Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lighters II

So here we have our latest range of cigarette lighters ... whoops, spliff lighters! A little bit racist and anti-Rastifarian methinks ... but I do love the ganja theme!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.
Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK.
For nigger-killin’ lawmen, feelin’ their notches.
For decent church-goin’ women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers.
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind the own business.
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the memories—all right let’s see your arms!
You always were a headache and you always were a bore.
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

I've read most of William S. Burrough's but had never come across this - I wonder what he would add to this today.

Video clip here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Black and White

I learned how to play chess as a child and, although I have never forgotten the moves and basic rules, I was never very good at it. And I never had patience for those newspaper chess puzzles ...

However, this one, presented in Futility Closet, is incredibly simple but requires some lateral thinking.

White to mate in two moves by Auguste D'Orville

Black cannot move anywhere - neither the king nor the two pawns. White can move its king and two knights in various directions but to what advantage? It would still not allow black to effectively move. However, if the white knight in the lower right quadrant moves into a position by which the only move black can make is to take the white knight. This allows the white pawn to move two squares forward thus checkmating the black king.

Simple, huh?

The Health and Social Care Bill 2011

As part of its campaign against the UK government's Health and Social Care Bill 2011 (which has unfortunately passed both the House of Commons and House of Lords), 38 Degrees (a campaign organisation one of whose aims is to oppose the aforesaid legislation) commissioned two legal opinions on the likely impact of the Bill.

1. In the matter of the Health and Social Care Bill and the application of procurement and competition law

2. In the matter of the Health and Social Care Bill 2011 and in the matter of the duty of the Secretarty of State for Health to provide a national health service

They are difficult reads - the nuances of legal language, the references to national and EU legislation and case law interpreting the legislation are indeed complex. So much so that I wonder whether our honourable Members of Parliament took the time to read them, and understood them even if they read them.

Although the subject of the second report is perhaps clearer to the public - the absolution of the Secretarty of State's power to govern the National Health Service and its devolvement to the private sector, the first report is of more interest dealing with the nitty-gritties of applying the bill to the daily running of the NHS.

The first issue is whether the NHS is subject to national and EU procurement and competition law. This depends on whether the NHS or its constituent parts are considered to be "economic undertakings" - if so, then they are subject to procurement and competition law. Legislation is appropriately vague as to what constitutes an "undertaking" and there has been no definitive case law to define this.

The new bill promotes the formation of "consortia" comprised of both public NHS components and private entities (with existing Alternative Provider Medical Service - APMS - contracts) to undertake commissioning/procurement.

(A by-note: APMS contracts "are intended to be used for the provision of essential services, additional services where GP practices opt out, enhanced services, out-of-hours services or any one element or combination of those services. There is therefore already considerable involvement of the private sector in the provision of NHS health care services.")

Individual members of the consortia, whether public or private, will be able to bid on the very procurements they have drawn up. So all of us consortia members sit around a table to elaborate the procurement that we will all individually bid on!

The current cost of running a procurement for an individual authority is from £5000 to £30000+. This will rise under the new legislation - for example, the grandiose NHS information technology project is now being devolved to individual authorities (who these will be is uncertain as the bill also aims to restructure the entire bueaucracy of PCTs, SHAs. Foundation Trusts etc). The cost and complexity of IT procurement will rise. Procurement run by the consortia or amalgams of consortia will be on a larger scale than previously run by individual authorities.

So we now arrive at Kafka's Castle.

"The complexity of the regime and the administrative burden in complying with the rules (which are constantly evolving through a rapidly expanding body of case law) cannot be underestimated. Even if consortia were to expend resources recruiting the expertise of procurement consultants in order to assist in early stages, it is very likely that those consultancy services themselves would require to be procured through the Regulations through a full competition where those contracts exceed the relevant threshold of £156,000."

i.e. to recruit a procurement specialist to help you draw up your procurement package may be above the current limit for non-competitive tendering which is £156,442. So you are going to have to put out a competitive tender for a procurement specialist to help you draw up a procurement!

EU legislation classifies service procurement into two categories - Parts A and B. Part B services are not subject to the full range of EU competition regulations. Health and social services come under Part B. However, non-clinical services and goods, such as information technology, fall under Part A and are subject tho the full extent of EU competition regulations. There are apparently moves afoot to abolish this two tier approach and make all procurement subject to the full range of regulations.

In spite of all its anti-EU rhetoric, the government seems pretty keen on EU competition/procurement regulations and is pushing for the NHS to become a commercial health provider.

Chewing sticks

Another meme - I have been known since adolescence to have a taste for "eating" plastic, particularly ballpoint pens. I could never abide the sickly sweetness of bubble or chewing gum. Tough chewable plastic is better than brittle plastic that breaks too easily and splinters in the mouth. A biro cannot reach the end of its natural life once I get to work, or rather chewing on it!

Morais was determined to break me of this habit so provided me with some sticks of Pau Ferro, literally "Iron Stick", which as its name suggests is extremely hard but highly chewable and with a slightly astringent bitter flavour. It has had the desired effect!

But I wonder if my life would have been different if these had been around - liquorice bark pencils! These have been specially designed for inveterate pencil chewers. The graphite only comes halfway up the pencil leaving a full two inches of delectable liquorice to chew on. I can see this easily being adapted to ballpoint pens.

Dangers of Licorice warns me that eati
ng too much liquorice can lead to irregular heartbeat or even heart failure due to its glycyrrhetinic acid content. If you tend to overchew, you might be advised to seek out DGL (de-glycyrrhizinated) licorice.

From the Smithsonian (via bpoingboing):
"Liquorice Wheels when consumed in large quantities, (glycyrrhetinic acid) can cause your body’s potassium levels to fall to the point that some people experience arrhythmia, a rise in blood pressure, swelling and even congestive heart failure. People taking diuretics or medications for high blood pressure should be especially wary as the licorice may inhibit the effectiveness of the drugs. How much is too much? According to the FDA, a diet including 2 ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks might merit a trip to the hospital to have an irregular heart beat checked out. And consuming one to two pounds of licorice candy in one go may cause the blood vessels in your eyes to spasm, causing temporarily impaired vision. Though predominately a concern for persons over 40, it is recommended that everyone should moderate a high licorice intake."

One symptom of potassium deficiency is leg cramps from which I have suffered in the past. My solution has always been to eat lots of potassium-rich bananas!


Funny how memes crop up both within and across websites ... and you often don't pick up on them until you're laid up in bed, as I am now, and can do some intensive extensive Internet reading.

A cross-website meme has just come to my attention. boingboing took me to the marvellously whimsical blog the Futility Closet where I found this quote.

“My opinion of mankind is founded upon the mournful fact that, so far as I can see, they find within themselves the means of believing in a thousand times as much as there is to believe in, judging by experience.”

Augustus De Morgan

How true!

Back at boingboing I come across this post Why being wrong makes us angry on a presentation given by the science journalist Christie Anschwanden at the National Association of Science Writers conference on why people get angry when presented with evidence that their beliefs are wrong.

Maggie Koerth-Baker rightly concludes that "we all (me included) need to remember that being questioned — and being wrong—doesn't mean there's something wrong with us."

Which obviously leads on to the recent "discovery" of neutrinos that travel faster than light (by a staggering 60 nanoseconds i.e. billionths of a second!) at the CERN particle accelerator. The scientists who observed this were so surprised and mystified that they decided to publish their results on the open source arXiv website which publishes pre-peer review research papers. The scientists want feedback - as boingboing says, this a way of saying "Woah, we just found something crazy, please tell us if you see something we've done wrong".

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Do I need a Doctor?

Seemingly not ...

"The statement “You will recover from this illness” is either true or false. If it’s true, then it has been true for all eternity, and you’ll recover whether you summon a doctor or not.

If the statement is false, then it has always been false, and you will not recover even with a doctor’s aid.

So there is no point in calling a doctor."

From Cicero’s De Fato. Thanks to the Futlity Closet posted as Healthcare Reform!