Monday, December 27, 2004

NHS Targets

Good letter in today's Guardian from Prof Alan Maynard on targets for GPs, money quote:

"Donald Irvine and the General Medical Council have at least one thing in common: they have no idea how many doctors are not competent to practice safely. This is because they, like the Department of Health, live in a "data free" world where available statistics are ignored and many activities of doctors are simply not quantified."

Good call, although targets are often criticised, most of them are there to make sure that patients recieve the best quality service possible. The Conservatives are pledged to abolish all NHS targets as soon as they are elected. Targets may be a hassle for good staff in the NHS, but identify the bad ones. We need better targets, not no targets at all.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

More RPG news

I'm always concerned that there's not enough roleplaying on this site, so I've linked to the latest RPG stories at ENWorld for the very latest D20 news.

MMR will get it's day in court

Despite being critical of the motives of some people involved in the MMR scare, I am very pleased that Legal Aid has been reinstated to around 100 families attempting to sue the MMR drug manufacturers as reported here.

There would always have been a cloud over MMR if the big drug companies had won their case simply on the basis of having more money. Now both sides can air their arguments in court and the best side will win. It's certainly a victory for justice being seen to be done.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Nonsense about MMR

Anyone looking at AOL's front page news story

MMR Cheat GP Jailed
Doctor given nine-month jail term for forging results of blood tests to reassure parents over MMR jabs.

would be excused of thinking that the GP in question David Pugh was involved in covering up the "dangers" of MMR. Well, nothing of the sort, he was one of those unethical people busily making money out of the MMR scare, taking £70 apiece from parents for giving seperate measles, mumps and rubella jabs to their kids. Except that he couldn't even be bothered to keep the inoculations in a proper way and so they tended to be useless by the time they were injected into the kids. Then when that was discovered, he covered it up instead of owning up.

Consequently some of the children he "treated" are walking around even now without proper protection from three common childhood diseases. Nine months is a very lenient sentence for someone who would risk children's lives in the pursuit of money.

And a new computer

My Christmas present to myself, brand spanking new PC. Now all I have to do is spend Christmas getting all my stuff transferred over. In the meantime, Lewis has a response to my post on Foundation Hospitals here. I think he's basically right, but his conclusion is wrong, a privatised NHS replacement would not be any better. But that post will have to wait to the weekend.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

I'm back

Congratulations to Guido Fawkes for winning the Blunkett wager, £50 on it's way to him as soon as he gets in touch with how I can get it to him. Terrific visit to Norfolk, successful Christmas shopping and I even had time do to the tourist thing around Cambridge.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A very merry early Christmas

As I'm working through Christmas, I'm taking the chance to visit some of my family who have settled in Watton and Dereham, Norfolk (just south of Iain Dale's stamping ground) to have an early Christmas. I'll not be back until Saturday so no posting until then.

In the meantime, why don't you check out some of my favourites and especially Lewis who is a fellow NHS Inmate over at Musgrove Park, Taunton and whose blog "From Across the Pond" is an interesting read (even if I disagree with him most of the time)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Foundation Hospitals

I was prompted to write this post by a superb report in today's Guardian, there's some here and here with some extra bits in today's dead tree edition

Firstly, I need to say that I am proud to be a card carrying member of the Labour Party and of UNISON, both of whom are opposed to the Foundation Hospitals policy and I'm also running for election as a Staff Governor of the Yeovil District Hospitals Foundation Trust, which should come into being on 1st April 2005. My position on foundation hospitals is positive, but reserved and I'll touch on that later in this post.

Now, to the point of the post, I doubt that the name of Anglian Harbours NHS Trust will mean anything to anyone who didn't work in NHS Finance or lived in the Lowestoft area in the mid 90s. That trust is, and probably will remain, unique the only NHS Trust to ever go effectively bust.

I'm not saying that YDH is ever likely to go bust, nor any of the other local trusts that I have knowledge of, but the main thrust of the front page article in today's Guardian was that the first wave Foundation Trust Chief Executives are chafing at the red tape that the Department of Health and their Strategic Health Authorities are placing on them. This drives at the heart of the problem.

1. Foundation Trusts are meant to give hospitals commercial freedom and the responsiveness to react to local need, but,
2. No Foundation Trust will be allowed to fail, for fear of the political backlash.

Because no Foundation Trust will be allowed to fail, although for obvious reasons no government minister or DoH official will come out and say that, the government will feel that they need to keep tabs on local Chief Execs, make sure that they spend the Treasury's money wisely, because without that tight control, the centre's scared that a Foundation Trust will go mad and go bust.

Today, if today is an average working day, close to 1,000 businesses will start up in the UK, some of them will become successful, but most will end up closing down. The fact that some of those businesses will fail does not mean that the capitalist system is flawed, neither would the failure of a foundation trust mean that the whole policy is flawed, but the government's opponents would not take such a pragmatic view. It is because of that worry that the first Foundation Trusts are shackled in red tape.

I have heard from a few people, dotted around the NHS over my eight years in the service, that "money will be found" and they laugh at attempts to impose financial responsibilty on their areas. This kind of comment comes more from clinicians and former clinicians that have become managers. What's so frustrating and worrying about their comments are that they are right. If you are a department head, a matron or a clinical director and you want a new post created then you have two ways of doing that, you can do it the proper way, get Management Accounts to cost it up, provide a business case of how that's going to improve patient care, go to meetings and finally get it approved, or you can just appoint someone, circumventing whatever financial controls exist. Actually there's a third way, con another manager into appointing the person on their budget so they get the flak instead.

If you pick the second route, then you need a hard head, you will get told off, but you'll be okay if you adopt the the high moral ground argument, after all, your distractors will be talking about merely money, you are only interested in patient care. Eventually you'll get the funding in some future budget round and everything will be okay. But the money has to be found from somewhere and currently, that's from taking money from the pot available for developments, from those managers trying to play by the rules. But under Foundation Hospitals, the rules change, or would if Foundation Trusts were allowed to run free.

I don't want there to be any bail-outs of Foundation Trusts that are doing badly in either patient care or financial stability. I want failing Trusts to be wound up and all the managers (including the senior clinicians, hell even including the likes of me) in that Trust to be sacked. I say that because I want there to be a wake-up call to the kind of managers I've described, the kind of managers that are far too numerous in today's NHS. If there's no bail outs, then those managers that are responsible will get to see the fruits of their labour and the irresponsible ones will have to shape out or ship out.

Foundation Hospitals has the potential to transform the whole NHS for the better, but only if the centre has the confidence to let the trusts grow-up .

Sunday, December 12, 2004

D&D 44th best Christmas Present ever

According to TV Cream anyway. I'll even forgive them getting E.Gary Gygax's name wrong.

"Amplified by the almost permanent presence of The Hobbit on ‘70s and ‘80s English Lit. syllabuses, Dungeons & Dragons offered those who were unpopular in the playground some solace in an imaginary Tolkein-esque world they could control. Manufactured in Standard and Advanced D&D flavours by US company TSR, and based on an original premise by R. Gary Gigax, it mixed medieval Britain with magical folklore and monsters to create a fantasy magpie's nest in which an unlimited number of pretend, non-cardiovascular, but meticulously detailed battles and adventures could take place. How to play? Extensive rule books (but no board) and fiendishly complicated challenges (requiring the appointment of a “Dungeon Master” to preside over events) made it difficult to get to grips with, but AD&D soon established itself as a sort of lunchtime school club sub-culture in much the same way as chess, astronomy and orchestra rehearsals (largely due to it being legitimised by an allocation of early-lunch tickets). A typical game exposition: “Your attempt to cast a spell on the Orc fails and he strikes a blow with his axe. You lose three stamina points”. Much talk of druids, clerics and the Call of Cthulhu; players would grow up with real ale and Marillion-aping folk pub bands called Arcadian Pentangle. For the less dedicated, the Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were a portable alternative. For the disinterested, there were at least the multi-coloured, translucent resin dice with an unexpectedly large number of sides (our favourite was the tangerine dodecahedron)."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Coolest job ever?

As I'm an accountant, I sometimes have daydreams about having an exciting job. Just spotted in the documentaries on LOTR:ROTK:EE a job that someone really did, Barad-dur Destruction Lead. How cool is that?

Interesting Coincidence?

Was just flicking through the channels and caught on Bravo+1 the tv spot for London's Olympic bid. I hadn't noticed the similarity between that ad and Labour's Proud of Britain party political before. Surely Lord Coe isn't being used by Tony Blair's re-election bid?

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Return of the King

Like any self-respecting geek I've bought the extended cut on DVD. Still got an hour to go of it, but I have to do the review now.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Special Extended DVD Version (£29.99)
It's Return of the King, why haven't you bought it already?

Rating 5/5 (of course)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Most pointless news story ever?

From the AOL Sport Channel (unlinkable)

"Southampton Chairman Rupert Lowe believes Harry Redknapp will revive the club's fortunes after his controversial move from Portsmouth"

Well, yes of course he would, he was the guy that signed him to an 18-month contract only yesterday.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The strange world of UNISON elections

It's coming up to time for UNISON to hold it's General Secretary Elections. In order to stand, a prospective candidate needs 25 branches, 2 regions, 2 service groups or the NEC to nominate them.

We invited all four people wanting nomination over to our branch to hear what they had to say. Dave Prentis asked a full-time official to organise a representative to come and talk to us on his behalf.

Said full-time official (I'll not name the person concerned) phoned me on Monday, and commented "I think it would be a disaster if Dave Prentis isn't elected, don't you?". When I replied that my job as Secretary was merely to enable the branch to make it's feelings known, he noticably cooled.

As it happens our branch didn't decide to nominate Dave Prentis, we nominated Jon Rogers of Lambeth UNISON, I didn't vote, but I agree with Jon that full-time officials ought to be doing what the members want and not think that they ought to ignore what we have to say.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Melanie Phillips Update

When I posted my comments below about Melanie Phillips' piece on Muslims I didn't expect her to see them in this off-the-beaten track part of cyberspace so I emailed her at the same time.

I didn't get a reply but am pleased to note that she has acknowledged my post and updated her blog entry accordingly, something I never believed that she would do.

So kudos to Melanie and I'm glad she's proved me wrong.

Strange Priorities?
So David Davis thinks that you ought to be okay to shoot a man in the back, but

he thinks that fast-tracking a visa application (even without the Home Secretary's knowledge) is a sacking issue.

When exactly did the Tories lose the plot?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Welcoming OCS

It was great to see about half of the OCS workforce who will be joining (or rejoining) the Trust in February after eight years of the cleaning service being contracted-out. Once the private companies were prevented from using the poverty-level wages they offer staff as a way to undercut the NHS, the in-house team proved to deliver the best service over the four private companies.

Busy Week

I'm going up to Norfolk to visit my family for a few days next week so have to cram in a lot of work. It's Management accounts month end, so that's busy, also there's more budget setting for 2005/06 and Agenda for Change costing.

On Monday morning I'm going to be meeting some of the OCS cleaners as they are coming back in house from February, in the afternoon going to attend a review on the weekend working trial in HSDU.

Tuesday morning brings the bi-monthly full meeting of the JCNC (Joint Committee for Negotiation and Consultation) that's were the representatives of the staff-side (trade unions and professional bodies) meet with the executive directors of the Trust.

Wednesday has the Agenda for Change Subgroup Leads meeting, I'm staffside lead of the Modernisation subgroup alongside Pat Jenkins, our Director of Operations. At lunchtime a hustings meeting for the UNISON General Secretary elections, Malkiat Bilku is attending along with representatives of the Dave Prentis and Jon Rogers campaigns. Roger Bannister was invited to send someone but it doesn't look like he's going to respond.

Thursday, I've cleared completely so I can actually do some Finance work.

Lastly Friday, I'm in Taunton all day for UNISON's Regional Health Committee.

It's going to be a busy week.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Welcome to Sunnydale delayed again...

From the Eden Studios site.

"We are pleased to announce that after two years and over 15,000+ copies as well as 1,000 limited editions, the Buffy RPG Corebook has sold out.

We are currenlty at work at revising and expanding a new edition of the corebook to be released early next year. This new revised/expanded edition will update the corebook to cover seasons 6 and 7 of the Buffy the Vampire series including detailed developments on the Original Cast. The rules will be expanded to cover the changes made to the cinematic Unisystem debuted in the Origins Award winning Angel RPG Corebook as well as errata changes.

Welcome to Sunnydale will need to be revised to better suit the new revised corebook and has been pushed back to be released with the revised corebook in March 2005."

Welcome to Sunnydale's been on the release schedule for Buffy RPG since the Core Rulebook was released in August 2002, it's now over a year overdue, they've released the preview (a pdf of Chapter 1: Boca del Infierno) and it's been pushed back again?

At least it's quicker than Warhammer FRP's Realms of Sorcery, scheduled for 1987, eventually released late 2001.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Green Ink Brigade II

Flicking through the pages of the Western Gazette this week, the letters pages were relatively calm, but this letter caught my eye. It's worth reprinting in full, the writer's words in italics, my fisking in bold

"Now what do you need if you're a Blandford householder in a conservation area? You need a whacking great 3G base station over six storeys high with another five to follow glowering over the Georgian rooftops."

So what's the point of this? Is he saying that only people in a conservation area deserve to be "protected" from mobile phone masts?

"And what do you need if you're a frail elderly person in a Blandford nursing home? You need a base station pumping out radiation from 50 yards away to resonate with the brain waves in your flagging neurones and break up the DNA."

Oooh, I think I saw that on a Star Trek episode.

"And what do you need if you're a Blandford houseowner? You need 20 per cent knocked off your housing equity."

Ahh, it's a pity the poor houseowner time

"Why? Don't ask me. Ask Blandford Town Council."

But I'm sure he's going to tell us why.

"Residents of the conservation area flocked into a recent town council meeting with our well-founded fears. Also present was Phil Holdhurst of Savilles whose job it is to plant a base station among us."

Remember, one man's well-founded fears is another man's superstitious claptrap.

"My research, from an early report on the USA Environmental Protection Agency which stated that mobile phone masts were a B1 carcinogen risk factor..."

Now, it's getting interesting. I went to the EPA site and all I could find on the site was a piece saying that the control of radiation from what they call cellular telephone towers is the responsibility of the Federal Communications Commission. So I doubt that the EPA have reported anything on the matter. I went over to the FCC site and here's what they have to say.


As discussed above, radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for wireless transmissions such as cellular and PCS signals result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times less than safety limits. These safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the Federal Government responsible for health and safety. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students."

Enough said.

" the recent Dutch TNO report which found headaches and nausea even worse near 3G base stations, is that these things are very dangerous."

I couldn't find any such report on the TNO website but it's not surprising that if you live next to something that you think is going to cause headaches and nausea that's exactly what you will experience, it's not evidence of anything other than a placebo effect. If someone points me in the direction of a report which has double-blind testing, a decently sized sample and a statistically significant effect then I'll believe them.

"As a healer I am extremely sensitive to this sort of radiation and begin to feel nauseous if it resonates in my body."

Did you know that James Randi has a standing $1 million prize for anyone who demonstrates paranormal ability, being able to sense RF at the levels even near a base station would qualify for that prize, so why hasn't he applied?

"Back to the council meeting. Mr Holdhurst knew no more about the health risks than the boy doing the paper round knows about the Guardian's views on GMOs. Also Crown International had not bothered to produce a photographic mock-up of what the base station would look like - something which takes a few minutes on a computer."

There are no proven health risks, there's not much else to know.

"The council turned down the application. Of course, they only have an advisory power these days but it was a small victory. And then, when Crown International bestirred itself to produce the mock-ups (which we judged to be several metres too short) the town council reversed its previous judgment and concluded that what we all need for our greater well-being is a 20-metre base station in our midst."

"Thank goodness for the professionals at Nordon who quite rightly judged that conservation area and a 20-metre base station mast are completely incompatible."

I'll be fair here, a mast in a conservation area, should be denied planning permission unless it's able to blend into the surroundings, but bringing in spurious health "risks" is just plain lying and it causes people to feel ill, hardly ethical behaviour for a healer.

"As for the unprepossessing loads of idiots on the town council. If the best they can do to protect the interests of the town and fellow citizens is to wish a huge irradiating mast in our midst shouldn't they be disbanded altogether?"

I'll pass no comment on the Blandford Town Council, having never met any of them, but calling people idiots because they disagree with him tends to suggest that he's lost the argument.

"All one can say is that if Blandford Town Council in its advisory capacity were advising fleas on how to suck blood, no one would be scratching."

I'm not bright enough to decipher his passing shot.

In the interests of fairness I'm going to email him this post with the invitation to have a right to reply.

Melanie Phillips vs Muslims

As a blogger, I try not to comment inaccurately but one of the reasons why my comments are always open is so if I have errored, other people can and will correct me. Melanie Phillips on the other hand, is a professional columnist, people pay her to write and so, I believe, she has a duty to undertake reasonable research for her topics.

So, we have this piece in which she says the following.

"no fewer than 88 per cent [of young Muslims in the UK] want schools and workplaces to accommodate Muslim prayer times —five times daily — into the normal working day."

Which does give the impression that Muslims are demanding the right to disappear from the workplace five times a day. Now I happened to know that one of the prayers is before sunrise and another is after sunset, and it didn't seem like all the prayer times would fit into the normal working day so I decided to do some research. Five minutes of googling later I had my answer, the prayer times doesn't fit into a normal working day.

I work normal office hours, 8:30am to 5:00pm with an hour for lunch. The first has to be taken before 7am and the last after 6pm (1) so they don't affect work, the second and third can be taken either end of a 1pm - 2pm lunch break. The only one that might affect work (and only in the winter) is the fourth prayer which should be taken within 20 minutes of the sunset, but even there there is an exception which says that you can delay it until about 90 minutes after sunset if it's not possible to pray earlier. So if I were Muslim and my employer said that it wasn't allowed for me to take a quick break at 4:15pm, then I could pray at 5:00pm and that would be okay.

So why has Melanie decided to misrepresent the situation in order to support her argument? I don't know, but as she doesn't provide a comment facility I guess we'll never know.

(1) because the prayer times are based on the sun, the times are only correct for December, in the summer, the first prayer has to be earlier and the last prayer has to be later.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Happy Weekend

This week has certainly seemed to drag but the weekend's here. I'm not going to blog tonight, but be back tomorrow in between preparing for tomorrow's D&D sessions. I've got a newbie campaign in the morning and in the evening Session 9 of the World's Largest Dungeon.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

David Laws vs Yeovil Hospital

Yeovil's MP David Laws (the man who wants to privatise the NHS) is in the local paper (no link yet) yet again attacking the service we provide. Actually he has been pretty quiet lately, there's not many things that a three-star trust providing a five-star service does wrong but he wouldn't praise us for anything would he.

His gripe this time is length of waiting lists, presumably if Laws ever became Health Secretary there wouldn't be waiting lists as long as your wallet could bear it. Interestingly the claims are very vague

"A number of constituents...Some of these waiting between six months and one year" and ended with a hopeful fish "I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has experienced similar difficulties"

As it happens we do have one specialty, Bone Densitometry, where the maximum waiting list is 28 weeks, which is between six months and one year, but only just and that's only because currently we have only one consultant rheumologist in post, with one vacancy out to advert.

Friendly Wager

I'm not going to blog on the Blunkett issue, I don't know enough about the whole thing and it's not really a public matter anyway despite what the Daily Mail thinks. However I have offered a wager with Guido Fawkes and he has accepted.

If David Blunkett is still Home Secretary when Big Ben strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, Guido will donate £10 to the Chalice Well Trust, Glastonbury. If he isn't, I will give £50 to the charity of Mr.Fawkes' choice.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Demise of the NHSU

I'm a bit worried by plans to axe the NHS University as reported here. The NHSU has only been operating for a year and will be replaced in July 2005, meaning it's a lame duck until then.

I've not had any direct contact with the NHSU so don't know how effective they were being, but the reasons for the NHSU to come into existance are still around now. The NHS as a whole is by far the largest employer in Britain and has an vast pool of staff with the talent to go further, they just need the chance. At the same time we have a real skills shortage in most areas, so we are reliant on expensive agency workers or taking skilled staff from other countries. We need to solve this, and the only way we can is to grow our own, we should make it as easy as possible to do this.

I hope that the new NHS Institute for Learning, Skills and Innovation will help when it comes into existance next year.

Running for election

As Yeovil District Hospital is going for Foundation status, I've thrown my hat into the ring to stand for one of the five Staff Governor seats. We were only allowed 100 words for the nomination form and that's way too short for a windbag like me. Still I managed to fit this in.

"I work in Finance as an Assistant Management Accountant but more of you will know me as UNISON’s branch secretary. In that role I have given advice to many staff and taken your concerns and feelings to the highest level. If elected I would carry on working with management on behalf of all staff.

If you wish to vote for me to work for you on the Board of Governors then please consider voting for Sue Chesterman who I have worked with and would make an excellent Governor."

Sue Chesterman is the CSP rep for the hospital and she's also Deputy Secretary of the Staff Side where I'm Vice-Chair. I've advertised this site on the nomination form so I'm expecting a flood of literally couples of extra visitors. If elected I'm going to use this as a forum for letting people know what I'm up to on their behalf.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

At least we managed to score two

Ha ha

The new D&D Basic Game

Dungeons and Dragons Basic Game (Wizards of the Coast, £17.99)

One sunny autumn day when I was twelve, I was introduced to the idea of Dungeons and Dragons by a classmate who used it as his topic for a talk in English class. I was excited by the idea and spent three days cadging bits of money to add to the remains of that week's pocket money. I rushed home from school once I had gathered together the required £8.99, then cycled into the centre of Southampton to the only shop that sold the wonderous game. The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set for Levels 1 to 3. I didn't understand the levels bit at that time, but remember the box, red with white lettering, the picture on the front of a red dragon swooping in, that box enchanted me. Opening the box was even better, two thin stapled booklets in the same red as the box, one for Players and one for the Dungeon Master, a collection of platonic solids to use as dice and a flyer for all the books and boxes you could buy next, all coming out of Lake Geneva (Winconsin not Switzerland).

Twenty years and about one month later, I've been playing for twenty years and DMing for eighteen. There have been various new reincarnations of the red box version and I think I have bought them all to teach newcomers to the hobby. But none have been called D&D Basic and this one is. I cannot bring to it the same eyes as my studious and socially retarded twelve year old self but I have playtested it at the club with Adam, Dave C, Joseph and Rob.

Production Values - The cover has a dragon, but it's not as bold and eyecatching as the original. Inside however, are lots of models, sixteen in all, a set of dice, four double sided map boards and the rulebook. Actually that's not all, there's two tiny (about A6 size) booklets, one for the players with a very basic rules set and one for the Dungeon Master with his first adventure.

These are very good, and the adventure, fighting a couple of kobolds to retrieve a ring of the Baron is well balanced and fair. The adventure could be a springboard to an entire campaign, that's the Baron's Seal on the ring, why would the kobolds want to steal that, were they working for someone, what will the adventurers do with it, use it to thwart the Baron and so on. But the Basic Set doesn't help with that, it's on through the next door and more baddies.

The playtest group had fun with it, so perhaps I'm a bit harsh on the set, but I prefered the Adventure Game's (the previous version, published in 2000) way of setting the adventures, they had seven, each one more long and complex than the last, reflecting the way that the party's reputation was growing in their small town. There's a lot more opportunity to roleplay then.

That said, the rules do make it very easy for novice players and a novice DM to learn to play the basics. It just doesn't give enough insight into what roleplaying can really be about. And for any D&D DM, it's worth getting just for the painted figures (Human Fighter, Dwarven Cleric, Elven Sorcerer, Halfling Rogue, 4 Kobolds, 2 Skeleton Warriors, 2 Orcs, Troglodyte, Dire Rat, Skeletal Wolf and Black Dragon) alone.

Rating for existing players 4/5 buy the box, hoard the models.
Rating for novice players 3/5, the Adventure Game (Wizards of the Coast £6.99) is better but out of print and you'll like the models too.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Turnaround Schools

It's been reported on BBC News that the Tories want to set up turnaround schools, schools outside the mainstream school system that will take on excluded pupils with an aim of providing a "short, sharp shock" and then returning the kids to mainstream education.

I wouldn't want to criticise a policy before careful study, and the details aren't even on the Tory website yet, but I have a couple of misgivings.

The talk of a "short, sharp shock" seems to me like they don't understand that most disruptive pupils have deep seated medical or social problems and can't been turned around quickly. By their nature turnaround schools would be staffed by specialists in teaching disruptive students and so any problems might appear to be lessened in that environment only for their behaviour to relapse back in a mainstream school, that would not help the receiving school or the pupil themselves.

The other one was a comment I heard from Tim Collins, Shadow Education Secretary while I was getting ready for work this morning, it was something like "if behaviour does not improve, the student will stay outside the mainstream education system until they turn sixteen". That might be just a throwaway comment and I might have misheard but does that assume that the disruptive student would not be premitted to take GCSEs or progress onto A-levels etc? That does not seem right to me.

UPDATE: There are vague details on the Conservative Party website now here. There's no "Short, sharp shock" there, in fact they say that pupils will be there longer term in contrast to the "sin-bin" of the current Pupil Referal Units. I'm still worried about the relapse problem, and also about the fact that pupils at Turnaround schools would be following a different curriculum, making their transition back to mainstream education more difficult than it would need to be. I'm not against the idea of separate education for excluded pupils, but I'm not sure that the Conservatives have really thought this through, as a first step though, it's a good start.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Actually, on second thoughts I am against separate education for disruptive students. Eventually, as there's no kind of separate work for disruptive adults, a student has got to learn eventually to play nice with other people. For example, all the way through my time at Bellemoor Secondary, Southampton, I had an arrangement where if I felt myself being stressy, I could walk out of a class, compose myself and either return to the class or sit out the rest of the lesson as long as I reported to the Deputy Head what was wrong, why I felt like that etc. I didn't walk out often, but the knowledge that I was allowed to acted as a safety valve and it cut instances of disruptive behaviour in class down to almost zero. That worked in the formallised setting of a school but you can't be at work and retain the right to walk out whenever you like. Kids have to learn how to overcome their problems instead of finding workarounds to them.

Derbyshire Award

Andrew Sullivan has a host of awards that he gives out on occassion. He has a Derbyshire Award, named after John Derbyshire, for "right-wing hyperbole, hate-speech or manic paranoia" and I'm going to have one too, but not for the same criteria.

My Derbyshire award is for those commentators who born in Britain, decided that this country wasn't to their taste (nothing wrong with that) but then use their self-appointed status of expert on a country they don't like and put the boot in. Hence John Derbyshire's first (and I don't think last) award winner.

"The wretched inhabitants of that other English-speaking nation across the Atlantic, the one I escaped from (praise the Lord!) nineteen years ago, have three lurking fears in their lives: fear of crime; fear of their ignorant, ill-mannered, brutish and corrupt police force; and fear of terrorism. In that order, with terrorism a distant third."

Look, we know you don't like Britain, John, you've made that clear by ripping up your passport and taking US citizenship. But don't sprout off about stuff that you know nothing about.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Starship Troopers News

I'm a bit late on this one, picked it up from Knights of the Dinner Table Issue #97 but I've heard that Andy Chambers, Games Workshop's lead designer for WH40K has jumped ship over to Mongoose Publishing to head up the upcoming Starship Troopers development. Just him being involved makes me want to play the game when it's released.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Free Prescriptions for all

Over at Campaign for an English Parliament there's been a discussion about the Welsh Assembly's plan to bring in free prescriptions for all by 2007. Because the issue of whether free prescriptions is a good idea is way off topic for the CEP pages, I've brought it over here.

Here's my reasons.

Fraud: According to the BBC report, 50% of the population of Wales is eligible for free prescriptions but 89% of all prescriptions are free. Now it's perfectly reasonable to suggest that the exempted groups tend to require more medicines, but it is also true that it is very easy to tick one of the exempt boxes on the back of a prescription and get medicine for free. This ties up a lot of personnel from the NHS Counter Fraud services and more dangerously, help instill the idea that it's okay to cheat the system. Thinking on it though, maybe a patient's access to free prescriptions ought to be part of the Electronic Patient Record and actually printed on the prescription. That would work, but I can't imagine NO2ID liking it.

Overprescription: Because the cost of £6.40 is per item rather than based on the amount of an item, the cost is the same no matter if the doctor is issuing 1 week or 1 month's supply of medicine. Consequently, doctors are more likely to overprescribe than underprescribe, with the result that unused drugs are left, this news report estimates that at £15m per year (I think that might be just the Scotland figure)

Expense: There are many people in this country that live on just over the income threshold for free prescription. Trouble is in many low-paid jobs, no sick pay (beyond SSP) is paid, so to miss work through illness causes them to drop money at just the time they are required to pay extra on medicines. This cannot be fair.

The great thing about devolution is that we can take a look at Wales and see if it works there before embarking on it here.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Green-Ink Brigade - Letter of the Week

As expected, the letters page of the Western Gazette are dominated by hunting, mostly pro-hunt, but including an anti-Blair for not voting to ban hunting one.

With some of them, the hunting issue gets confused with another agenda (emphasis mine)

"As a fox I would like to express my gratitude to those kind people who have fought to stop my friends and I being hunted by dogs and anything else for that matter. All being well we shall soon be provided with full, unhindered Rambler's Rights to Roam and happily pursue our natural depredations of the countryside's livestock. Mark you, as often discussed over chicken stew down in Ye Olde Den, we are still flattered and curious about the dedicated interest taken in our preservation. It is unanimously agreed however that if it ever came to a choice we would have preferred to take pot-luck and be killed instantly by the hounds rather than subjected to slaughter by the Halal method which entails taking some two minutes of pain to die upside down after waiting in a queue for the privilege which does seem rather cruel."

I can perfectly understand the argument of personal liberty used to defend hunting, I have some sympathy with that view. But to combine a "save hunting" call with a "ban something else" smacks of hypocrisy.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

An English Parliament?

In the wake of the massive rejection of the proposed North East Assembly there is an interesting discussion that I've been taking part in over at Campaign for an English Parliament.

I'm a unionist (with a small u), I'm half English and half Welsh, grew up in England and Wales, and went to university in Scotland. I am proud to be English, Welsh and British, often all at the same time, I support England in football, Wales in rugby and if England and Wales ever went their separate ways, I wouldn't know which one to pick.

For the record, here's what I would want to see.

English Parliament (based in the existing Houses of Parliament) House of Commons c.400 members, House of Shires 76 members (2 from each county) mirroring the existing US System.

Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish Parliaments as existing now.

Cornish Parliament, unicameral c.40-50 members

UK Parliament (based either in a new building in London or in York) House of Federation c.120 members based on population, House of Nations 30 members (6 appointed by each parliament).

The Complete Arcane Review

Not enough roleplaying in here despite the title, so here's a post to redress the balance.

Complete Arcane (Wizards of the Coast, £19.99)
The third in the Complete Series after the Complete Warrior and the Complete Divine, The Complete Arcane can be considered as being an additional core book by many groups. Because I would have a tough time excluding a character choice from what is an official book, I hold the Complete Arcane to a higher standard than say a Mongoose Publishing splat book.

Following the format of the previous Completes, Wizards unveil three new base classes. A lot of pre-release buzz was on the Warlock class and unlimited spells did sound unbalanced. However the eldritch blast requires a ranged touch attack, only does 1d6 at 1st level increasing to 9d6 at 20th and even the ability to wear light armour without suffering arcane spell failure doesn't stop the Warlock falling behind the power curve at 6th level. The Wu Jen is a cool wizard-analog with a nice spell list, I'm a sucker for new spells, they don't have to be more powerful, but using a spell that the players don't know does recreate the aura of mysteriousness that all magic should instill.

Then there's the third class, the Warmage. Poor attacks, d6 hit dice, same saves as a wizard, a limited spell list and a combination of sorcerer spell progression with the limitation of having to prepare spells beforehand like the wizard. What's wrong with that? In a word, armour. At 1st level they can wear light armour without incurring arcane spell failure, at 8th, they can wear Medium, and with the Battle Caster feat, that can be heavy armour. That's right, it's not just the party's Paladin that's going to want to Full Plate +5. Somehow the idea of someone blasting fireballs while armoured like a small tank just seems wrong.

After the base classes, the next logical step is to look at the prestige classes. In the two Completes so far, the prestige classes have been split 50/50 between good guy classes and bad guy classes. But in Complete Arcane, most of the classes are specialised bad guys, such as the cthulhuesque Alienist and the Green Star Adept. Even the good guys tend to be too specialised to be very attractive to players such as the teleport-specialist Wayfarer Guide. About the only classes that will see much play are the Mage of the Arcane Order (thankfully fixed from it's last appearance in Tome and Blood), the Enlightened Fist (a kind of monk/wizard) and the Wild Mage. However for a DM, there's a lovely selection of baddies here.

Next to feats and the aforementioned Battle Caster. This is not a good feat to publish and I'm not going to allow it. There's some nice feats here, particularly the metamagic feats that improve certain spells, such as the Sanctum Spell (+1 spell level when standing in a sanctum, -1 when not). Then to spells and a mixture of the good (Anticipate Teleportation, Brillant Blade) and the downright ugly (Fist of Stone - why bother with Bull's Strength when this is better and is one level easier to cast).

The book continues with some items, including some enhancements to spellbooks. But this section is less useful to players than it appears. Most DMs don't like to annoy players by doing things that they have no way of stopping, and wizards spellbooks tended to be off limits for that reason, but now players have defenses for their spellbooks, they have now become targets :-)

The monster section is disappointing, Effigy creatures are a new version of construct, Elemental Monoliths are just very big elementals and the rest nothing to write home about. The book wraps up with some advice on running an arcane campaign (sounded interesting to me until I read it), Spellduels (good) and the obligatory epic level progressions.

Overall 2/5, the weakest of the three Completes so far released, but you still need to buy this book.

Boris throws down the gauntlet

From today's Telegraph

"If I am ever asked, on the streets of London, or in any other venue, public or private, to produce my ID card as evidence that I am who I say I am, when I have done nothing wrong and when I am simply ambling along and breathing God's fresh air like any other freeborn Englishman, then I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it."

oooh, I so hope someone catches that on video. Mind you, Boris is safe, is there anyone who doesn't know who he is?

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Blair impeachment gathers speed

Well, kind of. Frederick Forsyth and Corin Redgrave have added whatever weight they have behind the campaign.

That's get real here, 23 MPs have signed up to the motion setting the impeachment process in motion. Assuming that all MPs vote (except the 4 Sinn Feiners, the Speaker and his 3 deputies) then the motion needs 326 supporters. That would require all 244 opposition MPs and 82 Labour MPs, all only a few months from a general election. That is simply not going to happen.


Somehow I managed to lose the links from the sidebar earlier. They are back now, but apologies for that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Does Blair = Hitler?

Well, obviously not, but one letter writer to the local paper thinks so. Opening lines...

When Hitler attempted the mass annihilation of the Jews there was understandably, an outcry. Yet, today, there is a quiet cancer injected by successive governments doing exactly the same thing to the English.

That actually got published by the Western Gazette. The mind boggles.

David Laws

Nice to see my local MP David Laws making friends in his own party. Liberator has a nice piece in their latest issue. Sticking the boot into Laws about his right-wing views on the NHS (which will see him lose his seat if I have anything to do with it) as espoused in the Orange Book, a lot of it is fun knockabout stuff, but as ever the Lib Dems spoil it with this comment.

"Had Laws waited a year, the book would no doubt have been welcomed as a useful contribution to the debate about what the party should be saying during the next parliament."

Something wrong with letting people know what you think before the election?

Thanks to marsdenfan for the info.

They don't get it

On my way to work this morning I caught a bit of Liam Fox, co-chairman of the Conservative Party sounding just like Howard Dean or John Kerry. I didn't want to misquote him, but luckily the Telegraph have the goods on Dr.Fox.

Dr Liam Fox, the Tory co-chairman, said: "It is clear that they are trying to raise the fears from terrorism in the country at the present time. Now I think that is quite despicable, but it is a desperate Government."

There are people out there that if they could, would kill me and you Dr.Fox, you might not be serious about it, but they are. The real choice at the next election is between people who understand we are at war and people like Fox who don't have a clue.

What TV does Howard watch?

Think back to just last week and the Health White Paper. Two of the proposals were to ban advertising junk food on TV before 9pm and to promote healthy eating in schools.

But obviously I missed something that Michael Howard spotted.

Mr Howard said he welcomed some of the measures listed in the Queen's Speech but predicted the general response would be: "Haven't we heard it all before?"

He criticised the government for downgrading cannabis to a class C drug, something the Tories say jars with the promised new drug testing laws.

He went on: "What does it say about this prime minister's priorities when he talks about protecting children from sweets and crisps but he won't keep them safe from cannabis?"

The last time I looked, cannabis was still illegal, not advertised on TV and certainly not available in school vending machines. So what's Howard going on about?

Tally ho

Some people seem to think that John Prescott's put his foot into his mouth again . He is absolutely right that fox hunting is not even near the top of voters priorities as shown by many polls, that's something the Countryside Alliance was using as a reason for the bill not to be passed.

But Guido Fawkes uses that as a reason why the Parliament Act shouldn't have been passed. But isn't the fact that 700 hours of parliamentary time had been wasted on the confounded issue an incentive enough to use the Parliament Act?

Weblog Awards

I'm delighted to see The England Project nominated for the Best UK blog category in the 2004 Weblog Awards. He shows that you can be proud of England without being a raving nutcase and is well worth a read.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Fantasy Queen's Speech 2

Oh, dear, how could I forget the Lib Dems. Here's my look at Chatshow Charlie's entry.

Scrap student top-up fees and tuition fees.
And increase other taxes to subsidise students

Scrap the unfair Council Tax.
And replace it with an equally unfair Local Income Tax.

Introduce a Citizen's Pension uprated in line with average earnings to reverse the mass means-testing of pensioners.
While I think Britain can afford a living pension for everyone, it's still a vague uncosted proposal.

Introduce free personal care for the elderly.
As is this.

Modernise the police force, reduce reoffending rates, and introduce new systems of justice for the victims of crime.

Looking at the Lib Dem site, I find that this means 10,000 extra police (5,000 more than Howard proposes) paid for by not doing the ID card scheme (1), The establishment of a National Border Force and setting up Community Justice Panels of "local people" to give criminals a way of "paying back the harm they have done to their community."
Sounds like a load of waffle to me.

Ensure that the Environment is put at the heart of public policy-making.
Again looking to see what that is, it's that every bill is "environmentally audited". Every Bill? really?

As is usual with the Lib Dems it's mainly flashy uncosted nonsense, what's wrong with HM Customs and Excise staying the same, instead of being folded up into a Border Force, the name change won't make it better.

(1) Note to Lib Dems, you can't pay for something by not doing something else if that something else isn't something we're paying for at the moment. I can't buy an Aston-Martin out of the money I've saved by not buying a Ferrari if I didn't have the money for a Ferrari anyway.

Fantasy Queen's Speech

We've all imagined what we would do if we became Prime Minister and today Michael Howard has published his. Let's take a look at his big ideas.

to cut back waste and bureaucracy in government in order to "set Britain on a path to lower taxes"
That's what every government says, does anyone believe it?

to introduce measures to cut teachers' paperwork and give head teachers complete control over exclusions from their schools
They proposed the paperwork buster in the Major administration, then dropped it, then voted against Labour's plans this parliament, now propose it. I would be opposed to giving head teachers complete control over expulsions, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the current system of it being a joint headteacher/school governor decision.

to make secure cleaner hospitals and a safer environment for patients its "highest priority" within the National Health Service
My highest priority would be to train more staff for the NHS, but that quibble aside the policy is exactly the safe as the current Labour one.

to restore firmer entry controls into the UK and the creation of a points system for immigration to ensure priority is given to people who want to "work hard and make a positive contribution to the country"
With the increase in people daily commuting and weekend homes across the Channel is firmer entry controls really feasible, or is this "firmer entry controls against people who don't look British"?

legislation to reduce police paperwork and to provide for the recruitment of an extra 5,000 police officers a year
I don't know as much about the police as the rest of the public sector but I can't imagine that police officers do any paperwork that doesn't assist with either securing a conviction or protecting themselves against a charge of harassment. I can't make up my mind on this one.

All in all, I think I was expecting something a bit more bold, this Queen's speech seems a bit wooly to me.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

No news here

I don't want to talk about news that are inconvenient for me to mention so there will be no more mention of the Mordheim Tournament

Game 1 - David L (Portbury Knights) LOST 3pts
Game 2 - Chris C (Yeovil Games) LOST 5pts
Game 3 - Mike A (Portbury Knights) LOST 11pts
Game 4 - Alan V (Portbury Knights) LOST* 11pts
Game 5 - Adam T (Yeovil Games) LOST 12pts
Game 6 - Vince T (Yeovil Games) LOST* 6pts
Sportsmanship Points - 22pts out of a possible 30pts

The * games were games where both players lost according to the scenario rules. Ended up with 70 points and came 18th out of 18.

As I said, I won't mention it.


Staying up till 2am to blog about proposals for dealing with distruptive pupils is not great preparation for a Mordheim Tournament. As I've only played one game of this before (and lost that to Ryan) I would be very happy not to finish in the bottom four.

What to do with disruptive school pupils

Iain Dale (who I normally have a lot of time for, due both to his blog and his contributions to late night BBC Radio Five Live) has picked up on a post from Stephen Pollard about Charles Clarke's plan to share out disruptive pupils amongst all the schools of an LEA (Local Education Authority) instead of just in those schools that have empty spaces. He calls it a ridiculous piece of social engineering, I call it practical and sensible. You can see my comment to his post here.

I do have hands-on experience of this issue, I was expelled from a school at the age of nine for assaulting a teacher. My recollection of the discussions on where to place me are a bit vague, I believe that there was a suggestion that I go to a local special school but that didn't come to anything, then I was all set to go to another middle school, but at the last minute the headteacher of a more local and better school stepped in. Luckily for me my good CAT scores counted for more than my disruptive behaviour (1) and while no-one could say that it was plain sailing from there, it was easier than it could have been.

(1) Note, standardised school tests are nothing new, certainly all Southampton middle schools were doing them in the early 80s, my good scores were more to do with the fact I was born towards the end of the school year and they divided the raw scores by a pupils age than any inbuilt intelligence.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Mordheim Tournament

Okay, it's not roleplaying, but it is skirmish so close, here's my team for the Mordheim Tournament tomorrow.

Welcome to the Blog

I've been mentioned by the always thought-provoking Drake over at The Edge of England's Sword so I'd better get ready for visitors to this day-old blog. I feel a bit like a guy who's having the in-laws over to stay just before finishing the decorating but I'll take any publicity I can get.

It might help if I explain a little bit about the blog. After a long period of lurking and occassional commenting on other people's blogs I've started to engage more on them and after I had to register on Blogger to comment on Iain Dale's site, it was the logical next step to take. I was going to call it the Freedom Files, but then luckily had second thoughts and decided that a) I wasn't that pretentious and b) I wouldn't be any more consistant in my support of freedom than all the conservative freedom types. So what do you have.

I'm a Labour Party member and despite my laziness, occassional activist so I will be partisan. However I will have a pot-shot at my own side if warranted, I hope I'll be fair on this site. If you agree with me, that's cool, if you don't that's just as good, if you're a politics geek, then that's wonderful, we'll have a lot in common. The basic rule is to be polite, to me, to fellow commenters and to politicians of all stripes. One thing I believe passionately is that almost all politicians are in politics because they want to help make people's lives better, you may disagree with their views, but never doubt their motives.

It's particularly apt at the moment when all the things my generation thought about Thatcher and the Conservative Government in the 1980s and early 90s are being revoiced by conservatives themselves about Blair and the Labour Government. Exactly the same sentiments are being raised by the Countryside Alliance now as the National Union of Mineworkers then. In 1985 I belived that Thatcher would never relinquish power peacefully, and I see now that the same claims are being expressed today. Mind you, I do have the excuse of being 13 at the time.

But it's not all politics here, the DM in my name stands for Dungeon Master, the name given to the referee and creator of a Dungeons and Dragons game. Even more than politics, roleplaying is my passion, it's going to be relegated to second place in this blog only because the Star Wars (D20 or not D20) debate aside, it's not as controversial. So if you are totally confused by references to Attack Rolls, Saving Throws or Eldritch Bolts, then it's probably just a roleplaying post.

Welcome to my Blog, I hope you enjoy.

The Olympics

Just been watching the London 2012 promotional film, link here via the BBC site (click on Promotional film). It's a beautiful short film and it's fun catching the sheer number of cameos in there. I think it's probably more for internal comsumption though, how many IOC members are going to even know who Griff Rhys Jones or Johnny Vaughan are.

Best bit, Beckham completing the crossword.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Galloway's Legal Team

Love this post from the esteemable Guido Fawkes

Striking down the Parliament Act?

The inevitable legal challenge to the Hunting Act has started, in fact two of them according to today's Guardian. The first is the attempt to rule the Parliament Act 1949 invalid. Um, hang about here, it's taken people 55 years to bring a claim that a law has been invalidly passed? If I send a claim into an Employment Tribunal more than three months after the incident then it's ruled out of time and these jokers want to go back and rule something 55 years old as invalid.

If the Parliament Act 1949 were to be struck down, I believe it would be the very first law that has been repealed by the courts (1) and not by the elected legislature, as the problems with "judical activism" in the US show, it's not a road we want to go down in this country. If it is repealed, does that mean that the laws that have passed as a result of the Parliament Act being used are repealed as well? Surely that's the obvious answer as the Countryside Alliance want the Hunting Act to be repealed. So that's the following acts done away with:

War Crimes Act 1991 (which allows suspected Nazi war criminals to be tried in UK courts even though the crime took place outside the UK)

European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 (so all the UK members of the European Parliament's elections are invalid - come in Kilroy, your time is up)

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 (the one that equalised the gay age of consent down to 16)

So are the Countryside Alliance pro-Nazi, anti-UKIP and anti-gay now?

Personally, I've always been agnostic about the merits of the hunting ban, if I were an MP I wouldn't have supported it at first, but all the comments of the countryside lobby have pushed me into supporting the ban, just to make it clear to these people that they are not exempt from the law of this country. I am as ever indebted to Melanie Phillips for helping me decide what to think on an issue (opposing Phillips is always a sensible position) with her rant which includes this pearl of wisdom

"But this Act, which has only been used on three occasions, is a draconian measure which is supposed to be restricted to the most fundamental issues."

Err, Melanie, all the three bills above are important up to a point, but does the change from a First past the post to a Closed party list system for Euro Elections really class as fundamental?

Later I will investigate the delicious absurdity of using that bogeyman of Mail readers everywhere, the Human Rights Act to scupper the Act.

(1) I believed wrong, as Drake points out in the comments, the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 had been overturned in the past. My apologies.

CA Geography

Looking on the Countryside Alliance website for a laugh as well as research for the possible effects of the Hunt Ban on the next general election, I came across this oddity.

The Alliance is politically non-aligned and has devolved operations in all 3 parts of Great Britain as well as in Ireland.

So are the CA supporters of an United Ireland, or have they forgotten that the 26 counties aren't part of the UK anymore? You make up your own mind.

Children in Need

Just I know it's populist tat and personally I would gladly pay double my licence fee if the BBC wouldn't put it on, but it is a good cause, so please give.

P.S. Not everything on BBC is infected by charidee stuff, I'm watching a fascinating discussion between Jonathan Miller and Denys Turner on the nature of God and atheism. I'm sure it'll be repeated on BBC4, so if you have a chance, try to catch it.


Someone's been listening to Lembit Opik too much.