2011-08-25

Celebrating equality

I'm a little baffled why Jody McIntyre is complaining about being dragged from his wheelchair and hit with a baton by police at the student protests earlier this year. Surely, if you believe in equal rights for the disabled (and Hopper does) you should believe in their entitlement to receive the same amount of police beatings as the able-bodied?

This is of course the same Jody who decided to tweet during the riots this month:
Be inspired by the scenes in #tottenham, and rise up in your own neighbourhood. 100 people in every area = the way we can beat the feds.
I know the police are often accused of dragging their feet, but you can't fault them for that here - they got the punishment correct in advance.

[Really, Jody, "feds"? I mean, what generation do you think you are?]

2011-08-18

The A-level fiasco

And a fiasco it is. 8.2% get A*, 27% get at least an A making it clear that the current generation is the brightest ever. As a member of a previous generation I'd just like to say bollocks.

For non-Brits, "A-level" is short for the GCE Advanced Level exam, a course that normally requires 2 years of study by 16-18 year olds after they complete GCSE exams at age 16. Typically a student would take 3 (occasionally 4) A-levels, each in a distinct subject e.g Maths, English Literature, German, Biology, Economics. It used to be assessed on a small number of exams taken right at the end of 2-year study, but over the past 20 years more coursework has counted towards the final grade. Grades used to be A (best) through E (poor), with U (unclassified) as an option if you were completely asleep throughout all exams.

I've read the paper Changes in standards at GCSE and A-Level:
 Evidence from ALIS and YELLIS by Robert Coe of Durham University, for the Office of National Statistics in 2007. Maths grades over 20 years have risen 2 full grades from 1988 to 2006 - a C student in Chemistry in 1988 would have got an A in 2006. And for maths it's over 3 full grades, so a D student would have an A. WTF?

Is this a problem? As someone heavily involved in recruiting, I assure you it is. The minor annoyance is that it is tricky to compare candidates' grades across multi-year gaps: AAB in 2005 may not indicate a student who is any brighter than one with BBB in 1998, say. But that's not too common a situation. A major annoyance is that you lose the ability to spot distinctive candidates; a 3-A candidate was the exception back in the early 90's, and so if you spotted one you'd move heaven and earth to get them in for interview. But now everyone and his dog has 3 A's.

But the greatest problem, one that seems seldom discussed, is ego. Ten years ago, if you worked hard and gained A-levels at ABB in Maths, English and Physics then you could rightly feel that you were approaching a mastery of the first subject but realise that you had some way to go to get a proper grip on Physics and English. Nowadays, you'd have A grades across the board and you'd feel invincible, despite your Physics knowledge having significant gaps and being unable to write grammatical English. If someone tries to correct you, you'll have none of it: "Oh, I have top grades in those subjects, I know what I'm talking about".

My solution? Grade on a curve. Fixed percentages of A, B, C, D, E; at least in the major subjects which don't have significant skew in the ability of those studying them (Latin and Greek are tricker to grade fairly for this reason). Better yet, give the student their percentile position directly in bands of 5% or so. I'd also like to see at least one impossible question in each subject's exams, just to keep student egos in check. Those who think they know it all really annoy those of us who do. (Ahem)

2011-08-14

Can someone explain this to me...

So rail fares are rising by 8-13% in the next year. I can understand the annoyance of passengers, especially assuming that the current service won't actually improve in quality. However, there is currently record overcrowding on the trains. Won't the fare rise alleviate the overcrowding? And what's the alternative strategy to reduce overcrowding that doesn't bring in extra revenue?

This is not to say that directors of Worst Great Western and a good number of people at Network Rail shouldn't be hung by their toes for egregious incompetence. But that's tangential to the economics of the situation.

2011-08-11

Word of the day - squoodle

squoodle: noun, the result of crossing a squirrel and a poodle. See for example, Hazel Blears' new hairstyle.

2011-08-10

24 hours in A+E - the mad-as-a-fish edition

Our last view (for a while, at least) into Kings A+E. "For God's sakes, get me something for the fucking pain!" some bloke was shouting as the programme opened. Either he had a gunshot wound to the stomach, was in the middle of childbirth, or he was being a wuss. You know what I'm betting on.

Clive woke up confused with a slurrying voice - everyone was thinking 'stroke'. He was conscious enough to compliment his consultant on her youthful looks though, good man. Discussing with his nurse people who go away before exam results come back, he commented that if anything was wrong with him he'd want to know. Six years of fighting off depression (subsequent to alcoholism, sounds like), more bad days than good days. I could see how that would screw up your vascular system. Turns out that the symptoms were due to an accidental overdose of his meds.

Here came Joseph, the pre-announced 16 year old with a query stroke. He was a bit confused about times and dates, apparently remembering yesterday's events as todays. Initially you'd think 'head trauma' but there was no obvious history indicating a mechanism for it. Some unilateral weakness in his leg. Handy for diagnostic purposes having his twin brother there, I'd think. Later confirmed that it was a stroke, fully recovered.

A suicidal person with 74 previous attempts went missing from the department. Jenny the psychiatric nurse was trying to find her. Statistically you'd think there wouldn't be too much risk that this would be the one time her attempts would succeed but I guess you can't stake your job on that. Kings sees more people with mental health needs than any other A+E department in the UK. Lots of schizophrenia, lots of bipolar. I'd hazard a guess there's a strong correlation with homelessness. A lot of them are regular visitors which brings its own set of challenges.

There were funny vignettes with the two girls trying to keep themselves entertained for hours and hours while waiting for treatment for fingers trapped in a collapsible stool. A+E needs more entertaining posters, perhaps 'Where's Wally?'.

We had 28 days of filming in which time 9500 patients came through and 6 died. It may sound a little heartless to say it, but that's not bad going.

2011-08-08

2011-08-03

24 hours in A+E - the end-of-the-road edition.

Now we have Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning. Should be a corker.

Props to the Filipino nurse looking after Ted and Irene - the man was very smooth. Ted was on his way out with a cancerous tumour in the bladder, knew it was there but was very stiff-upper-lip about the whole thing. Irene was apologising for calling the sister over - I don't know what the opposite of 'entitled' is, but Irene feels it in spades. Ted and Irene were stretching to try to see the bright side of life in very trying circumstances. As sister Maria said, you don't always get the privilege of spending time with people like that.

One young chap, Ian, was skateboarding while drunk and broke his ankle. Two components of the pisshead triad at minimum. The exact circs of the breakage may remain a mystery. Ian hated needles, but clearly not enough to offset his like of beer.

Emergency technician Amanda caused my teeth to grate somewhat. Does this make me a bad person? The ambulance crews call her "Peggy Mitchell" so it's not just me. She must have loved kicked-in-the-face patient Duncan as he could barely talk, so she got all the air time.

A patient came in with a heart attack - the team was administering CPR, which is already a pretty bad sign. Sure enough, the consultant called it a day. To be fair to Amanda she was up on the man's chest pumping away like a good'un.

"Every year 7 million people have accidents at work". I'd bet a considerable sum that there may be 7 million reported accidents at work, but there are a good number of those people who have multiple accidents. The example shown to us was a hedge trimmer vs finger; a Polish gardener shooting the breeze with Roman his German doctor. Roman has had to adapt the typical German direct approach to the British patient. "Will it hurt?" "Oh, yes!" gets the nurses telling him off. He sounded not a little irked with a British GP telling a patient with splinter-in-the-thumb from a month ago to come to A+E. I can see his point. God forbid that the GP should actually have to do anything tricky.

70p for a Bounty in the vending machine? Talk about captive audience pricing.

When the resus sister Sharon is saying "Oh my God, this is ridiculous" as the phone rings again, you know it's a good night. From one point of view. "So Stuart, what were you doing up the tree?" He doesn't remember. Alcohol, stupidity, gravity, kerching. Stuart likes to live life on the edge, but is afraid of his mother finding out. You couldn't make it up. "You're silly and you do stupid things" as his girlfriend observed, cutting to the heart of the issue.

A week later, Ted passed on. Stuart and Ian are, unfortunately, fine.

Next week: a 16 year old with query stroke. WTF? A different patient has a history of 74 previous suicide attempts. Let's be honest, she's not really trying.

So about those SocGen numbers...

SocGen are taking substantial write downs on their Greek sovereign debt holdings in Q2; a little under 20% on 2.6bn euro of holdings, taking out 30%+ of their net profits for the quarter.

I would just like to say I told you so and I wonder what other non-marked-to-market skeletons linger in the SocGen closet. This isn't investment advice, but I wouldn't touch SocGen with a faeces-stained stick. Thank goodness that Berlusconi is making a reassuring statement on the Italian banks, I don't know what we'd do without him.

We now return you to your scheduled programming (specifically, 24 Hours in A+E).