Friday, 22 December 2006

My lists of things

It's a tiny bit hard for me to get my hands on new books out here. (Read: my South African credit card was stopped because of lack of activity.) So my list, which I felt pretentiously obliged to contribute is made up of stuff I found noteworthy in the Year of the Canine.

In this particular order, but not from best to worst: I wish I'd though of that when I was actually making Flash movies for a living.
Orbiter! A space flight simulator. It represents all that is best in humanity: firstly you can recreate historical space missions to any degree of detail you care to imagine, and secondly it's free. Which leads me to:
The Attention Economy, which fits in nicely with the Hacker work ethic and that old Cathedral and Bazaar metaphor. This phenomenon needs scrutiny especially as it pertains to the future of China.
And looking up the above link to Wikipedia reminded me that, here in China, I am cynically prevented by a bunch of old men to do so, hence also needs to be on my list.

Old books I got my hands on, and found fascinating:
The Russians by Hedrick Smith (1976)
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (Don't knock it. [2004])
Also got around to The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson.
Whatever. I do what I can.

Other 2006 timewasters included a 2D physics simulation programme called Working Model with which you can build mechanical systems and then watch them do devious things to unsuspecting pixels. Spent a lot of time simulating a bullet hitting a body. Half-Life 2 did that pretty well too: very playable and engrossing. Finished it in under ten hours. How disappointing is that! I still tinker with the physics engine though.

I got my iPod this year too, so that counts. And the surprise entry must be my bicycle. She brought me great joy, despite my best efforts to stay in my room for the rest of my natural life.

Music in no order except this one:
Wilco's album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
TATU & Rammstein's remixes. (Ya soshla suma, baby!)
Aterciopelados from Colombia... dunno why... just like.

Nothing else is worthy of getting more attention. Attention, after all, is like money. I'm going to be very selfish with it from now on.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Thespian's 2006 lists

Hello uit Melbourne. Okay, ek het hard gedink, en vorendag gekom met die volgende tentatiewe lysies van 10. Hulle is glad nie exhaustive nie, en dis moeilik sonder dat ek my boekrak en stuff voor my het. Maar here goes - in no particular order (en sonder links):

  • Capote
  • The Squid and the Whale
  • Little Ms Sunshine
  • Hell
  • Happy Endings
  • Down in the Valley
  • The Chumscrubber
  • The Proposition
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • An Inconvenient Truth
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
  • The Exception, Christian Jungersen (dink ek)
  • The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
  • The Highest Tide, Jim Lynch
  • The Story of the Night, Colm Toibin
  • The Brightwater Lighthouse, Colm Toibin
  • Saturday, Ian McEwan
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  • Ideas, Peter Watson
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

Monday, 11 December 2006

Multiple feet in as many mouths

Wired Blogs has requested nominations for the 2006 Foot-in-Mouth Award, to find the most inane and idiotic statement about technology. A few nominations arrived involving Bush and Republicans and a political flame war erupted. The foot-in-mouthness of some comments should qualify them for their own award. The main nominees are Bush and "the Google," the Internet "as a series of tubes" comment, some stuff about Windows viruses on Macs and... not much else. For laughs, here are the two main contenders, if the flame war does not make the whole thing disappear:

Viewing the Bush from above (George W. Bush):
"Occasionally. One of the things I’ve used on the Google is to pull up maps. It’s very interesting to see — I’ve forgot the name of the program — but you get the satellite, and you can — like, I kinda like to look at the ranch. It remind me of where I wanna be sometimes."
Link (via Wired Blogs)

Net Neu(read: tube)trality (Senator Ted Stevens):
"Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got... an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? [...] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material"
Link (via Wired Blogs)

Pollen's 2006 lists - #1

This time of the year I usually catch up on all the stuff I missed by trawling the net for other people's best-of lists. Before I do that and get all confused, I will start my own here, in the hope that my co-bloggers/ -horts will follow suit. It's not yet the definitive list, and as I remember things I will add them. Let's start off with 2007:

Most unfortunate disappointment:
The new Grinderman album, to be released in March '07. I was very excited, but it wasn't to be. I've heard it and it has patches of promise, but it is not overall good.

Best releases of 2006:
  • Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
  • Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
  • Current 93 - Black Ships Ate The Sky
  • DeVotchKa - Curse Your Little Heart
  • Kokeshi Doll - Tantalus Rhythm
  • M. Ward - Post-War
  • Mono - You Are There
  • This Will Destroy You - Young Mountain
  • Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
  • Woven Hand - Mosaic
  • Xiu Xiu - The Air Force
Disappointing release of the year:
  • Asobi Seksu - Citrus
Movies I enjoyed most:
I can unfortunately not give an authoritative view of 2006 releases as I missed a helluva lot of movies and watch a lot of stuff on DVD. This is more of a list of movies I watched in 2006 and liked:
  • Children of Men - those perfectly crafted, endless shots, the intelligence and the hyper-reality while stuck with a great anti-hero made this a winner.
  • Everything is Illuminated - I admit being biased because I watched it partly for Eugene Hutz as Alex (who was excellent), but it's a good watch.
  • The Proposition - Nick Cave's script was fresh because you could sense this was his first time and he wasn't constrained by the typical movie-making-by-numbers crap out there. I only realised how violent this was when I watched it for a second time. Excellent performances from all.
  • Tom-Yum-Goong - my DVD version doesn't have English subtitles and it doesn't matter - it's that kind of movie. For great fighting sequences and stunts, this was pure pleasure. Honourable mention should also go to Banlieue 13 and Fearless in this category.
  • Bin-Yip (3-Iron) - this was good enough to buy on DVD. The lack of dialogue works great. Best of the three Kim Ki-duk movies I saw (also Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring and Samaria).
  • Samehada otoko to momojiri onna (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl) - an old (1998) movie, the inane and surreal conversations among the different yakuza members in various stages of waiting makes it very funny.
  • Sennen joyu (Millenium Actress) - I don't know why I waited so long to watch this. The scenes are beautifully constructed and animated.
Hmmm.... I need to think some more... this can't be all. And then there are still books to come...

Tuesday, 28 November 2006


This little reptilian friend decided that the space between the wood and insulation in our cottage in Wellington is the Best House Ever and that the specific vantage point under the window provides warmth, comfort and a great view. There is just no other option than to name it Kilroy, is there?

Monday, 27 November 2006

"Alles loop reg - altyd reg - Toyota!"

At a mere 10'10" the Mirror Dinghy is suitable as a car-topper.

What is more, you do not need a sleek Toyota Corolla to be able to do it - witness this:

Flying Dutchman

On Sunday a friend and I went to Fisherhaven to pick up a Mirror dinghy that we bought. When we arrived the seller asked whether we wanted to go out in his other dinghy - a Flying Dutchman. In the words of my friend, it is a bit like someone selling you a Volkswagen Beetle and then offering you a ride in his Porsche 911.

We went out and after a couple of smooth runs the wind picked up - pretty soon I learnt why it is called a FLYING dutchman! With the owner at the helm, my friend leaning out on the trapeze and myself sheeting the genoa. At first I thought they just gave me the genoa so I at least had something to do, but it became quite hard work - "sheet in! sheet in!" - well, not so easy if the water from the bow-wave is poured on the bottom edge of the massive genoa. Add to that my friend on the trapeze dangling in the air for moments, because a gust of wind let up unexpectedly- I had to grab him by the ankle as he was leaving the boat towards the rear! Plus spray in the eyes, waves hitting my leading hip as I was leaning out, and do not forget that sheeting on the wrong angle makes the cleat slip!

Unfortunately the fun did not last. We were tiring and the owner asked whether we should have one more broad reach (the fastest point of sail) before heading back. So we went, and WHACK! the mast snapped off. Luckily my friend was not hooked in to the trapeze-harness at that point, or we would have witnessed the catapult-fall from hell!

We drifted halfway to the other shore before the guys decided that we are indeed in trouble and got the rescue boat out, then launched it, then got it started and then came out to give us a tow back. The best thing about the rescue boat service at Fisherhaven is that it comes with apple-pie!

Sunset Beach

I was on my way to Cape Town on Friday and was a bit early, so I went to Sunset Beach to watch the windsurfers. I parked at the "Italian car-park" and stood on the wooden steps leading onto the beach. The wind was a little too light and there were only three somewhat underpowered windsurfers out.

So I took up a conversation with the two guys sitting on the railing. They were from Germany and were in Cape Town to windsurf a bit. The one guy gave me lots of good advice about inland sailing conditions in Germany, which lakes I should visit and the equipment I would need for my size and level of skill. It also turned out that they visit Cape Town every December and January to sharpen their windsurfing.

At that point a kite-surfer asked whether one of us could help him to launch his kite. The Germans ignored him, but I gave him a lift. I made a joke about the fact that kite surfers seem unable to start and stop on their own. It turned out that the Germans did not like them that much either. (But I will leave the windsurfer versus kite-surfer debate for another post).

By then the wind started picking up and they wanted to start rigging. I greeted them and the guy (that I had most of the conversation with) introduced himself... turns out he is Fabian Weber! Basically it means that he such a good windsurfer that - should he break any equipment whilst training in the waves here - he will get replacements for free!

Friday, 24 November 2006

Misha Maisky

I had to pick up my passport at the German Consulate in Cape Town yesterday and on leaving I found out that Misha Maisky is rehearsing in City Hall. I spent the next two hours sitting only a few metres away from him and watched (and listened) as he rehearsed with the Cape Town Philharmonic.

I thought back to the painful years I spent at school finding out that I was not a talented cellist after all. Maisky does not care about any of those book rules that plagued my attempts - he hugs/envelops his instrument - it seems part of his body while he plays. (Actually, I would hate to be one of the normal cellists while he plays - I am sure they feel impotent).

He has the greatest mannerisms too - a snort when he starts, flicking his hair and my favourite - using a little towel to dab up any drops of sweat on his instrument. He moves so much and so violently while playing that I was afraid the rickety piano bench that he sat on might give way!

They played Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B-minor. It is a great piece of music too. I can really recommend his recording of Shostakovich's Cello Concertos No.1 & 2 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas - in fact it is what I am listening to right now!

And this is what makes South Africa weird - I could listen to all that for a mere R25,00 (that would be EUR 2,70 or USD 3,50).

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Arcade Gaming

I am addicted to two arcade games in Somerset Mall - both of course are shooting games:

One is a very realistic sniper game - called Silent Scope. I only play the shooting range (for which I have the high score I might add!) and the other game is a not so realistic hunting game called Big Buck Hunter. Unfortunately the gun shoots a little low, so it is not so cool. It is a pity that they don't have the very realistic Sega Bass Fishing game which I like to play whenever I am in East-Rand Mall in Johannesburg.

Of course I am about ten to twenty years older than everybody else in the arcade and sometimes that made me worry about myself. But all those thoughts are banished as from yesterday, because I spotted an old couple taking each other on at Sega Rally:

And they were not bad at it either. I wonder whether the winner got to drive home? ;-)

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Ai ai ai ai aiPod

(The title reads best when sung like the old O-o-o-o-Oros ad.)

Today I was smote by iGod, the small white thing (by 2004 standards) that claims to hold and protect my life. My music.

I must have angered it, browsed too long over its new incarnation, or used its name in vain. Possibly it just got tired of me dragging it around everywhere, dropping it indiscriminately, dressing it up in tight rubber suits and insisting it play playlists for 12 hour shifts. I angered it, methinks, and I paid the price.

It happened a little like PW. I switched on my laptop for the 1000th time, launched iTunes for the 1000th time, and watched in a sort of hazy, stoic horror how “updating iPod” for the 1st time EVER actually meant “happily busy wiping 40GB of music”. Not syncing it with something. Not checking for updates. Not asking for permission. Not even blowing a raspberry. Just deleting. I’m in your base and killing your d00ds.

Everything was set to manual. I was running an old version of the software. I didn’t say OK to anything. It was perfect: me me me me. That’s who was supposed to control the functions and push the buttons. But iGod today frowned upon me me me me and decided to delete my complete 27 month collection, which is a lifetime in gadget-years. It decided to teach me a lesson.

I do have backups. I have an eMusic account, folders with stuff, external hard drive. I have the cd’s I’ve ripped, even the cd’s that ripped me off. It’s not about the music. What frustrates me most is losing what I don’t really need: my play history. No more checking to see if “I am happy but you don’t like me” by Asobi Seksu is still the most played song from 6,500 odd songs. Or contemplating whether I should actually listen to that one American Music Club song that hasn’t been played in 27 months. No more reflecting on my bi-monthly top 10 favourite song playlists since August 2004 and chuckling to myself. No more remembering which songs I have burned on which mix-cd’s for whom. No more of these things.

It’s like listening to vinyl!

It’s like forgetting to switch off Disasters and watching the aliens invade your beautiful SimCity.

I should be happy there is some history at Last.FM. Although I have to start afresh on the little white thing that displayed uncanny AI today, all is not lost. It’s all probably for the good…

[Ok, here I have to stop and say what a typical human way this is to react in the face of unnecessary, un-asked for Crap That Happens. I hate gravity, when things just fall out of your hands, for no reason. I hate stickers on cd's and books that can't be cleanly removed. I especially hate it when keys slip between the seat and middle-thing in a car. This is like that. Totally unnecessary and uncalled for and against what nature is supposed to be like if you ask me.]

…ahem, let me continue. Where were I? Oh yes. It’s all probably for the good. It makes you realise how ridiculous it is to be all Web 2.0 obsessed – checking your music, your links, your comments, your profiles, your neighbours, your friends, your contacts, your trackbacks, your updates, your peers, your avatars... and writing about it in your blog. It’s all so damn social. Involving humans. Eeew.

I have an iPod to fill up. It’s name is PollenPod and it used to be my friend.

Friday, 10 November 2006

yellow man

I was driving through Milnerton the other day and snapped this fellow with my cell-phone camera (hence the fuzziness).

Monday, 6 November 2006

Grinderman - when news is good

A member of the Goodson mailing list alerted the rest of us to one of the best pieces of news I've heard in a long time. Below is the full piece from
Grinderman - Debut Album Out 5th March 2007
Foul-mouthed, noisy, hairy, and damn well old enough to know better, Grinderman are Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos.

Born of babbling lyrics hatched from Bosch eggshells in the Hyde-bound apocalyptic margins of the Cave brain, the Grinderman sound is an instinctual yawlp that also resurrects the demons of each musician’s past: the trashcan proselytising of Birthday Party -era Nick; Sclavunos' late 70s New York no-wave noise wisdom; Martyn Casey’s ominous Triffids bass reverb; plus Ellis' avant-garde soundtrack work and his teenage love of Black Sabbath. Destination: Out!

Warren: "It was meant to be really open liberating thing, push those elements where we’d normally say ‘I don’t know about that’ and push on, relentless."
Nick: “We’re just searching for a bit of freedom"
Jim: "Ceaselessly banging away."
Warren: “Having Nick on the guitar changed the whole dynamic of the thing and threw us into a much more rudimentary ballpark."
Martyn: "It wasn't consciously two fingers to maturity but I remember thinking, all the way through, 'This isn’t bad for a bunch of old farts.'"

Nick Cave - Vocals, Electric Guitar, Electric Organ, Piano
Warren Ellis - Electric Bouzouki, Fendocastor, Viola, Violin, Acoustic Guitar, Hohner Guitaret, Backing Vocals
Martyn P Casey - Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jim Sclavunos - Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals

Grinderman sound different from everyone, including themselves. As Memphis Slim put it back in 1941, "While everything is quiet and easy/ Mr. Grinder can have his way.” It's a new day. God help you all.

Go and have a listen to the song No Pussy Blues at the myspace site. Even if the connection is slow, don't stop until you've reached 1:40 minutes. And 3:34 minutes. Aah. Bliss.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Pictures of love and hate

Cleaning up my cell phone, I found a few recent pictures with dubious artistic merit, but worthwhile commenting on.

So val die helde: Le Petit Paris, a favourite Saturday morning haunt on Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, is no more. A generic-looking coffee shop will open soon. Lekka.

Bosbeheer: Seen on a bakkie in Wellington. I can't figure out if there is a tongue in the cheek here somewhere or whether it's a serious reference.

Blood on the shopfloor: A young boy cut his foot on the side of the checkout installation in Woolworths, Gardens Centre and they let almost four customers wade and tripple and tiptoe through the blood before someone managed to bring a mop. Not even me taking a photo elicited a response.

Art: This is pasted on the back of a street sign in Stellenbosch, around the corner of Mystic Boer and the infamous clinic where the nurse tannies still gave serious speeches to students in the early 90's.

Geel trui vir 'n wenner: at some DJ event at Mystic Boer, Krizz and I spent a lot of time analysing the chances of people around us of getting lucky. Once the guy in front of us managed to remove a yellow jersey that reminded me of some personal youthful fashion indiscretions in 1986, we thought his chances would improve significantly, but it wasn't to be. Krizz, however, pounced on the offending jersey and this picture is of one particular strut. I can of course post the piccie with his face on, but lest there be stalkers out there, won't (for now).

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Learning the Lomo

Ok, so we have quite some way to go to learn the idiosyncrasies of the Lomo LC-A, the Interstitial One and I, but a promise is a promise, so here's a first batch of kiekies we took with the Russian pocket monster. My initial reaction is that it works great in low-or-no light situations (as it should), but why do all the daylight photos get underexposed?


Rows are A-D, Columns are 1-2:

A1: Shoegazing, Stanfordsbaai
A2: Bloeisels, Stellenbosch
B1: Smallholding, Wellington (at moonlight with about 1 minute's exposure)
B2: Hills, somewhere in the Overberg
C1: Flowers and clouds, Stanfordsbaai
C2: Lada Niva of the night, Wellington
D1: Cabin fever, Wellington
D2: Stencil wall art, I really can't remember

Still thinking...

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Gods and monsters

My immortal soul is in trouble. It was my birthday last week, and my mother took the opportunity of a celebratory dinner to ask uncomfortably profound questions about my conception of God. Whether I’m ‘ready to die’ – that kind of thing. I lied to her, of course, and (using her discourse) assured her that all is well with my soul. Somewhere between the main course and dessert it dawned on me that I am, for all intents and purposes, an atheist. The religious fervour of earlier was first replaced by a numb agnosticism, and now by a rather determined atheism; or irreligiousness in any case. Which brings me to my irritation du jour. Have a read of Jon Qwelane’s latest offering on News24.

Scary stuff, I thought – and not only because I’m a woopsie myself. My status as a homosexual is largely academic: I live a celibate life, and have been for quite a while, but I take an essentialist view on this: to paraphrase Sartre, I am a homo because Qwelane looks at me…

The point of this is that I’ve decided to advocate for a strong secularism. The more I look around me, the more I am struck by the horror unleashed by the pathological projections unleashed on humankind in the name of patriotism, nationalism, ideology, religion, God, and so on and so on ad infinitum. Let us kill our gods. Let us embrace our loneliness in this cosmos as a blessing rather than as something to be covered up by primitive fears and their romanticised constructs.

I’m not pushing for some blind embrace of ignorance dressed up as apathy. One should only do this by knowing the enemy. In that spirit, I’ve thought of a quick reading list for the uninitiated, or the mildly interested. Here are four books:

I sit back and I reread all of this and I can’t help but wonder whether I’ll burn in hell.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Riding the Iron Rooster

Oh, for the love of BLOG! Blogger decided that if I log in from a Chinese computer IT TOO must be Chinese. Note to techno-people: make me choose my own interface language.

So, I've decided to throw in the towel, and it was a nice towel too before it got oil-stained and dust-encrusted. I'm in a city called Sanmenxia, which has lost the whole point of its name, if you want to know.

Tomorrow, I'm bussing back to Xi'an, bike and all. I've come this way by bike, I think about 350km, but that's yet to be confirmed. Since having done that I certainly know pretty well I don't want to go back through that again.

This is just an introduction: I made notes. Suffice it to say that China has simply not endeared itself to me. Again. I try so hard. Here's the short version: The Chinese, as a group, with almost no exceptions, are the most inconsiderate, unfriendly, noisy and uncreative people in the world. I'm willing to discuss this. My Chinese friends even know my position. This trip has just, again, confirmed it. As a white South African such sweeping declarations about a whole other people seems extremely ill-advised. I agree. But for the love of white bread, I can't help it. I just don't meet exceptions. After a while it's terribly hard not to suspect genetic deviation.

As for the road from Xi'an: it's polluted and full of people and smells of shit all the way. Industrial wasteland, except for some pieces just inside Henan which are more like agricultural wastelands.

The cylcing itself went fine: I did between 50km and 80km a day and felt okay the next day. First two days were pouring with rain and the going was slow. Then it became merely foggy and dusty and hilly. On one day I had to walk up a mountain just before entering Henan Province. There was a road of course, but so steep I couldn't peddle, even by standing up on the bike.

At the end of every stretch my face was dark with dust, but it felt good to look back at some shitfaced piece of road and to know I kicked its ass.

This to say for China: never once on the road did I fear for my life. I was never in danger. I think that's more than we can say in South Africa.

That's it for now. I'll fill in the journey when I'm home in Xi'an. For now I would like to go find a bar -- in the interest of cultural exchange, you understand -- but Sanmenxia looks a little devoid of suchlike places. It's still the aftermath of Ten One (October the first, founding of the PRC) and the streets are packed for such a small city. Every -- every -- shop has a full sized red flag haning outside and the TV is full of period pieces about how wonderful Mao was and how bad and evil the Guomingdang was. There's a bit of a carnival atmosphere outside, but not in the friendly way we Western types think. I see the R2 per hour internet bar is pretty packed too, mostly QQ-ers and World of Warcraft. And the night is full of promise. And the smell of shit.

Friday, 22 September 2006

Goes well with a Lada

The folks at the Lomographic Society International announced their long-awaited mystery product today: the new Lomo Compact Automat+, or LC-A+ (see it here). I am very impressed by the effort they went through to manufacture the classic Lomo lens again and find a new manufacturer for the casing. They also introduced a number of added features, specifically multiple and long-exposure functionality. It's still a film camera and it will possibly still blur half your pictures (blame the photographer), but as someone with an overdeveloped collecting gene that's what I like about it.

Some context: the LC-A has always been somewhat of an object of obsession for me (says the guy who enthusiastically promotes the Lada Niva as the car you've always wanted) and since they discontinued manufacturing them in 2005 I wanted one even more. I was thinking of making a splurge buy on something the other day when a bit of extra income rolled in and, when I saw that the people in Vienna are selling refurbished classic LC-A's I threw my credit card at their feet. The decision was made much easier when I saw a new mystery product was going to be released soon - you have to start at the beginning before you can upgrade.

So my LC-A arrived this week and the first thing that happened was that a screw fell out of the camera when I opened it up. I can't figure out where it must go, so I've decided it must be a practical joke as it will be the ultimate Lomo joke... (Maybe I'm still a little worried about that screw). It's been a few day days of experimenting and I am getting the first film developed today to see whether I am worthy of LC-A owner status. The Interstitial One has all the great photo ideas, but my hand is steadier, especially after some red wine, so it's a collaborative exercise.

Anything worthwhile I'll post here. Anything not worthwhile... I'll still post here, as usual.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

My vakansie planne

So, die Oktober Goue Week is oppad. Dis een van drie weeklange publieke vakansies in China. Ek gaan my fiets vat, my video kamera en 'n paar bottels water en oos ry langs die Wei rivier so ver as wat ek kan, en dan gaan ek halfpad omdraai. Ek behoort Beijing te maak in 12 dae volgens my berekeninge, maar ek het net sewe so as ek die grens van die provinsie haal sal ek gelukkig wees. Ek't gister 'n oefenlopie gevat, westekant toe. Ek bly in die High Tech Development Zone, so dis wolkekrabbers vir drie kilometer of so, en dan, met minder as 'n fluister van waarskuwing is jy skielik in Stalinist Oos Rusland -- of volgens boustyl dan.
Betonpad, 'n voet diep in stof, 10 ton lorries en myle van identiese vasgekoppelde baksteenhuise, vol vuil kinders, vuil honde en mans wat aan motorfietse werk. Die lug, nooit eintlik bekend vir suiwerheid nie, raak selfs meer stowwerig, amper solied en klein muggie-agtige insekte bombardeer jou. Onmoontlik om oopmond fiets te ry. Of moontlik. Net onsmaaklik.
En "Hello" skree-ende punks met niks beter om te doen nie, skeinbaar. Arme konte: wat 'n lang wag vir die enigste buitelander wat hulle ooit gesien het en waarskynlik gaan sien. [Ek neem aan "skeinbaar" is verkeerd gespel, noudat ek so daarna kyk. Laat ek gou uitcheck. Oh. Right.]
So, ek, kamera (waagstuk), water en fiets. Die plan is om alle ander benodigdhede langs die pad te verkry en as dit nodig is in die wildernis te slaap. Sal foto's neem. Kyk uit. Dit sal iets wees om te vertel en hopelik my skuld betaal vir die volgende ses maande.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

A classic tow away

I absolutely love this tow away sign, seen in Loop Street, Cape Town. There were two, both in pristine condition. Have they just survived nature's elements and taggers by chance, have they been lovingly looked after by a nightwatchman, or are they purposely retro?

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Needle party

Now I've seen everything. Seen in Melville, Johannesburg, today on a Volla.

"Hi, can I have three Pepsi's and something ornate by William Blake please? Just ring the buzzer, I'll come down."

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Just plain lost

I watched Lost in La Mancha the other night, a documentary about Terry Gilliam's attempt to bring his version of Don Quixote's story to the big screen - in what was ultimately a very appropriately titled "The Man who killed Don Quixote." Gilliam does not endear himself to everyone, that's for sure, but it was sad to see something that held so much promise get gradually dismantled into a few carton boxes and insurance claims. I also learnt that the first assistant director is actually a project manager.

The South African movie distribution system is continuing to uphold the lofty standards we expect of it (sarcasm intended). There are so many instances of good movies that don't reach our screens apart from showing at the odd festivals, if at all (e.g. Oldboy and 3-Iron), or disappear, like Serenity which was pulled after big banners and posters trumpeted its release. I actually don't know whether to blame the distribution system for its lack of imagination or the viewing public for theirs. I also don't know whether seperating "art" movies from "blockbusters" is helpful - it is certainly not contributing to the cause of exposing people to a wider range of film making styles and more than three storylines. (Of course, showing them together won't mean they get watched.)

Anyway, the reason I am angry once again is it seems we will be missing out on Everything is Illuminated, a movie based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer, directed by Liev Schreiber and featuring Gogol Bordello's own Eugene Hutz as the character who apparently steals the show from Elijah Wood's characterisation of Foer (read a Twitch review here). The soundtrack also looks like it should be excellent. The web sites of Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro are so unintuitive that I have given up trying to find out whether it will eventually be released. And speaking of Terry Gilliam, I wonder if we'll see Tideland around here. Oh, and what about Emir Kusturica's Life is a Miracle?

The best solution to these problems, apart from traveling to Xi'an and getting Cerebus to chaperone you around the local DVD shops and translate requests, is to resort to good old Buyoyo, in my view one of the web's best-kept secrets. The only down-side is that our Customs people tend to have trouble differentiating between US and Hong Kong dollars and have twice taxed me on the wrong currency and exchange rate when my package enters the country, which cannot be resolved at the post office. But that's another story. All I wanted to say really is that I enjoyed Lost in La Mancha... and look where that got me.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

The humdrum conundrum of race

Aah, race. What would we South Africans do without it? What will we get our respective Cardies satin boxers, Pep Stores panties and Woollies briefs tied in a knot about if we each couldn't be an expert on race? Four different things made me think about it today.

In an update on a previous story, IOL reported on how race-related remarks can get you in trouble at work in South Africa after the arbitration case of Mahas vs Smith Manufacturing was settled. The story is about how Mr Mahas, a South African Indian, made the comment at a staff meeting: "'n Boer maak 'n plan, but an Indian is born with a plan." After an offended staff member confronted him, he made a complete fudge of clarifying the comment and eventually got fired (he has now been reinstated).

On News24 there's and article on how the whole nation (ha!) is apparently still in a tizz about the comment made by Babalwa Mneno on the TV programme Strictly Come Dancing, when she said, after being voted off: "That should be a lesson to black people to vote only for each other." Sandy Ngema, who presented, concurred on air and has also been dragged into the debate. I must just add that if Mneno's response is accurately quoted, its the worst clarification of a statement ever, even beating the one Mahas managed. Check this out:
"I never meant it as racist in any way, that is not how I am or how I was brought up. I did not say that black people should vote only for other black people. I said black people must vote for one another because I feel they ought to support their own people better."
Also on IOL, an article identified Zayn Nabbi as one of Survivor South Africa's contestants. He recounted some reasons why he thinks he got selected by the panel, including:
"They asked me what pisses me off? And I said 'seeing six white people sitting on a panel and judging whether I go on to a show. Where is your transformation and demographic representivity?' I think they were all gobsmacked with a 23-year-old upstart telling them what to do."
The last thing was a chain-email I received today entitled Why Africans can't be Terrorists and, in obvious reference to the recent Heathrow scares, listed ten reasons like: "We are always late; we would have missed all 4 flights" and "Pretty girls on the plane would distract us" and "We would talk loudly and bring attention to ourselves."

This is where it all gets complicated. Are we, in defining our new social construct, saying it's OK to make self-referential, seemingly deprecating remarks about ourselves and our own racial groups or not? Are we allowed to joke with ourselves? In the case of Mahas, it all went horribly wrong. The "(ha!)" I inserted in the second story above actually meant: "probably more the white part of the nation" - it was a sarcastic comment, which would seem acceptable to do if I was white, but I'm not. It is probably interpreted as me saying: "well, we blacks back her."

Mneno actually made a stab at her race and got stung. Nabbi implied the ability of the panel to select good participants was compromised because of their homogenous racial profile and is in the article reflected as a telling-it-like-it-is conveyor of uncomfortable truths. The chain email is written as a self-parody and the copy I received was circulated among various black South Africans before it somewhere managed to jump the racial email barrier and begun its travels among white social networks, before it jumped back again (that's another interesting topic for another day - where are those connecting nodes?)

Did the meaning of the email change the moment white South Africans started to distribute it, rather than black South Africans? We've been through all the tedious debates about what is an African, yet there is still no conclusive answer. Which 'Africans' are we talking about? Is it right for a black person to be offended if receiving the email from a white person , rather than from a black person? If a black person circulates the same email, but the formulations are changed from "We" to "They" would it be perceived differently - is it then offensive? If a white person then forwards it formulated as "They" can that be grounds for dismissal? Can sending it as it reads now be grounds for dismissal? Each situation carries different nuances and will carry different interpretations. I mean, looking at it from a black perspective, my view is bound to be different, right?

All of this white and black stuff is grey... or is it gray? I have more questions than answers. It's been only 12 years and our political discourse is still based on the severe division of races (two economies paradigm, BEE), and we all have preconceived ideas and racial stereotypes grafted into our psyches, so we still have a long way to go to define a new set of rules for how we interact with and define each other. I like the idea of introspection and joking with oneself, because I think we get overly excited about these things sometimes... and sometimes I get overly excited.

By the way, I'm not black, I'm white. Does it matter? Does your interpretation of what I wrote here and your response depend on which one I am? That's the problem.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Guess what, a post about music

When it comes to music, I'm always in a sharing mood, it's just a pity most people are such lousy receivers. I wonder what is happening on FM radio these days. I tuned in for 15 minutes daily in the shower a while ago when my radio-on-a-rope's batteries were still working. I listened to the 4 or 5 same songs that played everytime for a few weeks and decided I'll stick to my own playlists, which at least include a wider selection of songs, more variety and less groin grabbing. My favourite playlist while driving is to shuffle the 423 songs that I've awarded 5 stars on my iPod - that's 6.4% of the 6595 songs available, which I think sends out a decent enough message that 5 stars don't come easy. When driving a rental car in Gauteng, I listen to Radio Jacaranda or whatever it's called. The other stations take themselves and their coolness so seriously that the complete ignorance of Jacaranda and the way they can mix anything into an easy listening playlist is a breath of fresh air... or possibly a nosefull of dank roadkill stench which is why it's difficult to tune away from. Like Radio 99 in Namibia - the ultimate random music machine with a touch of artificially intelligent pathos.

Some good music I'm listening to that I would recommend if you're gatvol of the usual tripe:

Current 93: Black Ships At the Sky
This is an intense album which has been widely acclaimed as a definite pinnacle in the apocalyptic folk recordings of David Tibet, the most unlikely looking man that goths like to hug. I suspect many people will find themselves listening to the repeat renditions of Idumea on the album, rather than Tibet's own contributions, but the whole album is worth at least two listens. Some reviews here and here and here.

Soundtrack to Temenos: Sainkho Namtchylak, Shelley Hirsch, Catherine Bott
I'm listening to this because of my current obsession with Tuvan throat singing and because Sainkho Namtchylak (thanks again for the tip, Cerebus) features on it, but it's probably not the most exciting one to listen to. What makes this album interesting is the range of sounds that Sainkho can produce and even with the narration I find it good working music. Some reviews and information here and here. There is, of course, Yat-Kha, Huun-Huur-Tu and Shu-De to listen to as well once you've worked your way through these tuvan singing samples. I was laughed at in my face the other day when I excitedly described throat singing to some people. As punishment, I'm now compiling a mix-cd of Tuvan artists for them.

Kokeshi Doll: Self-Titled & Pirukorui
Of all the bands on the Benten Label, Kokeshi Doll remains my favourite and both the first two albums are excellent. This is not punk-by-numbers with Japanese girls singing in the hope that it will be enough of a novelty to sell records; this is good, aggressive and original music. I was starting to despair that the band broke up after reading no news, but was very excited to see a third album is out: Tantalus Rhythm. My copy is on its way, lying on a grey metal shelf in a postal depot somewhere close to the Indian Ocean, between embarrassing postcards, final notice invoices and letters of condolence.

I am also currently relistening Sigur Ròs, Gogol Bordello and Diesel Whores, all of whom I've seen live recently. With the live performances in memory, the albums become much more interesting and multi-faceted. Aag, and then there's the usual suspects I listen to, dilligently captured by Last.FM and reflected in the list on the left.

That's my sharing for the day. Please share alike.

Sunday, 13 August 2006

A flickr of life

I have started uploading some photos of our recent European trip to my Flickr profile.
So far there is a set of Tallinn, Estonia, to be followed soon by Riga, Berlin and possibly some oddities from Lisbon and England. Work calls, however. Not far-off, oh no, not carried by the wind. Close, close to my ear SCREAMING. I try and ignore it. I read articles on the web about the psychological reasons for procrastination. Still it screams. Still work calls. Alas!

Thursday, 10 August 2006

The lighter side of prohibition

A friend of mine from Oklahoma forwarded this link to me with the note that the picture of the accused is even better than the story ;-)

Monday, 31 July 2006

Subjects of the night

There is a gig I want to attend this week with Three Bored White Guys, Diesel Whores and Jim Neversink. The flyer I received mentioned the 3 August show is at Upper Level, Stellenbosch and the 4 August one is at Mercury Live in Cape Town. The 4th is difficult, and I heard rumours and speculations that Upper Level (which is unknown to me) might be the old Springbok Pub (and before that, Drunken Springbok), a place along with the notorious ex-Finlays that I can honestly say I never visited when I was a student in the town. So I typed a Google search for ["upper level" stellenbosch] and the first hit read "Subject Librarians". Imagine that. I pictured some sort of obscure, experimental evening of spoken word performances by people in dark corners of the room in husky backtracked vocals, before I realised it's a link to the University's actual subject librarians. A pity, I almost had hope for the venue.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Who wants to live forever?

This blog is 2 years old today. With 128 posts in 370 days, that means one post every 5.7 days. See you in a week.

Cerebus was one year older yesterday. And another day today. Hurrah!

Sunday, 23 July 2006

One night in Lisbon

Ah, if it were but a week a week ago. Enjoying a sunny Lisbon on a Sunday afternoon before watching Sigur Rós play live; drinking beer to cool down, then eating spicy food as an excuse for the next beer. Most weekends should be like that. The spectre of work is closing in on me, so before it fogs up my senses I’ll recall the concert of last Sunday.

[Start of context]
Vele vlieë met een klap
. That’s how I like to plan trips. It’s like if you really have to go to Stellenbosch, you might as well also… ok, bad example. Before we left on the European trip, I checked various gig listings and given our itinerary, I compiled a shortlist of Mono, Sigur Rós, Woven Hand and Gogol Bordello. It’s festival season in Europe, so most bands are touring and mixing up small gigs with large outdoor spectacles. The spectacle thing doesn’t really appeal to sneeudiere like us anymore, so the best fit turned out to be Gogol Bordello (as reported) and Sigur Rós. Or so we thought. The latter’s logistics proved to be slightly more challenging than anticipated as the only solo concert possible for us was in Lisbon at the time when we were in Berlin. Europe can seem small, but the driving distance from Berlin to Lisbon is 3165 km and there were no budget airlines offering a decent solution. Enter good ol’ Voyager miles, which I have been working hard on since the big cash-in of 2004. Minus 50,000 Voyager miles later, we had tickets on Lufthansa worth almost R30,000 via Frankfurt to Lisbon and back the next day. All for less than the price of a Latvian visa. And all because we decided to see Sigur Rós, dammit.
[End of context]

[Start of random observations]

On Sunday 16 July the 03:30AM U-bahn trains to the airport were full of people returning from (or going to) the Berlin Love Parade, the annual techno festival. Lufthansa is overrated, I found EasyJet better and more efficient. Lisbon was as hot as Berlin, but they are better prepared for it, with air conditioned city busses and metro trains. European buildings in general are poorly equipped to deal with heat. Lisbon old town virtually shuts down on Sundays, with a few tourists braving the sun and taking pictures. The reason is not that they are in church – all of Lisbon hangs out at the mall on Sundays, specifically the Vasco da Gama Centre near Oriente Station, part of a vast, newly developed stretch of shiny metal and glass offices and shops, complete with recorded seagull sounds. Why is it that coastline property is such a non-event in some cities and in others a sea view is everything? Sleeping 2 hours per night twice in a row only to get to a concert, while travelling in severe heat makes for stiff necks on a plane and lessens the urge to save money by eschewing random snacks and big beers.
[End of random observations]

The Sigur Rós concert was most excellent. In the last few years, although they have not switched to singing in English, as some in the music industry would want it (what a ridiculous premise), they have become very popular. The show wasn’t sold out, but a few thousand people made their way to the P
avilhão Atlântico, spread out over three levels. The set was opened by Amiina, an Icelandic female foursome who keep on bustling about on stage, swopping spaces and moving between instruments such as keyboards, violins, a saw (expertly wielded) and xylophones. They play an eclectic mix of music that complements the show very well and you will like if you listen to Múm, Colleen and Pagtas.

Sigur Rós on stage, playing live, is powerful. The music drifts between beautiful, slow melodies using Jónsi Birgisson’s voice to full effect, and loud cathartic moments of voice and instruments merging into a just as beautiful synchronised noise. This is not an evening of easy listening, thank god, this remains (post-)rock after all. The bulk of the set comprised songs from Takk… with one or two older songs thrown into the mix. Much has been made about Jónsi playing his guitar with a bow, and I thought it was hyped up like the “Hopelandic” lyrics issue, so I was pleasantly surprised to see he plays with the bow most of the time and it is crucial to what they are doing. It creates a unique sound, which is immediately recognisable as a Sigur Rós sound while providing a strange spectacle as he needs to slide to and fro it in the same way a violin player does, while playing chords with the other hand.

Jónsi always seemed very shy in interviews. On stage, the few times he spoke between songs, he proved himself to be the high priest of social awkwardness. Completely transformed when singing, he becomes fully immersed in the songs and his guitar playing. It seems a feature of the whole band, they get stuck in the music and only emerge for breath in-between songs. I was very interested beforehand to find out what the crowd is like at a Sigur Rós concert and whether they also start thrashing about when the music becomes heavier. I was amazed to find that everyone, including those in front of the stage, stand still and watch and listen throughout the show. When Popplagid was played as the encore and built up and built up and exploded into an incredible convergence of noise, with everyone on stage grinding down / bashing their instruments to within inches of their little anthropomorphosized lives, lights going crazy, the fans stood, heads raised, transfixed.

A band can go far with professional lighting. While the whole concert seemed very slick in terms of music, presentation and lighting it wasn’t in your face choreography. A thin curtain at the front of the stage with spotlights on stage shining against the backs of each band member projected their silhouettes against the veil during some songs. When this was combined with images project from the sound engineer’s booth on to the front of the curtain, and there was some synchronisation with the music, an amazing effect was created.

Another thing I liked was to position all four band members in a row on front of the stage, meaning that Orri Páll Dýrason was playing his drums on the right hand side, facing in. This has the effect of underscoring the importance of the drums’ contribution in their music, as you can watch him playing much better than having to look for a bouncing little head at the back. The back space was effectively taken up by Amiina playing strings and the brass band, as and when needed.

A few years ago a camera was still very much forbidden property in live venues. While they still are officially and it is printed so on the tickets, the ubiquity of cell phones and digital cameras means that dozens of little screens are continuously illuminated as people record snippets or take pictures, and this has become acceptable. I only taped the odd snippet as aiming, focusing, switching on and off (in the case of a video camera) becomes tedious and prevents you from becoming immersed in the concert.

So who’s next? Mono is high on my list, and it’s a pity they played too far away this time to combine with the others. Sigur Rós at least now has one tick against their name, but it won’t be the last one if I can help it.

Thursday, 20 July 2006

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Crowd surfing on a drum

The Interstitial One and I went to see Gogol Bordello in Nottingham last night and what a great show it was. Led by Eugene Hutz, Gogol Bordello started out playing so-called Ukrainian Gypsy Cabaret Punk, but with the change in line-up of some members over the course of three albums (and one collaboration as J.U.F.), their sound has spread to other Balkan music and influences. The punk bits and gypsy bits are still very much in there, however and apart from the Gypsy Punks label they proudly wear, the current tour merchandise makes heavy use of the song Think Locally, Fuck Globally as an additional theme. The song was also a highlight with the crowd.

I have read that their live shows have become firm favourites among New York's adventurous crowds and have seen a video of Young Again which looked scary and fascinating. While the touring line-up doesn't include all the extras usually running around on stage, the instruments comprising guitar, drums, bass, accordian, violin and acoustic guitar are supplemented by cymbals and one of these kadetorkes big drums, wielded to great precision by two Asian women who contributed massively to the overall stage image of chaos.

The music was loud and excellent and Hutz is a crazy stage maniac, running around, jumping into the crowd with mic to let them join in the singing, letting his guitar slide of his body because of his antics, jumping, shouting, jumping... Picture a thin, tall Twakkie on intravenous caffeine. Not to take away from the other crazies, but he carries the show and when the neverending final song, Baro Foro kept going and going, with bits of Undestructable lyrics and chorus thrown inbetween, Hutz took the drum into the crowd and stood on it, beating it, with the fans carrying him like a demented Caesar, before he crawled up the speakers, seemingly unstoppable and indeed, undestructable after more than an hour and a half's music.

It was an amazing spectacle and the crowd loved Start Wearing Purple, 60 Revolutions, Dogs Were Barking, Sally, When the Trickster Starts A-Poking etc. I know I haven't seen them live before, but it was really amazing. And I will go again if I can. And the Interstitial One... I think she would too....

Friday, 30 June 2006

The Books are Go! (mate)

If you have never listened to music by The Books, do yourself a favour. The release of their first album, Thought for Food (2002) (followed by The Lemon of Pink (2003) and Lost and Safe (2005)), had reviewers agreeing on two points: it’s brilliant and it’s genre-defying. The Books construct strangely named songs from a mish-mash of sound bites recorded in public, stock recordings collected over years, their own music and increasingly, some mumbly singing. For example, I was amazed to read one day that the bizarre intro to Motherless Bastard was an actual recording made among families visiting an aquarium.

When I was in Japan and China, I was obsessed with my video camera in order to capture scenes that display the differences and visual cues of things I do not easily process or understand culturally. This was also because the languages spoken were foreign and could not provide additional insight into the lives of the people. In England, where I am now, I struggle to find great video footage, something that would be interesting to watch afterwards. There are amazing photo moments, all sadly lost, because they involve unique, scary or pathetic people and I don’t have the guts to whip out a 1971 Minolta SLR and shove it in their faces. But it is as if the key moments I need to capture to understand the people, culture and classes are the sounds - the conversations overheard, the announcements, the soapies and TV commentary.

I was in a second-hand music shop in a small country town yesterday and in the shop was a teenage boy with one hand in his track suit pocket fidgeting with his privates the whole time, while obsessing over the horror DVDs with his other hand, thumbing them, taking them out, putting them back. Every now and again, he would turn to the owner and say things like:

“Excuse me, do you have any more Chuckies?”
“Excuse me, any Freddy Kruegers?”

When he wanted to buy some gore splattered DVD, the owner asked him for his 18-ID, to which he was stumped and only managed to say: “What about a 15-ID?”

This was a perfect The Books moment. I did not need video or a photo of him against a grey wall, hand in pants, holding a horror movie. I needed that sound clip, his accent, the way “Chuckayys” was pronounced and I was poorly prepared for it.

Later in the afternoon, sitting in the Great Evil, McDonalds, a mother and daughter sat next to me. After saying grace for her Big Mac, the young one immediately started:

“Mum, do you know how old David Beckham is?”
“He’s 31.”
“Mum, do you know how old Ashley Cole is?”
“He’s 25.”

Here I have to stop, as I can’t remember whether she really said Cole is 25, but the conversation worked it’s way through virtually the whole English World Cup soccer team and the little girl knew the ages of them all. It was such a fabulous sound bite, it needs to be put to music. Again, I was ill-prepared.

The question now is, should I get a digital Dictaphone-type gadget, or does it make me a voyeuristic pervert? My opinion is, it’s like taking a photo, it’s an impression of a moment, and whereas a photo can be enhanced and manipulated, human voice is bare for all to hear. I might just.

PS – for fans of Chuck Palahniuk. I have started reading Haunted, and as usual, he does not give you any time to settle down in a nice, comfy narative. Brutal stuff.

Monday, 26 June 2006

Here we go

The Interstitial One and I are on our way to London tonight and this is a quick notice while we're waiting for the plane to board. The first week is still a Work Week for both of us, but thereafter we'll take a bit of a break, going to Estonia, Latvia and Germany. Well... hopefully going to the two Baltic states as we still don't have visas... a long long story involving Invitation Numbers and Non-Reponsive Help-lines and Consulates advising travellers to "Use Google".

But we've got tickets for Gogol Bordello and Sigur Rós so life is good... touch wood. Hopefully no syringe weilding people on the plane tonight. Watch this space, if I can, I'll blog about it.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Burning taxi

We passed by this burning taxi in Cape Town yesterday - no idea how it happened, or whether there were people inside. It seems that it caught fire while the taxi was waiting to turn right at the Good Hope Centre corner on its way to the Station taxi rank. The police arrived from Caledon Square at that same moment.

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Dr versus Dr

Last week's Mail&Guardian had a letter from the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang arguing how South Africa is leading the war against HIV and Aids. Below are the opening two and ending paragraphs (to read the full letter, follow link and scroll down to the headline We were right all along):
Returning to New York last week for the review of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/Aids was gratifying. The Comprehensive Review and High-Level Meeting reflected how far the world has come to accept what President Thabo Mbeki sought to highlight as early as 2000.

He said that we could not blame the challenge of HIV/Aids only on the virus, and should have a collection of interventions that addresses the correlation between the agent, the host and the environment.
We do not need political grandstanding to demonstrate our commitment and leadership. A sustained increase in resource allocation, and implementation of programmes that make a difference to the lives of the people on the ground, is what matters most to the government.
Anyway, a good friend (;-)) of this blog has submitted a letter to the M&G in reply, and a strongly-worded one at that. We don't know whether it's going to be published, but you read it here first.
I was amazed to read the minister of health's self-congratulatory piece of amnesic trash in the Letters section of 9 June ("We were right all along"). The gist of her drivel is that our head-of-state-cum-medical-officianado, Thabo Mbeki, was right in questioning the HIV-AIDS link six years ago. More accurately, the minister states that "[Mbeki] said that we could not blame the challenge of HIV/AIDS only on the virus...". In fact, minister, your government's selective science and counter-intellectual stance on AIDS has now reached new levels - no one has EVER doubted the link between AIDS and its surrounding socio-political environment. What the president did six years ago was to question the very link between HIV and AIDS. Don't you remember loose statements such as "a virus can't cause a syndrome" and other nonsense such as that? Don't justify past moronic behaviour now by attempting to change history. We won't fall for that either. If you can't be more constructive than cultivate and perpetuate a "told you so" narrative, get out of the way of people who actually want to implement good policies. Don't you think it's time for you to shut up and salvage what little credibility you might have left?
Dr Pieter Fourie
Eina! I might add, this is not some armchair-critic and this is why. Vat hulle, Pietsie!

PS I'm posting this from the house of the good Dr (you decide which one) - and I think I have permission to do so ;-)

Monday, 12 June 2006

credit to graffitoes everywhere

Pollen about my post title:
Hmmmm, I'm still thinking about the post title. I think I get it, but...
Dit sê lekker, though.

Well, the post title is not mine, I saw it as graffiti in Cape Town in 1992.
I was on "an adventure in citizenship" arranged by the Rotary Club of Cape Town. Basically it involved taking ignorant backvelder schoolkids (the way I used to be *grin*) to the big city and show them parliament, the court, the island, the townships, etc...

Well, then the Boipatong massacre took place and a lot of plattelandse kinders were stuck in Cape Town that has come to a complete halt with the largest rolling mass action marches the city has ever seen. By the time the toi-toiying masses departed, we had to go home to our small towns, without seeing half the things we were expecting - I think we spent most of the time in the company gardens and the planetarium (also, the planetarium is not that amazing if you come from the Karoo).

But from the walkway at the Golden Acre, I did see the entire street below as a river of bobbing heads. Oh and later making my way to the station, I saw scratched on one of the barriers: "Dere's a naartjie in SA sosatie"

It was such a cool comment - ranks right up there with the time the police dispersed the crowd with a water-cannon shooting purple dye and arresting the purple ones afterwards (can you remember that?) and the next day somebody wrote on the steps in purple paint: "The purple shall govern!"

I suspected the Arch'... ;-)

Friday, 9 June 2006

A naartjie in SA sosatie?

For a blog with four members we suck at posting... (no comments allowed to pick up on that)

My excuse for not posting is that I had a hectic time at work and socially. (Pollen's excuse is that he is trying to break into the ex-Soviet Union, not sure about Cerebus' schedule, and Thespian... well... I am sure Thespian has a very good reason... Jo'burg is probably too exciting).

I spent some time in Johannesburg, my best friend got married, I worked at a conference thingie in Cape Town, and afterward I played tour-guide for the cool people I worked with.

Reflecting on it afterwards, I realised that although South Africa is cool, we still live in a very strange society. You don't notice it while living here, but if you drive around with foreigners you see the "everyday" from a little more distance and suddenly it does not look so "everyday" anymore.

We are basically an immature society - naive, aggressive, self-important, over-ambitious, etc. It is not all bad -- in a weird way our country is probably much more free than most established democracies -- we have much less state and social surveillance and most of our laws are more like "guidelines". But the price is of course a little randomness in the domain of personal safety and a few other disasters.

There is a Hobbes' (Thomas, not the stuffed tiger) quote that will fit in here somewhere. Anyway, I thought I'd share this thought. Feel free to post comments about why you'd prefer living in Cape Town to London.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Quick links

A quick barge in: I cannot believe the crap written in this article. To start questioning the reasoning will take too long. I don't know which planet these people work on. Or with what element in the evolutionary chain, but humanoid it ain't. Just read it:
Turn office blunders into career brilliance

Form some more interesting stuff, there's an article on crowdsourcing at Wired.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Батарея идет заграждение!

Car batteries can explode, who would have thought? I can now vouch for it, after our dear Lada's battery went bang this Sunday evening in a parking lot at the V&A Waterfront. We got into the car, I turned the key and Kaboom! - there was a very loud bang, smoke coming from the bonnet and the lovely smell of acid in the air. Lada Niva's have a spare tyre lying over the battery under the hood, so damage was minimal (to the car, I can't say the same of the battery).

As luck would have it, Krizz was in the vicinity, so he and a friend came over and took some pictures of Still Life with Russian Battery, which he can post here once developed (film cameras!). He even managed to bang his head on the "Mind your Head" sign while he was doing it, which was funny. It was the first time I needed to call on my AA membership and the outcome was positive for everyone - within one hour I had a new battery installed and they had R500 off my credit card. It was time for a pizza.

Here are two lessons I have since learned:
Here are the other things that I should probably comment on:
  • The AA dude came quickly, but not before the Call Centre (in Joburg) gave me a long pre-emptive excuse about how busy their battery service is in Cape Town tonight, all in an effort to lessen my expectations of actually sorting out the problem.
  • We saw Memoirs of a Geisha earlier, which has stirred up controversy for the use of Chinese actors to play Japanese roles in a Western, Hollywood adaption of a book by a white American man during the time of the Nanjing Massacre - each a bundle of issues in its own. What bothers me, after looking at the Rotten Tomatoes summary, is how the average American movie reviewer (and I use average in exactly the way you wish to understand it) has now become the defender of ethnic and cultural sensitivities and the need to protect artistic integrity against box office considerations or Americanised clichés of the East. Suddenly they are all so sensitive to such sensitive issues. I don't know, I smell an exploded battery somewhere.
Hmmm, I think that's it.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Cerebus the iPod

I've joined the 21st Century. Nice here. Like the views. Got the iPod. Audioscrobbler useless for me: no internet at home. Don't want it. Very happy not to have a slow, anti-virus crippled computer. But if I want to humanitarianly share my most played list, I have to type it up. So, after two weeks of owning this little black beast, here it is:

1. Fortuinverteller, Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes
2. Spoed, Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes
3. Sussie se Sweep, Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes
4. Aisha, Death in Vegas
5. Deanna, Nick Cave und ze Bad Seeds
6. Into my arms, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
7. Nobody home, Pink Floyd
8. Oom Willem strikes back, Buckfever Underground (Guessed the name)
9. Drawn to the fire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Once More with Feeling
10. Tennessee Waltz, Leonard Cohen
11. The weeping song, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
12. The ship song, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
13. Deanna (Acoustic), Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
14. 我们的爱, F.I.R.
15. 我听这种音乐的时候最爱你, 龙宽九段
16. Paul van der Zandt, Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes
17. Decades, Joy Division
18. That's what jazz is to me, Nick Cave
19. 潘朵拉, 龙宽九段
20. Lydia, F.I.R.


Strangely misleading. But it's been only two weeks. Endless hours of fun playing with graphs.

For the record, it's a black, shiny, 30G (they didn't have 60's) video. It's got around 8Gigs on right now, which includes everything by Nick (except the second half of the Good Son) and everything of Pink Floyd (except the live recordings, which suck), everything by Wilco, everything by Tom Waits, everything by Roger Waters, everything by Yat-kha (tip for the day) and bloody incredibly lots more. Also training videos for pilots, some music videos and the musical episode of Buffy.

The songs, however, remain the same.

Friday, 5 May 2006


Goodness, I know that in my professional life I am responsible for some vacuous consultese sometimes, but how often do we have to read things like this these days? If I take out the few unique identifiers from the two paragraphs below, then this could be used for anything:
[Mr X] added that [The Company] was not phased by South Africa's 52 600 registered [others] and was well positioned to rise above its competitors with a unique operating platform that combines powerful international branding with service delivery and a ground-breaking approach to marketing and franchisee support. At the same time, [The Company] would also contribute to raising professional standards within the [...] industry.

He pointed out that [The Company] was not only recognized as the world's largest [...] brand and franchise, but also closely connected with skills development via sophisticated international courses that were backed up by mentoring, coaching and ongoing education. He said this would add significant value to the South African [...] sector as a whole.
It's about property and real estate, if you must know. But it could be about salmon breeding or mechanised nutcracking or low cost rural car finance. And despite the unique platform and powerful branding and ground-breaking approach and professional standards and skills development and mentoring and coaching and added value each of the people working there will want to know where can they park and how many leave days they get and will feel unfairly assessed on their performance and complain about inadequate airconditioning and surf the Internet during work hours and have some unresolvable hang-up with at least someone in the office.

Van-die-os-op-die-jas, and you better believe it, because it's true, I once fell asleep while typing and awoke to the following on my laptop screen:
To facilitate a holistic approach to the value-adding exercise of formulating a true original vision, we fall asleep and then wake up thinking what the fuck.

Speaking to the Burning Bush

There's a fascinating underground non-debate over the performance of Stephen Colbert at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington on 29 April, even for someone like me unfamiliar with the US press setup, Comedy Central or dinners in Washington. The event is an annual thing where the President sucks up to the press and apparently George W Bush started preparing in January for his comedy routine at the function, which involved a lookalike Dubya next to him, interpreting his real thoughts (which is so OLD, it makes me think about forced stage performances in Veldskool. It's a wonder they didn't do the three-in-a-row toothbrushing-spit-in-the-ear thing...)

Colbert was the last speaker and did a 20 minute routine in character as he does on his TV show The Colbert Report, in which, while acting as a fervant right wing Republican press guy, he satirised and attacked Bush and the press in a way that makes you almost cringe and worry about his personal safety after the show. As Chris Durang pointed out (where the whole transcript is also available), while standing next to Dubya and making eye-contact with him he said things like:

So, Mr. President, pay no attention to the people that say the glass is half full. 32% means the glass -- it's important to set up your jokes properly, sir. Sir pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash.

I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.
Anyway, the whole debate since the performance (mostly among bloggers) has been over the way none of the large news networks have reported on Colbert's 20 minutes (which included a video featuring Helen Thomas and which I found very funny once I understood what it was about). Where the piece was mentioned by the major networks, it was said to be not funny, although Bush's routine was. There is the question of whether it is supposed to be news, but I must say, picturing something like that in South Africa is difficult, and if it would happen, would create a huge furore.

The debate is raging on, and web sites like have sprung up, where, when I checked, 45650 people have posted thank you's to him for saying what he did. It's funny, because I was on the verge of replying to this article in the online M&G today questioning whether regular people can become good reporters or journalists. I didn't because I was too lazy, but it's more about getting another perspective out there in my view, and maybe realising 10,000 other cantankerous arseholes feel the same as you. Or maybe finding out you're all alone. And dealing with it.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Wat kyk jy?

Wat maak 'n goeie boek? As jy na die tyd wil gaan sit en skryf nes die makker self. So, okay, raai wat het ek nounet weer gelees. Daai bra's is fokken skerp, en die kakspul is like dit voel of dit ons moes gewees het, way back. Maar toe raak ons oud en stil. Het julle die potkak (okay dis lame) geluister? Die podcast, dus. Hulle is about die enigste ding waarop ek regtig trots kan wees in SA, except natuurlik die laaitie.

Ek't weer access hier, danksy Anonymiser wat vriendelik genoeg was om 'n tool te maak om chinks ook te laat browse. Natuurlik gebeur die hele ding in Engels en ek't 'n feeling die average chink gee nie 'n zip om oor enigiets behalwe bucks nie. Genuine. Shame, ek wonder wat hulle regtig in Tiananmen oor gekla het. Ek weet die posters tune "democracy" en such like, maar fok daai generation is dood soos 'n klein non-migrating mossie. In hulle plek is daar net hierdie hyped-up super-individuals. Huh, you might ask. Okay, ons dink die ou geles (ouch) is all socialist en so aan, maar dis eintlik die anderkant om: hulle is SO super individual dat hulle nie -- on average -- 'n fok voel vir mekaar nie. Dis 'n ander soort dink wat ons regtig sukkel om te grok. Maar dit explain hoekom hulle sonder doubt die we-met-'n-kappie-op-reld se mees inconsiderate bewonders is. Hulle consideration eindig simply op die buitekante van hulle velle.

Hate-speech? Yeah, well, hier is ek en ek like dit nog steeds. Sug. Hulle kannie verstaan dat ek kan dink Mao Zedong is 'n poes en Hu Jintao is 'n groter poes en NOG STEEDS weirdly die hele strange, infuriating mismatched poespas wat chinkland is kan like nie. Hier's dit like as jy nie die regering like nie dan's jy nie 'n aiguo ( 爱国 ) nie. Nie 'n patriot nie, dus. They just don't gettit. Hoeveel keer hoor ek nie myself dink: "They just don't gettit." Soveel lame examples, ek wil niemand bore daarmee nie. Maar baie, okay.

So Beijing 2008 gaan koel wees. Al die mense van anner lande gaan hiernatoe kom en vir 'n paar weke skiem ek gaan die koerante en joernaliste heel PC probeer wees en culturally tollerant etc. Maar ek weet sommer 'n paar weke later gaan sulke klein storietjies uitkom. Sulke WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?! stories. Wag maar. En as dit ons nie getraak het nie, dan sou als wat ek nou tune net hot air wees. Maar check nog 'n ding: die rooi gevaar is op pad, dude. (Maar met die hele mixed metaphor van kleure is dit meer oranje) en dit gaan elkeen van ons kry in die volgende 10 jaar. Hulle move al klaar in Afrika in. Hulle help Mugabe; hulle steel olie in Sudan; hulle ignore selfs customs (doeane, nie tradisies nie) in party klein landjies. Daar gaan 'n backlash kom, soos in die Solomons, waar die locals skiem die chinks koop hulle politicians. En dan's Mao se kind skielik all "what was THAT all about? Ons doen dan goeie dinge. Soos gee vir julle jobs waar julle van 7am tot 9pm lekker kan werk vir fokkol geld, 7 dae 'n week."

Okay, my punt is hulle het nie 'n clue van local sensitivities nie. Hence Mugabe, byvoorbeeld. Hulle dink regtig hulle help Afrika se development deur helikopters vir Zim te gee. Nes die kont oorkant die straat van my af dink hy donate entertainment aan die neighbourhood as hy sy even-kakker-as-Afrikaanse-musiek musiek 6 uur in die oggend op 'n Sondag by sy venster uit speel. Ek het hom gaan vra. Regtig. Hy dink hy doen al sy 同事 'n moerse guns. Meantime is hulle net te cunfuciously ingat om te complain. Dis soos daai ding op IRC (kan julle onthou) waar jy mense op ignore sit.

Thursday, 30 March 2006

Rodney Seale won't approve

In retrospective anticipation of Krizz's post on Die Taaldebat, I needed to stay with the theme and share another playlist of mine. My apologies (not really). If you want a true assessment of Afrikaans music, go read this excellent snotstorie on watkykjy... it summarises the nauseating pain I experience every time I inadvertently switch on the TV and some CD entitled "Kielie My Mielie" or "Boks Is Bok Ou Bal" is being advertised. When that happens, even if it's only a glance, it's usually too late and the goatse effect takes hold. You cannot shake it, and you're worse for it.

The traumatising effect of these ads made me realise I need to find an outlet to deal with the agony, before it consumes me. So I created a playlist, call it an Anti-Sokkie playlist, which follows the same format: the bad puns, the chauvinist sexual innuendos, the promise that you'll really like dancing to this, and turns it inwards. I needed to find the yin to the yang, the Darth to the Anakin, the Wings of Desire to the City of Angels, to re-establish balance. I needed a serum to apply when Such a Thing appeared. I needed something to listen to, to exorcise the voices in my head.

I was further inspired by a story Thespian once told me about his ex-boss who holds dinner parties with very important guests and then puts on grating, discomforting music in the background to watch their reactions while he's happily chatting away. My hero.

I had one very important criterion for the playlist: I had to choose songs I really like; music I find beautiful. Otherwise there would be no redeeming effect to cleanse the filth.

As the seal, the final talisman, I made the CD cover below. Just in case I need to give it to someone as a present...

PS: Most excellent albums of the week:
  • Balkan Beat Box - Balkan Beat Box
  • Explosions in the Sky - How Strange, Innocence

Die Taaldebat – Taalbeleid (from in front of the blackboard)

What most of the readers of our blog probably already know is that, when I am not spending my time trying to become a better person, I am a lecturer at the largest Afrikaans university in the world.

The background to this post is Die Taaldebat [the language debate] and the precipatory event that caused me to write this piece was the election of three taalbulle [pro-Afrikaans heavies] to the board of my university. One of whom is already starting to push his views.

This post is not about the rhetoric of the taaldebat or even the language policy of the university (which has been criticized by the people now elected to the board). Instead, I want to show what the whole issue looks like from the perspective of a lecturer like me -- someone who not only likes the sound of his own voice, but who actually desires to be understood by his students.

The three faces of the language policy:
[The entire policy is available here]

There is such a lot of misunderstanding about the options for language specification provided for in terms of the language policy of the university that I shall review the options quickly.

Undergraduate modules at our university are by default A-option. That means the language of instruction in these modules should be solely Afrikaans. With motivation, a particular module could have a different language specification – as either A&E or T – and this should be noted in the yearbook, so students know what they may expect.

A&E-specification denotes that the Afrikaans lectures are repeated in English - in other words Afrikaans AND English. Of course, lecturers are not paid for the extra lectures that they have to teach under this option and fitting those extra classes on the timetable is a nightmare. Consequently, one’s lectures sometimes end up in strange time-slots with low attendance figures. What is more, in my experience the vast majority of students do not choose the classes they attend in terms of the language of instruction. I had an A&E-specification module two years ago (before the whole debate acquired political significance) and I kept an attendance register with every lecture. Comparing the indicated first language on student records with the actual attendance record makes it very clear that most students seem to make their choice of which class to attend in terms of the timetable rather than in terms of language of instruction. Of course, it does not mean that language of instruction does not matter to these students, but it surely means that it does not matter as much as whether the lecture is at a convenient time. In that particular course one of the Afrikaans classes was at 08h00 on a Thursday morning; resulting in many Afrikaans students deciding to rather attend the repeated class in English at 12h00 the same morning. I rarely had more that fifteen students in that early class, compared with over a hundred attending the English class later in the morning. Therefore, if we ignore the ideological importance that the language debate has for the alumni of our university and approach it from a purely pedagogical angle -- then I am convinced that it is a non-debate for the majority of white Afrikaans students, as they possess the necessary second-language skill in English. The language of instruction in the classroom has a performance effect only for a small number of (mostly) non-white students. Unfortunately, these students are also the only ones for whom the small change has a massive outcome, because the majority of them are also in a precarious academic position well before they were required to attend lectures in their third language.

The third possibility is that a module has a T-specification. It means that Afrikaans and English are used interchangeably during the course, without the requirement that everything said in one language have to be repeated in the other. In other words, the lecturer must switch between languages with one proviso - at least 50% of instruction must be in Afrikaans. This is the option preferred by most lecturers such as myself. It is less work than the A&E option (it is not that lecturers are afraid to work, but like other people, they want to be paid for extra work). What is more, with the T-option, one can accommodate people and adjust to the requirements of the situation, and actually the T-option just formalizes the practice that existed in our faculty in response to the presence of students of other languages, long before there was a language policy or even a language debate. Because the 50%-rule is extremely hard for outsiders to monitor, this option affords the individual lecturer the most discretion and freedom – something valued by academics the world over.

There is not as much difference between the rigid A-specification and the laissez-faire T-option if one thinks about it. Lectures are only a small part of the total time a student spends engaged with the subject matter (at least that is the way it should be). Supposedly, the credit load of each module gives an indication of the amount of work that should be expected of a student outside the classroom on things like reading, studying, research, writing assignments, writing exams, etc. Naturally, there are limits on the freedom of a student to choose the language he/she can use for study outside of lecture times. In very few subject areas are handbooks and prescribed reading material available in Afrikaans. Therefore, an Afrikaans student spends a lot of time studying in English in any case. No doubt “taalstryders” will latch onto this as an example of why we should prefer the A-option in all of our classes. BUT actually it means that an Afrikaans student in a module with an A-specification (where all lectures are in Afrikaans), spends a mere 5-10% more time in Afrikaans than a student in a module with a T-specification (where only half of the lecture time is in Afrikaans). This makes it reasonable to go for the flexible T-option rather than the rigid A-option, enabling lecturers to respond to the local circumstances in their classes without really disadvantaging Afrikaans-speakers as much as people would like you to believe.

All of this assumes of course that the T-option is implemented to the letter and at least 50% of the lecture time is spent in Afrikaans. I am a great fan of minimum critical specifications and of our language options available, the T-option is the closest to that. Therefore, I am happy that (as of this year) all my modules are specified T-option, but a lecturer is still confronted with difficulties. Forget now the more fundamental questions of whether the university should promote Afrikaans or not, and look at the specific new problems that the language policy cannot address in the classroom.

My module and my conscience
In my module the prescribed book is in English, because it is the best handbook for this module and there have not been any academic publications in Afrikaans in this area in the last decade. Reasonable people would understand why I chose to prescribe an English book.

Then there is the question of the language of my PowerPoint slides. I know the subject area well enough that I do not need them to deliver my lectures, but I make PowerPoint summaries for my students, that way they can actually concentrate on my lecture and not worry too much about note-taking. However, because it is a major effort to make these PowerPoint slides and because they are intended to be summaries of the reading material, mine are in English only. Strictly speaking, this is breaking the 50% rule and I should make the slides in both languages. The irony is however that if I did not make any summaries at all, and just gave my lecture without any visual aids, then I would not be breaking the rule. Absurdly, if I made half the slideshow in Afrikaans and the other half in English, I would be applying the rule to the letter. What I did was to state this problem to my class and ask whether there would be any objection to summaries in English only and there were none. Of course it was unfair, because the alternative would be no PowerPoint summaries at all.

That leaves me with how to switch between Afrikaans and English while lecturing. So, let’s look at the stakeholders; the breakdown of my class according to first language is as follows: 35 Afrikaans, 17 English, 4 Zulu, 1 Xhosa, 1 Chinese.

But first language gives a poor picture; let’s rather think in terms of second-language ability. Nine of those 35 Afrikaans first language speakers are colored and although English is their second language, I am assuming that they are the set of students with the poorest ability in English. The four Zulu-speakers, the Xhosa speaker and the Chinese speaker have English as a second language and Afrikaans as a very distant third language. The remaining 27 white Afrikaans speakers have very good English school education (many of them matriculated with English as first language higher grade) and the 17 white English speakers have Afrikaans as a second language (and while they may speak it with a funny accent, they have little trouble following it).

What I want to illustrate here is that the way in which I choose to switch between Afrikaans and English during my lectures, have little consequence for the quality of communication with the 27 white Afrikaans speakers and the 17 white English speakers. However, the way I switch between languages has a profound effect on the quality of communication with the remaining 15 non-white students. The greatest deficiency of the T-option is that, as a lecturer I am constantly choosing between the interests of my colored students and my black students. I have to wait until the student feedback comes in to judge to what extent they were all happy with the way I made this choice, but I have bent the rules to accommodate as much English as possible during class. I reasoned that weighing nine English second-language speakers (of possibly doubtful ability) against six English second-language speakers (with little or no Afrikaans ability) is a no-brainer.

Still, I have some doubts about whether I should have done more to accommodate the coloured students. Strangely, although they are part of the group that I believe to be worst affected by the language policy, the colored students in my class are not political about it. I have kept a close watch on their class attendance and their performance in my tests. They are regular attendees and at least two of them are regular contributors in class and it seems like seven of them will pass my module (the other two might still make it, but it will be seat of the pants stuff if they do). So, I feel slightly less concerned about them.

Larger background compounded by the language-issue
There is some larger background to this as well. As if their language troubles are not enough, most of these colored and black students suffer from an insufficient educational background. So the two groups of students who can least afford not understanding what the lecturer says, are set against each other every time a lecturer switches language during the lecture.

It seems that people who matriculate with less than 70% avaerage, do not manage to get an average of 50% by the end of their first year at Stellenbosch. In other words, these people have to repeat some of their first year modules already. It indicates that there is a major disjuncture between what people score in their final school exam and what happens at university. This is however a trend at universities in SA in general, becase in our country there is a mismatch between the quality of secondary education and standards of tertiary education.

Of all the non-white students who study as undergraduates at our university, three out of ten scored somewhere between 60-70% in matric last year (and we can expect an average of around 40% at the end of their first year at university). In addition, four out of every ten non-white students at our university, scored somewhere between 50-60% in matric last year (and from them we can expect an average of just over 30% at the end of this year). You can see the problem: the language policy has its profoundest effect on seven out of every ten non-white students studying at our university, as they belong to the bracket of students who struggle to cope with the academic demands made at university.

I hope that I made clear why I do not care about the larger ideological “future of Afrikaans” part of the language debate. Instead, I am concerned about whether I am being understood by my students, especially those students who do not have the educational background to understand the prescribed book without my lectures. Moreover, as things stand now, I am constantly choosing between two sets of students whose future depends to an inordinately large extent upon my choice of language.

As might be expected, the language debate is blind to the matters that count for me as lecturer. It seems that being understood is not the issue and the language debate is going into a wholly different direction. Draw your own conclusions about why the debate is not concerned with the students who are most affected by it.

Still, those students are sitting in front of me and I need to make myself understood. I tell you, there is nothing as frustrating as a sea of blank faces – even if you like the sound of your own voice as much as I do…


PS. I have just finished grading an essay assignment that this class had to submit. Students can choose whether to write their essays in English or Afrikaans. The choice is completely up to them and it is reasonable to assume that they would choose the language in which they feel most comfortable. Of the 55 assignments that were submitted, only six were written in Afrikaans (and all the colored students opted to write in English)...


Lame disclaimer: This post is my personal view, which I only hold Wednesday nights after 10pm and weekends; naturally the moment I arrive at the office, I subscribe to the official view of my employer. No joke, even at university you are not always required to think ;-)