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Icanonline shutting down

Found out today that Icanonline is closing its doors. After my post on open source and banking it’s now even more urgent to find a decent bank! In a way it’s a relief, another opportunity to leave Nedbank. I’ve always disliked them. To me, they have a reputation as being expensive and inefficient. Twice they’ve bought my existing bank and made the experience worse. My first ‘bank’ account was with the Permanent Building Society, then Nedcor took them over and moved me to the People’s Bank – horrendous charges, useless interest and bad service meant it never lived up to its name. I also had to move to a branch miles away from where I lived. I never understood why anyone with lower income, which is supposedly the target market, would choose such an expensive bank.

So, I moved to Icanonline, then owned by NBS (part of the efficient NBS/BOE/Pep group), which was great for a while, until Nedbank came along and took them over too, immediately upping the charges (this was also around the time of 20Twenty’s hiatus). Nedbank’s strategy then lurched into deciding to use only one brand, which meant they closed the superb Cape of Good Hope Bank which my partner used. She also refused to stay with Nedbank and moved to FNB. The FNB branch next door to the Cape of Good Hope branch apparently told her that 80% (an exaggeration I’m sure) of COGHB client’s had moved to them. Nedbank, not content with alienating one segment of their customer base, are now in the process of doing the same with NBS, moving them to People’s Bank. Last time I was at the friendly NBS I use when I need to do some physical banking, a customer was having an argument at having their account summarily moved to a distant People’s Bank. The staff could only shrug and blame Nedbank management for the policy decision. So, now I have another chance to leave Nedbank! They’ve bought me twice, and twice I’ve had the pleasure of leaving them.

The problem still remains though, where to go. In South Africa, bank services are not great. I’ve applied for a 20Twenty account on a Windows machine, after the hopeless code wouldn’t allow me to submit using anything but Internet Explorer – not a good start, but what are my options? Does anyone have suggestions?

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Gonzo predicts the US election

Yes, finally I succumb and write something on the US election. The inspiration was one of my favourite writers, Hunter S. Thompson – see his . excellent article on IOL. A colleague knows a supposedly accurate clairvoyant who’s predicted a Kerry win. With nothing better but a clairvoyant and blind hope to go on I’m cautiously positive. Neil Blakey-Milner has also cracked and posted on the election – his post led me to commentary.co.za’s endorsement of Kerry. While streets apart from them politically, I take solace in their conservative endorsement of Kerry.

I’ve questioned myself quite extensively on this – wouldn’t another Bush win lead to a positive outcome? Is there really a difference between them? Is Kerry not the respectable face of American imperialism? With Bush being so dislikeable, perhaps a win for him would lead to invigoration amongst environmentalists and other progressive forces. Every effect has an opposing effect – the aftermath of World War II was positive, humans undertaking not to repeat the atrocities. Bush is not up there with Hitler yet, but who knows what a second term would bring. Right now Bush is the planet’s number one baddie, but I’d like to be optimistic, and think that people can say ‘never again’ without Bush having to go to the level of Nazi Germany. I do really believe that humanity is evolving – the level of opposition to the Iraq invasion gives me hope. In the US, there’s already a groundswell of support for democracy, many new voters registering and probably voting for the first time as they realise a vote does make a difference (see the M&G’s article on Ohio’s non-voters getting a push (it’s a locked article). I’m still optimistic – I think voting does make a difference. In the South African General election I encountered this same issue, with progressive friends deciding not to vote, some supporting calls from a social movement, and others just apathetic. I still believe a non-vote is in effect a vote for the status quo – American’s who didn’t vote effectively supported Bush. South African’s who didn’t vote supported a two-thirds majority for the ANC. The idea of a non-vote as protest does not hold water – the system treats the non-voters as apathetic and they exclude themselves from any influence on the outcome.

In a poll of international readers on the US presidential election, I voted for David Cobb – I bet most of you haven’t a clue who he is! There’re quite a few candidates to choose from. The fact that only two have the funding to win shows up the flaws in the US system. If I were really American I’d probably have to vote for Kerry, a pragmatic choice with it coming down to him or Bush. Hooray for proportional representation here. Neil made an interesting point in his blog when deciding to post on the topic – that the South African election rarely gets analysed in this detail. Perhaps. I’d like to think I spent more effort deciding who to vote for locally than I did on the US election, but it’s a fact that the US being the superpower bully they are, who they choose to lead them has a disproportionate effect on us down on the Southern tip of Africa. I mean how much coverage has the Botswanan election got?

I surprised myself and managed not to froth too much in my US election post, and I promise that’ll be it, at least until it’s all over.

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Banking and Open Source in South Africa

Now that I’m finally moved off the Windows2000 machine I’d been using at work (all of the developers have been using Linux a while, either Gentoo, Mandrake or Fedora, as have most of the editorial staff, so it was disgraceful that the IT Manager who got everyone to run on Open Source hasn’t been doing so himself!), and am running Mandrake on my laptop, it’s time to look at that ‘hall of shame’ I’ve been meaning to put together a while. How do South African banks shape up when it comes to Open Source.

Sadly, pretty badly.

The obvious 2 are the ‘online’ banks, 20Twenty and Icanonline. They offer better interest rates, lower charges – surely they would support open standards? I currently use Icanonline, and have been very happy, but plan to retire all Windows machines from my life. I’ll keep this discussion simple: do the sites work on Linux (or anything besides IE), and what interest rates do they pay with a R10 000 positive balance, and with a R100 000 positive balance (perhaps I’m being a tad optimistic here). Bank charges are another story altogether. I’d suggest looking at the Bankmonitor site for more on this.

Icanonline:
Great interest rate of 6.05% for anything above R10 000, but the menus don’t work, making the site unusable. Interest of R50.41/R504.16 per month if you have a R10 000/R100 000 balance.

20Twenty:
Not quite so good interest rate: 3% at R10 000, 6% at >R20 000. I’ve been assured by a Wired Warrior that the site works on Mozilla, but I can’t even complete the application form successfully (don’t oops me, I assure you that radio button was checked!). Interest works out to R25/R500 per month at R10 000/R100 000.

FNB:
Works on Linux and a fairly wide variety of platforms. I was going to write ‘impressive tech’, but I’m feeling churlish today – just since most of the banks don’t do it, doesn’t mean it’s impressive. This should be standard! So FNB meet the minimum standards. However, dismal interest rate of 1.25% at R10 000, moving up to 4% at R100 000. That’s R10.41/R333.33 interest per month at R10 000/R100 000.

Standard Bank:
Dismal interest of 1.5% and 3.8%. Site doesn’t fill one with hope, talking only about IE 5 or higher, but menus seem to work with Mozilla, and I’ve heard the site does work. If anyone knows more, please let me know. R12.50 and R316.66 interest respectively.

Nedbank:

It gets worse! Interest of 1% and 3.5%, and the site seems up the pole. I can’t find a page mentioning browser requirements, the site map has one page on it, and the interactive demo is a tiny window that I can’t click on. So I can only assume this site isn’t working on Linux. If the interest rates don’t chase you away, the tech will! You’d earn a whopping R8.33/R291.66. Don’t fool yourself that with bank charges you’ll come close to a profit!

Absa:
1.2% and 3.8%. After Icanonline and 20Twenty I would have called this dismal, but it doesn’t seem so bad after the other misnamed ‘Big Four’. Can’t find specific information about the browsers, but the demo seems to work, although some of the rendering is a little off. Does anyone know more? R10/R316.66 interest earned.

So, what am I to do? Icanonline and 20Twenty both offer tempting packages, but the tech doesn’t work. Do I have to effectively pay hundreds of rands more (with bank charges) to be able to bank on Linux? These banks happily chase away the 1 in 25 people who can’t use their sites (based upon the September IOL figures, probably a good overview of general South African readership). Perhaps I should apply for a 20Twenty account on IE, and then test whether the actual banking works on Mozilla. How many customers would go to this much trouble 🙂 I’ll keep you posted.

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Fire (Social)

Media ethics in South Africa

Recently the great debate amongst South African media organisations has been on whether to show/link to the beheadings in Iraq.

It all began when SABC showed the video in their Xhosa news. The producer was suspended and the SABC fined. Later, Vincent Maher, a lecturer at Rhodes University, ran a poll amongst his final year journalism students to see whether websites should link to the video. 75% approved

The other main media companies, IOL, News 24, Sunday Times and Iafrica, all disapproved of linking, claiming variously that it would give publicity to the perpetrators, or is simply gratuitous and would not add to the reader’s understanding. The Mail and Guardian was the sole main exception, claiming that it brings home the horror, and is an active choice as opposed to the SABC TV example, where the video was foisted upon viewers.

In trying to formulate my own opinion, I first examined my behaviour. I saw the link in the Mail and Guardian article I referred to earlier, but chose not to view it. I know my reaction would be horror and disgust if I actually viewed it, and I choose not to. I can’t say for sure if my view of the invasion would become more sympathetic, as IOL’s Babs Abba Omar says of his ‘leftist’ friends but I doubt it. The militants are religious fanatics with a warped understanding of life, and the US occupation encourages their actions – an emotional reaction to the video will not change this opinion.

So, back to the main question, whether I support linking to the video. Firstly, what are the main consequences of viewing the video

  • publicity for the militants
  • shock for the viewers, and an emotional reaction.

How will people react? In a variety of ways. Will they change their views, and become more or less supportive of a particular view? I don’t think that should be a consideration, as determining whether to show something because of it may shift an audience position is simply censorship. Media does this all the time, and the idea of an objective reporter has long been challenged, but it’s at least something to strive for (just as free will is a tenuous concept, but things quickly fall apart if you don’t believe you have it – but that’s for another day). So then, why not link? That leaves two main reasons:

  • to protect readers from harm
  • to not support the actions of the murderers.

Protecting readers from harm is a difficult one, we take elements from the age old pornography debate, and it comes down to the unknown. The problem, another old one, is that of the individual versus the group. Many individuals can watch pornography and murderous videos without harm to themselves or their understanding. Some societies protect children from pornography because they believe children are influenced by what they see, and without a well-developed understanding they will be influenced to imitate the behaviour. Since children learn to a large degree from imitation, I believe this is true. I also believe adults do the same, and many ‘adults’ are not able to understand or control their reactions. Watching a violent video, they may feel anger, and lash out with this anger, just as many in the US did at innocent people they associated with the killers after the World Trade Centre attacks.

I have less faith in people these days, at the same time as I have more. Human development is about awareness, growth, understanding ourselves. Many are at differing levels, and a rough seperation of adult/child puts many on the wrong side (some children are of course more developed in ways than some adults). As does no line at all – linking to the video allows many who aren’t ready to view it. Not linking disallows many who are ready from viewing it. And of course, putting myself in the latter camp, I would be annoyed at not being able to should I wish to. I’m trying to extend this beyond the video example, which I won’t view, to perhaps something like pornography, which I may view, but the principle is similar.

Hoever, the consequences to someone ready, but not able to view the video, are less than those to someone not ready but able to view the video.

So does that mean I support not linking to it, and in fact not linking to pornography either? And I haven’t even got to supporting the murderers, which doesn’t apply to the consenting pornographers.

I’m not entirely comfortable with that, and this exercise is reminding me of the pitfalls of this sort of philosophical thinking. The rational mind is only way of understanding, and it has serious limitations. It can convincingly and coherently argue on behalf of most viewpoints. I can quite easily separate the porn and beheading example by looking at the plus side of viewing porn – sexual exploration, overcoming unhealthy attitudes to sex passed on from parents or a repressive society. With the experience I’ve had of living in South Africa, moving from a highly repressive society to a much more open one, I saw how pornographic magazine sales shot up after they were legalised (horny people seeing what they had missed out on, the forbidden fruit) and have since collapsed again as people got bored (though some may blame the Internet). This is healthy to my mind. Most people have an ‘adult’ attitude to pornography – they choose whether to view it or not, and this is healthier than the sexual repression that came before. But I’m sure too it does some harm. So the choice there is between levels of harm. Let’s leave it at that, I’m not writing a book!

The video is a different example, as the benefits of viewing are much less obvious to me. The Mail and Guardian’s “bringing home the horror” doesn’t wash. So there are less, if any benefits, and some (I’m not going to delve into whether it’s more or less) harm to viewing.

So, without even needing to explore the question of whether the video supports the actions of the murderers (which simply adds to the harm side of the equation), I seem to be on the side of not viewing the video. As a further difference with pornography example, pornography is barred to children (a decision that makes sense with my harm argument, as children are, or at least should be in theory, more susceptible to the harm caused by a limited understanding). The Mail and Guardian links to the video without any attempt to bar it from children (would they do the same with a link to a hardcore porn site if they found it newsworthy? Surely not if they’re consistent).

So a rational investigation can bring up a fairly coherent viewpoint. But as I said earlir it’s easy to rationally support differing views, and these will mostly be based upon a highlighting of different facts. Rationality works well in a limited scientific environment, where an experiment is tightly controlled, leading to limited empirical evidence, which allows a simpler conclusion. The video question relies on all sorts of other facts, most of which we don’t know. How much harm is caused? Very difficult to settle that one. So, other factors help us decide. I’ll call them emotional and spiritual intelligence.

Not claiming much of them myselves, I find it difficult to bring them in on a global scale. It may be easy to decide whether to show the video to someone I know well, or a limited group I know well, and can draw upon these two other sorts of intelligence to make a better decision (will my child be able to view pornography when he is 18 without harm? I hope so. Can he now, at age 1 – probably, as he’s too young. Will I let him see pornography at age six? Probably not. Those decisions to me seem relatively easy, but to make a decision like this for the entire Internet community requires a level of spiritual intelligence I don’t have.

So, coming down to it, I don’t know. Always an honest answer. If I was to make the decision I would choose not to link directly to the video, based upon my earlier evaluation of harm caused. But, perhaps after some more years of developing my awareness, I may come up with a better answer. If you believe in a form of global consciousness, then the fact that we have the technology means we are ready (or better damn well learn fast). As the Mail and Guardian argues, the link is out there already.

But the argument forks into other arguments, the allure of this sort of thinking. Let’s leave it for another day.

Some links to further discussions, looking more at the media angle than my rambling investigation:

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Why blog

I’ve been thinking, as many new bloggers seem to, about why people blog, as I mentioned briefly yesterday. I haven’t got around to formulating my own views (perhaps I don’t have one), instead I’ve been reading some others. Most discussions aren’t very satisfying, but here’re a few that are:

  • Riba Rambles:`MORE Musings of a Mental Magpie
  • Jennifer’s weblog, which turns into a discussion on blogs versus wikis

    Another reason for me is to keep in shape. I used to write a lot, from late evening to sunrise, long manic ecstatic sessions exploring all sorts of aspects of myself. Since I have a child and an ‘ordinary’ job, that’s been difficult, though just how ordinary is a 3-day working week, and a 4-day weekend?. The 4-day weekend started about a month ago, so it’s time for new things, and reconnecting with old.

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Neverness – first entry

Finally, I have set up my blog, and am making my first post. As is my wont, I’ve thought about this a long time, and delayed, wanting to do it properly. I tend to find reasons to delay things forever.

Blogs fascinate me. One part sees them as egotistical, unimportant waffling written by insignificant people. But I’ve realised I still attribute to much energy to controlled forms of media. The recent case of indymedia being closed down again shows the danger of central control. Most of our newspapers write nothing but corporate and political press releases. Much of what is ‘important’ is what others believe is important. Blogs let us make up our own mind. And having started reading more of them recently, I’ve been impressed by the jewels in the mud. Blogs, Open Source, Open Content such as Wikipedia are rapidly changing the way we see the world. Most bloggers are under 25 – there’s an older generation of people who don’t understand the tremendous social changes we’re witnessing. Misunderstanding Open Source software where their understanding of business is that intellectual knowledge must be kept secret and used for enrichment. Not grasping how encyclopedia content in Wikipedia can at times be more enlightening than that in Brittanica.

I have ordered this blog in quite an artificial way, according to the Chinese 5 elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. Metal for technology, Water for personal, Wood for spiritual, Fire for social and political, and Earth for anything else that doesn’t quite fit, perhaps humour. My interests include literature, technology, in particular open source and its effects upon society, tai chi, spirit, environment. Hmm, I could go on – in a good space, like a child, everything should be fascinating. My difficulty has always been choosing what to focus on. Let’s see what happens!