Monday, 21 January 2019

Personal injury fraud

Not long ago, Twitter had a thing in which people were encouraged to say something that was obvious to people within their profession but which would be surprising to people outside it. My example from working as a barrister would be the scale of fraudulent personal injury claims - and the nature of the people involved in it.

Here is a case that exemplifies the point. Indeed, I regard it as unusual only in that the insurance company got the chance to uncover the fraud (a junior employee in a law firm sent the wrong document to the other side by mistake). The judge found both a solicitor and a doctor to be guilty of conduct which interfered with the administration of justice.

Here are some observations on the guilty men. First, Mr K, the solicitor. "When I asked him to explain this error, he said it was a mistake. When I pointed out that he appeared as comfortable and fluent advancing the first version of events as the second, he said he was "nervous". When pressed, he said that when explaining his first answer, to the effect that the email preceded the letter, he was "blagging". I confess I found it extraordinary that a solicitor, facing a contempt of court allegation, should, even for a moment, think it sensible or appropriate to attempt to "blag" his way through his evidence."

Second, Dr Z. "Dr [Z] is, as Mr Goldberg QC put it, a self-made, professional man. He is a GP with an NHS locum practice. He has also built up a highly successful one-man medico legal career. He works extremely long hours examining claimants in personal injury cases and producing reports. He allows himself just 15 minutes, in total, to conduct the examination and produce the report and is able to produce an astonishing 32 medical reports every day. Mr Goldberg QC describes his client as producing medical reports on an "industrial scale". [...] He has been able as a result to generate an income from his medico legal work of £350,000 per annum, on top of his NHS salary."

A self-described "blagger" of a lawyer and a doctor who is described by his own QC as producing medical reports on an "industrial scale". The professions at their worst.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Getting it right is hard

The Economist had a good article on single minded people - the patient tendency - tortoises.

It goes like this. The Brexiteers, exemplified by Sir Bill Cash, were a bunch of crazy loons. Everyone who was anyone in the Conservative Party tried to shut them up. But the loons stuck at it - and look where we are now. Similarly, the Corbynites "were kept going by a burning faith that history would eventually move in their direction, a faith well illustrated by Mr McDonnell’s comment, during the financial crisis, that “I’ve been waiting for this for a generation.”".  They were crazy loons too. But, patiently, tortoise-like, they stuck at it. And look where they are.

This leads the writer to the conclusion that "long-termism can be overrated. It is conventional to decry the tyranny of short-term thinking, a tyranny that is supposedly getting more oppressive in a world of Twitter mobs and one-click consumers. But long-termism can be coupled with monomania and utopianism. And short-termism makes for constant adjustments to an ever-changing reality. Britain’s patient tendency is doing far more harm to the country than short-termists ever did."

There is something in that point, and it is this: there are no shortcuts to working out if someone is right.

Let me put it this way. From time to time there are attempts to show that certain political opinions are correlated with some other, more or less quantifiable, intellectual or psychological tendency, e.g. that conservatives are more fearful or liberals are more flexible. The underlying idea seems to be that one can tell that flexible thinking is better than inflexible thinking and therefore that liberals are right, or one should be able to see that conservatives are just people blinded by fear. It's all rather like the character in the Woody Allen film Everyone Says I Love You who was becoming right-wing until his brain condition was diagnosed and treated - although Allen understood that that was a joke. The Economist's is another attempt along the same lines: look for the people who change their minds and avoid the people who stick to their guns, and you'll get to the right answers.

This sort of meta-approach doesn't work. Being right or sensible about one thing doesn't guarantee being right or sensible elsewhere. Indeed, finding Bad Things that Great Men believed is a modern parlour game - try Einstein on the Chinese, or Gandhi on all sorts of things. And I should probably apologise for even mentioning Woody Allen.

Even when it comes to political opinions, "constant adjustments to an ever-changing reality" (what The Economist somehow resists calling "when the facts change I change my mind, what do you do?ism") is not an inherently better approach than the alternative. The Economist is right to point out that people are quite capable of demonstrating the virtues of patience and self-denial by holding on to unpopular beliefs for many years, in the face of all the temptations and blandishments that society can offer to abandon those beliefs, and yet those beliefs can be just plain wrong: you can pick from Cash and Corbyn as you please to prove the point. On the other hand, it's not hard to find people who stuck to the fight against apartheid, or slavery, or Communist dictatorship, or fascism, and whose 'monomania' is much to be admired. Nor is it hard to find those who adjusted to ever-changing reality far too readily: "be reasonable," said the moderate, "the complete abolition of slavery is a step too far, but we should do what we can to make it nicer for the slaves". "Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue," said a man with a large collection of Kachina dolls and a keen interest in UFOs, but who was nonetheless also right about Nixon.

I pause at this point to bring in some thoughts prompted by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "Dissidents are always a little crazy by definition. Everyone has an urge to truth-telling and an urge to self-preservation that, in most cases, outweighs it. A person ready to stand up to a system that has for decades inflicted maximum harm on its critics is, in this sense, an abnormal person. His urges are disordered. There is a cruel paradox of political oppression: The less humane, the more ruthless, the more violent a system, the easier it is to cast someone who opposes it as off his rocker. Whether he overestimates his personal persuasiveness or the public’s backbone, a dissident is wrong about something, and his more cowardly fellow citizens can cling to this wrongness as an excuse for ignoring him, mocking him, informing on him."

I prefer to give patient, monomaniac outcasts the credit for showing a bit of imagination and a bit of backbone. These funny creatures have some virtues even if they are wrong, and we should be open to the possibility that those virtues inform their views. On the other hand, the Vicar of Bray's conduct is understandable, but he's not a model to emulate.

Moreover, it's not always obvious who the monomaniacs are. You saw the word 'utopianism' in the quotation above. Did that make you think of Utopia and Sir Thomas More? More was a man whose beliefs were utterly conventional, in tune with modern thinking and consistent with comfort, preferment and worldly success. He was far closer to being the Tony Blair of his day than its Corbyn or Farage: the Tudor Economist would have loved him for his liberal and humane views, utterly unlike the extremist Protestants spreading fake news in foreign lands. Then More's beliefs stopped being conventional and convenient. Nonetheless, he stuck to them, even when they led to his imprisonment and death. And isn't Blair himself, originally reviled as a sort of Tory-lite man without principles, cobbling together wishy-washy platitudes to inveigle New Labour into the hearts of the middle classes, now proving that he really believes in all his Third Way liberal international centrism? 

All of which leads me to the somewhat dispiriting conclusion that if you really care about being right then you have to steel yourself to the possibility of finding yourself in company with some odd or repellent people. The people who are the loudest and most right might be the oddest, even off their rockers; or perhaps those most right are the utterly conventional squares, a thought which can be equally repellent, if you are romantically inclined. Equally, some lovely people, whom you like very much, are wrong. Nowhere is it written that getting to the truth is easy, and I'm afraid there are no short cuts.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Spirit Writing and the Law

As everyone knows, copyright comes to an end some time after the author (or composer or painter or ...) dies. You don't need the kind permission of the Estate of W. Shakespeare to recite the "to be or not to be" monologue.

But what about works created after the (literal) death of the author? I don't mean works that are published posthumously; I mean works dictated by dead people to mediums (media?).

Courts have had to grapple with this very issue. Sometimes, the spirits insist on it: "In the Urantia Foundation case, a message from the spirits told the parties to obtain copyright and trade mark registration."

This is an introduction to the approaches that courts have taken to the issue, with the (live) writer suggesting that similar answers might be given to the question of artistic works created by artificial intelligence. Unless, of course, artificial intelligence is less insistent on protecting its rights than certain spirits have been.


Friday, 11 January 2019

Links you should look at

Because seeing is believing.

1. McGingerbread Mansion Hell. "This cozy 4-bedroom, 10-bathroom cottage is made of sturdy construction-grade tan-beige gingerbread from top to bottom. ... The garage accomodates two SUVs or six European sedan cars." "The one hundred percent genuine pretzel log deck overlooking the backyard is the perfect place to entertain friends and family alike, especially during the holiday season!" And more.

2. How to visualise the population of cities.

3. Different theories are supported by the same facts.

4. Jesus played cricket, says an Australian newspaper, to no one's great surprise.

5. Ball's Pyramid and "an insect, famous for being big ... the Europeans labeled it a "tree lobster" because of its size and hard, lobsterlike exoskeleton." Both here.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Photos of the 2019 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

From the Opium Wars to modern China. See the photos here. It really is every bit as amazing as that in real life.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Fascinating stuff about the Opium Wars

Here. Including this:

"That the use of opium was prevalent in China before the first recorded British transport of the drug in 1733 (and well before the gunboats arrived in 1840) indicates that far from cold-shouldering the world and its goods, people of the Qing dynasty gladly received them. By the 1820s, Western merchandise was all the rage among moneyed urbanites, with retailers adding the adjective “western” to their products in order to up the price. It was this fashion for foreign stuffs that partly explained the craze for British-Indian opium, which, along with the exquisitely wrought pipes and instruments needed to smoke it, became a delicacy for the rich. It also relieved the terminally ill of their pain, was served at dinner parties, and was taken as a “smart drug” by students cramming for civil service examinations. Eunuchs in the Forbidden City inhaled it as a flight from boredom. If opium was illegal in name, then it was hardly ever so in practice, and as Platt shows, British drug peddlers “insisted they were merely filling a need they had not created . . . a self-serving view, but it contained at least a grain of truth”."

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

A cultural map of the world?

If you want to know how they worked out that Trinidad and Tobago is every bit as not-Chinese as Great Britain (and rather more so than New Zealand) but less American, then read more here.