Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Children's Commissioner Is Childless

Maggie Atkinson

Born in Barnsley, Dr Atkinson studied at Cambridge University.

She taught English and drama for 10 years before moving into a national training and advisory role on the national curriculum in the late 1980's.

She became director of children's services in Gateshead in 2003.

She was president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services until March 2008, and is currently chair of the National Expert Group on the Children's Workforce and national chair for the new Centre of Excellence in Outcomes.

She is married with two adult stepchildren.

Ms Atkinson has just replaced the unlamented Al Aynsley Green as Children's Commissar for England. Appointed apparently as a non-campaigner by Ed Balls (who must have one of the most annoying voices in politics, btw), she's opened up in fine style by announcing that the Bulger killers shouldn't have been prosecuted :

“The age of criminal responsibility in this country is ten — that’s too low, it should certainly be moved up to 12. In some European countries it’s 14. People may be offenders but they are also children. Even the most hardened of youngsters who have committed some very difficult crimes are not beyond being frightened.”
I like that 'difficult'. Seems to have been all too easy for Thompson and Venables (among others).

“What they did was exceptionally unpleasant and the fact that a little boy ended up dead is not something that the nation can easily forget."
"Ended up" ? Any human agency involved in that, or was it an act of God ? "Exceptionally unpleasant" ? I'd use that phrase to describe something like a 10-year old defecating in the school book cupboard (which somebody did do at my primary school - the teacher burst into tears), not abduction, torture, sexual assault and murder.

It is wrong, Dr Atkinson insists, to describe a child as evil. “None of us is born a good person or an evil person. The backgrounds from which we come, and whether we are nurtured and secure, will shape our character. The adults who role-model for us — or don’t — will change who we become, for better or worse. I’m far more a believer in nurture than nature.”
They're depraved on account of they're deprived !

Now that's true up to a point - most of the disastrous kids come from disaster homes. But (alas) lots of kids are brought up by their lone mothers, and some of those lone mothers are alcoholic, and some of those lone mothers' kids run wild - yet not all of them kill toddlers. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables shared their upbringing with brothers and sisters, and they've managed not to abduct and kill any little ones. Why did Robert and Jon ?

Ms Atkinson, as a believer in the Blank Slate, is a follower of the Utopian Vision - otherwise she'd never have got the job.

By strange chance, a week or so before another childless leftie blogger of a certain age had bemoaned the evil tabloids and their punitive agenda, agreeing with the sentiment :
"Whatever Venables has done he will still need our support."
Prompting Laban to respond :

Shorter Leftie Blogger : “If it wasn’t for those nasty tabloids, no one would ever hate people who abduct and kill toddlers for fun”.

I think we can cut this more simply. The people who feel visceral loathing for Thompson and Venables are called ‘parents’, and every one of them has

a) experienced that awful hole in the stomach when your little one goes missing in the shopping centre – and it happens so easily! – and you find them after seconds or minutes of panic, but that sick feeling is not ever forgotten …
b) seen a shot or video of a little figure tottering through the mall, trustingly holding the hand of the boy who will torture and kill him.

The people who don’t feel that are called ‘non-parents’.

Our game, our rules. In an ideal world only parents would be allowed to vote on any issues affecting children.

We lost our youngest once at Knutsford Services northbound on a dark Friday night. Not a good place to lose a small child. Running from one cashier to another :

"Have you seen a little girl - she's three - in a pink dress ?"

You never forget the feeling even though I can't, thank God, reproduce it in my head. It's too physical. It's a feeling Maggie Atkinson will never know - which is why, in a sane world, her views on child killers would carry slightly less authority than Jon Venables' mother's views - or any mother's views.

Target Culture

When you set service targets and reward managers for hitting those targets, you create an incentive to fiddle the stats.

In some areas - say call centre response times, where x% of calls must be answered within y seconds, it's difficult (though not impossible- you can just drop a call to pick up another one, or you can be more innovative) to fiddle the stats unless you've got a bent IT guy.

In other settings you can be more creative. The NHS is renowned for its achievements in this area.

So, you think the staff and managers might be bending the stats ? Why not bring in an outside firm to test the systems anonymously? That's what Royal Mail did.

People sometimes say there's no initiative and invention in middle management at a large corporation. I wouldn't say that myself.

The unnamed source told Postcomm that several Royal Mail staff had found a way of cheating the supposedly independent system of checking mail delivery times, which was carried out by an external market research company... By intercepting the "test" letters, postal workers were able to hijack the performance assessment by making sure they were prioritised and delivered bang on time, giving an artificially high figure for the number of letters and parcels arriving on time.

Managers would note down the name and address on the envelopes, and in some cases illegally open the mail to find addresses of other volunteer panellists. The addresses would then be entered into computer spreadsheets, listed by postcode area. In sorting and delivery offices, panellists were known as “key customers” and given top priority to ensure their post was delivered in time, to hit the performance targets. In some cases individual pillar boxes were also earmarked to make sure they were emptied as late as possible, to ensure the panellists did not miss the last post.

In the Motherwell delivery office a notice pinned to the wall told staff to bring any mail addressed to two particular people to the attention of the delivery manager's office. One of the addressees was a panellist. Postal workers also learnt to look out for "suspicious" mail. In some cases postmen realised they were delivering "test" mail when they delivered driving licences to people who did not have cars.

Postcomm found that Royal Mail delivery office managers were “accustomed to looking for (test mail) and showing other colleagues how to identify items of test mail”. In some cases, managers photocopied panellists’ mail and sent the copies to other managers. One manager from Scotland is even thought to have travelled to Manchester to brief his colleagues on how they could get involved in the scam.

I imagine the fact that the monitoring was by outsiders also stimulated group cohesion and company loyalty (sort of) in the Royal Mail chaps - and I bet they were chaps. It could almost become a game, outwitting them.

Just shows what can happen when you get the incentives right ;-)

No steering group needing reports and minutes, no sponsoring senior director, no project plans and milestones, no internal auditing, no box-ticking to show how actions are aligned with the latest version of the corporate culture - just spontaneous, organic co-operation at all levels and the required outcomes are achieved. Almost like the Marxist vision of how industry would run itself in an ideal Socialist society. Fantastic.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Night Music (Time Lapse Edition)

I think this one speaks for itself.

(the inspiration, if that's the word, is here)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plus Ca (Spare) Change ...

Harold Wilson's 1967 Labour Government. Sterling crisis followed by devaluation. Jamaican musicians (a young Bob Marley, no less) comment.

"This devaluation (pound get a blow)
Will cause an eruption (pound get a blow)" :

Fellow-Jamaicans the Bleechers went as far as suggesting that "Pound Paper" should be replaced by dollars and cents. Rank treason IYAM. I always wondered why Lee Perry hadn't got a knighthood.

By 1976 Labour were back in power under Jim Callaghan, and there was another sterling crisis. Once more there was comment from down yard way, via the late Vivian 'Yabby You' Jackson.

By the next sterling crisis in 1992, the Tories' Black Wednesday, Jamaicans had lost interest in UK events. The Mother Country had become the Mother****** Country and West Indian musicians no longer titled themselves Sir, Lord , Count or Duke.

So we're unlikely to get much comment on current sterling woes.

Never mind. In the finest tradition of the Green movement, Laban has recycled Yabby You's 1977 tribute to the collapsing pound.

"Did you read it in the news today ?
The pound has fallen down"

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Good News or Bad News ?

"Jon Venables could be murdered if identity revealed - judge"

Is that an argument for or against ?

Yazza - She's At It Again ...

I must confess that I haven't noticed an enormous surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric or action by "the establishment" recently. Indeed, after 9/11 and 7/7 their response was to visit mosques, give them extra police protection, talk a lot about a religion of peace and even define terrorism as "anti-Islamic activity".

But then I'm not as close to the establishment as Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Apparently the Chilcot enquiry, the sentencing of various hotheads for rioting, vandalism and attacking the police during a London demo, the Channel Four documentary on Islamic 'entryism' in East London politics, and, er ... er ... - well anyway , as Shameless Milne puts it, this tide of anti-Muslim hatred is a threat to us all.

The Yazztastic One cranks up the threat level as only she can. After all, I doubt that Shameless hangs out with many Muslims outside of his political activity. And I bet he doesn't pray before starting his column.

I can see that for the British establishment Muslims are contemptible creatures, devalued humans. As I prayed before starting this column I felt tears stinging my eyes and my face was burning as if I had been slapped many times over. Do they expect me to turn the other cheek? Millions of other Muslims must have felt what I did. And some may well go on to do things they shouldn't. Their acts will intensify anti-Muslim prejudices and will be used to justify injustice. The cycle is vicious and unrelenting.
Oh dear.

Once again at weddings and birthday parties, in quiet, tranquil mosques, at dinner tables across the land, including those of millionaire Muslims, I am hearing murmurs of trepidation and disquiet – voices kept low, sometimes vanishing into whispers, just in case; you never know if they will break down the door. These people are, like myself, well incorporated into the nation's busy life. Some own restaurants and businesses, others work in the City or law firms and chambers. At one gathering a frightfully posh, Muslim public school boy (aged 14), an excellent cricketer, said in his jagged, breaking voice: "I will never live in this country after finishing my education. They hate us. They'll put us all in prison. Nothing we do is OK. Do you think I am wrong Mrs Yasmin?" No I don't, though his hot young blood makes him intemperate.

Where do I start?
No, where do I start ? I can just see the Met top brass salivating at the thought of breaking down a few Muslim millionaires' front doors, can't you ? Excellent career move.

We're back in familiar Yazza territory :

"This week, I have been at three events where the majority of people in the audience were educated, sharp Muslims, some exceedingly rich and good friends with key politicians and Prince Charles. Guantanamo Bay and Iraq are topics that now madden even these establishmentarians.

One gentleman took my elbow, shuffled me to a discreet corner and whispered 'I have been here for 40 years, dined with royalty. Today, if I was young, I would go straight to Bin Laden. Mr Blair is a war criminal. Don't put my name down, but tell him we detest him'".

One of the things I love about Yazza is that she shoots straight from the hip. Can't say we've not been told. Pray God that she is, while wonderful, a self-centred hysteric with a 56-pound chip on her shoulder, unrepresentative of the wider Muslim community. Because if she's right that millions of Muslims feel anything like she does, there is indeed cause for concern.