Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Beware the media beatup

A few months in the USA and I am not sure if I am quaking in neurotic psychosomatics or I am simply shivering with resentment.

Day in and and day out, the US media warns us of things which are just about to do us lethal damage. There are new poisons in common foods, terrible perils in simple activities, what was good for us yesterday is dangerous today...

Let's see. What's new this week? Tomatoes that were good for you are now not good for you? Sunscreen that was safe is now hazardous. Sun that was hazardous is now life-giving. Soda drinks are bad for your heart...

The American consumer market dies a zillion little deaths every day - thanks to the mass media.

Truth is that most of these health scare stories are insubstantial with only a slim margin of truth. They are the beat ups of the desperate news media. Media sets itself rules. It will have a health story every day - whether or not there is a valid health story around.

The constant browbeating of the trusting and not profoundly informed masses empowers the media - and also its important supporters, the pharmaceultial companies.

The pharmaceutial companies bombard the public with ads for drugs while the news media bombards the people with illnesses.

Is there a pattern here?

Sure thing.

Tags: consumer | drugs | food | Health | Media | medicine | news | Pharmaceuticals | sunscreen

Friday, July 20, 2007

Organ donation, a soft tissue issue.

Being an enthusiastic supporter of the power of the Blogsphere to make a difference as the brilliant, international pressure group, I embarrass myself by discovering that I am a day late in raising the flag for organ donors.
It is a cause which merits global attention. The Australian style is simply to sign up on one's driver's license. One would imagine, therefore that there are lots of donors registered. Yet, Australia has one of the lowest rates of donors in the developed world. This turns out to be because the words "Organ Donor" on your driver's license don't actually mean a damned thing. It is a "statement of intent" but it will not make you an organ donor. It remains an issue for next of kin to decide.
If Australians want to be organ donors, they have to go to a bit more trouble. They have to put themselves on a special register and carry a separate card. Another piece of bloody plastic in the wallet - because the driver's license, which is good enough for most ID requirements and is generally deemed the most pivotal personal document after the passport, is not good enough to be an organ donor card. Huh?
Is your head spinning? Mine is.
Well, Australia celebrated a lovely organ donors' week earlier in the year. Lots of nice people signed up. There are almost a million donors, 924,387, when last I checked. In a country of 21 million, I guess that makes one donor for every 21. I would not have thought it was a bad rate. But, of course, the donors have to be dead to be useful.

Or not. There are some nasty, scary stories out there because of which some people carry Organ Retainer cards.
Just to be fair to the other side of the story.
The tales of black market in human organs may not be myths. Certainly, there are some alarming stories from China, yes, China again, about harvesting organs from Falun Gong prisoners. There are tales of donor bodies left stripped, an abandoned gutted carcas on the slab, while the medics rush around saving lives with the harvested organs and tissues.
Those stories are a bit sad.
It is not perfect business and nor is it a perfect world.

But those of us who choose to do a bit of good, to give a second chance to the sick by dedicating our used bits to their rebirth, should make our intention crystal clear - especially to our next of kin.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

...the China saga again

The perfidious China saga goes on and on. At least the Government is clamping down, albeit on what may be a bottomless pit of cynical corruption. The latest lethal scandal is of polluted drugs prescribed to children with leukemia. Injections of Chinese methotrexate have caused pain and difficulty in walking in young leukemia patients - as if they are not suffering enough already!
Meanwhile, there are more recalls of dangerous Chinese goods - jewellery which could cause lead poisoning, magnetic toys which are choking hazards...
The shock and resulting pressure emerging from the West would seem to have rattled Chinese authorities - so much so that they punished their bribe-taking food and drug safety chief by killing him.
Now the push is on to show the West that everything is just A-OK, fine and dandy for the Olympics. As AP's Audra Ang reports:

Confidence in the safety of Chinese exports has severely waned internationally, as the list of products found tainted with dangerous levels of toxins and chemicals grows longer by the day.

China has taken significant steps in recent days to clean up its dubious product safety record, including executing the former head of its drug regulation agency for taking bribes and banning the use of a chemical found in antifreeze in the production of toothpaste.

In a report aired Wednesday night, China Central Television showed how a bun maker in a district in Beijing used cardboard picked off the street as filling for his product.

The undercover investigation report showed how squares of cardboard were first soaked to a pulp in a plastic basin of caustic soda — a chemical base commonly used in manufacturing paper and soap — then chopped into tiny morsels with a cleaver. Fatty pork and powdered seasoning were stirred in and minutes later, steaming buns were shown on screen.

Yum. Won't the Olympic athletes love it.
Well, to its credit, the Chinese government has installed a panel to screen products and will ban offending manufacturers from production for three years. But is the problem already too big and out of control? This is more than a distinct possibility.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

American abuse of 9/11

Because of 9/11, I am no longer allowed to have a "Welcome" mat at the door.

I was informed of this yesterday by the apartment complex manager after an unwelcome note was dropped on the "Welcome" mat requesting that said mat be removed as a safety measure. It has sat there safely for nearly nine years.

How is 9/11 a reason for people not to have Welcome mats?
Good question.

The answer is that 9/11 has become the obstructionist excuse for anything and everything in the USA. The idea is that there is no come-back if 9/11 is in the equation - even if it is not in the equation. 9/11 was such an appalling atrocity that it holds a position of high reverence, the most sacred of all cannot be challenged.

So I have removed my beautiful "Welcome" mat because of 9/11.
The great post-9/11 doormat ban of 2007 will make the world a safer place.

Who could have imagined that those acts of terrorism in 2001 would produce such ugly and bizarre dividends? Terrorists don't have to move a finger to castrate American culture. Americans are doing it in their name. Wouldn't Osama Bin Laden be amazed?

Put the words 9/11 behind it, and you can demand anything.

So it comes to pass that, after nine years, my slimline traditional American "Welcome" mat is a threat.

I am not an American so I dared to challenge the apartment complex manager when he made this claim. He said it was as an upshot of 9/11 that firemen needed clear, doormat-less access regulations. I don't remember hearing anything about doormats providing obstructions to rescue workers in the Twin Towers. This was the first time I had heard door mats and 9/11 mentioned in the same sentence. I simply did not believe him. Perhaps standard fire regulations are being toughened up, but not as a consequence of 9/11. They had fire regulations long before 9/11.

The apartment complex manager had quite a handful with this Aussie who simply would not take 9/11 as a rationale for the banning of the delightful American welcome tradition. I felt almost sorry for him. Then again, I am keen to discourage people for this sort of gratuitous exploitation of the 9/11. It is cheap and disrespectful.

The saddest part in this context is that it is gutting the country of that which is most sweetly and endearingly American.

Dainty yet hardy "Welcome" mats are a big American tradition, along with floral door wreaths and American flags. When first I came here, I was charmed by the warm, friendly spirit of these domestic statements. I was not quite ready for the door wreath or the flag, but I loved the vivid and welcoming "Welcome" mats and went off to reciprocate the good spirit with a mat of my own.

Nine years later, the apartment complex population has changed. There are fewer mature Americans here and more student sharers and foreigners. So one no longer sees these mats at every door. In fact mine is one of the last in our building. Well, it was. There are none now. A delightful American tradition is dying - perhaps in the name of fire safety but certainly not in the name of 9/11.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Punishments of non-smoking

For those who so kindly ask how the non-smoking is going, I will now share.
It is not good.
What is with these nicotine patches which are supposed to help?
Is there any nicotine in them? At no stage have they released me from the clutches of the cravings. All they have done is give me ugly red rashes surrounded by glue frames which are the devil to wash off. Perhaps the itching of the patch spots is supposed to distract one from the urge to smoke? One is so busy scratching one does not have a hand for a fag?
I have gone without cigarettes for five weeks now.
It is strictly one-day-at-a-time - still!
It seems to get harder rather than easier.
I am at the stage of thinking that the whole thing is just plain stupid and I should really just relax and have a cigarette. Oh, what a relief that would be.
My husband was tender and supportive for the first week or two. But I suspect that he thinks that five weeks without cigarettes means that his wife is now a non-smoker and out of the woods. To be requiring special considerations over a month later reeks of exploitation. Surely it is not logical that she is in deeper water now that she was in the first few weeks?
Well, she is. She is tired of trying. She is tired of this clawing, wrenching, draining need endlessly welling up through her body. She is tired of being gung ho about it. She is frightened of compensatory eating - which does not work, anyway. It just keeps one distracted. It does not take away the cravings. It triggers another one - for a post-snack cigarette.

Stress levels could not be greater. We are moving. Upheaval - not just now, but for a very long time. Now is the time of sorting and counting the accumulations of nine years living in the USA, writing an inventory for the insurance and shippers and getting our world ready to be packed up and freighted off to Australia. We have to defend ourselves against the prospect of Australian duty people who will want us to prove that we have owned our stuff for more than six months. Why did I not keep receipts for everything? Does anyone actually do that? What of the family stuff which my husband inherited? What of gifts? Should friends give receipts with their wedding, Christmas and birthday gifts just in case the recipient moves country?
Of course, I would be one of those people who has difficulty throwing things out. If I have a pair of jeans which proved a bit coarse on the skin, a bit tight or a bit loose, I put them away "in case". It is a guilt and remorse thing for having managed to leave a shop with something less than perfection, to have been fooled by the retailer, to have failed as a shopper....The items may grow to be years old, but they sit there pristine and loathed but relentlessly kept as an act of embarrassment offset by the eternal hope of "you never know, they may come in handy".

The recognition of this syndrome, the unraveling of the cupboards and wardrobes, is simply making me grouchy. The prospect of travel is doing much the same. There is no looking forward to anything - since there are no cigarettes in the plans.
Did I mention that this is the pits?