A Perminisions of Ancestors

November 10, 2010

Imagine this situation: you are running a medium-sized business and one of your employees comes to you with an unusual request. She says she has been seeing visions and that she spoke to a priest who advised her to go on a Christian Outreach Revival camp which would last for a month. She has no annual leave left, so she wishes to take unpaid leave. You are in the middle of your busiest season and you can’t spare her for more than a week, which is duly offered. Your employee goes to the camp without permission, and during her absence a disciplinary hearing is held as a result of which the employee is dismissed for being absent from work without leave.

Sangoma


This seems to me to be fair. Why should special allowance be made for an employee in order for her to indulge her superstitions? I’m betting that if this actually happened, the labour court would, rightly, uphold the employee’s dismissal.

However, this did not happen, but something similar did. Johanna Mmoledi was employed as chef de partie by the Kievits Kroon Country Estate. She claimed to have visions and was advised to go on a traditional healer’s course for a month. She duly applied for a month’s unpaid leave, was told she could have a week, took the month and was dismissed. When she returned she gave her employers a letter from a member of the North West Dingaka (traditional healers’) Association which read:

This serves to certify that Mmoledi was seen by me and was diagnosed to have a perminisions of ancestors.

Mmoledi’s union declared a dispute and the case went to mediation. Mmoledi claimed that she was justified in being off work on the grounds that she was sick, or feared that she would become so if she failed to attend the course. Her employers insisted that there were no grounds for believing that Mmoledi was sick, and just what the hell did “perminisions” mean, anyway? The commissioner, bizarrely, found in favour of Mmoledi, saying that the employer lacked empathy and understanding of cultural diversity and that Mmoledi was justified in absenting herself from work “rather than risking the wrath of the ancestors.” Well, this is no great surprise—everyone knows the bizarre and fantastical shapes into which the CCMA will fold itself in order to find for an employee (sorry, wekka.)

The case was taken on review to the labour court where, unbelievably, Judge Ellem Francis upheld the ruling of the commissioner. Finding that Mmoledi was justified in absenting herself, he said, “This case sadly shows what happens when cultures clash in the workplace.” Perhaps the judge considered the culture of actually pitching up for work when you are expected to to be unimportant in the context of this case, or perhaps he thought a belief in the “wrath of ancestors” trumped all other considerations. Or perhaps he didn’t think at all. This was not so much a “clash of cultures”, it was a clash of stupidity and common sense, a clash which stupidity won.

We hear various government ministers and trades union officials whining that despite growth in the economy, employment continues to stagnate. This case is an excellent illustration of why this state of affairs exists. What employer in his right mind would hire someone of Johanna Mmoledi’s ilk when he can possibly avoid doing so? Businesses continue to replace labour with capital wherever it is possible to do so, resulting in high unemployment, poverty, crime, and all the misery that those things bring in their wake.

As usual, our politicians are too stupid to realise that this is a problem of their own making.

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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?
___________________________________________________________________________________________

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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Book Burning

September 13, 2010


Why do we feel such an instinctive abhorrence for the act of burning a book? Last week the Reverend Jones, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida, USA, declared that he was going to burn copies of the Koran, allegedly in protest against “fundamentalist Islam.” (As though that is in some ways worse than fundamentalist Christianity.)

He joins the ranks of other noted book-burners down the ages: fine, upstanding folk like Adolf Hitler, Uncle Joe Stalin, and of course we can’t forget Mao Tse Tung and his “cultural revolution” which attempted to destroy Chinese culture in its entirety. Burning books goes back to the third century BC when books were burned by the Qin dynasty in China, and scholars buried alive for dissent. The practice is a long standing Christian tradition—the Spanish Inquisition burned the Koran wherever it was found.

Many people have commented on the Rev. Jones’s planned idiocy, but I haven’t read or heard anyone who actually gets the point. It is generally agreed that whilst burning the Koran is legal, it isn’t desirable for a host of reasons, such as: it will inflame Muslims and increase radicalism; it will be a recruitment wet dream for Islamic terrorist organisations; it will trigger retaliatory action by even moderate Muslims, and so on.

What they miss is the fundamental stupidity of the notion that you can destroy an idea by burning a book that contains it.

I think that what Messrs Hitler, Stalin et al had in common was a shared delusion that by burning a book they could make the ideas contained therein somehow vanish. This, of course, is not what happens. The physical book may be destroyed, but the burning (or banning) draws attention to the ideas rather than destroying them, and those ideas often go on to destroy the book-burners (which is what they were afraid of in the first place.)

The way to destroy an idea is to show that it is not true in matters of fact and its arguments are not logically valid. This is extremely difficult in the case of religious works because they are supposed to be the word of an infallible supernatural being. Pointing out that some of the “facts” revealed by the deity are provably wrong doesn’t phase the faithful in the slightest. They merely move the goalposts and assert that the questioned passages are allegorical and not to be taken literally, and logical inconsistency is an artifact of our poor human brains that are not able to understand the grandeur of God’s plan.

The only way to combat this sort of psychosis is to repeat the obvious to the faithful calmly and often. Perhaps, once in a thousand times, the seed of doubt will sprout and you can convert someone to sanity. I know this works because I was once a devout Christian (at about the age of 13) and now am not. Faith was defeated by critical thinking.

Perhaps we should inundate the moron Jones with emails explaining that snakes can’t talk, the dead can’t walk, and water cannot be turned into wine without the added ingredients of sunshine and a grapevine.

“Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” – Heinrich Heine

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


Tummy Ache

May 31, 2010

Spam is usually a nuisance, but sometimes it can be quite informative and even entertaining. Take this example received from one of my favourite spammers, Antoinette Pombo. She specializes in hawking dubious health products on behalf of an organization called Fleet Street Publications. It was Antoinette—by the way may I call you Toni? Antoinette is a fistful too far for my typing; in return you may call me Grumps—who provided me with first intelligence of the Q-link and the low-down on testicular cancer. Here is the start of her latest dithyramb, this time in praise of an individual called Jonathan V. Wright. I’ll try to preserve her HTML if possible to give you the taste and aroma of the sheer idiocy of her outpourings.

Shattering discovery



Your
body’s worst enemy is…




Your

STOMACH


Suffering from Asthma?


It’s your
stomach…




Are
you losing your memory?



It’s your
stomach…




Are your arteries
diseased?



It’s your
stomach…




Or maybe you have
macular degeneration? Osteoporosis? Chronic Hives? Gallbladder disease?
Angina? Arthritis? Cockrot? Ingrowing Toenails?


It’s
all your stomach…


Here’s one simple
trick to tame your stomach and live healthier than ever


It goes on in much the same vein for another 2,000 words, so I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but will share with you some of the more amusing quotes. I must state at this point that I had hitherto not heard of the good (or perhaps not) Dr Wright. In the course of my researches I discovered that he is the hero and blue-eyed boy of the arch-crackpot Suzanne Somers, which is not the right foot on which to be starting off. I am not qualified to know whether or not Dr Wright is a quack; I’ll merely point out that he is listed on Quackwatch with a red asterisk, indicating that he may very well be.

Toni begins by offering a series of anecdotes in which the hero, who is at death’s door, goes to see Dr Wright and within a few short weeks is totally cured. Take Hernando, whose legs were so knackered his doctors wanted to amputate. After seeing Dr Wright he was leaping like a hart (whatever that may be). Or John who had angina, or Sam who had macular degeneration, or…

All these people were allegedly suffering from hypochlorydria—too little stomach acid, which Dr Wright apparently knows how to cure.

After the “case studies”, Toni gives a truly boot-licking, sycophantic resume of Dr Wright’s career and qualifications:

“No other doctor of our time has crusaded harder or sacrificed more to bring the healing power of nutrition to ordinary people like you and me than Dr Wright.”

This is one impressive guy: he was awarded “the highest medical honour ever” which I must assume is an honour higher even than the Nobel prize. Well, Toni says it is, so who am I to argue? She is referring to the Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award (LPLAA), of which I have never heard. I have, however, heard of Linus Pauling who is one of only two scientists to win two Nobel prizes, one for physics and the other for chemistry. (There is some speculation that he was in line for the Peace prize as well, but he was passed over.) In the latter part of his life he descended into crackpothood, though, advocating the consumption of staggering quantities of vitamin C.

A search of the internet reveals that the LPLAA is perhaps not what it’s cracked up to be: a google search for “Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award” yields only three results, all of which are about Dr Wright. It seems no one else has ever been the recipient of this mysterious award, or indeed knows anything about it.

Then we are treated to the usual rants against “mafia-style pharmaceutical companies” and “the capitalist institutions that have a death-grip on our health and quality of life”, which Toni always inserts into her pieces. I’m sure she even sticks this stuff into her christmas cards.

And, at last, we get to the punchline. We too can be cured of just about everything if we subscribe to Dr Wright’s publication Nutrition & Healing which will cost a mere R57 per month. As is customary for quack remedies, Dr Wright’s snake oil is marketed as a substitute for not supplemental to science-based treatments, which means people will inevitably be harmed by falling for Toni’s nonsense. It doesn’t really matter though; if you’re dumb enough to buy this tripe, then you deserve your fate.

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


Fuel Follies

May 13, 2010

A few times a year I receive in my email inbox idiotic chain letters sent to me by people who, I think, hit the “forward” button without bothering to read what they are sending out. Here’s one that I received yesterday:

 

RAND MERCHANT BANK:
This is about petrol prices and an invitation to join the resistance. By the end of this month petrol prices are set to soar even higher.

If we want the petrol price to come down, we all need to take some intelligent, united action.

Last year there was a “don’t buy petrol day”-but the oil companies just laughed at that because they knew that we would “hurt” ourselves by refusing to buy petrol.

It was more of an inconvenience to us than a problem to them.
But, whoever thought of the ideas, has come up with a plan that can really work.
 
READ ON AND JOIN THE ACTION!!

By now you probably thinking petrol priced at about R7.00 is cheap. It is currently at +- R8.00 for regular and unleaded.

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain) have conditioned us to think that the cost of a liter is cheap at
R 7.00 ,
we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace……… not the sellers.

With the price of petrol going up each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of petrol come down is if we hit someone in the pocket by not purchasing their petrol.

And we can do that without hurting ourselves.

How?

Since we rely on our cars, we just cannot stop buying petrol.

But we can have an impact on petrol prices if we all act together to force a price war.
Here’s the idea:
For the rest of the year, don’t purchase any petrol from the two biggest overseas oil companies (which are now one), SHELL and BP…
(Local is Lekka – So buy Sasol / Engen / Excel)
If the overseas companies are not selling any petrol, they will be inclined to reduce their prices.

If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.

But to have an impact we need to reach literally millions of petrol buyers.

It is really simple to do!

Now, don’t wimp out at this point…keep reading, and all will be revealed as to how simple it is to reach millions of people.

I am sending this message to 30 people. If each in turn sends it to another 10 people (30 x 10 = 300)…and those 300 send it to at least 10 people 300 x 10 = 3000)
And so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people; we will have reached over 3 million consumers!

If those 3 million people get exited and pass this on to 10 friends each then 30 million consumers will have been reached. If it goes one level further, you guessed it three hundred million people!

Again, all you have to do is to send this to 10 people. That’s all.

How long will all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to 10 people within one day of receipt, all 300 million people could conceivably
be contacted within the next 8 days! Acting together we can make a difference.
If you’re fed up paying too much for petrol, please pass this message on.
COMMENCING  NOW  DON’T BUY BP /SHELL, go and support SA Brand SASOL,
our currency and economy will be strengthen by 65% in 18 months the capital will stay in SA.
Africa must stop feeding the world giants it must feed itself.

I cannot do justice here to the garish, primary colours and huge, teletubbies font sported by the original document, but we can try to deconstruct the meaning of the text.

The first line (and the title of the attachment) is Rand Merchant Bank. Did the author of this crap really think any reader would be stupid enough to think that this is an official communication from that organization? Why else put it in?

Then comes an invitation to join “the resistance”. Doesn’t that bring to mind an image of courageous heroes squatting in the night with sten guns at the ready, waiting to do battle with the dark forces of evil? And who are the forces of evil? Shell and BP, apparently. Why those two? Your guess is as good as mine.

We are told that oil prices are set to soar “even higher” at the end of this month. How does the author know? The oil price depends on the international spot oil price and on the relative value of the rand to the dollar. If the author of this drivel knows either of those two things with certainty, he or she could make a fortune and be able to afford as much petrol as he or she wants. The petrol price that we pay at the pump is not set by the oil companies, but is a regulated price set by the government (that presumably this moron voted for) and is a combination of the basic crude oil price, the cost of refining petrol from the crude oil, the total cost of transportation, the cost of the distribution infrastructure, profit for each company in the chain and various government taxes. And we can consider ourselves fortunate that it isn’t higher than it is—in the UK the price for unleaded petrol is £1.21 per litre, or about R17 per litre, more that double the price we pay.

The next paragraph exhorts us to take “intelligent action”. With absolutely no respect whatsoever, I must state that the author would not recognise intelligence if it bit him.

Any communication that contains multiple punctuation marks, as in “JOIN THE ACTION!!” should be treated with the contempt it deserves; it will certainly not contain anything worth knowing.

“Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain)…”. The US and Britain are not members of OPEC. This cretin’s ignorance is really starting to get to me now.

“…we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace…….not the sellers.” How is it possible to walk on your hind legs and breathe unassisted and yet be so ignorant of basic economic facts? Markets are controlled by BOTH buyers and sellers, who come to an agreement on price. That’s what a “market” is. If a buyer feels the price of a particular commodity is too high he is at liberty not to buy it; if a seller thinks the price is too low, he is at liberty not to sell it. Some oil producing nations, mindful of the fact that oil is their only source of wealth, and that once the oil runs out they will (thanks to a disfunctional education system dictated by their idiotic religion) have to revert to their previous existence as camel-herders, try to make their oil reserves last as long as possible while realising the highest possible price for their product. To this end they agree amongst themselves to cut down production thereby causing an artificial supply deficit which means they can get higher prices. This practice is of limited effect because there are oil producing countries who are not part of the cartels and who are happy to increase their output to make up for the shortfall.

We are then exhorted to hit the oil companies in the pocket by not buying their product. Here is a factoid that may shed some light on the idiocy of this point of view: South Africa accounts for less than 1% of global oil consumption. If everyone stopped buying petrol in South Africa today and went back to walking and transporting goods by donkey-cart, the oil companies would hardly notice; prices would not be affected at all.

The author of this nonsense suggests that we are to boycott Shell and BP products in favour of those from Sasol and Engen, because they are local. Well, actually, they aren’t: they are merely distributers of fuel obtained from overseas suppliers including, you guessed it, Shell and BP. Some of Sasol’s petrol comes from their oil-from-coal plants, but this is a small percentage of sales.

Then comes the usual crap about how many people can be reached if everyone is stupid enough to forward chain letters to everyone in their contact list. The truth of the matter is that the author of this bullshit is too dumb to write a computer virus, but this is the next best thing. If you receive bullshit like this in your inbox, please resist the urge to forward it—the internet is already so clogged up with crap there’s hardly any room left for honest porn.

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Flying Sheep

March 31, 2010

People do weird things. This is especially noticeable when they are doing something outside their normal routine, like traveling.

I was at Cape Town airport on Sunday to catch a flight to John’s Beg. The new terminal is well-appointed with bars, bookshops, restaurants, tea rooms and even has free Wi-Fi on offer. It also has enormous, giant, huge plate-glass windows through which it was hard not to notice the oil-stained, empty tarmac where our aeroplane was supposed to be parked. When boarding time came, however, that did not stop people from forming a long queue at the gate, like cows waiting to be milked.

Why? Surely the most dim-witted traveler knows that it is not possible to board an absent aircraft. Even if it arrives right now, the arriving passengers have to be disembarked and the cleaners go through the plane on their chicken parade before you will be allowed to board. And it may not come right now; in fact, it may never come at all. So why stand for an indeterminate length of time in a queue when you could be enjoying a glass of wine at the bar, or browsing in the bookshop, or tucking into some delicacy in a restaurant, or look! there are comfortable armchairs and sofas in which you are permitted to sit and chat or just daydream.

Once in the air the idiocy continued. As soon as the seatbelt signs were extinguished a whole bunch of passengers stood up to form another queue at the plane’s toilet. People, there are plenty of toilets at the airport, and they let you use them free of charge. So why wait until you’re on the plane where you are going to clog up the aisles with your horrible carcasses and prevent the flight attendants from doing their duty, which is serving me drinks. It’s only a two hour flight and I require prompt service if I’m not to have to rush the last of my three dinkies of wine and give myself heartburn.

I’m a bit deaf so when the entire passenger complement stood the instant the plane came to a stop at the terminal I thought perhaps the national anthem was being played. But no, it was just another manifestation of weirdness. It’s quite comical to see a hundred-odd people leaping to their feet and standing bent over beneath the overhead lockers like a mass audition for the part of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, when they could be sitting down comfortably for the few minutes until the door is opened and they can disembark.

___________________________________________________________

Whilst waiting for the delayed plane to arrive I did a quick informal survey of the laptops that came within eyeshot of my barstool. There were: 5 Macbooks, 4 PC notebooks (3 Windows and 1 Linux).

Out of 9 machines only 3 were Windows? Granted, this isn’t a very big sample, but could it be that people are starting to recognise Windows for the steaming, malodorous, maggot-heaving pile of crap it is? Or were the Windows users the ones standing in the queue waiting to board the non-existent plane?

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