Wednesday, October 07, 2009

UPDATE: Is this the fall of the US?


New in today is that the gulf states are reconsidering the pricing of oil in US Dollars. They're considering a basket of currencies and commodities.

This is exactly what I suggested might be the outcome in my previous post. Do the sheiks read this blog....?

The US Dollar could only defy gravity for so long. The crime as been the US government and Fed presiding over deficits for this length of time.

It is equivalent to a household borrowing money to pay for living expenses (including lots of luxuries) and then each month getting more debt to pay for further expenses - and to pay off the previous month's debt. Eventually, banks are going to say, "Hey, we'd don't believe you'll be able to pay us back."

Now imagine the household is buying on credit at stores and borrowing money from banks to pay off the accounts. Imagine the sore keeper starts to get worried about your ability to borrow to pay your account, and stops giving you further credit.

That is exactly the situation the US faces.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are traditions sacred? Who will stop the dolphin and whale culls?

I read this story this morning about the annual dolphin and whale cull in Taiji, Japan.

I felt sick to my stomach.

It reminds me of the debate about ritual slaughters of goats and cattle in South Africa, where Xhosa people viewed the criticism of backyard slaughters as racist.

"Dolphin-killing may be bad for our international image, but we can't just issue an order for it to stop."

"I think we are the victims of a form of racism," said one, as we watched the pilot whales being herded out of sight to be killed. "Westerners slaughter cattle and other animals in the most inhumane ways imaginable, but no one says a word. Why is it that only Japan gets this kind of treatment?"

Sounds very familiar.

The point is that slaughter of any form is regrettable. That animals have to die that we may eat. However, if animals are brought up and slaughtered in a humane way, this at least draws from a sustainable resource in a way that minimizes stress and suffering.

The slaughter of whales and dolphins satisfies a blood lust preserved in the name of tradition, attacks threatened species, and causes massive suffering to the most intelligent animals.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What technologies make mobile life easier?

The rush and movement of my holiday necessitated getting my communication optimised. I arrived in the UK and loaded a Vodafone pre-paid SIM bought on a previous trip. It did not work. Vodafone expires their pre-paid SIMs after 3 months of inactivity. So I made use of roaming on my South African Vodacom account for the first two days of my holiday in the UK. I stayed in a reasonable hotel in Bayswater with Wi-Fi and began my technology upgrade.

I downloaded Google Maps Mobile over the hotel Wi-Fi to my laptop and transferred it to my phone. What a brilliant application. It works off cell phone mast triangulation (accuracy varies depends on the masts in the area) or it can use your phone's GPS.

I have an HTC Touch Diamond which I bought some time back due to its full suite of technologies (wi-fi, GPS, FM radio, Bluetooth 2.0, 3.2 megapixel camera, HSDPA, 3G, EDGE, GPRS) and its size. It has an iPhone-like touch interface, but following the iPhone shortly after its launch, it had a fuller complement of technologies and was about half the size. It integrates well with email, supporting multiple IMAP and POP3 accounts. It's been a great phone with only one shortcoming - the feature set overwhelms its battery which often hardly lasts a day. The GPS has to be used in a car connected to power, or it drains the battery in about 20 minutes.

I also downloaded Skype for Mobile to make calls back to SA at a cheaper rate while away.

I thought I had the North American maps for Co-Pilot, my Navteq-based GPS software. When I reached the US, I found I did not. I paid for the US and South African maps and then assumed I had access. But I then discovered they needed to be downloaded. As an HTC user, the maps are difficult to get hold of as CoPilot is bundled with the phone. They must be purchased and you then have to email support to get the link to download. Other users purchase the Co-Pilot software and then use its desktop console to download the maps. The North American maps were 1GB. By the time I reached Los Vegas and was about to hire a car, I discovered I did not have the maps. In discovering this I used 12mb of data on roaming while sitting at the side of the road - this alone cost me R1400. I eventually made it to my destination in Los Angeles using Google Maps. This is really not ideal as you have to read off the screen - difficult while driving and navigating the myriad of freeways in LA. CoPilot GPS has voice prompting.

After making contact with Co-Pilot European support from my hotel, I downloaded 250Mb before I had to check out. I downloaded the remainder when I reached my cousins. I was now in position to use the GPS maps and verbal direction on my drive up the west coast.

I had forgotten my iPod in South Africa and bought the new Nano in New York to listen to Depeche Mode and U2 prior to their concerts. At $199 for the 16Gb Nano, it was an expensive mistake. Now I have two...

I went to the New York store RCS Experience to buy a long-life battery for my Lenovo T60 notebook. My previous battery had reached the end of its useful life, and I have always wanted something for long plane journey's etc. It was a crazily expensive purchase in South Africa, and slightly cheaper in New York ($166).

While there I found a point-and-shoot camera, to complement my Canon EOS D20. It is the truly amazing Canon Digital IXUS 960IS - it takes 12 Megapixel photos and shoots HD video. It was quite an expensive purchase (about $300) with another $65 for an 8Gb extreme speed SD card.

A productivity aid I've longed for is a bluetooth keyboard for my phone. I bought a Freedom universal fold-up keyboard. It is amazing. It provides an almost full size keyboard and with office mobile on my phone, this allows me to work comfortably in a coffee shop on my phone. That cost about $80 and was one of my best purchases.

The truly impulse purchase was a set of binoculars. I've never had a pair, and end up using the telephoto lens on my camera in the bush. I found a cheapish pair of Bushnell binocs with an SD slot that allows you to take a 3.2 Megapixel photo of whatever you're viewing through the lens. They cost $240 - a long way short of the $3000-odd dollar starting price for Leica and other pedigrees.

I put the camera to good use and took some nice pictures and videos at the Depeche Mode and U2 Concerts, and while playing golf. I don't really do typical tourist pictures - you can always download really good ones off the net. I resolved during this trip that that was a poor excuse. In future I will look to take a good photo and help preserve a memory.

I began this resolution in LA at Universal pictures - where I was dismayed my Canon EOS D20 stopped working. It gave a Compact Flash error, yet the CF disk worked on a flash reader. That was really irritating, especially after hauling the camera half way round the world. When I got back I reformatted the disk and it's now working again.

I attempted to get a US pre-paid contract while in the US to reduce my burgeoning cell phone bill. I found that the US pre-paid contracts have no data portion. How irritating. That cost me a lot of money as I continued to access Google maps, etc while roaming.

Once back in the UK, I switched to a new Vodafone pre-paid account. I had a nightmare setting the account up, which I will detail in a comprehensive bitch about Vodafone service in another post. But once on that I was able to sustain a week's comprehensive data access and calls for less than £15.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Could I live in New York?

I wrote this on the road a few weeks back...

New York is one of my favourite places. I have regrets that I have not lived here over the course of my life thus far.

There is an energy about this place that seems to come from the city itself - like a giant beast with its own life source. The noise is unique: trucks and subways make walls vibrate, the hum of cafes and shops, the rattle and clatter of continuous construction.

I'm lucky to be visiting for the eighth time. I really don't want to leave to go to the West Coast - my first visit there. I've slotted right back into New York - the morning walk for coffee and breakfast, the nighttime entertainment, the museums, the bustle of business.

I've tech-enabled my latest visit to suit the on-the-go life. I'm typing into Microsoft Word on my HTC Touch Diamond using the coolest bluetooth fold-up keyboard, I bought a Canon point and shoot, and the new iPod Nano. I'm geared for a coffee shop note, a sidewalk moment, a subway travel.

I'm off to business meeting with a trading company shortly. Finance is the lifeblood of this city and like 9/11, it seems to have shrugged the credit crisis aside. London felt far more hard-hit as I moved through this past weekend. But the American spirit seems to have acknowledged the challenge and moved on.

The heat here is something else. It's in the high eighties (about 30C) today with typical New York humidity. What an extreme climate. I've been here for -26C in winter and 40C in summer (with over 80% humidity).

Could I live here? Funny. I love this place, the energy, the challenge. It is true - "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." But there is something about identifying with the people around you. I identify easily with the British - the South African connection is real. America is a far more insulated world. Sport is different, the rest of the world, continents away. Maybe I need a New York client, enabling me to spend regular time here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What's the best South African music video ever?

I saw this one by Dear Reader (formerly Harris Tweed) on MK the other night. Wow. What an achingly beautiful song and absolutely brilliant video. The video ranks up there with some of the best music videos I've seen from anywhere.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Which is the best lotto site for overseas purchases?

The US Megamillions jackpot stands at $325 million this Friday.

Given that I will win this, I decided to read some small print.

I normally buy through the network. I understand this is run by some South African ex-pats living in London and has done very well.

However, there are a number of issues to consider:
  1. Is the lottery site legit and if you won would the site pay you or disappear with your winnings?

    1. The PlayUKInternet site has an established reputation and seems high-profile and reliable

  2. What premium does the site charge over the actual ticket costs?

    1. A Megamillions ticket costs $1 if bought at a retailer in the US.

    2. PlayUKInternet and other agency sites charge a premium for their services. Overseas residents cannot buy from in-country retailers, so agencies have people who stand in queues, process winnings, etc. This premium varies.

    3. PlayUKInternet charges £2,40 per ticket for a US Megamillions draw. They do give one voucher for every five tickets bought, effectively dropping the price to £2. That's $3,24, a premium of 224%.

    4. OSA charge a whopping €3,60 per ticket. That's $5,13, a premium of 413%!

    5. charge $2 per ticket, a premium of 100%

  3. Does the agency have any discretion over my winnings payout?

    1. PlayUKInternet take 10% of winnings awarded through them. TEN PERCENT!!!! They also have the discretion as to whether to take the winnings as an annuity or lump sum. This is only evident through reading the fine print in their terms and conditions

    2. takes 1% of winnings. This is also only apparent by reading their FAQ.

Clearly the fine print here is important. Imagine winning the $325 million and being forced to take the lump sum payout of $204 million. I'm not sure how the percentage paid to the agency is determined (this is not clear from their terms and conditions). I would imagine it is based on the net payout. That would be $204 million less US withholding tax of 30% equals $140 million. 10% to PlayUKInternet would then be $14 million. But if calculated on a gross basis, it could be $20 million or $32,5 million. You would have to pay local taxes - let's say 6% if you were a resident of New York - although as an overseas resident it might well be higher. That moves your take home winnings towards $100 million.

Of course $100 million is a huge amount of money, but why would you want to pay the agency anything more than their cost of administration? Why do they deserve any percentage of your winnings?

For this reason, I bought through Overseas Subscribers Agents -, despite their astronomical cost per ticket. That way, when I collect my winnings, I'll not be paying them any more.

Sheeesh. Read the fine print....

Monday, August 24, 2009

How do you treat Koi ulcers?

I prepared the following for a friend recently. The dealer and suburb names relate to Johannesburg South Africa.

This is the list of things I have stocked up on / treatments / methodology:

  1. Oil of Cloves - anaesthetic

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. it has a long shelf life

    3. Make sure you get dosage right – based on the bucket you use

  2. Very clean (new) plastic container for dips / anaesthetic

    1. I have about three of those massive (100l) ones from Pick ‘n Pay

    2. If you use an old one, make sure it has no chance of soap or other residues

    3. You can actually keep a moderately sized fish (30cm or less) in a 100l one with an air stone and water changes through a treatment period of a week or more (must have daily 10% water changes though)

      1. This also substantially reduces the cost of medication (actually quite expensive) as you only dose according to the size of the container

      2. It allows you to accurately size the container and the doses

      3. It also allows you to nuke the pond with Pottassium Permanganate while the fish is in the container for a week

  3. Salt

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. Anti-parasite

    3. Tonic – reduces the load on a sick fish’s organs

    4. Have about 3 bags on standby.

    5. Have an empty bag so you can put a partial bag in the pond with a tied top until the salt dissolves, then you just pull the bag out

    6. Available from pool shops (such as Pool ‘n Pond in Rosebank, also Sandton Aquatics in Fourways)

  4. A salt meter

    1. Good but quite expensive – my digital one cost about R800

    2. I got mine from Happy Koi – I have not seen them too often

  5. A sock net

    1. One of the best things I ever bought

    2. Bought from Happy Koi

    3. Very soft – will not damage the fish

    4. Is basically a tube – you hold the handle and then end of the tube. To release the fish, merely release the end of the tube

  6. A large koi net – about 80cm across

    1. To guide the fish into the sock net

    2. Available from almost any Koi shop

  7. Acriflavine – the wonder drug

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. Mostly bottled by Loolilocks on the East Rand (even other dealers sell Loolilocks Acriflavine)

    3. Safe antifungal, anti-parasite and antibiotic

    4. Very good for ulcers

    5. Quite expensive

    6. Difficult to get rid of the colour – only goes after partial water changes

  8. Methylene Blue – the safe backup

    1. Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal

    2. Promotes oxygen in the water

    3. Easy to get – chemists or good koi shops

    4. Don’t get ripped off – very much cheaper in chemists

    5. Difficult to get rid of the colour – only goes after partial water changes

  9. Potassium permanganate - the nuclear option

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. Part 2 – detailed guide

    3. The most effective antibiotic / anti viral / anti-parasite

    4. Easy to get – chemists or good koi shops

    5. Don’t get ripped off – very much cheaper in chemists

    6. Difficult to get dosage precisely right

    7. Overdosing burns gill tissue and therefore the damage is either fatal or permanent

    8. Dosage can be reversed by addition of Hydrogen Peroxide

    9. Sunlight neutralises it over time

  10. Hydrogen Peroxide

    1. Powerful reagent

    2. Turns purple pond crystal clear

    3. Crucial to have to reverse over dosage of potassium permanganate

    4. Easy to get – chemists or good koi shops

    5. Don’t get ripped off – very much cheaper in chemists

  11. Anti-biotic injection

    1. A guide for injection of Baytril – one of the most common antibiotics for koi

    2. More on injecting

    3. Illegal outside vet’s hands

    4. Crucial for severe ulcers

    5. Gets easier to administer when you know how to anaesthetise the fish and where to inject

    6. Easiest spot is into the spot immediately behind the dorsal fin

    7. Second choice is under a scale and into the tail muscle

    8. Avoid belly and organs at all costs

    9. Limited shelf life

    10. Difficult to get

  12. Mercurochrome – surface disinfectant

    1. Easy to get

    2. Difficult to administer – slides off the fish and onto you!

  13. Plastic spray bottle for mercurochrome

  14. Wound gel

    1. Powder for putting onto wound.

    2. Forms gel to keep water off wound

    3. Difficult to get (happy koi, Joshua Koi)

    4. Not foolproof – lasts just over a day in my experience

There are other medications I have not used due to toxicity and the things they specifically target (usually parasites) – notably formalin and Malachite Green.

Tricide Neo is the wonder drug for ulcers in the USA. I’ve tried to get local dealers to import it. See here.

Almost all medications are a form of chemotherapy – you’re only killing the fish slight less than the bugs. So the crucial thing is how far to take it.

  1. Turn off UV lamps – they kill the medication

  2. People say bypass the bio filter – I think this leaves a source of good and bad bacteria. So I leave it active and then reseed the biofilter with good bacteria afterward. This means at least 4 weeks of suboptimal water quality while good bacteria re-establish

  3. Treat the water with first dose of medication, e.g. potassium permanganate

  4. Prepare separate container for anaesthetic – water and correct dosage of clove oil. I have a syringe of oil on standby to add if the fish is taking too long to knock out

  5. Create small highly concentrated solution of potassium permanganate and water

  6. Catch the fish, being very careful of pectoral fins (they dislocate, tear or break very easily)

  7. Put into anaesthetic until the fish floats to the surface belly up

  8. Remove and put onto moist towel on grass – fish’s mouth should still be moving but body should be immobile

  9. Dip end of cotton bud in high concentrate PP solution and apply to rotting / dead skin on edge of ulcer

    1. Be careful – will burn away anything it touches including good flesh and skin

    2. Fish may even grunt / cry from pain during this – quite frightening

  10. Wash off with pond water

  11. Blot wound with toilet paper. Would must be dry for mercurochrome to adhere

  12. Spray wound close up with mercurochrome

  13. Blow or use hair dryer to dry wound and mercurochrome

  14. Sprinkle just enough wound gel over wound to absorb remaining moisture

  15. Spray area with pond water to turn remaining powder to gel

  16. Blow /use hair dryer to dry gel

  17. Inject correct dosage of antibiotic for size of fish

    1. Area behind dorsal fin is easiest and least risk of damage to scales – however, avoid bones

    2. Area into flesh in tail is good but needle must go under a scale and above the one underneath

  18. Return fish to pond / treatment tank

    1. Hold fish by head and tail and move backwards and forwards through water to get water through gills until the fish revives

  19. Watch time the fish has without oxygen during anaesthetic

  20. Requires repeat treatments of water, wound and injections (typically three to five water, three to five injections, sometimes every second day cleaning of wound – but only use the PP the first time

If all else fails – euthanasia.

The best site for far far more detail, including more on dosages (very very important). Watch out for American gallons! They’re busy reorganising so a few of the links don’t work:

The forums – excellent to read other’s problems, pictures and advice:

After having gone through the experience and listening to friends, I am now certain that some bitumen pond waterproofing actually slowly poisons or irritate koi. Water tests may be perfect, but due to the toxins, the fish stress and develop ulcers. When I fibre-glassed, my koi's health improved dramatically. I have had only one minor ulcer in the 3 years since.

Simpler and cheaper than fibre-glass is epoxy / rubberised coating over your existing pond. For example, although I have no experience with the following guys:

It would be crucial to ask a few questions about durability and toxicity.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do you know Zebra & Giraffe?

What an amazing band! I've been following them since seeing them perform live at this year's Coke Fest.

Zebra & Giraffe started out as the solo project of Greg Carlin. In May 2008, Carlin released Z&G debut album "Collected Memories" and then formed a live band with members Alan Shenton, Rob Davidson, Darren Leader & Andrew Maskell.

One of the band's fantastic songs - Arm Yourself:

More at these places:

  1. Facebook page – with clips from each of their tracks you can play

  2. On Myspace

  3. Website – pretty top multimedia site

  4. Buy the album, preview songs, etc here

    1. Klicktrack

    2. iTunes

  5. Zebra & Giraffe on YouTube

  6. Highly recommend getting the actual album here – CD and DVD

This biography was written in May 2008 and tells the amazing story of how Greg Carlin wrote an created the whole album - other than drums - Collected Memories:

Zebra & Giraffe is the name of a new force pressing itself into the hearts and minds of music fans – and even on first listen it's clear that Z&G's debut longplayer, 'Collected Memories', is every bit as unique as the animals that its named after.
In fact, at this stage (autumn 2008), the cleverly named act is actually the 12-lettered pseudonym of Johannesburg music wunderkind, Greg Carlin. Until he (very shortly) assembles a cracking hot live band to assist in showcasing his original songs, Carlin is Zebra & Giraffe and the 10-songs on 'Collected Memories' are an announcement of his own special take on making music to all who hear it.
That Carlin was able to make his debut album virtually unassisted (bar a session drummer) stems from his multiple music talents that see him playing everything from bass, to keyboards, guitar and more. But in crafting 'Collected Memories' he wisely called on the production talent of the sublimely talented Darryl Torr who many music fans in the country may know as the foil to Harris Tweed's Cherilyn MacNeil.
"It was just easier to play everything myself," Johannesburg-based Carlin says, "But Darryl made the difference when it came to shaping the songs into what you hear on the album."
You might be forgiven for thinking that moving from piano to guitar to drums to keyboards and bass may hamper the album's flow, giving it a sameness that renders it impossible to listen to. Not in the case of Zebra & Giraffe. Perhaps it's because of being able to adopt a different name that 'Collected Memories' is a journey of variety; a sonic outing that is, in fact, brilliantly listenable.
The album starts with a song that should not waste time in securing radio time – and indeed has already had a welcoming reception across the board.
'The Knife' takes its cue from the dark side of electronic rock pioneered by the likes of New Order & Joy Division. There are also strains of the latter's ability to turn punk-influenced stylings into atmospheric masterpieces on 'Collected Memories' – specifically the likes of 'Black Crow' with its fiercely played guitar and bass lines and lyrics of abandonment and last chance love.
Discerning these influences when listening to 'Collected Memories' is all the more astonishing because, until recently, Carlin had not heard many of the bands from the era that his music sits closest too. "The first thing I remember listening to is Nirvana and U2, back when I was in primary school, and then it was onto modern rock" he says.
There are strains of other bands that formed part of the soundtrack to someone born in the 80s on the album (The Edge's melodic guitar work can be heard in 'Arm Yourself') but mostly 'Collected Memories' is the sound of an artist pushing ahead with his own sonic exploration in the most beguiling way. As an example listen to "Running Faster" where the keyboard melody runs like the Pied Piper though the song, making sure that your attention never strays for a second from what is certainly another hit for Zebra & Giraffe.
Carlin admits that his own liking is for the harder edge of rock (A Perfect Circle, early Marilyn Manson, NIN, Tool are among his favourites) and although much of 'Collected Memories' is melodic, thrashing guitars do make themselves felt on 'Fight! Fight! Fight!'.
But just as you're certain that you've got the record's sonic ground pinned out comes 'Leaving Again', a tune that throws a rope around rock as much as pop and electronica (that at-the-fore keyboard), the result being one of the album's standouts, a near perfect combination of melodic heft and lyrical prowess. It's the same with 'A Long Way Down', a track defined by an unsettling drum beat and delicate acoustic guitar work that is just about as compelling a song as you'll hear all year. Carlin's tale about losing someone is elegantly supported by the backing vocal of Harris Tweed's MacNeil.
But don't mistake the darkness for a proclivity on Carlin's part for living in emotion's murkier corners. The fact is that Zebra & Giraffe is not against having some fun: "Pariahs' is driven by a swirling keyboard that perfectly supports the song's dreamlike, at times tongue-in-cheek lyrics ("I like the pretty girls/the ones with curls/they make me crazy/they say baby oh you rock my world") and there are other uplifting moments.
Carlin admits that lyrics are one of the aspects of songwriting that he's sometimes less at ease with. "A lot of the songs are about relationships and the rest are about feelings that I get and then I put that into words. It may come out as a specific event or experience but its inspiration comes from a feeling." He readily admits that the album's titled stems from a recent move from the comfort of his childhood home – a place where his own collected memories reside.
It was here that Carlin originally learnt to play drums while at High School, playing rock with a band that went by the name of (yes, it's true) MSG. Carlin studied Fine Art at Tuks and joined his first real band – first as a bassist and then as a singer. White Lie was its name and the band went so far as recording a handful of tracks with Darryl Torr – establishing a relationship between Carlin and the producer that has been lasting and creative. White Lie earned a campus hit with the song "Runaway" and had something of a following but at the end of 2005 several members left to study and Carlin was left to his own devices.
It's just as well because Carlin soon began experimenting in his home studio – exploring sounds and beats, many of which have influenced the sound of 'Collected Memories'.
In a stroke of luck for Carlin, he met Just Music's Karl Anderson through Harris Tweed (a Just Music signing) and struck up a relationship with the label through working on its digital business. Now Zebra & Giraffe have a label deal with the highly regarded independent and Carlin is ready to begin his assault on the charts, live circuit and more.
Diane Coetzer - May 2008

Monday, August 17, 2009

How do you find a missing Rolex?

I've just taken off after my epic holiday to the UK and US. I feel euphoric about the trip, seeing Depeche Mode twice, U2, playing golf at two of the world's top golf courses. Yet I am miserable about losing a watch given to me after my uncle died. It was a tragic death. He committed suicide, and my aunt gave it to me about 15 years ago to remember all the good times from his life. It was a 1978 classic Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT Master. There are two aspects: the sheer financial value - the exact watch just got auctioned on Christies for $7000, and the sentimental value. The Aunt who gave it to me is currently dying from cancer - the watch is a link to my memory of her and my uncle.

I am bitter about the way the watch was lost. I was playing golf at one of the world's most exclusive golf courses. I put the watch in a pocket on the side of the hire clubs bag with my camera. After the game I removed everything from the bag, but clearly forgot the watch. Later that afternoon, as my cousins prepared to take me to the station, I realized I did not have my watch with me. I frantically searched, but knew I had left it in the bag. We raced back to the club, but the watch was not there. My cousins clearly believed / hoped I had lost it in my suitcases somewhere. I hoped so too, but knew deep down I had left it in the golf bag. I hoped that an employee who had perhaps left earlier had found it and put it away somewhere.

Later that evening, I spoke to my cousin who was clearly stressed. He went back the next day and searched through all the pockets of all the hire clubs. He left the details of the watch club and hoped it would be handed in. I felt bad that my carelessness had resulted in the stress for my cousin's family.

The watch went missing on Friday. It's now Sunday night and there is no sign of the watch. Things are likely to get more complicated from here. Perhaps, although I think it unlikely, the watch may be covered by travel insurance arising from booking the trip on my credit card. If so, I am sure they will insist I report the missing watch to the UK police. This will I am sure cause embarrassment to my cousin - a member at the exclusive golf club. I would think the police would want to speak to the golf shop employees. Further complicating this, I am sure the UK police would not be happy about me leaving the country before reporting the loss.

A good thing is that Rolexes can only be serviced by authorized dealers. I have had the watch serviced and will be able to get its serial number from the jeweler.

The other part of me is so furious at the likely theft. I want to unleash the fury of hell on the culprit.

Let's hope for a miracle - that the watch gets handed in tomorrow. Otherwise, this is putting a serious damper on what was an amazing holiday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How do you handle a fundamentalist in the family?

I've just made my first visit to the US west coast. My cousins live just outside LA and it has been ten years since I saw them last.

It was really good to see them, but I left heart sore. R is actually my mom's cousin and a strictly practicing Seventh Day Adventist. Basically that means they follow the bible really strictly including the laws applying to Judaism. They are also vegetarians (an even more strict requirement of Adventism).

R married D, one of the nicest woman you'd ever meet. She has the kindest nature imaginable, and has passed this on to her three beautiful boys.

Heart sore

I was heart sore for a few reasons. R emigrated from South Africa in a hurry. He'd had the most horrific run-ins with crime, culminating in shooting dead an intruder in his bedroom and then having the rest of the gang come back for him and shoot at him a few weeks later. As much as I am optimistic about South Africa's future, I advised him to leave for his own sanity.
But R has just got some weird ideas. He had them before his run instead with crime. He believes in the existence of the New World Order, a powerful controlling group of wealthy who control the world. He is bigoted, including being racist and anti-gay. He is fundamentalist and totally against abortion. And then he has strange views on medicine.

With all of this, the boys have been home schooled and brought up in a manner reminiscent of the Quakers. Although they have technology, they do not have TV and R has some strange views on the media. His kids, M (21) L (17) and J (7) are quiet and less forthright in their views and it is difficult to understand how much of their father's views they share. They have contact with other kids through church and neighbors, and I hope this gives them the perspective they so desperately need.

To make the nightmare worse, the family are still in the immigration process after ten years in the US. The lack of green cards mean they are unable to get drivers licenses, study or do many other things we take for granted. R drives anyway, but the boys lack even this escape.

I sense the boys’ views may be more liberal than their father's, but I have limited means of telling. They're the sweetest kids though and I wish I could offer them a way to see the world and gain perspective.


It is easy to disapprove of R and his views. His brand of Christian fundamentalism that includes believing we are in the final days of the world is easy to rebel against and even hate. But if you met him, you’d find him to be the nicest guy. And the way his kids have turned out speak volumes for the upbringing he and his wife have provided. His life has been complicated by violence no one should endure.

It is obvious R has suspicions I might be gay. 35, eligible and single is almost a diagnosis these days. He joked about me headed towards San Francisco. And while he likes Palm Springs, he is unhappy it is full of gays flaunting their lifestyle... (I saw from the corner of my eye that he glanced at me as he said this and as I drove through the town). To his credit, he did say it was up to them but he didn’t like the way they foisted their lifestyle on other people. His kids also played me a song by D’s step-brother. Ray remarked that he had been on “Elton John’s ticket but had a conversion experience.”

I’m one who believes you state your views but you don’t have to attack the other person’s. This applies more so when the other person is family. In many senses, I believe the best way to state your views is to live them and thus make them known to others around you. R is well aware of my “liberal” views on politics. He has asked my thoughts, particularly with respect to South Africa. I have told him about my world where I am friends with (black) politicians’ family members, that I think it a person’s choice whether they wish to tattoo and pierce their bodies, that despite my concerns about Zuma, his choices have been largely positive thus far in his short presidency. We joke with one another. But one day I will have time alone with him and challenge his views. Of course, if I end up with another guy there will be the coming out discussion too.

I am not religious. I was brought up in a practicing Christian family, and now describe myself as spiritual. The God I grew up with is different to R’s. Jesus went out of his way to be with the outcasts and socially undesirables. Not because they were less worthy or more special – because they were also God’s children. Jesus spared judgment, warning that it was dangerous to judge others with a log in your own eye, i.e. that it is impossible to judge fairly and without imposing our own perceptions and experience. I cannot understand how fundamentalists miss this: that bigotry and judgment is in itself a sin. I vividly remember being in New York on my first visit to the US. I woke up and turned on the hotel room TV to watch CNN news. Matt Shepard, a beautiful gay kid had been murdered in Laramie. As the story became clear, it emerged he had accepted a lift with two guys from a pub in the small town. They had taken him to a remote farm fence, tied him up and beaten him to a pulp. He had spent his dying hours naked, in pain and utterly alone in the freezing night air. I cried tears of horror and compassion as I listened to the emerging facts. I felt cold and estranged from the US. Later I would see the reaction as Matt’s killers went to trial. Christian fundamentalist protesters standing outside the court bearing signs saying, “God hates fags.” I watched the debates on Larry King Live, with fundamentalists spewing hatred and nonsense about the health and other dangers gay people posed to society. I later watched Matt’s story in “The Laramie Project,” a movie about Matt’s life and death. Not only had he been beaten to death for being gay, he'd previously been raped and beaten on a trip to Morocco because of his sexuality. As a closeted, confused bi guy, I could relate to Matt. I can imagine how black people must feel about the countless stories of racist abuse of their Matts. See Matthew's place - dedicated to Matt's memory.

Matt Shepard

I can understand how fundamentalists might oppose abortion. Frankly, I oppose abortion, although I can only imagine how torn I might feel in a situation where I faced my child being born into a hostile environment such as poverty, a hateful relationship, a disabling condition or worse.
I don’t for a minute think R would be holding up a sign outside a courthouse. He did tell me about how US hospital’s were aborting full-term babies and an incident involving the death of an investor’s children (divine retribution?) But one morning, he asked me how I felt about the political situation of the world. I responded that I worked really hard and was probably unqualified to offer an opinion on some of the things he had told me (including an apparent example of Obama’s racism). Perhaps it was a cop out. Sometimes I believe you need to step away to get someone to come towards you. R responded, “No, I think we just have different experiences.” I nodded and said sadly, “Exactly. I believe we are fundamentally products of our experiences.” We agreed on that.

We’re products of our experiences

I contrast our lives. I live a wonderful life. I work hard but enjoy what I do. I am phenomenally privileged – something I contemplate almost every day. I recently took my parents to one of the most exclusive game lodges in South Africa. Yesterday I played Pebble Beach – the number one public golf course in the USA and one of the top in the world. My father worked as hard as he knew how to provide for us. We could not afford a game of golf, let alone a trip to California to play Pebble Beach. Sure I work harder than almost anybody. But I was put in a position to go to university, think independently, make my own choices. I could more easily have been born into a shack in a township and though my father might have worked his heart out, never made it to university, never been impressed with the values to contemplate self improvement. As I have I have travelled through the richest neighbourhoods in the world over the past weeks, spent more money on holidaying in a short time than I have ever contemplated before, wondered at the scale of US infrastructure and wealth, I have thought that no matter the scale of this wealth, it represents no more than a few percent of the billions of people around the world who live hoping just to put food on the table. I am loved by my family and have a huge network of friends. I am truly blessed.

R grew up in a very strict, Seventh Day Adventist family. He was sent to a Seventh Day Adventist College. He did national service in the airforce during South Africa’s bush war. Shortly after leaving the airforce, his elder brother was killed in a car accident, leaving a widow and two young boys. He left South Africa scarred by his experience with crime, his family jittery wrecks. He left a brother behind with his aging parents. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, his passport, driver’s licence, et al were stolen out of his supermarket trolley. Without paperwork and fraud on his bank cards, his immigration process and credit record was seriously damaged. He is bitter about his experience and conflicted by his beliefs and God’s reasons for the difficulties he faces. His brother also left South Africa for Australia, leaving his parents behind. He is wracked with guilt for this. He believes he made the wrong choice about moving to the US – Australia would have been better - and that it is a country in moral danger. He believes we are in the final days.

In all of this, R’s children are the most vulnerable. Of course all children must survive their parent’s experiences, views and their upbringing. Equally, I am sure R worries about me and the lack of religion in my life.

I think the difference in my life is that my parents imbued me with a set of values and gave me choices. I was never forced to go to Sunday school or church. I was set free in a world where my parents worried about drugs, sex and rock and roll. But although they vociferously made their concerns (particularly regarding my varsity drinking), they let me make my own mistakes.

Impact on the boys

M, L and J are all home schooled. They do not have TV. They do not listen to modern music. They cannot take drivers’ tests due to their immigration status. They have grown up as their father’s friends. They can complete his stories. They all want to be doctors, but cannot study until their immigration status is sorted out. M is 21, and despite stellar SATs is unable to study. He is serious beyond his years and has begun work on a family business upon which their hopes rest. He seems haunted by memories of the first half of his life in South Africa.

When I remarked on L’s serving efforts, he remarked that his brothers called him “mommy” when his mom’s away. I’ve loved this kid since he was an angelic 4 year old. He is still angelic. He recently carved a boat from a Christmas tree and sent it to his grandparents in South Africa. It is a work of art with turning ship’s wheel, sails, the works. He made the county softball team before the county canned that due to the legal risk. He is considered and polite. He should be exploring the world and himself. He should be on the sports fields with friends.

J is a typical seven year old. He wants to be friends with the new neighbourhood kids who have a motorised go-kart. He was so happy to have family stay and remarked that instead of returning a borrowed item via mail, I should bring it back personally. He never knew his family’s past and suffers less from its memory.

I've been wracked with thoughts since leaving the kids. I wish I could offer them an escape, an alternative view of the world. Imagine if one of them turned out gay? It would be the end of the world.

I've encouraged M to study through UNISA. All the boys want to be doctors, and M has delayed studies for 3 years due to visa restrictions. He would be able to study via UNISA and correspondence though. It would also be an additional way out.

I worry that a 21 year old boy now has the weight of his family's expectations on him. He should be well advanced in his studies by now.

But mostly I worry about L. I've never met anyone quite like him. I arrived in Johannesburg when he was a little boy. He bonded with me instantly. As we drove from the airport in his father's car, he sat next to me and played gently with the hairs on my leg. He radiates love and kindness to this day. But as 17 year old he should be exploring life. Instead, he shares a room with his 7 year old brother and studies at home. And yet, he's grown up so early he's hardly had a childhood.

The family is a world away. Hopefully the boys will feel they can reach out across Facebook and continue to explore the world through Youtube and the Internet more broadly. Hopefully they have church friends more moderate in their views.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How do I get through this?

I'm totally in love again. I've been I love with four people now. Three straight guys who are unavailable. And a girl who married someone else. The fatal attractions. The third straight guy who is unavailable is R, recently married. I love being around him, playing golf, etc. He's open minded - one of his best friends is gay - loves sport, etc. It's that love where you notice all the mannerisms, his hands, eyes, etc.

And while I grow closer to him and love him more and more, I know it will go nowhere. And it's killing me. I'm near depression again. I've now reached the desperation of trying the out and out gay pick up site Mamba's Meetmarket - the name says it all.

All the whys. Why can't he have been available to the anonymous email? Why another straight guy?

Damn. With apologies to Fight Club, this is my life and I'm dying one unrequited love at a time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Pride redundant?

As a sexually confused / bi guy, mostly in the closet, the Pride movement has always been a mystery to me.

I understand a reaction to discrimination and the need to fight it. The stupidity of firing gay soldiers, hate speech, etc needs to be fought.

But I do get the feeling that Pride is the wrong reaction. Should heterosexual people be proud of their sexuality? If the movement was called "Non-issue" it would make more sense.

I feel the same reaction to the Black Consciousness movement (except I've read a bit of Steve Biko and that seemed a very different take on the subject). The aggressiveness of the Black Panthers, etc seems wholly misplaced and similar to the rabid ranting of some of the pride community.

Why these thoughts? Well Adam Lambert came out in the latest edition of Rolling Stone.

That in itself is not a big deal. What was a big deal was that suspicions he was gay influenced voting in American Idol.

What got me thinking again though, was reading the comments below the article. Read and then tell me America is a first world paragon of virtue.

They range from the entertaining:

shelagh | 6/9/2009, 10:28 am EST

Holy crap- dead- flatlined-
snakes…zipper jeans….open shirt…lying down….can’ breathe.

Frustrated Cougar | 6/9/2009, 11:11 am EST

I’m forty-five years old. I have no ovaries because they removed them when I had breast cancer. As a result I haven’t felt a sexual thrill in many years - until Adam Lambert. The boy just does it for me. I’m a professional woman and the mother of two grown children. Yet, when I watched that girl flash him her ta tas at his hometown visit, I thought, “That would be me except I only have one.” Anywho, it’s fun to feel alive again. And, Adam, if you ever have a pair of granny panties thrown on stage at one of your concerts - it’ll be me.

To the sensible / liberal:

GREG T VA BEACH | 6/9/2009, 10:16 am EST

I am 44 year old male married to my wife for 23 years. I am open minded and the bottom line gay or not Adam Lambert is a special talent. He is original and can sing. George Michaels, Elton John both have talent. This guy has talent and skills and I hope his records out sell and his popularity is even more than Cary Underwood’s and Kelly Clarkson’s. Rock on Adam the world (not just the U.S) can’t wait for your album. One favor Adam don’t let any of this go to your head but prove to everyone you are a talented singer and performer.

To the Christians big enough to remember not to judge:

Savta Shayna | 6/9/2009, 10:52 am EST

Sorry he practices homosexuality because I consider it a sin. But aside from that, Adam is the best talent ever to come from American Idol and this 7-time grandmother was glued to my TV every week in anticipation of his performances. I’m sure he’ll rise to top of the heap!

To the hateful:

James M. | 6/9/2009, 10:22 am EST

I’m glad he lost.America does NOT need gay idol.

Heather | 6/9/2009, 11:01 am EST

I don’t get it. Adam made my ears bleed and Johnny Cash roll in his grave when he sang…or screeched that awful version of r”Ring of Fire.” It was awful…it made my ears hurt and he should have been jerked off of the stage and kicked out of the competition then. As for his sexuality…I don’t agree with it…but hey, if you want your butthole to be stretched out and you want to sh*t all over yourself in a couple years, by all means, have at it! I don’t see how it was ever a question though…I mean look at him!

There were more that are referenced in other comments, but have since been removed.

And then the bewildering gay pride comment:

Michael | 6/9/2009, 10:16 am EST

Ok, I read this article on my local CBS station’s website and needless to say, I’ve lost all respect for Adam. Why? Because he’s perpetuating the lie that all gay men must be pretty and gorgeous! Gee thanks Adam, you’re a real role model for the gay community. Try being considerably less concerned about your vanity and a little more concerned with your music and perhaps the gay rights issues that you could really help with considering your stature as the American Idol runner-up. Thanks for helping to push along the cause of gay rights issues……….NOT!

Of course it could be tongue in cheek, making the point that Adam is good looking. But there more that are definitely not.

As Adam Lambert said, "I want to be a singer,not a civil rights leader."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Will Zuma turn down a R1bn (USD125) donation to fight crime?

Douw Steyn has offered R1bn to fight crime. Wow.

Apparently, Mbeki previously turned down the offer because "We don't have a problem with crime in this country. The problem is, we have a perception of crime."

Let's hope sense prevails.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Can the favourite win a reality TV event?

So Susan Boyle came second in "Britain's Got Talent."

It seems like she's had a tough week (and here, and here).

Susan Boyle's performance in the final:

After becoming a world-wide sensation, she lost. It really makes me wonder if the favourite can win a public vote. David Archuleta, Adam Lambert and now Susan Boyle.

Is it a mixture of complacency on the part of those supporting the favourite and frantic support on the part of those supporting the underdog?

That said, the act that won Britain's Got Talent, Diversity, are very, very good.

Diversity's first performance:

Diversity's semi-final performance:

Embedding disabled - watch here

Diversity in the final:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What is the true cost of an employee?

I was sitting with my PA today going through a list of outstanding to-do items.

I asked, "Why is my dry-cleaning taking so long?"

"What dry-cleaning?" she asked.

"The dry cleaning I left in the black refuse back next to your desk with the note," I said.

"IITQ, there was nothing here."

"You're kidding me. Did the maid throw anything out?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. I don't think so. I walked in with her and there was nothing next to my desk," she said.

"Fuck. Somebody has stolen the bag. Get A to check the access control to see who has been in the office," I said. "This is a disaster. I think there was an Armani suit in the bag with shirts and ties - that's about R30 000 worth of laundry."

Later that evening I got a call.

"IITQ, I've been retracing my steps and I think I may have thrown that bag out..."

My PA wanted my bank details. She wanted to go and organise a loan to pay me back. I said, "Wait, let me go home and see exactly what was in the bag. Besides, its a mistake. I'm not going to make you take a loan."


4 imported shirts
2 imported silk ties
2 pairs pants for a suit - local, not Armani

Small mercies. Not an Armani suit, so about R14 000 damage rather than R30 000.

I wanted to cry. What a waste. I've been so careful with cash. I hate wasting money.

Some of it was my mistake. Perhaps I could of put the clothes outside the bag for her to see. But she was expecting the dry cleaning and a black bag placed next to her chair should have merited an investigation.

It made me think of the true cost of employees. Idle time, telephone, bandwidth, food, etc. And screw ups.

What to do about the fuck up. No, I'm not going to make her take a loan. Or dock her salary. I'll probably make her work in some extra time.

And it's all relative. My gran is really old and is sicker than she should be because of nursing and doctor tardiness. She's frail and a screw up could mean she dies. Big picture stuff.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What next for Susan Boyle?

So Susan Boyle became a worldwide celebrity after her incredible first appearance on Britain's Got Talent.

She was back for the semi final and only a fool would bet against her winning this season. Simon Cowell must be salivating at the money he'll make off her...

It's another great performance. She's better when she really unleashes than she is in the softer moments (light and shade), but that's being picky.

It's really sweet she just wants to perform for the queen. She clearly has no idea of what awaits her as a worldwide celebrity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Did America vote against Adam Lambert because of his sexuality?

I've often described the American South and Midwest as very similar to the South African Afrikaner north - conservative and Calvinist.

Was that proved on American Idol last night? What a shocker result. This was the best top 10 ever - but headed by the most talented contestant ever. Adam Lambert has had people talking for the last few months.

And he lost to Kris Allen.

The press and Internet has been going wild with discussion about the conservative US vote. This Reuters blog discusses the issue.

There are rumours this could be the last American Idol. It's future revolves around Simon Cowell and after tipping David Archuleta last year and Adam Lambert this year, he's questioning his future commitment.

That will be sad. It was the best top 10 yet and the best finale. Black Eyed Peas, Lionel Ritchie, Cyndie Lauper, Rod Stewart, Kiss, Queen - amongst others! It was polished, well put together and well hosted. With a shock in the last minutes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Does Eskom deserve our anger?

It grates me that professional analysts can make statements / give opinions based on completely incorrect facts.

Take this piece based on a Moneyweb interview with Cadiz' Peter Major.

Eskom deserves our anger

Peter Major says that the electricity utility has behaved badly.
Felicity Duncan
15 May 2009 18:38

It's no secret that many consumers were enraged by the power failures that bedeviled the country's electricity supply last year, as well as the sharp tariff increases that have followed.

However, businesses, especially power-intense businesses like mining, were hurt much worse by the problems. In January last year, for example, Eskom told its big mining clients that they would have to reduce their usage by 20% (later adjusted), which meant that production and safety at the mines were severely compromised.

They then also faced massive increases in their costs. This, combined with other cost increases, has made it increasingly difficult for mines to produce profits in South Africa.

Explained Cadiz Corporate Solutions' Peter Major: "We always complain or acknowledge how hard and how sticky these mining costs are and how the last few years I think they've been rising at a compound rate of way over 20%, probably closer to 25% per annum for the last three, four years.

"So they're probably going to be lucky to get away with a 10% labour increase and now that you've got a 34% increase in electricity and that's probably their biggest cost component after labour, so it shows that the pressure never comes off mining companies."

Eskom has defended itself by saying that it had been significantly undercharging South Africans for electricity for many years, and had therefore had trouble maintaining the grid, and that the current big increases are needed just to enable Eskom to break even. But according to Major, this is no excuse.

"It's true [that Eskom has been undercharging] but it kind of angers us because we expected Eskom to be managing itself correctly and we never wanted Eskom, we never expected SA or anybody to be subsidising us, because you build a business and you want certainty in your business and if you see the cost increase of electricity has been 7% a year or say 2% below inflation for five or ten years, you kind of build that into your price, you assume those guys are running that business properly.

"Now after years and years, they say, "Oh, we weren't running it properly, now we're going to slam you with 35% this year on top of the 40% last year" and now you're shell-shocked, what's going to happen next year, will we have another 25, 30% body slam? I think we have a right to be angry here. It means that this company was not managed correctly at all and for a long time."

Old regime - thousands of megawatts built that were mothballed due to the "total onslaught" strategy. No power stations were built subsequent to the eighties due to the surplus power. Factor in the cost of capital incurred each year on . .more dormant assets and work out whether the old pre-1994 regime was that good.

Next, look at the last power station we did build - Majuba. Built on what turned out to be an unusable coal field. Now that we need it, Eskom has to truck in coal supplies from all over.

Then. Consider that Eskom presented its planning in 1997 showing South Africa would run out of power in 2007. But the government and NERSA followed the California debacle by spending the next 10 years attempting to get private companies into a market with the lowest (uneconomic) price of electricity in the world. Seemingly, NERSA and the government forgot (as did California) that security of supply was the first and most important priority. In desperation, Eskom began building Braamhoek (peak power) anyway, under an arrangement that a new entrant might take this over if one was found.

Finally, consider that Eskom began applications for a smoothed set of increases in 2003, warning that without these, the price would have to radically escalate as a future build began. These were denied.

As a paid analyst, do your homework.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fatal attractions?

Boy do I have a few.

Of course there is the straight best friend (M) (and here). He's still the person I fantasize about settling down with. Never going to happen but he is the benchmark. And still my best friend.

I got missed call from the girl of my dreams (Ng) (and here, here, and here) this week. Not sure what it was about. Despite her now married status, my heart still skipped a beat.

There is another really good friend (Nb). Probably the one friend who actually loves me. He phones and I hear the smile in his voice when we talk. He is married with two kids. If things were different he'd be the perfect guy to settle down with.

There is the guy who works at my client (R). The guy I hit on anonymously (and here). Who is now a very good friend. I had dinner with him, his wife and two gay friends of his on Friday night. He stopped by to watch the rugby at my house on Saturday. And I played golf with him today. Oh my word have I got the hots for him (no he does not know it was me that sent him the email).

Interestingly, I had dinner this week with the first guy I'd ever been with. Amazingly that was five years ago. What a sweet guy. He is still in a relationship, but things were really close to boiling over. They didn't. Damn.

Unrequited love has really bothered me. I love being with M, Ng, Nb and R. However, after I've been with them I do feel really down, knowing that despite how I feel about them, nothing will ever happen. And I wonder why I can't meet someone like them who is available. I am trying. The dating sites (here), the anonymous email to the guy I hoped might respond. With regards to girls, there is an opportunity, but she could be on the rebound and at 29 is likely to be looking for "the one." I'm not sure I can handle that pressure. With regard to guys, short of going to a gay club - something I really don't think is going to deliver an eligible guy - I'm not sure what more to do.

In the meantime I'm accumulating best friends I have feelings for. Damn.

Friday, May 15, 2009

So did you vote DA or ANC?

Why might I ask?

The current all out war emphasizes all that is bad about both.

The stupidity of the DA anti-Zuma campaign shows an opposition unable to campaign on policy - but instead is anti-everything. I once suggested this to Tony Leon after another anti-ANC crime diatribe. He looked genuinely hurt. "I thought my speech was quite positive..."

Further, it is actually an indictment on the DA that they are 15 years into democracy and still predominantly white and male. Joe Seramane is used as quota chairman despite his very real struggle credentials. I'm white and male and I don't relate to the DA leadership. My workplaces and social life are more integrated.

On the other hand, the ANC and communist responses have been nothing short of staggering. Particularly the responses of their youth leagues. Grief. I wrote more mature letters at 6 years old.

Frankly, the responses are transparent. The ANC has merely been paying lip service to democracy. Threatening to make the Western Cape ungovernable betrays their inability to countenance opposition and debate. Further, their insistence that Zuma must not be criticized because he is president is immature and dangerous in the extreme. You earn trust - no matter who you are. Further, the essence of democracy is the ability to criticize freely. Would the ANC have insisted that Americans refrain from criticizing George W. Bush?

All that said, whether quoted out of context or not, Zille's reference to Zuma's aids risk to his wives was ill-considered and frankly, naive.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What is the catchiest song you know?

Bloody hell, this MGMT song "Kids" must be right up there...

Loving it!!

Kids - MGMT

You were a child,
crawlin' on your knees toward it.
Makin' mama so proud,
but your voice is too loud.

We like to watch you laughing.
Pickin' insects off plants.
No time to think of consequences.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wanting,
To be haunted.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wantin',
To be haunted.

The water is warm,
but its sending me shivers.
A baby is born,
crying out for attention.
Memories fade,
like looking through a fogged mirror
Decisions to decisions are made and not fought
But I thought,
this wouldn't hurt a lot.
I guess not.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wantin',
To be haunted.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wantin',
To be haunted.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wantin',
To be haunted.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wantin',
To be haunted.

Control yourself.
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wantin',
To be haunted.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Have you seen the new Golf ad?

Really top ad. Really love it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Have you seen genius on Idols?

Most of the time Idols shows performers with potential. They're just kids that might turn into stars. Sometimes you see the transformation taking place. Sometimes you see brilliant talent.

And sometimes you see genius.

Last year it was David Cook singing "Billy Jean."

This year it was Adam Lambert singing "Mad World."

This guy is genius. He reminds me at times of Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy) and Jared Leto (30 Seconds to Mars).

The reason the videos above are genius and not just talent is interpretation. Yeah they are iconic songs. But you forget they have ever been sung before when you hear Cook and Lambert sing them.

As big a fan as I am of David Archuleta from last year, when I heard Cook sing Billy Jean I thought, "Wow - genius. This guy deserves to win."

Ditto for Adam Lambert. It was evident he was a cut above early on in this year's American Idol. But the Mad World performance will stand out amongst all artists - not just Idols hopefuls.

Tears for Fears - Mad World lyrics

Songwriters: Orzabal, Roland;

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Goin' nowhere, goin' nowhere
Their tears are fillin' up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dyin'
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
'Cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad world, mad world
Mad world, mad world

Children waitin' for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sits and listen, sits and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dyin'
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
'Cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad world, mad world
Mad world, mad world

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dyin'
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
'Cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad world, mad world
Mad world, mad world
A raunchy young world
Mad world

Monday, April 27, 2009

Did my vote make a difference?

So the ANC got 65,9% of the vote. That means they missed a two-thirds majority by 0,7%. About 20m South Africans voted. That means the ANC missed a two-thirds majority by 140 000 votes. South Africa had almost 20 000 voting stations.

That means, on average, it took only 7 votes per voting station to deny the ANC a two-thirds majority.

Now tell me it is not worth voting because, "What difference can one vote make?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Will you vote based on principles?

It is interesting that for the first time that I can remember, details of South African parties policies are being circulated prior to the election. The Mail & Guardian policy test seems to be spreading like wildfire. It asks a series of questions and provides party policies as answer choices. Based on your responses, it then ranks parties based on their alignment with your choices. The results will surprise you. Of one of my client's teams, we all ended up with parties other than those we had considered. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Another person had sourced the Family Policy Institute's guide to parties' values and that generated huge interest.

Then we began to remark at how interesting the interest in party policies and the appearance of these tools is. It really is encouraging. Instead of listening to the mud slinging that characterizes South African political debate, we can now evaluate parties based on their policy. Surely the voter curiosity and the creation of these tools marks a maturing of our democracy?

We remarked that what we were experiencing is perhaps due to the emergence of a potentially credible opposition in Cope, but most likely the sensation of Obama's campaign and election. A colleague remarked how she had listened to her 17 year old daughter discuss the elections with friends. She asked her daughter who she would vote for.

"Cope, mom," her daughter replied.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because Cope is hope," her daughter recited the party's enigmatic slogan. It sure echoes the Obama, "Yes we can!"

What was also evident is how much damage the DA's Stop Zuma campaign has done to the party's image. People are tired of "anti-" campaigning. Tell us what YOU stand for.

Someone remarked, "What does it matter? If you don't vote DA, your vote against the ANC is wasted."

No dammit! If the Cape Town results of our last local government election proved anything, it was the power of coalition politics. Non-ANC parties were forced to form a coalition to gain control of the Cape. It meant that those that agreed with the Independent Democrats' policies were granted huge power as the ID became the king-makers in their coalition choices. Their initial choice of siding with the ANC probably knocked the party back forever, but the point was proved. Even the third, forth or fifth most popular party can wield tremendous power in the swing vote in coalition formation. Lesson - vote your conscience.

Further history demonstrates this point. Most South Africans know of when Helen Suzman was the only representative of the Progressive Party in South Africa. She stood up against tireless abuse from the National Party and her voice echoed from the one seat her party held in parliament to the corners around the world. Tell me it was not worth voting for her.

On a far lighter note, the Nandos campaign has landed it in hot water with the ANC Youth League. But oh how brilliant:

I really hope you vote tomorrow if you're eligible. It should mean something that people died for the right to vote. Some friends won't vote for a variety of reasons:

  • "Because all politicians lie"

  • "Because the ANC will still win"

  • "Because I don't identify with any of the parties"

Vote for the rational above. It only takes a few thousand votes to obtain one seat based on South Africa's proportional representation system. That means that even if only a couple of people in each town or city vote for your choice of party, together you could add up to a seat in parliament for your choice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How do you vote Liezel van der Westhuizen off Idols?

Holy crap. Without doubt the most useless presenter they could have chosen for Idols South Africa.

The woman drives me crazy with her affectations and complete lack of ability to appear anything close to natural. Compare to the original Pop Idols presenters Ant and Deck. Or Ryan Seacrest.

She changes dresses in between songs on the show!!!! She tears up every week when someone is voted off. She recites the same scripted lines every show. Give me a break woman.

How do we vote the useless woman off air?

As an aside, the results show sucks big hairy ones. Besides Liezel virtually bawling every time, the staged suspense is pathetic. Yeah it is part of the formula, but take a cue from American Idol, bring some former winners in to perform, reduce the time you fill with the crap and get to the point.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who the hell is Susan Boyle?

You'll remember the name after you watch this...

13 million YouTube views in no time at all - and there are about 500 other versions on YouTube too.

Have you heard the new Pet Shop Boys single?

Holy crap..... AWESOME! Vintage PSB.

Love Etc.

Jeez. Loving this.

Pet Shop Boys - Love etc. Lyrics

You need more You need more You need more You need more
You need more You need more You need more You need more
You need more

Boy it’s tough getting on in the world
When the sun doesn’t shine and a boy needs a girl
It’s about getting out of a rut, you need luck
But you’re stuck and you don’t know how, oh

(Don’t have to be) A big bucks Hollywood star
(Don’t have to drive) A super car to get far
(Don’t have to live) A life of power and wealth
(Don’t have to be) Beautiful but it helps
(Don’t have to buy) A house in Beverly Hills
(Don’t have to have) Your daddy paying the bills
(Don’t have to live) A life of power and wealth
(Don’t have to be) Beautiful but it helps

You need more
Than a big blank check to be a lover, or
A Gulfstream jet to fly you door to door
Somewhere chic on another shore

You need more You need more You need more
You need more You need more You need more
You need love
You need love
You need love

Too much of anything
Is never enough
Too much of everything
Is never enough

Boy it’s tough getting on in the world
When the sun doesn’t shine and a boy needs a girl
It’s about getting out of a rut, you need luck
But you’re stuck and you don’t know how, oh

(Don’t have to be) A big bucks Hollywood star
(Don’t have to drive) A super car to get far
(Don’t have to wear) A smile much colder than ice
(Don’t have to be) Beautiful but it’s nice

You need more
Than the Gerhard Richter hangin’ on your wall
A chauffeur-driven limousine on call
To drive your wife and lover to a white tie ball

You need more You need more You need more
You need more You need more You need more
You need love

I believe that we can achieve
The love that we need
I believe, call me naïve
Love is for free

(Don’t have to be) A big bucks Hollywood star
(Don’t have to drive) A super car to get far
(Don’t have to live) A life of power and wealth
(Don’t have to be) Beautiful but it helps
Beautiful but it helps
Beautiful but it helps

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Are you one of the missing South Africans?

So South Africans overseas will be voting tomorrow. 16 240 of them.

Anyone else disappointed by this? There are hundreds of thousands of South Africans in London alone. And hundreds of thousands more in Perth. After all the celebrations of the court case victory allowing them to vote, 16 240 seems a very disappointing number.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Is it too late to take up music?

When I was a kid, I played piano for a year or so. Looking back it is really sad. My parents could not really afford to buy a piano and somehow found the means. I never really practiced and wasted the opportunity.

Music is one of things like gymnastics that you kind of have to take up when you're a kid if you want to be good. Sadly it is also one of those things that you may only realise you like when you're older.

Is it too late to take up music at 35? I'm fresh from a weekend of attending the Coke Zero Fest. Fantastic. The talent was just amazing. Local bands like Zebra and Giraffe (if you have not heard them, click through and listen - awesome), Cassette and The Dirty Skirts. And Snow Patrol. Wow. They just blew me away. Oasis were polished and very good, but the Gallagher brothers are every bit as arrogant as you might have heard. But bigger arseholes than you could imagine. While I'm sure the palpable hate between Liam and Noel is real, the on-stage posturing and attitude was pathetic. Insulting your fans is never a good idea. It compared to the complete lack of pretension by every other band including the unbelievable Snow Patrol - who seemed in awe they were opening for Oasis. Dudes, you're better then those pricks.

So back to me taking up music. Keyboards make the most sense. I've been looking and found this amazing keyboard, the Yamaha Motif XS8:


Take a look at this amazing demo video:

This Burt Smorenburg is incredible. Watch this video for entertainment even if you have no musical inclination!

The problem is time. Music takes practice...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

So Vavi is quite OK with the LRA protecting lazy incompetent workers?

I can only assume so based on this quote:

Vavi added that Cosatu would ensure that Zuma keeps to his promises that ministers who do not perform will be fired.

"The Labour Relation Act should not apply to lazy ministers. The thing of keeping deadwood in Cabinet belongs in the past."


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Are you a blind ANC follower?

This week has seen more about the potential dropping of corruption charges against the ANC president and the debacle regarding the refusal of a visa for the Dalai Lama (and here).

It is sad reading the articles quoting Finance Minister Trevor Manuel (and here) and Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma - I believe any objective, vaguely intelligent person would see the glaring hypocrisy in the ANC's stance with regard to the Dalai Lama. A liberation organisation that fought for freedom of speech and the right to disagree - banning a visit because of the SA state's relationship with China and its endorsement of the One-China policy? The ANC continues to ignore the flagrant human rights abuses of China, Burma, Zimbabwe and others. Its position seems dictated by "pro-non-west" policy rather than thoughtful interrogation of what is right.

It would seem that the ANC would rather turn a blind eye to the ZANU murder of thousands and continued state sponsored violence in Zimbabwe than be embarrassed by the failure of an African leader.

Similarly they would turn a blind eye to the oppression of opposition to the Burmese military dictatorship.

And they would ignore the detention and murder of Tibetan activists in China.

The hypocrisy and arrogance is embodied in their leadership by a man (Jacob Zuma) who talks of having "laws that bite" and cracking down on corruption - but has pulled every legal option available to avoid going to court - including threatening to make public tapes embarrassing the former president Mbeki and the National Prosecuting Authority (and here).

Let's make this clear. I am sure I speak on behalf of almost all objective South Africans when I say that all those guilty of wrong should be prosecuted without fear or favour. If Mbeki knew of the arms deal corruption, he too should be prosecuted. If the NPA generally, or Leonard McCarthy specifically, were politically motivated in their actions, they should be prosecuted.

It is only when all believe they will be equally prosecuted before the law that all will equally abide by it. The best example of the consequences of a group believing they deserve different treatment is the behaviour of taxi drivers in South Africa - people who disregard the law because they believe they stand apart.

I can't believe the ANC and their supporters fail to see the hypocrisy. During apartheid they implored the world to give them a voice they were denied at home. Denying the Dalai Lama the same opportunity seems to be in their collective blind spot.

Further, the ANC response lends credence to the rumour that their denial of the visa was ordered by China - an order more weighty through funding of the ANC election campaign by the Chinese government.

Even over the past few months, any disagreement from within their own ranks has conveniently become treasonous. Witness the response to Minister Hogan's criticism of the Dalai Lama scandal and this letter from Duncan Hindle - "The individual should not criticise the collective." Anyone for the return of Stalinism perhaps? Merely a few months back, anti-Mbeki sentiment within the ANC was excused under the headline, "The ANC is a broad church and has room for many opinions." Even more recently, Malema's rantings are excused as being those of a young man who would one day know better.

Sadly it is the ANC supporters that give rise for the most concern. The rabid unquestioning support visible in comments below every article about any of the above-mentioned issues would seem as racist and unquestioning as that of the conservative supporters under apartheid.

It reminds me of the result of the unquestioning support from the West provided to Idi Amin in his rise to power. Murmurings of his abuses were swept under the carpet as the west saw someone they thought they could control. As his power grew, the monster threw off his minders and the result was clear for all to see. Similarly, the Matabeleland murders by Mugabe and his followers were allowed to be covered up. The result is again clear to see.

If we are to enjoy the hard won successes of the liberation struggle, then it is each of our responsibilities to question all leaders and representatives equally. If we call what is right or wrong without partisanship, we stand stronger together. If we have the security to ensure our leaders are defined by us rather than us being defined by our leaders, we need not fear their failure making us less worthy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is your best source of economic data?

For years, I've struggled with a good source for long term historical economic data (such as CPI, foreign exchange rates, interest rates, etc).

many sites charge significant amounts of money for a single time series.

Now I have found the best source!

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) StatExtracts

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Are we in The valley of Elah?

I watched "In the Valley of Elah" this last Sunday. It is one of the most outstanding and deepest American movies I have ever seen. It stars Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron.

The movie is about a soldier who goes missing after returning from Iraq. Tommy Lee Jones plays the father who tries to find him and when he discovers he has been murdered tries to solve the crime.

As the movie unfolds, one sees the horror of war - not just the victims on a battlefield but the monsters that soldiers become. This movie shows this in an unexpected way. Don't assume the best kids won't become psychopaths under the horrors of war.

The Valley of Elah is where David slew Goliath. Lee Jones tells the story to a kid not realising the irony. David the hero showed unbelievable courage. Asked by the little boy, "Was he scared?" Lee Jones replies of course. And hence David's immense courage.

The movie is not just about how war creates monsters of men. It is about how society molds them. Intolerant of weakness, society makes each one of us less human.

But to blame society is to further remove the problem. The story is about fathers and sons.

SPOILER ALERT - don't read the rest if you're going to watch the movie.

The Valley of Elah's end was as surprising and gratifyingly honest as any I have seen.

A father who deified David and the Calvinistic values the story espoused saw how his son might just have easily have been the killer as the killed. He saw how he created a monster in a home that did not tolerate weakness and glorified the fight for right. He saw how he unknowingly turned away his son after he had killed a child.

And he hoisted an upside down American flag sent home by his son - the signal for a country in in trouble and in need of help. At the beginning of the movie, he had showed an immigrant the error and corrected it.

Yet the kid he had told the story of David and Goliath had it repeated by his mother as he questioned her in awe of David's courage and strength. The woman was a single mom and the kid was growing up in a home without a father. In his brief contact with Lee Jones, he saw a father figure and he saw approval gained through bravery and weakness in fear.