Daryl Ilbury

Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

It takes something like this…

In Eish! on November 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

Shocking and deeply upsetting though the suicide of Wales football manager Gary Speed is for the lovers of the game and British people in general, the true tragedy is that it takes an event like this to thrust mental health issues into the public spotlight.

His death has prompted so many questions, the most obvious one being why would someone so successful and seemingly so happy take his own life.

That is the reason why events like this should be seen as an opportunity to open up debate around mental health issues.

Unfortunately, while the media are lauding Gary and his achievements, I am well aware that the less morally inclined low-lifes in journalism are already trawling for shocking and sensational stories about him and his state of mind, ready to unleash them when they feel the time is right.

Not only will this sully his name, but it will no doubt do serious damage to the public impression of mental health.

Image: The Guardian

So how do you grow a sociopath?

In Science on November 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm

There are two things I remember from my first year studying clinical psychology: Freud’s Psychosexual Stages of Development, and the taste of human flesh on a knife.

OK…give me a break…how else was I going to start a post titled “So how do you grow a sociopath?”…and, yes, I made up the first line…we didn’t study Freud until second year.

The study of human psychological development has been characterised by the ongoing arguments for the role of nature versus nurture. The former argues that we are genetically programmed to displaying certain types of behaviour, whereas the latter argues that we are the sum of our experiences.

When I went to see the film We Need to Talk About Kevin I thought “hang on, what about epigenetic theory?” It’s something that is Aristotelean, but has been stolen by those dastardly biologists. So, I wrote a review about the film, one that I doubt anyone else has written.

Click here, and go “by golly, Daryl, you may be on to something!”

Oh yes, and by the way…it does taste like chicken

A sad day for journalists

In Eish!, Fools, Politics, Scoundrels on November 22, 2011 at 7:46 am

This morning I reread my notes from a lecture I attended yesterday on the British Freedom of Information Act. The act gives journalists the right to ask any public body for any information they have on any subject. Unless there is a good reason, that organisation must provide the requested information within 20 days. This applies to, amongst others, government departments, local authorities, health trusts, hospitals, the police, and non-departmental  public bodies, committees and advisory bodies.

Briefly, if any organisation receives any funds from the state, it must hand over any information requested by a journalist. This includes e-mails. The reason for this is to help the media in their role as the watchdog protecting the rights and interests of the British people.

Today South Africa takes a giant stumble in the exact opposite direction when the Protection of State Information Bill (aka the ‘Secrecy Bill’) is presented before Parliament. Driven by the ruling ANC, the Bill, if passed will allow any government authority – local municipal through to national government – to deem any information a state secret and therefore prevent public access to it.

South Africa boasts horrifying levels of corruption. Public funds earmarked for social development are stolen by governmental officials and state employees capitalising on a largely uncritical populace. The press have worked tirelessly to uncover such corruption and have, in the process, raised the ire of the ruling party; hence the ANC’s promotion of the Bill.

They have portrayed the media as everything from interfering, to (laughingly) anti-democracy, through to racist. The media have reacted with the ‘Right2Know‘ campaign.

There are many in the South African media who remember the days when the state banned access to information to protect their own interests. In those days the ‘interests’ were the state’s suppression of basic human rights. It was called ‘apartheid’.

It is quite simple: This bill is expected to be presented for a vote at 2.00pm CAT. If it’s passed (and it looks like it will), South Africa will lose ‘freedom of the press’ from its constitution; and it will cease to be a democracy.

**Late addendum: the bill was passed. The Business Day explains what happened, and where the fight for the freedom of press goes now

Tripping over health lobbyists in Congress

In Eish!, Politics on November 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

"Pssst...hey...wanna buy a plaster?"

I can’t think of lobbyists without thinking of the excellent film Thank You for Smoking, the black comedy that uncovered the types of spin and other tactics lobbyists use in the execution of the bidding of their supposedly nefarious masters. However, it wasn’t until Sunday that I realised just how prolific they were.

According to an article in The Observer, “the healthcare industry alone employs six lobbyists for every elected politician”.

Get that? Six healthcare lobbyists for every elected politician.

In the article covering the seeming ineptitude of the Republicans to find a worthy contender to take on Barrack Obama in next year’s presidential elections, Paul Harris explains that for his last presidential campaign Obama spent £740 million – more than that spent by George W. Bush and John Kerry combined just four years earlier.

The man the healthcare industry seems to love to take on Obama (and his unpopular Health Reform Bill) is former House of Representative’s speaker Newt Gingrich. But he’s been caught with his pants down – both literally and figuratively. He has admitted to a number of affairs, but more recently it has emerged that he has been receiving large amounts of money from the heavy hitters in the US healthcare industry via a ‘think tank’ he established called The Center for Health Transformation. The Washington Post has quoted a figure of over $37 million.

That’s a lot of plasters.

Anti-abortion activism – the hidden terrorism

In Eish!, Fools, Politics on November 19, 2011 at 9:29 am

Rev Michael Bray and the 'Gas Can' Award he received from the Army of God in 2001 for his advocacy of arson attacks against family planning clinics (Source: Ms Magazine)

I oppose binary thinking. Wait, that sounds suspiciously like a non sequitur. Let me put it this way: I prefer to entertain multiple perspectives when it comes to socio-political issues. Let’s just say I prefer to keep an open mind, and I encourage open debate. Binary thinking encourages confrontation, and when confrontation is fuelled by emotion, the outcome can be calamitous.

There are few issues that divide America more than abortion. It’s a stumbling block for politicians. Say you’re pro-life and you are tagged as anti the rights of women, say you’re pro-choice and you are called a murderer. The anti-abortion movement is arguably the most radicalised, and acts of aggression and violence, even murder, directed at medical staff at family planning clinics are frighteningly high.

And yet these are not considered acts of domestic terrorism.

I know what you’re thinking: “‘Domestic terrorism?’ Isn’t that a bit extreme?”

The Daily Maverick’s Carien Els has written a fascinating piece that shows the extraordinary levels of these acts of violence, that under any other circumstances would be addressed as domestic terrorism; and how, not surprisingly given the political sensitivity of the issue, the US government ignores it.

History Commons has a catalogue of some of these acts. They include arson, bomb attacks, and the co-ordinated brutal assault on innocent people. Replace the term ‘anti-abortion’ with, say, ‘anti-government’ or ‘anti-Christian’, and you’ve got full-scale domestic terrorism.

I am neither pro-life, nor pro-choice; but I am against acts of aggression, especially those fomented by people who claim some measure of moral superiority based on their myopic ideologies.

Why flies love your beer

In Eish!, Science on November 18, 2011 at 9:02 am

Honey for flies

Whenever flies start buzzing around me as I settle down on a sunny day with a glass of ice cold beer, I generally take it personally and sniff my armpits.

Thank heavens for a team of entomologists from the University of California, Riverside. They have made a discovery that promises to change the face of science as we know it; and the best way to pay homage to their industriousness is to explain this discovery in their own words: “flies sense glycerol, a sweet-tasting compound that yeasts make during fermentation”.

Because the distilling process in the manufacture of beer employs yeast to promote fermentation, flies are attracted to the traces of glycerol. For the bio-chemistry nuts: the flies can sense the glycerol because they have a receptor known as Gr64e. According to the study, “once a fly has settled on beer, Gr64e detects glycerol and transmits this information to the fly’s neurons, which then influences the fly’s behavioral response”.

It’s a little beyond me, but I’m sure it’ll impress people at a cocktail party, so I’m going to bank it in my brain.

Of course, because my mind works in rather worrying ways sometimes, I am interested not so much in the science of the study as in the story behind it: why and where was this specific area of study first entertained?

I guess it goes to prove something else I’ve always suspected: some of the best ideas are created over an ice cold beer.

For more on this research, go here: http://genomics.ucr.edu/news/2011-11-17_dahanukar.html

(Sorry, WordPress seems reluctant to allow me to embed hyperlinks for some reason)

The extra hardships of being LGBT and old

In Eish! on November 16, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Imagine when after years of suffering subtle and not so subtle discrimination you try and settle into old age, knowing all the time that you have no children to visit you, and the chances are you’ll die alone.

It must be one of the loneliest, most depressing feelings in the world.

These are circumstances that have been found in a study by the University of Washington to be increasingly common amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults in the United States.

According to the report, the researchers found that the 2,650 LGBT study participants – who were between the ages of 50 and 95 – were more likely to be living alone and “had greater rates of disability, depression and loneliness and increased likeliness to smoke and binge-drink” compared with heterosexuals of similar ages. Furthermore, these seniors were “at greater risk for social isolation, linked to poor mental and physical health, cognitive impairment, chronic illness and premature death”.

No-one should enter old age and die alone.

Don’t smoke in your car…because we care

In Eish! on November 16, 2011 at 9:26 am

BBC Health News is reporting today that the British Medical Association (BMA) – the British doctors’ trade union – has recommended legislation to ban smoking in cars. This would be an extension of the current ban on smoking in public places.

It follows research that shows that smoking in a car can produce levels of toxin “up to 23 times higher than in a smoky bar”.

Now whereas this makes sense if there are others in a car, especially children, (personally I believe anyone who smokes in a car where there are children should be publicly flogged); the question has to be asked: should we disallow someone driving alone having a quiet smoke before they get to work?

This is a point presented by the British smokers’ lobby group Forest, who are no doubt fuming under their breath (geddit?) that doctors are interfering with their human rights. They’re most probably calling them jackbooted Nazis, but will but deny it.

It’s a times like this that I am reminded of the words of a most sagacious man, leading science writer and broadcaster Obi Wan Ka-Toby Murcott, who, in his book The Whole Story, writes with his typical light-sabre incisive wisdom “most doctors are healers first and scientists second”.

Doctors suggest bans like this because they genuinely care for the health of others; and they do so at significant personal cost. Think about it: the healthier the nation, the less income for them.

I couldn’t have made this up if I tried!

In Eish! on November 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

I have made a broadcasting and writing career from a creative but challenging niche: linking seemingly unconnected events in an attempt to yield an original perspective on life around us.

But even I couldn’t have made this up. The BBC Health News website today reports: “Scientists say research is needed to ascertain if oral contraceptive pill use could be fuelling rising prostate cancer rates”.

I know! I reacted the same way: but don’t women take the pill, and men get prostate cancer? Wait…it gets weirder. The piece goes on to say: “The researchers believe oestrogen by-products excreted in the urine of pill-users may have contaminated the food chain and drinking water”.

The highly respected Cancer Research UK reacted to this announcement thus: “Comparing the rates of two apparently unrelated issues across countries is a notoriously unreliable way of establishing whether they are truly linked”.

You figure?

As I said…I couldn’t have made this up if I tried.

You can read the whole story here

So long, and thanks for all the bamboo

In Eish! on November 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm

"Why Henry..."

For most people the panda is the cute and cuddly symbol of the World Wildlife Fund; but for many conservationists quite frankly it’s a pain in the butt.

It only eats bamboo, which is virtually indigestible and has almost zero nutritional value, and it must be the only animal in the world that doesn’t see any value in procreating. Essentially, in evolutionary speak, it’s overstayed its welcome. In conservation speak it’s a serious strain on limited resources; which is why a recent survey of about 600 scientists suggest that when it comes to the panda we need to entertain the notion of what they call ‘conservation triage’.

I first came across the concept of ‘triage’ when I was a captain appointed to South Africa’s 1 Medical Battalion. My role was as a counsellor helping young soldiers exposed to post traumatic stress disorder. During a large scale battle training exercise the surgeons in the unit established a frontline triage facility. I enquired about the term and they said it’s where they prioritised any injuries that came through – those that received priority, those that didn’t and those for whom it was too late.

Conservation triage is the same thing: it is the prioritisation of the allocation of increasingly scarce conservation resources to the most deserving cases. If implemented it’ll mean that unless the panda pulls its weight and learns to procreate, conservation will wash its hands of the remaining pandas and let them quietly die off.