Monday, 31 January 2011

Lock Me Up And Throw Away The Key

Right now.  For I am a criminal.  (Or am I?)

Misanthrope Girl has blogged on the sacking of three nurses after the three nurses who, dismissed from their jobs because the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) deemed them to be unsuitable after they failed its checks. Go read it - she argues the point well, based on a Telegraph report of the precedent set when the High Court overturned their sackings.

Apparently, their heinous crimes included:
One of the nurses broke the law by leaving her 11-year-old son at home alone while she went shopping. Another was cautioned because while he was at work, his wife left the couple’s children alone for a short period. The third kissed a colleague without permission.
Master Patently is 11. He is regularly left alone, perfectly safely.  The nurse apparently "broke the law" by leaving his son alone.  Exactly which law would that be, then?

Also, while I am at work, Mrs Patently sometimes leaves him on his own.  She may do many other things while I am not there - who knows?  Am I liable to be cautioned for whatever she does?  Is she my chattel, suddenly?  Is anyone brave enough to tell her that?

And as regards the third offence, I'm not specifically aware that I have done this, but I don't make a habit of seeking explicit permission before kissing people.

I seem therefore to be a multiple offender on several counts, so I shall await the 6am alarm call.  But no, wait - none of these "offences" were deemed worthy of prosecution.  None were deemed serious enough to justify taking the offenders to a Court, judging them in line with the principles of justice, and exacting a punishment as prescribed by law.  Yet that decision can be reversed by the ISA in its infinite wisdom, who can decide that these people are unworthy and must be sacked, their livelihoods removed.  This is, of course, a far, far worse punishment than any fine that could have been imposed by the Court for their "offences".

Remember; we are paying for this quango to prevent perfectly good nurses, whose training we have paid for, from working in our hospitals where their skills may be of some use.  We are then paying (no doubt) for lawyers to represent the nurses in the High Court, while a Judge (who we are paying for) listens to the arguments of the Government lawyers (who we are paying for) while they unsuccessfully try to argue that we should not pay compensation for ruining these people's lives.  We then pay for the compensation claims, of course.  Remember that next time Mr Balls tells us there is no scope for cuts.

If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all...

Obo has something nice to say about the NHS for once.
So, let me say something positive about British healthcare professionals: given the insane bureaucracy and meddling, soundbite-driven, target-oriented micromanagement by the government, given the complete disconnect of normal market self-interest in making medical people care about patient loyalty, it is a remarkable testament to the skill, dedication and commitment of those healthcare staff who do actually care and do actually deliver, that the UK is not at the bottom of the healthcare charts.
Or, if I may translate that into Government-speak, We are truly blessed that the NHS has so many really motivated and highly skilled people... [...who are dedicated and able enough to overcome the massive hurdles placed in their way by useless meddling bureaucrats and actually get some of us well again once in a while].

I've heard the Government version of that argument quite a lot over the years (albeit not in exactly those terms). It has always confused me somewhat, especially when used to justify spending more money on the bureaucrats.  Or to justify "protecting" the NHS budget.

Well said, Obo.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Evil of Profit-Making

The NHS is in the news, obviously.  There seems to be one comment that recurs frequently, that it is morally wrong for "companies to make a profit out of the NHS".

What strikes me as odd is that none of the interviewers ask "Why?".

Why shouldn't people make a profit out of the NHS?  Is it because there is something wrong about profiting from a service that is essential, a service without which people would die?  If so, we should nationalise the pharmaceutical companies, the hospital equipment manufacturers, the medical supplies companies.  All of these people make a profit from the NHS.

Continuing the logic, we should nationalise the food retailers, the farmers (to the extent they are not already), and the food distribution companies.  We should also re-nationalise the water companies and the energy companies.  All of these people make a profit from an essential service.

No doubt this is the real mindset of those who object to a profit being made.  I have a harder question for them, though.  If it is so wrong for a profit to be made from healthcare, why do we pay nurses a salary?  Surely they should give of their time for free, so that patients can be cared for?  They are making a personal profit, and they are at least partly motivated by this profit - just see how many would turn up if we stopped paying them.  Some might, but I doubt all of them would.  If a company sets up a diagnostic centre with the best and newest x-ray machines, CT scanners, and MRI imagers, and offers that to the NHS for a fee, why is it acceptable to pay the nurse who helps the patient onto the scanner bed, but not OK to pay the investor who funded the scanner in the first place?

We could take this further.  Among the left, there is an almost fetishistic approval for "not-for-profit" companies. But do the staff of these companies work for free?  No - of course not, it is just that the company does not distribute a return to outside shareholders.  In other words, all the company's income is used to pay overheads and provide the staff with an income.  But the same is true of my firm; we are a partnership, so after payment of our overheads and the fixed salaries of the employed staff, all the remainder is distributed between the partners.  The accounts officially show a profit, but only because the partners take no formal salary.  There is no difference of principle between us and a not-for-profit company, except that lefties don't seem to like me.  Perhaps I make too much non-profit?

Monday, 10 January 2011

Anna slips up

Now, I have a huge respect for Anna Raccoon.  I was upset when she briefly stopped blogging, and pleased when she started again.  I like her style of writing, and I like the fact that she (usually) looks into issues rather more deeply that many others, and refuses to be silenced.

But she has slipped up this time.  She has jumped into the MMR/Autism controversy with a defence of Wakefield and a sad story of an autistic child to jolt our sentiment glands.  She suggests that Wakefield was a good scientist who was squashed by the establishment just because he got some of his paperwork wrong.  Just a clerical mistake, then, latched onto in order to protect Big Pharma.

Sorry, Anna, no.  I have to disagree with you on this one.  What follows is the comment that I have just posted there.

I have a dear son, who is 11 years old going on 12.  If you do the arithmetic, that means he was due for his MMR vaccine just as the Wakefield story was headlining.  So this issue is of deep personal interest to me.

We went through hell during those months.  My wife was faced almost daily with other mothers who were united in their abject fear of the MMR vaccine and their determination not to allow this evil poison to be injected into their children.  The media maintained their hysteria, asking scientists to prove the lack of an MMR/Autism link and holding up Blair (of all people) as the arbiter of medical fact and scientific probity simply because he had a similar-aged kid.  Proof of a non-link being (of course) impossible, the media then latched onto the measured and cautious statements of responsible scientists and used these as "evidence" of a cover-up. 

Meanwhile, Wakefield was everywhere.  With respect, he was not "merely calling for ‘further research’ into a possible link"; he was in the media saying there was indeed a link and something should be done.  Specifically, he was advising parents not to take the MMR vaccine.  Set that against a scientist explaining that Wakefield's research was not conclusive and that other studies do not report a link and - in the media's eyes - Wakefield was the winner in every interview. 

There was just one flaw in Wakefield's call to avoid the MMR vaccine; it was rubbish.  I only have a first degree in science, but as the media were failing to look at the issue scientifically I decided that I had to.  I followed up the sources quoted for every MMR story and realised that they all lead back to just the one small study - something that the media was not making clear at the time.  I looked at the scant details of that study that were generally available to non-scientists and realised that it provided no scientific basis whatsoever for reaching a conclusion. 

Despite this clear and obvious fact, Wakefield was still up and around everywhere, giving interviews, warning of the dangers of MMR, saying he had scientific proof, and calling for more research funding.  I reached four conclusions from my work, without any help from "the establishment":

1. That there was no evidence of a link between MMR and autism,

2. That there would, in a few years, be a surge in measles, mumps and/or rubella cases, a risk that I assessed as far more serious than the unproven risk of autism,

3. That Wakefield was a charlatan, and

4. That my son was having the MMR vaccine, come what may. 

And, in case you are wondering, yes I do know what autism is like.  A neighbour has a seriously autistic son, and pretty well every male member of my family has at some point been described as being on the autistic spectrum.  But we cope, far better than we would cope with measles. 

The story of MMR, autism, and Wakefield is a terrible one, in which there has been great suffering.  But I have to say, the suffering has been on the part of the parents whose children Wakefield studied and who Wakefield gave such false hope, the parents whose children developed autism and who were made to feel that they were in some way responsible, and the parents who shunned the vaccine and who saw their children fall ill with a disease for which they (and Wakefield) were responsible.  

Sunday, 9 January 2011


I love this clip.

The response that it usually provokes is that all left-wing groups are the same, endlessly fragmenting, bickering, arguing, re-forming, splitting again, and so one.  When I went to Cambridge, among the University societies there was one Conservative Association but a truly endless list of left-wing groups.  That was no doubt partly because there tend to be more left-wing students than right-wing students (even I was more centrist back then), but it is instructive nevertheless.

What people never ask is why.  Why is the left so prone to division, in a way that the right is not?  After a little thought, it seems to me that the reason is obvious.  Socialism is about telling people how to live their lives; Nanny tells you what you may or may not do, and Nanny's Chancellor takes your money away from you because he knows how to spend it and what to spend it on better than you do.  In that approach, there is endless potential for disagreement.  What should Nanny's priorities be?  Which minority groups should be on the favoured list?  Should they have lots of money spent on them, or eyewatering amounts of money?  What is the process for allocating the cash between them?  How many State bodies should be involved in the decision process? Should we take direct and open control of all industries, or just regulate and tax their owners into submission?  And so on.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they keep dividing.  There is material aplenty.

The right, however, takes the view that individual freedom is paramount.  Freedom to do as you choose, and take the consequences.  Freedom to control your own funds, and spend them only on what you wish to.

There is not a lot of scope for disagreement there.  Indeed, the potential sources of division are in how far it is proper to depart from that ideal; to what extent we need to coerce people to give up their income in taxes, and to what extent we must limit people's freedom, to force them to respect the freedom of others.  The core belief, however, is a simple one, a unifying one.

Which is why we are right (as it were).

Worrying, if unsurprising

Is there anyone knowledgeable or devoted enough to tell me whether the quotes in this video are accurate and were genuine reflections the considered views of the speakers?

Because if they are, it shows that what a lot of us have been shouting for a long time is 100% true, and not the paranoid ranting that is it usually dismissed as being.

(H/T to Richard)

Friday, 7 January 2011


Bye bye to a fraudster.

Bye bye to a liar.

Plenty still to go, though.  When will they learn; there is no excuse for lying in order to gain public office.  There is no excuse for deliberate and conscious fraud.  The MPs who lined up to whinge that Woollas should be let off because otherwise the Courts might become involved in the electoral process should be asked, bluntly, why they don't understand that the Courts have always had a role in elections, and why they think it should be ok to lie to us.  The MPs who have told us what a good MP Chaytor was despite being a fraudster should be asked, bluntly, exactly what level of criminal venality you can compensate for by turning up in the Chamber once in a while to do what the whips ask you.

This news is, I think, unreservedly good for our system of democracy.  Both convictions have said, loudly and clearly, that our politicians are not above the law.  They must not only make our laws, they must also observe them.  Now, if the CPS would be so kind as to get going and take a good hard look at the other 644, I'd appreciate it.

But I wonder if we could go further in bringing our politicians to heel.  Radio 4 suggested this week that the death penalty should be re-introduced, but as a voluntary opt-in.  Stand up in public and say you support the death penalty, and your name will be noted.  If you are later convicted of something serious, then the sentence will be that you will be taken from this place... etc etc.  Although I find the death penalty abhorrent, I find that concept strangely tempting.  It chimes with my favourite proposed law, that anyone uttering the phrase "Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear" with serious intent should immediately have publicly accessible webcams fitted in every room of their house*.  But both suggestions are, I now realise, just shadows of the policy that we should actually be putting in place, which is:

Any MP who votes in favour of the creation of a new criminal offence should be monitored for the rest of their life for conformity with that law.  Their past life should also be scrutinised, and the law should apply to them (and them alone) retrospectively.  Any infringement of the law that they voted for should automatically receive a sentence that is twice the harshest penalty that their law provides for.  

We could call it the Hypocrisy Act 2011.

Postscript - We could also allow for rewards for those offering evidence, and for those involved in the prosecution, so that enforcement would be contracted out and not a drain on the public purse.  

Further, there could be immunity under the retrospective provisions in respect of anything that the MP admits, during the debate on the bill, to having carried out that would be an offence if the bill was passed.  That way, they might actually have to think about the bill (or even read it!) and about their own conduct relative to it.  Other MPs would see what kind of activity might be an infringement of the proposed new offences, and just how prevalent they are among "normal"(ish) people.

*yes, I mean every room.

Some excellent writing...

Here, on the joys of living in the countryside relative to the city.

Go read it.  It's worth the effort. It's a good read, and (as Richard says), he has a black Labrador too.

(H/T to Richard, with thanks)