{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

December 10, 2013

Mandela's Memorial, Politics, and Sensationalism

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Although I have felt somewhat removed from the grief and mourning surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela, I am left curiously empty today after covering the memorial.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at stadiums across Gauteng, and in select venues across the country, to watch together the memorial from their television screens as it was broadcast from FNB Stadium near Soweto.

South Africans of all creeds left their jobs for the day, and the celebration that came out of the event – that came from an event where everyone was expected to be in tears and mourning – shocked everyone, the world, and even me.

But I wonder how much money was spent in this charade? Would Mandela have wanted such pomp, such amazing amounts of money spent on a memorial that lasts only a few hours, or would he have wanted our government to put children starving in families who couldn’t afford to attend memorials in his name first.

And of course, there was no escaping from the politics of the situation. Over 100 dignitaries and world leaders made their way to the main event, and it was all dripping with politics, like a hot knife dipped in honey. Many people celebrated their South African-ness – their belonging to the rainbow nation that Madiba gave his life to create – but many arrived in the colours of the party they supported: the ANC, the EFF, and possibly many others. And this political sentiment was echoed by a small contingent of people who decided to make their voices heard on this day, which should have been a day of reflection on how far the walk is still for us as South Africans.

The booing of President Jacob Zuma was unnerving – this is the man who had the support of masses of people during his rape trial – are we all so fickle that from one minute to the next we can support the man of some random powerful, charming, and influential person’s choosing?

And the genuine joy the crowd expressed for US President Barack Obama when he took to the stage to express his condolences and tell the world what Mandela meant to and for him made me but shake my head. His speech was magnanimous – it was inspired – it was poetic and artistic – but I cannot escape from the feeling that his speech, and everyone else’s was politicking. Even if only subconsciously. The speeches and tributes with their repetition of how loved Mandela is all over the world, how his message of love and forgiveness is inspiring, all overshadow the harsh realities of the heads of states’ own countries: America’s families are reeling from the loss of their young men, killed in the Middle Eastern fields in a war that makes no sense; China’s population hardly experiences a day of clear sunshine and air; India’s women are under constant threat… Certainly, every country has its problems, but the mere rush to sate the need to attend the memorial, to show face, reeks of politics. At least the Czech prime minister was honest.

Everyone gasped mentally when Obama shook the hand of CubanPresident Fidel Castro – what an amazing man, to forego decades of disagreement and infighting to shake the hand of one’s country’s enemy! It’s all about politics. It’s all about the give and take of politics. Now Castro will have to make some sentiment of his own, and each person will try to one-up the other, and warming relations will be swept away by the undercurrent of resentment because of the lack of honesty.

The media’s coverage of the situation is almost compulsively obsessive. Every detail is painstakingly reported as though everything is fraught with meaning. Barack Obama’s speech was available within seconds of him finishing his reading, and news sites published it as fast as they could. Were they the first to have it up? What are the page views like? Perhaps this is a reflection of our now-culture, but is this what the media has become? A means to follow the crowd; to enjoy what the masses enjoy; to express only popular opinion; to ‘like’ only what is ‘liked?

Is this what the media has become? A means to sensationalise every happenstance; to allow dozens of journalists to be posted outside the house of an ailing old man – yes, an amazing icon, but still, an old man, certainly tired of the fickleness of this world - waiting for him to die so they can be the first to report it; a means to indulge in the horrid pornography of grief; to rub the wound with salt; to indulge in the sadness of billions of people, all for the sake of a page view and an advertising campaign?

I take as comfort the fact of the South African reaction to remembering Nelson Mandela – a reaction that had its tears, its clutching and wringing of hands, and its tributes, but also a reaction that was filled with joy and gratitude for being given the gift of knowing Mandela, for living on the same piece of continent that Mandela lived on, for being able to share once again their revered hero with the world.

It is this reaction that cannot be sensationalised – it is pure honesty, and South Africa will no longer be sensationalised.

{Image Credit: By Pvt pauline (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

December 6, 2013

Mandela's Death: the ANC's Ace?

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I can hear the slogans for South Africa's general election next year already: 'Honour Madiba and vote for his party'; 'Mandela gave his life, all you have to do is give your vote'.

It is an amazing coincidence that the death of Mandela comes just as some of the major issues over the last few years with President Jacob Zuma in power come to a head: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report over the improvements done to the President's private residence in Nkandla is expected to be utterly damning; the arms deal commission should come to a close; the Marikana massacre is still on everyone's - especially the Economic Freedom Fighters' - minds; Zuma's cabinet has been plagued with wasteful government expenditure in the billions; the head of the ANC has been implicated, though this is unproven, in a landing by the Guptas - a family close to the government - at what is supposed to be the most secure air force base in the country; the e-tolls have just launched in Gauteng; ... and the list goes on.

Surely if there was an opportune time to distract South Africans, who are sick of the news of corruption, hearing that our schoolchildren fail to read and understand the most basic sentences or can barely add - though they're in high school - and preparing for a festive season that will, as always, empty their pockets and leave them exhausted for the New Year, this was it.

And who would not vote for the ANC now? It is the party of Nelson Mandela, the party he spent his life defending and promoting, the party that brought democracy to South Africa.

Only a few months before the general elections, and amidst overarching cries for President Jacob Zuma's impeachment, this might be the Ace up the ANC's sleeve that will get them another four years at the helm of South Africa's democracy.

Mayhaps the ANC is simply lucky that such a thing occurred now, in the midst of the discontent. But there is a 'conspiracy theory' making the rounds that Madiba actually passed away a long time ago. This is the result of a single news report from an American newspaper that claimed their sources said he had passed away, and after a few weeks in hospital, Mandela's family was involved in a fracas about graves in Mandela's homestead in Qunu and in Mandla Mandela's chieftaincy. There were even reports that a grave was being dug in Qunu.

Whatever the truth, I am just pleased that Nelson Mandela's spirit finally has peace, after being in pain for so long, being hounded by the media in his old age and ailing years, and dealing with a family that from all accounts seems obsessed with making money using his legacy.

Regardless of the truth, an icon has passed away, and I offer my condolences to those closest to him, and to the world for having lost an inspirational man.

Hamba Kahle, Nelson Mandela. May you be in Peace.

{Image credit: South Africa The Good News /  [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

December 4, 2013

UIP SA, Next Year's Movies, And Barry Ronge

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Credit: Facebook\UIPSA
I attended UIP SA's end-of-year function on Monday to hear about how the company fared in the last year and take a peek at some of the expected films for 2014.

But as with any other gathering of people, it was really the dynamics between everyone that was the most entertaining, rather than the actual function itself.

UIP SA is the distributor of Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures films, and as such has had the opportunity in the last year to promote a diverse range of films, such as the likes of 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom', 'R.I.P.D', 'Despicable Me 2', 'Fast and the Furious 6' and 'Les Miserables'.

After a lineup such as this, one can expect great things for 2014.

Ahead of the sneak peek for next year, we were treated to an appetite-inspiring breakfast buffet of cereal and fruit, chocolate, pancakes, omelettes, croissants, muffins, juice, and coffee. The perfect reason to indulge! It was a popular part of the event: one journalist returned to the table at least four times.

The event took place a day before the official launch of Sanral's e-tolling system on Johannesburg's roads, so naturally this reared its ugly head, inspiring the general banter of the morning: a brave soul stood at the front of the viewing cinema, and demanded that anyone who had purchased an e-tag should leave immediately, as they were 'sell-outs'. The guests seemed to agree - not a single person emerged as an e-tag purchaser, and the impression was that most of the people seated enjoying their free breakfast were not interested in supporting the user-pays system. I wonder if the reason for this overarching negative sentiment amongst journalists is because they are the most well-informed about the situation?

I was also interested to see the racial dynamics at the event. Which was, not much. Most of the journalists, bar at least one, were of the caucasian persuasion, bringing me to speculate on whether this was a true reflection of journalism in South Africa.

Meanwhile, everyone patiently awaited the arrival of a most auspicious guest: Barry Ronge. It might have been coincidence that it seemed that nothing would take place unless he were there, but everyone seemed to spring into action upon his arrival. Strangely enough, I planted myself alongside the seat that was being reserved for him and which he has apparently been sitting in for 17 years, if I remember his statement correctly. It was a strange atmosphere as he arrived - everyone seemed hushed in their own state of reverence, despite the fact that many people in the room had already met him. In spite of a seat being saved for him, he seemed very modest about it, audibly wondering why people had saved it for him.

I am allowed to be in awe; I had never met him before, and he made an effort to speak to me as well, swelling my pride just a little. He told me how this time of year was a nightmare for him, as he had to rush around making sure he'd seen all the festive films and written reviews for them before everything closed down for the season.

Looking at the line-up of films for 2014 has me excited for at least seven of them. Those I'm most excited about are below.

Credit: Facebook\Anchorman 2Anchorman 2

Grab your Scotch and prepare for the return of Ron Burgundy! The first film has a cult following, and a sequel has been touted since the release of the 2004 original. Finally it arrives on South African cinemas on January 10. Here's the trailer.
Credit: Facebook\Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

I love horror films and ghost stories, so this one really struck my fancy. It's one of those home movies-type of films that have taken the horror film industry by storm (obviously because one doesn't need a large cast or particularly amazing equipment), but this one looks like it has some great special effects and an interesting story to boot. Here's the trailer.

Credit: Facebook\Noah Movie

Russell Crowe is one of my favourite actors, so to see him in another film of this magnitude is quite exciting. He always brings something tender and introspective to his roles, and I doubt that this will be any different. The special effects look excellent, and it looks as though they've added some exciting events and talents to the traditional Bible story. Here's the trailer.

Credit: Facebook\NeighborsMovie

Starring former Disney boy Zac Efron and that king of comedy Seth Rogen, this film looks like a great rollercoaster of laughs. Seth Rogen plays a family man who would like to impress the fraternity who has moved in next door. But things take a turn for the worse when the frat boys, led by Zac Efron, take their partying a step too far. This is a classic sabotage comedy that had me laughing just during the trailer. I hope they didn't show all of the best parts... Here's the trailer.

Credit: Facebook\47Ronin
47 Ronin

It appears that Keanu Reeves knows how to make a comeback! The last time I saw him was in the film 'Man of Tai Chi', where he was, unusually, a (very good) villain. This is an action-adventure story set in a Japan-like world. A treacherous warlord has killed the leader of the samurai and banished them, and now 47 samurai, bent on vengeance and restoring honour to their kind, approach Reeves' character Kai - a half-breed - for help. But the warlord has some beasts and witchcraft up his sleeve. 47 Ronin looks to make use of the best CGI, and I love martial arts films. Here's the official trailer.

Credit: Facebook\TheBoxtrolls
The Boxtrolls

This one looks very cute. An animation from the people behind 'Coraline' and 'Paranorman', the film is about an orphan who is raised by the Boxtrolls, underground collectors who live in the sewers, and his attempt to save them from an exterminator. Here's the trailer. I just saw the teaser in the preview.

Labour Day

Ugh, a love story, I hear you say. But admit it: sometimes you really just need a good cry, even if it's the dusty cinema to blame. Josh Brolin is an escaped convict and Kate Winslet is a depressed mother who struggled to live a normal life. She and her son give him a lift and are forced to allow him to stay with them over the Labour Day weekend, but as they learn his true story, and the search for the convict intensifies, they start to run out of options. Here is the trailer.

Other films expected in 2014 include Robert Redford's 'All Is Lost', 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit', 'The Best Man Holiday', 'Ride Along', 'Transformers: Age of Extinction', and 'Hercules'. UIP was also to distribute 'Fast & Furious 7', but after the death of its star Paul Walker over the weekend, plans have been thrown into disarray.

To conclude, I will paraphrase the statement of UIP SA's managing director Peter Dignan that there is nothing like sitting in a darkened cinema with your fellow humans, sharing a laugh or a gasp as the film you are watching draws you in and lets you forget your cares and worries, just for a moment.

October 25, 2013

Book Review || The Youngsters Book Series

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The Youngsters book series is specifically geared towards the young South African: Giving them insight into the minds and lives of some of the most influential young people the country has seen in a long time.

The series is edited by award-winning journalist and Eyewitness News reporter Mandy Wiener, who is an influential 'youngster' herself. According to the series' official website, the books that form part of it are meant to be an entertaining look at what it's like for young people in South Africa, and this is done through the writings of 'prominent young South African voices worth listening to'.

For the first selection in the series, Pan Macmillan chose radio DJ Anele Mdoda, singer Danny K, comedian Nik Rabinowitz (and his partner in crime Gillian Breslin), blogger Khaya Dlanga, and child of the struggle Shaka Sisulu.

I was lucky enough to get hold of the full series - barring the two new additions - and read them all in a week-long marathon, but some of the novels stood out much more than others.

Khaya Dlanga's In My Arrogant Opinion and Shaka Sisulu's Becoming are my two favourites. Although it was interesting to get into Anele's head in It Feels Wrong to Laugh, But..., I was most annoyed by her motto of being oneself throughout the novel, and in the end saying To Kill a Mockingbird was a favourite book because it was one of Oprah Winfrey's favourite books. Perhaps she was being sarcastic...

I really struggled through Nik Rabinowitz and Gillian Breslin's A Long Walk to a Free Ride, not because it didn't make some valid points - albeit through sarcasm and parody - but because that very same sarcasm and parody eventually became a bit too much and a bit too old by the end. It's certainly not because I don't have a sense of humour, and I understand that Rabinowitz is a comedian after all; it's that it really got to be a bit much when all I actually wanted to read about was Rabinowitz himself and his opinions - wasn't that the point of the series? - without having to dig through humour every step of the way.

Danny K's Take It From Me is very useful for anyone interested in making their way in the music industry, and he offers some good advice, but perhaps I didn't enjoy it because I'm not really the target for his book - I'm not really interested in making it in music.

Becoming and In My Arrogant Opinion are, to me, the most interesting novellas in this collection. They deal with real issues of gender, race, inequality, and politics in South Africa with honesty and frankness in a way that is easy to relate to and interesting. I really felt that, for youngsters in the New South Africa, their opinions and insights are perhaps the most valuable in this series. This isn't to say that what the other three authors have to say is not applicable or interesting; just for me, I thought these two novels were the best expression of current times in South Africa.

All the books are quick reads, and you won't lose anything by giving them all a look.

(Image credit: Facebook\PanMacmillanSA)

October 2, 2013

Was Justice Served For Murdered Baby Samantha?

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I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma that little 10-month-old Samantha went through as she was raped, anally probed, and abused so badly that she had broken ribs, a fractured skull, and liver damage. And all this done to her by her parents.

Samantha’s parents, Adriaan Netto and his girlfriend, were sentenced in court on October 2, 2013, for culpable homicide, child abuse, and rape. They were sentenced four years for culpable homicide, three for child abuse, and 15 for rape. The homicide and rape sentences would run at the same time.

As he sentenced the couple, Judge Majeke Mabesele said he hoped his sentence would serve as a reminder to communities that children’s rights may not be violated. The couple would have faced life sentences, but he has expressed concern for their other children.

I am not only disgusted that there are people like this on this good green earth, but that the punishment meted out was not more severe. I understand that children need their parents, but do they really need parents who can do such unspeakable things to a defenceless child? Bear in mind that a 10-month-old has almost just started walking? And also, won’t the children be without their parents in any case if they are to be jailed for 18 years?

But this is just the problem with South Africa’s justice system. Though we have seen major leaps and bounds in the sentencing of criminals, I believe that sentences regarding sexual assault simply have no consistency.
A quick survey of some of the reported cases on a local news site in just the last month shows that sentences varying drastically: 8 years10 years15 years18 years20 years; and even life.

How can a justice system with so many different sentences for the horrific crime of rape be sending a clear message that rape and assault of women and children will not be tolerated? Despite the call from people around the country, including the Minister for Women, Children andDisabilities, Lulu Xingwana, the children of this country are the ones who truly have to suffer.

Is there also a major issue with our social services? In another case from earlier this year, Bradley Connor and Malinda Marshall were found guilty for the assault of their child, who died a blind quadriplegic as a result of his injuries. In October 2003, he was admitted to hospital, and concerns were raised that he had been abused. A social worker decided he should return to his parents, but in the next month, he was admitted to hospital again, and was found to have brain damage, be blind, and bruised.

I also think that people are too afraid to report suspected abuse. In the Netto case, one of Samantha's caregivers could see the neglect, but as I understand it, she did not report it to anyone.

Do you think the sentence against Netto and his girlfriend is apt? 

September 13, 2013

Movie Review || Riddick

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Riddick artwork Facebook\Riddick\Mike Butkus
I had great expectations for 'Riddick', even though after I watched the first trailer I thought that it looked just like 'Pitch Black'. I was excited mostly because it had Katee Sackhoff in it, a woman I admire for playing so-called 'strong' female roles (I loved her as Starbuck in 'Battlestar Galactica'), and because I had heard tell that her character Dahl was amazing.

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. The build-up establishes Riddick as an adaptable, intelligent, and sneaky anti-hero - which we already know - who has been abandoned on a deserted planet from which he is trying to escape - which he's already done - and is hunted by mercenaries thirsty for his blood and the bounty - which, I think, happened before as well. I actually enjoyed the build-up though - it was not as predictable as the rest of the film, which seemed to stick to some overarching plotline the screenwriters had jotted down somewhere. Riddick was, as usual, flawless in his undertakings, but in the end, it was still a saddening anticlimax.

What annoyed me most, though? 'Riddick' fails for women. It's like a fantasy-fest for the young insecure male. All two female characters never talk to each other, and one is shot after hints about physical abuse and perhaps sexual assault. As Zoe Chevat from The Mary Sue says, the audience is already aware that the bounty hunters are the 'bad' guys in this situation - is it necessary to degrade women to remind us?

And they constantly do so. Even Riddick does so. Though Dahl is stunningly powerful, she is under constant threat from every man around her, including Riddick. Innuendos and nuances in the conversation clearly indicate that Dahl is nothing but a potential sex toy to every other character in the film - no wonder she's so prepared to wind up her fist and knock some of them around a bit. And, despite her protestation about halfway through that she doesn't sleep with men, she winds up offering herself to Riddick by the end of the film.

I was simply left with a sour taste in my mouth by the time the credits came sliding across the screen. I hardly even know what exactly was going on because the film lost me when Riddick was caught. Though the sexism wasn't the only negative of the film ... like, what happened to the Wrath of the Furyans?! ... Dahl's violent reactions seem like overcompensation, while the relentless poking at the fact that she's a woman and at the male characters' mercy, the attack on her by Santana which ends without showing what happens to her, Riddick's suave 'proposition' that she'll be 'mounting' him soon, her return to save his arse, and the final flirt with Riddick do nothing for her character or for the story.

Come to think of it, I think Dahl swore the most out of all the other characters. Is that all the screenwriters could come up with to make Dahl seem tough? I was soooo disappointed - Dahl could have been so much better - so much more interesting. I guess the saving grace is that Katee Sackhoff wasn't reduced to wearing 'female' armour.

Oh, I also hated that the [SPOILER[dog was killed.

{Image credit: Facebook\Riddick}

September 12, 2013

Music Review || Placebo's 'Loud Like Love'

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I've been a fan of Placebo almost since they formed. I wasn't a fan of alternative music yet in 1995, and it was really after 'Pure Morning' from 'Without You I'm Nothing' that I became hooked. I remember giggling to myself when everyone went crazy about 'Every You, Every Me' after it appeared in the film 'Cruel Intentions' because the song wasn't new to me.

What I like most about the band is the depth of emotion in the lyrics and the sounds. The music is always intriguing to me as well - I always feel like there's an alternate meaning that is hidden and beyond words or description.

Another aspect of their music that I enjoy is that it doesn't really change. Certainly there are nuances of dissonance from album to album, but the Placebo style hasn't changed.

With the British band's latest album, the signature sound is still there, and still addictive. But this album has a depth of feeling to it that is so far unparalleled, and there is also a clarity to the singing, which is, apparently because lead singer Brian Molko sang them while sober for the first time ever. He told News.com.au that being out of a narcotic haze helped with the clarity, while the lyrics are also the most 'confessional' he's ever written.

I know I've been harping on about Placebo's signature style, and in this album, their sound is much more intense, as they've made spectacular use of their entire repertoire of musical talent. The two founders, Molko and Stefan Olsdal, were both trained at the American International School of Luxembourg after all. The piano work in 'Bosco' is inspiring and emotional, and there's also a healthy dose of modern sound effects to freshen up the sound.

I think, like their other six albums, that Placebo will remain a band that isn't really the trend (what with Miley Cyrus' pop antics, could 'normal' alternative music ever compete?) but I believe they've already made their way into the annals of rock music that will always be remembered for its originality. After all, rock is the source of all pop culture today - maybe the reality rock represents will eventually seep into the hearts and minds of the children of the pop world.

The video for their first single from the album is just as unique as the band itself. 'Friends Like These' is narrated by Brett East Ellis, who wrote the book 'American Psycho', which is one of my favourite films. The song is about our networked world, where we have so many friends, but hardly any relationships. Check it out; I think it's pretty awesome! Let me know what you think!

{Image credit: By Vento Di Grecale (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons}

September 7, 2013

Book Review || A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

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Like most of South Africa, I had never heard of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series until the HBO television series Game of Thrones. After the first season premiered, I decided to read the novels. A Storm of Swords is the third book in the series, and I like the books more than I like the television series.

This is not to say that the HBO series is not good - it's very entertaining, but in comparison to the books, there's just so much more detail, and you get so much closer to the characters. Another difference is that the television series seems to be obsessed with sex. Sure, there is sex in the books, but the scale of it is not so large. Let me put it this way: sex seems to be the drawcard for the TV series. It's why people watched it without knowing anything about the books. All the sex and nudity in the first few episodes was enough to have people hooked, because now everyone is hoping for those scenes again.

In the books, it is not just the men who derive pleasure from their sexual desires; on television, the women are giving more than they are taking - usually. (Except for that odd scene where Bronn and Tyrion are discussing Podric's supposed prowess with the prostitutes he had been gifted. This scene is not in the books, and I don't see how it fits in in the series).

I digress into the popular culture of it all, but what is really fascinating and intriguing to me is how they are altering the storylines of the books slightly for the series. There are several characters that we never meet (Bolton's bastard, for instance) and we never hear the history of others (such as Aemon of the Night's Watch being a Targaryen). There is also a lot of history we miss out on in the TV series - the back-stories of Petyr Littlefinger, Brandon and Eddard Stark, Daenerys Stormborn, Sandor and Gregor Clegane, the different religions, the different houses and where they stand in the story (you learn in the books that the Freys have always been jealous of the Tullys, which makes everything fall in place - that is why Lord Frey took Robb's slight so seriously) - I think the television series is missing this height of detail, and that is why the third season seemed so slow until the Red Wedding.

On to the book at hand: it must be because the plot is thickening and secrets are being unveiled that I enjoyed this book so much. There are also the unexpected deaths (I really did not see Joffrey's death coming - not in the least, and the battle between Gregor Clegane and the Red Viper literally had me biting my lips - I actually gasped when Clegane got the best of Prince Oberyn at the last minute. I really wanted Oberyn to be the victor :( Also, Littlefinger killing Lysa: I did not see that coming either! And poor Ygritte!), edge-of-your seat battles (the battle for the Wall was amazing), and twists and turns that surprise you absolutely (Joffrey being the one who wanted to kill Bran?! Lysa being the one who poisoned John Arryn?! Shae testifying against Tyrion!? Tyrion killing his father!?)

Martin is certainly an excellent writer. I love how his language and style changes from character to character. When you're with Sansa, the phrases and descriptions are so feminine and poetic. Her sister Arya is more tomboyish, and her vocabulary isn't as flowery. There's a weariness to Jon's chapters, a wisdom in Tyrion's, and absolute arrogance in Jaime's, even though he's not nearly the man he was. Daenerys still feels like a little girl.

The Red Wedding was not as dramatic in the book as it was on television. I think the screenwriters aimed for this event to be a climax to the anti-climax of the end of the season, since they've split this book into two. I'm not really certain they should have split the book in two - the story is compelling enough to make everyone decide to pick up the books in between seasons just to see what happens. Although the small changes in the television series might end up changing the direction of the story entirely - making it all completely new. I wonder what Martin would think of that.

The ending has me contemplating jumping into the fourth book right away. (How is Catelyn alive? Is she alive? Is she a wight?) So many questions! I have two more books to read. George RR Martin - you'll have to start writing faster!

(Image credit: Facebook\GameofThrones)

September 1, 2013

The pop industry, slut-shaming, and Miley

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Miley Cyrus was the most spoken about person last week after she shocked the Internet and the music world with her performance at the VMAs.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the event because of the discussion her performance engendered. Reactions varied from people being outright disgusted and shocked, to appreciation for her uncaring, in-your-face attitude, to rampant slut-shaming, and accusations of racism and cultural appropriation. I’ve even read about how her performance was about her illuminati masters inducting her into their world. Then, of course, were the memes.

The problem with popular culture is that the way to the top is different for women and men. All men have to have is talent – they will have fans no matter what they look like because it’s firstly about their skills and what they can do. Take One Direction for example: their popularity doesn’t depend on their looks – it depends on their voices, at least, at first. After they’re appreciated for their talent, they become appreciated for their looks (and let’s be honest – they’re not the cream of the crop, in my opinion). And, remember, they’re working in an industry dominated by male producers, and male-owned record companies, and male agents…

However, for women, they have to be good girls gone bad to really make it in the world of popular culture (see Madonna, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and an unending list of others). In Miley’s case, she has to go really far over the top because when she was below 18, she started out as the innocent Disney Hannah Montana. Once she turned 18, she would become obsolete as her innocent character, because now it was legal to see her as a sexual object: the only way she would be recognised has nothing to do with her talent as a singer – even though she’s been doing it her entire life - and everything to do with her sexuality, and objectifying herself for the male gaze.

Her performance was meant to be controversial. I digress, but I would say it was also the perfect distraction from the fact that out of 16 awards, only three winners were female, including the best female video – you know, because they *had* to choose a woman for that one. There were also only three non-white winners.

Now, one might argue that Miley Cyrus is a grown woman and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows what industry she’s in and she knows that for her to make it – for her to become as famous as she dreams – she has to use her sexuality. The ‘horror’ for everyone is that she was trying to make a name for herself the way male pop stars do.

The problem in my opinion is not that Miley did what she did – no matter how shocking or pointless her performance was. The problem is that the way to the top is different for the two sexes, and if the female sex attempts to make it to the top firstly by giving her fans what they want (a sexy, sexual woman) and secondly by appropriating the male route to the top, they are slut-shamed and made fun of. No one made fun of married Robin Thicke for being the ‘twerkee’, but it was Miley who got the brunt of the insults and poor public opinion. This is the classic ‘hero’ stance – the one taken by those who chose to praise the boy who received oral sex from a random girl at a concert in Slane, Ireland, while at the same time slut-shaming the girl for doing what she did.

If there is truly to be equality in this world, the first place is needs to happen, aside from the home, is in the media and entertainment industry, because these things are what our children are growing up watching, absorbing, and using as role models. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, and parents have no influence over their children any more. At least not without some solid perseverance, honesty, and frankness on their part.

(Image Credit: By calmdownlove (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

August 24, 2013

We're Cursed With Sleep Deprivation

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Sleep has become a really important part of my life, and I didn't really appreciate my ability to sleep until now, mostly because I am exhausted from the last four months. I simply seem to have lost my ability to fall asleep, and cannot seem to recover from sleep deprivation. They say that you do eventually recover from it, but it takes a long time.

After I read this article about how our ancestors (I mean, our great-great-great-great-great grandparents) slept, it occurred to me that a massive contributor to sleep deprivation is man-made: artificial light.

Once, we had two sleeps: we would have a sleep of a few hours, followed by a period of wakefulness, and then another sleep in the early hours of the morning. Our ancestors even sometimes made plans to visit neighbours or go to church in the middle of the night. This was because the range of sleep was about 12 hours long. Obviously this range is shorter in midsummer, when the night isn't as long, but the amount of sleep one had depended wholly on how many dark hours there were.

Of course, modern man is sleep deprived, no matter how much sleep we actually have. This is because artificial light has messed up our natural circadian rhythm, which is dependent on night time actually being dark. Artificial light has not only confused our bodies into believing the daytime hours are longer, both in summer and winter, but they also allow us to distract ourselves from relaxing and sleeping - we have much more to do at night when we should be sleeping, like watch television, surf the Internet, or write blogs.

As a parent, you are desperate for your child to finally get into that circadian rhythm - it's your saving grace, as it allows you to finally sleep through the night as well. A messed-up circadian rhythm is also why it's so tough on people changing time zones, because they have no way of recovering unless they sleep, and it's too difficult to sleep during the daytime.

I don't believe that returning to the way-of-two-sleeps is possible, though. And it won't solve our tiredness problems, simply because I believe we've evolved to the point of no return. What on earth would we do in the middle of the night, you might ask? We'd get too bored without our modern entertainments. We can't even read without electronics! (Unless you're a real-book-with-pages lover, like me)

Unless we're willing to forego all luxuries connected with electricity, we are all forever cursed with sleep deprivation. There's just too much to do!

(Image credit: Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

August 14, 2013

What Can We Do About Junk?

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I am amazed by how much waste our household consumes in just a week. And we're only two people! Well, technically, two and a third.

Living in a flat hasn't made it much easier to recycle - there's just no space to keep a bunch of different bins lurking around to fill with trash, so before I put out the black bag, I sort through the bin for paper and plastic, and we have a worm farm, but really, it just does not keep up with the amount of stuff we throw out.

Most of it is plastic - everything comes in a plastic package! And I've noticed recently that a lot of the plastic packaging has no sign of whether or not it can be recycled. That potato package? Is it recyclable? Who knows?!

And there's also no indication of whether or not I'll be consuming genetically-modified organisms with my potato salad today.

As people living in a capitalist society, we depend an awful lot on the honesty and integrity of the people we buy our products and produce from. How can you have a sign on the back of your crisp packet urging people not to litter, but you don't say how you can recycle your packaging or use packaging that is recyclable? And companies that use plastic bottles for their products en masse: maybe you should employ people to pick them up from alongside the rivers and lakes that are littered with them? Why do large corporations take no responsibility for the products they're spreading around the world? Why is the onus always on the consumer to be responsible?

It's like government organisations asking us to put off our geysers and close our dripping taps when street lights are left on all day and Joburg Water leaves a burst pipe spilling onto the street for days.

But I know why this is: because the majority of society is just happy to carry on the way things are. Even me. :( What should we do?

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons\Hyena)

August 6, 2013

6 Things Bugging Me About Pregnancy and Having a Baby

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Since having Emma, I've been thinking a lot about how the advice I received ahead of and after her birth actually helped me or not. I heard everything from old wives' tales to anecdotes and personal experiences, but did any of these benefit me or did they make the experience more difficult?

Here are a couple of things:

1. You and your baby will become public domain. This was something I was not forewarned about at all, and, come to think of it, it should have been something people should have mentioned to me, considering that I am kind of introverted and unsociable. What I mean by this comment is that, once your baby bump starts showing, people will stare at it, trying to gauge whether it really is a baby or not. When they realise it is, you will be approached by anyone at any time. Some of these people will want to touch your bump. Uninvited. Many of them will offer you advice, and still more will ask you completely inappropriate questions, such as whether or not you're suffering from constipation yet. Eventually, everyone will comment on how huge you are. But it doesn't stop there! After putting up with this attention for about 6 months, taking baby out is an invitation for all and sundry to want to take a 'peek'. Yes, the miracle of procreation is wonderful, but sometimes you'll just want people to leave you alone. You will also be bombarded by old wives' tales (as if you hadn't had enough of those during your pregnancy) about how to keep your baby's soft spot out of the sun or its brain will boil, or how tickling its feet will make it stutter, or how not to let it try to stand because it will grow up to be bow-legged.

2. You will be told that having a baby in the house is a shock to the system. No one will be able to tell you exactly how much of a shock it really is; every family is different, of course, and sometimes you will have people helping you *all* the time, but sometimes, you'll have to do it alone. No one tells you that the hardest part is the first, say, 8 weeks - that's when you really start to feel the sleep deprivation, and you don't recognise baby's cues yet, so you will get frustrated. No matter how much you've prepared, it will be a shock to the system you're not prepared for.

3. No matter how much literature you read telling you that it's okay to feel frustrated, you will still feel guilty that you are. There is nothing wrong with your reactions; you know that, but you will still feel bad about having them. Your emotions will be all over the place as well (that goes for both parents), so you'll be overcome by love one minute, and concerned about your own needs and desires the next. Again, you are told this is normal, but you will still feel bad about it. Just a warning, because I felt bad about it a lot! :)

4. For moms, sometimes the bond is not there at birth, or at least it doesn't feel like it's there at first. I'm going to be very personal here, and say that I didn't feel it when Emma was born. I felt an innate responsibility to look after her, but I didn't know the little person that I'd carried around for 9 months. I didn't feel like she loved me, and was mad with jealousy when she smiled at hubby when he came home one day - a smile I hadn't been honoured with yet. My first week home was also stressful - I was in a lot of pain and felt really debilitated in looking after her. I couldn't sit without pain, my back was killing me because muscles were overcompensating, and I was exhausted, as I had slight insomnia for the last three months of my pregnancy too. I'm not making excuses, but what I'm trying to say is that sometimes circumstances are beyond our control, our feelings are beyond our control, and the bond is also beyond our control. Don't worry - you and baby have the rest of your lives together. It will come.

5. Breastfeeding is a major point for me. In the end, it is your choice. I really don't think it's anyone's business whether I'm breastfeeding or not, so I get quite annoyed that everyone feels they need to find out whether or not I am. I know I'm announcing how I'm feeding my baby to the world now in this blog, but I think it's a very important point. I completely understand that breastfeeding is best for babies. But some mothers simply cannot breastfeed. And even if they could, and they choose formula over breastfeeding, there is nothing wrong with that. It's entirely their choice. I was made to feel incredibly guilty for not breastfeeding my baby in the hospital (the nurse even told Emma in front of me, 'It's your mommy's fault you're hungry'), and I'm one of those mothers who would not be able to have sustained my supply - Emma would have suffered. I hate that this small choice determines the quality of mother you are in our society. I'm saying here and now that if you want to bottle-feed your baby, do it. No one has the right to make you feel guilty about it, especially if your baby is happy, healthy, gaining weight, and growing well. Just make sure you educate yourself properly on bottle-feeding.

6. My final point is a little more current, as I'm going through this right now. I have to return to work this week, and have had to get a nanny to look after Emma while I'm working. This is possibly one of the most difficult things I've had to do. You will feel bad about it. You will feel guilty about leaving her. You will worry that she will feel abandoned. These are all natural, good feelings to have. You will feel this way no matter with whom you are leaving her. I am with her all day - I'm lucky enough to be working from home (but I still have to leave her with someone else) - but some mothers have no choice but to leave their children so they can make an income to continue caring for them. This is the way the world is, and all you can do is make sure that the time you do spend with them is filled with the love you have for them. This article should also make you feel better. :)

To conclude, I just want to wish all mothers and soon-to-be mothers out there good luck with their babies. Just remember that no pregnancy is alike. Also, no baby is alike, and no mother is alike, except in the love they share.

(Image credit: By File photo, Canwest News Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

July 12, 2013

A Past Batman Confuses a Secretary

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July 12, 2013 

'Willow' was one of my favourite films growing up. The dynamic between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film (aside from Kilmer stepping in troll poo! :) ).

Time has passed and obviously both actors have moved on, with one of Kilmer's most notable characters being none other but Batman (in Batman Forever, which was the first Batman film that didn't make it onto my all-time favourite list).

In this funny film, it's obvious the secretary is not as clued up as me when it comes to actors, even though she works for one... She's absolutely clueless. At least she knows Michael Keaton was Batman once...

Via The Mary Sue

July 9, 2013

Expectations After Pregnancy

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There's a lot of pressure on women to look a particular way, and women who've just given birth are particularly under pressure. Their bodies go through so much during nine months: throwing up, being sapped of nutrients and minerals (baby has first choice after one eats), having your small intestine crushed against your diaphragm, and seeing your belly stretch at least twice as much as normal being only a few of the effects. And yet, after these taxing times, women are expected to have the svelte and slim bodies they possessed before, much like the Victoria's Secret models who seem to be sexier after their births than ever. This is, of course, an unrealistic expectation of the women who are raising the next generation. At least this one photographer is hoping to show how beautiful mothers' bodies are after their pregnancies.

Image is a screencap from Huffington Post's article.

June 29, 2013

Skull Scarf

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crochet skull scarf
My niece is so into monsters right now - she loves Monster High (despite, or because of, its brainwashing aspects ;P) and anything to do with the word 'monster'.

So I came across this pattern and decided I would make it for her. Though mine turned out much smaller and is more of a fun accessory than something with an actual purpose, I thought the skulls would be more fun if they were all different. What do you think?

June 28, 2013

(Insert colour here) is for girls...

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While I was pregnant, by far the question I was asked most often was whether I was having a boy or a girl. I didn't want to know, and I remained oblivious to the sex of my baby until the moment she was born and placed in front of me.

The reason for my adamant refusal? I hate gendered colours. I did not want every item of clothing or every gift to reflect only the colour blue or only the colour pink. Family members and friends complained that they needed to know what the sex was so they could by appropriate clothing. What is not appropriate in yellow or green or white for a boy or a girl?

I knew I was only escaping the inevitable for a short time, because once everyone knew, I would be inundated with pink or blue. But I am pleased to say that Emma has a wonderfully diverse wardrobe, filled with a large range of colours, and she looks cute in every single one. There are many pink items (I dislike pink immensely), gifted after her birth, but I still prefer the other colours on her. I hope that keeping her away from too much pink does not inspire her to do this:


If she does, I think she will be cleaning her own room, thank you very much!

via Slate.com

Just a weird fact for you to leave with: did you know that before the 1950s, pink was considered the stronger colour, and boys' clothes were pink? Girls' clothing was blue.

{Image: © Nikuwka | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images}