No matter how many people believe something, it does not make it true

At this point, I know what you’re thinking. He’s going to rant about religion again. Actually not; I’m going to rant all right, but not about religion.

Our President, Jacob Zuma stunned the country this weekend by apparently announcing that ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader, Julius Malema was a leader in the making, worthy of inheriting the reigns of leadership of the ANC which is the ruling [I do not use the word lightly] party in South Africa. Not surprisingly, this vote of confidence in Malema, by the President generated a great deal of turmoil which is still raging.

While this fire was being stoked, the ANCYL declared today that it (the ANCYL) was the best youth organization in the world, not just in South Africa, or even the African continent. There’s no doubt that the petulant little rabble-rousers who make up the ANCYL, and the assortment of cronies both in the ANC and without, who make up their fan club, believe their own rhetoric unquestioningly. When an organization has been allowed to disrespect both women and the elderly, threaten and intimidate anyone who does not conform to their particular myopic views, and spout the most ignorant nonsense in public on important matters, for as long as the ANCYL have, then I suppose they could become good at it; even the best, in the world too.

One can only imagine that this latest bombshell was dreamt up by some  enterprizing pseudo-intellectual in the ANCYL, trying to take maximum advantage of the rather unfortunate utterings of the President to create the impression that the future leader of the ruling party would necessarily also have to be the current leader of a truly great organization (the ANCYL), as well. It’s strange how these associations stick.

Problem is, this fantasy about Julius Malema’s leadership qualities and the organizational effectiveness of the ANCYL, are accepted as fact, and believed by a fairly large proportion of the South African population. This is borne out by the overwhelming support, both the ANCYL and Malema enjoys wherever they appear in public. It defies logic, but logic and reason always suffer when the lowest common denominator is emotion. And that’s the source of the influence Malema and the ANCYL have over the population.

Appealing to the primitive instincts of the masses. How can you go wrong there? It’s been done successfully for thousands of years. The poor sods who sing the praises of Malema now, will wake up in a few years time, realize they’ve been had, and then find a new demigod to worship.

Beggars can be Choosers

They’ve commandeered many traffic intersections in South Africa, so they’re not hard to miss on one’s daily commute to almost anywhere. It’s also not hard to miss the derision they are greeted with by a fairly large number of motorists. They appear singly, or in pairs – usually a reasonably fit person accompanying someone less so, but in some cases seemingly less so.

I am however not concerned with those who feign a handicap to garner sympathy from the public; after all, dishonesty is either innate or a means to an end. And since I consider moral absolutes to be undesirable, I will refrain from passing judgement on the motives for begging. What I am concerned about though, is the seemingly uncaring, disdainful attitude of the public towards these unfortunate people.

The harsh realities of the global economic downturn has resulted in a vast number of people losing their means of income, and has driven many of them into the streets to beg. Desperation can force people into doing things they would not normally do, and resorting to crime is regrettably one of more unpleasant kinds. Those you see standing at these traffic  intersections have made a choice – choosing to beg  instead of resorting to some form of crime. It’s not an easy choice to make, and I’m not going to pretend that I know how it feels; but I do know that it cannot be pleasant standing for hours in the harsh South African sun, hoping that someone will take pity on you.

I know you may argue that those of us still fortunate enough to be able to drive past these beggars on a daily basis, should not have to feel grateful that they beg for money, instead of simply taking it from us. I’ve heard comments such as “go get a job like the rest of us,” from those still fortunate enough to have one. But is it as simple as that? I’ve also heard that beggars make a good living plying their trade. But how do you know this really? It’s just hearsay.

The thing is, you don’t have to feel grateful that beggars choose to rely on your generosity instead of relieving you of your cash by some other means; but it would be nice. Parting with a few coins won’t make you poor, and it won’t make the begging problem disappear. It’s actually not going to do much good. But you were not meant to solve all the social problems in the world,  just not add to them. And being kind to your fellow-man is not that painful after all…

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P Feynman

Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988) was regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists to grace the world. In 1965 he shared the Nobel Prize with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, for the independent work he did in quantum electrodynamics.
What some people would not know about Feynman, was his involvement in the Manhattan Project – the project conceived to build the first atomic bomb which eventually led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As you read the sections of the book where Feynman recounts how he moralised over his decision to join the project, one tends to appreciate why absolutist morality as favoured by the religious, is so undesirable.
The main theme of the book however is about why science is so great and why doubt is so important, not only in the field of science, but in all spheres of life. Ultimately, a wonderful collection of stories from the life of the great Richard Feynman, often amusing, and with a refreshing insight into how the world works. Feynman has effectively re-inforced the idea that finding things out, especially about the natural world, through curiosity and investigation, is accompanied by a great deal of pleasure. I can personally attest to that.
Notable Quotes:
If you expect science to give all the answers to the wonderful questions about what we are, where we’re going, what the meaning of the universe is and so on, then I think you could easily become disillusioned and then look for some mystic answer to these problems. How a scientist can take a mystic answer I don’t know because the whole spirit is to understand-well, never mind that.
You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers  which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then I go onto something else, but I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

The New Democracy

Only in South Africa, and a few other places which I wont mention right now, because I don’t live there, there exists a new democracy.

It is known as government of the unwashed masses, (paid for) by the sodding taxpayer, for the self-enrichment of the government. Most South Africans will recognise this form of government all too well. Its menacing stranglehold on the South African citizenry is now well established. Were he alive today, Abraham Lincoln would have been aghast at how wrong it can all become.

The new democracy was born out of noble intentions by the post-apartheid ANC-led government to create parity among all South Africans. It was hoped that at least some of the inequalities created by the previous regime would be addressed, if not eliminated entirely. It started well, but only a select few really benefitted from the parity-creation endeavours. Actually, a select few became super-rich, almost overnight.

Most people don’t know how or why it happened, but at about this time the government persuaded itself to join the super-rich clan. The mantra “what behoove a person who joined the liberation struggle, to remain poor,” came into eye-opening effect. And to this end, they have slowly worked themselves over the years into positions that would ensure that they would become part of the elite.

South Africans know this all too well. Not a week passes without a new scandal involving government impropriety with public funds becoming revealed. If it’s not extravagant spending on luxury vehicles, it’s purchase of expensive property and renovations,  overseas junkets, lavish parties, designer clothes, consultancy fees for stupid consultants who make stupid recommendations, and the latest fad; staying at super-luxury hotels, running up huge bills.

The latest addition to the treasury-looting hall of fame is none other than our Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa whose profligacy concerning hotel accommodation must be the envy of his government colleagues. It’s been reported that he racked up bills of  R235 000 at a hotel in Cape Town and a further R570 000 at a Durban hotel. And considering the two BMW X5’s he purchased at our expense (why two?) at a cost of around R1.3-million, lets hope he hasn’t got an eye on any triple-story mansions in Cape Town. Ostensibly, good taste is obligatory, if you’re splurging someone else’s money.

This spend-thrift is the same Minister who wants the law changed so that his under-paid, demoralised police officers can invade your home at their under-informed discretion, while he sips Martini’s at the Hilton Hotel. Let’s say he manages by some miracle to actually halve the crime rate in South Africa, I would be quite happy to let him continue to raid the treasury.

But, are you up to it, Minister?

I had a vision that bullshit would sell very well….and other stories from this Diwali weekend

Local news from this weekend is that between 50 and 100 people continue to visit the Zachey home in Benoni, South Africa, two years after then 18-year-old, Francesca Zachey claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary.

And despite advice that allegedly caused one of her mesmerized followers to be blinded after she obediently gazed into the sun, in an attempt to glimpse the Virgin Mary, Francesca maintains that she is god’s vessel who is changing people’s lives for the better. Not surprisingly, these days, the Zachey home spots a gift shop selling rosaries, prayer books and 120-Rand T-shirts. Perhaps she would have us believe that a rosary and a T-shirt make-over can work wonders for your life.

Maybe Francesca really thinks she had a supernatural vision, but the cynic in me concludes that ultimately, that vision became the realization that bullshit sells, and very well too.

In a non-related incident, Hindus celebrated (or not) Diwali, on Saturday, October 17th  this weekend. Better known as the Festival of Lights, this religious observance happened to fall on the same day as the religious month of Purtassi was ending. Purtassi is apparently observed in obeisance to the planet Saturn (which supposedly represents a trinity of Hindu gods and goddesses), and is marked by abstinence and strict fasting, while Diwali is more joyous and associated with feasting. Cynical Hindus would be inclined to believe that either the gods were playing a cruel joke on them to curb their merry-making, by causing the two religious festivals to clash, or that the Hindu priests who interpret the solar and lunar movements in the heavens, and set dates thereby, had got it a tad wrong. I’m inclined to go with the latter interpretation.

And on this particular Saturday morning which was overcast with intermittent rain, I happened to overhear my friend’s wife who is incidentally a staunch Hindu [rather forced to overhear, as she is inclined to speak rather loudly], mention that it was an unlucky day and Hindus were not permitted to do anything until midday, but all feasting must be postponed until the next day entirely. She backed up her assertion by saying that even the sun was not shining as usual. Evidently, the overcast and rainy nature of the day was merely coincidental. She then went on to proclaim that since  rain was symptomatic of the Diwali festival [not in those exact words], she was thus assured in her conviction that the timing of Diwali was right. Yet again, the seasonal rain at this time of year was merely coincidental. Apparently, she had also forgotten the many years, I can clearly remember when there was not a spot of rain about, during Diwali.

Francesca is representative of many others who apparently have supernatural visions, and the people who flock to them are symptomatic of the intense desire to believe, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. My friend’s wife is also representative of many people from various different religious persuasions who still believe that the stars and the planets somehow influence their lives and destinies.

It’s rather sad that in spite of all the information available so widely and freely, superstition and irrational thinking still plays such a dominant role in the lives of ordinary people. Perhaps that’s the problem; people are quite satisfied to remain ordinary.

“Shoot to kill” fiasco just gets worse

About two weeks ago I posted a blog, deploring the South African President’s support for amendments to the law which would give police officers the right to shoot to kill. In that time, an innocent young women has become the unfortunate victim of this insane policy proposal, while two other innocent citizens were injured in the same incident.

Earlier this week, police officers shot at a vehicle suspected of being hijacked, killing the young women and injuring two others who were all passengers in the car. And just to highlight the incompetence of the seven police officers involved, the driver of the car, an Air Force pilot who was the only one to exit when it stopped, was also the only one who was not shot. He later claimed that the police opened fire indiscriminately and without provocation.

Considering the unbelievably stupid shoot-to-kill remarks made by senior police chiefs, politicians and even the President, to (poorly trained) police officers, only two weeks earlier, this incident was bound to happen. Earlier this year, the Deputy Safety and Security Minister, Susan Shabangu was reported as saying: “You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or the community. You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility. Your responsibility is to serve and protect.” If the Deputy Minister does not understand the concept of serving and protecting, what hope is there for ordinary police officers, weaned on serving the former apartheid state against the majority of citizens.

The police officers who were involved in the shooting can claim that it was as a result of the mixed messages that they received from their bosses, but unfortunately (and rightly so) will have to face the full brunt of the law for their actions. As usual, the politicians will literally get away with murder.

But wait; it gets worse. Yesterday the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa not only claimed that the shoot-t0-kill stance was a fabrication by the press, he proclaimed that laws concerning the  police’s right to enter  private premises would be changed, to apparently, wait for it…. save lives. The Minister was quoted as saying:

There is a lot of woman and children abuse and we can’t seek permission from abusers to enter their houses.

If the police cannot competently identify a model of car (as in the shooting incident described earlier), how can we trust them to identify an abuser, and not barge into the wrong house shooting wildly at innocent people?

Are politicians that thick that they do not learn from the mistakes of their idiot peers? The draconian measures instituted by George Bush against the citizens of the USA to curb their constitutional freedoms, in response to the 9/11 disaster is still very much in the periphery of political and social discourse. Can our public representatives not see the danger of a repeat here, or are their objectives more sinister? Are South Africans, with a history of abuse of rights and freedoms, prepared to allow our politicians to drag us back into the past?

Personally, I need the assurance that my home will remain inviolate; free from the clutches of grubby politicians and the threat of invasion by incompetent police officers. Any attempts to diminish our freedoms must be resisted.

Proof that UFO’s do exist

The internet was abuzz last week over a video captured of the sky above Moscow, evidently showing a UFO.

Clearly, Unbelievably Freakish Occurrences (UFO’s) do exist, and Unbelievably Fantastic Opportunities (UFO’s) to capture them on film abound. Unfortunately, Amazingly Stupid Sense (ASS) is later made of it by uncritical, perhaps superstitiously inclined people.

Remember the hands of god email that is probably still circulating, which I wrote about in Another Religious Lie That Came Through My EMail? Well, before a screen-shot of this video does the email rounds (cleverly touched up) as either the eye of god, the rectum of Zeus, a Venusian mothership disguised as a cloud, or something equally ridiculous, I’d like to suggest that it’s nothing more than a meteorological phenomena; albeit a visually fantastic one.

Like so many things in life, which elicits awe and demands answers, the tendency to proffer a supernatural solution, creates even more complicated questions. It’s always best to treat everything we don’t understand that well, with skepticism and doubt.

Viva la Vida: A second take on the meaning of the lyrics


In October 2008, almost exactly a year ago, I posted an essay about a popular Coldplay song titled Viva la Vida. My interpretation of the meaning of the song, is not only my most popular blog post (eliciting in excess of 5000 views), it also generated a heap of comments which lead to some very interesting discussions, and alternate proposals for what the song means.

On the whole, I agreed with the comments that suggested that the song could have multiple meanings. I however still maintain that the less obvious ones could be closer to the meaning that Chris Martin intended; but it’s unlikely that we’re ever going to find out. But that should not stop us from speculating further.

Strangely enough, while on the road today between business meetings, I heard the song played on a radio station; and it hit me like a ton of bricks, that my first attempt at extracting meaning from the song could indeed be wrong; but not entirely so. While my first impression speaks of god and religion in general, I am now convinced that Chris Martin was actually much more specific about which supernatural entity and the religion itself, as you will see from my explanation below.

The first verse:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sweep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of sand, pillars of sand

Consider that the song is being sung from the perspective of someone who was considered a king; a person who had supernatural powers and could command seas to rise when he gave the word. Imagine this person who by virtue of his sovereign status, owned the streets of a certain city, sweeping his detractors aside as he advocated a certain doctrine which made his followers sing his praises, while instilling fear in the eyes of the former. Consider this person, having lost that power and now feels alone. Consider that for a long time this doctrine sustained a key belief system; but which has now been exposed as standing on unsound pillars. Now consider that this person is the biblical Jesus Christ, the city is Jerusalem and the doctrine is Christianity.

The second verse:

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can not explain
Once you know there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

Confirmation of the city and the era in the first verse is evidenced, in the context of biblical teachings, by the mention of Jerusalem and Roman Cavalry. The mirror, sword, shield and missionaries could have multiple meanings within the context of my interpretation, but for the purposes of this interpretation, they are biblical metaphors for Christ’s followers (missionaries) who fought (sword and shield) to spread the doctrine by imitating (mirror) their Master. The last two lines are a metaphor for the biblical troubled times (never an honest word) in which Jesus ruled over the world.

The third verse:

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People could not believe what I’d become
Revolutionaries Wait For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

The first four lines of this verse reflect the biblical narrative of Christ storming into a temple (wild wind blew down the doors) to disrupt the “unholy” activities being perpetrated there. People were shocked (could not believe what I’d become) when Jesus brought down the temple (shattered windows and the sound of drums). The fifth line is a biblical metaphor for the Romans (revolutionaries) wanting to kill him (Wait for my head), with an added reference to John the Baptist (head on a silver plate). The cryptic last two lines of this verse reveal that Jesus laments his lonely job as a leader (who would ever want to be king), while his actions are being controlled (puppet on a string) by someone else (ostensibly Christ’s biblical father, god).

The fourth verse:

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can not explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
And that was when I ruled the world
(Ohhhhh Ohhh Ohhh)

Not much different from the second verse except for 6th line. In the context of the biblical teachings, Christ reveals that as the son of god, he does not have to account for his entrance into heaven (I know Saint Peter won’t call my name), as other mortals have to.

The last verse:

Hear Jerusalem bells are ringings
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can not explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
Oooooh Oooooh Oooooh

As with my original interpretation, the apparent contradiction in the 6th line, with the fourth verse is easily explainable. This being the last verse, the metaphor Saint Peter will [now] call [Christ’s] name, reveals the end of the road for Christianity, when Christ is relegated to a mere mortal and has to account for himself at the Pearly Gates. A clever metaphor for the decline of a doctrine and its purported teacher, as evidenced in the world today by the shift towards atheism, secularism, agnosticism, humanism and even new-age spirituality.

I don’t know why I didn’t see this before; it makes a lot more sense than my previous interpretation. Chris Martin is surely a genius…





Travelling Alone – Part 1

A third speeding fine, accumulated while on my recent road to Cape Town, was posted to me on Friday last week, and it reminded me that I had not quite got down to writing about it (my road trip that is), as indicated in an earlier post.

It’s not procrastination or laziness; I’ve been busy upgrading my video editing software and catching up on some developments on my project at work, among other things. It has also become a nasty habit for me to get distracted by anything and everything that’s going on elsewhere on the internet; which inevitably leads me on diverse tangents to my original bearing.  However, so far I’ve managed to stay away from Twitter and am trying really hard to wean myself off Facebook. And if I can only find out how, I’ll get shot of Plaxo too.

Back to those traffic tickets. Most law-abiding motorists would be hard pressed to regard them as real traffic violations. I mean, I was barely over the (60Km/h and 80Km/h) speed limits on all of them, and I do make a concerted effort to not drive fast. Anyway driving slowly is obligatory these days as I nurse my four-and-a-half-year old Peugeot sedan along, to prevent anything further from breaking. You see, Peugeot in South Africa, charges the most outrageous prices for parts, while it takes forever to replace (note, I said replace because it seems the technicians have not been trained to repair), and to add insult to injury, the service you get is really wretched.

Again, about those so-called speeding violations; the damned traffic police in this country are just lazy, fat-arsed, bush-hiding, camera-hugging, intellectually-challenged, revenue collectors, who think that wearing their badge and jack-boots, gives them power over ordinary motorists. And I’m just another poor sucker who hasn’t got the time or inclination to go to court, defend myself and expose this revenue-generating ponzi scheme masquerading as the policing of road safety.

Ah, I digress yet again. But we’ll get to the road trip in Part 2…hopefully.

South African Police should be taught to serve and protect, “not shoot to kill”

I read with utter dismay the other day that our President, Jacob Zuma supports an amendment to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which will give the police the power to “shoot to kill.”

The crime situation in South Africa is without doubt, very severe. No one denies this; except the criminals, off course, and a few idiot politicians. But then, politicians are no better than criminals; probably worse. And criminals from all over Africa, even the world are flocking to this country because they’ve all heard how ineffective our police are; how our police hire security guards to protect their police stations, how easily our police can be convinced to co-operate in criminal activity (note that I’m not saying all our police, but far too many for comfort). Oh yes, they’ve also heard that in South Africa crime does pay – very well too, and if common thievery and other criminal acts gets too rough for the criminal, there’s always public office!

But instead of solving the root problems that make criminal activity so attractive in this very attractive country of ours, the government responds emotionally by saying “let’s give them the power to shoot to kill.” How unimaginably dumb is that. The last thing the citizens of any country want to do is give more power to the state or its organs. Power belongs to the people, not the state. Allowing the police to shoot indiscriminately can only lead to the unfortunate loss of innocent lives; not to mention potential trigger-happy, power-drunk policemen and women having more power over me, than I care to tolerate.

I’ve searched deeply for answers to our crime situation, and I always come back to the same conclusion – the police are incapable of protecting and serving the public; the knowledge and familiarity of which empowers criminals, and entrenches criminality and lawlessness. Why are our police so powerless to alleviate the crime problem? Here again, I am always led to the same conclusion – poor training, and the reprehensible belief that the badge confers special powers and rights to the wearer.

The police in this country were trained originally, in the arts of propping up illegitimate governments. I’m referring to the apartheid system. The police back then, were taught to enforce laws that kept this apartheid government in power – they were trained to protect and serve the old government, not the people. I know what it sounds like. The old apartheid scapegoat! It’s just too easy to blame apartheid again, isn’t it? But I’m not blaming apartheid; I’m blaming poor training and a mentality that has endured past it’s acceptability date (not that it ever was acceptable).

This legacy lives on – it is perpetuated in the training today, and that mentality has not been eradicated. Our police just want to fill jail cells, and show how powerful they are – they don’t seem to want to put in the effort required of detective work, and respecting the public that pays their salary. But then again, I suspect these guys have never properly, been shown how to.

And then there is the question of poor pay. But properly skilled police will (and should) be remunerated according to the levels of skill they acquire – just moving through the ranks with time, as is obviously customary at present, should cease. A well-trained, well-paid and motivated police force who… well, solve crimes, apprehend the perpetrators and ensure that the courts can prosecute successfully, will eventually send a strong message: do the crime and we’ll ensure you do the time. Off course, realistically this isn’t going to happen overnight; it’s a plan for the long term security of the country.

President Zuma was quoted, during a speech on Tuesday to police station commanders, as saying:

We have an abnormal criminal problem in South Africa. We must therefore apply extraordinary measures.

Yes, Mr. President we do have an abnormal criminal problem in South Africa, but until you also acknowledge that we have an even more abnormal police problem in this country, you or your shoot-to-kill cops are not going to wrest back control from the criminals. I sincerely hope that you issue some pen, paper and a few training courses with those extra bullets that you will be distributing.