Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pandemics - the failure of government and the media

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few days working on the Flu Wiki, started by Jimmy Wales - founder of Wikipeadia. Many people have been involved. Trying to extract the facts from the media and government hype has been a challenge.

Now I'm not an pandemic expert, but I consider myself good at assessing sources. Understanding what the UK and international agencies are saying is hard work, and I think that the wiki now reflects this work. The aim is to present a calm representation of what is going on.

The media and governments are in a real bind. The problem is that we have probably moved into the long game with respect to this flu. It seems probable that we are going to see a series of outbreaks over the next 6-18 months. It is quite likely that the first wave will be pretty mild. If we see outbreaks in several countries, with very few deaths, then WHO will have to raise the outbreak to Phase 6. The media will go frenetic for a few days and then start saying that it was an over-reaction. The governments will respond, saying they had no choice.

The problem is that historical evidence suggests that new strains of the Influenza virus become more dangerous over time. A calm view of the progress of the pandemic will be required, and I see neither the media, nor governments, capable of maintaining this interest.

I recommend that you join us and show the real power of the new media to collect and maintain a valuable, calm resource.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

How to really cut government spending

Here are a few suggestions for cutting government spending. The reasons that no-one in government think of of them are two-fold:
  1. The are so detached from the real world that they don't know what is going on;
  2. The Civil Service would never suggest them, as it might mean cutting Civil Service and QUANGO jobs...
Here goes, if any of these are truly stupid please let me know...
  • Put out to public consultation which QUANGOs could be cut with nobody noticing. I have experience in education and if you closed Becta, QCA and OfQual tomorrow I doubt anyone would notice. I guess the situation is the same in every area of life.
  • Legalise and tax drugs. Savings of over £2B in policing and potential tax revenue of £1B-£3B.
  • Re-organise the appraisal mechanisms for schools and hospitals with peer review mechanisms and careful oversight.
  • Scrap ID Cards - £5B.
  • Do not replace Trident, saving £25B. It is not an independent nuclear deterrent, and the moral high-ground would be worth more than the 'nuclear power' badge.
  • Scrap the mis-named and absurd tax credit system, and move to a fixed payment to every man, woman and child, with a flat rate 40% tax on all income.
  • Move to self-assessment for as much taxation as possible, with heavy penalties for mis-reporting.
  • Scrap the road fund licence - and put the duty burden on fuel. Probably £500M in savings.
  • Require insurers to confirm that a car is roadworthy. Probably another £500M in savings. It should also be possible to have the insurance companies responsible to driver testing and car registration as well.
  • Does anyone know what BERR does? Scrap it.
Further suggestions please!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

So it wasn't about our safety in the first place...

It is amusing that the thing that ends up protecting our liberty may be the credit crunch.

The idea of a centralised database of all phone calls and Internet usage has been scrapped - and though the new project will cost the taxpayer £2B, it is almost certainly less than the originally planned project.
As Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International said: “Scrapping the central database is a red herring. The real threat arises from the sheer scale of the data the government wants to collect. Once these data sources are joined together we will have lost privacy for all time.”
Mind you, there are bets going around at the moment as to how long it is until the ID Card scheme gets scrapped as well. Then, of course, they might decide to stop the Trident weapon replacement, but this has further implications - if the UK stopped being a nuclear power...

So what about terrorism?

The central communication database and the ID Card scheme were meant to defend us from terrorism - and yet they can be abandoned to save money. If they had really been about protecting us, would they not be kept regardless of cost?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Is a pandemic planned for?

The short answer would seem to be "Yes".

The longer answer is more interesting. The government has published its plans for coping with a flu pandemic - this copy is hosted on the BBC's website. I've waded through most of the 177 pages of this plan, and it seems quite sensible. It is generally honest and straightforward.

The interesting thing is that it seems to be planning for a mild form of the flu - the model is based on the lowest of the mortality rates that they considered (0.37%), and the middle attack rate (50%). This somewhat reminds me of Alistair Darling's budget - that predicted the best outcome possible for the economy, and then planned for this.

The next few days will give us some clear indications of how this outbreak is going to progress. There may be some unique features of the exposure in Mexico that led to the mortality, or the outbreak may establish itself in several locations world-wide. If this happens, then we can expect to see WHO recognise this and reflect it in increasing their alert to "Pandemic Phase 4". Reading the documentation, I suspect it is already there, as there is human-to-human infection. WHO must be waiting for verification of this fact.

Jimmy Wales has started a Flu Wiki, to collect calm neutral information about the progress of the outbreak. Please consider contributing to this, as otherwise we may end up relying on the government and the media...

Friday, 24 April 2009

Green shoots on the allotment, dead wood in Whitehall

So it is now very clear that Alistair Darling was working from a spreadsheet that was designed to look good, not to reflect reality.

I don't blame him, he is only behaving the way that any scheming, power crazed politician would. Follow his thinking...

I'll talk the economy up because:
  • I can't get told off for talking the economy down;
  • if it does recover (and he knows it probably won't), then I'm seen as a genius and visionary;
  • if it doesn't recover, it doesn't matter as someone else will have to cope with the fallout.
Likewise, he doesn't have to worry about making the cut-backs in public services, as he must know that his days are numbered. It's a bit like leaving a kipper behind the radiator for the next occupant of the hotel room. Unfortunately the whole country is being screwed by his taking this absurd path. Brown has managed to bankrupt the country.

So no wonder he's screwed the higher earners, because he wants them to be unhappy with his successors. The Tories just won't be able to afford to reverse the Income Tax changes, unless they decide to make sensible changes and abandon the Liberal Capitalist model.

Prediction... OK guess...

2010 onwards will see inflation rising to substantial levels - probably in the form of stagflation. This will be quietly welcomed by the government because it will solve many problems. Unfortunately, it will also see many of our pensioners driven into abject poverty as their meagre savings become worthless. The plan for this has already been put in place.

Let's just hope they haven't over done it - 10% for 7 years pretty much halves the value of your savings... 41% for two years does the same thing.

Technical note:

A quick and dirty way of dealing with compound interest is to divide the period percentage into 71 - and this gives you the number of periods before doubling. So, 10% inflation for seven years means that money has lost about half its value. It works well for values less than about 20%.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bizarre Budget Balls-up

Following a discussion with Matt Wardman, and using the data from James Smith, I produced one chart showing the marginal rate of Income Tax (ignoring the now almost entirely arbitrary split between income tax and NI). The second chart shows the percentage of total income paid as tax. Please feel free to use these in any way you see fit! (CC-BY-SA as usual - if you want the spreadsheet please email me).

Note the spike to a marginal rate of taxation of 61.5% between £100k and £113k. I have no sympathy with the rich, but this result seems ridiculous. Did they plan it? My bet is that it is yet another cock-up.

UPDATE: Having graphed the overall percentage of income paid as tax it would seem that this is not a cock-up! I would guess that the majority of the extra tax raised will be from those earning between £100k and £150k. What a shame...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A day to bury the cock-up

So now all of the 12 'terror suspects' arrested following the Bob Quick cock-up have been released. Released without charge, but most are now likely to be deported for 'National Security' reasons.

If there is a National Security problem, then it has been caused by the arrests.

Why release them today? Well, if you were looking for a bit of spin, you might assume that the releases will be lost in the Budget coverage.

But the real problem is that the cock-up will have made many more Muslims - both in Britain and around the world - feel persecuted. This will only help those with extremist intentions to gain recruits.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

We need to aim for a sustainable society.

I've spent a weekend away from the computer, and so I've managed to read several newspapers.
  • The current moral, if not political, meltdown of the Brown administration is obvious.
  • It would seem Nick Hardwick, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), has rediscovered his conscience, and we all now have a chance to influence the future of policing in the UK.
  • The Tories are promising to avoid sleaze if they get into power - and given the pain they have experienced in the past week or so maybe they will.
  • Climate change is being recognised as a fact by the Obama administration, and the States may start to react as a result.
Unfortunately, the Liberal Capitalist 'consensus' still rules the mind set of our politicians. The dominant idea is still that 'if we return to growth it will all sort out'. Have these people no vision at all? Constant growth is bankrupt. It is a recipe for the destruction of civilisation. A 2% per annum growth means adding the entire economy of two centuries ago each year. We just cannot continue like that - there are simply not the resources.

The only reason for worrying about the issues of policing and liberty is to set the tone for civilisation as it collapses. This society has no future unless we get away from the idea of constant growth and decides to focus on sustainability.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Surveillance must cut both ways

OnModernLiberty has a posting asking how can we bring the police under democratic control. The whole list of proposals, originally published at Centre Right by Graeme Archer ,is worth reading, but I will focus on these two:
  • Just as the storage of DNA from wholly innocent citizens is an outrage, so is the routine videoing of members of the public by police officers. This must stop.
  • In contrast, members of the public must never be prevented from recording the activities of police officers.
It is difficult to argue with these two after the G20 assaults. Had the police not been videoed by members of the public, then the two appalling assaults that have come to light, so far, would have been ignored. The many more that will come out over the next few months would never be heard about.

On a similar theme, two Austrian tourists had there photographs deleted for taking pictures of buses and bus-stations. Before you ask why they wanted a picture of Vauxhall bus station, just have a look at it - it is a remarkable piece of architecture. This is just plain stupid. Do the police have nothing better to do?

I hope that someone with better organisational skills and contacts than me takes this cause up. To help them get started here is an idea.

Let's have a National Photograph Buses, Trains and Policemen day. It would be a simple piece of mass protest and might get quite a bit of press interest.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Middle class angst: protest and poverty

Almost a year ago I wrote "Panic now - avoid the rush" in this blog. It missed a few things, but otherwise seems to still hold. I failed to predict the economic crash in detail, but so did many other people.

The middle classes are under threat.
Many of them have lost their jobs - and many more will in the next year.
Many are facing repossession of their beloved houses.

They are faced with entering relative poverty. They are also beginning to wake up the appalling attitudes that the state takes towards its 'subjects'. The highbrow press are pretty wound-up about the current policing atrocities and wider problems - with society, climate and the economy. I suspect these new dispossessed will think about becoming more active politically - and they will discover that conventional politics has nothing to offer them.

What impact will this have?

I'm not sure, but it is definitely worth thinking about. I guess that they will initially be looking to get back to their previous (unsustainable) life style. Somehow this new group of protesters need to be shown a route to a sane and sustainable future.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Where can protest go now?

It would appear that the Police are now intent on getting in early and stopping protest. I won't go into a discussion about whether this makes the UK a 'Police State' - I will suggest instead that you read the parable about boiling frogs...

What this will mean for protest in the UK?

My concern is that it will inevitably mean the formation of smaller cells of activists. Getting 114 people together means trusting many of them in advance with some degree of detail. Either this was leaked to the police, or the number of messages between known activists directed them. So the logic is to work in smaller cells.

This has huge risks.

Large groups tend to be more moderate - in my opinion and experience. In smaller groups there is less likely to be someone to moderate extreme thoughts and opinions, and dissenters may be easier persuaded.

So is this the police plan?

Who can tell, could be cock-up or conspiracy.

If you want further reading, may I suggest The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, a novel by G.K.Chesterton, where all of the key anarchist conspirators, except one, are undercover detectives.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Churnalism and "Conspiracy to Trespass"

It is noticeable that, over twelve hours after the arrests in Nottingham, all of the reports in the press are based on a single Press Association report. It would appear that no media service has done any further research, with the exception of the Guardian, that appears to have contacted Jon Beresford, the chairman of Nottingham Against Incineration and Landfill, for his opinion. I believe this is practically the definition of Churnalism.

The next thing that needs analysis is the grounds for the arrests.
He said: "Just after midnight tonight, Nottinghamshire Police arrested 114 men and women from across the UK on suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage."
This is, of course from the PA report. I have done some research and cannot find anyone who has been convicted of "conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass" - in fact I can't even find a reference to any prosecution. If you know of any please add a comment to this posting.

UPDATE: an anonymous reader informs me there is no such offence, see the comment below - there are two separate offences, "conspiracy to commit trespass" and "aggravated trespass". More misinformation from the police?

Entertainingly, before the churnalism, the top links for "conspiracy to commit trespass" took you to British canoeists' websites...

So is this another expression of the police state? Well, it is another attempt from the police to strike pre-emptively at protesters. As pointed out on the Nottingham Indymedia site, it is similar in some ways to the M1 Conspiracy case, which collapsed last year.

  • Will any of these 114 potential protesters be charged and brought to court?
  • Will any be prosecuted successfully?
  • Will we ever know?
  • Or is this a new definition of a 'cockspiracy' - as a cocked-up attempt to convict someone of conspiracy?

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Watching the fear game

They keep arresting people as 'terror' suspects, with a lot of noise and press coverage. There does not seem to be the same degree of coverage for the later release of these people. For example:
The problem is keeping track of who gets arrested and then released. In my opinion, it should be job of the police to do this, but then that would not suit the current agenda of keeping people frightened, so we will have to do it ourselves. If there is a site that does this effectively already, then please let me know and I'll support it - otherwise I've registered and am prepared to host it as a public service.

Email me now at if you want to support this project.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Blears, bloggers and cynicism

Hazel Blears, as reported in BBC News, says:
Political blogs are fuelling a culture of cynicism about politics
I'd like to know which planet she's on. This is a blog, and it can sound pretty cynical - but it is not the driving force behind our failing political establishment. Neither is it down to Guido, or any of the other bloggers.

The problem is the cynicism of our elected representatives and the people who force themselves to the top of that odious group.

They have no vision beyond the next opinion poll and their second, third ...any advance?... home. This is from the Times...
Other Cabinet ministers who claimed the maximum amount to stay away from home on parliamentary business last year include Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, Liam Byrne, the Cabinet Office Minister and Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary.
And she has the nerve to call us cynical.

Even if we are purely being cynical, at least we are engaging with the process. Would she rather we simply believed the bullshit they are constantly feeding us?

UPDATE: 11th April 2009 19:35 - Guido Fawkes blog is down - sheer weight of traffic or revenge?

19:45 - Guido Fawkes blog is back up, must have been traffic.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Statistics on Police Assaults at the G20

After using simple sums to judge the recession, let us apply this to the assaults by the police at the G20 protests.

There must have been many more people randomly assaulted by the police.
My logic is simple, the chances of the only person assaulted by the police being the only person that died during the protests is extremely unlikely - unless he died as a direct result of the assault.

If he died as a direct result of the assault, then the police must have been using the bare minimum of force needed to kill. I say this because he died minutes later, and the evidence slipped past the first post-mortem. In this case, the police must have been led to believe that they were expected to use as much violence as they could without killing - and they got this one wrong.

The fact that this attack was so completely captured on video suggests that most of the other assaults will be as well - were we to go out and look for them, but that will be hard given the justifiable amount of coverage given to Tomlinson. Do not be surprised when reports and inquiries suggest that their were hundreds of unjustifiable assaults by the police during the protests.
We clearly need to have the legal right to take photographs of the police.

Finally, look at this picture and ask yourself what is wrong with it...

I do not believe it is possible to perform CPR while wearing a riot helmet...

UPDATE: 11th April 2009: The Guardian reports that 120 complaints about assults by police at the protests have been made to the IPCC.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Recession or not? Judge for yourself

The motor trade claimed that car sales last month were down by 30%. My, statistically unsound, survey suggests that it is probably down by more like 70%.

How did I carry out my survey?

Well my son and I were driving down the motorway yesterday, and he was getting bored. So, what we did was counted 08 car registration plates, and kept counting them until we saw a 09 plate. The average count was over twenty cars with 08 plates before seeing an 09 plate. Try it yourself.

Now for the maths...

Please note this is a simplified approach - if you want the full version email me, but it involves some fairly complex stats:
  1. Assume one-sixth of the 08 cars were sold in March 2008 (an underestimate);
  2. Assume a ratio of 1:20 for 09:08 plates (an approximation, but not a bad one);
  3. This means that there were roughly one-third as many 09 cars registered last month as in last March.
So how can the industry claim only a 30% fall? My guess is that they are pre-registering a huge number of cars and then leaving them in stock.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Why they want you to be afraid...

I do not believe that our politicians have sat down and thought this through, it's just another cockup.

But they do benefit from our fear

Jacqui Smith, on the Today programme this morning, managed about one sentence on the new 15% off vouchers for those who have been burgled. She spent the rest of the time defending her second home... So lock your doors and fear your neighbours.

The poster campaign to encourage people to snoop on their neighbours is in full flight, though you can always produce your own version.

While we fear and snoop on those who live next door, we are much less likely to recognise that our real enemies are the politicians. These are the people who leach off our efforts, while granting themselves outrageous perks and giving our money to failed industries and banks.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The BBC has failed us all

BBC news reporting used to be trusted and reliable - I fear it is no more. As I reported last week, the BBC was gagged (or gagged itself) over the Barclays-wikieak-tax-avoidance debacle. Now, it has bottled it over the reporting of the 'assault' on an innocent bystander by the police during the G20 protests.

Compare these:
  • BBC - "Activists have called for a full public inquiry into the death of a man during the G20 protests".
  • The Times - "Most of all, it is the story of how the police wilfully criminalised and alienated 4,000 innocent people".
  • The Observer - "Police 'assaulted' bystander who died during G20 protests".
So what is going on? How has a reporting service that has been trusted throughout the world become a puppet of our ever encroaching state and corporate machinery? Is there a new Room 101 censoring their reports? Are they under a series of gagging orders as I suspected?

My thoughts - please feel free to disagree

I think they have become ultimately risk-averse, or in common parlance, have lost their balls. They are gagging themselves.

How did this come about?

I will leave you to do the research if you don't know about any of these steps:
  • The Kelly inquiry, following Gilligan's reporting, leaving the BBC reeling and uncertain about its role;
  • The BBC management decides to favour a risk-averse stance;
  • The corporates smell blood and applied pressure in all the right places (ie the BBC management);
  • The advertising downturn leads to the other media giants suffering a squeeze, and becoming even more jealous of the licence fee;
  • Meanwhile, the courts are issuing more and more gagging orders for various media stories, which are themselves unreportable because of the gagging orders;
  • There are a number of minor cock-ups at the BBC, leading up to Brand/Ross one - which was media generated, two weeks after the event...
and now the BBC is scared of everything, and the rest is just a cockspiracy. They dare not report anything that the management feel may upset the government or the corporates.

So, read the Guardian, the blogs, Indymedia and the like, and try not to be too paranoid.

UPDATE: 6th April - At last the BBC is reporting that:
Witnesses have come forward and told the IPCC Mr Tomlinson had "contact" with officers before he collapsed.
The page was updated at 16:19 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 17:19 UK.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

G20 Fail - another cockup

The failure of the G20 leaders to understand or hear the protest is easily understood - there were too many different issues. The fact is that what all of the protesters were against the status quo, many just identified with one particular issue that they thought was most important.
  • Capitalism - because it is so obvious that it makes people unhappy and is unsustainable;
  • Climate Change - because it would be nice to have a decent planet for our grandchildren;
  • Bankers - because some of them are extremely selfish people;
  • Nuclear Weapons - because they are clearly immoral;
  • Civil Liberties - because if you don't have freedom, what do you have;
  • and many more.
This rainbow coalition seems confusing, and it would require some thought on the part of our leaders to realise that the protesters were saying that they have got it all wrong.

Of course they can't believe that.

They aren't even really thinking about things, they are just reacting. The thing that really worries me is the solution the world 'found' to two previous major stock market crashes - the two World Wars. Our global society needs to move to a much longer term view if it is to survive.

But our leaders are devoted to their model.

The leaders of the nations believe that they can solve the problem, and yet they don't even know what the problem is - because it is the entire system that got them elected.

What we need is a system that doesn't rely on growth and power - and I just don't see our leaders going for that voluntarily.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April Fool?

Cynthia Bower, the West Midlands Stategic Health Authority boss — meaning that she was meant to have some level of supervision over Stafford Hospital at the time of the deaths, now has a new job. Cynthia is now head of the new Care Quality Commission. This new Care Quality Commission is replaces the Healthcare Commission that reported on the “death wards” at Mid Staffordshire Trust

Mind you, neither West Midlands Stategic Health Authority or the Healthcare Commission noticed anything was wrong until two researchers from the LSE told them.