Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kill me I'm dying

Dear Legislators everywhere,
         Please kill me I'm dying.
       How many of you out there have heard that plea in some form or other from a loved one whose body no longer functions but who just won’t die?
          If they were one of our pets there would be no problem. We would have them humanely put down with a lethal injection. But in most countries we are not yet mature and honest enough to be able to do the same thing to people who are crying out to be put down.
          Shouldn’t there be a universal law prohibiting cruelty to people by prolonging life when it has effectively ceased to exist?
          Sean Davison has highlighted the problem. This South African based Professor is campaigning for a change in the law to allow voluntary euthanasia after he was charged with attempted murder in New Zealand for giving his cancer-ridden, 85 year old mother a lethal dose of morphine. Euthanasia is a crime in both New Zealand and South Africa.
          The ridiculous case that is a complete waste of tax payer’s money is based on a leaked admission he made in a draft of his book Before We say Goodbye. If the Professor, who did what he did out of love, was not so honest he could just say that what he wrote was fiction. Then how would the authorities ever be able to prove their case?
          Our friend Dave, who is in his seventies, has been battling cancer on and off for the last few years but now it has finally won. Bedridden, with a perfectly well functioning brain, he has been moved from two hospices already and he is now on to his third.
          A hospice for the terminally ill is where they expect you to die within a very short time of perhaps a week or two. So, as they are not allowed to help you on your way, you might survive longer than expected and then you have to move. It’s not for long term stays.
        So that’s why Dave has been shunted from one place to another when all he wants to do is DIE.
          My wife visited him just before his latest move and he told her "I hope they kill me this time."She held his hand and kissed him goodbye.
          Tragically they won’t kill him. He’ll have to do that all by himself unless of course he finds someone as brave as Professor Davison.
          Sheelah, my mother-in-law, was in much the same situation as Davison’s mother. For something like two years before she eventually died in her eighties she often asked my wife to help her die. Apart from her health her dignity had gone completely.
          She was a grown-up whose daughter had to tend to her as if she was a tiny baby. Could anything be more humiliating especially as fate had not been kind enough to destroy her brain in the same way that it had crippled the rest of her body?
          A lot of people might think that another of our friends was far more fortunate than Dave. Out of the blue her cancer was diagnosed as being so far gone that nothing further could be done other than token chemotherapy.
          From the time she was diagnosed with the Big C to when she died 62 year old Maree lasted just eight weeks. It was very sad and a great shock to her relatives and friends but would it have been better if she had lingered on for months, if not years, pleading to be put out of her misery?
          When my wife and I last saw her she gave us a box of chocolates. And after supper one evening we ate the last two.
          The following morning we were told that Maree had died in hospital that night a 1000 miles away. It was uncanny. Who knows it could have been exactly when we finished the last chocolate that Maree’s life finally ebbed away.
          God-speed Maree.
          She had been on a respirator and they had turned it off to see if she could breath on her own. You could say it was medically, sanctioned euthanasia. While the lawmakers hum and haw about legalising euthanasia for all of us doctors continue to legitimately do the compassionate thing.
          But if I was to crush 10 times the prescribed dose of pills and hand them with a glass of water to my mother who had been pleading with me for months to die I would be breaking the law.
          People can’t even decide on their own destiny, but doctors who know nothing about them other than their medical condition are empowered to make life and death decisions for them. Does that make any sense?
          Legalising voluntary euthanasia is definitely the way to go, but a lot of people are so worried that this might be abused that they believe we dare not try it. But if that approach was adopted with everything there would be no progress because whatever you do there’s always a section of humanity who will try and spoil it.
          Yours sincerely
          Jon, who hopes they get it right before he finds himself in that unenviable position.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Plague of the Killer C

Dear Leader of the Patient's Union,

          Going to hospital is a sure cure for modesty, especially when the medical boffins decide that the only way they can tell what’s going on inside you is to have a close look. And it’s also a place where in most instances they actively encourage worry.
          To give me a bit more to worry about my specialist physician happily told me that he was increasingly finding the Big C in younger and younger people. He was referring to it romping around in the tubes and crannies that run from your mouth to your other end. 
        So, if anything unusual was happening in this rather vital area of the anatomy he always advocated that it was best to let him have a look. Just to be on the safe side you understand.
          I surmised my medic was probably a frustrated speleologist, who had decided on this line of work because he could look down dark and windy passages without the risk of getting stuck, crushed by a rock fall or drowned in some inaccessible crevice.
          My life could have been gradually ebbing away but I got no sympathy from my wife. Just because you’re doing what every man does with such glee it’s hardly an excuse to rush off and have an expensive medical examination when we haven’t even got a medical aid, she said.
          Most of the time you’re forcing it anyway. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with you. You men go to hospital for the slightest thing.
          It’s my life that’s at stake, I told her. So if you don’t mind I’ll play it safe. It’s no good having money if you’re dead.
          My doctor certainly believed in leaving nothing to chance so he decided on a complete top and bottom. For the technically minded it’s a gastroscopy and a colonoscopy.
          It was a kind of 100 000 km service, even though I had only done 40 000 at the time. Well specialists have got to live too and are they all that different from the guy who fixes your car?
          To do these delightful procedures they put you under. That way you can’t criticise their work. They then push a camera on a scenic trip round your insides
          The pictures show up on a screen. And if they see anything interesting like precious stones or other lumps and bumps they snip bits off and take them as souvenirs to the lab.
          To make sure that the specialist got no unpleasant surprises and that the view was absolutely clear I had to starve for two days. And that was not all. I also had to drink litres of clean prep that goes through you almost as fast as you can drink it.
          On the morning of the big day I arrived at the clinic on schedule at 8.00 am thinking of nothing but food. But nobody was a bit concerned about the mental state of  us starving patients all coming for the same procedure, because laid out on a table in front of the reception desk were all kinds of goodies, muffins, yogurt, scones etc.
          And doctors and other members of staff kept coming through and stuffing their faces right in front of us. For me this Who cares about the patient approach did not end there. 
          When I gave my name to the receptionist she looked down her list and told me I was not on it. I protested that I was not going to starve myself for another two days because my doctor was so disorganised and she casually replied, He often forgets to put people down.  
          How often does he forget to take his knives and forks out when he’s done an operation, I was about to ask. Unperturbed she smiled sweetly and said I could be fitted in at around 1.00 pm. That’s lunch time, I thought. If a patient has survived two days of starvation a couple more hours won’t kill him or will it?
          I was put in a mixed ward to await my fate and to allow me and everybody else to talk up our fears. I got chatting to a woman who didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening because when she asked what my problem was I said, In-growing toe nails. With a mystified look she asked, Surely you don’t have to take clean prep for that do you?
          The patient torture took a further twist when I was wheeled through to another siding in the operating area. The doctor and the anaesthetist were not going to delay lunch just because the assembly line was still running.
          Not a chance; dressed in their greens they were stuffing themselves with hamburgers in a nearby cubicle leaving me to suffer surrounded by the delicious smell.
          Did I say that doctors are no different from the mechanics who fix your car?  I was half expecting to see semi-naked pinups stuck to the wall when I was finally pushed into theatre.
          After all that my doc was so disappointed, not at the way his bank balance had increased, but because I was not a candidate for further expensive, scientific exploration.
       The moral to the story is listen to your wife. You don’t need X-rays, scans, video cameras or anything else looking into your insides because she can see through you in an instant.
          Your sincerely,
          Jon, a concerned Patient.

PS. Seven out of 12 of the people on my wife's Church’s latest prayer list have cancer. It makes you think doesn’t it?

Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on Amazon Kindle  It's thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of prejudice.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Press Council's brand of Justice - Part I

Dear Newspaper Readers,
          This is the first of a two part series on the spat the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman has had with Big Brother, the South African Press Council. It threw my complaints against the Sunday Times out on their ear.
          They only got to second base where former judge Ralph Zulman, the head of the Appeals Panel decided they didn’t merit consideration by the other members of that body. He refused me leave to appeal.
          He inadvertently introduced humour into this solemn occasion when he emailed me his finding. When I told him I couldn’t open it he sent it to the Council’s offices to have it passed on only to receive this reply, Judge please fax us your decision as we also can’t open the attachment.
          The Press Council’s inefficiency was highlighted once again at the bottom of the fax I finally got when the judge added; I regret the delay in this matter. The relevant papers only reached me last week.
          That was nearly four months after I had lodged an appeal after my case had been dismissed by Dr Johan Retief, the Deputy Ombudsman.
          The Council can dawdle along but aggrieved readers are expected to complain within 14 days of a disputed article appearing and lodge an appeal within seven days if the Ombudsman’s decision is disputed.
          Let’s be serious; it’s no laughing matter for the Sunday Times, with its vast circulation, to be dragged before the Press Council to have it’s morals questioned by this nobody who calls himself the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman. After all isn’t the Sunday Times such a pillar of rectitude that it is entitled to police everybody else’s behaviour?
          The Council (slogan: Effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media) holds itself up as a shining example of how well it’s brand of justice works. It adjudicates on complaints against the mighty Press, or the Fourth Estate if you want to be posh.
          You’ll never see a report in any paper of my case because papers are only compelled to publish the result when the complaint is upheld. The centuries old maxim that justice needs to be seen to be done gets conveniently bypassed. It’s a cosy arrangement to avoid embarrassing papers that are always attacking Government and other organisations for trying to keep their secrets.
          Complainants are kept pretty well in the dark about what is going on behind the scenes. They don’t get a copy of the allegations that have been put to the accused and nor are they given full details as to what the defence is maintaining.
          Here’s what happened when I took the Sunday Times to task over stories that appeared in the Business Times section of that paper so you can judge just how good or bad this keep-it-in-the-family system works.
          Apart from the newspaper itself my other antagonist was Thabo Leshilo, an impressive heavyweight in South African journalism. Harvard educated he had been editor of the Pretoria News and Business Times and Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday World and the Sowetan.
          He became the Public Editor for the Avusa Group, which owns the Sunday Times among other publications, more than a year ago. He was billed as the person who takes up complaints on behalf of readers, making him the Group’s in-house ombudsman. So it was to him that I directed my concerns.
·       First Complaint. I drew his attention to the dubious investment advertisements that were appearing in the Sunday Times because I felt that a lot of people, particularly pensioners, often got tempted by these get-rich-quick schemes and ended up losing everything. The paper clearly had its doubts about these ads because it warned readers to be careful where they put their money as the paper could not vouch for the claims made by advertisers.  Leshilo evidently agreed with me. The half page report he wrote that appeared in the Sunday Times mentioned my name and that the Group’s advertising manager had agreed to be choosier about accepting this type of ad. Leshilo wise words were that ads, like the rest of the paper had to be believable. The new policy did not last long before it reverted back to type with promoters promising investors ‘30% interest’ on their money and other too-good-to-be-true opportunities.
·       Second Complaint. Noseweek, South Africa’s investigative magazine carried a story headed High on the Hog. How Jim Jones ripped off his website employers and then spun the story. It told how this former editor of Johannesburg’s Business Day, who was now writing for the business section of the Sunday Times, had pocketed $20 487 belonging to Moneyweb, his ex-employer. The spun story he wrote in the Sunday Times was a scathing attack on Moneyweb and was evidently an act of revenge because he had been fired by this firm. The white washed apology the paper carried under Jone’s byline conveniently left out the fact that he had departed from Moneyweb under a cloud. I asked Leshilo, Why is Jones still employed by the Sunday Times and isn’t it particularly hypocritical to keep him on as the paper is in the business of exposing corruption. I referred to an article Leshilo had recently written entitled, Journalists who dirty their hands subtitled A few scoundrels can tarnish the credibility of an entire industry. He went on to say, The big problem though, is the way the media handles their ignoble sons and daughters. Referring to another case he had been dealing with he added, I have never seen such foot-dragging, buck passing and abdication of responsibility on something so damaging to the credibility of a newspaper.  After I had emailed him several times to find out what was happening he assured me, I’m not sweeping the Jim Jones matter under the carpet. But that’s exact what happened because Jones continued to write in the Sunday Times and its sister paper The Times with bigger and bigger bylines.
·       Third Complaint. This was prompted by an SMS from Laurie that appeared in The Times. He maintained that judging by the columns Leshilo had written he was not dealing with any complaints. I then asked him, Isn’t it time that your Group admitted that you are just another columnist and that if readers want to complain you are not the person to contact. He replied that he had been agonizing over this.
         To be continued.
          Yours sincerely
          Jon, a Free Blog advocate. 
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Press Council's brand of Justice - Part II

Dear Newspaper Readers,
          Here’s the second part of my Press Council’s Brand of Justice.
          In August last year I sent the complaints I had raised with the Sunday Times to the Press Council as I was not getting any joy from Leshilo after protracted email conversations over many months.
            Regarding the last one I added that I believed that the Avusa Group should be censured for appointing Leshilo as a window dressing exercise by promoting him as an ombudsman without giving him the authority to do the job properly.

          The Council’s Case Officer, Khanyi Mndaweni, to whom all complaints go initially, immediately dismissed all mine in an email that contained the following: This office does not deal with complaints pertaining to the business side of newspapers. Complaints regarding advertising are dealt with by the Adverting Standards Authority. She added she had spoken to Leshilo who had said he was dealing with my complaint.
          This would no doubt have put off the average person completely. But the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman doesn’t get sidelined that easily. I bypassed the Case Officer and spoke to Dr Johan Retief, the Council’s Deputy Ombudsman.  He told me that what I had been told was not true as they did deal with business sections. 
          Being told a lie to begin with did not give me much faith in this readers’ protection society.         
         I told him that I wondered if the Case Officer had dismissed my complaints out of hand because Thabo Leshilo was a big shot journalist who had recently been speaking on TV about the threat to Press freedom by the African National Congress controlled Government.
          I emphasised that my First Complaint concerned what was written about the adverts and not the ads themselves. I submitted that the headline Taking a stand on unsavoury adverts on the story Leshilo wrote clearly showed that the Avusa Group intended doing something about this kind of advertising.
          At the time I had no reason to keep the article so Dr Retief said he would ask Leshilo to produce it. You can’t believe what happened next.
          Thabo says he has no idea what I am talking about and suggests you produce the article. Stale mate, Dr Retief told me. So this eminent journalist had a sudden attack of amnesia about something I had been complaining to him about on a regular basis since the article appeared about a year earlier.
          I submitted that if this was the case then Dr Retief would have to accept my version unless Leshilo could show that I was wrong. It would seem he doesn’t want to produce the article because it would only fortify my case still further, I told him.
          How odd is this? Two days before I got that dubious email from the Case Officer, Leshilo sent me one saying, I have asked our head of advertising to consider a company-wide position on adverts for such get rich quick schemes. This was evidently what the Case Officer was referring to when she said Leshilo had told her he was dealing with my complaint.
          He was responding to an email I sent him three weeks earlier in which I pointed out that my campaign to get the papers in his group to stop carrying these adverts got a big write up in the beginning and then everything went back to normal. Surely he would have asked me to explain this write up if, as he claimed to Dr Retief, he knew nothing about it?
          Although I did not have the Jim Jones reports that appeared in the Sunday Times I told Dr Retief I had found the Noseweek story which I emailed to him. I also referred him to what Media Online had to say about the first story Jones wrote headed, Questions over Moneyweb price falls.
          Jim Jones, it said, raised a number of issues which appeared to be without substance. In answering Media Online’s questions, Moneyweb’s CEO Alec Hogg said that in almost three decades of his experience in journalism, Jone’s article ranked asthe most blatant example of a major media outlet being abused to pursue a writer’s personal agenda.’
          Dr Retief dismissed my complaints by saying he could not adjudicate if he did not have the advertisement article and he could not take my word and then confront Thabo with it. He did not have a copy of the Noseweek report about Jones although I had emailed it to him and in any case I cannot entertain a complaint that is a year late.
          Regarding my query about Leshilo’s role as Avusa’s internal ombudsman he said his office had no mandate to interfere in the goings on of newspapers. We can only act on what newspapers publish.
          Determined to have the last word I pointed out that the Council’s rules allowed for a late submission if there was a good reason for this. My first two complaints were only submitted to the Council after I had spent months unsuccessfully trying to resolve the issues with Leshilo, who kept fobbing me off with things like, I haven’t swept the Jim Jones matter under the carpet.
          I told him I believed he had shown complete bias in favour of the newspaper over the missing adverts story because anybody who had worked in newspapers would realise that a person who wrote a report under his own name would be able to produce it. 
          I concluded by saying that I believed his reason for dismissing my complaint about Leshilo’s ombudsman’s role was not valid  because if a journalist claims IN PRINT to be a newspaper’s ombudsman and then doesn’t fulfill the role as can reasonably be expected surely that’s something the Press Council is empowered to rule on?
          Were my complaints justified and is this the best way to dispense justice? You, the newspaper readers, be the judge.      
          Yours sincerely
          Jon, a Free Blog advocate.

Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on It's a thriller with an underlying love story.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Apartheid - ANC Style for the Protectors of the Nation

Dear Minister of Freedom,
          Roll up, roll up, come and see the new, free South Africa. Thank goodness we got rid of apartheid 17 years ago don’t you think. The way those Afrikaners suppressed you Blacks was just unbelievable. They were branded second or was it fourth or fifth class citizens.
          But roll up, roll up and come and see it now. I’m sure you’ll agree nobody will recognise it. Your African National Congress has done a brilliant job reinventing freedom. It’s just everywhere, especially in the job market.
          In the Sunday Times for instance there are acres of advertisements for Government jobs.
          Roll up, roll up and get all your fellow Ministers to have a look and see how well these ads are promoting our Freedom Charter. Didn’t somebody say our Constitution was the best in the world because it has ensured that in the new South Africa even birds are free?
          Take these quotes from university ads: In line with the University’s commitment to diversifying its workforce, applicants from the designated groups will be given priority consideration (Western Cape) and NMMU is committed to diversifying its staff profile in terms of the transformation agenda (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan). I saw similar ones for Wits and Durban universities.
          It’s nice to see that our seats of higher learning are promoting the right kind of diversity. This will ensure that students who never experienced the old type apartheid will be able to learn how it should have been done. It’s ideal training for our governors of the future.      
          Mr Minister isn’t it time that you issued a decree to force advertisers to stop all this double Dutch (my mistake that was under the old regime) talk and force them to spell out exactly who they are prepared to employ. They’re so embarrassed that they don’t want to be precise about it when we all know it’s something to be proud of.
          And you also need to tell us the recipe for getting into the Government’s BLACK BOOK because if you are not in there you can have all the qualifications, experience and skill in the world and you won’t get a job anywhere.
          The South African Police Service cagily reveals that an applicant whose appointment will promote representivity may receive preference. Well the may part is not true if a case that is going on in the Johannesburg Labour court is anything to go by.

          Have you been following it? While our absolutely perfect Constitution has been standing by without making any comment the trade union, Solidarity has been busy fighting for the kind of justice the Constitution was designed to protect. The union is battling to ensure that eight Police officers, who would have got what was due to them under the old apartheid, get it under your new ANC version.
          Do you realise that these members of the SAP risk their lives daily trying to keep the rest of us from drowning in the wave of crime that has been threatening to swamp us since you and your comrades came to power. And what makes the case even more poignant is that one of the Police officers Tinus Gouws, a helicopter pilot, died with four others in a crash while flying to a robbery.
          According to The Times, Solidarity wants the seven men and a woman promoted to positions they were recommended for by a selection panel after getting the highest number of points among the candidates. The officers who had been in the Force for between 12 to 28 years were blackballed because they were WHITE. Is it just a coincidence that all of them also appear to be Afrikaners?
          So even the dead can’t rest in peace anymore.  Not content with having Gouws die in the line of duty you expect him to go on fighting from the grave so that his family can get a few extra, measly crumbs for the period that he should have been promoted from inspector to captain after 20 years service.
          Solidarity’s action is against your colleague the Minister of Safety and Security and General Bheki Cele. Wasn’t the General our Police chief who was in tears when that helicopter went down?  They seemed to have dried very quickly while Gouw’s family is still in tears crying out, Where is your compassion now General? 
          And to make matters worse the post Gouws applied for was left vacant. What a shocker?
          Punt’s email to The Times summed up the position perfectly, If there is no qualified black applicant and the post remains vacant because you won’t appoint a white because he’s white that is blind racism. End of Story.
          Not quite, try as I might I couldn’t find anything to refute what Punt said in that world beating Constitution of ours.
          Jon, a White job seeker for the last 17 years.

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My wife says I spend 120% of my time on the computer and the rest of the time I’m watching sport on TV or sitting in the pub. And her gynae can’t understand why we can’t have a baby.