Category Archives: current affairs

What I think about Wikileaks

The whole Cablegate affair from Wikileaks is highly entertaining but it also warrants some real thought. It’s more complex than just delighting in the embarrassment of the US government.

I recently read an excellent blog post on the topic which helped to firm up my opinions on the matter.

1. Secrecy vs. Transparency – We need a balance

Complete secrecy is fairly obviously something that we need to avoid in a democratic state. Without some transparency we get an unchecked government (and businesses) that can act as it pleases. Transparency is important.

But, complete transparency is also something to be avoided. Private speech is a necessary component of democracy. People need to be able to negotiate, to change their minds, and to keep some secrets.

What is needed is a suitable balance between secrecy and transparency. Democracy is full of such balancing acts.

2. Wikileaks is a necessary shock

In the short term I believe that Wikileaks is a good thing:

  • Wikileaks pushes the secrecy vs. transparency balance towards transparency. I believe this was necessary.
  • Wikileaks is the shock to the system that should pull us into a new world. Democracy must react.

In the long term however an unchecked Wikileaks would be a bad thing. Wikileaks currently represents pure transparency without any checks and balances. Democracy and law must catch up.

3. The US is reacting shockingly

I am horrified by the reaction of the US government to Wikileaks. This is not what I would expect from the government of a freedom loving democracy.

Two quotes from the original post neatly capture my thoughts on the US government’s reaction.

When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.

The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”


  • Democracy needs a balance between secrecy and transparency.
  • Wikileaks helps move us toward transparency.
  • But pure transparency as represented by Wikileaks should be controlled by laws.
  • The US government has reacted innapropriately to Wikileaks.

Civilians do most of the dying in Iraq

Graph showing the types of people being killed in Iraq

The Economist has put up this graph showing who is doing the dying in Iraq. The graph is interesting not only for its content but also because of the data source.

Firstly, the graph shows that by far the biggest victims of the ongoing violence in Iraq are civilians. Especially around 2006 and 2007 far more civilians were dying than combatants.

The source of the data is also interesting. Wikileaks is a website dedicated to whistleblowing. They allow anonymous posting of any sensitive information. Somehow Wikileaks got hold of 400,000 reports from the US military.

The graph above comes from those reports. So this is the US military’s own data.

It’s awesome to make fun of Kim Jong-il

The excellent Big Picture blog from The Boston Globe recently published a set of photos of that lunatic leader, Kim Jong-il touring North Korea.

North Korea is so screwed up that it’s really interesting. Thank heavens I don’t live there.

Anyway, this blog has taken some of those photos and added hilarious captions to them. Kim is a pretty hilarious character to begin with (what he is doing to his people is no laughing matter).

Julius Malema should not have been convicted of hate speech

Julius Malema is a moronLet me be clear: I think Julius Malema is a complete tool. I can’t stand the man and I wish that the ANC would do something about him. He makes me afraid for our nation.

So I was pretty happy when I heard that he had been convicted of hate speech. But I’m conflicted. I disagree with the judgment…

Malema claimed that Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser was lying because she had not fled after the alleged rape:

“When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money”.

I think that is an offensive, ignorant and downright deplorable statement to have made. If the ANC were at all responsible they would have fired him on the spot. They are not that type of organization and that is a problem for all of us.

That said, I really don’t believe that the state should be able to fine Malema for this statement. Anyone making statements like this should be judged by society.

When the state enforces what you can and can’t say then things start to go wrong.

There’s a little thing called freedom of speech. I think it is quite important.

The South African law on hate speech says:

No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to –
(a) be hurtful;
(b) be harmful or to incite harm;
(c) promote or propagate hatred.

This is too paternalistic. Just imagine the impact on freedom of speech.

Malema should be ridiculed. The ANC should have fired him long ago. But he should not be fined by the government for saying something offensive.

ANC gets nailed in the Western Cape

The Economist has this article summarizing for the rest of the world what is going on with ANC and COPE. Specifically what kicked off the article was the ass-kicking handed to the ANC by COPE and DA in the Western Cape.

One of my point-form summaries:

  • 27 Western Cape seats were recently contested in the Western Cape
    • The ANC had held all of them, but lost all but 3
    • The ANC didn’t contest 12 of the seats (through incompetence) so they outright lost 12 of the 15 that they did contest
    • COPE won 10 of the seats and the DA won 9
  • The formation of COPE has much to do with “personal interests and ambitions”
    • It is observed that COPE was formed by those who were squeezed out of power when Zuma came in
    • These are the same people who thought the ANC was fine until they lost power
  • Either way, COPE should benefit South Africa by:
    1. Offering black voters more choice
    2. Weakening the hapless ANC

Xenophobia isn’t just shameful, it’s stupid

If Bob is really good at making hammers and Alice is a nail making genius, they can get further by sticking to their specialties and trading – better and cheaper hammers and nails for all.

Lesson 1: Specialization is good

Now Frank comes along and he’s also pretty good at making hammers. Not such good news for Bob, but the competition between them leads to a decrease in the price of hammers – good for the rest of town.

Lesson 2: Competition is good for society
Lesson 3: The current winners don’t want competition. Competition means they must work to stay in the same place

So Bob wants to prevent Frank from coming to town and forcing him to work harder. He convinces the rest of the townsfolk that Frank is bad for them – he is going to steal their jobs and housing. Bob’s nasty plan works and Frank can’t get work in town.

What are the results? The town loses (hammers are more expensive) and only Bob wins (he doesn’t have to work hard).

Lesson 4: Blocking immigrants is bad for the economy – it only protects the lazy

A frustrated Frank goes to another town and sets up a shop there. He is hard working and business is good so he hires an assistant (more jobs) and has a house built (more housing). Frank has stimulated growth in the new town.

Lesson 5: Welcoming skilled immigrants is good for the economy

Frank’s hammers are so good that people from other towns start coming over to buy his hammers. They don’t go to Bob’s town anymore, so Alice also sells fewer nails and soon they are both out of work. Everyone in town now has to travel to the next town for hammers and nails.

Lesson 6: In the long term blocking immigrants hurts everyone – even the lazy

South Africa’s road network is being allowed to fall apart

South Africa's road networks are falling apart
South Africa has huge backlogs on required roads maintenance. However, the currently allocated money is nowhere near meeting the needs. That means that we are falling further and further behind and unless something really drastic is done our roads will be as bad as our electricity.

Infrastructure is a tricky thing for politicians. It costs a lot to build and maintain infrastructure, but it’s normally one of those things that you don’t notice till it’s gone. Stupid politicians often don’t bother with infrastructure which won’t be noticed for years when they can use the money to win votes now.

That, to the dismay of many, has been happening in South Africa for a while. In 1994 the ANC took over and they did a great job as a transitional government – South Africa got through that little part of history wonderfully. But anyone who reads this blog will know that I think the ANC are rubbish at governing a running country.

One of the things that the ANC are worst at is maintaining our national infrastructure. So we are already in deep trouble with electricity, our rail networks are nowhere near what they should be, and our roads are falling apart.

Jeff Radebe (Transport Minister) has just released information (after being hounded by the DA) on just how bad things are with our roads – see the graph above. Basically he said that we are miles behind on road maintenance and that at current rates we will never catch up. In other words unless something drastic is done South Africa’s road network will completely collapse!

One of South Africa’s biggest problems is that the ANC can do anything without worrying about the results of the next election. They are a terrible government largely because they don’t have to worry. I wish that there was a possibility of them losing an election.

Jeremy Clarkson on South Africa’s power cuts

Jeremy Clarkson is a funny guy. He is one of the presenters on a surprisingly cool car show called Top Gear – check it out, it’s really entertaining.

Anyway, he is an outspoken fellow and his blogs and books are also often entertaining. He recently wrote an article about how dependent modern society is on electricity. He got the idea while he was over here in South Africa and got some first hand experience…

From the article:

“Thirty years ago in South Africa, there was white power. Then there was black power. And now there is no power.

No really. There isn’t. The electricity-generating company over there has just announced that the power stations are not capable of meeting demand and that there will be outages for two, three or six hours a day for at least the next seven years.

So far as I can see, no one is asking why this has happened. Everyone suspects it’s because the power company, since it took over the reins from De Boer Pik Racist, has been operating a policy of only employing black people. So the whites, the ones who know how to run a power station, have left the job of generating electricity to a bunch of guys who don’t know how to.

No one’s actually saying that of course. It’s a political potato so hot that you’re going to get your fingers burned if you even whisper such a thing. And anyway, working out why the country’s run out of juice is nowhere near as important as working out what the bloody hell you can do about it.”

Later on in the article:

And if you want a generator, you’d better have nice tits and loose morals because frankly, that’s the only way you’re going to get one.

Why the Chinese government might ban orange at the Olympics

These days security is always an important aspect of major events and the Olympics are no exception. But for the authoritarian Chinese government, security at the 2008 Beijing Olympics must be taken to a whole new level.

This is because the harsh Chinese government tries, with unfortunate success, to control the thoughts and opinions of their public. Like Orwell’s thought police the Chinese government control media and even the internet in attempts to control their public. There is no such thing, indeed nothing like, freedom of speech in China. It is a restrictive and often inhumane regime.

So how are they going to handle a massive influx of people, athletes and especially press that are used to being free to air their opinions? Nobody is really sure, but the Chinese are already having significant problems. The Olympic torch is being constantly disrupted by those who want to speak up against China’s dodgy policies – especially in Tibet.

Recently Bjork shocked officials by called out “Tibet, Tibet” during a performance in Shanghai. Their reaction? All foreign performers are now checked out first, playlists are carefully vetted and all impromptu features like encores are banned. Even child performers are scrutinized.

If that seems crazy consider the fact that dress code for spectators at the Olympics will also be vigorously enforced. Officials worry that innocently dressed spectators could raise a shirt to display slogans offensive to the regime. Security will probably be checking everything people wear. The response from protesters has been to say that fans should wear orange to show support for Tibet. Imagine the anguish of Dutch fans if the Chinese were to ban orange clothing at all Olympic events.

This may seem ridiculous to us, but imagine living there…

Will Morgan Tsvangirai give back the farms stolen by Mugabe?

Bob Mugabe is a bad guy. He has really brought Zimbabwe to it’s knees and almost anything or anyone would be better than him. And it is starting to look like Zim may soon be rid of him, but how much do we know about the new guy, Morgan Tsvangirai?

That is a question asked in a recent Economist article. Nobody really knows what he will do, but The Economist does have some information on his plans:

  • He plans to focus on saving the economy. Stop printing money (to slow inflation), scrap price and foreign exchange controls and bring back market forces
  • Farms confiscated from white farmers by Mugabe’s cronies will not all be given back, but farmers will supposedly be reasonably compensated. It’s not entirely clear what will happen on this crucial issue
  • The MDC want to amend or replace the constitution in order to limit presidential powers

He would undoubtedly be an improvement on Mugabe, but would Tsvangirai be a good president? The Economist also lists a few worrying points:

  • Tsvangirai does also have an autocratic bent. In 2005 he flouted a decision by his party and did his own thing causing a split in the party
  • He has also been criticized for ignoring violence within the ranks of the MDC

We don’t know what Tsvangirai will be like – but it seems certain he will be an improvement on Bob