About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

24 September 2016

Free Sunday Times

For the past few weekends, there has been a pile of free Sunday Times by the gate of the complex. It seems that it was part of a promotion, which has now sadly ended. But despite the generous offer for a discounted subscription, I am unlikely to take it up.

Although I enjoyed reading the newspaper, and it's wide variety of articles - I was not really reading the paper for news. That is because, most of the articles were not new, and already well covered in other outlets. The cover stories and opinion pieces were excellent however.

Ultimately, I may consider getting a digital only subscription. The cost of R80 a month is actually not that high considering the general high quality of the articles. But I am probably too lazy to actually get one.

13 September 2016

Challenges in Education

I discovered Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History Podcast accidentally - not because it was difficult to find; but rather because I wasn't even looking for new podcasts. The series (or season 1) is over; and I am only halfway through - but the middle episodes on education has been fascinating.

So far, the podcasts have all been very US centric - but the US does have quite a few similarities with South Africa: historic racial inequality, history of segregation, high inequality and high disparity in education levels. Education in South Africa, specifically higher education, has been a hot topic in South Africa - and the three podcasts on education leave a lot of food for thought.

Episode 4, Carlos Doesn't Remember, traces the wider impact of inequality and social problems associated with inequality on the "smart kids". The compelling argument is not that the distribution of clever people is bound to race or wealth - that is obvious; but rather that they do not have the actual tools at hand to really take advantage of their talents. It is not just a matter of do well in school; and the world will open up - the wider support structure is an inherent part of making it happen. In the context of transformation targets in South Africa; this is an important point - it will be difficult to change the face of sport and business without the wider socio-economic support; not just waiting for talent to rise to the top.

Episode 5, Food Fight, traces the decisions of two different private colleges in the US to funding poorer students; and makes the case that there is a moral issue at stake when a college decides to focus on better food or on better facilities rather than funding poorer students for education. In the context of #feesmustfall, I wonder how many South African institutions have made these type of calls. 

Finally, episode 6, My Little Hundred Million, traces the huge endowments of US universities; and the absurdity of philanthropic donations of education institutions that already have endowments bigger than some countries' GDP. And for that matter, the fact that most of these elite universities remain closed to many underprivileged students; despite the fact that they can actually afford to financially support many more such students. There is however a take way for South African universities - ultimately, the success of institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and the like is due to their endowments. South African universities, and universities in general across the developing world, will need to build similar endowment funds to be able to compete and thrive.

I have really enjoyed the series so far, and would highly recommend the podcast to all.

04 September 2016

Buskaid 2016

M is away this weekend, and for various other reasons; I only got round to buying Buskaid tickets yesterday morning. While it was not a full house, there were very few seats left. And once again Buskaid put on a stunning show - with quite a lot of variances from previous years in its pop/kwela arrangements. As is almost traditional, the concert began with Chaconne from Rameau's opera Dardanus. I am not much of a fan of Rameau, so I will move along. 

I recall in my first Buskaid concert, a young boy whose violin seemed to be bigger than him. Mzwandile Twala has now grown up; and was the first featured soloist playing Angela Morley's Reverie. It's a peaceful, contemplative piece for the violin; and a great introduction to Ralph Vaughn Williams' stunning "The Lark Ascending" performed with great virtuosity by Kabelo Monnathebe. It is certainly one of the great Buskaid performances; and my favourite performance of the evening. It's a piece I have heard before on radio; and clearly showcased how much more in depth a live performance can be. Due to some rather loud coughing in the audience, some parts of it was replayed after the interval - and I wished that it was performed in its entirity! Before the interval though, harpist Jude van der Wat made a reappearance with the Buskaid, this time performing Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane - a great showcase for both the harp and the orchestra. 

After the interval, Buskaid performed the full Holberg Suite. I like the fact that Buskaid has, in the recent past, performed full pieces instead of just excerpts. After the re-recording of a few excerpts for The Lark Ascending, the rest of the concert featured more contemporary music including the kwela arrangements. This part of the concert has been revitalised with newer arrangements - and as always led me to think, that the Buskaid could easily partner with contemporary South African musicians and singers to widen their appeal (and resulting financial well being).

15 August 2016

Sophiatown: The Mix

Together with District Six, the forced removal and relocation of Sophiatown during Apartheid is well known. Sophiatown's cultural legacy remains highly influential, especially in music with stars such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela tracing their roots to Sophiatown. 

Given the rich history, it is sad that the museum celebrating Sophiatown is not as well known; and is actually a fairly recent addition. The Mix combines one of the few undemolished houses during 1955 and a new building to serve as a space for music and conferences.

The house belonged to Dr Alfred Xuma, an ex-President of the ANC and a medical doctor for the community; and traces the political and social forces of Sophiatown through photographs and artefacts (mainly belonging to Dr Xuma).

This is a simple museum that manages to effectively chronicle Sophiatown and the wider impact on South Africa. It is effectively hidden away in the suburbs of Johannesburg without the spotlight of Lilliesleaf or Apartheid Museum and lacks many of the draw cards of modern museums - the multimedia showcases; immersive and interactive displays and stunning architectural features. Sophiatown has an important place in South Africa's narative - and The Mix is an important part of telling that narrative. It is a must visit for that reason alone.

07 August 2016

Movie: Where to Invade Next

Michael Moore's latest documentary is a sarcastic take on US invasions - instead of military conquests; how about implementing ideas that expand the social good - such as universal healthcare, universal higher education, maternal leave etc. As Michael states at the beginning, the documentary is about picking flowers and leaving out the weeds; and in many ways it mirrors the leftist agendas of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and in many respects the South Africa's EFF. It doesn't present any political propositions - just that other countries have managed to do a lot more to achieve equality; and that these should be ideals to pursue.

10 July 2016

Top Gear

I think I have watched every episode of Top Gear since it was relaunched in 2002 - even the ones that features reviews of second hand cars, or the ineffectual Top Gear Stuntman and the lesser seen Top Gear Dog. I have watched many episodes of Top Gear before the relaunch - during repeats of BBC World in the late 1990s. Needless to say, I am a Top Gear fan. 

And yes, I did watch the most recent Top Gear series - and also agree with most reviews and other commentary on the general weakness of the series in comparison to the previous series. Series 23 retained the amazing production values in terms of cinematography and video production; but almost everything else was below par. 

But to be fair, Season 23 was actually 2 parts - the hour long TV show that tried to be like the previous 22 seasons, and the online Extra Gear. Extra gear was the car nerd special - the one that features car guys talking about cars and motoring - something similar to what the previous 22 seasons of Clarkson, Hammond and May. 

Top Gear's previous 21 seasons (leaving aside the first season of the reboot) was more than just a show about cars - it was really a show about 3 guys doing things with cars that other people may have considered; but didn't have the money, time or just creativity to pull off. Be it building hovercrafts, or racing across countries; or playing large scale games with caravans as pieces; it was entertainment that pushed boundaries of what cars could do.

Season 23 on the TV had plenty of car reviews - and on their own; they were quite good. But put them together as a show it seemed to fall flat. There was a race against a train - and the cars lost. There was a race with SUVs; but it wasn't that memorable. There was a race with reliable robins; that just didn't seem to have a point. 

There was some madness (both featured Matt LeBlanc - the Ariel Nomad and the Tour of London) but it just wasn't the same. Maybe next season will be better; I will wait one more season out. But if it is the same as this season; there are other better things to watch.

15 June 2016

Westminster Cathedral

I have walked past the cathedral a number of times in my visits to London, but Saturday was my first entry into the cathedral. While the architecture is impressive with regards to scale and th volume of the main hall; it's rather plain and ordinary.