Richard Gott on Venezuela

Good Lord, has the man learnt nothing in his life?

It sells a limited range of basic foodstuffs but would hardly justify the title of supermarket. Today, as everywhere throughout Caracas, powdered milk is in short supply, although no one knows for certain if this is the result of opposition manoeuvre and malice, or of government incompetence.

It\’s the result of fixing the price below the costs of production you dolt! If you force people to sell something for less than it costs them to produce it then they won\’t produce it. It\’s not a result of manoeuvre, malice nor even government incompetence. It\’s simply an iron rule of the universe.

Caracas has never been a "safe" city in recent decades, and some claim that the situation has got worse during the nine years that President Hugo Chávez has been in power.

Chávez believes that poverty is the root cause of crime, and that tackling poverty will solve the problem. Yet, while poverty rates have undoubtedly fallen, crime continues at a high level and some extra action will eventually be needed.

Sorry? You mean that Hugo isn\’t even providing order?

It is easy to denounce the levels of crime and corruption, and the incompetence of a government presiding over a revolutionary upheaval, just as it is easy to suggest that catastrophe may lie ahead.

Suggest? It\’s a certainty: you can tell because people are stupid enough to try and fix the prices of things below their cost of prduction.

The Chávez revolution remains the most original and democratic experiment in Latin America, and is clearly here to stay.

To stay you say? Let the oil price dip and Chavez is toast. If it stays high then he\’ll survive for a time, but idiot economics is idiot economics, however it\’s subsidised.

Silver Pyjamas

Two questions about this:

Pyjamas that have been designed to protect hospital patients from the MRSA superbug have gone on sale in Marks & Spencer.
The £45 garment has silver thread woven into it, which tests show can reduce the spread of infections.
…Silver-laced nightwear has been tested in a handful of hospitals, but M&S has become the first retailer in Britain to stock the pyjamas.

1) Do they actually work?

2) If so, why is hospital issued nightwear not already using the technology?

Bwahahaha..Hiccup, Gurgle, Snort, ahee hee hee….

Excellent work boys!

The taxman could face another investigation after it emerged that the confidential details of parents, included on letters to apologise for the lost discs fiasco, have been sent to old addresses.

HM Revenue and Customs sent out letters with national insurance and child benefit numbers printed on the top and many have been dropping through the wrong letter boxes, raising new fears of a security breach.

One mother is reported to have been posted the codes of seven strangers, along with a letter apologising for breaching her own privacy. The details can be used by identity thieves to open bank accounts or claim benefits.

"Dear Mrs. Miggins. We\’re very sorry we lost your personal records. To make up for this we\’re sending them again through the post so that those identity thieves not bright enough to buy them off the Russian internet sites have another chance to steal them. Got to bridge the digital divide, don\’t you know?"

Well done lads! Please, carry on! You\’ll destroy trust in the competence of the State for a generation. .

More Screw Ups!

So Jack Straw is in the firing line for this one:

Hundreds of criminals, including those accused of sexual offences, have avoided prosecution after a "cover-up" in magistrates\’ courts, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, is to admit that over a period of "many years" hundreds of cases never came to court because warrants were not issued for the arrests of defendants when they failed to show up at court.

It means that the offenders got away with their crimes. Mr Straw has known about the cases, which initially involved Leeds magistrates\’ court but are suspected could go much wider, for some weeks.

He has ordered an urgent inquiry because he is unsure whether the failures have been caused by gross incompetence, negligence or foul play.

Now, I wonder which of those it could be? And, of course, is it only Leeds? Incompetence, negligence, or foul play? We do have a clue though:

The problems stem from when the Magistrates\’ Courts Committee that oversaw those courts was scrapped in 2005. The new body, HM Courts Service, was set up and reported directly to the Home Office, and now the Ministry of Justice.

New officials at the HMCS carried out a "review of processes" and found that over a period of years there had been prolonged failure in issuing arrest warrants.

Looks like plain old governmental failure to me, bureaucratic incompetence. Obviously, I can\’t be certain, but that the problem is traced back to when the system was reorganised certainly points to the thought that it\’s the reorganisation of the system that\’s caused the problem, doesn\’t it?

Now of course, providing a sensible criminal justice system is one of the very top priorities of the State, up there along with defence. They are the essential part of any argument in favour of the existence of said State in the first place, in the right of it being able to tax us to provide those goods which can really only be provided both collectively and compulsorarily.

And if the State cannot provide those two, then what is the point of having it at all? Perhaps that will be too extreme for some: but if they cannot provide those two reasonably, then why on earth does anyone think it can make us all healthy, wealthy and wise?

Military CO2 Emissions

Most, most amusing:

The MoD has admitted that FRES will have to meet rules that cut emissions from cars, vans and lorries.

That is, that the new generation of tanks and armoured vehicles will have to have fuel sipping engines. Perhaps we\’ll stick a Polo engine (90 odd grammes CO2 per km) into a 40 tonne tank? That\’ll help it get around the battlefield, won\’t it?

Compare that with the American M1 Abrams (which a buddy used to drive in the National Guard). 4 gallons a mile he told me.

Could I just point out that insisting on environmentally sound engines for tanks is simply fucking insane?

Iatrogenic Deaths

Can\’t say that I\’m surprised at these numbers:

There were 9.1 million hospital stays in England in 2005/6 if day case, maternity and mental health patients are not included and Prof Sheldon\’s figures mean 910,303 of these patients suffered harm as a result of a blunder. In 91,030 cases it contributed to their death.

It\’s long been known that such mistakes are the third or fourth (thereabouts) leading cause of death. The only interesting thing is what is anyone going to do about it?

I\’ve got dim memories that someone has suggested a system rather like the one pilots use (which again, I\’m only dimly aware of). They\’re encouraged to report on their mistakes (anonymously, of course) and this then creates a database of things that are known not to be sensible to do. Again, I\’m dimly aware that there\’s been some pressure from within the medical system to not have to do this.

Worth noting that these numbers, while they might be better or worse for the NHS than other medical systems (I\’ve no idea which)  are certainly not unique to it.  There\’ve been reports of similar numbers (relative to population) from the US as well.

Just as an example, one number that went round the econ blogs a few weeks ago was that bariatric surgery ("stomach stapling") has a 1% mortality rate. Yet no drug would ever be approved which killed one in one hundred of those who took it. Either surgery is too little regulated for safety or drugs are too much, one or the other.

Naming Whales


The Greenpeace whale naming competition. I\’m not sure whether this is a result of a lack of knowledge or a very dark sense of humour indeed:

– means \’little love\’ in Japanese

"Little" love is, of course, what the Japanese tend to show to cetaceans of all kinds. But it looks like the runaway winner is going to be Mr. Splashy Pants.

What an Idea!

Yes, all in favour of this one.

"The video-sharing Web site YouTube has suspended the account of a prominent Egyptian anti-torture activist who posted videos of what he said was brutal behaviour by some Egyptian policemen, the activist said."

A YouTube competitor should post these videos and then run advertisements saying that unlike YouTube it is not afraid of embarrassing dictators.

Actually, "Embarrassing Dictators" would make a fantastic name for a human rights website that deliberately sought out such videos.

Now, does anyone know how to actually set up a YouTube clone? Is there readily available software? I\’m in to help pay for the bandwidth if anyone does. In fact, if we can get the technical resources together then I\’m pretty certain I could find a sponsor or two (I am assuming that it would not grow to anything like the size where bandwidth would be more than 100\’s of pounds a month).

Ahhh, Maybe This is It?

Perhaps this whole Abrahams and party funding thing has been cooked up?

British party politics is not corrupt. Yet our parties are being forced to sail ever closer to the wind in order to pay for their campaigns. The case for new, fair and copper-bottomed party funding arrangements – which the Queen\’s speech pledged to introduce – grows more urgent by the week.

Paranoia, of course: even though there are, I\’m sure, those who would insist that ditching a party organiser or two, perhaps Mrs. Dromey as well, in order to attatch th politicians\’ lips firmly to the teat of State party funding would be worth it….I can\’t actually bring myself to believe in the competence of anyone in the political process sufficiently for someone to have made it happen.

However, yes, this will increase the pressure for State funding of political parties. To which the response is simple.

They\’ve proved that they are crooks. You want them to have our money as well?

Truly, The World Must Worry About This

Madonna has incurred the wrath of animal rights activists this week after dyeing the fleeces of a flock of sheep from her estate blue, pink, yellow and green for a Vogue photoshoot. Though Madonna is not alone – dyed sheep may be seen at the Latitude festival in Suffolk, for example – the RSPCA fears that it could lead to a spate of cack-handed copycat sheep-dyeing incidents. The society called the act an "irresponsible publicity stunt" and added that it "would question the need to use sheep in this way, as it would probably cause the animals considerable stress".

There are rather more important things to think about, aren\’t there?

Simple Really

The culture minister, Margaret Hodge, has said she will consider a redesign of the union flag to incorporate the Welsh dragon. Her surprising commitment was made in the Commons during a debate on the frequency with which the union flag flies above public buildings.

The discussions on a new flag design bring a new dimension to Gordon Brown\’s debate about Britishness.

Hodge told MPs: "The Welsh dragon was not included on the union flag, as the principality of Wales was already united with England by 1606 when the first union flag was created. I can assure all MPs that the issue of the design of the union flag will be considered. As the current flag is formed by merging three heraldic crosses representing the three kingdoms of the UK, the original design was a challenge.

The answer is there already.

Wales is a Principality, not a Kingdom. Thus no place on the flag.



Long Working Hours

This is rather something to celebrate, don\’t you think?

Under the European working time directive, workers are legally not obliged to work more than 48 hours, though under a special opt-out granted to the UK British employees are allowed to work longer if they explicitly agree.

So alone amongst the European Union nations the workers in the UK can work the hours they wish to. Not the hours that others think they ought to wish to, but the hours that they themselves actually do.

The latest figures reverse that trend for the first time under the Labour government, with 93,000 more people now working more than 48 hours a week compared with 2006, taking the total to almost three and a quarter million (3,242,000). The increase represents a rise from 12.8% to 13.1% of the workforce.

And it appears that some 13% of the workforce have different ideas about the hours they wish to work than the panjandrums think they ought to.

As ever, we need to distinguish between what people think others should do and what people actually do if left to make the decision for themselves. While the different EU countries are indeed different it would seem, from the UK example at least, that a possible 13% of the EU population (or workforce rather) are being denied, by law, the opportunity to balance work and family life as they would wish.

The solution to this is quite clear. We should lift the 48 hour limit on the working week for all Europeans, for as we are indeed all EU citizens now, it is only right that all of the others enjoy the same freedoms that the British do.


Rowan, you been talking to too many management consultants or something?

There is one key fact that every maternity expert appears to agree upon: one-to-one, dedicated care from a childbirth professional is absolutely key to facilitating a positive birth experience.

Those Donations

Hmm, anyone want to comment on this?

Mr Abrahams used four go-betweens to hide his identity, in contravention of Labour Party donation rules on transparency.

That\’s a nice little get out, don\’t you think? We only broke our own rules, not the law? But, erm, aren\’t the rules on disclosure actually set by the Electoral Commission, ie, they are the law, not Labour Party rules?

Disclosure laws state that anyone donating money to a party on behalf of someone else must make it clear where the money comes from.

Ah, quite so.

Mr Brown – who admitted a donation on behalf of Mr Abrahams for his leadership campaign had been rejected by his team – said Labour would return all of the £673,975 involved in the scandal.

Erm, shouldn\’t it be forfeit, as the UKIP money was? And anyway, now that the planning permissions has been granted, what are they returning the fee for?

English and American

We all know that there are important differences between English and American as they are spoke. One that\’s rather amused me was a time (as a result of something I wrote for over there) I was called a hack.

Over there it\’s very definitely an insult, one who writes not just to order, but to an ideological order. One who spins the facts and arguments to their master\’s bidding, purely for money. When the editor of the piece alerted me to the insult I\’d been offered I simply smiled.

For over here it\’s become a term of approbation. Yes, one who writes to order, but one who is in fact a professional newspaperman. One who can write on any (or at least most) subjects and turn in a decent piece on time.

Lord Deedes, known to all as Bill, died in August aged 94. As Editor of The Daily Telegraph from 1974 to 1985, and a Cabinet minister under Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, he made the most successful jump from politics to newspapers. But Richard Ingrams, former Editor of Private Eye, who featured the fictitious “Dear Bill” letters in the magazine, said: “[Bill] would like to be remembered as a newspaper reporter, not anyone grand. He was what I would call a hack, and he was proud to be that.”

Lord Deedes’s journalistic career spanned eight decades, from cub reporter on the Morning Post to his last column for the Telegraph this summer. He was in Abyssinia in 1935, covered the abdication of Edward VIII and travelled with Diana, Princess of Wales, in her campaign to rid the world of landmines.

When I first had a book review published in The Telegraph one Observer journalist emailed to say that "we\’ll make a hack of you yet".

I\’ll admit that I flirted with hackery in the American sense and then drew back. I\’ll also admit to aspiring to hackery in the English sense, but I\’ve a long, long way to go yet.