Tuesday, 30 September 2008

What Will The Tories Scrap?

The Tories have said that if they win the next election they will scrap Contactpoint, the government's child-surveillance database which was due to be up and running this year (Telegraph). This database would contain details on every child under 18.

Apart from being another intrusive, expensive and unnecessary project, it also poses security problems - data security not being one of the government's strong points. And, given that its purpose is to help prevent cases such as that of Victoria Climbie, isn't it a bit odd that they decided not to include contact details of children with violent parents?

The Tories say they'll also scrap polyclinics (or super-surgeries, or whatever term the government comes up with this week). The government have consistently lied about polyclinics, at one point saying they would only be introduced in London first as a trial, then immediately forcing every Health Trust in the country to set one up. And other lies, as well.

The question is: will the Tories actually do this if they get into power? Or will they make the promise then quietly forget about it, as often happens?

Monday, 29 September 2008

New Labour is More than just a Pain in the Arse

This morning I received a letter from my dentist telling me my next appointment in October (made months ago after my last check-up) has now been cancelled and moved to May 2009. A six month extra wait will make it a year between check-ups. When I spoke to the receptionist she said it was down to the fact that two of their dentists had left and they had been unable to find replacements.

This cancelling and postponing of appointments has become more frequent over the last four or five years. As has the change in dentists. Twenty years ago, when I moved to Lincoln, I had no problem in registering with a dentist and seeing him or her every six months. Ten years ago I had no problems registering with a new practice after my previous dentist upped sticks and vanished. In the last five years, the situation has deteriorated.

The government would have us believe that they are improving NHS dental services, especially since they introduced new contracts back in 2006. In Lincolnshire things have got worse, because it's big and rural - travel is expensive and public transport almost non-existent. When the new contracts came in dentists left the system in droves. I seem to recall that the then minister in charge (possibly Rosie Winterton - another characterless non-entity from the political classes) claiming it would all be a success, despite the fact that something like 10% of dentists had quit the NHS.

Looking at the newly-released figures from the NHS itself, it appears that despite the fact that 'the number of dentists has increased in every SHA between 2006/07 and 2007/08' and 'that in England, the population per dentist has decreased between 2006/07 and 2007/08 decreasing from 2,518 to 2,439', it is now becoming almost impossible to register with an NHS dentist. Even when you are registered, your troubles still aren't over - you may end up waiting a whole year for an appointment.

It's no wonder that millions of people - adults and children - are not going to a dentist at all. Again, the government's own figures show this decline: 10 million fewer adults saw a dentist in the 24 months up to March 2008 than in the two years leading up to March 2007; and 198,000 fewer children for the same periods. Mind you, the NHS managed to increase its revenue from those patients by £56 million. Pay more, get less is New Labour's strategy.

The system isn't working properly and it's falling apart.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Light Touch For Them, Heavy Hand For The Rest Of Us

While Gordon Brown backtracks furiously on his 'light touch' approach to the finance system, the rest of us continue to receive the heavy hand of his Stalinist practices when it comes to the ID card, National Register project.

The writer Cory Doctorow (Canadian-born therefore a Commonwealth citizen, UK resident, married to a British citizen and now father of a British child) is one of the first Johnny Foreigners to have to carry an ID card. Read his own response here.

Foreigners first, then airport workers and teachers, then students, then the rest of us.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Bloggers Beware Bastards

On Thursday the clones of Brussels discussed the fate of blogs and how they might extend their dictatorial grasp over them. Click here to go to actual document.

Various bloggers have drawn attention to the desire of some in the EU to demand some kind of 'registration' for bloggers - presumably so they (the clones) can keep them in line. See the Bruges Group blog, for example, or Charles Crawford.

Some points to think about from the execrable document itself:

AD. whereas the proliferation of new media (broadband internet, satellite channels, digital terrestrial television, etc.) and the varied forms of media ownership are not sufficient in themselves to guarantee pluralism in terms of media content,

- what on earth do they mean by 'pluralism' in the first place? The media are already 'plural' - just like the word. And who has the right to demand that new media, or any media, for that matter, should 'guarantee' anything to do with content beyond what is already legally required? Content and quality are the business of the people owning and employing the media, not of bureaucrats.

AU. whereas there are a growing number of conflicts concerning freedom of expression,

AV. whereas, in the information society, media education is an essential means of empowering citizens to make an informed and active contribution to democracy,

AW. whereas the increased supply of information (particularly thanks to the internet) is making the interpretation and assessment thereof increasingly important,

AX. whereas the promotion of media literacy among the citizens of the European Union needs much more support,

- please note the presumptuous and authoritarian nature of these words: the idea that the state or the EU are the arbiters in determining how citizens should be 'empowered' to do anything that is basically their private business and that they are expected to make an 'active contribution to democracy'. I don't want to mkae an active contribution, I want to be left alone. Interpretation and assessment of information is the individual's business, not the state's. And who says we, as citizens, need any kind of 'support' from the EU to improve our 'literacy' in new media and making up our own minds about the information it provides?

The rat that you can smell is the rat who pretends to be protecting your freedom whilst actively depriving you of them.

16. Considers that the rules on media concentration should govern not only the ownership and production of media content, but also the (electronic) channels and mechanisms for access to and dissemination of content on the internet, such as search engines.

- consider that - content and means of access. In other words, all of it. And search engines! Is there nothing they don't want to control?

25. Encourages an open discussion on all issues relating to the status of weblogs;

- that's an outright lie.

There's plenty more of this bilge.

The one thing that is certain is that all governments and legislative bodies such as the EU are determined to bring the internet under their control.


Although it's been around the blogosphere for a few weeks, this scandal concerning DVLA has now entered mainstream media.

The DVLA regularly flog our details to any Tom, Dick or Harry saying they're a proper company for £2.50 a shot, making millions for themselves and exposing us all to the possibility of fraud and intimidation. So much for the government's real concern over identity security, a major plank in their drive for ID cards and the National Database.

Note the following unintentional irony in the following, extracted from a document by IBM. who are the government's partner in developing and producing driving licence cards:

The new driving licence is probably the most secure form of non-chip card in the world. It meets the relevant EU Directorate standards and its security has been checked and verified by the UK government National Document Fraud Unit (NDFU). The future addition of a chip would not only improve security further but would potentially provide a range of significant remote authentication benefits – increasing privacy assurance for personal data for the public during transactions with DVLA. In collaboration with emerging government gateway facilities, this should be achievable quickly and at marginal cost.

Privacy assurance is obviously not a concern, otherwise they wouldn't be flogging our details to make a quick and easy buck.

The DVLA should not be providing this data to anyone except the Police and possibly insurance companies.

Somewhere in all this there may possibly be an EU directive lurking, since all driving licence legislation is now controlled and set by the EU (of course).

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Political Party Corpses

Peter Hitchens is right - our political parties are corpses, with no ideological differences between them.

And Flying Rodent is pungently right about the state of US politics.

Friday, 19 September 2008

When Do You Become A Terrorist?

Hamaad Munshi, now aged 16, is the youngest person to be jailed under Britain's anti-terrorism laws. He was found 'guilty of making a record of information likely to be useful in terrorism but not guilty of possessing such material'.

Details here and here.

My question is: is Munshi an actual terrorist, given that the hasn't committed an act of terrorism? Many of the press reports are happy to describe him as Britain's 'youngest terrorist'. It sounds good but I don't think it's accurate.

In the words of Monty Python, 'he's a very naught boy'. Luckily, he never got beyond that.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

How To Ruin Someone's Career Permanently

A follow-up to the post about Allegations Management Systems and the like: details of a case of a woman in Lincoln, a former care worker, now unable to get work because an allegation made against her is still retained on file even though it was unproven.

Read also the post over on UK Liberty for an intelligent appraisal.

Monday, 15 September 2008

I'm Boozing For Britain!

Much merriment in the press about Liam Byrne's Demos pamphlet, A More United Kingdom, produced at the behest of Gordon Brown to come up with jolly wheezes to make us proud to be British.

What's causing the merriment is no 13 of the 'Twenty-seven ways to celebrate a national day': namely, 'through drinking'.

Presumably not through binge drinking, or underage drinking.

A lot of suggestions centre around organising public events and festivities (street parties, carnivals, etc) without taking into account the nightmare of regulation confronting anyone wanting to do anything in public these days - (health and safety, banning terrorists, paedophiles, people wanting to take photos, etc, etc).

I had to dig around on the internet to find the original text of the pamphlet, since our wonderful professional journalists rarely provide details of their sources. You can read it as a free pdf here (I certainly wouldn't waste £10 for a hard copy).

It's a patronising load of guff, as you'd expect.

Give me the booze, Liam, and fuck off.

Police Lose Data On Terror Suspects

'POLICE in the Midlands have spent four days searching for a computer memory stick said to contain top-secret information on terror suspects' - according to The Birmingham Mail.

This is getting tedious. Maybe it's a part of government's strategy - getting us so used to them losing data that we'll stop thinking about it.

Britain's Obsession With Child Abuse

Child abuse in any form is obviously a despicable thing, but the country's obsession with paedophiles is not only disturbing but dangerous. It provides the state with one more excuse to introduce laws and regulations while pretending it's actually doing something useful. There's nothing like stirring up suspicion and hatred to keep the masses occupied.

Two recent items:

Details of paedophiles to be made available in certain areas. If you're a parent and think someone you've met may have been convicted of sex offences, then you can find out. But you're not supposed to tell anyone else. I can see that one working.

Hertfordshire County Council's Allegations Management System. The council will record and keep on record (apparently for ever) details of ALLEGATIONS made about anyone working in child care. Covered by The Telegraph here. Which leads (of course) to the government (and another quango with powers over us all), The Independent Safeguarding Authority. One more case of guilty until proven innocent. Or, still sort of guilty even after you've been proved innocent.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Creationism in British Schools Row

Clarification re: Professor Reiss's article about how to deal with pupils who raise the question of creationism in science classes. How the media can distort anything.

See earlier post.

Plus an article I missed, by Katharine Whitehorn, laying into the government's mania for surveillance.

No Al-Qaeda

'There is no such organisation as ‘Al Qaeda’. The spooks know this, Cabinet Ministers know this and so do the ‘security correspondents’ who so readily trot out the spooks’ point of view on our broadcasting networks.' Peter Hitchens reiterates what everyone knows.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Unions Oppose ID Card Scheme

The TUC has pledged to oppose ID cards and the National Identity database. About time. Probably the first significant move against New Labour's Stasi state, since what's needed is organisation, awareness and action; which is harder to achieve with individuals or disparate groups.

David Cameron, Leader in Waiting, has already pledged his opposition both to the ID cards scheme AND the National Identity database and said he will scrap them. Whether he will in fact do this when he's in power is another thing, of course, so he needs to be aware that there will be trouble if he doesn't keep his word.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Now The UN Wants To Destroy Your Internet Privacy

It's not just repressive regimes like China and the EU that want to destroy all anonymity and privacy on the internet. The UN seem to want to get in on the act as well.

'A United Nations agency is quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous,' according to Declan McCullagh.

McCullagh says 'The potential for eroding Internet users' right to remain anonymous...is...recognized in international law by groups such as the Council of Europe' - which may come as a surprise to those of us within the EU zone, now that we are all under surveillance as a result of Directive 2006/24/EC.

Proposed by the Chinese government - noted for their commitment to free speech and democracy.

Another Quango - Just What We Need

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality (sic), has announced the setting up of another pointless (and expensive) body: The National Equality Panel. Details here. Don't mention the 'class' word.

This reproduces work already being done by another quango ('self-standing') body, The Government Equalities Office.

Tackling Creationism In British Schools

It would appear that Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Royal Society, is claiming that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in British schools. However, he's been misrepresented on this - as is apparent when you read his own words.

Professor Reiss is actually asking how a teacher should respond if a pupil raises the question of creationism in a class on evolution. That's fair enough, I suppose. Given the increase in superstition in our society it's very likely that some pupils will bring the matter up. The answer is straightforward. The teacher says, 'You believe what you like, but if you want to pass your exam you have to learn this material.'

Where Professor Reiss is fundamentally wrong is in suggesting that creationism  'is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view'. Science has nothing to do with 'world views' of this kind. There is no such thing, for instance, as Hindu science or Christian science or Muslim science. There is just science.  Evolution is science. Creationism is dogma. Creationism should be included in classes on the history of science but not in science classes themselves. Inclusion of  creationism in science books would indeed legitimise it, contrary to what the Professor believes.

I can't be the only person who finds it depressing that at the beginning of the twenty-first century anyone should even be talking about creationism in the same breath as evolution, let alone suggesting it should be acknowledged in science classes as a legitimate 'world view'.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Why Farmers Can't Drive On Their Own Fields

Many UK arable farmers are facing bad harvests this year as a result of the rain. Watching a brief report on our local news I heard Hilary Benn (Environment Secretary) saying he was going to lift the ban on farmers working on waterlogged land.

What ban is this? I thought. Who forbids farmers to gather harvests on wet fields? Got it in one - the European Union.

A quick search on the net turned up the culprit - The Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition standard GAEC 3. These people think of everything.

Not Our Fault; This Week's Special Pleading

John Redwood claims in his blog that regulation was the root cause of the credit-crunch and the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapses.

This point is reiterated in the Adam Smith Institute blog post. 'When markets are changing rapidly, market players can easily miss the signal of things going wrong from the noise of universal change. Until it's too late.' - says the author, Dr Eamonn Butler.

The signals were there a couple of years ago. Everyone knew that subprime lending was highly risky and subject to a large percentage of foreclosures. These players are supposed to be experts in the 'market'. They weren't that clever then, were they? Mind you, most of them have walked away with their fat bank balances, homes and pensions intact, so they've got the last laugh - now they're passing the buck for their own greed and irresponsibility.

Preposterous; and insulting to all those people conned into buying homes they couldn't afford only to find themselves out on the street.

Dr Butler can take his 'markets' and shove them up his fundament.

The Problem With Trial By Jury Is

The problem with trial by jury is that the jury may exercise their own judgement and come up with a surprise decision. Hence the acquittal of four British men accused of planning to blow up planes while three of their co-defendants were convicted of conspiracy to murder.

That the three men were up to no good is beyond doubt. But, although the prosecution were obviously keen to convict them of planning to bomb planes, they produced no evidence of this. Not enough evidence to convince a jury of ordinary people, that is.

As a result the CPS (ie the State) will be asking for a retrial, so they can get the outcome they want (a bit like the EU with regard to the Irish no vote on the Lisbon Constitution). In other words, they wanted a show trial but the British public let them down by exercising their own judgement. No wonder Blair and his successors want to do away with traditional trial by jury.

On the other hand we have a jury acquitting a bunch of environmental campaigners of criminal damage at Kingsnorth Power Station (£35,000' worth). The campaigners had intended to write 'Gordon, bin it' but only got as far as 'Gordon'. Oh well.

None of the political bloggers I have read has said anything about the 'plane' bombers re-trial/show trial but they are all fulminating about the Greenpeace activists being let off. Plenty of links here.

It seems to be a requirement of all libertarian or right-wing bloggers to espouse a virulent global-warming-conspiracy/scam attitude, hence their frothing about this issue. No doubt they, too, would like to do away with trial by jury.

Mrs Pudding Face Sacks Crap Data Firm, etc

Jacqui Smith fires firm responsible for loss of prisoners' data. Sack yourself while you're at it.

Patients' data lost in theft from surgery.
The politicians still haven't grasped how the technology works, have they?