Spinal tap

The NHS plan to stick all our data (“anonymised” for sensitive data in a way that will send you to a dictionary to see if you got the word “anonymised” mixed up with another word like “publicised”) has been temporaily shelved – until people forget that it’s an ongoing scandal. Or it gets overtaken by the new shock-horror of selling off our tax data…. from the BBC.

The HMRC plan is currently undergoing a transparent consultation process, so getting detail from the web is hard. However, even trying to find out about the NHS plans is illuminating enough. They’ve sort of embuggerated their website explanations so it’s close to impossible to work out what is currently included in what pile of NOTpersonal data. But the site Connecting for Health has information – which is apparently no longer relevant but which redirects me to a site where I can’t find any real information at all. (HSCIC)

Information held on the Patient Demographic Service

The PDS only contains demographic details about a patient. No clinical or sensitive information is held on itPDS fields. Here are a few of the fields involved and what each is for:

    PDS field Description of data

NHS Number The unique patient identifier.
Patient name Including any previous names, aliases and preferred name, e.g. Chris rather than Christopher.
Date of birth
Gender
Address
Includes main, temporary and correspondence addresses.
The patient’s legal guardian, proxy, family/close contact.
Telecommunication contact details Contact details such as telephone number, fax number and email address.
………..

NHS Care Record consent to share status Indicates that the patient has agreed to share their health record. (Oh, the irony)

I assume that HMRC also have a master index file like this.

General good advice: Never blame on a conspiracy what can be safely attributed to human stupidity.

I shall heed this advice and assume that the people who think it’s a good idea to do this are just ignorant. Can we all club together and send them on a comprehensive course on 21st century data mining? This was David Davis (aka, “the only good Tory, despite his excremental views on many other topics”) reported in the Guardian:

The Tory MP David Davis, a former minister and shadow home secretary, described the proposal as “borderline insane”, adding: “The Treasury lists no credible benefits and offers a justification based on an international agreement that does not lead other governments to open up their tax database,” he said. “The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risks to data in an electronic age. Our forefathers put these checks and balances in place when the information was kept in cardboard files, and data was therefore difficult to appropriate and misuse.

“It defies logic that we would remove those restraints at a time when data can be collected by the gigabyte, processed in milliseconds and transported around the world almost instantaneously.”

Atheist bigotry

Can anyone explain how and when Sam Harris became an atheist spokesman? I missed the email.
Which is lucky, because I find many of his views (eg he thinks torture is ok) as repellent and unrepresentative of mine as, say, the average muslim would find the views of the latest islamic wingnut hate figure.
There’s a superb – if unfashionably long – piece by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian about his response to Murtah Hussein’s article on Al Jazeera. and Nathan Lean in Salon – both of whom pointed out the bigotry expressed by the atheist media stars.

Contrary to the assumptions under which some Harris defenders are laboring, the fact that someone is a scientist, an intellectual, and a convincing and valuable exponent of atheism by no means precludes irrational bigotry as a driving force in their worldview. Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian

I’m talking about Greenwald’s, rather than the other, articles because:

  • I wouldn’t have seen the other posts except for his article;
  • His arguments seem self-evidently true to me; and
  • because his article attracted a flurry of comments. (4913 at the moment of writing this.) I find many of those comments, at the least, disturbing, even allowing for the fact that the Guardian’s comment pages have basically become a vanity publishing platform for trolls.

Commenters referred to Greenwald’s being a gay jew:

“As a gay Jew, you must realise that in most Middle Eastern countries you would be persecuted. The exception being Israel.”

” If Glen expected to be an open and practicing gay man in Qatar he would be imprisoned.”

I presume that these rational beings have not come across the concept of a non-sequitur. The only way to read this is that these people genuinely believe that Islam is a huge monolithic block, that every person born a muslim is responsible for every injustice committed by every other muslim and any other majority islamic state, and so on.

In one comment, a Harris defender complained that his words had been taken out of context, then provided the “context” which turned out to be at least as disturbing as the paraphrase.
I am particularly offended that the pro-Harris writers seek to present themselves as the defenders of a rational scientific worldview. And then take their political and social opinions straight from the “Holy Book of Neocon Ideas about Global Politics.”
“Bugger rationality in that case, then, fellow rational people. Don’t bother trying to understand global politics and religion, because they’re really really hard to follow and you might find your simplistic world views too hard to maintain. Just keep your minds closed and go along with the war and torture stuff. It’s not as if non-atheists are human beings or anything.”
That is the Sam Harris message and it seems to have had at least a greater than zero influence on fools.

It’s April Fools Day, citizen

A magnificent range of April Fools Day japes for you this year.
1. Food banks. In the UK. And not organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee after an unexpected tsunami in Kent.
Organised by charities and churches and individuals who find themselves disturbed to live in a society in which so many of their fellow citizens are going hungry.
So hungry that they first have to swallow any residual pride they have somehow maintained – in the face of a media that’s hellbent on demonising anyone who’s sick or disabled or poor, and then go to beg for donated tinned goods and dried pasta.

2. A Bedroom tax… This sounds charmingly antique, like the window tax that existed from 1696 to 1851.
(You’d think the conservatives would have learned their lesson about the folly of reintroducing historical taxes after the Poll Tax but it appears not. )
The bedroom tax will mean an average £14 a week cut to people who are – by definition – so poor that they are already turning up at food banks in droves.

3. NHS reform reorganization carve-up. Pissup/brewery, enough said.

4. Many many more, ad nauseam. These are no longer funny.

5. Oh, yeah, a potential rerun of the Korean war with nukes.

Where is a bloody Atheist Rapture Index when you need it?

Fortune teller

Fortune telling app

Click to open it*, click to enter then type your question. I guarantee an answer.

It’s an experiment in consciousness that you can do.

Admittedly I may have shot myself in the foot by putting anyone who wanted to try it in a state of fear. (I used the Trojan records link below in the type of embarrassingly faux-smart headline that this blog used to rely on, when it was careless enough of the potential side-effects of having opinions.)

So it’s also an experiment in trust, I suppose.

* (I can’t work out how to embed the bugger without it having a clickthrough. In any case, I made it in 2005. I can’t change it to make it look prettier, I can’t even work out how to get into it. It’s in some ancient version of flash but it does still play)

Billions lost through killer app

The UK has lost its AAA credit rating in the same week that the engrossing 360 degree London panorama was released, causing an estimated £8.3 billion loss in national productivity.*

I challenge anyone to keep up their industrial output if they’ve got access to this on their work pc. A massive privacy disaster, granted, but genuinely magic.

* Ok, I made that up. But I did say “estimated” (i.e. my guess is as good as yours. Well, better because I have access to the media – to wit, a wordpress blog) So it’s totally consistent with all the economic forecasts that you see normally.