Oct 022013
 

Shutdown, blah blah.

The whole web is full of dumbass articles with screenshots of federal agency websites like this:

Due to the US government shutdown, this website has died.

I’m not an expert, but I know a thing or two about websites. For example, I know these bastards don’t rent server space by the day.

I mean, come on! One day without a budget and they can’t leave their fucking websites up? Is this some kind of joke, or are federal government agencies so shite they can’t keep a website running for ONE FUCKING DAY without a budget being passed?

And these are the people who run the free world. Jesus wept.

Feb 042012
 

In the NHS, there two main activities. One is helping sick people. The other is measuring, improving, correcting, extending, and promoting how well sick people are helped. Much energy is expended on the first activity: technical advances, new pharmaceuticals, further training for doctors and nurses in new ways to help sick people. But the more you read about the NHS, the more you get the feeling that a lot more energy is expended on the second activity.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this; even in a business, delivering the product or service to customers is straightforward, if not always easy, and the bulk of business energy is expended on how to improve the product or service, how to measure whether or not it’s good, strategy for getting it in front of the market, selling it, and so forth. Large numbers of people are employed to do these things, and a lot of money is spent in doing them—money that is generated by the delivery side, both by delivering the goods and by finding new ways to reduce inputs and increase outputs. Greater productivity means greater profits, which can be taken home as pay or ploughed back into the rest of the business.

The difference between a business and the NHS, however, is that issue of money. Money is the simplest metric for business success: how much are we making? Allocating money in a business is also fairly simple: wages, tools, marketing, infrastructure, tax, in varying proportions, and what’s left over goes to the shareholders. And if the metric drops—we are making less money—the allocations drop too. Therefore business responds to money.

The NHS, on the other hand, doesn’t respond to money, because it doesn’t make any. You can argue whether this is an intrinsic function of what it does—healthcare—and you can even argue the ethical toss about measuring something as important as health by looking at money, but you can’t get away from the fact that the NHS has something to do with money, because helping sick people has a cost.

The NHS is sort of halfway in the market. It doesn’t directly charge its customers for its services, so it can’t respond to the “how much are we making?” money question. But it still has to answer “how do we allocate it?” and “what do we do if we have less to allocate?” Doctors and nurses don’t work for free, so it still has to think about wages. Medical supply manufacturers don’t manufacture for free—they are businesses, so they have to worry about how much money they’re making—and infrastructure has to be paid for as well. The NHS has all of the business problems of spending money, and none of the tidy business solution of earning it.

So when, in the NHS, the costs grow and/or the pool of money to spend shrinks, the sector has to find pseudo-business solutions to deal with this problem. “Pseudo” because what businesses do is frequently not an option for the NHS. For instance, a business could produce more goods or services. The NHS can’t do this, because it’s really unethical to go round trying to make people sick so that you can cure them more, but also because the NHS’s primary service—helping sick people—is actually a cost, and doesn’t make them any money. For the same reason, they can’t look for new markets like a business would, but also because the market for the NHS is already every person in Britain. Other solutions are simply odious. The NHS can borrow money, but their collateral isn’t private, so they end up mortgaging the public good. The NHS can ask patients to pay—private patients, or foreigners—but this invalidates the ideology that health shouldn’t depend on wealth. They can ask the government to raise taxes, but that’s a PR nightmare, and the existence of the NHS depends on people’s loyalty and goodwill.

So the NHS has only one option, and that is to reallocate its spending. Reduce the number of doctors and nurses treating the sick people, and thus lower the wage bill. Find cheaper suppliers, and thus lower the tools bill. Hire cheaper builders to patch up the estate, and thus lower the infrastructure bill. Use what you’ve saved to increase marketing healthy lifestyles, and hopefully the number of sick people will drop, and through all of these increases in productivity (in the NHS, it’s called “efficiency”), maybe you can break even, or even turn a profit (in the NHS, it’s called a “surplus”).

In the NHS, you can also do rain dances, make offerings, and perform collective prayer rituals that the UK economy flourishes enough for tax receipts to go up, giving the government the power to increase your budget again.

Unfortunately, all of these things make for a cumbersome and difficult-to-run healthcare system. Sacking nurses looks evil, and makes life harder for the other nurses. This, and using cheaper supplies, can literally endanger people’s lives. Infrastructure creaks as it gets older, and the population rapidly outgrows the limited space. Paying staff, suppliers, and contractors less reduces tax receipts. And public-health marketing is notoriously ineffective.

So what the hell do you do, if you’re the NHS? Do you say, “Fuck it, this half-business life is no life at all—let’s act like a real business and charge people money. Then if they pay us, we know we’re doing a decent job”? This doesn’t even have to mean that poor people die in the streets, because the government could just give them the money to buy their healthcare.

No. Instead, you bitch and moan and look for Rube-Goldberg-esque solutions to act as proxies for normal market behaviour. And then you can see why helping sick people is the least of what goes on in the NHS.

Let us consider, for example, the Health Service Journal, the premier trade journal for non-medical NHS staff. Does it have anything to do with awesome new and better ways of helping sick people? Does it fuck. It is Rube Goldberg literature for the Rube Goldberg system.

This week’s stories include:

(1) The way to improve the NHS’s effectiveness and efficiency is to set up an independent standing commission to look into the matter.

(2) Outsourcing middle management can, in ideal circumstances, reduce “overspend” (in the business world, “losses”).

(3) Medical unions are concerned that competition will lead to health “inequality.”

(4) A government quango will judge who is allowed to help sick people.

(5) The same quango prioritise patients over creditors when it puts private providers out of business by disallowing them from helping sick people.

(6) The same quango shouldn’t give NHS bodies credit ratings for borrowing purposes, because credit ratings are not an appropriate proxy for how well sick people are helped.

(7) Another government quango will measure how well sick people are helped by a series of inspections centred on 100 performance metrics.

(8) Another government quango will judge which GPs are allowed to buy healthcare from the NHS for sick people, but it will need management consultant help to do this.

(9) The GPs will also need to be helped to create a QIPP strategy. (QIPP stands for “quality, innovation, prevention, productivity.”)

(10) Publication of how well these 100 metrics are met may lead to health “inequality.”

(11) However, not publishing these data, because they are impossible to collect and monitor, is also unacceptable.

(12) PCTs can close down their competition but only if they don’t ask doctors whether or not they should do it.

(13) A commission will investigate whether imposing fines for making people sick with C. difficile will hurt hospitals.

(14) Some middle managers are unhappy about spending money, time, and energy on healthy lifestyle programmes for staff.

(15) Patients need a better way to complain about the quality of help they received when they were sick.

(16) In order to do all of this stuff, there needs to be a strategy for staff engagement.

(17) There also needs to be a strategy for adopting helpful technology.

And my personal favourite:

(18) “Salford Royal Foundation Trust’s clinical leaders development programme is part of an emerging organisational development strategy to engage senior medical staff in the business of clinical leadership and develop their talent.”

So there you have it. Because the NHS cannot measure how well it provides its service—helping sick people—by the money it makes from its customers, it has to invent Byzantine proxies, implemented and assessed with great energy and at enormous cost, none of which have anything to do with helping the sick people.

And why? Because this tremendous waste of time, money, talent, and human capital is preferred as a more humane outcome than letting sick people hand over money directly in order to get better.

Aug 172011
 

From the Telegraph via Tim Worstall:

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were jailed for four years each for inciting the disorder on Facebook despite both being of previous good character.

From the same Telegraph article:

A fourth defendant, Linda Boyd, 31, who has 62 previous convictions, was given a 10 month jail term suspended for two years after she was caught trying to drag away a £500 haul of alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco.

I’m not sure I need to make this comment, but: what kind of justice is this when two people of previous good character receive lengthy custodial sentences for making remarks on Facebook, but a third person who has a long, long history of criminal behaviour is given a suspended sentence for being caught with stolen goods?

I understand that these were different courts with different judges in different regional jurisdictions, but there still seems to be a massive disparity in the interpretation of sentencing guidelines here.

It is outrageous that remarks on Facebook merit a longer, harsher jail sentence than some rapes and murders, let alone theft and looting.

But what is really outrageous is that making remarks on Facebook can be criminalised at all. Perhaps Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan can band together with Paul Chambers and his supporters to help stamp out this fascist British tendency toward criminalisation of speech.

Aug 212010
 

Now, of course I’ve read Tim Worstall on Murphy, and occasionally DK on Murphy, but until this moment I’d never read any Murphy himself. Somehow, as a result of that, I’d unconsciously been giving him the benefit of the doubt, the sort of ‘I won’t attack what I don’t know about firsthand’ kind of indifference, wherein my only thoughts containing Richard Murphy tended to centre around the effect he has on Tim.

But having had a firsthand look, I can confirm that he is a low specimen of humanity indeed. And also more than a bit foolish.

For reference, let’s take this comment by Adrian, responding to Murphy’s quite unsupported assertion that tax is the price paid for living in a democracy:

No, clearly I don’t get it.

There are lots or people who don’t pay tax because they don’t earn income. They may be supported by another adult (eg spouse, parent). They may be reliant on social security. They might even be in jail!

They are part of society and a democracy just as much as anyone else. Payment of tax is not a pre-condition of membership, and nor should it be.

Under my suggestion, participants would be behaving perfectly legally. And I am not suggesting they won’t have paid their way. If the lump sum is set to the right level, they will have done so.

I understand tax is not currently a DCF concept. But we use the concept everywhere else, including the public sector (DCF thinking is widespread on a range of issues). And the current arrangements aren’t working too well. So why can’t we stretch our imagination and use DCF here?

If my neighbour paid his tax this way, I wouldn’t know, care, or think any differently of him as a person or a member of our community. Why should I?

Adrian’s quite sensible view here is, of course, that tax and democracy are not linked, nor does he think they should be. There is a certain rhetorical danger in linking them, as we’ll see later on.

But does Murphy think through what Adrian is saying, consider his point rationally, or respond in a constructive way to this reasonable comment?

Does he fuck:

If you want to end democracy, go ahead

I suspect most who understand DCF are quite happy with that

But I, and most of those who do not appreciate DCF value society – and that’s built on democracy

You clearly don’t understand

I think it’s a form of autism

Yup, that’s right. This Adrian, for daring to disagree and fail to understand what passes for logic in Murphy’s assertion, gets called autistic for his pains. And when, further down the thread, someone calls out Murphy on this ‘silly and offensive’ remark, he responds:

No, actually serious and considered

I mean that I think this attitude is probably on the autistic spectrum

It reveals a profound lack of understanding of others, and an inability to read their responses to situations

That places it on that spectrum

A ‘serious and considered’ diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder by a non-psychologist reading an unknown person’s blog comment. Either this is a serious case of mote-and-beam, or Richard Murphy truly is a low piece of scum who sees nothing untoward in employing a mental illness as an insult to be wielded against debating opponents.

Then Murphy falls into his own rhetorical trap, the danger he was always going to face if he started linking tax to democracy. It’s a pitfall sensible Adrian was trying to guide him away from gently, but like a wildebeest racing toward a cliff, Murphy failed to look ahead:

The vote always carries the obligation to pay in my opinion

And there’s Adrian, waiting at the bottom of the cliff with point-ed sticks:

“The vote always carries the obligation to pay in my opinion”

Are you saying those who don’t pay because they don’t earn income (or make capital gains etc) shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

Or by ‘always’ do you mean ’sometimes’?

Or do you mean ‘the two concepts – tax and voting – are completely unrelated’? Whether you do either is unrelated to your right (in the case of voting) or obligation (in the case of tax) to do the other?

Please explain.

But answer came there none—
And this was scarcely odd because
Adrian ate Richard Murphy and his stupid idea for breakfast.

The end.

May 262010
 

I know lots of people have already remarked on this, but this Guardian blogpost about MPs’ expenses rules has my eyes literally burning with rage.

Not because of what the rules are, of course, but because of the unattributed comments from MPs about them.

We are being treated like benefit claimants. Why don’t they just put up a metal grille?

Implicit snobbery vis a vis benefits claimants, much? As Old Holborn has said, you are benefits claimants. The only difference between an MP’s pay and a benefit claimant’s handout is that the MP pretends to do work for it. Being an MP is obviously not a hardship in any way, despite some of the slogging they have to do (constituency work, natch). The non-monetary compensations are clearly huge, else there wouldn’t be nearly so many toes scrabbling their way up the greasy pole. MPs, don’t pretend your actions are self-sacrificing, or that you are in some way noble for doing the job. You’re not – you can quit at any time, and very likely go into some other job that pays much more. (At least, those MPs with actual talent and intelligence can). But you don’t, because there’s something about being an MP that gets you off, which other jobs wouldn’t do. You’re not serving the public; you’re serving yourself, and you’re doing it with our money. So get used to being treated like benefits claimants.

For Christ’s sake, what has happened if this bloody authority doesn’t believe me when I say my wife is my wife? A utility bill to prove co-habitation? Good God.

None of the bloody authorities believe the rest of us. You want special perks from the state because you’re married? Then you have to prove over and over again that you’re actually married, actually co-habiting – check out the list of documents Shane Greer had to hand over to the state when he wanted permission to marry a foreigner. And of course those all had to be originals. And I’m willing to bet the state kept them a hell of a lot longer than IPSA will be keeping MPs’ utility bills, marriage certificates, and birth certificates. Welcome to the world you helped create, MPs: if you have to hand over original documents to the state to prove every little thing, well, you’re only living the life you’ve imposed on the rest of us.

What happens on a January night in London? I suppose I will have to take the tube, then a bus and then a long walk home. That is not safe.

We just have to accept this because the public is not with us. It will take something really horrendous, such as a woman MP being stabbed on the streets of London because she is not entitled to take a taxi home late at night, before people wake up and realise how unfair this is.

You know what? FUCK YOU. How many winter nights in London have I had to take the tube, then a bus, then walk home? Not only that, I paid for it MYSELF. Let’s put into perspective what these fucking precious female MPs are whining about: before 11pm, they can only claim for travel on public transport. After 11pm, they can claim for taxis.

I’m a woman, I never get to claim for any of these ‘not safe’ journeys on the tube, bus, etc., let alone for the luxury of a fucking taxi, and nobody in parliament worries about me getting stabbed or raped or whatever as I pay my own costs on the ‘not safe’ way.

Ooh, of course, the public will wake up and realise how ‘unfair’ this all is when a woman MP is attacked. You know what? FUCK YOU AGAIN. Women all across London are attacked on a daily basis – it’s really unfair – and MPs refuse to wake up and give a shit about the astounding amount of criminality in Britain. If an exalted lady MP feels unsafe on the fucking BUS before 11pm, how does she think we proles feel about it?

What makes me angriest, however, is the fact that, actually, tube and bus etc. aren’t even that unsafe. I’m on them constantly at all hours – including January nights – and never once has anyone threatened me, harassed me, attacked me, or made me feel even remotely uncomfortable. And, unlike these lady MPs, I’m not going home to Islington, I’m going home to fucking Brixton. If I can walk from the bus stop to my flat in Brixton without a problem, I think these bitches can do the same, especially since they still won’t be paying for it themselves.

Assholes.

‘Hey, fat boy!’

 hilarity, indolence, stupid-heads  Comments Off on ‘Hey, fat boy!’
Apr 102010
 

We’re going to burn you in effigy! Slim down, or next time we’ll put you in there when we light it on fire. For the sacrifices of those caught in some offence are more pleasing to the gods, but if the supply of such people runs out, we will not hesitate to sacrifice innocents.’*

Can we expect to see Jamie Oliver officiating as Chief Druid?

Hat tip to Longrider, Leg-Iron, and Ambush Predator.

*Adapted from Caesar, De Bello Gallico VI.16 for maximum absurdity value.

Mar 152010
 

I cannot even begin to identify anyone whom I loathe more than I loathe Ed Balls, but at least I could console myself that it was nothing personal – until today.

Ed Balls, in his infinite fucking wisdom, has decided that Latin is a useless subject in schools. Like Boris Johnson, I am outraged, not least because this is my livelihood at stake. When the Secretary of State for Schools declares a subject useless, you can be sure that it will be sliced from the curriculum with great precision, Hannibal Lecter-style.

To quote BoJo quoting Balls:

Speaking on the radio, Spheroids dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils. Head teachers often took him to see the benefits of dance, or technology, or sport, said this intergalactic ass, and continued: “No one has ever taken me to a Latin lesson to make the same point. Very few parents are pushing for it, very few pupils want to study it.”

Balls, my friend, I will tell you why head teachers have never taken you to a Latin lesson. First, it’s because Latin is offered in so few schools these days that I doubt any of the ones you’ve visited on your infrequent and disruptive photo-ops even teaches the subject.

Second, it would be a pointless waste of time to allow you to observe the teaching of such an elegant and complex subject. Not only would you be incapable of understanding the material, much less appreciating it, the superior knowledge of the students would show you up in a Tennessee heartbeat. Could you even begin to grasp the idea of an ablative absolute, or listen with any light of comprehension in your eyes to a discussion of the sexual puns in a poem by Ovid? Students can. Could you find in your shrivelled soul an inclination to laugh at the comedy of Aristophanes or experience a pang of sympathetic horror at the tribulations of Oedipus? Students can.

Could you learn the lessons of Sulla and Pompey, that it is not okay to destroy a country in pursuit of one’s own personal ambition? Of course not. As BoJo points out, you studied the classics at school. If you could have absorbed the moral of such cautionary tales from ancient history, you would not be what you are today.

Which is an ignorant, judgmental, pompous fool with no appreciation of culture or history and no interest in or understanding of what it takes to make a child a human being, rather than a mindless automaton whose only skill is the ability to wibble on pointlessly about social justice and carbon footprints.

As long as Ed Balls remains a force within the Labour Party, nobody will ever convince me that that party intends any good for anybody whatsoever, try they mightily, and I will do everything in my power to persuade every British voter I encounter that a vote for Labour is a vote for the total destruction of civilisation.

Feb 182010
 

Stephen Hill at CiF posits some kind of equivalency between Greece’s budget catastrophe, and the ensuing debate about whether the solvent EU countries should bail it out, and California’s budget catastrophe, and the debate about whether the solvent US states should bail it out.

Apparently Greece isn’t that large a proportion of the EU economy, so no big deal – but California represented a whopping 14% of the US economy before it went bust.

California’s situation in some ways is more worrisome than Greece’s. Having a state that is one-seventh of the national economy in dire straits is a threat to the nation’s economic recovery. It is analogous to having Germany struggling instead of Greece, striking at the heart of Europe. California has been shaken by widespread layoffs and furloughs – the city of Los Angeles just laid off 1,000 more workers – and core social programmes have been slashed. Millions of low income children have lost access to meal programmes, and community clinics have been closed. Almost 3 million low income adults have lost important benefits such as dental care, psychological services and mammograms.

In addition, while both California and Greece are in major belt tightening mode, at least in Greece all families and individuals still have access to healthcare and a long menu of other social supports that Europe is known for. In California, even before the crisis millions had no healthcare, and now more have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Unemployment compensation is miserly, as is the overall safety net, which impacts consumer spending and further weakens the economy.

In this case, then, it was terribly mean of the Obama administration to deny California a federal bail-out paid for by the taxes of the other 49 states. That’s, like, super unfair, because:

But ironically California’s current plight may serve as a warning to Germany and France. Over the last several decades, California’s once thriving economy served as a kind of backstop for other American states. California has subsidised low population (and often conservative) states by only receiving back about $.80 for every federal tax dollar it sends to Washington DC. Californians have sent tens of billions of dollars to conservative states such as Mississippi, Alaska and North Dakota, which receive about $1.75 for every dollar sent to Washington.

Yet when Governor Schwarzenegger asked the federal government for a return on that long-term support, the White House shut the door and the Republican states long subsidised by California were unsympathetic. Memories are short, as is gratitude.

Leaving aside the question of optimal single-currency zones – which Hill never addresses – let’s look at this central point about the unfairness of leaving California to its fate.

For years, Hill says, California was the wealthiest state in the country, and the federal taxes its wealthy citizens paid subsidised the poorer, less populous states of the union. Now California has farked itself, allowing and encouraging its legislature to spend the state into massive debt – and wealthy California wants the poorer states to subsidise it!

Surely this is exactly what Guardian writers (and readers) loathe, the idea of the poor subsidising the wealthy? They certainly profess to hate incidences of it in the UK and cry that the transfer of money from poor to rich is a massive injustice (that will, no doubt, be further perpetrated by the Tories if they win the next election). California’s budget crash has not made the poor states it used to subsidise any wealthier; in fact, it’s probably made them poorer. So why in the world should the poor states make themselves even poorer because the people of California were happy to elect legislatures that spend like drunken sailors?

Somebody please explain to me why, suddenly, the Guardian is in favour of the poor subsidising the rich.

Jan 282010
 

What the f*ck is wrong with you British people? Seriously, is every single one of you on crack?

How in the name of all that is holy and good does THIS pass for effective campaigning by an opposition party that wants to be the party of Government?

HOW?

We can make you behave

Even the Guardian is taking the piss out of this idea, which speaks volumes.

…a Conservative government will impose a seven-day cooling off period for store credit cards, so shoppers can’t immediately rack up debts on them when they sign up at the till. That’s a far less intrusive way to tackle problem debt than banning store cards, for example, or introducing a new tax.

MORE LEGISLATION.

A Conservative government will require all public bodies that want to launch marketing campaigns to state precisely what behaviour change the advertising is designed to bring about, and an element of the advertising agency fee will be made contingent on achieving the desired outcome

PROPAGANDA.

The new insights from behavioural economics and social psychology are helping us to apply that principle to today’s problems, and cut burdensome regulation and costs. In fact, when you come to think about it, it’s all pretty rational, isn’t it?

ARE YOU PEOPLE INSANE?

I can’t believe that, in this once-great nation, the populace has created for itself the choice between authoritarian control-freaks and authoritarian control-freaks. Is this really what you want? People in absolute charge of you who all think they know better than you? People who think you need a cooling-off period, like a child on the naughty step, before you can make a decision about what to do with your own damn money? People who think you need to be told by public agencies how to use your own brains to make rational decisions? Do you really find life such a complicated hardship that you want a government to hold your hand from cradle to grave?

What the hell could possibly make you think George Osborne knows better than you how you should live your life? Why on earth should people whose only skill is kissing your ass have this kind of responsibility? What set of facts makes you believe that the people who run your country are immune to irrational action?

WHY DO YOU PUT UP WITH THIS CRAP?

Answers on a postcard. I’m off to have a drink.

UPDATE: Alex Massie writes in the Spectator:

Kinder, gentler, subtler authoritarianism is still authoritarianism and makes a mockery of Tory rhetoric. That rhetoric is quite appealling but when you actually look at what the Tories actually want to do then, more often than not, their plans bear little or no relation to the meaning of their words. So why should their words be taken seriously?

Then again, this should not be a surprise. As James points out in his excellent column this week, Cameron and Osborne run an unprecedentedly centralised operation inside the Tory party. There’s little reason to suppose that their approach to government will be any different. Your freedom is severely constrained by their idea of that freedom. But that’s ok because Muesli Authoritarianism is good for you!

Beneath, commenter Fergus Pickering likes the credit-card cooling-off idea:

Actually I think the store card idea is a good one. But perhaps, Alex, you haven’t yet had the pleasure of teenage daughters. When you have had, that’s when I’ll listen to you on this. Teenage girls spend what they haven’t got. It’s in the genes.

To which I can only say, Fergus, if you need the government to police your daughters’ spending habits, you should never have become a parent. And really – ‘it’s in the genes’? You sexist asshole.

Meanwhile, I am reminded that Osborne co-wrote this article with one Richard Thaler. Thaler has a history of co-writing, as it is he who co-wrote the original libertarian paternalist Bible, Nudge, with none other than our old friend, Cass Sunstein.