Learned Opinion

From an article i was reading on the Black Death:

The Black Death
Learned Opinion

The cause of the disease was a matter of concern to many. Popular opinion did view the plague as a scourge from God, for the times were indeed out of joint. This was mere vulgar opinion, however, and the learned knew better than to believe it. But what, then, was the source of the plague?

The pope sent to Paris to obtain the opinions of the medical faculty there in 1348. They studied the problem for a time and returned a report. The good professors opined that the disaster was caused by a particularly unfortunate conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the sign of Aquarius that had occurred in 1345. This conjunction cause hot, moist conditions, which cause the earth to exhale poisonous vapors.

The report went on to recommend steps to keep safe from the disease. This, in part, was their prescription:

No poultry should be eaten, no waterfowl, no pig, no old beef, altogether no fat meat. . . . It is injurious to sleep during the daytime. . . . Fish should not be eaten, too much exercise may be injurious . . . and nothing should be cooked in rainwater. Olive oil with food is deadly. . . . Bathing is dangerous. . . .

In time, other writings appeared from the pens of educated men on the best ways to avoid the plague. From Italy came this advice:

In the first instance, no man should think of death. . . . Nothing should distress him, but all his thoughts should be directed to pleasing, agreeable and delicious things. . . . Beautiful landscapes, fine gardens should be visited, particularly when aromatic plants are flowering. . . . Listening to beautiful, melodious songs is wholesome. . . . The contemplating of gold and silver and other precious stones is comforting to the heart.

And then there is the Plague doctor, to me a strangely archetypal image


Nieves Books (Recursive Art)

[Nieves Books]

Victorian Post-Mortem Photography

Photographs of a deceased loved one served as substitutes and reminders of the loss. Families who could not afford to commission painted portraits could arrange for a photograph to be taken cheaply and quickly after a death. This was especially important where no photograph already existed. The invention of the Carte de Visite, which enabled multiple prints to be made from a single negative, meant that images could be sent to distant relatives. The deceased was commonly represented as though they were peacefully sleeping rather than dead, although at other times the body was posed to look alive.

[Link via Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society]


Papa Song's

I found this scary photo of Canal Walk's food court on Flickr. It was taken using high dynamic range technology.


People like Kortbroek


Marthinus Van Schalkwyk is well known as the last leader of the National Party, before it imploded, pathetically, into the ANC. Below follows a short biography of the man who betrayed his colleagues, his constituents, the Afrikaner people and democracy in South Africa. He chose his own lowly interests over those of the people he promised to protect. He sold out his own kin. There is no lower thing.

As a young man Marthinus Van Schalkwyk had been chairman and a founding member of an organisation called “Jeugkrag”, which painted itself as an organization for Afrikaner youth disenchanted with the Establishment. Jeugkrag broke ranks with the NP and had even met the exiled ANC. It would later emerge, however, that while he was leading his supposedly independent youth movement, he was securing secret state funding for it. And, without the knowledge of fellow Jeugkrag leaders, he himself was on the government payroll. He was working as a double agent from the start, lying to his colleagues. If I had worked with this guy I would have punched him in the throat. A man with no principles and even less conviction.

In 1990, Van Schalkwyk was doing all he could to tie himself to De Klerk – then leader of the NP and President of South Africa, and by 1997 he had management to wiggle his way to the top of the shitpile. “Kortbroek” – as was his nickname amongst hardliners because of his sycophantic subservience - was chosen as leader of the NP for the 1999 general elections. At this time the National Party (or to be precise, the NNP at that stage) had the stated goal of being meaningful opposition to the ANC Leviathan.

There was a popular urge for such a situation, and the NP was more successful than expected. And on an even more positive note, it had formed an alliance with the Democratic Party in 2000, which effectively gave them control over the Western Cape Province.

More than a million ordinary South Africans had put their trust in Marthinus to do as he promised. The people tasked him, gave him the mandate, to try keep the corruption inherent in one-party systems at bay. Yet in 2001 Marthinus had his National Party break off from the Alliance, and entered into talks with the ANC. The discussions first lead to a ‘cooperation agreement’ between the ANC and the NP, but soon events took a more fundamentally tragic turn. The ANC offered Marthinus a ministerial position and in return for aligning the NP completely with the ANC. Marthinus took the miserly whore-money, disenfranchised a million citizens, and handed the hard won Western Cape over to the ANC. In August 2004 it was announced that Van Schalkwyk was disbanding the NP and would afterwards become a member of the ANC.

This was the ANC’s grandest moment. How they must have chuckled.

The only opposition they faced was effectively destroyed. The NP officially disbanded in April 2005, as Marthinus went from stating in 2003 that the ANC was "failing the poor" and had abandoned "principles like unity, equality and patriotism that have nothing to do with skin color", to bleating at the official disbandment of the NP that he “would personally encourage other NP leaders and members to join the ANC”. He effectively told his constituents, half a million people, to go to hell. He made the country less democratic, less just. He made our society just a little more cynical, and for that the name of Marthinus van Schalkwyk should go down as a stain on this country’s history. May his children shame him thusly.


Another Short Story

Guts by Chuck Palahniuk

If you're in the least bit squemish, dont read this.


Portraits of the stars

From a fascinating interview with star photographer Platon on what he's learned from his subjects.

When Platon's exuberance got the better of him and he asked if Al Pacino could recreate the late scene from The Godfather II where he's in the garden...Pacino leaned forward, touched him on the knee, and went, shhhhhh. Then he took on Michael Corleone for about 30 seconds. "I'm the only person to photograph Pacino as Michael Corleone," Platon says proudly.

On Keanu Reeves: "I'm not sure if this guy's really shy or really dim." He incessantly asked Platon, "What's my motivation?"

"No sex please, we're British," is apparently a well-known bit of Brit self-deprecation that Platon felt related to the following story about shooting Monica Bellucci, who he describes as one of the three sexiest women alive. He was in the dressing room talking with her before the shoot and mid-conversation she drops her towel and asks her gorgeous Italian assistants to rub baby oil "all over her curves" so she could slide into the skin-tight dress she'd chosen. "She knew exactly what she was doing," Platon insists. At the end of the shoot he asked to have a photo shot with her for his scrapbook, and, getting a little cheeky and no doubt intoxicated by her closeness he warned her, "I'm a married man." She whispered in his ear ("I can still feel her warm breath on my neck"), "Don't worry darling, I'm married too."

Benicio Del Toro: "No one touches the hair."

Platon on Matt Damon, who is "really nice, but a little square": "I had to help him look cooler than he really was."

On Christopher Walken, in the understatement of the night: "Now this guy is weird." Walken showed up for a shoot at Platon's house an hour early (unprecedented), alone (un-heard-of), and wearing black elastic pants pulled up to his armpits (what do you expect). He walked through the studio, straight into Platon's kitchen and started going through the cabinets. Platon, a little confused, asked him if he was hungry, and could he get him something to eat? "No," Walken replied, and kept opening cabinet doors. His advice on life? "It helps if you drink." The only way he would let Platon shoot his portrait? "You're going to say 'Chris' and I'm going to look at you and then I'm going to look away." "We did that for two hours," Platon says.


What's the best novel in the past 25 years?

England's Guardian newspaper asked 150 literary luminaries to vote for the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005. These are the results:

First place:
Disgrace (1999) - JM Coetzee

Second place:
Money (1984) - Martin Amis

Joint third place:
Earthly Powers (1980) - Anthony Burgess
& Atonement (2001) - Ian McEwan

The full list can be found here.

The Fantastic Art of Jacek Yerka



Two websites you need to know about

Check out The Hype Machine and Elbo.ws -

Both these sites track a variety of MP3 blogs. If a post contains MP3 links, each adds those links to its searchable database. In other words, if you are looking for a song, try searching for it on The Hype Machine and elbo.ws. If it’s floating out there, you can find it in here.

For practice check out “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John. I just searched for it on The Hype Machine and here it is.

God I love the internet.

Death row

For the optimist, a good way to start a discussion is to ask: "What would you do if you won a million dollars?" The pessimist finds it more interesting to examine the facts about what the lucky winners actually do with their million bucks. A refreshing alternative is to reflect on how you would spend your last hours on death row. The Ohio Death row logs make for interesting reading.


SA Census 2001 and 2006

some tables from SA Census 2001 and 2006


South Park Republican

I never fully appreciated how influential Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park is:

From Wikipedia:

The term "South Park Republican" has thus become popular among a handful of pundits to describe young Americans who interpret the show's values as being parallel to their cause. They see themselves as being more libertarian and far less puritanical than many other conservative groups (e.g. the religious right). Trey and Matt say they are extremely grateful for the 15 half-hours of airtime that Comedy Central annually affords them because it gives them a "bullhorn to yell at America." The phrase, "You know? I've learned something today..." is the trademark line, used in nearly every episode, to outline the South Park solution to the current moral crisis. South Park Republicans empathize with the characters' consideration of moral guidelines in their attempts to explain their surroundings and are extremely likely to support the "children's" decisions.

Trey Parker, quoted in the same Wikipedia entry:

And it comes from an honest belief we have, which is... George Bush doesn't know what's going on. Michael Moore does not know what's going on. And Alec Baldwin definitely does not know what's going on. Basically, this shit is gigantically complicated.

Top SA journalist resolves the gay marriage conundrum once and for all

Jon Qwelane, columnist for News24 and staunch Zuma supporter and defender, offers this brilliant, piercing argument against same-sex marriages.

You have to read it to believe it.


Podcast roundup

For explorations in thought and science, check out the University of Bath public lectures series. Not all of them are great, but I do recommend The Corpse is the New Porn Star in Pop Culture
and Why Does a Ball Bounce?

I have not listened to them all yet because I found the Berkley University podcast archive, with courses from History of Information to General Biology. I have listened to the first few lectures of Foundations of American Cyberculture, perfect for driving to work on Mondays (Don't download the first class, it's all admin).

Short short story

I quite like this short story, Memories of the Decadence, by Hari Kunzru. You can read it on his website here.


House of Meetings

"For all its incidental comic felicities, a reader could finish reading Martin Amis’s Yellow Dog (2003) feeling that too much had been sacrificed to the jokes; it is not that Amis’s distinctive gifts have ever been self-effacing ones, but there were moments in that book when the world was being just too deliberately shrunk to fit the satire’s demands. Darius the “seven-foot Seventh Day Adventist” couldn’t be six-foot-eleven, or indeed five-foot-six, just as Clint Smoker had to live in the geographically impractical location of Foulness – not in the interests of plot or character, but in order to feed the punchline. To move from such Technicolor knock-about to the sombre grey-scale in which House of Meetings lives is to encounter an almost completely different author, to negotiate a shift between moral worlds as well as palettes."

[full TLS review]


Winnie Mandela: Putting the “con” back in “icon”

Many people in South Africa view Winnie Mandela as a great South African. She is revered wherever she goes as a struggler against oppression and a mother of the nation.

When it comes to such large characters it is sometimes hard to distinguish fact from fiction, the profound from the everyday and the sordid. Thus, in honor of icons and mortals alike, I have written a short biopic of Winnie, with the aim of bringing to the surface the person behind the personage.

Winnie Madikizela was born in either 1934 or 1936, depending who you ask. Her father was a minister in the Transkei in the 1950s, and despite restrictions on the education of blacks during Apartheid, her wealthy background allowed her to escape many of the hardships of the period; she earned a degree in social work from the Jan Hofmeyer School in Johannesburg, and several years later earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of Witwatersrand. Yet it was during her time as a social worker that she became, in her own words, “politicized’. To quote from the ANC’s web page on Winnie:

”It was while working as the first black medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital that I started to become politicized" says Mandela. "I started to realize the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, the appalling conditions created by the inequalities of the system. Above all, I became politically conscious through the research I had carried out in Alexandra Township to establish the rate of infantile [sic] mortality - it was 10 deaths in every 1,000 births."

(As an aside, infant mortality under the ANC government today is 62 per every 1,000 births – six times the rate of 1950s Apartheid South Africa.)

By 1958, and coinciding with her first detention, Winnie Mandela’s education and commitment to the struggle saw her rise to power within the ANC ranks, becoming chairperson of the Orlando West branch of both the ANC and the ANC Women’s League. It was, however, her husband Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment for terrorism in 1962 that sealed her fate as a living symbol of the struggle against Apartheid.

Over the next thirty years, Winnie was part of many organized campaigns against Apartheid. She was also imprisoned many times herself, the longest having been 18 months in solitary confinement in Pretoria Central Prison in 1969, awaiting trail under the Suppression of Communism Act. After initially being found guilty, Mandela and the other accused were discharged on appeal. In May 1977 Winnie Mandela was internally exiled to the town of Brandfort for nine years. Here her house was bombed twice by the Apartheid government.

On release from Brandfort in 1985, Winnie returned to her home in Soweto. During her absence, 600-plus groups had allied together as a surrogate ANC under the title of the United Democratic Front (UDF). As the ANC was banned, the UDF filled the vacuum and became an umbrella organization for all groups opposing Apartheid and supporting a non-racial South Africa. Winnie decided to have nothing to do with the UDF, mainly because she was jealous of its support, and formed her own personal vigilante group - the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC), comprising of nothing more than a group of her personal bodyguards. Reports of their brutality were commonplace in Soweto.

Her reputation was further damaged by what many considered her sometimes bloodthirsty rhetoric, the most noteworthy example of this being a speech she gave in Munsieville in 1985, where she endorsed the practice of necklacing in the struggle to end Apartheid. She said, "with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country".

"Necklacing," typically carried out by members and supporters of the ANC, consisted of binding a black adversary hand and foot, draping gasoline-filled tires around legs, midriff, and neck, and setting the victim ablaze. Often, children were forced to witness their parents' agonizing deaths.

In August 1990, after the unbanning of the ANC by the National Party/Apartheid government, Winnie was appointed head of the Welfare Department of the ANC, in charge of repatriating exiles. Welfare NGOs petitioned the ANC against her appointment. Even the ANC National Executive Committee tried to remove her. But Nelson Mandela, on his way to becoming the first president of the new South Africa, personally blocked these attempts.

In 1991, Winnie Mandela was found to be complicit in the brutal killing of a 14-year-old boy named "Stompie" Seipei in 1989. Stompie, it emerged, was a pawn in an elaborate sting by Winnie to ensnare a popular white Methodist minister, Paul Verryn, in a homosexual honey-trap. Verryn was a radical with an intrepid record of opposition to Apartheid, who sheltered youths on the run from the police. Winnie was jealous - her white rival had begun attracting more funds from abroad for community projects than her football club. Winnie kidnapped Stompie and, with young men from her club, beat him to near death when he denied he had ever been touched by Verryn.

Stompie’s body was found on waste ground near Winnie's home, his throat and his head caved in.

Winnie Mandela was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for kidnapping and assaulting Stompie. In an unprecedented and widely mocked appeal-court judgment at the time, her jail sentence then was reduced to a R15,000 fine. Her alibi, which Chief Justice Michael Corbett said persuaded him to suspend her jail sentence, was subsequently proved to be a lie at a 1997 hearing of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her two co-accused went to prison.

Then in 1992 she was accused of misappropriating funds from her department. Nelson Mandela, in the hope of saving face and ensuring he was seen to be politically and morally strong enough to steer the country from the brink of civil war, distanced himself from Winnie.

In 1994 she was elected as ANC MP and became a junior minister, but in 1995, she was sacked from her post because, among other things, she had criticized the government's approach to social reform, made an unauthorized trip abroad, split the ranks of the African National Congress' Women's League and has also been accused by police of bribe-taking and influence-peddling. In 1996 President Mandela divorced her on grounds of adultery, and at the court hearing neither she nor her lawyers contested Mandela's assertions of her "brazen infidelity" following his 1990 release from 27 years of political imprisonment.

In 1997, she was summoned before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), on allegations that she was involved in at least 18 human rights abuses, including eight murders during the Apartheid years. One of her former bodyguards, a Mr. Jerry Richardson, testified in front of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the TRC panel that he had killed Stompie "like a goat" with a pair of garden shears on the orders of Winnie Mandela. He has also admitted killing three other suspected "impimpis" (police informers) on Winnie's orders.

It should also be noted that Mr. Richardson had nothing to loose: Richardson is serving life in prison for murdering Stompie and a policeman in an unconnected case.

By 2000 Winnie Mandela had become a detestable within the ANC. Not only did she not toe the party line, but she openly criticized the policies of President Thabo Mbeki. This conflict culminated in the "War of Winnie's Hat", an unseemly clash between Mbeki and Winnie Mandela when he showed his ire at her late arrival at a party function in June 2001 by knocking her hat off.

In July 2002 Winnie Mandela was charged with 85 counts of fraud and theft involving more than a million rand. Her crime was to have applied for multiple bank loans at favourable rates in the names of fictitious members of the ANC Women’s League, of which Winnie was president at the time of the fraud.

On April 24, 2003, she was found guilty on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft, and her broker, Addy Moolman, was convicted on 58 counts of fraud and 25 of theft. Winnie Mandela was sentenced to five years imprisonment on convictions for theft and fraud. In a change of tactics, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela pleaded that she had defrauded the money on behalf of poor women. But the magistrate, observing that the cheap loans had ended up in Winnie’s personal bank account, said: "You are no Robin Hood. The message has to be sent out that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, no matter who the transgressor.”

Yet even with a mountain of evidence against her, Winnie escaped doing a day of prison time when an appeal judge upheld her prison sentence on 43 convictions of fraud, but suspended it for five years.

When the Iraq War started, Winnie once again showed her selflessness and courageous spirit by volunteering to be a “human shield”. The subheading on the WorldNet daily article read: “Nelson's ex-wife, convicted of helping murder child, wants to protect Iraqi kids”.

More recently, Parliament’s General Assembly fined her in 2003 for failing to disclose her earnings and gifts. Winnie, who just turned 70, seems to be far from an end. With million still celebrating this thief, I hope that she will disappear into the hollow emptiness of legend, before the actual Winnie does any more harm.

In the final analysis, who was the hero: Winnie, or her child victim Stompie?

And where is his justice, his freedom?