An Unhealthy Development

This Guardian article makes for pretty grim reading.  There’s one section in particular that really stands out for me though:

Bournemouth and Poole are smallish district general hospitals needing to merge to share services and stay solvent. But their overseer, Monitor, has the new duty to ‘prevent anti-competitive behaviour’. Monitor say the hospitals should be competing for patients, so they referred the merger to the Office of Fair Trading – unknown in the NHS.

Hospitals competing for patients? That seems utterly ludicrous. What possible benefits could there be for patients in Bournemouth and Poole by making the already-pushed hospitals fight for their “business”? Who could think that this is a good idea?

Clearly someone who does not have patient care as his or her highest concern. Someone with a very different agenda in mind. Someone who would like nothing better than to see the NHS dismantled and privatised.

I suppose it might not be a bad thing.1 After all, the privatisation of the railways has been entirely trouble free. Same with the utilities: it’s been nothing but plain sailing since they were turned over to private interests.

I firmly believe that despite its failings and problems, the NHS is one of the best things about the UK. The horror stories you hear from the US about the cost of treatment or the difficulty in getting insurance in the first place make me very glad I can go to a doctor when I’m sick and can go to a hospital without having to worry about going bankrupt.

I appreciate that mine is not the only point of view on this issue; a more right-leaning person might believe that smaller government and reduced spending is a fair trade for our current system of socialised medicine. But at the moment it feels like the Coalition is rigging the game against the NHS. Cutting funding and then complaining that standards have dropped is like taking the roof off a house and then complaining when the rain gets in. You can’t have it both ways – not that the Coalition really wants it both ways. They just want to hound the NHS until it collapses from exhaustion.

  1. That’s right; it’s time for a sarcastic interlude! *jazz hands*

I Was On The Radio!

radio2Just a short update today. I was on a local radio station on Monday to promote the theatre I belong to. It’s an interesting process; in some ways its a little like being on stage. No one can see you, obviously, but you’re still perfoming. And when they’re not supposed to hear you, you have to sit quiet as a mouse, just like waiting in the wings.

I also showed off some of the accents I can do. If there were any Cockneys, Brummies, Scousers, Scots, Australians, or anyone from the West Country listening, I’m very, very sorry…1

  1. Well, a little bit sorry. My accents are actually pretty good, even if I do say so myself.

This Post is Broken (Like Geekdom)

I’m a little behind on my posting schedule, so the next few posts might be a little on the short side. Today I just really wanted to share this video from The Escapist, which articulates a lot of own views on one of the main problems with nerd/geek culture today.

We geeks do not like to share our toys, particularly with people we don’t feel have earned the privilege of calling themselves geeks or nerds, or whatever. In fact, we can be outright hostile towards newcomers to our fandoms at times.

This has to stop.

Like Bob says, we have an opportunity to make a better world and not repeat the mistakes of the past. But more than that, if we want to see our culture thrive we need to let more people in. Inbreeding is just as bad an idea culturally as it is biologically. We think of ourselves as being smarter than the average bear; now is a great time for us to prove it.

EDIT: I realise this post is ateensy bit broken. I will fix it when the Escapist uploads the video to YouTube next week.

EDIT 2: Ok, it’s mostly fixed now. I’ll still go for the YouTube version when I can though.


Why I Love My Mobile

I love my mobile phone.

I am known for always having my phone with me.  I’m probably also known for checking it every five minutes, but my friends are seemingly too pilot to tell me I’m being rude.  I get everything through my phone.  Calls, obviously, although they are few and far between, but also texts, emails, Facebook messages, Twitter updates, and more.  I’m also a serial Googler, having became utterly incapable of saying “I don’t know” about anything.

But here’s the thing. I don’t just love my phone because of what it can do.  I love it because of what it represents.

My phone is the Future.

That’s future with a capital F.  It extends beyond simple telecommunications.  It’s the future in the way that Star Trek or Buck Rogers is the future. My first mobile, which I got more than a decade ago, had a tiny monochrome screen and a flip down front.  The most exciting things about it were that it had Tetris on it and you could compose your own ringtones.  That was it.

Today, I have carry a device that can do everything my first phone could do, plus take pictures, pictures I can then edit and crop, then upload to the internet, all from the same device. Then I can get directions to a bar or club, look up a map, and listen to music on the way.  In fact, I could have typed this post on my phone.  I didn’t, but I could have.

My mobile represents a little piece of the sci-fi future that I’ve always dreamed about.  I can’t wait to see what the actual future holds in store.



Time to Drop the Separate Beds

I really like this image by artist Jack Hunter.  Not because I like Sesame Street, although I do, but because it’s another step towards proper equality in the western world.  It’s also quite clever and rather adorable, two qualities that go a long way with me.

It’s the cover of the most recent issue of the New Yorker and a nod towards the US Supreme Court decision this week regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, or Doma. In brief, Doma was a law that codified marriage in the USA as the union between a man and a woman.  This meant that same sex couples were denied certain rights and privileges afforded to heterosexual couples. It also meant that in states that didn’t allow same sex marriage weren’t required to recognise the marriages of couples who had been married in states that did.

Now, as I understand it, that second part is still in effect.  Two guys can be as married as they like in Massachusetts, but North Carolina doesn’t have to take any notice, for example.  However, with section three now ruled unconstitutional by the narrowest of margins – 5-4 – same sex couples get treated the same as different sex couples at a federal level, which applies to things like taxes and social security.

I do not benefit from this in any way.  This does not really affect me in any way.  And yet, it still makes me very happy.  I cannot begin to imagine how this feel for the thousands of American couples who are one step closer to having their love honoured and acknowledged.


The Brave and the Bold

Before we get going: Yes, I’ve shoehorned a Batman reference into the title and no, I’m not ashamed.

Anyway.  Blogging, in all its various forms, can be a scary business. Lots of people keep diaries, but with a regular diary you’re under no obligation to show it to anyone, and you’re absolutely not required to make it entertaining.  Sharing your thoughts and opinions with the entire internet – an audience that is 90% dickhead, if some parts of it are anything to go by – is kind of terrifying.

It’s like shouting down a well that you can’t see the bottom of:

“Hi Well, this is what I know and what I think.”

If you’re lucky, the response is:

“That is very interesting and entertaining.  Please continue.”

If not, the response is:

You are stupid and what you think and feel is boring. Also, you are ugly, possibly gay, and I highly doubt you have ever had sexual intercouse.1

But what’s more likely to happen is you’ll get no response at all.  I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but if you told me that its 1% of blogs that receive 99% of the comments, it wouldn’t really surprise me. In some ways being ignored is the worst thing of all.  Trolls might call you boring and stupid and gay, (which is apparently an insult in their world) but at least its a reaction.  Obviously, not every blog can be super-successful, but silence can still be demoralising.

It could be worse though. I just stick with text (for now), but I’ve considered podcasting or making video blogs and it just seems to be almost impossibly frightening. 2 It’s weird: I will get up on a stage to act or sing without hesitation. I’ve done it lots of times.    Blogs, on the other hand, video or otherwise, are a solo effort usually, and adding my voice or face into the mix seems to be giving ammunition to the trolls.3

I suppose it comes down to fear of the unknown.  An audience you can see and hear is a lot different than one you will never meet.  Still, if mean-spirited comments are the worse I have to fear – and they pretty much are, as I have the good fortune to be male – maybe I should just dive right in.


  1. These are very well spoken trolls
  2. Incidentally, I say this as a straight white male.  I’m playing on easy mode, and this shit is still scary.  I don’t even like to imagine how bad it must be for women.
  3. These would be theoretical trolls. My blog does not attract a great deal of attention, good or bad.

Hacking at the Plant

I wasn’t planning on talking about politics today1, but then George Osborne forced my hand 2 by announcing another round of spending cuts for 2015-16 to the tune of £11.5 billion.

The economy is often talked about like it was a plant, with rhetoric about “green shoots” of recovery and the like. But while there are occasions where pruning a plant is appropriate, hacking away year after a year and expecting the plant to grow just seems crazy. The data that the plan is based on has been proven to be wrong and the IMF has advised Osborne that he should be investing, not cutting.

This is obviously a big oversimplification, but it’s not unfair to say that Osborne has failed as Chancellor.  The economy is not growing anywhere near the levels he predicted.  I, for one, am not surprised.  He has doggedly pursued a policy of austerity, ignoring all evidence that it isn’t working.

What’s worse is that its the people who can afford it the least who will suffer the most.  I don’t think Osborne realises that the one thing that that poor people have in common, their defining feature, if you will, is that they don’t have a lot of money. It continues to boggle my mind that a man who has forced the poorest people to choose between food and heat after slashing their benefits has the gall to say that we’re somehow all in this together. 3

On the upside, the Intelligence Services budget is going up by 3.4%.  There’s no money to support students4, but we can apparently afford more spies!

  1. Seriously, I wasn’t.  I was going to talk about racism. I am just that cheerful.
  2. Ok, that might be a little dramatic, but he has pissed me off.
  3. A tax cut for the highest earners is a bit of a kick in the teeth as well. Make loads of money?  Here’s an extra £100,000 a year (on average).
  4. Student Maintenance grants are frozen due to cuts to the Department of Business’ budget

Enter the Meta Post

Sometimes blogging is easy: Yesterday’s post took hardly any time to write.  Other times, like today, blogging is hard.  Some days, inspiration strikes and you can bash out a post in an hour or two.  Other days, like today, you wrack your brain for something to write.

I was going to make a list of pretty keys, complete with pictures, for reasons I shall explain later, but I couldn’t find any I like.  Then I was going to to make a list of things that make you feel stupid as an adult, but other than forgetting your keys – which is what inspired the key post1 – and maybe forgetting someone’s name at the moment you need to make introductions, my mind was blank.  What makes me feel stupid tends not to be quite specialised.  I tend to feel stupid when I can’t remember the chemical symbol for rubidium (Rb, if you’re curious.  It’s sometimes used to make purple fireworks), which as embarrassing experiences go, is hardly universal.

So instead, you get this: a meta post talking about how hard it is to write a blog post.  This was surprisingly easy though, which makes it even more meta.

  1. To make matters worse, I was dropping off 500 calendars and had to get someone to come out and let me in. 500 calendars are heavier than you’d think…

Star Trek is Kind of Racist

So Star Trek. We need to have a talk. You know I love you and everything, but – how do I put this? – you’re kind of racist.

Star Trek is filled with what can only be described as monocultures: whole species where everyone subscribes to the same beliefs. All Klingons are warriors, for example, all Vulcans are logical, all Ferengi are obsessed with profit, and so on and so on. I can pretty much ignore how unrealistic this societal homogeneity is. Yes, it’s a little jarring that every Romulan seems to have the same set of priorities, when even getting four people to agree on a pizza topping is nearly impossible, let alone get an entire species to agree on a belief system.  But Star Trek isn’t really about realism; it’s about ideas and ideals and it tends to paint with a fairly broad brush.

However, this setup leads to some pretty ropey statements. Every time Spock chides McCoy for some emotional outburst, that’s basically racism. Similarly, when McCoy gives Spock grief for his logic and green blood (the blood thing comes up surprisingly often), that’s racism too. It’s like the Enterprise’s mission was actually “to seek out new life and new civilisations (and then to make up a stereotype which will apply to every member of that civilisation)”. There’s even a scene in Voyager – seen below – where Harry Kim says that he was warned about the Ferengi at the Academy, which suggests colossal institutional racism.

(Sorry about the poor quality of the video.  It’s the only one I could find.)

Obviously, what’s supposed to be funny about that particular scene is watching Quark act offended, when we the audience know he’s running a scam.  The warnings Harry received are entirely legitimate, but by mentioning them he gave Quark an opportunity to fleece him out of more money.

It doesn’t seem weird when you’re watching the show because in that world all Vulcans are cold and logical and all Ferengi are greedy and devious, but if you swap about these made-up races with real ethnic groups you can see how bad those comments really are. Imagine if Harry Kim had said something like “we were warned about Jews at the Academy”. Scam or not, he’d pretty much have ended his Starfleet career before it began.

It’s almost funny that a show that is so progressive in so many ways – the original series had one of the first multiracial kisses ever shown on television and the casts have always been pretty diverse – would have such a blindspot for these kind of messages. It isn’t going to make me stop watching Star Trek; I think its positive messages outweigh any inadvertent racist undertones. However, I think it’s definitely worth being aware of and keeping in mind when we watch Star Trek or any other sci-fi/fantasy shows.



Walking in Crowds

I love walking through crowds. Well, I love walking quickly through crowds.

There’s something about breaking step with everyone else and surging forward, slipping through the gaps and spaces left as people amble along. The gaps are always there, as long as the crowd isn’t too densely packed. If it is, then you’re out of luck and all you can do is plod along at the same pace as everyone else, but get just the right mix and you’re away.

Maybe it’s a silly thing, but it gives me a thrill to be going just that little bit faster than everyone else, to get to where I’m going just that little bit quicker. It’s a strange thing: you can only do it in a crowd, but at the same time, you can only do it by yourself – like cognitive dissonance turned into an exercise.