Monday, July 29, 2013

Don't get on a plane with somebody famous!

The number of famous people who die in plane crashes is alarming. After making a comment on Craig Murray's blog, based simply on the huge number of famous people who have died in crashes, I was challenged to provide figures. My comment related to the death of Michael Hastings the American investigative journalist whose car exploded and who was working on some sensitive revelations at the time. I wrote:

"As to deaths in crashes public figures are much more likely to die than ordinary individuals. It does need some thorough research but Hastings’ death was convenient, to say the least, for those he was investigating. Likewise Bob Cryer’s death was convenient for the US military at Menwith Hill. How dare Bob Cryer, an English MP, criticise the US for having a base on English soil without parliamentary approval?"

Although I was convinced I was right, and thought there must be some research to support my opinion, I was unable to find any significant study into the subject, which of course does not mean that no study exists. So I set about researching it myself, admittedly in a non-academic way. Because of the well-advertised safety record of aircraft companies I thought it was a good place to start. What I found was not that there was, say twice as much a chance of a famous person dying in a plane crash but an alarming 27 times the probability, and most likely even higher than that. The figures cover the decade 2001-2010. Column 1 gives the year and column two the number of famous deaths, while column 3, after the colon, gives the total number of deaths for the year. Accumulated totals are given below the line.

2001 = 13 : 4140
2002 = 05 : 1413

2003 = 02 : 1230
2004 = 05 :   771
2005 = 03 : 1459
2006 = 06 : 1294
2007 = 06 :   971
2008 = 03 :   884
2009 = 08 : 1103
2010 = 03 : 1115
Total = 54 : 14,380

According to the National Safety Council the lifetime odds of death from a plane or space incident in 2008 was a 1 in 7178 chance. Using this as a mean figure it can be seen that the expected total deaths from plane crashes for the decade based on the deaths of famous personalities should be somewhere in the region of 387, 612 (that is 54 x 7178) but actual total deaths amount to 14,380, making it virtually 27 times more dangerous if you are famous. Admittedly this unfunded and inadequate study is not rocket science and more serious research should be embarked upon to corroborate the assumption, or disprove it. Also I do not know how the National Safety Council arrived at its figure of 1 in 7178 but presumed that it was based on the total number of passengers divided by those killed in air-disasters.

The figures may be even more alarming because the famous deaths' column only includes incidents where somebody famous has died in an air-disaster, whereas some incidents involved multiple deaths, for example, in 2010 the crash which killed the president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, also killed the first lady, Maria Kaczynski, and at least five other high-profile Polish politicians. Being famous appears to seriously heighten the chances of a premature death. Don't get on a plane with somebody famous.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nanna Babba and the common girl

(A bedtime story for baby George)

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful young girl, Dafne, who had a wicked step-grandmother, Nanna Babba.

Nanna Babba lived in a world of fantasy. To pass the weary hours she wrote, or her magic pen wrote, grisly and non-grisly fairy stories about common girls falling in love with princes, and living in turreted palaces beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of most schoolgirls. The palaces all had wide carpeted staircases with ornate banisters which led to ballrooms in which crystal chandeliers sparkled brightly from the ceiling. These were ideal settings for a young common girl to make her entrance into the world. Because Nanny Babba believed in fantasy she could wield her magic pen it seemed and the dreams would all come true. This worried Dafne.

Among the 700 grisly fairy stories there were tales of young common girls who found themselves in woods pursued by wolves. Other girls were made to sweep the dusty floors, wash clothes, hang them out to dry, look after other people's children, and menial tasks which befall many families of less wealthy origins while their sisters went to the ball. Dafne did not mind these menial tasks because they kept her away from Nanna Babba. However she found one of her step-grandmother's stories rather frightening because the plot was of a young princess bedecked in jewels, dressed up to the nines and seated in a royal coach which was suddenly driven right into a rabbit warren in a foreign land - the land of frogs and toads. Deep, deep it went into the tunnel, and never came out again. This caused recurring nightmares.

Dafne was made to read all these rags to riches fairy stories, which sometimes had a happy ending, and sometimes sad, but she made little effort to conceal that she did not like Nanna Babba, nor her stories. You see when Dafne was only eight years old, following the divorce of her parents, Nanna Babba had come into her life as a result of the old dear's daughter marrying Dafne's father. In the early years when the flame of perpetual love glowed so strongly in her father's eyes it looked like it would last forever Dafne saw less and less of him and his new wife and more and more of Nanna Babba. The nightmares continued.

Dafne had an elder sister, Sissy, and brother, Brer, who seemed to settle better into the new life than Dafne had done. She had difficulty understanding why her mother and father had gone their separate ways. She moped and cried and wept and sobbed until it got on people's nerves. Nanna Babba had a solution for every problem. It was agreed Dafne was to be sent to a girls' boarding school where the mistresses could comfort her in her sadness. The school was called "The Bowels of Hell" by those who boarded there at Dante's. Dafne did not perform well in Hell. It made her even more miserable.  She moped and cried and wept and sobbed until it got on the mistresses' nerves. They did not comfort her.

She got through "The Bowels of Hell" with some of the worst grades Dante's had ever seen. From time to time she would return to the rented home where Nanna Babba would add to her misery by making her read the latest fantasies from her magic pen, fantasies which appeared to be writing themselves even when Nanna Babba was sitting with Sissy and feeding her face on Royal Jelly. Royal Jelly is the preserve of Queen Bees, and young girls who sample it, according to Nanna Babba, are destined to marry a prince, with the one condition that they remain virtuous. Dafne had seen how other stories by Nanna Babba had come true. So she believed this one too.

Dafne's family rented property in the grounds of a palace and one day the rich prince came by inspecting his great expectations. He was heir to the palace in which grounds Dafne, Sissy and Brer rented, together with many other palaces which the growing children had only seen in books. The Prince was wearing a Polo-necked sweater and jodhpurs tucked into his boots as he rode on his favourite chestnut horse, Polo. His favourite sport happened to be polo which gave rise to the horse's name.

Princes are not always all they are cracked up to be and some need licking into shape, while others need kissing by a beautiful young lady on their amphibious lips to make something more appealing about them. So Sissy, emboldened by royal jelly, popped a polo mint into the royal gob, plucked up all her courage and kissed the prince full on his lips. She stepped back and looked for a change in his countenance, while Dafne did the washing up, and Brer looked on in total bewilderment as to what was going on. Sissy perceived no change in the prince's looks. Nanna Babba had been careful to mention that those who fed on royal jelly would not necessarily marry a handsome prince, just one of royal stock. Sissy had got her fantasies a little mixed up. But her prince was rich and ladies learnt at finishing school that once they had ensnared their quarry they must be content if the meat might be a little old and the skin as tough as riding boots.

With the royal jelly easing Sissy's future prospects Dafne had been sent to a finishing school in the Alps where she moped and cried and wept and sobbed until it got on the mistresses' nerves. They did not comfort her. She could, however dance, although a little tall to become a professional, she danced herself into the full bloom of womanhood and emerged, if not a butterfly, a very pretty thing in her own right.

Meanwhile Sissy had taken a flat not too far from one of the prince's palaces in the main city, and Dafne kept house for her sister. She washed up, did the laundry, swept the carpets, cleaned the toilets, emptied the waste bins, threw away the empty cartons of royal jelly and generally kept the place spick and span. The prince was a frequent visitor but hardly seemed to notice Dafne, who left almost as soon as he arrived. He did occasionally comment on how tidy the flat was to Sissy. What happened in that flat is not for the ears or eyes of children. Dafne had noticed a thing or two. Those who have done laundry and emptied waste bins will need no further explanation.

Months went by and all expectations from the Nanna Babba household were for Sissy's royal engagement announcement: any time now. But it never came. It could only mean one thing. The condition of feeding on royal jelly was that the lady remained virtuous and Nanna Babba suspected there had been a premature submission to pre-marital gallantry. Nobody knows for certain. Dafne however was about to throw away some more empty cartons of royal jelly when she noticed that one of the cartons was not empty. Honey she had tasted, but royal jelly was the preserve of queen bees. Dafne, on a whim, decided to try this exotic food and thought it was nothing special.

Princes, kings, princesses, queens, dukes and duchesses and in fact almost all people, find themselves dissatisfied with what is already theirs, and once the novelty has worn off, they look for new sources of stimulation. So it was with the prince who explained this rather clumsily to Sissy. She immediately felt an impulse to smack him across his amphibious mouth, but refrained. It soon dawned on her that she had fallen too easily, and only when she weighed up the pros and cons of life with an unattractive prince, did she realise that perhaps she had got away lightly. Dafne however was saddened for Sissy's loss and she moped and cried and wept and sobbed in her sister's arms, until the unattractive but extremely rich prince, moved by the young maid's passion, suddenly started to take notice of her for the first time. This, he swore to himself, would be his latest conquest.

His courtship of Dafne was not quite what he had expected. Princes are used to having whatever they want, whenever they want it. Arriving on Polo in a polo-necked sweater and jodhpurs had worked a treat for Sissy. So he tried this approach on Dafne and even brought a polo stick along with him to endorse the image. He moved towards her with his mouth wide open. She popped a polo mint into the toad-hole and stepped deftly out of harm's way. Her education might not have been up to much but she was not stupid. She had seen what had happened to Sissy. Was it not she who had cleaned Sissy's flat? The more the shy and unsullied Dafne resisted his approaches the more the prince desired her. He was getting no younger and there was pressure on him to marry before his ardour died. He tried pin-stripes though he was not a typical English gentleman, a kilt though he was not a typical Scottish laird, and lederhosen. Nothing seemed to work and the magic he had come to expect was absent.

For her engagement he bought her the biggest cluster of diamonds and sapphires imaginable and it is reputed that 20,000 black Namibians had died in the mining of these lumps of carbon rock. She thought it was almost immoral to wear it, because Dafne did have some morals, and there was a lot of superstition that the ring could never bring her good luck. The royal jelly had done its work and Dafne had kept her virtue. Her reward was a state wedding to which all the country was invited. Let this be a lesson to all boys and girls that virtue, if that's what children want, can bring its rewards, because Dafne did get to marry her prince. Although it is fair to note she did not invite her wicked step-grandmother to the wedding.

Traditionally fairy-stories and love stories like those written by Nanna Babba have a happy ending and are neatly rounded off with a phrase like "and they lived happily ever after". But there are stories in the genre where the big bad wolf pretends to be a nice old granny and gobbles up a little girl in red. And the one that Nanna Babba wrote about the princess who went in a royal carriage into the rabbit warren of a foreign country. In real life to be a princess might not be everybody's dream. Dafne's marriage was a sad affair. Her prince did not love her but they had children: heirs to the throne. Soon she was so unhappy and for the prince the novelty had worn off, so she moped and cried and wept and sobbed sometimes for hours on end. But nobody listened. She threw herself into charity work trying to help less fortunate children in lands far away.

After a while Dafne met another man with whom she was truly in love, a rich man who loved her too. At last she was happy. However there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the royal household at this match, and even though the prince himself had taken a new lover, there were plots to have Dafne and her rich lover, who was of foreign extraction and a different religion, put to death. A few hundred years earlier and it would just have needed a royal decree to execute this act. But in the time of Princess Dafne all eyes were upon the royal household which had impoverished its subjects to increase its own wealth. Princess Dafne was aware of the plot. She had read the story by Nanna Babba. She wrote a letter to show there was a plot and how it would happen to a young princess bedecked in jewels, dressed up to the nines and seated in a royal coach which was suddenly driven right into a rabbit warren in a foreign land - the land of frogs and toads. Deep, deep it went into the tunnel, and never came out again. Fairy stories can come true.


Disclaimer: any likeness to any person in this story is coincidental as in all fiction, good or bad.

Monday, July 22, 2013

My country's shameful and disgraceful treatment of Syed Talha Ahsan

For seven long years Syed Talha Ahsan has had his freedom taken from him in one of the most diabolical miscarriages of justice ever. For more than six years he was held in custody in UK prisons without there ever having been a charge against him. As with Babar Ahmad, who has been imprisoned for even longer, such cases bring shame upon my country, and therefore upon me. This is not the way British justice used to be done. Over a month ago I raised a Freedom of Information request on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seeking information connected with the extradition of Syed Talha Ahsan. By law they should have responded by 9 July 2013 but have not done, so I have asked for an internal review.

There are so many unanswered questions in this case. The most alarming is the fact that Talha Ahsan's case should have been heard in a US court in October this year, and if there was a clear-cut case against him there was no reason why it should not since there has been a decade in which to prepare a case, yet it has been put off until March 2014. All this time Talha Ahsan spends 23 hours a day, every day, in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison. My heart grieves for him and his family. Here is my request to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The questions are straightforward.

Extradition of Talha Ahsan

John Goss made this Freedom of Information request to Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Waiting for an internal review by Foreign and Commonwealth Office of their handling of this request.

From: John Goss

11 June 2013

Dear Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

This is a freedom of information request concerning the extradition
of Syed Talha Ahsan, a UK citizen, to the USA

Syed Talha Ahsan lost an appeal in the European Court of Human
Rights and was very quickly, the same day in fact, flown to the
United States of America.

1) Was any contact made with United States representatives of any
description to arrange the deportation of Syed Talha Ahsan before
the appeal verdict of the European Court of Human Rights had been

2) If the answer to question 1) is yes, which department of the FCO
and which personnel of that department had contact with which
personnel of which US department?

3) Can I have copies of any correspondence between the UK and USA
concerning the extradition of Syed Talha Ahsan please?

4) Was the FCO aware that two of the European judges, Lech Garlicki
and Nicolas Bratza, who sat in judgement on Syed Talha Ahsan, had
been at a 'closed-door' conference with US Supreme Court judges
Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor
in a conference called: 'Judicial Process and the Protection of
Rights: the U.S. Supreme Court and the European Court of Human

5) Does the FCO have any documents relating to the revelation in
question 4) and can I have copies please?

6) Was the FCO aware that also at the conference mentioned in
question 4) were "Derek Walton, who was representing the UK in
Ahsan’s European Court case, and the vastly influential Harold Koh,
who was serving as Obama’s appointed Legal Advisor to the State
Department." (New Statesman 21 February 2013).

7) Does the FCO have any documents relating to the revelation in
question 6) and can I have copies please?

8) Presumably the FCO would have had to be absolutely certain that
the case against Syed Talha Ahsan was a cast-iron copper-bottomed
guilty case to send a UK citizen to a country which has a
'concentration camp' at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where only 13 people
(out of 779) have ever been charged with a crime, and where 9 men
have died while in captivity. Would you not agree that given these
appalling figures the FCO would have to be certain that Syed Talha
Ahsan was guilty before sending him to the United States?

9) Considering our special relationship with the United States of
America has the FCO seen all the evidence held by the US in the
case of Syed Talha Ahsan?

10) Can I have copies of any correspondence regarding evidence of
the guilt of Syed Talha Ahsan held by the FCO please?

11) Is from the evidence that the FCO has seen there even the
slightest chance that Syed Talha Ahsan might be innocent?

12) If the answer is yes, on what grounds was Syed Talha Ahsan
extradited considering the uneven extradition treaty we have with
the United States?

13) Syed Talha Ahsan, had before being extradited been held in UK
prisons for six years without charge. Was the FCO notified of this?

14) If yes, can I have copies of the notification(s) please?

15) Did the foreign office seek assurances in this clear-cut and
convincingly-guilty case that Syed Talha Ahsan would be quickly
brought to trial?

16) Can I have a copy of any document relating to an expeditious
trial or any other documents in which the FCO has attempted to
protect the human rights of Syed Talha Ahsan in this case please?

17) US legal prosecution teams in a clear-cut and convincingly
guilty case have deferred the trial-date from October 2013 to March
2014 increasing the suffering of Syed Talha Ahsan. Did they notify
the FCO of this?

18) Can I have a copy of any such notification please?

19) Why did the Foreign and Commonwealth Office extradite Syed
Talha Ahsan to be held in a maximum security prison 23 hours a day
in a case in which the prosecution has not been able to gather
enough evidence in over a decade to bring Syed Talha Ahsan swiftly
to justice when his prison record in the UK shows that an ordinary
prison would have been adequate and better for Syed Talha Ahsan’s
health and welfare?

20) Was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aware that Talha Ahsan,
a prize-winning poet, suffers from Asberger Syndrome?

21) Have any special provisions been made to cater for his illness?

22) Can I see any correspondence relating to this pleas?

23) Was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aware that Gary
McKinnon, another UK citizen, was spared extradition because he
suffers from Asperger Syndrome?

24) Does the FCO operate a policy of racism towards Muslims?

25) Can you let me have any figures that show how many people
extradited at US requests, including those rendered abroad during
the Iraq War, over the last thirteen years, were Muslims, and how
many were not?

26) Did the UK try to get Syed Talha Ahsan into a more humane
prison instead of prisons which have been described as torture
chambers where more than 90% plea bargain (even confessing to
crimes they did not commit to avoid further torture)?

27) Can I see what correspondence took place regarding the type of
penal institution Syed Talha Ahsan was to be held in?

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

John Goss

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dr David Kelly and the need for an inquest (100th blogpost)

A group of dedicated and informed individuals simmered in London temperatures, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, to bring attention to the fact that it has been ten years without an inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly. Among television companies covering the event Press TV was there as well as TV Spain. Then along came Jushua with bottles of mineral water which he distributed among the protesters. It was most welcome and refreshing. By that time people were starting to find shade round the side of the building but those passing by stopped to find out what it is all about.

It was a well-attended event with between 50 and 75 people silently protesting in the course of the afternoon. I found it is not an easy place to get to by public transport especially when the coach from Birmingham was delayed by more that an hour due to a motorway accident, but it was a great credit to those who worked behind the scenes, Margaret, co-organising the event, getting leaflets printed and sewing up (by hand) some twenty gags, Jayne and Lyndsey for their inputs with posters and design, and lots of others who made a special effort to make it a special and memorable day. There was an impressive large black cloth poster laid out on the paving stones at the entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice, which could not be missed, but I wasn't sure who produced it.

Gags were worn to demonstrate that in this instance the truth had been gagged by Lord Hutton's Inquiry, more often referred to as a "whitewash". The time has come to make public the details of photographs which might determine if the body was moved. The time has come to investigate the original post-mortem conducted by Dr Nicholas Hunt. People are working behind the scenes, some who were on the demonstration, others who prefer alternative methods, to bring this unresolved affair before the public eye. Thank you everybody who attended and those who were supporting us from home.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Good Samaritan

On Sunday Anglican, Roman Catholic and other churches heard the parable of the Good Samaritan read as the gospel (Luke 10: 25-37) message. It relates to advice given to a lawyer who wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He refers himself the old Jewish scripture "you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." This the lawyer already knew but wanted clarification as to who his neighbour was. The answer was illustrated by a man who "fell into the hands of brigands" who took all he had and left him for dead.

First a priest arrived but passed by on the other side when he saw the man who had been mugged and was near to death. Similarly another priest, this time a Levite, passed by without going to the aid of the badly injured man. A Samaritan (a man from Samaria) came along and bandaged up the injured man, put him on the Samaritan's beast of burden and took him to an inn where he stayed with the mugged man till the following morning. He then paid the landlord to care for the man saying that he would settle any outstanding debt when he returned.

You can be the Archbishop of Canterbury and not do the right thing in cases where your neighbour has been injured. It might even be harder for the Archbishop of Canterbury because he is so steeped in pomp and jewels it is hardly possible for him to see what is actually needed at a basic level. Unless he chooses to ignore these problems in which case he is no different from the priests in the parable who pass by on the other side. His silence on matters of international concern is undignified. Today the brigands are the US and UK and other NATO countries who vilify and persecute Muslims and steal the oil and other resources from predominantly Muslim countries by portraying them as enemies.

Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, and others, are victims of the creation of an imaginary enemy to justify invasion to steal. The Bush and Blair 'war on terror' created a new enemy similar to the Soviet Union in the cold war years. Talha and Babar have been imprisoned without charge and without trial for years on end. Not having a case against them Theresa May thought the best option was to extradite them to the United States, to high-security prisons called Supermax prisons. John Pilger has written how 90% of prisoners in Supermax prisons plead guilty regardless of whether they have committed a crime just to be free from 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The US probably has no case against them.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has made no effort to seek the release of these men, and others like them. One can only assume he is a tool of government, a priest who walks by on the other side.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Edward Snowden and the interception of communications

Edward Snowden has revealed what most people know, what Bob Cryer fought over up to his untimely death in 1994 in a car-crash. Telecommunications' interceptions have been going on for decades. Surprisingly to my mind this Epetion has been published. At first I thought it might have been published by mistake. Despite the spelling error on Edward Snowden's name, which cannot be changed, it should be endorsed by every UK citizen who believes that our freedoms are being eroded and we can no longer talk to one another, over the phone, via email, through chat-lines, over social networking sites and other ways we communicate without someone monitoring it.

Are you a UK resident? Please sign and spread if you really believe in freedom. Thanks.