Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More food-freak crap

Healthy eating message 'doomed' by big supermarkets? The assertion is just the usual Leftist hatred of success in others -- backed up by the usual twisted to non-existent reasoning and counterfactual claims

EFFORTS to get Australians to eat healthier may be "doomed from the start" by the dominance of the major retailers Coles and Woolworths, a researcher says. John Wardle, from the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, says the major grocers now enjoy a duopoly within the Australian market that is unrivalled in the world. More competition is needed, he says, to ensure the public had broader access to fresher and more nutritious fruit and vegetables outside of the major supermarkets chains. [Cheeesh! Where does this guy live? There are small greengrocers all over the place. There is one right outside the door of my local Woolworths]

"Retailers have a gatekeeper role in the provision of nutrition to the public through their ability to control access to supermarket shelves,'' Mr Wardle said. "Unless competition is improved, the numerous public health programs aimed at increasing consumption of nutritious foods are doomed from the start.'' [Competition? What about IGA? What about Aldi? What about all the smaller supermarkets? There is PLENTY of competition, enough to keep everyone on their toes. Coles and Woolworths succeed so well BECAUSE they are so competitive. They are better at keeping the customer happy in various ways]

Mr Wardle says the 80 per cent control of the Australian grocery market by Coles and Woolworths, which is without precedent globally, ensures they are able to drive down supplier prices. Their nationwide distribution networks for fruit and vegetables also have the effect of locking out, by undercutting, local farmers from supplying produce to their own communities. This ensures fruit and vegetables "travelling thousands of miles and for days'' before they are sold in supermarkets and Mr Wardle says this reduces their nutritional value.

The roll-out of new supermarkets, often in suburban areas, has also prompted the "death of the high street'' in cities and towns, he says. "This has meant the death of the independent butcher and the independent green grocer who were known to provide fresher, more nutritious and often cheaper food to the public,'' Mr Wardle said. [Rubbish! There are still tons of butchers and Greengrocers around]

"The government is trying to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption and you have a situation that actually makes it hard for the public to access those fruit and vegetables.'' [Even though Woolworths has a huge range of them??? The guy seems to have a completely messed-up head]

Mr Wardle and fellow researcher Michael Baranovic raise the issue in a paper published in the latest edition of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Mr Wardle also says the problem is not the major supermarkets' fault as they are in full compliance with Australian law. "Coles and Woolworths are just being good companies and looking after their shareholders,'' he said. "It's the fact that competition policy, planning policy seems weighted towards those mega-ventures in the supply of groceries.'' [It's not "policies" at work. It is consumer preferences -- preferences that this food-Fascist would like to forbid]

SOURCE. A reply from Coles here.

More on the latest DOCS disgrace

'Authorities left Ebony to starve'

A SCATHING report has detailed how welfare authorities failed a seven-year-old girl who starved to death on a urine-soaked mattress, The Australian reports. Among the shocking findings relating to the death of Ebony, an alias for the girl who can't be legally named, was that the New South Wales Government Department of Community Services (DoCS) relied on a report by a work-experience student to assess her situation.

During the last two agonising years of Ebony's life, whose body weighed just 9kg when she was discovered at her home in November 2007, the dying girl received not a shred of assistance from official agencies, the report released yesterday by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour says.

The report was particularly scathing regarding DoCS's failure to act, three months before Ebony's death, when the family moved suddenly from its public housing unit at Matraville, in Sydney's southeast, to Hawks Nest, north of Newcastle. At that time, an anonymous caller told the DoCS helpline that Ebony's room at Matraville was boarded up and the house smelt of urine and faeces. Because there had been previous reports of dishevelment in the home, this was classified as "information only" rather than as indicating Ebony was at risk.

Mr Barbour said told The Australian that there was no doubt the "appalling" interagency response to Ebony's plight, together with the failings by DoCS, had contributed to her death. "If you look at the final period of this little girl's life, there was ample time to go in and help her. That just didn't happen."

Mr Barbour's report said it was difficult to reconcile the "intensive involvement" of DoCS with the family between 2001 and 2003 with the agency's "repeated failure" to deal with the same concerns in the last three years of Ebony's life. This is despite the fact DoCS received a $1 billion injection of funding from the NSW Labor Government in the interim.

There were 17 separate reports lodged with the DoCS alone, stretching back to 1993, indicating that Ebony and her siblings were at risk from their dysfunctional parents. Of those 17 reports made to DoCS by concerned neighbours, teachers, doctors and other agencies, 13 occurred between 2005 and 2007.

Among Mr Barbour's detailed findings were that:

* DoCS failed to convince the Children's Court to remove Ebony and her two older sisters from their parents, despite the fact Ebony's younger sister had been removed.

* An inadequate summary of Ebony's case made by a work-experience student in July 2007 meant that, from then on, DoCS helpline workers failed to understand the seriousness of her predicament.

* When the caseworker assigned to Ebony's family left DoCS, she failed to brief her successor because of "competing priorities", which left the new caseworker to rely on the inadequate summary prepared by the student.

* DoCS workers assumed that, because the circumstances of Ebony's older sisters had improved, hers had also - despite the fact her father did not allow them to sight the girl.

The NSW Supreme Court last week sentenced Ebony's mother to life in prison for murder and Ebony's father to 16 years behind bars for her manslaughter. [In my view, they should be burnt at the stake]


State governments show little interest in preventing catastrophic bushfires

by Barry Cohen

ON February 6 I flew to Portugal to attend a whaling conference at the behest of Peter Garrett. The following day the worst bushfires in Australian history left 173 people dead and shattered the lives of thousands more. I watched it unfold on British Sky News. It was horrifying and gut-wrenching.

The interim report of the subsequent Victorian royal commission on bushfires, although written in unemotional bureaucratese, is a grim document. It should be the first step in ensuring a tragedy of this nature never happens again, or if it does the extent of damage and loss of life is dramatically reduced. The report, with about 50 recommendations, covers almost every aspect of the bushfires, including fuel reduction, prescribed burning, evacuation, refuges, state emergency services, economic cost and fire warnings. The recommendation that interests me most is 11.27.

"The commonwealth was asked to provide information on its capacity to provide facts, data, images by means of sentinel bushfire monitoring, satellite imagery, infrared technology, mapping tools or other means." Put simply, the commonwealth has a significant role to play in prevention and not just the cure. That is particularly important if the experts are correct and an even worse summer awaits us.

Allow me to declare an interest. Shortly after I returned from Portugal, old friends stopped at my rural abode in Bungendore for a cuppa after visiting Canberra, where they had introduced ACT emergency service bureaucrats to the latest and the best fire prevention technology, Firewatch. Describing it as the best technology for fire prevention is admittedly a big call, but one that is not idly made. Firewatch was developed by the German Aerospace Institute for NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission. Similar but inferior systems have a smaller range (10km), are much more expensive, or work for only up to eight hours a day when the satellite passes overhead.

Firewatch, on the other hand, is tower-based (rather than satellite-based), has a range of 15km-40km and automatically rotates through 360 degrees every six minutes. It is equipped with night vision, so it works round the clock. It can detect fires faster than the human eye and needs to spot only smoke (rather than flames) for the purpose. It can detect wind speed and direction as well as temperature, which enables it to pinpoint the fire and identify its direction. It can also detect 16,384 shades of grey and tell the difference between smoke, cloud and mist.

You would think the various state and territory emergency services would have been falling over each other to check out Firewatch. Not so. Since February 2006, Firewatch executives have knocked on their doors and discovered they were not interested. One executive said he "didn't care if bushfires started as long as they were not near the urban interface, as carbon dioxide emissions were someone else's problem. If fire started to come close to population centres the public always phoned in and reported the fire", and that was good enough for him. Another Rural Fire Services executive claimed that giving volunteers accurate information about the scale and location of a bushfire to enable the right resources to be deployed would "take all the fun and adventure out of the challenge".

The common thread that ran through discussions with the various state government departments was they were not interested in early detection, only more money for helicopters, fire trucks and other equipment. No one questions their enthusiasm or dedication, but they are fighting the last war, not the nextone.

The big questions are what will Firewatch achieve and at what cost. It has been operating in Germany for eight years, leading to a 92percent reduction in the area burned. Australia, with zillions of explosive eucalypts, is not Germany but if Firewatch is half as good as claimed, countless lives and properties can be saved. It is being tested in France, Portugal, Estonia, the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Mexico and the US.

The cost will depend on the number of units required but Firewatch will primarily be restricted to areas where dense Australian bush intersects with urban and semi-urban living. The equipment can be purchased outright or leased for a 10-year period at an annual cost of about $90,000 for each unit. The total cost will depend on the degree of protection required. It's worth taking into consideration the Australian insurance industry estimate that the Victorian bushfires cost it $1.12billion. Add government and individual losses and we are looking at more than $2bn.

Then there are carbon emissions. CSIRO estimates that the February fires released the equivalent of one year's industrial production. Under the Kyoto Protocol, carbon emissions from bushfires were excluded from a nation's total output; that will not be the case after Copenhagen.

Most of us lack the expertise to assess Firewatch's claims and no one expects governments to invest millions without extensive trials. Not to trial Firewatch, however, would be criminal negligence.

Fortunately, despite the state departments' lack of interest, matters are moving on the federal front. Fran Bailey, Liberal MP for McEwen, whose electorate covers the area where 169 of the 173 bushfire deaths occurred, was introduced to Firewatch and immediately flew to Germany and spent four days studying it. She says that, having investigated various other forms of early detection, she is absolutely convinced the hundreds of millions spent by the German aerospace industry have led to a state-of-the-art technology that works. "None of the other systems came within a bull's roar of Firewatch."

Bailey has badgered the Prime Minister to order trials this summer and have them assessed by independent engineers. Bill Shorten, one of the brightest stars in the Labor firmament and the parliamentary secretary for Victorian bushfire reconstruction, quickly recognised Firewatch's potential. Shorten's involvement ensures that those who must make the final decision to trial Firewatch, at a cost of $2m to $4m, will have the facts placed before them.

If trials are to be conducted this summer for Firewatch or any other system, then decisions need to be made soon. Firewatch has the potential to dramatically reduce the number and scope of Australian bushfires and, over the years, save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. It must be hoped the Rudd government doesn't miss the opportunity to give Firewatch a chance.


Phonics push held up by ignorant teachers

IT’S not often one gets the chance to say this: NSW is doing something right. At least it is when it comes to literacy. In recognition of the importance of phonics, NSW teaching guides now require teachers to spend part of each day teaching young children the sounds that make up words.

It sounds like a no-brainer that children should explicitly be taught the most basic building blocks of learning to read. Yet one more hurdle - the most important one - remains. New research reveals that new teachers on the cusp of entering our schools have little understanding of how to teach phonics. Until they do, even the most impressive literacy curriculum changes are likely to remain futile.

To understand how long it has taken to fix the teaching curriculum in just one state, you need to understand the history. For decades the education system in Australia was dominated by something that became known as a more naturalistic way of teaching reading, where children were shown words and expected to memorise them. Too many educators disregarded the importance of learning sounds. Too old-fashioned and boring, they said.

No evidence supported the whole-word method. But through the years careers were built and based on it and that soon meant that too many vested interests dictated its influence in education degrees and our schools.

Such was the dismal state of affairs that a 2003 NSW inquiry into early intervention for children with learning difficulties concluded that it was “difficult for this committee to get to the bottom of the debate between exponents of either the whole-word or phonics approach to literacy pedagogy”. So the committee accepted the bogus argument that this is “a divisive and unproductive debate”. The nay-sayers could not have been more wrong. The debate may have been divisive but it has been very productive.

In 2004 a group of leading literacy educators wrote to then federal education minister Brendan Nelson, raising their concerns that the best and latest research about reading was not reflected in how students were taught in the classroom. The Howard government commissioned a national inquiry into teaching literacy, which in turn led to the 2005 national reading review. Last year the Rudd government set up the National Curriculum Board, which has suggested “an explicit and systematic teaching of phonological awareness”. Finally, this year one state - NSW - has taken the findings seriously by mandating that teachers teach the sounds of words to young students. The national curriculum to be introduced in 2011 will hopefully lead to other states and territories doing the same.

Slowly there is progress. But the drawn-out delays over better literacy teaching are nothing short of scandalous. This is not some piddling policy that can be set aside for another day. These delays hurt our most disadvantaged children the most; they often miss out on the added support of engaged parents willing and able to encourage reading.

These are the children politicians love to talk about when they use their grand rhetoric about education. Former Labor leader Mark Latham conjured up a ladder of opportunity. The Rudd government talks about an education revolution. Nice words. But meaningful education reforms must surely start with basic and effective literacy.

Last month, the latest test results from the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy revealed that one in 10 students fails to meet minimum standards in reading, writing and numeracy. And on the reading front, a new evidence-based curriculum is only part of the reform process.

The next critical step is to teach our teachers how to teach reading. Recent research undertaken by Queensland University of Technology literacy expert Ruth Fielding-Barnsley, and presented in a paper yet to be published, reveals that final-year teaching students in Queensland are ill-equipped to teach young children the sounds that make up words. According to Fielding-Barnsley, the problem extends beyond Queensland.

She tells The Australian: “There is a general feeling in the community of academics ... that we need to be more effective in the area of early literacy.” In her study of 165 students, 95 per cent said they understood the importance of phonics. So far so good. But 75 per cent of those surveyed said they were not well prepared to teach young children the sounds that made up words. In fact, most could not identify the correct number of sounds in words such as box, chop and this.

Here are some of the comments made by soon-to-be teachers who will be responsible for teaching young children to read: “The thought of teaching a child to read is terrifying.” And: “I don’t feel we have been taught (or) prepared enough to be able to cover such a vital subject.” And: “We should do more literacy and learning to read subjects as part of our course.”

Fielding-Barnsley says there is a structural problem in the way we are teaching our teachers. “There needs to be more effort in literacy education because, as you can see from my paper, the students are not confident about going out to teach reading. They know what they don’t know.” She says although the NSW literacy curriculum is commendable for giving teachers materials they can use in the classroom, it would be much better if they learned how to teach reading using phonics during their degrees. Surely it is not too much to expect from a four-year teaching degree for infant and primary school teachers? Yet that is not happening.

When my eldest child was three, she was keen to learn to read. I had no idea where to begin so I signed up for a phonics-based reading instruction course called Spalding in Sydney. It involved seven long days of intensive, explicit instruction about teaching children the sounds that made up words. I had the enormous luxury of time, inclination and money to do that. When I taught her those sounds, she learned to read in a flash, as did her little sister and her little brother.

Most likely they would have learned to read anyway. As Fielding-Barnsley told me, “A lot of children will learn to read without a lot of explicit instruction. They just manage to work it out for themselves. But around 20 per cent of students need that explicit instruction. They are the ones who end up at the end of secondary school with very low literary skills. They are the ones we are concerned about.”

Watching my children learning to read and loving to read leads to one simple question: Why haven’t successive governments, state and federal, Liberal and Labor, started at the start by ensuring our teachers are equipped to teach using the best reading methods in schools across the country? It would be one of the best investments we could make.


Queensland Rail officer spat on, then fired on flimsy grounds

A QUEENSLAND Rail transit officer who was beaten and spat on by a passenger has been sacked by Queensland Rail for hitting back. Trent Geissler, of Geebung, was terminated by QR executive manager for passenger services Paul Scurrah by letter yesterday afternoon.

"I feel betrayed because it was a criminal act perpetrated against me in the line of duty, and this will impact on my work history," Mr Geissler said. "If I had provoked it, I would have been charged as well."

Mr Geissler was called to Northgate station on Easter Sunday to attend an unruly behaviour incident and was assaulted by a 20-year-old man on the train platform. Mr Geissler struck the man in the face and put him in a headlock. Police arrested the man, who pleaded guilty to common assault and was sentenced to 150 hours of community service.

But Queensland Rail said a review of the incident by a HR firm found evidence Mr Geissler acted outside guidelines using excessive force. [It would be interesting to see how finely the bureaucrats could calibrate their actions if they were placed in a similar situation]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This guys missus has an AVO out on him.

Wonder when the mainstream will pick up on this?