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This Blogging Month: May

I’ve surpassed 600 posts this month – another slightly disturbing milestone – and also celebrated my second year of posting. It’s beginning to seem like every month I’m reaching a milestone of some description at the moment – and long may it continue!

Behind the scenes, I upgraded from WordPress 1.5 to 1.5.1, and then up to as well, and then up to Each upgrade was completely painless – unlike the one up to 1.5, and for the second upgrade of the month I have to thank Aldoblog for making it that little bit easier by providing a list of updated files. The new version can be downloaded directly from WordPress. The necessary change to go from to is detailed here.

I’ve got round to fixing the search function, which was slightly buggy in that it didn’t work properly when searching from individual post pages. It’s now fully functional, and tastes great! I’ve also added two new features that allow you to subscribe to either the full site’s posts or a particular comments thread by email. For more information on those, please check this post. I’ve also made an RSS 2.0 feed of the comments left on this site available – you can access it using the link under ‘Subscriptions’ on the right, where you’ll also find a permanent link to the full site email subscription service.

The right sidebar has been tidied up a bit, with links to more posts than previously – the most recent (new), most viewed, most commented (new), and most random. I’ve also increased the number of adverts ever so slightly, and made them match the design of the site more closely so that they don’t stick out so much. I decided that it was sensible to increase the number of adverts following last month’s close call with respect to getting enough cash from advertising. I’m sure you’ll be as delighted as me to find out that this policy appears to have worked, with me reaching a record 278% profit this month – this isn’t quite as good as it seems, as it’s quite likely that the hosting fees will increase soon, since this site is starting to become ridiculously popular, now averaging almost 3,000 hits per day – only seven months ago, I was receiving less than twice that figure per month. I’ve also had quite a few emails this month, complementing the site – so thank you very much for those, they always make me smile.

The most popular post of the month was one that was actually published last month – My first missive on Su Doku. The most popular post actually posted this month was my brief history of Su Doku in the UK. I’m beginning to think that Su Doku might be quite popular…

And I think that’s all I can say to round up May!

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

Trade justice wristband not just

It turns out that the Make Poverty History white bands on the wrists of everyone who’s into such things at the moment has been made in factories which break Chinese working conditions law, as well as the standards of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Mainly because it uses forced labour and pays less than the minimum wage. Oops.

From The Grauniad:

A Cafod spokesman said: “We are disappointed this situation has arisen. However, we are now engaging with the supplier to improve conditions within the factory. Under the Ethical Trading Initiative standards, when we find out a supplier isn’t in line with those standards we don’t just pull away. We attempt to engage with the supplier and work with that supplier to improve conditions so they are in line with the Ethical Trading Initiative standards.”

Personally, I prefer this from The Indy:

“We were stupid,” said Dominic Nutt at Christian Aid. “We didn’t check it out, Cafod didn’t check it out, and Oxfam didn’t check it out.”

Really, though, this is the kind of thing you’d hope these charities would look into before they order tens of thousands of items. You’d think it would just be part of their day-to-day practice, to check out companies before ordering from them. But, to give Oxfam credit, whilst they ordered 10,000 wristbands from the affected factory, they haven’t sold these. It doesn’t really make much difference, because presumably the factory will still be paid, but I guess there’s not much more they could do in the circumstances.

Also in the Make Poverty History circle today, Bob Geldolf has been announcing the details of the Live 8 concert he’s planning for five weeks from now. Whilst it’s admirable that so many stars are coming together in this massive event for charity, I don’t understand the point of it. It isn’t being used to raise money, it’s supposed to serve as a message to politicians. Which I don’t understand. After all, people are not going to see these concerts because they support the cause, they’re going to turn up and tune in to see the celebs – so it’s going to send no greater message than that the public like pop acts. Which I think we already know. So what’s the point?

Surely, a more logical thing to do would be to ask people to amass at the stadia without any incentive, but simply to try and persuade politicians. This would not only spare the people of Edinburgh the descent of a million people on their city, but it would also actually send a message. The small problem being, not many people would go.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

The man from Paris: He say ‘Non’!

With fifty-five percent of the French voters giving the EU consitution the thumbs down, many of today’s papers are using words like ‘crisis’, ‘confusion’ and ‘fear’ today. There’s even talk of ‘huge’ margins, which seems a bit over the top. Even The Indy, which declared on Saturday ‘The significance of this poll lies in the campaign, not the result’, gets its knickers in a bit of a twist. Though it does seem to accept the result of this referendum, unlike Tony Blair’s victory in the General Election. Nobody seems to even mention the 70 percent turnout, and ask what it is we could learn from this. If we Brits have a referendum, I’d be surprised if fifty percent of voters bother to vote.

The Guardian has Europe stunned by the result, and its wesbite has Tony Blair calling for a time of reflection. This combination makes it sound rather like somebody’s died. They even seem to be progressing through the various stages of grief: We’ve had denial all this week, while they’ve been clinging on to the hope that a ‘Yes’ vote might just happen, and today we appear to have moved on to anger:

France’s no is highly damaging to the credibility and popularity of the EU, already in very poor shape as shown by the record low turnout in the European elections last summer.

You evil French people… You’ve let the EU down, you’ve let Chirac down, but most of all you’ve let yourselves down.

The Telegraph is obviously pleased that the vote has gone their way, and they’ve done the predictable thing of printing a picture of a smiling Chirac casting his ballot.

The Mail’s position can be summed up by saying that it’s the fifth headline on their website, just below “Rod’s daughter steps out with stepmum’s ex” and two Big Brother headlines. Despite the fact that today’s print edition says Big Brother has ‘reached new levels of debauchery’.

So what does all this mean for the future of the Constitution? Well, pretty much what we’ve all known for weeks. It’s not going to get very far without some redrafting. Which is incredibly predictable: You won’t get hundreds of millions of people of different countries and cultures to agree to a 400-page document easily. And, to be perfectly honest, I’d be surprised to see it happen at all.

It’s clear to anybody that the EU isn’t working, and is in need of reform. But the reason it isn’t working is because it’s tried to become something it never intended to be in the first place – so the foundations are not appropriate. And to wait until there are twenty-five members and then try and negotiate a new set of firmer foundations seems rather silly. Yet this is the situation in which we find ourselves, and there’s not an awful lot that can be done to change the past. So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. It would be impossible for the EU to break up completely, because some of the bonds are too strong. Piecemeal reform of existing agreements wouldn’t solve the overall problem. So it looks like we’re stuck with what we’ve got for now, with all of its quirks and inconsistencies. The existing treaties may not be a practical way to manage the newly enlarged EU, but, at the end of the day, when has European politics ever been straightforward and practical?

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

More crazy frogs on TV…

…as the French go to the polls in their referendum on the EU Constitution. My jokes never improve on this site, do they?

For all the coverage of the vote in today’s Sundays, there seems little point in commenting until the decision is made and announced. But, hey, this is a comment site so I feel somewhat obliged. The Grauniad website has published a 7pm update, as most of the polls across France close. It looks fairly clear that this is going to be a ‘Non’ vote, unless everyone has followed this voter’s lead:

Katia Volman, a 22-year-old student, left her ballot blank, saying the issues were too complicated to fully digest. “I had so many reasons to vote yes or no so I left it blank and that way I won’t regret my decision two days later,” she said.

Shortly afterwards, she returned herself to her usual wooden box, which she locks herself in night and day, claiming that the world is too complicated and she doesn’t want to do anything in life that she might later regret. The reason being that she wants Edith Piaf singing ‘Je ne regrette rein’ at her funeral. Or perhaps I’m just being cruel.

The Sindie says much the same thing; the Torygraph manage to write a full article on the referendum without mentioning Tony Blair, which is fairly impressive, even in their Q&A about what will happen if the French vote ‘Non’. At the other end of the spectrum, the first word in the Times’s article is ‘BRITAIN’.

Other newspaper websites lead on clearly much more important stories than the future of Europe: ‘Has Cilla been jilted for a young blonde?’ – The Mail; ‘Posh and Becks [sic] bubbly boozathon’ – The Mirror; and ‘Huntley’s devil woman’ – The Sun.

I also nearly forgot to mention that the Guardian has a rather exciting game, to explain the various different possible outcomes of the referendum, on it’s website. Exciting, of course, if you like that sort of thing. Which I’m not ashamed to admit I do. Well, a little bit ashamed, I guess.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Attorney General: Before and After

Lord Goldsmith, our Attorney GeneralWhen trying to decide what exactly the document Lord Goldsmith produced and put before the House of Commons before the vote on the War in Iraq actually was, it would seem sensible to consult it’s author directly. Not surprisingly, when the Daily Telegraph interviewed him earlier this week, they did, and received the following response:

I never said it was a summary.

Except, if we flip back to November 2003 in Hansard, then he was, erm, saying it was a summary:

This statement was a summary of my view of the legal position

So he did say it was a summary, whether he likes it or not.

To provide you with a summary of my own: When the full document was secret, his document was a summary; Once the full text was released and everyone could compare, it suddenly wasn’t a summary. Funny, that.

We know that the Blair government likes massaging the facts a little, but here he’s on record as directly contradicting himself. He’s absolutely doubtlessly proven as lying. Yet, far from resigning, he hasn’t even been sent out into the frenzied world of the media to apologise, or even clarify his comments. And all of this from a government which promised to be ‘whiter than white’.

If we were observing a developing nation with a government that was lying about the process of deciding about launching an internationally condemned war, not only would we have a few nasty things to say about said government, but there would be those in our government who would want military action taken against it. And yet when it’s people in their own government doing it, they don’t seem to mind quite as much. Talk about double-standards.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

More on Su Doku

Having now completed The Times Su Doku Book One, I’ve now bought and moved on to Book Two – which is available now, even though it isn’t technically scheduled to be released until 6th June. Sadly, the people at The Times have clearly not had the time to write another introduction or foreword to the second book, as those pages are direct copies from the first. But there are 100 new puzzles, and that would seem to be the most important things.

Also available now is the Telegraph’s Sudoku book, which I haven’t had a proper chance to look at and see whether or not it is much good. Forthcoming titles in this crazy world of puzzle mania include: The Times Su Doku Book Three, The Big Book of Su Doku, The Telegraph Sudoku 2, and The Official Su Doku Puzzle Book: The Utterly Addictive Number-Placing Game, Book 1. I think it’s fairly clear to see that this simple puzzle is turning into a publishing craze, as well as a newspaper craze.

Since I last wrote on this topic, The Guardian have launched a Sudoku section of their website, joining those of The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Mirror, and very possible many others that I’ve missed. The Times and The Sun also now allow you to download Su Doku to your mobile phone.

The Su Doku craze must surely be reaching its peak by now. Even as someone who’s been playing the puzzle for some time, it’s becoming quite tiresome to hear about it constantly. And I even feel obliged to come on here and write about it, because it’s all over the media. I hear that there are even plans to make it into a television show. But for those of you who aren’t tired of the craze, you can click on any of the book titles above to buy them from Amazon, and I’ll get a nice kick-back to keep the site up and running.

Of course, the most interesting question here is not so much about the puzzle itself, as much as it is about why it has become quite as popular as it has. It’s clearly got something to do with the fact that the rules are simple, there is a big feeling of satisfactation upon completing the puzzle, and there’s no prior knowledge required. But that logic could be applied to any number of number puzzles. If the books weren’t making bestseller lists, I would insist that the puzzle isn’t as popular as it appears, and that it’s all a media ploy to get people to buy a particular newspaper. But that suggestion isn’t borne out by the evidence. So why is this craze happening? And how long will it last? As with all things, only time will tell.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

Voluntary Euthanasia

A couple of days ago, the Head of Communications at the Voluntary Euthanasia Society sent me the following email, which essentially asked me to reconsider my position on voluntary euthanasia in the light of three recently published documents: Lord Joffe’s Bill on Assisted Dying, a select committee report, and the most recent report into the way in which Oregon’s system works.

I’m surprised as I glance through the archives of this site that I’ve never gone into my position on euthanasia any more than in my brief comments here. But those comments do represent the general basis of my position: I’m in favour of voluntary euthanasia in theory, but have yet to see a workable model in practice.

I’ve read the bill, I’ve glanced at the Oregon report (but admittedly not studied it), and, most clearly, looked at the handy Flow Chart provided by the VES. And I still have my concerns about it, and still wouldn’t be able to support this particular bill. Here, I will explain some, but not all, of my reasons behind this decision.

My first, and possibly greatest, concern is that doctors will be asked to play an active role in killing someone, be this through supplying them with the medication to do so or actually administering them when the patient is unable to do so. This, whilst perhaps not in a legal sense, certainly in a moral sense changes the nature of the doctor. I see the role of a doctor in the traditional ‘first do no harm’ sense, and to ask doctors to actively kill patients changes that perception irrepairably, even if this is what the patient themselves wants.

The situation reminds me somewhat of the often-quoted medical case of the man who wants his left-leg amputated because he believes that this is important for his religious beliefs, as he has sinned and must pay for these sins. Despite the man’s clear request, and despite him having reasons which appear valid – even crucial – to him, it is still unethical to amputate the man’s leg, as it would do him harm with no particular medical benefit.

Clearly, there is something of a gulf between amputating the leg of a healthy man and helping a terminally ill patient to die with dignity, but the underlying ethical principle is, perhaps, not that much different. I recognise, as the Hippocratic Oath states, ‘that prolongation of life is not the only aim of healthcare’, but I equally agree, as it also states, ‘not [to] provide treatments that are … harmful’. We can then get into a philosophical argument as to whether the ending of someone’s suffering is actually harmful or helpful, but I think the meaning of the Oath is quite clear.

Another reason not to trust doctors with this power is that they’re notoriously bad at discussing death. Many patients who should have discussions about whether or not they want to be resussitated don’t have them, because we all find it difficult to sit down with a patient and say, ‘Well, it looks like you’re going to die. Shall we discuss it?’. And there is, as far as I can see, no provision in the bill for further education for doctors to overcome this difficulty, nor any procedure by which this topic will automatically be discussed with patients who are in this category. If the doctor doesn’t bring this up, and there is no system of making patients more aware, then you effectively disenfranchise those patients of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who may not be up-to-date on DoH policies on such things.

And it’s also worrying that, as part of the declaration process, a solicitor of all people is asked to judge whether a patient is ‘of sound mind’. What possible training does a solicitor have to recognise such attributes? The bill also states that the patient should ‘understand’ what the declaration means. What exactly is meant by the word ‘understand’? Are they to be given an explanation of simply the outcome – that they die – or the process? And if the process is to be explained, to what level is the explanation to be given, and how is the understanding to be tested? In most cases, doctors make a judgement here, but when it is quite literally a matter of life and death, I wouldn’t want to be the person responsible for giving the explanation, or indeed checking that the patient understands. The language is far too woolly.

Whilst I have these practical objections, I think it is a terrible scar on the conscience of our society that we force people in terrible pain to extend their suffering. The patient’s right to death is as important as their right to life. My problem is simply that I can’t see an effective way of putting this system into practice, as I’m not comfortable with the treatment being administered by doctors, yet cannot see who else would be a natural choice for performing the procedure. And I don’t think it’s right, on an issue as important as this, to go with a bill that’s simply ‘as good as we are going to get’. This bill needs to be looked at in much more detail, examined as with a microscope until even scintilla of doubt can be removed from the whole process. There’s no room for ‘no reasonable doubt’ in a bill to do with certifying people to death – there must instead be an abscence of all doubt. And until such a time as I feel that this has been effected, I simply cannot support this bill.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

The ‘theft’ of medical staff from the developing world

There’s a very sobering piece in today’s Independent, with regard to an investigation they’ve conducted into recruitment of medical staff from abroad – particularly Ghana.

At the main Komfo-Anokye hospital in [Kumasi, Ghana] … Hundreds of patients besiege the accident and emergency unit each morning, staffed by a single doctor and a handful of nurses, and serving a city of more than one million.

A critical shortage of medical staff who have been lured away to work in hospitals in Britain and the US is crippling Ghana’s health service. The rich countries of the West are systematically stripping the developing world of their doctors and nurses in one of the worst acts of global exploitation in modern times.

The hospital is in a critical state … Almost 1,000 nurses and 150 doctors have left Ghana for the UK in the past six years, and the flow is accelerating. Hundreds more have gone to the US, Australia and other countries in a mass migration fuelled by the worldwide demand for medical staff.

At 3pm on a Thursday, there were still more than 100 people waiting to be seen in the accident and emergency unit crammed on to the blue benches under a high roof. A young man stripped to the waist lay full length on the concrete floor, unattended, victim of a mob beating after he had been caught pickpocketing.

As I stopped to talk to Ajala, the mother of Fawuzani, a bright-eyed six-month-old boy with a fractured skull, the injury clearly visible in his misshapen scalp, others crowded round thrusting X-rays at me, begging me to examine their children. A young mother in a red T-shirt pushed her son forward who had large swellings on his head which she described as boils. Another woman with pleading eyes stood her four-year-old in front of me and lifted his T-shirt to reveal a grotesquely swollen scrotum.

The whole article makes for very moving reading, and it seems to suggest that this government’s present policies on not recruiting from countries where the medical staff are desperately needed is simply not working, and clearly needs to be re-examined. But, of course, refusing to hire such staff severely limits their individual prospects in life – surely it is only fair to allow these people to get the best job for the best pay of which they are capable of obtaining.

Clearly, in an ideal world, we would pay medical staff in Ghana the same as in Britain through our international aid budgets, but that’s simply not a practical solution as it would obviously be far too prohibitively expensive – we can’t even seem to afford a decent wage for some nurses in this country! The other ‘ideal’ solution is to create enough medical staff to cover our own needs – but that’s unlikely to happen too, as we’re not training enough, and people perceive many medical jobs to be unattractive. So what is the solution? I can’t think of one… but surely our elected representatives, supposedly some of the greatest minds of their generation, should be able to…

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Higher Education funding crisis

Since Mr Blair feels that HE Funding is in crisis, can anybody tell me why funding should not be directed away from the following degrees (seen in today’s Indy UCAS Extra supplement), and towards degrees which directly lead to essential public service provision: Knowledge representation; Ornamental fish; Tree protection; Vibration. Why is taxpayers money being directed towards people who want to have a degree in ornametal fish, of all things? I’ve tried to find more about this particular degree, but Manchester Metropolitan University appear to have chosen not to list it in their online prospectus. So if there is any value, they’re not allowing me to see it.

This post was filed under: Politics, University.

Slow news day at the Mail

I know editors have it tough when there’s not much to report, but today’s Mail is so unintentionally hilarious that I feel the urge to share it with you.

Page 2 has a big mug-shot of Littlejohn (apparently not a recent one), and a report that he is rejoining the Mail. Somehow, they completely fail to mention that he’s joining them from The Sun. Clearly, they don’t want to be seen as a newspaper that accepts The Sun‘s castoffs.

Then we have ‘Complaints may force a change in the weather’, a bit of a moan about the BBC Weather, that contains no real news, but just a rehash of last week’s articles, even repeating the syndicated quote by Bill Giles, as if it is fresh. And a complaint about ‘digitally generated rain’ – so presumably they want us to go back to magnetic symbols.

Next, we learn that the word ‘cost’ has finally disappeared from the Mail lexicon, with the headline ‘Delays that rip off customers to the tune of £370m will go, eventually’. Unfortunately, that particular headline is wrong on so many fronts as to be completely false, and contradicts the article completely. That’s one subeditor that needs firing, then.

Then there’s an article by some moaning teenagers who think they’re hard done to because they go to private school, are predicted three A-Level ‘A’ grades, and yet have still been rejected by all their chosen universities. Apparently, they feel like they are being treated as second-class citizens. Have they not considered that A-Level grades aren’t the only thing that is considered when applying to university? Frankly, if they moan as much as they do in this article, I wouldn’t want them in my university either. One of them is a propective medical student, who applied to three London colleges and Brighton and Sussex. Everyone who applies to the London colleges has, at bare minimum, three ‘A’ grades. That’s the very least you’d need. So to find he’s been rejected should not come as a surprise, particularly as he’s only studied two sciences. And he thinks people should be chosen purely on grades. Well that’s probably exactly why he’s been rejected.

The Mailscience reporter Robin Yapp files a report on ten questions that find whether you’re blessed with that special charisma magic. Including, of course, the predictable picture of Diana.

There’s a fascinating double-page spread on pop stars who look a bit like rock stars. Amazing. Oh, and then there’s the equally amazing story of a small person who – get this – had a small flat! Hilarious! Followed swiftly with another double-page spread about Jamie Oliver’s wife’s experiences of giving birth. How much did she get paid for that?

A ‘leading doctor’ – by which they mean someone who no-one’s ever heard of who works in that world-famous Leicester hospital – suggests that parents should not be told the sex of their babies before they are born in case they decide to have an abortion based upon that knowledge. Except that’s almost certainly not what he said.

‘I had surgery to pin back my ears. Then one fell off.’ You couldn’t make these headlines up.

And the depressing thing is that I feel I’ve had to pick-and-choose from the ridiculous stories, otherwise I’d be sat here all day. So, if you want a laugh, go and buy today’s Mail. Or check the website; current top story: “I let my girl have sex at 11, admits mother “.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

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