Saturday, 30 August 2008

Why Bother with Bagels ?

Tempted by a special offer, I recently bought some Sainsbury's so called 'taste the difference' bagels.

I found them even more inconvenient to eat than spaghetti.

They were rather dry and so needed spreading with something. As it would have been hard to spread anything on the outer surface , I had to cut it each two, and butter the two circular annuli thus created, taking care not to lob butter over the edge. The operation was tiresomely fiddly. Inserting a filling to make a sandwich, or toasting the thing, would have been even more fiddly. Why should anyone want to form material designed to be eaten into such an inedible shape?

Is one supposed to put the bagel on a plate and spoon in some sort of filling ? If so a flan case or individual Yorkshire pudding would be a better template.

The only point I can think of in favour of the shape is that the torus is a surface on which the map colouring problem was solve much earlier and more easily than the four colour problem for the plane.

Perhaps bagels could be baked with their surfaces marked out with a seven region map that needs seven colours. and sold packaged with sachets of seven edible and environmentally friendly food colours. Then we could treat them as works of art and shouldn't need to eat them.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Being NICE about drugs

I'd written quite a long blog about this and it suddenly disappeared; I was still puzzling how to get at the copy blogger saves automatically, when it auto-saved the blank message on top of the original. I shall put a short note here now and add to it as I remember what I said before. This time I shall make sure the text is saved by posting it at frequent intervals, so anyone who finds a partly written and uncorrected blog will know why.

I suspect some rationing of expensive treatments by the NHS is essential to avoid a state of affairs where the entire gross national product is spent on medicine, but I have misgivings about the details. Drugs withheld include some that extend the lives of kidney cancer patients by as much as six month, yet the NHS does provide free cosmetic surgery for the removal of tattoos, and one alternative use of funds I heard cited as more deserving then the cancer patients was the treatment of people with cystic fibrosis. Both tattoos and cystic fibrosis are avoidable. Tattoos may be avoid by not having them, and cystic fibrosis, which is a genetically determined condition, would be avoided if people who are carriers avoided mating with other carriers. In both cases prevention should be quite easy.

Quite apart from the details of treatment permitted and treatment withheld, there is one practice that I find particularly objectionable.

If patients decide to pay for drugs that the NHS does not provide, those patients are punished by being required to pay for all their treatment.

I think that is spiteful and vindictive, and points to a disturbing aspect of the welfare state, a suspicion of anyone who tries to look after themselves instead of throwing themselves on the mercy of the state.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

A Buddhist tearoom.

Yesterday a friend and I explored the Buddhist meditation centre in Kelmarsh Old Rectory, near to Market Harborough, but just over the county boundary in Northamptonshire.

We didn't want to commit ourselves to a spacial guided tour, and so just went into the tea room, which is open to all. We were not in any way the victims of evangelism, though I did decide it would be tactful not to kill the wasp that showed an interest in my companion's jam. However the visit did set off a train of thought which I record here.

I'm increasingly attracted by the Buddhist idea of detachment from the world and its contents, though not for quite the same reasons that the Buddhists advance.

Buddhists see detachment as the only way to escape from an otherwise infinite sequence of deaths and rebirths. As the Buddha seems to have adopted an empiricist view of personal identity, it is not clear what component of on an individual he might have supposed to survive death and later to be reborn.

I don't belief there is any rebirth, or any entity capable of being reborn, and favour detachment as a sort of mental hygiene. Although I do not believe that any individual has the potential to live an infinite sequence of lives, I do think there is in human life a potentially infinite succession of dubious value, namely the succession of human generations. I think there is a coherent point of view from which that succession appears pointless, and I find that point of view ever more congenial.

It is conventional to regard the present and future welfare of the human race as the primary good. We are supposed to deplore and if possible to avert potential changes in climate that might reduce the number of humans who can live on our planet. It is customary to regard children, and especially babies, with a sentimental affection and to refer to them as 'our future'. Yet why should we want a future of any sort for the human race ?

From the point of view of an individual human, humans are special because they are his own species, include his own relatives and in particular his descendants, and there are strong instincts to produce and nurture descendants, but all that does not make humans special from any non-human point of view. Members of any other species might just as well consider their own kin as the most important inhabitants of the cosmos - they might, if there were capable of having a point of view of any sort.

That points to the only respect in which humans might be correct in considering themselves special; so far as we can tell we alone are capable of having a point of view, of understanding the cosmos and our place in it.

Yet the intellectual achievements of humanity are mainly confined to a small minority, and for most people intellectual curiosity is a passing phase confined to childhood and adolescence. Adult life usually centres on breeding and rearing children, in the hope that they in turn will repeat the same process.

I'm gradually losing interest in that process. I have many interests, but the the future of the human race is not among them.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Trapped in Blogger

I can't find any link from Blogger back to the my main Google Account page. Every other part of Google I've used has such a link, but not this one, so I usually leave this bit till last, to avoid fiddly multiple pressings of the browser's 'back' button.

Would anyone aware of a more convenient escape route please let me know.

Intitutional meanness

I've just finished filling in my Income Tax return. When I 'd checked it, signed it and was putting it in the envelope I noticed that the addressed, but not pre-paid, envelope provided for its return was A4 size, making it a 'large letter' under the new Post Office classification, so an ordinary first class stamp did not suffice.

As I don't know the cost of a large letter I had to consult the Internet. It's 52p, compared with 36p for a small first class letter and 27p for a small second class letter. Eventually I made the sum up with a first class stamp a 10p stamp and three twopenny stamps, from the little tin of assorted stamps I keep for such contingencies. I imagine that many people have no such tin and would have needed to queue at a post office to get the stamps.

I thought how much easier it would be if postal rates were more simply related. With a 26p second class rate, two second class stamps would pay for a large letter, and a second class stamp together with a 10p stamp would do for a small first class letter.

Given the complications of sending large letters, the tax people could, if they were considerate, have either provided pre-paid envelopes, or used A5 envelopes, which would take tax forms easily provided the forms were folded just once.

Although it may appear just a detail, it is not insignificant, because it illustrates a lack of generosity and consideration. Although officially called 'public servants' tax collectors don't behave at all like servants, at least not like our servants.

The tax collector's job is one in which kindly people would be unhappy, and officious busybodies would be likely to thrive, because the tax system is complicated and it's implementation inquisitorial.

Were the country run like an hotel, with each customer charged for the services provided, assessing tax liabilities would be quite easy. The complications arise from a professed wish to help what used to be referred to as the 'poor and needy' but are now usually called 'the underprivileged' . It is that supposed generosity that necessitates the employment of people with inquisitorial powers to ferret through what should be the private details of our finances, with a meanness that reveals the falsity of the supposed generosity of the Welfare State. For to be generous is to help people from one's own resources; using other people's resources for the purpose is a faux generosity, that is usually a combination of envy and spite.

Finally, that 52p charge is quite substantial. When I worked in Lincolnshire an occasional treat was the five course dinner provided by the Grand Hotel in Lincoln. That cost 12/6d, 62.5p in the debased currency of today, only 10.5p more than the stamp for a large letter, and much, much more enjoyable than posting an income tax return.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Radovan Karadzic

When he was in power I sincerely wished him dead, yet now he's on trial I feel uneasy.

Misrule is common, yet few of the culprits ever face trial, and those who do are tried only when they have ceased to be powerful, and even then only if they have no powerful state to protect them. It would be most unlikely for a former head of state of one of the great powers to be tried by the International Court. Nor do I think it desirable that that should be possible.

Many powerful governments are repressive and corrupt. An effective system of international justice would be likely to fall under the control of repressive rulers desirous of protecting themselves from criticism. One way of doing that could be to arrest rulers of any states that allowed the expression of dissident opinion.

Returning to Karadzic, a number of rulers have in my lifetime been responsible for many more deaths than he, and yet are still admired by many of their countrymen. I'm thinking not just of Stalin and Mao, but even our own Harold Macmillan who was at the end of the war involved in handing large numbers of prisoners of war over to the Yugoslav government to be massacred. Picking one or two scapegoats to bear the guilt for human cruelty, while most of the guilty are lionized seems just a ridiculous exercise in self righteous pomposity.

Meanwhile, I suspect Karadzic will make fools of the International court as Milosevic did a few years ago.