August 02, 2006

Something to Say?

It's now August.

I've been at home now for the longest period I've been anywhere since April. The first time, in fact, since April that I've spent more than two weeks in the same place.

They've got me eating propperly again.

I've been thinking, and writing, and fretting a bit too.

Oh sod it.

Nothing to say.


June 15, 2006

Balance Sheet

Good: I have finished Exams
Bad: I have nothing to do.

Good: I have the time to do something new and interesting
Bad: I'm ill, so want to do boring things like stay in bed.

Good: I'm going home this weekend!
Bad: All my stuff is home already.

Good: I'm eating chocolate.
Bad: It hurts when I swallow.

Good: I have a driving lesson later
Bad: I may, as always, crash and die.

Good: My Dad took me out for dinner last night
Bad: We got home to find the washing machine leaking.

Good: It wasn't my washing
Bad: It was my washing machine.

Good: I'm listening to "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue"

I think it all balances out.


June 06, 2006

This one's for my Mum

A Woman's "If"

If you can keep your head when all the family
Are loosing theirs and blaming it on you,
Because the Christmas turkey’s burned to cinders
And all the vegetables are mushy too;
If you can work from nine to five, and then some,
If you can get the dinner cooked by six,
If you can read the kids a book at bedtime,
Then softly tidy up the lego bricks:

If you can do the school run in the mornings,
With two bored kids behind you yelling “Mum!”
Resist the urge to knock their heads together,
And try and make the journey something fun;
If you can cope with paint stains on your clothing,
The midnight feeding and the constant stress,
If you can say to her with self–assurance
“I won’t let you go out wearing that dress!”

If you can cope with no appreciation
For all the little things you say and do,
Share all your time between your work and family,
Forget there’s not much time left just for you;
If you can earn the funds for all the school fees
If you can run a business like a pro,
If you can keep your cool at parents meetings,
And through it all, act like you’re in the know:

If you can keep the house and garden spotless,
And throw a dinner party, just for fun,
Find out the cat has eaten all the trifle,
So in ten minutes make another one;
If you can keep the peace between the factions
Of small child one and small child two at tea,
If you can do all this, and keep your temper,
Then Kipling, you’re a better lass than me!


May 16, 2006

The good, the bad and the downright ugly

Isn't it odd how things that are gross can fascinate you, and things that are fascinating can gross you out?

Two things that are on my mind at the minute can elicit both responses.

The first is the fungus that is growing on the wall next to the washing machine. That stuff is vile. It's a kind of red–orange colour, and wouldn't look out of place growing on a tree in a forest somewhere. On a wall inside it looks deadly. And yet I can't stop obsessing about it's presence in the house. It's like the gory bits in horror films – you know if you look you'll get nightmares for a week, but your eyes are irresistably drawn to the screen…

The other thing is more the other way round, instead of something disgusting that I can't forget about, this is something genuinely cool, but which makes my skin crawl when i think about it.
I've been reading a bit of Gerald Durrell lately, and have come across something called a Surinam Toad (Pipa Pipa). It's from South America and it looks like roadkill. Seriously. It looks like it's been flattened and left in a ditch. But that's not why it makes my skin crawl.

Have a look at this

The pictures on the other end of this link show the really fascinating thing about this amphibian, which is the way it breeds. You see, when the female lays her eggs, the male spreads them all over her back. Then a thin layer of skin forms over the eggs, and they actually hatch and go through all the tadple bit under her skin, before wriggling out about 3 months later as minature adults.
That's damn cool, but looking at the pictures gives me the shivers.


What's making Your ears bleed today?

Explosivo – Tenacious D

Paradise City – Guns'n'Roses

American Idiot – Greenday

All the Small Things – Blink 182

Bad Case of Loving You – Robert Palmer

Poprocks and Coke – Greenday

Allstar – Smash Mouth

Are You Gonna Be My Girl? – Jet

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynard Skynard

Ah, some old favourites to bounce around and play drums on the table top to…


Nice to know I'm doing the right Degree…

You scored as English. You should be an English major! Your passion lies in writing and expressing yourself creatively, and you hate it when you are inhibited from doing so. Pursue that interest of yours!

English
100%
Linguistics
83%
Journalism
83%
Anthropology
75%
Mathematics
75%
Philosophy
75%
Theater
67%
Chemistry
67%
Art
67%
Engineering
67%
Sociology
58%
Biology
58%
Dance
58%
Psychology
58%

What is your Perfect Major? (PLEASE RATE ME!!<3)
created with QuizFarm.com

May 01, 2006

Dentistry in Crisis

The new NHS dental contract is unfair to dentists, a bad deal for patients, and more focussed on bringing dentists under government control than actually providing a better service to the nation.

Contrary to what Rosie Winterton, Minister for Health, would have you believe, NHS dentistry in this country is facing a serious crisis with the imposition of a new contract that has had dentists across the country up in arms.

10% of dentists have refused to sign altogether, and though Ms Winterton believes this to be an acceptable margin, it has left over a million people stranded without the dental treatment that they need. What is even more worrying is that 60% of dentists have signed “in dispute” and may still pull out of the contract at a later date.

So why has this contract caused so much upset?

Previously, dentists were paid by item of service. There were over 400 different treatments available on the NHS, and every dentist in the country got paid the same amount of money for doing the same amount of work. While Acting chief dental officer Barry Cockcroft calls this method of working “outdated,” it was at least understandable and provided value for money for patients, even if the actual payments the dentists received were low enough for them to feel overworked and underpaid. The system basically worked, and, with a little tweaking, should have provided the best care for patients and the best working conditions for dentists.

However, instead of making minor adjustments to the old system – such as making the most expensive and non–essential treatments unavailable on the NHS and slightly altering the costs of others – what the government has done is overhauled the entire system and replaced it with an untried, target based one, which will cost the patient double, and in some cases triple what they were paying before, ensure that dentists are still overworked, replacing an old treadmill with a new one, but prove much better for the government because not only is it cheaper for them, it brings another section of the NHS firmly under their heel.

The government has said repeatedly that this new scheme has been piloted with success. This is an outright lie. It has not been tested at all. There have been schemes piloting a completely different system (PDS schemes) – and a much better one at that, which both dentists and patients were happy with – but this is not the one that has been adopted by the government, as it proved too expensive for their liking.

We have seen how the target based approach has done very little to improve the education system, with teachers now so wrapped up in red tape that they have barely enough time to teach, and children are examined to within an inch of their lives, and now Blair’s government seems set on a similar destruction of dental health provision in Britain. Dentists’ earnings will now be calculated using a system of UDAs, or Units of Dental Activity. Dentists will have to perform a certain number of UDAs per month in order to get their allocation of the money the government has provided to local Primary Care Trusts. However, the amount paid to dentists per UDA varies not only from region to region, but from dentist to dentist within that region. So firstly, this system is unfair because dentists across the country will be paid different amounts for exactly the same amount of work.

Secondly, this quota system is unfair on patients, because of what constitutes a UDA. A patient requiring 1 filling now pays exactly the same as one with 8 fillings, 2 extractions and 3 root–fillings, because they both count as the same number of UDAs. Patients who have looked after their teeth will effectively be penalised for it, by being made to subsidize those who haven’t. However, those people who do need a lot of dental work will also be penalised, because they will find it very difficult to find a dentist willing to treat them. If the same UDAs are being earned for several time–consuming, difficult procedures as for one simple one, few dentists are going to be willing to choose the former over the latter when they have a quota to fill, and are already working a thirteen hour day in order to meet targets. If a dentist extracts a tooth that could have been treated with an hour–and–a– half root filling, he will earn the same UDAs and save considerable time. Perhaps this choice seems to reflect badly on the dentist, but according to the Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, for many dentists their main problem with the new contract is that their UDA target is far too high. They are being expected to work harder than they did last year, rather than having their workload cut by 5% as the government promised, in order to earn exactly the same money, and since most NHS dentists were overworked and under paid last year, Blair’s new scheme has just exacerbated the problem it was trying to solve. Dentists are still overworked, only now they are being forced to cut corners if they want to gather enough UDAs to get paid. This target driven system can only lead to a reduction in quality of care

The way the new system is being priced is also grossly unfair. Now, instead of 400 different treatments with their own individually calculated price, there are only three price bands, again based on number of UDAs. 1 UDA, the equivalent of a check–up will cost £15.50, 3 UDAs, which can cover anything between one filling and ten, will cost £42.40, and any more complex treatment which involves a lab technician and laboratory fees such as crowns or bridges will cost £189, and count for 12 UDAs. This may seem relatively simple, but this actually means that 69% of patients will be paying more for treatment, and on average costs will double. As already stated, this system also penalises patients with low treatment requirements, and the British Dental Association is concerned that this will therefore discourage people from regular visits to the dentist. Once patients realise that it costs the same to get one tooth filled as three, there’s an incentive to delay treatment to get value for money. If basic emergency treatment is £15.50, then it works out as cheaper to wait until a tooth is causing pain and needs filling than to make a routine appointment for the same filling which will cost £42.40: more than double.

One of the main aims of the new contract was to allow dentists more time to focus on preventative dentistry, but yet again it has failed spectacularly, and only served to make the problem worse. A patient now has to pay nearly triple what they used to for a dental check–up: £15.50, rather than £5.80. Many dentists believe this increased cost is going to act as a disincentive for patients, and hardly surprising, since the point of having a National Health Service is to make medical care affordable for all, never mind “free at the point of contact”. Under this new system it is the people in society most dependant on NHS provision who will be the most disadvantaged: the young, the elderly and those on a low income. Also, dentists now have no incentive to talk to patients about dental care, or to visit schools to educate pupils, because these activities have no UDA value, which in the long run can only be a bad thing, and will lead to more people needing dental care.

Despite all of this, the Government has been trying to con us into thinking this is a good deal for all concerned, instead of just for them. It has been asserted by Rosie Winterton and others that “an independent dentist with an average NHS workload can earn about £80K a year plus expenses,” and since the amount that dentists are being paid per UDA has been calculated on their earnings for the last year (which accounts for different dentists being paid different amounts per UDA) the government is now trying to persuade everyone that dentists will still be earning this amount under the new contract. This is absolute nonsense from beginning to end. If the new contract was really offering dentists salaries of £80K plus expenses, they would be mad not to accept it. Government figures themselves contradict this assertion, reports suggesting that average earnings for NHS dentists are closer to £65K. One has to wonder where Ms Winterton is getting her figures from, if it’s not her own imagination.

Apart from the deficiencies this contract will lead to in patient care, the government seems also to be underhandedly trying to gain an element of control over dentists in this country that is worryingly despotic. What all these reforms mean is that the government will be imposing a salary on NHS dentists, making them more dependant on government handouts, like NHS doctors, rather than allowing them to work in the more independent way that they are used to. Not only is this an unwanted imposition on the freedoms of dentists, but in the long run this will be damaging to the growth of NHS dental practices. What the government doesn’t seem to realise is that unlike doctors, dentists receive no financial assistance with setting up or running their practices. Everything comes from the dentist's own pocket; some own their own premises, there are no notional rent arrangements, no 80% contribution to staff salaries, no funding towards expensive equipment, nothing. And so for the government to try and dictate how a dentist runs his or her practice – towards which they have contributed not one penny – is, I find, somewhat unreasonable. The government is essentially a sub–contractor, and in any other business it would be impossible to find another sub–contractor who would dream of having the control over their contractors that the government wishes to gain over the dentists. Besides which, under the terms of this new contract, dentists will be unable to fund improvements to their practice without government funding, which has not even been suggested. They cannot increase their income by taking on more work for a month or so, as used to be the case, in order to fund the purchase of new equipment, for example, as they will not be paid any extra money if they exceed their UDA quota for the month. This means that the growth of individual practices will be stunted, and in time NHS dentistry will be unable to keep up with new developments in the industry.

The Government has systematically said publicly that they have been "negotiating" with the British Dental Association, the body representing dentists in the UK, but in fact, the truth is far from that. There were no negotiations. The BDA was summoned to meetings at the Department only to be told that new arrangements would be brought forward irrespective of any objections. Despite the BDA repeatedly telling Departmental officials that the proposals would be unworkable, they were unable to change anything but the most minor details. This, unsurprisingly culminated in a BDA walk–out of these "negotiations" last December. In short, although there have been some meetings since regarding minor issues, the BDA have been unable to influence policy one iota. I don’t think anyone who knew the meaning of the term could seriously call this “negotiation”.

Perhaps the most underhand issue about the whole business is the way that the government has rushed this new NHS contract through. The timescale for its implementation was ridiculous. Dentists were only given the new contracts eight days before the deadline for signing them, and some were given even less time, and were therefore not given enough time to seek legal consultation, or really think the new contract and its implications through before they had to make a decision. They were asked to make a decision that affected their entire livelihood in just over a week. They were put under enormous pressure to meet that deadline, or they would be unable to treat NHS patients, and since there is still a large number of dentists who want to be able to offer patients NHS care, despite the benefits of going private, many of them have signed the contract under protest. After looking at the contract in more detail, and seeing the shoddy deal it proposes, it’s a wonder any of them have signed at all.


April 22, 2006

Vignette

Night
And I felt for a moment that I’d lost it
That the wine in the glass had sucked it all out
Till I poured it back in, glad it hadn’t evaporated.
I paused in a moment
Felt loose–leaf and listless
Blow me away, baby, blow me away now.
The cat sleeps as always, and I talk some nonsense
And I miss you in this empty space.

Night
And the fire is on, but I’m too scared of burning,
Of sitting too close and cooking the flesh on my bones
My chicken legs, dumplings, crisscrossed with fishnets
But under the skin, darling, under the skin.

Blow me away, dear, suck me right to you
Hold me so close that we cannot get out
Fill this space, darling, my obsession, my day–dream
I long for you here as the wine hits my face
Not drowning, but dreaming.

Night
Just before morning as the last star is sinking
I will wake in the twilight and think of your eyes
And the lonely red wineglass will sit on my table
Testament to my nights of waiting
For that fiery moment when you pull me to you and the world stops
And the pretty words stop
And truth begins.


March 30, 2006

Satellite 15!!!

As promised, today sees the official launch of the Satellite 15 project onto the Blog system. Some of you might already know what this is, but for newcomers, here is a brief introduction.

What I’m trying to do is to gather together a set of short stories by different authors all set in the same place – Satellite 15 – I’m hoping that all you creatively minded people will contribute a story or two. To this end I have also posted up here a bit of information about the world of S15, and a few guidelines for the stories.

If you look in the sidebar to the left, you should see the tag “S15” and if you click on that you can see all the information on my blog related to the project. The idea is that if you decide to write a story, you also tag it “S15” so people can access all the S15 stories if they find one that they like and want to read more.

All I ask is that you let me know if you do decide to contribute, so I can check that there aren’t any clashes and contradictions between stories.

What are you waiting for? Get writing!

(but read the spec first…)


Satellite 15 Spec

Overview

Satellite 15 is a moon orbiting the third planet of the system orbiting the star Alpha Centauri; the first star system to be colonised by settlers from Earth when their population growth became too large for the planet to support. The orbit of S15 is peculiar in that the same side of the sphere is constantly pointed at the sun, so one side is constantly shrouded in darkness, and the other receives all the light from the sun. the dark side of the planet is virtually lawless, and in between the two are the Shadowlands, a place of perpetual twilight and uncertain legality.

The Name

Satellite 15 is so called because it was the 15th planet to be colonised by humans. “Planet” in this case referring to any lump of rock in the galaxy capable of supporting life, be it planet or satellite.

The Rest of the System

There are seven planets in the Centauri system, and all but the two closest to the sun are inhabited. S15 orbits the planet third closest to the sun – Belaria, from which it imports the majority of its food. They also share a government and legal system. The two have always operated as a unit, though the rest of the planets of the system are self governed, and their moons operate independently of their planets. A long war has just finished between the sixth planet and one of its four moons, S18. Peace negotiations are in progress but the situation is still volatile; comparable to the Irish troubles.

The Dark and Light Sides – a Brief History of S15

The dark side of the satellite, it was realised early on, was useless for any kind of farming, even under artificial lights. However, the discovery of large iron deposits meant that a thriving mining and steel industry sprung up. The Light side of the moon became used as a residential area for miners and their families, however when the dark side steel started drawing in the money, the light side went upmarket. A new institute of technology opened, and the light side soon became a very fashionable district, and the haunt of the rich and famous. Relations between S15 and Belaria were good; the satellite, incapable of growing enough food to support the population traded steel for food. Many of the Belarian dignitaries lived on S15, and the Belarian embassy was located there. The Girl Who Looked Up is set at one of the embassy balls at this time.

However, gradually the iron deposits that brought so much prosperity were extinguished and the fortunes of the satellite took a turn for the worse. The dark side of the satellite fell into a decline as the old mines and factories began to close. It soon became a haven for the less reputable elements of society. Criminals flocked to the satellite as once the rich and famous did. Eventually, as the underworld grew, the dark side of the moon became almost impossible to police, giving rise to the popular expression “The law only reaches as far as the light.” The story Trick and Tyler is about two police officers who decide to enforce their own brand of justice, tracking a killer to the dark side of the moon.
Relations with Belaria started to become strained at this time. S15, despite a reduced population, still did not have the agricultural capabilities to produce enough food to support itself, and continued to import from Belaria. As the Belarian government was still based on S15 the prices were kept as low as they ever had been, however, the corresponding trade in steel that once flowed the other way and balanced out the Belarian economic losses in the agricultural sector had ceased. S15 was now considered by the majority of Belarians to be an unprofitable drain on the planet’s resources, and political upheaval of some kind, possibly resulting in a breach between the planet and its satellite, is brewing. A revolution perhaps is on the cards.

The Stories

Must be based on Satellite 15 or Belaria, but can be at any point in their history (or indeed future).
Should not include alien life.
Should be from a genre other than sci-fi eg, Trick and Tyler is a film noir, The Girl Who Looked Up is a love story. If you have seen the TV series Firefly, that manages to be science fiction, but in the style of a western. Something like that.
Should be compatible with the other S15 stories.
You can borrow characters from other authors for cameos in your own story – in fact that would be cool to have some cross over, but please consult the original author first.
Tag all stories “S15” in your blog and please send me a copy.

Note on Technology

Different periods in S15’s history will have had different levels of technology. The earliest times, those when settlers were first colonising the planet had technology similar, only slightly more advanced, to our own. In later times more will be invented, but try and keep inventions plausible.


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