In Women’s Month: Selling Women Down the River

Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths. – Lois Wyse

It was bad enough that the President committed the dreadful blunder of patronising women on national television during Women’s Month in South Africa. It’s then really lamentable when an organization that is supposedly in place to promote equality and women’s rights, supports this patriarchal madness.

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) which is headed by Angie Motshekga [remember this inept woman who doubles as the Education Minister?], today defended the atrocious comments by President Zuma, claiming that they were taken out of context, because he was referring to his daughters only. Judge for yourself if these statements were misconstrued:

I was also happy because I wouldn’t want to stay with daughters who are not getting married, because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It’s actually not right. That’s a distortion

You’ve got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother.

League spokesperson Troy Martens’ attempts to rationalize these absurd statements is a disgrace. She performs a huge disservice to women everywhere. How is that out of context when Zuma clearly refers to it being a problem with society?

The ANCWL continues to emphasize what a toothless organization they really are. Their only function seems to be as cheerleaders for their “ruler” and the other incompetent ANC Ministers in government.

Considering this, shouldn’t the ANCWL be renamed ANC Woman in League with Hypocrisy, Patriarchy, Misogyny and Dirty Politicians?

The President is hands-on… Bwahahahaha!

I read with disbelief, this response to a blog post in Mail & Guardian, an online publication, from the government’s Communications department.

We read, with disbelief, the tirade by William Saunderson-Meyer supposedly on the performance of government, entitled “The Zuma government is floundering about” (August 18 2012).

Saunderson-Meyer tells us that the President “has been preoccupied with ensuring a second term at the African National Congress’s elective conference in December”. The writer provides no scientific evidence to back up this assertion. He has taken gossip that he has read elsewhere, and presents it to readers as analysis.

Also worrying, is the tone of the article, which is very condescending. It demonstrates that the writer has no respect for the South African head of state.

Well actually, my initial disbelief was replaced with howls of laughter, because the jackass who wrote that, one Sydwell Mabasa, is not only just another government stooge, but he has a little understanding of the scientific method, not to mention logical fallacies.

Saunderson-Meyer’s article was written from observation of government’s performance over a number of years, and even the most optimistic supporter will have to honestly admit that “it is floundering.” While President Zuma staggers from one political and personal  blunder to the next, his government seems to imitate him, with dizzying acts of inferior performance in almost every department of government.

Sydwell commits a cardinal fallacy by selectively picking a handful of the achievements (dubious though some of them are) of the ANC government’s tenure, and blatantly ignoring the multitude of failures, and acts of gross incompetence that have sullied the country’s reputation on the world stage. He arrogantly asserts that the piece of paper [Constitution/Bill of Rights] that guarantees certain freedoms coupled with the right to vote, is equivalent to the holy grail that the South African population have been seeking since Apartheid times.

Big fucking deal. These rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution are being trampled on daily, by none other than the very government created to protect them. And what of the right to vote? Democracy South African style, guarantees you the RIGHT to be beguiled into making your choice for those with the most expensive marketing campaigns and creatively subtle threats. And if Sydwell needs the so-called “scientific evidence, it’s there for all to observe, unless you’re willfully blind, deaf or ignorant.

Saunderson-Meyer is quite correct. Zuma has surrounded himself with woefully inept Ministers and scheming acolytes whose only intention seems to be in securing their vertiginous rise from revolution to royalty. They may punt the bill of rights in public, but in private they’re secretly counting the bills that they have managed to line their pockets with.

Yes folks, as one commenter in the article said, Zuma is hands on alright – his hands are on the taxpayers money. What the commenter didn’t mention is that his hands are also on a lot of women too…

Freshly Played #11: Alison Moyet

There’s something about a woman with a strong blues voice that’s so irresistible.

Mix that with a jazzy tune and you have a winner. Today I’m listening to Alison Moyet, formerly of Yazoo, who had quite a successful solo career.

That Ole Devil Called Love

Originally sung by Billie Holiday in the 40’s, Moyet’s cover released in 1985 is arguably better. Her voice is much more powerful than Holiday’s. That’s not to say that Holiday’s original is not good; it is. But Moyet took the original and made it her own; it’s just so much more authoritative.

I chose a YouTube video of a live version which is just a little different from the studio recording.

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The Billie Holiday Original

Heatmaps to give a f@@k about

Fuck you!

A common enough phrase. But would you care how often it was being said? Would you actually keep count?

Seems a company called Vertaline did just that. They tracked tweets from 100’s of locations across the USA containing the phrase “fuck you,” over a 10-day period in July this year, and created a heatmap that recorded its distribution.

And the results?

New York City and Los Angeles take a bow. It seems you do indeed give a fuck about the usage of flowery language.

However this doesn’t mean shit according to the article from where I got this crap, because the heat signatures correlate with high population densities in those areas, and hence does not make for a very scientific evaluation.

Now after reading this, I wondered how this use of heatmaps could be put to use right here in South Africa. Since we’re all pretty much fucked under the current government, I wondered if Vertaline could find another way to use heatmaps that would amuse us, and keep us busy until our turn comes to bend over.

What if they could creat heatmaps that measured levels of bigotry and sophistry. We could then have hours of fun as we uncover the gatherings off our politicians, and posh meeting venues they favour. No points for figuring out which political party is raising the most “heat” – we all know don’t we; we’re just curious about how much more than the others. Naturally, Parliament would have to be excluded; we all know what a hothouse of “fuck the people,”  that place is.

Would you be interested in my fairly brilliant idea? Do you actually give a fuck?

Is God talking to you too?

“I came into this project wanting to understand the question: How are rational, sensible, educated people able to sustain faith in an invisible being in an environment of skepticism?”

Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist spent about four years studying the rituals of evangelicals and came to the conclusion that prayer teaches them to hear the voice of God, presumably the Christian version of the supreme being. Luhrmann went on to write a book about it – When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

The obvious but crass reaction of many cynics and non-believers would be to retort that those who hear voices in their head are crazy or schizophrenic. Indeed in an essay on this story in The Week, one commenter observed “When you talk to your deity, you’re religious. When it talks to you, you’re a crazy sumbitch.”

Luhrmann on the other hand contends there’s more going on with evangelicals than we care to acknowledge. She believes they hear voices which they conclude is that of God for good reasons; the presumption yet again is that there is only one such being. However, while she went to great lengths to observe the evangelical behaviour and explain HOW these adherents come to believe that they’re talking to God, she does not attempt to explain WHY it happens. To be fair, as an anthropologist, perhaps it’s beyond her level of understanding; rationalizing an observation was all she was left with.

I would therefore like to indulge Luhrmann and other believers for a bit. Let’s suspend all credulity, and accept that a God does indeed talk to evangelicals, or anyone else for that matter, who from her observations at least, satisfy the following criteria:

  1. God only talks to those who believe and accept without question that a God exists,
  2. Adherents willingly want to “have a relationship” with said God, and
  3. Adherents are both willing and able to participate in a ritual such as prayer, which presumably makes it possible for them to “open a communication channel” with said God.

Having satisfied the criteria, what does an adherent talk to God about, and exactly what does God reveal? According to Luhrmann:

Members told her about having coffee with God, seeing angel wings, and getting God’s advice on everything from job choice to what shampoo to buy.

Nothing of major significance or importance it seems; nothing world-changing. But that’s quite revealing actually. It seems that ordinary people talk to God about mundane things; things that don’t contribute a whole deal to the future of the planet, indeed the world.

If a supernatural entity does exist, and is talking to people, it would imply that other things we’re normally skeptical about, should also be possible. [Lest you’ve forgotten, we’ve suspended credulity].

Robert Boyle's self-flowing flask fills itself...

Wouldn’t the secrets to solve both our constantly increasing energy requirements and global warming, be the most fundamentally essential revelation to mankind? Wouldn’t the solution of these issues lead to resolving poverty and other social problems? Off course there may be more pressing needs of which I am not thinking about right now.

So, in a world with a God, without doubt perpetual motion should also be possible. And a substance should exist which when diluted in water, be able to cure all diseases and render homeopathy all-powerful, right? So why hasn’t God revealed how to build that perpetual-motion machine and create the wonder homeopathic cure?

Either God doesn’t know, or the people he’s revealed such important information to, are keeping mum. Or, we need the people who can make the greatest impact to saving the world, such as scientists, to learn how to talk to God. Because they’re indubitably wasting valuable resources and money carrying out useless experiments in underground particle colliders and outer space.

Clearly then, the wrong people are talking to God. The planet’s going to hell in a handbasket at a dizzying pace. Surely those capable of talking to God should be asking Him how to sort out the mess we’re in. You have to question why we’re being made to suffer if divine information can make a difference to the way the world is unraveling.

But nada! Does God talk to us just so that we can feed his vanity? Is God then just “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully,” as Dawkins so eloquently pointed out in The God Delusion?

Isn’t it a much simpler and more reasonable explanation that any conversation with a God is one-way traffic…

Who needs Robin?

“Who needs Batman, when you have Robin?”

That’s what the fans were loudly proclaiming last year. There were banners at Emirates Stadium. Hell, there’s a Facebook page for that hallowed chant… which is now no doubt destined for the scrap heap of Facebook pages.

Robin van Persie was greatly revered by the Arsenal faithful, for all of one magnificent year in which he produced his best football. The other seven odd years were average and injury-plagued. But last year was special. Did it make up for all those other years? The jury’s out on that.

But now he’s gone! Like so many other promising players before him in recent years. Why? One can’t help feeling that the ego’s of football players inflate in direct proportion to their popularity. Perhaps the fans are to blame for treating them like demigods.

Club loyalty plays second fiddle to personal ambition. Perhaps it’s just the lure of easy money. Certainly, 200 000 quid a week can buy a few Batmobiles and a some Harley’s besides. Is anyone capable of resisting?

And then, perhaps it’s a good thing he’s gone. An unhappy player does the team no good, as Cesc Fabregas proved a few years ago. Besides, the £24m due from Manchester United for van Persie, almost wipes out the cost of bringing in Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla, who by one friendly pre-season performance alone, look like the real deal.

Yes, perhaps all’s well that ends well…

Keep ’em separated…

You gotta keep’m separated

They’re like the latest fashion
They’re like a spreading disease
The kids are strappin’ on their way to the classroom
Getting weapons with the greatest of ease… COME OUT AND PLAY

Yes, it’s lyrics! Offspring fans will find them instantly recognisable. It comes from the classic hit single Come out and Play released in 1994, off the album Smash. Have a listen:

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The Offspring started out as Manic Subsidal way back in 1984. Around 1986, the band changed its name to “The Offspring.” Much nicer, what? And the rest as they say, is history.

Come Out And Play is considered their first major commercial success, and the album Smash holds the record (still, I think) for the most number of copies sold on an independent record label. The Offspring still carry the flag for punk rock to this day, churning out albums at regularish intervals, and don’t look like stopping any time soon.

Come Out And Play, together with Self Esteem from the same album, are not only two of my favorite Offspring songs, but two of my all-time favorite songs.

Brilliant!

Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk by Massimo Pigliucci

I completed reading this book about two weeks ago, but have been grappling with how to review it. For starters, the title threw me off somewhat, as the contents eventually revealed what I was not expecting.The book is not composed of the typical science versus pseudoscience and non-science debate, that is characteristic of books of this type.

Instead, Massimo Pigliucci focuses on uncovering in some detail what the true nature of science is and indeed what it is not. To this end his discussions involve looking at the history of science from pre-Socratic to modern times, attempting to distinguish between hard and soft sciences, and also what he terms “almost-science.” Further, he looks at the philosophy of science and its proponents such as Popper, and delves into what constitutes an expert in a field of science, and ends with a critique of Postmodernism.

Massimo uses many real-life examples to further his discussions, sometimes going unnecessarily too deep into them as in the case of his criticism of Bjorn Lambourg’s views on climate change. However, overall one sees the necessity of using these examples as in the case of the tiresome Creationist, and patently dishonest Intelligent Design belief systems, to make clear the distinctions between science, pseudoscience and plain bunk.

An eye-opener for me was the revelation that being a skeptic is not necessarily the intellectually superior position it is made out to be by some proponents as Shermer and Randi. Indeed, there are many skeptics out there who have taken positions that are contrary to widely accepted scientific findings, and peddle either pseudoscience or plain nonsense.

Ultimately though, even though scientists are fallible, one comes away convinced that science works because it is self-regulating, being subject to peer review, while pseudoscience and non-science are not.

I think the best way to get an insight into what the book offers is through some quotes which I have selected:

1. Clearly, human senses can be misleading, which is plainly shown by the kind of dream that feels real while it is happening or by phenomena like mirages. Even human reasoning is faulty, again as shown by the fact that we can be absolutely convinced of the soundness of an argument only to be ruthlessly shown wrong by someone who has looked at it more carefully or from a different angle.

2. What interests us here, however, is the potential for fruitful interactions between science and philosophy when it comes to a joint defense against the assault from pseudoscientific quarters.

3. Moreover, it is important to note that it was scientists who uncovered the hoax, not creationists, which is both an immense credit to the self-correcting nature of science and yet another indication that creationism is only a religious doctrine with no power of discovery.

4. We shall see later on how science itself can still claim a high degree of quasi-objectivity, despite the fact that its practitioners are not objective machines, but instead are emotionally and subjectively after the same three universal rewards sought by humankind: fame, money (or material resources), and sex (not necessarily in that order).

5. Objecting to such procedure on moral grounds would be similar to objecting to vaccination on the ground that God wants us to suffer from the diseases He invented (the absurdity of which has not stopped people from actually defending such “reasoning”).

6. To expect a scientist to be more objective than average is the same as to expect a moral philosopher to be a saint: it may happen, but don’t count on it.

7. Everyone has a right to be irrational, but rampant irrationality in a society on the grounds that ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone’ is, well, not a very rational position to take.

8. But the beauty of science is that it so often shows our intuitions to be wrong.

9. Then again, arguably this peculiar relationship between science and philosophy is nothing new. Philosophy has often been the placeholder for areas of intellectual inquiry that have subsequently moved to the domain of science.

A day of science awesomeness and religious foolishness

At about the time the robotic Mars Rover, Curiosity was undertaking or completing one of the most complicated landing manoeuvres for a space mission, 5 Pakistani militants from the banned Lashkar-e-Islam group were being blown up by the bomb they were planting on the roadside near the border of Afghanistan.

Here are some thoughts about these two events:

  1. Both events played out on barren landscapes; one of them is inhabited by at least some intelligent life forms.
  2. Both were magnificent feats of science and engineering; one of them was for a truly higher cause.
  3. Both of them were inspired events; one was inspired by the yearning for true knowledge.
  4. Both events will leave you laughing; one in joy and the other in derision.
  5. Bothe events will lead to acts of discovery; one to perhaps signs of life before death and the other perhaps to signs of life after death. Guess which one’s odds are greater.

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Here is a video of man celebrating the achievement of science awesomeness:

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At this time there’s no video of man celebrating the achievement of lunacy. If and when they find all the body parts and bother to make a video, I’ll be sure to post it, but don’t hold your breath.