Billy Connolly’s Route 66 – The Big Yin on the Ultimate American Road Trip
Hachette, RRP $35.00
Like many an armchair traveller, comedian Billy Connolly always dreamed of ‘getting his kicks’ on America’s most famous highway – the legendary Route 66. Unlike most armchair travellers, Connolly actually got on a motorbike and rode the 2,488 miles. Connolly illuminates the iconic journey with his own brand of wit and insight, irreverent and wide-eyed as ever. Route 66 has become something of a pilgrimage for anyone who admires the Great American Dream and this book captures its magic.
Best Australian Political Cartoons 2011
Edited by Russ Radcliffe
Scribe, RRP $29.95
A hilarious romp through one of the most cartoon-worthy years in recent Australian politics. Cartoon annuals can sum up a year in politics better than any other kind of analysis. This little gem of a book features the work of Australia’s best political cartoonists, including Fiona Katauskas, Bill Leak, Alan Moir, Cathy Wilcox and Paul Zanetti. It will make you laugh and shake your head at the antics of our political elites in 2011 – if you weren’t already.
The Australian Women’s Weekly Retro Cookbook
Random House, RRP $49.95
This is a trip down memory lane that lovers of cupcakes, high tea and the AWW recipe tradition will particularly adore. The current fashion for everything retro and the television series Mad Men makes this a timely book in terms of design, but there’s also something sweet and comforting about the old-time imagery and vintage advertisements which brand this book a “keeper”. Recipes include all the retro classics – finger foods, high teas, sandwiches and family dinners that speak of a more innocent time, when Mums were in the kitchen, Dads were at work, and kids were in the yard swinging on the clothesline.
Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99
The diary of revolutionary French poet Rimbaud links this tale’s protagonists, past and present, in this tale of subterfuge and transformation. A shadowy Australian official code-named Devlin insists on interviewing an equally mysterious woman, gravely ill in an asylum at the edge of the desert in North Africa. But the desert holds secrets some would die to protect. Fast-paced fiction for the summer holidays, this novel is one lovers of the Da Vinci Code and The English Patient will thoroughly enjoy.
Andreas C Chrysafis
Evandia Publishing (UK), RRP $17.00
Set in the mid 1950s, Andartes (Guerrillas) is an absorbing glimpse into the fiercely fought EOKA struggle for the independence of Cyprus from British colonial rule: the drama all the more poignant given its basis in historical fact. Once picked up it’s difficult to put down. It is vividly written, brutal and emotional, with a most touching story. Anyone reading this book cannot easily forget it. This absorbing read follows Alexis, whose pride and ideals lead him on a journey that results in his paying the ultimate price.
Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight
Penguin Australia, RRP $45.00
James Attlee travels the world, searching for the lore of the moon. In modern times, the city lights deny many of us the moods and meanings of moonlight. Attlee reminds us of the moon’s influence and inspiration down through the ages, through tales of myth and imagination. He asks us to turn off the lights and bathe once again in the magical light that has inspired generations of visionaries to do great things. This is a subtle and elegant traveller’s tale, perfect for the poetic soul.
Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99
Christopher Hitchens is the kind of writer who inspires deep thought and the occasional headache. Loved by many, passionately detested by others, he writes what he thinks and he doesn’t pull any punches. This is a comprehensive collection of Hitchens’ most provocative writing over a decades-long career. It covers a broad range of topics, from Mother Theresa to Vietnam and the existence of God. It’s impossible to ignore the genius of Christopher Hitchens as a writer, whether you agree with his views or not. At over 800 pages, this masterful, at times scandalous, book will keep the dinner party conversation flowing throughout the festive season and beyond. (Note: Mr Hitchens sadly died shortly after this review was printed)
Dear Me: A Letter to my Sixteen-year-old self
Simon & Schuster, RRP $24.99
Do you ever wish you could take your younger self aside and give a few words of advice or encouragement? In Dear Me, 75 famous people do just that. Hugh Jackman writes to his 16-year-old self about sunscreen, zits and marriage. Jodi Picoult writes of calculus, curls and career, and Alice Cooper advises himself to give trashy girls a miss and look for a nice churchgoer. With a foreword by JK Rowling, this collection is sometimes funny, sometimes moving but always fascinating. There’s even a space at the end of the book to write your own letter to your younger self. There’s something here for everyone.
Vitamin D deficiency is a growing health problem in Australia and worldwide. Studies suggest approximately 30-40 per cent of Australians are deficient in this important nutrient, which our bodies receive by absorbing sunlight through the skin and eyes. Foods such as fish, eggs and dairy products also contain Vitamin D but the sun is still the main source.
Increased awareness of skin cancer has made Australians reluctant to spend time in direct sunlight unprotected, but it seems many Australians, believe it or not, just don’t get enough sunshine for optimum Vitamin D absorption.
Insufficient levels of Vitamin D have been linked to prostate cancer, osteoporosis, allergies including anaphylactic peanut allergies, asthma, multiple sclerosis, Type 2 diabetes, shingles and inadequate serotonin uptake, resulting in clinical depression. Deficiencies during pregnancy can lead to health problems for newborns, and lack of Vitamin D is also believed to be a factor in premature mortality for the elderly and institutionalised. Doses of Vitamin D have also been shown to aid in conditions leading to blindness, including macular degeneration.
I know about Vitamin D deficiency from personal experience. Two years ago, I moved house. I experienced the kind of exhaustion all of us feel after a house move, but the difference was that no matter how well I ate, or how much I rested, the bone-deep weariness persisted for months afterwards. The Brisbane floods, followed by a series of personal and family losses, also took their toll and I found myself completely burnt out and in a very deep depression. I spent many a day just lying on the sofa, escaping into dreams of sunbathing on my favourite rock ledge on Mykonos. Our bodies tell us what we need, if we have ears to listen. I wasn’t listening – I was just so tired.
I had urged my elderly parents to have their Vitamin D levels checked – a friend’s mother had become very ill with shingles and after much investigation, dosing up on Vitamin D had helped her immeasurably.
Still, I didn’t make the connection for myself. I was exhausted and very unwell, but I honestly thought I had just been pushing myself too hard and everything had finally caught up with me. At the time, I thought the deficiency was more prevalent in the elderly. It didn’t occur to me that I might also be lacking this important nutrient.
As it has in so many other areas of my life, Greek mythology provided a ‘light-bulb moment’. In the course of my research for another Neos Kosmos column, I came across a small passage in the translation of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica which helped me to join the dots.
In the tale of the Greek gods’ great war against the giants (or Gigantes), all the gods were conscripted to fight. Hephaestos, the brilliant God of the Forge, fell to the ground completely exhausted during the battle at Phlegra. Though his bravery was beyond question and he had fought long and hard, Hephaestos was lame, and the battle had taken every ounce of his energy. I knew how he felt.
Just as Hephaestos thought he could endure no more, Helios, the Titan Sun God, came to the rescue. Lifting the exhausted blacksmith into his blazing chariot and taking him upwards into his sunny realm, Helios revived Hephaestos and restored his health. My mind spun in circles on reading this.
The message was clear: Sunshine rescued and revived the exhausted. Helios the Sun, restorer of sight to the blinded Orion, was the King of Vitamin D.
Helios as Sun God preceded Apollo as the Bringer of Light, though sometimes the two are confused. As I read that passage, I felt the energy of both – I suddenly ‘saw the light’. I went to my doctor and asked him to check my Vitamin D levels. Sure enough, a simple blood test revealed dangerously low numbers, which my doctor assured me could be remedied by communing with Helios (i.e. sunbathing) for a short interval morning and afternoon, and taking a prescribed course of Vitamin D supplements. It’s been a slow process, but Helios is doing his work.
If you feel like Hephaestos did on the battlefield – as though you have not a drop more energy to give – make an appointment to check your Vitamin D levels. Helios might just come and rescue you, too.
Images: Neos Kosmos and TheConversation.au
In a recent press release, Amnesty International called for increased restrictions on police use of electricity-conducting weapons (or ‘Tasers’ as they have become widely known). Amnesty noted that “the known death toll from Tasers” has risen to 500 in the USA since 2001.
Taser International, developers of the technology, have responded that “only 60 deaths have a direct causal connection to Taser use, and the rest are simply Taser-related”. All in all, Taser argues, the weapons have saved many thousands of lives, where police might otherwise have had to use lethal force to subdue subjects. There’s broad consensus that the technology, when employed with discretion by trained police, can save lives, where the alternative would have been to use a firearm to immobilise a dangerous person.
The problem seems to lie in the ‘discretionary’ part – specifically around the area of police restraint. Controversy has arisen here in Australia, over cases of excessive force in the deployment of Taser technology resulting in deaths and severe injuries. As a consequence, the Australian Federal Police and the States of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania have limited the use of the weapons to specialist branches of law enforcement. The rest of the States continue to allow general duties police officers to employ the technology under the relevant police guidelines. Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission research and evaluation director Rebecca Denning told the Courier Mail in November 2011 that “40 per cent of all subjects who had a Taser deployed against them were the subject of either a multiple or a prolonged discharge”.
Further, Denning said, “four per cent of subjects of Taser deployment were suspected of having a physical health condition, 17 per cent of having a mental health condition and just under 80 per cent of being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.” A quick review shows that this technology is being adopted all over the world in law enforcement, with varying degrees of regulation.
Recently, UZI has developed a riot shield with the technology built in, and Taser a scalable, stand-alone multiple delivery system called Shockwave, presumably designed for ‘non-lethal’ crowd control. It is broadly agreed by police unions and associations worldwide that the use of this technology should be better regulated, and clearer policies developed, to protect the interests of both citizens and police officers, but meanwhile the technology will no doubt be rolled out. Now, as police in cities across the globe are increasingly seen to be using disproportionate force to disperse huge crowds of peaceful protesters, it’s disquietingly easy to imagine giant banks of Tasers lined up and pointed at the public square, able to zap a whole crowd into effective paralysis simultaneously.
We have seen too much state brutality lately to imagine this might never happen. Of course, to those mindful of events in places like Syria and Bahrain, where citizens are being shot in the streets, discussing the dangers of excessive force with Tasers might seem irrelevant. The regimes concerned aren’t interested in dispersing crowds – or in non-lethality, it seems. But here also we must consider the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s concerns that these kinds of weapons are being used to inflict severe pain and death behind the closed doors of state. Electric shock has been a preferred instrument of torture pretty much since electricity was invented, so it’s not surprising.
In Greek mythology, the power of lightning was the realm only of Zeus, King of the Gods, Lord of Law and Order, the Great Male Sky God of Power. Out of nowhere, Zeus could zap a wrongdoer with a huge bolt of his magisterial electricity, and that was that. He had spoken. Zeus permitted none of the Immortals to use his deadly lightning bolts, except for his daughter Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Warcraft. She, with clear strategic eyes and infinite intellect, could be trusted to respect their destructive as well as tactical power.
The Titan Prometheus stole a spark of fire from Zeus’ lightning bolt, hiding the ember inside a stalk of fennel and sharing it illicitly with his poor creations, the mortals. When Zeus discovered this, he raged that humans were incapable of handling such a powerful force, as we were foolish, rash, brutish and unworthy. (Prometheus was severely punished for this transgression, but that’s another story.) The lightning bolts of Zeus, the primeval power of directed electricity, belonged to the Great Sky God, his wise daughter Athena, and to them alone. Not anymore.
We have entrusted our police officers with this power, in the hope that the state contract with its citizens will be honoured and lives might be saved in the maintenance of law and order. Now, as new crowd-control adaptations arise quickly, there is fear that technology might overtake the law, in future clashes between protesters and the Establishment. Police officers represent the law and are tasked to enforce order, but they are mortals nonetheless. Perhaps Zeus was right about us? Are we too foolish, rash, brutish and unworthy to wield his weapons, simply because we are human?
* Joanne Lock is an independent writer based in Australia. She studied political science and international relations at the University of Queensland.