Some musings on the Solstice

December 21 is usually the date when the Winter Solstice occurs in the Northern hemisphere and the Summer Solstice, in the Southern hemisphere. While the Northern hemisphere’s Winter Solstice is associated with many pagan religious festivals such as Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, which have helped spawn more modern religious festivals such as Christmas, there’s not too much in the Southern hemisphere that can be associated with the Summer Solstice, apart from glorious sunshine.

Recent happenings however, from around the Southern hemisphere has left me wondering if there is also a touch of madness in the air around the Summer Solstice. And the recent continuous spell of rainfall around South Africa has done little to dispel my suspicions.

Kismayo, a port city just south of the equator in war-torn and religiously divided Somalia is now being dragged back into the stone age by Islamist al Shabaab rebels, as well. The men of Kismayo have apparently been ordered to grow long beards, wear their trousers above the ankles and shave their moustaches. And this, after they’ve already banned musical ringtones, dancing at weddings, and playing or watching soccer. It’s also been reported that al Shabaab enforces this strict form of Islamic sharia law with executions, floggings and amputations. Just what Somalia needs; more religious stupidity to exacerbate their problems.

I can just imagine the rebels yelling at the townspeople ” lower beard, raise trouser! Or else!” And if as reported in October, al Shabaab are still handing out AK-47’s, F-1 hand grenades and ammunition as prizes, then Kismayo should surely be a sight to behold in a short while (if not already); crazy-eyed men in big fuck-off beards running around in ankle-length trousers, re-introducing the grandeur of the stone age to Africa. And does it not strike one as strange or even downright ludicrous to insist on a long bushy beard and no moustache? Has to be some unfathomable religious thing. But, I suppose if you were dragging your people back into the stone age, you would expect them to dress for the part.

Moving westwards, a mass demonstration is being planned by evangelical churches in Uganda, in support of the controversial new law being introduced to persecute and prosecute gays and lesbians. Troubled countries seemingly find ready support in obtuse religious ramblings, to persecute the poor populace and divert attention away from real problems. Perhaps a more constructive use of the law would be in bringing to book, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian military group responsible for gross human rights violations, murder, mutilation, abduction and sexual enslavement of children, while forcing them to participate in the armed conflict.

Further west, in Brazil, a man and his lover were arrested for inserting about 50 sewing needles into the body of his two-year old son over a period of time, in what appears to be a bizarre revenge ritual. The lover apparently believed that she could seduce the man away from his wife by coercing him into the dastardly deed, while entering into a trance-like state, no doubt inspired by the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. This observation is born out by the fact that she sought out, and paid a practitioner of the Candomblé religion to bless the needles before the rituals were performed on the child. The things people do through religious conviction!

Meanwhile down in Sydney, Australia, city residents are up in arms over the secular stance adopted by their city over Christmas decorations and non religious greetings like Season’s Greetings, instead of Happy Christmas. They claim they are fighting back against the “political correctness” and “watering down of the historically accurate view of Christmas.” A council spokesman was further quoted as saying “Our community is fed up with this erosion of the true meaning and essence of Christmas through this ridiculous pre-emptive surrender of Christmas on the basis it may offend someone.” Perhaps if they conducted some basic research, they would have found out that their traditional view of Christmas is neither historically accurate or true; they would understand why the council had adopted the secular stance, while not exactly popular among Christians, is correct nonetheless. The celebrations around this time of year are of pagan origin, not Christian.

 Finally back to corrupt old South Africa. Convicted fraudster, Shabir Shaik must be hoping for a Presidential pardon in his Christmas stocking this year, after submitting his application recently. Paroled a short while ago, incredulously due to a terminal illness, Shaik has reportedly been seen driving around town shopping and visiting friends and family, in apparent violation of his parole conditions. Amazingly, he seems to have been cured, perhaps due to the warm South African sun or a good old-fashioned miracle. What’s even more amazing is the fact that the person supposed to be considering his parole, was the self-same person who Shaik was convicted of being in a corrupt relationship with; now the President of SA. Seems that conflict of interest just translates to window of opportunity in politics.

That’s enough craziness then, for one Solstice. To all those trying to come to terms with the insanity in this world, happy holidays.

Photo #11: Consumed by fire

Fire on the mountain

Date and time taken: 24 August 2009 @ approximately 20H04

Nikon D40, 150mm focal length, 30 sec exposure F/16, ISO 200

Cape Town is famous for its spectacular views, natural beauty and warm friendly people. It is therefore a photographers dream destination. However, sometimes photographers must of necessity capture the ugly side of life too, and this fire on the mountain behind the beautiful town of Noordhoek, an unappealing sight around winter in Cape Town, was probably caused by a careless, unthinking idiot discarding a cigarette butt, or perhaps more disgustingly, by an arsonist.

I used my trusty gorillapod to secure my camera to the wooden banisters of a sun-deck, to steady it for the 30 second exposure. Some time later after viewing the shot, I castigated myself for not using the Bulb Mode on my camera and a tripod.

Photo #10: Where the nectar of the gods are grown

The entrance to wine heaven

Date and time taken: 30 August 2009 @ approximately 14H16

Nikon D40, 55mm focal length, 1/250 sec exposure F/10, ISO 200

It’s pretty hard to not visit a winery when in the Cape, even if you don’t drink wine. The scenery is amazingly beautiful and the Constantia Valley is no exception. This area is the oldest wine growing region in the Cape Peninsula and produces some of the best wines in the world. I chose this shot because it is a taste of what to expect once you pass through the gates of the wine estate.

Photo #9: Straying off the path

Little boy in the park

Date and time taken: 30 August 2009 @approximately 18H24

Nikon D40, 80mm focal length, 1/20 sec exposure F/13, ISO 200

I always like that human element in my photography, so I do not take too many pictures of just objects or landscapes. Nature always provides stunning subjects for the photographer, but I kinda like people photography more. I took this shot of a little boy, my cousin’s son actually, in a Park not too far from the Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town.

Photo #8: Cape Town, sea, mountains and rocks everywhere…

The Boulders outside Simonstown

Date and time taken: 27 August 2009 @ approximately 16H41

Nikon D40, 55mm focal length, 1/640 sec exposure F/10, ISO 200

Ah the natural beauty of Cape Town; sea-views almost everywhere around the Peninsula, mountains and off course rocks as well. So this shot has got a bit of each. It’s stupid I know, but it looked kinda interesting at the time.

As a matter of interest, Simonstown is home to one of South Africa’s largest naval bases. Here you could find some of those frigging frigates that the government squandered so much money on, and the subject of that famous arms scandal that has forever tainted the ANC.

Photo #7: Fish and chips at Hout Bay

Scene at Hout Bay, Cape Town

Date and time taken: 30 August 2009 @ approximately 14H56

Nikon D40, 55mm focal length, 1/800 sec exposure F/10, ISO 200

One cannot spend time in Cape Town and not try the fish and chips. I’m partial to the fare dished up in Hout Bay, but the locals would not agree that it is the best fish and chips in Cape Town.

Although this particular shot does not reveal exactly how busy Hout Bay really is, this particular spot outside the restaurant in very busy, especially in Summer. I only noticed the birds on the roof of the restaurant after taking the shot. You can also just make out some of the fishing boats moored in the background.

Photo #6: The obligatory Cape sunset

Sunset somewhere near Chapman's Peak...I think

Date and time taken: 30 August 2009 @ approximately 19H06
Nikon D40, 55mm focal length, 1/800 sec exposure F/5.6, ISO 200

Everybody just  has to have that one sunset photo in their collection. Well, I’m no different. And Cape sunsets have to be the best in South Africa. I actually took quite a few shots and was lucky to get the two cars passing each other in opposite directions into the composition.

Yet again, I forgot to carry my tripod but a gorillapod did help with stabilization.

Photo #5: A view to a chill

Lonely lighthouse along Peninsula

Date and time taken: 27 August 2009 @ approximately 18H01

Nikon D40, 55mm focal length, 1/1250sec exposure F/13, Exposure compensation -2.0 EV, ISO 200

The Cape Peninsula is very beautiful any time of day or night or season. I took this shot while driving along the coast one afternoon, just as the sun was about setting, I think.  Some dirt on my lens is just about visible as well. And I forgot to carry my tripod as usual.

Did divine intervention gun down Liverpool?

Fifty minutes into the EPL (English Premier League) match between Liverpool and Arsenal yesterday, right-back Glen Johnson must have been a pretty happy chappy with his side leading 1-0. Then came that fateful moment when he scored an own goal while trying to clear a cross from Arsenal into the goal area.

His expression immediately afterwards as he looked questioningly towards the sky, was almost exactly what I have witnessed countless number of times on players faces (religiously inclined, at any rate) when they are the cause of things going wrong in sports contests. One could translate that skyward search into many phrases, but the simplest would be “why me, what did I do to deserve this?” It could also be used as an attempt by the player to seek absolution; a gesture to the crowd as if to say “hey it’s not my fault, the big guy up there does not like us today for some reason.”

Why do even, professional sportsmen and women in the modern world, still believe that their performance is either guided or influenced by a supernatural or divine entity? Bewilderingly, common superstition also seems to have a hand in sportspeople’s on and off-field behaviour. It’s kind of hard to not notice some of the antics of the players as they get onto the field, or on the field itself. Most popular seems to be to cross oneself (signum Crucis). Picking up and throwing some grass into the air is also popular, but so is fingering some charm worn around the neck, usually cross-shaped. How about just touching the grass on the field of play? Gathering in a circle and praying openly is always charming, especially when both teams are doing it at the same time. The cynical are left wondering if they came to witness some sports action or which team can impress the big guy the most with some spectacular grovelling in a circle.

Superstitious sports persons tend to favor a certain piece of sporting equipment. It provides great fodder for the commentators who revel in telling us how lovingly that piece of equipment has been looked after. The strapping and worn-off tape keeping it together is always quite evident. These guys and gals also seem to favor items of clothing and stinky shoes which they believe brings them luck or that added edge. Or how about standing on one leg when the score gets to a certain unlucky figure? Is all of this sport? Or a comedy festival?

Has it ever occurred to sportspeople that if a divine presence were actually in existence somewhere, he or she would be too busy drumming up a tsunami somewhere else in the world, or causing a volcano to erupt violently, or derailing a train somewhere or even creating that fog that leads to a 50-car pile-up?  Do these guys think that the Divine Demolisher would have time to indulge in some insignificant sporting activity while he or she has his or her hands full trying to keep Mercury, Venus and the Earth from crashing into the sun, while at the same time hanging onto Pluto so that it doesn’t drift off into space? Where would this entity find the time to intervene in a sports match while it is busy ensuring that the vines catch the sunlight and the bees eat pollen rather than moss? Really, the arrogance of these sports types!!!

Perhaps it’s all just an elaborate ruse to get us to think that someone else is at fault when teams perform badly; someone the manager can’t readily sack from the team. Maybe they just want to draw attention away from their own piss-poor performance by making us think that the result of a game of sport is really determined by some supernatural guy-in-the-sky who has great fun making a team invincible one week and crappy another.  And that’s why the praying-in-a-circle comes in handy after a loss. Makes one want to join in with some flailing rather than wailing.

You know, as a fan of Arsenal, I’m really glad that they eventually went on to win 2-1. But I’ll be dammed if I’m told that it was because of a hand-out from the guy-in-the-sky, because the truth is they won through putting in a good peformance. The only way for a team to lose is either through a bad performance by themselves or the referee or both.

How much honesty is there behind charity?

Last week, a furore broke out among opposition political parties in South Africa over the handing out of food hampers by the ruling ANC party’s youth wing (ANCYL), to destitute communities in Phillipi in the Western Cape. It is alleged that the food hampers were provided by a government ministry.

To those not familiar with South African politics, this apparent act of kindness by the government and one of its agencies not normally known for any sort of decency, would have gone unnoticed and unquestioned. However if you are in opposition politics or familiar with (well publicised) government dishonesty, or even just plain cynical, this act of generosity would have raised a few eyebrows at the least. You see, the Western Cape is the only Province in South Africa which voted overwhelmingly against the ruling ANC in the last general elections, and the selective targeting of poor people in this particular part of the country for charity, could and should be construed (in all fairness) to be clearly politically motivated. The poor in Phillipi are no worse off than the poor elsewhere, and surely those who voted the ANC into power in the other provinces would be equally, if not more appreciative of some assistance? The truth is that when the government’s humanitarian efforts become selective, rather than nationally organized, you can bet that some grubby politicians are thinking about where their next votes are coming from.

However, dishonesty in charitable work is not confined to government or politics. In fact, the motivation to be charitable, from a religious perspective are far more dishonest than any emanating from politics or big business. This scandal-in-the-making in the Western Cape (which will be swept under the carpet as usual) reminded me of an e-mail I received from a church elder a few months ago, about how they had so kindly fed about a hundred or so, sickly and poor people waiting at a public hospital for treatment. And again, for those of you not living in South Africa or are fortunate enough not to have to attend one of these institutions of gross inhumanity; public hospitals are a cesspool of neglect, mismanagement, and fraud perpetrated by both administrators and public officials alike, understaffed and under-equipped. Anyway back to the e-mail, and the now infamous words that still trouble my mind:




Clearly the effort to feed these helpless people was motivated by the desire to proselytize and proliferate a particular insidious religious doctrine with the end-expectation of causing half-empty churches to magically fill up again. For church administrators, full churches equate to a steady job and income, and off course the perpetuation of a belief system. For religious individuals the effort represents a way to solicit favor with a supernatural benefactor and supposedly pave the way for an easy entry into the famous afterlife. However for individuals, an even more crass reason to be charitable is to satisfy a religious or scriptural requirement. It’s as good as saying that if it was not a tenet of their faith, then it would not be required of one to be charitable. Fortunately religion advocates charity and thus earns itself a minor saving grace.

As an afterthought; it’s now December and I wonder if the Miracle Revival Center’s other half  is now full with sick people hoping for a miracle cure. Or, failing that, as is the most probable outcome, would they be happy with a sandwich and a tract instead?

Big business is another contributor in the dishonesty stakes when it comes to charity. You’ve all heard about those social responsibility programmes which every modern company seems to have. It looks good on the balance sheet and is useful for tax purposes. It is also useful as a motivational tool for making your employees think they are doing great humanitarian work, while they enforce your despicable shareholder-enriching policies, poverty-inducing price schemes and couldn’t-give-a-shit service practices, which fucks the poor anyway. Yeah, it’s always nice to make everyone think you’re giving back some of what you stole in the first place.

And back to individuals or even organized groups; there is always dishonesty when the object of your supposed benevolence is limited to a particular ethnic, racial or social group. Only last week, the daughter of a friend told me of a group of cute Indian children that she and her church had assisted. She had meant for me to also single out that particular racial group of children for special attention. While I believe that she did it unthinkingly and innocently, it is still not acceptable behaviour.  Charity is not charity when it is targeted at certain individuals, racial, ethnic or even religious groups. It is nothing short of bigotry; only done to appease your own troubled mind.

The big question is, should it matter to the poor and destitute what the motivations are behind their benefactor’s supposed good deeds? One could argue that they should not be choser’s, and they should not question the intentions of those that contribute to their well-being. Off course they shouldn’t have to! The situation that the poor and destitute find themselves in should not be exploited by those with hidden or dishonest agendas. It’s up to honest people to not allow the religious, the politicians, business and others to take advantage of the poor, and must expose it wherever it happens.