A year goes by

A year (and two days) ago: “Today is my last day, and there still seems to be a load of stuff to sort out. I don’t know how much I’ll be posting over the next few days either, as everything is getting hectic – boxing stuff up, getting ready to move, throwing out all the crap you accumulate when you stop in one place for too long…”

I was just looking through my archives here and came across this post from a year and two days ago marking my last day in my Researcher’s post at UCL. Time flies, and I’m convinced that the older you get the faster it slips past.

Kill your television

[Turn it OFF!]Not so long ago, Polly and I acquired our first TV for something like five years. Our primary motivation in this was annoyance at watching movies on the computer, which at the time was living under the stairs: whenever we felt like renting a DVD we ended up sat on the floor in our corridor watching on a 15-inch panel monitor.

Now I dunno about you, but I don’t think that there’s actually a great deal worth watching on TV these days. We certainly never really missed having one during the last few years – between the internet, BBC Radio 4 and the papers we got plenty of mass culture and current affairs. But since the one-eyed god returned I’ve noticed a distinct tendency in myself to sit and drool over anything vaguely watchable that happens to be on. You can take “vaguely watchable” to be a sadly all too inclusive category.

I have been trying to be discriminating about what I sit down to watch but TV becomes a habit, and I’m prone to those. Earlier this evening I picked up the TV guide and desperately scanned it for something “vaguely watchable”. Not instantly finding anything, I even started to consider watching a Manchester United football match before catching myself.

I’m reminded of one of our main reasons for not getting one sooner: it’s too easy to find yourself getting up after four hours in front of the damn thing when you only intended to watch a single half-hour show. It’s also easy to get so used to it that the concept of relaxing without turning on and tuning out becomes an alien one. Ach, dammit, I’m no good at self control.

Anyone got any cigarettes?

Virgin in space. If they get there, that is.

News broke today that Virgin boss Richard Branson was putting his hand in his pocket to the tune of something like 14 million to finance the construction of the first fleet of commercial spacecraft. Yay!

Also breaking today was the news that two – not one, two – of Virgin trains new high-speed tilting trains had broken down in a highly embarrassing incident for the company. Boo!

Now, would you get on one of their spacecraft?

Beasts and balloons

In a comment to a recent post my Dad asked about pictures, so here are some from Bristol. First, some little fellows with whom we share our garden. I spotted this spider waiting patiently for her lunch to mature:

[A spider and her silk-entombed prey]

This chap paused for a breather in our hedge one afternoon:

[A dragonfly]

A couple-three weeks back was Bristol’s famous balloon fiesta. It was heaving up at Ashton Court and all the roads were gridlocked, but being new to the city we thought we should go along anyway. They take off in the evening on mass, and it was pretty cool.

[Several hot air balloons being inflated]

They all look good up in the sky, too.

[Several ballons in the sky over Bristol]

At the time, we all felt the fiesta was a bit of a nightmare – too many people and too much aggravation getting there and back. Looking back I’m glad we went, but I think that next year we’ll just sit at a pub by the harbour and watch the balloons float over the city.

Comment Spam

Been hit by a nasty dose of this highly irritating plague recently. One thing to say to these idiots: GO AWAY. (I’d be more explicit, but I’d like to check this site from work and there’s an evil proxy guarding our network.) Neither I nor my readers want your crappy diet pills, prescription drugs or online gambling opportunities. And this blog is so rarely visited it’s hardly going to do your pagerank any good. (No one’s listening, but I don’t care.)

My Current strategy is a low-tech one, and I’ll turn off comments while I work out a higher tech solution if it continues. Comment spam is a real problem, as it can completely ruin a weblog by clogging up the discussion with rubbish. Plus, there’s something unpleasant about it – it feels like a bit of a personal attack. I’ve been quite surprised at just how angry it’s made me.

Universal healthcare

Over the last week, the BBC have been making a great deal (press releases: 1, 2, 3, 4) of the results of a poll they comissioned from ICM, the Healthy Britain survey (no direct link to results, at time of writing it hasn’t appeared on the ICM Latest Polls list).

Aside from the fact that I think a lot of this is filler to help pad out a rather slim news agenda at the moment (rather like all the fuss over Alan Milburn’s appointment and the Cabinet reshuffle), and that many of the responses seem to be rather ambiguous, there are some interesting issues raised.

The one that particularly engages me is the renewal of the perennial debate over whether or not people should qualify for free healthcare when they knowingly participate in activities that are detrimental to their health. Two high profile examples cited this week have been smoking and poor diet. My take on this is fairly straitforward and involves asking yourself a couple of simple questions and thinking carefully about the answers.

The NHS is a system of universal healthcare. All citizens pay into the system, and all can call upon it. It goes without saying that some people will take more from the system than others for a huge variety of reasons. The first question you have to ask is whether you want the NHS to continue to be a system that provides care for all our citizens when they need it, or whether you want to start to introduce exceptions.

The UK is a (comparatively) free society. For the most part, lifestyle choices are left up to the individual. The State does interfere in some ways, but fortunately they have not yet begun to dictate our dinner menus. The second question to ask yourself is whether you believe that lifestyle choices should in the main be left up to the individual.

My answers: I want to live in a society where healthcare is a given for all citizens. I instinctively feel that this is a key trait of any truly civilised society – nobody should be left to suffer needlessly. I also want to live in a society that allows it’s citizens as much individual freedom as possible, for similar instinctive reasons (as well as a certain anti-authoritarian streak). One consequence of holding these views is that I have to accept that some people will make choices that mean they place greater demands upon our system of universal healthcare.

Now, I contribute to that system and I’m happy to accept that some people might absorb a bit more of that contribution than others – it’s a consequence of living in a free society. If additional revenue is required to compensate for the impact these behaviours have, then I would argue that taxation on the problem activities is a more acceptable solution that denying people access to healthcare or restricting the people’s freedom.

Fortunately, it seems that the numbers in favour of limiting access to the NHS on this basis were comparatively low, I just thought that I’d add my tuppence anyway. I suppose that I’d better state in public that I am a former smoker, so some might argue that I’m biased. They might be right, but then there’s always the argument that smokers contribute more through taxation than they ever take back to answer (see this BBC report for some figures (admittedly a little out of date): smokers cost the NHS something in the region of £1.4 – 1.7 billion while the Treasury gets somewhere in the region of £8.9 billion in tax revenue from them).

Creative laziness

I’ve just gotta find a way of bringing this to my employer’s attention…

Bed, rather than the office, is the breeding ground for new ideas if new research findings are to be believed.

Just the excuse at this time in the morning. (Via the BBC.)

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