Thursday, 23 October 2014

Vale Gough Whitlam, Good Giant or Bad Giant?

I'm not a political commenter or historian, but I remember stuff and I read stuff and I talk to other people who lived through what is now called history; and I can tell you that, despite all the myth-making and hagiographic articles, Gough Whitlam was not the Great Saviour of Australia. He was probably the most destructive leader that Australia ever had. Sure, he had some great ideas; I was the beneficiary of at least one of them. But having great ideas is not good enough. Sweeping reforms are all very nice, but once you get past the drama and the romance of it all, who pays the bill? And that's what brought him undone.

In 1972, when Whitlam was voted into office after 23 years of Liberal government, he had the media on his side and a catchy slogan - 'It's time', as in, 'It's time for a change'- and it was towards the end of the Vietnam war. Australia had been supportive of the US (who could forget Harold Holt and 'All the way with LBJ'- I swear I am not making this up) but it was becoming clear that the US was not winning and that conscription was not making a difference to the outcome, and everyone was saddened and angry and disillusioned, and even then, Whitlam scraped through to electoral victory with a majority of just 9 seats.

Once he achieved power, he was like a maniac. His cabinet had little ministerial experience and Gough had towering ambitions and vision. In his short but rather violent innings as PM (and that included another election in 1974 after a double dissolution) he instigated enormous change. He ended conscription, as the ALP promised it would. So that was good.

He made university education free, and students received the TEAS (Tertiary education allowance scheme) allowance, of which I was a beneficiary. So I was paid a living allowance so I could study for free! Amazing. On what planet is tertiary education free, not just for war veterans but for everyone? Seriously, name me one other country! He also established universal health insurance, then called Medibank (later Medicare, with Medibank Private being a private health insurance fund), which was funded by taxing 1% of income. I think a monkey could have worked out that this was never going to cover much. I mean, if you look at genuinely socialistic countries like Sweden, you can see how enormous the taxes are to cover what is being offered by the government.

Now that I am a doctor, having studied 1972-1978 in Melbourne University and St Vincent's Hospital clinical school, it is clear that I was fortunate; I like to think that I would have managed as a scholarship student, as I had since year 8, but even so, thank you Gough. I remember my colleagues, all a bit rough and ready and shaggy compared to the previous intakes of fancy-pants private school graduates, and it must have been a bit of a shock to the professors. But maybe not; in the end, it was still the kids with the highest marks in the prerequisite subjects who got in, and probably there was not as much of a demographic shift as believed. Maybe everyone was shaggy and hairy because it was 1972, and that's how we rolled then. Anyway.

Medicare. Apart from it being underfunded then as now, time has shown us that people don't value things that are free. I mean, there were always doctors who would do pro bono work for the 'deserving poor' and the pensioners etc. But now, doctors were inundated by people who would perhaps have had a hot lemon drink and some aspirin for the sore throat before; but once going to the doctor was free, hey, let's go get some real medical treatment. It probably also contributed to the overuse of antibiotics which we are only beginning to pay the price for now, with increasing bacterial resistance. That's just my theory. And at first, Medicare looked like a windfall; doctors would always get paid! No bad debts! But then as the government tried to cut corners by not raising rebates, and by offering doctors 85% of the fee if they agreed to bulk-bill, whereby the patient would just sign a paper and not have to pay up and be reimbursed- well that looked like a good deal to some doctors, but if only you punters out there realised how it degrades the practice of Medicine on so many different levels. I have always refused to bulk bill as I think that there is importance in the transaction between doctor and patient; I will charge the rebate if the patient can't afford to pay any extras, but at least they are being grown ups and are involved in the transaction themselves.  Now there's the co-payment business, and I don't know where it's going. But that's the reality; universal health insurance is very expensive in the end. The government-run hospitals rely on the people with private insurance to go to private hospitals, or else the system would collapse.
And the other result of these reforms was this massive burgeoning of the bureaucracy needed to keep track of everything, and once that's in place it's there forever. Hello, Public Service! A job for life, even when there's not a lot to do.

The economy was in the poo in 1974 also, partly because of the OPEC - orchestrated oil crisis, but partly because of just incompetent economic policy. Interest rates were up to 20%. Inflation was rampant. And Whitlam's government continued to spend like a drunken sailor until someone realised that the party was drawing to a close, and tried to borrow $4.5 BILLION dollars through a shonky con-man, Khemlani, and that was the end of the Whitlam era. That sort of money in 1975 is like a trillion today. Had that loan somehow gone through, whatever was in Whitlam's fevered imagination, our great-grandchildren would still be paying it off. But it was never going to happen as it was totally illegal and absolutely crazy.

What else? Oh yes, removal of tariffs and flooding Australia with cheap imports, thus destroying Australia's manufacturing base. This probably would have happened eventually, but the speed and the violence with which it occurred threw thousands and thousands of people out of work. My father-in-law had to sack 900 workers from the textile mills in Geelong because almost overnight there were no orders and the business ground to a halt. It wasn't just the workers, and the resulting impact on their lives and families: it was also the loss of an important skill and all the other trades which service the core business. It was economically devastating.

What else? Visiting China, even before Nixon; yes it was visionary, but basically it threw Taiwan under the bus. His foreign policy approach resembled a bull in a china shop, and echoed his one personal philosophy of 'Crash through, or crash'.
His cruelty to the South Vietnamese who had been allies, helpers of Australian diplomats and military, in that morass of a war. After the fall of Saigon, he refused to give refuge to them, famously saying, 'I'm not having hundreds of f***ing Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us!' And leaving them to their fate at the hands of their enemies.
His stance on East Timor when Indonesia invaded- again, nothing. Even after the Balibo 5 were killed by Indonesian troops. This was in October 1975, so I imagine Whitlam was otherwise occupied because he was kicked out of his position as PM in November.

I also clearly remember the sorrow of my parents, staunch Labor supporters and true believers, at his 'even-handed' stance regarding Israel-Arab relations. We all felt betrayed, all the Jews who supported him and Labor and remembered Doc Evatt, who had been president of the UN General Assembly 1948-49 and was an important player in the creation of the State of Israel. He even said in his memoirs, 'I regard the creation of Israel as a great victory of the the United Nations.' Can you imagine that?
Whitlam's 'even-handed' comment  was made after the Yom Kippur War, which had triggered an oil crisis, where OPEC essentially decided to use their oil as a weapon against the West by withholding it and boosting the price, like the cartel it is. So Whitlam was essentially sucking up to the Arabs. Maybe that was why he thought he could get money from the Middle East, refer to the Loans Affair, above.

So much more. But he was a towering figure, physically, intellectually, with charisma in spades. And completely arrogant and autocratic, bordering on deluded. So was his legacy a good one or a bad one? Who can answer these questions. Certainly he left his mark on Australia.

So he was a man who was elected with a catchy slogan, as an agent of change, and once in power proceeded to make vast, sweeping changes in foreign policy, economic policy, domestic policy, most of which ended in disaster. I can't help but make comparisons to a certain sitting US president. The difference is that we Australians (first the Governor-General backed by the Senate, and then the people at the next election) had the sense to kick him out before he saw out a term. The Americans went and voted their president in for a second term. Let's hope we all survive that presidency.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

SIGNED AND SEALED

It starts on Slichos. Once my kids were old enough for me to no longer use them as an excuse not to go, I started going to the first Slichos the Motzoei Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah. Jewish Midnight Mass (lehavdil).
I looked at the book and I looked at the number of pages I had to get through, and I groaned internally. And I knew it was only the beginning, because come Rosh HaShanah, it's HUNDREDS of pages and repetition after repetition. And I can actually understand most of what I am saying! And I have a translation into English! So it doesn't get much better really. And I can read pretty fast, but I can't stand it when I have to gabble my way through what are works of liturgical majesty in order to keep up with the Reader and the Shofar sessions. This RH I was sitting next to my 12-year-old freshly BasMitzvah'd niece and my heart went out to her when she riffled through the machzor and rolled her eyes, moaning. I tried to comfort her by showing her that about 50 pages were actually for the second day, but that still left, oh, I don't know, about a million pages to get through. But we did well.

And now it's nearly Yom Kippur and back I will be, Kol Nidrei, and Shacharis and Musaf and - well, I skip Mincha as a rule, as I have to go home and lie down by then- and shlep back for Neilah. And each session has a Shaliach Tzibbur, right, so further repetition. And I just can't help wondering, how much buttering up does The Big G need? I mean, how many times can we sing of His long-suffering mercy, and how many times do we need to literally beat our breast in Vidui, confession? And little kids, earnestly confessing to all sorts of sins that they couldn't possibly understand, let alone commit? (Although the bit about disrespecting parents and teachers probably should be repeated another 10 times by some kids I know.)(And the bit about Lashon Hara should probably be said 10 times A DAY by most of us.)
I'm not complaining (much) and after all it's a choice, and we all do it if we choose to. And strangely, Yom Kippur, despite the physical discomforts, is amazing and uplifting and the liturgy is unsurpassed. I always feel on a high after it's over; signed and sealed. And relieved that I don't have to do it again for a year.

But why the repetition? Does G-d really need this? Surely it's like, 'Alright already, I hear you, I hear you, I'm the greatest, you're broken sherds and withered grass and dust yada yada, you're sorry, you're sorry, OK, keep saying it like you MEAN it! And enough with the scoffing and disrespect!'

And at gym this morning, under the watchful eye of my personal trainer, finishing the 10th repetition of the 3rd set of resistance exercises, it suddenly came to me. G-d doesn't need it; we do.
The first few times with the squats and the kettle bells etc is a bit sloppy and needs some refinement of technique; the next few times you feel self-conscious and a bit wobbly; the next are smoother etc until, after a few more sessions, the body learns and executes the moves smoothly and strongly.

How much more so does the Neshoma want practice and repetition, until it no longer feels so weird and annoying to soul-search and make personal accountings and look for guidance to what we need to improve ourselves and our relationships with others? I don't know. 10 times? 100? 20 years? 50 years? A lot.

Gmar Chasimah Tovah, and may we all be signed and sealed for a happy and healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. Good luck with the praying and try not to riffle the machzor too much.


RIP KEN WOOD

Yesterday a great tragedy befell my life. While in the middle of making a honey cake, after having made a cheesecake and an orange butter cake and a chocolate cake, my bench mixer died. Just like that, mid-beat. No burning smells, no funny noises, just wwwwWHHHIIIIRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
I had to finish the cake by hand.

My Kenwood Chef was a wedding present. We have been friends and workmates for nearly 35 years. Sure, we had some disagreements; as a clueless novice I burned out the motor on two occasions, one crushing ice in the blender and the next, making breadcrumbs, also in the blender. So it was clear that the blender was a menace. And then it broke so good riddance. I bought a Sunbeam blender aout 10 years ago, and it is a beauty, but already showing signs of ageing. I also bought a Magimix food processor which is the ant's pants as far as making hummus, breadcrumbs, pesto, any dip you can mention, and crushed biscuits for cheesecake crusts (PLUS I somehow have manage to keep it parev, which takes some doing in my house, let me tell you.) But it's only about 6 years old and already the plastic fatigue has set in and it's a bit rattly.
But the mighty Kenwood was a fighter. Sure, you needed ear protection, it was so noisy, but it got the job done.  The blender attachment may have been somewhat deficient, but the shredder was pretty good and the mincer attachment superb. This was a real kitchen workhorse.

I am not one to give up on things so easily; I googled Kenwood repairs and I found J&T Appliances in Ashburton, and when I called, the man asked very savvy questions so I trusted him.
My rather opinionated Russian housekeeper, however, told me to call someone she knew, so I did; and he told me to call J&T. So that was enough for me.

So today I took the patient to J&T. The diagnostician fiddled with it, turned upside down and switched it on; the motor came to life, but it sounded sickly; wwwwhhhhhiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, instead of the usual dauntless WWWHHHIIIRRRRR. He shook his head, and said that it would take 2 weeks before he could let me know; they haven't made parts for this model for 20 years; they have to make their own parts.
So I asked him what would be the equivalent today? What could I replace it with?
He looked at me intently and declared, 'Nothing. There is no equivalent made today. Everything is made in China and they're all plastic toys. Oh, you could get a Hobart commercial one, for $4,500, but Kenwoods today? Not a patch on this.'
'But what if you can't fix it? What should I buy? I saw the Kenwood top of the range 1500W, is that good?'
He snorted derisively. 'All plastic Chinese toys. It's not the wattage, it's the gearing.'
'But say I need to buy something new...'
'Kitchenaid. Oh, not perfect, they have this fault in the mumble mumble flux capacitor modulator mumble mumble', waving at 2 Kitchenaids sitting on the workbench, 'So you have to replace the whole motor, and even so, they can only do half of what THIS beauty can do. But they're better than Chinese toys.'
Around this time I realised that I had actually been in this shop before.
'Do you repair Dualit toasters?' I asked.
'Yep, best toasters in the world!'

Oh, I had been there before. My Dualit crazy expensive retro toaster had malfunctioned years before, and I must point out that even when it is working, you have to watch it every second, because turn your back on it, it burns the toast. How many smoke alarms have been set off by this bastard toaster. But then it stopped toasting, or, to be more accurate, it only toasted one side of the bread, leaving the other side cold and raw. And my research had led me to J&T, where I met several other citizens glumly standing in line with their Dualit classic toasters under their arms. And I heard that refrain: 'Best toaster in the world!' I asked another lady if hers also burned the toast, and she nodded, morosely. So when it came to my turn, I said:
'Upon what do you base your claim of the Dualit being the best toaster in the world? It burns the toast if you don't stand over it!'
'Well, if the element burns out, which is what has happened to your toaster, you can replace the element for $50!'
'For $50 I can buy a whole new toaster! With electronics, so it won't burn the toast!'
'Yeah, but after a couple of years it carks it and you have to chuck it out! You can't fix it! Not like this one! This is the best toaster in the world!' Because he can fix it. For the price of a new  normal toaster.
But He Who Must Be Obeyed, i.e. my husband, loves this toaster, so what could I do. I had The Best Toaster In The World fixed and it's still serving me, albeit in a surly adversarial fashion.

But I am lost without my Kenwood. My trusty companion awaits its post-mortem and my kitchen is eerily quiet. I can only hope for Techias HaMaysim and a Refuah Shelemah. Let's hope for good news. And I'm sure it will cost more than $50. But for Ken, it's worth it.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

SUCH A TZIMMES!


With Rosh HaShana, the Days of Awe, the Days of Divine Judgment around the corner, my thoughts naturally turn to soul-searching, repentance and spiritual growth. And food. Special, festive traditional food, of course!
And nothing says Shana Tova uMetukah louder than tzimmes. This festive carrot-based dish has many forms and various versions and ingredients. I actually make two different kinds; one with meat, and one without. Apart from the meat, they are identical. I have vegetarian friends, what can I do.
Before we get to the tachliss (basics) of the recipe, let us ask ourselves…why tzimmes? And what does ‘tzimmes’ mean anyway?

It ‘s a Yiddish word for an Ashkenazi dish, and it probably comes from ‘tzim-ess’, or ‘for-eat’, which I think is a weird explanation, because all food is for eating; what makes a carrot casserole special? I don’t know. I do know, however, why we use carrots:
·      The Yiddish word for carrots, ‘mehren’, also means ‘to increase’. And New Year is all about wishing prosperity etc to others, so it’s a little Yiddish pun.
·      The Hebrew word for carrot, ‘gezer’, relates to the Hebrew word for ‘judgment’ or ‘edict’, namely, ‘gezerah’. So we are hoping for a good outcome of our judgment from on high. More wordplay.
·      The carrots, when cut into slices, resemble golden coins; there’s the prosperity theme again.
·      Carrots are sweet, especially in this dish which is honey-sweetened, and of course that is a RH theme; a sweet New Year.
Another use of the word ‘tzimmes’ in Yiddish idiom is a reference to a complicated issue; ‘All he had to do was make a short speech, but he went on and on and made such a tzimmes of it, I thought I would plotz.(explode)’. ‘It was supposed to be a simple job, but by the time he finished making a tzimmes with it, it was too hard to understand.’ Etc. This refers to the long cooking of the dish, and the preparation; but I don’t think the prep is that complicated. Of course, if you are preparing 6 kilos of carrots, like I did the other day, it does take a bit of time. You don’t have to make so much.

This recipe would be enough for 10-12 people as a side dish. I will start with the fleishig (meat) version.

You will need:

  • ·      3-4 Tablespoons oil, to cover the bottom of a large pot
  • ·      2 onions, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
  • ·      2 kg/4 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced into discs
  • ·      500g-1kg/ 1-2lbs top-rib (flanken), cut up into separate rib pieces (optional)
  • ·      Pitted prunes, about 2 cups
  • ·      3-4 cups of orange juice
  • ·      ½- ¾ cup honey- depends how sweet you like things!
  • ·      Salt and pepper to taste.

  • ·      A large saucepan with a lid.
  •        Slotted spoon or tongs, and a wooden spoon for stirring.

Preheat oven to 140 C/300F, in other words, not too hot.

If you are using the meat, heat up the oil in the pot and brown the pieces on all sides, then remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and set aside.
Heat more oil in the same pot and toss in the onions, sautéing until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the meat back into the pot and then toss in the carrots. Stir it all up.
Cover the pot and let this cook at low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom.
Then add the prunes, orange juice, honey, salt and pepper.
There should be enough liquid to just reach to the level of the carrots. You might need to add more juice or water. The prunes will suck it up. Stir it a few times.
Bring this all to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer (Hey! ‘Simmer’! ‘Tzimmes’! Sounds the same!). Cover.

At this stage, I place the whole pot into a slow oven and bake it for 3 hours. You can do it all on the stove top, but you do have to watch that it doesn’t catch on the bottom and burn; honey can burn easily.
After 3 hours, the meat should be soft. The carrots will definitely be soft, and the whole house will smell heavenly.

The vegetarian version leaves out the meat and needs less time in the oven, about 1.5 to 2 hours.

You can serve at once, or make it ahead of time and freeze it in portions. When it cools, the fat will form on the top and you can remove most of it if you want. It will last in the fridge for at least a week, preserved by the honey.

Even though the meaty version is quite hearty, it is still a side dish to other meat such as chicken or brisket, or whatever you wish to feature. Generally another starchy side is also served, like farfel or couscous or rice or kasha etc; up to you.


Variations:
You can use other vegetables as well as the carrots, such as sweet potatoes and parsnips. You can add apples if you like.
You can add cinnamon if you like that. Also dried apricots as well as or instead of the prunes. Raisins would also work.

I must say that my mother-in-law, who knows a thing or two about traditional festival foods, has her own way (which really is a gantza tzimmes), and includes a rich, tasty kneidel (dumpling), which is so full of schmaltz (chicken fat) and flour and salt that even SHE calls it ‘poison’ WHILE SHE IS ACTUALLY SERVING IT TO YOU. And it is so good, despite the warning, people want seconds.  I think of this as the tzimmes of the Old World; if you really want THAT recipe, I can get it from her.

Also, please note, with this as with most of my recipes, I have given you quantities as a guide, but really, you can play with it, it’s very forgiving.

So Shana Tova uMetukah! A happy and sweet New Year to all, a year of good health, prosperity and peace. (No poison.)



Thursday, 11 September 2014

APOCALYPSE...NOW?

It is 13 years since the world shifted in its rotation. 13 years since the most heinous act of terrorism in the history of the world, and the worst attack taking place on US soil. Even Pearl Harbour, on that 'day of infamy', caused less loss of life -2,043 killed, 1,178 wounded, and technically not an act in wartime, as the US was not involved in WW2 until that point.
9/11 is a benchmark of terrorism. 2,977 innocents killed, 6,000 injured. I don't count the 19 scumbags of terrorists who were also killed. And it changed the world; not for the better.

So today we have the menace of ISIS - 20,000 lunatic blood-crazed Muslims sweeping across the land like the Cossacks or the Mongol hordes, and behaving exactly in the same medieval way. But we also have the meltdown of the whole area, and it got me thinking about the Apocalypse. I know, not very Jewish, being that the Four Horsemen are mention in the New Testament, but I read the papers and there I see Pestilence (Ebola), War (Syria etc), Famine (Africa? Egypt? Places that can't feed themselves?) and Death (in abundance). And that all looks pretty Apocalyptic- End of Days stuff to me. I guess I could say, pre-Moshiach times, where truth and lies are confused - just look at the whole Hamas-Israel Protective Edge conflict. Western idiots saying 'I am Hamas' and aligning themselves with this truly disgusting terrorist group, and casting Israel as the villain. It is unfathomable, the depth of ignorance, hatred and stupidity that leads people to think like this. Yet, seems to be pretty common! And then there's anti-Semitism, shedding its genteel veneer of political anti-Zionism and once again showing its  ugly face, complete with fangs.

I also couldn't help but notice how the 9/11 comparison was grabbed by the Gazans, after Israel destroyed a 12 story building which housed terror infrastructure, and of course, nobody was killed because I believe that the Israelis warned them that they were going to do this. But still! 'Our 9/11'!
Those Palestinians think nothing of appropriating all the world's suffering and making it their own. They are the victims of genocide! As Brigitte Gabriel says, the Israelis must be pretty poor at genocide, considering the 6-fold increase in the population of Gaza since 1967. They are suffering a 'holocaust'! Just as bad as what the Jews went through under the Nazis, which then of course equates the Israelis with the Nazis; it also creates a conundrum, because most of them don't believe that there was a Holocaust, and if they do, it was only a few Jews that died, so of course what they suffer is far worse! (Where are the Nuremberg Laws? Where are the death camps? Where are the gas chambers? Yet they suffer more than the Jews ever did.)
And now they have experienced 9/11. I'm waiting for their version of the Spanish Inquisition. And Chmielnicki and the murdering hordes- wait, that's Hamas itself! Murders its own people, like a snake eating its tail.
What a cesspit of evil is Gaza. Sure, blame Hamas, but the citizenry is pumped with hate and raised on incitement, and let's not forget Fatah and Abbas, the 'moderate'. Sure, real moderate.

Well, I hope the Moshiach comes and I hope he gets here soon, and I hope we don't have to go through all that apocalyptic stuff much longer.

And let us remember the 2,977 who were murdered, literally out of a clear, blue sky that terrible morning, 13 years ago. May their memories be blessed.

I pray for a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful New Year, for all the people of Israel and the rest of the world too.



Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Dubai? No way.

I stopped flying Qantas for a few reasons, even though I am a fairly patriotic Australian and I love Australia and BBQs and kangaroos and footy- well, not so much the footy maybe.
I stopped flying Qantas to the US because I usually want to get to the East coast, and I could no longer take the LAX stopover. So you fly 14 hours and come of the plane only to stand in endless lines waiting to get bags, go through Customs where you are treated as if you were an Al Qaeda operative attempting to smuggle drugs, cash and bombs into the country, and then walk to the domestic terminal, check in the bags and pay overweight because it's a domestic flight and you have too much luggage, having come from the other side of the world with gifts for your grandchildren, or tons of clothes because you're going for a wedding or something, and then you have to endure 5 hours with your knees under your chin in a domestic sardine can, to be spewed out the other end, wrung out and shattered, hoping that your bags made it with you.
So I pay more and I fly Singapore Airlines. And they don't forget the Kosher food, which Qantas also tended to do.

And then I stopped flying Qantas to Europe (from where I would fly to Israel) because they made Dubai their hub. And I refuse to go to Dubai.

Dubai, Dubai, Dubai. There's a strong marketing campaign afoot. Dubai is pitching itself as this amazing shopping mecca (excuse the expression), with this crazy indoor ski slope and insane swimming pool setup (in a desert! Where ambient temperatures can be 55C! And all the water is desalinated seawater, and every litre costs more than a litre of petrol) and fun fun fun for the family. And the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which was one of the features in 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol'. So hello Hollywood! And they turn a blind eye to scantily clad Westerners, and you can get alcohol even though it's a Muslim country. Hey, let's go to Dubai and have a blast!

Except for the fact that Dubai was built and is continuing to be built by slave labour;
Bangladeshis and Indians and Filipinos and Ethiopians who are looking for a better life, a way to earn some money for a few years and then return to their families. They come to work in the endless construction that goes on, and the women come to work as nannies and housemaids for the Emiratis and the Expats. They pay a lot of money for a visa as a guest worker. They are promised good wages and good housing and good food and good hours; but when they arrive, they have their passports taken from them by the construction boss or the Madam of the family and end up at the complete mercy of their employers. The pay is never what is promised, the hours are terrible, housemaids are often physically abused, and the consulates don't care. Hundreds of workers a year get to return to their countries. In coffins.

Dubai is a con job. Dubai, with its smiling face of Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum, the absolute ruler of the place, is a place of sand and dust and smoke and mirrors. It built itself up originally with oil money, but the oil has run out and now it's about tourism and business. It pitches itself as an open minded place, open for business, open for everything. But it is ruled by medieval morals.

Where are the Human Rights organisations protesting the treatment of 'guest workers' who are in reality indentured trapped slaves? Oh, maybe they're at the soccer, in Qatar. Don't get me started on Qatar; it's Dubai times a thousand, and they at least actually do have oil wealth, which they are busy sponsoring global terrorism with, including of course, Hamas, whose 'leader', Khaled Meshaal is busy living it up in Doha while planning to build shopping malls. And now think of the frantic building going on for the FIFA world cup in 2022. (Although ISIS has threatened to bomb it. With Scud missiles. They must really hate the soccer.) And let's not forget Al Jazeera, Qatar's successful attempt to warp journalism. (Why do I not feel sorry for Peter Greste? Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas, do they not say? I'm sorry for his parents.)

That any Western democracy has any truck with these throwbacks to the Middle Ages and their sickening way of life is disgusting and disgraceful, and a testament to the power of Money. And that we hear no end of the whining of 'human rights' organisations, including the heinous UNHRC, about Israel killing babies in Gaza, lapping up every lie that Hamas throws at them even though time and time again it is proven that they inflate and distort the casualty figures, and we all know by now about Gazans used as human shields (although the New York Times still isn't convinced, despite the plethora of evidence); but it's always Israel who is the criminal. Yet these gross human rights abuses in the Emirates have been going on since the first guest workers arrived, and will continue as long as these places exist, because it's not as if the Emiratis could ever lift a finger for themselves anyway.

I, for one, will not be party to it. Even putting aside my natural lack of desire to ever set foot in any Muslim country, (although I have actually been in Jordan to visit Petra) until such time as Israel is allowed to live in peace and security, (when the Moshiach comes, it seems), even if I weren't a Zionist Jew, I would still refuse to ever transit in such a place if there were any other way possible.

Fortunately, there is always Singapore. Which is essentially a police state, I know, ruled by a benign despot. Or Hong Kong, run by a prime human rights abuser, China. Or Bangkok, which is undergoing some serious political turmoil. Oh well. Believe me, if I could travel to Israel by Kvitzas HaDerech, I would.

It's not a perfect world. But Dubai is a whole other level of evil.






Monday, 18 August 2014

Big Diet Things: Gluten, fructose and other misunderstood villains.

This is a true story, not a word of a lie:

Not long ago I entered a health food store looking for gluten flour. I use this to 'strengthen' flour for bread baking. 'Strong' flour, i.e. flour with a high gluten content, is better for baking bread as it results in a chewy, 'bready' texture rather than a 'cakey' texture. I'm sure you know what I mean.

I couldn't find any on the shelves, so I asked a slim, pale slip of a health food shop assistant if there was any in stock, and she said, 'Yes, we have a whole range of gluten-free flours, over there.' So I said, no thank you, I am actually after GLUTEN flour. She stared at me, uncomprehending, went even paler and retreated, horrified, stammering that she had to speak to the manager. I could see her whispering to several other employees, all of whom glanced at me and then resumed their feverish whispering. And then the manager came from out the back and was briefed of this bizarre request from this strange, plump, rosy-cheeked woman who was clearly mental. The manager laughed and calmed everyone down, saying 'Relax everyone! Gluten flour is used in bread baking, very common.' Then he came over to me and said that these youngsters had never heard of such a thing as actually seeking out gluten  because everybody is avoiding gluten, so they all panicked as they thought I was deranged.

Because it turns out that gluten is quite the bad boy these days. We all know about coeliac disease which is a kind of allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and other grains. (Rice is usually OK, as is corn, buckwheat and quinoa.) It causes intestinal symptoms, intractable anaemias and generally makes the sufferer feel foul when untreated. It has a genetic component, thus runs in families, is associated with certain antibodies in the blood (but possessing these antibodies doesn't necessarily mean you have coeliac) and the gold standard of diagnosis is through small bowel biopsy which shows clear changes in the lining of the small intestine. But it can be tricky to diagnose:

'Coeliac disease affects on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians. However, approximately 80% currently remain undiagnosed. This means that approximately 330,000 Australians have coeliac disease but don’t yet know it.
More and more people are being diagnosed with coeliac disease. This is due to both better diagnosis rates and a true increase in the incidence of coeliac disease.' (Coeliac Australia) 
[I don't know if this is true or not, it seems a little excessive to me, but I guess Coeliac Australia should know what they are talking about]
A study from New Zealand found that gluten avoidance was five times more common than medically diagnosed coeliac disease. FIVE TIMES. (Maybe there's your missing 80% of undiagnosed coeliacs? Just a thought.)
Also, about 20% of Americans avoid gluten. Why? Probably they feel better not eating wheat.
Apparently there is a growing phenomenon of 'non-coeliac gluten sensitivity' which is, to say the least, controversial. 
The trouble is that many of the symptoms are similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, i.e., diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal bloating and pain. And until a few years ago, IBS was considered to be, well,  in the province of psychosomatic disorders, or functional disorders, or call it what you want but since there are no tests and the symptoms are largely subjective, you were considered a bit mental. As a doctor, back in the day when I was in General Practice, I confess doing a mental eye-roll when presented with IBS. And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (I remember when it was called 'Yuppie Flu'). Talk about 'heart-sink' patients. And Fibromyalgia, G-d help us all. Some things gain 'legitimacy' when a blood test is actually found which does provide objective evidence. Not always. IBS (and CFS and FM) still is largely a diagnosis of exclusion, i.e., make sure you're not missing something really nasty like bowel cancer or something, and then just use the descriptive term- Irritable Bowel.
And yet: These people feel better off wheat/ gluten. So is it in their heads? Maybe it's not the gluten in the wheat, it's the fructose. And now we are on to the other Big Diet Thing now; everyone is fructose intolerant. Well, maybe it is common! There's a lot of confusion.
You know what is really common? Eating too much. That's common. You know what else? Eating processed crap and drinking soda. That's common too. I just saw the stupidest Diet Coke ad I have ever seen. Apparently it's not a real ad but a pregnancy announcement which is even more stupid. All I could think was, you're pregnant and you're drinking Diet Coke? Are you nuts? Diet Coke and sodas in general are The Devil's Piss as far as I am concerned. How can we look at the surge in diagnoses of learning disorders and autism spectrum disorders and ADHD and ignore that pregnant women are drinking this crap, and that there MIGHT be a connection? (OOH no, it's vaccines, right?)
You know what else is common? Eating disorders. Unfortunately I have seen these things, and they often go like this (I will compress 10 years of decline into a few sentences): I will no longer eat meat because I have a moral objection to eating anything that had a mother/has a face. So no fish either. And eggs. They are chicken abortions. I'll eat the whites. No, I won't. And dairy. Cows suffer so much. I'm vegan.  I eat healthy! I eat heaps of green veggies! I LOVE kale! Also I don't eat wheat, or rye or barley or oats- I'm gluten sensitive. And rice either. Oh, not gluten then. Or some special sensitivity. Or allergy. I don't eat carbs, they make me feel bloated. Or nuts. No nuts. Too much fat. Or legumes. They bloat me. I don't eat this, I don't eat that, and in the end all I eat is lettuce and broccoli. And kale. Covered in salt and spices because by now my tastebuds have gone numb because I am so mineral and protein and fat and everything deficient nothing is working anyway, least of all my starved brain.
I have seen this up close, and it's extreme and terrifying, and I think it's the tip of a disordered-eating iceberg. The rest of the iceberg is: I eat Paleo. I don't eat carbs. I'm vegetarian. I'm vegan. I'm non-coeliac gluten sensitive. Etcetera. (I'm not saying that every single vegetarian or vegan is mental, but I wonder about some.)
I'm not saying there is absolutely no such thing. Just as many cases of IBS have indeed been resolved by the FODMAP diet, and it seems that fructose does in fact have some bearing on symptoms, one day we will probably find some objective test for non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, and hurrah.
Meanwhile: Don't overeat. Don't eat too much stuff out of packets. Eat fish, eat vegetables. Eat a bit of what you fancy. And DON'T drink The Devil's Piss. Have some soda water with a bit of juice in it for a bit of cold fizz!
PS: My bread works very well, thanks for asking. I bake challah most weeks, usually half wholemeal, and I don't eat much of it. Everything in moderation. (Including moderation.)