Saturday, 29 November 2008

Mumbai says, "Thanks Dave!"

Mr Bolt reminds us that:

Lashkar-e-Taiba is the group for which Australia’s David Hicks fought, and which taught him terror tactics.

An inquiring mind asks - if Lashkar-e-Taiba invested time and effort in training our Dave, what did they get in return? Dave got free board, ammo and training, but was he expected to provide them with knowledge on westerners and how we travel, eat, sleep, do business etc? It's a two way street.

Just asking, is all.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Have pensions fucked the family?

We like to blame trendy lefties for societal decay. The breakdown in morals, the breakup of the nuclear family, the rising tide of lawlessness and disorder. Blah blah blah.

Was all this the fault of the 1960's and those goddamned hippies, or was it the introduction of a proper government funded pension system?


Until we had pensions, old people were supported in their dotage by their children. Your offspring were your pension. (Interesting side note about witch killings that I heard on Counterpoint the other day - when crops fail, families will get rid of the most useless mouth to prevent the rest of the family from starving. The most useless mouth is grandma, and the easiest way to remove her is to accuse her of witchcraft. Witch killings can apparently be accurately predicted by rainfall patterns - or the lack of rainfall).

If you wanted a good pension, you had to raise good kids.

Now there is no financial requirement to do that. The state will look after you. You can raise your kids any way you like, with no downside later on in life.

Who do we have to thank for this mess?


We should have nuked the Germans too.

We take your children, and you expect us to talk to you?

I have whinged and moaned about how the state school that we are currently dealing with is not the most communicative of organisations. This seems to be a common thread - we have dealt with two other state schools in the past 2 years for various reasons, and the staff at all of them appear to have a bunker mentality.

I have seen this mentality before in other government organisations. I used to work for a mob where I had up to 40 people reporting to moi. They were spread all over the state, and about half of them were mobile - out servicing clients on a daily basis (no, I was not running a prostitution ring). When I took over that role, one of the first things I did was to start writing a weekly communique to all those people to let them know what was happening in the rareified air of the office that I inhabited. And I told them everything - all the dirt, all the shit that needed fixing and all the crap that we were having to deal with. I was pretty straightforward about it.

Most of them were gobsmacked that I would put in the time and effort each week (actually, each weekend - I wrote most of them on Sunday morning when I had some free time) to let them know what was going on, what they should be doing and what I wanted them to achieve. They were also generally astounded that I was completely honest and open about our fuckups - and we had plenty of them. Except that I was politic enough to call them "learning experiences" instead of fuckups.

Anyway, enough of blowing that trumpet. After a few years, my boss got a new boss. A big boss - corner office, big salary, all that sort of thing. By that time, my newsletter had a much wider circulation. People outside of our department wanted to know what was going on, so they asked to be added to my mailing list. It was going to a few hundred people by this stage. We were so bad at communicating with our internal customers that often the only way outsiders could find out about the status of their projects was to read my weekly screed.

So the new boss comes in, and after about a week, they read my missives.

I get a phone call.

I am told that I am being very brave. And perhaps a little blunt. But I am not muzzled - just asked to knock some of the rougher edges off my language (calling someone a "fucking fucked fuckhead for fucking up a crucial fucking system at 4 in the fucking morning" was deemed to be a bit over the top, even for the profane and angry company that I worked for).

But here is the thing. Our organisation had over 10,000 employees. I was the only person in the entire company sending out useful information to their staff on a weekly basis. Everyone else relied on the sanitised bullshit that was produced by the PR department, which was utterly useless. They even printed it on slick, shiny paper - so you couldn't even wipe your arse on it.

Many, many people told me I was "brave". Managers would look at me and shake their heads. Most could not believe that I was getting away with it.

For they were shit scared of doing the same sort of thing. They knew there was a crying need for the honest transmission of useful information in a format that people could actually use, but none had the guts to pump it out. The downside risk was just too great. They feared for their jobs and their careers.

I think the same horrible feeling of dread has inflitrated our state education system. Teachers and Principals do not want to say anything for fear of having their head shot off by some shiny bum way up the chain of command. The thing that most big government agencies cannot abide is seeing their organisation in the media - especially when that appearance has not been sanctioned and sanitised by PR types in head office. If a teacher manages to get a good news story about their pupils into the local rag, and the interview has not been signed off by eleventy-two levels of management, then that teacher is a dead duck. "Breach of media policy" will be the order of the day.

Now to school communications.

Here is the website of one of our local state schools - Concord High. This web site is unusual in that you can actually find the names of teachers on this site, although no contact details bar the usual school information email address.

Here is a private school in Perth. I did not go to this school, but checkout the contact details for Christchurch Grammer. The name of every teacher in every subject is listed. The email addresses and phone numbers are listed for all the executives and departmental heads. For the plain old teaching staff, you don't get an email address, but you do get an individual desk phone number.

I looked at another Perth private school recently. For some staff, they also listed mobile phone numbers.

Amazing. Chalk and cheese.

The silence of the lizards


How about skinks. In fact, how about Tiliqua rugosa, commonly known as the bobtail or blue-tongued skink. We always called them bobtail goannas or blue-tongued lizards as kids - never knew until now that it was a skink.

My old school was over run with them - the school was surrounded by a fair bit of bush, and the skinks would migrate up from the bush to lie around here and there, where they could be collected by us kids. Sometimes, we'd get some tweezers and a cigarette lighter and spend an afternoon removing ticks from between their scales, along with swatting flies and feeding them to the skinks. We had no shortage of flies nor skinks, and the skinks had no shortage of ticks.

Those were the kind of things that kids did before the introduction of the X-Box.

I mention this because I almost squashed one the other day. We rarely see them here in Five Wog. That's not because the local chinese restaurant has caught them all and served them up as "chicken", but because there is just not enough bush around here to support them.

I had to travel to Homebush to squash one. When I have time and the days are long, I like to ride out to Parramatta, or down the Cooks River to Botany Bay, and both rides take me through Homebush. Once you get away from the stadiums and stuff that were built for the Olympics, there is actually a reasonable amount of bushland out there. It's shitty, scrubby bush, but it's the best we've got for about 100 miles.

I was cruising down one of the pathways on my bike when I spotted a skink lying in the sun on the path. It had crossed almost the entire width of the path, and was lying with its head only inches from the edge of the path. As I approached, it did the normal "pedestrian two-step of panic". Instead of shooting into the bush right in front of it, and allowing me to safely cruise around behind it, it did a rapid U-turn and ran right in front of me. Not wanting to squash a skink, I locked up and almost dropped the bike - the back wheel skidded on the thin layer of sand covering the tarmac path, and I was going sideways for a few seconds.

I'm glad it got away. Whilst I have no qualms about killing chickens and that sort of thing for the pot, I'm not so keen on squashing a poor old skink. Especially that during my stint on a particular wheat bin in the middle of nowhere, the only company that I had for a month was a skink. I fed that little fellow an awful lot of flies.

And polony.

Here's to skinks. Long may they lie around, basking in the sun.

Paperwork killing the health system

It's only taken an enormous inquiry and an 1100 page report to uncover what I discovered on a couple of hospital visits over the last few years - the health system in NSW is being murdered by paperwork. On every visit, either planned or unplanned, the amount of time that staff spent dealing with paperwork was truly mindboggling. J had to spend a few days in hospital once whilst all sorts of tests were run, and the way she was looked after was quite shocking.

It wasn't that the place was rundown or the staff useless - it was very modern, all the equipment was new and most of the staff were capable and nice. They simply had no time to spend at the bedside with patients, because they spent all their time at their desks shuffling files. In one ward with 10 staff, on each visit, I would count 8 or 9 of them doing paperwork everytime I came in - regardless of the time of day. That would leave 1 or 2 staff to attend to the needs to the 30 patients in that ward.

Would patient care suffer if 90% of that paperwork was blown away? Possibly. But how many die or suffer horribly at present because staff are spending all their time pushing files and little time prodding patients?

I was presented with a paper nightmare the other day. I am starting a new contract with a client that I worked for last year. Before I started there last year, I had to fill out 10 pages of background check information. I had to enter the same information in 5 different locations - name, date of birth, places I'd lived etc etc etc. I could have completed the paperwork in 1/5th the time if they had designed their forms sensibly.

I finished that contract a few months ago, but I knew there was a 90% chance I would be going back. I still have my ID badge from them, and clothes in their change rooms. However, before restarting, I had to fill out the same paperwork all over again.

When I did it last time, I scanned it and saved it. Since nothing had changed in the interim, I thought I could just print out the old stuff and send it in again.


The forms had been redesigned. I had to handwrite the same information into five subtly different forms. The information that they wanted was exactly the same - just the shape and location of the boxes had changed.

This is the sort of madness that infects companies once they reach a certain size and age. HR departments are notorious for generating mounds and mounds of forms. They always have a way of justifying why they need to waste so much of your day with useless paperwork. I am sure that our health system is infected with idiots of this ilk.

Some years ago, the company that I worked for was broken up. The bit that I went with threw out all the policies of the old company, and started again from scratch. We only wrote policies and procedures for the things that we really needed, or where we needed a paper trail (I somehow got stuck with the job of writing a lot of them). We ended up with a policy manual that was about 10 pages long, and almost every form that we thought we needed was web based on our intranet - paper forms were abolished.

Years later, I had to do some work in the company that we broke off from. In the years that had passed, they had added a multitude of policies and forms to their inventory of paperwork. Just for kicks, I counted their HR forms one day.

There were 130 of them. All had to be filled out by hand and submitted on paper.

Their policy manuals filled an entire shelf, six feet from end to end.

That company was an unmitigated, unrelenting disaster. It was a heap of shit from start to finish. The desks in head office were something to behold, groaning under piles of paperwork. Workstations were surrounded by bulging filing cabinets. Nothing could be done unless a sheaf of paperwork was produced, processed, lost, redone, rejected, redone again, eaten by a dog, filed, lost, found and approved.

Unfortunately, I bet that one of the recommendations in this new health report is that they computerise a lot of their paperwork. Instead, they should throw most of it out, and then computerise what is left. If they computerise the stack of crap that they have today, all they will end up with is a stack of electronic crap, and a total reliance on a computer system that will break down on a regular basis under the enormous load of crap being fed into it.

Paperwork probably also explains why morale always seems to be lower than whaleshit in most public hospitals. If I was a nurse or doctor, I would be doing that job because I want to fix people - not because I want to spend my days completing paperwork. How many get depressed and angry because their jobs are more clerical than clinical?

Paperwork - it can definitely kill you.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Engineering collissions part II

As part of my ride today, I decided to revisit the Iron Cove Bridge in order to take some snaps of the location where pedestrian meets bicycle, sometimes with terrible results.

Of all the rides that I do, this is one of the few where I need to dismount and carry my bike up a set of stairs. The other location is the northern end of the Harbour Bridge. Note that up the top of the stairs, someone has thoughtfully installed a sign that says "watch for bikes". Fat lot of use that is, because most pedestrians spend 95% of their time looking at their feet when they walk and climb stairs. Very, very few ever bother to lift their head and look upwards. It's even worse when they are wearing a cap with the visor pulled down low, which obscures even more of their "upward" looking vision. I bet I am the only person to have seen that sign since it was installed. Bio-mechanics and all that ensure that it is outside the normal line of vision.

When you get to the top of the stairs, the bridge is on your right (note the fairly narrow path which is totally unfenced from the heavy road traffic) and Balmain/Rozelle is on your left. The solid concrete walls of the bridge ensure that you have no visibility to the right until you step out onto the path. If a cyclist is coming over the bridge towards you, you have no hope of seeing them until you are standing in front of them - never a good place to be.

This is the view looking up the footpath towards Rozelle/Balmain. Note how much wider it is than the path over the bridge - it funnels in very rapidly to a much narrower path just as you hit the bridge. You can see here how the path curves up to the left, and how the shrubbery on the left can obscure visibility - it's been trimmed back recently, because it normally pokes out a lot more, interfering with sight lines. The wide path encourages the unwary to put their foot down and hoon down through this section.

I walked up the hill a short distance and took this photo looking back at the bridge. Note the incredibly well maintained wooden fence on the right! Where the fence ends is where people pop out when they have climbed the stairs, and that is where the pedestrian in my previous story was knocked down. The dots of spray paint from the investigators are still there, but to my amazement, they were right over on the edge of the road. I thought they'd be on the left, near the stairs. I guess the pedestrians came up the stairs and walked straight across the path to the far edge without looking to their left, which put them right in the path of a bike coming down the hill. If they did that, they're insane.

I went even further up the hill, and then rolled down it to see how fast a bike could go without effort. I hit 30km/h without even a nudge on the pedals, and I didn't go all the way up the hill. It would be really easy to hit 45 or more if you gave the cranks a few turns on the way down the hill. That is also insane - no sensible person goes over the Iron Cove Bridge footpath at over 20km/h. It's a really slow and annoying speed to be going, but it's safe.

I wonder what the crash investigators found, because I found that even when rolling down at 30 km/h, I had plenty of time to brake when I came around the blind bend. Either the cyclist was going mentally fast, or they had the attitude of "you will get out of my way, because I will hit you", or the pedestrians did the "two-step of panic".

The "two-step of panic" is where you are approaching two or more pedestrians, from the front or behind, and they are filling the path from side to side. As you get closer, they finally figure out that they need to make a gap for the approaching bike, so they scatter in all directions.

What usually happens is that the person on the right goes left, and the person on the left goes right, and the person in the middle goes left then right and then left again. In other words, they go from walking forward in a predictable manner where there might be enough of a gap for you to get through to a brainless mob of flapping morons that go this way then that in an completely unpredictable manner, and in so doing so, wipe out whatever gap was there for you to go through.

I have seen another cyclist refer to this as the "inner-west intelligence test", with the comment that many pedestrians fail it completely.

That aside, this really is an engineered crash zone.

Environmentalists drive a Prius - right?

Nothing unusual about the photo below, you say. Four people launching a boat at a boatramp, with their chosen vehicle being a Nissan Patrol (diesel version).

But this was taken in the inner west, just around the corner from Balmain and that hotbed of greenism and anti-4WD-ism, Leichhardt. And what is that logo on the door? OMG! It's the Department of the Environment! I guess they were off to take some water samples from the harbour.

Personally, I am glad that we have public servants who are sensible enough to want to have a 4WD for lugging around four people plus towing a boat and carrying all their equipment. Can you imagine trying to tow a boat with a Prius? It must be hard for some people to accept that there is a place for the 4WD in the city, and that it can be a very useful beastie.

Death of Powerpoint

These days, I find it mildly amusing that one of the first well paying jobs that I had was producing "foils" (as IBM called them) for presentations on an overhead projector (remember them?). This was in the days before Powerpoint, when the best package on the market was Harvard Graphics. I spent the better part of a year working for some very large companies, churning out hundreds of slides per week for use at Board meetings and CEO presentations and that sort of thing.

If I had any money at the time, I could have done well out of insider trading, given the sort of information that I was asked to turn into slides on a daily basis.

Back then, you actually employed people to produce presentations, because the software was expensive and tricky to use, and the only people that were allowed to have professional looking presentations were a small number of senior managers - because the damned things were so expensive to produce. We had a high tech, wax-transfer printer for producing colour slides, and the wax, slides printer and cover sheets all cost a bomb. Everyone else had to make do with handwriting stuff onto re-usable plastic sheets.

Those were the golden years. Meetings were short, presentations were short, rare and to the point and very few middle managers died of boredom during working hours.

Then along came bloody Powerpoint. Suddenly no meeting, however humble, could be held without a presentation of some sorts. No speech could be made unless it was illustrated by 50 or 60 slides. To be unskilled in the use of Powerpoint was to be rendered useless as an employment candidate.

It struck me last night that I had not seen, or been asked to draw up, a Powerpoint presentation for over a year. Since leaving the public sector, Powerpoint has left my life. The private companies that I have been working for have no projectors or projection screens in their meeting rooms, and I never see a printed out presentation sitting on the uncollected pile next to a printer. I have not yet figured out why they use Powerpoint so little - maybe they are cheap bastards who refuse to pay for projectors. Or maybe they have a thing against endless, boring meetings that achieve little. I'll have to look into it some more over the next few weeks.

One thing hasn't changed though. I saw my old boss not long ago. He was in his usual spot, sitting in a cafe having a coffee and a fag, and he was flicking through the draft of a Powerpoint presentation that he had to give to a meeting later that week. From experience, I knew that a 20 minute presentation would absorb several days of his time in drafting, plus a few days from subordinate managers like me. In many cases, he'd give the presentation, then be asked to come back a week later to do a follow up presentation containing more information.

I reckon you could reduce public sector employment by 20% by simply uninstalling Powerpoint from every PC in the place.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Fascinating classroom stuff

Via Frank Chalk, who makes a wonderful observation.

Kids in UK primary schools are supposedly better behaved now than in the 1970's.

The findings, based on observations of more than 70 educational psychologists in 141 classrooms across the UK, found a "fairly steady upward trend" in terms of improving behaviour.

Mr Apter, district senior educational psychologist at Wolverhampton City Council, said that class size did not appear to be a significant factor in behaviour, or the number of other adult assistants in the classroom.

The key to this improvement was the teacher, said Mr Apter, and their constant verbal engagement with pupils - which he says has been described as the "motor mouth" approach.

"Primary teachers work incredibly hard now - it's something that educational psychologists often comment upon. They are engaging pupils around the classroom, they seem very much compelled to get results," says Mr Apter.

The energy of this teaching style and the focused approach of teachers, he says, means that pupils are less likely to drift off or misbehave during lessons.

I went to two schools in the 1970's. I started in a state school in a country town, and whilst I did fairly well academically, the teachers had gone all "new age" and couldn't control a handful on 8 and 9 year olds. I started to run amok - we'd shoplift cigarettes and chips and that sort of thing (at age 8!)

Then I went to a very good private school, which the Headmaster ruled with an iron fist (I am talking about the Head of the junior school). I acted up on my first day - probably within my first hour - and was immediately dispatched to the Head's office to be caned. The shock of going from the anarchy of the state school to the military school approach was quite profound. It straightened me out pretty quick, and I started to achieve good academic results, and also turned into a reasonably human being.

Most kids have a naughty streak running through them - mine was certainly pretty wide and deep. You can talk some kids out of being naughty, but others just need to have it belted out of them. I was definitely in the second group - even at age 8, I could bend those new age state school teachers around my little finger when I was busted doing something bad. I don't think they believed that a kid of that age could be so manipulative and criminally minded.

Thank goodness I ended up under the wing of someone that was not so enamoured of new age wank. It hurt at first, but the results in the long run were much better.

No train, much pain

Bondi can be a swine of a place to get in and out of when it's busy. I've hardly swum there this year, but that has more to do with little kids sitting on my head at 6am rather than parking problems at the beach. When I was a regular swimmer, I aimed to hit the beach at sunrise, or shortly thereafter. That's about the only time of day (weekday or weekend) when one could guarantee a free parking spot a street or two back from the sand. I like to be able to park close enough so that I can walk to the beach barefoot - although my feet are so soft now, that is a non-starter.

The RTA has decided to destroy or antagonise all the businesses along Bondi Road by putting in clearway zones on the weekends. As someone that used to live at the top of Bondi Road, and walked down that road many, many times to the beach, I can state that clearways are a futile, stupid and ridiculous idea. They are the last nervous twitches of a braindead behemoth that thinks only about moving cars from A to B, and little about what to do with the cars when they reach B. They also think nothing of the cars that want to stop between A and B to buy a hamburger or a bottle of plonk or some fruit and vegies.

The RTA is utterly obsessed with the idea of traffic speeds - probably because some idiot Minister made that a key indicator of their success. When you consider that every parking spot within a mile of Bondi is taken by 8am, what could possibly be the point of trying to funnel more cars at higher speed into a parking free zone? The RTA might have a point if the council would allow the constuction of a 50 story car park just behind the shopping zone, but until that point, having two lanes between Bondi and the rest of the planet is like having two queues at the bank - both ending at the one teller. Or, more accurately for Bondi, no bank teller at all - just a closed window.

To cap it off, it was the stupid residents of Bondi that objected to the construction of a rail line down to their suburb, fearing that it would bring in "undesirables" (Lebanese muslims and Aboriginals) who would commit crime, lounge around and generally give the place a disreputable air.

Given that the place is usually over run with drunken, sunburned British yobs who tend to bash and pillage their way through the suburb, bringing in angry, disaffected, mysoginistic drug dealers, car thieves and rapists might be an improvement.

How to engineer a collision between man and bike

OK, this story is actually about a collision between woman and bike, or bike and woman. It would not have been pretty - I know the site of the crash really well, and I can say this - it was no accident.

JOHN ZALUGNA can point to the exact spot on the footpath beside Victoria Road where his wife lay bleeding and unconscious after being hit by a cyclist six years ago.

The yellow dots used by investigators to mark the outline of Maria Guliano's form on Iron Cove Bridge are still visible.

"We'd just come up the stairs onto the shared bicycle-pedestrian path which goes over the bridge," Mr Zalugna said. "The cyclist was coming down the path at a fair pace and he hit her head on."

The accident has left Ms Guliano with a brain injury that affects her memory.

I am so, so cautious when I carry my bike up those same stairs and step onto the Iron Cove Bridge, because that site is a crash waiting to happen. The shared path over the Iron Cove Bridge is too narrow for the number of pedestrians and cyclists that use it, and it is unfenced. If you get hit by a strong gust of wind, or collide with someone else, chances are you are going to end up on the road in front of a bus. It is a nasty bit of work.

But the city end is the pits, especially the spot where this crash happened. Cyclists can only ride on the footpath on one side of the road, since on the other side, it simply stops. The path is on a fairly fast, downhill section, and just above the bridge, it is nice and wide. The width, smoothness and steepness of the hill encourages cyclists to lay off the brakes and fly down the hill.

Then it gets tricky. The path rapidly narrows to less than half the width, and it goes into a sweeping right hander - and visibility is blocked by a high wall and overhanging trees. If a cyclist is being an idiot, they shoot out the bend with no idea of what is in front of them, and when they get there, it is too late to brake, and there is no room to go anywhere. It is a perfectly engineered crash site.

I hate coming up the stairs, because there is a time when I am vulnerable to some fool zooming around that bend and taking me out. When I get to the top of the stairs, I have to turn right, prop my bike, get on it and clip both feet into the pedals. That takes time. If I am clumsy that day, and my feet just can't find the slots in the pedals, it takes more time. I always worry during that time that, even though I am hard up against one side of the path, some loon will come careering around the bend and hit me from behind. There's pretty much nothing you can do about it, except to get out of that spot as rapidly as humanly possible - you simply reduce your exposure time to the risk.

The RTA has been asked for years to add a clip-on lane to the bridge to give cyclists and pedestrians a safer option, but they've constantly refused - probably because they have a hard-on for duplicating the bridge with an unnecessary and expensive extra bridge. When Rees cut the budget recently, I thought he might have grown a brain and cut the Iron Cove Bridge duplication, but he didn't. It was a $164 million gift, just waiting to be taken.

Idiots. They refuse to tack on a cheap improvement to the existing bridge that would be extremely useful, and instead commit to a very expensive duplication that will be as useful as a second arsehole.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Bees and icecream

I have not been riding much lately on account of the flu. I thought I was mostly over it last week, so I went for a spin.

That didn't last long.

I could barely get up to a good pace on the flat, let alone climb hills. I was gargling snot, and felt as flat as a tack. No energy whatsoever.

So I went back to bed and slept for a week.

Today was different. I could breathe. I had energy, I could climb hills and I almost went fast on the flat bits. Hooray.

So much for riding. Almost.

I was riding towards a house that was being demolished. That's a common sight around here - all the pokey little post-war brick bungaloes are making way for big fuck-off mansions with a nine car garage. What was different about it was that three blokes were squatting around a smokey fire at the front of the block whilst the bulldozer did its work behind them.

That was a bit odd. At first, I thought they were working on some wiring or piping in a pit, but as I drew level with them, I saw that it was a plain old fire. Making lots of smoke. They weren't boiling a kettle, and it was a warm day. What was going on?

About one second later, I rode into a huge swarm of bees. I take it that the demolition work had disturbed a nest, and the bees had decamped for the road. It's times like this that make my investment in some proper cycling sunglasses all worthwhile - the little sods were plinking and plonking off the hard plastic, and I quickly closed my mouth and concentrated on breathing as little as possible through both nostrils.

Thankfully, the swarm only stretched for 50 yards or so - I was through it in a few seconds. It's a good thing I had slowed down to check out the demolition - otherwise, I would have plowed into the swarm at speed with my mouth wide open, and that could have spelled trouble. A few of them decided to stick to my jersey as hitch hikers, but that didn't last long. As soon as they worked out that I was not a large daisy, they let go and buzzed off somewhere else.

That were the bees.

Now to icecream.

I have been weighing all the icecream that we buy for some time now. The "premium" stuff that we get at the local supermarket weighs 880 grams for a 2 litre tub, and costs about $6.80. The "super premium" stuff weighs more and costs more. But I'm over most of it, due to the small range of flavours.

I tried one of our local gellato makers on the weekend - this being wog town, there are a few within a short drive. I bought 2 x 1 litre tubs containing 7 varieties for $17, and each tub weighed 885 grams. It's dense. It's solid. It's twice as dense (or contains half the air) of the premium supermarket stuff. And it's only an extra $2 per tub.

Tell me again - why do we buy so much cheap icecream in this country?

I mechanic

I ran my blog through the Typealyzer and discovered that I am a "mechanic", of the ISTP variety.

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
Fascinating stuff.

Maybe I'll go light a fire and put it out.

Funnily enough, most of the blogs that I read are in the same category, or ISTJ, the Duty Fulfillers.

The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever.

The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.

I should try it with some lefty websites and see what it says. I can guess:

You are gay. Not in a homosexual way, but in a louche, lying around the house doing nothing all day kind of way, expecting other people to grow your food, fix your house and solve your problems kind of way. You are soft, weak and useless. Your most fervent wish is to be reincarnated as a garden ornament, since they sit around all day looking pretty and doing fuck all.

Please stop whining. No one cares.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The cult of poo meets the low flush toilet

I have been thinking.

Now, that is not always a good thing, but I want to share the results of my thinking with you.

We are facing a crisis. A horrible crisis.

This crisis has been brought about by the intersection of two modern fads:

  • The cult of the low-flush, environmental toilet
  • The cult of the high fibre diet
These cults will intersect one day in the red triangle below, which I have dubbed the "red zone of unflushable poo". If you are in this triangle, then you are in the shit.

This idea originated in some snippet that I read somewhere about Africans having enormous stools. No, I am not talking about foot stools that you sit on - Africans in Africa drop enormous woombies when they visit the bogger. It all has to do with their poverty stricken diet, which is low in meat and high in cheap, cheap, cheap porridge, made from unprocessed grains.

Now if you are wandering around the African shrubbery and you need to dump a poo the size of a 2 litre Coke bottle*, I don't think anyone is going to care. If you are using a long drop toilet, the fact that your stool could smother a large cat is of concern to no one.

But it is a worry when you drop that load into my modern, eco-friendly, low flush toilet, and the damned thing refuses to depart for the treatment plant.

So I started thinking - what happens when a hippy installs a low flush toilet, and simultaneously changes to a high fibre, low meat diet? Is this a recipe for disaster?

Given that this hippy is likely to be a university lecturer, I don't think they will have many problems with hygene. They're going to have a number of unpleasant experiences as they try to convince the enormous product of their bowels to navigate the S-bend, but I doubt they will stop until it is all gone. Even if they have to flush their low-flush toilet 10 times, and throw a roll or two of recycled toilet paper down the toilet to assist its departure.

You may of course appreciate the irony that a high fibre diet may induce low-flush toilet users to flush and flush and flush and flush until they have used 4 or 5 times as much water as a traditional cistern would require.

What happens though when you take some refugees from somewhere like, oh, Somalia, and stick them in eco-friendly public housing with eco-friendly low-flush toilets, and they refuse to adapt to the local diet of pizza, burgers and KFC? What happens if they stick to porridge, but are not terribly familiar with the idea an S-bend?

I think I have an explanation for the recent riots in Adelaide and Melbourne. These people are angry. They are upset. They are frustrated at the way they are being treated by patronising white people. They are being treated like crap.

They want a toilet that will move their movements. They want the same rights as the rest of us - to flush once and be done with it. I am sure that the Department that is looking after them has poo-poo'd these concerns, which would only serve to inflame the matter.

We really need to get to the bottom of this.

*When I was at school, there was this thing known as the "Bilson Bomb". If you ever visited a toilet and found that it was compeletely plugged by something that resembled two 400gm baked beans cans taped end to end and painted brown, then you had encountered a Bilson Bomb. I don't know how Bilson did them. Maybe he only did one poo per week. But one thing was sure - when he did them, no amount of flushing could get rid of them. He was notorious throughout our boarding house for his blocking abilities.

More school stats to ponder

1735099 popped by after my last post and left a useful, if slightly narky, comment about.... well, all sorts of things. It's worth reading what he had to say.

Here are some more stats for you from the world of education in NSW.

This graph shows the number of kids in the NSW state school system over the last 40 years. Numbers peaked in 1978 at 811,000, and have slowly dropped since then to a bit under 740,000 today.

In 1984, the department started keeping separate stats for SSP, or "specific purpose" schools. As of 2003, there were 3,938 disabled kids in them.

  • Mild intellectual disability - 2418
  • Physical disability - 117
  • Emotional disturbance - 202
  • Moderate intellectual disability - 1706
  • Hearing disability - 198
  • Behaviour disorder - 54
  • Severe intellectual disability - 233
  • Visual disability - 0
  • Language disorder - 298
There were another 6,958 disabled kids in "support" classes in ordinary high schools, and then another 5,226 in ordinary junior schools. The total number of kids with some form of disability was a bit over 16,000 in 2003.

It's interesting to note that, buried in one table, was that 245 are in juvenile justice schools.

The reason I went looking for these statistics is because of this item from 173's comment:

Much of the "fat" that BOAB insists has developed around educational institutions is taken up by personnel and programmes designed to help these children achieve independence, which saves the community millions in the lifetime of one individual.

I am quite willing to accept that this is true. However, if it is, then it means that parents (and voters and taxpayers) like myself have been decieved by the education industry for the last 20 years on the topic of average class sizes.

Look at this next graph. Student numbers have been falling, whilst teacher numbers have been increasing, so you would expect that class sizes would be diminishing (and maybe they are).

But these numbers are taken at the aggregate. I have always assumed that if the number of teachers has increased, then they must have been spread evenly across the entire school system, so that all schools and students would supposedly benefit from the greater number of talking heads. If you look at the entire system, and calculate the ratio of students per teacher, you get this list of figures:

  • 2000 - 12.4
  • 2001 - 12.2
  • 2002 - 12.1
  • 2003 - 10.7
  • 2004 - 10.7
  • 2005 - 10.4
  • 2006 - 9.9
  • 2007 - 9.7
If the ratio is declining, then you'd expect class sizes to be declining as well.

However, consider what 173 said - most of the teachers have been funneled into one area, the teaching of the disabled. The number of teachers and support staff jumped from 61,500 in 2000 to 75,800 in 2007 - an increase of over 14,000 people. What if 173 is right, and say 10,000 of these ended up teaching 16,000 disabled kids, leaving only 4,000 to be thrown at the other 722,000 kids in the system? Would that make a significant difference to the class sizes of the 722,000?

I think not.

It makes me wonder whether we have been sold a pup.

I highly recommend that you look at this graph for a few minutes (from Burning our Money). It's a wonderful breakdown of where government money goes in the UK - I wish we had similar things here.

I have stolen this snippet from it:

Look at the numbers. The education department gets 60.9 billion pounds.

Of that, 41.2 billion goes to schools. 10.7 billion pounds go on teacher pensions. Only 31.7 billion of the original 60.9 billion ends up going into "general school spending".

31.7 divided by 60.9 equals 52%. General school spending gets 52% of the education budget. The other 48% is gobbled up by all sorts of things.

Now, think about how you can spin these numbers. Let's assume there are 10 million school kids in the UK. If I was in government, I would be saying that we were spending 6,000 pounds per child per year on their education - that's the headline 60 billion figure, divided by 10 million kids.

But I just told you that only 31.7 billion pounds actually make it down to the school level. The rest is siphoned off elsewhere. If I was generous, I might allow that 41.2 billion was spent on schools, or about 4,000 pounds per head - but that is a huge difference to a "spun" figure of 6,000 pounds per head.

Note that10.7 billion is spent each year on pensions.

Now let's imagine that in 2006, the department did not have to allocate money to pensions (because of an arcane government accounting rule), meaning that their budget was 50.2 billion. A politician might boast that spending per head was 5,000 pounds.

Then the government decides that the department must fund its own pensions, so it adds 10.7 billion to the 2007 budget to pay for pensions. Not a penny of that will be spent on teaching, but the headline budget is now 60.9 billion. If I was a spin doctor, I'd be saying that I just increased spending per child by 20% from 5,000 pounds per annum to 6,000 pounds. Aren't I wonderful?

This type of crap gets pulled all the time, which is why I am wary as hell of all numbers published by the government.

Consider this snippet which was buried in 6 point font under a table on page 152 of this report:
Note: The Department of Education and Training has changed its
method of reporting its staff FTE in the Annual Report to reflect the
NSW Public Sector Workforce Profile data. This means that all casual
and temporary employees are now reported, including those replacing
employees on paid leave. The data reflect staff FTE at the last pay period
in June 2003.
In 2002, the department counted 62,513 teachers and support staff. Thanks to this rule change, in 2003, they counted 70,144 - a massive jump of 7,631. I doubt the numbers of teachers grew much at all - they just started counting people that they had not previously counted. But how do you think that was spun? As a massive jump in teacher numbers. Only the sharp-eyed would have noticed this in 6 point font on page 152 of a supplementary report that no one apart from me has bothered to read since 2003.

Consider this table again - the ratio of students to teachers:

  • 2000 - 12.4
  • 2001 - 12.2
  • 2002 - 12.1
  • 2003 - 10.7
  • 2004 - 10.7
  • 2005 - 10.4
  • 2006 - 9.9
  • 2007 - 9.7
I then got these numbers from the 2007 report:

Class sizes have been reduced below the statewide average targets set for 2007. These were:

* 20 for Kindergarten students;
* 22 for Year 1 students; and
* 24 for Year 2 students.
Let's think about this for a minute. We know that across the board, there are 9.7 teachers for every student. Let's also assume that we have average class sizes of 22.


At the payroll level, we have 9.7 pupils per teacher, but in the classroom, it is 22 pupils per teacher.

Why the disparity?

If we lived in a perfectly efficient system, these two ratios would be much closer together (although teaching professionals may have all manner of reasons for why they should be different).

For instance, if the school day consists of 5 hours of teaching broken into 6 x 50 minute periods, one might expect that many teachers would spend the majority of those periods teaching. ie, if there are 6 teaching slots per day, you teach for 6 slots.

I am sure I will be howled down at this point, because teachers use free periods for marking work, doing lesson plans and the like. Fair enough. But how many free periods per day or per week do they need to do this? Out of 30 periods per week, would 3 be sufficient for this sort of thing, allowing a "wastage" rate of 10%?

Then we have annual leave and so on. In all my years at school, I only remember 2 or 3 instances of a teacher taking leaving during term. One was when our Reverend went to the middle east for a few months - that really sticks in my mind. Apart from his long absence, I don't remember any taking time off when school was in. That's what school holidays were for - for teachers and students alike. Are we in a situation today where teachers are taking large amounts of leave outside the holiday periods? If so, why?

Then we have things like training and personal development. Given the long periods when schools are out, I don't think it is too much to ask that teachers undertake training over those periods, rather than during term. But maybe that is not the case anymore.

Anyway, how can we have such a large discrepency between the number of teaching hours available (the ratio of 9.7) vs the number of hours actually taught (class size of 22 or so)? Are teachers really spending over 50% of their time doing non-teaching activities? Is there another way to explain where all that time (and money) is going?

I know that 173 thinks that I have it in for teachers, and he's right - I have it in for some of the modern lot. Not all of them. I certainly have it in for the Department - but that is another story for another time.

Consider Junior's Maths teacher.

His teacher is barely out of Uni. Class control is non-existant. Homework is set, but it is only half of what is recommended - Junior is sent home being told to do all the even numbered questions in his book, when clearly he needs to be doing all of the questions in order to gain proficiency in each set. I have to make up additional questions for him to do after his homework so that he gets sufficient repetition for things to sink in. It worked for me, and it's working for him.

No work is taken out of the class for marking - the kids swap homework when they get to class and mark each others. At 3.01pm, this teacher has left the school grounds. They are unobtainable during school hours, and unobtainable afterwards. They did not show for a social parent-teacher get together. At a formal parent-teacher night, they were so disorganised and went so over time, J was unable to see them. A time was supposed to have been organised for a catch up at a later date, but that's never happened.

In short, we are dealing with an educational black hole. I did get some feedback on two occasions - I was rung at work to be told that Junior was doing badly. This was halfway through the year, when he managed to get 12% (yes, 12%) on a maths test. I think the only reason the teacher bothered to tell us about this disaster was because they had been ordered to make contact with the parents of those disasters.

I asked that they make time for us to come and have a chat face to face. Permission denied.

I asked for material to be emailed to my home email account so that we could see where Junior was failing. Nothing came of that.

When Junior was sick, I rang his course advisor and asked for the same. They said they'd discuss it with his teacher. Nothing came of that.

I asked for their mobile number so that we could chat further if there was no progress. Permission denied.

I asked for their work email address so that we could do the same. Permission denied.

I asked her for a landline number at the school where I could reach them. Permission denied.

I asked that they call me again if his behavioural problems in class continued. No further response.

Not all the teachers at this school are like this. Some are quite good, but they are all let down by drones like I have just descibed. I would prefer that Junior had a really good teacher who could control and teach a class of 30, rather than an also-ran that can't control and teach a class of 20. Greater teacher numbers are not the answer as far as I am concerned.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Someone help me add this up

I am going to present to you some tables of numbers, and I want you to think about what you see in these numbers.

Number 1
  • 2002 - 50,084
  • 2003 - 50,016
  • 2004 - 50,215
  • 2005 - 50,704
  • 2006 - 51,385

Number 2

  • 2004 - 56,161
  • 2005 - 57,184
  • 2006 - 58,528
  • 2007 - 59,225
Number 3

  • 2004 - 69,757
  • 2005 - 71,310
  • 2006 - 74,450
  • 2007 - 75,821

Although the years do not match exactly, these three tables exhibit a common characteristic - as time goes by, the number goes up.

I am now going to give you some additionals sets of numbers.

Number 4

  • 2000 - 761,836
  • 2001 - 756,740
  • 2002 - 754,800
  • 2003 - na
  • 2004 - 745,507
  • 2005 - 741,578
  • 2006 - 740,415
  • 2007 - 738,636
These numbers appear to be going down year by year.

Number 5

  • 2003 - 8,213
  • 2004 - 9,088
  • 2005 - 9,248
  • 2006 - 9,944
Number 6
  • 2003 - 10,555
  • 2004 - 11,675
  • 2005 - 11,905
  • 2006 - 12,423
But in this last lists, the numbers are going up year by year.

All these numbers are from the NSW Department of Education annual reports. They are statistics from the state school system.

Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are different measures of teacher headcount. I'm not sure which table is most accurate, but they are supposed to show the number of teachers and support staff at our state schools. Whichever table you choose, there has been growth in the numbers.

Number 4 shows the number of pupils enrolled in the NSW state school system. It has been steadily declining for years. I think it peaked around 800,000 some years back, and has dropped by over 50,000 from its peak. But note that as student numbers have fallen, teacher numbers have grown.


Numbers 5 and 6 are supposed to be the cost per full time equivalent (FTE) student. Note that the cost per student has gone up markedly over that period as well. I have no idea how this number is calculated.

Think for a moment about productivity. In almost every facet of economic endeavour, we aim to do more with less. We replaced a horde of shovel wielding navvies with a bulldozer and one driver. Computers have replaced acres of clerks. McDonalds led the way in cooking more burgers, faster with fewer staff. Car manufacturers are constantly looking at ways to cut the number of man hours that it takes to build a car. Even plumbing fittings have been rethought so that they can be installed by fewer people with less effort. No matter what we do, we are always trying to think of a way of doing it faster, cheaper, easier and more productively and efficiently.

Except for teaching.

It is the one area where a massive fall in productivity is seen as a good thing.

When I was a wee lad, there were 30 of us to a class. Now the norm is closer to 20, and in the state system, there is one support person for every 3 teachers. Don't ask me what the support people do - maybe they teach special classes to the special kids that the special teachers are unable to teach properly.

Take these easy to digest numbers.

When I was at school, with a class size of 30 and no support staff, you would require 10 teachers to stuff knowledge into the heads of 300 ignorant, befuddled, spotty youth (that was us).

In the time since I was at school, the development of the microchip has spawned generations of labour saving devices. Whilst it might have taken 100 man-hours to build an XA Falcon when I was leaving school, it probably takes 30 to build the current Falcon. Human operated plug-type switchboards will still in operation when I was getting hard-ons in maths. Seen any of them in use lately?

For that same group of 300 spotty little ferals, we would now require up to 15 teachers, and those 15 teachers would be supported by a further 5 support staff - making a total of 20 teaching staff.

Are kids being taught astrophysics in Grade 3 these days? I think not. I helped Junior with his maths homework this year, and it is not beyond me yet. Here are some examples of the sums that he was completely unable to do a week ago, and he can now do thanks to my tutoring:
  • -5x-3x-4
  • 14-3x6
  • -5+2x-7+8
Are children stupider than they were 20 years ago? Has the modern diet rendered them thicker than two short planks? Has an overload of TV shrunk their brains to the size of golfballs?

Have they introduced some really far-out subjects into the curriculum? I'm not talking about golf and windsurfing - are they now teaching Latin for instance? Dad did Latin at school, and he always said it was a right bastard of a subject.

I think the answer to most of these questions is "no". The coursework does not appear to be tougher. The students are not stupider. There are some whacky subjects that you can do, but not many kids are studying them.

If that is the case, why then do we need more teachers when we have fewer students?

I can only surmise that the teachers have gotten thicker since I was having dusters thrown at my head for failing to concentrate in maths.

Oops, I think that is the wrong answer. The teaching establishment would have us think that more teachers will produce better results for Master Johnny Thickchild. More teachers equals better grades.

Well, I trawled through reams and reams and reams of statistics about this on the Department's website, and I couldn't see any evidence of that. None. OK, there might have been a tiny improvement here and there, but you have to ask this question:

Is the cost worth it?

In 2003, the average cost per high school student was $10,555. In 2006, that had grown to $12,423 - an increase of 18% (yes, you can discount that somewhat for inflation blah-blah-blah). Let's say the after-inflation growth was 10%. What did that buy us? A 10% improvement in grades? A 10% improvement in literacy and numeracy? 10% less truancy and violence against teachers?

I believe the following:

A smart, motivated kid will learn an enormous amount in a class of 100.

An unmotivated bonehead will learn nothing with one-on-one tutoring.

I have read most of Junior's textbooks - they are far easier to read than anything I ever had. Classrooms are better equipped today than they were 20 years ago. Teachers supposedly have better training than at any time in history. We have more gadgets, aids and programs to support learning than.....I don't know, than a dog has fleas. Smart people have produced untold numbers of gizmos and online training tools and robots and distance learning aids and all that crap - all of it should make a teacher more productive. A teacher, properly equipped with all these fandangled doo-dads should be able to teach a class of 50 by now to the same standard as a teacher of 20 years ago had with a class of 30.

And yet.... class sizes have fallen rather than grown. All that technology, all that investment in support systems and aids - it has all been for nothing. If anything, it has so cluttered and confused the modern classroom that teachers are unable to cope with trying to stuff knowledge into the heads of 20 brats.

How is it that we have been brainwashed by the education establishment into thinking that a decline in teacher productivity is a good thing? It has led to an escalation in labour costs that has choked off capital investment in schools, reduced our ability to pay good teachers a good salary, and ensured that only chicken feed is left in the budget to pay for incidentals for kids.

I know that this idea will upset some people. More teachers is a good thing - right? That is not a position that you can fault, apparently. More teachers must produce better outcomes.... think of the children.

Providing more teachers is only a good thing if the quality of the additional teachers is as good or better than the existing crowd. There is little point in having 100 good teachers and adding 50 moronic drones to their ranks. Diluting the quality of anything never improves it.

There just aren't that many people out there that are cut out to be good or great teachers. The supply is very, very finite - but bureaucrats, policy makers, teacher's unions and politicians seem to think that it is infinite. In their drive for quantity, quality has been ignored.

Saying that we might be better off with fewer teachers will send most special interest groups ballisitic. The thing that amazes me is that teachers, who are supposed to be educated, fail to understand that resources are finite. The government budget is only so big. Yes, it can grow each year as the general economy grows, but the money is just not there to massively increase salaries. In every other walk of life, if you want to be paid more, you have to lift your productivity. If teachers are to be paid say $120,000 instead of $80,000, then the easiest way to do that is to lift their productivity by 50%. You want that money, get used to the idea of a class of 30 instead of 20.


Have a think about this comment as well:

A paltry $76.62 for each child for the whole year is the budget for one NSW public primary school a principal revealed this week.

According to the education department, it costs $9,944 per primary student this year. A school of 500 kids should therefor have a budget of 9944x500 = $4.9 million.

$76.62 per child is 0.7% of the amount spent per child (on average) in state primary schools. How can the budget be so screwed up that so little can be allocated to this line item? Who is in charge of school budgets? Do principals really have $9,944 per student to play with, or does the department control most of the spending, allowing the schools have only a smll portion of that to actually work with?

Does the $9,944 include all the overhead of the bureaucracy, or is this the amount that is actually spent at the front line on teaching? It is no good saying that the average spend per kid is $9,944 if $5,000 of that is absorbed in cushy offices in town by bureaucrats, and only $4,944 reaches the school for spending on maintenance, salaries and so on.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The real Australia premiere

I had to drive into town yesterday for a meeting. Boy, was that a big mistake. After driving around for 25 minutes looking for a parking space, and noticing the total proliferation of tow trucks removing badly parked cars, I rang the bloke I was supposed to be meeting to call it off.

He explained that the movie "Australia" was premiering that night, and that his end of town was madness.

Gee, thanks Baz. I could have billed at least an hour for that meeting.

The photo above shows how I will remember this day - this is part of an absolute swarm of tow trucks that were blitzing the southern end of the CBD. It was a frenzy of tow trucks, and the pickings were rich. Unlike the aftermath of a traffic crash, every driver got something to tow away.

Junior's dad is part of the entertainment industry (the "arts-industrial complex" as we should call it) and he spent six months or so up north on the shoot as an assistant of some sort to Mr Luhrman. We have no idea what happens in the movie, as he hardly came back during that entire period, so we didn't pick up any gossip. I don't think I'll be seeing the movie - it feels too much like "Pearl Harbour" for my taste.

A lot of movies have their premiere at the State Theatre in Market St. I used to work in a building nearby, and I'd leave the office at say 8pm and walk outside to find that the footpath was completely closed off, and that red carpet had been laid down the path towards the train station. Limos would be pulling up, disgorging the buffed and the botoxed, and the only way out for me would be to walk down the carpet and jump the fence at the far end near Town Hall.

The street would be packed with thousands of the screaming idiots that always turn up at these events, hoping to get their mug on camera. The bouncers would always let me through, as going down the carpet was the only way I could actually leave my workplace. I must have been photographed by the paparazzi at least a dozen times over the years, but sadly, my face has never appeared in a gossip mag.

I hope it stays that way.

How to stop piracy

We could probably stop piracy the same way we combatted the U-boat menace.

With convoys.

The US Navy was bitterly opposed to convoys back when the Krauts were last prowling the waves in earnest, and it took the sinking of a few million tonnes of shipping to change their minds.

If you put 30 or 40 ships into a convoy, you only need a few naval escorts to protect the lot. You don't need to have escorts steaming all over the ocean looking for pirates - all the juice is in one place - the convoy. You simply forget about the rest of the ocean, and whatever pirates might be sailing on it, and just concentrate on the bit of water surrounding the convoy. If we could protect convoys in WWII with trawlers armed with a 6-pounder cannon, I'm sure we can protect a modern convoy with one or two frigates.

Convoys date back to Napoleonic times, and naval captains and merchant captains have always hated them. The merchant captains hate being coralled into a herd and having to hold position in a convoy and sail at the speed of the slowest ship. Navy types hate having to herd fractious merchant prima-donna's.

Still, if the situation is serious enough, it will eventually make sense to both the shipping companies and the navies tasked with protecting the sea lanes. Unfortunately, the pirates will probably have to kill a bunch of people before that happens.

How to reduce the DOCS workload

DOCS in this case stands for the Department of Community Services - the mob that have to deal with child abuse etc.

I have been reading a bit more about this awful bloody case in the UK, and was struck by the fact that the family had been visited 60 times by case workers.

60 times.

I say again, 60 times.

When I was studying auditing, way back in the 1980's, we were taught this idea of the Audit Program. Let's say you are a big company, and you have 10 internal audit staff. They work 40 hours a week, get 4 weeks leave a year and are allowed 2 weeks of sick leave as well. They also get 2 weeks training per year.

So you essentially have them for 44 weeks of the year for 40 hours a week. Let's see, that's 1760 hours.

As a rule of thumb, I reckon that if you have a good worker working in a good environment, they'll be doing actual productive work about 60% of the time. The other 40% is taken up with going to the toilet, filling out administrative paperwork, attending meetings, performing evaluations, moving office, gossiping, going out for a coffee etc etc etc.

So out of our 1760 available hours that someone spends in the office each year, you actually get to really use 60% of them, or 1056 hours.

If you have 10 staff, you have 10,000 hours (rounding them down a bit). The idea of the Audit Program was to set down at the start of the year how you would spend those hours - so many hours checking the accounts payable system, so many hours spent counting petty cash, so many hours spent doing this, that and something else. The general idea was that you spend your hours where you will get most bang for your buck - in the high risk areas.

If you do your plan and find that you will actually need 12,000 hours to carry it out, you either need to employ a couple of contractors, authorise a pile of overtime or cut back on some audit activities.

Resources are finite. That was the lesson. Resources are finite. They must be used wisely.

Social workers are no different. Using the above numbers, and assuming that they spend a lot of time travelling between appointments, you might find that they only spend 500 hours per year in "face time" with "clients". That might in fact be a large over-estimate in some cases.

The problem that many managers have is that they look at their staff and imagine that they have them for 52 weeks of the year, 40 hours a week - ie, about 2000 hours per person, when in reality they might get 500 useable hours out of them.

Even in call centres, where staff are monitored more closely than battery hens and calls costs are calculated to the nearest cent, you still get a certain amount of wastage. It's a fact of life - the only thing that differs between companies and industries is the level of wastage.

So, back to the social workers. Let's just accept that they have a very limited amount of time to spend with their clients - maybe 10 hours a week of face time in some circumstances, especially if they have an idiot boss that puts all sorts of restrictions on their travel, wants them back in the office for endless meetings, and is manic about people attending diversity courses and the like.

That means on one side of the ledger, we have very limited resources. But on the other side, we have potentially limitless misery and suffering, and possibly a reasonable amount of death. Or even an unreasonable amount of death. If that's the case, then you need to be brutally efficient in the way you deal with the misery. You need to chop-chop-chop through it like a Toyota production line. There is no time to faff about, because the more time you spend faffing on one case, the less time you have to deal with all the other cases.

And that's how kids end up dying.

Let's go back to our social worker with the 500 hours of face time per year with clients - or 10 hours a week. 2 hours per day. Let's assume they have 20 clients on the go at any one time, and more coming onstream all the time. How do you spend your day? If you see each client every day, you can give them 6 minutes each.

Hmm, not a lot of time to really evaluate a situation, or help a family with a problem.

6 minutes. Many people spend longer on the toilet each morning doing a number 2.

We know that the family of Baby P was seen some 60 times. I imagine the same thing happening with many other cases, where the job of the social worker is to turn up each week and essentially determine that the children are still alive, tick a box and leave.

Yes, that's a rough way of putting it, but I am sure that is how some of them see their job - because they have no alternative.

There are three alternatives that I can think of when it comes to kids being abused:

  1. You leave the kid with the parents, who continue to shoot up smack on a daily basis, and utterly fail to improve their existance
  2. You leave the kids with the parents, who get a job, give up smack and become normal, white bread, middle class parents
  3. You take the kid away
How often does option 2 take place? In the movies, it happens all the time, but we know that most stuff that comes out of Hollywood is crap. Option 2 is probably a very rare event, something that is celebrated with champagne at the DOCS office when it occurs. And I bet if you searched the DOCS bins for a year, you would find very few champagne bottles.

Option 3 never seems to happen either. Very few people have the stomach for it. I imagine it would be terribly heart rending and awful to take a kid away from its parents, so people chicken out and take the soft option.

The soft option is choosing option 1, yet hoping and praying that option 2 is what will result.

Sounds a lot like "hope and change" to me.

If I ruled the planet, I'd give parents 3 chances. DOCS visits you once, twice, three times - and then the kids are taken away.

For good.

You lose all your child benefits and public housing and all that sort of crap.

If you come back a few years later and can show that you have been employed full time for a few years, have good references from your landlord and employer and can show a record of weekly drug free test results over a long period, then you can apply to have your kids back.

If you fail all of the above, and have another kid, we chop your balls off. Then we take that kid away too.

3 chances, or 3 strikes - that's it. Not 60 fucking strikes. Not 20 strikes. Not weekly visits by every man and his dog to check on how many broken bones your kid has this month.

3 strikes. 3.

DOCS would of course have to recruit a whole new generation of ruthless people. Utterly ruthless. Totally ruthless. Useless parents should live in mortal fear of DOCS. That knock on the door should cause useless parents to poo their pants.

Just harden the fuck up, people. Option 1 is a waste of space.

BMW sales collapse

Want a cheap BMW?

Now might be the time to get a good deal.

Gossip I heard today is that the largest dealer in Sydney (and possibly in Australia) has recently laid off around half their staff. Sales are down 60%.

Are they mad?

A fascinating article in the SMH today on a new government policy - if you are living in squalor, the government will pay for someone else to clean your house.

After I fell off my chair and picked myself up off the ground, I read further into the article. My first thought was that if you are living in squalor, then it is your responsibility to clean up after yourself.

The number of elderly people who live in severe squalor - among rotting piles of garbage, scurrying rodents, sodden bedclothes and sometimes a menagerie of animals - appears to be on the rise, presenting local councils, welfare workers and neighbours with financial and ethical dilemmas.

Dilemma? I consider myself a libertarian in many ways, but if someone is living like this, then they are beyond looking after themselves. This is what old people's homes are for (assuming the person is old). You get a court order, and you put them in a home. You don't perpetuate the situation by cleaning up their dump, then leaving them there to turn it into a dump again. It's just a drain on the taxpayer.

The managing director of Catholic Healthcare, Chris Rigby, said the average cost of a squalor clean-up was $3000, and in the most extreme cases could amount to $60,000.
If the old person owns the property that is being cleaned, and they have no money to pay for the cleanup, then when the person dies and their property is sold, I hope the agency that did the cleanup comes back and demands that the bill be paid from the proceeds of selling the property. I'd hate to think that the useless kids, who did nothing to help their elderly parents, profit from the sale of the property and profit even more from you and I paying to have it cleaned!

A study by John Snowdon, professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Sydney, showed at least one in 1000 elderly people lived in appalling filth, amounting to about 500 in the state at any one time. "In addition there are at least 500 younger people," Professor Snowdon said.
If we have 500 living in this state at any one time, then we need 500 more places in nursing homes or whatever that can cater for these people.

Most of the elderly people had dementia, alcoholic brain damage or intellectual disabilities, or simply could no longer physically cope with maintaining a house. Many of the younger ones had schizophrenia or drug and alcohol addictions. "And there are some with personalities that cause them to acquire lots and lots of useless possessions, hoarding everything from lawn mowers to pizza cartons."
If you thought I was being harsh when I said they should be taken away to the elderly version of the funny farm, I hope the above paragraph disabuses you of that thought. Many of these people are unable to cope, physically or mentally, with cleaning up their homes. Elderly people are not going to grow the muscles required to thoroughly clean a house once a week. Their muscles will waste more as they age, making it more difficult for them to do it next year than it is this year. Those with alcoholic brain damage or dementia are unlikely to grow a new set of brain cells, and suddenly be able to do all the things that you and I do each week - scrub the toilet, do the dishes, mop the floors, vaccuum the house, take out the garbage etc etc etc. Face it - they are beyond looking after themselves.

Susan Graham, senior co-ordinator of the Severe Domestic Squalor Project, said the work involved enormous patience to win people's trust.
"Enormous patience" equals spending a lot of time with them, and that means paying someone to sit around with them for days. If you are talking about a social service, then it means the taxpayer is paying for a social worker to sit there and gain their trust. It would be so much cheaper and easier to say "bugger the trust" and pack them off to a funny farm.

"I have to assess whether the situation is retrievable; some people are living in premises that are falling down around their ears, that are serious fire risks, or infested with birds and vermin. There's no hot water and the floorboards are falling through."
So cleaning them up is just the start. Now we also have to pay for renovations. Like I said before, assuming these people own the property in question, the taxpayer should be first in line for a payout when the property is sold.

My mind boggles at things like this. It boggles even more at the people in the government agencies who come up with these policies. To me, this sounds like a bad case of taking the softest option possible, because no one wants to play the part of the nasty Nurse Ratched.

Harden up, people.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

I might actually be a source of serious news

I was reading this story on parking meters in the SMH yesterday and I thought, "That's interesting - that's a bit like my experience from last week". My interest was really piqued when I noticed that Shayne Mallard got a mention.

So I looked up the phone number for the SMH and asked to be put through to the reporter, Sunanda Creagh. I was telling her about the problem I had when she said, "Are you Boy on a Bike? Shayne mentioned you to me."

I just about fell out of my chair.

Anyway, I thought I would run some numbers to demonstrate a point.

Let's say that in First St, you have 20 parking spots and 2 parking meters.

From 10am to 4pm, they charge $2 per hour.

From 6pm to 7am, they charge $1 per hour.

Now, if you get 100% occupancy, and no residents taking up a spot, then you get this maths (I hope it is correct):

  • Daytime - 6 hours x 20 spots x $2 per hour = $240
  • Night - 13 hours x 20 spots x $1 per hour = $260
  • Total for 24 hours = $500
I doubt you'd ever get anywhere near that much per day. Not every spot will be filled as soon as it is vacated. Some spots will be empty for hours. Some drivers will park and not pay, hoping to avoid a Ranger. Others will pay for half an hour, but sit there for an hour.

You'll also get some overpaying, with people paying for an hour, but leaving after half an hour, but let's assume that with wastage, resident parking and so on that the actual amount you can collect during the day is 80% of the theoretical maximum - 80% x $240 = $192. You might find in reality that the actual figure is 40% or 25% - I don't know. I don't work for a Council.

During the nighttime period, you might find that the figure drops to 60%, as demand for spots falls off after midnight, and residents return to takeover the spots. That gives a theoretical maximum for the nighttime period of 60% x $260 = $156.

Using those calculations, you'd expect to never get more than $348 from those two meters per day. That comes to $174 per day per meter.

The actual percentage figures must be much lower, because Council took in $27 million from 1320 meters last year, which comes to $20,500 per meter per year, or around $56 per day per meter. That's just an average. Some meters might be coining it, whilst others are barely making any money.

Anyway, back to my theoretical calculations. We have assumed that based on certain "conversion rates" of 80% and 60%, the meters in First St should never take in more than $174 each per day, or $348 for the two of them.

However, back in the Town Hall, a vigilant accountant is running reports and finds that these meters are in fact bringing in $504 per day. Remember that back at the start, we ran the numbers and found that with a perfect conversion rate of 100%, the maximum these meters could make per day is $500. How can they suddenly be collecting $504?

Easy. Charge $2 at night, instead of the advertised rate of $1.

Here's the maths:

  • Daytime - 6 hours x 20 spots x $2 per hour x 80% occupancy = $192
  • Night - 13 hours x 20 spots x $2 per hour x 60% occupancy = $312
  • Total for 24 hours = $504

What I am getting at here is that if meters are charging double what they are supposed to for night time parking, then an anomaly should show up in the reports. If Council is using some business intelligence software like Brio or Cognos, these anomalies should show up quite quickly.

Now, if it is just one parking meter that is wrongly set, you might not spot the anomaly. But if all 1320 are bung, it would show up pretty quickly. You see, the accountants would have run their numbers when setting out the budget, and they would have estimated how much the meters would take, given certain assumptions and variables. Income from parking meters went up 13% last year. Why is that so?

What could drive a jump like that?

  • Higher hourly charges would do it
  • Greater usage of parking spots would do it
  • Installing more parking meters would do it
  • Extending the number of hours where you have to pay to park would do it
  • Fewer resident parking stickers would do it
  • A large number of incorrectly programmed parking meters would do it
Every accountant that I have ever met would be all over an anomalous result like a dog on a bone. Accountants live for outlying numbers - they are the only things that provide some colour in an otherwise grey and boring day. Did anyone bother trying to find out why parking income shot up 13%, or was it just treated as manna from heaven, with the assumption being that lots more people were parking for longer?

I hope Shayne can get to the bottom of this.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Back to the future of Windows 2000

Windows 2000. Anyone remember what that looked like?

Just mentioning the name makes me think of Windows 95 (shudder), Windows 98 (shudder even more) and NT 3.51 (actually not too bad).

We are a four computer family, which is not bad given that two of us are still in nappies. J has the oldest PC in the place, and it has finally been retired as a work PC and is currently being rebuilt for Junior as an "educational" tool.

Until about 6 hours ago, it was running XP. "Running" is not really the right word. Dawdling would be more accurate. The poor old thing only had 192MB of RAM in it - less than 10% of what the PC that I am typing this on contains. 192MB would have been marvelous for running Windows 3.11 (actually, 8MB wasn't bad for Windows 3.11), but it was utter rubbish for XP.

So I have downgraded it to Windows 2000. And boy, with that on it, it flies. It zooms. It is now by far the fastest computer in the house to boot. Don't ask me tricky questions like "what sort of processor has it got in it", because I don't know. I do know that the processor is utterly buried under a pile of fluff, because I had to open the case to look at the chip for the onboard network card in order to find the right driver for it, and it was like looking into an enormous bellybutton. Every bit of dead skin and navel lint that we have shed over the last 5 years has ended up in the guts of that computer. It really does look like a small fluffy thing has crept in there, bred several hundred other small fluffy things and they are now nesting on the motherboard.

I think we might have tribbles.

I am now in the process of loading service packs and updates. It has taken longer to load SP4 and 68 (!) - yes 68 (!!!!!) critical updates than it took to install the base operating system.

Finding drivers for it has been a complete pain in the ring. The video chip was from Nvidia - that was easy to track down, but the network chip, also from Nvidia, was as hard to find as Bill Clinton's honour. As I said earlier, I had to open the case to find the chip type, because the HP and Compaq websites were a complete waste of space. You think that they'd be able to tell you what drivers to use with each model...... but that is so 1990's I guess. Who needs to bother with that sort of thing these days, since Vista comes with about a Petabyte of drivers when you install it.

I have been dreading this rebuild, thinking that it would take days, but the surprising thing is how quickly it has gone. It's amazing to think that in comparsion to the bloated carcases that we install today, Windows 2000 could now be considered as a lean and mean OS.

Never thought I'd ever see myself writing those words.

A blog worth reading

Rentergirl - the trials and tribulations of a renter in Manchester. Good commentary on all sorts of things that interest me - I won't go into them. Just pop over and read a few posts.

Spin doctoring in 1940

In my previous post about killing babies, I attempted to show the mindset that leads the bureaucracy and government to fool itself into thinking that no problems exist - even when one clearly exists. Certain people think that if the official record states that there is no problem, then there is no problem.

Here is a quote from Monty Vol II, by Nigel Hamilton from the period just after Dunkirk. This is England's darkest hour, with a badly defeated army just back from France, lacking all essential equipment (because it had been abandoned and destroyed on the beaches). England is facing invasion, and Monty is back in command of the 3rd Division, which is tasked with holding the area around Portsmouth.

Churchill paid Monty a visit, and Monty wanted his division to be given buses so that he could move his troops around to counter-attack wherever the Germans landed.

Quote starts here:

Churchill agreed to take the matter up. He was as good as his word, and the next day sent a memorandum to the Secretary of State for War, appropriating Bernard's view as his own:

"I was disturbed to find the 3rd Division spread along thirty miles of coast, instead of being as I had imagined held back concentrated in reserve, ready to move against any serious head of invasion."

Moreover Churchill declared himself 'astonished' that the division had not been provided with buses when there were at that moment 'a large number of buses even now plying for pleasure traffic up and down the sea-front at Brighton'. Enquiries were made; not unnaturally GHQ Home Force resented the way a mere divisional commander should voice objection to GHQ policy and practice. 'General Montgomery did not give you quite the whole picture,' General Ismay, the Military Secretary to the War Cabinet, replied to the PM on 4 July: if necessary a divsional commander had authority to hire transport 'for the conveyance of one brigade'.

Churchill was not appeased. In red ink he scrawled across Ismay's letter: 'The 3rd Division above all should be fully mobile in every brigade. Has this been done? When is it going to be withdrawn into reserve?'

So even at a time of great national peril, after a terrible calamity, the shiny bums in head office were writing slimy little memos to the PM that attempted to get themselves off the hook, and to paint Montgomery in a bad light.

Churchill of course saw straight through their shit, and was having none of it. But then he was that kind of guy.

How would our PM respond today? Our thin lipped, pudding-grey faced product of the uber-bureaucracy?

He would endorse the thoughts of GHQ and probably sack Monty for daring to question policy, even if it was stupid enough to make it easier for the Germans to conquer the country.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Killing babies 101

From my reading of the blogs and newspapers, the UK is up in arms at the moment over the death of Baby P. Two of my favourite blogs - The Devil's Kitchen and Burning Our Money have both decried the fact that an insider got their lawyer to write to the government warning them that procedures that were put in place after the earlier death of another infant were not being followed.

In fact quite a few letters were written, and all were ignored.

Having been in the belly of the beast, I will now explain how and why that can happen.

Let's say you are the RTA, and each year you run a number of unpopular road projects. There is one going on in my backyard at this very moment - the duplication of the Iron Cove Bridge.

The RTA has to invite public comment on projects like this, just so that it can say "we have consulted with the community" - even if the community gives it two thumbs down.

I am one of thousands of locals that have fired off a letter or email to either the RTA or our local MP or the Minister for Transport to say that this is a very stupid bridge. It is our own version of the much maligned bridge to nowhere that was scrapped in Alaska. Ok, it is a bridge to somewhere, but it's a waste of space. The money could be better spent digging a tunnel under Lyons Rd.

But I digress. We are supposed to be discussing dead babies and letter writing.

So just imagine you are the Grand Poo-bah of the RTA, and suddenly your mailbag is bulging with thousands of letters from irate taxpayers, all wanting your head on a pike for blowing taxpayer funds on an insane project.

What do you do?

Do you scrap the project and spend the money more sensibly elsewhere?


You redouble your efforts to get the stupid thing built, and you create a wall of flak catchers to deflect public opinion for long enough so that you can get the pilings sunk. Once you get to that point, the bridge is inevitable and people will shutup and go home and sulk quietly.

The flak catchers are a group of employees who have the unenviable job of dealing with the angry public. This is not a bad job in Australia, as we don't have a large and excitable element in the population. The mob is unlikely to get worked up enough to storm the Bastille and shoot every flak catcher in sight. Instead, the job largely consists of sitting in a nice, climate controlled office and churning out pat responses to angry letters. No, scrap that. I consists entirely of sitting in a chair churning out pat responses.

A major project like the Iron Cove Bridge might result in 10,000 letters arriving at the RTA. Some will be well written and well reasoned. They will be logical, spell-checked and gramatically correct. They will have been printed on a laser printer and signed by a person who is clearly sane.

Others will originate from the other end of the spectrum, being scrawled in pencil on a torn-out bit of paper from UFO Monthly. Those letters will make less sense, seeing as they usually involve a conspiracy between the RTA, CIA and a colony of giant alien space lizards who live under the existing Iron Cove Bridge, and want the bridge widened so that they will have more living space.

Some letters will be angry, bile spewing rants that contain a lot of swear words. Others will include the words "please" and "thank you".

Regardless of how badly or well written the letter, whether it is a noxious rant or a polite missive; the RTA flak catchers will have carefully crafted a form letter that will be used to respond to the lot of them. That form letter might take a team of 5 or 6 flak catchers a week to perfect. It might go through 20 or more drafts before it is finally approved for use. It might leave the Department of Flak Catching and circulate through the CEO's office for a look before it can be used. In some cases, it might even be sent up to the Ministry of Transport, and even through the Chinese Wall into the Minister's office for suggestions or corrections.

But once it has been approved, it will be cranked off the printing press in the thousands. The job of flak catcher at that point will be to turn up for work, unload the cart bulging with angry mail and start sorting the letters into this topic and that topic. Those that go into the enormous Iron Cove Bridge Idiots pile will have the name and address of the sender extracted and put into a mail merge list, and that list will then be merged with the template to generate a great whack of responses. It doesn't matter what is actually in those letters - if the sender has mentioned the words "Iron cove bridge", they get the form letter. It doesn't matter what position they take - they get the form letter.

Depending on how the letter came in, a variety of people might sign the response. If I happened to write to my local MP, and she managed to figure out what I wanted (for she is exceptionally thick) and then sent it on to the correct Minister for comment, then the response might be signed by the Minister for Transport or the CEO of the RTA. If I just wrote straight to the RTA, some flunky a few levels down, probably the Manager of Flak Catching, will sign the letter and send it straight back. Regardless of the path my letter took to get there, I will get largely the same letter back, just on different letterhead with a different signature.

For those of you interested in bureacratic process, this is what would happen if I wrote to my MP:

  1. I write to my MP
  2. MP's office writes a covering letter addressed to the Minister for Transport, creates a file, attaches a copy of my letter and sends it off. MP probably never sees my letter.
  3. Minister for Transport's office gets letter, creates a file, sends it to the Department of Transport to draft a response
  4. Flunky in Department of Transport gets the file, decides RTA will deal with it, sends letter to RTA
  5. RTA flak catcher creates a file, writes a response and has it approved by Manager for Flak Catcthing
  6. Flak catcher sends it to the Department of Transport flunky
  7. DoT flunky doesn't like the use of the word "is", and sends file back to flak catcher
  8. File bounces back and forth a few times until all are satisfied
  9. Flunky forwards file to the office of the Minister for Transport
  10. Policy Advisor in Minister's office reviews response, objects to the use of the word "or" and sends it back to flunky in the Department
  11. Flunky sends file back to RTA
  12. This happens a few more times
  13. Letter finally ends up in front of the Minister for his or her signature, which generally involves using a signing machine
  14. Signed letter is sent back to flunky in DoT
  15. Flunky sends signed letter to flak catcher
  16. Flack catcher posts letter to MP
  17. MP's office gets the letter from the Minister, writes a fresh covering letter, signs it on behalf of the MP, attaches the signed letter from the Minister and mails it back to me.
  18. I get a form letter from the Minister, and a form covering letter from my MP - neither of which have actually read what I had to say in the first place, and neither letter addresses the concerns that I originally wrote about
I actually left a number of steps out here. When my MP got my initial letter, her office would write an acknowledgement letter back, saying I'll get a response in due course. That letter usually turns up within a few days, if the office is even halfway organised and efficient. A "we haven't forgotten about you" letter might also be sent out if it looks like it will take more than a month or two to respond because the letter is bouncing back and forth between departments like a yo-yo, or all the flak catchers are off work with stress leave.

One might surmise that all this transferring back and forth of files and letters is done electronically via email or a shared records management system, but I would not bet on that. It all used to be done on paper, with files being transported between buildings once or twice a day by an inter-departmental courier. On top of that, thanks to constant reorganisations, the RTA, the DoT and the Minister's office are probably using three different and incompatible records management systems, and possibly different email systems. It would not surprise me to find that everything still moves around by hand.

I have of course left out a vital step in all this paper shuffling.

Let's say that there is a cabinet reshuffle, and the Minister for Transport is now someone else. All those letters that are in transit with the name of the old Minister on them now need to be returned to the flak catchers so they can reprint them with the name of the new Minister and send them back for signature.

Sod's Law then kicks in. The new Minister has been shining their new seat for a few days when all this correspondence lands in their tray for signature.

The first thing they do is take a dislike to the particular shade of paper that has been used, so the style guide is rewritten to demand a different shade of off-white be used, so all the letters go back via the usual convoluted route to be reprinted on fresh paper, and then they come back again.

At that point, a Policy Advisor to the new Minister takes a dislike to the Helvetica font, so the guide is rewritten and around we go again.

The Premier's office then discovers that the RTA has $100,000 worth of the old paper in stock, which is now useless, so it decrees that the Minister has to use up all the old paper before switching to new.

The letters go back once again to be reprinted.

It has taken a long time to get to this point, but imagine that is your working life - dealing with tens of thousands of form letters per year, and then having to reprint the same letters a dozen times due to idiotic formatting demands from the Minister..... and then you get a letter out of the blue to say that a particular council somewhere is not following a particular process.

What do you do with it?

Your whole life is spent not in solving problems or trying to adjust government policy to public opinion, but in trying to state that such problems do not exist and trying to adjust public opinion to government policy.

You immediately set about drafting a letter that says something like, "your correspondence will be taken into consideration by the relevant authorities during the next review period", and then file it and forget it.

It does not matter if you write directly to the Minister responsible. He or she never sees your letter in many cases. Their staff send the letter to the Department for advice, who then send it to the authority for advice - the same authority that made the stuff up in the first place. The Minister does not want to rampage through the authority sticking heads on a pike - they want an excuse that will shut the correspondent up and encourage them to never write another letter.

Imagine this. You find a problem, so you write to the authority responsible. They send you back some useless pap that says nothing and promises zero. That response is written by Flak Catcher Jones.

Annoyed, you write to the Department that supervises that authority. The Department sends that letter to the authority, where it ends up in the tray of Flak Catcher Jones. Jones writes a second bundle of pap that says nothing, puts it on Department letterhead and the CEO of the Department sends you much the same response.

Even more annoyed, you write to the Minister that oversees the Department thta supervises the authority. The Minister's office send your letter to the Department, who sends it down to Flak Catcher Jones in the authority.

You can write to your MP, the Premier or even the Prime Minister - it makes no difference. Your letter still ends up with Flak Catcher Jones in the bowels of the authority, and their job is not to investigate or make good or recommend action. Their job is to deflect criticism.

This happens every day.

It's only when a baby is fouly murdered that people get a glimpse of the uselessness and futility of the process. The process is not designed to make things better, to improve government operations. The process is designed to ensure that any bad news that could hurt the government or the authority is sanitised, cleansed, bleached and filed.

This is one reason why I hate big government. It is not there to help you. Help your own damned self. Get your friends or family to help you. Relying on government to help will only result in disappointment and occasionally death.