500 words – science, anyone?

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The reported incidence of Crohn’s disease in Canterbury, New Zealand has doubled over the past decade, crowning the region with the highest reported incidence globally. Scientists around the world believe environmental factors are contributing to this disconcerting rise. In this investigation, we present the research on a disease found primarily in dairy cattle called Johne’s disease, which has the same symptoms as Crohn’s disease and is recognised on over half of all dairy farms in New Zealand. If the MAP bacteria which causes the immune responses in dairy cattle is tested and found in our local drinking water supplies, our air and our dairy products, we could be facing a public health issue of massive proportions.

OMG! Humans have a disease called Crohn’s disease that’s quite a lot like something called Johne’s disease! It even sounds the same, which obviously means it’s caused by the same thing! It’s totally like the time I got a nuclear hangover from drinking Manhattans. And it might be in our drinking water? Our dirty, dirty water? Oh God, I’m totally only drinking Coke Zero from now on! There’s public health crisis of massive proportions looming!

Thank God for plucky journalists who’re willing to lay out the circumstantial case for a public health epidemic.

For listeners at home, here’s the article in a nutshell;

– MAP bacteria causes Crohn’s disease.

– MAP is spread to humans by cow shit in the water. It is virtually un-killable.

– The increasing rate of Crohn’s in Canterbury is a direct result of the dairy conversions of the last two decades.

MAP is causing the increasing rates of Crohn’s disease in Canterbury because of dirty dairying!

And now for a spoonful of Mum’s Anti-Hysteria Elixir…..

There’s nothing new about the link between MAP bacteria and Crohn’s disease. Around 30-50% of cases of Crohn’s are likely due to MAP infection.

The incidence of Crohn’s has doubled in Canterbury in the last decade, but this is in line with the rest of New Zealand. New Zealand’s rate is on a par with many other western countries.

So why single out Canterbury? Presumably because of the initial study in 2006 that showed that Canterbury’s rate had experienced a rather rapid increase (bringing it into line with other western nations). Perhaps something happened in Canterbury leading up to 2006 that caused this increase? Perhaps it was coming off a low base?

Of course, the article is quick to suggest an answer;

A 2008 Canterbury study found that intensive dairy farming and the use of border-strip irrigation increased the concentrations of E-Coli and Campylobacter in nearby groundwater, impacting drinking water supplies. Large scale conversion and intensification of agricultural land in Canterbury is clearly linked to decreases in water quality and the resulting increase in waterborne diseases. The result is that in 2015 alone, E-Coli was detected in Christchurch’s untreated water supply 14 times, raising debate on whether the supply should now be treated.

The water got heaps dirtier! If there’s more MAP in the water, there’s more Crohn’s disease! Right? I mean, JOIN THE DOTS sheeple!

Here’s the thing. MAP is waterborne, but it’s also airborne, through dust especially. It’s in milk. And cheese too. Mmmm cheese…..

It should therefore come as no surprise that the rates of MAP infection are rising all over the world. As dairying intensifies, so does MAP. This is why New Zealand’s rate has doubled in the last ten years. So has everyone else’s.

So yeah, more cows, more intensive dairying causes an increase in MAP bacteria. There are more cows in Canterbury, and therefore more MAP. But to suggest that water is its primary vector is disingenuous – it’s in the air, the food and definitely Cats that Make You LOL.

In fact, so many humans are infected with MAP a better question might be; Why do only some people acquire Crohn’s disease and others don’t?

In other words, why are some people’s digestive tracts able to cope with MAP infection while others are not? (It also doesn’t answer why people without MAP develop Crohn’s, which is surely something Crohn’s sufferers would like to know).

This is what’s known as a multi-factorial clusterfuck. It’s hard to isolate causative factors. And what about the rate of C-sections? Or the widespread use of antibiotics?

It’s unclear why the rates of Crohn’s were high (for NZ) in Canterbury in 2006. Maybe Cantabrians ate more cheese? Maybe the increasing numbers of cows on the plains caused an increase in airborne MAP? Maybe there’s another as yet undiscovered factor at work, perhaps excessive exposure to unflued gas heaters or higher than average ingestion of that caramel popcorn from Countdown on Moorhouse Ave oh how you betrayed me you dirty sticky balls of blissbitch?

Where was I?

Yes. The article does talk about these other methods of transmission, but the focus is clearly on water. Dear reader, the message is clear; Dirty water = Crohn’s disease.

Let’s consider something that wasn’t in the article; Farmers and their families seem to have some kind of immunity to MAP. This is likely due to exposure of extracellular forms of the bacteria, in other words, cow shit. Given the shit-to-water ratio of water in the rest of NZ, perhaps we might argue that the reason Cantabrians have such high rates of MAP is lower rates of immunity amongst the population due to lack of exposure to cow shit as children.

Stand by for the next winning public health campaign;

Come on in, kids, the water’s wade-able! 

Or perhaps; You’re Soaking In It!

I’m all for fanning the hysteria over New Zealand’s appalling water quality. It’s a fucking travesty, but as someone who lobbied ECAN hard in the early 2000s, I can tell you, they came by it honestly. We all knew it was a matter of a few years before Christchurch’s artesian drinking water was gone for good.

No-one gave a rat’s clasper about it then, but it’s heartening that people seem interested now (about 20 years too late).

I often read articles from Wake Up NZ – they do a good, and important job. But cherry picking information to make a case that is at best wobbly and at worst misrepresentative of the data just exposes a weak flank. New Zealand’s water quality is a big enough story without resorting to this kind of ‘investigative’ journalism.

 

500 words; epic human frailty

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On my way to work, I was listening to an RN Breakfast interview with a representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, who was describing the ‘radically new’ approach to addressing the challenges of climate change. One such revelation was ‘working with nature to find solutions’. When pressed, the interviewee said this meant taking lessons from nature and applying them to engineering solutions.

An example; there is too much CO2 floating around in the atmosphere and not enough locked away (sequestered) in the ground. Nature, it seems, has a few ways of sequestering carbon, one of which is….trees.

Woah woah woah…trees turn CO2 into something that isn’t CO2? Yep, the Commonwealth Secretariat doesn’t just make coffee and organise the dry cleaning of the Commonwealth Manageriat.

So I thought; OK, what’s the easiest, most efficient trees CO2-sequestration process?

Is it;

A) stop cutting down trees that sequester carbon? Also, plant some more?

B) dream up some other hugely carbon intensive industrial process that uses orders of magnitude more carbon to establish than sticking a sapling in the ground?

Guess which one the engineers went for? That’s right, a new form of concrete that sequesters CO2, so when you build a new building out of concrete (one of the most intensely carbon heavy products known to man) it will perform some of the same sequestration as a tree.

Some people like to build houses out of trees. They grow the tree, cut it down, build their house and another one grows in its place. Architects have also figured out how to build large structures out of engineered structural timber, instead of steel and concrete, two materials with very high embedded energy.

To be sure, this is not an argument about whether planting more trees would ‘fix’ global warming. It is a discussion about the most efficient tree-like way to sequester CO2. My money’s on….a tree.

 

Opportunity Knocks

 Prominent ears and moustaches

A selection of headlines and bylines from the NZ mainstream media, regarding Gareth Morgan’s new political group, The Opportunities Party (with some artistic licence provided for clarity)….

Morgan Compares Self to Trump! (stuff.co.nz)

When asked who he most resembled, Donald Trump, Ghengis Kahn or that sidekick chicky from Zena with the fringe, Morgan compared himself to Trump, saying he was not really like him.

Gareth Morgan; good for ‘local colour’ (nzherald.co.nz)

John Key’s opinion of Morgan, who has consistently provided informed criticism of his National Government, is that he’s cashed up and good for a laugh. Don’t pay any attention to him.

Gareth Morgan Only Relevant to Cats! (thespinoff)

A searching treatise on Gareth Morgan’s new political party, completely comprised of cat-puns! It’s hilarious! Forget Morgan’s long-time, studied engagement in some of the most pressing issues of economic management and social justice, THE MAN DOESN’T LIKE CATS! Stand-by for Morgan’s position on leaf-blowers and microwaving vegetables with the Glad Wrap still on.

Morgan Too Arrogant For Parliament* (stuff.co.nz)

Gareth Morgan thinks he is Socrates. And he thinks he’s so clever he can solve all New Zealand’s problems single-handedly. He thinks politicians won’t solve New Zealand’s problems because they don’t want to ‘disturb the voters’.  Also, his son is rich, not him. Also, he’ll never make it. Also, he’s not very good at political spin, which, as a journalist dealing in political spin, clearly makes him an idiot.

*yes, really!

Sure, it’s easy to pass off all this negativity as normal New Zealand treatment of anyone who has,

A) given some thought to something,

and,

B) decided to do put some skin in the game.

Belting the shit out of their own is what kiwis do best.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is subject to such an immediate (clumsy and feeble) attempt at marginalisation by the media is obviously a very real threat to the status quo.

I know bugger all about Morgan (except his economic thinking, of which I know almost bugger all) but his appeal is evident from space. Morgan appears to be continuing an informed, intellectual interest in some pretty important social issues that the government keeps telling New Zealanders they don’t really care about.

Watch this space.

Sea burials for the living

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Doesn’t really narrow it down, Murray.

Several years ago I wanted to start an eco-burial business. We’d just gone through the plastic procedure of death via hospitals and funeral homes (spoiler alert; a home is actually where you live) and couldn’t escape the feeling that it could be done better. As we navigated the mechanical decency of the mourning industry, I thought; why are we treating this person like an expensive piece of furniture? I wouldn’t want to be shunted around in a level box. Does everyone else?

So I started to look into other options. There are companies that offer bush burials where the dead are buried, unprocessed, in the bush. I like the idea of mourning via nothing more than a GPS locator and a can of Aerogard. But then I realised that what I really wanted was to be returned to the sea, the place where I’ve spent many of the best times in my life. Also, there’s something deliciously ‘Checkmate!’ about being eaten by a shark after I’m already dead.

Sea burials are legal in Australia, but very rare. The difficulty lies in the planning – you must ‘dump’ the body far away from shore, in a manner that won’t have predictable repercussions (there goes Nanna’s suitcase burial).

You can read more about this burial option in a recent (beautifully written) piece by Claire Konkes.

Konkes tells us that sea burials are legal but difficult, heavily dependent on weather and location. My solution would be different, a kind of tuna farm approach, where the deceased is deposited in a cage dangling from a particularly rugged piece of coastline. The cage is then lowered to the deep, where-upon animals (mostly sea lice I imagine) would nibble away at the mortal soul, finally freeing their silicon tits and pacemakers to join the ever-expanding ocean gyre of rubbish. Landlubbing relatives could gather on the cliff edge (carefully) for a service, whilst their loved one is committed to marine grade stainless.

I think this has got legs (but not for long!).

Homeowners lament life on Earth

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-pic from ABC News

Battlers in one of Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs, Collaroy, have lamented the government’s disregard for damage to their properties, following storms that left some residents without the ability to swim in their own pool.

‘What is the point in even having a pool to swim in if the ocean beside it is going to take it away?’ said Lenora of Collaroy Beach, adding that her husband, Tony, had been a member of the Pittwater Sailing Club for 35 years.

On top of that, many residents are dealing with the news that insurance companies will not cover damage due to existence on the planet. In a statement, the Insurance Council of Australia said;

“People often think insurance exists to compensate for damage due to known risks, and that premiums will scale in accordance with that risk. This is simply incorrect. Insurance is simply a direct transfer of wealth from policy holders to share holders.”

For Tony and Lenora of Collaroy Beach, this news is especially galling. As shareholders in three of Australia’s biggest insurance companies, they are left with little choice but to spend two thirds of their quarterly dividend on repairing their beachfront property.

“It’ll be a struggle, but at least no lives were lost and the patio is largely intact.”