There goes the science bit

I caught sight of something on Page 3 of my newspaper today that made me smile.
It’s ok. It wasn’t The Sun.
No, in the Cape Times, under the punchy headline:

Scientists expose pseudoscience in extravagent claims made by advertisers[link]

I learnt about this organisation, The Voice Of Young Scientists. Young Scientists, I used to be one of them, I smiled ruefully. Then I stopped being rueful and got on with reading the article.
Basically, the VOYS has been going around and challenging companies to explain what exactly in the sciencey bits of their adverts mean. It seems that many of them don’t have a clue.
This doesn’t come as a great surprise to me. The claims made in adverts have long been the bane of my life, as my long-suffering missus will testify. She now leaves the room at the first sign of a Nivea model on the TV, abandoning me to my rant over their range which, the commercial boldly proclaims, “contains coenzyme Q10 plus R”*. Now, Q10 I have no problem with. Lovely stuff. But “R”?
R“?!?!? WTF is “R“?!?!?
It’s called “baffling with bullshit”. Assign something a letter, stick it in the advert and the consumer will lap it up – or rub it on their cheeks in this case. (The cream, not the bullshit.)

“Ooh look Betty! It’s got “R” in it!”
“Yes, haven’t they come a long way since the 60’s when we only had “A” and “B”?”

These methods, of course, are not new. Scientists, Engineers, Lawyers and, most of all, Medical Doctors have been using unnecessary terminology to maintain their lofty positions in society for years. I hate it. One of the most important things I have learnt during my career is that presentations, explanations, even informal chats about work and technical stuff should always be pitched according to ones audience. Sure, chat to the Prof about Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamase producing Gram Negative Bacilli, call them ESBLs – he’ll understand. But when you’re explaining it to your mum, call them “superbugs” – and then she’ll understand too. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
Society continues to beg for scraps at the head table, begging for more “dumbing down” so that it can join in with the big boys in their big words world Steve Grand wrote about this just a week after I left the UK. I guess he was missing me already.

VOYS have a downloadable booklet detailing some of their encounters with various companies and their outrageous claims, cleverly entitled “There Goes The Science Bit”. It’s actually a bit dry, but worth a read just to see what Pret-a-Manger, Ski Yoghurt and Clarins (amongst others) are saying their products can do. As VOYS puts it:

“Some people we spoke to disavowed responsibility.
Others were able to link their claims to science, albeit from a galaxy far, far away.”

*Nivea do have nice models though.

Speechless…

Another enforced break, but this time for all the right reasons. A trip to Pringle Bay, some 70km outside Cape Town, with Grandma and Granddad for some well deserved rest and relaxation (Nix and I) and some serious running around, penguin chasing, sandcastle building and general industriousness by Alex. You can see several of these acts taking place on flickr.

Talking of the boy wonder, he’s not. Talking, that is. We are still awaiting his first proper spoken word. In the highly competitive world of Cape Town parenting, this is not good. But that’s a world I don’t want to get into.

“Tarquin* said “Dada” before he was a year old.”
“A year? Huh! Jocelyn* was quoting Shakespeare at 10 months, you know?”
“Really? 10 months? So late. Our Prudence* asked the Gynae how he was as her head popped out and she’s already won the Booker prize twice and been nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including the coverted Best Director honour. This week, she’s popping over to Baghdad to have a chat with interested parties there and sort out their problems. And we’re hoping to have her potty trained before she’s three.”

The amount of vocabulary that Alex understands amazes me. Someone only has to mention a word in the middle of a sentence and he will act upon it. I mentioned putting another coat of paint on a wall and he took me immediately to the coat rack in the hall. At first, this seemed pretty foolish since it didn’t need painting, but Nix pointed out my use of the c word and all became clear.

Currently however, the best we can get out of him is “Adare!”. This has led to him being asked some obscure questions in front of visitors in order for us to try and show off:

“Alex, what do you call a challenge to do something dangerous, courageous or foolhardy?”
“Adare!”
“Very good! Clever boy!”

and:

“Alex, what was the surname of “Red”, the renowned American oil field firefighter?”
“Adair!”

And so it continues…

I’m not too worried about Alex’s current lack of articulatory phonetics. I have this sneaking feeling that he’s been penning a great address in his cot after lights out, ready for his party on the 25th of this month. And as the ever-wise Dave Gahan famously pointed out, maybe we should Enjoy the Silence in the face of the impending wave of verbal diarrhoea which we will doubtless encounter for the next 5 years or so.
One thing is for sure dear reader, you will be (among) the first to know when we finally take the big step beyond “Adare!” – especially if you are within cheering distance of chez 6000.

* The names have been changed to protect the foolish.

In the back seat

I was going to write some more about rugby and how the rugby authorities in SA are already well into their task of destroying the good work of the team on the pitch, but it’s getting rather monotonous now.
No. It’s not sour grapes. It’s not even a lack of interest or understanding. It’s simply the way that rugby has permeated everything in this country over the last two months. It’s even permeated this blog.
And I don’t even like rugby.
And while I can completely understand this obsession (although not from me), it’s actually becoming a little tiresome now. So, like Bok coach Jake White – let’s move on now. Although preferably not to Australia. There’s rugby and Australians there. Where’s the fun in that?

A couple of months back, I wrote about the negative stories about South Africa that ended up on the front page of the BBC News website. Last week there was another. But I’m not sure whether this one opens the country up to criticism so much as widespread ridicule.

Cattle rustlers in South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal province
have been trying to outwit police by transporting the animals in small cars.
Police say they seized two cows and two goats found squashed into the back of a tiny Fiat Uno.

Full story here. In actual fact, squashing several fat, dumb animals into the back of a small car isn’t a purely South African thing. Anyone who has seen the minicab rank in Newcastle’s Bigg Market on a Saturday night will happily back me up on that one. But they’re obviously experts at it in this country – who can forget this pic of 4 burly security guards being transported around in the back of – yes – a Fiat Uno?

Tight Fit
Bit of a squeeze.That photo, along with several others, is available via the my flickr link in the sidebar, by the way.

But it’s the reasoning behind these criminals’ behaviour that I want to understand. Picture the scene. A rural road somewhere in eastern KZN. Two policemen have stopped their car at the side of the road for a well-earned cup of coffee.

A car drives past. Nothing.
A small truck drives past. An eyelid is batted, but no more.
A Fiat Uno drives past, engine screaming, rear axle on the floor, sparks coming off the back bumper because of the 750kg of stolen livestock in the boot.

Cue the sirens.

Stuff and Nonsense

Every so often, when there’s nothing big to write about* – crime, politics, rugby, antelopes etc. – every blog has to have a bit of a catch-up post. This is mine.
I generally try to avoid catch-up posts if I can. I prefer my posts to be discrete – that is “separate and individual; not reliant on any other”, rather than discreet – “showing prudence and circumspection; modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious”. If this blog ever becomes discreet, please let me know. I’ll stop.

Anyway, before the stuff – the nonsense: Delboy‘s comment from my last post.

Come on 6K. Have you already forgotten what happened 4 years ago in London? Or, as we are STILL so often reminded, in 1966?… [some more guff about England in 2003]… [some stuff about sour grapes]… (And it DEFINITELY wasn’t a try. And even if it was, you still would have lost by at least 2 points.) Blah.

In writing this, Delboy has demonstrated a level of selective vision I have only seen previously in last night’s bent referee in our game against the brothel-owning Bulgarians**.
He’s also missed the point of this blog. Anyone can write a piece gushing over the SA rugby team’s achievements, describing the match that everyone here watched anyway and metaphorically fellating Schalk Burger through their passage (of words). And everyone has. I like to look for a different angle – because I’m not swept up in all this rugger madness.
And now things are settling down again – lookie here! – political interference in SA sport is the big news.
Me? Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt and sold it on eBay.
And no. It wasn’t a try. I said that too.
Delboy also revealed that his bun-in-the-oven is a little girl. Which is cool. Congrats, mate.

OK, I don’t know how I’ve managed to keep this in for a paragraph and a half already.
Muse are coming to South Africa. Let me repeat that, Seth Rotherham style. Muse are coming to South Africa. Probably one of just two bands that I have wanted to see for ages and haven’t yet managed to get to.
Tickets out tomorrow for the gig (just down the road from us) next March. The only worry about this is that Guns’n’Roses, the much-anticipated (although not by me) headline act for this year’s My Cokefest chickened out at the last minute, citing stair falling bass players and stuff. Surely no repeat though.
But what a refreshing change from the usual rubbish that we get to see down here. Did I mention that Gladys Knight is doing the rounds right now? Awesome.
And this (Muse, not Gladys) is only the first bit of good news. Yes – Ben Trovato has a new book out. Just in time for Christmas, coincidentally. Amazing how these things happen, isn’t it?
Ben and I share views on many things (I think he looks up to me as a father figure in many ways), most recently, the reaction to the RWC. Which wouldn’t please Delboy much.

Unite the nation, my flabby white butt. It’ll take more than 15 green men to pull that off.
They carried the hopes of the country on their shoulders. That’s what the lying dogs in the media told us. That our dreams rested on a couple of white boys kicking a ball between two sticks.
Oh, good. No more lying, cheating, stealing, raping and pillaging. We are one big, happy family full of … HEY! Get away from my car! Put that down, you thieving bastard!

Great minds, hey?

*Or even when there is.
**Another story (obviously).

Back to life, back to reality…

It’s over. And South Africa won it. Which is great news for all concerned. Well, all concerned with South Africa, anyway. National pride is swelling, flags are being flown and… and… well look, that’s actually about it, but that’s just fine. Now – can we get back to normality, please?

It’s true. The last couple of weeks have just been odd. Everything else has taken second (or even third or fourth) place to rugby stories. It would have been a very good time to do a Jo Moore and hide your dirty laundry in the depths of the SABC bulletins.
In fact, thinking about it, maybe they have and we haven’t noticed yet.
I think that would be unlikely though. Even the spin doctors were probably more focused on events in France than lying about their respective parties political achievements.

But who needs spin doctors anyway with photos like this?

Up he goes
Thabo: Had a great game

For one such as myself, craving a return to reality – or what passes for reality in this country, anyway – it was almost a relief to see that the Springbok victory was being used for political purposes. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise. Check out that pic of Thabo – that’s mighty political currency right there.
Could you see Gordon Brown being hoisted aloft if England had won it? No. Despite the obvious weight issue, he’s Scottish anyway and no, he’s not “the President of England” as the local commentary here repeatedly described him. That almost suggests that he is some sort of despot who simply slipped into power without being elected, which is obviously incorr… well, never mind…
The SA Minister of Sport, Makhenkesi Stofile, has also not been backward in coming forward after the win in Paris. His argument?

If South Africa can win the RWC so easily with a largely white squad, perhaps they’ll struggle more if we pick the team based on colour rather than ability.
This will obviously be good for national morale.

OK, I’m paraphrasing him, but it looks like the quota system is rearing its ugly head once again. Politics and sport, hey? A heady mix. As The Telegraph’s Brendan Gallagher points out, it tarnishes the victory, the celebrations and – once again – the image of the country.
I’m not sure I ever bought the “unifying power of a shared positive experience” theory anyway. Yes, the people welcoming the team back this morning at OR Tambo were all happy, cheering and smiling, but they were probably going back to decent housing with water, electricity and an inside toilet or six.

 Anyone imagining that Percy Montgomery’s boot and a helpful (but apparently correct – just!) decision by the TMO on Saturday evening will solve all South Africa’s problems is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Or “The Presidential Residence”, as it is locally known.