Immigration – 2

Immigration in the United Kingdom has been a ‘hot’ topic among a large majority of the British population, especially because of the referendum on whether to leave the European Union which took place in June 2016.  The problem has been and still is, that we have not looked at the facts nor realised that often we have unintentionally seen things from a racial perspective.  Yet, trying to get accurate figures is often fraught with difficulties, especially when many people are in this country illegally.  Even, when one takes figures from the Office of National Statistics, it is not easy to break down the figures to make them useful and objective.  However, let us now look at some figures from them:

In the year ending December 2016 there were 588,000 people who had entered the UK during the year, and 339,000 who left it.

Of those 588,000 who came to the UK, 74,000 are British Citizens, 250,000 EU Citizens and the rest from outside the EU.

Breaking it down further into types of immigrants, students and their spouses make up well over 150,000 (I tried to get the figures off the Office of National Statistics website, but the link is broken as of 31/07/2017).

The largest number of applications for asylum, including dependants, came from nationals of Iran (4,811; +2,324), followed by Pakistan (3,511; -1), Iraq (3,374; +2,367), Eritrea (3,340; -270) and Afghanistan (3,133; +1,423). There were 2,235 (+680) Syrian nationals granted asylum or an alternative form of protection in the YE March 2016 and a further 1,667 Syrian nationals granted humanitarian protection under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.

So, when you deduct UK nationals, overseas students and asylum seekers, plus their spouses and children, the numbers seeking work is less than 350,000 of which 250,000 are EU citizens.

Then one needs to look at the number of unfilled vacancies, especially among those with skills such as those needed in the NHS, education and certain other industry sectors.  Even among unskilled vacancies, mainly in the agricultural sector (especially in seasonal work), there is a shortage, partly because British people do not want these jobs.  Finding the figures is difficult, but the NHS has several thousand.  Hence the importance of encouraging overseas nationals to apply for these jobs.  Anyhow most immigrants tend to look for work in the London area which probably has more unfilled vacancies than anywhere else in the UK.  The other issue is that suitable jobs are often in another area, and it might mean moving, which is difficult when family is in one area and the job might only be temporary.

Part of the problem is that many British people either do not want to go into certain sectors or do not have the skills for the vacancies.  Also, with many vacancies being automated, a good number of the unemployed who are either unskilled or semi-skilled are being made redundant. So, it is swings and roundabouts.  Another issue is the concentration of jobs in London and southeast – of which a good number do not have to be there, but could easily be done in the north, especially in the IT and manufacturing industries.  But, the transport infrastructure needs to be improved drastically to help in drawing such jobs north.

Looking at our perceptions about immigrants, we tend to notice people from outside the EU, because of the skin colour and so think they are overwhelming us, especially as many live in ‘ghettos’ partly because ‘white’ areas do not welcome them, partly because they prefer to be with their own people.  This often leads to racism both ways.  We tend to forget that a large number of Americans and Australians also migrate to the UK, and we accept them.

We must not also forget that our ancestors are not all ‘pure’ Anglo-Saxon.  Have a look at Ancestry’s recent blog on the subject –

So, you see the subject is more complex than we think.  And note that net migration is only 249,000 for 2016.  I think immigration is really a minor issue when compared to other ones like staffing and funding properly the NHS and schools with mathematics, science and language teachers, along with dealing with climate change and other world issues, all of which affect us personally, whether we realise it or not..  In fact, our whole education system needs overhauling to help empower students to become ‘whole’ and balanced people with the skills of the future, trained, not taught, by specialists in those areas that the UK has a niche market so that we can compete in the world.

Any thoughts?



Transport – 2


What is with railway operators and train manufacturers?

Do they think every passenger is tiny and can be squeezed into a tiny space?

  • We need wide seats with plenty of leg room so that each journey is comfortable, and designed that those sitting in window seats can get out easily.  (Window seats to actually have a full window to look out of, with curtains to cut out any bright sunshine. With regard to air conditioning, windows should so designed so that they keep the cold out and excess heat out, so that it can keep temperatures at a steady rate along with a good air circulation system.) And seats that support your back and are comfortable to sit on and pleasing to the eye.
  • The aisles need to wide enough so it is easy to pass people standing and wheelchairs to pass along. But we also need trains which are smooth as they go along the rails so it is easy to write or drink, with tables that do not look cheap.
  • And what about more staff on the train to be able ask for information and have one’s ticket checked.
  • Then, there are the toilet facilities which are often filthy because there are not enough of them and they do not self-clean.
  • With regard to refreshments on journeys of over an hour, it would be good to have a more healthy selection of food and drinks, including sandwiches which actually taste nice.
  • And most important of all, there should be enough trains so that every passenger can have a seat for the whole journey.  As part of this, train carriages need to be better built to cope with such things as bad weather, ‘leaves on the line’ and other things which cause problems, like badly maintained signalling.  Maintenance needs to happen more regularly.  It would be good if electric trains are cantilever-less so they can use non-overhead lines and not be stopped because the overhead line has been blown down.
  • Each train needs to be designed so that the walking area is the same level as the station platform so it is safer to get in and out of a train.  It will also be easier for those in wheelchairs to access the train without the need for ramps.
  • Every seat should have plenty of room for luggage behind it and in overhead in spaces which are like those found on airlines, along with grab rails.
  • Facilities should be made available for braille along the seats so blind people can find their reserved seats as well as other areas.  For deaf passengers, as well as other passengers, electronic information should be made available in the ceiling at more intervals so it is easy to see without a telescope.

I am sure that there are other suggestions one can make to make each railway journey an enjoyable one.

Any comments

Conservation – 1

National Trust and English Heritage

National Trust

‘The preservation for the benefit of the Nation of lands and tenements  (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest and, as regards lands, for the preservation of their natural aspect, features and animal and plant life. Also the preservation of furniture, pictures and chattels of any description having national and historic or artistic interest.’

English Heritage

‘Authenticity – We seek to be true to the story of the places and artefacts that we look after and present.  We don’t exaggerate or make things up for entertainment’s sake. Instead, through careful research, we separate fact from fiction and bring fascinating truth to light.

Quality – We pursue the highest standards in all our work, from the service we provide to our visitors to the quality of our communications, from the way our events are run to the standard of our conservation work.

Imagination – We seek to be imaginative in the way that history is brought to life, thinking creatively, using the most effective means, surprising and delighting people. We want each experience to be vivid, alive and unforgettable.

Responsibility – We take the responsibilities of our different roles very seriously, whether as host to millions of visitors or conserving some of England’s finest historic sites and artefacts.

Fun – We want people to enjoy their time with us. That doesn’t mean we are frivolous or superficial. We want to provide experiences that elicit emotion as well as stimulate the mind. We want to entertain as well as inspire.’

A merger?

As one can see from the above, both charities have basically the same aims and objectives, so it makes sense if they merged and formed one organisation.  Although they have different cultures, with English Heritage formerly being a Government-run organisation, I am sure that a merger would work and bring benefits, especially in terms of administrative processes.  Also, when it comes to buying materials for restoration work, they might be able to make savings.  When it comes to using specialists, there would be a bigger pool to call upon.  Obviously, as it will become a bigger charity, structures need to be such that they do engage the ordinary member at the local level, so as to encourage full participation.  I also think that being ‘bigger’, they will have more ‘clout’ with funding organisations as well as Government regarding policy on conservation.  With so much property, land and artefacts to conserve, much funding is required, so streamlining processes can make all the difference.  Such a merger will also raise the ‘profile’ of the importance of conservation in the public’s eye and in the media.

As these two organisations only cover England and Wales, maybe the ones in Scotland and Northern Ireland should do the same.  Whether they should all come under one roof and whether there should be a separate one for Wales, I do not know.

Importance of Conservation?

I have mentioned the importance of conservation but how important is it when it comes to prioritising the use finance when there are so many needs?  One could say, every need is equal to a certain extent. Conservation of our history is important in helping us understanding how things are today, including from a legal point of view with regard to ownership.  But, then one could say have we learnt any lessons from the past with the mess we are in?  On the other hand, visiting these properties and gardens is part of leading a balanced life – stimulating our brains in different ways and helping us to relax, so that there is a change from work and household responsibilities. If things are presented well, and supported by enthusiastic staff, it can be a most enjoyable time and stimulates our sense of curiosity!

Any thoughts?

Transport – 1

An integrated transport system

With over forty airports with scheduled flights, over two thousand railway stations, ninety shipping ports and twenty five coach stations as well as numerous other bus stations, we need an integrated transport system to encourage people to get out of their cars and improve the environment as well as reduce accidents and fatalities on the roads.

Painful decisions need to be taken so that there is no duplication of services and at the same time proper investment in such a system also needs to be undertaken to get vehicles off the road.

We need a small number of key airports around the country near major conurbations (and remote island communities), with railway stations attached to them (where practical), from where one can fly overseas. Only quiet aircraft to be allowed, to reduce noise levels.  Some airports may need to be redesigned or moved, so that they are in a more environmentally-friendly area, with room for expansion. Focus – International travel

Rail services need to cover more of the country, especially cross-country and rural areas.  Investment is required in increasing tracks to four ‘lanes’, so that there can be ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ services side by side without either affecting the other.  More railway stations are required which are fully functional with staff and proper facilities which are maintained daily. Railway stations should be become centres for bus interchanges from which regular bus services connect with all surrounding areas, so that one is only a few minutes from a bus stop. Non-overhead wire trains need to be developed which have comfortable seats with plenty of leg and body room as well as refreshment and toilet facilities of the highest quality, and long enough so that, especially in peak times, everyone gets a seat.  Services need to be frequent for passenger convenience and manned properly for the highest level of safety. Legislation will be needed to make most freight to be carried using the railway network, so that the number of lorries on the road are reduced dramatically.  Hence the importance of more cargo terminals at railway stations, especially in major towns where there are not any currently. With train services improved, the need for inter-city coach travel will decrease.   Some new stations will be needed in city centres where they are none – this may involve them being underground. Focus – Travel between major centres of population

Bus  and tram services need to go across towns, and not just feed to a central point.  For efficiency, a comprehensive buses only lane strategy should be set up. Buses need to be no older than ten years old with wider seats and more leg room. In the large metropolitan services, underground services should be developed (where there are none) and integrated with bus and tram services. Focus – local areas

For those who have disability issues, community transport schemes should be set up, for door to door services, where there none. Focus – Disabled and the elderly

With regard to the system of ports, I am not sure how they fit in, especially with regard to freight, and taking into account air freight.  Maybe, they should be used for non-perishable and time-critical products and airports for the rest.

As an incentive, taxes should be increased for using cars through attaching technology which measures how many miles it uses, with the tax rate increasing the more the car is used.

At the same time all forms of transport should be carbon neutral – hence the importance of Government investment.  Decisions must be made that strategically useful to cover most of the UK population, and not on political ‘whims’.  Some services will need be subsidised by the Government, though hopefully, the number will decrease over time as the number of cars are reduced.

The key to success in all this will be making using public transport inexpensive.  The question will be, should all or part of the transport system remain privatised?

We need drastic action, otherwise our roads will be gridlocked.  As it is, with the population of the UK still growing, more roads being built, eating up more land (which could be used for more productive uses like agriculture and housing), we cannot carry on as we are doing so.  With most drivers facing long queues daily which are getting longer, thus increasing the pollution levels, and with bigger and bigger trucks on our roads doing untold damage to our roads amongst other things, action is needed now.

The Government, along with all interested parties, including the public, must work together to bring such a system into operation, which has been well thought out, with appropriate legislation, new and amended.  People need to be persuaded that some painful decisions will be needed to make sure it works in the long term.

Any thoughts?

Reflections on the Bible – 2

Ephesians 2:8-10 – ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, but it is a gift from God; not by works, should one boast.  For we have been created by God in Jesus Christ to do good works previously prepared by God for which we should walk.’

These two verses are two sides of the same coin.  On one side, it is telling us that our salvation is only possible by faith, not by works, and that we need to be saved.  And yet, on the other side, once we are saved, God has called us to a whole-life of service to the world according to Yahweh’s will.  Each one of us has a unique role to play in the world, that no-one else can fulfil.  And yet, this ministry is part of the jigsaw that is the Church.

Saved – ‘Sozo’ – deliver out of danger and into safety; used principally of God rescuing believers from the penalty and power of sin – and into His provisions (safety). It also has the meaning of healing and being made whole ie being in a right relationship with Yahweh.

Grace – ‘Charis’ – a gift from Yahweh – He does not have to give us salvation – He could allow us to live incomplete lives and be condemned, but because of His love for His creation, He sent Jesus Christ to take upon Himself all our sins and rebellion and die on a Cross (the consequence of sin) and through His resurrection, made it possible for or sins to be washed away and for reconciliation with Yahweh Himself.  The gift is freely given despite our rebellion.

Works – ‘Ergon’ – many people feel we need to earn our salvation, especially those who follow other religions like Hinduism and Islam.  But, with Christianity, it has nothing to do with us, it is Yahweh’s action, His gift that allows us to be saved.  All we have to do is accept it willingly and agree to give our lives over to Him, so as to lead a fulfilled and complete life.  That does not mean we are necessarily healed of physical ailments, but more it is about our relationship with Yahweh and the life that flows from it.  Hence the importance of being willing to do what works, Yahweh has already prepared for us – in our homes, work, neighbourhood and church and in the world.  The Greek word ‘ergon’ is the root of the word ‘ergonomics, the study of doing things efficiently.  Hence, the importance of seeking to be in tune with Yahweh, so that our ‘yoke’ is easy.

So, in conclusion, these two verses summarise the importance of Jesus as Saviour and Jesus as Lord of our lives.


Media – 2

Post from a magazine called ‘Salon’ on the subject of biased reporting on terrorist attacks.

‘We mourn Manchester, but not Kabul: How biased coverage of terrorist attacks drives us apart

On May 22, a suicide bombing was carried out in Manchester, England, killing 23 adults and children and injuring 116. On May 29, twin bombings in Baghdad, Iraq, targeted families at an ice cream shop and seniors in line to collect their pensions. Those attacks left 22 dead and almost 100 injured. On May 31, a suicide bomb ripped through the diplomatic quarter in Kabul, Afghanistan killing at least 90 and wounding approximately 400.

Each of these stories was covered in the Western mainstream media. But the way they were covered was radically different.

In the Manchester story, there was a deeply human face to the coverage. Audiences became familiar with individual girls who lost their lives and they connected with the mothers who were searching for information about their loved ones.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that the Baghdad ice cream shop bombing also targeted children, the coverage of that story did not include any of the personal-interest features seen in the story of what happened in Manchester.

Much the same was true in the coverage of the Kabul bombing. A New York Times piece did mention the difficulties loved ones were having in tracking down information on those who were caught in the blast. But that piece also included strangely cold language: “In different corners of the city, workers and relatives dug graves for the ones who, with life having become a game of chance, just were not lucky.”

Imagine a reporter referring to those being buried in Manchester with the same sort of detached language.

In a recent piece for The Conversation, Philip Seib argues that the news of the Manchester attack represents a journalistic void. For Seib the problem is that media coverage heightens the public’s sense of vulnerability but fails to offer a holistic assessment of terrorism.

I don’t disagree with Seib, but I think that he misses another crucial problem: Coverage of terrorist attacks is massively biased. When the targets are neither white nor Western, and are Islamic, the sense of personal tragedy is almost entirely absent.

Consider this. Apart from Malala Yousafzai, few Westerners can you even name three Muslims who have been victims of a terrorist attack. If you stop to think about it, can you even picture three victims’ faces? Do you know their personal stories?

This lack of a human face tied to these lost lives represents a major failure on the part of Western journalists.

Even if we bracket out the loss of life due to U.S. air and drone attacks — a move I don’t suggest as a good one — the reality is that the majority of victims in today’s terrorist-connected conflicts are Muslim.

A 2011 report by the U.S. government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) found that “Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” Similarly, according to Erin Miller of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland, “between 2004 and 2013 about half of all terrorist attacks, and 60% of fatalities due to terrorist attacks, took place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — all of which have a mostly Muslim population.”

If the raw numbers are reported and the incidents of the attacks are covered in the news, then the lack of awareness that most terror victims come from the Muslim community must be directly tied to the fact that we don’t associate a grievable life with those deaths.

Just as the media can play a role in informing the public of the broader context for terrorism, it has a role to play in shaping the public narrative of which lives matter and which don’t. Even worse, this biased coverage makes it impossible to see the victims of terrorist attacks as part of the same community.

Which leads me to Donald Trump. Recall that shortly after the inauguration the Trump team suggested that the media ignored covering terrorism.

Speaking to troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command back on Feb. 6, Trump cited a series of recent terrorist attacks and then added, “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t even want to report it.”

Only days earlier Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway made the false claim that Bowling Green, Kentucky, was the scene of a massacre carried out by Iraqis that had been ignored by the media. She had cited the fabricated attack as grounds for the immigration ban that targeted predominately Muslim nations.

Between Conway making up attacks that never happened and Trump insinuating that the media was covering up the prevalence of attacks, the media reaction was to correct the record. In response to the list of attacks offered by the Trump team as proof of media collusion with terrorists, most articles covering the story focused on the fact that Trump was wrong about the lack of coverage.

Kattie Mettler and Derek Hawkins pointed out, though, that the real story behind Trump’s list wasn’t the fact that the 78 stories had actually been covered; it was the fact that the list was almost entirely made up of Western victims. They point out that some of the countries hardest hit by terrorist attacks were omitted entirely.

For instance, in 2015, nearly three quarters of all deaths from terrorist attacks occurred in five countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, according to the State Department.

Mettler and Hawkins cite a Washington Post analysis of all terrorist attacks from the beginning of 2015 through the summer of 2016 that shows that the Middle East, Africa and Asia have seen “nearly 50 times more deaths from terrorism than Europe and the Americas.” That study revealed that 658 people were killed in 46 attacks in Europe and the Americas, while 28,031 people died in 2,063 attacks in the rest of the world.

I don’t have enough space here to do justice to the multiple non-Western examples of lives lost due to terrorism, but I do want to suggest that Afghan victims suffer a specific dehumanization tied to the U.S. public’s tendency to tie that nation to the events of 9/11.

If there is a need for a new hashtag — #AfghanLivesMatter — it is precisely because there is yet another category of humanity that demands to be recognized and valued. While the story of the treatment of the Afghan community by the West is long and complicated, it would be fair to say that current media coverage is deeply connected to the way that the U.S. justified starting a war there after 9/11.

It is not surprising that the media painted a portrait of Afghanistan post-9/11 that justified the U.S. invasion and depicted the United States as a savior rather than an invader of the country. Nevertheless, these types of media practices meant that Western audiences learned very little about the actual impact of the U.S. war on the Afghan people. Even though George W. Bush had described the invasion as an effort to save Afghans from the Taliban, most reporting refused to consider the human side of the story.

In her account of working in Afghanistan after 9/11, former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes wrote that the greatest challenge she faced during the conflict was not local hostility to Western journalists but rather the difficulty reporting back to a “traumatized nation.” She mentions countless examples of reporters whose pieces were censored and rejected by their U.S. editors.

She writes that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist told her he had been blocked from doing any reporting: “We were just supposed to dig up stuff to substantiate their foregone conclusions.” She further mentions a CNN reporter who had received explicit instructions not to film civilian causalities.

When she herself did a story on civilian causalities for NPR, she received “vituperative reactions” from listeners: “One said he was so angry that he almost had to pull his car off the road to vomit.” Another wrote that she was tired of listening to the “whimpers of afghany [sic] children, the pleas of parents who have lost loved ones.”

Rather than tolerate such “propaganda,” the listener defiantly claimed she would “listen to a Mozart CD for the rest of the morning.”

Clearly even lefty, liberal, snowflake NPR listeners could not tolerate the idea that Afghans were actual human beings who might suffer as a consequence of the military strikes.

Even less tolerable was the idea that Afghan civilian losses could compare to those who had suffered on U.S. soil on 9/11. Rather, the Afghan people were seen as irremediably different and justifiably disposable. They were not quite human, or at least not human in the same way as those from the West.

This attitude helps explain why reports of strikes on Afghan weddings didn’t lead to a massive emotional outpour in the West.

Even worse, when a U.S. Army sergeant went on a killing spree in Panjwai, Afghanistan, in 2012, leaving 16 civilians dead, nine of them children, the bodies were counted but the stories of the lives lost were ignored. The man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than six, and set fire to them, but those deaths weren’t felt in the same way as those of the girls who died in Manchester.

There is a global calculus to the lives we mourn. Some lives are valued and some are disposable. Those that are mourned are those that remind us of our own vulnerability. Those that are ignored are those that feel too different to be like us.

While in theory most of us would argue that all lives matter, in practice it is important to note that affective bias is inevitable. We care more when we lose a loved one than when we hear about a stranger’s death. The emotional gap that makes some lives matter and others less valuable is almost impossible to completely bridge. Scholars of ethics will often explain that proximity — the sense of closeness to another — will determine our empathy for another life. It isn’t possible to care about everyone equally.

But it is possible to examine which lines of connection we value and why. It is also possible to determine the outcomes of these differing values. The lives we mourn are part of the imagined communities we inhabit and they form the affective bonds that help us struggle for change.

How is it that a mother in the United States feels more sadness and distress over a young girl dying at a concert in England than one burnt to death in Afghanistan? Why are those girls not connected in our minds?

These different reactions stem, in part, from the way that the media depicts these deaths. Next time you see an article on a terrorist attack, watch for the way that the victims’ stories are told.

Are the images shown grotesque and dehumanized? Do we see photos of the person before the atrocity or only after? Are the stories only about the attack or do they cover any information on the lives cut short? Is the victim treated as “unlucky?” Or as a tragic loss? Do we see photos of those mourning the death?

If we want to stop the constant inflow of stories about terrorist attacks, we need to start linking the victims of these attacks. Until we can see a common connection to those victimized by terrorism, we aren’t going to find a common solution to it.’

Sophia A. McClennen

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.