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Kameron Hurley has written an excellent piece on the current ACA mess, probably best considered as a companion to her essay on suviving without healthcare, which contains the following sobering conversation:

If we save the ACA I keep my "in case I'm laid off/fired" healthcare safety net. If we save ACA I could be a full-time writer someday. If we don’t save ACA and I lose my job for any reason, I’ll probably die. Meds are $1500 a month to keep me alive (not counting premiums).

When I went to pick up my latest round of meds and the pharmacy tech asked if I knew the bill ($500) I said "Oh yes. But I’ll die without them. So they kind of have me over a barrel."

And she said, "I guess I would die, then. That’s more than I make in a week."

Makes you realise why socialised medical schemes like the NHS are worth fighting for; why they're as popular as they are once they're implemented; and just what we've got to lose if they disappear...

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Not the best news to wake up to this morning but at least I've got an apposite Jasper Fforde quote to cover it:

"Shows how desperate [Yorick Kaine] is, doesn't it? As a nation, we've been blaming the Welsh and the French for far too long, and with the Russians out of the frame he's come up with Denmark as public enemy number one. He's using the Viking raids of AD 800 and the Danish Rule of England in the eleventh century as an excuse to whip up some misinformed xenophobia"

Fforde, J., (2005), Something Rotten, Hodder, 47

sawyl: (A self portrait)
I've been pretty ambivalent about the whole Scottish referendum thing, largely because, despite Alec Salmond's sweeping rhetoric, a yes vote was never going to result in radical change. But the process itself has been deeply positive, increasing public engagement with politics and bringing issues which matter deeply to people elsewhere in the UK.

Now all the parties have to deliver on their promises for devo max; something they can't be allowed to renege on, otherwise there's no point in believing in anything they say ever again.

But the signs, on the Tory side at least, aren't good. The BBC are currently interviewing a parade of appalling Tories who seem determined to use the devo max promise as a stick to beat Scottish MPs with — something that will hurt the Tories, with almost no presence north of the border, far less than it will the parties — rather than make a show of positive intent and reconciliation. I suppose I shouldn't be disappointed, but it's hard not to be...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
I've quoted this before and I'm doing so again because it seems to capture something about the current political situation:

"...What about Waverley? You'd like that. Walter Scott."
"What's it about?"
"Masculinity and national identity, mostly. Whether it's better to be Scottish and Romantic or English and reasonable."
Nothing out to sea, either. The only thing that moves here now is the grass and the water. "No, what's it about really? What happens?"
She raised an eyebrow.

Moss, S., (2010), Cold Earth, Granta, 238

To give it a bit of context the conversation between Nina, a neurotic literature post-grad, and Jim, an American archaeologist, takes place on an expedition to investigate a liminal settlement on the coast of Greenland. The expedition leader hasn't done much preparation and the group soon lose communication with the outside world. At the same time Nina becomes convinced that they are being haunted by the ghosts of the dead Greenlanders and refuses to leave her tent, choosing instead to remain in bed reading classic novels and fantasising about the food she is going to cook when she gets home. (For a more complete overview, see my review of Sarah Moss' novel Cold Earth from 2010)

sawyl: (A self portrait)
I never thought I'd find myself pleased to see the Tories win a byelection, but the current political climate is so weird that I count this morning's result from Newark as, well, maybe not a good thing but almost certainly the least bad of the likely outcomes...


May. 26th, 2014 10:19 am
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Not much to be positive about in the euro elections, what with Ukip doing well in the UK and the Front National pulling the same trick in France. At least the BNP were wiped out, but even that isn't as good as it might be: the Guardian quotes their leader as saying, when asked whether people had rejected his party's racist policies, "They've voted for Ukip's racist policies instead." Dismal.
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The local election results are in and nothing much seems to have changed in Exeter: the council is still Labour and my local councillor was re-elected. The Lib-Dems lost two seats, one to Labour and the other to the Tories, while the Tories lost a ward to Labour by enough that it can't have been caused by Ukip splitting the vote.
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Why, precisely, should MPs get an 11% pay rise at a time when other public servants have been offered a 1% increases? And why do we even need IPSA? Wouldn't it be better / fairer / less politically difficult to tie parliamentary salaries increases to median public sector wages?

If, as in some of our colonies, there are scarcely any fit persons who can afford to attend to an unpaid occupation, the payment should be an indemnity for loss of time or money, not a salary. The greater latitude of choice which a salary would give is an illusory advantage. No remuneration which any one would think of attaching to the post would attract to it those who were seriously engaged in other lucrative professions, with a prospect of succeeding in them. The occupation of a member of Parliament would therefore become an occupation in itself, carried on, like other professions, with a view chiefly to its pecuniary returns, and under the demoralizing influences of an occupation essentially precarious. It would become an object of desire to adventurers of a low class; and persons in possession, with ten or twenty times as many in expectancy, would be incessantly bidding to attract or retain the suffrages of the electors, by promising all things, honest or dishonest, possible or impossible, and rivaling each other in pandering to the meanest feelings and most ignorant prejudices of the vulgarest part of the crowd.

Mill, J.S., (1861), Considerations on Representative Government

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I find that my estimation of Ed Miliband has gone up several notches after seeing his response to the Mail's recent attempts to traduce his father for, among other supposed sins, having the temerity to be buried in Highgate Cemetery alongside Karl Marx and 170,000 others...
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Despite the cynicism of Osborne's announcement that civil servants will no longer get automatic pay rises — they went out with the ark — there was a certain amount of hope attached to the news that amid the cuts BIS have agreed to fund the next Met Office supercomputer upgrade. No numbers, obviously, but it's definitely a positive sign...
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I initially assumed this was an April Fool, but it doesn't seem to have been retracted:

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Duncan Smith was challenged on whether he could live on £7.57 a day, which was said to be the lowest rate of jobseeker's allowance given to adults under 25. In fact the current rate is £56.25 a week.

"If I had to I would," he replied. Duncan Smith, who has headed up the coalition's welfare changes, said the government's reforms were intended to get welfare "back into order".

Maybe IDS could live on 56 quid a week but there's a world of difference between doing it for short period to prove a point, safe in the knowledge that you've got a comfy income to go back to once the stunt ends, and living on it full time.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Watching the NRA's bizarre mirror-world response to the recent shootings in the US — essentially a claim that a return to Hobbes' war of all against all is better than any form of gun control — it hard to believe they expected to be taken serious. Indeed, on C4 News, Matt Frei had to preface the statement and an example of a typical NRA advert with a series of warnings that the pieces were not intended to be taken as spoofs.
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Instead of waking up to Farming Today, this morning I awoke just in time to catch Romney's concession speech. Sadly, the day went down hill from there. After abandoning this morning's upgrade work because of software problems, we lost power to part of one of the machines during a generator test and, once we'd finally got it back up and running, lost it again when the CPUs increased their power consumption after the workload was restarted — deeply sub-optimal.
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Yesterday's leaked memo about possible changes to civil service terms and conditions has left people more than slightly angry. According to the Guardian, the memo states:

The civil service reform plan states that each department will undertake a review of their terms and conditions. Your review should ensure that your department, and collectively the civil service, continues to be a good employer, offering terms and conditions comparable with, but not beyond what a good modern employer would provide

In my case, the private sector would offer me three times my current salary. Does that mean I can expect the reform to lead to an improvement in my conditions? No, I didn't think so.

It's hard to believe that the government is seriously going to go ahead with such a toxic set of reforms. It's possible to see why the Tories might want to do it — as Mark Serwotka says, it can be seen as their general project to drag working conditions down the bare minimum.

However it's hard to understand why the Lib Dems would agree to it because civil servants are more likely to vote liberal than conservative and because they really can't afford to lose half a million potential votes. Actually, I suspect it's already too late — most people I've talked to, even those realtively apolitical, seem to have sworn off voting for either memeber of the coalition at the next election.

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Todays iPM featured an long and excellent interview with a listener who thinks that gun control laws in the UK are too restrictive. Despite providing some interesting insights into the question it quickly became clear, thanks in part to Eddie Mair's superb interview skills, that none of the arguments put forward by the interviewee stood up to scrutiny and that his case was largely founded on sentimental attachment.

For example, one of the claims was that the 1997 firearms act was unfair and pointless. It was argued that the act, which effectively removed the right to privately owned handguns, would only effect those who chose to surrender their weapons whilst leaving criminals (by definition!) free to continue to own illegal weapons. However this argument is clearly absurd. Taken to its logical extreme, it implies that it is unfair and pointless to restrict any action which might be carried out in a state of nature because it strips the good person of a right whilst leaving the bad untouched (assuming the law is not applied preemptively). Thus, according to this criteria, it is unfair to legislate against murder and theft etc.

Leaving the logical problems aside, there are a number of additional problems with the claim. Firstly, while it may be true that the 1997 act was unlikely to prevent people from continuing to acquire weapons on the black market, it and its 1988 predecessor were passed in response to two serious shootings — Hungerford and Dumblane — in which the weapons were licensed under existing legislation and it is for this reason that they restrict private ownership. Secondly, by limiting the number of weapons, the act effectively reduces the chances of their illegitimate use. When Mair asked whether the interviewee would keep a gun under his pillow if he could, the man replied that he wouldn't because it would put it in each reach of anyone who might invade his home. Thirdly, as implicitly acknowledged by the interviewee in his statement that people now think there is something unusual about being interested in handguns, the act asserts a normative value: in a civilised society, private individuals should have (almost) no reason to own a gun. I suppose this is equivalent to Weber's definition of statehood as a monopoly on violence.

Finally, I think the interviewee's own story fatally undermined his case. Asking him about his general experience with guns, Mair wondered whether he'd ever been shot. Obviously uncomfortable with the question, the interviewee answered that he had. After moving through the rest of the discussion, Mair returned to shooting and asked how it had happened. The interviewee admitted that it had occurred while he was organising a shooting club outside the UK. He had asked a person to leave on the ground of poor behaviour, only for them to return a short time later with an ancient weapon — "a 19th century pile of rubbish" — and attempted to shoot the interviewee in the face. Fortunately he'd been able to distract the person and the shot hit his boot. But, as he admitted, if the person had had a modern weapon, he probably wouldn't have survived.

I felt sorry for the interviewee. They'd obviously had to give up a hobby they loved and, in the post-Dumblane amnesty, they'd had to surrender a rare antique pistol. But at the same time, I feel the law is justified. Shooting not like driving, which while dangerous also possesses a utility value. It's more like drink-driving, something that the person involved may enjoy but which increases the chances of harm to those around them who don't participate and which needs to be restricted for the common good.
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An impromptu gathering at The Rusty Bike to celebrate the downfall of Nicolas Sarkozy at the hands of François Hollande. I'm sure Hollande will be a disappointment in the long run — it's a truism that every political career ends in failure — but in the short term, his not being Sarko gave us a pretty good excuse to go out and have fun...
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At the same time as he's supposed to want to drop the 50p rate of tax, Osborne also seems to wants to scrap national pay rates for public sector workers in favour of regional bargaining, on the grounds that it will bring pay into line with local private sector pay rates. Does this mean that my pay is going to be bumped up to bring it up to the private sector rate? No? Thought not...
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Via BoingBoing, a fantastic post on SciAm by Kevin Zelnio on the horrors of living in the US without health insurance:

I tell my kids not to do things that I certainly enjoyed doing as a kid, like don’t climb high on trees, run a little slower on the trail, watch out for roots and stones! It’s not just the usual parental concern either. I’m consciously thinking “oh my god, I cannot afford to fix them if they get broke!”.

He talks about how his son recently developed pnumonia because they were put off visiting a doctor because of the potential cost and how a previous illness wiped out their saves:

The mindset of being uninsured is not , well... reassuring. It causes you to take risks that your peers do not need to take. It creates a perpetual fear that anything you do will eat up your life savings or kill you. Indeed, it has for us on one occasion. Nearly a decade ago when my wife was in constant pain for over a day, and after she could not take it anymore, I rushed her to emergency room. They had no clue, it was a worthless visit. They just looked at us dumbfounded and tried to get her to take antibacterials and be on her way. They even did unnecessary x-rays. All of that was of course billed to us. We had saved up for 4 years to visit her family in Sweden. Every last cent, about $4000 was wiped clean.

Sure, the NHS may not be perfect. And yes, some treatments may end up being rationed on the grounds of cost. But at least we're not (yet, at least) living a country where we have to measure everything we do against the cost paying for medical care if something goes wrong.

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Via Pater, a video from March last year of Riccado Muti's performance of Va, pensiero in which, after commenting on cuts to the arts budget, the maestro leads the audience in a recapitulation of the chorus:

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As has been widely noted, the Dorries-Field amendment to the Health Bill is nothing if not deeply disingenous. Zoe Williams summarises it rather neatly in the Guardian:

The exact wording is this: the government should provide "independent information, advice and counselling services for women requesting termination of pregnancy to the extent that the consortium considers they will choose to use them". "Independent" is defined as "a private body that does not itself provide for the termination of pregnancies or a statutory body".

In other words, GPs decide how much counselling to provide, and it can be provided by anyone except those performing the abortion. There is no requirement that "independent" mean "not faith-based": we'd have to rely on the discretion of the Department of Health to keep out groups such as CareConfidential, whose "counselling" consists of misinformation aimed at discouraging women from having abortions.

So the use of the word independent in this context is not independent as in morally disinterested in the eventual outcome — as noted, the intention of the amendment is to reduce abortions by a third — but rather, it's a specious claim about the funding of the counselling service that is only being made in order put yet more (religious) obstacles in the way of women's rights to choose. So much, then, for religious ethics.

ETA: The government seem to have got cold feet and are now advising their MPs vote against the amendment...


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