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Cape Town

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DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Cape Town runs out of water on April 22.

Perhaps. It will depend so much on the implementation. Keep in mind that about a fifth of the city already receives their water through communal taps which is essentially what will happen for everyone. I also think the fact that it has been approaching so slowly means it will be more... orderly - at least in contrast to other disaster scenarios where everything happens at once and authorities are left scrambling. I can only speak for myself but I have made peace with having to queue for water and I guess most others people have too.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Cape Town runs out of water on April 22.

Indeed. I think there some interesting things to talk about here:

    Unless residents drastically cut down on daily use, warns Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, taps in the seaside metropolis of four million will soon run dry.

I don’t know what “drastic” means in this context. Current metro usage is hovering fairly stable at 600 ML/day (consulting the oracle). Before people gave a shit, it would have been around double that. I can assure you that the lifestyle change I am currently undergoing certainly feels drastically in line with the apparent halving of usage.

Here is a nice visualisation of the projection that (reading between the lines) the City is using to calculate Day Zero. Messing with the values and replacing 600 with the target 500 (which appears to be as low as it wants to go) only buys a week at this stage. So really, any additional consumption changes don’t affect the ultimate situation – that it is going to come down to the wire and mostly up to the will of the gods. If it rains early and abundantly, the City buys time to introduce additional abstraction and concoct new bylaws. If not… I’ll see you guys on the other side.

For me the most interesting stuff is in the hard lessons being learnt – this situation will probably be the poster child for how long-term dynamics can take you for a ride. This article is a good explainer for those with little background. The key for me is this set of graphs:

The yellow dots indicate predicted years with 2017 (i.e. drought) rainfall. None of the models necessarily agree in the absolute sense but what they do show is that a little lower average and a little more variation is all it takes to turn what used to be a 1-in-1000 year event into a 1-in-50 year event. And that’s what the face of climate change is likely to be (even if it’s not the culprit here – I understand the jury is still out on that).

On the politics side, there are also unforeseen consequences. One of the biggest issues is that in SA, water is used as a cross-subsidiser in municipal budgets. So the reduction in consumption has had a big impact on the balance sheet. Furthermore, as the rich take themselves off the grid with rainwater collection and boreholes, this income will probably stay lower than before. On top of this, unregulated groundwater abstraction is likely to be lead to massive problems in the future.

    The local version of Craigslist is already full of listings for companies willing to truck in tankers full of water from less drought-prone parts of the country, for a price.

Along similar lines, I seriously worry about the potential impacts of a laissez-faire approach which allows this kind of thing uncritically. SA is dry in general, and the Western Cape is not the only province with issues. People are playing themselves if they think exporting their water footprint elsewhere in the country is a sustainable solution.

    According to city statistics, only 54% of residents are hitting their target, one of the reasons why Day Zero was moved forward a week earlier this year.

I am very sceptical of this number. I live in an apartment complex and like most in the City, it does not have unit-by-unit water meters – I suspect the 54% value refers to the ones they can be sure about and 46% includes both guzzlers and unknowns. In any case, again, this is one of the things which will likely change going forward. There’s a silly saying that you can’t manage what you don’t measure but I think it rings true in this case.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Dispatches from the shithole of Nambia

    I feel an apathetic slumber accompany even the scantest attention to the deluge of scandal, rank idiocy, and bigotry that comes daily out of our nation's capital.

Two related points:

The first is that I am starting to get the impression that the true equilibrium state of democracy is people fighting their elected officials and the officials simultaneously seeing how big of a cake slice they can get away with. Different countries lie in different places along the graft scale in this context. In such a situation, apathy is (at the least) dangerous - it allows people the opportunity to push the envelope a little more the next time.

But how do you react with anything but apathy for something which is so antithetical to what you believe in? The recent thread about Sam Altman's post got me thinking about this thing of debates and arguments - convincing other people, in whatever context, that you are right. When so much of the nonsense above is driven by what can lightly be described as a "difference of opinion". Do we entrust this kind of debate to our legislative bodies alone? What, really, is the process by which large amounts of people change their opinions?

I think if you truly believe something must be changed, or are otherwise unhappy with the state of affairs, you should try and actively foster that kind of change in opinion in others. People may hold opinions that are nasty (or even illegal) but this hopefully does not condemn them to those opinions. As I say though, I have no idea what a concrete strategy for this is because as sure as you are of your convictions, so sure are the others. Difficult.

Hmm. Étrange.

Try here or a pdf version here.

DWol  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: November 29, 2017

Been thinking about a few things recently

I've been experiencing what I can only describe as a fight against complacency. Complacency with the way the world is, the way the country is, the way I am. Complacency might not be the right word so I want to sketch out the scenario:

For as long as I've been politically conscious I have told myself that I need to devote my time and energy to some society-building endeavour. Whether you frame it as a social justice problem or a sustainability problem, it appears to me that the world is fucked (reality check - is this just student angst?) and that there's a lot to make noise about. But it's hard - ever more I feel the crushing weight of the world's problems are not something I can carry indefinitely. It's certainly not good from a mental health perspective.

Do I pick some particular small thing and focus on it? Not sure. At the least I know that it's all too easy to show the veneer of caring - it's very simple to point out injustice but more difficult to really hear it as a clarion call. So that's the one side of the coin: whilst unsure about how to traverse it, I feel some sense of duty here (Calvinist tendencies...) to the rest of humanity, because we only really have humanity in a shared way.

On the other hand, it seems that a good number of people don't share that view, enough so to make me incredibly despondent (cf. Trump retweets) - in essence whether it's worth it to try and bring everyone into communion when I would consider a lot of them to be assholes. This thread kind of touches on that in some way. I don't want to get into the question of "how do you deal with the people you don't agree with" here though. Suffice to say that this force pushes me more into the individualistic direction of avoiding the difficult issues and just trying to live my best life. In many ways I think I have seen others wrestling with a similar feeling, maybe also described as "guilt".

On face value these might not seem like a dichotomy, and probably in a rational sense they aren't. But for me, I think I need to have some kind of "philosophical" backing for the overarching decisions that I make in my life - what direction to pursue. Coming back to the complacency, I feel that I have to choose whether to head in the ascetic, humanist direction or what could very well be a great white picket fence first world life that is complicit but never directly so. My "bias" obviously shows but the point is that complacency only pushes you in one direction, and so the choice is how to respond to it.

This is all the more relevant of late as I have been presented with a wonderful opportunity to start my PhD next year with EU funding and a range of bells and whistles that make it a really great proposition. Trouble is that this would be a pretty huge commitment to a life (or at least the next few years) that could be dramatically improved upon from the white picket fence perspective if I cut my project off and just hand it in as a Masters. I actually started writing this comment a few weeks ago so in this particular case I think I have made up my mind. There were a number of things adding to the calculus though. What I do know is that I haven't dissolved the contradiction in my mind yet, and so it will inevitably crop up again once I'm faced with the next big decision.

Has anybody here forded a similar kind of dilemma before? I'd really love to hear how you dealt with it...


Some bonus anecdotes:

One of the areas on Table Mountain is called Echo Valley. I've only been there a few times but it has to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful places. I don't have a photo but turns out there is actualy Street View up there...

Keep going and along the way down and you are greeted with this:

Reason I mention it is because it is somewhere where the "Pale Blue Dot" field is particularly strong - nothing else in the world really seems to be terribly important against that backdrop. There's a Xhosa phrase: sixole kanjani? When will we find peace? So I know there are times and places where people can find it transiently, and maybe you can build your life around those. But is it really worth it when not it's not "us" but "me" finding it...


De Waal

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.

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