Tamiflu, Bad Pharma, and the UK Public Accounts Committee

The conclusion that millions of people have been exposed to a treatment, at enormous cost to the public purse, despite the fact that independent researchers have been unable to verify it as being effective or safe, should trouble us all.

Dr David Tovey writes about the lack of transparency in clinical trials, with specific reference to Tamiflu, and the ongoing public campaign after the publication of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma.

TRiG.

Austerity and hope in South Shields

I’ve never been to South Shields. In fact, I’ve never been to the north of England at all. Well, Manchester and Hull for h2g2 meets, and Marsden in Yorkshire, where I have family history. But South Shields is much further north than these.

It is a town with a mining history. It is a town with a union history. It is a town with high unemployment. And, according to a lovely profile in the New Statesman, it’s doing pretty well, thank you.

South Shields remains the only parliamentary constituency since the Great Reform Act of 1832 … never to have elected a Conservative MP.

TRiG.

The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night

The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night was published in the h2g2 Post on the 21st of September 2006. It’s a rather beautiful story by ianhimself. It’s set in Northern Ireland, and manages to be raw and true while absolutely not being a polemic. Also, it’s not at all about what you might at first imagine it to be about.

In Toastmasters, I’ve given thirteen speeches. I did the ten from the first manual, so I’m now a “Competent Communicator”. In fact, I finished them at the end of our last Toastmaster year (that is, the beginning of the summer: our last meeting before the summer break was my last speech from that manual), but I’ve only just officially registered for the CC award on Thursday night. To get the CC award, you need to do ten speeches, each focussing on different skills: gestures and body language, vocal variety, visual aids, persuasive speaking, inspirational speaking, and suchlike. I found those last two the hardest: my default type of speech is the informational: here’s this cool thing I found out about, let me tell you all about it.

That final speech from the CC manual was actually my eleventh speech, as I’d also  given one in a competition. It is possible to count competition speeches toward an award, if you get someone to evaluate them, but I hadn’t bothered. Besides, it was a recycled, polished up and improved version of a speech I’d given before.

In this Toastmasters year I’ve so far given two speeches. The first was from the Entertaining Speaker manual, I think. I don’t actually have that manual, and am unlikely to try it any time soon, but there’s a speech in the back of the CC manual as a taster, and I had a funny story to tell, so I told it. (It was actually about my visit to Reims for a h2g2 meet at the beginning of the summer. That’s a story I must write up for h2g2 one of these days.) I got that speech evaluated, of course, but it won’t count toward an award.

My next speaking award will be the Bronze. The task is to do two complete manuals. Each of these manuals has five speeches. (That’s why I can’t count my entertaining story: I’m not doing that manual now, and if I eventually do, I’ll start it again from the beginning.)

And, at the last meeting, I made my start on the Interpretive Reading manual, reading a story. Namely, The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night. It went down very well, I must say. (I did get some constructive feedback, focussing mainly on vocal projection, so that’s something I’ll have to work on.)

I don’t think I want to do too many readings in a row, so my next speech will have to be from another manual. Probably Speaking to Inform. As I said, that’s what suits me. If I do a reading as every third speech, which is what I think I’ll try for, it’ll mean I’ll have two and a half manuals done before I get the Bronze. Nevermind. That would mean I could then jump quickly to the Silver.

TRiG.

Eurostar and the “Lille Loophole”

  1. The Eurostar travells from Brussels-Midi to London St Pancras via the French station Lille Europe.
  2. The Eurostar has an unusual border-control arrangement, whereby passport control is done while boarding the train.
  3. France and Belgium are both in the Schengen Area, which means that people can pass freely between them. The UK is not.

The practical upshot of all this is that UK border control agents in Brussels check the passports of only some of the people getting on the train. Those who have tickets only as far as Lille are not checked by UK border control. It is then fairly easy for them to use standard fare-dodging tactics, stay on the train beyond the station where they should have alighted, and get through to Britain without going through any border control.

The simple and obvious solution would be to change Point 2 above, and do the border control in London, at least for the Brussels trains (this problem doesn’t apply to the Paris trains: they also pass through Lille Europe, and many of them stop there, but for pick-up only, not set-down).

That’s the simple and obvious solution. The solution the UK Border Agency actually tried was to attempt to profile “Lille loopholers” and interview them. The Belgian police soon put a stop to that: The UKBA has no legal authority to interview people travelling between Belgium and France. In at least one case, Belgian police actually threatened to arrest UKBA staff.

TRiG.

The Liberation of Paris: Whites only

In August 1944, at the time of the Liberation of Paris, the French army was two thirds black. Two thirds! De Gaulle had raised an army in Africa. And yet, all the soldiers involved in the Liberation of Paris were white, on the basis that it would be “better for French morale”. That probably wasn’t the real reason (after all, De Gaulle himself, who should know something about how to manage French morale, opposed the idea).

Propaganda: it seems the (white) American commanders were afraid of how the sight of black soldiers freeing Paris would look on newsreels back home where everyone had been brought up on whitewashed history. So to maintain that image they forced the French to whitewash their army, forcing fiction on fact.

Interesting reading.

TRiG.

Maamtrasna Murders: Photos

The Maamtrasna murders, 130 years ago, were shockingly brutal, but they are more remembered today for the blatant miscarrage of justice in the following court case. Myles Joyce was hung, protesting his innocence to the last. Recently, the National Library of Ireland has acquired photographs of Myles Joyce and the other nine men accused of the Maamtrasna murders.

Another report adds:

A monoglot Irish speaker, Myles Joyce, who had no English, was defended in court in Dublin by a solicitor and barristers who spoke no Irish. The evidence he gave as Gaeilge was ignored in court. Evidence which might have helped his defence was withheld and the trial also heard from informers gave false evidence against him.

The judge and jury who convicted him had no Irish and the jury deliberated for less than six minutes to decide on his guilt before sentence of death was passed.

An Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, said Mr Joyce’s case was one of most significant and distressing cases ever concerning the denial of language rights.

TRiG.

Making Money with User-Generated Content

Very many sites (including the ones I spend most time on), have content which is mainly or entirely generated by the users of the site, not the owners. Does this user-generated content have monetary value? Or any other kind of value?

Nick Reynolds, who used to moderate h2g2 when it was owned by the BBC, offers two interesting essays on the values such content has:

Facebook, for example, is in a very different market, financially, to both h2g2 and Stack Exchange. And Wikimedia isn’t interested in financial considerations at all.


Incidentally, over on h2g2, Mr606 points out that the financial figures Nick mentions for Twitter are lower than reality: they have been massaged so that Twitter can declare its profits in Ireland instead of in the UK.

TRiG.