Bun Fight

April 18, 2012

The last time Scallywag and I took a long-haul flight (Cape Town to London), we ordered Kosher meals. Our reason was not religious–we aren’t Jewish; we just wanted to be fed first, so we could take our Mickey Finns and be asleep by the time the cabin attendants had finished doing their “chicken or beef” routine with everyone else. It worked perfectly. I didn’t consider the fact that, had the plane been hijacked by al-Qaeda, we would have been first against the bulkhead. Perhaps next time I’ll order Halaal instead. The point is that it doesn’t matter a jot what logo or Imam’s or Rabbi’s signature appears on the packaging.

That’s why I was mystified by the brouhaha that broke out at Easter over a Halaal sticker that was affixed to the packaging of hot cross buns by a local retail chain. Some Christians got hot under the collar for some unfathomable reason. Here are some of the things they had to say

I hate woolworths… How can you do that to the Christians, I hope that God will have mercy on you. And dnt be surprised if your shops run bankrupt.. I will pray to my living God and you will see what he is capable of!

Nothing, so far. Either he’s ignoring you or he isn’t capable of much. Or perhaps he doesn’t exist.
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Corporate Bullies

March 22, 2012

In South Africa every household that owns a television set must, by law, purchase a licence every year. Businesses must have a separate licence for each TV set. A TV is defined as any electronic equipment that can receive a TV signal, so, for example, a VCR or PC equipped with a TV card are counted as TV sets and must be licensed. Failure to pay the licence fee is a criminal offense. The money thus raised is paid to the SABC, but not to other commercial broadcasters. I have argued elsewhere that the SABC licence fee is immoral; but this post is about the revolting, dishonest, thuggish bullying that the SABC and their collecting agencies use in an attempt to frighten consumers into paying licence fees that in many cases are not even owed.
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Beer and Baptists

March 8, 2012

My financial woes are over. When I get my payout from SAB-Miller I’ll be able to afford the lifestyle I so obviously deserve.

You see, if I hadn’t used so much of their product in my youth I would have been at least a billionaire and quite possibly the chairman of a FTSE 100 company. The money I spent purchasing beer by the cubic meter would have been invested in dot com start-ups and then sold before the bubble burst; my brain would have been unrotted by booze and, with steady hands and a clear-eyed, steely gaze, I would have ascended the corporate ladder, yeah, even unto the highest rung. I therefore intend to file suit and sue the brewery for leading me astray and depriving me of the riches that should have been mine.

I suppose you think I’ve eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner, and I don’t blame you; but what I described above is what, in essence, the mellifluously named Arquimedes Nganga is doing, except that the defendant in his case is the Baptist Church, and it wasn’t beer that was his downfall, but religious mania.
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Polygraph Testing

March 1, 2012

I received an epistle from the South African Labour Guide yesterday. It was on the subject of polygraph testing and began:

Employers are often faced with dishonest or criminal activities such as misappropriation of property or theft in its work environment, without knowing exactly where, how and by whom it was committed. It is crippling the business and the employer is at its wits-end to find the culprits or wants to know: “Can I send all my employees for a polygraph test and if so, what can I do if they fail?”

It then went on, in answering this question, to miss the point entirely: it didn’t even touch on the scientific validity of polygraph testing. To be fair, the Labour Guide is a guide to labour law, and does not use objective truth as its yardstick; but I would still expect it at least to touch upon one of the best defences against polygraph evidence–that it is pseudoscientific nonsense that has been thoroughly discredited, and whose use should be illegal. It might be instructive to look at how it is supposed to work.

The victim is attached to various wires which connect to a machine that measures heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and skin conductivity. The interrogator will then follow one of two techniques: the control question test (CQT) or the relevant/irrelevant test (RIT). In the IRT the inquisitor will ask irrelevant questions (is your name Fred?), interspersed with relevant questions about which the test is really being conducted (did you plant the bomb?). If the lies (or truth) told in response to the irrelevant show the same physiological responses as those for the relevant questions, then the subject passes the test. The CQT is similar, but additional irrelevant questions are posed that will most probably result in a lie (have you ever lied to avoid trouble?). The assumption is that everyone has lied at some stage in the past, and that if the victim replies to this question in the negative he is lying, which will allow the operator to compare the physiological response to this ‘known lie’ with answers to the relevant questions.
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Richard Dawkins Interview

February 24, 2012

I heard this interview (15.6 MB) on the Redi Thlabi show on Cape Talk. There are some quite interesting points made, and there are some funny moments–poor Redi nearly cracked up with laughter at one point.

Gay Uganda

February 16, 2012

David Bahati doesn’t like gays. In fact, he dislikes them so passionately he wants them to be put to death. This wouldn’t matter a jot if David Bahati were some African version of Archie Bunker, sitting on his LazyBoy in front of his television with an open can of Tusker, watching a football game and fulminating against all and sundry; but David Bahati is a member of Uganda’s parliament and the National Resistance Movement, which is the ruling party in that splendid country. He has brought a Private Member’s Bill called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (PDF) which, if passed, will ensure that no one’s member remains private. He wants life imprisonment for homosexual acts and the death sentence for what he regards as “aggravated” homosexuality–offences in which the perpetrator is either HIV positive, or seduces a minor, or is a serial offender.

Apart from the barbarity of penalties envisioned, the entire Bill is based on a false premise. The first paragraph of the Bill states:

This legislation further recognizes the fact that same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic.

But same sex attraction has been shown in numerous peer-reviewed research papers to be precisely an innate and immutable characteristic.
Here are some examples. But even if homosexuality were a choice and not an immutable characteristic, it would still not be excusable to pass legislation of this sort which seeks to criminalise consensual sexual behaviour between adults.
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Intellectual Property

February 9, 2012

I am in favour of the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights. It is reasonable for a musician, author, artist or company to be remunerated for the products of their minds, whether individual or collective. Without protection for IP, no one would have any incentive to be creative and produce works that entertain, uplift, contribute to our culture, cure our diseases, or make life simpler and more enjoyable.

However, I do have a problem with the way IP is being protected at the moment. For example, an author writes a book. That book will remain in copyright until seventy years after the author’s death. Why? Because, say the copyright Gestapo, the author’s heirs and their heirs must have a slice of the pie. I see no reason for this because it is unreasonable. I write computer software for a corporate company. My contract includes the boilerplate that cedes copyright in my work to the company, who certainly won’t pay my salary to my heirs for seventy years after I drop off the twig, even if the software I wrote is still in production. I have to buy life insurance if I want my heirs to be taken care of financially after my death, and I fail to see why creative artists should be any different.
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Great Green Con

February 2, 2012

I’ve just returned home from my holiday at Knysna on the Garden Route. In our bathroom was a notice informing us that the Garden Route was suffering its worst drought in 130 years and to therefore use water sparingly. Whether or not this drought is an effect of climate change I am not qualified to say, but it did lead me to think about our concern for the environment, and what we are being encouraged to do about it.

The messages the public gets seem to fall into two distinct classes, the first of which contains the general exhortations to be conscious of our impact on the environment, minimising our carbon footprints and so on; and the specific, commercial messages as corporations attempt to cash in on the new environmental awareness. It is with this second class of message that I have a problem.
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Subconscious Bullshit Detector

December 22, 2011

I was driving home from work the other day on the freeway. The radio was tuned to a talk station, but I wasn’t paying attention to it; it was a sort of aural wallpaper burbling away in the background while I was ruminating on a knotty problem I had been trying to solve at work.

Colorado River

Suddenly I noticed something. The radio went: “Blah, blah, blah, blardy blah blah. All the water in Las Vegas has to be imported into the city by road tanker because Las Vegas is in the desert.”

Despite the fact that I wasn’t actually listening consciously to it, this astonishing statement from the radio had been trapped by my subconscious bullshit detector. I thought that what I had just heard could not possibly be true. I have never been to Las Vegas, but I have seen pictures of it, and have flown over it in my X-plane simulator, and I have watched CSI Las Vegas. All those hotels, all those showers and baths, all those fountains, all those strippers’ homes with swimming pools could not possibly be supplied by water brought in by road. Every route into the city would be thoroughly clogged by water tankers to the extent that there would be room for any other traffic, and water would be more expensive than beer.
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Sex, Videotape and Lies

December 7, 2011

There is a controversy brewing over pornographic television channels. One of the two South African satellite television providers, TopTV, takes their signal from the Astra 4 satellite. Another broadcaster, PSat, uses the same satellite, although they are not licensed to broadcast into South Africa, so their signal is not sold here. All this hard core porn raining down unperceived upon the innocent citizenry has tweaked an entrepreneurial nerve. African Satellite Installations wants to sell us smartcards and decoders so, for the trivial sum of R99 (~$12 US) a month we can immerse ourselves in “pull-no-cumshots” content featuring “guy-on-girl, girl-on-girl and monstrous group orgies, all with the heterosexual viewer in mind”. So far, so good, but some snags have come up.

The first is that because the same satellite is used for the TopTV signal, people with existing TopTV satellite dishes will be able to use the same dish for the new channel; but they will have to get a new decoder and smart card. Well, so what? ASI said so, that’s what, so TopTV are litigating to get ASI to stop saying that which is true, i.e. that subscribers can use their existing TopTV antenna to receive the new signal. This is why I’m not a lawyer; anyone who can spend months in the High Court debating this utterly unimportant point must have a view of the minuscule that surely precludes them from seeing anything approaching the big picture, whether that picture is pornographic or not.
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