Monthly Archives: November 2018

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US right up in arms over treaty

More than 65 countries have signed an arms trade treaty that has been championed by Australia at the United Nations since work began on it in 2006.

Speaking after signing the treaty on Monday at the UN’s New York headquarters, Australia’s Minister for Defence Materiel, Mike Kelly, said it was moving to be present at the culmination of such a long effort to bring about a treaty designed to reduce the suffering caused by the unregulated international flow of conventional weapons, especially small arms.

He paid tribute to Peter Woolcott, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, who was president of the drafting conference for the treaty.

The treaty requires signatories to monitor the sale of conventional weapons by manufacturers and prevent their flow to the black market or to groups that may use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

With 154 nations voting for the treaty and only three opposing it – Syria, North Korea and Iran – it is expected to soon win ratification in 50 nations to take effect some time in the next two years.

But despite this overwhelming support it is not clear whether some of the world’s largest arms makers, including Russia and China, will sign it.

And though the treaty has the support of the Obama administration it is not clear if it would survive a ratification vote in the US Senate, where many conservatives are hostile to any measure that could be interpreted as an infringement on gun owners’ rights.

So eager were some members of the Senate to vote against it that they did not even wait for its signing, but voted on a motion against it earlier this year. One of those was Republican senator Jerry Moran, who has criticised the treaty for failing to explicitly recognise the right of individuals to bear arms.

”The United States should ratify treaties only when they are in our national interest, clear in their goals and language, respect our sovereignty, and do not create any openings to infringe upon our constitutional freedoms,” he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed those concerns, saying, the treaty ”will not undermine the legitimate international trade in conventional weapons, interfere with national sovereignty, or infringe on the rights of American citizens, including our Second Amendment rights”.

Nonetheless, America’s most feared lobby group, the National Rifle Association, which has close ties to manufacturers of rifles and ammunition that could be affected by it, has spoken out against it, effectively putting politicians on notice that they could be criticised for voting for ratification.

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City targets energy drinks

The New York City Health Department, locked in a court fight with an industry group that includes Coca-Cola and PepsiCo over a ban on large serves of sugary soft drinks, is now going after sports drinks, teas and energy drinks that it says can be just as deadly.

New television ads and subway placards flash pictures of fruit-flavoured drinks containing added sugar, saying the healthier-sounding choices can cause obesity and diabetes.

One of the TV ads depicts a patient with amputated toes from diabetes, an overweight man slugging a neon-blue sports drink and a surgeon picking at a diseased heart with tweezers.

”Non-soda sugary drinks have been marketed as being healthier, with references to fruit and antioxidants, vitamins and energy,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, a medical doctor.

”We’re trying to warn them that these drinks can have as much or more sugar and calories as soda because we still have a major epidemic of obesity,” he said.

”Once again, the New York City Health Department is oversimplifying the complex set of factors behind obesity,” said Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association. ”Selectively picking out common grocery items like sugar-sweetened beverages as a cause of obesity is misleading.”

Dr Farley noted that while a 20-ounce (590-millilitre) Coca-Cola has 240 calories, a Red Bull energy drink of the same size contains 275 calories.

The expanded campaign comes before a showdown between beverage makers and the city in a New York state appellate court.

The city has appealed a permanent injunction issued on March 11 to stop a Health Department law pushed by mayor Michael Bloomberg that would cap the size of sugary soft drinks sold in restaurants, movie theatres, stadiums and arenas at 16 ounces (about 470 millilitres) a cup. Oral arguments will be heard on June 11.

Dr Farley said the new ads are not timed to coincide with the appeal, adding that the city is ”optimistic” the ban will be upheld.

The percentage of adults who said they drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day declined from almost 36 per cent in 2007 to almost 30 per cent in 2011, according to a city tracking poll. Of youths surveyed in a similar poll, the percentage declined to almost 21 per cent in 2011 from about 28 per cent in 2005.

Last month, Coca-Cola said it would expand calorie labelling to the front of all packages and reiterated its pledge not to advertise to children under 12.

Beverage makers have used sports drinks, teas and energy drinks to help offset soft-drink sales declines in the roughly $US70 billion US industry.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and the beverage association spent as much as $US70 million on lobbying and issue ads between 2009 and early 2012, according to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. In that time, at least 30 states proposed aggressive excise taxes on soft drinks, all of which failed amid industry push-back.

Whatever the cause, obesity in the US comes at a ”staggering” financial cost, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said. Everything from treatments for diabetes to lost work by obese employees cost Americans an estimated $US147 billion in 2008.


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Just breathe

Remember to breathe. Simple, yes? Yet in stressful situations it is possible to either forget to breathe – not good – or to over-breathe, leading to hyperventilation, which affects blood chemistry.

Breathing is the first and last thing we do, but how many of us do it right and what are the implications of getting it wrong?

Rule 101 is that nose breathing is king. It cleans and warms the air and filters particles such as dust and pollen. It also regulates the amount of air entering the lungs. When you breathe through your nose the sinuses work to filter the air. They also create pressure in the lungs on the ”out” breath, giving them time to extract adequate oxygen. A proper oxygen-carbon dioxide (C02) exchange is necessary for your blood to maintain a balanced pH level, which is key to good health.

Chronic mouth breathing is considered less healthy and can exacerbate allergies and lead to other health issues such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, dental problems, dry mouth and fatigue.

The average healthy adult at rest breathes in and out about 10-15 times a minute (one breath being an inhalation and an exhalation), which works out to be five litres to eight litres of air ingested. If you are running or doing physical exercise, you will obviously take in more.

Associate Professor David McKenzie is head of respiratory and sleep medicine at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital. He says one way you can tell you are breathing well is by not noticing. To breathe well, he says, is to not think about it and to let the body’s automatic control systems work for you.

However, sometimes even the most natural systems need a hand. Breath training can be useful for athletes, or for those suffering with asthma, stress and anxiety issues – which can all be brought on by improper breathing.

Anxiety sufferers can feel breathless. Sometimes this is triggered by overthinking or misinterpreting normal breathing patterns, such as sighing.

McKenzie says sighs are normal and helpful. They ”reinflate the alveoli and redistribute the surfactant material on the inside of the alveoli, which reduces surface tension and so reduces the work of breathing”.

But he says people who are anxious tend to sigh more often and sometimes they’ll attach catastrophic significance to it and think there is something wrong with them.

”Then they get more anxious, suddenly they start hyperventilating and that’s when other symptoms occur, which are often a result of bad breath technique,” he says.

Hyperventilation causes carbon dioxide levels in the blood to drop, reducing blood flow to the brain. Symptoms include dizziness, tingling in the hands, numbness around the lips, confusion and a crawling sensation on the back of the neck.

“These symptoms can then be misinterpreted catastrophically and so the cycle continues,” McKenzie says. ”Psychologists are good at working with these problems through cognitive behavioural therapy.”

He says the Russian Buteyko breathing method, which trains people to slow their breathing, can help those with breathing problems, such as asthma. But he warns against practitioners who suggest asthma sufferers discard their medication.

Naturopath and author Mim Beim became a Buteyko practitioner after she found the practice helped her asthma.

Beim says that when you feel anxious, the body does, too. “The adrenal glands pump out adrenalin and cortisol, the nervous system is frantically sending electrochemical messages, muscles become loaded with tension, breathing rates increase and the immune system just tries to cope. Poor breathing affects your immune system and so many other things.”

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is beyond our conscious control. The ANS is divided into two parts, the sympathetic (flight and fight) and the parasympathetic (relax and digest). The sympathetic nervous system is switched on by adrenalin, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is the predominant driver of anxiety. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body to relax.

Beim says the Buteyko breathing technique teaches people how to access the parasympathetic nervous system.

“The method reduces airway inflamm- ation, constriction and spasm, allowing the patient to breathe freely,” she says.

Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher about 500BC. He said ”the perfect man breathes as if he does not breathe”. Beim agrees. “In some cases we are retraining people to breathe the way they did as children, before stress, habits and often poor lifestyle choices got in the way.”

Physiotherapist, molecular biologist and yoga teacher Simon Borg-Olivier travels the world teaching breathing techniques.

He believes learning how to master your breathing can boost athletic performance and alleviate many ailments.

Borg-Olivier cites Australian Olympic snowboarding gold medallist Torah Bright as an example. He says he taught her how to use her breathing to maximum effect.

”We taught her how to take the air from the abdomen in a conscious way until it became a reflex,” he says. ”This triggered a neuromuscular release of muscles that tend to over-tighten the spine, disallowing people to reach peak performance; when spinal muscles are released you get better power transfer.”

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Almaliki puts a new spin on engagement

If Fawad Ahmed and Gurinder Sandhu are the public faces of Australian cricket’s drive towards multiculturalism – into which it plans to pour millions of broadcasting revenue dollars – then Sam Almaliki is its beating heart.

The 24-year-old is not, like Pakistani-born leg-spinner Ahmed, set to soon be added to Australia’s Ashes squad but he is central to the game’s ambition to produce the next production line of elite players from non-traditional cricket backgrounds.

Cricket Australia’s new senior manager for community engagement is Exhibit A in terms of attracting players and fans and disposing of the ”pale, male and stale” image for which the sport has been castigated.

Almaliki saw his first cricket ball bowled during eight months spent as a boy inside Villawood Detention Centre after his parents and two brothers fled their home in Basra in southern Iraq in 1997. His father, Khalaf, was a political science lecturer at an Iraqi university, only adding to concern for their safety under Saddam Hussein.

”When we came to Australia I saw cricket being played by Tamil detainees at Villawood and then was encouraged to pursue an interest in cricket by my year five teacher Rowan Hall at Punchbowl Primary,” he said. ”He encouraged me to play the game, and I watched Steve Waugh and Australia’s tour of the West Indies in 1999 and fell in love with the game.”

CA announced on Tuesday it would use part of its $590 million from new deals with channels Nine and Ten to accelerate its mission to attract more Australians of non-English-speaking backgrounds to the game, as well as more women and girls, indigenous Australians and people with a disability.

National marketing contracts handed to Ahmed and teenage NSW bowler Sandhu, who is of Indian heritage, have been announced and Almaliki’s job is to build on their emerging status.

His tender age should not be a distraction. At 15 he founded the Sydney Junior Winter Cricket Association, which is now one of Sydney’s largest with 900 players and Test captain Michael Clarke as patron. He has also been chair of the NSW Multicultural Youth Network, a commissioner on the NSW Community Relations Commission and, during his previous posting at Cricket NSW, devised Australian cricket’s first multicultural engagement strategy.

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Watmough keen to axe tag as Blues’ last winner

Anthony Watmough is the only member left of the last NSW team to triumph in a State of Origin series but it is a biographical footnote he wishes had no relevance for Wednesday night.

”I don’t really class that as a win, that series, for myself,” the Manly and Blues back-rower said. ”I only played the one game. It’s in the record books – they can’t really take it away from me. But there is still that burning desire to get this one.”

Watmough is proud to have been associated with Ricky Stuart’s side of 2005, but he is desperate for the fading memory not to be his last taste of interstate success.

Then 21, he played in game one after starting on the bench in Brisbane – when NSW were beaten 24-20 in golden-point extra time. Although he did not appear in the second and third matches as the Blues fought back, he was officially a member of the series win.

He remembers a very different Origin experience in Stuart’s first reign compared with how new coach Laurie Daley conducts affairs.

”It was intense. It was the 25th year of Origin and the build-up to that with Ricky Stuart was ridiculous compared to how cruisy and player-driven it is now with Loz,” Watmough said. ”They’re totally different. This year it’s good.

”The players have really taken ownership. The senior players have really stepped up and they’re driving it. Loz just has to sit back and when he needs to put his two bob in, he can put his two bob in. But I think with the way it’s running now, he doesn’t need to do that. He just sits back and lets us go and lets us run our thing.”

Watmough is one of the form players in the NRL and looms as a key asset from the bench for the Blues. A player once on the outer at representative level, is now – as a 29-year-old – central to Daley’s ambitions of toppling Queensland again.

”It wasn’t pleasant getting your name tossed around a lot but I hope I’ve changed a few people’s opinions,” he said. ”You’re only one bad game away from missing out on any squad but that’s a good thing to have; that hunger and drive. The time has come with this team where we can stop their momentum.”

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