31.7.06

the blog profile

Selecting "favourite" artists for your blog profile is serious business. Your profile is your face and clothes in cyberspace, and should be given the same careful consideration, treated with the same care.

Many panic and actually select their favourite artists, the cyberspace version of not paying attention to the clothes worn by your peers, ignorant of what is obvious to the socially successful. You only end up looking like a child lost in an amusement park, too overwhelmed to laugh and play with the other kids.

This post should be seen as nothing more than a wakeup call. There is no static formula, that is the nature of any dynamic efficient market. Leniency should not be asked nor given, and pity is the kiss of death. You must make your optimal statement, where optimality should be a function of only your taste in people. Any other consideration is merely a distraction, there to lead the weak astray.

The rookie mistake is to include too many consensus artists in your selection, for example someone like Robert de Niro. Everybody knows Bobby (God rest his soul) used to be the king: you are making no statement whatsoever. Pointless, unless you only want to impress others who do not understand the subtleties of the game. Unfortunately most people find them uninteresting, even their own kind.

Of course, that's a rule of thumb. Like I say: there are no static formulas. Formulas can exist only fleetingly. Through their effectiveness and ability to spread they quickly render themselves obsolete.

A good example of the esoteric nature of the game then: breaking rule number 1 above can be very effective when a good mundane selection is artfully juxtaposed against an especially unconventional and cutting edge collection. This should not be attempted by just anyone.

Mere mortals to their eternal frustration sense a brilliant compilation, but they find the dynamic canvas too overwhelming to see the big picture at all clearly. They can never emulate such an assembly, and therefore respect and envy the mysterious statement made.

Ultimately there is just one way to be sure you have successfully crafted your portfolio: you attract the attention and approval of those who have blog identities that you find attractive, even if only on the surface. This is the only criteria, connecting with others is always the point. If it isn’t, you've come to the wrong place.

So a word to the wise: take the time, once a month (like I said it’s a dynamic, fast moving and unforgiving racket) to make sure your choices fit just right. Lure them into your consciousness, never allowing formulism to expose the limits of your artistic insight and foresight. And never trust anyone that says appearance doesn’t matter.

The 20 most loathsome South Africans: Number 20: Patricia de Lille

A face you can trust


Patricia de Lille deserves her place in the 20 most loathsome South Africans not because of her career, which in general was respectable, but because when the moment came to speak truth to power, she shirked, and in a grand betrayal chose power over truth. Her actions during the 2006 Cape Town municipal elections negated all that came before, and it is this moment by which she will be remembered. She is loathsome not for what she was, but for what she could have been.

In early 2000, the Democratic Party (DP) formed a coalition with the National Party (NP), named the Democratic Alliance (DA), in order to stand up to the dominant African National Congress (ANC). In the 2000 municipal elections, this coalition was able to beat the ANC in the most hotly contested municipality, Cape Town, with 56.5% of the vote to the ANC’s 38.15%. However, Martinus van Schalkwyk, that spineless last leader of the NP and traitor to the Afrikaner people, decided to cross over to the ANC on the promise of more of whatever it was he believes make a man. The actions of this liar, combined with the nonsensical floor crossing law, took Cape Town municipality away from its democratically elected council and gave it to the ANC.

During the 2006 municipal elections, everybody knew that Cape Town would once again be one of the most contested municipalities. Before the elections, many smaller parties, including the DA and Patricia de Lille’s newly formed Independent Democrats (ID) decided to put their differences aside in order to be effective opposition to the ANC.

On election day, this coalition was able to beat the ANC, thanks to so many of the members of small political parties refusing to be bought or intimidated by ANC rapscallions. Of the 210-seat council, the DA won 90 seats, the ANC 81, the ID 23, with the rest split between smaller parties, most of them backing the DA.

It was a good day for democracy in South Africa.

Enter the politician’s fear of death. Patricia de Lille had always prided herself on standing up to ANC domination, and up to this point in her career she had lived this promise. But straight after the results of the Cape Town elections were posted, the ANC approached De Lille with an offer that must somewhere have made reference to her eternal soul. They offered her a place in their fold if she sided with them, and the two-faced liar turned on a dime. Like Anakin choosing the Dark Side, she broke off from the coalition and walked over to her sworn opposition, just like that.

It all came down to the vote for mayor. As no party had a clear majority, the mayor would be the power player in the council. It all seemed over for the DP, as Patricia de Lille now backed the ANC’s notoriously incompetent and corrupt incumbent mayor, the dim-witted Nomaindia Mfeketo. Yet when the votes were counted, the coalition had miraculously won by the smallest of margins - 106 votes for the DA’s candidate Helen Zille against 103 for Mfeketo. There were efforts by the ANC and ID to disrupt the voting, but the dye was cast.

And Patricia was left out in the cold, without an ideological house to call her home. She tried everything to reverse the count, even calling for the city to be placed under provincial administration, but her lowly efforts were in vain. When the DA offered De Lille two seats in the 9-seat mayoral council, as would have been the case if De Lille had not betrayed the coalition, she responded with a demand for a change in government from the mayoral executive to the executive committee system, a move that would have excluded the smaller parties from the leadership fray.

At this late stage, having betrayed and been forgiven, she could not accept those who forgave her, because in them she could see what she no longer was: An honest human being.

And so the book closes on Patricia de Lille.

Introducing the 20 most loathsome South Africans

A few of us patterntubbers have compiled a list of the 20 most loathsome South Africans. Over the next few weeks we will be counting down these wretched individuals, posting on a new character every two days or so.

I hope you all enjoy

28.7.06

Withnail

While tying my shoelaces this morning (a feat that demands quite a lot of concentration from me, 4 times a day), I for no good reason whatsoever thought of the movie Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987). Although, I was feeling a bit defeated, and I suspect it involuntarily made me think of the last scene in this film. This is one of my all time favourites, so touching, that I have come to associate melancholia itself with a picture of a dejected Richard E. Grant in the rain, a bottle of wine in one hand, and an umbrella in the other. If not one of the best pieces of acting I’ve seen, definitely one of the most convincing.

This film is one of those where the sum is greater than the parts. No-one involved ever got close to emulating their work in this film. It all came together, like some parties somehow just “work”. And you remember them for the rest of your life, without ever knowing the exact source of your nostalgia.

Richard E. Grant (aka Richard G. Esterhuyse) delivers what is without a doubt the best performance of his career, while Richard Griffiths as gay “uncle Monty” is at once believable and ridiculously eccentric . “Danny” will go down in history as the dope head to end all dope heads, and the joint he smokes as the joint to end all joints (it literally looks like something you could beat your wife with). I’m convinced many millions of brain cells have perished as a direct consequence of Ralph Brown's uncanny performance. The chemistry between the Withnail and I characters, I have no doubt, is one of most compelling I’ve ever experienced in a movie. They are the ultimate odd couple that somehow just belong together, complete each other: McGann, the neurotic “I”, and Grant, the impulsive hedonist that just does as he pleases, a drunk who’s allergic to alcohol. Their incomprehensible (but 100% devoid of any pretence) relationship is an entity in its own right, almost an extra character in this movie.

I think what sets this comedy apart from most truly funny comedies is how it succeeds in creating some of the most eccentric comic characters without ever sacrificing the viewer’s inclination to feel genuine empathy for them. You ultimately realize this in the last scene.

Anyone who hasn’t experienced this gem is doing himself a great disservice. It is easy to see why it has managed attract such a substantial cult following. One of the ultimate word-of-mouth films, in the same league as the Big Lebowski, Donnie Darko, This is Spinal Tap or any cult classic for that matter. Any self-respecting dope head should see this movie at least 10 times.

But to get back to the final scene:

The “I” character had just heard that he had won the lead role in a play (they are both struggling actors), against all expectations (especially Withnail’s). Withnail walks his friend to the train station to see him off. It’s clear at this stage that Withnail knows that their paths will part and that it’s the end of an era: nothing will ever be the same again. A successful career awaits “I”, one that Withnail has long ago resigned himself to never having. But more sad is that he is losing his dear friend. Up until this point he seemed like he only cared about himself and drugs and alcohol, and that he’s the type of person who just takes life as it comes. You unexpectedly and suddenly feel extremely sorry for Withnail, because you find out for the first time that he loves his friend more than anything, and he is lost without him.

He is ultimately a tragic figure. Then, in my all time favourite monologue, the pathos is only compounded by the ironic brilliance of Withnail’s haunting rendition of a quote from Hamlet, alone at a park after dropping off “I”, and hence a rendition no-one ever gets to see:




"I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this mighty o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire; why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a God! The beauty of the world, paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust. Man delights not me, no, nor women neither, nor women neither."

27.7.06

consider yourself warned

Is it just me, or do advertisements and blurbs become more and more irritating as one gets older?

When you’re young, the concept of consumerism seems like a wholly theoretical construct (if you had even heard of it). It appears alarmist, the kind of thing only a paranoid schizophrenic concerns himself with. Of course, you’re soon disillusioned as you start to realize that everywhere around you are people and businesses that would do anything to make a quick buck off of you.

False advertising.

In my opinion the rules in South Africa are not anywhere near strict enough. For example, there is an ad on TV by an investment manager (I think Sanlam Investment Managers, but I might be wrong) that proudly says something to the effect: “So you’ll know EXACTLY what you’ll have when you retire.”

This is bullshit. There is no investment product out there that can tell you exactly how much you’ll have. I know this only because I work in the industry, but the average person will assume this is true and run off to the nearest Sanlam broker.

Then there’s the new JSE ad: “There’s nothing scary about investments”. I’m an investment analyst, and trust me, it’s scary. There are few things that scare me more than the equity markets. They are brutal. Ask those who invested everything in Di Data (there were many, and this kind of behaviour is encouraged by ads like these) and lost 25% in 2 months, 88% in one year, and 97% in 2 ½ years. It is irresponsible for the JSE to advertise to the average South African, plain and simple.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a boring and irrelevant issue, but do that at your own peril. One day, whether you like it or not, you’ll be 60, and you’ll want to retire. If your financial planner was incompetent (or shady enough to sell products that maximise his commission), it could mean that you will have to work until the day you die. It won’t seem as mundane an issue then.

I have spoken to many highly intelligent people who do not have the foggiest clue where their pension is being invested. Sometimes you’ll get a confident “Coronation”. So what? Coronation (or any other asset manager) provides 100’s of products, each appropriate for a different group of people. Not knowing where your pension is invested is like living in Johannesburg and sleeping with the front door wide open.

You do get guaranteed products. They generally guarantee you won’t lose money over a period of 5 years or longer. What they don’t tell you is that they guarantee your money back, not because they are so skilful, but because they invest a large portion in a government guaranteed zero-coupon bond. The rest is invested in growth investments, like equity. A sufficient proportion is allocated in the bond so that when the bond matures in 5 years, they could pay you back your money with the redemption amount, even of they completely lost the other proportion invested in the equity markets. This takes NO skill whatsoever. Not only do you pay an unnecessary fee for them to have no skill, you lose a lot of the upside potential you would have had had you been fully invested in the equity markets.

Now for the clincher: what they don’t tell you is that it is nearly impossible to lose money on the equity market if you keep your money invested in an index-tracking equity fund for a period of 5 years or longer. The All Share Index has backtracked over a 5-year period maybe once or twice in 80 years, and even when it happens, it’s unlikely that you’ll lose more than a few percent (i.e. more than the cost of the guaranteed product). If you get sucked into this product at the age of 25, by the time you’re 65, you could easily have a third of the pension you should have had if you were invested in the appropriate product. Easily.

So to recap on guaranteed funds: you incur costs and lose upside potential, for something you don’t need, and takes no skill whatsoever: Use THAT as blurb.

Another example: Outsurance and their “outbonus”. The outbonus isn’t some altruistic miracle. You don’t get an outbonus because they’re nice people. It’s simply priced into your premium. Simple as that. You pay them, they pay you back. But only if you’re good.

Then there are these ridiculous products sold as “life insurance that pays out something while you’re alive”. There is currently some TV infomercial that rants on about it, but I can’t remember what company it is. Again, this is included in you premium. You are paying for two products, you just don’t know it. They aren’t nice people, they’re insidious tricksters. You end up investing a portion of that premium in an investment that could be completely inappropriate, and losing a portion of that to unnecessary fees. All the average person thinks is "waita minute, I actually get money back? Jeez, that's much better than only getting money when I die, heck, count me in".

An inappropriate investment can easily mean that your retirement is deferred from 50 to 70. Think about that. Absorb it fully.

24.7.06

The social contract

This article which recently appeared in Mail & Guardian reminded me of something I read in Paul Johnson’s History. He notes how the governments of developed nations should have understood from the outset that the spread of AIDS was not primarily their concern, because, and I quote:

Hugely expensive and probably ineffectual government campaigns against drug abuse and AIDS saw the modern state in a characteristic, twentieth-century posture - trying to do collectively what the sensible and morally educated person did individually.


Of course, such opinions sound absurd to the South African ear. But while this view is in complete contrast to every single mainstream opinion, one has to wonder. It seems that nobody has thought of actually holding individuals responsible for their own behavior, instead of expecting government to act as nursemaid to it's citizenry. And although I understand the chorus singing about how government is not doing enough, I can't help thinking that these people are just living on another planet. I mean no matter which backwater village you live in, you must have by now heard of AIDS. And if you had to hear that a deadly disease is making the rounds, one would think it would at least spark the smallest iota of interest - at least enough to finish reading the paragraph or stay listening to the radio. You know, up to the part where it notes that "AIDS is real, incurable and spread mainly through heterosexual sex”. Or if one had to hear about it from a friend, would that not motivate one to do some research on the matter, like asking a nurse in the village clinic, before going out and having unprotected sex again.

People blame Mbeki for not sending a clear enough message, but it appears to me that these people aren't picking up any messages whatsoever. According to the survey noted above, 8% of people in SA still do not believe that AIDS exist. That's 1 in 12.

Haven't they noticed the people dying around them?

21.7.06

genetics vs memetics

I haven’t read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, so what follows could be laughably obvious, or worse, utter bullshit.

Only about a week ago I fully appreciated for the first time why Dawkins’ concept of memetics is so compelling. The relationship with genetics is more than just its analogous process of procreation and evolution. The really interesting part is arguably their symbiotic relationship.

Genes and memes (in the most comprehensive sense) constitute a humans being’s two profound faculties of identity. We are in a sense nothing more than our genetic makeup and the memetic dynamics of our collection of memes. The parallel coexistence of these two processes is a beautiful concept. Without genes, memes would not exist. Without memes, genes would not be able to evolve as quickly and efficiently as they do.

At first I subconsciously assumed it’s an accidental relationship, the one feeding off the other. Perhaps because of the uneasiness between the two which manifests itself in human terms through conflicts between body (genes) and mind (memes). To me, this conflict continually manifests itself in our ambivalent stance between the needs of the two. Do I flirt with the beautiful model on the left or the interesting nerd on the right?

It’s obvious, however, that memes are the more promising entity when it comes to the continued conservation and development of knowledge. They would eventually not need genes (humans) to exist and procreate. Describing our lifetime as the “The Information Age” will seem more and more ridiculous as time goes by. If humans survive another 100 years without some cataclysmic event destroying all progress, memes will be virtually immortal, in one form or another.

But it’s not just about symmetry; it’s really about continuity. They are not just parallel processes that happen to help each other out. We arguably live in a major transition period in which the biological hands over the bastion of information conservation and development to the infinitely more robust and flexible: ones and zeros. A much purer and less constrained form of information, and all that is needed for memes to exist. Memetics is in a sense the fruits of the labour of genes. Genes gave birth to memetics, which is taking things to the incomprehensible next level.

A cataclysmic event could easily wipe genes out any second, but if this event is delayed another 100 years, genes would in all probability already succeeded in rendering (either by intelligent design or by pure chance) memes an autonomous entity, and taken the conservation and evolution of a seemingly divine experiment in knowledge to places we can only try to imagine.

I think I have always been hesitant to read Dawkins because I am not ready for his level of atheism. I already see things much more mechanically than is strictly healthy (for me anyway). Dawkins has surely conceived the most impenetrable “religion” yet. But I’m sure it will evolve.

I really should read more.

The rise of the National Party in South Africa

The story of the National Party (NP) and their ascent to political power in South Africa must start with the Boer War (1899-1902), which was fought between the British Empire and Afrikaner settlers seeking independence from the British. It was a war of attrition, with Lord Milner, commander of the British troops, practicing what he called his ‘scorched earth’ policy, which entailed burning every Boer home they came across to the ground and putting all Boer women and children in concentration camps, in the hopes that this will lessen the resolve of the Boer men. To quote from Encarta:

“Some 27,927 Boer civilians, mostly women and children, died as epidemics of measles and typhus raged through these camps during 1901. This was far more than the total number of combatants killed on both sides during the war. Three quarters of these deaths were of children under the age of 16.”


It was this war and these actions that made the Boers hate the British with such lasting passion, and rightly so. The Civilizers showed how often civilization means nothing more than organized barbarism.

Fast forward 37 years to 1939. The United Party (UP), a coalition of English and Afrikaans parties under the leadership of Barry Hertzog and Jan Smuts had won the national elections in 1934. Europe was teetering on the brink of war, and when England finally declared war on Germany for invading Poland, Herzog refused to commit to the war. The majority of the United Party caucus were however of a different mind, and Hertzog was forced to resign. Jan Smuts succeeded him and immediately sided with the British and declared war on Germany

The Afrikaner community was completely alienated by this decision. Why, after all, should they fight for the British, who they were at war with a few decades ago? Particularly against Germany, a people with whom the Afrikaners had always felt a close cultural affiliation towards? Germany had supported the Afrikaners in their quest for nationhood, whilst many Afrikaners still recall the destruction of their families at the hands of the British during the Boer War – an event in living memory.

With conscription legislated, Afrikaner men were forced to fight in the war. Many Afrikaner communities came out in protest, and pro-German organizations like the Ossewabrandwag were established. The UP government responded by placing thousands of Boers in internment camps for the duration of the war, which brought back the painful memories of the Boer War and effectively unified Afrikaners in a common hatred of the British and the UP government.

The centre could not hold, and the Afrikaner elements of the UP broke away from the coalition government and under the leadership of DF Malan re-established the National Party as a fiercely Afrikaner and fiercely nationalist party.

In 1948 the National Party won the elections in a landslide, with the promise that the Afrikaner will never be marginalized again. Ever. Not like they had been by the British in the Boer War, not like they had been by their own government in the Second World War. Not by the dictatorship of the majority. On this promise the NP won every succeeding election until 1994. And it was from this desire for a nation, for a home of their own, that Apartheid was born.

20.7.06

The Pearl

It is wonderful the way a little town keeps track of itself and of all its units. If every single man and woman, child and baby, acts and conducts itself in a known pattern and breaks no walls and differs with no one and experiments in no way and is not sick and does not endanger the ease and peace of mind or steady unbroken flow of the town, then that unit can disappear and never be heard of. But let one man step out of the regular thought or the known and trusted pattern, and the nerves of the townspeople ring with nervousness and communication travels over the nerve lines of the town. Then every unit communicates to the whole.

- John Steinbeck

19.7.06

The conflict



Here is a short and well written article that could serve as an introduction to what is going on in the Middle East.

And as a point of argument, let me just say that the South African media is sickeningly bias towards the conflict, siding without fail against Israel and always choosing pseudo-pundits from the gallery of 'Arab voices' for its daily sound byte. Make no mistake, behind this conflict is not the state of Israel, but the totalitarian regimes of Syria and Iran, who are greedy, blind and corrupt, without any saving graces.

In South Africa, my life is worth shit in the eyes of the government. They truly could not care less whether I live or die. The Israelis are different. They believe that the life of every member of society is worth the entire society. Society as family, as community. Can you imagine living in such a society? Tears, where did they come from?

There have been Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria since the Six Day War in 1967. They have not given these people citizenship. They have kept their own kind in camps for 40 years. Why? Because these camps provide sons and daughters that can be used as terrorists against Israel, because as long as these camps exist there will be Palestinians searching for a home. The Arab states don’t want peace, because war keeps attention away from their own decrepit regimes. Just like Bush has been playing the patriot card again and again as stories of corruption and deceit have surfaced in the press, so these leaders cry Zionist every time somebody starts talking about the terribility of their regimes.

Their own people. Think of the way Israel treats its people, then think of the way the surrounding Arab states treat theirs, and then and only then can you talk to me about who is the aggressor.

17.7.06

cabin fever

We are becoming increasingly disenchanted with ourselves. In an overpopulated petri dish, allies eventually become competitors. In addition, we all have to compete with frankly superhuman fictional characters and glamorised celebrities sold to us by a money grubbing media.

Money makes the world go round. We say it until it becomes a cliché. It then loses its meaning you see, and we forget the unpleasant reality that underpins it. Like jokes about aging and its inevitable conclusion. Knowledge loses its impact with time; familiarity breeds indifference. Clichés shouldn’t be used less, we should just remind ourselves what they mean from time to time. Assuming we want to remember.

One could be forgiven for assuming that as we evolve we would remember more of previous generations, but that is not the case. I think generational gaps are widening and so is the contempt for our parents and their parents, who are rendered obsolete by Moore's law at a younger age. Chances are whatever good qualities you posess, you still feel inferior to too many others perceived to be better looking, smarter, funnier, nicer, thinner. We're all depressingly expendable.

It’s ironic that in this supposed age of individualism, most individuals have become less rather than more appreciated. A simple blacksmith of a small medieval village enjoyed the respect and admiration of his the town folk because he delivered a crucial and tangible product. He sensed an appreciation and this naturally pleased him, giving him a sense of self-worth.

I sometimes wish I were Asterix, regularly saving his village with his cunning, which is dearly appreciated by the villagers. I would even settle for Unhygenix, the guy who sells fish of a suspect maturity. He’s the best they have, so they have no choice but to appreciate him.

These days you open a phone book and can choose from a 100 insurance salesmen, each of them delivering indistinguishable products and quality of service. Whatever service it is you offer to earn your place in this world you probably suspect it can be done more competently and efficiently by countless peers.

You could say that there is only so much respect, admiration, and self-worth going around. It does not increase pro rata as the population doubles every 20 years, implying a lower average per person. We are marginalising ourselves by not being able to switch off our genes’ command to go forth and multiply, which was a good strategy 500 years ago, but is now not only obsolete but misguided. I struggle to understand why a bigger emphasis is not placed on population control, but I suspect it has something to do with money. HIV is sad, overpopulation is tragic.

This is a shit way to look at yourself and others, but constantly being bombarded by a value system becoming more and more GDP oriented eventually takes its toll on your view of yourself and the world in which you live.

The remedy, I am starting to realize, is to make a concerted effort to have a direct benevolent impact, however small, on those you hold dear.

14.7.06



from John Banville's The Sea

13.7.06

Well light my fire

I will just quote from the Washington Post:

"The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.

The new findings "were against our expectations," said Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years.

"We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use," he said. "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."

Even I would have thought that smoking pot at the very least causes lung cancer. I mean, at least that! It is smoke, after all. But instead, it actually has some protective effect: the smoke is able to kill off dying cells before they are able to mutate and cause cancer.

Now I assume all plans can go ahead for putting the stuff in the drinkwater.

12.7.06

the wrong side of the law

What is the price we pay for law and order? Is it monetary? The cost of prisons must be considerable. The impact of the loss of man hours on the all important GDP is no doubt a notable agenda item for lawmakers. Certain freedoms must of course also be curved for the greater good. I certainly don’t feel that I need stop signs. I tend to stop as a matter of principle when huge chunks of metal are speeding in a direction that conflicts with my own.

These are all noteworthy costs, but in my opinion the biggest, most disturbing, most neglected cost is summarized by a well known term in US law: reasonable doubt. Thanks to an overabundance of soppy US law dramas, one could be tempted to say this term has become a cliché. Thing is I suspect it never had well defined meaning to start with. This is quite convenient and one could be forgiven for thinking that there may even be a conspiracy to that effect.

What I mean is: how much doubt is reasonable? It’s not like it implies a probability. An omniscient observer could go and count all the convictions, among those count all the wrongful convictions, and divide the latter by the formula to find a percentage. This percentage would be a point estimate for so called reasonable doubt. One in a thousand may sounds acceptable, until you consider the millions upon millions of convicts world wide.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of wrongful death sentences discovered posthumously through technological advances like DNA testsing, and while that particular variety of fuckup is the most harrowing and regrettable, less grave wrongful convictions by extension also occur…albeit reasonably infrequently.

These unlucky souls pay the true price for law and order. Just imagine being in that position: your friends and family could turn against you, you lose years of your life, your job, your ability to find a new job, traveling privileges, the trust of those around you to mention just a few. No amount of proclaiming your innocence is ever going to make the suspicion go away. Not to mention your disillusionment with society, the law and your Faith.

So there is implicitly this reasonable amount of lives destroyed every day. The good news is that a reasonable proportion of us will never experience the wrong side of this coin. Consequently we sit back, throw our hands in the air, shrug, and say that this is the only way. It’s the best system we’ve got. That’s what was said during any dubious social system, official or otherwise, used in the past. Many historical social constructs now seem inhuman or barbaric in hindsight, e.g. stonings, the exile of lepers, and lots of other stuff in the Bible. I suspect history will not look kindly upon current penal systems.

But what do those on the other side of the fence (or bars) have to say about the reasonableness of the situation? I wonder. The dilemma is that these victims of Justice have no voice. Would you believe a convict that claims he is innocent? I doubt these people even bother proclaiming their innocence. Notwithstanding the futility of it: rather a criminal than a victim.

People are seldom touched by something if it has no direct bearing on their lives. Innocents die every day all around the world, but blissfully ignorant I go on with my personal pursuit of happiness, which includes finding a pair of jeans that sits just right, owning a coffee table that really ties my living room together, and writing supposedly clever, idle messages on my blog. However, if I were to get the wrong end of the justice stick, I would probably fall on my knees like Charlton Heston and damn the whole system to hell. And it won’t be because I would learn anything I did not already know, I’d be more like the crusading cancer survivor. Only no-one would feel sorry for me.

Since childhood I’ve felt this vague discomfort when hearing this nebulous term “reasonable doubt” blurted out patriotically and unflinchingly by some American idiot: “Yep, proof must be given beyond a reasonable doubt. Them’s the rules, sonny”. I tried to picture this concept of reasonableness, but to no avail. I imagined instead that it’s just my obsessive compulsive thoughts getting trapped in some tricky but negotiable corner of reality again. When you’re young you assume the fundamentals had been sorted out long ago. As you get older you start to realize they never will be.

The conspiracy, then, is more insidious than most: we lie to ourselves to make things simpler, more acceptable. It just makes evolutionary sense. Reading this has put you an infinitesimal amount off the ideal track to oblivious happiness and the procreational benefits that tend to accompany it.

Now, next time you watch some David E. Kelly legal farce containing the inevitable smoking gun or verbal abuse induced confession, you too will feel a rational amount of discomfort. This is my gift to the voiceless.

9.7.06

7.7.06

meanderings

I have this one memory of me as a ten year old boy analyzing the cornerstone of our church and thinking how absolutely perfect that corner was. I believed that there were good and competent adults in complete control of all aspects of the world, and this cornerstone, exemplified this. I thought all streets were perfectly built, with a precision that I assumed was total. The imagination of a child found the imposed structure not divinity, but rather the most common human aspect; these builders and deciders I never imagined as a physical presence, but rather simply as faceless humanity, committed to perfection, expressed as symmetry. This is not a story to get somewhere else. This was the closest I ever got to faith.

To me there is still nothing more beautiful than symmetry, but now I don’t look for it in corners and pillars and marvels of engineering. Rather, with the inevitable loss of faith I found consolation in the purely formless. Now it feels to me that in the abstract the impossibility of perfect symmetry is acknowledged and consecrated, made the holy of holies. Because God cannot be imagined or attained, we pray through a man, we worship a stone.

6.7.06

Fun at the Office

Every so often our office manager (read PA (read secretary)), with great care, discreetly presents me with a yellow file with a birthday card inside, accompanied by a grave, almost accusatory look. It translates exactly (as opposed to loosely) to: “Inscribe the card. Pass it on to the next guy. Don’t fuck this up”. To him, this is serious stuff. I think it’s a major focus in his annual review.

The weird thing is the cloak-and-dagger action surrounding it. Everybody knows they’re going to get a birthday card. It happens to everybody every year. A week before your birthday you notice every now and again someone avoids eye contact or suddenly turns way from you and scurries off. Potentially traumatic to the yet unsettled new people, insane to sane people. To be honest I still feel ostracized during my week of stealth activities. But I have abandonment issues.

And sure enough, like clockwork, on the morning of your birthday, what do you know, what’s that on your desk, how did this happen, I didn’t notice anyone passing anything around me!?: the card. Even more weird is that EVERYBODY nevertheless plays along. You make damn sure you’re not that guy that lets the mark, god forbid, prematurely physically see the actual card.

I’m toying with the idea of “accidentally” putting the ridiculous thing on the birthday boy’s desk grunting something to the effect that he must sign and pass along, and when confronted by the office manager, coldly imparting:

“I guess you think, ya know, you're an authority figure. With that stupid fucking uniform. Huh, buddy? ... King Clip-on Tie here. Big fucking man.... You know, these are the limits of your life, man. Ruler of your little fucking [office] here. You pathetic piece of shit."

If I’m toying with that idea, I’m seriously considering plotting a mysterious disappearance of the card every week, week after week. Heck, this has the potential to keep me amused for at least a year. Of course, if some Dick Tracy picks up that I’m the only person for a whole year to get a card, the game might very well be up.

Even more annoying is thinking of something to write on it. What do you write for somebody you hardly know, and who you get the distinct feeling that even if you did know them, you wouldn’t particularly like them? When you're me, there’s a fine line between being sincere and sounding like an asocial asshole. For the moment I’ve settled on a stock message that goes “Hi XXX. Have a great day!. B”. I’m considering leaving out the “Hi xxxx”. It sadly only occurred to me after about 6 months that I need not discriminate. There’s no way they can make me. Labour laws these days are watertight.

This way I don’t even have to bother to look at the name. Whoever you are, you just better call me when the cake’s in the kitchen. Otherwise you just go on doing whatever it is that you do.

The “B” is also in danger of being a casualty of the knife of my apathy. Come to think of it, I could actually just tick my name on the list and no one is likely to ever be the wiser.

In any case, as long as the mark doesn’t actually see me write in it, The Office will be in perfect, lubricated harmony. A well oiled machine as it were.

Mugabe

Few themes permeate the South African media as frequently and uniformly as the madness of Mugabe. Yet I have found precious few in the mainstream media who have ever tried to understand this man or trace his madness to a source or reason or rational. Now I am the last person to stand up for this bedlamite, but I believe there is more to this man than meets the media.

To understanding the madness of this Mugabe we need to return to the fateful year of 1992. When Zimbabwe achieved independence from white minority rule in 1980, Mugabe’s regime inherited a country with relatively little debt, strong financial institutions, and a very powerful agricultural sector. Yet, as countries are wont to do, Zimbabwe wanted to loan some money.

Tragically, it did so in the period of the World Bank’s and the IMF’s now notorious Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). These SAPs (or ‘golden straitjackets’ as they were later called) were the restrictions forced upon any country required to borrow money from these fine remnants of World War II. Zimbabwe's adjustment program contained the usual collection of Bank-inspired reforms, among them the devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar (absurd if considered in today's context), chopping "social spending", increasing emphasis on the reduction of the government deficit, civil service reform and the shedding of public enterprises - all the standard ingredients of "liberalization”.

Of course there was a string of large loans and credit facilities from the Bank, the IMF, and international donors, aimed at supporting the country's balance of payments and the government's plans for substantial private sector infrastructural development. At the outset, it was estimated that roughly US$3 billion over five years would be needed from overseas donors to make the reforms work. Zimbabwe would spend its way into a new free market on borrowed money.

When a massive drought hit the region in 1991/1992 – referred to as the apocalypse drought – the government could do little to alleviate the suffering of its people. Its hands were tied by the agreements it signed with the IMF and World Bank. Yet even following the advice of the West word for word, Foreign Direct Investment disappeared at a time when it was promised by Those Who Know, and the country spiraled into an economic crisis. When vast amounts of food ‘aid’ arrived, it greatly damaged the Zimbabwean economy. With a market flooded with food ‘aid’ the struggling farmers not only had no recourse to easy credit, but had to compete in a market flooded with free food. An example: Zimbabwe ended its policies of farmer subsidization during the famine, in an attempt, and I quote, “to increase producer incentives at a time when large supplies of foreign maize would otherwise have driven prices down” (Evaluation Synthesis Report Prepared for USAID/Bureau for Humanitarian Response).

For Mugabe, this betrayal was too much, but as soon as he lashed out at The Hand, he suddenly found himself isolated, portrayed as just another mad dictator running his country into the ground. This, together with the death of his wife in 1992, pushed this man over the edge, and turned him into a paranoiac.

In international politics, especially when it relates to Black Africa, who’s left to trust?

And this brings me to my second point: Westerns (and related media purveyors) still refuse to grasp the popularity of this man in Africa. Whilst the media in general is characterized by the shortest attention span, and zero historical insight, many on the continent still judge Mugabe not on his level of pragmatism or his presidential actions, but rather on his role as freedom fighter in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. In a poll undertaken by New Africa magazine in 2004, Mugabe was voted by its readers as the third greatest African of all time, only after Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah (Although I must admit this may say more about Africa in general than Mugabe in particular). While the likes of Bush, Blair, and the South African media think sanctions will show this man that the tide of world opinion is against him, this is in fact not the case at all. African opinion is still strongly behind Mugabe, and he knows it.

But it is not only the rest of Africa that supports the tyrant, and the most painful realization for most people, it is also the Zimbabwean citizenry. Although there were some irregularities in the last elections, Mugabe won easily. He is voted into power time and time again by the poorest and those suffering most from his blindness and paranoia. That’s the truth, and no number of observer missions is going to change that.

In any case, what do we expect the South African government to do? Most people say the SA government should do something more, but what exactly? Invade Zim? Surely you jest. Sanctions? That will only worsen the Zimbabwean situation, leading to even more illegal Zimbabwean immigrants flooding into the country. Right now Mbeki is the only leader that Mugabe gives half an ear. That might sound like nothing, but right now Mbeki is the hand holding Zimbabwe from falling off the cliff. And you want him to let go?

Post Note: Click here for an evaluation report from the World Bank on Zim’s SAPs, in the form of “lessons learnt”

Too Much

A mouse rides on the back of a frog in floodwaters in the northern Indian city Lucknow June 30, 2006. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar (INDIA)

[Yahoo! News]

4.7.06

Fargo


Opening credits:

THIS IS A TRUE STORY.
The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987.
At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed.
Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

End credits:

The persons and events portrayed in this production are fictitious.

Oh, in a general sort of way

- OK. I want you to tell me what these fellas look like.
- The little guy was kinda funny-lookin'.
- In what way?
- I don't know. Just funny-lookin'.
- Can you be any more specific?
- I couldn't really say. He wasn't circumcised.
- Was he funny-lookin' apart from that?
- Yah.

[brief pause]

- So, you were having sex with the little fella, then?
- Uh-huh.
- Anything else you can say about him?
- No. Like I say, he was funny-lookin'. More than most people, even.

3.7.06

Denzel Washington is......Sidney Poitier

Has anyone yet made a serious film that accurately depicts the average black South African? It occurred to me recently that the reason local films fail to captivate is that they are not consistent with reality. Apart from the fact that they fail to hold my interest, much more importantly, these films cannot shed any light on the South African predicament.

SA films all to some extent convey a picture of very similar peoples who happen to have different colours of skin. All the strife between them are made out to be a legacy of Apartheid or the result of age-old distrust, lack of knowledge or indiscriminate racism in general. Blacks in SA films are white people with black skin. How insulting this must be to them.

The films portray a race with similar morals, humour, fears and ambitions. It’s a nice thought, but it’s also utter bullshit. These films are mostly aimed at SA whites, because they constitute 99% of the film going public. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside if we hear it’s all just one big misunderstanding. Meanwhile back at the ranch my gardiner is collecting frog's eyes and harvesting the genitals of a young child to give to his witchdoctor, who will then proceed to cure his impotence.

The reality is that when I walk past a black man in the street, I recognize nothing in the windows to his soul. To white people, this man’s eyes are impenetrable and devoid of empathy. That is not to say he is devoid of empathy, only that the divide in culture is so great, his body language is illegible to the white man. But how can you have genuine empathy for someone you don’t understand? I cannot speak for blacks, but I imagine the white man is just as enigmatic to them.

As soon I realize a local film or film about SA tries to say that beneath the skin we are all essentially the same, I'm almost relieved: sitting through another trite mediocre film on racism is narrowly averted. Trying to fool everyone including ourselves that we are all made of the same stuff is ironically only deepening the chasm. If however, we could really appreciate our differences in culture, politics, communication and just about everything, the conflict could either quickly be resolved or the minority can be swiftly eliminated. Either way, let’s get this over with.

2.7.06

a man might be able to give an idea his name
eventually he will be wrong
and desert sunsets don't care if they're seen