Emil is unhappy

Ask anyone anywhere in South Africa what the biggest scourge in this nation is and they will probably answer “crime” or “Jacob Zuma”. Ask them what is the biggest scourge on the roads and they will probably answer “crime”, “Jacob Zuma” or “taxis”.
Taxis are a law unto themselves in this country, breaking rules, endangering lives and making the ride to the amusement park a lot more of an adrenaline rush that the roller coaster once you actually get there.

So reviled is the minibus taxi – and so happy to disregard any rule of law – that Helen “Twee Hoede” Zille, mayor of Cape Town, has threatened to call in the Army to make them behave.
Meanwhile, civil rights group AfriForum have suggested that citizens take photos of “lawless taxis”:

AfriForum created an e-mail address, taxi@afriforum.co.za, to which the public may send the pictures, as well as details of the event, after which AfriForum’s legal team will formulate a complaint on behalf of the public for submission to the SA Police Service.

Alternatively, if you don’t want the bother of emailing a picture in, you could always just put it on your blog with a brief description of the driver.

emil
Don’t hold back: tell us what you really think, Emil!

For you non-Afrikaans speakers out there: “Easy stereotyping – The driver of this taxi is a [censored].”

Better out than in, Emil. Thanks for your honesty. Aaaaaaand relax!

How to prevent cervical cancer

I have been reading through the most recent issue of Private Eye magazine, replete with several spectacular examples of two-facedness regarding the whole incomprehensible media circus surrounding Jade Goody, such as this little pair of gems from Scottish poison-dwarf Lorraine Kelly

The bubble has finally burst for the thick, foul-mouthed and thoroughly nasty piece of work that is Jade Goody… As for Jade’s boyfriend, Jack Tweed, all I can say is that they deserve each other. He actually makes her look reasonably intelligent.

Lorraine Kelly, The Sun, 20 Jan 2007

I sincerely hope Jade Goody has her wish for a perfect wedding day tomorrow…

Lorraine Kelly, The Sun, 21 Feb 2009

In their Medicine Balls column by Dr Phil Hammond, (writing under the pseudonym M.D.), however – something that I didn’t consider when I wrote my post about Jade’s wedding:

Jade Goody may be encouraging more people to have cervical smears and HPV vaccinations (if only the NHS could afford them), but a much cheaper way to dramatically reduce your risk of cervical cancer is not to smoke.

The risk is greater the earlier you start and more you smoke. Twenty a day increases your risk seven fold, 40 a day increases it 14 fold, because the damaged cervical cells can’t clear the human papilloma virus. A simple message that not even Max Clifford has thought to mention.

Good point, Doc. And another sign that the NHS in the UK continues to struggle – poorly funded and overworked – to save the lives of those who do nothing to help themselves.

Jo’burg Meningitis Scare – Get a grip!

“Scare” is exactly the right word. The Times newspaper is hugely critical of the Gauteng Health Department and the National Government today:

DESPITE fears that four children have died from meningitis in the past three weeks, the government says there is no need to panic.
And it does not think these deaths and seven others last year warrant a national vaccination campaign.

But shall I tell you something – the Government is absolutely right.

These cases are isolated, individual, not linked, unconnected. I know, I know – major health scares (especially in kids) sell newspapers – but there’s no meningitis outbreak in Johannesburg and so there’s really no story here.

The first death was a 15 year old from Mondeor High School. She died on 17th February from Klebsiella meningitis.
The second was an 8 year old from Soweto, who died on 23rd February after contracting viral meningitis.

At this point, I need to point out the difference in these two cases.
There is NO WAY that these deaths can be linked.
Suggesting that they may be the start of an meningitis outbreak is like suggesting a death in a car crash is linked to a case of poisoning a week later. The illnesses were caused by different agents, one a bacterium, one a virus. Both small, but different. Not the same. Not linked. At all.

Moving on, there have been two further deaths which have been “attributed” to meningitis in the last week. However, since the first case was buried quickly in accordance with her religious beliefs, there were no tests done. The other case was over this past weekend. But there are doubts as to whether that was even due to meningitis:

A second girl, aged nine, died over the weekend, sparking concerns that she had also died of meningitis.
But [Gauteng Health Official JP] Louw said initial tests had indicated the nine-year-old did not die of meningitis.
He added, however, that the health department would continue to investigate her death.

So to sum up: 4 deaths – regrettable, tragic, yes, but:
One from Klebsiella meningitis.
One from viral meningitis.
One unknown cause.
One under investigation, but not thought to be meningitis.

No wonder Mr Louw went on to say:

The department is… concerned about recent reports of meningitis suggesting that four young people, with two from Eldorado Park, passed away due to meningitis.

This in turn could lead to unwarranted panic in schools and communities.

Yes, once again, The Times is needlessly creating panic and sensationalising a story to get more readers. This is being exacerbated by their inaccurate reporting and poor understanding of the the situation. The difference is that this time, there are hundreds of kids being affected by their scare-mongering, rather than “just” the reputation of a politician.

I’m a microbiologist – I have studied and worked with these things for many years and I understand them. I recognise that the journalists writing the stories are not microbiologists – they are journalists. But why can’t they get some expert opinion in on this – it wouldn’t even have to be expert expert opinion: this is basic stuff – which would nip this unnecessary panic in the bud?
What they are doing is unhelpful, unethical and unprofessional. But like I said, they are journalists. And it is The Times.

So why am I so surprised?

EDIT: I see that COPE have got in the act and are using the deaths of these children as an election tool. Classy work, guys. But you might want to check your facts before you go diving in as well.  

EDIT 2: Times editor “fears meningitis in Johannesburg” – oh, the irony.
Stop reading your paper then, love. That should help.   

Those Argus Results in Full

Congratulations to all those who took part in this year’s Cape Argus Cycle Tour and especially to those who managed to complete the 109km course on what turned out to be such a horrendously windy day – not great conditions for cycling, I’m told. Or at least I’m about to be, over and over and over again.

Anyway, while this website may have become known as a rather vocal critic of the tour and those who choose cycling as their religion of choice, I would like to make it clear that I have the utmost respect for those who get up at stupid o’clock in the morning, dress up in outrageously funny clothing and paralyse the Southern Suburbs for a few hours on a Sunday morning. “Well done”.

With that in mind – here are a list of the whining winning riders and some notable other achievements from the 2009 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.

Winners:
1st Lance van Steroid (Team EPO)
2nd Ivan Russianaround (Syringe Boyz)
3rd Steve McCheat (Team McCheat)

Most red lights ignored during training:
Markus Botha (Pretoria) 2,618 – including a remarkable 159 in 2 hours during a reccie visit to Cape Town in February

Widest peloton during training:
19 by UCT Table Tennis Club on M3 Southbound, 4th March 2009, completely blocking the road for 2¾ hours

Squashed by Chappies rockfalls:
James Fortune

Best excuses given for not completing race:
“Bruised left testicle” – Jennifer Viljoen
“Fear of sharks” – Andrew Howard, Danielle Smythe
“Rockfall on Chappies” – James Fortune (from back of ambulance)
“567 Road Show playing Celine Dion in Camps Bay” – 1,691 riders

Best excuses given for not going “sub-three”:
“Like, the wind was just so hectic at Smitswinkel, man.” – Everyone

Yeah, yeah, I know.
More serious special mentions to the Tall Accountant and the Blonde Sales Chick for giving it a go this year and (presumably) surviving.

And – it’s over for for another year. Can we have our peninsula back now, please?

Sentence review

Remember this?

The story of the Labour peer and the waitress?
Both of whom used mobile phones to send text messages while driving.
Both of whom killed innocent individuals by ploughing into the back of their stationary vehicles.

One of whom was given 21 months in prison, the other 12 weeks.

It all seemed a bit unfair, so I was hugely delighted to see the headline on the BBC News Website:

Phone crash sentence under review

In big writing, just like that.

But, guess which one the Solicitor General thinks may be “unduly lenient“…