Friday, February 29, 2008

Health and Happiness Part III

The good news is
The CT scan shows no hernia.
(That doesn’t mean I do not have a hernia, they just can’t see one.)
The bad news is
The doctor doesn’t know the origin of the pain in my groin.
He suspects a "sports hernia".
The good news is
No operation required…for the time being.
The bad news is
I have to start another chemical war to fix something inside me.
(I may have George Bush-fever due to all the chemical wars I have to fight lately)
The best news is
It's not my feet in the picture. Yet.

Picture: Front cover of book "The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Health and Happiness Part II

Should I see the glass half full or half empty? That’s really how I feel these days about my health.

Now I know I should be appreciative of the fact that I am still in the land of the living, that I am still able to walk and talk and sense and laugh (I can even walk and laugh and talk, I hope, sense all at the same time), but for someone that is known to be rarely sick, so far 2008 has been my annus horribilis on the health front. I so wish 2008 can rather turn out to be an annus mirabilis.

A few days after I completed my chemical war during January against H.pylori (see a previous post) I went to Mexico to address a serious bug in our system. Two days after my return home I became sick with the flu. Now most of the US (47 states) reported serious outbreaks of the flu in February because the flu vaccine this year only protects against about 40% of the flu bugs going around. I never got a flu shot this year. Maybe that’s why I experienced the flu so severely this time around. I was really down and out with the flu. For 3 days I struggled to get my temperature down and it kept me out of work for a week. Even now, nearly two weeks later I still have some lingering effects and my energy level is still very low. At home I jokingly said I brought back a foreign bug from Mexico, which of course is not necessarily true because I could have pick it up anywhere. After all, I spent many hours in an airplane breathing recycled air, probably the easiest way to get the flu.

Pille & Brille

Barely out of the flu sickbed and now it seem that I will start March off with a hernia operation. On Monday, for a Computed Tomography scan, I had to drink 2 bottles of Barium Sulfate, which didn’t taste as bad as I heard some people said, but man, did it clean me out afterwards. I will know on Thursday what lies ahead for me and what kind of approach the surgeon will take to fix the hernia. During my visit to him last week he has hinted he will use the less invasive, faster healing laparoscopic method and that I should be back to normal in one week. Surgeons are such optimistic people. Two years ago one told me my knee operation should heal within 4 months. I still can’t run.

I sincerely hope this surgeon is right this time because Spring is coming and I have a big garden that will be redesigned and many plants need to be replanted. I really don’t have time for incapacities when so much work lies ahead. I guess that makes the glass half full.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Hanekom Family History

Like most people, I am also interested where I come from and being a lover of history I am naturally drawn to the questions and riddles of family history and family trees. My own family genealogical tree is still a small work in progress.

But I came across the below-published document during my research. It looks like the kind of thing that those stands in shopping malls in South Africa use to sell, those “family certificates.” I think it is totally fabriated for commercial purposes. Credit to Kyle Hanekom (per the original post) who published this first.

The Hanekom Family - European History

Throughout our research into the histories of names, we have found that names undergo tremendous changes over time. Scribes often recorded a name based on its sound, and since there are so many different regional dialects, many different spellings occurred, often between the generations. Among the many variations of the name Hanekom we found Hane, Hanecop, Hanecourt, Haneffe, Hanegraaff, Ganegreve, Hanel, Haneman, Hanen, Hanenberg, Hanens, Hanequin, Hanet, to name a few examples. Situated between East Friesland and the Weser river, the former free state and grand duchy of Oldenburg became part of Lower Saxony in 1946. Settled by the Saxons and the Frisians, the land was divided into several counties, of which Oldenburg became the most prominent. Documents show that Elimar I ruled Oldenburg from 1088-1108, and that the Archbishop of Bremen and the leaders of Oldenburg were often struggling for power. Although the Counts of Oldenburg were no allies of the Archbishop, they agreed that the fiercely independent Frisians should be assimilated. The Frisian farmers and fishermen, who had settled the North Sea coast, enjoyed "Frisian Liberty" under both the Roman and the German emperors, and they fought hard against political interference. In 1160, the Saxon Duke Henry the Lion and Count Christian of Oldenburg lost over 2000 knights in their attempt to conquer the Frisian Jeverland. In the 13th century the Archbishop of Bremen pillaged the Stedinger land, whose people opposed his enormous taxation.

In the meantime, the Counts of Oldenburg enlarged their domain in the west and the east by acquiring Ammerland and Delmenhorst. In 1448, Count Christian was elected King of Denmark and the county fell to his brother Gerhard. With the assistance of the Duke of Brunswick, the counts conquered the Frisian lands of Butjadingen and Stadland. The Reformation came with Anton II whose grandson Anthon-Guenther was the most popular ruler of the House of Oldenburg. He kept his land neutral in the Thirty Years War, and his domestic policies encouraged commerce and education. After his death the family line became extinct, and the county fell to Denmark in 1667.

Meanwhile the family Hanekom moved to Oldenburg, where the Hane family held many diverse interests. During the 16th century, Europe experienced a general population explosion which led to mass migrations of people throughout the continent. Members of the family participated in this mass movement, relocated and established themselves in new areas as they pursued their special interests in religious, military and political occupations. They branched into Saxony, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Flanders, and France where they held titles and estates. The French branch was raised to the nobility in 1648 and became Counts in 1768. The German branch became Knights in 1674. Notables of the time included the Hane family of Lower Saxony. After the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the bishops of Muenster abandoned their claims to the predominantly Catholic regions of Vechta and Cloppenburg, still known today as "Muensterland". The mostly Frisian north was incorporated and Emperor Joseph II proclaimed the land of Oldenburg a dukedom. The throne belonged to the future Czar of Russia, Paul, member of the House of Holstein-Gottorp, and he in turn gave the duchy to his cousin Friedrich-August. The Gottorps ruled from their possession in Oldenburg-Eutin. During the rule of Grand Duke Peter, Prussia bought land in the lade Busen (Bay) and built the naval port Wilhelmshaven.
After the Great War and the abdication of the monarchy, the Grand Duke Friedrich August abdicated, an act followed by a failed revolution. Oldenburg suffered little damage during the Second World War and it became a haven for many German refugees fleeing the East.

After 1650 many Germans left their homeland for the New World. Settlers bearing the name Hanekom where among those who traveled to the New World and established themselves along the eastern seaboard in the United States and Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the United States they settled mainly in Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Ohio, California, and Illinois. In Canada, German settlements centered around Ontario and the Prairies.

Notes: With regards to a coat-of-arms: A lot of it is myth. Few people who use a coat-of-arms and/or so-called family crest today have any right to do so. Armorial bearings do not belong to all persons of a given surname, but belong to and identify members of one particular family who has the legal right to the coat-of-arms. Coats-of-arms are a form of property and may rightfully be used only by the male-line descendants of the individual to whom they were first granted or allowed. Such grants were and are made by the appropriate heraldic authority. [Extract from an email from Anne Lehmkuhl to the West Gauteng branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.]

The Hanekom Family - South African History

The first Hanekom that emigrated to South Africa is J├╝rgen Hanekom, also spelled Jors Hannekoom or Hannekom, of Rathlosen near Sulingen in Hannover (Germany), born 1688 and died 1752. He moved to the Cape of Good Hope in 1708 was a woodcutter.
[Source: Names of German Immigrants 1652 to 1806 -]

But for a far more indepth listing of the Hanekoms and related families visit the website Die Familie Hanekom, which was recently created by Johann Hanekom.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Another Scary Day Flying Across the USA

A shitty week had progressed to an even shittier weekend and ended up in a downright anal Monday. A couple of posts ago I wrote about the most depressing day of the year. Well, Dr. Arnall was wrong. The most depressing day of the year is not the 3rd Monday of January. It is the first Monday of February. He was not too far out with his formula. But then again, this is only applicable to me and not to all of the world.

After spending most of the weekend on the phone or pushing out emails in an effort to manage the correction of a bug in one of our main systems, unsuccessfully I may add, I decided late Sunday afternoon to take the first plane to Monterrey to go and manage the problem on the ground. Mythologically speaking: A prince on a white horse riding out to fight the dragon for the hand of the princess. The only problem is there is no princess at the end of the battle. Only a workable computer system and hopefully a happier user community.

So I duly got up at 3:30 on Monday morning, drank my mug of coffee to clear the cobwebs, and there were a lot to clear seeing that I haven’t slept much the past three or four nights, and headed for the airport. The first problems started shortly after 4:30 am when I was driving in pouring rain between two 18-wheelers and received a call from my team in Mexico, telling me that what we planned the previous day did not worked. The system died on us during the night. (We humans are so good at giving non-human things human traits and I guess we do it so that we can understand these things better. If computers don’t get infected with viruses, they pick up bugs.)

Well, my 6:15 am fight still departed on time even though there was a 20 minute airport-wide delay on boarding any flight because of the lightning strikes in the airport region. Ascending into the clouds thick with rain and thunder, I thought we were doing well getting out of the airport, but about 10 minutes into the flight the cabin attendant informed us that the pilot is turning around, heading back to the airport. That’s all. No further news, no reason why. Well, there goes my connection flight in Houston and my carefully planned day. After we landed the pilot came on the ether and only told us that there was some malfunction and that we might have to get back into the terminal. But it was kinda weird that fire trucks, ambulances and the police immediately surrounded the plane when we got to a halt.

When I called my wife after we deplaned she said kind of shock. “You were in that plane?” I said what do you mean? She said: “I saw it on the local news. They actually broadcast a Continental aircraft doing an emergency landing because the craft had a fuel leak or some instrument showing a fuel leak.” We dumb asses were left totally in the dark. They told us nothing. Well, it didn’t feel like an emergency landing. I have been in one of those landing once in Johannesburg, South Africa. That was scary. On the other hand, I have to admit, the pilot handled it well. By telling no one on the plane he diverted any form of panic among the passengers. And maybe it was not such a fatal problem and he had enough belief in himself to land the plane safely.

To make a long story short, we eventually lifted off again at 9:30 am and again we were on the local news by them filming the take off, (local news channels are always short on good stories and they are always creating more sensation than anything else) but this time the pilot took nearly three hours to complete a usual 2 and a half hour flight to Houston, causing me to miss my connection flight for the second time today. I am certainly having one of those flying days again. Luckily I got a seat out on the next flight to Monterrey and the layover in Houston was only 2 hours. But my day was shot. I didn’t even attempt to go to the office and went straight to the hotel, decided to manage the rest of the day by phone.

By happy hour I joined some colleagues in the bar, enjoyed two margaritas the way the northern Mexicans make them (2 measures of tequila, 1 measure of Cointreau, and you fill up the rest of a small champagne glass with real lime juice) and forget about the wasted day.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Government Employees Ethics Violations

Well, well, well! Why am I not surprise? The Ethics Resource Center released a study which found that nearly 60% of government employees in America (local, state and federal) had witnessed violations of ethical standards and 58% who saw it did not report it because they did not believe any action would be taken. What the report does not say is how many or what percentage of government employees are the culprits. Pitty! That would have been far more interesting statistics than who witnessed unethical behavior.

The most frequently observed violation was abusive behavior (23%), safety violations (21%) lying to employees (20%).

But the report also found that fraud occurred as frequently in government as in the private sector (white collar crime). These include: Alterations of documents (we had that case a few years ago when the Bush administration changed data from a scientific study, requested by him, to make the global warming data looked mild and non-alarming); misreporting of hours worked (“Isn’t that a way of life for many lawyers and consultants?”); and lying to customers, the public and workers. (I wonder if politicians were also under the surveyed group. And if not, what would the increase in the “lying to the public” statistic be.) But it does make me wonder about something. If fraud and unethical behavior happens as often in the public sector as in the private sector, should the government be the ones to police private sector misconduct?

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Compare to a previous study in 2000 several blatantly illegal types of misconduct showed a marked decline. These include stealing, taking bribes, sexual harassment and discrimination. But do not for one minute think corruption in US government and politics are low-keyed.

Of course, the private sector’s violations of ethical standards are well documented and reported. Just think of Enron and Worldcom, who not only falsified documents and lied to the public at large, but also indirectly stole from the taxpayer by not paying the correct taxes. Several of the top brass from these companies are now retired into the US Penitentiary system and are now fed and lodged by the taxpayer.

As a South African American I involuntary thought about the same subject in South Africa who had its fair share of fraud cases involving government employees and some real high flyers in the public eye. Jacob Zuma, the ex-Vice President of the country, thus also a government employee, was fired in 2005 for corruption charges related to an arms deal. Zuma is one of several politicians caught in taking bribes and “alternative forms of financially improving themselves.” Although his case is still open, he made a “great comeback” by recently being elected as the ANC’s new president and could well become the next President of South Africa in 2009. It seems Mr. Zuma is a real live-on-the-edge-kind-of-guy because he was also accused, but acquitted, of raping a HIV-infected family friend and admitted that he had unprotected “consented” sex with her while knowing that she was HIV-infected. (I am thinking of a number…an IQ number…somewhere between 45 and 90...) Of course, with South Africa being statistically the rape capital of the world, Zuma’s case is neither a rarity nor a surprise. (A study by Interpol claims a woman gets rape every 17 seconds in South Africa and that exclude child rape. The US Justice Department reported a woman gets rape every 2 minutes in the USA. But note these statistics are only from countries that actually publish these numbers. Many countries, especially African countries do not publish any numbers. But I’m getting off the point)

The South African government, like many other governments is trying its best and seems to be rather good at identifying government employee misconduct, but they have a real problem making anything stick in the courts. The Teflon Award for evading jail must go to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Although convicted for kidnapping and assault in 1991, on appeal her 6 year sentence was reduced to a fine. In 2003 she was convicted on 43 accounts of fraud and 25 accounts of theft and received a 5 years prison sentence, which was, surprise, surprise, overturned by a High Court judge and she got away with one conviction of fraud and a suspended sentence. Did you know: Her Xhoza name is Nomzamo, which means trial? How did her parents know she was going to spend so many years in trials?

If one reads the South African newspapers and blogs one get the sense that fraud is rampant in South Africa. But is it just a perception? Is it really worst than in many other countries? The Norwegian-based Anti-Corruption Resources Centre describes South Africa as a country with “occasional corruption.” I know of several people that will raise an eyebrow of two hearing that statement. Their “Country Corruption Assessment Report of 2004” suggests that “perhaps 10% of people experience corruption in a twelve month period.” I can see another few eyebrows being raised. Among the criteria they based their findings on is the fact that South African firms take the best candidate for a job. HUH? Did they actually do this survey in South Africa? Were they actually there? Are they aware of a thing called Affirmative Action or Transformation? I mean, just this past January the rugby authorities acknowledged that the new national coach was appointed not because he was the best candidate or even got the most votes in the Presidents Council, but because he was non-white. And last year they ruled that the position of the team manager can only be held by a black person. Now the rugby union is not the government, but the union is under pressure from the government, especially the ANC, to “transform” the sport by including more blacks in the teams and management structures. The point is Affirmative Action is law. Although discrimination against race, religion, tra, la, la is law, the exception to the usual statement is that firms are forced to employ ethnical-correct people versus merit based, and could be fined if they do not follow the affirmative action line.

A big problem in South Africa is the gravy train. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once accused government ministers of only stopping the gravy train long enough for them to climb onto it.

Another big problem is ghost workers. No, they are not ex-government employees that loved their jobs so much that they returned after death. They are non-entities with identities, false identities, “working” in government departments, drawing a salary. How many ghost workers are there? A 1996 report claim 300,000. In a 2003 research paper, the author, who interviewed 180 officials from Assistant Directors up to Director-General level, in two provinces and two national departments, including 10 member of the provincial cabinets, claimed 15% of the respondents admitted they have ghost workers in their department at that moment. And 90% of the respondents said they had ghost workers in the past.

What the actual or perceived ethics misconduct statistics in South Africa are is unknown to me and if it ever gets published I do not know if it can be believed. But we know misconduct is everywhere and in probably all countries. It is how every country deals with the misconduct that leaves the lasting impression of corrupted or trustworthy government with the public at large.

According to Transparency International’s 2007 corruption perception index Denmark is the least corrupted country in the world. The United States is ranked 20th and South Africa is ranked 43rd least corrupted country in the world.