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)

Comment

Status

No comment/comment confusion must have been a side effect of updating wordpress. You can still see old comments by clicking on the name of a post.
Might as well comment on something here, then…. Bah, there’s too much rage-inducing stuff to choose from ….. Will manage it soon….

Schoolboy error

Settle down at the back, there. Today we’re going to learn basic numeracy.
Do pay attention, Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Schools, head of Ofsted, the agency that inspects schools…) This will be on the test.
On Breakfast TV this morning, you said that UK schools were failing to keep up with the rest of the world, and that one in 5 ten-year-olds were failing to reach the average.
LOL, LOL again.
Nobody on BBC Breakfast challenged this. The discussion continued as if he had said something both meaningful and scary. (And, of course, nobody said – “Surely this slide down the world’s literacy league tables coincides with the past decade’s massive expansion of school inspection activity?”)
OK, I naturally assumed the “average” word was a slip of the tongue. I told quite a few people because I was amazed that the chief inspector of schools didn’t understand the concept of a mean. But, on the BBC website, some more savvy person (maybe someone who’d studied Maths at the age of 11, as Sir Michael clearly hadn’t) had changed the reported words to refer to expected standards. Maybe I’d dreamt it.
But it turns out that Sir Michael had said the same thing on Newsnight the night before.
As the Guardian reported, a flurry of well-earned Internet derision followed the Newsnight speech. Ofsted press office said it was just a “slip of the tongue”.
Impossible that he and his press office didn’t spot any twittered mirth. But, there he was on BBC Breakfast, this morning, with his tongue still slipping wildly and disgorging the same scare story, using the same silly “average” word.
To misquote Oscar Wilde, to misuse one statistical concept may be a misfortune, to misuse two begins to look a lot like innumeracy.
I’ll be charitable and take it that he “really” meant “expected standard” but was more interested in getting in a soundbite than in communicating meaningfully. (In that case, of course, he’s failed basic literacy requirements instead.)
As the Guardian blog showed, Sir Michael isn’t alone in his innumeracy. The Secretary of State for Education is equally challenged by the statistical concept of averages. This is priceless:

Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

This sort of thing would normally inspire pity. He’s obviously not very bright but, in a fair world, he could probably get useful work that didn’t need academic skills. In the real universe, he’s Secretary of State for Education.
In which role, he’s hellbent on promoting the ludicrous Academies. These obviously make perfect sense if you’re a business person who wants to get your hands on public money that’s earmarked for education but make no sense to anyone else.
The process seems to be –

  1. Ofsted “inspects” a school
  2. They declare it to be “failing” and in need of “special measures”
  3. The school has to choose between becoming an Academy or being closed
  4. An Academy is set up, it gets the money that the local authority would have paid to the school
  5. The school becomes Outstanding in the next inspection

But there’s a hiccup. A few awkward schools are refusing.
Heads are rolling resigning or knuckling under. And now, intransigent (locally elected) school governors are being dismissed and replaced by government appointees – who by an amazing coincidence turn out to be very pro-academy. (Downhills Primary, Nightingale Primary):

“We have therefore decided to appoint an interim executive board to give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve.
“Those connected with the school will then be consulted on whether the school should convert into a sponsored academy under the leadership of the Harris Federation.”
The hand-picked interim executive board will be chaired by Les Walton, the chairman of the the Young People’s Learning Agency – the academies’ funding body.
Other members include the head of the Harris Federation, Dr Dan Moyniham, and Dame Sylvia Morris.
Dame Sylvia has just retired as head teacher of St Saviour and St Mary Overy Primary School in Southwark. She was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to education, and mentors new head teachers in four London boroughs….
At a parliamentary committee hearing in January, Mr Gove labelled campaigners against the academy plan for Downhills “Trots”, claiming they were politically motivated and linked to the Socialist Workers Party. (from the BBC)

One can only hope that Mr Gove is himself politically motivated. Otherwise, the whole operation looks a lot like straightforward theft.

Getting really cross

“Sell everything you own and buy yellow precious metal, fashioned in the form of one vertical long stick crossed with a horizontal shorter stick. And wear it publicly at all times, as a sign of your devotion to me. Blessed are the jewellery wearers for they shall inherit media attention” Book of Ratner ch19.v4

(As Jesus directed his followers in a previously little-known apocryphal bible book covering the Jewellery Company Years)

Determined cross wearers Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida (a former nurse and a former British Airways worker) have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights

Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida take cross fight to Europe.
Shirley Chaplin said “hiding” her cross was akin to denying her faith
(headlines on the BBC report)

I can’t see that it matters what styles of jewellery people wear. I think that their employers have behaved insanely (although I bet they were a real trial to employ). Although, if you know that a job has a uniform and you refuse to stick to the uniform rules, you shouldn’t really take that job.

The problem is that the cross ladies picked this fight on purpose. To bolster the picture of the UK’s imaginary condition of “discrimination against Christians”.

Christian Concern website (find it yourself, if you want, I’m not keen to post a link) is always willing to place itself at the centre of any case that it can use to promote the fantasy that we live in a parallel universe in which European Christians are beingpersecuted.

Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, often due to equalities legislation and the promotion of homosexual rights. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. At Christian Concern we vigorously resist any restrictions on freedom of speech and expression for Christians.(from Christian Concern)

What? Equalities legislation and homosexual rights are a threat to Christians?

Passing blithely over the irony that people who feel threatened by human rights legislation are resorting to the European Court of Human Rights for redress, do they claim that they are being compelled to become homosexual in order to get human rights? No, I think I get it, maybe they claim the right to persecute gay people is the human right that they are in danger of losing?

Christians have been sacked for refusing to act against their consciences? I would have much sympathy – nay, admiration – if their consciences were telling them they had to resist the government’s ongoing programme to attack the poor and the NHS or if they were campaigning against wars or using their resources to feed the hungry and house the homeless…

But their Christian consciences aren’t stirred by such insignificant social issues. Their moral sense is roused by rules about wearing jewellery in work.

And their consciences can only be accommodated by following the Book of Ratner and wearing jewellery with malice aforethought.

Oh, and spending vast resources on getting their own way through the courts. What would Jesus Do? Well, the same, obviously. I believe he was working on his latest designer jewellery collection for Argos when he was crucified. He thought the cross shape would be really great for the brand.