Thursday, February 23, 2006

Turn out the light, bolt the door 

Cape Town is dark. Well part of the time anyway. Thanks to someone leaving a bolt in the reactor (or something very similar) when they repaired it, one of the nuclear reactors is down. The other reactor can't cope. The western cape's power comes from a nuclear power station just north of the city. One of the many angry letters to the local paper claimed that it is built to the same design as Chernobyl, which is a bit worrying, given the standard of maintenance they seem to apply.

Anyway, the net result is that we now have rolling blackouts, or "load shedding" as Eskom calls it. For 2 to 5 hours at a time, every day, often twice a day. One can imagine the consequences. For a start, the cellphone companies will see a spike in calls and revenue as office switchboards shut down during business hours. The hospitals will see an increase in food poisoning from defrosted food and victims of car crashes caused by traffic light failures. Business will lose a fortune as people sit around in the dark, or don't show up. Fire stations will see increased business thanks to blazes from candles and gas cooking. There will be a mini crime wave as alarms and electric fences shut down. And bloggers will find that their network connection dies in the middle of typing a post.

Imagine you were thinking of investing in South Africa, or were here on holiday, and discover that the power company cannot predict or cope with demand. We wonder why foreign investment is low, but we can't keep the lights on. My bet: the directors of Eskom will receive huge Christmas bonuses for the great job they did managing the crisis. A crisis of their making. Anyone know where I can buy a generator? Or some candles?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Space hardware 

I had a bit of a dilemma this weekend. My son, soon to turn 6, has been playing what he calls “Lego Star Wars” on the Playstation belonging to his friend’s big brother. I have no idea whether this Lego thing is some kind of joint marketing campaign, or some misunderstanding on my part, but the Playstation bit explains why he thinks everyone comes back from the dead. Anyway, having seen the game, he now wants – as no doubt Sir George intended – to see the movies. Off we went to the video store. Here comes the dilemma. Do I submit to the Episode 1 to 6 bollocks that Lucas foisted on us, and start with the 4th one, or do I take him through them in the order that the rest of us saw them?

On the side of the first option is that the story probably makes a bit more sense in the right order – no sense is making the convolutions any worse. On the side of the second is that if I show him ‘Episode One’ first, he might be put off for life by the wooden acting and Jar Jar Binks. Quite how you can take a cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and – ahem – Samuel L Jackson, and turn out acting that looks like actuaries on am-dram night is one of the mysteries of the galaxy far, far away. When you have to read out the portentously scrolling titles and the alien dialogue to your 5 year old, you realise just how bad it sounds out loud. Harrison Ford was spot one: you can write this crap, George, but you can’t say it.

So, we went for Episode One, which seemed to work, since he knew all about the droid fighting and the pod racing, ate breakfast during the pseudo-political bits, and is still convinced that Liam Neeson – Gunga Din or whatever he’s called – will be back for the next one. He likes the kid, so he’s going to be gutted about Darth Vader, but he’s going to be dead chuffed when Obi-Wan does come back from the dead. At least he’ll understand Star Wars pop culture references. Next we’ll have to hire Ghostbusters so he can figure out why I keep telling him not to cross the streams when we’re sharing a toilet bowl.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hooray, hooray 

I love this country! Local elections on the 1st of March - you know the kind of thing. Only the local politicians are interested and only their immediate family bothers to vote. You typically get a level of turnout that would make a bisexual Muslim punk in Texas look popular.

Anyway, there are clearly certain forces at play. One: the ANC is in power. In a big way. Two: unlike a national election, there is a possibility that the ANC may lose some bits of the country because South Africa is anything but homogeneous. Put simply, all the Zulus are in Durban and all the coloured population is in Cape Town. This means that the Inkatha Freedom Party might win in Durban and the Democratic Alliance might win in Cape Town.

Durban is a fair fight, but in Cape Town, there are broadly three kinds of voters: black, white, and coloured. The white will vote DA, the blacks will vote ANC, and the coloureds will split, tending towards the DA because they are disgruntled at not being black enough, having spent 40 years not being white enough. Roughly speaking, the potential DA voters are richer than the ANC ones, so are more likely to have cars to get to polling stations, and enough control over their working lives to find the time. Problem. Solution: declare the 1st of March a public holiday for this year.

The happy coincidence (and it is a coincidence, unlike with tube strikes) is that it's summer, so we can all go and not vote at the beach. I love this country!

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