Begun in 2008, it's unlikely that I'll regularly make entries to this blog, so do check my main site at

This blog is more likely to include posts of a political nature - and one that requires sisu on the part of many!

Archives dated prior to March 2008 are entries moved across from either LiveJournal or Octant.

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Play, stories, the brain’s plasticity, Obama’s Prison State and the ‘swine’ influenza ‘pandemic’

Quite a mouthful, that heading… and considering I also wanted to include something on synæsthesia, I’ve rather narrowed somewhat my ‘focus’!

Swine flu pandemic

Let’s begin with the last of these first: the flu ‘pandemic’ and the reaction to it by officialdom.

I accept that when the first outbreak of this new influenza virus began to make its round, health officialdom around the world followed the dictates of the virtually useless WHO and began to put in place restrictive measures in case the virus turned out to be another ‘Spanish’ flu on the world’s population (irrespective as to whether the number of deaths caused post WW-I had more to do with the lack of food, sanitation and post-war devastation that effectively left a large section of the world’s population severely weakened and at high risk of any viral spread).

Within two weeks, however, it was quite apparent that this new strain of H1N1 ‘swine’ flu was no more dangerous than a bad flu year. Yet here were so-called ‘Health’ departments in many regions (including Australia, sadly), reacting as though schools need to be closed, individuals isolated (effectively under ‘voluntary house gaol’), and fear-mongering encouraged. (… the whole episode ignites elements of cynicism as this coincides with government stockpiles of Tamiflu reaching their expiry dates, to which Europe has responded to by extending the previously agreed expiration by two years – so wait and see what happens over the next two years in Europe!). In fact, even the WHO is in its documents (the ones not as obvious) says: ‘Most people recover from infection without the need for hospitalization or medical care. Overall, national levels of severe illness from influenza A(H1N1) appear similar to levels seen during local seasonal influenza periods, although high levels of disease have occurred in some local areas and institutions.’ In other words, this is no different to normal annual flus.

What comes to mind is the story of the ‘Boy who Cried Wolf’… but then again, perhaps the paucity of stories encouraged has given rise to a lack of such knowledge amongst the ‘Health’ Departments. For their brief elucidation (in case anyone therefrom reads this – which I doubt), the story is rather simple: A boy (yes, the story has a boy doing such, not a gender-less youth) runs from a forested area back towards his village crying out ‘Wolf… there’s a wolf… hurry…’, at which the villagers hurry from their various tasks into the safety of their homes. The boy goes outside and laughs at everyone at how easily they had been duped. On another day, during another week, the boy is again seen to be running back in apparent panic yelling that this time there really was a wolf heading their way. Again the villagers rush their children and themselves into the safety of their homes, and again the boy goes outside and burst into hysterical laughter at their gullibility. Their credulousness hardened, when during a third time some months later that boy again ran towards the village yelling of a pack of wolves heading in their direction, the villagers only showed disdain at his poor sense of humour… only to be ripped to pieces by the pack that came some minutes later.

This is not the first time that WHO and various Health Departments are crying wolf. Of course the virus will spread, but the question that needs to be asked is whether or not it is of major concern. To begin with being cautious is one thing, to continue to respond as though death is coming when the figure in the distance is recognised for the normal annual migration of a caravan hearder, then the population needs to simply be thanked for its cautiousness and informed immediately that what was potentially a hazard had been rashly assumed to incorrectly be such, rather than encouraged to continue to respond as though we are each about to potentially become very very sick.

Of course, it could be argued that it’s really the media that is at fault in disseminating the information as though highly contagious and dangerous. Only problem is that official documents from government health organisations indicate a similar kind of thinking. Why, for example, would someone who is returning to Victoria receive the following ‘instructions’ from DHS (which all schools have also received) giving the impression that it is really not much of a ‘voluntary’ option:

From 25 May 2009, DHS is asking parents of children returning from USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico and Panama to voluntarily keep their children home for seven (7) days from arrival back in Australia. This is a further precautionary measure to assist in managing the spread of the virus.

Strange as it may seem, I never see such ‘precautionary measure’ suggested for children returning in other years from regions in which the flu is likely to have been picked up. Nor should they, as far as I’m concerned (lest this be interpreted that Nazi-like regimes ought to be implemented!).

So what does this have to do with play, stories and the brain’s plasticity?

Probably more than I am to immediately recognise, but that was not the reason for the combined blog entry. Rather, having recently read Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself and having recently (a few days ago) attended a lecture during his Melbourne visit, the various happenings of the week: Obama’s extremely worrying speech; the ‘swine’ flu goings on; and stuff I have recently re-read or just read on play, stories, computers in education, and the brain’s plasticity are somehow making their combined entry…

…and after all, being a blog, it seems appropriate to allow such meanderings.

So, let’s move to play and stories for a second:

The importance of play and stories in healthy development

I was rather pleased to see in so many indirect ways the manner in which Doidge’s book supports in unintended ways the depth and breadth of subjects and ways of working to which students in Steiner/Waldorf schools are exposed and participate. It seems to me that, at the very least, this type of education encourages a healthy neuronal development.

But more on some of his comments later – for in some areas, he may be going further than is warranted.

With regards to play, it was heartening to read in New Scientist a review of The Playful Brain: venturing to the limits of neuroscience by Pellis & Pellis. Within that review is a real gem:

Preventing unstructured play is damaging – if you prevent an animal from playing when it is young, it will have serious social problems later

And so here again, we have further support (in addition to the previously released Play: How it Shapes the Brain […] by Brown and Vaughan) of this all important element of what is really all about learning.

And really, stories, and the art of not only the telling of stories, but also the development of the imaginative ability to actively participate by listening and reading prolonged narrative, is also mentioned in another New Scientist book review. Therein, the art of story is argued to be culture-forming and have the ability to shape both individuals and history.

This has important consequences for, by providing a paucity of story, we would expect a paucity of cultural development within a community that limits story-telling, and for it to become prone to not only religious dogmatism, but also acting to its defence by perceiving that any difference of view constitutes an assault on safeguarding what is for them effectively all-encompassing (North Korea and Gaza appear to be extreme examples of this). Any community that encourages a rich narrative base – as indeed, again, found in Steiner education – is likely to also have its members able to develop far greater empathy and understanding of others, and contribute to a culture that progressively becomes enriched by the accepted contributions of the diversity of interest of its members.

… and this leads us to the recent worrying development in Obama’s speech.

Obama, the USA and imprisonment without fair trial

To be incredibly frank, I had not desired to travel to the USA from time Bush was elected to office. Apart from other considerations, the treatment of visitors apparently only become worse since I last went there in the early 1990s and, since the 11th Sept. 2001 New York attacks, fear of the foreign only appears (and I can only say ‘appears’ as I have not visited since) to have reached a pitch that is difficult to fathom. With Obama heading into the Oval office, many outside the USA had high hopes that this was about to change… yet, he appears to be effectively proposing the introduction of a parallel legal system that would allow individuals deemed potentially dangerous to the USA to be incarcerated without due trial, without legal representation, and without conviction for any wrong-doing. Effectively, what he’s saying is that Guantanamo Bay should never happen again: that was illegal… so let’s develop something that would make it legal (!!!) and not off-shore… and then Guantanamo Bay will instead become a legalised Holding Bay for non-convicted individuals who are considered, whether by misidentification or duly supposed to be potential criminals!

…and this coming from a US president that is seen as somehow motivated by liberalism? Either I am totally mis-understanding true liberalism, or those who have painted Obama with that brush have, unfortunately, rather severely misunderstood his provenance.

See, as a sad state of affairs, this rather insightful summary posted on YouTube:

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