radegund: (Default)
TheJournal.ie had a piece yesterday about Amnesty's ad campaign for an equal health system in Ireland.

(Incidentally, for me, this comment on that article sums up exactly why a one-tier, free-at-point-of-access health system is really the only defensible approach: "...as soon as rich people have to avail of the same services as the rest of us you’ll be amazed how quickly it gets sorted.")

So I went to sign the petition, and ended up finally writing something that's been brewing for months.

And this is what she said... )

I wonder will it be read?

I've sent an edited version as a letter to the Irish Times, which is probably still too long to print, so I thought I'd just publish it here too. You know, for closure.

It's worth noting that until [livejournal.com profile] ailbhe and I were discussing my A&E experience I had no idea how low the cut-off point for a medical card actually is. If I'm reading the Citizens' Information figures correctly, a 40-hr/week job at minimum wage puts you over the threshold unless you have 3+ children and no other household income (if you're under 66, that is).

Anyway. Go and sign the petition, if you're in Ireland.

If you're not in Ireland, feel free to gnash your teeth at our iniquitous set-up.
radegund: (swans)
As many of you know, the big news in Ireland today is the publication of a long-awaited report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

Thousands of children were tortured, raped, and otherwise abused in Irish institutions (reformatories, orphanages, industrial schools, institutions for children with disabilities, ordinary schools) during much of the twentieth century, mostly by members of the Catholic clergy. If you can stomach more detail, this Irish Times article gives a summary of the report's findings, together with links to two opinion pieces.

The whole thing is sickening, of course, but the message that really stands out for me is that the abuse was absolutely endemic in the system - not aberrational, but an artifact of the scornful contempt in which the Irish Catholic Church and the officials of the Irish State apparently held the public (in general) and their children (in particular) during that period. These unimaginative, self-congratulatory patriarchs cared nothing for children, whose fate was of no consequence as long as the desired social hierarchy could be maintained.

Meanwhile, another report appeared this week, published by the Irish College of Psychiatry, which illuminates the shameful state of mental health services in this country. It's called A Gloomy View, and I can find very little coverage of it online. (It gets a mention three paragraphs from the end of this Irish Examiner article.) I bring it up because I heard an interview about it on Newstalk the other day, which highlighted (among other issues) the fact that we have, it seems, nowhere to accommodate children with severe mental health problems. They are STILL, in the twenty-first century, routinely placed in adult psychiatric wards. This fact has been haunting me since I heard it - it's such a jaw-droppingly inappropriate thing to do, and there's so little excuse for a society that has enjoyed the prosperity we have in the past decade not to have FIXED IT, already.

I never suspected Ireland of having a huge amount of genuine respect for children as people, but it's sobering to encounter two such stark illustrations of the problem in the space of a few days.

All of this has made me go back and reread Ursula K. Le Guin's disturbing short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (PDF here; be warned, it's not an easy read). I've always understood it as a fable about social privilege on a global scale, but in modern Ireland, this week in particular, a literal reading is horrifyingly close to the bone.
radegund: (swans)
Sorry. I know you all know this stuff already. I just need to get it off my chest. Again.

I went clothes shopping for the forthcoming baby this afternoon, and then scouting for Oisín's main Christmas present. I came home seething.

In which I seethe into the aether )
radegund: (swans)
When I started writing this post, I thought I might have a point to make. It turns out I don't, really. There's nothing new here. I'm too tired to try to excavate any sort of novel argument from my porridgey brane. But the link in the penultimate paragraph is worth following.

A month ago, when we were visiting Reading, [livejournal.com profile] ailbhe had an assignment to look for portrayals of infant feeding on television. We watched for a few evenings, but whatever programmes were on were apparently not targeting a demographic that would be interested in such portrayals. We didn't see a single one.

However, I've kept an eye out since - I've been watching a hell of a lot more television than usual recently, because I don't have much energy for anything more strenuous - and last week, I saw my very first infant-feeding ad. You might know it. It begins with a mother breastfeeding an infant. Voiceover says something like "you always knew you'd give your baby the best". Image switches to a mother bottlefeeding an older baby. Voiceover: "Then, you probably switched to formula." Image switches to soft-focus toddlers in brightly coloured clothes, playing vigorously. Voiceover: Some pap about how great their particular brand of follow-on milk is (I am deliberately not recalling the brand, incidentally), and how it's still "the best".

So, no explicit claim that formula is as good as breastmilk, but a blatant equation of breastfeeding an infant and giving follow-on milk to a toddler, plus the reinforcement of the notion that the "natural" (hello?) progression goes breastmilk>formula>follow-on milk.

Which, I suppose, for many people, it does.

I hate that. Why does it make me so angry? Aren't companies allowed to advertise their products? And shouldn't people have the right to choose how they nourish their babies? Well, ultimately, within reason, they should. Women are entitled to choose not to breastfeed, or to wean early - or, indeed, to breastfeed their children for four or five years - if that's what works best for them and their families.

But the problem is, breast versus bottle is a health issue, NOT a straightforward "consumer" choice. And the deliberate and calculated skewing of that choice by cynical marketing campaigns on behalf of huge, obscenely rich corporations - including the creation of a whole new product (follow-on milk) designed to get around the restrictions on advertising infant formula - is pernicious and wrong.

At least, in the West, formula feeding merely increases certain health risks (by levels that, depending on a mother's circumstances, may represent the best option), as opposed to being a matter of life and death. George Monbiot wrote this week about G8's empty promises, and specifically about the situation in the Philippines, where the government is being prevented by international pressure from implementing the WHO code on the marketing of infant formula. "Every year, according to the World Health Organisation, some 16,000 Filipino children die as a result of 'inappropriate feeding practices'" - while many more become iller than they would have been if breastfed.

But, you know, at the end of the day, they're only furrin babies. Western corporations' profits are clearly MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.
radegund: (Default)
I was ringing drain-clearing companies yesterday to talk about an ongoing problem we have, when I stumbled into the following little cesspit:

The phone at [company] was answered by a man with a large, gentle, gravelly voice, who responded to my initial query by asking for my name, address and phone number. Feeling a little crowded, I explained that I was just making preliminary enquiries and was hoping to get a rough price over the phone. He told me their rates and procedures happily enough. So far so good, I thought, and began to set aside my first impression. I next mentioned that the company advertises itself as a member of the National Guild of Master Craftsmen, and asked what that involved. Inspections, said he, and gave a vague account of men coming to look at their work and talk to their customers. I was almost warming to him by now: he was so clearly untainted by Celtic-Tiger rhetoric. But then, apparently thinking that he had found a kindred spirit, he continued: "Another thing about us, now, we will not take on foreigners. Our men are ... well, they're not old, but they'd be in their forties. Reliable, you know?"

To which I had nothing to say. I should, of course, have said something along the lines of, "Excuse me, I'll stop you there, because I have no intention of giving my business to a company that admits to operating a racist, ageist hiring policy - good bye", but words failed me. I mumbled something about maybe getting back to him and hung up.

Looking back on it, I wouldn't be surprised if this man were (e.g.) the proprietor's retired father, minding the phone over lunch. But I mean, seriously, what sort of idiot would claim racism and ageism as company policy in 21st-century Europe? (That's even leaving aside the inherent sexism of an industry where "our men" is the unquestioned default.) And does anyone know off the top of their head where I should report them, if I can muster the time to write the letter?

(I was tempted to call this post "Ethnic Cleansing", but ... no, I am apparently not quite that crass.)

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