Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The effects of nuclear weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiroshima, after the nuclear attack

Image Source
Hiroshima Aftermath

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Sandy Hook School Killings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 December 2012

Wise Words from No3 Son

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

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

Thursday, 13 December 2012

40,000 page views, and some famous adverts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Is Uni outreach dinner reaching the right places?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Amazon, I can't shop with you any more

Just sent the followng to Amazon.

Dear Amazon,

I love your products, your service and your prices.

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

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

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

You know what is the right thing to do.

Do it.

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

"We pay our taxes and so should Amazon!

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

But times are tough and getting tougher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian comments that :

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

And yet :

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

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

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

Related Links
38degrees Tax Dodger Guide

Monday, 3 December 2012

Cosmology, Evolution and Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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