Sunday, April 18, 2021

New Belvedere?


The anti vaccination conspiracy theorist and utter scumbag, deceptively using the name The White Rose has struck again. I photographed these stickers illegally stuck on the bus stop in Colebrook Street, outside of Matalan in Erith on Friday afternoon. The person has set up a website expounding their scientifically incorrect and criminally misleading utter rubbish which you can see here. The sheer gall that they can equate themselves with the original, heroic group and anti Nazi resisters in Word War II is astonishing. You may recall that I wrote about the heroic White Rose group which included the anti Nazi martyr Sophie Scholl in my postings of the 24th of January and the 31st of January. The modern White Rose group is the very antithesis of what Sophie Scholl and her compatriots stood for. The cult of anti vaxxers and their deluded, self aggrandised world view is selfish and self serving. The medical profession is concerned. In a recent statement, inoculation specialist Dr Zahid Chauhan said: “There have generally been too many conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated rumours about Covid-19. The vaccines do not contain gelatine or pork derivatives so that should put the Jewish, Muslim and vegetarian/vegan community’s minds at rest. Furthermore, there is no chip involved in the vaccine process to monitor people. This is another example of anti-vaxx, no mask, COVID hoax conspiracy that has no basis in fact. I often wonder what the motivation is behind such conspiracies – and am amazed that those who espouse this nonsense are happy to receive holiday jabs and put food in their mouths without ever checking its contents.” Dr Chauhan personally received the vaccine in front of on-looking cameras to demonstrate his complete confidence in the vaccine. “The three approved vaccines now available have been created by some of the finest minds in the world. I would not hesitate in getting my family inoculated, either. Please, when invited to do so, have your vaccine. Protect yourself and others.” I have been doing some research into just why otherwise seemingly rational people believe in conspiracy theories; it seems much of it is due to their psychology. From a number of academic articles that I have read over the last week, it would appear that those who believe these wild and far fetched theories typically show high levels of anxiety independent of external sources of stress, a high need for control over environment, and a high need for subjective certainty and, conversely, a low tolerance for ambiguity. They tend to have negative attitudes to authority, to feel alienated from the political system, and to see the modern world as unintelligible. Conspiracy theory believers are often suspicious and un-trusting, and see others as plotting against them. They struggle with anger, resentment, and other hostile feelings as well as with fear. They have lower self-esteem than nonbelievers, and have a need for external validation to maintain their self-esteem. They may have a strong desire to feel unique and special, and an exaggerated need to be in an exclusive in-group. Belief in conspiracy theories often also goes along with belief in paranormal phenomena, scepticism of scientific knowledge, and weaknesses in analytic thinking. These traits are hardly universal among or exclusive to conspiracy theorists, but they help create a vulnerability to belief. It is easier to pin our anxiety to the malevolent actions of others than to confront our own fears and worries. Thus, unacknowledged fear of becoming ill with COVID-19 might turn into fear that others are making up or exaggerating the pandemic for nefarious purposes. Projection is the process whereby one’s own thoughts, feelings, motivations or action tendencies are attributed to others. Once a conspiracy theory forms, whatever its roots, believers seem immune to evidence that disproves their theory. This, too, is not wholly unique to the believers; we all tend to pay more attention and give more credence to information that confirms what we already believe. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias.” Social media, which makes it easy to find “information” supporting almost any position as well as to find others who share their beliefs, creates an even higher level of the aforementioned confirmation bias. It is all very depressing. Have you had any experience of a friend or family member who believes one or more of the widespread conspiracy theories? Drop me a line in complete confidence to hugh.neal@gmail.com. 

I got asked in the week about how criminals and malicious hackers actually gain control of computers. I responded that the easiest method was to exploit the user, rather than the computer. Getting the user to carry out an action which allowed the bad person to gain unauthorised access to the target computer. Using booby-trapped USB flash memory drives is a classic hacker technique. But how effective is it really? A group of researchers at the University of Illinois decided to find out, dropping 297 USB memory sticks on the school’s Urbana-Champaign campus last year. As it turns out, it really works. In a new study, the researchers estimate that at least 48 percent of people will pick up a random USB memory stick, plug it into their computers, and open files contained in them. Moreover, practically all of the drives (98 percent) were picked up or moved from their original drop location.  Very few people said they were concerned about their security. Sixty-eight percent of people said they took no precautions, according to the study, which will appear in the 2021 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in May of this year. “I trust my Macbook to be a good defence against viruses,” one (stunningly naive) participant is quoted as saying, while another one seemed aware of the risks, but didn’t care, saying: “I sacrificed a university computer.”  Some 135 people actually opened some files in the drives, according to the study. The researchers didn’t put any malware on the sticks, but had left an HTML file that contained an image allowing the researchers to detect when a file was opened. The HTML file also contained a survey, which had the goal of informing students and faculty that they had become part of an experiment, and trying to figure out why they had picked up the drive and opened files inside. “It's easy to laugh at these attacks, but the scary thing is that they work—and that's something that needs to be addressed,” the leading researcher on the study, Matt Tischer, told “Motherboard” the technology news website. In the study, the researchers concluded that “the anecdote that users will pick up and plug in flash drives they find is true.” Based on the participants’ survey answers, the researchers concluded that most people did it with “altruistic intentions.” In fact, 68 percent people said they did it to find the owners, while 18 percent admitted it was just out of curiosity. However, considering their actions, it seems some overestimated their good intentions. Despite the fact that some USB drives contained a CV file, almost half the users didn’t open that file, and, instead browsed vacation photos first, “overtaken by curiosity,” as the researchers put it. Tischer said that it’s hard to prevent something like this from happening. “There are no easy solutions to these problems, but they will certainly extend beyond simply the technical to include a deeper understanding of the social, behavioural, and economic factors that affect human behaviour, there is a difference between warning users that a particular action is dangerous and convincing them to actually avoid it. We need to close that gap.”

There are many local residents who are unaware that the leafy and sleepy housing estate located in Heathdene Drive, off Upper Park Road in Upper Belvedere was for over a century the home to a very important charity – and the site of a former stately home called Belvedere House, base of the Royal Alfred Merchant Seamans Society. The origins of the Royal Alfred date back to a meeting held in July 1857 in Mansion House, London, when a group of influential and well-disposed people voted unanimously to establish a hospital for “worn-out and disabled merchant seamen”. That day, it vouched to open its doors to over 500 people in need. A hundred years ago there wasn't a family in England that didn't know somebody or had a relative who was a seafarer. In those days, when the shipping companies didn't employ them anymore, they were just left on the dockside or on the City streets. And because they were away for years at a time, rather than months, the family they had would, on the most part, disintegrate. So they didn't have homes to go to, or any support mechanism, and there were a great deal of homeless merchant seafarers in desperate circumstances nationally. In the beginning, the place was run by a warden and the seafarers themselves, who used to do their own cooking, cleaning and gardening. Over time, as the residents became older and frailer, an infirmary was built in the grounds of the old stately home, followed by a new house where people could be nursed, should they need it. In the post – war years, it was determined that the old Belvedere House was no longer fit for purpose, and a new building needed to replace it. The new high tech home opened in 1958, it was designed by architect A.E Symes and cost £228,000 – a considerable fortune at the time - you can see a photo of that building above - click on it for a larger view. The home looked after its residents on the Upper Belvedere site until 1977, when it was sold off to a commercial developer; the building was eventually demolished in 1980. The charity then relocated to a brand new, purpose built facility, also called Belvedere House, located in Banstead, Surrey, where it is to this day. The Royal Alfred runs a state-of-the-art nursing home and specialised dementia care unit that houses up to 68 residents, 23 tenants and is supported by 107 staff members. As an island nation whose vast majority of goods arrive by sea, the UK has a longstanding seafaring tradition that continues to this day. In 2016, the estimated total number of British seafarers active at sea was 23,060, according to government data. Due to the unique trials and tribulations of those who spend the majority of their lives at sea, resettling back on shore can be extremely difficult. Finding like-minded companionship and understanding from someone who has experienced a similar lifestyle is another challenge. Today, the retirement age for seafarers is between 63 and 68. You can see the modern Royal Alfred Seafarers Society website by clicking here.

The graphic above comes from the website of the New Belvedere Project. Residents in both Upper and Lower Belvedere have recently been posted a promotional brochure regarding the proposed development. The application site is located in Lower Belvedere and contained within the Crabtree Manorway Industrial Estate. The site covers approximately 6 hectares of land to the north east of Belvedere station and is currently occupied by a number of low-density industrial uses. The proposal cites the following benefits:- "Create a new residential neighbourhood for Belvedere. Deliver up to 1,250 new homes, including affordable and family-sized homes. Develop an underutilised industrial site in line with local aspirations. Provide over 10,000 sqm of new green open space for both residents and the community to enjoy. Create a new public square with over 500 sqm for commercial space and/or community facilities. Establish new pedestrian links to Belvedere train station". This is all well and good, but what the proposal does not appear to address is the physical geography of the site.

As you can see from the layout and location graphic above, the proposed new housing development would be located on a brown field site currently used by several commercial enterprises. The site is essentially a triangular island, with the A2016 Bronze Age Way on one side, business units and engineering facilities on the second, and the North Kent railway line on the third. It is understood that at the time of writing, no allowance for additional roads or footpaths has been made for the site. You can read the developer's promotional material for the site by clicking here. It strikes me that unless the plans are modified, the site could end up becoming a microcosm of Thamesmead - a major housing experiment / new town that is widely judged to have been a failure for a number of complex and interconnected reasons, which included a lack of communication links and integrated public transport. I am also concerned that the location is said to suffer from extensive ground contamination from the industrial activities which have taken place on the site over the decades. What do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com. More on Thamesmead at the end of this weeks update.

This Sunday marks World Amateur Radio Day. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the worldwide lock downs that have ensued, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of qualified amateur radio operators going on air, and also a marked increase in people enquiring as to how to get involved with amateur radio, and wanting to learn about how to study for the exams in order to get qualified for their licence. Every April 18th, radio amateurs worldwide take to the airwaves in celebration of World Amateur Radio Day. It was on this day in 1925 that the International Amateur Radio Union was formed in Paris. Amateur Radio experimenters were the first to discover that the short wave spectrum — far from being a wasteland — could support worldwide signal propagation. When radio was first invented, it was thought that the only bands technically possible to use for communication were the Medium Wave and Long Wave bands; any frequencies higher than these were thought to be useless. It was only as Amateur Radio experimenters developed new, more sophisticated transmission and receiving technology that the use of Shortwave, followed by Very High Frequency (VHF) then Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and finally Microwave frequencies became possible. In the rush to use these shorter wavelengths, Amateur Radio was “in grave danger of being pushed aside,” the IARU’s history has noted. Amateur Radio pioneers met in Paris in 1925 and created the IARU to support Amateur Radio worldwide. Just two years later, at the International Radiotelegraph Conference, Amateur Radio gained the radio communications band allocations still recognised today — 160, 80, 40, 20, and 10 meters. Since its founding, the IARU has worked to defend and expand the frequency allocations for Amateur Radio. Thanks to the support of enlightened administrations in every part of the globe, radio amateurs are now able to experiment and communicate in frequency bands strategically located throughout the radio spectrum. From the 25 countries that formed the IARU in 1925, the IARU has grown to include 160 member-societies in three regions. IARU Region 1 includes Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Asia. Region 2 covers the Americas, and Region 3 is comprised of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific island nations, and most of Asia. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has recognised the IARU as representing the interests of Amateur Radio. Today, Amateur Radio is more popular than ever, with more than 3,000,000 licensed operators around the world. The IARU Administrative Council has chosen “Amateur Radio: Home but Never Alone” as the theme for World Amateur Radio Day, Sunday, 18 April 2021. Faced with a pandemic that forced the adoption of extreme physical isolation to reduce the spread of the virus, the worldwide amateur radio community responded positively to overcome the resulting social isolation. In the days and weeks following the onset of the pandemic radio amateurs reached out spontaneously to one another via the airwaves at the local, national, and global levels. Local “wellness nets” provided friendly voices and regular status checks to those, especially the elderly, who are confined to their homes. “Stay safe” special event stations in dozens of countries reminded all participants of the importance of limiting the spread of the virus. On-the-air activity was at an unprecedented level throughout the remainder of 2020, with record-breaking numbers of entries in the major radio contests.

The Co-Operative Society has strong roots in the Erith area. A co-operative shop was opened in Erith in 1868 by Sir William Anderson of Easton and Anderson engineering (see the period advertisement above - click on it to see a larger view). The shop unfortunately soon failed, as it refused to give credit, and was patronised mainly by the emerging middle classes, for whom it was not intended.  1868 also saw a much more successful launch of the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society at Woolwich. By 1881 they had extended the delivery of bread and groceries into Erith. On the 30th March 1882, a co-op branch store, costing £1,225 was opened on the corner of Manor Road and James Watt Way - what is now the KFC Drive Through. A reading room was provided on the first floor by the society's education committee, and supplied newspapers and periodicals for public use. In 1887 this was extended to form a purpose built district library, with a budget of a whole £30 to purchase books. Over the years the trade increased with the surge in growth of the local population, to the point came where the building was not large enough, and new premises were constructed in 1893. It was not very long until this co-operative library fell into disuse, when the Andrew Carnegie sponsored public library in Walnut Tree Road opened in 1906. Records show that the co-operative library had some strange rules in respect of their employees. The first manager of the Manor Road based library was a Mr. James Hall, who had left school at the age of eleven. He was soon promoted to General Manager on the condition that he got married within three months of the appointment! He eventually got spliced four months after his appointment, but this was deemed to be near enough for his employers. Hall eventually rose to become General Manager of the RACS from 1902 until his retirement in 1918.

The weekly local safety and security updates sent by the various Police ward teams to Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association are taking somewhat longer than anticipated to get back up to speed following the recent reorganisation. Many of the reports are still missing, though I understand action is being taken to resolve this over the next couple of weeks. Still, here are the reports that have been received. 

Barnehurst ward:- "Both a kitten and its mother have died after suspected pellet gun shootings in Barnehurst. The Missing Paws Team have released an appeal after two separate incidents have led to the deaths of two much-loved pets. The volunteers group were contacted this week by a veterinary practice who had been granted permission by a local Bexley owner. His injuries were classed as unsurvivable, and the sad decision was made to euthanise him due to the pain and suffering. The cat, who had been perfectly healthy, was found with just a small puncture wound, and whilst the cat was laid to rest in their garden, it is believed this cat was also likely the victim of a gun pellet. The volunteers say police have been notified, but are limited to what they can do without witnesses. So the Missing Paws Team are asking the public for help. The mother cat died on March 31 after an incident in Barnehurst between 5:30pm and 6pm, and the second incident happened on April 13 between 10:30 and 11am. The team are asking if anyone who lives or travels through Holmesdale Grove in Barnehurst saw anything. Or if anyone or who walks their dogs at Barnehurst golf course or the sports field by Perry Street witnessed something, or if anything was spotted in the area behind the gardens of Holmesdale Grove. If so, please get in touch with the team at info@themissingpawteamuk.co.uk which will be dealt with in the strictest of confidence. The vets said the owner was "understandably devastated." The practice had had a five-month old kitten rushed to them with difficulty breathing, and after closer examination, the vets discovered she had been shot in the chest with a high-powered pellet gun. On Thursday 8th April between 00:10 and 00:20 in Barnehurst Avenue, an attempt was made to break into a vehicle. Always ensure you lock your vehicle. A Joint Traffic Operation was carried out on Tuesday 14/03/2021 where Barnehurst, Crayford and Bexleyheath Wards conducted traffic stops at various locations on each of the wards. Results included two vehicle seizures for no Insurance and drivers dealt with accordingly. Others were dealt with for possession of Cannabis. Patrols to Barnehurst Golf Course continue and we are pleased to report there have been no further Incidents of criminal damage in and around the driving range area". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward - no report this week. Crayford ward - no report this week. Erith ward - no report this week. Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week. Thamesmead East ward:- "There was a theft from a motor vehicle in Walsham Close between Thursday 8th April 18:00 and Friday 9th April 7:00. A motor vehicle was taken from Bazelgette Way on Friday 9th April between 8 am and 6:20 pm. Sometime on Saturday 10th April in Kale Road, a vehicle was criminally damaged. The recent traffic operations, stops and searches, through the ward are having a positive effect on crimes in general.  Motor Vehicle crime prevention - When leaving your vehicle, that all doors are locked checking it is secure. Your mobile phone, coins for the car park, sunglasses, packs of medication or other items that can earn quick cash are irresistible to the opportunist thief. Remember, the cost of replacing a window is often more. Never leave wallets, handbags, purses and credit cards in an unattended vehicle. Protect your vehicle from catalytic converter thieves - Consider installing a Thatcham approved alarm to your vehicle - Alarms that activate if the vehicle is removed or tilted are particularly effective. Use a catalytic converter marking system to protect the device. Limit access to the catalytic converter by parking parallel with another vehicle. Report suspicious activity by looking out for people ‘working’ under vehicles as they may not be the owners or leaseholders, even if they have fluorescent jackets on. Burglary crime prevention -Remember to remain vigilant, close and lock windows and doors even if you are only going out for a short time". West Heath ward:- "A child’s scooter was stolen from a summerhouse in Seaton Road between Tuesday 6/04/2021 21:00 and Wednesday 7/04/2021. A male was seen trying the door handles in Brixham Road on Sunday 11/04/2021 at 1 am. Please be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police".

The end video this week is from a transport and architecture journalist who goes by the pseudonym of Jago Hazzard. In this video he examines Thamesmead, the history of the town, and why it is now regarded as a failed venture. It makes for interesting viewing. The future of Thamesmead may be somewhat brighter, if the proposed redevelopment by Peabody Housing Association goes fully ahead as has been planned. Email me with feedback to hugh.neal@gmail.com.