On Trump and bullshit

Donald Trump

As part of a series of events celebrating what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, President Obama gave a speech in Johannesburg yesterday, in which he made reference to “the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more”.

While it seems clear that he was making a direct reference to President Trump, his remarks bring to mind broader issues such as the value of truth to democracy, and the difference between lies and liars on the one hand, and bullshitters on the other. Continue reading “On Trump and bullshit”

Kevin Anderson: who gets to be South African?

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson, a South African citizen, defeated John Isner 26-24 in the final set of the Wimbledon Men’s semi-final yesterday, in what ended up being the second-longest ever match at Wimbledon. (Isner won the longest match, back in 2010, when he beat Nicholas Mahut 70-68 in the final set.)

Does Anderson’s victory make him the first South African to reach the singles finals at Wimbledon? No, it doesn’t, regardless of how you classify Kevin Curren, defeated by Boris Becker in the 1985 final. Does Anderson’s victory beg(gar) the question of who gets to be called “South African”? No, it doesn’t – but it does perhaps raise the question. Continue reading “Kevin Anderson: who gets to be South African?”

A (partial) autopsy of pseudoscience: Natasha Bolognesi and WAVEEX

Waveex promo image

Earlier this month, Prof. George Claassen of CENSCOM (Stellenbosch University) published a piece on GroundUp, detailing how science journalist Natasha Bolognesi became the subject of disciplinary action after refusing to copy edit a study on the cellphone-attachment WAVEEX, described by the manufacturers as

a composite chip of seven superposed layers, outside of plastic, inside five layers with silver ink printed circuits, which, if they are exposed to the electromagnetic waves, weaken the passing harmful radiation and balance it with the magnetic field of your body.

I won’t spend time focusing on how it’s well-established that low-frequency EMF radiation doesn’t pose a risk to humans, nor on the journalistic ethics of Bolognesi’s choice to refuse to copy edit the piece in question.

Continue reading “A (partial) autopsy of pseudoscience: Natasha Bolognesi and WAVEEX”

A word on Vicki Momberg

Vicki Momberg

Vicki Momberg was today sentenced to serve three years in prison (with one year suspended), after being found guilty on four counts of crimen injuria relating to multiple racial slurs she uttered towards black police officers and others on November 3, 2016.

As far as I can determine, crimen injuria is a crime in South Africa, but not anywhere else. It describes serious impairments of the dignity of others, and racist speech can easily be seen as counting as such, at least under certain circumstances. Continue reading “A word on Vicki Momberg”

Free speech and the problem of binary responses

Nazi free speech pug

Leaving character judgments aside, videos such the one made by Mark Meechan, of his dog responding to the phrase ‘gas the Jews’ with a Nazi salute, should be legally permissible.

Legal questions don’t answer ethical questions. I think that this joke’s concept is grossly insensitive, and I do think that people need to spend more time worrying about what they find funny, and why. Continue reading “Free speech and the problem of binary responses”

Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter

xkcd emotion comic social media

A friend of mine once remarked that we can either have democracy or the Internet, but not both. Even if the point is perhaps overstated, interactions on social media, and omnipresent clickbait, certainly contribute to the perception that there’s far more noise than signal on the Internet.

While it’s certainly possible to have productive conversations on social media, those seem – in my experience at least – to have become increasingly rare. Charlie Brooker once listed Twitter as his top pick in the category of video games (in the 2013 show How Videogames Changed the World), and it’s easy to see his point – the platform should perhaps simply be thought of as entertainment rather than as an opportunity for an exchange of ideas. Continue reading “Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter”

Blasphemy and the South African Film and Publications Board

As much as being religious can interfere with peoples’ ability to think objectively about moral issues, it’s sometimes the case that antipathy to religion can do so, too.

The former problem arises because people can approach moral problems with unquestionable fundamental rules in mind, given to them by a divine force, and the latter because we should really only care about other people’s values when those values might result in harm, and not simply because we find them silly. Continue reading “Blasphemy and the South African Film and Publications Board”

Ramaphosa, and the soft tyranny of low expectations

President Cyril Ramaphosa

South African social media have been even more intemperate than usual since Cyril Ramaphosa was elected ANC leader – and yes, I realise how implausible that might sound.

It nevertheless strikes me as true in light of the volume of comment I read calling for President Zuma’s head (sometimes quite literally), now that he was effectively a lame duck,  alongside the counter-claims of JZ’s supporters (or even simply the supporters of codified procedure, rather than fictions like a “recall” having any legal force). Continue reading “Ramaphosa, and the soft tyranny of low expectations”