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Showing posts from September, 2006

Government policy part of the problem not the solution

It is not surprising that the Government were so upset by the linked BBC report of a British Intelligence officer saying that the UK action in Iraq causes terrorism. It was said before the Invasion that this would happen.

It is not that the UK should give in to terrorism. It is, however, that certain types of actions cause massive resentment that can result in terrorism.

When looked at objectively over a number of years you would ask whether the UK and US are intentionally trying to create a global battle. The words used, the actions taken all lead to greater conflict.

It is a very simple point that you don't win hearts and minds at the point of a gun.

Lewis - false allegations - witness pressurised

There were reports over the weekend that Angela Stretton who was the main prosecution witness in the Lewis case now says that she was pressurised to give false evidence.

What appears to be the case in a number of investigations is that the Social Workers decide what they think has happened and then they drive the investigation to prove this. The police may manage to be balanced in their approach. However, in the Orkneys, Rochdale and Lewis the balance went out of the window.

One of the worst aspects of the system is that the courts actually respond to the opinion as to guilt of people who have no evidence. People may honestly believe that someone else is guilty of something. That, however, is not evidence.

The real problem is that the situation in the above places is only the tip of a rather large iceberg of false allegations.

Domestic Wind Power

I have always wondered about the idea of installing a windmill on my roof. Without highlighting the companies I have been looking at the figures quoted by those companies that provide the windmills.

One says:
How much energy does it generate?
The xxx will generate around 10,000 kWh per year in a good wind site of 5.8m/s average. This is equivalent to five low-energy houses’ electricity demand, or the electrical needs of a twenty man office (i.e. lights, computers, servers, printers, faxes and phones)

Lets apply a bit of physics to this. kWh is a KiloWatt Hour. It is a measure of energy rather than power. If you have a single bar of an electric radiant heater (1 kW) on for an hour that provides the energy of a kWh.

If we even the figures out to calculate the average power we have to divide 10,000 by 365 days and then 24 hours. That gives you a power of 1.1 kW. Not actually as bad as it could be, but clearly not enough to power a 20 person office unless most of the equipment is kept of…

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

I have been using Bloglines to link together my main news sources. Those are the BBC website and various blogs.

I particularly like the NHS Blog Doc, Coppers Blog and Frank Chalk for a perspective on public service.

As far as Politics goes I look at Recess Monkey, Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale.

Locally I look at Labour Councillor Bob Piper andPolitical Hack UK an anonymous Labour activist who is now I believe in Hall Green Constituency, but he might be in mine.

I also look at the Lib Dem Aggregator.

I have, however, just installed an online reader. This should download new stories from each of the above sites at a given frequency. The challenge for life and particulary as an elected politician is to handle all the contacts you get so that the important ones (such as those from constituents) are dealt with properly and others dealt with appropriately - which for most generalised bumpf means rapid recycling. (The circular green file).

At the same time you need to remain up to speed with wh…

Written Parliamentary Questions: 22nd September 2006

Volunteers
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

(1) what consultation was undertaken by his Department in advance of the change in guidance from his Department regarding lunch expenses for those on benefits who work as volunteers; and with whom such consultation took place;

(2) what assessment he has made of the likely impact of new guidance from his Department regarding lunch expenses for those on benefits who work as volunteers on the number of those on benefits who volunteer;

(3) what estimate he has made of the number of people on benefits who do voluntary work.
(John Hemming)

A:Volunteering plays an important role in helping people move off benefits and back into work. It gives people confidence, the chance to develop skills and to gain invaluable experience after a period out of work.

We do not want to create a situation whereby individuals are put off volunteering or are penalised from helping themselves and others because they cannot afford to buy something to eat.

W…

Don't juggle with stress balls - use bean bags instead

Having started conference by addressing a couple of fringe meetings. The first was on an issue that will be very vexed over the next year or so as to where the boundary should lie between public sector directly managed services and private sector contracted services.

The NHS, of course, has now basically put out to tender all 64bn of the PCTs' budgets (potentially). Where this goes will only be seen in January, but it is interesting that there was no debate in the house on this.

The second meeting was about Core Cities and City Regions an issue about which there is much uninformed comment. The idea of the City Region is a simple system to coordinate policy between 8 local authorities, the LSC and RDA (AWM) with representation from the business sector and regional assembly.

It is not an ideal system as ideally we would link in the true economic city region of Birmingham including the travel to work area. Coventry logically could be a separate city region.

Areas such as Bristol ar…

Conference, NHS and General Election

I am at conference which I am not a "live blogger" for and I will not necessarily blog as much from here.

One reason that I think Labour will not go for a snap election is that they will want, where possible, to get over the impact of Hospital Closures before going to the country.

The real problem with the issue of hospital closures is that it is the initial strategy decision that forces through the closure. It is, therefore, that point at which changes are needed.

To stop the closures there needs to be a concerted effort across the country with policy commitments from political parties. Merely having a few more Richard Taylors (much that Richard Taylor is a good MP) will not affect what the civil service do to the NHS.

The meaning of words

Much of the global debate about the Pope's speech misses the point. The linked article from The Guardian is, however, much better than most reports. It still confuses states and religions in its strapline.

The point The Guardian makes is that the Vatican is unhappy about persecution of Christians in Muslim states. This obviously links to the popes denunciation of the use of force for proselytising.

What I would like to know is how the speech came to global attention. This may rest upon the meaning of the word "erstaunlich". The main meaning is "astonishing" which can be taken as implying an apology for the meaning of the quotation. An alternative nuance, however, involves positive connotations such as admirable. My German is not good enough to judge which applies. However, it is on that point that the meaning of the speech can switch. If the speech was brought to people's attention from a fluent german speaker then it does make a material difference.

Global conflict, the Pope and erstaunlich

I have found the Pope's original speech (in the original german)
here
and the Vatican's translation
here

Translation is an inexact science. It is clear comparing the German to the English that the translation is not that good. (The greek gets completely lost)

I have also read the BBC's report
here
which appears to be based upon the english translation

What the original german quotation refers to is the concept of forcing religion upon people through violence as being "evil and inhuman" and that is the object for which the Pope uses the quotation.

It is clear that the translator has changed some of the key nuances which add to the difficulties. However, where he says in german that the statement by the Kaiser was "astonishing" it is translated as "startlingly brusque". Similarly the nuances are lost in reference to jihad - where the english refers to holy war and the german to "jihad, holy war so as to speak".

Much that a large number of proble…

Clare Short and Electoral Reform

The key point about Electoral Reform is that it increases the power of the elector against the Civil Servant.

In practise a powerful single party heirarchy which gives a "strong government" simply forces through the policy of the civil service in most cases. It is, therefore, quite difficult to affect government policy when the civil service stand against something (eg PFI where it is the Treasury that push for this against pretty well everyone else).

American Psychiatrist abuses Child Protection Procedures

There are too many examples of medics across the world threatening parents with reference to Child Protection Procedures when the fault lies with the doctor.

There is a complex issue which is that sometimes bad things happen and they are not really anyone's fault. It is, therefore, not necessary for someone to be prosecuted every time someone dies.

There are situations where doctors are prosecuted for a death that they are not culpable for. Alternatively mothers (generally) and possible fathers are prosecuted for a death for which they have no responsibility. Clearly there are occasions when noone should be prosecuted, because noone is culpable.

Written Parliamentary Questions: 13th September 2006

Departmental Organisation
Q:To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will instruct his officials to develop a criminal justice, immigration and mental health flow chart to identify the different routes that offenders follow and to assist in identifying and resolving gaps in the system. (John Hemming)

A:As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in his written statement of 23 May 2006, Official Report, columns 78-81 WS, there have never been systematic arrangements in place for collecting information on the nationality of mentally disordered offenders, referring them to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and considering them for deportation. He has tasked officials to construct arrangements for considering deportation where appropriate for people in this group taking account of their very specific circumstances. This work is ongoing and as part of this, appropriate pathways are being developed for the management of mentally disordered offenders. (Ge…

Another false allegation conviction successfully appealed

It is always very difficult trying to get a system which works and deals with identifying people who have committed crimes properly.

I have always felt that there is a difference in the evidential requirements for sanctions that involve long term imprisonment from those that say involve a small fine. What has happened is that the evidential reguirements for everything have shifted. These result in substantially more false convictions. Some of the worst false convictions are those of the mothers who were alleged to have killed their babies that died from SIDS.

These were situations that were really tragic for the mothers and then they were blamed for it and punished. Those people who were responsible for this situation should really be held to account.

Oil Depletion Protocol Launched

When the laws of physics come up against the laws of economics the laws of physics always win.

The Oil Depletion Protocol - see link - is designed to handle the real consequences of the limits of the availability of Oil. Conventional oil production has already peaked, but gas and other types of oil will probably peak in production in about 2010. There is no technological quick fix that resolves this issue.

Historically energy supplies came mainly from wood, charcoal, coal, oil, gas with some nuclear and hydroelectric etc. Until the point at which Hydrocarbons peak there has always been an easier to use and generally better energy source. After that point it is human behaviour that will need to consciously change to deal with the new constraints.

We are already seeing ripples in the supply chain. The issue of "Peak Oil" is now discussed more frequently. Even the IEA accept that oil production could peak by 2015 if there is "insufficient investment". The larg…

The interests of the child are paramount

The link is to a story from Australia where the Child Protection team got upset that a foster carer took a child to the doctor without their permission.

Generally it is accepted that the interests of the child are "paramount". What that means is that the child comes first.

The big question is what that means in practise. The various professionals argue the case that they are acting in the interests of the child and hence it means that people should do what they say.

What the evidence is quite clear about is that they have conflicts of interests in certain circumstances. Departmental and personal interests reign supreme in comparison to the children concerned.

The evidence in terms of "looked after" children (the new term for children in care) - sometimes converted to the acronym LACs - is that being "cared for" by the system on average damages life chances.

That is not to criticise individuals generally within the process. It is the system that is dehumani…

Captain Resigns over Afghan tactics

“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.

“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.

“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”

In a sense there is little that can be added to Leo Doherty's reported comments. The tactics in Afghanistan are ones which create at least two new taliban activists for every one that is killed.

How to get rid of a serving Prime Minister

The linked article in the Independent shows how strong the position of the Prime Minister is even if a majority of his or her party's MPs want him/her gone.

In a sense it is a sign of our constitution that tends to concentrate power in individuals. I take the view that this is not helpful for good government.

What it does is increase the power of the civil service and paid officers against the electorate whose representatives are the back bench MPs or Councillors.

The European Commission is essentially unaccountable as it is established by horse trading amongst governments.

Performers Parliamentary Group to be launched

This article in The Stage deals with the launch of the "Performers Alliance" APPG. I am a bit confused as to how writers then become performers, but I suppose if you include the concept of creating intellectual property for entertainment then that fits.

MU member and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who will be one of the vice chairs, told The Stage: “There are many performers who do not earn vast sums of money and/or have the Prime Minister living in their house in Barbados. Frequently, they have low levels of earnings and hence do not have the same ability to persuade the government as people like Bernie Ecclestone. The Performers’ Alliance Parliamentary Group is being established to ensure that their voice is heard.”

Airline Security 2006 (imitation grenade imported by air)

This imitation grenade was imported into the UK last week.

It is a cigarette lighter. That is, therefore, entirely lawful. However, you would have expected someone to have checked whether or not it was a real grenade.

What happened is that on this particular flight in the departing airport the security guards were quite busy searching some people of Asian origin. However, they just waved through the individual depicted with the grenade lighter and a clip lighter which he had in his duty free bag.

The grenade is very comparable in weight and size to an anti-personnel grenade.

I have written to the Government (Home Secretary: John Reid) raising this issue with the name of the airport the flight started in.

I accept that there are arguments about whether we have gone a bit over the top in terms of airport security in the UK. In particular the idea that certain gel filled prostheses need to be removed and searched seems dubious. I am not sure whether or not the government have it right, b…

The Lib Dem Cover-up

There are still a few stories about claiming that the Lib Dems concealed the fact that Charles Kennedy was not always sober. This is the song on Page 10 of the current Liberator Songbook.

Speed bonnie boat,
Like a hack on the make;
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be King,
Back to the seat on Skye.

Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the Whips pro clai-aim.
Out on the town,
Out of his head,
Charlie is pissed again.

Elected Mayors may be scrapped by voters

The fact that there are campaigns in 4 out of the 11 local authorities that have directly elected mayors may get the government to recognise that this is not the solution of all problems of local government.

The reason why directly elected mayors are less sensitive to lobbying by ordinary votesr is that most things they hear are filtered by advisors. Whereas it is relatively straightforward to see your local councillor, getting to see the Mayor is much harder.

The Mayor, therefore, tends to deliver what the bureaucracy want, such as laying down gravestones - an issue in Stoke. (see linked Times Story)

The point about a council leader is that thay are accountable to the councillors hence councillors can force them to change tack on policies that are unwanted and ineffectual.

Politics and Change

One thing I find interesting as a subject for study are the mechanisms for achieving change in society.

There are issues which are the subject of party political debate: such as the initial decision to go to war in Iraq, tuition fees and remain the subject of party political division.

There are other issues such as stopping free lunches for volunteers on benefits, nuisance phone calls and public family law (MSbP) which are not the subject of party political divisions.

What is interesting is the mechanism for achieving change where a party political division does not exist. The issue of Free Lunches, for example, was relatively straightforward. The problem was a bureaucratic decision somewhere in the middle of the Department of Works and Pensions. Sufficient political pressure needed to be created to ensure that change occurred. The rules were changed and that was it.

The issue of Silent Calls is more complex. Ofcom basically have been uninterested in stopping silent calls. They ar…