Two for one…

 Firstly classic government spin from last weekend’s Guardian. After decades of research into maternal attachment, and under the mantra ‘work is good benefits are bad’, a single study in the US claims to show ‘babies don’t suffer’ if mum goes back to work. Well, they wouldn’t would they? Babies are resilient. Their built in survival mechanism responds well to being warm, dry and fed – regardless of who does it. The issues are much more socially complex than this and lines like “The gains of being in employment outweigh disadvantages” could only be written by someone who’s never worked in white wellies or juggled night shifts with a growing family at home. Work is a necessity; enjoying work is a luxury.

A second Guardian report that only tells half the story. 40% of dementia cases would be avoided if we spent longer in education – oh and we need to eliminate depression and diabetes, and eat more fruit and veg too.  What isn’t being mentioned is the control the processed food industry has over the cost and availability of the chemical crap it passes off as being good for us. Diabetes is linked to obesity which 99% results from messing up our bodies with high fat, high salt, high sugar food. If you eat lots of fruit and veg there’s a good chance you won’t be eating much of the synthetic stuff; not only will that reduce your chances of being obese and diabetic but you’re likely to feel better too. Aspartame messes with your brain. Remember saccharine? At a time when rising levels of obesity, and related health issues, are causing concern, note the plethora of low fat, low sugar, diet foods and drinks that are available but don’t seem to be making any difference. Why don’t they teach critical thinking at primary school?

mental illness or mental health…

When do the normal ups and downs of daily life become bipolar disorder? When does eating too much chocolate because it was a bad day become binge eating? Or the regular onset of nerves before speaking in public a mixed anxiety depression?  The fifth edition of the bible of all psychiatrists, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is soon to be published. Edition four introduced conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) which saw sales of the drug Ritalin flourish – no doubt with substantial profits for Novartis. It begs the questions ‘What will be the medication of choice for this new batch of disorders?’

A definition of mental health is required, but which one? Spot the differences.

  • Health Education Authority (1997) “the emotional and spiritual resilience which enables us to survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a fundamental belief in our own and others’ dignity and worth”.
  • World Health Organisation (2007) “Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
  • Mind (2010) A level of emotional well-being that allows an individual to function in society or an absence of significant mental health problems.

Foucault wrote about docile bodies which were inscribed with cultural categories of dysfunction. Negative identities permitted state regulation. One particularly pernicious category for 19th century women was hysteria. The Yellow Wallpaper offers a chilling insight into how post natal depression was misconstrued according to the norms of the time.  In the days of the Victorian lunatic asylum, attributions of insanity endowed the power to incarcerate and remove from society. As well as the changes in language, cultural responses have changed too, along with the ever increasing breadth of diagnostic conditions. Any new classification of mental illness serves to legitimise intervention. With categories becoming ever more closely aligned to the trials and tribulations of 21st century life, it seems likely that those set to gain the most benefit from these latest additions to the manual, are most probably the pharmaceutical companies themselves.

Fri-day = Rant-day

 This expert blog post ‘Warning Social Computing could be good for your health’ led me to the speech by the Secretary of State for Public Health (who doubtless has to neither shop on a budget nor be restricted by the stock in his local Nisa). Most of the nine pages is typical government rhetoric about inherited problems and solutions that neatly bypass the source.  With regard to social media, Andrew Lansley, actually says very little and the phrase ‘the power of new technologies and new media’ bypasses digital exclusion issues of which I have much to say. If you need a reminder of contemporary attitudes, here is some feedback on a funding bid to research digital exclusion and visual impairment.

“Readers said they were surprised about some of the statements about accessibility as there is special software for those with special needs and there is guidance for software developers related to meeting the needs of those with special needs.”

Ok, you could say ‘yes’ to both (ignoring for now the old medical model of disability that’s implicit here), but in the real world the industries who are responsible for each  rarely talk to each other. As a result the more the Internet is used to communicate then the more people are being excluded.  (If you doubt this click the digital divide/digital exclusion links under my blog categories.)

Back to public health – in a stunning display of political hyperbole, Andrew Lansley misses the point completely. Alongside education for behavioural change, policy should address the environmental issues too such as cut-price alcohol and the processed gunk that passes for ‘ready’ meals. The monopoly of giant food corporations like Coca Cola and McDonalds, and their cheap alternatives, has led to mass consumption of chemical concoctions designed to increase profit margins regardless of damage done to health. The people the government claim to want to help are the very same who are inadvertently supporting their own privileged and financially secure lifestyles. If you need more evidence try We are being ruled by a junk food government  and  Business Interests fight obesity

Some days there’s a lot to be said for watching the flowers grow…

Some weeks are tougher than others. This week my laptop has not been helpful. I open an existing file, work, save and close. The next day I try to reopen and get this sweet little error message

Word Error Message
Word Error Message

Don’t be fooled because none of the above suggestions work.

The first time this happened I lost an assignment and was not happy. A virus was suspected, the laptop ghosted and my general admin rights removed. This has not been without its frustrations but is by the by. Over the past two weeks Word documents have mysteriously started vanishing again. At first I blamed the synchronisation for behaving strangely. But it’s been a week since my laptop was plugged into the network and I’m still losing work. Never mind cigarettes and alcohol, this is not good for my health.  I’ve reactivated DropBox, am emailing myself and putting backup copies on the D drive which doesn’t seem to be affected. I don’t understand. How is it possible to save and close and then the file vanishes? There are things in life we like to rely on. People can be perverse but I like to think my car will start in the morning and my laptop is reasonably faithful, that it will hold onto my work and return it to me safely. But not so. Some days there’s a lot to be said for sitting down at the allotment and just watching the flowers grow.

Art or Ego?

[nggallery id=7]

Another Place on Crosby Beach was original. If public art is to stimulate thought and reaction then for me it worked. The parallels that came to mind as the tide revealed and concealed the statues ran unexpectedly deep. Even now, knowing the process is continuing reminds me of the permanence of nature in contrast to the impermanence of human life. But how many times do you need to repeat something before it starts to lose its originality and impact? Statues of Anthony Gormley are now available on an international scale; they’ve been installed in London, Edinburgh and New York and their latest appearance is high in the Austrian Alps. Gormley says calls the figures “silent witnesses” and says:

“The works are neither representations nor symbols, but [define] the place where a human being once was, and where any human being could be… [It] asks basic questions – who are we, what are we, where do we come from and to where are we headed?”

Once on Crosby Beach I might have agreed. But the effect is lessened by repetition. They are starting to raise the question of  is it art or is it ego that drives someone to continually recreate themselves in this way.


Alphabetical irony

The Coalition Programme for Government is available.  Firstly I’m on my soapbox about it only being provided in pdf format. The support information is inadequate i.e.  three links away from a 30 page Adobe Document which guess what – is also a PDF – like I didn’t have a problem first time round!

But secondly, what did catch my eye was the structure of the contents. The first of 31 items is Banking (Das Kapital?)  Then I noticed that Social Care and Disability is at 28 while Universities comes in at number 31 and I was amused in an ironic ‘TFIF’ sort of way…

Deepwater Horizon

The name Deepwater Horizon will go down in environment history. It’s been 8 days since an explosion sank the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. First estimates were 1,135,600 litres of crude oil released into the water – every day. That’s 79,492,00 litres a week so even more than that is now floating in the sea and starting to come ashore on the Louisiana coast.  There are two tragedies here, the loss of 11 lives and the environmental disaster when this amount of oil is leaking from 1,500m below the water’s surface, making it impossible to reach.  The effects on the environment  and on wildlife  can only be estimated, based on previous experiences, and this disaster looks likely to be even greater. How many wake-up calls do the multinational oil companies like BP need before accepting that the harm they are doing to the planet will always ultimately outweigh the benefits they provide.


Beautiful Minds is a Channel 4 series about some of the greatest scientific discoveries of our age. I was pleased to see that the second episode was devoted to James Lovelock; it’s time he was credited with recognition for the all the right rather than the wrong reasons.

I always thought Lovelock was a sensible scientist. His idea that the earth was a self-regulating organism, made up of complex interrelationships that can be  detrimentally altered by human activity,  never felt odd or strange. When the Gaia hypothesis was first made public you could find me down in the country, on a bit of land and living the good life; chickens and all. I felt in tune with the seasons and growing cycles, and witnessed the mysterious power of nature on a daily basis. Lovelock’s  ideas made sense.  It was a shock to read about his subsequent denouncement by the scientific community who made out that this uniquely individual mind was maverick and almost insane.

The Gaia hypothesis was in the news again recently. Lovelock claims that climate change is irreversible. The damage has been done.  Just as he has been proved right before (the first to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere and the effect of the sun on micro organisms controlling the temperature of the oceans) so he may be right again. Something needs to change.

It’s  frustrating that change on an individual level – while commendable – we can all change our lifestyles, shop differently, recycle and grow more of our own food (whether we want to or not being a different issue) but when compared to the international scale of over fishing, deforestation and the burning of fossils fuels, can feel like a grain of sand in a desert. We would find it hard to live without balance; heat, light, water, food are all basic ingredients and we are dependent on nature for them all.  How can we not have respect? At the very least we should take time out to think about it. Do something for the planet and watch the programme here this weekend.

The Cove

The Cove  won best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. Funded by the Ocean Preservation Society, the team secretly filmed the  slaughter of dolphins in a secluded cove in Taiji, Japan. Bizarrely, Taiji looks like a town that loves dolphins. Sculptures and murals of these mysterious mammals are everywhere.  But the cove is shut off with barbed wire and  keep out notices reinforced by aggressive local fishermen. Visitors are clearly not welcome. 

In the 1960s, animal trainer Ric O’Barry captured and trained the five dolphins who played Flipper in the international children’s TV series. Since then O’Barry has travelled the world campaigning against keeping dolphins in captivity and was instrumental in putting together the team of people who made this film. In Taiji, young female dolphins are captured to be sold to the multi-billion pound animal entertainment industry via organisations like Sea World. The remaining males and the babies are slaughtered in barbaric fashion that turns the sea red. The film is worth watching even if you need to close your eyes for the final scenes. Global attitudes to whaling are covered, the unsustainability of overfishing the oceans as well as the gritty economic realities of nature versus income. I’m not a sushi fan but I would certainly think twice about watching dolphins in perform in captivity again.

 Coincidently, today’s Guardian runs the story of the closure of a California restaurant for selling whale meat after the Cove filmmakers secretly filmed the evidence while in town to collect their Academy Awards.

Digital disconnection

For a week I experienced digital disconnection. In the Lecrin Valley in rural Spain with no electricity, and only a log stove to fight the cold, even my mobile roamed for data in vain. It was a short-term experience of digital exclusion. The area was remote, full of orange, lemon, olive and almond trees. The closest I got to digital technology was the petrol pump at the garage seven miles away. It was a different pace of life, one where digital exclusion appeared to be the norm. The village is on Google maps  but life is lived in a traditional style far away from retail centres and the ‘education, information and entertainment’ buzz of a 24/7 Internet. I thought I would miss being connected but I didn’t. It was a timely reminder of how pervasive digital technology is becoming in my life. At a time when government policy is moving towards creating an increasingly digital society, touching base with nature isn’t a bad thing. They say you don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone. Last week was a good reminder not to lose sight of the values still to be found in an analogue world.