Thursday, July 29, 2010

NHS: Changes Or A Conspiracy Against The Public Interest

The Guardian

Seumas Milne
14 July 2010

"In reality, Lansley's health white paper opens the door to the comprehensive privatisation of healthcare and the end of the NHS as a national service. If the plans are taken to their logical conclusion, by 2015 the NHS will be little more than a brand. From a major public service with a million employees, it will have become a central fund with a minimal workforce, commissioning services from a string of private companies in a fully-fledged healthcare market.

"'The bottom line of this is the abolition of the NHS,' Dr David Price of Edinburgh University argues. "It will remove the government's duty to provide a universal healthcare service." His colleague, Professor Allyson Pollock, believes it will lead to "full privatisation". 

"The scale of what is being proposed has yet to sink in. By handing control of the bulk of NHS funds to England's 35,000 GPs to buy healthcare, the government hopes to divide the medical profession – who have mostly opposed privatisation – and appeal to patients, who feel more at home with local doctors than health trust bureaucracies.

"Meanwhile, all hospital trusts are to be turned into freestanding businesses outside the NHS. They will be allowed to go bust or taken over, encouraged to form "partnerships" with profit-making private companies and obliged to remove all limits on private provison. These new, independent trusts are supposed to be not-for-profit "social enterprises", but health policy experts scoff at the distinction when profits can be distributed as "surpluses" or extravagant salaries to directors.

"Why should anyone worry who provides healthcare? Because the weight of evidence is that private markets in health bring exorbitant administrative costs, lead to cherrypicking of more profitable patients, increase inequity and the postcode lottery gap, generate conflicts of interest, are unaccountable, and increase pressure for top-up payments and "care package" limits.
"The scandalous costs of creeping privatisation are already clear enough, from PFI projects to independent treatment centres. This year the Commons health select committee found administration costs had risen from 6% to 14% by 2005 as a result. They're certainly higher now – and are double that in the US, by some estimates. But now the coalition wants to put the NHS in the hands of the very health corporations that fought Barack Obama to a standstill over his attempt to bring universal health coverage to the US."

29 Jul 10

Exclusive: Local authorities have weighed in with support for a group of GPs who have accused their PCT of attempting to railroad plans to draft in private providers to run a local practice without consultation.

The intervention came after GPs moved to appeal against NHS Mid Essex’s decision to press ahead with an APMS tendering process for The New Surgery in South Woodham without seeking the views of either patients or local clinicians.
The case follows the precedent set in North London last November, when Pulse revealed that NHS Camden was forced to shelve plans to award a Darzi centre contract to a private firm after admitting it acted unlawfully by ‘making a decision to invest’ in without conducting a full public consultation on the proposal.

 This is worthy of a reprint:

NHS & A Conspiracy Against The Public Interest.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Can the minority sometimes be right?

"In life, should one maintain a narrow focus and stick to one’s own field, leaving the rest to the so called experts? Or should one have a broader outlook, as one can often learn from the mistakes of others."

I quoted near the end:

Seumas Milne 1 July,2009
“……In England's health service creeping privatisation is turning into a full-frontal assault as the government strains every nerve to give health corporations a bigger slice of the action: not only in buildings and maintenance, but diagnostics, elective surgery, GPs' surgeries, district nursing, health visiting and trust commissioning – regardless of the views of staff and patients; the evidence on cost, inefficiency and lack of accountability; and the corrosive impact on the NHS ethos.”

In the same article:

“……But corporate capture goes much further than lobbying. The revolving door that propels civil servants into the arms of companies for whom they previously set rules and signed off contracts was well established before New Labour came to power. But the process that saw Tony Blair's former health adviser Simon Stevens effortlessly transmute into European president of the US company UnitedHealth, or his foreign policy adviser David Manning collect a clutch of directorships, from Lloyds TSB to Lockheed Martin, has now become the norm.
What's new for Labour is the stampede of ministers for the revolving door. Since 2006, 37 former members of the government have been given permission to take private sector jobs within two years of leaving office. As with their Tory predecessors, many of these jobs involve working for companies directly bidding for government contracts and privatised services. They include Blair himself, of course, whose £12m annual income now includes multimillion contracts with banking groups JP Morgan Chase and Zurich Financial Services, in a sector lovingly protected during his time in office.
“But there are plenty of others. The ex-transport minister Stephen Ladyman took a job with the traffic information company Itis, pitching for Whitehall business. The former defence minister Adam Ingram signed up as a consultant for EDS, whose major clients include the Ministry of Defence. One-time home secretary John Reid works for G4S security services, which also does business with his old department.”

More to follow:

“Interestingly, former health ministers have done particularly well. The ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt earns more than £100,000 as a consultant for Alliance Boots and Cinven, a private equity group that bought 25 private hospitals from Bupa. After leaving the department, her predecessor, Alan Milburn, worked for Bridgepoint Capital, which successfully bid for NHS contracts, and now boasts a striking portfolio of jobs with private health companies.”


A culture of corruption pervades the links between government and business, fuelled by and fuelling privatisation. These relationships are – as Adam Smith put it – a conspiracy against the public interest.

 “Despite catastrophic failures in the banking sector, the market is far from in retreat in the NHS. Reports in advance of a white paper suggest the coalition health secretary, Andrew Lansley, could be about to hand over the bulk of the NHS budget, around £80bn, to private corporations which will buy hospital and community health services on behalf of GPs.”


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Argentina: Hot! Hot! Hot!

It is hot in Argentina: in some places!!!

© 2010 Am Ang Zhang

I was there in January and it was hot!

Obelisk in Buenos Aires © 2010 Am Ang Zhang

Buenos Aires sees rare snowfall

Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, has seen snow for the first time in 89 years, as a cold snap continues to grip several South American nations.
Temperatures plunged to -22C (-8F) in parts of Argentina's province of Rio Negro, while snow fell on Buenos Aires for several hours on Monday.
But thousands of people cheered in the streets of Buenos Aires at the sight of the capital's first snowfall since 1918.
"Despite all my years, this is the first time I've ever seen snow in Buenos Aires," 82-year-old Juana Benitez was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Snow falls over the obelisk, in the center of Buenos Aires. From Clarin.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bayreuth: The Ruling Class & Photography

Bayreuth Festival opens today as the Wagner sisters agreed to end a truly Wagnerian feud and manage the festival together.

The Cockroach Catcher always felt that Wagner’s popularity was way beyond the music, or the mystical stories about Gods or the Holy Grail. His most important work, Der Ring des Nibelungen, may appear at first glance to be a grown up version of sword-and-sorcery epic about giants, dwarfs, gods, and heroes. To some it is a sort of opera version of Lord of the Rings.

The popularity of Der Ring des Nibelungen may not be as difficult to understand once we see it as a depiction of the ruling class, the ruling class of any country through the ages. You will perhaps begin to realise the genius of Wagner: that anyone that is in any position of power is not governed by the rules that govern ordinary people. I will include a reprint of my previous post on Der Ring des Nibelungen.

As a photographer, what caught my eyes were the very different photographs of Katharina. See for yourself.

Katharina Wagner (left) and Eva Wagner-Pasquier 
 Photograph: Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty Images
Until two years ago the sisters – born to their late father Wolfgang Wagner's second and first wives respectively – were at the heart of what was described as the longest-running cultural feud of modern times over who should take over from their ailing father. But the siblings finally buried the hatchet in 2008 and agreed to manage the event together. Their father died last year, opening the way for a new era.                     More>>>>

Then in another article:

 Katharina Wagner. Photograph: Enrico Nawrath/EPA

Katharina Wagner, the young incumbent of her great-grandfather's opera house, has recently announced that she will open the Wagner archives to the scrutiny of "independent, renowned historians", to finally make public the true scope of Bayreuth's association with the Nazis. 

Notice the difference!!!

By Alan Wagner 01 Apr 2004
Alan Wagner delves into the moral and spiritual core of Richard Wagner's colossal masterwork.
Little in art created by a single mind compares to the sheer size and scope of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Only a genius with a hint of madness could have conceived anything this colossal, let alone willed it into completion over twenty-six years of gestation and creation. 

Furthermore, its 18 hours comprising a single music-drama have gripped every generation since its 1876 premiere with incredible power, unleashing a torrent of commentary. In order to so possess both artist and audiences, Wagner's Ring clearly must be more than a simple sword-and-sorcery epic about giants, dwarfs, gods, and heroes.

And it is. Within that immense journey from the dawn of consciousness to the obliteration of an entire cosmic order there is a compelling moral core. However, even though the composer and his audience were unavoidably enmeshed within a Christian European milieu, it is far from your mama's Sunday-school lesson, a long way from the Ten Commandments, those pillars of Western ethics.

Wagner's philosophical convictions underwent similarly significant refashioning. When he began the Ring, he was influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach, whose principal tenet, explicated in The Essence of Christianity, was that man created God, not the other way around. Religion merely reveals truths about mankind's needs, and its most meaningful revelation is that God is love. Therefore, the pathway to salvation, personal and societal, is love.
In early drafts of the Ring, the liaison between Siegfried and Brünnhilde brought about a triumphant ending for Wotan's sovereignty. However, by 1854, when Wagner first read the masterpiece that impacted his thinking ever after,  Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, he was already disillusioned about the perfectibility of either mankind or civilization. The Buddhist-like pessimism of Schopenhauer set the seal for Wagner, and he slid the metaphysical centre of the Ring from Siegfried's death to where, as he wrote to his friend August Röckel, "Wotan rises to the tragic height of willing his own destruction."

I will try and look at it from the Child Psychiatrist’s perspective.
The dark side of the gods: (it is sometimes easier if one take GODS in the Ring to mean those in POWER. For the characters read here.) In fact, the gods need not work at all, the Nibelungs work almost all the time.

Disrespectful Wotan is hardly revered unanimously, and even he acknowledges higher authorities. Erda knows things he doesn't; his almost bureaucratic dominance derives solely from treaties engraved in runes on his spear, treaties to which he is subservient.
Born liars
Characters lie as it suits them. Events are initiated by Wotan's spurious promise to the Giants to pay them by giving them Freia in exchange for building Valhalla, a promise he knows he cannot keep, as she is the indispensable symbol of love whose golden apples keep the gods alive. His shady ally, Loge, is defined as a double-dealing trickster. Brünnhilde breaks her promise to her father to allow Siegmund to be killed in combat. Mime makes dissembling a veritable life's work, ably carried forward by his nephew, Hagen, in Götterdämmerung. 

Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan, and his grandson Siegfried destroys his power. Mime, who raises Siegfried from infancy and even makes him toys, is treated with disturbingly cruel contempt by the bumptious hero. Hagen, whom Alberich sired via gold-empowered lust as a tool to retrieve the Ring for him, mutters that if he succeeds he will keep it, not hand it over to his Nibelung father.

Thieving & Misappropriation 
……. misappropriation, of persons or of things, provides much of the plot machinery. First,
 Alberich plunders the Rhinegold, and afterward, theft of others' possessions, including the Ring, motivates action upon action. 
Incest and other illicit sex
The teasing of Alberich by the Rhinemaidens which leads to his abjuring love--love, not lust. The definitive heroine, Brünnhilde, and her Valkyrie sisters are the offspring of an adulterous liaison between Wotan and Erda; Wotan also illegitimately fathers theWälsung twins by a mortal. Sieglinde's infidelity is excoriated by marriage-goddess Fricka, as is her violation with Siegmund of an even more basic taboo, incest. But Wotan defends the twins ("…those two are in love") and, like most audience members moved by the ardent love music, views both transgressions kindly. 
Fafner kills his brother Fasolt, the first victim of Alberich's curse, and we are off to the homicide races. Hunding slays Siegmund, only to be destroyed by Wotan's contempt. Siegfried kills Fafner, the Giant-turned-dragon, and then, after realizing that Mime is trying to poison him, kills him as well. By the time the gods' destiny climaxes, Hagen has murdered both Siegfried and Gunther and is himself drowned by the Rhinemaidens. Eventually Brünnhilde sets Valhalla ablaze as part of her self-immolation upon Siegfried's funeral pyre ("Thus do I hurl the torch into Valhalla's proud-standing stronghold") and all the gods die.
Greed, greed, greed! Finally, "coveting that which is your neighbor's" is pretty much the whole raison d'être for the Ring story, starting with Alberich's desire for the Rhinemaidens, then for the gold they guard. Thereafter everybody seems to want what doesn't belong to him or her: the Ring, a sword, a treasure, someone else's wife, sheer power. 
Yet in spite of Wagner's wholesale abandonment of the Decalogue, the bastion of Western morality, Der Ring des Nibelungen generates explosive ethical and metaphysical impact. He started with the absorption, fusion and reinvention of myriad legendary sources, and layered Schopenhauer's philosophy upon Feuerbach's. In Art and Climate Wagner wrote, "there is no true freedom except that which is common to all mankind... The redeemer is therefore love… starting with sexual love, [it] strides forward through love of children, brothers and friends, to universal love of humanity." The emphasis is his. Yet, some years later he wrote to Mathilde Wesendonck, "I can conceive of only one salvation. It is Rest! ...The stilling of every desire!" 

Wagner once wrote to Röckel, "I have come now to realize how much there is, owing to the whole weight of my poetic aim, that only becomes clear through the music." He later described the discontinuity between his "rationally formed ideas" and "the exquisite unconsciousness of artistic creation… guided by wholly different, infinitely more profound intuition."

Music alone would now convey the message. The last moments of Der Ring des Nibelungen are given entirely to the orchestra: there is too much weight for words. Something greater than the story, richer than all the sources, probably better than Wagner himself knew, is brought to a healing close with a tender statement of a motif heard only once before in the Ring, when Sieglinde learns she is bearing her child of love, Siegfried. It is the motif of Redemption Through Love. 

How wonderful it is to wait this long for the protein to be activated.
In the end, Wagner fashioned a masterwork of such extraordinary strength that it transcends analyses, personalities, philosophers, his own prejudices, and even his total disregard for Judeo-Christian society's standards of ethical behaviour.
Out of the highest art came a truth beyond even his explanation.

Stop Press: Lohengrin Review: FT

"Sunday’s audience, which had grumbled and tittered its way through the performance, was stunned into silence. Suddenly, Lohengrin had become a more troubling, more ambivalent work than we all imagined it to be. In place of utopias, it spoke of false dreams, taboos, uncertainty. The rats’ herd-like belief in a better life had been smashed, just as Lohengrin’s quest for unconditional love had failed. No wonder Wagner called Lohengrin his saddest opera."             
Prelude Lohengrin
Other Music Posts:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Local Authorities: NHS Reform & Iceland

Lava spurts out of the site of a volcanic eruption at the Eyjafjallajökull volcano near the Eyjafjalla glacier in Iceland on March 27, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)

We were stuck on the island of Mallorca for two full days during our recent holiday because of 'volcanic ash'. Iceland was of course in the news before the recent volcanic eruption.

The Met Office has been blamed for triggering the “unnecessary” six-day closure of British airspace which has cost airlines, passengers and the economy more than £1.5 billion.                          Telegraph
Have we really learnt anything?
GPs to sit on local authorities as councils take on key commmissioning role
23 Jul 10
GPs will be forced to work closely alongside local authorities when the new era of GP-led commissioning begins to take place, the Government has revealed.

The details of the plans for GPs to take on commissioning responsibility, published this week in a White Paper consultation document, reveal GPs will be required to sit on new local council ‘health and wellbeing' boards.   

GP consortiums will work in partnership with local authorities to jointly plan and commission health and adult social care, public health and integrated care, with local authorities acting as the lead commissioner for certain services, such as older people’s care.

And local authorities will be given the power to block GP commissioning strategies if they do not agree with a consortium's plans, and refer disagreements to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.

GPs will also have to cooperate with local councils and other agencies in relation to criminal justice.

Click here to find out more!Local authorities are set to play a much more prominent role in commissioning, the document states, and will be given ‘a new enhanced role’ in promoting public involvement in decisions about service priorities and changes to local services, and in responding to any public concerns about inadequate involvement.

‘Local government will have an enhanced responsibility for promoting partnership working and integrated delivery of public services across the NHS, social care, public health and other services. One way in which this could occur is through health and wellbeing boards which would include representatives from GP consortia.’

The key points from this release are:

A total of £929.2 million was invested by English local authorities in Icelandic banks as at 31 December 2008. This amount was invested by 125 local authorities out of a total of 482 authorities.

39% of the investments were with Landsbanki islands hf, 29% were with Heritable Bank Ltd, 20% with Glitnir Banki hf and 12% with Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander Ltd.

96% of the investments were internally managed while the remaining 4% were externally managed. There were no externally managed funds invested with Heritable Bank Ltd

Within the total, £24.6 million was invested on behalf of other local authorities. All these investments were made on behalf of fire or police authorities.

Should we exclude 125 Local Authorities?

13 April 2010

The damning verdict of Iceland's so-called "truth commission" into its banking system is set to add to calls for a similar inquiry in Britain.
Even though the state injected an estimated £1.2 trillion into Britain's financial system, including the nationalisation of two banks (Bradford & Bingley and Northern Rock) and part-nationalisation of two others (Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group), there has been nothing like the Icelandic report in the UK. Analysing what went wrong, and the roles played by the Government, the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England, has largely been left to the institutions themselves or the Commons' Treasury Select Committee.
And while the latter has conducted lengthy hearings, it remains the case that British select committees do not have the clout of, say, US congressional committees. Despite the select committee's best intentions, membership is still in the gift of party whips and it cannot be considered truly independent in the way the Icelandic Commission or its US equivalents have proved themselves to be.
President Obama has, for example, created the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, charged with grilling hundreds of people from the investment community, large banks, the US mortgage industry, government agencies and academia. Then there was the devastating 2,200-page report into the collapse of the 158-year-old Lehman Brothers by US legal examiner Anton Valukas, which pulled no punches and embarrassed prestigious names on both sides of the Atlantic. There appears to be a desire to learn lessons across the Atlantic – and in the middle of the pond – that is lacking here.


Telegraph: Axe falls on NHS services

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chopin: Proms Gallery & Maria Joao Pires

The Cockroach Catcher and his family have over the years made regular visits to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

We find with young children it was best to be in the Gallery. We would bring a mat and picnic food and it was just wonderful. Also the Gallery tickets were very reasonable.

Then for a while we were fortunate enough to have box seats. Something strange was noticed. The sound was not as good as the Gallery. So at one of the concerts I went up to the Gallery after the interval. What a difference: the Gallery was much better!!!

I could imagine how wonderful Wednesday’s Chopin would have been up in the Gallery.
 Chopin in Mallorca©2010 Am Ang Zhang
Well the review was one of the best I have seen of the Proms in recent times:

Proms 2010: Prom 7: Maria João Pires, review

……..That unexpected intimacy accounts for some of the intensity of Maria Joao Pires’s recital of Chopin Nocturnes on Wednesday. But it would have counted for nothing without her special poetry. She’s a tiny, almost bird-like figure, and she seemed even smaller in that huge space, which was packed with more people than I’ve ever seen for a late-night Prom. It must be daunting for a pianist, but Pires seemed perfectly at ease, as if she was playing for a few friends at home.

That gives her performances an air of total sincerity. Usually in Chopin performance you can tell that expressivity is being mingled with sheer sensuous pleasure in playing the piano, and a relish for the delicious sparkly sounds that result…………..But there is something compelling about a pianist who just doesn’t care about those things. Pires wants to get at the poetic heart of the music, and here she did that time after time.

Delicate but never fey, Pires's E flat major Nocturne (Opus 9, No 2) is a gentle waltz between ex-lovers, its shivering trills explicitly sexual, the F major (Opus 15, No 1) a wistful orchestral sketch. The second Nocturne from the same set has a troubled, furtive quality, while the third vacillates between girlish fantasy and subdued melancholy. In Opus 27, her C sharp minor Nocturne acquired Beethovenian tartness, the D flat major, honeyed warmth. Opus 62 and 72 demand a more extrovert approach, yet here too the bel canto ornamentation was understated, while the Lento con gran espressione became a miniature Requiem. Elegantly shaped and articulated, with the most distinctive response to the colours of individual keys, this was a revelatory, intimate reading.

A fitting tribute to the 200th Anniversary of Chopin’s birth.

For a few more days you can listen to the BBC>>>>

Maria Joao PiresShe was born in Lisbon in 1944. She made her first public performance at the age of seven with Mozart’s Piano Concertos in Oporto, Portugal. At the age of nine she received Portugal’s highest award for young musicians. From 1953 until 1960 she studied at the Lisbon Conservatory with Professor Campos Coelho and took courses in composition, theory, and history of music with Francine Benoit.          DGG