Difficult decisions made easier

The biggest ever petrol price increase in South African history kicks in tonight at midnight. At present, the (government-regulated) petrol price is estimated to go up by an additional R3.50 for a litre of the good stuff. And while that might be nought pounds noughty-nought to you, that’s a massive amount to all South Africans, representing an overnight increase of around 16.6%.

And of course, that increase will be felt by businesses as well, and they will pass on their higher costs onto their consumers and so your man on the street is going to get smacked with even more increased prices for… well… for everything.

And that means that even more individuals and families are going to have to make some difficult decisions as to what they can and can’t afford, and as to what has to be let go.

Fortunately, one company has just helpfully raised their head above the parapet for me.

Yesterday, we were informed that my daughter’s music lesson this evening at a local music school (let’s call it the College of Stone for the purposes of this blog post) was cancelled due to loadshedding this evening.

I was actually impressed with their organisation. Letting us know what was going on over 24 hours in advance. Nice work.

However, due to some magic deity smiling down upon us, there is no loadshedding this evening.

So I call the good College people this afternoon just to check that the lesson is now going ahead as usual and they say no, because they “can’t reinstate a lesson once it’s been cancelled”.

Thankfully (for them), they can still charge us for it though.

Now, I wasn’t happy at the lesson being cancelled, even more so at still having to pay for it, but it’s not the College of Stone’s fault that loadshedding happens, and while my daughter shouldn’t have to miss out on her lesson thanks to the crappy local electricity monopoly and years of horrific corruption therein, nor should the College of Stone have to lose out on their income. I do get that.

But now there is no loadshedding – it’s what passes for a “good electricity day” in South Africa – and they’re still not providing the service we’re paying them for, even though there’s now no reason for them not to… well, to paraphrase Radiohead:

When I am King making those difficult decisions, they will be first against the wall.

I’m well used to crappy service in South Africa, but this is a new low. The only positive is that it does make one of those upcoming unfortunate decisions a whole lot easier.

Don’t panic about Anthrax

Easy for me to say: I don’t have anthrax.

But as the Mail and Guardian dives in with this headline:

…I think it’s important to understand that anthrax – at least the bit of anthrax they’re talking about here – isn’t going to be the next Coronavirus, just like Monkeypox isn’t either. This is an unfortunate outbreak in the far North West corner of Sierra Leone.

Obviously, that’s bad news for the far North West corner of Sierra Leone, but it’s unlikely to adversely affect anyone outside that area.

This headline does highlight a couple of things regarding reporting of infectious diseases in the press though. Firstly, the tendency to sensationalise things a little. Anthrax can be a deadly pathogen, but a short course of really basic antibiotics will see it happily on its way. A vaccine for your herd of cattle will stop it before it’s even begun.

And “fray”:

a usually disorderly or protracted fight, struggle, or dispute

…does rather suggest that we are engaged in a constant fight against microbes, which yes, again, is kind of true, but then that always has been the case: that’s biology. There’s nothing exceptional about this particular outbreak. Anthrax has been around for millennia and so have we. It’s inevitable that our paths will cross every now and again. These things haven happened all the time and we never heard about them before. But we’re much more sensitive about bacteria and viruses now, because of what’s happened over the last couple of years.

Indeed, if the South African M&G (and yes, I recognise that this is an article originally from their pan-African partner) had taken just a moment to scoot around some high-quality local blogs, they’d find that we’ve had anthrax outbreaks right on our national doorstep very recently: In Zim in 2008 and in Lesotho in 2019. And we survived them.

With all the difficulties of obtaining decent data in deepest, darkest Africa – the continent upon which most of the global anthrax cases occur – it’s difficult to say how much anthrax there is around. But the generally accepted numbers are somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 cases each year worldwide.

And yes, mostly in Africa, and yes, mostly in poorer, rural areas.

Just like the Port Loko District in the far North West corner of Sierra Leone.

All of which does rather make one wonder why the M&G is using that sort of language in a headline over a couple of hundred cows and sheep.

Being naughty with wood

We have a wood burning stove. I’m not afraid or ashamed to tell you that. I love our wood burning stove and sometimes even worship it on cold Cape Town evenings. So colour me both wholly unhorrified and completely unsurprised to learn that wood burning is – environmentally – a Bad Thing to do.

I think we all knew this already.

I am a little irritated with the way that I was told about this, though.
The Observer led with this headline:

Which might well be accurate, but when I read the article, the only bit in there that actually eluded to that being the case was this one:

Sensors were placed throughout Ashley ward, which encompasses deprived parts of St Pauls and better-off Bristol neighbourhoods such as Montpelier. Oluwatosin Shittu, 40, who lives in St Pauls, found his sensor picked up more pollution during the weekend when some residents were burning wood and during rush hours when cars queued on local roads.

“At the weekend [pollution] was high because obviously up the hill [in Montpelier] people were burning wood,” he said.

The word “obviously” is doing an awful lot of hard work there.
Does Bristol only get cold at the weekends, then? Citation required.

To be fair, I last went to Bristol in 2010, on a Saturday, and it was absolutely feckin’ freezing, so there is some evidence for that, but it’s still a bit of a stretch to a) claim that those are the only days when it’s cold, and b) assume that any air pollution on those days comes from affluent people burning wood in their wood burning stoves. However, one must remember that this is the lefty Observer, the spiritual Sunday read of the Champagne Socialists, so the posh people have to be blamed for everything, somehow.

But is it really an issue?

Steve Crawshaw, who manages the project for the council, said domestic wood burning was a serious and growing problem. He added that the number of days exceeding WHO pollution guidelines in the ward were broadly in line with the city average, but still a cause of concern.

So the alleged wood burning stove pollution on the weekends in Ashley Ward makes it very much the same as everywhere else in the city where more or less affluent people do or don’t have wood burning stoves some or all of the time, then?

Ok.

I’m not saying that any pollution is a good thing, of course, but when you read the stats in that very article, it does seem like a bit of a storm in a teacup. Because if you look at the bad bits about the PM 2.5 pollution that wood burners chuck out, they look quite bad:

The latest analysis from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reveals that wood burners and open fires are now responsible for 17% of the country’s total PM 2.5 pollution – more than the pollution caused by road traffic. Nationally, emissions from domestic wood burning increased by 35% between 2010 and 2020.

But if you manage to get to the next paragraph, it’s actually all ok:

A Defra spokesperson said PM 2.5 pollution had fallen by 18% since 2010.

So it really just seems like a cheap shot at some middle-class people to me.

Back to Cape Town. Which we can’t really compare with Bristol because they’re entirely different places (like Sweden and Bulgaria). No-one here has central heating. It’s just not a thing. So yes, while my family are relatively well off and burning wood, those living in shacks in the local townships are also burning wood. A Cape Town cold front (such as the one outside right now which has already dumped 32mm of rain on us in the last 24 hours) is no fun for anyone beneath it, and burning wood to keep warm turns out to actually be a great leveller in our society.

But how would we keep warm if we didn’t burn wood?

Paraffin and LPG prices are prohibitively expensive as a way to heat your home – whatever size or type it may be (and they’re about to get even more expensive):

Electricity – if you have it – is every bit as pricey, it’s generated by filthy coal…

…and it’s regularly unavailable anyway as loadshedding often kicks in.

There’s no piped gas. No double glazing. Very few carpets.
We don’t need them for 10 months of the year.

So where’s any alternative, let alone an eco-friendly one?

There are only so many jumper and blankets you can put on.

On our positive side, most of the wood that we burn comes from invasive trees, so we are doing our bit to preserve the local natural environment, even as we chuck out toxins and particulates into that same natural environment.

Look, despite the rumours, there’s little chance of any legislation around wood burning coming soon to South Africa. That would deny many millions of people any sort of warmth or comfort. And even if it did, there would be one very obvious issue why it just wouldn’t work. Because if you’re going to ban the burning of wood, you’re clearly going to also have to ban braai’ing. That would be the final final nail in the ANC’s coffin.

So that’s just not going to happen.

Thus, with many apologies to the local PM 2.5 count and to the cursed residents of St Pauls in Bristol, I’m about to go and chuck some more Bluegum on the fire: it’s chilly and needs must.

On dangers in schools

Heartbreaking visuals and stories from Texas this morning as we woke to news of yet another school shooting in the USA. As a parent hearing these things, you always subconsciously put yourself in the position of those who sent their kids off to school on what should have been just another normal day, only for things never to be the same again, and you take special care to tell your kids that you love them as they head off to class.

And yes, my kids also go through active shooter and lockdown drills at school. They shouldn’t have to.

Sure, we can’t protect our children from everything, but there’s no justification in the incomprehensibly wicked act that we are hearing about today. Neither from the individual, nor from the laws and institutions that made it possible for it to take place.
And yet there will be plenty that will claim that this is a false flag; plenty more that will argue that it’s a price we have to pay for keeping our “freedoms” intact.

You don’t have to listen to them. Today or any other day.

The cartoon above isn’t from today. People can argue that “freedom” point until they’re blue in the face.

I’ll happily listen to their arguments on masks. I recognise that masks aren’t perfect. I think we’d all rather not have to wear them. But – and yes, of course I have done a lot of reading around this – they do offer a degree of protection against infection. And that’s hugely valuable and when known Covid positive individuals are allowed (and even encouraged, nogal!) to be out and about amongst the general public and – specifically in this case – in classrooms, we need every bit of defence and protection we can get.

One in every five symptomatic people still with active, infectious virus in their nasal passages 11 days after their positive test. One in six after 12 days. Still more than one in sixteen after two weeks.

And yet they’re allowed back into school 7 days after their symptoms begin (and we’re told to wait 5 days for a test!). Asymptomatic kids don’t have to stay off school at all. And then we wonder why there is so much morbidity continuing around us.

No. Covid isn’t as bad as being shot dead in your classroom. But it’s so easy to help protect our kids against it. So I’ll listen to your case on masks and I’ll state mine. We might agree: I doubt it, but there’s always that possibility. And then we’ll keep on wearing masks in schools.

Guns, though? No. I’m not listening. Been there, tried that.
Because there is no balance to be had there, there’s nothing to argue.

The South African pro-gun lobby will proudly and loudly brandish their occasional stories of an allegedly foiled hijacking or burglary, illogically extrapolating that to explain how an armed citizen could somehow prevent every incident of local crime, while conveniently ignoring the horrendous number of daily firearm-related deaths in SA and the number of household guns stolen (20,000+ each year) which clearly only exacerbates the problems we face here.

And yes, I know the police have their guns stolen, too. And that’s equally crap.
But adding yours to the pot still doesn’t help anyone, does it?

And then their comparing South Africa’s situation with the USA’s. Sure, both have unacceptably high gun deaths and both have differing gun laws. But they are wholly different societies and thus the comparison is also wholly invalid. It’s only made because it favours their case.
It’s the same tactic as choosing to compare Sweden’s “no lockdown” [sigh] Covid response and stats with (say) Bulgaria’s. Sweden suddenly looks amazing. But compare Sweden’s stats with countries that are actually like Sweden, such as Norway, Denmark and Finland, rather than an impoverished, ex-Soviet bloc totalitarian state, and suddenly, it all falls apart. So they don’t do that.
Rather compare the US with Canada or the UK on the gun issue. But they won’t, because that doesn’t fit their agenda.

Of course, the irony comes when the you realise that those advocating for masks to be banned “to protect our kids” and those suggesting that “every citizen should carry a gun”, are exactly the same people. The Venn diagram is actually just a circle.

It would be laughably stupid if the consequences weren’t so very damaging.

Called it

Remember this post from last week, expressing disbelief and dismay at the alleged plans to spend R22 million on a Big Flag?

The Government said:

This has the potential to unite people as it becomes a symbol of unity and common identity.
The project is envisaged to contribute towards nation-building and social cohesion. 

And I said:

Well, guess what happened?

This week, pisspoor Minister (apologies for the tautology) Nathi Mthethwa launched the Big Plan for a Big Flag, and the nation – all built and socially cohesed – turned around together as one and told him to Tsek.

Now, having “taken note of public discourse” (which was basically a collection of suggestions, generally ending with the word “off”) and:

In upholding these ethos and the inalienable rights of citizens to be heard, the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture has directed his department to review the process related to the Monumental Flag in its totality.

Now, this is actually a Good Thing. It is very unusual for a Minister or any member of government to actually give a toss what the public think. And that’s because those ministers and members of government are safe, privileged and untouchable. They don’t have to listen, because there are no consequences whatsoever for them not listening.

So Mthethwa apparently hearing the er… “discourse”, and actually having some sort of reaction – albeit merely “reviewing the process” at this point – is to be applauded.

The real acid tests come when: 1. there is a reasonable outcome to the review – and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the project is dropped: maybe they find private sponsorship for it, for example; 2. the next time something like this crosses Nathi’s desk, he remembers this situation and says “no” before it goes any further; and 3. any other Minister looks at this situation and Mthethwa’s reaction, and chooses to listen to the public regarding their feelings on any given project or idea as well.

Optimistic people may think that this could be a watershed moment.
The realists amongst us have already drunk half our glass and we’re ordering a brandy chaser to deal with the inevitable disappointment.