Saturday, 31 July 2010

Special Occasion: 100th Post!

I'm not sure if the Queen keeps up with the times but surely this is deserving of a telegram?

I just thought I'd mark this landmark with its own designated post, although far from being a massive milestone it was only actually four months ago that I started writing this blog. I'd like to think my writing has got better in that time, and I've certainly got a lot more people reading this than I did in the early days, it's nice to think I'm not just a crazed lunatic writing things that only I will read.

Its weird to think that when I started writing this blog I didn't tell anyone about it because I really didn't like the idea of people I know reading it but now I know plenty of friends who read it and don't mind at all. I suppose you get used to writing posts that aren't actually aimed at anyone in particular but are instead aimed at everyone.

I've now got a much clearer idea about what this blog is about, over the summer most of the posts have been political but I promise that will balance out when I get back to Manchester and into the swing of Medicine again. On that note, here's what's different in the world from the first post to this one:

Medicine: I've since passed my first year of medical school and am looking forward to moving into my house next year. All the exams went really well and I definitely feel like I deserve my place now, and that a PBL course was definitely the right course for me. I can't stand lectures. I also found out that next year I'll be on the Peer mentor scheme which means that Me, Rachel, James and Lauren will have our own bunch of fresher's to take to curry night, PJ pub crawl and other associated drinking events. Can't wait.

Politics: We have of course got a new government to the one we had back in April, and from my point of view certainly not for the better. Since then I've become a member of the Labour party and my hardening views may well have put some people off this blog, I can only apologise.

Sport: Surely, the most striking change of all. Blackpool, my home club that I followed into the depths of League 2 not so long ago have reached the hallowed ground of the Premiership. Even four months ago this seemed an impossibility and really still ins't believable now. That day at Wembley was one of, if not the, best day of my life and shall remain for a long time to come. Although at the time the nerves nearly killed me and at 3-2 at half-time I didn't know whether to be happy or run away screaming.

Let's see how things change in the next 100 posts, thanks to everyone that bothers reading my waffle.

Friday, 30 July 2010

AV Referendum

There's been some criticism coming from the coalition over Labour's decision to oppose the bill which would allow the referendum on a change to AV voting to go ahead. I thought I'd clear up how its perfectly legitimate to support voting reform (indeed I'd rather we had more reform than just AV) but still oppose this bill which would allow a referendum.

I'll start with what the actual referendum is about, the Alternative Vote. At the moment we use the First past the post (FPTP) system to decide who should be the MP for a certain constituency and the party with the majority of constituencies becomes the government. (Right now we have 650 MP's so any one party needs 326, or parties can work together like the ConDems have done) As it is, everyone gets one vote and whoever wins the most votes in a constituency becomes MP. However, this can be problematic. If two parties are similar then they can split each others vote and mean a less popular party gets in because it doesn't have its vote split. There are other problems in terms of winning votes but not seats (as explained here by a Tory supporting blogger, just to be partisan).

In AV voting we still keep constituencies but rather than getting one vote you can instead rank the candidates. After all the first choices have been counted if no one has 50% of the vote then the second choices get counted and added to the totals. This goes on until someone has 50% and that person is then the winner. This is just one of several choices for reform, you can find the others here.

So back to the point of this post, why are Labour opposing this bill when they had AV reform in their manifesto, is it opportunism like Cameron claims? Well, no is the simple answer.

The reason being that this bill isn't simply for a referendum on AV, it also includes reform to constituency boundaries, which we can't accept. If Cameron did the decent thing and put two separate bills through then we could wholeheartedly support the AV referendum.

The boundary changes are an attempt to equalise the number of voters voting for each MP, which by itself is no bad thing as some constituencies are considerably bigger than others at the moment effectively meaning some people's votes are worth more than others.

What I and others have more of an issue with is the way they propose going about changing the sizes. It is still  very easy to gerrymander (draw the boundaries in such a way that the opposition vote is split and so can't win a seat despite having the same votes) seats that have equal numbers, and that is what these proposals amount to. There are a few reasons why I think the way they plan to do this is deeply unfair and solely aimed at keeping Labour out of power.

Firstly, the speed that they hope to push through the changes means that they will have no chance to tackle the problem of people who aren't registered on the electoral register. If they aren't on the register they are effectively frozen out of the whole process. This problem of under-registration is most severe in dense urban areas, the very seats which Labour typically win. By going ahead with the reform before making sure people are registered they will ensure that urban areas, and by proxy Labour, are under-represented.

That's also the case with the arbitrary reduction of the number of seats from 650 to 600. Why, when they want to give more power to people, are they reducing the influence that the public has. This cut will mean each member of the public has proportionally less representation than before. And more than that, the devious choice of 50 seats to be rid of is designed purely for political gain. The cuts of 50 seats will mainly hurt Labour as we lose a quarter of Welsh seats and historically Labour held seats are merged.

Then there's the much more obvious deception of the Lib Dem's who have put in special exemptions for a small number of seats, which coincidentally happen to be held by themselves and will provide them with safe seats that they might otherwise have lost. It's the most blatant gerrymandering element of the whole bill.

My final reason for opposing it is that far from their idea of 'big society' this is hurting the local community's power to have a say. Traditionally, local communities have had the chance to appeal against certain boundary changes that would cut across tight knit areas. This bill removes the public right to challenge, and gives all that power to central government. Hardly in keeping with the Cameron rhetoric of less centralisation is it?

In short, neither partner in the coalition wants one half of this bill, the Tory's don't want AV and the Libs don't want this change in boundaries. That's the only reason I could think that these two distinctly separate issues are being packaged together as one. If we want to oppose blatant gerrymandering we have to oppose the part of it we actually want as well, AV reform. Its a stunt from Cameron so that he can paint Labour as going back on their word when in fact we've done nothing of the sort. In case you're still not convinced, here's what the Labour ammendment actually said:

“That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be a referendum on moving to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons, declines to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill because it combines that objective with entirely unrelated provisions designed to gerrymander constituencies by imposing a top-down, hasty and undemocratic review of boundaries...

The solution is simple, split the bill in two, let us vote for the referendum and oppose this blatant political cheating that they are trying to push through.

Gearing Up For The New Season

I haven't write about the world of sport for a while now, not since that wonderful day down at Wembley, mainly because bugger all's happened at Blackpool since then.

We've yet to make our first signing of the summer although we do seem to be close to a couple at the moment and its always difficult to know what's going on behind the scenes. What I will say is this, I really wish the sudden explosion of new Blackpool fans would shut their mouths on subjects they don't have the first clue about, its really irritating.

I understand that any club that gets to the hallowed ground of the Premiership is going to pick up quite a lot of new 'supporters' and that's fine seeing as we need people through the turnstiles to pay the bills, but I'm worried about the impact they might have if things start going badly, which is a very real risk.

I'm not being pessimistic, ask any long term Blackpool fan and they'll likely tell you the same thing, we'll fight tooth and nail to stay up, but we know this is punching way above our weight and so if we go straight back down there'll be no hard feelings and we'll enjoy our one season at the top. We're a tiny club with a minuscule budget who should be struggling in the Championship, we're just grateful to have one shot at the big time.

But some of these new 'fans' won't understand that, if we start having heavy defeats against the big teams then I fear they might start getting on the team's back and boo, that would be the worst outcome. And my worries haven't been eased by some of the talk I've heard from people who didn't previously had any interest in Blackpool.

I've heard people complain about the lack of big money signings, at the kind of players we're trying to get in, and even at Holloway himself. You have to understand, we need to invest in our club as well as players, get the training and other facilities up to scratch so we're better placed for the future. We don't have massive sums of money to give to players without risking the future. The kind of players we want to bring in are those that fit in the squad. We didn't do well last season because we had the best players, far from it, individually there were a lot of better teams around. We did well because we had the best team, a bunch of lads who knew how they wanted to play and did it week in week out. You can't turn your back on that now just because you're in the Premiership. If we go down, I want us to go down the right way, playing attractive attacking football.

And as for the last one. Anyone questioning Holloway deserves slapping. He's earnt himself at least one summer of doing as he pleases and to see if he can work his magic again.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bad Cancer.

This is in response to this article on BBC News about a new £50 million fund for cancer patients to be given new drugs that aren't currently funded. It's supposedly the answer to the UK's poor showing in providing drugs developed in the last five years to patients late on in their illness and will give doctors the power to provide drugs not approved by NICE (the panel which decides whether a drug is cost effective).

Oh yeah, and in a side note it will be funded by scrapping personal care for the elderly.

Now, obviously I'm in favour of everyone receiving the best possible care and cancer is obviously an horrific illness, but I really think this kind of scheme is playing more to the press than it is aimed at doing good. Cancer seems to be the new buzz word in health for the press, you only have to look back to the election to see just how much it was used to encompass the whole argument on health. You'd be forgiven for thinking that there was only one illness around at the moment.

I think NICE get it in the neck unfairly and this won't help, they're basically being told, we'll listen to you, but then undermine you when we fancy it. I know its fashionable to say that doctors know best, but when I'm a doctor I'd rather not have to be thinking about how much value for money I'm getting. I'll always have the patients interests first and foremost which means if you gave the decision making power to doctors a lot of money would be spent very quickly on treatments that actually didn't prolong life very much in most patients but which have some hope. Doing that would very quickly drain money from the NHS and we'd be left with a shortfall of cash in other areas which are equally important but don't include direct patient contact.

That's shown pretty well by the fact that personal care for the elderly is seen as easily expendable for this new fund. These kind of initiatives are important not only for the elderly but also in terms of saving funds because those with personal care will be less likely to have accidents that require more treatment. We should never lose sight of the massive importance of preventative medicine, it always seems to be seen as an easy target for cuts because its hard to measure its effectiveness in the same way as other areas.

And as for the fact we rank low in terms of providing new medicines, its important to remember that the same study also said there was no correlation between access to new medicine and survival rates. The key factor remains finding the cancer early, if you want to tackle cancer hen you have to focus on early intervention. These new drugs aren't curative, we can't pretend that what's happening at the moment is that revolutionary life saving drugs are being denied, that isn't what these are. (I believe Cameron talked about us having a worse cancer survival rate than Bulgaria or some similar country, just to correct this, we don't, we just have one of the world's foremost cancer registry's so we know when people have cancer, other countries have worse cancer rates that don't get recorded).

In conclusion, stop pandering to the media, if new drugs have been found to be effective then expand the scope of NICE to allow them to approve more drugs, letting individual doctors decide isn't the answer.

Monday, 26 July 2010

"It's worse than we thought."

Whatever, I'm sick of this from Tory's.

It's been used to justify a horrifyingly regressive cut and tax regime and as a get out line for anyone who dare suggest that neither party told voters what they could expect when they asked for their votes. Remember this from David Cameron:

"Any Cabinet minister, if we win the election, who comes to me and says 'here are my plans and they involve front line reductions' will be sent back to their department to go away and think again."

Well, that soon went out the window when he actually got his grubby little hands on power didn't it.

Any last proof of this being the case went out the window disappeared when the latest GDP figures came out and showed that over the very last period of the government and the election the economy grew by 1.1%, more than double what was expected. The economy was not worse than what they thought, indeed it was better. Because of Labour measures we had higher growth and lower borrowing, slash public services now and both the public and private sectors will crash. The best performing sector was construction, and much of that sector relies on public sector contracts.

These cuts are not unavoidable, they're ideological to the core. The Torys wanted this, and now they've got the Lib Dems as a shield and calling people 'deficit deniers' as a sword to attack with. Because I disagree with how to cut the deficit doesn't mean I can't accept it exists. I used to respect Clegg, that PMQ's soon put paid to that.

What's worse is that I saw a Lib Dem MP trying to claim victory over the better than expected figure. She seemed to think these figures showed that the Governments programme was working. Er, yeah, growth from April to June is definitely down to that, before anything they did had any chance to have any measureable effect. Get real.

At least Clegg has apparently had the bottle to say actually the country's finance's weren't worse than they feared before coming into government, count that as a small positive for him after weeks of nothing but negative.

In more fun coalition news:

- We're now going to have elected police commissioners. Oh goody, just what we needed, a police commissioner running on a party political ticket, because people have obviously lost faith with the police and are far more trusting of political parties. Oh wait. Theresa May is a jackass.

- Having read more about the NHS reform I see now they're just standing for their principles. Cutting the deficit, having less reshuffles in the NHS and letting doctors and nurses do their jobs without interference. That is of course if you ignore the fact the reshuffle will cost in the region of £3bn, will be a major reshuffle at a time when the NHS needs to focus on saving money and will turn doctors into accountants, or if they'd rather not then they have to hand the power to private companies. Andrew Lansley is an even bigger jackass.

- They've decided to rush through school academy reform because it isn't all that important really. You know, unless you care about the state of our education system and don't want to see a two-tier system. It would be nice if schools were given time to consult with parents over this, they might just have a small interest in knowing what's going on. Michael Gove is somewhere in the middle of the jackasses. Plus, he's managed to screw up every policy statement thus far and ruined the rebuilding programmes of hundreds of school, not bad for a newbie.

In conclusion, everyone in the coalition seems to be a jackass so far, but some are more jackassy than others.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Outlawing the BNP?

It was a couple of days ago now but I'd still like to talk about Nick Griffin having his invitation to the Queen's garden party removed and whether it will actually help or hinder the BNP.

There's no doubt that the BNP have seized upon this as another example of the 'establishment' being frightened and undemocratically bullying them. This despite the fact that the other BNP MEP, Andrew Brons, was still invited and I believe was there. Everyone else is split between thinking either that they were right to ban him or that actually its helped the BNP cause by banning him and they should just have let him go down and be ignored by everyone.

I personally think it was the right decision to ban him, so long as it was done for the reasons they gave (he was using his invite for party political purposes) rather than them just not liking him. I despise the man, but it only gives ammo to the BNP if we begin proscribing them. The way to combat them is at the polls, show people what their policies actually are and hopefully they'll be turned off. The other parties have a duty to explain to voters why a vote for the BNP is a vote for racism and ignorance. The final nail in the coffin for them won't be anger, it will be apathy. We know they have finally been beaten not when we hate them, but when we no longer care because they aren't significant. Apathy is the thing a man like Griffin despises most of all.

And as a final point, Griffin might want to make a melodrama out of this and claim his right to free speech is being attacked but he hasn't been banned from the Commons, or from a public address or anything remotely political. He's been banned from a tea party, let's put it in context. If I were the Queen, I certainly wouldn't have had tea with him.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Should We Ban The Burkha?

This was on Question Time last night and comes up because the French recently banned it in public. I hadn't made up my mind fully on it before last night but have since. It looks like I'll be running against the common consensus on this after YouGov found 67% of people support a ban, (Unsurprisingly it was the young who were least in favour of a ban) as I've decided I'm against banning it in public.

I had been deciding based on the arguments that it causing security issues, created inequality in rules, was oppressing many women and caused division. But I now think these are all actually pretty weak arguments under scrutiny.

As for security issues its actually a non-starter, all the key places where a burkha might be a security risk because of concealing the face, i.e. at an airport, already require you to take it off. So we do have a ban where its required. If that ban needs extending to other areas such as whilst driving then that can be looked at, but lets not jump to a full ban. The inequality in rules comes from the same kind of area, as in people not being allowed to cover their face but burkhas being allowed. Again, you could look at these areas individually without looking for a full ban.

The oppression of women argument seemed strong before but I now actually think oppression is one of the arguments against the ban. I don't particularly like the fact that some women are required to cover up their faces (in fact I dislike almost all religions approach to women, opposition to women bishops is another example of sexism in religion) but just because I don't like doesn't mean that it would be better to dictate that they can't wear it.

What kind of authoritarian state would we be if we started dictating what people can and can't wear whilst walking down the street. It's wrong to force women to wear a burkha, its equally wrong to forbid them from wearing it. It's hardly empowering these women if we criminalise them is it?

And as for the final argument, that it causes communities to be fragmented, I think a ban could be a sure fire way of splintering communities right down the middle. It might be better for cohesion if people didn't cover their face, but its even worse for cohesion for one part of that community to have a dress code set out for them. It would surely make that part of the community feel under fire and as if they have to conform to the norm, and that won't help building relationships.

Britain has typically been quite (I insist on using quite) a tolerant country when it comes to letting live their lives as they see fit. The burkha issue has been seized on some (not the majority perhaps) as a race issue, and that argument has to be quashed immediately. If we think women are being oppressed the way to deal with it is to educate as to why we think its oppressive and tell them that its acceptable not to cover up. The wrong way to do it is to needlessly ban it and cause further friction.

Live and let live.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Fall and Fall of Clegg

A while ago I wrote a post about Clegg's rise into the mainstream, and how people were seeing him as a breath of fresh air. I'm afraid today's is effectively an obituary of those happy times for him. I was once a fan, despite not being a Lib Dem, alas, no more.

Ever since that first Leader's Debate his personal ratings have been falling and falling. At one point everyone agreed with Nick, now no one does. He even sat in the government benches yesterday at PMQ's harping about the illegal invasion of Iraq, apparently oblivious to the fact that the people behind him and his lord and master Cameron had all supported that ill-fated war. His party's support has slipped away massively since the election and the coalition hasn't even been able to keep up its honeymoon period as their approval ratings slim massively. From highs of 20% approval early on they're now down to figures around 5-6%.

But what really convinced me has been watching him in the Common's, and especially that fated PMQ's he stood in for. He's nothing but a nodding dog, praying that Cameron will throw him the occasional treat like the AV referendum whilst still tying it firmly to Conservative policy. He may as well wear a gimp suit that says 'Property of Dave' on the front.

And for all his talk of 'New Politics', yesterday he showed the very worst of everything he's complained about. He refused to apologise for him and David Cameron misleading the house over why Forgemasters were denied a loan, it turned out the reason they gave didn't stack up and was completely false. Instead of holding his hands up he decided to make up a new reason, pretend that's what he'd always said, and then quote some of Mandelson's book which was completely irrelevant as if that was an appropriate answer. Even the Speaker stopped him because he was so completely off track.

Every question he was asked went unanswered, other than vague connections to Mandelson's book (perhaps he's a publicist these days to fill his vast amount of spare time?) and answering questions with questions. Then again, actually giving answers at PMQ's isn't David Cameron's policy either so perhaps he's been learning from his puppet master.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Legalise Murder?

Well, not what most people would consider murder. At the moment, Euthanasia or 'mercy killing' is dealt with in the same way as if a person had been murdered, regardless of whether the individual gave their consent to ending their own life.

It's been bought up again now by Tony Nicklinson who wants his wife to be allowed to end his life because he feels his life isn't worth living after an accident left him with locked-in syndrome i.e. he's completely paralysed and can only communicate by blinking. Whatever you think about the law, everyone will agree it's a truly horrendous way to live.

I think there is clearly something wrong with the way our law stands as it is, it seems to be one of the only areas where we accept vagueness, and its one of the most important areas. Debbie Purdy had to fight hard just to get them to clarify the law even a little and tell her whether her husband would be prosecuted if he travelled with her whilst she went to Switzerland to die.

As it stands, go abroad and help someone die and you will likely not face any charges. But do it in your own country and you will be charged with murder. That just seems wrong to me.

It's almost as if we know that there is something morally right about letting people end their lives if they feel they can't go on as they are and there is no hope of recovery, but we want to wash our hands of it and so send them abroad.

There is of course the danger that if you make it too lenient in favour of euthanasia then people may feel obliged to end their lives to stop being a hindrance to carers and we can't have a situation where people feel they ought to die in order to reduce a burden on others. It should be a decision based entirely on how they feel.

I suppose where you stand on this subject has a lot to do with whether you feel there are worse things in life than death. I personally think there are. Death is something everyone goes through, but the vast vast majority of people will never feel anything close to the misery that some people have to go through before dying. I'm not saying everyone with locked in syndrome would be better off being allowed to die, but if someone feels their life is so bad that death is preferable, who are we to judge?

Feel free to tell me why you agree or disagree with me, there is always more than one firmly held opinion on something like this.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Home Sweet Home

So I'm back for the rest of summer now, other than my jaunt to Leeds festival, and I've got a feeling the weather will stay as it was the moment I stepped off the plane. Dull.

Anyway, I'm far too tired to think up something interesting to write, or at least as interesting or otherwise as I can typically muster, so I think I'll cheat and just give you another quote post. I think this is number 3. I've picked a Douglas Adams one in keeping with my love of all things Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy at the moment (I'm now up to the fifth book in the trilogy and they've all been great).

"Isn't it enough to see that the garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

This just pretty much sums up my view of religions argument that Atheists need to 'open their minds' and 'see the beauty of God'. Why? Why should I jump to ridiculous conclusions based on no evidence whatsoever and believe in this God or Gods? Why can't the universe just be wonderful even without a designer?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

NHS: Time to get scared?

So, the big news from the government in their new proposal on how to shake-up healthcare is that they're going to be transferring power over much of the budget to GP's. I'm not too keen on the idea, though I'll admit its difficult at the moment to see what will happen here and all the details aren't clear yet.

There are a few reasons I'm worried. I understand that Lansley thinks the GP's will be able to better dish out the money according to patient needs but this was already tried before and very few GP's wanted to sign up to being in charge of budgets, and that was when the budgets were much smaller and for a much more limited number of services. If GP's aren't up to the challenge of handling the budget, which is understandable considering their first priority should be to their patients, then private business could find a niche in the NHS. In the words of one London GP:

"So we're going to have to buy in commissioning support from private companies. My fear is that the government has a hidden agenda - to allow private companies to buy out GP practices."

I hope that is't the case, but any private involvement in the NHS is generally a very bad thing indeed.I've said it plenty of times before and I'll say it again, market forces have no place in a civilised healthcare system. Companies out to make a profit can't be trusted with our health.

Of course, if it turns out that this does work then I'll be pleased but there's definitely things that need to be worked out before I'll feel confident that this isn't just the Tory's latest attempt to destroy their old foe.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Miss Me?

I might not get around to posting all that often this month as I'm away in various places quite a lot and like to use holidays as a strictly computer-free zone.

The past few days its been the visit to the Irish lot for a wedding, as you might imagine much Guinness was consumed (including some at the brewery itself) and the wedding reception got very messy indeed. Anyway, I'm not going to use this blog as a diary but I thought I'd use up one post stating my undying love for all things Irish.

First off, you have the accent. I challenge anyone to find a better accent in the world than that of Southern Ireland, it just sounds so god damn cheerful. You could have the most morbid conversation in that accent and sound like you were talking about winning the World Cup (keeping it topical, well done Spain, much deserved).

And the accent suits the people. I'm not one for sweeping generalisations but every single Irish person I've met (and that's quite a lot) has been really friendly and happy. Things always look better when you visit a place than when you live there ut from what I've seen I'd love to live there one day. I'd be well placed too, from what I can tell about half the island are in some way related to me, I gave up trying to remember the various second aunts and cousins after a while.

The final favourite thing? Irish dancing. It's amazing, as is the music it goes with.

Next up I'm off to Paris, the French have got a hard act to follow.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Capitalism: A Love Story

I watched this for the first time the other day after a very sound recommendation from Aaron and thought it was interesting enough to warrant a post. The only other Michael Moore film I've watched is Sicko (Talking about the failures of American Healthcare) and that was really good as well, but that's for another day.

As is pretty obvious from the title it's a film about the American love affair with capitalism, but obviously its not just Americans who have long preached its overstated benefits whilst hiding the flaws. What we have in the UK is more of a tamed capitalism, but it remains nonetheless. So what exactly is wrong with it, surely it's the good guy to the evil of communism? Well not really.

The general idea of capitalism is that if you let market forces do their thing then over time the best and most efficient businesses and the most beneficial ideas to society will prosper, whilst bad ideas will die out. It runs on the premise that privately owned businesses which aim to make nothing but profit will bend to the public demand because that is how to make money. What capitalism promises is freedom above all else; the freedom to choose a job, the freedom to choose which products you want to buy and the freedom, through hard work, to move up the ladder and live the high life. It's so ingrained in society that people barely notice it, and certainly don't see how things might be different.

But there are plenty of reasons why this is pretty disingenuous. For a start, what use is the freedom to choose if you don't have the means to exercise that choice? By that I mean what use is saying, you can choose where to work, if there aren't any jobs? And is there really choice as to what products we buy with the massive amounts of advertising and monopolising that big companies can carry out. Capitalism without safeguards will inevitably tend towards big monopoly companies that swallow up competition because that's the most efficient way to do business. Once they're big enough, companies don't have to put as much time into customer service or product quality, they own the competition.

And there are plenty of areas where free market systems are very harmful indeed. Generally, if you need a service that is going to be universal and high quality for all then the free market is not where you want to be looking for inspiration. It doesn't suit business to have to provide the same quality to all persons because it just doesn't make money. Much better from a profit point of view to provide the better service to those who can pay more and just give a rag-tag service to those who can't. That's exactly what happens in American healthcare, except the poorest don't get any service whatsoever. That's exactly why our health and education systems are rightly (for now in any case) well out of the clutches of business, we just can't trust them with something so fundamental to our country.

The system survives because it promises prosperity for all and that the money the big companies make is reinvested into providing opportunities for all to make their mark on the world. In reality, capitalism only serves to help those with money make more of it, and every millionth person at the bottom might break through once in a generation which keeps the hopes high for the rest.

What's the alternative, is it just this or communism? Nope. Personally I'm in favour of a more democratic socialism (as might be gathered from my membership of Labour), but that can be tricky to define. Basically, I'm in favour of a more worker focussed economy, with a massive expansion in the number of co-operatives (worker ran businesses) and essential public services being run by the state so that they can be directed to where people need them the most. If we are to have genuine competition then the state has to regulate the private sector to make sure monopolies can't destroy small business.

There is still a place for privately owned businesses, but overall the economy should be rebalanced so that the wealth is less concentrated toward the top. In fact, where co-ops exist, they are often more efficient because the workers are happier and that helps productivity and vision for the future. You also don't get directors giving themselves extortionate pay rises or bonuses, precisely because everyone has the same say and the workers just wouldn't have it.

People shouldn't be content with the 'trickle down' effect, they should demand fair opportunity. We need to control business, and not let them control us. I'd hate to see this country go the way of America where the private sector all but runs the government and just has politicians as not so pretty hand puppets.

I realise democratic socialism might mean different things to different people, but that's what it is to me, that's my vision.

Monday, 5 July 2010

A Win For Common Sense!

I just noticed these two stories on BMA that gave me a little more faith in sense in humanity.First, they've voted to ban the NHS funding of Homeopathic medicine, and even better it now has to be clearly placed on a shelf labelled 'placebo' in pharmacies. Second, they also voted that so called 'conversion therapy' for homosexuals (Therapy where they attempt to turn gay people straight, or 'correct' them as they phrase it) should not be available through the NHS.

It's quite disturbing that these two things have been allowed to hang around for so long, but hopefully this is the beginning of the end for junk medicine. Next in the firing line; Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. At least I hope they are.

Here's my favourite part from the article:

In a debate at the BMA junior doctors’ conference in May one delegate, Tom Dolphin, had caused controversy by likening homoeopathy to witchcraft. He then apologised to witches, who were "apparently offended by the association with homoeopathy."

Brilliant. Poor witches, getting insulted like that.

As for the conversion therapy, its a no-brainer to scrap it. In order for something to be 'corrected' it has to be a disorder in the first place. Being gay isn't a mental illness, it's built into who a person is. You can't change that without disastrous consequences, and there's absolutely no reason for anyone to be trying to change it even if it could be done. There aren't any clinics helping straight people become gay are there? So why the other way around.

This sums it up:

"Sexual orientation is such a fundamental part of who someone is that to attempt to change it will just result in significant conflict and depression, and even sometimes suicide."

Two great decisions, but I hope its just the beginning.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Hitch-Hiking Made Cool

I've been doing the same kind of posts for a while now so time for a brief intermission and change in style. I only recently read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and thought I'd recommend it here to all you nice followers (I'm nearly up to the target of 20 in my life-list :)).

So anyway, I'd heard a lot about Douglas Adams (the author for those who don't know the books) and the book but never got round to reading it. After all the rave reviews I decided to give it a go, especially seeing as it came with a DIY cover that you could put stickers on. Stickers are always a great addition!

I was kind of set up to be disappointed but I really enjoyed it, so much so that I rifled through it in a day (always a sign of a great book). It's just so ridiculously but intelligently stupid. With some of the ideas in the book it should be damn awful but something about the way Adams writes makes it very funny and it all goes together very cleverly. It makes you think quite deeply in several places as well. Writing a stupid quote that actually makes you think deeply is one of the best and hardest things an author can achieve in my opinion and this is full of them.

Here's the kind of thing I mean, though I could pick from dozens:

"Man had always assumed he was more intelligent than dolphins because he'd achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely the dolphins had always assumed they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons."

It's that kind of thing which looks so ridiculous at first but then makes you think 'Maybe there's a point in there that we don't take enough time to enjoy the things we make because we're too obsessed with having the next and latest trend' which makes this book great. This just happened to be the one I remembered, there are plenty of other, and possibly better, examples in the book. I can certainly see why this book has such a massive cult following.

Definitely worth a read, unless you're unfortunate enough to be someone who takes life too seriously all the time, in which case I assure you that it will be the worst thing you've ever laid eyes upon.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Hell hath frozen over..

Look out your window and pigs may be flying, because I'm about to say something quite rare. I agree with the Tory's. Shocking isn't it?

Not on everything, you should note, I still think they're doing a terrible job, but in the one case of prison reform they seem to be hitting the nail right on the head.

I've thought for a long time that the kind of public sucking up that goes on both sides of the House when it comes to 'being tough on crime' is naive at best, and plain stupid at worst. Our re-offending rate is terrible and something needs to change, locking people up for longer is not ,and never has been the way.

The public seems to hate any sniff of letting prisoners off with lighter prison sentences but if you take emotion out of the equation for just a moment then the answer seems much simpler. Looking at this seems to sum up the public mood:

But what's more worrying is what they suggest when asked how money could be saved from the prison's budget:

People seem to have a knee-jerk reaction that more time doing nothing behind bars is infintely preferable to rehabilitating offender's and making the public safer by making sure they don't re-offend again. Is it better that someone spends 10 years doing nothing behind bars and then re-offending or spending 5 years behind bars doing courses that will help them change their ways for the future?

And this isn't just me being liberal lefty, it makes good sense and has been shown to work. Sending a heroin addict to get residential treatment saves the taxpayer £202,000 pounds compared to sending them to prison because of the fewer crimes they will commit after their time is up. And drug addiction isn't the only area. Lots of shorter sentences would be best being replaced by community schemes. Leave the prisons to deal with hardened offenders, where we can we should be aiming for rehabilitation.

Surely it's time to stop being 'tough on crime' for the sake of looking good and start using our brains when it comes to how to deal with criminals?

(Using 'hath' instead of 'has' definitely makes the title sound better don't you think? :))