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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Winter 2014-2015 Forecast: Here we go again!

It is January, normally the coldest month of the meteorological winter in the UK. Outside, in many parts, today has witnessed snow, sleet and blustery conditions; in short, wintry weather. The Thames has not frozen over; the country is not blanketed in snow; snowdrifts have not sundered village from village, and trains have not stopped running because of ‘the wrong kind of snow’. Yesterday, indeed the early hours of this morning, was mild across much of the country, so why is it that the media is getting itself into such a frenzied state of excitement about a short spell of weather which is precisely what we would experience at this time of year? Snowmageddon. The apocalypse is upon us. Almost.

Do we witness frost giants glazing our motorway network in a lethal sheen, and fixing hard the beet in the fields? Are pancakes of ice floating in our harbours, telephone and power cables collapsing beneath the weight of ice? Do trees and bushes present a picturesque vision, thickly coated in hoar frost? No. There isn’t even any frost. It’s chilly and blustery, but I would even hesitate to call this cold.  

Why is it, that in recent years in particular, certain sections of the media seem to have sunk to a state of near hysteria in their reporting of winter weather? Moreover, there are a number of papers – some in particular being more culpable than others in this respect, as shown below – that keep insisting that each and every winter we are approaching will be ‘the coldest for 100 years’? Weather, and its forecasting, has in the popular imagination ceased to be a branch of the natural sciences, and come increasingly to resemble sensationalist disaster porn. An unjustified assertion? Let’s take a look at some recent grandiose forecasting claims publicised by mass circulation dailies in the UK.

Yesterday, the Daily Express insisted in screaming at us in characteristic histrionic form - ‘POLAR VORTEX HITS: Britain to get a FOOT of snow TONIGHT as temperatures plunge to -5C’. In other words, we’re in for a bit of chilly weather. Nothing unusual, nothing out of the ordinary, just a bit of winter weather, which is what we happen to get in winter.

Upon seeing the following headline in the Daily Mirror dated 29 October 2014, a sense of weary déjà vu set in: ‘UK weather: Is Britain braced for worst winter in 100 years?’ The story went on to explain that ‘The worst of the weather is predicted to arrive around the middle of November.’ Did you see any snow in November? I did, but it was in footage shown in wildlife documentaries shot in the polar regions, not in this country. November proved to be mild, wet and windy, as did December, ending off the warmest year on record in the UK. So, who was behind this story of meteorological doomsday? None other than Daily Express stalwart James Madden of Exacta Weather. The penny suddenly dropped as to why this headline seemed uncannily familiar, and by the time you have finished reading the paragraphs below, you too will understand.

As 2015 got underway, the Daily Express was at it again on 1 January, running with the headline ‘Britain set for FIVE MONTH arctic freeze as 2015 winter chill sets in.’ The article began: ‘Freezing gales, snow and harsh frosts will hold out until May thanks to plunging temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. The entire year is likely to be dogged by cold blasts with a washout summer on the way, experts said.’ Who was behind this story? None other than James Madden of Exacta Weather of course. Have we experienced such weather since then? No. It’s been a bit cold at times, but the few frosts that there have been have been insignificant, and there has been more rain than snow.

Turning the clock back a little, the Daily Express ran with the following headline on 13 November 2013: ‘HEAVY SNOW WARNING: Shock long range UK weather forecast for winter 2013.’ Its article began: ‘Winter 2013 into 2014 is forecast to be “exceptionally severe” with above-average snowfall and plunging temperatures.’ Any guesses as to who issued this alarmist forecast? The article later stated: ‘James Madden, forecaster for Exacta Weather, said Britain is braced for “copious” snowfall this winter with extreme cold expected to last into the spring. He added that Britain faces “an incomparable scenario to anything we have experienced in modern times”.’ This was pure rot of course, as although the winter of 2013-2014 across the British Isles was exceptionally stormy and wet, it was also unusually mild, and unless you happened to live half way up Ben Nevis or in the Cairngorm Mountain Ski Resort, the only white stuff you’d likely have seen dropping from the skies last winter would have been issuing from the rear end of a seagull.

When it comes to wintry doomsday scenarios, the Daily Express cannot help repeating itself ad nauseam with delusional regularity, forever citing its favourite weather prophet, James Madden; it’s like Groundhog Day. Don’t believe me? What was the weather-related headline that we encounter in the Express dated 27 November 2012? Any guesses? Here it is: ‘Coldest winter in 100 years on way’, subtitled ‘Britain will grind to a halt within weeks as the most savage freeze for a century begins.’ A little later the story states ‘James Madden, forecaster for Exacta Weather, said: “We are looking at some of the coldest and snowiest conditions in at least 100 years. This is most likely to occur in the December to January period with the potential for widespread major snowfall across the country.”’ What did we actually get? Yet another mild, wet winter with next to no snow.

How does Madden make a living out of issuing exactly the same baseless long-term predictions, seemingly every autumn with a monotonous clockwork regularity? Presumably, some Express readers lacking in scientific literacy will be lapping up this rubbish, and citing his failed ‘forecasts’ to slate meteorology, claiming that ‘science doesn’t work’, and blaming it on the Met Office, with which Madden possesses no connection.

If you have children and are lucky enough to actually find some lying snow in the coming days, make the most of it and get out sledging. If you should be thinking of taking a holiday in the Canaries, the Seychelles or the West Indies, whatever you do, don’t consult a weather forecast in the Daily Express, for if you do, it may be advising you to pack thermals and snow goggles in anticipation of the coldest weather that these locations have experienced since the last Ice Age.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: David Starkey’s ‘Magna Carta’, BBC2

Having most recently appeared on our screens in characteristically forthright style on Question Time in an entertaining head-to-head with Mehdi ‘Kuffar’ Hasan (not to mention the rest of the panel), David Starkey returned to BBC2 this evening in his professional guise as a popular historian, commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Indeed, this year also marks two other significant anniversaries: the 600th of Agincourt, and the bicentennial of Waterloo, but it would seem churlish to focus upon victories over our nearest continental neighbour, rather than celebrating a significant step towards something that we have yet to satisfactorily achieve: democracy, which remains very much a flawed work in progress. 

Starkey was in his element, providing not only the story of how Magna Carta itself came to be formulated and amended, but how it shaped subsequent law, governance, rights and reputation not only in England, but in one of its daughter societies – the United States, leading Starkey to comment that “It matters as much now, as then.” Insofar as Magna Carta provided the English and the societies that they later fashioned – “the Anglo-Saxon world”, as Starkey termed it – with three key freedoms in the realms of life, liberty and property, it has provided inspiration to those who would wish to place a check upon an overbearing sovereign power ever since. This novel and revolutionary idea proved not to be to the tastes of those of a despotic bent in thirteenth-century Europe, just as it is not to the taste of those of an authoritarian cast of mind today. King John had given his seal to the document under duress and immediately appealed to Pope Innocent III for its annulment. Innocent duly obliged, with the Pope adjudging it to be unjust, illegal and harmful to the royal rights and to the English people.

The same tensions between the sovereign and the governed would be played out under Charles I, with Edward Coke’s ‘Petition of Right’ recapitulating many of the themes of Magna Carta in 1628. Nonetheless, as history demonstrated, Charles was not able to reconcile his concept of divine right with parliamentary checks upon the royal will, hence his bloody demise in 1649. Again, with the bloodless coup that was the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and the revolt of Englishmen who became known as the Founding Fathers of the United States a century later, Magna Carta loomed large in the minds of those who rebelled against overweening royal authority. It was this that led Starkey across the Atlantic, to examine the seminal impact of Magna Carta upon the development of US constitutionalism, noting that beneath Washington’s Capitol Building is a full copy of the Magna Carta, written in gold lettering. On the right-hand door of the US Supreme Court, one of the bronze panels depicts Magna Carta, and it is that Court which has cited Magna Carta some 400 times since the 1790s, including against Richard Nixon. 

Starkey ended his piece by bringing matters fully up to date, questioning what power and relevance Magna Carta still possesses in the fearful security-obsessed age ushered in by the 9/11 attacks, noting how the subsequent War on Terror had led to rights and liberties taking a back seat to security, with phenomena such as extraordinary rendition and detention without trial making an appearance: “Every passing month brings yet more infringements of personal liberties, in the name of the War on Terror.” Are we, he asked, “perhaps even, sleepwalking towards authoritarianism?” Is freedom being sacrificed to security? “In this day and age, is Magna Carta little more than a myth?”  

For Starkey, the greatest challenges today would appear to be to the concepts of Parliament, and even England itself. Both are being called into question.
 
 

Review: 'The Great Car Con', Channel 4 Dispatches

Channel 4’s Dispatches has produced much penetrating investigative journalism over the years, and this evening’s episode confirmed what I have suspected for many years: diesel is neither good for human health nor the environment, but actually bad for both. A lungful of diesel is deeply unpleasant, as any regular cyclist or runner will attest, so it came as no surprise to learn that the particulates belched out by diesel vehicles make the emissions from their petrol-driven equivalents appear as fresh air by comparison. Still, it was sobering to learn that a diesel engine will produce 22 times as many particulates as a petrol one, as well as four times as much nitrogen dioxide. Whereas these particulates have proven links with an increased occurrence of asthma, the nitrogen dioxide poisons the blood, causing stroke, heart disease and diabetes, resulting in an estimated 29,000 additional premature deaths across the UK each year. Professor Roy Harrison of the University of Birmingham has been warning ministers of the dangers of diesel pollution for over 20 years, but he has been ignored.

These figures constitute serious cause for concern, and measurements have shown that nitrogen dioxide pollution significantly exceeds safety levels on the streets of a number of our cities. In London, Birmingham and Leeds, it is estimated that it will take at least fifteen years for its concentration to meet EU safety levels (something positive introduced by the EU in this instance). There is too much nitrogen dioxide in 38 out of 40 areas in the UK.  

Last year the sale of diesel cars outstripped the sale of petrol-driven models in the UK, with 10 million drivers now having diesel vehicles. They were incentivised, following Kyoto, as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, with lower car tax and claims of far greater fuel economy compared to those run on petrol. A further surprise revealed by Dispatches, was the extent to which motor manufacturers significantly doctor their emissions data and claims for fuel efficiency, with the miles per gallon being on average 22% less than what manufacturers claim when taking into account data gathered from 550 models of car; in only eight of these instances were the cars found to be as fuel efficient as claimed.  

Some politicians have now awakened to the reality of diesel vehicles and the dangers that they pose to public health. Boris Johnson, for example, wishes to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone in London, charging drivers of diesel vehicles even more to enter the city’s Congestion Charge Zone. Although the Government received a detailed report on the health impacts of diesel vehicles in 2010, it has not acted upon its findings, so the purchase and use of diesel cars remains incentivised. Could all this be about to change? What then, asked Dispatches, for the second-hand market in diesel vehicles? Could it be time to sell? Will we witness a move away from diesel as a preferred fuel in years to come? 

Alas, although the fuel efficiency of modern cars is improving (despite the figures being doctored), the pace of technological change is proving stubbornly slow in bringing about a clean mass-transport revolution. The long-awaited goal of hydrogen-powered vehicles has yet to be achieved, so in the interim, we are at best stuck with the inefficient, and not necessarily ‘green’, technology of electric and hybrid vehicles. They are, without doubt, an ecological improvement on what has gone before, but exclusively electric vehicles still have a short range, as well as large, heavy and cumbersome batteries, which in themselves constitute a new waste-disposal problem. Moreover, the electricity used for their recharging, more often than not is generated using fossil fuels. If nuclear fusion becomes truly viable one day, then electric vehicles – pending improvements to their range and efficiency – could be become genuinely viable and green. In the interim, the legislation privileging diesel as the fuel of choice for the motorist needs to be revisited and repealed, for the sake of improving public health, and the environment.
 
 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Tensions mount between Russia and Latvia

Tensions between Moscow and the Baltic states have been running at a heightened level since Russia last year annexed the Crimea, and a civil war broke out between Moscow-backed separatists and the Ukrainian state in the easternmost regions of Ukraine. Ever since the three Baltic states gained their independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the large ethnic Russian minority populations within their territories have been a source of disquiet for the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian governments. This unease has been reinforced by Putin’s willingness to instrumentalise the Russian diaspora issue as a means of exerting pressure on the small republics, just indeed as Stalin had intended, when he settled large numbers of Russians upon their territories during the final stages of World War II and shortly after, to ensure that the Baltic republics – independent from 1918 to 1940 – were firmly cemented to the USSR.

An article in today’s Izvestia – a newspaper strongly supportive of the Putin administration – expresses the dissatisfaction of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Latvia’s State Language Centre, following the latter’s recommendation that only Latvian should be used in workplaces, including in informal discussion, rather than Russian or any other language. This has prompted the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to accuse the Latvian authorities “of discrimination against the Russian-speaking population.” However, Riga has responded by stating that this approach is only a “recommendation” rather than being binding.

Aleksandr Lukashevich, the Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contends that with this recommendation the Latvian State Language Centre is in contravention of the internationally recognised rights of minority populations “to preserve and develop their language.” Given Latvia’s small population, which was reckoned to be a little below two million in 2014, and the relatively large size of the resident ethnic Russian population – some 26.9% of the total in 2011 – it is no wonder that Latvia feels vulnerable, and that many Latvians wish to institute special measures to preserve their own native language and culture. The growls of discontent emanating from Moscow thus illustrate that many in the upper echelons of power in Russia still find it hard to accept that the states of the ‘Near Abroad’ – particularly the Baltic states – are now fully-fledged independent nations. Thankfully, unlike in Ukraine, it is highly unlikely that tensions between Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will escalate into violence.
 
Aleksandr Lukashevich
 
 

Liberal Democrat defects to UKIP

Curiouser and curiouser! A Liberal Democrat councillor named Diane Horn has defected to UKIP ahead of standing for election to the Snepshed borough and town council elections later this year. She explained her decision to switch to UKIP as arising from her disillusionment with the Liberal Democrats, occasioned by, according to the Loughborough Echo, the fact that “I am no longer sure what the Lib Dems represent.” 

Councillor Horn is not impressed by Nick Clegg and his volte-face over the tuition fees issue. She told the paper that she thought that the Lib Dems are considering some “frightening” measures in connection with the NHS, whereas “UKIP is trying to protect jobs and repair the UK economy and reduce debts.” For her, UKIP’s stance is also closer to her own insofar as she wants “to make sure the people of England are put first.” Leaving the EU therefore holds no fears for her. Councillor Horn has served her local community as an elected representative for nine and a half years, and before her defection, was considering standing down altogether, owing to her disillusionment with her former party. 

Sadly, and predictably, Councillor Horn has been called a ‘racist’ owing to her change of party allegiance. She is not.  

How many more defections might occur? It would, of course, be entering the realms of science fiction to imagine a Lib Dem MP defecting to UKIP, but it will be interesting to see how robust their grassroots membership proves to be in the coming years. Although Councillor Horn’s choice of new party is unlikely to appeal to most Lib Dems, the Greens must surely present a more agreeable home for many of them. It will be interesting to see what impact the seven-way debates have on the relative fortunes of the Greens, the Lib Dems and Labour.
 
 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Review: Paul Nuttall’s Question Time Performance, 22 January 2015

Last night’s Question Time from Eastleigh featured UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall alongside Diane Abbott, Esther McVey, Tim Farran and Amol Rajan. Nuttall put in a strong performance, McVey looked OK, but her voice grated (what she said, was not particularly interesting). The body language was interesting, particularly that displayed towards Nuttall. When the camera allowed us to see them, Farran was almost invariably looking at him with a combination of contempt, condescension and defensiveness with his arms folded; McVey looked on with a hard stare, whilst Abbott displayed a greater array of emotions, ranging from smugly satisfied implicit concurrence during Nuttall’s first few remarks on the Chilcot Inquiry, changing to scowling whilst chewing on a particularly sour wasp for most of the rest of the time.

In response to the first question regarding the Sun’s ‘Page 3’, Nuttall quite rightly highlighted the strange focus of many feminists on women baring their breasts in the paper, whilst ignoring far more serious and damaging issues such as domestic violence, forced marriage and FGM on a mass scale. Nuttall stated:

Models who pose “earn good money, it’s their freedom of choice.” “I would have thought that the feminists of this country had more pressing issues such as the increase in domestic violence. Deal with that. Forced marriages, more than ever before. Female genital mutilation – they should be campaigning against that. There’s 40,000 girls in this country, who’ve been mutilated, yet we’ve now got the first court case, and it’s been illegal since the 1980s. It’s an absolute disgrace. These are the real issues that feminism should be tackling. Now look, with the Sun, I am a survivor of the Hillsborough Disaster. I made a choice not to buy the Sun newspaper. If you’re offended by Page 3, you can make that same choice as me: you don’t have to buy the Sun.”

Diane Abbott disagreed, stating that although “there’s nothing wrong with pictures of naked women; art galleries are full of them”, she objected to what she asserted to be the “increasing objectification of women” and the “pornification of the media and advertising.” In making this point, as well as referring to Clare Short [a parliamentary expenses fiddler] as a “great woman” who had “championed” the anti-Page 3 cause in Parliament. Like Nuttall, I would be rather more interested in knowing why Short had not championed the anti-forced marriage, anti-FGM and anti-domestic violence causes in so vigorous and high profile a fashion whilst an MP? As he stated:

“FGM has been illegal since the 1980s, you know, why hasn’t there been a big hoo-ha throughout the 1990s about what was going on, and why has it taken until 2015 to have the first court case and the first conviction? I mean it’s an absolute disgrace. What is going on here?”

The next question to be addressed by the panel was “Who benefits by delaying the publication of the Chilcot Report until after the General Election?”

Nuttall: “Well I think it’s very convenient for the mainstream political parties. Well, obviously not the Liberal Democrats because they voted against, as did Diane, but the mainstream political parties as a whole, that the Chilcot Report is released after May, because all it would do I suspect, if it was released before, would increase the distrust that the people have in the Establishment and the politicians, and I’m sure that the Labour Party in particular would suffer badly as a result of its publication.” Nuttall then made reference to a flying pig when Dimbleby said that Blair regretted the delay to its publication. Abbott could not repress an involuntary smirk. Nuttall continued:

“Look, the fact is, I suspect . . . well, I think they are being economical with the truth, as a politician would say. I don’t think they’re being honest [stony look from Esther McVey, Tim Farron looking contemptuous and defensive with his arms folded. Diane Abbott sitting with hands clasped, a satisfied smile on her face] I think the report will implicate a number of leading Labour politicians [Abbott’s facial expression changes. She’s not looking happy any longer], a number of Labour grandees. Indeed Ed Miliband voted four times against such an inquiry taking place. You know, that’s the Establishment protecting the Establishment. The Tories voted for this war. I’m guessing that leading establishment figures will also be culpable when the report is released. And let’s not forget, this is an Iraq War which cost the lives of 600,000 Iraqi civilians; 179 of our brave British boys and girls who went out in the armed forces never came home. Now, I just hope that the Establishment, are as concerned about the protection of civilians and our own armed forces as they are about protecting themselves.”

The next question illustrated the extent to which UKIP is setting the agenda for political debate, for it focused upon Nigel Farage’s comments that the NHS, as it is today, would be unaffordable in the future. Many commentators, and UKIP’s opponents in particular, have used this as an opportunity to attack UKIP, implying that it wishes to introduce a US model of private health insurance. Nuttall took the opportunity to – for the time being – lay this ghost to rest:

“Well look, I think that at some point in this century, with an ageing population; a growing population, drugs becoming more expensive, we may well have to have a conversation about how we fund healthcare in this country. We’re not at that point now. I want to make it perfectly clear UKIP is committed to ensuring that the NHS remains in public ownership, being funded and free at the point of delivery, but there are problems within the NHS, we know that.”

When questioned by Dimbleby as to how he could possibly know what would be in the UKIP manifesto when Tim Aker, who had formerly been responsible for its drafting, had been discharged from this duty recently, Nuttall replied:

“In our manifesto will be a commitment to keep the NHS in public hands, funded by the state, and free at the point of delivery.”

“We never sacked Tim Aker as the Head of Policy. Tim resigned three weeks ago. He actually put it out in a tweet, because he’s become a councillor in Thurrock, he’s an MEP, and he’s also in one of our top five target seats. The job was too big. It’s now been given to Suzanne Evans, and our manifesto is progressing quite nicely thank you.”

It will be interesting to see what the contents of this manifesto are, and to what extent, if any, UKIP has moved away from its Atlanticist Thatcherite economic position. Recent debates within the party around TTIP are suggestive that this may be the case.

Nuttall’s final major intervention related to issues connected to the SNP. He provided a robust, and fair, response:

“I am absolutely sick to death of Salmond, Sturgeon and the SNP. And I tell you why. Firstly, they lost that referendum, and secondly, you know with them it’s take, take, take, take, take. You never get anything back [Abbott scowls]. And you know what they’re taking? They’re taking your tax. You know, people in Scotland get an extra £1,600 more than people in England. You know what that pays for, your taxation up there? It pays for no tuition fees, whereas down here we pay tuition fees of £9,000 per year. They have free hospital car parking. Down here, we pay. [Abbott looks as if she’s chewing a wasp]. They have free prescriptions. Down here, we pay. When devolution happened, they got themselves a parliament, the English got nothing.” “Nothing is ever enough for them, is it?”

In response to Sturgeon’s recent comment that SNP MPs would in future vote on issues that only affect England, he stated “It’s absolutely appalling.” Quite correctly, Nuttell asserted that “English MPs should vote on English only issues,” not anybody else. Who could disagree? Virtually every member of the Labour Party, it would seem.

 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Pegida’s Lutz Bachmann poses as Sparks Keyboard Player

The German press are delighted to have found a picture of Lutz Bachmann posing as Hitler, which another Pegida representative has revealed to have been a “joke”. Naturally, Pegida’s opponents are not taking it as such, claiming instead that it proves Bachmann to be a neo-Nazi. Clearly, this has been something of a coup which Pegida’s opponents have gladly leapt upon in seeking to tarnish the young movement’s name and reputation. Bachmann himself is said to have resigned from the leadership of Pegida, but this decision has been attributed to ‘online comments’ rather than to embarrassment occasioned by the photograph.
 
It is telling that rather than being offended by the credible death threats against the Pegida leadership which led to the cancellation of this Monday’s Dresden rally, the German media have gone into overdrive over a daft picture. Silly it may be, but sinister it is not. Hitler? Hardly. Bachmann was probably paying tribute to Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael.  
 
 
 
 

Review: Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home

Wolf Hall is prowling about the television schedules and will finally leap upon us this evening on BBC1. Will it be any good? One thing is almost certain: it will be better than ‘The Tudors’ (the television series, rather than the Tudors themselves of course). Accompanying the launch of this much-touted drama, the BBC is showing a number of Tudor-themed programmes, one of which – Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home – was aired on BBC4 last night.  

So far as history goes, the Tudor period remains one of the most popular – in England, at any rate – but the focus is normally upon the history of the court, rich as it was in drama and intrigue, but the history of more humble folk is often overlooked. It was to this field of popular history that ‘Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home’ addressed itself, and whereas one prominent cause of domestic mortality at the time – fire – is sadly still with us, many of the others, thankfully, are not.  

The Tudor period was an age during which a recognisable domestic environment came into being, one which featured homes for the middling sort of folk possessing rooms with clearly defined functions, such as kitchen, dining room and bedroom; living spaces brought into being by the adoption of a widespread innovation: the chimney. Chimneys were a boon, insofar as they banished the smoky environment typical of longhouses which possessed an open fire placed in the middle of the dwelling, with its smoke eventually making its way out of an aperture in the roof. However, chimneys had a dark side we were informed: “The chimney brought a host of hidden dangers.” Why was this so? Well, as the art of their construction was at that time a novelty, some methods – such as building them from timber and wattle and daub – were a little unorthodox, not to mention unsafe. However, even chimneys built of a seemingly safe material such as brick proved to be dangerous. Temperatures from fires fuelled by wood could rise to 1000°C, and by coal to 1200°C. Tudor bricks could not cope with this, often exploding as a consequence; moreover, the mortar would frequently fail, and if the draw within the chimney proved to be insufficient, pooling smoke could ignite (an experiment with a mock chimney amply demonstrated the potentially devastating impact of such an instantaneous ignition). Poorly constructed chimneys thus brought with them a rash of house fires, with more fatalities arising from collapsing chimney structures than from the fires themselves.  

If you escaped from fire, you might fall prey to bad teeth, drowning, infection or childbirth, all notable killers lurking in the domestic environment; thankfully, “crushed testicles” and escaped bears were not such widespread dangers, although they were recorded as causes of death. Syphilis was an unwelcome novel addition to the age’s catalogue of misery, making its first appearance in England in 1497. Treatments for the ‘French pox’ were, unsurprisingly, all ineffective, and often featured the use of mercury, with one means of administering it being in the form of ‘Baxter’s cream’, fashioned from a mixture of lard, bees wax, herbs and mercury. Viewers were treated to the sight of some recreated ‘Baxter’s cream’ in a lab, safely contained within a glass vial to prevent its noxious vapours from poisoning its handlers.  

Drowning accounted for a startling estimated 40% of accidental deaths during the Tudor period, whereas in 2010 the corresponding figure was only 2% (perhaps part of this difference can be explained by the fact that the population during the Tudor period lacked the internal combustion engine and electricity). Our presenter – Dr Suzannah Lipscomb – treated us to a demonstration of Tudor ‘drowning’, wading into a muddy river clad in period woollen costume, attesting to the shock and involuntary gasp occasioned by immersing oneself in water with a temperature of 12°C, and the difficulty of moving around in woollen clothing that absorbs one and a half times its own weight in water. Her conclusion: heavy woollen clothing plus slippery muddy banks plus chilly water equals Tudor death from drowning. Thankfully, the camera crew were kind enough not to let her slip to a watery demise.

 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

George Galloway curries favour with Muslim Electorate through invoking the prophet Motive

It is perhaps somewhat paradoxical that the parliamentary constituency of Bradford West is very much of the East in terms of both its outlook and demographic complexion. Its MP – George Galloway, of the peculiarly named ‘Respect’ Party – knows his electorate well, and is no shrinking violet when it comes to setting out his political stall, the wares of which habitually pertain to something going on far, far away from these shores, almost always in a land with a majority Muslim population. This is, of course, no coincidence, for the lands to which he refers possess a greater emotional resonance for the bulk of his electorate than other parts of the Bradford Metropolitan District, such as Ilkley. You won’t often hear a resident of Manningham singing ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at’, for the preferred ‘song’ that wafts through the air in the vicinity of the minaret-like mighty chimney of Manningham Mills is the somewhat less lyrical, and rather more solemnly intoned, “Allahu-akbar”! Such a welcoming sound! Then again, perhaps, not.

Galloway is a canny operator, and unlike many of his opponents, is a competent orator who fine-tunes what he says for his audience to provide an appearance of ‘authenticity’. His stance is emotive, and his speeches invested with a degree of physicality, both contrasting with the listless and dull styles of the likes of Miliband, Cameron and Clegg (Miliband’s speeches possess all of the gravitas displayed by a twelve-year old presenting to the class on what he did over the summer holidays). So much for the style, but what about the substance? Alas, little positive can be said regarding the content of Galloway’s speeches upon which his talents are wasted. The latest of these he delivered on the steps of Bradford City Hall on the evening of Sunday 18 January, to a crowd several hundred strong, which had gathered to condemn the principles of freedom speech and expression, or more specifically, Charlie Hebdo.

Gathered in the dark chill of a winter’s night, his fiery oratory revisited familiar territory to fan the glowing embers of his audience’s resentment: ‘double standards’ in which ‘free speech’ was only ‘free’ if you were not a Muslim. He used the case of the recent murders perpetrated by Islamists in Paris as an opportunity to talk of a supposed anti-Muslim ‘backlash’ in this country and elsewhere in Europe, repeatedly invoking the cliché of the Muslim as ‘powerless victim’, forever set upon by an innately ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’ (sic.) society. His audience found his rhetoric emotionally sustaining; its tenor may have been predictable, but this is what his listeners yearned for. Of the images published by Charlie Hebdo he intoned:

“These are not cartoons. These are not depictions of the prophet. These are pornographic, obscene insults to the prophet, and by extension 1.7 billion human beings on this Earth.”

If Galloway deems the image below to be ‘pornographic’, all that can be said is that he must possess some pretty ‘specialist’ tastes when it comes to arousal. Admittedly, he did make a fair point when posing the question as to why the Saudis should have had a prominent representative at the front of the Paris ‘Je suis Charlie’ march, for quite obviously there is no free speech in Saudi Arabia, and certainly no leeway for anyone to produce depictions, let alone cartoons of, Muhammed.

Offering a cursory condemnation of the murder of 17 people in Paris, Galloway quickly moved on to the main theme of his speech:

“Charlie Hebdo’s entire purpose, and for years, has been to further marginalise, further alienate, and further endanger exactly those parts of the community who are already alienated, already endangered. It is a racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag. Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo! We say that the honour of religious people, their prophets, their beliefs, is not fair game for such people because there are already limits to freedom of speech.”

The crowd, predominantly Muslim, warmed to his words. George Galloway, the MP for a post-English Muslim enclave in the heart of urban Yorkshire, was forwarding himself as the defender of the Islamic faith; the champion of a new de facto blasphemy law in defence of dark age obscurantism. In his peroration, he stated: 

“So, for the sake of social peace, for the sake of unity in our society we have to demand from our Government the protection of the prophet from obscene and pornographic provocation, and in Parliament I intend to fight for that. Asalaam alaykum!”

To this, he might have added “and remember to vote for me at the forthcoming General Election, as I even went so far as to convert to Islam to win this constituency.” Perhaps it is being a little unfair to impute his conversion to tactical political cynicism, but then again, why would anyone with an ounce of intelligence who was not compelled to adopt this religion choose to embrace such a ragbag of incoherent religious twaddle? Furthermore, what sort of prophet and what sort of deity require the protection of the law? If this ‘Allah’ of theirs gets so offended by a few rather crudely drawn cartoons, he’s neither very balanced, nor omnipotent. Why should this be? Clearly because Allah only exists inside the heads of believers, for he is a work of fiction, and bad fiction at that. There really isn’t anything ‘akbar’ about him at all, and to have people demand respect for this nonsense is the greatest obscenity of all, particularly when considering that his beloved ‘prophet’ appears to have possessed anger issues on a level with those of Genghis Khan. This demand for ‘respect’ from Respect’s only MP, is offensive. 


Monday, 19 January 2015

Banned: Anti-Islam Rallies in France and Germany

The banning of today’s Pegida rally and other ‘open-air gatherings’ in Dresden has been well publicised following a ‘concrete threat’ against the group, specifically its most prominent member, Lutz Bachmann. Pegida, on the other hand, has claimed that it took the decision to scrap the rally following an order from Islamic State to assassinate Bachmann. The ban, imposed by Dresden police, will last for 24 hours, but thereafter it is unclear what will happen regarding further protests. Clearly, the safety of leading Pegida members and their supporters is paramount, but it is chilling that these death threats have led to the cancellation of a peaceful and perfectly legitimate demonstration. Nothing could more clearly validate Pegida’s case that Islamisation is a real and growing danger for Germany and other European societies, than this death threat.

Additional evidence that the violent Islamist fifth column is successfully manipulating European politicians to further embed and privilege Islam within our societies comes from France, where another banning order was implemented in Paris yesterday. The ban related to an anti-Islamisation rally – 'Islamists out of France’ – which had been planned well in advance of the Islamist terror attacks in Paris earlier this month. The two organising groups - Riposte Laïque and Résistance Républicaine – have for a number of years been campaigning and warning against the Islamisation of France, but have hitherto not managed to mobilise mass support for their cause in their demonstrations. The latest rally has been banned upon the grounds that it would incited ‘hatred’ and ‘division’. The organisers correctly advised their supporters not to turn up, understanding that the authorities would use this as a pretext for manufacturing potentially violent confrontation and arrests.
 
 
Melanie Dittmer of Pegida, along with anti-Islamisation activists from Belgium (Pierre Flip), Italy (Armando Manocchia) and Switzerland (Jean-Luc Addor), had also been invited to the cancelled Paris rally. In its place, they, together with the organisers, held a press conference which provided an overview of resistance to Islamisation in their various countries. Elsewhere in France, sister rallies took place in Montpellier, Bordeaux and Lyon. It was noted that Pegida had now also established itself in Belgium, Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
 
Anti-Islamisation Protesters in Montpellier 

 
The official reaction to the Islamist attacks in France has possessed a clear agenda: to exonerate Islam, and to reinforce Islam’s place in France in the name of a non-existent ‘unity’. Correspondingly, Minister of Justice Christianne Taubira has announced a strengthening of so-called ‘anti-racist laws’ in connection with the right to criticise immigration and Islam, seeking to criminalise the non-existent phenomenon of ‘Islamophobia’. Riposte Laïque and Résistance Républicaine are correct in drawing the conclusion that the French state is likely to make them illegal, along with other kindred groups in the identitarian movement such as Bloc Identitaire, on the grounds that they incite ‘hatred’ and ‘division’ amongst the French people. If indeed, this does happen, Islam would effectively have been provided with immunity from criticism in France; an Islamic blasphemy law would have been enforced.

Whilst the ‘Islamists out of France’ rally against a growing fifth column was banned, a ‘Muslim-leftist protest’ was permitted to take place in Paris yesterday at the time scheduled for the former. It was accompanied by cries of “Allahu-akbar” (see video below).

We therefore see that despite the recent apparent mass demonstration in favour of freedom of speech and expression in Paris and across France, the Hollande administration does not genuinely believe in the concept of free speech should it involve criticism of Islamisation and other negative impacts of mass immigration on French society. It is also worth noting that although Marine Le Pen has recently been criticised by another leading Front National figure for going soft on Islam, she was excluded from the recent officially-sanctioned ‘Je suis Charlie’ march in Paris. What we are witnessing therefore, is an uncanny parallel to the political scenario outlined in Michel Houellebecq’s most recent novel ‘Soumission’ which was published on the very day of the Charlie Hebdo murders. In this, French political parties of Left and Right make common ground in 2017 to prevent the Front National from winning the presidential election, and thereafter an Islamist becomes leader of the Socialist Party and wins the presidential election of 2022, implementing Shariah in France. Houellebecq himself has admitted that the timescale employed in the novel has been somewhat accelerated, although he has emphasised that its scenario could well play out over the longer term. That said, the anti-Front National coalition in the 2017 elections appears to be a certainty, and the actions of a handful of violent Islamist fanatics has seemingly helped to cement Islam’s official place in France, rather than generating a wave of revulsion against the source of Islamism – Islamic doctrine – amongst the French political class.
 


 

 

Saturday, 17 January 2015

How large is the Islamist Fifth Column?

Nigel Farage may have been chastised for employing the term ‘fifth column’ in a recent Channel 4 News interview when referring to what he termed a ‘tiny minority’ of Muslims in the UK, but his usage of this term was correct: there is a fanatical and violent Islamist fifth column in this country. Moreover, it self-evidently exists in many other European countries, wherever in fact, there are significant Muslim populations, i.e. in every western European state (although for the sake of exactitude I ought to make clear for pedantry’s sake that we should probably exclude Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco and San Marino from consideration. As for the Vatican, well . . .).  

Before proceeding further, this piece rests upon the premise that Islamists actively identify against their European host societies, as the latter are not, and do not wish to become, Islamic states under the rule of Shariah. Islamists wish to establish the rule of Shariah and can be divided into two types: violent and non-violent. The former are willing to employ terror and revolutionary methods, whereas the latter may be content to use democratic mechanisms, relying upon gradual demographic change to gradually take control of the jurisdictions in which they reside. Both are a threat, with the first group demanding the immediate attention of our security services so as to contain and neutralise any imminent and nascent plots, whereas the second group can be dealt with via a combination of long-term surveillance, the choking off of financial support, and political measures that remove the ideological ‘respect’ accorded to Islam as a religion in this country and the other states of Europe.  

Not all Muslims are Islamists of course, but all Islamists believe in Islam. Hence, the higher the resident Muslim population, the greater the potential internal threat. So, how large is the Muslim population? What is the trajectory that it is set upon? 

The 2011 census recorded a total Muslim population of 2,706,066 in England and Wales, although this of course would not have included either those people who live here illegally, or those whose command of English is so limited as to have rendered them incapable of completing the census return. It is probably safe to assume that the actual number is above 3 million.  

The official statistics show that the Muslim population experienced phenomenal growth between the censuses of 2001 and 2011, for in the first of these years only 1.5 million people in England and Wales self-reported as Muslim. When we turn to the demographic composition of the resident Muslim population compared to people identifying themselves as Christian or as possessing no religion, the differences are pronounced, and suggest that the problems with Islamism that we encounter today are likely to grow and intensify in the future. Even if all immigration from Muslim countries were to cease now, the resident Muslim population would continue its rapid growth both in terms of absolute numbers and as a proportion of the overall population.  

Whereas 26% of Christians and 39% of non-believers were aged between 0 and 24 in 2011, 48% of Muslims fell into this age bracket. In the next age bracket of 25-49, the corresponding figures were a little more evenly balanced at 31%, 42% and 40% respectively, but turning to the retired segment of the population aged 65 and above, the respective figures are radically different, being 22%, 6% and 4%. In age terms alone, the potential for Muslim fertility is thus considerably greater than for either of the other two groups. Moreover, Muslims traditionally have larger families than members of the other groups. It is also worth considering that 53% of Muslims in the 2011 census had been born abroad, although that said, many second and third generation Muslims resident in the UK have turned to Jihadism. Islam therefore remains a physically, as well as a culturally, alien presence in England and Wales, and the sense of ‘grievance’ that is so frequently voiced by its adherents, from whichever of its many different varieties, is intrinsically linked to the desire for power, both cultural and political, in a country in which their culture and values, which they believe to be innately ‘superior’, have to take a subordinate position – for now – to those of the host society.
How might a ‘fifth column’ be defined? What should we consider to be its composite elements, and which pose the greatest danger? At the heart of this fifth column lie violent Islamists. Their numbers are difficult to estimate, but as a starting point, one can take the number who have been involved in the conflict in Iraq and Syria on behalf of ISIS or other Islamist organisations such as Al-Nusra. Intelligence estimates place this at somewhere in the region of 600. A certain proportion of these are unlikely to return from the Middle East, but it is reckoned that several hundred have come back to the UK. These individuals, together with other violent Islamists working on their own domestic plots who have not travelled to Iraq or Syria, could therefore number in the high hundreds or low thousands.


The next element of the fifth column are the sympathisers of the violent Islamists who, although not willing to endanger their own lives, may be willing to aid and abet them in their deeds. This group is likely to be considerably larger, numbering at least in the low thousands. This brings us to the third element, the political Islamists, who could be divided into those who are active members of organisations and supporters of campaigns pursuing an Islamist agenda, and their passive supporters. The first group will contain many more individuals than those currently willing to pursue violent means, with the pool of potential passive supporters being massive, numbering at the very least in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

In October 2014, the Times reported that a Populus poll of 2,000 ‘British’ adults revealed that one in seven had “warm feelings” towards ISIS, with support being at its highest level amongst the under 25s. If one were to extrapolate from these figures to the general population, this would imply that circa 9.2 million adults in our country look upon the Islamist regime in question favourably. Quite clearly, one would correctly think that the majority of those who do so are Muslim. The pool of support for Islamism in the UK is therefore several million strong, including, in all likelihood, the majority of the practising doctrinaire Muslim population. This is the size of the potential fifth column.

In France, it would seem that things are even worse, with their fifth column being larger still. A poll carried out in France in August 2014 reported that 16% of the French population were favourably disposed towards ISIS. How can this be? Do French non-Muslims really have a favourable view of ISIS? If this poll is to believe, over 10 million French citizens possess such views, far higher than the generally accepted figure of 4.7 million for the number of Muslims in France.

I can appreciate that many readers will think that I and others who share my concerns regarding this issue will believe me to be unduly ‘alarmist’, even ‘paranoid’, but committed minorities can, and do, bend the societies in which they live to fit their agendas. Depressingly, the tipping point seems to set in once the committed minority reaches 10% of a given population as one piece of recent research would appear to demonstrate:

‘Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.’

In France, the UK and Germany, we are not that far away from such a tipping point with our Muslim populations. This is why the warnings of Pegida need to be heeded, and the Front National must make headway in France before it is too late (although of late Marine Le Pen has been criticised for being too accommodating to Islam. One prominent FN MEP – Aymeric Chauprade – has released a video in which he declares that France is now at war with some Muslims, but “not Muslims in general.” The video and an accompanying article can be found at the Galliwatch blog). What will we do in the UK? Who wants to return to the Middle Ages? Not me.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Question Time: David Starkey versus Mehdi Hasan

Question Time normally makes for rather turgid and predictable viewing, but last night’s episode afforded a little sparkling entertainment, courtesy of the uncompromising performance of David Starkey, who tore into Mehdi Hasan’s equivocal ‘defence’ of free speech in response to a question fielded by a Muslim member of the audience. The question, as one might anticipate, related to where the ‘limits’ of free speech should lie, with the questioner’s inference being that it should ‘of course’ not include the right to depict, criticise or lampoon ‘The Prophet’ (sic. Where did this concept of deferring to Islam by referring to Mohammed as ‘The Prophet’?).  

Starkey was having none of it, and characteristically tore into Hasan with a vigorous and impassioned defence of the principle of free speech, stating that it was free speech that defined us – in Britain and Europe more widely – in contradistinction to Islam, a stagnant civilisation which had produced nothing of intellectual worth since before the invention of print, and had languished in its backward mediaeval outlook ever since. How could one quibble with this bald statement of fact? Hasan and other members of the panel did of course, claiming that Starkey’s comments were outrageous, unfounded and ignorant. Starkey rightly drew the audience’s attention to Hasan’s description of non-Muslims as ‘kuffar’ and ‘cattle’, noting that Hasan had been recorded uttering these words. Hasan wriggled, and somehow managed not to address the allegation. Dimbleby should have pulled him up over this, but he didn’t. Starkey is right, and you can hear Hasan spitting out his invective against ‘unbelievers’ here. 

Subsequent to last night’s programme, the Huffington Post ran a piece slating Starkey for calling Hasan ‘Ahmed’. Who edits the Huffington Post? None other than kuffar-despising Mehdi Hasan of course.
 
Long may Starkey continue to bring a much-needed corrective voice to the stultifying consensual discourse of Question Time and other programmes of its ilk. The National Secular Society is lucky to have such a visible and voluble defender of freethinking and free speech as an honorary associate.