How many nurses?

My plans to post an entry each day in February seem to have been somewhat derailed by a HTTP 500 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR, which is denying me access to 6000.co.za and also to the dashboard and inner workings of the site where the wonderful milky prose you come to lap up each day is created and stored. Serves me right for using that cheap deal with the servers in South Australia, I guess.
Thus, it’s back to basics and I’m writing this up using MS Notepad. Ah – the memories. None of them good.

And phew – whatever gremlin was playing about with the important stuff that makes the site work has now given up and gone to the pub, or been burned, or whatever. And I’m back. Although, I guess it was all pretty seamless for you, so I’ll just make the font look a bit funny so that you can be reminded of how I suffered to bring you this. There we go.

As I write, Jeff Randall is tearing into Barclays boss, Bob Diamond, on Sky News.
The main thrust of Randall’s argument seems to be somehow related to the £22 million which Mr Diamond received in bonuses last year. I can never decide whether Jeff is really on the side of the man on the street as he claims: “That’s about 1000 times what an average NHS nurse earns – do you think you’re worth 1000 NHS nurses?”.
It’s a typically unfair and unnecessarily emotive kind of question. Exactly what Sky News is paying him for.
Because of course, it seems likely that Jeff Randall also earns significantly more than the average NHS nurse (albeit not as much as Bob Diamond).

But how much?

Well, I don’t know, but his previous time at The Telegraph and the BBC surely means that he can’t have been cheap. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that he’s pocketing well into seven figures. So I wonder how many nurses Mr Randall thinks he is worth. Mr Diamond hasn’t actually asked him that, but he must be tempted. Or maybe he did and it was edited out*. After all, Jeff is supposed to be on our side and such hypocrisy wouldn’t look good.

Incidentally, I am worth at least 20 average NHS nurses. In addition, I don’t sleep with junior doctors, lose important specimens or give patients the wrong drugs.
I even wash my hands once in a while, which is more than any of them do.
If my boss is reading, please sort out some sort of remuneration package reflective of this. And backdate it.
Do this now.

 * A large chunk of today’s Jeff Randall Live was actually pre-recorded.

SA’s UK Drug Hell!

Or should that be UK’s SA Drug Hell?


SAA: powered by weed (allegedly)

As fifteen flight and cabin crew from the daily SAA Jo’burg to Heathrow flight were arrested after 50kg of cannabis was found on board, South African rugby player Matt Stevens, now living and “working” in Bath, UK, failed a drugs test and looks set to be banned from the sport for two years.  

Stevens has admitted to taking “a substance” “while out with friends” and admits he has a drug problem, although he insists that they were not performance enhancing drugs. Anyone who has been watching his recent performances won’t be surprised by that assertion.
Obviously, they were recreational drugs, and probably imported from Jo’burg.

Which brings us neatly onto the SAA arrests, and I’m pretty sure they’ve got the wrong people. Anyone who has ever flown SAA will testify that they never send baggage to the right place. I’m pretty sure that 50kg of weed was meant to go to Miami or Sydney or Athens.
Perhaps the police in those cities should be looking at the incoming SAA flight crews and see which ones are nervously searching in the galley cupboards and looking confused. There’s your suspects.

Heathrow alternatives – the Runwet

On a day when the big news in the UK was the Government’s long overdue approval for a third runway at Heathrow airport, a pilot in New York went out of his way (literally) to show how Gordon Brown et al could have saved £9 billion by simply utilising the River Thames as an alternative landing area.


Greenpeace: Nearly right. But… not. Now, go and have a wash.

I guess a few of the bridges may get in the way, but one must consider the advantages of a centrally-located landing area, ease of access to public transport (especially water taxis) and the picturesque views of London landmarks for passengers as they come in to land.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, on the starboard side of the aircraft, the Houses of Parliament and on the port side, County Hall and the London Eye.
Thank you for flying British Airways.
Lifejackets are located under your seats. Brace for impact.

This water-based option also provides the opportunity to open aquatic runways – or “runwets” as I like to call them – in smaller cities and towns*. Beautiful Cambridge might have to shift some of the punts off the tourist-laden Cam, but it would save that horrible cross country road trip to Luton and provide direct access to college for overseas students.

Further north, the planes could land on the crunchy crust of pollution that sits proudly atop the waters of the Mersey in Liverpool. It could be called the Paul McCartney Mersey Runwet, to go with the John Lennon Airport, situated so inconveniently out of town.

    
Cambridge and Liverpool – diverse runwets in the UK

If you think about it, runwets would be self-perpetuating. As more planes are able to take off and land from runwets worldwide, CO2 emissions will increase, global warming will accelerate, ocean levels will rise and there will be more space for more runwets. Pretty soon, the whole planet will be one big runwet and Kevin Costner will make a hugely expensive flop of a film about it.

Just remember – you read it here first. As usual.

* There will be no option to land at a runwet in Bloemfontein, as there is no water anywhere in the Free State. Fact.

Wakefield’s Shameful Legacy

A new study, ironically published in The Lancet, raises serious doubts that the goal of elimination of measles in Europe by 2010 can be attained. The reason for this re-emergence of a disease which was completely under control 15 years ago is the “shoddy, litigation- and profit-driven pseudoscience” of Andrew Wakefield, whose now discredited study published in The Lancet in 1998, linked the MMR vaccine with autism in children.


Measles virus: small, but nasty

It later emerged that Wakefield was paid up to £55,000 by solicitors acting on behalf of the families of some autistic children to prove a link between the vaccine and the condition. This was something that he somehow forgot to mention to his fellow authors, medical authorities or The Lancet.

Simon Murch, one of the leading doctors involved with Wakefield’s research at the Royal Free, said that news of the £55,000 legal funding was “a very unpleasant surprise”.
“We never knew anything about the £55,000 — he had his own separate research fund,” said Murch. “All of us were surprised… We are pretty angry.”

10 years on and Wakefield’s scaremongering has resulted in a 13-year high in the number of measles cases in the UK: an “embarrassing problem” according to the WHO report’s authors. Vaccination levels have improved somewhat over the past 2 years, with concerted “catch-up” campigns for those who missed vaccination, but even cases of measles in South America, which was all but free of the disease, have been traced back to Europe.

Between 2007-8 in Europe, there were over 12,000 cases of measles, which should have been erradicated from the continent by next year. Over 1,000 of them were in the UK:

1,049 is the highest number of measles cases recorded in England and Wales since the current method of monitoring the disease was introduced in 1995.
This rise is due to relatively low MMR vaccine uptake over the past decade and there are now a large number of children who are not fully vaccinated with MMR. This means that measles is spreading easily among unvaccinated children.

As a microbiologist and a parent, I strongly urge all parents to do the decent thing and vaccinate their children. These are not called “preventable diseases” for nothing. Apart from the benefits for you and your kids, there should be a collective sense of social responsibility to help reduce the reservoir of these illnesses in society.
The results of a decade of misinformation, poor science and hysterical reporting are becoming evident now: disease, disability and even death for hundreds of children, all of which could and should have been avoided.

Don’t let it happen to your kids.

Oudtshoorn flashback

Oudtshoorn (roughly pronounced Oats-Horn) is a small town in the Western Cape which claims to be the ostrich capital of the world. And that might not sound like much of a pull, but if you want to do anything to do with ostriches, visit ostrich-related attractions and buy ostrich-related merchandise, Oudtshoorn is your number one destination of choice. It’s a couple of years since I was last there, but I don’t think it will have changed much, based on the fact that when I was there it didn’t appear to have changed much since colonial times.
I got into a spot of bother with my traveling companions on that particular visit, due to a comment I left in the guest book at the excellent Jemima’s restaurant. Having enjoyed all that Oudtshoorn had to offer during the day, I felt compelled to sample the speciality dish – ostrich – for my dinner. Then, perhaps buoyed by a sense of a day completed in fine style, together with some (or more) decent Cabernet Sauvignon, I reached for the visitor’s book on the way out and wrote:

Saw one.
Fed one.
Rode one.
Ate one.

Which, despite being absolutely true, was considered – in stark contrast to dinner – to be in rather poor taste and invoked the spirit of the Derbyshire butcher specialising in game meats who had the display of rabbits hung outside his shop next to the sign:

Watership Down.
You’ve read the book.
You’ve seen the film.
Now eat the cast.

All of which meandering brings me to EatBabe.co.uk and its startlingly similar tagline:

Choose pig.
Name pig.
Visit pig.
Eat pig.

Personally, I think they lose it slightly with the extra syllable on the third line, but it’s still a good effort. And yes, you adopt a piglet, they lovingly care for it, nurture it and feed it; and then slaughter it, chop it all up and deliver it (vacuum packed, nogal) to your door.

A whole pig weighs in at about 40-50kg of meat. This usually works out between £280 and £350, though never more than £380. For this price you get all of the meat back from your pig, butchered, vacuum packed, weighed, labelled and priced ~ just how you would like to find it. In terms of cost, you are paying about £100 more than in a supermarket, the same as in a good butchers, and £160 less than London prices. Any offal you choose to have from your pig is free of charge.

The advantages of this system? You know exactly where your pig came from, where it has been and what it has been eating: “From field to fork, from pasture to plate – tracking your food every step of the way”.

I can already imagine the Oudtshoorn farmers planning the South African equivalent. If only there was some tear-jerking family film about a talking baby ostrich which they could use the name from. 

Perhaps that’s all that’s holding them back.