Aidan on the Noughties

My cousin Aidan (see right) just posted a nice summary of the last decade. I particularly liked his verdict on Tony Blair:

Tony Blair – The pearly-toothed messiah who swept to power on such a wave of promise in 1997 revealed himself as a serial liar and unrepentant war-monger. The supposed socialist became the fawning lapdog of the most right-wing president in US history. The man who promised the resurrection of Labour became instead its executioner.

I have to confess that 12 years ago I was caught up in the collective infatuation over Blair. My brother Stephen despised Blair as an unprincipled liar from day one, but he tends to be a contrarian, so I assumed he was just being a curmudgeon. Mea culpa.

via AidanSemmens: Noughty – but how nice were they?.

Only in Britain

Whenever I return to Britain and venture into a supermarket, I am confronted with products that I could not imagine encountering back in the USA. For example: I just bought a container of mixed nuts at Tesco. Not just any mixed nuts: “Rosemary & Thyme Infused Jumbo Cashews, Macadamias & Pecan Nuts”. And they’re brilliant: the flavours complement each other superbly.
(I also picked up a couple of cans of “Pimms No. 1 and Lemonade”, premixed for instant upper-class binge drinking. I bet they won’t have things like that at Washington State Liquor Stores any time soon….)

"US says it has right to kidnap British citizens"

Once upon a time, the US claimed to be a nation of laws, and set great stock by the idea of “due process”. Not any more, apparently. And we’re not dealing with terrorism, or national security; just run-of-the-mill criminal stuff. Nor are we talking about countries with which the US doesn’t have extradition treaties. We’re talking about the UK, the closest approximation to an ally which the US has these days.
Today’s Sunday Times reports on an ongoing extradition case associated with a fraud accusation:

During a hearing last month Lord Justice Moses, one of the Court of Appeal judges, asked Alun Jones QC, representing the US government, about its treatment of Gavin, Tollman’s nephew. Gavin Tollman was the subject of an attempted abduction during a visit to Canada in 2005.
Jones replied that it was acceptable under American law to kidnap people if they were wanted for offences in America. “The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared,” he said.
He said that if a person was kidnapped by the US authorities in another country and was brought back to face charges in America, no US court could rule that the abduction was illegal and free him: “If you kidnap a person outside the United States and you bring him there, the court has no jurisdiction to refuse — it goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s.”

I wish that the judge had asked whether the US regarded this as the new standard in international law which should apply to all. For example, if a US “bounty hunter” kidnapped a British citizen and transported him or her to the US, this would be prima facie illegal under British (and European) law. Under this US interpretation, it would seem quite acceptable for the British police to kidnap the bounty hunter in the US and whisk him or her back to the UK to stand trial. And the Germans could presumably have kidnapped the CIA agents that had been charged over the al-Masri affair.
But since the Bush Cheney “imperial” administration believes that it is above US law, why would it bother about international law?

US vs French Medical Care

Over at HuffPo, Martin Varsavsky describes his experience of French health care:

The case: I had a 3 cm cut on my chest that urgently required stitches. I was rushed to Hopital St Antoine which is not far from Place des Vosges where we have an apartment (my wife is French and we come frequently to Paris). I was successfully treated and sent home in less than 90 minutes.

This is consistent with my memories of treatment in England, too; perhaps Alec can comment. And the bottom line:

America probably has the best doctors in the world, the best medical research in the world and the best hospitals in the world. Once an American medical professional gets to treat you the medical care is great. It is not the treatment itself that is better in France, indeed I am sure that on many occasions it could be worse. But what´s wrong with the American health experience is that it is invaded by a lot of elements that are foreign to medicine. The result is [that] Americans spend the most in the world on medicine but […] rank 48th in the world in life expectancy. France is 16th.

Dial 999 (or 911), then hop in the shower

I know that multiply-resistant pathogens are a significant risk in hospitals, but even so, this BBC story seems to go a bit far: “Patients should bring their own medical wipes and scrub up before coming to hospital to cut MRSA, say advisors. They should ask relatives to launder their clothes and make sure their visitors have washed themselves properly before entering the ward. The Patients Association’s 10-point code also advises patients to collect their own rubbish.”

I can see it now: “Dearie me – it looks like you’re having a heart attack. Why don’t you pop upstairs and have a quick shower, while I wash my hands, call an ambulance, and pack a few bin liners.”

Charity cards

It’s that time of the Christmas/Hannukah/Solstice/New Year season when we go through all of the cards that we’ve received: updating addresses, reading individual or round robin letters, noting people to be added to the list or those who have not responded for a few years. If you ignore the commercial material, about half our cards are from people in the US, with most of the rest from the UK; there are also a few from Australia and Europe. And as I read through the cards, one thing struck me. More than two-thirds of the cards from the UK and Europe were “charity” cards, purchased to support organizations such as Unicef, Save the Children, Shelter, Scope, Oxfam, React, and so on; even Cats Protection got a look-in. Only a couple of the US cards were of this kind. It seemed like an odd cultural difference.

Why no US TV coverage of the Paralympics?

As Boing-Boing reports, quoting the BBC’s Stuart Hughes:
The Paralympics will boast:4000 athletes. 140 countries represented.525 gold medals at stake. 19 sports. There will be no American TV coverage of the Paralympics. Let me repeat that. There will be NO AMERICAN TV COVERAGE OF THE PARALYMPICS. Not one hour of live coverage. Not one commentator. Not one Olympian on the commentary team. Nothing. This at the same time that a record number of journalists are preparing to cover the Paralympics.”
This is really shameful. I just emailed my opinion to the NBC Olympics feedback address. I recommend you do the same.

American cars are boring

OK, not all of them. But when I was driving down the M40 yesterday towards Oxford and was overtaken by a couple of Vauxhall VX220s and MG TFs, I wondered what had happened to the American sports car. The Corvette? The Viper? And while I was musing on this, a Ford Streetka blasted by. Now that’s just plain fun. Much more enjoyable than the typical American SUV (with the aerodynamics of a brick and handling to match).