Sunday, 28 December 2014

Summer jobs may cut violent crime

Interesting research from Chicago, US, suggests that giving summer jobs to kids in high-crime, low income neighbourhoods can cut the level of violent crime they commit by around 40% over the following 16 months (although there is a significant margin of error in the results, given that the study was on a limited number of kids). Links with further comment on this here

In practical terms, the observed drop in violent crime would equates to a fall from 91 arrests per 1000 kids - to just 51 arrests per 1000 kids.

The summer jobs were only 25hrs per week at minimum wage, working as camp counselors or office assistants amongst other places.

Incidentally, half of the kids given summer jobs were also given "social-emotional learning" time, where they learned skills to manage their emotions or behavior that might get in the way of employment - but this didn't make any significant difference to the crime results.

It was, it seems, the work wot done it.

Interesting stuff.

The research was led by Sara Heller at the University of Pennsylvania. She talks about the challenges involved in this research programme here.

On reading that Dr Heller has the title of "Assistant Professor of Criminology" BFTF cannot help but see flashbacks from CSI, a tendency fuelled further by the fact that Dr Heller has a B.A in Psychology from Harvard University. Clearly someone who would the the last person standing in a game of Risk

Mentioned this research to local PCC and council in case it was of interest to them.

Oh, and thanks to @pourmecoffee and @skullsinthestars for sharing this research via the magic that is Twitter.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Something different about one of these MailOnline headlines

There is something different about one of these recent MailOnline headlines. Can you spot the odd one out?

Can you spot which headline is framed differently to the others?

Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Left, Bottom Right

The bottom right story was published on 12th December 2014 and with the headline "GUILTY: First picture of Muslim pensioner, 80, who arranged for acid to be thrown in his 20-year-old Islamic convert ex-girlfriend's face"

BFTF notes that under the new The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) code of conduct there can be found the following clause:
Clause 12 Discrimination Part ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
BFTF also notes that the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Birmingham Mail, ITV, The Independent and Sky News all managed to cover the story without headlines that gratuitously referred to the Rafiq's faith.

Another point worth making is that the MailOnline is one of the worlds largest online news sites, and this specfic story has been shared (at the time of writing) some 4,900 times. The number of views can reasonably be expected to be several orders of magnitude greater than that.

So, what to do:

i) Complained to IPSO
"The article breaches Clause 12, ii) of the Code of Practice "Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story" because it mentions the faith of the criminal and victim when neither are genuinely relevant to the story. I note that, unlike the MailOnline, reporting of the story by the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Birmingham Mail, ITV and SkyNews has all (correctly and reasonably) managed avoid mentioning the faith of the criminal or the victim in the headline."

ii) BFTF also noticed that the story was supported by advertising from :


Channel 5



So sent each of these companies an email like this:
I'm afraid I'm very disappointed to see that advertising from Mercedes-Benz is supporting inflammatory and demonising articles in the MailOnline (example attached, link at end of this email).

Essentially, you are paying for the Daily Mail to publish this kind of material, which has a deep and adverse adverse effect on community cohesion. In fact, I believe that the article breaks the IPSO code and have complained to IPSO on that basis.

I am sure that Mercedes-Benz does not want its advertising to support this kind of divisive article so I hope you can contact MailOnline, and your advertising company, and let them know how you feel.

If you feel able to do this, it would be great if you could let me know, as this would restore my faith in your company.

IPSO response
IPSO responded saying they did not accept BFTF had a valid complaint :

"IPSO is able to consider complaints from an individual who has been personally and directly affected by the alleged breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice; complaints from a representative group affected by an alleged breach where there is a substantial public interest; and complaints from third parties about accuracy. In the case of third party complaints, we will need to consider the position of the party most closely involved.

In this instance, the concerns you have raised relate directly to Mohammed Rafiq and Vikki Horsman, the subjects of the article. It would therefore appear that we are unable to consider your concerns further.

However, if you believe that you fall within one of the above categories of complainants, I would be grateful if you could respond to this email, briefly explaining why you believe we are able to consider your concerns further. We will then be happy to make a further assessment about whether we are able to proceed."

BFTF notes the phrase "a representative group affected by an alleged breach where there is a substantial public interest". Given how hard it is to get Muslim orgs to respond on anything, this is almost an insurmountable hurdle - as the people who drafted the wording were no doubt fully aware. It is also a hurdle that is not present in the procedures for any other regulator.

Mercedes Benz response
Mercedes responded by saying :

"When Mercedes-Benz purchases advertising space, it is done prior to the allocation of the journalistic content. In this Mercedes-Benz has no control, nor can we dictate to the media as to what articles we approve to be advertised along side. The editors at the newspaper in question decide this.

I would like to assure you that neither the location nor the content of the articles surrounding any Mercedes-Benz advertisement is a reflection of the views or the values of Mercedes-Benz. However, I have referred your comments on to the appropriate parties within our company for their consideration."

To which BFTF bounced back :

"Thank you for getting back to me. However I believe your response fails to address the issue in a number of ways.

Mercedes-Benz money paid for that advertising and financially supported that article. Indeed, the more often that article is shared and viewed, the "better" your advertising will have performed.

And I believe you are wrong when you state that "nor can we dictate to the media as to what articles we approve to be advertised." - you absolutely have the right to dictate EXACTLY what kind of articles your advertising is or is not placed against. And indeed to withdraw your advertising from MailOnline entirely.

Essentially Mercedes Benz is telling me that they don't care what articles their advertising pays for.

If that is your view, then yes, I certainly am questioning your advertising integrity.

If that isn't your view then could you please advise what steps Mercedes-Benz will take to ensure that their advertising is not placed against such articles in the future."

Also challenged advertisers with Tweets like this :

For reference, links to many media regulatory bodies can be found at the Media Standards Trust

Jubel Miah is no "devout Muslim"
The "Strict Muslim"

Sally Morgan

DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting for a second that Sally Morgan does not speak to the dead; or that she is not telling the truth; or that the dead do not send messages to her. This post merely refers to descriptions of some of her performances. You, the reader, will have to draw your own conclusions.

Sally Morgan
Sally Morgan (official site here, Wikipedia entry here) is a psychic who holds events around the UK.

An article describing how Sally Morgan gives out health advice

A reviewer, who reviewed on of Sally's shows in Edinburgh, and provided fake details of someone who had died, describes what he saw. Another, more comprehensive report, on this here.

A letter from lawyers to Sally Morgans solicitors regarding statements on the Sally Morgan website about Mark Tilbrook. BFTF notes (and had not picked up on this before) that saying "On several occasions theatre staff have had to call the police in order to get him [Tilbrook] removed" is not the same as saying that Police actually DID remove (or even try to remove) Mark Tilbrook.

Another report describes an event at Middleborough which, it might possibly be argued, did not go very well.

Also, someone has attended one of Sally Morgan's events and then tabulated her "hit rate" (of making accurate statements) during the event.

Psychologist Chris French estimates that Sally Morgans earnings, just from her stage shows, are several million pounds per year.

Other Psychics
BFTF does note that have been occasions in that past where, in very marked contrast to Sally Morgan, psychics have been found to be untruthful. Often these fake psychics have used "Cold Reading" techniques. You can read about these techniques here.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Black Day - 16 Dec 2014 - #PeshawarAttack

Left feeling absolutely saddened, shocked and angry at the attack by the Pakistan Taliban on a school in Peshawar.

They killed 141 people, 132 of them children.

What the Pakistan Taliban did :
15 yr old Shahrukh Khan, 15 was shot in the legs and told Reuters "One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain...One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me my friends were lying injured and dead."

The same article describes how, at a local hospital "One distraught family member was given a wrong body because the faces of many children were badly burned as a result of the suicide bomb explosions."

Another article quotes Irshadah Bibi, whose 12-year-old son was among the dead saying "What is the sin of my child and all these children?”

How the Pakistan Taliban justified the attack:
They told BBC Urdu "that the school, which is run by the army, had been targeted in response to military operations."

They told The Daily Beast "The parents of the army school are army soldiers and they are behind the massive killing of our kids and indiscriminate bombing in North and South Waziristan...To hurt them at their safe haven and homes—such an attack is perfect revenge.”

According to the Guardian, a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) "claimed the attackers were under orders to kill only boys beyond the age of puberty."

How can Muslims kill other Muslims - and what can be done to stop this madness.
BFTF suspects that the murderers who killed the children in Peshawar rationalised their actions by firstly, believing that those who leave Islam can be killed and secondly, that the children and staff in that school had indeed left Islam. More on this in a different post, but worth mentioning the words of Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain ,who has previously said:

“The position of many a scholar I have discussed the issue with is if people want to leave, they can leave...I don’t believe they should be discriminated against or harmed in any way whatsoever. There is no compulsion in religion.”

But what does BFTF know? So have asked the MCB, MAB, MINAB and four local mosques some questions, shown below, together with responses.

Q1:Can you please help me understand how these murderers, operating under the banner of Islam, managed to rationalise the killing of schoolchildren as a praiseworthy act?

Imam1:"The Taliban follow the same ideology of Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi who was passed around 250 years ago in the area known today as Saudi Arabia...His perverted ideas are now the beliefs of the Wahabis, Salafis and Taliban.... The current followers have taken his ideas to an even worse interpretation that they regard everyone as a kafir unless they follow the Salafi wahabi ideology ...The is no logic behind the killings, just to create destabilisation in Pakistan. These killers are actually kidnapped children who have been raised in confined placed for years and been brain washed without contact to the outside world that they will go to paradise if they kill certain people."

Imam2: "A new low in terrorism, extremism and violence in Pakistan, a heinous crime, cowardly act and most shameful operation by the Taleban. The Taleban have been emboldened, encouraged supported in the past by two major players: [Firstly] The Pakistani military that has been playing a double game for the last 13 years, one day supporting Taleban next day supporting the American and being a real bigot, they now have tasted the consequence of their evil policy. [Secondly] The religious and political groups like Tablighi Jamaat(Fazlur Rahman party) and Imran Kan who have secretly and covertly supported Taleban should also repent for their sins."

MAB: "...we know of no justification whatsoever that can be Made to rationalize the killing of schoolchildren."

Q2:What role can leaders in the UK's Muslim community practically do to counter the mindset that these murderers had?

Imam1: "We need to totally eradicate the Wahabi ideology which is feeding the support for these killers. But our Sunni leaders themselves have no understanding of this and don't have an alternative to give the public which is why most university going students are ending up as Salafis. Our leaders are still halva eaters who are fighting Pir wars to get more followers to fund their projects in the UK and Pakistan. There has to be a middle ground but such people get maligned by both groups as being agents of the other. Our Masajid need to become beacons of knowledge and training with action not just words."

Imam2: "The best way to tackle this kind of most evil and vicious violence is to regard it as a crime, it has no basis in religion, the Taleban are not fighting for Islam, these are evil tribal warlords, misguided young people being exploited by ruthless and naive regimes. Including USA, India and Pakistan. Let us not bring Islam into this equation, it is a war for hegemony of Pakistani economy and politics."

MAB: "...There is a uniformed approach in extremist thinking, which concludes that physical annihilation of the enemy or the infliction of damage to lives and property are the only reasonable methods of dealing with the problems Muslims face. Ironically, those are the some of ideas held by some Western powers as well i.e. violence, killing, annihilation and destruction of the enemy puts the problem of extremism at bay. It does not. As we have seen it has created more terror around the world."

Therefore, we believe Muslim leaders must speak out against all forms of extremism. It is never okay to excuse Western countries for their use of force against innocent people or those with differing ideologies. We at MAB have consistently condemned unfair policies and we campaigned hard to prevent the Iraqi war; we have continually condemned the ideologies of ISIS and mostly importantly, we have worked closely with young people ngaging them in activities and events where there is much discussion about the ideas and concepts of Islam."

iii) What can ordinary Muslims do to practically do to counter the mindset that these murderers had?

Imam1: "They need to reject Wahabism and stop supporting its projects.So many Sunni children are going to Wahabi schools and returning as Wahabis. Actually the Wahabi movement has reached critical mass and it cannot be turned back."

MAB: "Muslims must..continue to prove that they occupy the higher moral ground. Discussions of these issues with others should seek to avoid the them and us paradigm. A Muslim should keep him or herself well informed in order to be responsive to the challenges that face our community. At MAB, we encourage Muslims to work together and be active in offering help to good causes, joining campaigns and donating wherever possible in a spirit of humanity and for the common good. Extremism ideology relies on segregation, on marginalization and reinforcing the negative binary vision of them and us.... we must demonstrate that the way we have chosen works. This is not an overnight solution its a generational project.."

Update Jan2015
A very relevant research document is the "Education under Attack 2014" report compiled by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The report looks at worldwide instances of attacks on students, teachers or educational establishments in the years 2009 - 2013.

Amongst much else the report has the following to say about who is doing the attacking, stating that:

"..certain types of attacks are more likely to be carried out by government or government-backed forces, such as arrests, imprisonment, torture and attacks on higher education These government-instigated attacks are typically linked to motives such as restricting trade union activity, quelling dissent and controlling information, or marginalizing a particular ethnic or political group.

Other types of attack... are more likely to be carried out by [pro or anti-government] armed groups, such as abduction of students and teachers and attacks on government schools. They are often linked to motives that may include spreading fear among civilians. When perpetrated by anti-government groups the motives may include undermining government control over an area or community, preventing the education of certain groups such as girls, or reacting against perceived bias in curricula and teaching that may reflect wider social, religious or ethnic discrimination or conflict."

The report also discusses military use of schools, stating that :

"Education buildings were used as barracks to house soldiers/fighters, bases to mount security operations, fighting positions, prisons or detention centres... Schools were also used to indoctrinate, recruit and train students. The forces using the schools included armed groups, paramilitaries, armed forces, police forces and international forces – the UN recorded five incidents of school occupation by international military forces in Afghanistan in 2010, for instance."

5 countries were found to have had 1,000 or more attacks on schools, universities, students, teachers or had schools used for military purposes: Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

"In Afghanistan, according to the UN, there were 1,110 or more attacks on school-level education, including arson attacks, explosions and suicide bombings. Staff were threatened, killed and kidnapped."

"In Colombia, one of the most dangerous places to be a teacher, 140 teachers were killed over these four years and 1,086 received death threats.."

"In Pakistan, armed groups, particularly the Pakistani Taliban, attacked at least 838 schools, mostly by blowing up school buildings, and deprived hundreds of thousands of children of access to education, according to primary research by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan...In the vast majority of cases, school buildings were blown up at night using explosives detonated remotely or by timers"

A further 25 countries were found to have had 5 or more incidents or victims including at least one direct attack on a school or the killing of at least one teacher, student or academic:
Bahrain, Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Another 40 countries (including the UK) had isolated incidents.

Update Jan2015
As a reminder that cold-blooded killings are,sadly, nothing new, this article about the children of Argentinas "disappeared" appeared in the Guardian recently. The article tells the story of Jorgelina Molina Planas, whose father was shot dead in the Capilla del Rosario massacre and her mother disappeared in 1977. Some 30,000 people were disappeared by the military dictatorship that ran the country from 1976 to 1983.

Jorgelina is one of some 500 children-of-the-disappeared kidnapped by the government. Most of the children were given to military families. Since 1977, an organisation called Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo has been searching for the children stolen and illegally adopted during Argentina’s so-called dirty war, so they can be reunited with their surviving biological families.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Talk : Muslims in Britain

Interesting Cafe Sci talk recently by Dilwar Hussein (see also his very interesting blog here). Dilwar's recent work includes a major report on Muslims in Leicester for the Open Society Institute; he was Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Inquiry on Prevent (2010); involved in the Cambridge-Azhar Imams Training Project; and on the steering group of the Contextualising Islam in Britain Project.

Dilwar began by describing how Muslims were constantly having to defend themselves, with non-Muslims naturally wondering whether it was their Muslim work colleague or ISIS that best represented what Islam stood for.

Dilwar added that he felt it was always best to confront these issues rather than brushing them under the carpet and that Muslims had perhaps been more vocal in what they were AGAINST rather than what they were FOR.

Muslim Scouts getting ready for litter picking

A summary of the history of Muslims in the UK followed, which mentioned the following points:

Mention of Muslims in Canterbury Tales
Treaties with Muslims during reign of Elizabeth 1
Chair of Arabic, Oxford University, 1636
Translations of the Quran (Ross, 1649,Sale, 1734)
First Mosque, 1860
Post WW1, WW2 immigration

Dilwar then described how, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muslims around the world looked at their relative weakness and asked themselves "How did we get here?". The various answers to this question, together with responses to the challenge of modernity were the drivers to the main Islamic movements of recent decades.

Colonisation fed into anti-western feelings.
Loss of the Caliphate fed into distrust of nation states.
Modernity and Secular Government fed into anti liberal and anti-secular feelings.
Euro Election Hustings in Nottingham, organised by Muslims

Islamic thought took many forms:
Renewal / Reform movements (Liberal, Secular -e.g. Araturk)
Revival Movements (Sufi, Salafi, Islamism, Jihadism)

Dilwar mentioned the example of Muhammad Abduh, who famously said that:

"I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam"

This was in reference to that fact that, in Europe, countries had developed ways of transferring power without rivals assassinating each other, and had many of the social institutions and principles of Islam, whilst these were lacking in Egypt.

Dilwar also commented on how religion is always interpreted via local cultures, which affects how Muslim society around the world address issues such as identity, integration, realtionships with neighbours, human rights, gender equality, liberal values, discrimination etc.

Good to see a significant Muslim presence at Notts community organising events

Dilwar commented that, in his view, the only was of governing countries with multi faith communities was via some kind of secular state, so that the public space was available to all.

And also on some of the challenges that the Muslim community faces:
Dislocation resulting from rural migration,
Weak scholarship,
Alienation from the religious establishment,
Reduced religious literacy.

There was also comment on how countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia were vying to "own" minority Muslim communities in the West, not least because they are likely to have some significance in the future as they become established in their new countries. Related to this is the fact that Muslim minority communities in the UK are very aware of, and ffected by, global politics.

Dilwar has been part of a team that has looked at some of the above issues in a report entitled "Contextualising Islam in Britain"

More positively, Dilwar described how, in Islams "Golden Age", scholars devoured knowledge from wherever they could find it, translating everything into Arabic for the great libraries of Syria and Iraq.

Dilwar added that, today, Muslims are disproportionately generous in their charitable donations and that many Muslims around the country give up their time for community projects, one example being Dilwar himself who helps at a Foodbank.

Foodparcels ready for delivery at a Nottingham, Muslim run, foodbank

In the Q&A session, BFTF pointed out that he had been in a meeting of Muslims the previous day where, of the few people that BFTF knew, one was involved in a Scout group; another ran a Mum and Tots group (that had held MacMillan fundraisers); and a third person worked to provide support for the disadvantaged in society! Another person in the audience added to this by stating that Muslim grocery stores had been very quietly, but very consistently, giving fresh produce to a major local foodbank.

The "Deen Riders" raise money for a variety of charities

Related Links
Positive Muslim Stories
Stuff what the Imam said
Lots of suggestions on how mosques can interact with society

Friday, 7 November 2014

Talk : A Defence of the Monte Carlo Simulation

Interesting Cafe Sci talk recently by Dr Nira Chamberlain on the "Monte Carlo" Simulation and how, in Dr Chamberlains view, it had been unfairly blamed for the 2008 financial crisis. This post is based on the talk, with a little extra linkage thrown in.

Dr Chamberlain is a professional mathematician, has been named as one of the UK's 100 leading practical scientists, and is an advocate for mathematics (see also here).

The Monte Carlo simulation is a way of solving mathematical problems by taking multiple random samples rather than trying to "calculate" the answer. For example, rather than trying to calculate the average time to complete a maze, say, a Monte Carlo Simulation would repeatedly try to go through a maze, taking random decisions at each junction, and see how how long it took, on average, to get to the other side.

Perhaps the first use of a Monte Carlo simulation was by French polymath Pierre-Simon Laplace, who used it to estimate the value of pi.

But it was only with the advent of electronic computers, which could quickly perform many thousands of calculations, that Monte Carlo simulations really came into their own, most famously to help the design of the first nuclear bombs in the Manhatten project. It was here that it was given the name "Monte Carlo Method" as it reminded one of the researchers of gambling behaviour in the famous Monte Carlo casino.

After WW2, Monte Carlo simulations were used in applications ranging from engineering to computational biology

An important use of the Monte Carlo simulation is in financial modelling. Dr Chamberlain explained their use, using the "maze" as an analogy for a financial product. Imagine two traders, Trader A and Trader B...

Trader A to Trader B : Here is a maze, and here is £60million pounds on the table. When the clock starts, you begin the maze and I'll start taking away £1million very minute. If you get through the maze in less than an hour, you keep any money left on the table - but if it takes you MORE than an hour, you have to give me £1million for every minute over an hour that it takes you. Do you want to take this bet? (optional evil laugh here)

Trader B (thinks) : The question I need to know the answer to, right now, is how long it takes on average to get through the maze.

And this is where the Monte Carlo simulation comes in. The simulation will have many attempts to get through the maze, and the results are likely for form some kind of frequency distribution like this :

That is all well and good - the problem comes if, in real life the maze is more complicated than the one in the simulation, and the probability distribution is actually like this :

Dr Chamberlain explained that this mismatch between theory and the real world is exactly what happened to financial models in the wake of the 2008 sub-prime defaults, and was a big factor in the resulting financial crisis.

And, worse that this, when the trades lost money the traders thought they had just been unlucky (because their simulation was wrong), so bet again...and again.

Dr Chamberlain commented that JP Morgan had released the Monte Carlo method to the financial marketplace in 1992 [as part of their RiskMetrics methodology] but, in doing so they failed to adequately warn the market about some of the dangers in using the method. The 2008 crisis left many wondering whether Monte Carlo simulations were to blame. Dr Chamberlain gave examples such as an article entitled "Is Financial Monte Carlo Simulation Dead"

However, as suggested in the talks title - Dr Chamberlain was here to defend the Monte Carlo method, and felt that the problem was more to do with poor inputs and assumptions rather than the method itself, commenting that :

i) When the underlying conditions change, so should the assumptions in any relevant Monte Carlo simulations.

ii) A crisis similar had previously occurred in 1998, when LTCM went bust having lost $4.6billion due to the Russian and Far Eastern economic crises distorting the market. [BFTF notes that LTCM was dripping with Economics Nobel Prize winners and that the subsequently bought out company went bust again in 2009].

iii) The market had been warned about the risks of unexpected marked events, for example in the Black Swan theory and in a paper presented at the International Congress of Mathematicians 2002

iv) The Winner Effect, where testosterone fuels increasingly risky trading behaviour.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Stuff what BFTF asked Mosques to do.

A blog charting the response received when emailing (usually four) local mosques to suggest (very simple) things they could do to improve engagement between the Muslim community and wider society, or ways people could act to stop conflict and injustice.

Before reading this post, you may wish to have a look at these two related posts :

i) Positive Muslim Stories
ii) Stuff what the Imam said

Apr 2016 :
I've noted that Muslim Characters on BBC drama only use phrases such as "Assalamu alaikum" in the context of negative storylines and have complained to the BBC about two recent instances. Thought you may wish to do so similarly, and perhaps encourage your congregations to do so as well. Details and template complaint here :
Response:One, but none from mosque leadership

Mar 2016 :
Just wanted to suggest that it would be in the interest of the Muslim community leaders in Nottingham to think about cultural events that can encourage their congregations to attend in Nottingham. This would build bridges and allow the Muslim community to be a stakeholder in the wider cultural life. It would also counter the far-right assertion that Muslims want to destroy British culture, and also counter the extremist assertion that there is no common ground between Muslims and wider society. Some examples to consider :
I note in particular that Mayfest is coming up very soon.

Response:One, but none from mosque leadership

Mar 2016 :
Suggested that leaders in the Muslim community might wish to challenge the government regarding wasted food aid drops in Syria.


Dec 2015 :
Suggested that leaders in the Muslim community needed to discuss these questions and issues regarding Muslims serving in the armed services.


Nov 2015 :
Suggested mosques should ask their congregations to be vocal and that congregation should express their views (to their MPs) regarding a possible commons vote on bombing Syria.


(although the petition BFTF signed did receive a response - see here)

Nov 2015 :
Suggested mosques might want to challenge local MP / Conservative party on treatment of Muslims at risk of suicide.


Oct 2015 :
Suggested to mosques that, following two nasty attacks on vulnerable Muslims travelling on London buses, the mosques might want to quiz Nottingham City Transport on their policies for helping people under attack on public tranpsort.

Two imams responded saying they had sent off emails challenging NCT. See post for details.

Sep 2015 :
Asked if mosques should be more supportive of the Nottingham Green Festival, given the strong overlap between Islamic teachings and many of the values expressed in the Festival (e.g. campaigning for animal welfare; for social justice; for help for refugees; to support the NHS etc etc.)

Response : None

Jul 2015 :
Emailed to tell mosques about the challenges BFTF had made to authorities regarding PREVENT and media bias (as described in this post). Asked if mosques could provide some further examples of the issues highlighted.

Response : None

Jun 2015 :
Emailed mosques to ask if they would be interested in a talk on what BFTF had learnt in the UoN MOOC entitled "Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life" that BFTF had attended.

Response : None

Update Oct 2015, raised this one in person at a particular mosque, was told to talk to one of the staff members. Staff member said they were not able to facilitate this event.

May 2015 :
Emailed two mosques to say I was concerned about the anti-vaccination messages being pushed by some Muslim groups, giving the example of a talk by Dr Omar Zaid in which he commented that :

“The whole concept of a vaccine is fundamentally flawed" ; "The younger they trained the doctors, the more hardhearted they seemed to become.” ; “The vaccines themselves, which are introducing foreign proteins directly into the bloodstream. God did not design us to do that” ; “Modern medical specialists think they know best, they already know its fundamentally flawed because they don’t want to admit [they have] made a mistake” ; Regarding vaccines “I would recommend that people just say no” “the doctors are culpable, there are illiterate, they are functionally illiterate"
Response : Received a response from one Imam which included the comment that "All I can say is that it was the Beloved Prophet’s (peace be upon him) sunnah to seek cure for illnesses. We have to go out into the world and seek cures. Allah says: Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…." Surah Ar-Rad(13):11 so just praying to Allah to cure us isn’t going to result in cure. Man has to get up and make an effort to change whatever is wrong inside him.

Jan 2014 :
Asked if mosques could also challenge IPSO regarding a MailOnline article that broke the IPSO code. Details here

Response : None

Dec 2013 :
Asked some questions regarding the mentality of the murderers who killed the children in the Peshawar massacre, and what UK orgs and Muslims could do to combat this. Details here

Response : Responses received from two Imams (and also the MAB). Again, detailed here

Sep 2014 :
"I've written a couple of emails to DEFRA challenging them on their failure to meet their own tree planting targets in recent years. And also on their failure to put into place a structure to protect the Nations ancient woodland, in trust, for future generations - something the Government promised to do back in 2013. With protection of the environment in general and trees in particular, being so prominent in Islam I wanted to suggest that perhaps your respective masajid could encourage the congregations to also be active in this area.

Details and background can be found here.

It is BFTF's strong belief that one factor in the alienation of young Muslims is that, in general, Muslim organisations do not provide practical examples (that the organisations have taken themselves) of how to engage with society, to achieve change, to challenge the government etc.And this lack of examples leaves young people frustrated, vulnerable to conspiracy theories and believing they are powerless. This is not a good thing."

Response : None

Jul 2014 :
"Can you please advise which organisations (e.g. local MP, Arab League, EU etc) I should pressure to act to stop the killing in Syria and, if you have a view, what actions you think those organisations should take?"

Response : None

May 2014
"This Friday, could you please, please, please mention the May Fest event at the University of Nottingham (Sat 10th May, 11am to 5pm) to your congregation and encourage them to take advantage of this free day of fun and education! It really is a great day out for all the family - and a wonderful chance to talk to researchers at the UoN about what they do. Lots of fun activities for kids and adults alike. You will not be disappointed inshallah. We talk, as a community about our committment to learning and the Islamic heritage of science - well here is a chance to demonstrate that we stil have that love of knowledge today. More info here: and here.

Response : One response from an Imam who said "Inshallah will spread the news...and will also try and come down"

April 2014
"I've written two complaints to the PCC regarding the DailyMail coverage of the "Project Trojan" story. But a lot more could be done if Imams / Mosques did the same - and encouraged their congregations to do so as well - assuming that you believe the allegations to be false, of course. Information here. Response : None


Friday, 24 October 2014

Talk - Uri Gordon on Anarchism

Interesting Cafe Sci talk recently by Uri Gordon on Anarchist Politics. This post is based on the talk, with a little extra linkage thrown in.

Uri stated that in contrast to MONarchy (one leader), the ideal behind ANarchy was to be free of rulers, and that the anarchy did not mean chaos, insecurity etc

Uri asked the audience to consider the many occasions at work and at leisure when people organised themselves without the need for leaders (e.g. going to the pub for lunch, a walk in the country, a charitable venture, a community garden etc, adding that "Humans can get along just fine without rulers" and that perceptions to the contrary were pushed by interests such as the state, patriarchal institutions, corporations who wish to exploit etc.

As an example of how anarchy can work in communities, Uri gave the example of aboriginal hunter-gatherer communities around the world, who have been found to have structures that do not have a leader, have cultural codes that look after the environment. They respect their elders - but all members of the community get this respect when they become old. However, Uri later added that this model could not work in todays world as there were too many people and the environment was too degraded.

According to Uri, anarchists seek to build a new society within the current one rather than being co-opted into existing power structures via conventional elections etc.

A protest by the Spanish anarchist trade union CGT,
who represent some 2 million workers

Anarchists also believe in direct action, without relying on intermediaries - hence movements such as Occupy, the Brazilian World Cup protests, the emergence of community gardens in run down areas, and cases of people tying themselves to trees to prevent construction projects.

(although a darker side of direct action can be seen in this article). Related to this is the concept of the "Propaganda of the Deed".

Uri also mentioned that he had a very pragmatic approach to anarchism, and little time for those who put the purity of the ideology over the practicalities of actually helping people and achieving social good. He also cautioned against conspiracy theories as "lazy thinking".
Uri also gave some pointers for further reading:

Emma Goldman (who Uri quoted from).

African Anarchism - The History of a Movement

Decolonising Anarchism

Tom Payne - Common Sense

Incidentally, researching for this post has revealed to BFTF the existence of the rather lovely anarchist phenomena of "Twinkles"

Image Sources

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Camping near Clipstone

At No3 sons repeated exhortation, spent a weekend camping in Nottinghamshire this September. Took the opportunity to have a look at the (now disused) Clipstone colliery....

The Clipstone Colliery, , produced coal from 1927 until 1993, and then again from 1994 to 2003. The imposing headstocks were amongst the tallest in Europe when built during upgrades in the 1950s and were given Grade II listed status by English Heritage in 2000 as being ‘special architectural or historic interest’.

The site is currently owned by Welbeck Estate, who would like to demolish the headstocks - although others are campaigning for the site to become an adventure park including a mile long zip line! (see also

Clipstone Colliery

There is an e-petition to save the headstocks. BFTF has signed it, and hopes you will too.

A history of Clipstone colliery here and some images of the colliery here and here.

Headstocks look like some kind of alien engineering
has been placed in the middle of the village

Meanwhile, next to the campsite was a farm - and BFTF was fascinated to see how quickly the farmer, armed with a tractor and a Lemken Solitaire 9 seed drill, was able to plant an entire field with seeds.

It left BFTF wondering if there was any information quantifying the impact of mechanisation on farming productivity

Mechanisation of seed planting

Amazing how quickly the whole field was planted

The best thing about camping, it seems, is cooking on a gas stove !

No3 Son made the dinner, bless him!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Top Trumps "Warships"

Whilst playing a game of "Warships" Top Trumps with No3 son, noticed that all the cards had little complimentary descriptions of their respective vessels (which were from the navies of nations ranging from the US to Italy to China).

Well, all the cards except one - the single entry for the Pakistan Navy (PNS Khaibar) was very disparaging. BFTF is struggling a bit to understand why...

The Cards (might be a couple missing)

Uniquely disparaging comments on the PNS Khaibar card

Title Card

A very rare Bourbon Cream

To eat or to sell on eBay? That is the question.

Actually, that is no question at all. Nom Nom Nom.

From one side, a perfectly normal Bourbon Cream....

..but from the other side, the biscuit is inverted -  a monstrous aberration.

A "Thank You" to the teachers at Berridge Primary

Been going through the stuff No3 son brought home on his last day at Berridge Primary School and was struck by how his writing improved over the time he was at the school.

So, this post is a big THANK YOU to the teachers there for working so hard to teach No3 Son literacy, numeracy and much else - and to a pretty good standard too!





Saturday, 18 October 2014

The camera might not lie, but it can certainly be economical with the truth

A post, hopefully occasionally updated, with examples of how shifting ones perspective a little can result in a very different view. In each case, the location does not change between the pictures, just the direction the shot was taken...


Luton Central Car Park, 2014 (might have moved a bit between these)

A trip to Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton

Visited Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton earlier in the year, here are a few pictures......

St Marys Church (in town centre, not at Stockwood)

More on this very beautiful church here

Examples of baby feeding equipment from years gone by

 A truck painted in the South Asian style

The truck, and the Romany Wagon shown below, were painted by the Museums youth team during 2011-12. The youngsters were trained by Haider Ali (truck) and Rory Coxhill (wagon)about the correct techniques and designs to be used.

You can read more about Haiders work here

and more about Wagon Painting here.

A panel from the truck

Romany Bow Top Wagon painted in the traditional style

Viva las Viva!

Because for many years Luton = Vauxhall

Exhibition of extraordinarily beautiful backlit space photographs

Great to see Stockwood Discovery Centre hosting this sciency exhibition. NSB has seen plenty of space images over the years, but these on another level!

These images do not come close to showing the originals awesomeness

NSB and small people put about a pint of 2p's into this - SO worth it.

Tree showing donors who have supported the Discovery Centre

Detail of tree

Monday, 13 October 2014

Sunday, 12 October 2014

An example of how dysfunctional the US healthcare system is

US academic Molly Worthen has written about her experiences of negotiating the privatised US healthcare system during her pregnancy.

It is not a happy story.
"My husband and I pulled into the parking lot for our first prenatal appointment 15 minutes early, excited to see the first ultrasound of the gummy-bear-sized creature in my belly. But before we laid eyes on a nurse or an ultrasound technician, the receptionist ushered us in for a meeting with a far more important person: Tami, the “financial counselor.”

where an administrator handed them a worksheet and explained the $1,100 fee that they had to pay up front - and which did not include hospital charges or many other items. When Molly's husband asked how much they would have to pay in total, assuming it what a routine birth, the response was :
“Oh, I couldn’t tell you that,”

Nor was their insurance company any more helpful, and neither could anyone give a cost for a specific treatment, saying that such information was "confidential". This level of dysfunctionality, of course, does not come cheap - US citizens paid some $200 billion in excess administrative fees in 2009, much of which could be emininated if the US adopted a public single-payer system of the kind that most developed countries favor.

And the US system does not even really provide much healthcare - Molly found out that her family could have to pay up to $20,000 per year if a health crisis struck them after the child was born. Molly sums up her findings thus :
"A truly free market requires all parties to have access to the same information—and the time and expertise to interpret that information. Healthcare, by contrast, is an economy of specialized goods that most lay people don’t fully understand, in which insurance companies and many healthcare providers have a vested interest in concealing prices from consumers....

...What we have here is not a free market, but a failed one. Healthcare seems to be the only unpriced good in America. Most of us wouldn’t even buy groceries without comparing prices first. Imagine a store with no price labels at all—only the products aren’t corn flakes and cantaloupe, but appendectomies and hip replacements. Even in non-emergency cases, when consumers might have the luxury of comparing hospitals rather than calling an ambulance, most of us would rather trust the advice of our doctors than shop around for, say, bargain-basement chemotherapy.

If I, with my fancy PhD and free time to spend on the phone with clerks and bureaucrats, haven’t been able to figure out the cost of something as commonplace as having a baby, how must other people fare? "

Related Posts

What the Coalition Agreement says about the NHS
Campaigns to protect the NHS Interview with Prof Ian Shaw on the NHS Bill
Report on a Broxtow Save the NHS meeting
Falsification of data at SERCO
Report on a talk on Financial Incentives for Healthcare
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill
This is what is wrong with the NHS Bill

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

How to talk to terrorists

The most important article BFTF has read in a long time. If you read nothing else on this blog, please read this:

Jonathan Powell : How to talk to terrorists

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Non-Sign II

BFTF has been fascinated to read about the "Non-Sign II" art installation at Blaine(WA) on the US-Canadian Border.

It is designed by artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo at the Lead Pencil Studio (see also here) and is a kind of anti-billboard, consisting of white space through which the changing landscape is framed by an intricate network of welded 0.8"(20mm) diameter blackened stainless steel rods.

Non-Sign II

It ranks highly on any reasonable scale of awesomeness!

BFTF asked Lead Pencil how the installation was constructed and how the designers were sure it would not fall down.

They were kind enough to respond, saying that they had confidence due to previous experience with the technique and pointed out that whilst the steel rods were thin, the spans they crossed were short and that the structure had a high strength to weight ratio.

Lead Pencil also kindly allowed use of the images in this post, which come from a gallery of pictures by fabricator Ian Gill.

This video (also by Ian Gill) gives some understanding of how the separate parts of the installation were prepared at the Lead Pencil studios and then joined together on-site (very cleverly, check it out at around 1m15sec).

Almost as interesting as the installation itself is the way it was funded - through the rather wonderful US Government's "Art in Architecture" program. This is run by the US General Services Admininstration (GSA), who state that:
"GSA reserves one-half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building to commission project artists. A panel composed of art professionals, civic and community representatives, the project’s lead design architect, and GSA staff meets to discuss opportunities for artists to participate in the building project. This panel reviews a diverse pool of artist candidates and nominates finalists for GSA to evaluate. Artists who receive federal commissions work with the project architects and others as members of a design team to ensure that the artworks are meaningfully integrated into the overall project."

BFTF asked Nottingham Council whether they have a similar scheme and, if not, perhaps they should start one!

Bare Foundations

Part Completed

Part Completed - Detail (with Maple Leaf for scale)

Detail during construction, showing welds between rods

Detail during construction - showing rods ready for welding...
...a LOT of rods ready for welding

Construction at the site took 14 days

The completed installation - something for drivers to ponder
 as they queue at the Border Crossing !

Other Art related content
Non Sign II
Jeffer M Garib
Pictures of the Sky
Nottingham - Tiltshifted
Some Wonderful Artists
Graffiti Walls
Shonaleigh at Nottingham Storytellers
Great programme describing how some of Turners paintings covered key changes in the Industrial Revolution.
Piero Gilardi and John Newling at Nottingham Contemporary
God bless our libraries
Light Night 2013
The Chair
Himmah Eid Festival
Great Comedy on Radio 4
How art can affect you
Tour of the Theatre Royal
Fantastic Snow Art by Simon Beck (see also here)
Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary
Rick Davies and Michael Hansmeyer

Image Sources: All used with permission from Ian Gills Gallery