Sunday, May 11, 2008

UPDATE - May 9, 2008

The South African Librarian
A man goes into a library and asks for a book on suicide.
The librarian takes one look at him and says
"Voetsek, who's gonna bring it back?"

A Major Earthquake
A major earthquake, measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale hit Nigeria this morning. 350 000 Nigerians have died and over a million have been reported injured. The country is totally ruined and the government does not know where to start with providing help.
The rest of the world is in shock; Canada is sending troops to assist the country. Europe is sending food and money.
South Africa is sending 350 000 replacement Nigerians.


Amanda Edwards

Kristin Dukes

Mark Little

May 9, 2008


The biggest event going on in the world right now, in my opinion is the tragedy in Burma. So I wanted to include a link to give. It’s strange that in moments like these sometimes we (the world) can come together in ways that we cannot in “peace” or peaceful times. I don’t look forward to returning to the “clarity” that we as a world community have after we deal with the situation there. My hope is our clarity becomes more perspicacious so that our giving an aid is not only sporadic but intelligent and constant through calamity and constant in continual need. I’ve added a link below for you to give through one of my favourite organizations – World Vision who has been in the country working hard to provide relief.

Ok, that link is too big. How about this shorter one:


Hi, how are you? I went to Grahamstown last weekend to visit Haley and attend Brenda’s birthday party. It was a nice affair where we dressed up and had name cards for our places. We even switched seats for each course to talk to a different person. It was very fancy and Eben (a friend of Rosa, Haley, and the host, Brenda) and I helped to cook between the salad and the main course. It was fancy and nice.

It seems like the Eastern Cape is MUCH colder than it is in CT. But this week the big switch started happening. Since it has gotten colder we will probably pass below the cold temperatures in Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape as we plunge to the usually coldest winter in the country. The strange thing as I look out each day this week at the dreary sky) people want to come here during our WINTER. June, July, August are bleak. We have many days in a row where it’s rainy. Tiri another postdoc who just got a lectureship in the maths department said that it rained two weeks straight when arrived two months ahead of me in July. So it’s nasty and it really occults the beauty of the city.

In other news (if you read from the story above), an e-diagnosis of hemorrhoids was correct. My doctor diagnosed me with a minor case of piles for which I’m currently taking medicine. We’ll see if it goes away in two weeks time. It should. . . .(gulp!).

My church offers an HIV/AIDS and crisis pregnancy course to train people to staff a future HIV/AIDS and crisis pregnancy counseling centre. There is a course that you must take before this. But because I would miss too much of it due to lectures, they did not allow me to take it. I was SO elated when they allowed me to take the second course without taking the first because of my knowledge of AIDS since I do AIDS research. Then I still had to get the second course approved because I would miss the first hour each week for the first 4 weeks (lectures end in a week and a half, now). They finally approved it (thanks to wonderful Rachel, the church nurse). But when the first day came (two Wednesdays ago), the 2nd course I lecture was extended, so I had to give a lecture for that also on Wednesday from 1-3. This was problematic because I was supposed to do my 9-10 lecture and then be at church by 10:15. When the day came, I wasn’t prepared to lecture at 1-3. And I decided the students were my first priority. Well, I didn’t even work on the presentation until about 12 and it was the best one! A student sent an e-mail thanking me for switching (he asked me to change the style somewhat) and for teaching the material well. It was nice. BUT it meant that I missed almost the whole day. I decided to go anyway expecting them to kick me out. They let me in!!! I couldn’t believe it. SO it was nice. So I went in and caught the end of the day and got to hear one of the leaders of the course treat all of us counselors (we’re all counselors even if on an informal level in terms of informal experience among family and friends; we’re all people that others lean on) like patients or clients. And we had to do a lot of touchy-feely introspection and sharing in a circle of confidence and vulnerability. It’s strange a bit. It’s like being counseled to be a counselor. But they say you must know yourself in order to counsel.


Outside of Burma, the biggest thing on our plate is Zimbabwe. The situation has “somewhat” calmed down a bit. After FIVE whole weeks the election results were finally released. They announced that Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, had a plurality with 47% (followed by Mugabe with 42%) but not a majority, in which case the constitution says you must do a run-off. The opposition (MDC) believes that is false and that their candidate, Tsvangirai, won with 50+% of the vote. I agree with that educated guess. So as of now we are not sure if the MDC and Tsvangirai will even participate in the run-off election.

Remember, there is government-sponsored violence going on throughout the country right now. The violence is to intimidate people into voting for Mugabe in the “case” of a run-off which has now been announced (May 2nd). So here is the rub: if the MDC takes part, the run-off could be rigged and they lose. If they don’t take part, MDC loses by default. So it’s a lose-lose situation especially with the violence helping to close the gap. MDC (led by Tsvangirai) won’t announce whether they will take part until the date of the run-off has been set and the results have been verified properly. According to the constitution the run-off is supposed to take place within 3 weeks of the announcement of the results. Given that constitutions limit on the time to release the results was violated I doubt there will be an issue or fallout or repercussions for not keeping to constitutional regulations on presidential run-off voting.

As of now, no one wants to go on in and force Mugabe out. There has been lots of subtle or calm diplomacy. Mbeki sent people to Harare (earlier he was there himself saying “there is no crisis” something which South Africans have criticized him about). The AU (African Union) sent Ping, the administrative head of the AU. SADC (South African Development Community—regional group of 14 countries of which Zim is a part) sent a group led by the Angolan foreign minister. All of this has had no real effect or not perceptible effect, at least. We are still lost and waiting to see a verification of the first results, when this run-off election will be, and if MDC will take part.

At the least, the MDC will want better monitoring for the run-off election, but I’m not sure if Mugabe will allow these foreigners in to intimately monitor the process. People have been beaten and there have been a few deaths among teachers, opposition supporters, and others in the country. It’s a scary time in Zim, and those who were in power under Mugabe do not want to go.

The biggest problem is that Zim currently cannot afford another election. To be honest, they couldn’t afford the first one and printed a lot of money to fund it raising the official inflation rate to something like 165,000% with the real rate being higher.


At home things are turbulent as well. And in common with many countries around the world, we are suffering under food shortages, or, rather, noticeably rising food prices. You can see it when you go to the grocery store. And in these parts it’s not similar to the US where people complain and pay the higher price whether it’s food or gas or something else that is needed. Many cannot.

In Haiti there have been food riots causing the prime minister to resign. We haven’t had riots thankfully, and that has been a good thing for the world. Actually the Economist says there have been protests in 30 countries around the world but only Haiti saw its leaders resign.

Supposedly this benefits some like peasant farmers in Bangladesh who now receive four times the amount it costs to produce the rice they farm. Everyone is trying to fight the soaring prices with subsidies, social programmes, and trade restrictions (which can push the global price for food up through a short series of chain reactions).

Strangely enough the food crisis highlights a problem we see a lot in the aid, relief, development, non-profit, and NGO community—we have too many organizations doing the same thing. Though jobs would be lost, much would be gained in terms of fiscal management and monetary efficiency by streamlining the organizations. And this was suggested by Senegal’s President Wade about the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) under the UN. It would be better if the FAO was combined with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also another UN organization.

Here we don’t look at it globally too much, but rather nationally. And South Africans and NGO’s are asking the government what they are doing about it. In fact, they specifically feel that food prices do NOT have to be high, that the government could take measures changing the rising prices, but it has not done so. So we watch and wait and see; some feel it’s inevitable; others want to fight it.

Since there are so many things going on in society now and the letter is getting long, I’ll just mention one more: the Scorpions. Remember that they are (or were) the FBI equivalent over here. They were highly successful at investigating and prosecuting crime, big crime, national crime. They are better than the police, but they targeted political leaders who wanted them shut down.

Officially they fight corruption and organized crime. And corruption runs rampant in party leaders. Jacob Zuma is the president of the ANC (the majority party and the party of the current President Thabo Mbeki). It was at the conference where he was elected that it was decided to work to pass a bill to incorporate the Scorpions into the Police (remember that Zuma is now the biggest target of Scorpion investigation; he will face trial soon and has been indicted on corruption and fraud).

You may ask what are the charges against the Scorpions? Well, they are said to abuse their power: they pursue certain cases. That means they go against certain people exploring a bias, a political one. The other comment is that they are not allowed to gather intelligence (this makes no sense to me and I wrote a little about this a few months ago) though in my mind they are an intelligence agency. But officially they are not. It seems that the gathering of intelligence is crucial to the process of investigation. But they must investigate, indict, and prosecute without intelligence gathering. Anyway, people say cases drag on too long, and that the Scorpions leak info to the public. I think those aren’t strong cases to disband it but strong cases to improve it.

Started in 1999 by Mbeki to fight crime and corruption, they have put high profile people behind bars. They found that Selebi the police commissioner was really good buddies with a criminal being investigated and perhaps there was foul play in the investigation. Suspiciously when Pikoli (head of the National Prosecuting Authority similar to the Attorney General is my guess) was about to arrest Selebi Mbeki suspended him before this happened. The official reason cited by Mbeki after some silence was a breakdown in communication between Pikoli and his boss.

The head of the Scorpions has already accepted a new job at the World Bank. Many of the former Scorpions are excited about joining the police. So we shall see what happens.


Home is ok. I think I told that Radesh was homeless. Well, he has now officially moved in. So we have 4 people living in a space of 3. It’s funny; I believe I lived in an apartment once (it was VERY large) that was larger (inside square meters or feet) than this one. So I was talking with some people from Holland today who had been to my house and they thought there were only two bedrooms there. I told them, no; there are three. They also thought there were only 3 of us with Radesh. I explained there were 4.

The nice thing is that we get a discount on the rent during the 3-4 months he’s here. But he’s had trouble finding places to store all of his belongings. So I have taken some into my room. I now have a TV in my room which I don’t use, a computer monitor which sits on the floor and a large bag with a large comforter in it. So there’s just a lot of stuff in the house now and it can be hard to find a place to sit sometimes. But they said this isn’t the permanent look as they’re trying to store things bit by bit. I have a dinner party in a week so hopefully it will work out. There is the possibility that we will eat out.

Other than that, it’s just hard to dry clothes now. We’re moving into winter which in Cape Town is like rainy season so I don’t like to hang clothes outside to dry. Also some kind of animal leaves fecal matter on my clothes when hung outside. But the problem now is that it’s difficult to tell if clothes (hung on a clothes rack in the covered patio) are wet or just really cold. I’m not sure which it was, but it either way using some shorts for hot sweaty yoga felt nice compared to the hot-sweaty temperatures of hot sweaty yoga (Christian yoga if you’re offended).


So I just submitted a “white paper” proposal for a research grant with the government. And in 3 weeks time I will be submitting another grant proposal for AIDS research with the Bill Gates Foundation. This one excites me immensely, but I’m still formulating the novelty that I’m supposed to present. You see he and his wife specifically want to fund certain types of research. In the area of AIDS (there are many international development areas—food, education, health, etc.) they specifically want to fund off-the-beaten path super-creative ideas. So that’s where I come in. Pray for me and push me on it. We shall see!

Next week I’ll finally submit the article I’ve been sending around to general journals (for laymen to read) to a specific journal. Funny enough, the discipline specific journal is a wide-audience journal within a specific discipline. It’s one of the 5 AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). When this is done (I’m submitting to their Journal on Aircraft), I will have all 3 submissions out and waiting 2 on their first discipline-specific journal submission, and one on a resubmission.

Here are some photos from March during the last conference I’ve attended here.

Let me know if there’s a problem with the link.


So you know that I am now taking a 16 week (16 Wednesdays) course through August on HIV/AIDS and crisis pregnancy counseling. I specifically wanted to do work on the social side of AIDS since I’m now doing research on the scientific side of AIDS. They also needed men, but that wasn’t the motivating factor for me. So with me in the course, there are now two guys. And the course is to train people so we can staff an AIDS center at my church starting in the US autumn at least half the week.

Well, it was strange. I had a tough day. As you know I intended to only miss an hour, but I had to give another lecture because one course I instruct was lengthened. And I wasn’t able to get to the AIDS course between the two, so I just got there afterwards at 3 in the afternoon near the end of the first Wednesday. Well, the only thing I caught was a speaker who was a gay man speaking about living with AIDS.

So I was surprised. I was surprised because he said things that people don’t say in a church, that I have never heard anyone say in a church or at a church event without being asked to stop speaking or being whisked away. He told us about being gay about when he realized he was gay and liked men. First, you don’t say that, especially in a charismatic circle. You may be able to say you had/have feelings but you don’t call yourself something that you don’t wish. This is an issue sometimes in charismatic circles. Because they speak in the future in the hopeful/prayerful it is sometimes hard to face or talk about reality. Since they feel that God is truth and truth (God) can change or trump reality then they don’t speak about reality. But this guy was saying he was gay (not speaking against it in prophetic hope). Moreover, many Christians talk about deliverance from homosexuality. Well, he had not been delivered from it. He said he was made this way or came out this way (many would disagree with this), he didn’t ask for it and to this day it had not been taken away from him. He spoke about his struggle with it, growing up and having two lives—his public life and his trips away with his gay circle of friends and lovers. Because of trying to hide himself he started using drugs and alcohol and became addicted to sex. He even went to AA and NA meetings only to find that he didn’t identify with the experiences of others: he realized he was not addicted to drugs or alcohol but rather sex.

Anyway, he is now a celibate gay Christian who chooses to attend church at a “normal” church (I mean not a special church for gay people). He has what I interpret as the simple Biblical faith and notion of what is supposed to happen. You are never condemned for having the feels; the sin is the act of homosexual intercourse or acts. And he actually has a friend, a partner. There is not romantic physicality to their relationship at all. It’s a just a good friend who is his best friend with whom he can talk at any time and be completely vulnerable. This part too surprised me. I expected someone to escort him out, to tell him to shut up, to call him the devil.

Instead, these people at my church were SO completely loving. They thanked him soo much for sharing his story and struggle. Others cried with him. Some had questions and wanted to know more. It was strange. I had just never seen that from Christian people especially with what he was saying. It made me feel special and I actually thanked the group for showing love (my primary aim). It was quite wonderful.

And to be honest, I have always felt my church is quite wonderful—a sewing project, township project, women’s empowerment, HIV/AIDS and crisis pregnancy counseling centre, legal clinic, health clinic, Think Twice (life skills and sex ed-making right choices program for teens), teen pregnancy hotline, Habitat program/connection, etc. It goes on.

So when someone says that your church failed in something or is doing poorly it gets to you. It especially bothers you when it is something that is VERY important. This happened twice last week. A UCT South African undergraduate, who lived most of his life in California, told me he visited once and did not like what the pastor was saying. He said this after I mentioned the above and the social relevance of my church. I didn’t know what to say. He was nice enough to say that “you never know. Maybe it was just once” or “maybe I didn’t understand him correctly” but the undergraduate did not agree with the words; they bothered him.

More importantly a friend of mine (I think I consider her more of a friend than she considers me; I might just be an acquaintance) about whom I care a GREAT deal was offended by the words of a guest speaker in January when she visited. Our pastor was on a summer vacation sabbatical for two months and this was one of the guest speakers that was a member of the church (maybe an elder or something). Well, he said something about unchurched people or people outside the church—I don’t even know as I was working with the kids and missed the sermon. But imagine this, anytime God is brought up or believing in God is brought up, she mentions MY church and the ONE sermon she heard on the ONE day she visited. It scares me. It scares me that Christians can be the best argument against Christianity. It kills me that she was somehow hurt by something exclusionist or unloving when Christ was very inclusionary and loving. It makes me wonder if I’m in the right place. I have no idea what the sermon said.


(from the Economist) [the bold face movies deal with African-Israeli themes]

In general these movies are about Jewish themes, about people who slip between the cracks, who do not feel comfortable with Jews or Arabs, have a different self-identity that does not fall within the normal poles, or, perhaps, feel like an outsider or foreigner either at home or in a distant land.

On Hold

About a woman and her friends who speak an Arabic heavily influenced and filled with Hebrew and live a culture heavily influenced by Jewish culture, yet face discrimination and prejudice from Jews and Arabs, in Israel and Arab countries.

Three Times Divorced

A Palestinian woman turns to the Israeli state for help when the sharia (Muslim Law) courts sides with her abusive husband, an Israeli Arab (not a Jew). But she has no status in Israel (she only has a visitor’s permit through marriage) and it’s a struggle to find help and aid.

Six Floors to Hell

Life of 6 Palestinians doing odd jobs to make it in Israel. They’ve snuck in from the West Bank, and it’s interesting because there are many African and Filipino guest workers who received valid permits and they cannot get one (especially as their families use to own land in parts of the country).

The Boys from Lebanon

This looks at some Lebanese Christians who fought with the Israeli army during the 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon by Israel (ended in 2000). In Israeli, they are looked down upon as Arabs, and the Arabs look at them as betrayers.

Yideshi Mama

A Russian guy wants to marry his Ethiopian girlfriend.

King Lati the First

A story about a Jewish boy, born to a Senegalese father (who received Israeli citizenship as a refugee) and a Belarusian mother, who is called “nigger” by his peers and is taken back to Senegal by his father to see about this boy’s claim to his father’s royal Senegalese throne.

The Prodigal Son

This one shows a look inside the group of black Americans who claim descent from one of the lost tribes of Israel, though not recognized as Jewish by the rabbinate. It’s called “the Prodigal Son” because one of the African Hebrew Israelites (who are vegan and teetotalers) goes to Israel to escape the strict living standards he has in his community. He seeks freedom.

Circumcise Me

An American catholic convert to Judaism does stand-up comedy routine about his conversion and new life. I think it’s a play on the “Supersize Me” movie’s title.


Akon and Fat Joe were here 3 weeks ago in Cape Town.

Even bigger (bigger venue) 50 Cents was here last weekend. I thought it was completely hilarious to hear the South African morning Show reporter speak (British South African accent) about the events in the week and then when saying the name of 50 say “Fiddy” in the middle of the British accented words. It just didn’t sound right. It was too funny

Chris Rock is coming in June; he sold out immediately. So they decided to do a second CT date. I’m sure that sold out immediately as well.


Stephen Hawking is probably the closest thing we have today to a popular scientist like Einstein. He’s a physics professor in the UK, but has written a few layperson books. He’ll be in Cape Town speaking along with a NASA head and two Nobel Laureates. I’d LOVE to go; it’s May 11th, but there are no more tickets.

This is getting long again. So I think I’ll talk later about more things I’d like to tell you. Always soo much going on. See you.



UPDATE - April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008

Anna is a philanthropic community social worker.

Man is a homeless person looking for food.

Ding, ding (not a doorbell, we have an actual tiny bell with a long string attached to the knocker inside the bell).

“uhhhhhUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” (Anna moaning in bed)

ting, ting, ting!

Finally Anna gets up and goes to the door.


Hello, Madame, do you have any canned food you can spare? I’m hu—


Hello, Madame, do you have any canned foo—

I heard you. Do you know what time it is?

I don’t have a watch or food but if you could give either one, especially some food--

You don’t know what time it is?

No, but do you have some---

No, honestly, do you know what time it is?

Do I know what?

It’s 7:30 in the morning.

Which morning are you talking about? Today?

It’s 7:30 in the morning, hey?

Yes, Madame, do you have any cann—

NO, I do NOT have any food for you. Come back at a decent hour.


Hi, again, I’ve had troubles with updates, so you’ll probably see this one close to a few others. So they will be slightly shorter and less socially analytical, but hopefully you’ll enjoy them. Oh, the Scorpions were disbanded (I mentioned the debate raging on in a previous update). Unrelated, because I'm becoming closer to people since the camp, someone asked Bronwyn (the children’s administrator) if I was available; I'm pretty sure it was a mistake or maybe Bronwyn was being sarcastic when she was relating the story and saying in a loud authoritative voice that I was OFFLIMITS. Another girl who is helping with the Thursday dinners for 5 different courses (Marriage/Alpha/First Steps (follow-up to famous Alpha Course)/Joining Course/Counseling Course) said she knew me and had seen me at church. I thought it strange because I was not a visible person at church (leading worship, preaching, ushering, etc.). But somehow she noticed me. She said I was handsome in the context of a conversation. She did the first HIV/AIDS 4 day training course that I was not allowed to take because of my lecturing duties.

WORLD MALARIA DAY (Friday April 25, 2008)

WORLD MALARIA DAY (Friday April 25, 2008)

In addition to AIDS, malaria is still a problem here and even bigger in other African countries. I won’t write much about this other than to completely quote an e-mail by my good friend Eliza Choo. I include it here below.

today is world malaria day.

"see, nearly 3,000 kids die every day in africa from malaria...three thousand kids! that's a 9/11 every day!"

rick reilly wrote a column about malaria in sports illustrated a couple years ago (, challenging each of his readers to donate at least $10 for the purchase of anti-malaria bed nets - and this led to the creation of the nothing but nets campaign.

please check out and they'll donate a net on your behalf. or you can directly donate to the charity organization. for $10, you can provide a family an insecticide-coated net that can last up to four years. $10 today might save a kid's life and future!


This is a huge topic today in South Africa. Because of the many RECENT conflicts that have occurred (there have been conflicts in many places around the world) and the young nature of most African states, South Africa is home to many people who have fled their countries. We are the continental hot spot, the place to go if you can’t get to the UK or the US. And so you will find people from Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Sudan, Mozambique, Malawi, etc. I mean they are from everywhere. When you meet someone from certain countries like DRC or Burundi or Rwanda there’s a 90% (higher in my experience) chance that the person you are talking to is a refugee or someone granted asylum by South Africa.

Because of the high number of refugees, many South Africans fear the competition. This fuels xenophobia. Refugees make up a large portion of the informal sector and many people employ them over black South Africans (80% of the population) because the refugees are cheaper. This happens in construction industries as well as domestic worker industries, agriculture, and tourism. In Xhosa (one of the 9 official Black South African languages out of 11 official languages) they have a word for Black non-South African African. And this is part of the xenophobia. It’s not a positive or encouraging word, though it’s not vulgar either.

The problem is that many immigrants and/or refugees live in poor conditions and many are discriminated against. Simultaneously South Africa has tightened control on entry (emigration) and asylum (immigration issues are hot topics in so many countries including Israel, USA, UK, China, Korea, Dominican Republic, etc.).

I’m thankful that we have people (especially students) who are willing to fight for refugee rights and mutual respect and against refugee discrimination.


Well, the results will finally be released. After reports of widespread bullying, beating up, torture in which government/military thugs are trying to force people to vote for ZANU-PF during a recount, we will finally see the results of the presidential race. This should happen tomorrow, I’m guessing. But there’s no guarantee that the released results whatever they are will cull or mitigate the post-election tension and violence. But hopefully it’s a step to returning to progress (though honestly the country was in the midst of regression).

MDC is still refusing to participate in a run-off or a recount.

Thousands of prison wardens in Kenya are on strike. This is really not good. Some senior workers have been charged with inciting workers to strike.


So I haven’t done any. In the past 3 weeks I’ve been swamped doing work with students that don’t really read before they come to lecture. Granted they don’t have a physical textbook and the notes from which the previous lectures (for the same computer programming course) lecture are scant, they were given links to an online textbook which most don’t read. So I try to help by giving them something physical. The point is that I have to prepare lecture slides either in a PDF format or PPT (Powerpoint) AND at the same time prepare actual reading material for them. So it’s a lot of work. I like for them to have read it before coming but that doesn’t happen.

I am now doing a research grant/project proposal with the US government again working with Vinod the amazing engineer friend I worked with back when we were doing graduate studies. He’s a professor not at UTEP. So we should submit the proposal sometime within the first two weeks of May. That will deal with airdrop systems, parachutes, and paratroopers—making things safer. I especially like working on the biomechanics of paratroopers themselves during landing and parachute deployment.

By the end of May I’m submitting a grant proposal for my HIV/AIDS research project. This I’m behind on as I’m supposed to be reading one AIDS article a day (about 5 per week), but I have not as all my free time is spent on these courses. I have a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday the 29th of April) where I’ll receive pressure from my supervisor who still is not excited about me tutoring.

Strangely enough, I have been declared a finalist in the selection of only one university. This happens to be a tenure-track instructional/support faculty position at RIT (RochesterNew York) in their Engineering Studies department of their National Technical Institute for the Deaf. I would learn sign language and teach engineering courses to deaf students. Though being deaf is not funny it is interesting that the only university currently interested is one for deaf students. Once papers are published I’m sure that will change. But, given that I’m not competitive yet if you judge by publication, it probably means that most scientists were not interested in such a position or job. Interesting. . .

So this week we three public holidays—Monday (Independence Day), Thursday, and Friday (Human Rights Day). So many people have taken Tuesday and Wednesday off and made it a week-long vacation. I tried to do that by canceling lecture on Wednesday. My supervisor reinstated it by e-mail which means I have to stay and lecture. I was sad at first because I wanted to go to Grahamstown and take a vacation and visit Haley and the girls especially with Brenda’s birthday just recently occurring (Brenda is a cute, world-traveler and explorer friend full of passion who is doing a masters at Rhodes even after serving as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar during her first year of the masters). But staying in Cape Town allowed me to be at church when David Block came and spoke twice yesterday.


If you know Louis Giglio or heard me mention him you know that he has pictures of stars and the universe. One of the guys he received his pictures from is Professor David Block of Wits (abbreviation) in Joburg. He’s a Professor of Computational and Applied Maths and applies his mathematics to astronomy. He believes in design and has written a book called the “Our Universe: Accident or Design?” which rivals/contradicts Richard Dawkins’ “God Delusion.”

In the morning he gave a “kid-friendly” talk (I asked a kid about it; she said the pictures were cool but it was too long and boring) so we had all of the kids grades 1-7 in the sanctuary instead of in their respective Sunday School (or Children’s church) classrooms. At night, he gave a deeper talk about the scientific evidence pointing towards the existence of a God (which Richard Dawkins speaks against in his book).

First I love astronomy. If you know Lee Strobel and his books “Case for Christ,” “Case for Faith,” and “Case for a Creator” I loved the third the most because it involved science. Though many people had issues with his approach and the acceptance of faulty arguments I really like the physics, astronomy, biology, geology, etc. in the last one. So it was nice to hear the talk at night. Both services were overpacked; people stood at the back and sat at the back or in the aisles. It was crazy. We had not only first-time visitors who were churchless, we also had churched people visiting just to hear David Block.

Well, it was enjoyable. One girl (in the complete minority) found him pompous and unenjoyable. But he was funny and engaging. He spoke very loudly like a preacher or a professor who knows he’s in demand and at the top of his game. His slide presentations which he spoke through had accompanying music which made me think he was no going to talk but generally he talks over it.

He showed how the forces of gravity and electromagnetism and the speed that the galaxies are moving away from each other are so exact that to change them even so slightly (say 1 in 10 followed by 54 zero’s parts) would make the universe uninhabitable (gravity too strong stars and planets collapse into each other, too weak planets and stars wouldn’t form; speed too fast then planets and stars wouldn’t form, to slow and the universe would have collapsed back on itself into the original big bang singularity (starting point of infinite mass, density, etc. at a single point), same with the atom—electrons and protons would collide forming neutrons if the electromagnetic force were greater, electrons would be unbounded to atoms if the force were slightly less). I’m not explaining any of this in any detail. Just suffice it to say he showed that there are some physical constants like gravity or the speed that the galaxies are moving away from each other that appear as if someone set it perfectly like that in order for our universe to work.

Lastly he spoke about irreducible complexity an argument put forward by Michael Behe. I wrote at length on this in some of my earliest updates and so do not want to go into it again. I just thought it was interesting how he only did those four reasons. There are more points to be made so when you shorten how do you choose which ones you mention and which ones you do not? Well, those were the ones he chose. And the people were amazed. Interestingly, though he tried to make it very simple, it was over the heads of a lot of people. This surprised me, but I was told that South Africans were weak in math and science and they do not do a liberal arts education so if you know you want to study philosophy you ONLY take those courses and that’s it. You only take other things if you don’t know what you will major in or if you want to take an elective.

So it was a good day, Sunday. I remember why I first liked science as a little boy—because of astronomy. It reminded me that I tried to volunteer with the South African Large Telescope (SALT) group. It reminded me of where my astronautical aspirations come from. It reminded me that I should still get back to it, that my love of general science and reporting to you (I haven’t done it lately) of advancements in areas of biology, physics, geology, etc. I would love to do work in astronomy or try applying my math to that area as well. Such interesting questions to be answered. And I look forward to seeing what CERN (remember I mentioned this a few months ago, the group in Switzerland with the very large particle accelerator) is able to open up our understanding of physics and the world.

Amazing talk and brought me back home through it.

Then I had someone ask me about questions of faith and the questions that are “stumbling blocks” to those that want to believe but cannot. I would include the arguments here, but most people are asleep if you’ve even read this far.


Kite Runner

Excellent. The MOST important thing for me was a reminder of the situation in Afghanistan. With all the Iraqi problems we sometimes forget that we first were bombing in Afghanistan and even before that the Taliban had a hold on the control. There are a few books out now (fiction) that have inside looks into the country. I always appreciate the power of the medium of film over just the written word to show what is happening.

The acting was also – what’s the world – natural. It was as if the main guy in the movie (who was a boy originally) was just being himself, like he was not an actor. I enjoyed it.

UPDATE April 20, 2008

April 20, 2008

No lie, I was on a kids camp, recently, and I saw a leader/counselor leave the stall after number 2 without washing his hands. Reminds me of my 5-day hike. In fact, I think the same guy did the same thing on that hike as well. Let the games begin!!

At a recent kids camp, one white boy came up to me and said, “Oh my GOSH. Look at his lips. They’re HUGE! Look at HIS LIPS!!”

At a recent kids camp (mentioned later), we had a session with just boys during which the speaker, one of the male counselors, spoke about David and Goliath. He then asked the boys about evil, big giants in their lives (obviously looking for things like anger/temper, lying, maybe school grades/subjects, a tough sport). One boy raised his hand and said “Robert Mugabe.” Another raised his hand and said “Jacob Zuma.” The counselors did all they could not to laugh. “Guys, guys, guys. This is not political . . .”

Aliens have attacked and decided to abduct all the sexy and good-looking people.

You will be fine, but you will no longer see me anymore . . . . .


I have a postcard that says something like that on a pin-up board in my office.

They have put a pin-up board which I don’t use and a white board which I also don’t use. They asked me if I wanted it and I don’t know if I wanted it; it didn’t matter to me. If I was really pressed for it, I would have been asking for one before they gave me one because there were extras. Anyway, they also gave me a yellow lamp from the 1960’s that sits in a corner 2.5 meters from any outlet.

This one will be short as I don’t have much internet access these days at home. And for that reason this update is coming to you late and will be short. Most of the week I’ve spent on education.


I took a visit on Thursday (the 17th) to an “alternative” public school called Leap. My friend Ross is a teacher there. And this week happens to be the first week of the first 3 week teaching practicum for student teachers (these are varsity students in their fourth year; so they study for 3 years to get a bachelors degree and the 4th year is a certification year still associated with a university) across the country. So I saw many frightened student teachers given the entire classroom for 3 weeks (though many taught a few different subjects and a few different grade levels).

Leap is a school that reaches out to kids from the townships of Guglethu and Crossroads. It’s only about 160 kids and it’s a pure high school that is still building up. In other words, their highest grade is 11, and these grade 11 students will be the first graduating class next year when they are final year students.

The school is constructed so that the hallway of the school, though initially beginning with staff rooms and storage rooms on its right and left, goes through classrooms. So, to get to the other end of the building or to classroom on the other end, you must walk through 2 other classrooms. This can be very unnerving especially for the new student teachers getting certified. But after awhile they get used to it.

It was quite wonderful being back in the education field. I normally deal with South African masters and undergraduate students who are not used to coming to lecture having read the material. And so it can be a struggle. But it’s quite wonderful to reach the kids at the level where they divergence between white and black and coloured kids begins in South African society.

At Leap, I met with the Headmaster to discuss working with the school. Lately, I’ve been combining different aspects of my life which is so easy for me to do with my church since they are so socially relevant. So my life group wants to serve in the community and I was trying to facilitate this. Instead of just going in teaching or working with kids alone, I could bring a team of university students including some who would be even closer to the age of the Leap school students. We narrowed on three choices:

  1. A weekly Saturday tutoring project. If it works well and the university students can stay committed we could think about increasing it to a preferred mentoring program.
  2. A weekly Thursday afternoon (2-3:15) creative arts enrichment program. Most likely this will be drama, and it should be rather fun to have a small production finished by the end of the term (half a semester, a quarter).
  3. Spontaneous trips to go caving or hiking for which Ross (my teacher friend) leads. But he can always take more kids if we help

And so we will see. I already know it will be an uphill battle because university students do not want to commit to a weekly thing. They are thinking monthly, but the school doesn’t see that as worthy of investment or academically viable. So I’m caught between the two. Luckily I’ve met Kofi Annan and I’m going to use some of his mediation techniques to work it out. And hopefully this won’t be another bad experience with uncommitted university students. We’ll see.


All of this kept me out of the news and goings-on. But when I returned back to town on Sunday, I was greeted with news of Zimbabwe at church, actually.

Zim is still undergoing issues. No release of the results of the elections. And the High Courts have ruled that they would not force it. While I was out of town, China sent a shipment of arms to Harare but SA, Mozambique, Angola—no one would let them dock (I’m writing this part retrospectively). My church (I love my church) prayed about the situation because we knew if it landed violence would break out into something worse.