L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

01 July 2009 Blog Home : All July 2009 Posts : Permalink

Zanu Labour Logo

Gordon Brown is always talking about relaunches and fresh projects (which usually involve recycling tired old ideas) so I figure that the Labour Party itself needs a makeover to make it more modern and a new image to correctly portray its policies. So as a small part of that process I present the new labour logo and flag:
ZANU Labour Logo
Now I claim no credit for inventiveness here. ZANU Labour has been used as a description for some years now and Comrade Bob Mugabe has been using the top part of this logo in Zimbabwe for a few years also. So in fact, now that I ponder more, I realize this new logo is remarkably fitting - it being precisely the sort of tired old cliché presented as new idea which is one of the hallmarks of Gordon Brown's Labour government. It also represents the flag of the ruling part of a bankrupt country which has been mismanaged by the current government so as to take a previously healthy economy and leave it at death's door.

Yes, the more I look at it the more I thing it is highly emblematic of Gordon Brown's party and government.

02 July 2009 Blog Home : All July 2009 Posts : Permalink

Obama, Honduras and Niger

So in the Central American state of Honduras the president of that country tries to organize an illegal referendum and rewrite the constitution so he can stay in power and is ejected from office by the armed forces under orders from the Supreme Court. Obama criticises this move, calls it a coup and calls for his reinstatement.

Compare this with developments in the African state of Niger where the president of that country tries rewrite the constitution so that he can stay in office. In this case Obama has criticised the Niger president for "undermining the rule of law" etc.

Now one can argue about whether Obama is right or not in either case, but whether he is right or wrong is less important than he act consistently. In these cases there seems to be no consistency.

02 July 2009 Blog Home : All July 2009 Posts : Permalink

Why "Free At Point of Need" Doesn't Work

Dr Crippen has a post about how ambulance personnel convinced a little old lady to refuse to go to hospital. The story as recounted by Dr C sounded very familiar, which is interesting as it tends to move my story beyond the level of anecdote, and various commenters at his blog have noted that paramedics all over the UK quite often do the same thing.

But I'm not going to criticise the amulance folks here because one of the commenter's explains the problem the Ambulance folk face:

Paramedics do not consider themselves to be doctors, I know I don't. However, for various reasons, mostly related to ridiculous government target setting, most of our work is non-emergency as in the case you have described. People have cottoned onto the idea that if they go to A+E they will see a doctor in 4 hours or less, and that if they call an ambulance they will get there for free.

As a result we are spending 90% or more of our time doing a job we are not trained for. The emergency jobs we are mostly good at are few and far between, and we spend our days going to people with flu-like symptoms, cut fingers and toothache. People who need no intervention, self medication or their GP. We do our best, trying to decide which of these is ill enough to go to A+E. Mostly we get it right.

We can't take everyone in, the emergency departments would implode - often they are unable to cope already with the flood of inappropriate cases.

So what we have here is another example of how incentives (or lack thereof) lead to unintended consequences. Since the emergency services are free and since A&E are required to see patients within 4 hours there is a major incentive by the not terribly ill to see if they can't get treated via Ambulance/A&E instead of jumping through the hoops of red-tape, paperwork etc. that are required to get treatment via one's GP.

Of course some people (e.g. my parents, the old lady in Dr Crippen's tale) are not timewasters and wouldn't dream of calling an Ambulance unless there was a serious problem, but the paramedics who show up have no idea whether they are or not. Worse, the sorts of people who don't abuse the system tend to be modest self-effacing sorts of people. The sort who apologise for being ill when they call the doctor and who tend to minimise their suffering when they do. They say things like "I'm a little under the weather" to describe hours of agonizing pain and the like.

Given all this it is clearly hard for the overworked amulance crew to figure out whether the person they've been called to see is a) a lazy malingerer or b) a meek but genuinely ill person. Hence sometimes they will misclassify people. And of course since they are busy, overworked etc. and because type a) is apparently far more common than type b) their incentives and experience means they are far more likely to work on the assumption that their patient is a type a) waste of time and react accordingly unless it is clear that their patient is genuinely in need.

And all this is caused by the fact that the NHS is paid for by taxation and not by individuals when they need it.

Now you could almost certainly fix this situation by charging people for wasted emergency calls. I can think of two ways to do this, neither is perfect but both would almost certainly drastically lower the load on the ambulance services and A&E departments. The first way is to send a bill later to patients who are deemed to have wasted the service, the second is to simply require an upfront payment before the ambulance arrives (and on entry to A&E for those not coming by ambulance) for those cases when the referral is not from some recognised authority. In both cases a lot of people would whine extensively and hence I suspect this is not an idea that any politician will dare to implement but I bet that if it did you'd see a massive reduction in the load on the NHS. One could also do the same with GPs and specialists (charging people for missed appointments) and see the load drop there too. The amount need not be the total cost of the service, it just needs to be high enough to cause potential abusers to reconsider.

03 July 2009 Blog Home : All July 2009 Posts : Permalink

20090703 Friday Olive Tree Blogging

This is the humongous old olive tree that I've pictured before. I thought it might be fun to have a shot of the whole tree some years on so we can see what it looks like now.
20090703 Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

03 July 2009 Blog Home : All July 2009 Posts : Permalink

Voluntary (ha ha) ID Cards

Alan Johnson thinks we should all welcome ID cards, he trots out the tired old line about ID theft as justification. He writes lots of tosh starting with this:

Our identity, the information that makes us unique, is something that we get called upon to prove each day, when we are opening a bank account, renting a flat, proving our right to work.

Those of us who do not flip houses and claim dodgy expenses do not in fact need to prove our identity each day. Apart from the requirements of Security Theatre and International Travel I have not needed to prove my identity more than once in the last year and the only reason I had to actually document my identity in that case was because of petty government bureaucracy. The same goes for at least two of his three listed daily activites. Banks only require identification because of money laundering laws and if it weren't for idiotic immigration laws, income taxes and National Insurance I doubt employers would care whether their new employees have "the right to work" or not. Private landlords might want ID but I suspect that actually what is more interesting is suitable references of character and ability to pay. ID only becomes interesting if the tenant buggers off without paying his rent.

It is this unique information that fraudsters and criminals want and this is why we guard it so carefully. Shredding machines, once only found in offices, are now found in many homes as people protect their personal information by destroying personal bank and billing information.

The introduction of identity cards is a simple means of helping you, and I, protect our unique identity from fraudsters. Identity fraud costs the UK economy £1.2bn on average each year and causes misery for tens of thousands who fall victim. At a cost of just £30, the identity card is a cheap way of helping fight back. So, despite the headlines that would have readers think otherwise, I'm not scrapping identity cards – I'm committed to delivering them more quickly to the people who will benefit most.

OK how precisely does having an ID card protect our unique identity from fraudsters. Is he trying to claim that ID cards will be impossible to clone/forge/counterfeit? If he is then he's just flat out lying. If not then he needs to explain how an ID card that can be cloned/forged etc. protects our unique information. That's going to be hard because as I've said before the existance of a single (government mandated) form of ID simply means that criminals have an incentive to figure out the undoubted weaknesses in the scheme.

I know that some of you have real concerns about the government's motives for introducing the card. When I announced this week that I would make identity cards wholly voluntary it was because I believe that there are real benefits that will make the card an attractive proposition for many people. I think the case for identity cards has been made, but understand that getting a card will be a big decision for some people. Easy or hard, I think it should be a voluntary decision, one that people choose to take, because they agree and welcome the benefits an identity card will provide.

Three years ago the government also said ID cards would be voluntary but they kind of slipped up and noted that eventually you'd need one to do anything at all, making them de facto compulsory. Indeed one can say that to some extent proof of ID is already compulsory. Consider the case of Willie Hamilton and his recent lottery win:

William Hamilton won the money on a £2 scratch card but lottery officials are asking for proper identification and are requiring the winner has a bank account.

That's where the matter becomes a bit more difficult.

Mr Hamilton is a convicted robber. He was released from prison a year ago and is trying to rebuild his life.

The £100,000 prize would be a good start, but lottery operator Camelot Group has been reluctant to hand over the money to a man who doesn't have a driving licence, passport nor bank account.

Mr Hamilton doesn't exist because he doesn't have the right bits of paper asserting his existance. Worse, for the government, he keeps his income in untraceable cash rather than easy to track bank electrons which means its hard for the goverment to rob tax him. Our lad Alan the Post continues:

In particular, I'm pleased that the government will be looking at bringing forward proposals for pensioners aged 75 and over to receive an identity card free of charge.

Err why would pensioners aged 75 and over benefit from an ID card? As a general rule people of that age are not busy "opening a bank account, renting a flat, [or] proving [their] right to work". In fact since they are pensioners they are almost certainly NOT working and most of them are not moving and have already had a bank account for years. So what possible benefit do they get from this card? Since my father is in this category I shall be fascinated to learn how much effort he is required to make to get this "free" card and I shall be even more interested to find out later how much he uses it. My predictions are that getting the card is going to require a good day of form-filling and sitting in waiting rooms and that he'll never actually use the thing at all once issued except possibly as an alternative to his passport (which he already has) for trips to EU countries.

I also want to see young people with identity cards. They will not only act as a proof of age for the individual but also empower communities tackling underage drinking and crime by enabling local retailers, including pubs and supermarkets, to help ensure they aren't selling restricted goods, such as knives and alcohol, to those who are underage.

Oh look at that bait and switch. Old people, who don't need the things get them for free. Young people, who will have to pay for them, are going to be forced to get them and use them to buy things the government wants to regulate. And this is going to "empower communities". No it isn't. It's going to empower tinpot little hitlers to hassle young people and/or the shopkeepers and bar staff who may not wish to enforce the checks.

And is it going to stop underage drinking? Of course it isn't. We have entire classes of substance (i.e. drugs) which are completely illegal to buy but which are readily available to any one of any age who wanders to the right (or wrong) street corner. If ID cards for alcohol is enforced this will help kill the pubs and clubs that might otherwise survive on teenagers and force said teens to either borrow the ID card of their elder siblings/friends or to buy lager at inflated prices from booze "dealers". In either case they will then consume it in the streets and parks in precisely the way that they currently do, only more so because they can't drink in a pub/club.

And this is why I have taken the decision to speed up the rollout of identity cards by announcing that alongside people in Manchester, residents in the wider north-west will also be able to apply for a card in the new year. People believe in protecting what they have and what they have worked hard to achieve – a good name and a good credit rating. Being able to protect your identity from fraudsters who would use and abuse it is something we all want and I think identity cards can achieve this.

And now we close with a return to Identity theft FUD. And again there is no explanation of how ID cards will protect us just the blanket statement that they will (he thinks). I doubt I am alone in thinking that I'd prefer not to plunk down £30 for a piece of plastic just because it might protect me from ID theft. What we need are concrete examples and the fact that the government can't provide any indicates that either there aren't any or they involve such a draconian curtailment of our civil liberties that we'll protest once we learn what they are.

04 July 2009 Blog Home : All July 2009 Posts : Permalink

Budget Savings

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth wondering what part of the UK government spending needs to be cut because "its all vital and and cutting it will result in worse service". I think I can identify a few areas where we can fire some useless jobsworths and get better service.

Here's one:

“An unsavoury character could have come in and we just can’t put the children in the event or the students at the host school at risk like that.  The ultimate fear is that a child is hurt or abuducted, and we must take all measures possible to prevent that.”

- Paul Blunt, development manager at the East Beds School Sports Partnership, explaining why parents were banned from attending their children’s school sports day to protect pupils from potential child abductors and paedophiles.

90% of the people involved in protecting children from paedophile should be fired since all they do is spread FUD and make things difficult for all concerned.

Then there are the 'elf'n'safety / legaleagle brigade that, due to liability fears, ban all sorts of common sense ideas like sunscreen:

Teachers have barred children from bringing sunscreen into school for fear that they will share it with others who are allergic.

[..]Parents have been told that in order to protect their children from the sun they will either have to apply a 12-hour sunscreen before school or come in at lunchtime and re-apply the cream.

Now you might say that getting kids to slather on sunscreen is overreaction to the skin cancer scare but so what? parents who want to protect their kiddies from cancer are entitled to teach their kids how to put on sunscreen. Other parents who kids are allergic to (some) sunscreen can teach their kids NOT to put on sunscreen from strangers. This is not difficult. Furthermore sunscreen allergies show up as rashes and other minor irritations rather than anything life threatening so if allergic kid B slathers on the sunscreen from sun paranoid kid A all that happens is he gets a rash and learns not to do so again. I would hope that any parent of kid B who attempted to sue either parents of kid A or the school/teachers would have his case dismissed with extreme prejudice - ideally involving a firing squad.

The same article then points out another set of legal idiocy

Royal Mail bosses have stopped supplying postmen with sun cream - for fear the company could be sued if staff fail to use it and develop skin cancer.

Norwich staff have been given factor-15 lotion for their rounds over the past two summers but company lawyers have called a halt.

Melly Hill, of the Communication Workers Union, said: 'The legal people looked at it and said that if Royal Mail provided sun cream and then people didn't use it and got skin cancer then they would be liable.'

Let me get this one stright. If an employer fails to provide any protection against a long term fairly low threat like skin cancer this leads them to less legal liability than if they provide some protection but it turns out not to be used? This is nucking futs. Assuming the legal people are correct the lawyers, lawmakers and bureaucrats who have caused this situation need to be told to rewrite the law and then fired. If the legal people are wrong then they need to be fired.

And they can be joined on the dole by these civil servants:

Civil servants have refused to name inmates who have fled prison even though individual police forces will often identify them if they pose a risk to the public.

They say releasing their names would breach obligations under the Data Protection Act.

I'm sure that a quick trawl through the pages of many a local (or national) newspaper will reveal plenty of other civil servants and bureaucrats of the same kind. Once identified they need to be fired for cause and banned from working for the government ever again.