Category Archives: current affairs

A chunk of ice the size of a small country has broken off the Antarctic

There is quite a lot of news at the moment about a large piece (a little smaller than Swaziland) of ice shelf that recently broke off Antarctica. You can read about it here: National Geographic, Wired, BBC.

Ice shelves are made of ice already floating on the ocean so this incident won’t raise sea levels, but these shelves are holding back glaciers which will raise see levels. As the floating ice shelves break away there is nothing to hold back the land based glaciers which run faster and do raise sea levels.

These ice shelves are notoriously sensitive to warming (another one broke off during a brief warming period around 1920) so they do act as good early indicators of global warming happening – apparently “average Antarctic temperatures have risen 3 degrees (Celsius) over the past 50 years!”

If you are interested there is an busy debate going on in the comments section of the Wired article. Even if you aren’t that interested, I think you should be worried.
Ice melting in the Antarctic

The US are obstructing progress on climate change again

The UN climate conference is busy wrapping up in Bali at the moment. Once again, the United States are the main obstruction to progress. The Yanks really annoy me when it comes to climate change. They cause more damage than anyone else, yet they refuse to make real progress on reducing that damage.

In short, most of the rest of the world is calling for mandatory reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases (principally Carbon Dioxide – CO2) and the US (with a few cronies) is saying no.

The States are saying that they prefer “voluntary reductions” over specific target reductions because:

  • Specific targets would limit the scope of future talks“. They think that having no goal other than some kind of voluntary reduction will be more effective than a specific target… Doesn’t make too much sense to me.
  • Targets will “harm the U.S. economy”. Of course they will you morons. Everyone else accepts taking a hit now in the interests of reducing global warming. Basically they are saying: “We want to continue ruining the world for everyone so that we can stay rich for the while”.
  • The same targets are no applied to poorer but fast-developing nations. This sounds like a good point, but it is actually rubbish. For instance per person emissions in India and China are currently less than a quarter of those in the US. And over the last 50 years the vast majority of emissions have come from the Americans. So although there should be targets for India and China, they are already kicking the hell out of the US. See the graph below (click for more detail).

CO2 emissions per person (US, India, China, South Africa)

So the US is full of it. Wired has reported on Al Gore having a go at the States while speaking at the Bali conference. He is basically saying that although the US is “principally responsible for obstructing progress” people shouldn’t give up hope. In two years the US will have a new president who is far more likely to be proactive on climate change than the idiot Bush.

Australia recently replaced their prime minister and the new guy ratified the Kyoto agreement almost immediately. Lets hope something like that will happen in the States.

Financial Mail on a possible Zuma presidency

The Financial Mail has this article speaking about what a rough road we have ahead if Zuma becomes South Africa’s next president. Unfortunately it now seems that the only way we can avoid such a tragedy is through charges being pushed through against him.

The article tries to figure out what Zuma would be like as president. This is pretty tricky because he is distressingly quiet about his policies and ideas. That said, the author is able to infer some of Mr Zuma’s social ideas:

  • He has intimated that the press should project a positive image of the country, rather than criticise.”
  • His own behaviour and support for Zulu virginity testing poses significant concerns about his attitude to the rights of women.”
  • Other comments betray his homophobia.”

The article goes on to discuss possible economic and cabinet changes that the author feels Zuma is likely to make. For instance, his close alliance with the left is likely to have a big (and in my opinion bad) impact on his fiscal decisions. Labor laws will probably become tighter instead of being loosened. Taxes are likely to go up and tax breaks could become “a distant memory”.

Although I don’t necessarily think everything in the article is justified Zuma does scare my pretty badly. He doesn’t give us enough information to judge his policies and what he does say is all crazy.

The Sudanese teddy bear circus

You may well have heard about the British volunteer teacher Gillian Gibbons who has been sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation from Sudan because she allowed her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad. She was convicted of “insulting religion” because any depictions of Muhammad are deemed insulting – so naming a teddy bear Muhammad is a no-no.

I must admit that I find this kind of thing a little crazy. As I have said in the past, I think it’s very important to be tolerant of other cultures and open to other ways of life. However, I just can’t respect the kind of country/culture that thinks this reaction is OK. Ridiculous.

Even more worrying is the fact that it seems many people in the area thought that this punishment was too lenient for the crime and have been protesting and calling for the death sentence! These guys are completely mental. They need some perspective.

The Economist has an article on the the subject. What they say there is what I have found to be true here in Cape Town: most Muslims in democratic countries also think this kind of reaction is unjust.

Update: I have just read that the woman was given a presidential pardon and has been released. A good step, but I still think that the law was a crazy one.

Gang-raped woman sentenced to 200 lashes

News24 has this crazy story about a woman in Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to 200 lashes after being gang-raped. She is a 19-year-old who was with an unrelated man when they were abducted by 7 men and she was gang-raped.

Turns out that she copped some of the blame for being alone with an unrelated man in the first place. So the courts sentenced her to 90 lashes and the rapists got jail terms of between 10 months and 5 years. Now the Supreme Judicial Council changed all that: 200 lashes and 6 months in jail for the woman! The men also had their terms extended to 2 to 9 years in jail.

This stuff is sick. I respect that other cultures have different views on things. But I can never and will never respect people who think such a sentence is just. Disgusting.

The music industry is changing even faster

The music industry is changing. Ever since MP3 files started proliferating the writing has been on the wall. The important changes are:

  • Distribution is now effectively free. No more physical CD’s means getting the music to the fans is easy.
  • Rights protection is basically impossible. Every time the record companies try something, a hacker gets around it.

Record companies didn’t deal with these changes very well and have been fighting hard to stop the world from moving on. However, slowly but surely the industry is changing anyway.


  • Radiohead began the rot when they offered their most recent album directly to fans (via download). You can choose the price!
  • Nine Inch Nails then dumped their record label and will now offer albums direct to the public.
  • Oasis and Jamiqoquai then dumped their record labels.
  • Now Madonna has dropped her label too!

Graphics showing climate changes over 30 years

National Geographic has this awesome graphic showing changes to world temperatures over the last 30 years. Everyone has heard about climate change and the fact that the Earth is warming. However, most people don’t realise just how complex the climate is, and that these changes are in no way uniform.

So many factors are involved and there are so many feedback loops that climate change is actually extremely complex and unpredictable. For instance, as you can see below, some parts of the world are cooling, some are warming.

The map below shows how these changes have also caused
unpredictable changes in rainfall. Some area’s are getting drier
(apparently Cape Town included although I wouldn’t have guesssed!) and
others wetter.

I should note here that because of normal variations and measuring details even these results could be misleading. Climate change is very complex, but the balance of evidence says:

  1. Climate is changing for the warmer
  2. We are driving this change

Tshwane metro council ordered not to do business with white owned businesses

This article on News24 is about an order to the internal purchase division of the Tshwane metro council (a major municipality) stating that:

“No white businesses may in future be considered when the council purchased goods for less than R30 000. The same applies to tenders.”

From the article:

A council official who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, said white businesses were approved in the past if their quotations were cheaper.

“We were told last week to buy only from black businesses. I paid between R6 000 and R7 000 more for goods to comply with the new requirements.

“This is going to become an expensive order,” he predicted.

The Economist on Manto and the ANC

In the last two weeks The Economist has had two articles (here and here) on our health minister, Manto. From the articles:

  • AIDS is now thought to kill 1,000 South Africans each day
  • Some 12% of the population, more than 5m people, are infected with HIV
  • She [Manto] has sown deadly confusion in the minds of many HIV sufferers by questioning the efficacy of ARVs and exaggerating their side-effects, instead promoting the curative benefits of beetroots, garlic and African potatoes.

Now she has been accused of receiving a liver transplant because of a serious drink problem, and of continuing to drink since her transplant. The local Sunday Times, in possession of her confidential medical records, also alleges that hospital staff were forced to bring her booze during an earlier hospital stint for a shoulder operation. The newspaper maintains that she was convicted of stealing patients’ jewellery and hospital supplies while working in Botswana in the 1970s, following which she was banned from the country for ten years.

The more general of the articles criticizes Thabo and the ANC in general for firing the effective deputy minister of health instead of Manto:

“Ms Madlala-Routledge was certainly feisty. She was, for instance, fond of visiting hospitals unannounced. Often she witnessed dreadful conditions and poor management—and then talked honestly about these problems in public. To Mr Mbeki and others in the African National Congress-dominated government, this sort of initiative and candour were not evidence of a democratic representative doing her job but of an undisciplined cadre refusing to defer to her bosses, who prefer to discuss such matters behind closed doors.”

I have often thought along similar lines about the ANC. The organization had to survive years of exile and oppression so it had to develop a strong emphasis on providing a united front and absolute loyalty. When your lives are at stake and you’re fighting an oppressive regime you can’t afford to show any dissension.

The problem is that those times are gone and the ANC still emphasizes the same culture – which is bad for a democracy. Absolute loyalty is not only unnecessary, it is having a negative effect on the country.

Who is editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia is great – I really love it. Obviously the power behind Wikipedia is that it is constantly evolving through the edits of the internet community.

A guy named Virgil Griffith has developed Wiki Scanner which allows you to partially trace ‘anonymous’ Wikipedia edits. For those who care, this works by doing a whois on the IP of the editing user.

Anyway, some interesting edits have been revealed using this tool.

Some examples from Wired:

  • “Voting-machine company Diebold provides a good example, with someone at the company’s IP address apparently deleting long paragraphs detailing the security industry’s concerns over the integrity of their voting machines, and information about the company’s CEO’s fund-raising for President Bush.”
  • Wal-Mart was more subtle, for example: “changing a line that its wages are less than other retail stores to a note that it pays nearly double the minimum wage”

There are lots of other examples – the whole thing is generating a lot of interest.