Death Penalty

November 29, 2012

I first saw America as she should first be seen by a foreigner: from the deck of a ship approaching New York harbour. We had passed the Nantucket Lightship in the night watches, and now at dawn could see the island of Manhattan, dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. We picked up the harbour pilot and steamed slowly in up the East River, past Governors Island and nudged into our berth at Brooklyn Pier 6.

This was in the early 80’s, and New York was a grubby, rowdy, bustling, crowded place of which I, as a young African, stood in awe. When I wasn’t on cargo watches I would ride the subways and buses, taking in the sights; sometimes I would stop off at one of the ubiquitous Irish pubs for a beer, and would chat to the locals, who—for some reason or another—would always ask whether or not I had been in Florida.

I spent the next year or two on the East coast liner trade: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newport News (beware of submarines), Charleston, Savannah, Miami, Mobile, New Orleans (occasionally Baton Rouge), Houston. During this time I conceived a real affection for the American people, who were invariably friendly and courteous; and apart from a curious ignorance of the events—or even the geography—of the rest of the world, they seemed sophisticated enough to value their freedoms and to take pride in the achievements of their nation. They are mostly liberal, and think quite deeply about morality and the constituent parts necessary to the maintenance of a just society. Which brings me to the point of this post.
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Road Rage

May 17, 2012

In June 1999 Kevin Duncan was brutally bludgeoned to death with a hockey stick on Ou Kaapse Weg in Cape Town. The motive for the crime was road rage. Last month a cyclist lost his life when he was struck by a car that had been forced off the road by an enraged taxi driver.

A survey conducted by market research company Synovate in 2005 showed that South Africa has the worst record of road rage incidents amongst the 10 countries sampled, and indications are that we are becoming worse. Causes of road rage are ascribed to the “me first” mindset of South African drivers, congestion on our roads leading to frazzled nerves, lack of enforcement of traffic rules, and poor training of learner drivers.
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Potty Training

May 6, 2011

Contrary to the popular opinion that the flush toilet was invented by Thomas Crapper in the late 19th century, it actually first appeared in the Indus valley over 4000 years ago.

Flush toilet

One would think that by now human beings would have learnt to use it properly, but, judging from the filthy appearance and revolting aromas permeating public conveniences everywhere, this is clearly not the case. I therefore offer this short user manual which you may freely print out and attach prominently to the wall or door of your favourite privy.

1. Preparation.

1.1. Examine carefully the bowl of the toilet. There are design differences which, when it comes to defecating technique are critical. Pay special attention to the position of the pond: in order to avoid leaving “skid marks” it is important that you position your outlet valve directly over the water.

1.2. Put down paper before you commence discharge. A yard or two of paper is sufficient, and it should be allowed to settle lightly onto the surface of the water. The paper forestalls the distressing phenomenon of splash-back and also provides some protection to the walls of the bowl near the pond should your adherence to the rule contained in paragraph 1.1. not be of the highest accuracy.

2. Execution.

2.1. Seat yourself in accordance with the instructions given in paragraph 1.1.

2.2. Let the sphincter open fully, allowing discharge to occur with minimal impedance. Should difficulties arise at this point you may need to adjust your intake of fibre, but dietary advice is beyond the scope of this document.

2.3. DO NOT read books or magazines, solve crossword or soduku puzzles, make telephone calls, or engage in other activity that may have the effect of lengthening your stay. Haemorrhoids are the punishment for this form of sloth, and they are not pleasant.

3. Cleanup.

3.1. Thoroughly wipe the sphincter and neighbouring areas with toilet paper. Newspaper, corncobs and the like are not adequate substitutes.

3.2. Rise and adjust your clothing, paying particular attention to the fly if you are a boy, and making sure the back of your skirt isn’t jammed into the top of your knickers if you are a girl.

3.3. Flush.

3.4. Examine the bowl to see that no trace of your visit remains. If you detect such traces, then scrub them off with a toilet brush and repeat 3.3. and 3.4.

3.5. DO NOT spray so-called “air fresheners” into the air. These are invariably carcinogenic and smell worse than crap.

3.6. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

3.6. You may now leave with your head held high, smug in the knowledge that you are a good citizen and everyone else should be proud to use the facility you have just vacated.

Have a great weekend.

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


Population Poser

January 14, 2011

There is a lot said and written about climate change and what should be done about it. We are urged to reduce our carbon emissions. The assumption is that climate change is a problem that can be solved by altering our mode of living. But climate change is not a problem, it is a symptom of a problem.

The real problem is the huge, enormous, out-of-control human population. This morning, there were 6,897,307,682 human beings infesting the planet. This number of people cannot be sustained without industrial, mechanized agriculture and distribution systems, which rely on fossil fuels to work. You may drive your electric car or hybrid, but those technologies are not suited to, say, a combine harvester or a container ship, and your car emissions are a drop in the ocean compared to the gigatonnes of greenhouse gases pumped out by industry and farted out by the millions of head of livestock we require to keep our population fed. The principal resource upon which we rely to sustain our population are fossil fuels in general, and particularly oil. These are not renewable and are becoming depleted as we use them up at an ever-increasing rate.

Overpopulation is common in nature. When resources are abundant, populations grow exponentially until the resources are depleted and the environment is degraded to the extent that the depleted resources cannot easily recover, and (if migration is not possible) then the population undergoes a collapse, and (if the species is lucky enough not to become extinct) remains at a low level until the depleted resources recover and the population can begin to grow again.

Our consumption of non-renewable resources can be likened to herds of elephants that push over trees to get at the topmost leaves, killing the trees until the forest has turned into grassland and there is nothing left to eat. Then, amidst much plaintive trumpeting, the animals die. In 1989 Richard C. Duncan published the ‘Olduvai Theory’ in which he claimed that industrial civilization has a life span of about 100 years, and that per-capita energy production would begin to decrease in the early 21st century. Electrical power shortages would begin to occur, and shortly thereafter the energy shortages would lead to a decrease in the production of food.

Why do human beings continue to breed in such numbers when it is clear that to do so is disastrous?
I don’t know, but I suspect it’s because most people don’t know—they cannot project current trends into the future and read their fate there. I was listening to a radio talk show the other day, and the hostess said that we cannot ask people to reduce the number of children they have because it’s ‘culturally sensitive’. What poppycock! this is too important to allow it to fall victim to political correctness–the fate of our species is at stake.

So is there a solution? We could do nothing; let nature take her course. What would happen then? I foresee that as the resources we require to merely survive become more and more scarce, people will begin to fight for them. Conflict and violence will become the default mode for those wishing to survive, but most will die amidst great suffering. Yes, nature will take care of our population problem, but there will be no such thing as human civilization at the end of the process.

In 1968 Garrett Hardin came up with a solution he called ‘mutual coercion mutually agreed upon’. People must be made to agree to do voluntarily what’s best for the group as whole. As he points out, this will not be easily achieved, especially in Western cultures where freedom, in reproduction as elsewhere, is regarded so highly. Perhaps the Chinese strategy of limiting women to a single birth is the way to go, enforced by compulsory sterilization following the birth of the child.

I can offer no solution of my own, but if you wish to do what’s best for your species, please turn off the lights and keep your zipper closed.

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


Predictions for 2011

December 29, 2010


This is the time of year when psychics and other riff-raff of the mystical realms emerge from their malodorous lairs to make known their predictions of events for the coming year. I am not a psychic, but I am the proud owner of a second-hand crystal ball, into which I shall now gaze for your benefit.

Tombstones

My crystal ball reveals that the following people will shuffle off this mortal coil during 2011.

Aretha Franklin


Aretha Franklin (1942-2011): Her silver voice stilled at last, although still available on CD. Our loss is the gain of the choir invisible.

Stephen Hawking


Stephen Hawking (1942-2011): English physicist. He will finally succumb to motor neuron disease, but his radiation will go on.

Barry Ronge


Barry Ronge (?-2011): Movie critic. No more shall his fatuous features fill our telescreens, or his unctuous tones drip like rancid cooking oil from our radio loudspeakers, or his silly scribblings take up our newspaper columns. Yay.

Natural Disasters

There will be a powerful earthquake on the Pacific rim this year which will leave thousands homeless.

The year will begin and end with severe blizzards in the Northern hemisphere.

Hurricanes will ravage the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the East coast of the USA in the third quarter of 2011.

My crystal ball is silent on the subject of meteor strikes or volcanic eruptions, so I presume there will be none.

Sport

New Zealand will break their world cup jinx and carry home the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

South Africa will regain the number one ranking in test cricket.

Western Province will win the Curry Cup for 2011.

Politics

I can’t seem to get anything in focus. It’s all just a blur of interchangeable figures talking incomprehensible gibberish. Therefore just more of what we had this year.

Miscellaneous

The following numbers will be drawn in the lottery during the course of the year: 3 5 8 13 21 34

We shall revisit these predictions at the end of next year to see how they stand up compared to those of the “real” psychics.

Chill out and have fun in the new year.

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


Responsibility

November 2, 2010

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A girl can be sued over accusations she ran over an elderly woman with her training bicycle when she was 4 years old, a New York Supreme Court justice has ruled.
The ruling by King’s County Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten stems from an incident in April 2009 when Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, both aged four, struck an 87-year-old pedestrian, Claire Menagh, with their training bikes.
Menagh underwent surgery for a fractured hip and died three months later.

Johannesburg – A man apparently chopped his dog’s back legs off because she “stole” food from a neighbour in a squatter camp outside Sabie.
The female Africanis dog lay helplessly for more than a week behind the hut of her owner, Alfred Maganzi, 65, before residents of the Fok-fok squatter camp called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Canis africanis


On the face of it these two news stories seem to have nothing in common. Half a planet apart, one a silly ruling by an overeducated first-world judge, the other a horrific act by an uneducated, unemployed third-world man; but at the root both made the same mistake: they failed to understand the nature of responsibility.

In order for responsibility to exist, the responsible agent must be able to understand that his actions will have consequences, and be able to make a reasonable assessment of what those consequences might be. In addition, to be held criminally responsible, he must make a conscious choice to perpetrate an act despite being aware that it will or may have adverse consequences.

Neither of those is true in either of these cases. Dogs’ and children’s brains are insufficiently advanced to be capable of anything but the most rudimentary reasoning, and to suggest that a four-year-old human or a dog is capable of performing a sophisticated analysis of cause and effect is ludicrous. When a dog is hungry its instinct will cause it to seek food, and if the only food available is in the hut of a neighbour, then it will take and eat it regardless of any human notions of ownership. (My dog Doofus, coincidentally also an Africanis, took and ate our Christmas chicken that was thawing out atop the oudoor barbecue. Scallywag and I had to make do with a Christmas meal of pizza and roast potatoes.) Similarly, children have very limited spacial awareness; they keep bumping into things and wandering around without looking where they are going. They surely cannot be held responsible for this—a characteristic of childhood behaviour.

However, it is reasonable to chastise dog or child for behaviour that we as adults would like to curb, in the interests of modifying future behaviour. We would like our children to know that running over old ladies with wheeled vehicles is not always a good thing, and we would like our dogs not to go around, like the Italian government, promiscuously gobbling up everything in sight regardless of where it is found. Mild rebuke is called for; suing and dismemberment are both grotesquely disproportionate.

I’m not familiar with the law in New York, but I presume there must be some legal guidelines as to the age at which a child becomes responsible (either in civil or criminal proceedings) for its actions, but I cannot believe that threshold would be as low as four, especially when they are deemed too immature to have sex until they are 18, or buy a beer until they are 21, or take marijuana ever. I don’t suppose we will ever know what caused the judge’s brainfart in actually believing that this child is responsible, but I’m quite sure his ruling will be overturned when, if ever, proceedings are initiated against the child, and no one will be the worse off. (The lawyers, as always, will be very much better off.)

The same cannot be said for the dog, which was put down after her week of agony. How any human being can be so devoid of empathy as to perform an act of such barbarism is beyond me—I do not have the mental equipment to understand it. I can only assume or hope that it is the result of mental illness, not an evil nature, and that Mr Maganzi receives, in either case, the treatment he deserves.

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


Friday Shorts

October 28, 2010


The deadline for RICAing[1] SIM cards is almost here. What a waste of time and resources! If you were a criminal mastermind would you meekly register the SIMs in your own name and with your own address that you intend using to further your nefarious ends? Of course not. You would use one of the false identities you either stole or obtained from any one of the hundreds of corrupt officials who infest the Department of Home Affairs. I’m making a note in my diary to ask the relevant minister in a year’s time exactly how many criminals have been caught through the use of a RICAed cellphone. My bet is that the answer (in the unlikely event that it is given) will be a large round zero.

[1] Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA). Shouldn’t this be RICPCRIA? Yes, but politicians are too thick to spell it. Errr, Rick prick what?
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An almost perfect description of warfare:

Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

Leo Tolstoy War and Peace
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It is there some movement in South Africa that I can join to do away with the really, really silly public holiday system? Here’s what I think should happen: everyone should be given four ‘floating’ holidays which they can use whenever they like. These are to replace the current Easter and Christmas religious holidays, so Jews could take Passover or Hanukkah or whatever, Muslims could have their break over Eid, Hindus could be off for Divali, devotees of the Flying Spaghetti Monster could take noodle days and so on. All other holidays should be moved to the Friday or Monday closest to the date on which they occur, doing away totally with these ridiculous midweek holidays which just waste everyone’s time.
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And why can we not implement daylight saving time in South Africa? Or have two time zones, one for the East of the country and one for the West. Our time zone (UTC +2) is based on Pietermaritzburg, which is fine if you happen to live in Pietermaritzburg, but daft if you live (as I do) in Cape Town. In winter we have to get up and travel to work in the dark because the Sun only rises just before 0800. I suspect we don’t have it because our politicians are too dim to understand it.
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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License