Saturday, 16 July 2016

2016 Local Elections - Joburg party summaries

With the 2016 local government elections coming up soon, I've been thinking through my options again, and thought I'd make my basic reference list public, in case it helps others to reach a decision. This is obviously just a super-abbreviated summary of the parties contesting the Johanneburg municipality, my way of trying to keep track of who's who. A lot of these parties have shared origins, and can be hard to tell apart. In particular, if you want some African socialism, you're spoiled for choice.

I've marked parties with a * if they have a candidate standing for my ward, just for my own reference. To see who's standing for your own municipality and ward, check these lists from the IEC. They're not the nicest format, but not impossible to read, if you're patient.

Sadly, a lot of the smaller parties haven't taken advantage of online publication, making it hard to find out anything about them. And maybe that suits some of the smallest ones, with no need for them appeal to anyone outside of one or two wards. But since I still technically have the option of giving them my proportional representation vote, I'd definitely prefer to know if they're preferable to any of the larger parties, even if they weren't planning on getting my vote.

African Christian Democratic Party* (ACDP): Anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-condom, pro-business, pro-death penalty. Just doing their bit to make the world shitter.

African Independent Congress* (AIC): The ones who didn't go very far to distinguish themselves from the ANC when they split off. Originally formed on the single issue of local border placement between KZN and the Eastern Cape.

African National Congress* (ANC): The ruling party, nationally and municipally.

African People's Convention (APC): PAC splitters, and thus also Pan-Africanist socialists.

African People's Socialist Party* (APSP): APC splitters (so also PAC splitter-splitters), not to be confused with the American organisation of the same name. There's some he-said/he-said between their leaders over who's the power-hungry monster, and who truly wants to help the people.

Agang South Africa (ASA): With a history of being poorly organised, they've never made much of an impact. Pretty vague policies, considering the level of experience it started out with; I'd say more or less pro-business.

Al Jama-ah*: An oddity. Islamist party who believe they shouldn't participate in secular law-making, but want to influence it by "having a voice". Feels like cheating to me, but they're only cheating their own rules, so I don't care.

Azanian People's Organisation* (AZAPO): Another socialist party with a Black Consciousness element.

Bolsheviks Party of South Africa (BPSA): Vaguely Leninist, with pictures of Soviet guns on their facebook page.

Building a Cohesive Society (BACS): Often when a party opts for a name that's a whole sentence, with verbs and everything, instead of a couple key words, it's because they're aiming for some clever acronym. What's BACS? Apparently, well-meaning amateurs who could really use a good proof-reader. No clear ideological leaning (apart from some prominent feminism), more of a loose collection of community-building projects.

Congress of the People (COPE): Capitalist ANC splitters. Lots of history of in-fighting.

Democratic Alliance* (DA): The official opposition. Beige as fuck on the outside, pro-business on the inside.

Economic Freedom Fighters* (EFF): Anti-capitalist ANC splitters. Lots of history of out-fighting.

Freedom Front Plus* (FF+/VF+): The party for openly racist whites.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): Zulu monarchists.

International Revelation Congress (IRC): Religious monarchists. I think their logo might have plagiarised the R100 note.

Operation Khanyisa Movement (OKM): Political branch of the Anti-Privatisation Forum.

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC): Originally ANC splitters (which makes the APSP splitters from splitters from splitters), back in the '50s, over the issue of whether the ANC should be purely Africanist, or aim for multiracialism.

Patriotic Alliance (PA): Anti-crime party led by former convicts. No idea how genuine they are.

Patriotic Association of South Africa (PASA): Party for what it terms "marginalised minorities", i.e. anyone who's neither black nor white.

People's Civic Organisation (PCO): Looks like a very localised party, with an urban service delivery agenda.

Prem Peoples Agenda (PPA): The agenda of the people named Premram Sookmungal. Can't find a damn thing about this.

Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA): AZAPO splitters. Regular unsplitting talks have yet to work out.

Truly Alliance* (TA): Truly what? Protectionist, mostly non-white-minority focus.

Ubuntu Party (bleh): The ridiculous Ancient Aliens & Free Money party, which refused to clear away their posters after the 2014 elections, so they just hung there, fading in the sun and the rain, for months. Their claim at the time was that they were too broke to pay anyone to collect all the posters. I see someone's beamed down more cash to Tellinger to waste everyone's time again this year. Can't tell if this is a direct scam, or just a crooked author's self-promotion scheme.

United Democratic Movement* (UDM): The christmas tree party. Social democrats. They originally formed in a somewhat unusual and interesting way, and have steadily achieved very little since then.

United Front of Civics (UFC): Gauteng branch of the United Front, which is the attempt at a political branch of NUMSA.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Pizza and Voice

Just a short thing to record an analogy I've been thinking about, to explain the concept of non-literal political voice, in the simplest way possible. I was aiming for something I could explain to my youngest students, if necessary.

Say we're ordering pizza as a group. In a dictatorship, you (yes, you) get no say in the toppings. The dictator decides that. Maybe you can persuade the dictator to give you what you want on the pizza, but most dictators will want something in return, and even if you're nice to them, there's still no rule that says they ever owe you anything. If they want cabbage on their pizza, and not your olives, there will be cabbage and no olives.

So we have democracy instead. In a democracy, everyone gets a say in the pizza toppings, so that's definitely more fair. But sometimes democracies don't run perfectly. Sometimes there's a loud guy, just yelling "BROCCOLI!" over and over, and the person on the other end at the pizza place can't possibly hear you saying "olives..." in a quiet voice. The pizza you get then will most likely have broccoli and no olives.

So what's the solution? To shout as loud as broccoli guy? That could certainly help temporarily. The problem with that is that you then become a problem too, your louder voice starts blocking out someone else's. And that means they have to start shouting too, and soon everyone's shouting all at the same time, and pizza place can't hear any of it. And even if they can make out the loudest voices, that means those who can't shout loud still can't get heard. You still end up with people not getting a chance to order the toppings they want.

And sometimes it's more important to hear some voices than others, like the one saying they're fatally allergic to olives.

The best long-term solution, something that'll work every time you make a group order, is to make the ones who start out loudest learn to control their voices and shut up long enough to give everyone else a chance.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Corrupt Governance as a Consequence of Fear of Change

Apartheid was bad. If that's a controversial statement for you, then you may not be ready for what follows.

One way that apartheid is not often presented, though, is as a form of corruption. There are already enough bad things to say about it, so this seldom seems necessary to add, but I think it's useful to frame it that way, to compare with current national problems we face.

Apartheid can be seen as nepotism on an unusually massive scale: Ensuring the financial and political success of "your people" over anyone else. Unlike the usual individual-level acts we normally associate with nepotism (giving a less qualified person a position or perk, contrary to official requirements), apartheid went a few levels further, ensuring that only the desired people could even become qualified, and that the undesired majority wouldn't just be deprived of jobs, but of all sorts of resources, right down to their choice of homes. Apartheid enshrined pro-white nepotism as the official requirement to follow, not something contrary to it.

There was also, of course, plenty of conventional, "lesser" government corruption by the apartheid government, and it's ridiculous to say that things only became corrupt here after 1994. And yet, it's become widespread, almost cliche, for white South Africans today to bemoan current government corruption, with the implication that this is a new, black thing.

And of course, not all whites opposed to government corruption have consciously racist motives, and of course we'd all be better off, black and white, if corruption was ended. It's a good goal. And it's hard to argue that certain individuals are anything but obviously corrupt. The trouble is, most white South Africans don't seem to see, in the bigger picture, how they're indirectly complicit in corrupt systems, and are often making it easier for corrupt officials to justify their actions.

Consider this: Service delivery protests have become so routine in South Africa that the media no longer bothers to cover the smaller ones at all, and usually only covers larger ones if there's an element of violence (because that sells better, apparently). This is ordinary black South Africans, complaining to the government that they should be providing the essential services a modern state is supposed to. Water. Electricity. Housing. Sanitation. Education.

You don't see white people staging service delivery protests, though, because for the most part, we're still fine. The buckling of the electricity grid over the last few years was one major exception. Apart from that, white South Africans are as comfortable (if not as happy) as ever. Whites like to whine a lot, but we have little to drive us to take any greater action, because the status quo still measurably favours us. We remain more employed than other race groups, better paid, better educated, and still tend to live in the best-resourced areas. We know this isn't a coincidence; this is exactly what apartheid was designed to produce.

Note that white incomes started going down back in the '80s, and went up again from 1994. Black income can fairly be characterised as "pretty damn flat".
Source: The Economist

"But the government and/or the ANC is black!", white people often shout at me. And it's not a crazy question to ask (provided you re-word it into a question): Why is the black-majority post-1994 government not doing much more - as much as possible - to bring about racial equality at an economic level? Why not push with maximum urgency for the full extent of the goals set out in the Freedom Charter? Why hold back?

Explanation 1 makes no sense at all: That they hate the wider black population as much as the unapologetically racist apartheid government did. I reject this out of hand.

Explanation 2 is that too many key government officials have become corrupt, and are now more interested in their own pockets than in the bigger project of nationwide equality. There's certainly some evidence of this, but it's an incomplete explanation, if you look at it closely. How would so many people get so corrupt so quickly? The racist assumption (sometimes subtly hinted at, sometimes stated plainly) is that it's a "black" thing, that whites are inherently more law-abiding, or shit like that. As my opening paragraphs illustrate, the apartheid government was no stranger to corruption, same as anywhere around the world. This explanation also always glosses over one very important follow-up question: Who's paying the bribes? Corruption takes two. A corrupt government dealing only with lawful entities will never have any chance to act corruptly.

And this leads me to explanation 3: White people. And here it gets a little complicated, and it's easy to see why even well-meaning people don't naturally come to this conclusion, and how less well-meaning people can use that to conceal selfish intentions. I'd even say this explanation starts out with good intentions, probably.

In the late '80s and early '90s, when it became accepted that South Africa would become democratic, there wasn't just a simple hand-over of power. There were years of negotiations, some public and well-recorded, others private, informal and maybe not recorded at all. The bottom line of these negotiations was that white South Africans would be welcomed to stay and participate in the democracy, keeping their experience and savings around for as long as possible, with an emphasis on stability. Nobody would benefit, it was argued, from any sort of rushed scramble. Things were generally set up to keep whites happy. Nothing was to be taken directly, nothing had to be surrendered, and very little would actually change for whites, apart from symbolic things, like the national anthem (well, part of it), the flag, and details like that. Land restitution was done on the "willing seller, willing buyer" principle, as if it were a normal market transaction, and not the compulsory return of stolen property. There would even be a government of national unity, sharing the executive branch among many parties, instead of just letting the parliamentary majority take it for themselves. This meant there were still white apartheid officials in senior posts after 1994, not to mention all the lower levels of state bureaucrats.

The only noteworthy scheme that might have cost whites anything was affirmative action (and its sequels, BEE and BBBEE), but this is pretty heavily over-hyped. It only applies to state employers, and to private employers looking for state money, which immediately makes it irrelevant to a large number of employers. It's also had virtually no impact on white employment rates, which have remained comfortably above 90% for decades, while black employment rates have wobbled wildly in the 60%s and 70%s (and as the graph above shows, black incomes also didn't suddenly rocket with the adoption of affirmative action. White fears of afirmative action turning us all into paupers never materialised; meanwhile, black South Africans have not really gained that much from it. I think it's a reasonable, fair policy, but clearly not enough on its own.

(I'm focusing solely on race in this post, but note that there's definitely a similar pattern along gender lines too. The apartheid people were total misogynists, and only ever gave white women the vote to try to undermine growing cooperation between feminist and Africanist movements, and all the economic stats for women are now predictably always worse than average. Homosexuality remained a criminal offence until 1994. Non-christians didn't get much respect either. This system was shit for most people, and all of those consequences need to be dealt with too. For simplicity and brevity, though, I'm keeping this post on race; assume that many of the same principles apply to other factors too.)

So, in general, the average white South African man has seen little real change in his quality of life. (But try communicate this big-picture perspective to him when he's too emotional to want to look at graphs and statistics, too biased to care if he's wrong, and too hung up on individual-level anecdotes to pay any attention to the over-all national pattern!) So how does this cause government corruption? Well, so far, it doesn't, although it should be obvious that it becomes much harder to pay for improvements for 90% of the population if you're not allowed to significantly reduce the unbalanced, excessive spending on the other 10%.

Another part of the "keep whites happy" compromises of the '90s was not aimed at individuals like me, but at business. The private sector isn't elected, it isn't ANC, it isn't black (and again, the handful of anomalous exceptions you can point to don't override the broader patterns). Very often, it isn't even South African, and the mining sector especially has been channelling billions to mainly British and American shareholders for over a century.

And that's why explanation 2 doesn't make full sense on its own: Because it ignores that the people paying the bribes are still predominantly wealthy whites, and without that influence, there would be little a corrupt government official could achieve. It may have started with big-scale scandals, and it may be most obvious with truly evil abuses, but it continues a bit at a time whenever any one of us uses our greater wealth to elbow our way through life. This is just as true of the times we do so illegally (like when we bribe a traffic cop to escape a ticket) and the times we're technically, legally doing nothing wrong (like paying domestic workers as little as possible, or hiring top teachers away from government schools to more expensive private schools). We all know people who boast about it, and often we even benefit from it indirectly. During my undergrad years, for example, we had plenty of parties in big, expensive, Northern Suburbs houses that later turned out to have been funded by guys ripping off a rural employment scheme in the Free State - and the faces in the photos from those events all look pretty uniformly white. We may not have committed the crime, but we undeniably benefitted from it. And those black women in rural FS undeniably lost their livelihoods. It's one case that encapsulates everything I'm trying to say here.

In effect, white South Africa has spent the last 22 years paying to keep things from changing, to keep from having to sacrifice any level of comfort, rather than paying to bring about the changes that will make things more fair and just. It seems like a bad deal to me.

A lot of commercial and social media outrage has gone into condemning the corruption accusations associated with the India-based Gupta family, and I have to agree that these have been pretty egregious. But they're also something of an exception; most corrupt businesses that we know of are not Indian. I almost get the feeling that, in some circles, the outrage against the Guptas is less about the specific things they've done, and more about how they've gate-crashed someone else's corrupt turf, and spoiled the party by failing to conceal things the way their predecessors did. (Cultural differences... what you gonna do?)

I suppose this also partly reflects the big spike in Asian South African wealth on that graph; wealthy whites have hardly set a good example for the even smaller Indian minority.

This is not the easiest problem in the world to visualise. It's a puzzle with a lot of different pieces, some in different rooms, and some in different times. I've tried to lay it out as neatly as possible here. And I think the one feasible solution I can see in all of it, is for white South Africans to admit we're still fucking things up (whether intentionally or not), and stop trying to control the national narrative. We basically have to shut up, stand back, and let ordinary black South Africans lead the way. We should have done that decades ago already.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Star Trek Fan Series: New CBS/Paramount Restrictions follow up

The author of the new fan Trek guidelines, John van Citters, has discussed the intent behind the rules, and some of my concerns have been assuaged. Obviously we don't know what all his colleagues think, nor the limits imposed on him by studio management, nor how people other than van Citters will try to impose the guidelines in future, but I'm prepared to accept that his intentions are good, at least.

The main concern he mentions, which you can hear in more detail in the podcast above, is the indirect (presumably unintended) escalation in commercialisation of fan Trek productions over the years. Every impressive new step that anyone takes raises the stakes for other fan productions (at least, the ones with competitive personalities), and it's not hard for CBS/Paramount to point to examples of this getting out of hand, with fan donations going to things other than essential production costs. You could argue that the examples so far aren't that serious, but combined with the trend of escalation, it's not unreasonable to act to cap this trend before it gets too silly.

I think that's fair. I'd hold up Star Trek: The Romulan War as an example of a fan production that didn't let serious underfunding get in the way of making something shitty-but-good. Fan productions shouldn't be about having expensive, expert-quality resources bought right off the shelf, with no personal effort by the creators. The DIY aspect is clearly an important element of a fan production.

I'm even coming around to really approving of rule 7, the way van Citters intends it, though it may be the hardest to enforce. One of the most frequently recurring complaints you'll see in my list of fan Trek reviews is the problem of stories that go directly against the core ideals that Star Trek is built around. And I don't mean testing the limits of these ideals in interesting and creative ways, I mean just flatly rejecting or ignoring them. Violence is the most obviously common of these, and you can read in detail all of my objections to mindless shooty pew-pew without any attempt at diplomacy. Many fan productions also have problems with the inclusivity Trek has (almost) always pushed for, and this is trickier, because sexism, racism, and other such discrimination isn't usually as immediately obvious on screen as phasers blasting and things exploding. It takes more focus and concentration to identify problems like that.

But the point is that rule 7 is aimed at keeping fans on track a bit better in these ways. It's going to be very difficult to say what is and isn't "real" Trek morality, and edge cases may be very difficult to judge. What I think is good here, though, is that rule 7 puts the burden on fans to think it over for themselves, because that's what I think has been lacking from the worse fan scripts: They're not intentionally malevolent, probably, they're just written by people who've not been critical enough of their own ideas, not stopped think exactly what it is they're communicating. And if you don't like a lot of stopping and thinking, then maybe Star Trek isn't really for you after all.

The rule I still have the single biggest problem with is rule 1, the 15 minute time limit. Van Citters argues in the podcast that fans shouldn't limit themselves by thinking that Trek has to be a certain length, and I'd turn that back around at him: Why does it have to be the certain length of 15 minutes? I've seen some great shorts, it's true. But I've also seen plenty of great longs that would be really hard to cut down. If there were a really good reason given for why there needs to be a time limit at all, I might concede that it could even be good for fan writers to be challenged to fit things in that tightly. But since there doesn't seem to be any clear motive for the time limit, then why bother with it at all? A longer run time doesn't favour anyone unfairly, it doesn't escalate the funding problem. Long productions have been part of fan Trek for as far back as my records go.

What's also still unclear is what the line "no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes" is supposed to mean. The Potemkin Pictures people have interpreted it to mean only episodic series are allowed, with no sequels to specific episodes, no ongoing unlimited strings of episodes to get around the 15-minute limit. I hope that interpretation is right, for now, though even that I'm not certain is really a good restriction. If the 15-minute limit goes, then that part ought to go too.

Rule 5 is an interesting case. It can be argued both ways pretty well, and I'd suggest the solution is to have a separate third category between official productions and fan productions; call it 'alumni productions'. Ring-fence those professional-amateurs in their own separate play pen, so we can still see their ideas, but make it clear that they're not pure amateurs. I can see that getting more complicated, as they need to bring in non-alumni to help out, but since these professionals are the people the studios can speak to directly most easily, I'm sure they can work it out between them.

I'm now less concerned than last week, and I still don't trust the upper management of CBS and Paramount (who, after all, let Abrams fuck with the integrity of their IP way more than any fan production could). But I'm optimistic that at least there's someone there who'll be fairly fair and open to corrections.
no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.   - See more at: