Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Please Sir, we want some more - Pt II

A Twitter writer (@HMForces) asks:
"Does anyone in the whole of Britain think the following story is fair?
Single mother soldier expecting a large payout from Army over discrimination claim. A single mother soldier is expecting to win a large payout from the Army after a tribunal ruled that it had failed to take enough notice of her childcare needs.
Tilern DeBique said she was forced to leave the forces because she was expected to be available for duty at all times. However, a tribunal ruled she was within her rights to miss training when she could not find anyone to look after her daughter"
She is expected to receive a payment of at least £100,000 for loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages and the ruling could yet have significant implications for the armed forces."
Well, I can see the point that is being made. The Mum should have asked the appropriate questions before she signed on the dotted line. However, she may well have thought the Army was an Equal Opportunities employer and her situation is one that any civilian employer has to face and resolve. The treatment that DeBique expected is normal and one we have allowed to creep in under a number of disguises.

I left the Army at a time when pregnancy was dealt with by discharge. (For women that is - men facing pregnancy were given postings way away from the potentially disruptive individual!) Within ten years or so, I was heading a department of some 60 staff. Because of what the department served - switchboards, reception, catering, cleaning and reception - about 50 of these employees were female. Roughly half were post-menopausal so I had 25/30 'delicate' women to work with. Their absences - short and long-term - had to be covered; there was no way a switchboard position could be vacant or a executive lunch uncooked. Apart from the difficulties set by women going on maternity leave, I had a couple with medical difficulties - irritable bowel syndrome for two that led to sudden onset of inability to turn in for work. When Mum eventually decided that she might return to work, I had to consider - and arrange - for her to job share with another and to work hours that suited what she saw as 'her circumstances' These always seemed to consist of late arrivals and early departures with occasional working-time visits to the First Aid room for a bit of a lie down.

The greatest opponent I faced in any attempt to get some consideration for the employer from these employees was the Head of HR. This, that and the other seemed to all be 'covered by legislation' or 'decided at an employment tribunal'. It was even considered grossly incorrect for me to ask at the employment interview stage if a female applicant was in a 'relationship' - ('married' was totally banned as signifying aged and prejudicial attitudes to life-style).

My only real victory for sanity was when a freshly-returned Mum calmly told me that her working arrangements were no great matter as she was already again pregnant and would be seeking more feet-up holiday. Seems she had thought that breast-feeding was a contraceptive. After breaking off to go and bang my head against the HR door, I managed to put together a case that she was frustrating her contract and we gave her a small bag of gold to go away and breed to her hearts content. Even that course of action was deemed marginally illegal.

Mind you - if you truly want to see what a significant portion of the (soldiers') world thinks - have a look at their forum for full and frank discussion.

Please Sir, we want some more

I have been watching the BBC2 tv programme filmed at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children(GOSH). The latest episode was last night and centred on the excellence of the facilities, the world-wide pressure upon these and the staff and the ethical connotations of much of the treatment given; much of which is merely palliative in scope and outlook.

Now an NHS Hospital Trust, Great Ormond Street Hospital is world-renowned for its pioneering work in children's medicine. Due to its ground-breaking work over many years, it is amongst the most famous hospitals in the United Kingdom."

In 2002 GOSH commenced a redevelopment program which is budgeted at £343 million and the next phase of which is scheduled to be complete by 2012. The redevelopment is needed to expand capacity, deliver treatment in a more comfortable and modern way, and to reduce unnecessary inpatient admissions.

Seeing the reports in proximity to the Manifesto that have been issued gave a clear picture of the problems in accepting what the two parties have said. The development budget looks fearsome but must pale into insignificance when set against the running costs of the facility. The cameras had a no-holds barred access to staff and case meetings such that we were privy to discussions that even parents of sick children may not have witnessed prior to the report being screened.

What came across was that the professionals seem not to accept that any case is beyond a solution. If there is no existing standard treatment, they will get together and devise one from scratch. One gets the sense that one is in a research laboratory rather than a treatment centre. Instead of animals awaiting rescue by PETA one is faced wit desperately ill infants and distraught parents.

The professionals - consultants through to floor nursing staff - show tremendous concern over the ethics of what they do or what they will try to do. Last night's showing included a child born with no means of getting air into it's lungs. There is no known remedy but they sat together and sketched out on a note-pad how they could set about creating a false trachea. Outlook - if successful - included a year's stay in an Intensive Care Unit for a child that would never be able to speak and at significant risk of acquiring a fatal infection.

There was much discussion as to the ethics of pursuing the theoretical solution before it was accepted that there should be no treatment and the parents were told this. Harrowing.

Another topic was care of premature babies. The report revealed that there are times when a very high percentage of available beds are taken up by children born grossly premature after merely 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy. Further disclosure was that there was little that could be done for these infants and the hospital was just getting them strong enough to be sent home to die there. I questioned the humanity where it might be necessary to deny admission to, say, a three or four year old child with desperate needs requiring a high level of surgical intervention and follow-up high dependency nursing. What ethics would run there - would they evict the best preemie so as to find space for junior?

This caused me to recall a conversation I had had with my maternal grandmother some 65 plus years ago. She had been a Matron during the 1914-1918 War. At about 9 years old I had overheard part of an adult conversation and I questioned her whether it was true that children born very sick were just left to pass away in the delivery theatre or at a home-birth with nothing done for them. She confirmed this and explained why it was not reasonable to extend a life that sure to be difficult, maybe short and painful, in a family with siblings and low income. Even as an impressionable kid, I understood her point and that situation stayed with me from that time. In many respects, I hold it today.

So, why the connect with manifesto? Dave says we will have a future where decision making is devolved to we, the people. Grumpy Brown offers us a future with priority funding to provide excellence in the NHS. Anyone with a particle of humanity in their genes would want everything done for kids such as the preemies or the no-airway child. The realities of the ethical association would have money thrown at them. I hold that the sad situation with NHS budgets is the elasticity of demand. Give them a billion. They will use much of that to extend, say, the range of our life span from premature through to very aged. Treatment deemed to be too expensive would be undertaken and the demand would be to extend what can be done. However much we allow, they will over-spend and call for more like some maniacal Oliver Twist. If they are denied, we would hear the calls for better from all sides of the political spectrum.

The thought that I might be told to take a child home and watch them die is heart wrenching - and I am a hard, cynical person. That abandonment by the hospital would be deemed as unsatisfactory - indeed, I am amazed we have not heard of a claim from someone involved in that decision making or in communicating it to parents. Another area for extending the gap between planned and actual columns on budget reports.

The programme has the side-effect of illustrating just how meaningless any manifesto is when examined beyond the glossy covers and slick professional presentations. There are significant portions where they fail to fully detail - even before they get to the deliberately misleading sections.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Sounds good. But then, so does adultary

One of those I follow in Twitter is @iaindale. Being a political sophisticate, I did not immediately comprehend the thrust of today's newly escaped Tory manifesto. Direct democracy - who he? Luckily, my old chum Wiki was able to assist - this with especial reference to the Tory concept -
"Direct democracy, classically termed pure democracy, is a form of democracy and a theory of civics in which sovereignty is lodged in the assembly of all citizens who choose to participate. Depending on the particular system, this assembly might pass executive motions, make laws, elect or dismiss officials, and conduct trials. Direct democracy stands in contrast to representative democracy, where sovereignty is exercised by a subset of the people, usually on the basis of election. Deliberative democracy incorporates elements of both direct democracy and representative democracy.

Many countries that are representative democracies allow for three forms of political action that provide limited direct democracy: initiative, referendum (plebiscite) and recall. Referenda can include the ability to hold a binding referendum on whether a given law should be rejected. This effectively grants the populace which holds suffrage a veto on government legislation. Initiatives, usually put forward by the populace, force the consideration of laws or amendments (usually by a subsequent referendum), without the consent of the elected officials, or even in opposition to the will of said officials. Recalls give people the right to remove elected officials from office before the end of their term, although this is very rare in modern democracies."
Ever helpful, there is another link that talks of the wider idea of democracy.

I am somewhat confused. The links both suggest some form of fluid governance driven by The People. It strikes me that we now have so many differing 'people' in this country that one will never have a consensus. What I - an Englishman now vaguely Scots of some 76 years of prejudice untouched by political correctness - want as compared to Mrs. Abdul Ghul who has just lately learned sufficient English to qualify for a vote must be space-type distances apart.

"A veto on Government legislation" is just so new and way out that it would take very many years for us, the electorate, to learn how to go about this and just as long for any central power to find ways of verifying a supposed desire as genuine and all-inclusive. As an example, it seems that some 60% said 'Not In My Name' but - none the less - we entered into a desperate alliance on little more than the whim of a poodle and a man who heard voices from God. How long would it have taken to check that it was 60% and not 49.999% recurring, how many said GO if the trigger time were proven at just 25 minutes or some such checking exercise. It would be pointless setting aside some matters for exclusive decision by a mendacious Government. The duty of Parliament is Defence of the Realm; ample room there for weasel-words.

Referendum? The anti-antics of Brown show this is a Tory concept but even here the path has many tin tacks. Anyone 'clever' enough to be an Oxbridge candidate can form questions with the skill of our best thriller writers so as to slant responses the way they want. And, what is a referendum without full analysis and easily comprehensible explanations of what is being reviewed? More time. More expense. More confusion and opportunity to obfuscate and mislead.

Putting those elected on trial? The sad history of recent pig-trough politics shows how well that might work.

No - sorry Iain. I admit that I am not sufficiently interested to make much effort for a line by line examination review of the Manifesto. Your classification of it as 'Power to the People' with "with a real feel of direct democracy" says it all to me I'm afraid.

To revise that film quote as "What has the future ever done for me?" sums up the impression that today's release has done for me. My ballot paper will still end up with the protest "None of the Above" endorsement.

The end of the road

There is a very sad situation that has undergone some examination in Twitter following upon a Daily Mail report that seems to have missed the MSM.

In short, a Mr Roy Amor at his place of work makes a private remark to a colleague that was based upon the friend being black. The conversation was overheard by another who reported the incident as being racial in origin. The employer suspended the joker and, shortly after, he shot himself. It is - to me - important to know that the man of colour did not take offence at what was said to him. The whistle blower knew this. Following the death, the employer said that Mr Amor had been suspended over the joke and added ‘It’s an enormous tragedy and we are all in mourning. I knew Roy personally and he was an excellent technician' The dead man, aged 61, had worked for the company for over 30 years and had been married for 38 years.

There are many questions that this incident should raise. This from another blog allows me to list some without getting myself into too much of a temper.
The man was making a light hearted "quip", are we really living in a climate of fear where we have watch everything we say now ?
The black man in question was a friend of Mr Amor's and took it as it was meant: a joke.
We still have Freedom Of Speech in this country (apparently).
It was not the business of the complainant.
Why did Opcare suspend him ? I mean isn't suspension a bit severe ? After all it's not like a long investigation, all they needed to do was talk to anyone who had been there at the time and clear it up in under 10 minutes. If they were really bothered they could have just given Mr Amor a verbal warning there and then. Instead they make a mountain out of a molehill and get Roy Amor into a "state" where he takes his own life."
There remain some very entrenched views about suicide. I suppose the campaigning and actions of the Samaritains is a major factor in starting to bring these ideas into the light of the 21st Century. I suppose I need to write that I was, for a very very short time, one of these telephone listeners but left over the issue of suicide. They have very strict rules that their people may not directly intervene without consent but carry on until the call is ended normally or the line just goes dead. My policeman's response was to think about identifying the call and getting the emergency services there as soon as possible.

Suicide is not selfish. It is not self-indulgent, It is not a sign of a permanent mental affliction. It is not an act of revenge or malice. I suspect we are seeing and reading more about this way of escape. We have the Dignitas-style debates re assisted suicide and there are those arising from experience of armed conflict. My answer to the selfish/self-indulgent school is that they are possibly experiencing guilt that they were not able to prevent or assist the death of a loved one. Surely, had they been involved in that inner debate they would have recognised that the deceased had been at the end of their tether. The attitude of many health and social work professionals is that people at risk of suicide are going to do it; they're going to find some way; it's random and unpredictable and there's not much you can do about it. That is not true insofar as my limited exposure ran. There were occasions when would-be suicides were shown that there was another way they could view and handle their difficulties or they were guided into direct personal care and treatment.

The situation I see with Roy Amos was that he had led a nice sheltered life in a supportive and loving relationship at home and what was, to him, fulfilling and satisfying employment. He was 61. I certainly had taken my foot off the pedal at that age and was in neutral; coasting downhill into retirement. The actions of his employer had put everything into doubt and under threat. His relationship with his boss was close and the sudden suspension would have destroyed any trust he may have had in that area. How does one face telling a spouse that one is on the scrap heap and all thought of a roseate retirement are foreby?

This sad case never attracted a significant degree of publicity in this country. Certainly, nowhere near Baby P or the mother who killed and set fire to herself and her disabled daughter for starters as comparisons. Roy would be unlikely to be up to speed on things such as verbal and written warnings and we do not know if his employer had any written policy on disciplinary proceedures. I do see them as the villains in this case - the complaint should have been deferred whilst a quick investigation was made. This would doubtless have avoided the drastic step of being sent home away from his place opf work.

I cannot hold any great degree of animus towards the one who reported this. We live in strange times and there are many strange people about as a result. All that can be hoped is that whoever it was now realises that bullying is not just something that kids do in school playgrounds.

The Universal Soldier

I today read in The Times something that made me very sad.
"The lure of Afghanistan is too much to resist for Captain Doug Beattie, the decorated veteran, who plans to return to Helmand as a reservist less than two years after quitting the Army.

The officer and author told The Times he believed that the success or failure of the campaign would be decided in the next 12 months and that he wanted to play a part, much to the displeasure of his wife. She had hoped her husband would give up his frontline aspirations once he retired.

"Afghanistan gets under your skin, the people get under your skin," said Captain Beattie, 44, who served in Helmand province with the Royal Irish Regiment in 2006 and again in 2008. On the second tour, he and four other British soldiers were sent with only 95 Afghan troops on a deadly and ultimately doomed mission to secure the town of Marja, the focus of a big offensive earlier this year involving thousands of US and Afghan forces."
Don't stop reading this right now but make a note to read an abstract from his book 'An ordinary Soldier' to get a flavour of the man.

I felt that I knew quite a bit about Beattie. He was the RSM to Lt Colonel Tim Collins when that officer made his 'Henry V at Agincourt' speech prior to advancing to battle in Iraq. Only once in my own military career did my role and task approach that of an Infantry RSM and I had immediate doubts about the Irishman's oratory.The RSM later detailed his thoughts in his book but these were rejected by his former CO.

This preamble is intended to show my respect and admiration for Beattie as a soldier. In the Times he is quoted "Then after six months of heavy fighting you just want to leave the place (Afghanistan) alive with your men. When someone says to you do you want to go back? your natural response is 'I'm never going back to that place. And I have said that many times. But a couple of monmths later, when things calm down, it's in your blood. You can see the good you've done when you were there and you start to consider "Well, could I have done more? Could I help more? Am I needed? And that's why I am going back"

In that abstract along is the core of my sadness. I recognise what he is saying. I got through being in Northern Ireland by using the mantra 'your Mother did not raise you to die in Ireland' and it maybe a time or two saved me from doing something the reckless side of unwise. Yet - you know - I would return this instant to the very bloody days of 70-72 were I able. Because I have in the past recognised this as irrational I spent some time examining myself and think I have an answer.

A major part of a soldier's basic and ongoing training is conditioning. Most of the population deeply resists killing another human.

Modern military training allegedly overrides this instinct, by: using man-shaped targets instead of bulls-eye targets, practicing and drilling how soldiers would actually fight, dispersing responsibility for the killing throughout the group and displacing responsibility for the killing onto an authority figure, i.e. the commanding officer and the military hierarchy. (See the Milgram experiment)

This initial preparation of men who will be required to pull some form of trigger and to kill another human being does not always take deep route in the psyche of man. It may be dissipated following actual battle-field conditions. This lays the soldier open to another known physical and mental condition. 'Survivor Guilt' is recognised as a constituent of PTSD. This syndrome is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives himself or herself to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event. It may be found among survivors of combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have committed suicide, and in non-mortal situations among those whose colleagues are laid off. It gets those whose bravery is beyond doubt -
World War II Medal of Honour recipient, and actor, Audie Murphy is said to have suffered survivor's guilt during the years after his return to the United States after the injury that put him out of the Army. He is said to have slept with a gun under his pillow for nearly 25 years, and talked frequently about those that had died in his unit, even though there was nothing he could have done to prevent their deaths.

That is what makes me sad. Beattie is beyond doubt a brave man and has nothing to prove to us. He was most definitely a survivor of incidents where men under his command were killed in sudden and traumatic circumstances. I do suspect that he has that guilt and will continue to carry it even when he gets back to Afghanistan - it may even make him more liable to do something that will increase his personal risk.

y feelings about Afghanistan are clear - there is nothing there that is worth one more single drop of English - or, indeed any foreign - blood. There is much more the gallant RSM could do here in this country.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Taxing questions

The tremendous hoo haa re the National Insurance seems to have gone over my head. Whilst I am/was not a Business Leader of the status recruited by Boy Dave I did have a quite hefty departmental budget that included costs for over 5o people. The Company was swallowed up by a larger company and, as usual, reductions in head count were called for. I escaped that by taking out a complete layer of job titles - no more 'assistant' whatever. After about a year, things improved and I thought I'd try and flesh out my team. This was fully supported - with the condition that my payroll budget would not be allowed to increase!

I cannot see that increasing cost of an employee by hiking up the NI contribution is a great problem. I would determine a hire or not on the basis that if any new worker cost me £X in NI costs but brought in or saved £X+a bit, that would make sense.

The fact that the increases would impact upon employers who could not make this calculation is accepted. No use in increasing payroll costs of NHS or the Armed Forces whilst demanding serious savings. OK - exempt them from the increase. Clicking noise from Alexis Meercat.

I seem to have it that the saving of no NI increase is about £12 billion. Not to be sniffed at. We could get better savings. The two serious players in destruction of the world by atomic weapons have just signed a down-scaling and, so long as they both play together nicely, there may be further reductions. Still enough to blow us all to Kingdom come several times over and the MAD concept will still apply - you launch and before they hit we will launch and we both end up charred and glowing in the dark.

So, why the heck does some tin pot almost 3rd world country like the UK need to spend billions in the hundreds buying Tridents like 5P fireworks? And then there will be calls for the launch pad submarines - more billions. Who is going to get around to attacking us without drawing attention from one or other of the superior nuclear powers? I remember that at the time of the Falklands, Maggie forced the French to give us the abort codes for the missiles they had sold to the Argies. I would not be surprised if there were some such remote disabling facility in the US technology associated with Trident anyway.

The people who say there is a case for Trident have a vested interest. Work for dockyard mateys. Command of so many sailors that they have to be Admirals at least. Defenders of the Realm bigging it up. No one in their right mind would want such a useless toy as Trident. If the penny pinchers could not justify total abandonment, get just a couple so that the MAD process could still be achieved. Sick thinking I reckon.