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Cape Town

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All the Zimbabweans I've spoken to in the last few days have been positive/hopeful in general. It seems that it is less a coup against Mugabe than his wife Grace and her G40 faction - this could better be considered an internal power struggle within the ruling party. Furthermore, whatever happens it looks like Mugabe will be the one to "make the decision" - for better or for worse the man is unassaible in his individual capacity.

Situation on the ground seems calm but probably very tense. As to whether things will be better, I think the best outcome will be had if fresh elections are called soon. Will have to wait and see.

Thinking about this a bit more I feel it highlights something that I've been struggling to make sense of - complexity. Our first tendency is to try and look for simple explanations which can boil down an event or thing such that we draw some conclusion from it. It's becoming increasingly clear to me that almost any problem which is an important problem is probably a wicked problem. One with multiple layers of complexity that take a lot of work and understanding to peel back.

(That's one of the things I wanted to do with these posts - start to peel back at least some of those layers to see what can be learned in looking at far-away issues with a bit more context than usual.)

The trouble with grappling with complexity is that it gets paralysing after a while - my work is in trying to make mining do better and it's a daily struggle to convince myself that I can even make a difference. Trying to imagine solutions to or even causes of internecine political conflict on the other side of the country is even harder.

How do we manage actually understanding problems on a fundamental level without becoming swamped by the complexity of it? For now I'm taking the route of digging deeper where I can - maybe there is light somewhere down at the bottom...

I'll be honest and say that politically motivated killings are not something I know much about, at least in terms of getting below the surface. Certainly in the past it was much worse, even with the "rule of law" associated with an iron fist minority government and pliable Bantustan leaders.

The proximal cause is essentially political infighting and maneuvering by internal ANC factions. Why it can happen in the face of laws and democracy? More difficult. On the one hand it's clear that the police don't actually have the power/resources to prevent this kind of thing happening. But on a deeper level, and in line with what I was saying above, the situation (or more accurately, the system) on the ground has not really changed much since the IFP/ANC/Third force "war" in the 80's and 90's. I guess what I'm saying is that the rule of legitimate law can hardly break down if it was never built up to begin with.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: The Two Americas

Thanks for this.

I think the ideas she puts out here do not necessarily only apply to America - exceptionalist thinking is probably what defines the border between nationalism and patriotism. I abhor it for its tendency to need an us and a them - to know others only by analogy.

I see nationalism as a blind identity-driven thing that will only work in the most trivial of cases and definitely doesn't translate to the globalised world we have today: Neville Alexander wrote a whole book about the national question in South Africa. His thesis was essentially that every historical attempt to define the nation was doomed to failure because they ultimately rely on a flawed definition of what it must be. I don't think the question has actually been answered yet: "What is a South African?" has not been settled. Where exceptionalism comes in is that it makes you think that at least you know what a South African is not. Africa, but not that Africa, right?

In that way I'd like to imagine a different kind of feeling (patriotism?) that is more focused on doing the things that are good for all mankind, but just doing them in the place where you happen to be and which so intangibly forms your identity. Not really sure about this but it's a thought. It's probably more pragmatism than anything else.

In any case, I think the takeaway from the article should not be a narrow realisation of "America's other reputation abroad" but more about the introspective elements to it - trying to imagine a different way of locating yourself in the world. I actually think there's something profound hidden here but I haven't been able to crack it.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: July 26, 2017

Thirsty is a good word.

The Cederberg is equally stunning in its own way. We stayed on a farm there on the way down and were quite excited to check out the prehistoric Khoisan rock art they apparently had.

Turns out the previous guests who stayed there had chiselled it out of the rock face and taken it with them... utterly mind-bending. This stuff is sometimes thousands of years old...

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: July 26, 2017

Trip report

Went on a road trip with the family through South Africa's closest relative of the Empty Quarter, the Northern Cape. It's both the biggest and least populated province and the landscapes are beautiful in their brutality.

The journey started driving up through the Tankwa Karoo, where the SA version of Burning Man takes place.

According to the people on the other end, only an act of God saved us from a flat tire on the shale dirt road where donkey carts are a serious form of transport. We stopped over in Calvinia, where my great uncle used to run the show with a massive sheep farm, on the other side of those yonder mountains:

He sold it when he retired (at 70-odd) but apparently couldn't stop the itch so promptly started farming again further south. Go figure. Passed through a bunch of frontier towns that have all seen better days and could use a bit of hope. We slept over on the banks of the Orange river, in between the table grape farms which jut out into the arid veld. Most of the crop is destined for Europe and the US east coast.

Next day we were on the last leg of our Kalahari anabasis. Remarkably, it rained on the way. At some point the geography changed and we started to drive through the dune veld - where the sand has been grown over and stops shifting. It creates an interesting effect where you get to glimpse into one "dune row" after the other as the road cuts through. Maybe one will have a bird or some meerkats, or a wind pump. And then just grass and acacia forever, as far as I can tell.

The last 60km were along the most harrowing dirt road I've ever been on. Saw a dead kudu along the way which means someone fucked up - they go for $3000.

I thought I'd seen the milky way before but apparently that was all a ruse and you need to head out into the Kalahari to see the real one.

Some quick thoughts from my side:

This idea hasn't really made its way down south so much in my experience. I don't think this is a information dissemination issue because many other ideas coming from this "sphere" have entered the discourse. Which is interesting because SA's cultural and language plurality should make it a big pitfall if the author is to be believed? (Not to mention power dynamics)

Maybe part of it lies in that there is not really a unified South African identity yet. So it is still seen as (broadly) good to try and assimilate or show internalisation of different aspects from different cultures? The idea that it's incontrovertibly bad seems a stretch.

More generally, culture/identity and so on are such complex things that it's probably difficult to apply broad strokes to it in any case.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: June 28, 2017

Went to the store to buy chicken, was confronted by a lot of commotion outside - policemen on the ground shouting at colleagues of theirs running around on the roof. A group of bystanders started to form around a lady who said that there had been an attempted armed robbery - moving from a cellphone shop to into the grocery store itself. Unfortunately for these geniuses the area's police station is right across the road so at least 4 were apparently caught after a shootout (!).


On a different note, had some interesting work-related ideas and I thought it might be interesting to share:

So a big part of my work involves modelling mining site water balances. One of the most important factors from a risk perspective is the effect of rainfall on dam storage levels. Both in the sense that you can have too little water (halting or otherwise affecting production) or too much water (Bento Rodrigues).

Luckily, rainfall is one thing there is an abundance of data on for long time spans and across a broad spatial scale i.e. finding historical time-series data for whatever area you are interested in is not hard. The question is then: how best to take into account the change in rainfall over time from a modelling/simulation perspective?

On the simpler end you have the approach I took last year in my preliminary research - average out historical data into two annual groups, a wet and dry season. This is a bit too simple however. The next step is to add a bit of spice by propagating the variance of each seasonal value through the model (probably Monte Carlo?). That way you can see the sensitivity of the outputs to the input as well.

I've however been looking at some work by others that seems to hint that we need to go further. In particular, the effect of this kind of (hourly/daily/monthly) variation is felt dynamically - the water-related processes can hardly be assumed to be at steady-state. So now we need to set up a dynamic model of the process.

The last spanner in the works is that, in many places, there are climatic oscillations which act on scales bigger than a year (e.g. El Niños and the like). The effect of this is to cause more incidences of droughts and "floods" than what would be expected by chance, if chance were defined by the distribution of values historically (according to these guys).

Their analysis was purely historical one, looking into it from the euphemistic perspective of portfolio risk... for me it raised some important questions as to how to incorporate this in a predictive model to evaluate processes in the design stage, or help current operations to adapt to un-envisioned risks. Today I read about a Markov chain-based model that incorporates the chance of switching from e.g. a wetter-than-usual to a dryer-than-usual rainfall histogram based on the historical tendencies.

I think this stuff has some wider implementation possibilities - many ore bodies also have this kind of dual character. Complex mineralisations can have you switching from a low-sulphide to a high-sulphide ore. If these are just averaged out, you lose a lot of important insights into how, maybe, the downstream flotation is affected or even the potential for acid rock drainage impacts. So a lot of interesting work to be done in this space!

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: June 7, 2017

A day of contradictions...

Massive frontal storm has been rolling past since last night. Schools and universities closed across the province. Where I am there's been power outages and trees falling over but I'm told there's been flooding and thousands displaced in the low-lying areas.

Further down the coast lightning has caused some massive fires fanned by the wind but unfortunately they have not had any rain to counter it. My old roommate is from there and his hometown of 70k people is being evacuated. It's big pine plantation country and it seems the town in basically encircled by flames.

There's not much info coming through right now as it's the middle of the night so we'll only really know the extent of the damage tomorrow... :(

I think the biggest strangeness in this whole debate is that there is now supposedly a dichotomy between organic and GMO.

In my mind I don't see them as mutually exclusive but I guess it depends on how you define such. If all crops used by humans have been "genetically modified" in some way, how the modification or trait selection is a problem in and of itself is not clear to me.

Arguably the debate should be more around the systems which underpin them today - increased fertiliser usage, land degradation, monoculture, seed monopolies, scale of production etc.

For example, imagine a scenario where GMOs are developed for the public good - drought resistance, productivity increases, whatever. These are then cultivated in line with organic "principles" i.e. companion cropping, no-till, reduced reliance on synthetic fertiliser - take your pick. Where is the contradiction? I'm not sure there is one and maybe it can help to address the problems with food production we have today.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Mzansi by natives 1: Somewhere to start

Thanks. I think you've actually captured my intentions quite nicely.

The primary reason why I wanted to do this was to try and capture my thoughts somewhere where it can have some value-add, and I think hubski is the right kind of space for that.

Underneath that is however the fact that I've been thinking a lot lately. I went through what you might call a "life changing" experience last year that really shifted my perspective on a lot of things.

South Africa is my home. I don't want to live anywhere else. But it's become clear to me that we can't just rest on our laurels and expect things to get better organically. At the very least it's necessary to start to define what kind of a future is the one I want for myself and those around me. This definition in turn requires that I grapple with the big issues so that I can have a clarity of purpose in what I do. 50% theoretical framework, 50% moral conviction.

The big question that umbrellas over all the others is one of identity and belonging. How do define myself and what I stand for in a country with mega baggage and a suspect future?

So no, it won't be a sociology lecture, not least because I'm an engineer but also because of the perception thing I spoke about - I can only work with what I've got and what I get from others (this touches a bit on the subsequent responsibility to hear what others have to say).

Lastly, being an engineer, this is really my first foray into 1st personal writing so you may need to be gentle in that respect!

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Mzansi by natives 1: Somewhere to start

Definitely more philosophical. It was constituted following a national canvassing of demands from the townships and homelands. So it was like the consolidated voice of a large percentage of the oppressed.

At the time, non-whites had incredibly limited political representation and so it was a major act of defiance to demand the things set out there. In fact the huge meeting where it was proclaimed was broken up by the police on the second day. A few years later the organisations involved would be banned.

Ever since it served as the foundation of the struggle (for most) in the sense that it showed what was required, culminating on its influence on the Constitution.

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