Monday, December 21, 2009

Chrimble Songs

Christmas is one of the those times of the year when one's thoughts naturally head backwards. Back over the year just gone, and it has been a rather a good one to be honest. Back to the friends left behind as Mrs Velkyal and I moved to the US but also back to this time last year. Christmas 2008 will always be special because it was the first time that the entire clan had managed to get together for Christmas Day in something ridiculous like 20 years. This Christmas will be my first with Mrs Velkyal's family, and I will actually get to meet the last of the uncle's that I am yet to meet.

Christmas though always brings to mind the classic Christmas songs that I have always loved, and so here are a couple of them for you...

(Yes, I know that it is awfully cliched and cheesy - just my cup of tea!)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Care about Health?

I will be bluntly honest, health care in the US sometimes seems like the ultimate oxymoron - few people seem to actually care about the health of the nation, preferring to find as many ways to empty people's wallets as is humanly possible - and here I am not talking about tax increases but rather the voracious appetite of the market.

When it comes to health insurance I am as dyed in red wool as it is humanly possible to be, I believe that health care should be provided by the State and that it must be paid for from tax contributions. I have no problem whatsoever with a percentage of my salary being taken out at source to fund a health care system, unlike many it seems. I also prefer paying my insurance premium to the State rather than a corporation who primary concern is not my health but the health of their shareholders wealth.

What would I do to solve the problem of un-insured people in the US? Expand Medicaid, make the tax contribution 6% of each and every employed person's salary and open access to Medicaid to everybody living and working in the US. With an expanded Medicaid program, I would make it illegal for hospitals and other health care providers to refuse to accept this insurance. Sure, people can still have their private insurance, it is their perogative, but they can't opt out of paying their tax contributions.

Let me give you an example:

Mrs Velkyal had a thyroidectomy last year, which required 4 days in hospital. Having worked in the Czech Republic and paid her taxes the sum cost extra was the cost of board and lodging in the hospital - a grand total of 240CZK, at the time something like $15. The care was good, the staff were excellent. Sure the hospital is a bit old, but if you are worried about having a tv and a pretty building then I guess you just aren't sick enough.

This year, Mrs Velkyal broke her foot. She has health insurance with the school she works for. Total cost for a trip to ER, with x-ray, crutches and some strappy boot thing - $200. Seeing a podiatrist, $40 a time - 3 of those so far, and this is all on top of the ridiculous premium she pays.

Having seen health care provision from both sides of the Pond now, I can honestly say that America could learn an awful lot about health care provision from the Europeans - of course taking on board the idea that someone does something better than you is the difficult part. But tables don't lie and of the 36 countries with better health care than the USA, 17 of them are in the EU, 10 of which are in the top 20.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Songs from Central Europe

Leaving a city you have lived in for 10 years is more difficult than it appears at times. Despite the fact that I knew it was time to leave Prague and start anew somewhere else, Mrs Velkyal and I made that decision almost 2 years ago now, so much of my adult life was spent in the Czech Republic that I almost think of it as home - certainly a place filled with lots of memories.

Unlike a lot of expats I came across in the city, I always made a conscious decision to learn the language, have Czech friends and live like a native - although I never wore socks with my sandals, had a mullet or went out without showering.

As a homage to my ten years in Prague, here are some of my favourite songs by Czech and Slovak bands and singers - the videos aren't necessarily official or original, but the songs are grand.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spare An Acre?

Mrs Velkyal and I have a dream. That dream involves a plot of land somewhere, preferably of about 5 acres, where we could rear a few animals, grow fruit and vegetables and generally be as self-sufficient as possible. I am sure that there are many people my age who grew up watching re-runs of Felicity Kendall's bottom in The Good Life who have a similar dream. I am sure that they would also have sat and watched River Cottage and yearned to be able to leave the city and throw away all the junk that passes for civilisation these days.

I have been watching Beyond River Cottage lately, the one where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall gets a 40 acre farm and sets up his catering business in some reclaimed cow sheds, and even more so would I love to ditch the world and wander off to Dorset, or France, or whether the equivalent American place would be, and settle into a interminably quieter life. The shift from Prague to Charlottesville has been dramatic in that sense, going from a 1 million inhabitant capital city, to a college town with about 50,000 people. Still far more than I grew up around in the Outer Hebrides, but certainly a welcome change from the bustle of the city.

Therefore I have made it my aim to see if I can find a landowner in these here parts with a couple of acres to spare and the willingness to rent them to me in order to plant veggies, perhaps an orchard, a clutch of chickens and maybe a sheep or pig or two.

To paraphrase Monty Python's Life of Brian:

"Spare an acre for a jaded urbanite?"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Afghanistan - Learn the Lessons of History

Today President Obama is to meet with all his head honchos and top generals to discuss the way forward in the seemingly endless campaign in Afghanistan. Being suggested is an Iraq style "surge" in the number of troops, in order to crack down on the "insurgency" once and for all. However, I would suggest that there are lessons from Afghan history which do not bode well for the NATO mission.

Simply put, Afghanistan has a track record for defeating world powers.

Three times in the 19th century, Britain attempted the conquest of this mountainous country, which borders what was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, pre-partition India. Three times the Afghans repulsed the world's major super power of the time.

Coming closer to our own time, 1979 saw the Soviet invasion of the country, which then led to 10 years of war and destruction. Afghanistan had long been a target for Russian expansionism, both under the tsars and commissars, so it was expected that they would eventually make a move to bring the country under Soviet control. Ten years later the Soviets were driven out by the Mujahideen, bringing to an end a conflict which has been described as the Soviet Vietnam.

Now just 20 years later the American led NATO forces are bogged down in a conflict which shows no signs of ending any time soon.

The lesson of history would seem to be, invade Afghanistan at your peril, and expect to be stuck in a cycle of guerrilla warfare for years to come. How can the West break this cycle? I for one don't have any simple answers, but to defeat terrorism it is not enough to send young men and women to kill and be killed, it is necessary to address the grievances that terrorists claim as justification for their acts. If however the West continues in its belief that the "cold, hard steel of the bayonet" is the way to deal with violence, then violence will simply beget more violence and perhaps the entire region will be dragged into a spiral of war which will take generations to come to an end.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Insane silliness

Rob posted this little fun thing to do on a boring Friday afternoon on his blog, and I thought I would use a piece of text from Fuggled to demonstrate how computer translation software is usually useless.

1. Go to Babelfish.
2. Enter text up to 150 words.
3. Translate from English to Chinese (trad).
4. Copy and paste the resulting text, then translate back into English.

I decided to take this one step further and take the resulting text and "translate" it into Russian and back, then German and back and finally Greek and back, here are the results:

Original text:

Simple really, a pub where I like the surroundings, and they serve beers from one of my favourite brewers in the Czech Republic - and they even have the right shaped glasses for serving British style ales in! Importantly they seem to have worked out how to pour an ale so it doesn't take 10 minutes, and you don't have to order your second when you are a third of the way down your first, although out of habit I generally do so anyway.

From Chinese and back:

, I like truly periphery simply the inn and they for the food from beer my Czechoslovakia's affection brewer -, and they even have serve the British style ale the correct shape glass! How have they as if formulated importantly but actually the ale, therefore does not need ten minutes, and you cannot order your second, when you are when you first way 1/3, although stemming from habit I that in any event usual

From Russian and back:

, I love truly the periphery simply hotel and they for the food from the beer my Czechoslovakia' the viniculturist of attachment s -, and they even have a supply British ale of the type of correctly glass- form! As have them if formulated importantly but actually ale; therefore are not necessary 10 minutes, and you cannot order your second, when you when you are first way of 1/3, although from the habit i which in any event usual.

From German and back:

, Love I really the hotel and it the periphery simply for the food of the beer my Czechoslovakia' viniculturist from accessories s - and they have you even a British Ale of the supply material of the kind that correctly glass form! Like it, if it is formulated importantly however real, Ale has; therefore are not necessary 10 minutes, and you cannot order your second, if them, if you are first way of 1/3, although of the habit I those in any case usually.

And finally from Greek and back:

Love I really the hotel and region simply for the foods of beer Czechoslovakia'? my viniculturist from the elements s - and you they have even a British English beer of material supply of type that correct form of glass! As, if he is formulated considerably nevertheless real, the English beer has consequently is not essentially 10 thinly, and you cannot order your second, if these, if you are first way the 1/3, even if habit I those in any event usually.

I am starting to see how some technical writers put together their user guides!

Monday, February 09, 2009

First Ince, Now Adams

Robbie Keane was signed by Liverpool, to great fanfare - the ideal partner for Fernando Torres they said (whilst ignoring the fact that Rafa only plays 1 up front). 28 games and 7 goals later he rejoins former club Tottenham Hotspur. The press bleat on about how he wasn't given a fair crack of the whip, the player claims he could have been a success "with a different manager", and this got me thinking about Tony Adams.

Tony Adams was, until this morning, manager of Portsmouth, having previously been assistant manager to Harry Redknapp. That was before Redknapp left a promising project in progress to become the manager of Tottenham Hotspur.

Tony Adams managed the club for 16 games, of which he won only 2, and had to deal with losing Diarra and Defoe to Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

Why aren't the press up in arms about him not being given a fair crack of the whip? Perhaps he could have succeeded with different players, or a different chairman, but still the fact remains that he hasn't been given the opportunity to stamp his mark on the club and the team, much as Paul Ince wasn't given that opportunity at Blackburn Rovers.

The management merry-go-round spins on merrily, and when Fabio Cappello leaves the job of England manager there will no doubt be a hue and cry about the lack of top level English managers. Blame the Premiership chairmen for that, because they aren't giving managers a chance.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Difficult Choice

At the tender age of 26, the Brazilian football superstar Kaka is the subject of an approach by Manchester City.

Kaka currently plays for AC Milan, one of the most illustrious footballing names on the planet. Milan sit third in Serie A, with Champions League qualification a likelihood again next season. Among Kaka's team mates are Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato, David Beckham and other assorted greats of football, many of whom won the Champions League in 2007.

Manchester City, the world's richest club, have apparently offered €100 million to AC Milan to buy his registration, and a salary of about €500,000 per week to get their man.

At Manchester City, Kaka would find himself 15th in the Premiership, unlikely to be in Europe at all next season and playing with the likes of Robinho, Stephen Ireland and Micah Richards. The last thing Manchester City won? Champions of the second level of English football, currently known as the Championship.

For a player about to enter his prime, what possible attraction could there be for trading AC Milan for Manchester City? Dare I be cynical, but I am not sure I could refuse €500,000 a week.