Blue Lights Flashing on the Highway of Doom and Gloom

They come tearing up behind you on the highway, at 160 km/h or more (usually more, some have said), blue lights flashing; sirens sometimes wailing. These are the “official” cars that convey political VIPs, usually MEC’s of South Africa’s nine Provincial Legislatures. The drivers are from the police’s VIP Protection Services, and have become more commonly known as “blue light policemen” or the “blue light brigade,” since the recent spate of incidences on our highways, involving them forcing (with guns blazing in some instances) innocent motorists out of their way.

No way, you say; that sounds just like something out of a Hollywood movie. Yes, it does indeed sound like something that would be dished up in cliched movies, featuring butt-ugly, power-hungry, maniacal third-world dictators. You always see these cretins on film, being driven through the streets in convoy, usually displacing people, animals and assorted objects from their path. But here in South Africa ordinary people and the media are saying that Hollywood is being acted out, in gratuitous detail and they say that South Africa has become another ‘banana republic”. In the most recent incident, VIP Protection officer, Hlanganani Nxumalo not only forced other drivers out of the path of his speeding, blue-light-flashing vehicle, on a national highway, but shot at another motorist who it seems was a bit tardy in giving way, which caused the unfortunate driver to lose control, crash into another vehicle, and result in eight injuries. And he was not even transporting a Provincial MEC at the time, but was on his way to pick him up for official business.

To make matters worse, that degenerate Provincial MEC, none other than KwaZulu-Natal social welfare MEC, Meshack Radebe, tried disingenuously to excuse the behaviour of the “blue light driver” by saying “Our drivers are trained to protect us. We are heading to elections and they need to ensure our safety. If a driver behaves like that, how do they know we are not being ambushed? Their reaction is to just push aside and shoot.” What arrogant logic from a public official. Ah yes, Meshack, let’s treat everyone as potential ambushers; let’s push aside and shoot them all, just to be safe.

Fortunately, South Africa is not replete with ignorant political cretins such as Meshack Radebe. The South African political structure has been re-built on sound foundations since the demise of Apartheid, and a few detractors such as Meshack notwithstanding, boasts a proud record of sustained democratic political stability. South Africa has achieved a great deal, both politically and economically since 1994. So, it is a bit harsh when the public start to label the country as a banana republic run by despots, when a small minority of politicians behave inappropriately.

And thus we come to a possible real cause of the incidents involving these “blue light drivers.” The behaviour of these drivers are a manifestation of the illusions of grandeur being experienced by the MEC’s being transported. These MEC’s somehow feel the need to publicly flaunt their perceived powers. Their inadequacies and incompetence’s within the areas of their public office, seem to manifest into a need to display arrogance and a show of bravado instead. The drivers assigned as VIP protection to these MEC’s, get caught up in the delusional world of those they are assigned to protect. Call me biased if you want, but you rarely hear of “blue light brigade” incidences where National politicians were involved. The incidences always seem to involve lesser politicians from Provincial Legislatures. Now what does that tell you?

Year of the Potato

How many of you knew that the United Nations had declared 2008, the International Year of the Potato? Well, it’s nearly the final month of the year, and I have to admit, that I for one, only heard about this declaration a few days ago. I have to further admit that I had no idea that vegetables were thus honoured; I mean I know about the Year of the Monkey, Year of the Dragon, and the Year of Living Dangerously, but Year of the Potato? Come on now!

Seriously folks, 2008 is the year of the humble potato and that’s not all. It’s also the Year of the Frog, the Year of the Reef (as in Coral Reef), and, the Year of the Dolphin, 2007, has been extended to 2008 for some reason. 2008 is also being touted unofficially as the Year of the Women. Year of the Women? Could Hilary Clinton losing the democratic nomination, and that astronaut losing her tools in space be considered as setbacks? I wonder! And hey, although not official, this could also be considered as the Year of Barack Obama, but I suppose that could be next year as well. Seems this year which is almost over, is a lot of things that hardly anyone knows about.

Anyway, back to the Year of the Potato. I’ve never really given much thought to the potato, apart from the fact that it tastes great, roasted, baked, fried or mashed, and that it accompanies practically anything. I’ve known for some time that potato’s originated in the South American Andes near Peru, but I had no idea that there are some 200 species, and about 500 different varieties still grown in the Andes mountain area. If you’re interested, you can check out all the facts and myths about potato’s, even try out some recipes at Year of the Potato 2008.

Well, since there is only one month left in the Year of the Potato, I’m off to find some of the distilled variety, from Eastern Europe. I know potato farmer, cum patriarchal evangelist, Angus Buchan wont approve of the consumption of Vodka, but he must surely be pleased with the cash that’s rolling in, in the Year of the Potato.  Who knows, maybe next year will be the Year of the Beetroot; that should put a smile on the ugly mug of disgraced, former South African Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Are You Feeding the Right Wolf?

I received this absolute gem in my (e)mailbox today and couldn’t resist sharing. I tried finding out on the net if this piece of wisdom actually originates with the Native American tribe, but couldn’t get confirmation. It has been blogged quite often though, which suggests that it has been around awhile.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One is Evil. – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I’m Having Second Thoughts About Being An Atheist

Now don’t get me wrong; I haven’t had an epiphany or earth-shattering change in my way of thinking. And I don’t intend returning to the religious fold any time soon, or ever. I’m merely considering that maybe attaching the label, Atheist to myself is not exactly such a good thing. Allow me to explain…

Over the last month or so, I’ve been having a debate with some guy (I will just use his first name, Daniel) on Atheist Nation, over the “ideology” associated with Atheism. Atheist Nation is a closed/members only group for Atheists, but Theists and in fact anyone are welcomed as members. Our debate concerned the apparent degeneration of Atheism into just another patronising, arrogant and self-important ideology which had slowly assumed the mantle of intolerance that Religionists display so proudly. Daniel went on to assert that world-famous authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were fanning the flames of intolerance and zealotry in Atheists by their “hypocritical” criticism and condemnation of religion and its followers. Daniel maintained that by insulting all Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. collectively we were stooping to the same level as any unthinking, uncritical, religionist. Daniel, by the way is an Atheist, but actually prefers the term skeptic which is also favored by Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and editor of Skeptic magazine.

The point, which I admittedly, at first failed to come to terms with, and which, Daniel was trying get across in often lewd terminology, was that religion itself was not the problem, but the ideological thinking behind it, more specifically the uncritical, dogmatic and irrational approach to reality by the adherents of religions. Atheists it seems, were being led to believe that religion itself was abhorrent because of the centuries-old antagonism and strife between the various religious faiths, and the despicable fundamentalist behaviour of many of its followers.

Daniel also pointed out that Dawkins equates Atheism with superior intelligence and thus relegates it to an elitist world-view, but I think this is a bit harsh on Dawkins. I am confident that Dawkins’ sincerity is beyond reproach. However, the insinuation remains and the best defense I can offer on behalf of Dawkins is that it was certainly not intentional, and he should not be held responsible for an individual’s interpretation of his work. What is important here is that this should serve as a warning to Atheists; that they, in their interactions with Theists, should be careful of giving or creating the impression of intellectual superiority, and a smug attitude.

It’s also true that Atheists and Theists face the same problems and challenges every day; we just deal with them differently. Instead of coercing Theists into adopting new “tools” for dealing with reality, we just need to make them aware of the choices and let them decide for themselves. I still however, favor the use of (respectful) dissonance to stimulate or provoke a change in thinking in Theists, but not in any way that could be construed as proselytizing. I know Daniel wont like it, but I don’t think it is that hard to do this, without succumbing to the behaviour described earlier.

I had this idea all along that Atheism was going to save the world; that we (Atheists) were going to save the religionists from themselves. But, we were going about it all the wrong way; by succumbing to near-fundamentalism ourselves. I now see how we Atheists could indeed become that which we were trying so hard to irradicate. It’s hard to believe that this could be true, but if I apply the critical, rational thinking I advocate, then I have no choice but to accept that it could be so.

So back to the label of Atheist. When accosted by a religionist, will I be able to just say “I’m just a skeptic, I lack a belief in God, the burden of proof is on you.” Or will my perverse desire to “kick some ass” come to the fore? Time will tell.

Damn! I’m Living in Religiousville

Azaadville is a small town of a few thousand inhabitants, surrounded by huge mounds of sand which point to the gold mining activity that this neck of the woods is more famous for. It is by no stretch of the imagination, a back-water town; we are not cut off from the world in any manner, and have access to all types of media and amenities. But the fervour with which religion is practised here, is disturbingly out of character for such a locality.

Within a few square kilometers we have three mosques (I cannot really say if the three mosques are divided by the two major Muslim denominations, Sunni and Shi’a, but it is highly likely), two temples (one for North Indians and one for South Indians), a kind of hall above a shop that serves as a Church, an Islamic University and a private Islamic school. With so many religious facilities confined to such a small area, one can be forgiven for thinking that Azaadville is Jerusalem without the Jews; but the Hindus with their temples make up for the missing desert dogma.

Muslim’s in their flowing robes, can be clearly seen clamouring to one of these mosques, five times a day, every day. On Fridays, the businessmen even close their shops at around lunch time to attend prayer services. Hindus, North and South Indian, throng to the temples at least once a day, every week. The Christians, to their credit attend Church services once every Sunday, or at most two or three times a week if there is a special occasion or service. It thus seems pretty obvious, that after the Moslem’s, the Hindus are most in need of their God; or perhaps their God is most in need of them.

I am boarding with a friend, whose wife, a South Indian, spends about as much time at the temple as she does at home. Even when at home, she spends quite a bit of time on the phone, dispensing religious instruction and organizing prayer events, in between the customary doses of gossip. She reminds me of airline passengers who collect frequent flyer miles; only she is clocking up “worship time” in lieu of air-miles, for that one-way ticket to heaven.

Well, at least the Hindu and Christian women are allowed to attend temple services; seems that the role of Muslim women is confined to being the home-maker. However, Hindu women cannot attend temple services when they are menstruating. I’ve heard them say that they are unclean, although why women would consider the natural act of menstruation as unclean, is strange to say the least. Perhaps it’s a belief forced on them by their religion; in which case I’m not at all surprised. I’ve also noticed that Hindu women take the lead when it comes to most religious activity, which leads me to believe that (Hindu) women are either more religious than men, or are more susceptible to the irrational allure of religion.

Having to listen to the incessant chatter about religion and gods and prayer events from my friend’s wife, and the Islamic call to prayer blaring five times a day from loudspeakers mounted on the Mosque minarets, is kinda getting to me.  However, as long as all this religious fervour is carried out peacefully and the adherents don’t bother me too much with their proselytizing, I suppose I could still tolerate it; like when birds crap on my freshly-washed car.

To the Victor, Go the Spoiled

I got up at five this morning and logged on, looking for the latest US Presidential Election results. The first thought that crossed my mind when it became clear that Obama was streets ahead of McCain was that the soil on quite a few graves across the USA, must be looking disturbed, as though…

Anyway, this is not about the dead; this is about the living, learning, citizens of the United States of America that have put personal fears and doubts aside, to elect their first Black American President. Historians could not be denied their chance to write a bold new page in the history books. People of America, take a bow, you have made the world proud. The undoing of the great harm perpetrated on your country by the Bush administration, can now begin in earnest. I am sure the world waits eagerly to walk with you on the tough road that lies ahead.

And so to President Obama I say, savour your victory for now; a great nation spoiled by the excesses of the previous administration awaits your urgent attention. I wish you well on the hard work that lies ahead, to return your country to its former glory.

The ANC Is In A “League” of Their Own

The African National Congress (ANC) under the leadership of Nelson Mandela scaled great heights in the 90’s to transform from a liberation movement into a fully-fledged political party, founded on sound ethical principles. In recent times, however this once great force for political change, has fallen on hard times, bedevilled by corruption, incompetence, immorality, unethical behaviour by senior members, the resignation and break-away of senior party members, and a disturbing leaning toward dictatorial rule.
 
Some, if not all of these unhealthy qualities are no more evident than in the organization’s Youth and Women’s wings; the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League respectively. Freshly elected Youth League leader, Julius Malema and Women’s League leader, Angie Motshekga both started off their “reign” of ignominy within their respective areas, with a strange case of foot-and-mouth disease. Their public rantings ranged from mildly amusing, to the bizarre.
 
Malema’s famous “kill for Zuma” speech got him into a lot of bother; and then he went on to repeat the same nonsense, cloaked in different terms, even after public and organizational censure. And if that was not enough to label him a lunatic, he went on to lead the charge for President Mbeki’s dismissal from public office. A little while ago, Motshekga on the other hand broke out into a serious sweat over several senior ANC members who were planning to form a break-away political party, labelling them as “dogs” who were “sick in the head.” More recently though, she has been quoted as publicly stating that education is not important (while being in the position of MEC for Education in Gauteng Province), when it was revealed that Malema had really rotten matric exam results (of which one was a G symbol in Woodwork and another, an H symbol in Maths, both on the standard grade). And to top that, in a recent interview she declared that it was in the interests of democracy to have a one party state.
 
It’s bad enough when public figures mouth off with no regard for decency and the harm their ill-considered remarks causes, but it’s downright despicable when they try to back-track and deny meaning what they said; even blatantly refusing to apologise. When you look and listen to these two representatives of the ANC as it exists today, it’s not hard to imagine the makings of a tyranny in the works.

Who Will It Be, Obama or McCain?

The culmination of a long, and what is arguably the most interesting Presidential election campaign in recent times, is at hand. On 4th November, 2008, Americans go to the polls and the world waits with baited breath…

Will Americans write a bold new chapter in the history of the United States of America by returning Obama to the White House, or will narrow-minded conservatism triumph once again? Come November, 04, will America have its first non-white President or will the White House remain aptly named?

We, the people of the world wait to celebrate with you, America. Please do not disappoint us.