Tuesday, 27 May 2014

GCC : Global Companies Challenge

Wednesday 28th May 2014 sees the start of the Global Companies Challenge 2014, a competition over 100 days involving over 57,000 teams from 1,500 employers around the world!

Companies that join the challenge can submit teams of of 7 people. Many companies submit dozens of teams from across their sites.

Each team member gets a pedometer and logs their steps each day into an interactive website (with conversion factors available for swimming and cycling too)- the more steps the team takes, the higher up the global leaderboard they get.

And all through the campaign, the GCC website offers tips on better diet and healthier living.

According to GCC, 90% of participants said that the competition had improved their overall health and wellbeing, with 4.5kg being the average amount of weight lost and 62% of participants reporting a reduction in their waistsize, of an average of 5.2cm.

BFTF participated last year and lost about 7kg in weight, walking a long, long way and cycling over 600miles in the process.

Below are a few screenshots from the BFTF's page at the GCC website

Website shows steps taken (as well as cycling and swimming conversions)
and also organisation and team averages

Virtual trophies are given for specific achievements

Not a bad cycling result in 2013,
but for 2014 BFTF is going all out to get all 4 shields,,,

GCC is a great programme, and BFTF is looking forward to the 2014 cometition enormously.

Bloggage will suffer however, so the number of postings and updates is likely to see a drop until the programme ends in September...

Monday, 26 May 2014

What propagates mass shootings ?

So far in 2014, there have been at least 19 mass shootings in the USA that have resulted in 3 or more deaths (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here)

There are a number of factors causing these killing spees, but Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, pretty much nails the role that the media plays in these comments highlighted by Charlie Brooker (back in 2009 !):

“We’ve had 20 years of mass murders throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”

Worth mentioning that the levels of gun homicides in the USA did, according to this data from the Economist, fall precipitously in the 1990s - although, rarer, mass killings show an upward trend.

Also worth listening to this debate on guncrime research (start 24:20 in) which has contributions from a number of stakeholders and highlights that research is needed to understand which gun control laws work as well as to understand how to reduce (for example) the number of gun related suicides.

And the example of Australia is very relevant. After a 1996 mass killing of 36 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania the government banned the sale and and possession of all automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. As a result, gun-related homicides dropped 59% over the next 10 years, while gun related suicides fell by 65%. There have been no mass shootings in Australia since the Port Arthur incident.

Also, some interesting historical background in this Berkeley Blog

Lastly, looking at the big picture, here are the homicide rates (all types: gun ,knife etc) for a selection of countries:
South Africa 31.8 per 100,000 people
Pakistan 7.8 per 100,000 people
United States 4.8 per 100,000 people
United Kingdom 1.2 per 100,000 people
Spain 0.8 per 100,000 people

A 3rd Generation Glock, popular in the USA

Links from this Reddit list

Image sources

Friday, 23 May 2014

How to engage with the Political Process

BFTF was surprised by how much he learnt at a recent workshop about the British Political System.

Held at a local mosque the 3-hr event covered a lot of ground and provided a number of useful pointers on how to achieve results when engaging with the political process.

As BFTF is always keen to share the benefits of events as widely as possible, a summary of the key points is shown below....

How is Legislation Made?
A good initial resource can be found at the UK Parliament Website here and describes how legislation moves from being an item on the governments agenda, through Green/White consultation papers to being a formal Bill submitted to the House of Commons. In particular, BFTF notes that :

"The UK's European Union commitments can lead to new legislation. Campaigning by special interest groups, private citizens or other politicians - often through the media - may raise the profile of particular causes or problems. More widely, the media's reporting on issues, government and Parliament all inform and influence Britain's political agenda."

"No matter where a policy idea originates, it normally won't get far without the backing of a government minister. This is because ministers are in a position to champion an idea to government colleagues."

"Even a minister's backing, however, isn't enough to guarantee an idea will find its way to Parliament and become a law. Ministers normally - where time allows - shape and inform their proposals by consulting with experts, interest groups and people likely to be affected by the plans..."

For a short period in 1834,
 the House of Commons banned MP's from wearing trousers.

Challenging Legislation
In order of increasing "height" challenges could go to the County Courts, High Court of Justice, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and then, ultimately, the European Court of Human Rights.

The British Electoral System
Incredibly, there has not been an election since 1935 in which a single party has managed to get a majority of the vote! Even in the famous 1983 Conservative "landslide" where the Tories won 61% of the Parliamentary seats, and they did it with just 42% of the popular vote.

Why voting matters
In May 2002, the BNP won 3 seats in Burnley, one of which was only by FOUR VOTES !
2014 Local Elections : Kingstanding (Birmingham) Conservatives beat Labout by 32 votes (out of a total of 4421 votes)
2014 Local Elections : Shard End (Birmingham): Labour beat UKIP by just 37 votes (out of a total of 4606 votes)

Think Tanks
Conservative : Adam Smith Institute, Centre for Policy Studies, Policy Exchange
Labour : Fabian Society, IPPR, Compass
Lib Dem : Centre Forum

Not hard to figure out which party the Centre for Policy Studies supports

The left leaning IPPR also wears its Euro heart on its sleeve

What do MPs do?
Parliament : Engage with Ministers and Government, debate and vote on laws, sit on select committees.
Constituency : Weekly surgery, attend functions, address constituent concerns
Party : Election canvassing, party fundraising.

How do I know what my MP is doing?
Check them out on : www.theyworkforyou.com

Contacting your MP
Write a letter (typically viewed as representing the views of 80 constituents who could not be bothered to write).
Meet them in surgery (better if you can do this as a group).
Ask them to forward a concern to a Minister (you should get a response eventually)
Ask them to sign an "Early Day Motion".
Ask them to ask a question in Commons (e.g. at PMQs) [BFTF had never considered this one!].
Ask for publicity for a cause/issue through the 10 Minute Rule Bill.

Why local party associations are powerful
It takes tens of thousands of voters to vote in an MP - but it takes just a couple of hundred votes in the local party association to choose who the candidate is.....
Incidentally, worth reading this article on the expense and work required to become a PCC.

Image Sources
Wikipedia (and here)

Thursday, 8 May 2014

European Election Hustings - May 2014

BFTF attended a European Election Hustings today and found it a very interesting experience.

Organised by Himmah, Engage and Radio Dawn 107.6FM, the hustings had representation from the Labour(Linda Woodings), LibDems (Bill Newton Dunn) and Conservatives (Brendan Clark-Smith). Ukip were invited but did not attend and, unfortunately, a communication error meant that the invitation to the Green Party was not sent.

The event started with an introduction to the EU political process, trends in voting and how the proportional voting system means that minority (sometimes far-right) groups can get elected with a relatively small part of the vote. The best defence agains this disturbing trend was said to be for more people to vote!

Then each candidate gave a three minute introduction to their policies - which was genuinely interesting, as it turned out.

And then it was time for the main event, a series of "Question Time" questions and answers - with Engage's National Director for Communities, Azad Ali , very capably fulfilling the role of "Dimbleby" and keeping the candidates - and the audience - to time and to order.

L-R : Brendan Clarke-Smith(C), Azad "Dimbleby" Ali,
Bill Newton Dunn(LD) and Linda Woodings(L)

The discussion covered a lot of topics, raging from "human rights" to "job protection", with a strong focus on foreign policy and hate-crime. BFTF could write at some length about the questions and answers that were given, but isn't going to, for the following reasons:

i) Not sure notes are 100% accurate.

ii) It's unfair to quote comments that the candidates said the heat of the moment and which were not carefully considered statements of policy - although BFTF will say that the candidate who thought that the EU should be "less about justice" may want to reconsider that, rather startling, comment.

iii) Issues are often complex, and can't be dealt with properly in the space of a sound bite or two.

But, make no mistake, this was a valuable event to attend, and the questions and answers really brought our the differences between the parties and the candidates - far more so than is ever the case in TV, radio or press coverage. The candidates made a number of points and described aspects of EU legislation (both postive and negative) that really gave BFTF pause for thought and lines for further inquiry.

Certainly, BFTF's views of the candidates, and their parties, changed during the course of the event.

Just in case it provides ideas for others, here are a few questions that BFTF had prepared (a couple of which BFTF actually got to ask!)

The current TTIP treaty may make it impossible for the NHS to resist aggressive marketing from US healthcare firms, with the potential for a race-to-the-bottom, lowest-bidder-wins healthcare environment. What are the parties doing to prevent this happening?

Has the EU stopped another major European War happening over the last 60 years?

Can the candidates say something complimentary about a policy from one of the other parties?

Before the last General Election, David Cameron said that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS - and then proceeded to do exactly that. If a senior political figure can lie to the country in such a way, why should people trust a single thing any of the candidates have to say?

Penultimately, BFTF was touched by a closing comment from one of the candidates who said that they hoped we would not have to wait five years for the next hustings and that this dialogue was something that "should continue".

Almost lastly, BFTF has had some dialogue with MEPs on the issues of The Anti-Money Laundering Directive and also Food Labelling.

And genuinely lastly, here are all the candidates for the East Midlands Region in the 2014 European Elections on 22nd May. Ask them questions, make your choice and make sure you vote !!!

Glenis Willmot, Linda Woodings, Khalid Hadadi, Nicki Brooks, Rory Palmer

Emma McClarkin, Andrew Lewer, Rupert Matthews, Stephen Castens, Brendan Clarke-Smith

Lib Dem
Bill Newton Dunn, Issan Ghazni, Phil Knowles, George Smid, Deborah Newton-Cook

Roger Helmer, Margot Parker, Jonathan Bullock, Nigel Wickens, Barry Mahoney

Green Party
Kat Boettge, Sue Mallender, Richard Mallender, Peter Allen, Simon Bales

Cathy Duffy, Robert West, Bob Brindley, Geoff Dickens, Paul Hilliard

English Democrats
Kevin Sills, Dave Wickham, John Dowle, Oliver Healey, Terry Spencer

An Independence from Europe
Chris Pain, Val Pain, Alan Jesson, John Beaver, Carl Mason,

Harmony Party
Steve Ward