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Wednesday
Jan172007

Sleeping quarters

One of my neighbours has applied for a tree preservation order. The council have said that it would not be possible to put one in place because they have no money left. "Try again in April", they said.

There's a bit of  pattern here isn't there, what with the NHS closing down in the first part of the year too? Now, I know someone who reckons that there is a bit more to it, and what actually happens is that the public sector all decamp somewhere sunny for the winter to spend all the bloated payrises that Blair has given them. It's not a view I subscribe to though.

If public sector closedown is going to be a feature of life in the future, we need a name for the time when it happens. The time when you don't want to get ill. The time when there's nobody there to help. When all the public servants are resting because they can no longer do their jobs. I think we should call it the sleeping quarter.

 

Wednesday
Jan172007

Brainwashing

It's something that worries me from time to time. My daughter comes back from school and starts telling me about what she's been doing. Very often it's along the lines of "I did the staff room compost" or "we learned about recycling". Even the teachers joke about it, telling us that they're sick of it too. In recent weeks we have had a "Fairtrade Fair" and there was a concert at which the parents were treated to the older children singing a little ditty about not giving in to greed and how we should all support Fairtrade.

Now, the Scotsman reports, every school in Scotland is to be provided with a copy of Al Gore's polemical film about global warming.

A GENERATION of environmental activists is set to emerge from Scotland's schools after it was agreed every pupil in the country will hear Al Gore's "powerful message" about the dangers of climate change.

The Scottish Executive announced yesterday - as the former US vice president flew in to Glasgow to address business people, environmentalists and others - that his documentary film An Inconvenient Truth would be shown to secondary school pupils.

Ross Finnie, the environment minister, said he felt the status of Mr Gore would ensure pupils listen to the message of the film, but was sure they would make their own minds up about it..

He dismissed any suggestion that the film was political propaganda, saying there was firm evidence of climate change and that anyone disputing it "has got to be on planet Mars".

It's utterly shameless of course. The objective is brainwashing, just as Mill predicted. I wonder if Ross Finnie has even heard of him.

Tuesday
Jan162007

'Ello, ello....

It's probably nothing, but this is interesting: Adrian Sanders MP is speculating that Tony Blair might go this week.

I wish. 

 Via Voting Taktix

Sunday
Jan142007

Fun with photoshop

My first proper attempt at a proper caricature. While I don't think it's really caught his facial characteristics, I do think it's captured the essence of the man's mind.

 brown6.gif

Wednesday
Jan102007

Government websites.

The Government is going to close down loads of its websites because, well, probably because they're mainly rubbish and nobody ever looks at them, and if they do they can't find anything. (This via Raw Carrot).

Has anyone stopped to think just how much has been spent on putting these sites together? And how much it's going to cost to put their replacement "super-sites" together?

Of course not. It's just another half-examined crudity from New Labour. 

Wednesday
Jan102007

Are they misleading us on porpoise?

Lots of media outlets are reporting a scientist who is claiming that harbour porpoises are threatened by starvation because of global warming. Changes in sea temperature are causing a reduction in the population of sand eels, apparently, so there's not enough for them to eat.

And how did our scientists reach this conclusion? The Graun newsblog fills us in:

Academics at Aberdeen University and the Scottish Agricultural College, in Inverness, studied the stomach contents of stranded porpoises collected from the east coast of Scotland in the springs of 2002 and 2003.

They found these contained fewer sand eels and other food compared with porpoises recovered between 1992 and 2001. Other research showed that while 5% of stranded porpoises died due to starvation in the late 1990s, 33% starved to death in the springs of 2002 and 2003.

Which is pretty amazing stuff. A study on the contents of porpoise stomachs proves that global warming is the culprit! How do you manage to do that?  Perhaps the author, Colin McLeod of Aberdeen University, is an augur rather than a proper scientist. I wonder if he reads tea leaves too? 

I wonder if perhaps rampant overfishing of sand eels, a well-documented phenomenon if ever there was one, might have played just an eeny weeny part too? Wouldn't get the headlines though, would it?    

Wednesday
Jan102007

Will Hutton on economics again

Following on from my posting on Will Hutton's rebranding as a economist, Tim Worstall finds our man getting a bit confused about trade deficits. Still, knowing something about economics is not a necessary requirement for a BBC economics expert. Feel the empathy instead.

Tuesday
Jan092007

Mill on bureaucracy

Another choice quote from JS Mill's On Liberty; one which could have been written with the NHS in mind.

Banded together as they are - working a system which, like all systems, has to proceed largely by fixed rules - the official body are under the constant temptation of sinking into indolent routine, or, if they now and then desert that mill-horse round, of rushing into some half-examined crudity which has struck the fancy of some leading member of the corps.

Tuesday
Jan092007

Reforming the NHS

The best thing I've watched on TV for months (alright, it's just about the only thing I've watched on TV for months) was Gerry Robinson's programme on reforming the NHS. The second part is on tonight at 9pm on BBC2, and it wraps up at the same time on Wednesday.

I would like to say that it was eye opening, but anyone who reads Doc Crippen knows full well what it's really like in the NHS. Confirmation of what Doc C has been saying came in spadesful, with a terrifying picture painted of an organisation which is institutionally incapable of doing its job, institutionally beyond reform. Robinson is an enthusiast for the NHS (as a Labour man, it's not surprising). He came over as a thoughtful  man and he is clearly a good businessman. But the levels of despair and depression that came over him as he realised what he was up against were a vindication for everyone who argues that the NHS is a national disgrace and cannot be reformed, but should be scrapped.

Or so I thought.

This afternoon I heard him interviewed on 5Live where he set out his position on what needs to happen now that we know the problems. Having seen what he has seen, his answers were breathtaking in their naivety. The NHS should apparently remain free at the point of use. He's not an economist then is he?  He should try reading Doctor Crippen on the subject. It needs better managers. Ah, managerialism. Everything will be alright with the right managers. Just a bit more money needed. Another blog, Stumbling and Mumbling, would put him right here.

I was left with the abiding impression that here was a man who had got stuck in the detail of a single hospital, and couldn't see the wood for the trees. He couldn't see the glaringly obvious fact that the NHS is not fit for purpose (to use a hackneyed phrase). The NHS is a zombie organisation. It's dead. Finished. We need to start again.

What we should replace it with is up for debate, or at least it would be if we had a single politician with the cojones to start one. Robinson said on the Radio 5 interview that he knew little or nothing about healthcare in other countries except that healthcare was good in the USA and France. This blindspot might explain why he thinks the NHS is reformable. He knows nothing about countries which have better systems (and in the developed world, that may well be all of them). He might try taking a look at Singapore.

But at the end of the day, Robinson has provided a valuable service, by publicising the state of the NHS and the waste of £27 billion which has been pumped into an organisation which is unreformed and unreformable. For this he deserves our thanks. 

Monday
Jan082007

Ruth Kelly

Ruth Kelly: 'I want to do the right thing for my son'

Bishop Hill: So do I, but I can't because you've taken all my money, you hypocritical cow. 

Monday
Jan082007

Vitamins and organic food

In a comment on this post at Liberty Alone (a liberal Lib Dem blog, if you didn't know), someone called A C Baker pointed out in the comments the claim of the Soil Association that modern vegetables contain lower levels of vitamins and trace minerals than in the past.

This immediately set a few alarm bells ringing, because I was pretty sure that the King's Fund researches health policy issues rather than performing scientific research. A quick look at their website confirmed that scientific research is not what they do:

The King's Fund aims to improve health and health care by developing policy, people and services. 

Bullshit detectors now sounding the alarms I followed the trail from A C Baker's original comment to its source. This turned out to be an article from the Soil Association's Information Centre, entitled What we can say - the quality and benefits of organic food. At first sight, it's a moderately impressive document with a list of references to the sources for each claim made. The section on vitamins reads:

Vitamins and minerals

No food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic food.

The use of synthetic fertilisers, plant breeding, and longer delays between harvesting and consumption have led to reduced trace element and vitamin content in food.

 The reference for this is, however, a bit different to the others. It reads

2. The King’s Fund, an independent medical charity.

This is not entirely helpful. You would have thought that, as a minimum, a document title would be required. But never mind; try searching the King's Fund Website. Enter "vitamins organic vegetables" - three documents returned, nothing relevant on any of them. Search the site through Google - no joy either.

A bit of more general Googling came up with a single study which be the basis for the claim. A scientist at the University of Texas called Donald Davis found apparent declines in nutrients in a range of plants over a 50 year period. He appears to be extremely cautious about his results though.

According to Davis, establishing meaningful changes in nutrient content over a 50-year time interval was a significant challenge. The researchers had to compensate for variations in moisture content that affect nutrient measurements, and could not rule out the possibility that changes in analytical techniques may have affected results for some nutrients.

So there may be a scientific basis for the claim, but it appears to be far from proven. Which might go some way to explaining why the referencing in the Soil Association's Information Centre is so vague.

Saturday
Jan062007

What will Britain be like under Brown?

Like this, perhaps..

 brown3.gif

Thursday
Jan042007

Will Hutton, economist

Over my shoulder, as I write, the BBC is showing a programme hosted by Peter Snow and his son Dan (can't he get a job off his own back?) about the UK economy. In a section on foreign ownership of the utilities (part of our heritage according to Dan!) we were told that opinion was divided on whether it mattered that foreigners owned so many of the utilities. Digby Jones was interviewed and spoke in favour. Peter and Dan, being good BBC types, clearly felt they needed a big gun for the case against, and decided to get an economist.

Unfortunately, and not entirely unexpectedly, they don't seem to have been able to find one who agreed with the case against. So what did they do? They got Will Hutton, a left-wing journalist and former stockbroker, and put up a caption describing him as an economist. Later in the show they interviewed him again, and described him as heading an economic think tank called the Work Foundation. Its website is here. And whoops! They've been misleading us again! The Work Foundation combines roles as an HR consultancy with research into the workplace and "the knowledge economy". There are no economists on its board, or among the executive directors,  and it doesn't seem to have published anything on the economics.

This will be no surprise to anyone who follows BBC matters. If the truth doesn't fit the agenda, just lie. Nobody will notice.  

 

Thursday
Jan042007

Girl guides ain't what they used to be

There were a few raised eyebrows yesterday when the Girl Guides organisation announced that they were going to start teaching girls about safe sex, date rape and abortion. This was apparently in response to complaints from the girls that these topics were not well covered by schools. Denise King, the head of GirlGuiding UK says that the organisation needs to be discussing issues relevant to the girls' lives.

You can see it can't you: the delegations of teenagers confronting Brown Owl and demanding a class in date rape avoidance. "No baking today, Brown Owl, we need to know where to get a decent abortion".

Seriously though, does anyone really think this is really demanded by the girls. And if you are in any doubt, see this from 2001.

The `Irish Sunday People` (April 29th 2001) features a report titled `Fury over gay advice for guides`, which tells how Girl Guide leaders have sparked outrage by planning to teach innocent youngsters about LESBIANISM. Family and youth concern directory `Robert Whelan has voiced his concern saying `It goes against all the high ideals the girl guides was originally set up to promote`.

Speciallist counsellors will be recruited when Guide workers are too embarrassed to talk about sexual issues. Denise King, Deputy Chief executive for the guides has said "Our aim is to be relevent to young women".

[Emphasis is mine] 

 Ms King seems to have a bit of an agenda, doesn't she?

Thursday
Jan042007

Mill on education

A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.

On Liberty, Chapter 5. 

Unfortunately state education is, and is likely to remain, the declared policy of all major UK political parties. Is it any wonder why people are switched off by politics?