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Weekend read: The post-hope politics of House of Cards



by sjhoward

This is the 2,257th post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 25th July 2014.

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I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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I have enjoyed both series of Netflix‘s remake of House of Cards. I’d argue that the second series was better than the first, but both are better than almost anything else I’ve seen on TV in recent years.

If you, too, enjoyed the series, you’ll likely also enjoy Adam Sternbergh’s discussion of the show, its philosophy, and how it came to be. It was published in the New York Times Magazine. And if you are not already a fan, I’d probably advise watching the first series before reading, as it’s laden with spoilers.

Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro



by sjhoward

This is the 2,256th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 23rd July 2014.

With a little help from my friends, this post will also appear on Medium, Goodreads, Amazon and some other places too, shortly after publication here. Recycling is good for the environment, right?

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I publish a book review every other Wednesday. You can browse all previous reviews here.

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You may know that The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro won the Booker Prize in 1989. You may know that it remains one of the 20th century's most critically acclaimed novels. You may know that it was adapted into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, nominated for 8 Academy Awards in 1994.

Somehow, all of this passed me by. Indeed, when I downloaded it onto my Kindle, I thought it was a new release. Despite having read several of Ishiguro's novels in the past, my addled brain had (very) wrongly confused him with Haruki Murakami.

Yet even with my warped preconceptions, The Remains of the Day blew me away.

It is absorbing, beautifully composed, moving, and deep. The way this novel subtly drew me in and toyed with my emotions put me in mind of a Shostakovich piano concerto: the music does the work of capturing attention and emotion, and before you know it, without any particular effort or concentration, you are drawn into and beguiled by a whole new world.

The novel is narrated by an elderly butler on a road trip in the 1950s. He reflects on his life, and his strive for professionalism and 'dignity'. The characterisation is so complete that when I think of the narrator, Stevens, I think of a person rather than a character. The Remains of the Day is a novel about the nature of relationships: professional, personal, and, almost existentially, with oneself. It has glittering moments of humour which made me laugh out loud. And it has moments of remarkable tenderness – which are almost painful to read – and moments of morality and politics which provide genuine food for thought.

The composition is wonderful. The narrator is not entirely reliable, and infuses much of his commentary with predictable (possibly professional?) bias, but he also accurately reports speech in a way which allows the reader to fill in the gaps. This is hardly an original device, but it is rarely used to such profoundly devastating effect as in this work.

It is a matter of some fascination to me that so many other readers and reviewers describe this novel as 'sad'. Certainly, it reflects on a life which some might consider unfulfilled, and certainly, the tale of the narrator is heart-breaking. Yet I found the novel itself rather life-affirming. The Remains of the Day caused me to reflect on my own life – as all the best novels do – and to reflect with some satisfaction.

If I were to summarise this book in a single word, it would be: beguiling. I mean that in the more traditional sense of the word, both enchanting and mildly deceptive. Ishiguro does all the heavy-lifting in this book, guiding the reader through Stevens's world and gently signposting his flaws. Each word is chosen so carefully as to turn the prose into poetry. This is a challenging book, but by no means a challenging read.

I cannot recommend The Remains of the Day highly enough.

Remains of the Day is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Weekend read: Keep your shirt on Zac – we’d all be better for it



by sjhoward

This is the 2,255th post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 18th July 2014.

This post is sponsored by Dating Direct


I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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Howard Jacobson’s wonderful Independent article uses a powerful mix of haughtiness, humour and persuasion to react to April’s news that Zac Efron had his shirt ripped off at the MTV Movie Awards.

I think the passage of time has somehow made this article even better – perhaps it is because summer’s approach makes its message more timely. I can’t help but think that the missing comma in the headline is intentional, as a lovely punctuation pun.

Oh, and I should apologise to anyone who was in the same Starbucks as me as I searched the stock photo archive for something to top this post… frankly, I’m surprised Starbucks wifi didn’t block some of those results!

Weekend read: Networking for those who hate networking



by sjhoward

This is the 2,254th post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 11th July 2014.

Post sponsored by Argos


I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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I’m no fan of “networking”. I’ll happily chat with most people, but during designated “networking” time, it becomes awkward and exhausting. Little fills me with quite as much dread on a meeting or conference agenda as “networking”.

This weekend, I’m recommending an article by Andrea Ayres-Deets article from TheNextWeb on the very topic of networking. She calls it an ‘Introvert’s Guide’, which sort of put me off the article, as I was a bit worried that it would be full of dichotomising pseudoscience. The first part of the article does have a bit of that, but the touch was light enough that it didn’t make me close the article at once.

What I liked about this article was not so much the advice it gave, but rather the way Ayres-Deets injects her own experiences into it. I found it very endearing, but also found it easy to relate to. I accept that this might seem a weird reason to recommend an vaguely ‘self-helpish’ article, which is exactly the sort of thing I normally hate. But, hey, I enjoyed it, and you might too.

Weekend read: I don’t understand America



by sjhoward

This is the 2,253rd post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 4th July 2014.

Post sponsored by Argos


I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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It’s the Fourth of July, the one day of the year when our American cousins use the date and month in the correct, English, order as a celebration of their independence from Great Britain. And given that Weekend Read day coincides with this auspicious occasion, it seems only appropriate to pick a themed article.

Robicelli’s bakery posted an amusing list of questions about the USA on Medium, aimed mainly (I suspect) at a US audience, but all the more baffling to this UK reader. For example:

If you live in Minnesota or Alaska: did you know there are places where you can live where the elements are not plotting to kill you?

To the people of Kentucky: when I visited, you had smoking sections in all of your gas stations. Do your pumps fuel so slowly that you can’t possibly wait until your car is gassed up before you light up again?

This is an article that’s sure to raise a smile this weekend.

Weekend read: The brainstorming myth



by sjhoward

This is the 2,252nd post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 27th June 2014.

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I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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The people in this stock photo are far too happy for their own good, particularly if they’ve been taking part in a brainstorming session. I suspect I would find spending time with this group on a professional basis… insufferable.

My recommended read for this weekend is The myth of the brainstorming session by Mikael Cho. It’s a post I enjoyed, but only in a conflicted way. I agree with most of what it posits, but I dislike it resorting to over-simplified pop psychology to get where it’s going. I’ve chosen to recommend it more because it’s a view point that I don’t think is expressed nearly enough… and also because it’s quite fun.

Amazon’s Fire Phone is about the ecosystem, not the phone



by sjhoward

This is the 2,251st post. It was published at 10:38 on Saturday, 21st June 2014.

The image at the top of this post is an Amazon press shot.

This post also appears on Medium.

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» News and Comment
» Technology

FirePhone_Hand_Firefly-Icon

In 2013, Apple sold something of the order of $10bn of apps, making profit of the order of $3bn. Estimates suggest a further $2bn profit from iTunes sales. These figures suggest that these two classes of digital content alone account for nearly 14% of Apple’s profit.

As is widely reported, the Google Play store on Android has higher download figures, but brings in only about a third of the revenue of Apple’s App Store (though revenue is growing faster for Google than Apple). The trajectories suggest that Apple’s closed ecosystem will become decreasingly relevant in revenue terms over the coming decades – though I’m sure Amazon would open an iOS app store in moments if permitted to do so.

I suspect that Amazon is playing into the smartphone market with an eye keenly trained on these figures. I buy Kindle books, rather than iBooks or Google Play Books, because I can read them anywhere, on many devices. For Android users, this is already partly true for Amazon’s App Store: apps bought on Amazon’s store can be used across Android, FireOS, and Blackberry devices, yet Google Play or Blackberry app sales are limited to their own ecosystems. Since I own a Kindle Fire, I tend to buy on Amazon’s store even if buying for my Android phone.

Amazon’s move into the smartphone market makes this all the more compelling: if I might, at some point in the future, own a non-Android phone, then I would be crazy to buy apps for my Android device from Google rather than Amazon… especially as Amazon Coins generally make the same apps cheaper via Amazon than via Google.

Amazon’s strategy for digital content has (almost) always been to capitalise on cross-device compatibility. I doubt Amazon expects huge sales for it’s phone: I think it is the digital content market it wants, and that the phone is merely a means to an end.

Weekend read: I was swallowed by a hippo



by sjhoward

This is the 2,250th post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 20th June 2014.

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I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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I’ve an extraordinary recommendation for this weekend: Paul Templer tells The Guardian‘s Chris Broughton about the time he was swallowed by a hippo. Yes, really. It’s just over a year old, but still well worth a read!

BMA wrong to call for repeal of Health and Social Care Act



by sjhoward

This is the 2,249th post. It was published at 16:38 on Friday, 13th June 2014.

Versions of this post also appear on the BMA website and Medium. It's like it's hunting you down wherever you look, begging to be read.

I took the photo at the top of this post at BMA House in September 2012.

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The BMA is asking members to sign a petition asking Government to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The leadership’s rationale is that the Act requires providers to compete, while the BMA believes that “collaboration and not competition is more likely to allow a greater integration of community and hospital services”.

I could not agree more: collaboration is more clearly in the interests of individual patients than competition, and collaboration seems at odds with competition. Yet I don’t think the BMA’s position should be to call solely for repeal of the Act: after all, the Act is not solely about competition. The legislation brought about many changes, some of which are working well.

For example, we are beginning to see the value of a new local authority perspective on influencing the wider determinants of health, as shown by the exemplary nominees for NICE’s local government public health award. This sort of progress can be found in many Local Authorities across England. To campaign for repeal of the Act is to surround this progress with a fog of uncertainty: repeal would reject this progress outright and move staff back into PCTs.

The Act limits the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene in the day-to-day running of the NHS. While the success of this has been questionable at best, we are beginning to see push-back against Government diktat. No one, except perhaps Lansley and Hunt, would argue that the NHS benefits from the Health Secretary holding operational control; yet repeal would reintroduce this.

The Act confers new responsibilities on NICE to support evidence-based social care. The Act provides the first (baby) steps towards regulation of healthcare support workers. The Act gives an unprecedented level of legislative support to research in the NHS. These may be small considerations in comparison to the problems of the Act, but outright repeal would (if I may mix metaphors) cast the baby and the bathwater both into uncertain territory.

How quickly the BMA seems to have forgotten the pain inflicted on our profession through restructure, job uncertainty, and redundancy. Excellent professionals left medicine — and especially public health — to pursue other careers, while others lived for years with the stress of the uncertainty of their positions. For the profession’s trade union to argue for yet another overnight reorganisation “so big, it can be seen from space” seems utterly perverse. Perhaps this is why, despite the BMA’s repeated urging, fewer than 4,000 people have signed the petition. Even if every signatory were a BMA member, this would represent less than 3% of the membership.

Repeal represents only a return to the past. It behoves professionals to put forward an alternative vision. For example, politicians refuse to discuss the threat to universal healthcare of having fewer taxpayers per patient as a result of an ageing population; yet the BMA is uniquely placed to devise a considered, collective, professional vision of the future of the NHS. To campaign only for repeal of what exists, and allow the next government propose and introduce yet another short-term model, seems to me to be a sure route to unhappiness.

The BMA should not call for repeal of the Act: this is opposition without a position. The BMA should identify the most insidious parts of the Act, and work tirelessly to scrap or rework them. But, more importantly, the BMA should thoughtfully advocate for the future health of the nation, not for a return to the systems of the past.

Weekend read: One picture that changed the world



by sjhoward

This is the 2,248th post. It was published at 12:30 on Friday, 13th June 2014.

I recommend an article I've read and enjoyed every Friday afternoon. You can browse all previous selections here.

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Written last Christmas to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the image, Jeffrey Kluger’s TIME article tells the story of one of humanity’s most celebrated images: the Earthrise shot from Apollo 8. As Kluger says,

It’s the picture that was credited with starting the environmental movement, that has been on postage stamps and t-shirts, album covers and coffee mugs, that has been used as a hopeful symbol of global unity at peace rallies and health conferences, on Christmas cards and in works of art.

His story is a great read.

And, in fact, this week’s recommendation is my hundredth in this series. My first recommendation, published in July 2012, also had a space theme. You can browse all of my selections to date on the Weekend Reads page.

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