Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Not had much time to blog recently, mainly because life has got in the way. But my imagination has been caught by a superb series of articles David Rohde has written for this weeks New York Times.

Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban in November 2008, together with his translator and driver. There followed eight months of captivity, including frequent promises of release, the making of those terrifying videos we've all seen and sundry other terrifying hardships. Finally Rohde and one of his colleagues managed to escape, after tiring out their guards by an endless game of chequers and then disappearing over a compound wall.

Rohde has had a unique insight into what the West is dealing with in Afghanistan. The series is a must-read if you're into journalism and want to know about the growing perils faced by some of the people who do it for a living.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Sat in a comfy chair at home musing on our experiences in America. Result: lovely country but I'm glad I don't have to live there. It really is survival of the fittest in the Land of the Free. All through the trip I watched the health care row take form on tv and the web. I struggled to get into the complexities, and will stand correcting, but it appears to be based on the concept of insurers commissioning care from the health system on behalf of clients. Naturally this only works if you have the resources to get the insurance. If you have insufficient resources you don't have a policy - unless you have none at all in which case the state can step in - or if you're over 65 in which case you get 'medicare' benefits (which it has to be said seem very good).

The majority of young people take the risk, don't buy a policy, and hope they won't become ill. So a large proportion of the population pays nothing at all into the health system. If they do get ill that's a problem because you can't get insurance if you have a pre existing condition. The cost of health care has in any case ballooned in the US, as it has in all industrialised countries, but in the US to a really radical degree. It now accounts for 16% of the country's GDP, up from just 8% in 1980. At some point a bill will emerge 'from the hill'. For what it's worth, and I'm no expert, I reckon it'll be Obama's defining moment in this term.

It was exciting to be in a country that can faces up to this problem with heated debate and a proper democratic process, albeit swayed by the lobbyists. And as we travelled I got a real sense of ordinary Americans wanting something sorted out; I think back to Georgia when I met a man at breakfast who faced a bill of over $1000 when his daughter picked up a minor sports injury; only a proportion of the bill which was largely borne by his employers policy .

The country as a whole feels as if it's weathering a difficult period. Two wars. The health care problem. The economy still very much in a trough, with more unemployed this month than even the analysts were expecting. But I got the sense, speaking to people, of a country with a great sense of pride in itself, and a sense of purpose that I rather wish we had over here.

Friday, October 02, 2009


To the Lower East side to take in the Tenement museum, which is absolutely superb. It centres on the Moores family who arrived in New York from Ireland in the 1860's. The tour guide takes you up the steel stairs into the building on Orchard Street and around the tiny insanitary space the family lost a child in, and which hasn't materially changed since the thirties..

Researchers know a lot about the family and have even spoken to their descendants. The tenement was built in 1862, which makes me wonder what happened in in our house, built 1876?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Museum Revisited

From NY

Slipped away from Ms T and her foodie mate from Chowhound (they were engaged on a Mission to a Market) and headed uptown to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. I've been before but it's worth a revisit because of the remodelled Greek and Roman antiquities gallery. Their collection is rivalled by the British museum, but only when the UK's key museum actually has the staff to open all its galleries..

Here there's polished gems from Knossos, an entire Bronze age chariot and the most superb collection of ancient Greek vases - starting from approximately 600BC - I've ever seen anywhere. They ask for $20 for admission (non compulsory) to this and the rest of the museum which has apparently kicked off a very New York row...