Sunday, 5 November 2017

Too Many Humans

"Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 – a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure. Urbanization, infrastructure development, cultivation – all good things in themselves, but they will have a terrible impact unless we begin to plan and to take measures now.”
So says William Saxe-Coburg.
Having imposed and benefitted from the grossly exploitative and oppressive socio-economic systems that enabled dynasties like his to become vastly wealthy and help spread imperial tentacles over pretty much all of the globe - now he is concerned about African wildlife.
This man - remarkable only for his inherited vast wealth, power and privilege that was gained through the exploitation and oppression of the working peoples of his own land and the hyper-exploitation and oppression of Africa and its peoples, and whose ancestors hunted African big game for sport after having exterminated much of the natural wildlife of Europe - now says that the problem for African wild life is that there are too many African people.
No matey - the problem always was and remains people like yourself and all your ilk whose individual annual carbon footprint is probably equivalent to a 100,000 or more poor Africans.
Look to the social and environmental cost of your own obscene privilege and to your own culpability in the destruction of Africa's wildlife, which cannot be separated from the damage wrought on its peoples.
Consider the role that imperialism - in both its old and new forms - has inflicted and is still inflicting on that continent and who has benefitted, and still benefits most from it.
Ask yourself, who makes the bulk of the money out of the vast mineral wealth of Africa? Who orchestrated the destruction of Libya - the country with the highest standard of living in Africa - at a point when a new movement of African unity was beginning to grow? Who conspired in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba to kill the seeds of an earlier movement? Why is Zimbabwe an international pariah when other corrupt and brutal regimes are supported and the UK continues to fail to honour the Gleneagles agreement? What have any of the European powers done to compensate for the damage they have done to that continent in the pursuit of individual, dynastic and imperial profit?
Who throws away cell phones like they are disposable items after having used them for playing games and communicating drivel while tiny Congolese children mine the rare earth metals needed for their construction? If there was ever an illustration of the obscenity of the world - it is this. The region that was seized and raped by the head of another branch of the Saxe-Coburg family - the indescribably brutal Leopold II - now uses child labour to supply the rare earth minerals the first world needs to maintain its dominance.
No, William Saxe-Coburg - you - the very embodiment of inherited, undeserved extreme privilege - do not get to lecture us on African conservation.

Prince William warned overpopulation could put wildlife at risk at London charity gala.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Message is Domination

 Television actor, Mayim Bialik, writes in the New York Times about her experience as a woman who is not conventionally attractive – at least not by the entertainment world’s definition of physical attractiveness.   She talks about how she has negotiated her place in a world in which standards of physical (and hence, sexual) attractiveness – especially for women – are abnormal. In that rarefied world, instead of being in the majority, female actors who are average in appearance are atypical.

Somewhat controversially, Bialik suggests that if women in the industry dressed and behaved more modestly, as she has done, they would be less likely to be sexually objectified and assaulted.

This comes too close to blaming the victim for a lot of people and it is about as wrong as it’s possible to be in the wider social context in which, irrespective of how they dress or conduct themselves, all sorts of girls and women are sexually insulted and assaulted by men.

A depressingly large number of women and girls have experienced sexualised insults and assaults or felt at risk of them.  Like many women, I have my own stories, from being intuitively aware of the intentions of a paedophile when I was very young, to being physically attacked in the street and in my home, to being treated by men in ways that, as an older, wiser and much stronger woman, make me want to both weep and rage for my younger, more vulnerable self.

I’m now well past the point where the question of my sexual attractiveness or lack of it intrudes on my life but I know that I could still be raped or beaten by an angry, dysfunctional man - just because I’m a woman.

Men sexually assault women irrespective of where those women sit on the beauty spectrum, or how young or old they are. It is why the cliché of rape being about power is so utterly true. 

The motivator is anger and fear, the sex is the medium, and the message is domination.

But it’s simplistic to cast all men as actual or potential abusers or all women as passive actors or hapless victims of a male controlled narrative when some women participate in, collude with, and benefit from that narrative, and some men are harmed and appalled by, and seek to change it.  

In strict legal terms Weinstein has had allegations made against him. He is yet to face criminal charges but in the court of popular opinion he's already been tried and found guilty because it's pretty obvious that the reason there's lots of smoke is because a big fire has been burning for a long time.  He has been sacked, his wife has left him and all manner of public humiliations have been heaped upon him including people he has bankrolled politically, distancing themselves from him. 

In my view he deserves what he gets even though I'm not a naturally vindictive person and in an auto-da-fé I'm usually one of the people running up with a bucket of water.

The powerful behave in such openly abominable and destructive ways because they can -and they can, largely because other people allow them to. 

As individuals, less powerful people can be intimidated and constrained by the threat of the loss of a job and being boycotted, which is why the less powerful need to be in a collective.  It is only in combination that small voices can be heard over the racket made by the powerful and privileged minority.

I can find no such excuses for rich and powerful people who know and who do nothing.  
Any actor, director or any other person in the industry who is rich enough or who has enough celebrity cachet to be able to choose, and who knew what Weinstein was like and chose to work with him anyway - has no place on the moral high ground.  

In truth, in that part of the entertainment world, in relation to the commission of, or collusion with, sexualized bullying, intimidation and assault, I suspect it would be hard to even locate the moral high ground. 

This is especially true if the issue is widened out beyond the actions of this one man, however obnoxious he might be. 

The entertainment industry is an atypical, somewhat aberrant world that has a grossly disproportionate impact on how the wider world sees, and judges people - and especially women.

It is a small, insular world of extreme wealth and privilege in which power is still wielded mostly by men, a majority of whom are white, and whose standards of what constitutes talent, beauty and desirability are narrow and damagingly stereotypical.

The industry actively promotes feminine stereotypes of age, appearance, style and behaviour. These stereotypes don’t just reflect the personal preferences of the powerful men who dominate the industry, they help to put bums on seats, which serves to boost personal and corporate power. 

That some of those powerful men then prey upon young women who personify the industry stereotypes is about as wrong as it can be, but it is not surprising. 

As well as condemning this sort of exploitative and oppressive behaviour,we need to engage with the ways in which the entertainment world's stereotypes reinforce the sexual objectification of women that is one of the main underpinnings of the modern phallocracy. 

And we need to examine the extent to which we contribute to that through our own consumer and other choices.

Otherwise all that happens is one man gets pilloried, and after a while, it'll be business as usual. And viewed from down here, and in the context of the global everything, business as usual is pretty damned toxic.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Clean and Green

This is a dairy cow on a farm in North Canterbury.  Every bone in her body is visible through her dull coat.  On the body condition scale that I would use for horses, she is extremely emaciated - a walking skeleton. Her udder is massively swollen so she has recently had a calf.  She looks depressed. None of the small herd she is in even glance in our direction - which is unusual for cows as they are normally very curious.

Even by the low standards of modern, large scale and intensive dairying, this poor creature is seriously below par.

The dairy farms I cycled past this morning are uniformly ugly. To facilitate the irrigators, the fields have few or no trees for shade or shelter for stock. There are kilometres of electric fencing, huge silage pits, mountains of old car tyres, rivers of discarded plastic wrapping and large agricultural machines that carve up any soft ground they travel on. The working areas of the farms look completely industrial.

Little groups of calves huddle together for warmth and comfort. Their mothers are lost in the big herds standing in lush green grass. Most of the cows that I can see have reduced skeletal muscle and little or no body fat, huge udders and depressed demeanour. 

I know that most of the energy dairy cows ingest from the sugar rich grass they eat goes into filling their unnaturally large udders. I know that their udders are too low-slung to be suckled easily by calves even if the cows were allowed to feed their offspring. I know that instead of the all-day suckling of a calf, the dairy cow’s udder may be emptied just once a day to reduce costs so, by the time she is due to be milked, her udder is vast and distended, uncomfortable and unwieldy.  I also know that the way these cows are selectively bred and fed results in a shortened life span and a myriad of metabolic and musculo-skeletal problems.

We started our ride in Rangiora and cycled along the Rakihuri trail towards Waikuku.  The trail - a formed walking and cycling track - runs along the river bank from Rangiora until it gets to a point where it rejoins the road along the top of the stop bank. There have always been gates at various points on the stop bank to control the use of them by 4-wheel drivers and trail bikers. 

A new, large gate with a Private Property sign on it now blocks the stop bank road at a point about 3kms above the SH1 road bridge.  Another gate with the same sign has been put in near the road bridge.  As the Ashley-Rakihuri Regional Park has been developed by the regional and local authorities, there have been issues with pockets of private land i.e. where old farm boundaries extend into parts of the river bed that are now enclosed by the stop banks.  The current owners of this land have created access routes up over the stop bank to the wide riparian strip on which they graze cows.  They have installed a number of other gates to shut off the stop bank road while they move stock. The Private Property signs are very recent. Walkers and bike riders are permitted to squeeze past the end of the gate but have to negotiate any gates across the stop bank that have been left closed by farm workers. They’d also be well advised to avoid touching the electric fence.

The stop banks protect the farmland; without them the land would flood whenever the river is in spate. They were built by with public funds and are maintained at public expense. I’ll lay odds that the person who has put up the Private Property signs does not maintain that section of the stop banks at his own expense. In fact it's likely he didn't even pay for the gates and the signs.

The land alongside the river is wetland.  Like all of Canterbury’s braided rivers, the margins are criss-crossed by numerous streams and springs.  There was an article in the local press a couple of years ago about one of these streams that was fenced and planted in natives by a farmer who has since sold his farm to a huge dairy concern. At the time the article was written that stream ran clear and supported fish but other waterways are not so lucky. Even when streams are fenced and have the natural filtration of native plantings along the banks, intensive dairying’s large-scale use of artificial fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and anthelmintics will cause harm to both the land and river ecosystems.

The Rakahuri runs out into a vitally important estuary which falls outside of the scope of the Ashley Rakahuri Regional Park management. The estuary is a “valuable ecological hotspot and any management decisions made for the park further upstream may have flow on impacts on the estuary environment further downstream that should be considered. The Ashley Estuary provides internationally significant habitat for migratory birds like the Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as providing autumn and winter habitat and feeding grounds for several threatened braided river bird species. The Estuary is also an important habitat for many native fish species. Inanga (whitebait), eels, Koaro, flounder, common smelt, torrent fish and bullies are all known to spend part of their lifecycle in the Ashley Estuary. The freshwater-saltwater transition zones of many of the small tributaries feeding in to the Ashley Estuary provide important Inanga spawning habitat.”

And this is the river whose floodplain is now covered in large dairy cattle farms and on whose banks just a few kilometres upstream a dairy farmer runs large numbers of cows.

In a sensible country all the land within the stop banks would be acquired by the State and control of it vested in the regional and district councils for the protection of the river and its wildlife - and for use by the public who fund it all.

This is not currently a sensible country and it desperately needs to be.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

More on the question of obesity

On The Independent On-line via my Facebook feed a few days ago there was story of a young woman who is striking a blow against the body shamers and fat bashers.  There are loads of these stories - personal responses to the vicious trolls who swarm the Internet in search of something to be offended, disgusted or enraged by.  

We all encounter the herds of inadequate people get pleasure out of venting their splenetic personalities on social media - slithering out from under their various rocks to rant and rail - and nothing brings out the haters like a fat woman who dares expose her body. 

Trolls exist because there are usually no consequences. They operate anonymously and/or at a distance and often they congregate with a crowd of other, like-minded, malicious inadequates.  They're cowardly bullies and I have nothing but contempt for them.  They need to be shamed; people need to stand up to them and to support the victims of bullying and bigotry. 

However, it's a very short-sighted person who argues that being significantly overweight does not involve an increased risk of developing major adverse health issues. 

When a woman's magazine runs a story about a comedian who happens to be significantly overweight and includes a shot of her in a bathing suit, it's not accidental.  Either she or the magazine wants to provoke a response.  I've no idea what the magazine's agenda was but Sofie Hagen describes herself as a' fat acceptance advocate', i.e. she sees obesity as a political issue and wants to ensure that fat people are treated equally and positively.  

Hagen rejects people who express concern about her weight - telling them to 'fuck off' -  which is fair enough when it's a troll hiding behind a faux concern about the health issues of obesity.  However, trolls are easily exposed, ask any of them to explain the physiology behind their concerns and they're at a loss. 

I can understand why Hagen and others like her are angry. I'm of an age where if I exposed my body in public the age-shamers would have a field day.  But, however vile and wrong the bullies are, it is a medical fact that obese people are at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, liver cancer and musculoskeletal damage.  

Carrying large amounts of body fat - especially visceral fat - is a major health hazard with serious implications for affected individuals and for the medical and other services those people will inevitably have to draw on.  While Sofie Hagen may be relatively healthy at the moment, if she remains seriously overweight, chances are she will become steadily more unhealthy.  Most commonly, it's not a question of whether obese people develop health problems, but when, in what ways, and how badly. 

Hagen refers to the correlation between diet culture and capitalism, how the myth of thin equals beautiful has been sold to people by the beauty industry.  This is true.  But, at the same time as the corporate world of fashion and pharmaceuticals exhorts people to be thin - the corporate world of processed and fast foods is busy making trillions of dollars out of making people fat.

if the tyranny of thin is a corporate construct, it now has a twin - the normalisation of fat. 

We need to be asking why we are seeing what seems to be a trend, in both mainstream and social media, to  try to normalise obesity.   I can understand why Sofie Hagen positions herself as a social activist and argues for an acceptance of fatness but, other than those who are suffering stigma and discrimination - who has a vested interest in trying to normalise what is widely acknowledged as a growing medical and social crisis? 

I suspect that, lurking in the corporate shadows, PR companies are busily promoting the idea that being overweight - even extremely overweight -  is normal and even desirable. 

PR companies routinely pump out fake news and biassed opinion to order.  Sometimes these are straight forward opinion or human interest pieces and sometimes they're pseudo-science.

The international food industry knows it is facing a growing body of medical evidence that the food it produces is toxic.  There is the potential of litigation which could make tobacco litigation pale into insignificance and, more immediately, the potential for massive loss of revenue flare numbers of people turn away from junk food. 

The facts are that obesity is a health crisis of almost incomprehensible proportions and it has spread beyond the borders of the USA - which started it all. 

If current trends continue, three out of every four Americans will be obese or overweight by 2020 and currently almost 4 in every 10 people are medically obese.  In NZ one in three people is classified as medically obese, with the proportion in some demographics being far higher.  In the UK and Australia almost two out of three people are overweight or obese. Even the French are getting fatter and in India and China obesity is growing.

In almost all countries the percentage of people who are overweight is increasing every year. Most worrying for the future is the massive increase in childhood and adolescent obesity with the growing incidence of type-2 diabetes in children.  

Activity is a factor certainly,  as is poverty.  Things we don’t yet fully understand such as the effects, on plant and animal health, of climate change, soil depletion and pollutant levels - may be factors but the single biggest and most easily controlled factor is the ubiquity of simple SUGARS, and especially sweeteners derived from maize. 

The links between obesity and the availability of energy-dense, sugar-rich, low nutrient, processed and fast foods have been established and it’s only a matter of time before the giant corporations that have made trillions of dollars out of selling this toxic crap, will face the consequences.

In the meantime - I’ll continue to defend overweight people from vile bullies but I will not go along with the normalising of obesity. 

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Neo-Libs’ Charter

Neo-Liberalism as an ideology is short-termist, short-sighted and it has the effect of short-circuiting the social contract.

Neo-Liberal austerity measures and state asset sales - are a political choice - not an economic necessity.

Neo-Liberal application of monetarist economic theory has turbo-charged neo-colonialism. It has resulted in: profiteering, asset-stripping, unaccountability, steadily increasing prices for increasingly poor quality services and commodities, driving down of wages at the base while grossly inflating remuneration at top, removal of job security, massive increase in personal debt, privatisation of profits and socialisation of costs, incalculable damage to the environment, and the use of technological advances to enable global finance capitalism while diverting vast swathes of people into a netherworld of misinformation, froth and nonsense.

The Neo-Libs’ Charter :

Reduce and privatise as much of the state as possible without compromising its coercive machinery, eg militarise the police to be ready to control internal dissent & maintain the military to be ready to control challenges to global capital deployment.

Allow and enable capital to roam freely across the globe in search of greater profits through the manipulation of financial markets, employment of cheap labour, investing in countries with ‘industry-friendly’ health & safety and environmental laws.

Create a global dependence on the finance sector.

Massively reward the already rich.

Create social, political & economic buffer zones of affluent demi-elites with a vested interest in maintaining the economic status quo.

Demonise and undermine working class collectives.

Push down wages and conditions at the base.

Reduce employment costs by shifting them onto self-employed contractors.

Remove job security for most of the workforce.

Increase personal debt through various forms of bank credit- especially home loans and credit cards.

Increase incarceration by putting more poor people in prison & imposing longer sentences.

Encourage the fragmentation of the political opposition.

Extend some formal rights to previously marginalised communities as long as they don’t challenge the economic status quo.

Control the mass media through the concentration of ownership.

Use social media to divert, divide and dominate via a mass of outright lies, misinformation and nonsense.

Create international and domestic pariahs and scapegoats to foment social division, fuel moral panics and justify coercive and interventionist strategies.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Man At The Bus Stop

In October 2013, 47 year old Neil Jones was hospitalised in Christchurch Public Hospital. He had severe alcohol-induced hepatitis - inflammation of the liver.

Three weeks later, gastroenterologist Dr Richard Gearry decided that, despite having severe jaundice, Jones' condition had stabilised and he was faking his symptoms in order to stay in hospital.  Gearry ordered Jones' discharge.  Other staff expressed disquiet about this decision in light of how ill Jones was and the fact that he was homeless.

Jones was taken by hospital security to a bus stop near the hospital, and left there.  He was wearing hospital pyjamas because he had soiled his own clothes.  He lay on the ground at the bus stop for six hours, severely jaundiced, barely coherent and unable to walk.  

The hospital’s security staff were instructed to tell members of the public who expressed concern about Jones, that he was alright.  He was eventually brought back into the emergency department but was not reassessed or readmitted.

Instead, police were called to remove him from the waiting room and to issue a trespass order - i.e. order him not to return on pain of arrest. The police officers did not question this and delivered Jones to the City Mission who took him in, despite having serious concerns about how extremely ill he was. 

The Mission asked the police officers for an assurance that they would take Jones back to hospital if he deteriorated.  When Jones began vomiting blood, the police were called and after a 2 hour wait, the Mission phoned for an ambulance.  Jones was readmitted to hospital and he died there 2 days later.

Neil Jones had become an alcoholic after his partner's suicide in 2008 and at his worst was said to have been drinking 3 litres of vodka a day. How he managed to afford to buy that much is not known.

What is known is that he wanted to stop drinking but couldn't do it on his own and there is a shortage of places for alcohol and drug rehabilitation in Christchurch because of government funding cuts.  When he tried to get onto a rehab programme in late August 2013 there was a long waiting list and he started drinking again. 

Because of his severe alcoholism, his family and his partner had taken out trespass orders against him, which had left him homeless.  He was in the grip of a powerful current of extreme adverse circumstances and was unable to extricate himself from it. He was drowning and he needed a life line. 

When he was first hospitalised, he had not eaten for 3 days and was severely constipated - to the extent that his breath 'smelled faecal' according to nurses. 

During his stay he was often drowsy and could not follow instructions. On the day of his discharge Jones soiled himself and the conclusion was he was doing that deliberately in order to stay off the streets even though he was severely jaundiced and the fact that bladder dysfunction along with reduced GI motility and loss of sphincter control leading to constipation, diarrhoea and incontinence are all features of advanced liver disease. 

I don't know what tests were done on Jones or what treatments he received. What I do know is that when a person's liver is profoundly compromised, waste products that are normally filtered out by the liver build up in the blood stream and can cross the blood-brain barrier resulting in one of liver failure's most horrible complications - hepatic encephalopathy.  

Hepatic encephalopathy can cause intellectual impairment, confusion, irritability, loss of control of bodily functions, drowsiness and ultimately, if untreated, it results in coma and death.  

The symptomatic treatment for it is the use of powerful laxatives to clean out the bowel and reduce the build up of neuro-toxins in the blood. These laxatives can cause explosive and uncontrollable diarrhoea.  

Another complication of advanced liver disease is variceal haemorrhage - which is what ultimately killed Neil Jones.  Cirrhosis - scarring of the liver caused by chronic inflammation - causes an Increase in pressure in the portal vein system which takes blood from the intestines to the liver. 

This portal hypertension results in enlarged and weakened veins in the oesophagus, stomach and rectum. As portal hypertension increases, these varices can rupture, causing internal bleeding, which will result in death if especially severe and/ or untreated.

The other major player in this end stage liver disease drama is hepatorenal syndrome. The kidneys can fail because of vasoconstriction as a consequence of the disturbances to systemic circulation caused by portal hypertension. 

The only way kidney function can be protected long-term is with a liver transplant or if the patient has sufficient healthy liver cells and can be kept haemodynamically stable until the liver is able to regenerate enough for systemic circulation to improve. 

However, the reality is that if portal hypertension is severe enough to cause varices and ascites (fluid leaking from blood vessels and liver which builds up in the abdominal cavity) the disease has already progressed to the point where a liver transplant is the only hope.

Liver transplants are hugely expensive and there are too few organ donors; the only hospital which performs them is in Auckland; to get onto the list you have to be judged to be a suitable candidate physically and psychologically, you must be able to be at the hospital within a few hours of a liver becoming available, have a person who can accompany you, and be able to live near the hospital until all the postoperative care is completed, which may take weeks.

That means if you are an alcoholic, if you are homeless, poor or you are judged for some other reason not to be a suitable candidate for transplantation, you will die.  In fact, most people with advanced liver disease die.  Once active treatment ceases, they are sent home to die or they go into a hospice.  

For a man with advanced liver disease to be dumped at a bus stop in hospital pyjamas is so unthinkable it is hard to write about it without anger taking over. 

It has plunged me back into the storm of emotions I felt when I watched my younger brother die from liver disease with all of its many awful complications - refractory ascites, oesophageal varices, hepatic encephalopathy and hepatorenal syndrome. He was not in the same situation as Neil Jones but, like Jones' family, we were left with many unresolved questions about his treatment - especially on discharge. 

Another factor in Jones' tragic story is the extent of the pain that he may have been experiencing.  Pain management for cirrhotic patients is hugely problematic in that opioids cause constipation which increases the likelihood of hepatic encephalopathy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can cause renal failure and gastric bleeding.  The only drug judged to be safe is paracetamol but in overdose paracetamol is acutely hepatoxic and what constitutes an overdose for a cirrhotic patient is hard to measure so it is prescribed in such small doses it is next to useless as an analgesic for severe pain.

Neil Jones went into hospital already carrying the label of hopeless alcoholic and it does seem he became a victim of that undercurrent of moralism which so often accompanies it.  In addition to being desperately ill, poor and homeless, he had no-one to act as his advocate - i.e. no-one the hospital staff were immediately answerable to.  

if he was suffering from mild to severe episodes of hepatic encephalopathy he was not able to speak for himself or to look after his own interests.  By repeatedly soiling himself and being extremely confused he may have been seen as a problem patient by some staff. According to Doctor Gearry it was feed back from some staff which led to his decision to discharge Jones, even though other staff challenged both the medical wisdom and the humanity of that decision.

Arguably the most telling thing about this is the fact that, despite the discharge debacle, no post-mortem was carried out and the on-duty coroner decided there was no need for an inquest.  If Neil Jones' family had not complained, we'd never have known how appallingly bad his treatment had been. 

As anyone will tell you who has lost loved ones - even loved ones who were as hard to help as someone like Neil Jones - the loss is that much harder to bear when you believe there were things that could and should have been done which might have altered the outcome.

If a veterinary clinic dumped a stray dog, suffering from a painful and incurable disease, out on to the street to die, there would be immediate and extreme outrage.  As his mother has said, that is precisely what was done to Neil Jones. 

The system casually spat Neil Jones out and in so doing, it failed him so profoundly it is hard to comprehend that such a thing could happen in New Zealand.