Archive for the South Africa Category

Circumcision ‘death season’ claims more lives

Posted in South Africa on April 1, 2008 by moonflake

Four more boys died this month as a result of traditional initiation rituals in the Eastern Cape, adding to the three boys in December and another earlier this month. As usual, the boys succumbed to the poor conditions of ‘illegal’ initiation schools operating outside the boundaries of hygiene and proper medical controls… in other words, traditionally.

Thanks to a strong effort by the provincial health department, the death toll is down from an average of 24 over the last three years. But it’s not just death that youths have to worry about: every year a number of boys end up having their penises amputated after botched circumcisions, and an unknown number will contract AIDS when the same blade is used on one boy after another. All so that they may be considered to be adults, a state which the mere passing of time bequeaths upon the rest of us in due course and without the prerequisite of genital mutilation.

Yet another point to raise when people ask you “what’s the harm?”

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Danie Krugel expands his imaginary product line

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Pseudoscience, South Africa on February 28, 2008 by moonflake

Bloemfontein’s favourite son is at it again, folks. His new product is a mysterious device capable of detecting a substance at a distance provided it is given a sample of that substance…. hang on a second, isn’t this his last product, you ask? Oh no, this time the substance being detected is cancer, so it’s a totally different thing. Never let it be said that Danie Krugel is a one-trick pony.

The original article appeared in the Afrikaans-language Rapport, and the SA Skeptics forum have provided a translation here. In it, Danie supposedly is able to differentiate vials of blood containing cancer from those that do not. Since the ‘tests’ were performed in the office of a local internist, and then by the journos at the Rapport, I hardly think we can consider the results reliable. Perhaps now that Danie has voyaged into the realm of medicine, he will consider submitting his device to a double-blind, controlled trial? Yeah, you’re right, probably not.

To start with, I find it telling that after his spectacular failure in finding Madeleine McCann, and the subsequent pummeling he took in the internation press, Danie has moved away from body-finding and into cancer-sniffing. Allow me to remind you that Danie claimed to know where Madeleine McCann was buried, and yet there has been no digging whatsoever in the area he has marked out. Does this not strike anyone as odd, considering how ingenious Danie was at obtaining digging equipment, able bodies and cameras to upturn an area the size of two football fields, on a similar hunch about the Van Rooyen victims? Frankly, if I knew where that little girl was buried, and no one would listen to me, I would have set to digging that beach up with my bare hands to prove it to them. But not Danie. He slinks back to South Africa, stays quiet for a few months, then suddenly appears with a new shiny silver case containing yet another ‘invention’.

So let’s examine some of the details of this new article. Apparently Danie has ‘loaded’ his device with various forms of cancer already. Immediately this makes me wonder where he got it from. I don’t know about you guys, but samples of cancer are not something I come across in everyday life. Either Danie has been dumpster-diving in medical waste, or someone is supplying him – the man obviously has an accomplice in the medical community. All eyes should at this point be swivelling towards the internist who assisted him in testing the device. I would suspect that Danie did not just walk into this person’s office and claim he was looking for an objective witness with a medical degree, but rather that this is the culmination of a carefully planned scheme. Either that, or Danie is lying about the device being loaded with cancer samples.

There are also some distinct differences between this device and the last. Danie’s previous Matter Orientation Device, which worked on the same apparent principle of like communicating with like, was so sensitive that given any sample it would only detect the source of that sample, and not any other similar source. Given a sample of hair, it would react only to the person from whom that hair was taken, and not just to any hair (or poorly made wig) that happened to be in the vacinity. So I would wonder how it is that Danie’s current device is so much less precise? It apparently goes off in the presence of any cancer. However, cancer as we all know is genetically specific material, so I would expect that Danie’s technology would only register in the presence of the rest of the tumour from which the sample was taken (we look pointedly at the internist again), or perhaps in the presence of the person from which the sample was taken. Unless Danie’s lying again.

And now, this device is only able to detect cancer within 4m, whereas his previous device could find its match anywhere on the entire planet. Again, the device seems somehow weaker than the last… the claims, somewhat toned down. But then again, the case also seems smaller, so perhaps he’s using fewer fairies this time.

All I can say is that I’m looking forward to seeing how this new ruse of Danie’s pans out.

Manto: Western trials not fit for traditional medicine

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Science, South Africa on February 27, 2008 by moonflake

Well, here we go again. Our esteemed baby-killer-in-chief Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has now declared that African Traditional Medicines, while being subjected to research and development, should not become bogged down in ‘western’ clinical trials. Apparently, “We cannot use Western models of protocols for research and development… Clinical trials need protocols for traditional medicine.”

May I remind everyone again that this woman supposedly has a medical qualification? That she is a medical doctor? And yet here she stands, blatantly claiming special privilege for african medicine, referring to clinical trials as ‘western’… and then goes on to warn against “charlatans tarnishing the image of this sector … who promise our desperate help-seeking people all sorts of things that are not practically possible to deliver”. So…. all of them, then?

And then, the coup de grace of evidential reasoning, she quantifies why african medicine is so special that it does not need to be tested… because it has been used for thousands of years. Wow. Really? Under that logic, perhaps we should revert to slavery, forced marriage, human sacrifice and colonialism… all practices with thousands of years of tradition behind them. Perhaps we should go back to other traditional forms of healing: bloodletting, amputation, trepannin and electroshock therapy? Perhaps we should throw out the whole court system and bring back trial by combat? And perhaps we should bring back that wonderful old-time tradition of women not being allowed to hold public office?

Get a few things straight, Manto: traditional does not mean right. There is no such thing as ‘western’ clinical trials, there are only clinical trials, performed everywhere in the world. And there is no such thing as western medicine, chinese medicine or african medicine: there is only medicine, which is the stuff that has been tested objectively and found to work, and all the other stuff that people claim is medicine, which is the stuff that may well be helpful, harmful or placebo, but which we don’t know until we test it.

And then the Doctors for Life International group responded with one of the worst press releases ever, using as their primary argument for testing of traditional medicine, the possibility that we won’t know if it contains human body parts or not if we don’t test it. Oh, and it’s the biggest culprit in fatal poisoning in the country. Nicely done guys. While both your points are 100% accurate, all you serve to do is give her more ammunition to claim that you are only villianizing her precious african medicine and that you don’t understand it.

What needs to be addressed here is the fundamental racism that causes her to refer to all scientific advancements as ‘western’, the reverse of which is that she is basically calling africa an unscientific backwater that rejects all modern understanding of chemistry, biology and medicine. Get it straight: we are all human beings, we all have the same biochemistry, what works on a western person works on an african person works on a chinese person. We are all prone to the placebo effect, we all deserve medicine that works, and we all deserve not to be taking something that doesn’t. We all deserve for you to subject anything you suspect might be useful to clinical trials, so that if it is medicine it can be manufactured and distributed to help the world. And if it’s not, it can be outlawed, to protect the world. The only people you hurt by not doing this, is the africans already taking it.

The Secret

Posted in South Africa, Stupidity on January 8, 2008 by moonflake

I’ve always grimaced every time I’ve see Rhonda Byrne’s tedious mockumentary The Secret on DVD shelves, but it hadn’t bothered me enough to actually post about. This has changed, with an email I recently received from an acquaintance calling for positive, inspirational stories about life in South Africa. Their motivation?

Living in South Africa has been very challenging. We are constantly faced with negativity about violent crime, poverty, politics, unemployment and the other negative things in our country. People seem to be living in constant fear and the only news spreading is bad news.

Everybody has the power within themselves to change this! Instead of focusing on the bad things, let’s focus on all the good things in our beautiful country. After reading and watching the movie “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, we are not surprised at the state of South Africa. If most people focus on negative things, then the law of attraction will give us what we focus on. We want to challenge everyone to start focusing on positive things instead!

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, The Secret is a documentary-style explanation by Rhonda Byrne, covering the book by Rhonda Byrne, on a concept she stole from the New Thought movement that sprang up around the turn of the last century. They in turn stole it from the Theosophists, who stole it from the Hindus, who probably stole it from someone else, making it possibly the worst kept ‘secret’ in history. The basis of this philosophy is the Law of Attraction – that people’s thoughts and feelings attract real events into their lives, and have real effects on the universe around them. It’s sympathetic magic for the new age.

In The Secret, we are told in a series of interviews and dramatic reenactments that there are three steps to achieving all your wishes and goals in life. These are:

  1. Ask
  2. Believe
  3. Receive

Of course, there are hints within the movie, and more explicit statements have been made in later interviews, that there is actually a step 2a: Get off your lazy arse and work for it. This system is what we lay people have been referring to for centuries as ‘Common Sense’.

Would you be surprised if I told you they try to explain this theory with a) quantum mechanics and b) E=MC2? No, I thought you wouldn’t be – the metaphysical movement have exactly two tools in their arsenal, and I’ll be damned if they don’t try to use them for every single task at hand. The fact that using QM to explain their theories is the argumentative equivalent of trying to drill a hole in a wall with a drill-bit made out of jello, is hardly going to stop them from trying.

You should also not be surprise at the cherry-picking, rah-rah denialism displayed by proponents of the theory – what we like to call ‘hypocrisy’, but which the experts insist on referring to as ‘faith’. They all applaud the ‘secret’ for its positive power, but do everything they can to play down the nastier side of the Law of Attraction. The inevitable consequence of a theory that claims positive thoughts attract positive effects is that negative thoughts attract negative effects . We are also all responsible for everything that happens to us in life. All. Everything. The logical extension of this sort of argument is that all victims were asking for it, and on some level deserve what they get, because it’s only a function of the negative vibes they were so obviously putting out into the universe. So if you Secreteers out there truly believe in the Law of Attraction, allow me to pose a challenge to you: find your closest local rape shelter, find the youngest victim there, and tell her that everything that happened to her is her fault, because of her toxic thinking, but if she only thinks positively from now on, it will never happen again.

So what do I think of the suggestion that we can improve the state of South Africa by holding the online equivalent of a campfire sing-a-long? Even those who follow the Law of Attraction must admit to the proviso that there has to be some sort of action involved on your part before the universe can give you what you’re looking for. If all you do is sit on a couch saying over and over “I will get a million dollars!” then you’ll still be sitting on that couch when the repo men come to take it away. Therefore sending in positive stories is no more than talking about helping, no better than sitting on that couch telling yourself “I will make the country a better place!” and then tuning in to your favourite soapie, satisfied that you have made a difference already.

So on that note, I would counter that there is a lot you can do to make South Africa a better place: get involved with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, Childline or the Treatment Action Campaign. Volunteer at a local shelter. Get on your local council, or if that’s too much, at least get on the PTA or school board at your kids’ school. Train as a volunteer fire fighter. Start a neighbourhood watch. Pick a worthy organization that does good work and donate some money to them. All of these things are far more likely to have a real effect than telling your positive stories to each other and then congratulating yourselves on a job well done.

But if it makes you feel better, you can donate your time or money while thinking positive thoughts.

For futher reading on The Secret and the Law of Attraction, Skeptic Magazine gave a fairly thorough review.

Gareth Cliff faces BCC tribunal for blasphemy

Posted in Religion, South Africa on December 6, 2007 by moonflake

Gareth Cliff recently reported on the “Teddy Teacher” Gillian Gibbons, who was sentenced to 15 days in jail in Sudan, for the crime of allowing her class to name a teddy bear ‘Mohamed’. The case in itself raises a few questions, or at least eyebrows. Given that the children chose the name democratically, that the parents raised no issue with the name, that the entire school was aware of the name, and that the incident itself happened months ago, one may wonder what this single woman did to deserve this punishment when her entire class of six- and seven-year-olds, their parents, and the rest of the school staff, should have been in jail with her. Also, one may wonder why it is so terrible to name a bear Mohamed, but fine to name a child Mohamed? But I digress…

The point of this post is that 5fm DJ Gareth Cliff dared to say on his show that if a God is offended by the use of his name by a mere mortal, offended enough to make it a commandment, then that God is petty (can i get a gasp?). Personally, I find Cliff’s logic infallible. I would add that if a God is so injured by the taking in vain of his name that he has to ban people from doing so at peril of their eternal peace, then that God must truly be a weak, snivelling thing to boot. I would like to thank Gareth Cliff for his excellent insight.

But not so, 5fm listeners. No indeed, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and one listener wrote in to Cliff personally about his blasphemous ways, and then was shocked and apalled when he did her the courtesy of reminding her that there is no God, no Tooth Fairy, and no Santa Claus either. Given the number of exclamation marks in her original email, and her inability to spell the word ‘you’, I could have guessed that her reaction to that factual dissemination would not be good, and indeed it was not. Cliff is now facing a tribunal of the broadcasting complaints commission over the whole incident.

What amazes me is that people genuinely believe that the commission is meant to step in to shield them from insults against their imaginary friend, just because he’s popular. People honestly believe that religion, for some reason, deserves more respect than any other position a person may hold. You can insult people’s politics, their taste in movies and their choice of music, but woe betide anyone who dares to insult their made up stories about how the world works! No, indeed, as soon as someone starts going on about religion, we have to shut our mouths and nod respectfully. May I add that the next time someone expects this, you give them the respect they truly deserve: fix a smile on your face, hold your hands up to show they are empty, nod vigorously, and slowly start backing away until you are about 4 metres away from them, then break into a flat sprint in the opposite direction.

Because if the religious deserve any kind of respect, it’s the same respect you would give to the clinically insane.

Rapport fires columnist for objective opinion on Satanism

Posted in Religion, South Africa on November 16, 2007 by moonflake

The sad state of freedom of expression in South Africa: columnist Deon Maas was just fired after his article provoked readers to threaten a boycott of the paper. What was it that this columnist said that so sparked the ire of the public?

In his article, Maas wrote that satanism is “just a different philosophy”.

“Satan does not necessarily represent evil; it is just a different philosophy. You still pray, but only to another god. If Muslims think they are having a hard time, they should look at satanism. They really have a bad deal.”

He said the Constitution gives people the freedom to practise the religion of their choice.

Yes, that’s right, Maas dared to point out the hypocrisy of people who call for freedom of religion and denounce Satanism in the same breath. He dared to explain that along with freedom to practice your religion comes the freedom of others to practice theirs, no matter how much you might not like it. And I’m sure the Christian readers didn’t like that one bit.

The Rapport has of course made it impossible to search for this article on their site, but they didn’t do a very good job of actually removing the page, and luckily Google’s habit of caching pages made it easy for me to resurrect the link. Here it is, although in Afrikaans. And, because I’m sure the Rapport will be toasting it as soon as they realise it’s still up there and people can still get to it, I’ve reproduced the entire article below the fold. If anyone is interested in providing a translation into English, I’d be very happy to post that too (update: English translation here courtesy of andrewdotcoza, and another in the comments below courtesy of residentRsole).

Continue reading

Bones found near Van Rooyen’s house

Posted in Crime, South Africa on November 15, 2007 by moonflake

In the papers this week:

Material suspected to be human bones have been unearthed at a home in Capital Park, next door to the home of paedophile Gert van Rooyen, Pretoria police said on Wednesday.

Captain Percy Morokane said the owners of the home were installing a swimming pool when the discovery was made on Tuesday evening.

They immediately contacted the police.

Forensic experts visited the site and the material would be sent for forensic testing, said Morokane.

Morokane goes on to elaborate in another article:

The matter is currently under investigation and at this stage we do not know whether what was found are indeed human bones or not. Our forensic experts will analyse the find to determine whether it is human or animal bones.

I’m a little excited about this for a couple of reasons, although Captain Morokane is correct in advising patience. If the bones turn out to be human, and if they are in good enough condition for DNA sampling, and if they can then be matched to one of the missing girls, we will have plenty of reason to celebrate.

Firstly, it’ll be the biggest break in the case in 15 years, will give important closure to at least one family, and may lead to the discovery of the rest of the girls’ remains. I’m sure no one would disagree that this would be the stuff movies are made of, and an enormous relief to the families and the country at large.

But secondly, it may provide proof that Danie Krugel’s super-satellite-DNA-finding machine is worthless. Here are a few extracts from the transcript of the Carte Blanche show where the intrepid investigator with the magic box takes readings to determine the position of the bodies:

To refine the search Danie needed to get at least one more reading on each of the two hair samples from another location.

He travelled to Pretoria and went straight to 227 Malherbe Street, Capital Park, the empty stand where Van Rooyen’s house once stood and the last place where the missing girls are thought to have been.

The data compiled from Yolanda Wessels’ hair was tested again.

Danie: “The first signal I got showed is a line running along the side of Capital Park. Then I went up a few kilometres and the second signal came back to an area very, very close to the railway area in Capital Park.”

At the site Danie also tested Anne-Mari’s data and within ten minutes determined that the signal he’d picked up for her was coming from the same place.

Danie: “Both readings lead me to this area. If you take the reeds and the dam area and you assume you have an accurate reading then this is the correct area. But if there is a slight deviation I would include the railway line. But both readings pointed to this side.”

Ruda: “It was just too much of a coincidence: identical readings for both Yolanda and Anne-Marie pointing to a secluded area less than two kilometres from Van Rooyen’s house. If this empty stretch of land now being developed is indeed the correct location, it can only mean one thing: the two girls are no longer alive.”

Yes, that’s right. If the bones recently found in Capital Park prove to be those of either Yolanda Wessels or Anne-Marie Wapenaar, then Krugel failed to pick them up when he was standing metres away from them, on the plot next door. If he can’t even do that, why would you think he could find people anywhere in the world?

And I find that sort of ironic, because there will be a lot of people who would think that was proof that it did work. I mean, he was only 2 km off. What’s 2 km amongst friends?