Today: a summary

No one particular subject has dominated my mind or time today, save for the post I was going to do about waking up with Madonna and Billy Joel. Not on the radio or on the TV – literally waking up with them. In my bed. 
I have no idea what they were doing in there. Sleeping, I guess. My wife is going to kill me, she was only away for one night and I end up sleeping with a pair of veteran multi-Grammy Award winning artistes.
Again.

From the ridiculous to the sublime. My iPod has been churning out high quality choons all day. This is unusual. I have had a number of very disappointing days music-wise recently. But a combination of Depeche Mode, Fifth Amendment, Skunk Anansie and The Pigeon Detectives has redeemed Steve Jobs somewhat. I shall let him live a little longer.

And back to the ridiculous. The pope and his überdaft comments on condoms and HIV.
I’m not religious. I don’t mind people worshipping me, although it sometimes makes a simple trip down to Pick n Pay quite an ordeal. But I recognise people’s rights to believe what they want to. And the catholic church doesn’t like people using condoms. Fair enough. They can preach their silly message if they choose to do so. But to suggest that the use of condoms actually exacerbates the spread of HIV is completely unfounded and dangerous.

“While it is not up to us to pass judgment on Church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life.”

French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier

With great power comes great responsibility and the pope is a very powerful man. His comments are disgraceful and should be withdrawn before they do real harm. 
Are catholics allowed to withdraw? Probably not.

Julius Malema isn’t on twitter. Gutted.

Natasha Richardson has died. spEak You’re bRanes is unimpressed with the outpouring of emotion.

The Employment Equity Act, 55 of 1998.

No person may unfairly discriminate, directly or indirectly, against an employee in any employment policy or practice, on one or more grounds including race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, HIV status, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language, and birth.

“Birth”? Now they tell me.
I’ve been regularly discriminating against unborn people in my employment policies and practices since I came to South Africa. I have yet to employ either an embryo or a foetus and now I feel awful. And completely open to prosecution.
In my defence, the last time I interviewed a foetus (for a middle management position, as I recall), all I got in reply to some of my more probing questions was a slap from his mother.
Which was off-putting, to say the least.

Sky News is killing English

Well, the snot has caught up with me and brought with it a stinking headache and an unpleasant fever. Days like this mean staying in bed so as not to infect colleagues and staying in bed means daytime tv. And analysing it.

Sky News. What are they trying to do to the English language?
It was a while back that they began americanising the date. Suddenly “the seventeenth of March” became “seventeenth March”. Annoying.

Next was the singularisation of sports teams: “Sheffield United have won the FA Cup” is English (and a little unlikely). “Sheffield United has won the FA Cup” is not (English – it’s still unlikely).

And today, in their report on University fee changes, £3,145, which I and every other Engelsman would pronounce as “three thousand, one hundred and forty-five” has apparently suddenly become “three thousand, A hundred forty-five”.

Look, I’m not feeling well and I’m mildly more grumpy than usual. But why must they bastardise the language in these ways? Was there – is there – really anything so bad about the way we say things now?
And even if there was/is, who appointed Sky News as the ones to put things “right”?

I’m unimpressed and I’m switching over to Mythbusters where they speak funny, but there’s Kary Byron as compensation.

Written on my Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. In bed.

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.