Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Britain

Under fire in Britain:
Consultants are Overpaid or undervalued?

Mary Braid and Ian MacKinnon report in The Independent:

In the he predominantly middle-aged ranks of the medical consultant, Robert Williams is distinguished by precocious talent.

At 32 he became one of Britain’s youngest eye surgeons. Six years later, his expertise in one of medicine’s more lucrative specialisms earns him more than 90,000 pounds a year.

Like two-thirds of Britain’s 18,000 consultants, Mr Williams treats both health service and private patients. His NHS salary at Worthing Hospital, West Sussex, is 44,000 for roughly 40 hours a week.

He more than doubles his earnings by working 20 hours in the private sector. On an average ‘private’ afternoon, he can perform four or five cataract operations, charging about pounds 700 each.

He admits the sums to be made in private practice initially shocked him. But he is a pauper compared with some colleagues.

Doctors in full-time private practice can make more than pounds 300,000 a year.

For those who combine NHS and private work, William Laing, a leading health consultant, says the top 2,400 consultants earn pounds 95,000 from private practice, and many double this with NHS pay and bonuses.

Those with the highest earnings are invariably orthopaedic and ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors, who build up thriving private practices by performing the most common or expensive operations.

Specialisms like public health and geriatrics are comparative Cinderellas.

With consultants’ earnings so high, there may have been some public glee at last week’s announcement by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission of an investigation into the price guidelines for private operations set out by the British Medical Association.

The BMA rejects suggestions that its guide prices create a consultants’ cartel, preventing competition between doctors. They are, it argues, simply an indication of the ‘going rate’ for a surgical procedure. (Just set the max price and allow competition)

Consultants, however, are beginning to feel persecuted by the questioning of their practices and earnings.

Conscious of their poor public image, few will speak on the record, but some suspect an orchestrated assault on the powerful institutions of the Royal Colleges, which critics say perpetuate an 18th-century guild model of training and education in medicine, turning on apprenticeship, patronage and promotion by preferment.

Two weeks ago, a government working party was set up under Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, to investigate the Colleges’ failure to follow EC directives on the certification of doctors.

The directives, set out in 1977, were designed to allow doctors to work in all EC countries. A leak has already revealed that the Department of Health accepts the complaints from the European Commission that Britain’s system is ‘unlawful and discriminatory’.

Meanwhile, junior doctors are clamouring for admission to the select consultants’ ‘clubs’, arguing that the 10 to 15 years’ training needed to gain specialist accreditation is twice as long as it need be, barring them from private practice and NHS ‘merit money’ or bonuses.

Legal action is being taken to end ‘restrictive practices’.

Dr Anthony Goldstein, a Harley Street rheumatologist who has failed to gain consultant’s accreditation, has won a judicial review of the laws governing specialist medical training.

Private health insurers, increasingly concerned about poor profits and rising costs, are privately delighted by the Monopolies Commission inquiry.

Mr Laing, author of the annual review of private health care, said: ‘Health insurers want as good a deal as possible for their clients and they feel the fees are too high. How the level of fees was set in the first place is lost in the mists of time. But Bupa has never negotiated fees with doctors. They just started from the position that doctors’ charges had to be fully reimbursed.’

David Cavers, managing director of insurers Norwich Union Healthcare, has commissioned a detailed study by private health care consultants.

When it is published next week, it will show that consultant surgeons earn an average of pounds 50,000 a year from their private caseload in just one-sixth of their working week.

If they worked full-time in private practice, their annual salary would be pounds 300,000, compared with an NHS salary of pounds 50,000 a year.

‘You have to ask yourself, is that rate right?’ said Mr Cavers. ‘Initially, private insurers needed to pay a premium to attract consultants, because there were so few in private practice. But now two-thirds of consultants do at least some private work and the supply has gone up dramatically. But fees have continued to rise dramatically. In any other market you would have expected economies of scale.’

Insurers are beginning to examine other ways to force down costs.

Bupa, with the largest market share of about 44% may introduce cost-cutting clinical protocols for consultants.

The Government’s squeeze on consultants began two years ago after complaints that too many were leaving junior doctors to cope while they feathered their nests in private practice.

Ministers introduced new ‘job plans’ for consultants, formalising for the first time their NHS commitments.

Mr Williams believes that the prevalence of ‘shirking’ was exaggerated and the government’s measures to combat it have proved a waste of time.

He estimates that 10-12% of consultants neglected some of their NHS duties and that that remains unchanged. Flexible working patterns mean that much still depends on trust. The vast majority of consultants fulfill their contract or do a little more.

Under his contract, Mr Williams runs three outpatients clinics and three operating sessions a week for the health service.

NHS administrative work and private practice occupy the remaining two working days and spill into his evenings. He prefers not to operate or run clinics at the weekend except in emergencies.

He says it is difficult to know what to charge for an operation, and so the annual BMA guide prices introduced in 1989 are useful. He says rival guidelines produced by Bupa are too low and out-of-step with those of other insurers. ‘I frequently charge a great deal less than the BMA guideline price and in a couple of cases charge a bit more,’ he said.

Professor Miles Irving, chair of external affairs for the Royal College of Surgeons, claims that the BMA guide prices give little cause for concern. He says there is no intentional cartel, and many doctors prefer to follow the Bupa guidelines anyway.

Mr Williams points out that private practice involves costly overheads. He employs two administrators and three nurses part-time and has to fund his own offices. He sees no ethical conflict in combining private and NHS practice. Very committed to the NHS he has no desire to reduce his hours at Worthing Hospital. Private practice is in his own time and never interferes with NHS commitments, he says.

Professor Irving says private practice is a fact of life grasped by Worthing Hospital which is currently considering setting up a private wing in a disused ward. If Mr Williams carried out his private work there, then the hospital would get its cut of the profits which could be pumped back into the NHS.

Mr Williams says estimating one’s professional worth is always difficult. ‘In one sense I am a total parasite. I am trained by the state and I don’t produce anything. But on the other hand I am one of only 400 specialist eye surgeons in England and Wales. This is an extremely competitive profession.’

Related articles

 

Top of British society is a racket for the privileged

Judges sit in the House of Lords

Do you believe graduates from public universities would be caught dead wearing these stupid lawyer hats?
71% of senior judges in Britain were privately educated. Photograph: Toby Melville/REUTERS

Much of the upper crust of British society is a racket for the privileged in defiance of the democratic wishes of the majority.

That really is the core of Elitist Britain, that while 95% of Britons believe “in a fair society every person should have an equal opportunity to get ahead”, the figures in a government report published on Thursday reveal an ingrained unfairness.

Only 7% in Britain are privately educated.

And yet this section of society makes up 71% of senior judges, 62% of the senior armed forces and 55% of permanent secretaries.

It is quite something when the “cabinet of millionaires” is one of the less unrepresentative pillars of power, with 36% hailing from private schools.

The statistics should provoke Britain’s media into a prolonged period of self-reflection.

They probably won’t since 54% of the top 100 media professionals went to private schools, and just 16% attended a comprehensive school – in a country where 88% attend non-selective state schools.

43% of newspaper columnists had parents rich enough to send them to fee-paying schools.

In the case of the media this has much to do with:

1. The decline of the local newspapers that offered a way in for the aspiring journalist with a non-gilded background.

2. The growing importance of costly post-graduate qualifications that are beyond the bank accounts of most; and

3. The explosion of unpaid internships, which discriminate on the basis of whether you are prosperous enough to work for free, rather than whether you are talented.

Why does the unfairness highlighted by the report matter?

As it points out, elitism leaves “leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be”.

They focus “on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society”.

If there are so few journalists and politicians who have experienced, say, low wages or a struggle for affordable home, then the media and political elite will be less likely to deal with these issues adequately.

Instead, they will reflect the prejudices, assumptions and experiences of the uber-privileged.

The flaw with the report is an implicit assumption that inequality is not the problem, but rather that our current inequality is not a fair distribution of talents.

If only a few bright sparks from humble backgrounds could be scraped into the higher echelons,” seems to be the plea.

Certainly Britain is in desperate need of radical measures to ensure all can realise their aspirations, including the banning of unpaid internships, the scrapping of charitable status for private schools, investment in early-years education, and dealing with issues such as overcrowded homes that stifle educational attainment.

But surely Britain’s chronically unequal distribution of wealth and power has to be tackled too.

Libor, Not Labor: Everyone was affected

What is this benchmark rate, the London interbank offered rate (Libor)? The Libor is supposed to be based on the average rate at which large banks can borrow money overnight. It’s not based on actual transactions, and that leaves room for mischief.

Manipulating the Libor is a big deal because it affects the cost of money for almost everyone. The Libor is used to set rates on mortgages, credit cards and all manner of loans, personal and commercial. The amount of money affected by the phony rates is at least $500 trillion, British regulators have estimated.

 published in the New York Times this July 7 under “The British, at Least, Are Getting Tough”:

“THE unfolding story of how Barclays — and, in all likelihood, other big banks — rigged interest rates is full of telling tidbits about the way Wall Street works. It also represents yet another teachable moment.

By now the world knows that Barclays manipulated the most widely used benchmark rate, the London interbank offered rate.  But Barclays is just one member of the cozy club that sets the Libor. And mischief there was, according to e-mails and other documents that Barclays has turned over to regulators in the United States and Britain.

The upshot: traders colluded by posting rates that either helped their bets in the markets or their bank’s perceived financial strength during the harrowing days of 2008.

Barclays is not the only bank under investigation for rigging the Libor. It was simply the first to own up to the behavior and settle with regulators, paying $450 million. Other banks will almost certainly follow, and the documents bound to bubble up in those cases will surely prove fascinating.

One of the most revealing exchanges in the Barclays documents came when a bank official tried to describe why Barclays’s improper postings were not as problematic as those of other banks. “We’re clean but we’re dirty-clean, rather than clean-clean,” an executive said in a phone conversation. Talk about defining deviancy down.

“Dirty clean” versus “clean clean” pretty much sums up Wall Street’s view of cheating. If everybody does it, nobody should be held accountable if caught. Alas, many United States regulators and prosecutors seem to have bought into this argument.

British authorities have not bought on the argument that “dirty clean” is an acceptable basis to be absolved of outright cheating.

Last week’s defenestrations of Marcus Agius (Barclays chairman); Robert E. Diamond Jr.,(chief executive); and Jerry del Missier, (chief operating officer), apparently occurred at the behest of the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority, the nation’s top securities regulator.

(Mr. del Missier have lost his post as chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the big Wall Street lobbying group. His name vanished last week from the list of board members on the group’s Web site.)

MR. DIAMOND seemed shocked to be pushed out. An American by birth, he probably thought he’d be subject to American rules of engagement when confronted with evidence of wrongdoing at his bank.

You know how it works on this side of the Atlantic (USA): faced with a scandal, most chief executives jettison low-level employees, maybe give up a bonus or two — and then ride out the storm. Regulators, if they act, just extract fines from the shareholders.

British officials are taking a different approach with this scandal.

George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, said in a statement on June 28: “It is clear that what happened in Barclays and potentially other banks was completely unacceptable, was symptomatic of a financial system that elevated greed above all other concerns and brought our economy to its knees. Punish wrongdoing. Right the wrong of the age of irresponsibility.”

Mr. Osborne voiced the question that so many have asked recently in the United States: “Fraud is a crime in ordinary business — why shouldn’t it be so in banking?”

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Libor scandal is how dangerous it is to rely on interested parties to set interest rates or prices of financial instruments, rather than on actual transactions conducted by investors.

The Libor has been set in the current and vulnerable manner since the late 1960s. Maybe it has never been rigged before, but who knows?

It is far better to have the transparent and verifiable record of prices created by a tape of electronic trading. Such records are standard pricing mechanisms for many securities. But not all.

Prices of derivatives, especially credit default swaps that trade one-to-one, can still be based on one dealer’s say-so. That’s why a rule proposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that would require pre-trade price transparency in the swaps market is so important.

But it is also why Wall Street is pushing back, especially on the commission’s proposal that swap execution facilities provide market participants, before they buy or sell, with easily accessible prices on “a centralized electronic screen.”

The commission’s rule would eliminate the one-to-one dealings by telephone that are so lucrative to traders and so expensive to investors.

A bill intended to gut the commission’s proposed rule and to maintain dealers’ profits in derivatives failed to go anywhere after being passed last year by two committees in the House of Representatives — Financial Services and Agriculture. That was a good thing.

But there are rumblings in Washington that this bill has resurfaced and that it may be quietly attached to a House Agriculture Committee appropriations bill scheduled for a vote this month. The bill, if passed,

1. would bar the requirement for a centralized pricing platform to shed light on the enormous swaps market.

2. would prevent regulators from requiring that a number of participants provide price quotations to customers, a way to ensure fairness.

It’s hard to believe, in the wake of the Libor mess, that Wall Street and its supporters in Congress would continue to battle against price transparency in any market. Then again, that’s precisely what they did after the credit crisis.

With each new financial imbroglio, the gulf widens between Main Street’s opinion of Wall Street and the industry’s view of itself.

When Mr. del Missier took over as chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association last November, he said: “We will continue to work on maintaining and burnishing the level of confidence investors have in our markets, in our own financial institutions, and in the general economic outlook for the future.”

Given the Libor scandal, let’s just say good luck with that.

 

The European Union (EU): Modern Europe leading human rights; (Nov. 10, 2009)

 

The previous post “European Union (EU) describes Modern Europe” covered a few statistics and then a short description of the EU administrative and legislative institutions. This follow up post will cover what is working, then analyzing what need to be ironed out, and then how the world community is expecting modern Europe to lead.

The 27 European States forming the EU counts 6 States among the twenty leading economy in the world.  By deceasing rank we have USA, China, Japan, India, Germany, Russia, Britain, France, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Canada, Indonesia, Turkey, Iran, Australia, Taiwan, and the Netherlands. Actually, those six European economies constitute about 90% of the EU in economy and in populations.

As a block, the economy of the EU may surpass the USA with a twist: the three largest industrial multinationals in every sector are US.  For example, in aeronautics we have United Technology, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin; in medical materials we have Medtronic, United Health, and Alcon; in Medias we have Walt Disney, News Corporation, and Comcast; in pharmaceutical/biotechnology we have Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer; in informatics we have Microsoft, IBM, and Google.  Besides, the US is the first military power in technology, Navy, Bombers, and aircraft carriers.  The EU is totally dependent on oil and gas energies imported from Russia and elsewhere.  France has adopted a policy of being sufficient in electricity via nuclear energy (60% of the total of France production of energy).  Denmark is 25% sufficient in Aeolian technology and Germany about 15%.

The EU is facing problems. First, the “community vision” is eroding: the decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and disintegration of the Soviet Union sent the wrong message of jumping in the band wagon of US globalization; thus, the well to do citizens wanted to get rich fast by emulating liberal capitalism. Individualism overshadowed the need to resume a common culture of developing institutions that are trained to work toward the common interest and be reformed to keeping the EU spirit intact in human rights and human dignity.

Second, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 took Europe by surprise.  The euphoric undertaking of uniting East Germany quickly exhausted West Germany with the multitude of social, economic and political problems of this unification and captured most of Germany’s resources and time and prevented it to ponder on the EU necessities.  The opportunity to deepen European consciousness for reformed institutions to expanding eastward was missed.

Third, the EU was discussing the two possibilities: either the strengthening the current union for the longer term expansion or hastily absorbing the many eastern European newly independent States.  The political decision was to go ahead and allowing these tiny states to adhere to the union.  I think that this was the appropriate decision because new States had to root their future into a tangible alliance or fall back into past habit, inclinations, and culture; thus, forming close alliances with Russia. The EU was the appropriate framework for ethnic communication and more democratic realization of social aspirations.  The problem is that these tiny States feel that they should aspire to the same standard of living in no times.  The latest financial crash has left al these States in bankrupt conditions and it is up to the rich EU States to salvage this predicament.  Maybe this fact should remind the EU that not all States should enjoy the same rights until they can show the same capability to shouldering responsibilities.

 

The actual challenges are many. First, there is a political space to reconstruct:  The budget of the EU institutions is merely 1% of the gross GNP while States allocate over 30% to re-distribute to collectivities, social protection, and welfare. The richer States are not that inclined to contribute heavily to the social stability of the poorer EU State members. Second, the EU has unified its currency (it overcame the States’ monopolies to issuing paper money) but is lacking a unified economic government.  For example, the EU lacks common public spaces, no political party or organization has been created or formed to focus on specific EU interests, and the EU Parliament has no power to raise taxes to finance common policies.  So far, the government chiefs are wary of relinquishing their interstates legitimacy and power.

As a block, the EU is still unable to challenge the US on crimes against humanity committed by the US and Israel;  it is fully cooperating with the US on taking Israel off the hook in the UN for daily crimes against human dignity, rights, and apartheid policies in the West bank and Gaza. There are a few States in the EU that are showing trends to opposing Israel’s apartheid practices and boycotting its products grown and manufactured in the occupied West Bank; it is the people in these States who have set the stage for human rights and dignity reversal toward the Palestinian endemic plight since 1948.

 

The world community is on its toes: will the EU refresh its initial objective of “community vision” or will it relapse in petty interstates interest of monopolies and idiosyncrasies?  We need the EU to be the caldron of community communication among ethnicities, languages, and cultures. We need the EU to be the social and political testing ground for viable alternatives in vision, institutions, ecological human survival, human rights and dignity. We need the EU to invent new reasons to living together and reducing man inequality.

The European Union is the most striking political and social achievement in the 20th century.  The backbones of most of the UN peace keeping forces around the world are European contingents; the EU is the highest contributor in humanitarian budgets and for reforming obsolete public institutions in the under-developed States. The EU needs a refresher community vision and the world community should raise its voices and aid Europe in its endeavors.

Modern Day Crusaders: The Ashkenazi Spearhead (April 26, 2009)

First, a brief ancient history for context:

The many waves of Crusading forces assembled in Medieval Europe with the avowed purpose of recapturing the Holy City of Jerusalem from the hands of the Muslim “Infidels” were mainly of trading nature: they were meant of securing the spice and perfume routes of India and the Far east Asia via Egypt.

The Crusaders failed to capture Egypt and the objective of investing money in order to securing cheaper spices and perfumes that were transported by land routes through Iran and Turkey did not generate any return and the campaigns stopped.

The maritime crusading campaigns restarted in the 17th centuries by Portugal and Spain.

India and the Far Eastern Asian sources of spices, perfume, and gold were colonized and maritime stronghold ports were established around Africa, India, Yemen, and the Persian/Arabia Sea. The British recaptured most of these colonies and “trading comptoirs” and secured the direct administration of Egypt.

Slightly Modern history:

Britain, France, and Russia realized that it is too costly to colonize the former empires of Iran and Turkey for no major returns since raw materials could be obtained relatively cheaply by maritime routes.

Their best strategy was to weaken these nations and nibble on their neighboring regions.

Russia got interested on the Caucasus triangle of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.

France was interested in Syria and Lebanon.

Britain got mandate over Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. And then oil was discovered in abundance in this region starting in southern Iran around 1906.

The First World War used mechanized troops; diesel engines were substituted to vapor engines as mechanical workhorse for industries. The USA got in the fray since 1920 for oil explorations in the Arabic peninsula and exhibited its colonial ambitions by conquering Cuba and the Philippines from Spain.

Modern history:

Britain enticed the Hashemite king of Mecca, supposedly from the same tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, to support the war effort against the Moslem Ottoman Empire. Britain quickly realized that the Near Eastern population would not mind a “nominal” nomadic king from Mecca but they were too independent and urban to relinquish their desires for autonomy.

Consequently, Britain and France decided that it would be too risky to allow the Near Eastern people to unite under a vital and critical Nation.

The alternative was found by using the Zionist movement as a spearhead to disrupting any unification in the region. The British Foreign Affairs Balfour issued in 1917 a declaration of intent favorable to the settlement of the Zionist movement in Palestine.

In the same year, Britain and France decided to split their mandates over the Near East.

Consequently, the Ashkenazi “Jews” of Central Europe, were encouraged to build agricultural colonies in Palestine in order to establish a “Jewish Homeland” with avowed purpose of re-capturing the Jewish Holy City of Jerusalem.

The modern crusade of the western nations is cloaked in Jewish biblical claims to destabilize this strategic region.

Since 1920, the Ashkenazi Jews were directed by International Zionism to buy and settle Palestine and it was supported by the European governments of Britain and France.

The beginning of Nazi Germany persecutions of Jews in 1933 encouraged the European nations to transfer the Jews to Palestine in order not to alienate Nazi Germany and succumb to its demands for repatriation of the Ashkenazi “Jews” into concentration camps.

It does not mean that the plan to establishing a “Homeland” for the Ashkenazi Jews was inevitable or that the people in the Near East were not aware of the plan and its existential danger. The main troubles were:

First, this region had no credible institutions and lacked unified organizations to counter politically this harrowing plan;

Second,  the surrounding empires of Turkey, Iran, and Egypt were struggling for survival and had no immediate interests in their backyard; and

Third, the mandate superpowers of Britain and France controlled and managed the region and its policies.

The people in the Near East are aware that the State of Israel is a western implant of the same kind of crusaders campaigns in the first millennia.

The Zionist ideology prevented the leadership in Israel in alleviating and changing this perception for over 60 years. There are indications that the USA and Europe comprehend that the game is over and are drawing plans for the counter immigration of the Ashkenazi to their original homelands.

The Sephardic Jews have practically nowhere to go and they will manage to integrate Palestine as they did for thousand of years.

It would be beneficial for the western nations to change their policies of “divide to dominate” in the Near East and start negotiating with the national resistance forces, even if they offer the image of religious resistance forces, because this is the most potent factor when secular conditions are weak.

The western nations need to negotiate with all resistances forces in the region as national resistance to a foreign implant so that the new emerging nation does not fall to the extremist conservative religious ideologies.

This is a long term fight of 20 years and the secular democratic forces in the Near East need to have an opportunity for a fighting chance.

Note: I am perfectly aware that many would use the dismissive “anti-semitism” cliché in emulation of the lazy media approach to hot issues. It is interesting to realize that effective and valuable communication is based on personal reflection with rational thinking as guiding rod.

Cloning therapy: not a science fiction (January 29, 2009)

This is no longer the realm of science fictions: you can repair any sick organ with cloning parts and if you are rich you can extend your life to 150 years.  We don’t need male sperms to clone a complete entity, human or animal.  We don’t need a female nucleus in eggs to clone a complete entity, human or animal.  Soon, we won’t need female eggs; labs would be able to manufacture the “pouch” or envelop of the female egg.  It is going to take some time before human invest on research to circumvent female uterus for incubating fetuses during nine months.  There are human clones on earth. 

Italian gynecologist Severino Antinori announced publicly in 2003 that he has cloned three babies; he was forced to recant and moved his business to Ukraine.  There are many professional institutions cloning human, for a price, after they have been cloning favorite pets of the rich and famous.  No State or institution is about to go public on human cloning; they don’t have to, they just do it.

Let us examine the protocol for clone fertilization which is very close to cloning spare parts.  First phase, a female egg is removed; its nucleus, which contains the genetic instructions, is extracted. A male non-sexual cell (generally taken from the skin) is treated to extract its nucleus (containing the DNA) and implanted in the de-nucleated egg.  Let me remind you that the cell can belong to the same female person of the ovary and it would work equally well!  The new egg contains all the DNA information of the donor.

Phase two: A special cocktail of electric shocks and chemicals aid the cell to regress to a primordial cell that replicates.   Phase three is the process called “blastocyst” that can generate either an embryo for fertilization or the production of specialized spare parts of the various organs such as kidney, liver, heart muscle, or even hair.

Phase four cultivates the different organs by immersing the cell “souche” in a “soup” of proteins and enzymes to normally develop and then be transplanted to the sick donor in order to repair the failing organ.

Three main obstacles for assuring complete success have already been conquered. The first hurdle was taming the chaotic replication of cells; the second problem was the immunological aspect where virulent tumors developed in reproduced cells; and the third problem was the longevity of the organ due to the atrophy of the telomeres.

China, Britain, and the USA are publicly leading the research on cloning therapeutic spare part organs but they are the tip of the iceberg; many specialized institutions in Asia, Turkey, Israel, and India are working full time.

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Saleh (August 10, 2006)

Tayyeb Salih is a Sudanese writer and his book was translated into English by Denys Johnson-Davis.

It is a small novel but powerful, intense, and gripping.  The narrator is a fresh graduate from Britain, earned a PhD in English literature, and returned home after 7 years of absence.  I shall refer to him as the educated man.

The author meets the hero of this story Mustafa Said who has settled his village during his leave.  Mustafa is a Sudanese genius whose brain is like a knife for assimilating all kind of topics and sciences, whose memory is like a sponge in retaining whatever he read, but whose emotions and feelings are as cold as ice.  He grew up to be a robust and very handsome man, his face had Arabic features but his hair was African.

Mustafa lost his father, a rich camel merchant, when a toddler and his stern-faced mother left him to live an independent life, barely emotionally caring for him.  When Mustafa left his mother in order to join an English Middle School in Cairo on a grant she did not raise any fuss and simply told him: “Had your father lived he would have liked your decision. This is your life and you are free to do with it as you wish”.

No tears and no kisses accompanied the farewell.  When Mustafa landed in Cairo, he was taken over by the English Robinsons who were childless.  Mrs. Robinson used to tell him: “Mr. Saeed, you’re a person devoid of a sense of fun. Can’t you forget your intellect?

Mustafa’s mother seemed to have on her face like a thick mask, as though her face was the surface of the sea in order to hide her emotions.  Although the novel never mentioned how Mustafa’s father died, I am under the impression from Mustafa’s sexual drives and cold feelings that his mother, a slave by origin, might have killed his father out of jealousy in a neat fashion that removed any suspicions, and then wrapped herself up within a cocoon of cold sensitivities and distanced herself from any social life.

It might be conjectured that she eliminated him because he and his tribe helped free the English Governor Slatin Pasha escape when he was the prisoner of the Khalifa El-Taaishi.

Mustafa left to London around 1910 and turned to be the jock of all trades in accumulating knowledge from economics, to poetry, to engineering, to drawing, and anything that he set his mind into.

He spent his life in London teaching at universities and wooing the English young girls and married women, pursuing them and offering them expensive gifts until they were reduced to slaves, completely in love with his beautiful dark complexion and mesmerized by his innumerable lies about the life in Sudan, Africa and the desert.

Jean Morris set her eyes on him and drove him mad with love and hatred for three years before she asked him to marry her.  When he pursued her she would avoid him and when Mustafa avoided her she would track him down and rekindle his desires.  Jean managed to drive Mustafa’s girlfriends to commit suicide because they believed that they could not compete with Jean for Mustafa’s strong emotions toward her.

One night, during the period when Mustafa avoided her for two weeks, Jean barged into his apartment, heaped filthy curses upon Anna, Mustafa’s girl friend, and drove her out crying.  Jean took off all her clothes and stood naked by the door.  Mustafa approached her and she commanded him saying: “Give me this expensive Wedgwood vase and you can have me“.  She took the priceless vase and smashed it on the ground.  Then, she asked for his rare Arab manuscript and shredded it to pieces.

Jean pointed to his silken Isphahan prayer-rug.  The rug was a gift from his adoptive mother Mrs. Robinson when he was in Cairo and it was the most valuable thing he owned.  And Jean proceeded to throw the rug in the fire-place.  As Mustafa wrapped his arms around her waist Jean jabbed him between his thighs by her knees and left.

After 3 years of chasing each other Jean told him: “I am tired of your pursuing me and of my running before you. Marry me.”  The got married and she would not let him approach her in bed.  She tried hard to raise his suspicions about her extra marital affairs and flirt shamelessly with every Tom in town but I believe that she didn’t care much about sex, at least not with men.  They went through periods of murderous emotional wars for every time he would hit her she would respond by slapping him back and digging her nails into his face.

On a February dark evening, the temperature 10 degrees below zero, when pipes were frozen and the whole city was a field of ice, Mustafa walked from the station to his house carrying his overcoat over his arm, his blood boiling and transpiring profusely.  He found Jean stark naked on the bed, her thighs wide ajar, waiting for him.

His glances over each part of her body overwhelmed her.  Mustafa raised his dagger and she kissed the blade.  He put the blade-edge between her breast and she twined her legs round his back.  He slowly pressed the dagger deeper and deeper in her flesh while she was saying: “Darling, I thought you would never do this.  I almost gave up hope of you.  Come with me. Don’t let me go alone. I love you, my darling.”  He believed her while she was dying.

Mustafa was sentenced to 7 years prison term.  When he was released before the breaking of the Second World War, he wandered about all Europe before returning to Sudan and settling down in remote village by the Nile.  He married Hosna, a local girl, bigot two sons, farmed his land, raised cattle, and shared responsibilities in the communal projects and committees.

One year, the Nile had a strong flood, the like of it happens once every 20 years, and many in the village died.  Mustafa was considered dead too because his body was not found.  Mustafa is a fine swimmer and I believe that the call of the season of migration to the European north was more powerful than settling down.

A couple of weeks before the flood, he left a sealed envelop to his wife to be delivered to an acquaintance of his in the village, a young PhD graduate in English literature from London.  The letter asked the educated man to be the guardian of his family and to care for it.  A rich old man from the village of seventy who was madly in love with her and who was much married and much divorced asked the narrator to convince Hosna to marry him.

Hosna refused to remarry and told the educated man, who was married and from a tribe that don’t take more than one wife, that she would kill her husband and then kill herself if one is forced upon her.

While the educated man was back in Khartoum, as a civil servant in the education ministry, Hosna was forced by her father to marry the old man.  Hosna had asked the father of the educated man to ask his son to marry her, just because she wanted to live as an independent woman and would not be of any trouble as his second wife.

The father of the narrator resented that woman who took the liberty to taking her affairs in her own hands and denied her request.  The educated man received an urgent cable.  When he arrived Hosna had killed her husband and then killed herself after the old man tried to rape her and had bitten off one of her nipples.

Many of Mustafa’s classmates and the younger generation who lived in Britain recollected that he was an outstanding person, who was the first Sudanese to marry an English woman, to get the British citizenship, to teach at English universities and be given the nickname of “The black English”.

A few of them went as far as affirming that he was an English secret agent, the darling of the English left movement during the pre-war period, and that he belonged to the Fabian school of economics which did not rely on statistics and facts but on general principles of justice, equality, and socialism.

The narrator used the key given to him by Mustafa to open the iron door of the special room of Mustafa that nobody entered or could enter.  It was a modern spacious room with a queen size bed, an up-to-date bathroom, paintings and large mirrors over the walls; just a carbon copy of the design of Mustafa’s apartment in London.  Shelves of thousands of English books from all kind of literature and science were filling the room from floor to ceiling.  Mustafa was in the process of writing several books and did draw the figures of many of the village people.

The novel broached on the effects of colonialism on the Sudan. The British opened roads and rivers to ship armies and weapons first, then they enticed some young Sudanese children to learn the English language, basic reading and writing skills and arithmetic in order to fill minor clerical posts in the government.

They in fact showed favor to nonentities to occupy the highest positions in the colonial period.  When Mahmoud Wad Ahmed, a Sudanese patriotic leader was defeated and brought in shackles to the British High Governor of colonial Sudan, the British General Kitchener said to Muhammad: “Why have you come to my country to lay waste and plunder?”

A dialogue between the educated Sudanese Mansour and Richard the English teacher might be a typical example that is related to the colonial effects on the developing countries:

Mansour: “You transmitted to us the disease of your capitalist economy.  What did you give us in exchange but a handful of capitalist companies that drew our blood and still do?

Richard: “All this is to show that you cannot manage to live without us.  You used to complain about colonialism and when we left, you then create the legend of neo-colonialism. It seems that our presence, in an open or undercover form, is as indispensable to you as air and water.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

December 2020
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