Notes on the switching on of the LHC

The LHC is the Large Hadron Collider, a big circular tunnel under Switzerland (and a bit of France) full of expensive electronic equipment which scientists are going to switch on tomorrow – meaning that the universe is going to end and we’re all going to die. Possibly, anyway. If things do go wrong, then Jacob Zuma may never get his day in court. Poor bugger – he’s been waiting ages!

Look, everyone’s going to be blogging about this tonight and tomorrow, so I won’t waste too much of your (increasingly) valuable time. But just to explain:

Two beams of subatomic particles called ‘hadrons’ – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy.

To me it sounds like a whole lot of fun. Although if the British hadron overtakes the Finnish hadron on the chicane, it will probably be disqualified.
But anyway, I’ve checked and discovered that if they do accidentally create little black holes which suck the entire galaxy into a point of singularity (or whatever), my mortgage is covered. Happy days.

So if this is goodbye, then goodbye. And thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with some very sound advice:

I can just see that this is going to be a very productive day…

That Zapiro cartoon

Ever since The Sunday Times published the “rape” cartoon that the entirety of South Africa is now talking about (that would be Sunday), I have been literally inundated with an email asking what 6000 miles… readers should say when asked about it, in order to remain “on message”.

This cartoon was removed at the
request of Zapiro’s legal team.

6000, September 2009

Exhibit A: the cartoon in question.

Looking around the SA interwebs, plenty of others have already had their say:

“While we accept that cartoonists have the licence to express controversial views, yesterday’s cartoon is in extremely bad taste and goes way beyond limits of acceptability”
“The cartoon rubbishes the collective integrity of the alliance and constitutes yet another continued violation of the rights and dignity of the ANC president.”
“In a country where we have a serious scourge of fighting violence against women and in particular, rape, we need to be very careful how we use the notion and the concept of rape loosely to demonstrate any form of perceived abuse.” [link]

and for the other side:

“Good for you dude. That cartoon is an absolutely accurate description of the state of affairs… so I’m doing my part to spread it around.” [link]
“There is a very, very pronounced tendency in this country towards exceptionalism, as if our politicians are more sacrosanct than politicians worldwide. That I take issue with.” [link]

For me, Zapiro (the pen name of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro) has taken things a step too far on this occasion. I have issues with his trivialisation of rape and his portrayal of abuse of women for political ends and also his imagery (again) linking Jacob Zuma with rape – 2 years on from JZ’s acquittal for that crime. It seems likely that Zuma will now sue for defamation – he may feel that he has a strong case, given Shapiro’s apparent vendetta against him.

Please don’t think that I am naive as to what Shapiro is trying to say – I wrote about the whole situation just last week. Disappointingly, the astute, amusing, politically savvy and downright insightful political spectator and commentator has let himself down with this particular piece of work. Many would say that in just stirring up this fuss, he has achieved his objective – to publicise the issue of JZ’s inevitable presidency versus his corruption trial and the difficulties that poses for this country. I think we were all aware of that issue anyway.

I just feel that it could have been done a whole lot more tastefully.

Amnesty for Zuma?

The debate is on. Should the charge of racketeering, the four charges of corruption, the charge of money laundering and the twelve charges of fraud against ANC President Jacob Zuma be dropped?

The charges stem from an arms deal way back in 1999 and the case has been dragging on ever since. In the meantime, Zuma has been sacked from his post as Deputy President of the country, has successfully defended himself against charges of rape and, more recently, been elected President of the ANC and is now effectively South Africa’s President-in-waiting. But all the while – in fact, now more than ever – those corruption (and racketeering, money laundering and fraud) charges have been hanging over him.

Over the years, certain groups have continually protested Zuma’s innocence and called for the charges against him to be dropped, claiming that they are no more than a political smear campaign. Now, as we finally approach the 2009 election and a possible trial date for Zuma, those groups are becoming ever more vocal.
They say that the trouble is that if (ok… WHEN) Zuma is elected as President of the Republic next year, it’s going to do the country’s somewhat shaky reputation a whole lot more damage to have a potentially corrupt fraudster in charge. I see that.
What I don’t get is their insistence that things will be better if we drop the charges. Look at it this way: if it goes to court and Zuma is innocent, then it’s all ok – we’re in the clear with him. If he’s not, then we’re in the poop. Again, with him.
But if the charges are dropped and we never find out, then what are people going to assume?

I also don’t like the way they are going about attempting to force this issue through. Threats of violence, anarchy, civil disobedience. COSATU’s General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi:

“There are sentiments that Zuma is a target of machinations that go very, very deep. And all of us fear what the reaction is going to be and what may happen the day something happens to him (Zuma) in particular. We can see exactly what the reaction is going to be.
People may misinterpret this as a threat to the judiciary or as a form of blackmail to try and get Jacob Zuma off the hook.
But this is an honest assessment. We honestly do fear what may happen if eventually the matter goes to court and the verdict is that he is guilty and going 14 years to prison.”

Struggling with what I should think on the subject, I tried to contact our 6000 miles… political analyst. But he’s in the USA chasing good-looking girls with strange accents and being re-educated into renouncing his links with Blade Nzimande.

I too fear for the future in SA if JZ goes to court. Then, equally, I fear for the future if he doesn’t go to court. But what message are we sending out if the charges are dropped? That certain individuals are above the law, no matter what crimes they may have committed?
We’re in for a very rough ride over the next few months (or years?) whatever happens, but while I see the sense in protecting the country’s reputation and economic status, something just won’t let me support an amnesty for JZ.

Sorry, Msholozi.

The Perfect Storm?

It’s Spring Day tomorrow in South Africa. The unofficial start of the good weather that will last through until next July, allowing us to enjoy braais, beers by the pool and some dreadful home performances by the nation’s cricket team. But winter had one last throw of the dice and scored a lucky 7 with a particularly evil cold front which came through on Saturday afternoon. It was pretty nasty, as the SA Weather Service warned us:

Gale force westerly winds (35kt/65km/h) are expected in places over the Western Cape on Saturday. Strong-gale to storm strength winds (in excess of 80km/h) are expected along the Western Cape Coast. Very rough seas with destructive waves in excess of 7m, coinciding with spring high tides, are expected along the Western Cape coast. Heavy falls of rain are expected in places over the western parts of the Western Cape on Saturday. Very cold, wet and windy conditions are expected to set in over the western parts of the Western and Northern Cape Saturday evening. Snowfalls are expected over the western high ground of the Western Cape as well as the south-western high ground of the Northern Cape from Saturday evening into Sunday morning.

Lovely. Thanks for that.
I did pop out on Saturday afternoon, but after almost dying on a tree-lined stretch of road near our house when large chunks of the trees started lining the stretch of road around my car, I declined to go out again.
Until this morning, when a promise of decreasing wind, together with a hint of sunshine and a morbid curiosity to see what was left of Cape Town tempted us down to Mouille Point and Three Anchor Bay.

        

        
Stormy scenes at Mouille Point: see more at flickr (and videos too!)

The worrying thing was that these pictures were taken about 4 hours before high tide – and a spring tide at that. I’m due back in Sea Point on Tuesday and I will be very interested to see if it’s actually still there.

Want more pics? Click here.

 

Tenuous terrorism charges

Now I know that terrorism versus civil liberties is a contentious issue and all, but I firmly believe that prevention is better than cure. And so, where there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that a terrorist act is going to take place, I would much prefer to see it nipped in the bud. Certainly that rather than some sort of rucksack- related Tube massacre and the security services telling us “Oh yeah – we kind of thought that was going to happen”.

That doesn’t mean that I am in favour of all the new laws which have recently been brought in in the UK by a struggling ZaNu-labour Government, though. The whole 42-days detention is a little OTT as far as I’m concerned. But of course, with the changing face of the terrorist threat over the past few years, some tightening up and realigning of the laws was certainly necessary.

But have these laws got a little bit daft now? Nothing so simple as “murder” or “rape” – two men in Blackburn have been charged (and here I quote):

…with possession of an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.

…over a plot (which didn’t exist) to assassinate Gordon Brown. Bit of a mouthful, hey? I wonder if the officer who read the suspects their rights had to have a little crib sheet to make sure he got it right.

OK. Enough of that. I am going to go and switch the kettle on in circumstances where the heating of water together with the possession of dark brown powder may give rise to a reasonable chance of preparation and inbibing of a pleasant morning beverage.