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.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Do you go to rock/pop concerts?

So as these things appear to happen, it is concert booking season. Sometimes nothing worthwhile happens for a while and then a whole lot of concerts appear on the horizon.

The first biggie for me was the Tour of The Universe by Depeche Mode. I'm a Depeche Mode junkie and their Songs of Faith and Devotion concert in Cape Town in 1996 remains the best I have ever been to. So their new album Sounds of The Universe is being released on the 20th April 2009. The first track off the new album is Wrong, the video of which is already live in HD on YouTube. See below.

DM have been going since around 1980 and still have a cult following. They basically invented techno-pop with Vince Clark (later of Yazoo and Eurasia) when he was part of their line-up.

I blogged when they released Exciter and sadly missed that tour - I have the DVD and it is awesome.

sounds of the universe

South Africa has not been on their tour schedule again and so I decided that I'm going to see them come hell or high water. Hence I am going to Madison Square Garden for their New York concert on the 3rd of August. Tickets go on sale tomorrow and the pre-sales have gone fast. Other big dates like London sold out in no time. I intend to get the best seats possible.

The next big concert is the Coke Zero Fest in Johannesburg on the 10th April. The line up is awesome:

International artists: OASIS,Snow Patrol,Panic at the Disco, Bullet For My Valentine
Local artists: Zebra and Giraffe, The Dirty Skirts, aKing, Cassette, and Foto Na Dans,One Day Remains


I bought tickets yesterday and it is sure to be unbelievable. Either Oasis or Snow Patrol would have done it for me. Having Bullet for My Valentine and Panic at the Disco on the bill is just cream.

After missing the last Coke Fest with Kaiser Chiefs and 30 Seconds to Mars (would have gone just for them), I'm not missing this year.

As these things go, U2 have a new album, No Line On The Horizon, and are touring this year too. I thought of trying to catch them in the US, but the dates between them and DM are not close enough.

However, they are playing Wembley in London on the 14th of August....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What do you regularly watch on TV?

To say a PVR / DVR is life-changing is an understatement. My work schedule is crazy meaning I miss most regular TV shows. If I miss an episode then the series loses meaning.

I bought a DVR some years back and that was cool. The PVR adds the TV schedules to the mix making setting up recordings all the more easy.

Here's my weekly recording schedule:


Idols - South Africa - MNET - 17h30
Carte Blanche - news / actuality - MNET - 19h00


Jamie's Kitchen - BBC Lifestyle - 18h30
Idols results show - MNET - 19h00
SuperRugby - KykNet - 20h30


The Amazing Race - SABC 3 - 19h30
Special Assignment - news / actuality - SABC3 - 21h30
3rd Degree - new / actuality - eTV - 21h30


American Idol - Series Channel - 19h00
Hells Kitchen - BBC Lifestyle - 18h30
Skins - BBC Entertainment - 20h30


American Idol - Series Channel - 19h00
Boots & All - Supersport 1 - 20h30

Other regulars are rugby and cricket, Masterchef and pretty much any food TV.

A big advantage of a PVR over a DVR is the ability to record three different channels and watch a fourth.

The other awesome thing about PVRing is the ability to pause and rewind live TV and clearly skipping ads.

The problem is now finding time to watch all this stuff....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The fall of the US?

Interesting article...

I think the world is on dangerous ground. The US economy has defied economic principle for so long. Twin deficits (budget and current account), capital flows based on financial rather than real assets, and the world’s biggest ponzi scheme – US treasury bonds (there is no prospect of repayment without more issues of debt – as long as the US cannot run a budget surplus). The US is also in a de facto liquidity trap – their real interest rates are currently negative and they cannot stimulate demand through further monetary policy. The minute anyone starts questioning US treasuries and the dollar as a flight to quality, the whole house of cards looks shaky.

What happens if it collapses? Panic regarding the US dollar as a currency standard – return to the gold standard? IMF SDRs as a reserve currency (unlikely given the link to the US)?

How does it collapse? Plunge in the value of US bonds, flight to “real assets” such as hard commodities, plunge in the value of the US dollar, repricing of oil in other currencies (what – not sure) – petrodollars stop. Without investment in US debt and without the Middle East needing to recycle petrodollars, the US is then forced to run current account and budget surpluses. That dries up US demand for international exports setting off a horrendous second round.

Even if the financial crisis has a more orderly unwinding, the money that streamed into US treasuries as a flight to quality will start looking for returns rather than a negative real 1-2%. Those investors are likely to look to other markets, causing a depreciation of the US Dollar.

China is the first wildcard in all of this. They have kept their currency fixed to a low value against the US Dollar for years to ensure continued cheap Chinese goods and US demand. To do this they have had to support the value of the US dollar and find dollar investment for all the dollars they have earned on exports to the US.

The Middle East is the second wildcard. Oil is paid in US dollars and to support the value of oil the Middle East has had to find US dollar investments for the petrodollars.

If either of those two wildcards change behavior, the whole pack comes crashing down.

The shift of power to the Middle East and China is remarkable.

The implications seem fairly dire. The Japanese have funded US lives for years. Now the Chinese have taken over. What is the implication of massive falls in the value of the investments of those countries?

What is a good investment in the post US world? What is the new gold standard? There were problems with gold as a store of value due to its low intrinsic value. Will we see the IMF or another body act as a “Commodities bank” buying up commodities with future value (metals, oil, coal, etc) and creating some sort of combined unit to act as a new reserve currency?

Monday, March 02, 2009

So what's your best affirming moment?

Funny thing. Some things I'm quite self confident in. Like business. I know I'm good and had all the affirmation I need. Like setting promotion records etc.

When it comes to being seen as attractive, especially by guys - not necessarily to someone, just by them - I feel inadequate. There are a few events that precipitated this. And no matter what has happened since, I've never felt happy with myself.

Something got me thinking of five big moments for me. Not that big in the scheme of things. But memories that make me smile.

Once as a Spur waiter it came time for the dessert order. I asked the group of rowdy middle aged ladies what they'd like for dessert. "We'd like you on a plate," they replied. I responded deadpan, "And would you like me with cream or icecream?" I think I got a big tip.

There was the time I was at a Bon Jovi concert and a women stopped me as I walked past. I turned round and she made me turn round again to have my back facing her. She lifted the sweater round my waist to show my backside to her friends who approved loudly.

And the biggest affirmation? At a fair going into a beer tent, as a friend and I walked in, two young guys were coming out. The one stepped back and pulled his friend back. "Better let this guy through - he's built!" he said smiling at me. I was playing club rugby at the time and pretty strong. It was one of the few moments I've had affirmation from other guys.

The other was when I was playing touch rugby as we entered my matric rugby season. I scored a try that made the other team look silly. One of the first team guys said to me, "Wow, are you playing this season?" It was great. Unfortunately I broke my collar bone badly in the third practice of the season. But I remember that touch rugby game and the comment well.

When I was playing touch on the beach in a random game a friend and I joined, I again made a few people look silly and this guy on the other side who was pretty good and built like a brick shithouse came up to me and asked where I played club rugby.

Funny how context determines importance. Meaningless comments that due to my context became memories that meant something.

What is also weird is how context misleads us. Misleads us into thinking that achieving something will solve an internal dissatisfaction. Madonna was once being interviewed when she explained how she had wanted to be loved and fame became the ultimate means of achieving that on a grand scale. She then told how standing in front of 100 000 adoring sycophantic fans turned out to be the loneliest she had ever been.

It's tough because while you know that's true, you still have to go through the emotional process of dealing with your shit. No one else can do it for you.