Health reform:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “Prevention is impractical, but try telling that to the PM” (yesterday, item 1). As a morbidly obese 42-year-old, whose daily exercise consists of shuffling from my home office iMac to my living room plasma TV, I feel more than qualified to comment on the need for better physical education in schools. Physical fitness programs in schools should be mandatory and taken very, very seriously.

It could start with something as simple as daily calisthenics at kindy. The little ones would love it — every morning aerobicising to the Wiggles. By the time they start grade one, they’ll have been indoctrinated and habitualised into enforced group activity.

Morning aerobics — and strength training to develop muscle tissue — should be mandatory, at least 30 minutes’ worth, for every school child. By the time they’re in grade seven, it should be 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon.

It must continue in high school, with increasing exposure to equipment such as training bikes, rowers, weights machines and treadmills (every high school should have a fully functional gym, which can also be hired out to seniors’ and mothers’ groups). By the time kids leave in year 12 — which should of course be the minimum — they will be very comfortable with a gym atmosphere, which is where most will continue their daily exercise routines as adults.

At high school, the twice-daily routines should be fully supervised and taken very seriously by physical fitness trainers qualified in children’s physiology. Trainers should spend more one-on-one time with kids, tailoring programs to meet individual needs — and keep an eye out for the progress of fatter teens, and others who look like they’re on track for an unfit and unhealthy adulthood.

It is in high school when many fatter kids who became fat adults stopped exercising (we were quite happy to run around in primary school with our jelly wobbles). But with budding s-xual identity we became concerned about body image and, fearing ridicule and rejection in the ruthless jungle that is every school playground, we hung back and didn’t take part in sports (which we weren’t much chop at), and so the spiral into a sedentary life began.

By making daily exercise a routine part of life throughout childhood and high school, I think we’d be setting up a generation to view physical activity as something as natural as breathing. And the more we can divorce physical fitness from s-xuality, the better. Perhaps make every kid, including girls — wear baggy sweats and baggy shorts rather than figure-hugging lycra?

Current phys-ed programs, with their emphasis on teaching children rudimentary skills aspects of various sports, are woefully inadequate. The sports-minded kids get interested in a sport and develop that interest after school, but the kids who need physical activity the most, the fat kids, the hollow-chested sickly kids who play computer games, rarely take part.

Exercise is hard work and fatties try to avoid it. We don’t like to sweat, we don’t like how exercise makes us feel. Let’s face it, the best place and time to make people do things that they don’t want to, because it’s in their best interest, is school. That’s what it was invented for.

By the time we’re adults and wished we’d done something about our weight when we were young, it’s too late (well, it’s not, but that’s how we feel). We look at the gym and the pool and think about going in but then we see they are full of chiselled, sculpted bodies, the sorts of guys who used to laugh at us on the playground.

So we don’t go in and instead content ourselves with another Mars Bar and another night in front of the TV. And we’ll worry about the heart attack when it happens.

I don’t care how much it costs (and I am convinced that whatever the cost, it will be less than the eventual medical bills), or if it adds another hour to the school day, but it needs to happen.

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Our health system serves most of us well. That’s the issue” (yesterday, item 2). Bernard Keane should be congratulated for identifying the political issue in the “health debate” as the “whingeing of mostly well-off urban Australians and the media that serves them”. After all, the Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a campaign against “hospital deaths”. Where would the journalists prefer people died?

It also needs to be highlighted that the proposed “solution” is a “partial takeover” with the Federal Government having financial control and the States operational control — two sets of hands on the steering wheel. In the name of better management, chaos!

Ross Copeland writes: If the government is going to go ahead with its dental scheme it will need to come up with another name. Australian Unity already has a Dentacare scheme where participating dentists offer cheaper rates. I was going to a Dentacare dentist for many years but that clinic has now been taken over by another group so next month I will be seeing another Dentacare dentist.

Playing politics:

John Howard biographer Wayne Errington writes: Re. “Gawenda: Turnbull’s world is an alien universe” (yesterday, item 5). Michael Gawenda reckons that Malcolm Turnbull remains an alien figure to us because we can’t imagine the geography of his life in the way we can with other political figures. Gawenda imagines, among other things in John Howard’s life, “the rather nondescript office he worked in as a small-firm suburban solicitor.”

This image of Howard, who worked in commercial law firms in the Sydney CBD, is testament to Paul Keating’s ability to define his opponents. However much the “suburban solicitor” tag irked Howard, it did him no harm. It’s not hard to imagine Kevin Rudd as a suburban solicitor. Perhaps Turnbull just imagined the wrong career path.

Joseph Palmer writes: Mark Arbib and Tony Abbott while vilifying jobseekers as job snobs probably had most, if not all their jobs handed down to them on a plate by their mates in the Labor and Liberal Parties, and I doubt if they had ever found a job by themselves or had ever done an honest days work in their lives. The claim by Malcolm Turnbull that he used to be a banana stacker are interesting. I also used to work at the Sydney Fruit Market around the same time.

It was strictly cash in the hand paying less than half the award wages and no compo if you injured, and most of the guys doing it were cheating on the dole. The young workers at the markets were treated like shit ripped off by crooked and dishonest employees, not the best job for those starting out in the workforce, not even migrants would do it.

Martin Gordon writes: It’s not often that the SMH has a rollicking good read, but so it was with Ross Gittins “Rudd’s new bogy: why we should fear the pain of recovery”. Reading Rudd is worse than reading or listening to Castro, last time Rudd found socialism, this time he is claiming things will get worse as they get better! Orwell would have been proud of this newspeak.

Note to Ross given that I recollect those five hour bum-numbing Castro rants, a three hour effort would be, well ‘luxury’ in pythonesque terms. I did enjoy Ross’s observations about climate change dropping down the order of crises. I don’t see Rudd talking anything but spin, or haven’t journalists actually noticed, so hence they continue to push the Liberal and Turnbull bashing lever, and ignore the facts?

Justin Templer writes: Shirley Colless (yesterday, comments) writes that Tony Abbott is “adhering to a model of Christianity that fails to come to terms with the Way of Christ in the world in which we live and which … is at least three hundred years out of date.” I had never before realised that Christ’s way was a moveable feast, presumably continuously evolving to keep pace with new technologies and social mores. If this is correct then there can be no question that man made and continues to reinvent God in his own image.


Michael James writes: Re. “Meet the philanthropist who embarrasses the rich A-listers” (yesterday, item 3). The hoopla here yesterday, at my research institution, was exceptional because Chuck Feeney has always avoided the limelight. To be in photo-ops with Premier Bligh and Federal Treasurer Swan was a price he was now willing to pay, partly because they had provided very large amounts of research dollars (well, mostly bricks and mortar; Australia still remains towards the bottom of the OECD list of R&D spending per capita) to match the donations of his Atlantic Philanthropies foundation. That is clever leverage and as Andrew Crook says, if only more of the Australian Rich List took notice.

In one of their first media interviews, John Healy the CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies responding to the interviewers’ lament that AP was rapidly depleting its funds, noted that:

Chuck Feeney once said in an interview, “I believe that people of substantial wealth potentially create problems for future generations unless they themselves accept responsibility to use their wealth during their lifetime to help worthwhile causes.”

This is a terrific version of SKI (Spending the Kids Inheritance); AP has given away about $3.4 billion to date, which has probably been leveraged up to maybe $7B in research funds. Instead, in Australia some of the richest seem intent on building dynasties or owning the biggest (yacht/harbourside-mansion/country estate…).

In the most egregious example, said dynasty is getting rich from exploiting Australians’ gambling addictions. But, dare we think it, it could also apply to the PM and wannabee-PM’s family fortunes? Pour encourager les autres?

Reality TV:

Emma Ashton, Editor and author of Reality Ravings, writes: Re. “Channel Nine fudged their chance to grab MasterChef” (yesterday, item 19). I was not surprised when I read Glenn Dyer’s article that Nine had missed getting what is going to be the reality TV show of the year.

Channel Nine have a history of poor choices related to this genre, My Kid Is A Star is a classic example. Also even if they had bought it is possible have fiddled with the aspects of the show that made it so popular. Their show Home Made had potential, great host, judges and cast, and concept, however they managed to turn it into another form of Renovation Rescue.

They are now chasing the MasterChef phenomenon by producing a show called The Great Aussie Cook-Off.

Ironically they have a reality TV show Dance Your Ass Off that could have built a larger audience, but the pulled it after one episode because of less then 800,000 viewers. The show was surprisingly inspiring and the contestants can actually dance. The show was the hot watercooler topic last week, and also their was positive Twitter chat about it. Add this with the positive reviews the show received in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, and the latest edition of TV Week it must have be almost certain a larger audience would have been watching it this week.

Generation why?:

Angus Sharpe writes: Re. “Why the Global Financial Crisis is my fault (by Courteney Hocking, age 27)” (yesterday, item 15). Very very funny. Courteney’s article is the perfect Gen Y response to complaints from us Xers (or Boomers). Courteney is the anti-Helen-Razer. Eloquent and punchy, where Helen is boorish and incomprehensible. Give Courteney a regular column Crikey.

A costly feed:

Sharon Hutchings writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 13). There’s nothing like a restaurant review to bring on an entertaining defamation case, suggests Richard Farmer. Comedy entertainment at that. Regardless of the critique by John Lethlean, there is one thing I am certain of – anyone who is willing to fork out a ludicrous $169 for one meal (excluding drinks) is a status anxiety hedonistic fool.

Climate change:

Viv Forbes, Chairman, The Carbon Sense Coalition, writes: Mr Rudd has woken up that Penny’s Ration-and-Tax (RAT) Scheme will destroy jobs. But instead of killing the RAT Scheme, he proposes a massive carbon subsidy to offset the job destruction caused by the carbon tax.

Kevin and Malcolm need to make up their minds. If they want to cut the production of harmless carbon dioxide, it MUST cause job losses in coal, power generation, cement, steel, farming and tourism. But if job protection is important to them, they should abandon the RAT scheme immediately and concentrate on important matters.

Fiddling with it, achieves neither goal. As for the subsidy, Kevin needs reminding that the money we get from Canberra is the money we sent to Canberra, less handling charges both ways. A tax and subsidy policy always replaces real jobs in regional industry with fake jobs in the money laundering departments in Canberra.