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A Nomad's Life (6)

by Nomad Fri Feb 13th, 2009 at 04:51:15 AM EST

The Car
The car-shop was tucked away behind a bigger building, one easily would've missed it in a hurry. I counted only ten cars on display, loitering in rows of 5 behind the white gate of iron bars. For most of this September afternoon I'd walked up and down Main Road, yet here, in this tiny shop, I had seen the one car with the best potential - and so I had come back, hoping my luck would be a bit better. Popping in and out of the numerous second-hand car shops that line the street for several kilometres, I'd been waved out of glass reception halls by blond,  cigarette smoking women after exposing my upper financial limit, I'd met the typical male sharks, too often greasy, overweight Afrikaners with tattoos spiralling around their arms, who run their sweaty, run-down shops with a certain disregard for customers. I'd walked out one shop in the company of an Iranian who had just tested the engine of a white BMW, in the presence of his entire family, wife, son, daughters. Out of hearing distance of the shop's owner, he professed to me that it had been pure junk on display. "I am a mechanic; I know how a healthy engine should sound like." Having two left hands, I wished I had a friend like that for my mission today.

Nomad in Jozi - a must-read - afew

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Mbeki's legacy - The breaking of the ANC

by Nomad Sun Nov 9th, 2008 at 03:51:59 AM EST

Watching politics in South Africa has always been, in my 1.5 years of observations, more frenetic to what my European mind is used to. More... Italian, perhaps. I've really lost count of the occasions I've stood flabbergasted (or dismayed) by announcements of a number of South African very rich assortment of flamboyant politicians. However, these past three months of political developments have been exceptional in their pace and fury. And (as far as I can see anyway) international reporting has been very slim on what's, in its potential, a massive shift in the already dynamic political landscape of South Africa. It goes without saying that the current limelight of political reporting had swung to the USA. But well, ET is practically Political Junkies Central, so with the presidential election in the USA firmly decided, here's a bit of insight what's been brewing south.

Because what many saw as a necessary step to secure the foundation of SA's fledgling democracy, but what many thought would not happen for years, or even decades, is happening now: the ANC is dramatically fracturing from within. History was written on the 1-2 November weekend with the launch of a new political party, carried by two prominent ANC-veterans, who had recently broken with the party - former defence minister Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota and former Gauteng-province premier Mbhazima Shilowa. In my perspective, the political groundswell of the past months can be best understood as a yearlong catenation of events, a slow build-up of sentiments and interlocking developments that, for most MSM, makes it hard to digest. The catalysts in this tale are, ultimately, the fanatics surrounding controversial ANC president Jacob Zuma and, more hidden in the background, Mbeki's long autocratic imprint on the ANC.

I've attempted a tentative time-line below the fold, leading up to the announcement of the new political party.

Promoted by afew

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A Nomad's Life (5)

by Nomad Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 06:59:12 AM EST


That first bewildering taxi ride somehow never fades from memory - it's the one that attacked my European senses the most relentless. Simply because of the sheer alienation with what used to be ordinary. Of course I took my maiden voyage with a guide who was well versed with the taxi system. Because the most effective public transport system in (South) Africa needs some getting used to for uitlanders (foreigners). The African rule seems to apply: you find out how things work by doing them.

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by Nomad Tue Aug 12th, 2008 at 04:14:16 PM EST

On 30 July 2000, my father turned 59. The day woke to a flawlessly blue sky - as was wont on my father's birthday. It was the more unusual for this year: we were on Iceland with the entire family. Not exactly the type locality for sunny weather - yet Iceland was experiencing that year the sunniest summer in a century. We got tan and sunburn on that holiday.

There is a picture of the family taken that day- which now stands on my desk here in SA as I write this - because the older of my two younger sisters had brought along her first serious boyfriend that holiday. If it wasn't for him, I probably would not have such an evocative heirloom. That one picture manages to crystallize for me the family to a razor-sharp degree: my father stretched on the grass with the roadmap he had been studying before him, my mother behind him at his side, my one sister sitting at his shoulder and her arm around my mother, my youngest sister sitting a little apart but radiant (her braces were just removed and two hours before departure she heard she was accepted at university for medicines). Me, crouched at the back, overlooking everyone.

These pictures are a cursed blessing: I treasure them because I know that family is gone.

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Climate Models Fuzz

by Nomad Thu Aug 7th, 2008 at 08:45:50 AM EST

On Colman's request...

I'll briefly revert back to an old schtick of mine: the conviction that climate models are the end-all and be-all of predicting our future climate is built on very shaky soil indeed.

A new paper from hydrologist Demetris Koutsoyiannis has just been released which has the potential to stir up some ripples in the climate field:

On the credibility of climate predictions / De la credibilite des previsions climatiques

Geographically distributed predictions of future climate, obtained through climate models, are widely used in hydrology and many other disciplines, typically without assessing their reliability. Here we compare the output of various models to temperature and precipitation observations from eight stations with long (over 100 years) records from around the globe. The results show that models perform poorly, even at a climatic (30-year) scale. Thus local model projections cannot be credible, whereas a common argument that models can perform better at larger spatial scales is unsupported.

Bold mine.

Dug out by afew

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A Nomad's Life (4)

by Nomad Mon Jul 14th, 2008 at 06:05:30 PM EST

(1) Pierre, Tom & Sharon
(2) Nina & Henri
(3) Cape Town with Dagmar & Leon - Part 1

File under: My life needs to be insane all the time.

Reading time: 11:37

2003, Andalusia, Spain, with seven other geologists on the MSc. fieldwork. Sharing a unique time, unique housing - a redecorated olive mill. No electricity, communal cooking, long nights of candles and gas lamps and lots and lots of hand scribbled notes. Four weeks of independent mapping: the geologist's crucible, where future designs are made or broken.  I was coping - swung between the joys of the field, the harsh hills, the physical and intellectual challenges that would come close to break me in week 4 and swung back to the dark signs brooding on the future horizon. Inexorably and unwilling to acknowledge that, my life was racing to a focal period of irreversible change: my father had entered his last 6 months, the relationship with what I thought was my great love was already splintering apart in front of my eyes, my first dog, companion out of my youth, died without my farewells or blessings. The memories of living in "The Mill" form an unbreakable, bittersweet highlight of warm camaraderie, physical exertion, Spain - a glorious, unifying edifice of studying geology - and of emotional extremes and ambiguity.

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A Nomad's Life (3)

by Nomad Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 03:30:18 PM EST

(1) Pierre, Tom & Sharon
(2) Nina & Henri

Lifted from the journals - I've kept the translation off the cuff and unpolished.
Total reading time: 16:42 minutes

Day 1
It was 4:30 AM when I came back from the university, finishing my stint of 3 weeks dedicated purely to writing. It was my third cab that week taking me back and the driver's name was Birthwell. Cab drivers in Johannesburg have a tendency to have funny names. My previous one was called Treasure. To my surprise I found the kitchen light on: moments before Tom had returned from the Melville bar strip. Magnificently drunk, he dreamily regaled how he had "pulled" a hot chick from Sandton who had mocked his poverty. I rolled my eyes at him as he stumbled towards his room and an even more magnificent hangover.

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A Nomad's Life (2)

by Nomad Tue Jun 10th, 2008 at 05:37:31 PM EST

A reader of these epistles should realise that I write the entries particularly for myself for when I'm old and senility is setting in. But for as long as people find entertainment value in what's currently my daily bread and butter, I see no immediate damage to post them, except for ET's reputation of eruditeness...

Part 1: Pierre, Tom & Sharon


So far I've been able to spot two of Nina's biggest irritants: 1) a television blathering with no one watching it and 2) foodware that gets thrown away. And yet, her vegetables are always stored in plastic bags (which induce moulding) and she lets her bread go stale by leaving the bag of bread wide open on the kitchen countertop. Both elements tell a lot about her whole personality. All too often, Nina's principled life is entwined with chaos and unexpected events so that I frequently find myself binning some of her leftovers stored in the fridge we share - because at some point I'm not able to recognise them as food anymore. So I guess that would make throwing them away OK at that point. (BTW we recycle biological waste; I'm building a mini-garden.)

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The "third force" - Report from Jozi

by Nomad Mon May 26th, 2008 at 04:44:56 PM EST

A brief diary to set a record straight - because I doubt this morsel of information will be covered in the European press.

In last week's diary on the xenophobia driven violence and riots that struck South Africa full force, with the Johannesburg areas particularly badly hit, there was the tenuous mentioning of the involvement of a "third force" suspected to have been involved in setting off the violence. I also reported of mentioning of this "third force" by the ANC government the next day in the Salon. As there were strong, but unverified, rumours at the time of involvement of the Zimbabwean secret police, it seemed to slot the narrative.

However, as things now stand, it looks all the more likely that ANC whipped up the third force as a scam, a scapegoat for the government's inadequateness. And what I didn't know then: the "third force" excuse is taken straight from the apartheid textbooks.

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"Awahamba noma afe" - Report from Jozi

by Nomad Tue May 20th, 2008 at 02:41:53 AM EST

Yesterday evening, I received a phone call from a worried family member who broke the story to me that downtown Johannesburg was experiencing violent rioting and xenophobic assaults. Apparently the story had been brought as breaking news in the Netherlands - which took me more by surprise than learning the dismaying news xenophobic violence was still escalating.

By now, the Gauteng province of South Africa, with Johannesburg at its epicentre, is caught up in a wave of xenophobic violence. This Monday was another day that saw violent attacks spread like wildfire and has resulted in a reported death count of at least 22 people. As ET readers may already know, I briefly reported last week Monday about xenophobic attacks in Alexandra township which have been ongoing throughout this week, slowly building to a new climax. Which came past Sunday.

I've put together a quick overview of press release for some insights that I've seen completely missing from the European news readings.

In-depth reporting on what is still flying under mainstream media's radar - afew

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For A Lark: Streetwise Failure

by Nomad Sun May 11th, 2008 at 03:28:08 PM EST

Last year, I set out a list of development goals I wanted to achieve or look into their potential. These were:

Continue and develop education program for high school students from Alexander Townswhip with the aim to get them to pass matriculation exams and put them into university.

Investigate the extent and/or develop a program for Street Outreach for street kids.

Investigate the extent and/or develop a (local) program of Food Banks for the poor, especially children.

Investigate and where able adopt the practicalities of living carbon neutral in South Africa - minus the car which remains (sad to say) an inherent necessity.

Investigate possibilities of creating a more comprehensive and modern Direct Aid scheme.

Report and rely on feedback from a familiar internet community...

Some six months later, I need to conclude that my second aim, development of Street Outreach, has failed totally.

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by Nomad Wed May 7th, 2008 at 09:28:20 AM EST

The past weekend I finally saw "Pan's Labyrinth" (El laberinto del fauno), and despite its simplistic story and relative bland characterization, it was by far one of the most depressing movies I've seen in a while, akin to the level "The Departed" depressed me, if that means anything.

It was the mental push needed to let germinate what had been fermenting inside my brain for almost 4 years now - because I recognized the opening scenes of "Pan's Labyrinth" with an immediateness that made my brain hurt and made the hairs in my neck stand up. And then I also unerringly knew the movie would depress me.

As we've passed April 26 this year without remembrance, I only have this to give.

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A Nomad's Life

by Nomad Thu Apr 24th, 2008 at 05:07:26 PM EST


The other day, Pierre drove me to the university. On the road before the gate to the campus, the Metro police was pulling over cars to check for licenses and whatever illegal stuff they could find. Pierre didn't have his international license on him - so they fined him for 100 Rand. He gave the ticket a casual look, and threw it on the backbench when we drove off. "I'm not paying that - they spelled my name wrong." Pierre is leaving in two weeks anyway.

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Zim Elections: Here There Be Monsters

by Nomad Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 07:29:30 AM EST

This Saturday, March 29, Zimbabweans will have another run to get rid of their country's largest plague: Robert Mugabe. That is probably the one sane thing I can write about this event. The rest, which I will try to boil down, spirals quickly into insanity. Whatever the outcome will be, there is a chance Zimbabwe will see change, one kind or another, for bad or for worse. All bets are rapidly losing their value - because the political landscape in Zimbabwe has undergone some changes.

The elections are both for president and parliament. I'll focus primarily on the presidential race - because I can't make heads or tails from the parliamentary one.

Promoted by Colman.

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Cultural Barriers

by Nomad Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 02:21:44 PM EST

I've been mulling over this whole English cultural barrier which reared its head yesterday. In response to In Wales I probably should say that I never intended to paint all inhabitants on the island as an insensitive lot... My apologies if that came across as such!

One such as I wonders nevertheless what the underlying causes of cultural breakdown are or could be.

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SA Rumblings

by Nomad Fri Mar 7th, 2008 at 07:39:18 AM EST

Per afew's request...

Aside from the constant power failures, the occasional extraterrestrial spotting, the daily crime story, upcoming elections in Zimbabwe, or what Zuma did or said the other day, there is currently one scandal story in South Africa which may be worth paying attention to.

Last week Tuesday, a home-made video surfaced on the internet. Made last year's September by students from the Free State University (FSU), the video records an "initiation ceremony" at a university residency in which cleaning staff had to undergo degrading acts - among which the most shocking people eating foodware that had been urinated on.

Of course the students making the video were white. The cleaning staff consisted of men and women - all black.

Diary rescue by afew

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Poetry Edition - Philip Levine

by Nomad Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 at 05:33:58 AM EST

Enough of real politik and news irritations and fretting about signatures - time to head for the proverbial Swedish woods and emerge afresh.

Some people here already know I've developed a deep and lasting connection with the words and works of the American poet Philip Levine (born 1928). Yes, American, and not European - being Dutch, with a moderate grasp on English and an unfulfilled wanting for Spanish, English poetry was first to open doors to foreign poetry.

Last year, I quickly found that one of my agonies of having moved abroad with a baggage restriction of 40 kg was the absence of my book collection, feeble as it is. In particular I found myself missing the quieter moments to pick a book of poetry, rumble the pages, stop at random and let words guide my way and be my companions.

Having remedied that mistake, I'm going to jump the final gap: I will seize my moment of adulation, write about my favourite poet, gush and idolise and have it over with.

Diary rescue by Migeru

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Stop Blair viral - Update #4

by Nomad Thu Feb 14th, 2008 at 11:09:41 AM EST

In past Sunday's Open Thread, nanne and I have been hammering out a first draft of an e-mail message to urge people to sign the Stop Blair petition. Once set up, this email can be distributed to friends, family or anyone interested and if the idea catches, the snowball may continue once we've given it the first push...

linca has urged us to keep the translations of such an effort centralized: I'd want to use this diary as a platform to see if we can get translations for the major EU languages. Or preferably available in all the 15(!) languages of the petition.

Update [2008-2-12 14:33:29 by Nomad]: I put the refitted English version by nanne below the fold. Everyone agreed?

Update [2008-2-13 5:13:7 by Nomad]: Final English version now below. Dutch version has been modified accordingly but may need a few brushes. Now how about those other languages...?

Update [2008-2-15 7:58:54 by Nomad]: We now have English, Dutch, German, French and Swedish!

Bumped by afew

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SA: Crime Contextual

by Nomad Sun Dec 16th, 2007 at 11:37:13 AM EST

Part I: Crime Anecdotal
Part II: Crime Analytical

In the previous instalments in this series of diaries I first regaled my anecdotal evidence of crime in Johannesburg (Part 1). Next, I attempted to show how national statistics indicate that the worst crimes are not spiralling out of control, to the contrary, they are in decline, albeit slowly - despite the impressions alive in the western world. Also I argued that the majority of crimes are material ones (Part 2). In response, my analysis was scrutinized and audited by in-house statistician wizard JakeS who corroborated those views. In the latter part I also focussed on the exaggeration of the press on crime and hinted at my beliefs that darker reasons than just sensationalism and shock were at work. This third, and for now last, instalment is the most speculative of the three: these are my impressions as to explain why we see those headlines in the press, why the SA press chooses consistently sensationalism above context but it also seeks to entertain reasons why crime is relatively high in the first place.

From: Zapiro

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L.A.A.F. - Humour in Stereotypes

by Nomad Fri Dec 7th, 2007 at 06:51:33 PM EST

So Elco got people astir with posting about the next craziness that seems to cultivate so well within the Netherlands.

The website is here: L.A.A.F. And yes, it's meant to be humorous. I think it is; I laughed, several times. Openly. Loudly.

Perhaps I'm the odd Dutchman out, but I have actually been enjoying this.

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