We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Kent coast strangeness

Your intrepid correspondent (well, sort of) is filing this from Ramsgate on the Kent Coast where there appear to be some odd goings-on.

There is no way of telling whether or not any of this is connected in any way to yesterday’s security alert at Dover but, today, fully-armed, missile-laden RAF jets have been observed buzzing around the Kent Coast. I am advised that jet fighters are generally not armed if merely on exercise.

Also, this evening there have been widespread power blackouts in Dover and Deal although latest reports are that the power is now back on.

Coincidences? Connected? Sinister? Perfectly innocent? Who knows? Heading back to London shortly.

A trip to Bratislava

Following some rather personally difficult times, I was recently whisked off to foreign parts by a friend who decided I very badly needed to get out of London for a while to get my head together. And so, a day after a funeral and one of the worst days of my life here in London, I found myself on an Air Berlin BAe-146 aeroplane heading, indirectly, for Bratislava, the capital city of the Slovak Republic.

Due to the hasty nature of the flying arrangements, my friend and I travelled via Mönchengladbach (that’s near Düsseldorf, in Germany). As it happens, that 30 minute stop-over allowed me to see something to delight any aviation enthusiast… an airworthy Junkers 52!

Ju-52...an aviation classic!

From Germany we headed to Vienna, where we were picked up by my traveling companion’s mother and thence a short drive across the Austrian border to Bratislava.

Although I was very keen on getting a break from my surroundings, given that my friend had never really described Bratislava fondly (having grown up under communism does have that effect), I must say I did not have very high expectations, given the grey and bleak preamble I had received (I suspect my colleague is in no danger of being offered a job by the Slovak Tourist Agency).

Blimey… I was really in for a surprise!

Although surrounded by the expected outer layer of ghastly public housing (but then are any major cities on the west not similarly blighted?), Bratislava’s inner city is simply gorgeous.

The Main Square and Old Town Hall

The inner city is almost entirely unspoiled by the pox of post war modern architecture, yet it far from being a moribund museum: it positively pulsates with life and exuberance. → Continue reading: A trip to Bratislava

Be collective and individual

Well, at least the language is sort of getting there:

John Reid, the health secretary, has embarked on the biggest ever programme of ministerial visits to NHS hospitals to persuade staff to accept fundamental changes in working practices to improve the service to patients.

He has told colleagues that the public will not accept there has been genuine improvement in the NHS until patients are treated with the same promptness and respect that they get as consumers of other goods and services.

As ‘consumers of other goods and services’ they are the paying the piper and therefore calling the tune. Contrast the NHS where the paying customer is the government and the patients are units of production.

Health ministers think their biggest political challenge is to engineer this change in the working culture of NHS organisations. They want them to tailor services to suit the preferences of the individual instead of expecting patients to adjust to the convenience of the professionals.

Fat chance! Public services are not run for the benefit of the public they are run for the benefit of the public sector. If you want ‘services to suit the preferences of the individual’ you need a free market in healthcare.

So another doomed ‘initiative’ will shortly bite the dust but not before, I hope, Mr.Reid and his advisers reach the logical conclusions of their own ideas.

Not so anonymised after all

Maybe White Rose should have an additional category entitled “Better Late Than Never”. I’ve certainly done several such WR postings.

Here’s another, from the Independent on August 25th:

The case of Stephen Kelly, who was found guilty in February 2001 of culpable and reckless behaviour, exemplifies the way the police and courts can access medical details collected as part of a research project.

That establishes that we’re dealing with a different Kelly. The guts of the story is that supposedly anonymous research data ended up being used to prosecute somebody, which is just the kind of thing we are constantly promised isn’t going to happen, can’t happen, must never happen, etc.

During the investigation of Kelly, police obtained the anonymised codes from patient medical records and used them to seize the scientific evidence that established the genetic similarity between the Aids viruses Kelly and his girlfriend had.

So much for “anonymised”.

Professor Leigh Brown was angry at the information being used. “These databases will have an important role to play in developing our understanding of genetic variation and disease, but what will protect them from seizure by legal authorities?”


Armadillo plumbing finished

The Armadillo Aerospace X-Ship is coming together nicely according to their latest report:

All engine plumbing and wiring is complete on the big vehicle. We loaded water into the big tank and tested all the valves, with pretty good results. Our distribution manifold has a leak in the weld which will need to be fixed, and the fill port 2″ threads were loosened during the filling process when the giant hose pressurized itself and whipped around a bit. We can’t just weld the inlet fittings, because the check valve is stainless steel, while the rest of the hardware is aluminum, so we may need to weld flanges onto each side and bolt them together.

They seem confident they are close to completion:

If there was catalyst in the engines, the big vehicle is now capable of flight, but we still need to get the drogue cannon worked out before it can land properly. We also need to make some honeycomb panels to protect the base of the tank from exhaust at launch, but we are running out of things to do on it. The base will need a fair amount of rework when we put the full size engines on it, but the basic layout will probably remain the same.

I look forward to news of their first static test of the big vehicle.

Higher education debates

Who do you reckon wrote this?

But the truth is that a university degree is not the best educational attainment for the majority of people. Most jobs do not require such a level of education, although I firmly believe that education should not just be about what job you get. But for many, a university education provides little in terms of other personal development. Joining the job market earlier, or learning vocational skills, could be much more beneficial to the individual and society as a whole. Becoming a plumber or a butcher, rather than a teacher, is now a job with real security.

Some ghastly Conservative, talking sense of a sort, but doing it in that voice that we all hate and the memory of which still keeps the Conservatives in the bucket market unelectable, the one that goes: “Thanks to my hard-work and all-round merit I have reached the pinnacle of human achievement and am now a smarmy back-bench Conservative MP with ministerial ambitions.” Right? Certainly right as in not left.

Let us read on:

I know this is a case that many may find unpalatable, but we must recognise that the striving for equality should not blind us to the fact that we are different. We cannot all be a concert pianist, or a David Beckham. In the same way, a university education does not suit everyone.

→ Continue reading: Higher education debates

Someone to watch over us

Once again, the British police risk life and limb to protect us from those who would do us harm:

A father and his son were confronted by armed police after a young boy was seen playing with a toy gun in a car.

Kevin and Jason Price were ordered out of the car and onto their knees after police were told a weapon was seen pointing from the window.

But in fact it was a £15 plastic ball bearing rifle bought for Mr Price’s seven-year-old son Connor, who was sitting in the back.

Police have defended their actions, and say they have to treat reports of firearms seriously.

No, more likely it was another opportunity to put on a public display of virility against a soft, safe and easy target.

Is there no end to this absurd hysteria? Are there no depths to which this official paranoia cannot sink?

America’s first ‘First Gentleman’?

Oh no I couldn’t possibly. No, no, no, no. No, never. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand? I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, I shouldn’t. Not me. Not now. I said n………oh, well if you insist:

Hillary Clinton, the darling of the Democratic Party, is under growing pressure to make a late bid for the White House in 2004 from supporters who believe that only she can defeat George W Bush.

There will be no shortage of Americans willing and eager to step up and testify about the depths of loathing this woman incites in ‘fly-over country’. I am sure they would be right. But it would be foolhardy to ignore all those legions of baby-boomers with retirement on their minds. You don’t have to be liked to win elections (see either of Messrs.T.Blair or J.Chirac for details).

Medical records online?

Another good excuse for infringing our privacy that governments are wont to provide is efficiency. In such cases, the best bet is to challenge the government agency in question to spell out exactly how these efficiencies are going to be achieved.

The latest gambit in Australia is to provide an electronic health records database. The government claims that this will improve the safety and quality of health care delivery. How, the newspapers do not say.

In another gambit to get this through, the government says there will be no electronic identification numbers, and that patient involvement was voluntary.

Both these gambits need to be challenged. If there are no numbers, one wonders how they propose to deal with the many people known as “Smith” in our country. Not everyone has a unique surname like Wickstein.

And one wonders how ‘voluntary’ this scheme will be in five years time. No doubt, after the scheme has been up and running for a few years, we will be told that to be more ‘efficient’ the scheme needs to be made universal (read, compulsory).

Privacy Commissioner Mal Crompton noted that people might be reluctant to reveal details about themselves if they had doubts about the privacy of their medical records.

There are of course sound medical reasons for the sharing of medical records with, for example, hospitals. But electronic records can stray far and wide.

I don’t think I’d have any real objections to this scheme as it stands now. However, we’ve seen in the past how one government agency likes to dig in the files of another, and frankly, I don’t trust the Australian health system to keep my details private.

How does this matter? Well, how would you like the Tax office auditing you and having access to your medical history? I wouldn’t like the creep auditing me and giving my financial records the third degree knowing my medical details.


As somebody whose inbox was besieged by MSBlast worms (all ‘quarantined’ fortunately), I would just love a quiet word with this gentleman:

Authorities in America have charged an 18-year-old youth with spreading the crippling MSBlast internet virus.

Jeffrey Lee Parson of Hopkins, Minnesota, is accused of “intentionally causing and attempting to cause damage to a protected computer”.

If found guilty, Mr Parson faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Only ten years?

After you’ve gone

Members and supporters of the Conservative Party who have a delicate disposition might be best advised to look away now. Perhaps move on to the next article. Or the last article. Or spoil yourselves with our tempting and varied blog-roll to the left. But don’t read on because, for you, this is disturbing stuff:

Although the Government’s reputation is far from having sunk to the depths plumbed by John Major’s government in the mid 1990s, parallels between the two administrations begin to suggest themselves.

That said, it is striking that the Conservatives’ lead over Labour – a mere two percentage points – is so small and that, as the figures in the panel also show, Mr Blair is still preferred by a wide margin to Iain Duncan Smith as the person who “would make the best Prime Minister”.

The Tory Party’s efforts to present Mr Duncan Smith as a more relaxed and confident leader than in the past have so far had negligible public impact. His standing is virtually on a par with that of the Liberal Democrats’ Charles Kennedy.

The section of the chart headed “A Conservative Government?” tells a similar story. The proportion of people saying they would be “delighted” if the Conservatives came to power remains unchanged since the last general election and the proportion saying they would be “dismayed” has actually risen slightly.

Tony Blair and New Labour have now been in power for over six years; their policies are widely judged to have been a failure, Blair’s popularity has plummeted and the party over which he presides is riven with in-fighting. Despite all this, the Conservatives cannot even overtake them in the opinion polls and, anyway you care to stack it up, that is grim news for them.

To my reading, something has gone very badly wrong for the Tories that cuts deeper than a mere downturn in fortunes. By any reasonable reckoning the political pendulum should have swung towards them by now or, at least, it should be showing signs of doing so. The fact that it is still doggedly (though marginally) on the Labour side of the divining line suggests a systemic failure that no amount of analytical contortion can disguise.

Which raises the question of whether the Conservative Party is done for. Yes, finished. Washed-up. Dead men walking and all that. Certainly if Labour wins the next election by anything like a respectable margin (and they could well do so), then it is difficult to imagine the Tories surviving as an institution. Such a vista would have been unimaginable a decade ago. But times change as times are wont to do and the fact that the Conservatives ruled Britain for most of the Twentieth Century is of no help to them now. As they say in the investment world, past performance is no guarantee of future success.

Which raises another question of what (if anything) will replace them? I do believe that something will replace them as Labour would then be left as the establishment that is begging to be challenged. But by what and by whom? Perhaps a genuinely classical liberal party? Perhaps the BNP? The opening paragraph of the linked article hints at all manner of intriguing possibilities:

Signs are emerging that Dr David Kelly’s death and the revelations of the Hutton Inquiry are inflicting substantial damage not just on Tony Blair’s government but on Britain’s entire political class – journalists as well as politicians.

That sound to me like a vacuum. Eventually it will be filled. But by what?

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

A country becoming less free

More on ID cards from Stephen (“A free country”) Robinson.

This week it emerged that “smart” passports, containing the sort of biometric information to be used in ID cards, are to begin trials in an unnamed market town of about 100,000 people. Meanwhile, schools around the country are being encouraged to issue ID cards to pupils as another part of the campaign to soften us up for the scheme.

I wonder if Robinson has actually been reading White Rose. I’d like to think so, and that sooner or later he may get to stories a few minutes quicker because of it.