Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dealing With Stress

It is easy to get caught up in what goes on around us day to day and see problems as bigger than what they may actually be. Everything looks bigger from close up and smaller if looked at from a distance.

I have been thinking about this in relation to the issues, which seem to have gotten people “fired up” in Australia (particularly during the election) but in general too compared to what is going on in other parts of the world.

Currently in Pakistan there are 20 million people affected by flooding. Many of these people have lost their homes, their livelihoods and in some cases family members. This figure is close to the entire Australian population and is around 15 times the number of people affected in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Maybe it is because Pakistan is far away or maybe because it is not seen as “important” but news of this is usually in the middle of the papers with the exploits of sports people or other celebrity indiscretions getting onto page one. The media by and large reflects rather than dictates the mood of the people so this does tell us something about what we see as important.

I was staggered to read (in the Economist Aug 14) that in the last four years there has been 28000 deaths in Mexico associated with drug cartels. Most of these people were murdered. This is nearly 25 times the annual road toll in Australia. All of these people no doubt had families who are affected by this and I am certain the vast majority were young people.

Meanwhile back home the issue, which the Greens are most fired up about, is Gay Marriage. Now to be honest I do not have a strong view either way-it does not affect me. If people love each other then a piece of paper will not strengthen that and if they do not neither will it make them do so. The world will keep turning. Married or not their life will continue.

Many other issues are also given life and death seriousness when in reality they are just about peoples opinions.

Much is made about the increase in mental illness in western countries. It seems increasingly that much of this is worry reclassified as an illness. We are fortunate to have enough to eat and roofs over our heads and by any historic measure, a high level of safety.

This gives us the time to get stressed over who will win the football, or the election. We have time to shop and then stress about paying the credit card bill. We can build a bigger house and stress over interest rates. We have time to get involved in the lives of celebrities whose activities we follow closely and then pontificate on.

Many are whipped up into fear by the latest pronouncement of doom and gloom by some academic who wants more “funding” for their next project. Tales of individuals who are aggrieved over something not going their way also ignite passions and lead people to feel stressed.

Whilst it is true that for each person, that which affects them most, seems the most important, the stress we feel is a product of our mind rather than our circumstances. It is our reaction to events and not events themselves, which are the cause of stress. In western society much of the “stress” we feel is a product of our expectations not being met. The problem is not reality it is our expectations.

In turn we are 100% responsible for our expectations as well as our response to the reality we find ourselves in. This means we have the capacity to change how we respond. It is entirely normal to want things to be “better” and work towards this. Your starting point must be an acceptance of how things are right now. It is only from there that you can go forward.

So rather than stressing or seeking to blame something or someone for any problems you face start with accepting your situation. Then look for a solution and implement it. Sometimes this solution will be to walk away. Always it will involve a choice.

If you want things to be other than they are you will need to do things differently to how you have done them

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Politics Or Entertainment

“There’s only two types of people in this world- The ones that entertain and the ones that observe”
Opening line from Circus by Britney Spears

The Australian election campaign has really shown the truth of these words. In a complete policy vacuum where stage-managed appearances and scripted lines are the norm one bright light has actually stood out for entertainment and indeed thought provoking comment

That is Mark Latham, the former Labour leader turned commentator and part time journalist. Clearly he is in the category of those who entertain. His appearances and words have been as widely reported as those of the two “leaders”. The difference is that Latham is actually genuine. You may not like him or agree with him. You may even feel that his views are colored by spite or other emotion. However what he says he actually believes and he has a unique perspective having played the game of politics.

What is most fascinating is the reaction he generates. Journalists and politicians are “outraged”. His meeting with Julia Gillard was big news. Why? He is entitled to ask the Prime minister a question as a citizen and even more so wearing his “journalist” hat. There was absolutely nothing untoward in this other than he beat the Canberra press gallery at its own game.

Meanwhile his meeting with opposition leader Tiny Abbott was a media event in itself. On Sky news the studio was eagerly anticipating the live “cross” to Latham meeting Abbott. When it happened the camera was on Latham the whole time. So who is actually running for prime minister?

And so what is really aggravating the politicians and journalists is that because he knows the game from the inside he is able to give out trade secrets. When Latham talks about how media events are set up he knows this from personal experience. When he talks about leaks to senior Canberra journalists he also knows from personal experience.

Apparently 1.3 million Australians watched his piece on 60 minutes where at the end he stated that he would not fill in the ballot paper and urged others to do the same. This is the ultimate in not playing the game.

Not surprisingly the media has gone into hyper drive. I have heard more about Latham’s no vote line than about Julia Gillard’s policy launch today. The camps split into two. Those who were suitably “outraged” and those, who were entertained.

It says a lot about this election campaign and the games that are played, that the musings of a former politician can get so much traction. The simple reason for this is that Latham is entertaining. But that by itself may not gather so much attention. The ability to entertain coupled with insights into the political games by a former insider is a potent mix.

Like him or not Latham has nothing to lose by being honest. He is no longer part of the “ game”. Regardless his motives for telling it like it is, he is doing it. Those whose livelihoods depend on the game continuing as is are of course threatened.

In a dull colorless and boring campaign where the focus of each party is not on what they offer the country but to attack the other, the appearances of Mark Latham have been a breath of fresh air. He is a man who has come over from the “dark side” and is now shining a light on political spin.

It is a positive reflection on how fortunate we are to live in Australia that there is so little interest in who governs it and that it probably makes very little difference.

As for his idea on not filling out the ballot paper- it is an idea worth considering.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pandemic Ends And The Sky Has Not Fallen

A firecracker goes off with a bang, loud noise and bright light. When it fades such there is no more noise and the last bit of light disappears almost imperceptibly. Then there is nothing again but sky.

The swine flu has run a similar path. It arrived with a bang and lots of noise. This week it faded with the “official” announcement by the WHO that the pandemic has ended. The disappearance was like the firework going out, hardly noticeable. And we are left with sky, which despite the hysterical claims by health officials did not fall.

The whole issue of swine flu has been badly mismanaged from day one. The closing of schools for a week because a child had a sore throat runny nose and a cough was the first obvious sign that a massive over reaction was happening. Other than appearing in Mexico and getting a fancy name, this was always flu like any other flu. Every year some people get the flu and some die with it.

Yet we have witnessed a full scale health scare, which has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Governments on the advice of “experts” ordered millions of vaccines and stockpiled anti viral drugs. The vast majority of these were not used, despite advertising campaigns urging people to be vaccinated. Pharmaceutical manufacturers made significant profits.

As it turned out last year was no different to any other year with regards flu In fact not only was swine flu no more serious than any other strain, in most instances the illness was milder. There were fewer cases and less deaths than usual in the southern winter of 2009 and northern winter of 2010.

Some will defend the authorities on the basis of caution in the face of the unknown. This argument falls down, as flu is known. This was just another strain.

The reason most of the vaccines were not used is that most people very sensibly did not want a rushed out and inadequately tested vaccine against a mild illness. It turned out that those who had previous flu shots were more likely to get reactions to the new one. Worse still there has been a high rate of febrile convulsions in children under five having the flu shot this year leading the Australian government to (belatedly) suspend the use of it in this age group. This was after one child died and dozens more were hospitalized after having the vaccine.

Two weeks later this became public and the main concern of health authorities was not that children had been harmed or exposed needlessly to potential harm but that “an important vaccine program” was being disrupted. A report into how this was handled has called for sweeping changes.

There is another sleeper in all this. Serious questions have been raised in Europe and the USA about conflicts of interest with those advising governments also having ties to vaccine manufacturers. The European Commission has called hearings to investigate this. A New York Times article reported over 60% of advisers to the CDC had potential conflicts of interest including being paid by vaccine makers. In Australia questions have been raised about how close the government is to certain vaccine makers.

The fact that swine flu has been a non-event was largely foreseeable. The waste of taxpayers’ dollars and whipping up of fear in the community is not acceptable. I do not see that anyone is being held accountable. At no time did any “official” provide useful information to the public about what they can do to support their own immune system. The only answers to the “problem” were a vaccine, which was not needed, or an anti viral drug, which does not even work.

I wrote about this on May 28 2009 (and subsequently) and have consistently said that this issue has been mismanaged and that there was never any need for fear, panic or waste of billions of dollars. The public response in ignoring calls for needless vaccination and panic has been far superior to the so called ‘experts” who have been running around with the self importance and attention seeking behavior of Chicken Little.

The reality is that the sky was never going to fall. The firework of swine flu has now faded and the sky remains where it always was.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Australian Election - Leadership Goes AWOL

“And so my fellow Americans, ask not what you country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” - John F. Kennedy

The late American President said these words half a century ago. The same principle applies in almost any country and its validity has not changed. It certainly should apply in Australia in 2010.

But it does not. Why attitudes have changed so much in 50 years so that today people ask what can the government do for me (or my interest group)? Australia is in the middle of what is the worst election campaign I have seen in my life. The two parties and “leaders” are battling it out to see who can offend the least number of interest groups and offer the “most “ in government largesse.

The aim is to be the government, which offers to do most for you whilst expecting the least is done by you. This is fuelled by an ever-increasing number of lobbies and special interest groups all of who could do a great job if only they had the right amount of funding.

This week the mental health lobby came out swinging on how mental health had been ignored and needed more funding. No mention was made of how this lobby (in my opinion) artificially increases the numbers of people with mental health illness by reclassifying everyone who may have a bit of stress or a bad hair day as having some form of illness.

We are also told health is “underfunded” in a variety of ways. More funding is needed for hospital beds, and for a plethora of “programs”. General practice too is “underfunded”.

Environmental groups, and education groups also need funding. The list goes on. In fact it is hard to think of an interest group, which does not have its hand out for more money whilst claiming the end of the world if they are not adequately “funded”.

Nowhere in this is there any suggestion of people needing to be responsible for their own actions. Nowhere is there any suggestion that answer may lie somewhere other than government funding. Nowhere is it pointed out that the world will keep spinning very nicely even if various interest and lobby groups do not get as much “funding” as they feel entitled to.

Politicians and governments have reached the point of being seen as our “parents” and we behave like children looking to them for protection and provision. The idea of John F. Kennedy that it is up to citizens to contribute rather than take has vanished.

And that is a problem. Put simply government generates no money other than that which it takes in taxes. Government money is our own money funneled back in various ways, minus what gets used up on bureaucracy. Calls for “funding” are people saying, no one will actually pay for the goods or services I have to offer so we will get you to pay via government redistributing money from you to us.

In health the solution is not funding or more hospital beds or more aged care beds. This makes, as much sense as saying the way to stop cars breaking down is to build more repair shops regardless the fact that the reason the cars are breaking down is due to people not looking after their cars.

The solution is people being responsible for their own health. Rather than ask for “funding” for gastric banding surgery, eat proper food instead of manufactured and processed food, and do regular exercise.

Rather than seek more funding for diabetes treatment how about not developing it? Again via eating real food and not overeating. Rather than seek more “funding” for mental health how about accepting that life is not always a bed of roses and not turning every emotion into a disease.

Government is not the solution and will never be. If anything government policies are more part of the problem. Politicians love to be seen as saviors and encourage people to believe they are helpless and in need of the “saving” hand of government. So we get promises to “fix” health (what your government can do for you) rather than the truth, which is that the individual is responsible (what you can do for your country).

Real leaders would say that the solution is not to “fund” more beds but to reduce demand for beds. The solution is not more disease care funding but people being responsible for their health.

In this woeful campaign between two “leaders “ who are followers of focus groups and not leaders in any sense of the word, do not expect the truth of John F. Kennedy’s words to get an airing.

As an individual you can rise above this by simply being responsible for what you do and hence “detaching” from the teat of government.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who Really Profits From Disease?

Every so often you suddenly see things, which taken together are another part of the jigsaw.

So it was that within the space of 24 hours I read about a grill in Arizona called the Heart Attack Grill, which claims to serve the worlds unhealthiest food and about calls for more gastric banding surgery to treat obesity.

The Heart Attack Grill “prides itself” on offering unhealthy high calorie foods with names like flat liner fries and the quadruple bypass burger. The place is decked out like a hospital and the waitresses wear skimpy nurses uniforms. There is even a wheelchair to wheel you back out to the car.

Interestingly the sign on the door says “Caution this establishment is bad for your health”. You can not be more blatant than that. Anyone who goes in knows what is on offer. Over 90% of diners are tourists. This shows that people do not eat there regularly.

With no advertising the grill has generated huge publicity on the backs of the, predictable, calls for it to be closed down. Apparently the owner has plans for more. Nurses, doctors and other members of the health lobby have picketed the grill, which has been accused of profiting from obesity, heart disease and diabetes.


The other item was the call by Associate Professor John Dixon, the head of obesity research unit at Melbourne’s Monash University for bariatric surgery to be standard treatment for people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40 and for those with a BMI over 35 with diabetes.

He claimed that General Practitioners (primary care physicians) should refer more people for surgery and not pursue lifestyle measures or be deterred by the 12% re operation rate. He failed to mention the longer term complications such as fractures and kidney stones.

He did declare that he had consulted for several companies with interests in bariatric surgery.

So who is actually profiting from obesity, diabetes and the like? A grill selling clearly labeled foods to people who would see a visit to such a place as a one off fun night out or the people pushing surgery and drugs which they are paid to do or prescribe, in preference to obvious lifestyle measures which they are not earn money from?

Pharmaceutical companies also profit handsomely from diabetes. The drug Avandia has generated billions in sales yet it now has been shown that those taking the drug for diabetes have higher rates of heart attacks then those not on the drug.

So not only does the company and other parts of the medical establishment profit from the treatment of diabetes it may well further profit from the treatment of problems caused by the initial treatment.

This adds to the already expensive “disease care” costs facing western societies.

So in actual fact it is the medical industrial complex which profits from obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle related conditions, rather than an over the top grill. This is never more clearly demonstrated than in the call of the Monash Professor, who is paid to consult for companies with “interests in surgery” and pushes expensive surgery in preference to inexpensive dietary change and exercise.

Things are not always as they seem.