Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda – Remains of a Roman Britain

The Roman Empire was vast and extensive, covering almost all of Europe. Britain also came under its rule for 400 years. First Julius Caesar visited in 55 BC, but he did not stay. Eventually, in 43 AD permanent conquest of the British Isles began and Britain became a Roman province. At the time, Britain was home to many tribes, some of whom had been already trading with the Romans and were happy to welcome the invaders. Others however, like the Picts of the north, in what is now Scotland, were particularly unimpressed by the Romans and kept rebelling against the conquerors, sometimes even venturing south to attack.

Rome got a new emperor from 117 to 138 AD. His name was Hadrian and he visited Britain, which was one of the farthest outposts of his empire, in 122 AD. It was Hadrian who decided to build a wall between England and Scotland to defend his territories in England.

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Pollution in the UK

While we have been seeing early onset of spring and and enjoying an unusually warm February, there are some worrying issues at hand too.

On Tuesday, UK residents were warned to restrict outdoor activities because of an increase in pollution in many areas in the country. Our warm weather is due to the air-mass from North Africa, which has also brought Saharan dust. This combined with vehicular and industrial emissions, as well as particles from Europe have all contributed to the increase in countrywide pollution levels.

The Environmental Department, Met Office and the National Weather Service have all warned that the levels will be highest in North England, including in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. Meanwhile, air quality in London was close to that of New Delhi, according to the app AirVisual prompting the Mayor’s office to issue alerts. All of these warnings have continued into Wednesday, 27th February, 2019 and is expected to last until Thursday. According to a study by the Royal College of Physicians, approximately 40,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution.

The increase in pollution levels across the country just goes on to show the failure to bring pollution levels down. While the government has asked 36 of the top polluted cities to submit pollution curbing plans, many have missed the deadlines to do so. Since, 2010, UK’s pollution levels have been high due to nitrogen oxide pollution from diesel vehicles. Bringing it down requires instituting a pollution tax or bringing down the number of diesel vehicles. Effort to do either of these have been very slow due to impacts on local businesses and communities. The government has earmarked an implementation fund of £275m and a £220m clean air fund to minimise local impacts. However, extensive and concrete steps need to be taken immediately to bring down pollution levels, or the country is like to see even more pollution linked deaths and impacts on health.

Photocredit: UK Air - DEFRA


The jihadi bride and moral dilemma

There are an estimated 400 British nationals (there could be more), who left for Syria to join the Islamic State caliphate. Some have died, some are in refugee camps and there is no information about the rest. Here is the dilemma. What do we do when some of them want to come back to the UK?

The Islamic State are some of the most barbaric psychopaths to exist on this planet, who have committed extremely heinous crimes since they launched their “caliphate” in 2014. All those who left their countries to join this group may have had lofty ideals of a perfect Islamic caliphate in their minds; they may have been persecuted as minorities in their own countries but one thing is clear, they join ISIS knowing what they we all knew about them: that they are murderous psychopaths. The UK nationals who joined them also knew this. For me it is hard to relate to the fact that whatever persecution you may face in the UK, (and we know that there is inequality and people do face difficulties due to their race or religion), the option you choose is to join a murderous cult — unless of course you are a psychopath yourself. In which case, I don’t think that they should be allowed to come back. I am not sure that they will provide the kind of information that the intelligence agencies are seeking. Not only did they participate in the murder of people — of British nationals — but also, if they come back, they will be a burden on citizens.

Then there are the young women: the so-called jihadi brides, who left to marry members of a murderous cult. Some of these women were adults, who made conscious decisions to give up their lives and become wives of Charles Manson type individuals. From my vantage point, their lives and liberties in the UK could not have been so bad, even in the worst of situations, that being the fourth wife of Abdullah the Blade in Mosul, was a better option.

However, some of these were young girls — 15 years old — like Shamima Begum, who left with two of her friends to become a jihadi bride. Some experts are of the view that they were groomed and it is entirely possible that they were. And here is where the moral dilemma arises. Shamima is pregnant and wants to return so that she can have her baby in the UK. She is a British national and therefore her child will be too.

I am conflicted in this case. She was 15 years old when she left. A young age. But she would have been able to drive and get married (albeit with parental consent) in another year. These are adult activities. It means that society has deemed it ok for people to enter adulthood at that age. On the other hand, I can understand the kind of inner turmoil girls like her would be going through. South Asian mainly Pakistani or Bangladeshi girls, who are born in the UK, but were restricted from being as free as their counterparts are. Whose parents imposed their outdated ideologies on their kids, especially the girls, and outside the environs of their oppressive households is a completely different world. These girls can be easy targets for groomers, who can promise them actual heaven.

Should these girls be allowed back? Again, I am conflicted. Shamima does not seem to be repentant. She seems to be proud of her decision to go. She is 19 now. I am not convinced she is post-traumatic. “I saw heads in the bins, they did not faze me,” she said in her interview. Based on that, my reaction is that she should be left where she is. However, there is a child, who did not make any choices in this matter. What is our responsibility to that child? Surely, we cannot let him grow up in that situation and potentially become a jihadi too, or should we let him return to the UK and brought up by someone else? I have no sympathy for Shamima, but I do not want society to abandon that child.

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Is climate change leading us to category 6?

It is quite likely that climate change is having an impact on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and typhoons. In the last couple of weeks, the world has seen two major storms: Hurricane Florence, which hit the east coast of the US and Typhoon Mangkhut that has devastated the Philippines and parts of China.

It is possible that a changing climate can be slowing down storms by affecting (blocking) areas of high pressure in the atmosphere. It also results in more water vapour being created over warming seas. This vapour, therefore, has more time to rise up and becoming part of the storm and then falling as more intense rainfall. Rising sea levels have meant an increase in storm surges. Both intense rains and storm surges were observed during Hurricane Florence.

Typhoon Mangkhut was the strongest so far in the Philippines, which gets hit by about 20 typhoons and storms a  year. It had sustained winds of 209 km/h and brought flooding rains and mudslides, resulting in destruction and loss of lives. Again, there is a high possibility that a warmer atmosphere holding more moisture made its impacts more intense.

And the latest is Storm Ali, hitting the UK on September 19, 2018, with expected 80 mph winds. It arrives after Storm Helene hit Wales on Tuesday. Weather warnings are in place and there is already news of trees being brought down and a caravan blown away. Storm Ali is also supposed to bring widespread and persistent rain on Thursday across much of Scotland, Ireland and Northwest England.

Intense hurricanes and typhoons have already made their presence felt in the past several years. And new research indicates that a warming climate will further intensify storms bringing excessive rainfall and storm surges. A model developed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory generated findings that lend credence to this hypothesis. Projections show that “for the period 2016 – 2035 there were more hurricanes in general and 11% more hurricanes of the Category 3, 4 and 5 classes; by the end of the century, there were 20 percent more of the worst storms“.

Furthermore, the research indicates that storms of super extreme intensity, (with maximum sustained winds above 190 mph), are also more common. In a simulation of the 20th century, only 9 such storms were found, however, 32 were found for the period 2016-2035 and 72 for the period from 2081-2100.

At the moment there is no category 6 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Category 5 begins at 157 mph. As a result, some researchers have suggested the possibility of a category 6. 

Not everyone agrees but it is definitely something to think about.


Image via The Weather Channel

Legalize it


In the last few weeks or so, a fracas has unfolded in the UK media. Charlotte Caldwell, from Northern Ireland, had cannabis oil which was confiscated at Heathrow Airport, because it contains a psychoactive substance called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the psychoactive element in marijuana), high concentrations of which are illegal in the UK.

The reason she had the oil was that her son Billy suffers from severe epilepsy and a doctor in Northern Ireland had prescribed it for him in 2017 – the first time someone was prescribed this on the NHS.

However, the Home Office ordered the doctor to stop prescribing the medicine as it was a schedule 1 drug and thus illegal in the UK. However, lower concentrate versions of cannabis oil, which have less than 0.05% of THC are legal and widely available in the UK.

The Caldwells then went to Canada to get the drug and it was on their return that the six months’ worth of cannabis oil was confiscated.

Billy suffered two seizures and after a relentless campaign from his mother, the cannabis oil was returned to the family, subsequent to the intervention of Home Secretary Sajid Javed. This also led to Alfie Dingley being allowed the oil for similar seizures.

In March this year, there was another news item regarding a petition by the mother of another epileptic boy to legalise cannabis oil.

All of this has resulted in a flurry of activity to review legislation regarding the use of medicinal cannabis oil. But the misplaced war on drugs still casts a long shadow and it seems that there is still a long time to go for recreational marijuana to be legalised in the UK, although it is being done in other countries.

Map of global marijuana use
Map of global marijuana use

The UK’s prime minister and her team really need to look into this erroneous law and take steps to legalise medical marijuana and other cannabis products immediately. There is now increasing evidence to show that it has benefits for various medical conditions including epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Easily available, NHS-prescribed THC would mean that people would not have to go through unnecessary problems to obtain a drug to treat serious ailments and would not have to depend on dodgy sellers on the internet.

The UK also needs to get over its love affair with the archaic war on drugs and legalise marijuana for recreational use as well. Marijuana is a widely sold product and the war on drugs clearly has not done anything to decrease its use.

The law against it has only created problems for people with medical issues, who desperately need it, and the only people who actually benefit from this law are drug dealers who can ask for high prices and can sell defective products.

Legalising it would mean that it is regulated, just like tobacco and alcohol. This would result in revenue for the government in the form of taxes. The Adam Smith Institute has said that it could be worth £6.8bn to £1.05bn a year to the Treasury. It would also mean that the number of people incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes, who are costing tax payers approximately £50m per year, could drop.

All over the world, it is now being increasingly accepted that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco, that it has medicinal benefits and that the laws against it have served no purpose. Smart governments are taking control, legalising, and regulating it to make sure that it is kept away from underage users, to reduce related crimes and to make dealers ineffective. This is one bandwagon the UK needs to get on – and legalise it!

(Published in Sedaa – Our Voices and Triggerfish Writing)