Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Businesses must treat everyone fairly.

UKIP Lewes District Councillor and prospective MEP Donna Edmunds said, on the Lewes Forum, today

"…all business owners, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, should be allowed to withhold their services from whomever they choose whenever they choose."
She, apparently, thinks that businesses should be free to choose, but also thinks that they should choose to do the right thing. I presume, also that she thinks they would do the right thing. But, she's ignoring history here. Rosa Parks, and countless others, have fought hard to get equal rights in all walks of life, not just the right to use buses and enrol at Universities. In the end, the rights had to be granted through legislation.

There are two reasons that legislation was used. First, progress without it was just too slow, and second: that's how we express our views in a democracy. Of course, as a Liberal, I'd rather avoid legislation where possible, but in this case it's clear that legislation was required. Businesses benefit from all sorts of legislation that protects their legal identity, intellectual "property", physical property, and accrued financial assets. In return, we expect certain standards of behaviour from them: including fair treatment of all citizens.

I'm pleased to say, the condemnation has been unanimous. The BBC used it to illustrate the "pitfalls of UKIP's 'major party status'". The Daily Mail pointed out that Nigel Farage thought UKIP had eliminated this sort of thing, and that current candidates were "of a calibre to be proud of".  The Metro called it "Today's UKIP meltdown news". And every other story I've seen covering this has condemned her. Of course, Norman Baker has, too.

I'm also pleased to say that Lewes District Council has issued this statement:
"Date: Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Lewes District Council statement
Councillor Donna Edmunds, Lewes District Councillor for Barcombe, has expressed her personal view about business owners withholding services from whomever they choose.
A Lewes District Council spokesperson said “Councillor Edmunds’ views are her personal opinion and are not shared by the District Council. 
Lewes District Council has a statutory duty under The Equality Act 2010 to protect people from discrimination. We believe that everyone who lives and works in the area, and those who come to visit us, should feel welcome, safe, valued, included and respected. 
All officers and councillors receive regular training opportunities and there is no excuse for them not to be aware of their duties as council employees and elected members”.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Lib Dem conference directory

The Lib Dem conference directory is published as a pdf. It has fringe listings, and handy maps. Except that, incomprehensibly, the maps are badly compressed bitmaps. The maps are also available as high quality images, and it's trivial (with Apple's OSX "print preview" app, for example) to replace the crap maps with the good ones. It took me about 10 minutes, which is why I don't understand why the published directory has the crap maps.

I've also found the official conference app unusable. It takes about a minute to start, which is far too long when you're looking for the location of a fringe event, for example. These things need to start instantly. The "killer" feature of the app is, or would be, the ability to create a personal agenda. In theory, you can do this: adding debates, fringe events, and training events. In practice, nothing that I "add" to my agenda actually gets added.

It would work quite nicely, even with the delay, if "adding" an event would just create an entry in my calendar app. Actually, that would be better than creating another diary in the official app. But that doesn't appear to have been considered.

So, that's why I've created a Google calendar with the main conference agenda, and a couple of the more popular fringe events. I've also made myself a cut down version of the directory: with legible maps, and fewer adverts (many of which are also illegible because they're over-compressed bitmaps instead of vector graphics).

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Autumn Conference Calendar

I've published the Lib Dems' Autumn Conference Calendar on my Google Calendar. You can subscribe to it at

It's just the two consultation sessions, and the main conference agenda at the moment. I'll add some of the bigger fringe attractions later.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

My Heart Op

We don't know the reason for the stroke that I had in 2011.

It could be high blood pressure: my blood pressure is high, but not very high. Blood pressure is responsible for a third of strokes, and may be caused by excess dietary salt. I've been trying to reduce my salt intake, and I'm also taking Ramipril daily. My blood pressure has come down somewhat, but it's hard to get consistently accurate measurements.

It could be a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) - a hole in the heart that's supposed to close at birth. In about 25% of people, it doesn't close properly. However, 50% of people who have an early stroke have a PFO. It's possible that a clot forms in the hole, then escapes and lodges in the brain, for example.
PFO closure is a simple, day operation. Imagine pushing a tiny cocktail umbrella through the hole, then opening it up: but it's a more sophisticated bit of kit than that! It can be inserted through a large vein in the leg. It's a very safe operation, and there's some evidence that it really can reduce recurrence of Transient Ischemic Attacks (mini strokes, whose effects last only a very short time).

There are three studies that show a reduction in adverse events in the five years after the operation. None have shown a statistically significant effect, but adverse events turn out to be very rare, so larger studies may be needed. It may be that aggregating the statistics from the three studies would demonstrate a statistically significant result. Anyway, having declined the operation after the first study was published, I've now decided to go ahead with it.

I was very pleased to be given a choice of dates for the operation. I turned down May 1 (the day before the County Council Elections) and May 8th, the annual meeting of Lewes District Council. Instead I've elected to have the operation on May 15th. They only do it on Wednesdays, it seems.

I still have the altered sensation in my left side: often pain, but generally hypersensitivity to cold, heat, pressure, and so on. I think it's probably going to be permanent.

Edited to add: Yesterday (16 April), I got a phone call to say that the 15th May date isn't actually available. I had a choice of 1 May, or to go back on the waiting list. I chose to go for 1 May. Also, my wife and I watched a Holby City staff member (Tara Lo) die on the operating table, which is discouraging, even if entirely irrelevant! The letter that I got from the hospital says that my consultant has performed this procedure 260 times, and not had serious adverse affects. Tara's operation, in contrast, was (a) a high risk procedure, (b) on a brain tumour, and (c) fictional.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Conference Calendar

The agenda for the Liberal Democrats' spring conference has just been published. You can read the announcement on Lib Dem Voice. I maintain a Google Calendar called LDCONF in which I put our conference events, for my own purposes. But, I also make that calendar publicly available.

You can see it below, or at or,
you can the events to your Outlook, Apple iCal, or smartphone calendar by downloading the file at or,
you can subscribe to the calendar (and get future updates in your calendar) at
I've taken a different approach to fringe, which is to add each time slot as a single calendar item, and put details of the events into the calendar item notes. If I find the time, I might split these out, but I'm not sure that won't just make a complete mess of calendar displays!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

SIlver Skins for Mountain Lion

A while back, annoyed by the appearance of the Address Book and iCal applications in OSX 10.7 (Lion), and inspired by Giles of Simple and Usable, I created a silver skin for Address Book.

Mountain Lion has improved the Address Book interface, and renamed it "Contacts". It's great that you can now see groups, group members, and contact details in one window; they've done away with the awkward switching between groups. But they've retained the somewhat annoying attempt to look like a real, leather bound, address book.

Similarly, there's a better appearance to the renamed Calendars, but they've retained the silly leather bound look, and torn off paper look.

So, I've created silver skins for both of these. And I've gone one better by creating a proper installer package. You can choose which app to fix using the Customise button, but by default it'll just fix both of them.

The installer should only work on Mountain Lion, and it should refuse to change apps on other versions of OSX. Also, it requires that and are in the usual locations.

update 21 August: fixed link. Sorry!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Should a banker be paid more than a nurse?

I'm listening to BBC Radio 4's Public Philosopher. Today's topic is "Should a banker be paid more than a nurse?"

I think the answer is "no". Banking services, though, are scalable, so individuals can get rich (and throughout, here, I mean filthy rich) providing those services. The next few paragraphs explain.

The BBC programme is an exploration of the moral arguments. The explanations of the high pay for bankers are given as:

  1. bankers have more talent, 
  2. bankers work harder,
  3. society values bankers more,
  4. the market values bankers more.
Let's deal with talent and hard work first. Nurses often work extraordinary long hours. Their training requirements are higher, so they have more talent (both professions owe more to training than personality), and their knowledge base is broader. A banker may, perhaps, have a talent for economics than a nurse, but collectively the bankers don't seem to be in control. The nursing profession, on the other hand, doesn't have sudden widespread crashes in performance. Anything that looks like that would probably be a failure of public health professionals, or more likely the press; witness the MMR hoax.

I think it's pretty clear that most people value nurses more than bankers. We'd all rather live in a society with no finance professionals than a society with no health professionals. We don't like it when our bank branch closes, but we protest when our local hospital closes. If society doesn't reflect that preference in individual pay, then that's because some structure in society isn't reflecting the aggregate opinion of its members. That structure would be the market.

But, what is it about the market that gets banker so well paid? Much better paid even than doctors, or NHS bosses. I think it's this:

We all make a living either by creating wealth or by tapping the income or wealth of other individuals - usually through an organisation. But, wealth creation only happens through creating exchangeable physical products, say through agriculture or manufacturing. Neither bankers nor nurses do this. They get paid for providing services, which are not exchangeable.

Service providers get their income from tapping the income or wealth of people who buy their services. There are two ways to get rich doing this: either tap the incomes of lots of other people, or tap the incomes of a smaller number of richer people. But, to get really rich, you need to provide a service that lots of people can use. That is, an impersonal service - one which you can provide many copies of. That service might be a music recording, a piece of writing, a televised performance or a bank account. Of course, you need an army of sales people to funnel the money your way, but those people don't need to be highly talented or well paid. In fact, it helps if they're not well paid.

A nurse, however, doesn't provide a replicable service. She (or he, but usually she) provides a personal service that can't be duplicated. It has no value if you know you're going to get exactly the same service as the person in the next bed. Even if you have the same condition as your neighbour, you may respond differently to treatment, for example. And, even if you did need exactly the same treatment, the nurse can't provide that treatment on a CD, or over the web, to many people simultaneously. Nursing isn't a spectator sport.

 So, this is where the market fails. Any individual will value their nurse more than their banker. But no nurse will be able to get paid for nursing services by more than a few people at a time. OK, a nurse might write a book about nursing, or run a nursing company, but neither of those things are nursing (the first is writing, the second is provision of management services).

In fact, the services that we value most are personal services. And, the people providing those services are never going to get rich, except by providing those services to people who are even richer. Oh, and if you're providing a personal service, and you want a higher income than your average client, then you need to be draining their wealth, or subsidised through taxation, or providing an occasional service that they really value.

There are, of course, elements of the health service, in which people can get rich. They can do it by cherry picking clients (private health provision), but they can't get wealthy in the same way as a banker, or footballer, or pop star. They can do it in management, but they have to be managing a really large organisation, and probably in the private sector. They can do it in manufacturing of drugs or medical equipment - because drugs and medical equipment are replicable and therefore their manufacture is not a personal service. In fact, it's wealth creating, and it's scalable.