Laugh at most hated man in America

More even than George W Bush (Hail to the Chief!), the man everybody loves to despise is Dick Cheney. So what’s this all about? A standing ovation to welcome him? Laughter and mirth? Is it, to pilfer a line from Cheney’s speech, some right-wing gathering of bitter men who cling to their guns? Nope, this is the assembled media. Could he, belatedly, be winning them over?

Part one:

Part two:

The full transcript of this very amusing talk before the Radio Television Correspondent’s dinner can be found here. It’s better in the reading, if you don’t have the time/bandwidth for the video. Cheney really was joking about his natural charm and charisma.

Welcome, don’t drink the water

Photo by Wespionage / WesleyMaybe this is related to the concerns about degenerating water infrastructure, about which I wrote some months ago. Maybe it’s not. Who knows? It’s not like they told us much more than “don’t drink the water“.

Residents in Northern Johannesburg areas were on Friday warned not to drink tap water as the quality was not up to standard, Johannesburg Water said.

Spokesperson Baldwin Matsimela said during routing (sic) sampling on Thursday it was found that the water supply was not up to standard and people in the Northern Johannesburg areas should boil their water before drinking it.

The areas affected are Northcliff, Linden, Cresta, Blairgowrie, Fairlands, and the areas immediately surrounding them.

That’s me, and the areas surrounding me. Sounds like a single incident, not a general problem. It may or may not be the result of old and decrepit water pipes (or “reticulation”, as bureaucrats call it for the sake of clarity), we aren’t being told.

“The water quality has been compromised and we are conducting more tests to find out the source of the problem.

“We do not know as yet what effects or symptoms it would have on people who have already consumed the water,” he said.

So, uh, how do you know the water quality has been compromised? What with? Mud? If so, I’ll take my chances. Sewerage? If so, I might increase my electricity usage contrary to the explicit instructions of minister Buyelwa Sonjica. Or I might avoid it altogether. The beer is still safe, I assume?

According to Johannesburg Water if there is a serious problem with the water, residents will be brought water through alternative methods.

“Lab results of water samples taken yesterday [Thursday] will be known by 1pm and from there we will know how to proceed,” said Baldwin. — Sapa

Well, it’s past one, and on cue, the news is coming over the radio that the tests came back negative. Nice to know.

Now here’s some advice for our public servants and their public relations staff. Stop scaring the living bejeezus out of thousands of people, half of whom drank the water before they heard the warning. Perhaps a little more clarity about what exactly happened and why — which I still want to know, by the way — would go a long way.

As I said, I still want to know what happened, where and why. Is this an idiot with a big machine who broke a pipe? Hey, it happens. Is it a pipe that spent the last 40 years rusting in peace? Why wasn’t it replaced at the end of its design life? Was it a sewerage spill or pollution incident? What did you do about it, and have the guilty parties been fined or fired?

People deserve to know these things. Especially when their health depends on this infrastructure.

It used to be a matter of pride to tell foreigners that unlike in some first world countries, our tap water is not only potable, it actually tastes good.

It would be nice if we could keep it that way. It would be nice not to have to listen to more humiliating comments from president Thabo Mbeki like his recent explanation that many other African countries also suffer serious electricity crises. We weren’t going to be like them, remember? I felt for him, at that moment. That comment must have been heartbreaking.

On the other hand, we still have lions, you foreign people. And elephants. Not in the streets, mind you. Not yet, at least.

Bullard sorry, was out to lunch

Rand ClubWhen I first wrote about David Bullard’s dismissal over his Sunday Times column on colonialism, I described it as offensive and condescending. Given the supercilious faux-Victorian persona he’s cultivated, however, I found it not all that surprising, and not worth suppressing by his dismissal or otherwise.

I must admit, I did not expect an apology from Bullard, but that’s exactly what he’s written in Business Day today.

I can’t claim to believe everything I have written because some columns were written purely for sensation. Readership of the column grew and I became heady with its success and pushed the boundaries. Last week I pushed that boundary too far.

…I offer sincere and heartfelt apologies to those who were offended, including Mondli Makhanya, my friend and former editor, whom I respect enormously.

Given his previous comments on Makhanya, notably that, “I was found guilty in the kangaroo court of Mondli Makhanya,” and that controversial Empire column on his motoring gig in the Sunday Times, I’m not sure what to make of this turnaround.

It seems clear that the vast majority of readers missed the satire. That few saw it as a provocative fiction, designed to make a point about a particular narrative about the past that is partly true but wholly one-sided, and to make a point about the convenient politics of always blaming present ills on these past evils.

Condescending and offensive though I found the column — writing is rarely as ugly as when satire fails — I never thought he intended to offend, or meant to present those crude caricatures as reality. Either way, it appears out of character for the public Bullard persona to apologise when readers misunderstand his intention and take offence. So why the groveling now?

Update: Ray Hartley, editor of The Times comments on his blog:

Where does that leave all those readers who came out in defence of Bullard’s column, saying that it was a legitimate piece of commentary? Gazzam, you was all outed!

I’m not so convinced. Most people I have read on the subject agreed that his comments were offensive, that the column was badly written, and that even if there was a valid debate about colonialism to be had — as I maintained — that he made several points with which one might disagree.

He apologised for causing offence, which is fair enough as far as it goes, but that just says he agrees the comments were offensive and the column was badly written. It says nothing about the validity or otherwise of the commentary, or about those who defended him. Besides, until a few days ago, one person who came out consistently in defence of David Bullard was, ahem, David Bullard. Where does that leave him?