2 parties drop out

It was with great sadness that I read on the news24.com election site that two of the parties which were to have fought in the upcoming elections on April 22nd had dropped out of the race to finish way behind the ANC.

Not too many tears were shed regarding the loss of the Hlanganani Sakhe Isizwe party – they didn’t pay their R180,000 and were kicked out by the IEC. Not that I have anything against the Hlanganani Sakhe Isizwe party, it’s just that when I’m at a braai discussing the election, I’ve usually had too many beers to accurately say their name.

Far more disappointing was the loss of the SA Determined Volunteers Party from the list of competing parties.

Those guys weren’t being paid for what they did. They were volunteers. And not just any volunteers – they were determined volunteers – and I know for a fact that they had a lot of prospective candidates lined up on their shortlist.
Previous to drawing up that shortlist, they had a longer list, but they rejected many of the names on there because they just weren’t determined enough.
Removing those less determined volunteers had the effect of concentrating the determination of the remaining volunteers until they were the most resolute, decisive, steadfast, unhesitating, purposeful, earnest, firm, unflinching, obstinate, persevering, resolute, resolved, single-minded, unfaltering, decided, strong-willed, stubborn,  unwavering, dogged, intent and tenacious bunch of volunteers this side of Pietermaritzburg.

Sadly, such well-meaning determination doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with any sort of organisation and the SA Determined Volunteers Party forgot to submit their registration for the elections.

Bummer.

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.   

“I thought it was a lunatic ninja”

The words of Mr Beat Ettlin, 42 after he fought off a 40kg kangaroo which had broken into his house during the night.

The confused marsupial smashed its way into Beat Ettlin’s home in the Canberra suburb of Garran.
The 42-year-old told Sky News Online: “I just saw this black thing. I thought it was a lunatic ninja, an intruder. It just fell on top of us on the bed. A couple of seconds later I realised it was a kangaroo.”

As you would. The tail, the pouch, the bouncing motion and the lack of a sword. All dead giveaways.

ninja_crouch kangaroo
Kangaroo/Ninja: Tough to distinguish

Full marks to Mr Ettlin, however, for not only making a presumptive identification of his would-be assailant, but also performing a remarkably quick psychiatric assessment.
I know – when something lands on your bed in the middle of the night, it’s sometimes hard to work out exactly what it is. I regularly have the same issue. Only yesterday evening, a moth fluttered down onto my arm while I was watching the Spanish footy. My first thought was also “lunatic ninja”, before I settled on the more reasonable Plutella xylostella. But not before I had battered him to death with my nunchucks.

So anyway, having gathered that her husband was dealing with a mentally unstable martial arts expert, Mrs Ettlin took the appropriate action:

“I just pulled the covers over our heads and screamed. It jumped on my shoulder, bounced across the bed and onto the bedside table. Can you imagine how close it was to my head?”

I don’t know – can we? Are you some sort of mutant?
If not, and it bounced on your shoulder, I’m going for about 6 inches, tops. It’s not that hard to imagine™.

But the similarity between kangaroos, lunatic ninjas and moths doesn’t end there:

Mr Ettlin believes it was attracted by light on the bedroom window and cut itself on broken glass when it smashed its way through.

I have the same problem with moths and lunatic ninjas. They see that bedroom light on and they have to be near it – whether there’s a window in the way or not.
Leave a light on and go downstairs for 10 minutes to get your cocoa and when you return, there are a variety of 14th Century Japanese warriors and Lepidoptera circling the ceiling bulb.
And your window is invariably broken.

Happily, Mr Ettlin was able to protect his wife and kids by performing basic wrestling moves on the kangaroo before ejecting it from the house. He now probably faces animal cruelty charges, but it’s a small price to pay for the fun of beating the local wildlife up.
In fact, since moving to South Africa, few things please me more than sneaking up and practicing my karate moves on a quietly grazing springbok – certainly a vast improvement on the rather unsatisfying hedgehog boxing we used to get up to back in the UK.

Less prickly, too.

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?