Weather – tis nobler in the mind to suffer

In a Woolworths queue in the Gardens Centre yesterday evening I idly picked up the Cape Argus.

It’s the only time I actually read anything in that newspaper.

I like to casually glance at its headlines during my journey from the beginning of the endless tunnel of sweats sweets (damn morning rush) and magazines. I then stash it amongst the heap of chocolate boats stuffed with Smarties right before the tills.

I commit two very mild acts of corporate activism when I do this.

I admonish The Argus for plastering Cape Town with interesting and clever billboards that inevitably refer to puerile and ridiculously provincial – and badly written – stories.

And I wrist-slap Woolworths for having made me carry my then small children through that tunnel after a long day of shopping – an experience that  still makes me shudder.

Okay, these are not very militant acts; more mild criticism of two old and venerable institutions that I feel great affection for but believe would benefit from the occasional slap.

Anyway, the cover story on The Argus shocked me rigid – such that I barely noticed the passing array of Magnum Ice-creams and left-over chocolate father Christmases calling out to me and the small squalling children being pushed by their exhausted mothers through Infanticide Row.

Government is proposing to fine South Africans who give unsanctioned weather and pollution warnings –  ten years in jail or a R10 million fine (catch the full text of the South African Weather Service Amendment Bill here.)

I got it immediately.

You can’t have amateur forecasters spreading panic and despair because they had seen fluctuations in their crystals and spirit catchers … or because choppy surf with a curling left-break at Glen Beach means Durbs is gonna be hit by cyclones, dude … or whatever.

But as I was passing the tubs of sour worms it dawned on me that all forecasting should be controlled. You can’t have every blogger and his parrot predicting the unfolding sovereign debt crises in Europe, the US presidential elections, the possibility of a US/Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, whether Germany and France will eventually let Greece sink without a trace, whether the Euro will be history this time next year …. the list is endless.

The pronouncements of economists and political analysts and talking heads of all kinds should come with health warnings. Who’s to say they know anything more than anyone else about anything?

But they get asked by television and radio stations and newspapers and they set up blogs …

Oops …

I dawned on me, but only after a surprisingly long time; somewhere between the sacks of chewy white milky cars and deep piles of You Magazines.

I am a forecaster. I have been quite specific about what I think will happen in the ANC’s debate about mine nationalisation. I have been fairly specific about succession issues in the ANC – both at Polokwane (where I was mostly wrong) and Mangaung (where I will be mostly right) ….

Excuse me? Did you really just say what I think you said?

No. No but seriously – the South African Weather Bureau has scientists with balloons and mysterious beeping machines in places like the Antarctic and Gough Island and a billion information feeds and huge computer models that attempt to get closer and closer to emulating the storm systems driving across from south of South America … and they still fail because they forgot about the butterfly flapping its mysterious wings in Peru.

By the time I punitively stashed The Argus amongst the chocolate tugs stuffed with brightly coloured beads just before the serene Woolworths teller lady I was having a minor existential crisis.

Admittedly not a completely new one – once you have been fairly sure that the ANC would not slip into the hands of the Nkandla Crew at Polokwane you are forever chastened and humbled by the knowledge that the future really is an ever unfolding mystery.

10 thoughts on “Weather – tis nobler in the mind to suffer

  1. Hi Nic, your astute extrapolation of the intention behind such legislative ‘destructive creativity’ highlights a trend that concerns me greatly. In my view there is a gloabl trend to eroding democratic accountabillity at many levels, by even those governments who are at the forefront of Democracy in the world.

    The contemporary example – take the issue of the failings of derivatives that have landed the global economy in a protracted mess where, at the bottom of the metaphorical barrel, human beings die, without any broader recognition of the connection.

    If we are not able to ‘forecast’ the effect of unsound practices, specially in the case of derivatives, the imperative for regulation disappears, the imperative for undertsanding disappears, the imperative for the corrct solution disappears, and so on. Here, I should say that derivatives in the simple form, of commodity price management is a sensible and very useful, ‘valueable’ economic price regulator of resources, or assets.

    Now, the present financial economic problem has many facets, the most important of which, are:
    1. Leverage, especially by means of rehypothecation.
    2. Disassociation of financial ‘value’ from the underlying assets (resources).
    3. The ‘gravitation’ of risk, triggering criteria, written in derivative contracts, reducing to a very small subset of points of systemic failure, that are directly associated with economic cycles. Thus, when the economy turns downwards, everything plummets in contagion and sentiment is a simple bystander.
    4. The consequence, that leadership, globally, is involved in a process of damage limitation and behave like addicts driven to using more of the same, for example the growth of CDS in 2011 (See BIS statistics).

    Remarkably few clarifying public discussions are taking place in the media, regarding the reasons for the failure of the global financial economy (derivatives primarily). Unsurprisingly, most discussions tending toward fostering FUD, ‘Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt’ in various forms. This allows for the ‘freedom’ to manipulate by intention or obfuscate by ignorance, where the source of the problem lies (sic). The degradation of the process, impeding the possibility of a solution being found in a timely fashion, were the social process of clarifications to take place, more readily and more broadly.

    The present circumstance being more likely unintended, because noone foresaw or ‘forecast’ the possibility, well, actually, some did. And yet, this reflects the decaying state of the ideology of global democracy. Worse still, if we are never allowed to ‘forecast’ events, humanity will surely face a slow grinding oblivion of sorts, since no solutions or improvements on existing methods will be possible in a timely enough and appropriate manner (too little, too late, or whatever else… ). A social inertia will weigh heavily, if not already the case. Here too, rigorous scienctific research (and interpretation) becomes paramount in importance.

    Democracy, transparency, accountability, legislature and censorship are all in a dangerous ‘liaison’. Humanity needs ‘Creative Action’.

  2. I smell a rat. Maybe its my suspicion of politicians, but why waste energy on even drawing up, never mind policing and prosecuting a law against incorrect weather forecasts, even if they intentionally incorrect? Are we all so blunt and gullible that we would, bovine-like, believe crappy or sensationalist forecasts? So what if someone or some organisation invents a tsunami? Sure as hell, given the lack of political will and courage at COP-17, tsunamis are a’comin’. Its really just the ‘when’ that we’re haggling about now, whether we admit it or not. In X years Cape Town will develop an island as the Flats become inundated as they were some 150,000 years ago. Only it will be a much faster and devastating reversal. Durban, Cape Town, all our other ports and a good few low-lying islands in the world will be underwater and ususable. As the floodwaters rise, where to relocate the new dock facilties will be a guessing game too. And that’s just seaport connection with the world. In Cormac McCarthy’s recent chilling post-climate- apocalypse novel ‘The Road’, a horrible image is conjured. Not so much because of its portrayal of human depravity and the seemingly pathetic power of love, but for its stark question: why did we let things deteriorate so? So I smell a rat and it strikes me its a plastic decoy. The biggest crisis facing almost all life on earth, not just our species, is here showing undeniable signs of itself: global warming, overpopulation, rapidly escalating extinctions, fossil fuel, water & food scarcity of nightmarish proportions are here and need very creative attention in a rear-guard action from the current way we live AND THINK. And we’re wanting to … legislate against false weather forecasts? What’s that phrase again … the one
    about rearranging deck-chairs?

  3. The weather service has been forecasting rain for today – it went from a 100% probability down to 90% a few days ago. But still no sign of anything here today. Throw the lot in jail, say I!!

  4. “No, no, Your Honour, I swear I am not a Weather Forecaster. I am a Time Traveller, and I was reporting on the weather exactly as I was seeing it – so it wasn’t Forecasting at all, you see…”

    1. Most forecasters start out seeming to talk with the confidence of time travellers … they (I) soon learn their (my) lessons … I took the liberty of correcting a typo … hope that is in order … Nic

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