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.

The Red Queen in Iraq

The Red Queen has to keep running just to stay in the same place

The Economist has a fascinating article on the arms race going on between American soldiers and bomb makers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A great example is something called “Darwin” patrols. Many early improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were triggered by remote controls for garage doors. The CIA quickly realized this and began driving around pressing their own garage openers. Any bomb makers nearby would be blown up.

Predictably, these easy wins didn’t last. By killing those bomb makers the CIA effectively improved bomb making. Only better IEDs and bomb makers survived – hence the name “Darwin” patrols.

As the coalition forces become better at detecting IEDs the bomb makers get better at making them. There are plenty more examples of innovation being met with innovation in the article.

Both sides must constantly keep improving just to keep up. This is common in evolutionary biology and is known as the Red Queen effect.

In Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland) the Red Queen tells Alice:

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

It’s a great name for this effect.

Wherever there is competition, from biology to the Iraq war to the office, the Red Queen effect arises. We have to keep moving, just to stay where we are.

Lonely Okavango wild dog teaming up with jackals and hyena

An adult wild dog on friendly terms with a hyenaThis fascinating article describes a case where a lone wild dog is actively teaming up with hyenas and jackals.

There were plenty of wild dog in the area in the past, but as lion population increased the local wild dog clan was wiped out.

This single adult female remained, and the rangers assumed that she would soon be killed.

However, she has been thriving with “help from some highly unusual and totally unexpected quarters.”

She has integrated fairly well with the larger members of the local hyena clan. She has been photographed interacting and even touching noses with them.

She also “solicits adult black-backed jackals to follow her on the hunt and even regurgitates meat on her return for the growing jackal pups!”

It seems that wild dogs have incredibly strong social instincts. So strong that when this animal had no other wild dogs to interact with she formed bonds with animals of another species. Amazing.

A lone adult wild dog that solicits help from jackals when hunting

How credit card numbers are formed

The first time I had to replace a credit card (stolen) I noticed that many of the digits were the same. My wife has a card from the same bank and she also shares most digits with me.

Obviously the first few digits are bank specific.

This page has a brief outline of the meaning behind the numbers.

The first digit is the type of card:

  • 3 = Amex or Diners Club
  • 4 = VISA
  • 5 = Mastercard

The rest of the digits depend on the type of card.

The format of VISA credit card numbers


  • T is for the type of card. In this case always 4 as this is a VISA card
  • B is a six digit code for the bank
  • A is a 9 digit account number
  • C is a check digiti calculated from all of the other digits

How South African ID numbers are formed

Everyone knows that South African ID numbers start with date of birth. If you were born on May 13, 1988 then your ID number starts with 880513.

This post details what the rest of the digits in an ID number mean.

The format is:

{YYMMDD} {G} {SSS} {C} {X} {Z}

  • {YYMMDD} is the date of birth
  • {G} is gender. 0-4 is female and 5-9 is male
  • {SSS} is a sequence number
  • {C} is citizenship. 0 for South Africans and 1 for other citizens
  • {X} is usually 8 or 9 – not clear what this is
  • {Z} is a check digit calculated from the other digits

So for the ID number 8909025012083 we know certain things about the person:

  • Born on September 2nd, 1989
  • Male
  • 12th male born on that date to get an ID number
  • South African citizen

Not very useful, but interesting.

OkCupid statistics on older women

OkCupid is a large online dating website. They therefore have a lot of data relating to interesting subjects.

Their blog, OkTrends, is dedicated to showing statistical analyses of various parts of their dataset. It’s fascinating reading and I highly recommend it.

The latest post is about the merits of older women and includes a lot of interesting graphs.

This graph shows the oldest and youngest women that men claim they are interested in as they get older.

  • Men are only ever willing to consider women slightly older than themselves
  • As they grow older men are interested in relatively younger and younger women

Graph showing the ages of women acceptable to men as they age

This graph, by contrast, shows the ages of women that men actually try to chat up on the website.

  • Men are actually sending messages to women much younger than their supposed youngest acceptable
  • By far the most messages are going to very young women

The ages of women that men actually send messages to as they age

This is the same for women.

  • Women are also interested in men younger than they say they are
  • Women are less age sensitive than men

The ages of men that women actually send messages to as they age

Even more interesting are the vertical color changes. For example, as soon as women turn 20 it seems that they suddenly feel comfortable contacting much older men.

The same thing happens again when women turn 29. At 28 women send plenty of messages to young men (19 or 20) and almost none to men over 42.

But when they turn 29 women suddenly send almost no messages to men under 22 but start sending many more messages to men in their 40’s and early 50’s.

The benefits of older women

The blog then goes on to sing the praises of older women.

Older women are cheekier when it comes to sex (several more graphs on the site):

Women enjoy sex more and more as they age

Older women are also more comfortable with themselves (again more graphs on the site):

Women also become more and more confident as they age

There is a lot more information and many more graphs (including several interactive ones) on the actual blog. I recommend taking a look.

The Economist on corruption in South Africa

The latest Economist has an article on corruption in South Africa. It makes for pretty frightening reading.


The article mentions several high profile cases of corruption: Zuma, Cwele, Selebi, etc.

There is also discussion of several other examples of corruption.

  • 400,000 civil servants getting welfare payments to which they are not entitled
  • 6,000 senior government officials who failed to declare business interests and are awaiting disciplinary hearings
  • 423 prison officials disciplined for corruption; 26 criminally charged
  • 923 corrupt officials from the ministry of public works have been ‘brought to book’


Corruption among those in power is a human condition. However, it seems that ANC officials are especially prone to corruption.

Even Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, explains that too many “comrades” regard election to office as simply a chance to get rich.

The Economist also mentions that corruption in South Africa is exacerbated by “a culture of entitlement to compensate for past suffering under apartheid”.

In other words many in the ANC feel entitled to take their fill because of our history. As I have blogged in the past, a feeling of entitlement has been shown to make corruption significantly worse.

Silver lining

The ANC claims to be working on several corruption busting laws and measures including:

  • Laws to facilitate swifter and reliable prosecution of corrupt officials
  • A review of the ANC’s deployment policies which currently put people into jobs based on having the right connections instead of the right skills
  • Tougher rules and more openness on the awarding of public contracts
  • Better protection for whistle blowers who are often suspended for “poking their noses into smelly areas”

Criticize Jacob Zuma, but not for polygamy

Jacob Zuma with his three wives

It seems like everyone is having a go at Jacob Zuma.

I believe that he is in the wrong. But it seems my reasoning is different to that of the majority of South Africans.

Unprotected Sex

By having unprotected sex with various women Zuma is setting a shocking example. He is selfishly risking the lives of his wives.

He deserves strong criticism because:

  • It shows terrible disrespect to his wives. Zuma has literally risked the lives of his wives so that he could have a shag.
  • It also sets a horrendous example to the men of a country plagued by rape and by HIV/AIDS.

For these reasons Jacob Zuma should be vilified.

Polygamy is not morally wrong

Many people are criticizing Zuma for practicing polygyny (one man with more than one wife).

But why is polygamy morally wrong? People assume polygamy is wrong but they seldom back up their conviction with reason.

If all parties are voluntarily entering the relationship I don’t see the problem.

Many people assume that polygyny is bad for women. In fact polygyny is beneficial for most women. Sharing half of the best man is often better than all of a bad man.

Monogamy benefits the average men, who would have no wives in a polygynous society. It does not help the average woman who could have a happier life in a polygynous society.

These women are voluntarily marrying Jacob Zuma. If they were unhappy then they would leave him.


  • Zuma should be criticized for unprotected sex
  • Zuma should not be criticized for having multiple wives

Ugandan poster about polygamy and AIDS