Floods and the Question of Whose Human Suffering is More Newsworthy

You might have heard a lot about some flooding going on in Australia at the moment.

You might not have heard as much about similar flooding going on in Sri Lanka and Brazil. I know I haven’t. I wonder why that might be?

Floods in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka
A comparison of floods in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka using Google News (queried at approximately 9:29pm GMT on 12/01/2011)

I made simple chart, using the Google Hits metric de facto standard, to assess interest in the various stories. Number of hits in the last day is on the primary Y-axis, while reported deaths from the different floods is plotted against the secondary Y-axis.

There are a greater number of reported deaths in Brazil as a result of flooding, but disproportionately little interest when compared to the flooding in Australia. I’d like to think this is just a symptom of the lack of English-speaking journalists present in Brazil at the moment, and my inability to repeat this little experiment in Portuguese. Sri Lanka is an English-speaking country though, so that excuse doesn’t pan out so conveniently.

Hoping for other explanations for the focus on Australia, I tried searching for “area affected” and “economic damage,” but I didn’t get much joy out of that. No info on areas impacted, and estimates on the economic damage for only the Australian flooding.

With no real reporting on those aspects that would make the Australian story bigger, I’m left scratching my head. Surely it can’t be that the pain and suffering of Caucasian people is of greater concern, their stories more interesting, and their lives more valuable? Surely it isn’t that?

Nope. Probably just more Australian bloggers than Brazilian ones, or something totally banal like that.

Sources for death toll figures:

Australia: Reuters
Sri Lanka: Washington Post

The New Life — A Review

We’ve been living in Edinburgh for about two and a half months now, which is enough time to get halfway settled, and certainly enough time for some spection.

Rough seas | Photo credit guana (via flickr)

Spection isn’t a word. Retrospection; introspection; inspection; but no spection. The closest seems to be Spectioneer, or Specksioneer. This is “the chief harpooner, who also directs in cutting up the speck, or blubber; — so called among whalers.”

Cutting through the blubber of my experiences. Feels like a strangely appropriate metaphor.

A Brief Summary of Things

We’re living in Edinburgh. We found affordable (at the moment) shelter. It has the things we need, like beds, an oven, refrigerator, TV, heating, hot water. It’s in a decent area.

We have public transport. We can get around the city as we need to. Haven’t had any real need for a private vehicle so far (although missing buses can sometimes be a drag).

We found Jethro a nursery to meet other children.  He goes three times a week for 5 hours. We’d send him more but it costs a lot.

That’s all the blubber cut up, which leaves me with the mess of a vivisected whale. And the mess is this…


Disclaimer: I am predisposed to melodrama. Vivisected whale metaphors included.

Messy metaphor | Photo credit: Jan Egil Kristiansen

I also feel that tweeting has done my writing of lengthier, thoughtful pieces, a disservice.

Underemployment is arguably better than unemployment, but both are a rocket-harpoon to the belly of your ego. The ego doesn’t really survive being disembowelled, so instead it is reincarnated into some other form. My current place of underemployment is at a telephone call centre, as a market research telephone interviewer. Good thing I spent all those years of pain getting that Chemical Engineering degree under my belt!

It’s a job that is less terrible than one might imagine, and really makes me wonder why I bothered educating myself at all. It’s straightforward work. It isn’t stressful (once you get some experience). And you get a broad range of interaction with the human condition — a fascinating and often hilarious sample of the world of people out there. It really can be quite entertaining. The work isn’t exhausting either, leaving me some energy for more creative pursuits. At least, I’d have more energy if I didn’t have to match a 2-year-old’s endless supply. Two-year-olds are the solution to our fossil-fuel economy, if only we can find an efficient way to harness them as a power source.

All I needed to do was kill my Chemical Engineer self, and replace it with a more humble accepting self. One that had lower expectations. Or perhaps the humble one was there all along, getting trampled on and being ignored. Not exactly suicide, but some sort of psychological insurrection is running its course within me. I’m hoping to limit the collateral damage.

I’m not the only underemployed one in my household. Angie is struggling with some underemployment issues herself. Considering her epic CV, this is really a bit of a mystery. The recruitment agents keep putting her name forward for jobs. The insane employers keep not employing her. It’s not really a total mystery. We have our suspicions about the problem, but all I’ll say is this: The Nazis had an over-developed sense of nationalism.

I know about Godwin’s Law. I don’t care.

It’s not all a pool of bloody water and disembowelled Cetaceans

Well it is in the whaling nations, but not so much in Edinburgh.

There are good things, so I probably should try to bring some balance to this woeful account of my woeful woes.

Light-hearted musings

Pavements: They have them here in the UK because the powers that be aren’t entirely taken by surprise by the fact that one may want to walk from point A to point B. I note this because of the stark contrast to South Africa. In South Africa the municipality seems to believe that it’s only worthwhile building pavements for the rich people, and since the rich people drive everywhere, they don’t bother laying too many pavements.

In the UK a huge amount of consideration goes into how a pedestrian might get access to something. While doing maintenance on the road, the builders are likely to close off massive stretches of road to vehicular traffic, in order to ensure that pedestrians can still walk safely. Brightly coloured barriers guide us safely along.

I’ve noticed less jay-walking in Edinburgh, than I experienced in South Africa, but the reason isn’t what you might expect. British people are just as inclined to jay-walk as any one else in South Africa would be, but in South Africa the powers that be have more important things to worry about. In Edinburgh the city council puts up all manner of barriers along the road to discourage people crossing the roads at convenient places. People sort of bounce off the barriers in a confused manner, and slowly shuffle their puzzled sheeple bodies over to the pedestrian crossing points. Keeping us all safe from ourselves, as any good nanny-state should.

Foul! | Photo credit: Gene Hunt

Dog-fouling: The thing about having pavements is that dogs can crap on them. This can cause quite a bit of consternation, with dire warnings posted everywhere regarding the terrible financial consequences of allowing your dog to foul the verges and pavements.


The £100 fines don’t deter every dog owner, as I frequently discover that my shoes have become malodorous due to a misstep of mine. Perhaps those were stray dogs?

Silly rules about alcohol: South Africa certainly had stupid rules about the sale of alcohol. Only licensed liquor stores can sell all types of alcohol, but not on a Sunday after a randomly chosen time. Supermarkets are only allowed to sell wine. Licensed restaurants can sell any type of alcohol at any time, including on Sundays when the retail places have to close their doors.

It’s sort of nuts in Edinburgh too, but there are extra levels of complexity that are, frankly, incomprehensible to me at the moment.

Supermarkets sell wine and malt, but the licensing in the restaurants is weird. We tried going out with Jethro in tow on a Sunday evening and were turned away from several pubs because of the child — but for different reasons. At one establishment, Jethro got us barred because he was under the age of five and the restaurant/bar didn’t have small child facilities. At the next place, we were barred because children weren’t allowed after 5pm, and at the place where we finally stopped, we were barred because children weren’t allowed on the premises at all.

How is it that we stopped where children were not allowed on the premises? Jethro was asleep in his pram, so we sat on the edge of the pub’s property, and placed Jethro on the other side of an imaginary line which marked the boundary between the pub property and the neighbouring property.

Comparison of the air: The air in Edinburgh is cleaner than it is in Johannesburg. Evidence, other than the fact that one cannot see the air in Edinburgh (while this is possible during winter in Jozie), is that my asthma is gone. Perhaps the lower altitude, and consequential higher concentrations of oxygen are helping me out there too.

The air is colder though. It’s October now, and the frosty chill in the atmosphere is getting noticeable and I know it is only a an aperitif before the main course of winter. I’m going to miss the African summer, methinks.

Walking around at night: People do this in Edinburgh. People do this in Johannesburg. Life expectancies are vastly different between those two populations of nightwalkers. Not saying I haven’t come across some dodgy folk on my night adventures around Edinburgh. Just saying that I haven’t taken any extensive nightwalking samples in Johannesburg.

Public transport: I’ve been using the buses in Edinburgh, and they are excellent (except the No.10 which generates a disturbing resonance when the engine idles, causing my brain to rapidly oscillate around inside my skull, bashing the sides and making me feel quite nauseous). They have a different approach to service than the South African mini-bus taxis.

  • Buses in Edinburgh stop at the designated stops. South African mini-buses stop anywhere the customer is or wants to be.
  • Buses in Edinburgh adhere to passenger capacity limits. South African mini-buses ignore passenger capacity limits.
  • Buses in Edinburgh leave a stop once the passengers waiting get on. South African mini-buses leave the stop when the mini-bus is full.
  • Buses in Edinburgh have their drivers intimidated by antisocial passengers. South African mini-buses have their passengers intimidated by antisocial drivers.
  • Buses in Edinburgh have bus lanes reserved for them. South African mini-buses have to reserve normal or emergency lanes for themselves.

I think both parties could learn something from the other one.

In Conclusion

I think I need to meditate more on patient acceptance.


Photo credit: Vincent van der Pas

All Hail Our Glorious Leader

Leadership in South Africa. It’s looking a little dismal these days.

That Jacob Zuma guy, who’s ostensibly running the country at the moment, seems really nice.  He’s very affable. People like him. He’s charming and makes you want to be his friend. He cracks jokes. He has a jolly laugh.

But the President of the country isn’t supposed to be a stand-up comedian. Not saying that comedians can’t become presidents of countries, but they should probably take a sabbatical from comedy until after their term of office…

Read the rest of this Valuable Rubbish at the Moral Fibre Blog.

Yes, that’s right. I’ve spewed out yet another blog. This time for more serious, lengthier commentary. Waffle Group used to serve this function, but I’m not sure what Waffle Group does any more. It seems to display photos at the moment. Perhaps next week it will do something else.

Breaking things that work

Can someone explain why governmental bureaucrats like to shut down or cripple successful projects, just because they didn’t think of the idea?

This innovative prisoner rehabilitation project, for example.

Please can we work together on these social issues. If someone else gets something right, rather build on it and make it better, than be jealous and break it down. It really doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Everyone can benefit.

Perhaps there is a valid reason for discontinuing the project that has been poorly communicated. Perhaps it’s just biased reporting. But if the responsible officials don’t respond to the reporter’s requests for comment, it is rather difficult for the reporter to present the government’s viewpoint.

Randburg Licensing Department

Queue SignRandburg licensing department has a flat-screen TV up on the wall now. It’s very pretty and shiny. It scrolls announcements from the municipality and the City of Johannesburg. They are lovely announcements. They are all in English.

Hopefully everyone can read English. It surprisingly ostracises the other 10 Official Languages that South Africa declared. Once would think a little isiZulu or seSotho would be thrown in here and there.

When the TV isn’t giving us public announcements, it shows us the tranquillity, peace of mind, and beautiful memories that using Pfizer Pharmaceuticals can bring us. “Ask your doctor or pharmacist!”

I’ll be sure to do just that.

As I watch now I discover an announcement that is actually useful to me. My time in this queue may not be entirely wasted because of this.

One can pay traffic fines via credit card now. It’s only 2009 – credit cards have been in use for as long as I can remember. The government used to use some idiotic argument about not wanting people to go into debt to pay fines, rates and taxes, but payment was still demanded. I wonder why the change of heart?

The queue is long, but so far I haven’t noticed anyone getting too disruptive over whatever interchanges take place between the clients and the clerks. We need more chairs, but then we’ll all just be playing musical chairs for longer. They don’t have a ticket number system, which would allow everyone to sit in one place and wait for their number to be called out. Oh no. That seems too well thought-out. Instead of buying a decent ticket system, and training people to use it, they got a flat-screen TV.

Now the TV tells me that Emperor’s Palace a wonderful place full of wonderful things. Opulence. I surely crave opulence and inviting women dressed in flowing red dresses with lips pouting, and cars to win! Perhaps with the advertising revenue they generate could be used to buy us some more chairs, and that ticket-queue system.

I look at the ceiling. The domed lights high up, meant to illuminate the counters, are all fused. The only one that works, flickers erratically. What would a government department be without a flickering light?

CCTV. They have those cameras too. Oh dear. At least the camera’s don’t swivel side to side, tracking my every key press on my mobile-phone (with full QWERTY keyboard — you don’t think I’d type this all out with predictive text, do you?). I hope I’m allowed to write about the department. I hope they won’t be sending the thought-police to question me in a few moments and take my mobile phone/writing pad device away. Now that would be something worth writing about! The irony.

I’ve been in the long, straight tail of the queue, but I’m reaching the bend where it curls and twists into the intestinal section of waiting. Rows of chairs curling back and forth in almost-but-not-quite parallel lines. Like a gradual bowel-movement we are pushed forward slowly, from one chair to the next, back and forth on that circuitous route, until we are expelled from the queue sphincter into the toilet of the licence renewal desk. There they wipe us off and flush us away — once we pay our dues of course.

The sphincter is a little confused, though. There are six outlets, and the beeping red LCD screen tells each faecal particle at the end of the queue where to go (in between brightly declaring “WELCOME TO RANDB” and showing us just how much time we’ve wasted in the queue). It’s confusing because there are two bowel-queues at work here, each with different final outcomes. The LCD blinky-beepy light serves both.

Is it OK to renew your single vehicle licence at the bulk trade plates and permits counter? Who can be certain? If you test the hypothesis and are proven wrong, will you have lost your place in the queue? Will you have already ended up in the toilet, and have you been flushed away? Or would you need to eat shit and get back in the queue from the beginning? Can you be pushed back into the sphincter temporarily until it is time to exit at the appropriate point. I’m not sure. So many confusing questions to resolve this complex scenario.

I’m certain to find out, but by then I’ll no longer be waiting and will no longer have time to write this account of my adventures. So alas, dear reader, you will never know what the outcome was.

But wait! Here’s one now, just ahead of me. Trapped in toilet limbo. Swirling around and around in the toilet bowl but not getting flushed away. A terrible fate indeed. I hope to escape it.

That was another live commentary, in a similar vein to the Hospital Observations bit in this one, as written on my cell phone to pass the time while waiting in a queue. Edited to fix up spelling and grammar, and to repair the flow of the text a little.

I’ve decided to name these things Prosetographs.

Original image credit: Derek Armshaw Licence: CC-NC-3.0

I trust I can rely on your vote?

Ballot BoxThe South African National Elections are swiftly approaching, and election posters are littering the streets.

There are plentiful examples of everyone’s favourite ANC leader, Jacob Zuma, and his cheesy it-wasn’t-me grin. Or is it more of a Alfred E. Newman “What, Me Worry?” kind of look?

Regardless of the visage of JayZee, there are also a number of posters that try to instill in us, the electorate, a passion to vote for a particular party. I’ve already made fun of the ANC’s poster, but on hindsight I’ve decided I’ve been a little discriminatory. We wouldn’t want that in the 15-year-old New South Africa.

Everyone has an election slogan, and generally these can all be improved by adding the phrase “in your pants” to the end of whatever our political overlords have told us.

If you like, you could choose your political party based on which one sounded the least (or most) ridiculous with in your pants tagged on to the end of the slogan.

Going in alphabetical order, we have:

That’s just a few. Adding in your pants to the rest of the political parties’ slogans is left as an exercise for the reader.

I will stop in your pants
I will stop at nothing in your pants
Say the right things in your pants
When electioneering in your pants
I trust I can rely on your vote in your pants

Apologies to Radiohead: Electioneering

Hunchwrist Repairs and Hospital Observations

Hunchwrist of Randpark Ridge
Hunchwrist Before

Hunchwrist Repairs

While pregnant with Jethro, Angie developed a weird growth in her wrist. Officially it is known as a ganglion cyst, but I took to calling Angie “The Hunchwrist of Randpark Ridge.”

So far, we’re still married.

She was admitted to Linksfield Park Clinic on Thurday to have the cyst removed. They insisted we get to the hospital at 6am, but only wheeled Angie into surgery at 2pm. She was out of surgery at 4pm. By the time Angie had eaten something and was dressed (more difficult with only one functioning arm) it was rush-hour. Almost two hours driving to get home. Bah!

The whole day was used up waiting for a 2 hour procedure. Surely the hospital knew which operations it would be undertaking during the day, and the approximate time each procedure takes? Surely such a schedule gives an indication of when a particular patient will go under the knife? Surely it is unreasonable to tell everyone to get to the hospital by 6am, especially if you know you’ll only deal with some of them in the afternoon?

We could try complaining, but one worries that they will spitefully remove the entire hand, instead of just the hunchwrist. The medical industry really is the most peculiar service industry out there. I think it has something to do with them referring to their clients as “patients,” and assuming patients are patient and don’t mind waiting.

Hospital Observations

Although I wasn’t the patient, I still had to do a lot of waiting around at the hospital. To pass the time I watched people enter the foyer and I drank a little too much coffee. Combined, these elements inspired me to write about these people on my cellphone in real-time. The transcript of what I wrote is reproduced below, edited only for spelling and grammar.

It comes across a little scathing, I think. I blame the coffee.

We really are just glorified hairless monkeys with technology.

The guy who just walked in, with the yellow writing on his T-shirt and the tattered jeans, walks with a funny gait. He thrusts his chest out too far, making him seem over-balanced and top-heavy. Or is he overbalanced because his stomach reaches out as far as his chest? He holds his hands up at the level of his chest, and flaps them around limply, bending at the wrists. Obviously he’s strutting, but what’s with the wrists? That doesn’t seem too macho.

Then there are these Eastern European types sitting across the table from me, incessantly talking too loud in a guttural language I can’t understand. The balding man wears a striped T-shirt and shorts, but I wish he’d worn trousers. It is a hospital, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so squeamish, but something  terrible has happened to this man’s legs recently. He’s obviously had those metal pins embedded in his tibia. You know the ones. Those things that stick out of your leg, instead of having a cast. They say the leg heals faster, but it makes you look more like a cyborg.

The wounds are obvious, and he seems to display the bloody gory bits proudly. One leg bandaged, the other not. Just round, dried-blood circles, with a red line joining the dots. A fleshy dot-2-dot puzzle. Join them up in order and you get a zombie!

He talks to his mother, but she doesn’t have any ghoulish markings on display. They quiet down when another couple sits down next to them. The old man of the couple cranes his neck around to the TV mounted on the wall. But’s it’s almost obliquely above him. Not a great angle to watch the cricket.

I wanted to go on about the cricket a little more, and how strange the behaviour of men wanting to watch it is. But my cellphone battery died. This also explains the abrupt ending.

I haven’t noticed this on the beer bottles

The alcohol industry is starting to have to tag warning on to their products. I find some amusement in this example, and it’s not the “Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health” bit:

Don't drink while pregnant

The joke is in this little logo:

pregnant-drinkingApparently you can spot a woman who is about to give birth to a child affected by fetal alcohol syndrome by the ponytail.
Or perhaps only drinking wine while pregnant, and simultaneously wearing a ponytail and holding your back, is prohibited?
Or perhaps it’s just obese women with back problems and ponytails that they have a problem with.

I think the best approach is to keep alcohol away from women who have ponytails, at least until they agree to undo their hair.