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Sat, 23 Feb 2013
The Health-Care-Industrial Complex
# 17:36 in ./general

I might have bought Time magazine once in my life (maybe). It always struck me as a magazine with too many adverts and too little content, even if some of it was good. However, an article on their web site investigating the US health care system is extremely good, perhaps of the prize winning category.

The article is called Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us and is written by Steven Brill. It is well worth a read.

There are very hard, very troubling issues raised by Mr Brill about the US Health Care system. This has been in the news a lot of course, not only because Obama's health care bill goes into effect next year but because the economics and costs have been seen in stark relief due to the large financial problems facing the country. As Brill says about the "$5.36 billion" spent since 1998 :

That’s right: the health-care-industrial complex spends more than three times what the military-industrial complex spends in Washington.

And before people jump on the idea that this is just "Big Pharma", it's not. This is "pharmaceutical and health-care-product industries, combined with organizations representing doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, health services and HMOs".

These supposed non-profits are run as very large and extremely profitable businesses.

There's a great deal wrong with our own NHS in the UK, as recent troubles have shown (many more where that comes from) but the fundamental structure is right I think. The NHS is a very large organisation and with size comes negotiating power to keep costs down. Everyone is covered. However, in the USA :

According to one of a series of exhaustive studies done by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, we spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia. We may be shocked at the $60 billion price tag for cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. We spent almost that much last week on health care. We spend more every year on artificial knees and hips than what Hollywood collects at the box office. We spend two or three times that much on durable medical devices like canes and wheelchairs, in part because a heavily lobbied Congress forces Medicare to pay 25% to 75% more for this equipment than it would cost at Walmart.

And this is fundamentally the problem built in to the system. Using some real life people as examples, Brill goes through the medical bill they receive and shows how inflated the costs are - if you are not on medicare or medicaid. Even the insured have to pay massively greater costs. Something that would cost 11¢ from Amazon costs $18 from a hospital (Accu-chek diabetes test strips).

America has to fix this, and from what I understand, "Obamacare" won't do it: I'm glad we have something like the NHS here. If I ever want to travel to the USA in the future, I'll have to be very careful when sorting out health insurance and take good advice. I don't have any health problems just now, but who knows? Chest pains that turn out to be indigestion can lead to a bill for $21,000.

Sun, 17 Feb 2013
Police Hate Bikes
# 17:12 in ./general

Lovely morning, blue sky if a little cold. I thought I'd bike up to Buckingham Palace and use my Northern Renaissance ticket again (free re-entry).

But once up there, I couldn't see anywhere to lock up the bike and the staff wouldn't let me carry it folded, or put it in the cloakroom. They said there were some bike rails further up and round the next road but I couldn't find them.

What a shame. Apparently the "police don't like bikes locked up nearby" (no doubt due to some sort of "anti-terrorism" fear). This is similar to Whitehall when I visited the Banqueting House last year. Then however, a sympathetic staff member let me fold and stick the bike behind a table inside. I think I might write to the gallery and ask them to see if they can sort something out.

Instead, I went up to the National Gallery (entrance stairway shown above) and looked at some early renaissance altar pieces, with bike locked up directly outside on a bike rail. It's a pity they don't allow photographs inside though.

Definitely worth a visit because I found a room devoted to the artist Carlo Crivelli. Painting at the end of the 15th Century, his paintings are very colourful, very beautiful and (apparently primarily) painted in egg tempera. They have quite an individual style.

The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius. 1486, Carlo Crivelli.

Edit: typo

Sun, 10 Feb 2013
Henry Reunited
# 08:45 in ./general

After visiting the Mall Gallery last week and viewing the British Scene, I walked up Charing Cross Road and had a lookin the National Portrait Gallery.

The reason for the visit was to see the newly restored painting of Catherine of Aragon, now hanging beside her husband, Henry.

The NPG web site has the full story of the restoration.

They make a good couple and one wonders as to the likeness, with Henry's quite flat features, and Catherine's almost doll like countenance. Old pictures hanging with a lot of other old pictures in Room 1, The Early Tudors.

The room includes a famous portrait of King Richard III, whose body was recently dug up in Leicester.

An excellent resource on Richard, and his recent discovery, is at the University of Leicester. A good page The search for Richard III - completed that includes video of the dig and lots of scientific detail on the identification.

In the picture, notice how Richard plays with his ring in the same way Henry does. A stock pose for a King.

Sat, 09 Feb 2013
TalkTalk Trash Talk
# 06:13 in ./general

I'm not really sure what happened, but I cancelled my TalkTalk broadband at the start of the week, got my migration code and am switching to Plusnet, hopefully without a hitch. This will half my monthly cost and perhaps increase my network speed.

I've known that I'd need to sort something out sometime because I've been paying way over the odds for my service - over £24 per month for a 16Mb line. On a good day, I'd get 14Mb, but that was fine by me. I originally joined Nildram, with a 30 day contract and then Nildram ended up being bought by Opal, who were then bought my TalkTalk. This all happened a few years ago now. Right at the start of the TalkTalk switch from Nildram/Opal, they almost lost me when they appeared to renege on the promise to keep my service/package unchanged. It was only a call back from a manager who apologised for the mistake that had me stay.

Inertia and some apathy have stopped me changing or switching. If it ain't broke ... comes into it as well. Even though I didn't like it when TalkTalk started to call me on my mobile every few months trying to "upgrade" me to a telephone+broadband service, or a better broadband package (and long contract). I just told them that I was "happy" with the serrvice and would let them know if I wantd to change. A "happy" customer, a regular income stream every month, what's not to like? The calls did start to make me think of alternative options on occasion though, with alternative suppliers. Talk about unintended consequences.

About 3 weeks ago, I noticed that my download speed was quite bad - about a fifth of what it should be. This was downloadinbg some BBC podcast, and I was getting ~200KB/s rather than 1.2MB/s. Like most with some experience of technical or network support, I left it to "fix itself". But it didn't. Over the next week or so, I carried on seeing this poor service until I decided to measure it and take stock on a Friday morning. Still the same, still ~2Mb rather than 16.

I called Talk Talk tech support, who found nothing wrong. Just a "2Mb line" (or "plan") and they couldn't do anything. They suggested "customer service", who also knew nothing, but suggested "sales", who tried to "upgrade" me - a 2 year contract on a 24 Mb line. I was bounced around between these three departments trying to find out what was happening. This started to annoy me, plus make me very suspicious. No one would give me a straight answer as to why my service had changed. It was if I was crazy - why was I paying £24 a month for 2Mb? Why was my service different to what I have had for years? No answer. It was obvious that their only "answer" was an "upgrade" and a new contract.

My suspicion is that legacy accounts were being "transitioned", come what may, by whatever means. Companies like Talk Talk are desperate to get longer term revenue streams - longer packages, preferably with telephone deals.

So, I felt screwed over and decided to leave.

So, now I'll be paying 1/2 of what I was and still have a 30 day contract. I also feel a great relief!

Sun, 03 Feb 2013
The British Scene
# 16:47 in ./general

The British Scene is a show currently on at the Mall Gallery. It's a free exhibition of pictures highlighting the British landscape. Mostly countryside but sometimes urban. As you can see below, it was not very busy on a Sunday morning.

I liked a number of pictures, including the two shown below. The one on the left is by Cheryl Culver, painted in pastel. A very evocative woodland scene with an almost "art deco" feel to it as well. One of her other pictures seemed to be sold (red dot) but this one's available (about £1500 if I recall). The painting on the right is a beautiful watercolour by Bob Rudd.

Get a better look at these two pictures using these links :

More Cheryl Culver :

As the Shadows begin to Lengthen

I love the late afternoon golden sun in the field and sky. See more and buy here. Remember - free entry to the show as well.

© Alastair Sherringham 2023
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