Sunday, August 30, 2009


I love flying! However, I never flew until my early thirties. While many of my friends flew to popular Brit holiday spots like Spain and Portugal, I never did. So my first flight was with my then girlfriend to Athens, from where we were going to take a catamaran to the island of Spetses,

I was very excited. I loved every part of the flight, even when we hit a little turbulence!

We were due to get to Greece in the evening. I sat near the window, so I could see everything, and I'm glad I did, because as we approached Athens, we banked, and I had a beautiful view of lights up in the mountains. We actually had to walk across the tarmac once we'd landed, and I got my first experience of the Summer heat in Athens.

The arrival at Athens was less thrilling, since there was some mix up about where our party was meant to be going. The plane had arrived a little late and we were not going to be able to move on until the morning. Some of us started sleeping on the floor in the airport, until armed police moved us out! Our tour guide was able to get us to the city center, where we relaxed in the lounge of a hotel.

I have to say I still love flying, even though it's more of a chore these days with the family. Our flights to England are about 7 hours, the planes are not as comfortable, and the services are more limited. When I first started flying to the US, there was plenty of complimentary alcohol. Not so much these days. But for some reason, I still enjoy the turbulence!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Great American Heathcare Debate

Entering a clinic in the US for the first time many years ago, I was shocked to find that the very first office door that greeted me was labeled "Financial Consultant." Shocked is not too mild a word to use. I think my Wife was surprised by my reaction. I really found it offensive. She was just used to it.

Healthcare is a huge issue in the news right now, as one of the things that President Obama promised if he got into power was "universal healthcare." Because I come from a country with so-called "socialized medicine," I have been asked many times just recently about how healthcare works in Britain. This is hardly surprising, since opponents of the proposed plan have often said things like, "We don't want a system like Britain or Canada" as if this is a bad thing. Even my own Doctor, during a routine check-up, started quizzing me about whether I preferred the US or UK healthcare system. I told him that, although not perfect, the National Health Service in the UK did ensure that everyone, whether they could afford it or not, was covered. His response was that anyone in the US could get free treatment in hospital emergency rooms. I didn't get a chance to say what I really wanted to, that I thought it would be really nice if the poor didn't have to wait until it became an emergency. Those who cannot afford health insurance either put off treatment, often until it's too late, or fill emergency rooms with non-emergency cases, stretching those already overworked departments.

Criticism of the National Health Service, mostly unfounded, by American opponents of Obama's plan has had a surprising effect amongst the British. A British friend wrote to me, "4 million Brits twittered in defence of the NHS almost crashing it. The debate is happening here---Fox news found an MEP (not MP), who defended the American 'healthcare only for those who can afford it' system, to spout some hysterical rightwing piffle. It has had a dramatic effect---the conservatives have gone from a shoe in, to an even contest in a week." He was talking about the opinion polls comparing the incumbent Labour party with the Conservative Party.

Conservatives in the US have been raising a very noisy protest against the proposals. Past vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin started talking nonsense about Obama creating "death-panels" of bureaucrats who would make life or death decisions about our nearest and dearest. While Obama and his supporters have talked about 47 Million people in the US being uninsured, there are people who deny those figures, mentioning illegal immigrants (who wouldn't be included in the count anyway), Millionaires (this includes property which people would have to sell if they needed healthcare) and people who are in the process of switching insurance. The figures are probably much worse, because poor people often take a gamble on health insurance, taking it out some years and not others.

The right-wing have also gotten many ordinary working people scared that they are going to lose their choice of coverage. In the UK, if you can afford it, you can take out insurance and be treated privately. However, if you cannot afford to do this, you're still covered. This is what's being proposed in the US. In fact people will have more choice, not less.

These scare tactics take advantage, I think, of a deep-rooted "take care of yourself" ethic in the US. Another friend of mine, this time in Canada, said, "They keep saying 'I don't want to be socialized' like public health care and caring about our neighbours is a bad thing." I think that not only is universal healthcare the right thing to do, especially for the richest country in the world, but it's short-sighted for individuals to only consider their own situation right now. What happens if you get laid-off from your job, or want to start your own small business? US healthcare is big business, and that is where I believe things go wrong. The health of our people is essentially an issue of infrastucture.

Do you still think the US healthcare system works just fine now? The World Health Organization would disagree.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Weeksworth of Worthy Links - August 2-August 8, 2009

I'm trying a new feature, please let me know what you think by posting a comment.

During the course of a week, I read through quite a few news stories, blog posts and other pages on the web that I think would interest my own readers. Starting today, I'll post links to some of the best of them here.

Stowaway hid on Border Agency bus (BBC News)

A man walks into a bar (and other clichés) (A Brit Out Of Water)

The Best Cauliflower for Years (Elaine's British & Irish Food Blog -

Rock n' Roll Public Library Opens in London (Book Patrol)

Bio of Beatles' Sgt. Pepper in the Works (Book Patrol)

Drinkers drown out downturn at British beer festival (Expatica)

Shed and done: Boris Johnson forced to pull down illegal summer house (

When the dreaded call from home comes (

Who were the Great Train Robbers? (BBC2)

Wish you weren't here, Greece tells tourists (The Independent)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Warm Beer and Other Beer Fallacies

It was my birthday recently, and like any good Brit, I had a few beers. In fact, I posted photos of them in an album on my Facebook page. A friend of mine (Hi Tina) said in a comment about one of them that she hoped I drank it warm, since I was English. This reminded me that a blog post about the "warm beer fallacy" was long overdue.

British beer is mostly brewed to be drunk at "cellar temperature." Most pubs in Britain have underground cellars, where the kegs of draught beers are kept. The beer is therefore cold, because it is kept underground, but it is not chilled. If UK beer were to be chilled to the degree that American beer usually is, it would lose most of its flavor. One notable exception is Guinness, which is usually a little colder than most other British beers, and is a lot colder in its trendy "Extra Cold" variety.

On the other hand, American beer is brewed to be chilled. Sometimes the heavy "mugs" that are used in bars are actually frozen. You see signs outside bars saying "Coldest Beer in Town" which is meant to be attractive. To me, "Tastiest Beer in Town" would be more likely to get me through the door. If you drank most American beers at "cellar temperature," they would almost certainly taste bad, something like cereal in water.

Having addressed that fallacy, I would like to talk about another one. That is the assumption that American beer is bad. True, the very popular beers such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller are what I like to call "Beer for people who don't like the taste of beer," especially in their "Lite" versions. I was disappointed to hear that President Obama opted for Bud Lite during the recent so-called Beer Summit at The Whitehouse. However, there are many fantastic American-brewed beers. Most come from small independent breweries, often referred to as microbreweries. Some of these are made in the restaurants in which they are served, and others are bottled and distributed in some of the better liquor stores. Major breweries have tried to cash in on the trendiness of microbrews. Blue Moon, a Belgian-style beer that contains orange peel and coriander, is brewed by Coors. Keen to try to keep its microbrewery look and feel, Coors started by putting "Brewed by CBC" (Coors Brewing Company) on the bottle, but that has recently been completely removed, and it is currently advertised as being made by "The Blue Moon Brewing Company."

One beer that I am enjoying these days is Samuel Adams Boston Ale, which is available quite widely. On my birthday, I managed to locate Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, which was wonderfully hoppy to these British taste buds. If you saw my series of blog posts from my recent vacation in San Diego, you'll probably recall that I found some great local beers, including Red Trolley, Stone's Pale Ale and Firehouse American Pale Ale.

I have been helped in my quest for good beer by my recent discovery of the Beer Advocate website. Operated by Beer Advocate magazine, one can join free, and gain access to many reviews of beers and establishments serving beer. One neat feature is that you can enter a beer that you particularly like, and it will suggest some excellent examples of similar beers you might enjoy.

I love talking beer! Please do share some suggestions with me and your fellow readers by posting a comment.