Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Books I Read In April

‘Red Chrysanthemum’ by Laura Joh Rowland
I have been reading Rowland’s detective stories featuring Sano Ichiro and set in late 17th century Japan for many years.  The stories are great for conjuring up the era and she has a range of interesting characters both allies and opponents of Sano in his role as official detective for the Shogun.  At times some seem overly cruel almost as if they have been written too large.  Some however, are amoral and political concerns entwine with many of the crimes featured.  This being the eighth book in the series, Sano has risen from being a detective to being chamberlain of Japan so even more prone to becoming entangled in political rivalries under the rule of an easily manipulated Shogun.  This story revolves around the castration and murder of Lord Mori apparently by Sano’s pregnant wife, Reiko.  This level of jeopardy for the couple counteracts the danger which often occurs when a fictional detective is successful and begins to rise through the ranks in that s/he becomes distant from the crimes and faces little risk in investigating them.

Rowland has used the approach of the movie ‘Rashomon’ (1950) with narrations of what occurred from different ‘witnesses’.  I worried that this was simply an affectation to give some greater energy to the Rowland’s writing which at times has seemed a little plodding despite the extremity of the crimes she features and the apparent risks her characters face.  However, she presents a range of unreliable narrators and this keeps us off balance.  If the publisher had not put the first chapter of the next novel in the back of this edition then you could believe that Sano might be executed himself, Japanese justice of the time tending to be all-encompassing.  I think the approach works well and I felt there was greater life in this novel than some of its predecessors in the series.  The development of other long-standing characters such as Hirata, who has risen to take over Sano’s previous role as chief investigator adds other dimensions though his martial arts tutor comes over as a stereotype.

Rowland never baulks from showing the harshness or injustice of the times she is portraying and as in previous stories we see characters at the pinnacle of society and in its depths.  The crimes are not skimped on and this leaves me wondering why I feel something is missing.  The politicisation of Sano and his wife to the end of the novel may give a clue and that is he still comes over as being too righteous and maybe we seek some of that amorality we see in other characters appearing in the central ones as well.  Maybe I am asking too much.  I will certainly continue to read Rowland’s Sano series and hope that with the political intrigues playing an ever larger part the next novel will have that final unidentifiable element that for me is missing and it will prove to be an outstanding rather than simply engaging historical crime novel. 

‘To Bring the Light’ by David Drake
This book was clearly inspired by ‘Lest Darkness Fall’ by L. Sprague De Camp which I reviewed recently.  It sees Flavia Herosilla a forthright patrician woman from the 4th Century CE being thrown back 1000 years to the foundation of Rome.  She has to disentangle legend from actual history in order to assist Romulus and Remus in freeing the village that will become Rome from the overlordship of a neighbouring town, whilst facing chauvinism, sexual harassment and superstitious beliefs which to someone from her time seem irrational.  This is an enjoyable book but far too short and I wonder why Drake did not develop the idea at least as far as De Camp did in his novel.

‘Kitchen Confidential’ by Anthony Bourdan
This is a rather ragged autobiography by a chef who has previously published fiction.  It goes erratically from culinary experiences of his childhood through a series of failing restaurants primarily in New York.  He gives the background on the chaos, drug abuse and simple abuse that go on in kitchens and also tells a bleak story of numerous restaurant failures.  At times he diverges into looking at things such as the hierarchy in a restaurant kitchen and the slang used.  Despite a brief trip to Japan it is very New York focused and a lot of what he says especially about ethnic groups would not really apply in much of the USA let alone elsewhere in the world.  However, he seems to assume that his readership will be familiar with that context which makes it off putting given that from this basis he is trying to show you a culture aside from mainstream America anyway.  His stupidity and his arrogance may seem to some readers as edgy and exciting but ultimately you come to loathe him and think he should be far more grateful that he is still alive than he shows in this book.  The arrogance becomes difficult to swallow pretty quickly and there is little point in reading an autobiography of someone whose view of the world you cannot respect.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Diabetic Driver Discrimination

As I have noted on this blog before, I suffer from Type 1 Diabetes.  I developed this in 1988 but have only been considered disabled since 2005 when the law was altered to encompass more ‘hidden disabilities’.  This did not prevent my previous employer from breaking the law, despite the awards it had received for supporting disabled staff, and allowing my manager to bully me on the basis of my health condition, one which I will never be cured of.  Generally I had thought that British society was becoming more understanding of diabetes, especially with the continuing rise in people with Type 2 Diabetes.  However, the government seems to be going in the opposite direction.  In part I imagine that stems from them wanting to cut back what is seen as support for anyone who is disabled.  They have inherited a distilled version of the Victorio-Thatcherite ‘deserving poor’ perception and blended in elements of Nazism (or perhaps simply Winston Churchill’s eugenic attitudes) that see the lives of the disabled as being less than those of ‘normal’ people.  Not only do we need to do without assistance we need to be reminded that we are not as good as these others, though as we age, even Conservative MPs develop one impairment or another which moves them into this category.  I guess wealth buys you an exemption.
Since 1988 having Diabetes has meant that I have had to renew my driving licence every three years.  My parents who are now both 75 have to do the same.  There is clearly an assumption that the authorities have to check in with you at regular intervals to make sure you have not become a hazard sometime in the past 35 months.  I find this ironic given how much dangerous driving and horrific accidents I see on a daily basis driving into London or even back and forth across South-West England, presumably committed by the ‘normal’ drivers.  However, a minister, one I have not been able to track down, apparently outlined in parliament by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport in 2011 how hazardous diabetic drivers are.  I have not seen the figures, but he felt the need to clamp down on these dangerous handlers of vehicles, even more sinister because their disability is hidden and not seen for all to see.  Perhaps I should wear some kind of triangle on my clothing so people know I am a diabetic, white seems to be the common colour for diabetic products or perhaps a nice clinical blue would be better.
As a result of this clamp down, not only do I have to complete the form I always had to and send it back to the DVLA outlining how even though it is difficult to register with a GP especially when you have moved around as much as I have in recent months, four towns in nine months, I have attended not only my GP to see about my diabetes but a consultant too.  Added to this, every time I drive I must check my blood sugar level 30 minutes before I get in the car and then every 2 hours while driving.  As you can see this begins to impinge on my life.  There is no ability to jump in the car to get some milk if we find we have none; I must wake a certain time before driving to make sure all the checks are done; I cannot rush someone to hospital in my car unless I have delayed thirty minutes, though that is something easily done waiting to get an ambulance.  Yet all around me are drivers dropping off at the wheel; drivers whose own blood sugar is so low (because, yes, that does happen to non-diabetics too especially during the evening rush hour) they cannot concentrate and drivers who are so offended by imagined slights that they dissolve into an instant fury which is more dangerous to other drivers than a hypoglycemic attack for which diabetics feel the onset and can be tackling safely before it develops.  In fact contrary to what ill-informed ministers seem to believe, when I drive my blood sugar actually rises leading very slowly to hyperglycemia rather than hypo, but I guess that ministers stop bothering once they have got passed the ‘p’.
As a result of this new approach if I am shunted in a traffic queue and the police are involved, I can be taken into custody even if it was not my fault that the accident happened.  The driver who hit me, even if he fell asleep at the wheel or went into a rage, is allowed to go home.  I have to bring my blood checker and prove all my blood levels for the journey and undergo other blood tests.  Thus, a diabetic, unlike ‘normal’ drivers is assumed to be at least partially guilty, even before there is any proof against him/her.  The consultant I used to visit in West London last year was convinced that soon all his patients would lose their driving licence.  Despite me stating that I had been driving with diabetes for 25 years without an incident, he told me it was inevitable that I would be banned and recounted a man who had had two lower blood sugar readings when sleeping at home, not whilst driving and this leading to him losing his licence.  This attitude discourages diabetics from checking their blood sugar levels for the fear of having a ‘bad’ reading somewhere on their checking device, something apparently the police can demand to see without a warrant despite it containing personal data.  With the numbers of people in the UK with diabetes rising, a whole sector runs the risk of having our lives wrecked by other people’s simply uncaring driving.
The new policy is based simply on ill-informed prejudice.  Where are all the statistics about the thousands of injuries and deaths caused by diabetic drivers?  Why is it that someone who keeps a close check on what their body is doing is discriminated against when someone ‘normal’ still hung over from the night before or still partially stoned has no such checks against them?  They do not have to check their blood and be able to show the police on demand what level their alcohol or drug level is at even when they are not responsible for the crash.  I do recognise that anyone involved in a traffic accident, even bystanders who have come to assist can now have their blood alcohol levels checked: another clever policy from the government which discourages people from helping out at incidents for fear of being sucked in themselves.
I do wonder what step the government will take next.  Will asthmatics have to blow into a bag, video themselves on their phone and email it to the police in each constabulary as they drive through?  Will people who suffer migraines have to whack their head against a government-issue brick to show they are not suffering a migraine before they drive?  Will people with eczema have to carry a diagram of the areas of skin they have lubricated before getting in the car in case some skin flakes fall over the steering wheel so distressing a ‘normal’ person as they speed past?  The policy does nothing to aid road safety, it is simply a policy which taps into the paranoia that is such a vote winner in the UK.  The consequences for the ordinary, yes normal people who happen to have diabetes, caught up by this system can be a wrecked life forced to travel on prohibitively expensive public transport and unable to hold certain jobs making them more likely to be unemployed and dependent on the government.  However, is it any surprise that we see irrational regulations coming from the clueless government of today?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Enough Already: Too Much Praise For Thatcher

Following on from my reminder four years ago: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/bitter-legacy-of-margaret-thatcher.html 
I guess I am not the only person who has been angered perhaps even sickened by the incessant coverage of the death of Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013).  I am sure it will drag on until the actual funeral on 18th April.  At least some of the media acknowledge that she was a 'divisive' politician.  However, few seem to point out that whilst 28% of the population think she was the best prime minister Britain had, many of the majority utterly despised her and all that she stood for.  Her greatest success is probably to have survived until a government was elected that actually made hers look moderate in some respects.  Thatcher denied the existence of society whereas Cameron clearly believes in it and is driving very hard to restore the pattern it had in the mid-19th century if not earlier.

I am sickened that there is to be a military-style funeral for Thatcher.  It is called a ceremonial funeral rather than a state funeral; this is the style that was introduced for Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.  The Queen is attending, so the difference to a state funeral is minimal.  The military involvement seems particularly inappropriate as Thatcher's policies led to the death and mutilation of British soldiers in an unnecessary war which was carried out primarily for her personal electoral benefit.  There are people who are dead who would have been alive if Thatcher had not been elected.  They did not receive a ceremonial funeral.

There are millions of people whose lives have been wrecked because of Thatcher.  Generally they are not the people who are asked to comment, though I am glad that there has been some coverage from former coal-mining villages and from MPs willing to speak out against her.  Whole communities were wrecked by her policies.  Thatcher aimed to destroy the coal mining industry right from the beginning of her regime and stock-piled two years' worth of coal for the purpose.  Her policy not only drove up unemployment and the associated costs in police overtime payments and social benefit for those made jobless, but also put Britain's fuel security at risk.  We face a large challenge in providing enough energy in Britain and are having to pay for expensive gas, simply because of the fuel policy of the Thatcher years.

Thatcher praised greed and rewarded those who exploited others.  The selling off of utilities to companies that make vast profits and provide an ever declining service at rising costs were another direct Thatcher policy which we are still suffering from even today.  The risky adventurism of the financiers of the City of London freed and encouraged by Thatcher led to the dire economic circumstances of today which continue to lead to unemployment and the destruction of the lives of millions.

Thatcher promoted the privatisation of public services at local authority level and created the marketplace in the National Health Service which directly led to the death of patients in locations such as Mid Staffordshire and right across the health service due to 'super-bugs' allowed to persist through insufficient hygiene by private cleaning companies.  The compulsion to have the cheapest service ironically fuelled the demand for cheap migrant labour which the Conservatives now feel is a problem themselves.  Without Thatcher they would not be facing that challenge.

Thatcher's policies through the compulsory selling of social housing has led to the homelessness we see today, not simply people living on the streets but families jammed into unhealthy bed & breakfast hotels across the country.  This is a costly way to house people.  They are not tenants; they suffer ill-health because the conditions are poor and they cannot eat well.  Living in a council house was never luxury but it did not push adults and especially children into the difficult situations they are with the current policy on housing.

I could just keep going on and on about how much Thatcher damaged Britain and the lives of millions of people living here.  Cameron follows a different form of Conservatism to Thatcher as he does not even both to try to reach out to ordinary Conservative voters and has seen a rapid reduction in the police and armed forces that were strongly supported by previous Conservative governments.  Yet, despite all Cameron's praise for Thatcher, his government is having to deal with many social and economic problems created by her government.  The things they whine about are a legacy of her smashing up of British society as it had been developing.  She left a legacy which still impinges on us thirty years later in so many bad ways.  Yes, some people have prospered, but they were the privileged anyway and would have done well whoever was in office.  Their prosperity, however, clearly provided no benefit to Britain as it is a more dangerous, poorer and more unhealthy place than it was in 1979.

Given this record and all that Thatcher rained down on this country, I guess no-one will be surprised that I find it impossible to listen to any comments about how 'impressive' she was.  She had rigid ideas that have meant misery for millions of people even after she left office and no doubt for years, probably decades after her death.  If I believed in Hell I know she would be there answering for all of her crimes.  Unfortunately in this secular world, it is just those who have suffered as a result of her policies who have to keep reminding society actually what has been inflicted on them and whose fault it was that of Margaret Thatcher.