All set for my road trip

There was a time when road trips were not planned. You just jumped into your car and headed out for a particular place. With the world-wide recession in full swing, people all over the world are looking at more cost effective ways of taking a holiday or break, and road trips have become more appealing; only now, a fair degree of planning is advisable.

Which is why I have spent the best part of a month preparing and getting ready for my road trip starting tomorrow, from Johannesburg, South Africa to Cape Town, via the magnificent Karoo; a journey of about 1400 kilometres. I chose to drive, as I had about two half weeks leave time available and only needed to be in Cape Town at the end of the month for the inaugural Free Society Institute conference co-hosted by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. And driving will give me a chance to re-acquaint myself with the most beautiful arid landscapes in South Africa, which I can barely remember from the last time I went through this way, more than 10 years ago.

Preparing, however has been pretty costly; getting my 4-year old French car into shape for a long trip has busted the bank somewhat. Full service, new clutch kit, new brake pads, new tyres and replacement of cracked windscreen. Then there were the other important bits like the new back-up memory card for my Nikon DSLR camera, new DVD discs for my handy-cam, new Gorillapod, and new maps for my Garmin GPS. And not to mention the many hours on-line looking for interesting places to visit along the way, over-night accommodation and mapping out a route.

I feel like an excited little boy again, about to take his first trip into the country. Not to mention, that I’m itching to try out some new photographic techniques and my Gorillapod. But most of all, I’m particarly excited about the tour of the little town of Sutherland, the chance to visit SALT (South African Large Telescope, at the observatory) and engage in some stargazing.

Hopefully all this will lead to some sort of photo-essay or journal which I can share on this blog.

The problem with religion, cults, ideology, atheism even

I recently read through [well almost :-)] a 62-page document on atheism, titled Thank God, There is No God, by a fellow-atheist. It contained the usual arguments about belief and non-belief that you would find in hundreds of books and on-line resources; nothing new.

However, after going through the document, I came to realise what is most probably the real problem with religion and even atheism. While religion is dogmatic beyond a shadow of a doubt, atheism is slowly following the same path. Atheists have the same fascination for non-belief as theists have for their various religions and cults. We make the same mistakes as believers; having discovered the real possibility that a god or supernatural entity probably does not exist, we become mesmerized by this idea, and wind up being stuck in the same place, unable to move further. I should know; I’ve been guilty myself.

While the discovery of non-belief (atheism) should have been a mind-liberating event, too often we atheists are guilty of becoming fascinated with, and entwined in the very concept. Atheism should be the springboard to greater things like critical and liberated thinking, understanding humanity, and accepting that thinking must change with the receipt of new information.

It is for this reason that I can now admit that there was a time I was convinced that belief in a god was indicative of irrational thinking. But recently, thanks to another atheist friend, Daniel S, and a book I’m reading [by Sharon M Kaye] on critical thinking, I’ve come to accept that “human beings are born with the natural ability to reason logically. But we are also born with the propensity to make logical errors.” I now realize that critical thinking enables one with the tools to minimise or eliminate the logical errors we make while thinking.

You live and learn, but therein is a new problem; you don’t unfortunately live long enough to learn enough.

Holy bird poop!!!

Right now, Cristal and Salvador Pachuca of Bryan, Mexico are probably sitting on their porch worshipping admiring the side mirror of their pickup truck mounted on a shelf, which has some bird dropping splattered on it.

Last month (on the 12Th of July) a bird pooped on the Pachuca’s pickup truck which Salvador had just washed. Upon examining the smear on the side mirror (more likely the side window, from this photograph) he thought it contained the image of the Virgin Mary, and it seems that a steady stream of visitors have confirmed it as the Virgin Guadalupe. Cristal Pachuca was quoted as saying:

We just all feel protected. It’s a blessing to our family and to everybody that comes to see it

and

I think we’re going to just put it on a shelf outside, probably take off the mirror and keep it there cause its something special to us. I’m not going to wash it off

It seems that the Virgin Mary (and even Jesus) are desperately craving attention by manifesting themselves in all sorts of strange objects from chair covers to peanut butter bottles. Either that or people desperate for some sort of spiritual intervention in their lives, are manifesting their desires onto the strangest of objects. And there seems to be a direct correlation between the strangeness of the object and the desire to believe: the more outrageous the object, the stronger the willingness to accept that a supernatural force is at work.

As long as the need to believe is stronger than the need to think critically, I suppose the Virgin Mary and Jesus will continue to appear in fruit, vegetables, peanut butter and even poop. Why Allah, Krishna, Vishnu, Buddha, and other non-Christian gods are being so coy, has never been successfully explained to me. Maybe they are just too proud to appear in common poop, or they are indeed false gods.

Now imagine if an atheist found proof in an edible object, that indicates that god does not exist? It would probably go something like this.

Can the Clintons save us from bad politicians?

Maybe not, but they’re trying, country by country.

While Bill takes on the bad guys in the Far-East, Hillary is taking on the bad guys in Africa. First score to Bill Clinton: successfully negotiating the release of two American journalists, imprisoned in North Korea. And he probably had to negotiate with that shrivelled old freak, Kim Jong-Il.

Hillary, meanwhile is in Africa, and is due in South Africa any day now. Can she claim the next score, by negotiating the release of two very expensive BMW 750i’s from a certain SA Cabinet Minister who apparently has more taste than sense. Go on Hillary, we know you can.

Does the South African government really expect us to believe they care?

Wow! What a low-down dirty stunt for a Minister of Parliament to pull? For those who have somehow missed this great act of showmanship from arguably, SA’s next President; Tokyo Sexwale, the Human Settlements Minister (Minister of Housing to us plebs), spent a cold winter’s night in a common shack, in an informal settlement known as Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg.

Sexwale, a multi-millionaire businessman who only recently joined the government as a Minister, defended his publicity stunt as a legitimate information-gathering exercise. He supposedly wanted to experience, what the common people without formal housing go through, on a cold night. However, any reasonably intelligent person does not have to actually sleep overnight in a tin shack, to know that it would be a cold, uncomfortable experience. It’s just common sense. By all accounts, from media correspondence, most people are not fooled, and see it for what it is.

There are better ways for a government Minister to show poor people that he or she “feels” their pain. Not spending tens of millions of tax-payers Rands on luxury cars, houses and lavish victory celebrations, comes readily to mind.

What can we expect next? Maybe, the Health Minister administering an injection of the HIV virus to himself to “feel”how it is to suffer through this dreadful disease, which the former ANC government failed to give any attention to? Methinks not.

The great sardine run, and a temple that glows in the dark

Now that I’ve recovered somewhat from my week-long sojourn down in Durban, it’s time to turn my attention to writing again with some things that caught my attention.

Kwa-Zulu Natal, on the east coast of South Africa, is famous for the annual sardine (alternatively known as a pilchard) run which usually occurs between June and July, but sometimes as early as May. In recent years however, the shoals which have beached in the past, have slowly dried up. There were huge catches in some odd years, but the general trend is that the “greatest shoal on Earth” is slowly becoming a no-show. This year was no different.

While sitting on a south coast beach, waiting with hundreds of other eager sardine-spotters, I pondered why the great sardine run is turning into the great sardine crawl in recent years. It’s really tempting to blame global warming, although how exactly, I have no idea. I overheard one guy on the shore say that the sardines are getting smarter. They’re learning how not to get caught. Who knows? He may be right. Evolution is supposed to be continuous after all. Well, I certainly hope they’re not getting smarter, because they sure make a tasty snack. And it won’t do, to hope it’s because of global warming either. That’s certainly not very smart.

On a slightly more significant note, well only just; last Friday evening while on my way to visit a cousin in my old hometown near Durban, I noticed some rather colourful, bright neon lights flashing up ahead on a hill. Thinking that it was some new club that had opened, I was rather taken aback to discover that they were in fact adorning a Hindu temple. Having followed the religion, many years ago before returning to Atheism, I’m used to Hinduism being rather conservative and dignified, well lacklustre really. This garish display of brightly flashing lights on top of a building that is revered by Hindus, is more reminiscent of a casino.

I actually burst out laughing at the time and afterwards remembered where I had seen such a phenomenon before: about two years ago I saw almost the same neon lighting display (although not in so many colours) on a modern building in Toronto, Canada, which could easily be identified as a church because of the large cross on the side of the building. Is this the way of the future? Religions trying to attract the noticeably dwindling flocks, with a casino-style lure? Or is it just a modern beacon for worshippers who have become lost? I wonder?