes reported to the Geatapo came from ordinary citizens.He goes on to say that it was previously thought that the German population had been brainwashed from above but that now the view was that the system was manipulted from below by lots of people for all kinds of reasons.

As the narrator points out "the citizens of a town like Wurtzburg didn't have to fear the Gestapo as much as what their neighbours might tell the Gestapo

Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by police at
Croydon airport in March 1939 prior to being deported to Warsaw.(see also here)

Update : 16 Oct 12
Sent a webform to the BBC saying thank you for airing this programme.

Image Sources
Lilly Van Zyl
Jewish refugees at Croydon Airport
Nurenburg Laws

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Muslim Communities in Nottingham - Reports

BFTF recently became aware of two fascinating reports on the Muslim Communities in Nottingham.

Firstly there is as report on the "Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham", commissioned by Nottingham Council and published in 2009.

And secondly there is a report entitled "Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham", again commissioned by Nottingham City Council and published in 2009.

It is perhaps worth looking at these reports in a little more detail...

"Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham"
This report contains a SPECTACULARLY complicated schematic map of Muslim communities in Nottingham, broken down by ethnicity and school of thought.

"Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham"
This report is pretty much worth its weight in gold as it comprehensively describes the issues facing the Muslim communities in Nottingham, together with the dysfunctional way they operate and recommendations on what should be done to rectify the situation.

Some of the most interesting points are shown below:

Religious Leaders and Muslim Community Engagement...In general, Nottingham‟s Muslim religious leaders provide an effective channel of engagement into the communities they serve. However, we found particularly amongst local religious elders, a general reluctance and in some cases a refusal to engage with Muslims outside the confines of their respective Muslim Maslaq or practice...

Biraderi...These systems traditionally play an instrumental role in arranging marriages, conflict resolution, organising joint commercial activities, selecting community and Masaajid leadership, and vitally in consolidating support for sponsorship of Local Councillors and community leaders...However, when associated with other factors such as deprivation, alienation, and poor socio-economic expectations, these systems can be exploited in a negative context

Muslim CouncillorsOf the Muslim councillors we interviewed, most were keen to disassociate themselves from Nottingham‟s Masaajid, religious structures and groupings. Many were critical of faith-based schools and highlighted theologically based divisions to explain their preference for a secular based mainstream approach to tackling issues effecting Muslim communities...However, as we heard overwhelmingly in feedback gathered during focus groups and interviews, most Pakistani heritage Muslim councillors were perceived by their respective communities as being sponsored and elected through Birardari based support networks...Further, due to the perception that Muslim councillors‟ primary allegiances were determined by their personal Birardari affiliations, almost all were viewed as being self-serving and unrepresentative of wider Muslim opinion and needs.

Support for younger people...amongst religious, community and civic elders [there was] a reluctance to give up their positions to younger generations. The common response from both religious and civic elders was that the young were not “ready” to take up leadership positions. When asked to identify any prospective young leaders, most “couldn‟t or wouldn‟t”, despite some being involved in projects or programmes supporting the development of young Muslim leaders...

Community Centres...We heard suggestions that some centres were run as a “one man show” – precipitating rivalries, conflict and accusations of corruption and pilfering. Another commonly expressed concern was related to the appointment of family and fellow Birardari members onto management committees and other positions of influence

Exclusion of Women...As in other parts of the country, we heard from Muslim women in Nottingham who feel that their voices are not heard. They seemed to distance themselves from mainstream society, the Council in particular. And they are excluded from the majority of Masaajid in the city. They have no confidence in the traditional community leadership, nor that of the Council.

Council Consultation...[community] leaders were highly critical of the Council‟s current approach. There was a general distrust, suspicion and doubts about the Council‟s sincerity and commitment in relation to engagement with Nottingham‟s Muslim communities.

Some of the Recommendations: The Council needs to...
i)ensure it is aware of (and has up to date contact details for) all the key groups and individuals across Nottingham‟s Muslim communities. Of particular concern is the lack of information held by the Council at present and this needs to be remedied urgently;
ii) encourage individuals from groups not currently actively engaged in civic life to become more involved by setting up new channels of communication and engagement and other initiatives.
iii) work with the faith communities in the City to encourage Imams (and other faith leaders, where appropriate) to speak English and become more closely engaged with the wider life of the City.

Update 15 Feb 2013
Following a dialogue described here received the following response from Nottingham Council on how the reports recommendations had been implemented (response has been edited slightly for conciseness) :
Community Engagement:
Community Development Workers (Previously 3, now 1) worked with a huge range of groups from women’s groups providing sewing classes to mosques doing work with young men. Work with many of these groups, particularly ones with a focus on women’s issues continues.

The Muslim Communities Steering Group (MCSG), and sub groups on Youth and Women did a lot of work to look at the different parts of the Muslim community and to look at ways to engage with them.

We now have a central database (Digits) which includes both Mosques and Community Groups and can be searched by relevant ‘fields’ (e.g. Faith) to enable the Council to mail out to a targeted groups.

We are currently working to improve our relationship with groups providing services to young men in particular and to broaden our reach across all faith groups both directly and through Nottingham Interfaith Council.

Training and Development
Imam Training was part of the MCSG action plan. Diversity training for staff is part of the induction, and additional training is provided by the Equalities Team.

Schools and Community Cohesion
The Cohesion Team and Schools Support service have worked closely to provide a range of training to schools and teachers, on Cohesion, Hate Crime, Understanding Diversity, the 2010 Equalities Act and most recently ‘new arrivals’

The MCSG funded some leadership training, for women and community leaders. The Cohesion Team continue to support new community groups and empower those involved to take on other roles in the city, including on advisory and consultative groups, interviews and mystery shopping.

Grants were reviewed and funding given in both small and large grants for cohesion in 2009 for 3 years. The Community Development Officers have supported a wide range of groups to ensure they understand how to fill in application forms for funding and to build their organisational frameworks and capacity to obtain funding.

Preventing Violent Extremism Funding from National Government was ring fenced,

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Sunday, 7 October 2012

How to Disagree

The rise of social media and "user generated content" on on-line newspapers has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of people who can argue, in real-time, online.

But as people are not generally trained in the skills of debate and argument, the quality of these online discussions can sometimes (perhaps often) end up as a simple slanging match.

Which isn't helpful - and just leaves people angry.

So BFTF was chuffed to find out about a "Hierarchy of Argument", devised by Paul Graham, which describes the ways in which people argue, and how some approaches can be fallacious. It's shown below, together with some comments taken from Graham's essay on the subject, and also a short list of some common fallacies.

Unfortunately it's common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the original author said: when you feel they missed the heart of the matter. But when you do that, you should say explicitly you're doing it.

To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a "smoking gun," a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it's mistaken. If you can't find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.

While refutation generally entails quoting, quoting doesn't necessarily imply refutation. Some writers quote parts of things they disagree with to give the appearance of legitimate refutation, then follow with a response as low as Contradiction or even Name-Calling.

Refuting the Central Point.
The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.

Even as high as Refutation we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting someone's grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one's opponent.

Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like:

The author's main point seems to be x. As he says:

But this is wrong for the following reasons...
The quotation you point out as mistaken need not be the actual statement of the author's main point. It's enough to refute something it depends upon.

Other Common Fallacies

Ad Hominem (Argument To The Man):
Attacking the person instead of attacking his argument. For example, "Mr Smiths views that black people should be deported are worthless because he is a convicted benefit fraudster” (which may be true, but is not why his views are wrong)

A common form is an attack on sincerity. For example, "How can you argue that we should “Buy British” when you have a Japanese car?”

Another variation is attack by innuendo: "Why don't scientists tell us what they really know; are they trying to hide something?"

Straw Man (Fallacy Of Extension):
Attacking an exaggerated or caricatured version of your opponent's position. For example: "Mr Smith says that we should abandon Trident. I disagree and cannot understand why he wants to leave us defenceless”

Excluded Middle (or False Dichotomy):
For example, "We must deal with poverty before spending money on science ” - Why can't we do some of both ?

Appeal To Anonymous Authority:
An Appeal To Authority is made, but the authority is not named. For example, "Experts agree that ..", This makes it impossible to verify the information and it may well be that the arguer themselves does not know who the “experts” are.

Moving The Goalposts
If your opponent successfully addresses some point, then say he must also address some further point. If you can make these points more and more difficult (or diverse) then eventually your opponent must fail. Asking questions is easy: it's answering them that's hard.

It is also possible to lower the bar, reducing the burden on an argument. For example, some person might claim that eating sunflower seeds prevents colds. When they do get a cold, then they move the goalposts, by saying that the cold would have been much worse if not for the sunflower seeds they were eating.

Image Source :
Heirarchy of Argument

Sunday, 30 September 2012

20th Century Battlefields

The recent series on the BBC entitled "20th Century Battlefields" has been utterly fascinating.

Presented by John and Dan Snow, the series has covered key battles across the globe covered battles across the globe.

For BFTF, the most interesting feature of the series is the clear and concise way the presenters describe the battle, which is a change from some other progeammes. In particular, the programme uses innovative graphics that aim to give the viewer an understanding of the battle, instead of aiming to be as flashy as possible.

A couple of screenshots are shown below, from the episode on the Falklands, to give a feel for how well the graphics conveyed what was going on.

Graphics showing Harriers dropping cluster bombs on Argentinian artillery,
with Argentinian(blue) and British(Red) forces in the background

Graphics showing British(Red) forces during the attack on Mount Tumbledown,
making it really easy to understand what happened during the battle

A really good effort from the BBC, and exactly the kind of informative programme that BFTF likes to see.

So chuffed was BFTF this it sent an email to the BBC thanking them for the clarity of the production.

(Images captured from iplayer)

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Moustafa Ismail and his biceps

BFTF has noted numerous articles in the press (for example, see here, here, here and here) about one "Moustafa Ismail" who has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as having the worlds largest biceps in the world. You can see just how large in the YouTube video below :

And indeed, they are of prodigious proportions.

But they look really weird, and are out of proportion to the rest of his arms and body.

Invariably, the comments sections of each articles if full of people commenting that far from being due exclusively to hard work, Mr Ismail's biceps are the result of injecting his upper arms with an oil such as "Synthol" which inflates their appearance, partly due to the inflammation that it causes. According to Wikipedia, these oils "can cause pulmonary embolisms, nerve damage, infections, stroke,and the formation of oil-filled granulomas, cysts or ulcers in the muscle."

BFTF wonders whether the REAL story here relates to the use of oil injections as a bodybuilding aid, and whether the Guinness Book of Records has checked to see whether Mr Ismail has achieved his impressive upper arm girth through natural means.

So BFTF has asked the Guinness Book of Records exactly that.

With astonishing swiftness, BFTF received a response from Guinness World Records pointing out that the record was for ‘largest upper arm circumference’ rather than the size of biceps or triceps, or how this size is achieved. And added that:
"Based on the feedback we have received from members of the public we are considering looking at this record category in different ways and to this extent we have commissioned specialist research on the subject."

So there you go.

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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Olympics and Paralympics 2012

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been quite a ride!

Everyone will have taken their own memories away from the Olympiad, and BFTF is no exception, which are shown, somewhat self-indulgently, below :

REALLY HEARTWARMING - NHS at the opening ceremony
With the recent NHS reforms threatening to change the very nature of the NHS, an institution that BFTF (as a parent) values almost beyond measure, it was great to see the director of the opening ceremony, Danny Boyle, give the NHS such a starring role. You can see just HOW starring a role here. Certainly sent a message to the US audience!

REALLY EXUBERANT Nicola Adams and Jade Jones
BFTF was charmed by the sheer exuberance of two of Team GB's most ferocious Gold medallists, Nicola Adams (Flyweight Boxing Gold) and Jade Jones (Taekwondo, 57kg class Gold) on winning their competitions. Like Tiggers, they bounced around with megawatt grins on their faces as they celebrated their victories. BFTF wishes them many more years of success in punching and kicking, respectively, the living daylights out of their competitors.

REALLY CLOSE cycling finishes
Some of the velodrome Gold medals were won by the very thinnist of margins, such as this photo-finish in the Keirin that gave Sir Chris Hoy on of his Gold.

REALLY FAST Paralympic sprinting
The Ambulatory Paralympic sprint events were every bit as exciting as those in the "ordinary" Olympics and it was great to see that it was no longer a show dominated by Oscar Pistorius, with Jonnie Peacock dominating the T44 100m final to bring home the gold with a time of 10.90seconds.

BFTF hopes that the future sees Paralympic sprinters getting faster and faster until they are not just the fastest paralympians, but rather the fastest men (and women) on on the planet - full stop.

REALLY ENTERTAINING Paralympic Presenters
One unexpected aspect of the Paralympics was that it also gave paralympic TV presenters a change to get on the airwaves. Their uniformly professional and energetic performances genuinely left BFTF wondering why they were not more widely represented in TV generally.

Adam Hills, presenter of Channel Fours Paralympics related chat show, was a star previously unknown to BFTF- and it would be great to see him more often on TV.

You can find out more about the C4 Paralympic presenting team here.


The Special Olympics
>BBC Four once again fulfilled its role to inform and educate by recently broadcasting a programme about the "Special Olympics".

Part of the Olympic movement, but separate to the "ordinary" Olympics and the Paralympics, the Special Olympics is for athletes who have learning difficulties. The programme, titled "I Love Special Olympics" was narrated and directed by Thomas Leader and followed four people on their Special Olympics journey:

Hannah Dempsey, 24, has Downs Syndrome and is a gymnast and dancer who performed in the opening ceremony.

Oliver Everest, 19, who is autistic and blind in one eye - and is a Special Olympics Judo World Champion

Jonathan Frett, 45, suffered brain damage as a child due to measles - and is a medal-winning Ten-Pin Bowler

Tom Brownsword, 17, has aspergers, hates crowds and finds it difficult to mix in a team - yet won Bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens

Thomas narrated how the spectrum of disabilities for competitors at the Special Olympics can range from people who live everyday lives to those who require a lifetime of specialist support.

The programme was allowed to develop at its own pace, and really gave an insight into the Special Olympics movement and the feeling of the athletes - who work just as hard as other Olympians to reach their full potential.

One aspect of the programme that really tore at BFTF's heart was the story of Jonathan - his mother explained how she had used a borrowed pushchair once when visiting relatives - but what Jonathan's Mum didn't know was that this pushchair was being used for a child who had measles - which Jonathan then caught and which was the cause of his brain damage. Clearly feeling partly responsible (as any parent would - even though it was not at all her "fault") she commented that the effort she put into his Special Olympics competitions and training was her "repayment to him"

Lawrie Mcmenemy, president Special Olympics GB, commented that "When I got involved I thought it was the Paralympics and I soon learnt how big it is - in America it is bigger than the Paralympics"

And it was great to see "ordinary" Olympians such as gymnast Beth Tweddle, being part of the coaching team for the Special Olympics competitors.

Special Olympics GB formed in 1978 as part of the global Special Olympics Movement, and currently supports 135 Special Olympics clubs in Great Britain, run by over 2,800 volunteers, and involving 8,000 athletes.

The website gives some context for the movement by pointing out that there are an estimated 1.2 million people in Great Britain with a learning disability. A further 200 babies with learning disabilities are born each week.

And Special Olympics GB has high hopes, aiming, by 2013, to grow the programme from 8,000 to 20,000 athletes and from 2,800 to 6,500 volunteers.

This is part of a three-part series on the Olympics:
Comparison of Olypmpic and Paralympic Team Sizes
Olypmics and Paralympics 2012
The Special Olympics

Sent email to BBC thanking them for raising awarenesss of the Special Olympics by airing this programme and for the tone of the programme itself, which gave the time and space for people to tell their stories.


Watching the Paralympics opening ceremony I wondered what the size of a countries Paralympics team, compared to it's able-bodied Olympic team, said about the values of that country.

Perhaps having a relatively large paralympic team demonstrates that a country cares about ALL its citizens?

Perhaps, in contrast, having a relatively small paralympic team demonstrates that a country has a very narrow view of who has worth in the country

Interestingly, comparing the two numbers (paralympians vs olympians) for a country cuts through a lot of the variables like wealth, sporting tradition, conflict etc.

So BFTF took the top twenty(ish) counties (based on number of olympians sent), together with a few wild card entries that seemed interesting and worked out the numbers. ..

Here is the resulting graph.

Is interesting. No?


The African Boycott of the '76 Olympics
Having had a bit of a pop at the BBC over their sloppy reporting of the 2012 University Application statistics, BFTF is chuffed to be able to big-up the BBC over a programme that is screening on BBC4 even as I write this : "The World Against Apartheid".

The programme looks at the battle against Apartheid that was fought on the sporting fields of the world and is an absolute revelation.

One, frankly gobsmacking, story that was told related to Peter Hain, who was a prominent UK anti-apartheid activist in the 1970s. He was accused of robbing a branch of Barclays in 1974 but was aquitted, with his family claiming that he could not have left his house in time. Hain believes that the South African Bureau of State Security was responsible and that they had used a double to carry out the robbery. Hain wrote a book about his experiences called "The Putney Plot". You can read about the incident here and here.

And another event that BFTF has been unaware of occurred in 1976 and was focussed on New Zealand. . .

The 1972-75 Labour government had adopted a policy of blocking contacts with the South African Springboks rugby team. For a country where rugby is the major sport, this caused some division in society and the next election, in 1975 was won by the National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, who had campaigned on a policy of restoring sporting ties with Apartheid South Africa. In 1976, the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team undertook a tour of South Africa. This caused such outrage in Africa that 28 African counties boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in protest at the presence of the New Zealand team at the event (South Africa had been banned from the Olympics since 1964).

If you were black, how angry would this make you?

The programme contained interviews with New Zealand sports correspondents at the '76 Games. They explained how they had been shocked to find that many of the black athletes at the Games had simply not wanted to speak to them becaues of the All Blacks tour. The correspondents had trouble understanding why anyone could think that the All Black tour was anything other than a wonderful sporting event! More info about the Sprinkboks in the 60s and 70s can be found here.

On the other hand, a BBC article states that the New Zealand Olympic Committee felt it was unfair to single them out as there had been 26 countries playing sport in South Africa that year.

As an aside, Austalia did not win a single gold medal at the '76 Games and threw such a collective wobbly at this failure that they set up the Australian Institute of Sport - which is one of the reasons they win so many gold medals now !

In more recent times, the All Blacks training has used out-of-the-box techniques such as this Marcel Marceau tribute routine

Image Source : All Blacks, Sign

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

WW1 from the Air

BFTF recent watched a fascinating programme on BBC called “WW1 from the Air”. It was was based around footage from an airship that travelled along much of the front line, just after hostilities had finished, filming the devastation below.

And “devastation” is the right word, with towns and villages having being reduced, in their entirety, to rubble by the remorseless artillery fire that was a characteristic of the conflict.

The presenter, Fergal Keane, did an excellent job of explaining how the introduction of aircraft into the war gave commanders - for the first time in history - an aerial view of the battlefield and allowed them to direct artillery fire and assess its effects.

Fergal also talked to experts about the conditions that the soldiers faced, painting a grim picture of life in the trenches.

If you read the BBC article about the programme you will notice that there is a picture at the top showing the effects of the artillery bombardment on the village of Passchendale, the image shows “before” and “after” shots of the same area, clearly showing that there was not a single square centimetre of ground that was not now part of a shell crater, and that there not so much as a garden shed had survived the assault intact. A similar image, this time from Wikipedia, is shown below. Note how both images are of the same area, oriented in the same way - so that the reader can quickly and easily compare features in the two images.

Passchendale - before and after shelling.
The white spots in the lower image are water filled shell holes
The reader can see how the the shell craters had become filled with water and it was this kind of mud and water-filled crater landscape that troops had to cross when attacking enemy lines.

Imagine it just for a second.

And then imagine being a soldier in those conditions for months at a time.

What’s with the pop video camerawork.
In contrast to the article, with it’s simple, clear image; the actual programme chose to show these key photographs held by a person, with a camera moving around, and reflections making it hard to see the detail, and only for a few seconds.

"Can you see the Church" - well, no I can't because your hand is in front of it.(Via iplayer)
In another section of the programme, the presenters wished to show how examination of aerial photography had allowed commanders to identify a hidden barracks and then target it with artillery. The presenters then showed the effects of the attack, not by placing the relevant image on screen but rather by displaying it on a wall, having someone stand in front of it and then zooming right up.

Lets inform the viewer by projecting an image onto a wall, zooming right in and then having a bloke stand in front. What could possibly be clearer? (Via iplayer)
It was hugely frustrating to see these important sections of the programme being directed as though they were a pop video.

Incredibly, during this section of the programme, the director chose to spend a lot more time showing the audience the presenters talking to each other than the actual images, as illustrated in the chart below:

Time (in seconds) spent looking at the images vs time spend looking at the presenters.
Of course, the opinion of BFTF is neither here not there, so BFTF took a quick straw poll of friends, family and work colleagues, asking them 5 questions about the Passchendale section of the programme. The questions, together with the possible answers are shown below. Most popular answers are shown in bold:

1) Overall, how do you feel about the audio commentary?
a) Good
b) Bad
c) Indifferent

2) Overall, how do you feel about the visual presentation?
a) Good b) Bad
c) Indifferent

3) Overall, how do you feel about the balance between the time the images were on screen and the time the “talking heads” were on screen?
a) Too much talking heads
b) Too much images
c) About right

4) Regarding the time the images of Passchendaele before and after the attack were on screen, do you think the images:
a) Were on screen too long
b) Were on screen not long enough
c) Were on screen for about the right time

5) Regarding the use of hand held photos and camerawork vs rigidly held photos and camerawork, would you :
a) Prefer hand-held
b) Prefer rigidly held
c) Don’t mind either way

BFTF has been here before:
Back in late 2011, BFTF was so frustrated by similarly "pop video" style camerawork in a science programme that it had contacted the BBC to complain, receiving the following response:

"Thank you for contacting us about ‘The Search for Life: the Drake Equation’ broadcast on BBC Four on 29 December. I understand you feel the camerawork made some of the detail in the programme hard to follow and the graphs should have been presented more clearly.

I am sorry you feel the camerawork was obscuring some detail. This was not an Open University programme where data is everything, while the dialogue did explain the overview of what the data meant. All programmes must strike a balance between content and presentational style and I am sorry you felt the style detracted from some of the detail.

I do understand you feel very strongly about this, so I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on 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, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions on future BBC programmes and content.

Image Source:

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