First National Flunkies vs. African National Stuffed Shirts

21 January 2013 at 9:40 pm (Uncategorized)

It is always awkward, even demeaning to both observer and observed, to watch any instance where puffed-up sanctimony is accommodated by unctuous deference.

Such is the case with the freshest collision between business and government here in SA, involving First National Bank and the African National Congress.

From the outset, I must make it clear that my sympathies are with neither body, and nor have they ever been. I disdain Big Business as much for its ethic of enriching a few at the usually unconscionable expense of the many, as I do the hollow posturings and transparent deceits of politics. I am, in short, a distrustful anarchist. Maybe a grumpy socialist, too.

The essence of the story is that FNB roused the wrath of the ANC with its “You Can Help” campaign. Basically, the bank extended its “How Can We Help You?” campaign (the obvious retort being, “By Getting Lost”) into a “You Can Help” initiative by soliciting and videoing views from young SA people (ages 10 to 22) concerning SA’s political, social and economic status quo and future. In effect, FNB provided an open forum for young people to express their views, and extended the same opportunity to the general public via a subsidiary website.

So far, so good.

With a remarkable glissade that, aside from its excessive kneejerk, would shame Dame Margot Fonteyn, the ANC slides in spastically with an accusation that FNB is encouraging young people to rebel against the government, this being treason (their spin-doctors obviously don’t know the word “sedition” or how it differs from treason). When will these yobs learn that criticism and dissent are good!? That robust debate is necessary? That engaging with different views is enlightening, while attempting to suppress them is self-destructive, especially in these times when information exchange has become so easy and rapid? When will they realise that trying to tie their people to a rock of cultural loyalty through legacy will inevitably breed resentment when trust has been exhausted and faith fatigue sets in?

Then, in an equally slick bit of fancy footwork characterised by slippery tangoesque quasi-copulation, FNB immediately kowtows to the demands of the ANC’s remonstrative bluster. FNB pulls the whole thing, ostensibly to “clear the air.” Likely as not, this issue will make the news once or twice more, if that, over the next few days, and then be heard of no more — the sad part being that the precedent will have been set and the idea spoilt for any other person, group, company or agency that wishes to contemplate something similar.

I don’t know who disgusts me more: The ANC for its whiny petulance and increasing intolerance, or FNB for bending over backwards to accommodate such petty fickleness.

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Going In Circles

10 January 2013 at 6:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s a pet peeve of ours.  It also happens to be something educational.  It’s a source of considerable frustration, not to mention unnecessary hazard, that motorists in Gauteng generally seem unaware of the rules for negotiating a traffic circle.  (We would rather believe that it’s obliviousness instead of wilful contrariness, fuelled by ego, that drives bad motoring habits.)  In the past, there were very few traffic circles in the PWV area, and when the municipalities started introducing them several years ago, no educational initiative was ever undertaken to explain to the public how to use these circles (likely on the assumption that people should know anyway since it was part of the Learner’s Licence test), which would explain why uncertainty persists about their proper use.  Well, “uncertainty” is the wrong word.  “False certainty” would be more apt.

Traffic circles can regulate traffic very effectively provided motorists use them as they should.  On more than one occasion it has publicly been said that a traffic circle must be treated like a four-way stop, namely first in, first out.  This is nonsense (except in unusual circumstances at a mini circle).  The entry points to a traffic circle have yield signs, not stop signs, which already gives a good clue to the correct protocol.

If the traffic circle is single-lane, there are just four simple rules to follow:
(1) On approaching the circle, yield to any traffic in the circle that is, or very shortly will be moving towards you from the right.
(2) On approaching the circle, indicate your intention as follows:  Left if going one-quarter way around, no indicators if going straight across, and right if going three-quarter or all the way around.
(3) Always indicate left shortly before leaving the circle.
(4) Do not stop once you are inside the circle except when you have no choice (e.g. due to an accident or the circle being choked up with traffic).

If the traffic circle is dual-lane, there is an additional rule governing lane selection:
(1a) On approaching a dual-lane circle, select your lane as follows:  Left lane only if going one-quarter way around, either lane (but left preferred) if going straight across, and right lane only if going three-quarter or all the way around.  Never stop, change lanes or overtake while in the circle except in an emergency.

Rule (1) above means that you need to look to your right and if there is traffic in the circle coming towards you, you must stop and wait until there is no more traffic coming from that direction.  At a small circle, this can include traffic already in the circle or about to enter it from any direction because large vehicles may not be physically able to negotiate the circle properly in accordance with the road markings.  It is best to stop at the entry to a mini-circle if there are any doubts about traffic conditions in its vicinity.  Unfortunately, the SA Road Ordinance was rather thoughtlessly and clumsily adapted for mini circles, creating the impression that a mini circle is to be treated like a four-way stop.  However, a careful reading thereof reveals that the rules and explanations given above adequately cover the requirements.

Under the right (wrong?) conditions, you may have a lengthy wait ahead of you but remember that a traffic circle is largely self-regulating in that it safely and preferentially alleviates those directions from which traffic flow is heaviest, and in fact the latter is the main idea behind a traffic circle.  In this context, it is worth remembering that if you enter a circle and another vehicle collides with yours on the right, the accident is automatically your fault.  Rules (2) and (3) alert other motorists to your intentions.  Whereas Rule (3) is not yet required in SA, it is mandatory in the UK and Australia.  Clearly it makes good sense always to give other road users advance warning of your intentions.

Rule (1a) is broken so often in Gauteng that it’s not even funny.  In particular, it happens far too often that motorists travel three-quarter way around a circle in the outside lane, putting other circle users at risk of getting unexpectedly sideswiped or crashing into the offending vehicle.  Moreover, these are usually the same motorists who neglect to use their indicators in the circle, leaving everyone to guess what they’ll do next.

Rule (4) is also broken very often in Gauteng.  Typically, it is done out of courtesy, which on the face of it seems admirable but is in fact somewhat misplaced and inappropriate.  If you stop in the circle to let in two or three vehicles and you thereby inconvenience fifteen or twenty or more other road users behind you by forcing them to stop too, then you have disproportionately pleased a few that were required to stop in any case at the expense of a greater number that you’ve managed to annoy.

It should be obvious that if a significant proportion of circle users obeyed this simple rule set, much of the hazard and frustration of negotiating traffic circles in Gauteng would simply evaporate.  But to succeed in this, we motorists need first to familiarise ourselves with these principles and then strive to apply them diligently.  As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.  Whenever possible, we should also share this information with others so that they are made similarly aware and hopefully will also spread the message.

(Abstracted in part from Arrive Alive)

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To Kill a Living Language

1 June 2010 at 6:37 pm (Uncategorized)

The other day, owing to a technical problem related to reception, we watched the 19:00 news on SABC3. Usually, we restrict ourselves to the news on because it isn’t a mouthpiece for the ruling mob, unlike the three SABC channels which wear their bias and cant like so many tin badges of honour. A further difference we’ve found is that is also aware that the world doesn’t end at SA’s borders, and for this reason, too, we don’t normally dine at the trough of the SABC’s pre-digested fodder.

Now we may well be stodgy old stick-in-the-mud grouches who are a few decades behind the times, but it occurs to us that a certain minimal ability to speak the language of the newscast would be an essential job requirement for newsreaders and TV reporters. In this case, that language would be English. Surely the news is intended readily to be understood without its target audience having to scratch its head and ponder at length the barrage of garbled pidgin and gibberish that has issued from the newsreaders’ or reporters’ lips.

It is true that isn’t entirely innocent of such language abuses. In particular, some of its reporters are obviously speaking a third or fourth language when they speak English, but on the whole the newscasts are intelligible. Not so in the case of those that the SABC injudiciously broadcasts, which require the skills of an accomplished linguist/phoneticist to extricate meaning from the garble of errant grammar, mispronunciation, malapropism and misnomer (collectively known as “ErrMMM”). Such a failing will be a sad reflection on this country’s ability to produce from its many millions even just a few well-spoken and educated people when the World Cup hordes arrive, many of whom are English speakers who will struggle to make head or tail of the spoutings on TV. Equally importantly, this defective diction and anarchic enunciation by newsreaders and reporters perpetuates among the country’s youth the idea that it’s okay to torture spoken language into a broken heap: after all, they do it every day on TV.

Several local entertainment productions for TV feature actors and personalities who can speak clearly and intelligibly in English. Thus, there really are such people who have the requisite ability. While there are many more who, based on their English impairments, should never have been selected for whichever role they were awarded, the presence in locally-produced dramas of those who have a decent speaking mastery of the language immediately raises a telling question. If there are some actors who can speak properly, why are the unknown and struggling ones who share that talent but who are without fixed work not snatched up to be newsreaders? Instead, we are treated to a compote of minced gobbledegook by people with club-tongues and an assortment of adverse glosso-laryngeal conditions.

It makes no sense at all to us that the SABC would pursue – if that indeed is the driving force behind it – racial quotas (or possibly afrocentrism) ahead of intelligibility on something as important as a news service. Not everything brought by the colonists is automatically bad. Whether one likes it or not, English is the de facto communications standard in all spheres of interest around the globe, be it business, science, the arts, or just about anything else one would care to mention. India and China have realised it and are emphatically engaged in enlightening their populations to that fact. To ignore it is political and ultimately economic suicide by way of parochialism.

And merely to pay lip service to it by employing newsreaders and reporters barely capable of speaking a nominal version of it is stupid, ridiculous and vaguely insulting.

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Homoeopathy’s Third Law: Hypocrisy

14 April 2010 at 9:07 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s been pumped in many quarters that we are presently in the middle of World Homeopathy Awareness Week. At this time, a great deal has been written, much of it on blogs such as this one, and much of it critical of homoeopathy’s persistence despite its counterfactual and anti-scientific nature (Part deux here). It is not our purpose to rehash the very many fact-based reasons why homoeopathy is, to a high degree of certainty, a load of undiluted bunk. It should be sufficient to consider just how convoluted and contrived are the “reasons,” “facts” and “arguments” of its proponents in order to set off a strident clamour of alarm bells.

Rather, the aim of this entry is to examine a few of the ethical issues attending the application of homoeopathy and how these often play out in practice.

If one were to Google the phrase “good intentions are not enough,” a plethora of hits would be returned. This signifies, above all, that it is a familiar phrase, something that is no doubt also true of many other phrases, be they English or of a different language. However, the phrase’s popularity cannot be taken to mean that it’s well understood what the phrase (or dictum if you like) intends to convey.

There are numerous stories and anecdotes about preventable harm and death at the hands of homoeopaths. Admittedly, these are just that – anecdotes, even if, in many cases, they are well-documented ones, and homoeopaths will claim the obverse, i.e. that homoeopathy could have prevented harms inflicted through conventional medical endeavours. But conventional practices are continually reassessed and improved whenever possible. It is astonishing, then, that homoeopaths do not seek, with appropriate and comparable vigour, to advance their “science” past the clearly outdated and counterfactual notions of Samuel Hahnemann. The fundamental “science” of homoeopathy retains exactly the same basic nonsensical principles articulated by Hahnemann more than 200 years ago, and is today concerned only with manufacturing ever more elaborate excuses why these must be taken to be not only valid, but also – inconsequently, please note – supportive of homoeopathy’s effectiveness. As an exercise in ethics, it should be self-evident that the “good intentions” of defending – at whatever cost – Hahnemann’s outmoded thinking “are not enough” to justify either the potential or the actual harm resulting from “knowledge” derived from dubious or even bogus premisses.

As medical practitioners (if only so in name), homoeopaths have a clear ethical obligation to inform their patients of unknown aspects or uncertainties or potential failures of their methods. Homoeopaths are partial to citing Hippocrates at opportune moments, specifically his moral directives concerning patient care – more so than practitioners of conventional evidence-based medicine. In this light, it is, to say the least, surprising that homoeopaths, almost without fail, seem always to know exactly what ails a given patient, and how to go about curing the condition. This last observation is based on discussions with and personal experiences of several different homoeopaths, so it cannot by any means be taken to be authoritative. Still, it is interesting to note that not one of these homoeopaths ever recommended a visit to a specialist, or admitted to being baffled, or hesitated to commit to a diagnosis, prognosis and/or course of treatment. Indeed, their findings were pronounced with firm confidence, as were the prescriptions of “remedies.” Never once was a caution issued along the lines of, “This may not work. Come and see me in a week or two if you don’t improve and we’ll try something different.” Such self-assurance is not warranted when assessed against the facts of homoeopathy’s performance, but perhaps that is exactly how they dupe themselves and the majority of their patients. Who needs ambiguity when buoyant conviction can be had at the same price?

Many homoeopaths also include several other CAM modalities, such as aromatherapy, applied kinesiology, iridology, crystal therapy, naturopathy, etc., in their repertoire. Here, one should immediately feel pressed to ask a very urgent and insistent, “But why!?” After all, if homoeopathy is, as very often claimed, an essentially complete system with only a few minor details left to be sorted out, it is just a little seditious of any homoeopath to augment his or her range of offerings with “skills” or methods that do not fit the homoeopathic mould. It would be akin to a hydrogeologist who professes to use pendulum-on-a-map divination in addition to willow-twig dowsing and remote viewing techniques for the siting of wells. It should, rightly, arouse the thinking individual’s suspicions: If X promises a whole solution, why bother with Y and Z? Could it be that, despite its philanthropic pretensions, homoeopathy and its evidence-free inbred cousins are – O, mon cœur noir! Quelle squalid sordidness, quelle grimy grubbery! – a business!?

When examining the trading of homoeopathic remedies, two further moral aspects rear their hydrocephalic heads. There are many off-the-shelf preparations that sport labels prominently emblazoned with “Homeopathic” (preferring, oddly, the miscreant US spelling – it has little to do with “O homeo, homeo, wherefore art thou homeo” and lots to do with “homoeo—,” Greek homoios). Of these remedies, several turn out, on closer inspection, to be about as homoeopathic as a flamethrower, usually by reason of significant concentrations of active ingredients. That is, the label of “Homeopathic” has been abducted purely for marketing purposes because there is a major subculture out there that buys into the sham and is therefore easy to bilk and milk in perpetuity. However, what is truly telling is that not a single homoeopath, either individually or through coordinated effort, has ever made a fuss about such blatant misuse of their craft. In contrast, it would not take very long before a shaman who sold, say, powdered baboon brains as a “proven” antidepressant, will find him- or herself in heaps of trouble with an assortment of professional bodies over misrepresentation. Thus, one must ask how it is that homoeopaths are apparently quite content to permit the hijacking of their terminology and principles for someone else’s promotional purposes.

Of at least equal significance is the fact itself of the ready availability of off-the-shelf bona fide homoeopathic preparations. To understand this properly, it is necessary to remember that a central principle of homoeopathy, second in status only to Hahnemann’s two founding tenets, is that of the individualised remedy. That is, homoeopaths design a “treatment” after assessing “holistically” the afflicted individual, and this “treatment” is allegedly specific to the individual for whose purposes it was formulated. It should be obvious that there’s a fundamental disconnect between the idea of an “individualised treatment” and that of off-the-shelf preparations (often selling, almost needless to say, at prices a Croesus would find challenging, given what they are). Again, no homoeopaths appear overly concerned about this sort of manipulative misuse.

It is the deception inherent in an “individualised treatment” – a “deception” because as humans we are to the best of medical science’s knowledge biochemically too similar to one another to merit such fine-grained distinctions as homoeopaths would make – that facilitates a further homoeopathic subterfuge. “Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials,” proclaims the committed homoeopath in a voice of solemn gravity, “are not a suitable tool for gauging the effectiveness of homoeopathy because treatments must be tailored to the individual.” Well, fuck. And now what? There is an easy way around this, one that no homoeopath has ever proposed. By all means, do the individualised assessments and prescriptions for a significant sample of patients, and only after this has been completed is it time to randomise and placebo-ise (to coin a term) via another independent party whose involvement, except for revealing the group assignments (placebo or prescription) at the conclusion of the study, ends at that point. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination rocket science, proverbial or otherwise, and it’s eminently feasible. But instead of working towards such earnest endeavours to assess the validity of their spiel, homoeopathic apologists offer only superficial pretext and feeble rationale – with homoeopathic dilutions of verifiable fact.

And by these various factors the innate hypocrisy of homoeopathy in its modern practice becomes explicit.

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A Plurality of Inconsequent Carps on Irksome Slapdashery

1 April 2010 at 7:21 pm (Uncategorized)

“Data” is the plural of “datum.” It is one “phenomenon” and one “criterion.”

These data comprise some of the criteria by which to avoid an unfortunate series of incorrect grammatical phenomena.

That’s all.

P.S. This is not an April Fool’s gag.

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