Category Archives: reflection

We are losing what it is to be human

When my daughter Tamara was born I was fortunate to have a sensible down to earth mother who encouraged me to breast feed. This was 1971 when it was becoming fashionable for young women to ditch the breast and take up formula feeding. I happily followed mum’s advice and never regretted it for a moment. Breast feeding is natural and of course really convenient and more importantly a perfect feed for baby. Not just nutritionally but replete with immunity. This brings me to the subject of herd immunity – natural herd immunity. We hear our so-called health experts speak of the need for herd immunity in the context of vaccines. But herd immunity is not obtainable from vaccines. Vaccine-acquired protection from childhood infections does not last whereas the natural infection with its fever and rashes extends immunity and is reinforced by others when they come down with the illness.

Herd immunity is gained in the following way. As a child before the age of vaccines it was common to have infections such as measles mumps, rubella, and chicken pox. A few days off kindergarten or school and then you were well again. We never heard of children having complications from the natural infection. When babies are breast fed this natural immunity is passed on and is protective of  baby in the early months of life. Then when our children have measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox the adult immunity to these illnesses is reinforced – this I think of as herd immunity. Take the case of chicken pox, a mild infection. Before the current age of vaccines chicken pox immunity among adults was regularly reinforced by the young around them who had the natural disease. In this way elderly people, often susceptible to shingles were protected from the painful and debilitating disease. This naturally acquired immunity is disappearing now that children are vaccinated for these mild childhood infections and everything else – even against influenza. Nature has it right. Breast is best, and a dose of a mild infectious disease makes us stronger.

Fear is a great motivator and our media at the behest of health departments and the pharmaceutical industry have exploited the fear of disease to such an extent that most of society think that vaccines will prevent childhood disease and the rare death. Before the age of vaccines there were around 10 cases of death from measles in Australia and these sadly occurred in areas of poverty and disadvantage. Infectious disease deaths fell before widespread vaccination. Factors that resulted in reduced deaths were improved nutrition, sanitation and hygiene.

Similarly when we turn to the issue of cervical cancer and prior to the 2006 release of Gardasil, the media message was intense and scarcely a day passed without a horrifying cervical cancer story accompanied by the promotion of an auspicious, imminent vaccine. This message reached an uninformed public, most of whom had never heard of this virus but were now  anxiously waiting for a vaccine to become available as quickly as possible. Poverty and environmental factors such as smoking, poor diets and even natural ageing were displaced as causation in favour of the human papilloma virus or wart virus. The outcome of this propaganda has led to over 70,000 adverse events and 314 deaths in young girls and boys after HPV vaccination.

We need to turn this around. There are many awful things happening in the world today but this one could be stopped tomorrow if there was a will. In the words of Dr Sherri Tenpenny: “True health cannot come from a needle. Injecting people with something to try to keep them well is a 200 year mistake.”

 

 

 

 


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‘Bande de Filles’- Girlhood

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If you think your life is difficult, or that your future lacks promise, well check out Girlhood, a film by Celine Sciamma, released in France as Bande de filles, or Girl Gang.

Many reviewers have written that this film was about female empowerment but I fail to see how they have come to this conclusion. Instead, I think that Girlhood is a stark reminder of the struggle which continues for the needs and rights of women to education and a decent livelihood.

Protagonist Mariame lives in the poor suburbs of Paris in a high-rise apartment with her mother who we rarely see for she is the sole bread-winner; her abusive brother; and her two sisters for whom Mariame provides daily care. Girlhood shows us a view of Paris that we don’t usually see. Life is tough; there are street gangs and drug deals and for Mariame the chance of a better life seems unlikely for at sixteen she is unable to continue with high school due to her low grades. She leaves home knowing that if she stays she faces a life such as the one led by her mother who cleans hotel rooms for a living or married to her boyfriend and bearing his babies. Marianne knows this is not the life she wants.

But there are dangers in the real world and for a time Mariame teams up with a desperate girl gang even stealing for them and funding their entertainment, their drinking and drug taking. And the bleak realities of her life continue to surface as Mariame now known as ‘Vic’ starts selling drugs. Dressed in her small red dress, her short blonde wig and balancing awkwardly on her stillettos, the teenager from the African diaspora is most uncomfortable and at the end of the deals quickly retreats from her sexualised appearance to baggy jeans and sweatshirt – her hair cut short and her breasts bound tight.

Finding a way out of her dilemma is difficult. She has left the employ of the drug dealer and has nowhere left to go. We witness the young teenager seeking solace with her boyfriend but the wise young woman knows this will not work in the long-term. She hesitatingly knocks on the door of her family home but doesn’t go in. This is no solution. At the final scene we see her standing on a balcony contemplating her next move. There is silence, we wonder, and then she struts across the screen. There is some lightness in her final steps and we are left to hope.

Screen shot 2015-09-06 at 2.16.11 PMBefore the screening of Girlhood at the Nova Cinema last week we were shown a preview of a forthcoming film He named me Malala which Chronicles the amazing life thus far of the globally beloved education and children’s rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai. At the age of 15, Malala was famous only in her home region of Swat Valley in Pakistan, where she was an outspoken advocate of education for girls. This all changed when she was attacked by Taliban gunmen, who shot the teenager in the head. Miraculously she survived, and her story reverberated around the world in shock, outrage, and awed wonder at her bravery. Her passion for the rights of girls to education continues and as we saw so clearly evident in Girlhood in the plight of Mariame and her gang, for the young women who don’t have an education and a chance at a decent job, the road ahead and away from poverty and abuse is a really tough one.

 

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Daddy, what did you do in the war?

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Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

Taken from Chiaroscuro, Melbourne award-winning poet Sandy Jeff’s new book in which she explores the tension of a world that is a place full of dark and light and where humour and sadness intermingle in a show that must go on.

 

 

 

jeffsc-cover-thumbThe Sergeant

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War

Well, darling, I saw the young men come into bootcamp

and being their sergeant

it was my duty to turn boys into men

into fighting men, you know

so me and some mates initiated them by

shoving a broom handle up their arse

forced slops down their throat

made them drink their own semen chucked them into a shower

and scrubbed them with a wire brush

rubbed their dick and balls and arse with boot polish

sodomised a young bloke

this is the way it is, you know, it’s a boys club

gotta let them know who’s in charge

hell it happened to me and I’m ok

yeah, I’m serving my country and doing me best to turn out real fighting men

you should be proud of me.

 

The Recruit

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

Well, darling, first I went to bootcamp

I was taught how to kill

then I was bastardised by me superiors

they shoved a broom handle up my arse

forced slops down me throat

and made me drink semen

they chucked me into the shower and scrubbed me with a wire brush

then rubbed me dick and balls and arse with boot polish

and the sergeant sodomised me

so to get me mind off it

I gave the sheila recruits a hard time

I even secretly filmed meself banging one of them

yep, I was there to serve me country

so I went to war

and killed a lot of men

some women and children too

and ya gotta let the shitheads know who’s boss

so I raped a few of their women

it’s what happens in war

but when me mates got killed

jeeze, that was the hardest

I’m telling ya, I was shit-scared all the time

and being away from me family was hard

jeeze I was lonely

but I’m home now and I feel lousy

I think about topping meself all the time

lots of me mates have done it

jeeze I miss them

I feel so rotten

I’m telling ya tomorrow’s tragedy

from yesterday’s war

yeah, war’s a bloody bugger…a real bugger.

 

 

Men in the great war did many things that we don’t want to talk about, we’d rather see the diggers as heroes, as brave Anzacs. But there’s another untold story and that’s the story of venereal disease in the Australian Army.

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 7.41.08 PM  The Secrets of the Anzacs: The Untold Story of Venereal Disease in the Australian Army, 1914-1919 written by Raden Dunbar reveals secrets and astonishing statistics such as the fact that during World War 1, about 60,000 soldiers in the Australian army were treated by army doctors in Egypt, Europe and Australia for venereal diseases – almost the same number of diggers who were killed during the war. Janet McCalman, author of Sex and Suffering described Dunbar’s story as  ‘a timely and necessary contribution to the centenary of Anzac.’ 

Most of these men had been infected with venereal disease in the brothels of Egypt. In the 1880s 40,000 British soldiers landed in Egypt and stayed and were the customers of the numerous bars, brothels and sex shows. In 1914, AIF forces from Australia that were headed for England via the Suez Canal were ordered to disembark and to set up their camps close to Cairo with the result that thousands of cashed-up Australians were living very close to the infamous brothels of Cairo and very far from their families at home.

Dunbar writes that the boys had money and freedom and regularly frequented the ‘Wozza’, an irresistible and fabulous place that was really a collection of squalid run-down apartment buildings known for venereal diseases: gonorrhoea, syphilis and chancroid. Condoms were not in common use in 1915 and the healing power of antibiotics was yet to be discovered. Abstinence from sex was the only sure way of avoiding the disease with prophylactic treatments such as antiseptic ointments to be applied to the genitals proving unpopular and rubber condoms extremely uncomfortable. In 1915 gonorrhoea, syphilis and chancroid were treated with drugs made from mercury, arsenic and silver and other toxic materials.

Claire Wright, author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka writes:

 The Secrets of the Anzacs is a full-frontal assault on our senses and our historical sensibilities. Deeply researched and always fascinating, Dunbar helps restore the Anzac legend to something more tangible, more complex, and, oddly, more heroic.’

In this interesting book, Raden Dunbar, retired schoolteacher, principal and university lecturer and author rarely mentions the prostituted women and only briefly acknowledges the wives, girl friends and mothers of the men. His concern and interest is for the infected soldiers of whom one in ten were married. But what of the prostituted women? Why were they forced to prostitute themselves? What do we know about the sex industry in WW1? Were the women in the brothels treated for their venereal disease? What about the wives and girlfriends? Were they infected also?

I would have hoped that researcher and author Claire Wright winner of the 2014 Stella Prize would have commented on the obvious omission in Raden Dunbar’s untold story of venereal disease in the Australian Army, 1914-1919- the women’s story.  In The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Wright researches the history of Victoria’s gold rushes and the Eureka Stockade – addressing the recording of this episode which has largely ignored the presence and influence of women on the gold fields.

Little is known about what happened to the women who worked in the wartime brothels, especially after the war ended. If it is known that 60,000 Australian soldiers got either gonorrhea or syphilis while serving, then a great many of these women also suffered these diseases.

Their story remains untold.

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Why stop at poppies!

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It was common at the start of the 20th century to speak of ‘ Australian Ideals’. What are our values and ideals today? Perhaps those who so generously supported the 5000 Poppy campaign could use their goodwill to help Australia progress rather than feed its militaristic tendencies. And rather than answer the call to knit or crochet a poppy perhaps these resources could be spent on the many social problems of our time. Why stop at poppies! Continue reading

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What price marriage?

Screen shot 2014-12-08 at 10.45.57 AMMy sister and her partner are going to marry. Both had long previous marriages which they were happy to leave. They had brought up their children and once they were gone found the marriages over, pointless, empty and left.

My best friend left me and married again. Thanks Loretta for telling me that you married your best friend – formally my best friend. I would never have imagined him remarrying nor did I think my sister would be taking matrimonial vows again.

My sister, four years my senior was an early devotee of feminism. While married and with young children she studied women’s studies at university in the 1980s. Her liberation ensued; she began to smoke and had her own ‘room’ . Her husband seemed supportive of her new-found freedom and their fragile marriage limped on for a few more years.

I never imagined my former best friend would marry again and yet he did. He didn’t agree with monogamy, said if anything he preferred an open marriage – having the occasional extramarital affair but remaining married. Having it all ways really.

And several years ago my former husband remarried. I wasn’t surprised at his decision to marry for he never wanted to divorce and needed a woman to own. But all has not gone smoothly for this marriage which recently experienced a messy breakup, followed by a mutual reconciliation and at present the rocky relationship continues.

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And as I write this blog my daughter is tying the knot on a romantic holiday in Thailand. This is the first time for her and the second try for her husband to be – I wish them the best of luck!

Seems everyone wants to be married-I wonder why. I couldn’t wait to be out of my 17 years of marriage. In the late 1960s and early 70s it was still uncommon to leave your family and live with a partner. To do this you had to be married so most people did. I think that my marriage survived as long as it did due to the flurry of activity that was involved having children and rearing them. One just got on with it. There was not a lot of time to think things through and although the disagreements and fights were common the union continued until a certain point when it became impossible. It was then that I had to make the big break and have the marriage dissolved.

There was no freedom to be my self within my marriage. When I returned to study and became pleasantly absorbed in student life, I knew that it was time to leave my marriage. My husband could not stand my new love of learning for I was less available to him. This freedom to learn and change is difficult to do in the traditional marriage. Marriage is, after all a patriarchal institution. Even though the intent of the modern marriage and hopefully the practice has changed it still has at its roots the ownership of women and children by men – its establishment and its continuance being heavily supported by the state and the church.

Screen shot 2014-12-21 at 11.56.43 AMAnd so I have to wonder why being single isn’t given the same recognition and support. To be able to function, earn a living, contribute to society as a single woman should be seen as a worthy way to live. I have time to think, learn and write – these are really valuable components of a rich life, well lived. Of course there are many downsides. I have just returned from a visit to a neighbour who is unable to walk due to a foot operation that will put her out of action for six weeks. She tells me that her husband is doing the house work and caring for her daily needs. I would not have this help and must maintain my independence by looking after my health and fitness. But I believe this is a small price to pay for having an authentic life.

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In search of cerebral content

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What happened to the opinion page? Remember The Age  when it was a broadsheet and there were three or more opinion pieces in the middle pages that bordered the letters to the editor. These were lengthy pieces of analysis  on topics relating to current public debate. Usually 800-1000 words of worthy content  engaging the reader and leading to enjoyable swapping of ideas and information among family and friends later in the day. Of course there are still opinion pieces  in The Age but these are poor replacements, and badly positioned so as not to be  easily seen and rarely read.

And as for ABC radio: Jonathan Holmes former host on ABC TV’s ‘Media Watch’ and now a columnist at The Age recently wrote about content in this digital era lamenting the fact that on Radio National, long-form, specialist journalism is being down-sized in favour of the radio equivalent of fast food. This is sad for those of us who like to read and listen to programs that make us think and not just designed to dumb us down.

Article%20Lead%20-%20narrow6376523111ysdvimage_related_articleLeadNarrow_353x0_11ypkf_png1417557002488_jpg-300x0And it’s not just radio, TV and newsprint that are changing for the worse, it’s the cinema too. Reflecting on her 28 years presenting ‘The Movie Show’, retiring presenter Margaret Pomeranz says: the big change has been how much money has come to dominate the industry, with studios bankrolling sequels but not taking risks on smaller films.

And then there’s the publishing industry – same problem, different product. This time it’s books and the wonderful ideas within that are at risk from technology giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple .

The blurb for  Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing written by Susan Hawthorne reads:  In a globalised world, megacorp publishing is all about numbers, about sameness, about following a formula based on the latest megasuccess. Each book is expected to pay for itself and all the externalities of publishing such as offices and CEO salaries. It means that books which take off slowly but have long lives, the books that change social 269norms, are less likely to be published.

Independent publishers such as Susan Hawthorne of Spinifex Press are seeking another way. A way of engagement with society and methods that reflect something important about the locale or the niche they inhabit. In  Bibliodiversity Hawthorne writes that Independent and small publishers are like rare plants that pop up among the larger growth but add something different, perhaps they feed the soil, bring colour or scent into the world.

We need to cherish our remaining newspapers, our beleaguered ABC , and nurture our book and movie industries from which we gain so much.  And in the words of author P.D James who died last week: Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.

And hang on to the dwindling hope that good content sees the light of day in a world where money, not thought, rules.

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Our world in transition

Petra White wrote this evocative poem, published in The Age on Saturday October 11

A History of the Siege

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Dark days are here.

Nothing can stop them,

they crowd like hair around the temples,

everyone knows

and now we can say, at last, it is dark.

On Manus, they are walking along fine edges of themselves,

under a borrowed moon, a borrowed sun.

Nobody follows them, they would lead

only to an end of the world.

When was it darker than this?

Oh it was darker.

And the darkness is genuine,

our fingers have been dipped in it, it is felt

by all who would feel.

Where does it come from?

Us, in our masses, the massing cloud?

Our politicians, they who balance us

in their thready hands, and then plunge portions

of us and them into the pit?

Up there, a human form lies over the land.

 

I really appreciate this poem; it speaks of our world today.

Our dark times was the subject of a recent article by Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, in which he wrote: 

We appear to have reached one of those extraordinary moments in history when people everywhere, communities and even entire nations, feel increasingly stressed and vulnerable. The same may be said of the planet as a whole.

JosephCamilleriProfile

Last night I attended the second of Joseph Camilleri’s  public lectures called Rethinking the Future. His topic:  Coping with Risk and Uncertainty: Volatile Markets, Anxious States and Tentative Social Movements. He described our world as one in transition where people, goods & services, capital, technology, arms, information, images, carbon emissions, and viruses move across borders at ever increasing scale, speed & intensity. Such rapid transition, he claimed creates certain risks and stresses experienced by people, communities and the planet. We’re familiar with the stresses and we also understand that these will only get worse.

But what was really disconcerting was his assessment of our governments’ abilities to handle the many crises facing us – describing this as very limited. You can give up any hope that those in power will come to their senses and govern ethically with concern for the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants. For they are accustomed to finding themselves trapped between competing pressures and maintain the tendency to overstate certain dangers and understate others. For example: The Australian government’s overreaction to refugees and on the other hand its understating of the need to act on climate change. We witness this happening of course but it is good to have it explained, and more debate and discussion on this state of affairs can only be a good thing.

So where is any change or agitation to come from? During the lecture we were reminded of the wonderful social movements that graced our lives in the 1960s and 70s: feminism, student activism, gay liberation, civil rights, peace activism, and environmentalism.  Such movements:

  • politicised technological change
  • called into question the legitimacy of the state, its decision making processes, and in particular its inability to manage risks to life, health, security and identity
  • insisted on bringing ethical considerations into bureaucratic and technical discourse
  • Expressed a new conception of space & time

These social movements are still in existence but are less visible and less active. They are unlikely to gather sufficient numbers to force change.

Joseph Camilleri concluded rather optimistically that though the future will be difficult, all is not lost; dynamic knowledge remains, our technical skills enable greater transparency and accountability, and there is increasing disenchantment with politics and business as usual.

This is a good sign although disconcerting as unrest is sure to ensue as the public sector shrinks and with it diminished access to public health, housing, and a healthy, happy environment.

Bring on the revolution!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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