Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Australian newspaper's move to the right

In The ABC versus The Australian - and the winner is ... Alan Stokes writes:
As mad as it might make the independents feel, the Murdoch press simply pitches confirmation journalism to conservatives who are perfectly legitimate consumers of media products.

How would I know?

Because I have split my three-decade working life roughly between Fairfax Media and Rupert Murdoch.
There was a time when The Oz was less extreme. Then the powers that be made a survival decision. I sat at meetings where News Corp executives stressed that The Australian should aim to become a conservative newspaper with story decisions seen through that prism.

More than a decade on it remains a great newspaper. The Australian has many very talented reporters.  Hedley Thomas's dogged pursuit of Clive Palmer has been laudable, as have campaigns to improve indigenous health and utilise freedom of information laws.

But too often the good journalism gets lost in the polemics.

The Abbott government gives The Oz more exclusives because they will be given less critical treatment and, usually, more space. Myriad news reports quote like-minded lobbyists, think-tanks, fellow staff and even editors at length. As noted American sociologist Charles Tilly might say, sometimes journalists just seek "a quotable bit that will reinforce the point they already want to make".

Monday, 24 November 2014

Nutella and banana sushi

Kidspot has a Nutella and banana sushi recipe.

Ecstasy and mental health

In What are your 'ecstasy years' doing to you today? Clem Bastow reports on an ABC short documentary exploring links between mental illness and ecstasy use in The Agony Of Ecstasy.
Other friends were certainly not so shy, nor was Lise, now 28, whose former ecstasy use is the subject of the short ABC2 documentary The Agony Of Ecstasy.

Having used ecstasy regularly - “every weekend, for two years” - in her younger days, Lise soon found herself dealing with detrimental effects to her mental health that went beyond the accepted ‘comedown’ period after each party: psychosis, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The Agony Of Ecstasy explores the possibility that regular use of the drug could contribute to long-term detrimental effects to mental health, memory, motor skills, and even the ability to learn.
As it turns out, many of the potential long term effects of ecstasy use are tied to what makes it such a popular drug in the first place: its stimulation of the hormones serotonin and oxytocin, and the ensuing depletion of the former, which can take days to replenish.

In Agony, Lise visits Prof. Ian McGregor of Sydney University, who has been conducting research into the effects of the drug: he has found evidence of long term depletion of serotonin, and increased rates of depression and anxiety, in even casual users. In rats that had been exposed to small amounts of MDMA, Prof. McGregor also found long term depletion of oxytocin, which is essential for day-to-day social functioning. Compellingly, he says there is also evidence to suggest that users who experience “terrible Tuesday” could be displaying a predisposition to mental illness.

It is, as Lise puts it during her Agony journey, “a chicken and the egg” scenario: it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell whether she was already prone to anxiety, depression and poor judgment before she began taking the drug, or if the drug left her in that state.
“Absolutely,” agrees Lucas, “a harm reduction approach that focuses on safe use has been proven to be more  effective in terms of reducing the risk to individuals and society. Of course there will always be a demand for drugs because young people will always want to try new experiences, but making sure they are making informed choices around drug taking, and the risks involved, is really what we want to contribute to.”

Need to lose weight - try a vegan diet

In Eat carbs, lose weight – lessons from a vegan diet Paula Goodyer reports that those participants in a small study found those on a vegan diet lost double the weight of those on diets including meat or fish.

It seems a vegan diet can also carry other health benefits:
It's not the first study to show weight loss success on a diet based entirely on plants. Six years ago I interviewed  Dr Neal Barnard, Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at George Washington School of Medicine, about his research looking at using a plant food-only diet to control type 2 diabetes. He found that besides controlling blood glucose more effectively than the standard American Diabetes Association diet, the diet also helped reduce weight and cholesterol.
What about the argument that eating a lot of carbohydrates forces the body to produce too much insulin, which in turn encourages the body to store fat more easily?

"If this was the case, we wouldn't have studies consistently showing that vegetarians, who typically eat more carbohydrate, have better insulin sensitivity, a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease and are less likely to be overweight," she says.

But another advantage of a vegan diet may have something to do with the kind of bacteria that reside in a gut where the only available food comes from plants. New research from the City University of New York has found that the gut microbe population of people on a vegan diet is different to that of omnivores and includes more of the microbes thought to help protect against obesity and diabetes.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Monday, 17 November 2014

Will China do nothing about climage change for the next 16 years?

John Mathews and Hao Tan in FactCheck: does the new climate deal let China do nothing for 16 years? argue that far from doing nothing, China will be leading the world in the deployment of zero emission electricity generation. China's carbon emissions will likely peak well before their 2030 deadline.

The pursuit of rank rather than knowledge drives univerities

In University status comes at a high price Ross Gittins highlights how universities are more interested in their status than their students needs.
Has it occurred to you that universities are fundamentally about the pursuit of status? Almost every aspect of their activities focuses on the acquisition of rank. And Christopher Pyne's proposed "reform" of universities is about harnessing the status drive to help balance the budget.

Ostensibly, unis exist to add to the store of human knowledge and to educate the brightest of the rising generation. All very virtuous.

When you think about it, however, you see that unis are about the pursuit of certification, standing, position and prestige. The main way they earn their revenue is by granting superior status to young people seeking to enter the workforce.
Ross Gittins continues on this theme with Students pay for status under uni fee rise.

Berlin, the city of "surveillance refuseniks"

In Berlin’s digital exiles: where tech activists go to escape the NSA Carole Cadwalladr documents how Berlin is become the city of choice for many people concerned about government surveillance.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Human performance may respond best to what matters most

In Don't Choke:What we value affects how we perform under pressure Olga Khazan writes about research which suggests that we have it wrong on why people choke.
What they found was that people who were very loss-averse (very afraid of forfeiting their money) did better when they were threatened with losing greater amounts. They choked, however, when offered a $100 award.

Meanwhile, those who weren't loss-averse (they didn't fear losing what they had) were mostly motivated by gaining more money. When threatened with losing $100, they fumbled.

In other words, human performance responds best to what matters most.

Use Luxembourg if you want to reduce your corporate tax bill

In How a European duchy makes tax bills disappear Leslie Wayne, Kelly Carr, Marina Walker Guevara, Mar Cabra and Michael Hudson explain how many companies use secret agreements with the Luxembourg Government to avoid paying tax in other countries.
Pepsi, IKEA, FedEx and 340 other international companies have secured secret deals from Luxembourg, allowing many of them to slash their global tax bills while maintaining little presence in the tiny central European duchy, leaked documents show.

These companies appear to have channelled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes, according to a review of nearly 28,000 pages of confidential documents conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a team of more than 80 journalists from 26 countries.

Big companies can book big tax savings by creating complicated accounting and legal structures that move profits to low-tax Luxembourg from higher-tax countries where they have their headquarters or do lots of business. In some instances, the leaked records indicate, companies have enjoyed effective tax rates of less than 1 per cent on the profits they've shuffled into Luxembourg.

The leaked documents reviewed by ICIJ journalists include hundreds of private tax rulings – sometimes known as "comfort letters" – that Luxembourg provides to corporations seeking favourable tax treatment.

The European Union and Luxembourg have been fighting for months over Luxembourg's reluctance to turn over information about its tax rulings to the EU, which is investigating whether the country's tax deals with Amazon and Fiat Finance violate European law. Luxembourg officials have supplied some information to the EU but have refused, EU officials say, to provide a larger set of documents relating to its tax rulings.

More about how IKEA avoid's paying tax

Neil Chenoweth explains some of the techniques IKEA uses to avoid paying it's fair share of tax in Why IKEA’s profits are mostly tax free.