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Posts Tagged: Stupidity

Comparing two Observer articles…

Sunday 5th February 2012

First from a 2001 article by Andrew Browne, then the health editor of the Observer:

“Even as you read this, in almost every hospital in the country, there will be elderly, vulnerable people left for hours and sometimes days on trolleys. Each year, thousands of British people – the young, the old, the rich, the poor – die unnecessarily from lack of diagnosis, lack of treatment and lack of drugs. They die and suffer unnecessarily for different reasons, but there is just one root cause: the blind faith the Government has in the ideology of the National Health Service, and our unwillingness to accept not just that it doesn’t work, but that it can never work.”

“…we must abolish the NHS as we know it, abandon our unique obsession that all health care should be free, and become as comfortable with mixed public and private medicine as they are elsewhere in the developed world.”

It’s tragic that so many of his criticisms still seem to be valid.

Secondly, Ed Miliband on the Government’s proposed healthcare reforms:

“That bill remains what it was in the beginning: a misguided attempt to impose a free market free-for-all on our National Health Service.”

As Browne noted, other countries have mixed private and public health systems. Those healthcare systems are the best in the world. Miliband is criticising the reforms because they’re too similar to the best healthcare systems in the world.

Words fail me.

From the first article again:

“The noble ideology of communism had to be ditched because it didn’t work. So the noble ideology behind the NHS should be ditched because it costs lives. We should ditch the ideology and ditch the NHS.”

Quite right.

Posted In: Politics Tagged: | No Comments

Taxing my Patience

Saturday 26th February 2011

If you’re lucky, you won’t have heard of UK Uncut. If you haven’t, they’re an activist group who basically want businesses to volunteer to pay more tax than they legally need to, and who also dislike banks (for reasons which aren’t entirely clear to me).

So. In the last week, the Royal Bank of Scotland have announced that they lose £1.13bn in 2010. They’ve also announced that in the same year, they’ve paid £950m in bonuses to their staff.

UK Uncut don’t like this. I can’t for the life of me work out why; they don’t like banks, and this one just lost over a billion pounds. They want businesses to pay lots of tax; this one just paid out £950m in bonuses. Bonuses on which there will be an associated tax bill. So RBS will end up paying more tax than if they didn’t pay their employees. Excellent!

Okay, if I’m being slightly less facetious, bonuses with a loss might not make sense if you only take a superficial look at the headline figures. They lost £150bn, then paid bonuses of £950m; what gives? Well, it’s a large company, made of lots of different components. Some of those made money. The people who made money for the bank are then entitled to their bonus. This is not a tricky concept.

UK Uncut protest by staging sit-ins in banks. This is really, mind-numbingly stupid. I used to work for RBS Retail, so I know that the RBS staff being inconvenienced by UK Uncut are not the greedy bankers that they want to target. They’re people who aren’t paid a great deal in the scheme of things, trying to do what can be a pretty stressful job. On a Saturday. They don’t need a bunch of ignorant halfwits coming in to make their lives more difficult, and it doesn’t actually achieve anything.

I don’t mean to stick up for RBS in particular, or banking in general. The things they did prior to 2008 were fucking stupid, and it’s an absolute failure that they are such crucial businesses that the state was unwilling to let them fail. The real – bloody scary – issue here, that people like UK Uncut fail to address, is that very little has been done so far to stop banks from abusing this position again. Governments are too scared to have tighter regulation, because they don’t want to drive banks away from the country and lose the massive tax revenue they bring. Focussing on pay or taxes is a mere distraction, to focus attention on really trivial things instead of the real systemic issues.

If they don’t like certain banks, fine. Don’t use them. If they want businesses to pay more tax, fine. Campaign outside HMRC to get the tax laws changed. But misconceived, ill thought-out, stupid protests like this are just a waste of time.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 9 Comments

The Politics of Blah Blah Blah

Saturday 11th December 2010

You may have noticed that the tuition fees fracas has provoked a certain amount of ire on these pages. Well here comes some more.

I’ve been angered by a lot of the opposition to the increase in fees. Now, that’s not to say that I think that there are no good arguments against them, or even that I completely agree with what the government is doing. What’s annoyed me are the specific arguments that have been used by most of the opposition, led by the NUS and Labour. The repeated misconceptions, half-truths, and downright lies that have been put forward and then regurgitated by – it seems – the majority of the student population. The irrational, unreasonable, illogical attitude that’s been prevalent is the absolute worst kind of politics, yet is sadly the most common.

What am I talking about? Take the argument that fees will make it impossible for poorer students to go to university. Does this actually hold water? Well, as with the present system, the fees will be partnered with student loans. The loans are available to all undergraduate students, and cover the full costs of fees as well as living costs. Students from poorer backgrounds will receive grants to help them with their studies (and lets not forget that it’s these grants that the NUS proposed should be cut, instead of increasing the fees. Make things better for the middle classes, to the detriment of poorer students. And yet they drone on about fairness). There is absolutely no reason why anyone will be financially incapable of going to university, so when they claim this the NUS are either being massively stupid, or deliberately lying.

A further claim is that graduates won’t be able to afford the crippling debt, but that doesn’t really hold much water either. The loans are designed so that this will never be the case. Graduates repay only when they earn over £21,000 (£6k higher than the threshold the NUS propose, by the way). Above this level, the repayments are set at 9% of earnings – the same as the current rate. Additionally, it gets written off after a certain number of years. I absolutely reject the argument that this is unreasonable, especially when it’s actually more generous than what’s proposed by the NUS!

The NUS and Labour both back a graduate tax (here are the proposals favoured by the NUS). If implemented, a graduate tax would actually work in much the same way as the fee & loan system (from the point of view of graduates, anyway). In fact in many ways the government’s system is better, when things like the higher repayment threshold and the benefit of direct payments to universities – rather than to the Treasury’s coffers – are considered. Now, I’m not arguing that this is the best thing to do. In fact it probably isn’t. But to oppose the government whilst supporting a graduate tax is simply the most bizarre and inconsistent position to hold on this issue.

And yet, this does seem to be the position of a lot of people. I’m not entirely surprised at Labour; their lack of principle and their unreasonableness are well documented. But I’m so angry with the NUS, the body which is meant to stick up for students, for absolutely failing to represent their best interests.

I mean, the education system in the UK – not just universities – is broken. For instance, there was an article in the Guardian the other day about the low number of black students accepted to Oxbridge. Now, the paper implied it’s racism. It isn’t, but it does highlight an issue which is arguably even worse. That is, that kids from poorer backgrounds tend to have access to poorer schools. The education they receive is not up to scratch, so they have little chance to earn a place at a prestigious university. Unlike many, I don’t have a problem with inequality of wealth; but I do have a massive problem with inequality of opportunity. I don’t care if there are some people in society who are vastly richer than others, as long as everyone has the opportunity to try to do that.

For all their efforts during their 13 years, Labour utterly failed to improve this situation; in fact by many measures, their actions made things worse. So frankly I have no time for them or their supporters when they unthinkingly oppose all that the coalition does, and I will not abide them pretending that they are the party of “fairness”. It simply isn’t the case. As for the NUS, their opposition to fees seems to be more to do with concern for “the squeezed middle classes” than any real concern for improving access to universities. If they genuinely cared about that, they would’ve been running campaigns to change the perception amongst the worse off that student debt is bad, and they wouldn’t have opposed the grants available for those people.

There’s more to all of this though, when you consider what this debacle tells us about the state of politics in the UK. And yes, this is where I become hugely biased, but hopefully not wrong…

Next year there will be a referendum on the alternative vote, but I would wager that many of those who were present at the protests against the fees would actually support full proportional representation. Which would have the effect of making coalition governments ever more likely.

The thing about coalition governments is that they involve compromise. That means that the parties involved may not always be able to do everything they said they would in their manifesto, and in fact may have to support stuff they oppose in order to get stuff they like. Over the last few months the Liberal Democrats have seen this happen quite often, to the extent that it seems that Nick Clegg has been elevated to the level of a sort of hate figure. The Lib Dems are lambasted for selling out, for backing things they didn’t support in their manifesto, and mostly for propping up Those Bastard Tories (and by the way, the persistent insistence by many that the Conservative party are evil toffs who take great delight in fucking over the poor and who only care for themselves… It’s stupid. Mind-numbingly ignorant, and hugely tedious. It’s so childish to pretend that those you disagree with are in fact out to do bad. Ever thought that they want to make things better too, just that they disagree with how to do it?)

Well guess what? That’s the price of coalition. The Lib Dems are compromising, yes. But so are the Tories. There really is a lot of good stuff being done by the government (and bad stuff that’s not been done!), that’s been influenced by the Liberal Democrat ministers. That’s meant Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reneging on some manifesto commitments.

As it is, people have chosen not to recognise this. Coalition government – especially in an economic climate such as this one – is nuanced. It requires people to look at the detail, to be pragmatic as well as idealistic. It’d be great if we could make university free, charge no taxes to anyone, and give everyone a mansion set in acres of gardens. But sadly we have to live in the real world, to balance conflicting needs to come up with a solution with the best compromise. Unfortunately our political discussion seems to have dissolved into extremes; into black and white, us and them. The forces of good against the forces of evil. This inability or unwillingness to accept compromise is pathetic, divisive, and ultimately damaging. And looking at the student protests, that’s what’s pissed me off so much.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 3 Comments

It Could Only Happen in F1…

Thursday 9th December 2010

At the start of the 2010 season, 3 new teams entered F1. One of these teams decided to call themselves “Lotus”, in honour of the team founded by Colin Chapman that competed in F1 (and other forms of motorsport) between 1954 and 1994, won 13 championships and introduced many of the innovative ideas that shaped the technical aspect of the sport.

They’ve had a reasonably successful first year, and for 2011 they have signed a deal to use Renault engines (which have just won the championship in the Red Bull). The team have also announced that the livery of the cars will echo one of Lotus’ classic liveries. This means that next year, the team will be known as ‘Team Lotus Renault’, and will be run in a black and gold livery.

All very good, and all very simple, yes? Perhaps not…

Renault have owned their F1 team for about 10 years now, but since the story of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, they have been steadily withdrawing from the sport. Last year they sold part of the team to a private investment firm. This year, they’ve sold the rest of their stake in the team to the Lotus car company, which was founded by Colin Chapman to support his racing ambitions. Group Lotus want to expand the company, increase their model range and sell more cars, and so they want to get back into motorsport for the marketing potential. So they’ve bought into the F1 team, which will keep Renault engines for next year.

The deal was announced yesterday, and they also announced that the cars would run in one of Lotus’ classic liveries. This means that next year, the team will be known as ‘Lotus Renault GP’, and will be run in a black and gold livery.

Two Lotus-Renault teams. Both with basically the same livery. Excellent!

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | No Comments

I Know I’ve Done This To Death, But…

Tuesday 30th November 2010

More student protests? Seriously?

By my count, these are the third round of protests about the proposed student fees increases. I would argue that this only really serves to undermine the credibility (hah!) of those students opposed to the rise, but whatever.

It’s really annoying that there still seems to be very little intelligent discussion about it. It all seems to be based upon bloody-minded opposition to fees, and a complete unwillingness to be pragmatic or to face reality. Students are involved, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this…

Having read around and listened to some of the arguments, it seems to boil down to “students won’t be able to afford it” (see this, for a particularly bad example). I don’t see how that’s the case, given the loans and stuff that are available. No upfront fees and you repay when you earn over £21k… What position do you need to be in to be unable to afford that? In practice, it’s a capped graduate tax (which would probably be supported if it were labelled as such… go figure).

To put forward the “can’t afford it” argument is either wilfully misleading, or stupid. Frankly it pisses me off that it can get so much traction and lead to repeated protests. Hence the rants…

More positive blogging with resume shortly (well, I say shortly; with my record it’ll probably be next June).

Update: Here’s Aaron Porter – president of the NUS – speaking about graduate taxes. Oh dear. Here’s a letter to Porter from Nick Clegg, which is infinitely more sensible.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 4 Comments

Just a Thought

Tuesday 16th November 2010

I’ve already written down some of my thoughts about the university fee proposals, on this blog and in comments elsewhere. I have little else to offer on the rights or wrongs of the policy, because frankly I’m fed up of reading impassioned critiques which are at best self-contradictory, or at worse seem to me to have little bearing on reality.

Anyway. Something that people often say is that fees prevent poorer people from going to university. As an aside, perhaps the correlation is more to do with the inequality in lower education; parents’ wealth apparently correlates with how well kids do at GCSEs. Which would imply that students from poorer backgrounds are at a disadvantage because they are less likely to be academically able enough to go to university. Perhaps.

Let’s assume that fees genuinely do deter poorer students from university. It’s probably a fair assumption actually, or at least part of the problem. But I would argue that there’s actually no real barrier to those people going to university, what with the generous terms of the loan, the bursaries that are available, and so on.

So why does that happen? I’ve read that it’s down to perception. That people just don’t like the idea of taking on debt, even though it’s the nicest form of debt you could possibly have, and you should never have problems paying for it.

If this is the case – and to me it seems the most plausible explanation – was it really wise for 50,000 students (or however many it was) to have a jolly to London last week, advertising how expensive university is and how people won’t be able to afford it? Is that really going to do anything to persuade those who are less well off that, actually, they can afford to study; or is it instead just going to reinforce that false perception that it’s too expensive? Hmm.

Posted In: PoliticsRantSleep Tagged: | 1 Comment

This is Rather Spectacular

Monday 5th July 2010

Nick Clegg retreats on no-confidence votes.

Nick Clegg today performed the first big U-turn of the coalition when he announced rules to guarantee that a simple majority of MPs will be able to vote down a government and trigger a general election.

The fuss about the dissolution of parliament (not the passing of no-confidence votes, which is a different thing) centred on the proposal for the requirement of a 55% majority to pass a vote to dissolve. The argument centred on how parliament should require a simple majority to dissolve, rather than the 55% limit. Opponents of this policy said that this limit was engineered to allow the coalition to decide when to dissolve parliament (which betrays a colossal misunderstanding of current parliamentary procedure, but that’s somewhat incidental at this point).

I really don’t understand how this is a U-turn. The opposing argument was that a simple majority would not be sufficient to dissolve parliament, and today Clegg has announced that actually the government will introduce a higher requirement – a 66% majority – to dissolve parliament. OK it’s different to what was originally proposed, but it’s not exactly a U-turn and it’s certainly not bowing to the opposition. I mean, they wanted it to just be a majority of MPs, so if they were thinking straight they would be even more opposed to the higher limit. As far as I can tell, the initial announcement back in May had nothing to do with changing the rules for no-confidence votes, and was all about moving power for dissolving parliament away from the Prime Minister and instead giving MPs that power. Today’s announcement doesn’t change that at all, so where’s the “big U-turn”?

I guess I shouldn’t expect anything else from the Grauniad though…

Clegg is currently trending on Twitter, in response to today’s announcement. A lot of it is negative, with some people saying things like “well I voted Lib Dem, and I won’t make that mistake again”. Huh? The Liberal Democrats have never been coy about their commitment to electoral reform, so the things Clegg announced today really shouldn’t come as a shock, especially to people who voted for the party. I mean, I’d sort of expect those people to have an idea that the people they voted for are committed to such major things!

Quite honestly, I can find nothing controversial in the announcement (except perhaps the date), so much of the negative reaction is a bit perplexing really.

Posted In: Rant Tagged: | 7 Comments

Having an Argument

Sunday 20th June 2010

This is something which really annoys me, which I’ve noticed relatively frequently recently, and I’m wondering whether it’s just me who feels like this.

Right. So I generally enjoy arguing about things. I like having an opinion on something – be it politics, religion, motorsport, whatever – and listening to the opinions of others and generally discussing them, whether we hold the same viewpoint or not. It’s a satisfying experience, because it makes me look at my own thoughts more closely, and it obviously opens my eyes to other perspectives. This sort of analysis either leads to me reinforcing my initial opinion, or changing my mind partially or even completely. Either way I enjoy this because it broadens the way I view that subject.

I like to think that I am fairly logical in forming opinions. Whether or not that is fair to say is for other people to judge, but I like to think that it is. I find that I don’t come to a conclusion about something until I really feel as if I know a decent amount about it. I’m probably extremely pedantic about finding facts or evidence to form (or indeed judge) an opinion.

When that comes to forming opinions about things like politics, then yes I suppose to an extent that there is a certain amount of philosophy which enters into the equation. Questions about what we want to do – how we want society to be – are fundamentally philosophical. There’s not really any evidence to support the idea of freedom being good, for instance, it’s simply a philosophy which we generally find pleasing. I reckon that if you look across the political spectrum there is probably a great deal of commonality about this underlying philosophy; the real differences come from the development of political theories for building a society which delivers this, and this arena of thought is much more open to evidence. These theories are inherently testable – we can implement them and see which best deliver what we want. And in the course of human history (and especially in the last 100 years), many of these different theories have been tested to destruction and studied. So we can probably state with some confidence at this point, which political theories are most effective for delivering certain types of society.

The world is a complex place. It seems a bit simple to point that out, but I think people gloss over it sometimes. There is very rarely an unambiguous completely correct solution to something. Maybe this is something that’s been drilled into me through my engineering education; any scheme or solution has pros and cons, and the role of the engineer is to study the specific needs and to work out the solution which best balances the pros and cons to meet those needs in the most successful way. Which in most cases is really the “least worst” solution, in that almost every solution to every engineering problem is a compromise and will have downsides. It’s raw problem-solving (which is why I enjoy it) and its a way of thinking which I think is applicable to more than just purely technical problems.

So to come back to politics, I obviously have a certain opinion about which political theory is best. And by best I obviously mean that by the standards of what I think society should be like – someone who has a fundamentally different idea of this is likely to form a different opinion to me. In Britain though, I think there is probably general agreement that we want a fundamentally free and fair society. I don’t think many people have massively differing ideas of what this means, even if they disagree about what the solution should be to deliver it.

By way of example, a significant part of what I would consider to be a good solution is the idea of economic liberalism. That is, free trade in free markets. Or for want of a better word: capitalism. Now is not the time to explain the reasoning behind this, but I would say that it’s better for society if things are done in this way; if goods and services are generally provided through the market (I’m very much an Orange Book-er). And of course, the reason why I have come to this conclusion is because the evidence seems to support this (and also because I think it’s a wonderfully elegant concept). But, note the use of the word “generally”. I recognise that there are certain things that the market cannot deliver, or at least cannot (on its own) deliver fairly. And for these things, yes, we need a state.

(I intend to go into the thinking behind this in another post, so for now please don’t comment just to argue about the last paragraph!)

This is an example of what I mean about things requiring relatively complex solutions. I don’t think that my opinions tend to be straightforward “this is best”; generally I think that I recognise that many solutions are imperfect. But I find that when I try to explain what I think, occasionally people just ignore much of this and instead take what I say to an over-simplistic extreme. For some people, if I try to explain the belief in free markets, they seem to automatically assume that I’m some anarcho-capitalist nutjob who thinks that the state should be dismantled. They don’t seem to understand the nuance of the argument. Indeed in some cases, people don’t even seem willing to understand it…

The question is: has anyone else had this experience? I’m wondering whether it’s my fault for not communicating clearly enough; but then I’ve expressed the same opinion to different people, and some seem to understand what I’m saying (even if they disagree), whereas others seem to almost caricature what I say and leap to a simplistic conclusion about what I mean without really understanding my argument. And actually, from looking at comments on the various politics-y blogs that I follow, it does seem to be a fairly common occurrence on some of them. But I just don’t get it.

Whatever, it frustrates me massively when people choose to disagree with something before they’ve bothered to properly understand the argument they’re disagreeing with. It’s supremely arrogant.

Posted In: PoliticsRantStuff Tagged: | 11 Comments

Get Oval It

Wednesday 10th March 2010

Ignoring any question of how entertaining it may or may not be (500 mile races where only the last 2 laps really count? Why not just race for 2 laps them?), oval racing is incredibly dangerous. There’s no way it can’t be. The corners are banked so the cars can go quicker, which means that all the way round the outside of the track is a wall. At most road circuits like the ones raced on in F1 or touring cars – which are more interesting and provide for more compelling racing – there is runoff. The walls aren’t right next to the road the cars race on because that’d be rather dangerous.

So in NASCAR, what we have are cars lapping very close to each other, at about 185mph, with a wall running all the way round the outside of the track. When things go wrong it can be nasty, because if you fuck up there’s a very good chance you’ll be going into said wall at 185mph. Which, all things considered, is less than ideal.

In the last NASCAR race, one of the drivers – Carl Edwards – committed possibly the worst foul I’ve ever seen in any form of motorsport. Actually, probably in any form of sport generally- when someone fouls in football or rugby, it doesn’t send them crashing into a wall and flip them over. At 180mph. This was insanely dangerous, so what would you expect the driver’s punishment to be? A ban for a few races? Maybe even a permanent ban? Massive fine? Guess again! He’s been put “on probation” for 3 races. So he’s ok as long as he doesn’t deliberately crash into someone in the next 3 races.

F1 got this right last year. In the wake of the Singapore 2008 scandal, the FIA effectively purged everyone who was involved from the sport (except for the drivers, but Piquet essentially purged himself by being shit, and Alonso “didn’t know about it”. Sure he didn’t…), which sent the message that “this is not acceptable”. Edwards’ misdemeanour in Atlanta was much, much worse, so to my mind the fact that they’ve not really punished him only serves to discredit NASCAR.

Not that there was much to credit to start with, but that’s a different debate…

Posted In: MotorsportRant Tagged: | 2 Comments