Sunday, June 03, 2007

British government rats to desert a sinking ship

Buckpassing on a national scale proposed

A top NHS strategist called yesterday for Government control of the health service to end so that it could be run by an independent body. Brian Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Healthcare Development at the University of Sheffield, and a former chief executive of a major NHS authority, said the treatment of the NHS as a political football had a negative impact on staff morale, decision-making, recruitment and doctor-patient relationships. The health service was also in danger of being "encased in political ice".

Gordon Brown, soon to take over as Prime Minister, is understood to be keen on the idea of removing the health service from political control, after his much-praised move to give the Bank of England control of interest rates. He has said he will make the NHS his "priority" and there has been speculation that he intends to replace the current Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, who has suffered much criticism.

Prof Edwards said that anything that took up almost nine per cent of a country's wealth was never going to be free of political influence, but the current NHS structure was unsustainable and change by the next prime minister was "essential". In a 72-page report commissioned by the Nuffield Trust, an independent health policy charity, Prof Edwards said that with the establishment of foundation trusts - which are independent of Whitehall - the current structure of the NHS had already altered fundamentally. "It is time to give the leaders of the health professions room to move the system. Ministers can never escape their ultimate responsibilities for the health of the people of the UK and creating more space for the NHS to modernise will require an act of great political courage and wisdom."

Labour and the Tories are looking at how much ministers should be involved in running the NHS. Kim Beazor, of the Nuffield Trust, said: "This report reviews the options available for alternative systems of governance that have so far escaped analysis. The Trust commissioned this project to move the debate on to neutral territory." He said the Government was used to developing regulatory structures for organisations such as the BBC and postal services and it was now time to look at the NHS. "With a new Prime Minister about to enter Downing Street, it seems likely that the issue of NHS independence will once again be on the agenda, and we hope this report will help ensure a balanced and rational debate," Mr Beazor said.

Last night Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said the Nuffield Trust report put fresh pressure on Mr Brown to declare his plans for the NHS. Mr Lansley said Mr Brown appeared to have "gone cold" on giving the NHS more independence. "As this report illustrates, we need to combine greater day-to-day freedoms and better outcomes for patients with a robust accountability structure."


Captain Cook was a wise and compassionate man

The report below corroborates many other reports of him by non-political writers -- including of course Cook's own detailed journals of his voyages and other reports by those who accompanied him. To modern-day Leftist historians, however, his heroic voyages of discovery in the Pacific on behalf of the British navy -- including the first reports of the East coast of Australia -- are just another example of evil white men exploiting noble primitive people. A short biography by Richard Alexander Hough offers good factual background

It was high summer, 1774, when Georg Forster crossed the Antarctic Circle on board Captain James Cook's ship Resolution. But as he recalled several years later, it did not feel, look or sound like summer to the 118 men shivering with cold and fear on the converted coal carrier. "Fogs and storms alternated with each other; often a storm would rage even during dark fogs; often we did not see the sun for a fortnight or three weeks," wrote Foster, who was 17 at the time. Vast masses of ice "emerged from the sea like floating islands", moving unseen until the last moment, encircling the ship. "How often were we terrified by being able to hear the waves breaking on the ice without being able to lay our eyes on the object of our fear," reflected Foster in a remarkable essay written in German in 1787, but only now published in English.

More revealing, though, than the conditions during the three-year expedition - Cook's second great voyage of exploration - is the picture that emerges of the conduct of the captain. Not only did Cook deny himself many of the pleasures due his position, but he showed uncharacteristic "fatherly care towards his men", Foster, a German naturalist, philosopher and polyglot adventurer, said. "At just the right moment he allowed them to have a party. Or, when the weather was too cold or the work had exhausted the crew, he would personally serve an invigorating drink." He even gave up his own quarters to make the overworked sailmaker more comfortable.

Foster's essay goes some way towards restoring a hero's reputation that has been tarnished by a series of recent "revisionist" histories. "There has been a bit of a backlash against the traditional idea of 'Cook the great white explorer'," says Nigel Erskine, curator of exploration at the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. Indeed, books written from the point of view of indigenous people - such as the acclaimed Discoveries by Nicholas Thomas - have so moved minds that Cook is in danger of being rebirthed as "someone who shot his way round the Pacific".

Now, belatedly, the publication of Foster's essay Cook, der Entdecker (Cook, the Discoverer) - accompanied by a facsimile of the original German text - provides yet another correction. Erskine says Foster had the literary skills to transport readers with no knowledge of life at sea into the shuttered wooden world of the Resolution. "When the sea is very rough the mast may swing up to 38 degrees from the perpendicular," he writes. "At such times I have seen the tip of the yardarm immersed in the crest of a wave. "Every wave, therefore, swings a sailor on a yardarm some 50 yards up the mast through an arc of 50 to 60 feet."

From such vivid accounts, Cook re-emerges as a hero - not just an extraordinary finder of far-off lands, but a man who combined courage, compassion and a seafarer's eye for detail. Ultimately, Foster eulogises Cook, who was clubbed to death in Hawaii in 1779. "I imagine him as one of the beneficient heroes of antiquity who, on the wings of eagles, ascended to the assembly of the blessed gods."

Foster had sailed with his father, Johann Reinhold Foster. It was not a happy trip: a shipmate later described Foster snr as an "unsociable, ill-tempered, lying, bribing, knavish . piratical pretender of knowledge". On their return, relations with the British establishment deteriorated further, as the Fosters became involved in a strikingly modern wrangle over publication rights to Cook's voyage.

In a limited edition of 1050 copies, Foster's essay is the sixth book in the museum's Australian Maritime Series. Derek McDonnell, of the publisher, editor and translator Hordern House - which tracked down a copy of the German book in Massachusetts - says: "Cook is still a superstar."


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