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]

Health, safety and growth

John Noakes, who died today, was a children’s television presenter who would do things like climb Nelson’s Column without a safety harness. I have seen comments about health and safety rules preventing such acts of bravery today. Indeed, another presenter on the same programme had the advantage of scaffolding many years later. But in this case it is not that health and safety rules have gone mad, it is that working conditions have improved because it has become cheaper to improve them. Presumably modern scaffolding is cheaper to erect due to advances in materials and techniques. In other words, due to economic growth. Even television steeplejack Fred Dibnah himself pointed out, “to circumnavigate the wall of that chimney, which might be sixty-odd feet circumference, with scaffolding is going to cost a heck of a lot of money. That’s why steeplejacks can still earn a crust of bread.”

As admirable as Fred’s craft was, it is a sign of progress if people can no longer earn a crust of bread doing it because scaffolding costs a heck of a lot less.

My late night pondering aside, there are some good videos of people at height behind those links. I particularly recommend watching as much Fred Dibnah as possible.

Samizdata quote of the day

Can the NHS be reformed? Or is major surgery required if it is to make a full recovery? We need to come up with much more radical reform than is currently being proposed. And if that doesn’t work, instead of accepting the somewhat back-to-front NHS version of TINA – in which we are told that there is no alternative to a welfare-state-era model of provision frankly unfit for the 21st century – we need to replace the NHS with something better.

According to Benedict Spence, writing in the Independent, ‘pretty much all of our European counterparts have a universal and in many cases much better healthcare system than the UK – and, horror of horrors, most European healthcare is what we would call “privatised”’. The UK is unusual among developing nations, he says, whose often social-insurance-based systems often perform better than ours (for example, in cancer survival rates). And yet, the defenders of the NHS remain ‘aggressively insular’.

Dave Clements

Samizdata quote of the day

The convener of the Health and Sport Committee, Neil Findlay MSP, defended the proposed policies: ‘Scotland has not previously been afraid to take the initiative to tackle health-related issues when other interventions have failed. This is why this committee is asking for a bold approach to tackling obesity.’ This, in all its overtly protective language, is a call for further intrusion into the life and liberty of Scots. We don’t need to be subject to gross social engineering. We don’t need to be treated like ignorant, gullible pawns, shuffling brainlessly towards Scotmid for another high-calorie fix. We drink alcohol because we like alcohol. We eat fatty foods because they’re tasty. We drive cars because they’re useful. We don’t need the obesity-obsessed overlords in Holyrood lecturing us on our lifestyle choices.

Our message to politicians like Findlay should be clear: get stuffed. Who knows, it might make their policies taste less sour.

Charlie Peters

Stoppit

Enough.

pudding

Great moments in public sector IT procurement

The public health system of the Australian state of Queensland required a new payroll system. In 2007, a contract was issued to IBM to provide a new system for $6.19 million Australian dollars.

The resulting system did not work, and went over budget by $1.1 billion. Yes, read that again.

In 2013, the Queensland government was “considering” sacking the bureaucrats responsible for mismanaging the contract. Since then, there has been no publicity concerning any actual sackings. Read that how you will.

Drug legalization is becoming an acceptable view among the elite

Amid the blanket news coverage of the EU referendum and the murder of Jo Cox, it went almost unnoticed that a major report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) called for drug decriminalization in the UK.

The Times, still seen as the Voice of the Establishment, came out in support:

Breaking Good

Would it ever make sense to jail a chain-smoker for smoking or an alcoholic for touching drink? On the basis that the answer is no, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is urging the government to decriminalise the personal possession and use of all illegal drugs. This is radical advice, but also sound. Ministers should give it serious consideration.

Not that long ago Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, said it was time to legalize drugs. I hope this trend continues.

Samizdata quote of the day

The fundamental reason FDA placed the public at greater risk of the health problems that come with smoking traditional cigarette was that it cannot pass up on a chance to expand its power. As the tortured language of the regulation shows, the FDA recognizes that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes, but refuses to admit their potential positive consequences. Instead, the agency twists congressional intent in its deadly power grab.

Jared Meyer

Scary viruses and clinical trials

Some people think the Rio Olympics might cause the Zika virus to spread all over the world. Reddit is not a reliable place for sensible political commentary, but I am heartened at how up-voted comments like these are:

mixmastamikey: “Global Health Disaster” How about just “Global Disaster”… Why the fuck can’t we reuse olympic venues? Seriously why does a different country need to host the olympics every 4 years. Cant everyone just buy a fucking island and call it olympic island maybe update a few things here and there.

BlueBlazerIrregular: But then the IOC wouldn’t be able to steal millions and would lose out on all that graft and bribery. Think of the rich for once! They are people too!

kangamooster: Hmm, I guess you could consider lizardfolk people….

Kamuiberen: Wait, are we talking about IOC or FIFA here?

BlueBlazerIrregular: Same modus operandi

Anyway it seems unlikely that the Olympics will be stopped or moved and I am not sure if doing so would really make any difference. I am hopeful of solving problems with technology, though. I am quite keen on the plan to exterminate all mosquitoes. And then there is IBM’s rather interesting research into a chemical that blocks viruses in general.

“We began to think, how can we move forward and kind of attack the virus in a very different way,” says Hedrick. “Instead of going after its RNA or DNA, we looked at the glycoproteins that surround…the virus.” No matter what the virus and how it mutates, it’s going to have these substances on the surface; they have electric charges (some positive, some negative) that a chemical can stick onto. What the researchers developed is a polymer that adheres to the virus, blocking it from hooking onto a victim cell in the body.

The idea is to put the molecule in soap and hand-wipes, but it could also be put into a person.

Assuming it works as well as the researchers say, the macromolecule couldn’t come soon enough to handle frightening outbreaks like Zika, Ebola, and chikungunya. But it hasn’t quite come yet. “My gut feeling is, something like a wipe, something like a hand cleaner is going to be relatively straightforward to move to market,” says Hedrick. “It you market it as a true antiviral, I would imagine it would take 3, 4, 5 years maybe maximum.” Getting the macromolecule into humans, where it uses all three of its powers, would require clinical trials than could extend over several years.

Serious question: why the need for such long clinical trials? What is wrong with marketing something with the caveat that it is not fully tested yet and it might be a cure worse than the disease but if you have a terrible enough disease it might be worth a try?

A Tale of the Sea

This anecdote was sent to me by a correspondent – NS.

*

I chanced to be speaking to a chaplain who works with a mission to seafarers in a British port, and had the following tale from him.

One of the seamen he knows is a guy – let us call him John Smith – who is fine provided he remembers to take his meds but not so fine if he forgets. On a working ship, daily life is structured and John reliably remembers to take his meds, and if he did not, the captain would look into it, or John would be given medical evacuation. However the control regime is different in port.

Recently, John’s ship was sent to port for several months awaiting a new cargo or scrapping. Presently the chaplain was summoned by port security. When you are asked to the main security point, things are serious. When they offer you a cup of tea, things are really serious. Security told him that John had clearly not been taking his meds, was doing things that were not dangerous in themselves but “violated security protocols”, so they’d have to act in a way that they would prefer to avoid, unless the chaplain could make something better happen.

The chaplain contacted the Port Health authority and was told, “Well, you know, a seaman has rights. If we get involved and the result is to say he’s unfit or whatever, he could sue for loss of earnings or whatever …”

He contacted the company that contracts John’s labour. “Oh well, we’d like to help but seamen these days have a lot of rights. If we get involved and it’s later ruled we did not respect all of them …”

He contacted the union rep, whose first words were “You do know John has rights, don’t you?” and who then pointed out that John’s ship “is not my flag state, so I can’t come aboard uninvited.”

The chaplain solved that one by saying pointedly, “I’m inviting you to come aboard with me.” So, with the union rep in more or less literal tow, the chaplain went aboard, and was told by the captain, “Do whatever you can and I’ll back you.” He had a long and sometimes very strange talk with John, at the end of which John swallowed his meds, whereupon a very hyper man swiftly became calmer.

This example was in the context of the chaplain’s explaining to me how much of his job these days was doing what none of the jobsworths dared to do, even when some of them were not such creeps as not even to want to help. As he put it, “Sometimes the one with no formal power is actually the only one with any remaining power to act.”

Martin Shkreli on the Milo Show

“One of my top scientists has four kids. How is he going to provide for his kids without profit?” So says Martin Shkreli on this week’s Milo Yiannopoulos Show. Shkreli is supposedly the most hated man in America for raising the price of the drug Daraprim from $18 per dose to $750. The way he tells it, it was like buying a wine company that was selling wine for $2.50 cents per bottle but losing money, when all the similar wine was selling for $100 per bottle. He saved the business.

He described being interviewed on CNBC, a business news channel.

I went on there and it felt like they were shaming me for raising the price of Daraprim and I’m sitting there saying, “all fucking day, 24 hours a day all you talk about is profits, and my profits are inappropriate?

Milo laments the regression of America from a place that celebrated success to one where the media and the government like to punish rich people. Shkreli pointed out how people used to love to hate Bill Gates, but they do not any more, now that he is giving he money away. “What else did they think he was going to do with it?” he asks, pointing out that once you have one billion dollars, you can no longer really spend any more on yourself.

Shkreli has been arrested on fraud charges. He says the charges against him make no sense, given that his investors are making lots of money.

In the interview he comes across as a fun guy who annoys the right people. His Twitter feed is entertaining, too.

Update: There is something of an Ayn Rand novel about his questioning from Congress.

War on Sugar

Mars, owner of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s food brands, is labelling its products to tell people which ones they should only eat once per week. It is something to do with trying to get people to eat less sugar, for some reason.

Nutritionist Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “It’s great that they are pushing forward this responsible labelling and raising awareness. “But the challenge we have with it is that only the health conscious will look at the labels in the first place, therefore it’s not going to hit the people who need it the most.”

By which she means poor people who are too stupid to be allowed to make their own decisions. And who are Action on Sugar anyway? The writer of the blog Hemiposterical has found that they are the same people as Consensus Action on Salt and Health, funded largely by the mysterious Marcela Trust. What motivates them, I wonder? (Incidentally, even the NHS is very lukewarm about the harmful effects of salt, when pressed.)

And where did this new war on sugar come from? There is a sugar tax. There is even an app. Made by a quango. It is like a conspiracy of very boring illuminati. And even evil multinational corporations are going along with it. Very strange.

Perhaps it originates from inside the World Health Organisation, who last year urged “countries” to reduce people’s sugar intake by half to 25g per day for adults because sugar causes bad teeth, obesity and diabetes. Yesterday I drank a 330ml bottle of lemonade containing 33g of sugar. I am not obese, do not have diabetes and still have all my teeth.

Put yourself in the position of the head of a government agency. You have an amorphous blob of population and you can poke it with various sticks (such as advice, regulation and taxes) and observe the effects (such as the amount of money spent on certain medical treatments). You can vary the pointyness of the sticks and the amount of poking and get different effects. You keep doing this until you get the effect you want. The truth of the stick is irrelevant. Individuals have no reason to think that there is any truth in government advice. It can be ignored (ignoring taxes is harder). What surprises me is that I observe people making some attempt to follow the advice and berating themselves for failing.

Death to the blasphem… long live the brave reformer!

“Let’s abandon our broken NHS and move on”, says Melanie Phillips.

Dame Julie Moore, the respected chief executive of the University Hospitals Birmingham trust, was asked last week to explain why the NHS was in such difficulty. A lot of it, she believed was down to leadership failure and incompetence on every level. “We’ve created a culture of people who are terrified of making decisions because you can’t be held to account for making no decision but you can if you make a decision,” she said.

Much of the blame lay with previous governments who had centralised power, leaving many of her colleagues “waiting for a command from God on high” instead of taking the initiative.

What Dame Julie describes is typical of highly politicised bureaucracies. In the NHS, this entails a culture of fear from the health secretary downwards. What are they all so frightened of? In essence, that the veils of illusion surrounding the NHS will be torn away and it will be seen to be the failure that it is.

That this is so surprises me not at all. That it is said by a popular, if marmite-flavoured columnist suprises me a little. That the comments ordered by recommendations enthusiastically agree with her surprises me quite a lot. One would get a very different result at the Guardian, of course. The Daily Mail? Right now, I think the Mail readers would feel as free as Times readers do to recount their bad experiences of the NHS, yet would still baulk at the words “abandon the NHS”.