April 28, 2006

Good night, sleep tight.

You can be sure that all's well with the world in terms of natural disasters, humanitarian tragedies and political or diplomatic folly when the biggest item on the news this week is about a (wait for it) bed bug "epidemic". (I love the double-entendre of that Reuters title, by the way. I hope the sub-editor got a bonus for that one.)
The original article (PDF) on which all the news stories were based is naturally a little less thrilling and a lot more factual, and is interesting from an etymological point of view, as well as an entomological one. (I'll pause to allow readers to check that I have these the right way around.)

The article refers to
pest control companies ... experiencing a true worldwide bed bug pandemic.
(My italics.)
Compare this to the paraphrasing in all the news articles:
Australia is suffering a bed-bug epidemic ... The Australian outbreaks are part of a global epidemic
(My italics again.)

I can see three possible reasons for this word substitution:
1. The journalists think epidemic and pandemic are synonyms.
2. The journalists had never heard of pandemic and assumed the scientist made a mistake in his article.
3. The journalists thought that their readers would not understand what a pandemic was, or would not be sufficiently alarmed, so they chose a more recognisable and presumably scary word.

In fact the reverse is true, and, not surprisingly, the scientist was using the terms correctly, because a pandemic indicates that both the area involved and the population affected is much larger that in an epidemic. As WiseGeek helpfully puts it,
... epidemics that grow out of hand due to the nature of the disease and other factors, turn into pandemics.

As a footnote, an amusingly parochial interpretation of the term "pandemic" can be found in "The Arizona Republic", which proudly reported that
... the bugs are returning to beds throughout the country, including in Arizona.

April 19, 2006

I spy, with ...

As countless other sticky-beaks have done before me, I frittered away several hours today using Google Earth to swoop down onto all the places I've lived, or visited, or even just heard about. It is rivetting stuff, and quite addictive.
What amused me nearly as much as the vertiginous dips and dives was the apparently random nature of the resolution. Here am I, in a small, semi-rural, outer-metropolitan suburb on the unfashionable side of a vast continent, and I can clearly see my garden shed (admittedly a bit fuzzy, but still identifiable), and the paths where I walk my dogs through nearby bushland, and even the graffiti on a council water tank. Using the tilt feature, I can identify the steepest parts of my daily walk, and make a mental note not to bother exploring that other path because it looks far too difficult. All useful stuff, but surely not of great interest to whoever pays for the satellite?
But when I try to hover over friends in the SW of England, or the NW states of the USA, where the population density is almost unimaginable by Western Australian standards, I find the closest I can get is a blurry distinction between urban and rural land use. Only very large roads and rivers can be seen, and perhaps the suggestion of residential areas as distinct from industrial ones. Certainly no buildings are identifiable at all, and yet these are areas one could imagine being of greater interest, whether for boring urban planning reasons or for intriguing security ones.

Ahh. Maybe that's the answer. I live in a sufficiently peaceful and uninteresting part of the world that the images collected incidentally while on the way to somewhere more vital can be released to everyone, everywhere. Well that's fine by me, and if you tell me when you'll be dropping in, I'll make sure I have the kettle on. :-)

April 15, 2006

Birds and bird-brains

I went to a wonderful talk last weekend, by an entertaining fellow from Birds Australia, and he made one of those observations which are almost universal truths. He said that unless great self-control is exercised, when someone spots a bird (or plane, landmark, or anything requiring the use of the binoculars hanging around the neck), that person will look down at the binoculars before raising them to the eyes. In the process, of course, the object has moved or otherwise become invisible, and it often takes some time to find it again.
His point was that we know where the binoculars are, so there is absolutely no need to look down to "find" them. We should keep our eyes on the bird or whatever, and raise the binoculars to our eyes. Of course! But a quick survey of friends and acquaintances confirmed that we all look down first. This sort of self-evident fact can easily make my day.

Of course it can just as quickly be unmade by yet more proof (as if it were needed) that people have more money than sense. I was at a party last night, and one of the other guests (obviously unaware that I was a doctor) was regaling us with details of her "new" diet and health regime. Less than fascinating stuff at the best of times, but I had to snap back from my daydream when she announced derisively that "My doctor tried to tell me that I was wasting my money on these [insert phony chemical name] herbal pills and the special liquid I have to drink before each meal." I was very well behaved, and resisted the urge to shout "Hear Hear!", but fortunately someone asked her what they cost. "Oh, they're very expensive," she replied proudly. "But I think you only get what you pay for." Right.

April 08, 2006

These legs are made for ... money?

Yes I know I have no life. I usually watch Parky on a Saturday night, and tonight one of his "guests" was Michael Flatley (I refuse to link to his self-congratulatory site). OK so he can dance, no question. Good for him, and he's a pleasure to watch. But these figures are ridiculous:
Once recognised as the world's highest paid dancer, earning $1,600,000 a week, Flatley has his legs insured for £25 million.
I'm sorry, but everyone needs their legs, and I don't understand what makes his so special. Car accidents, landmines, war, urban violence ... thousands of people lose their legs each year, and they are lucky to get their medical bills paid for them. Let's get some perspective here.

April 06, 2006

Go milk!

I was very amused to see that a recent study comparing chocolate milk and so-called "energy" drinks is still considered "news" more than 6 weeks since it was first published. Not only is this an interesting comment on what really matters to us (or at least what the media considers really matters to us), but it is also a personal vindication. I have long believed that we are getting too smart for our own good when it comes to analysing what we eat and drink. I frequently tell my patients (usually without being asked) that there is absolutely no need to waste money on vitamins, supplements, tonics, and all manner of other artificial concoctions, when these same "nutrients" (to use the term loosely) are found in cheaper, tastier and more natural form in ordinary food.
Of course there are those who have conditions or diseases which make it difficult or impossible for them to get sufficient nourishment without supplementing their diet, but for most of us, a sensible diet is all that is required.

If you are physically active, whether for work or recreation, you will need to eat more to maintain health and energy. If you are a sedentary person, for whatever reason, you will not need as much to eat.
This is not rocket science.

We are slaves to the marketing industry, who persuade us that we "need" all these products to keep us healthy, lengthen our lives, increase our energy, and no doubt improve our relationships and increase our wealth. It is complete twaddle, and it makes me cross to see people spend their limited resources on these things instead of a better quality cut of meat, or fresher fish, or organic vegetables.

Let's ignore the plaintive self-interested bleats of the "sports drink" manufacturers who protest that it was a small study. It was indeed, but it obviously caught people's interest, to judge by the prolonged media coverage. I say "Three Cheers" for the dairy farmers of the world and I salute them with a glass of their finest!

April 05, 2006

Morning walks and historical talks

OK I admit it. I'm one of those irritating, smug and self-righteous "morning people". I got out of the habit of an early morning walk, but recently decided to pull my socks up and get back into it.

I live wonderfully close to "the bush" as we call it here - National Parks and Reserves of undeveloped natural vegetation, so there is really no excuse for not getting up an hour early and dragging one of my snoring dogs off the bed. Today we went on a 5km walk around Jorgensen Park and were treated to a glorious sunrise. The trouble with being so healthy and virtuous first thing in the morning is that I tend to be lazy for the rest of the day, but fortunately I have a class to attend at the local community centre.
It's called "Personal Views of History", and involves each group member presenting an historical topic that particularly interests them. So far, I have learned about the histories of coffee, Sicily, writing, Petra (in Jordan), Charles II, and an infamous Western Australian public servant called Neville, so it has been a delightfully varied course! Most people bring along books, photographs or travel souvenirs related to their subject, which makes for truly multimedia presentations.

April 02, 2006

Mak's Back!

After a rather disastrous experience with my last blog (hosted by a friend) being completely swamped by spam, and with said friend then vanishing into the icy wastes, leaving me unable to administer the blog and nuke the spam ... well anyway, here I am again.

Not as parochial a template this time, which is a shame, so you will just have to imagine an Aussie theme until I find out how to upload gifs and photos.


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