Saturday, 21 December 2013

Bye bye???

Well, I did predict that online safety filters would be a little bit impossible to run properly. I hate to say I told you so, but it seems that the following sites are blocked:
  • The Vatican 
  • The British Library 
  • The National Archives 
  • The National Library of Wales 
and, to make it just perfect:
  • Childline
Less seriously, but (spookily) exactly as I predicted also blocked is:
  • This blog

Sunday, 15 December 2013

I've missed the boat again

I had a brilliant idea for sorting out the EU this morning.  What we need to do is to find an ardent Eurosceptic (I would be an ideal candidate) who can then join the EU bureaucracy and work from the inside to make the EU into a completely ridiculous organisation, one that fails to make any headway on anything of importance, legislates away merrily on matters of no importance whatsoever, and wastes shedloads of money in the process.

A few years of that, and democratic support for the EU will soon evaporate.  And I'll spend those years with a nice expenses account among the restaurants of Brussels.  What's not to like?

And then it struck me. 

I'm too late.  Someone is obviously already at it. 

Whoever you are, I salute you!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Need to Know Basis Only

I'm slightly gobsmacked.

Blue Eyes wanted suggestions of nice paces to emigrate to.  So, as you do, I googled "happy places to live".  The top result that wasn't along the lines of "nicest places in the UK", which would rather have defeated the object, was this site:

Yes, that's an article by the BBC on the happiest places in the world in which to live.  So it should be perfect for what I'm looking for.  So I followed the link.  To be told this:
We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, the profits made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great new BBC programmes. You can find out more about BBC Worldwide and its digital activities at
Errm, pardon?

That part of the website is not funded by the licence fee, so I can't read it if I'm in the UK?  Whereas non-UK readers, who have also not paid for it, can read it for free?  That is odd enough logic on its own.

But wait - what is going on here?  The Beeb has worked out where in the world to live if you want to be happy, and won't tell UK residents where it is?

Get your tin foil hats out...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Hard cases...

...make bad law, as the saying goes.  However (I suspect you could see that word coming), this case is a perfect example of why we need the amendment to the Human Rights Act that I have been saying is needed for some time now.

It seems that Mr Jumaa Kater Saleh arrived in this country in 2004 as an asylum seeker, aged 16.  His asylum claim was refused, but where the claimant is a child we allow them to remain here until 18.  At the age of 18 he (naturally) made a further application to stay here, which was being considered when he was arrested for sexual offences.  He was convicted on specimen charges of sexual activity with a 13-year-old girl.  It seems that the three victims, described as"far from mature for their age" were lured to a house and assaulted by Saleh and three others.  Even at its face this is a disturbing crime, but I cannot help but wonder whether anything is concealed by the fact that he was convicted on a specimen charge that was (perhaps) straightforward to prove and required little by way of traumatic experiences in Court for the witnesses?

Anyway, he served his sentence and was then set to be deported back to Darfur... except that he claimed that this would be in breach of his human rights as "he would face inhuman and degrading treatment in Sudan, in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights".  On that basis, he could not be deported.  So he was held in an immigration detention centre while the Home Office tried to work out what to do with him; the Court has just ruled that he cannot be held indefinitely and declared that he is entitled to compensation for being held beyond what was reasonably necessary.

The Telegraph is up in arms because we are going to have to compensate a foreign paedophile.  Once again, the media spectacularly misses the point.  Of course we have to compensate him; if our civil servants are incompetent enough to hold someone illegally, then compensation will be due regardless of how unpleasant the individual is.  There are two much more glaring problems leaping out of this case than the simplistic "Arrrgghhh immigrant paedo money waste!!!" headline that the Telegraph has grabbed.

First... his original asylum application was refused.  In other words, it was decided that he would not face persecution if sent home.  Then, his Human Rights application was successful, on the grounds that he would face persecution if sent home.  Someone needs to think about that.

Second, and this is the point I have been making for some time, his argument that being sent back to Darfur would breach his human rights was made under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that "he would face inhuman and degrading treatment in Sudan".  Inhuman and degrading treatment... in other words, treatment akin to (say) a sexually immature 13-year-old being dragged of the street into a strange house and being sexually assaulted by four men?  Is it not an utter and rank hypocrisy to resist being sent to your own country on the grounds that, once there, you might be subject to treatment of the same class as you did actually inflict on a national of the country that accommodated you?

It isn't a huge change to the Human Rights Act that we need.  Just a little one.  Just one that says you can't use a human rights defence to protect you from the consequences of your own denial of the same human right to another.

Just that little change.  That's all.

Monday, 11 November 2013

How to send yourself to jail

I was quite annoyed to read this:

New Asbo plans are assault on basic freedom, says former DPP Lord Macdonald

It seems that our beloved Home Secretary has plans to replace ASBOs.  As we know, there are a number of quite difficult issues around ASBOs, in particular their ability to criminalise quite inoffensive behaviour on the basis of a fairly flimsy evidential basis.  Nevertheless, I'm sure they are capable of doing good in some circumstances.  So there are (obviously) two options for reform:

  • Redraft the provisions to add safeguards so that we keep the possible beneficial effects of ASBOs but limit their potential for mischief, or
  • Just widen them and make them easier to obtain without worrying about the consequences.

Theresa "Handful" May, not yesterday
Guess which one Ms May opted for..
Under proposals currently before Parliament, Asbos are to be scrapped and replaced with wide-ranging new orders known as Ipnas (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance).
They are designed to be easier to obtain, require a lower evidential threshold and yet cover a wider range of behaviour.
Oh good.  In fact, it gets better:
the new system will allow courts to impose sweeping curbs on people’s liberty if they think they are “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”. 
Remember, of course, that breach of a Court order is contempt, which carries the potential for a custodial sentence.

At least there is some good news.  I find this sort of activity by politicians very annoying indeed.  So if Ms May gets this passed into law, then I can presumably use it to put an IPNA on her to prevent her from passing any more such laws.  I'm sure I'll be able to find a police officer keen to help me...

Thank you

You are not forgotten.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why climate change is good for the world

Don't ask me, ask The Spectator and Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University.
There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. 
Best of all, this is the result of a review of all the literature.  So this is the fabled "consensus". The science that is, apparently, "settled".  The Speccie quite properly notes that the results have a degree of scientific and economic uncertainty in them.  But there is the rub:
You can choose not to believe the studies Prof Tol has collated. Or you can say the net benefit is small (which it is), you can argue that the benefits have accrued more to rich countries than poor countries (which is true) or you can emphasise that after 2080 climate change would probably do net harm to the world (which may also be true). You can even say you do not trust the models involved (though they have proved more reliable than the temperature models). But what you cannot do is deny that this is the current consensus. If you wish to accept the consensus on temperature models, then you should accept the consensus on economic benefit.
Or you could say nothing, cherry-pick your results, shout down your opponents, and carry on wasting public money keeping your organisation's budget up:
In exchange for [£1.8 trillion], we hope to lower the air temperature by about 0.005˚C — which will be undetectable by normal thermometers. The accepted consensus among economists is that every £100 spent fighting climate change brings £3 of benefit.

Monday, 9 September 2013


Back in December 2007:
Arctic summers ice-free 'by 2013'
Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.
Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.
And now that we have reached 2013?
There has been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of ocean covered with ice compared to this time last year, they equivalent of almost a million square miles.
In a rebound from 2012's record low an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia's northern shores, days before the annual re-freeze is even set to begin.
The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year, forcing some ships to change their routes.
A leaked report to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seen by the Mail on Sunday, has led some scientists to claim that the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century.
Yes, all hail the new mantra... we are at risk from Global Cooling.  Let me guess, this can be solved by a range of government initiatives funded by new green taxes which will involve a huge expansion of State spending and impose a range of restrictions on businesses - and the time to act is now!

More seriously, what we have just seen is called, in technical terms, an "experiment".  We set out a "hypothesis", i.e.  that the computer models are accurate predictors of future climatic trends, from that we obtain a "prediction", i.e. that northern polar waters would be ice-free in summer by 2013, and now we have observed a "result", that they are anything but.  So we reach a "conclusion", which is that the hypothesis is false, i.e. that the 2007 modelling studies were "wrong".  Those would be the modelling studies based on science that was settled, presumably?  In which case that science is "wrong".

Apologies for the technical scientific terms in that paragraph, I've put them in quotes so that you can spot them.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Muddling through a conflict - again

I find issues of foreign intervention very difficult to call.

On the one hand, there are clearly appalling things being done in Syria, and I feel sympathy for the desire to "do something" (although I fear the politician's syllogism). On the other hand, I completely see the argument that asks what - exactly - does this have to do with us, or (to put it another way) who appointed us as the judge, jury, and (quite possibly) executioner?  There is also a very practical question arising from the sheer number of nasty things of various types happening all over the world which we are wilfully ignoring.  Egypt and North Korea spring to mind without any real difficulty, I am sure there are others.

What confuses me, though, is why we have this debate again and again, and always in the heat of the moment.  It's a little late to ask for this, I realise, but what we should surely be doing is to have a parliamentary debate while things are quiet, and discuss the philosophical issues around foreign interventions, and set a stance which the UK will then hold to.  That stance could then be the official policy of the UK Government, and when a situation like the Syrian one arises, we could focus on the issues of proof (did Syria actually use chemical weapons?) rather than the philosophical ones.

The policy could be something like:

 "Internal conflicts will, by and large, not be our concern because there are too many of them. So, we will not intervene unless:
  • there is a UN decision to intervene
  • there is proven use of any weapons or tactics on a specific list that we will publish 
  • that the conflict affects UK interests in relation to [specific list, say food, essential imports (i.e. oil), British citizens abroad, UK security, etc] 
  • that the conflict affects the physical borders of any of our [listed] allies and that ally asks for our help or is unable to ask for our help but clearly needs it 
But that if the conflict meets one or more of these criteria then we will intervene as quickly and as forcefully as we are able." 

But that's just my rough first draft, off the top of my head. I'm not especially advocating that particular set of words, the point is more that if we had  a published statement of when we would intervene, rather than always making it up as we go along, then there could be an open debate on the issues of principle, we could act quickly when something does happen, and - who knows - if it became widespread then nasty regimes might think twice about using chemical weapons or the like.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Does Government Have a Revenue or Spending Problem?

An excellent video summarising where the real problem lies: US figures, obviously. As Tom Paine points out {brief tip of the hat to Mr P}, good luck finding a British academic with a similar economic outlook... I would like to know the UK figures though. Does anyone have time to look them up?

Friday, 9 August 2013

Why do all politicians sound the same?

My MP Steve Baker has linked to this video, to explain why all politicians end up saying the same thing:

I've commented there to explain that while this is a persuasive theory, and explained well, it makes one significant assumption that is not borne out in practice.  It assumes that the views of the voters are a given, that they are fixed and inflexible.  The task, then, of the politician is to tailor his or her views so as to maximise his or her vote.

This is of course a very cynical approach to politics, which entails the candidate deceiving the electorate and espousing a set of views that s/he does not hold and does not support.  Some might say that was not the best start to a political career (although others might disagree).  More seriously, however, it is a flawed assumption.  Voters do change their mind in response to what they see happen and what they hear via the media channels that are fed to them.

So let us postulate a country with a two-party system in which one party pursues the approach set out in the video, and the other actively seeks to control the media agenda and use it to present a viewpoint favourable to it.  What will happen?  Well, there will be a gradual shift of the views of a large part of the population towards the latter party, let us call them the "Manipulative Party".  By their consistent presentation through the media of an agenda suited to their beliefs, they create a climate of public opinion that matches theirs, and  control the terms of debate and its language so that the voter population are not just persuaded by the outcome, they begin to think along the lines dictated by the Manipulative Party.

Meanwhile, the other party, let us call them the Responsive Party, note this shift in public debate and respond to it by tailoring their message in the same manner, forever chasing the movement of the voter population towards the Manipulative Party.  The result: as before, both parties say the same thing - but that thing is the message of the Manipulative Party.

Meanwhile, what happens to the voters who hold the views originally espoused by the Responsive Party?  They are left over at the other end of the see-saw, abandoned.  They drift away, disillusioned and disappointed.  But the Responsive Party picks up more voters than it loses, right? Wrong - the voters it is nearest to can see full well that it is trying to put out a message that it has never held, and which it is only putting out in order to chase votes.  So it fails to gain their trust, and loses out overall.

The result is sadly predictable - the Manipulative Party spins its way to victory while the Responsive Party loses the argument every time.  The only chance of power for the Responsive Party is when the policies of the Manipulative Party have their inevitable catastrophic effect and the Responsive Party gain power (perhaps in a coalition?) briefly in order to patch things up.

It will come as no surprise if I say how I think this analysis applies to British politics.  So I won't bother.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Hello again!

So, what does it take to wake me from my blogging slumber? A broken aircon unit making work "impossible" (according to Labour MPs, how would they know??) certainly helps.  A Royal baby? No.  A move to make porn harder to find? Not as such.  A clear and blatant threat to civil liberties and freedom?  Yes.  Oh yes... yes... yes David... that does it for me David... yessss...

Yes, I'm talking about David Cameron's latest step away from anything remotely resembling liberal free-market small-state politics, the "default-on" policy.  You immediately know that this is nasty, because it has a snappy appealing title.  A sweet sugary unobjectionable layer of spin to cover the illiberal and unpalatable inside.

Now, this is being presented as so, so reasonable because we all know porn is nasty, that children should be kept away from it, that it incites some men to carry out appalling crimes, and that anything that stops child porn being disseminated must be a good thing, right? Sorry, no.  Those are the reasons that I've heard being thrown around today in support of this move, and I'll start by squashing them.  But first, I'll just clarify a few points before anyone decides to take the wrong impression of me.

Nothing that I say here is in any way, shape or form in defence of or condoning violent pornography, non-consensual sex or film/images of it, or child pornography.  

I have a young daughter, and the thought of any of these makes me feel physically ill.  Quite frankly, anyone who tried that with anyone that I know would find themselves being taken for a ride, cuffed to a towrope behind one of my cars. Yes, I'd go to jail for that.  No, I wouldn't care.

So, with that out of the way, let's turn to the justifications for this policy:

Porn is nasty

Yes, it is.  But it is legal (in many variants, at least).  There are many things that I consider to be nasty but which are legal. Should we make everyone who wants to do anything I don't approve of apply to me and opt-in before they are allowed to?

More pertinently, if the bar is not set at what Parliament says is legal, where is it to be set - and who sets it?

Children should be kept away from it

Yes, they should.  In fact, that is the law as it stands.  18-rated material is not to be shown to minors.

So this is not a change to the law, merely a change to the process.  Therefore, it is valid for us to look at the process and see whether this will help - which it won't.  What it will do is make parents feel that the State and the ISPs are doing their job for them, and that they can therefore opt out because the filter is "default on".  Unless the husband/boyfriend/older son has quietly defaulted off, of course.  And provided that the filter is perfect and catches every nasty thing without making any mistakes.

And that brings me to one of the really serious problems - filters are just awful.  We fitted a filter to our kid's PCs, one of the leading ones in fact.  They both hated it.  It blocked a wide variety of perfectly acceptable websites - I recall the moment when we sent our daughter to a clothes website, to choose some holiday outfits.  It blocked that, because of the large amount of lingerie that could be viewed there.  We were forever approving exceptions, which is a hassle when the security is set at a level intended to defeat a determined 17-year-old lad.  Whenever that defeated us, we had to listen to the "I can't do my homework because of the filter" rants. How easy is it going to be to request an exception when David Cameron's appointee holds the codes, instead of the householder?

And yes, sites that their schools sent them to in order to do their homework triggered the block. That is how sensitive porn filters are.

That it incites some men to carry out appalling crimes

Not proven.  Sociologists have tried to prove this on numerous occasions and failed.

In any case, the men concerned will just be able to ring their ISP and ask for the filter to be taken off.  Then they will be able to look at disgusting pictures to their heart's content and - if there is a causal link flowing in that direction - they will be incited to go off and do horrific things.  Just like before.

Personally, my view is that the arrow of causation is in the opposite direction, that men who are willing and able to carry out such crimes will (along with many other men) be attracted to porn. But that is just my view and I have no evidence to support it.

That anything that stops child porn being disseminated must be a good thing

I'd agree with this (wholeheartedly), but disagree that this policy will achieve it.

First, as noted above, it is a filter that can be turned off at will.  So those that want to bypass it, can, err, turn it off.

Second, I have (literally) no idea how these images (etc) are circulated.  But I very much doubt that it is via a searchable database on the open Web.  I suspect that other protocols are used, that the servers are locked down and only accessible to validated users as opposed to the Google spiders.  So even on a "default-on" broadband connection, I reckon the access will be no harder than before.

If you disagree, think through this.  To filter a site out, the authorities will need to know where it is and what it contains.  Child porn (etc) is already very illegal.  So if they know enough to filter it out, they should be shutting it down instead.  Ergo, if we assume that the illegal sites are being shut down in line with the current law, the filter will only block legal sites and will leave the illegal sites untouched.

So that deals with the positive reasons for the policy.  What about the reasons why we shouldn't do this?

First, there is the collateral damage.  I hinted at this above - my daughter being unable to choose an outfit for her holiday because the site also showed lingerie.  I can assure you that any filter will either be a waste of time (letting all sorts through) or will make your online life a nightmare.  If you don't believe me, if you think a filter can be written which works perfectly, then all I can say is go write it!  I'll patent it for you, in return for a slice of the royalties.  We will make a mint, because the perfect online filter is a prime example of a product that is in high demand but which does not exist.  Larry Page and Sergey Brin will look like losers next to us.

It's not difficult to realise why.  How do you plan to filter it?  By hand? Impossible, too much volume, just YouTube gets uploads of something like 48 hours worth of video per minute.  So to check YouTube alone, you would need several thousand people working 8 hour shifts doing nothing but watching YouTube.  Multiply that by every site on the web, and you soon have most of the country sitting down all day checking for porn.  Perversely, that would actually make sure that at least someone watched all of the worst stuff.

So you need automation.  It can look at the content or the words, or a combination of both.  If it looks for both, or for just the content, then people will publish text-only sites with links and instructions for accessing secure servers.  If it looks at the words, then this page and (say) @_millymoo's blog ( will be blocked immediately.  Neither are pornographic.  Both are laden with juicy keywords.

So there is the first argument.  You are going to have to opt-in for porn in order to read this blog. OK, I know the easy answer to that is to question why you would ever want to read this again, but bear with me on this for a while:

  • This blogpost questions government policy.
  • The government policy in question would hinder your ability to read this blogpost and its questioning of the government policy.  

If that doesn't scare you, then you need to do some thinking.

You could start by thinking about who defines the content that is excluded, who has oversight over that, and who has the right to challenge it.  Because once porn is out, why should children be exposed to unpalatable extremist views - such as terrorist sympathisers, for example?  Or racists? Or smoking (we're thinking of the kids, remember)?  Or global warming deniers...?

In fact, how would you propose to argue in support of people being able openly to promote illegal activity via the web?

Promoting illegal activity such as, say, the right to do something that is currently proscribed?  Or, if I may re-word that, calling for the law to be changed.

So there is the second objection; just as there is no clear bright line that a filter can use to detect porn, there is no clear bright line saying where this should stop.  

And, in case you were wondering, there is an easy way to argue in support of people being able openly to promote illegal activity, by any medium.  It's here. Go read it.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

That Conservative Party Draft EU Bill In Full...

DRAFT European Union (Referendum) Bill


Make provision for the holding of a referendum in the United Kingdom on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-

1. Referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union
(1) A referendum is to be held on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.
(1A) Oh yes it will.
(1B)  No, really.
(1C) Look, we mean it this time.  We really do.
(1D) OK, I know we said we have one like this before and didn't, but this time it's different, Nigel Farage is at the door and he's looking very smug.
(2) The referendum must be held before 31 December 2017.
(2A) Or... ummm... Douglas Carswell will get really upset.
(2B) Unless the government of the day decides not to hold it after all.
(2C) Which they will be perfectly entitled to do.
(3) The Secretary of State shall by order appoint the day on which the referendum is to be held.
(3A) Unless he puts forward a Bill to rescind this Bill.
(4) An order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(5) The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—
       “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?”
(6) In Wales, a Welsh version of the question is also to appear on the ballot papers, as provided by order.
(6A) Scotland & Northern Ireland can cope with just an English question.
(6B) England probably won't, if someone could kindly translate the question into Polish, that'd be great, thanks.


6. Short title
(1) This Act may be cited as the Desperately Trying to Save Our Bacon (Farage) Act 2013.

Monday, 6 May 2013

In defence of free and open speech

Stephen Fry, on respect for others in the language we use and on the need to prevent language being directed and used against specific groups.

A salutary reminder.

The letter home that he quotes is chilling, and a plain example of where politically correct euphemism can lead.  So, please, say what you mean, mean what you say, and criticise others for the views they hold - not the manner in which they express themselves.  

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The reality of business in the UK

My practice has now been trading for exactly a year, as of today (yay!).  So I thought I'd look back at where the spoils went.

Now, you will all know my views by now.  So I was (I admit) expecting a particular result.  But it still took me by surprise:

These are the actual figures.  Cross my heart.  They consist of:

Me - this is the net cash received by me, i.e. the cash I have drawn from the business to live on minus the cash I put in to start it off with.

Staff - a simple one, their net salaries over the year.

Government - is the total due in respect of the year, including my own personal tax due for the year in question (based on the income ascribed to me under HMRC rules), the total PAYE and NI that I have paid to HMRC in respect of my staff's salaries, the total VAT I have paid for the year, and the official fees I have paid to HMG or its proxies on behalf of clients.

Note, there is no Corporation tax in there.  None.  Zero.  I avoided it entirely by incorporating as an LLP.  So, go on - call me a tax dodger.  Accuse me of not making my fair contribution.

Go on.  I dare you.

Monday, 8 April 2013

She snatched my milk

I was at primary school in the 1970s, and I remember school milk.  It used to arrived in little half-height crates filled with little glass bottles that looked like real milk bottles but smaller - I assume 1/3 pint each.  They all had silver foil tops on, which were marked with either a "3" or a "4", I have no idea why.  I once asked my teacher if that meant they contained 3 or 4 pints, she said no it didn't as a 3 pint bottle would be much larger, and gestured how high it would be.

I liked that teacher.  She taught me to read, using the books in the series "The Village with Three Corners".  They were brilliant; they had proper stories in them, so that you wanted to get to the end in order to find out what happened to Roger Red Hat.  Once I found that I could read anything, I never stopped.  You could read brilliant and exciting stories, like "The Stepping Stones", in which Roger Red Hat has to cross a dangerous river.  Or you could read hilarious stuff like "The Cat in The Hat", I remember that book rendering me insensible with laughter on the (linoleum) floor of the classroom.  I owe that teacher a huge debt of gratitude, but I can't even remember her name.

Anyway, the milk would arrive at some point during the morning, and would wait until there was a suitable break in the lessons.  Then we would collect a blue straw and a bottle and take it back to our seat, and push the straw through the tin foil lid to drink the milk.  By then, it was always warm, and not very appetising.  I used to finish it though, because one of my Mum's frequent comments was about how good for you milk was.  Lots of my classmates didn't - I'd say about half the milk was left undrunk, not to mention the bottles that were still in the crate untouched.  Inevitably, there would be a long delay before the bottles were collected, and the other kids would spill some, so the classroom would fill with the smell of warm and off milk.  To this day, I still detest that smell.

One day, suddenly, the milk stopped coming.

None of us cared.  I stopped feeling under pressure to drink this horrible warm stuff, and the smell eventually worked its way out of the carpets.  We spent our time doing lessons instead, or reading more adventures of Roger Red Hat.

So there, in a nutshell, you have an early appreciation on my part of the effect of government initiatives.  Stuff that most people don't want or need is acquired at who knows what cost, distributed inefficiently to people who don't really need it, distracting them from doing what they are there to do and making them waste their time doing something else instead.  I was a Thatcherite by the age of 6, I just didn't realise it until I was about 22.

Thank you, Lady T.  RIP.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A thought

So, nurses are to be forced to spend a year wiping bottoms so that we can make sure that they are suitably caring people to become nurses.

I can see the sentiment, and agree with it.  But the means seems to be a little obtuse.  Is that the only way of making sure that someone is a caring person?  Can we not, perhaps, watch them in action for a while to make sure?  Do we need to take (ex hypothesi) skilled and intelligent people and make them waste a year of their time proving a point, when they could be doing something more valuable instead?

And where does the precedent take us?  Doctors work alongside nurses in delivering care, I am told.  So why not make them work as a healthcare assistant for a year before starting their medical degree?

I hear also that the working conditions in the Mid Staffs NHS Trust were unconducive to staff who wanted to warn management about problems.  Obviously the NHS managers did not care adequately about the patients.  Should they have spent a year working as a healthcare assistant first?  Surely, what is good for the nurses is good for all the other hospital staff first.

And what of the Minister for Health?  With responsibility for so many caring professionals, with oversight of the system for caring for the entire UK population,... well, the logic is inescapable.

And one last, quiet worry.  What about the healthcare assistants?  If the nurses are too posh to wash because they were never healthcare assistants, what does that say that we think the healthcare assistants are?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

RIP my Mum

As the phrase goes, her long battle with cancer ended today, Mothers' Day, leaving her now in peace. But there was so much more to her life than the way it ended. A dedicated primary school teacher of the (literally) old school who believed in imparting knowledge to children and ensuring that they could all read, write and add up, she also embraced what were then new methods to ensure that this process was done gently and kindly - with the child running alongside rather than dragged behind.

At home, she brought up three children who knew that help with schoolwork would always be available, and that the suffix "It's for school" would guarantee a positive response to any "Can I..." question. To say we had an educational springboard is beyond understatement. And it worked, too; all three of us are graduates, and are now a patent attorney, a consultant radiologist, and a journalist. She was proud, and she made sure that we knew she was.

Warm and affectionate, she made our home into the safe refuge from the outside world that it should be. As a family, we were always slightly different, slightly out of place, and the security of home that she created for us was a source of strength.

She really did fight the cancer that eventually took her. She also kept her sense of humour to the end, teasing all three of us in different ways. We were blessed with over a week's warning of the end, and were able to use that, to gather, and to say goodbye. There were moments of wit that week that were uniquely her; I will not forget them.

Bye Mum xx

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Why we should all worry about worrying about being tracked online

The Grauniad has published a fairly sensible article about online privacy.  Yes, relax, I really did say that, but it's a technical topic not a political one, so I'm not going soft.  They point to a new piece of software being developed by a nasty horrible private sector company (they couldn't help it...) which is very efficient at tracking people by their online persona and identifying outliers - who may merit closer inspection by the authorities.

All very easy to justify, after all most of us are normal apart from the terrorists who do different stuff.  Except that, as the Guardian rightly points out, statistics don't work like that - there are (thankfully) very few terrorists and a very large number of people, so the vast majority of the outliers will be perfectly decent citizens who suddenly start wondering why there is a big black Transit van at the end of their road...

I do of course wish the Guardian had realised this in 1997 instead of 2010, but better late than never.  I suspect they may forget it in 2015, though.  But that misses the point of this post.  The article warns us that we reveal ourselves via the online footprint we leave, and that authorities can glean a lot of information in this way, perfectly legally, and without any oversight.

So, where was the article published?  In the online Guardian, of course, with a comments section beneath it that could be used by that nasty piece of software.  On a site that uses cookies - not just site performance cookies that make the site work consistently for you, but also advertising cookies that, err, track your behaviour on the site and retain information about what you look at, what you take an interest in.

But they have a privacy policy, surely?  Of course.  And they promise that they will "do our utmost to protect user privacy through the appropriate use of the security technology".  By, for example, collecting information  about your behaviour which enables them to group it with users that show similar behaviour. Just like the software mentioned in the article.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything especially unusual or wrong about the Guardian's privacy policies.  But it struck me as amusing.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Gratuitous Insults

As you know, I don't stoop to using candid photos of people with momentarily-silly expressions in order to poke fun at them.  To do so is puerile and silly.  It lowers the tone, and is wholly unnecessary.

So I definitely won't be posting this photo of poor Wallace:

No, certainly not.  Poor Wallace, all on his own without Gromit to look after his best interests and keep him out of trouble.

Oh - wait, no, my mistake.  Gromit is there after all:

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A Thought

Our Parliament has been around for over 300 years now (if you date it back to the Act of Union 1707).  No-one actually knows how many laws have been passed in that time, but a decent guess is  3,679 since 1801.  Whatever the actual number is, it is a lot - and the rate of new laws seems to be increasing rather than decreasing.

So why isn't the UK perfect now?

Surely, if politicians sitting in the House of Commons passing laws was the answer to social problems, we would have it sorted out by now?  Granted, new laws are needed to cope with new things like (say) cars - pre-existing laws could not cope with that, and a Road Traffic Act or the like would be needed in order to regulate them.  As we gained in experience, we would also need to go back to the Road Traffic Act once or twice in order to amend it as needed in the light of that experience.  But that doesn't explain the sheer volume of legislation that issues from Westminster and Brussels.  That doesn't explain 3,679 laws and counting.

The logical conclusion, therefore, is that politicians don't achieve much social good.  Politicians, in short, don't work.  Perhaps we should pass a law to ban them?

Times change

When I was little, I would be made to feel guilty if I didn't finish my plate at dinner. "Think of the starving Africans", I'd be told. Now, I'm made to feel guilty if I do finish my plate. "Think of your waistline". Ah well.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Points of View

There is a lot in Cameron's speech about Europe that I like, although I am still working my way through it so will have to hold final judgement for now.  One snippet has however jumped out at me, and not in a nice way.

While discussing the importance of the Single Market, he notes:
And I would ask: when the competitiveness of the Single Market is so important, why is there an environment council, a transport council, an education council but not a single market council?
I see the question in a diametrically opposite manner.  To me, the question is, given that the Single Market works well enough, why do we need an environment council, a transport council, and an education council at all? Why not just close them and return the budget to taxpayers?

Friday, 11 January 2013

We've had a note from Little Miss P's school, as follows:
[The company running the school bus service] has contacted us regarding the predicted cold spell and the potential impact on transport to and from school, for students who use County contracted bus / taxi services.  This is copied below for your information.

Please emphasise to your daughter the procedures relating to safe conduct which apply if there is a breakdown of any kind, or in the event of inclement weather as follows:

“Where such events occur, it is most important that pupils follow the instructions given by the driver and do not attempt to make their own way home on foot, especially in situations where the driver is able to confirm directly to pupils that alternative transport has been arranged and is on its way.”

Thank you for your support and co-operation.
This is a secondary Grammar school.  All the girls on the bus have passed the 11+ exam and are aged between 11 and 18.  Therefore, the attitude shared by the school, the bus company, and the local authority is that an intelligent 18-year-old girl who knows where her home is is unable to make the decision for herself as to whether to get off and walk.  Instead, she should wait for god-knows-how-long until a replacement bus arrives.

Equally, the somewhat-younger Little Miss P is likewise not to alight, even if (presumably) she can see our road!  Her bus journey actually goes past the end of our street and then on to the bus stop, so it is quite possible that the bus could be broken down nearer to home than her stop.  Nevertheless, she must wait on the bus until a replacement bus is available to take her further away from home so that she can walk back from the officially-designated place.

Madness.  She will be told that if the bus fails, she is to call us and discuss the problem.  If the bus driver then believes he can overrule her father's decision, he can expect to see a Land Rover appear in his rear view mirror.