Monday, January 07, 2008

Eating large fish poisons young children?

The article below says it does. I guess we must not mention that tuna is a very large predatory fish, that the Japanese eats heaps of large tuna and that the Japanese have unusually long lifespans. Note that no actual harm was reported below -- just opinion

Parents have been warned against feeding large fish species such as swordfish, marlin and shark to young children because of the danger of mercury poisoning. High levels of mercury - linked to developmental delay and brain problems - have been found in three children in Sydney. Health officials said yesterday the children, aged 15 months to two years, had eaten fives times the recommended amount of fish. In all three cases, details of which were published in the Medical Journal of Australia, they were fed congee - a rice and fish porridge used in Asian communities as a weaning food.

Health experts yesterday said that "small children should eat small fish". NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said too much of certain types of fish could be "detrimental to children's health". "Incorporating two to three serves of fish per week into kids' diets is a good thing, but some parents may be overdoing it with certain species known to be high in mercury," she said.

Study co-author Stephen Corbett, of the Sydney South West Area Health Service, said children should still have fish in their diets. "Including fish in an infant's diet has many health benefits including building a strong heart and nervous system," Dr Corbett said. "But some fish may also contain mercury which is not good for young, developing children. "It is important to be aware how children can enjoy the many important benefits of seafood while reducing exposure to mercury."

Acting Minister for Primary Industries Linda Burney said: "An easy rule ... is that when whole the fish should be the size of an average plate." Chief Scientist with the NSW Food Authority Lisa Szabo said most fish were low in mercury but longer-living predatory fish built up mercury levels. "These fish such as shark or flake, swordfish, marlin and broadbill should not be included in the diet of small children," Dr Szabo said. "If they are eaten they should be limited to one serve per fortnight with no other fish eaten that fortnight.

"Examples of low mercury fish commonly available are rainbow trout, ocean trout, flathead, kingfish and whiting - canned tuna and salmon are also good low mercury options." Processed fish products such as fish fingers, patties, cakes, balls and bakes are made from a variety of fish including species low in mercury such as hoki and hake.


The following excerpt from Wikipedia gives some background on tuna

Due to their high position in the food chain and the subsequent accumulation of heavy metals from their diet, mercury levels can be relatively high in some of the larger species of tuna such as bluefin and albacore. As a result, in March 2004 the United States FDA issued guidelines recommending pregnant women, nursing mothers and children limit their intake of tuna and other types of predatory fish. However, most canned light tuna is skipjack tuna and is lower in mercury

Leftist apology inconsistency

Terrorism doesn't need to be apologized for but what your well-meaning grandparents did does!

Australia has a problem with apologies. On the one hand, there is increasing pressure on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to say sorry to the nation's indigenous people for past wrongs and on the other there is the expectation David Hicks should apologise for his terrorist involvement. But there is also an inconsistency here. Why is it that the very people who are demanding an apology to Australia's indigenous people are strangely silent over Hicks? It would seem there is a clear division over what is appropriate.

The idea of saying sorry seemingly puts things right, at least for indigenous Australians, but for Hicks, this is not an expectation. Why? The left of politics has claimed the moral high ground over the need for an apology to indigenous Australians and in demanding Hicks be brought home. If you disagree with the need for an apology for indigenous Australians, you are marginalised as some kind of redneck, racist conservative, and if you are insistent on an apology from Hicks, well you're being a bit tough.

Do you think I'm wrong? Consider the facts. Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, a man respected for his measured views, had this to say last month on the issue of an apology and what Mr Rudd faces: "He can deal with the apology in accordance with the cultural left's desire to reassert the left's position in the culture wars. "The problem with just managing the issue is that Labor and the left have made much of Howard's refusal to apologise -- they have used it as a cultural bludgeon -- and there will be extreme sensitivity to the manner in which Rudd chooses to deliver the apology."

Then there is the hardline view of Lowitja (formerly Lois) O'Donoghue, a patron of the Stolen Generation Alliance. "Don't use apology. We want sorry," Mrs O'Donoghue says. She wants the removal of children described as "evil" and "cruel".

While there is no insistence from the left on Hicks apologising, does he need to apologise at all? His father, Terry Hicks, doesn't think so. According to Hicks's father, he has done nothing wrong. On Hicks's release from prison, he father said: "What's he got to apologise for? He has done nothing wrong; he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Hicks was captured alongside Taliban fighters. The same enemy which is targeting Australians and an enemy which has taken four Australian soldiers' lives. But that's OK. Now if Mr Hicks's logic was applied to the people who are alleged to have taken part in the removal of Aboriginal children, could they not also argue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

The left would not accept that. Why then is it an acceptable defence for no apology from Hicks? As much as Mr Hicks may say of his son that "nothing has been proved", the reality is Hicks, by his own admission, was an al-Qaida true believer and provided material support for terrorism.

The Aboriginal community can demand an apology for deeds done in the past with no present-day participants being responsible. So, is it not then reasonable to ask Hicks if he has recanted from his previous terrorist sympathies?

Sometimes the truth comes from an unlikely source. The actor Charlton Heston was on the money when he said in 1999: "The most important thing a man can learn -- the importance of three little words, 'I was wrong'. These words will get you much further than 'I love you'."

Do the supporters of Hicks believe an apology is unwarranted? Hicks gave support to al-Qaida. He is also an avowed anti-Semitic. Hicks's supporters, in not asking for him to publicly declare his repugnance of terrorism, let alone reconsider his anti-Semitic views, implies complicity with an acceptance he does not need to show contrition, let alone the reassurance he has changed.

It defies credibility that Hicks, on leaving Yatala jail, did not want to talk as he may have compromised the plea bargain he struck to secure his release from Guantanamo Bay, That sounds just a bit too convenient, cute even. An apology, so Mrs O'Donoghue believes, is a short sentence: "Sorry."

It is disingenuous to insist on an apology for the Stolen Generations, but remain silent on a convicted terrorist supporter who would have put the interests of al-Qaida and the "lovely brother" Osama bin Laden before his compatriots. If Hicks doesn't get it, someone should tell him.


Educators can also learn from what already works

As our approach to teaching embraces more traditional methods, the overseas experience can inform our choices. Looking back over the past 12 months, it is clear that 2007 was a watershed year for education. Much of what has been argued on these pages in terms of increased testing and more rigorous examinations, adopting a back-to-basics approach to curriculum, holding schools accountable and better rewarding teachers, is now mainstream in terms of the debate and is being advocated by ALP state and federal governments.

How can we ensure, though, that initiatives planned for 2008 and beyond will be effective in raising standards, better supporting teachers and schools and ensuring that students receive a well-balanced, academically sound and fulfilling educational experience? One approach is to learn from what is happening overseas, in addition to our own experience, and to evaluate classroom practice by what the research suggests works.

Ensuring that children are literate and numerate in the early years of primary school is critically important and there is an increasing consensus overseas about the best way to teach such skills. In Britain, the Rose report, in part based on the success of the Scottish school Clackmannanshire, recommends adopting a synthetic phonics approach to teaching reading, a recommendation the British Government has accepted. In opposition to the prevailing whole-language approach -- whereby, on the assumption that learning to read is as natural as learning to speak, children are taught to look and guess and memorise words by sight -- synthetic phonics "is a sounds-based approach that first teaches children the sounds of letters and how they blend into words, before moving to letter combinations that make up words".

Adopting a more structured approach to literacy and numeracy is also supported by the US research associated with Project Follow Through. The billion-dollar nationwide project evaluated different approaches to teaching and concluded that formal methods of classroom interaction, described as direct instruction, are more effective than the type of teaching associated with Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education. Summarising what we can learn from Project Follow Through, Australian mathematics researcher Rhonda Farkota noted: "Student-directed learning has consistently more negative outcomes than those achieved in traditional education ... On all measures of basic skills, cognitive development and self-esteem, it (student-centred learning) was shown to be vastly inferior to traditional education."

One of the most respected and influential international tests is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, held three times since its inception in the mid-'90s, involving 46 countries and testing students at years 4, 8 and 12. On identifying the characteristics of education systems that achieve at the top of the table -- the results place Australia in the second 11 -- it is possible to identify what leads to success. Stronger performing systems place a greater emphasis on competitive examinations and testing (which are often used to stream students in terms of ability), give teachers clear and succinct road maps detailing what is to be taught, and expect students to master essential knowledge and understanding associated with the key disciplines at each year level.

Research carried out by German academic Ludger Woessmann also concludes that top-performing TIMSS countries have a robust non-government school sector, which leads to increased competition and pressure to do well, schools have autonomy over hiring, firing and rewarding successful teachers, and the influence of teacher unions is restricted.

While critics of George W. Bush's initiative No Child Left Behind -- whereby federal funding is linked to education systems setting clear objectives in terms of raising standards, students are regularly tested, classroom practice is based on what the research suggests works and there are consequences for underperformance -- argue that NCLB has failed, the evidence suggests otherwise. As noted by US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, setting performance targets, regularly testing students and holding schools accountable have raised standards, as reflected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. She states: "According to NAEP, more reading progress was made by nine-year-olds from 1999 to 2004 than in the previous 28 years combined. Maths scores have reached record highs across the board."

Given that many overseas education systems have been implementing the types of initiatives on the agenda in Australia for 2008, such as moving to a national curriculum, increased testing and holding schools accountable, it is also vital that we learn from their mistakes. As argued by the conservative US think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, too much testing, forcing teachers to focus on the basics and imposing a centralised, top-down approach that fails to recognise the unique quality of individual schools can be counterproductive.

Forcing unproven and faddish curriculum change on schools and making them conform to inflexible and intrusive accountability measures can also overwhelm and frustrate teachers, leading to the type of situation evident in Western Australia, where teachers are deserting classrooms and it is impossible to attract newcomers to the profession.


A beacon in safe hands

By Christopher Pearson

JANUARY marks the departure of Paddy McGuinness from the editorship of Quadrant after 10 years in the chair. His term in office roughly coincided with John Howard's, and it came as no surprise that he should have decided a change of government and the end of an era was the right time to step down. As Keith Windschuttle, his successor, prepares to take up the reins, it's timely to consider the magazine's recent achievements and its role in the future.

The first thing to be said is that, under McGuinness, Quadrant has enjoyed a period of stability and widespread, steadily growing influence, a welcome development in a magazine once regarded as the in-house journal of the curmudgeonly Right. Because the editor had been an economic adviser to Bill Hayden, during his time as Gough Whitlam's treasurer, and worked before that for the Moscow Narodny Bank, thoughtful people of the Left could hardly write him off as a baleful reactionary, as they'd often done to his predecessors. When he took the job, one of the first things he did was to appoint Hayden chairman of the editorial advisory board, on which, for our sins, both The Australian's Imre Salusinszky and I also serve.

Past and present Labor luminaries, including the former federal finance minister, Peter Walsh, the former member for Adelaide, Bob Catley, the former Opposition leader, Mark Latham, and the present speaker of the South Australian parliament, Jack Snelling, have all been associated with Quadrant in one way or another and have written for it. The magazine has a settled policy of publishing people from across all the ideological divides, partly in the hope of attracting a broader readership and provoking debate but also in recognition of the cultural and political pluralism of the Australian polity.

McGuinness's guiding principle as an editor seems always to have been to "let a hundred flowers bloom", providing the authors could mount rational arguments. On occasion, this led to the publication of some very abstruse theoretical essays. I particularly remember one on the psychopathology of terrorism, and another on, of all things, the scriptural grounds for abstaining from alcohol. Because the editor was also "no respecter of persons", he was inclined to give good articles by relatively obscure writers a run. Just about the only excluded category was the semiotics industry, which he's always referred to as "the higher silliness" and which was in any event vastly over-represented in the rest of Australia's literary magazines and journals of cultural theory.

How McGuinness has managed to combine publishing such a diversity of newer talents with providing space for established writers who have been regular contributors to Quadrant, often for upwards of 30 years, I can't imagine. Although some older writers are a pleasure to deal with until the day they die, most tend to monomania. It must have been a delicate balancing act, and I imagine that he's much indebted to Les Murray, the country's pre-eminent poet, who serves as literary editor, and the deputy editor, George Thomas.

We can be confident that Windschuttle knows it will be a hard act to follow. I've recently had occasion to consider just how hard, because it's a job I expressed some interest in myself. That said, he's a worthy successor and a friend and, like most of Quadrant's supporters, I wish him well. He's urbane, funny, a great conversationalist, an eminent scholar and, through his publishing house, McLeay Press, a cultural entrepreneur in his own right. But he has an image problem which he will need to overcome early on in his editorship if he's to make the most of the opportunity.

Windschuttle's problem as editor is the flipside of his success as one of Quadrant's most effective contributors. It was his misfortune to stumble, much to his surprise, on the fact that an awful lot of Australian frontier history was based on outright lies and misrepresentations on the matter of alleged massacres of Aboriginal people. His essays and book-length work on the subject have acutely embarrassed some prominent first-contact historians, along with their friends and allies in other branches of the profession, and they hate him for it. Some, who could best be described as polemicists, have gone beyond reasoned argument and branded him a denialist, as though he were in the same category as the sceptical Holocaust historian David Irving.

Others have laboured, pretty much in vain, to question his grasp of the subject and scholarly methods. He has been vilified so routinely and for so long that most of the academic Left has made up its collective mind that he's beyond the pale, without even bothering to read him. Aboriginal issues are still totemic for large sections of the Left, in the sense that it's a subject where moral vanity and other passions run high, and to hell with the facts. The media especially take every opportunity to sneer at Windschuttle and question his credentials. Howard, a politician whose dry sense of humour has been widely underestimated, decided he was just the kind of battle-hardened dreadnought to appoint to the ABC's board. Unfortunately, it has only intensified the public perception problems he now has to address.

My advice, for what it's worth, is that he should by all means continue his Aboriginal history research, because it is important work, but decide not to print it in Quadrant. There's no shortage of other places for him to publish. He needs to establish in the public mind that his work as a scholar is distinct from his editing activities and that he is prepared to undertake a self-denying ordinance and maintain a structural separation of roles for the sake of the magazine. There may be a compelling case for deciding Aboriginal history is too contentious a subject for Quadrant to touch at the moment and that the best way to turn the situation around quickly is by a stream of dazzling issues focused on other subjects. If that seems too much like a surrender, other fine but less controversial historians such as Michael Connor, the author of The Invention of Terra Nullius, could surely be pressed into service.

Some will say this advice is completely at odds with the contrarian spirit that gives little magazines their identity. If the editor can't publish whatever he likes, including his own work, what's the point of the exercise? It's a position with which I have some sympathy. But there is a venerable tradition that holds that an editor is like the conductor of an orchestra, who already has enough to worry about and shouldn't try to be a soloist as well. Like McGuinness, over most of the 20-odd years that I edited The Adelaide Review, I deliberately avoided appearing in its columns except in editorials. Editors exercise quite enough power as it is, commissioning work and deciding what to print, and their hardest and most important task is helping writers shine, whatever one might think about the particular merits of their arguments.

There is another consideration worth pondering. Arguably the time has passed when small magazines could hope to survive on local sales and a little corporate support and advertising revenue. Big business has been increasingly reluctant to support independent magazines since the mid-1980s, especially when they're thought of as overly political or opinionated and likely to offend any group seen as stakeholders. Quadrant has more than pulled its weight in debates over economic and industrial reform over the years but some of the corporates have defended their failure to fund it, as opposed to local think-tanks, for example, by saying that it seemed "too doctrinaire".

Perhaps the solution lies in targeting privately owned, unlisted businesses that don't have to truckle to shareholders and can back their own judgment. Wherever it comes from, Quadrant badly needs seed funding for a couple of projects that could set it on a sounder footing. The first is a complete electronic edition and archived back issues, with the potential for paid subscriptions throughout the Anglosphere, supported by a decent marketing campaign.

The other obvious step is to pay two or three of the country's best essayists on any given month top rates to produce pieces that the magazine's existing audience and, with luck, a far wider audience will come to see as indispensable reading. It's in the nature of things at small magazines that there should be large disparities between the pay of regular contributors, who generally speaking already have a professional income, and emerging stars. Besides, a rising tide of sales and subscription revenue would lift everyone's pay rates.

The election of the Rudd Government and Labor's coast-to-coast ascendancy pose great challenges to Quadrant. Perhaps we've never been more in need of lively, independent magazines. For the next few years the commentariat may prove to be the de facto opposition. Forums where policy can be discussed in substantial 5000-word articles are likely to be one of the most important checks and balances on executive power. Yet the best chance of persuading the political class - as Quadrant showed in the way it conducted the debate on economic rationalism - is by remaining a broad church, above the fray of partisan politicking.


No comments: