Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Shame on me.

A man I once worked for described me as: "the kind of person you could send off to find a dinosaur skeleton and know she would come back, swamp-muddied, bruised, battered and probably mightily pissed off: but with a T-Rex thighbone between her teeth."

This was in a reference letter.  I took it as a compliment - well aware that it was double-edged.

When I promise to do something: I go all out to get it done. Often finding myself labouring long after everyone else has packed up tent and gone home.  I realise the need to prove my worth is baggage from my childhood.  I am also well aware that this particular barking dog in my subconscious - has made me both successful and hugely irritating.

Successful: because I wouldn't take no for an answer (unless it was the answer I want). Irritating for exactly the same reason.

My last 'real' job had me working for a man who was known as 'the revolving door' because he would match his opinion to whoever was in front of him. This meant he changed the goal-posts on a whim, was generous with blame, miserly with praise and frequently threw me under the bus with a vague smile and a gentle shake of the head: "that Sue, what are we to do about her?"

Yet, day-after-day, I headed off to the swamp - because I had said I would. Until eventually I discovered that sometimes the bones are just not there to support the hunt.

Fast-forward six years and I find myself being manipulated by someone I have pledged to help. I discovered yesterday that he has been asking me and someone else to do the same things for him. Neither of us knew, both of us are delivering. They're not even big asks ... yet, despite my best efforts: I deeply resent this 'double-dipping'.  And told him so.

My ego is insisting that I mention that he has done this to me before. And that I was irritated then too.  But the situation has changed.  Now it is more critical, more urgent, more real.  Yet I still responded by being petty.

Badly done me: because I did promise.  Because I know he is in pain and frightened. And because, as my sister pointed out; "he is probably trying every avenue in the hope that one will come through”.

Every now and then I get a glimpse of the person I could be... and I like her.  But not today.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Zuma Family Jewels ... no diamonds in that rough

This isn't the painting - but I like it better

We've had another one of those weeks in SA where an expression of artistic freedom created accusations of racism all round.  

In his Book "Racism: A Short History",  George M. Fredrickson tells that the term "racism" first came into common usage in the 1930s when a new word was required to describe the theories on which the Nazis based their persecution of the Jews (what a bloody birth). 

Of course the actual practice of racism predates that by thousands of years - with evidence of our base natures inscribed on tablets, walls, parchment, and described across histories. My country, went a step further and made racism legal in 1948. The election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 created a new belief in the possibilities of the future. But the fresh broom that swept clean, only swept racism under the carpet.  And we keep tripping up on it.

In it's children's dictionary Merriam-Webster defines racism as:
1: belief that certain races of people are by birth and nature superior to others
2: discrimination or hatred based on race 
I like this definition: it is short, succinct and very, very clear. Even a kid could understand it - but not the ANC.

Brett Murray, a respected local artist, painted President Jacob Zuma as Lenin, with his genitals out. The comment being that our six-times married president, who has mistresses, and children out of wedlock, can't keep it in his pants. The use of Soviet propaganda poster styling, probably to give the painting a bit of political heft ... doesn't work artistically for me.  It looks lazy and half-cocked - but it got ANC all hot and bothered. 

They're up in the High Court's face with allegations of bringing the presidency into disrepute and disrespecting Zuma's privacy.   Demanding that the painting be taken off the walls of the Goodman Gallery.  The ANC loves to do this.  And usually the Court listens patiently, passes them a copy of the constitution (drafted by the ANC) and sends them home with a flea in their ear

I am not even sure it is a picture of only Zuma. To me it looks like mash-up of his head, Zwelinzima Vavi's face and glasses, and Lenin's body. The genitals have been cartoonishly added - almost as a sketchy afterthought. 

Vavi is the General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions. And, if our current conspiracy theorists are to be believed - the man who would be king. He is very powerful, very ambitious and very vocal. He took to twitter immediately the furore broke: “That painting can only be a work of a very sick mind full of hatred reflective of the damage our apartheid past caused to our society.”  

An accusation of racism in under 140 characters.

ANC spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, spoke for the party: the painting was disgusting, a vulgarity and an insult to the President’s dignity.  “In South African culture, it is considered uncultural (sic) to depict an elder with their genitals exposed,”   

South African Culture - what the hell does that mean? Dude - in any culture being caught with your goolies out if you are a public figure is awkward. Just ask Bill Clinton. Or Silvio Berlusconi.

Murray has kept pretty schtum on the whole affair - but he spoke to Die Burger (excellent Afrikaans newspaper) a while ago about the piece  “when you break the rules that you pretend to honour, and on top of that you’re a public leader like Zuma, then the hunt is on for political commentators”.

Does that sound racist to you Pres. Zuma? I don’t think so, it sounds like the man was doing his job.

The ANC took the whole thing very, very personally.  Their great leader had been insulted and so they ran to Daddy - the High Court.  Gwede Mantashe (ANC Secretary General) puffed himself up outside and quoth:  "Quite clearly the battle lines have been drawn. This is not a battle about the painting; it's about domination and subjugation. Our culture is not inferior ... we have to fight to protect our African-ness."

What the fuck Gwede?  Battle lines?  Are you serious? It's a piece of art. One man's work:  not an armed revolution. Your constant reach for racism to explain unfavourable comment shows that it is alive and furious in your breast.  Not mine.  

When you squander this countries money and don't deliver on your promises I don't call you a racist - I call you a corrupt, inept leader.  When you lie - I call you a liar. When you steal - I call you a thief.  When you rape, I call you a rapist.  These are not racial epithets - they are descriptions of your behaviour.  

Yet, regardless of what I say – you call me a racist. You are keeping this alive. Not me. This is on you.

Mr. President – you have got to learn to take criticism. All your girlie squealing has resulted in us being forced to focus on your genitals for far longer than either we, or you, would ever have wished. Think on what Tselane Thambo (you remember her daddy Oliver?) said about you: "He should inspire the reverence he craves. This portrait is what he inspired. Shame neh!"  Shame indeed.

But the whole situation hasn't been entirely a bust.  A couple of guys, one black, and one white travelled to the Goodman to express their opinions by defacing the painting. The one from Limpopo, in his taxi; to avenge his leader’s honour.  The other from Joburg’s suburbs in his old Merc:  because he loves art. They met in front of "The Spear" and threw paint at it. This intersection tickles me - because these two characters would never otherwise have met.  Now they’re sharing a cell. That’s a definition of South Africa for you Merriam-Webster, right there.

I also like that this painting got noisy debate going. We South Africans enjoy a good ding about a dong. And I honestly believe that a rowdy, profane, emotional public dust-up keeps things healthy and moving. 

Rather like a enema: regardless of how it discomforts at the time, we all feel so much the better for it afterwards.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Fashion Forward

I love Fashion ...  always have. For me fashion is beautiful like art is beautiful, like interior design, architecture, food and words are beautiful. I can't wait to see what each season's trends throw up - and love it when I spot artful recycling, or the re-invention of a look from my youth. Fashion makes me happy.

These days I can't afford to buy the all the mags like I used to (the international issues are around $17 in SA). So once a week I head to Exclusive Books, order an Americano in their coffee shop and read a couple of titles. Exclusive are OK with this - a friend of mine runs the company and says this is his "USP": because browsing sells books. In return, I buy my favourite local SA mags from them... so it works

Promo trips often took me to Milan and Paris with Rock Bands.  Rock Bands attract Models. The Italian company used to take bands to a club called "Shocking" where they would be hosted by the owners and provided with everything they needed - including model adoration. In return, the owners of Shocking fed the girls and encouraged them to show their gratitude by 'entertaining' the club's VIP guests.  

I hated this - and if I had the chance, I would vet any girl who accompanied a band member back to the hotel. They had to be over 18 (and show me ID). I had once been woken at 3am in Paris by the furious father of a 14-year-old who had "gone home" with one of the members of the boy band I was chaperoning. Seeing her in the neon-lit reception, without the full face of make-up she had presented the night before, was devastating. And hearing her Dad's howling heartbreak was even worse. I vowed never to be party (albeit unknowingly in this case) to that again.

Fast forward to one night in Milan, with The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was a nightmare tour of infighting and animosity, and I was exhausted and wanted to be in my room, alone and asleep. The band had drawn a bumper crop of models to the VIP section, but unusually the mood was somber. One of the models had tried to kill herself the night before. Drunk, over-whelmed, dumped and 15: she couldn't figure any other way out. Despite being around one of the most famous bands in the world, that night all these kids (all under 17) wanted to do was chat. I listened for hours as they told me how lonely they were, how they missed home and their pets, how they'd lost touch with boyfriends and mums ... it made me so sad. And it was the last time I went to Shocking.

The picture of Karlie Kloss (above) is breathtaking - for the wrong reasons. Even though her size is probably more about the angle than actuality; Vogue Italia - the most cutting edge of the titles, dropped the pic. from their May editorial. Heralding a sea-change at the magazine, once thought to be artistically above criticism. 

How times change:
check out la Moss now.
Now, in the June edition of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman has used her Editor's letter to announce Vogue's new Health Initiative.  Shulman has drawn furious criticism in the past for editorials featuring an emaciated Kate Moss' 'heroin chic' and a swimsuit spread featuring only pre-pubescent models).  The six point manifesto promises:
  1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.

  2. We will ask agents not to knowingly send us underage girls and casting directors to check IDs when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.

  3. We will help to structure mentoring programmes where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.
  4. We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.

  5. We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.

  6. We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.
I wonder how this will play out in reality? Vogue is the most powerful magazine in the Fashion Industry. With Anna Wintour (US) wielding the biggest stick. But they can't do this alone ... their business is dependent on Designers. Designers show their clothes on size 00 models - because they look and photograph better. Which means they sell better.   

The designers need to buy-in. And most of them work for big corporations that require big profit delivery. And who replace any designers that step out of line. So. implementing Point 5 is going to be a real challenge. As will Point 4 as that is not in Vogue's hands. For the rest - we can hold Vogue to their promises - as the proof will be on their pages. 

For women everywhere, the accurate portrayal (or perhaps more-accurate portrayal) will help to create a more-realistic self expectation.  So I applaud Vogue's intent. And, I bet, so do the moms and dads of the Mary-Annes and Lisa Ms and Kaylinns: whose daughters are living la bella vita, but not eating pasta.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Let go and be happy

I would say that over the past 5 years I have become happier than I was in the 10 years prior. Not that I ever asked myself that question back then: I was too busy working, and haring around the world.  Of course age has something to do with it - and circumstance, but mostly I would say it is that I have chosen to simplify my life and become generally more aware of myself. 

So I was interested when I read a blog by the The Purpose Fairy (!! ... resisting 13), on the Huffington Post. Fairy says there are 15 things we need to let go of in order to be happy.  They are: (note: I divided them into sub-categories - because 8) 

1.  self-defeating self-talk
2.  limiting beliefs
3.  fears
4.  resistance to change
5.  the past
6.  blame
... all internal stuff/sub-conscious driven

7.  the need to be right
8.  the need for control
9.  complaining
10.  excuses
11.  labels
... the everyday application of the first 6

12.  living your life to others expectations
13.  the need to criticise others
14.  the need to impress
... the results of the first 6

15.  attachment   This is in the Buddhist sense.  Where their second noble truth says that suffering comes from our being attached to transient things.  And from being ignorant that we are attached to them.  Transient things include physical objects, ideas, and perceptions.  Ignorance refers to our lack of understanding of how our mind is attached. 

Buddhists hold that all suffering is caused by desire, passion, the pursuit of wealth and prestige and the striving for fame and popularity. In short:  craving and clinging. They believe that because the objects of our attachment are not enduring, their loss is inevitable, and so suffering will always follow.   

We just have to read the news everyday to see how that plays out.

I did a little mental check to see where I stand.  Turns out I am regularly engaged in sabotaging my happiness in five ways, with a couple others still occasionally in play. Cringe-inducing (because 1+14), but happiness takes work, so I am not beating myself up.  If you're in the mood: I'd love to hear where you are with the 15.  Just generally, don't feel obliged to give me specifics.  

Unless, of course, that will make you happy.

(Full disclosure: In the course of writing this post - a frozen brownie and cup of rooibos tea were consumed ... which made me happy.  But only after I'd let go of 8+10+14.)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Rambling thoughts

Jack and I have been wandering farther and wider than usual due to the fact that we both need to lose a couple of kilograms.  Him because he is pear-shaped - and that does not bode well for his future.  Me because I will be presenting myself in Italy in eight weeks time ... and I wish to look ... presentable.  Some of the things that I have noticed on my perambulations:

  • people say a warm hello to strangers if they are walking a dog (especially if the dog is a handsome fellow)
  • there are other poop nazis out there who commend me highly for performing my civic duty
  • the grounds of the UCT law faculty have wonderful sculptures and architecture
  • many rugby players at the university wear alice bands to hold back their hair.  On the field. Which leads me to wonder if this could be causing the problem with SA rugby.
  • if the crowd walking home from Varsity lectures is anything to go by - we are on our way to happy, educated integration
  • chicken bones make up a large percentage of the litter in the gutters
  • followed closely by apple cores
  • hair salons are the most popular small business in the Mowbray area
  • it is possible to get a beer for R10 in some of the local taverns - two if you are a lady. 
  • in taverns, the definition of a lady is loose (excuse the pun)
  • best not to make eye-contact with street people ... as they will immediately present you with a story of such disaster and mayhem that you will feel obliged to give them the R10 you carry for emergencies 
Walking puts me into the flow of our little community - and brings home how wildly different one side of the tracks is to the other.  Walking also puts me into my head in an easy contemplative way.  With the changing scenery keeping thoughts moving.  Jack has just arrived in my office with his lead in his mouth:  time to go.  Walking is obviously working for him too. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

In quotes

“Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true,
does it improve on the silence?”
Sai Baba

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Shattered rainbow ...

Julius Malema - ex ANC
Youth League Leader
Julius Malema is out of the ANC.  They stuck to their guns and fired their pet blunderbuss.  

I have a sneaking regard for Malema;  he had to know he was shooting himself in the privates ... there was no way the old boys in the organisation would let him carry on bad-mouthing them. Yet he went out there day after day - saying the most dangerous and plain stupid shit possible - especially given SA's still-precarious racial climate. 

Perhaps he is as dumb as a rock (which I don't believe), or he was set-up, either way his political career is over... for now. I don't think we have seen the last of him.  He may have failed woodwork at school - but he has spent time in prison and in business learning survival skills plus there's this huge humiliation. He's a harder man now. If the SA Revenue Service doesn't bury him for non-disclosure, I predict he will be back with a dastardly and well-funded plan before long.  

Rev. Frank Chicane and his book of 'dangerous memories'
Meantime, I am reading Frank Chikane's retelling of the ousting of Thabo Mbeki as President in 2008. Fascinating ... and that's just the info he is permitted to tell. Chikane makes sure to let us know that he is legally bound and gagged until he is 90.  And is at pains to inform the reader that he has not included everything he knows - for fear of exposing other members of his party to the repercussions he suffered - which include threats to his life, blacklisting throughout business circles in SA and being blackballed both socially and politically.

Chikane is an ANC lifer - he has held rank within his party and high political office in all administrations from Mandela through Zuma; so he knows his way around the hill. He is not a man to scare easily: in late 1989, agents of the apartheid government attempted to assassinate him by lacing his underwear with poison (!).  Two of the suspects, former Police Minister Adriaan Vlok and his (then) police chief; Johan van der Merwe, received suspended 10-year sentences during the Truth and Reconciliation process. Vlok sought forgiveness from Chikane in 2006 by washing his feet.  A gesture made more poignant by the biblical reference - the Apartheid Government was founded on strong Christian beliefs.

Thabo Mbeki - ever the gentleman.
Frank is also an ordained Pentecostal minister - still active within his church, so the spiritual vagaries of humans are well known to him.  He is been incarcerated because of his political and religious views and spent time in exile.  As life goes - he has seen plenty.

Yet this event: the removal of a President - not by the people who voted him to power but by the party that he represented, ... struck such a deep chord with Frank Chikane that he risked his future to tell it.

In insisting that Mbeki went 'ngoku' (now!), the ANC destroyed a life, a career, a body of work. They left the rest of Africa hanging, and created a precedent that they may live to regret. But they didn't care: they knew Mbeki was a statesman, an ANC stalwart: and he that he would not contest the recall.  He accepted the decision and focused on keeping this volatile country stable.  He went with dignity, his honour intact.  And I think that it is this that really resonated with Chikane, I think he understood that this was the end of the decent ANC. And he wanted to mark it's passing.

But there's another, greater sadness here.  The very people who fought against apartheid, who endured torture and harassment, who gave their lives and sometimes their families to the fight for freedom - these people did this.  They ended up in government: where they succumbed to temptation.

Chikane also believes that Jacob Zuma's rise to power as President of SA following Mbeki's 'recall' was tantamount to a coup. He refers particularly to the 'leaked' intelligence spy tapes that led to Zuma's corruption charges being dropped, just days before the 2009 elections.  Allowing Zuma to stay on ballot.  He states unequivocally:  “If intelligence officers report outside government,  that's the best recipe for a coup (d'etat)".  And they did. And we let the rest happen. 

Governor Mitt Romney
GOP Presidential Nominee
As I watch the American Presidential race run it's unsurprising course, I wonder how Obama will handle defeat if it comes.  To me, it's impossible to even imagine that he would lose America to milquetoast Mitt Romney. But we've seen this movie before - so I am not holding my breath.

President Barak Obaba
Democratic Incumbent.
What I do want to say to President Obama is that it is time to man-up. I am not asking you to fight dirty - I would think less of you if you did. What I am asking is that you get organised, pull out every stop and get re-elected.  We need you. So stop apologising, stay away from the middle of the road and get tough.  It's time to go to work now. I ask you this selfishly.  Because just maybe, your example will inspire the good men and true left in my government to stop worrying about political survival and bank balances and to roll up their sleeves.  And to start asking themselves what they can do to fix the rainbow