Sunday, 25 May 2008

Has the future just grown bleaker? A view from South Africa

So far 2008 hasn't proven itself to be a very friendly and happy year. Political turmoil in South Africa with a government that seems to have lost direction. Soaring inflation fuelled by ever increasing oil and food prices seems to have taken root. Higher interest rates biting deep into the pockets of anyone with a home-loan, car loan, an overdraft or credit-card debt. And then there is the electricity crisis.

And now, to cap it all, we have a wave of xenophobia sweeping the land. The army has been called in to help the police retain control.

Could we ask for anything more?

There is little hope of a lower oil price. Even though we use Sasol to a large extent, the price is tied to the international oil price. Every increase in the price of a barrel of the real thing puts a smile on every Sasol shareholder and of course a happier bank balance. What is to blame for the sharply rising prices? Perhaps in part it is the realisation that oil supplies will not last all that much longer - so make as much as you can right now. The massive growth of the Chinese economy and especially can take part of the blame. Demand for oil has never been higher. As the Chinese economy grows so to does its demand for oil driven cars and electricity.

The world has been very slow in seeking out alternatives to fossil fuels. Solar energy is ideal for South Africa but with an abundance of coal why bother with solar power? The motor industry has made some progress towards oil alternatives, but not much. With buzz-words like 'think out of the box' people generally stick with what they know. Why reinvent the wheel?

The fuel crisis has also led to the current world-wide food crisis. Agriculture has turned away from producing food to producing fuel. Bio-energy has reduced the food producing capacity of the planet. At least part of the blame must lie with the US government that has provided huge subsidies to produce fuel instead of food.

But there is a glimmer of hope for South Africa. A return to democracy in Zimbabwe will give us a boost and boost the entire region. The 2010 Fifa World Cup provides massive opportunities for growth and economic development.

The main obstacles are to restore order in the country. The government must find ways to deal effectively with the refugee crisis and those that have taken on racist and xenophobic activities. The reserve bank must think twice before adding to the interest burden of the country. And we must refocus our energy on renewable sources.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Xenophobia leaves ugly trail in South African townships

For over a week the South African media has focused on little more than one issue. The xenophobic attacks on foreigners sharing space in the poorer townships and squatter camps in and around Johannesburg. Many of these foreigners are refugees from a number of African countries where despotic dictators have been allowed to run amok. Not surprisingly the majority - estimated at over 3 million - are from Zimbabwe where the economy has ground to a halt.

The South African government has failed to recognise that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe and as a result has not classed these immigrants - almost all illegals - as refugees or to provide structures to accommodate them. Arriving in the country with little more than the clothes on their back many end up in one of the many shack communities that surround the cities.

In South Africa they are more able to eke out a living doing casual jobs such as gardening, domestic work or casual labour.

The poor in South Africa continue to be poor. Millions are unemployed and live in a number of squatter camps in corrugated iron shacks.

Foreigners are being blamed for for everything from taking jobs and housing away from South Africans to crime.

The violence has spread across Gauteng, and the army has been brought in to help the police cope. This evening brings the news that xenophobia has raised its ugly head in the Cape.

It is the poor blaming poor immigrants for their troubles. A scapegoat has been found!

Thousands of foreigners have sought refuge in police stations, community centres and churches. South Africans of all colours have come forward with help - food, clothing, money - to lessen the plight of these people. A major bank donated R3 million to assist. Those involved in the violence are indeed a small minority.

Perhaps its time for the government to begin to act?

The World's Funniest Joke

Monty Python's Flying Circus - The World's Funniest Joke

Not to be missed! This must be one of the great comedy classics. If you have never seen this, then do yourself a favour and view it now!

The Monty Python unique blend of satire and comedy.

From the first ever episode of the Python team's TV series.

Improve Your Photography with these Easy Tips

What makes a great photograph into a "work of art" and a snapshot into nothing more than a memory?

The secret is generally in the photographer's knowledge. Knowledge and understanding of composition and light. A feel for colour and choice of subject and shooting scenes that pass most of us by.

A great photograph is the result of a photographer's vision - the ability to see. Being able to visualise what will be captured through the lens and looking for different angles and fresh views.

Technical aspects help. Creative use of the F stops, shutter speeds and exposure all contribute towards the effectiveness of the picture. But with today's range of digital cameras, automatic exposure and auto-focus makes this technical knowledge much less important if not totally redundant.

Using a high-end cell phone today is enough to produce great photographs.

These elements combine to make for a photograph that other people want to see.

The rules of photographic composition work very much in the same way as the rules for painting. Look at the great masters of the romantic, classical, impressionistic and modern eras in painting. What rules can you decipher from these?

Breaking the rules is often a way to get attention. An unexpected view of a scene. An object captured from an unusual angle. The rules should be regarded only as guidelines. If a picture breaks all the rules but is effective, then go ahead!

The focus of the picture or the focal point is the first consideration. What is the theme of the picture? Other elements are arranged accordingly. The picture should lead the eye from the focal point through the other features of the picture.

The rule of thirds is one most often applied. This involves dividing the scene into thirds horizontally and vertically. The line of the horizon may lie along the bottom or top third. An item of interest may be on the left or right third. Placing objects of interest at or near the intersections of the horizontal and vertical thirds works well in drawing attention to them and making them look interesting. Photograph the sun setting over the sea. Place the horizon on the bottom third with the sun a third from the left or the right. It is effective and works.

Simplicity is often regarded as key. The focal point has all the attention and there are few distractions. Using the F stops effectively can help to achieve this. A small F stop will keep the focal point in focus - the background appears fuzzy and blurred.

Movement can be depicted in a number of ways. Horizontal lines are used to depict tranquil peaceful scenes. Diagonal lines provide a more dynamic look creating a sense of movement. A moving object before a static background is very effective. Using a slow shutter speed can help achieve this. The moving object appears blurred showing a "tail". A crisp moving object with a blurred background is achieved by panning. Both are effective.

The inclusion of people in a picture helps to create the final effect and to provide perspective. The inclusion of human figures next to the Great Pyramids needs at least one person to give an indication of their size and grandeur. The same is true of a landscape or natural scene.

A common tourist error is to photograph the girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse in front of the Eiffel Tower. This does no justice to either. Of course these pictures provide the "I was there" view, but that is where their value ends. A person or people next to the Eiffel Tower is incidental - providing perspective. Photograph your lover separately!

You can use interesting backgrounds for portraits. These are best achieved if you can show some relationship between the two. A child viewing a monkey at the zoo - especially of the monkey is looking back. An artist at an easel with paintbrush in hand. But remember where the focal point lies. Is it the person or the scene? Never try to achieve both in the same picture. Quite effective is a portrait with a blurred sea-scape as the background.

An important rule is to avoid symmetry and even numbers. Odd numbers are always more interesting! This is known as the rule of odds. Odd numbers avoid symmetry which makes for a more interesting composition. Photographing a couple is different. A man and a woman are very different so there is no risk of symmetry.

A technique that helps to create a sense of interest is that of a line meandering and disappearing into the distance. A long road or pathway curving and disappearing behind a hill. A river disappearing into the distance. These help to create a sense of mystery.

Use back-lighting to produce soft photos of people, but make sure to adjust the exposure to the subject rather than the background. If using lighting remember that a diffuser softens the effect. Bounce the flash off a white wall or ceiling. Strong lighting from the front tends to flatten a face and may produce harsh shadows.

With today's digital photography, composition can be improved after the event using a photo editing package. Cropping can be used to achieve the rule of thirds. Additional light may be added, contrast, brightness and colour saturation can be changed. You can even blur (or remove) the background.

As a photographer with a digital camera you are free to shoot many shots to get the one you want. Try shooting from all angles. Experiment with exposure and light.

Perhaps the key is the same as for all visual arts. Learn to see. Look at scenes in different ways. Think photographically.

All photographs on this page by Barry Marcus

Saturday, 17 May 2008

The 1972 Bickershaw Festival revisited again

In my previous post Bickershaw Festival remembered after 26 years the maths was somewhat out. In fact, this magical festival - a mixture of disaster and wonderful music - took place 36 years ago. The news of the DVD release prompted me to investigate on the Internet and I was amazed at the memories of the festival on the Internet.

Some of the highlights were Donovan - he had the entire audience on its feet with full participation and a great experience.

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band were probably the strongest point of the festival. Avant guard rock at its best at a time when Beefheart was probably at his best. Playing in the early hours of the morning, it was a second sleepless night until the end of the performance at 4:00 a.m. I am now resident in South Africa and have yet to meet a South African of any age that has actually heard of the band.

Country Joe and the Fish performed a great set with all their usual songs.

The Grateful Dead were eagerly awaited, and played (in the main) their 'newer' material - the country rock that became their mainstay.

The line-up also included some jazz. Maynard Fergusson played an extended version of Hey Jude. Cheech & Chong produced their brand of comedy. I have no recollection of The Kinks (must have been one of the rare opportunities to sleep) but could have sworn that I saw The Faces (Rod Stewart) and Status Quo there - though there is no mention of these on the sites that I visited. Must have been somewhere else! These events have a tendency to blend into one.

Personal video recorders did not really exist at that time, but cassette recorders did. Unfortunately these did not do a great job. Today's technology has the ability to record anything at a high quality. In those days it was a different story. Really expensive equipment was required to get a decent recording, and unless there was a proper film crew, video was out.

Were you there? Any memories, recordings, photos?

Taking a nap

We all need to sleep once in a while. Total relaxation on a beautiful autumn day!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Freedom in South Africa – Blogging for human rights

Born in South Africa, I lived in Israel and the UK for sixteen years before I was somehow drawn back. Having departed as a child I returned as a young adult during the height of Apartheid. PW Botha ‘the Great Crocodile’ was at the helm - as Prime Minister not yet State President.

Bloggers Unite I noticed that the people that I mixed with didn't really discuss very much. Material things, shopping centres, cars ... SABC TV was still new and a total embarrassment. The news resembled something out of a Monty Python sketch. The one about sheep news (or was it penguins ....?). There was only one version of the News. The National Party version. At times PW Botha called the station to demand that a report be removed. The SABC complied.

Any series that was remotely watchable attracted huge audiences and restaurants, clubs and bars had to virtually close down for the night. Any visit by an aging pop star of the past in defiance of the boycott transformed the star to super-stardom. They dominated the front page of every newspaper for a whole week. They got the top item on the TV News.

Sun City emerged. South Africans flocked to this island of "liberalism" where gambling was allowed and bluish films shown.

X rated films - age rated 21 in the UK – were screened in South Africa as suitable for all ages. The story-line had somehow become hard to follow, but cinemas (which at that time attracted sparse audiences in London) showed regularly to full houses in South Africa.

Corruption was out. The media reported on corruption at risk to their freedom. Few corruption cases got anywhere near a court.

Most white South Africans went with the flow. I remember the arguments that sanctions could never hurt South Africa. There were no alternative sources for this or for that. Sanctions would hurt the rest of the world more than us, and would hurt the blacks.

There were some islands of light. The Market Theatre somehow managed to stage a string of quality shows. Channel 702 began as a Rainbow Station and later with talk shows that helped the country to transform. Film festivals allowed some uncensored material.

The privileged minority had access to quality education – albeit with an apartheid slant – the best health-care and of course they could vote. Voting was limited to a small selection of parties that were allowed. Friendships, marriages across the colour line were out. These had to be conducted in deadly secrecy.

By contrast, the black population were restricted to where they lived or worked. Educational opportunities were few and heath facilities limited. Most were condemned to live in poverty and face frequent harassment by the police. There were few channels for protest.

South Africa has been transformed. There is free debate, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. The government has sought to redress the inequalities in education, health-care and the employment markets. The constitution reads like a bill of rights.

Many problems remain. Soaring crime, poor delivery on healthcare and education, poverty and aids are still widespread. But all of this in an atmosphere of freedom. The government has even instituted a bill of morals or responsibilities based on an initiative of South Africa’s Chief Rabbi. Those were South Africa’s dark ages. Yet I still hear people clambering after them.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Bickershaw Festival remembered after 26 years

26 years ago I spent my birthday at the Bickershaw Festival which ran from May 5 to 7 in 1972. This interesting fact was brought to my attention recently when I was told about the DVD of the Bickershaw Festival!

Twenty-six years on there are still people that remember! People that remember enough to produce a DVD. There are people that devoted web-sites to the festival. It must have been a life changing event - at least for some!

There was plenty of music of quality to look back on. Unfortunately the technology then was very different to today's technology. Today I could do a better job of filming and recording a concert on my cell-phone! If you wanted something filmed or recorded properly in those days you needed crews of professionals with bulky and expensive equipment.

So my brother's verdict was 'disappointing'. Sound was poor. Images were poor. Unfortunately it doesn't really add up to all that much - but for anyone who was there, or who wants a glimpse of life in the underground of 1972 then try to check it out! The world is a very changed place and no-one today would put up with the conditions then.

The lineup was impressive and included The Grateful Dead, Dr John, Donovan, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band and many more.

The media had predicted a mud-bath, and with a venue near Manchester that boasts the wettest climate and 4 days (!!*!!) of sunshine per year, they could hardly have got it wrong!

I managed to procure a tent and arrived early. Once the tent was pitched we made our way onto the festival grounds. The ground was already quite muddy. A number of entrepreneurial types had taken it upon themselves to sell large polythene sheeting and weather-proof disposable sleeping bags. These provided us with warmth and shelter for the three days of mud, rain and music.

By the time the first night's music had finished in the early hours of the morning the tent had become history - a figment of my imagination never to be seen again. In fact it wasn't needed - there was very little time between one artist and the next.

We slept in the sleeping bags and stood under polythene day and night. Saturday's music finished at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. As far as the food goes I don't remember eating at all! Perhaps I survived for three days and nights without food. Who knows.

For more information check out Mole Express with some great coverage!

The festival has never been repeated. Poor organisation and controls resulted in the promoters losing a lot of money. The locals were not happy about the 40,000 hippies streaming across their land. The weather proved to be a hindrance. But the festival is still remembered as one of the high points in British music festivals.

Finally we get to the cost of the event. £2.50. Yes, that was what it cost to see about 20 of the world's top rock bands then. Even in those days it was a price that anyone could afford! Today's concerts require a mortgage!

Sunday, 04 May 2008

Austrian basement terror

Josef Fritzl held his daughter captive in the basement of his house for 24 years. During that time his wife suspected nothing. Imagine the scenario ...

"Hello dear, I'm just going down to the cellar for a little while. I have some work to catch up on and I want to be alone".

"Why don't I join you there this time?"

"No, dear. You know the place is full of rats. You're terrified of them."

Three hours later. "Oh, you're back. I was going to bed but I thought I'd wait for you".

"Oh, you needn't have bothered. I'm quite worn out now. I'm so over worked ..."

"By the way dear, I see that the food bill for the cellar is more than for the whole household. If you keep eating so much you'll get fat".

"I have to feed the rats. If I don't they'll kill me".

Yes, dear. I quite understand. Good night."

Over the next three days Mrs. Fritzl doesn't see her husband at all. But she does hear lots of noise from the basement. Eventually Josef emerges.

Josef: "What a catastrophe! Do you know that if I hadn't picked up the structural weakness the whole house could have collapsed around us. Its been such an ordeal fixing it up."

Wife: "I thought I heard children's voices again. It sounded like they were crying"

Josef: "Darling, I've told you before you're imagining things. Perhaps I should book you into the asylum for a few months ..."

"No dear, I'm sure it must have been the TV. Well, I'll be off to the shops now. Is there anything that you need?"

"Just the usual, darling". Josef hands her a list. It includes oats, potatoes, sausages, 3 chickens, baby formula, eggs, butter and beef.

"Josef, if I didn't know any better I could swear that you have a family down there!"

"Yes dear. Yes dear."

The wife knew nothing. The neighbours knew nothing. An 18 year old young woman simply disappeared into thin air and nobody asked any questions. Josef undertook building operations in the basement. He supplied food for his daughter and seven children/grandchildren for 24 years and those around him continued with their lives in blissful ignorance. The mind boggles.

The distance between tragedy and comedy is small, and if the story was any more believable it would have been fiction.

Friday, 02 May 2008

Online dating - How to spot the scammers

The online dating industry has become big business. A huge range of sites are available providing online dating services. These sites have become an acceptable means for people to seek out their ideal match. But the industry is prone to abuse, and although the online dating companies do what they can to detect scammers in our midst, inevitably some fall through the net.

Online dating scammers are on the sites for one reason only. They are there to try to get your money. You will never meet them and once your money is gone there is very little hope of recovering it. Online dating scammers can operate from any country. Amongst the more common ones are those operating from Russia and Ghana.

They join the services and post a picture of a beautiful girl. The picture itself is almost too good to be true. The photographs look professional and the subject could well be a professional model. The word Love appears as part of the username.

The scammer claims to be looking for long term relationships and marriage. The ideal match requirements are typically left wide open - any age, any nationality and so on. She doesn't really care. She adds dozens of men on the site as favourites and waits for one of them to buy her a gift subscription. With a free subscription in her hand she then proceeds to send emotive messages to every man.

Many unsuspecting men respond - not only is she very beautiful, but she seems to be genuinely interested in meeting and furthering the relationship. She is prepared to travel from Russia or Ghana to meet - but has no money. She needs $10,000 to relocate and meet the victim.

There have been a number of cases where sums of money have been paid over to scammers. At this point all communication ends. The profile disappears from the site and all further attempts to make contact are in vain.

The best way to avoid a situation such as this is awareness. A profile with a stunning picture but very little in the way of information is cause for suspicion. Is a real woman likely to be happy with anyone from age 25 to 80? She has fallen in love with you after seeing your profile and would like to travel across the world to marry you. Take a reality check. She knows nothing about you or you about her. Can such a stunning woman really be so desperate? Be very suspicious is she asks for money. Genuine people don't do this except in very rare situations.

Remember that the wonderful woman that has attracted you and seems to be determined to join you as a life partner doesn't really exist. She is the creation of an organisation that makes its money from scamming. Once you have parted with your money she will disappear only to be replaced by another photographs and a brand new userid.

Be aware of the risks and avoid these scams.

Meet your ideal match at
- Free Membership, Free Matching, Free Photo Upload. Join today!

Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Rememberance Day

Today was Yom HaShoah, a day for Jews around the world to remember the six million that were murdered by the Nazis.

At a moving ceremony in Johannesburg today, Marta Wise told of her experiences in wartime Europe as a child in Auschwitz at the hands of Dr Josef Mengele - the Angel of Death. She told how the guards would indulge in murder and other cruel activities without orders - just for fun.

Who can believe that people - an entire nation - can descend to such levels of evil!?

The ceremony opened with names of relatives of survivors resident in South Africa followed by a Hebrew poem - Everyone has a Name which is reproduced below.


Everyone Has a Name

Everyone has a name
given to him by God
and given to him by his parents

Everyone has a name
given to him by his stature
and the way he smiles
and given to him by his clothing

Everyone has a name
given to him by the mountains
and given to him by his walls

Everyone has a name
given to him by the stars
and given to him by his neighbors

Everyone has a name
given to him by his sins
and given to him by his longing

Everyone has a name
given to him by his enemies
and given to him by his love

Everyone has a name
given to him by his feasts
and given to him by his work

Everyone has a name
given to him by the seasons
and given to him by his blindness

Everyone has a name
given to him by the sea and
given to him
by his death.

(Translated from Hebrew by Marcia Falk, quoted from "Generations of the Holocaust" by Bergmann and Jugovy)


לכל איש יש שם

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו אלוהים
ונתנו לו אביו ואמו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו קומתו ואופן חיוכו
ונתן לו האריג

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו ההרים
ונתנו לו כתליו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו המזלות
ונתנו לו שכניו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חטאיו
ונתנה לו כמיהתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו שונאיו
ונתנה לו אהבתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חגיו
ונתנה לו מלאכתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו עונות השנה
ונתן לו עיוורונו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו הים
ונתן לו