Category Archives: social change

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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Breast is best

Like most things in life these days feeding a baby has become very complicated and no doubt really expensive. I took a look at some of these infant formula websites and found that babies are not just being fed infant formula for the first few months of life but they can also have a follow on formula when they are  6-12 months old. Even toddlers who are 1-3 years are being catered for with a new product called toddler milk drink. Continue reading

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A Centenary worth celebrating

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While the Centenary of Anzac received blanket media coverage, the three-day conference marking the centenary of the historic 1915 Congress of Women passed largely unnoticed.

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Cheap berries – their true cost

Screen shot 2015-02-20 at 3.27.26 PMAs fearful consumers rush to their freezers and toss out their bags of frozen berries in the wake of the current hepatitis A scare, it’s high time to take a good look at why these berries, dubbed ‘superfoods’ have become so popular and why such importation is problematic beyond the threat of hepatitis A.

Just call them the “blue dynamos,” writes Angela Haupt. ‘Blueberries’, she argues are packed with manganese, an energy-boosting mineral and vitamin K, which helps build bones. Haupt quotes research which suggests that a blueberry-rich diet improves motor skills and helps fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The worried-well can scarcely resist getting their hands on their daily dose of these powerfully marketed commodities. In fact this summer, supermarkets have been using berries as a draw card into the fruit and vegetable section and industry leaders say demand is outstripping supply. But does the hype stand up to scrutiny?

Madonna loves coconut water, Michelle Obama rates sweet potatoes, and Gwyneth Paltrow can’t get enough of quinoa, writes Her research into the superiority or otherwise of ‘superfoods’ has led her to Susan Jebb, new professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, who asserts: “Evidence that any one food has specific effects on long-term health is lacking and usually more to do with PR and celebrity endorsement than scientific evidence of the kind that would be required if a drug was to make such claims. She claims that superfoods aren’t unhealthy and are good to eat but they rarely live up to the hype. Doctor and science journalist Michael Mosley, thinks that  blackberries and blueberries are good for the brain, but he agrees that many superfoods are generally overrated. “The most important thing is a rainbow diet, lots of different colours on your plate so you are getting lots of different phytonutrients, he says. Also berries aren’t unique in containing high levels of beneficial phytonutrients. Other foods including berries, fruits, vegetables, and even black tea contain generous amounts of antioxidants, including vitamins and polyphenols.

Screen shot 2015-02-20 at 3.17.44 PMWhen seeking good nutrition it’s important that food should be as fresh as possible, since the vitamin and mineral content tends to fall with storage. The answer is fresh local food-fruit and vegetables preferably grown in our local areas from organic seed. The other good piece of advice is to eat seasonal produce. When the berries are in season eat them and enjoy them. There are many other beautiful fruits in winter such as oranges and apples and a huge array of vegetables packed full of phytonutrients. We really don’t need to have mangoes and watermelon and berries all year round.

Screen shot 2015-02-20 at 3.15.56 PMWe now know that a growing number of people have been diagnosed with hepatitis A after eating frozen berries imported from China. Latest reports are that thirteen people in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia have become ill. As hepatitis A is transmitted by the “faecal-oral” route, this means either that people have handled the berries with contaminated hands transmitting the virus, or the contamination may have occurred because the water used in the processing may have been contaminated with sewage.

This unfortunate episode highlights the absurdity of buying berries from China when we grow them in Australia. Australia recently became a net importer of processed food, this being aided by the high Australian dollar, high domestic overheads and wage costs.

Then there’s the food miles such imported food must travel. According to the food miles calculator the berries from China to Australia have travelled 5599 miles (9008km) as the crow flies. And there’s very little chance of this situation changing with the Australian government signing an increasing number of free trade agreements and with the potential for more food contamination. It is ironic that these unfortunate people seeking to eat healthy foods have become ill with hepatitis.

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So much more than good cooks!

This week, The Australian published an obituary for beloved and best-selling Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Her obituary opened with:

Screen shot 2015-01-31 at 1.37.42 PMCOLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”

Readers responded angrily to McCullough’s obituary, labelling it sexist. McCullough, who died on Thursday at the age of 77, worked as a neuroscientist in the United States before turning to writing full-time and yet her obituary began by describing her as “plain of feature” and “overweight”.  ABC journalist Joanna McCarthy tweeted the article along with the words: “Award for worst opening lines of an obituary goes to …#everydaysexism.

But sadly it’s not unusual for women to spoken about in terms of beauty and sex appeal, rather than with respect for intelligence and a lifetime of achievement. Effie Mann writing in The Age recalls The New York Times’ obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, whose professional achievements were listed below her cooking prowess  and success as a dedicated wife and mother. The first paragraph of her obit described her as a woman who “made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. 

I recall being at my mother’s funeral where I overheard a remark made by one of her former acquaintances who’d been surprised by the stories she’d heard of the richness of our mother’s life before she became ill. ‘I didn’t know Marion did all that,’ she said quietly to her companion. What this person didn’t know was that mum was very talented in dressmaking, gardening and crafts. She had left school early to care for her large family after her mother had died at the age of 47 years, so although she hadn’t had the career chances that her daughters have had, she made the very best of her situation.

Many of those attending her funeral service only knew Marion as our father’s wife and our mother. Father was the successful Managing Director and the local church elder. He sang in the church choir and helped elderly ladies with their finances. It was mostly all about Morrie.

So when friends and relations listened to the many splendid speeches devoted to Marion they heard about a woman in her own right: Talented in crafts, always quick to knit or sew or bake what was required for the village fete. She was a keen and skilful gardener, devoted to her beautiful garden, loved playing lawn bowls, and she enjoyed the company of her many women friends. This personal testimony to our mother preceded any mention of her role as a dutiful wife and mother.

Whereas my mother’s singular life was respected, the same cannot be said of the funerals of my aunts. Sadly, I can only recall the lives of these women being remembered in terms of how well they cooked. Speech after speech spoken by loving daughters, sons and grandchildren remembered my aunts, Jean, Marge and Betty as great cooks, willing babysitters and little else. I’m so glad that Marion was remembered as a woman who was very talented in the crafts, was great at sport and a keen and fruitful gardener. Mum and her sisters weren’t career women – their lives were largely spent caring for us and supporting their men. But mum sought an outlet in her very many interests even so.

I understand why our mother was remembered as a woman first and mother and wife second. My sisters and I had grown up in the 1950s with a very controlling father. We had married early but divorced and were at the time living as single mothers. My sister’s speech and respect for our mother emanated from the changes in society wrought by feminists.

But as Colleen McCullough’s sexist obituary revealed this week we still have a long way to go yet before due respect is shown for the complexity of the lives women lead.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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I am feminist: Hear me roar!

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

 If you hear that word one more time, you will definitely cringe. You may exhale pointedly. And you might even seek out the nearest the pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids. What word is this? You tell us, Katy Steinmetz wrote, urging readers of Time Magazine to vote in the 2015 annual word banishment poll.

‘Feminist’ along with words such  as ‘disrupt’ and ‘kale’ and internet slang words such as ‘yaaasssss’, and ‘turnt ‘ is on Time Magazine’s list for banning.

Julie Bishop, Australia’s only female cabinet minister also has a problem with the word feminist. Bishop doesn’t describe herself as such, saying she doesn’t find the term useful today. “I’m a female politician, I’m a female foreign minister … get over it.”

feminism_is_evilJulie Bishop’s a very successful woman. She’s the Foreign Minister and the only woman in Cabinet. She was class captain, school captain, managing partner, completer of a short course at Harvard Business School, deputy leader of the opposition under Brendan Nelson. Bishop may not call herself a feminist but much of her success must surely come as a result of the work of feminists who fought for women’s rights to study and work, for suffrage, and the opportunity to be elected to political office. Bishop has also been fortunate to have been born at a time when marriage and motherhood were not crucial to a woman’s survival- again the work of feminists who fought for women to have independent incomes and lives.

So how do we account for Julie Bishop’s stance on feminism? Raewyn Connell, now a professor emerita but for decades a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney explains Bishop this way: She is the product of fifty years of neoliberalism . . . and in this environment, there is a much more insistent individualism than there was even in the same class, a generation or two ago. Jenna Price suggests there are other reasons not to call yourself a feminist  such as: the fear your male colleagues already feel when your ambition is just like theirs. The word feminist might further terrify the strikingly incompetent.

While Julie Bishop and Michaelia Cash, the Minister assisting the Prime Minister Tony Abbott on women’s affairs are unwilling to embrace their inner feminist, it is reassuring to read that Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek  is proud to be a feminist and understands how fortunate she’s been. Plibersek points out the many pertinent reasons for believing in the relevance of feminism today such as: The existence of the 18 per cent gender pay gap and the fact that there are many older women who will retire on much less superannuation than men. Then there’s the truly deplorable fact that one in every five Australian women will experience sexual assault and one in every three Australian women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. It is also important to the deputy opposition leader that her sons get to experience a truly equal relationship with their life partner, and the satisfaction of being a hands-on father along with the rejection of unhealthy stereotypes.

I_Hate_Feminists!_300_450_90Fear and hatred toward feminists exists. On December 6, 1989, a man walked into the engineering school École Polytechnique de Montréal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Declaring I hate feminists! Marc Lépine killed fourteen young women.

And in February this year, in the Melbourne suburb of Tyabb, Greg Anderson,  killed his 11-year-old son after cricket training, in front of dozens of other parents and children. At the recent inquest into her son’s murder Rosie Batty began the conversation when she said: “It was to get at you… someone wants to make you suffer the rest of your life.” Similarly in his suicide letter Marc Lépine wrote “I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker. For seven years life has brought me no joy…I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”

Male violence towards women persists . All the more reason that Time Magazine‘s call for banning of the word Feminist is surely premature.

 

 

 

 

 

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