Tuesday, January 30, 2007

US Health Care

Further to my previous posts on the US health care system (Medical and Dental Insurance; Health Care Expenditure), here's a good article, entitled Caring for America's Health, that forms part of the 27th January 2007 edition of the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent. It articulates quite well what I see as the problems with US health care.

Here's some excerpts (square brackets are my comments):

Bo [an American friend of the authors who suffers with multiple sclerosis] is expensive and the insurers do not want him... and they make it obvious.

Every year Bo gets a letter asking him if he is still ill.

Someone has to fill in a form for him: "Yes, I am quadriplegic; no, no miracle appears to have happened."


The story of American healthcare is one of huge expenditure for little obvious benefit.

By head of population America spends twice the amount Britain does on health.

But life expectancy here is lower and infant mortality is higher, way higher in some ethnic groups.

Most of the money seems to go on overheads and on profits for the many private companies providing care, the hospital groups, the drug manufacturers, and above all the insurance companies which write letters to Bo inquiring about his MS and write incessantly to all their other customers as well...
Caring for America's Health by Justin Webb

CBB 2007: The Outcome

So, we've come to the end of the fifth Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. It started out looking to be rather boring, but then Leo Sayer lost the plot and things started to look up. This, along with the arguments between Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty made it a lot more interesting. The final week, after Jade's eviction was as dull as dishwater, though. This was the first time that a non-Brit has won and the first time that a non-white has won (BB or CBB). In fact, of the final three, two were American and one was Indian.

Shilpa Shetty won and the protagonists were all punished and are having to serve their time in tabloid-media-purgatory. I dare say that the "international incident" mountain that was made of this molehill will soon subside. I'm not sure I'll bother with BB next year.

Here's my other CBB-5 posts:
Battle of the Tribute Bands
Celebrity Big Brother 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Snow Day

The street in the snowThis morning we awoke to the first snow that this area has seen since we've been here. If you look closely at the pictures, you'll see that although the snow was enough to settle, it wasn't enough to cover the grass -- the green seeps through.

This light dusting of white that had disappeared by lunch time was enough for the county's public schools service to close all the public schools in the entire county for the day. The local news teams were also very excited and out in force -- analysing the highways and interstates and desperately hoping against hope that there would be something newsworthy to report.

The back garden in the snowI had a lovely day at home with the girls (Mark had to go to work). Unfortunately, though, they will have to make the missed school day up by going in on a non-school day. Unlike schools in England, the county allocates "make-up" days throughout the year. These are non-school days (holiday/vacation) which can become school days if for any reason school is cancelled. The county are yet to announce when the make-up day for today's "snow day" will be.

The Next Day

We woke up this morning to find that the entire county's schools have had the start of the day delayed by two hours, so the girls get to lounge about watching TV for most of the morning. I've never known such fuss over such little snow. Today is also pyjama day at Lauren's school.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Linville Caverns and Falls

Approaching the mountainsYesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, like last year, we celebrated it by heading up to the mountains. Last year, we went to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. This year we decided to take a look at the Linville Caverns (the only caverns in NC that are open to the public) and Linville Falls. En route we stopped at a Crackerbarrel for lunch. Mark had been introduced to this chain (imagine a rustic American version of Little Chef) a couple of months ago by a friend of his and insisted that I would love their raspberry lemonade, which I have to admit is delicious.

North Carolina
If you're not familiar with NC, you may be interested to know that the Appalachian Mountains run through west NC. This range boasts the Blue Ridge Mountains, which includes the Black Mountains and the Smoky Mountains. There's a lot to explore in this area, but a long weekend entails one day to get there, one day exploring and one day getting back. Unfortunately, there's only so much that one can do in one day's worth of exploring.

We stayed in a small town called Marion, which turned out to be quite a good central location (if we had the time) for visiting Linville (Caverns, Waterfall, Gorge), Mount Mitchell (the highest mountain in the Appalachians) and Grandfather Mountain (has a mile-high swing-bridge that I'd just love to cross). We only had one day though, so we opted to go to the Linville Caverns and Falls.

The caverns are small and not really a lot to write home about, but I enjoyed looking around them anyway. To get to the Falls, we parked in a gravel car park and took a very nice 1.5 mile woodland walk to get to three different lookout points and back. It was particularly nice because although the temperature was a very mild (for mid-January) 74oF 23oC, yet with a lack of insects. By the time we got to the third lookout point it was starting to get dark, but we managed to get back to the car before it was completely dark.

Linville Caverns

Linville CavernsLinville CavernsA hibernating bat in Linville CavernsMark and Emily in Linville Caverns

Linville Falls

The start of the woodland walkThe first lookout pointThe second lookout pointThe third lookout pointMark at the third lookout pointThe woodland walk back to the carClick here to watch the video

Battle of the Tribute Bands

This is so good, it's worth blogging. It's the CBB Battle of the Tribute Bands -- The Jackson Five vs. Steps. I think Jermaine Jackson is finally starting to relax and enjoy himself in the Big Brother house.

The Jackson Five Tribute Band(left to right): Cleo, Dirk, Jermaine, Shilpa, Danielle
The Steps Tribute Band(left to right): Ian, Jade, Jo, Jack

Leo Sayer Leaves CBB

Warning: Video links in this section contain strong language.

Here's a YouTube video of Leo Sayer's dramatic exit from the house because BB wouldn't give him any clean underwear (every year BB provides contestants with a tub, washboard and mangle and all laundry is washed by hand, which Leo refused to do). If you want to watch the buildup to this, just type "Leo Sayer Loses the Plot" into the YouTube search and watch the videos in order (there are about six of them). If you don't mind some strong language, you may also like the footage of Leo Sayer giving BB the thumbs up.

The poor chap didn't know what he was letting himself in for. In his interview with Davina McCall, it was clear that he hadn't researched the programme or what it entailed before signing the contract. Perhaps after this he'll be getting himself another agent.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Separated by a Common Language

When I first started this blog in November 2005, I published a post about the differences in the English language between the UK and the USA. If you like ruminating over the differences in our common language, you might enjoy the Separated by a Common Language blog, which Mark came across. It is written by an American linguist living in the UK.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother 2007

When Big Brother first started in the UK in 2000, I was above it. There was no way that I would be watching that rubbish. But Mark had different ideas and used to watch it on his own while I did my own thing. However, snippets while walking through the room gradually became longer and before I knew it "Nasty Nick" was accused of cheating, it all kicked off and Endemol had me hooked. Over the following years we watched Big Brother mainly because Mark loved it so much and because I so enjoyed watching Dermot O'Leary.

However, the last couple of Big Brothers have rather dragged (13 weeks is far too long) and I'm not sure that I can bother with the 2007 series. Although Celebrity Big Brother is shorter, so more bearable, I wasn't going to bother about this January's Celebrity Big Brother either, but we thought that we might as well download the launch show, just to see which D-list celebrities are going to be in the house.

This year the line-up's not bad -- at least I'd heard of most of them. I'm sorry to say that I'm hooked yet again.

This year's housemates are:

Jermaine Jackson: Former Jackson Five member
Thus far, Jermaine seems quite quiet and likeable, but gets rather irritated every time someone asks him to moonwalk and answers to the effect of "That's my brother's thing, I'm not my brother". There's something quite bizarre about watching Jade Goody asking him whether he bleaches his teeth and watching him try and explain why on earth he called one of his children "Jermajesty". There's also been some good conversations between Jade and Jermaine wherein she asks questions like "So, is Michael bankrupt now, after the court case?" and "So are you black then? Because Michael's skin has changed [etc...]". I think that in the next few weeks Jermaine is likely to spill a bit more.

Danielle Lloyd: A WAG (Wives & Girlfirends)
I'd never heard of her before this, but apparently she's Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend. So far, she seems quite nice.

Dirk Benedict: Face, Starbuck
Need I say more? As Chantelle Houghton (or is she Chantelle Preston now?) says, "The man from the A-Team won't stop sweeping the floor."

Ken Russell: Film Director (notably Tommy)
A crotchety old man who seems to have rather lost the plot. He snores loudly all night so that nobody can get a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, though, a late night argument with Jackiey Budden was the last straw and he "walked".

Jo O'Meara: Former S Club member
Seems quite nice.

Ian Watkins: "H" from Steps
He just reminds me of a pastiche that Armstrong and Miller did.

Leo Sayer: Singer of Yesteryear
He's had a bit of an argument with Jackiey Budden, but hasn't done much else yet.

Shilpa Shetty: Bollywood star
She seems quite nice but is rather missing her entourage. She too has had altercations with Jackiey Budden.

Donny Tourette: Member of Towers of London
How did he get through the psychological profiling? Thankfully, he put us out of our misery early on by climbing over the wall.

Carole Malone: A Journalist
She's famous for having slated Big Brother (including Jade Goody) and footballer's WAGs. I suppose that the Big Brother production team thought that it would be fun to put her in a house with a WAG and an ex-BB contestant.

Cleo Rocos: Former Kenny Everett girl

Jade Goody: Former BB contestant
She's always worth watching.

Jack Tweedy: Jade's Boyfriend

Jackiey Budden: Jade's Mum
She's had several arguments with several people so far and is doing Jade's head in.
Here's a link to last year's CBB post: Celebrity Big Brother 4

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christmas & New Year

My Newest Great Nephew
My Newest Great Nephew
Carol Singing in the Park
Carol Singing in the Park
Emily and Lauren finished school on the 21st of December. We went straight to the airport and before we knew it were half way across the Atlantic. In direct contrast to the debacle of the summer, the journey was the simplest possible -- we arrived in London only an hour later than planned, picked up the hire car and made it to my Mum's house by lunch-time on the 22nd.

Christmas Day morning we sat around the tree and opened presents at my younger sister's house before setting off to Mark's parents' to get there in time for Christmas lunch. Then, after The Queen's speech, it was time for another round of present opening.

New Year's Day Football in the Park
New Year's Day
Footy in the Park
After a few days, it was a whistle-stop visit to Birmingham before returning to my Sister's house for the requisite New Year's party. In my experience, New Year parties consist of standing around waiting for the New Year all evening. Then, at just before midnight the telly goes on so that we can count in the New Year with the rest of the country and the champagne is drunk while we watch the fireworks in London. The TV is then switched off and, with the long wait over, the real party begins. This year was no exception, with even young Lauren managing to party through to about 3am (it's only one night a year, so we figure that it's OK to let the kids stay up). Lauren pointed out that even with such a late bedtime, it was still 2006 in NC (5 hours behind GMT).

Sometimes a particular holiday has a theme song (one which reminds you of the holiday whenever you hear it). I think that this holiday's theme song was America by Razorlight because we seemed to be hearing it wherever we went.

Here are some more pics:

Boxing Day
Boxing DayBoxing DayBoxing Day
Afternoon Tea on the 27th
Afternoon tea at Mark's parents'Afternoon tea at Mark's parents'Afternoon tea at Mark's parents'
At My Sister's House
At my sister's houseAt my sister's house
New Year's Party
New Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyClick here to watch the video

By the way, if you see yourself on any of these pictures and would rather that your face were not plastered all over my blog, just let me know and I'll remove you from the pictures.