Thursday, November 23, 2006

City Parks Hard at Work

Julius Ceasar would have been proud. They came, they saw, they came back and cut it down. The tree was too lopsided to remove the dead branches, so the whole thing had to go. Fortunately there are plenty of trees in the park, as you can see from the photos.
By 10.30am the workers had left, without removing any of the branches, even though they have a large lorry to do so. I guess we have to wait for a different team of busy bees to collect the rubbish.
Maybe they're going to leave the wood to dry out and become a fire hazard before removing it.
Update 01-Dec-2006: Accoring to the City Council call centre, reference number 0122/20/11/2006 was handed over to the "Florida Depot" and should be attended to by Monday 4th December.
Update 02-Dec-2006: The grass in the park was cut, except round the tree debris. None of the tree debris or grass custtings were removed. Here is a panoramic view taken from a boundary fence. Click for a more detailed image.
Aleit Park

Prominent Johanesburg Lawyer Reads My Blog

I was somewhat flattered to receive an email from prominent lawyer and respected member of the community, Michael de Broglio. He wasn't pleased with the entry I made earlier in the year, when he phoned me to ask me who he was. I recall him yelling, "Do you know who I am?" but I wasn't able to help him.
Unfortunately Michael decided that my entry constuted "defamation" rather than "embarassment". He wrote:
I have come across a blog of yours, dated 25 April 2006, in which you not only defame me, but also utilize an image of me off my own website!
Please would you be so kind as to remove the entire blog within 48 hours failing which I shall have no option but to pursue a substantial legal action against you. I do trust this will not be necessary and you will attend to the immediate removal of the defamatory blog and any reference to me on your blog, as well as my image.
All my rights remain strictly reserved.
Thank you
Michael de Broglio
Michael owns several racehorses and is a prominent Johannesburg lawyer and National Director of the Racing Association and chairs the Marketing Committee. He is also the Chairperson of the Gauteng Law Council, and has two blogs, one at the Gauteng Law Council, and one at the Johannesburg Attorneys Association.
Obviously someone this important would want to protect his fine reputation, but one wonders whether he is going too far by demanding I close down the entire "defammatory blog" because of a single entry. Nonetheless I have removed the entry to which he referred, to save him the effort of having to "pursue a substantial legal action".

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tree Inspection Time

Julius Ceasar once wrote: "Veni Vidi Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered). Today the Joburg City Parks department came, and they saw. Then the workers lay around on the (uncut) grass during lunch hour.
The supervisor told me they didn't have any petrol to run the chain saws, but promised to be back "tomorrow". When I asked why they showed up without any petrol, he explained they had been doing another job earlier. I guess two trees in one day is a bit much for a council worker. Then they drove off in MWC781GP. Obviously it had enough petrol to get back to the office.
I guess they couldn't come last month because they were attending a special municipal ceremony (see "City Parks thanks hard-working staff") on 24th October.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trans Fat Food Nightmare

The Abs DietHere is an extract from "The Abs Diet", a book I've been listening to from In the print version this can be found on page 61:
"You won't find trans fatty acids listed on most food labels, even though there are more than 40 000 packaged foods that contain this type of fat. You won't find it listed because it's so bad for you that food manufacturers have fought for years to keep it off ingredient labels. In 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration finally adopted regulations requiring manufacturers to include trans fat content on their packaging, but the regulations will be phased in over the next few years. For now, you have to be a smart food consumer to spot where the danger lies.
"Trans fats were invented by grocery manufacturers in the 1950s as a way of appealing to our natural cravings for fatty foods. But there's nothing natural about trans fats - they're cholesterol-raising, heart-weakening, diabetes-causing, belly-building chemicals that, for the most part, didn't even exist until the middle of the last century, and some studies have linked them to an estimated 30 000 premature deaths in the USA every year. In one Harvard study, researchers found that getting just 3 percent of your daily calories from trans fats increased your risk of heart disease by 50 percent. Three perfect of your daily calories equals about 7 grams of trans fats - that's roughly the amount in a single order of fries. Americans eat an average of btween 3 and 10 grams of trans fats every day.
"Since these trans fats don't exist in nature, your body has a hell of a time processing them. Once consumed, trans fats are free to cause all sorts of mischief inside you. They raise the number of LDL (bad) cholesterol particles in your bloodstram and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. They also raise blood levels of other lipoproteins; the more lipoproteins you have in your bloodstream, the greater your risk of heart disease. Increased consumption of trans fats has also been linked to increased risk of diabetes and cancer.
"Yst trans fats are added to a shocking number of foods. They appear on food labels as PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OIL - usually vegetable or palm oil."

I wonder how many food store owners know about this? And I wonder if the Beth Din and the Muslim Food Council would be so happy about adding their seal of approval to these foods if they knew what they contain? I intend to find out.

Fallen Tree Makes a Home

Sometime between January and October 2005 one of the trees in Aleit Park (next to our flat) suffered storm damage and about half the branches fell down. In spite of repeated requests by various parties, the branches have still not been removed.
Why kick up a fuss about a damaged tree, even if it is in a park? The reason is simple it has now become a temporary shelter for several homeless people, who arrive at around 10pm and leave at 5am, to avoid arrest.
This is all they leave during the day: a packet and some cardboard at the base of the tree. They hide the rest of their stuff in the stormwater drain nearby, as shown here. Their stuff is jammed between the water pipe and the roof of the bridge, and there is a blanket handing over the pipe, presumably to dry out.
On the one hand I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't have a place to stay. It must be pretty grim living out in the open when it's pouring with rain or freezing cold. But on the other hand the area is a park, and if they move in permanently it wil be almost impossible to evict them. If this happens the value of our property will fall, with the obvious financial implications for our bond.
What really gets me is the complete lack of response from the City Parks Department. The building owner contacted them earlier in the year, and has now given up phoning them. Last month Penny sent faxes and made phone calls, and still no response. I've logged a call with the City Council, reference number 0122/20/11/2006.
I understand it is an offence to cut the tree down. I wonder what it will take to get the Parks Department to trim the branches? A law suit? A formal complaint to the Mayor? If we take the law into our own hands and have it cut down, can we sue the council for the costs? The mind boggles.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gay Marriage is Weird

The Christian view of marriage used to be simple: man meets woman and they develop a good friendship. Later on the relationship deepens and they decide to commit to one another for the rest of their lives. They get engaged and then married. Once they are married they seal the marriage covenant by having sex for the first time.
If either partner is unfaithful, the marriage covenant is seriously damaged and could lead to divorce. After all, if they abstained from sex before marriage, why should they get away with having sex with anyone else after marriage? The marriage covenant and sex work together.
Enter the "modern" view of sex: you can have it before marriage with anyone you like, and after marriage if you can get away with it. Since it's "natural" to be gay, it is as unthinkable to expect gay people to remain celibate before marriage as it is to expect straight people to remain celibate.
But this poses some interesting side-effects: can a gay couple (once married) file for divorce on the grounds of infidelity? Is there any expectation of a monogamous relationship in a gay marriage or not? If not, then what is meant by "a committed long-term relationship"? Does it mean that you commit to one partner in the long term, but reserve the right to random short-term relationships as well?
If this applies to gay relationships, why not to straight ones as well? Surely it would be discriminating against the rights of married couples to allow for divorce on the grounds of infidelity?
Should gay men be expected to remain celibate until they marry "Mr Right"? If not, why not? If so, then why is it not part of current gay culture?
Personally, I find the whole concept of "modern" marriage weird. To me it indicates that the arguments about why the "sexual orientation" simply don't wash. It's got nothing to do with orientation: it's got everything to do with sinful behaviour. Men who have other sex partners before, during or after marriage do not have a different "orientation" to men who don't. So why are gay men treated different?
I'm not gay, nor am I rabidly homophobic or a gay basher. I just think that people who try to explain away or justify sexual brokenness as anything else eventually land up in some weird moral and ethical dilemmas.
Personally I think that gay or lesbian behaviour is immoral, and that these powerful sexual urges are indicators of more deep-seated spiritual and psychological issues. They can't just be explained away and I know of no quick fix solutions. What I do know and can testify to is the healing power of Christ crucified and resurrected. Unfortunately most Christians have no idea what that truly means, let alone the rest of the planet. But that's another story.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

DiscoveryCard gives out confidential information to AutoPage

Today I got a phone call from AutoPage, offering me a free contract phone. This is rather sad, because the number they called is the number I got from MTN after having a big fight with AutoPage about their 24 month contract that is actually a 25 month contract. But that's another story.
It turns out that the "promotion" they are doing is with Discovery Card. These are the same people who sent me statements in PDF format that they claim are encrypted and therefore totally private, but which contained my credit card numbers, not to mention the fact that the attachment name used to be "4901 3800 8391 4000.PDF", which looks remarkably like a credit card number.
As you can tell my confidence levels with either company are not exactly huge. What makes it worse is that I informed Discovery Card in June that I did not wish to receive any marketing calls or SMS messages from them. I know they got the message because someone from Discovery Card phoned me to find out if the ban extended to the SMS messages of my financial transactions.
It turns out that they decided to include my name and cell phone number in a database they provided to the AutoPage cell centre, thereby breaking the ECT Act. I have contacted them for an explanation, not that I expect to get a satisfactory one, but still.
Update 01-Dec-2006: A consultant from Discovery Card called to apologise. He explained that when they extracted the data to send to Autopage, they neglected to exclude the clients who didn't want to get marketing information or calls. Presumably they didn't care that this would violate the ECT Act. Of course it wasn't the marketing person responsible for this decision who called, but one of the call centre consultants. I guess he was too important to call himself, which is why I asked for a written apology.
Update (6 years later) 16 Aug 2012: I received the following email:
I am the Chief Operating Officer of Vitality and Discovery Card. The incident that happened below happened before my time but I did ask our team to try and ascertain what happened and what failed.
It was difficult to get to the bottom of this and we have been unable to reconstruct what the failure was and why it occurred.
I do like to think that the procedures and processes that we have in place today are rigorous and sound but there will be times when the human element fails. In these instances it’s important to recover well.
Our team takes customer service very seriously and it is paramount to our business. I know it is late but if it is any consolation, I am sorry for the below incident and I can assure you that were this to happen today, I would like to think that we would be able to resolve the issue and have retained you as a client.
Barry Sundelson.
Thanks, Barry. Much appreciated.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Step Up: dance and live!

Last night Penny and I went to see the movie "Step Up". There are some cheezy bits in it, but between the dance sequences some amazing coments are made about life, and knowing what you want. It's a clash of cultures that really makes you think. The dance sequences are pretty amazing, even to a pleb like me who doesn't get the culture(s) it comes from. After all, I live on another continent. Still, it's pretty deep for a feel-good Hollywood movie.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Baghdad's Missing Billions

"Iraq has become a vast financial black hole.
Since the war began in 2003, the Americans have spent around $30 billion of their money - and at least $20 billion of Iraq's own money - in rebuilding the country. But where has it all gone?
Mark Gregory has followed the money trail from Iraq to Washington via a kebab shop in Jordan.
He discovers that there have been allegations of fraud, mismanagement and corruption on such a gigantic scale that much of the money is now untraceable.

Part One: The first year of reconstruction

In the first part of this two-part series, Mark Gregory travels to Iraq to investigate what's happened to the billions of dollars that has been invested in rebuilding the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein
He uncovers allegations of impropriety in the awarding of contracts in the United States, chaos at the occupation authority that ran post-war Iraq, and that large sums of Iraqi oil money has disappeared without any record of how it was spent.
Even the finance ministers in the Kurdish regions claim to have no knowledge of how the reconstruction money has been spent.

Part Two: Failure of the US aid programme

In the second part of this two part series, Mark Gregory picks up the money trail at the time the Americans handed power back to the Iraqis in June 2004.
The US-led administration, talking shortly before the return of sovereignty, offered a vision of a country in which the lights worked and clean water flowed from the taps.
But two-and-a-half years after the handover, many Iraqis say their lives are getting worse despite the vast sums allocated for rebuilding.
Mark Gregory explains how profiteering, corruption, bad management and the strength of insurgency have all paid a part in the failure to rebuild Iraq.