Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Patricia de Lille wants "crackdown" on blogs

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille wants to regulate blogging. Whether she even knows what a blog is, is another matter, but she is obviously channelling David Bullard.

Regardless, I have already discussed this in detail.

It's interesting how enticing petty tyranny is to some politicians.

The following needs to be drilled into the heads of South Africa's chattering classes, who don't quite understand the idea of free speech:

"...anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an
honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the
tyranny of the majority." US Supreme Court

Sunday, May 20, 2007

House price madness

I'm a professional who earns a reasonable salary. It's above the industry average, and I'm pretty sure it's much higher than the median salary in South Africa. I have no debt, so I would have assumed that I'm in a fairly good financial position.

So, I was bored, and went on a few bank websites, to see what type of bond I could afford. I plugged in my gross monthly income, and I was shocked to discover that I would have trouble getting a bond for anything larger than a glorified matchbox.

According to this article the average middle income house costs R911 800, and Standard Bank's median house price is R580 0001. Both of which would be out of my reach.

I could rent, but, even that is quite pricey. If a landlord wanted a yield of 10% on a house, at the median value, he would need to charge R4 800 per month in rental. 2

Who can afford to get a bond on the "median house"? According to the article, households with a joint income of R20 000 per month. How many families have that kind of income?

I've heard from "experts" that the National Credit Act could make houses more affordable by cracking down on reckless lending by financial institutions. If the prices reflect a real housing shortage, then I'm pretty sure that shortage will be filled by the huge housing developments that are mushrooming around Gauteng (and I am sure the rest of South Africa as well). Either way, prices will have to drop or stabilise until incomes catch up. Until that happens I have a great deal sympathy for the civil servants who are going on strike. The middle classes are being hit very hard currently, and it's become difficult to afford to have a roof over one's head in South Africa, low official inflation rate or not. And if lower house prices make some speculators go bankrupt, thats just too bad.

1 I don't know what they mean by "house", so that could be a hole in the argument.
2 I'm no economist, so forgive me if my terminology and figures are a bit off, but I think the general idea is correct. I also doubt that landlords are actually getting 10%.

Update: More hype about how house prices are going to go up.

Africa’s Storied Colleges, Jammed and Crumbling - New York Times

Africa’s best universities, the grand institutions that educated a revolutionary generation of nation builders and statesmen, doctors and engineers, writers and intellectuals, are collapsing. It is partly a self-inflicted crisis of mismanagement and neglect, but it is also a result of international development policies that for decades have favored basic education over higher learning even as a population explosion propels more young people than ever toward the already strained institutions

The New York Times has a piece on the problems facing universities in the rest of Africa. South African higher education isn't in half as bad a state, but it makes for interesting reading. [via]

Sunday, May 06, 2007

In defence of anonymous blogging

Mainstream South Africa, and the Sunday Times in particular, have finally found out about the obscure pastime called blogging.

I even saw an advertisement the other day, for mixed veggies or something Stork margarine where a housewife spoke about how her blog helped her express herself.

Blogging is apparently the new hot topic in South Africa, years after the rest of the world got over the novelty.

What will the South African media discover next- Usenet?

In today's paper, Sunday Times columnist David Bullard joins in, and lays into blogging in general, and anonymous blogs in particular.

Much of his criticism is valid. Many blogs (anonymous or not) are cesspits. The amount of hate expressed on some blogs is shocking.

Of course mainstream journalists also screw things up -the Sudan Red hysteria that the Sunday Times whips up every couple of years is a good example. Mainstream journalists can be complicit in lying to the public, abusing their credibility (real or manufactured) to help drive nations to war.

But I'm not posting this to get involved the "MSM versus blogosphere" debate. I never cared much for the endless navel gazing of many bloggers. I am posting this in response to one of Bullard's remarks:

"I'm told that it’s possible to track down the author of any offensive website and perhaps that’s what the government should be doing instead of looking at legislation to gag legitimate publications. Better still, maybe it’s time the print journalists named and shamed some of the more offensive anonymous bloggers and published their physical addresses."

Now anonymous speech is a thorny topic, and while I know that mainstream journalists are threatened by blogging, encouraging the unleashing of the government's censorship pit bulls is a horrible idea (and who decides what constitutes "offensive" or "legitimate" speech anyway).

Instead of launching into a treatise into the value of anonymous free speech, I will quote the US Supreme Court, which sums up my position on this topic quite succinctly:
"...anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority."

Even members of the ruling ANC resort to anonymous speech when it confronts entrenched interests. The idea that anonymous speech is not somehow "legitimate" is appalling.

In any case, while it is technically possible to unmask anonymous websites, anonymous free speech has been a part of the internet from the beginning, and it will always remain so. If Bullard looked at Usenet archives of South Africa related newsgroups, from 10 years ago, or the comments sections on mainstream news websites, he would see that anonymous and offensive postings have always been a feature of online discourse in South Africa.

I have no doubt that the credibility of anonymous sources (including this blog) is lower than those where the names of the authors are known. This is how it should be, and the average person is smart enough to realize that anonymous sources should be treated with caution, and scrutinized more carefully. However, this does not justify a campaign to discourage anonymous free speech.

I hope that the government's attempts to censor the press fail, but if they do not, I am glad that the internet is available to those who wish to express themselves freely and without fear of retribution. Long may it stay that way.