Saturday, 30 March 2013

God bless our libraries

Many, many years ago, when BFTF was perhaps 7 years old, BFTF's father came home one day with a small brown card and told BFTF that this was BFTF's card for the mobile library that parked by the school once a week.

"Wow !" thought BFTF, and was very soon a regular visitor to the mobile library, and particularly recalls going through every single Doctor Who and Asterix book that it held, and noted there seemed to be a disproportionate number of large print books, which BFTF ignored.

Eventually BFTF outgrew the mobile library and started using the proper local library, which was perhaps a mile and a half away. Again, BFTF was a regular visitor, reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and can remember lugging quite a heavy load of books - either on foot or by bike - to the library every two weeks. Roddy and the Roadmen featured heavily, as did Doctor Who and anything to do with planes, trains or automobiles or space.

Ok, so I lied about the trains.

BFTF also recalls reading every childrens geography book that the library held (perhaps you can recall the ones, that had agricultural maps with icons for wheat production, beef farming etc, and industrial maps with icons for coal mining and centres of manufacturing activity)

BFTF kept reading the likes Leon Uris, Isaac Asimov (The Bicentennial Man is one heck of a novella), Beryl Bainbridge (somewhat surprisingly) as well as a lot of non-fiction right up to the moment of entering University, when, for reasons that are still unclear, BFTF lost interest in reading books (although still read newspapers etc) and didn't really start reading again for some 15 years.

Weird eh?

Although, to be fair, there was a brief but intense flirtation with Terry Pratchett at some point along the line.

Second time around, BFTF really wasn't that interested in fiction, feeling that no politican ever changed their policies because of what some fictional book had to say, which takes us not far from the present day.

Aside from their wonderfullness as a place of learning and imagination, libraries are also a great indicator of tolerance, of a society that is confident enough to allow the voices of many points of view to be heard.

To take the story full circle, BFTF was recently reading Asterix and Cleopatra with No3 Son. We both agreed that Cleopatra did indeed have a very pretty nose.

God bless our libraries

Friday, 29 March 2013

JK Rowling on Tax

A quote from JK Rowling on Tax:
"I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles."

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug"
That is all.

Friday, 22 March 2013

NIFC and the Health and Wellbeing Board

The Nottingham Inter Faith Council recently hosted a talk by Colin Monckton, Head of Commissioning and Insight at Nottingham City Council.

Colin spent some time describing the Health and Wellbeing Board, which has the responsibility for reducing health inequalities and improving health and wellbeing. The board publishes the “Health and Wellbeing Strategy” (currently in a draft form) and one of the messages that Colin wanted to get across was that the HWB were keen for people to read the strategy, and feedback during the consultation process on whether they thought it was addressing the right issues.

The Draft Health and Wellbeing Strategy has four main priorities :

1) Prevention
Reducing the number of people who are drinking alcohol at harmful levels by 30% by 2020

2) Integration
Improving the experience of health and social care services for older people or those who have long term conditions

3) Early Intervention
Identifying more children with significant behavious problems earlier so that they can receive specific help

4) Priority Families
Effectively engaging with 1,200 targeted families with the aim of seeing improvements in school attendance, levels of ASB, levels of offending and levels of worklessness.

Other Comments
Colin described how the Board was trying to work more efficiently and more effectively, giving the example of how, previously, there were 6 (!) different support mechanisms for carers in the city and that these will be integrated into one single city-wide agency.

Another example given was the case of first-time homeless people. These had previously been housed with long-term homeless people and had often come out of the experience with more issues than when they went in, due to a “transfer” of problems from the long term homeless - so now the Board will commission accomodation which separates the first time homeless and those with low needs from those with complex needs.

A word of warning was sounded by Colin as he pointed out that increases in the need for some kinds of expensive interventions (e.g. taking children into care, which costs some £2k/wk per child) could make a big dent in the budget that the Board had to work to. Other challenges that the city faced included the high level of poverty in the city (65% of children in poverty) and the disproportionately adverse effect changes in local gov funding levels have had on the city

Penultimately, it is worth mentioning that the strategy linked to a number of other initiatives, such as the Vulnerable Adults Plan and the Children and Young Peoples Plan

And lastly, an important point that was mentioned was the existence of Healthwatch, which will be the “ the independent customer champion for the public, locally and nationally, to promote better outcomes in health and in social care”

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Just a list of petitions that BFTF has signed, with the occasional item of, as it were, added value.


Nov 15 : Appalled that the government is AGAIN trying to allow private companies access to peoples health records - something that risks private companies selling on data; using it to personally identify specific patients and then target them for drug sales; or using that data to deny people insurance, mortgage and other products because they are deemed "high risk". Selling patient data is a six lane highway to a dystopian future. The government knows this, of course.

So happy to take part in a 38 Degrees survey on the issue.

See also here for more background on why private company access to health records is a bad thing.


Sep 15 : Following a story on SKY that funding for the free school meals for infants program (a manifesto committment) was not ring fenced, and that the government was looking for significant cuts in non-ringfenced funding, 38degrees stepped in with a campaign that amassed some 58,000 signatures to demand that the FSM program be protected. Within a few weeks the government made noises that suggested the program was safe.
NB: Disclaimer - BFTF isn't sure he actually signed this petition.


Nov 14 : National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill 2014-15 (petition here)

According to 38Degrees, this bill will "amend some of the most controversial bits of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and exempt the NHS from the EU-US trade deal TTIP.

On the other hand, Dr Allyson Pollock, who is professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London and has taken a keen and detailed look at recent NHS reforms, has some reservations.

Whilst Dr Pollock welcomes the bill as "a step in the right direction of reducing procurement and tendering procedures", she also comments that it :

"As well as not abolishing the commissioner-provider split, it would for example:
• appear to defer unnecessarily to EU competition law;
• leave untouched the power of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to arrange services they consider appropriate;
• not reverse the 2012 Act’s prospective abolition of NHS trusts, and their transformation into NHS foundation trusts or take over by private companies;
• leave Monitor in place with the same main duty, without a statutory purpose and continuing to licence private providers."

At the time of writing the Bill has passed its initial hurdles in the Commons and has moved on to the House of Lords. It is also known as the "Efford Bill"

The vote was 241 MPs in favour, 18 MPs against. The Conservatives largely boycotted the vote.


Oct 14 : FCUK suppliers ripping the fur from screaming Angora rabbits
"The UK-based global retailer says it buys angora fur “only from approved suppliers” and tells customers who complain that it ensures angora rabbits are not mistreated. But we know the conditions that these rabbits really endure -- workers in China were secretly filmed by PETA plucking angora rabbits while they scream. Plucking a rabbit without causing harm takes up to two weeks of gently removing the loosened hair, but here it takes only a few, violent minutes.After this torturous experience, which the rabbits endure every three months, many of them appeared to go into shock, lying motionless inside their tiny, filthy cages."

Also Tweeted and emailed FCUK.

Update: Oct 16th : FCUK announces it is stopping the use of Angora.


Mar14 : Egypt: Stop the Mass Execution
A kangaroo court in Egypt just sentenced 528 people to death. This is likely the biggest mass execution ruling this century, but one man can stop the killings.

Egypt’s most important religious figure, Grand Mufti Allam has 10 days to reject the decision (from 27th Mar). Religious leaders are already condemning the ruling, and as the first Mufti to be elected by his peers, he has a legitimate mandate to be the nation’s moral leader. If 1 million people sign this petition, religious leaders in Egypt will deliver our call for compassion directly to the Mufti

After the hope of Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to overthrow decades of dictatorship, the Egyptian people democratically elected a Muslim Brotherhood government. But last summer the military staged a populist coup, Brotherhood supporters rioted, and then the military declared the party a terrorist organisation and violently cracked down.

The trial was a joke -- on top of charges of rioting and destruction of property, the 528 are all accused of killing one police officer, and defense lawyers were barred from the sentencing session, which lasted less than an hour! Now if the world looks away and allows this cruel mass execution to happen, a dangerous message will resonate across the globe that the world will stand by democracy, except for political Islam. That will empower one small but very dangerous group that can hurt us all: the extremists.


Feb14 : For sale: your private medical history?
"Starting this year, private companies will be able to buy information on us from the NHS’s new universal patient database -- including everything from mental health conditions, sexually transmitted infections and diseases like cancer -- all linked to your postcode, gender and ethnicity.

We’ve all been opted into the scheme by the government without our knowledge. And the clock is ticking -- the government has said they will upload our private data in a matter of just a few weeks. If we’re going to stop this, we have to act now.

The government claims that individuals won’t be able to be identified. However, many experts have warned that under the current plans, we could easily be singled out through simple cross-referencing of other databases -- especially if you have a rare or unusual condition. Imagine your employer finding that you might have had an abortion when you were a teenager. Or your insurance company finding out you are HIV positive. The consequences for us as individuals could be huge."

BFTF will be opting out of the database in a few days.


Feb14 : UK: Hope from the floods
"As concerned citizens, we urge you to live up to your claim to lead the "greenest government ever" by supporting a 50% target to reduce carbon pollution by 2030. Scientists say the extreme floods happening now are being fueled by climate change. We must move beyond quick fixes and get to the root cause of the problem with deep cuts to our pollution. Europe will set its targets in the next month, your leadership now can bring hope from the floods and set the pace for others to put us on course for a clean, dry and safe climate future.."

See also the dangerously misleading chart on page 9 of the 2013 Infrastructure Plan, which is more realistically shown in this FT article.


Jan14 : Fructose marketed as a "healthy" sugar
"...companies like Coke will be able to claim their products are 'healthier' thanks to a new EU regulation on using fructose. There’s only one small problem -- high levels of fructose is a leading cause of obesity around the world. The decision was made by EU Food Standards Agency based in Parma, Italy. The agency is very close to the food industry and operates far away from public scrutiny. We need to push back on food industry lobbying by demanding the EU Food Standards Agency thinks again."

Also, a Guardian article states that:
"...the EU has now ruled that food and drink manufacturers can claim their sweetened products are healthier if they replace more than 30% of the glucose and sucrose they contain with fructose...The decision [by the EU] was taken on the advice of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), on the grounds that fructose has a lower glycaemic index (GI) – it does not cause as high and rapid a blood sugar spike as sucrose or glucose. But, say obesity experts, fructose is metabolised differently from other sugars – it goes straight to the liver and unprocessed excess is stored there as fat, building up deposits that can cause life-threatening disease."

BFTF signed the petition and emailed East Midlands MEP's to ask what they were doing to reverse this decision.

LibDem response
Rather short response from Bill Newton Dunn MEP that said simply: "No, I can not explain that for you. I (nor are any MEPs) am not a member of the Foods Standard Agency."

Labour Response
Rather awesome response from Glennis Willmott MEP:
… I share your concerns about promoting the use and consumption of fructose in this way. Last October, after hearing from health and nutrition experts, I wrote to the European Commission asking whether they would monitor the consumption and health effects of fructose across Europe, whether they would revoke the claim if it led to negative health effects, and whether in the future they would take into account the long-term negative health consequences of promoting certain nutrients.…

All health claims have the potential to be used inappropriately as marketing tools, which is why I am a strong supporter of the EU Health Claims Regulation. This ensures that health claims are pre-authorised and based on substantial scientific evidence. In the past it was up to individual consumers or trading standards bodies to challenge baseless claims, but the Health Claims Regulation has led to a huge number of dubious and misleading claims being taken off the market. However, each claim still needs to be examined very closely to ensure that it will not mislead consumers or actually encourage unhealthy consumption of some foods. I have objected to a number of health and nutrition claims authorised by Member States and the Commission in the past. In some cases I have managed to stop claims, in others I have failed. In this specific case I will continue to keep pressure on the Commission to monitor how the claim is used and what effects it has on fructose consumption, and will call for the claim to be revoked if needed.

Bounced back that the key thing seemed to be to "whether in the future they would take into account the long-term negative health consequences of promoting certain nutrients" as, in this case, the science seems to be pretty much there, the questions is whether the marketing will reflect the long term downside (for everyone) as well as the short term upside (for diabetics)

Conservative Response
Emma McClarkin responded by saying that she has been in touch with her Conservative colleague Julie Girling MEP who has been following this on behalf of the Conservative delegation of MEPs. Her very informative response included relevant links to :

EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies in June 2011
Formal adoption in the EU's Official Journal in June 2013.
The relevant legislative process

Ms McClarkin added that " are not the first person to have had issues with the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation. In fact during my time as a MEP I have had many discussions with the European Commission about it. This is therefore something I intend to bring up with the next Commissioner after the elections as I believe it will continue to be a ‘hot issue’ into the next parliamentary term."

Further Comments
EFSA seem to have done their job, and mentioned adverse effects in their verdict.

The EU seems to have done their job, allowing a very specific claim only : "Consumption of foods containing fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise compared to foods containing sucrose or glucose"

BFTF still has two concerns:
i) That soft drink producers, say, will say "healthier*" where "*" is the whole claim written as smallprint no-one reads.

ii) Why this specific claim was sought, and by who. Why, for example, was the focus not on the adverse liver problems caused by fructose?

iii) Why there is such a discrepancy between the SumOfUs statement that the claim allowed is that fructose laden foods are "healthier" and the EU claim which is much more restrictive. BFTF has challended SumOfUs on this.

At the end of the day, however, the real problem is not fructose v glucose. The real problem is too much sugar full stop. And changing that is not just the problem of the food producer, it is the responsibility of the food consumer too, BFTF included!


Jan14 : Threat to net neutrality
To EU and US decision-makers: We urge you to use your power to stop a two-tiered Internet for the rich and ensure that all data traffic is treated equally. Allowing service providers to prioritise certain content and act as gatekeepers will undermine the democratic and open nature of the Internet. We count on you to show true global leadership and stand strong for Net Neutrality.

Jan 14 : End the detention of women who seek asylum
Every year, hundreds of women who come to this country to seek safety from persecution are being detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire...The impact of detention on women is devastating. Many become depressed and suicidal...We are asking [the Government] to ensure the government stops detaining women who have come to this country to seek asylum. Women’s asylum cases can be considered while they live in the community.

Jan 14 :England’s precious ancient woodland is being forsaken, sold out and betrayed
"Following the latest comments made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, we would like to make it absolutely clear - biodiversity offsetting does not work for ancient woods, the planning system doesn’t work for ancient woods and this government doesn’t work for ancient woods."

Jan 14 :Terminator seeds could mean a few huge corporations totally control the global food supply.
Under pressure from big commercial farms, the Brazilian parliament is about to hold a vote that will allow companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and others to start selling so-called ‘suicide seeds’ to farmers. The genetically modified seeds can only be used once, forcing small farmers into buying seeds from Monsanto or others over and over again -- literally forever.

The use of these seeds is essentially prohibited under a UN treaty on biodiversity which over 193 countries, including Brazil, have signed. But if Brazil overturns its own ban then this will have huge consequences. Poor, small farmers could be locked into a cycle of endless debt and dependency -- and the rest of the world could be handing control of the global food supply to a handful of companies. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Also mentioned on FB and Twitter and Tweeted to @monsanto, @bayer,@dilmabr

Dec 13 : A note to Petitioning orgs such as Change, 38 Degrees, Act.One, Avaaz etc
BFTF would like to sign many of the petitions that come from organisations such as, Avaaz etc

. But BFTF believes that to sign them blindly devalues their worth, so always wants to know the following information before signing:

i) What - specifically - is the issue? Are there case examples?
ii) What legislation / change in policy - specifically - is being requested?
iii) Which people - specifically - are the target for the campaign?
iv) What (and this is where they orgs often fail) is the timescale? If the campaign refers to legislation currently being debated, how long before it is too late?

It often takes BFTF several HOURS to dig out all this information, which is a real WASTE OF TIME.

BFTF does not want waste other peoples time, so is reluctant to share petitions if it is not clear what their "shelf life" is- this applies particularly to petitions asking for the lobbying of MPs / MEPs in relation to legislation this is being debated in the UK or EU parliaments.

In particular, dear orgs, telling me that some undefined debate is going to happen at some undefined time "soon" makes me want to punch you. So please, for the love of God, stop it.

Just give me all the key information, on the same page as the petition. If it makes sense to me, I'll sign and also email government / companies directly.
Dec 13 : Tell MEPs: Stop allowing criminals to stash the cash
David Cameron is clamping down on "phantom firms" in the UK, with urging the govenment to:
"...deliver on the Prime Minister’s ambition, committing to make public information about who owns and controls companies, trusts and similar legal vehicles established in the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. This information should be available as open, machine-readable data, available free of charge, in line with the G8 Open Data Charter, in a public register, maintained by Companies House"

Meanwhile, in the international arena, comments that:
"Evidence from the World Bank demonstrates the role that such elusive entities play in facilitating corruption and money laundering, with more than 70% of corruption cases analysed found to involve anonymous shell companies. At a country level, by way of example, the Africa Progress Panel found that the Democratic Republic of Congo lost over $1.3bn – the equivalent of almost twice its combined health and education budgets – between 2010 and 2012 as a result of five dodgy deals in the mining sector, with those deals facilitated by Phantom Firms incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, along with other companies based in Bermuda, Jersey, Gibraltar and the UK."

What's petition is campaigning for is for MEPs to support the introduction of transparency legislation (to show publically who owns and controls companies and trusts) into the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive:
* Give citizens and journalists in developing countries access to the data they need to follow the money and root out corruption;
* Help to improve data quality by enabling more people to scrutinise the data, identify, check and correct inaccuracies;
* Enable banks and other financial institutions to perform due diligence more effectively;
* Ensure that businesses know who they are doing business with; and
* Contribute to more effective law enforcement – investigations, prosecutions and the return of stolen assets.

Apparently, France is also a supporter of these measures whilst Germany is against them.

BFTF signed the petition, emailed local MEP's asking for their stance on the issue, emailed the French Embassy to say thank you; and emailed the German Embassy to ask what they were playing at.

More info here

BFTF contacted the East Midlands MEPs, and you can click here to see what responses were received.

Dec 2013 : Stop the TTP and TTIP
Tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Australia for billions of dollars in lost profits because the government took action to reduce teenage smoking. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is suing Canada for $500 million, just because Canada has laws to keep essential drugs affordable. Worst of all, these cases are happening in secret international courts to which only corporations have access.
Read more here

Oct 2013 : ASDA and the Bangladesh Safety Accord
"Yesterday, a deadly factory fire broke out at one of ASDA’s supplier factories in Bangladesh. Already, 10 bodies have been recovered, and it’s unknown what the ultimate death toll will be...For months, ASDA and its parent company Walmart have been refusing to take action to prevent disasters like this by signing the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord. And now, Bangladeshi workers are yet again paying the price with their lives."
BFTF also sent a message to ASDA simply saying "Why is ASDA refusing to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord".ASDA responded with the following:

"As I’m sure you know, Bangladesh is currently experiencing a crisis relating to worker safety. Asda remains committed to safe conditions in all of the factories that supply our clothes to our stores. As part of that commitment, Walmart, along with a group of other leading clothing retailers and suppliers, announced the creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

The Alliance has been has been signed by 17 leading US clothing companies and suppliers including Gap, Macy’s, Nordstrom and JC Penny. This initiative will lead to safer conditions for the people who work there. As part of the Walmart family, George at Asda is a part of this Alliance.

As part of the Alliance the founding members will adopt common, comprehensive safety standards for factories in Bangladesh and conduct inspections of 100 percent of factories in order to enforce those standards. This will also provide safety training to factory workers and solicit feedback from workers and activities and other causes such as compensating workers who are temporarily displaced due to safety-related remediation

I would like to assure you that the Alliance builds on the series of commitments that Walmart continues to be a part of to improve worker safety. Included in these commitments, we’re paying for teams of engineers to conduct inspections of all Bangladeshi factories that produce directly for our company, and requiring suppliers to remediate any safety issues that are found. In addition, our colleagues at George continue to work closely with suppliers to increase wages, improve working conditions for factory workers and support the communities that we source from. We’re incredibly proud of the work they do and if you’d like to find out more please visit for our Doing The Right Thing report. "

Asked the petitioners what they thought of this reponse.
Aug 2013 : Paying MP's Interns
Failing to pay interns means that these placements - which are often the gateway to pwerful jobs and networks - are accessible only to those rich enough not to need to earn a living. As well as signing the petition, BFTF also emailed the local Labour and Conservative Parties to ask them whether they paid their interns.

Aug 2013 : Release of WHO data on birth deformities in Fallujah
The WHO has undertaken research on the high level of birth deformities in Fallujah, Iraq - but has not released the data. This petition challenges the WHO to publish the data so that it can be analyzed.

Aug 2013 : Zero Hours Contracts at Sports Direct
BFTF supported this campaign by signing the petition and sending a separate email to SportsDirect saying that they had lost all my business.
Mar 2013 : Children Society "Fair and Square" campaign to ensure all children in poverty are given free school meals
BFTF supported this campaign by sending an on-line email to the local MP, but then had some second thoughts afterwards.

Clearly, children in poverty should get free school meals. No child should have to go through a school day hungry. But a little digging reveals that the Childrens Society of poverty is a household with earnings below 60% of the median wage (see note 6). On that basis, it is likely that there will ALWAYS be lots of poverty, no matter how much people are paid.

It seems to BFTF that the line should be placed on an absolute basis, and notes the following :

According to the DWP, in 2009, 60% of median income (before houseing costs) was £248pwe week

Meanwhile, in 2008, a living wage outside London was £6.88 an hour, which equates to £258per week.

BFTF assumes that families earning a living wage should not need free school meals, and with the two measures being so close together, it seeems that the Childrens Society is being reasonable in its campaign.

Incidentally, the 2013 living wage outside London is £7.45 per hour.
Mar 2013 : Horror in paradise (Avaaz)
"It's hard to believe, but a 15-year-old rape survivor has been sentenced to be whipped 100 times in public! Let's put an end to this lunacy by hitting the Maldives government where it hurts: the tourism industry. The girl's stepfather is accused of raping her for years and murdering the baby she bore. Now the court says she must be flogged for “sex outside marriage”!..."

Also sent to this to The Presidents Office

"I have been shocked to hear that a 15yr old VICTIM of sexual violence is to be flogged for "sex outside marriage". This is utterly contrary to any notion of justice. I urge you to put laws in place to stop this happening in this case and ever again."

This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain

BFTF recently watched a very sad BBC programme entitled This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain which 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.

Geoff does not flinch from talking to people from all sides of the conflict.

A number of people comment on how brutal the Saddam regime was and that it opporessed large sections of the population.

A civilian witness to the arrival of British Troops in Basra commented that if the troops had seen a person on top of a building "they would see you as the enemy and they would shoot at you...we were screaming, we were so scared" while another described what happened next as being a situation where "There was no electricity, there was no Police force, the government has vanished, everything was destroyed, everything was looted"

Soon after the insurgency started, hard line militas were fighting each other for control of the city and thousands of civilians were dying each month in assasinations and suicide bombings. Mazin's brother in law was an Imam who spoke out against the killings - and was killed in that same violence.

Geoff's guide, Mazin Altayar, was a journalist at the time of the invasion and believed that the milita soon believed that the UK formces were trying to impose values on the Iraqi population and that this was was caused them to begin attacking the UK troops. Mazin commented that "They got rid of lots of the skilled people in Iraq, the scientists, politicians, religious, cultured people" while the narrator adds that some 2,000 doctors and 800 academics and students were killed in the violence.

For BFTF this seems to be the most stomach churning part of the whole disaster.

Incompetence, anger, revenge, bullying, mob violence - all these BFTF can understand, they are part of human nature in extreme circumstances.

But it takes a special kind of evil, a special kind of hatred for society, a special kind of arrogance - to deliberately target doctors and teachers.

The programme then follows Geoff (a retired schoolteacher) as he visits a local school, which he finds is still not fully built. Geoff comments that "I was absolutely speechless when I looked at the environment... the classrooms looked liked a derelict school you would find in Britain" and yet the potential of the young boys and girls at the school is clear, they are full of energy and yet well behaved during the classes. Across Basra, a quarter of schools in Basra have yet to be re-built.

Chris's diary provides a sense of what it was like for the UK troops, and it can be seen how the intensity of the insurgency increased during Chris's time in Basra. And comments from Chris's sister and parents give some insight into the size of hole that the loss of Chris has left in their lives.

Geoff talks to many people who tell of how brutality and trigger happy behaviour of some coalition troops cost the Iraqi civilians dear and it can be seen that, while Geoff has lost a son, many Iraqis lost whole families.

He also visits a water distribution project started by the UK troops - which was then sold to a private company who started charging for the water but did not maintain the plant until eventually there were too many faults to deal with and the company folded. The local population now have to use bottled water and suffer many diseases from their inability to access safe clean water. Geoff comments that "the British had started something off that was immense here for he Iraqis and then we have left them high and dry, literally."

The narrator comments that much of the oil revenue of Iraq is lost to the rampant corruption in the country.

Towards the end of the programme, Geoff meets a group of young Basrans who are cleaning up their neighbourhood and trying to hold their local government to account for the corruption and poor services that they are receiving.

The programme was just heartbreaking.

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. After chasing up on 6th May, received a response on 28th May which said:

"...Much has been said about Britain's involvement in the war and important lessons have been learnt. It is important that everyone takes those lessons on-board"

Not exactly a "No, they wouldn't have taken the UK into that war" that BFTF would have liked to have heard, and BFTF wonders what exactly are the lessons that were learnt. But this is now perhaps an argument to park for another time.

But, dear reader, please feel free to challenge your MP on this issue as it is only when MP's receive comments from multiple people that they perceive an issue to be important.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Forest v Wolves in Pictures

No1 Son recently received two complimentary tickets for the Forest v Wolves game on 10th March and, being relatively uninterested in footy, passed them onto BFTF and No3 Son.

The seats were really good ones, close to the front and close to the action. No3 son really enjoyed himself and it is also perhasp worth mentioning that the stewards were, without exception, helpful.

Here are a few pictures from the day....

BFTF and No3 son travelled to the game by taking the tram to Nottingham City Centre and then walking from there to the ground. One thing that surprised BFTF was football fans are, apparently, so dangerous that the Police felt the need to post a cordon around certain pubs (which presumably contained the visiting fans).

Police corden off a pub, because it is full of football supporters

The first half had Wolves playing from the end were BFTF and No3 Son were, and there was plenty of exciting football.

The seats were great, very cloe to the action.

At half time, the groundsmen continues with their ongoing battle against the Forest ground mole problem by tring to stab the little blighters...apparently

An effective way to combat a mole problem?

BFTF was particularly fascinated by the messages the pitchside advertising was sending out, which included...
An exortation to give money to gambling companies...

...and to purchase alcoholic drinks...

...and to give more money to gambling companies...

...and buy some more alcoholic drinks...

...and to gamble some more at a Nottingham Casino!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Talk : Conspiracy Theories

A recent talk in the Café Sci series was given by Dr Jovan Byford, senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and entitled “Differentiating *conspiracy theories* from analyses of real conspiracies”.

It is often suggested that critics of conspiracy theories do not adequately acknowledge that plots, secretive collusion and cover-ups are a regular feature of contemporary politics, and therefore that a conspiracy-based explanation might in fact be a perfectly reasonable view to hold.

Dr Byford began by mentioning that there are real conspiracies (collusions between states, companies and individuals) that are happening right now. Some of these conspiracies will be revealed by whistleblowers, some will be revealed by the release of information years or decades later, and some may never be revealed. But these conspiracies are all limited in time and in scope and are individual conspiracies.

In contrast, the narrative of conspiracy theorists is that there is a continuum between conspiracies that are proven with a great deal of information in the public domain (e.g Watergate, Iran Contra) and those that are obviously ridiculous (e.g Protocols of Zion, David Icke’s lizards). The theoriststs will seek to place themselves somewhere on that continuum, effectively saying “unlike the David Icke nonsense, THIS is a real conspiracy, just like Watergate”. In this way, real conspiracies are used as a springboard for conspiracy arguments. For example, the fact that the US Public Health Service experimented on blacks in the 1960s is used as evidence that they, or other government organisations, could be guilty of any other specific crime, such as being the source of the AIDS virus

Dr Byford commented that conspiracy theories are a relatively new phenomena, with the first being Augustine Barruel, who had escaped the French Revolution to England and there published a book entitled “Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism” which alleged that the French Revolution was the result of a deliberate conspiracy or plot to overthrow the throne, altar and aristocratic society in Europe. The plot was allegedly hatched by a coalition of philosophers, Freemasons, and the Order of the Illuminati.

The first organised conspiracy theory : Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism

It is worth noting that many leading figures of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in France were also anti-religion, so any reaction against the excesses or ant-religious aspects of the French Revolution was also likely to rail against the Enlightenment.

Barruel’s ideas were taken up by, amongst other, John Robison, who published a book entitled “Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of the Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies”, which is perhaps the most comprehensively entitled work of the last 300years.

Proofs of a Conspiracy Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe

These ideas of a long term conspiracy controlled by secret societies was also picked up in the US and gained ground there in the early 20th century. In the case of the US, the “enemy” was the government and that is why many of the conspiracy theories around the world focus on the US government, or US institutions, as being the controlling forces behind conspiracies.

As the term “conspiracy theorist” is a term of abuse, writers of conspiracy theories will seek to frame their arguments so that they appear legitimate, often using academic language to imply that their research is accepted by the academic community.

Critically, conspiracy theorists assume that there is a link between a series of conspiracies and that this link implies there is a sinister controlling force behind them all.

It is also worth noting that the things which the very aspects of conspiracy theories that sceptics scoff at (e.g controlled demolition of the twin towers) are the aspects that appeal to conspiracy theorists, because they imply the presence of a hugely powerful controlling force.

In essence, it is the very absence of hard evidence that conspiracy theorists use as evidence that there must be a powerful controlling force.

In addition, conspiracy theorists draw on other conspiracy theories for their “evidence”. An example of this is the book “The New Pearl Harbour” that uses conspiracy theories of the 1940s to bolster 9/11 arguments.

And it also worth noting that conspiracy theorists are not interested in “real world” conspiracies. When conspiracies are incovered, it is never by conspiracy theorists.

The Sandy Hook School killings. A Conspiracy?

The first question came someone from a newcomer to Café Sci, and she asked whether the speaker was saying that the 1000 engineers )who said that the Twin Towers could not have fallen due to the effects of the crashed aircraft ) were wrong?

Dr Byford suggested that many of the 1,000 “engineers” might have had doctorates and other qualifications, but not often in structural engineering and added that a contrast could be made with the investigations undertaken by the official enquiry and by the likes of Popular Mechanics which were undertaken by engineers.

The questioner insisted that it was wrong to dismiss the views of the 1000 engineers, said that it the speaker and audience wanted to live in their “unicorn world” then they “were welcome to it” and then she walked out.

Dr Byford commented that it was part of the psychology of conspiracy theorists that they felt good about being part of the select few who really understand how the world works and it was noteworthy that the questioner had left absolutely certain that she was right and that the speaker and audience was wrong.

Another questioner asked how Dr Byford had become involved in this area of investigation. He responded that he had grown up in Serbia during the times of conflict there and had seen man strange stories in the media that suggested outside forces were against Serbia, for example that NATO was using secret weapons that sent messages into your mind. This had made Dr Byford curious about what made societies that were under stress so susceptible to conspiracy theories

The next question asked whether Dr Byford had ever known of any conspiracy theorists who had changed their minds. Dr Byford replied that he had not - but he did know of sceptics who had become convinced by conspiracy theories.

Related links:
Third party evidence for conspiracy theories
Mythbusters debunks moon landing conspiracy theories
Sandy Hook School Killings Conspiracies
The MMR "conspiracy"

Memoirs, Proofs