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The State

Most amusing

In May, US civil liberties groups had called on Amazon to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software could be used to unfairly target immigrants and people of colour.

The amusement being that, quite famously, current facial recognition technology has serious difficulties in distinguishing between a gorilla and a person of colour. Presumably the same is true of Pongo Pongo and gingers. Quite how this is to be used to oppress…

Interesting observation

Worried about the information Facebook has on you? What about TfL?

We take protecting the privacy of our customers extremely seriously (How to keep data truly safe? Don’t collect it in the first place, 4 April). Aside from cases where it is essential that we know the identity of a holder of an Oyster card – such as when checking customers are entitled for free or discounted travel – there is no requirement for anyone to share their personal details with us.

For all cards, including those Oyster cards where proof of identity is required, we deliberately break the link in our systems between the card and the journeys made with it as soon as that link is no longer required for customer support, such as processing fare refunds.

No, not what they say they do, what could they possibly do?

Nowt so irrational as peeps

So, when I heard that the price of potassium iodide had soared on e-Bay as a result of idiots thinking that the light and very short lived radiation from Japan might soar over 7,000 miles of ocean and kill Californians dead in their beds, I tried to think through how I could make money out of this.

I can buy a 100 gramme bag of pharmaceutically pure potassium iodide from my local pharmacy here in Portugal for, including posting it to California, maybe $50.

There were stories of 12 tablet packs selling for $500. And, each of those 12 tablets is 130 milligrammes, meaning that my 100 g bag is equivalent to 780 doses.

Woo Hoo! $32 k for my baggie here I come!

Unfortunately, people seem to be even more irrational than I give them credit for.

They\’re still buying the tablets at exotic (even if not quite that exotic) prices, but the people selling bags of potassium iodide (there\’s one selling 100 g bags at $35) don\’t really seem to be moving the goods.

I can only assume that peeps think that the KI in the tablets is somehow different from the KI in the powder. Which isn\’t so but……

It\’s the same old problem at heart

Bit of the Ben Goldacres here:

What don\’t usually make the news, however, are the hundreds of cases when the social workers\’ failure is the very opposite: where, aided by police and courts, they seem determined to remove children from responsible parents, to consign them to an often miserable life with foster carers or to adoption.

False positives and false negatives….whatever system you\’re going to use to do anything you need to make sure that you don\’t veer off into acting hugely on false positives just as you want to minimise the false negatives where you should do something but don\’t.

Unfortunately, it\’s the way of this particular universe that we inhabit that the two are intimately linked. You\’ll almost always get more false positives if you try to minimise false negatives. At which point there has to be a rather hard headed analysis of the costs and benefits of each.

Assume that the cost of a false negative, a child who should be taken into care but isn\’t (to be extreme, for of course not all children who should be in care or adopted are facing death…a shitty life perhaps, but not necessarily death) is death.

Assume that the cost of a false positive, a child taken into care or adoption who doesn\’t need to be, is a shitty life (might well not be a shitty life but this is just an assumption for our model) and heartbroken parents.

So, how many shitty lives and heartbroken parents do we think is worth not having a dead child? Ten to one? 100 to 1?

No, you cannot say \”infinite\” because that would mean that every child in the country should be taken into care to prevent Baby P.

And we are ignoring the point that life in care is often worse than what a child is being \”saved from\”.

But you do have to come up with some sort of calculus of how many people\’s lives you fuck up in order to prevent one death.

And the big problem here is that which afflicts all politically made decisions, the point that Bastiat made. We can see the results of false negatives but we don\’t see the results of false positives. One reason being, over and above the politics side, is the secrecy of the family court system. We\’re not actually allowed to see the results of the false positives….and therefore we can quite safely conclude that the system is erring to that side. If it wasn\’t, then they wouldn\’t insist upon being secretive, would they?

Polly\’s Paradise

You know how Polly T keeps going on about how Sweden is so wonderful, the Nordics are the people we should be emulating?

The birthday party case takes state intervention to a new level. Before the beginning of lessons the boy had cheerfully threaded his way through the class handing out invitations. When the teacher spotted that two children had not received one he confiscated the invitations.

“One of the children had not invited my son to his own birthday party,” explained the father of the boy, who lodged an official complaint with the parliamentary ombudsman. “The other one had been bad to my son for six months. You do not invite your antagonists.”

That was not convincing enough for the headmaster or government deputies. “I believe the staff acted correctly, in a model way,” said Lars Hansson, of the Swedish Liberal party, one of the four ruling coalition partners in the country.

“It is their duty to reject any forms of insulting behaviour. To eliminate individual children from parties is not acceptable.”

Yup, they\’re so communitarian that the invite list to an 8 year old\’s birthday party is a matter for the State.

Somehow I just don\’t see that quite catching on here: perhaps, contrary to Polly\’s desires, we\’re just not a social democratic nation?

The Great Question

Janet Daley does rather hit this one out of the ball park:

It is nothing less than the question of who should have the real power in a free society – a government elected by the people, or the people themselves through their own direct agency.


When will they learn that people\’s lives are transformed not by what is done to them, or spent on them, but by what they do for themselves? Sorry about the homily but there is no other way to sum this up: your life prospects are transformed by your own attitudes – and those attitudes are formed, in turn, by the opportunities that you have for making a difference to your own life.


If you think it sounds too good to be true that a voluntary movement could transform an aspect of life, just think of the hospice movement.

Or even the lifeboats.

The Care of the State

Aren\’t we lucky to have such a wonderful and caring organisation looking after us:

However, it is just such a fate that befell Jean Gambell when at the age of 15, in 1937, she was falsely accused of stealing 2s 6d (12.5p) from the doctor\’s surgery where she worked as a cleaner.

She was sectioned under the 1890 Lunacy Act and even though the money was later found, she has been moved from mental institution to mental institution. More recently, she went into a care home and has been lost to her family, who thought she was dead.

The brothers spent much of their childhood in orphanages because their parents were so poor. They said that they had later discovered that their father had tried for years to get Jean freed after she was put in Cranage Hall mental hospital in Macclesfield for being "of feeble mind", but was unsuccessful because her records had been mislaid.

She spent years, lost in a maze of instutitons and care homes, trying to convince people in authority that she had a family. But nobody would believe her.

Macclesfield Social Services are now conducting an inquiry into Miss Gambell\’s incarceration.

An entire lifetime spent "lost" in mental institutions. No one will be held responsible of course. No one at all.