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?







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 discoveries...as 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 ├Źntelligent 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)

GADGET OF THE WEEK!
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!)

HERE GOES!

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. (http://www.news24.com/Tags/Topics/crime).

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:

- http://www.news24.com/Tags/Topics/crime (SA crime reports)
- http://www.news24.com/Content/SouthAfrica/News/1059/be9f0c947b20474c810049df9e8fe27b/08-02-2010-01-01/Crime_not_linked_to_poverty (original report on Crime and Poverty - see summary below.)
- http://www.osac.gov/Reports/report.cfm?contentID=81370 (USA advisory for travellors which I find accurate)
- http://www.unwire.org/unwire/20011129/22199_story.asp (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)."

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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 News24.com

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.'