Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Terri Schiavo - random thoughts

I wish I could believe something positive could result from the sordid mess that is this case, but my cynicism triumphs every time I consider the notion. My own rather disjointed thoughts:

1) What, precisely, is so objectionable about trying to get a legislature, even a the federal one, on your side? And if it is OK for the SCOTUS to over-ride state laws on flimsy excuses, why not Congress? It is, at least, elected. Am I missing something?
2) That judicial supremacy is something I dearly wish we would not be submitting on ourselves over here with the legal reforms, Human Rights Act, et al.
3) That there is a slippery slope, and that this result will be ultimately detrimental to the disabled, terminally ill, and handicapped.
4) That the only thing more revolting that the media vultures is the partisan crowing.
5) That there is no way that being starved to death is humane. Whether or not Mrs Schiavo has concious thought she does apparently respond to some stimuli - if only on 'remote' as it were. I image it would probably be illegal to starve a cat in Florida, but apparently its a-ok for humans.

My more substansive thought is that I have heard one of the problems of this case is that the trial level attorney for the parents was not so good. I have no idea how true that statement is, but it is something I have read. Also, that it is at the trial stage that the 'facts' are decided. It seems to be that there is ripe potential for abuse and injustive when the quality of your attorney - something you may not be able to choose - basically determines your chances of achieveing a fair outcome. Now I may well have missed something here, perhaps Appeals Courts have ways of realising if a case was, as it were, harmfully represented at a lower stage, but my sense is that this is a difficulty that is swept under carpet. Please correct me if I am wrong. Incidentally I have no idea what the situation here in the UK is.

Travellers / Gypsies

Michael Howard, Tory bigwig and general idiot, has recently pushing the issue of illegal camps made by Travellers and Gypsies. I don't know if DM Andy has ever had to live in a village that has suffered from a traveller invasion (in Cornwall we did have a mini-one, long before complaining about it became newsworthy) but this is an issue, and the law - either as written or as implemented or both - basically leaves local communities hostage to the illegals and local councils, both of which are the problem.

And as currently implemented, the laws do seem to favour foot-dragging and manipulation by the Travellers/Gypsies. They know they are breaking the law, and I don't see why they should be allowed to get away with it when hunt supporters and told at every turn that their breaking the law would be dishonourable or something. I certainly wouldn't mind some formulae to close the loop-hole that is retrospective planning permission. And they do get away with it.

Plus there is local council incompetence (a factor in a situation in a nearby village here) that renders the local community even more helpless than usual.

I suppose my somewhat random thoughts here come down to this: why should the law-breakers (and there is no doubt that they are law-breakers) are allowed to oppress the law-abiding? Something is wrong with the Human Rights Act and various other pieces of legislation when that happens.

Agenda for Change humour

I had the following sent to me at work last week, and I found it very funny and decided to share. I believe it originated in Scotland.

New Agenda For Change rules...............

Dress Code

It is advised that you come to work dressed according to

your salary. If we see you wearing Prada shoes and carrying

a Gucci bag, we assume you are doing well financially and

therefore do not need a raise. If you dress poorly, you need

to learn to manage your money better, so that you may buy

nicer clothes, and therefore you do not need a raise. If you

dress just right, you are right where you need to be and

therefore you do not need a raise.

Sick Days

We will no longer accept a doctor's statement as proof of

sickness. If you are able to go to the doctor, you are able to

come to work.

Personal Days

Each employee will receive 104 personal days a year. They

are called Saturday & Sunday.

Bereavement Leave

This is no excuse for missing work. There is nothing you can

do for dead friends, relatives or co-workers. Every effort

should be made to have non-employees attend to the

arrangements. In rare cases where employee involvement is

necessary, the funeral should be scheduled in the late

afternoon. We will be glad to allow you to work through your

lunch hour and subsequently leave one hour early.

Toilet Use

Entirely too much time is being spent in the toilet. There is

now a strict three-minute time limit in the stalls. At the end of

three minutes, an alarm will sound, the toilet paper roll will

retract, the stall door will open, and a picture will be taken.

After your second offence, your picture will be posted on the

Hospital notice board under the "Chronic Offenders

category". Anyone caught smiling in the picture will be

sanctioned under the hospital's mental health policy.

Lunch Break

Skinny people get 30 minutes for lunch, as they need to eat

more, so that they can look healthy. Normal size people get

15 minutes for lunch to get a balanced meal to maintain their

average figure. Chubby people get 5 minutes for lunch,

because that's all the time needed to drink a Slim-Fast.

Thank you for your loyalty to the NHS. We are here to

provide a positive employment experience. Therefore, all

questions, comments, concerns, complaints, frustrations,

irritations, aggravations, insinuations, allegations,

accusations, contemplations, consternation and input should

be directed elsewhere.

The Management

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Rather amazingly abortion seems to have become something of a minor election issue over here in the UK. Michael Howard brought it up, but I basically don't trust him. I doubt he is at all sincere, and suspect all he really is trying to do is appeal to those people for whom the wanton murder of human life is a serious issue.

I am myself basically opposed to abortion on two grounds. One, I believe that life begins at conception (it all has to do with souls, and nothing to do with whether a foetus is, or is not, 'viable'). Two, I think abortion is one of those things about modern society that encourages people to think actions have no consequence, that trivilises human life. The end of that slope is where those who are seen as a burden to the state are killed off. That clinic in Holland is just the next step along that road - Hitler and all the other eugenicists out there would be proud.

Never happen some might say. Back in 1924 Hitler had had his few moments of fame too.

The Budget

I wish I could get exercised about the Budget one way or another, but in truth I can't even really be bothered to find out what new flamboyant schemining Gordon Brown and his leech-like minions in the Treasury have come up with. Of course, my personal antipathy towards Gordon Brown is growing each day, so it would be fair to say I'm a teeny-weeny bit biased.

However, the main reason I can't be bothered reading about it now is that, if the election does happen on May 5th as expected, I'll be hearing it rehashed so many times it'll make me sick.

Besides, because it's an election budget it is even more untrustworthy than a normal one.

Baseball and holiday

Last night I stumbled on NASN a Spring Training game between the Mariners and the Giants, and promptly all my rather vague plans for the evening got shelved as a I relaxed watching a very creditable ball game. Saw some good pitching, batting, and fielding (and two moderately ghastly fielding errors by San Fran).

The regular season can't come soon enough.

Also a couple of weeks ago I booked my flightly for my trip Stateside in the autumn - timed strategically so I could go to a ball-game. I highly recommend booking tickets 6 months in advance, and also paying in £s for an American carrier when the exchange rate is like it is now. Hopefully it will remain good when I get around to getting myself some $s probably in August.

In the meantime I'm rooting for Wales this weekend when they face the Irish in an attempt to do the Grandslam. If the Irish had polished off the French it would be the other way around, but ....

anyone who can beat the French is going to have my support.

Monday, March 14, 2005

American conservative's Field Guide

Over at Crescat Sententia Raffi Melkonian has posted the first part of his (American) Conservatives' Field Guide (to Europe).

He puts the basic question faced by those like him thus:

You can fight, of course - but literally everyone will disagree, ...and sometimes it's hard to counter arguments you haven't heard before. Or, you can join the ranks of what I began, near the end of my time over there, to call the "study abroad apostates" - people who were perfectly sensible republicans or democrats at home, but upon finding themselves seemingly on the wrong side of every issue in Europe, fall over each other to denounce America.

From a slightly different placed (ie UK citizen) I am someone who is quite open and honest about my admiration and liking for President Bush, and I am bemused, though not surprised, by the knee-jerk hostility this can provoke. What is though in many respects worse is that people will just assume that, as an educated person, I am going to dislike Americans in general and George Bush in particular. It's a poisonous atmosphere, and can be very oppresive.

I have, amusingly though, encountered something similar on the other side of the fence when I was US (in Chicago actually) and someone expected me, as a European, to be anti-Bush. I think I quite shocked his worldview when I turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Of course, there was a time when I was much less forthright in my views, when I felt almost apologetic for holding them (which is the perniciousness of the prevailing atmopshere). No longer - it is far better for my self-esteem to be true to one's feelings. Even if it does get you into some arguments, and loose some friends (but, one should ask, are they friends worth having if they let politics get in the way of friendship).

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Prevention of Terrorism Act

So it is through, finally. Mostly I avoided all and any coverage of it simply because the reporting was so exceptionally bad. You have Charles Kennedy et al saying its a threat to civil liberties, waving Magna Carta around, and apparently no single journalist has a memory to remind these politicians that guaranteeing judicial review in a war-time situation is, in fact, a new development, an extension of those liberties that are not in our law in the first place.

For what it's worth I think judicial review would be a good thing, though I am mightily pissed off by now having judges making increasingly political decisions. That is what ministers are there for. The law is there to make people toe the line, not to decide what the line is.

All in all, however, the Tory party seems to be doing its level-best to ensure I vote Labour come Election day.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Book #4
Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that is changing your world by Hugh Hewitt

I am cordially interested more really about the phenomenon of blogging than blogging myself, so I was always going to read this book, even though it is not really aimed at me, and this book is definitely aimed. In particular it is aimed at people who don't really know much about blogs - perhaps they heard of them in connection with Dan Rather, but not really anything else. So a great deal of it is basically covering ground I already knew. For all that Hugh Hewitt does trace a very good history through four important moments of the blogosphere: Trent Lott, Jayson Blair, the Swift Vets, and (of course) Dan Rather. He also delves into the nitty-gritty - how the blogosphere is currently structured, some of the major sites, the mechanics, how to respond, and so on and so forth. Of course he does write from a conservative angle, which will probably annoy some people.

His main argument however is linking the events of 2004 to the invention of printing and the Reformation. I basically agree that the development of the internet is analogous to the development of printing. However, when he comes to making the case that the taking down of Dan Rather is like Luther nailing up his theses I think he demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the Reformation, and in the process ignores a far more important and relevant analogy: the pamphleteer. Admittedly what I know of pamphleteering mostly comes from studying the French Revolution at A-Level, but just reading about the early pamphlets and newspapers and the comparisons leap out: operations of one man or a small group, plucky and partisan, and out of 'mainstream' control.

My problem with the Reformation analogy is this sentence from p59

Luther's democratisation of the Bible led, through Calvin, to the democratisation of the Church.

The main problem is that Luther was violently intolerant of any who disagreed with him, and the Reformation resulted in nearly over a century of rabid religious intolerance and hatred, that still reverberates today. This was not democratisation in any meaning of the word I understand. It is a fundamentally pessimistic analogy and example for the blogosphere, and an example of fundamental human failure. Personally I think we can aim a little higher, and I think drawing a parallel to 18th century America is altogeher far more wholesome, and relevant.

Despite this historical quibble I liked the book. Hugh has a very engaging, conversational (sometimes exhortational) style that is a welcome change in a 'serious' book.

Finally, it got me thinking. There are aspects of what some mediavel English chroniclers did - especially the ones that wrote contemporaneously with the events they described - that are very similar to what bloggers do now.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Agenda for Change Part 2

Just a quick note to reply to Andy's comment below. We know the answer to the problems, but we are not allowed to make sensible provisions for cover that would avoid the hiring of expensive agency staff. Technically we are meant to cover ourselves. Great theory, and has diddly-squat to do with reality. We know it is a problem, the manager knows it's a problem, I think even the head of division knows of the problem. But tell that to the fools who come up with this no-cover policy whose wages are probably the reason for the stupid policy in the first place.

OK, that last bit is harsh, overly so, but that is what it feels like.

As for the rest (ie the first bit of the comment), that touches on the heart of why I am unconvinced of the fact that A4C is a good thing. Hopefully I'll get something up in the next week explaining why.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Consequences of Agenda for Change

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while, since I think it is a pretty good lesson about short-term thinking in the NHS.

Agenda for Change is this endeavour to bring in a supposedly fairer system of pay into the NHS. I'll blog another time why I think it is seriously flawed, but I want now to concentrate on a very specific consequence. One of the results of A4C (as it is acronymed) is that we are all getting extra holiday - in my case 5 extra working days, for a total of 27 working days per annum plus bank holidays. Sounds great, but there is a problem: cover, or the complete lack of it.

Even before Agenda for Change was implemented (and for holiday purposes my Trust has implemented A4C) we had grave problems with staff holiday. The sort of problems that end up getting a reasonable degree of high-level attention. In our office on a good week we slowly catch up, an average week we stand still, when we are all there. Absent one person for one week and we are lucky not to fall a complete week behind. And now Agenda for Change basically lumbers us with another 3-4 weeks a year being short-staffed, and absolutely no thought has been given to the effect of this.

The effect, incidentally, is dangerous practice as our work falls 4+ weeks behind. And perfectly justifiable patient complaints (how would you feel when you learn nothing has been done 4-5 weeks after you saw the doctor?). Then a great flapping about and finally the hiring of expensive agency staff to provide cover - which we are not meant to be able to afford in the first place (though we seem to be able to hire extra managers at inflated wages - funny that). And this is before those extra 3-4 weeks are taken out of our year. I am really not looking forward to the holiday season this year.

Someone in Whitehall, probably lots of people in Whitehall, and elsewhere, have simply not applied any common sense. That should not surprise us - this is government we are talking about after all - but it is typical of my experience in how the NHS is run. Someone has a 'bright' idea, and no one bothers to look at the perfectly obvious consequences.

For the record I would rather get the extra week's pay than the extra 5 days - the other difficulty is that it is pretty difficult as it to use up my holiday days, with all of us in the office tripping over each others' dates. That will also only become harder to negotiate.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A longer perspective

All credit to Michael Leeden for his very insightful piece in the NRO called Revolution, which advances the theory that the events recently in Iraq and Lebanon should be seen in the light of a two-stage revoluation that began with Spain's democratisation following the death of Franco. I say all credit because it is one of the few articles I have read that bothers looking back a couple of decades. It is also useful to remind us really how new and fragile widespread democracy is in our world, and how fast its spread has been.

We have come a long way since the first signing of Magna Carta, that quite undemocratic document that has nonetheless become the mythical foundation of English (and thus global) democracy. But that is a much longer perspective, talking about the age of the Crusades. But there is an appropriatness to that, since the mindset and warfare of that time is the mindset of our enemy in this time. But something began back then that has led to our democracies today. If we can do it, anyone can.

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