Bracing for the big one

The map is uncannily similar to today’s: a spray of black dots showing the recorded sightings of a foul grey haze spreading across Europe, from Helsinki to Naples, from Heligoland to Majorca, and reaching eventually to Aleppo and Damascus – all of it caused by clouds of ash from an immense volcano erupting far across the sea in Iceland.But this was a map made from data collected in 1783. The volcano was called Laki, it erupted for eight dismal months without cease, ruined crops, lowered temperatures and drastically altered the weather. It killed 9000 people, drenched European forests in acid rain, caused skin lesions in children and the deaths of millions of cattle. And, by one account, it was a contributing factor (because of the hunger-inducing famines) to the outbreak six years later of the French revolution.Great volcanoes have a habit of prompting profound changes to the world – much greater in extent than the most savage of earthquakes and tsunamis, even though the immediate lethality of the latter is invariably much more cruel. Though ground-shaking events are generally fairly local in extent, their potential for killing can be terrific: 250,000 died after the Tangshan earthquake in China in 1975 and a similar number died in the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004. Volcanoes seem by contrast relatively benign: the accumulated total number of deaths in all of the great volcanoes of the past 300 years has probably not exceeded a quarter of a million: the total number of casualties from a hundred of the biggest recent eruptions has been no more than those from a single giant earthquake.But there is a significant difference. Earthquakes, once done, are done. Volcanoes, however, often trigger long-term and long-distance ill-effects, which generally far outweigh their immediate rain of death and destruction. Emanations of particles from the tiniest pinprick in the Earth’s crust, once lifted high into the skies by an explosive eruption, can wind themselves sinuously and menacingly around the planet, and leave all kinds of devastation in their train. They can disrupt and pollute and poison; they can darken skies and cause devastating changes in the weather; they can bring about the abrupt end to the existence of entire populations of animals and people.Earthquakes and tsunamis have never been known to cause extinctions but volcanoes and asteroid collisions have done so repeatedly – and since the Earth is still peppered with scores of thousands of volcanoes ever yearning to erupt, they and the dramatic long-term effects of their eruptions are in fact far more frequent, far more decisive, and far greater than those that are triggered by any other natural phenomenon on the planet.It is worth remembering that ours is a world essentially made from and by volcanoes. They are creatures that will continue to do their business over the aeons, quite careless of the fate of the myriad varieties of life that teems beneath them and on their flanks. Including, of course, ours.There is perhaps no better recent example of the havoc that a big eruption can cause than that which followed the explosive destruction of Mount Toba, in northern Sumatra, 72,000-74,000 years ago (which, in geological time, is very recent indeed). The relics of this mountain today are no more than a very large and beautiful lake, 100 kilometres long and 800 metres deep – the caldera left behind by what is by most reckonings the largest volcanic explosion known to have occurred on the planet in the past 25 million years.On the widely used volcanic explosivity index (VEI), Toba is thought to have been an eight – meaning that in the unusually flamboyant official language of vulcanology it was a super-plinian type eruption with mega-colossal characteristics (Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull is by contrast listed as a strombolian type, with its characteristic regarded as merely gentle, and having a probable VEI rating of just two).About 2800 cubic kilometres of rock were instantly vaporised by the super-eruptive blast of Toba, all of which was hurled scores of thousands of metres into the air. This is what did the lasting damage, just as Iceland’s high-altitude rock-dust did in Europe. But while we merely suffered a large number of inconvenienced people and a weakening of the balance sheets of some airlines, the effect on the post-Toban world was catastrophic: as a result of the thick ash clouds the world’s ambient temperature plummeted, perhaps by as much as 5 degrees – and the cooling and the howling wave of deforestation and deaths of billions of animals and plants caused a sudden culling of the human population of the time, reducing it to maybe as few as 5000 people, perhaps 1000 breeding pairs. Many anthropologists believe that the event caused a sudden evolutionary bottleneck, with genetic implications that linger to this day. Put more crudely, humanity was nearly wiped out by Toba, and only by the merest hair’s breadth did our ancestors of 72,000 years ago manage to cling on and bequeath to us our existence.Mercifully, from humanity’s point of view, there have been very few Tobas known in history. They are probably so large that they reach the upper limit of the kind of eruptions that can physically occur on Earth – one VEI-8 event occurs only every 100,000 years or so. Yet of those known to have occurred, two have taken place in Britain (mainly because Britain has such a vast variety of geology, with almost every age of rock known in the world found somewhere between Cape Wrath and Dover). They are comfortingly ancient: both – the volcano that created Scafell in the Lake District, and the other that gave us Glen Coe in the Western Highlands – took place more than 400 million years ago.But others of the 47 known VEI-8 volcanoes are more alarmingly recent. Taupo in New Zealand erupted with mega-colossal force some 22,500 years ago. The newer of the great eruptions that helped form the mountains of today’s Yellowstone National Park in the United States took place just 640,000 years ago, and all the current signs – from such phenomena as the rhythmic slow rising and falling of the bed of the Yellowstone River, as if some giant creature is breathing far below – suggest another eruption is coming soon. When it does, it will be an American Armageddon: all of the north and west of the continent, from Vancouver to Oklahoma City, will be rendered uninhabitable, buried under scores of metres of ash. (I mentioned this once in a talk to a group of lunching ladies in Kansas City, soothing their apparent disquiet by adding that by ”soon” I was speaking in geologic time, and that meant about 250,000 years, by which time all humankind would be extinct. A woman in the front row exploded with a choleric and incredulous rage: ”What?” she said. ”Even Americans will be extinct?”)Ratcheting down the scale a couple of notches, to the only slightly less gigantic eruptions that are classified as VEI-7 and VEI-6, and a host of more familiar eruptions come into view. These include Santorini, the Aegean volcano whose destruction around 4000 years ago may have triggered the collapse of the Minoan civilisation; Laki, the 1783 Icelandic volcano mentioned above, and which most obviously parallels today’s events at Eyjafjallajokull; the Javan volcano of Krakatoa, which erupted so infamously in August 1883; and the rather more profoundly world-affecting eruption of 1815, also in the Dutch East Indies, of the huge stratovolcano on Sumbawa Island, known as Tambora. Each of these had massive effects, and all were global in their extent.Tambora is the most notorious, not least because it was so immense: almost 170 cubic kilometres of pulverised Sumbawan rock were hurled into the sky, which darkened, cooled and polluted a world that, unlike in Toba’s day, was already well populated and widely civilised. The consequences ranged from the dire – a lowering of temperature that caused frosts in Italy in June and snows in the US in July, and the failure of crops in immense swathes across Europe and the Americas – to the ludicrous: Irish migrants, promised better weather in New England, found it on landing to be every bit as grim as the Connemara and Cork they had left, and so either went home, or pressed on in hope to California.Krakatoa’s immediate aftermath was dominated initially by dramatic physical effects – a series of tsunamis that were measured as far away as Portland Bill and Biarritz, a detonation that was clearly heard (like naval gunfire, said the local police officer) 5000 kilometres away on Rodriguez Island, and a year’s worth of awe-inspiring evening beauty as the sky lit up with dazzling colours.There was an important legacy to Krakatoa’s eruption not shared by the other giant volcanoes of the time. Close mapping of the spread of the 1883 sunsets showed them girdling the Earth in a curious set of spirals, the stratospheric aerosols evidently being borne around the world on high-altitude winds that no one at the time knew existed. An atmospheric scientist in Hawaii mapped them and decided to call the air current the equatorial smoke stream. It later became, more elegantly and economically, the jet stream. There has to be some irony that the jet stream that drove this month’s Icelandic dust so dangerously over Britain and mainland Europe is a phenomenon that was first discovered as a direct consequence of the study of Krakatoa.And yet, of all the consequences of the truly great volcanoes of the past, the phenomenon of mass extinctions of life must surely be the most profound and world-changing of all. Between two and five major extinction events occur in the world every million years or so. Humans have not been privileged to observe one of them – hardly surprisingly, since they would probably occur so slowly as to be barely noticeable. However, with painstaking care, palaeontological evidence is being amassed to link sudden and catastrophic changes in world climate, changes that promote such extinction crises, with the known major eruptions of the past, and with what are known as flood basalt events (such as those that have been triggered specifically in the past by eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull and her neighbouring volcano in Iceland, Katla, which is itself well overdue for an eruption). It is a study that opens up a fascinating speculative possibility.For what if the kind of event that we have seen this month, and which caused such commercial inconvenience, is in fact not just a minor volcanic hiccup, but the beginning of an event that causes in time a mass extinction of some form of earthbound life? And, since we know from the history books that the massive eruption of Santorini once had the power to destroy one proud part of human society, what if the extinction we might be beginning to see turns out to be what will one day surely occur, and that is the extinction of us?Guardian News & MediaSimon Winchester is a journalist and author of Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded.
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America’s gaping hole: thousands queue up for free medical care

LOS ANGELES: They began arriving before dawn on a cold, misty morning, people of all ages lining up by the hundreds, some in wheelchairs, others hobbling on crutches, many of them missing teeth, all of them seeking the same thing: free medical care.It was a scene that could have been playing out in a Third World country or perhaps some place like post-hurricane New Orleans. But it was unfolding in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and the hundreds who showed up were mainly working people without health insurance.Kenny Gillett, 47, a welder, had not seen a doctor for two years, since losing his job and insurance when his employer went broke.Adriana Valenzuela, a self-employed and uninsured beautician, brought an eight-year-old son with a mouthful of cavities. Frank Carodine, 57, in a wheelchair, said he had lost parts of both legs to diabetes, which was now ravaging his right eye. He needed glasses. ”I’ve got coverage for my diabetes, I go to a clinic, but it doesn’t cover eye exams,” he said.Outside in the cold, several hundred people, some balancing toddlers on their hips, waited for their turn to enter the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Inside were hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and other professionals, all brought together by a Tennessee non-profit group, Remote Area Medical.On this first day of the seven-day clinic, Maria Shriver, the wife of the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, visited and said she was humbled by the scope of the volunteer effort.”What you’re seeing is a lot of Middle America here,” said RAM’s flamboyant founder, Stan Brock. ”Healthcare in this country is a privilege of the well-to-do and the well-insured.” At last year’s clinic 6000 were treated. More were expected this time.Jesse Serna, 51, a disabled warehouse worker, was waiting to get an aching tooth fixed.Referring to national healthcare reform, he said: ”We need it badly. We send people overseas when there’s a disaster. This is a disaster right here.”Associated Press, Los Angeles Times
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India accuses one of its diplomats of spying for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The Indian government has accused one of its own diplomats of handing secrets to Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency.The Indian Foreign Office said on Tuesday that Madhuri Gupta, 53, a second secretary at its high commission in Islamabad, had been charged with espionage.Ms Gupta, who had worked in the press and information section for three years, was arrested on Friday after being called back to New Delhi on the pretext of discussing a regional summit in Bhutan this week. She was charged in court on Monday.”We have reasons to believe an official in the Indian high commission in Pakistan has been passing information to Pakistani intelligence officials,” said Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. ”The official is co-operating with our investigations and inquiries.”The Press Trust of India reported that the head of India’s intelligence agency research and analysis wing in Islamabad was also under investigation.Indian officials did not elaborate on the nature of the secrets allegedly stolen by the junior diplomat. But the revelation is a big embarrassment for India’s diplomatic service on the eve of the Bhutan summit, where peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals are high on the agenda.The arrest was not expected to derail a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, due to take place today. But it may dampen expectations of a resumption of peace talks, which collapsed after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which more than 170 people were killed.India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group with historical ties to the ISI, for the atrocity, accusing ”state elements” of orchestrating the carnage.The two countries, which have fought three wars, have a history of skulduggery and periodically engage in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, usually at times of political or military tension.But it is rare for a diplomat to be accused of spying and analysts were divided on the political significance. Some felt it was unlikely to damage relations because the accused is an Indian national; others saw it as an ominous sign for an early resumption of peace talks.Guardian News & Media
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How I cheated on my wife… with my wife

When I heard about Noel Biderman and his website, sleazyparasite南京夜网.au (not sure if that is quite correct), I wanted to write about it but couldn’t – at least not straight away. I had to wait for the bile to die down so I could do it without swearing in front of the kids, or smashing my fist through the iMac.As someone who has just spent his “seven-year itch” year interviewing couples in great relationships, I realised how deeply anyone who signs up to that site misunderstands what it really takes to make love work.But, rather than rant and rave, I’ll just tell a quick story, then get a little obnoxious and judgemental to finish off.For my 40th birthday, my siblings gave me and my wife a voucher for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley. Even more importantly, mum and dad chipped in with the priceless “babysitting coupon”.Four weeks ago, we finally organised the time off and had a wonderful two days away. I am now 42 years old.As we planned for the break, we realised this would be our first weekend away in over five years. We talked about everything else we’d managed to squeeze into that time: we’d moved back to Australia; I’d gone back into advertising; got a book deal; had a second child; finished my first book; ran screaming from advertising; started comedy and corporate speaking again; saw our first child start school; had both kids in hospital; and finished my second book. How could we not sneak in a lousy weekend away? We really, really, really needed a break.It was wonderful how quickly we recaptured the spark. By the time we’d driven the three hours from Sydney, we felt like “Allie and Marty” again, and not just “Mum and Dad”.We have some friends who talk about how things used to be “BC” (Before Children). We could now see what they meant. We were slower, calmer, softer.We checked into Wilderness Grove, a gorgeous, secluded place with only four suites in the middle of an expansive olive grove, and spent the rest of the morning doing nothing much. We had a huge spa bath in the afternoon – because we could – and my wife said, “Isn’t it a glorious luxury to lay in a bath without a toy shark sticking into your bum cheek?” I agreed, “It’s just lovely doing a wee without a three-year-old barging in asking, ‘Are pterodactyls herbivores or carnivores?’ ”A typical conversation went like this: “Isn’t the scenery lovely? It could be Europe, with the hills covered in vines and the olive trees. Remember that trip to Italy we had when we lived in England? I miss that.”Instead of this: ”Isn’t the scenery lovely? (Connor take your fingers out of your brother’s nose). It could be Europe (Elliot, beans are not lightsabers), with the hills covered in vines and the olive trees (finish your lunch or no ice-cream. That’s one). Remember that trip to Italy we had (Boys! That’s two) when we lived in England? (Three. Right no ice-cream). I miss that.”The next day we went for a lengthy walk. This was by far the highlight of our weekend. We ambled along, adoring the stunning vineyards and we (drum roll please) talked, to each other and no one else, for almost four hours.We hadn’t done that in five long years, except for those sporadic dinners when you’re so ecstatic to be outside the four walls of your house together you end up ordering that second, sometimes third, bottle of wine and not remembering exactly what you talked about.It all felt so natural, so easy, so just-like-it-used-to-be “BC”. It reaffirmed our commitment to each other and reminded us both why we got hitched in the first place.I may be playing amateur psychologist here, but I think if only more couples made time to have weekends away, these revolting and brainless websites would never get off the ground.Here comes “judgemental and obnoxious”: Noel Biderman is promoting and preying on what can only be called “emotional consumerism”, and his view of love is as deeply soulful and rewarding as a new pair of Dolce&Gabbana undies.If you don’t understand why love doesn’t work that way, be my guest and sign up with Noel, and enjoy your life full of romantic skidmarks.Marty Wilson is a stand-up comedian, professional speaker and author of the bestselling What I Wish I Knew series. His latest book, What I Wish I Knew About Love, is in stores now. Read more of his blog www.whatiwishiknew南京夜网
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Next ban for smokers: the great outdoors

SMOKERS should prepare for the day when they are virtually confined to lighting up in their own backyards.They will not be able to smoke on footpaths, and feeding their habits in public will be restricted to a few designated smoking zones.A wide-ranging ban on outdoor smoking in public areas is the logical next step in stamping out smoking from public life altogether, according to Cancer Council NSW chief executive Andrew Penman.Dr Penman said it was becoming increasingly unacceptable that people could be subjected to drifts of smoke from fellow pedestrians when they walked down the street.”It should get to the stage where there are only certain places you can smoke a cigarette, that is, smoking-permitted parks or small squares,” he said. “We are recommending to the government that outdoor smoking needs to move . . . to the assumption that smoking is prohibited from all outdoor areas unless otherwise stated.”Smokers, and retailers who sold tobacco products, needed to prepare for a “post-tobacco world”, he said.NSW legislation already bans smoking from enclosed public areas, workplaces, hospitals and cars carrying passengers under 16. In what anti-smoking campaigners describe as a loophole, lighting up is still allowed in semi-enclosed rooms in pubs and clubs.But the smoking battleground has moved from indoors to outdoors, with councils leading the charge. Smoking is banned in many children’s playgrounds, sports fields, public pools, beaches, outdoor dining areas and bus shelters.Heart Foundation NSW chief executive Tony Thirlwell said 74 of the 152 councils in NSW had introduced smoke-free outdoor areas policies, with 14 of those policies covering alfresco dining areas.The latest councils to enact smoke-free policies are City of Sydney, Leichhardt and Waverley. Warringah is expanding its policy to cover bus shelters and the grounds of Brookvale Oval. Newcastle has banned smoking at bus shelters. Mr Thirlwell said the next step should be a state law banning smoking in all outdoor crowded areas, including concerts.Anne Jones, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, known as ASH Australia, said councils had taken responsibility where the NSW government “was doing nothing”.Queensland and Victoria had been more active. “The focus up to now has been protecting people indoors,” she said. “Now, it’s crowded outdoor areas.”Ms Jones praised tough measures announced last week by the Rudd government to raise the prices of cigarettes by about $2 and mandate plain packaging by 2012. In another federal assault on the tobacco industry, displays of its products in shops will stop by July 1.Smoking kills 15,000 people a year in Australia. The government’s aim is to reduce the smoking rate from 16 per cent to 10 per cent within the decade.
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Farmers not sold on climate change

AUSTRALIAN farmers are sceptical about climate change and many do not believe it will affect agriculture during their lifetimes, a report says.But the CSIRO research is calling on rural producers to increase their knowledge of the implications of global warming so they can make their farms more resistant to changing climatic conditions.The report, A Participatory Approach to Developing Climate Change Adaption Options for NSW Farming Systems, identifies ways farmers can protect their livelihoods, such as by planting crops that can withstand hotter and drier weather, identifying ways to manage fertiliser, and maximising water use through efficient harvesting.The report confirmed there was significant scepticism and misunderstanding among farmers on climate change and the impact it would have on agriculture. Farmers must also prepare for a future carbon emissions trading scheme.CSIRO research team leader Steven Crimp said the need for improved climate change knowledge was paramount.”There is a lot of information about climate change and climate projections but there isn’t a lot of information on how to make changes within farm management,” he said.”Many farmers don’t believe that climate change will affect them in their lifetime but we are already starting to see the effects of climate change and variation on the land.”A spokeswoman for NSW Climate Change minister Frank Sartor said the government was working with farmers to assess regional areas for climate change vulnerability.”The impacts of climate change pose a considerable risk to farmers,” she said. “Probable effects include hotter, drier conditions, which will put crops under greater heat and water stress.”Agricultural business workshops for young farmers have been established by the food and agribusiness specialist bank Rabobank to deal with emerging challenges for Australian producers. They cover leadership strategies, business planning and economic management.Andrew Stott, 23, from Whitton in the NSW Riverina, took part in one workshop. He runs the family farm in partnership with his father, Richard, and brother Mathew. It has been operating since 1977.The 2200-hectare property produces grains and seed crops including lettuce, onions, sorghum, pumpkin, maize and sunflowers. It also has a 100-hectare vineyard.Mr Stott said climate change would prove a challenge for farmers.”Climate change and carbon emissions will drive some farmers off the land. You can’t produce a product without making the changes needed,” he said.”Farmers need to accept that there are going to be changes [in the future] that will mean we have to pay more taxes. The drought has been affecting us for eight years and, up until this point, that has been our biggest challenge.”The workshop taught me how to be economically sustainable in our family business and has improved my management skills. We have to keep a very close eye on what we’re spending and constantly watch our overall crop costs.”Workshop co-ordinator Skye Ward said the seminars prepared farmers for the possibility of a carbon emissions trading scheme and further water shortages.”My husband and I run a farm and decided that we needed to address the emerging issues in the farming sector,” Ms Ward said.”These workshops allow like-minded farmers to come together and share ideas and compare what business tools they are using to prepare for the impact of climate change on their business practices.”
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Jeers expected for acting Premier

UNION leaders will steer clear of using tomorrow’s Labour Day march to protest against privatisation, but the acting Queensland Premier Paul Lucas can expect to be heckled and jeered.A Queensland Council of Unions spokeswoman, Tanya Reeves, said the theme for the march was ”Working for a better life”, although each union was free to have its own theme during the walk.Ms Reeves said several unions were likely to vent their frustrations about the Queensland government’s privatisation plans and the Health Department’s payroll bungle.”We expect about 30,000 for the march … [that] is about standard,” she said. ”Some unions [have a] sub-theme or campaign against issues that are affecting them.”Issues such as health and privatisation, I’d imagine, would be featured during the march.”It will come down to common courtesy regarding Paul Lucas.”I’d imagine there may be some heckling from the crowds as they march.”Mr Lucas will head the march, along with QCU president John Battams and QCU secretary Ron Monaghan, and outgoing ACTU president Sharan Burrow. Ms Reeves said the Builders’ Labourers Federation would be the first union to take to the streets in honour of its centenary celebration.Mr Monaghan said the focus of the Labour Day march would be the ”big-picture” gains made during the entire history of the union movement.These would include highlighting successes such as the eight-hour working day, four weeks’ paid leave and compensation for injuries.”We’ve always seen Labour Day as an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the past as well as to look ahead [at] what we’re still fighting for,” Mr Monaghan said.”Regardless of the battles that still lie ahead, Labour Day is a day for celebration.”The march will begin at 10am at the corner of Wharf and Turbot streets in the CBD and will conclude at the RNA Showgrounds at Bowen Hills.Ms Reeves said guest speakers would address the Labour Day crowd, and there would be children’s rides, a barbecue lunch and live music would also at the showgrounds. ”Labour Day is a major family day and we try and stick to that,” Ms Reeves said.
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Multiple births to cash-strapped IVF mums on rise

TWIN and triplet birth rates are set to rise as more Australian women undergoing IVF ask doctors to implant multiple embryos to reduce the cost of fertility treatment.Specialists say cuts to the Medicare rebate have pushed up patient costs by about $1500 for each IVF cycle, forcing many to delay or abandon attempts to conceive.They say there is more pressure from cash-strapped patients to implant multiple embryos to boost chances of pregnancy in one cycle.Despite multiple births carrying a fivefold greater risk of death, prematurity or other complications, clinic chiefs say more couples are taking the chance.”They’re saying, we understand that it’s more dangerous but we can’t afford to do another cycle so we’ll have two embryos put back and we’ll deal with the consequences. If our [premature] baby … has to have eight weeks in intensive care, well Medicare pays for that,” said Gab Kovacs, international medical director at Monash IVF in Melbourne.Medical director of Fertility First in Hurstville, Dr Anne Clark, said while some patients asked for more than a single-embryo transfer, more opted out of having a second child through IVF.IVF Australia medical director and Fertility Society president Peter Illingworth said the trend would affect the health system.”There can be long-term health complications for twins born as a result of IVF,” he said.”Ideally, we would like to put one embryo in at a time because of those risks but we are getting more pressure from patients to do two.”In January, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon capped Medicare safety net payments – which paid 80 per cent of the gap between doctors’ fees and the Medicare rebate – after a review found specialists were charging patients excessive fees.Ms Roxon vowed patients would be no worse off if specialists charged $6000, the cost of a typical cycle, according to the government. But doctors said the average cycle cost up to $7500, or higher if patients required extra treatment.Sandra Dill, from infertility support group Access Australia, said it had been receiving 30 to 40 calls and emails a week since the changes, from patients complaining to be under increased financial stress.
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Stories with a happy ending

THEY’RE the forgotten victims of crime – the little ones lying in bed wondering why mummy is in ”hospital” and can’t read them a bedtime story.Now a pioneering program in one Sydney jail will bring the voices of female inmates into the bedrooms of their children, many of whom are placed in care during the length of their mother’s stay behind bars.Prisoners at the Emu Plains Correctional Centre are being allowed to record stories on CDs and have them delivered to their children as a way to maintain the bond between mother and child.NSW Correctional Services Minister Phil Costa has given his backing to take the Story Time Program statewide.Sharlene, a 22-year-old Aboriginal inmate from Moree, said she had chosen How the Kangaroos got their Tails to send to her five-year-old daughter Heather.”It’s a book that I read on Reconciliation Day when I was younger so it’s special to me and I hope it’s going to be special for her,” said Sharlene, who has completed three months of an eight-month sentence, but could be home in five weeks. ”It’s been really hard knowing that every day she’s wondering where I am. It helps to know that she’ll be able to hear my voice.”Another inmate, Elizabeth, has spent 11 months away from her two boys, four and five, who are being cared for by their father.She said: ”It’s an awesome thing to do for the kids because when they feel like they’re missing me they can hear that I’m still there. I try to read the books really calmly to help them get to sleep.”Female prisoners said they told their young children that they were in hospital rather than jail.With the help of four publishers, children are sent a book with the CD of their mother’s voice. The CDs have a picture of their mother.Mr Costa said: ”This program is the first of its kind in NSW and allows mothers to share a bedtime story with their children and build their literacy skills at the same time.”As a parent I know how important bedtime stories are to nurturing your child. This program ensures mothers do not lose the opportunity to read to their children at night while they are incarcerated.”
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Debt makes hospital a sick choice

The hospital that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Premier Kristina Keneally chose as the location to trumpet health reforms is labouring under a budget shortfall of nearly $12 million and a spiralling surgical waiting list.Documents leaked to The Sun-Herald show Blacktown Hospital was in the red by $11.94 million in January, making it one of the sickest establishments within the Sydney West Area Health Service (SWAHS).Separate documents show Blacktown’s waiting list nearly doubled from 570 patients in December 2008 to 921 in December last year. Mr Rudd and Ms Keneally visited the 350-bed Blacktown Hospital last week to announce just 18 new beds as part of what they described as their ”historic health and hospital reform”.A week earlier, Blacktown’s Labor MP Paul Gibson told a local newspaper: ”We need another 110 beds, and we need them yesterday.”About one in five patients now being treated in nearby Westmead Hospital have been referred by Blacktown due to a bed shortage.A fortnight ago it was revealed that the 13 hospitals in the Sydney West region had combined debts of $18.9 million at the end of the last financial year. SWAHS, which serves 1 million people, has been accused of failing to pay suppliers of medicines and diagnostic tests due to financial constraints.Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said Blacktown’s financial woes were ”highly embarrassing” for Mr Rudd and Ms Keneally. ”Their announcement won’t fix the $12 million budget blowout, it won’t cut the waiting list which has more than doubled since 2006 … Blacktown Hospital … will now be in cost-cutting mode because of Labor’s failed management of our health system.”A spokesman for Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt said Blacktown’s budget shortfall varied by less than 5 per cent from its budget.He said the hospital is $5 million over budget.”It is the waiting time, not list, that is important and Blacktown has recently received enhancement money for surgery from the Area Health Service and is on track to meet its target of all patients being treated within clinical benchmarks by June 2010,” he said.
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Get high-tech and be in style

TECHNOLOGY seems to be the new black when it comes to this year’s Australian Fashion Week, which begins tomorrow.The Ellery and Ksubi spring-summer 2010-2011 runway shows will be streamed to the internet. It will be the first time this has been done in Australia.Designer Kym Ellery will stream her show to sites including the fashion shopping site The Grand Social, Yahoo!7 and Grazia magazine’s site.”It is more or less in the vein of what overseas shows are doing, like Burberry did during their show,” Ellery said. ”We just wanted to be able to share the night with unlimited people.”Ksubi’s live stream will be broadcast on the Harper’s Bazaar website at 8pm on Friday. Straight after the show there will be limited-edition runway pieces available for purchase. ”We’re excited to be streaming our 10-year anniversary show live to a potential audience of millions,” Ksubi’s George Gorrow said.”The shows have limited capacity, and this way it’s not always about who goes to the show, its also about who gets to see it in the end. Customers can even purchase key limited-edition pieces immediately after the show from the new collection.”Camilla and Marc Freeman, of camilla and marc, are also on the technology wave and have developed an application for BlackBerry. They are the first Australian designers to have developed such an application. It will be launched today and contains a diary section with news, a store and wish list.Marc Freeman said: ”Technology and fashion are both major parts of our lives, so together they are a natural fit.”We are avid BlackBerry users so the idea of an app just came into place. It was a fun project to create something in that digital space that is exclusive to our fans and customers.”The biggest development is that they will transmit images during their show on Tuesday to customers. The customers will be able to order limited-edition pieces from the debut jewellery line, which will be launched during the show.Marc Freeman said: ”It will provide exclusive content where you can view collections and be able to select images from the collection to make a wish list.”There will be functions to get updates of what’s happening with us around Fashion Week.”AUSTRALIAN FASHION WEEK: MY MUST-SEE EVENTSDION LEE Thursday 9am,Northern Foyer, Concert Hall,Sydney Opera House.We were blown away after Lee unveiled his debut collection at Australian Fashion Week last year, and there is little doubt that he will live up to this year’s expectations.CAMILLA AND MARC Tuesday 9am, 467 Pitt Street, Haymarket.Sydney-based brother and sister Camilla and Marc Freeman have come a long way since launching their brand in Fashion Week 2003. They are on trend to impress again.ALEX PERRY Tuesday 8.30pm, Sound Stage 7, Fox Studios, Moore Park.His parade will be the biggest show Australia has seen – the runway is 65 metres long and 1000 people have been invited.ROMANCE WAS BORN Wednesday 9.30pm, MacLaurin Hall, Sydney University.Romance Was Born delivers more than just a parade; it’s a whole creative experience. Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett are known for staging full-scale art productions.ELLERY Tuesday 9.30pm, Byron Kennedy Hall, Moore Park.Kym Ellery keeps going from strength to strength and her collections never fail to impress. In this year’s Zodiac-themed parade, it’s set to sparkle.KSUBI Friday 8pm, Royal Hall of Industries, Driver Avenue, Moore Park.Putting financial troubles behind it, Ksubi has is the final show of the week and designers Dan Single and George Gorrow are sure to end Fashion Week with a bang.
Nanjing Night Net

TV gardener lives the green good life

PRIME MINISTER Kevin Rudd may have done an about-face on climate change but householders are enthusiastic about reducing their carbon footprint and living sustainably, says an expert who walks the walk.Jerry Coleby-Williams has had ”green thumbs” since the age of four, when he lived in England, inspired by his family of gardeners and farmers.He’s come a long way since then. Coleby-Williams, a presenter on Gardening Australia on ABC1, settled at Wynnum on Brisbane’s Bayside in 2003 and transformed his century-old timber Queensland home, Bellis, into an award-winning example of ”retrofitted sustainability”.He and the other two householders minimise their impact on the environment by generating solar power, recycling sewage and grey water and harvesting rainwater for inside and outside use. ”Anything we do here can be done at any suburban house in Australia,” he said.The house is connected to mains water but it is rarely needed. ”We are 90 to 98 per cent self-sufficient and only need to turn on mains water after months of no rain,” Coleby-Williams said.The trio use only about 117 litres each a day from their water tanks, compared with Queensland Water Commission figures showing south-east Queenslanders averaged 152 litres per person daily last week.The back garden boasts a magnificent array of fruit, vegetables and herbs – all grown organically – and feeds three people using only 350 litres of recycled water a day.The 300 square metres of land provides about 70 per cent of the trio’s fresh food.Coleby-Williams knows most of his neighbours, who regularly drop in for tips and pass the information on to like-minded friends.”Word spreads and it’s wonderful how many people are converting their small suburban blocks into their own version of what we’ve got here,” he said.When he had an open day last year, the garden fed 150 people who walked to the local bowls club where the four-course meal was cooked.The front garden has ornamental subtropical plants suited to predicted climate change. The plants were watered six times to establish them but have not been watered again since 2004.The property has no hard surfaces – it has a porous driveway and paths, and a pit to capture stormwater, which also gets reused.Coleby-Williams practises crop rotation and his collection includes many rare and endangered species, the seeds of which he collects to replant.He came to Queensland via a circuitous route, qualifying in horticultural estate management, arboriculture, landscape design, horticultural and botanical sciences at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.In 1982 he was awarded a Kew scholarship to study the flora of Western Australia and said he was so captivated by the people, plants and places, he decided to emigrate.Postgraduate work included managing horticultural enterprises in Britain and Australia, including nurseries, inner-city parks and gardens. And he helped establish Sydney’s Mount Annan Botanic Garden.He has worked as a consultant in Sydney, including for the Darling Park business complex, Central Station, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Conservatorium of Music and the international airport. For 11 years, he managed the horticultural estate for the city’s Royal Botanic Gardens.Last year Bellis won a prestigious savewater! Alliance award. The group works with businesses and governments on water conservation programs. Entries for this year’s awards open on May 17 and close on August 9.Get more tips
Nanjing Night Net

Our mentally ill suffering in silence

More than 1.6 million people in NSW are silent sufferers of undiagnosed mental health conditions, according to a report that highlights long-term dangers associated with delayed treatment.The Wesley Mission report, Keeping Well: Mental Health Is Everyone’s Business, reveals community attitudes towards mental illness remain so negative sufferers are ashamed to admit how they feel. Consequently, they were reluctant to seek help and, over time, their illness worsened and became irreversible through repeated untreated episodes of depression or psychosis.The study has prompted renewed calls for an overhaul of the mental health system.Brain and Mind Research Institute executive director Ian Hickie said “concerted pressure” was needed for a co-ordinated response to deal with mental illness when it usually began – between the ages of 15 and 25.”Seventy-five per cent of problems start in this age group but we don’t typically see someone reporting mental health problems until they’re around 40 and have had issues for 20 years,” Professor Hickie said.”Historically, services have focused on those who are already seriously ill. Contrast that, for example, with breast cancer where the services deal with the issue at all stages of the problem – early identification, treatment if needed and palliative care.”Believe it or not, 30 to 40 years ago we had to educate people to the fact that cancer treatment was not a waste of time. Today, everyone accepts early intervention gives you the best possibility of long-term survival.”In January Wesley Mission surveyed 2012 people over the age of 18. It found that during their lives 77 per cent of people in NSW would experience, or be personally affected by someone who suffered from, a mental illness. More than a quarter of respondents claimed to be suffering some form of mental health problem, with depression and anxiety the most common conditions.The research indicated a third of people who feared they were depressed did not seek treatment, and 50 per cent suffering from anxiety failed to take the key step.Almost nine in 10 self-reported phobia sufferers failed to seek help.The main reason for people suffering in silence was social stigma.The survey also demonstrated how deep negative attitudes continue to run, with less than half the population feeling comfortable around people suffering depression. Typical comments that highlight misconceptions are: “People who are depressed are dangerous” and “It’s acceptable for someone with cancer to be unavailable at work because they are undergoing chemotherapy but not for someone with depression”.The superintendent of Wesley Mission the Reverend Dr Keith Garner said: “It’s clear from the report that a great amount of social stigma still exists around mental illness and that’s fed by fear and misinformation. We, as a society, need to become more open to this issue because the numbers of people affected are enormous.”MIND READING53 per cent of people in NSW will experience a mental health problem.Compared with physical illness, people with a mental health condition are more reluctant to seek treatment.The most common mental health problem people report suffering is depression, with one in four believing they may be affected.Three in 10 believed they have suffered some form of mental health problem during their lives for which they did not seek treatment. This translates to more than 1.6 million hidden sufferers across NSW.
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