Next: Science is now so complex that we can no longer ask What? We can now only wonder Why?

This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

101st airborne strikes a blow for gay rights!

and it is my 101st blog!
and my favourite man of the cloth, Arch Desmond Tutu and I agree hugely on everything (except for the existance of God)
and here is what my hero Tutu has to say about Gay Rights in Africa.

This opinion piece was published in the Washington Post on last Friday, March 12 2010.

In Africa, a step backward on human rights

By Desmond Tutu
Friday, March 12, 2010; A19

Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity -- or because of their sexual orientation. Nor should anyone be excluded from health care on any of these grounds. In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity.

It is time to stand up against another wrong.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God's family. And of course they are part of the African family. But a wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent. People are again being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms. Men have been falsely charged and imprisoned in Senegal, and health services for these men and their community have suffered. In Malawi, men have been jailed and humiliated for expressing their partnerships with other men. Just this month, mobs in Mtwapa Township, Kenya, attacked men they suspected of being gay. Kenyan religious leaders, I am ashamed to say, threatened an HIV clinic there for providing counseling services to all members of that community, because the clerics wanted gay men excluded.

Uganda's parliament is debating legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment, and more discriminatory legislation has been debated in Rwanda and Burundi.

These are terrible backward steps for human rights in Africa.

Our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters across Africa are living in fear.

And they are living in hiding -- away from care, away from the protection the state should offer to every citizen and away from health care in the AIDS era, when all of us, especially Africans, need access to essential HIV services. That this pandering to intolerance is being done by politicians looking for scapegoats for their failures is not surprising. But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said "Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones." Gay people, too, are made in my God's image. I would never worship a homophobic God.

"But they are sinners," I can hear the preachers and politicians say. "They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished." My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?

The wave of hate must stop. Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.

The writer is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

This article was forwared to me via the fabulous Internews Network, who time and time again confirm that the struggle for freedom and democracy involves us all thinking WIDE and acting LOCALLY.

Nothing Father from the Truth

My 100th Blog entry. It better be good!

I've gone thru my blog history and re-read it all. There's posts on everything from bad science to virtual travel, figments of imagination to arguments about pigments. But one topic keeps coming up and so spurred on by my DVD salesman confiding in me yesterday that he hates all Americans and that 'did I know that the Iraq war was all about oil', and he as a Muslim knows that Lucifer and the Free Masons are to blame, I have resisted my intention to write about the joys of X-plane and laminar flow. Instead....

17th March 2010
Nothing father from the truth..
When I was younger, so much younger than today, I always looked forward to December. It was my annual chance of being Father Christmas. I especially recall one year in Cape Town, it must have been 1987 and Sarah and her brood of cousins were a captive audience. I took the opportunity to give them all a jovial lecture of how privileged they were to be getting gifts and how we should all pause for a moment to consider those kids on the flats (poorer areas) who would not have any evidence that Father Christmas had been their way at all.
I particularly liked donning the cottonwool beard and red dress because that was all it took for the kids to totally suspend their disbelief. There were no questions asked about how I had managed to get to see all the billions of children all over the planet nor how I had known what each of them wanted for Xmas. I felt and acted like an all-knowing, all powerful, all nice god....and they believed every word I spoke. So did the adults. Well, if they knew it was me, they certainly didn't let on. It was after all the season of good will and nobody was going to rock the boat by telling the Truth! Heavens no!
The next day we had all forgotten about Father Xmas and were happily finishing off the spoils of the excessive feasting of the day before. Boxing day we call it and it's a short and necessary recovery period for us to get our brains and bodies back into reality mode as smotthly as possible. Relaxation and leftover food normally does the trick.
22 years later, I still fervently believe in Father Xmas. I give myself over to the absolute reality of the magic that he brings to each child whose cultural norms entertain this particular annual manifestation of a lesser god of good deeds and benevolence. The great thing about Daddy Xmas is that he pops up but once a year and then disappears. Make no mistake, my belief in him is no imaginary illusion, no faith-based blind belief. I can easily test the hypothesis - simply go up to any Father Xmas around town and peep behind the beard and you find a real human being who is trying very hard to be nice to children. He really does exist!
Then there is the first Xmas when your own child becomes a co-conspirator in the grand illusion. He or she knows by now that Father Xmas is really Uncle George but has loads of fun not telling the younger kids, content that in time they too will see the light and hand the baton over to the next generation.
I know not of any child whose parents have conspired to keep Father Xmas' real identity hidden from their children past about 4 years old. Even if they tried, little Joe is by now mobile and intelligent enough to have his own tug at the cotton wool beard and woe on the hapless parents whose child makes that fatal move at the company kids' party!
All good physical theories hold on the basis of being able to be replicated experimentally. There is ultimately no absolute surety that the next time you test it it will be validated again. On the other hand, a theory can be utterly disproven by finding only one instance where the prediction is contradicted. This applies to physical phenomena as well as experiments of the mind or logic. This is why the myth of Father Xmas has to die for each and every child eventually. There comes a time when there is incontravertable proof that he is just not divine.
The reason Father Xmas stays alive in the Christian culture is simply because nobody over the age of 4 years old thinks that he is really supernatural. With that out of the picture his fans can get on with enjoying all that the Xmas ritual can offer.
So, on my 100th blog, the question I ask is: When will we, as humans, realize that it is entirely possible to sing joyfully, meet our mates on Sundays (or Fridays or 5 times a day or in a trance), to do good deeds because it the right thing to do, feel humble in magnificent architecture, be inspired by poetry from books written 2000 years ago, have parties where we pretend that wine is magic, all the while accepting that what we are believing is no more real than Father Xmas coming down the chimney.
Ah! you say.....big difference! We can prove that Father Xmas isn't all powerful, all knowing and totally good. You can't disprove the existance of God.
Actually, we can.
It's those kids on the flats, the ones that don't have Xmas joy because they have been abused or simply have no food at all. Their existance proves absolutely that there can be no super being who is all powerful, all knowing and all good.
So, if your parents forgot to tell you at the age of 4 that the God, Allah, Big Mo and Jesus stories are all much like Father Christmas then by now you are probably not going to believe a word I say. Instead, you are happy to suspend your sense of disbelief and surrender yourself unto some greater power. Gosh.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sun City Soon

I am still wondering if there is any meaning beyond sheer coincidence in the morse-like raindrop patterns I have been entertained with since the rainy season began. This is after all a scientifically correct blog and I must avoid any wild imaginings of extra-terrestrial conversations!
So, I'll put the morse on hold and see how else I can use the rain.

Dontalkdo has always been a bit prophetic. I forsaw with much disdain from vested interests the overturning of the low fat - high carb health fantasy of yesteryear. Pity that Dr Atkins hit the dust just as he was about to be proven right. It was on this blog that I predicted that the recent work in Brain Plasticity would preface a radical rethink in human behaviour and evolution. Last week the New York Times headlined - "Culture is the new Evolutionary Force" - Just as Norman Doidge MD predicted in his NY Times best seller 'The Brain that Changes itself'. My most consistent prophesy is the the one dealing with the demise of religion as we know it - the 'believing in God stuff'. This is going to be a self-fulfilling prophesy, something that religious folk are very familiar with. I am currently predicting that the Ugandan anti-gay laws will catapult the world into a new awareness of how our level of civilization and morality is measured by how we treat our fellow humans and animals - all of them. Before long we will see more and more the legalization of same sex marriage leading to a global acceptance of the power of Love over discrimination. This week alone same sex marriage has been legalized in Mexico and, wait for it, Washington DC.
My final prediction is that before the year is out I will have such a small carbon footprint that i will be able to make money by selling personal carbon points to ..... well, don't all line up so fast!
In this spirit allow me to present my gadgets of the week: a 15W Solar Panel and 10amp Charge controller, all bought at our local grocery store for the humble sum of $100.
Fat lot of good that will be in the rainy season! Ah! But I have a plan! Within minutes of the rain arriving a huge flood of water collects in our driveway and channels down a single open drain into the veggie garden some 30 feet below. That's quite a head if harnessed! So, phase 2 of my Alternative Reality Project is to link the Solar system to a small scale hydro generator. Could it be better? Water falls on my head, fuels my off sun energy and then waters the veggie patch - all without any pumps!
Initially I should be able to have a backup system for my computers and some low wattage LED lighting.
In time, and inspired by the USA Florida Solar Project featured in the NYT today, I hope to be able to kiss the grid goodbye and live happily ever after in an alternative energy reality.
If you want to play around a bit with the options in solar try the great simulation on this site:

and for a peep at where I hope to end up..... (Madrid Polytechnical Uni project)

This is Bob's solar house and a highly detailed look at what can be achieved with a lot of passion and basic tools.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

GOD SAYS NO! - Dis mos code exe!

Most of you will have heard by now that our combined efforts to say 'NO!'to the bizarre planned anti-gay law in Uganda resulted in almost 450 000 signatures to the petition that was presented to the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament, Mr Edward Ssekandi. If you believe in God then one of those signatures is by definition, His! We were hoping for 200 000! Well done, but the battle has only just begun.
Whilst a standard email is circulating requesting more ongoing support, financial and otherwise, I have decided to write a short note to give you an idea of exactly why this bill is so bizarre, anti-religious, immoral and AFFECTS us all.

Here are 2 extracts from the proposed law:

2. The offence of homosexuality.
(1) A person commits the offence of homosexuality if-
(a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other
sexual contraption;
(b) he or she uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or stimulate sexual organ of a
person of the same sex;
(e) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.
(2) A person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to
imprisonment for life.

3.3. Part III of the Bill incorporating clause 7 to clause 14 creates offences and penalties for
acts that promote homosexuality, failure to report the offence and impose a duty on the
community to report suspected cases of homosexuality.

14. Failure to disclose the offence.
A person in authority, who being aware of the commission of any offence under this Act, omits
to report the offence to the relevant authorities within twenty-four hours of having first had that
knowledge, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred
and fifty currency points (2500 US$) or imprisonment not exceeding three years.

(“authority” means having power and control over other people because of your knowledge and
official position; and shall include a person who exercises religious. political, economic or social

The above clearly expressed clauses mean that the following can easily happen to YOU.

Imagine that you are on a bus entering Uganda on a dream safari holiday. The chap next to you finds you attractive (as happens to all of us on planes and buses!) and fantasises about where things may go. After chatting for a while he places his hand on your knee. In the next seat sits someone who has strong homophobia and decides to report the event at the next police road block.
You and your friend are arrested. based on the evidence of the claimant, you receive a $2500 fine for not reporting a homosexual act and the other guy gets life imprisonment. Oh, by the way, he is also tested for HIV and if found positive gets the death sentence. It is that bizarre!
However, if you are a single woman traveller and some guy on the bus hassles you and keeps trying to grab your leg, your have no legal protection. Why? Because Uganda is a heterosexual, family oriented country that tacitly accepts that it is ok for married men to have affairs and additional wives as long as they are the opposite sex.

Those who advocate this law, includes the Ugandan contingent and some pretty serious, mostly US based evangelical Christian groups. They also often criticize the opponents of this law as being from the morally lax West, yet by any logic this simply does not hold.

Either you believe in God or you do not. If you are a Christian, as most Ugandans are, then you must abide by the word of Jesus, that all life is sacred and we may not kill. If you are part of the group of humans who reject the supernatural then you will also understand that the unstoppable secular global movement towards increased civilization and respect for human and animal life and their right to life is the opposite of barbarism. This is and has always been the way the world progresses. You can be true to your faith or true to right action or both in Uganda. Both exclude the death penalty and anti-human actions.

The Speaker asked of the journalists in public, 'How would you like it if your son or daughter arrived at home with a boy or girlfriend of the same sex?'

Read more:

My answer to that is simple: 'Sir, if my son or daughter came home with their same sex partner I would (and have) welcomed them as people who are celebrating the greatest gift we have, that of Love. Any less, I do not deserve the honour of being a parent.'

..and from the not so wild frontier.....

The rain is visiting us more regularly now. Maybe this is the beginning of the Big Rains. Or, maybe, the Little Rains. I had heard much about these monsoony happenings when we first came to Kenya, but am still waiting to experience anything that can be defined as more than 'a rainy day or two'.
So it was that I was typing away in my dungeon studio in our own corner of the Rwandan jungle (so to speak), that the pitter patter of rain drops on my window drew my attention. It was rather more a 'dee dee dee dee..dee..dee dah dee dee..dee dah dee dee..dah dah dah...
I am still sitting here wondering if there is something more to this than a great jazz beat. Maybe somebody is trying to send me a message?

Could it be Morse Code? I listened again and sure enough the same rythym and blues came through my window. A meaningful coincidence? Maybe...but maybe not. This time I wrote it down as a series of dots and dashes. It looks like this: .... . .-.. .-.. --- - .... .. ... .. ... --. --- -..

I also found a morse code chart! Have fun!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nairobi calling..

The weekend has come and gone and my Magnum Opus of deconstructing Science has not materialized. Well, I have a good excuse! In order to do the job in the ...well, spirit of the job, I need to make sure that all my ducks are in good evidential rows. Increasingly aware of the many nuances and influences that are brought to bear on any discussion about Science and Truth here in East Africa, I must first delicately explore such. The biggy, of course is that I write from a place of near 99% religiosity. It is the kind that always presents socially with a sweet and goodly smile that says, "We are God's people and can do no harm. How can you possibly find fault with this?"
So, I have to extricate myself gently from this warm and fuzzy feeling that all is OK as long as we simply are nice to each other. Where do I start?
I think, with giving you an idea of how weird a place this really is - how what is just taken as bizarre in the developed world is seen as normal here and visa versa. With a background of hardly any serious or violent crime life here is marked by learning the tricks, being polite and patient and finding the funny side of things.
We had a kidnapping this week of some smartypants Canadian but the nappers were none too bright and fell for the oldest trick in the book - the cops delivered the ransom money and after doing the swap simply shot all the bad guys. Whoops! Canadian Embassy velly happy.
In Nakuru the big news is that two pastors were killed in a car prang and the remaining pastor told everyone to come and pray over the coffins as God had assured him that the dead would come back to life again. Twice a day they lift the lids to check on the progress, but still no luck. They are, however, confident that the lord will deliver. Local police are accusing the church of causing a bit of a stink.
In the same town, in a global first, bicycles have been banned as they are causing too many problems for the cars.
Closer to home, a prominent TV presenter has resigned and moved in with the pastor of the Finger of God Church. Police arrested him yesterday for not being registered as a church and she has been referred to the state mental hospital to be tested for insanity.

In neighbouring Uganda, the uproar about the proposed anti-gay laws continues. The fundamental absurdity of legislating against gay people is that it is essentially like making a law against people having 2 ears. It would be worded something like this: "From such and such a date it is no longer legal for citizens to have 2 ears. Anyone actually caught displaying 2 ears in public or private will have their ears chopped off. It is known to the goverment that there are in our midst many people with 2 ears and while the decadent West may well consider this to be normal, we (and our friends in the earvangelical movement) are confident that our clampdown will successfully reduce the incidence of 2 -earedness in our beloved country.
In the words of the well known Italian patriot, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!"

I leave you with that lot to digest. of course, you reception of it will depend on where your bum is placed geographically and what cultural influences weave through your payche. But you understand how it is a confusing landscape in which to contemplate the meaning or non- menaing of Life!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Holocaust cast

The end of January 2010 marked the 65th annversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. How do I, a South African living in East Africa, connect to this? My earliest memory is of secretly paging through the images in a paperback book on Adolf Eichmann that I found in my parents'cupboard. I remember hearing the news of Eichmann's execution on the school bus home and being horrified that a person could be killed for his crimes. Countless films and photos echoed these early memories over the years, but it is one castaway story from recent times that made me feel this history. A friend married a Jewish Italian man. I gave a keynote speech about her childhood at their wedding. When I visited Paris soon after, I and my partner were wined, dined and shown a personal Paris by this same couple. My first Eiffel Tower sighting and Pigeon and Peas in a crowded bistro. Only later did I hear, almost offhandedly, that Nick's entire family and extended family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. Seeing the gentle, intelligent and successful man that he was made me understand exactly the crime of lost lives and the horror of intellectually justified mass murder.

How do I, so many years later, define exactly what the Holocaust is? If I am of Jewish blood, or lost family or volunteered to fight against the defineable Nazi evil, then maybe I can feel what is means, no words necessary. But I am a child of another age, another side of the world. Is it the same as the genocide in Rwanda? Not so, the nazi hierarchy sytematically killed millions with a sophisticated intelligence and technology. Is it the same as the millions of unnecessary deaths of HIV positive people in South Africa under Manto's watch? Not so....Manto and Thabo really seemed to believe that they could save lives another way. There was no ignorance in the early 1940s, only mindful, deliberate evil. Yet, sometimes, when I look at the many stark burnt images from those days, I no longer see prime evil, just ordinary people, caught up in their own human fagility and the strange power of charismatic leaders.
It is surely not what others do to others that we must fear. It is what lies within each of us that we fail to fear enough.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The One Line Blog Posting

Hellon defended the use of alcohol quoting Ephesians 5:18: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit".

The slippery slide decidedly backwards

"As this decade ticks to its close, I am left thinking about fear. Racism, heterosexism, misogyny and xenophobia are still fueling our lives and shaping our world, and the common denominator is fear." - Lisa A Linsky (LGBT Legal)

I am really trying to write about Science but the world is conspiring against me. My fault, I guess, as I have already made a big announcement that Science without a conscience is like a public billboard running random ads.

So, before I get back onto quarks and quanta I am doing a sideways raga to square off against a very real and dangerous development in our (not looking so bright) continent of Africa.
The media focus started with the highly contentious and anti-human rights effort by the Ugandan Government to co-operate with ultra conservative Evangelical groupings to seriously criminalize homosexuality and the tacit support thereof by allied NGOs and the broader population. Mediawise the baton has been taken up by local Mullahs, Priests and Radio stations on the Mombasa coastal region where, as a result of claimed hate speech and broadcasts, there is, as I speak, a public outcry against a Kenyan Government Sponsored research project addressing the increased HIV levels in MSM populations (MSM-Men who have sex with men. This is the correct term used as under the local situation many people who engage in same sex activities are forced to present a parallel heterosexual life. Multiple concurrent partners is a ready bridge for HIV to spread across the wider population.)
But why is this such an issue on the coast. Well, the theory that could explain it is the one of evil that stares at us from our own mirror. The accepted ancient Greek and Arab traditions of using young boys for sexual pleasure and women for procreation is said to have survived in coastal Arabic culture. Thus there is believed to be a significant conflict between the hidden practice of sodomy and the dictates of Islam. The resultant guilt and denial is believed to be a strong driver of the extreme stigma that is promoted by contradictory practices. Of course this is open to dispute, but generally we can observe that those who have the least hangups are always the last to discriminate.

Back in Good Old South Africa, the echo has found a home as a Methodist Minister is defrocked after she legally marries her partner.
There remains a difference in that the popular condemnation of the Methodist Church is loud and omnipresent. That this is clearly illegal in terms of the SA constitution begs a strong legal challenge to a church that is hell bent on proving its moral decrepitude. Unfortunately all that is generally done is that debates continue in ever illusory religious circles, based mostly on conflicting quotes from the Bible. It is really time to discard this tired book of quotes and start thinking with a 21st Century brain.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Quantum Morality

I have advertized my weekend blog to be 'So, what exactly is Science?'

This is clearly not an easy question to answer in one stream of consciousness, so I have spent some time this week pondering around what exactly I am going to say. It has been a little difficult focusing on this mission as the imminent Ugandan anti-gay law travesty is unfolding at a rather disturbing rate. I am extremely disturbed about this whole anti-gay thing that is going down here in Africa. I want to cry when I think of the many great and loving and warm and clever and moral gay people who have influenced my life. They have all brought a gentleness of vision and a richness of spirit to my world and I have watched how many gay activists have led the struggle for universal care and treatment for all who carry the burden of HIV.
Here's a link if you are not up to date.
If you are a devotee of any fundamental or evangelical religious group that advocates that gay people should burn in hell then please, you will not be humoured on this blog. It is my considered and firm opinion that you have no place in the 21st century. Coming to think of it, you are out of date by about a 1000 years, because that's when there was at least some excuse for hating and discriminating against other people (and animals). Am I now discriminating against you? Nope, I am stating that in a modern world where there is no longer any excuse to be willfully ignorant or hateful there are certain ground rules that should be agreed to.
If any child were to invent rules by which to live harmoniously they would probably be very similar to the last 6 of the 10 Commandments. No magic book necessary, just a little empathy and survival logic.
Ayn Rand, in her book "Atlas Shrugged" wrote:

"If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man's only moral commandment is: Thou shalt think. But a 'moral commandment' is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments."
As I read the words I have written here, I can see a beginning to my weekend blog. There can be no distinction between being a scientist and a human being. When we abandon the rationality and real magic that Science gives us we truly have sold our souls to an empty and illusory safety net.

Ellory F. Schempp, was the plaintiff in the case Abington v. Schempp. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court who declared in 1963 that Bible devotions in U.S. public school are unconstitutional. He suggests nine commandments:

1. You are a human, and neither Jesus, nor Mohammed, nor Buddha speaks for you. Take courage—you can live without a god.
2. Do not injure human beings or any animal; make reasonable exceptions.
3. When you see evil, make sure it is not in a mirror. Sometimes the enemy is us. Emotions are part of life. Feelings are good. Angry and fearful feelings are valid, but be circumspect.
4. Morality is about how you treat the life that has been given you—before you got asked. Once here, try to do some good and leave us a little better than when you arrived. There is no second chance.
5. Ideas are good. Some ideas are better than others. The best way to winnow is to seek evidence that supports an idea in a way that can be tested and evaluated. Covet not ancient ideas that contradict new evidence.
6. Love one another. Love is good, but trying. There is no god nor parent nor partner that loves you all the time, unconditionally. Keep not fantasies in your minds. Accept reality. Even when things look dark, there is lots of love around. Tap into it.
7. Sex is good. Have fun. Do not hurt another out of selfishness. Do not worry what sex others might have.
8. Honor thy parents, but remember they put their pants on one leg at a time.
9. There is great beauty in the world—on this Earth, in music, in the life around us. Take note for it and you shall be richly rewarded.

If you thought for one second that Science is boring and has no spirit or magic or poses no moral questions, I say to you - shake your head because your eyes are stuck! It is only by asking and asking again the core questions about our existence that we can continue on the journey of discovery that Life is. Once we decide that we know the answers or give up our right to question to a fairy godmother in the sky, then we have lost the very essence of our being and we will inherit nothing but the cold wind of self delusion.

Well, those are my first thoughts on what Science is all about!
My next thought starts with a memory of a good friend, who, at his son's coming of age party, gave him the following advice: "Just question everything".

It is this advice that I must next explore.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Looking for Goddo..

In my last blog I enthused about the coming full power testing of the CERN Large Hadron Accelerator. I described why this represents such an important moment in our journey of seeking the Truth about Life and Existance. I had not expected my 'predictions' to bear fruit so soon. Today (the 18th Feb 2010) an announcement was made that at another accelerator, the Brookhaven Collider on Long Island, USA, temperatures and conditions that had only existed in the first microsecond of the existence of the universe were recreated. By observing and recording events that lasted only a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second something appeared to have occurred which defies a fundamental law of physics.
It is precisely this that physicists have been hoping to find. But what does this mean practically?
In ordinary speak, when the universe began it is calculated that an equal amount of matter and anti-matter was created. What is anti-matter? It is the opposite of matter, and like any true opposites in physics when they come together they destroy each other in a flash of energy, leaving nothing behind. Clearly however, there is a residue of matter in the universe. Something must have happened to create an imbalance when the matter and anti-matter combined.
A lot of what happens in nature and especially in the subatomic world is ruled by the laws of symmetry. This means that the mirror image of an event is identical to the original. However, this week's announcement comes with an experimental demonstration that at the extremely high temperatures of creation, these symmetries can break down, resulting in the imbalances necessary to give matter the edge over anti-matter.
The Brookhaven experiment measured temperatures of 4 trillion degrees celsius, 250,000 times hotter than the core of the sun, but still not hot enough to turn the liquid-like cauldron into a free flowing gas. For this to be achieved, the LHA at CERN must be used.
I look forward to more startling we get closer and closer to looking at looking for Goddo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

God Van Winkel & the Long Vacation

Having promised all of last week to 'prove that God cannot exist and then show how we can create God' I must now be true to my promise.

There is a key precursor to my treatise as follows.

I am writing from a jungle paradise called Nairobi, Kenya. It is a land where probably 99.9% of folk are religious and hence believe fervently in the existence of a super being who is all powerful, all knowing and all good. Judging by the number of families who turn up well dressed at the local mall at about midmorning on a Sunday, I can only conclude that church and religion fulfill a crucial set of needs for many people here. Thus it would not be a positive action to simply negate the very real role that faith and its expression have in the lives of so many. Thus I present these words in good faith, hoping that it may be a seed that stirs more questions in a climate of minimal emotional distress.
Of course the counter to that perspective is the question of why I am so sensitive about affording the same right or ability to others to ask intellectual questions as I do to myself! Surely what is good enough for me is good enough for everyone else?

In my argument for the necessary non-existance of supernatural beings I am convinced that I have certain responsibilties. I should propose alternatives to replace the positive and social aspects of religion and be seen to be contributing to a better world for all. I should understand and promote a sensitivity to the neuropsychological realities that play themselves out in the way we as different human beings relate to reality.

At a recent lecture, Daniel Dennet, the atheist philosopher, was asked what atheist groups could do to best stem the criticism they receive from the religious quarter. He answered, "Tithe".

That being said, I hereby apologise to anyone who may be offended in whatever way by anything that I should say in this blog, or any future publication or speech by me for now and eternity.

The challenge with the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings is that the practice of the belief systems (some good, some not so good) that are in their name(s) are entirely linked to the 'reality' of their existence. It is thus difficult to argue for the non existance of supernatural beings without being seen to be condemning the social practice of religion.

But, that is precisely what I am obliged to do. I am convinced that intellectually at least, the fundamental problem with all religions is the idea that the existence of their supreme being(s) is real. It is precisely this aspect which makes it so easy for the extremes that flow from religious belief to exist. Great deeds of good and self sacrifice coexist under the same banners as the most dastardly evil ever committed by man. It has seldom happened that genocide or civil war has been justified under the banner of atheism, but from time immemorial global conflicts have and still do bear the label of religious idealism.

There is a clear cut difference between the state of belief or faith and the opinions that arise from it. We see too often how unquestioning faith in a super natural force can lead ordinary people to have unwavering opinions about the moral and human rights of others, whether they be women, homosexuals or just not sharing the same beliefs. It is this dangerous leap from faith to misguided action that I am condemning.

I am persuaded of the need to write this posting by 2 major events in the scientific world.
The first is the imminent full power turning on of of the LHA at CERN in Switzerland. The Large Hadron Accelerator has taken 10 billion US$ and 15 years in the making. What on earth can justify this?
The same question was asked of Michael Faraday, the father of practical electricity. His answer to the politician asking was 'I don't know, but one day you will tax it.'

Basically, the LHA bangs together very small subatomic particles in an effort to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang. The first conclusion we can make from this is that in the scientific community there is really no doubt that there was an intial event of sorts that we call, The Big Bang. If not, the 10 billion $ would never have materialized. Somebody had to believe in the basic premise of the LHA before giving that kind of money.

So how do we know that there was some kind of intial event? Easy. It has been conclusively shown by solid evidence that the universe that we can see is expanding. It is flying out rapidly in all directions. No matter where you are everything that you can see is moving away from you. This is like the surface of a balloon as you blow it up. Every point is moving away from the others as it expands. Well, if we work backwards then it is obvious that at some stage the universe must have been very very small. In fact, so small that everything that we know had to be squashed up into a space that was getting smaller and smaller all the time. How can this be? Surely there is a limit to the size of space into which everything can fit?

Well, Albert Einstein came to the rescue on this one with his famous equation E=MC2 which shows how matter and energy are just different forms of the same thing. The evidence for this is the atomic bomb which releases huge amounts of energy when enough pressure is put onto solid matter to convert it into pure energy.

It is reliably accepted that the reverse of this happened shortly after the absolute beginning point of the existance of the universe. Somehow a lot of energy was created which then, in a cataclysmic explosion turned into all the matter and energy that we now see in the universe. The purpose of the LHA is recreate the kind of temperature and energy levels that were around at the very beginning so we can understand more about how it all happened. There are a few theories that seem to explain it all, but lack the evidence that comes from good experiments. The LHA is providing just that.

The ultimate aim is to know where we all came from, and is the same question I ask all the time. In a file on my PC I have a family tree tracing my family back 400 years to Sweden, but it’s not enough. I want to know where it ALL started...and why. This is exactly the questions that formal religion attempt to answer, with a simply solution. God(s) made it all and the reason for it can be found in our holy book(s). SImple to understand and once or more a week on your holy day or time, you can get together with like-minded folk who, equally happy to have answered the fundamental questions of existence, can now get on with socializing in a meaningful world.
For a long time scientists had theorized that the universe had come into existence in a fiery ball about 15 billion years ago. Surely there must still be some evidence of that huge explosion? The answer was staring us in the face all the time, but it took what initially appeared to be a background hum in a set of radio telescopes to provide the proof. Try it yourself. Turn your TV onto a non channel area and listen and look at the fizz on the screen. A precentage of that is the distant echo of the Big Bang, coming to our TVs from the edge of the observable universe.

The much famed Hubble Space Telescope brought back startling images of an outer space you and I can only imagine, but could not see as far as the edge of the universe. This is the part that first came into existance and now is so far that it takes light 15 billion years to reach us.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is due to be launched in 2014. It is an orbiting infrared observatory that will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

These two scientific endeavours mean one thing. We are very near to being able to look directly into the creation events that underpin the myths of major religions.
Physicist Stephen Hawking was requested by the Pope to explain how New Physics explained the creation of Life and the Universe. After hearing the evidence, the Pope said that the Catholic Church would accept the theory of evolution of life and the universe, but that the intial moment of creation would have to remain in the hands of God.

What Hawking did not tell him was that as they were speaking substantial work had already been done to explain how the universe and all it represents could have come from nothing. It is called 'Creation ex Nihilo' and stems inevitably from the understanding of a strange and contradictory branch of physics called Quantum Mechanics.
It is this set of hypotheses that amongst others, the scientists at CERN will be attempting to prove with the LHA.

Already there are benefits that you and I experience from the program at CERN. The Internet was created there as was the science that drives almost all medical scanning devices, digital watches and GPS systems.

That is the basic science that allows me the confidence to have alternative evidence based solutions to the problems explained by religions.

It is also the kind of thinking that scientists use that allow me to make a sure argument for the impossibility of the existance of God(s).

I use the term God(s) as it is clear to most that belief by a young person in a particular God or religion is almost exlusively defined by the culture or religious disposition of their family before them. There is no such thing as a Moslem or Christian child, only children from Moslem of Christian families. Take any young person who has a strong faith and imagine them to have been born into a similar family but of different religious persuasion. That child would grow up with the same fervent belief in a totally different set of beliefs. Further, the fact that the faithful of one religion can dismiss the tenets of another as not being true, means that they have a direct understanding of what it feels like to be an atheist. The only difference is that atheists believe in one less religion.

We only have to apply basic logic to the question of the existance of God(s).
For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the Judaic-Moslem-Christian concept of a single male god.

My starting point has to be the concept of God being omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. (All powerful, All knowing and perfectly good)
God cannot thus be the designer of the universe if any evil exists. That is obvious.

The answer that God created free will is also absurd. It is ridiculous for someone who knows everything and is all powerful to create something that can defy him. It is a solid contradiction. It cannot happen. Either free will exists and God is not all powerful or men are not free. If we accept the latter, that all was created by an all powerful god then we have to accept that it is possible for an all powerful being to exist. Has this all powerful being always existed or did he also come into being at a certain point. If the latter, we must ask, who or what created him. This is the same question that the existance of God is supposed to have answered!

If we say that God has always existed we have to answer some pretty difficult questions about how he in fact moved from a timeless state to one where clearly all events occur in a space and time framework.

Infinity is a hard one to get grips on. But basically it is impossible for an infinite God to act at a particular time. If we look at chance and probability it is clear that given enough time, anything that can happen, will happen. For example, if there is a 1 in 1000 chance of you winning the lottery, and you enter long enough you will win. If there is an infinite amount of time then you must by definition win an infinite number of times. Thus an infinite God must have created an infinite number of universes with an infinite number of humans etc etc. That we are clearly not seeing them implies that no creation occured from an infinite realm.

Maybe then, God just happened somehow to be created from nowhere. He then set out to make a set of laws by which the basic components of his creation would interact and increasingly become more complicated and intelligent. If the rules he made were absolute and fixed then whatever happened thereafter could only have happened as it did. Everything we see right now is the only way it can be. One thing leads to the next not something else. This is known in philosophical circles as 'Determinism'.

How then can we ever judge a criminal? Surely he or she is not responsible for the crime? God created the first state and the rules by which everything happened.
This argument for everything being determined held strong until the discovery of quantum physics. For the first time we had a glimpse of a world where we could by definition not say for certain what would happen next. All the evidence in the world cannot predict with certainty the result of a particular set of circumstances. The universe, it seems, is built on a shadowy underworld of probables rather than definites.

For the first time we saw how Free Will can truly exist. And if this Free Will exists then God is clearly less and less in control as the universe becomes more complex. This would explain the rather poor success rate of prayer. In fact the hit rate is no better and often a lot worse than if the supplicants had just got on with the job with a positive attitude and good information. The number of people who are cured of cancer at Lourdes is slightly less than the cure rate for those who don't leave home. The reason is that more get killed in the journey from home to the healing waters and back.

SInce the ancient days when God(s) were directly responsible for everything from the seasons to whether it rained, the jobs of the supreme beings have got less and less. It is no coincidence that the latest attempt by the religious right to have God as creator is packaged as Íntelligent Design'. This acknowledges the fact that his sole remaining portfolio is that of merely kickstarting the whole affair. This God could have gone to sleep 15 billion years ago and not made a jot of difference to what happened.
Maybe He pops in to the office every now and again and goes though his list of prayer requests and manages to only answer a small sample. This would explain how some good happens occasionally amidst a sea of suffering. But this is a lame super power and we would be better advised to seek local solutions with predictable outcomes. God, in every sense of the word is effectively getting more and more irrelevant to man as we progress.

The other promise I made for this post was that I would recreate God. I buy into the maxim that we should never destroy anything that we cannot replace.
Well, if my argument has in any way destroyed the concept of God then I must replace it with something at least as effective. I am hoping to show how we can go for Gold here by creating an almost all powerful, all knowing, all good God......without having to resort to infinity.

Looking forwards we can at least have a concept of a future of a long long time. If we understand how evolution works we know that more complex states are always favoured over less complex. That is how life and diversity evolves.

Google was founded on the premise of being able to catalogue all the accumulated knowledge of mankind in the foreseeable future. It has made remarkable progress already. Given enough time it will approach being all-knowing. the target of theoretical and applied science is to become more and more technologically proficient. Given enough time we humans will be almost all powerful. If the trend continues for good to be selected over evil for simple reasons of survival, eventually we will live in a close to all-good society.

Given an infinite amount of time we must end up as a complex expression of a state of being all knowing, all powerful and all good. Thus will God have been created logically.

This also answers the additional problem with a created God. Anything that is created must have been made by something or someone at least as complex as its own creation. Thus a God complicated enough to create the universe had to have followed from something more complex than it.

Maybe there is a God and he or she or it is no more or less than the ultimate expression of a previous near-eternity of development. By the previous arguments, such a god could be near perfect but not altogether so. This means that if there is such a god then he or she is still capable of mistakes. Basically, just one of the boys, but when he gets it wrong, big disasters can result.

For the above long term progression to the Godhead, it is clear that we need to ensure our own long term survival. If we do not respect our environment and if we do not value science and good deeds as being essential to our survival, we will simply not be around long enough to realize our innate need to truly experience what it means to be made in the image of God and for God to be made in the image of Man.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Death! Thy Fearful lack of Symmetry!

Each morning I glide into a well honed and privileged ritual of taking a large Tea Mug emblazoned with Mr Obama's smile and a multitude of stars and stripes and my Netbook onto the verhanda perched amongst the evergrowing trees of our personal jungle. There's a morning patch of sunlight that warms my heart to noble endeavour. To this purpose I continue each day writing a chapter of a summary I am making of a book on Cosmology and Particle Physics. If this sounds a wee complex, it is...but, being an area of fascination to me I decided that the best way to get to grips and up to date with the subject is to rewrite it in my own words.

I find wonder and awe in Grand Science. My soul dances in the almost infinite space between the very huge and the teeny weeny tiny and often when I am grappling with a physical concept or mathematical process, I find myself being led down some unexpected creative lane of wonders.

So it was today. I was trying to get my head around the mathematical concepts of Symmetry and Invariance, when it occurred to me that there are metaphors a plenty in the weave of Life and Death. I have been pondering such over the last days and considering how to finding balance and inspiration in the midst of Life & Death.

Invariance and symmetry...symmetry and invariance.....the 2 are linked conceptually.

In Physics, the Symmetry of a system is the aspect of that system that remains unchanged (observed or intrinsic) when the system undergoes change.
This can be seen in a musical score which has an underlying motif that is built on, yet never changes.

My mind wondered next to a favourite word play I love.....From the Artist's Way we get 'The Art of Sway'. Again, the words change, but the underlying meaning does not.

From there I considered how 'the Art of Sway' can be related to our experience of Life and Death.

I closed my eyes and saw a tightrope walker balanced and then a circus acrobat swaying on an inverted cone. That's it! If I turn the cone to sit on its solid base I get a safe, secure and broadbased life that inexorably narrows to a pinnacle, where Life and opportunity slowly eke away.

What about inverting our lives so we start in a tiny naked singularity, a point with endless potential and risk? Then after a life of exploring and living that potential, maybe our passing can happen as part of an ongoing process of choice?

Pen and paper in hand I played around with these ideas and came up with 2 graphics of what Life can be. Then, I stuck them together and there it was! A bit of magic that came out of a patch of sunshine and a mug of tea!

Attached find my drawings....carefully re-rendered on the netbook. They look surprizingly like the story of the expanding universe...Also the magical moment of the Obama mug, bought as some kind of sypathetic magic and to celebrate my girlfriend's birthday in Washington DC.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crime doesn't pay (me)

In case you are not interested in my serious blog below on Crime in SA and Kenya, here is something to tickle all you aggressive technophiles...

The Lightwave LW-ETV-01 is a very portable TV tuner that plugs into just about anything. You can convert a VGA computer output to Composite Video and visa versa. You can take an RF aerial feed and output it as VGA or Video. This means that all you need for a carry along TV is a computer monitor and aerial! I am using it to convert my video out from our DVD player to a VGA into my PC Screen...Works like a bomb! Also processes the audio.

Now for the serious stuff!

OH NO! Not another blog about crime!!!! ARRGHH!!!

This time I have spent some energy doing good research so I cannot be accused of being another raving uninformed moaner.
I have decided to research and write again on the topic as I am now sick and tired of trying to explain to (1) South Africans that Nairobi is not a dangerous place to be and (2) to Kenyans and especially expats that South Africa IS a dengerous place to be.

I also hope to make it very clear that Crime has no intrinsic relationship to either Poverty or Ethnicity.

Finally I hope to prove that my statement that SA is 1000% more dangerous than Kenya is WRONG! (Sure enough, it is wrong!)


I have this little screen that pops up on my laptop whenever there is a news update from the South African Press Association.
This morning my eye caught the headline: Crime in SA not linked to poverty.

Ah! I thought, this is just what i was looking for. Yesterday the local Nairobi Security Firm KK came around to check our panic remotes. Having not switched on the alarm in months and living in what is for all purposes a crime free envronment in Nairobi, we had also lost the remotes. Whilst searching I had a chat with the technician. He was fascinated to hear from me about how safe I found Nairobi compared to South Africa. I has a similar conversation a fortnight ago, with an Italian expat friend who was equally aghast at my claims of Nairobi being safe. No, she said, but we have been warned by our United Nations friends not to go out after dark and to drive with an escort at night.
So, what is the truth? Is Nairobi and Kenya safe? or am I imagining things? Am I wrong to tell people that South Africa is 1000% more dangerous than Kenya?
Are my partner and I being reckless by going running in the evening?

Personal experience is one way to measure the truth. We live in a wooded suburb called Westlands. A new survey shows that this is the area with the highest crime rate, higher than many poorer suburbs.
We have been here 3 years, much of the time my partner has lived alone in a fairly large home in a street with no lamps. We have a resident helper but he is not always at the house and does not perform askari or security duties. When we first arrived we asked him what kind of crime was common in the area. he said he was unable to answer as he knew of no crime in the 2 years he had been on the property.
Despite leaving bicycles and washing and garden furniture out unlocked we have never lost anything. This is a virtual impossibility in South Africa.

Most evenings, my partner takes her laptop, bag and cellphone and in full sight, walks 4 block across the centre of downtown to get her car. In 3 years she has never even exerienced an aggressive moment.
She has had a cell phone snatched from the open car window in a busy intersection, but this is a far cry from the 4 times it happened in about a year in SA.

But really, these are all anecdotal. I was telling such stories at a hotel dinner one evening. An English traveller said that I was exagerating as she had walked from her hotel in Johannesburg to the market down the road and had not been robbed.
Lucky girl, I thought.

So, to quell the confusion let's look at the numbers.

After I read the report that shows how SA crime is not linked at all to poverty, I decided to have a look at all the crime reports on the news website called News 24. (

I looked ath a summary of crime reports from the beginning of this year, particularly February 2010. As I read I bemame fascinate and horrified at the story I was presented with and decided to cpy and paste the various reports to a word document. After an hour I relaized that I was almost ujable to copy them as fast as the new reports were coming in!
Here are some of the stats:
I copied over 210 stories on crime.
130 of these were about homicide, murder, rape, violent assault,violent hijackings, ritual killings, witchcraft murders or police violence.
9 were fraud related.
4 dealt with a single story of a drunk taximan who loaded 49 kids into a 16 seater.
3 were about illegal drug plantations.
3 described student unrest
9 were about fraud
18 told the ongoing story of the SA minister of Safety and Security's wife who has been arrested for international drug smuggling.
47 were assorted crime reports.

Best of lot are:

At least 10 of the violent murder cases are linked to policemen, many of who were on duty at the time. The shooting of an Egyptian Trader in Jhb was allegedly by a squad car policeman on duty who robbed him of R150! (KES1500).
4 million Rands worth of jewelry stolen from University in Cape Town design department. Clearly an inside job as no loacks were forced. One person has failed the Lie Detector test.
The majority of items that were killed for are cell phones and in one case, a bed.

Particularly disturbing were several cases of pure cruelty. A 10 yr old girl was hung by her neck and then the stool under her kicked out during a house robbery.
A young girl was forced off the road, made to draw all the money from her ATM account and then thrown off a high motorway bridge. She fell more than 200 feet, landed in soft river sand and survived.
A male shopper was approached at lunch time in the car park of a major upmarket mall. He was forced into his car at gunpoint, taken to the bush, beaten and left for dead.
3 old age pensioners have been brutally murdered and raped in their retirement homes.
3 boys have been charged with rape of a 4 year old toddler. They are 5, 6 and 7 years old.
One of South Africa's premiere casinos, Sun City, is robbed by 5 men with guns who drive in, take the money and drive out.
Did I mention the teachers selling ephedrine and the pastor who raped a woman who came to him for marital advice...after asking the husband to leave the room?

But hold on! I'm still telling stories. Let's see the hard figures. I have compared 2008 stats from the SA and Kenyan police records. Whilst we all know that there is a tendency for negative stats to be massaged, the incredible disparity between SA and Kenya more than absorbs any significant inaccuracies.
See for yourself.

2008 Crime Stats.

Note: the restaurant attacks are since January 2010 and only include RASA (Restaurant Assoc. os SA) members)

The populations of KE and SA are 38.5 million and 48.5 million resp.
Based on the above figures the chances of being involved in a serious and violent crime in the 2 countries are as follows:
KE: 1 in 15000
SA: 1 in 500

There you have it: It is 30 times safer in Kenya than SA. That is 3000%. I was wrong! I have been telling people it is 1000%!

Are you convinced? Still want to go to SA for that luxury holiday? Think twice before you leave wonderful, friendly, peaceful, slightly chaotic Kenya.


Some useful links and references:

- (SA crime reports)
- (original report on Crime and Poverty - see summary below.)
- (USA advisory for travellors which I find accurate)
- (2001 New York Times article on Crime in Nairobi)

The last link shows how the crime situation in Kenya has been totally reversed. However, the reputation of Nairobi as being crime ridden continues with little effort to commend the Kenyan authorities for their success in this regard. the major guide books including The Lonely Planet continue to call Nairobi 'Nairobbery'. This is an indictment on their credibility.

Quote from New York Times Thursday November 29, 2001

"U.N. Study Shows Nairobi Is A Hotbed Of Crime

A U.N. Center for Human Settlements study released yesterday in Nairobi reveals that more than one-third of the city's residents were forcefully robbed in the course of the last year, half of residents regularly hear gunfire and the use of guns and knives is widespread. In addition, many crimes go unreported, and 98 percent of Nairobi residents polled said they believe the police system is corrupt.

The United Nations had already noted the precarious security conditions in the city in January, when it downgraded Nairobi's security status from B to C, ranking it more dangerous than Bogota or Beirut. Authors of the study concluded that Nairobi is as dangerous as Johannesburg, South Africa, where violence is a regular occurrence. The study says many criminals in Nairobi, lulled by an atmosphere of impunity, are no longer afraid of being caught or punished.

The situation has apparently become so serious that the local authorities have called on the United Nations to help combat the crime problem. Even if the face of such dramatic statistics, however, many Kenyan officials are reluctant to face up to the serious degree of crime and corruption in Nairobi. "I don't think that is a very serious problem," police spokesman Peter Kimanthi said of corruption. "We have some officers who may be thinking of actually taking bribes, but that is a small minority. The police are doing very well" (Marc Lacey, New York Times, Nov. 29)."


The final quote is from the report that got my attention in the first place:

Crime not linked to poverty
2010-02-08 13:01

Johannesburg - High levels of violent crime were not linked to poverty levels in municipalities across the country, a SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) study has found.

In a statement on Monday, the SAIRR said Eastern Cape municipalities had the highest murder rate, 54 murders per 100 000 people, and a poverty rate of 62%.

Limpopo municipalities, however, recorded the lowest murder rate but also had a poverty rate of 62%.

The findings form part of a local government study which assessed 80 indicators from each of the 52 metropolitan and district municipalities.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Revenge of the New York Ants

This week Nairobi took over from New York as my favourite city.

After attending a lively debate on the role of Science in the modern world, I decided that Africa is without doubt the land of innovation.

We were introduced to a young man who had made a wind generator entirely out cardboard and old car parts and is now making a good living charging the village cell phones.

But the best was yet to come! This week a veteran South African inventor designed and built the prototype antproof cat feeder. Mr Colin (CD) Jackson, of Durban claimed in his global facebook launch that 'soon I will be mass producing these - no household can be without one!'

In a response more typical of someone from Silicon Valley, New York innovations and design maestro, Nigel Scott-Williams, poured a chilled bottle of Chateau Lafite 1787 on Mr Jackson's enthusiasm with his comment, "Don't you guys in SA know how to TRAIN ants? (both to behave and where not to walk). We have Ant schools."
Undaunted, it is believed that Mr Jackson has forwarded his prototype to be included at the prestigious Architectural Digest Home Design Show, opening March 10th, New York City.
A Google Earth image taken on the day the device arrived in New York has appeared on Flickr.
The writer of this blog is in no way responsible for this underhand exposing of Mr Jackson and will personally apologise to him in New York, when I launch my spectacular quadra-vision eyeglasses - 'The ultimate accessory for the man with foresight.'

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Rusinga Run

East Africa is full of amazingly accessible and safe nooks and crannies to get lost in....and have an adventure at the same's but one..

My return flight to South Africa was booked last Saturday the 24th January. I clean forgot about it. Clearly there's something about Kenya that is controlling where I want to be.

How do I explain the ever present feeling of relaxation I have here. How can I let the doubters feel the incredible sense of personal safety? How do I communicate the warm and constant welcomes we get from ordinary folk every day here?

On the 1st January 2010, my partner, Ida, and I headed 450km inland to Lake Victoria. Ida had previously spent a few days at the Rusinga Island Lodge and while there ran around the island. She was keen to share this experience with me (and I was keen to see the Rusinga Airstrip which I had flown into in my simulated life.)

I filmed some of the moments of our journey there and then some of Ida's repeat half marathon. Needless to say, the cameraman also ran the distance!

21km exactly....Kirsty, the lodge manager, wants to initiate a Rusinga Island Triathlon....

Here are some tasty images from Rusinga.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Direct from Wikipedia:

"In the summer of 2000, Casey Kelbaugh invited about fifty of his friends, all engaged in various creative endeavors, for a combination slideshow and potluck in his backyard on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Kelbaugh received positive feedback from his friends about the opportunity to share artwork and food in a relaxed and spirited setting, and began to hold repeat events under the name Slideluck Potshow. Over the course of the next three years, Kelbaugh produced twenty shows all over Seattle in galleries, backyards, and artists' lofts. In the fall of 2003, Kelbaugh relocated to New York and shortly thereafter teamed up with Alys Kenny. Together, they produced the first New York show in Kelbaugh's East Village apartment. The turnout far exceeded expectations and it was clear that there was an immediate demand for egalitarian, community-building gatherings such as SLPS. Kelbaugh and Kenny began producing three shows a year, all over Manhattan, and the popularity grew. Within four years, attendance had grown from 120 per event to 1200. In 2006, SLPS began getting requests to bring this model to other communities outside of New York and Seattle. The first show of this kind took place in Washington, DC. Soon after, there were shows in Los Angeles, Columbus, San Francisco, Portland, OR, Chicago, Anne Arbor, Detroit, and elsewhere [2]. In the Spring of 2007, Kelbaugh and Kenny traveled to Europe to launch in London, Madrid, Milan, Copenhagen, Berlin and later Seville.
The following year, they returned to launch in Rome, Barcelona, and Stockholm. In the Spring of 2008, SLPS launched in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá, Venezuela, Panama and Mexico. Slideluck Potshow is currently developing shows across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, North and South America."

Direct from my Cranium...

It had to have started somewhere and it had to have been exactly like our own homespun movie and pasta group. So what turned Slideluckpotshow into a global phenomenon?
Could it be that having started in Seattle and, fuelled by a let's do it attitude, it really kicked off once the creator, advertizing and multimedia fundi, Casey Kelbaugh, moved to New York? Can it really work anywhere? Judging by last Saturday night, I think so!
10 years down the line and over 50 cities worldwide, with a wiki page of its own and well talked about in all the right publications, SlideLuck PotShow is now in Nairobi. On Saturday, the 16th January 2010 it opened with a glitsy coming together at the even glitsier Tribe Hotel. The Tribe is so well positioned (physically and classwise) that it can afford to hide behind a shopping mall in close proximity to the local United Nations and US embassy enclave. The closest I can get to the feeling I had in this monument to the New World in Africa is to say that it has all the pretentious grandeur of Sun City in South Africa and is seemingly filled with folk who successfully pursue illusions for happiness.

What better an illusory experience than a larger than life slide show next to a bluer than reality pool under a controlled environment so utterly manmade that clearly even the chance of rain had been officially negated. That said, the space decidedly worked in favour of SLPS. The word had clearly spread to the not often seen downtown artistes and creative conversationalists of Nairobi who arrived like relief flights in Port au Prince to strut their auras and earrings on the narrow pass between blue pool and the earlier arrivees.

92% of the submissions were from local artists and given the 48 hours from close of entry it is clear that the vetting process continued long into the nights leading up to the inevitable last minute techno-hitches. But it was the succesful informality of the idea behind the event that made the hiccups and delays totally part of the weave and simply allowed more drinks to flow and connections made.

The deal is that if you bring a dish (make it creative!) the small $5 entry is waived. The hotel (bless them for their vision) made up the food balance and .... well, made up on the drinks prices with a beer, wine and orange juice coming in at $10.

What clearly makes this recipe work is the potluck part. Not that anyone apart from South Africans and Americans seem to know the term. However, in a kind of you-don't-know-what-you-are-going-to-get but at least 'you will be seen by anyone who is anyone in town', it works and attracts all the right folk and more visual material than can be used.

I am sure that they have never failed to fill the standard 90 minute visual program - 45 per half with the first half of the evening for food and people.

The Nairobi offerings came in a supremely mixed dish. From frivilous fashion to hard core photojournalism with grim reminders of our neighbours in Mogadishu and recent Post Election Violence (Boniface Mwangi).
The fashionista strutted their bodies and wares with images of maasai children on Cessna wings balanced by starkly familiar East African landscapes.
That young, emerging photographers could share a grand platform with internationally acclaimed photo-heroes like Mo Amin is the secret of SLPS's future. The exposure is heavyweight enough for the big shots yet accessible to the little uns.

Pure graphic work was splashed over the big screen and a Maasai blood drinking ritual made comediesqe. But it was the powerful narratives from South African Photographer xxxx that hit the hardest - a reminder of what us expat South Africans have left behind. The power of this photo-essay on child abduction and abuse recalled for me how relatively benign and crime free Nairobi is.

In the car going home we gave a ride to a mother and daughter from Italy who quizzed us on our feelings about the city and safety. They had been told not to venture out as Nairobi was too dangerous. On the way home our new friend, with a keen eye, commented on the sight of unattended roadside craft and flower-selling venues, clearly left in safety.

Passing through the Westlands night life we were tumbled back into reality with an almost impossible attempt to negotiate a traffic jam on a 4 way stop. Several taxis had simply stopped in the middle waiting for business and with ' no giving way' being the norm here it was like a Champs de Lise special. I popped out the car to photograph such a phenomenon. A security guard ran up and admonished me to which I told him that I had every right in the world to take photos. He then asked what I was going to give him. I pointed at some very smart cars full of local revellers and suggested he rather beg off the wealthy. Clearly he knew that was a non-starter. I had barely finished confusing him when an angry driver asked my why I was taking photographs.
"Because", I replied, " I am a photographer, "What are you?"

That was the first and only moment of real aggression I have experienced in 3 years in Kenya.

Losing myself in the luck of a not so potless slideshow was well worth braving Nairobi by night. We will time bearing more than food!