Monthly Archives: September 2015

Health Check: what causes headaches?

The Conversation

Michael Vagg, Barwon Health

We all get headaches from time to time. In fact, nearly every second person in the world had a headache at least once in the past year. But these can feel very different, depending on which of the nearly 200 types of headache you have.

More than half (52%) of people will have a tension-type headache at some point in their life, around 18% will get a migraine, and 4% will suffer from chronic daily headaches. These are the most common headache-related diagnoses. Although there are some variations globally, the figures seem remarkably consistent across populations.

Secondary headaches can be initiated by triggering factors such as medication overuse, medication side effects, neck pain, sinus disease or dental problems. These account for small percentages individually compared to the primary headaches, but may be more treatable if the predisposing problem can be sorted out.

Tension-type headache

Tension-type headaches (TTH) feel like a dull or heavy, non-pulsating band of pain, usually on both sides of the head. The name comes from an erroneous belief that overly tight muscles are the main reason for the headache.

TTH usually occurs in episodes, with each lasting from several hours up to a few days at a time. There is not usually much associated nausea, light sensitivity or sound sensitivity.

Chronic TTH is a less common form and is diagnosed when you have experienced at least 180 days with a headache per year. It is generally not aggravated by routine physical activity; it’s just there all the time.

Genetic tendencies explain some of the risk for developing TTH, with your own risk increased threefold if you have an immediate family member with the condition.

Infrequent episodic TTH does not appear to be strongly associated with psychological stress, despite this common belief. Chronic TTH has a stronger association with higher psychological distress, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or effect of having long-term disabling headaches.

Strangely for such a common and problematic condition, there is still little agreement about exactly how the pain is produced in TTH.

The most attractive hypothesis to me is that it represents a “virtual” pain whereby multiple low-grade inputs (likely including inputs that are “almost-painful”, or below the threshold for conscious pain) add up to produce sensitisation of the trigeminal nerve nuclei (the nerve shown in orange below).


This turmoil registers as pain referred to the distribution of the head, usually the forehead, temple and back of the head locations. Examination of these areas doesn’t show any abnormalities because in TTH, there is no one driving mechanism of the headache.

Treatment remains almost trivially simple, despite years of research. It’s almost true to say that the proverbial “cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down” sums it up. Aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen plus rest and possibly some cold packs seem to be the most reliable treatment. There is conflicting or negative evidence for almost every other, fancier therapy.


Migraine alone is the sixth most disabling condition globally.

Migraines are usually one-sided, associated with nausea and light sensitivity (photophobia) and may also be preceded by idiosyncratic sensory experiences called an “aura”. Aura phenomena can include moods or emotions, such as deja vu, visual symptoms (flashing lights or jagged lines are common) or problems with speech.

Migraine is a clinical diagnosis; there is no objective test that can verify it with our current technology. But compared to the frustration of researching and treating tension-type headaches, migraine has been steadily giving up its secrets over the past decade.

Migraine physiology is extremely complex. The headaches seem to arise because of dysfunctional regulation of the tone of some of the blood vessels inside the skull.

Migraine sufferers – Migraineurs – may have genetic vulnerability to migraines because of overly responsive calcium channels in their nerve membranes or other mutations which result in them having overactive signalling pathways in the brain.

Environmental or internal triggers can provoke these nerves to over-react, resulting in the activation of a reflex pathway. This dysregulation of normal structures causes the headache, nausea, photophobia and phonophobia (sound sensitivity) typical of an attack.

Migraines are often associated with light sensitivity. Rishi Bandopadhay/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The period of headache in a migraine attack corresponds with a rise in the blood levels in the head of a peptide called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). CGRP is one of the most common pain-inducing signal molecules in the body. When the CGRP falls, the headache goes away. Where the extra CGRP comes from is not clear but it probably is released from the overactive networks of cells in the brainstem.

The most effective group of drugs for migraine are the triptans. So effective and specific are these drugs that the diagnosis of migraine needs to be reconsidered if they don’t abort the headache attacks most of the time.

Triptans work by activating certain subtypes of serotonin receptors in the brain. Taking a triptan early in a migraine attack seems to directly lower the CGRP release and oppose its effects on blood vessels thereby stopping the attack. Triptans are not however useful to prevent frequent attacks of migraine.

Migraine prophylaxis is achieved by several drugs of different classes, with radically differing mechanisms of action. Some are anticonvulsants, which clearly work by suppressing the nerve overactivity typical of migraineurs. Others, such as the beta-blockers (propranolol) and calcium-channel blockers (verapamil) target the nerve endings on the blood vessels. Others which are known to be effective, such as botulinum toxin (Botox) and amitriptyline (Endep) work by means which are yet to be fully understood.

Severe migraineurs suffer years of disability and as a public service I would like to suggest that if you know someone who has severe migraines (you almost certainly do) please read this excellent list of what not to say to them when trying to be sympathetic or helpful.

Chronic daily headache

Imagine that you never had a day without headache. You can remember vaguely the time when you didn’t feel that pounding in the temples, squeezing in the back of the head or piercing pain above the eyes but it seems like another life. Such is the lot of sufferers of chronic daily headache (CDH).

Some headaches begin as as frequent but clearly episodic tension-type headache, or migraine, but then “transform” into what seems to be basically a continuous headache for at least some part of every day.

There are a number of rare headache types which may cause chronic daily headache and diagnosis of the these can lead to specific treatments which work well. This is the role of a neurologist or pain specialist with a special interest in headache.

If you have more than just the occasional headache, it pays to get a proper diagnosis. Jared Earle/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Possibly the most common reason why tension-type headache or migraine can transform is medication overuse, especially short-acting opioids such as codeine. The best solution to this problem is to avoid long-term regular use of codeine for headaches, though the evidence would suggest we may never achieve this goal except by making codeine prescription-only.

Frequent use of triptans is also believed to sensitise the trigeminovascular networks in the brainstem, thereby lowering the bar for triggering of migraine attacks. If the threshold for an attack becomes too low, they may never quite switch off, and one attack will run into the next one.

If you have more than just the occasional headache, it pays to get a proper diagnosis, as the reasons for your headache can be many and varied. Some have specific treatments for them, and others such as TTH seem quite difficult to find a specific treatment for. There are new classes of drug treatment under development, for migraine in particular, so it looks hopeful that future generations may not have to labour under the burden of poorly treated headaches.

The ConversationMichael Vagg, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist, Barwon Health

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Barack Obama on free speech

Barack Hussein Obama II (born August 4, 1961) is the 44th and current President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review.

“I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women.

I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em.”

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The myth that women secretly hate other women has a long history

The Conversation

Alana Piper, Griffith University

In his first interview as Prime Minister with The Today Show on Monday, Malcolm Turnbull responded to questions about increased funding for women escaping family violence by declaring “real men don’t hit women”.

Given recent statistics on the prevalence of violence against women in Australia, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of this message.

But while the Prime Minister’s words are significant, just as crucial is the task of encouraging leaders in politics and the media to echo them. Only then can we begin to reshape how society thinks about relations between men and women in Australia.

But what are the current cultural messages about relations between women themselves?

The recent conclusion in media and popular culture seems to be that while women do not hit other women, they invariably hit out at one another. There is nothing new about this idea.

“Mean girls”?

In the past decade, sociological findings have sought to demonstrate that bullying among girls takes the form of relational aggression – verbal and emotional abuse – as opposed to the physical aggression found among boys.

Mean girls? CREATISTA/Shutterstock, CC BY

This has sparked debate about “mean girls” of all ages. But it is not just a sub-set of females who are said to engage in “girl-on-girl crime”.

Rather, incidents of back-stabbing or gossiping between high-profile women, as well as “bitchy” comments about female celebrities on social media, have been seized as proof that hostility is a natural state among all women.

Journalists gleefully report on Twitter battles between celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, Beyonce and Rihanna, and Khloe Kardashian and Amber Rose.

The premise that women will lash out at each other in order to compete for male attention is also used for entertainment, as on The Bachelor and the Real Housewives of Melbourne. Or for comedic value, as in Chris Rock’s stand-up routine.

The Bachelor Australia (2015). Network Ten

Given monikers like “veminism” and “sororal cannibalism”, viciousness towards other women is framed as an age-old and expected part of female behavior.

Yet social commentators also treat the “mean girl” stereotype as a new discovery, or part of the human condition only recently acknowledged.

A myth with a longer history

In reality, the belief that women secretly hate one another has a long history.

Carl H. Pforzheimer, Breaking up of the Blue Stocking Club (1815). New York Public Library Digital Collections, CC BY

For centuries, women were pronounced incapable of “true” friendship. Victorians celebrated romantic friendships between women, but also depicted them as superficial passions that simply prepared women for marriage.

Rather than enjoying the long-lasting friendships found among men, bonds between women were depicted as short-lived, unable to withstand women’s quarrelsome natures.

On Women (1851), by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, declared that the feeling between male strangers or acquaintances was “mere indifference”; for women it was “actual enmity”.

Similarly, Unitarian minister and writer William Rounseville Alger, in The Friendships of Women (1868), concluded:

I was often struck both by the small number of recorded examples of the sentiment among women […] and by the commonness of the expressed belief, that strong natural obstacles make friendship a comparatively feeble and rare experience with them.

Worse, underlying animosity was portrayed making these relationships potentially dangerous. At its most extreme, female friendships were thought to induce women to criminal acts.

As nineteenth-century criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso argued in Criminal Woman, the Prostitute and the Normal Woman (1893):

Due to women’s latent antipathy for one another, trivial events give rise to fierce hatreds; and due to women’s irascibility, these occasions lead quickly to insolence and assaults. […] Women of high social station do the same thing, but their more refined forms of insult do not lead to law courts.

Australia inherited this western cultural tradition of demonising relationships between women. It is no wonder that Australian historian Nick Dyrenfurth found mateship to have been a “steadfastly male” institution in his recent history on the subject.

A biological imperative?

For many past and the present commentators, the main reason women supposedly lack sorority is thought to be sexual jealousy.

Cesare Lombroso. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

It is alleged this could even be biological – a drive left over from a period when securing male support was necessary to female survival.

Indeed, Lombroso was one of the first to espouse this Darwinian view of female relations. He claimed that competition for “resources” led to an instinctive hatred of their own sex among both animal and human females.

While such contentions remain unproven, they have proved influential.

In the nineteenth century, such sentiments made women scapegoats for their own suffering. Prostitution was blamed not on capitalism, but on the vindictiveness of those already in the trade. Victorian sex workers reputedly sought to “drag down” other women to their level.

There was “the feeling” among prostitutes of “the fox who has lost his tail and wants to get all the other foxes to have their tails cut off too”, suffragist Agnes Maude Royden suggested in her 1916 book Downward Paths.

Conversely, “respectable” women were accused of enforcing the moral standards that prevented the rehabilitation of “fallen women”. For nineteenth-century Melbournian journalist “The Vagabond” John Stanley James, it was “woman alone” – never man – that cast “stones at her erring sister”.

This perspective continues in society today. According to commentators like Samantha Brick, it is women, not men, who objectify, belittle and sabotage attractive women, especially those who have embraced their sexuality.

Professional women

Women may have been freed from their reliance on a male provider during the twentieth century, but this is not said to have lessened female rivalry. Rather, this phenomenon is seen to have simply moved into the professional sphere.

Many believe female bosses are tougher on women employees, reluctant to help others shatter the glass ceiling for fear of losing their own privileged position.

A 2011 psychological study concluded that accusations of “Queen Bee” behaviour usually resulted from women being held to different professional standards. Competitiveness and authoritarianism, researchers found, were perceived negatively when displayed by women, but not men.

Richard Egan Lee’s Fight Between Women Neighbours, Police News, Melbourne, April 1, 1876. State Library of Victoria, National Library of Australia, CC BY

Again, such perceptions are nothing new.

In the illicit economy of the nineteenth century, brothel-keepers were described as jealously guarding the more privileged position they held over the ordinary prostitute. Madams were said to cheat other women out of their wages with a sense of schadenfreude.

There were similar allegations of female exploitation in the legitimate economy. Social reformer Helen Campbell, in Prisoners of Poverty (1900), an investigation of American female factory workers, declared:

[Female industrial supervisors are] not only as filled with greed and as tricky and uncertain in their methods as the worst class of male employers, but even more ingenious in specific modes of imposition.

The myth continues

Whether in their professional or personal lives, it is true that women do not always treat other women well. But the same can be said for men.

Women can – and do – support each other personally and professionally. Tracey Nearmy/AAP

We could just as easily find evidence that all men hate each other – for example, by pointing out that the majority of violent crime is by men against other men.

Yet centuries of being told women are each others worst enemies has resulted in confirmation bias. We are programmed to identify evidence that supports the pre-existing hypothesis.

And when stories of female rivalry grace our screens – for example, between mothers in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992), the four-girl clique in Pretty Little Liars (2010-present) and rival crime queens in Underbelly: Razor (2011) – these narratives are simply more titillating than the prosaic reality of male violence.

A preoccupation with girl-on-girl “crime” not only distracts from the greater problems women face, such as the violence committed against them by men, but to some extent validates the women-as-lesser attitudes that contribute to such crimes.

Cultural critic H.L. Mencken once defined a misogynist as a man who hates women as much as women hate one another. Glibly suggesting that all women hate each other gives tacit permission for men to hate women too.

Alana Piper’s analysis of the history surrounding the discourse of women hating other women was recently published in the Journal of Social History. Details here.

Alana will be on hand for an Author Q&A between 4 and 5pm AEST on Thursday, September 24, 2015. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The ConversationAlana Piper, Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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The Horse: reframing the history of human progress

The Conversation

Barbara Creed, University of Melbourne

Throughout history, the horse has occupied a powerful place in the emotional, spiritual and daily lives of human beings.

It is said that one day in 1889 when the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed a horse, harnessed to a hansom cab, being cruelly whipped in the streets of Turin, Italy, he ran across the road and threw his arms around the animal’s neck, sobbing.

He suffered a severe mental breakdown and spent the remainder of his life in an asylum, refusing to speak again.

In 2011, the Hungarian director Béla Tarr made an acclaimed film, The Turin Horse, which recounts this famous episode. Tarr says his philosophical drama is about the “heaviness” of existence.

Horses appear in our art, myth, religion, poetry, song, philosophy, literature and film; often in a philosophical context.

Greece, Chalsis, The Inscriptions Painter (Archaic Period, 540 BC). Psykter amphora, Battle scene from the Trojan War. Chalkidian black-figure ware, fired clay. Felton Bequest, 1956. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

In the magnificent exhibition The Horse, at the National Gallery of Victoria, curators Laurie Benson and Ted Gott present works that not only reveal the incredible beauty and grace of the horse, but also explore all aspects of the lives of horses — particularly Tarr’s theme of the heaviness of existence.

Organised in five sections — Myth, Legend, Miracle, Pageant, Conflict, Labour and Pleasure — the exhibition is a celebration of the horse. It also offers a fascinating social history of the horse.

The exhibition displays art works drawn exclusively from the NGV’s own vast collection, which covers the Ancient World, Europe, the Middle East, India and Australia.

Frederick Woodhouse Senior, 1820–1909. The Cup of 1862-1863, oil on canvas. Donated by Mr F. W. Prell, 1889 Victoria Racing Club Collection. The National Gallery of Victoria, Author provided

The first painting the viewer encounters is Lucy Kemp-Welch’s (main image) Horses bathing in the sea (1900). Their riders, military men, sit bareback as the mighty horses dip and plunge in the waves. Although horsemen over the centuries have disparagingly talked about the need to “break-in” a horse, to “tame its spirit”, these horses appear strong powerful and muscular — their spirit is not for breaking.

Chinese Female equestrian (Tang dynasty 618 AD–907 AD). Henan / Shaanxi province, north China earthenware, pigments. Gift of H. W. Kent, 1938. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Nearby, the earthenware statue, Female Equestrian, from the Tang dynasty depicts horse and rider unified in quiet repose. They share a common bond. Horse is a beautiful, thoughtful, and at times, confronting celebration of the relationship between humans and horses over the last three thousand years and the crucial role that horses have played in the evolution of civilisation.

While celebrating the noble achievements of the horse, the exhibition does not shirk from pointing out the great cost to horses of their relationship with human beings. This is emphasised in the section on Conflict and the crucial role played by horses in war from classical times to the modern period.

Septimus Power, Cavalry charge at Cambrai (c. 1919). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, CC BY

Septimus Power’s stirring Cavalry charge at Cambrai (c. 1919) depicts horses and soldiers in a frenzy of movement as they gallop towards the enemy. Obedient to their riders, the horses charge forward united in purpose and fate. The curators note that during World War 1, 130,000 Waler horses were shipped from Australia to Egypt, the Middle East and Europe and only one returned. The majority were either sold or shot as it was too costly to bring them home.

Pierre-Marie Beyle, The last resting place of Coco (La Derniere Étape de Coco) (1878). Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

One of the most emotionally confronting works, on the theme of Labour, is Pierre-Marie Beyle’s The Last Resting Place of Coco (1878). Deliberately appealing directly to the viewer’s emotions, it illustrates an important topic of discussion in the late 19th century. Lying on the snow-covered ground, and still harnessed to the caravan, Coco has simply died from exhaustion.

Husband, wife and son look on as the family dog sits in the snow beside Coco, staring intently into the horse’s face as if willing him to stand up and keep going.

The viewer is forced to wonder why the family pushed the horse so hard that it collapsed and died from overwork. Were they completely lacking in empathy?

Septimus Power, Toilers (1940). Oil on canvas. Felton Bequest, 1941. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

It is Septimus Power’s Toilers (1940) that captures the great strength and muscular beauty of living, working horses as they pull a plough through the hard soil, obedient to the farmer with his raised switch. Dorothea Lange’s stunning photograph, Spring Ploughing (1937), with its focus on man as the workhorse is worth a visit on its own.

Odilon Redon, Pegasus (Pégase) (1900–05). Pastel, distemper, charcoal and incising on paper on cardboard. Felton Bequest, 1951. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Two standout works both explore the role of myth in our lives: Odilon Redon’s Pegasus (1900-1905) and Michael Cook’s Civilized #1 (2012). Redon’s mysterious Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology (born of Poseidon and the Medusa), stands with his head arched, wings aloft, and one foot raised according to the legend whereby the white stallion struck his hoof to the ground and a spring then gushed forth.

The naked man at his side is the hero, Bellerophon, whom Pegasus allowed to ride him in order to slay the Chimera. Man and horse are united by line and colour, but it is Pegasus who, in his graceful and fragile beauty, draws the eye. Why did the proud horse allow himself to be “tamed”?

Cook’s Civilized #1 is even more enigmatic. The photograph depicts a man standing by the sea; his body is muscular and lithe, while his head is a mask of a horse’s head. Waves crash at his feet, grey clouds swirl in the background.

Cook’s half-man, half-horse is the opposite of the mythical centaur. The white colonialists of course introduced the horse to Australia. The creature appears to be reading lines of script in the sky. These are the well-known words of Captain Cook:

They are human creatures … more entitled to his favour [they] may appear to some to be the most wretched upon the earth; but in reality they are far happier than … we Europeans.

Civilized #1 belongs to the artist’s “What-If” series in which he reworks Australian history from an Indigenous perspective. A surreal, dreamlike work, Civilized #1 offers only questions. What-If the white settlers had listened to Cook’s words? What-If the colonialists had nurtured, rather than destroyed, their bond with nature?

By imaginatively re-staging the past, Cook liberates history from itself and creates a space to ask new questions.

There is so much to think about in this exhibition: how essential the horse is to the evolution of civilization; the sacrifice of the horse to human progress; the bond between human and horse; human cruelty to the horse; the relationship of women and horses; and human worship of the horse.

In this sense, it also tells us a great deal about ourselves – our passions, desires, betrayals and loyalties.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Jockey (Le Jockey) (1899). Colour lithograph. Felton Bequest, 1974. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

The section on the horse in contemporary times explores the theme of pleasure. The works, artefacts and costumes on the history of horse-racing and the Melbourne Cup are fascinating. These point to the main use of the horse today in the western world.

The reduction of the horse’s contemporary significance to a racing carnival, however, makes one yearn for a more ethical relationship between human and animal — perhaps the one that Cook’s creature is pondering as he looks out across the churning waves.

The Horse is at the National Gallery of Victoria until November 8, details here.

The ConversationBarbara Creed, Professor of Cinema Studies, Director, Human Rights & Animal Ethics Network, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Hobbes’ laws of nature

Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (1588 – 1679) was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy. His 1651 book Leviathan established social contract theory, the foundation of most later Western political philosophy.

The desire to avoid the state of nature, as the place where the summum malum of violent death is most likely to occur, forms the polestar of his political reasoning. It suggests a number of laws of nature, although Hobbes is quick to point out that they cannot properly speaking be called “laws,” since there is no one to enforce them. Here are his first five laws.


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When ‘hand crafted’ is really just crafty marketing

The Conversation

Katherine Wilson, Swinburne University of Technology

In their attempts to cash in on peak hipster, fast-food giants are passing off assembly-line products as small scale, bespoke creations that carry an aura of moral authority.

Six months ago, McDonald’s opened a café in Sydney’s inner-West, where chambray-shirted baristas serve single-origin coffee alongside quinoa salads on wooden boards. The café is called The Corner, but The Guardian soon described it as: “McDonald’s disguised as a hipster café”.

And to customers worldwide, McDonald’s launched its “artisan grilled chicken”, its “artisan roll” and other artisan-manque products. Domino’s released “Artisan Pizza”, and PepsiCo released Kaleb’s Cola, a “craft soda” in a glass bottle bearing the notation, “Honor in Craft”. Nowhere on the bottle is mention of the multinational behind it.

In Australian Coles supermarkets, the Always Fresh brand is promoting its “Artisan Collection” lines as “authentic, carefully-crafted”. Its biscuits and preserves are “hand-crafted”; its crackers are “thoughtfully baked”. In the drinks isle Cascade’s “crafted” range of fizzy drinks includes (inexplicably) a “crafted for Australians” plain soda water.

Hand made or machine made? Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters

These descriptors are lies, because mass-producers simply can’t make “craft” or “artisanal” products. These words refer to autonomous human-scale production that’s too mindfully- and bodily-involved for the assembly-line. To a craftperson, conception and physical production are inseparable, and their relationship with their craft — be it breadmaking, songwriting or neurosurgery — is somatic.

Division of labour completely wipes “crafting” from the fabrication process. Craft involves risk and unpredictability; manufacturing, on the other hand, involves predictable and uniform outcomes.

So consider the significance of McDonald’s’ current “How Very Un-McDonald’s” and “Not So Fast Food” campaigns. These campaigns invite us to custom-select ingredients on a touch-screen and enjoy table-service by — who knew? — a person. Faced with a slump in profits, the fast-food giant is experimenting with ways to shed brand-staleness and seduce a 20s-to-30s demographic that regards McDonald’s as distinctly uncool.

But this seems less a gesture towards slow food values and more an admission that the brand and all it represents has become déclassé. When they trade on artisanal notions of authenticity, industrial food giants deny their own, which lies in cheap, standard products manufactured with alienated labour and dispersed supply chains. You can’t be an authentic Tim-Tam if you were “thoughtfully crafted” from seasonal local ingredients.

Spot the difference

Corporate craft-washing campaigns may deceive some, but their mawkish descriptors betray them as sops. McDonald’s “artisan” chicken contains “pantry seasonings” (distinct from industrial flavours) and “100% chicken” (distinct from who-knows-what). Pepsi’s craft soda has “quality ingredients”, no less, devised after “months talking and tasting” (more artisanal than “focus-grouping”).

Genuine craft producers aren’t inclined to spruik these ways, because their customers have the culinary literacy to discern a local sourdough from an industrial soda bread.

In his 2014 book, “The Language of Food”, Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky observes that good quality food labels and menus tend to be short on adjectives. Marketers of industrial food, on the other hand, oversell with such descriptors as “real”, “artisan”, “quality”, “authentic” and “passionately-crafted”.

US brewing giant MillerCoors is facing a class action law suit for passing off its Blue Moon brand as craft beer. Treasure/Flickr, CC BY

But a backlash is mounting. Following recent complaints against the craft claims of Byron Bay Beer, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said:

“We judged that any reasonable consumer would think that it was brewed in Byron Bay by a small Byron Bay brewing company.”

But the beer “was a actually brewed by Carlton and United Brewery out of its large Warnervale brewery.”

David Hollier, president of the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association, said craft beer drinkers believe they are “supporting authentic small, independent… local family-owned breweries. The big two brewers have capitalised on that”.

But CUB was fined A$20,400, and similar cases are emerging overseas. Californian man Evan Parent recently sued brewing giant MillerCoors for claiming its Blue Moon beer is “artfully crafted”. His lawyer Jim Treglio told reporters:

“People think they’re buying craft beer and they’re actually buying crafty marketing.”

Even insiders are rebelling against such marketing. Last year, the ACCC received “industry intelligence” that Saskia Beer’s “Black Pig” products contained white pig meat. Heritage black pig breeds can be more free-ranging than white pigs, as they are less susceptible to sunburn. The company was ordered to undergo compliance training and publish a corrective notice.

Similarly, Pirovic Enterprises was fined A$300,000 for claiming its eggs were free-range. “Although there were no strict legal definitions of free-range, the court was able to base its findings on consumers’ expectations about what that particular form of farming should involve”, said Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson from the University of Melbourne’s Law School.

The same principle, she says, was applied when Coles was fined A$2.5 million over “freshly baked” bread claims, when the bread was first par-baked in Ireland.

Over there, the Food Safety Authority is reportedly clamping down on “artisan”, “traditional” and “farmhouse” claims, warning that these should only describe products made “in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople” at a “micro-enterprise”, and ingredients should be local where possible. Last week, the Authority ordered McDonald’s to remove artisan claims. This is a regulatory trend moving across Europe and the US, and in Australia, the ACCC is also devising guidelines.

Artisan-posturing by industrial producers isn’t just a matter of regulatory transgressions. Industrial food giants who “craft-wash”, or use idioms of craft while trashing its essential values, are actively obscuring a set of political issues. Ethical consumers are often well-heeled, for sure, but their deep pockets attend to a deeper commitment to small enterprise, localism, fair trade, ethical supply chains, seasonal produce, farm animal welfare, workers’ freedoms and low environmental impact.

Australian consumer law prohibiting deceptive conduct “does not just apply to deliberate lies,” says Paterson. “It also covers conduct that creates a misleading impression by manipulating common community understandings.” So as artisanal deceptions continue to mount, so, too, do the legal precedents for a foodie-pundit backlash.

The ConversationKatherine Wilson, PhD Candidate, journalist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Leo Tolstoy on preconceptions

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian novelist regarded as one of the greatest of all time.



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Mark Twain on public opinion

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called “The Great American Novel”.

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Cancer drug promises to break down barrier to HIV cure

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Nicola McCaskill, The Conversation and Sasha Petrova, The Conversation

Researchers have found a promising way of kicking the AIDS virus out of its hiding place in infected cells, potentially removing the main obstacle to curing HIV.

While antiretroviral treatment successfully suppresses HIV replication in an infected person, it can’t completely remove the virus. This is due to the virus’ ability to integrate itself into the DNA of cells, where it can lie dormant and invisible to the body’s immune system for years.

These so-called “reservoirs” of what is known as “latent virus” are the primary barrier to an HIV cure. Recent research has focused on a “shock and kill” method, to shock the dormant virus out of its comfortable place in the reservoir. When the virus is active, it becomes a visible target to kill.

Previous attempts with agents called histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors have shown inconsistent results. HDACs, that enable a virus to coil tightly around a cell’s DNA, are the primary reason for its successful ability to hide undetected.

If an HDAC inhibitor is potent enough, it could stimulate the unravelling and activation of the virus. Research published today in PLOS Pathogens shows the HDAC inhibitor, romidepsin – a drug currently being used to treat cancer – to be the most potent, and thus successful, inhibitor trialled so far.

Six patients, who had been on antiretroviral treatment for around 10 years, each received three transfusions of romidepsin. The dormant HIV was activated in five of the participants, making it a detectable target for elimination.

University of Melbourne Professor and Director of the Doherty Institute, Sharon Lewin, said the results were promising.

“It is an interesting study because it shows the effects of a more potent drug, which can activate or kick the virus out of hiding,” she said.

Researchers also found romidepsin coaxed the virus out of its reservoir without suppressing the body’s broader immune response.

“There’s been some concern that these drugs will suppress an immune response to the virus, and they looked pretty comprehensively to show that there was no suppression of immune function, so that was encouraging as well,” said Professor Lewin, who was not involved in the study.

Dr Kersten Koelsch, who was involved in the study, explained there had been concerns the HDAC inhibitors might negatively affect T cell responses, which play an important part in fighting infection.

“We know that the HIV reservoir needs to be controlled to some extent by T cell responses,” said Dr Koelsch, who is a senior lecturer at UNSW Australia’s Kirby Institute. “So if you had a weak T cell response after an intervention, that would be counterproductive. But it appears that this is not the case with these HDAC inhibitors.”

But Dr Koelsch also stressed that although the results were positive, researchers were by no means close to a HIV cure.

“Unless a miracle happens, there’s not going to be a cure for HIV for at least 10 or even 20 years,” he said.

“Small studies like this can be very informative for the next study which can then build upon it, and the next study will then be another piece in the puzzle that will be important to design the study afterwards.”

He said romidepsin was a “promising agent to check in future studies in combination with immunotherapies or vaccines.”

This will indeed be the next phase of the two-part trial, which will use a combined therapy of romidepsin with a HIV vaccine to kill the infected cells.

“Combination studies are of highest interest now. We need to know whether the combination of activation of the virus with boosting the immune system will actually clear the infected cell. That’s really what we’re after now,“ said Professor Lewin.

Senior Research Officer at the Burnet Institute, Lachlan Gray said the latest research was extremely promising. But he added there were limitations to current HIV research as it focused only on eliminatig the viral reservoir in the blood.

“Tackling the blood reservoir has been the major focus of cure research to this point, predominantly because it is the major HIV reservoir. Importantly, this research sets the scene for efforts focused on non-blood reservoirs such as the gut, and brain” said Dr Gray, who researches HIV replication in brain cells.

“To completely eradicate HIV from the infected individual, that is, where there’s a complete elimination of every HIV infected cell in the body, we need to target all reservoirs, not just the predominant blood reservoir.”

“I think we’re making inroads, and the more research, the more information gathered from important studies such as this, the closer we get to the end goal, which is curing HIV,” he said.

The ConversationNicola McCaskill, Editor, The Conversation and Sasha Petrova, Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Penn on science and religion

Penn Fraser Jillette (born March 5, 1955) is an American magician, juggler, comedian, musician, inventor, actor, and best-selling author known for his work with fellow magician Teller in the team Penn & Teller. He is also known for his advocacy of atheismscientific skepticism, libertarianism and free-market capitalism.


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