Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is Zuma's election a disaster?

The man is a moron. Let's not beat around the bush. Anyone who states on the witness stand that he took a shower to avoid getting AIDS after unprotected sex is clearly in no shape to run a country.

There is little doubt in my mind that he's also a crook. The courts have already found that Shabir Shaik solicited bribes from arms deal bidders on Zuma's behalf. Shaik has been in jail for some time.

Zuma's supporters say that if there is a case against Zuma, why has he not been jailed? This is a disingenuous defense by a group of left wing proponents who care less about the man they support than those against who he stands. Zuma's lawyers have fought every attempt to get the man in court. Surely if the man is innocent, he would welcome the Mauritian diary of the head of Thint in court? Surely he would not worry about the seizure of his personal documents? After all he has nothing to hide?

Further, the man is an out and out bigot. He explained to an adoring crowd that if a gay man had stood before him when he was young, he would have knocked him out.

Finally, Zuma is a bumbling populist. Don't ask him his policies - just state your desires and beliefs and he'll agree. At this rate South Africa will be the only Capitalist Communist country in the world.

But I do not believe that having Zuma run this country will be a disaster in itself. His political masters are far more frightening. The day after his election, the ANC voted to reintegrate the Scorpions (South Africa's version of the FBI) into the South African Police. This despite the obvious difficulties posed by the current Scorpion investigation of the chief of police for involvement in organised crime. Of course the ANC freely admits that logic had nothing to do with this decision - the Scorpion's investigation of Zuma for corruption had everything to do with it. Apparently their investigations have been manipulated by Mbeki to further his political battles. How will their integration into the police help prevent their manipulation when the head of the SA Police is a political appointee and not a professional policeman?

The Scorpions decision is one thing. Economics is another. The antagonism to inflation targeting by Cosatu (the Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the SACP (the South African Communist Party has followed swiftly on the heels of the election of their man to the head of the Tri-Partite alliance. They have pronounced that inflation must be managed in the context of broad developmental goals and not as an end in itself. This is all well and good, and there is much that can be written about what the inflation targeting range should be based on the factors driving inflation increases in South Africa. But South Africa adopted inflation targeting as a methodology precisely because the fuzzy interpretation of multiple objectives resulted in continued misalignment with the markets and wild swings in the key economic indicators.

Most economists will appreciate that cost push inflation cannot be targeted by interest rate adjustments. Fine. Then modify the targeting metric (CPIX - consumer price inflation less interest) to also exclude oil/petrol. What I am saying is don't through the baby out with the bath water.

Further there is some debate as to whether the 3% to 6% inflation target range is too low for South Africa - a developing country. The Philips curve demonstrates a trade off between inflation and employment. The lower the inflation rate, the higher the rate of unemployment. The precise relationship varies from country to country. Again, this is all well and good, but then debate the range, don't through out the most successful inflation management methodology yet seen in the world.

But the most frightening news was that of a debate that took place yesterday on nationalisation. Delegates to the ANC conference raised the possibility of nationalising Mittal Steel. Mittal bought ISCOR - an old parastatal - and gradually rebuilt an inefficient dirty apartheid era entity. Since then they have been found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, charging import parity prices and benefiting from a monopoly position. However, they are now a top quartile low cost steel producer. The competition watchdog found them guilty of price fixing and fined them a substantial amount. That's how markets should work. Workers want them renationalised however. This together with the debate on shopping malls and their impac on traders in the townships. The focus here is jobs - or more specifically the mandate of Cosatu and the SACP.

And to me this is the danger of Zuma's presidency. He is beholden to the left. They voted him in and the ANC executive is now loaded with their sympathisers. There is almost a conflict of interests here. Cosatu and the SACP's focus is jobs for their members and the highest wages they can get. This is one part of the economy and has all the potential to ignite a wage price spiral. On a productivity / skill equivalent basis, South Africa has a tragically uncompetitive labour force. In order to create growth, grow exports, reduce the current account deficit, etc we have to increase output per rand of wages. To focus merely on the jobs and wages side of the equation ignores the prices paid by the consumer and the inevitable loss of competitiveness. Our textile industry offers the perfect case study. Which is more valuable - low price clothing for the poor or higher wages for textile workers? The first part of that debate is consistently ignored by trade unions. However, the impact of rising prices and the need for further increases in wages is not. Hence the wage price spiral.

In fact, unions prefer higher inflation as it allows them to negotiate higher nominal wage increases and they are then seen as having achieved more by their members. Witness the mass hysteria about single figure percentage increases in wages in the low inflation environment of the past decade. This illustrates perfectly why it takes many years to decrease wage push inflation.

One remarkable quote from that the above article:

A delegate to the commission said the minister and other senior leaders in the economics sphere do not explain why they do not agree with delegates’ suggestions for the re-nationalisation as well as a national state-owned mining company.

“The delegates felt it is needed because it would enable them to redistribute resources. But Mphalwa did not explain their reasons for opposing it properly. They might have access to information and obviously know more about international trends, but they don’t explain it to us.”

This is the legacy of the Mbeki years. Decision making in an aloof manner that has done nothing to build a shared understanding of good economic practice. If we are to recreate the South Korean miracle, there is much work to be done in educating the masses and aligning the nation.

The following sensible conclusion demonstrates that this is possible:

“People are seeing the mushrooming of shopping complexes coming up in townships and that is a negative thing because it is pushing out the small businesses and general dealers. But now there are Chinese and Pakistani people, coming in and taking over the small businesses and making a success of them.

“Where does the problem lie? Obviously there is a lack of skills and that might rather be the problem, not the fact that the big shops are coming up. Also, people these days don’t want general dealers, they want specialised shops, so that also takes them away from the general dealers,” the delegate said.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Are friends who don't call, friends?

I've written about this before.

I'm lucky - I have lots of friends. I had a great Italian evening this last Sunday where I cooked for 12 friends - it was great fun and good to be with so many people I know.

But so many "friends" are so lousy at keeping in contact. I invite them to meet up and hear nothing more from them.

Well, my focus is on those who want to be around me from now on. The others who hear less from me? I'll touch base now and again, but they can assume from the less effort on my part that I have taken their lack of interest as meaning they regard me as peripheral. And hence I will do the same.

Who is to blame for South Africa's power crisis?

Very few people aren't hot under the collar about load shedding in South Africa. Load shedding occurs when power supply cannot meet demand and customers are cut off to prevent brown outs and black outs.

As someone who has worked as a consultant to the industry I've had to bight my tongue as to the real reasons behind the problems. But it seems the government is now admitting to the problem (see the article below and more here).

Indeed the government did ignore Eskom requests to build more generation capacity. And as such the country will be short of capacity for at least another 4 years.

Further, the reason they ignored the requests was due to consultants who sold the government on the idea that the South African market should be liberalised (open to competition). Until that happened, Eskom's right to build was taken away. New entrants would build the power generation capacity in a market with the lowest electricity prices in the world - prices that could not cover their costs of capital.

Further, the government then adopted an inflation targeting regime. Applications for electricity price increases outside of the government's inflation targeting range were greeted with howls of protest and derision.

Further still, we have a de facto industrial policy that exports electricity though high energy input manufactured items such as aluminum smelting and mining. One aluminum smelter consumes as much electricity as a city the size of Port Elizabeth. The recent efforts to get an aluminum smelter as anchor tenant for the Coega industrial complex in the Eastern Cape completely ignored the fact that our power prices need to rise substantially to cover the costs of capital of new power stations and the supply crunch we currently suffer.

Neither liberalisation nor inflation targeting are bad policies. However, as with most things in life, adopting a polar position ignores the realities. Overzealous liberalisation contributed to power outages all over the world, including the California and US East Coast crises. Investment decisions are typically based on 5 to 10 year paybacks. Electricity planning requires at least a 20 year horizon. A major power station takes from 10 to 15 years to plan and build. For this reason, private enterprises seldom invest enough or in time to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply.

I have sympathy for the guys at Eskom right now. It will continue to be a thankless task working there over the next 5 years. Their planners knew we were running out of electricity but were held back from building new capacity.

Many who love to criticise anything post-apartheid have been joined by millions of other suffering South Africans pointing fingers and claiming that only morons could have got us into this situation.

I'd point directly at the various consultants who earned hundreds of millions promoting new build policies that ignored the coming supply crunch. Of course the decision makers at the Department of Mineral and Energy (DME) aren't much further behind in the blame queue - they listened.

In the mean time, this is costing the economy and me a fortune. I shelled out about R7000 (US $1000) for a UPS a while back to keep my business computer server going during interruptions. Given the duration of interruptions (this week two scheduled interruptions of 2 and a half hours each), the UPS is not enough. I've been busy with a project to extend my pond and pumphouse and so have built a generator room. My next expense is to rewire my house for automated power switchover to generator on a power outage and a generator itself. That is going to cost a fortune. The next expense will be for diesel to keep the thing running.

Goverment ignored Eskom pleas
Dec 12 2007 11:25 AM

Johannesburg - President Thabo Mbeki has acknowledged that government under-investment is to blame for a growing number of power cuts that have plunged large parts of the country into darkness.

Addressing a fund-raising dinner for the ruling African National Congress night, Mbeki said his government should have heeded pleas by state power utility Eskom several years ago to invest more in electricity generation to keep up with country's economic growth.

"When Eskom said to the government: 'We think we must invest more in terms of electricity generation', we said no, but all you will be doing is just to build excess capacity," Mbeki said in comments broadcast on public radio.

"We said not now, later. We were wrong. Eskom was right. We were wrong."

Mbeki's rare public apology comes at a time when the country is experiencing the worst power cuts in years, forcing Eskom to start rationing electricity this week as part of a programme that should last until the end of the week.

The rationing has led to a raft of complaints from businesses and retailers in the build-up to Christmas, while traffic jams are a common sight with many traffics lights out of action.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Can you tell a story?

Someone shared something they had written with me today and it reminded me of an Oscar Wilde short story.

Telling a story is a gift. This one contains every talent I could wish for in the art.

From CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts

The Nightingale and the Rose (Author: Oscar Wilde)

`SHE said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses,' cried the young Student; `but in all my garden there is no red rose.'

From her nest in the holm-oak tree the Nightingale heard him, and she looked out through the leaves, and wondered.

`No red rose in all my garden!' he cried, and his beautiful eyes filled with tears. `Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.'

`Here at last is a true lover,' said the Nightingale. `Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not: night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him. His hair is dark as the hyacinth-blossom, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his lace like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her seal upon his brow.'

`The Prince gives a ball to-morrow night,' murmured the young Student, `and my love will be of the company. If I bring her a red rose she will dance with me till dawn. If I bring her a red rose, I shall hold her in my arms, and she will lean her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be clasped in mine. But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by. She will have no heed of me, and my heart will break.'

`Here indeed is the true lover,' said the Nightingale. `What I sing of he suffers: what is joy to me, to him is pain. Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market-place. it may not be purchased of the merchants, nor can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.'

`The musicians will sit in their gallery,' said the young Student, `and play upon their stringed instruments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin. She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng round her. But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her;' and he flung himself down on the grass, and buried his face in his hands, and wept.

`Why is he weeping?' asked a little Green Lizard, as he ran past him with his tail in the air.

`Why, indeed?' said a Butterfly, who was fluttering about after a sunbeam.

`Why, indeed?' whispered a Daisy to his neighbour, in a soft, low voice.

`He is weeping for a red rose,' said the Nightingale.

`For a red rose!' they cried; `how very ridiculous!' and the little Lizard, who was something of a cynic, laughed outright.

But the Nightingale understood the secret of the Student's sorrow, and she sat silent in the oak-tree, and thought about the mystery of Love.

Suddenly she spread her brown wings for flight, and soared into the air. She passed through the grove like a shadow, and like a shadow she sailed across the garden.

In the centre of the grass-plot was standing a beautiful Rose-tree, and when she saw it, she flew over to it, and lit upon a spray.

`Give me a red rose,' she cried, `and I will sing you my sweetest song.'

But the Tree shook its head.

`My roses are white,' it answered; `as white as the foam of the sea, and whiter than the snow upon the mountain. But go to my brother who grows round the old sun-dial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.'

So the Nightingale flew over to the Rose-tree that was growing round the old sun-dial.

`Give me a red rose,' she cried, `and I will sing you my sweetest song.'

But the Tree shook its head.

`My roses are yellow,' it answered; `as yellow as the hair of the mermaiden who sits upon an amber throne, and yellower than the daffodil that blooms in the meadow before the mower comes with his scythe. But go to my brother who grows beneath the Student's window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.'

So the Nightingale flew over to the Rose-tree that was growing beneath the Student's window.

`Give me a red rose,' she cried, `and I will sing you my sweetest song.'

But the Tree shook its head.

`My roses are red,' it answered, `as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean-cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.'

`One red rose is all I want,' cried the Nightingale, `only one red rose! Is there no way by which I can get it?'

`There is a way,' answered the Tree; `but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.'

`Tell it to me,' said the Nightingale, `I am not afraid.'

`If you want a red rose,' said the Tree, `you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart's-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.'

`Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,' cried the Nightingale, `and Life is very dear to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the Sun in his chariot of gold, and the Moon in her chariot of pearl. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?'

So she spread her brown wings for flight, and soared into the air. She swept over the garden like a shadow, and like a shadow she sailed through the grove.

The young Student was still lying on the grass, where she had left him, and the tears were not yet dry in his beautiful eyes.

`Be happy,' cried the Nightingale, `be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart's-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty. Flame-coloured are his wings, and coloured like flame is his body. His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankincense.'

The Student looked up from the grass, and listened, but he could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are written down in books.

But the Oak-tree understood, and felt sad, for he was very fond of the little Nightingale who had built her nest in his branches.

`Sing me one last song,' he whispered; `I shall feel very lonely when you are gone.'

So the Nightingale sang to the Oak-tree, and her voice was like water bubbling from a silver jar.

When she had finished her song the Student got up, and pulled a note-book and a lead-pencil out of his pocket.

`She has form,' he said to himself, as he walked away through the grove---`that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good.' And he went into his room, and lay down on his little pallet-bed, and began to think of his love; and, after a time, he fell asleep.

And when the Moon shone in the heavens the Nightingale flew to the Rose-tree, and set her breast against the thorn. All night long she sang with her breast against the thorn, and the cold crystal Moon leaned down and listened. All night long she sang, and the thorn went deeper and deeper into her breast, and her life-blood ebbed away from her.

She sang first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl. And on the topmost spray of the Rose-tree there blossomed a marvellous rose, petal following petal, as song followed song. Pale was it, at first, as the mist that hangs over the river---pale as the feet of the morning, and silver as the wings of the dawn. As the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, as the shadow of a rose in a water-pool, so was the rose that blossomed on the topmost spray of the Tree.

But the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn. `Press closer, little Nightingale,' cried the Tree, `or the Day will come before the rose is finished.'

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and louder and louder grew her song, for she sang of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and a maid.

And a delicate flush of pink came into the leaves of the rose, like the flush in the face of the bridegroom when he kisses the lips of the bride. But the thorn had not yet reached her heart, so the rose's heart remained white, for only a Nightingale's heart's-blood can crimson the heart of a rose.

And the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn. `Press closer, little Nightingale,' cried the Tree, `or the Day will come before the rose is finished.'

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shot through her. Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

And the marvellous rose became crimson, like the rose of the eastern sky. Crimson was the girdle of petals, and crimson as a ruby was the heart.

But the Nightingale's voice grew fainter, and her little wings began to beat, and a film came over her eyes. Fainter and fainter grew her song, and she felt something choking her in her throat.

Then she gave one last burst of music. The white Moon heard it, and she forgot the dawn, and lingered on in the sky. The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over with ecstasy, and opened its petals to the cold morning air. Echo bore it to her purple cavern in the hills, and woke the sleeping shepherds from their dreams. It floated through the reeds of the river, and they carried its message to the sea.

`Look, look!' cried the Tree, `the rose is finished now;' but the Nightingale made no answer, for she was lying dead in the long grass, with the thorn in her heart.

And at noon the Student opened his window and looked out.

`Why, what a wonderful piece of luck!' he cried; `here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in all my life. It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name;' and he leaned down and plucked it.

Then he put on his hat, and ran up to the Professor's house with the rose in his hand.

The daughter of the Professor was sitting in the doorway winding blue silk on a reel, and her little dog was lying at her feet.

`You said that you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose,' cried the Student. `Here is the reddest rose in all the world.

You will wear it to-night next your heart, and as we dance together it will tell you how I love you.'

But the girl frowned.

`I am afraid it will not go with my dress,' she answered; `and, besides, the Chamberlain's nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.'

`Well, upon my word, you are very ungrateful,' said the Student angrily; and he threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it.

`Ungrateful!' said the girl. `I tell you what, you are very rude; and, after all, who are you? Only a Student. Why, I don't believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain's nephew has;' and she got up from her chair and went into the house.

`What a silly thing Love is,' said the Student as he walked away. `It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.'

So he returned to his room and pulled out a great dusty book, and began to read.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What should South Africa do about unskilled migrant labour?

I'm doing some renovations on my pond at the moment. Which has been a nightmare and story in itself. It took 4 months to find a contractor. In a city of 8 million people, you'd think finding a koi pond contractor should be relatively easy. After all it's hardly rocket science. However I fired many potential contractors before I even got their quotes. Others told me they had a six month backlog. And others apparently don't bother unless your koi pond has multi-million rand potential. But finally I found someone who is apparently reliable and available. So now I have a two metre deep hole in my garden.

The labourers working on the hole initially consisted of one South African and two Zimbabwean refugees. The Zimabaweans could hardly speak English and were hardly productive. And they lived in Krugersdorp which meant it took them about 3 hours to get to work in the morning.

With over 40% of South Africans unskilled an unemployed, should we be taking on Zimbabweans or any other refugees? They are typically exploited and many building contractors pay them less than R20 (US$3) per day. They can't afford transport on these wages and end up squatting on vacant land or river banks in the cities. R20 will buy you a loaf of bread and a litre of milk.

While all this is going on, our world cup stadium workers have been striking for bonuses double their current level. I understand they earn R2 200 per month (just over US $300) and have demanded bonuses of R1 500 per month. This may not seem like a lot. However, in a global economy, we're competing with Chinese workers earning less than a third of that. Which is why our textile industry just cannot compete.

Of course one might argue that Chinese markets are distorted by human rights abuses, etc. While this might be true, every cent inflated due to protectionism comes out of the South African consumers' pockets (illustrated through the economic concept known as a deadweight loss).

South Africa's only long term solution is to raise levels of skill. The short term solution of deflating the Rand will merely result in inflationary pressures due to imported goods and thereafter a potential wage price spiral. Sadly it takes generations to move from uneducated unskilled labour to sophisticated engineering and manufacturing economies like those of Korea. Although the South Korean story is truly inspirational - it moved from a largely agricultural economy to a world engineering and manufacturing leader in little over 40 years.

But back to those Zimbabweans. They took jobs that any unskilled South African worker could have performed. In contrast, a friend who married an Australian teacher was forced to emigrate because she could not get a work permit in South Africa. There is a shortage of teacher's in South Africa. Their staying in the country would have resulted in a multiplier effect of spending and job creation for lower skilled workers (each higher income worker creates between 3 and 5 lower income jobs in South Africa).

Instead they left, costing the economy two skilled workers who are in short supply. And the income they earned that would have been spent and created lower skilled jobs. And we have workers flooding across the border and taking jobs from workers we have in excess supply.

Pretty screwed up. Frankly I believe the problem is that we have a government that feels unable to criticise or refuse demands from other African states. Switching on the electric fence along our border (turned off in 1994 due to the number of deaths of illegal immigrants), forcing Zimbabwean regime change and refusing unskilled immigration and refugees are unpalatable to a government that sees criticising other African / non-western nations as a betrayal.

Our mines are full of migrant workers from neighbouring states. This is a legacy from apartheid days where migrant labour provided a means of keeping wages low. To some extent it is understandable that former liberation movements feel unable to slam the door shut.

It is distressing though that our labour department postures with an apparently frivolous complaint against Comair and our major trade union grouping Cosatu is arguing against tighter immigration laws. Surely time and effort would be better spent inspecting building sites, farms, etc and ensuring workers are properly accredited with South African residence and work permits.

I wonder what our unemployed South African workers think?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Should I kill him?

So you know when you're on IoL and they have a picture of a person from IoL Dating on the right hand side of the home page?

Other day this bloke caught my eye. Jeez, very much the type of guy that... I fall for some woman and some guys.

Anyway, so I start chatting through my Datingbuzz subscription. He's 26, a pilot and owns two planes through his inheritance. His photos range from cute with some borderline steamy. I give him my number and we start chatting on the phone. I tell him he sounds older...

Nevermind, continue chatting and then some more photos go up - pretty borderline! But he is frikkin good looking and is soon the number one most popular profile on Datingbuzz (the platform behind IoL Dating and a number of other dating sites). He seems nice and he knows I was interested before those steamy pics.

Having learnt my lesson from online dating in the past, I request a coffee before I waste my time for too long (lessons? Frikkin wierdos in real life...)

Day of the proposed meeting his profile disappears and I hear nothing. I leave a message on his phone and am irritated. Then I notice another bloke has favourited me and lives in the same area as previous guy. Except he is 40 and looks less than average.


I send a message to new fan saying "You're ... aren't you?"

I get a message back, "I'd love to answer but I haven't got a subscription yet."

I get a call from the missing person over the weekend. "My new fan is you isn't it?" I ask. Pause. "You're very clever..."

Farkin hell. If he was in front of me I'd have decked him. I keep my cool and ask what the fuck he thinks he's doing. "Hey IITQ, I told you the truth about everything except my photos."

"And your age?"

"Well that too, but everything else..."

"So where on earth did you think this would go?"

"I didn't want to attract someone because I'm a porn star or for my money, or..."

"So you thought an entirely different persona would help?"

"Look if you don't want to continue this I promise not to stalk you or anything... I'll delete your number and you'll never hear from me again."

"Good idea. Goodbye."

Jeez, I must be jaded. Inside I wanted to rip the fucker's head off. And I just said goodbye.

That's it. I don't think their is another vaguely normal person on Datingbuzz. I am too good to be true.

Is this you - your photo was used on someone else's dating profile. Of course, it's just as likely you were pinched from some porno...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A ray of hope? - Part II

Let's hope this is.

The plague that is sweeping this country needs some serious action.

It's war on crime

November 11 2007 at 08:55AM

By Angela Quintal

A radical overhaul of the country's dysfunctional criminal justice system will see at least one out of every four police officers a detective, will boost incentives to attract and retain skilled investigators and will improve facilities and crime-busting equipment.

The government seems ready to spend whatever it takes to turn the tide on crime.

The far-reaching plan, to come into effect within months, will also beef up police forensic services, pay prosecutors far more and drastically change criminal court processes to avoid delays - including making sure that the cases that go to court are ready for trial.

A seven-point strategy approved by the cabinet this week goes to the heart of the problems in the criminal justice system.

The new plan, influenced by a British review of that country's criminal justice system, intends to empower those at the coalface - with crime-battered citizens the ultimate winners.

It aims for quick, equitable and fair criminal justice that has the confidence of the public and impacts massively on crime.

The plan will be refined at the January cabinet lekgotla and its details will be announced by President Thabo Mbeki in his penultimate state of the nation address in February as he opens parliament.

The seven-point strategy will have huge organisational and budget implications.

The blueprint has the support of big business, which was intimately involved in planning the new strategy through Mbeki's big business working group and the Anti-Crime Initiative.

Earlier this week, Johnny de Lange, the deputy justice minister, told reporters that it was no longer a matter of tinkering with the problems. Instead, the government was looking at a fundamental transformation of the system as a whole.

The president is understood to be keen to leave a legacy in which, instead of being seen as a crime denialist, he is remembered as the reformer of an old-fashioned and dysfunctional system.

Part of the strategy relates to empowering those at the coalface to do their jobs. This would include improving the lot of detectives, prosecutors and forensic experts, among others. It involves, for example, a major programme of capacity building in the police detective services.

At present, only 14,2 percent (22 519 members) of the 158 000-strong police force are detectives. The plan is to increase their numbers to at least 25 percent and eventually a third of the total force.

There will also be an increase in facilities and equipment, given that there are only 6 513 vehicles, 3 505 computers and 1 879 cellphones for 22 519 detectives.

There is also a commitment to attract and retain experienced detectives and attract graduates. The detective service must become "the preferred or sought-after employment option in the SAPS", according to a presentation by De Lange to the cabinet this week.

The government agreed with unions that there would be pay parity in the SAPS. However, an occupation-specific dispensation now seems to be on the cards.

This would include:

# The introduction of salary incentives to attract and retain a new breed of skilled detective by, for example, providing a specialised career path and an attractive monthly allowance;

# The creation of new senior detective posts in designated courts in cities and large towns to oversee the quality of investigations and the "sifting" of trial-ready dockets;

# The creation of new posts of legally qualified officers in the detective services to advise detectives, thereby improving the quality of investigations; and

# Expedited and appropriate training programmes.

The forensic services of the SAPS and the health department will also receive attention, with substantial increases in numbers, improved facilities and equipment and the possibility of an occupation-specific dispensation.

According to figures supplied to the cabinet, nationally the police have only 1 691 forensic experts operating from 91 offices around the country.

They are responsible for gathering evidence at all crime scenes, which could include DNA, ballistics, fingerprints, crime-scene mapping and photography.

They also analyse fingerprints, but all other materials are sent to the national office, where 923 forensic experts analyse samples from all crime scenes.

To compound the situation, the health department employs only 58 forensic analysts to deal with the analysis of alcohol or drug concentration in blood.

There is a massive backlog of alcohol tests in some centres, numbering 12 028 in Cape Town and 7 721 in Johannesburg, which has led to a huge number of criminal cases being struck off the court roll.

Similarly, toxicology has a large backlog, with 2 359 cases outstanding in Cape Town, 3 331 in Johannesburg and 1 536 in Pretoria.

Other priority action includes the National Prosecuting Authority, where the vacancy rate for experienced prosecutors stands at 23 percent.

Key to addressing this would be to deal with the huge salary discrepancies between magistrates and prosecutors, the cabinet report says.

Another strategy highlighted by De Lange this week will be the transformation of criminal court processes to ensure that these are focused on trials rather than time-consuming administrative actions such as postponements.

o This article was originally published on page 1 of Sunday Independent on November 11, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who will make the South African crime movie?

"The Brave One" is currently showing at cinemas around the world. Somewhat controversial, it tells the story of a vigilante response to a violent assault and murder. It stars Jodie Foster and I looked forward to a relevant thought provoking story about crime and punishment. Sadly I was disappointed.

Two of the best movies I have ever seen, let alone about crime, are "Traffic" starring Micheal Douglas and "Man on Fire" starring Denzel Washington. The latter is, in my opinion, one of the most finely produced movies of our time. Tony Scott combines with Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, musical maestro Hans Zimmer and the haunting Lisa Gerrard. These movies are violent and Man on Fire is disturbingly so. But the story is so gripping, everything has its place.

"The Brave One" suffers for this reason. I wondered why it was worth making? Was it a story worth telling?

South Africa needs someone to tell its crime story. Just as Man on Fire is not unpatriotic about Mexico, neither would a warts and all story about South Africa's problems and complexities be.

Stories have been told for centuries. Those that are worthwhile have sought to make sense of the nonsensical. In ancient times these stories may have described the mysterious as mythical, the complex as supernatural. Stories gave reason to the unreasonable, basis to that which played at our thoughts.

As we seek the diversion of a rugby world cup win, as we seek an outlet for our pride and love for this country, some people's lives have been ripped to shreds by the scourge that plagues South Africa.

From News24: A security company called Gideon Odendaal of Pretoria at 16:39 on Tuesday afternoon to inform him that there were problems at his home in Lynnwood Manor.

Odendaal, who was in the Western Cape, phoned home but nobody answered. He then tried to call his wife Kathy's cellphone number, but she didn't answer.

The domestic worker eventually answered her cellphone and all she was able to say was "They're busy hurting her."

Soon after that, Kathy Odendaal, 51, was murdered in her house in Farnham Street by armed attackers who had first raped her.

From IoL: Cathy Odendaal was apparently tortured, sexually assaulted and then murdered by the four-man gang who have been terrorising Pretoria.

But in an unusual mobilisation of forces on Tuesday night, members of the community, along with a group of construction workers from Mamelodi, rallied together to hunt down the alleged culprits.

Two men who were found in possession of an unlicensed handgun and jewellery belonging to Odendaal were arrested - one of them, who was wearing a Springbok jersey, was seriously hurt after being subdued by the workers.

Construction worker Vusi Sithole, who was driving with his brother Johannes and neighbour Colbert Novela, said that as they drove towards Mamelodi they spotted a man holding a woman around the throat. He was wearing a Springbok jersey.

Chasing after him, the three escaped with their lives after the man, who had hidden behind a clump of bushes in Cedar Street, leapt at their truck, pushed a gun into the driving compartment and opened fire.

Novela had a spade with him and managed to push the spade against the gun, deflecting the bullet.

The three men pushing the man from the truck and attacked him with the spade and a rock, overpowering him before stopping a passing police patrol.

Sithole burst into tears on hearing of Odendaal's murder.

"If only we could have done something to save her. I wish we could have caught the man before he killed that lady," he said.

From News24: The woman's son arrived on his scooter at his mother's home, at about 20:00 on Tuesday night.

He had not yet been informed of the attack.

"What's going on here? Is everything all right? Is my mom OK? Tell me, tell me?!" he wanted to know.

When a policeman told him that his mother had died, he burst into tears and cried in the policeman's arms.

Beeld heard that the woman's husband was in Cape Town. Her daughter had not yet been informed of her mother's death.

Again from News24: Members of the police forensics unit were fine-combing the Odendaal home on Wednesday morning for leads.

While the police were conducting their search, Marlize Odendaal, the victim's daughter, arrived at the house.

She was in the Kruger National Park when her mother was murdered.

Marlize sat on the pavement outside and just stared at the house.

"It's terrible, what happened to my mother," she said.

A third man has been arrested for the Odendaal murder after assistance by the Mamelodi community. The three suspects have been linked to the shooting of a three year old neighbor to the Odendaals this last weekend in addition to a host of other crimes.

Meanwhile, Ryan Holmes, a 22-year-old Tukkies student who was shot during a hijacking some weeks back remains in a coma.

You can be sure the Odendaal and Holmes families will never recover from these tragedies.

To appreciate some of the agony that victims go through, consider the exceptional case of Seiso Ratsoana. From the Sunday Times:

In August last year, two boys — then aged 12 and 11, I’ve been told — locked themselves in a house in Mabopane, outside Pretoria, with Seiso, who was then a year and 10 months old.

They poured boiling water over Seiso’s head and his groin. They used a knife to peel off parts of his scalp as his skin flaked. They pushed nails through his tongue.

They rubbed chilli into his wounds and into his rectum. They stuffed his mouth with pills to stop him screaming.

When Seiso’s rescuers finally broke into the house, the boys were apparently preparing to pour boiling oil over him and hack off the soles of his feet.


Debbie, a young volunteer at the Children of Fire, takes Seiso to Milpark Hospital every day to have the dressings on his groin changed. The risk of infection is considerable; Seiso is not toilet trained, his bandages are often soaked in urine.


“Nurse comes in at 10.30. Debbie holds torso down. I hold his legs down. Nurse starts cutting staples. Seiso screams. Writhes in agony. Screams louder. Nurse continues cutting. Seiso screams louder. More cuts. More blood. Another nurse comes in. She takes over from me holding legs down. I go to bathroom. Debbie and I agree afterwards that the doctor should be there next time to see how well the Stopayne f***ing works.”

I cried when I read this story. It is not the only child tortured. In the North West province last year, robbers burnt a child with molten wax in attempts to get his parents to tell them where money and guns were. And of course many other people including the aged have been similarly tortured with boiling water, etc.

But Seiso Ratsoana's story is something else. I try to imagine his pain. No matter what pain I've been through it just cannot compare to a little boy who does not even have muscles in his groin left from the burns administered to him. Imagine a little boy who possibly has no memory of a life without pain. And who knows it was someone else that did this to him.

What creates a 12 year old psychopath? Why do we have people growing up to be monsters? Psychopathy is incurable. Psychologists will tell you they suspect that South Africa produces these monsters at an unmatched rate.

I am currently reading Anthony Altbeker's "A Country At War With Itself." It is interesting, but so far I'm short on answers as to the psychology behind South African violent crime.

It would make a story worth telling. Not as a documentary, but a personal story set in South Africa.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A ray of hope?

Breaking news says that a crime plan presented to President Mbeki has him excited.

A key recommendation in the report is that the police force needs to increase the number of detectives by 30 000. In a country with the most overloaded detectives in the world (most crime dockets do not get investigated due to the workload), this must make sense.

Our courts are partly overloaded due to poor detective work, but catching more crooks will mean more court work. Let's hope the plan addresses that too. Our hopelessly overloaded prisons need expanding too - not early release programmes.

But I'm excited at acknowledgment of the problem and President Mbeki's response. When he was told it could be costly, Mbeki reportedly said: "It is good, let us go and find the money."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Do you read the news, President Mbeki?

We know you browse the Internet. It is how you reportedly came up with some of your crackpot ideas on HIV and AIDS.

I wonder if you ever browse the online newspapers? Reading the actual homepages of News24, IoL, iAfrica and the Mail & Guardian will give you a hint of the horrific day-to-day crime affecting ordinary South Africans.

But subscribing to their RSS feeds will lay bare the true scale and horror of what people face each day. I am sure someone in the civil service will be able to show you how to access the RSS feeds. If not, just comment on this blog entry and I'll pop round and give you a hand.

Each day I browse through the headlines appearing in the feeds through Bloglines. It is a different experience to browsing the front pages. Because most of these stories don't make the front pages anymore.

I fought against the CrimeExpo website because I disagreed with its stated intention of scaring of tourists and shaming South Africa. Also, it used fraudulent images and sensationalism to make its point.

I have tried to be involved in fighting crime, giving up substantial income to be involved. I am looking for other ways to make this involvement work.

I have had many opportunities to emigrate over the years and yet remain here.

I have recently had an intruder in my home and chased him off. I remain committed to this country.

But I perceive a paranoia in acknowledging crime as a critical issue. Of course the government is trying. And of course you acknowledge it as an issue. But continued comments show a detachment and denial. You once said in an interview at the SABC in Auckland Park, "It is not like if I walk outside here in Auckland Park I will get shot." A few weeks later a man was shot on the streets in Auckland Park.

You have mentioned crime statistics of London to demonstrate that crime is worse elsewhere. Whether there are more murders per capita in Ecuador or Columbia is not the point. One can also point to the fact that while Calcutta is one of the poorest cities in the world, it is a relatively safe place with low crime rates.

The point is that that until crime is sufficiently rare that any of the headlines below are greeted with disgust and shock - not weary sadness - crime must be declared a national emergency.

A selection of those headlines from the last few days:

The couple in happier times. (Beeld)
Woman finds dead fiance

A young woman who became worried when she did not hear from her fiancé, set out to look for him and accidentally stumbled onto the Midrand scene where he had been shot dead.

But in a cruel twist, it appeared that her fiancé had been killed by the same robbers who had hijacked her car ten days before.

Gang-rape teens still at large

Mpumalanga police are still searching for five teenagers who were part of a gang that raped a 20-year-old woman. Three teenagers aged 15, 16 and 17 were arrested in Mafube village near Balfour and appeared in Balfour Magistrate's Court on Monday.

KZN farm manager attacked

Michael Coppard, a manager at the farm, near Howick, and his wife Joan were confronted on Wednesday by two casual labourers who requested permanent employment. The men then produced an axe and a knife and threatened to attack them. The attackers made off with R1 300, their cellphones, bank cards, electrical appliances and their bakkie.

Pupils arrested for alleged armed robbery

Four pupils aged between 16 and 18 were arrested for armed robbery in Vanderbijlpark outside Johannesburg. The pupils were arrested after they allegedly robbed people of their cellphones at gunpoint.

Mom, dad, face rape charges

A Parow couple, charged with raping and indecently assaulting their own daughter over a period of 10 years, appeared in the Bellville Magistrate's Court on Thursday.

'I smeared mud on her genitals'

A 21-year-old man was convicted of the rape, murder and robbery of his pregnant aunt after changing his plea to guilty in the Grahamstown High Court on Thursday. Themba Ngxokongxa, of Sivwe, Komga, admitted that he had intentionally assaulted, raped, and murdered Sindiswa Kalani, 30, and then robbed her of R13 and her identity document.

Ammunition 'heist cop' in court

Mabutana Richards Msibi, a metro police officer, appeared briefly before Magistrate Samuel Mashimbye in the Germiston Magistrate's Court on Wednesday on charges of possessing ammunition and an unlicensed firearm. Msibi was arrested on Monday after police found him in possession of 133 rounds for an AK-47 and 103 rounds of 9mm ammunition. This was the second time within a year that the officer had been arrested for the same offence. In December, he was allegedly caught with ammunition and R10 000 in counterfeit money. That case was thrown out of court because vital information had gone missing from the docket.

Grandfather allegedly rapes girl

A seven year-old schoolgirl shocked her teacher during a health lesson by saying that her grandfather had raped her, police said on Thursday.

Hijacked man bludgeoned to death

In a cruel twist of fate, a Glenwood man who turned paramedics and police away after he was hijacked on Tuesday night was brutally bludgeoned to death in his Moore Road home later that evening. The body of Arthur Rippin, 77, was found when police returned to his home to take a statement.

Pupil allegedly hacked to death by gang

A Cape Town high school pupil has been hacked to death in front of his parents in a brazen late-night gang attack. Thando Komani died after an attack on his family's home in Langa on Monday night. And while the Grade 9 pupil was being butchered with pangas, he fought only to protect his little two-year-old sister from harm.

Cops won't book thief

Pretoria - A man who caught a thief on his property in Mayville and took him to the police, was turned away at Wonderboom police station because there was "not enough evidence".

Rapists 'can't be rehabilitated'

The State on Wednesday urged Judge Leona Theron to hand down the maximum sentence possible for three men found guilty of rape as none of the three men could be expected to be rehabilitated. The men raped three Durban women at a beach house in Pennington, south of Scottburgh, on December 29 last year. Later that night they attacked and robbed a Sandton couple. The court heard that each three men had previously been convicted for a number of crimes and had served time in prison.

'He heard a pistol being cocked'

A Sabie man believes that if his brother-in-law had not fought fiercely with a robber, he and his father would probably have been "executed". The two robbers arrived at Global Products at Tweefontein near Sabie at about 07:00 and attacked the two men. They were forced to lie on the ground while their office was searched and plundered. "Henk said one of the robbers later came and stood over them. When he heard a pistol being cocked, he realised that they were about to be killed," Basson said. Henk jumped up and tackled one of the robbers, and also hit him with a chair at one stage. "The next moment a shot was fired. One of the robbers shot Anton in the back," Basson said. While Henk was still struggling with one of the attackers, the other one shot him. He was hit in the stomach and hip.

Ryan Holmes and his girlfriend Tanja Lendowsky in January. (Beeld)
'We just need a miracle'

After being too scared to go out at night since being held up by armed robbers at his home six weeks ago, a Midrand Tukkie student ventured out for the first time on Sunday - only to be hijacked and shot in the head a few hours later.

Gunmen rob Carnival City casino

An armed gang of about 15 men shot and wounded several people in the Carnival City casino on Johannesburg's East Rand shortly after midnight on Sunday. They fired shots inside, wounding several people and assaulted one customer with a firearm. The gang also robbed patrons of cellphones and wallets. Police confronted them at the exit as they tried to make their getaway in several cars and a shootout ensued. Two police officers were wounded and were in a stable condition.

Court case plagued with strange delays

Three rapists' sentencing had been postponed 20 times since 2005 by controversial High Court Judge Ntsikelelo Poswa. Then, he also granted the men bail - without them seeking it. Two of the men disappeared last month.

'Cops left me to be raped'

When Marilyn White tearfully begged the police to rescue her from her child-sex abuser and mental patient ex- husband, they accused her of being drunk and trying to punish a "kind man".

Teen kills gran

A 17-year-old schoolboy who killed his grandmother because she would not give him any money, was sentenced in the Durban High Court to 10 years' imprisonment on Friday.

'No, I'm not going to Voertsek'

"Voertsek!" ("Get lost") That was the response from three armed hijackers when a young pregnant woman from Kempton Park begged them to hand over her two-year-old child before they drove off with her vehicle. "I became hysterical and pleaded for him to give me my child. After I had repeated my plea several times, he picked her up and gave her to me." Shortly after Prinsloo's car had been hijacked, a 60-year-old woman was shot nearby, while being hijacked in her driveway.

Heist millionaires

Cash-in-transit heists created at least 46 millionaire gangs last year. Many of the criminals who took part in targeting security companies who transport cash may not be behind bars. They are more likely to be free and enjoying the fruits of their lethal criminal labour - lavish lifestyles, fast cars, beautiful women and the respect of their communities.

'Hefty' men rape schoolgirl

Two hefty men grabbed the Grade 9 pupil while she was on her way home. "The two took her to an opened veld near to her school and raped her."

Famous DJ hit hard by murder, rape of aunt

A DJ's mom murdered and her one year old grandson left next to her body for a day and a half. In case you believe whinging about crime is the white perogative, this was another one of the many township murders.

Woman was stabbed while holding baby - police

Lauren Shankland, 28, had been bludgeoned and stabbed to death during a robbery late on Thursday afternoon. Indications were that she had been holding the 2-month-old baby when she was attacked.

Image of 'butchers' burnt in her memory

At 4.15am on November 13 2005, Collette Borain awoke inside a horror-movie scene.

Her husband Christopher was being butchered by a gang of robbers armed with steak knives and a long breadknife. This week she faced them in court.

Matric robbed in their exam

54 students, supervised by four staff members, were nearing the end of their accounting exam on Wednesday when they were held at gunpoint while the school was robbed.

Tongue, genitals removed

The mutilated body of a 17-year-old boy was found near Pella Village in Madikwe on Thursday, North West police said. His tongue and genitals had been removed. Meanwhile, a 13-year-old boy who was found mutilated on August 5 near a village outside Rustenburg remained in a serious condition, Jacobs said.

Ex-lover shot in the face

A second Pietermaritzburg woman has become the victim of domestic violence after she was shot in the face, police said on Friday.

Rapist: I'm really stressed

As a couple was walking home at midnight after visiting their minister, Allah attacked them, knocked the man unconscious with a large stone and throttled his wife until she too was unconscious before raping her. The rapist is now stressed because he is a prison far from home.

Men avenged 'witchcraft' murder

Three men in the Mpoza municipality in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape have been arrested on Thursday for the murder of two men who they alleged had used witchcraft to kill their parents.

Jhb cop shot during robbery

A policeman was shot while responding to a robbery. It happened after a Fairvale couple was woken by the sound of breaking glass in their Wilson Street home in the early hours of the morning and they alerted police.

Man shot 10 times by robbers survives

An employee of a cash loan company in Port Elizabeth was shot ten times after three men tried to rob the business on Friday morning.

Farmer's killers get life

The farmer was driving to his Daviddale farm in Amsterdam near Ermelo on July 4 last year when he was approached and stopped by the four men. The four shot Wolfaardt and set his car alight.

Baby scalded with boiling water

It was alleged that the child's 18-year-old mother had a misunderstanding with her brother at their home in Q Section, Umlazi on Saturday.

"The brother apparently took boiling water and threw it over the little boy."

Tannie makes robbers tidy up

An elderly woman who was tied up and had to watch helplessly while burglars cleaned out her house for the second time in a fortnight, nevertheless made sure they cleaned up before leaving.

Hijackers run rampant on KZN North Coast

A man was wounded and a woman and two good Samaritans robbed of their vehicles amid a high-speed chase on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.

Life terms for 'needless killing of an innocent'

After robbing 63-year-old Lynette Oosthuizen, who lived alone on a Boston, KwaZulu-Natal, farm, two intruders strangled her to prevent her from identifying them. She was killed on the evening of 23 August after she surrendered her money, a gun, jewellery, her bakkie keys and other items to them. They put her body in her bakkie, drove to the Bulwer area and threw her body over a cliff.

Rapist warns six-year-old not to tell

A six-year-old girl has been lured to a man's shack and raped in Tembisa on the East Rand. The man lured her to his shack where he undressed her, raped her and then warned her not to tell anyone. However, her mother spoke to her when she found the child crying, and went to the police. The rapist was arrested. Police also arrested a 30-year-old man in Tembisa on Wednesday for the rape of a 10-year-old girl in February.

Robbers slit security guard's throat

A security guard at a Durban school was killed when a group of armed robbers slit his throat and then proceeded to rob the school. Eight men armed with knives cornered the night watchman at the Junajarth Primary School and proceeded to cut his throat. They then left him to bleed to death before knocking on the door of the school caretaker. The men took a DVD player, a television set, jewellery and cash from the caretaker's house before they broke into the school tuck shop. R500 and some stock was stolen from the tuck shop.

Cop killed in Soweto shootout

A policeman died in a shootout with robbers during a car chase in Soweto on Wednesday morning. He and his partner gave chase to a stolen vehicle when they saw it at Booysens in Johannesburg. A shootout ensued in Zola North. The sergeant was killed. The three robbers escaped. They were thought to have been armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

Man shot dead outside bank

A man was shot dead outside a Standard Bank branch in Boksburg North on Monday. While walking to his car parked at a Total garage in Atlas Road, the 50-year-old man was approached by three men. "One of them took out a handgun and shot him in the chest, fatally wounding him."

Young boy's genitals cut off

An eight-year-old boy's genitals were sliced off in bushes near a rivulet in Malamalele, near Giyani, Limpopo. The boy was playing in a street near his home when a 23-year-old man dragged him into the bushes on Saturday. Police caught the man later in possession of the body parts. He told the police he had intended selling them.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Surely a better way to deal with strikes?

The recent South African public servants strike had me thinking.

Of course our teachers are poorly paid. Of course our police are badly paid.

But we also must have one of the most unproductive, corrupt public services in the world. Some argue that poor pay is at the route of the problem. I wonder.

The flip side of the coin is that our government expenditure runs at about 40% of GDP. Under the inflation targeting regime we have adopted (quite appropriately according to most modern economists), adding to the public servant wage bill quickly works its way into the inflation figure. Add to this the inevitable and soon to be seen dramatic increases in electricity costs, and inflation could enter an upward spiral.

My thoughts ran to a simple solution. Why not accede to the union demands and tie the increases to performance? If productivity improvements match the increase, the increase has a neutral impact on inflation.

It drives me mad when I drive along the streets and see water leaks that have been running for weeks. Of course the phenomenal apathy of residents is largely to blame. But, imagine if the employees of the water authorities had their bonus tied to the percentage of water of the total city water bill that is unbilled / lost? I'd bet we'd see a change in performance.

The same logic can be applied to many other measures. Percentage of failed matric students. Crime rates in an area. Etc.

Of course performance management is legendary for its difficulty in implementing. Read Freakonomics for examples of the difficulty in implementing teacher performance bonuses.

But the beauty is that it is very difficult for unions to argue against. They'd sound like real charlies arguing against a generous offer linked to performance. "What, you don't believe good performance should be rewarded?"

But you know why the whole idea is a non-starter? Most of our public service wouldn't know performance management if it hit them upside the head. And that is the real problem.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Are you growing?

No, not like a tree.

Personal growth. The kind which makes you wiser, stronger, a better person.

People have different priorities. Personal growth has always been one of my top priorities. Doing stuff I've done before that does not challenge me is one sure fire way to get me irritated, impatient, etc. Of course there is a lesson in this too. Maturing means understanding that most of life is inevitably going to involve the mundane. Dealing with that and looking for the opportunities to grow is growth in itself.

But growth also takes extramural effort. Reading is a big part of growing. While researching something on the Internet qualifies (and has happily made readers of many more people than would otherwise be the case), working through a book still has a big role to play in growing knowledge. It's kind of like following someone on a journey.

Going back to varsity has meant I'm being challenged with all sorts of new things. Doing post grad maths after 15 years since my first year maths course is one such challenge. Sitting in a course on competition economics is another.

The latter left me feeling exhilarated after Wednesday's lecture. I learnt something on game theory and Cournot equilibriums that was immediately applicable to a client situation. I did some work for the client based on the learning the next day. Now that's a return on investment!

But growth takes work. I'm sold out at the moment and carrying a full time varsity course load rather than a part time one. This means I'm back to bad habits such as hardly sleeping and not pre-reading for lectures, etc.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

is there a god? (wrt Fall Out Boy...)

It would seem so - i walked up to the fall out boy entrance, sign in hand, "ticket to buy please." i had asked and no one had seen anyone selling. I asked the guard at the gate. "yoh! This guy over here!"
the guy looked at me, leaned over and said, "here, present."
(this post from my mobile)

UPDATE: BTW, concert was cool, but this was the worst sound I have ever heard at a concert. This includes concerts at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town, notorius for its bad sound, and Bon Jovi at Green Point where they blew their mid range amps. On the latter occassion, the sound engineer managed to compensate. Last night, to say the sound was "muddy" would be an understatement - at times you couldn't hear the lead vocalist.

The Fall Out Boy website
Joe Trohman's blog with today's post about their African trip - to Uganda and SA - including pictures and commentary about the gig at the Dome and their game drive

Monday, July 16, 2007

Have you got a spare ticket to Fall Out Boy?


Ok, help. It took a while to find someone to go to Fall Out Boy with. Hey, not everyone has good taste.

By the time I convinced a girl who had an invite to shaparone a 14 year old with a complimentary ticket to take up the offer, the show had been sold out. So now I'm in the dog box.

If you know of anyone selling a main floor standing ticket to this Friday's show, please comment on this post.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Is Microsoft trying to sabotage Linux?

My life has been a technology hell this past month and a bit. I appear to have become one of those people who causes technology to explode when I walk past.

First one of my server hard drives went. The RAID saved my butt and it was then a matter of ordering replacements from the States via eBay. They finally arrived, but to do the capacity expansion (I ordered bigger hard drives) I had to back up all the data, replace the drives and then retsore the data - not a trivial task for a few hundred Gigs of data. This was made more difficult because my DLT drive is still busted (it will cost thousands to fix). However, although time consuming, the drives are in. They are reconditioned drives and two failed on start up - which is where I got lucky because I ordered two extra.

The new laptop I bought to replace the stolen one arrived with Windows Vista for Business. I resized the partition to install a dual boot of Debian Linux, and disaster. Vista would no longer boot. So I've been working exclusively in Linux for the last month while I've tried to sort out the Vista problem. This has allowed me to develop an appreciation of key migration issues. The biggest? For me, tables in Powerpoint. Almost all my consulting documentation ends up in Powerpoint (roll on the consulting jokes). Tables are critical for formatting data on a slide. And Impress (the equivilent) doesn't do them. No. Kidding.

Solving the Vista problem has been a ball-ache of note. The recovery disk will not boot if you have resized the orginal install partitiion and IBM suggested I buy a copy of Vista - at a few thousand rand - to replace the OEM version on my machine. This after much efforty including a trip to the East Rand to the Laptop distribution and support warehouse.

I finally found documentation on the issue here after arriving at a similar conclusion.

The key is being able to run "chkdsk" on the affected Vista partition. You can either boot with a NTFS-capable start disk and run it from there, or you can run ntfsfix from Linux and then boot your Vista partition which will launch "chkdsk".

This a pretty huge issue - most Linux installations now make use of partition resizing in order to turn a Windows machine into a dual-booting machine. This issue results in a broken Windows installation. Sabotage?

As if the above pains were not enough, I dropped my cell phone into some water. With my old laptop stolen, I was contactless! I have a backup on my LDAP server, but with the transition to a new eGroupware this had also got broken. Yup, I certainly have become Karma's bitch (taking over from Devil).

Anyway, much more about all of the above incidents, workarounds and fixes on my technical blog.

After a week of drying out, I tried my phone yesterday - et voila! It works. Together with the Vista fix, the arrival of my new wireless router (after six months of fighting with Digital Planet) and my new UPS, does this mark a change in my techinical fortunes. Please God let it be so.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Do you know anyone who has decapitated a live dog with a chainsaw?

No? Thought not.

Two guys from Delmas did it though - a live husky.

And they want to pay an admission of guilt fine and be done with it.

I say put the arseholes in Pollsmoor with some of the more infamous gangs and let them suffer for a few years.

What is wrong with people in this country?

From News24:

Dog decapitated with chain saw
19/06/2007 15:55 - (SA)

Johannesburg - A Delmas magistrate has refused the offers of two men who wanted to pay admission of guilt fines after admitting to using a chain saw to decapitate a live husky dog.

The SPCA said both Phillip Matthysen and Alec Sirate pleaded guilty to a charge of animal cruelty.

The case was postponed to July 24.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is my burglar mad?

So I was robbed. And he came back. So robbers do sometimes come back. Once.

But last night he came back again and tried to rob my neighbours. Oh yes.

The bugger is so bold, he didn't waste any sleep this time. At 22h00, my neighbour's wife walked into the bedroom and was confronted by the sight of a dread locked man standing in her garden. Of course she screamed. This either did not bother the burglar - or he froze before bolting.

I was in the shower when my phone rang. I am the body corporate trustee in charge of security. "Sorry to bother you so late IITQ, but would this be a convenient time to talk?"

My neighbour must be the most polite person on earth. "(L) spotted a guy in our garden and we've let the guards know and called the police. Should I be doing anything else?"

So I called our suburb's security and once again we had ex-soldiers (ex-recces, the SA equivalent of the SAS/Marines) with assault rifles running through the complex.

Naturally our gardening staff are a little concerned - they are after all having polygraph tests today. So post us having not found the terrorist again, one of the gardeners volunteered to take the security guys to the homeless vagrants up the road to quiz them. Shortly later I had two scared looking vagrants on my doorstep, one munching hungrily on some bread. Odd. But I didn't question that - other things were more odd and more pressing.

My gardener, "These guys know the guy who owns the bag we found with the torch from your house. He has dreadlocks and his name is Terence."

Alrighty. Turns out Terence is a Zimbabwean who smash and grabs from cars in Sandton, sells dagga to the builders in the area and has the nickname Rasta. It seems the man's talents are expanding.

Talents which, by the way, include getting over electric fences, past guards and up 2,5m walls.

By now, half the world's private security and the police are in my complex. I take the homeless to the police and they repeat the story. The police and the suburb security resolve to catch the man the next day. For his sake, I hope the police get him first. The security have offered to bring him to me.

Meanwhile, my home is becoming a massive worksite and interrogation room. The polygrapher is in my study quizzing the frightened gardeners. The alarm people are rewiring and adding everywhere. By coincidence the pond guy arrived to fix something. The carpenter arrived to fix my damaged door and lock. The complex security management are on their way. My client deliverables are way behind. And I write a maths exam next week. And I need sleep.

Oh, turns out one of the ex-recces bought the vagrant the bread as a tongue loosener. Apparently it worked.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


After sleeping through my Monday night robbery, I was awake for its reprise last night.

I'd worked until 03h00 and was settling in for my sleep when I heard a noise. Armed with a piece of steel rebar that has been beside my bed since Monday, I inched down the dark passage. Never turn the lights on they say - you become a better target for a bullet.

I rounded the corner to see the shape of a crouching burglar on my patio. My shout as I chased towards him was the weird roar, "You fucking bastard!"

The dark shape turned and ran. He slipped as he tried to cross my koi pond. In a flash he was up again. He raced across the garden an vaulted the garden wall into the complex gardens.

I raced back to my room, called the police, suburb security and armed response.

I spent the next hour scouring the complex with first the suburb security, ex-recces with assault rifles, then the police and then the armed response.

Nothing. Either this guy knows a good way over our boundary wall and electric fence or he's coming from the inside.

All I know is he's one brazen fucker.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

How do you technically recover from laptop theft?

Right. So after the recent excitement of a stolen laptop, I need to go through the process of setting up a new laptop and recovering data, etc.

I'll make this useful by blogging about the IT trials and tribulations on my tech blog.

In the mean time, consider the following:

  • Install a stolen laptop tracker on your PC - if the fuckers ever connect to the net, it'll let you know and provide their ISP details

  • Keep invoices, serial numbers, etc in a safe place to facilitate police and insurance reports

  • Get one of those cable alarms that screams if your laptop is moved

  • Backups really are important - use a syncronisation app like iFolder to sync your laptop with the server when it connects to the network

  • Encrypt your harddrive - I am now a prime candidate for identity theft

  • Password protect the BIOS on your laptop - same reason as above

So I've been busy setting up the new laptop. What a mission. Anyway, it is a beautiful new beast. Follow the progress on my techie blog.

Here it is:

Vital stats here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Where do all the stolen goods go?

There have to be thousands and thousands of stolen laptops and cell phones in South Africa. Where do they all go?

It bugs the shit out of me that people buy stolen goods. Without the market there would be no theft.

I'm thinking about it because I've just had to run out and buy a new laptop. And I will have to buy a new DVR and DVDs tomorrow. After the brazen fuckers broke into my house and stole them while I slept last night. Of course I'm lucky. I could have woken up, etc, etc.

But I've been thinking a lot today about the arsehole who's going to buy my old laptop for a few hundred bucks.

Meanwhile: new laptop + Office 2007 = R20000. DVR = R3000. DVDs = R2000. The stuff that's missing that I have not figured out yet? All the work from the three weeks since my last back up?

I want to box somebody...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Thank goodness for technology?

On Friday night one of my server's hard drives went to hard drive heaven. This resulted in many pretty messages printed on the screen and many pretty words pouring out my mouth.

It reminded me how dependent on technology each of us is. That server has a ton of my life on it.

Not only that, but after my tape drive failed a year ago, my effort to procure a new drive from a bloke in Beijing through eBay were frustrated by the fact that he was a thief. $750 US down the drain. So my backups are way out of date.

Luckily, I invested in RAID. The miracle of technology means that I merely have to put in a new drive and it will be rebuilt. I don't even have to switch the machine off when replacing the drive.

So pray that my new eBay drive order goes according to plan. If another drive in the RAID fails during the interim, I'm toast.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What does the future of the desktop look like?

I installed Compiz on my PC yesterday. Oh my goodness. Eye candy deluxe.

I have a dual-booting laptop with Debian Linux on one partition and Windows XP on another. I installed Compiz on my Linux partition. "Compiz is a compositing window manager that uses 3D graphics acceleration via OpenGL. It provides various new graphical effects and features on any desktop environment, including Gnome and KDE."

To those of you that imagine Linux / UNIX to be a green screen terminal-style command prompt, now's the time to take a closer look. Hell, if you're a Linux/UNIX guru, now's the time to take a closer look!

You know all the eye candy special effects on Mac OS X and Windows Vista? Take a look (a pretty good look at a whole lot of effects very quickly on a high-end 64bit machine) at Linux (Beryl is a downstream fork of Compiz that has now be remerged with the original project):

The cube effect draws on the Linux/Unix "multiple desktop" metaphor. Even in the days of terminals, you could hotkey between visually and logically seperate command lines. The same capability is present in window managers (like KDE), where you can hotkey between seperate GUI desktops. I find this easier than Alt-tabbing between windows or minimising everything to try and sort through hat I have open. It also allows me to group tasks together (such as development on one desktop, mail and producitivity tools on another, and office stuff on another).

This demo shows (with a cool ambient garage beat) a feature-by-feature breakdown - part 1. Part 2.

Another good demo is here.

And another.

This demo shows a dual head (two monitors joined into one desktop) setup with Compiz(now all the traders are going to want fancy GUIs on their trading floors - take a look at the crazy trader pics here).

Crazy trader desktops!

Here's the Novell presentation about Compiz/XGL/Linux (SUSE distro) features.

Here's a narrated demo of a guy running at 2560X1600 - it will give you an idea of how efficient XGL and Compiz are. The guy also shows CPU usage using Compiz.

Obviously it's not really realistic to watch this on Youtube resolution, but it gives you an idea of the effects. You can have a look at some screenshots here which will give you an idea of the higher res effect.

For those of you wondering if this is lifted from Vista - one of those patents you've heard about - if you look at the dates on these Youtube videos, you'll see these features predate Vista.

Is this just eye-candy or is it useful? I've believed for a long time that our computing experience is limited by the screen desktop paradigm. Is your physical desktop really 15-, 17- or even 20 inches? I think these types of efforts to make the desktop more three dimensional help us escape from that trap. I often think about those classic scenes from "The Lawnmower Man" and "Disclosure" where the characters don goggles and conduct their computing experience in a 3D visual world. The 3D library so brilliantly portrayed in Disclosure as a metaphor for filing really works for me.

The virtual reality machine in Disclosure

If you've seen Minority Report, you've already seen a desktop very similar to the Linux one in these demos - it's just been moved to a large transparent flat panel (that technology is also close to being available).

The "desktop" in Minority Report

In fact, compiz with a touchscreen LCD monitor gives a Minority Report like effect. See this Youtube video.

Most of the underlying technology for this stuff exists in pockets. Second Life is a virtual world we use as a community environment. I've got excited about that before. But it is also used to create a 3D commercial experience for businesses. Might businesses also use it for virtual meeting places for multi-national staff? Or as a virtual environment to store data in a visual way a la the library in Disclosure?

I have no doubt that one day visual stuff will be trasmitted to our brain and overlaid on our the view from our retina the way it is in the Terminator. The technology is already available! Be it through an implanted chip, electrodes we wear, or some new wireless technology.

Already, wearable displays allow gamers to see overlays of computer data on their real environment.

While I wait for the world to catch up, I might just buy one of those giant LCD display for my desk and hook it up to Linux....

It's better than doing this:

Is eNatis broken because of IT basics being ignored?

The eNatis scandal has captured South Africa's imagination and been the subject of ire. The reasons are easy to understand. If you were one of those queuing for days waiting for a drivers licence or test that is essential to your getting a job, or missing work for days in order to be there, you'd also be upset. Or if you were a car manufacturer and were losing business (car sales were down 23% after the system introduction due to the inability to process new car registrations) and faced laying off workers, you'd also be upset.

But what bothers me is I can almost see the reasons. I say that having been nowhere near the systems or licensing service. But I can guess. Our minister of transport has told parliment that transactions are up to 619 000 transactions per day on the new system from 287 000 transactions on the old system [source].

What happened to require that increase in transactions? Backlog of work caused by downtime during the implementation could be one cause, but I'm betting on another.

The new systems is apparently a centralised conglomeration of a old systems, allowing better citizen management and supposedly service. So that could certainly account for an increase. but I'm betting on another cause.

The new system appears also to be much more "fat server, thin client" architected. Now that certainly has potential to require a massive increase in "transactions" between branches and datacentre. And I think that's the beginning of the issue. Some IT and PR blokes are feeding the minister stuff to make the system seem less inept. He's talking about IT transactions (e.g. record updates, etc) versus citizen transactions (e.g. new car registrations). Now that is a compeletely meaningless statistic. The relationship between citizen transactions and IT transactions is completely dependent on the system development architecture. In fact, poor development is typically characterised by large numbers of IT transactions to customer transactions. Lack of understanding of scalability and resource requirements usually results in this. I'll bet that the new development is characterised by a massive number of database transactions per citizen transaction and that is at the heart of this mess.

Further, given my guess that the new architecture has followed a thin client model, I wouldn't be surprised to find the developer has built a terminal server configuration - meaning that sessions are actually hosted on the server and users are actually seeing a image of the session on their machine. Terminal server implementations mimic the days of mainframes and dumb terminals (some of you may remember those old green screens). Such architectures are great for call centres or data processing shops where people are located in the same building as the server. They're typically lousy for distributed architectures where the design puts a huge load on the network. The admission that many problems are being caused by link failures makes me believe this guess is true.

Finally, I'm shocked at the level of ineptitude that caused this to happen. The developers apparently ignored the auditor general's report that predicted an 80% chance of failure was part of the problem. But way before that report was delivered, testing should have picked up these problems. These days testing is pretty easy to do. Automated scripts can fire transactions at a system far faster than humans can simulate and it should have become quickly apparent whether the system was scaling or not. The project manager's excuse that problems were caused by things that were not able to be tested during development does not wash.

In the mean time, I'll bet that some of the hardware, networking and database suppliers are making a fortune as the government attempts to scale the infrastructure to cope with the bad design.

Of course the above is all conjectre, but I'd place some bets its true.