Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Healthy dose of mercury from whale meat & The (Australian) politics of abuse in Sri Lanka

So the story of hunting whales, whale meat and dangerous mercury levels keeps popping up every now and then. The excuses are the same as always: it's a tradition. Fair enough.

But if we were, in each of our respective countries and cultures, to follow all our traditions I am pretty sure the world would be a very different place today. Not only does whale hunting continue in the name of scientific research, but now we have 4 million kilos of frozen whale meat tucked away in who knows where throughout Japan.

With the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan heavily discounting the frozen whale meat for the school lunches of children the question of mercury poisoning comes to mind. Granted Japan has a very seafood-heavy diet and so the average person's exposure to mercury in seafood may be higher than in other countries, but I wonder how the bureaucrats feel about knowingly providing inexpensive, potentially toxic meat to schoolchildren. How do some people sleep at night?

In another article…

Armed conflicts is in my opinion are always difficult to analyse without having all the facts available, and inevitably all the facts are for one legitimate reason or another not readily available. The end of the insurgency in Sri Lanka in 2009 was good news in that it meant an end to an armed insurgency, but how much do we really know about the insurgency itself and the methods used to end the conflict?

This article provides some insight into how Australia is out-of-step when it comes to pressing the Sri Lanka government to be more open and accountable on this issue. I wonder how Australia's political leaders feel about playing politics at the expense of accountability, but then is that even a question that requires an answer? Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Euthanasia – guess we need permission before we can debate…

There was a report earlier this week that a TV ad to be screened by Exit International was banned when the TV industry body, Free TV Australia, withdrew permission for the ad to screen. Now it seems that even billboard ads will not be able to be displayed due to legal concerns.

Here's the ad:

I am of the view that euthanasia is not the same as what is usually reported as suicide. The definition of suicide that I have is one where someone is unable to cope with sudden, immense stress or finds no way to solve some ongoing, traumatic problem. Anyone who finds themselves in situations like these should seek the assistance of mental health experts (Australia has several organisations that help people who are in depression such as beyondblue and Lifeline).

Euthanasia by someone who is physically ill, mentally sound and has no prospect of a medical resolution should be a topic that we should debate. I acknowledge that should euthanasia be legalised, it opens the possibility to horror scenarios where someone may be persuaded to end their lives – that is exactly why we should have a debate and decide what checks and balances, if any, are suitable to prevent such abuses. Perhaps we shall find none and thus the debate can be ended.

I have not had direct experience of a loved one suffering through a debilitating physical illness but there are many out there who have – shouldn't we hear what they have to say?

Are we too reluctant to debate euthanasia because it would force us to take a closer, deeper look at the causes and impact of suicide on our society?

For reference
- Here's the Free TV Australia media release on this issue.
- Suicide is the biggest cause of death in Australia for people aged under 44 (estimated at 2,000 deaths per year), surpassing car accidents, cancer or heart disease!!
- Japan fares much worse, with over 30,000 people taking their lives every year, for the past 12 years!! Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 6 September 2010

In summary: Australia; Israel; Burqa banning; Overseas Aid; Whales; Japan; Okinawa

With busy, modern life starting to eat into my free time and after seeing some interesting (for the most part, anyway...except #8…) articles I decided to make this post into a mini-digest.

1. Malcolm Turnbull is a fiscal conservative and social liberal (can't really disagree too much with this assessment), yet in the current Liberal Party of Australia, I would say he is in the minority…maybe he should form a new political party?

2. Over two weeks after the Australian Federal Election and we are still waiting for a government. Initially I was wishing for a new election, but out of the five independent Members of Parliament I have to agree that the three that are yet to decide who they will support haven't been rushing to any decisions. I would probably not agree with them on many, many issues but at least they are being (for the most part) transparent. Let's hope their transparency lasts…

3. The Labor-Green deal recently announced produced an opinion piece from Russell Trood, Liberal Senator for Queensland. I have to agree with him. Plus, given the Greens' propensity to dictate, I wonder: they may be socially progressive, but at the same time authoritarian…something that we see from the socially conservative extremes in many countries…I know it's overly simplistic, but didn't we finish with fascism and communism already?

4. On the topic of authoritarianism…saw this article about how Israel is facing internal attacks on freedom of speech. Whether you are pro-Israel or pro-Palestine when it comes to the Isreal-Palestine issue, it makes you wonder…

5. There have been several opinion articles on the niqab and burqa – whether it should be banned or not banned in the last few months. This article seems to be the most unbiased of all that I have read – it makes you think without being scared by one side or the other, well worth sharing.

In related news: came across this article that reports some ultra-orthodox Jewish women in Israel wear the burqa…make of it what you will...Also, while I am sure that many people will be pointing to the recent ban of the burqa in Syria (a majority Muslim country) – how many people are talking about the extremists on all sides that seem to be getting louder and louder? Are they the vocal minority or are we indeed living in such a bigoted world?

6. Nice to hear of celebrities that use their fame for something worthwhile: Hugh Jackman writes about aid programs that are not just handouts, but empower the people they help. These economic development projects have been around a while, as have the issues that give rise to people in need, all the more annoying when people such as "40mark" make ignorant and bigoted comments (see comments section of article).

7. Japanese nationalists would be happy at the news that whale meat has been used at least once in one sixth of public schools. My comment: thumbs down, period.

8. There may or may not be a new Japanese PM next week… either way, if you are in Japan you will probably have seen Kan or Ozawa in the news at some point. If you aren't in Japan you probably can't name the Japanese PM. Could they just move on and try and come up with some policies for the country instead?

9. To all foreigners coming to Japan (or living here, for that matter): If you stay in a "minshuku," read up a bit on Japanese culture, otherwise stay in a run-of-the-mill hotel or hostel.

10. An finally, an uplifiting story about Byron Fija and his quest to revitalise Okinawa's local languages. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Do we really need the new airport scanners?

Gradually more and more airports around the world are introducing the new full-body scanners. To their credit, most governments and airports maintain the scan as a non-compulsory option. Manchester (UK) airport being a notable exception – if you are selected for a scan and refuse, you can't board your flight; let's hope whoever sells you an air ticket that goes through Manchester airport makes that very clear to you.

My concerns are not so much the fact that the scans reveal each person's anatomy to a great extent, though those are valid concerns – can you really trust any of the operators to not ogle at the scanned images, no matter how much training they have had? And if operators of scanners at a US courthouse in Orlando, Florida were able to save 35,000 images, who is to say that images will not be stored in the future in the US or in another country. The real worry for me is the hidden effects of the radiation used for the scans.

I am not a radiation expert, but when it comes to exposing my body to extra radiation I would rather opt out. Air travel, mobile phones, UV rays, dental X-rays, UV lights, fluorescent lights…I have enough on my mind to worry and would rather not add another radiation source to my list. Let's not forget pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, pollution, and a myriad of other nasties that we are exposed to on an everyday basis. The above are a fact of modern life and I accept them because they are my choice to accept. I could go and live in a far away place, grow my own food, stay indoors during the day and use home-made candles at night while my teeth do whatever they please...but I choose to live in our modern world with all its modern conveniences (and perils).

I wonder what will happen if 20 years from now we have a surge in cancer among frequent fliers and airport scanner operators (is standing near those things safe?). Or worse, what if these scans have immediate detrimental effects on sperm quality in men or pregnant women unaware that they are pregnant? What do we do with these unseen and unfelt damages to DNA? Do you feel the initial damage from UV rays that give you skin cancer? Do you feel your liver scarring little by little from drinking too much or the nascent cancer in your lungs from smoking or inhaling nasty pollution?

From some news reports, the option of a pat-down can be quite handsy…perhaps we should make air travel clothing-optional.

Image credit: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content