Friday, September 29, 2006

Moving On

I've began to vacate one of the ugliest buildings in Bloemfontein. Not only is it ugly, it's lethal. Honey-combed throughout are asbestos squares. And this is a place where hundreds of children live every day!

I'll be living in 2 homes for the time being (since my father is in Botswana, again). Meanwhile, I feel like I have so much work to do. Beyond the daily written work, there is also training (at a higher, more professional level), and the process of moving is always fairly stressful. I also have 3 university assignments to start, and I lack information on 1.

Meanwhile, I've had to juggle doing the Windmill Casino 70km race tomorrow with a triathlon. The weather is looking good for both.

There are a lot of developments going on, which are leaving me feeling quite mixed up. Speaking of which, I've agreed to a braai and arranged to have dinner somewhere else with someone else, so going to have to choose one.

Will go for an easy cycle this afternoon and sand down my desk so that it fits in with my new, more Earthy abode.

Who is Noam Chomsky?

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez mentioned a man and a book in a speech at the United Nations

In the middle of September, on a Wednesday, the president of Venezuela began his speech to the United Nations, by waving around a book. The book was: Hegemony or Survival; America's Quest for Global Dominance. The author of this book is Noam Chomsky. Okay, so who is Noam Chomsky?

Chomsky is an American, born in late 1928 in Philadelphia*. He is Institute Professor at MIT, of Linguistics. In fact, Chomsky is considered by some to be the father of modern linguistics. Linguistics, you say, is that all?

Chomsky is in excellent company, both as a writer and as an eloquent and articulate commentator. The Nobel prizewinning author of Disgrace, South African JM Coetzee** also studied linguistics, as did JRR Tolkien***.

Thanks to Chavez endorsement of Chomsky's book, first published in 2003, sales have increased strongly, with Amazon ordering 25 000 copies and commissioning 25 000 more. Hegemony or Survival is currently ranked 3rd on Amazon's**** bestseller list.

Chomsky for years has been speaking his own truths about democracy - in fact, 'real democracy'. His has been a soft voice criticising the US government, and the 77 -year old's popularity continues unabated. His speeches continue to sweep up campus crowds especially, across the USA.

What makes Chomsky so compelling is the detail and clarity of his information. His articles are filled with researched facts and historic details that are not found in mainstream media. He appears genuinely altruistic, and what he says makes obvious sense. The more one listens to Chomsky, the more one becomes aware both of his unfettered intelligence, and the subversive forces at play.

Here is an extract from Chomsky's blog*****, under the title: On the US-Israeli Invasion of Lebanon:

'The standard Western version is that the July 2006 invasion was justified by legitimate outrage over capture of two Israeli soldiers at the border. The posture is cynical fraud. The US and Israel, and the West generally, have little objection to capture of soldiers, or even to the far more severe crime of kidnapping civilians (or of course to killing civilians). That had been Israeli practice in Lebanon for many years, and no one ever suggested that Israel should therefore be invaded and largely destroyed.'

It is this voice, clear as a bell, ringing on (and from) American soil that assures us that there is a voice of reason in the West, but also concerns us because those in power appear to be ignoring it.

What is significant is that Chavez, an ostensibly powerful man, waved a book at the most powerful leaders in the world, and asked: 'Are you listening?'

It is to Chavez' credit that he poked a hole through the charade of US foreign policy. The USA may be many good things, but it is not benign, and the democracy it espouses is no longer genuine. Increasingly, the world has become intelligent to this trend thanks to people like Chomsky. The question that remains is: does the survival of the USA preclude the survival of the Rest Of The World. Their strategy appears to be Last Man Standing***** (particularly given attitudes to oil, and recent adventures in the Middle East).

Eric R. Snyder, commenting on Chomsky's book on Amazon, writes:
'The influence of the U.S. has undeniably been a mixed bag. America is neither a monster leaving [in] its trail unmitigated evil nor the child-like narrative of the "white hats" and good guys standing tall in an unstable world.'******

The last word on America ought to go to Chomsky, but in the end it is a matter of opinion. History, after all, is not written linguists, but by the winners.

" paraphrase Thucydides, the powerful are entitled to do as they wish, while the weak suffer as they must." - Noam Chomsky

S African crime statistics continue to shock

DEVIL YOU KNOW: Most stunning, perhaps, is the fact that 61.9 percent of those murdered in the country in the past year were either related to or knew their killer


"What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility, with dignity, with respect for oneself and the other."

Desmond Tutu, archbishop

South Africans are killing relatives and acquaintances at an alarming rate, police said, acknowledging traditional methods for battling crime could do little to stem the tide.

According to annually released crime statistics on Wednesday, police have failed to achieve a targeted decrease of 7 percent to 10 percent in the numbers of murders and rapes over the year.

South Africa, where nearly 50 people are killed each day, has one of the highest murder and rape rates in the world -- and an international reputation as a violent society.

Murders decreased by 2 percent but still totaled 18,528. Rape also declined slightly by 1 percent, but the total number reported was a staggering 54,926.

Cash-in-transit heists, largely the work of sophisticated syndicates, showed the largest increase, up 74.1 percent from 220 to 383 and car hijackings increased 3.1 percent during the year.

According to the new report, 81.5 percent of the murder victims knew their attacker and 61.9 percent were either related to or knew the killer very well. The report said 76 percent of rape victims knew their attacker.

"These crimes are committed behind closed doors, in secluded spots," Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said.

The high crime rate has dominated newspaper headlines and sparked soul-searching among South Africans. A day before the statistics were released, Archbishop Desmond Tutu raised concern about an increasing sense of lawlessness in South Africa.

"What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility, with dignity, with respect for oneself and the other," Tutu said in his Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town on Tuesday night.

Tutu, a leader in the anti-apartheid movement, decried the rape of children, some as young as nine months, and South Africa's staggering murder rate, second only to Colombia.

"What has come over us? Perhaps we did not realize just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong," he said.

This week one of the country's top judges sat in court and listened to how his four-year-old granddaughter was gagged, blindfolded and left for dead.

The government is desperate to counter the country's violent image, especially in the run-up to the soccer World Cup in 2010, and point out that murder is at its lowest level for five years.

"Crime levels are going down. None of us are happy that these levels remain high," Nqakula said. "We are committed to a further reduction in crime. South Africa is enjoying better safety."

However, he said that the murder, rape and crimes against women and children were a cause for "deep concern."

Chief police statistician Chris de Kock, said these "social crimes" which are often exacerbated by alcohol and drug abuse, were difficult to combat with conventional policing methods.

"You would have to have a policeman in every house," he said.

He said the only way to combat the rising tide of family violence was to make large-scale, intense improvements in the living conditions of people in a country where much of the population is still desperately poor.

This year has seen a number of anti-crime initiatives being introduced by police in attempt to address growing concerns. They include a restructuring of various police units that police commissioner Jackie Selebi says will release thousands of police from office duty.

"We are putting all the technological available and all skills to try and reduce crime," he said.

18 545 South Africans murdered in the last year

While the world worries about civil war in Iraq, an invisible war of attrition is taking place in South Africa.

Robberies, especially those involving businesses situated in big shopping malls, have increased 32%. This means in the year 2005-2006 there have been at least 1000 more robberies than in the previous year. Cash in transit heists have increased even more: 74.1%. Bank robberies have also increased 1.7%.

Meanwhile, the headline in today’s local newspaper reads: ‘SA becoming safer and safer’. The Minister of Safety and Security, Mr. Charles Nqakula, has described the future security situation in South Africa as ‘rosy’. He has also referred to current trends in crime as having reached a ‘turning point’.

Meanwhile, 18 545 South Africans were murdered in the period from April 2005 to March 2006. This is an almost unnoticeable shift from the previous figure for the previous year: 18 793. Hijackings have also increased by 3.1%.

Recently TV news and newspapers have focused on a particularly heinous crime: two youths murdered a 4 year old girl by stuffing her underwear deep into her throat cavity. They also raped her babysitter. A third man stood guard outside while these crimes were being committed. Today the judge, Gerhardus Hattingh sentenced the youths to numerous years in prison, but expressed regret that he was not able to mete out a death sentence which he said he felt was more appropriate. He referred to elite sectors of the community as being ‘permissively tolerant’ of deplorable crime levels. He said the lack of a more stringent penalty amounted to the sanctioning of many of the atrocious acts committed daily.

The Free State is the province where I live. It has one of the smallest populations of all the provinces, at just 2.7 million. Although the region is generally considered to be safe, at least comparably safer than most other regions, at least 1000 people per year are murdered here. To put this figure in perspective, consider that the Netherlands, with 12 million people, loses less than 200* people a year to homicide.

What is my personal experience? A week ago my girlfriend’s car window was smashed open and her car radio was damaged in the process of attempting to remove it. The car was parked in an enclosed area, surrounded by high metal fencing with sharp projections on the end. The car was also parked about 7 meters away from the nearest bedroom.
What about accommodation? I am moving to another part of the city, and finally decided on a small studio. When I showed my girlfriend where I’d be moving to she immediately recognized the place. She said a friend of hers had stayed there and had lost her microwave, in fact everything, in a burglary.

In the last few years I’ve had my car stolen, so has my father, so has my girlfriend. My father and sister, while on holiday on the Wild Coast, were pistol whipped and robbed. The story appeared in a local newspaper.

Many South Africans shrug when these statistics or anecdotes are recounted, possibly because they feel nothing much can be done. The people in charge are even worse. When calls are made to address crime, people like Nqakula insist that things ‘aren’t that bad’.

On the positive side, the president and high ranking business leaders have begun to pour millions into an initiative called Business Against Crime. I’d like to see more squad cars patrolling the neighborhood. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a policecar cruising around at night, making sure everything is in order. There are plenty of security companies, but all they can do is react when the alarms go off. By then, it’s usually too late.

So it’s likely that for as long as extreme inequalities persist in South Africa (where the very rich try to fence themselves off from the very poor) there will be a continuation of this invisible conflict, this war of attrition of the wealthy.

*198 to be exact

Pilate Revisited

A close study reveals neither a villain nor a hero, but someone oddly familiar, in fact, oddly like ourselves

In the New Testament, the Crucifixion was a joint effort between the Jews and Pilate. But in the Apocrypha scripts, Pilate felt worse after the sentencing. Ann Wroe in her book, Pontius Pilate writes:

The idea of a repentant Pilate never caught on in western Christendom.

Wroe also illustrates some fascinating insights that illuminate the dark period immediately after the resurrection. She points to a sixth century letter, written in Greek, and addressed to Herod Antipas. Pilate indicates that he has kept track of Jesus, since his death, with his spies following him as far as Galilee. Procula – Pilate’s wife – and a retinue that included Longinus (the guy with the spear) and the guards of Jesus’ tomb found him sitting in a tilled field. They did not dare approach him, but Jesus saw them. Procula returned home in tears, and her distress infected Pilate, who cried out, “It’s Herod’s fault.” Wroe writes that fifty soldiers went with Procula and Pilate back to Galilee, to find Jesus.

Wroe writes: Pilate stood in the middle of the road. He could see Jesus standing and talking to his disciples and, as he stood there, Jesus saw him. Pilate began to pray in his heart, for, as he told Herod, “I knew that this was the lord of created things.”

And at this point, the story goes, Jesus approached and laid his hand on Pilate’s shoulder, saying: ‘All generations and families shall call you blessed because in your days the Son of Man died and rose again.’

Herod, ignoring Pilate’s accusations, responded to the letter asking for help. He mentions his son, Lestonax who is dying. He describes his own condition, saying ‘worms are coming out of my mouth’. He describes a daughter whose head was severed after she fell through ice. Herod asks that Pilate will ‘put in a good word’ on his behalf, to Jesus.

Interestingly, at least 3 centuries after Christ’s death, Roman officials were required to repeat, time and time again, that Jesus posed no threat to the empire.

Over the centuries though, the blame has shifted for the killing of Jesus from Pilate to the Jews. At various times, Pilate has been seen as Christ’s own advocate. In this scenario, the Jews could be nothing other than villains. In my own opinion, if history, if the fates ordained that Jesus must be killed, surely that was a necessary engineering that could not be blamed on the technical details, in effect, the technicians could not be held accountable.

But this same argument could then be used to excuse Judas. But Judas is traditionally viewed as condemned. If this is so, how does it happen that our lives are spun into fates and destinies apparently beyond our control? Do we simply live out our lives, reaching our predestined potential, and are then punished and rewarded for exercising choices we were expected to make?

An even more bizarre twist – taking this line of thinking – is that Pilate was merely used towards an end. After all, since Christ was sentenced to death and rose from the dead anyway, did it really matter who provided the agency for the sentencing? Is Pilate the ultimate patsy?

And then Pilate was called to face Tiberius. Why? Because how could a man be so tactless to kill someone who might have proven to be of use to the Romans? What was Pilate thinking?

Of course Pilate might have responded: “But it wasn’t me. I did what the people (or Herod) wanted.”
And of course Tiberius would sternly overrule this line of reasoning by stating: “Yes, but your job was to make the law, not have the law made unto you.”
Tiberius would have gone on to say: ‘didn’t you realize you had someone special on your hands? A performer of miracles no less. Did you feel no sense of awe in his presence? Hmmm? And why oh why didn’t you bring him to me?’

According to legend, when Tiberius summoned Pilate for the last time, Pilate wore a scrap of Jesus’ seamless garment, and, when Tiberius saw Pilate, he immediately took on a more gentle tone. Wroe writes that Tiberius intentions went something like this: “Now I’m going to do to you what you did to him.” But instead, Tiberius was ‘disarmed’, and sent Pilate away ‘with a smile’. Of course, once Pilate had left (with the strip of Jesus garment) Tiberius’ fury returned.

Ann Wroe concludes her book with the following: He walks in the sand dunes; the wind and the grass snag at him. Are you free now, jumping, shouting, saved, because I sentenced him? Did I do that for you?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sore Legs

Did trackwork yesterday: 5 x300m;200m;100m and then wrapped it off with an easy 400m.
Total distance: 4km
Heart rate average was 140 (including rest).
Total training time: 45 minutes.

Don't think legs will have recovered by Saturday, but that's okay, it's the first race of the season and I want to step up the pace in terms of getting fit.

Have already made over R700 in about a week with Ohmynews (it takes about a month to earn that with, and with far more writing involved).

I've also found a nice little place closer to the University, at a sort of nexus between here and there, and might be moving in as soon as tomorrow. Am going to give my documents to the landlord later today.

The Ultimate Survivor (or not?)

Is Bin Laden Really Dead?

After initial reports from France that Osama bin Laden died in Pakistan last month, the Taliban has contradicted these claims. They should know, shouldn’t they?

It beggars belief that a man blamed for masterminding the September 11 attacks in 2001, that’s five years ago now, is still on the run. Let’s speak plainly. The person who organized an attack on America that led to the complete destruction of two massive skyscrapers in New York City, killing about 3000 Americans, has still evaded capture. Are we expected to believe that a man can evade capture when every satellite, every weapon, every intelligence that the Empire has, is employed in missions of seek and destroy? Is the military really after him at all?

Conspiracy theorists have probably proposed this theory, but in case you haven’t heard it, here it is again: Surely it fits in with President Bush’s agenda (an agenda of imperialism, and unilateral expansionism) to have The World’s Worst Terrorist in hiding, alive somewhere. Why? Because he’s a threat. He’s a danger, and ‘fear of the enemy’ can be employed to whatever end the White House wants. While bin Laden is at large, the USA can use him as their figurehead to fight their ‘War on Terror’. Any incursion can be labeled ‘going after the terrorists. This is how popular approval is gained; this is how Americans applauded their President taking their sons to Iraq.

Once again, those terms: war on terror, are clearly ridiculous when you think about them. War is terror. And of course, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Nelson Mandela, after all, was called a terrorist by National Party politicians and presidents. Of course, Mandela himself didn’t attempt to blow up other people, only some elements in his group were involved in ‘real’ terror acts. How is bin Laden any different?

Well, of course, bin Laden is very different. Few moderate people could agree with this firebrand. But bin Laden does have a following among Muslims. He is a folklore hero to especially those who hate America, and America is becoming increasingly unpopular outside of America. And now he has stood up against a great and powerful enemy and inflicted terrible, terrible blows on a seemingly invulnerable enemy. And, apparently, he continues to outwit, outsmart and outplay his enemy. Tactically, that’s impressive by any standard.*

Another question is this: was the rumor of bin Laden’s death merely a ploy to get the real bin Laden to stand up, and offer another clue as to his whereabouts? If he gives a speech perhaps he will offer a few free clues as to what his intentions are. Could this have been a ploy by the FBI or CIA to fish for clues? Possible, but I think unlikely.

I believe it is likely that bin Laden’s health is suffering, living as he is in the rugged, difficult terrain of the Karakorum Himalayas. Whether he has died is anyone’s guess. But if he is alive it’s likely that we haven’t heard the last of him.

* What human being can ever justify flying planeloads of human beings into skyscrapers filled with human beings, including ‘his own’ people? The 9/11 attacks – like the holocaust – were cleverly executed acts of gratuitous insanity.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Story on Ohmynews

Click on the title of this post to link to my latest post on Ohmynews called Africfan Supertramps. Some nice pictures too.

Gales and Lampposts

Tuesday was windy and chilly, but we got onto the road eventually at 10:30 am and squeezed in a 45km cycle. Did lamp posts after that which means:

running along an uphill slope 12 lampposts long, then 11, all the way up to 1, then repeating the whole set again. Maxcimum heart rate: 171 (average 152).

Other news:

Computer lab at the university was closed today.

Lawyer called to say Heartland have offered to pay me R1000 p month, and I've asked him to ask for R2500 per month. This is a departure from their earlier expressed intention to defend themselves in court (defend what?)

Still have not heard from Sonya Naude (Longevity magazine) after calling her again yesterday. Nice chat but again, no response. She did say she was quite busy.

Did some banking today and will go running on the track this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Armstrong and Dangerous

Walking with Lance; understanding his winning psychology

In Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is trapped in a blizzard, freezing to death when he sees a vision. How absurd, to be on the verge of death and to suddenly have one’s life laid out, as though a future lay in store. In the same way, when it seemed his life was over, cancer made Lance realize that he was smart. It boosted his confidence in himself, not only in cycling but in everything.

Daniel Coyle describes Armstrong’s Psychology, which is based on fairly simple, but highly effective software, on these paradigms:

1) Binary evaluations: everything is either good or bad, there are no gray areas.
2) Attack, push, inflict yourself on the world
3) Free yourself; block out the negative,

To understand how powerful Armstrong’s persona is in the world of cycling (it’s moved into popular mythology since), it’s important to have a basic understanding of the lifestyle, and the realities, of the professional cyclist.

During the 2002 NASCAR season, there were five injuries all year*. Professional cyclists (and there are approximately 400) suffer about 5 serious injuries a week. These injuries include having the flesh torn off your eye, punctured lungs, broken vertebrae, concussions and that staple of cycling injuries: the broken collar bone. If you’ve read Armstrong’s books you’ll know he came within a whisker of breaking his neck. Ullrich, the day before the 2005 tour, crashed into his team car deeply cutting his neck two millimeters from his jugular vein. These are the days of the professional cyclist.

And if people think that Lance is a happy-go-lucky guy, they need to be corrected. John Korioth, one of Armstrong’s closest buddies, says Lance is the toughest person he knows. He’s not Mr. Smiley. When you understand the sport of cycling, and the daily dynamics involved, and especially the demands of the Tour, it’s impossible to believe that just anyone – especially a Mr. Nice Guy – can win the Tour.

When it comes to Armstrong and the tour, the trick was – some said – to not make Armstrong mad. And if you’ve studied Armstrong closely, you’ll see that people who upset Lance don’t stick around – not in a race, not on his team, not in his life. Bob Roll, an OLN commentator, came up with Roll’s Law:

The way to beat Lance Armstrong is to not make him mad
Beating Armstrong makes him mad

Daniel Coyle discusses these opposing axioms, explaining their logic. The way to beat Armstrong, Coyle writes, is to ‘catch him by surprise’.
And what is the Lance the master of? Preparation. Preparation means training, homework, research and readiness. All these things mean work, very hard work, very hard consistent work. If you want to make yourself unbeatable, work hard, and care a lot about being beaten.

Two serious threats to Lance, two cyclists that demonstrated incredible toughness and might well have scuppered Armstrong’s plans to win 7 Tours, were East German stalwart Jan Ullrich (and one time tour winner), and Armstrong’s countryman, Tyler Hamilton (who’s nice guy exterior hides his teeth grinding determination).***

Yes, Tyler Hamilton is nice. He’s polite and dresses in neat collared shirts. But underneath the façade of nice is a guy who rode a tour with a fractured collar bone and finished fourth. Hamilton’s very tough, but he’s never won the tour. Hamilton’s current tribulations may change that. Ullrich who has shadowed Lance through every tour, is a hardcore East German, and like Lance, grew up without a father. He’s not nearly as intense – off the bike – as Lance, and enjoys good food and Western entertainments. Once, when they encountered each other (despite their rivalry they’re good friends), Lance held out his hand and Ullrich gave the Texan a hug. That’s Jan. Nice is good, but if you’re out to win, nice is going to be a hindrance.

Ullrich is probably the most talented cyclist in the world, yes, even stronger and more talented than Lance. I’d argue that when competing in a race as hard as the tour, where millions of dollars are at stake, being overtly nice or laid back becomes a serious handicap. Ullrich famously lay in bed on the morning of a vital time trial, while Lance reconnoitered the course in the cold and rain. Ullrich fell approaching a roundabout, and lost another chance of winning the tour. Winning big today requires sustained seriousness and intensity, perhaps under a guise of a calm precision, and perhaps supplemented by a sense of humor.

Lance has said he never wanted to know what coming second in the tour would feel like. That’s another way of saying: winning means everything. If that’s true for you, then you must know how much work there is for you to do. Ullrich could write a book on the subject of coming second. He has said, after all: [I will be remembered] either as a gifted athlete who made life difficult for himself, but always succeeded in the end, or as a sloppy genius who wasn’t capable of using his exceptional talent.**

What makes Armstrong so dangerous is his competitiveness, his raw aggression, his anger, distilled into something more constructive: pedaling a bicycle. If that seems simplistic, then look at the first half of the sentence again. That raw aggression, that anger is not ordinary anger.
Daniel Coyle, in his book on Armstrong, describes Armstrong’s fascinating power as follows: he’s our embodiment of the fundamental human act – to impose the will on an uncaring world.

You may wonder what underscores, what underlies such a powerful sense of will. Is it anger? Is it desire? Is it both? Landis, Lance’s one-time teammate has described Lance as ‘one very, very complicated guy’. Will is underscored by our very being, whether we’re conscious of this or not. Of course, the more conscious we are, the more we’re able to set our being, our bodies in motion, and instill the will on turning the delicate wheel of the universe.

Cycling is an interesting sport. For some reason, the emotions translate into the legs, and the machine conducts, directs these impulses in a straight line – making fate move that much faster towards you. Even mental conditions tend to manifest on the open road. Today you’re negative; you’ve missed your morning ride and finally got yourself out the door after 3pm. A tailwind threw you forward.
But then, at 6km, your back wheel suddenly hissed and you felt the road, chewing teeth, under your saddle. You never get punctures, but you are also never very negative on the bike. Today’s puncture makes sense.

On Saturday, in a cycle race, you were faced with this common conundrum: get dropped or ride dangerously close to the guy in front. You chose the latter, knowing that by riding so close your view of the road was blocked, and that you wouldn’t have time to react if there was a pothole or worse in the rode. The guys are flying, and the wind was pumping, so you had to push in tight. Then it happened. The rider in front bounced over crushed fragments of concrete. Fortunately you darted right and the debris sprayed fairly harmlessly through your spokes. But it is just after this incident that you realize this simple truth: cyclists often put their lives, their bodies on the line, to keep themselves in contention. To do well, we need to commit all, and that requires sometimes violent, always complete acts of will.

A final point to make is that no psychology is complete without a language in which to express it. Armstrong’s vocabulary is a reflection of his belief in himself and his mission.
How does Armstrong describe his equipment, his bicycle, and his weapons for battle?
The Shit That Will Kill Them.

Now go out and win. Slay the dragons. Kill them all.

*Lance Armstrong; Tour de force, by Daniel Coyle. P15
**Ganz Order Gar Nicht (All Or Nothing At All), Jan Ullrich’s autobiography, 2004
***Hamilton grinded his teeth to the nerves, had them recapped, then did so again

Puncture, R20 000 and Chilli Steak

There's been plenty of drama over the past few days. Even the sky over - not Bagdad - Bloemfontein is unusally gusty. And chilly. We went cycling latish this morning and we were buffeted all over the place. Barendine was so sick of it, when I arrived at my pitstop to pick up my dad's car, she asked if I would take her home too. We'd only cycled 45km, but I knew how she felt.

Yesterday I went out on my own. Really didn't want to, and got punished for my negative attitude. At about 6.5km I was flying at over 50km/h, courtesy of a potent tailwind, and then KSSSSSSSssssssssss. In three seconds I could feel the molars of the road, chewing under my saddle.
Fortunately I came prepared, and unscrewed a CO2 cartridge over the newly replaced tube and KSHwillll. Nice and hard. I even had some spare gas to pump my frontwheel a little harder.

At Sunnyhill, with no more spare tubes and no cellphone, I decided to stop for a burger, except that they said their debit card machines weren't working. So I took my huff and left with it. I climbed the gate at Tafelkop and began to ascend what is popularly known as the toughest climb in Bloem. About a third of the way up I was like: what's the big deal? Then the gradient got worse, and worse, and then, unimaginably tough. Now I started saying to myself: this hill can't carry on forver, but I can keep climbing.
And so it went on until at last, the road curved left and I was on top. Lung burning. The radar in front of me, whipping around. Don't know why but I expected, at any second, to be assassinated by a automatic gun mounted on a pivot. Guess I've been playing too many computer games.

Went home and sent about 20 sms's to my neglected girlfriend, then went to eat at Vasco's with a buddy I haven't seen in - well, I saw him for 10 seconds last year and before that, probably a decade has gone by. Had a good chat. I ordered a chilli garlic steak and Sven assured me that the chilli wouldn't be too hot. It was WAY too hot, but enjoyed the meal neverthless.

Today I bought a new tyre. When I get punctures, which is never, I usually toss away the old tyres, because they've been worn through. As a result, when the punctures start coming they usually don't stop. I noticed the gash in the old tyre was about 2 cm long. That's almost right across the tyre!

This morning, after the cycle I went 'home' to fetch my father's car keys and saw a note scribbled on the telephone counter in my father's handwriting. The content through me for a loop. Something about me owing him R20 000 and agreesing to make repayments of R200 a month. Except I didn't owe him R20 000. Ah. I glanced into an envelope. There's a check for R20 000. Except I don't need it, I don't need a loan thanks.

I now have to concentrate on a few things:
- moving out of the hostel
- finishing my marking (an odious task!)
- doing university assignments
- training (going running today at 4pm)
- finding a new job

Fransa's car got broken into on Friday night. They couldn't remove the radio but managed to break it enough so that it's unusable. The would-be-thieves broke the whole back window to open the front door, which scuppered our plans for picnics over the weekend.

Meanwhile, training must continue, whether rain, wind or shine. Such is the life of the professional athlete, which is what I suppose I must become now.

Kunstler: Chunky Monkey

The story this coming week, I think, will be how much the collapse of the Amaranth hedge fund may end up infecting other "playas" in the big leagues of finance. Hedge funds being what they are -- rackets using "leverage," or other people's promises to pay, to make bets on "spreads," or differentials in other people's bets on the price of things -- there are a lot of other people out there who might get sucked through the event horizon of one big fund's black hole of bad betting.

So far -- through the weekend of the 23rd and 24th -- the banks and other manipulators of capital have been successfully quarantined from the Amaranth infection. Sunday night, as I write, the business desk reporters are waddling back to the fridge for a second bowl of Chunky Monkey. Many of them will go to sleep in a few hours thinking that the price of gasoline is headed down further and all is right with the world. But the Amaranth fiasco has made about six (or is it eight?) billion of somebody's dollars disappear. Either those dollars have meaning, and those somebodies will suffer from the loss of them, and so will the people who the somebodies owe money to, or else the dollars will have had no meaning per se -- they may not have been dollars so much as IOUs denominated in dollars, or loans of bundles of IOUs, or promises of future loans of bundles of IOUs -- in which case their value as a medium of exchange will be perceived to be less than was previously assumed.

This is what comes of living in an economy of hallucinated finance instead of an economy of wealth-generating work. It all seems to add up until the old assumptions just don't add up, and then things break down.

This is the season when crashes like to happen. Perhaps it's something about the frost on the pumpkin, those premonitions of the dark and freezing nights ahead, that provoke hard-wired human brains to get real. When people get real and the basis of their currency looks more and more unreal, shit will happen. And unhappen.

Some commentators, such as Doug Noland, at, think that the liquidity game -- of evermore loans based on other loans based on promises to pay based on IOUs -- can keep this alternative universe of rackets going for a while longer. (At least that's what Doug said in an interview with Jim Puplava this weekend.)

Myself, I think something's gotta give. There are too many real things that are going wrong. A tapped out public with no savings. A glut of houses sinking the sprawl-meisters. Nobody buying cars. Balance of payments steadily worse. Overseas adventures failing. . . .

Despite temporary appearances, the energy predicament has not gone away. Worldwide oil production is on track to go down 3 percent in 2006. If it keeps on going that way, the 84.5 million barrels a day available to the world now will shrink to something like 50 million in 2015. Ultimately that will determine the fate of our economy and the financial infrastructure that is supposed to serve it.

A world of increasing energy scarcity will be a world that generates fewer things of value, less "wealth." All the paper "instruments" that represent our hopes that society is bound to produce more wealth will be discredited. This is a fundamental fact of peak oil, and perhaps the most implacable reality. Not only will there be less wealth, and fewer paper certificates that can be construed to represent wealth, but promises to pay back loans of putatively existing wealth will lose their credibility too. The long chains of promises to pay back this debt and that loan will be broken, and all the paper associated with those promises.

If, however, America could find some way to harness the energy in the smoke it blows up its own ass every day, we would never face an energy crisis. Wouldn't that be the day?

This article is from

Saturday Race Report

Two lucky coincidences on Friday: 1) My Heart Rate Monitor arrived, LCD display crisp and clear once again, battery charged and ready. 2) I found the Polar mount, which had been hiding under my bed since my trip to Grahamstown.

Saturday was bright, and warm and windy. The field was slightly undersized, but the big names were all there, there was even an out-of-towner riding an expensive blue Cinelli. And of course, Jacques Greef, who can always be counted on to stir things up.

From the word go, the guys started flying (there were some complaints that the race was ‘just’ 67km ). I knew that going out on the Old Brandfort Road (passing near our farm incidentally) meant taking in two hard drags into a stiff headwind. I thought if I could survive that, I’d be able to stick with the guys for most of the way.

The leading guys split off the front in the first 3km, finally snapping the last hangers-on over the railway bridge. I found myself with them, my heart rate in the high 160’s, but I didn’t feel like I was struggling. The drag beside the silos was tough, with Jacques riding in front of me near the back and then jumping just as things got really tough. We reeled him in, but only by sticking together and crouching down to avoid the wind. My heart rate shot up to 175 in this piece, but at least I held it together. There were plenty of spurts that drained the legs.

Under the Sunnyhill bridge my bike carried me forward so that I was in front of the elite pack going down. Not quite intentional, but this happened again once or twice as they slowed the pace so that they could hurt everyone again with more bursts of speed. Near the Vodacom tower (where the N1 becomes a 1 lane highway) Petrus and I rode together off the front. Jacques attacked again and from then on our speed picked up to the high 50’s. I just couldn’t keep up. I didn’t expect to get dropped on a long gradual downhill but there it is. At just over 20km I fell off, and when I turned around – no one, for at least 1km, maybe 2km.

At Glen I picked up another guy who had fallen off, also on a Cannondale. We rode together until he skipped up a hill and left me behind. I was feeling really weary. So much so I was struggling to chew and swallow dried fruit because my throat was so dry.
Back under the ‘Sunnyhill’ bridge I slowly climbed up a steep little hill, half waiting for a chasing bunch. The next thing three riders pulled up beside me – a bizarre trio. 2 African guys and a small kid, with long legs. Barendine was apparently in this bunch which I was now tearing apart. Soon Philip, one of the Africans, threw in the towel while the three of us worked together so that by 47km we’d picked up Mr Cannondale. Not long after that him and ‘The Kid’ took off, and me and the one African guy, wearing a Mapei cap under his helmet, just maintained pace till the end.

In the final few hundred metres I thanked him, then let him pull a little ahead for a small victory. I finished feeling whacked.

Jacques had come in second, by a whisker, outgunned at the end by the out-of-towner.

Time: 1:54:51
Distance: 65km
Average: 34km/h (1:46m per/km)
Temperature: 24 C (average)
Altitude: 1300m
Heart Rate: 164 (Average) 175 (Max)
Kcal: 2295

Barendine came in 5 minutes later, as first lady. She won a Mountain Bike in a lucky draw. I won a water bottle. Benedictus also took part, and Andre was there, his spider bitten hand covered in a few plasters. He’s been given the all-clear to train again on Monday, so we’re going out for an easy 70km early Monday morning.

It’s been a good training week. I’m looking forward to building from here. I thought I did quite well, sticking with the best guys for 20km when I’ve only been training once or twice a week and missing a whole week 2 weeks ago. Going to work on weight, getting some running in and upping the mileage. Looking to get into great form now.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tour de Force

Am reading this at the moment and loving it.

Meant to post yesterday's race report but seem to have forgotten to burn it to CD. Will do it Monday then.

Right arm is lobster red from sunburn!

Click (Click)

Movie Review: Click
A poignant, funny and unexpectedly clever flick

I’m sure someone has pitched this idea – a universal remote control that controls everything and everyone – to movie studio execs before. The good news is the concept actually works, and the writers have pulled out every stop to make this a rich, imaginative and charming yarn.

Adam Sandler plays an overworked architect and father, opposite the gorgeous Kate Beckinsdale and two adorable brats. David Hasselhof is perfectly cast as the cheesy, dumb and detestable boss, but Christopher Walken is once again the scene stealer. He plays ‘Morty’, a backroom worker who not only gives Sandler his remote, but is called on to assist throughout Sandler’s adventures. Like so much in this film, Morty is a lot more than he seems.

Morty: Think about it, you've skipped a year. That's a lot of sex. That's like, thirty minutes worth for you.

My girlfriend and I were both exhausted by 10pm on Friday night, when the movie started. When the opening credits began to flash, she whispered: “Would you mind if I sleep?” I silently hoped the movie would be good enough to keep her awake (so she could keep me company), but neither of us were disappointed. We both loved it.

Although the basic formula behind Click is simple, the writers have impregnated this film with everything – from toilet humor to classic human themes. It may seem like an unlikely combination, but somehow the silliness entertains just long enough for the more serious message to emerge, and it resonates with quiet potency.

One of the funniest scenes in the flick happens just after Sandler smacks his boss in the face, giving him a massive headache. I won’t give it away but we laughed so much, the tears started to flow.

Another one of a million pleasant surprises in this flick is James Earl Jones, who demonstrates just one of the inner workings of the universal remote. The writers have developed a complex psychology – a system – that the universal remote is based on. It’s also interesting to see what the future looks like – hospitals, cars and how the characters change.

The only thing I didn’t like about the film was when Sandler, fiddling with his remote, makes his boss appear bulbous and then dwarfsized. And: am I the only one who wonders: would a goddess like Kate Beckinsdale (Underworld) really fall for an ‘ordinary guy’ like Adam Sandler?

It’s remarkable that the movie – so filled with special effects – actually works so well. The writers have obviously spent a lot of time making sure that a lot of sense was built into the plot beside all the amusing nonsense.

It occurs to me now that the title of the flick, Click, also refers to the slang term for ‘having a paradigm shift’. Watch this flick and remember to ‘click’ – to know what you’re really doing - whenever you reach for that remote, and especially, the fast forward button.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Weekend Postscripts

The MAP* around the corner from Hout Bay, and heading towards Llandudno. I've actually paddleskied and hiked this piece. At the right time of year, the waves around Lion's Head also become massive 20 footers at The Dungeons. Big Wave surfers come here and do the Pipeline thing, except that the water is chilly and there's the threat of Great Whites (a small seal colony is situated nearby).

*Marine Protected Area

A building sized advertisement for Windhoek Lager. Notice, even the curtains are co-ordinated with the adjacent wall-paint. Korea could learn a lesson from this - often their outdoor advertising is terrible. This actually makes for interesting and color sights in the city

Worship at the altar of shopping...we are consumers and are job is to consume. It's a vulgar approach to life (and to people), and the above picture represents the excesses of our vulgar existence. This picture was taken at Canal Walk, a massive mall complex near Cape Town.

Meanwhile have a good weekend - don't think I'll post anything till Monday (unless something spectacular happens in tomorrow's race).
Bearing the above image in mind: try to buy only what you need, and less of the things you want. It ends up just becoming clutter that you never use, anyway.

New Line

Well, today's my last day at Brebner. I'm really going to miss this place. Scratch that. I'm thrilled to be going. I actually feel energy starting to flow through me again. Like a cracked riverbed suddenly becoming moist and starting to flow, cold and silver, under the hot sun, again.

Being unemployed may not be quite as terrible as I've been imagining. Since I've worked the minimum 6th month requirement for UIF (The unemployment equity fund), there's a good chance I can claim unemployment benefits (40% of salarly paid out over a few months). That will come in extremely handy while I pursue my newest venture: Professional Athlete.

I'll be doing a lot more swimming, and overall training. The weather is warm today (above 24 degrees Celcius), getting even warmer over the weekend. The grass is green and singing, so it's a perfect time to start getting the body primed for excellence. I have also started reading an excellent book on Lance Armstrong - easily skipped to chapter 3 after just intending to read 3 or 4 sentences.

Writing is also heading into new chapters. I called Sonya Naude from Longevity and had a good chat. She said she'd email me regarding the usability of the Jean Marie Neethling interview (she said she loved the photos). So far I haven't heard from her. Meanwhile, go! maazine should be on the shelves today with my Tour de Free State article. Wegbreek and Getaway have already appeared.

Today is also payday for me and my girlfriend. She called earlier to say they are increasing her pay, and paying her a small bonus even though she just missed her target this month. Good for her. Good for us. Going to celebrate by taking in a movie and having a nice meal thsis evening.

I also realised, while walking around in the hall that the injury to my upper glute - troubling me for months - has gone. So am going to go all out now, condition myself for excellence in the Ironman.

This afternoon I'm just going to do an easy 20km cycle around the silos and then there's tomorrow's race which ought to be fun. I also need to find a new place to live this week, but am kind've embracing the new line my life is taking now.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is your light on?

The Road is Long...

So put on a good set of tyres...

Just came back from a second assessment - lots of messing about on Word and Excel - and am not sooooo sleepy slooopy oopy durpy.

Tomorrow is the last day of school and then I can focus on training and other stuff.

Took Pearl and Pulane out for waffles at Mimosa. Quite sweet. Also bought a Lance Armstrong book with my voucher.

Meanwhile, last 2 classes at varsity.

Looking forward to Saturday's race.

Hungry, and in Cape Town?

On the rocks is a lovely eatery at Blouberg strand with beautiful views of Table Mountain

Survivor: Ice Age

Thousands of years ago the southern tip of Africa survived massive worldwide extinctions
by Nick van der Leek

I spent last weekend driving around the Cape Peninsula. It's a spectacular peninsula. We saw whales smashing their tails just outside Kalk Bay harbour, and then another one drifting towards Simonstown (a few kilometres down the coast) . We also went for a walk on Boulder Beach and saw a few penguins jump out of a small wave and run-waddle towards some nearby boulders. At Kommetjie - which has stupendous views towards world famous Hout Bay - we saw a baboon sitting on a white roadside rock, taking it all in. When life unfurls around you in such vivid abundance, it is not hard to find oneself imbued, colored in, filled with a sunny sense of wellbeing.

When you see creatures lazing about in a bright blue ocean, glittering with stars, the world seems well, and a place where we can live good and healthy lives together. But beyond the obvious abundance of life here is something far more astonishing. The Cape Floral Kingdom has about 9090 different species, Central Asia has only 3000. In a space of 10 square kilometres, over 1000 different species of plants grow side by side. To put this in perspective, South Africa's closest rival (when it comes to floral variety) is South America. The rainforest has about as third as many plant species over the same area.

What's even more fascinating are the endemics. Endemics are plants found in only one region and nowhere else. The Cape Floral Kingdom has over 6200. The United Kingdom has around 20. Early Dutch explorers called these endemics - bushy plants they encountered at the Cape - 'fynbos', a reference to the fineness of the leaves.

If you want to see the sort of plants that survived the Ice Age (and thus were around for millenia) visit the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, or climb Table Mountain and pay attention to the interesting floral forms around you. A protea for example does conjure up a different world. Perhaps not Middle Earth, but a place filled with bigger and tougher creatures. Proteas are some of the largest and most colorful floral forms, growing taller and bigger than most flowers.

For more information on the author, please visit

Something New

I'm attempting to get some exposure at the daddy of citizen news - Korea's (international section).

I've just submitted a piece on Zuma's trial being thrown out and the impact that's had on our currency. I'm not sure how much the international community really cares about South African journalism. I guess I'll find out.

To view the article click on the title of this post.

65 69 82 and a card

Today's felt a little like a prizegiving. There was a little staff function today to bid Tilda Prinsloo (who has outlasted me by 7 years, 6 months) and me adieu. It was quite touching in terms of effort - flowers, tablecloth, a lots of munchies. I started piling my plate when buffet-vomit memories surfaced and then just popped a few eclairs in my mouth and retired early.

I got a card with a R100 voucher from Exclusive Books. The card was small, and the writing inside a purple scrawl with a cheezy sort've 'best of luck for your future happiness' but could not help feeling a bit touched by the gesture. I may be too big a duck for the Brebner pond, but it has to be said the staff are quite supportive of each other and inherently good. Good people, and kind hearted.

Mr Taylor spoke briefly about my leaving, saying he will be watching my writing and steering clear of the subject of teaching entirely. I was supposed to have an evaluation today of my CASS but there apparently wasn't time. Still have some work to do on that front.

Prof Factory gave me a 65% for a terrible essay I wrote on Pride and Prejudice, but she had some silly and spiteful scribblings on my answer sheet (such as crossing out 'refused' in favor of 'declined'.) That sort of approach to writing is stupid. There are many ways to write the same thing, and because you prefer one way over another doesn't make it 'right' or 'better', it simply makes it your way.

I got 69% for Great Expectations and was surprised to get 82% for Ideology (which was about analysing a soapie of one's choice - I chose 7de Laan and never found time to watch it). In all three cases I simply haven't had time to read the material provided, and in Raftery's case, the issues there certainly distracted me from focussing on the little bit of insights I had gained from lectures.

It's going to be more fun attending university next term, when I can at least get through the material. Distinctions in 222 and 322 are unlikley given that I need to score in the high 80's to make up for the 60's of this term. I'm sure a distinction for Idealogy is in the bag, so at least that's something. Need to decide in which direction to go - studywise - next term, particularly in terms of what I can afford.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Vertical view from a fish and chips eatery in Kalk Bay, Cape Peninsula.

Beaches on the Cape Flats near Cape Town

Orchid photographed beside a brook on Rhodes University campus

Training Day

*Cycle: 2:41
Distance: 70km
Went with Koen, Barendine and Yolandi for an easy cycle. Had a nice cup of coffee off the N1 at Engen but when we came out it was suddenly cold and dark. Should have been marking tests but enjoye the afternoon immensely.

The nex race, 67km is on Saturday. Will post how that goes on Sunday.

*This was on Tuesday, a glassy clear, cool sunny day starting at about 3:30pm from Cyclopede.

Journalism vs Blogging

By Nick van der Leek

Insights from the Digital Citizen Indaba

I suppose, to put my point of view into context, I should point out that I am a writer that blogs. I don’t consider myself a blogger, but a writer that also blogs.

I do appreciate the powerful influence bloggers are having on mainstream media. There are very real power shifts taking place - away from the editors and ’professional journalists’ and towards independent writers and freelance journalists, who are, like myself, often publishing their opinions on blogs.

Established writers and editors like James Kunstler create alternate venues for public discourse (on their websites). You read a book and want to know what the author feels about current events 6 months, 6 years later? Visit his or her blog.

Because of this apparently unauthorised transfer of power, journalists are calling for controls over the so-called blogosphere. These are the same journalists who once demanded ’free speech’ and other press freedoms. Why are they demanding these controls? Because their livelihoods are under threat. Well, they will be if journalists do nothing except try to impose controls on the wave of journo’s-in-waiting.

Concerns were expressed at the DCI about anarchy in the blogosphere. I don’t buy that. Anarchy, as long as it is temporary, is good. Anarchy is growth. America began through anarchy, so did plenty of other democracies. Life, it could be argued, is anarchy (against death).
There are valid concerns that blogs can be used to spread hatespeech, nuclear bomb making expertise and recipes for bad chicken soup.

Ethan Zuckerman has argued that this ’anarchy’ has modulated itself since the internet came into existence. I tend to agree. I think if you’re seeing anarchy, then you probably also think God is a man carrying a very long sword. Religion is a light in the fog, but some think they see (or have a right to see) more than others.

For those of the old school, never fear. The old rules still apply. Bad blogs disappear. Success is still measured by good writing, good content or overall popularity (which may mean the blog is badly written but somehow is crowd/mob pleasing).

What the internet and blogs do do is this: it gives a voice to those who do have talent, but have been excluded by those in power, or those with power. It’s increasingly easy for individuals to possess very powerful tools. Word processing and research tools, which has flattened the field, and put everyone on par with everyone else. Now, more than ever, it’s the calibre of the individual, bones to the grindstone hard work, that will make the difference between success and failure.

Blogs about what someone had for breakfast, or how hungover someone is on a Sunday morning may work for a while, but in a scenario like South Africa where there are limited jobs and opportunities, there is now a chance to get exposure through effort.

Journalists are like house painters. Necessary. They paint doors, windows - the pieces that make up a structure. They don’t manufacture things or build stories that don’t exist. They simply color in details. Writers though, are like artists. They build a scenario, and color it in. Sometimes they’re a little off, and sometimes they’re off by a long way. Theirs is a particular point of view, an expression. Most don’t find success, but those who do, can do well. Blogs can be an extra tool in the toolbox of a the writer as an artist.

Blogs mean that those who do have jobs (and some skill as writers) will have to stay on their toes, while the internet doubles and doubles again, speeding faster and faster around them. Journalism and blogging have one thing in common - and that’s writing. In both cases, good writers will flourish and be able to migrate from one domain to the next. Good, prolific writers ought not to be concerned. As for the rest: the stampede is already underway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Utah: Part 1


Moab, Utah. The temperatures were in the mid 30’s, mild compared to the 40’s we were expecting during the race. The swimming, paddling, rope and horse riding skill tests had all been checked off as the team lounged around in their hotel room, air conditioner at full blast. The night before the start, after a hearty cowboy style banquet of beans and turnips we received our maps after a course overview by Don Mann, PQ course director. The big news was that the race management were only expecting a quarter of the field to finish the full course… the maps revealed why. Ahead lay 800km of mountain biking through desert canyon trails, including the famous Moab slick rock, trekking across desert plains, up and down steep sided canyons, paddling down major rivers like the Green and Colorado, horseback riding, river boarding and the biggest ropes course ever set up for an adventure race.

Team Powerade Cyanosis were approaching panic stations. Twenty check points had to be plotted on our maps, our boxes had to be repacked and loaded onto the convoy of support trucks and they themselves had to get to the yellow American school buses before they departed at 11.30pm. The convoy of 9 buses drove 5 hours into the middle of nowhere. Not surprisingly, the team didn’t get any sleep.

Get To The Point

Ran 8 x 1000m yesterday. Feel like a grasshopper with a big stomach. Will work on that over the next few weeks. Ate a almost all-roughage breakfast cereal this morning, and last night drank a PROLEAN shake Fransa gave me. Need to get into the habit of eating that sort of stuff for a while.

Barendine and Hennie went to a Duathlon and she came 4th and he came in the top 10. Have the full programme for the tri and du season so I will be heading for the hills over the coming weeks to train.

Image above near Miller's Point, towards Cape Point (on the Argus Route)

Imagine a tree with goosepimples

Philosophy: a walk on slippery rocks

Religion: a light in a fog

Kunstler: Down Then Up And Up

World oil production so far in 2006 is on track for a 2.5 percent annual decline.

Net exports from the world's top 10 exporters are falling at an annualized 9 percent this year so far (production drops + increased domestic consumption.)

Canadian production (our main source of imports) down 10 percent this year.

North Sea production down 30 percent since peaking in 1999.

Supergiant Cantarell field in Mexico crashing. . .

Image above is of fuel storage depots in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Kunstler: Oil Buying Vacation

September 18, 2006
To find any news on the cable news networks these days is getting as hard as finding a pay telephone in an airport. This weekend I went to MSNBC three separate times to see if anything was going on in the world, only to find Matt Lauer interviewing Deborah LeFavre, the blonde babe Florida schoolteacher who got down-and-funky with a 14-year-old student. ("He wanted it; I gave it to him.")

I guess the network execs could not resist running the segment nearly around the clock. If they could show porn instead, perhaps they would be even happier. Elsewhere around the cable menu, CNN-Headline has passed the baton to geeks like Glen Beck and Nancy Grace, who offer the equivalent of biting the heads off chickens, CNBC ran a seemingly endless loop of cops-in-cars-chasing-lowlife around (pick it) Florida, Las Vegas, or Phoenix, while over at regular-CNN Larry King was discoursing with Sean Penn on world politics (in lieu of someone who actually works in government or foreign policy).

This is an interesting case of the diminishing returns of technology, the stealth disease that is corroding our economy and our culture. The concept is not as abstruse as it seems. It is related to Gresham's law of economics, which states that "bad money drives out good." If you have a society on a gold standard of circulating money, and you introduce silver as an acceptable medium of exchange, Gresham said, the gold will all disappear from circulation due to hoarding, until only silver is left in circulation. Likewise, there is a tendency with the layering of technologies to diminish the real value of whatever these technologies are applied to in our culture, like broadcast news -- the more cable channels, the worse we are informed.

The most obvious example of the diminishing returns of technology is something that probably drives millions of Americans batshit every hour of the day -- the inability to connect to a live human being on the telephone. This situation has come about precisely because of the investments made in computer upgrades of telephone systems since the 1980s. All over America, in companies, banks, colleges, doctors' offices, machines now answer the phone and the caller must submit to the absurdity of negotiating with a robot (usually a perky female robot). At best, these systems waste a quarter-hour of your time. At worst, I daresay a few poor souls have literally killed themselves over a failure to connect to some crucial person at a crucial moment. I don't know for sure, but my guess is if all these companies, offices, and institutions had just continued to pay salaries for a few receptionists each over the years, instead of investing an equivalent amount of money in the latest technology, we would be a much happier nation -- and at least a couple of million people (probably women) would have decent jobs intelligently and swiftly routing caller's needs to the right person in their organization.

Getting back to the original matter of the television news, what was going on around the world this weekend was not very much of anything. The Pope was the latest in a long line of individuals who spoke their minds about something (in this case, the implacably violent ideology of Islam), and then tried to take it back when a few mullahs affected to be offended. But aside from the Pope acting like an Ivy League university president called on the carpet by vengeful correctniks, not much was actually happening in the world.

Which leads me to the real subject of this Monday blog, which is the question of oil prices. Cheerleaders for an obsolete reality, such as Michael Lynch and Forbes Magazine, are hailing the current drop from the mid $70-range to the low $60-range as an epochal tide-turning return to the salad days of cheap oil. (Lynch predicts it will go down to the $20's.)

Here are some of my current theories. For one thing, being at-or-near peak does not remove price volatility from the picture. It may, in fact, increase volatility as oil markets -- like any large-scale complex system -- are likely to be destabilized by the uncertainties of what peak will do to all the other big complex systems in our hyper-connected world.

What we've probably seen over the summer, with oil prices entering record territory, is large users laying in inventories in fear of even higher prices. Most of this fear premium revolved around the anticipation of another wild hurricane season, which so far failed to materialize. It was also pegged to the Israel-Hezbollah war, which further induced dread of a wider Middle East war, a showdown with Hezbollah's sponsor, Iran, and the threat of disruptions to oil exports out of the Persian Gulf.

Now, a matter of speculation circulating in the rumor-stream of the Internet is the idea that some large entity (i.e. the US government) has managed to manipulate the oil markets in order to calm the voters down prior to the fall elections. Personally, as I have expressed countless times, I am allergic to conspiracy theories. Oil prices are not actually set by the oil companies or the exporting nations. Prices are set on the futures and spot markets, where major buyers of crude bid on either short-term or long-term contracts for the stuff, in order to run their enterprises in a rational, businesslike way. Earlier this summer they bid the prices up.

Some buyers may have simply dropped out as the price of oil exceeded their practical ability to pay -- and by this I mean mainly the governments of Third World countries. This would represent significant demand destruction, but the pain incurred by people in Third World economies would likely occur off the "radar screen" of the US news media. (How many Americans, for instance, are up-to-speed on the horrific economic suffering in Zimbabwe?).

Don't look at China for demand destruction. Its oil consumption actually grew by 15 percent this year.

If there is demand destruction in the US, it has not shown up yet in the overcooked and overspiced statistics emanating from the federal agencies -- though the housing slump-or-crash-or-whatever is beginning to make an impression on economy-watchers. There is otherwise no evidence that fewer cars are clogging the Capital Beltway or the Santa Monica Freeway.

But here's one thing I wonder: what if the number one user of oil products in the US had laid in huge inventories of the stuff earlier in the year and has lately withdrawn from bidding in the futures and spot markets? I am speaking of the US Military. It would make sense, against the background of Iran rattling its nuclear capabilities, and the Israel / Hezbollah affair, that the US armed forces filled their tank farms to the max this summer and are now stepping back from bidding on any additional oil for the time being. This could be easily "managed" by the people who run this massive organization -- namely, the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the rest of the civilian authorities based in the executive branch of the government. They don't have to consult with congress on their oil purchases.

I apologize for veering into conspiracy territory on this -- and I don't have a shred of evidence that this is happening. It's just a thought, a caprice, a "wild hair," a theory. Surely there is some enterprising graduate student or trust fund nerd on the peak oil web sites who might investigate this dark notion. Has the US military gone on an oil-buying vacation as we head toward the elections?

Beware: You are entering the Blogosphere

Are blogs for the braindead or are they something useful?
by Nick van der Leek

Blogger. I’m sorry but the way that word sounds just doesn’t inspire me. It makes me think of someone who habitually walks around banging his or her head against random walls.

But that’s who I am, and now that I think of it, perhaps the name (and the way it sounds) isn’t so far off. I don’t really identify with the Blogging tribe though – at least who I think they think they are. They remind me too much of People-In-Advertising. PIA’s remind me of celebrities except that instead of being famous for being on Everybody Loves Raymond, or The Cosby Show, they’re supposedly ‘well known’ for being the account executive (but usually some marketing babble-term) somehow linking them to some or other product, and because the product is popular, by inference, they must be.

In the same way, someone who makes their social barometer, their popularity, the site meter on their website, has got to have a screw loose. Sure, I get a kick out of seeing my counter hop from 32 566 to 32 657 over the weekend, but I get a much bigger kick out of eating pizza, taking a good photograph of a baboon, or having sex with my girlfriend.

Blogging has some importance for me, because it is about these two or three things:
1) writing (and hopefully good writing) and photography (ditto)
2) communication (and hopefully sometimes communicating something someone wants to and sometimes needs to hear)

And integral to blogging is that it is a way to spread the word on vital issues that go unreported, or under-reported. One of those is our World Energy Scenario. That’s a world-crucial issue that will be resolved (and probably not resolved) in our generation.
Once again, with oil prices diving, people think the Party Is About To Start Again. Blogs are a powerful way for diverse individuals all over the world to share microeconomic and microclimatic events, and plenty of other events, and start to collate the data and find trends (or lack of). If bird flu ever ravishes the globe, blogs will be a powerful way to communicate without making deadly physical contact with people. We’ll still be able to look and see (with photoblogs) what’s going on. There are plenty of important things that need to be done, and the internet (and blogs) are a powerful tool towards realizing some of our 21st century goals (like ending poverty).

One of the people I encountered at a recent conference on blogging was someone who calls herself MushyPeasOnToast. She dresses a lot like an advertising person, and could be mistaken for some starlet heading towards or just back from some star spangled thingy. I’m all for dark glasses and ‘being cool’, but trying-to-act-celebrity seems to me a dumb motive at the best of times. A lot of people, most people, seem to be in awe of it though. A female celebrity (or celebrity lookalike, or worse, want-to-lookalike) tends to be one thing: sexy. Commonly, unless they’re pornstars, they’re not just sexy, but hard workers that act in roles that communicate some meaningful, or appropriately meaningless message. I’m trying to think of a meaningful movie Uma Thurman made. Gattacca I guess, and then nothing, but I liked her a lot in Kill Bill…perhaps I too needed to expurgate my REVENGE demons. Her crawling out the grave scene inspired me.

But then you have a blogger, who has done anything, and her sole act of celebrity is writing about trying to find dishy men to have sex with and how dumb she is for getting drunk again and again. This must be the most clichéd formula in ditzy blogging, or it soon will be. MushyPeas insisted on not being photographed, but otherwise attracted much attention. At one point I sat beside her and cringed as she started whining about ‘stalkers’. Here’s the rub: you dress like a celebrity, you act like a celebrity, you perform celebrity level debauchery, you broadcast it on the net, and then you want privacy and decency? That’s where the sweet-and-attractive-simulation got stuck. It’s really just egoism and that worst of the consumer impulses: nonstop overindulgence.

My guess is the intention of bloggers like MushyPeas is to attract a plethora of potential sex partners (on the internet), pick and choose the most screwable/entertaining, and write about these experiences, hoping to also capitalize on a book deal. It’s hard for me to imagine a more distasteful character: it’s not only prostituting one’s life, but one’s thoughts, soul etc. When everything you do gets written by you, surely you’re going to contrive to become a contrivance: a marketable (entertaining/sexy) commodity. So then what and who do you become? Is that even human? This is using yourself for public consumption as though the public is: God-with-an-erection. And your mantra to them: come to my website and satisfy yourself by paying attention to me. Something like that.

MushyPeas is a real person, and fairly pleasant in person – sometimes even sweet – and I’m sure somewhere in there is a soul, someone who gets up in the morning and goes to work, who washes her hands, who sips some water, someone who glances up at the sky and thinks a private meaningful thought. And someone who spends quality time away from her computer. She has a real name (one I haven’t mentioned here), and I’d be interested in meeting that person, but not sure if she is real any more, or reachable. I only know her as MushyPeas, but I wonder if she knows who she really is and what she is doing.*

There were plenty of other bloggers who were so addicted to their notebooks they seemed incapable of turning their glazed stares towards the piercing gaze of human corneas. There were also at least 2 people who I spoke to who, when they realized you didn’t shift your whole paradigm (as a result of listening to 2 sentences), felt so spurned, went to sit somewhere else and decided not to talk to you again.

Then there was a likable fella with long hair, who is the epitome of what a blogger should be. Affable, geeky, very knowledgeable (a fellow from Harvard after all), and above all, altruistic. Although American, he demonstrates a terrific love and understanding of Africa. He is confident and overbearing, but also sensitive and clever and patient and sometimes quiet. He is also innovative and fun and friendly, and gets around. He connects, not only over the internet, but over the air – extending his hand and shaking mine.

I liked that he recognizes the true power and value of what is happening with the internet, and appears to be putting it (and his own acumen) to good use.

The internet represents an opportunity for great minds to come together, or for small things to amuse small minds. We can tap the wisdom of crowds, or become a mob of brainless dimwits fascinated by what’s mindnumbingly dumb and ditzy. If we choose the latter, the stereotype will soon emerge of the ‘dumblog’.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cape of Good Hope

Not sure why but arrived in Cape Town and rapidly felt better. Somehow, unintentionally retraced the Argus (that was what I was doing in Cape Town the last time I was here). Made several spontaneous stops, including Kalk Bay (spotted a whale and shared fish and chips with gulls and Nel), then waddled with penguins and Koreans (seriously, a pack of Asians descended on the Penguin festival) and then saw some beautiful sights along Miller's Point, Misty Cliffs and Chapman's Peak. Also bumped into my aunt in Hout Bay, had a longish sometimes ridiculous conversation before shooting off to the Waterfront to meet Ilze and Johan.

I felt so much better by then that I even managed to shove down 3 quarters of a an incredibly greasy pizza, and touched alcohol again. We almost watched Nacho Libre after that, but my conscience compelled me to keep an appointment with Helga, so we drove to the mountain and our old abode. Still looks, smells and sounds the same.

Honey, a replacement replacement housemate, wanted to watch TV (and snorted slightly when I incorrectly guessed that she was British), so I slunk into the kitchen to watch Helga make tea.
In the meantime she's transformed herself into a ROXY surfer.

Next morning we took in Afrikaans Celebrity life at Blouberg (or is it Blaauberg), and then worshipped briefly at the altar of shopping (at Canal Walk - continuing to expand at a scary pace).
Got F a delicious pink top (inspired by the Helga-Roxy thing) and when I finally arrived at the airport, guess whose head was first in line to poppet out at me. Dressed in red and blue and was just nice to an get all hands on HUG again.

People treated me damn well while I was away, especially in PE and CT. More good news is that all my exam marking has been given to some paid slave (who must be insane). I shouuld be done with term papers by Wednesday or Thursday and can then start focussing on the fun stuff.

Oh, and my brother has a girlfriend. Also 24. Seems to be the best age for ripe pickings.

Meanwhile I have to reschedule interviews and fetch the Cannon and Heart Rate monitor. Both were serviced while I was away. I fortunately had a service as soon as I got back.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thank you for vomitting

How to vomit (without really trying)
by Nick van der Leek

I met Glory, a journalist from Zambia, last night. If I was a smoker I would have tentatively sucked on a ciggie while listening to her talk about Life in Lusaka. Instead, I kept popping one more morsel of food into my mouth. An olive, then a piece of salami, then a wobbly white egg, then a green onion ball (soaked in vinegar), then some cheese, then - OK, you get the picture.

I got to the pictures proper half an hour after they started, but it didn't seem to matter. Movie (Thank you for smoking) was just a diversion, and then I headed back to New House. I passed Mushy Peas in the street (outside The Rat) and, since she had her back to me, gently prodded her midriff to say 'Hi/Bye'. I happened to be on the phone too.

Then something truly awful happened. I went to bed before 11pm on the Rhodes University campus, and I couldn't sleep. Just felt *&%#ing queasy. Now imagine this: you've had one whiskey all day (so it's not about brain numbing alcholism), and you're lying in bed, and you suddenly find yourself on an express elevator - falling down. Think Virgin Mobile, but going in the opposite direction.

I wobbled, egglike, to the bathroom, and - forgive me for being descriptive here - urinated poo. Yes, urgh! (It's at times like these that the intentions of the writer making these public disclosures do become unclear - I admit it's a pertinent question: are you supposed to know this stuff?)*
What followed were massive waves of nausea, as an eggy, olivetti, pastry and onionised soup created a new brand of beer (Vomit Lager)in my gut.

Back in bed, the world began to spin, and I am not exagerrating: I thought I was going to die. I thought of crawling to reception and croaking: 'call an ambulance'.
The fugue continued, and then I got that taste on my tongue. The salty liqurice snake, coiling, and poisonous, on the back of my tongue. I flew out of bed, like Pinochio on strings, and crouched over a bin with its white plastic liner. And then my throat and stomach contracted. A small cough of air slipped out of my mouth, with the smallest croak, of pain. Then it happened again - a convulsion but no liquid voiding. It's extremely painful. If you've seen The Hole, then you know, a dehydrated person can die from basically tearing their stomach to pieces as the body attempts to pump out a poisonous swarm of bacteria infested beer.

Finally I went from crouching position to almost upright (a quick nod to the evolution of ape to man - theoretically apes spent a lot of time hungover, hence their posture). I sipped some water (conscious that some evil Stephen King bacterium might be swimming like a thin green snake, once again, into my fragile system.

This time the wave of nausea sent me scrambling to the white toilet, and my throat stretched into a moist conduit. Along this membrane, about 6 full cups of noxious beer, with clumps of you don't want to know what, poured into a new, and if my say, fairly pristine, reservoir.

I flushed the brew into the sea, and skin, prickled by cold licks of air, hobbled back to bed.

Somehow I managed to get 4 and a half minutes of sleep. I emerged this morning, only able to walk quite slowly, and all processes functioning at a decelarated rate. It still feels like a number of small cactusses are bursting internally, making me feel cold and prickly and sore headed.

Going to head back to PE tonight instead of early Saturday morning. I can only imagine how amplified the above experience would have been if I had added a few more whiskies, and The Rat and Parrot to it. The RAP is a near death experience even when the beer that is served is brewed by Heineken, and consumed - naturally enough - by Rhodents.

*My guess is I am still suffering from juvenile male teenage syndrome (JMTS), a condition characterised by boasting about grotesque achievements associated with the lower body functions.

Lighting up the dark continent

By Nick van der Leek

Day 1 at the Digital Citizen Indaba

I find myself glancing away from the keynote speaker, my gaze drifting to the delegates and speakers-in-waiting that fill the small amphitheatre-lectorium. Lots of squares of light fill the room, but not quite one for each delegate.

I have my own microsquare - a new Samsung phone capable of sending content from my hand direct to the internet. We’re armed, and our armoury consists of all this stuff: electronic gadgets capable of utilising the massive software tools and the world wide reach of the Web.

Blogging is about having your own space on the internet. It’s about individuals expressing themselves, and in the end, it;s fair to suggest that the unarticulated dream of blogging is for the world - for each person in the world - to have a voice.

Some voices, obviously, may not be as interesting as others, and that will be reflected in how much people visit their sites. But others really need to be heard: and they will be.

The great thing about blogging (and a new blog comes into existence every second - the world now has over 50 million blogs)is that the crowd no longer just reads - they can write as well. The spaces on the internet are just like real world spaces (like living rooms, or bars). The vast majority of bloggers are talking about ’what they had for lunch’ or ’what they thought of a fottball game’.

Just as on (a citizen blog essentially), quality is an issue. I have to admit, if I know that some of my fairly uninformed articles are getting exposure, then just how valuable is the material on the internet (particularly on blogs). And especially, how relevant are blogs when compared to top notch stuff like the New York Times.

The power of the blog is that we can tap (and assess) the wisdom of the crowd. And contributors - especially to citizen sights - can also call out errors on articles, as frequently happens. encourages accuracy and I think most contributors are fairly rigorous about at least not having textual errors. Fact checking is less simple.

Interestingly, a lot of citizen media has come about because of blogging (not the other way round). I have found, for example, that all much of the time I spent blogging is now being diverted to In some ways I think this is good and encouraging (I get more exposure), but in other ways, it’s also not exactly what blogging is about. Blogging is sometimes being brutally honest and personal about issues personal to ourselves, and sometimes we have a specific (rather than mainstream) Joe Public in mind. The other issue is that blogging for money is different to blogging for the love of it (or out of brutal necessity, or even activism).

What we are seeing is radical changes going on in the internet. And that’s exciting.
Now we all have the ability - as Dan Gilmore wrote - to ’commit acts of journalism’. We can all be contributors on a level playing field, and that’s something new and radical in world that has become increasingly flat.

All of this is good news for Africa.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I Have This

This handset it 12.9mm wide, and has a 3megapixel camera. It's really like a little magic box, because you touch something and yellow circles flame on the screen. After using the most basic Nokia model, this handset feels like I've been beamed up into the Enterprise. The LCD flowers with beautiful color, and instead of irritating beeps, a trickling piano melody woke me up this morning.
Some nice touches, like the camera - Thanks, but I think I stick to my Sony 7Meg camera for the photos.

I've taken some nice shots of the conference so far. So far I have this sort of buzzing headache from information overload. I want to take a picture of Mushy Peas - who is quite a hottie incidently. I think a cigarette between her lips (freshly painted in shiny red lipstick) ought to work, without giving away exactly what she looks like.

Some very interesting information and also I've also jotted down some interesting websites and blogs that I would not have known about otherwise.

I think I am going to watch THANK YOU FOR SMOKING tonight. Not sure if I can handle another night of second hand smoke and alchohol fumes. It's the noise - it reminds me too much of the mayhem of teaching.

"We all have the ability to commit acts of journalism" - Don Gillmor

The Lonelygirl15 Mystery

By GARY GENTILE, AP Business Writer
Wed Sep 13, 12:49 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - The creators behind the Internet video mystery teen Lonelygirl15 have revealed themselves and want their fans to know they are not a front for a big Hollywood studio marketing some upcoming film.

Instead, the three friends launched the adventures of the doe-eyed, 16-year-old homeschooled "Bree" as an experiment in storytelling that they intend to continue on their own Web site that was launched Tuesday.

Bree's inventors went public after fans of the two- to three-minute videos began questioning her existence and expressing disappointment that the seemingly genuine video diaries were a hoax.

The creators identified themselves to The Associated Press as Miles Beckett, 28, of Woodland Hills, Calif.; Mesh Flinders, 26, of Petaluma, Calif., and Greg Goodfried, 27, of Los Angeles.

Beckett, a self-confessed Internet geek, said he came up with the idea of using short videos as a storytelling technique while a surgical resident. Earlier this year, he met Flinders, a fledgling filmmaker, at a party.

Flinders said he had been developing the character of a teenage girl who was more at home relating to adults than with her peers. The character never quite fit into any of his screenplays, but seemed a perfect fit for Beckett's idea of telling stories using video blogging.

The two joined with Goodfried, an attorney, recruited the actors to play Bree and her dorky boyfriend, Daniel, and began writing the broad outlines of an open-ended plot filled with the kind of mysteries and clues TV watchers know from the hit ABC show "Lost."

The short videos began appearing on the Web sites YouTube and MySpace in June. The creators said Tuesday that they never intended to stage a hoax or trick people into believing their characters were real.

Rather, they intended to begin posting elements of the story online and then incorporate reactions and suggestions from fans into the plot.

The result was part video game, where viewers exercise some measure of control over the characters, and part mystery novel, complete with hidden clues and cliffhanger chapters that left viewers wanting more.

Flinders writes scripts for each "episode" and the actress playing Bree delivers her lines with a persuasive power that still has some online viewers believing she is genuine, even after "The Creators" posted their online confession several days ago.

The three creators declined to identify the name of the actress Tuesday. But amateur Internet sleuths discovered she is Jessica Rose, a 19-year-old actress from New Zealand who recently moved to Los Angeles.

The revelation that Bree was fake initially angered fans on YouTube, who suspected Lonelygirl15 was a slick Hollywood attempt to advertise some upcoming movie or TV show.

But since the creators revealed the fictitious nature of the show last week, the number of people subscribing to the Lonelygirl15 channel on YouTube has skyrocketed.

"Just because I know a movie isn't real isn't going to stop me from watching it," Alexandra Inman, a 17-year-old fan from St. Louis, said Tuesday. "I'm there for the entertainment."

Bree's adventures will continue on a new Web site created in conjunction with the online syndication network Revver. The company helps video-makers profit from their efforts by attaching ads to each video, then burying a "tag" in the computer code that tracks where the video is posted. Revver then shares the ad revenue with the authors.

As far as what happens to Bree next or just how long "Season One" will last, the creators themselves are unsure. Stay tuned.