Monthly Archives: April 2013

DBTG who… refuses the MMR jab for their kids

Ok, look.  I realise that sticking your oar in when it comes to how people choose to bring up their kids is pretty touchy.  In case you don’t know what I mean, try it out for yourself sometime.  If you ever see a mother feeding her child from a bottle/jar, walk up to her and explain that she should be breastfeeding, in your esteemed opinion.  Then, you get to find out conclusively if you can outrun an angry woman pushing a buggy.  Good luck with that, because it is generally a prickish thing to do.  Basically, it is none of your business.

But, then again, rules are made to be broken.  After the recent news that there is the beginning of a measles epidemic in Wales and people are queuing round the block to get the MMR jab, I felt the need to voice an opinion (if you haven’t heard about this story, look it up.  I can’t be bothered to post links when you could just as easily find it yourself).  Specifically, I (briefly) thought that anyone stupid enough to refuse the vaccination in the first place shouldn’t get the opportunity to change their mind once the disease that they weren’t protected against actually broke out.  I have tempered this Mail-esque reactionary viewpoint when I realised that as a rule, children shouldn’t be punished for the rabid idiocy displayed by their sleep-deprived parents, and maybe I don’t want to be even indirectly responsible for wishing millions of kids dead. 

Would you like some background?  The MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine is given to kids at around the age of one year old in order to immunise said kids against said diseases.  It is incredibly effective, although some people need a second dose a few years after.  It was also the subject of a study by a man called Andrew Wakefield, who claimed that the MMR jab could trigger autism in children.  The story exploded, particularly in the tabloid press, and something like 20% of parents refused to allow their kids to receive the vaccination as a result over the next 10 years.  That isn’t an altogether surprising reaction, but then again neither is the fact that cases of measles in the UK grew by 2400% over the same period.

The problem was that the parents, journalists, and arguably more damningly, the people who first published Wakefield’s report didn’t actually appear to have read it before passing judgement.  The headline seemed to be sufficient proof for most people.  In actual fact, Wakefield’s conclusion was based on the fact that the parents of 8 autistic children said they had a feeling the MMR was responsible for their child’s condition.  That’s it.  No in depth studies, just the opinions of a small number of amateur (albeit dedicated) behavioural observers.  As any statistician will tell you: correlation is not (necessarily) the same as causation, which in layman’s terms means that it might just be a coincidence.  Especially when you consider that the jab is given to children at an age when they first start to develop noticeable behavioural characteristics and simple vocal communication skills, things which could be lacking in autistic children.  Frankly, you may as well argue that increased use of the word “July” in conversation makes the weather hotter (in the northern hemisphere).  It doesn’t, by the way.

Anyway, the Lancet (the medical journal in which Wakefield’s paper was first published) retracted the paper.  The General Medical Council declared it to be “dishonest” and the British Medical Journal described it as “fraudulent”.  Andrew Wakefield was struck off the Medical Register, essentially meaning he could never work as a doctor again.  Despite these published views of medical professionals, parents continued to put their faith in such respected and (un)referenced sources as facebook groups and mumsnet forum posts.  The result is that incidences of these contagious and dangerous diseases has been growing, and has just reached a point where the numbers are suddenly a concern.

By the way, I understand the reasoning of the parents who refused the jab.  The only problem is that it is terribly flawed.  First off, who wants their child to be autistic?  No one, I’m sure, and fair enough.  It may not be the single worst thing ever, but you wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  Secondly, what’s the point of getting immunised against measles anyway?  Why risk autism to protect your kid against a disease that has been declared eliminated in numerous countries since the development of the vaccine?  Ok, except that the reason it has been declared eliminated is that EVERYONE IS VACCINATED AGAINST IT.  If you don’t get vaccinated, you may still contract it. 

It is this skewed and erroneous understanding of risk that has brought us to this present situation, and in a way I suppose it is self-correcting.  Suddenly, measles is a thing again and people are getting their kids down to the doctors to be jabbed because now they realise that it didn’t go away, it was just waiting for you to drop your defences.  And now, the risk of measles is seen to outweigh the (zero) risk of associated autism.  As far as I know, no one has died as a result of this recent measles outbreak, but there were 942 cases in Swansea, of which 1 in 15 is likely to develop “severe complications”.  That’s 63 people whose lives are at risk, and I can only hope that none of them suffer any permanent problems.

Finally, a word on Andrew Wakefield’s motivations.  The fact that he decided to publish such an absurd, massively under-researched report, and then publicised the ever-loving shit out of it is often overlooked by the current media reports.  In fact, Wakefield had been paid £55,000 by a group of solicitors who were representing the parents quoted in his study.  In other words, these lawyers/parents were trying to sue the vaccine manufacturers over their belief that the jab caused autism in their kids, and they needed evidence to take to court.  So, they provided “evidence” to Wakefield, and effectively purchased a “professional” opinion to use in a legal context.  Wakefield was a perfect choice, as he was allegedly reported to have applied for patents on a rival vaccine.  It was very much in his interests to trash the MMR.  I will point out (lest I get sued) that the above information is taken from Wikipedia, and my speculation on the parties’ motivations is not necessarily what happened, it is merely one potential interpretation of the situation.  It is for you to decide whether it is true or not.  But bear in mind that the Lancet, BMJ and GMC all hold a similarly dim view of the situation…

DBTG who… likes shopping at tesco

On Saturday evening, various circumstances collided that meant that I had to go to tesco, on my own.  They were as follows:

  • My wife had gone out to meet a friend for the evening
  • We were basically completely out of food

In fact, for around the past 2 weeks, we had been collectively putting this trip off, scrounging in the freezer for possible meals because going to any supermarket is not fun.  However, the time had come…

I don’t especially mind doing a supermarket trip on my own.  Some might say that many hands make light work, and that we should work together as a team.  I say that too many cooks spoil that particular broth and that it’s far easier to get through without having to discuss every decision you make, such as which brand of pasta (hint: they’re all pasta) to buy. Some idiot misogynists might say that shopping is women’s work, but as I said, that person is an idiot.  Finally, some might say that I’d be better off shopping online and having tesco deliver to me.  That person is notionally correct (it is a much better system).  However, in order to tempt me back to their store, tesco sent me about £15 worth of money off vouchers, which for reasons undefined can only be used in store.  Hilariously, when I arrived at the shop, I discovered that the vouchers were 24 hours out of date, and therefore worthless.  This was the first indication that I was about to have a BAD TIME.

The car park, normally full of idiots trying to park their unnecessarily large car in a small space, was oddly quiet.  I had my pick of spaces, so I selected one and proceeded to struggle to park my unnecessarily large car in it, all under the watchful gaze of an arsehole sitting in his car in the adjacent one.  Leave me alone, guy!  I have to admit, I had a total mare trying to organise all 4 wheels inside the lines.  It is totally my fault, and yes, I suppose I do park like a woman, if that means I take my time and (eventually) get it right.  I do not need some knobhead judging me while doing so.  And what sort of guy drives to tesco to sit in the carpark?  It was much too early for dogging (so I’ve heard), so I guess his (presumably longsuffering) wife was inside buying groceries and pushing a heavy trolley around, while this lazy bastard relaxes listening to talksport radio (100% guarantee he was listening to some phone in sport chat show) and critiquing my driving ability.  Fuck that guy.

A few months ago, tesco implemented an anti-trolley theft policy, making you put a £1 coin in before the trolley is released.  This was very annoying the first time I discovered it, but after doing so, I now keep a suitable coin in the ashtray for just such an eventuality.  Only guess what? The coin had gone.  I must confess, I was prepared to blame my wife for this (she has priors for exchanging the emergency pound for skittles), but it turns out that she was innocent this time.  Instead, the thieving fucking mechanics at London & Surrey cars (based in Kingston, don’t use them ever!) had chiefed it while changing a tyre earlier in the week.  If they’d wanted an extra pound, I’d have paid it without thinking, but their larcenous ways had affected me much more seriously than the financial impact.  I do not carry coins where at all possible.  To paraphrase the queen “they’re a total faff”, and now I am stuck at tesco with a huge list and no trolley.  I had to go inside and get change from a £20 (which was all I had on me, for the record).

I was actually close to going home at this point, but instead I managed to battle through my first world problems and buy some (a lot) of food.  My policy of not going to tesco until the house is completely empty meant that the trolley was completely full by the end of the circuit (going round tesco is a bit like being a contestant on funhouse, except without the fun).  Amazingly, I spotted a till that didn’t have a queue, and lined up.  The guy in front of me was buying a bottle of coke and something else, maybe a pie?  Anyway, he was also blocking the empty conveyor belt.  “Excuse me please”, I asked, only to be completely ignored.  I tried again, a little louder, but this guy was either completely deaf (nope, he could hear the cashier ok) or making an effort not to acknowledge my presence.  I had to wait until he was paying before I could unload my mega-trolley.  Before we got that far though, every time the conveyor belt jerked forwards, his bottle of coke rolled back.  He would grab it and carefully put it back in place, only for it to be jerked backwards immediately, and the whole process repeated itself.  He could have used the pie as a blocker, or just turned the bottle around, but instead he kept at it.  Watching this idiocy take place was a challenge given my already short fuse, but once again, I battled through.

The card machine wasn’t working (obviously) and by the time I had paid, I was actually desperate to leave and never return.  First I had to negotiate a wave of slow-moving people, laboriously blocking the exit.  Once I got to the car park, I broke into a little celebratory jog to the car.  However, my choice of running attire (hooded top) came back to bite me.  I was pushing a really heavy trolley, and not exactly sprinting, but I still got halfway across the tarmac before the security guard caught up with me, sweating profusely, and telling me I was subject to a “random” trolley check.  Apparently, hoodies have been stealing trolleyloads of toilet paper and cat food (it’s a hell of a diet I’m on, hiyo!), though not before bagging the lot up first.  I should have got angry, but I just wanted to go home.  Just, so much.

Finally, just to add injury to insult, I threw a bag of cat food across the kitchen floor (not in disgust, it is a tried and tested time-saving technique. Mmm, alliteration).  Somehow (and I still don’t really understand how at all), I ended up slapping myself in the balls.  I sat down for a moment, and vowed never to go back to tesco for a really long time (cos I have at least 2 month’s worth of food now).

In the meantime, if Sainsbury or Asda wish to sponsor my blog, I’m open to suggestions.

DBTG who… likes the Grand National

Some people like horse-riding.  That’s fine by me.  My wife rides all the time, and I have actually been on a holiday where you ride horses around the Welsh countryside.  It’s like hiking without the walking basically, and it was a lot of fun.  I’ve never much understood the sort of riding where you sit in a small paddock and ride in a circle for an hour, or dressage, where you spend ages combing your horse and then make it dance.  But whatever, if that suits you, go for it.

Similarly, if you enjoy horse-racing, whether it is as an owner, trainer, jockey or just spectator, you go for it.  Never mind that approximately 100% of all racing spectators are likely only there to gamble, whatever, that isn’t my concern.  You go live your life.

The world of horses should be able to exist with my minimal participation.  It doesn’t bother me, and I don’t get too involved either, unless it’s on my terms.  But once a year, this fragile detente breaks down as the Grand National horse race rears (joke alert!) its ugly, metaphorical head.  The grand national is stupid, there I said it.  The world’s fastest horses all line up for what is (according to the adverts that for some reason are now showing on tv?) the greatest horse race ever.  Add in some ballast, er, I mean jockeys, and you have yourself a show. 

Ah yes, the jockeys.  Blessed with the amazing skills of being small, wearing silk clothing and being able to whip an animal for no good reason while sitting on it, those guys are subject to the same sort of distaste I normally reserve for racing drivers.  I don’t want to offend jockeys too much, because I have this feeling that they all love a bit of a scrap, and that after a while their superior numbers would overwhelm me.  But I will just say that they don’t do all that much. 

Then there are the fair weather enthusiasts.  Every year, some wise-guy in my office will organise a sweepstake for this pointless race, and I will inevitably end up picking some 500/1 outsider to back with a £5 “investment”.  Then I will realise that the 40/1 odds offered by the sweepstake a far shorter than those on offer by any bookies, and that I would have been 12.5x better off if I had just gone straight there to place the bet I didn’t even want in the first place.  Unfortunately, you can’t opt out of these things unless you are prepared to risk being forever outcast from future work social events and gain (another) derogatory nickname. 

We all then take the weekend to pretend that we know and care about horse-racing.  People will tell you about the bets that they placed (and mark my words as I repeat them, no one will watch this race if they haven’t got a bet riding on it), and how they once had a horse place 3rd in the 2009 event, only to find that he’d backed the bloody thing to win, haha!  That is actually funny to me, but only because it reminds me that you are an arse, so don’t be encouraged if I walk away from our conversation chuckling to myself.  I have already spent more than the 0 hours I had hoped to allocate to thinking about this subject (which I suppose is partially my fault) and I’m really just looking to escape. 

And finally we get to the REAL problem that I have with this race.  Even if it wasn’t televised and rammed down the public consciousness, I would still find it pretty awful, because no matter how you cut the statistics, on average one horse will die as a direct result of running in this race.  Most fall at a fence and break a crucial bone in their body, at which point they will then attempt to get up and keep running.  I haven’t actually seen a horse try and run with a broken back, the agony and fear clearly visible in its eyes, but I have been told that it is a very heartwrenching scene and that having a vet shoot the poor creature is most definitely the right thing to do at this point.  Others will collapse after, up to days later, but always due to a concussion or heart attack or something like that, caused by the race. 

When you think about it (and I hope you do), it’s pretty fucking barbaric.  Imagine if every time the London Marathon was run, nearly 1,000 of the entrants died?  Wouldn’t you think someone would put a stop to it?  I know that the GN is supposed to be the most challenging race in the world, designed to test even the best horses and riders, but surely the same could be said of a human running a marathon?  I doubt people would enter the marathon in such numbers if they faced a death rate of 2.5%, but then again maybe they would fancy those odds.  The worst thing is that as humans, those runners would be capable of making the decision, armed with the facts.  I wouldn’t stop someone running in that sort of race, as long as they knew what they were risking.  The horses in the Grand National have no such privilege.  They are entered by their owners, who don’t seem to mind risking someone else’s life for the winnings on offer.  It is a steaming pile of horse-shit, and that isn’t a joke, because it isn’t funny.