Breaking news…

From BBC News Online:

People who drank more than seven cups of instant coffee a day were more likely to hallucinate than those who took just one, a study found.

Thanks for that, Durham University. I’d never have guessed.
I’ll put it in my folder labelled “Startling and Important Scientific Research” along with:

Pope “more likely” to be Catholic, and
Bears “more likely” to shit in the woods

Oh – and that paper about disappearing teaspoons from Melbourne.

Why can’t I get a research project like that?

Is Zuma appealing?

Well, not to a lot of people as our future President anymore, since fraud and corruption charges were re-instated against him yesterday, following the National Prosecuting Authority’s successful appeal against Zuma’s previous appeal to get the charges against him dropped was overturned.

It remains to be seen whether, having considered the NPA’s successful appeal against Zuma’s successful appeal against the NPA, whether Zuma will now appeal (possibly successfully) against the NPA’s successful appeal which overturned Zuma’s previously successful appeal against the NPA. If he were to successfully appeal, it seems likely that the NPA would appeal that decision. Well, why not?

It’s pure comedy, isn’t it? And add to that the improbable names of Zuma’s lawyer, Kemp J Kemp, and the NPA’s spokesman Tlali Tlali (which isn’t pronounced like you think it should be) and it gets even sillier.  

Many, including FF+ leader Pieter Mulder, are now calling for charges against Zuma to be dropped and some sort of “agreement” to be reached. (I wonder where he got that idea from?)
One only has to look at the effect yesterday’s judgment had on the exchange rates to see that this case has much wider-reaching implications than the freedom (or otherwise) of our dear Msholozi. It’s harming the country and something needs to be done to halt the damage before it’s too late.
For many people, the ideal solution would be JZ stepping down as the ANC leader and presidential candidate before the election in Autumn. That’s not going to happen though. Too many people stand to gain too much to allow something as trivial as fraud and corruption charges and the wreckage of what was once South Africa’s shining reputation to get in the way.

And so, it comes down to a settlement to allow the charges to be waylaid or put aside or dropped or something. Safety first. It’s a wholly unsatisfactory way of doing things, yes, but it might just save the country. Or it might not. Thank goodness I don’t have to make these sort of decisions and have people like Julius Malema to do it for me.

In other more important news, that statue mystery turned out to be some artist wanting to “mix art and nature”. Boring.

Although I will in future follow the correct procedure and obtain permission from the relevant organisations, I will continue to place sculptures in different locations in South Africa and abroad to raise awareness and provoke debate.

Yeah – whatever. Now go and get a proper job.

And, in a poke in the eye for Victorian maritime engineering, Port St Mary lighthouse has been washed away by a big wave.  

A combination of a high tide and strong winds over night dealt a fatal blow to the 19th Century light that has been there since the breakwater was built, between 1882 and 1886.

I could sit here by the fireside and relate a myriad of tales from my childhood, many of which would be about that lighthouse. But that would be rather dull for you and a lot of them would be made up anyway. So I won’t.

Oudekraal statue mystery

A statue has appeared on the rocks on Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard and the local newspaper and residents are getting unduly excited about it.


Statue

Alien. Tribute. Mime artist. Religious statement. Mummy. A gift from God.

These are just some of the suggestions offered by baffled onlookers as to what could be gracing rocks beyond Camps Bay Beach.
A large white statue, in the form of a man with his hands outstretched, has for the past few days stood on the rocks just outside the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Victoria Road near Oudekraal.

Let’s take a closer look at those possible options, shall we?

Alien: Completely plausible. A little disappointing after all these years of waiting to find that visitors from another world have finally made first contact and then instantly frozen, arms outstretched, on a rock just off the South African coast, but you can’t have everything, now can you?
Tribute: What? This was a newspaper reporter interviewing you about the weird statue on the rocks there, not your psychiatrist asking you to say the first word that comes into your head when he says “Björn Again”. Idiot.
Mime artist: Er… it’s been there since Tuesday. David Blaine might try a stunt like that, but there would be a million cameras and paramedics there. And me, throwing rocks at him. Therefore, I’m putting this one down as unlikely.
Religious statement: Again, I find myself a little confused by this suggestion. But then, I find myself a little confused by religion.
Mummy: Doesn’t look like my mummy. And sure, this is Africa, but we’re about as far from Egypt as you can be and still be in Africa. No.
A gift from God: Brilliant. This must be it. And it’s just what we always wanted. Yes, this lovely white bloke on some rocks near the sea more than makes up for the misery of famine and disease across the continent, war and attrition in the Middle East, global warming, that tsunami he sent down a few years back and Gordon Brown. We should be writing our thank you notes right away.

Of course, this rampant speculation could all be avoided if only the local hotel’s financial controller, Heather Blackie, had seen a statue on top of a car as she was driving home on Tuesday. But wait! Read on!! What’s this????

The hotel’s financial controller, Heather Blackie, saw a statue on top of a car as she was driving home on Tuesday.

And then, the moment when readers realise that Heather Blackie should have been a detective, rather than a financial controller:

Blackie said she didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when she saw the statue out on the rocks she made the connection.

It must have been a moment of pure genius. Enlightenment. An Epiphany, appropriately enough.
You can almost see/hear/smell the cogs grinding away in Heather’s brain.

Strange white statue on rocks… Oh Christ, did I leave a note for the maid about the ironing?… Strange white statue looks similar to the strange white statue I saw on top of that car on Tuesday… I wonder if there’s any chocolate in my handbag?… Hang on!  Maybe it’s the same statue!… Oh cool – 3 squares of Fruit & Nut – and not too fluffy… [sounds of chocolate being devoured]

The local authorities aren’t happy though:

Paul Sieben, head of Table Mountain National Parks marine division said permission had not been given to place any structure on the rocks, about 300 metres from the road.
If permission had been sought for it, it wouldn’t have been granted, Sieben said. Any structure proposed for below the high-level mark needed to be subject to a complete environmental impact assessment.

Paul – are you forgetting that this is a gift from God? Lest we forget, he is omnipresent and omnipotent. He can do magic. He can even override the need for a complete environmental impact assessment. But he does it without paying the committee shedloads of cash, unlike like everyone else.

But I have to leave the final words on this fantastic figurine, this rock-bound riddle, this… this… “strange white statue” (thanks, Heather), to Bernard Schaefer, Camps Bay resident (and member of it’s community policing forum): Noting that the rocks on which the statue stands are completely surrounded by water, he deduced, Blackie-style:

Someone with a boat must have done it.

Brilliant, Bernard. Mental agility such as yours cannot be quantified by the lowly means which we possess on this planet. We are truly not worthy.
Did you put it there? Are you God in disguise? But with a boat?

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.

More sky stuff

A few weeks ago, I gave you a lovely picture of the sunset taken from my front garden.

Just one month later, I found myself pointing my camera skyward once again:


Clouds

With just a touch of imagination (or a quart of Milk Stout), it could be a dove of peace, bringing hope and love for the New Year. Or, I suppose, a seagull ready to poop on your dreams for 2009.
Alternatively, you may choose to opt for the more realistic “it’s just some clouds” option. That would also be entirely justified and is probably the most sensible course of action.