Smoke Signals

May 28, 2020

I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
–Kurt Vonnegut


I have written elsewhere on the ineffectiveness of bans on various drugs, and the harmful effects of such bans. Adults should be free to make their own decisions as to what they choose to ingest into their own bodies; governments should have no say in the matter. The South African government has seen fit to ban sales of tobacco, using as their excuse the lockdown to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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Conspiracy Theory

March 4, 2020

HOW happy is he, as all may see
Who has the good fortune a fool to be,
And what you tell him will always believe!
No ambition can grieve,
No fear can affright him
Which are wont to be seeds
Of pain and annoy.
This doctor of ours,
‘Tis not hard to delight him–
If you tell him ’twill gain him
His heart’s wish and joy,
He’ll believe in good faith that an ass can fly,–
Or that black is white, and the truth a lie,–
All things in the world he may well forget–
Save the one whereon his whole heart is set.

–Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527).

There are people who believe that the Earth is a flat disc, the sky above a sphere of acrylic with stars painted on its inner surface; the sun and moon are, according to these folk, mounted upon some sort of trackway that allows them to move, with the seasons and the days, above a stationary, flat Earth. This would not be surprising if the people who so believe were savages, with no knowledge of astronomy, geography, physics or any other science. But they are not; they are reasonably well-educated, not all unintelligent, citizens of modern, 21st century industrial nations. They believe that the powers-that-be know the truth–that the Earth is truly flat–but for some sinister reason are keeping it from the ‘sheeple,’ who must be kept in the dark (presumably on the underside of the disc), and not allowed to know the truth.

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Shady Lady

January 16, 2020

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
―Mark Twain

Shady Lady

Shady Lady

It has been said–I forget who by–that there are three kinds of people in the world: the haves, the have-nots, and the have-yachts. I have very recently joined the third subset; and I can highly recommend it to all who enjoy the exhilerating sensation of freezing, gale-driven salt spray in their faces and seeing their wealth evaporate like a pool of ether on a hotplate.

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Garcinia cambogia

September 19, 2013

I have been growing portlier over the last few years. I don’t weigh myself, so this happened without my being consciously aware of it, although I did notice twinges in the joints as they protested against having to bear stresses for which they had not been intended.

But it was when I realised that I was having more and more trouble bending down far enough to put my socks on that I decided to do something about it. Coincidentally, I received an email at about the same time extolling a substance called Garcinia cambogia as a ‘miracle’ weight-loss medication. Needless to say, I was quite excited by this potentially easy way to lose weight, but as I read, red flags started popping up.
The first of these was that the stuff had been recommended by Dr Oz. Now, Dr Oz has seemingly impeccable qualifications: graduated from Harvard, then received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Wharton. He is a professor at Columbia University. Yet he has a record of recommending quack remedies on his ridiculous TV show. Do they not teach anything about the scientific method at those prestigious institutions he attended?
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Future Perfect

September 4, 2013

The presenter of the morning early breakfast show on Cape Talk radio was commenting about the predictions made by Isaac Asimov on the occasion of the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. Asimov was musing on what the World’s Fair of 2014–fifty years later–would look like. “He really is incredibly accurate!” enthused the host, “It’s uncanny how he could have known then what our world looks like now!”

I hadn’t read Asimov’s predictions, so I looked them up to see for myself just how prescient he really was. Not, it turns out, as much as the breathless radio presenter would have us believe. I enumerated 24 specific predictions made in the article, and found that 10 were accurate within reasonable bounds, 12 were inaccurate, 2 were partially accurate.

Some of the predictions that were right on the money were:–
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Leap of Faith

August 21, 2013

The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. David Hume.

“Honey, the Lord has spoken unto me.”

“That’s nice, dear, what did He say?”

“He said, ‘Sean, my son, takest thou thy wife and the little children of thy loins, and go to San Diego. There buyest thou a small boat—say about ten cubits long by, oh heck, three and a half cubits wide–and sail it across the Pacific to Kiribati, that thou mayest be free of the Godless laws of America, where men are permitted to lie with men, and women with women, and the unborn are ripped untimely from their mothers’ wombs at the expense of the federal government, and my commandments are not permitted to be displayed on the walls of the city courthouse.’ ‘But Lord,’ I replied, ‘we know naught of nautical matters–there is no sea in Arizona–and we are sore afraid of the ocean.’ Then He said in a loud, annoyed kind of voice, ‘O ye of little faith! It’s not called the Pacific for nothing, you know. And as to the matter of navigation, I shall guide thee.'”

And so Sean Gastonguay took his wife, Hannah, and his daughters Ardith (3), and Rahab (8 months) to San Diego, bought a small boat, and set sail for Kiribati. It is unclear whether or not they knew that the highest mountain in Kiribati is about a yard high, and the government of that unhappy nation has advised its citizens to leave as pronto as possible, before rising sea levels drown them. But off they went into the Pacific where, to quote Mrs Gastonguay, it was just “storms, storms, storms.” After ninety days all they had left to eat was honey and fruit juice; the deck of their boat had begun to separate from the hull, like the upper coming adrift from the sole of an old shoe; and they hadn’t the faintest idea where they were.

They were luckily spotted by a fishing trawler and rescued. They are back home in Arizona, jobless and considerably poorer than when they left. The federal government are charging them $10,000 to cover the costs of their repatriation, in addition to the $9,963 they already owe in back taxes.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Nigerian Scams

August 13, 2013

Enterprising chaps, the Nigerians. It seems that they have the monopoly on the informal pharmacology trade in South Africa; but it is the 419 scamsters of whom I wish to speak today. Some of them have moved their base of operations to other countries, and are operating local versions of scams in those countries.
I get these invitations to be fleeced via email all the time. Now they’re coming to my phone via SMS.

ATT!You cell number won you R950,000 in the NELSON MANDELA FUND/RICA 2013 Mobile Grant with ref/no SA0319. Send an email to
Info +27110518021

Presumably the people who go to the trouble to send these messages must do their sums and come to the conclusion that it is worth while to go to the expense of sending out ‘x’ messages with the expectation of receiving ‘y’ replies, and at least some of those replying will be gullible enough to be fleeced of the contents of their bank accounts. I have no idea what the scamsters costs are; but I assume that there must be some. Cellphone networks charge something, however minimal to transmit SMS messages; and I suppose that those folk who operate spambots do not do it from altruistic motives.
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Film Folly

July 26, 2013

As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends.
Jeremy Bentham

I have written elsewhere about the idiotic antics of the South African Film and Publications Board. On that occasion they had seen fit to place an 18 year age restriction on a painting that was neither a film nor a publication; this time they have effectively banned a film as ‘child pornography’ when it depicts no children, and is evidently not pornography by any accepted definition of the term.

The film in question is “Of Good Report.” It is said to be (I haven’t seen it–that would be illegal–so I must take the producer’s word for it) a serious drama focussing on the phenomenon of ‘sugar-daddyism’. The film opens with a high school teacher meeting a young woman in a bar. He is attracted to her, but the next day she walks into his classroom as one of his students, which, needless to say, complicates matters. The actress who plays the part of the young woman is 23 years old, and the character she portrays is 16. the age of consent in South Africa is 16, so any sex between them in the film is sex between consenting adults.
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You Snus You Win

July 19, 2013

Politicians make weird decisions that seem to have little to do with common sense or the good of the citizenry who suffer under their rule. Here’s an example of such a decision taken by the lawmakers of the European Union, Russia, and other misguided jurisdictions.
Smoking is one of the most serious public health hazards known: cigarettes will kill their users unless they die of something else first. Smokers smoke as a means of acquiring nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug. But it is not the nicotine in smoke that causes the most harm; it is all the other stuff in the smoke that kills people, like tar, and the other 2,500-odd chemical compounds that the hapless smoker inhales along with the nicotine.
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May 15, 2013

I’m somewhat mystified by this article in the New Scientist. A British Aerospace Jetstream aircraft flew from Lancashire to Inverness in Scotland controlled for part of its journey from the ground.
So what? None of the technology described is new, at least not in concept; and modern commercial airliners are flown by the autopilot most of the time anyway. If you are going to have a pilot, what is the advantage of having him on the ground instead of in the plane? In the case of military drones there is the obvious advantage of the pilot not being killed when the plane comes under enemy fire, and the drone can be designed to be smaller than would be required to carry a human pilot; but commercial airliners are altogether a different kettle of fish.
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