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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 04:42pm on 13/05/2011 under , ,
One of the things that has concerned me for a while with the thrust of government policy is its faith in the private sector (or, perhaps, its lack of faith in civil servants), and in the power of markets to make everything better. There's an assumption that government departments are large inefficient bureaucracies staffed by indolent jobsworth civil servants who are impossible to fire, whereas the power of the market means that companies can do the same jobs better and for less money. This lead to the privatization and marketization of utilities and the railways, and I think is underlying what looks rather like attempts to move towards markets and privatization in the NHS and university sectors.

One of the problems with markets is that they tend to value easy to measure things over things that are harder to quantify[0]. In healthcare, this seems likely to result in quality of care being sacrificed on the altar of driving down costs. The NHS Confederation agrees: "Economic theory predicts that price competition is likely to lead to declining quality where (as in healthcare) quality is harder to observe than price. Evidence from price competition in the 1990s internal market and in cost constrained markets in the USA confirms this, with falling prices and reduced quality, particularly in harder to observe measures". And, for all that some people in the US make a great deal of money out of healthcare, it's hard to see it as anything other than deeply dysfunctional on the whole. Even many UK doctors are against the proposed reforms, substantially because of their market-based nature[1].

In a similar vein, the government is trying to introduce a market element into higher education via variable tuition fees; there is also talk of encouraging more private input into the university sector, maybe even allowing companies to fund places at university for their chosen students. It seems likely that this is partly motivated by the successes of the big American private universities; but as this LRB article notes, even if you don't care a fig about public good, the US system doesn't deliver cost-effective excellence in Universities.

I appreciate that the boat has rather sailed, but I think it's time we realised that private enterprise may not be the best way to run services in the public interest, and that sometimes things that are hard to measure are more important than cold, hard cash.

[0] There is an ethical question here, too, of whether profit is the best motivation for, well, anything, but I think that's an aside for now
[1] http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d7.full [probably behind a pay-wall]
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 01:22pm on 28/04/2011 under , ,
[livejournal.com profile] antinomy has kindly offered a chocolate prize for the person who best predicts the turnout in the AV referendum next week. Since they can't run polls, I'm conducting the poll instead. The first poll below lets you select the outcome to the nearest 5% (and is viewable by everyone), the second free-entry box is visible only to me, and will be how the winner will be selected.

Voting closes "late" on the 4th of May - i.e. [livejournal.com profile] antinomy will vote as late on the 4th May as they are actually awake, and I will discount any votes received after theirs. There may be a prize if you predict the outcome precisely. In the event of different turnout figures, I shall go with what the BBC report. My decision is final :-)

[Poll #1735403]

[Poll #1735404]
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 04:57pm on 15/04/2011 under
I must confess that both sides' campaign material about the AV referendum have been annoying me. They have tended to exaggerate their claims well beyond what might be considered reasonable, and I've seen a fair amount of why seems to be plain lying (e.g. the No camp's claim that we'll have to spend millions on electronic counting machines, or that no-where uses AV when our own MPs use it to elect leaders).

As a pleasing counterpoint to all this, I'd like to tip my hat to Dr Alan Renwick of the University of Reading. He's produced a nice report in the probable impact of AV, which seems clear and reasonably even-handed. There's a brief article on the BBC or his full briefing paper [PDF]. If you want to be more informed about the pros and cons of AV, then I recommend you read his article.

Personally, I'm more "No to FPTP" than "Yes to AV", but I see it as a step in the right direction, so will be voting for it.
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 02:44pm on 07/07/2010 under
Why is it OK to consider changing the law to allow the government to renege on promises it made to civil servants, when we're not considering doing similar to allow us to renege on, say, PFI deals?
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 02:19pm on 07/07/2010 under ,
Bishops have been in the news a bit recently. Firstly, it is reported that Jeffrey John is being considered for Southwark. Secondly, Synod is going to debate how women should become bishops, including a last-minute amendment proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Firstly, it's pretty clear to me that if Dr John is the best man for the job, his sexuality should not be a reason to block him from the post. It's not like he's the first gay CofE bishop - the current Bishop of Edmonton is gay, for example. Jeffrey John abides by the church's teaching, and was shoddily treated seven years ago when he nearly became Bishop of Reading. LBGT people still face discrimination and even violence in our society, and so it's important that the church doesn't succumb to homophobia about Dr John again.

Secondly, we are (hopefully soon) going to see female bishops in the CofE. The revision committee has proposed that parishes that don't want a female bishop be able to ask her to get a male bishop to perform episcopal functions (confirmations and the like) for them, and that this process will be enshrined as a statutory code of practice. As Watch point out, this is still discriminatory, although the Archbishops' amendment is even more so. Elsewhere (e.g. in Canada), Anglicans have more straightforwardly just made women bishops; I read a piece by one in the Church Crimes the other week, where she talked about dealing with the anti-women parishes in her diocese - she visits them for services without communion, and has found that it's been a way for relationships to develop. Synod should avoid enshrining discrimination against women into law - surely our example to a society that continues not to treat both genders equally should be that women and men are equal in the sight of God?

What ties both issues together, to me, is the need for the church to stand up and show that discrimination just won't do.
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 02:22pm on 06/05/2010 under
[with apologies to those unable to vote today, and those who have already voted or decided to vote and are fed up of exhortations to do so]

Do you care who runs the country? Vote!
Do you care if we spend billions on nuclear weapons? Vote!
Do you care how we treat people who come to this country to work? Vote!
Do you care whether or not we join the Euro? Vote!
Do you care if we build affordable housing? Vote!
Do you care if we build all over the green belt? Vote!
Do you care if the poor are taken care of? Vote!
Do you care about the equality of women? Vote!
Do you care if we keep burning oil until it all runs out? Vote!
Do you care if we spend millions on renewable energy sources? Vote!
Do you care about free education? Vote!
Do you care about the wars we engage in? Vote!
Do you care about how NHS spending is prioritised? Vote!
Do you care about human rights? Vote!
Do you care about public funding of the arts, museums, and other cultural institutions? Vote!
Do you care about how the internet is regulated? Vote!
Do you care about criminal justice? Vote!
Do you care about electoral reform? Vote!
Do you care about our society? Vote!
Do you care?

Resist the temptation to say "oh, they're all the same", or "I don't agree with any of them", or "my vote doesn't count". The people standing in your constituency are not all the same. You may well disagree with each of them on major issues (I certainly do!); does that really mean you cannot rank them at all? I suspect most constituencies have at least one odious nutjob standing; at least vote against them. If we end up with a hung parliament tonight, then the number of votes cast for each party might actually influence the negotiations that follow...
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 04:04pm on 09/12/2009 under ,
I have a certain amount of sympathy with the views expressed in this Grauniad blog entry. When ++Rowan is issuing statements condemning the election of a second homosexual bishop in the USA, but not issuing statements condemning the proposed criminalising of homosexuality in Uganda (including the death penalty for "aggravated" cases), nor the support of that law by Uganda's bishops, then it leaves a very unfortunate image of what the Church's priorities are. Surely protecting the already discriminated-against homosexual minority in Uganda from state oppression is the urgent priority?
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 05:21pm on 11/11/2009 under ,
I know drugs policy has been in the news a lot recently, and possibly there's a whole other post on scientific advice to government. Nonetheless, I have been of the opinion for a while that prohibition isn't the answer to "the drugs problem", despite having never partaken myself.

This short rant seems to cover quite a bit of the ground pretty well.
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 08:42pm on 26/08/2009 under , ,
It seems that the UK screwed up, and so the Video Recordings Act 1984 is currently unenforceable (and will be for 3 months, while we formally notify the EU). The Minister for Culture and Tourism, Barbara Follett MP, wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, telling him this, and advising him to try and suppress this information. Wikileaks has the letter here.

ETA Beeb article
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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 06:06pm on 22/06/2009 under , , ,
I would like to remind everyone of rule 163 [0]. It exists to protect a vulnerable minority who are regularly subjected to abuse and intimidation by a more powerful group. That intimidation and abuse nearly always goes unpunished unless injury results, and if this minority are killed and a prosecution occurs, the penalties are relatively small. I'm talking about cyclists.

Rule 163 states, amongst other things "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car", which is sadly not very clear, but is helpfully illustrated:

It is my experience that many many drivers ignore this rule entirely if obeying it would mean the slightest delay to their journey. When you're in a car, please remember rule 163, and give cyclists plenty of room; if you're not driving, encourage the driver to do so, especially if they are a professional driver.

When commuting, I find I often have an unpleasant choice to make - either I cycle in the primary position, in the center of my lane, and get shouted and honked at and overtaken dangerously by some drivers who want to punish me for holding them up, or I cycle in the secondary position (about 1m from the kerb) and get people squeezing past with inches to spare because they are trying to overtake even though there is oncoming traffic and it's not safe to do so. This is quite frankly unacceptable.

On one evening cycle home, one taxi driver passed me twice (I overtook him while he was queuing in traffic). On both occasions, he sounded his horn repeatedly, revved his engine hard, and overtook dangerously close - if he'd misjudged it, or I'd wobbled, he would surely have hit me. I complained to the council's taxi licensing officer who said he'd do nothing unless there was a prosecution. The police/CPS won't prosecute unless a cyclist is injured, so taxi drivers can (and do) behave dangerously around cyclists they don't like without fear of any comeback.

There are a few further points I'd like to raise:

Cycle facilities are often worse than useless. The recommended width of a cycle lane is 2m; almost none that are not also bus lanes are this wide. That means that motorists overtaking at the white line (which many of them do) are passing at much less than the Rule 163 distance. Furthermore, the surface of these on-road cycle lanes is often poorer than the rest of the road, and they fill with debris from the road. I often cycle just outside these sort of lanes for these reasons. Shared-use paths for pedestrians and cycles are dangerous, for both cyclists and pedestrians; indeed there is research showing they are more dangerous to cycle on than the road proper. If you cycle much faster than walking pace, there is a risk of collision with pedestrians who meander across the shared-use path as if it were a pavement, and for all cyclists, there is a risk of collision wherever the path crosses a side-street - it seems that drivers don't expect to meet cyclists at these points, so fail to spot them. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that many cycle facilities actually make cycling more dangerous, as drivers are more likely to bully cyclists using the road if they see such a facility that the cyclist isn't using.

Accordingly, I'd like to remind drivers that cyclists are not obliged to use these facilities, and you should not shout at those that choose not to. As I say above, often the cyclist is safer on the road. More generally, though don't intimidate cyclists who you feel are delaying you. Cyclists are perfectly entitled to be on the roads, and are a vulnerable group of road users. If you feel a cyclist has made an odd decision about whether to use a cycle facility or not, whether or not to wear a helmet, or whatever, consider that they are entitled to make their own minds up about these things, and have probably given the matter more thought than you have. Shouting "helpful" comments to them is bullying.

Finally, and it shouldn't need saying, driving dangerously to intimidate or punish cyclists is immoral and illegal. Don't do it! I should be able to cycle to and from work free from people threatening to kill or maim me with their vehicles. In an ideal world, there would be effective sanctions against dangerous drivers who collide with cyclists, even if the cyclist is not seriously injured. In practice, this doesn't happen, and even when drivers kill cyclists, they not infrequently escape being charged with any offense.

So yes, remember rule 163, and give cyclists a chance!

ETA This DfT article is quite sensible.

[0] No, this isn't a joke about rules about porn on the internet


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