Friday, November 23, 2018

Response to Pierre de Vos article on Discovery Bank's racist share scheme

This is a response I wrote to a Pierre de Vos article defending Discovery's scheme. Unfortunately the Biznews mods haven't approved my post. Maybe it isn't ragebaitey enough?

Pierre, I think I can answer your first question. The reason so few people who hold one set of views but not another that superficially resembles those, is that different principles are at work. None of these people are denying that race or other foci of identities exist. What they/we object to is codifying the mere existence of those foci into inequality before the law. I think you simply misinterpret an admittedly sometimes poorly expressed objection: we oppose race-based redress measure not literally "because it requires racial classification", but because of what use that classification undeniably is intended to be put to: creating inequality of opportunity, by treating people differently before the law.

Maybe I misunderstand what you mean by "construct" or "anything essential", but I believe you are mistaken to say that race, gender, or sexual orientation are "constructs and do not say anything essential about who we are as individuals". Or at least, they are not only constructs. What is a construct is how much these categories should matter in various contexts.

On to the meat of your article: you are a constitutional law expert and I am not, so obviously I must defer to your legal analysis. But I need not defer to your moral analysis. What you have convinced me of with this article is not that Discovery's share scheme is just, but that SA's constitution as written (or maybe only as interpreted in the tests it has been put to?) is contaminated by ideas I want as far away from me as possible. I used to think that the constitution is "basically okay, in no need of repair or other tinkering", but now my view is changed, if it (or maybe rather its interpretation) approves of the unequal treatment before the law of people based only on superficial identity differences. Andile Ramaphosa (Cyril's eldest son) must be in the top 100 of privileged people in this country, but merely because he is black he should attract even more privileges wherever he goes, being able to step into jobs or win tenders or pursue academic qualifications, opportunities which are closed to me merely because my skin is white, even though my net worth is maybe a thousandth of Andile's? If you cannot see that this is obviously not right, then I don't know how to persuade you. Perhaps you will point out that the "overwhelming majority" of prospective Discovery Bank clients are not Andile Ramaphosas. But how exactly are Andile, and more broadly black members of the middle and upper class, discriminated against today? Which opportunities are denied to them because they are black? Where are they denied respect in ways that giving them free shares will remedy? How does this compare to the opportunities denied to white youngsters born after 1994, who get told they are "not demographically representative" and can't have this job / can't go to medical school / can't win a tender?

Perhaps I should leave my disagreement here: "You do not have to show that the scheme is necessary to achieve the redress goal, but only that the measure must be reasonably capable of achieving the desired outcome of redress." I wonder if it may turn out that Discovery know something about black consumers' financial habits that they can't afford to talk about publicly. Something that, were it more widely known (or admitted), would undermine the condition that this scheme be "reasonably capable of achieving the desired outcome." Time will tell, but don't say I didn't warn you if in 5 years you squawk about Discovery "oppressing" its black customers through higher interest rates on loans or something like that. Without ever explicitly having to base that credit decision on race.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Ways the City of Cape Town lies to you: registering off-grid solar power systems

Lately the City of Cape Town is driving me up the wall with its intellectually dishonest defenses of its increasingly invasive regulations. I suspect this is in no small part due to the Democratic Alliance's strong results in the last few local elections. They simply don't feel that they need the consent of the governed, so they make up whatever regulations and bureaucracy-serving edicts they see fit, with little to fear from a captive ANC-phobic electorate. They cynically wield this fear (largely justified, but prostating ourselves to the DA is not the only way to protect ourselves from ANC predation) as a weapon - a thought-terminating cliche.

My criticism in this post is centered on the front page article of the Constantia Bulletin, 19 July 2018, by Karen Watkins. As usual, this Watkins article reads like a press release from whomever she was interviewing. Exactly zero probing and challenging of rationales, barely even lip service to counter-arguments. This would no doubt be different if the article were about some pseudo-scientific BS like "electromagnetic hypersensitivity".
  1. Presumably quoting Xanthea Limberg, Watkins writes that "off-grid systems, or systems not connected to the grid directly or indirectly through a building's internal wiring, such as a solar-powered pool pump, must still register with the City so that they are not mistaken for an unauthorised SSEG installation".

    My response: not being mistaken for an unauthorised SSEG installation does not constitute a reason to force residents to register such systems. In our legal system, we are generally presumed innocent until proven guilty. Under that principle, a couple of solar panels on someone's roof should be presumed to not be an unauthorised SSEG installation until proven otherwise.

    In fact there's a very large class of households that the city must realise cannot be the home of an unauthorised SSEG installation: all those with prepaid meters. Prepaid meters are (or were, at least, when they were a new thing) designed specifically not to allow reverse power feeding: they do not allow power to flow from someone's rooftop PV installation onto the City's distribution grid. That's one very easy way to eliminate many cases of "mistaken for an unauthorised SSEG installation".
  2. "Ms Limberg urged people to register their systems for the safety of occupants and City staff, for grid stability and quality, the legal risk and grid cost."

    Bullshit, Ms Limberg: a solar power system that is not connected to the grid does not endanger City staff at all - that's inherently what "not connected to the grid" means. The safety of occupants is a valid concern, but maybe that should be up to the occupants to negotiate with the property owner? And who says there even are occupants besides the owner or the person who installed the oh-so-scary photovoltaic panels?

    Registering generating systems also has zero effect on grid stability and quality. Registering only creates a paper trail; it doesn't move electrons around in an electricity grid. Besides, we're talking about systems that are not connected to the grid!
  3. "Dr De Decker said the City could readily see transgressors on aerial maps and could check the address to see if owners had the necessary approval."

    Maybe just bad journalism from Watkins, because Dr De Decker is a system installer and has a commercial incentive to scare people into engaging their services. If instead this is a true reflection of the City's intentions, I would be very curious to know if such action would constitute a legal search. Spying on us like this, which is ostensibly justified to produce maps, but more recently also to inform municipal rates valuations, sans any concrete suspicion of wrongdoing, does not feel like justice. It feels like enduring the Stasi of East Germany.
  4. "Dr De Decker said ... She explained that if several houses were generating and using solar power and a cloud passed overhead, there was a resultant surge of electricity demand on the City's power. The City has to make provision for this as it puts pressure on the electrical transformer in the area."

    What nonsense is this? The Sun shines best at noon, which is nowhere near the morning and evening demand peaks which do stress the electrical infrastructure. And at worst, the full demand of these houses suddenly appears on the grid, just as it would in the absense of solar power and for which the electrical infrastructure is sized anyway. This sounds just like the thought-terminating cliches that I expect from a municipality, so I have to wonder if Dr De Decker is simply repeating City materials.

    If anyone incurs problems from sudden fluctuations in load, it is Eskom. I fail to see how City-owned infrastructure suffers from such fluctuations. And in any case, most solar power systems I've seen come with a storage system: a bank of batteries, that can certainly absorb the miniscule load variance that a cloud passing in front of the Sun would cause.
  5. "There is currently no fee for registration itself" HAHAHAHA and I have a bridge I'd like to sell you, it goes all the way to the moon you see, if you believe that there won't be a fee in future, once people are registered and captive to the City's predations.
David Lipschitz, apparently the only person not bought into his own lies in this story, "believes this new legislative requirement will drive more people away from providing electricity for themselves and, worse, it will drive away a massive opportunity for homeowners and business owners to put in bigger systems than they need so they can supply excess electricity into the grid, day and night." Indeed. Just finding out about this requirement today has made me lose interest in installing any solar panels on my roof. Luckily I've barely spent any money on supplies so far.

But I'll have my petty revenge. From now on, when I turn on my water heater so that I can shower in superarctic temperature, I will do it when it is least convenient for the City's "grid stability" pseudo-concern: at 7am or at 7pm.

Friday, May 4, 2018

My objection to the City of Cape Town's proposed budget changes

I just sent this objection to the City via's one-stop whinging interface:

The City's "ideas" for plugging its funding hole are going from bad (drought levy) to worse (meter fees). Not to mention arbitrary and irrational.

Water meter fee: It is arbitrary, irrational, and unjust to charge residents for the historical accident of what size connection was used (typically decades ago) to connect the property to its water meter. The proposed fees are far in excess of any reasonable "cost of capital" considerations. To me it seems fair to apply "punitive" usage-based increases to water usage: what happened to the "user pays" principle we usually hear so much about?

At some point the City must consider asking the "poor" (poverty is not binary) to pay a little more too. It is not fair to ask me to pay R150+/month for 1-2 kiloliters/month when people defined as "poor" merely by the value of the property they live in pay zero for up to 6 kiloliters/month. This is not an "anti-poor" sentiment (I am "poor" too by the income metric) - there is nuance and a middle ground here.

Electricity meter fees: Similar objection to the water meter fee. Charges should be usage-based, not existence-based. The already progressive property rates should be considered to already incorporate costs of maintaining infrastructure such as electricity distribution networks. If this bogus fee gets passed, I will see an effective 250% increase in my average monthly cost of electricity over the last two years. Just the meter fee alone exceeds what I was paying on average (based on actual usage, not the City's bogus "average" based on selectively tallying purchases) a year or two ago. Do I have to sell my home and register as indigent (which I would qualify for except for my home's valuation) to get the City to stop financially abusing me?

Like everything I do, I left this to the last day. If you see this in time, please support Cape Town residents' push against the City's abusive budget proposals. Send your own objection, perhaps inspired by some points you agree with in other objections, either via dearcapetown's one-stop shop or by directly emailing the City.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pelican 22 engine run

This last Saturday I went to Air Force Base Ysterplaat to attend an amateur radio club meeting. Before the meeting the museum unit hauled out the last airworthy Avro Shackleton for an engine run. This thing just barely fits in the hangar; it clears the steel pillars by less than a meter on each side.

I remember seeing this plane (and/or others of its type) flying during airshows, and I think I've even seen it depart for or arrive from its former maritime patrol missions.

The engines seemed to have some trouble starting, but they did eventually all get up to speed. Engine #1 in particular really didn't want to get out of bed, but the crew persisted and eventually it ran on its own power, although it seemed then to run significantly faster than the others before the cockpit crew did something and brought it back to a similar speed as the others. One of the volunteers keeping this thing alive mentioned something about "over-revving", so I hope the engine didn't take any damage from this run. He also confirmed my suspicion that the engines weren't doing so well, and explained that that was why they cut the engine run short. (I was at a similar engine run in 2014, which seemed to last much longer than the 10 minutes here.)

I hope this wasn't Pelican 22's last engine run.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fire in a dam

I always enjoy the drive from Cape Town to Worcester via Villiersdorp, although it is a bit longer, so I don't go that way often when I visit my dad. About halfway is the Theewaterskloof Dam, that I remember being completed to some fanfare when I was a child. Wikipedia says 1980, so what I remember is probably the post-completion Nationalist euphoria.

On one trip in September 2010, I remember it as a gloomy, overcast day, I noticed something odd while driving past the dam:

There's a stand of dead tree stumps still standing in the dam (I could have sworn there was; I can't find it in satellite pics), and seeing one aflame right in the dam was quite bizarre. I wonder if the fire started when a lightning bolt hit the stump, or if it was a human-made fire.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A scorpion

Back in September 2010 I once hiked up Lion's Head with Sonja and Aleks in the evening (but apparently nowhere near full moon??) and on our way down I spotted a scorpion on the footpath.

I think it was the first one I'd seen in 20 years, and it was a glorious one. About as textbook an exemplar as I could hope to see. According to some pub wisdom it might have been a non-venomous one, judging by its large pincers and relatively small tail. (I wouldn't stake my life on pub wisdoms, though.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book review: The Rules of Dating

About a decade ago I bought this book - it seemed interesting. It's definitely been food for thought, and while my first impression was that it seemed like mostly good advice, over time my opinion has reversed and I now consider it the memetic equivalent of eating glass shards.

Many of my current thoughts are expressed in a reddit thread about a "modernized" edition of the book.

Overall I now think that the book contains kernels of truth, but its message gets terribly corrupted by the time it gets put into practice. There's also a sampling issue: I don't yet know what it is about this book, but it seems to positively attract unempathic users as its readers / practitioners. Wherever I've found fora where women focus on this book, I've found a vast majority of them to be deeply broken people. Sometimes they're broken in an innocent kind of way - they're hurting, and they're trying to find a way not to hurt, and they find themselves there. But to me the majority seem to be broken in a way that telegraphs misanthropy / misandry / psychopathy - a danger to others, if not always actively evil. This book should rather be taken from shelves and burned, lest it be the instrument of more people getting fucked over. As for the redeeming kernels of truth in the book - well we'll just have to find some other way to teach those truths. This book isn't it.

My most serious concrete concern about this book is that it seems to encourage women to think of and actually treat the men they date, and claim to want to marry, as relationship objects. I don't think the more darkly dysfunctional fans of the book really see men in general, and the men they date in particulat, as persons, people with feelings and needs and desires of their own. Instead these men are just objects to be used to check that "Married" checkbox, to fill that dark hole in their souls, and to reassure themselves that they're desireable.

As for all the tactical advice, taken merely at face value? That's probably not the worst part of this book. Having a life is indeed a good thing (and a little bit of faking it till you make it is forgiveable - but don't be just a fake!) as is communicating in moderation (but maybe not to the point of observing radio silence). I think there's a point that wants to come out of the book, but nobody really addresses it properly anywhere: training people (men, in this case) to treat you well. It's fine to "punish" people when they treat you badly, but don't forget to also reward them when they treat you well! I think this latter point tends to escape most Rules fans. Even though the book itself hints at it in its advice on how to act after the Rules Girl has gotten herself a husband. But I think reward should be applied more liberally than just as a treat for performing the grand trick of marrying the girl.

TL;DR: burn this book.