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“All humans are irrational” September 24, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Quotes, rant, Society.
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The human race is not divided into the irrational and the rational, as some idealists think. All humans are irrational, but there are two different kinds of irrationality – those who love old ideas and hate and fear new ones, and those who despise old ideas and joyfully embrace new ones. Homo neophobus and homo neophilus. Neophobus is the original human stock, the stock that hardly changed at all for the first four million years of human history. Neophilus is the creative mutation that has been popping up at regular intervals during the past million years, giving the race little forward pushes, the kind you give a wheel to make it spin faster and faster. Neophilus makes a lot of mistakes, but he or she moves. They live life the  way it should be lived, ninety-nine percent mistakes and one percent viable mutations.

The Eye in the Pyramid, First Book in the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson

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The dough on China Mieville September 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Life.
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I recently wrote a short review of China Mieville’s new book UN LUN DUN (read it here). If you enjoyed it, read the book and are as much of a Mieville fan as I am, you might find some of the following links of interest:

There’s a two-part youtube interview here and here.

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You can find podcast interviews here and here.

PSS

Here’s a link to an unofficial China Mieville website, called Runagate Rampant and here’s his wikipedia entry.

Finally, there are several interviews here, here, here, here and here.

My Dad’s a Mom September 13, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Life, Parenting, South Africa, Work.
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This was part of a story I wrote for Fit Pregnancy magazine recently.

My Dad’s a Mom

Driving my sons to school the other morning, six-year-old Benjamin started an all too familiar interrogation routine: “Dad, why do you always take us to school and pick us up after, and why do you pack our lunchboxes? Timmy’s mom does that for him…” “Well, you see our mom works in town and she’s there all day and…” “But you work as well and why do you always bath us and…”

Just as I was beginning to feel a bit like the Big Bad Wolf posing as the Grandmother under Little Red Riding Hood’s verbal barrage, eight-year-old Josef came to my rescue: “In our house dad is kind of the mom, Ben”.

For the last few years I have been the primary parent in our family. I hate that term, “primary parent” – it practically makes my wife, Sam, sound like a second-rate absentee parent, which she definitely is not. There just doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate phrase to describe fathers who do the majority of the hands-on parenting work in a household.

Everyone knows what a working mom does, but a “working dad” is just a bloke who goes to work every morning, like every other guy. In fact, I remember being a working dad myself.

Sam quit being an attorney when she first fell pregnant and by the time Benjamin arrived, had built a successful new career in freelance writing. Pretty soon she was earning more than I was and had to shoulder most of the parenting work on top of it.

I never did get used to the angry and profanity-laden phone calls from Sam, terminated by an abruptly slammed-down receiver before I could get a word in myself. I felt guilty for abandoning her with this physically and emotionally draining double-job every day.

I gradually started taking over some of the kiddy chores: nighttime bottle feeding and nightmare-consoling (Sam sleeps like the dead, so I didn’t really have much choice there), bath time and so on.

Today, as Joey so perceptively explained to Ben, I’m the mom. Sam has successfully kick-started a new full-time professional career in town and I do all of the things that mom’s are usually expected to do: mom’s taxi, coordinating extra-murals and play dates, getting everyone, including Sam, up and ready in the morning, lunch boxes, etc.

My job is flexible enough for me to do the Mr. Mom thing without too obviously neglecting my work responsibilities (anyone from work reading this: if you don’t tell on me, I’ll keep quiet about you being pregnant, if you know what I mean…).

Other aspects of being a male-mom have been less straightforward. I have it on good authority that The Land of Mother may be a difficult enough place to break into even if you’re a woman. For a guy it’s like a fairytale castle with magically unscalable walls.

Mothers tend to be very protective of the safe-space they have carved out for themselves over the millennia and I’m the last person to begrudge them this haven. They have, after all, long been on the receiving end of patriarchal neglect and non-appreciation for the monumental task of reproducing and sustaining the very basis of our entire society.

I understand why a he-mom like myself would find it somewhat of a challenge to gain access to the circle of trust that mothers have established in nursery, pre-, primary and high schools around the country, but boy it can be trying at times – it’s like a driver’s test that nobody ever told you existed.

At kid’s birthday parties, most moms just don’t really know what to talk to me about. I tend to feel as though I’m wearing a conversational halo that sucks away anything a mother could possibly want to say to me. Maybe they think that I just wouldn’t be interested in the latest skinner about the headmistress and the buff new PT bloke, or in who’s kids are bullies or little bitches, or which hairdresser charges least for extensions, when in actual fact I really, really am (well, I could probably do without the hairdressing advice).

The great unspoken question that stifles all communication between mothers and the dad-masquerading-as-mom, especially at a new school, is: “Where on earth is the mother?” I can see the potential answers bouncing over their furrowed brows:

“He’s a widower – the poor man.”

“They’re divorced – the rotten bastard.”

Seriously. Having seen Sam join me a little late at a school play once, a fellow mother remarked to her during the interval: “You two get along amazingly well for a divorced couple.” Had it been the other way around, I would have been duly recognised as a hard-working and understandably late, husband and father.

And then, I guess there are just some things that mothers and even teachers are just not comfortable talking to a man about. The other day, Sam got a call from Ben’s pre-school teacher that she claims to have been the most embarrassing moment in all her life (a most ridiculous proposition, as anyone who has spend more than five minutes with my wife will happily attest to).

The teacher, who is the kindest person and wonderful at her job, and who speaks to me every day of the week but hardly sees Sam, just couldn’t get herself to tell me that two or three cockroaches had been emerging from Ben’s school bag every morning of the last week, to Ben’s great embarrassment and his class mates’ daily entertainment.

I’m probably being unfairly harsh. Being gender-challenged in the mothering league can’t possibly be as difficult as it is for a working mother to get a little well-deserved respect and acknowledgement in the macho world of “real” work.

I am glad to report that, given a little time and mutual acclimatisation, even a male-mommy like me will be happily accepted into The Motherhood. These are, after all, caring people by definition, and once you’re in, the sky, or in this case the chairwo/man of the PTA committee, is the limit.

Global Day of Action Against Alcan September 12, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Coega, Environment, News, Press Release, South Africa.
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Press Release: Global Day of Action Against Alcan
Earthlife Africa Jhb
10th of September 2007

On the 12th of September 2007, Earthlife Africa Jhb and various community orgainsations will be marching on Alcan headquarters to protest Alcan’s preferential tariff rates and to demand increased basic access to electricity. This action is in conjunction with actions against Alcan, Rio Tinto, and Alcoa across the globe.

The march will begin at 10:30am at the corner of West & Rivonia in Sandton, Johannesburg. The march will end at Alcan’s office (Fredman Towers, corner Fredman and Bute, Sandton).

For the past two years, Earthlife Africa Jhb has consistently called upon the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Public Enterprises, Eskom and Alcan to disclose the details of electricity sales to Alcan for its proposed smelter. Both the South African Government and Alcan have hidden behind a profoundly anti-democratic clause in the Developmental Electricity Pricing Programme (DEPP). Alcan is the first foreign company to benefit from the DEPP, and has signed a 25 year deal for 1350MW supply of electricity.

What is the DEPP? Essentially, the DEPP provides for uniquely discounted electricity tariffs for foreign industries that are heavy consumers of electricity (over 50MW) in South Africa. In return for investment in South Africa, the DEPP will ensure that electricity tariffs are internationally competitive (our nearest competitor is Australia, which sells electricity at US$0.053 per kwh and is 30% more expensive) and that the industry in question can achieve an profitable internal rate of return; i.e. if electricity is a major overhead (such as in aluminum smelting), it the tariff will be low enough to ensure profit.

This is a significant incentive for heavy industry to invest in South Africa and is supposed to provide significant jobs. However, what it really does is commit Eskom to tariffs for heavy industry at a rate lower (or, at most, on par with the next cheapest supplier of electricity) than anywhere else. It is, in effective, a subsidy for foreign industries, similar to a tax break or import duty waiver.

The most worrying factor about the DEPP is the “built-in” secrecy clause. Eskom is a public enterprise, ultimately owned by the citizenry at large. However, the DEPP guidelines ensure that any contracts signed under the DEPP are to remain secret. This is profoundly anti-democratic. The DEPP states (clause 12.1):

All officials, employees or members of the Department, the adjudication committee, NERSA, Eskom and non Eskom distributors shall regard as confidential all technical information, records, particularly any strategic commercial information and all knowledge that pertains to any project that applied for benefits in terms of DEPP, whether such information is recorded on paper or in an electronic manner.

The very next clause (12.2) in the guidelines bounds individuals with knowledge about the contracts to silence for the rest of their lives.

If the DEPP is a method for promoting growth and development in South Africa, why then the secrecy? Why shouldn’t this be in the public domain? This clause gives foreign corporations like Alcan the right to build electricity-intensive industrial plant in South Africa, get electricity on favourable terms in relation to their expected rate of return, and not to have to tell the country at large what rate they purchased electricity from the South African state. Further, this clause seems at odds with the spirit of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, through a pre-emptive strike against the releasing of information.

The DEPP deal with Alcan means that the citizens of this country won’t know the answers to the following questions:

* What is the price of electricity agreed upon by Alcan and Eskom?
* What are the conditions of supply of electricity?
* Will the price paid to Eskom cover the indirect costs of smelter? For example, the environmental group TWIG has calculated that the indirect costs of harm to the environment based on Eskom CO2 emissions to supply the smelter with electricity would be R6.4 billion.
* Why doesn’t Eskom release its forward cost pricing curve, on a regular basis, as the anticipated costs of new plant escalate?
* Are promised future measures to account for externalised costs of electricity generation compromised by the deal or the DEPP?

Earthlife Africa Jhb calls upon Eskom and Alcan to fully disclose all the details of their deal, including the actual price of electricity.

The fact that Alcan and the Government refuse to disclose these details is especially arrogant in light of the fact that 30% of South Africans are without electricity. Furthermore, the basic lifeline of 50kwh per month per household is entirely inadequate and downright miserly. If the South African Government can offer foreign corporations like Alcan electricity tariffs low enough to ensure profit, then surely it can provide the poorest of its citizens a meaningful allocation of electricity?

Therefore, Earthlife Africa Jhb calls upon Eskom and the Government to increase the basic allocation of electricity to 100kWh per person per month with a step-block tariff.

There ain’t no such thing as a green or clean car September 11, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, News, Society, Sustainable Living.
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… at least not in Norway, where new advertising guidelines are set to stop car manufacturers from claiming things they can’t back up with facts.

According to Bente Oeverli, a from the Norwegian office of the state-run Consumer Ombudsman,

Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others.

Read the full story here.

“The United States Government is in need of a guardian” September 7, 2007

Posted by Andreas in History, Politics, Quotes.
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MR. KHARIS: Does Mr. Celine seriously suggest that the United States Government is in need of a guardian?

MR. CELINE: I am merely offering a way out for your client. Any private individual with a record of such incessant murder and robbery would be glad to cop an insanity plea. Do you insist that your client was in full possession of its reason at Wounded Knee? At Hiroshima? At Dresden?

JUSTICE IMMHOTEP: You become facetious, Mr. Celine.

MR. CELINE: I have never been more serious.

The Eye in the Pyramid, First Book in the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson

Don’t carbon offset your guilty conscience September 5, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Environment, Global warming, holiday, Life, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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We’ll be spending two weeks with my parents in Gauteng this month and after considering our options have decided to fly up. I’m feeling decidedly guilty about that and am intend on taking the train next time.

You see, globally, air travel just happens to be the fastest growing source of anthropogenic climate change. George Monbiot estimates that one transatlantic flight basically accounts for a person’s rightful annual carbon emission share if we want to stop the planet from getting toasted.

When it’s feasible, taking your car is better, using public transport much better still, and staying at home is best! We know all this, but stop us from flying more and more every year it does not – airports are expanding around the world and apparently air passenger numbers have risen by over 6% in the first half of 2007.

And once again it’s just a small wealthy minority that’s doing the damage and those who can’t afford air tickets, even budget ones, bear the brunt. You fly, they die.

One of the solutions that’s being touted to overcome this growing problem is carbon off-setting.

Here’s how it works: You book a return ticket to romantic Niagara for you and your pink-haired aunt Colleen through an outfit like responsibletravel.com, you work out the amount of carbon dioxide your journey will generate and you pay someone like ClimateCare, Carbon Footprint or the CarbonNeutral Company a proportional amount which they will use to plant trees in a Third World country or hand out energy-saving light bulbs to the poor, and Bob’s your environmentally-friendly air travel uncle.

It doesn’t work, of course.

For one it’s the calculus of the privileged – a green pyramid scheme to appease our environmental sensibilities, which allows a small number of people to jet-set around the globe while the masses stay at home. Build-in inequality is a fundamental requirement.

As it turns out some people in the global South are already being shunted off their homes in order to accommodate environmentally-conscious First World travelers. Here’s a story about Ugandans who lost their land to carbon off-setting tree plantations and here’s one about one of a number of reports that suggest that planting trees is not going to work anyway…

So what are we to do. Travel less, of course! I know this will not be well received, but it’s a no-brainer and is in accordance with the stop-what-you’re-doing principle. It’s cheap and works every time.

Interview about Alcan on Canadian radio September 3, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Coega, Environment, News, South Africa.
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Tristen Taylor, Energy Policy Officer for Earthlife Africa and a fellow blogger,was interviewed about the Alcan aluminium smelter planned for Coega on the Canadian radio station CKUT Montreal the other day. Alcan (recently bought by giant mining transnational Rio Tinto) is a Canadian company, hence the interest, I guess.

I think this is a really great interview. It explains some of the main concerns about the proposed smelter and examines various related issues. Very much worth a listen – in fact this kind of thing should be on public radio in SA.

You can download it here.