Beware Ransomware

Over the past week, I’ve been receiving emails from yahoo.jp email addresses offering me the choice between paying money into a Bitcoin address, or having my (alleged!) dirty secrets exposed to colleagues, friends and family.

One guy asked for $4000, another $5000. The highest figure quoted has been $6000, and one fellow asked for a Bitcoin, so who knows how much value he was expecting this hour, given that the coin could be worth just about anything next time you check.

Continue reading “Beware Ransomware”

Steve Bannon and no-platforming

Steve Bannon was invited to speak at the New Yorker Festival, then promptly disinvited after Kathryn Schulz (author of Being Wrong, which I can recommend as an accessible, yet very thoughtful, account of some basic errors in inductive reasoning), Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey, Ally Fogg and others indicated that they were opposed to his presence there, and (in some cases) that they would not appear at the festival if he did.

Continue reading “Steve Bannon and no-platforming”

COPE and the Civil Union Act

DHA offices where same-sex couples can be married

In addition to her Private Members Bill on Advance Directives, which I wrote about earlier this month, Deirdre Carter of COPE has also been pushing for changes to the Civil Union Act, and I’m pleased to report that the Parliamentary committee meeting (15/08) seems to have gone well, with all present agreeing that Section 6 of the Act needs to be reconsidered.

Section 6, for those not familiar with the Act, is the clause that allows for Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials to opt-out of officiating same-sex marriages. It reads:

Continue reading “COPE and the Civil Union Act”

DignitySA and COPE to bring advance directives Bill to Parliament

COPE DignitySA

I’ve written plenty about assisted dying (and DignitySA, an NGO dedicated to securing the right of South Africans to a good death) over the years. It’s a topic that is understandably emotive to most people, but also one that’s the source of great tension between secular and religious views on how states should be governed.

For example, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, mistakenly believes that “only God can decide when a person dies“, which is a motivation that can only be taken as legally relevant if you are living in a theocracy. In a secular state, people should of course be free to exercise their religious commitments if those commitments don’t violate the law. Continue reading “DignitySA and COPE to bring advance directives Bill to Parliament”

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”