SMAC in the Face #32:  The War of the Wordles

Who would have thunk that a silly but harmless little computer game would cause a rift between the two greatest English-speaking nations.  I refer of course to Wordle.  The outbreak of linguistic war between the Old and the New Worlds has its genesis in the fact that the game’s developer, Josh Wardle (believe it or not) is a Welshman who sold his Celtic soul when the New York Times bought his program.

First, the normally phlegmatic Brits provoked a trans-Atlantic twar when they complained bitterly about the American spelling of the word HUMOR on the 9th of February. Little did they know that the word, humor, was used extensively in Old English.  In the Middle Ages, they believed that a person’s health and disposition were the result of a balance of four fluids in the body – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.  These fluids were called humors and there was nothing funny about them.

On the 24th of February the New York Times evened things up with the wordle of the day being BLOKE.  This time it was the turn of the Americans to spew bile, both the yellow and the black varieties and probably indulge in a bit of bloodletting too.  To them, a bloke is just a guy but that does not signify to the Brits as they killed that Guy off with extreme prejudice on 5 November 1606.  A few days later Wordle had the poor Americans up in alms again with the word RUPEE.  “It’s not even an English word,” was one of the more benign tweets.

South Africans have grown up in the middle and are confused, particularly my generation who were brought up speaking and spelling British Standard English but are now force fed a diet of simplistic American English without the mystique and eccentricity of British spelling – what’s the difference between practice and practise or does the word end in -ise or -ize.  But we are lucky now with Wordle as we slide seamlessly between the two English languages and can solve AITSA as well.

Wordle has about 10,000 words that are valid entries to stop people randomly going through the alphabet.  It also has a predetermined list of about 2300 answers which will take us deep into 2027.  What are we addicts going to do then, huh – take up knitting when our bladder wakes us up in the wee hours and there’s no the new wordle of the day?  Since the takeover by the New York Times, they have removed at least 19 words from the possible inputs and 6 from the answers.  The reasons cited have been: offensive words straight out of Trump’s and rappers’ lexicons like PUSSY, WHORE, BITCH, etc.; triggering words such as LYNCH; obscure ones like PUPAL; confusing spelling between the Brits and Americans such as FIBRE/FIBER or current news items as in FETUS (which also has the confusing spelling – to Americans that is – of FOETUS).  Interestingly, towards the end of March the woke worthies of the NYT removed HARRY as an answer.  It could have fallen foul of a number of categories: it is offensive or a swearword to a lot of Brits in these post markle times, it is a current news item and, as a verb, it has an obscure meaning to illiterate Americans, or is triggering to some snowflakes. 

Take your pick but The War of the Wordles continues unless PUTIN presses a button which will be the end of Wordle and the World as we know it.  As Einstein said, “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”

A SMAC in the Face #31: Hollow Victory Day Parade

All autocratic systems share a common weakness – they just love martial parades with serried ranks of men and weaponry.  Russia and Putin are no different.  Coming hard on the heels of their May Day celebrations is the Victory Day celebrations on May 9.  This day commemorates the final surrender of Nazi forces in WWII.  The USSR, as it was then, suffered the most of any country and rightly holds the day dear.  Confusingly, the Western Allies celebrate it as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day on the 8th of May when the definitive surrender document was signed.  V-E Day has become an anaemic celebration consisting mainly of wreath laying.  Russians, on the other hand, have used their Victory Day Parade through Red Square to demonstrate their military might like a steroid-enhanced bodybuilder pulling poses.  He could have a glass jaw, but he looks pretty impressive.

In the weeks preceding, Russia had repositioned its forces after its attempts to defeat Ukraine by main force had failed dismally.  It seemed that Putin was opting for a quick small solution in the East which would allow him still to declare victory on May 9.  Embarrassingly they failed again.  This year’s parade was eagerly anticipated, not for the military hardware, but to see what illogical distortions would Putin spew out and what dire tub-thumping threats would he make.  He generally disappointed but nevertheless creatively hailed a ‘great victory’ and devoted the rest of his speech to whingeing about American hegemony and Ukrainian Nazis who seek to destroy Russia.  ‘Russia’ he said, ‘preventively rebuffed the aggressor. It (the special operation/invasion/war – author) was necessary, timely and … right.’  The parade itself was anaemic with up to a third fewer vehicles than normal.  The obvious conclusion is that they are desperately needed elsewhere.  The Russian losses have been staggering – 1130 tanks, 2741 armoured personnel carriers, 509 artillery pieces, towed and self-propelled, 179 multiple rocket launch systems, 156 helicopters and 199 planes*.  To put the numbers into perspective, this represents 5-10 times the equipment owned by the SANDF, working and not-working. 

It is not an exaggeration to state that the Russian war chest is beginning to look bare.

*The numbers have been supplied by the Ukrainians but have been largely backed up by independent sources from photographic evidence.

A SMAC in the Face #30: Adolf Hitlowitz

During the lead-up to and the prosecution of the war against the Ukraine, Russia, via Putin, his fellow travellers and his apologists have trundled out lies ranging from the ludicrous, through the outrageous to, the grotesque.  Russia claimed its ‘Special Operation’ against the Ukraine was aimed to de-nazify it.   This claim served not only as a hastily plucked fig leaf against world opprobrium, but also to mobilise the Russian people.  The Russians react with particular horror at the word Nazi who were responsible for up to 27 million deaths in WWII, directly and indirectly.  To reinforce this, Russia routinely publishes pictures of satanic symbols etc found on buildings that had been occupied by Ukrainian soldiers.  Lying has become part of the DNA of Russians to ensure personal safety, so I would not trust their authenticity.

The de-nazify lie failed to gain traction internationally, particularly since President Zelensky of the Ukraine is Jewish.  In an attempt to bolster their position, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, floated the bizarre lie during an interview on Italian TV on 1 May.  He claimed that Hitler had Jewish roots.

The Russian propaganda machine also indulges in a disgusting amount of bluster and dick swinging about how Russia is going to nuke puny Britain off the face of the Earth complete with graphics, not to mention other European countries.  But even more sinister for the Russians themselves, and I presume captured Ukrainians was a statement by Karen Shakhnazarov.  He leads the state-backed Mosfilm film studio and said on the state-owned Russian television channel Russia 1 a few days after the Hitler claim, ‘The opponents of the letter Z must understand that if they are counting on mercy, no, there will be no mercy for them.’   He then went on to add, ‘It’s all become very serious. In this case, it means concentration camps, re-education and sterilisation.’   Not only does this harken back to the bad old days (not that Russia has had many good days in the last century or two) of the Siberian Gulag but also has shades of the evils of Nazism – a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Not quite the tone to take when accusing the other guys of being Nazis.

A SMAC in the Face #29:  MAD Vlad

Apart from the odd granny who was mad, my generation grew up with two other meanings of MAD.  The first was benign and a lot of fun.  I am referring to the monthly MAD magazine which, together with the Goon Show and Monty Python, I credit with helping us navigate the confusing modern world.  It was launched in 1952 and at its peak in the mid-70s was selling 2 million copies.  It satirised, parodied and lampooned movies and the political and cultural world around us with fantastic cartoons during the height of the nuclear war paranoia and the general culture of establishment’s censorship.  In so doing, it provided a teething ring for future comedians, radicals and well-adjusted people too.  Unfortunately, it fell on hard times and published its last edition in April 2018.

The other connotation of MAD was the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction which was a Mexican Standoff with nuclear weapons instead of revolvers in the cold war years.  This fragile strategy proved successful in maintaining world peace and was allowed to atrophy to some extent after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, it has reared its radioactive head with the unstable Vladimir V. Putin, or MAD Vlad, threatening nuclear Armageddon, the first leader (apart from the Young Un) to do so since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is a weak and infantile reaction by someone who didn’t think things through properly, particularly what he wanted to achieve and what would be his exit strategy if things went wrong.  He is now up the creek without a paddle and, with his old cold war foes and political opponents circling, his war chest is as bare as his heroic photos except for Russia’s nuclear arsenal – his ass in the hole.

A SMAC in the Face #28: The Power Behind the Drone

I was conflicted with the title – whether to call it The Power Behind the Drone or The Power Behind the Moan – after all, Harry changed from a bloke to a woke with mommy issues.  He has become exceedingly boring in the process, spouting baby psychobabble at the merest whiff of a TV camera and patting his shoulders with crossed arms to deal with his emotions.  Only Woody Allen can make more money out of his neuroses.

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A SMAC in The Face #27: Herd Immunity

Was the concept of herd immunity just a will o’ the wisp conjured up by fearful governments to give people something to hang on to until a vaccine could rescue us, or another example of bad advice given by medical professionals?

When Britain entered its third wave late last year, double vaccination rates there were approaching 80% yet their infection rate far exceeded previous waves.  The upside was that hospitalisation and death rates were lower.  The anti-vaxxers touted this as proof that, while not producing genetic modification (yet), vaccines didn’t work either and were just a profit-making venture by a vague group of people trying to control the world.  The cynical amongst us explained it by saying that all the vulnerable had already been killed off in the first two waves.  The few sober Brits who weren’t catching up on their pints at the pub attributed this high infection rate to the relaxed restrictions.  Still others stated that the Delta variant was more infectious but less deadly.  Whatever the truth, it didn’t bode well for the idea of herd immunity.

What about South Africa?  With Christmas approaching, less than 25% of South Africans were fully vaccinated when the Omicron variant hit.  This caused a frisson of excitement under the doek of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, our resident Grinch.  Her dear little heart was doing flick-flacks at the thought of cancelling Christmas again and closing beaches.  Unfortunately for her, some cool heads prevailed and she was left to fumigate herself in a dark corner somewhere.  The Omicron variant proved to be far less deadly than previous variants and only caused a minor flirtation with draconian measures.  But again, what was the truth.  We definitely couldn’t claim that vaccines were responsible for the lower death and hospitalisation rates.  The cynical view that the vulnerable had already died has some truth.  While SA only boasted around 90,000 dead – lower than the UK – the real figure was more likely around 150,000 as calculated from the excess death rates.  The discrepancy is easily explained by the chaotic state of SA’s health system that can barely dispense an Aspirin in some places.

So what is the truth?  My qualitative assessment of vaccines is that, if all the vulnerable had already been killed off before, then ICU’s should see a distribution of 25% vaxxed patients and 75% unvaxxed if vaccines didn’t work.  The reported experience has been that ICU patients have almost exclusively been unvaxxed and therefore vaccination must confer a large measure of protection against the worst outcomes.  But what about herd immunity?  Like the zero Covid strategy of New Zealand and China, I don’t think it’s achievable.  After all, have we ever achieved herd immunity against fast mutating viruses like the common cold or flu.  The answer is a resounding no, so why should we buy into this notion that the politicians, (ill)advised by their medical professionals, assuaged our fears with.  I think that Covid-19 is something that we’ll have to learn to live with

A SMAC in the Face #26:  Putinocchio

Victory in war has many fathers but defeat is an orphan, is a truism of war.  I wonder which of Putin’s Generals will see out the year, or Putin for that matter.  Another truism is that the first casualty of war is the truth.  That saying has been attributed to a variety of people ranging from Aeschylus around 550 BC – “God is not averse to deceit in a just cause” – through the more verbose Dr Samuel Johnson in 1758 – “Among the calamities of War may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth …” –   to many others who got close to the modern cliché.

In the case of Russia’s attack on Ukraine the distortions of truth, the unashamed peddling of falsehoods and the ridiculous inversion of facts started long before the boundaries were actually crossed.  In fact, they started before when Russia actively assisted Ukrainian separatists annex two regions in the east of Ukraine.  Not all the whoppers in the cartoon are his, but, since he is the puppet master, they can all be attributed to him.  It’s like classical paintings where experts find it difficult to distinguish between, say, a Rembrandt and one from the school of Rembrandt.

Whilst not the spittle-flecked rants of Hitler, anyone who has seen his rambling TV diatribes connecting dots from all over the place must wonder about his state of mind – no wonder Zuma and him are mates.  Perhaps they are not cynically constructed lies but merely the product of years of KGB-trained delusions and old-school Soviet paranoia writ large. 

The Putin created or orchestrated sea of lies seems to be largely successful within Russia with the population being force-fed this diet in the state-controlled media and regulated internet access.  Behind the scenes, the sea of lies, which was part of the DNA of the old Soviet Union to ensure survival of the nomenklatura, created the delusion for Putin that the army could walk through Ukraine in days and wrap it up before the West got all precious about it.  That didn’t work out so well and now the lies concern the extent of the military losses as the wily Ukranians have picked off Russia’s inept army – death by a thousand cuts.  They are now desperately scrambling around to secure their few territorial gains and securing the odd cow shed before possibly claiming victory on the holiest of days, 9 May – the day Germany surrendered in WWII.   Actually, they had surrendered to Eisenhower the day before but Russia did not recognise that so it had to be re-enacted.

More worrying is that parttime stage-extras like South Africa are genuflecting to Russia by ignoring the facts and perpetuating the deceptions.  Even more worrying is that the dictatorial China, the world’s dominant country in a decade or so, is just one small step short of actively siding with Putin and is parroting the notion that America caused it all.  According to the hoary old communist playbook, it’s all about America trying to establish hegemony over the world.  In the years of the Cold War, it was by means of the arms race, star wars and propping up tinpot dictatorships.  Today, it’s Apple, Twitter, KUWTK and McDonalds (they have a lot to answer for).

Maybe the answer is simpler – he needs the big whoppers to make up for his small size.

A SMAC in the Face #25:  The End of Genesis

We have become inured to the sight of decrepit Pontiffs being trundled out onto the Vatican balcony probably held up by a steel brace on wheels hidden by their baroque robes.  It was hard to tell if they were sentient or dead.  Such a sight confronted rock fans – some as young as 50 – for the sell-out final concert of Genesis on the 26th of March.  With a combined age of 214, the O2 Arena in London was appropriate as it looked like Phil Collins needed O2.  Thank god all the musical instruments are wireless these days so we wouldn’t have the embarrassing sight of Collins with his walking stick tripping over a cable and doing his hip in on his way to his chair on stage.  One could palpably sense the tension in the audience – will he make it.  He was like Capt Tom Moore who got the world to follow him during lockdown as he zimmered framed his way across his garden 100 times.  To the audience’s relief, Phil made it to his chair.  Many rockers of old used the microphone and its stand as a supporting act.  Who can forget Freddie Mercury imperiously colonising the stage with his phallic half mic stand.  Phil Collins also used his mic stand as a supporting act but more in the walking stick sense.

Whilst not the greatest fan of Genesis and Phil Collins, it is difficult for me to gainsay his influence.  He is one of only three musicians who have sold more than 100 million albums.  The others are Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.  There are many others in the Rock and Role of Geriatric Honour Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

At 78 we have the spritely Rodger Daltrey Who still sings My Generation.  I’m not sure if it’s the Beat Generation anymore or rather the retirement home and false-teeth-glue generation.  I think it’s time for This Song is Over.  Also at 78 we have Jagger whose sensuous child-bearing lips will soon become drooling lips.  What about the sylphlike Debbie Harry and her bewitching lips?  She is now 76 and while her lips can still do a stage act all on their own, she is not quite so sylphlike and performs as Platinum Blondie.  Robert Plant is 73 and it is a competition between the Stairway to Heaven and the #MeToo movement catching up with him and sending him to prison for sex with underage groupies, a perfectly natural Rock and Roll phenomenon of the time along with loads of drugs and eccentric behaviour.  Then again what has changed. 

Among the real oldies, we have Cliff (over the hill) Richards, the Peter Pan of Rock.  Unfortunately, he is a wrinkled Shadow of his former self.  Joining him on 81 is Tom Jones who used to wear pants so tight that you could see if he was circumcised.  Now It’s Not Unusual that he has to wear a strap on, sort of like a bodybuilder’s or a ballet dancer’s posing pouch.  We also have a relative youngster in Paul McCartney at 80.  He is now Sir Paul or perhaps Sore Paul, what with his cranky hips, but still manages to headline at Glastonbury.

What have we got to look forward to?  What about a snappy Goodbye to U2 at O2 – Bono is a pensioner at 61 after all.  Or maybe Cher (75 going on 42) appearing in her gilded Botoxed plastic sarcophagus at Las Vegas.  By the way, when will Boy George drop the boy bit – he is 60 you know.

A SMAC in the Face #24:  Turnaround Strategy No. 2452

Probably the most overused phrase in the limited ANC lexicon apart from ‘provincial (or similar) structures’ or ‘loyal cadres’, is the phrase, ‘turnaround strategy’.  I was reminded of this by a newspaper report of 2 March on the Limpopo State of the Province Address (SOPA) debate that ended as a shouting match when the corrupt ANC and the immature EFF were literally at each other’s throats.  The Roads Agency Limpopo (RAL) had revealed to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) that documents relating to R1.1 billion in irregular expenditure had disappeared from the agency’s offices in Polokwane.  A dog ate my homework moment.  So what’s new: the massive irregular expenditure, the loss of documents or the excuse?

The RAL was ordered to sort their document mess out and present a ‘turnaround strategy’!

Now we have the Post Office which has admitted to having a R8 billion hole in their finances.  The old Post Office never shot the lights out.  It wasn’t like the Royal Post Office where a letter posted in the morning would arrive with the afternoon postal delivery.  Nevertheless, ours was reliable, cheap and secure.  Only the most urgent documents were delivered by courier.  Although the long downward process started early on, this really got kickstarted by the complete shutdown by strike action of the Jet Park warehouse hub for months in 2014.  In mid-March the Post Office presented to Parliament its latest turnaround strategy in a hopeful document entitled, Post Office of Tomorrow.  Humph!

The public are sick of these interminable turnaround strategies which begin with the appointment of a new Board, a completely new suite of executives with their completely new office suites, who in turn appoint, without the mandated recruitment processes, a coterie of fools, family members, bae’s and ben10’s, people they owe favours to and some just for luck to make up numbers.  Few are qualified to do the job or are indeed interested.  They make a lot of promises and initiate some grand unthought-through and overpriced projects while they skim and take backhanders in Louis Vuitton handbags.  When it soon turns to guano, the turnstile strategy kicks in.  It’s out with the old and in with the new while the newly jobless are buffed up, retreaded and redeployed elsewhere in the state machinery to continue their work of destruction and corruption. 

Rinse and repeat.

A SMAC in the Face #23:  Going Nowhere Slowly

In September 1939, Nazi Germany taught the world a new word – Blitzkreig (Lightning War) – when they conquered Poland in a matter of weeks after using extensive false flag operations and spurious justifications.  As an aside, seventeen days after the start of the invasion, the ‘morally superior’ socialist Soviet Union also invaded Poland in accordance with the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact and they divvied up the country between them.  This supping with the devil was doomed to end badly.  In May 1940, Germany drove home the meaning of Blitzkrieg when they swept through Western Europe and Dunkirked the undercooked British Expeditionary Force.  To make sure that the world knew what Blitzkrieg meant, they unleashed Operation Barbarossa just over 13 months later on their erstwhile allies, the Russians.  They were only stopped at the gates of Moscow six months later.

Fast forward to the illegal American invasion of Iraq in 2003 during which they subdued a highly militarised country, 70% the area of Ukraine with a similar population, in 43 days half a world away.  With America razzamatazz marketing, they eschewed the word Blitzkrieg and instead referred to it as Shock and Awe.  Semantics.  It still just meant that a lot of people got needlessly killed rather quickly to satisfy the bloodlust of a few.  America also used lies to justify their invasion.  This was led by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney with the dupes being George ‘Keep Away From Sharp Knives’ Bush and Tony Blair.  The lies were the supposed hidden weapons of mass destruction of the species Nuclei and Bacteria.

29 years later and another deluded putz, Putin, decided that his borders were looking untidy what with Ukraine making overtures to NATO.  This was a cold war foe, the hatred of whom was buried deep in the dark axions of an ex-KGB officer’s foetid mind.  Who would rid him of this turbulent ex-comedian, now president, he asked?  “Me!”  he answered himself after Trump failed to strongarm Zelensky over Biden’s son.  Having carefully prepared the ground like megalomaniacs before him, using false flag operations and the downright lie of the rebirth of Nazism in the Ukraine, he unleashed his version of a Biltzkrieg on the 24th of February.  His overwhelmingly superior forces stormed across the border from three sides and triumphantly went … nowhere.   They were soon bogged down and became the docile prey of Ukrainian drones circling above.  Nearly a month on and Russia has not yet captured a major city while suffering innumerable losses which they will not admit to on the pain of serious prison terms.   

Their lack of progress brought to mind that great SABC TV program, Going Nowhere Slowly, which aired from 2005 and featured a red 1966 Chev Impala called Chilli Pepper slowly touring South Africa and ending in many sticky situations like running out of gas. 

Perhaps Putz Putin would have done well to have watched this program before he decided to invade the largest country in Europe with his Schlock and Bore.