Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “health”

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been aware of Ken Kesey for a long time, since I’ve read books by or about people he associated with, like Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. I’ve also been aware of this book for a long time, and knew it was set in a lunatic asylum, but had never read it before.

But though I have known about it for a long time, it was not long enough. I should have read it in my late teens or early twenties, which was when I was most concerned about the boundaries between sanity and madness. That was when I most appreciated Ginsberg’s poem Howl, written for his friend Carl Solomon, who had the electric shock therapy that was then a fashionable treatment for certain kinds of mental illness.

Most of the action in the book takes place in a ward of a mental hospital, presided over by a tyrannical nurse, whose measure of her patients’ progress is how amenable and cooperative they are with her arbitrary rules. Her rule is threatened by a new patient, McMurphy, who questions the rules and the values behind them, and keeps demanding changes, while the nurse keeps threatening him with electric shock therapy.

The book was written in 1960 and published in 1962, and that is when I should have read it. Like Ken Kesey, I was too late for the Beat Generation and too early for the hippies. Americans seem to have names or letters for all sorts of generations, but no one mentions ours, the Beat-Hip Generation.

In 1960 I was studying Sociology I at Wits University. The Sociology Department was presided over by Professor G.K. Engelbrecht, a disciple of the functionalist school, whose mantra was “youth must adjust”. The function of social institutions, like schools, churches, universities, families and all the rest was to facilitate the adjustment process.  Those who failed to adjust were dysfunctional members of society, and, in extreme cases, were labelled as mentally ill, and that is what the book is about. Mental illness carried a stigma, the stigma of failure to adjust.

It is no longer mental illness, but mental health that carries a stigma

All that has changed. Psychology in the 1960s was all about -phrenias and -pathys, which have all but disappeared. Today it is no longer mental illness, but mental health that carries a stigma.

Halfway through my year of Sociology I with Prof G.K. Engelbrecht I went to a student conference where an Anglican monk, Brother Roger, read a paper on Pilgrims of the Absolute, which pointed out how countercultural Christianity really was, and characterised “adjustment” as the selling of one’s heavenly birthright for the pottage of this sinful world. As for one’s mental balance, the devil take it, and indeed he took it long ago. What happened at the Fall? The whole world lost its balance; why should I be concerned about keeping mine?

So in the book McMurphy is a disruptive influence in the ward, at least in the eyes of the nurse, but he manages to secure a brief respite for some of the patients when he organises a deep-sea fishing trip away from the hospital, and they have to cope with all kinds of obstacles that threaten to scupper it. Are the loonies managing to function in a sane society, or are they in fact the only sane ones in a mad society where everyone seems out to get them and make their lives miserable?

In some ways McMurphy is a secular version of the Fool for Christ. He plays the part of the silly fool, and the English word “silly” is derived from the Greek saloi, which means blessed.

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The Great (and dirty) City of Tshwane

This morning as we were driving to church we saw a bakkie dumping rubbish at the side of the R104 near the entrance to Saulsville. If we hadn’t been late we might have slowed down and taken a photo of it, but it is becoming all too common.

On the way home I did take several photos.

R104, entrance to Atteridgeville West.

All over the city there is rubbish dumped like this. Not just in Atteridgeville, but near the Botanic Gardens in the east, and in various other places, and it has been getting worse and worse. The place in Atteridgeville is noticeable because we drive past it once a fortnight, and see each time how more and more of the verges are covered with rubbish. Littering has become part of our lifestyle.

Political parties love to blame other parties for maladministration, but it was bad when the ANC confrolled the city council, and it is worse now that the DA controls the city council. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the municipal administration will remain just as putrid as the rubbish littering the streets.

Thirty years ago I visited Singapore, which was then reputed to be the cleanest city in the world. And the reason was not far to seek — as you walked down the street, you would see lots of signs informing you that the fine for littering was $750. And that law was strictly enforced.

The City of Tshwane could deal with this in similar fashion.

Increase the fine for littering to R5000 or so, put up signs, and employ the Metro Police see that the law is enforced.

As one sports shoe manufacturer likes to tell us, Just do it.


Life Esidemeni — the elephant in the room

For the past few months a lot of news coverage has been given to the deaths of mental patients removed from Life Esidemini facilities to those of unlicensed ?NGOs. Questions have been asked about why they were moved without adequate preparation, and who decided that they should be moved, and who selected the places they should be moved to. I have no comments top make on that, and I’m sure answers will eventually emerge from the current investigations.

What concerns me now are the questions that are apparently not being asked. Such as:

  1. What is Life Esidemeni?
  2. Who decided that they should be in Life Esidemeni in the first place?
  3. What policies lay behind that?

I suspect that the policies that lay behind it were related to neoliberal principles of privatisation and outsourcing.

The Department of Health outsourced the care of mental patients to Life Esidemeni, which was under contract. This proved too expensive, so they decided to look for cheaper alternatives.

The trouble with outsourcing such things is that providing such facilities costs a great deal of money, and people who tender for such a contract are not likely to do so if it is likely to be put out for tender again in a few years. To make life secure for mental patients, the Department of Health should provide its own facilities, or should at least own the land and building on which the facilities are locates, so that if they put it out to tender again they can at least disturb the life of patients as little as possible. If the contract proves too expensive, then there would be no need to move the patients.

It’s not enough to investigate this particular incident, but the policies that lie behind it also need to be scrutinised.

Syndromes, diseases, disorders and initials

One of the things the Internet makes one aware of is the different ways people in different countries communicate, even when they are using the same language.

OCDpeepsPerhaps it’s just that I don’t get out enough, because when someone posted this graphic on Facebook, I had to ask what OCD people were. As far as I have been able to determine, I am an INTP person, and three-letter initialisms beginning with OC make me think of OCR (Optical Character Recognition), but then comes the D, and I’m wondering what it can stand for, Optical Character Determinant? and how it relates to people.

Of course I am familiar with some diseases commonly known by acronyms or initialisms, like Aids and TB, but when someone posted in a newsgroup that he was COPD, I was flummoxed. I’d heard of the LAPD and the NYPD, but COPD? Colorado?

Someone pointed out that people who suffer from the disease or disorder concerned will refer to it by initials, and that I can understand. What puzzles me is when they expect other people who don’t suffer from that particular ailment to know what the letters mean.

That’s what makes me wonder if it is a cultural thing.

Or perhaps a hypochondria thing.

When we first got interested in family history, about 30 years ago, we went to ask my wife’s grandmother about the family. She had difficulty in remembering their names. She said one of her sisters-in-law had married a Walsh or a Marsh. It turned out that it was actually a Clark. But she could remember what illnesses they suffered from and what colour pills they took.

At various times I’ve suffered from various ailments — pneumonia at the age of four, amoebic dysentery at the age of 5, chicken pox and blood poisoning at the age of 6, measles at the age of 11, mumps at the age of 22, myopia and uveitis at the age of 45, and type 2 diabetes at the age of 65, along with a few bouts of colds, influenza and bronchitis. But none of them was known by initials (at least not by me), so I couldn’t have been really ill. The one that caused me the most suffering was measles. And in pneumonia the cure was more painful than the disease (penicillin injections at 3 am — penicillin was then a relatively new invention).

When I remarked on this on Facebook someone commented that surely I must know what ME and MB are. I didn’t. Or at least I thought that they signified doctors, not diseases. ME is surely Medical Examiner, and MB is the degree my “doctor” actually has — MB ChB, to be precise — Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery — for which he (or she) gets to be called “doctor”. Nobody called me a doctor when I had two bachelors degrees.

None of the doctors I’ve ever been to has referred to diseases by initials, at least not in my presence. I’m sure they do so when discussing such things among their colleagues, who can be expected to understand specialised medical jargon. But what gets me is that some people, like the designer of the graphic about eggs, seem to expect the average peasant yobbo on Facebook (like me) to understand them too.

But the internet is like that. It was on BBS conferences that I first learnt about INTP and EFSJ and things like that. At first it sounded like Scorpio and Virgo and Aquarius, but then I applied for a job, and was sent for a test that showed that I was INTP, and apparently they weren’t looking for INTPs to fill that position, so I didn’t get the job.

From the same BBS conference I learned, from other people in different countries, about ADD and ADHD. I didn’t know what those were, until someone mentioned that Ritalin was commonly prescribed for them. I did know about Ritalin. The headmaster of our son’s school urged that we send him to a child psychologist, who referred him to a child psychiatrist, who prescribed Ritalin. Our son tended to get bored in class, and didn’t pay much attention to the teacher. Ritalin was supposed to cure that. Another boy in his class was disruptive, and he took Ritalin, which was supposed to cure that too. The Ritalin cost a lot of money, but did not make the lessons more interesting, though the teachers swore by it. But it seems that ADD was the new name for what I had been prone to in my youth: DDC (Daydreaming in Class). But not once did the psychiatrist refer to ADD or ADHD in our hearing. All she said was that Ritalin had two opposite effects — it gingered up children who were too passive, and calmed down those who were hyperactive. It seemed that it was a panacea. She did not mention its most important property — the placebo effect it had on the teachers.

I think the biggest problem is HCS — a hypochondriac society.

But since the discussion on Facebook, someone has prescribed a sure cure for my problem: List of abbreviations for diseases and disorders – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

And next time someone tells me they are living with NYPD I’ll sympathise accordingly.


Flu vacccines and snake oil

Almost every year my medical aid sends out a circular to its members, urging them to get vaccinated against influenzs, and saying that they will pay for it. And the letter they send usually warns of the dire consequences of not being vaccinated, and the complications that can ensue from influenza.

flu-shotAnd every year I ignore their advice, because I believe it is unnecessary. Yes, I know that they will pay for it, and so it will cost me nothing but the effort of going to the doctor or the chemist to get vaccinated. But I believe that the main purpose of medical aids is to help with medical expenses in the case of serious illness or injury, and that wasting money on things that I regard as trivial, like flu vaccines, mean that contributions will have to go up, or benefits will go down. So I ignore it.

Influenza is something that comes around every year, and I suspect that one of the reasons for that is that the virus that causes it mutates, so any immunity you have from last year isn’t much good for nezt year’s variety. And in my experience, most times it can be sorted out by two days of bed rest and a couple of boxes of tissues. An aspririn to two can help with headaches, and Vitamin C seems to help, if only as a placebo.

influenzaOf course two days in bed usually means two days off work, and that means lost productivity, and as employers provide substantial funding for most medical aid schemes, it is in their interest to urge people to get vaccinated to avoid the time lost. But if immunity to last year’s flu doesn’t count this year, then vaccines made for last year’s flu won’t count for much this year either. And my experience has been that if I have flu once this season, I’m unlikely to have it again. So the most effective vaccine for flu is flu. Unless, of course, you suffer from something like Aids, which weakens the immune system; in that case it is probably safer to be vaccinated against everything.

I’ve had no scientific basis for ignoring the blandishments to be vaccinated against flu, just my own experience and reasonings. But now there comes this article, which seems to support wehat I’ve long thought: Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines

A Johns Hopkins scientist has issued a blistering report on influenza vaccines in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Peter Doshi, Ph.D., charges that although the vaccines are being pushed on the public in unprecedented numbers, they are less effective and cause more side effects than alleged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, says Doshi, the studies that underlie the CDC’s policy of encouraging most people to get a yearly flu shot are often low quality studies that do not substantiate the official claims.

So it seems that my reluctance to support big pharma is not so crazy after all. Of course influenza can lead to complications like bronchitis or pneumonia, but I also suspect that it is most likely to do so if you skip the two days of bed rest and try to carry on with n0rmal activities. So by all means have the vaccination if you can’t afford to take the two days off work, or if you are planning to travel to America, where they might mistake the symptoms for Ebola.

But generally I think medical aid schemes can find better things to spend their money on.

They can also find worse things to spend their money on.

The medical aid I belong to, Bestmed, retains some vestiges of its socialist origins, and therefore tends to consult its members about some things (we are memberts, not customers, you see). One thing they consulted us on was whether we wanted to participate in one of those “loyalty” programmes, which give you points to save up for this or that benefit, or discounts at various shops you never frequent and on products you would never dream of buying. I gather most members said that they’d rather pay lower subscriptions or get more medical benefits than such frippery, because no more was heard of it. But capitalist medical schemes, which have “customers” rather than members, and are accountable to their shareholders rather than to their customers, embark on such things without asking the people who ultimately have to pay for them.

So there are definitely things worse than flu vaccines, but I still don’t want one.

Blueberries or Gunk?

I too would like to know the answer to this — for example, are the “blueberry muffins” sold at Mugg & Bean made with real blueberries? Do blueberries even grow in South Africa?

Blueberry muffin from Cappuchino's at The Grove.

Blueberry muffin from Cappuchino’s at The Grove.


But right after posting this we went out shopping, and had breakfast at Cappuchino’s in The Grove Mall, and what did I have for breakfast but a blueberry muffin. I poked it and prodded it and disected the blueberries, and concluded that they were the real thing and not gunk.

But then I got home to read this: Big food companies want to call GMO foods “natural” | Grist. You win some, you lose some.

Clarissa's Blog

So I just saw this documentary at the gym where somebody said that the blueberries in blueberry muffins are not really blueberries bur, rather, some chemical gunk.

Is that true? Because that’s kind of icky.

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A day in Maun and another boat ride

Continued from From Shakawe to Maun via Lake Ngami | Hayes & Greene family history.

After breakfast at the Island Safari Lodge at Maun, Botswana, where we were staying, we hung around for a while reading and relaxing, then later we went into town to try to get some cash money and some lunch. It seemed that none of the credit card machines at garages or other places were working. Nor was the facility to buy air time for cell phones (any offers for two P10.00 air time vouchers for Mascom in Botswana, which we are no longer able to use?). Fortunately we found a couple of working ATMs.

Maun, Botswana

Maun, Botswana

We saw a Bimbos restaurant, which we had not seen for ages, and had a look at it. It was in one of them that I had first had a shwarma, with Tony Irish, in Hillbrow, 30 years ago. But though the name remained, the franchise had gone,and there were no shwarmas, only local food like goat stew, though they did have chicken breyani on the menu as well. If they had had goat breyani I might have been tempted, but chicken breyani tends to have too many bones for the unwary.

Maun, Botswana

Maun, Botswana

We drove around the town, in a kind of figure 8, going west along the road we had come in, turning south, then north, following well-made tarred roads with streetlights, , though the roads between the houses were sandy tracks, and some houses were traditional mud and thatch, some were plastered brick, but often rondavels rather than square houses, and many, both square and rondavel, had traditional lapas outside. It seemed a quite a bit bigger than Rundu, but a much more pleasant place.

The main streets of Maun are fairly busy ...

The main streets of Maun are fairly busy …

Eventually we had lunch at Wimpys, and I had one of their standard hamburgers, which was as tough an leathery and tasteless as they had been for 50 years. “Flanagan’s Ears” as Val used to call them. Flanagan was a dog they used to have in Escombe, a sort of mongrel spaniel. We went to a Shoprite supermarket, and bought some bottled water and biscuits for our journey to Serowe tomorrow, as we don’t know what we will find along the way.

... but in between the busy streets are quiet lanes leading to houses like these

… but in between the busy streets are quiet lanes leading to houses like these

I don’t normally buy bottled water, as I regard it as a bit of a scam, and ridiculously overpriced. Well, I do buy bottled water, actually, because drinks like CocaCola and Sprite are basically bottled water with a bit of flavouring and sweetening added. I justify buying those to myself because the flavouring and sweetening does add some “value” to the product. But a litre of Coke costs about the same as a litre of petrol. The petrol had to pumped out of the ground, brought halfway round the world in a tanker, and refined in a fairly complicated process, which might justify the price. But adding flavouring and sweetening, and even a bit of fizz to water is relatively simple, and does nothing to justify the price.

tap2Some bottled water is advertised as “spring water”, and so is supposed to be more “pure” and “natural” than tap water, though I suspect that it absorbs quite a lot of impurities from the plastic bottles that it is stored and transported in. But really, how would you know? Most of it just tastes like water. And some of the bigger food firms, like Nestlé, have jumped on the bottled water bandwagon advertising a lot of bogus benefits, most of which are also available from tap water. They claim that “is filtered through the earth and stored in deep Dolomite lakes” (read “boreholes”), but Bonaqua, the CocaCola brand, is basically bottled tap water.

But when travelling in strange places, tap water is not always potable. I remember that in Moscow it wasn’t, and that’s a big city. At the Island Safari Lodge they put out a carafe of drinking water in the rooms, perhaps for such a reason, so we bought bottled water rather than taking their tap water, which could, for all we knew, have been pumped straight from the river outside. So we bought bottled water.

In the Okavango Delta a boat  is a good way to move your stuff

In the Okavango Delta a boat is a good way to move your stuff

Back at the Island Safari Lodge they advertised a sunset boat trip, and since we enjoyed the one at Shakawe so much, we booked for it. At Shakawe our main interest was that Val’s great-great-grandfather had gone up the river there in his boat, and as far as we knew he had not done such a thing at Maun, but picturing oneself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies seemed quite attractive. So we went at about 5 pm.

Washing clothes at the riverside

Washing clothes at the riverside

The boatman, whose name was Cobra, was not expecting us, and thought that no one had booked for the sunset ride, but soon sorted that out, and we went up the river, much narrower and shallower here than 300 km upstream at Shakawe. We looked at jacana birds, Cobra called them “Jesus birds” because they walk across the lily pads, and look as though they are walking on water. We also saw some bee eaters perched on a tree, but not at their nests.

African Jacana -- sometimes called "Jesus birds" because they appear to be walking on water

African Jacana — sometimes called “Jesus birds” because they appear to be walking on water

Cobra said that the flat island on our right, with its grazing cows, was covered with water when the rain in Angola brought the river down in June or July. On the left bank were a lot of dead thorn trees, some with grass in upper branches, showing where the floodwaters reached, up to ten feet from the ground. There was a shed there, and I asked if that too was covered with water, and he said it housed a borehole which people had put down in a dry period, and the trees had also grown here in a dry period, and when the water covered the banks they had died, because Kalahari thorn trees can’t survive in an environment that is too wet, which would also explain the dead trees that we had seen at Lake Ngami — the water level must be rising again, and must be a lot higher than it was 10-20 years ago, though still nothing like as high as it must have been in Fred Green’s time, for him to be able to sail a boat up the Taokhe River.

Dead trees along the river banks; they grew when the water level was lower

Dead trees along the river banks; they grew when the water level was lower

We turned up the left branch of the river, which was flowing more visibly, but at less than half the apparent speed at Rundu or Shakawe. Occasionally we slowed down when passing canoes with local people, to avoid upsetting them with the wash, and went quite a long way up the river.  There were several fish eagles along the banks, and pied kingfishers.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies: sunset over the Okavango Delta

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies: sunset over the Okavango Delta

The sunset was beautiful, and we took several photos, but even better was the rising moon on the way back. We passed some schoolkids playing around in an old boat, though not controlling it very well, but it struck me as a nice after-school pastime.

Moonrise over the Okavango Delta

Moonrise over the Okavango Delta

How can there be so much beauty in the world?

Moonrise in the Okavango Delta

Moonrise in the Okavango Delta

And so to supper, and bed.

The next day we followed the course of the Boteti or Botletle River, where Fred and Charles Green often hunted in the 1850s, to see what its attraction was.


You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

Diet, fasting and the environment

I’ve read a number of blog posts recently about eating and drinking and the environment, and this one suggests that we should drink water to save water The Green Phone Booth: Drink Water!

Well, I have to admit that in addition to drinking plain water, I also drink rather a lot of tea and coffee, though one thing I try to avoid is bottled water, unless it has some flavour added.

I’ve previously blogged about the strange habit of many people of drinking bottled water, which is expensive, unhealthy, and environmentally unfriendly. Quite a lot of the bottled water that is sold is just tap water anyway, so why not drink it straight from the tap?

Blogger Clarissa gives some reasons for not drinking it straight from the tap here Does Anybody Drink Tap Water? | Clarissa’s Blog — she thinks tap water tastes horrible, and she finds that in every city she has ever lived in.

I have been warned not to drink tap water in some cities — Mosc0w and Athens come to mind — but I’ve been living in Tshwane for 30 years and I don’t think I’ve come to any harm from drinking the tap water yet. The tap water is quite safe and palatable, as it is in most South African cities.

I agree with Clarissa on one point, though. I know some people who are forever banging on about the environment, but even when they are at home they still drink bottled water.

And then, from the same source as the recommendation to drink tap water, comes this The Green Phone Booth: Four Small Changes to Make in Your Daily Life:

Eat less meat. Meat production is a major contributing factor in climate change – in fact, livestock produce as much as 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gases. Meat production also uses far more water than growing plants. I’m not a vegetarian, but I have taken steps to reduce my meat consumption. Even one veggie meal every day can make a big difference, and you may even get the chance to try some new recipes while you’re at it.

And one of the commenters on that recommended this Meatless Monday | one day a week, cut out meat, which appears to be a new secular fast. Orthodox Christians, of course have meatless Wednesdays and Fridays.

So if the secularists fast on Mondays, and the Christians really observe the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, perhaps meat consumption could be reduced.

But there is also a downside to this: School Districts Take on ‘Meatless Mondays’ to Support Healthy and Humane Eating Habits:

Schools are in a unique and powerful position to influence students’ eating habits for a lifetime to come. These pioneering schools recognize that responsibility, and the many benefits Meatless Monday offers for our health, for our planet, and for animals.

In a country where “separation of church and state” is elevated to a sacred principle, why are they imposing the secular fast on Christians? Should they not be providing the option of Meatless Fridays for Christian pupils? And would it make any difference at all to the secularists if they fasted on Fridays instead of on Mondays — other than that that would not provide them with an opportunity to stick it to the Christians? This seems to be a case of outright religious discrimination.

But some of the arguments for this need to reduce meat consumption seem a bit odd to me. Why Meatless?:

The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.

I’ve seen other arguments that cattle farts produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, but the same would apply to any other animals on the planet, including wild animals and human beings. If we follow that line of reasoning, we should exterminate all animals, wild and tame, to save the planet — but to save it for what?

A better argument that I have seen, and one worth considering, is from a book I read recently The long road home: book review | Khanya:

Americans now wanted to eat more meat, and it paid their farmers to feed their cereals to the livestock needed to produce that meat, rather than to human beings. For the first time in history, high meat consumption in one major country would distort agricultural output all over the world.

If you want to be environmentally friendly about meat, then insist that the meat you buy comes from grass-fed and not corn-fed/grain-fed cattle.

And one last little tip: at public events caterers have learnt to be sensitive to religious diversity and provide kosher and halaal food, but most of them have never heard of nistisimo. Perhaps they had better learn it now, and provide nistisimo food on Wednesdays and Fridays for the Christians, and on Mondays for the secularists who observe Meatless Mondays. Oh yes, and even the secularists can Google for “nistisimo recipes”.

Goodbye peanut butter

For a long time Black Cat peanut butter was the only brand in the South African market.

Then other brands began appearing, which tasted horrible. One of them was “Yum Yum”. It was American-style peanut butter, with added sugar and other nameless ingredients.

Then Black Cat was taken over by Tiger Foods, and they too started producing the horrible American-style version. Some people objected, like The Black Cat | andrewdotcoza: “They changed my favourite peanut butter and they made it taste like crap!”

I stopped buying peanut butter.

Then I saw a new and unfamiliar brand, Thokoman.

I looked at the list of ingedients: peanuts, salt.

I bought a small pot, and took it home, and rejoiced that it tasted like the real thing. After that, whenever we went shopping, we looked for Thokoman. If we couldn’t find it, we didn’t buy peanut butter. We bought both smooth and crunchy varieties because some members of the family liked one, and some liked the other.

Then one day I opened a new pot of Thokoman, spread it on bread, tasted it, and gagged. It tasted horrible. I looked at the list of ingredients, and saw that sugar had been added. I threw my slice of bread, and the whole pot of peanut butter in the dustbin. Once again we stopped buying peanut butter.

Then my wife noticed that Black Cat were advertising the “original” peanut butter.

We bought some, but the taste and texture were different from the original.

Instead of the ingredients being “peanuts, salt” they were now listed as “peanuts, stabiliser”.

So it still has a weird taste and texture, not quite as revolting as the ones with added sugar, but not pleasant either.

At this time of the year (the Nativity Fast) we used to eat peanut butter several times a week, but now I have it only once every 2-3 weeks. Instead of peanut butter, I spead my bread with hoummous or chakalaka. They are probably also made by Tiger Foods, so it’s no skin off their nose.

And I still wonder about the mysterious “stabiliser”, and why they are so coy about what it is. It was certainly no part of the real original Black Cat peanut butter (as opposed to the fake “original” that they are selling now). I suspect that it may be something very unhealthy, like this: Ban Trans Fats: The Campaign to Ban Partially Hydrogenated Oils: Trans fat (which means trans fatty acids) is the worst kind of fat, far worse than saturated fat.

So if anyone knows where one can buy real peanut butter, with nothing other than peanuts and a little salt, please let me know.

The Aids war is over – sort of

While there was controversy and a split in the ANC over the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, there were few to mourn exit of his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The Times – ‘The war is over’:

AFTER years of anger, South Africa yesterday commemorated World Aids Day, confident for the first time that the government is responding effectively to the epidemic.

Mark Heywood, deputy chair of the SA National Aids Council, said: “The war is over. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be disputes and that the Treatment Action Campaign will be muted when we have issues to raise — but it means that the level of resistance that we once encountered is over…

Last month The Times reported that a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US had found that more than 330000 lives had been lost because of the failure of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang in the provision of HIV-Aids drugs between 2000 and 2005.

  • The Harvard report blamed the deaths on the reluctance of the Mbeki-led government to implement a feasible and timely antiretroviral treatment programme.

  • The study found that almost 35000 babies were born with HIV between 2000 and 2005 because Mbeki and his health minister had failed to make widely available the drug nevirapine, which prevents mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
  • The new Health Minister, Barbara Hogan, is taking action to turn this around.

    But the Mbeki government’s failure to deal adequately with HIV/Aids has led to another health crisis:

    Al Jazeera English – Focus – South Africa’s hidden epidemic:

    Once on the wane, tuberculosis is again resurgent, especially in countries facing major HIV/Aids epidemics.

    In 2006, it killed an estimated 1.7 million people, according to the UN. An estimated two million died of HIV/Aids, but for many the immediate cause was tuberculosis; TB is the number one killer for people with Aids.

    Unlike Aids, TB – once known as the white plague – is a curable disease, but proper treatment is complicated and requires at least a six-month course of antibiotics.

    However, HIV attacks the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections like TB, and as a result, there are high-levels of co-infection.

    One of the consequences of this has been the evolution of new strains of drug-resistant TB.

    This is my contribution to the Bloggers Unite on World Aids Day campaign.

    It’s a day late, because yesterday was also the synchroblog on Mythical Monsters, which, though it seemed to me to be an interesting topic, only got three contributions. Anyway, better late than never, for both the Aids Day one and the mythical monsters one.

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