Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Of course I was concerned it would not arrive in time as I am leaving for the USA on the 6th. None the less, I took their word for it and returned this week. And, with much relief, got my passport. Phew!!! Crises averted.
But, what inspired me to sit down and write this blog post was the people sitting around me and bitching. I mean, complaining about waiting and the slow service and the fact that they had landed up sitting in the wrong section for an hour only to find out they had to get in a different line.
I have dealt with beauracracy for many, many years. I had to navigate the US immigration system. Let me tell you that was hell. I used to get up at 4am to drive to the nearest office, and sit outside until 8am when they opened the doors. Waiting and waiting - no water, no cell phones and no food allowed. That sucked. But, I got my green card, and after 12 years got my US passport. No easy feat.
One thing I learned was that there was no point in bitching or complaining. It was only gonna stress myself out and piss off the people behind the counter that were generally trying to help.
Come on now South African's stop complaining. Everyone, all the bloody time, complaining about this and that. About how bad the service at this department was, how slow this process was. This attitude just sucks - and it is annoying.
I guess my point is that everyone's complaining and negative attitude about these things in reality has nothing to do with South Africa as a nation-state, but has everything to do with the attitude of the individuals. I know this because I have heard people bitching in other parts of the world - where, in the USA, if you are a citizen it take 2 to 4 weeks to get a passport. That is pretty darn efficient but it is a pain to apply for - very specific photographs, huge amounts of very specific documents etc.
What I am confused by is what everyone is comparing South Africa too? Where did they get this impression that South Africa is so bad? Is there something in the water? Is it a legacy of Apartheid? The food people eat? Anyone got any ideas?
It is so strange for me. Because, when my wife and I decided to return to South Africa it was because we were inspired by the space. That it was filled with opportunities and is exciting and interseting. In fact the vast majority, in fact everyone that I know who has visited this country, feel that is an incredible place. They all want to come back, live here and play.
South African's you need to wake up and realize that you live in a wonderful place - filled with its own problems - but certainly nothing we can't ultimately overcome. The better your attitude the better the experience the better the space and the more chance of us all coming together and building an even greater country.
And, those people at the Department of Home Affairs - they deserve a good pat on the back for workign hard and trying to get it all sorted out. In fact, they even volunteer on Saturdays so that the office can be open for those of you that have to work.
Be positive!!! Stay positive!!! And, it will all be so much more pleasant an experience for you and those around you.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Some people have likened South Africa to California in the sixties - I hope so, but I hope that the end result will be so much more then that. People have to be creative you have to come up with out-of-the-box thinking and solutions when you can't run down to Office Max or Best Buy (two massive electronics stores in the USA) to "purchase" your solution. Here you have to get creative.
I came across two blogs recently that have really excited me (and when I say recently I mean in the past 24 hours) and I haven't even been able to really dig through these blogs yet.
Check them out: Afrigadget and WhiteAfrican
Both of these are focusing on technologies and I think that is awesome. As any of you know, that have either read my blog or know me personally I am not a techie kind of guy. Nor, do I believe that the only real way to solve our problems is through technologies. For me the most critical thing is how we think, what we think about and how we theorize and frame our problems and solutions.
This is why these sites and what they identify excites me so much. It shows a way of thinking an understanding that we can create solutions that we don't have to think along the regular paths and within the normal theoretical frameworks. That we can break out of the mold that Africa has placed itself in and actually start solving and creating alternatives ouselves. Using what is available to create new ways, new options and new solutions.
If you dig around the Afrigadget site you will find two cool articles. The first one is about using recycled parts, and dual sim chips in cell phones the other one is about building bicycles out of bamboo.
These are not people that are trying to come up with the latest million dollar solution. But, rather are looking at solving everyday problems - transport and communication.
Everyday I get more and more excited about my return to South Africa. To climbing into my bio-diesel (made from waste oil, or non-edible plant matter - and hopefully from blue-green algea on of these days) and driving into Africa. Finding and exploring, learning and giving. Because, for me this is the next play ground. Africa is where it is at. Africa is where our solutions are to be found. Africa has to think differently - it has to follow a new path an emergent path.
I hope all of you get a chance to come to this lovely place and explore and be excited.
Monday, April 28, 2008
I have been living in my home country for the past 4 months with my wife and child. It was meant to be just a visit - but we are planning on returning in August for an indefinite period of time. There are many reasons for this decision - beautiful city, family, cost of living but one of the biggest reasons for both my wife and myself is the incredible amount of entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity in this country.
I spent last night at a dinner with about 20+ social media entrepeneurs in Cape Town last night. It was an interesting and exciting time. It is a dinner that happens monthly on the 27th of each month - they rotate the dinners from one city to the next - Cape Town, Jo'burg, Durban etc. It is known as 27Dinner and is organized by the affable Dave Duarte who I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago through an old friend while spending a weekend in a cute little town called Stanford. Dave is a great guy and runs multiple projects - among one of the most interesting is his work with Huddlemind.
If you explore the link to the 27Dinner wiki you will get a chance to check out many interesting companies and bloggers in South Africa. Several of these guys have gone global, or are partly owned by larger companies. There were two speakers last night - first was Eric Edelstein who has started several successful companies the better known one being incuBeta. His latest venture is SpringLeap which allows you to vote on t-shirt designs and then have them made up and shipped off to stores around the country - if not the world. It is a proudly South African company with all the work, printing, CMT of t-shirts being done in SA.
The other person that I got to hear speak last night was Charl Norman. He gave a little talk on building social networks - and the work that he has done, very successfully, with at least 3 social networks. The first and biggest being Blueworld (which just partnered with one of South Africa's biggest media companies 24.com). Blueworld is a specifically South African social network - working on bringing South African's together, and giving them a chance to meet people they haven't met before.
It was a really great time. It is incredible how active social media/new media is in South Africa. How many of these young, talented and excited people are invovled in doing really cutting edge and interesting stuff. It is so cool hanging out at the tip of Africa experiencing something that you wouldn't expect to find. How people in the rest of the world really don't get what is going on in Africa today. I wish they did, I wish everyone could focus on what is great about this country and this continent.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
When I was 6 years old my mom took me to see a doctor because I had been limping, and complaining of pain in my left hip. She thought at first that it was nothing, just a regular, hyper-active boy that had probably bruised his leg playing with friends.
I don’t remember the date of this visit but I do remember the moment when, while I was sitting on the floor at the doctors office tying my shoelaces after the x-ray, the doctor turned to me and told me not to move that they would get me a wheel chair immediately. That they were going to have to operate on my leg the very next day. I remember the shock, I remember being wheeled out of the doctors office into the ward.
They had found a large cist in my hip joint. Right in the ball and socket joint. The cist had eaten, yep pretty much consumed, the bone in my hip joint to the point that the hip had actually fractured because it was so weak. The doctor was worried that if he didn’t operate on it that the amount of blood getting to the rest of the bone in the leg would not be sufficient. That, essentially, gangrene would set in and I would loose the whole leg.
I remember many agonizing hours of lying in cat-scan machines, these things sucked – if you moved, even slightly the whole process would have to start again. For hours, it felt – especially for a hyper-active 6 year old – I would lie in this tube while they studied my hip.
That very next day I went into surgery – I think the surgery lasted around 8 hours. My poor mother was pacing around in the hospital corridor waiting, no news just waiting. My father didn’t even live in the country at the time. My mom was a single mother with a 3 year-old, my sister Sasha, and her 6 year-old son in surgery.
They had to cut into the hip, scraped the cist out and chipped chunks of bone from one part of the hip and put them in the part where they cist had eaten – they call this a bone graft. All in the hope that the bone would take and re-grow.
I remember waking up from the surgery the next day – in a plaster cast from my chest down. I was essentially immobile. There was a tube coming out the side of my body running into a jar that was draining my blood.
The pain, my God, the pain was like nothing I can explain. The hip throbbed, it felt like it wanted to explode, that it would explode. It felt like it was thumping against the side of the plaster cast that it was going to break out and explode.
There I lay, in the hospital, unable to move, having to shit and pee into a tray. No privacy, no sense of self-control and so alone.
I was young, I think that was the best thing I had going for me at the time. I was resilient. I don’t remember thinking too much about it. I was just in live mode. I lay in that hospital for several weeks. My mom would come visit me daily, spend time with me. The nurses were awesome. I got a remote control car that I would drive around the ward, much to the annoyance of the nurse.
I remember the other kids in the ward. There was a young child who had been burned terribly when a candle fell into his cot. My mom would go over an comfort this boy, his mom was poor and worked and couldn’t come and visit him all the time. He cried all the time. Even at that age I understood the importance of not feeling sorry for ones self. That others had it tougher. That I had my leg, that I had my mom by my side and that I would be fine.
I remember going home, still in my plaster cast, having to in a bed, day in and day out. I was a kid, and surged back quickly. I found ways to push myself around on a piece of wood that my mother put four wheels on. I could motor around the house like a maniac, much to the horror of my mother. I would be wheeled up to my local primary school in an old stroller. Legs sticking out and a blanket over the part of the plaster cast that was cut out – so that I could pee – for privacy. I would go to school to get my reading books and stay in touch.
I think it was several months before the cast was removed. I remember the day. Going into the hospital – having the cast cut-off. It was scary, what was even scarier was seeing the leg. It was emaciated. Thin, real thing. No muscle. It was essentially useless. I remember trying to move it and nothing would happen. I remember freaking out thinking it was actually dead, that it wouldn’t work again. The nurses assured me it would be fine. After a couple months on crutches I would be walking soon enough.
This wasn’t the truth. After many more hours in cat-scans and x-rays they found that the cist had grown back. That they would have to operate a second time. I remember crying, telling the doctor that he couldn’t. That they were wrong, it was fine. No please not the cast again!!!
I made the doctor promise that he wouldn’t put me in the cast again. Please!! He said he would try his best.
Back into the operating room, back under those lights. Passing out to fading voices. Waking up in pain. Throbbing, throbbing!! But no cast…I was sooo happy. I knew that I could at least move around. That I wouldn’t have to lie in bed all day and call for help every time I needed to pee or shit. What a relief.
The next 6 to 9 months I walked on crutches. Leg in a sling!!! Everywhere. Hey, man I was good on those crutches. I could move fast and furious.
But it was long and slow. It was tough. I remember when I stopped having my leg in a sling. It was almost 18 months since I had stood on my left leg, had walked. It was intense. They didn’t do much therapy. It was kind of get your shit sorted and move.
I don’t remember much about learning to walk again. About rebuilding my leg. I do know that I threw myself into running, swimming, playing rugby and playing in general. Gosh, how good it felt to run 800 meters – like the best meditation in the world. To swim 1 km in the morning before schools started. I was blessed, I had a working leg.
Crazy when I think back on it now. I have never written openly about this time in my life. I still have two big fat scars on my hip. Sometimes my hip hurts, the muscle structure is vastly different between the left and right hip. But, it works. I walk, I swim, I jump, I run. I have two legs. What a marvel.
I read Jerry’s book and I think how lucky I am. How blessed I am to have both, to walk on the feet I was born with. Thank the Lord!! Truly.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I came across a blog that was talking about this – it is in great part an anti-capitalist blog post but that is not really the point (here is a link to it: http://www.empirenotes.org/). The most relevant part of the blog post to me was the raising of the issue of having global markets for food and as a secondary note the fact that the US food aid has to all be produced in the USA.
The first issue; that having global food markets can of course be argued as both a good thing and a bad thing. Lets look at the good thing – effectively you as a farmer are able to produce your product and sell it at the highest price, therefore making a profit and being able to continue to be a farmer. In fact it is supposed to act as an incentive. It also should mean that when one region of the world is lacking in food it can go into the global commodities market and purchase the necessary food to feed its people. Also, you would think that this setup would incentivize increased production – because with global futures markets farmers can often hedge their bets and know, to a degree, what price their grain will fetch on the market come harvest time. So therefore I will produce X because price is Y.
This has held relatively true. And in fact we are producing massive amounts of food. More then we need to feed everyone. However, and this is where the bad comes in, food is now treated purely as a commodity. Not a necessity, not something that holds a value far above a pure dollar figure. It after all is needed to sustain life – no food no life. No life no food. Okay, well, my point is – and maybe you can guess this by now – is that this is something that on a certain level holds an infinite value – food for eating is priceless. People need to eat – that is a fundamental need and a fundamental right. People do not need to drive cars, grow pigs or make disposable containers out of corn.
What we have then is a market distortion. An incorrect value has been placed on a product/commodity/entity. Once again this is a capitalist failure. The question is how does the market correct this one. If we believe in free markets then what we should expect is that food production will rise sharply and the price will drop accordingly and everyone will have their bowl of rice. However the global distortions continue to exist – subsidies is one of the biggest ones. We can nit-pick it in all of these ways. But, for me it is about a system that does not value something above and beyond a quantifiable price. Essentially infinite value.
Once again how do you bring infinite value in to a pricing system? Can a pricing system hold infinite value? Or, are we just barking up the wrong tree and need to realize that capitalism is bust. Kapoo!!
If it is then what is the alternative? What do we construct in its place? I have a friend that talks about a gift economy. She hasn’t really developed the concept much further then the idea that if we all approach the world, our friends and our lives from a place of giving then we will all be taken care of. Well, I of course have issues with this on some levels because at the root of it is still a value judgment. How much do you give? When someone gives do you take? What if you take more then you give? Perhaps on a purely esoteric level this equates. I am not sure. But, the point for me is that we are still caught in having to construct some sort of value system.
Ultimately any system of economics has value at its root. The question is how is that system constructed and what holds the highest value – so far capitalism is tapped out at the trillion dollar mark. Once we get beyond trillions we have an issue. But, that which is recognized as holding an infinite value is something that it cannot contain and therefore ignores.
This is a shame because those are the things that we need to value the most. They are something that we need to incorporate. They are values that are above all other values.
We need to feed people first and foremost. It is not about how much money you can get for your corn that matters. Hell, if everyone is fed and there is corn left over then go ahead and make your fork and knife out of corn. But, if there are those in hunger then a value, an infinite value, is being ignored.
I am sure this is a rambling two pages of scrambled text. I am trying to decipher all of this and find a way to put it together so that it makes sense. How to apply infinite value and how to construct a system that includes this. A theory that fits.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I am no physicist – and perhaps I am completely misapplying Einstein’s thinking, but hopefully you get the point. Essentially I am amazed at how people place development on a single path, a trajectory that all nations, no matter where they are located, no matter what their relative position is – view, experience and follow the same path; that development is a linear process. I am emphatically disagreeing with this view, and in my favorite professor, Gillian Hart’s words – it is always constituted of historically and geographically specific parts. That it always, always, depends on where you are, what you have experienced and how the world has interacted with that space.
What this means for so many people is places like Europe or America are ahead of places like Africa and S. America. And that places like China and India are somewhere in the middle. And, that we in South Africa are still a hundred years behind those in Europe.
In fact I sat today at one of my favorite little coffee shops in Kalk Bay, very Euro/very French coffee shop, with a young Greek-South African brother and sister. They were talking about how the culture of Europe is so much further ahead of South African culture and that that is why they no longer want to live here in South Africa. I didn’t challenge them on this notion. But the truth is that these are not two cultures on the same path just at different stages. They are two cultures on the same planet in different phases of their historically and geographically specific emergence. South Africa is not European it is not American it is a version of an African culture with elements of these other cultures. It is what it is and will never be something that it can’t be. It can never be European; in fact the only place that can be European is Europe.
Sure we can argue that there are elements within the European culture that are important and valuable and aught to be integrated into our South African culture. But, hell, has anyone read the South African constitution lately. That seems pretty “advanced” to me and incorporates ideas that Europe has struggled to integrate into any legal structure for eons. Remember it was only 60 years ago that the Europeans were slaughtering each other because of the differing religious ethnicities.
In a discussion with a new friend a few weeks ago, while hanging out in the ever so quaint town of Stanford – about 1.5 hours outside of Cape Town – we were using and debating terms like “1st world/3rd world”, “developing/developed” etc. (You all know the different versions of this.) She started using the term “emergent” - South Africa is an emergent culture. It is not emerged, it is not emerging as something. It is under constant formation that is historically and geographically specific.
We all need to remember that the thinking has been so dominated by those in the north that we have bought into the greatest marketing achievement of all time. That some how Europe and America, in the infamous words of the scholar Francis Fukuyama, has reached the “end of history”, which somehow Europe and America have beaten us to the final station on the road of “progress” and “development”. Yet, no one has considered what Africa may still have to offer South Africa’s very specific historical experience and that its very specific geographical location affects and continues to affect what cultural experiences will emerge.
You are fooling yourself if you think Europe is more advanced; that somehow it has something over the rest. The primary thing that we all want is the ability to feel physically safe, for our children to feel safe and that our ability to provide for our family and ourselves is somewhat guaranteed. Europe and America have traditionally (or at least in Europe for the past 60 yeas) been able to create that sense of security. There is nothing about the way that Europe operates or the “stage” that it is in that guarantee this. That at some point this ability will be reduced and Europe may not be so advanced.
What I think is so often missed is that we are heading towards an end goal – that there is somewhere that we are going to end up. In the end it is this view of life that we are all so caught up in – that this is what has been marketed to us. That the goal is to own a big house, a fancy car and cool sunglasses. And, that when we have this we are done and can sit back and be happy. What crap. That is just the start – that is where it all begins. We are all in a constant process of emergentness – that we are trying to find our space and that anyone that tells us that those are already there and we are just playing catch up are, well, in for a surprise one of these days.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Therefore we are faced with the recognition that a pricing system that is based on ideas of scarcity cannot fully account for what needs to be recognized by the economy. This leads us to the need to create an economic system that in someway can account for things of infinite value. That infinite value is always part of the equation and that ignoring that which holds infinite value results in the environment and social horrors that we see capitalist economics imposing on our society and earth.
How then do you include this value, how do you create a system that recognizes things of infinite value? What needs to be changed in an economy? Is capitalism inherently unable to include that which holds infinite value? What happens if we focus the economy on the concept of abundance instead of scarcity? What if the economy pays attention to abundance and the pricing system is based on a concept of abundance?
In today’s world abundance is actually more prevalent then in any other time. Money is more abundant then at any other time, food is more abundant then at any time, there are more commodities above the earth then below the earth. There are more homes, more people; there is more of everything then at any other time in history. Yet, our economy is still driven by concepts of scarcity. Decisions and prices are still focused on scarcity.
What would an economy look like that focused on abundance? How would you create a pricing mechanism that paid attention to abundance? Can you create such a system? Does the system have to be something completely different that doesn’t even use a pricing mechanism? Doesn’t use money? A gift economy? This is where the juicy questions arise. This is where one truly has to delve into theories and explore what is contained within this train of thought.
I am constantly thinking and exploring these questions. From my basic research, and asking some big time economists. No one has answered this question of infinite value in capitalist pricing mechanism. It is a void in the thinking of a pricing system and is something that needs to be answered. I am committing myself to exploring this idea further and trying to see if I can’t come up with a theoretical understanding that is able to include that which holds infinite value.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
This is a site that attempts to aggregate your information/sns profiles across the web. This is an element of what I have been trying to get at. This is essentially an aggregation, much like signing up to a bunch of RSS feeds, that you can then participate in multiple spaces but have a single point of entry. It is personalized however and in that sense is not community based - it is individual based.
What happens if you can create an aggregation site that organizes this information based on what is being pumped out by, for starters blogs. I wonder if this exists. There are two trends here. 1 is the people that are willing to spend the time on the web to follow the information, to create the profiles and to sign up to RSS feeds etc. So that they create their own little "social library".
Then there are the others - like me - that don't care to do this yet still use the web as a resource and a place to find information. The only real way that one does this is through google searches. Yet, if I went into a library I would be able to look through the catalog using the dewey decimal point system. Can one create something like this for the web? Can one actually use the web as a library? I guess that is what google is trying to do. Except that the commercialized aspect of it has driven the system to be gamed. No one ever needed to game the dewey system. Either your book was good or it wasn't, either it was relevant or it wasn't. You don't really know what is relevant or not. So, google tries to create the personalized search. Google is willing to follow your personal trends and use algorithims to estimate/guess what it is that you are actually looking for.
In the end there is something missing here. There is an element of access to this information that makes it a complete waste. Well maybe not complete but problematic none the less. The barage of information has created a certain level of redundancy that can only be truly accessed through your own personal search and aggregation methods. The community, this idea of social media, is really a fallacy because it is only if you participate directly in it that you benefit.
Are we then only left with google? Is that all we have? How do you determine relevancy? By the amount of people viewing a site? By how often the person blogs? By how many links are sent into it? I am wondering what would happen if you create a global dewey decimal point system that people could submit their blogs too. Regardless of perceived relevancy. In the end isn't google just acting like any other big publishing house that chooses what it thinks the people want/are interested in?
Lets create a global dewey decimal point system.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
It is somethign that is so strange about my life in America it is so disconnected. Here you are alive you have to be alive, you have to value what splendor you have been given. That what those of us have is somethign to be cherished.
Today I had a man come to my door, dying of Aids, had been stabbed in the arm by young punks in the ghetto that he lives in. He was broken out with a horrible rash of sorts that said kept him up at night. He needed money, money to pay rent in his shack so that he had a place to sleep. His story is long and winding. He wants to go back to Malawi so that he can die in a place where he will be buried.
Can't I give him a R100? Yes, I can, I can give you that money, I can give you more then that. Here, here it is. I am not a rich man, but I am richer then you. I have a home, a family a job, an education a passport and my health. Here, here is some money. Yes, it will not solve it it will not make it better for him any longer then the R100 will last (maybe $15). But, I will give it. I will give it with my heart of sadness for I know I can not help this man, nor the next or the next that comes to my door.
So, what do you do. How do you help, can you help? What is help? What is giving? I don't know the answer to this question. I do know that I want an answer. That I want to know how it is that our societies, everywhere, have people that need to beg to ask to plead, to cry for your help. They see me, they see you, they see all of us. In our homes, our cars, our restaurants. Laughing playing singing. They see our pleasure and our happiness.
I am thankful, I am so thankful for all that I have and I will always be grateful and I will always acknowledge what I have and pray that I am may help, even a little, those that do not have those that beg and those that have some how fallen outside of societies compassion.