Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Hubble Snaps

.Amazing pictures from the Hubble space telescope in this slide-show. [Link via LRC]


The recent removal of Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze (better known perhaps as the last Soviet foreign minister, a fact that has apparently not been forgotten by resentful ex-Soviet heavies) brings the Caucasus back into the news. The Atlantic had a detailed article on Georgia, in 2000.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Daily Links - 19/11/2003

Man falls out of window during interrogation

A man “fell" out of the window of the Scorpions' offices in Durban a few months ago. The story received some attention in the media. (I was alerted to it by the LRC blog). It seems to have dropped off the media radar since then.

I wonder what the status of the Independent Complaints Directorate investigation is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

How much does spam cost South Africa?

The IT industry and those who report on it are known for their tendency to generate publicity (and business) by resorting to hype and paranoia.

Y2K, overblown virus fears, the dot-com bubble and assorted bits of FUD have made me extremely wary of information put out by the popular press on IT issues.

So you will understand my scepticism when I read claims that email spam costs South African companies between "R 7 billion and R13.1 billion a year". Others report the figure as a nice, round, R10 billion a year.

I remember the figure being discussed on the SABC 3 business program, but I don't recall them explaining how the figure was arrived at. According to another site, someone at the local "Spam Summit" came up with the figure, but it doesn't say how he calculated it.

Spam is a major problem, and it probably does cost a significant amount in lost productivity and wasted computing resources. But, until I can get a solid explanation of how that enormous price tag of around R10 billion for spam was arrived at, I will assume that the figure is just another example of IT hype, swallowed by a gullible media.

Monday, November 17, 2003

South African English pronunciations

While searching for some information, I found a page about South African English.

"One difference between South African English ["as spoken by whites"] and New Zealand English is in the pronunication of 'ar' and 'ow', as in the pronunciation of the sentence 'park the car downtown'.
* New Zealand: pahk the kah dehwn tehwn
* South Africa: pawk the kaw dahwn tahwn"

"Pawk the kaw dahwn tahwn"? I know people who pronounce words like that, but they hardly constitute a majority of [white] English-speakers in South Africa who I know.

Although, I do remember a woman once telling one of my friends, "you have naas arse" (she meant "you have nice eyes"). We found it very funny, though the woman was quite offended when she saw us grinning...
Nadine Gordimer celebrates 80th birthday

Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize winner, celebrated her 80th birthday in Johannesburg.

I have only read one of her books. My matric set work was July's People. It was an extremely difficult book to read. From what I remember, it was full of incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness writing. I don't know what my classmates thought of the book, since very few of them managed to read it (the standard technique for studying matric literature was memorizing set-piece essays from study-guides).

If “July's People” is representative of Gordimer's work, then she is highly overrated, and if it is still a prescribed book for matric, then I pity the unfortunate kids who have to hack their way though its dense, and unrewarding prose.

Oh yes, with July's people, there is also the disgusting parts that seem out of place in a school book....
Daily Links

During my web surfing, I encounter many interesting sites and pages, and it's silly to put each one in it's own entry. So I have decided to emulate Anil Dash, who has a page full of daily links (with minimal commentary) in addition to his regular weblog. So here are my daily links:

I'd like to remind readers that my links to particular sites do not necessarily imply that I endorse the views of those sites, or that I agree with the content on those sites.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Getting the mob to support a war

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

- Hermann Goering, April 18, 1946, while awaiting the Nuremberg trials.

[Via LRC blog]

More information
about this quote.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Home schooling

As someone who has a rather poor opinion of the public school system (more on that another time), I am interested in alternatives to the educational meat-grinder. So I found this father’s experiences as a substitute homeschool teacher interesting:

"People who have never witnessed a homeschooling scene, but know only about school from large classrooms in public school, have a hard time even imagining what goes on or how it all works. This is so clear whenever you read a mainstream educator denounce homeschooling; their ignorance is palpable, and barely worth responding to. How could they know what I saw before me? The students are internally driven to learn. They sense no limits to learning. Once one topic is mastered, they are free to move on. They feel a powerful sense of personal responsibility. Time is used extraordinarily well, not standing in lines or frittering away hours obeying orders from above…"

" The great merit of homeschooling is precisely that it provides an open-ended environment that permits the flowering of intellect that is as effortless in children as it is difficult in adults. Observing this at work, one is tempted to establish a first rule of education: set no limits (within moral bounds) to learning..."

An American organization called the "Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation” is inviting proposals for research grants. Kieran at Crooked Timber has noticed something interesting about their grant application requirements.

China's MBA Craze

Sascha Matuszak, an American living in China, contrasts US involvement in world affairs with that of China. According to him, China is ignoring ideology and focussing on business, while the US is wasting its time on global security issues.

More information about the impact of US foreign policy on business.

A movie I won't be watching

I used to think that a big-budget action movie was a reasonably safe bet to watch at the movies. That was until I saw the awful xXx, starring Vin Diesel, last year. Wall-to-wall action couldn't save that film from turning into a huge yawn.

So I will be taking this negative review of S.W.A.T., which is to be released next week and is in the same genre as xXx, seriously. I was looking forward to this movie, but if it's as bad as the reviewer says it is, then I will steer clear of it.

Friday, November 14, 2003

State held accountable for not protecting woman from attacker

An assault victim, who sued the state because her attacker was out on bail at the time of the attack on her, rather than behind bars, has won her legal battle.
Telkom to increase tarrifs, earnings

Telkom, still a monopoly , increases tariffs, and expects higher earnings.
Vietnam War Crimes under the spotlight again

US forces carried out many atrocities in Vietnam, the most infamous being the massacre at My Lai. There were other atrocities as well, and an American newspaper investigates those carried out by a unit called "Tiger Force", which took place over a period of months, and which may have left hundreds of Vietnamese civilians dead. Tiger Force also apparently used to wear necklaces made of shoelaces, on which they strung the ears of Vietnamese they killed.

A researcher says that far from being the actions of “rogue soldiers”, the massacres were a direct result of US policy in Vietnam, which encouraged the killing of civilians.

I suppose that a blog written by a South African should have something about SA politics. There are others who have that angle covered already.

Patricia de Lille's SMS system, opposition parties playing musical chairs, and the Hefer commission, are not exactly riveting stuff, but if anything major in the political field comes up, I'll blog on it.
Remaking the Security Council

The U.N. Wire discusses possible new permanent members for UN Security Council, and the criteria for selecting them. South Africa comes up as a candidate from Africa.

[link via The Atlantic]
BBC AIDS Information

The BBC has an interesting graphical feature on the Global AIDS epidemic, how the HIV virus spread, and what the future may hold.

Richard at Way South believes there are problems with the figures.
TV Roundup

Because we get a large number of foreign shows on TV in South Africa, we are at an advantage because we can find out if what we are currently watching was a success or failure overseas.

Speaking of "The Kumars at No 42", the show has a local connection in Vincent Ebrahim, who plays Ashwin Kumar, the longwinded, and money-obsessed father in that show. He was born in South Africa.

If you are interested in how American networks decide to kill off underperforming shows in a process called sweeps see this article, which also lists some other shows which may be facing the axe in the USA.

As this article points out, "sweeps" ensure that unpopular and lame shows get booted out. If only South African-made TV programmes faced the pressure of "sweeps"...
Mental deficiencies

A US TV drama about Ronald Reagan was cancelled after drawing protests from Reagan admirers. Reagan who is in his 90's, and suffering from Alzheimer's disease was the oldest man elected as president of the United States, and, according to Slate Magazine he was deaf, and had trouble grasping complex details during his two terms as president.

Is history repeating itself?

"Initial impressions were disturbing: President Bush was physically unable to stand still as the Colors were being presented -- he kept bopping his head to the march music and talking and laughing to a very still and stiff Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, who was doing his best to stand at attention and ignore the president's repeated attempts to strike up a conversation during that solemn procession. All of the others on the dais were utterly still and at attention as the Colors were being presented, with either a salute or a hand on heart. Only the president was acting like a kid with ADD during a Ritalin shortage..."

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Sex selection banned in the UK

The UK body in charge of fertility treatment has banned baby sex selection, because the majority of people wanted it banned.

Chris at Crooked Timber asks if it's a valid to ban the practice just because it's unpopular, and links to a writer in the Guardian who makes the same point, but in harsher terms.

Is the mob capable of making judgements on complex issues like bioethics, or is the mob too stupid to comprehend the deeper issues, and does it have a right to dictate the private medical decisions of individuals based on its whims?
Impala Jet Crash

An Impala fighter jet crashed next to a highway in Mpumalanga province, killing both pilots, and injuring a passenger in a truck which one of the pilots hit after ejecting from the plane. It was the second fatal Impala crash in 18 months.

The aging Impalas are due to be replaced by British Aerospace Hawk fighters as part of the controversial arms deal.

More information about-

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

First Entry

Welcome to my weblog. For the uninitiated, a weblog (or blog) is a web page that allows for easy updates and postings, sort of like an online journal. There are two varieties of weblogs: group blogs, and individual blogs. This is an individual blog, although that may change in future. For more blogging terminology see this, and for a history of weblogs see this. I’ll use both the terms "blog", and "weblog" to describe this site.

I will use this weblog to comment on as many issues. I’m a South African, and so many of
my posts will be about South Africa (see also: this for more information about South Africa), but I won’t restrict myself, and I will discuss other parts of the world as well. I prefer reading USENET to blogging, but unfortunately, trolls have wrecked many of the forums used to discuss South Africa.

The reason why blogging hasn’t taken off in South Africa is probably because Internet
access is expensive
, which makes updating a blog, a costly exercise. It’s
also the reason why I don’t have comments on my blog yet; I don’t have the time
or money to police a comments section. The purpose of this blog will be to
record my observations on what I encounter on the web. I have found very few
about South Africa, or by South Africans, but hopefully this trend will change.

I post using an alias, but I thought you’d like to know I’m a young adult male,
living in Gauteng Province. You may be able to figure out more about me by reading my posts.

I visit the following sites daily, and I will probably rely on them heavily to compile my
blog entries:

antiwar.com and lewrockwell.com, for an American right-wing libertarian perspective on current affairs.

I visit Counterpunch and unmedia for a left-wing American perspective on current events.

Crooked Timber, an excellent academic weblog, and Anil Dash’s blog round out my daily weblog reading.

Lastly, I use antiwar.com , BBC News and Google News for world news, and Independent Newspapers and the Sunday Times for South African News.

Other sites that I visit fairly often are the UK Guardian, UK Independent, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, MSN Slate Magazine, The Atlantic Online and exile.ru, a “Moscow based Alternative newspaper”.

So, you can see, my links will come from a large number of sites, and reflect a diverse
range of opinions. If you have any articles that are interesting, email me with the links, and I’ll consider them for inclusion in the blog.

A few administrative details:

I don’t do link exchanges, and I link to pages that I personally enjoy reading, or find
interesting. I don’t endorse any of the sites I link to, and I don’t
necessarily agree with everything I link to either. Don’t try to infer anything
about me based on the sites I link to, because you will probably be

I may quote from emails sent to me, unless you clearly state that you don’t want me to
quote your emails. Hate mail will be printed regardless. All material on this
blog is copyrighted, although you may quote properly attributed excerpts for non-commercial purposes, without permission.

Update I'm slowly getting this blog up and running, I had to choose the url gauteng.blogspot.com, since southafrica.blogspot.com, and a few others were already taken (though the blogs have long since been abandoned by their owners). A few other features are being added, and I'm considering whether I should add comments, though I will probably have to think about that issue some more.

Update 2 I decided to add comments, and I added a link to Way South. The identical site templates, are coincidental (I didn't know about Way South when I set this blog up), though I found my comment provider from that blog.