SSPE claims another young life

I learnt this very sad news from the “Just the Vaxx” website.
Aliana, a child suffering from SSPE, passed away last month.
Aliana was born in 2010 and caught Measles at just six months old. She appeared to recover fully, but in 2014 SSPE was diagnosed. Now, a little over two years later, she has died.
What angers me is the persistent self-deception I have seen antivaxxers engage in. They say that Measles is harmless in a well-nourished child. That getting Measles helps with children’s development. That vaccines are ineffective and harmful, more so than the diseases they prevent. And finally, that if a child dies from Measles there must have been something wrog with him/her. Aliana’s story gives the lie to this hogwash. She was a healthy child born in a First-World country with excellent quality of life.
I feel for Aliana’s family. They had to watch while their happy, healthy, lively daughter lost her abilities. They could do nothing while she entered an irreversible decline. They were subjected to a wait of more than two years until the inevitable occurred and she succumbed.
I am so frustrated. I have beaten the drum over and over, and still tragedies like this occur. Vaccines are safe and effective, and the diseases they protect against are killers even today.
Get vaccinated.

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Not done yet, but…

I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.
Blogging, I mean.
In a few days, I turn 40. All that talk about staying “forever young” is naive bullshit. Even if you live an exceptionally healthy life, as you get older, your energy falls and you have to make decisions about how and where you’re going to apply it.
I’ve been blogging for over six years now. In January 2010, I read of a gastroenterologist named Andrew Wakefield, who had been found guilty of gross misconduct in a hearing held by the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council. As I learnt more about the case and about antivaccine views in general, I felt I could no longer remain silent, so in May 2010 I set up my first blog on South Africa’s iBlog website. It was called African Jungle. Several people had problems viewing iBlog as some areas appear to block South African websites, so in November 2010 I set up a sister blog on WordPress named Autism Jungle (the African Jungle name was for some reason unavailable on the WordPress domain). Currently, African Jungle is one of the most popular blogs on iBlog, and consistently features in the “Most Popular” list. Quite often, it is the top blog. Thank you dear readers.
Over the last six and a half years, answering antivaccine commentators around the ‘Net has become tedious and repetitious. They have precious few talking points, all of which I’ve seen and seen disproven multiple times. In fact, I’ve written a page (P.R.A.T.T.s) listing and refuting their most common claims.
I might just be feeling this way because 2016 has been a bad year for me generally. In July, Neotel started having problems with their Network. Data rates were terrible. On numerous occasions, I would open a page, it would start loading, and then bomb out because Neotel’s network failed to transmit any data. As someone who uses the internet for entertainment a lot, this stressed me out. The issue persisted until quite recently. Eventually, I tweeted about it (I tweet at @AfricJungle, if you’re interested). Neotel responded and asked for more information. I sent them proof of their shocking data speeds. To their credit, Neotel appears to have fixed the issue, but I’m monitoring things.
I lost my job. By a sheer stroke of amazing good luck, I was able to get another and spent a grand total of one weekend unemployed. I’m financially secure, but any change in job is stressful, and right now I am feeling very stressed.
I’m also very worried for the future. In November, Donald Trump won the election and will become the next President of the United States of America. Trump treats women as little more than living sex toys, has said the most astonishingly racist things about various ethnicities, and holds mindblowingly ignorant views on global warming and vaccines causing autism. I fear that he will disrupt plans to tackle global warming, with disastrous effects for all humanity.
In South Africa, it appears that the plan to build Nuclear Reactors will be going ahead no matter what. This is in the face of evidence from the Government’s own Council for Scientific and Industrial Research that electricity from renewables and gas will be far cheaper and will adequately fulfill all our needs, including baseload and off-peak. It is abundantly clear that the Nuclear Build is being pushed because of the potential for bribery. The build will cost over R1,000,000,000,000 and take years, even decades, to come on line. If the corrupt succeed in pushing this through, South Africa will go bankrupt.
Two voices in the blogging community I like have gone silent. Matt of “Dude, I’m an Aspie” last posted in January. Krebiozen regularly commented at Respectful Insolence but his last comment was on February 28, and nothing since then. I hope that for both the reason they are silent is that they’re too busy, but few people go silent for that long without saying goodbye unless something bad has happened to them.
Maybe I’m just having a bad time. I believe that the second wisest words ever said were “and this too shall pass”. Good times don’t last forever, but neither do the bad.
If I decide to stop blogging, I will put up a farewell post.

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Autistics’ Speaking Day: Autism in South Africa – an opportunity lost

[This is an edited version of an article I wrote two years ago.]
South Africa is a nation with a Constitution hailed as one of the most progressive in the world. It states that discrimination on the grounds of Race, Religion, Gender, Sexual Orientation and physical and mental disability is prohibited. With that, one would think that Autistics in South Africa are quite well off in comparison with other countries. Sadly, that is not the case. The state’s capacity to uphold the rights of the disabled has been undermined by historic factors, bad recent choices and current realities.
In 1948, the National Party won the General Election and introduced apartheid. This was a system of laws intended to discriminate against non-white South Africans. Skilled, highly paid jobs were reserved for whites only. Non-whites were given inferior facilities, treatment and education. Black South Africans had it the worst but Indian South Africans and Coloureds (mixed-race South Africans) also faced discrimination.
In the 1960’s the international community began placing sanctions on South Africa to force the government to abandon apartheid. Various boycotts were applied. Research and technologies were no longer shared with South African scientists and institutions. Despite this, apartheid persisted until F.W. De Klerk became president in 1989. In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison and in 1994 he became South Africa’s first ever democratically elected president. In 1996, Mandela signed South Africa’s Constitution into law.
As the Constitution proclaims the rights of the disabled, the state is supposed to enforce them. Due to our racist past, the priority has been to rectify race based inequalities. This has often been at the expense of the rights of other marginalised groups, particularly the disabled.
Because of the sanctions applied during apartheid, a lot of research into autism did not reach South Africa. In addition, technologies that could have helped autistics were prevented from coming here. Apple briefly had a presence in South Africa before disinvesting. It returned after the end of apartheid and has a full scale presence now. This is fortunate, as Apple products, especially the iPad, have been used in teaching autistics.
The Key School, founded in 1973, is the oldest school for autistic children in South Africa. In 2011, it pioneered the use of iPads as aids for autistics in South Africa. In 2012, it nearly had to close down due to a lack of funding. The National Lottery Fund initially refused help, then reconsidered. The Els Foundation and Oppenheimer Memorial Trust also gave funding.
One of the downsides of South Africa’s reintegration into the world community is that antivaccination propaganda has begun springing up. An increasing number of comments making false claims about vaccines (including the nonexistent correlation between vaccination and autism) have shown up on local news websites. Some have repeated the “Bill Gates admitted that vaccines are to depopulate the world” lie. Disreputable sources of “information” like Natural News have also been cited.
The situation of autism awareness and accommodation in South Africa is the story of an opportunity lost. When I think back to my childhood, I know that things are far better now than they were then. However, I am also keenly aware that they are not nearly as good as they could have been.

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Gordhan Charged. Abrahams a cat’s paw

Well it happened.
I never thought it would. I never thought that Zuma would be so reckless, but I clearly underestimated him.
Pravin Gordhan is to appear in court to face charges over his granting of early retirement and a pension to Ivan Pillay.
What is particularly suspicious is that the arm of the National Prosecuting Authority that will be prosecuting Gordhan is the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit (PCLU). The job of the PCLU is to “investigate and prosecute crimes contemplated in the implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act and serious national and international crimes. These include terrorism, sabotage, high treason, sedition, foreign military crimes committed by mercenaries, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.” Why is such a high powered unit involved in prosecuting an administrative issue?
This is nothing but an attempt to remove Gordhan so that someone more pliable can be made Minister of Finance. Legal experts have looked at the charges. Their take is that the charges reference something that is perfectly legal and that they are “transparently malicious”, and “legal nonsense”.
Shaun Abrahams, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, has long shown himself to be a willing cat’s paw of Zuma. When Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi were hauled over the coals by judges after their execrable and malicious conduct in several court cases, he not only ignored their misconduct, but promoted them. It was all to no avail, as last month the High Court in Pretoria ordered that they be struck off the Roll of Advocates. Judge Francis Legodi upheld the application by the General Council of the Bar to have them removed.
This is disgraceful.

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Alternative therapies aren’t always harmless

Sometimes, people tolerate the use of alternative therapies by the parents of autistic children with the rhetorical question “what harm can it do?” As a story in The Guardian shows, the answer is “a lot”.
From the opening paragraphs:

Doctors from Barts hospital have warned of the dangers of alternative medicines after a four-year-old autistic boy was admitted to hospital suffering adverse effects from a cocktail of supplements.
The child, who was not named in a report of the incident, had been vomiting and constipated for three weeks and also lost 3kg in weight before he was taken to accident and emergency and diagnosed with severe hypercalcaemia – or very high calcium levels in his blood.
Police were called to investigate a naturopath who had advised the family to give their son a combination of 12 different complementary therapies including calcium, vitamin D, camel milk and zinc.

The full article is here.

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Measles is no longer endemic to the Americas

Some good news in the fight against vaccine preventable diseases.
The Americas (both North and South) have been declared free of measles. This is a huge step in permanently ending this disease.
Measles appears to have evolved from Rinderpest (cattle plague) sometime after 500 AD. Rinderpest was declared permanently eradicated in 2011.
At one time, measles was more feared than smallpox. When European explorers arrived in the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, they brought diseases like smallpox and measles with them. These illnesses devastated the Native Americans, causing a drop in population that may have been as much as 90%. According to Wikipedia, “Measles killed 20 percent of Hawaii’s population in the 1850s. In 1875, measles killed over 40,000 Fijians, approximately one-third of the population. In the 19th century, the disease killed 50% of the Andamanese population. It has also been revealed that measles disables the immune system, leaving victims vulnerable to infections they previously had immunity to.
Hopefully, measles will soon join smallpox and rinderpest as diseases of history.

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“Absolutely Anything” reviewed – Four out of Ten (Edited)

I rented the DVD of Absolutely Anything, the last ever Monty Python film, and watched it. This is my review of it.
The good news: it’s not as bad as some of the critics have said.
The bad news: it’s still not a good film.
When I read that Terry Jones was directing what would be the last Monty Python film ever, I was excited, and eagerly awaited it. Its South African release was scheduled to be the 16th June 2016. But almost immediately after its UK release on August 15 2015, worrying signs appeared. The critics were harsh, and Absolutely Anything flopped at the box office, taking in less than $6 million in theatres. The South African cinematic release was abandoned.
So today, I went down to my local Blockbuster, rented Absolutely Anything and watched it. While not awful, it is certainly disappointing.
The problems start very early on. One of the first scenes is Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) accepting an award for his book. The presenter is his neighbour Catherine West (Kate Beckinsale). As he recites his acceptance speech, his dog Dennis starts barking. Then a whole bunch of dogs appear, also barking. And then Neil wakes up. It was just a dream. Seriously, this is one of the laziest clichés around.
The second problem is he leaves his flat, sees Catherine, starts talking to her, and lies about the progress he’s been making on his book. The scene is just awkward and painful to watch. In fact, most of Absolutely Anything‘s interactions between Neil and Catherine feel awkward and forced.
Neil works as as schoolteacher. One of his colleagues, Ray (Sanjeev Bhaskar), has a crush on the PE Teacher Miss Pringle (Emma Pierson) who is both interested in another teacher and completely uninterested in him. Ray comes across as creepy and stalkerish, and the scene to introduce this is set up in a way that just made me very uncomfortable.
In the meantime, one of the Voyager probes sent out in the 1970s is picked up by the “Galactic Council of Superior Beings” (surviving Monty Python members John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin). Unimpressed, they decide to subject humanity to their standard test: one member of the species is chosen at random and granted the power to do absolutely anything he or she wishes for ten days. If the powers have been used for good, the Council will reveal themselves and invite humanity to join. If the powers are used for evil, the planet will be destroyed. The individual chosen is Neil. All he needs to do is say what he wants and wave his hand, and it is done.
Neil starts out by blowing up a classroom and the pupils in it. This is before he works out that he has powers. Once he works out that he has the power to do absolutely anything, he starts trying it out. The problem is, he has to word his wishes/commands precisely, or things go wrong. This plot point actually results in quite a few funny moments.
And a few not so funny ones.
One of the first things Neil does after he works out he has powers is to make Miss Pringle worship Ray. This backfires when she sets up a religion around Ray. This sets up some of the most cringeworthy scenes in Absolutely Anything.
Catherine is also having problems. While in the US, she had a fling with Colonel Grant (Rob Riggle), who flies to the UK and tries to get back together with her. More unpleasantness and awkwardness ensue for the viewer. Absolutely Anything seems to think that creepy, stalkerish behaviour is funny. Protip: it’s not.
In the film’s key scene, Neil cooks dinner for Catherine. He then chooses to reveal his powers to her. He doesn’t do this by demonstrating them to her, which is how he revealed them to Ray, he just talks about them. Catherine, for her part, is left wondering if Neil is as insane as Grant. This is answered when Grant literally crashes into Neil’s flat through a window. Neil then forgets that he could literally send Grant back to the US with a few words and a wave of his hand. This plot hole is simply annoying.
There are other issues, but the above covers most of them. Absolutely Anything‘s funny moments are too few and far between, a lot of the supposed humour derives from clichés that weren’t that funny even when they were fresh, and the awkwardness is just too much.
This is a sad ending to the career of one of the best comedic troupes of all time. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is regarded as one of the funniest films of all time. Ditto Life of Brian. Terry Jones directed Erik the Viking, another hilarious film. And now this mess.
Absolutely Anything is like seeing a straight A student turn in a D-Grade project. You know that they are capable of far, far better.
Rating: Four out of Ten.

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