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Deakin Speaking is a blog for Deakin University’s academics to provide diverse and robust opinion and comment arising from their key areas of expertise as well as about issues and contemporary news in their areas of interest within society as a whole. We hope you find the commentary interesting, informative and insightful.

This is a moderated blog and publication of responses is at the moderator’s discretion. As a guide, responses should not be obscene, offensive, defamatory, infringe copyright, or intended to upset others. They should not be anonymous or be used as a vehicle for marketing or sending resumes! Comments submitted for publication on this blog site may be edited accordingly.

Please note Deakin commentators on this site make posts in their own right and do not represent the University as its official spokesperson on any particular matter.

One diet to rule them all

How is a person to make sense of the conflicting nutrition messages they read and hear about each day? Despite a wide range of contradicting nutrition and diet messages, there are common themes that overlap across all of the popular diets - themes that give you the keys to long-term health in a simple-to-understand message.

Carbohydrates cause weight gain. Fat causes weight gain. We should eat like our caveman ancestors. Gluten and sugar are toxic. Saturated fat is bad for you…no wait…now it's good for you.

'Slow, expensive, complicated' legal system must be improved

Half of all Australians will experience a legal problem this year. Most won’t get legal assistance or come into contact with our courts or other legal institutions. In part, this is because Australia’s legal system is “too slow, expensive and hard to understand”.

This was a key finding of the Productivity Commission’s draft report of its inquiry into access to justice, released this week.

The 891-page report seeks feedback on a number of findings and recommendations to improve access to justice. But why are they needed? And are the recommendations practical?

Afghanistan's second election: not exactly democratic consolidation

Perhaps it’s because we like to reinforce our own prejudices with positive reaffirmations or perhaps it’s because the media does not know how to tell a complex story simply, but the weekend’s presidential election in Afghanistan was not the democratic triumph we have been led to believe. Yes, they were elections, but this was somewhat short of "two turnover test" that has been incorrectly applied to the notion of "democratic consolidation".
The most positive news to come from the elections was that there was relatively little violence on the part of the Taliban. This meant that most voters who wanted to participate could do so.
Indications are that the voter turnout was in excess of 50%, which might look good set against the United States' own abysmal electoral participation but falls well short of the enthusiastic 80%-plus registered in other new democracies. There has also been much celebration of the fact that around a third of the voters were women, which otherwise indicates how poor the status of women is in this still deeply traditionalist country.
Of the 11 presidential candidates, none was expected to come out as a clear winner with 50%-plus of the vote, meaning the elections would go to a run-off between the two leading candidates. Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the candidate most favoured by the West, in part because he is a known figure, having run against Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections, and in part because he is photogenic and speaks English well.
However, unlike 2009, the half-ethnic Pashtun-half Tajik Abdullah was not a frontrunner this time around. The winner is expected to be a full-blooded Pashtun, which while not of an absolute majority in their own right is still Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.
Of the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is an American-educated academic and former finance minister who spent much of his adult life outside Afghanistan. He appears competent and the least corrupt of the leading candidates. The other lead candidate is Zalmay Rassoul, who is backed by outgoing Hamid Karzai, and may be implicated in some of the allegations of profound corruption that have swirled around the Karzai camp.
Other candidates include religious figures, some close to the Taliban and a smattering of warlords. It will be several days, perhaps weeks, before it is known, however, who will head into the run-off.
Early reports suggest that the 2014 elections were not as compromised as the 2009 elections, in part because there were very few election observers left in the field to actually monitor the elections. Even so, there have still been numerous reports of irregularities and a lack of ballot papers in some areas, notably where Abdullah has the strongest support.
The run-off election, with massive opportunities for patronage available to the winner, is likely to see more serious electoral fraud. If reports continue to say that the situation has improved since 2009, that perhaps less reflects that the electoral process is a good one and more that the 2009 elections were, according to all of the electoral observers there then, the most corrupt and compromised in the history of election observation.
A large part of the Afghanistan political equation, though, is the Taliban, which conformed to an increasing political type by not disrupting election day itself. They know this is not the main game.
As the international presence in Afghanistan winds down, both in military and aid terms, no matter who is elected as the new president, they will have to negotiate directly with the Taliban. And the Taliban has shown that any such negotiations will, increasingly, be on their terms.
Afghanistan has had elections, which is positive, even if the process only partially fulfilled the criteria for being truly democratic. However, any suggestion that the "two turnover test" means anything more than forestalling the inevitable is to reflect a poor appreciation of Afghanistan’s conflicted history or fractured political dynamics.

Weekend cheaters weigh less

For those following a strict diet to lose weight, a new study proposes that there may just be merit in the idea of ‘weekend cheating’ in loosening the bounds of food self-control.

Making concerted dietary changes and having them stick long term to help with weight loss is tough. Just how many people fall off their best-intentioned diet plans is testament to this. We only have enough willpower to force dietary changes upon ourselves and one day that firm resolve will fail. Enter the idea that having a ‘cheat’ day or weekend may lessen the feelings of self-deprivation when following a strict diet.

Researchers from the United States examined the idea that because our lives follow a weekly rhythm where weekdays are normally very different to weekends, there may be merit in having our eating habits follow a similar pattern as well.

The new tri-polar world: why Russia can do whatever it likes

United States political leaders bluster, but Russia continues to be unmoved by their protestations over its annexation of Crimea and the massing of troops along Ukraine’s border. Long having believed itself the world’s only superpower, the US is now being delivered a lesson in real politik, if not humility.
Estonia, which has a large Russian population, has hit back against Russia, saying the West should freeze all Russian bank accounts … for what little that would appear to do. Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves says that what is most threatening about Russia’s behaviour is that "the old rules don’t apply". Since Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, he says, it has been clear that Putin would ignore guarantees of territorial sovereignty that conflicted with Russia’s sense of national interest.
Despite US President Barack Obama claiming that Russia’s seizure of Crimea is a sign of weakness rather than strength, US commentators, such as Stratfor’s George Friedman, believe the US is now headed towards direct confrontation with an increasingly assertive Russia. Assuming the US continues to believe that it is the world’s remaining superpower, and not one that has to negotiate, this may be correct.
There are now real concerns that, having established the precedent of "protecting" Russian speakers in former Soviet satellite states, it may move to annex further regions. Despite some commentary suggesting that Russia’s assertiveness is solely Putin’s doing, in fact it represents the wholesale reorientation of Russian politics towards a dominant conservative nationalist paradigm.
To illustrate, Deputy Speaker of Russia’s Duma, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, bluntly says that the south-east of Ukraine be re-incorporated into Russia. Yet Zhirinovsky is the head of the inappropriately named Liberal Democratic Party, rather than Putin’s United Russia Party.
Within Russia, there is strong support for asserting Russia’s "return to greatness". According to Irina Yarovaya, a prominent member of the Duma's security committee: "Any person whatsoever who criticises the policies of the Russian authorities in Crimea becomes thereby an enemy of the fatherland."
Criticism of Msocow’s policies or Putin himself is no longer tolerated. Leading Moscow academic Professor Andrei Zubov was recently sacked from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations for comparing Moscow's actions in Ukraine with Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938. In a parallel move, a number of critical websites have also been closed.
As if to illustrate the parallels between Russia’s former and current oligarchies, and the shift from one strong leader to another, Russia’s Orthodox Church Press has recently released its 2014 calendar featuring none other than the infamous Joseph Stalin. One analyst noted: "As Stalin would say 'this is not mere chance, Comrades'."
In large part, what appears to be missing from the West’s expressions of moral outrage over Russia’s perceived expansionism is that they are not presenting the world as it is, but rather as they would like it to be. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a moment of deep reflection for Russia, but the West’s triumphalism did not mean that Russia had disappeared. It many respects, it remains powerful, perhaps almost as much as it has earlier been.
Similarly, the rise of China as an economic and strategic power -- and the US' Asia "pivot" recognising that -- has added a third key player to the global balance of power. With the US economically and strategically weakened, perceptions of its pre-eminence and ability to shift global events are increasingly doubtful.
The Cold War era was characterised by two superpowers, and the post-Cold War era by just one. But, in the wake of the US’ ill-advised adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world increasingly appears as tri-polar. No one now seriously questions that China is a global player and that Russia can act, more or less, with impunity in areas it claims to be in its sphere of influence, tends to confirm this fundamental global strategic shift.

Being active improves cancer survival odds

Evidence continues to grow that physical activity after a cancer diagnosis is linked to a better survival outlook.

Being physically active is now recognised as a potent ‘cancer-preventing’ habit. Some estimates link regular physical activity to as much as a 20 to 40% lower risk of colon and post-menopausal breast cancer and a potential benefit in lowering prostate cancer risk too.

Being active also comes with the added bonus of improving fitness, keeping bones healthy, keeping body weight in check and reducing stress.

The injustice of the provocation defence in NSW continues...

On Friday, Yassir Ibrahim Mohamed Hassan was sentenced in the NSW Supreme Court to a maximum term of 12 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of nine years, for the manslaughter of his wife, Mariam Henery Yousif. Hassan's case is a stark reminder of the injustices caused by the partial defence of provocation, which continues to reduce what would otherwise be murder to manslaughter in New South Wales,

Hassan, aged 56 years old at the time of sentencing, killed his 24-year-old wife in a ‘frenzied’ knife attack that occurred on a background of over two years of disharmony in the marriage. While the specific cause of the marriage deterioration was not clear, on sentence the judge noted multiple contributing factors including their significant age difference, cultural differences and disagreements over parenting discipline style.

All Under the Family’s Control?

Saturated fat not linked to heart disease? Not so fast, the real message behind the headlines

Many of you would have come across today's 'hot topic' in the media citing a just published meta-analysis showing little link between saturated fat and heart disease.

I really feel for the public in being faced with such conflicting nutrition messages. I could blame no one for throwing their hands up in despair, proclaiming that all nutrition health messages are rubbish as they reach for the salami stick and deep fried Mars Bar.

But hold on for just one moment before you take that first bite. Saturated fat was never, repeat never, proclaimed as the big villain for heart disease. It was one of a whole range of diet and lifestyle habits including smoking, obesity, inactivity, and a poor diet overall, that together add to a person’s risk.

Dietary advice to reduce heart disease risk was never just about cutting back on saturated fat, it was cutting back on saturated fat as WELL AS eating less processed foods, salt, and sugar, and eating more fruit and vegetables. As a population, Australians have made little shift in making these type of inherently healthy eating changes permanent.

You can eat a diet high in saturated fat that is healthy, or you could eat less saturated fat and replace it with processed carbohydrates and sugar. These types of changes can’t always be seen in many of the studies that went into this latest research.

Dietary patterns consistently linked to lower rates of heart disease as well as longer-term health and longevity are almost universally low in saturated fat, yet also high in plant based foods, and fibre, and low in salt and sugar.

The nutrition profession as a whole (which includes me) is guilty of focussing too much on single nutrients as being health saviours or villains. But we don’t eat nutrients, we eat foods.

The positive news out of this latest conflicting research is that it sees more and more nutrition researchers are waking up to the risk of only focussing on nutrients, and instead look at whole diets.

Our latest Dietary Guidelines in fact have been framed much more in terms of foods, and less focus is given to nutrients.

Get the foods right, and the nutrients take care of themselves.

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