Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A rusty super-tanker lumbers on

Mike Farrar of the NHS Confederation [1] says:

The NHS is like a super-tanker heading for an iceberg. The danger is clearly in view and looming ever larger.

Super-tanker is right! Super-sized, loaded with inertia, and impossible to steer.

But having recognised the nature of the beast, Mr Farrar suggests we steam ever faster ahead.

It is frankly absurd to suggest that important services can only be maintained by increasing spending even faster than the Coalition government has planned. After 13 years of New Labour bureaucratic expansion, there is plenty of fat to be trimmed, and the NHS provides plenty of non-essential procedures, from gender reassignment to IVF.

Even our Soviet-style healthcare system would be sustainable if properly managed, but it seems that today's politicians lack the resolve to reject idiotic demands from the Guardian and the BBC.

Far better, though, to let the free market work its magic. We don't have a National Food Service. Why do we need a National Health Service.

[1] "the membership body for the full range of organisations that commission and provide NHS services" - nicely unbiased, then.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

BBC cheers the demise of cash

A fluffy little piece from the BBC about David Wolman, an author who "says cash is dirty, expensive and should just be pushed off the cliff":

Top quote: "here in the city today I'm not going to buy any pot and I'm not going to visit any strip clubs ... so I should be ok".

No such naughty transactions in the nice clean cashless future!

Let's hope, for his sake, that Wolman never becomes an enemy of the state.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Quisling Clarke

A referendum on our membership of the EU is an irrelevance. It is the demand of a few Right-wing journalists and a few extreme nationalist politicians. I cannot think of anything sillier to do than to hold a referendum.
So said The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP on Radio 4 recently, according to an email update from The People's Pledge. They also supplied an amusing photograph:

It's hard to escape the conclusion that Clarke is not simply misguided, but actually a Very Bad Man - England's answer to Vidkun Quisling.

Who but a traitor could dismiss as 'silly' the notion that the British people have a right to democratic self-determination?  Who but a traitor could characterise as 'extreme nationalist' the view that laws affecting the British people should be made in Westminster rather than Brussels?

37 years ago, on the 5th of June 1975, British voters were asked
“Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (The Common Market)?”

Today's EU is far from a simple "common market". Many of those who voted for membership in 1975 have regretted their choice, and nobody under the age of 55 has had any say in the matter. An in-out referendum is long overdue.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

From bad to worse for France

BBC News reports:

President Francois Hollande's Socialists and allies look set to emerge with a majority after first round voting in French parliamentary elections, final results show.
When you look at the left bloc as a whole, they have more support than the right, they will have a majority in the new parliament and that will ensure that Mr Hollande can force through the ambitious tax and spend policies that he has set out.

I wonder if M. Hollande has even heard of Frédéric Bastiat, who explained the folly of tax-and-spend in 1850:

When James B. gives a hundred pence to a Government officer, for a really useful service, it is exactly the same as when he gives a hundred sous to a shoemaker for a pair of shoes.

But when James B. gives a hundred sous to a Government officer, and receives nothing for them unless it be annoyances, he might as well give them to a thief. It is nonsense to say that the Government officer will spend these hundred sous to the great profit of national labour; the thief would do the same; and so would James B., if he had not been stopped on the road by the extra-legal parasite, nor by the lawful sponger.

Arguments in favour of government spending have become more sophisticated since then, thanks largely to Keynes, but tax-and-spend is still a bad idea even if 'James B.' or 'the thief' are less inclined to spend than their political masters.

For one thing, the government spends money very badly: it gets poor value-for-money on projects that benefit a small minority of the population.

For another, investment is the key to lasting prosperity, not spending. Wealth is generated by developing more efficient ways to produce goods and services that customers actually desire.

For naive Keynesians and socialist demagogues, boosting GDP is all that matters. C + I + G is the magic formula, and it doesn't matter how things are split, as long as the total rises. Ghost cities and military campaigns are just as good as fusion reactors, and much easier to deliver.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Snowdon: That non-existent slippery slope again

Another excellent post from Christopher Snowdon:

Simon Chapman, 2011:

"The tobacco industry and its stooges played the same slippery slope arguments over advertising bans, sports sponsorship bans and pack warnings . Ad bans started 35 years ago. No alcohol advertising ban and no momentum I’m aware of other than breaking the sport/alcohol nexus. So the slope ain’t very slippery folks …."
Deborah Arnott, 2012:
Thirdly, the “domino theory” i.e. that once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products is patently false. The same argument was used against the ban on tobacco advertising, but 9 years after the tobacco ban in the UK, alcohol advertising is still permitted with no sign of it being prohibited.
The Sunday Telegraph, today:
Doctors call for ban on TV adverts for alcohol

Thirty leading medical bodies and charities have called for a total ban on advertising for alcohol on television... If the demands of the alliance are met, they would have a major impact not just on TV advertising but also on sport sponsorship.
Fancy that!

As usual, the whole article is well worth reading.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Register: Gov fights itself over your money

A report from The Register that would be amusing if it wasn't so depressing:

An NHS Trust is disputing a record fine the Information Commissioner's Office has levelled on it for leaving tons of data on patients and staff on hard drives that were sold on eBay instead of being destroyed.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust was served a civil monetary penalty of £325,000, the highest handed out since the ICO got the power to lay financial smackdowns in April 2010. The Trust said it didn't agree with the ICO's findings and was appealing the fine.

The ICO claims that the private data of tens of thousands of patients and employees was left on the sold hard drives, including information from the HIV and Genito Urinary Medicine department, which included personal identifiers like dates of birth and occupations as well as sensitive medical data on their STD test results and diagnoses and sexual preferences. The database also held the names and dates of birth of 1,527 HIV positive patients.

While in this case the NHS hasn't actually killed anyone, their incompetence is truly staggering.

There are three obvious, quick and easy steps they could have taken:

  1. Delete the files - your average office admin should be capable of this much.
  2. Securely wipe the disks - standard practice for any competent sysadmin (at work we use standard Linux utilities that repeatedly write random ones and zeros over the disk).
  3. Take a hammer to the hard drive.

Not very difficult. Not the sort of task you need to contract out.

To this depressing but sadly familiar story of government incompetence we add the farce of the ICO fine. It's hard to see what possible good could come of this.

The Register subtitle sums it up nicely: the government fights itself over your money.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

From the Rational Optimist:

15. We can solve all our problems

If you say the world will go on getting better, you are considered mad. If you say catastrophe is imminent, you may expect the Nobel Peace Prize. Bookshops groan with pessimism; airwaves are crammed with doom. I cannot recall a time when I was not being told by somebody that the world could survive only if it abandoned economic growth. But the world will not continue as it is. The human race has become a problem-solving machine: It solves those problems by changing its ways. The real danger comes from slowing change.

16. This depression is not depressing

The Great Depression of the 1930s was just a dip in the upward slope of human living standards. By 1939, even the worst-affected countries, America and Germany, were richer than they'd been in 1930. All sorts of new products and industries were born during the Depression. So growth will resume unless prevented by wrong policies. Someone, somewhere, is tweaking a piece of software, testing a new material, or transferring the gene that will make life easier or more fun.

17. Optimists are right

For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines-even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely. Pressure groups and their customers in the media search even the most cheerful statistics for glimmers of doom. Don't be browbeaten-dare to be an optimist!

Read the entire list.

As regular readers will be aware, I'm prone to pessimism!

I have high hopes for technology, but great scepticism about religion and politics.

If the world is a better place in 50 years' time, it will be despite governments, not because of them.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Simon Jenkins on HS2

Simon Jenkins is one of the few Guardian columnists worth reading.

Here's what he had to say about HS2:

The case against HS2 should never have been left to lovers of countryside, rather than to other transport users or taxpayers in general. This has played into the hands of the construction lobby, which has shrewdly allied itself with the naive left in depicting opposition to HS2 as confined to Tory nimbys. They can be dismissed by Cameron's macho urban court as effete and "anti-enterprise".
The HS2 lobby has been led by contractors and consultants who manoeuvred themselves into what has become almost an arm of government. They promised ministers and officials untold glory in return for contracts. The lobby was actually set up by transport officials in 2009 to press their case, largely with the Treasury.

Since then the HS2 project has been allocated an astonishing £750m of public money – enough for how many schools or hospitals? – without a single spade being turned and before any decision was made to go ahead. As with Crossrail, the scale of spending and interests at stake banished reason and made the project unstoppable, besotting one transport secretary after another. The latest, Justine Greening, gasped over her plan today like Ahmadinejad over his latest nuclear enrichment plant.

According to Jenkins, things are even worse now than when the railways were nationalised:

This is money beyond all sense. It could have supplied trams to every big city in Britain. The truth is that railways, since their pseudo-privatisation in the mid-90s, have been consuming subsidy at five times the rate they did when nationalised. They take 20 times more bureaucrats to oversee them, while fares have risen to as much as 10 times the European average. Rail oversight has been one of the great failures of modern British government – without a word of inquiry or remorse.

Service quality is at the mercy not of professional managers, but of passing politicians with no knowledge of transport economics, besieged by company lawyers, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Health and Safety Executive. They all pore over hundred-page contracts and risk assessments, measuring costs against subsidies and fines, hiring and firing subcontractors with abandon.

The answer, of course, is not a re-nationalisation, but full privatisation.

It's incredible that most people believe we have a free-market economy.

As Westminster's most promising MP was moved to wonder, did we win the Cold War then suffer a Communist takeover?

The would-be superstate and the ex-superpower

BBC News reports:
EU officials are expected to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to take a stronger line on the crisis in Syria during a summit in St Petersburg.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those attending Monday's summit.

On Sunday, Mr Putin invited the EU leaders for dinner ahead of the talks at a lavish estate on the outskirts of the city.
It's bad enough when the likes of William Hague go swanning around, meddling in the affairs of other countries.  But how much worse to have these little-known, unelected eurocrats dining at a lavish estate, purporting to speak for 500 million Europeans!
Baroness Ashton, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before Sunday's dinner, said in a statement: "Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan."

She said the EU wanted to "work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence".
Who empowered Ashton to speak on our behalf?  Who decided that foreign policy should be handled by the EU?

The British people were denied their say; our Queen signed our sovereignty away.

Posts by Daniel Hannan and Norman Tebbit celebrating the Jubilee have drawn many comments supporting the Queen. They say she has no choice but to sign whatever treaties 'her' government puts before her. At a practical level, this is clearly false - nobody is holding a gun to her head, and she could achieve a great deal by refusing to sign and forcing a referendum. But if, legally, she has no right to refuse, let's end the charade, and have the PM do the signing.

Peter Schiff on the US recovery

Peter Schiff is unimpressed by the 'recovery' in the US:
From 2008 to 2009 our national GDP (of around $14 trillion) contracted by $212 billion. To prevent any further dips, the government aggressively spent, borrowing heavily to do so. To the relief of just about everyone, these moves did stop the nominal contraction. From 2010 to 2011 the U.S. GDP expanded by $502 billion, and from 2011 to 2012 it added an additional $508 billion. All told, from the end of 2008 the U.S. economy added a cumulative $798 billion in GDP. But those gains came at a very high price.

The combined federal deficits for the same time frame come in at a staggering $4.2 trillion! In 2009 alone the feds chalked up a chart breaking $1.4 trillion in debt (the deficit was a mere $161 billion in 2007). In other words, we borrowed five times more than we grew. This “strategy” for growth is no different from an individual who loses half his income, but continues to spend by running up credit card debt. Could this be described as economic growth?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Google WTF!

Google, what were you thinking?

I'd just like a nice simple search screen, thank you (holiday-related adornments are superfluous but tolerable):

1930s photos show Greenland glaciers retreating faster than today

The Register has an interesting article from Lewis Page about photos taken by the seventh Thule Expedition to Greenland led by Dr Knud Rasmussen in 1932:
There's much scientific interest in the Greenland ice sheet, as unlike most of the Arctic ice cap it sits on land: thus if it were to melt, serious sea level rises could occur (though the latest research says that this doesn't appear to be on the cards).

It's difficult to know exactly what's happening to the Greenland ice in total and very different estimates have been produced in recent times. However Professor Box says that many glaciers along the coasts have started retreating in the past decade.

It now appears that the glaciers were retreating even faster eighty years ago: but nobody worried about it, and the ice subsequently came back again. Box theorises that this is likely to be because of sulphur pollution released into the atmosphere by humans, especially by burning coal and fuel oils. This is known to have a cooling effect.
While sulphur emissions in North America and Europe have been reduced in recent decades, due to concerns about acid rain, it's possible that catastrophic warming of the Earth by evil CO2-belching Westerners has been mitigated by evil sulphite-spewing Chinese.  Some scientists speculate that "rapid coal- and diesel-fuelled industrialisation in China is serving to prevent further warming right now".

Alternatively ...
Still other scientists, differing with Prof Box, offer another picture altogether of Arctic temperatures, in which there were peaks both in the 1930s and 1950s and cooling until the 1990s: and in which the warming trend which resulted in the melting seen by Rasmussen's expedition actually started as early as 1840, before the industrial revolution and human-driven carbon emission had even got rolling. In that scenario, variations in the Sun seem to have much more weight than is generally accepted by today's climatologists.
The truth is that we don't understand the mechanisms behind glacial melting, in Greenland or in the Himalayas.  The story isn't nearly as simple as the global warming propagandists would have you believe.