Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 - a year in review

2009 is a standout year - I'm sure for you too - as the year when our prospects began to change noticeably - by Nick van der Leek

View a slideshow of images from 2009.

For my part, I've been on a wild roller coaster road in many aspects of my life. In terms of my personal life, I went from being on the verge of getting engaged to a girlfriend of five years, to moving in together, to ending the relationship for good. This was possibly the most trying, and stressful part of the year.

There was also the drama surrounding my landlady - who became a squatter in the same area I was renting - which finally led to her making a malicious charge against me that landed me in jail [for all of 40 minutes]. Of course this unpleasant experience opened the door to finding a place in a much better spot with beautiful views over Johannesburg.

In terms of my writing and photography, it is difficult, in a short paragraph, to show the extent of this roller coaster ride. The disappointments included first being on a press tour to Dubai and then the whole thing being postponed. A great moment this year was interviewing Gavin Hood [director of Wolverine] and Oscar Winner Morgan Freeman [INVICTUS]. The first interview was to be published in Men's Health in June/July 2009. Although I've been paid for the article and video, the latest is that it will appear in early 2010. An article on Botswana slated for the December issue of GETAWAY has also been pushed to March I believe. As a freelancer these delays are part of the business, but can be hellishly frustrating.

The highlights in terms of photography included shooting Miss World and other contestants in December, and flying on an assignment to Cape Town to photograph the likes of long distance swimmer Jenny White. During the elections I was also able to snap Nelson Mandela voting in Houghton - quite a memorable experience in itself.


2009 was the year Michael Jackson died. So did Golden Girl Bea Arthur, Natasha Richardson, Farrah Fawcett, Ron Silver, David Carradine, Dom Delouise, and Patrick Swayze. It's been a strange year - when Lady Gaga and Susan Boyle have vied for the most single sales.


In politics America elected their first ever black President. That suddenly seems like 5 years ago, doesn't it. And Obama's much vaunted campaign for change has materialised into just more of the same ol' same ol'. Obama may have different ideas on Climate Change to his predecessor, but the fundamental change we anticipated from him hasn't materialised. Rolling Stone magazine has labelled Obama a sellout. This is more than a little disappointing.

Meanwhile heavyweights like Helen Suzman died this year, so did Susan Tsvangirai and Ted Kennedy. We've seen ongoing turmoil all year in Iran and Zimbabwe.

In South Africa we saw populist Jacob Zuma elected, narrowly missing out on a two thirds majority. While Zuma seems more in touch with the people, it's not clear whether his leadership is decisive or informed. A good leader would insist on fast-tracking ESKOM to some workable arrangement. Thus far ESKOM has been an ongoing, apparently unsolvable riddle. Zuma's appointment of Bheki Cele as police commissioner, the shuffling of finance ministers, and his fingering Malema as a possible candidate for president demonstrates the risks involved in putting an uneducated man in power. His intentions may be good, but the results may be disastrous. This said, Zuma has campaigned against AIDS and overall done far better than Mbeki, who people have wanted to indict for crimes against humanity [for his AIDS denialism].


2009 was a year full of sporting triumphs - for Caster Semenya [who won gold], for South Africa's Springboks [forgetting the European Tour] and for the Blue Bulls. It was a year in which we saw Lance Armstrong return to the Tour de France and as a 37/38 year old, climb the podium for third place. This year South Africa hosted the Confederations Cup, and the Vuvuzela became [in]famous. I attended the Spain versus USA game in Bloemfontein with my family.
And of course 2009 will be remembered for Joostgate and Tiger Woods fall from grace. Many are saying that it is temporary - that he will be back. I doubt it. Tiger has marketed himself as a 'perfect person', and many, especially his wife, will feel betrayed and defrauded. The public do.


2009 has been an incredible year in the cinema. There have been dozens of groundbreaking and memorable movies. These include, in no particular order, Wolverine, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Monsters vs Aliens, Up, 500 Days of Summer, Terminator Salvation, Watchmen, New Moon, The Road, Sherlock Holmes, The Lovely Bones, The Stoning of Soraya M, Inglourious Basterds, Invictus and AVATAR. Have a look at that list and notice to what extent they're based on fantasy and escapism. The only realistic flicks are The Road, Invictus and arguably 500 Days of Summer [and Watchmen to some extent]. My vote for the top 10 flicks this year:

- StarTrek 9
- Watchmen 9
- Harry Potter 9
- New Moon 9
- The Stoning of Soraya M 9
- Wolverine 8
- Monsters vs Aliens 8
- Up 8
- 500 Days of Summer 8

I predict that AVATAR will spawn a new sci franchise, in the order of Star Wars big. It ought also to be the biggest earner of 2009 with New Moon second.


There has been some positive news. The Seacom cable and the lowering of interconnect rates.
Apparently we are in a recovery. Pulling strings to make the numbers work for you - in terms of corporate earnings and unemployment - may fool some people some of the time. In South Africa illegal industries such as marijuana farming and prostitution have been added to the calculation of GDP. As such 3rd quarter growth increased 0.9%. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs employees, around 30 000 are due to get their bonuses [around $18 billion]. Bloomberg has reported that gun sales among GS employees has shot up.

Over to Jim Kunstler now:

Christmas does invite us to indulge in all kinds of "hopes" and delusions, and the main one crackling through the American zeitgeist this year is the wish that our national life will resume the yeasty expansion of goodies that most living citizens regard as baseline normality - namely, a never-ending orgy of credit card spending and real estate flipping.
Can't we come up with a better American Dream, even one that includes Christmas? I think we can. It would require the liberation of American citizen's minds from their thralldom to bigness in every realm from work to worship to recreation. If you think Barack Obama is a hostage to Wall Street, reflect for a while on the people's self-surrender to the tyranny of everything that diminishes us to mere "consumers." We're on a journey - and we don't know it - back to a nation of communities where your character really matters, and where character rests on whether your deeds comport with truthfulness. Many will be dragged kicking and screaming upon that journey, and many a dark night will be passed in the cold and damp on the way. But it will take us to a place where the hearths are burning brightly and the estranged spirits of our national character await a reunion with us: fortitude, patience, generosity, humor. That will be a Christmas to live for and remember!

And this was another memorable aspect. I met Jim Kunstler earlier this year and received two signed copies of his books. I also flew down to Stellenbosch to interview one of the designers of the Joule [South Africa's electric vehicle] - Gerhard Swart.

In general we are seeing the confluence of our troubles gathering around us. We have Climate Change warning bells going off in Copenhagen, we have oil hovering between $70 and $80 when economic growth is on hiatus [imagine those prices when there is actual expansion] and in South Africa we have an electricity scenario that is running out of a future. Sadly, there was an opportunity to have a reality check in 2009. But recovery hype and hopes have conned people into believing we can go back to the happy motoring I-consume-therefore-I-am credit card lifestyle. Sadly we'll be needing another bailout in 2010 but there won't be money for another bailout. There will be plenty of gnashing of teeth, and patience will begin to run out - for Obama, for Goldman Sachs, whoever is perceived to be in charge [and therefore to blame].


I believe 2010 is going to be more infamous than 2009. We will probably see some terrific weather, perhaps another catastrophic hurricane season. But we'll see some of our climate concerns manifest in an increasingly worrying manner. We'll see tensions in Iran escalate. We'll see trouble brewing in America as pensions run dry and more people lose their homes. When the fantasy of 'recovery' proves false, anger will rise as people begin to let go of 'wishful thinking' and turn instead to resentment and blame.

We'll see protracted contraction, and we'll see energy prices coming into play again. Unemployment will continue to worsen.
In addition people will be taking swine flu a lot more seriously by June 2010, just in time for the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. I believe the World Cup will be a mixed bag. There will be an attempt to fudge reality, to play 'business as usual' and while on paper it might succeed, the World Cup will be remembered for its empty stadiums and some shocking disclosures on criminal victimisation of tourists. What do you expect where 40% of South Africa is impoverished and unemployed? How can you market a destination without making sure crime is managed. The truth is in South Africa the police can't even protect their own citizens, how then can they guarantee the safety of tourists? They can't.

The world will turn to the engine of China for economic salvation. We will see that engine gradually winding down - again, due to the constraints of high energy prices.

In 2010 we can look forward to Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, Iron Man 2, Captain America, Alice in Wonderland, the next episode in the Twilight Saga, Shrek, Toy Story 3, Tron, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [Part 1], The A-Team and Wall Street 2. Well need this escapist fare to inspire us, but more likely to avoid more and more streams of 'bad news'.

The good news is that the way we have been living, whilst fraught with choices and entertainments, and distractions, hasn't really been good for us. It's made us fat, and lazy, and self-indulgent, and anti-social, and moody. In short. Unhealthy. It hasn't fostered families or a sense of community. The troubles in store will force us to choose between distractions, addictions and a focus on ourselves, and others. It will call upon us to resurrect our humanity [as we see in AVATAR. As Kunstler say, we're going back to a nation of communities where your character really matters, and where character rests on whether your deeds comport with truthfulness.

The way to adapt to the present is to be honest with yourself, and others. Otherwise, expect to experience chronic levels of fear and doubt, and remember fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

May your 2010 be filled with truthfulness and discipline, health and happiness.

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