Seldo.Weblog: September 2005


So glad to be blogging about something other than New Orleans for the first time in days... (you do follow the scratchpad, don't you?).

7 things I plan to do before I die:

  1. Reinvent the web. Really.
  2. Write a novel.
  3. Write a play that actually gets performed.
  4. Grow old with someone special
  5. Produce a professional music video
  6. Own my own company
  7. Sing one song perfectly, just once

7 things I can do:

  1. Summarise things
  2. Dance
  3. Build web sites
  4. Write (sometimes)
  5. Cook!
  6. Swim
  7. Listen

7 things I cannot do:

  1. Find time to do any of the things I plan to do
  2. Remember anything, especially names
  3. Express my feelings without being unnecessarily blunt
  4. Sing
  5. Lie convincingly
  6. Pack a suitcase in less than three hours
  7. Drive a car (I'm okay with boats)

7 things that attract me to the opposite same sex:

  1. A mischievous smile
  2. Sarcasm
  3. High cheekbones
  4. A prominent jaw
  5. Smooth skin
  6. Intelligence
  7. Ectomorphic
  8. Bonus: the ability to use the UNIX command-line interface

7 things that I say most often:

  1. Awesome
  2. Unbelievably
  3. Incredibly
  4. Ridiculously
  5. "Uh... what?"
  6. "I can't believe"
  7. "I love the way"

7 celebrity crushes:

  1. Orlando Bloom
  2. Angelina Jolie
  3. Jon Stewart
  4. Tom Welling
  5. Shawn Ashmore
  6. Erica Durance
  7. Randy Harrison

7 people I want to do this

7 is rather a lot...

  1. Dan
  2. Mikey
  3. M
  4. Colin (come back to blogging!)
  5. Tom
  6. Ben
  7. Dom (even if he's sick)

Valerian tea

24 September 2011

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13 August 2012

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04 September 2012
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"Oh, and no healthcare"

One of the things I hear bandied about a lot in the UK, whenever the conversation swings to criticism of America (as has been happening a lot recently), is that "and they're fucked because they've got no health care". This is always accompanied by statistics of huge numbers of people without health insurance.

So, what exactly does the US provide, and how is it doing versus the rest of the world? Is the richest nation in the world really letting the poor die of horrible diseases at home while fighting wars overseas, providing massive financial aid to the third world and donating record-breaking amounts to ending disease in Africa? Does this really seem plausible to anyone?

The obvious truth is that this isn't true. But what's really the case is more surprising.

Spending on healthcare as a percentage of GDP, by country Point one: how much does the US spend on healthcare versus other nations, as a percentage of GDP? That article has a lot of data, but the quick answer is in my snazzy graph over there: the US beats the crap out of us. This is 1999 data, but even after the massive increases in UK spending on the NHS under Labour, we're still less than 10%, and the US has risen even further.

Oh, I hear you say, but it's not free! Well, no it's not, unless you're over 65, or very poor, or a veteran, or you live in Minnesota, or hundreds of other ways. Poor people certainly have a lower standard of health care than rich people in the states. But they're not left dying on the streets either.

Of course, that's not to say there aren't problems with the way the US does healthcare. There are plenty:

Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations. ... despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance.

So their system is broken, and inefficient, and fails quite a lot of people. But it does exist, and it works for the majority of people -- 45 million people is still only 15% of their population. So let's get off our high horses shall we? The picture is a lot more nuanced, and our own healthcare systems have serious flaws as well.


06 September 2005
Why do they spend so much on health care? Because their health care is so expensive. Doctors and surgeons get paid a lot more, charges for most procedures are just scarily expensive. A friend of mine had a child, perfectly normal and no problems. The total bill (paid by their insurance) was roughly $16,000. Because private insurance pays for so much, the prices get pushed up and up.

Yes, if you are ultra poor then you might be able to get some meagre Medicaid coverage. But there's a huge section of society that doesn't have insurance and doesn't qualify for aid, who live in terror of becoming seriously ill, since it will effectively destroy them. It forces people to stay in jobs they hate because they won't be able to get coverage if they leave. The whole system is simply dreadful, and the fact that the US throws so much money into something that is basically broken just makes it worse. (The UK system is also often quite bad, but we hear plenty about that in the UK media).

15% is 1 in 6. That's a lot.


07 September 2005
The same thing occured to me as did Graham -- why do you equate spending with quality? One of the big criticisms that American liberals have of our healthcare system is PRECISELY that we manage to spend a ton of money, and yet have a system that leaves millions uninsured (15% isn't a lot? are you kidding? do you have any idea how many of those are children?) and millions more (myself included) profoundly unhappy.

Fun fact: For-profit health insurers are the least efficient form of insurer (as measured by the percentage of premiums spoent on admin costs). Not-for profits are better, and the GOVERNMENT (you know, the ones who can't do anything right) is much, MUCH better (admin costs for Medicaid/Medicare are like 1%, compared to a whopping 20% for companies like Aetna)

I'd agree that the situation is complicated, but having spent a lot of time reading about this, I've concluded that the US healthcare system is a complete mess. I don't know much about the UK system, but from what you've told me, it sounds a hell of a lot better (to say nothing of the French system, generally regarded as amazing. Of course, they're going broke, so...)


07 September 2005
I'm not equating spending with quality, but most Europeans are. As a result, given the evidence of poor quality healthcare in the USA, most people I've met assume that the US must spend almost nothing on healthcare. The fact that the US spends anything on healthcare, far less more than the UK, is deeply surprising to many people in the UK.


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Trapped in the attic

Trapped in the attic

CNN accidentally runs the picture from the rushes of the coming-soon made-for-TV movie instead of the article it meant to run.

For a few brief days in the worst of the New Orleans disaster, when Soledad O'Brien was kicking ass, Anderson Cooper was keeping it real, the administration was being attacked from every side, the race issue was being given the attention it deserves, the lies and hypocrisy of FEMA were being properly persued, and even FOX fucking news was giving them a hard time, I thought we might have turned a corner. I thought American media was finally waking up to its responsibility to report the news, not just act as mouthpieces for press releases and official statements.

But that brief shining moment has gone, and everyone is reverting to type. Oh thank god, there were some pretty white girls in New Orleans, so we could finally write a human interest story that would play well in middle America.

I mean come on, CNN! Thousands of poor black people are dead! All the white people high-tailed it out of there in their SUVs hours before the storm struck! You can't even pretend it's just that you're picking the "average American" here -- 63% of New Orleans is black! And yet you're running a story about some white suburban mom who got out just fine?

The American media makes me fucking nauseous.


10 September 2005
Soledad was never kicking ass.

We were watching it, and she was just looking like a cheerleader valley girl


10 September 2005
Don't know if you get Meet the Press in the UK, but if not, download the podcast of last week's episode in which Tim Russert was wonderfully unrelenting in taking Homeland Security director Michael Jerkoff to task for the crapfest this thing was allowed to become.

Traitorous flesh

I have had the flu since Saturday afternoon. It sucks. I have missed my own birthday meal. SUCKS.

Having the flu is very boring.


14 September 2005
aye, and you give it to me too!


15 September 2005
That took a lot of clicking.

Birthday, Part 1

The biological birthday passed mainly quietly, with lots of pleasing text messages from all the right people. Well done for remembering, and if you forgot, you've still got 70 minutes. Text now!

Saturday is the next part. If you have my mobile number and haven't received an invite already, then something is probably wrong. Get in touch.

Birthday, Part 2

The birthday celebration was a great success. The house looks like a hurricane hit it. More of a hurricane Ophelia than Katrina (no mud, fewer bloated bodies), but still, the sign of a good time had by all.

I will mainly be attempting to clean up for the rest of the day.

Update 8.28pm:
Right, well, the house is still a bit of a disaster, but I've thrown away about 6 cubic feet of beer bottles and 8 of miscellaneous rubbish and done all the washing up. Floor mopping will have to wait.

Thanks to all who came; I had a great time, thank you, and I hope you did as well. Those of you who disobeyed instructions and brought presents selected very well; geeky and literate and frequently both. The highlight is definitely London with plans & index to streets, by Ward Lock & Co. Tourist Handbooks. This is a beautiful illustrated guide to London, circa 1930 or so (I would love a more precise date, but it doesn't have a copyright date on it anywhere!). Many of the pictures are of important civic buildings, which are frustratingly the same, but there are still lots of absolutely gorgeous photos of London as it was until relatively recently, some of which I've scanned (click for big, big, big)

London: Oxford street
Oxford Street! That department store is still there, but the street looks so different.

London: the marble arch
Marble arch. Look at those beautiful old double-decker buses. It seems they were all open-topped originally, which is news to me.

London: the pool
This is my favourite. London was still in active use as a port at this time. The boats look tiny, but look in the mid-foreground to see the people rowing to get a scale of how big these cargo boats are.

This makes my history geek, London geek, and book geek all happy at the same time! In addition to the great photos, the text is a mine of wonderful quotes, like this one:

Visitors unused to the traffic of great towns are prone to be either careless or needlessly apprehensive in crossing busy streets. The best advice is: Keep a sharp look-out in all directions, especially where there are converging thoroughfares or turnings at right-angles. Usea mid-street refuge wherever available, and be especially careful if those roads are greasy. Above all, do not get flurried. At some of the most crowded crossings, as at the Bank, Mansion House station, Trafalgar Sqaure, the foot of Whitehall, the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge and the Elephant and Castle, there are subways for pedestrians; and at all important centres policemen are stationed to regulate the traffic. The general rule is for vehicles to keep to the left, pedestrians to the right; but this rule is suspended in the case of vehicles using "one-way thoroughfares" (open to vehicular traffic in one direction only) and at the busy crossings where the gyratory or "roundabout" system of traffic control is in force.

Emphasis and quotes are from the original.

Birthday photos

Photos from the party are up in various places. God, I'm 24. That sounds so old.


20 September 2005
Cute guy in the green sweater has great taste in clothes.

24 ain't old. Cherish it. I've got my quarter-century coming up in a few months. Now that's old.

Customer service

A timeline:

October 2004:
After a month of faffing, I finally buy my birthday iPod. Woo!
June 2005:
After 6 months of happy podding, disaster strikes. iPod is iBroken. Heart-wrenching wails are followed by sending it off to Apple to be fixed. This is entirely free and done via FedEx, but the round trip still takes about 3 weeks including the repair time.
July 2005:
Returned iPod is shiny and happy.
August 2005:
After a month of declining performance, iPod gives up the ghost, again, in exactly the same manner as before. Assuming that I had mistreated it earlier, I had been extremely careful with it subsequently, to no avail. Disappointed, I sent it back to Apple yet again. Another 3 weeks.
September 2005:
iPod is returned, shiny yet again. This time, however, it fails to work the moment it is taken out of the box, before it's even plugged into my PC. Other iPods plug into my PC without dying, so it's clearly the 'pod at fault.
September 22nd, 2005 12:30pm:
Annoyed, I head to the Apple store on Regent Street, determined to be the Loud Unhappy Customer, with printouts of the Sale of Goods act, etc.. I am fobbed off with a Genius Bar appointment at 6.15pm.
September 22nd, 2005 6:15pm:
I return with my anger on ice, having seen a few people act like Loud Angry Customers while waiting at 12:30 and seen the disdainful looks they got from Apple staff. After a 5-minute wait I am seen by a friendly Genius. He looks tired. I explain what's gone on, and hand over the paperwork. He looks up the serial number of the iPod in his Special Apple Database, and apparently sees more than they told me about what went wrong with it the previous 2 times.
"What would you like me to do?" he asks. "Just replace it." I say, "I don't need the engraving, but I have a transatlantic flight next week and I need it to work on the plane."
"No problem," says he. He disappears into the back to clear it with his manager. 5 minutes later he returns.
"No 40 gigs left. So we're giving you a 60 gig colour one. Is that okay?"

So now a shiny new 60 gig colour iPod is charging on my desk. If the damn thing doesn't work when I plug it into the PC, I'm just going to cry.

Update 2005.09.23: iPod is iBack.


22 September 2005
And it'll have *socks*! Socks! Wow. I am rather jealous. Those new iPods sure are swanky...


23 September 2005
iPod PC relations have always seemed pretty dodgy, as far as I can tell. Considering that the iPod is basically a nice little temptation to swtich to Macs, you'd think that they'd want them to be flawless, but I guess not.

Incidentally, I have to go to the boonies to pick up your damn Nano. You owe me a tasty dinner when you get there.

"What, not ever?"

So this is a little bit quite a lot of self-interested whining, but then, isn't that why having a blog is useful? If you don't like it bugger off and write your own.

So tonight I had dinner at an authentic if somewhat chaotically staffed Korean restaurant with various lovely people, including one new person. When the time came to order drinks, a conversation began which I have had, with only minor variations, dozens if not hundreds of times now:

Them: You're not drinking?
Me: I don't drink, actually.
Them: What, not ever?

This is followed by, depending on the bluntness of the party involved, questions about it being "a relgious thing", "for medical reasons", and occasionally "what made you stop?". The answer that I have never really drunk regularly is then almost always followed by an attempt to persuade me to "just try it", with a greater or lesser degree of persistence. And I know each particular party is merely being genuinely curious and friendly, but collectively I am really getting sick of this behaviour.

What is it about not drinking that makes people so insistent that you join them? If someone says "I don't like noodles" or "I don't eat egg" or "I don't like seafood", few people spend five minutes trying to persuade them of the benefits of seafood, elaborating all the various types of seafood they might enjoy, and extolling the virtues of seafood in general. So why this fixation on a particular dietary choice? I have a few theories as to their motivations:

  • Rite of passage
    Alcohol is something you aren't allowed as a child, so drinking it is associated in everyone's minds with growing up. So there is a long-standing cultural tradition amongst teenagers of introducing younger peers to alcohol for the first time, for amusement and as an act of social bonding. Lots of the people who most strenuously attempt to persuade me to drink are from this camp, and are often under the impression that I've never drunk anything. For the record, there was one occasion in 2003 when I drank many glasses of fizzy white wine, a number of alcopops and a few additional random alcoholic drinks. I got fairly tipsy, had a good time, but was not particularly enamoured of the whole process. I know what I'm missing, and I'm quite happy to miss it, thank you. As I get older, however, this group grows smaller, as a 20 year old who's never drunk is merely a late starter, but a 24 year old who's never drunk is much less likely to ever start.
  • Balance of power
    I have a number of friends who don't like to drink when only in my company. This is because being drunk debilitates you to a greater or lesser extent, and people do not like surrendering the balance of power. So some of the people (not the same friends) who try to persuade me to drink are probably just trying to bring me down to their level to avoid the imbalance of power. Certainly one of my bigger reasons for not drinking is that I really dislike the loss of control and power over my own actions that are associated with it, but bring others down with you seems like an antisocial way of solving the problem.
  • Guilt
    This was extremely prevalent when I was in my early teens, and others were drinking who shouldn't be drinking at all: they wanted you to drink because drinking was a transgression, and to avoid the story getting back to parents it was necessary to make sure everyone was equally guilty. Obviously this is not the case any more, but I think this original motivation is still in the background for a number of people: they feel vaguely guilty about drinking, or about the amount they drink, or the way they behave when drunk. Thus, involving all parties lessens their guilt by removing the contrast. I'm not going to be sanctimonious about you drinking*, but I'm not going to start drinking just to make you feel better about it, either.

But then I question my own motives. Why do I not drink? I have a long-standing rejection of the most famous rites of passage -- in order, drinking, smoking and driving -- simply because I dislike the concept of having to perform certain tasks just to be accepted into a particular group. I don't drive because I'm bad at it, I don't smoke because it's bad for you, and one of the reasons I don't drink is that it's not good for you, either. But am I just rejecting it because it's a grown-up sort of thing to do, and I dislike associating myself with grown-up things?

I accept that health is not really a strong argument against moderate drinking, what with all the studies about good tannins and that sort of thing. Expense is another one: yes, drinking is very expensive, but it's not like I'm a model of fiscal responsibility anyway. Taste? Alcopops are almost indistinguishable from soft drinks, and I quite like the flavour of white wine.

Which leaves us with Control. This is the theory that I don't drink because drinking loosens one's inhibitions, and I'm too inhibited to even want to loosen them. This is, I think, probably the closest to the truth. The loss of control over my actions, the feeling that I am not in charge of my motivations, is a deeply scary and unsettling one to me. You can analyse that further if you want, but that's the heart of the matter. I feel like I can barely keep hold of what's going on in my life and the world as it is, why would I intentionally blur my perception still further?

I think the question should not be "why do I not drink?" The question should be "why does anyone drink?" Most people, however, list exactly the reasons I don't like drinking as reasons for it: a loosening of inhibitions, a rite of passage, a desire to fit in. Why should my motivations be so different to other people's? What in my upbringing produced such a fierce desire for control, and such a fierce rejection of doing what is expected of me by my peers? Why is my instinctive model of the right thing to do defined as "the opposite of what my peers are doing"?

I wish I knew the answer. But in the meantime, I'll be having the lemonade thanks, and please stop offering. My reasons for not drinking have nothing to do with it being a special occasion or not.

* This entry is, believe it or not, trying very hard not to be sanctimonious


25 September 2005
Actually, people get pretty pissed off when I say I don't want to eat sushi...silly gays.


26 September 2005
We only offered you a try of the traditional Korean wine - thought you might like to taste it - not get drunk!


26 September 2005
The whole Balance of Power paragraph is bullshit.
You'e equating drinking with getting drunk, when there's a huge difference. You're grouping a number of people together and assigning the same motivations and thought processes to all of them when they are only really applicable to you. You are speaking of things you have no experience of (you've never been familiar with alcohol nor have you ever been in your own company -duh-)
"* This entry is, believe it or not, trying very hard not to be sanctimonious"
" ...probably just trying to bring me down to their level..."
Your un-sanctimoniousness needs work.
The idea that someone who doesn't drink in your company, instead of being considerate and adapting to your habits is merely trying to wrest "power" from you is insulting and ridiculous. I wish to god Smokers had the same consideration sometimes :o)
Late night stream-of -consiousness blogging FTL.


27 September 2005
Your complaints about drinking are all related to getting _drunk_, not drinking itself. You can have a nice glass of wine just because it tastes good, without intending to get rowdy.

I mean, drink or don't drink, but it's not all about getting loaded.


28 September 2005
"If someone says "I don't like noodles" or "I don't eat egg" or "I don't like seafood", few people spend five minutes trying to persuade them of the benefits of seafood, elaborating all the various types of seafood they might enjoy, and extolling the virtues of seafood in general"

This is exactly where you've stopped making all kinds of sense. As sympathetic as I am to your attitude to drinking, the situation on Sunday was *precisely* of the kind you are claiming it wasn't: we spent as much time pursuading you to drink as we spent pursuading Harry to eat the soup. The emphasis wasn't on the fact that what we offered contained ethanol but that it was something authentic to try, a new taste to evaluate and possibly appreicate.

Not only are you not differentiating between drinking and getting drunk but you are also jumping to a ridiculous conclusion that having a degustatory sip constitutes drinking.

New York, NY

First morning in New York! So far I've bought an iPod nano, a snazzy new camera (thanks for the birthday present, family!), had an absolutely enormous burger and seen a bunch of short films by the writers of the Daily Show. And that's just what we did after landing.


NYC, Day 2

Today was:

  • Pancakes for breakfast
  • Wandering around Soho and discovering shops don't open until 11, but finding some good clothes and nice cafes after that
  • Getting Internet access at an "authentic" (read: scary) lower east side Internet cafe in Chinatown
  • Cajun food prepared and served entirely by Korean-speaking staff
  • Macy's. And a lot of unnecessary spending.
  • 42nd street, and a lot of Art Deco goodness
  • The Empire State building (not as bad as alleged)
  • Really good sushi
  • Ice cream at Cones

Update 2005-03-09: photos here

We are packing quite a lot into our days, as you can see. Speaking of which:

Day 1:

  • Really fancy french toast for breakfast
  • The Frick Collection
  • Central Park
  • MoMA (for hours)
  • Trump Tower
  • Bloomingdale's
  • Mexican for dinner
  • Wandering around the East Village late at night

Update 2005-03-09: photos here

NYC, day 3

Today was a trip to New Jersey to meet M's grandparents. We also wandered around yet more of the city and did yet more shopping.

Flags seen since arrival: 204
Bush voters met: 0
About to: Go clubbing.

Update 2005-03-09: photos here