Private health insurance is a joke

I've just signed up for private health insurance. The system has changed so remarkably in Australia that you're effectively forced to sign up to one. If I didn't I'd end up paying an extra 1% income tax, which between the two of us would be more than the cost of the insurance.

The problem is, this is possibly the worst Confusopoly around. Everything about the way the insurance companies provide information is geared towards forcing you to select the wrong options and stopping you from making direct comparisons. There are sneaky weasel words, exclusions and options all over the place. There's just no way for the average consumer to make an informed choice!

What's worse is there aren't any decent consumer tools out there to help you make the right choice. In the UK most confusopoly industries have excellent services like uSwitch and MoneySavingExpert that actually allow ordinary consumers to make an informed decision, cutting through the weasel words and fine print to allow direct comparisons.

Choice did a reasonable job but their information is now out-of-date and won't be fixed until July. Having read some of this fine print, I imagine it's a big job.

If our ruling junta are going to force us into health insurance, there needs to be a way for consumers to make an informed choice. I would suggest a government- or industry-funded independent comparison service, perhaps operated by a trusted third-party like Choice, with all insurers required to submit timely information in a pre-defined format so that cross-industry comparisons can be made. It's the only reasonable way forward.

Of course it was all a lot easier when we had a high quality public healthcare system, but Howard and his cronies seem intent on bleeding that once-great institution until we end up with an American-style healthcare system where the poor just die from treatable health problems.

It should be pointed out that Americans pay twice as much for their healthcare, both through the government and with private insurance. The Economist ran a great graph about a year ago showing comparitive costs separated out by private and government expenditure. America's "government" segment of the graph was as big, per-capita, as the UK's. They then paid as much again in private expenditure, while the UK has a very small private healthcare expenditure. Hardly the cost-effective way to do healthcare!

Anti-phone spam list opens

The Australian Do Not Call register has finally opened so you can register to not have phone spam. Of course our government in their infinite wisdom has exempted charities, organizations peddling superstition and political parties. So if you're working in an outbound call centre and phone me on behalf of any of these kinds of organizations after the end of this month, you can expect a torrent of abuse. Yes, you're just trying to make a living, but so are pimps and crack dealers.

Why nukes? Making sense of the political equation

Plutonium PeteHoward is radioactive

I've been thinking about this great push to nuclear power in Australia, and wondering why it's happening. Modern politicians don't push hard on something like this without a reason. They'll either think it's electorally successful, or have some other motive for pushing it.

Howard's motives are pretty easy to discern. Nuclear, like the mythical "clean coal", allows him to effectively do nothing that changes the status quo while still being able to say he's doing something. It takes the heat off doing something real like giving carbon a price. It's also, of course, completely the opposite of his espoused economic ideals: he's picking the winner, rather than pricing in the external cost and letting the market decide. Who woulda thunk that the old anti-Communist would go for a planned economy?

There's another thing Howard knows here, and that's Labor being hopelessly split about the issue. The conference seems to have decided to expand uranium mining, which means every argument put forward by Peter Garrett can be deflected by pointing out how he has compromised his principles. Easy to attack someone for compromising his principles when you yourself don't have any to compromise.

Labor's support for nukes is altogether less obvious. The CFMEU is powerful within Labor, but I can't see that as being the reason.

Do Labor have some kind of polling data that shows Australians support expansion of the nuclear industry? I seriously doubt it. Most Australians' understanding of nuclear energy is limited to Hiroshima and Chernobyl, which aren't exactly positive images. It just seems really bizarre that Labor would think they're on a winner with the electorate here. Unless there's marginal seats to be had around Roxby Downs, Jabiluka and Ranger, which still seems like a lot of work for a few seats.

Which of course leaves us to the usual corrupting influence: money. But even there, either the mining companies are getting a really great deal or the donations have only been made recently. Searching for this finds that in 2004-2006 (financial years) mining and logging ("resource" being the euphemism) companies donated $368,350 to political parties. Of this, a large proportion appears to be coal companies and Gunns (old growth forestry).

Of those with a direct interest in uranium mining: Rio Tinto (including their coal subsidiary's donations), owner of Ranger and Jabiluka mines, donated $12,000; BHP (again including their coal subsidiary's donations), owner of the Olympic Dam mine, gave $31,850.

So if these electoral donations have resulted in the expansion of uranium mining and the possible introduction of nuclear power in Australia, it represents and incredible return on investment for these companies.

I don't get it. Why the push for nukes Krudd?

Shiny new bike

Giant CRX City Pro

Note: one year on, I've blogged about my experiences with this bike.

I just picked up my shiny new bike. It's a Giant CRX City Pro which features Shimano Nexus internal eight speed hub, carbon fibre front fork and seat post. It's incredibly light, certainly the lightest I've ever ridden. The only thing I'd really liked to have changed was the grip gear shift. I much prefer rapid-fire but it'd add $200 to the cost to change it out. Hopefully by the time it comes to replace it, the price will have come down.

The "Pro" variant here means you get the carbon fibre components, mud guards and rack included.

Riding home from Woolys Wheels in Paddington I really enjoyed this bike's zippiness. The frame is pretty aggressive, which suits my city riding style. The hub gears are a dream, thought he lowest gear definitely isn't low enough for touring. I really like the fact you can change gears while stopped at the lights, though it's gonna take me a while to get out of the habit of shifting down as I approach lights.

Next bike-related job will be to restore the Cannondale I had been riding, so I'll have a bike with appropriate gearing for touring.

Bulk egg poaching: success

Yesterday I asked about this bulk poaching method in McGee. No responses so I had to go with it anyway. Turns out I was cooking Eggs Benedict for eleven people. The bulk method worked beautifully, as did the Hollandaise. The tricky part is getting the ham on the muffins in time to grab the eggs as they bob to the surface.

That method, in case anyone's interested, is this. Use a tall stock pot, for every litre of water add 8g of vinegar and 15g salt. I used four litres to get enough liquid. Once it's on a gentle boil, you drop the eggs in. When they're done (about 3 minutes) they float to the surface and you scoop them out with a slotted spoon.

This technique works best with very fresh eggs, which have more thick egg white than thin. You'll still lose some thin white, which will end up floating around the water, but that's fine. You also end up with lovely, boobie-shaped eggs, as the outside of the white hardens slightly as the egg falls down through the boiling water.

This interweb thingy is great

I need to buy a suit for a wedding I'm helping MC. I've got some cheap, nasty suits, including two I had made in Vietnam, that tend to come out for weddings, funerals and occasionally job interviews. I don't wear a suit to work, and my rates get very high for companies that expect me to wear one. Even so, I think I probably need a nice one.

So I type How to buy a suit into Google and, whadaya know, there's a great article about just this task. Brilliant!

McGee's bulk egg poaching method

I'm cooking breakfast for our little food co-op tomorrow. Once a fortnight, we send someone out to Flemington to buy fruit and veg for the 11 households. This means we get a staggering quantity of stuff for about $25. Bargain! Then we meet up at someone's house and have brekkie before divvying up the loot.

I was planning to do an ordinary fry-up on the BBQ, as that's an easy way to cater for the crowds. The weather looks like it's gonna be shite though, so I've changed my mind and I'll do Eggs Benedict. You might think this is a bit ambitious for a crowd, but I actually think it'd be easier to coordinate than most other dishes.

Hollandaise, despite its temperamental reputation, is actually dead easy to make, now that I have the tip given to me by the main dude at my favourite cafe, Martini. All the recipes you read talk about complicated strategies involving double-boilers and simmering over boiling water. Turns out that's the bloody hard way. Instead what you do is heat up your butter and dribble it into the mixture while madly whisking. The butter's heat cooks the mix enough for my tastes, and you still get the nice thick sauce (which is caused by emulsification just like mayonnaise, not protein coagulation). It's always worked perfectly for me. Probably not hot enough for the food hygiene nazis but fine for me.

Now the tricky part of my plan is getting that many poached eggs out without there being quite a delay between each person. I'm planning to try the method given in McGee that is supposedly how it's done in restaurants. You salt the water to a fairly precise ratio, bring it to the boil and then just drop your eggs in. When they're done, they float to the top and you scoop them out. I haven't got the book to hand so can't tell you the secret ratio.

Has anyone used this method? How'd it go?