Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday, 28 February 2008

And these 'folks' are our allies???

I have considerable respect for Matt Drudge and linked to his website soon after I began this blog almost six years ago. However, I think he has committed a serious misjudgement with his decision to break the story that Prince Harry is on active service with the British army in Afghanistan. I quote below, word for word, what he writes in his flash page devoted to this earth-shattering(*) news:

Thu Feb 28 2008 11:01:34 ET

They're calling him "Harry the Hero!"

British Royal Prince Harry has been fighting in Afghanistan since late December -- and has been directly involved in gun battle, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

The prince, a junior officer in the Blues and Royals, and third in line to the throne, has been a "magnificent soldier" and an "inspiration to all of Briton."

Prince Harry is taking part in a new offensive against the Taliban.

Ministry of Defense and Clarence House refuse all comment. Army chiefs have managed to keep the prince away from media and have encourage fellow soldiers in his squadron to stay quiet.


According to the 10pm BBC1 news, which I'm watching as I type (it's one hour later in Spain), the story was broken some time ago by an obscure Australian website (shame on it, too!), but it was not until the story was leaked by the much more widely-read Drudge Report that the news became so widespread that it had to be acknowledged.

OK, so it's a 'scoop'. But what does it achieve? A carefully-negotiated agreement made by the Ministry of Defence with the British and some important foreign media outlets (including the Associated Press, from which emanates this story in the International Herald Tribune in the wake of Drudge's action) not to publicise the fact that the 3rd in line to the British throne is on active duty in Afghanistan until after his deployment there was over, has been broken. The MoD has now made a statement about what has happened, which reads in part:

"I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us. This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number of overseas, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations.

"After a lengthy period of discussion between the MOD and the Editors of regional, national and international media, the Editors took the commendable attitude to restrain their coverage. I would like to thank them for that and I do appreciate that once the story was in the public domain, they had no choice but to follow suit.

"What the last two months have shown is that it is perfectly possible for Prince Harry to be employed just the same as other Army officers of his rank and experience. His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary. He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else in his Battlegroup.

"In common with all of his generation in the Army today, he is a credit to the nation. In deciding to deploy him to Afghanistan, it was my judgement that with an understanding with the media not to broadcast his whereabouts, the risk in doing was manageable.

"Now that the story is in the public domain, the Chief of Defence Staff and I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue. I now appeal to the media to restrain from attempting to report Prince Harry’s every move and return to our understanding."

I'm now watching Question Time and 'Gorgeous George'. Predictably he is making the point that the British Army should not be there at all. Fair enough, it's a point of view.

However, the whole point of the 'embargo' on news of his presence there was both to protect him and, just as importantly, to protect the lives of all those other soldiers serving there with him who might, because of his presence there, be at increased risk. If he and they are now at increased risk because of this revelation by Matt Drudge and some harm does now fall on him or them then I hope the finger will be pointed at least partly at Matt Drudge!

Perhaps the title of this post is somewhat unfair to our allies the Americans. After all, citizens of the US are individuals with both rights and responsibilities - just as every individul citizen of the UK has rights and responsibilities. It is probably therefore unfair to heap blame on all Americans for the folly of one of their citizens who has revealed this information for reasons of professional and perhaps personal vanity, without understanding (or perhaps even caring) that by doing so he may well be placing the life of Prince Harry and those he serves with at increased danger. I stick with the title of this blog post.

(*) I had no idea that Prince Harry is serving in Afghanistan, but it does not suprise me. After all, we knew that that he had been prevented from going with his regiment to serve in Iraq and had expressed visceral disappointment at this turn of events. The fact that his regiment is now serving in Afghanistan, a fact which is I imagine not entirely a secret, might therefore have acted as a pretty good clue that he might be there too - particularly as we have not seen him falling out of a nightclub in London of late. (I expect there are many upper class, rich kids who fall out of nightclubs pretty drunk in the wee small hours - I've done the same in years gone by myself and I'm not 'upper class', nor am I specially rich, but this mostly went unnoticed because I don't happen to come from the family he does.)

This is not an endorsement for Barack Obama, although ...

... it is looking as if he now stands a good chance of getting the Democratic Party nomination for the forthcoming US Presidential elections. However, as I'm in Spain at the moment, this YouTube propaganda on behalf of the Illinois Senator by some Mexican-Americans in Texas seems timely enough, with the next round of State Primaries about to take place on 4th March. It's a lively tune and if nothing else it exposes me to just a little more of the Spanish language at a level that even I can follow pretty easily (even without the helpful Karaoke-style sub-titles!):

(thru Andrew Sullivan)

PS/ As I indicated here, I'm abstaining from any substantive comment on the potential candidates for the US Presidency until they are actually selected by their respective nominating committee.

Some people are gay. Get over it!

This is the simple message for a campaign currently being run by Stonewall and is part of Stonewall’s Education for All campaign to tackle homophobic bullying in schools:

Seemingly (or at least allegedly!) innocent remarks can lead to big problems if not tackled before they get out of hand. Last November efforts were launched (see video news reports) in Northamtponshire and in Leicester which show what can be done if the will is there.

The cabinet either believe some post offices need to be closed ...

... or they don't.

However it seems some cabinet ministers, upto seven present and former members of the cabinet according to this report, appear in two minds about the issue. Or, 'two-faced', if you like, by campaigning simultaneously to 'represent' (allegedly) their constituents' views and going along with the cabinet's decision to back the closure of a very significant number of post offices.

I expect it's simply a case of economic realities coming face to face with electoral opportunism - these cabinet ministers, however 'high and mighty' they may be whilst they benefit from the ministerial car and the higher 'perks' (an even higher remuneration package than that received by common or garden MPs), must still go through the ritual of getting re-elected a minimum of once every five years. I think that it is in this context that one needs to view certain cabinet ministers' divided loyalties - although quite how a constituency MP can campaign for the government (of which he/she is a cabinet member) to change a government policy is one perhaps for a psychiatrist rather than a mere blogger!

PS/ I have no particular view one way or the other on the post office closure debate. I tend to think that the closure of some post offices is justified on the grounds of cost - although the reasons for this situation having arisen (removal of certain revenue-earning services which post offices used to provide, for reasons of efficiency allegedly) is perhaps less clearcut. For a much less equivocal view on this matter, visit A Gurn from Nurn where Graisg has recently been campaigning against the closure of Nairn's Harbour Street post office.

PPS/ This blog has been silent for the past week as I have had my first official guests at my new place in Spain - they left earlier this week, after a very enjoyable interlude (for all of us, I think) so I should now be able to get back to semi-regular blogging again.

Monday, 18 February 2008

English language teaching in Spain - and election fever

With the Spanish national elections coming up next month, increasingly optimistic proposals are being made by both of the two main political parties, the governing Socialists and the opposition Popular Party. Today President (i.e. Prime Minister) Zapatero has come up with a startling idea - basically that young Spaniards need to be able to use English both at a social and professional level to survive in the modern world. And to try and achieve that objective he is proposing that 12,000 part-time native English teachers be hired along with 8,000 English language assistants. The aim is, if he is re-elected, for 15 per cent of all school activity to be conducted in English by the end of the next government's mandate and for all school-leavers to be able to function socially and professionally in English. He also wants to quadruple the numbers of Spanish schoolchildren undertaking exchange visits of upto a month to 200,000 a year - presumably the favoured destinations will be the UK or Ireland (or perhaps non-EU English-speaking nations further afield) if improving English-language skills is part of the objective?

Can I also suggest something completely tongue in cheek? Would it not be a good idea simply to turn over the government of Spain to Gibraltar - in one move they could regain a sacred piece of what they believe to be Spanish territory (and Zapatero could go down in history as a national hero) and if Gibraltarians controlled the levers of power in Spain then they might not object quite so vociferously to being annexed. It shouldn't take readers too long to realise that the last sentence was written under the influence of [at least] two glasses of rather good port.

What incentive will I have to try and improve my Spanish if this policy is taken forward?

PS/ I read this report yesterday in the Spanish-language press, but the English translation in the linked article may be more accessible to most readers.

Northern Rock and New Labour's reversion to Socialist-type

So the 'inevitable' (copyright Vince Cable, the LibDem's guru on such matters, in case you had no idea who he is) has happened - Northern Rock has been nationalised; marvel at the bare-faced effrontery of our 'glorious leader', Gordon Brown; the coward even has Alistair Darling alongside him to try and deflect some of the flak from his august personage - it doesn't wash! Naturally none of this 'guff' has anything to do with the number of Labour seats potentially at risk in the north-east of England, Northern Rock's home-base, or at least so we are led to believe.

Rather than spending a lot of time writing a ranting post about this latest development in the saga that the government has allowed Northern Rock to become, I refer you to an excellent post, justifiably excoriating in tone, from Guido; it tells you all you need to know about what a useless bunch of [.......] (*) this Labour government is. I never ever believed for one minute the hype in 1997, particularly from Gordon Brown himself, that this Labour government would be any better at managing the economy than previous Labour governments; it has taken them just over 10 years, but I think this present shower of incompetents will go down in history as being even more incompetent than the governments run by Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, 'ably assisted' by the likes of Hilary Benn's dad, Tony, that other Brown (George) and not forgetting that amiable old buffer Dennis Healey, who still pops up on TV occasionally.

The only other thing I write aobut this right now is that I thought Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was even more unimpressive than usual on the Today programme this morning. Of course he is to some extent just the hapless fall-guy for his incompetent and cowardly boss, Gordon Brown, the man who actually created the conditions that allowed Northern Rock to get into the mess it has.

(*) My self-imposed policy in this blog prevents me from using the appropriate word here; it begins with 't' and ends with 's'.

UPDATE: (Monday 18FEB08 17.45 RST) John Redwood MP has a post up about Nortern Rock today, as one would expect. He has a useful recapitualtion of the steps that led to where we are now and how the government has at every stage shown poor judgement in its handling of this crisis; I agree completely. However, I'm with Guido in the comments to that post when he criticises the idea of a 'solution' having been to pump liquidity into Northern Rock; as I've written before this would have been like giving a drug addict ready and continuing access to the cause of its distress; businesses and their shareholders should expect to suffer the consequences of poor management decisions, just as they should receive just rewards for more successful risk-taking - Northern Rock should have been no exception. If the speech Alistair Darling gave on 13th September, and which John Redwood refers to as 'stupid', had not been delivered, it is highly probable that the crisis would not have been so severe or perhaps even have happened at all. The speech was a product, in my view, of the ignorance of most people in this government, who have little commercial or business experience, of understanding of the dynamics of capitalism. They may have tried to emulate the thought-processes of people who operate successfully in a market economy, but fundamentally they do not believe in it; they are instinctive 'socialists'.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Inverness and Nairn and their different policies on bridges

I read that Highland Council is to spend GBP167,000- on lighting one of the major bridges across the River Ness in Inverness. It's undoubtedly a charming idea to have the ability to have changing lighting displays to mark special events.

However it shows clearly where Highland Council's priorities lie when you contrast it with the fact that the Harbour Bridge crossing in Nairn has been closed to vehicular traffic for about four years (pedestrians may still use it) and there are no plans to carry out the much-needed repairs to make it safe for vehicles again. From memory the esitmated cost of these repairs would have been less than the cost of lighting up the Ness Bridge! Although Inverness is the most populous settlement in the Highland Council area the impression is given, I'm afraid often borne out by fact, that the rest of the roughly 10,000 square mile area under its control is of relatively minor importance when compared with the showcase projects with which Inverness and its Councillors surround themselves.

The ball was very firmly put in Highland Council's court by the Scottish Executive (now known as the 'Scottish Government') as this written answer (S2W-9043) in June 2004 makes clear (scroll down the page to the section entitled 'Bridges'). The fact that the bridge leads from Harbour Street at its bottom end across to one of the major tourist destinations in Nairn, a very large static caravan park whose patrons must spend significant amounts in Nairn during the holiday season, seems to be of minor importance to Highland Council when compared to the need for 'The capital of the Highlands' to show a pretty face to visitors.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Different views on gun control in the US - and far above it

A quirky one this. Through a one-line link in Andrew Sullivan's blog I came across this story which strikes me as rather bizarre, even if very understandable.

It seems that Russian spacecraft, including the Soyuz module attached to the International Space Station, are equipped with emergency kits which include guns; US astronauts who fly in Russian craft are trained in their use, although none are carried aboard US spacecraft. Former NASA engineer Jim Oberg thinks guns have no place in space and that they would be better left on Earth.

Jim Oberg's views on this matter seem to me to be uncontroversial and quite sensible. However, juxtapose this with the fact that he comes from a country in which the 2nd Amendment to its Constitution states: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. - and is moreover a country in which, within the past week, there have been four shoot-outs in educational establishments in widely different areas. Bizarrely enough I visited the most recent venue for this presumably extra-curricular activity at Northern Illinois State University in De Kalb, Illinois, many years ago whilst spending a few days with a former school friend who was at the time lecturing there; I recall it as being a very sedate mid-western town set in a rolling countryside of grain fields.

There are two ways of looking at this story. Either Jim Oberg is using his knowledge of what can happen when guns happen to be to hand when someone decides, for whatever reason (or if mentally unhinged, unreason), to shoot him-/herself or others dead and prefers to keep such a possibility out of reach of astronauts who, however well trained and disciplined they are, are also human beings subject to the same range of emotions as the rest of us - as was graphically displayed a couple of years ago by Lisa Nowak. The other more cynical interpretation of his comments is that he is being somewhat hypocritical, although on this occasion I don't think that is the right one - I am sure he said what he did out of a fear that what is so commonplace in the US might one day be replicated in space.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Highland Council Independent/SNP coalition - falling apart?

It seems like it may be! The trouble is that the proposed budget is apparently SNP-led, despite the SNP having far fewer councillors than the Independent grouping (no sooner do I write this article than the link has been redirected to a blank page - perhaps the content of the article was just too explosive for the SNP-gauleiters who call the shots in Highland Council!). In any case here's what the summary article in Bloglines said:

Highland budget row shows split in coalition

"Deep divisions in the independent-SNP coalition leading Highland Council were laid bare last night as two of its members called for the alliance to be disbanded ahead of group crisis talks today.

A number of independent councillors are furious ..."

I hate to say 'I told you so', but here's what I wrote it when the post-election coalition was formed - see also the slightly later post here. As for the need for certain of the Independents to 'grow a backbone', as suggested by one of the other more-outspoken Independents on the Council, as quoted in the now-vanished article, well I wrote about the good judgement of one of those Independent councillors (the Convener, actually) here. He was a good butcher (he was my local butcher before his elevation to the Convenorship); whether he is a good politician is now far less open to doubt, I'm sorry to say.

Police State Britain - it now exists without any doubt

A lot of things have happened over the past few years in NuLabour's 'Brave New Britain' which have led me to believe that the country is on the way to turning into some kind of 'police state'. One has only to recall the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, gunned down in cold-blood by an out-of-control security apparatus that became caught up in hysteria after the London bombings of July 2005. Then tried to cover-up and thwart the inquiry into what happened; the person concerned, Sir Ian Blair, is still in charge of the Metropolitan Police.

Now I read (thru a post on Mr Eugenides) that an innocent commuter has been snatched off the street by armed police whilst waiting for a bus. His 'crime' is that he was listening to his MP3 player and a fellow-commuter mistook it for a gun and called '999'. OK, just supposing that this was a reasonable thing for the other commuter to have done; after all it could have been a firearm, I suppose. However, once the police bundled the man into a van and took him away for 'interrogation', it must have become obvious to them very rapidly that he was doing nothing more nefarious than possibly listening to some music of questionnable quality. However, these 'agents of the state' still went ahead and took a DNA sample and his finger-prints. A police spokesman has made the very bland statement: "An operation was put in place and a man matching the description was detained". No word of an apology for the distress caused to a completely innocent person. Moreover his DNA and finger-prints are probably destined to stay in police files in perpetuity.

People who try and tell me I'm exaggerating when I suggest that the UK is now, today, a 'police state' under Labour are not just naive, they are in my view completely deluded and not facing facts. The UK has faced a number of dangers in the past of equal or greater severity (think 'World War II' or the 'IRA') without the governments of the time feeling it necessary or desirable to dismantle permanently many of our hard-fought-for basic rights (for example the right to trial by jury, just another of the things our present government would prefer to abolish). Yes, we did have ID Cards during World War II, at a time of supreme danger to the country, but these were quickly dispensed with after the danger was over. Does anyone believe that the present threat of terrorism is equally severe when such measures weren't considered necessary at the height of the IRA threat? I believe the government has actively tried to foster a state of fear amongst ordinary citizens, far beyond what is necessary to combat terrorism, to allow this kind of abuse of power by the police to happen and not to be denounced in the strongest possible terms by anyone who hears of it. However, the government's objective is quite obviously to cow citizens into an acceptance that such actions are necessary and justifiable; its whole strategy since coming to power in 1997 has been heading in this direction. Well, this citizen is not cowed and he does not believe such actions by the police, once they realised it was a false alarm, are in any way justifiable whatsoever. His DNA sample and fingerprints should be removed from police files and destroyed and he should receive an apology.

I've been writing about the developing 'police state' that is modern Britain under our Labour Government for quite a long time now - read some of my earlier posts which touch on this topic here. I have to confess it startled, and frightened, me to read just how much material I have been accumulating over the years; the question has to be, fellow citizens, are we going to continue to acquiesce in this dangerous madness or are we going to grow a backbone and turf the tyrants who currently form our government out on their ears? I am not suggesting anything more dramatic, let it be clear, than a vote more wisely cast than for Labour at the next election; be in no doubt that the government will continue with its propaganda efforts to try and ensure it gets enough votes to win; I hope enough people will see through the lies they are peddling to save our country in time. However, it needs to be made clear to whichever Party takes over next time that they must fulfil their current promises and dismantle the ID Card scheme for a start and bring the police back under proper civilian control by elected officials and that both government and police officials will be held personally responsible for this kind of flagrant abuse of power.

Ken Livingstone's suitability as London mayor

(Please see UPDATES at end)

I watched the BBC London news after the 1pm lunch-time news on BBC1 a little while ago and was appalled to see Livingstone's boorish behaviour before the Council. After making some particularly obstreporous comment, he was asked by a female councillor to "show some respect for the Council", to which the charming Ken responded: "Respect has to be earned".

I don't live in London so whom Londoners have as their Mayor is no business of mine, but if I did I would certainly be extremely offended by this man's behaviour. As a Briton I do however feel embarrassed that this out-of-control boor is in charge of the country's capital. It's no surprise to anyone who knows my blog that I would never have voted for Ken, and in the soon to be held election I would most probably go for Boris Johnson. However, even if that choice is not to your taste and you live in London, I ask you to consider seriously whether a vote for him is in London's best interests. This is hardly the first time this man's behaviour as a public official has been completely inappropriate, whatever the merits of what was being discussed.

Unfortunately a video-link to this lunch-time's London news is not yet up on the website.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 13FEB08 19.47 RST) The evening edition of BBC London news finished jjust 15 or so minutes ago and there was a longer segment on this morning's dramatic events at the London Assembly, when the sitting wasd suspended briefly for calm to be restored after the Mayor's repeated outbursts; still no online report on this in the BBC London website, so here is the only online report I can find so far on what happened. The controversy is about the dealings of the London Develolpment Agency and key aide Lee Jasper. Clear responses are still awaited; the Mayor's rantings cannot postpone the reckoning forever.

2nd UPDATE: (Monday 19FEB08 21.44 RST) Through the Coffee House at the Spectator I have come across a link to a YouTube recording of Ken Livingstone's aberrant behaviour:

It would be quite funny if it wasn't so sad, not to mention outrageous.

Friday, 8 February 2008

The dangerous and socially divisive ideas of Rowan Williams

What possessed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams? He has suggested it is probably 'unavoidable' that certain aspects of Sharia Law be adopted in the UK. Personally I think the idea is completely crazy and rather than aiding community cohesion, is likely in my view to lead to a great deal more divisiveness. However, I think there is a great deal more behind this suggestion than at first appears and I will come back to this point later in the post.

On the other hand, as I learned a couple of years ago when discussing a previous controversy involving religious dogma (of the Roman Cathoic variety, on that occasion), there are already cases where civil matters are dealt with in a parallel system to the principles of 'British law' (i.e. English and Scots Law respectively); this usually involves marital and financial or contractual matters in the case of the Jewish faith by believers in the orthodox Beth Din variety of that religion and in the case of (according to the linked article above and this is a new one on me!) in matters relating to abortion in accordance with certain religious beliefs.

Let me be clear - I think the same laws, as enacted by Parliament, should apply to everybody in the UK, irrespective of whatever religious belief they may or may not have. The UK is a secular country. Period. If it was up to me I would curtail the already existing rights of some Jewish people and those of other religious faith to have their religious dogma impact on legal matters of any kind in this country. The argument, intellectually flawed in my view, of Dr Rowan Williams is that the existence of legal variants for some religions means it is somehow only fair for this privilege/right to be extended to those of the Islamic or any other religious faith is specious; all such rights are incompatible with the laws of a secular state such as the UK.

Dr Rowan Williams is however [said to be] a very clever man and I think he is laying the foundations for future assaults on the commonality of our laws. A couple of years ago there was controversy involving the Roman Catholic religion when officials of that belief system wanted to be able to prohibit gay couples from jointly adopting children through Catholic adoption agencies. Similarly, and more recently, the Church of England (CoE) (of which Dr Rowan Williams, as Archbishop of Canterbury, is the major domo) wanted to be able to apply special criteria in its employment practices, specifically as a way of excluding homosexuals or others of whom the CoE disapproves and indeed successfully obtained exemption from recently enacted employment equality laws. Completely outrageous!

Quite rightly politicians from all major political parties have come out strongly against Dr Williams's proposals. However, do not be lulled into a false sense of security - there needs to be a constant watch on this kind of religious 'adventurism'; if his ideas on Islamic practices were ever implemented it would be used to try and justify further divergence in our laws by holders of other religious beliefs as has already happened in recent years. Over the years I have written numerous posts about the role the CoE tries to play in our society - see some of them here.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Bank robbery in Mazarrón!

Or to be strictly accurate at the Camposol urbanisation just outside Mazarrón and just a few kilometres up the road from where I am.

My Spanish bank account is, it so happens with the bank branch which was robbed and the robbery must have taken place on Monday night as I had been into the bank on Monday to withdraw some cash and had arranged to return on Tuesday to collect some more. However, when I arrived at the bank yesterday morning it was closed and one of the large plate-glass windows had been smashed in; repairs to that were already getting underway. I went back again today and although the branch has re-opened it has no cash other than what is in the automated cash machine and the withdrawal limit on that is less than I require. Apparently the thieves stole all the cash and the branch won't be re-stocked with significant cash until sometime next week when the damages have been repaired (the plate-glass window has already been replaced, but there is other significant damage inside the branch and workmen were hard at work this morning on that). There was also a security guard checking everyone who entered, something which is not usually the case, but understandable after the branch has just been ransacked and robbed.

PS/ I just had broadband internet installed in my new Spanish house this morning so I am no longer out of internet/Skype touch, as I have been since arriving here on Sunday. A lot of the furniture is already delivered and installed, but a few items remain, the most critical of which are a hob and oven for cooking. The hob which came a few days ago did not fit, so another model has been ordered and, in theory, should be delivered this evening. Assuming this happens, then I shall probably move in tomorrow or Friday; I have the rented house for another week and a half so there is no particular hurry, other than my impatience - balanced by a determination not to have to 'camp out' in a partially-furnished house, specially when there is another rented house available to me just a few minutes away.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Day 5 - Castelldefels to Valencia

I could see when I opened the curtains this morning it was going to be a good day - the sky was blue. It was cool, not cold (this was 8am). After checking out of the hotel I visited the guest-house I plan to stay at for a couple of nights on my way back north in late April; it's in the hills behind Sitges, a little south of Castelldefels. When I write it is 'in the hills' I mean that literally; the road, which eventually becomes no more than a track really, is so steep in a couple of places that the only way up it was in 1st gear and putting one's foot to the floorboard to keep the revs up. However, the place is beautifully appointed - 'rustic with luxury' I think best describes it; they have a nice pool which should be warm enough to swim in when I come back.

SatNav said the drive to Valencia would take slightly over 3 hours (and that's what it took last year), but there is quite a lot of road-working going on on the AP-7 just now north and south of Tarragona over thenty or thirty kilometres in short and long sections so the journey time was slower and I stopped off quite a few times, for lunch etc., but I still arrived at the hotel here just after 4pm. I decided not to do much of an entry today, though - it was a good day, but I'm a little tired so plan to relax for the rest of the evening.

Oh, when I was driving up to the guest-house, my Spanish mobile 'phone rang (luckily not at one of the really steep parts of the hill); it was the lady from the curtain shop in Mazarrón asking if they could come to install my curtains on Monday morning at 11am; I had'phoned her a couple of days before I left home to let her know precisely when I would be arriving (the subject of an earlier blog entry). Let no one tell you Spaniards aren't diligent and hard-working; in my experience so far they are pretty efficient and responsive; it's possible I shall have my own horror stories in due course, but so far I've had only minor frustrations when dealing with suppliers here; I've had a lot worse in the UK and a number of other places I've lived. In any case I had to decline her offer as I must visit quite a number of places on Monday morning and afternoon to confirm various other deliveries and had planned to visit the curtain shop in the morning as my first call - no doubt we can reschedule a time for them to come and install things then.

Tomorrow is a comfortable barely 3-hour drive to Mazarrón so with lunch and perhaps another break I'll make it in 4 1/2 hours at most. It has been a good trip, but I'll be glad when it is over. I won't get to relax much though, as I shall be quite busy for a week or so getting the house up and running and probably won't be online much, if at all, for that period; on the other hand if my furniture deliveries happen very rapidly, which I suspect they might, then I might get to the ISP's office a little earlier than anticipated.

Friday, 1 February 2008

The sick mentality that guides the NHS

I just came across a letter from Ben Bradshaw MP, Minister of State for Health Services, to the Economist magazine and published in its 26th January edition - it has been lurking in one of my bags since leaving home and I only got around to perusing it last evening.

I can't find the letter in the online edition - perhaps I've not looked in quite the right place - so I'm going to quote parts of the lengthy second (and final) paragraph as what he writes there seems to me to encapsulate a lot of what is hateful about the mentality guiding the NHS:

"A fundamental principle of the NHS, supported by all political parties, is that treatment should be available to patients based on need and not on the ability to pay."

If you believe in the principle of socialised medicine provision, which I am not in any way sure that I do, then this seems inevitable. But for the sake of argument, let us suppose it is a sound way of doing things. What does it lead on to?

"Patients are, of course, entitled to seek private medical treatment if they so wish."

Now this is really decent of our political masters, isn't it!? They graciously accept that we have the right to deal with our own health care outside the NHS if we choose.

Of course, if you do take out private health insurance (as I and many others have) then it will cost you more than just the insurance premium. You will also pay a health insurance tax. So despite the seeming innocence of the 'State' permitting one to do something outside its control, they still want to punish you for doing so.

"Co-payments undermine the the principle of fair and equal treatment for all and risk creating a two-tier health service - one for those with the ability to pay and another for those that do not. Such a system would directly contravene the principles and values of the NHS."

When I read ridicuous communistic propaganda like this masquerading as a genuine concern with what is best for people concerned about their health I really feel like screaming and smashing some windows. Co-payments of various kinds have been a fundamental part, perhaps a regrettable part, of the NHS almost since its inception! Dental charges, charging for prescriptions and for various things connected with eye-care have a long history under the NHS. You can read a couple of websites which cover the topic in depth here (Citizens' Advice Bureau) and here (Socialist Health Association - not my usual reading, as you might rightly imagine!).

The pretence that the NHS is, or has mostly always been, 'free at the point of need' is fine as a slogan, but it has never been more than an aspiration because of these pesky little charges tagged on. Then of course come the exemptions from payment - adding a huge layer of bureaucracy to the whole edifice in order to administer them.

But of course these are not the co-payments which Mr Bradshaw is referring to, because all the others have become completely orthodox over many years. No, what M Bradshaw objects to is people paying for addtional drugs privately, not available under the NHS, to enhance the NHS treatment they are getting for illnesses such as cancer. Basically what he wishes to establish as a principle is that if someone gets additional treatment privately for something that they are already being treated for under the NHS, then that NHS treatment also becomes chargeable! Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous in all your life? Or unfair?! Or mean-spirited?! Or simply wrong-headed?! What principle exactly is Mr Bradshaw trying to protect? If NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) say a drug may not be prescribed under the NHS, ostensibly for reasons of lack of efficacy, but in reality as a cost-containment measure, what possible harm can it do for someone to use their own money to buy the drug? And in any case the patient would still have paid his/her contributions to the NHS over the years so why shouldn't they continue to receive the treatment they other wise would have if they hadn't opted for additional private treatment. It's not as if the government is going to offer them some kind of refund for treatment it will thus be with-holding.

What it really boils down to is the 'State' saying to citizens (i.e. we helots) that if everyone cannot have something, then none may have it. Or at least not without suffering enormous additional cost.

The sooner the State gets out of the business of directly influencing medical treatments, or teaching or any other state-provided service for that matter, which are more properly the province of relevant professionals, the better it will be. Prescription charges are a very long-standing form of co-payment; why is some poor lady who wants to spend her own money on a drug like Avastin being punished for doing so? Logically, if you follow this line of reasoning, I should be charged for all my doctor visits (very rare as a matter of fact) whenever I pay for a prescription for my anti-eczema ointment. That's how illogical and mean-spirited and condescending is Mr Bradshaw's whole sad premise.

Day 4 - Millau (France) to Castelldefels (Spain)

Well I finally crossed into Spain in early afternoon today and about two hours later was rolling up to my hotel in Castelldefels.

Leaving Millau today, and indeed arriving there yesterday, took me through some spectacular scenery. As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, large parts of the A75 autoroute are at a significant altitude (well above 700m, often above 900m and upto 1,110m) with the dips in between, which are frequent. rarely dropping below 750 or 800m. The approach to Millau from the north yesterday was particularly spectacular; although I've not actually visited the Grand Canyon (although I have flown over it) parts of the Auvergne in France remind me of a miniature version of it. Today the road leaving Millau was equally spectacular, although I was concentrating on getting the car down the steep descents in the motorway (950m down to about 225m within less than 10 kilometres) without putting it - and me - over the crash barriers into the abyss! Gradually as we approached Béziers (where the A75 more or less joins the A9 autoroute just south and west of Montpellier) and the coast the sky had begun to brighten and there was that quality to the light you only get in the winter on the Meditteranean. An added bonus was that because the were now at much lower altitude it was a little warmer (around 12degC) and that continued to improve a little until when I was driving down past Girona and through Barcelona it had reached 15degC. Much more pleasant! Unlike last year when I skirted Barcelona on the AP-7 autopista, this time I had to travel through it, a task which I think would have been completely and utterly impossible for someone not familiar with the city without SatNav. Truly this is a gadget that, when it works (which is most of the time), is astonishing - it delivered me to the door of the hotel. All I had to do was follow the instructions carefully and maintain rigid lane discipline, particularly when travelling through the tunnels and underpasses which characterise the motorway network within Barcelona.

On an even more mundane note, the hotel is located opposite a large shopping centre with a Mercadona supermarket so I shall buy some essentials there tomorrow morning (salad vegetables and eggs, mainly) as, unlike the UK, no shops open on a Sunday in Spain and that's when I'll be arriving in Mazarrón - I'll probably eat out in the evening, but I'll need something in the house for breakfast on Monday.

Tomorrow I shall be travelling to Alfafar, a southern suburb of Valencia. However, shortly after leaving Castelldefels tomorrow morning I'll be making a detour to visit the place I'll be staying at for a couple of nights on my way back north in late April; it is close to Sitges, which is just south of here.

Possibly after I come back from dinner this evening (which I'm going to go down for in about an hour) I may get another entry on the blog - there's a letter in last week's Economist from Ben Bradshaw about the NHS that I just came across a day or so ago and it badly needs a kicking taken out of it!