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Holiday times the major culprit for weight gain

Weight gain through adult life is a slow insidious process. Rather than being a gradual weight gain over the year, obesity researchers have now pinpointed the danger zone periods of the year. These shorter danger zone times explain the majority of weight gained by adults each year.

For the majority of adults, weight gain throughout life is an unwanted consequence of the lifestyles they have chosen to live. A few extra snacks here, a second helping of food there, and the lure of the couch instead of the park adds up to mid-life mid-riff spread.

Incoming government crashes into Indonesian diplomacy

To suggest that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia has been marked by periods of instability would be less accurate to say the otherwise unstable relationship has been marked by brief periods of stability. After a few years of good relations, it again appears that Australia is headed into difficulties with its near neighbour.

Always highly sensitive around issues of sovereignty, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has rejected the newly elected Abbott government’s policy of paying villagers for information about people smugglers. He has also rejected the Coalition's otherwise poorly conceived policy of buying potential people-smuggler boats.

Indonesia had already strongly signalled its opposition to the Coalition government’s policy of "turning back the boats" ("where safe to do so"). Its view is that, once boats are in international waters, they are not Indonesia’s responsibility, nor does it have the capacity to assist boats that might get into difficulties.

These new difficulties in the relationship result directly from a significant change in Australia’s foreign policy being announced as an election promise without first having been negotiated with the principle affected party. As the incoming Coalition government is quickly learning, there is a big difference between populist pre-election promises and post-election international realism.

Similarly, comments by senior Nationals member Barnaby Joyce that he will oppose the sale of Australian agricultural land to Indonesia to raise cattle for the Indonesian market will cause long-lasting offence in Indonesia. Indonesians will rightly point out that Australia has significant investment in mining and other industries in Indonesia, but hypocritically does not wish that investment right to be reciprocal.

Australia has enjoyed several years of generally untroubled relations with Indonesia. The relationship is officially described, on both sides, as the best it has ever been. That is probably correct.

However, a very large part of that positive relationship has been a result of the benign and pro-Western leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This has been assisted by the previous two governments’ more nuanced diplomacy towards Indonesia.

Under the surface, however, many of the longer-standing tensions and suspicions about Australia’s intentions and attitudes have remained among many senior Indonesians politicians. These suspicions, they believe, are now rapidly being confirmed.

The incoming government’s "bull in a china shop" approach to regional diplomacy was always going to test Indonesia’s patience. For senior Indonesians, and indeed many others, how one is seen to act is as important as the act itself.

But more importantly, any new tensions in the relationship will likely spill into Indonesia’s forthcoming electoral period. Yudhoyono steps down at the end of his second term next year, and his successor is much less likely to be as understanding or accommodating of Australia’s interests.

Indeed, there remains a good possibility that Indonesia’s next president will run a distinctly "nationalist" agenda, which will almost by definition be combative towards Australia. As Indonesia’s economy continues to grow strongly and its strategic value only develops in importance, how Australia engages will become increasingly critical.

Australia has long acknowledged that its future lies in closer engagement with Asia, confirmed yet again by the Asia century white paper. Good relations with Indonesia are central to that engagement. Australia’s new government would do well to remember that, and to act accordingly.

Tony Abbott's Women in White a Symbol of What's to Come

When great political change transforms a nation, there is often a defining image that comes to symbolise it. The iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster from the 2008 US presidential campaign, for instance, embodied the spirit of a nation that was seeking social change and to make history with its first African-American president.

One of the most striking visions during prime minister-elect Tony Abbott's acceptance speech on Saturday night was that of his three daughters, Louise, Bridget and Frances, by his side, co-ordinated in white dresses. Though the short hemlines and tight fit would be out of place at a Catholic First Communion, the connotations of religious faith and female moral purity were unmistakeable.
 

Time to say goodbye to diet debates

A viewpoint article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, calling for an end to the ‘diet debate’ has certainly resonated with me. Promoting, discrediting, or debating any dietary approach to weight loss serves little benefit. Let me explain why.

The scientific jury is now firmly in, with dozens of high-quality, randomised controlled trials showing that no one dieting option is the magic solution for everyone. Despite this, populist fad diet are always emerging – intermittent fasting would be the diet du jour at the moment.

Russia may yet offer US a Syrian lifeline

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's sudden willingness to put its chemical weapons under international -- i.e. Russian -- supervision might allow the regime to avoid a US attack while at the same time preserving its advantage in Syria's civil war. Despite tough rhetoric from the United States, if an agreement can be reached on the modalities of safeguarding the chemical weapons, the US can avoid becoming embroiled in the Syrian conflict while still, more or less, saving face.

President Barack Obama's delineation of the "red line" that would trigger intervention if crossed trapped the US into acting in Syria. Not to do so would have been a serious blow to the US’ pre-eminent standing in global affairs.

But to strike without UN Security Council approval would have drawn international opprobrium and likely have escalated involvement by Russia and Iran. The logic of intervention, too, would be to step up from "degrading" the Assad regime’s capacity to use chemical weapons and probably damaging its air power to damaging the regime’s wider capacity, allowing greater prospects for regime change.

At this stage, the US is not backing down on its internal discussions about attacking Assad's regime. But its rhetoric should now be read primarily as keeping up pressure on Russia to finally act to help moderate the conflict. Having Russia involved in Syria would help prevent the US from being drawn into a no-win situation. Should the US intervene, it will create four problems that do not currently exist.

The first problem is that any hope for detente with Russia would collapse, raise the spectre of opposition on a range of other global issues the US is trying to manage, including China’s strategic manoeuvring, a nuclear armed Iran, and a mad and bad North Korea. It would also damage the opportunity to work with Russia on the mutual concern with the spread of international jihadist Islamism.

The second problem is that any US intervention in Syria would turn a number of its Middle Eastern friends into critics, based not on their strategic alliances but on the "great unbeliever" again imposing its will on Islamic land. One should not underestimate the offence to Muslims caused by non-Islamic military involvement in Islamic countries.

The third problem is that if the Assad regime were to fall, Syria’s patchwork of over a dozen ethnic groups would descend into an ethnic cleansing bloodbath. The conflict would also almost certainly spill over into Lebanon and further destabilise Iraq and perhaps Jordan and would pose a greater threat to Israel.

The fourth problem is that while few like the Assad regime, everyone but Saudi Arabia and Qatar are much more concerned about the likely jihadist Islamist alternative. Should Assad be toppled, the Syrian Islamic Front -- a coalition of radical Salafi jihadist organisations linked to al-Qaeda -- would very likely defeat the alternative anti-Assad Free Syrian Army.

This would create a combative Islamist state in the heart of the Middle East. The US and Russia would be equally aghast at this eventually.

At least with Russia now offering to "safeguard" Syria’s chemical weapons -0 if with conditions - the possibility they will fall into the hands of a combative Islamist state would be removed. And the US may be able to avoid again setting itself up as Islam’s "great Satan".

Assuming it can obtain sufficient guarantees, the US will likely accept Russia’s offer. More than punish Assad, the US wants to preserve its credibility while extricating itself from a situation it has never wanted to be in and that, on balance, it knows will only get worse.

Let’s take a longer term view of employment prospects

The most recent Beyond Graduation Survey that was released last month found that, on average, 95 percent of Deakin graduates who were available for work were in full-time employment three years after graduation.

It is therefore disappointing to see the claim made last week by the Good Universities Guide that Victorian university graduates have low job prospects and will achieve lower than average salaries.

This claim is based on feedback from graduates only four months after graduation.

We are fortunate at Deakin that our students take a longer term view.

 They are dedicated to their studies and passionate about their fields of education.

They have ambition to find the right job and the confidence that, over time, they will build very successful careers in their chosen fields.

Cutting out the insurance “free rider” when it comes to funding fire services

 

From July this year, Victorian councils began collecting the fire services levy through property rates, rather than taxing insurance policies. Formerly the levy was funded by a tax on insurance companies and therefore passed on to the consumer in the pricing structure of their insurance policy.

The Victorian Treasury says current model is premised upon equity and removes flawed and unfair laws and mechanisms. The Insurance Council of Australia has endorsed the move, claiming it to be the “biggest tax reform since the introduction of the GST”.

Bushfire losses reignite debate about insurance reform

 

The Australian summer has become synonymous with bushfire risk. Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria have witnessed devastating bushfires generating millions of dollars of damage. Many individuals have experienced the heartache of having their property destroyed and Australia has also seen thousands of hectares of land transformed into blackened savannahs. 

Now, as the flames start to subside and the blackened rubble remains, the problem with property losses becomes economic. The question that arises from individuals, governments and insurers is: Who is going to pay?

There a number of different options for dealing with property losses arising from catastrophic events. These options include individual responsibility, governmental assistance, insurance, ad hoc funding arrangements, catastrophic bonds, and specific purpose taxation levies etc. In Australia, insurance is the preferred economic protection measure to protect against losses to private properties. Ironically, there are widespread levels of underinsurance. Given the difficulty of determining who is underinsured — particularly when some people do not know this themselves — figures from academic literature vary slightly. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission has suggested that the number is anywhere between 27% to 81% of consumers. The cause of this underinsurance stems from a multitude of factors particularly the cornerstone issues of access and affordability.

Pause for thought on Syrian chemical attacks -- and reprisals

As the United States and its allies -- including Australia -- move closer to intervening in the Syrian civil war, more questions are emerging over the chemical weapons attack which is the pretext for that intervention. Challenging questions are being asked about the motive behind the attack, as well as the consequences of a response to it.

The US has been reluctant to intervene in the Syrian conflict, yet drawn a "red line" which, if crossed, would trigger an intervention. The question now being asked is why Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would unnecessarily provoke the US into a response?

Assad knew that, once publicly committed, the US could not back down from its threat to intervene. For US President Barack Obama to make such a threat and then not carry it through would weaken its international status and prompt further possible tests of its strategic resolve.

The evidence, too, is that despite the huge cost in civilian lives, the Assad regime is at least holding its own in the civil war and has made recent gains. These gains have been largely due to logistical support from Russia, China and Iran, and the intervention of Hezbollah fighters from neighbouring Lebanon.

This, then, begs the questions of why it would resort to using chemical weapons when there is no pressing need to do so, and especially knowing it would engender an external military response?

The Assad regime being evil is a morally satisfying but intellectually bereft answer to this question that does not transcend reasonable -- and growing -- doubt. It is certain that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but that is the extent of the facts.

It is possible that the order for Assad regime forces to use its chemical weapons did not come from Assad himself. A rogue commander could have used the weapons, for reasons that can only be guessed at.

But looking at who has most to gain from such an attack, suspicion falls less on the Assad regime and more on the faltering anti-Assad rebellion. External intervention could, at least initially, tip the balance of power in Syria’s civil war in favour of the anti-Assad forces.

The Assad regime's reluctance and delay in allowing in UN weapons inspectors has not helped allay suspicion that the chemical weapons attach was a deliberate act. However, had a local commander given the order, Assad would have been aware of the likely consequences and thus attempted to delay formal investigations in order to allow signs of the chemicals to dissipate.

Of the two main opposition groupings, the more secular (and Western-supported) Free Syrian Army has struggled and has the most to gain from external intervention. The Saudi and Qatar-backed and Al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front and the Syrian Islamic Front, though, would also benefit from external intervention. If intervention helped topple the Assad regime, it would ease the way towards them establishing an Islamist state.

While there is no evidence that either of these two somewhat disparate groupings are responsible for the chemical attack, one is clearly desperate and the other has, during the civil war, demonstrated its own lack of moral compunction. The hard evidence, then, beyond the simple fact of an attack, remains ambiguous.

Apart from the formal legality of a direct external intervention, careful consideration is being given to how much evidence will be needed to launch a US-led attack. There appears little ulterior reason for the US to want to intervene in the Syrian civil war, given that it is only likely to further stir up the hornets’ nest.

The US is being drawn into the Syrian civil war in a seemingly mechanistic way. Yet there remains no hard evidence as to who was the perpetrator of the chemical attack. This level of uncertainty has echoes similar to that of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction", and the continuing disaster that remains what is left of the Iraqi state.

Why it's better to eat your fruit and veg rather than drink them

Juicing fruit and vegetables is a popular way to get a get a quick ‘health fix’, but does come with the downside that they are less filling than eating the solid foods in the first place.

Eating more fruit and vegetables is the foundation stone of any healthy diet. One popular way to consume them is through juices. The one clear downside from drinking fruit and vegetables compared to eating them is the loss of fibre and other nutrients found in the skin and pulp. Juices though can be a quick, convenient and tasty way to get some of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables which is certainly better than not eating them at all.

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