I wept for America this morning

twin_towers_gettyI wept for my country this morning.

To say I feel sucker punched by Trump’s win is an understatement. “Sucker punched” falls so far short of how I actually feel today that it’s absurd.

Let me try to describe how I feel.

Remember at around noon on September 11, 2001, after all the planes had crashed, both towers had fallen, and the Pentagon was in flames. Remember how you felt a sense of dread, of horror, of unfathomable grief that seemed like it might never fade. That’s how I feel today.

But worse. Continue reading

Rereading Atlas Shrugged as South Africa becomes a dictatorship

atlas-shruggedKarl Marx was a brilliant diagnostician. His analysis of the way in which unregulated capitalism can drive inequality was incisive, especially considering the lack of data available to him to prove his point. His solution, on the other hand, was appallingly destructive.

That seems to happen fairly often. People notice a social or economic problem, assess and diagnose its cause with astonishing aplomb, and then suggest a solution of startling naiveté based on cartoonish assumptions about the way people behave.

Sometimes the cartoon solution reflects the cartoon in real life. Continue reading

S&R Honors: Ivan Toms and Lawrie Schlemmer – what we were we still are

Waiting for a miracle

“How long are you prepared to wait?” I asked.

It was 1991 in the Eastern Cape city of Port Elizabeth and I was in my final year of high school. Nelson Mandela had been released in 1990 with me hovering over the television, my camera on a tripod, in a futile and excited attempt to capture the moment.

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Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury of Queen live in Frankfurt, GermanyIn 1995, only a year after South Africa’s first democratic election, I was working at a community centre in Nyanga, a shanty-town alongside Cape Town’s international airport. The centre had started a project which aimed to give HIV-positive single mothers a safe place to live and work.

My self-appointed task was to assist with setting up income generation projects. I had a “real” job during the week and would arrive early on Saturday mornings to a queue of toddlers and tiny children waiting to be picked up and swung. Little happy, snotty faces with upstretched arms taking their turns and then running to the back of the line to have another go.

And every one of them HIV-positive.

One day a child, late to be swung, came running too quickly and slipped. She fell hard on the concrete and scraped her arm and leg. Blood flowed and she began to howl. I stooped to pick her up and a nurse grabbed me, pulling me back.

“No,” she said, her face sad, “let her mother pick her up,” indicating the blood and cuts on my hands from where I’d injured myself working on my car.

That was the moment that the death sentence implied by AIDS hit home. None of these children would live more than another few years. Continue reading

On the road to Phelamanga: 30-Day Song Challenge, the Sequel, day 29 – a song you like by a band or artist that isn't from North America, Europe or Australia

I really enjoyed the original 30-Day Song Challenge and my hat’s off to whoever created it. But it seemed a little obvious to me in places, so when I set out to create the sequel I wanted to tackle some ideas that we may not think about as often as we might. Today, one of the big ones.

We here in the US think of rock and roll as something that’s pretty much American and British, with perhaps a bit of Canadian and Aussie thrown in. In other words, Anglo. Continue reading

South Africa's assault on freedom and property – should anyone in the rest of the world care?

The president should give a fuck?“Instead of standing aggressively behind the status quo, dressed in the cloak of the fourth estate, they need to talk more about responsibility, more about the importance of ethics, more about improvement in the standards of journalism in all respects. … The public interest means publication or non-publication guided by what is in the interest of the public as a whole, not what readers or an audience might find interesting or titillating.”

The words are a gauntlet thrown down before the media and against free speech as a whole. This is a nation that has shown determination to introduce Chinese-style Internet screening and demanding that ISPs censor content.

Except, these words weren’t spoken in South Africa. They are from Continue reading

Nota Bene #113: Seth's Near-Death

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Who said it? Continue reading

More pointless World Cup babblings

I quite enjoyed today’s match between Germany and Uruguay. It was entertaining and exciting enough to be a pretty good final, and had all the ingredients—flashy play, lots of goals, persistent and dogged offense, defense that is best characterized as “relaxed,” a bare minimum of unnecessary fouls, and, natch, an unnecessary free kick as time expired. Of course, if Diego Forlan had made the shot (it bounced off the crossbar), we would have had another 30 minutes of entertaining football, so I have a teeny bit of ambivalence about it. But Germany deserved to win, even if only for third place. And Uruguay showed they could play football too—a far cry from that embarrassing opener with France. Not at all bad for a country of 3.5 million people, who were the most fouled against of the tournament, and who had a number of key players sitting out today (and Forlan played injured). And Uruguay is now ranked as a better football team than Brazil or Argentina, which will undoubtedly make the rest of the continent feel better.
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Fearless World Cup Prognostications

If I were a betting man, and had bet on some of my predictions, I would have made a couple of pounds today. Here’s a scary thought–Germany has scored more goals than any other team in the tournament (including four goals three times), and completely and utterly dominated Argentina, without their best player, Michael Ballack. Commentators too numerous to mention were hoping that Maradona’s preening would get a reality check, and boy, were they happy. I gather there was dancing in the streets in Brazil. Today’s game may take a bit out of the sting of England’s 4-1 loss, and also may put Ghana’s 1-0 loss to Germany in perspective. If they keep playing the way they did today, it’s difficult to see Germany not winning the whole shebang. First, however, they need to get past Spain. But Spain didn’t really look all that sharp today, and were lucky to not end up goalless against a scrappy Paraguay team that looks a whole lot weaker on paper than they played. Spain needs to take their game up at least a notch if they’re going to compete against a German team that seems to get stronger as the tournament progresses. I don’t see that happening. What was particularly impressive was that Germany tailored their game to challenge Argentina’s defensive weaknesses, and were able to execute the game plan perfectly. Expect something similar against Spain, who got pretty tangled up today by a team that was supposed to be much weaker. Plus there’s the revenge factor–Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the European Cup final two years ago. Germany 3-1.
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Nota Bene #112: GOOOLLLLLLLL

“Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity.” Who said it? Continue reading

More random World Cup musings

First, England should have gotten that goal. Why the Uruguayan referee didn’t see it will be a subject of heated discussion in England for some time.

Second, it wouldn’t have mattered, really. Germany just tore through England in the second half, and while there was the occasional moment of hope (Lampard’s shot bouncing off the post), there was nothing sustained about the way England were playing. They were just a bunch of very highly paid footballers out there who were unable to adapt to more aggressive playing. And I say this in full appreciation of how England played against Slovenia to get to this round, which was very well. But Germany is a vastly superior team, as should now be clear. This was the form Germany displayed against Australia, which, based on today’s performance, could have given England a good run. So I’m looking for Germany to do well from here on out. Could Germany go all the way? They’re disciplined, they don’t incur unnecessary fouls, they don’t take cheap shots (hey Spain, are you listening?), and they’re young, so they can run like hell, as they did against an increasingly tired looking England side. Granted, England is one of the older teams in the tournament–but that should mean they have the necessary experience to deal with a young attacking team. They didn’t.
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Random uninformed World Cup musings

Economists tell us that watching the World Cup will cost the UK about £4 billion in lost productivity. This seems a bit high, frankly, but the numbers on this range all over the place. Whatever, it will be a lot, and if you extrapolate that on a global basis, it’s a whole lot more. I’m gainfully doing my part. Earlier, for example, the all-consuming Honduras/Chile match was on at work, and it got some attention. And Chile eked one out, 1-0. But Honduras looked pretty scrappy. Football is football, and World Cup football is about as fun, and as good, as it gets.
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Copa Mundial 2010: why this World Cup is so important for the US

Copa Mundial 2k10 kicked off today in grand fashion, with host South Africa taking a point off of heavily favored Mexico. Tomorrow’s featured match (featured here, anyway) sees the US taking on an even more heavily favored England side that, despite having some of the best talent on the planet, has been lackluster in its pre-Cup tuneups. Of course, the US has been inconsistent, as well – looked good beating Turkey, vulnerable in the back in a loss to the Czechs, and absolutely terrible in an inexplicable win over the Aussies (who played like they were winding up a three-day bender). So grab a beer and we’ll see which teams show up. Continue reading

The wisdom of ANC's Julius Malema on rape

Zuma and baby Malema - ZapiroJulius Malema hadn’t risen to prominence when I decided to leave South Africa.  That kick-back came after he used the not inconsiderable power of the ANC Youth League to get Jacob Zuma made president of South Africa.

To give you a flavour of Malema’s oratory, consider this official statement made during soon-to-be President Zuma’s rape trial of women who are raped:  “when a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money.” Continue reading

Getting democracy right one restaurant at a time

Let it burn!You’re going to find this outrageous.

Last week, the wife and I went out for dinner to a new restaurant in our neighbourhood.  The food was awful and the service insulting.  Afterwards a few of the patrons gathered outside.  One man was particularly engaging and inspired us to take action.  We formed an angry mob, set fire to cars in the parking lot and threw stones and burning wood through the windows of the restaurant.

A few days later we went back to the restaurant and – this is the bit you’re going to find outrageous – their service had NOT improved!

Afterwards I led the riots.  We destroyed nearby shops and looted what we could.  Next week we’ll go back and see if they’ve recognised our concerns. Continue reading

Nota Bene #94: Bear Vs. Ninja

“Overture, curtain, lights Continue reading

Happy Birthday to The Commonwealth: could this be Britain's future?

I was surprised to learn that 2009 is the 60th anniversary of The Commonwealth—the association of former British colonies that still, amazingly, continue to work with each and talk to each other on a variety of issues. This would be a cause for celebration, one would think. And it appears there have been some. But I only learned about it when we visited Marlborough House, which is where the Commonwealth members meet from time to time to have their pictures taken, and who knows what else. It’s actually difficult to know, because the UK government has made no effort to publicise this event, which one would think would be a cause for celebration. The entertaining but not hugely informative Commonwealth website is here–there’s certainly a lot of stuff going on.
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One year an immigrant: so you see…

I start from diminished expectations.

My first experience with the UK was registering my company and opening business bank accounts. In South Africa, as a local, it takes two months to register the company and another three months to then open the bank accounts.

In the UK, it took 24 hours. And I walked away with a personal credit card, despite having no credit history. This, by the way, after the collapse of the credit industry. Not that I’m complaining.

This vote of confidence allowed me to rent a small apartment just outside the centre of Oxford. I was told that, living alone, I could apply for reduced rates. I’m used to dealing with municipalities. So, I fortified myself with a jug of coffee and a book, and phoned. Continue reading

One year an immigrant: a resolution

In January of 2009, it snowed in Oxford. Deep drifts covered the meadow outside my study window. I watched as a fox, stark red against the pillow-white, tensed-and-leapt tensed-and-leapt through the fluffy deeps. It landed easily on a tree trunk, recently fallen across the river at the bottom of my tiny garden, and then ran along the informal bridge to my side before disappearing into a hedge.

I have seen snow before, but never lived in a place where snow thrusts itself into your daily life. The familiar landscape of fields, farmlands and wilderness was utterly transformed. I could see just how much wildlife lived around me. Bunnies hopped. Deer loped. Birds scratched.

I took a morning off, just to go see what the massive Port Meadow would look like. I got only a few yards on my bicycle before becoming glued in the snow. So I walked. It was magnificent. Continue reading