Dec 25, 2012
Dec 24, 2012
Even if you’d never heard of the King Edward VII Hospital before that infamous prank call, a quick look at its online brochure would have told you all about its self-belief and famous heritage.
Established more than 100 years ago, it hand-picks its consultants, claims a zero rate of hospital-acquired MRSA infections, and offers all patients well-appointed private rooms with ensuite bathrooms.
Of course, because the private hospital business is fiercely competitive, huge effort is exerted to recruit the best consultants and to offer a five-star service.
Heritage: Established more than 100 years ago, the King Edward VII Hospital hand-picks its consultants and claims a zero rate of hospital-acquired MRSA infections
But for the King Edward VII in Central London, there’s no doubt that what gives it the commercial edge is not its staff or the fine meals on offer, but its peerless royal connections.
The Queen is not only patron but also a former patient — she had surgery on her knee there in 2003. In addition, the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla and Sophie Wessex have all been treated there.
So when the world discovered how easy it was for Australia’s 2Day FM hoaxers to hoodwink the staff, the hospital found itself facing a major PR crisis.
Now hospital which treated Kate DENIES hoax call radio station contacted managers or press officers (despite bosses saying they’d phoned them five times)
Hoax nurse Jacintha Saldanha left a ‘suicide note’ as post-mortem examination begins
Duke of Cambridge pulls out of military event after pregnant Kate suffers another bout of morning sickness
All hospitals have a prime duty to protect their patients’ privacy. But when your unique selling point is that those patients include the Royal Family, a failure to guarantee that privacy becomes potentially catastrophic.
No one — not the DJ pranksters, not the hospital, not William and Kate — could possibly have predicted that the nurse who put through the call would feel so devastated she would take her own life. But it surely doesn’t require much imagination to realise that the nurses involved would have felt both personally and professionally humiliated.
Certainly that thought occurred to William and Kate. As William’s office was quick to point out: ‘We offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.’
Tragedy: Prince William's office was quick to point out: 'We offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times'
Even so, the hospital’s management had suffered terrible damage to its much-prized image. Despite long experience of dealing with the royals, it appears to have been unprepared for the level of attention such a high-profile patient would inevitably attract.
With what now seems to have been fatal complacency, it appears not to have occurred to anyone that it should upgrade its usual night-time telephone protocol, whereby calls to the switchboard are automatically diverted to a senior nurse on duty.
Nor, it seems, did it adequately consider just how devastated that nurse would feel when she realised the result of her action. We may in due course learn there were other factors that contributed to Indian-born Jacintha Saldanha’s fragile mental state. But at the moment it seems likely that her background and culture meant she couldn’t forgive herself for having brought shame on herself, her family and her employers.
John Lofthouse, the hospital’s chief executive, has said she was not disciplined or criticised and that ‘the hospital had been supporting her throughout this difficult time’.
However, her family are entitled to ask precisely what form that support took.
Did any senior official reassure Mrs Saldanha that her job was safe? Did any manager have the decency to tell her the fault was not hers but theirs — for failing to recognise that they should have put additional security measures in place?
According to MP Keith Vaz, who’s been in close contact with the nurse’s family, her distraught husband and children do not feel the hospital has offered them sufficient support.
The inquiry the hospital is now conducting must establish whether its efforts to reassure her were as plentiful and heartfelt as its efforts to reassure the Royal Family that such a breach of privacy would never occur again.
For the deeply disturbing feeling remains that the welfare of a ‘dedicated and caring’ nurse was not quite as high in managers’ minds as ensuring the continued patronage of its royal patients.
Without doubt, the Royal Family awaits the answers to these questions with interest. Who could blame them if they seriously considered switching hospitals?
Not because a nurse put through a hoax call. But because a hospital’s duty of care to dedicated and hard-working staff should always matter more than its public image.
Dec 21, 2012
Every mass shooting has three elements: the killer, the weapon and the cultural climate. As soon as the shooting stops, partisans immediately pick their preferred root cause with corresponding pet panacea. Names are hurled, scapegoats paraded, prejudices vented. The argument goes nowhere.
(1) The Weapon
Within hours of last week’s Newtown, Conn., massacre, the focus was the weapon and the demand was for new gun laws. Several prominent pro-gun Democrats remorsefully professed new openness to gun control. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is introducing a new assault weapons ban. And the president emphasized guns and ammo above all else in announcing the creation of a new task force.
I have no problem in principle with gun control. Congress enacted (and I supported) an assault weapons ban in 1994. The problem was: It didn’t work. (So concluded a University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by the Justice Department.) The reason is simple. Unless you are prepared to confiscate all existing firearms, disarm the citizenry and repeal the Second Amendment, it’s almost impossible to craft a law that will be effective.
Feinstein’s law, for example, would exempt 900 weapons. And that’s the least of the loopholes. Even the guns that are banned can be made legal with simple, minor modifications.
Most fatal, however, is the grandfathering of existing weapons and magazines. That’s one of the reasons the ’94 law failed. At the time, there were 1.5 million assault weapons in circulation and 25 million large-capacity (i.e., more than 10 bullets) magazines. A reservoir that immense can take 100 years to draw down.
(2) The Killer
Monsters shall always be with us, but in earlier days they did not roam free. As a psychiatrist in Massachusetts in the 1970s, I committed people — often right out of the emergency room — as a danger to themselves or to others. I never did so lightly, but I labored under none of the crushing bureaucratic and legal constraints that make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today.
Why do you think we have so many homeless? Destitution? Poverty has declined since the 1950s. The majority of those sleeping on grates are mentally ill. In the name of civil liberties, we let them die with their rights on.
A tiny percentage of the mentally ill become mass killers. Just about everyone around Tucson shooter Jared Loughner sensed he was mentally ill and dangerous. But in effect, he had to kill before he could be put away — and (forcibly) treated.
Random mass killings were three times more common in the 2000s than in the 1980s, when gun laws were actually weaker. Yet a 2011 University of California at Berkeley study found that states with strong civil commitment laws have about a one-third lower homicide rate.
(3) The Culture
We live in an entertainment culture soaked in graphic, often sadistic, violence. Older folks find themselves stunned by what a desensitized youth finds routine, often amusing. It’s not just movies. Young men sit for hours pulling video-game triggers, mowing down human beings en masse without pain or consequence. And we profess shock when a small cadre of unstable, deeply deranged, dangerously isolated young men go out and enact the overlearned narrative.
If we’re serious about curtailing future Columbines and Newtowns, everything — guns, commitment, culture — must be on the table. It’s not hard for President Obama to call out the NRA. But will he call out the ACLU? And will he call out his Hollywood friends?
The irony is that over the last 30 years, the U.S. homicide rate has declined by 50 percent. Gun murders as well. We’re living not through an epidemic of gun violence but through a historic decline.
Except for these unfathomable mass murders. But these are infinitely more difficult to prevent. While law deters the rational, it has far less effect on the psychotic. The best we can do is to try to detain them, disarm them and discourage “entertainment” that can intensify already murderous impulses.
But there’s a cost. Gun control impinges upon the Second Amendment; involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth Amendment; curbing “entertainment” violence impinges upon First Amendment free speech.
That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments. But there’s no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.
We made that trade after 9/11. We make it every time the Transportation Security Administration invades your body at an airport. How much are we prepared to trade away after Newtown?
Dec 20, 2012
SOLDIERS on leave from a war zone have a particular way of speaking about the experience. They seldom dwell on what they have seen: the blood, the fear or the boredom. Instead they tend to make light of the unspeakable. The tone is ironical, dry as Helmand dust. I once asked a badly wounded soldier what was the worst thing about military life in Afghanistan. He paused and then replied: "The breakfasts."
This is the authentic voice of the British squaddie, wry and resilient. It is also the voice of the hobbit. JRR. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1937, shortly before World War II. But that book, and the epic The Lord of the Rings that followed it, emerged from an earlier conflict and the tough, funny, ironic warriors he had known in the trenches of World War I.
Tolkien's writing is an elegy for a lost Englishness, an evocation of the great ancient poetry of myth and legend, and an early ecological fable; but above all these are books about war, as powerful as the words of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, but very different in tone. Tolkien despised what he called the “animal horror” of the trenches, but where the war poets wrote through bitter disillusionment, he recognised the ordinary heroism and resilient humanity of simple men who had little desire to fight but did their duty any way, and wore it lightly.
Tolkien's experience of war coloured every aspect of his writing, and his evocation of the common man at war, in the shape of Bilbo Baggins and the other hobbits, remains as poignant and relevant today as it was nearly a century ago when Tolkien marched away to the Western Front.
“My 'Sam Gamgee' is indeed a reflection of the English soldier,” he wrote. “Of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself.”
In 1916 Second-Lieutenant John Tolkien was a 24-year-old signaller in the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, a battalion largely composed of weavers and labourers, sturdy, honest, blunt, quietly scared and frequently heroic. That July they were hurled into the Battle of the Somme, the most viciously futile battle in history.
Some 20,000 men perished on the first day, among them Rob Gilson, Tolkien's close friend. Another school friend, Geoffrey Bache Smith, succumbed to shrapnel and gangrene a few months later.
As Tolkien wrote in an introduction to The Lord of the Rings: “To be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than in 1939 ... by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”
Tolkien himself survived, thanks to a bout of trench fever, a peculiarly nasty disease carried by lice in the infested dugouts, through which he was hospitalised and then invalided out of uniform.
Convalescing in a Birmingham hospital, he began to forge his own mythology, depicting an ancient civilisation under assault from evil. From this would eventually emerge The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien insisted that he did not intend his writing to be “allegorical or topical”, but as John Garth has shown in his brilliant study Tolkien and the Great War, his memory of “The Fellowship in the Trenches” echoes through every page.
The devastation wrought by the Dragon Smaug might be the charred landscape of the Somme battlefield, with the unmarked graves of nameless dead: “Neither bush nor tree, and only broken and blackened stumps to speak of ones long vanished.” The country around Sauron's Dark Tower is “a wilderness of slime and tumbled rock, pitted with blackened holes and dotted with posts and pillars, leaning drunkenly this way and that”.
When Sam trips in the Dead Marshes, falling into “the sticky ooze, so that his face was brought close to the surface of the dark mere. There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up ... Wrenching his hands out of the bog, he sprang back with a cry.'There are dead things, dead faces in the water,' he said with horror.”
Those words could only have been written by one who had seen dead faces in the muddy water of France with his own eyes.
The goblins' “ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once”, the brutal hordes of orcs, the dark legions of Mordor, all reflect the mechanised, vast-scale carnage of 20th-century warfare, the killing orgy that Tolkien called the “the utter stupid waste of war”.
In The Hobbit Tolkien told the story of the ordinary, good-hearted, home-loving Bilbo Baggins, removed from his comfortable rural idyll, like the weavers of the 11th Fusiliers, and hurled into a savage and needless war. But Bilbo is a hobbit, a small embodiment of tenacity, faithful in the face of death. Knocked on the head, he spends much of the battle unconscious and, like Tolkien himself, is carried away from the blood-letting, having done what he must do, a reluctant hero.
Though seldom acknowledged as such, Tolkien's writing is among the greatest of Great War literature, a timeless portrait of ordinary people struggling to retain their humanity and humour in an inhuman conflict.
In the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin, having escaped from the orcs, trudge through the woods in the dark, in every expectation of being recaptured or killed. “As they walked, they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened ... No listener would ever have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again.”
These are the thoughts of men heading back to the Western Front in 1916. That is the fascination of these endearing, enduring little people with hairy feet, large souls and hard-wearing irony, the small men who win in the end.
As millions flock to see the new film version of The Hobbit, it is worth remembering that Bilbo and his like were forged in the Great War. These are the diffident footsoldiers of every war, of Middle-earth and our Earth.
Even today, they head back to battle in Afghanistan, talking lightly in hobbit fashion.
The federal government's hopes of delivering a surplus this financial year have been dealt a hefty blow by the slowing world economy, with tax receipts in October $3.9 billion weaker than forecast in the budget.
New figures published on Thursday show the federal coffers were hit hard by a plunge in commodity prices, which caused the budget balance to deteriorate by near $3 billion.
While the mining tax appears to have raised some revenue – contrary to media reports – it is understood the weakness in tax receipts was more severe than the government had forecast in its recent mid-year budget review.
In October, the month in which the government received its first instalment of company taxes from the September quarter, tax receipts were $3.9 billion behind where the government had forecast in May.
Government spending was also weaker than expected, but this was not enough to prevent the budget balance weakening to a deficit of $12.3 billion, about $3 billion worse than forecast.
A partner at Deloitte Access Economics, Chris Richardson, said the figures showed a significant blow-out in the gap between the budget forecasts and actual tax collections.
''October was the month in which China's slowdown started to bite the budget,'' Mr Richardson said.
''Although it's still not impossible to get a surplus, there's a clear gap there, and the government would have to make a bunch of decisions pretty fast, or pull the plug. That choice is now looming large and probably coming soon.''
The figures also provide the first clues as to how much mining tax was paid during its inaugural September quarter.
Resource rent taxes – which include the mining tax and the petroleum resource rent tax – raised $500 million in the month, up from $213 million in September.
The increase is likely to have been driven by the mining tax, but the government is not specifying how much mining tax was raised in order to protect the confidentiality of taxpayers.
The financial statements are not directly comparable with the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, published in October, but it is understood the slump in revenue is weaker than expected within the government.
The office of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has been approached for comment.
Dec 19, 2012
In the past I’ve often touted Singapore’s high saving model. Last year I noted that 15% of Singaporeans were millionaires in 2010, and I predicted that the number would rise sharply over the next few decades. The numbers for 2011are in and the share of millionaires is up to 17.1%, nearly twice as high as the next “real country.” (Although I suppose one could argue that Singapore, Hong Kong and Switzerland are also not real countries, as they attract the rich from elsewhere. That would make the US number one among the bigger economies. But the number of millionaires in the US declined 2011.)
I would argue that this table actually understates Singapore’s success:
1. These numbers exclude housing wealth (which seems reasonable) but also excludes investor-owned businesses and luxury goods. So the actual number is somewhat higher–probably around 20%, even without housing wealth and luxury goods.
2. Many older Singaporeans grew up in a period where Singapore was much poorer. Thus if the current steady-state is maintained, the number of Singaporean millionaires should rise to 25% to 30% of the population, even without further rapid growth. The younger generation will eventually include many more millionaires.
3. This number ignores life-cycle effects, as do almost 100% of discussions of income inequality. These are huge. The number of very young millionaires will generally be much lower that the percentage of millionaires who are 50 or 60 years old, at least in the steady state (This is obviously less true of fast-changing countries like China.) So if Singapore ends up with a steady state of 25% to 30% millionaires, that steady state will imply that roughly half of all Singaporeans will be millionaires at some time during their lives.
This will make the Singaporean electorate much more “conservative” i.e. anxious to have government policies that preserve wealth. It will also allow Singapore to get away with a smaller set of social welfare programs, and lower tax rates. A virtuous circle of growth creating good economic policies, which will create even more growth.
Could the US do something similar? Should it try to create a country where 100 million people will become millionaires at some time in their lives? And another 100 million will at some point become $500,000 aires, or $600,000 aires, or $800,000 aires?
I’d say the answer is yes, but I would caution that it would be much more difficult to do. In addition to all the practical problems that will be listed in the comment section, I’d add that I expect rates of return on safe investments to remain very low going forward, even if the US government doesn’t force Americans into a Singapore-style high saving model. And of course if it does, then real interest rates will plunge even lower.
But I also think there is something to be said for going this way, even if it did depress real interest rates further. (I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining why Keynes’s fear that saving leads to depression is nonsense.) The advantages to conservatives are obvious–a more sensible electorate that is self-reliant, not dependent on government programs. But there are also huge advantages to liberals. This massive pool of saving would need useful outlets. There’s only so many more car factories or office buildings or shopping centers that could plausible be built. At some point the money would flood over (perhaps through public–private partnerships) into infrastructure, medical research, new energy alternatives, education, environmental cleanup and lots of other forms of “investment” that liberals favor.
What’s not to like?