Sunday, May 29, 2011

A recent letter to management about the sub-editing. . .

I think this speaks for itself. Sort of. . . -- AD

Hi ------

I know it seems like a minor thing, but the editing of the column continues to appal.

This morning we have an example of an erroneously inserted comma destroying the meaning of an entire paragraph.

I wrote of Tom Clancy's use of "weapons porn" -- that is, his tendency to drool over the technical details of heavy weapons, their killing rate, their destructiveness, how fast jets fly, how many bombs they carry, and how he bores readers with brand names like Uzi, Kevlar, Glock and so on. It is a common enough term, just as you get car porn, house porn and food porn -- terms to describe a similar, lascivious overindulgence in motoring journalism, the waffle of decor editors and glossy pictures of cakes.

But someone chose to insert a comma in "weapons porn" -- meaning that, in addition to all the guns and bombs that Clancy clutters his books with, he also assails his readers with heaps of thrusting cocks and sopping holes.

Sadly, this is not the case.

There are other instances where words are needlessly removed, destroying cadence, and where phrases have been reworked in a confusing manner. It's annoying that I take some care with the column only to have it ruined by such sloppiness.

Please slap the person responsible for this sabotage.


A Famous Grouse: May 28

Latest Weekend Argus column, as submitted. Please note: the newspaper did, after consultation with me, change "Nazis" to "despots" as there was some concern about the "potential for suing". As I have no money however, and therefore very little potential as a defendant in such an action, I have left it in. -- AD

HOW weird that there should be surprise at the unseemly haste with which the ruling party is attempting to bully into legislation its fascist Protection of Information Bill.

I mean, come on! It’s no secret that these people don’t like the media. They feel nothing for the press and want to drag us into the street and there gang-rape us into a puddle of submission before a cheering mob of youth league drunkards.

So why the shocked reactions? Could the fact that the municipal elections were largely incident-free have lulled us into a false sense of security?

Could that be the case? That the simple act of casting one’s vote had left us soft and fuzzy-minded, basking in the warm comfort of an evidently misguided impression that we were living in a democracy, one in which the rights of a free press were enshrined in a constitution, only to be rudely and very suddenly bitch-slapped into a frightful state by Cecil Burgess, the ANC MP who is chairing the allegedly parliamentary committee processing this atrocity?

Burgess, sensitive readers may not wish to recall, was in boffo gauleiter overdrive mode earlier this week when he curtly informed opposition parties that the committee would not be discussing input concerning the bill, as had been expected, but would instead start voting on it most pronto.

As he put it, “the enthusiasm to accommodate all different views was an error”, that the process would take “forever”, and that it was unlikely the committee would have “100% consensus on everything” in the bill.

It was a disgraceful business. He may not have clicked his boot heels together, but really, it was there in his sentiment: don’t waste our time with trifling concerns for your rights -- you mean nothing to us, and your concerns of civil liberties even less.

Burgess and his grubby friends may take exception to the association with Nazis, but really, what else can one say?

After all, it is the ANC who are forever reminding us that it was they who are the party of “liberation”, that it was them and them alone who delivered us from the oppression of our apartheid past and gave us our freedom.  And with that, the tacit implication that it is they who will be taking that freedom from us, too.

They get so angry when they’re accused of behaving, if not like the old Nationalists, then a whole lot worse. But really, what can you say about the unhealthy urge to give reporters mandatory prison sentences of up to 25 years for doing their job?

This is not the customary personality disorder so prevalent with politicians -- that venal compulsion to interfere with and manage people around them others for their own good -- but a whole new psychopathy, one borne of a repugnant moral narcissism.

But they forget that, for all their draconian measures and threatened punishments, these types of law always eventually fail.

For example, it may well be that, in terms of the proposed bill, the open toilets at Makhaza and Viljoenskroon and elsewhere can at the whim of a minor municipal functionary be declared “state secrets” and that reporting their whereabouts could land a journalist in a heap of trouble, particularly in the run-up to an election, when its potential to embarrass was greatest, but does that mean they will disappear?

It’s tempting to suggest that, in this digital age of electronic and social media, there are no secrets anymore. Certainly, the Ryan Giggs “superinjunction” debacle -- in which the philandering footballer’s attempts to prevent British newspapers from identifying him were thwarted by a massive Twitter campaign -- is proof that the truth will always out. It’s amazing that with each successive reign of ratbags there is the heartfelt conviction that they are the exception.

But moving on, as we must. Here at the Mahogany Ridge disturbing uncensored news has reached from London concerning the UK leg of US president Barack Obama’s European tour.

It appears that, in an attempt to ingratiate himself with his visitors, prime minister David Cameron hosted a massive braai for about 150 guests in the garden at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon.

Both leaders rolled up their sleeves and got busy with the tongs and soon, according to The Times of London, “the air was filled with the smokey aromas of sizzling British sausages. . .  Rosemary Kentish lamb chops were also available, as were hamburgers and corn on the cob. . .”

Excuse me, but you do not braai English lamb. Ever. They’re far too bland. The Karoo lamb, on the other hand, seasons itself with all the pungent herbs out there in the scrub.

Everyone knows this. It’s not a secret.

A Famous Grouse: May 21

Better late than never, herewith, as submitted to the newspaper, my Weekend Argus column for that first Saturday after the elections. . .-- AD

WELL, that is that, then. All over bar the shouting. And it’s a big rousing, to-the-winner-not-always-the-spoils kind of consolatory cheer for the Abolition of Income Tax and Usury Party who managed to get a couple of hundred votes in the Western Cape.

It’s not much, I know. But it’s a start. And who can say what the future holds for the people who think that revenue collection by governments is a Marxist invention and should be done away with?

The same could be said for the Dagga Party, which had hoped to win at least one ward somewhere in the province. Sadly nothing of the sort happened. Which is a pity, really. All jokes aside -- and there’ve been quite a few as far as the Dagga Party is concerned -- the case for the decriminalisation of marijuana is moral and just and should be taken up by the larger parties.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Right now, we’re concerned with a more probable future, not some weird stuff that happens when you smoke polio weed.

As far as the country’s smaller parties are concerned, it’s fair to say that anything can happen. Just look at the dramatic growth in support for the Democratic Alliance, and you’ll understand that our political landscape is in a constant state of flux, a great bowl of soup forever bubbling away on the back burner.

Well, about 40% of it anyway. The ruling party continues to rule most of the country’s metros and municipalities.

But not here, of course, and this evening at the Mahogany Ridge, we will no doubt be raising a consoling glass or two to big loser Tony Ehrenreich, the ANC’s mayoral candidate, and say, ag, shame, but then the campaign he chose to run had a bit too much in common with the general tenor of those thrown out with considerable tedium by that other Tony from a while ago, Tony Leon.

Unlike the former leader of the DA though, Ehrenreich came across as slightly more magnanimous in defeat than Leon. As a Ridge regular put it, he seemed like a decent sort, even quite ethical.

Perhaps, but the klap that Ehrenreich got at the polls was his first really big political defeat. We should remember that Leon was always losing, and was very good at it -- he could do that constantly trailing a distant second with the same flair that Danny DeVito brings to being short, he was that much a natural.

Should he become more accustomed to losing it could well be the case that Ehrenreich may find it expedient to ditch the valiant runner-up schtick in favour of a more convenient and perhaps comfortable surliness.

And it could be sooner than expected. If what I read in the newspapers is true, he has “hinted” that he may run for premier of the Western Cape as early as 2014.

This time, though, perhaps he’ll be nicer to voters before they cast their votes, and only once he’s safely seen Helen Zille’s goods carted out of Leeuwenhof should he start calling them racist and frightening them with talk of dumping the homeless in the leafy suburbs of the rich buggers and tearing up their bicycle paths.

But on to other matters as we must. We have been following with some interest the hate speech case against Julius Malema, about whom the less said at the moment, the better.

Malema’s lawyer, Vincent Maleka, has put forward an interesting suggestion about Dubula iBhunu, the controversial song that is at the heart of this tedious business. According to reports, the song doesn’t exhort its listeners to “shoot the boer”. That, Maleka has claimed, was a “media translation”.

Who or what exactly is now being identified as a target for shooting is not known. Maleka has apparently been dragging his feet in revealing this crucial aspect of his case in closing arguments before the Johannesburg High Court -- maybe he is being paid by the hour -- and such details, alas, were not available at the time of writing.

However I can reveal that considerable time and effort was spent in convincing the court that the meaning of “ibhunu” had, in fact, changed dramatically from 1994 to 1995. Quite how this happened has escaped me, and perhaps we shall learn more of this mysterious process in the days to come.

What is clear, though, is that, in a judgment in a separate case before the Johannesburg High Court this week, the publication and chanting of “Dubula iBhuna” was declared an incitement to murder. But who? That is the question. . .

* Anton Hammerl. Cheers, buddy. All strength, condolences and love to Penny and family.

A Famous Grouse: May 14

It's a bit late, but here as submitted to the Weekend Argus, is my pre-election column. -- AD

IT IS no secret here at the Mahogany Ridge that, after years of watching them root about in the slops, my loathing for politicians is well nigh absolute.

I’ve come to expect nothing but the worst from them, particularly in the weeks ahead of an election when we are assailed at every turn by the thieving swine who smile at us in the manner of a paedophile offering sweets to children.

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the repugnant manner in which the ANC has behaved in the past few weeks.

Given that, thanks in particular to the efforts of the youth league, the overarching metaphor of the polls is the open toilet, it is hardly surprising that the tenor of their campaign was that of a broken sewer.

It was the youngsters who led the charge at Makhaza, in Khayelitsha, where they seized the open commode as if it were the Holy Grail -- and how gratifying that, having gorged themselves at its porcelain rim, the party is now finding it something of a poisoned chalice.

A fortnight ago the newspapers were full of their crowing after the Western Cape High Court ruling by Judge Nathan Erasmus that the agreement between the City and the Makhaza settlement over the construction of the unenclosed toilets was unlawful.

As ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu put it: “Not only is this landmark judgment a vindication of the long-held ANC view shared by many people, particularly the poor black working class of the Western Cape, that the DA is a racist political party only committed to protecting the last vestiges and policies of apartheid, but that its building of unenclosed toilets in Makhaza shows total disrespect for black dignity.”

Dignity itself was up next, in the form of Julius Malema.

“Spread the message,” he announced from the court steps. “We are here today to bring down Helen Zille. Convince everybody here to vote for the ANC. This is a victory for the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape. But I promise that the DA will not abide by the ruling; it will be up to Tony (Ehrenreich) to fix the toilets because the DA doesn’t care about poor people. But we can get rid of that racist Zille by voting for the ANC on the May 18 elections.”

A pity, then, that he didn’t bother to pay much attention to the actual contents of the Erasmus judgment, which pointed out, right from the get-go -- in its third paragraph, in fact -- that, far from winning, the people of Cape Town were, in this particular regard, the losers in this shameful, undignified business.

To wit: “In this matter we have seen, various government organisations litigating on opposing sides at a high cost to the tax payer. The Mayor of the City of Cape Town Mr Dan Plato and second applicant, Mr Andile Lili, who purports to be a political leader and an Executive member of the African National Congress Youth League, simply failed to rise above their political contest as opposed to their duty towards those that need to benefit the poor and vulnerable.”

Shame on them.

But then came the reports from the Free State of the open toilets in a township near Viljoenskroon, in the ANC-run Moqhaka municipality.

Clearly embarrassed, a high-powered ANC delegation, which included Free State premier Ace Magashule, housing and settlements minister Tony Yengeni and sports minister Fikilele Mbalula as well as Malema, raced to Rammulotsi with foreign and local press in tow in a desperate and pathetic attempt at damage control.

There was a revealing photograph in the dailies. It showed Malema declaiming before what appeared to be a broken loo in the exaggerated manner of the Victorian melodrama. Mbalula, behind him, looked on in shock and awe. All it needed were cartoon speech bubbles: “What is this shit?” “Our arses on a plate, methinks.”

Perhaps the most surprised of all, though, were the people of Rammulotsi. They’d long since given up hope. The toilets were built in 2003. That was three national elections ago. And now only the authorities show up, pretending to give a damn?

But, not long now, and that will all be behind us, all the bilge about cockroaches and dancing like monkeys, all the racism, the spite and the hatred, the moronic spew about white people being thieves and criminals, and all that will remain after Wednesday will be the posters, flapping off poles like the broken wings of dead birds after a violent storm.

And the people of Rammulotsi? They’ll just be a distant memory by next week. Who really cares about them? The ANC? I think not.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Famous Grouse: May 7

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. -- AD

THE dramatic events in Pakistan this week had not gone unnoticed by the little ones. There they were, one moment awash in the warm glow of the cartoons and next thing, the grownups had taken over the TV remote and were hopping from one news channel to the next. It was perhaps inevitable there would be questions.

We had to tell them the shocking truth -- American soldiers had shot dead Jafar.

And why not? Any parent who has had to sit through Disney’s Aladdin movies will tell you there’s more than a passing resemblance between the two.

In the first and best of the films, weirdie beardie Jafar, the grand vizier to the sultan of Agrabah, is on a quest to locate the genie’s magic lamp which he will use to take over the sultanate before making himself the most powerful wizard in the world.

He fails, of course, and -- spoiler alert! -- at the end of the movie he is trapped in the lamp, now a genie himself but, alas, with no free will of his own.

In the second movie, it gets much worse. In a shocking display of violence, Jafar is once again trapped in the lamp which is now kicked through a fissure in the earth’s surface by a grumpy parrot called Iago and it lands in a sea of lava. The lamp melts and, alas again, Jafar is crisped and reduced to dust.

And so it was with Osama bin Laden, who -- as the chatter went at the Mahogany Ridge on Monday -- was finding paradise a bit of a downer, what with the 72 vegans who now won’t leave him alone.

The novelist Salman Rushdie had the perfect take on the al Qaeda leader, pointing out that he died on Walpurgisnacht, a spring festival celebrated in parts of Europe and usually associated with bonfires, dancing and what was known in medieval times as witches’ sabbaths but more lately as Workers’ Day.

“Not an inappropriate night for the Chief Witch to fall off his broomstick and perish in a fierce firefight,” Rushdie wrote in the Daily Beast. “One of the most common status updates on Facebook after the news broke was ‘Ding, Dong, the witch is dead,’ and that spirit of Munchkin celebration was apparent in the faces of the crowds chanting ‘U-S-A!’ last night outside the White House and at ground zero and elsewhere.”

Of course, we’ve since learnt that that firefight, fierce as it no doubt may have been, was a distinctly one-sided affair, and yes, the yahoo tone and jingoist triumphalism of those American celebrations was indeed grating.

But these and the other issues that have emerged in the days since the raid on the compound in Abbottabad had done little to alter my initial reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death.

I believe the world is a better place now that he is gone. The fact that this deluded murderer was unarmed when he was shot in the face and could see it coming really doesn’t change my opinion all that much. Perhaps it would have been ideal if he had been brought to trial for that procedural veneer, but in the end he would have wound up just as dead. That’s what the Americans wanted all along -- a dead terrorist, and that’s what they got.

Of course, one man’s dead terrorist is, in the nature of these things, another man’s religious hero and martyr.

But even that, too, is changing. The Arab spring, or the so-called jasmine revolution, has been secular in nature. In short, it’s about democracy and universal human rights -- and certainly not about following nutty mullahs and jihadi into the sort of theocracies deemed backward even by the standards of seventh century caliphates.

While al Qaeda’s influence may be on the wane, the same cannot be said for opprobrium for the White House, and in this regard, local reaction to the US raid has been predictably imbecilic, especially the outburst from Young Communist League secretary Buti Manamela: “They claim to be the champion of peace and democracy but they are nothing but invaders and their anti-terrorism campaign is the greatest cover-up of their own terrorism. Through their president [Barack] Obama, they are the worst animal fighting in human skin.”

On Tuesday, the Times of London printed all the known names of those who died in attacks planned by bin Laden. They included the 261 people who died in the blasts in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August, 1998.

The targets may have been the embassies of the “US imperialists” but the vast majority of the dead were African.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Famous Grouse: April 30

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. -- AD

TO Steytlerville, where a shape-shifting monster has apparently been bothering the residents of this sleepy Karoo backwater in recent weeks. Those who have seen it say it first appears as a headless man in a black coat and then it turns into an angry dog, then a pig, and even a bat and a large monkey.

Yes, it would seem that not even this quaint dorp, dubbed the north-eastern gateway into the Baviaans Kloof and noted for its near pristine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, has escaped the attention of the politicians as the national municipal elections approach.

The townsfolk have been ignored for years, but now, suddenly, they’re being bothered by a plague of blatant lies, false promises and fatuous arse-kissing.

It’s no wonder they’re terrified out there and have -- perhaps foolishly, given their irrational propensity for brute violence -- turned to the police for help.

Mercifully, the police chose not to gun down anyone or club them into submission but, instead, asked residents to photograph the shape-shifter. Which, according to one Warrant Officer Zandisile Nelani, they duly did after spotting it resting under a tree.

Nelani told Sapa that when the photograph was taken the creature had been in human form, but when the image was developed there was an unknown animal in its place. “It is a very strange thing happening in Steytlerville,” he added, “but no-one has been hurt by it.”

Police are now scanning the election candidate lists for someone to help them with their inquiries. Naturally, we fear the worst.

Here at the Mahogany Ridge, though, much was initially made of reports that a good deal of the Steytlerville shape-shifting apparently occurred in the proximity of a local tavern. Some regulars even pointed out that, far from being paranormal, such activity was quite commonplace at the Ridge, especially on pay days.

But this suggestion was given short shrift and it was pointed out that, in the parlance of the simple fisherfolk that we are, “drinking someone pretty” followed by torrid fumbling and groping in the car park was not the sort of shape-shifting under discussion here.

Indeed, what was happening in Steytlerville appeared to be quite the opposite -- an apparently normal, possibly even attractive person suddenly loses their head, and then turns into a pig, and not the other way round.

But moving on. As we did rather pronto when word reached us that President Jacob Zuma had, rather astonishingly, declared that some ANC candidates would be kicked out of office after the elections to make way for communities’ “preferred” choices.

He was electioneering in Bloemfontein when he told disgruntled party supporters to “vote for the ANC and we will sort out the candidate lists later”.

It didn’t sound very convincing, did it? Was he losing his head? Was this transmogrification? Was he about to take off? Who could say? But here was shape-shifting on a whole other level, and it was much like watching a slothful mastadon splashing about in the swamp as it became a mere whisper of its former self.

More worrying, though, is that this about-turn apparently not only negated the ANC’s somewhat frantic attempts in recent weeks to convince supporters to accept the party-ordained candidates over their own popular choices, but it could throw the poll’s outcome into chaos -- particularly for said party-ordained candidates who will be forced to make way for others.

It is here that things will get interesting, in a very grim way.

In a recent blog, the political analyst Nic Borain raised the point that when the business of government becomes the business of enriching the governors -- and, as we know only too well, the “rewards” of political office are considerable -- then the process of getting onto the party’s candidate list becomes “one of mayhem and murder, endlessly chaotic and contested”.

You can imagine, then, having fought tooth and nail to get on that list and thus into office, the extreme reluctance at now suddenly having to make way for some yokel community leader coming out of nowhere, and without the sort of political patronage, tenderpreneurial connections and predisposition for looting that now characterises our public life.

It’s outrageous, this suggestion that one should hop off the gravy train before they’ve even hooked up the locomotive.

They won’t take it lying down. And it’s here, obviously, that we will see men and women, in fits of atavistic greed, truly turning into beasts. The fighting and backstabbing, the bloodletting and the barbarism of it all, the treachery and brutality, will be something else. Even the police will be scared.