Monday, June 18, 2007

Well-deserved Royal recognition for Australia's greatest satirist

CBE is in the middle ranking of the order -- just below where the title "Sir" confers

HIS comic creations Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, have had an "in" with the Queen for years. Now, it's finally Barry Humphries' turn. One of Australia's funniest and most beloved performers was yesterday awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. "It's very nice to receive an honour from the Queen," Humphries said while eating breakfast in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. "It means that I can be called Commander. It also might help me getting a good table in a restaurant," he joked.

In Brisbane until next Sunday with his production Barry Humphries - Back with a Vengeance, the 73-year-old said it was lovely to receive such unexpected recognition. "This really came out of the blue," he said. "You get a letter from Downing St, from the Prime Minister, asking if you would accept it and you write back and say, 'I think I might'." The satirist received his letter three weeks ago and has had to keep the award secret since, even from his family. "It was rather hard. I did feel like running around immediately with a loud hailer and telling the world," he laughed. "It's put a little smile on my face which might not have been so broad yesterday."

Source. More on Humphries here. There is a description of his latest performance here.

American Court Overturns Restrictive British Libel Judgment

British libel laws make it very difficult to expose corruption, political or otherwise. If you accuse anybody of dishonesty or corruption, you can be sued, of course. But to defend yourself in Britain you then have to become the equivalent of an official prosecutor and prove your case fully against the corrupt person. You have to become the equivalent of a team of detectives and a prosecutor all rolled up into one.

That is so difficult that free speech about dishonesty and corruption is impossible in Britain for anybody except the media -- who have recently won an exemption from the laws concerned.

In American law, by contrast, the onus is on the person "libelled" to prove that the allegations about him are untrue. The American system gives primacy to protecting free speech, in accordance with the First Amendment.

So when a Saudi financier of terrorism was exposed as such in a book by an American writer, the Saudi sued her in a British court and won. Her response was to go to court in New York and seek a declaration that the British judgment was unenforceable in America. The Second Circuit has now backed her up.

So restrictive British law can not now prevent Americans writing in America from exposing British corruption. I look forward to the fireworks!

Details here.

Dangerous to get sick outside normal working hours in Britain

The British government is aware of the problem but has no idea how to deal with it

The shake-up of out-of-hours GP services was condemned as a 'shambles' yesterday. Patients who become ill at night or weekends have been left battling to find proper NHS care since GPs handed over responsibility to primary care trusts. Only one in 50 services is meeting the performance targets set to ensure patients get proper advice and treatment. The result, according to a damning report from MPs, is that patients have been left worse off.

Only doctors have 'done well' out of the deal, it says. Confusion over availability of out- of-hours services has also resulted in a ten per cent increase in emergency calls for ambulances in the past year. More patients, simply unsure where to turn, are arriving at hospital A&E departments.

The report, from the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee, says the Health Department took a back seat in negotiations over the new system that allowed GPs to stop working unsocial hours in return for relatively small pay cut of 6,000 pounds. Although the service introduced three years ago is now starting to improve, the performance of trusts against key targets is 'still not good enough', it says. Just 2 per cent of services comply with standards such as answering calls promptly.

The report follows concern over pay deals struck by the Health Department which have seen GPs' pay break the 100,000 pound barrier. The report also reveals soaring costs took the shake-up 70 million over budget - at a time when the NHS is axing jobs and patient services to save money. Before April 2004, GPs were responsible for out- of-hours patient care - between 6.30pm and 8am on weekdays and 24 hours at weekends and bank holidays. Now primary care trusts are responsible for around nine million patients receiving care out of hours in England each year. These services are provided by a range of organisations, including in-house trust teams, GP cooperatives and private companies. But they have been plagued with problems from the start, with patients complaining of delays and disorganisation.

One service came to prominence last year during the inquest into the death of Penny Campbell, a 41-year-old journalist from North London, who died of multiple organ failure in 2005. In the four days leading up to her death, she had six telephone consultations and two face-to-face meetings with doctors working for the service Camidoc. A coroner ruled that the doctors she saw contributed to her death by failing to recognise the seriousness of her illness. The PCT and Camidoc are undertaking a review.

The Public Accounts Committee chairman Edward Leigh, Tory MP for Gainsborough, said the new system had increased financial pressure within the NHS and the Department had failed to get value for money for the taxpayer. Costs have risen from the original estimate of 322 million to 392 million a year. The cross-party committee's report said: "We found that preparations for the new service were shambolic, both at the national and local level. "The department took part in the negotiation of the new General Medical Services contract only as an observer, and only the doctors did well out of the deal on out- of-hours costs." Mr Leigh added: "The new service is getting better. But the needs of patients are not best served by the ending of Saturday morning surgeries. "They are not best served where access to advice and treatment is often extremely difficult and slow."

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern, said: "It's a muddle. Patients have no idea what the service is supposed to be doing so they end up going to A&E."

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs' Committee, denied family doctors had benefited at the expense of patients. "We would reject the implication that GPs were the only ones to do well out of this deal and that the Government was not really involved. Family doctors had been taken advantage of for years, working long hours on the cheap."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We are aware that some areas face more challenges than others, including in very rural and very urban areas, and we are determined to ensure that out-of-hours services in every area match the standards of the best."


Prof Brignell comments:

Now that the Englishman has joined sufferers in our Out-of-hours club, it is a suitable time to launch our very own neologism. Number Watcher Graham Dawson, having taken the precaution of marrying a classicist, is able to provide the word that Number Watch recently requested. It will not mean much to those who live outside Blair's Britain, but it means an awful lot to those who live under the tender care of the National Health Service (except those who did not survive, of course). Anyway, thanks to the negotiating skills of the Blair Team, this is the system that we now enjoy. So rally round you lexicographers and insert this in your entries:

Acairasthenephobia, Ah-kai-ras-then-eh-phobia, n, a fear of falling ill out of hours (Gr negative prefix A; cairo (or kairos) - right time; asthenes - ill; and phobia, qv).

Now the Greeks have a word for it. We hope that makes you all feel better.

Your bending author typed out the above piece, uploaded it and trundled off to bed. As eyes drooped and it was time to put the ancient paperback thriller under the pillow, a sudden thought intruded. My God! The BMA really DO think they put one over on the Government! After all these years they really think they are negotiating with the Government! They are so na‹ve that they still do not realise that negotiations are not just two-way; they are a sandwich, one that it arranged like this:

The Government - Sir Humphrey - The Rest

Like a farmed trout, they leapt at the luxurious barbed fly, rather than the scanty but nutritive live midge, just as they were meant to. A wily native fish would have been more circumspect. Why would they be offered a mere 6,000 pounds to provide an out of hours service? It was so derisory that it was never meant to be accepted. The BMA, being a trade union, were only thinking about money, but Sir Humphrey was thinking about power. What does it matter that the alternative is to provide a ludicrously expensive chauffeur driven, if ineffective, service. It is only money, and not even real money, just taxpayers' money. The alternative is to have medical professionals, rather than bureaucrats, in control of a vital part of the health service. Unthinkable!

The Government, in their turn, think they are negotiating with the medical profession, when they too are actually also negotiating with Sir Humphrey. Why are these bastards so intractable? We'll show 'em! We will set up our own system, however much it costs. What is a bit of misery and a few deaths when principle is involved?

The way the modern political system works is that ministers, who have never run anything in their lives, suddenly find themselves plunged into a jungle inhabited by, to catch the mood of the moment, feral beasts. It is particularly true of those women, the so-called Blair babes, whose token presence is an affront to the just cause of the liberation of women. They are lost, they fail, they are inadequate. People experience pain, they suffer, they die. So what? The system rolls on.

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