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The worst corporate offenders of 2006 December 30, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Environment, South Africa.
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The Corpse Awards are presented annually to the dirtiest southern African companies by groundWork, one of my favourite environmental justice organisations.

Held on 10 November, the 11th anniversary of the state-sponsored murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Nigerian activists, the “ceremony sought to bring to the public’s attention the manner in which corporate power operates, the resulting destruction of peoples’ land and the death it reaps.”

groundWork director Bobby Peek emphasises that it’s not just companies that are crooked: “… it is clear that government is doing as little as possible to actually make a meaningful contribution to the ‘health and well-being’ of people. And I venture to say that at times they are complicit in the environmental injustices that companies bring to bear on communities!”

This year’s “winners” were:

 

AngloPlatinum – Grim Reaper Floating Trophy Award

Bayer Cropscience – Baying For Your Rice Award

South Africa’s Cement Industry – Do You Think We’re Stupid? Award

FFS Refiners – It Wasn’t Me! Award

Chevron Oil Refinery – Smoked Out at Last Award

Engen – Privatising Public Participation Award

Samancor Manganese – Mangling the Workers Award

Paladin Resources – Picking the Public Pocket Award

AngloGold Ashanti – Loot the Minerals & Bloodstain the Soil Award.

For a pdf file of the disgusting details, click here.

Environmental time-bomb kills thousands! December 28, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Environment, South Africa.
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This morning’s edition of the Cape Times led with a very disturbing story about a major fish die-off in Rietvlei, one of only two remaining functioning estuaries in Cape Town.

Well done to them and their environmental writer Melanie Gosling – news about how our culture destroys its natural habitat is seldom considered worthy of an above the fold front-page story with big pic in the corporate media, even if it is big news.

Rietvlei

This picture of Rietvlei by Kirsten Frost was taken from the Friends of Rietvlei website.

Unfortunately, unless you’re a subscriber, you won’t be able to read the story on-line (boo for that, Cape Times!), so here are a couple of excerpts from the article:

More than 20 tons of fish have turned belly-up in Table View’s Rietvlei Wetland Reserve where the ecosystem has become so polluted from the surrounding urban area that it has reached crisis point.

City conservation officials say they expect the quantity of dead fish to reach 40 tons over the next few days, as they battle to collect the thousands of fish carcasses lying thick along the shore of the internationally important feeding ground for migratory birds.

“Rietvlei’s whole fish population is toast,” said Dalton Gibbs, head of nature conservation with the City of Cape Town.

The enormous die-off will have a significant impact on fish stocks in the ocean, as Rietvlei provides a nursery for thousands of ocean fish. It will also have an impact on seabirds, which are already severely stressed by the disappearance of sardine stocks from the West Coast.

“Rietvlei has been absorbing organic pollutants from the urban area for over 30 years. Everything from garden fertilisers to dog turds, from litter to the soap suds from washing your car, flows down the stormwater drains and into the vlei.

For Decades the vlei has been filtering this high load of organic pollutants by trapping it in the sediments of the reed beds. But it reaches a point where it can absorb no more. The next step is blue-green algae blooms…” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the calm weather and warm temperatures had resulted in “high bacterial action” in breaking down the organic pollutants. The bacteria used up oxygen from the surrounding water during this process, and the fish died from lack of oxygen.

 

Although this story is, of course, plenty sobering and tragic in its own right, it is really just a small scale analogy of what industrial civilisation is doing to the planet as a whole. We keep on dumping our shit (literally!) into the rivers, lakes, air, soil and oceans. Being immense but not infinite, these natural reservoirs will at some stage reach their capacity for absorbing our refuse and then the whole system will come crushing down all around us.

We’ve turned the earth into a massive environmental time-bomb, primed and ticking. It may not explode in our own lifetime or in that of our children, but explode it will and we will all bear part of the responsibility for the resulting ecocide.

A new Jesus, please! December 22, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society.
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Even after extricating myself from a blessedly short religious (LutheranTM) period in my early teens, I’ve often thought of Jesus as quite a likable guy – way misunderstood, but essentially very decent and well-meaning. A real Mensch.

[Quite frankly, and Dan Brown not withstanding, I think he was gay. The evidence is circumstantial, but compelling: a gentle, uncannily sensitive young man who surrounds himself with a dozen good-looking males (no mention of any girlfriends by any of them, ever), resists all heterosexual temptations of the flesh and cultivates a fag hag relationship with Mary Magdalene...]

Even if the historical Jesus never really existed I still understand the attraction of the idea of Jesus to his followers back then and now. Especially back then: he was an unconventional rebel who inspired a quiet but rolling revolt against the oppressive Roman Empire and the stilted religious order of the day, he talked of a god who was inside each individual human being and all around them in nature with whom anyone could communicate without mediation by a priest, and so on.

Granted, there was a lot of crap as well, like the concept that since Heaven is what really matters we can essentially fuck up the Earth without consequences, and of course the whole Jesus idea was quickly gobbled up as a marketing ploy to construct all manner of hideous religious institutions and hierarchies, but you get the general idea.

Anyway, I think we need another Jesus. Not a real person, but a new Jesus idea. The Jesus 2000TM with extra wa-wa-woom, hold the goody-two-shoes and all the religious rubbish.

Urban Jesus

We need to be filled by a fresh spirit that makes us realise that we are each in control of our individual destinies, that we live in a world that is inhabited by other individuals (human and non-human) and that we can only exist together, as an interconnected community of autonomous individuals.

We need to be filled by a gentle yet fearless new spirit of resistance that will inspire us to fight the Evil Empire in all its aspects – patriarchy, wage-slavery, racism, homophobia, corporate globalisation, colonialism, sexism, capitalism, and this whole culture that is so utterly antithetical to sustainable life on this planet. One baby-step at a time, of course!

PS: OK, the New Jesus analogy may be a little forced… I’m just trying to get into the Christmas spirit here, alright!? Anyway for all those of you who want to (re-)affirm their status as wanting to have nothing to do with organised religion in general and Christianity in particular, there is always the Blasphemy Challenge!

UCT salary negotiations continue December 20, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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Just a quick update on the UCT salary negotiations (read my previous post on the topic here). The UCT Employees Union had a meeting yesterday during which management’s final offer was rejected.

The offer involved an across the board increase of 5,5% for pay-classes 5 to 7 and a performance related increase of 5.5% for pay-classes 8 to 12. An amateurish and poorly disguised attempt to fragment the UCT workforce even more than it already is, this brilliant stratagem was just way too transparent not to be recognised as a poor deal and a threat to the unity of the organisation.

So matters will now be handed over to the CCMA for conciliation and if they can’t resolve the dispute, our next union meeting may well feature a strike ballot!

Apparently management is under the impression that the union is weak, because meetings have been poorly attended, but I think they are deluding themselves. The low turn-outs have more to do with the time of year and the fact that many union members are already on leave (presumably that was all part of managements negotiation strategy and delaying tactics in the first place, which actually makes this a case of self-delusion on their part).

I reckon spirits among union members are high and the general sentiment is that the union will not back down from its demands very easily. We shall see what the new year brings – interesting times for sure!

Me and my new 1.8 ton PC December 20, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Sustainable Living, Work.
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I recently got a new computer at work. You know the story: my old PC was getting really slow, clunky and increasingly troublesome. The new arrival is black and silver and shiny.

It works well and has all the latest software and ports and things, but when I look at it it already seems to have “Made to be Redundant” stamped on its proverbial forehead. In a couple of years, it too will be out of date and on its last legs.

Just after I got my new PC, I was plenty shocked to find out that it takes a whopping l.8 tons of raw materials to manufacture the average desktop with 17-inch monitor.

Here’s the break-down:

  • at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuels
  • 22 kilograms of chemicals
  • 1500 kilograms of water.

Sobering, ne! I will definitely think four times before getting a new PC in future. “Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade” is my new mantra and when all else fails, there is of course always Freecycle (Freecycle Cape Town) and your friendly local e-waste centre.

Good grief December 18, 2006

Posted by zeneby in Life, Society.
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When A suggested we start a blog together, I had no idea he was going to be posting bloody peak oil charts. Christ. That kinda raises the bar fairly substantially. I mean, do I have to post on the ineffability of prayer just to keep up?

Fuck it. I am going to lower the tone of this blog.

It is hard to be married to someone who lives in his head like A does. While he thinks and reads and thinks and reads about what it means to be an anarchist, I go out partying too hard, secondary parent, work full time in an office instead of freelancing at home … and basically find myself challenging what it means to be a woman and a mother in our society. But I don’t read about it much. A little Atwood, Le Guin, Weldon and co. but nothing too strenuous.

A and I have always had that relationship and we’ve been together over 15 years. I live what he thinks and vice versa, to some degree. Although, paradoxically, he cares much less what people think of him. His politics are cerebral and mine are gut-based – we agree on most things, but only out loud when fucked.

Right. I started. Cool.

The perpetual stress machine December 18, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society, Work.
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It’s my last week at work and I’ve been really stressed lately. Ordinarily I’m not the kind of person who lets work pressures get to them very much and my job is not particularly demanding, physically or mentally, in fact, it’s positively cushy.

I guess it’s been a combination of last minute, end-of-year jobs and chronically misbehaving equipment. The constant underlying hum of the silly season, unbought Christmas presents, the ongoing traffic nightmare, endless queues at the post office and the annual influx of holiday makers don’t help either.

All of this makes me wonder how on Earth all of those folks who do have genuinely stressful jobs cope at all during this time of year.

It’s not just the season, though. It seems blatantly obvious that this lifestyle, predominated by weeks of dull drudgery punctuated by the odd joyous moment, which so many of us (including myself) lead, is not good for the psyche.

Most of us are perfectly aware all this. We spend many a coffee and lunch break moaning and commiserating about it. From sometime on most Mondays we pine for the weekend and from sometime in February we can’t wait for our next holidays.

Why don’t more of us extricate ourselves from this hamster wheel? Why don’t I?

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of love and beauty in my life and I don’t really hate my job any more than the next person, but I do find myself wondering more and more if the remainder (i.e. mostly the parts related to my status as a wage slave) are really worth it.

Derrick Jensen’s statement about “the culture… being so extraordinarily destructive of human happiness” springs to mind. He asks: “What does it mean when the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their waking hours doing things they’d rather not do?”.

The following quote from Sean M. Sheehan’s book, Anarchism, also rings terribly true:

Many anarchists want to insist on the sheer shittiness of most work and the way in which life’s routines become subordinated to the demands of work. So-called leisure time becomes increasingly occupied by preparing for work, shopping for it, dressing for it, travelling to and from it and, most of all, recuperating from it in order to be able to get through the next day, the next week…alienation is real…

So here’s a New Year’s resolution for me: find the red pill, inject the antidote, open your eyes, see the matrix for what it is, extract yourself from it and build an new and better life.

Just slightly ambitious, you say?! Ja, forget about the New Year’s resolution bull and let’s just make this more of a long term project. Baby steps, here we go!

Kitchen Biodiesel December 15, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Sustainable Living.
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I made a batch of biodiesel a few months ago. In my kitchen, using some of our old chip oil. (Just in case you’ve been off-planet or otherwise absent for the last decade, biodiesel is made from new or used vegetable oil and can be used in any diesel vehicle without modification.)

The boys (being boys) were extremely excited by the whole idea. Anything that could possibly be construed to be an “experiment” a la Dexter’s Laboratory always get’s their enthusiastic approval (Ben still thinks “Daddy is a scientist and knows everything” – he told his teacher. Poor kid. I give it a few more years before that pedestal crumbles under my feet. Not sure who’ll take it harder, him or me…) .

The process is quite simple (there are plenty of recipes, discussion groups and general info on the web) , everything worked pretty well and by the end of it I had magically turned some old chip oil into golden biodiesel… all in a two litre cool-drink bottle nogal – modern day alchemy!

 

biodiesel

The idea was to move on from this initial test batch to building a biodiesel processor. All you need is a geyser, a pump, some plumbing and a couple of drums.

 

More and more people (especially in the US) are using these home-made contraptions to brew their own biodiesel. The attraction is obvious: with some chemicals and cheap or even free oil from your local fish ‘n chip joint you’ve got your own filling station in you backyard.

Unfortunately I never got any further than my initial test batch. For one, I don’t have a diesel car. I’m also not particularly clever when it comes to handy-work, plumbing and that sort of stuff, so building the processor turned out to be too intimidating. I’d still be very interested in home-brewing biodiesel, if I could find some like-minded folks around Cape Town who were into doing this as a collective.

Using biodiesel made from used vegetable oil which would otherwise be dumped is most definitely a viable alternative to petrol or petrodiesel, but there is nowhere near enough used veg oil around to make even a small dent in the huge amount of petroleum we consume as a civilisation.

Large-scale manufacturing of biodiesel (and other biofuels, such as ethanol) from crops especially grown for the purpose, on the other hand, is quite controversial even amongst environmentalists, as critics like George Monbiot and David Pimentel point out. To quote Monbiot, “This idea that we can simply replace this fossil legacy…is the stuff of science fiction. There is simply no substitute for cutting back.”

There are a number of proposals for big-time biofuel production in South Africa and I hope the debate around these issues will become more animated here soon.

So how do we start “cutting back” then? Personally, I have to take my car to work on most days, since I have to do the school lifts and must be available at short notice in case there are any emergencies with my kids.

Brewing my own biodiesel is still an option that I would like to pursue in the future. The other possibility is converting an old diesel car to make it run on straight used vegetable oil (there used to be an outfit here in Cape Town that sold and installed kits for this. Not sure if they’re still around).

I looked into getting a rechargeable electric bicycle, but they’re not readily available in SA yet.

At the moment, I’m thinking that a combination of my car (hopefully replaced by a biodiesel or straight vegetable oil car using old oil at some stage) and my conventional mountain-bike are the most realistic options for reducing my personal transportation-related environmental impact.

Gay boys December 13, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Parenting.
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In the car on our way to school the other day, I overheard my seven year old son Joey admonish his younger brother: “No no no Ben, Brett and Trent are gay boys and they do kiss each other like mommy and daddy!” Ben got it and the conversation moved on to more mundane things: “Punchbuggy yellow, safe!”

Helping our kids keep an open mind has always been one of our major parenting missions. For me that mostly boils down to exposing them to the whole muddled wonder that is human existence (the good, the bad and the ugly).

“Exposing” seems a harsh word to use, actually, since obviously I don’t mean throwing them into the toxic sludge that is the real world so that they build up some resistance that will protect them in later life.

What I hope is for them to be able to live a life in which doors and options are open, in which they can experience the fabulous variety of what it means to be human, in which all sorts of lifestyles and ways of thinking can be explored, talked about and lived. A life of opportunities and choices and one that they have the power to shape for their own needs, feelings and desires.

Not an easy task, I tell you, in a society where proverbial doors are slammed shut in your face on a daily basis and from quite a young age. Girls run funny, old people smell odd, men drink beer, lesbians hate men, Zulu men are masculine, English spoken with a Scottish accent is quaint, English spoken with an Afrikaans or African accent is a travesty, and so on and so on.

Kids are extraordinarily receptive to the world around them. I have to laugh at folks who say things like “children don’t notice the colour of people’s skin”. My sons are extremely aware of all sorts of human attributes, including skin tone: “Ashley has golden hair and is pinkish. Alex is light brown, but not quite as brown as Joshy” etc. They call it like it is, but don’t attach bizarre, one-size-fits-all value judgements to mere physical characteristics. Society grinds those into their subconscious slowly but surely in a myriad of different ways.

A friend of mine tells a cute story about growing up in the dusty roads of Ikageng township near Potchefstroom. He came home from playing outside one day, I guess he must have been about four or five, telling his mother how all the kids, himself included, had been playing in the street naked. His mom got a little concerned and asked if it had been just boys or if there had been girls as well. “I don’t know mommy,” he replied, “none of them were wearing any clothes”. In the absence of identifying items of clothing (dresses and skirts vs pants) he couldn’t tell the difference!

CrimethInc.

A lot of the stuff I’m trying to get at is said much better on one of my favourite CrimethInc. posters (adapted from a poem by Nancy R. Smith):

For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.

For every boy who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything, there is a girl tired of people not trusting her intelligence.

For every girl who is tired of being called over-sensitive, there is a boy who fears to be gentle, to weep.

For every boy for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity, there is a girl who is called unfeminine when she competes.

For every girl who throws out her E-Z-Bake oven, there is a boy who wishes to find one.

For every boy struggling not to let advertising dictate his desires, there is a girl facing the ad industry’s attacks on her self-esteem.

For every girl who takes a step toward her liberation, there is a boy who finds the way to freedom a little easier.

Download the poster here.

The subversion of the gift December 11, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Society.
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For the last couple of weeks I’ve been fretting about Christmas presents. I’m pretty much sorted for my close family, but still need ideas for a bunch of other people.

I’m not religious, let alone Christian, so I’m really not quite sure what’s making me so manic. I enjoy surprising S and the boys with presents during the year, so why does some arbitrary date in December take such precedent over all other days?

I guess I’m just another victim of the full spectrum assault that the marketing industry is subjecting us to during this part of the year. To say that X-mas has been over-commercialised is cliched beyond words: the entire concept of gift giving has been subverted.

Gifting has a very long tradition among humans. The lives of hunter-gatherers, who shared food and shelter in a pretty egalitarian way, were essentially based on a gift economy. Some societies have more or less formalised gift giving ceremonies and traditions, witness for example the potlatch of the peoples of the American northwest coast and the Koha tradition of the Maori. Similarly the African concept of ubuntu and the mutual aid of the Anarchists rely heavily on gifts.

Even today gift giving is actually still quite prevalent, although we may not always be consciously aware of it.When you buy a round of drinks for your friends at the pub, and every time you invite folks over to your place for dinner, you are part of the remnants of this ancient gift economy.

File sharing on the internet, open source computer software and much of the internet itself are based on virtual gifting. Scientists around the world have a long-standing tradition of freely sharing their findings with each other.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to visit a Free Shop (“Umsonstladen” in German), become a member of a Freecycle group (like Freecycle Cape Town) or organise your own version of The Really Really Free Market! All of these fragments of the gift economy exist below the surface of capitalism.

The most important and most unacknowledged gifting relationship today, however, has been in place literally since the birth of humanity. The raising of children, almost exclusively performed by women, represents the most massive gifting activity around the world throughout history. It’s the constant, time-consuming and loving reproduction of society and it is almost entirely ignored by men!

So what’s my point – gosh, I’ve actually lost track a bit… OK, I think it’s this: rather than letting marketing gimmicks, profit margins and tons of plastic define our human relationships during one hyperactive, cynical and hypocritical annual “season of giving”, why don’t we reconnect with our old and new traditions of gifting in our day to day lives and strengthen and extend them for real community and a genuine sharing of love and life!

“Giving without expectation, receiving without obligation!”

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