Monday, May 27, 2013

In a post-Francis* world where institutional neglect and cruelty towards some of our most vulnerable citizens has been exposed, A Bird in a Gilded Cage suggests that the arts might offer something of an antidote to the way we support people affected by memory loss. This is a gentle polemic that sweetly kicks the ankles of those obsessed with understanding the impact of the arts on human wellbeing through crude pseudo-scientific measurements, placing creativity, culture and the arts at the heart of a conversation about quality of life.

*The final report into the care provided by Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The Inquiry Chairman, Robert Francis QC, concluded that patients were routinely neglected by a Trust that was preoccupied with cost cutting, targets and processes and which lost sight of its fundamental responsibility to provide safe care. His final report is based on evidence from over 900 patients and families who contacted the Inquiry with their views. 


      DIGITAL NHS...*

            DANCE YOURSELF DIZZY...*                                            

Saturday, May 18, 2013 kilter

This week your blogger is otherwise engaged and is only providing you with interesting snippets to explore, if you should so wish... 







Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wagnerian Delirium...

Mortality: Death and the Imagination
8th July – 16th August 2013 * * * * DETAILS COMING SOON

Wagnerian Delirium
Some very interesting reports coming in from Germany around the Düsseldorf opera house's production of Wagner's Tannhäuser directed by Burkhard Kosinski. The romantic opera was written in the 1840’s and set (in the mind of Wagner) in the middle ages. Kosinski chose to transpose it to 1940’s Germany under Nazi rule with depictions of mass murder, the gas chambers and SS executions.

There have been reports of people storming out of the theatre, booing and slamming doors - so much so in fact, that the staging has been pulled and it is now being performed purely as a concert. 

The furore on the internet has been prolific, with Oxford University historian, James Kennaway telling the Guardian:
"Wagner's operas have often produced extreme reactions and the list of singers, conductors and patrons who have keeled over dead after attending one and suffered a 'Wagnerian delirium' is amazing."

Debate over Wagner’s place in German culture has escalated coinciding with what would have been his 200th birthday on May 22nd. For many, Wagner has come to symbolise the seeds of anti-Semitic sentiment in German culture that would grow into the Nazi terror. A recent article in Der Spiegel commented, “Richard Wagner’s legacy prompts the question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?”

In the Guardian this weekend, Will Self suggested that, “Hitler was indeed a great music lover – get over it! He could be one, and still prosecute the deaths of untold millions by word and deed. Hitler loved music because many humans – including evil ones – love music. He loved Wagner's music both despite and because Wagner was an antisemite – it all just fed into the semiotic mix.”

The timing of the doomed opera has coincided with the high-profile trial of neo-Nazi’s which began in Munich last week, with Beate Zschaepe being charged with a series of anti-immigrant murders, and where we can witness a bizarre and superficial media frenzy focused as much on Zschaepe's looks, as for the crimes she’s allegedly committed.

I can’t help being a little curious about what Self describes as “an assumed sharp dichotomy between high and low art, and a privileging of the discourse of the former.” Cinema goers have largely relished the excuse to cathartically grind their teeth to Schindler’s List, been remorselessly subsumed in In the Fog, or else heartily relish the extremes of Inglourious Basterds. There’s no shortage of literature that would provoke a similar range of responses and the response to Jake and Dino’s Chapman’s, Hell from some quarters, at least - was profound, with Jonathan Jones describing it as a ‘true masterpiece.’

Inequalities and denial spring to mind here and something about the gated community of an elite cultural psyche. Perhaps this version of Tannhäuser was tasteless and badly conceived? Kosminski, declined to make changes to soften the impact of the violence saying that he had been completely transparent with the opera house about his intent for the production and that he was not a “scandal director.” “It would be good if the debate continued,” Mr. Kosminski said, “and we learned what the underlying reasons were for this great emotionality.” Not perhaps art and health on an individual level, but a deeply fascinating issue.

So a question: is the portrayal of Nazi Germany permitted in popular culture and other art forms, but somehow best avoided in more genteel cultural circles?

Food production systems in Britain today are very much dictated by laws, regulations and other policies, all of which are geared toward supporting 'Big Dairy' ie the dairy farmers that milk hundreds and thousands of cows every day. Sadly, the modern approach or corporate take over of milk production and distribution is very much to the detriment of smaller producers and farmers here in Britain and around the world. The decline of the British dairy farmer in recent years has accelerated at a significant and worrying rate. 

In the past ten years, the number of dairy farms in England and Wales has fallen by 46.3%. from approximately 20,000 in 2002 to just over 10,000 in 2012. (Dairy Statistics: An insider Guide Pg 10, published by DairyCo, 2012)

The truth is, that the farming crisis in Britain is a direct result of the global restructuring of food markets and industries which has been ongoing since the early 80's. As a result of these new global food systems, agricultural produce, over the years, has become cheaper and primary commodities such as milk, even though demand has increased, the return to the farmer has not. British dairy farmers receive less today per litre of milk, than they did 17 years ago; and they continue to receive less per litre, than it actually costs them to produce. Further afield and also unable to break even, increasing numbers of frustrated and desperate small scale farmers across the globe watch demand for fresh produce increase, but without reaping any rewards. With the British dairy industry there appears to be a blockage; profits from sales are not trickling back down to the producers but pooling somewhere between (larger) processors and vendors.

A deeply worrying statement came from Tim Fortesque, Secretary General of the UK Food and Drinks Industries Council, quoted as saying:

“It is not the role of manufacturing industry to improve the health of the general public or to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that people live longer, or lead healthier lives”

It is time that we, the modern consumer started to consciously understand methods of food production and question what role we actually play regards the shift towards industrialised farming and globalised food systems; and what exactly will the future landscape of the British countryside look like as the small farmers disappear and the factory farms take over?   

Dawn Prescott’s exhibition 'Farmgate' is at BLANKSPACE between 24 - 26 May explores the plight of the British dairy farmer. The work investigates modern methods of milk production and distribution as we witness an ongoing shift towards the industrialisation of dairy farming and the rise of the 'Mega Farm'.

What on earth does this little film have to do with arts and health? Find out very soon in Mortality: Death and the Imagination

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Neurobiology of the Obesity Epidemic

I recently read an interesting review paper by Dr. Edmund T. Rolls titled "Taste, olfactory and food texture reward processing in the brain and the control of appetite" that I'll discuss in this post (1).  Dr. Rolls is a prolific neuroscience researcher at Oxford who focuses on "the brain mechanisms of perception, memory, emotion and feeding, and thus of perceptual, memory, emotional and appetite disorders."  His website is here.

The first half of the paper is technical and discusses some of Dr. Rolls' findings on how specific brain areas process sensory and reward information, and how individual neurons can integrate multiple sensory signals during this process.  I recommend reading it if you have the background and interest, but I'm not going to cover it here.  The second half of the paper is an attempt to explain the obesity epidemic based on what he knows about the brain and other aspects of human biology.

Read more »

Sunday, May 5, 2013

...drowning by numbers

Short and sweet this week and straight on to business. Just a note that Ivan Wadeson, Co-Chief Executive of The Audience Agency, responded to Culture Secretary Maria Miller's speech last week in diplomatic style and pulling out some key comments that Ms Miller has made, particularly:

“The arts stimulate us, educate us, challenge and amuse us […] their social benefits are numerous and beyond doubt.”

“Culture is able to deliver things which few other sectors can. It brings our country to life and encourages people to visit our shores; it develops a sense of community and attracts visitors to disparate parts of our nation... it cultivates the creativity which underpins our wider industrial efforts.”

“The arts are not an add-on; they are fundamental to our success as a nation.”

You can read Ivan’s comments by clicking on the empty theatre seats.

Thanks to my friend Dr. R for his updates on all things BMJ and RSPH and for last weekends article about trumpet playing conservative MP, Jesse Norman. Once ostracised for his rebellious ways, he has been welcomed back to the heart of politics as a member of his party’s policy advisory board. It’s a curious article not least because Norman is one of the architects of the Big Society agenda and is a man who has a lot to say, including attacking crony capitalism. He is particularly keen that the government should do more to support the arts, suggesting that an interesting test will be met when we emerge from the financial crisis and there is money to spend which could possibly be ploughed into new ways of promoting social cohesion. My eyes were particularly drawn to a very pithy quote: “I don’t think anything important can be quantified - you can’t put a pound sign beside love and happiness.” I wonder perhaps, is the time right to be thinking about the ways in which our arts and public health agenda should be woven into a far more sophisticated policy framework?

I try not to advertise too many events that cost on this blog, but this years annual conference form The Reader is a 1/3 cheaper than last year! It has a great programme with some interesting speakers, of which Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Health Secretary, will be discussing ‘The Books that Built Me’ at the event taking place at the British Library on Thursday 16th May. Other speakers at the conference include Professor Louis Appleby, National Clinical Director for Offender Health and Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, who will be discussing ‘Finding A New Language for Mental Health’. Find out more by clicking on the plea to read me, above.

Last week saw the first teaser for my new paper, A Bird in a Gilded Cage - but what on earth was it about? The royal family - battery farms - synchronised swimming and wistful coach rides into the sunset? You bet - oh, that and the way we live and die today. Above is another version of that same little film with a few words thrown in for good measure. The paper will be on ixia’s website this month.

Hey, in the dead of night, do you ever wake up and wonder, what ever happened to Open Art? We do. To find out what the brilliant Deborah Munt and Leisa Gray and their colleagues did next, click on the love above for more.

For many years Dawn Prescott worked at Arts for Health where she ran a tight ship, and when she left for pastures new, it was LIME Arts that benefited from her superb skills and warmth. Now Dawn is holding her first exhibition at BLANKSPACE between 24 - 26 May. The exhibition farmgate is a work that explores the plight of the contemporary British dairy farmer. I’ll post more details of this exhibition next week, but pop it in your diary if you’re anywhere near Manchester later in the month.

Big Launches New Programme to Improve Lives of Older People
The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) has announced a new fund to improve the lives of vulnerable older people in England. The BIG hopes that the funding, provided through the Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme, will reduce isolation, help older people deal better with change and build confidence for the future.  BIG are inviting 100 local authorities to submit an expression of interest to be considered for funding.  30 areas will be shortlisted.  The shortlisted areas will then be required to submit a full 'vision and strategy' for their area. At this stage each area will form a partnership led by a voluntary and community sector organisation.  BIG expect to make awards to 15 to 20 areas of between £2 and £6 million over three to six years.  Development funding of up to £20,000 will be available to those areas we shortlist. The closing date for submission of EOI forms is the 17th May 2013. Read more at:

Principal fires security guards to hire art teachers — and transforms elementary school
...and finally, a big thanks to Kait Wittig for sharing this story from the US.

Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury, Massachusetts was built in 2003 but was plagued by violence and disorder from the start and by 2010 it was rank in the bottom five of all public schools in the state. Enter Andrew Bott — the sixth principal in seven years — but with new ideas: “We got rid of the security guards,” said Bott, who reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts. Now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognisable. You can read more here, by clicking on the comforting image of school security above.

...thank you as ever...C.P.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Speaking at AHS13

The 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium will be held in Atlanta, GA, August 14-17.  Last year was a great conference, and I look forward to more informative talks and networking.  Tickets go fast, so reserve yours now if you plan to attend!

This year, I'll be speaking on insulin and obesity.  My talk will be titled "Insulin and Obesity: Reconciling Conflicting Evidence".  In this talk, I'll present the evidence for and against the idea that elevated insulin contributes to the development of obesity.  One hypothesis states that elevated insulin contributes to obesity, while the other states that elevated insulin is caused by obesity and does not contribute to it.  Both sides of the debate present evidence that appears compelling, and it often seems like each side is talking past the other rather than trying to incorporate all of the evidence into a larger, more powerful model.

There's a lot evidence that can be brought to bear on this question, but much of it hasn't reached the public yet.  I'll explore a broad swath of evidence from clinical case studies, observational studies, controlled trials, animal research, physiology, and cell biology to test the two competing hypotheses and outline a model that can explain all of the seemingly conflicting data.  Much of this information hasn't appeared on this blog.  My goal is to put together a talk that will be informative to a researcher but also accessible to an informed layperson.

On a separate note, my AHS12 talk "Digestive Health, Inflammation and the Metabolic Syndrome" has not been posted online because the video recording of my talk has mysteriously disappeared.  I think many WHS readers would be interested in the talk, since it covers research on the important and interdependent influence of gut health, inflammation, and psychological stress on the metabolic syndrome (the quintessential modern metabolic disorder).  I'm going to try to find time to make a narrated slideshow so I can post it on YouTube.