Sensationalist reporting is back!

Today’s Cape Times runs a front page story on the a problem which put the Table Mountain Cableway out of action for a whole 35 (thirty-five) minutes yesterday afternoon. Woo. [link]
Yet, despite the fact that there were a total of no injuries, no snapped cables, no plunging tourists, merely a blown fuse, we get 1000 words and an overflow onto page 3 about upset people waiting to use the cable car and how Eskom cut the power to it in January (an incident objectively described by the reporter as the passengers’ “worst nightmare”).

Nerish Rempul of Durban, who was looking forward to his third cable car ride, said the situation was “terrible”.
“I’m here with two friends but we’re leaving now. We probably won’t get another chance to use the cable car because we’re going home tomorrow. It’s truly terrible.”

No, no, no. Honestly, are all Durbanites quite so dramatic?
“Truly terrible” is when the local bottle store runs out of Castle Milk Stout.
A half-hour delay on the cable car is “mildly irritating”. In fact, if you happen to have some Castle Milk Stout with you when you get delayed, then a half hour delay can even be “quite alright” as it means “extra drinking time”.

All in all, reporter Caryn Dolley has done her best to make a story out of nothing, and she must have been amazed when it ended up on the front page, pushing murder, rape, earthquakes, fishcake recipes and rugby deep into the bowels of the paper.

I hate it when the press do that – not least because I don’t have time to get to page 18 on my tea break (although I often don’t have breadcrumbs to hand anyway) – but the South African press is worse than most when trying to drum up a story that isn’t. I might have hinted at that here.
My annoyance primarily stems from their cherry-picking and publicising the worst and most violent crime stories in order to get readers: a process which has the unfortunate side-effect of making the world think that we all get hijacked at gunpoint on a daily basis here in SA, which in turn keeps the tourists away in their droves (which then reduces income, increases poverty and… er… fuels crime).
This is counterproductive.

Some would argue that this tactic only works because people want to read about the worst and most violent crime and they’d be right. Without such tales, dinner parties in the better-off areas of SA would be strangely quiet, save for briefly mentioning how badly the Bulls are doing, questioning whether Julie is going to report her gynaecologist to the HPCSA and passing on the latest ZumaRuma™*. But that doesn’t excuse it.

To the editors of the South African press, not least Tyrone August of the Cape Times. Up your game please. This is rubbish.

* ZumaRuma – a piece of information (which may or may not be true) about our country’s president-in-waiting. 
   e.g. “Jacob Zuma ate my hamster”. (This may or may not be true.)

This is how I remind me

Is it just the drugs, or when you get to my age, does your short term wotsit start to fail?
I find myself using words like wotsit instead of the specific noun I should have used – just like my grandmother used to do. Thingumie is only a short time away now. And from there I’ll start calling my auntie by my sister’s name* and then I’ll know I’m getting properly old.
But it’s not just speech. I have to start writing things down or I forget to do them – however important they may or may not be – and then I have to cross them off the list to remind myself that I’ve done them:

wash car
buy bread
charge ipod
 feed child 
write blog

If you’re in Cape Town, Brian Micklethwait’s Kings Cross sunset may help to jog your memory of drier, warmer times.

Sunset
Always the sun? Not this weekend.

Ah yes. I remember those heady summer days. And while Brian laments the lack of clouds in his sunset, if he’s really desperate, we’ve got a fair few here which I’m very willing to export. So – in the somewhat unlikely event that there is anyone in the UK currently missing the cold, damp weather – just send me a email and I’ll happily arrange a courier.

But all in good time. Right now, I have to go and find out why my son is crying and clawing at the kitchen door.

* not in a Josef Fritzl way though.

Some Freedom

Today is a public holiday in South Africa. The first of three this week. On May 1st, we have the ubiquitous Worker’s Day and on the 2nd, an “extra” public holiday which was only granted in late March, for reasons that no-one really knows or wants to ask about in case it gets taken away again. This means only 2 working days, which means that we have the obligatory dose of Short Week Service Syndrome ahead.

But celebrate, for today is Freedom Day – the National Holiday to commemorate the 1994 General Election and the “official end” of apartheid. While many were delighted to welcome the non-racial elections, there were some disappointments, not least the poor showing of the DikWankWetla Party, who only managed to capture 0.1% of the vote. I know very, very little about the DikWankWetla Party, but they have an absolutely awesome name and for that alone are probably worth a vote even if their policies are a little ropey.

So. How has SA done over the last 14 years?
I guess that would be one of those questions with a host of “no win” answers, basically drawn out along racial lines. Let’s just say that the majority of people in this country are better off than they were pre-1994.
Of course, it hasn’t worked for everyone. Somehow today, it was even more saddening to see the beggars with small kids and babies in tow at the traffic lights. Some freedom for them. One wonders if they recognise that today holds any special significance for the country.
I gave away an entire 2kg bag of apples on the 3km run back home from the supermarket. Not much, I know, but trying to help, at least. One day, I hope 0.6 will understand why he didn’t get his Granny Smiths today.

Happy Freedom Day, South Africa.

The JonnyHarvard post

There is nothing training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach. It can turn bad morals to good; it can destroy bad principles and recreate good ones; it can lift men to angelship.

So said Mark Twain. And yes, we all look to further ourselves, we strive for knowledge, for education. Some more than others. One of those “some” is Jonny Faull, 6000 miles… own political analyst.
Jonny was the one swimming against the tide of “experts”, when last March he predicted a Zuma win in Polokwane, 9 months before it happened. He was the one on the front line in Zim last month acting as an independent observer during the elections which Bob/Thabo/Morgan/Simba* won. He talks politics honestly and frankly, basing his opinions on solid logic facts, with no subjectivity and no emotion save for his obvious passion for the discipline.  
He has written articles which have been published in newspapers across the world, from Cape Town to New York. He plays football, is well respected in the Cape Town knitting fraternity and has recently taken up basketweaving as a weekend pastime. He uses the word “fabulous” like there is no tomorrow – a fact that, given his apparent clairvoyant skills, is somewhat disturbing.

And now, he has been accepted to study a Masters in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Yes – that Harvard University. An honour indeed and one that he has worked so hard to achieve. 
Just one issue. Cash. Moolah. Spondulicks. Or as we call it here in South Africa: “Money”.
Five hundred thousand of our South African Rands, to be precise.

And that’s where you can help out. In order to raise funds, Jonny has already sold all his worldly possessions. I know this for two reasons. Firstly, because I myself picked up some awesome (some might say “fabulous”) bargains including his beautiful collection of handcrafted woollen tea-cosies; and secondly because he has been seen wandering around Cape Town CBD wearing just his underpants. Evidently, there were no takers for those at the garage sale.

What he needs now is more money. And you can help by pledging on his website. I would urge my UK and US readers to be particularly generous. You’ll hardly even notice the hard currency equivalent of R500 disappearing from your bank account.
You could either have that 12th bottle of disappointingly watery beer or you could send Jonny to Havard.
Think about it. Well, actually – don’t: it’s a no brainer.
Jonny says:

I believe that the Kennedy School MPP will complement and deepen my political, economic policy and analytical skills base and consequently enhance my capacity for contributing to the consolidation, and vibrancy of democracy in my country and region.

And while that may be true, I can’t help but think that it would like a paler version of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. Surely, that’s got to be worth your cash alone.

* delete as applicable when we actually get some results.

Never read the small print

I’ve hurt my arm.

It’s nothing serious, but it is pretty painful. My doctor sent me for precautionary x-rays, which showed that everything is ok bonewise. She also gave me some anti-inflammatory tablets which she enthused about. In fact, she got quite carried away, reminding me of my wife when she discovers something else she can do with MS Excel.
Sheesh – accountants/doctors/other happy professionals.

Anyway, such was the doctor’s excitement over these tablets, I found that my scientific curiousity had been somewhat stimulated. I was almost quivering with mounting anticipation as I headed home from the pharmacy.
As soon as I got in and had removed the scrambled egg from the carpet, sofa and curtains (see: 2-year-old, having a), I went through the HUGE package insert. After a while, I realised that despite my years of medical training, I was struggling to understand a word of it. Then I realised I was looking at the Afrikaans side.

Etorikoksib word omvattend in die lewer gemataboliseer en minder as 1% van die dosis word in die urine as onveranderde geneesmiddel herwin.

Which, for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug is pretty remarkable. And probably accounts for the mean oral bioavailability of 100%, which impressed me too.
Etoricoxib (the English spelling) is a COX-2 inhibitor. Stop sniggering at the back. 
Hmm. That’s obviously enough of the exciting pharmacology.

I moved onto the section entitled Side Effects and Special Precautions.  Yes – we’ve all seen renal failure, dyspepsia, nausea, dizziness, headache and the obligatory DEATH (“Don’t say we didn’t warn you, Mr Thousand!”). However, I was taken completely by surprise by what I read after those little gems. It was there I came across the best side effect I’ve ever heard of:

“detachment of the top layer of skin from the lower layers of the skin all over the body”

How cool is that? You too can be a snake for a day. Just don’t roll in salt afterwards.

I’m off out for a curry this evening – can you imagine the reaction as I moult gently into the shared naan bread?
“Hmm – this is a bit flaky tonight… not up to their usual standard.”